Ray Ingles on Religion

Posted on 09/13/11 83 Comments

In response to my critique of David Eller’s woeful definition of religion Ray Ingles offers another. (Apparently he didn’t like my definition either.)

Here it is as linked from his website:

“So far as I’ve seen, there’s a single, very simple difference between a religious and a non-religious worldview. Religious worldviews include some concept of the supernatural, and non-religious ones don’t.”

And what, pray tell, does “supernatural” mean?

Ray goes on:

“The ‘supernatural’ is ‘incomprehensible’ – unknowable by humans – something forever beyond human ken, something we will never be capable of understanding.”

So if you believe that such unknowable things exist, you have a religion. If you don’t, you don’t have a religion.

Is this better than Eller’s view? Alas, it is not.

To begin with, there is another term that begs definition: “knowable/unknowable”. What does Ray mean when he says that the “supernatural” is something which is unknowable by human beings? After all, many Christians believe God is eminently knowable. He is knowable in terms of propositional knowledge because we know many propositions about him. But he is also knowable in terms of knowlege of acquaintance, because people can experience or be in relationship directly with him.

Perhaps by “unknowable” Ray means “cannot be fully understood.”

Assuming Ray means something like that it is true then that Christians are religious because we believe God cannot be fully understood. However, Ray now has a serious problem because there are many atheists who believe that many things in the universe cannot be fully understood. For example, Colin McGinn, one of the preeminent atheistic philosophers writing today, believes that there are many things which probably cannot be understood by human beings in principle and he puts the mind brain problem in that list (among others). According to the definition Ray offers, atheist Colin McGinn is actually religious because McGinn recognizes the existence of supernatural things (i.e. things we cannot understand fully) and this is necessary and sufficient to be religious.

Now let us have a little bit of fun. Imagine a highly rationalistic Christian called Dave who believes God could in principle be fully understood (whatever that might mean exactly). But beyond that rather idiosyncratic belief, Dave accepts all the doctrines of the faith including the Trinity, creation, incarnation, substitionary atonement, resurrection, the whole kit and kaboodle. He attends church regularly and worships God in church with tears streaming down his face. When he is not in church he is evangelizing at the nearby college campus.

According to the definition Ray provides, atheist philosopher Colin McGinn is religious but Christian evangelist Dave is not.

I would say that is a problem for this definition.

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  • Robert

    Randal,

    For “supernatural”, I like Richard Carrier’s definition that it is the existence of ontologically basic mental entities.

    He says:

    In short, I argue “naturalism” means, in the simplest terms, that every mental thing is entirely caused by fundamentally nonmental things, and is entirely dependent on nonmental things for its existence. Therefore, “supernaturalism” means that at least some mental things cannot be reduced to nonmental things.

    Is that one good, or do you have problems with it?

    • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

      Carrier’s definition and mine are functionally identical, so far as I can tell, in that he postulates mental entities that affect reality with no causal mechanism…

      • Robert

        Except that his definition does not depend on what someone does or can know. We (for example) would never know the state of a photon travelling away from us ** however, the state of that photon is not supernatural.

        In general words, the existence of the supernatural is a fact about reality that does not depend on the state of my mind. It already exists or it already does not. The map is not the territory.

        ** (unless we invent some way to go beyond the speed of light to measure it, or unless it bounces back, or unless there is a way to measure it via quantum entanglement. I confess my ignorance here.)

        • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

          We (for example) would never know the state of a photon travelling away from us

          From the link I gave at the start of all this:

          It is entirely possible to accept that there are things that are unknown, while still not accepting the notion of things that are unknowable (in the sense discussed above). There are lots of things we don’t know – indeed, it’s pretty certain that “the number of things we don’t know” is greater than “the number of things that we do know”. (It’s very likely the case that “the number of things we know” is much less than “the number of things we don’t even know that we don’t know about”.)

          We know of some limits to our knowledge today. General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are beautiful scientific theories, and their predictions have each been confirmed to many decimal places. However, in certain areas, they make radically different predictions. At least one and probably both are wrong to some degree. Unfortunately, we can’t test them right now because we don’t have any black holes handy. But, eventually, we may well be able to get a probe to a black hole and check it out. In principle the tests could be performed.

          Accepting that there are things that we don’t know is not the same as accepting that there are things that we cannot, even in principle, know. As discussed above, the notion of ‘the unknowable’ adds nothing from a practical perspective. There is no way we can tell the difference between ‘something we can never understand’ and ‘something we can eventually understand but do not understand yet.’ We’ve seen plenty of cases where giving up on ever understanding something turned out to be unjustified.

          Now, there are many things we won’t ever know, for various reasons. There are probably many species that died out in the past without leaving fossils that survived to the present. We’ll never know about them unless we develop time travel someday. But no one would call those species ‘supernatural’.

          In general words, the existence of the supernatural is a fact about reality that does not depend on the state of my mind. It already exists or it already does not. The map is not the territory.

          True… but we humans have to explore to generate maps. Technically, in our heads, all we have are maps.

          Calling something ‘supernatural’ always, in practice, amounts to putting “here be dragons” at some spot on the map. It amounts to “I give up”, it’s saying “there’s no point even trying to understand this”.

          Randal and I did manage to have a conversation about this, BTW.

    • randal

      Thanks Robert. Of course a definition of naturalism vs. supernaturalism is rather far from defining religion and arguing that a commitment to supernaturalism is a necessary component thereof. But let’s set that aside and just contemplate the adequacy of these definitions.

      I’ll make three observations concerning Carrier’s defintion of naturalism.

      First, it invites definition of the concepts “mental” and “non-mental”. Are these protean concepts for Carrier or can they be analyzed further? For example, does he believe non-mental can be analyzed in terms of spatial location and/or spatial extension?

      Second, does this entail epiphenomenalism? It would appear to. But epiphenomenalism strikes me as an impossible notion to accept. So I would ask why Carrier would think epiphenomenalism is more likely to be true than naturalism (so defined) is likely to be false.

      Third, this leads me to enquire as to why Carrier would think naturalism is true in the first place. Assuming that we have decent definitions of mental and non-mental, why think that the ontological substrate of all things is non-mental?

      • Robert

        I don’t know the answers to all your questions, but epiphenomenalism is an interesting one to discuss. IT’S FREAKING WEIRD! Isn’t it?

        I’ve read a surprisingly big chuck about epiphenomenalism since LessWrong covers the subject. This is a funny story if you have 15 min to listen. It won’t be funny at all unless you know about David Chalmers.

        • randal

          Sure I know Chalmers. He’s one of two shoulda been a rockstar philosophers of mind. (The other is my friend Dean Zimmerman.) I’ll check it out. Thanks

      • Robert

        Third, this leads me to enquire as to why Carrier would think naturalism is true in the first place. Assuming that we have decent definitions of mental and non-mental, why think that the ontological substrate of all things is non-mental?

        Well, this the thesis of reductionism, isn’t it? I have a feeling that reductionism is true, but I’m not totally convinced. The standard justification for reductionism is Occam’s razor which begs a justification for Occam’s razor …

        Justification for Occam’s razor is probability theory: That the conjunction of A and B is necessarily less (or equally) probable than A alone.

        Yudkowsky says that Solomonoff induction (a formalization of Occam’s razor) gives a formal way to evaluate when an explanation is more complex than necessary, but you ask …

        … why think that the ontological substrate of all things is non-mental?

        Because mental things can seem simple to us, but are actually among the most complicated things in the universe. Their complexity is revealed when someone actually tries to simulate one. We’ve tried. We can’t do it.

        Yudkowsky explains this in terms of anger. The ancients said lightening was caused by an angry god, but they vastly underestimated the complexity of their hypothesis:

        To a human, Maxwell’s Equations [of electrodynamics] take much longer to explain than Thor. [...] And yet it seems that there should be some sense in which Maxwell’s Equations are simpler than a human brain, or Thor the thunder-agent.

        There is: It’s enormously easier (as it turns out) to write a computer program that simulates Maxwell’s Equations, compared to a computer program that simulates an intelligent emotional mind like Thor.

        Just because we can say “a witch did it!” or “Thor is angry” or “the ontological substrate of all things is mental”, that doesn’t mean we actually gave a simple explanation that obeys Occam’s razor. “mental” … 6 characters … has a whole lot hiding in there.

        • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

          Justification for Occam’s razor is probability theory: That the conjunction of A and B is necessarily less (or equally) probable than A alone.

          Not really. Ockham’s Razor can be justified on purely pragmatic ground.

          For any finite set of observations or data or whatever, an unlimited number of explanations can be produced. In other words, there is no upper limit to the complexity of explanations to account for a given set of data. (By whatever complexity metric you choose.)

          So, just for pragmatic reasons, the simplest explanation should be preferred – it’s simpler to work with, and accounts for all the data. (By definition – if an explanation doesn’t account for all the data, then it’s not an ‘explanation’!)

        • Brad Haggard

          “Mental” may only be complex when trying to explain it materially. But it may be that mental states and physical states are two different categories of things, so it only seems complex because you’re trying to explain something using discordant categories.

          • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

            But it may be that mental states and physical states are two different categories of things

            So how come changes in physical states can alter or eliminate mental states?

            • Brad Haggard

              I kind of agree with what you say, but the relationship between brain and mind is dynamic on both ends. You can change chemical pathways in your brain by thinking (e.g. mind over matter). It’s called “cognitive therapy”. And it’s the APA standard in treatment now: http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/ccp/57/3/414/

              We also know now that our actions can even grow new neurons in the brain, such as practicing juggling (I’ll link the article if you’re interested).

              So I think the issue is much more muddled than the “brain injury argument” would lead us to believe.

              • Robert

                the relationship between brain and mind is dynamic on both ends [...] our actions can even grow new neurons in the brain

                I think this strange loop you describe can work because our minds are actually part of the universe.

                I find it easier to believe that brains are ordinary and mundane than believe that the laws of physics are being continuously broken inside them by non-physical minds.

                • Brad Haggard

                  I didn’t see this before the comment I posted in reply earlier…

                  So I’m just wondering, do you think that mind and brain are distinct (yet still in some way “natural”)?

                  • Robert

                    Honestly, I don’t know.

                • Brad Haggard

                  Also, do you know of another thing in our universe which is physical and produces the properties of rationality (or artistry)?

                  Perhaps the brain is not a good test case for proving a “universal law”.

                • Brad Haggard

                  One more thing to tease out:

                  Depressive behaviors arise from a pathway change in the brain, a neuro-pathology. Cognitive therapy, which does not employ artificial drugs, only thought correction, can change those brain pathways.

                  This isn’t a loop, it’s a causal relationship, one which has been confirmed by many studies.

              • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                You can change chemical pathways in your brain by thinking (e.g. mind over matter). We also know now that our actions can even grow new neurons in the brain, such as practicing juggling (I’ll link the article if you’re interested).

                But if mind is fundamentally linked to matter – for example, if ‘mind’ is something matter does – then what you have is matter interacting with matter to make changes in matter. Feedback loops can have subtle and elegant and far-ranging consequences, but they aren’t magic. :)

                • Brad Haggard

                  But unless thoughts are somehow “material”, then I’m not sure how you can say it is a “loop”. What is the matter of a thought?

                  Also, it’s very hard for me to see how on naturalism we can say there is anything close to a “will” or volitional center to a human, but this type of study proves the opposite. A choice to change your thoughts results in a change of brain chemistry. If naturalism were true, then thoughts could only be determined by chemical processes in the brain.

                  • Brap Gronk

                    “A choice to change your thoughts results in a change of brain chemistry. If naturalism were true, then thoughts could only be determined by chemical processes in the brain.”

                    Can’t choices be described in terms of processes in the brain? Haven’t there been easily googled papers describing fMRI being used to detect brain activity indicative of choices before the subjects were consciously aware of the choices?

                    “The new fMRI studies also enabled the researchers to determine that the leading brain activity selectively predicted the outcome of the subject’s choice of which button to push, and was not simply indicative of some nonspecific preparatory processes . . .”

                    • Brad Haggard

                      Mr. Gronk,

                      I’m familiar with the study you quote there, and I think the conclusions from the study are far too over-reaching. We’re only talking about binary choices, and even then the accuracy was a little over 60% if I remember right. That’s a far cry from any sort of model of consciousness or volition. Especially when we have highly evidenced studies such as the one I cited that push in the opposite direction.

                    • Brap Gronk

                      “Mr. Gronk,”

                      Please, call me Brap. I’d like to think we’re all on a first name basis here at the RVCH (Randal’s Virtual Coffee House).

                      “We’re only talking about binary choices,”

                      A reasonable place for the research to start.

                      “and even then the accuracy was a little over 60% if I remember right.”

                      Somewhat better than chance, which indicates they’re likely onto something, the accuracy of which should improve as the detection techniques and pattern-recognition software improve.

                      “That’s a far cry from any sort of model of consciousness or volition. Especially when we have highly evidenced studies such as the one I cited that push in the opposite direction.”

                      So if measurable brain activity can be detected before we’re consciously aware of making a decision about which of two buttons to push, why wouldn’t we expect the same thing to occur before consciously deciding what to think about when confronted with the much more personal and complicated things cognitive therapy addresses? (I couldn’t tell from the link you posted if that real-time brain activity was looked for or not.)

                  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                    But unless thoughts are somehow “material”, then I’m not sure how you can say it is a “loop”. What is the matter of a thought?

                    That’s the question. For now, I figure it’s just that we haven’t had the right insight to understand how consciousness works. Eventually someone will – and it’ll probably prove to be something simple and elegant and ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ (See, for example, Darwin and evolution, or Watson and Crick and Franklin and the insight about the structure of DNA.)

                    Also, it’s very hard for me to see how on naturalism we can say there is anything close to a “will” or volitional center to a human

                    Whether or not an idea would be nice or unpleasant isn’t correlated with how true it is.

                    But even then, the consequences aren’t necessarily as bad as people often imagine. Even if determinism were true – and QM argues pretty much conclusively against classical determinism – things like chaos theory would make actual prediction of what anyone will choose, especially long-term, useless. (Look at weather – most people these days accept that weather is a deterministic system, but you can’t predict the weather more than a week in advance, tops.)

                    So in other words, people are still capable of all the wonderful things people have been capable of throughout history, even if thoughts are ‘ultimately’ the result of processes in the brain.

                    • Brad Haggard

                      coupla things, Ray:

                      1. I feel like you’re begging the question on the issue of a reduction of consciousness. You assume it will be explained, so it doesn’t matter that I have documented evidence of literal “mind over matter” cases. I am concerned with whether or not determinism is “true”, and I don’t think it is because of the evidence. I have to give more weight to that than punting to an as-yet-unknown scientific theory. It seems like so many naturalists just assume the processes are physical because on naturalism they have to be.

                      2. I don’t think QM argues against determinism, especially on the macro level of our brains. The probabilities coalesce into determinations (and that’s only on the “non-deterministic” interpretations of the equations).

                      3. I kind of agree with you on the results of determinism, but I do think you’re missing the point that “you” do not exist under strict materialism. There is no “discovery” or “advancement”, only blind physical processes. The only alternative is an (irrational) existentialism that gets called “humanism” nowadays.

        • randal

          I don’t think you need to justify Ockham’s razor. But simplcity is different than reductionism. And you do have to provide a defense for a reductionist thesis. It is precisely because reductionism has been such a failure in key areas like consciousness that people like McGinn are taking a more old-fashioned non-reductive view.

          • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

            It is precisely because reductionism has been such a failure in key areas like consciousness that people like McGinn are taking a more old-fashioned non-reductive view.

            What failure? We’ve made a lot of progress in understanding neurobiology and we’re making baby steps in AI. The project isn’t complete yet but I don’t see the grounds for pessimism that McGinn does.

            “What intelligible account can the mechanistic theory of life give of the… recovery from disease and injuries? Simply none at all, except that these phenomena are so complex and strange that as yet we cannot understand them. It is exactly the same with the closely related phenomena of reproduction. We cannot by any stretch of the imagination conceive a delicate and complex mechanism which is capable, like a living organism, of reproducing itself indefinitely often.” – J. S. Haldane, 1932, before molecular biology

            (Note: Haldane insisted the explanation had to ‘spiritual’, and thus supernatural by both my and Carrier’s definitions.)

            The idea that life couldn’t possibly be ultimately physical was understandable before the Wohler Synthesis showed that ‘organic’ materials could be made from ‘inorganic’ ones. (I don’t think it was justified even then, just understandable.) But by 1932 we had a lot more evidence that the ‘stuff’ of life wasn’t fundamentally different from ‘nonliving stuff’. In terms of consciousness, I’d say we’re at least at the Wohler level and maybe even as far as the 1932 organic chemistry stage.

            I figure someone will come along and have a critical insight or two (like Watson and Crick and Franklin figured out DNA) by and by.

            No, Haldane – and, I think, McGinn – suffer from what Daniel Dennett calls “The Philosopher’s Syndrome: Mistaking a failure of imagination for an insight into necessity.”

            • randal

              Ray, think about a building constructed of lego. We start taking it apart, brick by brick. Eventually we come to basic units of lego that cannot be prised apart any further no matter how hard we try. If you are holding a brick in your hand and you and you’ve been trying to prise it into more fundamental pieces for several years and you’ve failed, and everyone else who has tried has failed as well, that is a good reason to think it cannot be prised apart any further.

              The fact is that you are trying to reason from (1) “We can understand many things” to (2) “We can understand everything.” The question is how to justify the leap from (1) to (2). Hint: pointing out the many things we do understand does not justify the leap to saying we can understand everything, especially when we’ve been working on certain lego bricks for decades with absolutely no success.

              • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                The fact is that you are trying to reason from (1) “We can understand many things” to (2) “We can understand everything.” The question is how to justify the leap from (1) to (2).

                No, I’m questioning the leap to the positive conclusion that “there are things we can’t ever understand”.

                …especially when we’ve been working on certain lego bricks for decades with absolutely no success.

                First off, how dare you say “absolutely no success” when I pointed out examples to the contrary? You might be able to say ‘meager signs of success’, at which point I’ll challenge you on the ‘meager’, but you can’t say “no signs”.

                Secondly, how many decades was it that people were working on the chemical nature of biological life again before the field of molecular biology blossomed? At least a couple dozen, right?

                How many decades since the foundation of disciplines like neurology and comupter science again?

                The fact that a problem hasn’t been solved yet is only proof that the problem is hard. It’s not in any way proof – or evidence, really – that the problem is insoluble. (C.f., say, the Poincaré Conjecture or Fermat’s Last Theorem.)

                • randal

                  “No, I’m questioning the leap to the positive conclusion that “there are things we can’t ever understand”.”

                  Well then why don’t you take an agnostic position? I.e. “I don’t know whether there are things we can never understand or not”?

                  “First off, how dare you say…”

                  The examples you provide do absolutely nothing to explain how a pattern of neurons firing could be the same thing as a conscious state or how they could produce a conscious state. Sorry, but that’s a fact.

                  • Robert

                    The examples you provide do absolutely nothing to explain how a pattern of neurons firing could be the same thing as a conscious state or how they could produce a conscious state. Sorry, but that’s a fact.

                    Randal, isn’t your position unfalsifiable? No matter how well we come to understand the brain, you can always propose that the real action is happening in the mind, a thing not physical or measurable that somehow interacts with the physical brain in a not-yet-detected way.

                    Sam Harris:

                    What we’re being asked to consider is that you damage one part of the brain, and something about the mind and subjectivity is lost, you damage another and yet more is lost, [but] you damage the whole thing at death, we can rise off the brain with all our faculties in tact, recognizing grandma and speaking English!

                    • Brad Haggard

                      Robert,

                      I’m not saying necessarily that I believe this or can prove it, but I think it’s at least possible that, on dualism, the brain functions as an interface between mind and body. At death the connection is severed.

                      Also, I could make a vague appeal to quantum consciousness and claim that our minds can survive after emerging from quantum forces in the brain (much less believable, though)

                      But as many times as brain injuries are trotted out, I haven’t had any skeptic engage my argument that mind can influence the brain based on cognitive therapy. It’s in a reply above in this thread to Ray.

                    • randal

                      If I deny something which is necessarily false then my position is unfalsifiable because it is necessarily true. I believe the token and type identity and functionalist theories of the mind are necessarily false and thus I believe that by rejecting them I adopt a position which is necessarily true. You’re not suggesting that is a problem are you?!

                      As for property dualism/epiphenomenalism, I believe those are possibly true but in actuality false. Thus, my rejection of those views could conceivably be falsified if one of those views is shown to be true.

                  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                    Well then why don’t you take an agnostic position? I.e. “I don’t know whether there are things we can never understand or not”?

                    We talked about that, remember?

                    The examples you provide do absolutely nothing to explain how a pattern of neurons firing could be the same thing as a conscious state or how they could produce a conscious state

                    As I’ve noted before:

                    The key line of evidence is the simple fact that damage to the brain doesn’t just damage “mechanical” capacities like math ability, coordination, speech, and the like – it also damages awareness, and does it in fundamental ways.

                    Consider aphasia. One type, Broca’s aphasia, seems to fit the naive model. Sufferers are generally able to understand the speech of others, but have great difficulty speaking themselves.

                    But then there’s Wernicke’s Aphasia. Victims can speak fluently, but comprehension is gone. They speak in what has been termed “word salad”; a stream of meaningless gibberish. If you put two patients next to each other, they may have an entire conversation of nonsense. And they won’t realize it. Sufferers of Wernicke’s aphasia not only don’t understand language, they don’t understand that they don’t understand. Despite being unable to communicate verbally, they usually seem entirely untroubled by it, or, indeed, to even notice something’s missing.

                    Then there’s hemisphere neglect. A sufferer loses, say, the concept of ‘left’. They ignore things on their left; they may eat only food on the right side of their plate, be unable to open a door with the doorknob on the left, etc. Ask them to imagine walking down a street, they will describe only the items on right side. Ask them to imagine turning around, and they will suddenly forget the items they were talking about, and start describing the other side of the street. Oliver Sacks notes a case of a man who had a stroke that massively damaged his visual cortex. He not only lost the ability to see, he lost the whole concept of sight; he couldn’t even imagine seeing, or remember what vision was. He couldn’t understand why everyone was concerned. Anyone who’s seen the effects of Alzheimer’s Syndrome has plenty of evidence that the brain is what’s critical to the self. In the late stages it’s hard for anyone to say that what’s left is the original person in any meaningful sense.

                    Now, of course, there’s the question of how the brain, a lump of matter, gives rise to self-awareness. My answer is simple: “I dunno.” But even if a caveman didn’t understand how a car’s engine works, he could determine that it was the source of locomotion. We don’t yet know how the brain gives rise to consciousness, but we have plenty of evidence like the above that it does.

                    I suspect that part of the problem is that we’re looking at the question wrong. I think consciousness isn’t a static ‘object'; it’s an active process. Consider wind – what is wind, exactly? It’s something air does. Is a tornado an object, or is it a process that happens within a particular volume of air? I think the mind isn’t something the brain has or creates – the mind is what the brain does. Or, as Frank Zindler put it, “To believe that consciousness can survive the wreck of the brain is like believing that 70 mph can survive the wreck of the car.”

                    Self-awareness in humans comes about from the actions of billions of neurons in the brain. Clearly it’s not just a matter of how many neurons are involved – imagine a trillion neurons, arranged end-to-end. They might be useful as a signalling line, but even though there’s a trillion neurons, it’s clear they have no significant information-processing capability, and are therefore nonsentient. Arrangement matters. We don’t know (yet) exactly what neural arrangments are necessary for self-awareness, but clearly the human brain is one such arrangement. There may be other possible arrangements, that use fewer neurons, or that use entirely different fundamental units (transistors?).

                    Rather than – or at least, in addition to – reading McGinn, you might want to invest some time reading the works of people who are trying to understand this. I can suggest Oliver Sacks, the neurologist who writes like a poet, as a good place to start.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Perhaps by “unknowable” Ray means “cannot be fully understood.”

    Considering that we’ve talked about it before, I’m surprised it took you that long. You never did read the essay I linked to, did you? :) Yes, that’s what I mean.

    For example, Colin McGinn, one of the preeminent atheistic philosophers writing today, believes that there are many things which probably cannot be understood by human beings in principle and he puts the mind brain problem in that list (among others). According to the definition Ray offers, atheist Colin McGinn is actually religious because McGinn recognizes the existence of supernatural things (i.e. things we cannot understand fully) and this is necessary and sufficient to be religious.

    The existence of problematic border cases doesn’t automatically invalidate a definition. (Does ‘twilight’ mean ‘day’ and ‘night’ can’t be rigorously defined?)

    For example, are Mormons Christians? They worship Jesus, true… but a radically different Jesus than other Christian sects. They don’t really accept the Trinity as understood by the more orthodox.

    For some purposes, they could be counted as Christian, but not others. I’d say McGinn is, in fact, religious… but for most practical purposes he can pass for atheist without much trouble. He has ‘not believing in God’ going for him, the way Mormons have the Bible… but he’s got some problematic optional add-ons, analogous to the Book of Mormon. I’d call him an atheist-ish theist, yes.

    Now let us have a little bit of fun. Imagine a highly rationalistic Christian called Dave who believes God could in principle be fully understood (whatever that might mean exactly). But beyond that rather idiosyncratic belief, Dave accepts all the doctrines of the faith including the Trinity, creation, incarnation, substitionary atonement, resurrection, the whole kit and kaboodle. He attends church regularly and worships God in church with tears streaming down his face. When he is not in church he is evangelizing at the nearby college campus.

    Frankly, sounds a lot like Vox Day, whom I recall more-or-less expounding the idea that this universe is effectively a simulation run by God. He’d hate to be called an atheist, but even you’d have to admit there’s nothing supernatural in that formulation of God.

    Can you explain the principled difference between the ‘God’ that Dave worships and a powerful extradimensional alien?

    • Robert

      I have said this to Randal before:

      … when controversy over a word threatens, the most rational course of action is to taboo the hard to define word – the word loaded with a million connotations – and use other words instead. [...]

      There are ways to communicate thoughts from one working human brain to another without engaging in long definitional disputes. If we can’t find a non-confusing or non-disputed definition in 5 minutes, we should move on by actually describing the thing.

      davidstarlingm asked a good follow-up:

      … isn’t “actually describing the thing” the same as “trying to define it”?

      And I responded:

      Yes, it is. My claim is that providing the definition you have in mind, within the context of a particular discussion, avoids a lot of the problems people have with overly broad words.

      And I gave examples on how to do this. More on this idea here.

    • randal

      So let me get this straight. I pointed out that your view entails that atheists like Colin McGinn are religious while some Christians potentially aren’t. Rather than concede that this defeats your definition, you reply that these are borderline cases.

      That’s simply not correct. These are examples that go to the very heart of your definition. Colin McGinn is a leading atheist philosopher who has argued powerfully and persuasively for his mysterian thesis. On your definition this makes him deeply religious. (He is deeply religious because McGinn has thought carefully and argued for profound human cognitive limitation in a variety of areas. Since religiosity is, on your view, tied to recognition of cognitive limitation, this prresumably makes him deeply religious. Thus, on your definition atheists can be deeply religious.) This isn’t a marginal anomaly. This is a counterexample that goes to the heart of your proposed definition.

      “Can you explain the principled difference between the ‘God’ that Dave worships and a powerful extradimensional alien?”

      Sure. As an orthodox Christian theist (save this one rationalist anomaly) Dave believes that God exists in all possible worlds.

      • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

        I pointed out that your view entails that atheists like Colin McGinn are religious

        Whoa, back up for a minute. What’s an “atheist”? Is it just ‘someone who doesn’t believe in god(s)’? Could an animist be an atheist, in your view? If so, there’s no problem with an atheist being religious, right?

        (Say, did you actually answer my question about whether Mormons are Christian? I missed that.)

        If you define an atheist as someone who doesn’t accept the existence of the supernatural, then McGinn would be religious, just not a believer in gods.

        while some Christians potentially aren’t.

        It’d be hard to be an orthodox Christian and deny Isaiah 55:9, though, right?

        • randal

          “Whoa, back up for a minute. What’s an “atheist”? Is it just ‘someone who doesn’t believe in god(s)’? Could an animist be an atheist, in your view? If so, there’s no problem with an atheist being religious, right?”

          An atheist is one who believes that the unconditionally, non-dependently real is not an agent and is not teleological.

          “(Say, did you actually answer my question about whether Mormons are Christian? I missed that.)”

          No, Mormons are not Christians. Christians believe God is the only self-existent being and he created and sustains all things. Mormons believe “God” was once a human being who evolved to become one of an infinite number of gods and that we too can evolve to become gods. Those two visions of the divine could not be more at odds.

          “It’d be hard to be an orthodox Christian and deny Isaiah 55:9, though, right?”

          Whether or not Dave counts as a Christian is actually irrelevant. The point is that Dave is RELIGIOUS. But according to your definition he isn’t.

          Ray, why not just admit that any definition of religion which makes Colin McGinn religious and Dave non-religious is fundamentally deficient?

          • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

            An atheist is one who believes that the unconditionally, non-dependently real is not an agent and is not teleological.

            In other words… an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in God (by your definition of God). (As an aside, is someone an atheist if they just don’t accept your thesis? Must they actively believe the converse?)

            Therefore, an animist atheist is possible, and therefore, a religious atheist is possible, right?

            So if a religious atheist is not a problem for your definition, why is it a problem for mine? Use small words, apparently I need this broken down.

            No, Mormons are not Christians.

            So… they share a lot of traits with Christians, and can be mistaken for Christian in a lot of circumstances, but are not, in fact, actually Christian.

            Why then is it a problem when I say that “McGinn is, in fact, religious… but for most practical purposes he can pass for atheist without much trouble”? I think I need some more small words.

            Whether or not Dave counts as a Christian is actually irrelevant. The point is that Dave is RELIGIOUS. But according to your definition he isn’t.

            As I asked ‘pete’ in the last thread (though I didn’t get an answer), is someone who belongs to a Parent/Teacher association religious by that fact? Don’t the nature of the beliefs have some relevance?

            • randal

              “(As an aside, is someone an atheist if they just don’t accept your thesis? Must they actively believe the converse?)”

              I’m not sure what you’re asking here. Can you clarify?

              “Therefore, an animist atheist is possible, and therefore, a religious atheist is possible, right?”

              According to the definition of religion I provided I have no problem at all with atheists who are religious. The problem is not that there can be a religious atheist. The problem is that on your view Colin McGinn is religious in virtue of believing there are things we cannot know. If Colin McGinn is religious that certainly is not the reason. As for Dave, he clearly is religious but your definition says he isn’t.

              “Why then is it a problem when I say that “McGinn is, in fact, religious… but for most practical purposes he can pass for atheist without much trouble”? I think I need some more small words.”

              He isn’t “passing for an atheist”. He is an atheist. And as I said if he is religious it is not because he believes there are things we cannot know.

              “is someone who belongs to a Parent/Teacher association religious by that fact?”

              No. Please look at the definition of religion I provided.

              • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                I’m not sure what you’re asking here. Can you clarify?

                Does someone have to actively believe “that the unconditionally, non-dependently real is not an agent and is not teleological” to be an atheist?

                What if they just don’t actively believe ‘that the unconditionally, non-dependently real is an agent and is teleological’? Perhaps they think the question undecidable (agnostic) or just don’t think the question can be decided yet (what I call ‘non-gnostic’). Or perhaps they haven’t considered the topic and have no beliefs at all in that regard. Which of those, if any, are atheists?

                The problem is that on your view Colin McGinn is religious in virtue of believing there are things we cannot know. If Colin McGinn is religious that certainly is not the reason.

                The idea of a definition is to ‘carve nature at the joints’, as Plato put it. A different definition will cut nature in different places, kind of by necessity. The measure of utility is how naturally the cuts are performed.

                For example, a key part of your definition is that the beliefs be “formalized”. To echo your questions to me, how is this term defined?

                For example, you agree that animism is a type of religion, but many variants are not terribly formalized. How formal does a belief have to be to be “formalized”? What’s the measure? The fact that people feel a need to make a distinction between “organized religion” and the other stuff indicates a continuum, no?

                I’ll note that “believing something to be ungraspable by humans” or not is much closer to an unambiguous and binary distinction, and at least to that extent is more useful. :)

                Even if you don’t fully accept my definition – if you insist that any ‘worldview’ is ipso facto a religion – surely you’d accept the idea that there’s a definite and relevant distinction in kind between worldviews that accept unknowable stuff and those that don’t?

                He isn’t “passing for an atheist”. He is an atheist.

                And now you’re judging my definition solely by how well it matches yours. Nowadays, we define ‘organic chemistry’ as ‘the study of compounds containing carbon’. In the past, it meant ‘chemical compounds composing living things’. The two definitions are pretty close for many practical purposes… but e.g. carbon dioxide is still technically classified as ‘inorganic’ thanks to that historical distinction.

                What if I were to claim that, despite historical usage, carbon dioxide is, in fact, an organic compound by the ‘containing carbon’ definition? Would you insist it wasn’t because historically it wasn’t considered organic? Would that be a sensible objection?

                • randal

                  Ray: “Does someone have to actively believe “that the unconditionally, non-dependently real is not an agent and is not teleological” to be an atheist?”

                  Randal: Yes, according to the way the term “atheist” has historically been defined. I recognize that in the last decade some people have started using the term “weak atheism” to refer to agnosticism. But that’s a novel use of the term.

                  Ray: “How formal does a belief have to be to be “formalized”? What’s the measure? The fact that people feel a need to make a distinction between “organized religion” and the other stuff indicates a continuum, no?”

                  Randal: Sure, there is a continuum. But Colin McGinn simply isn’t religious, or if he is it is not for the reasons you suggest. That’s all I’m saying.

                  Ray: “Even if you don’t fully accept my definition – if you insist that any ‘worldview’ is ipso facto a religion – surely you’d accept the idea that there’s a definite and relevant distinction in kind between worldviews that accept unknowable stuff and those that don’t?”

                  Randal: I don’t think a worldview is a religion. After all, I clearly have a different worldview in many respects than the Apostle Paul, but I think I have the same religion. Of course there’s a difference between worldviews who believe everything is knowable and those that don’t. The former adhere to the thesis of rationalism, the latter do not.

                  Ray: “And now you’re judging my definition solely by how well it matches yours.”

                  Randal: Yeah, except that it isn’t just “my” definition we’re talking about. Rather, we’re talking about the way that terms like “religion” have been historically defined over-against Ray’s upstart definition. It isn’t a level playing field.

                  Ray: “What if I were to claim that, despite historical usage, carbon dioxide is, in fact, an organic compound by the ‘containing carbon’ definition? Would you insist it wasn’t because historically it wasn’t considered organic? Would that be a sensible objection?”

                  Randal: If you seriously think that the example of defining natural kinds that you pose is relevant to radical redefinitions of terms like “religion” then I have a reductio ad absurdum with your name on it.

            • pete

              It would be pretty hard for an animist to be an atheist.

              Animism posits that rocks, trees, streams, and animals have souls.

              Doesn’t seem to jive with atheism as I understand it…. unless of course some atheists believe in souls (as classicly defined by world religions).

              Secondly you can be an orthodox Christian aside from Isaiah 55:9…… alot of Christians don’t read the bible, and episcopally structured sacramental liturgical churches do not traditionally place as much emphasis on biblical knowledge, as much as participation in mass and the sacraments.

              Thirdly, many world religions define God in a way that orthodox Christianity does not. Randal isn’t saying that Mormons aren’t theists…. he’s just saying that they are not Christian. Again, Buddhism and Confucianism are not classically defined as atheistic religions…. they are typically called non-theists.

              Semantics-schmantics

              • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                It would be pretty hard for an animist to be an atheist.

                Not based on the definition Randal’s using…

                • pete

                  maybe….. but not on the definition the animists are using.

  • Robert Gressis

    Wouldn’t Carrier’s definition of supernaturalism make David Hume and A. J. Ayer supernaturalists?

    • randal

      Qua Hume are you referring to his view of causation? Can you expand your comment? (As for Ayer I take it you’re referring to something before his NDE?)

      • Robert Gressis

        Hi Randal,

        No, I’m talking about the fact that Hume was an idealist (at least as I read him) and so thought that all of reality was fundamentally mental. This despite the fact that he was either an atheist, an agnostic, or a deist.

        As for Ayer, I was under the impression that he was a phenomenalist — that all we knew to exist were our own sense data, and that there was no need to posit an underlying matter to explain the existence of the sense data. And Ayer, at least before his NDE, was certainly neither a theist nor religious.

        Consequently, if Carrier is right — that a supernaturalist is someone who thinks that there is some fundamentally mental part of reality — then it follows that Ayer and Hume were supernaturalists, which seems to me to be a misuse of the word.

        • randal

          Thanks for the clarification. Now that you mention it, I recall when I read Hume a decade ago thinking “Hey this is Malebranche without God.”

  • The Atheist Missionary

    The difference between McGinn and religious believers is that McGinn doesn’t make truth claims about the things that he considers likely to be beyond human comprehension.

    • randal

      Are you familiar with McGinn’s writings? I can’t imagine you could make a claim like this if you are. Sorry, I know that sounds snotty, but a book like The Mysterious Flame is a long series of truth claims about the mind/body problem all to the end of demonstrating that the precise relation is beyond our ability to solve.

      • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

        Randal, we are at cross purposes. Yes, I have read (and own) The Mysterious Flame. My point was that McGinn does not assert truth claims about matters beyond human comprehension. You replied that he asserted a long series of truth claims about the mind/body problem before concluding that it is likely beyond human comprehension. I trust you will agree that those are quite different observations – what McGinn asserts is not religious, it is speculative. McGinn: “In this book, I argue that the bond between the mind and the brain is a deep mystery. Moreover, it is an ultimate mystery, a mystery that human intelligence will never unravel. Consciousness indubitably exists, and it is connected to the brain in some intelligible way, but the nature of this connection necessarily eludes us.” (page 5)

        Religions assert truth claims about metaphysical matters and, as noted above, these truth claims usually involve the supernatural. How do any of the facts/observations/ponderings of McGinn fall into this category?

        • randal

          “what McGinn asserts is not religious, it is speculative.”

          I didn’t say McGinn is religious. Ray’s definition did.

  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    I understand “mainstream” Christian theology to assert the following truth claims:

    1. Humans are made in God’s image;

    2. God is all-loving; and

    3. God actively intervenes in the world of human affairs.

    What I don’t understand is how any of these claims can be asserted if God is beyond human comprehension.

    Is the answer simply because the Bible tells us so?

    • Brad Haggard

      We believe that God reveals Himself to us, that’s a key doctrine for Christian and I think answers your question.

      • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

        Anything that reveals itself to me if, by definition, within my comprehension.

        • randal

          That depends on how you understand the phrase “reveals itself” and the term “comprehension”.

    • pete

      T.A.M.

      We can also say that we understand the nature and properties of light, to one extent.

      However, we can also say that we don’t understand the apparent paradox between light possessing properties of both a wave and a particle.

      Christians (not all) believe in certain aspects of natural theology, in which all of creation is infused with some resemblance of the divine.

      That is where Christians (and some non-christian ID proponents) elucidate arguments from beauty, arguments from fine tuning, arguments from reason, arguments from order, arguments from emotion, arguments from intelligence (non-design) and so forth.

      While it may be a poor example (I am open to the very real possiblity that we my one day scientifically reconcile our understanding of light), prima facie, there are some parallels between natural paradox and the doctrine of the Trinity.

      • pete

        in follow-up:

        If we were to press T.A.M.’s progressional reasoning on the above point (God’s knowability according to maintstream theists) to its logical conclusion, we would have to believe that light does not exist.

        And that would leave us all in the dark ;)

      • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

        pete –

        However, we can also say that we don’t understand the apparent paradox between light possessing properties of both a wave and a particle.

        What? Light isn’t either – it acts like one or the other in different circumstances, but we have a very good model of how it works. Popularizations talk about apparent paradox, but the actual practice of quantum mechanics is different. Things are weird, sure, but not self-contradictory.

        Interesting (and, in light of the discussion we’re having, suggestive) that you don’t actually claim that light is in principle incomprehensible. What do you think about God?

        • pete

          Ray:

          “Things are weird, sure, but not self-contradictory”.

          Since you asked, I feel the same way about God.

          I was also clear to point out the weakness in my analogy, as I did not have any principled objection to the reconciliation of the understanding of light.

          Both you and I are using human falliable theoretical models to describe things we don’t quite understand.

          Explaining the coherence of both the “dual appearance” of light (and I claim ignorance on that light “act” like particles and waves under certain circumstances. Has that been proven, or is “they act like both under certain circumstances yet another theoretical model?)and the Trinity that is God are lofty tasks.

          The Christian has the starting point that God is 3 persons, yet one Diety (knowable aspects of God).

          The Christian claims ignorance on the pre-eternality of God (we know that He is pre-eternal – knowable aspect /// yet we can not explain the cause/non-cause of this pre-eternality — non-knowable aspect)

          I’m just glad that I only have one brute fact that I don’t plan on knowing, and doesn’t cause me to lose any sleep.

          • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

            Since you asked, I feel the same way about God.

            I figured you didn’t think God was self-contradictory. I was more curious about whether you thought God was comprehensible.

            So far as I can glean, you think God is partially non-knowable? So far as I can see, that’s a like “only a little bit pregnant”, but do I have you right?

            • pete

              Ray:

              Answer: partially knowable / aspects of him non-knowable / however you want to put it.

              Other than rhetorically, how do you draw the analogy of “half-pregnant” from me saying you can know some things about God, but not others?

              A non-gestational reality is evinced trough the following exercise:

              (What I know about you)

              1) Your name is Ray Ingles (I guess you could have posted a false name though, so is it virtuous and reasonable in doubt to claim the negative “because you have not proved to me that you are Ray Ingles, you therefore are not Ray Ingles and/or I am virtuous in being skeptical about said appelation?)

              2) You appear to be an articulate sentient individual

              3) Even though I don’t know with precise certainty that you are in fact not a sentient cyborg, who possesses artificial intelligence, I come to the reasonable conclusion that you are in fact a human being.

              (what I don’t know about you unless you decide to reveal it….. not that I’m trying to pry)

              4) You birthday, eye/hair/skin colour, height, weight, etc.

              5) Your Social Insurance Number

              6) Your most embarassing moment

              Generally speaking, these private bits of information I have cited are unknowable unless you disclose them to me, or I have searched and found evidence of your self-disclosure to someone else.

              God, on the theist view, has also chosen to disclose some aspects of himself, while witholding other pieces of information.

              He is made best knowable through the special revelation of himself through person of Jesus Christ, but also additional special revelations (prophecies, miracles), and natural revelations (judgements, and creation), and human/divine revelation of Judeo-Christian Scripture (which testifies to the aforementioned special and natural revelations)

              God, on the theist view, has also chosen to inform humanity that he is not going to reveal certain aspects of himself until an appointed time (cf. the pericopes of Revelation 10:7; Isaiah 55:8; and Job 38:22)

              Here’s one of the crux’s of this ongoing epistemic impasse as I see it:

              You want proof before faith. God wants faith before he gives you proof.

              However, the faith God is looking for is not without reason.

              How harmless is it to say, “Jesus is you really exist, I would like to know you”?

              I did that once, after being invited to church. I said, “sound’s great, but I’m not gonna believe a bunch of hocus pocus”.

              Then I made some friends, and read a Bible from start to finish, without any one “indoctrinating me”. I just wanted to use my skills and experience as a Federal Investigator to independently assess the credibility of the truth claims of Christianity.

              To see prophecy fulfilled was my hook-line-and sinker (cf. Psalm 22 circa 1000 B.C., to the Passion of Jesus circa 30-33 A.D…. Prophecies of Cyrus of Isaiah 45 fulfilled a century and a half later in the Persian Conquest of Babylon)

              And is asking God, who may at least POSSIBLY exist, to reveal himself really ridiculous?

              This is the same Jesus that we mark time off of, get the best moral and ethical teachings from, and happens to be the most famous person who ever lived.

              Read other religious scriptures if you like, and then compare.

              But don’t say, “because I don’t know everything about the concept of God, and it doesn’t all make sense, I’m not gonna try searching, and you guys are all wrong for believing and searching.”

              You don’t take that approach with science.

              • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                Generally speaking, these private bits of information I have cited are unknowable unless you disclose them to me, or I have searched and found evidence of your self-disclosure to someone else.

                Only #6 couldn’t be determined by investigation, and even for #6 you could probably turn up some likely candidates with a bit of digging.

                God, on the theist view, has also chosen to disclose some aspects of himself, while witholding other pieces of information.

                Except no amount of investigation will turn up anything God doesn’t choose to reveal. More, there are things that God can’t reveal, that we’re simply not equipped to handle. Kind of a major distinction.

                For example, if I were lying about being named Ray Ingles, you could do some digging and discover that. Check my IP and my website, you could find my location pretty closely. A road trip, or a phone call to someone in my area, or even a private investigator could establish that I was using a pseudonym or was stealing someone else’s identity.

                How would you ‘check up’ on God? Even if you found an apparent contradiction… well, that’s a ‘mystery’. How could you expect to understand that? It’s not a lie, it’s true in a way your limited human intellect can’t grasp. Etc.

                How harmless is it to say, “Jesus is you really exist, I would like to know you”?

                Pretty harmless. And I know from experience, ’cause I’ve, y’know, done it. Did it back in college, which is longer ago than I can credit sometimes. If Jesus intends to answer that prayer, he’s taking his time.

                But don’t say, “because I don’t know everything about the concept of God, and it doesn’t all make sense, I’m not gonna try searching, and you guys are all wrong for believing and searching.”

                When did I say that? Direct quotes would be most helpful. I mean, am I subject to blackouts where I say things like that and don’t remember? Help me out here…

                • pete

                  I didn’t say you made a direct quote to that affect.

                  The general import of your argument appeared to lean that way.

                  And with respect to knowing certain things about you: You are correct…. I could investigate. However, there still remains the possibility that you never released your deepest, darkest, secret, to anyone still living, and thus can choose to be unknowable in that aspect.

                  I would just as easily say you can investigate things about God (special and divine revelation, tradition, reflection, and teaching) to know whether God really did one thing or another.

                  In both cases (your hypothetical witheld deep dark secret, and God’s witheld full disclosure), the principle is the same.

                  I can label both you and God the same as being mysterious, conservative, sovereign over the information, or a combination of the three.

                  Its special pleading to say how your hypothetical witholding of self-disclosure is in principle different than God’s.

                  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                    I didn’t say you made a direct quote to that affect.

                    That’s what double-quotes around text usually imply, though.

                    If I ever want to summarize what I understand is the gist of someone’s argument, I make sure to ask them, ‘is “so-and-so” what you meant?’

                    And with respect to knowing certain things about you: You are correct…. I could investigate. However, there still remains the possibility that you never released your deepest, darkest, secret, to anyone still living, and thus can choose to be unknowable in that aspect.

                    You missed a key passage in my reply. “More, there are things that God can’t reveal, that we’re simply not equipped to handle. Kind of a major distinction.

                    There’s nothing about me that is, in principle, forever unknowable by other humans. It’s possible to find out the things you’re talking about. The same does not apply to God.

                    It’s not a matter of “God’s witheld full disclosure”, it’s that God won’t fit in our minds.

                    • pete

                      Why do you think that God can’t make things about himself knowable?

                      Revelation 10:7 indicates that at a certain time, the mystery of God will be fulfilled.

                      If God “hypothetically” exists, do you mean to tell me that you are unlimited in your benevolence to epistemically gift/self-disclose as you will, while God can’t find his chequebook?

                      Am I right in reading that you possess an ability above and beyond God?

      • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

        I love the trinity. St. Augustine explains it very well in De Trinitate:

        That the Son is Very God, of the Same Substance with the Father. Not Only the Father, But the Trinity, is Affirmed to Be Immortal. All Things are Not from the Father Alone, But Also from the Son. That the Holy Spirit is Very God, Equal with the Father and the Son.

        Well, that clears that up.

        • pete

          Well, at least we profess our ingorance of total epistemic awareness on a matter so deep.

          2000 years later, and none of the definitions quite do justice.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Why do you think that God can’t make things about himself knowable?

    God can… by making humans into something other than they are now.

    Am I right in reading that you possess an ability above and beyond God?

    By itself that’s not a particularly un-Christian claim. God can’t do evil, right?

    • pete

      “God can… by making humans into something other than they are now.”

      Yes. Or he could give us the information at any point in time, without tranforming us.

      “By itself that’s not a particularly un-Christian claim. God can’t do evil, right?”

      Do you mean to tell me that evil is a virture, or makes us somehow a positive equipment?

      I testify that God WON’T do evil, as you define it.

      Can God harm you? Yes.

      Would God do anything unholy/unrighteous/undeserved? No.

      • pete

        Ray:

        I actually meant to say, “can God harm us?” as opposed to “can God harm you?”

        Don’t take the comment being directed at you specifically in any way/shape/form.

      • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

        Or he could give us the information at any point in time, without tranforming us.

        Er, well… no, not really.

        Do you mean to tell me that evil is a virture, or makes us somehow a positive equipment?

        No, but I have the capacity to do evil. God doesn’t, according to the theologians.

  • pete

    Ray:

    Apophatic theology is okay, for limited use.

    But with Trinitarian Theology, we can get a bit more of a perspective.

    1) We have Jesus’ Testimony of the Father, and inter-Trinitarian conversation, which he graciously allows his disciples to hear (John 17)

    2) We have the Father’s testimony of the Son (see the baptism and transfiguration of Christ)

    3) We have the Spirit’s testimony of Father and Son (the Bible)

    4) We have the Father’s testimony of the Spirit (Joel)

    5) We have the Son’s testimony of the Spirit (“any blasphemies against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven”)

    So, did the bystanders to those conversations, and us in the present day have to somehow be transformed?

    In this context, “Er, well… no, not really.” is now my proper placement of your comment.

    And the fact that we can do evil is indicative of our distance from and inferiority to God.

    Left unchecked, on an ECT view (I think there may be a related post on that) the judgement becomes eternal damnation.

    Doesn’t sound like so great of an ability to me.

    • pete

      Actually, I should qualify my comment on anthropomorphic transformation for a knowable understanding the Trinity/nature of God.

      To know God also requires a transformed mind and heart, by way of gifting by the Holy Spirit.

      I imagine that the information contained in my previous comment (or this one) will not do too much on its own to convict any person of its truthfulness.

    • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

      pete –

      And the fact that we can do evil is indicative of our distance from and inferiority to God.

      I didn’t say it was awesome. I was simply pointing out that claiming an ability to do something God can’t isn’t automatically impossible.

      Indeed, the ability to represent oneself without reservation to other humans would be something like evil – only possible because “of our distance from and inferiority to God”, no?

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Getting “a bit more of a perspective” is not the same as comprehending God in a comprehensive way.

  • pete

    If I get your perspective, you want to comprehend God, as a topic of study-merit with or without his permission.

    I say, like human relations and humans themselves, maybe some of that information is private.

    People tend not to discuss or share themselves until others try to get to know them.

    God is no different in that respect.

    • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

      People tend not to discuss or share themselves until others try to get to know them.

      The distinction I’ve been repeatedly trying to make is between ‘unwilling’ and ‘unable’.

      • pete

        That’s pretty vague.

        God did will to disclose himself, and we, for the most part, had the ability to listen.

        We are unable to get information that God does not want to disclose, until such time He wishes to disclose it.

        So, I guess….. you are right?

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Brad Haggard –

    You assume it will be explained, so it doesn’t matter that I have documented evidence of literal “mind over matter” cases.

    No, Brad, you don’t.

    Cognitive therapy involves others teaching someone to change the way they think. So… inputs from the outside, altering how feedback loops work within the brain? There’s simply no need to draw upon magic to explain that.

    I don’t think QM argues against determinism, especially on the macro level of our brains.

    QM does kill determinism, in the sense of being able to predict what a system will do. And the macro level of our brains is affected by the micro, to the extent that our brains are chaotic systems.

    I do think you’re missing the point that “you” do not exist under strict materialism.

    “I” exist as a pattern, an attractor in phase space. The matter that makes me up carries out a dance that instantiates me, that explores that region of phase space.

    • Brad Haggard

      Ray, there is an act of volition involved in a person undertaking cognitive therapy. That’s kind of the point. (and what exactly do you think the therapist is doing?)

      And you really didn’t answer my QM contention, just to say that we can’t have definite knowledge of the situation. In fact, the wikipedia article you linked on Chaos theory mentioned that the systems were still considered deterministic.

      As for your contention that the matter in your brain is operating in one of those systems, I can’t say one way or another because there is no evidence either way! It’s at these points that I get really frustrated with skeptics charging me of acting in the absence of evidence, because you’re working with a completely theoretical model. Why would I relinquish a highly evidenced phenomenon (cognitive therapy, and more) and self-presenting evidence that I do exist and make decisions for a theory that has no evidential support?

      • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

        Ray, there is an act of volition involved in a person undertaking cognitive therapy. That’s kind of the point. (and what exactly do you think the therapist is doing?)

        But what is ‘volition’? Our choices are shaped by our desires, our beliefs, our character… or else in what sense are they our choices? So, it’s both non-random and non-determined. Hey, speaking of which:

        And you really didn’t answer my QM contention, just to say that we can’t have definite knowledge of the situation. In fact, the wikipedia article you linked on Chaos theory mentioned that the systems were still considered deterministic.

        No, QM is – in a very concrete sense – nondeterministic. See, e.g. Bell’s Inequalities, or this.

        And – because chaotic systems are sensitive to even the tiniest disturbances – that means that indeterminacy at the quantum level gets rather swiftly amplified to the macro level. And yet, there’s a non-random overall pattern, almost exactly like the difference between ‘climate’ and ‘weather’.

        As for your contention that the matter in your brain is operating in one of those systems, I can’t say one way or another because there is no evidence either way!

        http://www.cerebromente.org.br/n14/mente/chaos.html