Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Divine Words

" All Scripture is God-breathed..."
                                                  St. Paul

I've been giving some thought to this, lately.

For most of my life I was taught, and accepted, that the Bible was "divinely inspired".  In my cultural tradition, this meant that every word in it was perfectly, literally accurate.  Six days to create the world.  Infallible history.  And every verse like a magic spell that could bend reality to fit the "correct" way of thinking about things.

I was even told that translation errors could not occur - because God was watching over His Word.  If just ONE verse turned out to be false, well then, you wouldn't be able to trust ANY of it!!  And woe betide anybody who dared twist it, or change even so much as a punctuation mark!

When you think about it - this has to produce a fearful kind of faith.  It implies that there is one
correct way of viewing God, faith, and the world - and that any little deviation from this prescriptive "truth" could be dangerous.  It also uses the Bible as a kind of rule book for thinking.  "Here - put your mind in this nice, neat straitjacket, or you'll miss seeing God!!"  It makes it more like a pair of blinkers, than a window through which to glimpse eternity.

The Bible is a remarkable collection of writings.  As Lee Strobel points out, in his book "The Case for Christ", as far as ancient documents go, there are multiple times more matching copies, (and these are hundreds of years closer in date to the original events, people and places) than there are of Homer's writings.  As far as the authenticity of ancient documents goes; those are damned fine credentials.  However it's a HUUUGE leap from this, to the kind of rigid fundamentalist view of Scripture that I grew up with. 

The Bible is a collection of ancient texts, written by and for people from ancient, foreign cultures, in languages that are no longer used in the same form today.  It records encounters between these people and cultures and the I AM.  Because it was written by real people, it is earthy, untidy, coloured by culture and perception, and fabulously rich and confusing.

The Bible (in spite of containing the Jewish ceremonial and religious laws) is not a "rule book for thinking".  Not every word of a translation is some kind of magic spell.

But it points to a reality.  In its pages we find accounts by strangers from another time, of the stirrings of God in their world.  We may never fully understand the perspective of those strangers.  We cannot leave our own culture and sit fully inside theirs.  However, woven into the fabric of their writings  if we have eyes to see, it is possible to discern something of the shape of the eternal and divine.

The narratives, poetry and other writings in the Bible point to a God who can be encountered, and wants to encounter us;  a God who will be found by those who seek Him.  Over and over again, we read the words of people in times and cultures past, who encountered the breath of God in their world;  which sounds a lot like Divine inspiration to me.  The thing is, though, to actually experience the divine, we have to seek such an encounter for ourselves.


  1. All quite true I think Kerry. As the atheists keep pointing out, the bible is full of contradictions (if you look for them) and plenty of errors. I would even suggest it has some hyperbole, as all myth does. The spirit is there to discern, as it is in all of our ancient myths. Why I think the bible is a standout, is not what is in the bible, but what was left out. The gnostic gospels such as the Gospel according to Mary Magdalene or Thomas the doubter, all point to something very strange with the ressurection. To me these extra books aren't a contradiction or an embarrassment, or dangerous gnosticism, they are wonderful supplements to the narrative. They were even more wonderful when I discovered they were only rediscovered in a cave in Egypt in the 1950's. Poetry as spiritual path was always more fruitful than a blinkered path.

  2. Stuart, I'm not really familiar with the gnostic gospels... I do know that the "Apocryphal" books of the Bible were considered in Jewish tradition to be useful and historical, though not necessarily divinely inspired - not sure if the gnostic gospels compare at all.

    What do you mean by "something strange"?? (bodily resurrection IS pretty strange, if you ask me!!)

    Mind you - when you talk about divine inspiration - I am quite certain it doesn't end with the Bible - I think whenever we write or talk about the presence of God in our world, there is divine inspiration!

  3. Hi Kerry,

    Just I'd stop by and look around. It sounds like you are going through some trying times lately and facing an uncertain future, which is pretty scary but oftentimes necessary for our transformations... into what is still to be determined and that can be pretty exciting, too!

    As for religion, I'm a bit partial to what Stuart wrote in the sense that myths are rather useful tools to have kicking about and that can help guide us when we most need a guide.

    As for Craig's site, he and I have been in contact for several years and he expects me to be a bit of a thorn in his side whenever he makes a claim about the reality we share and imposes his literalist religious beliefs on it. I feel it is my civic duty to keep him as honest as I can! As his token yet dangerous gnu atheist contact, I am useful to increase his hit count whenever he has an online project to complete that requires a general discussion. Still, he's does the best he can and has a good heart even if I find his thinking rather wonky at times. I'm sure he thinks the same of mine.

    Anyway, Kerry, I'll keep popping by and see what your up to.

    Just as an aside, have you ever noticed that geography is the best indicator of what religious beliefs people think are true? Interesting...

  4. Oh, I should mention that I value my anonymity because of very real dangers to my chosen career and I have an unfortunate history of credible threats of violence to my family for publishing my opinions. It's nothing personal when I don;t give out information. Suffice to say I am a Canadian so our online times will probably be different. I do all my online posting and commentary under my avatar tildeb.

    I believe that an honest opinion stands or falls on its own merit; who states it doesn't matter and the context in which the opinion is formed irrelevant. I claim to be a gnu atheist because I firmly think that faith-based beliefs have no place having any effect in the public domain (and by that term I mean public policy, public governance, public education, public laws, and so on) because they are negative influences across the board. I challenge anyone who suggests that faith-based beliefs should be respected in any way, which is what qualifies me to be a 'gnu' atheist. Faith-based beliefs cover a gamut of topics... from religious belief to homeopathy to superstition to anti-vaccination to anti-global warming and so on... but at their core, all faith-based beliefs are founded on the same erroneous assumption: that belief is an equivalent arbiter to what's true in reality than reality itself. I'm a big fan of respecting reality and don't think it unreasonable to hold others to that same standard they hold for themselves in all other areas of their lives. Many people take great exception to that lack of respect, so I stay anonymous not because I'm shy but because I think what I have to say puts more on the table for discussion than withholding it out of a false sense of tolerant respect. If you care for my position on your blog just let me know and I'll respect your wishes.

  5. Brilliant! Can't wait to browse through the rest of your posts!

  6. That's a horrible understanding of the Bible - though an all too common one.

    My understanding its also the understanding of the Pentecostal Bible College I study at is that inerrancy means that the Bible is speaking truth within the framework / contextual requirements of the text.

    Therefore we need to first understand the genre of the text. Poetry, prophecy, history,song, prayer, law, psalms, lamenting, genealogy, myth. (Note that the ancient meaning of myth isn't the same as our understanding of the brothers Grimm fairy tales.)

    Through this understanding, we can then arrive at a conclusion of what the author was intending to make...and within this framework of truth, we can say the Bible is inerrant.

  7. Craig, What, on earth, does "inerrant" really mean?? Even if you "first understand the genre of the text. Poetry, prophecy, history,song, prayer, law, psalms, lamenting, genealogy, myth." then "arrive at a conclusion of what the author was intending to make" (all good practices if you are interpreting something from another time and culture) - how reliable are your conclusions? If I judge by the WIIIIDE spectrum of well thought out, scholarly interpretations that are out there - I'd have to say not very!!

    I'm not questioning the integrity of the text at all. I think it was written honestly by people who knew who and what they were writing of, and that the manuscripts are authentic and can be trusted. However to dismiss its "human aspects" (in BOTH the writing and the interpeting) somehow, to me, makes it less than it is.

    The wonder and scandal of God in our world is that He mixes with our imperfect humanity without condition or rejection. The fact that our sacred text is a bit "human" too - yet contains the breath of God - well that just fits with what I understand of His Character!!

  8. & Ethan!! So excited you popped in!! Been loving your blog too!!

  9. tildeb - Glad you stopped by! (I had to google the term "gnu atheist" to see what it meant, though!)

    On the personal stuff - It hadn't occurred to me, to find the future scary. Probably at least partly a sign I haven't thought it through enough, but the changes began with a real "insight from God" moment, that seems to have been confirmed by the amazingly smooth way things have progressed. I regard it as a bit of a miracle... I'm certain the timing was right, and that things would have been FAR messier, even 6 months earlier. But anyway, while it has been a bit uncomfortable at times, it's actually okay.

    Re your comment on geography... I wonder what kind of correlation there is between the availability of education and free speech, and the homogeneity or otherwise of religious beliefs?

    Anyway, nice to connect - & will see you around, I hope! (found your blog too - but am only just now sitting down to read stuff after family mealtime etc. etc... planning to check it out properly though!)

  10. Something Happenned.Was it bodily ressurection, Gnostics said no, from the words of Mary Magdalene who reportedly, by the gospels, saw the risen jesus first. No bodily ressurection was enough for catholicism, orthodox christianity to persecute the Gnotics for almost 2000 years and drag Magdalenes name thru the mud as the "prostitute", plus you can have a WOMAN as an Apostle can you?

    Craigbennet made me laugh or choke, dont know what. The biggest liars in christendom are Pentecostals and he chooses to study at a Pentecostal College. 6 months and the equivalent of a TAFE certificate 1 in bible studies qualifies a pentecostal to be a pastor. Pentecotals delude themselves with some kind of fantastical magical view of the world, and the big lie is to get other people to swallow the delusion.

  11. Of course there is the human element in it. I thought that would be a given within the context of genre. That's why the language of every book is different.

    Within the framework of translation, its us who can make the mistake and therefore its we who are inerrant in our understanding.

    However, we can be assured for instance that when the Gospel writers spoke of Christ's physical resurrection, we can be assured they meant physical.

  12. Only the Gospels that have been received and edited by the Catholic Church then Protestantism, are the only gospels to mention bodily ressurection. Gnostic Gospels by Mary Magdalene, and Thomas the doubter, say it was a spiritual ressurection. The Gnostic Gospels were suppressed for almost 2000 years until they were rediscovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in the 1950's. Take your catholic blinkers off Craig.

  13. hmmm...
    I'm loving that there are a whole bunch of different viewpoints coming out. But can we keep a lid on the personal affronts?? I want this to be a safe place for EVERYONE to be able to say what they think!!

    Challenges in good faith are entirely welcome (& I know Craig well enough to know he will always consider such a challenge & doesn't mind a bit of sparring ;-) & Stu I noticed you did keep it light in your last posting - appreciated! :)

  14. Stuart...I don't know what planet you are from..you made some assumptions about me that don't hold water.

    I have nearly finished a degree, planning to follow with a masters which will be tailored to suit a Phd.

    Gordon Fee is one of the worlds most respected scholars, has written one of the most respected books across all denominations on how to read the Bible for all its worth. Eugene Peterson, the author of the Message Bible, comes from a Pentecostal background and would have remained in those circles if he hadn't been asked to pastor a Presbyterian church...from which he then went onto to become a leading scholar.

  15. Stuart, its obvious you have not read any of Josephus or Tacticus. One was a Jewish historian who wrote for the Romans, the other was a Roman General, in charge of order in many cities.

    Both write about Christians believing in a bodily / physical resurrection. By the way, the gnostic gospels were not re-discovered in the 1950's.

    They have been well known and written about by many scholars over the centuries. John Dickson provides a good overview of those books here. http://sydneyanglicans.net/media/video/gnostic_gospels/

  16. I have read Josephus and Tacticus, so you assume wrong like your usual mob of pentecostals. You ONLY ever read what YOUR church agrees that you can read, and what agrees with your Christianity, Nothing challenging. Cant call it a PHD if it doesnt challenge your christian assumptions, and doesnt challenge you personally it might be a PHD on paper, but if it doesnt challenge you... and lets you go on believing what you you were taught at sunday school at age 7, then its a worthles piece of dried paper pulp.

    The discovery at Nag Hammadi was made in the 50's, suggest you do some reading Mr PHD of no challenges

  17. um... according to Wikipedia, a number of the gnostic gospels were around long before the 1950's, including the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which was found in the late 1800's. Some date back way further. The Nag Hammadi discovery, however, was made in 1945. (Only found that out today - but thought I'd chuck it in there) Now, please be civil, boys!

  18. Oh well i was 5 or so years in error, not that I'm a never wrong human with supernatural powers. I'll play the ball, not the man from now on.

    Pentacostal christianity is the ball. As such, that big ball of worms is full of hype, lies, illusion, delusion, and a fair dose of super salesmanship.

    I dont have supernatural powers. No human does. No Pentecostal has supernatural powers, despite what they say about gifts of the spirit. They delude themselves.

    I cant stand the way pentecostalism sells itself as some kind of holy pyramid scheme. I cant stand how pentacostalists think they are the only authoritative voice on Christianity. I cant stomach how pentacostalists treat people from religions other than christianity. I loathe the way pentecostalists rave on about buddhism from a point of utter ignorance. I hate the way pentecostalist blame lack of faith on the crippled an lame, because they cant be healed. I dislike the way pentecostalists ignore science, want creationism and intelligent design taught at schools alongside the science of biological evolution. I cant stand the way pentecostalists spout Glossalalia (Tongues) or gooblede gook thy learned from each other, and call it spiritual. Worst of all they lie to themselves about it all, then spread the lies to others.

  19. Stuart. You raise some serious concerns about Pentecostalism and indeed the church. However, for your information - when eventually I do go on to do a Phd, it will be to critique the "leadership movement" for a return to the pastoral ministry and what the pastoral ministry actually really means.

    Also, I actually don't consider myself a Pentecostal - perhaps Charismatic. Saved through the ministry of a Charismatic Anglican Church and currently fellowship in a Baptist church.

    Have you heard of a fellow called Peter Enn's...you might be surprised that our college doesn't teach a literal 6 day creation and grants room for a form of Christian evolutionary schema.

    As for the gift of tongues and healings. I had a rather profound healing experience where God healed me of deep grief from the death of my father who had died some 4 /5 years previously. I recieved the gift of tongues without asking anyone to pray for me and it happened while I was driving my car.

    I have both seen and experienced healing's and deliverances. Experiences that no one, including your rant doesn't take away from me. I have also experienced what it is like for the heavens to remain silent. :) such as the fact I have been recovering from a serious illness since "Oct 2007. I collapsed, paralysed on the right side, hospitalised for a few months - all from a flu virus that attacked the nervous system...

    I haven't worked since. I also am a man who then went through horrific spiritual, emotional, physical and mental abuse from my wife, and found myself homeless for 6-7 weeks where I slept in the back of my car...I experienced the harshness that can be found within Christian circles and also discovered much love through them also.

    I have found that forgiveness is the key to a peaceful live...from your rant - no matter what you may say about Bhuddism, it seems it hasn't brought any measure of peace into your life.

  20. Craig writes, our college doesn't teach a literal 6 day creation and grants room for a form of Christian evolutionary schema.

    That's laugh out loud funny! Here's a religious college decides what is and isn't science! Oh, the humbleness!

    It requires an incredible, an astounding, an immense arrogance to presume a faith-based belief dictates to reality what is and isn't true.

    As for the rest of Craig's comment, naturally the only possible explanation for his varied experiences must be 'Therefore this belief set about Jesus is true' and anyone who says anything critical about reaching that conclusion must be just ranting.


  21. Tildeb. We are not deciding what is or isn't science.

    We are accepting that science shows the earth is much older then a literal interpretation of Genesis.

    However science cannot prove there is no God. I take my hat off to you because you actually have a greater level of faith in your belief system then I do.

    For instance you believe that the world was created out of nothing, and that this very nothing was compressed by nothing. This nothing compressed so deeply into nothing that this very nothing exploded into something. The something that was created out of compressed nothing then formed every thing, including life.

    WOW! That takes more faith to believe then it does to believe that in the beginning God and God created.

    To reiterate once again though. My faith is not based on Genesis. It's centred around Christ, crucified and physically resurrected.

  22. We are accepting of science...

    Well, isn't that big of you!

    You are a fellow with very amusing opinions about faith, Craig, although I suspect you don't mean to be even though you seem determined to maintain them.

    As for the poor argument that because science can't prove god doesn't exist to your satisfaction (or, for that matter, that it can't prove invisible pixies don't power your car engine), therefore Jesus, I just hope others continue to find that broken thinking as amusing as I do.

  23. Tongues, or as I prefer to call it "Glossolalia" is a behavior that people learn in a pentecostal or charismatic church.You might have spoken in tongues first when you were alone, but you learned to do it by listening to others in your church. I can still speak in tongues, even though i consider pentecostalism a mighty system of delusion, I learned tongues because the church rewarded me for speaking in them. I can also speak in tongues as if I am possessed by lucifer himself, scary stuff, frightens most silly christians near to death, but i just make it up, just like the pentecostals, but i dont lie to myself or others.

    Dont challenge the leadership, challenge yourself. If you really were a type of Anglican, you would have accepted Kerry's take on christianity as individual expression not in error.

    Hopefully one day, you might become an Anglican Priest, realise that all humans are flawed and let a gay woman be your bishop.

  24. Ha! Not likely, SM. And speaking of Anglican priests, you really should check out Eric MacDonald's site, Choice in Dying. There you will find an excellent author able to enunciate clearly why he left the priesthood after a life time of service and how he has come to fight against its pernicious influence.

  25. It a common ploy for believers to pretend that non believers are another kind of believer, just as likely as they are to 'worship' something, follow a dogma, endorse a high priest, have various levels of fundamentalism, and so on. That this way of describing what non believers think is surprisingly common among the faithful who wish to use their own terminology to help demonize those who dare disagree with them, so let's look a little closer at what Craig is actually saying here:

    He writes, you actually have a greater level of faith in your belief system then I do.

    Oh look, yet another religious term: faith. (Sigh)

    The 'belief system' he refers to is, of course, my atheism. Atheism means non belief, and in this exchange refers to Craig's god. That he is an atheist in regards to Wodin and Baal and all the other thousands of gods that have long been popular before his own doesn't faze him in the slightest. Craig, you se, is an atheist too but he doesn't care for the term because he isn't an atheist in this one particular faith-based belief he calls his religion. So Craig is saying that my non belief in his god is a belief system... in exactly the same way that a non car is another kind of 'car system' or a non woman is another kind of 'woman system'. And this is supposed to make sense? He's trying to argue that because he doesn't believe in Zeus, his level of faith in his non belief is greater than the faith he does have.

    And he wonders why faith in his belief system is diminishing so rapidly in the younger generation. Maybe this kind of reasoning he offers gives us some insight why.

  26. Tildeb.

    Faith is another term of belief.

    Simple really. Your belief in the world being created out of nothing, by nothing, compressed by nothing, which created a explosion out of nothing in which something was created from this nothingness - just for me has nothing really to hang this foundation of belief onto.

    Therefore if it has nothing to hang onto... the reality is - you yourself have a foundation of blind belief.

  27. ohh, i basically dislike Zealous, or fundamental (both religious terms i know, lets think of a secular term... mmm... ardent) I dislike ardent anything.

    Atheism has taught me to cut through the BS. I don't confuse Atheism with science, by the way However, Christians mostly taught me how to love, so I'm up for a decent sermon that helps me think. So I cant be atheist, and i've been heavily influenced by christianity, But then again i rather enjoy pagan rituals too, like a big fire on mid winters night. i'm really not into Odin, i prefer the Norse God Tyr, who Tuesday is named in his honour. As a 1 armed welder/fabricator involved in emergency service, i can relate to 1 armed blacksmith God who protects cops and those that uphold the right, and the law.

  28. The universe is to big and unexplained as yet to be an ardent anything.

  29. Craig, just because you don't know something doesn't mean you have license to fill in whatever superstitious nonsense you want and then promote it's as if it's actually just as likely true as notions backed by a fair bit of evidence. Just the notion that there something 'out of which' our universe came is a faith-based position you hold. It is held for no other reason based on no evidence of this 'something before' you presume existed. That you call this 'something before' to be Jesus in some other form is incoherent. It's nonsensical. It is devoid of merit because it is unknowable. But you're not honest enough to admit that fact. Intead, you insert your belief about something you know n othing about and pretend it's true. Your belief in it, let's be perfectly frank, brings nothing to the table if the subject is about cosmology. After you lay out your beliefs we're still left with exactly that with which we started: nothing knowable.

    Rail all you want against those honest enough to point out your dishonesty (let me know when I should start labeling your complaining as militant) but don't pretend this very legitimate criticism is a competing belief system - the term 'belief' used in the sense of a set of beliefs based solely on made-up stuff.

  30. Not everything religous is made up. People do feel very strongly about religion for very personal reasons. It is from these reasons that are shared by most religious people from Muslim to Pentecostal, that grow whole systems of religion, based almost entirely upon what they learned and experienced as young people.

    Conversion and receiving the holy spirit are two of these religous experiences that people hold dear. Problem is, that these experiences are entirely subjective. As subjective feelings they dont fit a physical science paradigm. Psychology is more use, and is a very interesting study of religous experience it makes. From an evolutionary point of view these strong religous feelings,probably helped us survive as isolated tribes.

  31. Not everything religious is made up.

    You're absolutely right: the rest of it is stolen property and claimed by religious necessity to be its cause!

    Feeling strongly about something doesn't make the something any more real; if anything, it's a danger sign to be careful how we attribute the cause of those feelings. I mean, seriously, belief in religious doctrine is very close correlate not of what's demonstrably true but of where someone is born! In this sense geography, not theology, determines religious belief. And that's why the religious experience varies so much across the globe.

  32. Ive been thinking... (uh oh)

    SM, you assert that subjective feelings 'don't fit' a scientific paradigm. I think this is absolutely wrong, but not if we take into consideration what I suspect you mean by the term 'scientific paradigm'. I suspect you're thinking of science as it is often presented by apologists and accommodations of religion... as scientism. In this strong sense of the term, I think you are suggesting that there are those who think only scientific claims are meaningful, which is not a scientific claim in itself and hence, if true, not meaningful. Thus, scientism is either false or meaningless and you suggest that certain subjective experiences attributed to be religious can, in fact, be meaningful. This is the way many use the term about science and its paradigm, often inserting the idea of some ‘explanatory monism’ as its synonym and trying to pretend that this is the faith-based starting position of atheists... where there is only one 'right' answer and it must be empirical. But this isn't the way atheists use the method of science.

    Atheists use the weak sense of term, the broad view that the methods of the natural sciences and its single epistemology allows reality to arbitrate what’s claimed to be true about it rather than faith claims imposed upon it. In this sense, this method of honest inquiry – honest in the sense that reality rather than faith determines what’s true – should be applied to any subject matter that can yield satisfactory and reliable natural explanations for phenomena. Both 'conversion' and 'receiving the holy spirit' easily fall within this purview. There are good reasons why people have these kinds of experiences, and good reasons why their attribution to some external agency has no merit in reality. Furthermore, the incompatibility of any epistemology that allows for faith claims to be equivalent in truth value to evidence based truth claims taken from reality is shown to be so when we gain no further equivalent knowledge from inquiries that include supernatural and paranormal speculations equivalent in all ways to made up stuff… speculations and attributions which have a very long and ‘rich’ theological history of claims about reality being startlingly inaccurate, unnecessary in complexity, untrustworthy in results, and claims assumed to be true but without any means for independent verification or falsification. The ‘explanatory monism’ mistakenly attributed to atheists is not a similar epistemology of the kind that informs faith-based beliefs – it is not the same kind but an opposite approach altogether; faith-based inquiry imposes beliefs on reality whereas methodological naturalism extracts evidence from reality to inform truth claims made about it. The two methods of inquiry are polar opposites and not of a kind. So the notion that science and religion are compatible methods of inquiry as so many critics of gnu atheism would have us believe is exactly wrong; the epistemological differences between science and faith are insurmountable and incompatible because they are in direct competition. To suggest otherwise is unfair to what's actually practiced by theists or non theists.

    I write all this to be clear: one either supports the epistemology of methodological naturalism and enjoys the cohesive benefits of all it produces, OR one tries to wiggle and weave one's self through accepting the scientific method here but not there, taking this truth claim about reality on faith here but not there, and so on. Science has given us no reason except that it always works to produce reliable, consistent, and practical knowledge about the world. To be perfectly blunt, supporters of religion as a method of inquiry to gain any kind of knowledge about the universe cannot make a similar claim without lying, stealing, or cheating.

  33. Why the conversion and receiving the holy spirit do not fit within a physical science paradigm, is because these feelings are not in anyway measurable as yet.

    No one has to reject the benefits of the physical sciences, they are there for all to see and experience. They are however not soley the work of atheists. Atheism is different to science. As I see atheism, it is a non belief in a supernatural force, that theists claim exists in the universe. I doubt many atheists of today while scathing of the supernatural nature of Theism, could hold their own against the natural Deism of say, perhaps, Newton.

    You don't have to be atheist to practice science, scientific method is available to us all.

    When perhaps, neuropyschologists have measured the conversion experience, or the manic, sometimes weird receiving of the holy spirit, I will be very interested to know what part of the brain shuts off and what lights up.

    I think all epistemology is useless. We cant know the unknowable - whether its athiest based or theistic or deistic. We are better off dealing with today.

  34. To think atheism has a monopoly on scientific methodology is just as silly at thinking communism was scientific. Atheism and science are not same thing.

  35. Atheism (meaning non belief for lack of convincing evidence in supernatural claims) in this regard respects what's true and what's knowable. (I don't think that's a drawback in any way from inquiring into the universe.) In this sense, atheism appreciates the monopoly scientific methodology offers us to knowing about the universe when compared with this supposedly 'other' approach to what's true and knowable about it called faith. To think the two are compatible methods of inquiry is, to use your word, silly, although I am well aware how easily we are able to partition our minds to be able to jump between the two in order for a single individual to maintain incompatible notions at the same time. I just think this is unnecessary and highly unproductive.

    You would present my point about respecting honest inquiry and the acquisition of reliable knowledge to be a denial, let's say, of someone who reports being happy on the grounds that I cannot measure this happiness, so happiness falls outside the scientific paradigm. But is this true? Is happiness outside of what the method of science actually investigates, namely, empirical data? Of course not. A person's happiness is dependent on biological processes, all of which fall quite nicely, thank you very much, in the arena of the scientific paradigm. You know perfectly well how easily mood can be manipulated by chemical alterations to the brain yet you don't seem to want to admit to this direct causation but, instead, maintain some mysterious barrier that prevents our honest inquiry into what what we report as feeling happiness, our honest inquiry into what the term actually is, and how it comes into being. Certainly the other side - sadness and its chronic condition of depression - is a huge scientific undertaking and we don't argue that we cannot know anything about it for the sake of maintaining this notion of a barrier to our knowing in order to protect other self-reported experiences like conversion and the receiving of the holy spirit from legitimate and honest inquiry.

  36. Mr T - I don't think Stuart was trying to protect such "spiritual experiences" from legitimate and honest inquiry at all - in fact, he was interested to see what part of the brain lights up or does not... however it still seems to me (& this is, of course, my own subjective opinion) that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

    A discussion by philosopher of science, Philip Clayton - a very long time ago, really transformed my thinking on this... I managed to find it on Youtube, if you are interested. He talks about systems biology and the implications for faith.


  37. Tildeb... I think these experiences are beyond measurement for now, but may not be in the future. I doubt however any candidate for pentecostalist spirit is going to allow a bunch of psychobiologists/neuroscientists tape a bunch of wires to their head before they go to church.

    Further, science isn't the only way to obtain knowledge, there are such studies called the arts, and are well worth practicing. They don't lead to conversion, so don't be afraid.

    I maintain atheism isn't science, just like communism was not scientific despite it's claims.

    No one steals science, lol, its all out there for all of us to embrace, and doesn't matter if you pray to fire god of Zoaraster or not, the experiments can be replicated. Atheism hasn't a monopoly on science, or even rationality or sanity.

  38. Let's not restrict ourselves to the study of Christians - as most atheists seem to love to bash... let's go on to the study of all religious phenomena, from Voodoo, Aboriginal religious thought and philosophy, Buddhist meditation, Zoarastian fire worship, Wicca, Gaia, Islam, Judaism, Universalism, Spiritual Deism, Animism, to name just a few. They all have differences, some subtle, some marked, and they all have commonalities. Let's explore those who took LSD and Mushrooms, had religious experiences. Let's explore the role of the shaman, throughout human history and culture, a man or woman that tribes have relied on for medical technology as a well as being able to deal with death in the tribe.

    Just consider for a moment the remains of flowers found on Neanderthal graves and the way people treat the dead. It's all fascinating, and these religious feelings are very deep within people's consciousness.

    So, dont think that my thoughts about religion are just based on geography, and dont assume that all Christians are thoughtless. I'm more atheist than christian, but they taught me a lot.

    So have atheists.

  39. We all die. No one knows what happens after death, no one has even proven an eternal spirit or an afterlife, no one has ever proven yet, for sure that there is no afterlife.

    So that's the quandary of mortal humans... we just do not know anything for sure about death. So we fear it, make up stories. I do know for sure my body would be worm food, and frankly i dont mind the thought of returning to earth.

  40. Stuart writes science isn't the only way to obtain knowledge, there are such studies called the arts, and are well worth practicing. They don't lead to conversion, so don't be afraid.

    It's not 'fear of conversion' that affects me, although I find the possibility very amusing. What effects me is how easily people fall under the sway of faith-based beliefs that claim to be an equivalent or different way of knowing. This is bunk.

    One of the signs and symptoms of faith-based beliefs in action is how its supporters have this tendency to alter the meaning of words to suit a faith-based assumption about what is true for everyone everywhere all the time... just like you have done equating art that can yield new experiences for an individual to a method that reveals new knowledge about the universe, knowledge that is the same for everyone everywhere all the time. Art does no such thing, as I'm sure you're aware, any more than religious belief does. Whacking you over the head, for example, might be a new experience for you, but like any art it hardly qualifies as a different 'way of knowing', an alternative method of revealing knowledge that is the same for everyone everywhere all the time. All art, I agree with Oscar Wilde, is quite useless. It produces no new knowledge but offers us various forms of reflection. Just because we learn through that reflection doesn't mean art produces it. We do. Art can be the facilitator if we know how to comprehend the form, and in this role art can be quite valuable. Suffice to say, something doesn't need to be functional in order to be valuable (hence the difference between craft and art, but that's a different topic for a different day).

    Faith-based beliefs impose an overlay of truth claims on reality that may or may not be true but allows no way for us to differentiate. That is fatal to honest inquiry. Whatever conclusions these 'other ways of knowing' support are equally arbitrary and equally relative, meaning that the conclusions are useless if our goal is to find out what is true for everyone everywhere all the time... no matter how much personal favour an individual may heap upon them.

    Honouring the Shaman for a trial and error method of finding medicinal properties, for example, misses the mark entirely: REALITY determines the knowledge gained and not the beliefs of the Shaman. To attribute reality's findings because of the beliefs of the Shaman is a sneaky way of trying to equate the Shaman's beliefs with the results of his nothing-to-do-with-faith-based-beliefs-at-all actions. You could produce the same results by doing the same thing. These actions are completely divorced from the beliefs the Shaman holds to be true. These faith-based beliefs, then, are a distraction, a parasite, a diversion to the knowledge the Shaman is producing and you've bought into it. Reality deserves full credit for the knowledge it yields and not the Shaman's beliefs. The proof is in reality's testable results of the medicinal effects and not in the relative and untestable beliefs the Shaman holds. Once we get that order straight of what yields what, then the avenue for gaining knowledge about reality becomes singular. There is one way of gaining knowledge about what's true for everyone everywhere all the time, and that is to respect reality's role - and not the faith-based beliefs people hold about reality - as the final arbiter.

  41. Stuart, we know a lot about death. We have no means to investigate claims of what death means beyond this reality but we do have the means to investigate what resides within its bounds. Religion, as I'm sure you've noticed, recognizes no such trivial boundaries to its claims, fails utterly to limit these claims within knowable constraints, and has the audacity to make claims that attributes biological responses to be evidence for the divine.

    It's true we have no idea what happens after death any more than we know what happens before time. These notions are equally incoherent in fact but open to all kinds of wishful thinking, and it is this wishful thinking that enables religious beliefs. But to seriously entertain these notions within the context of wishful thinking to be worthy enough of consideration to be applied to reality as if equally likely to be true as false is dishonest.

    I don't know if an invisible elephant lives in your bathtub but without any evidence from reality to make the suggestion plausible, it is dishonest to pretend it's as likely to be true as false. To pretend that what happens after death is somehow likely to be true as false without any evidence from reality to back it up is equally dishonest. We know consciousness is a product of brain activity and we know we can directly affect consciousness by affecting this activity. It is implausible that there exists some division within ourselves immune to our biological functioning after death, some ghost in the machine that exits after death yet somehow exists within as well as outside of reality. There is zero evidence of this supposed dualism so essential to so many religions who concern themselves directing what is necessary for the welfare of this invisible elephant. Oh, it's everlasting, too. And eternal. So it's much more important for us pinions to deal with this invisible elephant in this life - and how fortunate we are that we have a group of clerics who just so happen to know all about its proper care and who are privileged enough to feel morally obligated to help us do so in exchange for us recognizing their authority over this life - than it is reject that authority on the basis that there is no evidence for that invisible bathtub dwelling pachyderm.

    To assume there exists such a division within our biology, that this 'other' bit is the real us linked in some way to some god, is the ONLY basis on which certain religions - like the catholic church, for example - pretend to make claims from authority here in reality. By allowing the notion some measure of plausibility is to open the door to accepting some measure of its authority where none is warranted. This kind of creeping accommodationism must be forcefully challenged if we wish to base governance and law and public policy and education and human rights and political freedoms and so on, on and within this reality, on what is knowable in the here and now, on facts and evidence and good reasons available to all rather than through contrary and competing divine revelations that look exactly and in all ways equivalent to delusion and wishful thinking.

    Your suggestion that an expression of grief through a symbolic gesture like leaving flowers on a grave is somehow evidence for religious feelings I find as remarkable as it is disagreeable. Again, you have allowed religion to steal for itself and then claim that which belongs to biology. Religions - not just christianity - do this all the time, trying to make religious that which is exists necessarily. Your grief comes from your biological response and we can show equivalent grief across the species boundary. To attribute it to some kind of religious belief is to misdirect both its cause and its effect in the name of accommodating religious thievery.

  42. Unfortunately you assume that I argue from a faith based religion. I dont. Get that straight.

  43. Tildeb, mate, I have no religion. I have no faith in any god you could care to name. You assume that because I disagree with your militant ardent atheism, that I have to be religious.

    Common mistake. I make observations that make you uncomfortable because they upset the apple cart of your atheist certainties.

    As for science vs religion being the one and only dichotomy of this debate, it lacks an understanding of a lot of human knowledge out there, that neither sits within in a scientific or religious paradigm. There is more to life than just black vs white, good vs evil, atheism vs the christian.

    Not everything rational is scientific.

  44. No Stuart, I don't assume you're religious; but I do think you're quite willing to accommodate and excuse the claims of faith-based beliefs by creating a false division you call 'paradigms' under which woo claims can remain protected. I wanted to challenge you to think more about what affect that has in real life. Labeling my respect for what is true and knowable as 'militant' is a pretty good indication you've taken the cheap and easy way of this 'debate' - that I'm the bad buy for holding to respecting what's true and knowable, which means I've failed and for that I am sorry.

    The kind of thinking that makes room for accepting the claims of faith-based beliefs as perfectly acceptable 'other ways of knowing' under the heading of religion will also empower exactly the same case to be made for similar 'paradigm' knowledge claims in other areas... like in medicine and cosmology and biology and physics and so on. All one needs to do is assume that the knowledge claims about reality simply fall under a different 'paradigm' to avoid having to actually be held accountable to any unnecessary and troublesome challenges these claims about reality might evoke. That's rather handy, don't you think?

    But consider: this is how homeopathy and reiki and chiropracty and acupuncture competes with science-based medicine creating markets for all kinds of snake-oil products, astrology and tarot cards and tea leaf reading finds a paying audience, dowsing as bomb detectors is successfully sold as 'another way of knowing' which vehicle carry explosives into crowed markets, anti-vaxers and birthers and truthers settle into their conspiracy 'paradigm' as if it were somehow rational, reasonable, and acceptable when their faith-based beliefs are none of these.

    So, yes, I find a common thread of faith-based beliefs versus reality-based knowledge to be diametrically opposed and incompatible 'ways of knowing' and only one actually works to produce reliable, consistent knowledge... knowledge that you just so happen to trust with your life every day. Those who excuse the 'other ways of knowing' gambit open the door to creating disrespect and, more importantly, disregard for the method of inquiry that is reliable and consistently so, a disrespect and disregard that costs real lives, promotes real suffering, and allows dangerous inaction through denial to threaten all.

    The only 'paradigm' that deserves our full respect is reality itself, and the best method we have to gain knowledge about it deserves more credit, more plausibility, more respect than making room for contrary claims based on some misguided and undeserved notion of tolerance and deference to these 'other ways of knowing'.

  45. Yes you are the bad guy Tildeb, you are narrow minded, as narrow minded as some Christians. There are other paradigms, other ways to think other than just science. Personally I have found Reiki and Meditation beneficial, and I love aromatherapy, because a nice smell lifts me just as much or more than Efexor (anti depressants) and far more instantaneously.

    So, there you are in your little western science coccoon, thinking no body could have it more right than Richard Dawkins. Good on you, just dont inflict your Ardent atheism on the rest of us.

    By the way, I Dont claim Reiki cures cancer, I do claim i feel better after Reiki. There is a subtle difference.

    Do fundys understand subtlety?

  46. Sorry I didn't see this sooner, Stuart. My bad. It deserves a reply.

    Stuart, you are badly confused. I never suggested that science was the only way to think. That's pretty silly of you to assume this is what I mean, but I shall attribute it not to your character but your confusion. That may be too generous of me.

    I did say that using methodological naturalism, the method of science, is the only way to gain knowledge about reality. I also argued that pretending that some kind of equivalent knowledge can be derived from different 'paradigms' is also silly; reality is the only paradigm we can know anything about.

    What you call 'narrow-minded', I call intellectual honesty. Knowledge is qualitatively different than belief, in that it is true for everyone everywhere all the time. In this sense, knowledge is mind-independent. Belief, in contrast, is mind-dependent, meaning it is not true for everyone, everywhere all the time. That's why it's not knowledge. Go figure. To me, this an important distinction; apparently, it is a difficult one for you to grasp.

    Now look at the name-calling! Seriously, Stuart? You want to pretend that causal claims have room at the inn of knowledge? Then you have show causal effect and how it's delivered. But because woo claims - like reiki and chiropracty and homeopathy and downsing and naturopathy and tea leaf readings and astrology and alchemy and a thousand and one other facets of belief-infested woo - fail this requirement utterly, you call me names. Yeah, that'll overcome the knowledge deficit.

    Let me suggest that showing causal effect delivered in consistent and reliable ways would inform your argument with something called 'knowledge' regarding all these 'paradigms' and do a far more effective job convincing me of the error of my ways far better than stooping to name calling. Unfortunately, you don't any knowledge to fall back on except word games to try to equate belief as a different kind of 'way of knowing'. How disappointing it must be, then, to you that none produce any knowledge. No doubt you'll attribute that failure to be my fault, too. If only my mind were so open that my brains fell out, then surely I'd come to respect belief claims on their own merit. It seems to work for you.

  47. So, fundamentalist, ardent, militant atheists are as closed minded as fundamentalist, militant, ardent Christians. Funny that.

  48. Jeeeeesus, Mary and Joseph, guys! (well, it is nearly Christmas) Not even facebook poke wars should go on this long!!!!!

  49. BTW, Stuart, what you feel is called placebo.

    K M-W, this isn't a poke; this is an opportunity for Stuart (and others if they're curious) to see what skepticism looks like for woo claims but perhaps even learn something useful... if he can put aside his taunting and rejoin the adult conversation.

  50. Tildeb, and you assume i dont know its a placebo? How arrogant. But I guess you have all the knowledge eh?

  51. Also Tildeb, you assume wrongly that I dont read skeptical literature. I DO. So I dont need your ill-informed education. Why dont you come back with some scientific references showing how powerful or not, the placebo effect is?

    Thing is with skeptic literature it is almost always black and white, and some times arrogantly know it all - ish. Hmm reminds me of some people.

  52. Personally I have found Reiki and Meditation beneficial, and I love aromatherapy, because a nice smell lifts me just as much or more than Efexor (anti depressants) and far more instantaneously.

    Wrong. The benefit comes from yourself. You falsely attribute benefit elsewhere, which is in error. This error is not a way to show that you understand placebo but that you don't. The arrogance you attribute to me is also misplaced. I linked to an excellent explanation that you seem to just ignore in your haste to assign me character flaws. Your understanding of the placebo effect is quite distorted, which is why you ask the question you do. Again, why don't you use this opportunity to actually learn something, Stuart?

  53. Why dont you learn Tildeb, that already know what a placebo is. Yes it comes from within myself, its may state of mind that makes me feel better. And If I use reiki to alter my state of mind who are you to call it woo? Christians alter their state of mind with worship. You havent tried it so you dont know. Placebos can be very powerful tildeb, either by trickery or open eyes. Open your mind to the possibilities of Placebo. Tildeb.

  54. Tildeb i know it's only a wiki article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placebo but there is nothing there I strongly disagree with, read it see what you think. Unfortunately because I disagree with you, you wrongly assume i have no education in any science. Why dont you try a few placebos?

  55. Placebos when they are effective, are effective because they are working psychologically with in the brain. The brain is able to convince the rest of the body and the brain that it is actually feeling better. By altering how the brain is reacting to some real or perceived stimuli, a person can have a good reaction. Perhaps if you want me to be more scientific, i could write you up a literature review, so you can read for yourself how placebos work. But that takes time and I have more important things to do and this is Kerry's blog about her journey, not my blog about neuropsychology. I ask you to try a placebo like Reiki or Aromatherapy, because what harm can they do to you, as they are placebos? You wont be converted to some woo woo occult brigade, the worst you will might encounter is that you might relax. What is the harm in relaxing?

  56. http://goulburnblogger.blogspot.com/2011/12/effect-of-placebo-on-our.html is my blog on placebos tildeb, hard to read i am sorry, i buggered the font


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