Belief in Belief & Practical v Factual Realism

I seems to go unsaid by ‘believers’, most of the time, but occasionally on blogs it might be admitted to explicitly, that there might be no God. Or it might be said that it doesn’t matter if there is no God.

To some extent this is a step in the right direction. But I can’t help but feel it smacks of being ungenuine; there appears to be a dishonesty there, buried somewhere deep in the otherwise honest view that faith is good for us, even if it’s a faith in something that doesn’t exist. If faith developed by some evolutionary mechanism and had some purpose in the past, is it okay to go on believing now, even if you feel there’s nothing there, or if you feel it doesn’t matter if there’s something there of not?

Dan Dennett, in his AAI 2007, Good Reasons for “Believing” in God talk covers a number of reasons for believing, and addressed this particular notion.

He identifies a self-censorship by preachers, who wouldn’t dream of saying openly that God does not exist. Maybe some are more open in their true beliefs – certainly enough to say it on a blog, and for those this might turn out to be a brave move. Fessing up to this hidden truth is something Dennett concedes is courageous in his talk.

Dennett says the God of old, Yahweh, is like Mount Everest – it’s there for all to see and exists without question. But, he explains, God has been watered down, until it has become like low rolling hills – not quite so obvious. But in the minds of the modern theologian it resembles more of an insubstantial mist, a fog.

What follows is some of Dan’s talk. Towards the end Dennett includes words from David Sloan Wilson’s book, as if in debate. In what follows the two parts are identified by DD and DSW.

DD – Gradually, over the years, the concept of God is watered down. These personal revisions are passed on without notice. not just from preachers, but from parents talking to their children. Gradually, from what started out as a Mount Everest type concept of God, becomes a sort of amorphous cloudy mysterious concept that nobody really knows what it is. Mystery is itself elevated and considered to be wonderful. And we get the privatisation of the concepts – this is particularly true in the cases of the mega churches in this country [USA] where, “We don’t care what your concept of God is, just so long as you’re One With Jesus and you come to the church.” So they’re actually allowing to freelance and come up with your own concept of God. It doesn’t matter what concept of God you have, “[whisper] because nobody believes it anyway.”

DD – So we get the almost comical confusion of today. It’s very important this happened [the change in what God is] imperceptably. If it was sped up it would just be hilarious; the revision piled on revision; and all in one direction.

[…]

DD – Here’s a quote:

“It is the final proof of God’s omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us”

DD – Now, that’s a wonderful joke by Peter De Vries in his hilarious novel The Mackerel Plaza, back in 1958. But…

“God is so great that the greatness precludes existence.” – Raimon Panikkar in The Silence of God: The Answer of the Buddha (1989)

DD – That is not a joke. That is said in all po faced seriousness.

[…]

Dennett finally addresses one of the ways of treating this God that isn’t there, as a myth, as another form of reality. He tackles David Sloan Wilson’s account of ways of believing, form Wilson’s book, Darwin’s Cathedral, 2002, in which Wilson uses the terms:

Factual Realism and Practical Realism. He quotes from the book…

DSW – It’s true that many religious beliefs are false as literal descriptions of the world, but this merely forces us to recognise two forms of realism: a factual realism based on literal correspondence, and a practical realism based on behavioural adaptiveness. An atheist historian who understood the real life of Jesus but who’s own life was a mess as a result of his beliefs would be factually attached to and practically detached from reality.

DD – So he ought to believe a myth even at the expense of his factual knowledge in order to keep his life not a mess? That seems to be the implication.

DSW – Rationality is not the gold standard against which all other forms of thought are to be judged. Adaptation is the gold standard against which rationality must be judged, along with all other forms of thought.

DD – If this were a philosophical audiance and it weren’t so late at night I’d take issue with that, but I just draw your attention to these passages.

DSW – It is the person who elevates factual truth above practical truth who must be accused of mental weakness from an evolutionary perspective. If there is a trade off between the two forms of realism such that our beliefs can become more adaptive only by becoming factually less true, then factual realism will be the loser every time.

DD – So he seems to be giving what he thinks of as an evolutionary endorsement for practical realism over factual realism.

DSW – Many intellectual traditions and scientific theories of the past decades have a similar silly and purpose driven quality once their cloak of factual plausability has been yanked away by the hand of time. If believing something for its desired consequences is a crime, then let those who are without guilt cast the first stone.

DD – I want to point out the fundamental difference betwee factual realism and practical realism is that the truth or faslity of factual realist theories is always an issue. Imagine if a priest were to say, “of course there really isn’t a God who listens to your prayers; that’s just a useful fiction, an over simplification.” No, even the Unitarians don’t just blurt out the fact that these may be useful fictions, since it’s quite apparent that their utility depends on their not being acknowledge to be fictions. In other words, practical realism as recommended by David Sloan Wilson is paternalistic and disingenuous.

DSW – It appears that factual knowledge is not always sufficient by itself to motivate adaptive bahaviour. AT time a symbolic beliefe system that departs from factual reality fairs better.

DD – At what? At motivating behaviour. Well, you know I think he’s right about that. Is this a recommendation that one should lie when it will lead to adaptive behaviour? Does Wilson recognise the implication of his position?

[Dennett shows a photo of the Bush Adminsitration team: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld]

DD – Let us consider, practical realism of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. In a chilling article several years ago by Ron Suskind, White House correspondent, we get the following quote, “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’

DD – There’s practical realism for you. It seems to me that David Sloan Wilson hasn’t thought this through. He maybe though actually saying that we are confronted with a sort of tradgedy. It may be that our quest for scientific truth has somehow trapped us: It’s too late for practical reality, that was for bygone days, we’re stuck now with factual reality, which some times won’t motivate us. We just know too much. We can never again act honestly, and honestly follow the path of practical realism.

DD – I don’t believe it. But that might be the position that he holds. Well if so we will just have to do the best we can guided by our knowledge. We will have to set ‘practical’ realism aside; it’s too late for that. there’s no going back.

DD – But, I’m actually optimistic. here we see the Vatican [picture]. Twenty years ago If I had stood up and said in a few years the Soviet Union woill evaporate, it will not exist any more, people would have laughed. If I’d sai Aprteid will be gone in just hew years, people would have laughed. Sometimes institutions that seem to be massive and have tremendous inertia can just pop like a bubble. So, how do we know until we try? Maybe within our childrens’ lifetime the Vatican will become the European Museum of Roman Catholicism. And maybe mecca will become Disney’s Magic Kingdom of Allah. If you think that’s funny just bare in mind that the hagia Sofia in Istanbul started off as a church, then it was a mosque, and today it’s a museum.

Of course Dennett is seeing the possible consequences of the lying that is implicit in this position of holding to a fictional practical realism over a less comfortable factual realism. It’s no good simply saying that continuing to believe in belief, while knowing that the belief you’re believing in is false, is okay because if makes people feel good, or behave well. Those you incite to believe false beliefs have a habit of interpreting those beliefs for themselves.

So, no matter how stupifying the belief is, I don’t think it’s worth it in the end.

According to Dennett, “it’s quite apparent that their utility depends on their not being acknowledge to be fictions. In other words, practical realism … is paternalistic and disingenuous.”

It’s also dangerous.

29 thoughts on “Belief in Belief & Practical v Factual Realism

  1. Hi Ron,Not sure really what you are arguing here. I don't believe that anyone is disingenuous, I think people of faith recognise that they can't know absolutely, in the same way that atheism is an agnostic belief, working on the latest evidence.Pardon me if I misunderstand but sometimes the arguments from atheists seem to be 'Heads I win, tails you lose'. So with the Mt Everest thing you would say 'I can't see Mt Everest' and I would say 'that is because it isn't the mountain, it is the earth' and that is somehow ludicrous or disingenuous? However, if someone says 'Yes it is Mount Everest' you would consider that ridiculous too because there is no evidence.. am I wrong?Lesley

  2. Hi Lesley,The Mount Everest reference by Dennett was about how simpler faith is in a God that exists as a real entity, but in has slowly changed to the extent that now God may or may not exist – his existence is become so nebulous that there is little left to define.But the main point I was picking out of Dennett's talk was the objection to claim that faith is still good even if what is believed in isn't true. It's one thing to question what you know, to wonder if it's true; but shouldn't that be declared clearly? Dennett's point is that for many theists it isn't declared so openly; and when this reluctance is mixed with the mystical language that doesn't really say anything; and when there's this notion that it's okay to believe in stuff that doesn't have any evidence going for it, but not only that but also to affirm it; then all this is a way of thinking that can lead to disaster, because it's on the back of this mode of thinking that it allows the more problematic interpretations a route in.The Suskind article illustrates what can happen when religious affirmational 'practical' realism is allowed to flourish. We know it's obvious when we see it in someone like Bush, or in the Al-Qaeda terrorism.So I was responding to the notion that it doesn't matter if God doesn't really exist, as long as belief achieves some good. People of faith may well do plenty of good, but is that sufficient reason to affirm belief in something for which there's no evidence? And personal testimony of one's own feelings isn't good enough evidence.

  3. Hi Ron,Ok, so theology has moved on with modern theologians like Tillich, Moltmann, Robinson, Spong and Holloway, I think it is a different type of understanding of faith but still massive in the minds (almost said hearts) of the believers, and still life changing.Again I feel like you want to argue on both sides here, one of your contentions has been that theology hasn't moved on in thousands of years, unlike science, but here you are saying it is bad that it has moved on…??If you read Bishop Alan's recent blog post you will see that people like Moltmann do have a huge popular following in Germany, but I take your point, the church in England needs to be more open to theological debate, perhaps it is incumbent on people like me to do that. Thanks for the challenge (that is a genuine thanks).My contention is that Bush and Al-Qaeda do not belong to a living faith that might be open to debate, but a superstitious theism that cannot be because it is driven by fear. Any openness I show to debate will be attacked by theists trying to protect their superstition.Lesley

  4. Hi Lesley,Let me summarise.1) I accept that for many of faith their brains convince them that God IS, and that they commune with God, as they see it. There are others of 'faith' who don't have this, but still maintain their faith anyway. So, it doesn't appear to be completely necessary to have the God module turned on, but obviously it helps.2) The basic faith is still stuck in the past, that is believing that there is a God (God IS), along with whatever miracles the particular faith holds to. So, the resurrection is 'true' for Christians. Are there really liberal Christians who are happy to openly declare that Jesus was mortal, the trinity means nothing and the resurrection didn't happen?3) Christian theists have developed the notion that God is so inconceivable that ordinary language is totally hopeless at describing God, but curiously they know enough about him to meet their basic needs. But in many respects they have willed God away to the extent that some of them consider themselves almost atheists – though this is just a ruse to fool themselves, according to Dennett.Atheists like Dennett are merely describing this paradox, this conflict, that is within the Christian faith – the desire to have both (2) and (3) be true at the same time. By saying atheists want to have their cake and eat it you're shooting the messenger, for pointing out that it's the Christian faith that wants to have it's cake and eat it. So yes, the basic theology has not moved on – tradition demands that. And, yes, the theology has been adapted to accommodate this first requirement while at the same time trying to overcome many of the objections to the literal meaning of the traditions. The end result is this wooly thinking from Rollins and others that is so clearly criticised in this Dennett video….

  5. …"Bush and Al-Qaeda do not belong to a living faith that might be open to debate, but a superstitious theism" – There is debate within Islam – but always within the context of the primary theology. The traditional theology remains. Same for Christian fundamentalists. But to imply superstition has been left behind in modern liberal Christian theology is to misrepresent what superstition is. As long as there is the insistence that there is another agent for which there is no evidence, then there is superstition. Declaring him inconceivable doesn't work as a get out of jail card – it doesn't turn theist into atheists.I know you don't like to think of yourself as a theist, because you personally reserve that term for those that are less liberal than yourself. But I still don't see anything in your explanations of what you believe that could be construed to describe you other than a theist, using the normal definition of the word – except on those occasions when you occasionally actually doubt your belief."…Spong, and how he considers that we have to become atheists, whilst he still believes in the Living God" – Then Spong IS a theist."My theology isn't actually liberal like Spong, I much prefer the writings of Pete Rollins who is post modern and mystical…Pete Rollins reflects my faith because I have a deep belief that God is True" – This is still theism, because the mysticism is related to belief in 'living' God."I find it hard to speak of God because I don't have any vocabulary to describe the feelings I have" – This doesn't make it non-theism."I have witnessed things that I can only attribute to God, but these I find hard to speak of because I don't want to 'prove' God" – Not wanting to 'prove' God doesn't mean you don't believe, and so doesn't make you a non-theist."it is for God to prove me" – Which only makes sense if there's a God to do the proving, and agent.

  6. Hi RonTo answer your question I think there are liberals like you describe in 2), do you want me to find the theologians that say that?To say 'the basis theology' hasn't moved on is much like saying 'basic science hasn't moved on'.. all sorts of laws I taught in science were 150 years old and still useful. Science is a newer discipline than theology.You can call me a theist – that is fine. Think I only came across the worth theist when I read Spong so that is how I defined it..

  7. Hi Lesley,Yes, science hangs on to those bits that still work, but rejects those that don't. So, even though Einstein improves on Newton, Newton still works within the bounds of many problems.Theology is quite different. A scientific analogy of theology would be if science still used the four humours in some scientific discipline. The four humours is a defunked notion, a hypothesis that was eventually found not to fit what was later discovered – the evidence did not support it. But in theology, despite theologians making claims about being liberal, atheistic even, like Rollins, they still will not relinquish the core beliefs that there is a God. So, theology is all about an agent for which there is no evidence.As I've said before, there is a route out of this dilemma for believers who can't help but believe because their brains make them believe. That's to accept the notion of a personal other, an internal agent, part of the self (as in the way you described prayer: prayer changes, I pray to change myself); to reject all actual theism, such as the insistence on any God that in any way is associated with the Abrahamic religions and any claims to miracles, resurrection, etc. This could be achieved, still within a particular tradition – using Jesus as a role model and a church, e.g. CofE, as a structure for community and care. But I really don't think this has been anything like achieved by any theologian let alone a church* – but I'd be interested to know of any. *Unless you count the likes of non-religious Buddhists; but really Buddhism is a religion. There are some who use meditation practices but reject the religion – e.g. Sue Blackmore.

  8. "So I was responding to the notion that it doesn't matter if God doesn't really exist, as long as belief achieves some good. People of faith may well do plenty of good, but is that sufficient reason to affirm belief in something for which there's no evidence? And personal testimony of one's own feelings isn't good enough evidence."There will never be enough evidence for you in this space, although I am surprised you discuss atheism rather than agnosticism as there isn't evidence for the non existence of God either.As for the scientific method, Godel has shown that not all true things can be proven http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6del's_incompleteness_theoremsso the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.

  9. Hi Alan,This 'label' question arises quite often, so I've just posted this as a reference for convenience.There isn't evidence for the non-existence of Zeus…etc. You're an atheist with respect to Zeus? [h/t Dawkins]"not all true things can be proven" – Quite right. That's why we can only rely on hard won evidence, using the scientific method to give us as much confidence in it as possible. We really have no other choice. This, if anything, is the consequence of the type of thinking behind Gödel's incompleteness theorems, if they can be generalised to all knowledge. It is a mistake to think this is means of justifying belief in the face of the lack of evidence.Evidence is all we have, so we have to be sure it's good evidence. Personal testimony isn't good evidence. And personal testimony is all theism has, and most often it's third hand, hearsay – as in using the Bible as a testament.The 'absence of evidence' paper you cite shouldn't be misconstrued to mean the same as it does when Intelligent Design proponents use that phrase. In the cited paper it's referring to interpretations of statistical results, when the data is available, and how perhaps in some cases the 'negative' results shouldn't be used to rule out further work: "While we can never prove the absence of a relation, when necessary we should seek evidence against the link between A and B-for example, from case-control studies." – Note again, that even though it's suggesting the search for a negative link, it's actually promoting the finding of evidence to support that negative link, not proof, and not wishful thinking, and not faith.But anyway, as I've said on your blog, there is no data available on God to which we could possibly apply a statistical analysis. It's far worse. There's no data at all.

  10. My apologies, I had assumed that you were perhaps more open to faith than you appear to be from that post.I don't know enough about Zeus, although the disappearance (my assumption) of followers would be circumstantial evidence.If Godel can be generalised what he is saying is that there isn't evidence for everything – so if you restrict yourself to what you can prove you will not know everything.My point was that there are true things which we cannot prove, therefore the fact that we cannot prove them does not mean that they are not true. I accept that I cannot prove my faith – that is why it is called faith!There is no data that satisfies your requirements of it. There is data, but it is all circumstantial or indicative and capable of being interpreted either way.Is there anything that could shake your faith in the scientific method?

  11. Hi Alan,I'm open to trying to understand faith, and if through that understanding I thought that faith gave a better view of what we understand the world to be, then I'd start to use faith. So far I remain unconvinced by faith. Science remains the best way of understanding as far as I can tell. It can lead you down the wrong path, to misunderstanding, but it not only has methods for compensating for that on the individual level, it is also so open that anyone can check the reliability of any result by performing experiments themselves.Faith on the other hand relies on a personal conviction only. A person's particular understanding, the 'result', can depend on where you were born and what your parents believed in most cases, and the beliefs are radically different. The content of the belief is not corroborated by evidence – so yes it is circumstantial, and capable of being interpreted, not just either way, but any way the individual chooses – you can't get more esoteric than that. The methods of expression use vague language that can't be pinned down. What would shake my 'faith' (i.e. trust) in science is if it didn't produce results. But nearly everything we all do, every day, uses science directly or the products of science. But we're so used to it that we don't realise the connection that exists with every day experiences upon which science is based. We can't help but live our lives using methods that in some way form the basis of what science does.If you've lost your keys you look for them. If you still can't find them you look again, often in the same places but more thoroughly. This is the trivial basis of repeat observations in science. It's so trivial you might not think it part of science, but I'm not elevating this process to science, I'm saying science is just part of our every day thinking processes; it's just that we apply even more rigour when we do it in a controlled manner used in science. Anyone with children who couldn't find things will have looked on their behalf and will have found, or will have asked a sibling to help, who would have found, or will have guided the child through the process teaching how to search more thoroughly. These are natural thinking processes that science uses to expand access to it's methods, to allow others to repeat the process. This is really fundamental stuff of human behaviour upon which science is based. But, some people might pray or rub a rabbit's foot for help in finding things, and when they do find they might put it down to having faith in their particular God, saint or talisman. It's just not very convincing because you can't tell to what extent the faith contributed.In the past the only area in which faith appears to have had any beneficial contribution is in human affairs; but it has also been very dangerous precisely because it is so open to abuse, relying on authority and concepts that the authority can claim to be true without corroboration. The language of faith is geared towards convincing people to affirm the faith without any chance of falsifying it.I accept that there are still benefits to the organisation, the community aspect, the good will that can be derived from such organisation. I accept that as with scientific endeavours if the methods are particularly bad you can get bad results – pseudo-science and religious fundamentalism – and that effort is required to make religions work for good rather than bad. But good look with that, because any bad religion simply has to declare that it is living by it's particular faith and it's game over; rational discussion goes out the window.

  12. ctd…You may think I am failing to give faith a chance. But you do the same with regard to many other faiths – you simply don't believe them. This is my point about Zeus – it's not a numbers game. The numbers merely say how many follow that faith, and say nothing about the truth of the claims of the faith.But, as you say, you can't prove everything. You can't prove the Muslim view that Jesus was simply a prophet and not the Son of God. You can't prove Muslim terrorists won't have 72 virgins waithing for them in heaven. You can't prove the Mormon teaching that early indigenous peoples of the Americas were Christ-believing Israelites, because Joseph Smith translated the ancient record "by the gift and power of God". Hold on, yes you can, the DNA shows native Americans not to be descended from Israelites. This is a clear example of the problem with faith, for a faith for which there is evidence against one of it's main beliefs. It also explains what is wrong with the pseudo-reasoning that is used to maintain that faith. But faith always has a get out clause.

  13. Perhaps we are making progress! I do not think faith tells us about how the world is and don't think it will do. Faith helps me discover how to live the "best" life I can in this world.As a pragmatist I am interested more in the impact that having faith has than in the dogma – and interestingly many different faith traditions have some similar outworkings.How did science help you to decide which job to take, which person to befriend, whether to steal cheat and lie or not?I would accept your comment about human affairs – for me that is the only place that we can see the outworkings of faith.I am not here to defend bad religion! All religion should be prepared to debate logically, although some bad religion treats everything as a premiss which makes that rather difficult. The problem in the debate is that we do not have shared premisses.

  14. When it comes to other faiths then I am open to insights about God from anywhere. As I keep saying I am far less interested in the truth claims of a faith and much more interested in the outworking of it. There are probably insights into the nature of God from Greek myth that are helpful today – I just don't know what they are, and the same is true of other faiths.A large difference between us appears to be that you are far more hung up on the truth claims of faiths than I am. For me natural language cannot speak of God, so everything we say has to be some kind of metaphor, so I am not worried whether it is really true or not.You do not appear to accept that there is anything other than that which science can prove – I am prepared to contemplate this rather than rejecting it outright.By the way. What is your take on Buddhism which I believe is more a philosophy of life than a theistic faith?

  15. Hi Alan,Yes, this might be progress in understanding each other, but I still have the suspicion we are quite far apart on our world views."I do not think faith tells us about how the world is" – That's fair. But I also don't think it capable of telling us anything about how God is, not least because there is no real notion of what he IS."As a pragmatist I am interested more in the impact that having faith has than in the dogma" – That's fair too. To me that's like (and I'm being trivial here to make the point, not to diminish what you mean) being interested in what impact being a lawyer might have, or being a politician, or being a scientist, in that they all give a perspective on the world."How did science help you to decide which job to take, which person to befriend, whether to steal cheat and lie or not?"Job – Tomorrow's World inspired my interest in science very early on and it developed from there.Friends – Nothing. But if I had a faith and that did then i think that would devalue my friendship, so I expect 'nothing' to be the answer from anyone of faith.Morality – My morality, which early on was influenced by parents, school church. But, though it may have seemed at the time that religion played it's part I now think people, who create religions, get their morality from evolutionary processes."you are far more hung up on the truth claims of faiths than I am" – Perhaps the way you apply you're faith it doesn't matter to you. But I see problems in the way some people do handle their faith, and tried to dictate to others how they should behave. So, I am interested in determining what faith is, what it means to have faith, how it can be used to justify things that I don't think it can, and so on. And then there's plain old curiosity."You do not appear to accept that there is anything other than that which science can prove" – Not rally prove, in a categorical sense, but demonstrate, evaluate, compare, verify, falsify – then yes, for the most reliable and precise path to information, and as near as we can get to truth. It's not that I don't value other methods, such as art, or poetry – but they are giving impressions. In fact that's probably the best way of explaining the comparison: art is an impressionist painting, science is a photograph – but that's not to devalue the capability of science showing something just as magnificent as any impressionist painting – e.g. Crab nebula; there's something so awe inspiring about seeing an image of the cosmos and trying to comprehend the vastness, the distance, or what the false colours are telling, in how far beyond what the naked eye could see is hidden from us.Buddhism: I can't say I know enough. Sue Blackmore who is into Zen without religion, and it sounds interesting. But I've not tried.Plus most serious science has controls, most serious science does not use emotive language, most serious science is open and lets the results drive the conclusions, most serious science does not use emotive language like that video.

  16. Can I just pick up on one point:"As a pragmatist I am interested more in the impact that having faith has than in the dogma" – That's fair too. To me that's like (and I'm being trivial here to make the point, not to diminish what you mean) being interested in what impact being a lawyer might have, or being a politician, or being a scientist, in that they all give a perspective on the world. I was at a service last night and the Bishop said that Jesus didn't come to start a religion – what he was interested in was transformation. Hence the effect of religion is the only thing that matters, the dogma doesn't. Perhaps you can see why liberal Christianity therefore has within it those who see God as effectively a myth. I don't normally quote scripture but I thought I should back this one up:21 “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants them to do. 22When Judgement Day comes, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord! In your name we spoke God’s message, by your name we drove out many demons and performed many miracles!’ Then I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you wicked people!’34 Then the king will say to those on his right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. 35 When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, 36 and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.”37 Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? 38 When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear 39 or visit you while you were sick or in jail?”40 The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”

  17. Yeah – but at least I have a better understanding of that!Knowing how God is is back to the hints – which you don't accept as good enough evidence – so there is no way of bridging that gap.I would say that faith makes a bigger difference, and I suspect that you would agree, quoting the inquisition :)I was trying to point out that science isn't the answer to everything – not claim that religion was either. If you live a life based only on what science can tell you then I believe it would be an impoverished life."I see problems in the way some people do handle their faith, and tried to dictate to others how they should behave" So do I!Do you not see that sometimes an impressionistic painting can be "truer" than a photograph? I see caricatures (good ones at least) as "truer" than photos.My understanding of Buddhism is that it does not have a God – it is wisdom on how to live. Of course there is no proof – other than lived experience.Sorry – lost track of which video you are talking about.

  18. Hi Alan,Okay, we have to live with that gap. As a pragmatist myself, I agree faith in something can have quite an impact, irrespective of how true it is. Faith in Communism, faith in Arian purity – it still remains a problem that faith is open to abuse precisely because the 'faith' element at worst denounces criticism, and at best doesn't insist on it."If you live a life based only on what science can tell you then I believe it would be an impoverished life." – True. But I don't know any atheist or scientist suggesting this. We use other forms of understanding things because they are convenient, we have evolved to use our intuition where we don't have real data – even though it is less reliable, it's still sometimes all we have, since science has a long way to go. In a world of small groups with fairly consistent lives this probably was the best way to go – rely on traditions for the well known stuff, and intuition for new circumstances. But now we are in a different world, where the manipulative minority have access to a gullible majority; there's always someone trying to sell you crap, whether it's the latest skin care, homeopathic medicine, access to a $1M bank account in Kenya, or religion. For figuring out the value of these things in this age I think science and critical thinking come out on top – faith is asking for trouble. There maybe intelligent well informed people who think they can handle the ambiguity of belief, to get out of it just what they think they ought to; but there are so many ill-informed that are so easily duped into fundamentalism, or at best an acquiescence to religious authority, I think the danger is great enough to warrant serious change to religion. As I've said, a system based on purely pragmatic understanding of our evolutionary heritage, our understanding of how society works for the better, by human action, rather than on the opinions disguised as divine knowledge from some authoritative priesthood. I don't see the need for God. But I accept that some people can't help but see God. In which case I think it incumbent on the more liberal religious to play a moe active role in denouncing dogma, instead of leaving it to the atheists. But I think I'm asking too much, because the liberal believers are up against the type of religious language that baffles the mind:http://www.archbishopofyork.org/645 …- "I don't know that there is God or a God in the simple sense that I can tick that off as an item I'm familiar with. Believing is a matter of being committed to the reality of God."- "God created the system in which they occur, just as God creates the system in which human freedom occurs."- "God has eternity in which to go on working with those persons."- "God set up the universe in such a way that when certain causes come together"- "God is the agency that's at work in everything and has set up the world in such a way that not only is evil possible, but moments are also possible where something breaks through of healing, of miracle, for the newness."If this isn't an existent, real, creationist God, then I don't what is. If this is a liberal leader of a liberal church, then we have a completely different view of what liberal means.

  19. "Do you not see that sometimes an impressionistic painting can be 'truer' than a photograph? I see caricatures (good ones at least) as 'truer' than photos." – Yes, sometimes – Spitting Image was brilliant at this. But there's a time to realise that the fake is really a fake, to realise when you're looking at an impression and not photographic evidence. Of course, in a way we are caught between impressionism and photographic evidence, because that's all we have access to through our senses – it all ends up as electro-chemical signals in the brain. But I'd rather opt for as clear a view as I can get. 20/20 sober vision, rather than religious beer goggles.Buddhism – Blackmore said she was interested, because she too thought it wasn't religious, no God. But when she looked into it she was expected to sign up to religious beliefs – don't know details, this was an interview she had Point of Inquiry:http://www.pointofinquiry.org/susan_blackmore_in_search_of_the_lightThis is an interesting interview – she explains her journey through psychic research – she has an experience, decides to do psychic research, but eventually figures there's nothing in it."Sorry – lost track of which video you are talking about." – Even more sorry. Me too. I was probably thinking of the Bell or Rollins videos – but who know's. That's memory for you.

  20. In response to your comment to Lesley: "Be nice to people, because they are people. You don't need religion."One of the lines I have been following is looking for evidence from behaviour. My perception is that it is more often religious people who are nice to people – hence my question about naming an atheist who has had a big impact.

  21. So why not use your intuition about faith – or is the point that our intuitions tell us different things?I think "science" is a perfectly sensible tool to use in dealing with these. How does it deal with "you're dying of cancer?" and the emotions surrounding that?And in my own small way I am trying to do that standing up!Haven't had time to read the whole interview – but surely the first one allows for a liberal interpretation and sets the context for the rest?I am away for a bit – so haven't taken offence if you don't get an answer.

  22. Hi Alan,"My perception is that it is more often religious people who are nice to people " – Could that be down to the circles you move in? Could it be that religious people are more often nice, but also more often not so nice? There are plenty of statistics from the US that show the Bible states to have more divorce, more crime. Unless UK statistics are analysed according to faith or non-faith I'm not sure how we'd get any evidence to support our perceptions. But, you might be right. But, maybe those same people would be just as nice without the actual belief in God."So why not use your intuition about faith – or is the point that our intuitions tell us different things?" – Intuitions are handy when we need to make snap decisions. And sometimes, when we are stuck for data we often go with our gut feelings – but since there was no data we can never be sure it was the right decision. generally, if we have the time and it's important I don't see why we shouldn't make considered decisions."How does it [science] deal with "you're dying of cancer?" and the emotions surrounding that?" – That depends on the individual I guess. I've known some people with cancer who are very matter of fact about it. Not that they haven't had moments of dispair – the thought of not seeing loved ones again is disheartening for the departing and those left behind. Once the outcome is determined and science can't offer anything more what has science versus religion got to do with it? Perhaps offering one's body to medical research would be a great comfort to someone dying – their contribution to science. No everyone needs God or faith to get through difficult times.

  23. We have to use our intuition because as I have posted elsewhere there is no scientific evidence. If you refuse to allow any other form of evidence then you will never know about those things (or non things!)

  24. Admitting weaker evidence, or doing without evidence, doesn't suddenly make it true. This isn't just the reliance on science; it's a general way of being sure about our knowledge.

  25. This is about whether we only open ourselves to what can be proven, or whether there are things which can't be proven that are worthwhile. This seems to be a bottom line that is consolidating on all the posts.

  26. Again the specification of 'proven' as one limit. 'Demonstrated' would be sufficient. Can you demonstrate something that shows God or the effect of, rather than something that could be interpreted merely as effect of believing in God (or Santa, or fairies, …)?

  27. Nope.It is the old trite comment, but if we could prove/demonstrate it then it wouldn't require faith.However for me the hints and nudges do, although as you point out that could be the fairies. However, for me there is something other than me involved.

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