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Subject: Rationality of religious belief rss

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Bojan Ramadanovic
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A statement by Lynette in the Drew's thread reminded me of a topic with which I had a lot of fun back in university. I will just throw my thoughts on it and am curious what the fine RSP minds may have to add.

Main reason I am interested in the rationality of religious belief is that it is one of few fields where it is almost impossible for reasonable people to reach common ground, due to the peculiarity of their initial positions. Therefore, understanding where the "others" are coming from and why the position they hold is not irrational *given their past experience* becomes extremely important if we are not to hold a huge number of our fellow men in utter contempt (which unfortunately many people do - on both sides of the fence).

Brief background for those who do not know me: I am 4th generation atheist, never had a shred of personal belief, started with the usual "religious people must be dumb or self-deluded" but moved well past it while not acquiring any belief myself. If any of the religious folks here want to convert me - this post will tell you exactly what would be needed.

With that out of the way: here are the sources of religious belief the way I see them:

Personal revelation:
Almost perfectly rational.
If I am not otherwise suffering from various (other) delusions and am not operating in the regime of extreme physical exertion, chances are that if I hold a conversation with a pillar of flame, a gigantic white bull or some other similarly improbable creature, I have *very* good reason to believe in the existence of divine.

Testimony:
Potentially very rational.
If I am told by someone trustworthy that they have experienced personal revelation then rationality of my belief is exactly dependant on my trust in that person. For me, there are few, though not too many, people whom I would trust this far. Good rule of thumb for me is - if I would trust this person with all my material possessions or with safeguarding lives of my family at cost and risk to themselves I would believe them that they have seen/talked to God.

Tradition:
Somewhat but very imperfectly rational.
If my ancestors believed in God, I have at least a-priori reason to believe in the same God myself. Existence of alternative traditions, however, makes this a fairly imperfect reason for belief s does a number of other ancestral beliefs that have proven factually false.

Tradition + interpretative experience:
Imperfectly rational.
If I have been raised in a tradition of belief, it is possible for me to have experiences that fall very much short of full blown revelation and are yet supportive of the basic belief. Vaguely "prophetic" dreams, sense of well-being induced by prayer and "white light" in near-death experiences all fall in this category. It is indisputable that having such experiences buttresses the rationality of the belief - because they do support whatever main belief person held. On the other hand, sheer ability of the mind to adapt circumstances to the pre-concieved notions makes this basis for belief not as sold as it could be. Nature, frequency and circumstances of the experiences determine whether in the end belief is rational or not.

Testimony of the interpretative experience:
Almost totally irrational.
While interpretative experience can be valuable for the person experiencing it, it is worth next to nothing to the third party. While complex clear hallucinations are sufficiently rare to make revelation to a trustworthy "other" good reason for belief, psychological states needed to produce interpretative experiences are sufficiently frequent to render the testimony of them all-but-useless for others, even when coming from a fully trustworthy source.

Ethical impact of belief:
Totally irrelevant to rationality of belief.
It is irrational to believe in God because we think it will make us a better person to do so. It is likewise irrational not to believe in God (given other convincing evidence) because of past political consequences of religion or ethical behaviour of religious people. (Though it may not be irrational to believe in God and refuse to worship them on ethical grounds).

Emotional state:
Irrational.
It makes no rational sense to believe or disbelieve in God based on emotional state (lonely, loved, afraid, unloved, angry etc...) unless we treat the said emotion as an "interpretative experience" as above.

In conclusion, it is possible for two reasonable people to hold entirely opposite beliefs on the subject of God while both being relatively rational. If one of them has been raised as religious and have experienced sufficient number of "interpretative events" and the other has been raised atheist or have become so in the absence of such "interpretative events" they can both hold to their positions and have absolutely no legitimate arguments with which to even begin convincing the other person to change their position.
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bramadan wrote:
In conclusion, it is possible for two reasonable people to hold entirely opposite beliefs on the subject of God while both being relatively rational.


This sums up my feelings. I'm always fascinated when people call either religious belief or religious nonbelief categorically "irrational", and so far I've never heard an argument for that position that is even close to persuasive.

I found your breakdown of bases for religious belief really interesting and thought-provoking, by the by -- thanks for taking the time to put it together.
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I think I would use the term "reasonable" or "understandable" where you're using rational.

I asked my wife to marry me after knowing her for an extremely short period of time. I don't consider that decision to have been rational, but I do consider it to have been reasonable.
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Good post.
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Jeff Smith
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bramadan wrote:
In conclusion, it is possible for two reasonable people to hold entirely opposite beliefs on the subject of God while both being relatively rational. If one of them has been raised as religious and have experienced sufficient number of "interpretative events" and the other has been raised atheist or have become so in the absence of such "interpretative events" they can both hold to their positions and have absolutely no legitimate arguments with which to even begin convincing the other person to change their position.


I respectfully disagree (otherwise your post is well thought out!). Being rational is not merely being self-consistent, as the "laws" of reason go far beyond that. If two self-consistent belief systems contradict each other about facts of the world around us, one is still bound, by logic, to be false anyway. If your belief system includes the Earth being flat and mine says the Earth is spherical, one of us is bound to be wrong: the Earth cannot be flat and not-flat at the same time. Being rational therefore implies accepting that premise in a discussion and changing his point of view in the face of better evidence and argument. A dogmatic but consistent belief system is never rational, precisely because it is dogmatic. I do not believe that rationality of thought stems from its genesis, and this applies both to science and religion. Being rational is simply contemplating being wrong. From there, the dividing line is easy to draw.

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Ascarel wrote:
the Earth cannot be flat and not-flat at the same time.


Ridiculous! Of course it can.
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Bojan Ramadanovic
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Ascarel wrote:
bramadan wrote:
In conclusion, it is possible for two reasonable people to hold entirely opposite beliefs on the subject of God while both being relatively rational. If one of them has been raised as religious and have experienced sufficient number of "interpretative events" and the other has been raised atheist or have become so in the absence of such "interpretative events" they can both hold to their positions and have absolutely no legitimate arguments with which to even begin convincing the other person to change their position.


I respectfully disagree (otherwise your post is well thought out!). Being rational is not merely being self-consistent, as the "laws" of reason go far beyond that. If two self-consistent belief systems contradict each other about facts of the world around us, one is still bound, by logic, to be false anyway. If your belief system includes the Earth being flat and mine says the Earth is spherical, one of us is bound to be wrong: the Earth cannot be flat and not-flat at the same time. Being rational therefore implies accepting that premise in a discussion and changing his point of view in the face of better evidence and argument. A dogmatic but consistent belief system is never rational, precisely because it is dogmatic. I do not believe that rationality of thought stems from its genesis, and this applies both to science and religion. Being rational is simply contemplating being wrong. From there, the dividing line is easy to draw.



I agree with you that it is not possible for both atheist and theist to be *correct*. But that does not mean they can not both be rational. Point is, on the subject of metaphysics (particularly religious metaphysics) it is extremely difficult to produce definitive proof.

Points of religious doctrine are not stated in ways that give themselves to observation or experiment and the attempts to prove existence of god logically failed fairly miserably.

Therefore, lacking a-priori reason for belief (direct personal experience or traditional belief buttressed by some sort of personal experience) it is all but impossible to convince someone to become a believer.

On the other hand, same hold for trying to convince someone to not believe if they *did* have experience they deem sufficient to justify their belief. All the atheist can do in that argument is state that there are no good physical or logical reasons to believe in god (which is enough for them) but a believer will ostensibly have sufficient reason to believe based on their subjective experience that the outside co-locutor is not privy to and therefore can not subject to scrutiny.

Philosophical argument is therefore barren and as far as the "evidence" goes - Theist is never endangered by it as long as their doctrine does not include statements pertaining to manifest events in the physical world.

If the Theist insists that Zeus literally lives on top of mount Olympus, they may be disputed with evidence (pictures, satellite images etc...) but if they claim that those dear to Odin get posthumously picked out by the (entirely spiritual) Valkyrie to join gods in a giant feast - I am not sure what sort of evidence could serve to argue against that claim.

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bramadan wrote:
I agree with you that it is not possible for both atheist and theist to be *correct*. But that does not mean they can not both be rational.


This particular explication of the rationality of religious thought is interesting in itself, but it is also irrelevant to what is at stakes in a debate between a religious and non religious person. It seems to me that you confuse explanation with justification. When you can consistently derive one's belief system from his own interpretative experiences, you explain it. But this does not justify it, and another way -- the relevant way in this context -- to define rationality is to look at one's attitude toward justification. When, of two people, one is bound to be incorrect, this means that one of them has unjustifiable beliefs. Refusing to accept this is irrational. So, even if your "genetic" definition of rationality is right -- and I believe it is --, this is not the only way to be rational, in such a way that one could actually be rational and irrational at the same time. Why I am confronting my view of rationality with yours is because I believe that you only explain one side of the religious debate -- why a religious person keeps arguing, in fact -- while this has nothing to do with why a non religious person will challenge religion in the first place.

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Points of religious doctrine are not stated in ways that give themselves to observation or experiment


Not quite. It is utterly undeniable that people still make empirical claims, not matter their rhetoric. The Creation Museum in Kentucky is pure provocation of natural science. Catholics who believe in transubstantiation make a serious claim about the physical world, to such extent sometimes that the Crackergate fiasco could unfortunately happen. Any Christian who believe in the miracles of Jesus make an empirical claim as well, with this convenience that the focus of their faith is a event long past. However, this is not as easy as this: because natural science follows the obvious principle of the uniformity of nature (how nature works right now is how it worked 2000 years ago), even belief in miracles (say, turning water into wine) are not impervious to observation and experiment today. Actually, anybody of any faith who claims that their god talked to them also make an empirical claim: being talked to is in itself an event in space and time, that could (should) be reproducible.

This is to be expected: many people take the relevance of the moral teachings of their belief system to hinge on the truth of the narrative that expounds them. Personally, I can be quite moved by and I can understand the purpose, power and meaning of any myth (hey I'm a Tolkien freak). Taking these myths to be literally true (this in fact the process by which CS Lewis converted himself back to deism) is a whole other ball of wax, because it necessarily implies putting your foot in a playground dominated, as of today, by science.

Quote:
but if they claim that those dear to Odin get posthumously picked out by the (entirely spiritual) Valkyrie to join gods in a giant feast - I am not sure what sort of evidence could serve to argue against that claim.


Evidence does not need to be direct. This particular claim depends on a whole edifice of premises about the natural world that can be tested independently.
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quozl wrote:
Ascarel wrote:
the Earth cannot be flat and not-flat at the same time.


Ridiculous! Of course it can.
Very true. The problem seems to me to be the natural assumption that my observation is more or less universally valid. The tale of the blind men and the elephant clearly shows that this line of thinking is prone to error.
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In response to the OP, I think your line of reasoning is pretty good. The biggest error that I perceive is the distinction you draw between personal revelation and interpretative experience. Personal revelation can include what you call interpretative experience. It is not limited to fantastic cinema style miracles. Secondly, the validity of these personal revelations can in fact be tested and the results evaluated. That is the essence of the New Testament scripture "Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you."

So in general response, there is a basis for a non believer to consider belief. It all starts with the personal revelation and continues with the test and examination of the revelation.
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Wrayman wrote:
In response to the OP, I think your line of reasoning is pretty good. The biggest error that I perceive is the distinction you draw between personal revelation and interpretative experience. Personal revelation can include what you call interpretative experience. It is not limited to fantastic cinema style miracles. Secondly, the validity of these personal revelations can in fact be tested and the results evaluated. That is the essence of the New Testament scripture "Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you."

So in general response, there is a basis for a non believer to consider belief. It all starts with the personal revelation and continues with the test and examination of the revelation.


Reason I make the distinction can be explained thus:

in personal experience I know that I can dream and imagine various things, I have for example, held long conversations with death people in my dreams that have - on the waking - turned out to be quite nonsensical. Likewise, I know that under physical and mental stress I have experienced different temporary psychological/emotional states which have also not have had much to do with my actual condition.

Therefore, prima facie, any dream-like/nebulous experience I have will have much lower epistemic weigh then the lucid and unequivocal waking experience. I can totally understand how for someone who already *has* belief nebulous states can buttress that belief but in themselves I can not see how they can be a first source of rational belief.

That said, what "counts" as personal revelation may well vary from one person to the next. Everyone has some threshold as to how much they believe they are capable of self-deception. If the experience is well and clearly beyond that threshold then it counts as a revelation. For me it would have to be some distinct miraculous event, not necessarily spectacular but vivid and decidedly beyond ordinary. If it were to lend credence to one of the established religions beliefs it would also have to fit within the received symbology of that particular belief. That is why I used pillar of flame and white bull as my examples. Burning bush, an Angel or a Valkyrie would also do.

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DarthXaos wrote:
bramadan wrote:

Personal revelation:
Almost perfectly rational.
If I am not otherwise suffering from various (other) delusions and am not operating in the regime of extreme physical exertion, chances are that if I hold a conversation with a pillar of flame, a gigantic white bull or some other similarly improbable creature, I have *very* good reason to believe in the existence of divine.


I would argue that if you are holding a conversation with a pillar of flame or a gigantic white bull, you are most likely suffering from delusions.

Now if you can find independent verification that you are speaking with a pillar of flame or gigantic white bull, and they can verify the content of the communiaction, then you have a basis for rationality.


What sort of verification is more trustworthy then the experience of one's own senses ?

If the experience was sufficiently vivid to overcome your own fear of "self-deception" then how would any external negation or confirmation change it in any way. If you can hallucinate that you just talked to a God you can equally well hallucinate that other humans are confirming (or denying) that it has happened.

In the end if you do not believe your own senses at some level, you have no epistemic access to the world at all.

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bramadan wrote:
In the end if you do not believe your own senses at some level, you have no epistemic access to the world at all.


Woah there -- sense are your first foray into the material world, but they are definitely NOT its end point. Your brain is a processor, and sometimes it just messes up. Optical illusions are the best example, although not the only one (in my field, linguistics, it's also been shown as regards sounds of speech). The point is never to doubt the reality of one's own subjective experiences, but rather question what the experiencers make of it, on the basis of inter-subjective verification.
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bramadan wrote:
Wrayman wrote:
In response to the OP, I think your line of reasoning is pretty good. The biggest error that I perceive is the distinction you draw between personal revelation and interpretative experience. Personal revelation can include what you call interpretative experience. It is not limited to fantastic cinema style miracles. Secondly, the validity of these personal revelations can in fact be tested and the results evaluated. That is the essence of the New Testament scripture "Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you."

So in general response, there is a basis for a non believer to consider belief. It all starts with the personal revelation and continues with the test and examination of the revelation.


Reason I make the distinction can be explained thus:

in personal experience I know that I can dream and imagine various things, I have for example, held long conversations with death people in my dreams that have - on the waking - turned out to be quite nonsensical. Likewise, I know that under physical and mental stress I have experienced different temporary psychological/emotional states which have also not have had much to do with my actual condition.

Therefore, prima facie, any dream-like/nebulous experience I have will have much lower epistemic weigh then the lucid and unequivocal waking experience. I can totally understand how for someone who already *has* belief nebulous states can buttress that belief but in themselves I can not see how they can be a first source of rational belief.

That said, what "counts" as personal revelation may well vary from one person to the next. Everyone has some threshold as to how much they believe they are capable of self-deception. If the experience is well and clearly beyond that threshold then it counts as a revelation. For me it would have to be some distinct miraculous event, not necessarily spectacular but vivid and decidedly beyond ordinary. If it were to lend credence to one of the established religions beliefs it would also have to fit within the received symbology of that particular belief. That is why I used pillar of flame and white bull as my examples. Burning bush, an Angel or a Valkyrie would also do.

The evidence is not in the event itself. The evidence is in the fruit it bears. Whatever the nature of the revelation/deception, it is good/bad, beneficial/harmful or valuable/worthless based on what comes of it. What comes if it is dependant upon what we are willing to do about it. It isn't as mysterious as some might imagine. The proof is in the pudding. The test is open to anyone, and has nothing specifically to do with any established church.
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Ascarel wrote:
When, of two people, one is bound to be incorrect, this means that one of them has unjustifiable beliefs. Refusing to accept this is irrational.


This is neither usual way "justified belief" is used in philosophy nor is it in any way intuitive. It is perfectly possible to hold a justified belief which turns out to be wrong. I, for example, believe that my aunt is alive and relatively healthy at this point. This belief is justified by the fact that I talked to her yesterday and she was alive and healthy then. If you claim that this belief is not justified then it is almost impossible to hold *any* justified beliefs on the basis of inference. Of course, there are many possibilities under which something could have happened to my Aunt since and if any of them obtained then my justified belief that she is alive and healthy right now would be false.

Extend this example to the situation where I meet an acquaintance who tells me that he has seen my aunt struck by a car earlier in the day. If this person is telling the truth they are holding justified belief that my aunt is injured or dead. Imagine now that I know from the past experience that this person is a notorious liar or prone to halucinations, I would then still be justified in believing that my aunt is well. Under this circumstances I can not do anything to change their belief (as they have seen my aunt hit by the car) and they can not do anything to change mine (as I do not give them much in terms of epistemic weight) and yet we both hold justified beliefs.

Ofcourse in the above example difference between our beliefs will be only temporary because there is ultimate epistemic way to establishing the truth after which both of us will hold the same belief, but in the case of belief in God this ultimate test is inaccessible and therefore we are locked in the position where we believe opposite things and are yet both justified in doing so.

Quote:

So, even if your "genetic" definition of rationality is right -- and I believe it is --, this is not the only way to be rational, in such a way that one could actually be rational and irrational at the same time. Why I am confronting my view of rationality with yours is because I believe that you only explain one side of the religious debate -- why a religious person keeps arguing, in fact -- while this has nothing to do with why a non religious person will challenge religion in the first place.


My point is that while single individual can not be both rational and irrational at the same time, prior conditions of one individual change whether or not some action/belief is rational *for them*.

Lots of atheists start from the (correct) premise of "it is irrational for me to believe in god (and therefore I do not)" to the (incorrect) conclusion of "it is therefore irrational for *everyone* to believe in god (and therefore they should not)"

Quote:


Quote:
Points of religious doctrine are not stated in ways that give themselves to observation or experiment


Not quite. It is utterly undeniable that people still make empirical claims, not matter their rhetoric. The Creation Museum in Kentucky is pure provocation of natural science. Catholics who believe in transubstantiation make a serious claim about the physical world, to such extent sometimes that the Crackergate fiasco could unfortunately happen.


I grant you this. Such religions that make falsifiable statements about natural world and condition their message on the truth of those statements can in fact be independently verified and thus consigned to irrationality if found lacking. Creationism (in the strict literalism sense) is thus irrational, or so close to being irrational for it not to matter as is, for example, belief of some pagans and other religious folks that they can personally and reliably perform magic etc...
My thesis has more to do with philosophical religions which make statements that are not empirically testable. On the related note, there is a fair bit of Catholic theology explaining why transubstantiation is *not* empirically testable (summary is that the greek "ousia" which translates to latin as "substance" has to do with underlying non-physical nature of the object and that thefore wine can be "substantially" blood of Christ without it having hemoglobin in it and other properties of actual physical blood etc...)

Quote:

Any Christian who believe in the miracles of Jesus make an empirical claim as well, with this convenience that the focus of their faith is a event long past. However, this is not as easy as this: because natural science follows the obvious principle of the uniformity of nature (how nature works right now is how it worked 2000 years ago), even belief in miracles (say, turning water into wine) are not impervious to observation and experiment today. Actually, anybody of any faith who claims that their god talked to them also make an empirical claim: being talked to is in itself an event in space and time, that could (should) be reproducible.


But the fundamental nature of the miracles is that they are *not* reproducible and do not conform to the principle of uniformity of nature. If you believe in strict principle of uniformity then you almost by definition can not believe in God. Epistemic reason to believe in the principle of uniformity, however, is empirical with a fairly considerable dose of induction. If someone has empirical (or other) reason to believe in God there is no reason why they would not reject the strong principle of uniformity in favor of the weaker version that says that physical laws are uniform except when God declares otherwise.

Quote:

This is to be expected: many people take the relevance of the moral teachings of their belief system to hinge on the truth of the narrative that expounds them. Personally, I can be quite moved by and I can understand the purpose, power and meaning of any myth (hey I'm a Tolkien freak). Taking these myths to be literally true (this in fact the process by which CS Lewis converted himself back to deism) is a whole other ball of wax, because it necessarily implies putting your foot in a playground dominated, as of today, by science.


Science is not a comprehensive doctrine - it is actually much less comprehensive then most religions. At its core it is a method for making predictions about the future given known present. Some of its aspects are fascinatingly correct to many orders of magnitude (Quantum Electrodynamics) and others are good only statistically (Meterology). Most importantly there is no metaphysical reason why one should have *absolute* belief in science. It is perfectly self-consistent to believe that science works *most of the time* - that is to say, it works except in those times when its rules got overridden by other principles. Holding that belief allows one to use science for their day-to-day functioning and yet believe in miracles otherwise.
Ofcouse if one believes in science working most of the time, then they should hold a-priori belief that it holds all the time, unless of course they have stronger reason to believe in existence of miracle making God - such as, for example, personal revalation (which is the whole point I am making).

Even if God is not involved, if I personally witness cup of lukewarm tea sitting on a table becoming scalding hot all by itself (and I believe I was lucid in that observation) it will certainly shatter my belief in the second law of thermodynamics even if I can not reproduce this event to the satisfaction of others.

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Quote:
but if they claim that those dear to Odin get posthumously picked out by the (entirely spiritual) Valkyrie to join gods in a giant feast - I am not sure what sort of evidence could serve to argue against that claim.


Evidence does not need to be direct. This particular claim depends on a whole edifice of premises about the natural world that can be tested independently.


How could they ? If the premises involve entities that are not subject to physical investigation - i.e. souls/alternate worlds/spiritual entities there is nothing for the natural science to investigate.
You can ofcourse claim that things that can not be investigated physically do not exist but that is a dangerous road to thread because it can lead to very strong reductionism when it gets to terms such as "self", "honour", "love" etc...
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Ascarel wrote:


This is to be expected: many people take the relevance of the moral teachings of their belief system to hinge on the truth of the narrative that expounds them. Personally, I can be quite moved by and I can understand the purpose, power and meaning of any myth (hey I'm a Tolkien freak). Taking these myths to be literally true (this in fact the process by which CS Lewis converted himself back to deism) is a whole other ball of wax, because it necessarily implies putting your foot in a playground dominated, as of today, by science.



Note of clarification... Lewis did not believe the myths themselves were literally true, nor did Tolkien. They believed that universal myths (as Jung noted humanity has) gave us insight to a truth that is beyond the truth we can observe today. That humanity touches/has touched that "greater truth" often throughout history and that by looking at myths and noting the commonality one can gain personal insight into that realm.

If 50 friends of mine go to Europe over the 20 years and I read all their post cards, write down all their stories and I tell my kids, who tell their kids 2000 years from now if our current civilization has fallen and we are back in a low tech world, somebody then might have a bit more reason to believe there are other continents on the planet and that as fantastical as it sounds a Eiffel Tower and Airplanes really may have existed. Especially if great^10 grandkids of my 50 friends all have stories to tell that have some similar common items, themes and threads running through them. They then might conclude that large structures, sea travel and flight is possible.

Universal myths suggest a supernatural exists that has some constancy.

Ascarel wrote:
bramadan wrote:

but if they claim that those dear to Odin get posthumously picked out by the (entirely spiritual) Valkyrie to join gods in a giant feast - I am not sure what sort of evidence could serve to argue against that claim.


Evidence does not need to be direct. This particular claim depends on a whole edifice of premises about the natural world that can be tested independently.


Science has limitations. You cannot disprove Odin. The ability to test Oranges right down to molecule structure really doesn't prove or disprove anything about the existence of Apples.

If somebody tells me about this great fruit like food an alien from a space ship gave them to eat I can chose to believe or disbelieve that person's base story but there is not a scientific test in existence that can tell me anything about that fruit. Until the Aliens give me a piece of my own of course.


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Wrayman wrote:
The evidence is not in the event itself. The evidence is in the fruit it bears. Whatever the nature of the revelation/deception, it is good/bad, beneficial/harmful or valuable/worthless based on what comes of it. What comes if it is dependant upon what we are willing to do about it. It isn't as mysterious as some might imagine. The proof is in the pudding. The test is open to anyone, and has nothing specifically to do with any established church.

This is the good old argument from consequences again.
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sbszine wrote:
Wrayman wrote:
The evidence is not in the event itself. The evidence is in the fruit it bears. Whatever the nature of the revelation/deception, it is good/bad, beneficial/harmful or valuable/worthless based on what comes of it. What comes if it is dependant upon what we are willing to do about it. It isn't as mysterious as some might imagine. The proof is in the pudding. The test is open to anyone, and has nothing specifically to do with any established church.

This is the good old argument from consequences again.
I am surprised to see this reaction. It rings of some familiarity so I unleashed my google-foo and found this.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_consequences

This is presented as a logical fallacy. In a scientific sense, I understand the problem. However, in matters of faith however(anything that affects us personally of which we cannot expect personal expertise), I not only see the appeal to consequences as valuable but essential. Most things in life we cannot know in a strict sense. It seems to me that the best tool we have in our personal toolboxes of evaluating truth is to measure its effects. The value of this is obvious to me. If I am lost and trying to find my way home, the perfect knowledge of my location and the path home is useless to me. I don't have it. I can however, take what knowledge I have and act on it. In so doing, I can gain insight about my location and the path home. Only in acting despite my doubt can I find my way home. That is useful and it has nothing to do with strict science, although I would say that the scientific method is at work in the evaluation of results as I test hypothesis'. The notion is also seen in learning to play a musical instrument. The perfect knowledge of how to play the piano is not relevant to the student. The student has to submit his will to that of the instructor and do what is required in order to gain the knowledge. In so doing, the student can look back on the experience and recognize the truthfulness of what the instructor taught. On the other hand, if the student is rebellious and fails to do what is required, he won't recognize the truthfulness of the instruction and may conclude that the instructors truth is simply not his truth. The failure in this case is the students as is his ignorance.
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Wrayman wrote:

The evidence is not in the event itself. The evidence is in the fruit it bears. Whatever the nature of the revelation/deception, it is good/bad, beneficial/harmful or valuable/worthless based on what comes of it. What comes if it is dependant upon what we are willing to do about it. It isn't as mysterious as some might imagine. The proof is in the pudding. The test is open to anyone, and has nothing specifically to do with any established church.


Well, this I disagree with.

If I were to believe (in spite of evidence) that an unknown benefactor will give me $500 every time I clean up my house, it would be unequivocally good for me and good for people living arround me. Everyone (myself included) would agree that this is a good thing.

Despite that, fact would remain that if I held this belief in spite of failing to receive money for any past time I clean my house - this would be a irrational belief.

I am not drawing a perfect analogy with religious belief, just pointing that no matter how good consequences of a given belief may be - they in themselves do not prove rationality (much less truth) of that belief.
 
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Wrayman wrote:
The notion is also seen in learning to play a musical instrument. The perfect knowledge of how to play the piano is not relevant to the student. The student has to submit his will to that of the instructor and do what is required in order to gain the knowledge. In so doing, the student can look back on the experience and recognize the truthfulness of what the instructor taught. On the other hand, if the student is rebellious and fails to do what is required, he won't recognize the truthfulness of the instruction and may conclude that the instructors truth is simply not his truth. The failure in this case is the students as is his ignorance.


In this instance rationality of student's behaviour does not come from the posterior fact that they learned how to play piano but from the a-priori fact that they have reason to believe that the said instructor knows how to teach them to play the instrument.

If I ambushed a random man on the street and told them to teach me to play piano, I would be acting irrationally in following their every instruction even if in the end it turned out that by blind luck I run into a benevolent piano teacher.

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bramadan wrote:
Wrayman wrote:

The evidence is not in the event itself. The evidence is in the fruit it bears. Whatever the nature of the revelation/deception, it is good/bad, beneficial/harmful or valuable/worthless based on what comes of it. What comes if it is dependant upon what we are willing to do about it. It isn't as mysterious as some might imagine. The proof is in the pudding. The test is open to anyone, and has nothing specifically to do with any established church.


Well, this I disagree with.

If I were to believe (in spite of evidence) that an unknown benefactor will give me $500 every time I clean up my house, it would be unequivocally good for me and good for people living arround me. Everyone (myself included) would agree that this is a good thing.

Despite that, fact would remain that if I held this belief in spite of failing to receive money for any past time I clean my house - this would be a irrational belief.

I am not drawing a perfect analogy with religious belief, just pointing that no matter how good consequences of a given belief may be - they in themselves do not prove rationality (much less truth) of that belief.
I think I understand you point but it fails entirely because I am not suggesting at all that anything should be believed despite compelling evidence to the contrary. I think you are suggesting that faith in God is tantamount to such a belief despite evidence to the contrary. That is simply not the case. There are many reasons to believe.

In your example, it may be that an unknown benefactor will give you $500 every time you clean your house. It may be that that will come in the form of a high purchase price because of your excellent maintenance when you sell. In any case, the important truth that is to be embraced is the value of cleaning, not the unknown benefactor. My point being that we would do well to hold our preconceived notions lightly. Some of them are right and some of them are wrong. In testing them we can find out which are which. After that we would do well to abandon the wrong ones and nurture the right ones.
 
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bramadan wrote:
Wrayman wrote:
The notion is also seen in learning to play a musical instrument. The perfect knowledge of how to play the piano is not relevant to the student. The student has to submit his will to that of the instructor and do what is required in order to gain the knowledge. In so doing, the student can look back on the experience and recognize the truthfulness of what the instructor taught. On the other hand, if the student is rebellious and fails to do what is required, he won't recognize the truthfulness of the instruction and may conclude that the instructors truth is simply not his truth. The failure in this case is the students as is his ignorance.


In this instance rationality of student's behaviour does not come from the posterior fact that they learned how to play piano but from the a-priori fact that they have reason to believe that the said instructor knows how to teach them to play the instrument.

If I ambushed a random man on the street and told them to teach me to play piano, I would be acting irrationally in following their every instruction even if in the end it turned out that by blind luck I run into a benevolent piano teacher.

I don't understand the analogy. Are you suggesting that faith in God is tantamount to becoming a student of a stranger on the street? If that is the case, I don't think you understand Christians at all. Faith in God to me is all about becoming a disciple of The Good Teacher, not wishfully clinging to blind faith. Your analogy doesn't fit my experience at all.
 
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Ascarel wrote:
bramadan wrote:
In the end if you do not believe your own senses at some level, you have no epistemic access to the world at all.


Woah there -- sense are your first foray into the material world, but they are definitely NOT its end point. Your brain is a processor, and sometimes it just messes up. Optical illusions are the best example, although not the only one (in my field, linguistics, it's also been shown as regards sounds of speech). The point is never to doubt the reality of one's own subjective experiences, but rather question what the experiencers make of it, on the basis of inter-subjective verification.


Senses are, by definition, your *only* foray into outside world Everything the brain does is just process and categorize the sensory inputs. I am aware that processing system can muck it up and I am aware that people are aware of their limitations when it gets to processing. This is why I differentiate what I called "unequivocal" personal revelation from "interpretative experiences".
Exactly what is "unequivocal" will vary from person to person but for everyone there is a threshold at which they will say "there is no way I could have imagined/misrepresented that".

They may still very much be wrong (if someone for example set out a deliberate hoax, or their body/mind went uniquely weird on them) but ultimately they have nothing better to rely on. Once you get over your cognitive threshold, any corroboration or counter-evidence is as suspect as the original experience.
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Wrayman wrote:
bramadan wrote:
Wrayman wrote:
The notion is also seen in learning to play a musical instrument. The perfect knowledge of how to play the piano is not relevant to the student. The student has to submit his will to that of the instructor and do what is required in order to gain the knowledge. In so doing, the student can look back on the experience and recognize the truthfulness of what the instructor taught. On the other hand, if the student is rebellious and fails to do what is required, he won't recognize the truthfulness of the instruction and may conclude that the instructors truth is simply not his truth. The failure in this case is the students as is his ignorance.


In this instance rationality of student's behaviour does not come from the posterior fact that they learned how to play piano but from the a-priori fact that they have reason to believe that the said instructor knows how to teach them to play the instrument.

If I ambushed a random man on the street and told them to teach me to play piano, I would be acting irrationally in following their every instruction even if in the end it turned out that by blind luck I run into a benevolent piano teacher.

I don't understand the analogy. Are you suggesting that faith in God is tantamount to becoming a student of a stranger on the street? If that is the case, I don't think you understand Christians at all. Faith in God to me is all about becoming a disciple of The Good Teacher, not wishfully clinging to blind faith. Your analogy doesn't fit my experience at all.


To the contrary - I said above that I do not claim analogy with faith.

You have (ostensibly rational) a-priori reason to believe your religious teaching, they have to do with your prior experiences, tradition, upbringing etc... That is why your faith is (I assume) rational. Fact that you have become a better person because of your faith is a consequence, and not a reason for your belief.

If I, lacking prior reason to believe in Christian God (out of all possible Gods), were to hold a belief in the said God purely on the basis that it will make me a better person it would be an irrational belief.
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Wrayman wrote:
I think you are suggesting that faith in God is tantamount to such a belief despite evidence to the contrary. That is simply not the case. There are many reasons to believe.


That is exactly my point People may have many (rational) reasons to believe (or disbelieve) in God. Fact that they will become better persons if they do (or don't) is not one of them - even if it is entirely true.
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