Sunday, October 16, 2011

Apologists 'Failure to Disprove' Defense

I've seen professional debates where the Christian wins the crowd, and I've personally had lengthy debates where my reasoning didn't seem to make a scratch. How do Christians stay afloat in a sea of strong opposing arguments?

From watching numerous debates, I've noticed a common tactic. In response to a strongly reasoned argument against the credibility of Christian beliefs, the Christian shows (rightfully) why the argument fails to disprove his Christian beliefs. The Christian is absolutely correct, the atheist's argument did not disprove Christian beliefs. The Christian thus deems the argument a failure, the debate rolls on, and the crowd is impressed by the intellectual robustness of Christian belief.

But what just happened?

While it appeared persuasive, the Christian has simply fallen back on the fact that no belief (true or false) can ultimately be disproven, whether it's belief in Jesus or mermaids. I call this type of defense the "failure-to-disprove" defense. While sometimes hard to recognize, the failure-to-disprove defense has a couple common signatures:

  • Imaginatively inventing some scenario (usually involving the supernatural) in which one's questionable beliefs are not disproved despite the strength of an opposing argument.

  • Appealing to epistemological limitations, "how do we really know anything for sure?!" to avoid disproof.

Either way, the defense boils down to the fact that the argument failed to ultimately disprove the belief. This fact can be used equally to support Christianity, atheism, Heaven's Gate, and Santa Claus.

For example, let me apply the failure-to-disprove defense to support the existence of Santa Claus. Watch the scenarios I invent to maintain my prior belief in Santa Claus despite the onslaught of reason:

Santa-skeptic: "You say Santa is fat, and yet he fits down tiny chimneys."
Santa-believer: "Well, he has extraordinary contortion powers of course. Your argument fails."
Santa-skeptic: "OK... His home cannot be seen at the North Pole."
Santa-believer: "Have you searched every inch of the North Pole? Besides it's probably underground. Your argument fails."
Santa-skeptic: "Even underground, it would be detectable by thermal sensors."
Santa-believer: "Well, again, Santa is no ordinary being. He's fully spiritual in addition to being human. His house isn't necessarily detectable by unbelievers in the physical realm. That'd obviously make things too easy for those who want on his "nice" list out of selfishness. Your argument completely fails to disprove Santa."
Santa-skeptic: "OK... How can he possibly visit every house in one night?"
Santa-believer: "Again, he's extraordinary. And besides, I'm not a fundamentalist, I believe he could have his elves help out. Just because you can't fathom it, that does nothing to disprove my beliefs."
Santa-skeptic: "I know for a fact that my childhood presents came from my parents."
Santa-believer: "But how do you really know that? You can't absolutely know that. Parents have typically lost their Faith in Santa and wouldn't believe even if they saw him or his gifts. And besides, I wouldn't put it past Santa to work through unbelieving parents, instead of his elves, to deliver exactly the gifts Santa had in mind for the believing child. Your argument fails."

As you can see, the Santa skeptic can never win. The believer is deeming every anti-Santa argument a failure, because each one ultimately failed to disprove his belief in Santa Claus. Well, unfortunately for the believer, failure-to-disprove doesn't change the fact that each anti-Santa argument was quite good, and ultimately on-point.

For a real-life example, see William Lane Craig employ the failure-to-disprove defense against Peter Atkins here:
Atkins makes a couple decent arguments against Christianity (though he's extreme in his view of what science can account for), namely:

  • Science is able to explain things that religions attribute to God

  • Humans have desparate motives for belief in God (ie fear & hopelessness)
Craig explains that these arguments don't disprove his beliefs and therefore dismisses them as "fallacious".

The failure-to-disprove tactic is seldom necessary for truthful propositions. For example, I'd never need this tactic if I was trying to convince a skeptic that France is a real place. I'd never need to resort to saying "your argument fails to disprove my proposition that France exists." To do so would be to neglect the wealth of actually-potent arguments and evidence that is available.

The failure-to-disprove tactic is low-quality because it can be used equally to support any silly belief. The tactic reveals nothing about the potency of the opponent's argument, as every argument ultimately fails on some level. When someone relies on the failure-to-disprove tactic, they're unwittingly placing their belief on a reasonableness level with Santa Claus, as the same tactic is used to support both beliefs. Either they're neglecting the better arguments that could be made, or there aren't any better arguments for their belief.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pulling the Plug on Noah's Flood

I used to believe that Noah's Flood was a true story. It had to be, because it's in the Bible. If the Flood didn't actually happen, the Old Testament's truthfulness is hurt. Since the New Testament writings depend completely on the Old Testament's truthfulness, they'd go down with it. For example, Jesus himself likens his second coming to Noah's Flood:
  • Luke 17:26-27 And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it shall be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
So Christians have a strong motivation to defend the truthfulness of the Old Testament, including Noah's Flood. But, did the Flood actually happen?

With a little Googling, one quickly gets the impression that today the Flood story is on par with the flat-Earth theory. From perusing the scientific evidence (I'm not a scientist!) it seems the summary is this: a global flood would have utterly devastated the Earth in detectable ways, but the Earth clearly shows a lack of such devastation.

We all saw the destruction wreaked by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Imagine how much greater the destruction of a global flood. Not only because it affects the whole planet, but the amount of water battering each location is over a mile deep instead of only a few feet. It would have destroyed all Earth's delicate structures, so that today there would be no delicate structures older than the flood date.

But Earth does have many delicate structures which are older than the Noah story, such as polar ice-caps, coral reefs, stalagmites, and even trees. Most critically, Earth's geologic column and fossil column show a lack of global flood devastation. Earth's strata is precisely in-tact throughout the time-scale when a global flood would have certainly churned it up. Creationists have come up with several "rapid growth" theories to account for the apparent old age of these structures, and to account for the existence of multiple human races (funny that creationists require evolution to defend the flood). It's clear they're committed to their religious conclusions here, not following the evidence.

Geological failings aside, the Noah story makes no sense logistically. Did polar bears swim/travel to the middle East to board the ark, and then swim to Canada afterward? What did carnivorous animals eat on the boat? How did animals from all different climates survive together in one climate for several months? Climate controlled cabins? There's an awful lot of magic involved if Noah's flood actually happened.

My favorite part is, after pulling off the extraordinary feat of keeping all the animals alive on the ark, Noah immediately burns some of them for God, who "smells the soothing aroma" and decides not to destroy things so much anymore.

Many Christians today have acknowledged the implausibility of a global flood, and have resorted to saying it was probably a large local flood. However, the whole premise of the Bible story and the language usage clearly doesn't gel with a local flood. Quoting the Bible:
  • Gen 6:6 And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth...
  • Gen 6:17 And behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything in which is the breath of life, from under heaven, everything which is on earth shall perish.
  • Gen 8:19 And the water prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth; and all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered.
  • Gen 7:23 ... only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.
  • Gen 8:17 "Bring out with you every living thing... that they may breed abundantly on the earth..."
As the story goes, God promises to never again flood the earth. If Noah's flood was indeed just a local flood, God has broken that promise many times now. I think there's no escaping that the Bible tells of a global flood.

I've also heard Christians say that many ancient civilizations have reports of a massive flood. However, these reports obviously pertain to a local flood, otherwise those civilizations would not have survived to write about it. Again, I think the Bible story clearly depicts a global flood.

The last nail in the coffin for Noah's Flood story is that it's not the earliest version of the story! The Epic of Gilgamesh is a work of Sumerian mythology written hundreds of years before Genesis, and contains a Mesopotamian flood story which is nearly identical in form to Noah's Flood story. The similarities include:
  • God(s) was displeased with man
  • God(s) decides to send worldwide flood to kill all living creatures
  • God(s) knew of one righteous man
  • God(s) ordered this righteous man to build a wooden ark
  • The ark was to be multi-storied, sealed with pitch, and have one door
  • The righteous man, a few other people, and a sample of all the animals boarded the ark
  • A great rain flooded the land and covered the mountains
  • The righteous man sent out birds to detect dry land, and the third bird was successful
  • The ark landed on a mountain
  • The people exited the ark and offered burnt sacrifices to God(s), who smelled the aroma
  • God(s) express a changed attitude toward the flooding
  • The righteous man is blessed
Christians are aware of the problem that the Epic of Gilgamesh poses, and have made fairly humorous efforts to address it, such as this effort from the Institute for Creation Research (quotes taken from
  • "...these two flood accounts, it has been generally agreed that there is an obvious relationship."
  • "Dating of the oldest fragments of the Gilgamesh account originally indicated that it was older than the assumed dating of Genesis."
  • "The divine inspiration of the Bible would demand that the Genesis account is the correct version."
  • "Genesis is viewed for the most part as an historical work, even by many liberal scholars, while the Epic of Gilgamesh is viewed as mythological."
So Noah's Flood story is incompatible with science, logistically silly, requires accepting all sorts of weird theology like God being sorry he created man and being soothed by the smell of burning animals, and is a retelling of older Sumerian mythology. I think the only sound conclusion is that Noah's Flood never happened.

I also now see this story for how disgusting it really is; it's a story of the intentional suffocating of all life. It teaches us of a murderous god who is very disappointed with us and appeased by death and the smell of burning flesh sacrifices. And this is what Christians are teaching children in Sunday schools, using cute cartoons.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Atheist Blogroll

Eyes Open has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Judgement Day, May 21, TODAY! You laugh?

I'm sure you've all heard about Harold Camping's prediction that the rapture will occur tonight, May 21, at about 6pm. His multimillion dollar Oakland CA based radio station, Family Radio, claims they have infallible, absolute Biblical proof, 100% guaranteed, no plan B. A million dollar billboard campaign has posted over a thousand Judgement Day billboards. "Project Caravan" has been traveling in decorated RVs proclaiming the end. It appears as though Camping has convinced hundreds, maybe thousands of believers worldwide, many of whom have made drastic preparations for the end. One man, Jeff Gonzalez, quit his job at Intel. One couple, Jessica and Eddie Ramos, quit their jobs, pulled their life savings out of the bank, and pulled their children out of school.

Quote from Camping:
"How can anyone dare to dispute with the Bible concerning the absolute truth that the beginning of the Day of Judgment together with the Rapture will occur on May 21, 2011?"

Quote from a Camping follower:
"I'm positive that the same question (what if you wake up on May 22?) was asked of Noah, and all those who asked that question perished for unbelief."

Most Christians hold Camping and his following to be nutty fanatics, even a cult. But this is a dissonant position, because Christians believe that the foretold events themselves are indeed going to happen, just not necessarily on May 21.

For example, Dr Wayne Grudem says, "And then what will happen on May 22 will be this, he'll (Camping) say 'whoops, I got the math wrong, let me recalculate' and then he'll set another date. It'll go on probably until he dies. Unless (begins to grin) Jesus does come back, which could happen any day."

Grudem's last statement seemed, to me, intellectually disconnected from his previous thoughts. It's as though a different person started talking, or he was suddenly speaking from a different motive. Regardless, what he does indicate is that it's not the predicted events that Christians consider nutty, it's just the predicted date.

Or is it? Can a date trigger such a gut feeling of laughter? I contend that the knee-jerk response of humor and disbelief that most Christians (and non-Christians) feel toward Camping's prediction reveals how superficially they believe in the Rapture and Judgement Day. These Doomsday events are doctrinal items which most Christians merely nod to, not real expectations which shape their behavior. It's not the date which makes Christians laugh, it's the Doomsday events themselves.

If a seismologist predicted a major earthquake on May 21, he/she wouldn't be laughed at nearly as much. This is because people genuinely expect that earthquakes will happen. Christians don't genuinely expect that Doomsday will happen; if they did, Camping's prediction would not incite the dismissive reaction it does. At least that's my prediction, laugh all you want!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Quotes - Mistakes Were Made by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)
By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Pg 17 – Severe initiations increase a members liking for the group.

Pg 18 – If the new information is consonant with our beliefs, we think it is well founded and useful: “Just what I always said!” But if the new information is dissonant, then we consider it biased or foolish: “What a dumb argument!” So powerful is the need for consonance that when people are forced to look at disconfirming evidence, they will find a way to criticize, distort, or dismiss it so that they can maintain or even strengthen their existing belief. This mental contortion is called the “confirmation bias.”

Pg 19 - … MRI while trying to process dissonant or consonant information… found that reasoning areas of the brain virtually shut down when participants were confronted with dissonant information, and the emotion circuits of the brain lit up happily when consonance was restored… once our minds are made up, it is hard to change them.

Pg 26 – … when people vent their feelings aggressively they often feel worse, pump up their blood pressure, and make themselves even angrier.

Pg 26 – when you do anything to harm someone else… a powerful new factor comes into play: the need to justify what you did… once the boy starts down the path of blaming the victim, he becomes likely to beat up on the victim with even greater ferocity the next chance he gets.

Pg 27 – Fortunately dissonance theory also shows us how a person’s generous actions can create a spiral of benevolence and compassion, a “virtuous cycle”.

Pg 29 – Because most people have a reasonably positive self-concept, believing themselves to be competent, moral, smart, their efforts at reducing dissonance will be designed to preserve their positive self-images… To reduce that dissonance, her (Mrs Keech, doomsday cult leader) followers could either have modified their opinion of their intelligence or justified the “incredibly stupid” thing they did. It’s not a close contest; it’s justification by three lengths. Mrs Keech’s true believers saved their self-esteem by deciding they hadn’t done anything stupid; in fact, they had been really smart to join this group because their faith saved the world from destruction. In fact, if everyone were smart, they would join too. Where’s that busy street corner?

Pg 33 – (The Pyramid of Choice) When the person at the top of the pyramid is uncertain, when there are benefits and costs at both choices, then he or she will feel a particular urgency to justify the choice made. But by the time the person is at the bottom of the pyramid, ambivalence will have morphed into certainty, and he or she will be miles away from anyone who took a different route.

pg 48 – The great danger to the public comes from the self-justifications of well-intentioned scientists and physicians who, because of their need to reduce dissonance, truly believe themselves to be above the influence of their corporate funders. Yet, like a plant turning toward the sun, they turn toward the interests of their sponsors without even being aware they are doing so.

Pg 53 – Once you take the gift, no matter how small, the process starts. You will feel the urge to give something back, even if it’s only, at first, your attention, your willingness to listen, your sympathy for the giver. Eventually you will be more willing to give your prescription, your ruling, your vote.

Pg 58 – Us is the most fundamental social category in the brain’s organizing system, and it’s hardwired.

Pg 59 – Without feeling attached to groups that give our lives meaning, identity, and purpose, we would suffer the intolerable sensation that we were loose marbles floating in a random universe. Therefore, we will do what it takes to preserve these attachments. Evolutionary psychologists argue that ethnocentrism – the belief that our own culture, nation, or religion is superior to all others – aids survival by strengthening our bonds to our primary social groups and thus increasing our willingness to work, fight, and occasionally die for them.

Pg 61 – Mr. X doesn’t even try to respond to Mr. Y’s evidence; he just slides along to another reason for his dislike of the Jews. Once people have a prejudice, just as once they have a political ideology, they do not easily drop it, even if the evidence indisputably contradicts a core justification for it. Rather, they come up with another justification to preserve their belief or course of action.

Pg 61 – “Trying to educate a bigot is like shining light into the pupil of an eye – it constricts.” Most people will put a lot of effort into preserving their prejudice rather than having to change it, often by way of waiving away disconfirming evidence as “exceptions that prove the rule.” (What would disprove the rule, we wonder?)

Pg 68 – “In normal circumstances,” wrote Hitler’s henchman Albert Speer in his memoirs, “people who turn their backs on reality are soon set straight by the mockery and criticism of those around them, which makes them aware they have lost credibility. In the Third Reich there were no such correctives, especially for those who belonged to the upper stratum. On the contrary, every self-deception was multiplied as in a hall of distorting mirrors, becoming a repeatedly confirmed picture of a fantastical dream world which no longer bore any relationship to the grim outside world. In those mirrors I could see nothing but my own face reproduced many times over.” Given that everyone has some blind spots, our greatest hope of self-correction lies in making sure we are not operating in a hall of mirrors, in which all we see are distorted reflections of our own desires and convictions. We need a few trusted naysayers in our lives, critics who are willing to puncture our protective bubble of self-justification and yank us back to reality if we veer too far off.

Pg 69 – All of us, as we tell our stories, add details and omit inconvenient facts; we give the tale a small, self-enhancing spin; that spin goes over so well that the next time we add a slightly more dramatic embellishment; we justify that little white lie as making the story better and clearer – until what we remember may not have happened that way, or even may not have happened at all. In this way, memory becomes our personal, live-in, self-justifying historian.

Pg 70 – But dissonance theory predicts that we will conveniently forget good arguments made by an opponent just as we forget foolish arguments made by our own side.

Pg 76 – By far, the most important distortions and confabulations of memory are those that serve to justify and explain our own lives.

Pg 86 – “imagination inflation,” because the more you imagine something, the more likely you are to inflate it into an actual memory, adding details as you go.

Pg 88 – (Sleep paralysis) During the deepest stage of sleep when dreaming is most likely to occur, a part of the brain shuts down body movements, so you won’t go hurling yourself around the bed as you dream of chasing tigers. If you awaken from this stage before your body does, you will actually be momentarily paralyzed; if your brain is still generating dream images, you will, for a few seconds, have a waking dream. That’s why those figures on the bed are dreamlike, nightmarish – you are dreaming, but with your eyes open.

Pg 90 – once the seed of belief was planted, once alien abduction was even suspected, the abductees began to search for confirmatory evidence. And once the search had begun, the evidence almost always turned up.

Pg 93 – when they are brought into the laboratory and asked to describe their traumatic abductions by aliens, their heightened physiological reactions (such as heart rate and blood pressure) are as great as those of patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They have come to believe their own stories.

Pg 103 – In the profession of psychotherapy, clinical psychologists are the closest equivalents of trained lawyers… In contrast, most psychiatrists, who have medical degrees, learn about medicine and medication, but they rarely learn much about the scientific method or even about basic research in psychology.

Pg 105 – What these therapists see confirms what they believe, and what they believe shapes what they see. It’s a closed loop.

Pg 108 – “The weakness of the relationship between accuracy and confidence is one of the best documented phenomena in the 100-year history of eyewitness memory research.”

Pg 108 – The scientific method consists of the use of procedures designed to show not that our predictions and hypothesis are right, but that they might be wrong. Scientific reasoning is useful to anyone in any job because it makes us face the possibility, even the dire reality, that we were mistaken. It forces us to confront our self-justifications and put them on public display for others to puncture. At its core, therefore, science is a form of arrogance control.

Pg 109 – If every outcome confirms your hypothesis that all men unconsciously suffer from castration anxiety; or that intelligent design, rather than evolution, accounts for the diversity of species; or that your favorite psychic would have accurately predicted 9/11 if only she hadn’t been taking a shower that morning; or that dolphins are kind to humans, your beliefs are a matter of faith, not science.

Pg 110 – What unites these clinical practitioners is their misplaced reliance on their own powers of observation and the closed loop it creates. Everything they see confirms what they believe.

Pg 111 – “The notion that the mind protects itself by repressing or dissociating memories of trauma, rendering them inaccessible to awareness, is a piece of psychiatric folklore devoid of convincing empirical support.” Overwhelmingly, the evidence shows just the opposite.

Pg 113 – But if everything you observe in your clinical experience is evidence to support your beliefs, what would you consider counterevidence?

Pg 116 – Other studies of the unreliability of clinical predictions, and there are hundreds of them, are dissonance-creating news to the mental-health professionals whose self-confidence rests on the belief that their expert assessments are extremely accurate. When we said that science is a form of arrogance control, that’s what we mean.

Pg 119 – The scientists have shown that very young children, under age five, often cannot tell the difference between something they were told and something that actually happened to them.

Pg 123 – To do so would have been to realize that they had harmed the very women and children they were trying to help. It was much easier to preserve their commitments by rejecting the scientific research as being irrelevant to clinical practice. And as soon as they took that self-justifying step, they could not go back without enormous psychological difficulty. Today, standing at the bottom of the self-justifying pyramid, miles away professionally from their scientific colleagues, having devoted two decades to promoting a form of therapy that Richard McNally calls “the worst catastrophe to befall the mental-health field since the lobotomy era,” most recovered-memory clinicians remain as committed as ever to their beliefs. How have they reduced their dissonance? …minimizing the extent of the damage caused… blaming the victim… killing the messenger… dismiss all the scientific research as being part of a backlash…

Pg 125 – There are almost no psychotherapists who practiced recovered-memory therapy who have admitted that they were wrong. Of course, they may fear lawsuits. But from the few who have publicly admitted their errors, we can see what it took to shake them out of their protective cocoons of self-justification. For Linda Ross, it was taking herself out of the closed loop of private therapy sessions and forcing herself to confront, in person, parents whose lives had been destroyed by their daughter’s accusations… “Now I heard how absolutely ludicrous it sounded…”

Pg 131 – You want to think of yourself as an honorable, competent person who would never convict the wrong guy. But how can you possibly think you got the right guy in the face of the new evidence to the contrary? Because, you convince yourself, the evidence is lousy, and look, he’s a bad guy; even if he didn’t commit this particular crime, he undoubtedly committed another one. The alternative, that you sent an innocent man to prison for fifteen years, is so antithetical to your view of your competence that you will go through mental hoops to convince yourself that you couldn’t possibly have made such a blunder.

Pg 135 – It does seem ludicrous that the detectives did not change their minds, or at least entertain a moment of doubt, when Stephanie’s blood turned up on Tuite’s sweater. But once the detectives had convinced themselves that Michael and his friends were guilty, they started down the decision pyramid, self-justifying every bump to the bottom.

Pg 136 – In one experiment, jurors listened to an audiotaped reenactment of an actual murder trial and then said how they would have voted and why. Instead of considering and weighing possible verdicts in light of the evidence, most people immediately constructed a story about what had happened and then, as evidence was presented during the mock trial, they accepted only the evidence that supported their preconceived version of what had happened.

Pg 137 – In the case of Patrick Dunn of Bakersfield, California... the police chose to believe the uncorroborated account of a career criminal, which supported their theory that Dunn was guilty, rather than corroborated statements by an impartial witness, which would have exonerated him. This decision was unbelievable to the defendant, who asked his lawyer, Stan Simrin, “But don’t they want the truth?” “Yes,” Simrin said, “and they are convinced they have found it. They believe the truth is you are guilty. And now they will do whatever it takes to convict you.”

Pg 145 - … training does not increase accuracy; it increases people’s confidence in their accuracy.

Pg 149 - … many prosecutors end up being prepared to sabotage their own side’s goal of justice to preserve their convictions, in both meanings of the world.

Pg 149 – In the cases of crimes that have roused public emotions, they are under enormous pressure to get a conviction quickly. Any doubts they might have are drowned in the satisfaction of feeling that they are representing the forces of good against a vile criminal.

Pg 150 – Across the country, as DNA testing has freed hundreds of prisoners, news accounts often include a quote or two from the prosecutors who originally tried them. For example, in Philadelphia, District Attorney Bruce L Castor Jr. was asked by reporters what scientific basis he had for rejecting a DNA test that exonerated a man who had been in prison for 20 years. He replied, “I have no scientific basis. I know because I trust my detective and my tape-recorded confession.” How do we know that this casual dismissal of DNA testing, which is persuasive to just about everyone else on the planet, is a sign of self-justification and not simply an honest assessment of the evidence? It’s like the horse-race study we described in chapter 1: Once we have placed our bets, we don’t want to entertain any information that casts doubts on that decision. That is why prosecutors will interpret the same evidence in two ways, depending on when it is discovered. Early in an investigation, the police use DNA to confirm a suspect’s guilt of rule the person out. But when DNA tests are conducted after a defendant has been indicted and convicted, the prosecutors typically dismiss it as being irrelevant, not important enough to reopen the case… But DNA evidence should be used the same way whenever it turns up; it is the need for self-justification that prevents most prosecutors from being able to do that. Defense attorney Peter J Neufield says that in his experience, reinterpreting the evidence to justify the original verdict is extremely common among prosecutors and judges.

Pg 152 – Doubt is not the enemy of justice; overconfidence is.

Pg 201 – It is much more reassuring to believe they are evil and be done with them. We dare not let a glimmer of their humanity in the door, because it might force us to face the haunting truth of Pogo’s great line, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Pg 223 – Perhaps the greatest lesson of dissonance theory is that we can’t wait around for people to have moral conversions, personality transplants, sudden changes of heart, or new insights that will cause them to sit up straight, admit error, and do the right thing.

Pg 227 – “It is part of the scientific attitude to change one’s beliefs once they are discredited. Well, it’s not an easy thing to do. Combine invested time, invested money, high hopes, high expectations, and a relative amount of pride, and you’re up for quite a challenge when confronted with contradicting evidence.”

Pg 228 – Understanding how the mind yearns for confidence and rejects information that questions our beliefs, decisions, or preferences, teaches us to be open to the possibility of error. It also helps us let go of the need to be right.

Pg 229 – “Nowadays, when I feel passionate that I am 100% right about a decision that others question, I look at it again; that’s all.” Berry did not have to admit that she made a mistake; she didn’t make a mistake. But she did have to let go of her need to be right.

Pg 213 – Understanding how dissonance operates helps us rethink our own muddles, but it is also a useful skill for helping friends and relatives get out of theirs. Too often, out of the best of intentions, we do the very thing guaranteed to make matters worse: We hector, lecture, bully, plead, or threaten. Anthony Pratkanis, a social psychologist who investigated how scammers prey on their elderly targets, collected heartbreaking stories of family members pleading with relatives who had been defrauded: “Can’t you see the guy is a thief and the offer is a scam? You’re being ripped off!” “Ironically this natural tendency to lecture may be one of the worst things a family member or friend can do,” Pratkanis says. “A lecture just makes the victim feel more defensive and pushes him or her further into the clutches of the fraud criminal.” Anyone who understands dissonance knows why. Shouting “What were you thinking?” will backfire because it means “Boy, are you stupid.” Such accusations cause already embarrassed victims to withdraw further into themselves and clam up, refusing to tell anyone what they are doing. And what they are doing is investing more money, or buying more magazines, because now they really have an incentive to get the family savings back, show they are not stupid or senile, and prove that what they were thinking was perfectly sensible. Therefore, says Pratkanis, before the victim of a scam will inch back from the precipice, he or she needs to feel respected and supported. Helpful relatives can encourage the person to talk about his or her values and how those values influenced what happened, while they listen uncritically. Instead of irritably asking “How could you possibly have believed that creep?” you say “Tell me what appealed to you about the guy that made you believe him.” Con artists take advantage of people’s best qualities – their kindness, politeness, and their desire to honor their commitments, reciprocate a gift, or help a friend. Praising the victim for having these worthy values, says Pratkanis, even if they got the person into hot water in this particular situation, will offset feelings of insecurity and incompetence.

Book Quotes - The Manipulated Mind by Denise Winn

The Manipulated Mind
By Denise Winn

pg 110 - When the rules have been set, we feel difficulty in disobeying them unless we have massive peer support.

pg 111 - People cannot be trusted to say and do what they think is right if others around them are expressing an opposite opinion.

pg 112 - Having one supporter was sufficient to eliminate the strong conformity drive.

pg 112 - The need to be one with a group, to have group approval and therefore social approval, means that individuals will very often change their attitudes themselves, to fit with the norm, instead of having to be pursuaded... The passive power exerted by social norms is all the stronger than overt power because it is bowed to unconsciously.

pg 112 - In group decision making, the pressure for consensus is so strong that it can inhibit any expression of dissent... The enthusiasm of the members can lead to an illusion of invulnerability; whatever decision is made must be the right one because they made it... The group comes to believe in its own intrinsic morality...

pg 115 - ... if an individual wants someone to do him a big favour, the most successful technique for winning it is to induce him to do a small favour first.

pg 115 - 'boomerang effect': if a person has committed himself to something and is then attacked for his position, he increases his committment, even if it was not at all strong in the first place.

pg 117 - ... forewarning of attack may strengthen commitment... This finding, borne out by many other independent researchers, may perhaps be seen in the case of religious cult converts who are constantly warned of the dangers of being caught by a deprogrammer who will try to overturn their belief, thus strengthening the converts resolve to hold firm to their faith in the face of any evil.

pg 117 - ... if people committed themselves to attend a certain number of sessions of a group and then discovered that their own views were rather at variance with those of that group, gradually their own views would grow closer to the group norm... he had committed himself to spending time with the group, he had to justify that decision.

pg 117 - ...individuals seem to need to believe that their own actions are self-instigated... a deception that may well arise because of an attack on ones freedom... When an environment is effectively controlled by external forces, then acting as if one's behaviour was really self-derived is one of the few alternatives left open... people who behaved in a military fashion even when it was not demanded nor suggested... soldiers who regularly marched from their bunks or saluted other recruits... In behaving the same way in freer settings, one retains the perception of choice of self-responsibility in more prescribed situations.

pg 120 - cognitive dissonance... many devotees of spiritual healers who have been exposed as fakes continue to offer their faith and 'stick by' the maligned hero, not because of any magnitude of spirit themselves but because of the insupportable psychological consequences of accepting they had been duped.

pg 126 - As the justifications for making a given decision increase, the decision becomes more "externalized"; the individual can point to circumstances which compel a given course of action, limit his choice and reduce the risks attendant upon personal responsibility. In short, extrinsic justification minimizes the necessity for intrinsic justification - for psychological re-evaluation of the alternatives, for changing one's values, attitudes or motives... most people try to avoid making decisions or accepting responsibility and situations of free choice... most people treasure the concept of free choice... yet, in reality, do all to avoid it.

pg 128 - Similarly, belief in the spiritual healing process can effect a cure for even intransigent diseases.

pg 129 - Believing in a healer may well serve to reduce anxiety about one's condition and, as the conditions that respond best to placebos are those where bodily pain may be aggravated by anxiety and tension, this would tend to imply that placebo power is the power to allay the kind of stress symptoms which may prevent the body's own healing process from getting to work. It makes all the more sense when one considers that more and more diseases are now seen as stress-induced in the first place.

pg 131 - Psychologists have shown through controlled experiments that participating in various events, even supposedly as a game, can definitely make an individual's attitude towards that event more positive than before.

pg 132 - ... it (role-playing) required a person to think up all the arguments and appeals that he thinks would be most convincing to a person like himself - and in doing so, it is himself he persuades.

pg 153 - ... four influencing events to pay attention to in the context of sudden religious conversion: first, a close personal relationship needs to be developed with the people one wishes to convert to one's own position. It is human to respond to the offer of caring from another individual, to respond, especially if affection-starved and disoriented, to the tempting welcome into the bosom of a strong and loving family; second, the arousal of emotion by the leader, whether by emotional speeches, rhythmic music or dancing, serves to stir up troubling deep guilt and fear feelings in the audience which can be relieved quickly by submission to the cause; third, by responding to the appeal to come forward, to make promises or to speak out and be counted, people can be coaxed to commit themselves by actions which may then, as has been shown, colour their consequent attitudes; last, says Zimbardo, comes the powerful influence of prayer. The act of prayer may serve many purposes, in this context. It binds the group, acts as a reminder of the initial emotions experienced during the conversion itself, reinforces belief and, by focusing on the power of a supernatural force to bring good or evil, serves to place an individual's total responsibility for his actions outside himself. Prayer can bring peace... Whatever else may exist in the essence of prayer, prayer as a form is an effective instrument for manipulation.

pg 154 - Sargant has seen Evangelical-type conversion as a prime example of what can happen when the brain reaches overload and succumbs to a surfeit of stress. At the sermons of Wesley, for instance, it was a regular occurrence for people to collapse as the mass hysteria mounted, and to rise saved. Wesley's speeches aroused the whole gamut of emotions in the audience, from guilt and fear to anger and indignation. It was irrelevant which. The result was physical collapse and an ensuing state of suggestibility which led to instant conversion.

pg 162 - They were also implanted with the idea that anything negative they experience was because of the evil still in them. This way no blame could ever be attached to the Moonie cult itself.

pg 155 - Hoffer: 'Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for lost faith in ourselves. The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.'

pg 156 - Hoffer: 'Are the frustrated more easily indoctrinated than the non-frustrated? There is apparently some connection between dissatisfaction with oneself and a proneness to credulity. The urge to escape our real self is also an urge to escape the rational and the obvious. The refusal to see ourselves as we are develops a distaste for facts and cold logic. There is no hope for the frustrated in the actual and possible. Salvation can to them only from the miraculous. They ask to be deceived.'

pg 157 - ... all mass movements are interchangeable...
1. In-group exclusiveness and hostility to all outside it.
2. Demand for total submissiveness to the in-group which alone can bring about good.
3. The categorization of people according to selected characteristics and making overall judgments on the basis of these.
4. Promotion of the idea that the world is a scene of unceasing conflict, e.g. as a result of 'class war'
5. The view that any tenderness for family bonds or toleration of enemies serves only to weaken the in-group in its struggle and dilute commitment.
6. Belief in hostile conspiratorial forces whose aim is to destroy the in-group. Survival may therefore require violence.
7. Belief in a wholly harmonious society which can only be created by the in-group.

pg 165 – Gortner saw his role as preacher as similar to that of a rock star. He would make a strong entrance, go through the old standard numbers and build up to his ‘hit song’ at the end, by which time the audience is in ecstasy. ‘ The people who are out there don’t see it as entertainment although that is in fact the way it is.’ Now that he is no longer a preacher, Gortner spends much time trying to convey to the public the kinds of rhetorical techniques that are so commonly used to manipulate their thoughts and emotions.

pg 165 - Gortner (former preacher): 'And I keep going back and forth until she's almost in tears. And then, even though this is in a college crowd and I'm only doing it as a joke, I just say my same old line, "In the name of Jesus" and touch them on the head and, wham they fall down flat every time.'

Pg 169 – Every day, Manson would reiterate his philosophies of life, indoctrination by the time-tested means of repetition. He knew well that, as they lived in seclusion as a family, his followers would receive no counter-information of any kind to conflict with the content of his own.

pg 170 - T.H. Qualter: 'Uniforms, bands, flags, symbols were all part of the German propaganda machine, designed by Hitler and Goebbels to increase the impact of strong words by evidence of strong deeds. Meetings were not just occasions for people to make speeches, they were carefully panned theatrical productions in which settings, lighting, background music and timing of entrances and exits were devised to maximise the emotional fervour of an audience already brought to fever pitch by an hour or more given over to singing and the shouting of slogans.

pg 177 - Scheflin and Opton: ' We do not want to confront Pogo's famous insight, "We have met the enemy and he is us". How much more comforting to think, "We have met the enemy and he is Satan" or "she is a witch" or "his mind is possessed by demonic spirits"...'

pg 177 - For to admit we can be swayed and manipulated is possibly more frightening than to admit that others can choose to perform socially or politically or morally unacceptable actions.

pg 204 - The best way to avoid conversion of any kind is not to get emotionally involved in the proceedings. Once guilt, fear, anger are stirred up, one is halfway to being won.. The obstacles that the religious or political proselytizer cannot overcome are indifference or detached, controlled, and continued amusement on the part of the subject at the efforts being made to break him down or win him over or tempt him into argument. The safety of the free world seems therefore to lie in a cultivation not only of courage, moral virtue and logic but of humour: humour which produces the well-balanced state in which emotional excess is laughed at as ugly and wasteful.

pg 204 - Humour is therefore not only a tool for keeping one's own perspective balance but an aid, via its absence, to identifying those others who have no sense of perspective. Beware the leaders of causes, salesman and experts who cannot genuinely laugh at themselves.

pg 207 - Getting out of a situation is one of the best ways of seeing it for what it is instead of becoming swamped by it and helpless to resist... Immersion in any experience mars one's judgment about its import and its true relationship to other events in life.

pg 212 - Perhaps it is only by standing back, emotionally, and testing our assumptions that we can become more the masters of ourselves and correspondingly less the slaves of circumstance.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Bible - Signature of a Supreme Being, or Mankind?

To me, the Bible bears all the signatures of being man-made, and does not bear the signatures of an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient creator. If all the intricate beauty and unfathomable depth of nature is indeed the intelligent creation of God, then it should be fairly easy to distinguish mankind's creations from God's creations. Just compare to nature. When I compare the Bible to nature, the Bible sticks out like a sore thumb as having originated from a different creator. When I compare the Bible to mankind's creations, it fits right in.

I propose we can distinguish mankind's creations from what would be God's creations by assessing three characteristics:

1) Quality: A creation generally reflects its creator in its quality
2) Location of origin: A creation generally originates next to its creator
3) Process of spreading: A creation generally spreads to new locations by a process implemented by its creator.

As I theorize on what these characteristics would look like for God's creations, keep these in mind: mountains, water, humpback whales, sequoia trees, stars, love, and the laws of nature.

God's Creations
1) Quality: We would generally find God’s creations to be of a breathtaking, mind-boggling quality, reflective of an infinitely superior mind.
2) Location of origin: We would generally find God’s creations originating not in one place but globally or universally, which fits with an omnipresent God.
3) Process of Spreading: We would generally find God’s creations spreading to new locations by a process that God implements, requiring little/no human intervention.

Now as I assess the three counterpart characteristics of man’s creations, keep these in mind: the airplane, the printing press, the transistor, the telephone

Man's Creations
1) Quality: We generally find mankind’s creations to be of a much lower, much more comprehensible quality, often wrought with mistakes, reflective of our human limitations.
2) Location of origin: We generally find mankind’s creations originating right next to their human creator in a confined location.
3) Process of Spreading: We generally find mankind’s creations spreading to new locations by a process that mankind implements.

Looking at these 3 characteristics, do the writings of the Bible bear the signatures of mankind's creations or the signatures of God's creations?

The Bible
1) Quality:
  • The Bible contains factual contradictions, ie King Azahiah's age at reign (2 Kings 8:26 vs 2 Chronicles 22:2), or who met who at Jesus' empty tomb and what was the reaction.
  • The Bible contains theological contradictions, ie God is vengeful and war-like, or merciful and peaceful (Jer 13:14 vs James 5:11).
  • The Bible contains known additions that are not original, ie the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11, the beloved line "let he who is without sin cast the first stone"), and the last chapter in Mark.
  • The Bible contains failed prophecies, ie Jesus' return within one generation (Mt 16:28)
  • The original meanings of countless passages are unclear and heavily disputed due to time, language, and cultural barriers, as becomes true of all human writings.
  • The Bible contains theological and apologetic embellishments, ie Matthew's mystical genealogy of Jesus.
  • The Bible contains human opinions, as expressed by Paul in 1 Cor 7:12.
  • The Bible contains human influences such as different literary styles and education levels amongst the authors, ie Matthew's better understanding of the Old Testament language than Mark.
  • The Bible's understanding of science is capped by man's limited understanding at the time of writing, it conveys scientific misconceptions (ie the Earth is only a few thousand years old) and offers no new scientific insight, insight which an omniscient Creator of all the universe would possess in fullness.
  • The Bible stories contain similar themes to earlier Mesopotamian/Egyptian mythology, ie the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Horus.
  • The Bible stories depict events which defy the laws of nature that God supposedly instituted, laws which all of God's other creations (all nature) apparently uphold at all times.
With a quick Google search, one finds many more examples of each. One can also find apologetic attempts to refute these types of allegations. All I've been able to glean from Christian apologetics is just another serious blow to the Bible's quality; the Bible is defended by very lengthy, twisted, and ultimately crumbly human arguments, by humans committed to their prior conclusions regardless of the evidence, ie the works of William Lane Craig.
2) Location of origin: The writings of the Bible originated under the pen of human authors from a specific culture of people from a confined area of the Middle East. The outside world was initially unaware of these writings' existence, and parts of the world still are.
3) Process of Spreading: The Bible spread from its location of origin by massive human effort.

So to the best I can tell, the Bible bears the creative signatures of mankind, and does not bear the creative signatures of a Supreme Being.

Accidentally or Conveniently Forgotten?

Apologists often give historical defenses of Jesus’ resurrection, piecing together scant information from the Bible and concluding that there is no alternative explanation for the claim of the empty tomb and the early explosion of Christianity. But my question is: what explanation do apologists have for some of the missing historical information? If Jesus was really God, then there are certain pieces of information that would have been extremely advantageous for the early church to remember, information that would have served as evidence to confirm their beliefs. The earliest Christian church seems to have either quickly forgotten certain critical information, or never knew it. To me, this suggests that the information was not advantageous, or was even disadvantageous. The biggest one is the location of Jesus’ tomb. The empty tomb is one of the most important confirmations of Christian beliefs, so I can’t conceive of how early believers could let anyone forget this if Jesus really rose. I can think of two explanations for forgetting the location of the tomb. 1) It was not important to the earliest church because their belief was based more on feelings than cold-hard facts. 2) The tomb location would not serve to confirm, but rather disconfirm their beliefs. Other forgotten information that makes no sense is the authors and date of authorship of the gospels. How could the Christian church ever have forgotten this? There must have been no advantage to remembering who wrote the gospels. The earliest records we have of the Christian church shows them trying to piece together what happened in Jesus’ time from scant information, just like we are still trying to do today. They’ve been mystery texts ever since day 1 (whenever that was).

No Other Name? But it's Wrong.

It seems that Christians should be more disturbed by the fact that “Jesus” is not really the name of the person they’re intending to worship. “Jesus” is a meaningless mutation of his actual name Yeshua, the result of passing through several language barriers and time. If we traveled back in time and asked the disciples where Jesus is, they probably wouldn’t be sure who we’re talking about. Every pastor knows that Jesus isn’t the right name, and yet there’s no effort taken to try to pronounce his name correctly. But the Christian is not about to ditch the name he’s been worshipping and praying to for so many years, it would feel like heresy. To worship the name “Jesus” with full knowledge that it’s the wrong name, you’re conveying that getting the name right is of little importance. Well then you may as well call him Bob; “Jesus” has little advantage over “Bob”. It may seem like a petty point to many people, but if a believer wants to deeply respect his Lord in any way possible, knowingly calling him the wrong name is a bad start. It also seems to mock Biblical and traditional Christianity. Regarding the Bible, Acts 4:12 says “there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Regarding Christian tradition, no bigger deal has ever been made out of any other name. Take the old hymn, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name”, multiply it by the number of Christian songs that have been written, by the number of times they’ve been sung, the number of sermons that have been preached, the number of prayers prayed, the number of Bibles in print, and the number of Christian books written. And they all got the name wrong. Christianity is thoroughly and irreversibly soaked in that incorrect mutation. This is just one example of how Christianity is often more committed to tradition than truth, and how hard it is to change something about Christianity even when the facts are in. The masses don’t like change, because it’s hard and uncomfortable and calls into question their “one true religion”. Imagine the headline from a church who wants to acknowledge the facts, “To pay maximum honor to our Savior and Lord, we are removing the meaningless name of Jesus from all church proceedings, to be replaced by his true name, Yeshua.” There would most likely be an uproar and the church staff would be out of their jobs, which is precisely why this won’t happen.

Which One's Ridiculous?

Christian and atheist beliefs are so wildly different that one of them must be ridiculous. One of those beliefs must be an absurdly blinded, warped, and misguided view of reality. Between a Christian and an atheist, one of them must be nuts. Either the Christian is nuts for believing in invisible characters and ancient stories of the miraculous, or the atheist is nuts for not believing these things. It has to be one of the two.

The Cost of Being Wrong

What is the cost of being wrong for the Christian and the atheist? If Christianity is correct, the cost of being an atheist is Earthly blindness and eternal Hell. If Atheism is correct, then the cost of being a Christian is Earthly blindness only. So the cost of being wrong for both the Christian and the atheist is a lifetime of Earthly blindness, but the atheist has the additional cost of eternal Hell. Pascal’s wager can be persuasive here, but the costs do have one key feature in common: they both affect the entire length of our existence. If the Christian is wrong, he spends this one and only precious life devoted to fictions that were told to him by other people.

Invisible Characters - Part 2

So why don’t Christians see their own invisible characters as ridiculous, even while considering all other invisible characters (like Thor) so silly as to be dismissed without a second thought? I think the answer is the same as why cult beliefs are not considered ridiculous by cult members. The absurdity of cult beliefs (ie Heaven’s Gate) is quickly and easily recognized by an outsider, but extremely difficult (if not impossible) to be recognized by the members inside the cult, for psychological reasons. I believe this same concept applies to all religious followings, big or small: absurdity is extremely difficult to detect from the inside, but easy to detect from the outside.

The absurd beliefs of other massive religions should teach the Christian not to take comfort in numbers; the Christian is individually responsible for his belief in invisible characters. Today, Scientology has over half a million members, but that doesn’t make the Scientologist beliefs any less absurd than they were in the 1950s before there were any followers, when a lone science-fiction author made the beliefs up. A scientologist may take comfort in the number of fellow scientologists, but in reality it doesn’t matter if billions believe or if he is literally the only one, his beliefs remain equally absurd. The same applies to the Christian; his beliefs are just as absurd as if he were the only person in the world who believed in those invisible characters. We take comfort in numbers. The schizoid and the cult member are considered lunatics for their beliefs, because not many people share their belief. But once the cult blossoms into a large organized religion, lunacy masquerades as normalcy. All religions, including Christianity, begin with just one or a handful of people and then grow and mutate radically over time. Christianity began with just a few localized followers as an offshoot of another religion (Judaism), much like cults begin today as an offshoot of Christianity. Christians today enjoy a massive base of affirmation and support for their conformed beliefs in invisible characters, but outsiders are still able to quickly and easily recognize the absurdity, and it’s no less absurd today than it was for the first handful of believers. The number of followers, be it 2 or 2 billion, doesn’t change the level of absurdity of the belief, nor does it change the simple principle that those on the inside have a severely more difficult time recognizing the absurdity than those on the outside.

Invisible Characters - Part 1

Christians believe there are invisible characters interacting with us, and give reason why all those characters want to hide their existence from me. This is called schizophrenia outside of the protective cover of religion. The Christian’s invisible characters are either on the good side or bad side. The characters on the good side (Yahweh, the Holy Spirit, the resurrected Jesus, angels) supposedly want to hide their existence from me so that I can have free will to devote myself to the lead good-character, Jesus. The characters on the bad side (Satan, demons) supposedly want to hide their existence from me so that they can stealthily and evilly manipulate me against devoting myself to the lead good-character, Jesus, thus securing my eternal doom. If we simply change the invisible characters’ names, these beliefs would be considered ridiculous by most sane persons, and the believer would likely be referred to a psychiatrist.

Sharing Beliefs, Sharing Info

I’m learning how to better share my views with others. It started with the realization that beliefs are not really a choice so much as they are simply the most likely conclusions based on the information and experiences someone has collected and analyzed in their mind. If someone wishes to affect the beliefs of another person, it does absolutely no good to tell them that their current beliefs are false or that a different belief is true. These statements are logically incompatible with the information in their mind, and will simply appear illogical and raise defenses. While we don’t have the ability to directly change someone else’s beliefs, we do have the ability to present new information to them. We indeed may be able to guide a person’s beliefs closer to our own by exposing them to the information we’ve been exposed to, without ever even stating our own beliefs. Furthermore, presenting new information is much less threatening than presenting new conclusions, and leaves people free to draw their own new conclusions based on the new information. If I wish to have my wife/family/friends assimilate or understand my beliefs to any degree, the best approach is to avoid stating my conclusions outright as much as possible, but simply share new information with them. Their minds must and will draw their own conclusions, whether or not they line up with mine.

Is Religion More Like Science or Art?

The following statement tactfully summarizes my complaint against the fundamentalist faith of my childhood: I view religion as the art of reaching out to God, not the science of reaching out to God. Expanding on this, I believe religion lays in a category with art, not in a category with science. As GK Chesterton said, “Art is the signature of humanity.” When we look at a beautiful painting, it can impart a profound and unique meaning to us. Many different people can look at the same painting and receive different meanings from it. Though each viewer’s interpretation is different, and probably doesn’t reflect the artist’s intentions (if there were any), each interpretation can impart meaning and a kind of truth to the beholder. The painting meets the beholder with all his baggage, from whatever background, with whatever experiences and ideas, and imparts a message tailored just for him. I think God is like the unpainted painting. Now to become more pointed, Christians are like the group in the museum trying to ensure that everyone agrees with them on which painting is the best one, and what is the correct interpretation and meaning to take from that painting. They’re treating the paintings as science, not art, thereby missing the painting’s profound power. They’re treating religion as the science of reaching out to God, not the art of reaching out to God, thereby missing God’s profound power. Once people start developing formulas they believe God operates by and formulas they believe everyone must follow for correct spirituality and salvation, they’re treating religion as a science. In short, and with less tact, I believe religion should not be taken so literally.

My Jesus versus Your Jesus - Part 2

It is dangerous when this sense of alignment with one’s own understanding is misconstrued as actual alignment with God. The man’s understandings of God take the place of God, and the man unwittingly serves and worships his own mind. The believer may honestly say, “Not my will, but God’s will be done,” oblivious to how much he’s come to view the two as one and the same. When the believer feels strongly about something, often after much prayer and consideration, he identifies his own feelings as an impartation of God’s divine will, thereby unwittingly serving his own emotions. As a believer gets more charismatic, he may also confirm these feelings by perceiving miraculous signs: any coincidence at any time which can be interpreted as a divine message. All this creates a very dangerous predicament; a person who goes around believing that his own insights, views, feelings, and subsequent behavioral responses are backed by divine authority. This illusion can lead the believer to sacrifice just about anything, including the relationships and needs of family and friends, to accomplish this “divine” will. The believer sincerely considers himself humble, but is oblivious to the insidious arrogance that underlies such illusions of authority.

My Jesus versus Your Jesus - Part 1

People’s views of Jesus are usually largely a projection of themselves. Compared to how much we know about our family and friends, the Bible provides only scraps of information about Jesus. Yet Jesus is the most important “person” in many Christian’s lives. How is it that Christian’s are able to “know” Jesus so well despite his physical absence and having little information about him available? How are Christians able to complete the scant Biblical picture of Jesus’ nature, character, personality, intentions, thoughts, attitude, demeanor, will and desires? The answer is simple: Jesus becomes a divine projection of the believer himself (why do you think most white artists depict Jesus as white?). This is why there is so much disagreement between believers about Jesus. It often seems that different believers are referring to completely different people when they say the name Jesus. “Jesus told you what!? That is not the Jesus I know! You must be deceived by the enemy.” Each individual unwittingly constructs their own Jesus, and that Jesus usually happens to favor the individual’s views and ways.

Take the rather large issue of homosexuality for example; are you strongly opposed to homosexuality? Then so is Jesus, who says gays will burn in hell, we should have laws in place against such abominations, and we should go warn gays of their folly. Do you support gay rights and believe God loves and saves homosexuals too? Then so does Jesus, who says all have sinned, we should not judge, we are saved by faith alone, and who came to preach a simple message of love. There are Christians at every possible stance on the issue of homosexuality. How many Christians believe that their views on homosexuality differ much from Jesus’ views? Not likely any.

Each individual constructs his own Jesus to provide divine affirmation for himself, that he is aligned with God. A lack of this sense of alignment creates stress for the believer, who will work to reduce this stress in conscious and subconscious ways. Consciously, the believer will work toward modifying himself toward the nature of God as it’s been taught to him. Subconsciously, the believer will work to modify his understanding of the nature of God toward his own psyche. Eventually the two entities, himself and his understanding of God’s nature, will meet at some arbitrary location in the middle, producing the desired sense of alignment. Subsequent feelings of inner peace serve to affirm the believer’s false sense of alignment with God, which is really just alignment with his own understandings of God (whatever those happen to be).

Salvation by Believing the Right Story?

I’ll make a case that even if Jesus is God, it’s irrational that this belief is necessary for salvation.

The name Jesus refers primarily to Jesus the man, but we cannot have a relationship with Jesus the man because he is no longer here. God came to Earth in the form of Jesus to atone for man’s sins, offer salvation, and draw man into a closer relationship. Jesus was fully man and fully God; let’s call these two counterparts Jesus the man and Jesus the God. Without the man, the name Jesus would not be associated with God. God was not previously called Jesus. God chose to come down for a time and interact in human form, and that human form was named Jesus. The name Jesus refers primarily to Jesus the man. While Jesus lived, his followers had a relationship with both Jesus the man and Jesus the God. After Jesus the man left the Earth, Jesus the God remained. Those who were born later don’t get to meet Jesus the man, but we get to meet Jesus the God. Our relationship with Jesus is devoid of fleshly interaction, as opposed to our human relationships which depend largely on the flesh (which is why we’re devastated when loved ones die). When we say we love Jesus, we cannot be talking about Jesus’ flesh, Jesus the man. We don’t love that cute mole on his cheek, that funny look he gives us, his bright demeanor, his skills as a carpenter, his generosity in building mom that beautiful cabinet, or his charming table talk. We can’t know Jesus the man, so salvation wouldn’t be related to that (or else we are all doomed). Salvation can only be related to a relationship with Jesus the God. But Jesus the God is simply God, the same God that existed before Jesus lived, infinite and good (This is where lengthy Trinitarian arguments would enter, but in short I fail to see how Jesus the God is different than God without entering polytheism).

My point thus far: a relationship with Jesus the man is impossible, and a relationship with Jesus the God is simply a relationship with God, since God is One. It seems that if someone has a relationship with God, then they have a relationship with Jesus the God whether they know/believe it or not. But the fundamental Christian doctrine is not that one must have a relationship with God, it’s that one must believe that God acted in history in a particular way; that God came to Earth as Jesus the man to save us. That’s really the crux of Christianity, “believe this story.” Everything else, like loving God and being a good person, is secondary to believing the right story, and seen as “Satan masquerading as an angel of light” in the absence of the right story. Christianity is all about the right story. Just “believe (this story) and ye shall receive.”

I’ve found the question of Jesus’ deity to be an academic exercise of analyzing questionable ancient writings and weighing through 2000 years of debate and controversy. It is impossible for mankind to reach a unanimous decision on Jesus’ deity, the evidence is too controversial and the truth is lost in time. Why would God make salvation dependent on figuring out this impossible question? Why, of all things, would the most important thing in God’s eyes be that we believe a particular story? Why would God value this over love and good character, character that has matured into his image? If God chose to save us through Jesus death, then that’s wonderful for us, but why would God only save us if we believe the right story about how he did it, not have Jesus write a word of the story himself, leave the story to be written by unknown authors at unknown dates after years of being passed verbally, allow multiple discrepant versions of the story into mainstream circulation, allow clear instances of the authors' theological preferences and legendary apologetic embellishments into the story, allow later additions to the story to become cemented in, leave the story all-around mired in controversy, and leave mankind incapable of little better than chaotic disagreement on the subject?

This view of salvation seems irrational to me, and seems to have the signature of man all over it. It looks like something man made up, not God. It would result in gross failure of God’s will that all be saved. It would not be good news for all people. Father’s do not expect their children to understand a dangerous situation before they save them from it. A patient receiving a heart transplant may have no idea who performed the surgery or how the surgery was done, but the doctor doesn’t expect him to know and the success of the surgery does not depend on him knowing.

On Absolute Truth - Part 2

Consider the statement: "We can’t know anything absolutely." I agree with this. People have responded to it by saying, “Do you know that absolutely? Then that's a logical contradiction.” All they have pointed out here is a self-reference paradox, a purely linguistic phenomenon. The statement is a variation of the liar’s paradox: “this sentence is false.” Both uses self-reference to create a paradox. In our statement, knowledge is referring to itself. In the liar's paradox, the sentence is referring to itself. Many Excel users are familiar with the problem of self-reference; when a cell’s formula refers to itself you get garbage results or an error message. A real-life example of self-reference paradox is a non-English-speaking foreigner who says, “No speak English." The foreigner used English to refer to English. It would be absurd to conclude that the foreigner therefore does speak English. Similarly, it would be absurd to conclude, from the original statement, that we can indeed know absolute truth.

On Absolute Truth - Part 1

Some of my own definitions:

Absolute truth: what is correct, what is, the way things really are, regardless of perception, as would be known by an omniscient being.
Knowledge: information stored in the mind, can be correct or incorrect.
Incorrect knowledge: Knowledge that doesn’t happen to match absolute truth.
Correct knowledge: Knowledge that does happen to match absolute truth.
Absolute knowledge: Correct knowledge combined with the ability to know it is correct with zero potential sources of error. An omniscient being would possess absolute knowledge.

In between absolute truth and absolute knowledge lays our human limitation, an inescapable source of error. Our minds do not store a perfect copy of the absolute truth, but rather a limited perception of the absolute truth. Even if our knowledge happens to match absolute truth perfectly (happens to be correct), we have no way of ultimately knowing that it matches. Being able to check how correct our knowledge is would require a cheat sheet of absolute truth that has zero potential sources of error. We don’t have this cheat sheet, so as far as we know there is always the human source of error. We can never ultimately know whether our knowledge is correct or incorrect; we can never have absolute knowledge. Absolute truth, absolute knowledge, correct knowledge, and incorrect knowledge are unverifiable concepts to humans. All we have is knowledge and a degree of confidence regarding its correctness based on evidence and reasoning. People tend to agree most on matters which are well within the reach of our senses (such as whether gravity pulls up or down) because the evidence is most clearly and readily perceived. As we begin to discuss matters which approach or exceed the limits of our senses, our perceptions are fuzzy and we tend to disagree more. The human source of error becomes more problematic. The origin of life and the universe, the cosmos, other dimensions, theoretical physics, religion and spirituality approach or exceed the limits of our senses. Interestingly, some people’s degrees of confidence remain quite high on such matters.

I mentioned a cheat sheet earlier; if we indeed had a perfect cheat sheet then absolute truth, absolute knowledge, correct knowledge, and incorrect knowledge would indeed be verifiable by humans. A tenet of Christianity is the claim to possess this cheat sheet, the Bible. It is a matter of Faith to accept that the Bible is indeed man’s cheat sheet. Having personally studied the Bible, I’ve seen that human limitation is a major source of error in the Bible, rendering it ineligible as a cheat sheet. Absolute knowledge must have zero potential sources of error, otherwise “absolute” is the wrong word.

Christianity has disregarded the human source of error and declared absolute knowledge, describing itself as the “only way.” Christianity has assumed that because they’ve found meaning in their belief in Jesus, every one else should too. If feeling that you need to be right is considered arrogance, Christianity is indeed arrogant.

A Doomed Mind?

I've found that my best thinking skills (however meager) lead me away from Christian belief. What can I make of that? If Christian beliefs are actually true, why would God give me a brain whose best thinking skills lead away from truth and salvation? I don't think God would do that. If God gave me this brain, I would hope that I’ve made God proud by using it to the best of my ability, breaking free of constrictive belief systems that my mind has diligently examined and come to perceive as man-made.