My online arguments with people

Considerations of religious issues in general

Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Nathan » 11 Jun 2013, 22:34

Paul - you had to write essays on Gladstone and Disraeli for History O-level?

That shows how standards have changed over the years, because that was what I did in sixth form in the early 2000s - if I remember rightly, History GCSE was entirely about the 20th century: the First World War, Hitler, Stalin, and the Vietnam War. I also did A-level Geography, and the teacher we had, who'd been at the school since the 1970s, used to give us old O-level papers as practice - and they were hard!
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Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Paul » 12 Jun 2013, 00:56

(This should be in the Education thread maybe)

Well yes Nathan, but then again the subjects you have mentioned for GCSE don't sound that bad to me. They are more modern history of course, but they are all notable and in fact world-changing - more I submit than Disraeli and Gladstone were, though they were no slouches themselves.

I would have liked to have studied WW2 and we probably wondered at times why we were not studying it. I would like to think that pupils today are having it offered for study. It's almost as far back in time as was Gladstone to my era. The First World War certainly is.

I recall we began to go into the period between the two World Wars. There's plenty to study there of course. For some reason it was then decided (by teacher - and he told us so) that we would move direction and go onto studying the events and causes that led up to the First World War.

It was all down to what the format of the O level was to be. Ours was five essays in 2.5 hours and there was a choice of about 15 questions, maybe even twenty. We had to pick the best five, that we had to be fully conversant with and so able to write a good, but concise and factual essay in about 25 minutes. Maybe 7 or 8 of the questions could have been tackled, with then a swift choice of the best (easiest or most known) five to be answered. The remainder would be about subjects that we might have only a very scant (or no) knowledge of, or knowledge only in a very general sense.

So what we did was absolutely cram everything there was to know into 5 or 6 specific subjects. Some overlap here and there may result in you being able to tackle 7 or 8 of the forthcoming exam questions. The school obviously got a broad outline of the (dozen or twenty?) periods of history that would be examined and had to decide which to teach.

I'm not even sure that each individual teacher stuck to the same script, or rather exact subjects. It may be that dear Fr Winstanley was particularly capable (and interested) in the subjects he taught us. In all O level subjects we had the same teacher for the final two years, so there was no interruption to any schedule.

We were saturated with Disraeli, Gladstone, Pitt, Europe up to WW1, the initial features and causes of the Industrial Revolution and a couple more. We studied Russia under the latter Czars. The Corn Laws (see below).

I can see that much of what we learned was English history (though foreign policies are broader) and could be termed 'empire' or 'colonial'. I do remember that some emphasis, by necessity, was placed on the colonial practises and ambitions of European countries, that led up to the great war.

I wonder if sneaky Marxism was behind it? Saturating us with notions of colonialism and thus war and strife. It's fairly true in many cases though and most of history is anything but pretty. I don't think so and it was never presented to us as an English negative.

There's lots of history of course, even English history. Henry VIII, Elizabeth, the first parliament, the Romans. Personally I would have very much enjoyed studying Roman Britain, various aspects of the Medieval Period and World War Two.

Instead, I got sick to death of hearing about the Corn Laws! The Repeal of the Corn Laws - even now, that phrase would cause me to almost deja vu.

'Past Papers': We got them all the time too, particularly in Maths. Some of them were indeed from the very year before (though there was more than one examination board, depending on area I think. Maybe three or four nationally) and so 1978 in my case. We did however get some past papers from the 1950s, in Maths.

Crikey, they were difficult indeed. Try the geometry in Section B of old O level papers. (I wonder if they are available somewhere - that would be a good exercise for this forum!). They were so hard that we were almost threatened never to attempt them! The situation was that Section A was compulsory - all questions, maybe twenty and Section B was a choice of two questions out of five. Probably three were geometry - no-go areas!

We would attempt one Section B geometry question (in the classroom) per week. Our teacher got involved and both we and he operated as one class of equals. Because he couldn't do some of them either! Not immediately anyway, but he did eventually get to the answer and then proved it. We were (I was) secretly very impressed. He was a very good mathematician.

Back on topic of this thread, somewhat tenuously: How can you, having experienced these kind of things, ever give credence (or give ground) to the foolish and obviously unworkable propositions of the liberal left? They've got all the wrong theorems, or none at all, and will never get to the answer. They have failed!
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Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Joe » 12 Jun 2013, 00:57

Dear Nick,

Thank you for your very prompt response. Rather than restate my argument I shall endeavor in the interest of brevity to respond to your further claims.

Each of your examples concerning power are but cases of additional reasons or motives why one might wish to support a particular idea. In all it is the idea that is primary and that seeks power. Let me posit my understanding with a very simple example: “I robbed a bank at gunpoint”. The power of this act was furnished by the gun. The idea was to gain money. The power or gun has no meaning at all absent the idea of robbing the bank. That various persons or institutions had reasons to support Luther beyond ecclesiastical concerns in no way changes that it was his ideas that drove the power that eventually resulted in overthrowing the status quo.. The same is true for your other examples.

The purpose of my question [2] is to determine your evidence or proof for the assertion that to believe in God is irrational. From all your meanderings all I can find that relates to that question is your presupposition that we live in a closed, mechanistic system of inviolable naturalistic laws that do not permit supernatural events. I can find no suggested proofs for this position within your treatise.

I did not intend to call you ignorant and I apologize if I inferred same. I surmised from your statements a basic ignorance of religion. Let me now rise to dispute your assertion that the terms axioms and dogma are not analogous. For my proof I turn to the OED: axiom - A statement or proposition that is regarded as being established, accepted or self-evidently true.
dogma – a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.. It would be a very stern etymologist indeed who would contend that these two terms are not ordinarily interchangeable. It remains unclear to me how a religious belief in exclusive dogma and intolerance for contrary dogma can be used in a negative manner with reference to that religion. As for your inference that all Christians succumb to circular arguments concerning the truth claims of the Bible let me assure you that I gave up such notions around the time you were developing your prepubescent argument exposited in your text above. I believe the Bible is the word of God because of the experiential and philosophical evidence that supports it claims. For instance, hundreds of prophecies concerning Christ were made in the Old Testament long before his birth and were fulfilled in his lifetime mediated to us by the gospels and other writings of the New Testament. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah described the destruction of Tyre by Alexander The Great and the rule of the Persian emperor Cyrus hundreds of years before these events took place. Surely the accurate prediction of long term future events must be considered a divine attribute.

In review it is likely that we shall remain in different but very closely related camps viz what moves history. I now understand your
connection of Augustine and Charlemagne yet still cannot locate Augustine’s promotion of conversion by force. What troubles me most and caused my initial response is revulsion at the casual declaration that belief in God is irrational. You have yet to back up this bald assertion and I anxiously await the answer.

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Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Jonathan » 12 Jun 2013, 11:31

Nick wrote:Don't kid yourself that you changed this persons outlook or broadened his perspective by opposing him.

Broadly speaking, this is true, and I do not dispute it. But you must remember the effect the argument has on third parties. When an untruth is repeated unopposed, it becomes established as the truth, simply because each person thinks that everyone else believes it. When an untruth is repeatedly challenged, it is perceived as a point under dispute, which is slightly better.
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Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Elliott » 12 Jun 2013, 15:55

Jonathan wrote:When an untruth is repeatedly challenged, it is perceived as a point under dispute, which is slightly better.

Jonathan, you have summarised my position very concisely!
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Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Gavin » 12 Jun 2013, 16:21

I think most of us assumed this was a private discussion therefore third parties were irrelevant. If not and it's public then that is of course going to be a bit more effective and worthwhile, with The Guardian still probably the most effective place of all - if you have the time!
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Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Elliott » 12 Jun 2013, 17:12

But the Guardian seems to be a real nest of vipers. I would also feel rather demoralised knowing that anything I wrote may well be deleted for not "abiding by our community standards" (ie upsetting the Marxist Stepford Wives).
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My Online Arguments With Other People

Postby Michael » 12 Jun 2013, 23:27

Elliott wrote:

But the Guardian seems to be a real nest of vipers. I would also feel rather demoralised knowing that anything I wrote may well be deleted for not "abiding by our community standards" (ie upsetting the Marxist Stepford Wives).

This of course brings up the idea of arguing dishonestly - expressing your points covertly in a way that bypasses the censors but creates debate and discussion.

Also, a sneaky thing to do would be to create several accounts to back up your own position. Sneakier still, have some of those accounts start out as typical (though intelligent and well argued) progressive-liberals, then gradually be brought around by your argument. (Is thinking like this evidence I should read less about public relations and the history of espionage ;-) ?)

To do so would admittedly be to sink to the level of the Leftists we oppose (Google "astroturfing" for more) but would be effective. The question is whether you believe winning is so important it makes it acceptable to not play by all the rules.
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Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Elliott » 13 Jun 2013, 00:26

Michael, you think more strategically than I do! It's quite eye-opening, actually. On the face of it I find the idea of setting up fake identities immoral. Maybe things will get so desperate that we (conservatives in general) will feel compelled to do it at some point in the future. For now, I don't think things are that desperate.

The thought occurs, however, that it would in effect be rather like playing chess against a friend, or doing maths challenges with somebody just for the sake of it. You might not win, but odds are you would improve your game, sharpen your wits, and defeat new arguments (or indeed be defeated by new, unforeseen, arguments). As an academic exercise, provided you could live with the deception you were perpetrating and had the mental stamina to support multiple fictitious identities, I think it could really pay off.

For the moment, at least, I will continue arguing purely as myself - albeit behind a pseudonym on most sites. ;)
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Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Nick » 14 Jun 2013, 15:13

Dear Joe,

You point out the relationships between ideas; ideas move history, as you say. I will repeat that it is the intolerance and the brute force of will that is used in spreading ideas, that decides whether an idea can become a lingering, wide-spread meme. That is more decisive than how convincing it is to rational reasoners. Which explains why it is pretty much useless to debate with random people to "persuade them." For instance, Augustine's conversion meant that from that point on, he was supposed to stop participation in any of the sects and cults that were non-Christian (exclusivity), whereas the more open sects like Epicurianism, Stoa, etc., were often combined. Christianity remained while these open sects pretty much vanished. But this has already been elaborated upon. Islam, which is even more exclusive and willing to use brute force, spreads even faster.

You state that for an axiom, it goes that an authority has declared this statement to be incontroversable. For instance, in the Catholic religion, the pope has once ushered a statement that the pope is infallible. The bottom line will always be that when one speaks to a Mormon, Jew, Muslim, that person will be able to perfectly dissect even the most rational arguments to show why the religions of the others are false religions. At the end of the day, the followers of the religion are prepared to accept that their own sacred texts were confirmed by prophies, were literally given by God through revelations, while regarding such lore of the other religions as hogwash and perversions of what they consider to be the true faith.

As for the refusal to accept that we live in a universe of causal mechanics; this contradicts with the omniscience of the God who created the laws of nature (as explained previously).

I am not saying that belief in God is irrational; merely that belief is different from rational persuasion. Faith and reason do not target the same field: as explained in the quote beneath. The moment faith seeks for evidences and proofs, it tries to be a science, and one might compare it to doctrines like Communism that mingle politics and science. If one looks at how strictly many Christians are still trying to keep the theory of evolution outside of the schoolbooks, this proves the point that rationality and scientific findings do not always prevail; what prevails is usually what people want to believe, then they select the findings that go with it.

“Now, as God’s being is too grandiose to be fathomed by the laws of logic, it follows that one cannot say anything about God on the basis of human logic, and thus -as you said- should cease to attempt that . . .”
“That’s indeed what I said Claudia.” I replied.
“Now my friend is a theist, who told me: ‘I’m neither smart enough nor do I have the faith to believe that a God can’t exist.’ I answered that to believe He can’t exist is quite another thing from believing He must exist. However . . .” Claudia continued, seemingly quite bemused by her own ingenuity, “All of this is only true if God had not chosen to reveal himself in other ways than the strictly logical ones. And to the mind of the believer, He has – it’s called the revelation. For that reason you can’t prove your case any more than they can.”

“Would you not say that the aim of theology – the comprehension of that being we have defined as all-knowing and all-powerful – is therefore an aim towards something which is fundamentally beyond the human scope of mind?” I asked, “I think the answer to this must be yes, or else we would have to define the greatest being that there is as something not above human reason – and this seems to conflict with the omnipotence of that being.”
Claudia stared at me quite complicated through her streamlined synthetic spectacles, but then cautiously nodded in agreement.
“I don’t intend to tick you off or intimidate you with these questions,” I continued, “it’s just that I never encountered anyone who could give a sensible reply to them. I personally concluded that as long as we go by logic alone we’d all have to be agnostics. However if we choose to believe then it is a matter of will. This means there is a difference between saying; ‘I am convinced that’ and; ‘I believe that’. It is not for no reason that St. Augustine begins the eleventh book of the City of God with the statement: ‘Of all visible things, the world is the greatest: of all invisible, the greatest is God. But, that the world is, we see; that God is, we believe.’ With these words he signified that religious belief is not to be proven or demonstrated, but consists in having a firm trust in what is indemonstrable, through profession by commitment. By putting articles of faith on par with the demonstrable facts underlying our convictions, the faith as faith would lose its meaning. Because then, being a believer, you no longer have to relate yourself mentally to that piece of uncertainty in which the ordeal of the true believer lies.”

Claudia nodded again, vivaciously this time, and said; “I think I told you once; ‘I believe it whenever I see it’, is the end of belief. If religion were fact and not faith, then the believer would be like Hamlet, who cried out: ‘O, this is hire and salary, not revenge,’ when he was about to slay the murderer of his father upon finding him kneeled in prayer. Were religion based upon the recognition of certain facts, we would say to Jesus what Alice was told by the unicorn: ‘If you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?’”

Joe, you are right in pointing out that we are rowing into the same direction, ultimately, and I agree, though for non-believers miracle-statements such as "Muhammed went to heaven by climbing a ladder of light", "saints turned water into wine" or "Jesus rose from the dead", will always be irrational; they will be accepted by those who want them to be true. Dostoyevski wrote in The Brothers Karamazov: "Man seeks faith not as much as he seeks the miracle."
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Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Joe » 15 Jun 2013, 07:12

Dear Nick

Thank you for taking the time to continue our correspondence. Let me begin by offering that we agree on the issue of what drives history. I think we can affirm that the idea is helpless without force and the force meaningless without an idea.
You report that you have posed several questions about God and that no one has given you a satisfactory answer. In the following I will try to remedy that situation. Much of your argument appears [please correct me when I misread something.] to be founded on a few premises to wit:
1. We must be agnostic about the existence of God.
2. God is beyond the rules of logic and thus cannot be comprehended by mortal man.
3. Faith and reason are mutually exclusive. Once one tries to attach evidence to faith, faith no longer exists.
4. We live in a closed, material and mechanistic universe that contradicts the omniscience of God and makes the belief in supernatural miracles silly.
5. One tends to accept the dogma of his own religion and deny that of others.
I am sure I will recognize more questions as I go one but for the sake of order let me begin with these.
I appreciate your devotion to logic [did you know that in John’s Gospel Jesus is introduced as “the Logos”] It is by the iron laws of logic that we can determine what is rational and what is not. These same iron laws gainsay premises 1 and 2. In fact God is not only knowable by rational means it is through logic that His existence is formally and necessarily proven. There are a number of logical proofs of God’s existence. Because I have a simple mind I use the simplest of them, Thomas Aquinas’ Cosmological Proof which plays out as follows:
A. Things exist
B. It is possible for those things not to exist
C. Whatever has the possibility of non-existence and yet exists has been caused to exist.
D. A thing cannot bring itself into existence because to do so would require that it be and not-be at the same time.
E. There cannot be an infinite number of causes [an infinite regress] to bring a thing into existence. An infinite regress of causes ultimately has no initial cause and thus no things are brought into existence.
F. The universe is a thing that exists thus it must have a cause.


There must be an initial cause – an uncaused cause – that is eternal and possesses the power of existence and creation within itself.
That cause is God

God is transcendent of creation and its mechanistic rules. There is no conflict at all between an all knowing God and His supernatural activities in His creation. Reality is in fact, nothing more than what God knows. Of course if one does not believe that God exists, belief in miracles is just stupid. However God does exist as is proven above.

Believe it or not many – possibly even a majority - of Christians would agree with you that faith and reason are separate dimensions and that seeking evidence of God defiles true faith. This is the utter rubbish of lazy and incompetent Christian scholars and those who would subjugate Christians to ignorance. According to the Bible faith is “things hoped for; the confidence of things to come. The Christian faith is not backward but forward looking. We believe the things that have come to pass and we have faith in the promises to come. The Bible instructs that men are made in the image of God with rational minds fully capable of discerning divine evidence both in the creation itself and in His revealed Word. Christians are instructed to “give an answer” to some one who asks why he believes as he does. “I just have faith” is not an answer. Furthermore St. Paul routinely argued the reasonableness of Christianity in the centers of power and education in the Mediterranean world of his day.
Of course people of different beliefs tend to hold on to those beliefs against all others, often against reason itself. That is the nature of religion. In my opinion a religion that is not doctrinaire and exclusive is no religion at all.

We have seen that we can know with certainty that God exists. But is that God the God of Abraham, Isaac, and St. Paul, the God of the Bible? Logic alone cannot solve this puzzle for us so it necessary to go to the historic record for answers. I noted in an earlier post the large number of Old Testament prophecies about Jesus and a couple of very interesting general historical prophecies that have come to pass in real time The New Testament, almost all scholars agree was written before the end of the First Century when many eyewitnesses of the events took place. They were written by men who either new Jesus personally or were under direction of those who did. Many, many people were living who could dispute the accounts of the New Testament yet during the First Century none did. The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles contain factual accounts of cities locations, people, kings etc that have been verified by archaeology and by non biblical historians of the time. The historical record indicates a very high probability that the Bible is authentic and true.

We are in agreement on the efficacy of ideas and force in history. You have acknowledged that you don’t really think belief in God is irrational. I have only one more point to make. Evolution.

I am not a young earth creationist or a creationist at all. Actually I am agnostic on the methodology God availed Himself at creation. I am however studied enough to know that Darwinism offers no answer to the questions of origins and is shot through with gaping holes. I don’t object at all to the theory of evolution being taught in public schools. What I do object to and most strenuously is teaching evolution as a fact and that any competing theories are “junk science”.

Again, thank you for your thoughtfulness. I look forward to further discussion.
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Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Grant » 15 Jun 2013, 08:46

Joe, I think the insightful Ambrose Bierce conceptualised the thinking of many people who don't need an imaginary Sky Daddy to help us lead our lives. I offer three of his quotes:
1) Faith - Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel
2) Religion - a daughter of Hope and Fear explaining to Ignorance the nature of the unknowable
3) Prayer - To ask the laws of the universe be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy
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Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Nick » 15 Jun 2013, 16:25

Dear Joe and Grant,

Many people could have refuted the findings of the Testament, then in the first century Christianity was not relevant enough to be considered worthy of refute. See the letter between Tertullian and Pliny for instance. There were so many sects, it's pretty much that Constantine, Theodosius, Odoaker and other influentials eventually converted. Which has more to do with Christianity being exclusive than with the prophesies and revelation being credible in their own light. I feel sure that you could present many examples of prophesies and eyewitnesses, but I am equally sure that if we brought in learned Muslims, Jehova's witnesses and others, those could refute those examples based upon revelation and replace them with their own.

Note that once the first religious Christians came together in church meetings to properly canonize their doctrine, this happened under Eastern-Roman emperors. So there some stories were included and others excluded from the New Testament. This happened long after anyone was even alive to refute the eye-witnesses. Once a guy started telling me the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls made Christianity to be more likely to be the one, true religion. When I asked him: "But since you told me that religion is a matter of faith, why do you try to substantiate it with empirical findings?" He said: "You are right, then, it can pull some over the line." In this statement, religion revealed its true face to me.

Ultimately, one must believe that God, a force outside of history, intervened in history to give a prophet a special message, and this is unsustainable as long as we go by logic alone. If God is at the beginning of history, his omniscience would have orchestrated it so that everything goes as he wills. He would not have to give stone tablets or turn water into wine.

A. Things exist
B. It is possible for those things not to exist

Are directly in contradiction to:

4. We live in a closed, material and mechanistic universe

For instance, we can imagine what the universe would have looked like, had the moon not existed, but the moon being there is the product of a chain of cause and effect which goes back all the way to the beginning of the universe. The first seed of the universe had the entire universe and its future contained in it (Augustine argues this, too). Even Thomas Aquinas, when he used the argument of God's existence, he only used Aristotle's argument; that all causality must be traced back to an unmovable mover, from which it followed that nothing else could be said about this prime mover other than [1] he had to exist; else there would be no movement, [2] what the Testament tells us through "revelation." Who accepts 1 but not 2 could also follow Deism or "big bang theory".

It goes back to matter transmutation. "What can exist, can also not exist." A chair can exist, but I can dismantle it and use the wood to build a desk drawer. This means that the concept of the chair (or Platonic Idea / Eidolon) can be realized or not realized at a point in time, but the matter used to build it does not cease to exist; it changes form. The totality of all matter can be traced back to the prime mover, and the forms that this matter takes on today, to the causal laws of nature.

Also, if it goes for all things of the universe that they can have both state 1 [existence] and state 2 [non-existence], then, given an infinite amount of time, at a point in the universe there must have been nothing. And from nothing, can come forth nothing; el nihilio ex nihil, and thus there has never been nothing at any point in time. This means that empirical causality is the same as logical "A leads to B". This is both compatible with Augustine's finding that "We cannot speak of anything taking place before creation, because what takes place happens in time, and time is a side-effect of creation" (this argument by the way also goes back to Aristotle, who argued time is a side-effect of movement and movement requires existence; today we can say that time is generated by the rotation of particles inside atoms; Man's initial sense of day and night came from the movements of planets) and refutes Hume's induction argument.

There are other rational proofs for God, such as Anselms ontological argument: "God must exist. Because God is the greatest being there is. And if it didn't exist, it would be less great than the greatest being. Therefore you would be a fool who didn't know what he was saying if you said that God, which is by definition the greatest being in the cosmos, did not exist." This argument still applies human analogies and human logic to a subject that the religion declares to be beyond human understanding. Also it assumes actuality is greater than potentiality. Medieval criticists pointed out that by the same reasoning a perfect island should also exist. Both Frege and Kant criticized it, and said that between a coin that exists, and one that does not exist, there is no hypothetical difference in its value.

When I was a child, I once caught myself praying that this girl would continue to love me and not break up with me. Then I realized that this prayer was only something I desired and hoped the cosmos would grant me. Because I did not personally have the power to realize it for certain, I entreated a cosmic power to do so. Thus our concept of a heavenly father governing all, comes from our abilities being unequal to our wishes. Now why would a being that is omniscient and omnipotent, care about the fate of an individual being? Would I care when I step on ants? This thought began my inquiry into the nature of religion.

I want to elaborate more on this point: 3. Faith and reason are mutually exclusive. Once one tries to attach evidence to faith, faith no longer exists.

I remember Dostoyevsky bringing up a point about the Apostle Thomas in The Brothers Karamazov, that related to this. However I don't have my notes available:

"Apostle Thomas said that he would not believe till he saw, but when he did see he said, 'My Lord and my God!' Was it the miracle forced him to believe? Most likely not, but he believed solely because he desired to believe and possibly he fully believed in his secret heart even when he said, 'I do not believe till I see'." . . . “what's the good of believing against your will? "Besides, proofs are no help to believing, especially material proofs. Thomas believed, not because he saw Christ risen, but because he wanted to believe, before he saw. Look at the spiritualists, for instance.... I am very fond of them ... only fancy, they imagine that they are serving the cause of religion, because the devils show them their horns from the other world."

Calvin made the point that the believer wants to be tried. He wants to go through the ordeal of believing something, and holding on to that fate even if the world says it is but a mirage. He deprives himself of something in this life for the sake of a reward in the next life. However if the afterlife was certain, it would no longer be a trial; it would be hire and salary.

Now, as to faith and reason, I often argued with a person for days, about the state of society, for instance, and then at the end, the person said: "I see now that you right, I heard all your arguments, I cannot refute them, but still, I cannot bring myself from my hedonist path, I cannot bring myself to care." Which goes back to the initial point: Why would anyone care at all? But when asking this question, one asks the faculty of Reason to pass judgement on what is valuable in life. Caring about a thing is an act of being loyal to it, of Thymos, of passion, not of Reason. A pure rationalist might as well say: "In a few billion years the sun will grow cold, the universe will fold back upon itself, so everything we can possibly build will vanish. We might as well drink, eat, have sex and watch comedies all day." But instead, there is something within man that say: "No, I refuse to be defeated! - something ought to matter in life!" And thus, the first thing we choose to care about, is the verdicts of reason. If you argue with a nihilist, he will not even assess that thinking rationally is important, valuable or relevant.

But Christianity has so much infected our narrative that when we use the word "I believe", we use it in more than one sense. The sense of the Ancients, like Plato and Socrates, dealt differently with convictions. There was reasoning back and forth, and the most logical conclusion was adopted at the end as a standing mental state. The conclusion was a pure act of reason "overreding." Assuming something on the basis of logic and empiric evidence, and assuming it on basis of faith and willpower, just cannot be equated, yet our English word "belief" pretends it can.

Today we use the word belief as in: "I believe that water is H2O" - "I believe I will go to heaven." One requires an act of reason, the other requires an act of willpower. The will can declare a food that is disgusting, as tasty nevertheless. Politicians and religious people sometimes abuse this nature of the word "belief". Such as André Rouvoet, who once said something along the lines of: "We all believe things. One takes this belief from science, others take it from books. My book is the Bible." But if you go into a plane you don't go in there because you "believe" in the science of aerodynamics, but because one has sufficient grounds to think that if there were mistakes in the plane's design, other researchers would make this known, and that there is a system in place which ensures the pilot received the appropriate training.

Reasoning by such politicians can ultimately be boiled down to the fear that without a watchman in the skies, humans could not restrain themselves; morality would vanish and society would crumble to chaos. Distilling a suitable morality for society from human makeup and nature just wouldn't hold up according to them, and thus they refer to the supernatural and the incredible to substantiate the morality they advocate.

All in all: rational grounds in combination with a willingness to take a minor risk, not a "belief" in the sense that religious people would use it. Same thing as in a law case; the Judge does not say "the defendant is found guilty because I believe in DNA", but because he has sufficient grounds to think that if DNA findings were unreliable, the academic and scientific communities would correct one another.

In the Ancient culture of Socrates, they debated and went only with what they could retain logically (conviction): It stands until a superior argument pops up. Whereas religion demands of the believer that he holds firm to his belief even if it seems utterly incredible (belief). That is, after all, what constitutes the ordeal of the true believer. Therefore I prefer to distinguish belief from conviction.

That they called Christ "the Logos" is an ingenious way of the earliest Christians to equate the solid, founded reasoning proper philosophy uses, with leap of faith beliefs where the will comes into play.

Then, my bottom line is, that "to care at all" indeed requires an act of Will beyond Reason, but this must come from humans themselves. And this willingness to care sufficiently to start consulting Reason as to what must be done in life, constitutes the human dignity.
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Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Joe » 15 Jun 2013, 17:26

Dear Grant,

Rarely do I encounter a devotee of the inestimable Mr. Bierce one of the great satirists of all time and a cynics cynic. Permit me to offer three aphorisms from a somewhat loftier perspective.
1. The Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Proverbs 9:10
2. He is a fool who says there is no God. Psalms 14:1
3. As a dog returns to his vomit so a fool returns to his folly. Proverbs 26:11
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Re: My online arguments with people

Postby Joe » 16 Jun 2013, 05:18

NICK 3.0 16 JUNE 2013

Dear Nick,

Allow me first to say with sincerity that the width and breadth of your knowledge is truly impressive. For that reason and others I wish I were able to forgo a response to your latest post. Unfortunately I have such an aversion to casuistry especially when it flows from the pen of the very bright that I must buck up and try and weed the garden you have given me. I am not sufficiently gifted that I can draft a well stated whole of a critique so I must go on as one trying to eat an elephant. One bite at a time. I will undertake this endeavor one paragraph at a time. I will not restate your position but only my response.

Paragraph 1
The ruling bodies of the Jews thought Jesus such a threat that they convinced the Romans to crucify him. They further demanded that a Roman guard be placed around the tomb to prevent grave robbery. After the resurrection they conspired with the Roman guard to fabricate a tale that the disciples of Jesus had overcome them and stolen his body. Had either the Jews or the Romans produced Jesus dead body Christianity would have ended before it began. However no one ever produced the body. The Roman governor Pliny thought Christianity sufficiently relevant to request the written counsel of The Emperor Trajan concerning how he should treat them.

It is very difficult to explain the dramatic turnaround in Jesus disciples from a terrified group of crestfallen men who on Friday witnessed the crucifixion of their leader to a band of bold preachers of Jesus resurrection that eventually lead to their deaths as martyrs. Additionally it makes no sense at all for a ragtag lot of fishermen, outcasts and women to invent a religion radically adverse to both the Jewish and Roman authorities if in fact Jesus was still dead in the tomb.

The fact that other religions have dogmas contrary to Christianity and that their adherents are devoted to and defend them brings absolutely nothing to bear on the truth claims of Christianity. Christianity stands and falls on its own narrative.

Paragraph 2
I can not believe that you would rely as a basis of your belief concerning God on the testimony of a flustered man obviously well beneath your intellect and education.

Paragraph 3
Again as I have said before, there is no contradiction between God’s omniscience and his intervention in time and space. Of course He did not need to produce tablets or wine. These things were done in the interest of men. In His own creation God may intervene as it pleases Him. Who can say otherwise?

Paragraph 4
I agree The Cosmological Argument is consistent with Deism and The Big Bang Theory. I know of nothing in the writings of Aquinas remotely suggesting that the only thing that can be known about God is that He exists.

Paragraph 5
Well of course all matter can be traced back in time to God [your unmoved mover.] This same God created all matter ex nihilo.

Paragraph 6
Again I concur. Time began at creation and it is obvious that there has never existed a time when there was nothing. As for God he is timeless prior to creation and temporal since.

Paragraph 7
Not all proofs are equally valid. I do not subscribe to the Ontological argument of Anselm. There is no Christian doctrine that I know of that posits that knowledge of God is beyond human understanding. In fact God himself says the heavens declare His glory to man. Furthermore He has provided us with a rather exquisite written revelation of Himself.

Paragraph 8
I can find nothing in this paragraph but bald assertions and personal opinion.

Paragraph 9
More of the same.

Paragraph 10
Again of course if heaven were observable faith would be superfluous but heaven is not observable. We hope for heaven. “If Christ be not raised your faith is in vain” 1 Corinthians 15:15

Paragraph 11
It is totally logical for the rationalist who came from nothing and is going to nothing to “eat, drink have sex and watch comedies all day” I believe it was Camus who said the only real question for such men is suicide. We agree that something inside of man – perhaps a soul or the image of God – struggles against this nihilism.

Paragraph 12
In which of the great logical discussion of the ancient Greeks did Plato and Socrates et al take up the incestuous relations among their vast pantheon of deities. We assume a multitude of propositions based on the combination of evidence and faith. Founded on historical accounts that we believe are true and correct we assume that King George III existed despite the fact that no one alive today has actually observed him.

Paragraph 13
Though certainly your inferior in erudition, I think it might prove more profitable that I propound of what faith/belief means to the Christian believer. In orthodox protestant Christianity the concept of faith is made up of three elements knowledge [notitia], assent [assensus] and trust [fiducia]. I will take them one at a time.
Knowledge – receiving the Christian doctrine that I am born in sin and in need of forgiveness of that sin lest I perish in hell and further that God in His mercy has sent His son Jesus Christ into the world to suffer the penalty for my sin on the cross and that He was crucified dead and buried and on the third day He rose from the dead and was witnessed by over 500 persons. And that on faith I agree that He has indeed paid the debt for my sins that I shall never die but have everlasting life.
Assent – Assent is the intellectual conviction that what I have just received is factually true.
Trust – the most import element of the three. Trust involves my personal application of Christ’s offer of forgiveness and trusting that His death on the cross did in fact propitiate my sin. This element occurs only at the mercy of God.

Paragraph 14
Another set of unsubstantiated opinions.

Paragraph 15
The meaning of this paragraph is beyond my capacity to understand.

In the fullness of your opus you have made numerous assertions. Some of them are obvious, some I agree with, some I don’t and some I don’t understand. What I have not been able to find within its four corners is a substantive argument for or against anything.
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