Personal experience

We all experience the movement of the Earth in a way that makes the sun look mobile.

We all experience the movement of the Earth in a way that makes the sun look mobile.

One of the most often utilised, and possibly most effective arguments for the existence of God is personal testimony. I gave something of my own testimony in a previous post, simply to illustrate that I’m empathetic towards those who’ve had this “personal relationship” with God.

These testimonies normally involve an emotional recounting of ones experience while undergoing conversion. They often involve strong emotions, a feeling of union (or relationship) with something, and some major life changes. It sounds compelling, until you’re aware that all religions report experiences, not just Evangelical Christianity who uses them so effectively as a marketing tool, thus making it susceptible to an outsider test, which I will get to later.

My first issue with this argument is the huge emotional appeal. There’s nothing wrong with emotion, but it isn’t always a good thing to make life choices on. I’m not sure it’s ever a good thing to make judgments on how reality works. Emotions are influenced by psychological factors and factors in the real world, and can often be misinterpreted.

As an example. When I was studying, a lecturer asked if any of us had ever mistaken sex for love. More than 90% of the sexually active people in the room said yes, they had. The emotions generated during and post sex, seem to be akin to what we see as love.

Likewise, people are expected, by some churches, to go to counseling prior to marriage, partly in order for their pastor to ascertain that they understand the gravity of the situation, and to ensure that they are doing this for the right reasons, not in a blind act of emotion. In general, people are discouraged from just leaping into marriage because of emotion.

We seem to recognise that this kind of life choice shouldn’t be made based entirely on emotion. This should apply to choices regarding ones “eternal fate” too, but that’s just my opinion. Of course, this doesn’t mean that, given good rational reasons to believe in a god, emotion can’t play a part. So I’d say accepting this hinges firmly on the more academic arguments for the existence of whatever God you believe in.

Life changes seem to be evidence, a cannibalistic society stops eating people, or a drug dealing gangster cleans up and becomes a school teacher. This looks, to many, like evidence, I can’t accept this though. It’s very simple, people do shocking things in the names of their gods, and this speaks to all religions, which is never seen as evidence against their god. If people being good is evidence for the existence of deity, and it’s moral character, then people doing evil is evidence either that the deity doesn’t exist, it can’t really make changes in people, or it speaks to it’s moral character. Since most people don’t believe in an evil deity, the last option would mean their god doesn’t exist.

One could say maybe they are insincere, but we can’t really make that judgment, now can we? If you’re a Christian you’re specifically told not to judge others. The measure for their sincerity would also simply be your own belief, which is what I’m questioning, so it isn’t a useful gauge when gauging whether your opinion is true.

Experience in general is unreliable, I focused on emotional experience earlier, now I’ll get a bit broader. While science is largely based on experience, there are checks and balances to try to eliminate preconceived ideas and other personal bias. The other thing is, science generally uses experience to attempt to falsify theories and will only accept them such rigorous attempts at falsification fail. So the experience of someone who believes God touched their lives is scientifically unreliable, it has no possible checks.

As people, we experience the world as flat, you can circumnavigate the globe, and it would still seem flat, it’s no surprise this was what people once believed. Everybody experiences a flat earth and the sun moving in relation to the earth, rather than the other way around. We know better, but we experience it as flat, and if not for scientific inquiry, we’d not know better, and insist that it was flat, which is pretty much what happened before scientific inquiry.

Less than everybody seems to share a religious experience, and if the gods wanted to be worshiped, you’d think everybody would. While everybody could quite easily say they experience a flat Earth, therefore it is so, and they pretty much all once did, they’d be wrong, they’d have misinterpreted the experience. So while I don’t discount the experience, which I have had, I do think that it’s fair to say interpretation could be an issue.

This also seems to be a bit like a god of the gaps argument. We don’t fully understand how emotion works, and what stimulates emotional responses when good speakers, or crowds are involved. There are experiences that may not involve either, but again, we don’t really know what is happening, there’s no way of testing it at this stage. Given that, people seem happy to fill the gap in knowledge with something supernatural.

The outsider test would dictate that either you accept that all religious experiences are evidence of all religions being true, or, you reject the argument as a good one. There are some loopholes, “the devil did it.” Yup, everyone else’s claims that contradict yours are actually evidence of your position. Problem is, the rest can make the same claim, and you wouldn’t accept it, so why should anyone listen to you using arguments you recognise to be poor.

One could take the ecumenical stance, they’re all experiences of god, and all religions offer an insight to god. This disproves most religions, since most claim to be the only way. The next thing is, how does one decide which are true interpretations of people’s experience with God, and which aren’t? Normally if they agree with your position they are correct, if not, then not. Since it is the position you’re stating that is in question, it’s hardly a good measure to go by.

By taking the ecumenical position, many people then make an appeal to popular opinion, by stating how common the deity interpretation of the experience is, kind of like the earth being flat in the distant past.

In conclusion, there are some good reasons not to simply accept experience as proof of your beliefs. Emotions aren’t a good thing to make life choices on. Experiences, particularly emotional ones, are easy to misinterpret, and even the obvious (like a flat earth) are often not what they seem. People do bad stuff in the name of their gods at least as much as they do good stuff, so that isn’t evidence. It seems to be filling a gap in understanding emotion with something we don’t have any real evidence for. The outsider test sinks it, unless one takes an ecumenical position, in which case one will likely end up using the “weight of evidence” which is simply an appeal to popular opinion. All this said, this argument might have some use, if, and only if, there is actually a rational reason to believe that supernatural stuff exists, so we need to examine other arguments for the existence of people’s deities.

A hole shaped God

We all heard the “God shaped hole in your soul” story. Well, most of us. The common Christian cry is that everyone has a God shaped hole they trying to fill, and only God can fill it.

This tickles me a little, if there’s any discontent in your life, then it must be because you’re lacking God, not because you’re overworked and underpaid, and haven’t had leave in five years. Just like, any gap in your knowledge can easily be filled with God.

An example, since deconverting, I frequently get asked (before the shocked expressions subside) why I don’t believe in God. The answer is always the same, despite me having good reasons not to. I simply explain that I don’t need a reason, I’d need a reason to believe in God. After chewing on this for a bit, I’d say, 90% of people then say, “so where did the universe come from.” Again, my answer is always the same. I could make some appeal to Big Bang, or a creator being logically unnecessary a priory (I will get to this in a future post). I don’t, I say, “me not knowing doesn’t make you correct.” Normally the debate subsides, and I’ve avoided what could have been a serious argument. Oh, I give reasons online.

That answer, can stop most arguments for God’s existence dead, simply put, humans not having found an explanation, doesn’t mean that goddidit. So while Christians claim we all have a “God shaped hole,” they also seem to believe in a hole shaped God, one who fits neatly into every gap in our knowledge. This is the god of the gaps argument.

From Wikipedia

Atheists contest that the more we learn, the less relevant gods become, because the less gaps in our knowledge they have to fill. Which really seems to be the case, from earthquakes being the wrath of God, to mere results of plate movement, and from bipolar being demon possession to being a chemical imbalance. This is, of course exactly what happens.

Christians do contest that while many of these things have natural explanations, God is involved, in some cases God can be blamed for hurricanes due to his intense dislike of homosexuality. What they’re saying is, explained stuff needs an extra explanation, which there is no reason to believe.

I think Tim Minchin explains the God of the Gaps argument best in Storm:

“Every mystery
Ever solved has turned out to be
Not Magic.

Me personally, if you keep appealing to stuff that is simply not known to back up your belief, you simply have a hole shaped god.

My testimony

Me being Baptised into the Adventist Church

Me being Baptised into the Adventist Church

I had an experience when I was a teenager, which I assigned to the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was more likely that it was the presence of a very talented Presbyterian speaker, and a crowd of like minded people, but who can be sure.

As an adult, I felt I experienced the Holy Spirit again, while being exposed to Seventh Day Adventism. This is still quite strong in my memory, and came largely from the anger generated when exposed to their clear proof that God existed, and that most of Christianity was being misled as per Biblical prophecy. This strategy seems to be quite common among Charismatic evangelical groups, and Latter Day Saints. (Just as a note, I don’t consider Mormons and Adventists Charismatic.) It was undeniable, the evidence was all there, they had to be correct, God is great.

The problem with this is that when I dug, and dug, and dug, I realised, that the arguments that hold Christianity, not just Adventism together, are often based, if not simply on incorrect reasoning, but on outright lies. I will get into the blatant lies of Craig, Habermas, Strobel, Finlay and the rest of the bunch in later posts. The reason I call them lies is because these people know better, they know what they are saying is false, or their degrees are worth nothing.

The point is, all the emotions that were God sent to bring me into Adventism were there to bring me out, praise be to God. I felt the same level and type of anger at the dishonesty which millions have been deceived by one finding out that the Adventist church was lying in the way they blamed others. As the anger slowly subsided, I felt the same sense of relaxation and relief as I had when the Holy Spirit filled me while going into religion as when coming out.

Obviously I owe a huge dept of gratitude to God for revealing by his presence that he doesn’t actually exist, it wasn’t His presence I felt, but simply ordinary human emotions brought about by natural, easy to explain factors.

Joining the church did a lot for me, for one, it really made me think about that which is right and wrong, how should we make moral decisions, and is morality reasonably stable, or simply something relative to the mind and upbringing of the person involved. Having found clear “God given” ways to do this, I realised that no deity ever recorded could live up to any half decent moral code.

I heard church leaders telling children things that are known to be false. Not because they were lying, but because someone of the likes of Walter Veith or Doug Bachelor had told them something and they hadn’t bothered to check. This goes a long way to debunking a common defence of the resurrection. I ignored it, for over 2 years, and became a baptised member and lay preacher. I wanted to believe, I’d still like to believe in a benevolent deity, but the one depicted in the Bible, isn’t that.

Now, we can do some intellectual gymnastics and try to make out that only the parts of the Bible that paint God in a good light are true, but this wouldn’t actually be honest to ourselves. This was something that I realised while searching, there isn’t a consistent way to reason through the Bible, it really just comes down to preference.

I’m doing this now, simply because I wish to focus, in the next post on the existence of God, on the Argument from Personal experience, which I feel, we have very good reasons to reject based on, a) the inconsistency on God being able to send them same message to different people, and b) things we know to be true about the world.

Of course, you could show that there’s nothing anyone could ever say to provide evidence against what you believe by blaming the devil. But the less people acknowledge the possibility they could be wrong, the less chance they have of convincing sceptics. So it is up to you how you take this.

The great prophecy on Tyre

Many more literal Bible followers use the following text (Isaiah 46:9-10) to argue that the Bible is indeed testable and has proven to be true via this test.

“remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’” (Emphasis mine)

Apparently this tells us that God can predict the future, and has done so in verifiably true Bible prophecy.

JohnH, forever keeping me on my toes and providing good debate, and I have been debating some of these prophecies at another post. Mainly Ezekiel’s prophecies on Tyre and Egypt. I will focus only on Tyre here, Egypt has so many prophecies, by more than just Ezekiel.

An image from the south side of modern Tyre, from Wikipedia

Tyre was both a mainland and Island city, both were called Tyre, even centuries after Alexander, the City was still standing and the Bible confirms this in Mark 7:24 and Matt 15:21. You could of course say this was a region, and the city had not been rebuilt, but, here’s the History from Alexander to Roman Tyre, from Wikipedia

“In 332 BC Alexander the Great laid siege to the city, conquered and razed it.

In 315 BC, Alexander’s former general Antigonus began his own siege of Tyre,[18] taking the city a year later.[19]

In 126 BC, Tyre regained its independence (from the Seleucids)[20] and was allowed to keep much of its independence, as a “civitas foederata”,[21] when the area became a Roman province in 64 BC.[22] Tyre continued to maintain much of its commercial importance until the Christian era.”

More recent history is also given there, and the city is there for the whole world to view on Google maps today.
The Prophecy comes from Ezekiel 26 & 27, so let’s see what it actually says. (From the ESV, emphasis mine)

“I will make you a bare rock. You shall be a place for the spreading of nets. You shall never be rebuilt, for I am the Lord; I have spoken, declares the Lord God.” – 26:14

“I will bring you to a dreadful end, and you shall be no more. Though you be sought for, you will never be found again, declares the Lord God.”” – 26:21

“The merchants among the peoples hiss at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever.’”” 27:36

See my problem, it’s quite obvious that Tyre was rebuilt after Alexander, and this is confirmed by the same gospel writers who report the resurrection. By saying the prophecy was fulfilled by Alexander the Great is clearly false. Simply put, Tyre still stands today, even thought the Bible repeatedly said that it wouldn’t be rebuilt.

This leaves one more loophole, the Prophecy has not been fulfilled, yet. As soon as someone says that, they’re confirming that prophecy isn’t a test, as long as the world continues support intelligent life.

So, as much as apologists use this as a fulfilled prophecy, this isn’t a settled issue, or, if it is, it doesn’t favour the Bible.

Treat the living as if they’re dead.

“Don’t speak ill of the dead.” – a whole bunch of people.

Ever noticed how people are very respectful and reverend around dead people? It’s fine to say they are mean, vicious, bigoted and nasty while they’re alive, but once they are dead, then “ooo, don’t speak ill of them.” Where did this crazy mentality come from?

Image from findagrave.com

It’s possible that it comes from people simply showing respect to the grieving family, but so often it is still “enforced” by more than just assertive nose-up-in-the-air politeness freaks, when the grieving family isn’t around. So, I suspect that the belief in the afterlife may play a role here. Perhaps souls come back and take revenge when they hear nasty stuff. I’m probably wrong, but it was fun to point out anyway.

I’m not so concerned by where the idea came from anyway, but simply how absurd it is. The dead guy, yeah, he doesn’t care what you say, he’s dead, he knows nothing (I’m an atheist, but the Bible agrees, Ecc 9:5). But let’s for a moment assume the unlikely event that there is some kind of being out there that keeps souls functioning after death. This being gets to decide whether you go to Heaven or Hell, paradise or purgatory, or whatever you want to call it.

So the bloke dies, and goes to heaven, he’s in heaven, what are the chances he cares what you think or say? After all, he couldn’t possibly be upset in Heaven, or it wouldn’t be Heavenly. Nah, he was a bad bloke, which is why people are saying bad stuff about him, so he’s in Hell (bet few of you ever heard that from the pastor at a funeral). He probably doesn’t care much what you’re saying, he has enough of a more immediate problem, eternal fire and brimstone.

Perhaps you prefer reincarnation? Then the person is likely a tree, or a cockroach, or if you’re very good, you get to come back as a rat. Apart from the fact that none of these understand what you’re saying about the previous them, they probably also have more immediate problems, like bird shit, rattex and shoe soles.

So, the odds of anyone who is dead caring what you say about them are very slim. On the other hand, while they’re alive, your words can actually be very damaging. So, I think a good mantra to live by, is that we should just treat people as if we think they are dead, we’ll probably have a much more peaceful society.

The outsider test for faith

I decided to start the discussion on why people believe in god with an atheist argument, John Loftus’ outsider test for faith, simply because it is relevant to the entire discussion.

The test is simple, not really designed for use in a debate, but things don’t always turn out as they were intended. The outsider test is more of a reflective exercise for religious people to take, in order to test whether their beliefs are worthwhile.

The test would involve a believer asking themselves what they think the good reasons for their belief are, and would they accept the same arguments if they were presented for another deity. If the answer is no, then the believer has already rejected it as a good reason, and would either have to accept their reasoning as inconsistent, or would be compelled to acknowledge they don’t have any good reasons for believing it. This would normally result in disbelief, but people do cognitive dissonance quite well, so it wouldn’t always happen.

Obviously using someone’s own argument against them is a powerful debating tool. There are arguments out there designed around this idea, and they can be very strong. I plan on using a specially designed one later.

It is possible, of course that some people believe all gods to be the same, but revealed through different people, in which case I’m not sure if the test would work. But this idea is pretty absurd anyway.

Christianity teaches salvation by faith, with actions not being good enough, many other religions are based entirely on ones actions when it comes to whatever form of judgment they have. Both of these positions are strongly supported fundamentals of the belief systems, and thus a conflict here, would make the theory contradictory, since one of the basics people need to understand about god, purpose and salvation two different, and mutally exclusive things.

Of course, polytheism isn’t really compatible with montheism either, and the theory seems to disregard polytheistic claims. This is likely because the ecumenical idea is very western, which is traditionally monotheistic.

We can toss the idea around a bit in the comments if anyone needs clarity, feels they can better explain things, or disagrees.

A message for a concerned mother

We all have a history, sometimes one we aren’t keen to share, it makes us feel less valuable, less likeable, less everything. It’s also likely that if you have the kind of past that makes you feel like this, you place a high value on the things you feel lacking in, at least that’s how it is for me.

While I’ve struggled sharing the past, particularly more recent events that stem from it, I did put a rather silly post on Facebook that aggravated issues, I’m not sure I really regret doing that. My half brother ran straight to dad to tell him, which is likely what he’ll do if he reads this.

On the other hand, trying to explain what happened and how it makes me feel often results in an outbreak of tears. I managed to contain much of that while trying to explain things to a client who was unfairly dragged into the mess. A fantastic momly scottish lady, she was understanding, but I don’t think things will be like they were before she knew, possibly more because of how I view things.

Why am I telling you this now? Well, because Kanga 4 is asking some pretty big questions over at her blog.

“I find myself stuck. I cannot simply take the kids, up and leave the husband and expect to make it on my own.

Now, why on earth would I want to do that in the first place? Well sometimes I wonder whether growing up without a father would be better for my children than growing up with their dad.”

Then after talking about the physical and emotional abuse her husband has meted out on her, this…

“The children’s rooms must at all times be neat and tidy and if not, and he is in one of his moods, he hits them, very hard, with a belt. I am not allowed to interfere and in fact he shouts at me for not doing it myself.”

This sounds like my dad. I think leaving him would be a smart move, but I should give a reason, so here goes…

My father had a violent temper, still does incidentally, he just isn’t as physically fit as he used to be. He was the dinosaur of parenting, children should: be seen and not heard, do as they are told, and get beaten if they forget this. My mom is a lovely Christian lady, but like many Christian parents never thought of questioning the oft misquoted Proverbs 13:24, and like Kanga4, was bullied for not beating us enough. The weapon of choice in this case wasn’t a belt, or wooden spoon, or even a good old cane, it was a riding crop, designed to make a half ton animal with half centimetre thick skin do something it doesn’t want to.

A riding crop, from Wikipedia

There wasn’t the kind of decorum of a good proper caning either. I was at high school by the time they banned caning in South Africa, and I wasn’t the most well behaved child, so I experienced that too, but it doesn’t leave me with quite the same sick taste in my mouth, the burning sensation in my eyes, and the rapid heart rate as the ones I got at home, but particularly from my dad.

The decorum behind a caning is simple. Usually you stand outside an office for a bit, so on the off chance that the person delivering the caning is the same one who caught you in the wrong, has had time to calm their temper a bit. When you finally enter the office, which may be after listening to sound of your accomplices backsides receiving the treatment that likewise awaits yours, you are normally asked what the crime is and if you understand why you are there (this, for me, is crucial to the process if this barbarous activity is allowed to continue anywhere). You are then asked to put your hands on something low down, or simply touch your toes. Some more sadistic teachers would put you under something, like a shelf, to stop you shooting up as the blow was administered, it wasn’t necessary, by then you stood still. You then received the blows, stood up, thanked the teacher involved and left.

My parents got angry, grabbed you by the arm and started thrashing, somewhere in the region of the rear end, but that wasn’t too important. There was no discussion, no reasoning, no, I’m sorry, it was a mistake, nothing, just a good thorough thrashing. I recall my dad once saying that we (my brother and I) “always knew why we were being punished.” He was right, it was, without fail, because he got angry. The incident didn’t really matter, it wasn’t about understanding, and often the punishment didn’t remotely match the crime. Ask yourself, how many things a particularly naughty boy could do in a week to warrant being thrashed with a riding crop. I wasn’t particularly naughty, just a little boy, a rather wimpy little boy.

Now to the things I think Kanga4 should consider. If this is how a parent reacts, what is the likely consequence on the child’s ability to deal with anger, frustration or someone’s books in their space? What is your children’s father’s response to frustration going to teach them about responding to frustration? Is this a lesson you want them to learn?

I have huge problems dealing with anger, I’m better with horses, but a bad mood and me doing any constructive work with a horse is a pipe dream, go over the basics put the horse away. With people, I get loud, I shout, get scary, intimidate. It’s horrible, it scares me. All I want is to have better management skills over this, and I’m working towards that, but until then I’m scared of relationships, and getting close to people, because that’s when it is an issue. This is my cross to bear, and although I have a past, the future is there for me to make good on what I see as being a better person.

There’s more to the story, there always is, but I don’t have much of a relationship with my family, I chat to my brother, but never go home. I can’t chat to mum, it hurts me too much, due to circumstances that I won’t prolong this post with.

For children, it is crucial they grow up with a half decent example, they learn from what their parents do, not what they say. It’s possible that your kids could end up more like my brother, well adjusted, not resentful. It’s also possible your kids could end up like me, and you may end up losing them.

of religion in a rational world

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