Grayer than thou?

Bloggernacle Culture DAMU Objectivity

John C. at BCC published this rather stark post, the basic (and unfortunately familiar) thrust of which is that, if you “lose your faith,” it’s your own fault — not any leaders, GAs, ward members, SS or EQ teachers, Jesus, God or the Holy Ghost. (It was not specified whether you could blame the devil, although Old Scratch’s role would seem to be implicit in any loss of faith. Along with a lack of character. Or will power. Or just not trying hard enough. Or something.) It strikes me that the thought behind this kind of assertion is that there has to be some reason you lost your faith — something predictable and categorical; something that ensures that You Did Something Wrong…and if I just don’t do any of those Wrong Things, then I won’t lose my faith. Especially since I choose not to lose my faith.

This was then followed by a post written by john f., who seems to be at least obliquely responding to John C.’s assertions. John f.’s theme is also not an unfamiliar one — a fairly regular theme in the ‘nacle-vs-DAMU conversations. In a nutshell, this argument posits that ex- or post-Mormons are victims of their own “black and white” thinking. They took things too literally and didn’t have the spiritual flexibility to accommodate new information, so they, being absolutists, took the leap from white to black in a sort of spiritually immature snit. And it is the flexible, shades-of-grey-embracing Mormons, who are very familiar with all the so-called skeletons in the closet, who are the more sophisticated, and perhaps more evolved on some pseudo-linear development scale like Fowler’s stages of faith.

The numerous comments on both of these posts come from all different belief spectrums, and represent pretty widely varying approaches to gaining, keeping, and losing, faith. Which of course in itself puts paid to the idea that any parsimonious theory about losing one’s religion is going to capture even a plurality of what people’s real experiences are. In reality, I’ve seen all “kinds” of people who retain faith in religion; really, what else could account for sites as religiously varied as Bountiful, M*, T&S, ExII, ZDs, etc., all having faithful, active believers regularly engaged in conversation about “their” religion? Likewise, those who “lose faith” also represent a very wide spectrum of personalities and experiences; hence sites as varied as NOM, PostMormon, FLAK, and RFM. Perhaps a more interesting question is, what about all the people who aren’t online or involved in any discussions like this at all? The active Mormons who’ve never even heard of the Bloggernacle. The inactive Mormons, or those who’ve actually resigned, who never have any apparent need to talk religion ever again.

The more I read the ‘nacle and the DAMU (or the sites within each that I prefer, which is likely not representative), the more I believe how similar we all are in terms of one variable at least: We are interested in talking about Mormonism and our experiences with it. We are engaged in our religious life through questions and answers, doubts and beliefs, wide-ranging perspectives, with tensions, arguments, and, occasionally, a lovely emergent moment where we feel a kindred feeling and our humanity is affirmed.

Are there more sophisticated people in the ‘nacle or the DAMU? Is it even possible to discover, somehow measure, who sees more grey? Is seeing more grey in fact equivalent to being more sophisticated, or even something unequivocally Good? I don’t know. I don’t have all, or even many, of the answers. That’s why I love to keep talking about it. And my favorite quote from the john f. post’s comments is this (paraphrased): Without Black and White, there is no Grey. Can’t argue with that.

141 thoughts on “Grayer than thou?

  1. chanson, I think that Mormonism, its adherents, and its beliefs don’t come off very well in your stories. That has to do with the genuine respect point. It has nothing to do with the fiction itself or how I think about your perspective. It’s possible that your brother writes similar that builds on a similar take of Mormonism. I just haven’t seen it.

    Also, I would hope that you don’t think you have to please me or anyone else. Politeness and civility (and respect) are enough, in my view, not pleasing people.

  2. As far as I know, John doesn’t write much fiction, though we did write some Star Trek scripts together. 😀

    And I completely agree that civility (and constructive dialog, including introspection and taking the other’s position seriously, i.e. respect) are what’s important, not pleasing at all costs.

  3. How many Mormons believe me when I say that I perceive them as generally thoughtful, intelligent, kind, compassionate people, and their beliefs (beliefs which I once held not so long ago) simultaneously seem looney tunes to me? (Yes, I realize that not every Mormon believes exactly the same things.)

    I think many Mormons have their Mormonism so tightly bound up in their identity that they can’t separate criticism of their beliefs from a personal attack. I can bend over backward trying to express myself tactfully so as to convey my respect for the person, and at the end of the day I still need to call it like I see it. It’s not easy to do both. Cut us some slack. 🙂

  4. Wry ~

    I like this post. I enjoy your thoughts immensely and always look forward to what you notice in your blog travels.

    I find it interesting to hear from the people on both sides of this issue. People are fascinating to me in general, and it’s fun to note that there are such similarities in the mindsets of the players of both sides. Each set of people has value. Each of us has gray areas in our lives and in our belief systems (or lack thereof) to face. We aren’t so different from each other, really.

  5. RE: John F.

    “Whereas you do, because you have a Ph.D. in sociology, I take it.”
    Um, yeah! 🙂

    “How great that sociologists can know things with such confidence!”
    Um, agreed! 🙂

    I’m being pithy and arrogant here, of course, but do keep in mind that sociologists and psychologists are basically the only two scientific disciplines that have studied religious conversion from a scientific perspective. Certainly theology, religious studies, and religions themselves have studied it, but not using the same approach. I’m happy to cite the amazing amount of literature on this topic if you really want to impugn sociologists and their understanding of conversion. I was probably out of line calling John C. a dipsh*t, but his level of understanding of conversion is about at the level of a dipsh*t (reminder to profxm: attack the argument, not the one doing the arguing) based on my reading of the sociological literature. There are basically no studies that come to mind that claim de-conversion has anything to do with people simply choosing not to have faith. The de-conversion literature focuses on changing beliefs, changing friendships, significant life changes, cost/benefit analyses, and interpersonal conflicts (my own, personal contribution attributes it to role conflict and role strain). So, when I criticize John C., I do it based on an academic understanding. Until John C. brings an academic understanding to the discussion and critiques the existing literature with valid, logical arguments, I’m fine with my criticism.

    As for the Mauss article and your post, yeah, I’d say we’re basically in agreement on this. But I can’t leave it at that. I doubt you will admit it (no reason to), but can you at least consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, apologists and borderlanders are the only ones in the LDS religion who have nuanced understandings of the religion? I could be wrong here, but I think what often ends up happening when this idea of black/white thinking is brought up by faithful members (whatever that means) is that it is turned into a, “Well, those victims were the unlucky ones. Most Mormons have more nuanced understandings.” In my experience, that is simply not true. If I tallied up all the Mormons I know, which is quite a few, 90% of them think in the black/white way that I was taught (including all of my family, my wife’s family, and almost all of our extended families – a few exceptions). The 10% I know who don’t think in black/white ways and have the nuanced understandings you talk about are all borderlanders and I’ve met almost all of them online in these forums. So, when people say, “Oh, the victims, well, they are just a minority.” I have to admit that gets under my skin. I think my experience with Mormonism is similar to that of a lot of other people.

    One final point here. What the 90% of Mormons do have that allows them to stay isn’t a nuanced understanding, but a relative disinterest in details, IMO. I don’t mean that as a slight or criticism – I think this is true of the majority of religious and irreligious people. Most people just don’t put that much weight in their religion, Mormons included. They believe it; they even believe it in black/white terms, but when it comes to details, they could care less. They don’t want to consider them and they don’t think they are important. So, they don’t get hung up on issues surrounding Joseph Smith’s wives, etc. because they either: (1) don’t know them or (2) minimize them and dismiss them. In short, 90% of Mormons are, IMO, black/white, disinterested thinkers; 10% are nuanced, borderlanders who work in the realm of the gray. Former Mormons are also a combination, but that’s a different issue.

  6. john f. (42 and 43)-

    I haven’t left the church and I show up every Sunday to teach flexible things to your beautiful children in Sunday school. You don’t know what I believe. I don’t even know what I believe and my not knowing has a lot to do with the flexible, nuanced faith I’ve adopted. If I ever were to leave the church, it wouldn’t have anything to do with my faith but everything to do with the terribly draining and unsatisfying experience of contemporary Mormonism.. (And as an aside, I think the draining effects of contemporary Mormonism have a lot to do with a black and white church unwilling to admit and process the shades of grey).

    Regardless of what you (and John C) intended, your posts struck me as mudslinging. I don’t think I’m alone in that impression. I don’t feel like it was aimed at me. (Remember, I’m flexible and I still go to church, right?) I’m sure it wasn’t your intent to belittle others (though I’d respect you more if it was) but that isn’t a good excuse. I think Kaimi’s related post at T&S still (in my mind) had an element of name calling, but it was much more fair to the other side. It’s a personal amusement to me, the mean things that are unintentionally said at faith-promoting sites such as BCC and T&S.

    As to the rest of your response to my comment, I think others have given answers better than I could give.

  7. “I doubt you will admit it (no reason to), but can you at least consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, apologists and borderlanders are the only ones in the LDS religion who have nuanced understandings of the religion?”

    If he won’t, I will.

    But that’s true of every religion and ideology (ask a lay Christian about the trinity and you’ll get all sorts of answers that would make a theologian cringe). The “unwashed masses” are almost never all that big on nuance. But, it’s important to have the nuanced views anyway. Eventually they often trickle down to the layman in the pews.

  8. re # 56, my comments didn’t make any claim to knowing what you believe. But it seemed like your comment made a claim as to what John C. and I believe, when you said They don’t want to believe that a loss of faith could happen to anyone, that you could be doing everything right and have your faith lead you out of the church.

    As I noted in comment # 42, this isn’t an accurate description of John C.’s post or my post, in my opinion.

  9. Regarding #42 – about ex believers respecting John f. and his beliefs – I disagree.

    I have respect for active and former LDS and their right to their beliefs. I believe there are actually quite a few of us out here. No offense to John Hamer intended :).

    As the saying goes, I may not agree with your beliefs, but I will fight for your right to believe them.

    I think there have been many posts here (and throughout the bloggosphere) which show a tolerance and willingness to see things from a believer LDS perspective.

    With that said, I don’t think that debating LDS policy particularly towards women (see profxm’s above post) constitutes disrespect. Or for that matter – any other host of topics that are discussed here.

    Now, if the mere discussion itself (current LDS policy towards its members, towards full disclosure of history, standards at BYU) – constitutes disrespect of a person and/or their beliefs – well, we may not be able to find any common ground.

  10. Anybody who says that us former mormons have succumbed to black & white thinking have themselves succumbed to the very same black & white thinking they’re accusing us of having. Not everyone walks away from mormonism for the same reason. Talk to a hundred different exmos and you’ll get ninety different reasons why they left.

    In reality, active mormons are the least qualified people on earth to be making any judgements at all about ex-mormons because they simply have no capacity for understanding where we’re at or how we got here.

    The puerile mormon thinking that says that those of us who left were offended somehow, is most often way off base but it’s an urban legend that has legs and continues to run. I wonder sometimes if mormons are simply incapable of understanding that some of us took a critical look at mormonism and said, wow, that’s just not for me anymore. We didn’t need to be offended before we chose to leave – we just had to be willing to think critically and openly.

  11. Hi,
    I only today found out about this post that I inspired. FWIW, I don’t find Mormons or Non-Mormons particularly more sophisticated, nor do I believe that leaving the church, ultimately, is indicative of anything other than that it isn’t working for you. To me, it sucks if it doesn’t work for you, I wish it would, but I get that it doesn’t work for everyone (at least not now).

    Nor do I suspect that leaving the church is always about a lack of willpower or some such. People make choices, that’s all it is. I don’t know you and can’t really say if it is the right choice for you or anybody else. I hope it is the right choice, but I can live with a world where it isn’t.

    The truth is, as far as I can tell, we all have to take our own path. I tend to think that all these paths lead back to God (this is because I am not an atheist and believe in a loving God), but that’s just me. Regarding the original post, it was intended to be a discussion surrounding taking responsibility for the state of one’s faith (or lack thereof). No implication of weak-willedness on the part of those who lose faith was applied. That some people keep faith when most everyone else would lose it is, to my mind, heroic. There is nothing bad with not being heroic (I’m certainly nobody’s hero).

  12. @John C.

    I appreciate your willingness to embrace the choices of people who believe differently. It’s refreshing.

    “That some people keep faith when most everyone else would lose it is, to my mind, heroic.”

    I have to disagree with this thought. I don’t see this as heroic, but as doggedly attached to an idea when humble people acknowledge that their beliefs were wrong. In other words, such a person is lacking in the virtue which prevents excesses of faith: doubt.

    A humble person approaches life with an awareness of their own fallibility which means, by extension, the fallibility of their beliefs. A humble person who tempers faith with doubt will have strong opinions, weakly held.

  13. Please note the qualifier. Some beliefs aren’t worth holding on it, no matter what the circumstances. I don’t know that true faith is excessive, but such decisions are always made after the fact, no?

  14. How on earth do you know if faith is “true”? By what standard can you judge it? Even if it works for you and your life, it’s got a pretty good chance of being a false belief simply because it can’t ever be objectively tested.

    And if you can only know after the fact that you’ve been excessive, that sounds like a good argument to avoid faith all together, seeing as how incredibly destructive and pernicious it all too often is.

  15. Craig,
    With all your foresight and reason, you’ve never gotten yourself into a situation that you later regretted or pushed an idea too far? I don’t think actual people use reason in the manner that you seem to think that they do. Usually, reason is applied as after-the-fact rationalization (in my opinion) rather than in any sort of deductive, inductive, or abductive manner.

    Regarding judging the value of “faith” or “truth” or whatever, please feel free to let me know when you get some sort of objective scale set up. In the meantime, I’ll just follow my own subjective leanings and do my best. Your mileage may vary.

  16. Of course I have, and that has taught me not to use conjecture and faith to make decisions but logic and reason. Of course we never have all the facts and our reason does fail us at times, but I do try to base my life, my beliefs, and my decisions on reality and reason.

    In order to respond fully, I guess I would need to know what you mean by “faith” and even more by “true faith”. What are your definitions for these words?

    The way I conceive of and was taught to view faith is an irrational belief that cannot be challenged by reality because it isn’t based on reality – things like faith in the existence of god(s), heavens or hells, salvations, sins, eternal rewards or punishments, saviours, etc. To me, faith is belief in anything that is unprovable, in-disprovable, and therefore totally ridiculous and superfluous. The belief that Jesus is a saviour is had on faith, but there’s no reason to have such a belief. I could hold the equally unprovable belief that Jesus is actually a magical pink unicorn that only took human form because it lost a bet to the evil purple dragon which lives at the core of Jupiter. My “faith” in those beliefs are just as real and logical as the beliefs that Mormons have or Muslims or any other type of religionist.

    That is why I think faith is ridiculous and pointless. Though I didn’t always think so, it was because I had never thought it through and never had looked at faith and religion objectively and seen that it’s all total fabrications and bronze-aged myths that were made when humanity had no understanding of the way the natural world worked so they invented gods as the causes for the (then) unexplained.

  17. Craig,
    Fair enough. I tend to prefer faith and I tend to use the traditional/biblical definitions thereof. As a corollary, I see rationality as a useful enough tool, if somewhat overvalued. At best, it provides some insight into how this world might work. At worst, people use to it confuse means with ends. For me, it holds little explanatory power regarding “the terrible questions”(that is, I have had experiences regarding ultimate purpose for which I find rational explanations (at present) inadequate). I’m not a hypocrite when I see a surgeon, I just think that rationality has a place and metaphysics, epistemology, and the supernatural aren’t it.

    Finally, the assumption that rationality is in some way provable mystifies me. Sure, it offers ready explanations, but that doesn’t actually prove it is superior (remember, for all you or I know, we could all be fated to live our lives under the secret dominance of the Potato Gods of Preston, ID). Rationality may be a good way for some people to find the courage to go to sleep at night, but not all of us insist that the world be limited to things that we are capable of labeling and neatly filing away in some mental cabinet.

    So, you and I, at present, operate using different narratives in order to understand the way the world works. I’m glad that you’ve found something that works for you; I’ll keep thinking that you’re wrong of course, but I’m glad that you’re happy.

  18. Well, nothing is provable in the ultimate sense, but some things jibe with the available facts better than others and make better predictions.

    Rationality isn’t satisfying in some ways, yet truth has often proven very unsatisfying to human tastes. I’m thinking of quantum mechanics as an example. It’s quite the bitter pill to swallow for those of us who grew up in a Newtonian universe. So whether an answer satisfies us seems immaterial to the question of whether the answer is true (or approaches the truth).

    Human rationality, for all its faults and missteps, has proven the most successful way to achieve material results. Faith in the irrational has its place, but it’s entirely overvalued and overused in the religious world. The more I see of life, the less I see the value of faith untempered by doubt. Untempered faith is another name for escapism and fantasy.

  19. To my knowledge, there isn’t such a thing as faith untempered by doubt (how could it be faith otherwise?). I agree with you that extreme certainty (no matter what the belief) can often lead us astray (heck, Nephi questioned God with the sword in his hand; why shouldn’t we?).

    Faith tends to make predictions, too. They just aren’t ones that are rationally or objectively testable. For all that, they’ve tended to be dead on for me (and yes I understand the glorious value of hindsight in this; it doesn’t change my opinion).

    I don’t deny that rationality is testable and that it has predictive force for the world in which we find ourselves. But I’m skeptical regarding it’s predictive force in areas where it cannot measure. I’m deeply, deeply skeptical of its ability to reveal or discover ultimate truth. At its current best, it can say no known forces cause human consciousness or life. Some people read that to mean that there are no causes, which is, I think, a grave overstatement. Even if a genetic combination is found for consciousness or an amino acid combination for life, all it gives is a how, never a why.

    The reason that faith appears overvalued (in regards to rationality) in the religious world is because it is capable of asking correct questions and rationality isn’t (to my mind, at least). The reason that some people find solace in a worldview explained solely by rationality (in my opinion, obviously, since I ain’t one of them) is that they demand a certainty regarding the why that isn’t currently possible (and may never be for all I know). So, instead, they give up looking and declare why a false a question (there is no why, it’s all just random electrons firing). Which is an approach, and if it works for you that’s great, but to stop and declare that the objective truth seems entirely unwarranted to me (the believer with an obvious bias).

    To my mind, untempered rationality got us Plato’s realm of the Forms and Kantian deontology (both fantasy notions of the highest order). As Nietzsche would say, your clinging to rationality is a symptom of the problem, not its solution. He’d also call you degenerate, but he’d call me an active force for evil and oppression, so I guess we’re even.

    Finally, the comment box is doing some wierd thing where it shrinks down to one line when I start typing so I can’t see the whole comment. Is there something wrong with my settings?

  20. Excellent points. You and I know that faith untempered by doubt doesn’t exist, but many of your fellow religious believers don’t. They imagine that they know, or aspire to a time when they will know, and therefore hide from their doubts.

    Faith as I see it isn’t so much predictive as hopeful or expectant. There are questions that we ask that cannot be answered rationally, but most Western religions hold out the hope that someday they will be. For example, we are told that we will meet God when we die and will know that he exists. So most Western religion still holds up rational, empirical evidence as the ideal while faith is something that is required now, a test that must be endured.

    So it seems that the religions that we grew up among are of two minds about faith (when it’s opposed to knowledge). It is a virtue that we must cultivate in order to answer questions about the unknowable, but a virtue that will be shed eventually as unnecessary.

    How do you envision answers to the ultimate questions coming? In other words, if your beliefs are correct, how do you see them being finally and ultimately confirmed? Is faith still involved or is it some form of empirical knowledge? Or do you never expect to know for certain?

    Regarding the big why questions, I don’t think they are somehow logically inconsistent. Rather, I see a couple of problems with them. The first is the assumption that the questions have an answer. Even God may not have a solid answer why there is something rather than nothing. The second is the idea that faith somehow answers these questions rather than just providing appealing guesses. And one guess is as good as any other in this realm.

    Because of how intractable why-questions are, I mostly acknowledge my inability to get useful answers, and focus on questions that can profit from investigation. So I take a very pragmatic approach.

    I don’t think untempered rationality exists. Human rationality isn’t as rational as we might hope, and as I mentioned before, nothing is ultimately provable.

  21. re John C:

    Finally, the comment box is doing some wierd thing where it shrinks down to one line when I start typing so I cant see the whole comment. Is there something wrong with my settings?

    I have no idea about how to fix this, seeing as it affects me too.


    I have skipped a great portion of this discussion, so I could be repetitive or be missing a whole portion of things…I don’t think that it is necessarily about “untempered rationality” vs. “faith” where “untempered rationality” says that “there is no why.”

    Rather, rationality (egh, I already dislike this distinction, but I’ll go with it) simply points out to us that we *don’t have reason to believe* in certain whys. It doesn’t mean that these whys are untrue, or that the whys don’t exist, but we don’t have reason to believe.

    What might give us reason to believe? Subjective experience. But the tricky thing about subjective experience is that it’s not on the same level as objective experience. Subjective experience makes things known to *us*, but not necessarily makes known what is objectively or universally true.

    So if people are going to have disagreements, it’s because someone has confused the subjective with the objective. Whether it is the subjectively felt claim that “x religion is the one truth for all” or the subjectively felt claim that “all religions are dangerous and should be dismantled.”

    I do think that in the end, these realms should have different treatments in public policy, etc., The subjective is great for you, but it should not be mandated, especially if it has areas of disagreement with the “rational” (whatever that means).

  22. Andrew,
    I think I essentially agree with you. I am also a little concerned with how we (especially I) am using “rationality” in this discussion. I suppose that I think that everyone uses reason (at least in this world), it’s the foundational principles (the axia) that are subjectively chosen and applied. My axia, at present, differ from yours, Jonathan’s, and Craig’s such that we rationally come up with differing beliefs about the existence of God as a result. We all use reason, but I weigh supernatural experience (as experienced by me) more heavily as evidence than you all.

    Regarding reason to believe, we all have lots of reason to believe in lots of things. My subjective reasons for believing in God aren’t, as you note, subject to objective testing, but that doesn’t make them less powerful to me or less binding on me if I want to maintain some sense of personal integrity.

    I tend to think that the Great Reveal when Oz/God pulls back the curtain is wishful thinking on rational folks part, so I’m not certain that faith will ever cease to be a factor in our lives in the eternities (isn’t there a passage somewhere that states that God is the being who has faith in himself? (apologies if I am making that up; I just think I heard it somewhere and I am too busy today to look it up)).

    We also appear to be in agreement regarding the limits of human rationality. And regarding the guesswork of ultimate aims, whether God or Reason is the source. We seem to be looking at the same basic data set and drawing differing conclusions, which may simply mean that I trust my interpretations of the supernatural more than I trust yours or someone else’s, which is fair enough, I think.

  23. Setting aside the definition of supernatural (I still haven’t come up with a definition to satisfy myself), I agree with most of what you’re saying. I think the main difference may be that I don’t experience things that I interpret as being supernatural, but if I did, I probably wouldn’t trust myself to get the interpretation right. I trust peer review much more than my own reasoning abilities to keep me from following flights of fancy.

    Regarding God and faith, are you thinking of the Lectures on Faith where it is said that faith is the principle by which God created and governs the universe? I don’t doubt that someone has said that God has faith in himself, but I can’t think of anything authoritative for Mormons. A conference talk?

  24. Thanks! It is the Lectures on Faith (which I acknowledge involves impressive feats of circular logic). It’s in the questions on the second lecture:

    Is there a being who has faith in himself, independently? There is.

    Who is it? It is God.

    How do you prove that God has faith in himself independently? Because he is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days or end of life, and in him all fullness dwells. Ephesians 1:23: “Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” Colossians 1:19: “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell.” Lecture 2:2.

    Is he the object in whom the faith of all other rational and accountable beings center, for life and salvation? He is.

    There’s more justification, but it is long and I didn’t read it through this time so I don’t know how relevant it is.

    Regarding your other point, I think that at some point I just made a decision to trust my gut on the supernatural. That may be the fundamental difference.

  25. This is going to be a really long response to multiple ideas (building especially on what Andrew S. said in #72 to which I mostly agree) which have been brought up in the past several comments, starting with what John C. said here:

    We all use reason, but I weigh supernatural experience (as experienced by me) more heavily as evidence than you all.

    Well that’s obviously true, as I think that what is termed a “supernatural” experience isn’t anything of the sort, and therefore isn’t any sort of evidence for gods or the supposed positive effects of faith. I weigh it as having exactly zero evidentiary usefulness towards explaining reality, except in as far as the experience itself can be explained by science – which I’ll touch on in a bit.

    Labelling the unexplained “supernatural” because there is no known natural cause is how religion got started in the first place because humans didn’t know how suns were formed or why grass grew or how we evolved or why we reproduce sexually or how water freezes and so on ad infinitum. Of course, we’ve narrowed the gap between the unknown and the known, but it is still there. There are just far fewer things now that people try to explain as “supernatural” when the real explanation is that there is simply no explanation. Giving the “supernatural” “explanation” to an unexplained event is pointless because it takes the onus from us to try to explain those events or experiences. It may be that some things aren’t explicable, but that doesn’t mean we should be lazy and label them “supernatural” when there is no evidence at all for anything supernatural existing.

    Even more implausible is trying to posit the existence of a single (or even a couple) version of the supernatural as the one “true” version. There being no evidence, no possibility of objectifying and measuring any particular supernatural world-view, every single one is equally valid. It seems to me to be completely ridiculous to even entertain the notion that there is some part of existence which cannot ever be measured, quantified, observed, or known. As soon as we start making such suppositions where does it end? If one god is real because of faith or so called “supernatural” experiences then we have to assume that all gods are real, all imaginations of every human is equally valid and real. Simply because a delusion is shared by many people doesn’t make it any less a delusion.

    In fact, I am convinced (until I’ve been presented with a more reasonable, convincing argument) that science is more than able to explain what many term “supernatural” experiences as natural events that happen in our brains, and have no basis in a reality that isn’t measurable by science or reason. Any feelings I had when at church, praying, reading the Book of Mormon, or etc., when I was a Mormon I now know weren’t any indicator of the supernatural (least of all the Mormon supernatural) but rather were biochemical, psychological, and other reactions (including many psychosomatic) that are natural and explicable, and happen to many, many humans in every culture and religion in the world.

    While I know that my experiences, thoughts, feelings, ideas are quite subjective and I’m not able to adequately distance myself from my own biases and prejudices to really be truly objective about my experiences, I can do a reasonable approximation of it when I look at a bigger picture, when I look at my experiences, and then see that they’re not unique at all, but are wholly common to probably nearly every human. I can see that what when I experience it may seem like a supernatural occurrence is actually nothing of the sort when I look at how brains work in general, and how a Muslim has the same faith in Allah that I had in the Mormon version of God, that my experiences weren’t at all different from those of any other religious person’s and that the fact that all types of non-physical reality based belief are exactly the same means that my feeling that God was telling me the BoM was “of God” can’t possibly have been correct, but rather what I felt was my own desire to have what I was told to believe be true. Logically, that is the only explanation that makes any sense at all, for all the explanations given by any one or all religions are all mutually contradictory and/or exclusive, and cannot be true, right, or in any way a useful or correct indicator of what is real in any meaningful sense of the word “real”.

    That is the basis for why faith isn’t useful (and actually very often quite dangerous and harmful).

    While we are very subjective beings by our nature, that doesn’t mean that we can’t step outside that limitation at times and use rationality and logic to get at the reality of our existence. The reality is that the chance of any gods existing at all is very slim, the chance of gods even remotely similar to how any single person (let alone group of people) conceives of them infinitesimally smaller (smaller in fact than the chance of life evolving in the first place in a totally natural way (untampered-with by gods or whatnot)) Is it possible? Yes, it is, but so incredibly improbable (and unprovable) that is useless to seriously entertain the possibility. The obsession humanity has with religion and faith is only detrimental. We as a species need to get outside our own heads and see that faith and prayer and religion and magical thinking and prophets and baseless speculation about the “supernatural” don’t solve a damn thing, but rather make everything worse.

    Faith is a negative because it teaches that belief in ideas for which there is no evidence is a virtue, when it is actually humanity’s greatest vice.

  26. We are remarkable only in as much as we are alive at all. We’re no more special or at the centre of any grand cosmic scheme than some bacterium is. We’re here by chance coupled with an evolutionary history that bred us and all life over billions of years to be the best suited organisms for our environment. That’s it. No gods, no reason for faith, no basis for religion.

    Even if there is some grand cause of everything, it’s not like anything we’ve yet conceived of, and we can’t see it or measure it’s effects in any way, so it might as well not exist. And we’ve got better and more pressing things to take care of than to worry about whether made-up entities like Jesus or Jehovah or Allah or Shiva or Frigga or Zeus or Ra are the right imaginary deity to worship, or which of the untestable claims of Hinduism or Buddhism or Mormonism or Catholicism or Shintoism or Daoism is the best representation of an imagined supernatural world which exists outside/inside/over/under our own.

    Personally I’m far more concerned about poverty and hunger and disease prevention, and whether I’m going to have health-care next year (let alone a job), or how to get it through the thick skulls of the crazies that all humans deserve the same treatment, and that comprehensive sex education is an amazingly good thing, and that socialism isn’t going to eat your children in the middle of the night. Or how to stop our atmosphere from boiling off.

    As a race, we’ve got no time to indulge in useless fantasies and faith, because we’re not going to need a supernatural Armageddon, we’re doing a dandy fine job of that all on our own, the natural way.


  27. Craig,
    “Faith is a negative because it teaches that belief in ideas for which there is no evidence is a virtue, when it is actually humanitys greatest vice.”
    This is a great overstatement, as I suspect you know. Plenty of blood has been shed in the name of rational ideas and for notions that appeared to come from evidence at the time. Humans simply aren’t sufficiently rational for you to argue that rationality has been our savior or that it provides some golden path to freedom in the future. There’s no evidence that reason (by which we seem to be implying an empirical, naturalist worldview) offers anything any better than religious approaches and as humans are the only known vehicles of reason available (until the vulcans show up) I don’t imagine a change in that, unless there is a coincident change in what we are.

    Your problem isn’t with faith, but with dogma (and particular dogmas at that). Certainly, there are plenty of faiths that don’t argue against scientific investigation of faith claims and so forth. But you are right that there is no way for evidence to overthrow faith per se. That’s what I meant regarding it’s inability to ask the right questions. Your rant strikes me as agreement with what I said earlier regarding the appeal of reason.

    You’ve set up a false dichotomy between the faithful and people who care about the world around them. I appreciate that this might be helpful rhetoric or helpful self-justification but an honest assessment finds many among the religious engaged with the world around them, even engaged in causes and movements that you probably don’t find objectionable. You don’t have to be an atheist to be an environmentalist, as an example and I’m a little surprised that someone as reasonable as yourself is relying on such easily falsifiable evidence (also, I do realize that you were ranting and, in a rant, evidence and reason are entirely beside the point (so apologies for pointing out the holes you weren’t really trying to fill)).

    In any case, my point is that faith and empirical naturalism are two approaches to the world and that neither is inherently good or bad (as, almost always, it is what you do with it that matters). I certainly prefer faith and I think it better explains the whys and wherefores of life, but if I’m wrong, I certainly won’t be around to complain about it. In any case, I agree with you that we ought to focus on the issues of today, rather than speculating regarding our place in our notion of an afterlife. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof and all that.

  28. Also, my rant…
    While I appreciate that I am wholly unique and the only possible religious dude who doesn’t hate all atheists because their existence is a threat to mine, I prefer that folks arguing with me to address what I’ve actually said and implied, as opposed to addressing some construct fashioned out of years of arguments with other, prejudiced, and insufficiently thought-out (possibly) stupid reasons for faith. I get that some of ya’ll have anger issues with the church and (as a TBM) I’m an outlet for that, but I (hope that I) am fairly thoughtful and open to other ideas. I’m gonna be stubborn about faith I suppose, but I don’t have any sort of need to condemn you all to hell, so please don’t assume that about me. It’s not offensive so much as it is tiresome.

    Okay, my rant is actually only aimed at Craig. Sorry, Craig.

  29. John C.:

    I hate to be a jackass, but you are the one that told us DAMU folks to “Die a horrible lonely death.” and to leave your board alone. So, if we have anger issues, you will have to understand why.

    To the debate at hand, you say that reason cannot answer the “terrible questions”. Why is it important to do so? Why do these questions require an answer, and why is reason inadequate and faith adequate to answer such questions? It seems to me that setting up faith as the only possible way to answer such questions, is entirely self-serving for religion, which peddles faith. I guess I do not understand why reason cannot answer said questions, and why you are so certain it cannot.

  30. re Craig:

    We as a species need to get outside our own heads and see that faith and prayer and religion and magical thinking and prophets and baseless speculation about the supernatural dont solve a damn thing, but rather make everything worse.

    Faith is a negative because it teaches that belief in ideas for which there is no evidence is a virtue, when it is actually humanitys greatest vice.

    I have to respectfully disagree. Faith and prayer and religion and magical thinking and prophets and “baseless speculation about the supernatural” solve a subjective need required by very, very many people for meaning, transcendence, and “why” questions.

    You counter this in your second comment with a different answer to “why” questions — namingly, scathing and cold nihilism (probably tempered with existentialism, but still). If you want to do that, then fine, but then can you even WONDER why people are going to reject that for something that is more meaningful to them?

    Really, the problem with faith isn’t that it doesn’t “solve a damn thing,” but that it doesn’t solve a damn thing for you or for me. It isn’t that it makes everything worse for everyone, but that we see the margins of the people who it does make it worse for and then somehow forget the vast numbers of people who are improved and find improvement from it.

    I understand that the margins — where we see abuses and so on — are important enough to make us take heed. But we really do a disservice when we paint it all in one broad brush stroke.

  31. brailsmt,
    Fair enough. Please note that there is a time and a place and ya’ll went over there understanding that that was not the place. If you don’t want me speculating as to your ultimate aim in a conversation, don’t make your conversations public. I don’t hate ya’ll and I am not afraid of you, but that isn’t the forum for you all to get the angry out.

    As to the terrible questions, I think we should look for answers because I think they are important (if you don’t think they are important, then you may not be so motivated). I also tend to think that folks who say that they don’t think they are important are fooling themselves (but I’m often wrong). If they aren’t fooling themselves, they are certainly going to a lot of trouble to demonstrate how unimportant they find all these things to be.

    And empirical naturalism does say that it offers an answer. It says, “We can’t know, so it doesn’t exist.” I think it’s fairly clear why anyone might find that unsatisfactory (especially in the spirit of scientific inquiry).

  32. John C.,

    I understand that some people think the “terrible questions” require an answer. What I’m asking is why. Why do they require an answer? I also understand that these questions are fairly universal across diverse cultural groups. It makes sense to me how a species such as our own would introspect and wonder what the meaning of it all is. What I don’t understand is why religion and faith are granted special purview over the questions. It is self-serving for religion to exploit these very natural questions and claim them as the sole territory of faith. Over hundreds or thousands of years of such claims, it becomes so ingrained in culture that is taken as axiomatic that only faith can answer these questions. I’m questioning that base assumption, namely 1) these questions have answers, and 2) only faith can provide those answers.

  33. Hi John,

    Good to see you. My apologies for taking so long. I pasted and copied your conversations. It was a whopping ten pages and I am not done reading all of it.

    I agree with you that faith is important. No one can bring about change without faith. It’s important to transcend reality because it is a precondition of pursuing progress.

    I also like your heterodox emphasis on faith rather than knowledge with respect to religion. Mormonism would be a better and safer place if people would stop to refer to feelings as knowledge. Faith is perfectly fine.

    I am not sure, however, if, lets say, a believer like C.S. Lewis was more courageous than an atheist like Sigmund Freud.

    Denial can look like courage and persistence but it is not a healthy attitude.

  34. brailsmt,
    “What I dont understand is why religion and faith are granted special purview over the questions.”
    I’m not entirely certain what you mean by this. Could you clarify? As I noted, some people try to use empirical naturalism to answer these questions, so I don’t know why we should argue faith has a special purview. I don’t think empirical naturalism is particularly good at handling these questions, because these things are too subjective for standard objective testing. But being untestable objectively is hardly a reason to do away with some phenomenon entirely.

    My position is that I think these questions potentially have answers and that I think that empirical naturalism isn’t capable of measuring supernatural phenomena. At best, it can say that it can’t test them; at worst, it dismisses them because it can’t test them. The reason I tie these two together is because I think the supernatural offers good information regarding these questions that are of interest to me. So, for me, rational answers to the terrible questions are largely irrelevant.

    I don’t tend to see faith as denial (with plenty of exceptions, of course), so I don’t think I’d suggest that C.S. Lewis is someone in denial (at least as regards faith). I do have a bias toward seeing faith as heroic (with the appropriate caveats) and I’m unlikely to find something wrong with that. However, I am also likely to see someone acting with conviction as somewhat heroic no matter what they are convicted of (within reason, once again. I don’t think much of the Lafferty’s, for example).

    Regarding Freud, not having deeply studied his work, I tend to find it reductionist, which is a constant danger in the atheistic worldview (at least as much as in the religious worldview). We’re all tempted by easy explanations; that Freud chose particularly lurid easy explanations doesn’t make them inherently more insightful.

  35. “What I dont understand is why religion and faith are granted special purview over the questions.
    Im not entirely certain what you mean by this. Could you clarify?”

    Well, first let me say that I may not be as schooled as some, but I am quite capable of being logical and rational. With that in mind, forgive any naivete on my part.

    You stated “But you are right that there is no way for evidence to overthrow faith per se. Thats what I meant regarding its inability to ask the right questions.” Given this, I came to the following conclusions:
    1) You do not believe that faith can be overthrown by evidence.
    2) You are not alone in this belief, in fact, it is the prevalent thinking in our culture, and has been for thousands of years.
    3) Given #1 it follows that you believe that faith alone can ask the right questions and provide the right answers.
    4) Given #1, #2, #3, faith is granted a special status when it comes to the questions of the meaning/purpose of our existence.

    I can think of numerous examples where faith has indeed been overthrown by evidence. Examples that have caused faith to change. These examples come from both general history (flat earth, geo-centricity, etc…), and from mormonism (Book of Abraham, Kinderhook, Salamander Letters, etc…). Despite this, the faithful continue to claim that evidence* cannot ask, or answer, the right questions. Why? Why is reason/evidence/science incapable of answering these questions? Are there counter examples where faith has overthrown reason/logic?

    Secondly, you state “My position is that I think these questions potentially have answers and that I think that empirical naturalism isnt capable of measuring supernatural phenomena.” This raises several questions. Why do you believe these questions have answers? Secondly, if we grant the assumption that these questions are answerable, why is empiricism incapable of answering said questions? Thirdly, what do you mean by “supernatural”? If you mean those things which cannot be observed/explained naturally, then by definition, you have excluded the possiblity that these things will, at some future point, be understood, you have boxed yourself into the corner of our current understanding. That which was supernatural 100 years ago, is commonplace today (computers, flight, space flight, etc…). It is reasonable to expect that in 100 years, a portion of those things which we deem supernatural will be commonplace and well understood, through the methodical application of reason, not faith.

    I reject the notion that there are questions which science/reason is incapable of answering. I grant, that there are things which, with our current understanding, we cannot explain, but we have the means by which we can methodically determine said answers. Faith provides no such promise, and has a dismal track record for revealing new truths which improve our lives.

    * – I’m using “evidence” as a loose corollary to reason and the methodical methods of science. (lol)

  36. Okay, now we are getting somewhere. This is a discussion about argumentation. So you have to make some decisions regarding what sort of data are relevant to your discussion, which means that you need to make decisions regarding what sort of questions you are asking (your question always determines the kind of answer you will get).

    “1) You do not believe that faith can be overthrown by evidence.”
    It depends on the evidence. Faith is established, primarily, by some sort of supernatural experience. Therefore, for the faithful, physical evidence and inference therefrom is less important than other considerations. Generally speaking, faithful people, when presented with new evidence (even if it appears contradictory to basic faith claims) will try to find a way to accommodate it within their faithful worldview. Some people have an easier time accomplishing this than others. I have no opinion as to why that might be; I don’t get it as there are believers and non-believers who know the same stuff and who equally appear to me to be people of integrity, intelligence, and sincerity. Ultimately, I put it down to comfort: knowing what they know, some people are comfortable remaining in religion and other people are not. Beyond that, I don’t get it and don’t expect to any time soon. In any case, I don’t think that any particular empirical theory is a God-killer or a faith-killer. I can appreciate that it might be useful for someone’s personal narrative to argue that something is, but I’m skeptical regarding its existence. Perhaps I’m the naive one here. That said, there are supernatural things that would cause me to question my faith. If I felt a strong prompting to kill someone or to lie or something similar, I would question the accuracy of my understanding. But that sort of questioning is already circular, because I don’t believe that God is going to ask me to kill someone. In any case, the faith-killers for me would tend to involve the supernatural more than empirical, naturalist things.

    “2) You are not alone in this belief, in fact, it is the prevalent thinking in our culture, and has been for thousands of years.”
    Woo-hoo! The popularity I’ve always craved.

    “3) Given #1 it follows that you believe that faith alone can ask the right questions and provide the right answers.”
    This doesn’t follow from #1 at all. I don’t follow the jump you are making. For clarity’s sake, I don’t think empirical naturalism can ask the right questions because empirical naturalism can’t answer questions of motive in people. Why would I expect it to be able to do it in the divine? There are limits on our observational power and our logical guesswork. That’s the point I’m making. In this, I’m not insisting that subjective, supernatural experience isn’t likewise limited. I am saying that I prefer some subjective answers because of subject experiences I have had. You don’t because you aren’t me and you haven’t had my experience, which is fine. One of me in the world is probably sufficient.

    My message bos is too small. More in the next comment.

  37. “4) Given #1, #2, #3, faith is granted a special status when it comes to the questions of the meaning/purpose of our existence.”
    Only #3 leads to this and I hope I’ve explained why. That said, I believe that we can certainly guess regarding likely motives, with decent accuracy. So, if a husband kills his wife and I find out he has a mistress, I might guess that the existence of the mistress is related to motive. In this, I may be right or wrong, tho. 100% accuracy simply isn’t possible. Even our best guesses are based on models predicated on prior experience. Reason simply isn’t built to deal with data that is completely new or subjective. Regularity and repetition is what gives reason insight.

    “I can think of numerous examples where faith has indeed been overthrown by evidence. Examples that have caused faith to change.”
    Maybe this is our problem. I don’t equate overthrow to change.

    “Despite this, the faithful continue to claim that evidence* cannot ask, or answer, the right questions. Why? Why is reason/evidence/science incapable of answering these questions?”
    Once again, you have to be careful about the question you are asking. So, for instance, regarding the Kinderhook plates, one could ask: “Do the Kinderhook plates mean that Joseph Smith is a fraud?” Well, what would it take to prove Joseph Smith was a fraud? You would have to show willful intent to defraud, I suppose. So we have Joseph saying he thinks they are legit (I may be getting the history wrong, feel free to correct me) and then we don’t have him ever producing a translation. So, the evidence is ambiguous. Maybe he hadn’t studied them enough to know that they were fake yet when he first started, but then he realized they were fake and dropped it like a hot potato. Maybe he bought it hook, line, and sinker and there is a translation out there ready to be found (maybe it has been found, again, I don’t know the history sufficiently). Maybe, maybe, maybe… Everyone is going to pick the narrative that best fits their view of how frauds, prophets, and Joseph Smith ought to behave. Now you then have to ask if, once you conclude Joseph Smith was a fraud, whether that affects the things he wrote that you didn’t use to think were fraudulent. People will come to different conclusions. There are all sorts of Mormon churches that draw a line in time and argue that what Joseph did prior to it was legit and what he did after was bunk. Or, if you prefer, you can scrap the lot of it. There are more reactions and ways of assimilating it than just fraud or prophet. We will end to pick the one that makes the most sense to us.

    But, of course, that is irrelevant to your question, I just realized. Think of it this way: suppose that we figured out that any human could walk on water if the right set of genes is switched on (and my ignorance of genetics shows up). Would that necessarily indicate that Christ’s purported ability to walk on water wasn’t a miracle? Of course not. Explanations don’t invalidate purported purposes; they can only comment on ways it may or may not have been done. Reason is great at providing explanations (and thank goodness). But reason can’t account for every facet of motive (and often does a poor job of accounting for any facet of motive). If you care to believe that there is a motive force behind the universe (to whatever degree) at best reason (by which I mean empirical naturalism) might help you figure out God’s toolkit and schematics; it can’t give you insight into His soul.

    “Are there counter examples where faith has overthrown reason/logic?”

    I don’t have a clue how often it happens in real life, but whenever a detective goes with their gut and gets the guy, that would be an example. Admittedly, that’s more a literary trope than a real-life event, but you get the idea.

    More in the final comment for tonight

  38. “If you mean those things which cannot be observed/explained naturally, then by definition, you have excluded the possiblity that these things will, at some future point, be understood, you have boxed yourself into the corner of our current understanding.”
    Again, observation does not equate to explanation. Just because we see it, we can’t claim to understand why. Also, I don’t really think your examples of ancient magical thinking are apropos (but you may be more knowledgeable than I on the matter). I would have gone with reviving people from the dead (via those shocky things) and demonic possession (which is now some mental disorder). I figure that people used to imagine gods flying, but I’m unaware of prohibitions on it or negative connotations.

    “It is reasonable to expect that in 100 years, a portion of those things which we deem supernatural will be commonplace and well understood, through the methodical application of reason, not faith.”
    Excellent. An expression of faith in reason. It is fairly incapable of convincing people of moral certitude or divine presence today, but I’m sure that at some future point it will be. I’ll concede the argument to you if you’ll agree that this will take place after the Millennium.

    “Faith provides no such promise, and has a dismal track record for revealing new truths which improve our lives.”
    Dude, don’t confuse yourself with everybody. Plenty of people find what they consider to be new truths in religion and plenty of people have what they consider to be revelatory experiences. You may prefer to think of it as misfiring synapses, but that is still their description of their own experience (which you appear to be discounting as irrelevant). Just because you don’t feel religion was a force for good in your life (or, at least, any particular good) insisting that this isn’t the case is anyone’s (or even most religious people’s) life is laughably easy to disprove. See, for instance, Andrew’s comment above.

  39. Oops, one last thing, by supernatural I mean something that doesn’t currently have a natural explanation. Usually supernatural events are not conventionally (empirically) testable and are not laboratory repeatable. In my experience, they involve contact with forces that seem to have their own motive force which appears to me to be different from my own. FWIW

  40. Craig hit on some of my concerns with the term “supernatural”. If we relegate all unexplained things to the supernatural, this represents a incuriosity that puts us in danger of not seeking an explanation. It’s better to assume that something has a natural explanation and seek it empirically. This strategy has gotten us pretty far to date.

    Also, anything that has an effect on the natural world (i.e. the world governed by physical laws) is by definition measurable. If the supernatural is immeasurable, then it is also irrelevant to the natural world that we live in.

    In fact, anything that has an effect on the natural world is part of the natural world. This is why I can’t come up with a good definition of supernatural; there is no clear dividing line between the natural and the supernatural. It ends up being something like the definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

    Even if we stick to the definition that the supernatural is anything that is currently unexplained, this includes many things that will probably be explained by a better understanding of natural law at a future date.

  41. Re 90:

    John wrote:

    Oops, one last thing, by supernatural I mean something that doesnt currently have a natural explanation. Usually supernatural events are not conventionally (empirically) testable and are not laboratory repeatable.

    Is this saying that it’s possible for the supernatural to “become” natural, if we develop better ‘conventional’ or ’empirical’ tools to test these things? Not to say that this is likely, but that it’s possible?

    If it is *possible*, then why call these things supernatural simply because we do not have a natural explanation for them currently? For example, let’s say something like priesthood power represents something that is actually natural (e.g., midichlorians)…in this case, the supernatural would not be supernatural, but would it really matter (empirically discovering the priesthood for sure would be pretty awesome, IMO). It seems to me that trying to seek out such empirical confirmation would be more meaningful than throwing up our hands and saying, “Supernatural!” but then again, that’s my bias, perhaps.

    And I recognize to that this search for empirical confirmation may not be so reductionist. For example, the tool we may need for laboratory testability (but which we currently don’t have, so we don’t see) may be something that is traditionally not employed in the lab (e.g., faith or something like that). But STILL, we should expect that if all the necessary ingredients are there (faith, etc., etc.,) that the said event should be (eventually) repeatable.

  42. Andrew,
    If the means of communication turn out to be natural, I’d still likely posit a supernatural motive force. And there is too much chaos in the system for faith experiments to be repeatable in any empirical or scientific sense. Spiritually, I think that we’ve got too many butterflies in Brazil. But I may be wrong and I can live with that.

  43. re 93:

    it has always been my understanding that “chaos” doesn’t represent randomness at all, but merely hyperorganization that we simply do not yet understand the pattern (which is fixed by initial conditions and VERY deterministic) to.

    So, in other words, the supernatural motive force, at best (which it still doesn’t even make sense to me to say it’s supernatural) represents an initial condition or pattern that should — at least theoretically — be discoverable.

  44. Andrew,
    You may be right. I tend to think of chaos as having too many starting variables for us to adequately make predictions. But with computer processing power growing maybe we’ll one day be able to predict spiritual feeling along with the weather. Then again, maybe not.

    Perhaps I am being obtuse. By supernatural motive force, I mean God. We may catch him stirring the air molecules over Bolivia someday, I suppose, but skeptical I remain. Are you trying to say that God isn’t supernatural or that we don’t need a God to explain it? I disagree with the first and agree with the second (faith is, to a large degree, a matter of preference). I prefer a world with God in it (and I think I am right to do so).

  45. re 95

    again, I feel what you say only pushes back the time of understandability, instead of creating a class of “supernaturality.” As you yourself say, it just needs more computer processing power or whatever.

    This is why I do not pay heed to the supernatural. I think there could be *tons* of natural stuff that we don’t know enough about yet, but this doesn’t mean we should just slap the label supernatural on it. If something is worth paying attention to, it’s worth trying to figure out…even if it takes us trillions more teraHz processing power or whatever “instrument” is needed. I think we do a great disservice when we worship the unknown and resign ourselves to that unknown aspect.

    So if God is worth trying to figure out (which, I’m supposing he is), then it’s worth figuring out in a naturalistic way. And I think that yes, this should reveal (if there is a God) that he works through naturalistic ways. I think Mormonism in PARTICULAR is more friendly to this idea (God doesn’t create ex nihilo…he organizes.) But if God cannot be figured out in a naturalistic way, then I feel like there’s no benefit from racking my brain over him because he doesn’t do anything to or for me, a being of the naturalist universe. Perhaps in such a case, we can come back to this question in a million years and maybe it’ll be closer then. (I see why you’d disagree…because I too would say that if God were merely hyperadvanced, but natural…why call him God?)

    I guess if I had to talk about “preferences,” then I’d prefer a world that has the scintillating hint of understandability. I think naturalism gives us a road to understandability (doesn’t mean we’ll ever get to the end of that road…but still) and invocation of the supernaturalism essentially posits a house, a destination, that cannot be reached via the road. That isn’t satisfying in the least to me. And so many things about theism and religions seem to be about setting a destination that cannot be reached by road…so it’s not appealing.

  46. Andrew,
    You are assuming that my labeling it supernatural indicates that I don’t think it appropriate to investigate it via science or something. That isn’t what I have said. What I have said is that science can’t currently handle it and that I think other means do. But I’m certainly not prohibiting other approaches.

    As an example, Jeremy Bentham, at the beginning of the Enlightenment, believed that we would be able to quantitatively measure pleasure or happiness and use that data to make decisions regarding behavior. Obviously, he was overly optimistic regarding the possibilities of reason. At least to this point. There are some things that science, as presently constituted, isn’t equipped to handle. And if we are going to invoke science fiction to insist that science is ultimately capable of dealing with such things, then I don’t understand how it is superior to supernaturalist explanations for that. This isn’t to say that people shouldn’t pursue it, but I’m not particularly interested. I’m happy with the answers I’m getting now.

    A difference between us is that I don’t see the natural and the supernatural as entirely discrete. In this I mean that I feel like the supernatural is capable of consciousness and motive force in a way that I don’t imagine the natural to be. This has to do with souls and such, the great soul/body divide or some such. But the soul isn’t 27 grams, it doesn’t appear to be something measurable at present. But that isn’t going to prevent me from believing in it.

    Shoot. I don’t think that I am really addressing your points, but I am tired. Maybe I’ll be smarter tomorrow.

  47. re 99: John,

    oh? So do you think that science can *theoretically* investigate the supernatural? I was under the assumption that science is methodologically naturalist…

    I agree with you when you say science currently is unequipped to handle certain things — that is what I was trying to say — but the buck stops at the border between natural and supernatural (wherever that is). Bentham hoped that pleasure was measurable under the idea that it was natural. He just didn’t have the tools to approach it quantitatively.

    I think the supernatural and natural must be discrete, even as you use them, but not in the way you think. They are discrete because of how we *approach* them. The labeling of things as “supernatural” appears to “set apart” things so that no matter what, you’re going to hold certain concepts as worthy of reverence despite difficulties in investigating it naturally. If the soul were natural, then you might have to be wary of the reality that we don’t have a lot of hardcore evidence for it (this isn’t to say you would have to abandon belief in it — because obviously there are plenty of other persuasive arguments to convince you to believe). But if it’s supernatural, then it seems like the soul can just be revered no matter what. Perhaps investigation would be nice, but it isn’t necessary.

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