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Proof of God?
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 03, 2009 12:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bezman wrote:
I could of course argue about that since seeing the rather well-known video tape capturing the strike of the 1996 asian tsunami on a holiday beach in Thailand, there were plenty of facts that could be used to the sceptic's advantage...

You're still missing the point a bit. Your pleas involve ways in which the sceptic could have justifiably held a belief that there was no tsunami, or that the tsunami posed no danger. In my story he claimed to have insufficient information to form a belief one way or the other, and considered that justification to take no action. This was to illustrate the error in lacavin's statement, "the rational position in absence of evidence will be not to act in a way that require belief in A, nor to act in a way that require belief in not-A." So please take it as given that the sceptic didn't have enough information: his scepticism was entirely justified, otherwise he wouldn't be a suitable example here. Also, he could easily have come up with a better justification for his inaction: the point was to show that lacavin's justification alone was inadequate.

I'm not arguing against scepticism or agnosticism in general here: I'm picking holes in lacavin's defence of it.

Bezman wrote:
I would though like to give lacavin some credit to his point. There must be a limit to when you stop going for a goal, if all your results point to that you are wasting your time. (I base this in part on my own experiences.)

I don't know. Giving up on something is a very subjective judgement call, unless you can prove that your aim was impossible in the first place. That's what the mathematician Gödel did for Hilbert's programme to formalise all mathematics: he proved that the goal was unattainable. Even that didn't signify the end of Hilbert's programme, though: it just meant they had to give the programme slightly more modest goals.

Giving up on something is a judgement about how you can most productively spend your time, but in the absence of proof that the task can not succeed, I don't know that it ever becomes a matter of rationality to either continue or stop. On the contrary, it seems that the driving force is primarily emotional, as in, "I feel like I'm wasting my time."
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Bezman
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 06, 2009 10:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW wrote:
Bezman wrote:
I could of course argue about that since seeing the rather well-known video tape capturing the strike of the 1996 asian tsunami on a holiday beach in Thailand, there were plenty of facts that could be used to the sceptic's advantage...

You're still missing the point a bit. Your pleas involve ways in which the sceptic could have justifiably held a belief that there was no tsunami, or that the tsunami posed no danger. In my story he claimed to have insufficient information to form a belief one way or the other, and considered that justification to take no action. This was to illustrate the error in lacavin's statement, "the rational position in absence of evidence will be not to act in a way that require belief in A, nor to act in a way that require belief in not-A." So please take it as given that the sceptic didn't have enough information: his scepticism was entirely justified, otherwise he wouldn't be a suitable example here...

Uh-oh, I have been unclear again. Or rushed to solutions, as usual, being very solution oriented. What you state was definitely not the point of what I wrote, but I understand now that it could be interpreted as such.

Yes, in your example the sceptic used solely the lack of sufficient evidence as enough cause to not make a decision - understood perfectly well. I was trying to say that even if he did weigh in the consequence of his (lack of) action, that decision (to stay undecided) could be justifiable. I meant that your example that he decided to not do anything did not need to be terminal (dual meaning intended) - he leaves an opening to change his mind later, if new evidence (as the ones I listed) becomes available. Something the other two appear to not do, if they also stick to their roles. That would make the sceptic a pragmatic, if I'm not mistaking (again Smile ).
I am also pretty sure that that was what lacavin's point of a sceptic is.

I was also trying to state that I understood your point of view: if you exchange the tsunami for a stray nuclear torpedo or ditto tactical missile or <insert any lethal undetectable token of annihilation of choice here>, your statement makes perfect sense, and not taking action about something that concerns your life is a no-brainer. And someone could still probably come with objections to whatever token is chosen.
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Leorobin
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 08, 2009 4:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with you lacavin about what you said about my post, I stand corrected, this has been a truly informative thread.

It's true that being radical is unwise, there should always be space to consider some rational doubt.

About the amount and quality of evidence to be able to belief, it varies accordingly to the observer's view, to convince the sceptic you will need a lot more evidence than to convience the trusting person.
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 08, 2009 6:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bezman wrote:
Yes, in your example the sceptic used solely the lack of sufficient evidence as enough cause to not make a decision - understood perfectly well. I was trying to say that even if he did weigh in the consequence of his (lack of) action, that decision (to stay undecided) could be justifiable. I meant that your example that he decided to not do anything did not need to be terminal (dual meaning intended) - he leaves an opening to change his mind later, if new evidence (as the ones I listed) becomes available. Something the other two appear to not do, if they also stick to their roles. That would make the sceptic a pragmatic, if I'm not mistaking (again Smile ).
I am also pretty sure that that was what lacavin's point of a sceptic is.

Looking for wriggle-room in the unspecified parts of an example kind of defeats the purpose of using examples in the first place. So much of this example relies on what the participants don't know, you see. They don't know whether there is a tsunami, or whether it's a hoax. They don't know how soon the tsunami will hit if it exists. They don't know how much advance warning they will receive if they wait around for direct evidence of the tsunami, and as a consequence, they don't know whether they can actually reach safety if they fail to act in advance of that evidence. (They can't even be sure that they will reach safety if they act immediately. I could add a pessimistic man who reasons, "we probably won't make it to safety, so why bother?") Your suggestion that the sceptical man's inaction is potentially justifiable assumes that he has additional knowledge about the situation which he does not.

However, if you want to adopt a new position and say that the sceptic is one who leaves room for belief-revision at a later point in time, I'm happy to argue the example on that basis. This could well be, as you suggest, the point lacavin wanted to make. I've often seen scientific rationalists praise their position for its (alleged) lack of dogmatism -- although I'm inclined to say that they are just as dogmatic as the most extreme religious zealot -- it's just that they are dogmatic about entirely different things.

As it happens, none of the participants is so mind-bogglingly stubborn as to disbelieve the existence of a tsunami once the immediate evidence becomes sufficiently obvious. There is absolutely no functional difference between the cynic and the sceptic in this regard, with the possible exception that the sceptic will be more active in his search for evidence. (I assume that the sceptic becomes more attentive in his search for evidence of a tsunami once warned about the possibility, but I'm not sure that this behaviour is actually justified. Being warned about the possibility of a tsunami doesn't increase the probability of there actually being one in any direct causal sense, and if he trusts the warning enough to look for evidence, then why not look for evidence from a safe position?) We can also assume that the trusting man won't remain on high ground indefinitely in the absence of a tsunami: he's trusting, but not stupid.

Consequently, the participants in this example are not distinguished by their willingness to revise their beliefs in light of new evidence: they are distinguished by their actions upon first contact with evidence. In particular, the sceptic is not special in terms of his willingness to revise his beliefs in light of new evidence.

Tying this back in with the question of "proof of God": it is usually conceded that death will either render the question of God's existence irrelevant (because when you're dead, you're dead), or answer it once and for all (because when you die you meet your maker). In the latter case, both atheists and agnostics will revise their beliefs in light of the new evidence. (In the former case, beliefs cease to exist, and the question of proof is irrelevant.) I assume that atheists and agnostics are not distinguished by their willingness to believe at this point: if an atheist could deny God's existence to his face, then an agnostic could doubt God's status as God in the same conditions.

There's no reason to think that one party or the other is more amenable to belief-revision, or any less dogmatic about his position. Even an agnostic can be dogmatically sceptical -- able to doubt all possible evidence. The distinction between atheist and agnostic (or cynic and sceptic in my example) is purely what the parties claim to know. The atheist and cynic claim to have knowledge; the agnostic and sceptic claim not to.

The question is whether this difference in knowledge status results in any difference in terms of actions. It seems reasonable to me that the sceptic should act on the assumption that there is a tsunami, and the agnostic should act on the assumption that there is a God, purely on the basis of expected outcome. This ability to act on unproven assumptions with favourable outcomes would set them apart from the cynic and atheist, respectively.

This idea meets with great resistance. It seems that the average agnostic wants his lack of knowledge to justify atheistic behaviour. I've yet to see a good rational defence of this.
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lacavin
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 10, 2009 12:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

First my comments on the Tsunami Story:

The nice Tsunami story of TFBW is of course very simplified - to the point of not being realistic - as Bez mentioned. Because it supposes no other possible (quick) observations like the behavior of other peoples on the beach, goegraphical location, warning signs and so on.

It is still a good story to highlight what has been already said in the voluntary belief thread: being paralyzed by doubt is wrong.
No surprise there. The point is: because choosing not to act is also a choice, when you really have to do something now you will have to base yourself on a working hypothesis. In emergency and in absence of evidence you take a "bet", you take a risk. As we have seen in the Pascal's wager thread, which "bet" is the best one is subject to opinion (subjective taste) only.
The sceptic in your story chose to go with the working hypothesis that he can wait, another sceptic would choose to go for the "safe side" - it depends on zillions of instantaneous observations and on your daily mood and on history. We cannot judge, not being in the situation, whether your skeptic's choice of "no-tsunami-in-the-coming-seconds-that-forces-me-to-flee-now-or-to-die" hypothesis that allows him to wait and see a bit longer is reasonable or not.

Indeed, the choosing a working hypothesis is like a bet where you cannot evaluate the expected value - based on intuition more then reason. In this case, you bet an increased risk on your life on one hand, against a certainty of disturbance and further risks (e.g. getting your umbrella stolen, breaking your leg when running on the uneven beach...) on the other hand. Which side is "mathematically dominating" would require probabilities and values. In absence of those numbers your judgement will decide and no decision is rational or irrational per se - at best we can judge that one of those may show poor judgement and bad evaluation of the risks.

The consequences do not make the "burden of proof" inappropriate, however. The burden of proof is still present to actually believe A or not-A. But the consequences will weight on which working hypothesis you choose to act upon.


The key point is that you have to remember that you acted (or did not act) only based on a hypothesis, and henceforth you need to search for evidence to confirm or infirm it. And while you must sometimes act - and hence follow one belief as an hypothesis, when there is no urgency (you don't expect to die in the next second, or more prosaically you still have time before having to commit and you will still be able to reach the deadline for your project) the rational behavior is to postpone the decision nd actively search for evidence.


Bez's remark on the continuation of your story (in short: nothing happens, and you see the same guy shouting his warning for the eighth time) is very interesting: The tsunami could come the eighth time - its absence the first seven times does not prove anything. Buth the absence of evidence in the first seven wrong alarms will make most people to use as working hypothesis that the guy is just making bad jokes - or is the leader of a band of thiefs waiting for people to run away to plunder their umbrellas. This means that reallisticaly you will not - on long term - keep using the same hypothesis if you cannot get any evidence for it. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but absence of evidence while looking for it weakens the working hypothesis of presence.

As Bez mentioned, this is the case for religion. An agnostic may be willing to pray a couple of times to ask for evidence (and hence accept as a working theory the existence of a personal God). In absence of any evidence resulting from this behavior, however, I think it is rational to use the working hypothesis that (the personal) God does not exist as described in the scriptures, the more so because following the other hypothesis has a cost (bend by external rules, wake up early on sundays to visit church, ...).

TFBW wrote:
In my story [the skeptic] claimed to have insufficient information to form a belief one way or the other, and considered that justification to take no action. This was to illustrate the error in lacavin's statement, "the rational position in absence of evidence will be not to act in a way that require belief in A, nor to act in a way that require belief in not-A."

Therefore there was not mistake in my statement - doubt is indeed not justification to take no action. It is perhaps insufficient in the unrealistic case where only two exclusive actions are possible.
Only two exclusive actions is very seldom. This is for example not the case at a T-crossroad. You can go left, or you can go right, and you should do so if you believe that left (or right) is the correct route. If you don't? Well, you can stop and study the map, or go back from where you came to ask, or....

In your story, if you give no other option (e.g. look around to gain new evidence; switch on the radio to see if an alarm is broadcasted, ...) of course, you will hve to choose one action and act either like believing A or not-A. But only as long as no other solution is available and no new evidence is available.
Did you take the time to pack your things and take them with you? The Tsunami-believer will not (and increase the chances of getting plundered). The skeptic that bet on the safe side probably will...



And now on some specifics on the many posts since I was away:

TFBW wrote:
The kind of "burden of proof" you have presented here is "that which someone must provide to alter my convictions".

What I mean, very clearly, is that only a positive belief, a sentence such as: I do believe A or I do believe not-A must be proven. A sentence such as I don't believe A needs not be proven.
If you state that you believe in God, you must be able to explain why, or accept that this belief is not rationally founded.
If I state that I don't believe in God, it is enough to say I don't have sufficient evidence.
That's all what I mean...


TFBW wrote:
You may confront others with a "burden of proof", but the burden of consequences is unavoidably yours and yours alone.

I fully agree. We are responsible of our choices.
I accept the responsability of my decision. But I expect from a God of Justice - if He exists - to be proven wrong but not condemned, because I was not given the information to be right.

I will punish with a bad mark a student that answers wrongly to a question I taught in class (he had the means to be correct). I will not punish - only highlight and explain the mistake - a student that makes a mistake in a topic I did not teach in class. I had a physics exam in high school final (17 years old) where the teacher asked me, after I answered all questions based on the courses, whether the moon used to be nearer or further from the earth billions of year ago. I answered wrong and the teacher was happy because - even tough I came to the wrong conclusion - I did try to think within the facts and methods I had been taught. Would I get a bad mark because of that, I would be pissed off - it would be unfair.


TFBW wrote:
lacavin wrote:
In absence of evidence, if God is not required to explain the universe, than it is advised not to postulate it - otherwise why stopping at one single God?

You answered your own question by reference to Occam's razor: "because one God is enough". If we could show that God isn't necessary at all, then zero would be enough.

You make the same mistake as Occam: it must not be shown that God is not necessary. It must be shown that He is necessary.
Unless it is proven that one God is necessary, it is reasonable to postulate zero God.

In absence of a proof that one God is necessary, you can still believe in God - but then you decide that this principle of economy is not valid (you can - it is not a proven truth). At this point, without principle of economy, honestly, is one God that probable? Put a second God (e.g. Satan as a real God, not as a servant) and you solve for instance the Evil's problem and most contradictions in the Bible.


TFBW wrote:
In science -- well, my experience of research science so far is both limited in time and in scope (I'm a computer science PhD student with two published and several rejected papers, plus I've studied philosophy of science). I'm not entirely sure what burdens or "proofs" are supposed to exist in science generally, or even in my field particularly. Mostly one faces a burden of peer review, rather than a burden of proof, so it helps if you know what kinds of things please the reviewers.

I regretfully agree with you - scientists are humans and have the same weaknesses and writing what pleases the peers is the safest bet to get published.

Apart from that, there is a burden of proof. You make a hypothesis, and than you show how your tests did validate it. If you wrote some paper in computer sciences (not my pond, but I guess it is similar), you probably had an introduction showing the state of the art and finishing with a your new "piece", your new "brick" in human knowledge. That may be either a further development, or the negation of anterior developments.
Than, the meat of your paper was trials that show why your piece is correct - you are bringing evidence.
If your evidence is sufficient, then your conclusions (your new piece) will be accepted. If it is not sufficient, then your conclusions will not be accepted, nor denied. More research will be required.
How much is "sufficient"? Well, this depends on the subjective opinion of the reviewer...
TFBW wrote:
I assert that there is not and can not be a single, universal standard for sufficiency of evidence. This is one of the fundamental problems we face in asking whether there is a proof of God: there isn't a standard for proofs of that sort. Because of this, to say "the burden of proof lies with you", is to say nothing more than "I will not be convinced in this case unless provided with a certain quantity and quality of evidence". It is a claim that relates to the psychological makeup of the speaker, not a law of reason.

We have see that the burden of proof is a universal standard for the one that wants to rationally believe an assertion.

But how much evidence is sufficient evidence, I agree, is subjective. This makes it difficult indeed.

But what evidence has been given until now? Do you really think that the few evidence given in this thread is enough to convince an agnostic?
Looking back quickly in the thread, I see almost no evidence for a personal, christian-like, God. I see evidence for supra-natural power (first cause) that is required to explain universe's existence.
There was some "evidence" of interpretation a posteriori of an event that is statitically a coincidence as it was not under controlled conditions.
There is some circular coments of saying that because there is a Bible, then the subject of the Bible must exist (so does Superman).
Finaly the extensively discussed Pascal's wager which does however not target at giving evidence of God's existence.

For all pratical puposes even a tolerent reviewer would not find sufficient evidence in there...


Bezman wrote:
My point being that it seems to me that lacavin and TFBW are in effect* implying that the other party has an unreasonable level of proof requirement for the "big" question, high and low respectively.

I guess this is an excellent summary.
I may expect too much - but as discussed above, we have really few things. Perhaps some christian may want to make a statement of what evidence they have to really believe? It cannot be limited to the above.
Or is it? Could it be even less? I may be wrong, but my guess is that it boils down to a non-rational Faith (I did not say irrational! I am not attacking here, just trying to explain!). Believers just believe without really enough evidence, as they have got the "gift of faith" from God. And then, having faith, the sheer presence of this faith is rationally enough evidence.
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 10, 2009 4:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:
The nice Tsunami story of TFBW is of course very simplified - to the point of not being realistic - as Bez mentioned. Because it supposes no other possible (quick) observations like the behavior of other peoples on the beach, goegraphical location, warning signs and so on.

Well, actually I did try to specify some of those things. Sadly, all the tsunami story demonstrates is that I can't provide sufficiently convincing examples (and that my audience isn't willing to cut me any slack to compensate for it). I have no further comment on the tsunami story: I deem it to be a failed attempt at explanation on my part, beyond salvage. For that reason, I'm not going to respond to most of your comments on it, sorry. That would just prolong the agony at this point.

lacavin wrote:
As Bez mentioned, this is the case for religion. An agnostic may be willing to pray a couple of times to ask for evidence (and hence accept as a working theory the existence of a personal God). In absence of any evidence resulting from this behavior, however, I think it is rational to use the working hypothesis that (the personal) God does not exist as described in the scriptures, the more so because following the other hypothesis has a cost (bend by external rules, wake up early on sundays to visit church, ...).

It strikes me that you haven't thought through the implications of the hypothesis very well. If you were testing for an impersonal God, then experimental prodding and probing of the sort attributed to scientists would be just fine. This would be no different than testing for a force of nature, with the associated caveat that you need a model of what the force does and how it behaves before you can actually test it.

Testing for a personal God, on the other hand, isn't something you can do in the usual way. For one thing, it will never get clearance from the ethics committee. Wink Seriously, as a quick analogy, you may as well conduct scientific tests on someone to determine whether he or she likes you. If they know you're testing their disposition in this way, it's likely to alter their disposition in the process -- negatively. If you think quantum physics has some weird interactions with observers, that's nothing compared to people.

A personal God is probably the most extreme case of this problem that can exist. You can't hide the fact that you are performing such tests from God. You can't hide your overall attitude, either, and if it's something like, "I hope there isn't a God so that I don't have to go through all that religious drudgery", that attitude can potentially influence God's attitude to you. If God is a personal God, then the most important thing is our personal relationship with him. Personal relationships are extraordinarily complex, and analytic science has demonstrated no competence in studying them.

Frankly, if you are going to entertain the hypothesis of a personal God at all seriously, you can expect some personal embarrassment to follow simply because you can not approach the problem in a detached manner. You may as well try to ask "will you marry me?" in a detached manner, so as not to get emotionally invested in the outcome! Does anyone want to try to produce a litmus test for, "will you marry me?" I see a huge potential market for it.

lacavin wrote:
I accept the responsability of my decision. But I expect from a God of Justice - if He exists - to be proven wrong but not condemned, because I was not given the information to be right.

Your unwavering confidence in your own perfect objectivity is quite disconcerting. I don't trust my judgement to be free of influence from my desires, whether conscious or subconscious. But let us assume for the sake of argument that you are right: there really isn't enough evidence for you to justifiably believe in a personal God, and this is not merely the result of a desire on your part (for there to not be a God) which causes you to dismiss evidence you should accept. With that in mind, let us continue with your remarks.

lacavin wrote:
I will punish with a bad mark a student that answers wrongly to a question I taught in class (he had the means to be correct). I will not punish - only highlight and explain the mistake - a student that makes a mistake in a topic I did not teach in class.

By that standard, I think it's safe to say that none of us get full marks in life. The vast majority of us recognise some sort of "right and wrong" (you can't have "the problem of evil" without it), and nobody I have ever met is willing to claim that they have always done the right thing under all circumstances. By the same token, nobody that I have ever met describes himself as an evil person: on the contrary, everyone claims to be a "good" person, but never a "perfect" person. So we have all done wrong and deserve punishment to some degree or another. If heaven is a perfect place, then none of us qualify for entry: we would just mar the place with our imperfection.

Even if we assume that "belief in God" is not one of the test questions, so to speak, there is still plenty of other stuff for which we can be condemned (as you aptly put it). Or perhaps I am assuming too much? If God were to say, "I'm only going to judge you by your actions, not your beliefs," would you feel quite safe?

I wouldn't.

lacavin wrote:
You make the same mistake as Occam: it must not be shown that God is not necessary. It must be shown that He is necessary.
Unless it is proven that one God is necessary, it is reasonable to postulate zero God.

But we already agree that a God is necessary as a matter of first cause, don't we? We don't require more than one first cause, so one God is both sufficient and necessary. We just don't agree that God is necessarily personal. Now, even though we agree that God is necessary as a matter of first cause, not everyone grants this necessity. Have we or have we not met the requirement for demonstrating necessity? Suggested answer: those requirements are subjective, so the question can't be answered with an absolute "yes" or "no". Implication: Occam's razor has different results depending on the judgement of the wielder.

I take a utilitarian view of Occam's razor: I paraphrase it, "don't include more entities in your system than are necessary." Occam's razor is thus a maxim of model design, not a means for sorting truth from untruth. I suggest we leave it out of the discussion, since we're not trying to build a scientific model here. Occam's razor can not form part of a proof of God.

lacavin wrote:
Apart from that, there is a burden of proof. You make a hypothesis, and than you show how your tests did validate it. If you wrote some paper in computer sciences (not my pond, but I guess it is similar), you probably had an introduction showing the state of the art and finishing with a your new "piece", your new "brick" in human knowledge. That may be either a further development, or the negation of anterior developments.

Briefly, because this is off-topic: computing is a mixed discipline in which both evidence and analytic proof may be appropriate, depending on the circumstances. The effectiveness of a spam classification filter is rated against some known corpus, or in a test environment; a cryptographic system is generally proved correct using some accepted form of reasoning about security.

There's a third kind of issue that crops up in all branches of science: meta-scientific questions. When these are large, they can result in paradigm shifts; when they are small, they can result in changes to existing practices. Meta-scientific questions are questions about the scientific framework. A person might point out that the currently accepted formal models used for security proofs do not include a concept of denial-of-service attacks, and this means that all our lovely "proofs" of security overlook a large and frequently attacked vulnerability. The person may have suggestions as to how we might deal with this problem. Such a paper must rely on general persuasive skills, and "evidence" in a more anecdotal sense precisely because it asserts a deficiency in the accepted formal approaches.

The thing is, most people forget that all accepted methods in science have been established informally like this, as a matter of persuading people "we get good results if we use this model". Too often scientists of all persuasions treat their current school of thought as though it were written by the finger of God on tablets of stone.

lacavin wrote:
We have see that the burden of proof is a universal standard for the one that wants to rationally believe an assertion.

But how much evidence is sufficient evidence, I agree, is subjective. This makes it difficult indeed.

But what evidence has been given until now? Do you really think that the few evidence given in this thread is enough to convince an agnostic?

The burden of proof can't be both a universal standard and a subjective matter. Having it both ways like that simply translates as, "people believe something when they are personally convinced by the evidence." And to that, we all say, "well, duh!" Working on the basis that sufficiency of evidence is subjective, there's really no point me spraying off evidence at random when I don't know the requirements of the sceptics I'm trying to convince.

The lack of evidence presented by me in this topic reflects the lack of response I've had to the question, "what would you accept as proof of God?" Where people have answered it, it generally requires some highly specific miracle that renders all my "evidence" quite irrelevant anyhow.

I consider a certain body of evidence to be sufficient: I know that others consider the same body of evidence to be insufficient. The evidence is really a matter of public record: our disagreements are almost entirely over the sufficiency or significance of the evidence. This is not a small point -- it is almost the entire point. I look at life and see that it is obviously the product of a super-intelligent designer; most of our sceptics will dismiss this instantly as an unjustified conclusion. Our disagreements as to the significance of evidence are as large as the universe itself: either you recognise that "the heavens declare the glory of God", or you do not.

What possible evidence can anyone introduce? Answer if you can, because we can't even come close to a proof of God without answering this question.
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lacavin
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 10, 2009 7:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW wrote:
Sadly, all the tsunami story demonstrates is that I can't provide sufficiently convincing examples (and that my audience isn't willing to cut me any slack to compensate for it). I have no further comment on the tsunami story: I deem it to be a failed attempt at explanation on my part, beyond salvage. For that reason, I'm not going to respond to most of your comments on it, sorry. That would just prolong the agony at this point.

I regret it because I did cut you slack - my second sentence was that "It is still a good story to highlight what has been already said in the voluntary belief thread: being paralyzed by doubt is wrong."
Anyway....


Now I agree with you that what I am mostly discussing now is a personal God. For me - and there have been no contradictory opinions in this forum - the presence of something supernatural is sufficiently proven.

TFBW wrote:
Seriously, as a quick analogy, you may as well conduct scientific tests on someone to determine whether he or she likes you. If they know you're testing their disposition in this way, it's likely to alter their disposition in the process -- negatively.

We discussed this point already.
Assuming that God expects something from me (belief, followed by honor/love/submission), then He must accept that I study Him.

Let me give you an example: assume I want to become a manager in my company, and I apply for the Management Development Program. I must now accept that they run physchological, technical, whatever tests (linked with my job and future positions, nothing private) they require to profile me. I can refuse, of course, but then I will not integrate the MDP. Or if you apply for a sensitive position in the military, you must accept that they run a background check on you.

Similarly God may refuse to be investigated and to provide evidence, but then He must not expect that we believe in Him...

TFBW wrote:
Frankly, if you are going to entertain the hypothesis of a personal God at all seriously, you can expect some personal embarrassment to follow simply because you can not approach the problem in a detached manner. You may as well try to ask "will you marry me?" in a detached manner, so as not to get emotionally invested in the outcome!

That's different. Marrying has an emotional content. The sheer existence of God or not is a fact. If I believe that God exist, then I will need to decide if I want to love/honor/fear or ignore Him. That would be more emotional, but we are not there yet! (and I agree for the good market opportunity, btw Wink)


TFBW wrote:
Your unwavering confidence in your own perfect objectivity is quite disconcerting. I don't trust my judgement to be free of influence from my desires, whether conscious or subconscious.

Well, I don't have an unwavering confidence. But I don't have Faith either, so the only thing I have is cold reason and the objective (which I may not reach) to use it as well as possible. If I am influenced by subconscious desires, what can I do else then what I do now: discuss, always keep searching for new information?

Now I am however speaking of not being condemned by the absence of Belief and hence of love/honor/fear for God. I am not speaking of a judgement of my "goodness" in life - that's another story but believe me you can live like an atheist without being worse than your fellow christian citizens. By the way, our acts would be judged based on which rules? -- the moral thread did not come to final conclusions there Wink.


With regards to Occam - I fully agree with you, we agreed that some form of God is required, the question was whether personal or not. We can drop the topic which was used only to highlight that in absence of proof the default position is to consider the absence (or an impersonal God).

With regards to science - we agree therefore that the one who publish has a certain burden of proof (analytical, or by presenting evidence). Even in what you call "meta-science", you will have to bring an solid argumentation and it will contain evidence which may not be sufficient to prove something, but sufficient to increase doubt about an earlier belief and lauch more investigations.

We can therefore probably agree that the burden of proof is a standard of somebody that want to assert the truth of a proposition. If you want to tell to the world (or to yourself) that something is true, you need arguments.

But we probably agree also that how much proof/evidence is required is dependant from person to person. This explains why the "burden of proof" is at the same time a universal standard and a subjective matter.

The amount of sufficient evidence needed may be subjectively decided by the person (want to be convinced or not). Or - more inline with my belief that belief is not voluntary - it may just be, based on the earlier history and other beliefs of this person.


TFBW wrote:
The lack of evidence presented by me in this topic reflects the lack of response I've had to the question, "what would you accept as proof of God?" Where people have answered it, it generally requires some highly specific miracle that renders all my "evidence" quite irrelevant anyhow.

I agree that it is possible that the evidence you can provide will not convince us. But I would still be very interested.

Indeed when you ask "what evidence we would accept", we describe a full "proof" - i.e. specific miracles. But you or others may have evidence which is by itself not a proof, not sufficient, but that make one more step in the stairs.

Of course, what I am interested in is specifically why should this "supernatural thing" we agree on be a personal God? And more specifically which characteristics this personal God has?

What possible evidence can anyone introduce? I don't know. What evidence do you have that makes you believe in God and believe that you are rational about it? You seem a very well-thought person, so I guess you did ask yourself why you were believing and did find a satisfying answer...
Your evidence (reasons for believing) may be private, but if it is not, please share it with us. We will discuss it, certainly, but with repect as had been shown in the discussions until now.

I want to repeat - I am genuinely interested in your reasons, I am not at all targeting at putting you in a position to laugh at your beliefs; from the discussion, we will perhaps conclude that your evidence is not valid for me, at worse. But I am sure beforehand that it is valid for you. Remember, from my first post onwards I always left open the possibility that having Faith may itself be a sufficient evidence for faith... so even if I would consider your evidence void, that would still not mean I consider you and other believers irrational!
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 12, 2009 6:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:
I regret it because I did cut you slack - my second sentence was that "It is still a good story to highlight what has been already said in the voluntary belief thread: being paralyzed by doubt is wrong."

That's nice of you, but nobody in my example was paralysed by doubt. Seriously, dude, the example is an Epic Fail -- it hasn't come close to demonstrating its intended point in most important respects.

lacavin wrote:
Let me give you an example: assume I want to become a manager in my company, and I apply for the Management Development Program. I must now accept that they run physchological, technical, whatever tests (linked with my job and future positions, nothing private) they require to profile me. I can refuse, of course, but then I will not integrate the MDP. Or if you apply for a sensitive position in the military, you must accept that they run a background check on you.

Similarly God may refuse to be investigated and to provide evidence, but then He must not expect that we believe in Him...

It seems to me like you've turned the example on its head to illustrate your point. If you were God's superior, or God's employer, or some other arrangement like that, then your example would hold. As it stands, I think the example demonstrates the exact opposite of what you say. God is running tests on us, effectively. He's looking for people to hold positions of responsibility in his future eternal kingdom, and our actions now form the grounds of his judgement in that regard. You can refuse to participate on those terms, if you like, but you will have no place in God's kingdom.

So your problem is that you effectively think of yourself as God's superior, and you expect him to participate on your terms. You work on the basis that God owes you something, and you demand that he deliver on that expectation. I think you've got it around the wrong way. You're taking a prideful approach; I believe you need to take a humble approach. I don't think I can demonstrate rationally that the humble approach is necessary, but I'd argue that the humble approach generally gets better results where personal relationships are concerned.

lacavin wrote:
Marrying has an emotional content. The sheer existence of God or not is a fact. If I believe that God exist, then I will need to decide if I want to love/honor/fear or ignore Him. That would be more emotional, but we are not there yet!

I'd argue that we are there. As far as you and I are concerned, God exists: we are satisfied by the necessity of first cause that there must be a supernatural God. This particular proof of God does not tell us as much as we need to know, however: there is an open question as to whether God is personal or impersonal. This is where the detached, analytical approach starts to break down, particularly since it's not a question posed anywhere else in science at this time (with the possible exception of Turing tests).

Naturally, you want some kind of evidence that God is personal rather than impersonal before deciding on what attitude to adopt towards him. I think that the existence of persons in the universe offers a decent argument that God is personal. It's not a logical necessity in the way that "first cause" is, but one would expect a personal God to create a universe with persons in it, just as we ourselves have attempted to make artificial persons (not very successfully). An impersonal God could conceivably cause a universe with persons in it to exist -- but that would be a sheer fluke.

If you're prepared to accept, on balance of probability, that God is personal, then we are at the emotional investment stage. If you're still not ready to adopt the hypothesis that God is personal, then you have a momentous challenge ahead of you: devise something like a Turing test for "personhood", where you don't get to communicate with the party being tested.

lacavin wrote:
Now I am however speaking of not being condemned by the absence of Belief and hence of love/honor/fear for God. I am not speaking of a judgement of my "goodness" in life - that's another story but believe me you can live like an atheist without being worse than your fellow christian citizens. By the way, our acts would be judged based on which rules? -- the moral thread did not come to final conclusions there Wink.

I know you're not speaking about a judgement of your "goodness" -- that's why I'm re-framing the question in those terms. Why ought we to assume that what God primarily wants is for us to believe that he exists, rather than for us to live blamelessly? I want to assume for the sake of argument that your unbelief is not (in and of itself) an affront to God. Let us assume, in fact, that it is completely justified. Does this mean you have no problem? Let us further assume that you are, as you say, no worse than your fellow Christian citizens. Does this mean you have no problem? Let us even assume that you will only be judged by the standards you expect others to live by. Are you even a perfect person by those standards?

So far, you fit my description of everyman: claims to be essentially "good" (or no worse than anyone else), not "evil", but not "perfect", either. In your case you seem to have dodged the need to admit imperfection by a sideways reference to relativism. Just to be clear, do you want to claim that you are perfect by any standard?

It's all very well to claim that you are blameless for your unbelief. It's less reasonable to think that this is the only issue. I seriously doubt that honest unbelief in God means that the remainder of your actions will escape judgement completely. At best, I would expect slightly more lenient punishment.

lacavin wrote:
But we probably agree also that how much proof/evidence is required is dependant from person to person. This explains why the "burden of proof" is at the same time a universal standard and a subjective matter.

It's not a universal standard -- it's just a practical reality -- and it's more a burden of persuasion than proof. Proof is but one way to persuade. If you have enough political clout, for example, to dictate what gets taught in a school, that's another way around the problem. (Persuasion is dead easy when your audience depends on your judgement for academic advancement.)
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 14, 2009 2:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW wrote:
It seems to me like you've turned the example on its head to illustrate your point. If you were God's superior, or God's employer, or some other arrangement like that, then your example would hold.

I do not suppose a hierarchical connection with God. I suppose that God demands something from us. Those that don't believe don't expect (and therefore don't demand) anything from a God they don't believe to exist.

So there is indeed an assymetrical relation, if not hierarchical: one party (God) demands something, the other party (the non-believers) demand nothing. And my statement is that the one that wants something has to do the first step. As a minimal step, God must at least submit to enquiry before He gets Belief. He should do more, even, such as giving sufficient evidence. He would have alternatives also: He could force belief on us, for example. But He must do something first if He wants to obtain something from us.

Now I imagine it sounds funnily in your ears: how can a small creature such as me impose conditions on an all-powerful God? Easily in my perspective because I simply don't believe there is an all-powerful God. So I don't impose conditions on a superior being, I just mention that if somebody wants to come in relationship with me, he will somehow need to make contact...


TFBW wrote:
God is running tests on us, effectively. He's looking for people to hold positions of responsibility in his future eternal kingdom, and our actions now form the grounds of his judgement in that regard. You can refuse to participate on those terms, if you like, but you will have no place in God's kingdom.

I never heared He was looking for people to get management positions in His kindom. Is that normal theology? Which qualities would be important for those exhalted positions in heaven? Blind unquestioning belief? Who says "position of responsability" wants people with a critical mind acting on facts and not on whims or emotions, no?
Anyway, let's concentrate on coming in the eternal kingdom even as a peasent first Wink

So let me make a statement that you will probably find awful:
An all-powerful unique God is unrestrained. He can do bad or good. He can be fair or unfair. If we assume He is Good and Fair, then I assume He will judge us fairly and with benevolence. I assume He will not hold against me the fact that I did not believe in Him in absence of evidence. If He does, then I will see Him as unfair. If He is - in my eyes - unfair, well... I am not sure I could stay for eternity in a place managed by an unfair boss. Perhaps oblition is preferable? It is so long, an eternity...


TFBW wrote:
You're taking a prideful approach; I believe you need to take a humble approach. I don't think I can demonstrate rationally that the humble approach is necessary, but I'd argue that the humble approach generally gets better results where personal relationships are concerned.

I fully agree with you that a humble approach is the best for personal relationships. I ask you however to put yourself in my perspective: there is NO personal relationship yet. I am not prideful nor humble in this sense, I just state that if somebody wants a relationship with me, he must make himself known.

TFBW wrote:
there is an open question as to whether God is personal or impersonal. This is where the detached, analytical approach starts to break down, particularly since it's not a question posed anywhere else in science at this time (with the possible exception of Turing tests).

Ooops... wait, the impersonal approach is sufficient until you see that it become personal, i.e. that what you are observing is not a what, but a who...
I accept the existence of a "what" that is something supranatural, the first cause, the origin. I accept to "call it God" for the purpose of discussion. But I am very far to believe in a "who" with whom a relationship can be held.
How to differentiate a what from a who is of course not trivial.

TFBW wrote:
I think that the existence of persons in the universe offers a decent argument that God is personal. [...] An impersonal God could conceivably cause a universe with persons in it to exist -- but that would be a sheer fluke.

I accept your opinion to see that as a form of evidence. For me, the problem is that the sheer fact that we are here allows us only to observe a universe with persons, of course. Was it chance only? Perhaps 1 chance in zillions? This makes no difference as nobody would be here to observe a universe without persons.
Whether the presence of person is random, a necessary consequence of universe's laws, or a target of a personal creator cannot be decided. At best I can say that it is not unreasonable in my opinion to assume that given physical and chemical laws, the formation of life and its subsequent evolution to persons is possible.
So I do not share your opinion that this is evidence for a personal God because it is not necessary to introduce supernatural effects there as far as I know (principle of economy).

TFBW wrote:
If you're still not ready to adopt the hypothesis that God is personal, then you have a momentous challenge ahead of you: devise something like a Turing test for "personhood", where you don't get to communicate with the party being tested.

Indeed - and my test is: If there is a person out there with the will and the means to get in relation with me, he will make himself known. If he does not, it mean he has not the means (not all-powerful) or not the will, or that no such person does exist.
Can you imagine somebody that wants a relationship (this is an hypothesis - assuming God wants us to honor/love/... him) and that keep hidden? Not very rational.

My tests does not discriminate between the non-existence of a personal God or his existence but lack of interest in me. For all practical purposes (vs. intellectual purposes) this discrimination is however unimportant, as a supreme being who does not care about me will certainly not suddenly be interested when I die...


TFBW wrote:
Let us even assume that you will only be judged by the standards you expect others to live by. Are you even a perfect person by those standards? [...] I seriously doubt that honest unbelief in God means that the remainder of your actions will escape judgement completely. At best, I would expect slightly more lenient punishment.

Nope. But it is unfair to expect perfection in creatures that are not created perfect. So I am not perfect but confident that a benevolent God will not judge me against unreachable standards.
Would it be fair from me to hide myself from a 6-year old beginner piano student, not to teach him (but leaving a book on musical theory in a corner among many other books), and then at the end of the hour punish him for not having composed a perfect symphony?

Again this damned pride of mine, is it not? Remember it is only speculation, I actually do not believe I will be judged. But if I am, I hope it will be fair. If it is not and I have to suffer - well, anyway I could not prevent bad actions from an unfair all-powerful being, could I?

Perhaps Heaven is only open for perfect souls. In this case it is empty, because only God is perfect - by definition of monothesim.
Perhaps we need time to reach enlightment - time should then be given. I may need longer then you, but we have an eternity, so any duration remains negligible.
Perhaps perfection is not a criteria - as nobody fits. In this case it is at God's discretion, and then your bet is as good as mine. The first order given to mankind in the Bible was to make children, so a good hypothesis is that only people with more than 4 kids go to paradise, for instance... Confused oops - no kids yet Sad ...


TFBW wrote:
[the "burden of proof" is] not a universal standard -- it's just a practical reality -- and it's more a burden of persuasion than proof. Proof is but one way to persuade. If you have enough political clout, for example, to dictate what gets taught in a school, that's another way around the problem. (Persuasion is dead easy when your audience depends on your judgement for academic advancement.)

I stand to it that the one making an assertion "I believe in A" must provide evidence to be rational. This evidence may not be sufficient to rate as a proof, I agreed on that. It must indeed be persuasive if not sufficient.

A good politician may use logical fallacies to trick the mass. But if there is no truth behind it, it is just an elaborated lie. Nobody is perfect, so it is possible to believe in a lie being decieved by wrong evidence.
Another may frighten or torture people to change their minds. Or kill people thinking differently - but this has nothing to do with belief or truth, just with violence, obscurantism, or being a bad teacher.

I may have sound convinced during an exam by the thesis of a teacher I did not believe in, but out of the class I kept my opinion. Did you ever change your belief (and not only the outside appearance of it) under coercion?
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 15, 2009 5:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:
Now I imagine it sounds funnily in your ears: how can a small creature such as me impose conditions on an all-powerful God? Easily in my perspective because I simply don't believe there is an all-powerful God.

Yes, it sounds ridiculous. In short, you can't take the possibility seriously, and there's no point discussing a hypothetical that you can't take seriously, so scratch that line of argument for the time being. In fact, much of what you say in your post is a reflection of the fact that you can't take the idea of a personal God seriously, and I'm not going to respond to those parts because it's clear that we can't make any forward progress on this matter until you're persuaded to take the idea seriously.

There's a secondary problem in that God has already met all of your requirements -- he just hasn't met them to your personal satisfaction. You are, no doubt, familiar with the Christian idea that God sent Jesus into the world to pay the price for our sins so that we might have eternal life. This is an act of selfless love. It is authenticated by prophecies and miracles. Jesus Christ is the means by which God makes himself known to mankind in our time. He reflects the perfect loving nature of God, and his desire to be reconciled with us, regardless of the fact that we are to blame for our separation from God in the first place. God has made the first move, and awaits our response.

But, as I say, all this is like water off a duck's back to you, I'm sure. You doubt miracles because they are miracles, and it's easier to assume that the eyewitness is a liar or easily deceived. No doubt you have a similar reason for discounting the prophecies. Having rejected the authentication, you also reject the major claim: Christ's divinity, and his demonstration of love by taking your punishment upon himself. So much evidence, so much love, so little effect.

lacavin wrote:
I never heared He was looking for people to get management positions in His kindom. Is that normal theology?

The eternal kingdom is one of the most heavily referenced subjects in the Bible, but there's not a lot of agreement on how much of it is literal, how much of it is figurative, and what it means if it is figurative. I tend to lean towards a more literal view of things unless context makes it clear that it's meant to be figurative. The idea that people will receive responsibilities based on their actions in life is most directly supported by the parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19:11-26. In this parable, servants are entrusted with the master's money while he is absent (to be crowned as king). When he returns, he gives responsibilities (to take charge over cities) to his servants in proportion to how productively they invested his money. The cities and money are not literal (this is a parable, after all), but the general gist of it is pretty clear, I think.

lacavin wrote:
I accept your opinion to see that as a form of evidence. For me, the problem is that the sheer fact that we are here allows us only to observe a universe with persons, of course. Was it chance only? Perhaps 1 chance in zillions? This makes no difference as nobody would be here to observe a universe without persons.

That's not right. The "nobody would be here to observe a universe without persons" part is mathematically irrelevant. You have two hypotheses (well, one hypothesis and its negation) and one observation. Let the hypothesis H be "that God is personal". Our observation O is that persons exist. Do we expect the observation O with greater probability given H, or ~H ("not H")? My argument is that we would expect a personal God to create persons with high probability, and we would expect persons to arise unintentionally with very low probability. Therefore, rationally speaking, the evidence O supports H much more than it supports ~H.

The level of probabilistic reasoning used here is modestly intense, so let me provide a simpler example -- one which I hope is within the grasp of all people reading this post. Imagine I have two urns filled with balls. I tell you (truthfully) that one of the urns contains 90% blue balls and 10% red balls, the other one is 10% blue and 90% red. I want you to tell me which is which, but you're only allowed to make one observation: you may pull one ball at random out of one urn. It's pretty obvious how to go about this problem, isn't it? You pull out a ball, and if it's red, you say that this is the urn which is predominantly red; if it's blue, you say that this is the urn which is predominantly blue. Your chances of being right are 90% using this technique because there's a 90% chance you'll draw out the predominant colour from either urn.

If you want to rationalise your belief in ~H, you'll need to assert that it's more likely for persons to arise in a universe without a personal God than in a universe with a personal God. What you've actually done is to prefer ~H over H purely on the basis of the principle of economy, and not on the basis of evidence at all.

lacavin wrote:
If we assume He is Good and Fair, then I assume He will judge us fairly and with benevolence. I assume He will not hold against me the fact that I did not believe in Him in absence of evidence.

I already granted you that as true for the sake of argument. I note that you're still not taking up my offer to claim perfection by any standard, so let us continue.

lacavin wrote:
But it is unfair to expect perfection in creatures that are not created perfect. So I am not perfect but confident that a benevolent God will not judge me against unreachable standards.

Fine. Do you wish to claim that you have been as close to perfect as you can possibly be, given your innate imperfection? In other words, do you wish to claim that you have never wilfully done the wrong thing? This is the new low standard that you have set for yourself with the above revision. Are we there yet, or do you need to revise the standard down further?

I'm afraid I still fail. From time to time I have done the wrong thing knowing full darn well it was the wrong thing to do. It just seemed like the easier thing to do at the time, but that's no excuse. It's not like I lied because I'm a compulsive liar: I chose to lie because I didn't want to face the immediate consequences of admitting the truth. It's not even like I lied for noble reasons. I knew I had lied the moment I lied, and I let the lie stand uncorrected. (In the particular case of which I am thinking, I eventually confessed the lie, but that doesn't make me any less guilty of lying -- it just means that the lie is no longer on-going.)

lacavin wrote:
Perhaps Heaven is only open for perfect souls. In this case it is empty, because only God is perfect - by definition of monothesim.

In Christian doctrine, if you want to get to heaven on your own merits, then perfection is required. Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice is the alternative, but this requires that you seek forgiveness. If you're perfect, there's nothing to forgive in the first place; if you're not perfect, you can be made perfect thanks to Christ.

lacavin wrote:
I may have sound convinced during an exam by the thesis of a teacher I did not believe in, but out of the class I kept my opinion. Did you ever change your belief (and not only the outside appearance of it) under coercion?

No, I'm as stubborn as you in that regard. However, I am still learning to question some of those so-called "facts" that I was brought up to believe. A teacher does not have to coerce: he can indoctrinate. How many alternative ideas in various fields have you not seen at all because your teachers and parents either did not know them themselves, or thought them unworthy of mention? How many ideas do you dismiss as unworthy yourself, not because you have seen the evidence in the best possible light, but because you were given a description of that idea by someone who does not believe in it?
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 15, 2009 5:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW wrote:
What possible evidence can anyone introduce? Answer if you can, because we can't even come close to a proof of God without answering this question.
The closest thing to a proof I can come up is - there is just too much wonder in the universe to be all a coincidence. And while I prefer a scientifical approach to things there are places where the laws of physics do not and cannot apply (i.e. the Big Bang; black holes and that ~60% (if I'm not mistaken) of dark matter...)
So while I don't believe in a personified God, I do believe that there is a something.
Anyway, that's just my 2c.
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 19, 2009 3:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

blood_dodo wrote:
So while I don't believe in a personified God, I do believe that there is a something.

What do you think of my argument above that it's more rational to believe in a personal God than not, given the fact that people exist? (My comment was posted mere minutes before yours, and you may not have seen it.)
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2009 3:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW wrote:
In short, you can't take the possibility seriously, and there's no point discussing a hypothetical that you can't take seriously, so scratch that line of argument for the time being. In fact, much of what you say in your post is a reflection of the fact that you can't take the idea of a personal God seriously, and I'm not going to respond to those parts because it's clear that we can't make any forward progress on this matter until you're persuaded to take the idea seriously.

Well - I can take it seriously as an hypothesis, as I showed in my many comments that assumes that such a God does exist.
Of course I do not take it seriously as a fact, as I don't believe it. That is a difference with you and a difference that will always exist between believers or unbelievers, by definition.

I don't know what your aim is with the tone of your answer, saying it is no good to discuss until I can take the idea seriously. I can take it seriously, but my belief is different that yours; and you cannot expect my sharing the same belief before beginning the discussion. You should concentrate on your part on putting yourself in the mind of an unbeliever and think what the world look like when you do not believe in God.

This difference is a key because I do not have a unquestioning mystical repect for such a God. I consider that rules of fairness that apply to humans will apply to him also, whatever his power. First morally - the rules must apply also to the guy that is stronger, otherwise there is no law, only strength. But more, this is necessary to discuss about God when not a believer of one religion, because if not, we won't know under which rules to play - there remains nothing to act or think upon if God is anyway so different that he is beyond our understanding of fairness or our reasoning power.

Therefore, and this was my main argument:
- Do you agree that God (if He exists monothesists religion describe Him) wants something from humans?
- Do you agree that people that don't believe in God do not expect anything from Him?
- Do you agree therefore that for unbelievers there is an assymetry?
- Do you agree that the one that wants to begin a relation must make himself known, regardless whether he is our equal or our superior? A general cannot hope to be obeyed by a soldier (and hence punish the soldier if he does not obey) if he does not show himself nor state his demands... it would be unfair.

If you do, we agree that therefore God is supposed to get in touch. And we can go forward and see if he did... going back to proofs and evidence.


To simplify the discussion, I will answer the rest of TFBW's post later in a separate post.
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2009 4:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:
Well - I can take it seriously as an hypothesis, as I showed in my many comments that assumes that such a God does exist.

I don't think you're even taking it seriously as a hypothesis. To illustrate this, let me re-quote with greater context the part to which I was responding with my earlier comments.

lacavin wrote:
I do not suppose a hierarchical connection with God. I suppose that God demands something from us. Those that don't believe don't expect (and therefore don't demand) anything from a God they don't believe to exist.

So there is indeed an assymetrical relation, if not hierarchical: one party (God) demands something, the other party (the non-believers) demand nothing. And my statement is that the one that wants something has to do the first step. As a minimal step, God must at least submit to enquiry before He gets Belief. He should do more, even, such as giving sufficient evidence. He would have alternatives also: He could force belief on us, for example. But He must do something first if He wants to obtain something from us.

Now I imagine it sounds funnily in your ears: how can a small creature such as me impose conditions on an all-powerful God? Easily in my perspective because I simply don't believe there is an all-powerful God.

Even if I accept your claim that you are not presuming superiority over God, you are at the very least treating him as your equal. If that's a serious attitude towards an all-powerful God, then it's remarkably brazen. Has it crossed your mind that an all-powerful creator God might be entitled to something from his creation? Why do you assume that he must come begging to us because he wants something and we do not? You go on to say that you don't believe in an all-powerful God, and this confuses me: are we or are we not discussing a hypothetical situation in which you grant the existence of an all-powerful God?

To my mind, your attitude is so far removed from the real implications of an all-powerful God, that we may as well be talking about completely different things. Perhaps saying "you're not taking this seriously" wasn't the most appropriate or tactful way to express that, but such a severe lack of agreement means that the hypothetical is unproductive, so let us abandon it.
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lacavin
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2009 7:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The quotation shows perhaps unclarity. The meaning is: I don't believe in an all powerful God, therefore I am not bound by any mystical respect, nor by any complex of inferiority, that would make me see myself as a worm without any rights to my opinions. This allows me to follow the hypothesis of a personal God without preconceptions attached, e.g. from the scriptures, and therefore to state some perhaps seemingly disrespectful opinions.

In a way indeed, I do expect to be treated fairly, which does not mean as an equal, of course, but does not mean as a piece of furniture either. And what if not? What if I am not even worth a piece of furniture? It is possible, as indeed God may be entitled to what He wants with his creation. But then when can I do? What do I want to do with an unfair God? And then, why would God want something from me? Would He care about the opinion of a piece of furniture? The fact that He wants our belief shows that He considers us as interesting persons, and a benevolent God will respect these persons.

So I assume that God indeed will act with us (and finally judge us) by the same rules that we use between us, i.e. the rules we can know and understand. Otherwise it would be unfair (but God has the right and the power to be unfair) and then discussion has no point: If no human-like rules do apply, then we have anyway no clue and should stop talking because human reason will not help, and the consequences of our behavior cannot be assessed.

I find myself in the situation of a soldier that wake up in a field with no memory, which has no order (nor ever had any he can remember) nor any officer nearby to guide him, and hence must decide himself what to do. Perhaps the sheer fact that he is a soldier gives an indication that there may be officers somewhere. Perhaps they are ignoring him on purpose? Perhaps there is no officer, and being a soldier is just a random event... Anyway, the soldier can do nothing else then go on and live his life, while keeping an eye open for an officer, searching for them perhaps. He has no obligations to follow "orders" because he has no orders. Being judged guilty for breaching orders he does not know would be unfair, not a just judgement.
Whenever he gets order or meet an officer, and not before, than the soldier has obligations.

I therefore ask myself without pre-conception: assume an all powerful God exists. If he is all powerful he could impose belief in every being. He chooses not to. Probably He does just not care (why care about furniture). If He is not interested in me (or does not exist at all), it's the end of the story. I should live on my life because He won't make any difference. But perhaps He does care..

I can infer from my fellow humans - the only intelligent beings I can observe - that if this God wants to have a relationship with me, then He will show himself somehow. If I don't see Him and still want to keep the hypothesis that he wants a relationship? Perhaps I am blind and don't see Him... It is not so probable, because God is all powerful, so could be seen by blind people. So he would still somehow be hiding on purpose, or at least decide not to impose his vision.
But anyway, I can ask around people - Do you see God? And listen to their answers. Some say yes, some say no. Then I ask for evidence, hoping to know which group is right and which group is mistaken. Exactly what I am doing in this Forum.


So TFBW - what in this text is so removed from an all-powerful God? What is inacceptable for you? That I presume that God will be fair and act within our understanding and not judge us according to rules we cannot understand?
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2009 2:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:
So TFBW - what in this text is so removed from an all-powerful God? What is inacceptable for you? That I presume that God will be fair and act within our understanding and not judge us according to rules we cannot understand?

The problem is a surprising lack of fear and awe. Human beings, when actually confronted with something overwhelmingly large and powerful, tend to exhibit some kind of emotional reaction such as fear and awe. In treating God as a purely hypothetical mental abstraction, you demonstrate none of this emotional content at all. I see parallels here with the bad example of a tsunami that I gave earlier: you and Bezman were quite prepared to treat the tsunami as a purely hypothetical mental abstraction, and such mental abstractions have no power to instil fear and awe. When the actual tsunami arrives in all its terrifying hugeness and destructive power, it's a completely different story. Where the hypothetical and actual are such completely different things, discussion of the hypothetical isn't useful.

Let us move on. I have been looking forward to some other responses from you in relation to my post. Do you have an answer to my analysis that it's more rational to believe in a personal God than not? Do you wish to claim that you have been as close to perfect as you can possibly be, given your innate imperfection, so that you can stand blameless before God? You have explained your position quite adequately, most recently with your "amnesiac soldier" analogy: I just want to know if you sincerely feel that you live up to your own standards in this way. It does seem that you are pushing towards an "ignorance of the law is an excuse" position, though. I don't think that ignorance of the law has ever been an acceptable excuse in any legal jurisdiction, although it is commonly a mitigating factor (resulting in reduced punishment) unless the guilty party should have known the law.
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Leorobin
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2009 5:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:

- Do you agree that God (if He exists monothesists religion describe Him) wants something from humans?
- Do you agree that people that don't believe in God do not expect anything from Him?
- Do you agree therefore that for unbelievers there is an assymetry?
- Do you agree that the one that wants to begin a relation must make himself known, regardless whether he is our equal or our superior?
TFBW wrote:

What do you think of my argument above that it's more rational to believe in a personal God than not, given the fact that people exist?


Whenever i talk about a God or other superior being in this post i'm taking the christian view, just to avoid confussion.
@lacavin
1-Yes God wants his creations to believe in him and follow some rules that might make us have a better existence, also this rules grants us the privilege to have a better afterlife.
But this is mainly for our wellfare not His.

2-Yes, if you don't believe at all why would you expect something from something inexistent, it's just ridiculous.

3-Could you please explain, assymetry in which terms, and over what?

4- How about the other way around. Why would He want to have a relationship with someone that clearly isn't truly interested in Him? Now if there is true interest from both sides both sides should aproach each other.

@TFBW
I do think that odds for a personal God are higher given the presence of rational beings(persons). It would be better (stadistic) and more probable to have a lot of non rational beings or at least beings that wouldn't apreciate the existence of something greater than them.
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2009 8:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW wrote:
The problem is a surprising lack of fear and awe. Human beings, when actually confronted with something overwhelmingly large and powerful, tend to exhibit some kind of emotional reaction such as fear and awe.

I don't know. Awe I understand, admiration certainly for having made such a universe. Fear? Why should I fear my "Father"? He is all powerful so anyway I am fully at his mercy, so it would be more nervousness than fear. Anyway I see now what you mean; you must understand that of course I still not believe and therefore cannot predict how I would react when meeting Him...

Let's move on as you said, and go back to your previous post.

First I will discuss your argument about persons.
I agree that there is more chances to have persons in a universe with a personal God than in a universe without. Regretfully this does not allow any conclusion about the personal God.
Using this argument as a proof would be a fallacy, I think it is called "Affirming the consequent" in english. It goes like this:
If P then Q. Q is true. Therefore P is true.
The fallacy is because it is not:
If and only if P then Q.
So while I agree that a personal God will make a universe with persons it does not follow that the presence of persons proves a personal God.

Now you used a weaker argument (hence not the above fallacy) - saying in essence that it probabilistically makes it a better bet to believe in a personal God. This is also not a strong argument as I can show with another example:
There are about one billion cars in the world. Do you expect a larger amount of cars if the cars are manufactured one at a time or if the cars are able to divide themselves with mitosis and reproduce? Obviously, the answer is that I expect more cars if they reproduce by mitosis. Is this the safer bet? I guess we will all answer no.

Why? Because it is actually a combination of probabilities: You have the probability of the effect P (a universe with persons, one billion cars) based on proposition Q (a personal God, cars reproduce): in both example, we agree that P(Q) > P(~Q)
But to make a bet, you also have to get the probability of Q or ~Q, and while observing P, the probabilities become:
Q * P(Q) compared to ~Q * P(~Q).

In the car example, all we know about cars makes us put a probability of Q (cars reproduce) at a very low value, and therefore Q * P(Q) < ~Q * P(~Q) even when P(Q) > P(~Q). Note that in your urns example, you removed the probability of Q and ~Q by making the compositions of urns certain (probability of Q is 0.5), therefore it is not really comparable.

For the God example, we go back therefore regretfully to the unanswered question of the probability of God's existence. And of course, an unknown probability is not 0.5 - an unknown probability is unknown - you can assign pseudo values (e.g. with the principle of economy) but you must keep in mind they are subjective. And therefore we cannot draw any conclusion.

====

Second, your argument about the Bible and prophecies. God has actually shown itself and I just stubbornly refuse to accept the evidence as related by the Bible and (quote) "authenticated by prophecies and miracles".

I have a bit of a problem with this argument, because it is circular: If you believe that the Bible is the true word of God, then obviously you believe in God. If you believe in God then you believe that the Bible is His word.

But if you don't believe that the bible is the word of God, then it does not help you... If you think, for instance, that the Bible, while one of the most important book in human history, has been written by humans then this argument becomes more difficult.

Just to illustrate why: if written by humans, then we must accept that it is limited to human weaknesses. The redaction of the Bible was 2000-4000(?) years ago and other books from that age (roman and greek litteratures, for instance) present many cases of magic and "divine" powers. Was Jesus just one gifted magician? I could only exlude it if I believed in his words - words rapported after His death, many years after his death, and with a political agenda to build up a church... the Ancient Testament has an even more obvious political agenda. So I don't say it is lies or that people are mistaken, but just that it should be taken with a grain of salt.

Now this is an illustration, not an attack. I don't really want to discuss the Bible for 3 reasons:
* It may turn ugly quickly, "Bible bashing" I guess it was called earlier in this forum. That should not happen in our civilized and intellectual conversation. I also like the Bible and respect it as a founding book of our civilization and don't want to pick its nose...
* My knowledge of the Bible is limited to 2-3 times reading it (a bit more for the Genesis and the Acts, definetly less for Numbers, Deuteronom and most Prophets), and therefore I do not consider myself expert enough to discuss it seriously (but won't be able to keep out of it).
* At the end, it will remain a circular argument.

Given that I consider the message of the Bible to be open to question, does it mean all protagonists are lying? Of course not. Does it mean Jesus never existed or is not son of God? No, it does not. Does it mean something may actually be true? Yes, it does. Is it for me sufficient evidence that there is something to be investigated about religion and that I should not simply ignore it? Yes, it does. Does it convince me that the christian religion is correct? No, it does not.

====

Finally, with regards to the "ignorance of the law is an excuse" position. Ignorance of law is not an excuse in our legal systems because you have the means to get to know the law. Laws are written somewhere, are (supposedly) clearly defined and you can call the police and ask when unsure.
I don't have a phone number of God, nor a clearly define and unequivocal book of rules. Therefore I cannot know the law, and therefore cannot be punished for my ignorance.


Sorry for the mammoth post... Let me stop here and answer Leorobin in my next post...
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 22, 2009 6:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:
Awe I understand, admiration certainly for having made such a universe. Fear? Why should I fear my "Father"?

That fear only comes with the realisation that we have wronged God and are justly deserving of his wrath. Your lack of fear goes hand-in-glove with the fact that you don't believe you have done anything worthy of punishment. More on that at the end of this post.

lacavin wrote:
For the God example, we go back therefore regretfully to the unanswered question of the probability of God's existence. And of course, an unknown probability is not 0.5 - an unknown probability is unknown - you can assign pseudo values (e.g. with the principle of economy) but you must keep in mind they are subjective. And therefore we cannot draw any conclusion.

Let me see if I understand the core of your argument. You are saying that in order to reason probabilistically about the existence of God, we need a prior estimate of the probability of God's existence, so as to determine the significance of the evidence. Further, you're saying that because this value is unknown, it's not possible to reason about the probability. Therefore all possible evidence of God's existence is irrelevant, because we don't know how significant it is. Congratulations: I think you've just insulated yourself absolutely perfectly from all possible evidence of the existence of God! In short, we can't discuss the probability of God's existence unless we know the probability of God's existence! (And if we already knew that, we wouldn't be having this discussion, would we?)

But are you willing to apply this standard of reasoning universally? I think you'll find it leads to radical scepticism on all fronts. If we follow your prescription of treating unknowns as not computable, then a rational mind should refuse to speculate on whether God exists. In fact, it's not clear that a rational mind is capable of reasoning about the world at all without assigning some pseudo-values to unknowns. In order to use real-world evidence of any sort, you have to assign some significance to the evidence of your senses, and there's no independent way to know how reliable they are. You can't actually obtain prior probabilities for any real-world event. You could try to measure, but that would be an evidence-gathering exercise, and you don't know the significance of the evidence unless you have prior knowledge of the probabilities that you are trying to measure. This is a vicious circle, and I don't see how "science" in the usual sense is possible at all unless we permit unknowns to take pseudo-values.

On the subject of those pseudo-values, not everyone will agree with your philosophical assertion that an unknown probability is not 0.5. That's an axiomatic claim, not subject to proof, and not accepted by all schools of thought. Whether you see it as a reasonable axiom depends, in part, on whether we are using probabilities to describe our knowledge, or using them to describe the world. 50% probability represents perfect uncertainty, and so it's a good value to assign the hypothesis "that God is personal" in the absence of reasons to think otherwise, not because we know that God is personal with 50% probability, but because we know that he either is or isn't and we have no idea whatsoever which is the case. In using this value of 50%, you are right to suggest that we haven't drawn any strong conclusions about the state of the world -- that would require us to start with real-world data, not a mathematical representation of our ignorance! On the other hand, it does tell us what a rational mind ought to conclude based on the available data.

Clearly, if we are to revise our hypotheses about the universe in light of evidence, we need to have an initial hypothesis to revise. If you start with "unknown" probability, you can't perform mathematical revision, because "unknown" is not a number. If you start with "unknown", you are permanently mired in ignorance. If you start with 50% probability for your hypothesis, then you have something to revise in the light of evidence. In our case, the evidence is the existence of persons, and this causes us to increase the probability of our hypothesis.

lacavin wrote:
I have a bit of a problem with this argument, because it is circular: If you believe that the Bible is the true word of God, then obviously you believe in God. If you believe in God then you believe that the Bible is His word.

There is no circular reasoning in a prophecy: it does not start with the premise that the Bible is God's word. The deal with a prophecy is that it demonstrates that the author has knowledge of the future. Any sufficiently vague or general prediction can describe the future, so a good prophecy is fairly specific. Similarly, more prophecy is better. Quantity and specificity decrease the probability that fulfilment of the prophecy is a mere accident.

Much of the bible is best understood as prophecy: a foreshadowing of future events. It is, in fact, the ultimate book of foreshadowing. The examples are so numerous as to prohibit discussion here and now: we would probably need to open up a whole new section of the forum just to discuss prophetic elements of the bible. Instead, let me illustrate what I mean with a particularly choice example: Psalm 22.

The Psalms were all written before Christ. According to my study bible, the Psalms are a "collection of collections which spanned centuries", put into their final form around 300BC. I don't know when Psalm 22 was written exactly, but it was centuries before Christ. The first line of Psalm 22 is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This is also one of the things that Jesus said while on the cross, and it's clear that he was quoting Psalm 22 rather than saying something original. All the Jews within earshot would have recognised the quotation. Psalms are poetry, and have a rambling style, but Psalm 22 was uncannily appropriate for Christ's situation: it speaks of those who mocked him as he was crucified (v7-8), the agony of the crucifixion process (v14-17) including the specific piercing of the hands and feet (v16), and the casting of lots for his clothing (v18).

In short, Psalm 22 is a poetic prophecy of Christ's crucifixion, and when Jesus quoted the opening verse, he was claiming to be the fulfilment of that prophecy. The two events dovetail together across centuries in a way that no human being (or vast, on-going human conspiracy) could orchestrate. The prophecy and the fulfilment validate each other in a mutually dependent way, but there's nothing circular about the conclusion that these two events form a prophetic miracle. You don't have to presuppose that the Bible is the word of God: it takes determined scepticism to conclude otherwise, given the evidence.

lacavin wrote:
I don't have a phone number of God, nor a clearly define and unequivocal book of rules. Therefore I cannot know the law, and therefore cannot be punished for my ignorance.

You are familiar with the law to some degree, and you have a conscience which testifies to your own culpability. If you've ever felt guilty, it's probably because you are. We have yet to hear whether you, in your own estimation, live up to the standards you reasonably expect of others -- you've been avoiding the question. You have sufficient knowledge of morality to be bound by it yourself, unless I am very much mistaken about you. You are therefore subject to those laws, although less culpable than those who received it directly on tablets of stone inscribed by the very finger of God.

Quote:
For God so loves the world that he permits us to wallow in partial ignorance of his law, so that our punishment may be diminished. [Brett 3:16]

You are not perfectly blameless: the fact that you plead "ignorance" rather than "innocence" is testimony to this fact. Given that your hope rests on your ignorance rather than your innocence, it strikes me that you have an extraordinarily large vested interest in maintaining plausible deniability in relation to the existence of God. I can see why you would be exceedingly demanding on the evidence, given the implications: it's either maintain doubt, or confess guilt, and scepticism is by far the easier alternative.
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lacavin
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 22, 2009 8:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW wrote:
Let me see if I understand the core of your argument. You are saying that in order to reason probabilistically about the existence of God, we need a prior estimate of the probability of God's existence, so as to determine the significance of the evidence.

The core of my argument is that it is mathematically wrong to infer from the fact that P(Q)>P(~Q) that if P is true the probability of Q increases. That's all. You come with maths, so I answer with maths when your maths is faulty...

As a spin-off, I guess indeed that maths will not help us a lot there. Because I refuse to say that unknown = 0.5*, that does not mean I cannot reason. I just cannot reason with numbers when having unknown factor and trust my resulting numbers as correct - at best they are hypothesis to be controlled. Because of this, among other problems, we will not be able to compute a value for the probability of God's existence, so why argue?

This does not mean that any evidence is irrelevant, just that evidence usually does not allow a computing of probability. Therefore I propose to stop trying to use maths to make our arguments looks more "precise" and objective and just give the arguments themselves, presenting them even as subjective if necessary.


TFBW wrote:
There is no circular reasoning in a prophecy: it does not start with the premise that the Bible is God's word.

You are correct indeed - you can validate prophecies independantly from their origins.
Well, I don't know enough, really, about prophecies in the Bible.

Let me propose some validation for prophecies:
1. Specific enough to be clearly linked with a improbable event.
2. Not singled out from a mass of other prophecies that never happened.
3. Not be fulfilled by people wanting to fulfill them.

The first criterion is clear: as you said, general prophecies have no value ("a great king will die" - of course, some will). Moreover, it should be formulated clearly enough because it is otherwise too easy to "interpret" in retrospect ("the bee will eat the honey and famine for larvae will follow" - see, it was foreseen that bankers would get too high salaries and make a world economic crisis).

The second element is also capital. Most of the prophecies should be validated if many prophecies are given (actually, it should be all of them for a true prophet - but some may not yet have happened). Otherwise it's a game of probability. Even astrologist will sometimes be correct when making enough claims Wink .

The third point is that prophecies should not be self-fulfilling. If there is a prophecy saying "the true king will return and behold, he will cary a spear and a rose", then any guy aware of this prophecy will try to boost his claims to kingship by carrying a rose and a spear.

Perhaps I forgot other criteria. Anyway, as I said, I am not able to judge whether prophecies in the Bible fulfill them. Do you (TFBW and the other people in this forum) have the impression that the prophecies in the Bible are definitely fulfilling those criteria?

(short discussion of Psalm 22 below**).


TFBW wrote:
That fear only comes with the realisation that we have wronged God and are justly deserving of his wrath.

I guess I understand our divergence here.

You already zoom in fully to a christian God, with all the attached rule and the theology of sin. Christianity is indeed saying we are all sinners - no chance there - and only the intercession/sacrifice of Jesus (out of love) can save us.

I am not a christian, and I am still thinking at an earlier phase: is God personal. I am adding the next question: Is God interested in us, because a personal God not interested in us would probably not be differentiable from an inpersonal God.
I was unclear on this myself, putting always "judgements" in my posts. But actually I wanted to highlight that a God interested in us should show himself or not judge our absence of belief in Him, that's all.

Can we postpone the discussion about "sins" and "laws" until we agree on a personal God, because then only the next step will include what God expects from us. Alternatively we may open another thread on this topic.

To quickly answer you (suspense is unhealthy) I don't dodge the question: I am fully aware that I am not perfect. I do feel guilty sometimes. I try to improve myself because I don't like feeling guilty and because it is a worthy goal and I believe morality is a requirement for social life.
But I don't have unrealistic expectation of perfection, therefore I am not feeling guilty to be imperfect = I am not feeling guilty to be human...
Furthermore, I assume that a benevolent (fair) God would judge us as humans, hence not expect perfection from the creatures he created imperfect... hence that imperfection is not "justly deserving his wrath". Therefore I am not afraid from such a God because I have the feeling I behave rather decently (not in the top-10%, but on the sunny side of the average).
This just to highlight that your assumption that I hide behind insufficient evidence in order not to confess guilt is wrong.


*) I am not excluding 0.5, so I am not "axiomatically" saying it is never 0.5. But supposing 0.5 (which looks reasonable to indicate 2 options) takes as axiom the key element that both options are equally likely. You can make other assumptions, like supposing 0 or 1 in order to remove uncertainty from your decisions. Or supposing 0.1 to show it is possible but improbable. That's anyway all working assumptions, with no other value than allowing to "systematize" the feelings before decision making under uncertainty - for this it is however highly useful.
Those assumptions are not necessary when discussing whether an evidence speaks "for" or "against" a theory.

**) I read Psalm 22 and I have with this regards several comments. It present mostly many bad treatments, which may represent any "torture" than can be inflicted. Verse 16 is indeed striking because it seem to indicate crucifixion (in the english translation. It is unclear and involve lions in other translations) that was common in the roman empire, but perhaps not at the time where the Psalms were written; Even more striking is the continuous presence of Lions.
My first remark is that it is quite unspecific. Nothing about the fact that it happens to God's son (verse 6: I am a worm), for instance. The second remark is that it quotes lot's of Lions. If we "interpret them out as symbol" I think it is a huge step and it might be closer to the text to "interpret" the piercing of hands and feet out as any injuries.
I read therefore Psalm 22 more as a prayer appropriate for somebody being maltreated because of his faith than as a prophecy - which is also why it is in Psalms and not in the Prophets, I assume.
Jesus, as a jew, would know this prayer and citing it when being tortured and killed is therefore a normal thing to do.
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Leorobin
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2009 4:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

@lacavin
What, exactly, do you expect to receive as proof, or rather what would you accept as proof?
I agree with fact that we don't know or don't have enough evidence to assume that God's existence (or any other superior entity to stay in line with Scott's question) has the same probability than not existence. There are just too many variables to analize.
Psalm 22 is indeed quite ambiguous, it gives chance to interpretation. The constant mention of lions is common when talking about enemies that over power you. At that time lions where one of the most fearest predators (and they still are).

@TFBW
lacavin's lack of "Fear" as you state it is normal. He doesn't believe and doesn't have expectstions of believing, so why bother in beign "afraid" or even having certain respect.

I agree with the fact that the Bible and most religious books and religions itselves where made by humans for humans. Divine inspiration or not it's still a humans work.

Returning to my yet unanswered proposition if we don't want anything with God why would he bother?.

I do agree that in the lack of faith to believe in an almighty being that dictates what you should or shouldn't do; (myself, i'm catholic and have some disagreements with the system) you should keep by the rules you know or have been taught, morally and ethically speaking.

If there isn't a superior entity them there's no problem you have a clean conscience, if there is, you kept true to what you belived in; then why not by judged by the standards you had as true?

Then again, it really depends on what is needed to make you believe in a superior entity, personal or not. Myself i take as a proof of my faith the fact that i'm alive and other petty little details that where wrought by random, with a very very low probability i must add.

To TFBW it might be different as to every other person in the forum. Including lacavin. lacavin, I ask once again: What is needed to make you believe? What awesome and astounding event would bring you to your knees and proclaim the existence of a "God" as anyother name you want to give it?
I extend the question to all the forumers, and also why not, contribute with what you have as proof of God or any similar.
In short what makes you say everyday "I believe" and if not, what do you want or need as proof to make you belive?
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TFBW
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2009 5:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:
The core of my argument is that it is mathematically wrong to infer from the fact that P(Q)>P(~Q) that if P is true the probability of Q increases. That's all. You come with maths, so I answer with maths when your maths is faulty...

Your notation is a bit off... if you're going to use Q and P as predicates, then use p(Q) and p(P) for their probability, and use p(Q|P) for "the probability of Q given P" (equivalent to "the degree to which P implies Q"). I don't understand what your notation above is supposed to mean, but I get the impression that your objection is as stated earlier: the lack of a prior probability for the hypothesis "that God is personal" invaldates the mathematics.

I stand by my claim that this probability should be set at 0.5 to reflect our total lack of information on the subject (prior to any evidence). We are not measuring a recurring event here, we are trying to determine whether the universe exists in one of two possible states: God is personal, or not. We can not establish a base probability in terms of frequencies: our sample size is exactly one, and that's the one we're trying to classify! Unless we have a priori reasons to prefer one hypothesis over the other, we should start in a state of suspended judgement: probability 0.5 for both the hypothesis and its negation. From this point we can evaluate the evidence and revise our assent to the hypothesis accordingly. If we do not do this, there is no possible way to evaluate evidence of any sort in relation to the hypothesis. I think the assignment of initial probabilities in this way qualifies as "reasonably necessary" if anything does.

lacavin wrote:
As a spin-off, I guess indeed that maths will not help us a lot there. Because I refuse to say that unknown = 0.5*, that does not mean I cannot reason. I just cannot reason with numbers when having unknown factor and trust my resulting numbers as correct - at best they are hypothesis to be controlled. Because of this, among other problems, we will not be able to compute a value for the probability of God's existence, so why argue?

Interesting. How do you intend to be rational without resort to numbers? How can you apply weight to evidence and lend assent to a hypothesis without numbers? How do you intend to get past the unknown factors so that you can reason mathematically about the problems? You say they are "hypotheses to be controlled" -- controlled by what if not by quantitative reasoning? You say you can not compute the probability of God's existence, and yet you lend assent to the hypothesis that God is not personal more readily than to its negation. Why?

lacavin wrote:
Those assumptions are not necessary when discussing whether an evidence speaks "for" or "against" a theory.

Hang on... if prior assignment of probability is not necessary when discussing whether evidence speaks "for" or "against" a theory, then why do you reject my assertion that the existence of persons speaks for the existence of a personal God? The argument there was that the existence of persons was more likely to follow from the existence of a personal God than not. Please clarify what makes evidence evidence. I grant that it's not unequivocal evidence, but it is more "evidence for" than "evidence against". Please explain why you reject this interpretation, and give me a new definition of evidence so that I might find something which qualifies (or perhaps point out your use of a double standard).

lacavin wrote:
This does not mean that any evidence is irrelevant, just that evidence usually does not allow a computing of probability. Therefore I propose to stop trying to use maths to make our arguments looks more "precise" and objective and just give the arguments themselves, presenting them even as subjective if necessary.

How can you evaluate evidence rationally without numbers? What is "rational" evaluation of evidence if not numeric, whether the numbers are stated explicitly or implied? Are we to evaluate evidence only on its emotional impact -- the degree to which we feel impressed by it? Heck, even that is quantitative!

I think the onus is now on you to demonstrate that you have a better rational basis for assenting to the hypothesis that God is not personal than I do for taking the contrary view.

lacavin wrote:
Perhaps I forgot other criteria. Anyway, as I said, I am not able to judge whether prophecies in the Bible fulfill them. Do you (TFBW and the other people in this forum) have the impression that the prophecies in the Bible are definitely fulfilling those criteria?

Most of the prophecies in the Bible still relate to future events, surprisingly to some. Many of the prophecies relating to Christ are also unfulfilled because they relate to his coming into power (commonly called the second coming). The prophecies relating to his first coming number in the hundreds, and are sufficiently diverse that it would be a practical impossibility to fulfil them all.

But don't worry! You can dismiss all this evidence quite easily, as you have with Psalm 22. Most of the prophecies are hidden, rather than being spoken as prophecies by prophets with the explicit aim of predicting Christ. When Abraham says to his son Isaac, "God himself will provide the sacrifice", you can interpret this as a statement relating only to his immediate circumstances, not an inspired prophecy relating to God's plan to save the world. When the prophet Isaiah says, "the virgin shall be with child", you can interpret this as a prophecy relating to his immediate circumstances, and overlook the double meaning.

On the other hand, perhaps you shouldn't overlook these things. After all, one of your criteria was that prophecies not be fulfilled by people wanting to fulfil them. What better way of avoiding this than hiding the prophecies, such that their actual status as prophecy only becomes visible in retrospect? This is what the account of Christ does to the Old Testament: much of the meaning of the Old Testament only becomes clear when understood from the perspective of Christ's life and actions. Jesus doesn't just fulfil the obvious requirements (like Davidic lineage): he makes you realise that there were prophecies regarding him hidden all through the scriptures.

lacavin wrote:
Can we postpone the discussion about "sins" and "laws" until we agree on a personal God, because then only the next step will include what God expects from us.
...
Furthermore, I assume that a benevolent (fair) God would judge us as humans, hence not expect perfection from the creatures he created imperfect... hence that imperfection is not "justly deserving his wrath". Therefore I am not afraid from such a God because I have the feeling I behave rather decently (not in the top-10%, but on the sunny side of the average).
This just to highlight that your assumption that I hide behind insufficient evidence in order not to confess guilt is wrong.

Interesting, but not unexpected. As you can see, although you've requested that we postpone discussion of God's nature until after we've established that he is personal, the question of his benevolence and what it means for us is already very relevant. If your estimation of God's benevolence is correct, then investigation into God is basically a matter of intellectual curiosity rather than a matter of grave importance, for you, at least. If you think you're on the "sunny side of the average" (and somewhere on the order of 95% of people think that they are, it seems), and that's sufficient to earn a pat on the back from God, then none of this is a particularly big deal.

It's true that I "zoom in" on a particular view of God, as you put it. So do you, as is becoming increasingly clear under questioning. These differing views have a big impact on our ability to exchange ideas, so it's better that they be made open. It also shows that "proof of God" isn't enough, "proof of a personal God" isn't enough, and "proof of a benevolent personal God" isn't enough. Should we reach the stage of agreeing that God exists, is personal, and is benevolent, we will still have disagreements as to what this means for us as people.

Those who wanted "proof of God" in the first place, take note: it was a big ask, but not big enough.
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lacavin
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2009 12:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Leorobin wrote:
Yes God wants his creations to believe in him and follow some rules that might make us have a better existence, also this rules grants us the privilege to have a better afterlife.
But this is mainly for our wellfare not His.

This is a very good point. What you mean is that it is not so much that God wants something from us then the fact that He offers something to us. In this case I agree He is not "forced" to make the first steps.
As an example, I may always have food available for a stranger that needs feeding. But it does not mean I have to put a sign off my door with "free food".
People that ask for help will recieve. People that don't will not recieve. Of course, I will not "punish" them for not asking, but they will not get the free food.

In this case, however, God must still accept and answer enquiries about his existence (that was the start of this particuliar discussion), as much as I must make a bell available at my door - if my door is hidden and has no bells, or if I don't open when somebody rings, then my "offer" of free meal is not real.

Leorobin wrote:
3-Could you please explain, assymetry in which terms, and over what?

The assymetry was that God knows I exist and want (this is now weaker, see above) a relation with me, while I don't know/believe that God exists and therefore do not expect/want a relation with Him.
The one that knows and want a relation should make the contact.

Leorobin wrote:
4- How about the other way around. Why would He want to have a relationship with someone that clearly isn't truly interested in Him? Now if there is true interest from both sides both sides should aproach each other.

With the time I spent in this forum, you cannot say I am not truely interested in him! But the basis of my reflection was the idea that God expect something from his creatures, belief and more. Belief in the other's existence is already a form of relationship - actually a pre-requisite for relationship.

Both sides can approach each other only if both sides know of the other's existence. I can set up a forum on my website on an interesting topic, but the people I want to discuss with can only participate if I make my forum known. I cannot be angered at the absence of discussion and reproach you not to participate if I actually did not tell you that the forum exists and that your participation would be welcome.

Leorobin wrote:
What, exactly, do you expect to receive as proof, or rather what would you accept as proof?

In essence, a proof should be something measurable that happens differently then usual (violate "natural laws") repetitively under controlled conditions. The best example is given in Gedeon, as discussed ealier:
When you put a cloth on a roof during the night, in the early morning (later differences can come due to different drying rates) either both roof and cloth are wet, or both are dry. Gedeon asked for only the cloth wet and the roof dry. When he got it, in order to insure it was not a coincidence or an unknown natural phenomenon, he asked for the opposite. Again he got it. This is what I call a proof that somebody tempered with natural laws "on purpose". If you can exclude a human intervention, this means somebody else has the power and the purpose to do it - and as the demand was adressed to God, it is probable that God acted...
Stricto sensu, a proof of this type is also not a real proof, because that may always be a coincidence or a mistake in interpretation (ET came to do it). Let me say that at some point of unlikeliness, such events are enough to make sufficient evidence for belief.

Evidence in general terms is less strong. This is why we would need a bundle of evidence to lead to belief. Evidence can be seen as "indications".

The first evidence speaking for a personal God is for instance that many, many people believe in it. We know from our democracy systems that the majority can be wrong, mistaken. I can even imagine that religious feelings and beliefs are a natural product of our condition on earth (mortal, but with a capacity for abstraction and planning). Therefore it is not a proof, but an indication.
There are many cultures that do not believe in a personal God. Others that believe in several Gods (or semi-Gods, as they usually don't have the unlimited power of the monotheist God). These are also evidence speaking against a single personal God.

The evidence of universe with persons for instance is also a valid evidence, which you will weight according to your subjective opinions. If you think very unlikely to have persons in a universe without personal God, then it weights heavily. If you think that "persons" can evolve naturally within the laws of the universe - it may be unlikely, but we would not be here to observe it if it did not happen - then this evidence is of course significantly less solid.
It is also an argument for two or more personal Gods (more chances to get persons), or for believing that the emergence of life and persons is a necessity based on the physical laws of the universe. The pertinence of the argument is therefore again based on your perception of likeliness.

All these possible evidence have therefore a "weight" that each person will give subjectively based on his other beliefs. This is the reason why I oppose using numbers and mathematics for describing them - this would only give a false impression of objectivity (maths would be OK for characterizing the evidence itself, i.e. seeing the probability of improbable events).
@TFBW: This answers also your remark. The evidence is not irrelevant, but I quote myself "does not allow to draw conclusions", and is not computable.*

Because we need a bundle of evidence, it is interesting to have diverse people explaining why they believe in God. This increases the bundle and even if under discussion each "evidence" may find a "natural" explanation the sheer number of weak evidence can make a strong case.
Similarly, as the "devil's advocate" one could present "evidence" against a personal God (difficult, it summarizes to the percieved absence of necessity) or against specifically the christian God.

Then everybody can weight evidence and decide for himself; there most probably won't be a universal "right" decision that can be computed.


*) Just a quick note using your correct notation (even if I am sure you understood my wrong one): p(A|B) > p(A|~B); A is true. This doe not allow to say that B is true, of course. This does not even increases significantly p(B) and therefore it is not sufficient to make somebody bet on B.
It becomes only an argument to reconsider seriously p(B) when it is shown that p(A|~B) is small. The smaller P(A|~B) is, combined with the more p(A|B) dominates p(A|~B), the more B can be seen as probable.
Adding observations C, D, E which are similar to A will increase the bundle of evidence about B that I was speaking about.
Because in the case of universe with persons, p(A|~B) is not measurable as we have only one universe to play with, the fact that it is small as you mentioned initially is your subjective judgement. Mine is different. Therefore it is not comparable with your urn examples where all these probabilities are facts and not opinions. Hence my reaction.

I discussed also the inclusion of p(B), and that was not very clear nor smart on my part, as it confused matter. Sorry. What I meant was in essence that if you consider p(B) to be below 0.5, than p(B)*p(A|B) can be smaller than p(~B)*p(A|~B) even when p(A|B)>p(A|~B). This illustrates only the subjectivity of our choices. It is relevant because in my car example, one should logically agree that reproducing cars would lead to many cars. But the presence of many cars does not "feel" to us to increase the probability of cars making kids, because in this case we put p(B) close to zero and that dominates the discussion.
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 25, 2009 4:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

@TFWB
It's is possible to work logically on the truth or not truth of an statement based on cualitative evidence rather than cuantitative evidence.
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 25, 2009 1:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Leorobin wrote:
It's is possible to work logically on the truth or not truth of an statement based on cualitative evidence rather than cuantitative evidence.

Qualitative versus quantitative. Yes, sometimes. Some statements are logical necessities, or follow logically from other statements. If your hypothesis is "all swans are white", then it can be proved false by finding a swan that isn't white. Here we're concerned with the quality of existence, not the quantity of how many exist (every non-white swan we find in addition to the first doesn't make any further difference).
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