The Wrap Up – Part 1

So much to say, and hundreds of ways to say it.  I must have tackled this post a dozen times, only to leave it unfinished to go and sleep on it, so to speak.

What I’ve decided to do is to make a wrap-up post in two parts, concerning my exchange with the folks at Roll to Disbelieve (which started here and, by way of here, here, here and here, left off here).  Throughout the course of the discussion, several people weighed in, many of whom brought up some really good points that I’m anxious to discuss further.  Alas, though, my free time to write is sporadic at best these days, and facing an army of opposition single-handedly only compounds and exacerbates this predicament.  I hope those who engaged do not begrudge me the delay — after I finish these two posts, my goal is to have responded directly to those comments that I found the most relevant and engaging.  Thank you for your patience!

To preface this wrap-up, my nutshell assessment of how the discussion went down is something like this:  In essence, the entire discussion comes down to evidence — whether or not the Christian claims have the evidential legs to be taken seriously as a feasible (or even likely) model to explain the reality of our world.  This comprised perhaps 3% of the discussion.  The other 97% or so was a kitchen sink of statements and accusations concerning topics such as my discussion tactics, my motivation in becoming a Christian, my motivation in sharing my faith, my sub-par mental faculties, my flawed character, my failure to apply the teachings of Jesus in my own life, my vile hatred of those who oppose Christianity and the various ways I have threatened and insulted them, my inability to understand the points being presented to me, my failure at presenting good arguments in favor of my worldview, my poor logic skills, my inability to think for myself, my penchant for parroting other peoples’ opinions without understanding or questioning them, and my general depravity as a human being.

Pretty par for the course, I’d say, when it comes to typical discussions of this nature.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to wade through the quagmire of addressing every topic brought up in the latter category, so I shall let this first part of my wrap-up suffice as a response thereto.  In the second part, I’ll devote my attention to reiterating my case for the evidential basis for Christianity and responding to the points I found the most incisive and relevant to this central issue.

Now, truly, there was a lot to take in and process.  For instance, it seems that there is a sector of humanity that believes people of faith like myself are deficient in our mental faculties — I saw my condition compared to colorblindness in one comment.  (Incidentally, I actually do happen to be colorblind.)  Apparently, they believe that I have become so indoctrinated in my faith that my brain has been hijacked by fear, making it impossible for me to “get” the points that are being presented to me.  I am simply not capable of operating on their level.  In effect, my faith has given me brain damage.

These (as well as the others leveled at me) are serious charges, and I acknowledge them all as real and present possibilities; I have no delusions that my perspective is unquestionably sound, or that my logic is airtight, or that my data flawless, or that my analysis of the data is stellar — I actually welcome challenge and opposition, which is why I’m here.  As that same commenter put it, I’m just a guy doing his best — and if I am indeed working with a brain that doesn’t fire on all cylinders, then the best I can do is use that brain as best I can.

However, I don’t believe that “doing my best” involves taking someone’s word when it comes to an assessment of my faculties, experiences, biases and motivations, especially when the person making these assessments doesn’t know me from Adam.  And especially when they don’t present any good reason to accept their diagnosis.  Come to think of it, that seems borderline abusive, don’t you think?  There are some of the opinion that Christianity is dehumanizing — but, personally, I cannot recall a time I felt more dehumanized than when reading comments such as these.

I’m fully aware of what the brain is capable of — it’s no joke that one’s worldview assumptions can make the brain do all sorts of mental gymnastics in order to maintain them.  However, that’s a sword that cuts both ways, for none of us is exempt from this possibility when it comes to our various worldview assumptions.  Furthermore, it is simply not enough to postulate or theorize that one’s beliefs are unequivocally the result of this kind of self-delusion without good reasons why this ought to be the case, in the particular instance cited.  As C. S. Lewis said:

You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.

Things don’t seem to have changed much since Lewis’ time.

I am also reminded of this excellent scene from Good Will Hunting — one of my favorite movies.  I’ll put it here — please excuse the language:

It’s a bit of a stretch, I admit — a lot of the material in this monologue doesn’t apply to my situation with these various commentators, for it’s not a matter of life experience; I imagine several of them are older than I and have far more wisdom than I have.  However, I find myself in a situation similar to that of Williams’ character in this part of the movie:  Here’s someone who knows little or nothing about you, presenting their perspective on the sum of your life, psycho-analyzing your entire existence.  It sounds like a compelling story, it seems like it might be legit, it shakes you to your very core and makes you question the very experiences that have defined who you are… and then you realize:  They don’t know you.  They haven’t taken the time to get to know you, your struggles, your experiences.  They don’t care enough to ask — they’re only interested in imposing their philosophy upon you, in overwriting your wisdom and experience with a counter-story that neatly fits their worldview.  They’re looking at your painting, and they think in an instant that they have you figured out.

Or, in this case, they look at your faith, and because they themselves have rejected it they feel justified in painting a picture of you where you only believe because there’s something wrong with you.  It’s the only explanation that makes sense within their worldview.

Well… thanks, but no thanks.

This is one reason why I stress so strongly the importance of discussion: a lateral, honest, respectful exchange of ideas.  Because, let’s face it, none of us are perfect — we all are prone to a warped perspective, we all coddle hidden biases and assumptions, we can all give ourselves passionately to ideals and causes that are flat out wrong.  And we all need each other around to keep us honest.

So, if I disagree with someone, I don’t just want to tell them they’re wrong — not only is it ineffectual, it’s also potentially inaccurate, for what if it turns out that I’m the one who is wrong and they’re right?  I’m not omniscient, nor are my powers of reasoning without flaw — so, the absolute best I could ever say is, “From my perspective, this seems the most logical and likely situation.”

So no, I don’t think it’s good enough to go down the “You’re wrong so shut up” route — I would much rather discover why we disagree:  What is it about our perspectives, our worldviews, our assumptions that make us see the issue differently?  (And let’s leave the possibility of mental retardation as an absolute last resort, please.)

It is the people who have this common approach with whom I am interested in carrying on this most important discussion.  I’ll do my best to respond to those whom I perceive to have this perspective in my next article.

Thanks as always for reading!

(PS: Notwithstanding this idea that motivations and tactics are largely auxiliary to the core issues, there was one comment in particular that I greatly appreciated that did deal with my tactics, specifically with “knowing your audience”.  Ralph’s perspective here is helpful, and is one that I intend to respond to directly.  Hopefully I shall be more sensitive to opposing points of view  when I touch upon evidence in the following post.)

 

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22 comments

  1. Hey Seth.

    I haven’t really been commenting on these threads (except your kickoff reply post) because they’ve included propositions where you’ve put your proverbial foot in your mouth. The atheist equivalent would be someone posting the idea that all Christians secretly condone genocide because it’s in the OT and they want to follow the commands of their deity. Calling it a fair argument (whether it’s fair or not) misses the point that it’s a gross misrepresentation of what a lot of Christians believe.

    If I did that on my blog, I’d deserve all the blowback it would earn.

    Nonetheless, I’ll eventually get to why the points you raise in your PRATT post aren’t productive (I’ve been obsessing with other stuff, and I thought someone would have taken the time already to do so).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello mate 🙂 I have a lot of respect for you, and I’m sure your perspective will be fair and helpful. I look forward to hearing it.

      When it comes to the PRATT post, I feel that my purpose is being largely misunderstood, so in the spirit of full disclosure I want to clarify my tactics so that your response, when it comes, can be made with an understanding of where I was coming from. To start, I think I begin to see what you might be referring to when you say that the points I bring up “aren’t productive” — the points I was making were being made, knowingly, from the Christian perspective, and more or less assumed a Christian paradigm. However, pretty much everyone so far who has commented on these points seem to think that I was bringing up these points as if they were evidence in favor of Christianity — which would have been absurd, since they so clearly are predicated on Christianity being true. What I was doing was, essentially, the same thing that people are doing now in response to it: Pointing out how the typical responses to so-called PRATTs aren’t perceived by Christians to address the issue at all. I find it kind of ironic, how the discussion is turning out — the way I see it, both sides are using the exact same faux-pas they are accusing the other side of using. I can see my failure, though, because no one else seems to see the irony — I was hoping they would, but everyone seems so keen on getting their point across that my subtle hints that we may be talking across each other are going unnoticed. Perhaps I should have been less subtle about it.

      So, to be clear, what I was trying to do was not to make points in favor of Christianity — I have purposefully avoided that approach in almost this entire discussion from beginning to end, in fact, for I thought it was more important to set the groundwork for the discussion itself before actually looking into the evidence, otherwise the latter exercise would have been futile. No, what I’ve been trying to do from the beginning is expose the discussion-killing tactics that seem to pop up so often in discussions like this, hoping that at least some would be willing to eschew them so we could get down to the real issues. Until those tactics that act as discussion assassins are taken out, a discussion about evidence would be spinning wheels.

      Anyway, I hope that all makes sense. I can see that my approach didn’t translate, for now everyone thinks that I actually believe the nonsense they perceive most Christians to PRATT out. Perhaps I’ve done more harm than good to my own credibility. I’m just trying to help people realize that the typical way to approach this discussion is broken — no one feels they are being really heard, and I find that sad. That’s why I started this blog, to attract people who also think it’s broken and want to try something else. Maybe it’s a lost cause — some people said as much when I started this thing. Truthfully, it’s people like you who give me hope that it might amount to something after all 🙂

      Thanks for hanging around, and I do look forward to hearing your perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I get that you weren’t trying to make points in favor of Christianity. As I saw them, I thought you were trying to tender some criticisms of Cassidy’s points in her first article, and then some criticisms of her counterpoints in her other article. In saying your points were not productive, I mean that in the sense of what if I started a conversation about Christianity off by the question, “Would you murder a child if your deity told you to do it?”

        Yeah, it could end up being a discussion on the merits of divine command theory, but it’s not going to start out that way.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Thanks for the perspective. I fail to see the correlation, to be honest — though I do admit to perhaps overstating the issue at times, simply as a rhetorical device. Perhaps that’s what you meant. If so, then 99.9% of arguments I’m hearing from both angles are off-sides 😛

          If I was too inflammatory, I beg pardon — didn’t mean to step over any lines, just push the envelope a little. If you have specific examples and why you thought they were out of line, I implore elucidation.

          Thanks again, mate! 🙂

          Like

  2. Hi Seth,

    I haven’t followed your discussion you refer to here, just reading your couple of posts about it here. But there is something important missing here I believe.

    You say “it seems that there is a sector of humanity that believes people of faith like myself are deficient in our mental faculties”, a view I have come across also. You also say the discussion is about “whether or not the Christian claims have the evidential legs to be taken seriously as a feasible (or even likely) model to explain the reality of our world”.

    I want to contrast these two statements which you report.

    There is good neuroscience evidence that religious belief (in general) improves human mental faculties. For example, neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman investigated religious behaviour while taking brain scans, and concluded: “faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain.” Read a longer quote “here”. Their research is written up in their book ‘How God Changes Your Brain’, and finds that faith = a positive approach has great benefits, and when it is accompanied by religious or spiritual beliefs it is even better.

    There are many other studies which show that religious belief (generally) leads to greater mental and physical health and prosociality (ask me for references). This is all good scientific evidence.

    So your critics have a trilemma. Are they going to (1) change their view about deficient mental faculties, or (2) offer compelling evidence against the many studies I could reference, or (3) abandon the important place they give to evidence? I suppose there is a fourth option, to pretend the evidence isn’t there and continue to push views that conflict with the evidence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Eric! Thanks for the insight — it’s a good point. In their defense, I was approaching the discussion in a bit of an unorthodox way (you can read my response to Sirius’ comment above if you wish), so I think their perception was that I was a “smart guy” (their words, not mine — though I’m having trouble finding the exact reference, maybe I made it up LOL) but yet wasn’t understanding their points, based on how I was responding. I think maybe the best way they could find to reconcile those two observations was to assume that I was mentally impaired.

      It’s probably somewhat my fault, I thought at least one person would get the joke 😛 Or, would at least give me the benefit of the doubt to read a little deeper into what I was trying to say instead of taking it all at face value. I imagine there were a few people in Jonathan Swift’s day who didn’t appreciate the irony of “A Modest Proposal” and thought he actually condoned cannibalism.

      And, then again, I’m no Jonathan Swift either 😛

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    2. There is good neuroscience evidence that religious belief (in general) improves human mental faculties. For example, neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman investigated religious behaviour while taking brain scans, and concluded: “faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain.” Read a longer quote “here”. Their research is written up in their book ‘How God Changes Your Brain’, and finds that faith = a positive approach has great benefits, and when it is accompanied by religious or spiritual beliefs it is even better.

      Maybe those in Newberg’s study were all suffering from emotional trauma prior to conversion? Trauma of one sort or another certainly seems to be a major feature of every convert that I have come across. Certainly logic and evidence play no genuine part in any conversion, for what mentally stable person would chuck rationality overboard and confess to being a sinner on pain of going to Hell for eternity?

      Maybe the truly honest way to test this would be to ask any number of deconvertees how they feel their mental health has declined/improved since deconversion?

      I think I can say without fear of contradiction that people such as Nate Owens would definitely say he is a lot happier now than before.

      So would Nan, Sirius Biznus, Neuronotes, Godless in Dixie and probably every single internet deconvert.

      What do you think Newberg would have to say to these people, unklee?

      In fact what have you to say?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. From the website that promotes “A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy & Meaning in a World Without God:”

        “The myth persists. Even in our modern world, countless people believe that without God, one’s life has no purpose or meaning — that the lives of atheists are devoid of joy and happiness because they are not religious.”

        Penn Jilette: “Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jello, and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have.”

        Nathaniel Braden, Psychotherapist: “Anyone who engages in the practice of psychotherapy confronts every day the devastation wrought by the teaching of religion.”

        ME: Leaving Christianity — Oh what a relief it is!

        Liked by 2 people

    3. …neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman investigated religious behaviour while taking brain scans, and concluded: ‘faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain.’

      Do neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman mention in which god it’s most beneficial to have faith? Is it just as healthy to have faith in the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster, or unicorns, or Leprechauns? How about Santa Claus? I know a really healthy little girl who strongly believes in the Tooth Fairy!

      Like

    4. Hey UnkleE!

      There’s another option for people. They can read the materials you link to for themselves, and evaluate the implications on its own merits. To wit, this paragraph in the Newberg article is quite revealing:

      “By faith, we mean the ability to consciously and repetitively hold an optimistic vision of a positive future — about yourself, and about the world. When you do this — through meditation, prayer, or intensely focusing on a positive goal — you strengthen a unique circuit in your brain that improves memory and cognition, reduces anxiety and depression, and enhances social awareness and empathy toward others. And it doesn’t matter whether the meditations are religious or secular.” (emphasis added)

      Oh, and the next paragraph qualifies how combining this meditation with a religious experience by saying, “For some it is love, for some awe, for some it is the experience of direct contact with the divine (however they define that).”

      So, it is not religious belief which your source cites to having a healthy neurological brain, but faith – that is, an optimistic vision of a positive future. Regardless, Newberg has only begun research, and it could yield positive benefits for people that do and do not believe in deities.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You make a valid point, Sirius — but, bringing it back to what I perceive Eric’s original intent to be in bringing up the study, it seems to increase the burden of proof upon those who would assert that religious faith in particular is likely to render mental impairment. That’s the charge he was answering, I think, not making an argument per se about the merits of religious faith in particular.

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        1. “There is good neuroscience evidence that religious belief (in general) improves human mental faculties.”

          That statement is the one I was addressing in UnkleE’s comment.

          Really, nobody needs to cite additional evidence to deal with questions of mental impairment. If they’re asserting you have a mental illness, it’s fair to ask them if they’re competent to do so. 10 times out of 10 on the Internet, a person isn’t qualified to call another person crazy.

          And if the person is trying to question someone’s intelligence, it’s fair to ignore or question it right back.

          Like

      2. Hi Sirius,

        Yes, that is an option.

        When I referenced Newberg & Waldman on the benefits of faith I said: “faith = a positive approach has great benefits, and when it is accompanied by religious or spiritual beliefs it is even better”

        That statement fairly reflects, I think, the quote I referenced, which says what you have quoted, but also says: “when meditation is religious and strengthens your spiritual beliefs, then there is a synergistic effect that can be even better. “

        So I don’t think it is true to say, as you do, that it isn’t religious belief, but faith. They are saying the two work together. So secular faith is good, religious (or spiritual) faith is better.

        It is important to be clear on what all this is and isn’t saying. It’s not saying religion is true (or that it’s false), just that it has some benefits. It’s not saying something that is true 100% of the time, just that its true more often than not. So there will be happy, clear thinking atheists (as Nan mentions) and christians, and unhappy and fuzzy thinking atheists and christians – it’s just that the evidence suggests faith and religious or spiritual belief help our brains a little. I don’t suggest anyone change their core beliefs because of these facts.

        But here’s the main point I wanted to make. Some atheists make a big point of saying christians are deluded, wrong-headed and dangerous, but the evidence doesn’t support this equation.

        People commonly bring their own experience and bias to these questions, but the role of science is supposed to be to give us objective information. There are undoubtedly people, churches, even states of the US, where christianity doesn’t look so good. If atheists focus on these, which may be their personal experience, they are concluding based on a small and biased sample. If they really believe in evidence, they would allow their own experience to be corrected by the science.

        So I come back to my original point. Are atheists going to “(1) change their view about deficient mental faculties, or (2) offer compelling evidence against the many studies I could reference, or (3) abandon the important place they [claim to] give to evidence?” Too often, it seems, it is the “fourth option, to pretend the evidence isn’t there and continue to push views that conflict with the evidence.”

        I appreciate you haven’t done the latter. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hello again!

          “It is important to be clear on what all this is and isn’t saying.”

          You’re right. There’s a big difference between “can be better” and “is better.” In the English language, the former denotes a possible relationship, while the latter denotes an actual relationship. For example, “Donald Trump can be President” is way different than “Donald Trump is President.” So, when the authors of the study say, “can be better[,]” I take that to mean that it’s a relationship they haven’t fully confirmed yet. I’d be reluctant to make any further conclusions until they provide more data. If they eventually are able to figure out what specific religious beliefs or practices spur healthier thinking, that’s great.

          To your greater point, though, I get what you are trying to say. I agree that people frequently lay these charges of mental incompetency without realizing the full extent of what they’re doing. So far, I haven’t found an easier way of explaining my position, but it is part of a legitimate criticism of online discussions.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Hi Sirius, I interpret (in that context) “can be better” as meaning it is often but not always better. That seems to be what they say if you check out the book (which I’ve only read small bits of on Amazon) and Andy Newberg’s website.

          Re “delusional” and such, I can understand atheists wanting to combat the common christian trope of rebellion against God or spiritual blindness, but it is telling that (1) the claims are made against the evidence as I’ve argued, and (2) if christians were indeed delusional, attacking them in that way is not a good thing to do to a person with a mental illness or condition. Much better to stick to the argument.

          I think we are half agreed, so that is good at least! 🙂

          Like

  3. Sadly unklee’s argument does not address the very real – and well-documented trauma experienced by almost every Christian ( and other religious adherents ) who undergo deconversion.

    There are documented cases of individuals spending years in therapy, and I reiterate none that I have engaged with have ever expressed anything but revulsion,shame and embarrassment over their former worldview.

    People like UnkleE appear to carefully avoid engaging deconverts directly over these issues, rather seeming to cherry-pick their arguments and supposed experts, when a simple random sample across the board of all religious deconverts will, in all likelihood, reveal similar traumatic patterns.
    However, as Christianity is a proselytizing religion, such a brutally honest approach to the claimed benefits of ”faith” by its proponents is all too soon glaringly revealed for the falsity of its position.

    One cannot really expect to find truth in such matters when honesty is being hidden under a sheet.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/belief/why-your-brain-needs-god/

    I would honestly urge anyone still following this thread to actually visit unklee’s blog and pay close attention to his responses to the commenter Gordon Hide.
    If the title of the post – Why your Brain Needs God – is not misleading enough then through his dialogue and modus operendi you will see how he frames his responses to ensure the commenter is backed into a corner with only an either/or choice.

    Here is Unklee’s final loaded response:

    So I ask you two questions please:

    1. Is this the sum of the evidence you have on this topic?
    2. If so, why do you choose the very limited and questionable conclusion rather than the one well established by science?

    And please note: he does not consider his conclusion in any way limited. Yet, nowhere does he even allude to simply asking the opinion of a single Christian deconvert, who by all that would be considered common sense should be the very first port of call for anyone seeking a balanced view on the health issues!
    Health ( emotional) issues as a result of damage caused by religion is, after all, what drives so many Christians to deconvert in the first place!

    And how difficult would it be to conduct a quick blog survey among believers and deconverts?
    I suspect emotional/ trauma issues would be at the heart of both conversion AND deconversion.

    But this I suspect would reveal the dark side of indoctrination, something I believe unkleE is just not willing to expose to his readers – or willing to confront such issues himself – as it would immediately raise far too many troublesome questions that could not simply be hand-waved away by his particular brand of expert consensus (sic).

    Like

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