Saturday, February 2, 2008

Pascal’s Wager and The Point of Contact

Pascal’s Wager is a fairly well known concept set forth by the French mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662). In Dinesh D’Souza’s [recently released] book “What’s So Great About Christianity”, Pascal’s Wager is defined and addressed in a very succinct, effective and clear manner. In the spirit of using something like this from somewhere else instead of trying to reproduce my own commentary (a reproduction which probably wouldn’t be as good anyway), I’ll provide D’Souza’s treatment of the Wager.


From the chapter named “A Skeptic’s Wager: Pascal and the Reasonableness of Faith”, D’Souza says (the particularly bold assertion he makes is that [paraphrasing] ‘no rational person would refuse to have faith in God’):


Pascal argues that in life we have to gamble. Let’s say you are offered a new job that may take your career to new heights. It looks extremely promising, but of course there are risks. There is no way in advance to know how things will turn out. You have to decide whether to go for it. Or you are in love with a woman. You have been dating for a while, yet you cannot be certain what marriage to her for the next several decades is going to be like. You proceed on the basis of what you know, but what you know is, by the nature of the matter, inadequate. Yet you have to make a decision. You cannot keep saying, “I will remain agnostic until I know for sure.” If you wait too long, she will marry someone else, or both of you will be dead.


In the same way, Pascal argues that in making our decision about God, we will never understand everything in advance. No amount of rational investigation can produce definitive answers, as what comes after death remains unknown. Therefore we have to examine the options and make our wager. But what are the alternatives, and how should we weight the odds? Pascal argues that we have two basic choices, and either way we must consider the risk of being wrong.


If we have faith in God and it turns out that God does not exist, we face a downside risk: metaphysical error. But if we reject God during our lives, and it turns out God does exist, there is much more serious risk: eternal separation from God. Based on these two possible outcomes, Pascal declares that it is much less risky to have faith in God. In the face of an uncertain outcome, no rational person would refuse to give up something that is finite if there is a possibility of gaining an infinite prize. In fact, under these conditions it is unreasonable not to believe. Pascal writes, “Let us weigh up the gain and loss involved in calling heads that God exists. If you win, you win everything. If you lose, you lose nothing. Do not hesitate, then: wager that he does exist.”


The ingenuity of Pascal’s argument is that it emphasizes the practical necessity of making a choice. This necessity is imposed by death. There comes a day when there are no tomorrows, and then we all have to cast our votes for or against the proposition on the ballot.


I don’t see how any person could read the previous excerpt and not get some strong feeling out of it - Christians one of comfort and vindication… atheists one of disgust, anger and potentially discomfort.


Now… on to the complimentary topic, The Point of Contact. What am I talking about here? Again, unsurprisingly, this is something I’ve gotten from another source. In the book “Reasons of the Heart – Recovering Christian Persuasion” the author William Edgar put this name and a solid description to this concept. In doing so, he’s tied in a portion of the book of Romans that has always been particularly interesting to me. So, using his words, what are we talking about here? We’re talking about “…an ancient preoccupation in apologetics, matching the message to the audience or making a ‘point of contact’.”


What does Edgar assert that The Point of Contact is? Again, I’ll let him describe by quoting from Chapter 5 – A Rich Palette:


Over the centuries people have debated about where that point of contact is. Is it because people are reasonable and so we can communicate when we properly use reason? From Pascal’s phrase, reasons of the heart, we realize that unaided, unqualified reason is not enough; people are more than rational machines. Besides, our rationality is tainted by our motives, sin and self-interest.


If the point of contact does not lie in unaided reason, where is it? Simply put, the Bible sees it in the knowledge everyone already possesses of God’s reality. According to Romans 1:19-21 all people know God, being surrounded by his revelation. Whether or not they fully acknowledge him or process the information correctly, every person is aware of God just by virtue of being human.


… This point is no doubt controversial. The Bible states it baldy without any explanation, yet the knowledge of God is not readily apparent in many unbelievers – because of a complicating factor. Though it is perfectly true that human beings have God’s revelation, it does not follow that they process it correctly. Again, according to Romans 1, though we know God, we refuse to acknowledge him or give him thanks. What Paul literally says is that we suppress the truth, “holding” it in unrighteousness. The Greek word means something like “put into prison.” That is, in refusing to be thankful to the Creator, we put the truth behind bars.


Thus in effect, Paul says that in various ways and through various expressions, all people are somehow hiding from the God they really know. We live in a kind of contradiction, a paradox: On the one hand, everyone has a religious impulse, whether overtly religious or not. Yet on the other hand, somewhere that impulse has gone wrong.


I would feel remiss at this point if I did not mention one other point the author makes. He contends that we not only fail in our apologetics if we stop at the unmasking of unbelief, but that we are being unbiblical and cruel because we are leaving people in a hopeless position. He addresses this notion by providing a positive follow up to this ‘unmasking’, something he calls ‘Coming Home’. I’ll not give any more detail about this, as this begins to skew from the original subject and intent of the post, but like I said, I felt like I would be quoting the author out of context in a way that he would not approve of if I didn’t at least mention the ‘Coming Home’ concept.


Okay then, back to the original intent of the post, which is that I see quite a complementary relationship between Pascal’s Wager and The Point of Contact. Pascal’s Wager, especially as summarized by D’Souza, seems convincing enough to me to warrant a person at least bring some humility and genuine desire to the table in terms of seeking God. But then, when you combine the Wager with the The Point of Contact, or that is to say when you combine the Wager with the bold and [likely] offensive commentary the Creator God provides about the nature of the beings He created, this begins to feel to me like it would be quite a prickly and bothersome tandem for an unbeliever.


To be clear, I’m not asserting that any of this is enough for an unbeliever to take in and then simply flip some internal switch which then allows them to be a believer. But, as I said before, it seems like more than enough to bring some humility and a genuine desire to seek God to the table.


A better way to describe this than “prickly and bothersome” can be found by going back to a piece of the aforementioned scripture (verse 20 of Romans 1 - ESV): “So they are without excuse.”


31 comments:

demian said...

Pascal's wager is itself a paradox. "I believe because I'm hedging my bets." What kind of foundation is that? What kind of integrity is that?

I can't scrounge up any respect for a person that comes to belief from that logic.

Rod said...

Pascal's wager, as an idea, suffers from two problems, either of which alone is enough to disqualify it from consideration.

It also suffers from an interesting third issue.

The first is that is mistakenly makes religiousity a binary choice. Either belief in the Christian God, or believe in nothing. The truth is, you could apply Pascal's wager to any number of potential deities.

"If you believe in Allah and you're wrong, you lose nothing. If you don't believe and you're wrong, you burn in hell. Therefore, belief in Allah is the safest choice."

or


"If you believe in Odin and you're wrong, you lose nothing. If you don't believe and you're wrong, you burn in hell. Therefore, belief in Odin is the safest choice."

I could apply this same logic to convince you to be any one religion. But how could all of these "arguments" be reasonable simultaneously? Isn't the "safe" bet to believe in Zeus, Allah, Krishna, Loki, Thor, Elegua, Morrigan, Venus, Cupid, and so on, all at once?

How is that possible? Pascal's Wager only operates when there is one religion to consider as a possibility.

But even if that WERE the case, and there were only Christianity and Atheism that ever existed as religious belief sets, Pascal's Wager still falls flat. You actually touch upon the reason when you mention 'flipping a switch' internally.

You cannot make yourself believe in something. It's not possible. To get into a state of belief, you need to be convinced though evidence and argumentation. You may be able to produce sufficient evidence and argumentation on your own internally, but you can't just start believing something is true out of nowhere.

Turn around and find the closest box. Now, convince yourself (truly believe) that there is $1000 in that box. There are lots of reasons why you might WANT to believe that. It might ease any financial stress you have been feeling. It might bring feelings of joy when you think about the new TV you could buy if you discovered $1000. But is it enough to WANT to believe? Can you make yourself GENUINELY believe, without opening the box to get some evidence?

You could ACT like you believe. You could tell others you believe that $1000 is in your box. You can do your financial planning for the month around the assumption that $1000 is in a box near the computer. But in your heart, would you actually believe it to be true?

So even if I saw Pascal's Wager as legitimate, I'd be unable to carry it out, since I don't have any direct control over my own beliefs.

The only real argument Pascal's Wager can be used for, as you point out, is that it might convince someone to "seek" God. I would contend that Demian, myself, and nearly all other believers do this in a sense.

If the Christian God exists, I'd like to know that. Not simply because I'll burn in hell if he does, but because if he exists, then the fact that he exists is a piece of fundamental truth. I like to acquire knowledge of anything true, and diety existence seems like a big one. If Allah is the one true God, I'd like to know that too. If God never sent his son and the Jewish folks are right, I'd like to know that. I'm constantly "seeking" the truth on these matters, but I know no way to make a decision on any of them without evidence, since evidence is the only thing you can actually use to come to genuine belief.

Sure, I could go to church and pretend to believe, but I'd still burn in hell if a god can see into my 'heart'. So I need evidence, and until I find decent evidence for any of these religions, I'll maintain the state of having none. Not because "none" is right, but because the only alternative to "none" is "a specific one", and a specific religion cannot be embraced without convincing evidence.

Last, I'd like to posit a potential God. You suggest to me that the Christian God exists, so I'd like to suggest another God that might exist. We'll call him the Reasian God.

"The Reasian God exists. The Reasian God created all of us, and he made humans special above all of His other animals. The way He made us special was by giving us the power to reason and think logically. Other animals must follow instinct alone, but humans can reason and think critically. Because it is the most obvious distinction between us and animals, it must be His Special Gift to us.

The Reasian God wants us to use His Special Gift (that's why he gave it to us) rather than squander it. Thus, the most important thing we can do on this earth is not worship him, but use His Gift, logic and reason. The only Sin is to ignore logic and reason.

Logic and Reason are easy to use when emotion does not cloud our judgement, but the true test of someone's willingness to use His Special Gift (logic and reason) is to see if they use in even when overwhelmed with an emotion, particularly fear.

To test our commitment to His Special Gift, the Reasian God placed various religions onto this planet, without providing sufficient evidence for their correctness. All of them preach that some form of punishment awaits those that do not believe. All humans who allow their emotional fear in this situation to cause them to ignore logic and reason are willing to deny His Special Gift for selfish reasons, and the Reasian God sees no greater sin than that.

Thus, those who follow a religion whose beliefs lack evidence are denying the Gift, and committing a terrible sin. Those who swear by a book that contains obvious contradictions indicating its falsehood do the same.

The Reasian God's version of Hell awaits those who swear by religion. Heaven awaits all atheists."

Wouldn't Pascal's Wager, in this case, be an argument for atheism?

Bryan said...

Demian...

I happen to agree with you in terms of it being a weak foundation, which is why I never said it ought to be the foundation of anything. Taking the 'God is' side of the proposition and stopping there gets you no where, and if that's all a person did, it exposes that their likely just making the decision for nothing more than purely selfish motives.

To quote myself, I said that it (the Wager - and not just the Wager, but the Wager combined with the audacious claims expressed through The Point of Contact) was "more than enough to bring some humility and a genuine desire to seek God to the table".

The hope being that through this humility and desire that a person eventually come to faith. Christ and one's faith in Him is the foundation, it just so happens that the Wager + Point of Contact combo provides what it takes to get there.

Bryan said...

I re-read my last comment and didn't like the wording of a particular sentence. I don't see that there's a way to edit comments, so I'm clarifying here.

I said: "...it just so happens that the Wager + Point of Contact combo provides what it takes to get there."

A better way to say it would've been: "...it just so happens that the Wager + Point of Contact combo may provide what it takes to get there."

demian said...

Yeah, Bryan can you clear up 'Point of Contact'? I saw lots of words, nothing sunk in.

Bryan said...

Your objection about Pascal’s Wager making religiosity a binary choice is noted. As I said implicitly in the original post and explicitly in my response to Demian, Pascal’s Wager does not have the capability, in my opinion, of convincing you to become a Christian (insofar as choosing Christianity over say Islam or Judaism) on its own. What it does have the ability to do is force your hand when it comes to the binary choice of God or no God where God is defined in the most minimal sense such as something like “the supernatural being conceived as the perfect and omnipotent and omniscient originator and ruler of the universe” (link: http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=god). I suppose I’d have to include the concept of being eternally separated from God or eternally with God after death as part of this minimalist definition as well. So, once a person has determined that Pascal’s Wager is reason enough to choose God in THAT binary case, then the door is opened for said person to seek God as opposed to taking the position that He doesn’t exist.

This ‘seeking’ concept brings me to another point. You take a position that turns us (humans) into something we are not, creatures who ‘get into a state of belief’ only because of cold hard facts, something like a computer. We are simply not that kind of creature. I can think of any number of examples where people make decisions despite what the cold hard facts say. Situations like D’Souza pointed out – choosing to marry a person – where you can’t possibly get enough evidence about the topic to ‘know’ everything about the long term decision being made. Other more simple examples of this are situations where people who know perfectly well the risks of certain actions (for example… overeating or frequent unprotected sex with multiple partners) but go ahead and do them anyway for any number of reasons that aren’t logical ones. The point here is that your description of humanity as some sort of strictly mathematical-logical-rational-meat-machine is just not accurate. If you just ponder this for a moment, I’m sure you’ll agree. The area where I assume we’d disagree is why this is so. As the portion of the book I produced from Edgar said, “our rationality is tainted by motives, sin and self-interest.” I assume you’d leave ‘sin’ out of the aforementioned list. Seeking God and doing one’s utmost to build a relationship with Him can not be like successfully finding the answer to a math problem. That would be something like treating the decision about who you’re going to marry as you would a math problem, as some emotionless and loveless bit of information to be figured out. Relationships, particularly loving ones, and particularly the kind that the Christian God offers, don’t work in this stiff sort of way.


Concerning your last question… Wouldn’t Pascal’s Wager be an argument for the Reasian God?

Absolutely it would, just as it would be for Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, etc. Now then, the exercise becomes figuring out which one is actually real and correct. They can’t all be, particularly because the Christian God makes mutually exclusive claims about truth and what it takes to enter into a right relationship with God. So, we must now examine the evidence in the non meat-machine way I described earlier.

Allow me a quick and informal stab at this examination by pitting your Reasian God against the Christian God.

The Reasian God you describe sounds like something you, one man, simply made up. In fact, it sounds like a God concept that is retrofitted to how you want to behave, and how you were planning on behaving anyway. The Reasian God allows you to glorify your self and your own reasoning skills above all else, and as an odd twist, it is somehow more satisfying to that God if you choose to behave how you were planning to anyway than do something as simple as even acknowledge his existence.

Now, the Christian God demands a mindset and life where you acknowledge that nothing you as a human being can do makes any difference in your condition or your worthiness, and that the only value you have comes from the fact that a sacrifice He made is credited to you. Thus, all the glory in Christianity goes to God, none to humanity. Becoming a Christian at its core is about denying oneself and admitting to a total reliance on God, as opposed to placing eternal value on your own actions. The Reasian God also places no moral constraints on us, which is in complete juxtaposition to what the Christian God asks of us.

I could go on here, but the point is, the Reasian God is the easy one to latch onto. He’s not demanding of us, and for the most part, doesn’t ask us to deny much of anything that our selfish human natures trend towards. Accepting the Christian God (or as it is said in Luke 9:23 - If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.), flies in the face of what our very nature as humans would have and direct us to do.

This is just a quick comparison, one that didn’t bother venturing into concepts like the source of the Reasian’s God revealed direction for us versus that of the Christian God. Other types of questions that would have to be asked of both would be questions like… How does God reveal Himself to us? Assuming it is by some written documents, are the documents historically reliable? To determine reliable historicity, we’d want to find out if we have original documents or accurate copies of the originals. Do the documents contain multiple, independent occurrences of eyewitness testimony surrounding the core events that define the belief system? Are other requirements for historicity met - a few would be stuff like: Are readers challenged to check out verifiable facts at the time they were written? Were embarrassing details included about the authors themselves? If there are multiple sources, do they include divergent details as opposed to sources that are so uniform that they would indicate planned out collusion at the time of authoring?

I think anyone that took a serious look at the evidence would find the Reasian God wanting and the Christian God shining in this evidential comparison.

Mike Wyszinski said...

Hey Bryan,


It seems to me that you stuck between rationalizing your beliefs(Pascal's Wager,etc) and constantly admitting you have no way to convince any atheists that Christianity is "Truth".

It leaves me wondering what the point is? here is my paraphrased edited review of the arguments so far:

Bryan: i would like to comment on 2 books, I read;
first book says: you lose nothing by believing in God.
2nd book says: don't look for God with your rational mind
In closing, I realize these 2 anecdotes won't convince anyone, but you should question it anyway.

Demian & Rod's responses: Flawed arguments. you were correct, we, as atheists aren't swayed. Here are logical counter arguments that you've likely heard before.


Bryan: I concede some of your arguments, "logically" these belief systems are on equal footing. However, if you compare the religions/Gods, you'll see Christianity is the clear winner. errr...ok...


C'mon...You are admitting your belief system isn't logical, why bother with all the rationalizing?

You choose to maintain your belief in Christianity because:

0) you believe, admittedly omitting reason, that it is "Truth"
1) it helps you sleep at night
2) you like rigid the moral code
3) you want to believe there is an afterlife
4) you were raised as a believer
etc

You have to admit, you are in the EXACT same ontological position as a Scientologist, just without the benefit(or hindrance) of Tom Cruise. But hey, your book is older AND one sect of yours has a guy with a really cool pointy hat.....

Rod said...

Bryan:

I don't want to dwell on the Reasian thing, since it was just to illustrate a point.

It is worth noting, however, that you essentially admit that Pascal's Wager works to justify the Reasian God, then proceed to attack the Reasian God as being illogical or self-contradictory.

What you may not realize is that this exactly the view most atheists take of the Christian God.

Yes, it would be good to believe. Yes, if the Christian God exists, we should believe in him, etc etc. But when we look at the evidence in order to acquire that belief, we find that the foundation is shaky, the evidence is lacking, and the entire system is built on contradictions.

I cannot logically disprove the existence of "Any God", since "Any God" can be so vaguely defined.

However, I can *EASILY* disprove the existence of "The Christian God That Breathed The Bible Into Existence And Thus Every Word Of The Bible Comes From Perfection". For that, I need a mere ONE contradiction in the bible. Handily, there are hundreds.

Is it possible some kind of higher being exists? Sure.

Is it possible that it's the specific Christian god where every word of the bible is literally true? Of course not.

The vast majority of Christians have a definition of God somewhere between the vagueness of one and the logically impossible other. What's particularly entertaining is that, in a debate, whenever you attack a specific version of god along this axis, Christians will typically back their definition up a bit on this line. Nearly every 'debate' ends with Christians defining "God" in this minimalist way. I digress.

The point here is that, you may have looked at the argument for the Reasian God and thought "okay, that's interesting, but here's why that God can't be real". We do the same thing - but on your god.

-----

If I understand this "Point of Contact" stuff, you're basically saying that every human being knows that God is real somewhere deep in their souls or something.

Quite frankly, that's just lazy bullshit.

That kind of argument simply allows you to blame others when you fail to provide reasonable arguments. "I made such good arguments but they don't believe. They must really be actively denying the urge deep inside them to love god".

Obviously, I can make the exact same argument: you know deep down that Reasian God is real. You're just trying to deny it. This Point of Contact shit is barely even an argument, it's just a premise invented out of thin air in order to make you feel better about things.

I guarantee you that Muslim extremists who are willing to strap bombs to themselves and walk into a grocery store have *ZERO* doubt about their religious beliefs. The idea that they know Christianity is right deep down is utterly ludicrous, and quite frankly unworthy of serious discussion. It's a child's argument, plain and simple.

Bryan said...

Mike...

Nice to meet you... Demian tells me he's called in the reinforcements.

No where did I admit my belief system wasn't logical. All I admitted to was that Pascal's Wager can't make you a Christian. I would admit that my belief system isn't 'natural' - in the sense that it can't be logically explained by anything other than super-natural events.

As for logical problems, it's not like a theist has a monopoly on those. To steal this guy's words (http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5728 - in the tradition I'm building of stealing stuff from people who say it better than I would)...

If a person gets God out of the equation, then he has got to say, for example, that everything comes from nothing. He's got to say that life comes from non-life. That order comes from chaos. He's got to say that natural law comes from randomness. He's got to say essentially that the effect is greater than the cause. Now all of these things are patently absurd. These are problems that a person rejecting a form of theism must engage. It's a whole set of things that they don't have to face if they believe in theism.

Rod said...

I want to mention one more thing about Pascal's Wager.

It incorrectly assumes the cost of belief is zero. Hence, if God does not exist and you believed, you lose nothing.

I would actually contend in this case, you've lost EVERYTHING.

If the atheists are right: there's no god, there's no afterlife. You get ONE LIFE.

As you point out, God requires many things of you that the Reasian God does not. That all contributes to the cost of belief. If god is imaginary, every sunday you spend in church is time that could be better spent doing something else. All of the time you spend feeling guilty about "sins" that would otherwise not matter if you don't believe in God. All of the time you spend apologizing to God for noting living up to his standards.

All of the stress you feel trying to operate within God's silly ruleset. If you are Jewish, all of the delicious bacon you don't get to eat. If you are muslim, think about the subjugation of women in the culture.

These religions all have costs. If you center your life around religion, and it winds up being bunk, then you have effectively wasted your life. And if it's bunk, you only got the one.

If that happens, you've lost everything you are capable of losing. It my not be "infinite", but it IS the maximum amount.

Think about all of those religious families who find out one of their kids is gay. Think about the impact that has when the parents believe that homosexuality is an abomination.

Think about all of the families who have disowned their children for converting to another religion.

You don't have to google search for long to see stories of christian parents who killed their kids because they god raped (search for "mercy killing"). Or muslim parents who murdered their children because they converted to another religion.

Think about estranged parents. The guy that used to teach my Sunday School class when I was growing up was no longer on speaking terms with his parents because they were catholic. His children didn't get to know their grandparents. If his religion is bunk, what a tremendous waste that is.

These are the only children these parents get. These families are ALL that these parents have or will ever get if atheists are right.

Think about the ongoing war in Ireland. Think about people flying planes into our buildings. A lot of the actions are motivated by the religious beliefs of the people carrying out (no, don't bother with Hitler/Stalin atheist examples, I'm not saying christianity is wrong because of these acts). If the religions that were the motivators for these acts are all baloney, then what a tremendous tragedy these acts are.

The cost of religious adherence is far, far from zero. If you devote your life to religion, and it winds up being false, then you have wasted your life. If you're just a rotting meatbag after you die, then you have lost everything you are capable of losing.

As far as I'm concerned, the real wager results list looks like this.

B = You believe.
G = God exists.

If B & G -> Reward = Maximum Possible when G (heaven)
If !B & G -> Punishment = Maximum Possible when B (hell)
If B & !G -> Punishment = Maximum Possible when !G (wasted life)
If !B & !G -> Reward = Maximum Possible when !G (full life).

So as far as I'm concerned, you can't really hedge your bets either way.

Instead, we should all be focused on trying to be RIGHT. The cases of (!A & !B) and (A & B) are the only ones with reward. Notice they are the two where you are right.

So instead of trying to 'play it safe' we should ALL simply be focused on being RIGHT.

In short, screw pascal's bet. We should all be seeking the actual truth.

Rod said...

"If !B & G -> Punishment = Maximum Possible when B (hell)"

should be

"f !B & G -> Punishment = Maximum Possible when G (hell)"

Rod said...

further correction:

"mercy killing"

should be

"honor killing"

Bryan said...

Rod...

I'll address two of your lines of thought.

Regarding your thoughts on the Point of Contact. If you want to address the argument, great, feel free... but vitriolic name calling and profanity lends nothing to your case, so why bother? It doesn't bother me personally, I've got thick skin, but the subject matter and interaction itself deserves more respect than that.

Here's the point about the Point of Contact though. You say it's BS. Jesus says otherwise. You did not prove yourself to be God by rising from the dead, Jesus did... I'll take Jesus' word for it. This is that whole reliance on the super-natural events thing I mentioned in my response to Mike.

Regarding your boolean evaluation of Pascal's Wager... regardless of how you lay it out, there's still that sticking point of eternity (forever, infinity, etc) versus a maximum finite amount.

Feel free to follow up if you like but this'll be my last post in the thread other than one to address Demian's request that I clarify what The Point of Contact is.

Mike Wyszinski said...

Bryan,
Nice to meet you too!

In your reply you say -->
"No where did I admit my belief system wasn't logical."

Followed exactly ONE sentence later by :
"I would admit that my belief system isn't 'natural' - in the sense that it can't be logically explained by anything other than super-natural events."

Dude! Are you serious?! so, next you'll say you still don't claim it's illogical?
(for the record, i assumed you were admitting the irrational nature of those beliefs when you quoted POC)

It's no big secret, atheists know that the whole faith thing is core to religions. Even religions themselves like to claim it as a documented feature(maybe someone should start a bible bugzilla, to submit bible patches!)And every logical hole punctured in the armor of religion is quickly filled in with some silly putty called "faith".

Just a quick bit about my stance on the whole God thing. I was raised with soft catholicism (i.e. given baby bible books, church a few times a year, communion, no molesting priests ). All in all, i found my "lite" religious upbringing pretty innocuous. I began to question in my early teens, and after about 10 years, i just couldn't accept it anymore, it just didn't make any sense.

All this to say, I'm sure a lot of Christians have the same experience as i did, but chose to retain their faith.
In my case, I came to the conclusions that all the evidence pointed out that Christianity has no more chance of being correct than the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The only thing that prompted me to post was my need to point out your rationalization of the irrational. Luckily, you didn't pervert science, or i would have gotten really crazy! ;-)

So if you admit your faith is illogical/irrational, you'll get no more posts from me, deal? If it helps, maybe i was sent by God to test you...

Bryan said...

Alright then...

I lied when I told Rod I'd only respond to Demian's request.

I can't admit my faith is illogical, I can admit exactly what I said before... that it can't be logically explained by anything other than super-natural events. Another way to say this would be that if you preclude super-natural events from consideration, than sure... it can't be logically explained.

I'd not be interested in worshiping anything that didn't have the power to supercede any and all things natural. What kind of God would that be?

It's just as well, I enjoy the comments. What's a blog without the comments.

Oh, and now that I know that the perversion of science drives you nuts, I'll make an effort to use science without perverting it to argue my case in a future post.

At any rate, nice having you here.

Bryan said...

Demian requested some clarification about this "Point of Contact" thing.

Firstly, to my knowledge, it is not any kind of widely accepted phrase in traditional Christian theology. It's simply a phrase a guy used in a book to describe the concept espoused in Romans 1:18-28. If it won't make your skin burn to read it, you can go to a site like this (http://biblestuph.com/searchb.shtml) and do so... what's said there couldn't be much clearer.

For an additional bit of commentary, I'll again go back to quoting from the "Reasons of the Heart" title.

"The great reformer John Calvin argued that each person is endowed with a 'seed of religion'. He said, 'There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity' that is placed there by God, who 'repeatedly shed[s] fresh drops.' The awareness of divinity of which Calvin speaks extends to rationality and morals. Human beings are not simply 'religious, strangely imbued with a capacity for spirtuality,' as it is said today. We are actually God-conscious. Not only knowledge, but moral sense is possible because we know God already."

That's all I got...

Rod said...

Bryan:

If you think my comment contained "vitriolic name calling" your skin my not be as thick as you think. And considering that I work with you, the idea that you would try to take the high road on "profanity" is just ludicrous. This is an obvious effort to stop the discussion, and I'm not buying it.

The most "vitriolic" thing I said was that your argument about point of contact is bullshit, and that pascals wager is a child's argument. I stand by both statements. Neither is calling you a name. I am saying these arguments are terrible. Pascal's Wager is something I was hearing in college - I honestly didn't think people participating in serious discussions still used it - I thought everyone reached a point where they realized it was kind of silly and meaningless. Pascal's Wager *IS* a child's arguments. I most often heard it in Sunday School growing up. I never heard it in the adult lessons. Adults are, generally, too smart for it. Adults being intellectually honest realize that it could be applied to any theoretical god, and therefore is worthless as an argument in favor of theirs.

Your claim that Jesus wins because he supports the Point of Contact and I don't made me laugh. I hope it was meant to.

If not, I believe falling back to "jezuz sez so" is pretty much EXACTLY what I was talking about when I said that the point of contact stuff is just a lazy way for believers to let themselves give up on logic and reason without guilt.

I realize you aren't going to reply to this post, but pulling out "Jesus says so" in a serious discussion is... well, let's use the word 'surprising.'

And I'm sorry to point this out, but:

air0day@wrath:~/bible$ wget ftp://ibiblio.org/pub/docs/books/gutenberg/etext90/kjv10.zip 2> /dev/null
air0day@wrath:~/bible$ unzip kjv10.zip
Archive: kjv10.zip
inflating: kjv10.txt
air0day@wrath:~/bible$ grep -i "point\s*of\s*contact" kjv10.txt
air0day@wrath:~/bible$

Looks like Jesus doesn't support the point of contact. Instead, YOUR *INTERPRETATION* of what Jesus has to say supports the point of contact. That means you aren't trusting Jesus, you're trusting yourself.

I think when it comes from arising from the dead, you and I are on equal footing.

Bryan said...

OK... so I'm a complete liar... I don't seem to be able to resist responding. Blame Demian for encouraging me to blog in the first place.

Regarding your statement that started with... "And considering that I work with you..."

Fair point, can't disagree, I use far too much profanity. It still doesn't change the fact that you stopped dealing with the arguments in any sophisticated way, and resorted to name calling.

People who choose to engage in these types of discussions with each other in any serious way don't do that. I know you've watched/listened to many debates between theists and atheists... and it just doesn't happen.

As for your searching for 'point of contact' in the text of a King James Bible, you must've missed my response to Demian that clarified what it was. The notion that this is an *INTERPRETATION* is just flat wrong. The text from Romans speaks vividly and clearly and the text from "Reasons of the Heart" doesn't contradict or distort it in any way, it is simply a commentary. "Point of Contact" is simply a phrase used to be an abridged identifier for a concept. As I'm typing this, it seems bizarre that any of it would be difficult to understand.

To deal with your disgust for Christ's authority. Something isn't so just because you don't like it. The argument goes something like this.

- God is omniscient.
- Jesus proved he was God by raising from the dead.
- Jesus affirmed the infallibility of the text in Romans.

- Therefore, the text is Romans is true.

At this point, instead of saying something smug like 'jesus sez so' is silly, I think the exercise would be to disprove the above logical conclusion in some way.

Based on the sheer volume that performing that exercise would entail, I think that ought to be a separate post.

Mike Wyszinski said...

Bryan,

I've tried and tried and cannot dispute this logic. In fact, your logic should sit next to this gem of deductive reasoning...

http://www.mwscomp.com/movies/grail/grail-05.htm

Bryan said...

Mike... sorry I don't follow.

I contend that my faith can be logically explained by super-natural events. In other words, nothing about my faith is illogical assuming super-natural events (while rare, rare enough that there's a specific word attributed to them, the word 'miracle') are possible.

The way you would go about refuting my argument would be to actually address it... (as opposed to pasting a url to a satirical witch trial doesn't accomplish anything)

You'd say something like this...

"Your argument is false because super-natural events are not possible. Super-natural events are not possible because _____________."

demian said...

I think super-natural events could be lumped in with the larger issue of proof of god. I've never seen a super-natural event, I can't prove a negative, I can't prove they don't occur or have never happened.

We can come up with an analogy similar to the 'teapot in space'. What if I said that this morning I made my toothbrush levitate, a super-natural event. Can you refute this?

I can't refute that Jesus rose from the dead 2,000 years ago. Although I'm not inclined to think it happened.

Bryan said...

Good points Demian, I agree with you in terms of not being inclined to think it was very likely that a super-natural event has occurred.

I feel fairly safe in saying that anyone who treated something like a resurrection cavalierly and as if it happened routinely, then that person is probably not quite right in the head. It's the fact that super-natural events are so rare that makes them noteworthy.

I don't know that I could refute your toothbrush levitation example, but I guess the first thing I would do is ask you for some evidence about the event.

Stuff like...

- Who saw this happen?
- How many people saw this happen?
- Are there better more plausible alternatives as to how the toothbrush could appear to have levitated?
- Have you been able to make the toothbrush levitate before... and if so, who and how many can testify to that?

Canadian War Machine said...

Bryan,

In response to your last post.

The Gospels, that bear witness to christ's ressurection were written years after
Jesus's death, and not by people who were eyewitnesses, but by people living 50+ years later. This position seems to be widely accepted among biblical scholars.

So, my question to you is: where did these people get their information from?

Let's please continue this duiscussion to it's "logical" conclusion....

Bryan said...

Mr. or Miss War Machine...

Let me address your [incorrect] assertion that biblical scholars widely accept the assertion that the documents were not written by eyewitnesses but by people living 50+ years later (when you say 'later' I assume you mean 50+ years after Jesus' death). And when I say "let me address" I really mean "let me thankfully use the work Geisler and Turek have done for me in 'I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist' (specifically the chapter entitled 'Do We Have Early Testimony About Jesus')."

* The latest all NT documents could've been written was 100 AD.

As evidence for this assertion they show that multiple church fathers (Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp) quote passages from 25 of the 27 books in the NT in their letters. The remaining 2 that are not quoted by this time (Jude and 2 John) are addressed with other evidence (I'm trying to keep this as brief as possible, feel free to give the book or chapter a read if you want to know what 'other evidence' is in this latter case).


* Most, if not all, of the NT books were written before AD 70 (about 40 years after the death of Jesus).

The evidence offered for this assertion is the fact that the NT books do not mention the 'unprecedented national, human, economic, and religious tragedy' of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem being destroyed (prophesied by Jesus by the way), which happened in AD 70.


* Many of the NT books were written before AD 62 (about 30 years after Jesus' death).

The nature of Luke's writings (how, in is educated medical doctor sort of way, he meticulously records many details, specifically in Acts - details that are historically verifiable from other sources) combined with the fact that he doesn't mention Paul's or James' (the brother of Jesus) execution (and the notion that this lack of a mention when it comes to these deaths are not in keeping with the rest of the nature of the books he authored) are given as evidence for this. Paul was executed sometime during Nero's reign, which ended in AD 62. James was executed in AD 62 by the Jewish Sanhedrin.


* Some NT books were written in the 40s and 50s AD, with Sources from the 30s (only a few years after the death of Jesus)

To quote Geisler and Turek... "..there is no doubt from anyone - including the most liberal of scholars - that Paul wrote his first letter to the church at Corinth sometime between 55 and 56. ... the most significant aspect of this letter is that it contains the earliest and most authenticated testimony of the Resurrection itself. In the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul writes down the testimony he received from others and the testimony that was authenticated when Christ appeared to him." (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

A couple more interesting points here...

- It seems quite unlikely that a legendary (aka... made up) resurrection could occur in Jerusalem of all places given how eager the Jews and Romans were to stamp out Christianity. The powers that were would've simply had to parade Jesus' dead body around the streets to disprove the resurrection, but they couldn't because they did not have access to the body.

- Paul lists scads of witnesses... quoting the book -

"Moreover, notice that Paul cites fourteen eyewitnesses whose names are known: the twelve apostles, James, and Paul himself, and then references an appearance to more than 500 others at one time. Included in those groups was one skeptic, James, and one outright enemy, Paul himself. By naming so many people who could verify what Paul was saying, Paul was, in effect, challenging his Corinthian readers to check him out.

If the Resurrection had not occurred, why would Paul give such a list of supposed eyewitnesses? He would have immediately lost all credibility with his Corinthian readers by lying so blatantly."


I intended on responding sooner... but life got in the way. That's all I got for tonight.

Canadian War Machine said...

Bryan,

Thanks for taking the time to respond. I actually do appreciate all the effort made in giving me the short apologetics lesson. FYI, I purposefully chose to ask this question to follow the line of evidence you present.

Fist off, about when the gospels were written, Are you are presenting evidence that it is impossible to ascertain the least date the bible was written, only a "no later than" date? how does this counter my statement that it was written years after, and not by an eyewitness but through hearsay?

Interesting that you bring up 1 Corinthians 15:3-8->
"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."

Which is understood (by believers) as a statement that spirit-Jesus TOLD Paul that he had risen from the dead & people had seen him. agreed? So it's reasonable for someone to accept the resurrection based on the testimony of Paul saying a spirit told him so? the spirit does go on to say that other people saw it too...
And i am supposed top trust Paul as a reliable reporter to interview other witnesses? Honestly, you must have some skepticism about this, right?

All due respect to your faith, and i mean it. It really is difficult to accept (as a skeptic) the biblical "history" as it's written as dogmatic gospel.

Let's say Jesus's tomb WAS empty and it was supported by evidence I found compelling(which I still don't). Would you entertain that there could have been several other non-supernatural explanations? Even in the hostile anti-Christian roman environment, some bribery, collusion or trickery is at least as possible as someone rising from the dead? Occam's Razor?

tweeder said...

Brian,

I appreciate your comments.

I myself am a Christian. I believe that the Lord has placed the question on every mans heart, is there a god(s)?

Pascal was attempting to help the lay person that struggled with the questions of "does God exist" and "is there a heaven" by simplifying the concept.

In essence, the likelihood that there is a God is a 50% chance. There is on there is not. If somebody held a gun to your head and explained that you had a 50% chance of being killed, the odds when seem very high. Same concept, except instead of just dying you spent an eternity in hell. The logic of the point still stands. You are either right in believing that you can do whatever you want in this life with no consequence upon your death and that everything ceases or, you have a spirit and it will be accounted for upon your death. It is either one or the other, there are no alternatives.

Pascal continues, IF you find that a 50% chance of having eternal damnation is bothersom, then you need to try and find "god". The logic is that you either attempt to find him/seek him or you do not. If it is not a compelling enough arguement to make you seek God thats fine, but it is still the truth. You will either seek a deity or you will not. If you seek a deity you have a 100% "better chance" of going to heaven than if you do not. If you do not seek a deity there is a 100% chance that you will not go to heaven. These are both true statements.

Now, you have already stated that even if this was the case you could have a varity of religions that you could choose from (including Reasian). This is true making the 100% now an obsure number. But Pascal is then trying to, at least, get the reader/listener to seek God as this increases the persentage that the person will find eternal rest. He obviously continues on to argue that Jesus Christ is God and uses the scriptures as his primary proof.

If you continue to not believe in "god" or heaven then Pascal's continuing of WHICH religion is pointless rhetoric. But the original point is still valid. So flip a coin.

However, if a person is intrigued and is actively seeking "god", the person must believe that the supernautual does exist and requires us to compare and contrast all religions as each were inspired. We then have to begin eliminating those that seem the most unlikley to the ones that seem more likley. (In my personal opinion this is where the Bible shines).

Matt 7:8
"For everyone who asks receives, and he who SEEKS finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."
C.S. Lewis attests to this in various books that he had written.

demian said...

[quote]
In essence, the likelihood that there is a God is a 50% chance.
[/quote]

Lemme step inside your brain for a moment:
- There are 2 choices
- One can be true
- So the chance of a given choice being true is 1/2.

Therefore the probability of god is 50%. I'm speechless.

Really, you probably want to give that more thought. At least say something like the probability is not knowable.

Canadian War Machine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Canadian War Machine said...

Demian is God
or
Demian is not God

i better start idolizing that fat bald idiot.....after all, there is a 50% chance he is God, i don't want to piss him off.

Bryan said...

CWM...

--yousay--
Fist off, about when the gospels were written, Are you are presenting evidence that it is impossible to ascertain the least date the bible was written, only a "no later than" date? how does this counter my statement that it was written years after, and not by an eyewitness but through hearsay?
--endyousay--

I presented evidence to show that your assertion that the documents in the NT were written 50+ years after Jesus' death was wrong. Specifically, the Corinthian letter I mentioned gets us down to a few years after Jesus' death. Paul authored the letter, and become a fellow apostle with the rest of the twelve who did know Christ the man personally and were eyewitnesses to the events of his life.

We do agree that Paul had an encounter with what you referred to as 'spirit-Jesus' - on the road to Damascus as reported in Acts. The text here in 1st Corinthians does not say that the 'spirit-Jesus' told Paul that 500 people saw the risen Christ. The text simply makes a declarative statement. It does not relay a second-hand message the 'spirit-Jesus' gave Paul about who saw the risen Christ.

verse 6: Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

It does not say or imply something like: Then the 'spirit-Jesus' told me the 'actual risen bodily Jesus' appeared to more than...


--yousay--
It really is difficult to accept (as a skeptic) the biblical "history" as it's written as dogmatic gospel.
--endyousay--

I guess I don't understand what you're trying to say here. Are you saying it is difficult for you to accept the biblical account of the events (the history part) because the text makes claims about what those events mean for humanity (the dogmatic gospel part)? I just don't follow the reasoning... it's probably because I don't understand something you're trying to say.

If that's what you're saying, to be consistent, it would seem that you'd have to reject any story being told that is comprised of factual events where the author ends up conveying some more lasting and meaningful message other than to simply relay the stiff chronology of what happened and when. (I'm thinking of some cheesy after school special right now about drinking and driving. You get the whole terribly acted timeline of when young Johnny drank, when he got in a car with his girlfriend after drinking, and when he got in a wreck that resulted in both him and his girlfriend's death. The end get's all sappy and tries to tell you how you ought not drink and drive. -- Are you saying that because of the 'dogmatic gospel' of being told you ought not drink and drive, then the whole after school special has got to be bogus?)

--yousay--
Would you entertain that there could have been several other non-supernatural explanations? Even in the hostile anti-Christian roman environment, some bribery, collusion or trickery is at least as possible as someone rising from the dead? Occam's Razor?
--endyousay--

First, yes, I would entertain that there *could* have been several other explanations. There can always be more than one explanation for just about any situation. Invoking Occam's Razor only works though when multiple explanations are equal in terms of explanatory power. "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" does a fine job of addressing multiple aternative theories (in the chapter 'Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?' - Hallucination Theory, Witnesses Went to the Wrong Tomb, Swoon or Apparent Death Theory, The Disciples Stole the Body, etc.), and I believe that not a one of them explains the facts (in particular the aforementioned case when many hundred people, who were still alive at the time of the writing and who Paul basically said to check with, saw the risen Christ after his death) nearly as well as an actual super-natural resurrection.


I am curious now though, what kind of evidence and how much of it would it take for you to believe Christ rose from the dead? Would any type or amount suffice?

Canadian War Machine said...

Bryan,

Let me clarify my poorly worded sentence:
->"It really is difficult to accept (as a skeptic) the biblical "history" as it's written as dogmatic gospel."

I'm not saying the bible isn't a historical document, it's been around (in various forms)for 2000 years and is a central part of a major world religion that millions believe.

And yes you were correct, the bible doesn't JUST chronicle the life of a man, like every other biography of the time. It goes beyond normal historical accounting by laying out the dogma that Jesus was not merely a man, but the son of God.

And to be clear, I am rejecting the bible's authenticity as the word of God, not as a book of morals. To fit the analogy you presented, if the MADD commercial said drunkdriving is bad, because:
a) it leads to higher chance of collision and possibly the death of yourself or someone else(thus justifiying why you should not do it i.e. a moral statement)
b) if you kill someone driving drunk, you'll go to hell (dogma).
I could reject b), but still accept that a) is true. I don't see why it has to be all or nothing?

Here is my core issue for interpreting the gospels as historical proof
of Jesus as the son of God. Information from 2000 years ago is scant and what information there is, is hard to date, hard to corroborate,etc. Ancient history is a very inexact(compared to modern history) account of the past. It's a history measured generally in empires and entire civilizations. For every book quote you present, I can present scholars who say the opposite. The ancient past is just....so murky.
All the back and forth about biblical minutia like resurrection eyewitnesses, dating the gospels, etc, is just noise. It's all endlessly debatable. *Personally*, I don't expect the bible to be accurate, never mind expect it to be the God spoken ultimate Truth.

With respect to what kind of evidence would need to be produced to convince me that Jesus existed and rose from the dead...Well, how does one prove a super natural event occurred 2000 years ago?
I suppose any proof would HAVE to be supernatural as well. It's not like we have any equations governing the rising of dead. I suppose, the only "proof" i would accept Jesus as the Son of God If he showed up to me personally. Can you think of something that would convince a skeptic short of this? I can't....

There's the rub that triggered my involvement in this thread. It isn't that I claim I can disprove Jesus as the Son of God(nor do I want to), only it's that it is inherently unprovable, it's a faith based leap. I am fine letting others make the leap, but I do expect them to admit it's a leap that isn't "logical" (in the purest sense).

Anyway, this has been fun but, I think I said more than I had ever planned to...I think it's good for skeptics and believers to hash it out once in awhile.

Keep on, keeping on bryan!

Later,
Mike the Canadian War Machine