Sunday, December 16, 2007

Answer to Ben Elijah's Critique of My God Arguments

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My friend Ben Elijah made a response in comments to the last post on what we know about God's existence. I found this such a good comment that think it deserves to be a major pot. So here are my responses.

Case for God Arguments"
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Blogger Ben Elijah said...

Meta: “
We have no empirical demonstrative proof that God exists, but we come closer to having that than atheists do to having proof of no God. Basically, we know three things:

I. We are fit to be Religious

II. We have empirical proof of the "God correlate." (aka CO-determinate).

III. Religious belief works as a way of life.

These three facts are enough to demonstrate the rationality of belief and the irrationality of atheism. Yes, these are facts. They are not merely opinions or speculations they are amply demonstrated through a ton of data.

It would be silly to deny that most human cultures have religion of some sort of course but that is a form of argumentum ad populum. Basically, simply because most people believe, or are inclined to believe in something, does not constitute evidence of its existence. It begs the question of why so many believe it.


(1) I already covered the argument from popularity in the original post. It's not, it's the argument that the overwhelming incidence of belief throughout human history is indicative of something deeper than just being popular. It's not merely "the majority" its the vast majority of humans throughout all of human history going back 65,000 years! when I say "vast majority" I mean actual atheism didn't' really even exist in history until about the time of the Greeks. At that point humanity had been religious for 64,0000 years. Its' like 99% of humanity in any given era. Even when they tried to totally wipe out religious belief and build an atheist socie3ty still 50% or so remain religious (China).

(2) I think when any characteristics is universal to humanity social scientists assume it is genetic or somehow endemic.

(3) Its' not begging the question because I did present reasons to think it's genetic. I presented several reasons. I had about twelve reasons why it's instinctive and he's only dealing with the first one there. Other include hard wried God part of the brain. archetypes and other things.

(4) moreover I did present a reason why people are religious. I spoke of the origin of religion in the sense of the numinous. And I quotes social sciences backing that up.

Your argument is an evidence of circular reasoning then; we are fit to be religious which is evidence of our fitness to be religious.

Meta: sorry Ben I think you misapprehend that. I do not use fitness of religion as proof that we are fit for religion. I use fitness for religion (which is evidence by its effect upon our physical and mental health) as proof that we are designed to be religious. It's a design argument. It's not circular because premise (we are fit to be reglious) does not rest upon the conclusion (fitness for religion is indicative of design).


It's an interesting tautology. We could happily go into such things as the evolutionary/memetic history of religion or issues of developmental psychology. One could say that we have evolved the capacity for religion, just like we have evolved the capacity for rape, murder, paedophilia and self-destruction. It makes more sense not to live our lives by what we are biologically / psychologically capable of, but by the courage of our convictions and reasoning.


Oh oh, here we have several fallacies.

(1) There is no tautology here. Tautology is a statement, not false, that has no new information. Tautology is not a false statement but one that tells us nothing, such as "all husbands are married men." "my existing house exists." "anger making statements make me angry." You seem to be confusing this with circular reasoning , but the example you give is not an example of even circular reasoning but merely an example of alternate causality. One can quibble over causality without the argument one is responding to being fallacious. so that is not even a sign of fallacy of any kind. Merely a straightforward dispute.

(2) The idea that we have evolved religion, comparing religion to things like murder, is certain begging the question and ignores the the obvious. Why would you say religion evolved as did murder when in fact so did eating, sleeping, speech, language, thinking, math, science and everything else. Not all of these are genetic, we don't have genes for working math, but everything evolves. Evolution is nothing more than progressive change and adaptation to change. Here I am including social as well genetic evolution.

with a million positive things to which you might have compared it, why compare it to murder and child abuse? Clearly the evidence I have put forth demonstrates, and quotes psychiatry stating point blank, that religion is normative for humanity. Religion is clearly demonstrated to be one of the positive aspects of humanity. Why would you use only negative things as examples of evolution?

(3) There is clear evidence that religion has evolved in human understanding. This evidence show us that religion is genetically endemic to humanity. One of my major arguments is that religion is genetic, it is designed into us. evolution by itself could not do this. So that argument clearly has not effect upon my over all case because I can absorb it into my theology quite easily.


(4) There is NO scientific evidence that murder or pedophilia are products of human evolution. They may be social evolution no evidence they are genetic. That is indeed begging the question.


“Atheists want to attribute the origin of religion to the need to explain nature. But anthropologists and psychologists no longer find this credible. Now they attribute religious belief to the sense of the numinous. Because we find some aspect of reality to be different from the mundane, we sense a sublime, a transcendent, a terror, a sense of dread, the existential sense of meaning, we conclude that there is a reality higher than just the material daily world. Since this is endemic to us, and it is part of our inborn religious nature, we can assume it is an indication of something higher.”

Why? Since it is endemic to us and part of our inborn religious nature (I shall take that as read, you assume it to be true but I am aware of much scientific research into whether that is so... personally I like the memetic idea but I digress), it begs the question of how that inclination came to be.


Ok I see you arguing three things here (1) why" take to mean why conclude there is a reality higher than our own? (2) dispute that any causality can be proven other than "memtic." (3) attributing to sense of numinous is begging question because because it doesn't answer the origin of religious motions.

(1) because its' the religious a priori, that means we sense the high realm or nature in the numinous. that's just a a priori, that's a intuitive sense.

(2) "memetic" doesn't tell us anything. all that means is ideas spread from person a to person and can be charted epidemiologically. But even though there is an accompanying ideology to that concept it really tells us nothing and all it really can ever prove is idea spread from person to person.

(3) I think you are working under the assumption that unless religion is accounted for in negative terms then the question has not been answered.

I have presented evidence from social science that says religious experince is genetic. It's caused by a part of the brain that responds to God talk. Now I say that this requires innate ideas. That is, the mind cannot distinguish between "God and "tree," "lamppost" "frog" or other things unless it can have an innate understanding of "God" is. This is so because it doesn't respond to anything else that way. Thus there must be some innate idea of God. But innate ideas are supposed to be impossible. They were given up in the 18th century. Innate ideas are favorable
to religious belief not materialism.

If I understand your argument, I can present the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle as an analogy:

i)You have a complete jigsaw where you know each piece must fit into another to form a complete, coherent picture that cannot deviate.
ii)You have a piece from that jigsaw puzzle
iii)Ergo, your piece will fit into the bigger picture.


No I don't think that fits my argument. I don't see why you would say it does. If you will forgive my supposition, I do not mean offense but I think it fits your view of religion in general and that's what you expect my argument to be like. But really don't see how it has any application to my specific argument.

In other words, our capacity for transcendental experience must mirror, or be “tuned” to the experience which it is “designed” to receive. That represents point i) of my analogy. The problem is that there are so many different realities that have been proposed throughout human history.... Vedic religions and Zoroastrianism, Aboriginal beliefs, paleolithic “shamanistic” cultures, the Greek pantheon, mezo-American beliefs, the Celtic Pantheon, the Levantine pantheon which evolved into monotheistic Judaism by the time of King Hezekiah. The list goes on. We have an enormously varied bunch of philosophies and concepts that all represent a different reality. The jigsaw puzzle is not one “reality” but thousands. There's the flying spaghetti monster!

Ok see I think what you really have here is a general argument against religious belief as a whole. I don't think it works as an argument. but it is an appropriate picture of the situation vis world religions overall. On the other hand, my theology is immune to this criticism. It is immune for the same reason tha tit is immune to the criticism of religious belief as a product of human evolution. I don't really have time to go into the ins and outs of all my views. You can read about my general view of Godon Doxa,(my website) and I have a thumbnail of my theological credo.

I do not see the idea of religion as a part of evolution as particularly detrimental to religion. Please read that latter link as it will explain how I feel this view fits with Christianity. But in a nutshell I believe that we have this sense of the numinous that has been evolving sense the early inception of human consciousness. WE experience it at the mystical level, which means beyond word, thought or image. We can't talk about it because it's beyond our understanding, we have no words to describe it. So we just filter it through cultural constructs. That's why all religion s are different and all are rooted in cultural understandings. These differences in god personalties are just bs. They are just conventional points of reference so we have something to relate to. Like on the original Star trek episode, where they fight Klingon commander Koor. Advanced being create a pastoral setting so the privative humans can relate to something, but they are really blinding flashes of light that are way beyond our understanding. There have been interfaith dialogues, it is possible for people of other faiths to get along. It's all a matter of phenomenological apprehension, not doctrine on paper.

In any case I'm having trouble seeing how your view, your analogy has any currency against my arguments.

Your answer to this will probably be that each religion has something in common – most have creation myths, one or more deities that either personify certain concepts (you will note that Judeo-Christian religions are a deviation from that trend) deal with civilisation vs. barbarity, have a moral code, etc etc. '

ahahah, my friend, it is always a mistake to expect your opponent to be stereotypical.;-)

I do not think the answer is found in trying to correlate or coordinate the individual fiddly bits of religions. I basically see the fiddly bits as bs. with notable exceptions in the cause of Christ, because he was a historical figure and played a definite role in the economy of God. But all the brickabrack of religious devotional ism such as doctrines (most doctrines with some exceptions) and the like are just conventional points of reference; part of the pastoral setting.


My answer is that each differing religion mirrors exactly the anthropological history of the people that believe it. For example, Judaism is suited to the history of the people who first came to believe in it, similarly Celtic religions are suited to their environment and lifestyle. The contrast between the early Vedic ideas and Zoroastrianism is fascinating because where the latter evolved, hill peoples fought with settled farmers. We have a dualism that informed the gnostic idea of Good and Evil that is unique to the Abrahamic religions.

yea! Good point. It a mirror of anthropological development because they filter ing their understand through cultural constructs. But the mystical experince Of which I write, or of which there are many empirical studies, is real. that is not fictional that is not filtered that is the real actual sure enough thing, the sense of the numinous. That's the origin of religion and the revelation of God. The studies show that mystical experience has certain commonalities that transcend all cultural differences. by this I don't mean mayoralty, but the actual sense of the presence of God and it's effect upon the mystic.



"The experience of pure consciousness is typically called "mystical". The essence of the mystical experience has been debated for years (Horne, 1982). It is often held that "mysticism is a manifestation of something which is at the root of all religions (p. 16; Happold, 1963)." The empirical assessment of the mystical experience in psychology has occurred to a limited extent."

"In a recent review of the mystical experience Lukoff and Lu (1988) acknowledged that the "definition of a mystical experience ranges greatly (p. 163)." Maslow (1969) offered 35 definitions of "transcendence", a term often associated with mystical experiences and used by Alexander et al. to refer to the process of accessing PC."

Lukoff (1985) identified five common characteristics of mystical experiences which could be operationalized for assessment purposes. They are:

1. Ecstatic mood, which he identified as the most common feature;
2. Sense of newly gained knowledge, which includes a belief that the mysteries of life have been revealed;
3. Perceptual alterations, which range from "heightened sensations to auditory and visual hallucinations (p. 167)";
4. Delusions (if present) have themes related to mythology, which includes an incredible range diversity and range;
5. No conceptual disorganization, unlike psychotic persons those with mystical experiences do NOT suffer from disturbances in language and speech.
It can be seen from the explanation of PC earlier that this list of qualities overlaps in part those delineated by Alexander et al.

As I said in the original post, a vast body of scientific literature proves that these experiences are real, because they have a real effect, a dramatic life transforming effect. I have already documented this and linked to two pages of data. see the original post. No atheists has ever given me any alternate causality that is long term and positive and dramatic in its effects. So the effects of these experiences cannot be be accounted for.

I could go on, but the crux of my argument is that you will find more of an explanation for the religious experience of certain people by looking at their history and the evolution of their beliefs over time, than from the flawed assumption that because they all have some sort of superstition, there must be a higher reality.


evolution and history of beliefs doesn't disprove my argument. I've accounted for those differences.

“The atheists will argue that this is supposition. Of course it is. Of course the fact that ti's empirically documented as to the effects and that it is the most logical and educated supposition will be meaningless to them. This is their ultimately excuse to ignore the truth and so they will ignore it. But I don't see how anything could be more obvious.”

With all due respect I think this is just FUD.


with equal due what is "FUD?" fud? Like Elmer? "you wasckawe wabit!" ;-)


It may be obvious that the Earth is flat or that, judging by its motion, the sun goes round the Earth. This is obvious, but an unsatisfactory explanation out of which no further information can come.
(1) I've demons tread and documented actaul data proving that the idea of God is genetic. The brain studies on the God part of the brain are scientific and empirical.

(2) no amount of memes can explain how e can have innate ideas of God.

(3) I have other arguments. Points II and IIII are very important and you have touched them. I also had something A-J arguments for religious instinct you didn't really answer one of them.

“Of course it's not proof. but it means any reasonable understanding of a prmia facie burden. The atheists thev the burden of proof to show us why a ratioanl warrant is not good enough. We have met our prima facie burden.”

You may need to explain this as it makes no sense to me after a few readings. Most atheists I know will use the burden of proof to say that since theists make a positive proposition, i.e., “there definitely is a God”, the burden of proof is on them to assert this.

WEll Ben

(1) I did not say "there definitely is a God." I was careful to lay out an entire post prior to the one under discussion which was nothing but a decision making paradigm. Far from making bold assertion "there definitely is a God" my paradigm called for the conclusion that I have a rational warrant for belief in God. stated explicitly many times in the original post that Id o not claim this as actual proof. I showed why we cannot and should not expect empirical proof of God. I showed that rational warrant is good enough.

that's what I claim rational warrant.

so To the extent that I have demonstrated a rational warrant I have meta my prmia facie burden it now becomes your burden o show that my view is not prmia facie.

The default position is one in which there is no God because prior to the theists (logically speaking, not historically), there is no God.

No that assumption no longer will fly, the reason: the studies on God part of the brain show that we are born with innate knowledge of God. I don't mean to be critical, Ben, but the time to make this sort of criticism was to part I with the decision making paradigm. But I wont quibble. you make it where you make it. But that's my answer to it.

Religious belief is normative for humans. points A -J prove this. Thus there is no default assumption.

The atheist can then go to town on the theist arguments as to why there is a God. This often catches out a lot of theists because they've grown up in a society which is religious to varying degrees. Religious life is the de-facto standard in the West and it takes a bit of thought to realise that this is not the case once we get into logic.


Yea, that's very convent the way they worked that out. Have you ever noticed that no major philosopher supports that view? That was not the result of people like Russell and Hume and Kant, that was the atheist on the net. They might possibly have taken their cues from Quine and Hair and maybe Russell to some extent. But the point is it is merely the product of a truth regime. It's just an attempt to get around the fact that religion is the normative human experience. There is no logical reason why there should be a default when we have innate ideas of God.

as to Why there is a God! that is not far to seek.

there's a God because Being has to be.

now you turn to three. So my criticism was hasty above. But you didn't' talk about II and I fear your discussion of three is going to be too short shrift.

“III. works as a way of life."

In other words, even though many find religion abusive or stiffening, for the majority religion is a source of strength. the empirical data demonstrates that for the great majority religion is a major factor in wellness. The normative nature of religious belief is a good indication of truth content.”


Whoa!! Too much too fast there! Religion works as a way of life for a lot of people, yes. I'm not going to argue with that. To my, atheism is just an intellectual chess game. I live my life by principles which I think are right... to say that there is no god is just a philosophical statement which I happen to agree with. I would never force it on people who derive pleasure from their faith and would only debate it with them if we agree to do so within the context of a debate, not a preaching session.


I applaud your fairness. But the topic was "answering the charge that our sense of "I know God is real" is no better the atheist since of "I know there is no God." My decision making process was to find a rational warrant and demonstrate that it is more rational than that of the atheists.

If you mean to refute my ideas you must show either that I'm just wrong and I don't have a rational warrant. Or that rational warrant is not the issue.

Now, I could argue that any benevolent holistic belief or moral system is going to work as a way of life. I am a humanist, as are many of my friends and while we don't believe in God, we're all happy, successful, well adjusted people with no deep-seated psychological issues or traumas. Is that evidence of it's truth by itself? What if I believed in the moral powers of the pimple on the nose of the giant pixie, and this gave joy, happiness and well being to millions of people. Does that make it more true? Of course not! Truth is a matter for a posteriori experimentation and scientific method to uncover – not a straw poll of who is more happy!


The Larsen study of which I quoted was a lit search of 2000 studies in social sciences index which showed that religion was the major factor in people coping with life. There is no such data demonstrating that atheism works like that. tot he same extent there is good health data on church participation and that specifically controls for other kinds of social social support including atheism. Atheist, humanist liberals all have crummy health indices's from their social support networks.

you may feel good about them but the data does not back you.

I had other sources too from Nielson.

I could accept that there is a utilitarian argument for religion, using your logic, but with the qualification that it's negative aspects such as child abuse, indoctrination, homophobia, suppression of women and moral absolutism is removed first.

Those problems are not inherent in religion itself. Those are examples of trying to explain experience through certain kinds of cultural constructs. In other words you can certainly be religious without those aspects.

The point of No III in the decision making paradgim it demonstrates the co-determinate. The effects are real, so the experience is real. The content is of God so we should assume God is the cause of the effects.

In other words. it's an experience of the divine, the experience is real, i's an experience of something so we should assume that it is an experince of that which it seems to be on its face, an experience of the divine. That's a rational warrant. not proof it's a warrant.


“a) Unbeliever is the Sick Soul”

Forgive me but I simply can't take that seriously. If atheists may tend to be unhappy, it is likely because of the rejection they have endured from family/friends who are religious. I'd say that's more of a problem in the US than it is here in the UK where atheism is accepted, uncontroversial and won't cause World War Three in even most religious families. Am I a “sick soul”?

"sick soul" is not an insult. It doesn't mean atheists are sick people, it's a technical term. Maslow was Jungian based. The guy who said that (Amaro, Brazil) was a Maslowite, a follower of Maslow's transactional psychology. "sick soul" has to do with the way they resolve major epistemic issues; negatively, skeptical "you can't prove it" ect. The alternative is the healing soul, I'm getting better and I'm being healed. I'm experiencing healing through these experiences.

Don't ignore the finding he gives, that psychology no longer makes Freud's assumption that religious belief is pathology.


I've read the rest of your post a few times, I think that what I have said here covers your other points which can be summed up as “religion is popular, well established and beneficial and therefore true”. I believe my objections adequately refute that assertion.


Your comments are most welcome. If you wish a rebuttal I will also put up here and you can post it in the comment section to this post. I will answer it, if you wish a rebuttal to that I will allow that to be the last word. I always give my guest the last word on my blog.

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