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Tony Grist

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Belief And Unbelief [Jan. 8th, 2009|09:50 am]
Tony Grist
Is it possible to prove or disprove the existence of God- or indeed of any supernatural entity? Of course not. Human beings have been trying all through history- and have yet to come up with anything that holds water- which doesn't stop us- believers and unbelievers alike- from parading our certainties and pouring scorn- or worse- on the opposition.

A belief in God is ridiculous. So is atheism. Because in the final analysis it is ridiculous that anything exists. Even if the Hadron collider eventually establishes the "how" of the Big Bang, it won't be telling us "why". Did Mind produce Matter or did Matter produce Mind?  Both positions are equally plausible/implausible. You choose- if you do choose and your position isn't simply inherited or indoctrinated-  on grounds of intellectual fashion or aesthetic preference,  but not on grounds of  reason or evidence. Reason doesn't stretch that far and there is evidence- unsatisfactory, inconclusive evidence- on both sides. Mary saw a ghost; John says she can't have done because ghosts don't exist. Which of them should you trust? 

I think belief in God (don't ask me to define the word) makes life more interesting. And I notice that Richard Dawkins makes exactly the same claim for his disbelief. 
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: mummm
2009-01-08 10:57 am (UTC)

For the bunny lover on my list...

I saw this on Cute Overload and immediately thought of you.
I know it's off the subject...




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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-01-08 11:23 am (UTC)

Re: For the bunny lover on my list...

Those are cute!

Ailz says a pair of bunny slippers is the best possible response to a post on the existence of God. :)
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[User Picture]From: mummm
2009-01-08 03:07 pm (UTC)

Re: For the bunny lover on my list...

I love Aliz!

I expect you realize that two of those bunnies are alive ones... right? (Not really slippers)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-01-08 04:02 pm (UTC)

Re: For the bunny lover on my list...

I thought they probably were- but I wasn't sure.
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[User Picture]From: mummm
2009-01-08 04:05 pm (UTC)

Re: For the bunny lover on my list...

It's a clever photo!
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2009-01-08 12:23 pm (UTC)
Mary saw a ghost; John says she can't have done because ghosts don't exist. Which of them should you trust?
Neither?

The statement "I saw a ghost", has meaning for the person making it. What someone else makes of such a statement has no bearing on whether ghosts exist and should be irrelevant to the beliefs of the person making the claim - in a perfect world, of course.

People experience ghosts. People experience the divine. These experiences are as 'real' as any other. The impact such an experience has on their lives is real, too. These things inevitably run aground when someone tries to turn something inherently personal into an impersonal and universal 'truth'. If religion were more about cultivating a meaningful and personal relationship with the divine, and much less about converting the unbeliever, religion would be far less problematic.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-01-08 01:04 pm (UTC)
I'm with you most of the way.

But is all truth merely subjective? Is it merely a subjective truth that the earth goes round the sun? I can't be entirely sure that ghosts exist, but- if my brain were bigger or different- if, say, I were a ghost myself- I might know it for a fact. Maybe ghosts are as objectively real as the earth going round the sun- only inaccessible to our science.
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[User Picture]From: wlotus
2009-01-08 04:24 pm (UTC)
But is all truth merely subjective?

To a certain extent, yes. My sweater is navy blue...depending on the light, the vision of the person looking, their definition of navy blue, and so on. We can define navy blue by a certain wavelength of light, but even so, that definition started with a person's label, where someone else might have labeled that wavelength of light something else, had they had the chance (or had they been taken seriously when they did so).

And who said the sweater is mine, in the first place? :-)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-01-08 07:49 pm (UTC)
I'm a Platonist, I suppose. What we see in the cave are just shadows of the real things outside.
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[User Picture]From: wlotus
2009-01-08 07:56 pm (UTC)
Fascinating: I had never heard of that term until you used it and I looked it up.

I used to be a Platonist, and it seems my experiences have driven me to the side of believing there are few, if any, absolutes. Or perhaps I have always been this way, and I suppressed it in order to survive the black & white environment in which I was raised and in which I chose to continue to move in as a young adult. My parents say that even before I was school-aged, I was good for asking recursive "what if" questions until the parent unlucky enough to be my audience that moment would say, "Wanda, stop what iffing!"
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-01-09 10:35 am (UTC)
"Stop that what iffing." I love it!





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[User Picture]From: redatt
2009-01-08 02:01 pm (UTC)
Mary saw a ghost; John says she can't have done because ghosts don't exist. Which of them should you trust?

I'm not sure why trust should come into. I'd think that Mary saw something which she classified as a ghost and that John defines 'ghost' as something that people only think they see and for those reasons I wouldn't necessarily believe or side with either of them.

I am an atheist (and I'm with Sherlock Holmes, "The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.") but I'm also agnostic and think as you do. What we believe and what we can prove/disprove (and therefore really know for certain sure) are not always the same thing at all. This does not, however, necessarily prevent me from parading my certainty or pouring my scorn on the opposition.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-01-08 02:46 pm (UTC)
The things we really, really know are very few. Most of our certainties are actually taken on trust. For instance, I'm fully convinced that the world is round not flat- but there's no way I could prove it to you.
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[User Picture]From: wlotus
2009-01-08 04:18 pm (UTC)
It is interesting that the further I move from fundamentalist/Pentecostal Christianity, the more comfortable I am with not knowing. Back then, I used to think we had the definitive answers to those questions. Of all of the doubts I had, the existence of God was not one of them, which shows just how much faith I had in the people who indoctrinated me. Now that I have seen just how little of what they told me truly works (at least for me), I question all of it, including the very existence of God.

Does God exist? I don't know. Sometimes I talk to God, even though it makes little sense to do so when I am not sure there is someone there listening. That's the ridiculousness of it all. But I am comfortable being ridiculous. I am not comfortable with being absolute.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-01-08 07:56 pm (UTC)
I've learned to distrust my beliefs.

But I do still believe- in God, in spirits, in the afterlife, in reincarnation. The difference, perhaps, is that I no longer feel that my world would collapse if my beliefs were disproved. And that's because previous belief systems have fallen to pieces around me- and I survived.
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[User Picture]From: wlotus
2009-01-08 07:59 pm (UTC)
The difference, perhaps, is that I no longer feel that my world would collapse if my beliefs were disproved.

Yes, this. Though I admit to being a teensy bit afraid of the possibility that the oppressive beliefs I have turned my back on are right, after all, and I will suffer for eternity for releasing them. That possibility doesn't fit my (admittedly vague) understanding of God, though.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-01-09 10:42 am (UTC)
I get those twinges too- every once in a while- and my upbringing was relatively liberal.

The God of "that old time religion" is a psychopath and a terrorist- a sort of heavenly Saddam Hussein. It ought to be beneath our human dignity to worship such a creature.
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[User Picture]From: wlotus
2009-01-10 02:40 am (UTC)
I copied that second paragraph into my paper journal. Your words are right on the mark, and every time I read them, my soul vibrates like a gong.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-01-10 10:26 am (UTC)
Wow. I'm honoured :)

It's one of the great insights of Christianity- and one that keeps being smothered and obscured because it's so counter-intuitive- that God isn't some tin-pot dictator, he's the dictator's victim. He's not Tiberius Caesar, he's the poor man on the cross.
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2009-01-08 06:05 pm (UTC)
I like the response a friend of mine made when someone asked him in tones of horrified semi-scorn: "Surely you don't BELIEVE in the gods, do you?"

He said, "No, I don't believe, I know. The gods are as real as rocks."

That's my experience too. Not everyone's, I know, but I live in my world; other people don't have to. ;)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-01-09 10:44 am (UTC)
Not only are they as real as rocks- in certain instances they actually are rocks.

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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2009-01-10 05:43 pm (UTC)
"...they actually are rocks." I like that statement. One of the "varieties of religious experience" (James).
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