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Santa Ain't Real Either
October 29, 2005 5:53 PM   Subscribe

Why Does God Hate Amputees? - Marshall Brain, creator of HowStuffWorks and author of Robotic Nation, has posted his latest work, a multi-chapter website examining the delusion of religious belief. If you're busy, he suggests reading Understanding Delusion. If you want the whole story, start at the beginning. (title explaination)
posted by jsonic (216 comments total)

 
Oh, well, I'm glad he finally settled that question for everyone. Who wants a martini?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:01 PM on October 29, 2005


It better have gin in it!
posted by TwelveTwo at 6:06 PM on October 29, 2005


We had this discussion last week last week.
posted by delmoi at 6:07 PM on October 29, 2005


As silly as this may or may not be, he does have a catchy title.
posted by delmoi at 6:08 PM on October 29, 2005


Is God real? Or is he imaginary? It is one of the most important questions in America today.

Hahaha. Okay.
posted by delmoi at 6:14 PM on October 29, 2005


*gets out lubricant and box of Kleenex*
posted by Krrrlson at 6:19 PM on October 29, 2005 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a secular Jew, can I just say that the author's grasp of Christian theologies appears to be...deplorable, at best? "Christian," as he uses the term, has no meaning. For starters, his entire frame of reference appears to be fundamentalist Protestantism, which--besides being rather late on the scene--has zilch to do with, say, Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox theologies. And his somewhat indiscriminate use of online references (this and this, for example) doesn't give me much confidence. For some reason, Mr. Brain seems to think that he can prooftext the Bible and come up with what "Christians" think--something that isn't true.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:22 PM on October 29, 2005


Marshall Brain is a clever guy but he has no feeling for subtlety or that something may have complex explanations not reducible to 4-5 labeled diagrams. It is as if he sees the world in binary.
posted by vacapinta at 6:22 PM on October 29, 2005


(I should add that my last link refers to the Qu'ran, but the author is extending a point he's made before about Biblical interpretation.)
posted by thomas j wise at 6:24 PM on October 29, 2005


It's interesting, but most people that I know or have heard about who are strongly atheist are so because for them, they must have proof for something before they accept it.

There are plenty of "fairytales" that people believe in that aren't of a religious nature, but in general it's the religious stories that get the most criticism.

Basically, faith is faith. That's the point of faith. Religion is not (or should not be) about facts, scientific evidence, or any of that. If you believe in a higher power, then you believe in a higher power. If you don't, you never will.

That being said, I agree wholeheartedly with his sentiment that people should not believe in their own fairytales while denigrating others'. The sooner Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc realize that in essence they're all worshipping the same entity, the better off humanity in general will be.

I think his case was strong when he presented each religion's story as a contrasted fairy tale, although personally I feel he let the Christian fairy tale off easy. However, his arguments at the end, which boiled down to "The bible is fake because God doesn't exist" were pretty weak.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:25 PM on October 29, 2005


Yeah, doesn't seem like he's spent much time debating religion with anyone, or at least not anyone very smart. His whole thing seems to be a straw man argument.

The Karma system explains why bad things happen to good people... because they were bad people in previous lives.

Christians often use free-will to explain why people do bad things to each other, the gunman had free will to kill the teacher, and for all we know the teacher knew she was a dead woman was just trying to get into heaven.
posted by delmoi at 6:29 PM on October 29, 2005


So ... does God hate amputees? Set aside Marshall Brain's straw man argument, and his weak grasp of Christian theologies, and the concept of faith for faith's sake. If Jesus (the son of God as well as the living incarnation of the deity) was telling the truth about the efficacy of prayer, then clearly amputees are figments of the imagination. If they aren't figments, then something else must be.
posted by Seabird at 6:51 PM on October 29, 2005


Don't try to confuse us with logic, Seabird!
posted by mullingitover at 6:55 PM on October 29, 2005


However, his arguments at the end, which boiled down to "The bible is fake because God doesn't exist" were pretty weak.

Actually, I found his argument (and it usually gets trotted out every time in these debates) is more along the lines of "God doesn't exist because the Bible is fake," which, to me, sounds even more preposterous.
posted by Krrrlson at 6:59 PM on October 29, 2005


So ... does God hate amputees?

That whole section is peppered with phrases like: "If you are a Christian, then you believe with absolute certainty that God answers prayers."

Yeah right. As I said, lack of subtlety. I'd love to see a theologian take a whack at this guy.
posted by vacapinta at 6:59 PM on October 29, 2005


Actually, I think that his reasoning - given his audience - is excellent. And claiming that he is basing his arguments on the Bible is just stupid. He is stating that there is no God, Allah, etc. THAT is the central point. The accuracy - or not - of the Bible is offered only as supporting documentation.
posted by davidmsc at 7:10 PM on October 29, 2005


on preview: vacapinta, a theologian CAN'T take a whack at this guy, because anyone who bases their "logic" or arguments on the existence of Santa Claus (or any other imaginary creature) automatically loses.
posted by davidmsc at 7:12 PM on October 29, 2005


So ... does God hate amputees? Set aside Marshall Brain's straw man argument, and his weak grasp of Christian theologies, and the concept of faith for faith's sake. If Jesus (the son of God as well as the living incarnation of the deity) was telling the truth about the efficacy of prayer, then clearly amputees are figments of the imagination. If they aren't figments, then something else must be.

I know a girl who was an Atheist because she thought Mary was just trying to come up with some excuse for being pregnant.

I know another guy, a secular Jew who was non-religious because he didn't buy the idea of heaven. Then I told him what my idea of heaven was from before I became an Atheist as a child, and he thought that idea was just silly, and we (two non-religious) ended up having an hours long argument about the nature of heaven.

The point is, not every Atheist is well versed in religious theory, and their reasons for being atheists, or becoming Atheists in the first place, might not be the most well thought out. This Essay may convince a few people as well.

(I myself decided not to be religious after deciding that creationism was a stupid idea, because, duh, there were just too many stupid problems with the human body, not to mention the rest of the world. Learning about the hypothalamus, with all it's associated issues threw me over the edge.)
posted by delmoi at 7:12 PM on October 29, 2005


"In Mark 11:24 Jesus promises Neva Rogers that, "whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." In John 14:14 Jesus promises, "if you ask anything in my name, I will do it." Yet when Neva prayed for protection from the gunman, Jesus completely ignored her. Jeff Weise shot Neva Rogers in the head four times, and she died in a pool of her own blood."

Can we sue churches for gross negligence?
posted by mullacc at 7:14 PM on October 29, 2005


Basically, faith is faith. That's the point of faith. Religion is not (or should not be) about facts, scientific evidence, or any of that. If you believe in a higher power, then you believe in a higher power. If you don't, you never will.

Almost all current religions are not simply about belief in invisible beings. Any religion that makes claims about divine intervention in the Universe is asserting a fact that falls into the realm of scientific inquiry. You definition of what religion should be rules out pretty much every religion except for maybe deism.
posted by jsonic at 7:17 PM on October 29, 2005


Good link.

Amazing how some in this thread have decided that his argument isn't good enough. Have you forgotten that the burden of proof rests on those who believe in fantasy, not on those who point out that fantasy is what it is?

As for him not understanding "faith for faith's sake," I think he does understand this just fine. His argument isn't coming across that faith isn't real, but that those with faith confuse it for reality.
posted by odinsdream at 7:21 PM on October 29, 2005


That guy is gonna burn in hell.
posted by matty at 7:24 PM on October 29, 2005


Why would any Christian give a shit about "burden of proof"? If it were possible, it doesn't seem like it would even be desirable to have proof. Christianity without faith is like poker without money.
posted by mullacc at 7:30 PM on October 29, 2005


So now that he disproved religion, I'm guessing everyone will embrace science and logic and all our problems are over?
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:31 PM on October 29, 2005


I'm torn here. On the one hand, it's a nice convention we all observe to say that faith is faith, logic is logic and we can all respect the distinctions and leave each others' belief systems alone. This is how I live my life. I assume that the consensus scorn being dumped here is a response to those who don't honor this nice convention.

On the other hand, God is imaginary. At least, the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benevolent species is. And a God who isn't all three is ... what? A pleasant but irrelevant background hum? A dependent creature? Dependent on what?

So part of me wants to just say: Come on, people. Think it through with any care and it crumbles. Let's leave this ridiculous God behind with the luminiferous ether and spontaneous breeding of flies on meat -- not to mention Baal and Anubis and the thousands of imaginary fiends that recede into history.

Like I said, we all pretty much agree that religious beliefs are not to be evaluated, that they're all of equal value, with each other and with non-religious belief. But that's not true. You can nitpick or just generically shout "straw man" (a standard gambit here at MeFi), but Brain gets things basically right here. You don't need a theologian to "explain" a belief system that trips itself up with its first step.
posted by argybarg at 7:35 PM on October 29, 2005


"It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

-- Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World
posted by basicchannel at 7:37 PM on October 29, 2005


I've been a godless heathen as long as I can remember. I've always that that I was wired that way. Just as I'm wired to be heterosexual and left handed.

When I see people of faith profess their love to their god of choice, I figure it is the same thing. They are wired that way and they must not be able to see the world the way I do. Just like neocons.

Brain is preaching to the converted here [pun intended]. Those of us who think like he does see it that way and wonder, like he does, why the religious just don't seem to get it. Those who aren't wired like us see him as presenting a straw man.
posted by birdherder at 7:51 PM on October 29, 2005


Ok, I'll bite.

Is Mr. Brain the smartest man ever? It is one of the most important questions in America today. Here is why it is so important: if he is - the one, single, most stupifiyingly huge error in the entire history of the human race has just been exposed!

Finally, someone thought to apply simple logic to this thorniest of problems, this most difficult of intractable difficulties. Beautiful in it's simplicity, as all great insights are, Mr. Brains' liberating solution will stand forever as one of the true pinnacles of Western thought.

One can only offer a Homerific "D'oh!", and ruefully ask, why did no one think to apply themselves to the problem in this manner before? Imagine all the suffering that could have been avoided had Mr. Brain and his original out-of-the-box thinking only come along earlier in the history of this sorry, previously-deluded world.

I count myself fortunate beyond measure to have lived to see this day and to enjoy and luxuriate in our new post-delusional world. Why, dare I say it... I expect it will be almost... heavenly. It will won't it?
posted by scheptech at 7:53 PM on October 29, 2005


I've always thought I was wired that way. Jesus Christ, why can't I be a better proofreader?
posted by birdherder at 7:53 PM on October 29, 2005


something to note: the meaning of "faith" has changed since biblical times. Originally, it simply meant allegiance, or loyalty. This whole "believing in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary" is new. "Faith" came from a time more ignorant than the eras when the best scientific minds hoped to explain earth quakes via wind. Human knowledge wasn't what it is today, and for all we knew, god might have actually been real, and also the source of rainbows, earth quakes, and demons for epilepsy and schizophrenia.

thats parts over now folks. just stop.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 7:54 PM on October 29, 2005


Marshall Brain seems - to me - to have some good raw arguments that are rather unlikely to ever reach his target audience ( are what I'd presume his target audience to be ).

Theological subtlety would help too, sure.
posted by troutfishing at 7:56 PM on October 29, 2005


Amazing how some in this thread have decided that his argument isn't good enough. Have you forgotten that the burden of proof rests on those who believe in fantasy, not on those who point out that fantasy is what it is?

So what are you saying? That if you're right it doesn't matter how bad your arguments are? I think a lot of the posters are not religious themselves, but have already thought up better arguments, and thus feel like their Intelegence is being insulted. It's like this guy is the Ashlee Simpson of Atheism.

I'm torn here. On the one hand, it's a nice convention we all observe to say that faith is faith, logic is logic and we can all respect the distinctions and leave each others' belief systems alone ... [but] Come on, people. Think it through with any care and it crumbles ... You don't need a theologian to "explain" a belief system that trips itself up with its first step.

Sure sure, but the problem is that his essay isn't even logical itself. In other words, a competent theologian could Logically pick apart his arguments.

By the way, I think the strongest statement you can logically make is that belief in god is not needed for any purpose. You can't say if it exists or not. Part of the problem, of course, is agreeing on the Axioms in the first place.

And then most religious people just posit god as an Axiom, making it impossible to disprove. You might have better luck with a specific religion, like Christianity, though.

Now, when you get into probability theory things get more interesting. If you posit the axioms of probability, then you can say that god almost certainly does not exist. That the probability of god existing is so low, so close to zero that it's 'practically' false, just like Santa clause, surfs, and so on. But remember, probability can't be proven with pure logic.
posted by delmoi at 7:56 PM on October 29, 2005


So what are you saying? That if you're right it doesn't matter how bad your arguments are?

I forgot to mention that I personally think his argument is great. What I'm saying is, it's dumb to say: "Well, his argument isn't as perfect as a Divine God, so how could it possibly win against Divinity itself?"

In other words, a competent theologian could Logically pick apart his arguments.

Would you like to try picking apart one of his arguments here? I don't mean to put you on the spot, but if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to see which of his arguments you find logically inconsistent.
posted by odinsdream at 8:02 PM on October 29, 2005


I think he does draw a chain of logic to demonstrate the above statement before he starts using it in the rest of his book: he notes the universal doctrine of Biblical inerrency and then notes several Biblical quotes where Jesus clearly and unambiguously states that God answers prayers.

It's not subtle but I think the logic is compelling. Of course, you can't prove or disprove the existence of God as the preposition is unfalsifiable, merely not how unlikely it is. As a logical positivist, I would therefore argue that the whole argument for or against the existence of God is irrelevant and, without proof of existence, I will continue to live and enjoy my life on the basis that he doesn't exist.
posted by axon at 8:04 PM on October 29, 2005


I disagree with you guys. I think he makes his points in a simple, blunt way, not unlike a Jack Chick tract. And because he does this, he'll reach an audience that otherwise would never come to these conclusions themselves. I'm sorry, but if you're an evangelical, "theological subtlety" won't change your mind at all.

I was actually surprised by the ending, given the first few chapters. He really sounded like somebody who was going to give us the usual "When Bad Things Happen To Good People" bullshit. But he worked at it, and made it something anyone could understand. I say good for him.
posted by fungible at 8:07 PM on October 29, 2005


That the probability of god existing is so low, so close to zero that it's 'practically' false, just like Santa clause, surfs, and so on. But remember, probability can't be proven with pure logic.

We are all aware of the difficulty in proving the non-existence of a being. There's always some rock in the universe they could be hiding under.

However, when asked if Santa Claus exists, the correct answer is still No.

If there is something in reality that makes a specific god-concept more supported than Santa Claus, please provide it.
posted by jsonic at 8:10 PM on October 29, 2005


It's like this guy is the Ashlee Simpson of Atheism.

Somewhat of a pointless question, how come religion still gets media attention?
posted by box at 8:12 PM on October 29, 2005


I'm not sure which is the more stupid: Christians who think they take literally all that crap in the Bible, or atheists who think all Christians are obligated to do so.
posted by sfenders at 8:14 PM on October 29, 2005


Because religion makes peoples' lives feel more complete - just like drinking Coca Cola. It's a product that people love to buy - the reason for the media attention should be obvious.
posted by odinsdream at 8:15 PM on October 29, 2005


I see a lot of agreement here that Brain's arguments are low-quality, full of straw-man arguments and just ripe for a good thrashing by any competent theologian. I have yet to see a single example of these (apparently obvious) flaws. Please someone provide a substantial set of examples, or at least one at the core of his argument.
posted by argybarg at 8:15 PM on October 29, 2005


In-rememberance-of-On-Preview: sfenders, is not a Christian someone who believes the Bible is the True Word of God? Would it thus follow that a Christian can choose which True Words of God to believe are "you know, really actually True Words of God" ?
posted by odinsdream at 8:16 PM on October 29, 2005


the key isn't getting what you want ... it's wanting what you get ... and that's very difficult to live up to

the most effective prayer is "thank you"

bye
posted by pyramid termite at 8:19 PM on October 29, 2005




I forgot to mention that I personally think his argument is great. What I'm saying is, it's dumb to say: "Well, his argument isn't as perfect as a Divine God, so how could it possibly win against Divinity itself?"

Logical arguments are either wrong, or right. Proven or not. Turing's proof of the halting problem, for example.

Would you like to try picking apart one of his arguments here? I don't mean to put you on the spot, but if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to see which of his arguments you find logically inconsistent.

Well, if you'd point me in the direction of specific claims that he makes I'll give it a shot. In what I read, he made two:

1) God doesn't care about amputees.
2) Jesus didn't do that woman any good when she got shot.

I talked about those arguments in this comment already.

We don't know that woman was praying about. She may only have been praying for salvation, for forgiveness of her sins. It's possible that she did not ask god to save her life. But even assuming she did, god obviously ignores prayers for specific things, even people's lives. All religious people are aware of this and so it would be silly to think that they didn't have an argument prepared. The one I've always heard of is the "free will" argument. God gave us free will, which we can use to kill other people.

Doesn't seem very nice, but there you go. As far as natural disasters go, people usually cook up some cockamamie excuse. I think 70% of Alabama residents believe hurricane Katrina was the wages of sin.

Those arguments, really, all assume that god is never mean. Certainly, if you read the bible, you'll see lots of examples of god's strange mean-ness or pettiness. It's really not the most psychologically healthy relationship, IMO.

If you allow the idea that the Christian god may, in fact, be a heartless bastard, a lot of it makes more sense. Of course, you're still supposed to believe in him, and love him, and all that in order to get into heaven.

I think he does draw a chain of logic to demonstrate the above statement before he starts using it in the rest of his book: he notes the universal doctrine of Biblical inerrency and then notes several Biblical quotes where Jesus clearly and unambiguously states that God answers prayers.

Okay, but that doesn’t do any good for people who don't believe in biblical inerrancy. I mean, Catholics believe that a lot of the bible (especially the old testament) is just a metaphor. If the bible could contain errors, but still be mostly right, it's possible the biblical passages that claim inerrancy are also errors.

He's making the same odd mistake that a lot of religious people seem to do, taking the whole bible as an axiom and then using the bible to prove itself. Except now he's taking the bible as a single axiom and then disproving some of the passages, and then claming that the entire thing is wrong. That's just silly.
posted by delmoi at 8:23 PM on October 29, 2005


Here's one problem:

On this page, he treats the miracles of Jeanna Giese and Marilyn Hickey as real, in order to make the point that these miracles are inconsistent with the lack of miracles restoring the limbs of amputees. When he uses this inconsistency to argue that God is imaginary, he never once explains how the 'God is imaginary' hypothesis explains those two miracles. He completely ignores them thereafter.

That is just crappy argumentation. He left himself so wide open you could drive a school bus through that hole in the argument, all dragging a load of rusty bikes behind it.

All you have to do to eviscerate his point is say, "if God is imaginary, how did those miracles happen? And you can't claim that they weren't miracles because if so then your argument that God is inconsistant doesn't hold any more."

Ashlee Simpson or Jack Chick are quite apt comparisons.
posted by breath at 8:24 PM on October 29, 2005


If there is something in reality that makes a specific god-concept more supported than Santa Claus, please provide it.

Um, where did I say that there was?
posted by delmoi at 8:24 PM on October 29, 2005


In-rememberance-of-On-Preview: sfenders, is not a Christian someone who believes the Bible is the True Word of God? Would it thus follow that a Christian can choose which True Words of God to believe are "you know, really actually True Words of God" ?

No.

There a lot of definitions, but the basic one is someone who believes that they can be saved by asking Jesus for forgiveness, that Jesus died for our sins. Most of them probably haven't even read the bible.
posted by delmoi at 8:28 PM on October 29, 2005


Arg, ok. If it's not clear, my mocking is meant to reflect Mr. Brains's mocking. Why, because that's all there is. It's a typically empty sort of work. Offers nothing substantive, no alternative set of coherent ideas about what any of these religions say about the human condition. Like being amused by someones accent without addressing what they say in any meaningful way. If you really think "a bright light appearing in a cave" is what Islam's all about you're missing the forest for one leaf on one tree.

the core of his argument.

What do you see as the core of his argument?

Something along the lines of "y'all are goofy"?

Mr. Brain makes the same mistake as the dullest of hard-liners in any religion: literalism.
posted by scheptech at 8:31 PM on October 29, 2005


The one I've always heard of is the "free will" argument. God gave us free will, which we can use to kill other people.

Wrong. Free will is the freedom to make a choice. If this god-concept actually existed, it could easily stop the gunman in the example without violating his supposed free-will.

I mean, Catholics believe that a lot of the bible (especially the old testament) is just a metaphor.

If someone has reached the point where they view core Christian concepts (such as the efficacy of prayer) as a metaphor, then why stop there. Maybe the whole thing, god-concept included is simply a methaphor.
posted by jsonic at 8:31 PM on October 29, 2005


"Catholics believe that a lot of the bible (especially the old testament) is just a metaphor."

Me, and at least a few people who still call themselves Catholics, believe that all of the most important parts of the bible are metaphor and myth.
posted by sfenders at 8:31 PM on October 29, 2005


Anyway, off to watch SNL. Interesting discussion.

One other quck point:

If there is something in reality that makes a specific god-concept more supported than Santa Claus, please provide it.

There probably isn't. But in order to say that one thing is more likely then another thing, you need to use probability. But, probably is just another set of axioms that you can glom on to your basic logic. It's never been proven (the most you can prove about probability theory, using logic and mathematics alone, is that it's a good idea).

So while probability is probably true, your argument is no longer based on logic alone.

But IMO probabilistic reasoning > logical reasoning.
posted by delmoi at 8:32 PM on October 29, 2005


...and it isn't "just" a metaphor. Being metaphorical truth doesn't make it any less true.
posted by sfenders at 8:32 PM on October 29, 2005


egotistical twats. none of you have read the piece yet you're already completely formed your opinions and busy spouting off here about how misinformed he is.

try reading the article dickwads
posted by rodney stewart at 8:34 PM on October 29, 2005


scheptech:

So, in other words, you didn't actually read what he wrote, did you?
posted by argybarg at 8:35 PM on October 29, 2005


Saying that the Bible is metaphor is fine. Saying that, in some non-metaphorical sense, it is the word of God, Leviticus 20:13 and all, isn't.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 8:37 PM on October 29, 2005


breath: That is just crappy argumentation. He left himself so wide open you could drive a school bus through that hole in the argument, all dragging a load of rusty bikes behind it.

There's no logical problem with the passage you refer to. His argument is this:

1. Sometimes improbable events occur.
2. The cause of these events is unknown.
3. Religious people see these events as proof of their religious beliefs.
4. Brain offers the challenge of praying for an event that could only be caused by divine intervention, i.e. the regeneration of a leg.
5. Pray as long as you want and watch this event Never happen

Hint: He's being sarcastic when he states that those unexplained events are miracles of a god-concept.
posted by jsonic at 8:44 PM on October 29, 2005


One thing I did like about this, despite its lack of subtlety, was the way it used [Religion X]'s belief that [Religion Y] is false, and vice versa, to show how ludicrous all religious beliefs are.

That's something I rarely see brought up in religious arguments. I've never seen any logical link from the "well God musta started life/the universe/be the cause of something we can't explain" argument for the existence of God in general to any specific religion.

But other than that, although I found the logic just fine, it reeked of the atheistic intellectual snobbery than does us heathens no favor.
posted by defending chump at 8:46 PM on October 29, 2005


rodney stewart: As an outside observer, I've gotta call you for the following:

1st: Rude and counter to the spirity of an otherwise relatively productive discussion.

2nd: Obviously wrong. Look back: Many of the commenter's you seem to be objecting to refer to specific passages from the link.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:52 PM on October 29, 2005


damn. so many typos. nevermind; i'm not up for another one of these. please pay no mind to lil' ol' me...
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:55 PM on October 29, 2005


"A man should remind himself that an object of faith is not scientifically demonstrable, lest presuming to demonstrate what is of faith, he should produce inconclusive reasons and offer occasion for unbelievers to scoff at a faith based on such ground." - St. Thomas Aquinas

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." - Albert Einstein
posted by damnthesehumanhands at 8:55 PM on October 29, 2005


On this page, he treats the miracles of Jeanna Giese and Marilyn Hickey as real, in order to make the point that these miracles are inconsistent with the lack of miracles restoring the limbs of amputees. When he uses this inconsistency to argue that God is imaginary, he never once explains how the 'God is imaginary' hypothesis explains those two miracles. He completely ignores them thereafter.

Really? He ignores them? You mean even in Chapter 6? :

"One important fact was often left out of Jeanna's story. That important fact is revealed in this paragraph:

Using a maverick approach they called an informed gamble, the teen's medical team put Jeanna into a coma to protect her brain and give her immune system "time to catch up." On the third day she was started on a "cocktail" of four drugs, one that needed CDC approval. [Source: "Web weaves global prayer circle", by Sharon Roznik, Raleigh News and Observer, December 17, 2004]

God did not heal Jeanna. This radical new approach happened to work in Jeanna's case. The fact that there was a prayer circle praying for her was simply a coincidence."

I guess you just didn't read far enough. I only just got there myself, you see. Let's read it together!
posted by odinsdream at 8:57 PM on October 29, 2005


Wrong. Free will is the freedom to make a choice. If this god-concept actually existed, it could easily stop the gunman in the example without violating his supposed free-will.

Well, would kind of defeat the purpose of free will if god could remove the consequences of your actions, no? If I point a gun at you and pull the trigger, but god stops the bullet then my free will has been impeded. I think religious people consider free will to be the ability to take actions without those actions being impeded by god.

You may think free will is something different, but your definition of free will is not normative for everyone else.

try reading the article dickwads

I read some of it, and what I read was stupid enough to form an opinion about.
posted by delmoi at 9:00 PM on October 29, 2005


the best part was this:

An open challenge to America's Christian leaders

Therefore, I extend this open challenge to James Dobson, Rick Warren, Pat Robertson, George W. Bush, Antony Scalia and other prominent leaders in the Christian community:

Appear with me on national TV to read the Bible.
It is that simple. This will be a tremendous opportunity for you to spread the power of God's word directly to the nation. The Bible is the book that contains the Ten Commandments, the revelation that Jesus is our resurrected savior and the story of our creation. This is God's holy word to his children. You will simply read aloud from this sacred text.
I ask only one thing: Allow me choose the verses that you will read.

I will not interrupt you or provide any commentary during your reading, nor will you. We will simply allow God to speak for himself through his holy scriptures

posted by rodney stewart at 9:01 PM on October 29, 2005


On reading more of it, it becomes clear that it's entirely aimed at American-style evangelical Christianity, which is my least favourite kind.

Very clever stuff: Defending the claim that all Christians believe in biblical inerrancy by linking to one particular Evangelical Christian who argues that all Christians must believe it, cause' the bible says it's true.
posted by sfenders at 9:02 PM on October 29, 2005


Therefore, I extend this open challenge to James Dobson, Rick Warren, Pat Robertson, George W. Bush, Antony Scalia and other prominent leaders in the Christian community:

If you don't come on my show, you're a coward.

But seriously, this guy is only making an argument against biblical literalism, which is stupid to begin with.
posted by delmoi at 9:06 PM on October 29, 2005


I think religious people consider free will to be the ability to take actions without those actions being impeded by god.

Wrong again. Even the bible itself is full of stories about its god-concept interfering with the actions of men.

But seriously, this guy is only making an argument against biblical literalism, which is stupid to begin with.

He's not decrying some literalist-only biblical commandment such as avoiding shellfish. He is confronting a core Christian concept, the efficacy of prayer to an invisible being. He's pointing out that reality is in direct conflict with the idea that a god-concept answers prayers.

He argues, amongst other things, that if such a core biblical concept is flawed, what else is suspect?
posted by jsonic at 9:14 PM on October 29, 2005


My problem with arguments like this one is that they insist that a literalist interpretation of a religion's stories is the only possible one, and that the entire validity/value of the religion hinges on the veracity of every story in its mythology. I feel like I should tell the author not to read Dr. Seuss books to his children because THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT THE STORIES IN THEM EVER ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

The author concludes that since the fantastical sections of the bible couldn't possibly have happened, then the entirety of christianity is "pointless." This is a pretty narrow point of view. It doesn't take a lot of brains to understand that a set of fictional stories can embody and transmit a set of values very effectively. That's what the bible is for. That's what the bible does. There are layers of bullshit piled on top but at the core that's what it does.

And I would hazard that literal belief in the fantastical miracle stuff isn't the primary badge of the religious person in this day and age - it's belief in the values and adherences to the proscribed practices. Plenty of religious people these days don't insist on the veracity of every anecdote and legend in the bible.

I'm pretty tired of listening to self-righteous atheists bang Xtians over the head with "DONT. YOU. UNDERSTAND. MIRACLES. ARE. IMPOSSIBLE?" There is so much more to the discussion of what spirituality is, what it offers people than debunking the bible line by line in a Snopes-like fashion.

Atheists, to me, are people who have had religion/spirituality/faith spoiled for them by christians and other people with fanciful mythologies. Sure, atheists may be immune to some of the dangers that come with a religious life, but they are also immune to any possible benefit of pursuing a spiritual life. That's their loss, unfortunately. It's a shame to see atheists switch off their entire spiritual faculty because someone else has abused his own. And it's worse to see them congratulate themselves for being clever enough to do so.
posted by scarabic at 9:15 PM on October 29, 2005


So, in other words, you didn't actually read what he wrote, did you?

I did. The request was for a response the 'core argument'. I was asking someone more ameniable to the material to untangle it and present the core arg since I was unclear myself.

1. Sometimes improbable events occur.
yes

2. The cause of these events is unknown.
yes

3. Religious people see these events as proof of their religious beliefs.
ok for the sake of argument (note in passing this is not why people believe)

4. Brain offers the challenge of praying for an event that could only be caused by divine intervention, i.e. the regeneration of a leg.

In a sense, Brain offers something he's in no position to offer. The notion that a person can control God by summoning something up (or else) is an absurdity in Christianity, I'll have to leave a Muslim to answer for Islam but suspect the same there.

5. Pray as long as you want and watch this event Never happen

Well, yes.

There's really a simple point here. The answer to prayer can be no. If I understand my world religions this is a common understanding elsewhere as well. You see the logical problem here? If you could simply pray and bring Godlike power to bear on whatever you wanted in any way you wanted, well you'd basically be God, see?

And yes again, Mr Brains work is a literalist argument against literalism. Personally I don't think anyone should invest a whole lot in either viewpoint on this one. "what else is suspect?" is indeed a typically literalist question.
posted by scheptech at 9:17 PM on October 29, 2005


Obviously wrong. Look back: Many of the commenter's you seem to be objecting to refer to specific passages from the link.

not true. it's blindingly clear this particular comment wasn't about any specific passage:

It's a typically empty sort of work. Offers nothing substantive, no alternative set of coherent ideas about what any of these religions say about the human condition

the text appears to me a fairly expansive and meticulous piece of work. are you saying someone here has somehow managed to read and digest 32 chapters in three hours?
posted by rodney stewart at 9:21 PM on October 29, 2005


Saying that the Bible is metaphor is fine.

It's so comforting that someone is around to tell us what's fine and what isn't.

He's pointing out that reality is in direct conflict with the idea that a god-concept answers prayers.

You mean answers prayers all the time.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:25 PM on October 29, 2005


There's really a simple point here. The answer to prayer can be no...If you could simply pray and bring Godlike power to bear on whatever you wanted in any way you wanted, well you'd basically be God, see?

No one is arguing that your god-concept should grant every request people make of it.

I suspect you didn't actually read that whole page, because your objections are specifically handled.

Krrrlson: You mean answers prayers all the time.

Wrong. Religous people claim that prayers for cures for health problems are answered often. Yet, in the entirety of history, not a single missing limb has been regenerated when prayed for.

There are many reasons why sicknesses such as cancer can fall into remission. How convienient that when divine intervention can be the only explaination (ie amputation), the prayer is never answered.
posted by jsonic at 9:34 PM on October 29, 2005


And yes again, Mr Brains work is a literalist argument against literalism.

Calling prayer, a core component of Christianity, "literalism" seems a little off. His argument is not against literalism, it is (at least for the Prayer chapters) against the idea that prayer works. This does not require a literal interpretation of the bible.
posted by odinsdream at 9:35 PM on October 29, 2005


"atheists may be immune to some of the dangers that come with a religious life, but they are also immune to any possible benefit of pursuing a spiritual life."

This particular atheist, sure. He's the kind who is very specific about exactly which God he doesn't believe in. Not all atheists are like that. I suppose that a majority of the people who go to the trouble to identify themselves as Atheist may well be. But it's no more relevant to reality than pretending that all Christians believe that Jesus will buy them a bowl of ice-cream if they pray hard enough. Both groups look extremely bad if you just listen to the people who speak the loudest on their behalf.

How do we explain the fact that Christians who pray have exactly the same odds of winning in Las Vegas as people who don't pray?

oh, I know that one! "God does not play dice with the universe."
posted by sfenders at 9:45 PM on October 29, 2005


sfenders, which "benefits of pursuing a spiritual life" are there that cannot be explained by coincidence?

Hint: "feel-goodyness" doesn't count.
posted by odinsdream at 9:53 PM on October 29, 2005


I think religious people consider free will to be the ability to take actions without those actions being impeded by god.
--me

Wrong again. Even the bible itself is full of stories about its god-concept interfering with the actions of men.

I'm sorry, but you're wrong. What it says in the bible has no baring on what the majority of religious people, most of whom are not even Christian. Christians themselves only have to believe in salvation through Jesus, not the whole text of the bible. You're putting thoughts into people's heads.

I don't think a promise of getting your prayers answered all the time is a core belief of Christianity at all, certainly not getting your prayers answered in this life.
posted by delmoi at 9:54 PM on October 29, 2005


sfenders, which "benefits of pursuing a spiritual life" are there that cannot be explained by coincidence?

Hint: "feel-goodyness" doesn't count.


Why dosn't feel-goodyness count? I suppose you're opposed to pot-smoking too, NARC.
posted by delmoi at 10:04 PM on October 29, 2005


Hint: "feel-goodyness" doesn't count.

Really? As Chapter 28 explains, people generally like feeling good.

For me, the primary utility of spiritual traditions are in providing some guidance in ways to explore the nature and the limits of my own mind. Secondly they can provide some ways to approach the basic philosophical questions of existance, though that's more problematic. Christianity is not normally what I turn to first for my own use, but I have studied it a little over the years, and there is some great truth in it. As well as the usual stuff you hear people speak highly of, I like some of the more gnostic interpretations, such as in the Gospel of Thomas. The kingdom of heaven is spread out upon the earth, man, but you guys just won't see it.
posted by sfenders at 10:08 PM on October 29, 2005


"Oh dear," said God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.
posted by dhartung at 10:09 PM on October 29, 2005


the text appears to me a fairly expansive and meticulous piece of work. are you saying someone here has somehow managed to read and digest 32 chapters in three hours?

I'll never read all of it, it's just too stupid to bother with. I did read some of it, look.

The article, essay, book, whatever you want to call it is crap. Un-intellectual drivel so stupid that it's offensive to atheists who have taken the time to at least try to understand religion and why people are religious.

You're arguments at this point are so incoherent it's not really worth continuing a discussion. Ah well.
posted by delmoi at 10:12 PM on October 29, 2005


How do we explain the fact that Christians who pray have exactly the same odds of winning in Las Vegas as people who don't pray?

From The Sraight Dope's interesting page about whether studies have ever shown prayer to have a real impact on illness

"Some studies have shown that people who pray on their own behalf or know they are being prayed for show an improvement in their health. However, because of the placebo effect, these results don't prove anything about the power of prayer as such."

So the key point here is that people who believe that God is going to answer their prayers and heal them enjoy a placebo effect. It's a self-fulfilling belief, but nonetheless it makes itself true in some measure. It's hard to argue with the validity of the claim when the results are nonzero and positive.
posted by scarabic at 10:14 PM on October 29, 2005


Thank God... eeer... goodness that we have such amazingly smart people to hold our hands into the new enlightened century. Hurrr.
posted by Josh Zhixel at 10:21 PM on October 29, 2005


Feel-goodyness doesn't count because non-religious, non-"spiritual" people aren't excluded from it.

I should have phrased my question differently. What benefits does a spiritual life offer over a non-spiritual one?

I posit that there are no benefits that aren't otherwise available. The only reason you'd feel otherwise is due to a false sense of superiority, i.e., "If only you knew how great my {religion, spirituality, sexual preference, voting choices, etc.} are, your life would be as good as mine."
posted by odinsdream at 10:25 PM on October 29, 2005


Wrong. Religous people claim that prayers for cures for health problems are answered often. Yet, in the entirety of history, not a single missing limb has been regenerated when prayed for.

Riiight. Mysterious "religious people" who "claim" that their limbs will grow back if they pray. Well, congratulations, you've refuted "them," whoever "they" are.

Say, did you know that scientists claim that medical treatment enables us to prolong patients' lives? Yet, in the entirety of history, not a single patient has been brought back to life after the death of the body.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:27 PM on October 29, 2005


the future: scientific mysticism.
posted by muppetboy at 10:31 PM on October 29, 2005


Marshall Brain writes Un-intellectual drivel?

some would disagree:

B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York
M.S. in Computer Science from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Taught in the computer science department at NCSU between 1986 and 1992
Named to the Academy of Outstanding Teachers at NCSU in 1992.
Started a software training and consulting company in Raleigh in 1992.
Named one of the Carolinas' top entrepreneurs by Ernst & Young in 1999.
Founded HowStuffWorks as a hobby in 1998 and turned it into a venture-backed startup in 2000.
Won numerous awards while at HowStuffWorks including:
Time Magazine's 2002 50 Best Web Sites
PC Magazine's 2002 Top 100 Classic Web Sites
Scientific American's 2002 Sci/Tech Web Award
Yahoo Internet Life Magazine's 2002 Best Science and Technology Resource
Other Achievements:
Author of more than a dozen books.
Hundreds of live radio and television interviews on radio stations like WABC and TV networks like CNN.
Hundreds of radio vignettes for the Cox radio network.
Dozens of television news vignettes like this and this.

posted by rodney stewart at 10:32 PM on October 29, 2005


Interesting discussion, but on hard to read on a PDA. I'll have to look it over again when I get home to Texas Sunday. Threads about Marshall Brain are always kind of interesting to me since we went to college together and lived in the same frat. I haven't seen him in 20 years but we've emailed each other a bit since I saw he was the creator of howstuffworks.

Interesting trivia: Marshall Brain's real name is Marshall Brain.
posted by Doohickie at 10:34 PM on October 29, 2005


actually, more accurately: science + mysticism

either that or crucifixion...
posted by muppetboy at 10:34 PM on October 29, 2005


"Marshall Brain writes Un-intellectual drivel?"

actually, the problem is not that he's not smart. it's that he doesn't understand the discussion.
posted by muppetboy at 10:36 PM on October 29, 2005


It's so comforting that someone is around to tell us what's fine and what isn't.

You don't even know what you're complaining about any more.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:39 PM on October 29, 2005


*sigh*. Religious people, people who believe in god, are stupid, and they are wrong. You can't argue with them or prove anything to them, because the more evolved part of the brain that deals with reason and logic are the parts they've willingly shut down. You can poke at them with a logic stick, so to speak, for the cheap amusement it provides. They are the product of a broken brain, and that's that. I wouldn't really care, but the fucktards keep imposing their psychosis on my life, the assholes!

Prayer doesn't work, whereas technology and science work quite well, thank you very much. God does not make its presence known in any clear or unquestionable way. It does not intervene or otherwise impact my life. Ergo, God isn't real- and if it is, it's as real as Carl Sagan's dragon-in-the-garage. Mathowie has more of a presence and impact in my life than any god- I can believe in Mathowie. And if God is mysteriously acting in my life and I just don't see it- well great, but that's still no use to me, as it's not something I can experience or sense, or rely on, or predict/explain. It's utterly a pointless fake concept, a waste of time and a childish fairy tale.

My microwave works every damn time I use it, it's something I have come to rely on, and it's there even now, ready for me if I need things to be hotter than they are now. My microwave is more real to me than God. It is not only consistent, other people could potentially come and use my microwave and have the same good luck I have had. I have faith in my microwave, and it's not let me down yet. I don't have faith in a non-existent, non-apparent god. It would be stupid to do so.

If you think otherwise, go ahead and throw a bunch of words up on the blue and gold, I'm sure nothing anyone said would stop you or change your mind. Some of these pro-religion, anti-Brain arguments I'm seeing are hilarious in their imbecility (those of you posting them, trust me- you don't know who you are). You're still wrong, and still stupid.
posted by hincandenza at 10:40 PM on October 29, 2005


This does not require a literal interpretation of the bible.

Mr Brain's conclusion requires a unique, ultra-literal concept of what prayer is. This nets out to being, in effect, a straw man. However he parses the wording, it is just not what anyone believes. He suggests he has a new revelation, the real true interpretation, which everyone else has missed for the last 2000 years and proceeds to argue from it.

rodney stewart - thanks for the data. Perhaps though the man is just out of his depth on this one. That's certainly a more impressive resume than I have but I don't see anything in there that especially qualifies him to comment in this area. There's nothing there to indicate he's ready to turn the entire field of study on it's head at any rate.
posted by scheptech at 10:40 PM on October 29, 2005


but on hard to read on a PDA

Hard to write on a PDA as well...
posted by Doohickie at 10:41 PM on October 29, 2005


scheptech, I would be interested to learn your religious beliefs
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:44 PM on October 29, 2005


Mr Brain's conclusion requires a unique, ultra-literal concept of what prayer is.

What is your concept of what prayer is?

Followup: In a Family Feud sense, what would you say most people in a survey think the concept of prayer is?
posted by odinsdream at 10:48 PM on October 29, 2005


actually, the problem is not that he's not smart. it's that he doesn't understand the discussion.

the discussion, i believe is 'is god imaginary or real?'

it's an apparently very straightforward discussion. what is it he doesn't understand?
posted by rodney stewart at 10:58 PM on October 29, 2005


whether a higher power exists or not is logically unanswerable and one of the least interesting questions i can think of. furthermore, the search for non-personal and non-transient meaning is hopeless because life isn't about absolute or lasting meaning.

what is not hopeless is very simple: forget about all this idiocy and just GO EXPERIENCE LIFE itself. THAT experience is the holy grail everyone thinks they want to find: losing your self (ego) in the moment and experiencing the simultaneous death and rebirth of the now. true religious experience IS drinking a mocha. it's also pounding your finger with a hammer, IF you open yourself to the true experience, without seeing it through the lens of ego.

what both sides of this "debate" are missing is that religion is a metaphorical / mythical system that exists to guide us on the path of life. the intent of these systems throughout human history has been to drive us deep into the heart of LIVING, not debating meaning or worrying about what happens when we die. those things are not living. they are not what religious experience is about. those are a kind of living death through identification with ego.

religion is a finger pointing at the moon. the problem with marshall brain is that he has mistaken the finger for the moon.
posted by muppetboy at 10:58 PM on October 29, 2005


rodney stewart: That's a nice resume, but I don't see much intellectualism involved. I suppose you'd call Donald Trump and George W. Bush intellectuals as well? Do you even know what the word means? It doesn't mean the same thing as 'smart'

It's like he knows nothing of the millennia long discussion about the nature of reality that's been going on before him. He just hops in head first making arguments that have been refuted time and time again not getting anywhere near the good stuff.

It's like he'd just built a steam powered car in 2005 and claimed that it would revolutionize the world. He clearly doesn’t understand what Christianity is, or what religion in general is either. I mean, he claims that the bible is false, so we should all stop believing god? What about Muslims? What about the vast majority of Christians who are not biblical literalists?

If his only goal was to possibly show that a tiny minority of Christians, who everyone already thinks is crazy are wrong, then maybe he did it (I'm not reading all that drivel), but with the collateral damage of his own credibility.

Seriously, his writing is right up there with the wack-jobs who preach on the street corner. With the time-cube guy. Just stupid, un-educated, illiterate, brain-dead fundamentalism, except in reverse.
posted by delmoi at 11:00 PM on October 29, 2005


i might add that so have the fundamentalists.
posted by muppetboy at 11:01 PM on October 29, 2005


doesn't count because non-religious, non-"spiritual" people aren't excluded from it.

I used to get sort of confused when people asked if I believe in God. What, I would wonder, does this particular person mean by "God"? There are so many different things, even among Christians in my home town, that people might mean. That's one point where the linked essay really falls down, because there are some major differences. Some people really believe in this big guy who lives up in the clouds and occasionally reaches down to smite people who have displeased Him. Others think of an abstract creator-God who is more of a hands-off Ruler of the Universe. Others are more pan-theist, believing that God lives within all of us. Some might say that God is what we can become when we are true to our own nature. Some famous philosopher whose name I can't quite remember said something to the effect that the whole universe is effectively the mind of God. Do I believe in God? Will my particular definition of "God" match up with yours? Who knows. I do find some of the above concepts useful. And occasionally I will Believe, in one way or another. So yes then, I do believe in God, for certain values of "belief" and "God".

The same kind of complexity applies to "spiritual", which is more or less another way of referring to some various aspects of what one might otherwise call "God" while maybe attempting to avoid the American TV-Evangelical Alpha-Male Old-Testament God that gets so much attention. Sure, you can do all the same things without calling it spiritual, that's just fine. Call it something else then. Philosophical contemplation can go a long way. If "meditation" sounds too spiritual, you can call it self-administered brain-state engineering, or whatever. I would suggest, though, that at this time there aren't many ways other than those generally thought of as "spiritual" to get the kind of first-hand experience of the nature of mind and perception that religious practice is one way of achieving. It leads to an interesting perspective on life. Since it's mostly a matter of perception, and does not involve miraculously growing extra limbs or eyes, it's not so easy to measure. I understand there has lately been some progress in scanning the brains of Buddhist monks in meditation, which led to some interesting results. Haven't really been following it. Mostly, I'm done with that stuff for now. Probably wouldn't have made it to where I am today without it, though.

I have also pursued some less-spiritual avenues in attempting to understand the world and my place in it. Philosophy, biology, information theory, science fiction. It's all good. No need to be exclusive.
posted by sfenders at 11:05 PM on October 29, 2005


Some of these pro-religion, anti-Brain arguments I'm seeing are hilarious in their imbecility (those of you posting them, trust me- you don't know who you are). You're still wrong, and still stupid.

I have it on good authority that some fundie atheists defending Brain in this thread like to fuck goats. No need to elucidate or back up what I'm saying, you goat fuckers know who I'm talking about.
posted by delmoi at 11:05 PM on October 29, 2005


it's not clear to me who is more dangerous... the fundamentalist christians (who are clearly wacked) or what i would call the "fundamentalist atheists"... (who may be worse because the way in which they are wacked is clothed in "reason")
posted by muppetboy at 11:06 PM on October 29, 2005


another thing hincandenza:

*sigh*. Religious people, people who believe in god, are stupid, and they are wrong. You can't argue with them or prove anything to them, because the more evolved part of the brain that deals with reason and logic are the parts they've willingly shut down.

If you buy Brain's argument, then your mind's logic parts are just as fucked. If you believe it's not possible for an Atheist to be crazy and stupid then you are the crazy and stupid one. There's just no other explanation.

Now, if you don't believe that all atheists are perfect, rational beings with impeccable intellectual bearings, it's your job to explain why you think Brain's Specific arguments are not, at the very least, crazy and stupid.

I'd like it if the world was free from religion. Really, I would. And I hope that it would be free of people like you as well.
posted by delmoi at 11:23 PM on October 29, 2005


If God did exist, it would be necessary to abolish him.
-Bakunin
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 11:25 PM on October 29, 2005


I'd like it if the world was free from religion. Really, I would. And I hope that it would be free of people like you as well.

er, I take that back. I do wish people wouldn't have that attitude, though.

anyway, good night.
posted by delmoi at 11:31 PM on October 29, 2005


Ok, you asked:

Prayer is asking, not telling. It's mediation. It's thinking through. It's searching / asking for meaning. It's attempting to align oneself with reality by asking for help doing that. It's giving thanks for the things we have while remembering it's all temporary, that we're only momentary stewards, not really owners of anything. It's giving up willfullness and asking for insight, direction, sensitivity, courage, understanding, qualities like that. It's not pushing a button sequence on a vending machine, it's not placing an order. For those more spiritually advanced, prayer is acknowleging God, it's becomes more about Him and less about the person, help me to understand You better, help me to understand Jesus's message better. How can I be a better spouse or parent etc. You lead and I'll follow, your will be done, stuff like that.

Particularly it's not proposing a specific solution to a problem but just asking for a solution and the strength, wisdom, patience to accept and manage whatever that is. The person with the missing limb is going to ask for help dealing with some aspect of it. How to integrate the new reality into their view of themselves, how not to be too discouraged, how to talk to others about it, like that.

What do most people think prayer is? Depends on where they are in their maturity. Not to generalize but younger people, or those who haven't really worked on their spiritual growth a lot, think of prayer as a way to possibly get what they want but not in a simple unconditional cause-effect ask-get way.

religion is a finger pointing at the moon. the problem with marshall brain is that he has mistaken the finger for the moon.


muppetboy - that is a zen concept and in many ways we have a point of agreement, good call - many Christians don't actually like the term 'religion' much because of connotations of artificiality, human invention, rules, ritual, all that beside-the-point stuff.
posted by scheptech at 11:33 PM on October 29, 2005


You don't even know what you're complaining about any more.

Mr Brain's Pretty_Generic's conclusion requires a unique, ultra-literal concept of what prayer [God, afterlife, soul, prayer, etc] is. This nets out to being, in effect, a straw man. However he parses the wording, it is just not what anyone believes. He suggests he has a new revelation, the real true interpretation, which everyone else has missed for the last 2000 years and proceeds to argue from it.

So, to answer your question, that is the sort of thing I'm complaining about. But mostly, it's the pompous arrogance.
posted by Krrrlson at 12:00 AM on October 30, 2005


What could be more pompous and arrogant than claiming that you worship an invisible being who helps you with your life, but will torment those who don't believe as you do?
posted by odinsdream at 12:03 AM on October 30, 2005


"Religion has actually convinced people that there is an invisible man living in the sky, and he has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these things he will send you to a place full of fire, and smoke, and burn and torture forever and ever 'till the end of time.... but he LOVES you. And he needs money."
George Carlin
posted by hoborg at 12:13 AM on October 30, 2005


"religion is a finger pointing at the moon. the problem with marshall brain is that he has mistaken the finger for the moon"

yes but ... what Marshal Brain is saying is: saying the finger IS the moon is wrong and deluded.
posted by tgyg at 12:14 AM on October 30, 2005


First off, before I get into this, I am agnostic and have all but rejected the Judeo/Christian/Muslim idea of God without outright rejecting the idea of some sort of creator/higher power.

With that being said, I think the central crux is of the whole novel, the title itself is failing to account for this:

With the exception of Lazarus and Jesus resurrection is pretty much off limits as a miracle until the world's about to end.

So people praying for dead people to come back to life aren't having their prayers answered either.

But the way I've always viewed amputees is that when they lose a limb, literally part of their body has died.

That body part is still part of their soul, and in the afterlife and they WILL be made whole again.

Those who want their body parts back will get their wish; they just have to die first.

And for those who want to grow new ones, they should have been born lizards because your soul gets only the one body to occupy.
posted by motherfather at 12:17 AM on October 30, 2005


I think his arguments concedes that prayers are sometimes "answered", but asks how a moral yet all-powerful god could answer some prayers and yet let others go, regardless of the prayers' piety. This is probably the number one thing that have made people doubt God over the ages, and it makes sense why he would go there.
posted by fungible at 12:17 AM on October 30, 2005


I understand some of the negative reaction to "fundie athiests" who do assume that all religious people see the world the same way. All of my family is religious (I am not), but in a very non-literal, spiritual, life-guidance sort of way--that I have no problem with at all. As they have no problem with my views about the world.

HOWEVER, I must say that, given recent polls as to what, exactly, many Americans really believe, I think Brain is right to attack the literal species of belief--no matter what any of us think, no matter how metaphorical or nuanced one's spirituality might be (and the folks on MeFi, even when radically different from one another, I've found to be pretty smart, thoughtful people), the literal species of religious belief is absolutely on the rise, big time.

I teach college, at a pretty typical state university, and many students I encounter (in California, no less) believe the Bible as a literal, non-fiction, historical document. And they can't imagine that I think differently.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:36 AM on October 30, 2005


Wow, if only Kant, Pascal, etc. had access to this website! I'm sure they'd be blown away!
posted by ori at 12:54 AM on October 30, 2005




"Damn it, 'manuel! Damn it all! We've been had!"
"I know!!!111 WTF"
posted by ori at 12:57 AM on October 30, 2005


Feh. Read Brain's Manna story instead. Much better.
posted by First Post at 1:00 AM on October 30, 2005


Hello,

I appreciate your taking the time to look at the site and offer your comments. The feedback, both positive and negative, is extremely helpful to me. For example, vacapinta, I was able to address one your issues this morning, and I appreciate your taking the time to mention it. Because I have been working on this project for years, there are certain things I cannot see until someone is kind enough to point them out. Being human rather than divine, I am imperfect. Go figure.

This book is a work in progress. Therefore, I am wondering if I could ask a favor of the metafilter community. If you read the book, and you like the general idea behind it, but you see specific execution problems or errors that you think are hurting the book, would you consider writing to me directly and letting me know what you are seeing? There is a contact page on the site. It contains several email addresses, or you can send directly to me using MB@. In that way, we can have a private dialog, I can make a change and the book gets a little bit better. For me, the more feedback I get right now, the better.

If possible, focus on something specific. If you say, "the whole book stinks," there's not much I can do with that. But if you say something like, "I think you can use a better example in section x of chapter y," or "your argument in chapter z stinks because...," it helps a lot.

Thank you again for taking time to look at the site. It is an interesting project. I am hopeful that, in time, I can help the world to understand that: a) God is imaginary, b) religion is delusion, and c) we are all better off without them.

Marshall

PS - Thought question: How do we know whether Marshall Brain is real or imaginary? If real, how do we know whether the real Marshall Brain wrote this, or it was an imposter?
posted by MarshallBrain at 1:56 AM on October 30, 2005


I write this as an atheist: Marshall, you show such a deliberate ignorance of theology that it's hard to know where to start. Your site implies that in 2000 years of Christian thought, it hasn't occured to a Christian thinker that God might be "imaginary" in the same sense that Santa Claus is.

The character of Hamlet is also imaginary, and yet it--he--has proven to be a focal point of very rich discourse about the human situation. You could, of course, create HamletHatesAmputees.com and prove to the world that Hamlet is in fact a figment of the imagination, and therefore the industry of scholarship and critical thought around him are senseless. Of course, they aren't senseless, because--and this is the most glaring thing your website fails to acknowledge--our mental landscape is populated by fictional and semifictional 'beings' (such as 'MarshallBrain' of Metafilter), and our understanding of our selves is very much guided by narratives. These narratives form the basis of cultural discourse. The Human Being, with his or her "rights" and "freedoms" and "ethics" and "loves" and "hates" is also a kind of fiction. There is, then, something insulting about your attempt to wipe the table clear, so to speak, by revealing the fictionality of God, since it reads to me like an attack on creative thought and cultural discourse in general.
posted by ori at 1:24 AM on October 30, 2005


is your last name really Brain?
posted by jeremy b at 1:31 AM on October 30, 2005


is your last name really brain?????
posted by jeremy b at 1:32 AM on October 30, 2005


marshall: I just got through your "Manna" short-story that first-post linked to above.

Fuckin' eh! As a quasi-libertarian-socialist/geolibertarian it was pure wank material (in a good way). It has some parallels to Stephenson's Diamond Age. At any rate I've taken the last 3 years to drop-out of consumer society to a large extent and live as if I were in that Australian Society of producers.

But I fear arguing with the god-botherers is a waste of time, tho. A majority of americans want to believe in the fairy tales that there is more to their existence that is bookended between birth and death. I fall in with a quasi-Dawkins argument that Christianity is just a very successful synthesis of what humans want the supernatural to be; the most perfectly evolved mind-virus to date. Personal creator? You got it! Eternal life! Here it is! Redemption of your sins! Free for the taking! Forget all this claptrap about humanity being the product of a billions of transcription errors and heartless environmental selection. You can be more than a mistake! You are loved by a loving Creator who is the embodiment of Agape Love, not some psychobio theories on chemical attract...
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:54 AM on October 30, 2005


How do we know whether Marshall Brain is real or imaginary?

Best to go with Pascal's Wager on that one...
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:01 AM on October 30, 2005


He could always gives us a sign.

(like posting his metafilter name on his blog...see how easy that is for non-fictional beings?)
posted by jsonic at 2:07 AM on October 30, 2005


Um. Given that group of Christians has their own axioms of belief and own explanatory structure they have built around it, why just concentrate on one? I agree with a lot of the above posters that you are making vast generalisations in many of your comments wherein you state "If you're a Christian you believe.." because often many do not.

It's not that hard to get a breakdown of the top Christian groups and find their theologians and ask them what they and their followers believe in/what structure they adopt.

Then again, I am not a Christian. Muslims have a very different theology (perhaps go and chat to a Muslim theologian? There are some very interesting books which directly address some of the topics you have raised (past precedent is a source of law in sunni Islam..)). May be interesting.

Also, I would suggest that no religious christian leader would take up your challenge as, quite simply, a) it is easy to see you are using it to prove a point and hence don't have portrayal of a positive image of Christianity at heart and b) most verses in religious texts are dependent on context which, if verses are quoted in isolation, is removed. It's like picking and choosing what sentences of your essay - I can't think of any Christian group who would say that each verse can be interpreted without those that come before it. Reminds me of this:

While working with Mr. Xxxxxx, I have always found him
working studiously and sincerely at his table without idling or
gossiping with colleagues in the office. He seldom
wastes his time on useless things. Given a job, he always
finishes the given assignment in time. He is always
deeply engrossed in his official work, and can never be
found chitchatting in the canteen. He has absolutely no
vanity in spite of his high accomplishment and profound
knowledge of his field. I think he can easily be
classed as outstanding, and should on no account be
dispensed with. I strongly feel that Mr. Xxxxxx should be
pushed to accept promotion, and a proposal to administration be
sent away as soon as possible.

Not quite of course, but I thought it was amusing (read every alternate line :)).

One recommendation though: you should really send missives to those Christian leaders whose theology you reckon matches with that you have projected onto all Christians (not many) and keep a list of those you've contacted/any replies. I doubt any would read your website otherwise.
posted by Mossy at 2:42 AM on October 30, 2005


"Oh dear," said God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.

""That was easy", said Man, and for an encore he proved that black is white and got run over at the next zebra crossing.
posted by Grangousier at 2:53 AM on October 30, 2005


most verses in religious texts are dependent on context which, if verses are quoted in isolation, is removed.

Please provide a context that justifies the genocide advocated and committed by the biblical god-concept. (ie. completely wiping out cities, including children).

Here's a short list of the incredibly violent acts and suggestions of the biblical god-concept. Don't worry, it covers the New Testament too.
posted by jsonic at 3:42 AM on October 30, 2005


Whether or not Brain has an unsophisticated grasp of modern theology seems to me to be beside the point. The arguments that he's tackling here are those that are commonly cited as being the basis for Xtian belief, and so it makes far more sense to begin by tackling those head on.

The amputee question was of great interest to me, because I'm an atheist who is married to a Xtian, and her family would often cite supernatural miracle cures as evidence of God's working among us today. Like Marshall, the amputee question always obsessed me. If he's omnipotent, why does he not perform this particular category of miracle? Lack of evidence of such miracles, to me at least, suggested strongly that those other supposed miracle cures were much more likely to have more straightforward explanations. Occams Law and all that.

But like Marshall, if He wanted my soul, he could gain it much more easily by performing that sort of miracle -- by replacing bones, where hitherto, no bones had existed. And with the mass media ensuring immediate global coverage, if his ego was so insubstantial that he needed people to believe in him, he'd be able to convince a great many doubters than he would with some 2000 year old text.

Now, I'm happy to acknowledge that there are more subtle, nuanced versions of Christian theology. Unfortunately, when you get to the versions that I find close to acceptable, they seem to have evacuated so much of the basic doctrine that it's not clear whether they actually even count as Christianity any more.

Take, as an example, Dr. David Jenkins, a past Anglican Bishop of Durham. An admirable man, whose views about the meaning of Christ's life and the supernatural accounts thereof aren't a million miles away from my own. Due to his refusal to accept the literal truth of the resurrection ('conjuring tricks with bones') or the virgin birth, Jenkins was immediately labelled a heretic by large sections of the church that do cling to these supernatural beliefs.

Apparently though, these days, a third of C of E clergy doubt the literal truth of the resurrection, and around half believe in the virgin birth, so among large sections of the Church of England, it appears as though these supernatural beliefs about the nature of God are on the wane.

Whether any of this is consistent with the anglican catechism is another question altogether, but this sort of faith doesn't provoke in me the same impulse to ask the sort of questions that Brain asks here, of those people who appear to insist on the literal truth of a whole pile of supernatural hooey. This is possibly because those who adhere to such a version of Christian faith have a tendency to appear as people on a quest for personal knowledge, as opposed to insisting that divine revelations have given them the right to tell me how I should lead *my* life.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:43 AM on October 30, 2005


> It's not that hard to get a breakdown of the top
> Christian groups and find their theologians and
> ask them what they and their followers believe
> in/what structure they adopt.

You could do that, but I don't think it would give you a very accurate picture of what people believe.

Much better, in my view, to do a survey and find out what proportion on the population believes things like:

- angels
- the rapture
- miracles
- the literal truth of genesis

etc., etc.

That would give you a far more accurate view of what people believe than simply asking their priests.

I suspect that in the USA at least, the results wouldn't look too different from Brain's assumptions about what they believe.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:53 AM on October 30, 2005


Bah. Apologies for the dumb formatting and spelling errors in that last post.

Any errors in logic or theology are deliberate.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:55 AM on October 30, 2005


PeterMcDermott: This is possibly because those who adhere to such a version of Christian faith have a tendency to appear as people on a quest for personal knowledge, as opposed to insisting that divine revelations have given them the right to tell me how I should lead *my* life.
No need for you to apologize, man. That's kind of my point, actually. These so-called religious people who are draining their religion of any anthropomorphism and saying their brand of Xtianity or what-have-you is more of a spirit quest of self-discovery, a mind hack, a journey towards personal enlightment by looking within, etc.... well, they're not Christian, or any other "religion" anymore! If you've de-anthropomorphized religion to that point, it's effectively neutered- you've taking the religion out of relgion.

When you're just using your own brain and thoughts and life experiences to try to "figure" stuff out, as the mealy-mouthed pansies in this thread are suggesting, you aren't a Christian/Muslim/Jew anymore. You're just secular humanists who can't admit it. And your beliefs tend towards the empirical and experiential, not towards mythology and fairy tales.

It's the ones who believe in angels, the rapture, miracles, "Left Behind", etc, that bother me. Even believing in Jesus as anything more than a carpenter (and even that's a stretch) I'd hazard as a tendency towards lunacy. And for them I have nothing but vile contempt: contempt for your madness, and your moral and intellectual relativism vis-a-vis "athiests are just like religious people, their relgion is not having one" nonsense. And I'm tired of apologizing for it, or tip-toeing around these idiots, no matter how numerous they may be.
posted by hincandenza at 5:08 AM on October 30, 2005


PS - Thought question: How do we know whether Marshall Brain is real or imaginary?

i can't resist ... how do we know that marshall brain is actually conscious? ... how do we know that WE are?

the "proof" for this is about as good as the "proof" for god ... there are many who are beginning to suspect that it is a delusion created by our own minds

what's the difference between your saying that you "know" you're a conscious human being and a religious person saying he "knows" there is a god? ... the only evidence offered is anecdotal and easily "debunked" by anyone who doesn't share the assumption ... if you're going to be consistent in your standards of evidence, it seems to me that one has to deny consciousness as well as god ...

"what do you mean anecdotal?" you say ... what is the difference between saying, "i know i am, i've talked to myself" and saying, "i know god is, he's talked to me", when you can't prove either statement?

i'm very curious as to what will happen to the logical positivist worldview as this gradually sinks in ... it will be amusing to see people struggle with the idea that they don't exist as they think they do ...

it's easier for me ... i've accepted that i can have faith in things i can't know or prove

it's not the moon or the finger, it's the act of pointing
posted by pyramid termite at 5:32 AM on October 30, 2005


All you have to do to eviscerate his point is say, "if God is imaginary, how did those miracles happen?

Rot. Utter, thoughtless rot. All you have to - nay, must say if you wish to remain rational - is, "We don't know yet why those things happened - if they did happen". And then you might care to start looking for rational answers instead of saying essentially, "Ooh dear, what a mystery, Marshall Brain can't explain it therefore obviously a big clever man in the sky must have done it."

The criticisms of this guy's really rather incisive "down to fundamentals" attack on the rank, inherent foolishness of religious faith are as silly and vacuous as one might expect from people who, I would assume, are either tommyrot-believers themselves or are at least favourably disposed to such people and their ridiculous, needy superstitions. I have read every apologist's response here and not one has come even close to undermining the central thrust of Brain's attacks. Plenty have made the unsupported claim that one could easily do so, however. Lazy thinking is so depressing.
posted by Decani at 7:18 AM on October 30, 2005


And to those who quibble about Brain describing a version of "God" that you do not recognise... boy, I guess his whole Santa - Mormom - Muslim - Christian point really flew waaay over your heads, eh?
posted by Decani at 7:22 AM on October 30, 2005



posted by verb at 7:33 AM on October 30, 2005


Jesus saved my baby from being eaten by a dingo. I live in America and will not travel to Australia because I fear dingos, but anyone knows that dingos can jump on cargo ships and land in America, so I prayed to Jesus to save my baby from dingos and Jesus answered my prayers. Jesus loves my baby and saved him from the dingos. Anyone who thinks Jesus doesn't answer prayers doesn't have a baby or maybe is a dingo himself.
posted by fleener at 7:35 AM on October 30, 2005


And to those who quibble about Brain describing a version of "God" that you do not recognize... boy, I guess his whole Santa - Mormom - Muslim - Christian point really flew waaay over your heads, eh?

Please. Anyone who buys this crap as well thought out is as brain-dead as a Left Behind reader. It's so stupid it's offensive to most thinking atheists.

(Kind of like how I heard the super-religious person at work describe the left behind series as "like pornography")
posted by delmoi at 8:01 AM on October 30, 2005


pyramid termite wins. the rest is all noise.
posted by quonsar at 8:05 AM on October 30, 2005


But like Marshall, if He wanted my soul, he could gain it much more easily by performing that sort of miracle -- by replacing bones, where hitherto, no bones had existed. And with the mass media ensuring immediate global coverage, if his ego was so insubstantial that he needed people to believe in him, he'd be able to convince a great many doubters than he would with some 2000 year old text.

Heh, well He wouldn't need any such mechanism as bone-growing and use of the global media to spread the news would he? If He chose to reveal himself in this baseball-bat-over-the-head manner he could just cause everyone to believe in an instant. Why not just "make it so" and be done with it?

Anyhow, either way it would mean the end of the world and mankind as currently constituted because it would mean the end of free will, we would have no choice left but to believe. Wishing for such an overt act is wishing for the burden of decision in the face of ambiguity to be removed from you, for the removal of free will.

the central thrust of Brain's attacks.


Again, I would ask those favorably disposed to Mr Brains work, what do you see as the central thrust or core arg? How would you summarize?

Here's my effort: The supernatural doesn't exist and the religions are all equivalently wrong. Their similarities in terms of tenets, logical inconsistencies, historical development, and my general sense of the absurd are proof.
posted by scheptech at 8:06 AM on October 30, 2005


PS - Thought question: How do we know whether Marshall Brain is real or imaginary? If real, how do we know whether the real Marshall Brain wrote this, or it was an imposter?

heh. If Marshall Brain didn't exist, would it be necessary for us to invent him? ;)

Reading through this, I get the impression that a lot of folks here don't have any real experience with evangelical/Holiness style Christianity, as practiced most particularly in the American South. The Bible not the anointed word of God? WTF? Don't y'all sinners know it was dictated straight to King James word for word, every thee and thou, and any other heathen translations are the evil machinations of Satan?

Of course, people pick and choose what they wanna believe out of it. Duh. It's so full of vagaries and contradictions that it would be impossible to follow the entirety of its teachings in any literal way. Remember the old "Kissing Hank's Ass" story? Yeah, like that. I wonder if Marshall is familiar with that one.

A lot of atheists don't realize that their dogma is just as rigid as your average Southern Baptist bible-thumper. You know...becoming what you hate.
posted by First Post at 8:15 AM on October 30, 2005


Religion just doesn't stand up to scrutiny. I didn't really need a web site to tell me that :-) although clearly a lot of thought and, I would argue, fairly effective rhetoric has been put towards this one.

Also, why does Marshall Brain want to see Newark, NJ be buried under Mt. Everest so badly? Having worked there for a few months I can definitely say that it wouldn't be a bad idea, but why does he think so too?
posted by clevershark at 8:21 AM on October 30, 2005


First Post writes "A lot of atheists don't realize that their dogma is just as rigid as your average Southern Baptist bible-thumper."

What exactly is the atheists' dogma?
posted by clevershark at 8:22 AM on October 30, 2005


The character of Hamlet is also imaginary

Yeah, but Hamlet is sort of too easy to place into the same category as Santa Claus, and thereby dismiss. It strikes me as likely that people who don't know or care a thing about spirituality, theology, or God, but nonetheless feel motivated to argue about it, are also not particularly likely to be moved to any great enthusiasm by literary culture based on Shakespeare. So I prefer the analogy of music. It's invisible, intangible, irrational, full of tradition and ritual, hard to quantify in any meaningful way, and although it's easy to imagine someone who believes it doesn't exist, or doesn't mean anything, those of us who do believe in it are pretty sure they'd be wrong. Does Mozart's symphony number 41 have a fundamental existance beyond our own imagination? Written or recorded, it is nothing special. It's only meaningful when it's alive and doing what it does to people. Also, I think I saw Robert Plant once, so I'm pretty sure he exists. It may have been just a drug-induced hallucination though, who knows.
posted by sfenders at 8:24 AM on October 30, 2005


Also, that first chapter brings up something that is common to pretty much all religions/sects/cults: the One Crazy Thing You Have To Accept On Faith. (I think Robert Anton Wilson noted it)

Basically, to truly be accepted into the groupthink of the clique, you have to believe something that seems completely absurd to outsiders: a guy dies a horrible death by crucifixion and then comes back, thereby saving believers from eternal punishment; an evil alien named Xenu is oppressing the Earth (or rather, "Teegeeack"); if we put on these Nikes and kill ourselves, we can hitch a ride on that comet; Charles Manson is Jesus and Satan at the same time; etc.

The interesting question is: why are we hardwired for this stuff? Why is it part of practically every human civilization? Is it really some sort of failure of human thinking, or is/was there some sort of vestigial purpose for it (besides the old saw about "opiate of the masses"; c'mon atheists, let's think deeper than that)?
posted by First Post at 8:31 AM on October 30, 2005


fwiw our brains strive
to see only the good,
leading some to god:


In 1966, Time magazine asked, "Is God Dead?" Even then, the answer was no, and with the rise of religion in the public square, the question now seems ludicrous. In one of those strange-bedfellows things, it is science that is shedding light on why belief in God will never die, at least until humans evolve very different brains, brains that don't (as they did with Beth and Grizelda) interpret unexpected and even unwanted outcomes as being for the best.

"Belief in God," says Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University, "is compelled by the way our brains work."

As shown in the Grizelda-and-Beth study, by scientists at Lund University and published this month in Science, brains have a remarkable talent for reframing suboptimal outcomes to see setbacks in the best possible light. You can see it when high-school seniors decide that colleges that rejected them really weren't much good, come to think of it.

posted by kliuless at 8:37 AM on October 30, 2005


pyramid termite++

Everyone else =

posted by sonofsamiam at 8:40 AM on October 30, 2005


He could always gives us a sign.

(like posting his metafilter name on his blog...see how easy that is for non-fictional beings?)


Please see this thread and related links for related discussion on these topics--in particular, discussion surrounding the crucial distinction between personal and impersonal conceptions of God. I think much of the current discussion fails to properly account for this ultimately very crucial distinction.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:48 AM on October 30, 2005


like sonofsamiam said. PyramidTermite's got it.

(good to see you again btw, sonofsamiam. i thought you'd given up on MeFi.)
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:53 AM on October 30, 2005


hehe, again fwiw, re: left behind, some strange tabarrok trivia:

My brother, Nicholas Tabarrok, is the producer of the apocalyptic, biblically inspired, Left Behind movies. Left Behind - The World at War just opened in 3,200 screens across America. Haven't seen it at your local multiplex? That's because the executive producers opened the movie in churches, harking back to a model of movie distribution that used to be common in the 1950s. The movie has also been released near-simultaneously on DVD...
posted by kliuless at 8:53 AM on October 30, 2005


I get the impression that a lot of folks here don't have any real experience with evangelical/Holiness style Christianity, as practiced most particularly in the American South.

Yes thanks, definitely something to keep in mind whichever side of the discussion you're on. Anyone keeping track of these religion posts btw? Seem to be coming up every 3 days or so. Why, sheer entertainment value? Heh.
posted by scheptech at 8:54 AM on October 30, 2005


oh hey, and i thought that daniel gilbert guy sounded familiar [:)] cheers!
posted by kliuless at 9:11 AM on October 30, 2005


Seem to be coming up every 3 days or so. Why, sheer entertainment value? Heh.

Some are definitely having a lot of fun with these discussions. I'd just like to see a little less arguing vigorously from pre-determined positions and a little more genuine dialectic, but then, dialectic requires all the parties to the discussion to be interested in working together to arrive at a more objective understanding of the truths surrounding a particular problem, and these days it seems many prefer merely using rhetoric to shore up support for their existing, imperfectly examined positions...
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:13 AM on October 30, 2005


I am hopeful that, in time, I can help the world to understand

Yeah this is what switches me off. I'm sorry that this comment falls into the "whole book stinks" category, but you should remember that you are positing an argument, not "helping the world to understand."
posted by scarabic at 9:20 AM on October 30, 2005


Okay, two posts lauding pyramid termite requires me to point out that his argument is pure freshman-level sophistry: "You can't really prove anything, can you? Therefore, isn't everything at an equal level of truth-value? Huh?"

What, oh what, will happen to the world when the "logical positivists" find out!
posted by argybarg at 9:23 AM on October 30, 2005


Again, I would ask those favorably disposed to Mr Brains work, what do you see as the central thrust or core arg? How would you summarize?

Personally, I only just finished the Prayer section, and am partly through the Bible section, so I can't speak to the entire work or try to summarize it. But, as for what I've read thus far, my take is that he wants to demonstrate that religion (the particular brand he's arguing against) is abhorrent in its truth, and should be rejected as a matter-of-fact. He isn't talking about spirituality. If you believe something other than what he's arguing against - you aren't his audience for these first sections.

More to come when I'm finished with the whole work - unlike delmoi, who is so outrageously outraged and insulted by it that she can't bring herself to even finish it to more fully hate it.
posted by odinsdream at 9:23 AM on October 30, 2005



"yes but ... what Marshal Brain is saying is: saying the finger IS the moon is wrong and deluded."

i'm sorry, but DUH! if the guy had any experience at all of transcendence or the true meaning of religion, he wouldn't be spending all this energy arguing it's "wrong". i'm reminded of dead poet's society where one of the textbooks that keating throws out at the beginning attempts to quantify the greatness of poetry. or people who say that myths are "false". talking about the scientific existence of god is a totally childish endeavor. if god is beyond all human thought and experience, what's the point in discussing it? anyway, true religion is clearly pointing beyond this whole discussion! pointing THAT out would be worth doing. the idiocy of arguing about the nature of the finger is just going to ensure that we all miss the moon!

"it's not the moon or the finger, it's the act of pointing"

that's not my understanding of this metaphor. the finger is the artifice of the religion. the moon itself is the transcendent thing that you have to see yourself. if you're looking at the finger or pointing, you aren't truly just beholding the moon. in other words, religion itself is your last barrier to transcendence! the buddhists have another wonderful metaphorical saying that works here: "when you've crossed the river, you don't carry the boat around on your head" (or something to that effect).

"muppetboy - that is a zen concept and in many ways we have a point of agreement, good call - many Christians don't actually like the term 'religion' much because of connotations of artificiality, human invention, rules, ritual, all that beside-the-point stuff."

i don't think this is a zen concept. it is universal. i don't know enough about christianity to figure out how it got lost or mixed up along the way, but it surely must have been there in the beginning. if not, perhaps it was just so bloody obvious at the time that nobody thought to write it down!
posted by muppetboy at 9:29 AM on October 30, 2005


Actually, I meant to link to this comment from pyramid termite.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:30 AM on October 30, 2005


MarshallBrain,

It's an interesting exercise and you should continue it. But you should understand that your argument has little long-term basis. Like all such arguments-from-the-text it will fall apart as soon as your audience disagrees with you about exactly what the text means. Your habit of snipping random quotes from the bible, without fully the exploring the context of those quotes, will definitely be looked on as suspicious. When quoting the bible, context matters. In addition to quoting the bible, you may want to quote actual Christians who've proposed various positions on the efficacy of prayer. The textual basis of your argument is critical. I assure you, there is still a great deal of debate what exactly it means when Jesus says that prayer works. The Catholics have been trying to settle this one for about 800 years. You may want to familiarize yourself with some of the literature on prayer already out there. Your best bet, if you want this argument to be taken more seriously, is to state your assumptions up-front and be very clear about them. Take a good long time to demonstrate exactly what various Christians believe. Then proceed with the core of the argument. Those who will agree with your assumptions will go along and read the whole book, those who don't will cut and run. Your "angle" works fine, though.
posted by nixerman at 9:36 AM on October 30, 2005


Also:

I keep seeing this argument coming up in this discussion:

Brain is greatly oversimplifying Christianity. It's just too varied a religion to pigeonhole as he does.

Ask yourself this: How many people who call themselves Christians do not believe the following:

1) God has the authority to perform any act he desires.
2) God responds to prayer by working miracles in this world.
3) The Bible is the word of God and should be taken as God's direct message to the world.
4) Jesus was divine, the son of God.

Go anywhere in this country -- not on a MetaFilter thread, in the country -- and find people who describe themselves as "Christian." Give me a number. Your best guess: What percentage would deny any of the above?

Does anyone seriously believe that it's below 90%?

These are the core doctrines of Christianity. You want to believe that Christianity has no core doctrines, that is means anything you want it to? Keep pretending. If you deny the divinity of Christ, the holines of Scripture, the omnipotence and benevolence of God, then you are not a Christian. You may be a Christianity-inspired Nice Guy, you may be a Spiritual Yearner, you may be a Purposeful Pseudochristian Dabbler, but you are not a Christian.

Brain's point, and one that I have yet to see seriously addressed here (try a few more generic invectives, delmoi, it's really working) is that these doctrines contradict each other and render Christianity intolerably incoherent to anyone who wishes to think deeply. Very, very few people here are engaging that argument directly.
posted by argybarg at 9:36 AM on October 30, 2005


(points at Moon)
posted by sfenders at 9:37 AM on October 30, 2005


Correction: What percentage would affirm all of the above?
posted by argybarg at 9:39 AM on October 30, 2005


My god is Captain Morgan. ARRRRRR
posted by evilelvis at 9:41 AM on October 30, 2005


I'm glad we solved this question on the blue.
posted by iamck at 9:54 AM on October 30, 2005


argybarg: I am somewhat Christian, and have worked hard to become so. All four points are wrong in one way or another. The only one that's wrong in a clear and obvious way is number 3. The others are wrong in more subtle ways that betray your total lack of understanding.

As for the demographics, I would guess that about 60 to 70% of Americans who self-identify as Christian would affirm the divine perfection of the Bible. Less in most other places I've been. Maybe more in Africa, from what I've heard.
posted by sfenders at 10:03 AM on October 30, 2005


Does anyone seriously believe that it's below 90%?

I do, for exactly the reasons you alluded to and then summarily dismissed: There's no central theological authority for many evangelical and protestant Christian schools of belief in America, so the real-world picture is (in my personal experience, which I'll admit doesn't by itself make for a defensible argument) a lot more varied than possibly even many Christian theologians realize. I've met self-professed evangelical Christians who privately held all sorts of unorthodox theological views--for example, that Christ was actually the fallen angel Lucifer! Some churches emphasize Jesus' divinity; others emphasize Jesus' humanity. It really isn't nearly as blandly uniform a landscape as you might think (in some ways, the picture is more frightening than you can imagine). That's why there are so many highly-insular strains of Christianity (some would even call them Christian cults) springing up these days, because American Christianity has taken on so many idiosyncratic and sometimes bizzare forms, especially in rural areas.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:09 AM on October 30, 2005


No way am I going to read this whole thread, but I dipped into Brain's text and am going to say it reads like standard atheist boilerplate...not to say it doesn't make sense.

As far as Christians go, anyone who tells me I'm going to suffer eternal torment if I don't embrace their fairy tale...well, they can go to hell. Or at least next door with their handsome hippie Jesus on the cover of their Awake magazine.
posted by kozad at 10:10 AM on October 30, 2005


As far as short order cooks go, anyone who tells me I'm going to suffer third degree burns if I don't remove my hand from the hot griddle... well, they can go make an omelet.
posted by quonsar at 10:24 AM on October 30, 2005


I am somewhat all-knowing.
posted by mr.marx at 10:27 AM on October 30, 2005


He makes the same error that the fundamentalist make, which is to read the Bible for denotation rather than for connotation. This is a poetical device that attempts to share that which is indescribable. To read it as fact is to miss the whole point. It contains many errors, which reinforce its human origins, but it and other similar works provide a map for life. Our senses are very limited. Who can say what is beyond our knowing? The author passes himself of as an authority on God, how egocentric. In traveling, I am amazed at the number one finds praying around the world. I have watched lots of people die. Between these two experiences, I feel a sprit that is sublime.
posted by Rancid Badger at 10:58 AM on October 30, 2005


As far as Christians go, anyone who tells me I'm going to suffer eternal torment if I don't embrace their fairy tale...well, they can go to hell.
posted by kozad at 10:10 AM PST on October 30 [!]



I'm with kozad on that.

But I'm confused why atheists almost always counter the judeo-christian religion POV on God. Is it that they don't want the argument to spin into interpretation?

Cause literal minded Christians are on shaky ground there.

But I agree with Rancid Badger there is a truth to the story even if it didn't happen.

"One Flew Over the Coocoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey comes to mind as a tale of truth even though it's fiction. I grant we don't want to fashion dogmas out of such things, but the Christian mythos does lend itself to the sublime for those who can see it.

Some folks can't, so it becomes almost as irritating as literary criticism to fans.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:08 AM on October 30, 2005


sfenders: It strikes me as likely that people who don't know or care a thing about spirituality, theology, or God, but nonetheless feel motivated to argue about it, are also not particularly likely to be moved to any great enthusiasm by literary culture based on Shakespeare.

This is a point worth reflecting upon.
posted by ori at 11:21 AM on October 30, 2005


"I am somewhat all-knowing."

perfect.
posted by muppetboy at 11:30 AM on October 30, 2005


How can a god that loves circumcision hate amputees?
posted by jscalzi at 11:35 AM on October 30, 2005


I'd like to reinforce this: I get the impression that a lot of folks here don't have any real experience with evangelical/Holiness style Christianity, as practiced most particularly in the American South.

I grew up (26 years' worth) in the DEEP South, and can tell you that the American religious conservative movement--which springs from that part of the US--is all about Biblical literalism. In fact, much of what christian conservatives are reacting against is not atheism, but the "watered-down" versions of mainstream protestantism that aren't so concerned with the literal truth of things like the creation, virgin birth, or resurrection.

In fact, the very nice, reasonable Methodist church in which I grew up has been taken over by a much more "conservative" (meaning, fundamentalist) population. My mother, a member of that church for over 30 years, can't even bear to go to worship services there anymore.

This is happening all over the South/Southeast. I get the strong impression that most MeFites are either west coasters or northeasters--I now live in California, and simply don't see many of the same kinds of people I see all the time when back home in the south. And I live in the relatively conservative Central Valley!

My point is this: the specific manifestation of southern conservative christianity is the one that has gained, and is still gaining, unprecedented political and social influence. Brain is right to attack it.

The President of the United States believes that, LITERALLY, Jesus Christ will descend bodily from the sky, pass judgment upon all of humanity, and violently eliminate non-believers. Probably soon, too. Tens of millions of "Left Behind" novels have not been sold by accident.

To debunk this species of belief is not an attack on religion or spriituality in general--it is an attack on absolute irrationality and spiritual bankruptcy. And it is an attack that needs to be made, loudly and forcibly, IMO.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:56 AM on October 30, 2005


Loose: my mom is a fundie who believes Special Creation of man is a bullet-point requirement for being a true Christian.

We had a rather pointless discussion over the evidence of human evolution not a week ago; I tried to point out that other denominations (the liberal lutheran organization) don't have opposition to human evolution as an article of faith but her shields were too strong for the point to get through. You are correct that this dogmatism is a Southern Baptist thing, with bleed-over from other conservative protestant branches (eg. the Missouri Synod of the Lutherans).

These fundies brought themselves to the polls last November, ~25M of them, and they were Bush's single strongest sector of support, coming in at 78% for him. Indeed, the core Rove strategem that won first Bush the TX governorship was realizing getting 75%+ of the evangelical vote gives one a rock-solid 15% base towards the 50% + 1 that is needed to win.

Fundies are the perfect base; impervious to logic and reason, and deeply desiring to vote against their own economic interests in service to greater Christianity ministry (prayer in schools, restrictions on abortion, anti-porn/drugs/vice). My mom was complaining about the new medicare drug plans she's being forced into, rising co-pays etc, and I was simply bemused: what did you expect, voting for these Republican clowns???.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:32 PM on October 30, 2005


argybarg: barna.org statistics say that 85% of the US population self-identifies as Christian, and 45% of the US population believes in the literal truth of the Bible. So that's 40% of the US population-- or 47% of all self-identified Christians--who don't believe in the literal truth of the Bible.

11% of the people they label as "born-again" Christians don't believe in the literal truth of the Bible.

(source).

I go to an "open and affirming" (translation: you can be gay, we don't care) Episcopal church, and the Episcopal church has a gay bishop now, and... truthfully, it rather bothers me that a lot of atheists, and a lot of Christians, have bought into this idea that the only way to be Christian is to sign up to a laundry list of horrible beliefs.
posted by Jeanne at 12:36 PM on October 30, 2005


I've talked to some Southern Baptists. They have some strange ideas, yeah. Very cult-like. But I think you'd do a lot better to get them to read some Eckhart maybe, rather than Brain.
posted by sfenders at 12:36 PM on October 30, 2005


I got my religion from my mom.

When a priest tried to explain the holy trinity in light of god's oneness, he tried using metaphore on her:

Pries: "God is like a four-leaf clover..."
Mom: "What, you mean he's small, green and divided?"

I was 10 or 11 at the time.
Haven't been in a church since.
posted by spazzm at 12:43 PM on October 30, 2005


Reading through this, I get the impression that a lot of folks here don't have any real experience with evangelical/Holiness style Christianity, as practiced most particularly in the American South. The Bible not the anointed word of God? WTF? Don't y'all sinners know it was dictated straight to King James word for word, every thee and thou, and any other heathen translations are the evil machinations of Satan?

Right, I have experience with it, but Marshal Brain makes much stronger claims. He claims that all religions (or at least, as far as I can tell all monotheistic religions) are wrong because his interpretation biblical literalism is inconsistent. That proves one of three things.

1) his interpretation of biblical literalism is incorrect.
2) biblical literalism is wrong
3) both one and two.

I believe 3 is the correct answer here. I think biblical literalism is wrong (duh) But Brain's attacks just aren't that good. He totally misses the point of prayer. It's like he thinks Christians believe they can summon god to do their bidding at will, giving them which-like or genie-like powers, the whole lot. I think only a very, very slim minority of Christians believe that, and those are so far removed from logical thought it doesn't matter anyway.

A compelling argument against biblical literalism could be shown, I believe, simply by pointing out the inconsistencies within the bible, and with what can be observed in the world around us. It's not hard, and (from what I've seen) Brain fails to do even this simple thing.

And, going beyond that. Brain extends his biblical-literalism-is-wrong and claims that it implies all monotheistic religions are also false. And that's just totally illogical.

Then we get some pissy atheists in this thread who seem to think that just using the word 'logic' actually makes your argument logical...

"A lot of atheists don't realize that their dogma is just as rigid as your average Southern Baptist bible-thumper."

I've argued before that Atheists can be religion, or dogma free. But Marshal Brain is not. His dogma is the exact same dogma the biblical literalists. Really, trying do disprove god by quoting the bible? Please. If you don't believe that the bible is the unvarnished word of god to begin with (as many religious people don't) then it's a rather silly argument.

More to come when I'm finished with the whole work - unlike delmoi, who is so outrageously outraged and insulted by it that she can't bring herself to even finish it to more fully hate it.

Um, I'm a dude. Says so in my profile.



1) God has the authority to perform any act he desires.
2) God responds to prayer by working miracles in this world.
3) The Bible is the word of God and should be taken as God's direct message to the world.
4) Jesus was divine, the son of God.

Go anywhere in this country -- not on a MetaFilter thread, in the country -- and find people who describe themselves as "Christian." Give me a number. Your best guess: What percentage would deny any of the above?

Does anyone seriously believe that it's below 90%?


Clearly people do. Do you have any actual evidence that the number is greater or equal to 90% that you're going to share with us, or are you just going to continue make up facts and figures like an idiot?

To debunk this species of belief is not an attack on religion or spirituality in general--it is an attack on absolute irrationality and spiritual bankruptcy. And it is an attack that needs to be made, loudly and forcibly, IMO.

I agree that those beliefs are bad, and clearly arguments do not need to be logically correct to be compelling for the masses. Still, some people prefer augmenters to at least try to make sense. There is (as I said) plenty of evidence against biblical literalism to make a logical, rational case against it. Brain doesn't do this. And on top of that, he attacks all religion, turning off 'soft core' Christians who would otherwise be his ally against the conquest of biblical literalism. Brain's brain just isn't nuance enough to figure out what to fight and how to fight it. And it doesn't seem like he's making much effort.
posted by delmoi at 12:50 PM on October 30, 2005


There's no central theological authority for many evangelical and protestant Christian schools of belief in America.

i hate being so terribly naive so corrections much invited, but isn't it the case that all christians accept the bible in one form or another?

i.e. christian = follower of christ

and the story of christ only came from the one written central theological authority which i thought, was called the bible.
posted by rodney stewart at 12:54 PM on October 30, 2005


i hate being so terribly naive so corrections much invited, but isn't it the case that all christians accept the bible in one form or another?

Yeah, pretty much that can be said of us. It turns out not to mean that much. Have you read it? Some of us believe that you can extract a uniform "central theological authority" from it. Others do not. Everybody reads it differently. Text cannot of itself be an authority - it is only through interpretation of a human agency that it exercises some influence on human affairs. Even within a particular congregation (about the smallest meaningful unit of the church as a social/political entity) the conclusions of that interpretation is a source of endless debate. Trust me - I've been in the church all my life.
posted by nanojath at 1:05 PM on October 30, 2005


After leaving the thread for a thought-provoking lunch conversation with my girlfriend, I wanted to add this: I read The End of Faith, discussed here, and enjoyed it a great deal.

However, I'm not convinced that arguments such as Harris' or Brain's can ever have much effect--those not accepting the beliefs in question are already convinced, and those who do believe can not be persuaded by any logic.

What's more interesting to me, and more worth discussion I think, are the psychological and emotional needs that are driving the rise in fundamentalism (and religiosity in general) in the US. It certainly seems that people are very hungry for emotional comfort, and that the need for emotional comfort widely trumps the need for rational understanding.

This is the underlying motivation to the larger social trend. More interesting questions, to me, are: why the desperate need for Answers? What's causing such a widespread need for an emotional palliative? How have we, in 21st century US, come to such an intellectual desert that a really pretty base and simple cosmology appeals to so many? etc.

Those conversations would be much more enlightening than what's been passing for religious discourse lately.
posted by LooseFilter at 1:32 PM on October 30, 2005


that would imply there has to be an underlying message in there somewhere.

47% of all self-identified Christians--who don't believe in the literal truth of the Bible.

still seems slightly bizzare to me that the very text that manifestly describes the underlying basis of particular belief would be so summarily and readily dismissed by it's own followers. it's by far the most common get-out clause used in this thread.

it then begs the obvious question; why do christians very frequently try to distance themselves from the actual contents of the bible? in other words, why is the face value of the bible seemingly held higher than information it contains?
posted by rodney stewart at 1:36 PM on October 30, 2005


My microwave works every damn time I use it, it's something I have come to rely on, and it's there even now, ready for me if I need things to be hotter than they are now. My microwave is more real to me than God. It is not only consistent, other people could potentially come and use my microwave and have the same good luck I have had. I have faith in my microwave, and it's not let me down yet.

Your faith is stupid; microwaves break and then you're left questioning your faith in it and then you move onto another microwave and put your faith in it too and go to regular microwave maintainence meetings and find out that, oh yeah, this microwave might break down too and then you're left cold and alone, bitter and hungry and ready to attack all those other stupid microwave believers. HOW CAN THE BE SO STUPID!?@!11

See also: could God microwave a burrito so hot even he couldn't eat it?
posted by dflemingdotorg at 1:41 PM on October 30, 2005


You really want to know about the subtleties of Evangelical Christianity, and how it differs from other branches? Here, go read this.
posted by sfenders at 1:41 PM on October 30, 2005


What's causing such a widespread need for an emotional palliative?

loose: yeah, that's what I was getting at in my first post to this thread.

I see it with my Mom and sister. They have found something that works better for them than secular humanism, and are sticking with it. Me, I feel no great need convincing my Mom that she's wrong, I just get defensive when she tells me that I'm wrong about eg. human evolution from apes.

A couple of years ago they were certain 9/11 was God's Plan, Bush was God's Annointed Leader, etc. That is certainly a more pleasant fiction than Bush being an incompetent clown leading an incompetent band of thieves.

Let's face it, secular humanism is a pretty sterile framework of belief, missing all the accoutrements that Christianity has picked up over the millenia, no Guardian Angels (both my mom and sister believe in these), no Divine Appointments, no miracles, no Redeemer of Sin in the stamping one's passport to heaven.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:43 PM on October 30, 2005


it then begs the obvious question; why do christians very frequently try to distance themselves from the actual contents of the bible? in other words, why is the face value of the bible seemingly held higher than information it contains?

A bunch of dudes I don't know wrote it a long time ago, it was passed through the hands of a bunch of other dudes I don't know, all of whom had a vested interest in its being believed so they could keep the power they've got through it.

It might be all true, but none of those dudes are around for me to talk to anymore and the new dudes don't even have a clue as to how much of it is literal.
posted by dflemingdotorg at 1:44 PM on October 30, 2005


How can a god that loves circumcision hate amputees?

Dump that jewish pretender and pray now, to the One True Christian God, that He may grant you the the Miracle of the Restored Foreskin!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:50 PM on October 30, 2005


It's all well and good to assert that MB's analysis is simplistic, but I'm not sure how else you think he should address those who believe in salvation and heaven and Jesus H. the savior. Those beliefs are insane.

That theologians have considered these issues for centuries is completely irrelevant, since the nuanced interpretations those theologians have supposedly advanced (and which supposedly render MB's arguments unacceptably facile and irrelevant) are completely unknown to the vast majority of people, and in any event amount to so much holy pudwhacking about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

Here in the real world, people who believe in ghoulies and ghosties and resurrected beasties are very fucking busy trying to make sure that the rest of us are forced to acknowledge and bow down to their Imaginary Friend in the Sky at every turn, while denying anyone who doesn't share their pie-in-the-sky delusion not only the equal protection of the laws, but any protection of the laws.

You are aware, I assume, that our "Christian" president claims the right and authority to order people imprisoned forever, without ever being tried or even charged with any crime, and to be tortured, to death if necessary, while in custody? And that, consistent with that position, our soldiers in Iraq have tortured at least eight people to death, at least one of whom the torturers believed was entirely innocent? Spare me the arrogant blather about spirituality and nuance; belief in god is delusional, and delusional people should not be allowed to play with anything more dangerous than blunt-nosed scissors and Elmer's paste.
posted by BluntInstrument at 1:54 PM on October 30, 2005


Let's face it, secular humanism is a pretty sterile framework of belief

Sterile it may be, but it's far from being easy. Would that I could cast aside my doubts and rest assured that all my sins would be forgiven and joy everlasting would be assuredly mine, simply by accepting something as true and then following the prescriptions.

I love the poetry and many of the stories. I love the architecture. I love the hymns and the music. I love all the pomp and circumstance and mystery.

Unfortunately, from the age of about seven, every cell of my being started to mitigate against it, crying out 'How can anyone believe this stuff? It makes no sense whatsoever!'
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:03 PM on October 30, 2005


Heywood: Yeah, there isn't any tension between my family and me about religion--though they certainly follow a much less dogmatic strain than yours does.

My mom has been especially fantastic in simply trying to understand what I think. A few months ago, we got to talking about what we think happens after you die, and I explained to her that, if anything does in fact happen, it's beyond the ability of an embodied being (me) to understand it in any way until I get there. So I just worry about the here and now. She asked a perceptive question, "but don't you need that emotional comfort of knowing there's something more?"

I told her, certainly I do--I think we all do. I've just decided to accept that there can be no emotional comfort, regardless of my need. She said "hm". So I think you're absolutely right to say that secular humanism is a pretty sterile framework--it really only appeals to those who can do without the comfort of Knowing.
posted by LooseFilter at 2:04 PM on October 30, 2005


One thing I've learned from MeFi is that people don't much like atheists. It seems to be a gut reaction. I've been told many times over -- even here, a pretty secular place -- that just as an atheist I'm dogmatic, pompous, hypocritical, incapable of deep feeling and numb to the meaning of life, art and all the rest.

It's one of those flinching reactions built into our society. People tend to stammer a touch when calling themselves "liberal" because it carries with it an echo of other people's contempt. The same is true of "atheist."
posted by argybarg at 2:31 PM on October 30, 2005


Those who say they will die first and then rise are in error. If they do not first receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing.
posted by sfenders at 2:33 PM on October 30, 2005


i don't think this is a zen concept. it is universal.

The finger/moon figure is way zen.

Although of course the concept it illustrates is universal.
posted by scheptech at 2:38 PM on October 30, 2005


"i don't think this is a zen concept. it is universal.

The finger/moon figure is way zen.

Although of course the concept it illustrates is universal."

you misread me. i meant the second thing you said and not the first. the concept is universal. the statement is zen.
posted by muppetboy at 3:00 PM on October 30, 2005


I happen to hold the belief structure you linked to, scheptech; but, as it relates to much of the discussion on MeFi: 1. it is not a source of much comfort to individuals searching for a way out of unhappiness...at least in the short term. Emotional attachment to a Savior works as fast as aspirin. I know; I used to be a True Believer (as Hoffman puts it) and 2. I don't care whether anybody else believes in this Zen "religion" (in quotes because it challenges belief systems, which religion is, as are many other of the Truth Blueprints typed by MeFi members around the world on this thread of which I have read only part...so count me among the bloviators who like to talk about stuff they don't know about. Me, I dip into the Old Testament, and I don't quite get how 21st century Americans can find in it much inspiration. Well, I like the Psalms. And not just the sexy ones.).
posted by kozad at 3:15 PM on October 30, 2005


I looked through a good chunk of this thread and spotted nothing like the following:

The primary argument in Brain's work is this: there is no personal god. There is no god that is going to answer your prayers, heal your sick, slay your enemies, or even give a shit whether you yourself live or die.

Once you realize that, you understand that religion is false. Spirituality might remain plausible, but religion -- the belief in a personal god -- is entirely false.

This earth could use a lot more spiritual persons, and a lot fewer religious ones.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:36 PM on October 30, 2005


richard feynman very famously devised a wonderfully unique and insightful way of indirectly rationalising/normalising underlying universal truths that humans could never touch, see, hear or smell.

his new methods in effect, allowed for the first time, comprehension of the seemingly incomprehensible. quantum mechanics is now such a well understood process that it allows mere mortal humans today to achieve what can best described as voodoo magic. these words on your screen are a perfect example of the new voodoo. and it's all indisputably very real.

feynman demonstrates then that we as humans are therefore capable of indirect comprehension and exploitation of the directly incomprehensible. it's clearly not a feat beyond our present means.

a christian god if one really exists will be apparently, always directly or indirectly incomprehendable to humans. and more importantly, it's also been stated many times that the mere words that comprise the bible cannot capture the essence of god and it's meaning.

i ask you in all seriousness what then actually is the bible, if not just a redundant accessory?
posted by rodney stewart at 3:50 PM on October 30, 2005


This earth could use a lot more spiritual persons, and a lot fewer religious ones.

Disagree. Religious types don't bug me until they start pushing their prejudices as laws that I have to follow (and putting their crap on my country's coinage and loyalty pledges etc).

What, at least half the world is pretty deeply religious.

There's a mental void in human existence that the religions has adapted itself to fill quite well. Good luck expunging that.

As a software engineer I find the fractal beauty of undiluted neo-darwinism to be quite informing, but I can understand why people like my mother simply reject the "purposelessness" of secular humanism and its denial of mankind's special place in the center of Creation.

They have their alternative narrative and it works for them. More power to them, at least until they start with the 'doesn't matter, these are the End Times' BS or doing their selective pulls from the OT to support their moral arguments wrt gay people.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:55 PM on October 30, 2005


i ask you in all seriousness what then actually is the bible, if not just a redundant accessory?

If I'm understanding the context here correctly: this unknowable, remote, impossible to connect with God provides a bridge to Himself in the person of Christ. The Bible is the basic set of historical records that recount the background (OT) and then life of and teaching of Christ (NT) wherein he says the way to God is through him.

This is the one ultimately important thing. They call it Christianity for a reason, the central idea is that Christ is the connection between man and God. If you've seen me you've seen the Father, all that. The NT records what was said and done in connection with this 2000 years ago.

What it's not is a 'proof' of God's existence, which is taken as more or less a given, as something the people already know even though they may be ignoring or forgetting etc.
posted by scheptech at 4:50 PM on October 30, 2005


Is Mr. Brain the smartest man ever? It is one of the most important questions in America today.

mr. brain was my officemate at ibm in the mid-eighties. marshall brain is his real name. he was above average smart. he was smarter than most of his co-workers. he was not the smartest. but he was in the top percent. he was and obviously is a highly motivated and prolific person.

mr. brain was a person of better than average character. he was not infallable. he was more fixated on money than most of us. despite being more on the ball than your average person, mr. brain was usually very personable and easy going. he was a person everyone liked immediately. it's easy for me to see how his writing style and choice of topics emerged. it's easy to see how his style and topics have made him rich and famous.

his writings do seem to say he is more willing to embrace conflict than when i knew him, though. from his pictures, he's gained a lot of weight from when i last saw him. so have i.

i remember going with mr. brain to visit a farm he had just acquired. it was a fun afternoon, made more fun by mr. brain's enthusiam and nearly constant down home wise-cracking. he spent a lot of time beforehand agonizing over whether to by that land. i thought he was nuts to buy it. of course, he's rich now and i'm not.

mr. brain liked classic rock more than i did and he did not share my obsessive interest in indie rock. he had a little catchphrase that he was fond of repeating in a funny voice. i am struggling to remember what it was.

ibm could not hold mr. brain down for long. he had bigger fish to fry. by then already he was expressing his propensity for educating others by teaching at local institutions of vocational and higher learning. his replacement was a man from ibm research, a very paranoid libertarian who committed suicide a week after being fired only months into his job as mr. brain's replacement. god hates libertarians.

you could verify the the mefi persona of mr. brain by calling the phone number listed on his website: (919) 858-1002. of course, this might further stretch the limits of what knowledge is and how we might know it.

the difference between mr. brain and the rest of us is that he is motivated enough to spend 32 chapters to voice the things that bother him about how the more common expressions of religion are threatening human welfare, rather than spend most of his time posting to mefi. i'm not sure i would agree with most of what mr. brain has said or how he cared to argue it. it would take 64 chapters i don't have time for to elaborate my misgivings. i'm not sure that his extensive essay is any more productive than posting to mefi. i'm pretty sure that his hope to convince religionists of his view (and his often expressed faith in our glorious robotic future) is delusional. but i do agree with his motivation on this particular question.

mr. brain has put up a forum for the discussion of his essay.
posted by 3.2.3 at 5:00 PM on October 30, 2005


Metafilter: Trust me - I've been in the church all my life.
posted by odinsdream at 5:02 PM on October 30, 2005


Smedleyman: But I'm confused why atheists almost always counter the judeo-christian religion POV on God. Is it that they don't want the argument to spin into interpretation?

I think it's a bit silly to ignore the elephant in the bedroom. We are engaging in this discussion in a socio-political context that has been dominated by Christianity. If we were having this discussion in a context dominated by Judaism, Islam, or Classic Roman polytheism, Hinduism, or Buddhism, we would be having a very different discussion.

pyramid termite: what's the difference between your saying that you "know" you're a conscious human being and a religious person saying he "knows" there is a god? ... the only evidence offered is anecdotal and easily "debunked" by anyone who doesn't share the assumption ... if you're going to be consistent in your standards of evidence, it seems to me that one has to deny consciousness as well as god ...

Of course, this falls into the same mistake that you made earlier, trying to position this as "denial of" rather than, "lack of evidence to justify belief." Most contemporary atheists agree that they can't "prove" the non-existance of god to any reasonable extent, just that an inability to prove non-existance does not justify changing your life around the assumption of existance.

So for example, it would be rather stupid of me to deny the subjective experience of both consiousness, and mystical states of consciousness. After all, I have had the personal subjective experience of enjoying some very wild sex with manifestations of the divine. It is another thing altogether to make the claim that mystical states of consciousness are evidence of God, rather than the human mind's abundant ability to shape its own perceived reality. Much less that John the Revelator's visions were of future events at the end of the world as we know it.

At each step along the way, consciousness->mystical states of consciousness->mystical states of consciousness as evidence of God->mystical states of consciousness as specific messages about future events from God, you just stack more and more improbable claims onto a shaky foundation.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:14 AM on October 31, 2005


Dear Marshall Brain,

I believe your logical arguments will create food for thought in a certain, very small segment of the religious population here in America.

Unfortunately these arguments will not dissuade my mother from her Christian beliefs because she does not believe in the inerrancy of The Bible. She simply believes that God is Good and should be worshipped. She believes (as a liberal Methodist) that being a Christian makes you a better, happier person, but that one can never divine God's true nature.

These arguments will also not dissuade my In-Laws who are fundamental Southern Baptists who believe in the inerrancy of the Word of God commonly known as The Bible. If you attempt to use logic or actual passages from this same Bible to refute some of their beliefs (such as the belief that homosexuals are sinners who should be punished by society) they will simply tell you that they themselves are incapable of interpreting The Bible but that their pastor knows the Truth. They would like to accept the idea of dinosaurs and evolution, but once they start doubting The Word of God, the whole thing collapses like a house of cards-- therefore they must blindly believe, and God will reward their faithfulness.

Therefore, if you can turn your logic on someone who is having doubts, someone who has been raised Evangelical but is ripe for rebellion, someone who is only following in the footsteps of their family without thinking much about it-- you maight be able to convert that person to your way of thinking.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:16 AM on October 31, 2005


I love it when someone tells me that they are religious; mainly because it can be hard to tell when someone is a true moron. When I know for sure that someone is religious, it frees me up to point and laugh at them like the retarded monkey that they truly are. Or just ignore tham and everything they say or do.

I used to call myself an atheist. I now realize that "atheist" is a null term. It is impossible to disbelieve in that which does not exist.

But don't allow my low opinion of the religious to sway your own beliefs. Like morons who think that they can do well playing poker because they watched it on the TeeVee, the world needs the religious. Much like corpses need maggots, or cats need litter boxes. It's all part of the circle.

Cue Elton John.
posted by weirdoactor at 8:26 AM on October 31, 2005


Of course, this falls into the same mistake that you made earlier, trying to position this as "denial of" rather than, "lack of evidence to justify belief."

that's unfair ... it's not me making that mistake, but the hardcore atheists who are going around calling believers "stupid" and "irrational" ... they are actively denying theism and crudely, at that

that rant linked to last week as well as brain's book fall into this catagory , not to mention many of the comments on these threads

it's the insistence that there is in fact a default position that must be taken in a question like this that seperates the dogmatic from the questioning ... and the hostility of some of the comments speak for themselves

i think it's interesting that some of the defenders of religion have expressed themselves much more moderately and rationally than some of the detractors have ... even though they insist they're the "rational" ones

there is a difference between doubt and denial and i have to call it as i see it
posted by pyramid termite at 8:40 AM on October 31, 2005


weirdoactor ... i do believe you've just illustrated my argument about denial and hostility ... thank you for playing
posted by pyramid termite at 8:42 AM on October 31, 2005


pyramid termite: that's unfair ... it's not me making that mistake, but the hardcore atheists who are going around calling believers "stupid" and "irrational" ... they are actively denying theism and crudely, at that

To me, this seems like painting with an excessively broad brush, and setting up your terms in favor of your argument. Nothing especially wrong with that, as long as you are honest that you are choosing to define atheist in a way that a large number of atheists would disagree with.

Don't you think that it is possible to have a reasonable position regarding theism/atheism without proving or disproving the existance of God? Many religions have a version of Pascal's wager, an admission that they can't necessarily provide proof of their religious claims while asserting that belief in God is a good thing. Likewise, most contemporary atheists argue not that God does not exist, but that it is reasonble to have strong doubts regarding God's existance.

it's the insistence that there is in fact a default position that must be taken in a question like this that seperates the dogmatic from the questioning ... and the hostility of some of the comments speak for themselves

Why? Part of the problem is that by using "dogma" to describe both the position that extreme claims require extreme evidence, and the position that a text is the word of God as revealed to his prophet(s), suggests that the two are equivalent. I don't think this is the case, and in spite of James's "Will to Believe," I think there are stronger arguments for doubt as a default position.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:15 AM on October 31, 2005


argybarg: I think that too often part of this is fueled by atheists who are forced to spend more time talking about their lack of relationship to a hypothetical god, than talking about their deep relationships to very real communities, families, ecosystems and universes.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:27 AM on October 31, 2005


To me, this seems like painting with an excessively broad brush,

i think the word "hardcore" is indicative that i know of differences between atheists

Don't you think that it is possible to have a reasonable position regarding theism/atheism without proving or disproving the existance of God?

of course ... but to say that people who disagree with you are "morons", "deluded", or are "going to burn forever" isn't reasonable, is it? ... it's one thing to say that one has too many doubts ... it's another to arrogantly claim one knows the truth about it

"dogma" to describe both the position that extreme claims require extreme evidence

such as "the universe just happened without cause in a universe where cause and effect have been consistently observable"? ... such as "a is always a and b is always b in all past
present and future times and circumstances"? ... such as "if a and b cause c a thousand times they will continue to do so throughout billions of years in an infinite universe?"

all extreme claims ... but they do not "require" extreme evidence ... they merely require that one have a useful reason for assuming so

i have a useful reason for assuming there is a god and assuming that the experiences that i have had of god are real ... it puts my life and the world around it into a meaningful and fruitful context ...

you have useful reasons to believe otherwise ... so be it ... although i can't say i understand the purpose of your assumptions or agree with them ... but assumptions are just that and really aren't arguable in any kind of rational way because neither one of us can prove them to the other

and so it goes ... but to understand my annoyance with those who loudly proclaim that people like me are "insane", "deluded", "stupid", etc. etc., i'm sure that some fundamentalists on here proclaiming endlessly that you were going to hell over and over would be quite annoying to you ... (and me) ... it's a wonder someone like that never shows up in these threads ...
posted by pyramid termite at 9:57 AM on October 31, 2005


it's the insistence that there is in fact a default position that must be taken in a question like this that seperates the dogmatic from the questioning

null hypothesis, dood.

... and the hostility of some of the comments speak for themselves

yeah, well, we'd like the fundies to have a coke and a smile and STFU wrt political organization. 25M peeps voting en bloc is quite a big hammer, and the last 5 years shows what we get from it.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:34 AM on October 31, 2005


pyramid termite: i think the word "hardcore" is indicative that i know of differences between atheists

To me, you seem to be rather sloppy in talking about this. I can't tell yet whether that's because your thinking is sloppy or just your writing in making some rather extreme statements about atheists in general.

such as "the universe just happened without cause in a universe where cause and effect have been consistently observable"?

Source? To me, this sounds like a rather inventive caricature of modern cosmology, which proposes a number of hypotheses about what caused the observable universe. How many out there actually propose "no cause" as opposed to just "we don't know?"

In fact, I would argue that the primary difference between atheism and theism is that atheism is comfortable with "I don't know, but that's an interesting question," while theism has a strong tendency towards, "I don't know, so god did it."

such as "a is always a and b is always b in all past
present and future times and circumstances"? ... such as "if a and b cause c a thousand times they will continue to do so throughout billions of years in an infinite universe?"


These are so vague and broad that they both sound like caricatures, and are difficult to address. But practically speaking, as a basic methodolgical assumption, it appears to be more reasonable to assume that the unvierse is consistant than to assume that the fundamental rules of thu universe might change in the future.

all extreme claims

I think only the claim about the creation of the universe is extreme, but that's only so because it seems like a straw man version of modern cosmology.

Given that everyday existance appears to have a high degree of continuity, the assumption of continuity is not extreme, but trivial. The contrary position, that the rules of the universe change in arbitrary ways, sounds extreme to me.

but assumptions are just that and really aren't arguable in any kind of rational way because neither one of us can prove them to the other

I'm not certain about that. I think that one can argue that an assumption grounded in millions, if not billions of examples from prior collective experience can be argued as more rational than the assumption that the rules might change arbitrarily and without warning at some point in the future.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:37 AM on October 31, 2005


odinsdream: If you believe something other than what he's arguing against - you aren't his audience for these first sections.

BluntInstrument: That theologians have considered these issues for centuries is completely irrelevant, since the nuanced interpretations those theologians have supposedly advanced (and which supposedly render MB's arguments unacceptably facile and irrelevant) are completely unknown to the vast majority of people, and in any event amount to so much holy pudwhacking about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

Here in the real world, people who believe in ghoulies and ghosties and resurrected beasties are very fucking busy trying to make sure that the rest of us are forced to acknowledge and bow down to their Imaginary Friend in the Sky at every turn, while denying anyone who doesn't share their pie-in-the-sky delusion not only the equal protection of the laws, but any protection of the laws.


Quoted for emphasis. delmoi, almost every one of your contributions to this thread miss the mark in a huge way.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:21 PM on October 31, 2005


Ooops.
posted by tizzie at 5:46 PM on October 31, 2005


That theologians have considered these issues for centuries is completely irrelevant

Prior knowledge is irrelevant? This is an argument for wheel re-invention?

If I, a person uneducated in the field and representing no one but myself, put up site containing my own home-brewed detailed refutation of the theory of relativity, why would I expect anyone to take it seriously and spend the required months to deal with every single issue I raised about it. Especially if everything I said had already been considered, chewed over, dealt with and/or refuted long since by those who've spent their entire lives studying and contributing to the topic?

Hey wait a minute... now I get it. Mr. Brain is indeed smarter than us-all -> he's just doing what the fundies do. This is his "Dinosaurs Co-existed with Mankind" site! He's showing us by example how goofy, as if we didn't already know, uneducated literalism is. Cool.
posted by scheptech at 8:40 PM on October 31, 2005


i do believe you've just illustrated my argument about denial and hostility ... thank you for playing


As much as you've proved nothing by any "argument" you claim to have made, you are welcome. Mistaking my amusement at the antics of those addicted to having imaginary friends for hostility was your first mistake.

Your second mistake is believing that I am in denial. Just the opposite. I may not be positive that there is no "higher power"; but at least I don't spend time and money inventing one, or use the alleged "writings" of the "disciples" of said imaginary friend to judge others.

So, I win. Nah.
posted by weirdoactor at 6:29 AM on November 1, 2005


Especially if everything I said had already been considered, chewed over, dealt with and/or refuted long since by those who've spent their entire lives studying and contributing to the topic?

No one has refuted his arguments. If they have, no one has posted any refutations. The "refutation" that keeps popping up seems to be that some of the things he's arguing with have long since been disowned or are no longer believed, at least not literally, or that people believe many variations of things besides those which he's arguing against.

The response is that there are in fact people who believe those things and take them literally, and his article is clearly not directed at those who do not.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:12 AM on November 1, 2005


May I humbly suggest a new topic for How Stuff Works? Try "understanding metaphors."
posted by whatnot at 12:34 PM on November 1, 2005


May I humbly suggest a new topic for How Stuff Works? Try "understanding metaphors."

You're missing the point, too.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:08 PM on November 1, 2005


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