CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In the comments section of one of my recent posts on religious epistemology, atheist David Ellis asks:

"Of what does a personal relationship with someone who is invisible, insubstantial, and does not speak back when you speak to him consist? Does a personal relationship with such a God (assuming its real) look one iota different from a personal relationship with an imaginary God who one is firmly convinced is real?"

This is a very good question, even though it was made from a standpoint of manifest ignorance of how personal relationships work, with God or anyone else. From the question I infer that Ellis takes the following facts for granted about any 'real' personal relationship: 1) the other person has to be visible, 2) the other person has to be substantial and 3) the other person has to speak back when you speak to him, where presumably speaking is limited to creating differentials in air pressure that are propagated to the ear, where stimulation of the cochlear nucleus is translated into electrical impulses interpreted in the auditory nuclei.

This is an incredibly simplistic and misleading model of how relationships work. Clearly you can have a relationship with a person you've never seen or heard, if the two of you are pen pals, for example. The requirement that the other person be 'substantial' is too vague to be useful. If by 'substantial' Ellis means 'real' then he is begging the question when applying it to the case of a relationship with God. If by substantial he means 'made of elementary particles arranged in a particular fashion' he is still begging the question by assuming that immaterial agents cannot meaningfully interact with material agents. The flaw with all these requirements is the equation of a particular, limited subset of possible human interactions with the set of all the possible instantiations of a personal relationship. In other words, not all real relationships (i.e. relationships between persons that actually exist) satisfy the above criteria, or even most of them. Consider the relationship between an author and her readers: the author presumably communicates something of herself through her writing (how can she do otherwise, unless the writing is particularly bland, generic and technical?) to the readers. The latter in appreciation may write letters to the writer in response which the author may or may not reply to. Is the relationship between them unreal just because the reader may never get a reply from the author?

More importantly, meaningful communication is not limited to words on a page or sounds in the ear. All kinds of gestures, symbols and artifacts can convey one's intentions. For example, by leaving a trail of rosebuds from the front door to the bedroom, where candles have been lit and soft music is playing, one lover might convey to the other their amorous intentions for the evening. No words have been exchanged; none are needed. For a more morbid example, consider the proverbial serial killer who leaves a distinctive calling card at each crime scene. Even if the detectives cannot decipher its meaning, there is usually no doubt that there is a meaning, and that the crime was not a freak accident but the deliberate work of an intelligent agent. This agent may not even have acted in person. He might have gotten other people or robots in some sci-fi scenarios to do his work for him. But if the intention and planning behind the crime can be traced to a single person, then it is with that person that the detectives are dealing.

The common denominator in all the above cases of personal interaction is the following: agents affect their environment in various ways, leaving behind traces of their activity. Other agents perceive these traces and interpret them as such. It is important to note two things: 1) even when a corporeal human person is standing right in front of us speaking or gesturing, the same process of interpreting traces of an agent's activity is occurring and 2) this interpretation does not usually take the form of an inductive argument; that is, we don't consciously pay attention to a particular arm movement or sound coming from a physical mouth and then slowly come to the conclusion that we are probably dealing with an agent. It happens directly and intuitively. As cognitive scientists have argued, agency detection is a basic cognitive capacity that can't be broken up into discrete components (although it can certainly be impaired by damage to one of the underlying brain regions). If you were to ask me why I think the particular configuration of elementary particles standing in front of me is a person rather than a sophisticated automaton, I couldn't point to a series of separate reasons that are easily quantified, for example the frequency of blinking, the numbers of degrees the head tilts when I speak, etc. and which come together in an inductive argument. I see certain changes in my environment and I intuitively infer the presence of an agent.

What, then, does a personal relationship with an immaterial, transcendent but personal God look like? It has the same basic nature as that of any other personal relationship. John Hick in his classic book Faith and Knowledge gives an elegant description:

"The ordinary believer does not...report an awareness of God as existing in isolation from all other objects of experience. His consciousness of the divine does not involve a cessation of his consciousness of a material and social environment...He claims instead an apprehension of God meeting him in and through his material and social environments. He finds that in his dealings with the world of men and things he is somehow having to do with God, and God with him. The moments of ordinary life possess, or may possess, from in varying degrees a religious significance...The believer meets God not only in moments of worship, but also when through the urgings of conscience he feels the pressure of the divine demand upon his life; when through the gracious actions of his friends he apprehends the divine grace; when through the marvels and beauties of nature he traces the hand of the Creator; and he has increasing knowledge of the divine purpose as he responds to its behests in his own life. In short, it is not apart from the course of mundane life, but in it and through it, that the ordinary religious believer claims to experience, however imperfectly and fragmentarily, the divine presence and activity." (pp.109-110)

So the really interesting, fundamental question concerning Christian religious knowledge is not whether a relationship with God has certain features in analogy to a limited number of other human relationships. If anyone lost their faith because they couldn't actually hear the audible voice of God, that's their fault for having too restricted a view of the possible instantiations of personal relationships. Even though I've never audibly heard the voice of God I still believe because I find other traces of His activity in my life, as Hick suggests above. My relationship with God is no less real because of the lack of auditory feedback. The really interesting question is whether Christians are warranted in interpreting certain sudden changes or recurring patterns in their experience of the world as the activity of a personal God.

And I do not want to suggest that, because the process of agency detection is intuitive and non-inductive, that there can be no rational discussion of claims to agency detection, especially supernatural agency. As cognitive scientists have also demonstrated, human agency detection is prone to false positives in many cases. The leaves rustling in the dark might be someone stepping out behind us, but it also may just be the wind. Serious challenges can be raised against the interpretation of particular aspects of our experience as evidence of divine activity. My concern in this post has simply been to refute the idea that a personal relationship has to have certain specific characteristics in order for it to be 'real'. Is God an imaginary friend? If He is, it's not because we can't see, hear or touch Him. Is there any objective phenomenological difference between a relationship with a real person and an imaginary friend? I doubt there's a universal rule for distinguishing them, simply because, as I've stressed over and over in this post, not every personal relationship has exactly the same characteristics. But David Ellis is welcome to generate a fully detailed scenario of a case in which it is clear someone has an imaginary friend who she is nevertheless fully convinced is real and then we can talk about similarities and dissimilarities.

29 comments:

A worthy answer to an unworthy question. Or I should say a possible good question posed in an unworthy manner.

A few points.

The incarnation of God in Christ may play a part in enhancing our ability to have that relationship with God. Any thoughts on that? After all, God actually became human an interacted with us on that level and left a record of it.

Part of having a relationship with God is having a relationship with the people of God, the church. We are, after all, the body of Christ and play a roll in extending God's love and support to others. Any thoughts on that?

I also believe that the presence of the Holy Spirit can be experienced, despite the fact that it is immaterial. Why else did God send the Comforter if we were unable to interact with Him in some way?

Can we be mistaken about what we feel or experience? Sure, but as you point out that can happen in human relationships too. We don't typically base our relationships with other people on one thing: the spoken word, for example, is important, but so too is our mannerisms, countenance, physical interaction, letters/emails/notes. Any one or all of these may lead to misunderstandings, but the more we rely on the more likely we are to get the relationship rite.

It seems clear to me that all Ellis was doing is assuming that you can't have a relationship with a nonexistent fantasy. True enough, but since we disagree with his basis assumption, so what?

Clearly you can have a relationship with a person you've never seen or heard, if the two of you are pen pals, for example.
Indeed. But when was the last time God mailed you a letter.

Or even sent an email.

With people's relationship with God every aspect of the "interaction" is exactly the same as the interaction with an imaginary being would be.

The common denominator in all the above cases of personal interaction is the following: agents affect their environment in various ways, leaving behind traces of their activity. Other agents perceive these traces and interpret them as such.
And what examples, in your personal life, do you have of any such nonverbal communications from God which are anywhere approaching as unambiguously the communication of one being with another as the two examples you stated?

As cognitive scientists have also demonstrated, human agency detection is prone to false positives in many cases. The leaves rustling in the dark might be someone stepping out behind us, but it also may just be the wind. Serious challenges can be raised against the interpretation of particular aspects of our experience as evidence of divine activity.
And, with that, you come pretty close to negating your own case. You certainly have said nothing to refute my contention:

there is no aspect of the relationship of worshippers with their God which is distinguishable from a "relationship" which takes place only in the believer's imagination.




And now to Layman's comments.

Or I should say a possible good question posed in an unworthy manner.
How would you have preferred it be posed?

It seems clear to me that all Ellis was doing is assuming that you can't have a relationship with a nonexistent fantasy. True enough, but since we disagree with his basis assumption, so what?
My point was this: there is no aspect of the relationship of worshippers with their God (whichever God you pick) which is distinguishable from a "relationship" which takes place only in the believer's imagination.

Can you tell me I'm wrong? Can you name any aspect of the relationship you personally have with your deity where my claim is in error?

Chris,

Yes, yes and yes. I actually meant to make reference to Jesus's words in the Gospel of John that "it is expedient for you that I go away." Clearly God didn't want us becoming too attached to a particular human presence, but wanted us to draw on the Spirit through the Church. At the same time, that human presence left an indelible mark and was a necessary part of God's plan for giving His own life to us in the context of the work He had already done in creation, as Athanasius pointed out.

Ellis,

You somehow managed to miss the main point of my post, even though I repeated it several times: real relationships between real people have a wide variety of aspects and instantiations that can't be reduced to a set of 'required' features. You argue that there is no aspect of believers' relationship with God (no, you're not getting away with making vague claims about 'whatever' believers' relationship with 'whatever' God) which is distinguishable from one which takes place entirely in their imagination. And my response was, name one aspect of a real personal relationship which you think is absolutely necessary in all such relationships and I'll give you an example of a real relationship where that aspect does not apply.

So the burden is on you. What are the absolutely nonnegotiable features of a real relationship? Does it require physical speech? Being able to see the other person? Exchange of writing? That the other person 'talks back'? There are real relationships lacking all these features. So what feature of my relationship with God could I possibly point to that would incontrovertibly prove to a hardened skeptic that it's not just all in my head? I can't do that with most human persons I interact with, including my friend Chris Price above!

So again I challenge you: come up with a detailed (preferably clinical) scenario for a person's relationship with an imaginary friend whom they are nevertheless fully convinced is real and then let's talk. This has to be done on a case by case basis. There can't be any a priori requirements.

Ellis,

I have spent a number of years walking through downtown LA and taking the public buses to and fro and have run across many people who were thought they were interacting with other human beings. It was all a fantasy, of course. No one was there. In other words, your interaction with other human beings could just as easily be symptomatic of an imaginative interaction with a fantasy.

You still haven't gotten around the fact that you must beg the question to have a point here.

So the burden is on you. What are the absolutely nonnegotiable features of a real relationship?
There is only one that is pertinent to the point I'm making.

That the person you are having a relationship with actually exists and is actually communicating with you.

And, again, neither you nor Layman have so far pointed to any aspect of your relationship with God which is in any way distinguishable from a delusional belief that you are communicating with a being that is, in fact, imaginary.

A related question: do you deny that some religious believers are, in fact, interacting with imaginary beings?

When, for example, someone prays to a god which you deny the existence of. Be it Ganesha or Odin or Athena any of a thousand others you are (presumably, correct me if I'm wrong) just as convinced as I am to be imaginary beings?

So what feature of my relationship with God could I possibly point to that would incontrovertibly prove to a hardened skeptic that it's not just all in my head? I can't do that with most human persons I interact with, including my friend Chris Price above!
Seems to me it would be fairly simple. A person we interact with on a blog is more than capable of communicating with both of us by all sorts of means which make it perfectly clear that he isn't imaginary.

But I'm not even asking for anything like that in regard to God. I'm not asking for you to prove to me he exists.

I'm simply asking what features of your relationship with the real, living God are different from what would be experienced by someone just imagining, mistakenly, that they were communicating with God.

And, so far, you have not even attempted to answer that query. You have just attempted to find some way to sidestep it as if it weren't a quite sensible and reasonable question.

I can only conclude that you actually agree with me. There are none.

Otherwise, surely, you would have mentioned at least one by now.

There is only one that is pertinent to the point I'm making.

That the person you are having a relationship with actually exists and is actually communicating with you.

begging question. Since I know that God is real then that answers that.And, again, neither you nor Layman have so far pointed to any aspect of your relationship with God which is in any way distinguishable from a delusional belief that you are communicating with a being that is, in fact, imaginary.


that's a theorectical answer based upon ignorance. I have cared for a delusional person for 30 years. I know what delusional thinking is like. During all that time I have been having this relationship with Jesus. The shrinks don't tell me to make my brother's meds.

the difference is obvious and clear. Delusions are degerative and relationship with God builds you up. No one ever gets stronger and better with delusions. you do with God that is what the 350 studies show and I have experienced that first hand.

you are trying wield a form of knowledge you know nothing about.

Seems to me it would be fairly simple. A person we interact with on a blog is more than capable of communicating with both of us by all sorts of means which make it perfectly clear that he isn't imaginary.

But I'm not even asking for anything like that in regard to God. I'm not asking for you to prove to me he exists.

I'm simply asking what features of your relationship with the real, living God are different from what would be experienced by someone just imagining, mistakenly, that they were communicating with God.


My brother thinks the people next door are sending electric beams under our floor and are shocking him.

I may think the people next door or demon possessed. I don't but let's say I do. that's the sort of thing my sister would think.

My sister and I can deal with reality and my brother can't. We can talk to other people withing point "are you demon possessed." If my brother is having an episode he'll start talking to people like they know all about the shocking and they are in on the deal. He wont even think twice "maybe they don't know my personal mythology" he always assumes they are in on the gag.

there are hundreds of such differences in the way I deal with live and the way my brother does The bottom line is over the past 30 years he has degenerated into an old baby man who can't do for himself, I have been made stronger.

Ellis,

If your epistemological approach to these issues is, "can x possibly be explained as a delusion" then you will find precious little to believe in. As J.L. discusses, there are people who experience imaginary relationships, so even perceived human relationships can possibly be explained away as imaginary.

If God imparted the Bible to us, for example, then how that influences me and affects my life is hardly imaginary.

What you seem to be assuming is that by "relationship" JD means "warm and fuzzy feelings about God." Well, that's obviously not what JD means, though I have experienced the warm and fuzzies about God, I agree with Him that by "relationship" we mean more than that kind of feeling.

Hinman's post is at least, and unlike that of Layman or Walters, actually responsive to the issue I raised: whether there is any aspect of your relationship with God which is in any way distinguishable from a delusional belief that you are communicating with a being that is, in fact, imaginary.

He claims that the identifiable difference is that delusions have harmful effects.

This is, however, demonstrably false. Grossly erroneous and unwarranted beliefs can have quite beneficial effects. One example is the placebo effect. Many people find real relief from pain based on a utterly deluded belief in the medicinal effectiveness of all sorts of complete quackery.

He also seems to be making the error of attributing to me the opinion that religious believers are mentally ill. Which is, of course, in no respect what I was claiming. Sane people are perfectly capable of deluding themselves.

If the word "delusional" is a stumbling block to understanding my point (due to your wanting to define it in a clinical sense I never intended), then let's substitute "mistaken" instead so that it read:

is any aspect of your relationship with God which is in any way distinguishable from a MISTAKEN belief that you are communicating with a being that is, in fact, imaginary.

Having sought a relationship with God myself, and having been met with silence and emptiness on that front, it simply seems more likely to me that there is no God.

It's possible that there is a God for you but not for me, or that God prefers to shun me for some unfathomable reason or that I am somehow spiritually disabled (which raises the question of why God would create me that way...) but from my perspective, based on my own experience, the personal relationship many Christians claim to have with God looks suspiciously like the relationship children have with imaginary friends.

If someone tells me they have a relationship with another person, but that person cannot be seen, cannot be contacted, never responds to my attempts to communicate with them, why should I believe in that person's existence?

If your epistemological approach to these issues is, "can x possibly be explained as a delusion" then you will find precious little to believe in.
My point is not "can X possibly be explained as a delusion".

My point is that there seems to be NO feature of the experience which is different from what one would expect of a mistaken belief one is in contact of some sort with an entity which is, in fact, imaginary.

If God imparted the Bible to us, for example, then how that influences me and affects my life is hardly imaginary.
And if there's no God and mere humans wrote the bible without divine guidance, how the Bible influences you and affects your life is also hardly imaginary.

Well, that's obviously not what JD means, though I have experienced the warm and fuzzies about God, I agree with Him that by "relationship" we mean more than that kind of feeling.
Fine. And what aspect of that "relationship", however you choose to describe it, differ from what would be expected of a person who had a mistaken belief that they are having a relationship with a being which is, in fact, imaginary?

Having sought a relationship with God myself, and having been met with silence and emptiness on that front, it simply seems more likely to me that there is no God.
That brings up an interesting question, Hermit.

If you DID have religious experiences which felt to you like contact with a deity would you then believe.

As a former christian I experienced what I interpreted, like most believers do, to be a relationship with God. But once I began thinking critically about my religious beliefs it was completely obvious that there's nothing about these experiences which isn't accounted for better by simple human imagination and suggestibility----I was experiencing exactly what my faith community led me to expect. Just as someone worshipping some other God or gods experiences what THEIR faith community leads them to expect.

Naturally, God, being omnipotent, isn't limited to forms of communication indistinguishable from mere imagination.

Its simply too suspicious, too ad hoc a hypothesis, to think that he limits himself to a method of communication which is completely indistinguishable from what would be experienced by people mistakenly imagining they are in contact with him.

This is the atheist-loop at work here: They scoff at "invisible", so you try give examples from things that are visible from their perspective, and then they just tell you the manner in which we know them. Unlike all your examples, God is not observable to the same degree.

Nice point. Like there would be value in addressing points with unobservable examples. So when you tell them "We can observe this by..." it's a point for them because unlike this projected entity, they can actually observe the example.

...Yeah...I knew that...that's one of the reasons I thought it would have the remotest chance of registering with you....thanks for telling me something I already knew.

AH,

You seem to be reducing "relationship" with God down to the warm and fuzzies. Perhaps you were met with silence there, but we have been saying from the beginning that the relationship is not the warm and fuzzies. Even w/o the warm and fuzzies, if Christianity is true and there is a God then He has communicated with all of us through the Bible and life of Jesus and Creation of the universe, for example. That is hardly silence.

Ellis,

It is funny how you can deny you are saying something and then repeat something very similar in a slightly different way right afterwards:

My point is not "can X possibly be explained as a delusion".

My point is that there seems to be NO feature of the experience which is different from what one would expect of a mistaken belief one is in contact of some sort with an entity which is, in fact, imaginary.
You are saying that the relationship with God can be explained as "imaginary" if it is not true so . . . . ?

And imaginary is one of those loaded words that atheists like to use but does not really apply. I do not imagine God in the way some deluded person may imagine they are talking to someone. I don't see God sitting there in the chair next to me and hear him talking to me. I conclude that God exists based on various reasons and yes even may sense his presence by the "warm and fuzzies." That doesn't mean I imagined those reasons or the warm and fuzzies, it means I may be mistaken about what they mean.

And if there's no God and mere humans wrote the bible without divine guidance, how the Bible influences you and affects your life is also hardly imaginary.Exactly. But I think God does exist, so if there was no God there would be no Bible that would be so influential. Could I be mistaken about that? Sure, but you seem to think you have some point beyond simply assuming God does not exist.

Fine. And what aspect of that "relationship", however you choose to describe it, differ from what would be expected of a person who had a mistaken belief that they are having a relationship with a being which is, in fact, imaginary?The use of the term imaginary is not only loaded, its misleading. So very unhelpful.

A person may have loved another based in large part on their mistaken ("imagined"?) believe that they were loved in return but does the fact that they were mistaken mean that love doesn't exist? Or that the other person doesn't exist? Or that they themselves were not feeling loved? Should they conclude that there is no such thing as love because they were mistaken about it or that people who are mistaken about it seem to be having the same warm and fuzzies?

Why not extend your thinking to some sort of conclusion?

Ellis, you continue to miss the point. It is FUTILE to try to isolate a specific, restricted, universal criterion by which to distinguish true relationships from imaginary ones. All real relationships have aspects which are also found in imaginary ones, and vice versa. I'm still waiting to hear what your criterion for that is, other than the question begging "that the other person be real".

And you still haven't produced a detailed, useful example of a person with an imaginary relationship who is nevertheless convinced it is real. I think that's because you'll find that most cases of dementia are readily distinguishable from cases of religious belief and interaction with a Deity, so the analogy is not instructive.

You say that it's very suspicious and ad hoc to claim that God would restrict himself to methods of communication that cannot be distinguished from mere imagination. But you're still begging the question. Again, if you have found a foolproof way to tell apart real relationships from imaginary ones in all cases whatsoever, then by all means let's hear it. I'M STILL WAITING for your criterion.

And complaining that you just had the experience your faith community led you to expect is a cop-out, as well. ALL human experience is socially mediated. Even in the case of scientific beliefs you learn to experience the natural world in accordance with the expectations drilled into you by science teachers, magazines like Scientific American, etc.

Could religious people be mistaken in their interpretation of what they take to be traces of an agent's activity? Of course, I've already granted that. They might misconstrue the character of the agent, or mistake a particularly complex and coincidental series of events as intentionally planned. But my point remains that these cases must be judged one at a time, on their own merits. No universal criterion applies.

In the end your requirement that theists demonstrate categorically how their experience of God differs from an imaginary relationship is unreasonable and misguided. As usual, atheists show themselves to be woefully deficient in their knowledge of cognitive science and epistemology.

Having sought a relationship with God myself, and having been met with silence and emptiness on that front, it simply seems more likely to me that there is no God.

It's possible that there is a God for you but not for me, or that God prefers to shun me for some unfathomable reason or that I am somehow spiritually disabled (which raises the question of why God would create me that way...) but from my perspective, based on my own experience, the personal relationship many Christians claim to have with God looks suspiciously like the relationship children have with imaginary friends.


you don't get the goodies so there can't be a God right? That makes no sense. You don't seek it right.

"you don't get the goodies so there can't be a God right? That makes no sense. You don't seek it right."Really Joe? You think i was just looking for "goodies?" Are peace, faith and understanding just goodies? What should I have been looking for instead? And what's the "right" way to seek God? Have you got a manual? A "Revelation for Dummies" book perhaps? Perhaps you think God only reveals His presence to PhD candidates?

Hinman's post is at least, and unlike that of Layman or Walters, actually responsive to the issue I raised: whether there is any aspect of your relationship with God which is in any way distinguishable from a delusional belief that you are communicating with a being that is, in fact, imaginary.


first I would have to say that you don't know anything about my relationship with God. You may be imagining that I sit around trying to talk to God like some kid in the movies, "pardon me Mr. God" but you are really dealing in stereo types about something that you know little about. I mean that's comic book version. I don't go "O the leaves are rustling so that's God answering...."He claims that the identifiable difference is that delusions have harmful effects.


studies show religious experience is not delusions and it's not mental illness. It does not share any of the trates of them. this is empirically proved.This is, however, demonstrably false. Grossly erroneous and unwarranted beliefs can have quite beneficial effects. One example is the placebo effect. Many people find real relief from pain based on a utterly deluded belief in the medicinal effectiveness of all sorts of complete quackery.


Pardon my Loftusism, but read my book! when you do read my book, and you will...in just a few months, when you read my book... you will see you have no basis whatsoever for trying to compare placebo to RE. that is nothing more than bad analogy and argument form analogy is a fallacy.He also seems to be making the error of attributing to me the opinion that religious believers are mentally ill. Which is, of course, in no respect what I was claiming. Sane people are perfectly capable of deluding themselves.

you used the the term "delusions." now try to get out o it. this is irresponsible. you want to throw terms around and not take responsibility for their meaning.If the word "delusional" is a stumbling block to understanding my point (due to your wanting to define it in a clinical sense I never intended), then let's substitute "mistaken" instead so that it read:


but steady state theory was mistaken, does that make it irrational? I presume you don't waste your time mocking it or go on steady state blogs to put down believers in Hoyle.is any aspect of your relationship with God which is in any way distinguishable from a MISTAKEN belief that you are communicating with a being that is, in fact, imaginary.


sorry to quote an old cheche heard much when you are here but...you miss the point...you just miss the everloving point!

my argument in sum means this: RE makes like navigable. I can make my way in the world based upon what I learn form RE: that's in terms of emotional strength and survivability, hope, wisdom, daily living skills. These I learn from RE.

you can't get that from a pretense. It has to be something real, and the studies show that it's real. Soemthing real actaully happens to you and it can de demonsrate din brain wave pappterns and it makes you life better and eables you to cope you cannot give one single shtred of data that indicates that anyone can get that from falsehood or delusion or self deceptions.

show me a study where self deceived people get stronger in life? that's the whole point of those RE studies. it doesn't happen.

"you don't get the goodies so there can't be a God right? That makes no sense. You don't seek it right."Really Joe? You think i was just looking for "goodies?" Are peace, faith and understanding just goodies?


you seem to be suggesting that you tried it and it didn't work so that disproves it completely for everyone and that's fair. what about those for whom it works? why is this all about you and your experinces?What should I have been looking for instead? And what's the "right" way to seek God? Have you got a manual?



Yes I do have a Manuel. It's called "the Bible."I don't know, but running around trying to argue people out of their faith is not it.

all I know is from own experince when I was willing to believe God and just thank him regardless of whether it met what I expected or not,that's when it all came together.




A "Revelation for Dummies" book perhaps? Perhaps you think God only reveals His presence to PhD candidates?

My grandmother was not a Ph.D. candidate. One thing I do know is that trying to argue people out of faith is not the way to get it. You are clearly not seeking now.

Revelation for dummies, how come us dummies are the happy one's?

"you seem to be suggesting that you tried it and it didn't work so that disproves it completely for everyone..."You seem to be trying to put the worst possible interpretation on what I say. Do you think I was insincere? I didn't just "try it and give up" Joe, I lived by faith, for years, until it became impossible for me to do so anymore.

"why is this all about you and your experinces?"I'm sorry, I didn't realize discussing my experiences was out of bounds. I see you and others presenting your experiences of a relationship with God so I thought it would be OK to offer my own, contrary experience in contrast. Are the experiences of believers the only ones worth considering?

"Yes I do have a Manuel. It's called "the Bible."I knew that was coming...;-)

I have read it, you know; but I haven't found it to be particularly helpful...

"I don't know, but running around trying to argue people out of their faith is not it.I'm not trying to "argue people out of their faith", I'm trying to explain my atheism.

"You are clearly not seeking now."I'm always seeking; I just don't limit myself by having a preconception about what it is I'm seeking anymore.

But I'm curious Joe; you say I "didn't see it right" and I'd really like to know what you think I did wrong? Was it the anabaptism? Was Grandpa right about the Bible only making sense in its original (German) language? (Grandpa like to joke...) Should I have stayed away from those pentecostals? Or was it the Catholicism? Was the year of voluntary service a mistake? Is there some particular prayer I missed? Was I not humble enough? I tried to be humble; perhaps I was too proud of my humility? Was it a mistake to seek at all? Shouldn't I just have waited quietly for that still small voice?

I'd really like to know where you think I went wrong Joe; goodness knows I tried more than a few approaches over the years...

It is funny how you can deny you are saying something and then repeat something very similar in a slightly different way right afterwards:
Do you actually have difficulty recognizing that the following are substantially different claims:

"can X possibly be explained as a delusion".

"there seems to be NO feature of the experience which is different from what one would expect of a mistaken belief one is in contact of some sort with an entity which is, in fact, imaginary."

The first deals with the bare, no matter how minimal, possibility something is imaginary.

The second with a circumstance where there's no rational basis for thinking its one iota more likely to be real than imaginary.

ME: Fine. And what aspect of that "relationship", however you choose to describe it, differ from what would be expected of a person who had a mistaken belief that they are having a relationship with a being which is, in fact, imaginary?

Layman: The use of the term imaginary is not only loaded, its misleading. So very unhelpful.
What other word would I use for the idea of a nonexistent God who people mistakenly believe they have contact with?

And you still have not responded to the question I asked earlier (and which I quote below if you've forgotten it):

"A related question: do you deny that some religious believers are, in fact, interacting with imaginary beings?

When, for example, someone prays to a god which you deny the existence of. Be it Ganesha or Odin or Athena any of a thousand others you are (presumably, correct me if I'm wrong) just as convinced as I am to be imaginary beings?"

Ellis, you continue to miss the point. It is FUTILE to try to isolate a specific, restricted, universal criterion by which to distinguish true relationships from imaginary ones. All real relationships have aspects which are also found in imaginary ones, and vice versa. I'm still waiting to hear what your criterion for that is, other than the question begging "that the other person be real".
Its the height of simplicity to identify real relationships with real beings in almost all cases---others who are there can see the person you're interacting with or observe in some empirical way the interactions. There's simply no question, in the vast majority of cases, whether someones interacting with an imaginary being.

However, your so-called relationship with Jesus is nothing like that. No being is observably present or interacting in observable ways (be it letters, trails of rose petals posts on the internet or anything else).

And you still haven't produced a detailed, useful example of a person with an imaginary relationship who is nevertheless convinced it is real. I think that's because you'll find that most cases of dementia are readily distinguishable from cases of religious belief and interaction with a Deity, so the analogy is not instructive.
The comparison of religious belief to dementia is yours and Hinman's. Not mine.

I am not calling religious believers insane. One does not have to be insane to be capable of being self-deluded nor of being suceptible to the suggestibility common to practically all human beings.

Again, if you have found a foolproof way to tell apart real relationships from imaginary ones in all cases whatsoever, then by all means let's hear it. I'M STILL WAITING for your criterion.
My claim is not and never was that we have any such foolproof way of telling if a "relationship" is delusional or not.

The very idea is absurd. Its always a bare possibility that even the most apparently absurd belief that one is communicating with forces others can't see actually IS exactly what the believer says it is.

I can't prove you haven't been in contact with God.

I can't prove a Wiccan hasn't been in contact with spirits of the forest.

I can't prove that a Hindu hasn't actually been in contact with the god Krishna.

I can't even prove that the schizophrenic who believes he's in telepathic communication with aliens is wrong.

I am simply pointing out the very obvious fact that there isn't anything about your experience of a "relationship" with Jesus which doesn't fit the "imagination" hypothesis as well (or better) than the hypothesis that you are really in contact, of some sort, with a deity.

And apparently you agree since you have consistently failed to make any claim otherwise (unlike Hinman, who has actually responded to the question).

And now to Hinman:

first I would have to say that you don't know anything about my relationship with God.
Nor did I claim to. I simply pointed out that you are the first theist in this discussion to actually answer the question I raised.

You may be imagining that I sit around trying to talk to God like some kid in the movies, "pardon me Mr. God" but you are really dealing in stereo types about something that you know little about.
Please refer from attributing to me opinions I haven't expressed nor even so much as implied.

my argument in sum means this: RE makes like navigable. I can make my way in the world based upon what I learn form RE: that's in terms of emotional strength and survivability, hope, wisdom, daily living skills. These I learn from RE
A false belief can't provide hope and other personal emotional benefits?

Honestly, Hinman, you're just spouting absurdities.

Take belief in an afterlife. You don't think that this belief, even if false, may result in lessened anxiety about death and other emotional benefits?

Do you really think that an imagined but mistaken belief that one is in contact with a deity that loves them and cares about their well-being will not have positive emotional and other impact on them?

I'm sorry, but that's just not a plausible claim.

first I would have to say that you don't know anything about my relationship with God.


Nor did I claim to. I simply pointed out that you are the first theist in this discussion to actually answer the question I raised.


then you should like me.You may be imagining that I sit around trying to talk to God like some kid in the movies, "pardon me Mr. God" but you are really dealing in stereo types about something that you know little about.


Please refer from attributing to me opinions I haven't expressed nor even so much as implied.


I can only go by the impression your words make upon me.my argument in sum means this: RE makes like navigable. I can make my way in the world based upon what I learn form RE: that's in terms of emotional strength and survivability, hope, wisdom, daily living skills. These I learn from RE


A false belief can't provide hope and other personal emotional benefits?


I quote the Immortal Bard of Avon: "a lie never lives to be old."Honestly, Hinman, you're just spouting absurdities.


that's Shakespeare!Take belief in an afterlife. You don't think that this belief, even if false, may result in lessened anxiety about death and other emotional benefits?


since we can't nkow truth in an ultiamte way it just doesn't matter. cant' you get that through your head? why sit in the dark cursing because it' dark when it can't be light until morning? why not light a candle! can you not understand this?

atheists are such cynical little negative whiners.
Do you really think that an imagined but mistaken belief that one is in contact with a deity that loves them and cares about their well-being will not have positive emotional and other impact on them?


you keep missing the ponit! the truth of that can't be knonwn in this life in the way you want to nkow it. tis' not gieven in sesne data. use your head! you can be a negative wart and demand that you know all truth and never get anywhere. or you can believe it and get soemwhere.
but you want to think that if you criticize believing it with the stupid threat that it's not the ultimate truth that cant' be questioned then it's not worth it to believe. Its' worth the benefits that it gives you.

stop cursing the dankness and light the candle!
I'm sorry, but that's just not a plausible claim.


It's got 350 empirical studies to back it up. you have 0 studies to argue against it. How implausible could it be with 350 studies backing it?

God, being omnipotent, isn't limited to forms of communication indistinguishable from mere imaginationFirst, of course, God isn't so limited. 2,000 years ago he became man and interacted with the people of ancient Israel and Judah. Second, He has also communicated directly and conspicuously with people at various times and in various places, e.g., His speaking to Moses from the burning bush or to Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus. Third, he continues to speak to people today through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Could God make His speaking less like speaking to an imaginary friend? Of course -- as the foregoing shows he has done so and the Bible (specifically) references dozens of such interactions. Is God required to do so? No. God can communicate to us in any way that He pleases. And if He pleases to speak to us quietly through our prayers and inspiration when we read His word, then that is how he chooses to do so.

Your objection boils down to this: God could speak more clearly and openly and because He doesn't I choose to believe He is imaginary. That's your choice, but to a person who seems to believe himself to be very logical, you certainly must see that it certainly doesn't necessarily follow.

2,000 years ago he became man and interacted with the people of ancient Israel and Judah. Second, He has also communicated directly and conspicuously with people at various times and in various places, e.g., His speaking to Moses from the burning bush or to Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus.
Except, of course, those are just more examples of beliefs you have on the basis of grossly inadequate evidence.

God can communicate to us in any way that He pleases. And if He pleases to speak to us quietly through our prayers and inspiration when we read His word, then that is how he chooses to do so.
And if that's the only way he chooses to communicate then he should expect rational people to be highly skeptical that he even exists.

Your objection boils down to this: God could speak more clearly and openly and because He doesn't I choose to believe He is imaginary. That's your choice, but to a person who seems to believe himself to be very logical, you certainly must see that it certainly doesn't necessarily follow.
My position is more accurately stated as being that I don't consider it rational to believe in the existence of a being whose "contact" with us is of only the kind which could be as well, or better, explained by it being all in the believer's imagination (provided, of course, we don't have other, strong reasons, for belief).

And you still have not responded to my question concerning believers in other religions (which I now ask for the third time):

do you deny that some religious believers are, in fact, interacting with imaginary beings?

When, for example, someone prays to a god which you deny the existence of. Be it Ganesha or Odin or Athena any of a thousand others you are (presumably, correct me if I'm wrong) just as convinced as I am to be imaginary beings?"

Your objection boils down to this: God could speak more clearly and openly and because He doesn't I choose to believe He is imaginary."My objection is that God doesn't appear to speak at all...if He does it is in a way that is indistinguishable from imagination, and God which is indistinguishable from imagination is no better than an imaginary God.

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