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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth


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I have a great message board community, Doxa forums. It's a totally unique community becuase we no trolls, we have no BS yammering, no bickering. I just don't allow trolls. We do have free speech, we have good serious discussion. We are all friends. We have intelligent atheists (Yes! I told it was rare) and intelligent Christians.

Now input is welcome. It's gotten down the same few people and need new ideas and new voices. We will welcome atheists as well as Chrsitians or anyone else. Please come and see:

Doxa forums.

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Perhaps nothing scares atheists like feelings. They scared to death of religious experience arguments. Nothing raises their hatred like talking about religious experiences. Daren Brown is some sort of British stage magician who has a new stage act supposedly inducing religious experiences. Atheists waste no time in arguing that this is proof that such experiences are just accidents that mean nothing. He states "I examined the Placebo effect and proved just how powerful fear and faith can be." Of course he assumes that because there is a psychological process that produces faith that then there's no object of faith beyond that process that has any real bearing on life. This is really no different than the one's who claim to stimulate parts of the brain to induce religoius experiences.

In calling it "placebo" he's trying to set up the suggestion that it's unreal, it's unnecessary, God is the great cosmic sugar pill. Then he totally ignores the nature of real placebo. It's only for medicine, there's no evidence that such suggestive keys can manipulate us apart from expectation. All the things that he does in relation to evoking the psychological process are manipulative means of setting up the association. Yet most religious experience of the sort called "mystical" is not expected. In about half the time it's experienced in childhood, and much of the time mystical experiences contradict the doctrine of the experincer. If it was a real placebo it should confirm expectations. Placebo work by expectation. They don't work by challenging expectations. Calling it a placebo is wrong and improper and it's probably only done to evoke the concept and prepare the atheist to inoculated against emotion by making her suspicious of religious feelings.

He sets up several incidents before the main show (the phony atheist conversion) that are intended to get across the idea that suggestion works powerfully and most such feelings as one associates with the supernatural are also just manipulation. He makes people feel afraid by putting them in a room alone after reading to them some satanic right supposedly form the eleventh century. People are turned on by a sense of dark mysterious and ancient.  He gave people a fake drug which is no more than a sugar pill and by getting them to believe in it I got them to make dramatic changes in their lives. Of course he doesn't follow them in their lives or do a longitudinal study to determine if the changes are really transformational (dramatic, positive, and long term). In other he's working the suggestibility on the atheist audience to make them feel that his techniques work. He has no real control and no real way of determining if he's given anyone a real experience. Empirical study has demonstrated that religious experience is real, that's transformational, and that there is a way to determine real experiences from phony ones. No there is no proof direly that it's caused by God but this can be argued successfully by paying attention to what can be proved and using it with logic. It is the M scale that provides us with that means of verification for religious experience and it's been validated by a half dozen studies around the world.

His psychological explanation for the process is typically convoluted and not well throughout. He does an experiment that shows people in private when not watched lie about their mistakes. The idea is tp show that there's a presence in the room no one cheats. If people are given a idea of supernatural presence they act more moral. It is asserted that there are evolutionary reasons why we developed the idea of a supernatural presence. Don't want to be outcast form the tribe so we can reproduce. divine presence would ensure the sense of being caught out. God is made up to make us be moral. In other words like Foucault's take on the Panopticon the prisoners are learning to watch themselves. The problem here is he's convoluted several different reasons in to one.

First of all, if we feel a sense of presence that in itself is reason to assume we feel it. It doesn't have to be the result of needing a moral campus and inviting an invisible God. the illustration itself shows cave men ostracize a guy because he lied. So the fact of how people treated each other would be the reason for moral behavior and the fear of being rejected by the tribe and not being allowed to make would be enforcement enough, why make up an internal watch dog to do the job as well? If one has not felt experiences one doesn't know what they are. why invent a psychological process to evoke them then try to explain them. The fact that one has had such experience itself the reason to believe in the reality of such experiences, then the need to explain it comes out of having the need. The idea of ancient cave men trying to produce a sophisticated psychological technique for evoking some experience they haven't had is ridiculous and if they had it, it has its own reality.If they had it prior to producing the process of evoking it then it is real.

 Brown is certain that the experience explained by psychology. He asserts that these kinds of experiences come from big religious rallies with hyper suggestibility but there's no basis for that assumption. He's not using M scale studies to determine what percentage of religious experience is privately induced and percentage comes out of the big hyper rallies. Here's a clue, with half coming in childhood they are not coming form big rallies.

Then he goes through an elaborate production to produce a fake conversion in an atheist woman. He dose this indirectly without mentioning God. He uses several techniques such as tapping his fingers while they talk about her father to make her associate emotions the sound of the tapping with feelings of fatherly love. In several ways he evokes feelings of powerful father figure to bring atheist to believe. Establishes rapport. learns about her father. The woman is unconsciously processing, core religious belief evoked that God has plan for us and pulls strings to help us. No direct mention of God was made the woman made the connection to God herself through feelings of the father figure (tap tap tap). Brown says things that imply a grand plan, talk about things going wrong for a reason. sense of awe and wonder. Talks about the stars and space, evokes being cherished with awe. The woman describes her experience as "all the love in the world had been thrown at me. I pushed it away by not letting it into my life." Now she sees it's so stupid and she sees through it.

He says "I feel douty bound to make sure you understand that the positive stuff you got through this is not religious belief." This is what he tells her latter after they brought back before the audience. She's already been debriefed. He says explicitly "it certainly didn't come form God." The result of this elaborate dog and pony show is that we are supposed to come away with the grand feeling religion has been totally exposed and deconstructed and unraveled we see close up who fake it is there's no need for it. Of course the Brit media is working from the assumption that atheism is the standard, the grounding for society, the status quoe. The Audience is pre selected to reflect this idea. So one's going to challenge it.

It is a dog and pony show, he has no longitudinal study, no double blind, no control, he has no scale to measure the nature, depth, or effect of experience. He has no theory of religious experience to play it off of. That is all very crucial without that he's proved nothing. He can't guarantee that what she experienced is even a religious experience. One clue to that question is she says nothing about undifferentiated unity. she didn't say that she felt an all pervasive presence. She felt there's a plan and a purpose and she's cared for but that doesn't prove that it's the same religious experience that W.T. Stace talked about (see my link above on M scale).

The real problem is without a control there's no way to know if he isn't just evoking the we are given by God to be able to find him. The fact that he's evoking some of them doesn't prove that they are merely a matter of manipulation. There was no guy tapping when I got saved. Any associations that were evoked alone in my living room had to be coincidental or accidental rather than arranged. To say that there's a psychological process that enables to internalize the value of belief in God is hardly a denunciation of the reality of validity of that process. So there is a psychological process and we can manipulate it. I also had a need for a father figure, and guess what, I had a father. Saying that having a psychosocial need disproves the reality of the solution is just foolish.

That's like saying you have proved that love is just a psychological trick becuase when you when you do  things to make them think they are loved they respond emotionally. He's giving all the ques that God would give us to guide into a relationship with him, thus they respond becuase it's put in them to respond. The only real test of the validity of such feelings is the long term change and production of positive experiences and behaviors resulting from it. Plenty of studies establish that this is the case with mystical experience. It's not been proved that it is the case with phony evoked experiences.

Bill's topic from a few days ago is something that Christians (and other theists of all stripes) have been chewing over for thousands of years. It might seem like the answer is a simple yes or no; but there are concepts which supernaturalistic theists are (in principle) committed to, which introduce difficulties.

I spent several hundred pages in Sword to the Heart (which can be found for free in some different formats, including first here on the Cadre Journal ) slowly and carefully working up those concepts, but I'll summarize them below in a progressing topical order relevant to the question of God's responsibility. (Click here on the jump to proceed.)


A couple of weeks ago, I visited the drive-through ATM to get some cash so that my daughter and I could get some lunch.  After waiting a few minutes for the woman in the car ahead of me to complete her transaction, I finally pulled up by the machine. The ATM screen read, “Do you want another transaction?” Another transaction? Uh oh, the woman in front of me had failed to make certain that she had completed the banking process (including making sure she was logged out) before leaving the ATM. (Surprisingly, this same thing happened to me the previous week also. So twice in two weeks, I had other people leave their bank accounts wide open to me as I arrived at the ATM.)

What should I do? Since she left her bank account wide open for me, it would have been very easy to access whatever monies she had in the account. It was like leaving all of her money sitting on a park bench for whoever wanted it. Naturally, I hit the button that indicated that the transaction was completed. Still, given that we have had a few extra bills lately that had put a strain on my own bank account, I admit that for a fraction of a second I thought about taking some extra cash. After all, if I took $20.00 for myself when I could very easily have taken $200.00, she should be thankful she only lost $20.00, right?


If I had taken $20.00 from her account, how many people would have said that I bore the responsibility for having stolen money from the account? Certainly, if the bank caught me on camera taking the money, they would have had the police hold me responsible. I am sure that the woman whose money I had taken would hold me responsible, too. But how many people would say that God was responsible for allowing me to pull up in front of the ATM where the prior account was still open? After all, if God is omniscient (as I believe Him to be), then he should know that I would be tempted by the open ATM account, wouldn't he? So, obviously He would be responsible for my theft, right? 

I think it's obvious that God is not responsible for my sin. The mere fact that he allowed me to be put in that circumstance (twice, no less) would not have made him responsible for what I chose to do or not to do. And this happens to all of us every single day. Maybe we don't have an open bank account put in front of us, but we are all faced with choices. Choices to lie or not to lie. Choices to gossip or not to gossip. Choices to grumble and divide; to hurt and to injure; to turn our eyes away from what God would have us do. When we see these opportunities, does any of us say, "God, why did you cause me to do this thing?" No, we are usually well aware that we are the ones who have chosen the path that is sinful. 

Consider these words from The Doctrine of Sin from Bible.org:
Adam and Eve were beguiled by Satan, yet they were pronounced guilty and punished by God (Genesis 3:16-18). In the end of the age those persons who are deceived by Satan and Antichrist are held responsible to God and judged by Him (II Thessalonians 2:9-12). The seat of sin is in man himself. Our Lord said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19). The heart of man is the birthplace of all sinful thoughts, words and actions. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). In each of us there is sin for which each is accountable. The hidden capacities for evil are present in even the best of men.
Paul recognizes that sin comes from within us, too. In 1 Timothy 1:15, he said, 
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
Some skeptics argue that God is responsible for sin. Of course, skeptics have a tendency to turn everything around, but such talk is simply childish babble which makes no sense. Consider, if God were responsible for out sins then why the ruse? Why would he set up this system to come into the world to save sinners if the one he needs to save is Himself because He is the real cause of all sin? It would be like a fireman setting fire to a building for the sole purpose of saving the people trapped in the fire. If his sole purpose is to save the people trapped why would he have set the fire in the first place? It makes no sense. 

One could, I suppose, accept the skeptics' proposition that the reason it makes no sense is because it is a fabricated story that reasonable people should reject. But why should people follow this path when a more sensible and obvious solution exists which is consistent with the texts, i.e., that God is saving us because we are the ones responsible for our own sin? Logically, it is the better explanation of the evidence.

But what hits home even more than logic is the results when the hypothetical question becomes reality. If I had taken $20 out of the ATM (or $200 or any amount in between) when the bank account had been left wide open to me, would I have been justified in blaming God for my theft? Would I have been within my rights to have said, "God, how could you put me in a situation where the money was so available?" No, that's not what I said. I knew it was wrong to take the money (as would anyone with any moral sense), and if I had taken the money that would have had nothing to do with God -- that would have all been on me regardless of how tempting the situation. Common morality recognizes it, the law recognizes it, and (in his conscience if not in his conscious thoughts) the hardened skeptic recognizes it, too. 

To blame God for our decisions to sin because he allowed the temptation to occur is either the blame game or a cheap, meaningless logic puzzle; nothing more.

It's that time of year again, when I post a link to back to my 2008 Cadre article on the philosophically unique connection between trinitarian theism and freedom.

2009's repost picked up some interesting and polite discussion on the Resurrection of Jesus (between myself and counter-Christian apologist Spencer Lo), and those can be found here -- but they aren't comments about the article per se.

God’s hope to all our readers, around the world, this holiday season!

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