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Old 09-29-2007, 11:43 PM   #1
Achilles
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How to believe in god: A discussion on faith

I was reading this article by Sam Harris when I happened upon the following satirical instructions for believing in god:
Quote:
How to Believe in God
Six Easy Steps

1. First, you must want to believe in God.
2. Next, understand that believing in God in the absence of evidence is especially noble.
3. Then, realize that the human ability to believe in God in the absence of evidence might itself constitute evidence for the existence of God.
4. Now consider any need for further evidence (both in yourself and in others) to be a form of temptation, spiritually unhealthy, or a corruption of the intellect.
5. Refer to steps 2-4 as acts of “faith.”
6. Return to 2.
I've participated in various discussions involving faith before, but this highlighted for me that I don't recall ever seeing a person of faith define "faith" in detailed way. This makes me what wonder what I (or Sam Harris, et al) am missing when we refer to "faith".

Thanks.
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Old 09-30-2007, 02:44 PM   #2
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This works for me:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dictionary.com
American Heritage Dictionary - Cite This Source - Share This
faith (fāth) Pronunciation Key
n.

1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. See Synonyms at belief, trust.
3. Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one's supporters.
4. often Faith Christianity The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will.
5. The body of dogma of a religion: the Muslim faith.
6. A set of principles or beliefs.
I suspect you're wanting something else however? Are you asking why those of us with faith believe (which is covered in a number of threads)? How those of us with faith view faith? Are you asking for viewpoints or something else?


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Old 09-30-2007, 02:56 PM   #3
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Maybe using "define" was a poor choice on my part. "Explain" may have been better. I guess what I'm looking for is what someone like Sam Harris or myself miss when we characterize the process of acquiring/maintaining faith via the steps above. If the answer is, "Nothing. That pretty much explains it accurately" then there probably isn't a whole lot more to say on the matter. I hope that helps and my apologies for any confusion.
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Old 10-01-2007, 12:33 PM   #4
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Surely anyone can believe in any God in anyway they seem fit!?


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Old 10-01-2007, 12:52 PM   #5
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But there's still an underlying commonality to theism (actually to religion in general) that I find fascinating. That's the part I'm trying to get to here. Hope that helps.
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Old 10-01-2007, 03:32 PM   #6
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Because all religions are created by people and follow the basic instincts of people to explain all sorts of stuff they cant explain. With the advancement of science more and more people see no need for these questions to be answered. Like it or not religions are all man made and have little if no input from their God.


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Old 10-01-2007, 05:10 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thor the Bassis
Because all religions are created by people and follow the basic instincts of people to explain all sorts of stuff they cant explain. With the advancement of science more and more people see no need for these questions to be answered. Like it or not religions are all man made and have little if no input from their God.
I'm quite aware of all of these points. What this doesn't address, however, is the what flaws a theist would find with Mr. Harris' steps regarding the acquisition/maintenance of faith. Since I have yet to hear back from a theist, I'm thinking that there is no contest to his proposed model.
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Old 10-01-2007, 06:48 PM   #8
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Anecdotally, there are instances of people believing in God after near-death experiences, including those who didn't believe in God. These instances of belief don't fit into the 6 easy steps at all. http://www.near-death.com/atheists.html
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Old 10-01-2007, 09:08 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
Anecdotally, there are instances of people believing in God after near-death experiences, including those who didn't believe in God. These instances of belief don't fit into the 6 easy steps at all. http://www.near-death.com/atheists.html
I don't know if I'd agree with that conclusion. I think that such an experience might grease the wheels for step 1 and possibly alter some of the later steps as well, but fundamentally, we're talking about the same process.
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Old 10-01-2007, 09:34 PM   #10
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I guess we'd be in disagreement then. If an atheist or agnostic has a first-hand confrontation with God, point #1 is rather nonsensical unless you disbelieve your own experience.
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Old 10-01-2007, 09:51 PM   #11
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My point is that there are several other possible explanations other than a bona fide "first-hand confrontation with god". If every other possible explanation could be ruled out then I would concede that we'd have evidence for god and we could skip right over your first response to Achilles becoming a theist

And disbelieving your own experiences would seem to be a prerequisite for intellectual rigor, since we know that perception can be fallible.
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Old 10-01-2007, 10:14 PM   #12
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Yes, but the scientific method also requires observational experience for proof.

It is true that hallucinatory drugs have induced so-called mystical experiences. However, there is no other way to know what occurs in consciousness after death other than observational accounts given by those experiencing NDEs. The anecdotes are all that we have to go by. (I'm reminded of the movie Flatliners. ) If the anecdotes describe similar experiences, is it not reasonable to assume that upon death, we might also?
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Old 10-01-2007, 11:21 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
Yes, but the scientific method also requires observational experience for proof.
Indeed it does. Observational experience that is repeatable, verifiable, etc.

The fact that someone nearly died and believed that they saw god is only evidence that that person nearly died and believed that they saw god (EDIT: See step #3). The experience itself says nothing definitive about the existence of god.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
It is true that hallucinatory drugs have induced so-called mystical experiences. However, there is no other way to know what occurs in consciousness after death other than observational accounts given by those experiencing NDEs. The anecdotes are all that we have to go by. (I'm reminded of the movie Flatliners. ) If the anecdotes describe similar experiences, is it not reasonable to assume that upon death, we might also?
Indeed we might, but I think it's impossible to ignore the fact that the conclusion you appear to be supporting is being jumped to. Yes, if all human bodies/brains contain essentially the same structure and are made up of the same stuff, then I would expect that such experiences would yield similar results. What this doesn't tell us specifically is anything about the cause of the experience itself (EDIT: See step #1 and possibly #2).

Last edited by Achilles; 10-02-2007 at 12:20 AM.
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Old 10-02-2007, 03:58 AM   #14
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There are also scientific theories for what happens with people who have near death experiences. And actually, as a non-believer, I don't see the point in starting to explain things using the supernatural just because I nearly died. Also, I'd blatantly impute that those "NDE-returners-and-now-believers" are liars. The whole site is fake. I mean "visit our NDE online store"


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Old 10-02-2007, 11:31 AM   #15
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Of course as soon as an example is given it becomes a point of distraction.

Regardless of the site in question, which I admit to being the first thing I got back from Google, if non-believers come back from an NDE believing, I am asserting that it doesn't fit into Sam Harris' steps. Achilles was asking for was
Quote:
Originally Posted by Achilles
is the what flaws a theist would find with Mr. Harris' steps regarding the acquisition/maintenance of faith
Though I wouldn't call myself a theist, I figured the request wasn't closed to me.

The sudden belief in God in the case of NDE obviously didn't require step 1 or step 2 to occur. It was due to an overwhelming experience that was enough to shake off skepticism. I suppose if someone experienced a miracle, that could become a similar case of sudden belief.
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Old 10-02-2007, 11:42 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
The sudden belief in God in the case of NDE obviously didn't require step 1 or step 2 to occur.
Of course it does. If you have a powerful experience that you are told is the work of god, you are going to want to believe in god in order to reconcile what happened with what you were told.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
It was due to an overwhelming experience that was enough to shake off skepticism.
Precisely. "To shake off skepticism". Someone that remains skeptical will not necessarily suddenly become religious. Someone that suspends skepticism in lieu of a supernatural explanation surely won't have to go too far to find one.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
I suppose if someone experienced a miracle, that could become a similar case of sudden belief.
Let's try to define "miracle" (in this context) without circular reasoning and see how far that get us
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Old 10-02-2007, 11:55 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Achilles
Someone that remains skeptical will not necessarily suddenly become religious. Someone that suspends skepticism in lieu of a supernatural explanation surely won't have to go too far to find one.
So you're saying that such a person wasn't truly an atheist or agnostic to begin with and therefore, step #1 applies.

I suppose then there is a corollary as such (tongue-in-cheek)

Quote:
How to disbelieve in God:
6 Easy Steps

1. First, you must want to not believe in God or anything supernatural.
2. Next, understand that not believing in something when there is no evidence for it is especially noble.
3. Then, realize that the absence of evidence might itself constitute evidence of absence of God.
4. Now consider any possible suggestion of supernatural experiences (both in yourself and in others) as being non-scientific, non-testable, and a corruption of the intellect.
5. Refer to steps 2-4 as acts of “logic.”
6. Return to 2.
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Old 10-02-2007, 12:16 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
So you're saying that such a person wasn't truly an atheist or agnostic to begin with and therefore, step #1 applies.
Afraid you're going to have to explain that one to me.

Atheist = someone without a belief in god. If one suddenly acquires a belief in god, does that somehow invalidate the sincerity of their earlier non-belief?

Agnostic = someone that believes that the existence of god is equal parts likely and unlikely but ultimately unknowable. And if they have an experience that they believe tips the scales toward "likely" and "knowable"?

Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
I suppose then there is a corollary as such (tongue-in-cheek)
To show that I'm not unwilling to take my own medicine:
Quote:
1. First, you must want to not believe in God or anything supernatural.
This step is unnecessary. Non-belief is a natural state, therefore no first step is required.
Quote:
2. Next, understand that not believing in something when there is no evidence for it is especially noble.
Gee, I'd prefer to use the word "rational", but "noble" feels good on the ego.
Quote:
3. Then, realize that the absence of evidence might itself constitute evidence of absence of God.
But that itself would be irrational. The process would break down at this point (hence why I am not a supporter of anti-theism).
Quote:
4. Now consider any possible suggestion of supernatural experiences (both in yourself and in others) as being non-scientific, non-testable, and a corruption of the intellect.
I could quibble over some of the words used here, but essentially correct.
Quote:
5. Refer to steps 2-4 as acts of “logic.”
Impossible, since step 3 is illogical. Sorry, teekay.
Quote:
6. Return to 2.
You should have called this "6 steps for being a skeptic".

Hey, is it just me or have you dodged just about every point raised in this thread? That isn't like you, man.

Last edited by Achilles; 10-02-2007 at 12:52 PM. Reason: spelling
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Old 10-02-2007, 12:58 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Achilles
Atheist = someone without (fixed) a belief in god. If one suddenly acquires a belief in god, does that somehow invalidate the sincerity of their earlier non-belief?
That was actually what I was attempting to argue. In other words, belief in God did not require step #1 of Sam Harris' 6 steps. That was the whole point of the NDE tangent. Same thing with the agnostic.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Achilles
To show that I'm not unwilling to take my own medicine:
What a good sport.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Achilles
But that itself would be irrational. The process would break down at this point (hence why I am not a supporter of anti-theism).
Impossible, since step 3 is illogical. Sorry, teekay.
You should have called this "6 steps for being a skeptic".
Maybe so, I wrote that in like 5 minutes.

Quote:
Hey, is it just me or have you dodged just about every point raised in this thread? That isn't like you, man.
Oh you realized I was only half-heartedly debating this thread?

Let's see, I suppose you thought I dodged this...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Achilles
The fact that someone nearly died and believed that they saw god is only evidence that that person nearly died and believed that they saw god (EDIT: See step #3). The experience itself says nothing definitive about the existence of god.
We're not trying to prove the existence of God with an NDE. We're talking about how an NDE can be the cause of belief in God without going through Sam Harris' 6 steps. Again, that was why I brought it up.

And to remedy my omission to this:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Achilles
Indeed we might, but I think it's impossible to ignore the fact that the conclusion you appear to be supporting is being jumped to. Yes, if all human bodies/brains contain essentially the same structure and are made up of the same stuff, then I would expect that such experiences would yield similar results. What this doesn't tell us specifically is anything about the cause of the experience itself (EDIT: See step #1 and possibly #2).
That is true. It does not tell us what causes our conscious experience. But EKGs during an NDE tells us what does not cause the experience, namely brain activity. Plus there are numerous accounts of disembodied experiences of floating above operating rooms, watching doctors perform operations.

The standard assumption is that brain electro-chemical activity is responsible for consciousness. Such experiences do not fit easily into that explanation. And therefore your argument that it is a leap of faith to assume God exists based on what is experienced near death can also be applied towards the belief that consciousness is completely derivative of the body.

Hope I've redeemed my standing with you a little.
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Old 10-02-2007, 02:18 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
That was actually what I was attempting to argue. In other words, belief in God did not require step #1 of Sam Harris' 6 steps. That was the whole point of the NDE tangent. Same thing with the agnostic.
The willingness to believe in god is step #1. The events leading up to said willingness are too diverse to include here, hence why I imagine he began at the first common step.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
Maybe so, I wrote that in like 5 minutes.
*grumbles something about the quality of the devil's advocates nowadays*

Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
We're not trying to prove the existence of God with an NDE. We're talking about how an NDE can be the cause of belief in God without going through Sam Harris' 6 steps. Again, that was why I brought it up.
I didn't think that you were, but even if you had been, I'm not sure how much that would have changed my counter-argument (something that happens is only evidence that it happened. Determining causality requires a little more work).

Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
And to remedy my omission to this:
That is true. It does not tell us what causes our conscious experience. But EKGs during an NDE tells us what does not cause the experience, namely brain activity. Plus there are numerous accounts of disembodied experiences of floating above operating rooms, watching doctors perform operations.
And the fact that neuroscientists can duplicate the sensation of being outside of the body with medication and/or probes tells us that a supernatural explanation for such an experience is not required.

Regarding EKGs: I'm ok with saying "I don't know" if you are. Until a natural explanation can be ruled out, then I see no reason to accept a supernatural explanation (which also can't be ruled out).

Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
The standard assumption is that brain electro-chemical activity is responsible for consciousness. Such experiences do not fit easily into that explanation. And therefore your argument that it is a leap of faith to assume God exists based on what is experienced near death can also be applied towards the belief that consciousness is completely derivative of the body.
I could be, assuming that I would be prepared to make any definitive statements regarding the source of consciousness, which I am not. Considering how much we know about the brain and how long we have been studying it, I would say that the lion's share of discovery lies ahead of us, rather than behind us.

What I have said before, and what I will stand by now, is that I'm not prepared to attribute consciousness to a supernatural source without evidence.

To draw an analogy, we've understood gravity pretty well for a few hundred years and very well for just about one hundred. What we still don't know is what causes gravity or where it comes from. That doesn't stop me from watching my head around piano movers. Same thing goes for consciousness in my book. But I suspect that we're getting off topic.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tk102
Hope I've redeemed my standing with you a little.
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Old 10-02-2007, 02:42 PM   #21
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Okay, I'll summarise for you both: taykee thinks and NDE can cause someone to believe in something supernatural, Archy and Raystun don't necessarily agree but basically cannot disprove that, they also would argue that this does still apply to Sammy H.'s 6 Steps to believe.

XD


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Old 10-02-2007, 03:04 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ray Jones
Okay, I'll summarise for you both: taykee thinks and NDE can cause someone to believe in something supernatural, Archy and Raystun don't necessarily agree but basically cannot disprove that, they also would argue that this does still apply to Sammy H.'s 6 Steps to believe.
Err...almost. I absolutely agree that any "inexplicable" event (I won't tie us down to NDE) could potentially cause someone to believe in something supernatural. My point is that believing something to be supernatural does not make it actually supernatural (whether or not there is a natural, aka scientific, explanation is completely irrelevant). Furthermore, experiencing said event might cause someone to suspend skepticism and make them believe that god is possible, therefore desirable, cue step #1 ala Sam Harris.
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Old 10-02-2007, 03:05 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Raymond James
taykee thinks (x)
Maybe. What I think and what I post could be two different things.
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Old 10-02-2007, 04:22 PM   #24
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Aha. Chickening out, huh? :~~

I did not say believing something to be supernatural makes it so. And as a non religious and knowing person I put doubt in pretty much anything I "know" to be "true". Hence whenever I experience something special while having a "supernatural experience", I may think of it being possibly contact to god. Next to other possibilities like hallucinations or maybe even a Total Recall scenario. Without proof, I surely would shrug it off with "can't figure it out" and carry on.

However, in case I ever blame something to be some god's work it would not mean I'm gonna worship that god or follow any religion.


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