Finding Science in the Mountains

Finding Science in the Mountains

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Spare me!

When I was sixteen years old, I was sitting on the cliff face of Charlies Bunion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with one of my best friends, T---. We were in the midst of a two-week backpacking trip with a pair of other
Taken on Charlies Bunion two...Charlies Bunion, early 1970s.
friends from school. Part of this excursion was a series of very leisurely strolls of only a few miles from shelter to shelter along the AT before we would reach Newfound Gap and a ride from his parents to another point farther south along the Appalachian Trail.

As T--- and I surveyed the amazing topography before us, under ideal
This is one of the major...Exfoliation.
conditions of clear, blue skies and cool breezes, my friend sat up from where he was reclining on the ancient rock and exclaimed, “How can anyone look at this and not believe in God?”

And I said, as I generally do, the first thing that popped into my head. That thing was, “How can anyone look at this and not believe in Plate Tectonics and erosion?”

“You asshole,” T--- exclaimed, rising and stalking off to where our other two friends were standing, joining his Christian company. Leaving me, as usual, sane man out.

I stitched this panorama...Botany.

This has always been an amusement to me: how others see supernatural silliness in the landscapes of the mountainous terrain of this planet. I can understand how any person can be emotionally spurred by a panorama of peaks and ridges and forests and gorges and hollows and canyons and ice and rock. But to see the hand of a super-being that doesn’t exist is
I liked the colors and...Lichenomotry
laughable. I finally understood that this tendency to see this kind of thing in the workings of physical science lay not in spontaneous emotions, but in lifelong brainwashing that generally begins in very early youth.

When I look upon the mountains, I see the real world in action. I see how the movement of tectonic plates grinding one against the other can thrust the very crust of the planet skyward. I see faults in the Earth, forming commanding ranges that loom above lower terrain. I see rift valleys
created by the moving away of one plate from another. I see volcanic peaks rising high above hot spots. I see wind and rain and snow and Mr. Gravity (Ha! Let’s personify physics!) pulling and drawing inexorably on the work that opposing forces have made in molding the ranges.

LeConte from Sevierville, the...Plate tectonics.

When I was sitting there in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I knew that I was within one of the world’s great areas of floral diversity. In this park alone, there were almost three times as many species of trees than there was in the entire continent of Europe.
SmallPuny human.
Almost everywhere one looked in the forests and on the rocks and in the dark loam there were blossoms of many types. Here, there were dozens of mammal species, reptiles, amphibians; hundreds of types of birds; and as-yet uncounted kinds of insects, arachnids, and other invertebrates. From whence this dizzying array of living things?

Well, not from any god.

I have never, in all of my life, seen the hand of anything supernatural in the vast lands where I most love to hike. In fact, my longing for the solitude of the mountains comes not from seeing any weirdness such as religious origins to the Universe. The reasons that I go to walk these
Blackwater Canyon.Erosion.
ridgelines and to explore these valleys and walk among these forests is to escape from the insanity of religion, the most evil creation of Mankind. I go there to get away from your god, whichever god others may believe in and worship.

For myself, I don’t see any wacky god in the phenomenal details of a butterfly’s wings. I don’t see any god at work in the absolutely
Red newt.Biology.
astounding complexity of a red newt. When I see a newt consuming a worm, I don’t for one second think that this tiny drama was wrought by some silly god existing with his googleplex of fingers on every atom. The idea is inherently preposterous and, I would add, insane.

There is no magical power at work in the science of mountain building. There is no human incarnation of some idea in the tearing down of thrust
Wolf SpiderArachnology.
faults by wind and rain and the constant drag of gravity. There is no god in the mountains. There is no god in the valleys. There is no god on the cliffs. There is no god in the gorges. There is no god in the trees. There is no god on the forest floor. There is no god in the sky. There is no god.

However, I am there. And my companions are there, when I hike with friends.

Best of all, though, there is solitude when I go to hike alone. There is, quite often, only me and the physical world that amazes me when I go to hike and scramble and sleep among the mountain peaks in the high country that always draws me up to the highest points. Sometimes I encounter insects scrambling across the earth or up an old tree. Occasionally I spy an elk in the woods at the edge of a field. There are times when I note a raptor soaring on thermal waves that I cannot see. But the nicest thing about these times and these encounters is that none of them bring along a god; and I am content.

From a cliff near the summit...No people!


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Viewing: 121-140 of 224

hans.schenk - Jan 14, 2008 2:47 pm - Hasn't voted

Spirited Article


I can see that from your point of view of naturalism how other world-views would seem ridiculous. There are 2 dangers that exist in your analysis.

1. You lambast religions in general and Christianity in particular because of your view that it is a man-made construct. Yet, science as we practice it is also a man-made endeavor to understand the workings of the cosmos. If religions are open to the fallibility of man, so is science. Putting complete faith in science may not be any better off because what we believe by science today may be ridiculed tomorrow.

2. The science you are trying to defend is also damaged by your argument. Evolution proceeds by survival of the fittest (as you know). The desires and needs we have fulfill evolutionary functions (we feel hungry because we need to feed our bodies). Somewhere along the line evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god. Therefore either there is some sort of god, or there is an evolutionary function for that desire or thinking. To ridicule religion in general is to attack your own belief in an evolutionary process that has produced the ability for this sort of thinking.

For these reasons,it is at least good for any human who holds any worldview to at least be charitable and humble in their own beliefs because they could be wrong. I am a theist and a Christian, and I hope my comments are useful.

Dmitry Pruss

Dmitry Pruss - Jan 14, 2008 3:22 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

Maybe. It is an intruguing detail which won't make sense until it is explained in a lot more arcane detail and in historical perspective. Otherwise ... there are so many things very common in the beliefs of historical humans ... are you gonna claim that all of these beliefs and tendencies are good and to-be-upheld?

Belief in witchcraft and sorcery?

Xenophoby / belief in superiority of your clan and tribe?

Fear of menstrual blood and demonization of women in general?

Glorification of war?

Belief, and facscination by, cruel punishments?

There are lots more of things which could have either consistently evolved with the humans, or emerged of a by-product of evolution of linked traits, but which, over the centuries, lost their luster.

So did, by and large, traditional organized religion; but its modern forms are alive and well of course. Will they still be there in a recognizeable form a century later?


hans.schenk - Jan 14, 2008 3:54 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

Thanks Mockba for your comment!

Because of my Christian standpoint, I am not advocating that those beliefs or tendencies that you listed are good or to-be-upheld. I am just pointing out the possibility that (if one believes in naturalism) natural processes would have produced the ability for humans to think up stuff like religion...and it is possible that there is an evolutionary reason for it. I hear your point that maybe evolution produces stuff that may not always be good...such as religion. Your list of things that may be not good also shows that if we take naturalism seriously, then there is no such thing as morality. Our concepts of what may be good degenerate into what is best for survival, and it could be argued that your list may have been things necessary for survival, and therefore could have been useful from an evolutionary standpoint.

As for my own personal beliefs, I don't think that that provides a satisfactory answer for those beliefs and tendencies in human history. I think that the reason humanity believes in general in religions is because there really is a God out there and religion is our attempt at trying to figure out how to get ahold of him. Ultimately religions fail because they are human attempts to know a higher being. The only way we can know if there is a higher being is if that higher being lets himself be known. Religions themselves have degenerated into abhorrent acts (and we recognize themas such because we do have some sense of morality) because they are humans attempting to figure out God rather than letting God speak for himself.


seanpeckham - Jan 15, 2008 5:53 pm - Voted 5/10

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

Interesting discussion. I just want to respond to a few points. Criticizing religion as a man-made endeavor is not to disparage man-made endeavors, but rather counter the arrogant contention that religion is anything else. Yes, our science-based beliefs will change in the future...thanks to the scientific method. Religious beliefs change too, but they do so more randomly, not accountable to experimental results or systematic reasoning. They are just part of the drifting of cultural fads. Christians now believe quite differently from Christians in previous centuries, and it's doubtful Christianity will even be remembered 100,000 years from now, assuming we don't go extinct by then.

I want to counter your naturalistic fallacy as well; you claimed that under naturalism there's no such thing as morality. In fact, morality is now (as of the 21st century) a branch of evolutionary psychology, and one of the most influential researchers, Jonathan Haidt, is an atheist. Explaining morality as a natural property of our species does not make it cease to exist. Natural selection favors what's advantageous to genes, but morality deals with what's advantageous or disadvantageous to humans and groups of humans, or sentient beings in general in the case of transhumanism. What's in my genes' interest is not necessarily what's in my interest, and is therefore irrelevant to morality. Food for thought?


BobSmith - Jan 15, 2008 6:01 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

It's a good argument. I've read it and it makes a fair amount of sense and is something that I've sometimes felt. Compassion is not religious, but human. The person who hears a crying child in distress and moves to comfort/save that child is human. The person who does nothing is...well...corrupt. Compassion could very well be genetic. Religion, however, is corrupt, and should be cast aside as the garbage that it is.


hikerbrian - Jan 15, 2008 7:59 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

Evolution and naturalism do not preclude morality. In fact, morality and altruism fit very well with the theory of evolution. Also, you use the phrase "degenerate into what is best for survival", as if doing what is best for survival is somehow a bad thing. I would argue that, in fact, doing what is best for survival leads to stable societies, strong community and happy people.
Enjoying parts of this debate,

Bubba Suess

Bubba Suess - Jan 15, 2008 8:35 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

Ok, I need to weigh in again here. I have to disagree with seanpeckham's statement:

"Religious beliefs change too, but they do so more randomly, not accountable to experimental results or systematic reasoning. They are just part of the drifting of cultural fads. Christians now believe quite differently from Christians in previous centuries..."

I cannot speak on issues regarding non-Christian religions, but regarding Christian doctrine, the essential truths have been remarkably static over the last 2,000 years. A Christian now affirms the same doctrines as Augustine or Irenaeus. A learned 21st century Christian (who actually knows what they are talking about, which is admittedly and an increasingly rare occurrence) has more in common philosophically with Cyprian than they would with Sartre or Heidegger. Whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, the church has remained constant on the essentials of the church: Theology (proper), Soteriology, Ecclesiology, etc. Cultures shift, nations rise and fall, and the essential theologies of the church have remained the same.

Also, there is a very complex discipline known as "Systematic Theology". It is the exact opposite of what you described. It is a reasoned, rigorously disciplined, ordered, exposition of theology. In many cases, it even applies scientific method to theology.

I can live with people disagreeing on the necessity of religion, the authenticity of this tradition or another, but I want to at least set the record straight where there are some gross misconceptions of the historical/theological/philosophical/textual record. Debate on...

Dmitry Pruss

Dmitry Pruss - Jan 15, 2008 10:01 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

A Christian now affirms the same doctrines as Augustine or Irenaeus.
Even that narrow interpretation of "sea change in the nature of Faith" is not literally correct. There are many elements of doctrine added on top of the Nycean stuff. Most obviously the predominant Christian denomination of my town, the LDS Church, has its very own D&C. But there are also other pre-Nycean churches, such as Armenian Gregorian.

But in wider framework, really a lot changed irrespectively of the bedrock doctrine. From hagiography to service to approach to specific tenets of science, economy, or indeed morality. For some churches the pantheon of saints and holy objects is crucial; for others it is no-no. Some stick to ancient languages of liturgy, others supplement it with translations, and still others only use today's tongues. Some have only white-washed walls, other guilded icons. The differences are myriad, and they influence the direction of mainstream over time. And one of the most profoundly changing aspects is of course the interplay between faith and science. That's the shift of beliefs which really matter ... not the millenia-old doctrinal generalities you mention.

Bubba Suess

Bubba Suess - Jan 15, 2008 10:31 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

"Even that narrow interpretation of "sea change in the nature of Faith" is not literally correct."

- I am not sure what you mean by this.

That being said, I by no means dispute that there are differences between various branches of Christianity, even vast differences. You will note that I referred to the essential truths (I am using the term "truths" here as it is used in the church for the sake of discussion. I am not debating their veracity.). The Nicaean Creed is certainly a distillation of essential truths of the faith. If one does not affirm all the elements of the creed, then one falls outside the bounds of Christianity. That was as true for Maximus the Confessor as it was for John Calvin as it is was for Mother Teresa.

Things certainly do change. That is one of the only constants in the world. Believe me, I am no Parmenides. Nonetheless, the essential (or to put it another way, the defining) truths of the church are the same now as they always have been.


hans.schenk - Jan 15, 2008 11:09 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

Thanks Sean for your thoughts!

As for what you mean by 'arrogant', I'm not sure. If you mean that a world-view is arrogant if it claims knowledge of truth and/or reality...then any system of belief that claims that would be considered arrogant under that definition. If you mean overly confident in its assertion, then the same applies.

I am also unsure of your point that religions are part of drifting cultural fads. Certainly they can be, but science is open to the same criticism. Lynn Margulis called neo-Darwinism "a minor twentieth-century religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon biology." I am not using this as a final proof, but just evidence that scientists disagree among themselves, and can themselves be open to fads. Surely there are popular and non-popular viewpoints going around scientific circles at any one point in time. And scientists themselves may disagree about the data and the interpretation of data.

As for Christians believing differently now than in previous centuries, I am unsure as to what you refer to. If you are talking about belief in Jesus as the Son of God dying on a cross to eradicate evil in our lives...then it's the same as far as I can tell from my reading. Or are you referring to specific doctrines that have come about due to Christians trying to clarify their own understanding? In either case, beliefs are easy to check against the NA27 standard Greek text which has a critical apparatus on each page that highlights every single variation, what it is, and which text it came from. If there are significant variations in what Christians believe now as to then, it should be easy to find.

As for morality...I hear your point and want to clarify what I was attempting to communicate before. In a naturalist framework, morality is arbitrary...meaning that a group or individual makes up their own moral structure. There is no outside morality imposed upon humans. In this view, there can be no absolute claim to what may be good or evil, corrupt or non-corrupt...including religion.

As for Jonathan Haidt, he views morality and religion as a good thing in people's lives (despite his atheist stance) and decries militant atheism. He even suggests that atheists might learn something from religionists...including acts of generosity involving both money and time. The amount of hate generated may not be worth the time. You can read his comments here.


seanpeckham - Jan 16, 2008 12:49 pm - Voted 5/10


First, calling it a truth is begging the question, but I see you clarified your use of the term. On to my point:

Aren't you egregiously committing the No True Scotsman fallacy here? It seems for all I know that you might have scanned the history of Christianity in search of some group that has held some doctrine as constant as possible, and excluded everything else, a vast collection, from the "bounds of Christianity." And here I thought Baptists were narrow for saying Mormons aren't Christians.

The Nicaean Creed was constructed centuries into the Christian era. Are those early centuries also excluded from Christianity? Are you prepared to argue from historical evidence that the "original" Christians adhered to this creed that did not yet exist? What makes it the essential truths of Christianity? I thought it was a vote at the Council of Nicaea. What of those who did not vote in favor of it? It seems they thought they posessed the true Christianity. If something other than the vote determines the orthodoxy of the Creed, then why wasn't this something else persuasive to those who did not vote on it? Because they were not really Christian? I'm sure that would have been news to them.

By any definition of "Christianity" of reasonable scope, it has changed a great deal over the centuries, often either lagging behind or reacting against humanism, and often mixing with elements of other belief systems during collisions or mergers between cultures. Not only that, but it continues to diversify. Science, by contrast, tends to see competing paradigms weeded out in favor of one that is eventually nearly universally and cross-culturally agreed among scientists to be the best of the bunch, at least until new observations challenge it. That is the distinction I was trying to make, and I think it is uncontestable.


seanpeckham - Jan 16, 2008 1:22 pm - Voted 5/10

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

Here's what I mean by "arrogant": Claiming that something is the truth, or the source of morality, without producing justification accessible for analysis by others. By contending that it comes from a supernatural being, religion is not only making a bold claim, but hiding and shielding its justification in the realm of the unobservable. My attitude to that is put up or shut up. I don't really like having it subtlely implied that because I don't subscribe to the myths alleged to monopolize morality, that I am therefore immoral. I may well be immoral, but if so it is not for that reason ;)

I agree it would be arrogant for a naturalistic worldview to claim to have The Truth as well, but not to anywhere near the degree since at least no superhuman authority is posited with which to intimidate others. For what it's worth, I don't make such a claim. Take for example quantum mechanics, which I think might qualify as the most successful theory of all time. Is it "true"? How could we know? We can test it to see if it makes precise and accurate predictions, and it does that with flying colors, but that's not the same as testing it to see if it's "true". It posits "particles" and "waves". Those are well-defined mathematical objects. As physical objects, what does it mean? I don't know. You can ask a physicist, but he or she might not know either. It's a good model. That's the best science can ever do, and science is the best epistemology can ever do. Given these limitations in understanding things we can observe, I cannot even imagine sensibly positing something unobservable like a god.

You might read Haidt more carefully (I've read the linked Edge article several times). He is explicit in his preference for liberal secular morality. He does, however, quite reasonably, identify certain advantages that many religious moralities have in terms of binding people together (a more sophisticated form of the observation that creating an atheist community would be like herding cats), and suggests secularists (not just atheists) should consider how to incorporate such advantages, but I gather he is very cautious in this recommendation, given the correlation between those advantages and the disadvantages he cites such as racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and proscription of individual liberty. Basically, he wants the best of both worlds, and I agree, but he doesn't know how to get it, and neither do I.

In a naturalistic framework, morality is anything but arbitrary. If it were, for example, Haidt could not have found the patterns and correlations he has proposed. You're right that it conflicts with the notion of absolute good and evil. But since absolutism is futile and indeed dangerous in the face of conflicts of interest, and basically makes no metaphysical sense anyway, I don't see that as a problem.


hans.schenk - Jan 16, 2008 4:51 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

Thanks again for your thoughts!

I want to be clear that I in no way intended to imply that you were immoral in previous statements. I apologize if that is what came through. My argument was only to point out that naturalism cannot lay claim to absolute truth.

I think that there are more ways of knowing than just experimentation. If certain branches of science do not use experimentation, then there must be other ways of knowing. You mentioned two (mathematics and observation). Therefore any knowledge that people gain must be from a synthesis of various methods. One method alone may be complete for some things, but perhaps not for others. If, say, the Christian God is not open to experimentation, perhaps He can be known reasonably through other means. I can understand how you as a naturalist would find that absurd, but to me it seems arrogant to assume that one man-made method (as good as it is) could give certainty that there really is no god out there. Especially if we are skeptics about our own fallibility and judgment, then we always have to concede that we could be wrong. Then, even if we don't think the evidence lends itself to the conclusion that God is real, at least we have to acknowledge that the possibility still exists. As a Christian, I see the evidence as pointing to the reality of God, but I do concede that I may be mistaken.

I am perplexed by one thing though. Some of the discussion on this article (from atheists) has centered around the idea that religionists are stupid or ignorant to believe in a god. I am wondering why there is so much animosity towards religion in general and Christianity in particular when there are decent naturalistic reasons for being religious? You yourself said that Haidt and you want the best of both worlds (advantages of both religions and secularists). So, again, why so much animosity if science itself may have produced a propensity for religion in me?

Bubba Suess

Bubba Suess - Jan 16, 2008 4:57 pm - Hasn't voted


I knew things were going to come to this point eventually... Again, I will try to keep this as simple as possible:

1: I am NOT going into the "are Mormons Christians?" debate and I will ignore the fact that you identified me as narrow on those grounds. PM me if you want an elaboration on THAT issue.


"The Nicaean Creed was constructed centuries into the Christian era."

To say that is was constructed is not quite accurate. More accurately, it was a REDACTION of pre-existing creeds. All of these prior creedal statements were FORMULATIONS of theology that was expressed in the biblical texts and doctrinalized (I know that is not a word) by the first few generations of church fathers.

"Are those early centuries also excluded from Christianity?"

Not at all. They were Christians before the creeds. The creeds were formulated to clearly state what the church already believed and asserted.

"Are you prepared to argue from historical evidence that the "original" Christians adhered to this creed that did not yet exist?"

You bet I am. You have no idea how acutely I am prepared to do that. However, your statement is inaccurate as far as it goes. Again, the pre-Nicaean church did not adhere to future creeds as much as the creeds formulated what they already believed.

"What makes it the essential truths of Christianity?"

It makes it the essential truths because it summarizes all of the key elements that defines Christians as Christians. The core doctrines are articulations of what is found in the biblical texts and the creeds formulate these into simple, ready statements. Think of it like this: scripture yields doctrines yields creeds.

"I thought it was a vote at the Council of Nicaea."

OK. The Council was convened in large measure to repudiate the teachings of one Arius, a priest from Egypt. I am not going to go into the theological elements here (again, PM me for details) but suffice to say that all but three members of the Council voted to repudiate Arius (one of the three dissenters was Arius himself). The creed was then redacted to form a clear expression of the church's beliefs.

Of course, the mechanations of the council were certainly more complex than that and this was not the end of Arius's teachings. This was so much the case that the 2nd Ecumenical Council, the Council of Constantinople, was convened in AD 381. Again, the teachings of Arius were repudiated. The creed was then refined, making it much more accurate and stringent. This is the creed as it known today (hence it is often referred to as the Nicaean-Constantinopolitan Creed).

"What of those who did not vote in favor of it? It seems they thought they posessed the true Christianity. "

They were shown to have teachings not consistent to what the church had taught during the previous three centuries. (Once again, PM me if you details.)

"If something other than the vote determines the orthodoxy of the Creed, then why wasn't this something else persuasive to those who did not vote on it?"

The orthodoxy of the creed is established by how closely it reflected and adhered to the teachings in the biblical texts. Regarding those who did not vote for it, they were a lonely threesome. As for the resurgence of Arius's teachings after the council, that is a good demonstration of why politicians should not attempt to determine theology.

"By any definition of "Christianity" of reasonable scope, it has changed a great deal over the centuries,"

This is simply not true. Since we have been talking about the Nicaean Creed, let us use that as a litmus test for what defines Christian belief. Does the Greek Orthodox church affirm the truths it expresses? Yes. Does the Roman Catholic church affirms the truths it expresses? Yes. Do Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Anglicans, Evangelicals(read Protestants)? Yes. Do underground churches in China affirm the truths it expresses? Yes. Of course, things are far more elegant and nuanced than that but I think my point has been made in at least a cursory fashion. (Yet again, if you want a point by point explication, PM me and I will gladly elaborate.)

I can go on. I have already written too much. I really do not think we want a Patristics debate on Summitpost. Have you seen my Trinity Alps page yet?


seanpeckham - Jan 16, 2008 6:47 pm - Voted 5/10

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

No apology necessary, hans.schenk, I didn't mean to sound like I was imputing that accusation to you. It is, however, in my experience, the most common case ever made against atheism, as though people have given up trying to demonstrate God's existence and discovered maligning atheists to be more effective. As such, I couldn't help but infer the implication in your post about morality not existing under naturalism, even though it did not appear you were intending to make a hostile statement. Regarding your point that naturalism cannot lay claim to absolute truth, we are in agreement.

I don't find the notion of "other methods" inherently or a priori absurd. Confusing, yes. I don't have a clear idea of any such methods or how and why I should be confident in their validity. Certainly we have intuitive and instinctive ways of making sense of the world, assumptions, biases, motives, and thinking patterns built into our brain structures, that are nonscientific or primitively scientific, and these are often statistically reliable, at least in environments sufficiently similar to the ones in which our ancestors evolved for hundreds of thousands of years. These are sources of knowledge, in a sense, but we are not exempt from doing science to find out how reliable they are and under what circumstances (and of course it is thanks to science that we can even identify what these methods are -- in previous eras, these mental talents were magical and from the gods). So I don't make a categorical epistemological distinction there. But cross reference this paragraph with your idea that started this subthread, about evolution possibly having equipped us with a natural tendency to believe in gods.

Moving on, having dispensed with intuition, personal revelation is the usual top candidate for being the alternative to science. Wait, is this any different from what I was talking about above? I have yet to find a description of this process that is not immediately vulnerable to the question of what if the revelation is just some sort of delusion, illusion, hallucination, natural emotion, or self-deception? Mystical experiences can be interpreted in myriad ways, and it seems again we are not exempt from doing science to figure out the merit of any candidate interpretation. When I was in the transition from theism to agnosticism, I intentionally (as an "experimental control") emotionally manipulated myself to experience "revelations" that, for example, Jesus was an idiot, I should cheat on my wife, etc., and I guess I had gotten good enough at having personal revelations while a believer that I could not distinguish the quality of emotional content between the hypothetical "real" revelations vs. my fake controls. If personal revelation is valid, then something was wrong with me when I was a sincere believer, since I only ever got fake ones, or real ones indistinguishable from fake ones. Oh, and I should point out that those with the most "real"-feeling revelations/mystical experiences are invariably found to be on drugs or suffering from something like schizophrenia or prolonged deprivation of food, sleep, or sensory stimulation. To be taken seriously, your revelations have to be too subtle to be compelling.

In sum, I don't necessarily find other methods absurd, just highly problematic.

I think there is a difference in how you and I approach the question of God's existence. Certainly, when framed as "does God exist or doesn't he?" the question seems to carry with it a sense of a priori equal status for both affirmation and negation. I don't ask "does God exist" though, I ask "what exists?". I start with what I personally observe, move to what has been well-tested by science, on to what's speculated in science, refining my synthesis as I go and perhaps remaining undecided on lots of questions. Beyond that, it occurs to me there are myriad possibilities for unseen objects existing, encompassing not just all the thousands of competing gods in human history as well as the future, including the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Russell's orbiting teapot, but who knows what other inconceivable exotica however plausible or implausible, which vastly outnumber the gods our transient species has created in its image at certain soon-to-be-forgotten time periods in certain cultures on a small and insignificant world at the edge of a huge galaxy in a vast universe? Do we really think we're that important that of all the gods that could exist, the one that does is ours? I think this idea is an artifact of an ancient myopic culture. Did something create the universe, and if so what was it? It seems like God is only one of infinite possibilities, most of which never have and never will be conceived by humans. Out of fairness, agnosticism about God implies agnosticism about myriad unnamed competitors, and the space of possibilities is so big that God takes on proportionately little importance and seems to me, no offense, an unimaginative and anthropocentric thing to settle for.


seanpeckham - Jan 16, 2008 7:30 pm - Voted 5/10

Re: Re:

Bubba, it was regretfully that I used the word "narrow"; you come across as reasonable, so it was surprising that your definition of Christianity would be so, sorry to say, narrow and self-serving. I was hoping it was a mistake. It goes to show, maybe Christians should work on converting each other to their respective one true faiths before tackling the more difficult problem of skeptics.

I don't mean to blow off your carefully thought out post, but my response boils down to addressing this:

"Since we have been talking about the Nicaean Creed, let us use that as a litmus test for what defines Christian belief."

This is the very thing in dispute; we can't just take it as given so that the rest of your argument can rest on it. Obviously it is convenient for an orthodox Christian to choose this for their litmus test, but plenty of Christians use it as a litmus test for being apostate from "original" Christianity! (which for all I know might have started out as a Jewish mutation of a Roman mystery religion such as Mithras-worship)

The Bible (which IIRC was not fully canonized by the time of Nicaea anyway, and certainly not in the first century before half the NT was even concocted, so I'm gonna count the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, Gnostic gospels and all, strengthening my case) is not a coherent thesis produced by a single self-consistent individual, and there's no way any creed is the one true correct interpretation of "it".

Your Trinity Alps page looks good, though I haven't had time to read it all yet. What does it have to do with this?

Bubba Suess

Bubba Suess - Jan 17, 2008 12:03 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Re:

For the record, I responded to this post extensively in a PM. If anyone is curious as to what I said, PM me. And if you haven't already, go look at my Trinity Alps page! We are here for the mountains, are we not?


hans.schenk - Jan 17, 2008 4:57 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

I think this will probably be my last post...not to get in a 'last word' but because I am in danger of succumbing to the dreaded Summit Porn and I think my kids are already annoyed sufficiently with the amount of time I spend on this computer. :)

I appreciate your comments about methods and your candidness in acknowledging other methods albeit that you find them more confusing or potentially problematic. I appreciate your sharing of your account of experimentation with emotional manipulation. Personally, I don't put a ton of emphasis on personal mystical experience as a proof of God either...and indeed many Christians do not (unless you want to count an increasing realization of the evil within oneself and the subsequent recognition that one is unable to do anything about it without help from a god). It seems that we do know some things about life through historical study, and the verification (as much as possible) of historic texts. Rather than elaborate further because of redundancy, I refer you back to bubbasuess's comments. One thing I wholeheartedly agree with you about is that religions stemming from man's mind is ridiculous. Christians' stance through the centuries has been the same. If there is a god, then he would need to show himself to people. The Christian claim is just that, that God has shown up as a person in order to not only communicate with us, but to help get rid of the evil that infests us. Now, we may not be able to prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt, but that's where our other forms of knowing come in. Can the historical method at least confirm that the New Testament and the Gospel accounts are reliable? Again, without repeating too much of bubbasuess's material, there are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts and 9,000 mostly Latin manuscripts with only minor differences (they account for only 2% of the entire New Testament and are easily seen and detailed in the NA27 Greek text - major ones highlighted in modern English translations), attested by archaeological finds, and if held up to other books of antiquities such as Tacitus' annals and the Iliad have a lot more support. This is definitely not exhaustive, but just to say that even with only the one mode of investigation of historiography, there seems to be enough evidence to at least consider it seriously...or to consider it reasonable that God may actually have shown up in history, and that we may have accounts of it. I want to point out too that I am humbly suggesting that it is not that we think we have found truth and claim it, but that truth has revealed itself to us who could not have known otherwise. I do not think that we should follow blindly...yet for me the evidence that I've seen is compelling.

Thanks for the debate!


seanpeckham - Jan 17, 2008 7:37 pm - Voted 5/10

Re: evolution has produced in humanity in general a desire for a god

Thanks to you too for the amicable exchange. Since this was your last post, I'll be brief. Thanks for clarifying what you meant by other methods. I don't really make the distinction; I think history is done properly with the scientific method.

Regarding history showing that God has visited us, Carl Sagan said it best: "extroardinary claims require extraordinary evidence", but the evidence you and Bubba Suess have presented really only attests to extraordinary preservation of pathetic evidence (i.e. narratives written in an unbelievably superstitious and credulous era). An assertion is an assertion, no matter how well-preserved. I'll shut up now.


BobSmith - Jan 15, 2008 5:54 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: People

Ha! Nice touch.

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