15 Apr 2019

A Testimony on Becoming Christian

Religious 25 Comments

I don’t think I already shared this? Anyway, BraveTheWorld has shared her experience of going from intellectual atheist to Christian. It interests me because I had a similar journey.

I am curious about which (if any) of her points resonate with people, because at some point I’ll devote a podcast episode to this topic (in my case).

25 Responses to “A Testimony on Becoming Christian”

  1. tookie says:

    It seems that having a baby or falling in true love make you see God. Is that the case for you Bob?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Wow I hadn’t that of that specifically tookie but the latter might be related to my own case.

  2. Tel says:

    If there’s a moral law, why does this imply objectivity? Seem reasonable that the moral law could come from us, at least we do demonstrably exist so if you feel the need for a “morality giver” start with something that you can see.

    We know from history that moral law has never been constant. We know from the endless special pleading that people do that moral law is not objectively based on object that we could point to and say, “There it is, this is the reference point that we all use”. Books like the Bible are open to interpretation, and anyway there are plenty of other books to choose from if you don’t like the Bible. Even modern Christians pick and choose the rules they follow … how many are interested in the strict Jewish dietary conventions?

    Then let’s other supposedly “objective” measurements that we encounter. Do we have objective mass, for example? What does it mean to have an objective measure of mass? Well, if you like metric mass there’s some lump of metal in Paris that makes the one single object which is the reference for all other mass that you can measure. I’m guessing the Americans have something similar but I’m too lazy to look it up. We have a simple mechanical process with a beam balance that allows us to compare one mass to another and therefore calibrate a huge number of weighs against the single objective standard.

    So does this objective standard of mass require a “mass giver”? I guess some guy put together that lump of metal, but it wasn’t God, it was just a scientist who needed a reference and put one together. Why do you need a God to do that? Of course I can’t prove that God didn’t somehow guide the whole process, but I don’t see in any way that God is actually necessary in that sense.

    Then we can look at objective standard of length … currently we use Cesium atoms … those happen to be consistent and repeatable and there’s a well known method, you can build a machine that measures length down to a wavelength of light. Was there a “length giver”? Do we worship Cesium because scientists selected this as a good choice for a monochromatic light source?

    Show me the moral equivalent of Cesium then.

    Even once you solved that, and somehow got to the point where God is your reference for morality. There’s no way to ask objective questions of God and get an unequivocal answer. At least with the Cesium atom you can ask a few simple questions (e.g. what is the wavelength of a Cesium light source?) so although you can’t get great wisdom out of it, but you can get one useful result. Making God your reference for morality doesn’t even help you discover morality.

    • George Thoroughgood says:

      “If there’s a moral law, why does this imply objectivity?”

      Because otherwise its not law, it is your whim.

      “We know from history that moral law has never been constant”

      No, we know that people’s *opinions* of what moral law is have not been constant.

      People’s opinion of what the stars are has also not been constant. Do you believe that means the stars have been altering over time to conform to people’s beliefs about them?

      • Tel says:

        OK, so there’s this hidden moral law that is both absolute and also unknown and by the way no one follows it either … instead they follow whims.

        Got you. Makes perfect sense. No I cannot prove the non-existence of a secret and unknowable, unmeasurable thing. I take the non-existence of such things as an article of faith.

        People’s opinion of what the stars are has also not been constant. Do you believe that means the stars have been altering over time to conform to people’s beliefs about them?

        At least we can see that the stars are there, even if we don’t know everything about them. They are directly measurable, albeit at a distance. Over the centuries our methods of measurement have improved, and I dare say they will improve further although at this stage seems unlikely we will ever have a complete revision of the theory such as has happened in the past. More likely details get filled in a little at a time.

        Besides that, theories about the stars don’t have a great deal of practical effect on lives of normal people. Plenty of things are interesting and open to both rational analysis and some speculation, but in the here and now largely academic. I would put astronomy into that category. On the other hand, I regularly hear people use the existence of absolute morality to justify their own personal opinion on what I should be doing, not in an academic way, but they really expect me to do it.

        • Harold says:

          “OK, so there’s this hidden moral law that is both absolute and also unknown and by the way no one follows it either.”

          It also seems to be unknowable.

          “No I cannot prove the non-existence of a secret and unknowable, unmeasurable thing. I take the non-existence of such things as an article of faith.”

          I prefer to think of the non-existence of such things as an assumption there is no valid reason to challenge. Should the evidence change, then my opinion would also change. Although if it is really unknowable then there is no evidence that could do so.

          Your discussion about mas and length raises a question. Given that we accept the physical world does exist, then mass and length also necessarily exist. How we chop them into convenient units is immaterial to the properties of mass and length.

          If we are to compare this to morality, it suggests that the property “morality” exists. As an illustration, mass and length exist for worms, but does morality? They go about their lives unaware of either, but are affected by mass.

        • George Thoroughgood says:

          “OK, so there’s this hidden moral law that is both absolute and also unknown…”

          But… it isn’t unknown. And even if it was, do you think the strong nuclear force did not exist for all of the millenia in which humans did not know about it and could not measure it?

          “They are directly measurable…”

          That’s hilarious! The measures we have of them are extremely indirect!

          “Besides that, theories about the stars don’t have a great deal of practical effect on lives of normal people.”

          Right. But adopting moral relativism DOES. And as a good empiricist, you should be able to observe that the effect is disastrous.

          • Tel says:

            But adopting moral relativism DOES. And as a good empiricist, you should be able to observe that the effect is disastrous.

            How about you demonstrate that result for me?

            Show me the society you have observed that lives by absolute moral truth, with no component of personal whim. Explain where they got that absolute moral truth from. Show me what you compare them to and most importantly which criteria you use for the comparison and where you get those criteria from.

        • George Thoroughgood says:

          “On the other hand, I regularly hear people use the existence of absolute morality to justify their own personal opinion on what I should be doing, not in an academic way, but they really expect me to do it.”

          By the way, Tel, one would almost thinnk that you believe it is *wrong* for people to force their opinion about what you should do on you like that!

          • Transformer says:

            @George,

            If one were to avoid moral relativism because its effects were observed to be disastrous, wouldn’t that in fact be a form of moral relativism ?

          • Tel says:

            Given that you and most of the readers are uninterested in changing opinion under any circumstances … I’m mostly going through the exercise for my own benefit. That said, I do believe that claims of absolute moral truth, unbacked by a systematic methodology to derive that moral truth from first principles are a type of self delusion. Then you can come back and claim I’m deluded and I suppose that’s an unresolvable impasse unless we can agree on a standard methodology that can be applied mechanically and always produces truth.

            As Feynman says, fooling yourself is the easiest thing to do, and the nature of delusion is that if you can see it then you aren’t deluded so it’s another search for an invisible thing. That’s kind of why empiricism exists, because it’s repeatable and in theory not anchored in any individual perspective. You are of course free to reject that … which would be your whim. I don’t feel any great urge to insist on universal agreement in the world.

  3. Harold says:

    By the way, what is a napkin, as Sam Harris is described? I have missed out on this usage.

    Considering she apparently studied this for decades she missed an awful lot.

    The problem of origin is irrelevant when talking of a personal god. It may leave open the question of where it all started but offers no evidence at all for the Christian God. This is a very old argument and thoroughly dealt with by Dawkins.

    “Why is the NAP even valid”. This is not an argument for God it. It is justification. I want to believe the NAP, yet I see no real basis for it. Yet if there were a God who said this, then there would be a basis for it. Yay! Lets believe in God! This is backwards.

    She says about the arrangement of atoms in her baby “Is that chance?” No, of course not. This is such a basic misunderstanding that has been debunked so often. She says she has read Dawkins etc, yet seems to have forgotten all of their arguments. She saw the image of God, but that came from within her. Seeing one’s baby is a huge emotional stimulus and may well cause one to seek meaning. There is no need for a supernatural explanation.

    It is not just semantics that the person making the positive claim has the burden of proof. We use the same principle for unicorns and fairies. If I claim there are fairies I need to provide pretty good evidence if I wish to persuade anyone else. We usually do not believe in things without evidence for their existence.

    Schrodinger, Einstein and the Positivism section is irrelevant really. Schrodinger may reject positivism but this is not an argument for god. She says she is not fond of argument from authority, then offers just such an argument.

    Why Christianity? she asks. An excellent question, I am agog. “What I like about Christianity is Jesus.” OK, that seems to make sense. Pick the religion which has things you like about it. Which coincidentally are the things you grew up with.

    Quote from Napoleon. “Christ alone has… it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space…this phenomena is unaccountable…”

    “How does a dude do that if he is just human”, she asks, “Is it just chance?” We have already seen the “chance” argument and can disregard it. Clearly it is not unaccountable. People have died for non-christian religions and continue to do so. Christ did not personally reach across the millennia – there was a very powerful church for that. There is nothing here that is not seen elsewhere. This is also argument from authority. Why should we care about Napoleon’s opinion? Is he an authority in divinity?

    Why was it women who were the witnesses? This is not an argument to convert to Christianity from Atheism. Why was it women? Well, it successfully convinced you, didn’t it?

    I think it is telling that she pursued theology during her atheist years, in order to “know her enemy.” She also admits polytheistic religions are nonsensical, yet they answer the questions she asks just as well as monotheistic ones. Why select this religion among the others?

    Most atheists do not wish to spend their life learning about something that they think is imaginary. Her behaviour seems somewhat like the closet homosexual who is vehemently anti gay. I suspect she always had a kernel of belief which she was in denial about. This last bit is pop psychology and feel free to shoot me down, but it seems to fit very well to me.

    To sum up, she can believe in God and Christ if she wishes, lots of people do and I am sure many find things of value within. She does not have to justify her conversion, but this is what the video claims to do. However, the reasons she gives are hollow and lack any power to explain the conversion.

    • George Thoroughgood says:

      “This is a very old argument and thoroughly dealt with by Dawkins.”

      Bob, you have posters who don’t realize Dawkins is a clown?!

      • George Thoroughgood says:

        It’s bizarre how far down the intellectual level of atheists has sunk. The old atheists at least looked to serious philosophers like Nietzsche. The new atheists look up to people like Harris and Dawkins, who could not philosophize their way out of a paper bag.

        • Harold says:

          If you look down as far as the comment below you will see me discussing Nietzsche and C.S. Lewis. If you look back a few days you will see Sartre, Mises and Camus. Not that that necessarily improves the quality if the argument, but does destroy your criticism.

          When the subject of the post mentions someone it seems reasonable to respond.

          I mention Dawkins because she claimed to have studied his arguments. When she then repeats the tired tropes about chance that Dawkins (and many, many* others) have dealt with it comes across as hollow. You cannot reasonably hand wave away hos arguments by saying he is a clown.

          *Perhaps you would prefer Epicurus, Hume, Kant, Voltaire, Kierkegaard, Lao Tzu, Confucius?

    • George Thoroughgood says:

      “She says she has read Dawkins etc, yet seems to have forgotten all of their arguments.”

      No, she just realized their arguments are moronic.

    • Tel says:

      By the way, what is a napkin, as Sam Harris is described? I have missed out on this usage.

      I would guess a mildly vulgar reference to female sanitary products.

      On consulting the absolute moral reference that never changes (Urban Dictionary) I conclude that “napkin” in a slang context means precisely whatever you want it to mean.

      https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Napkins

  4. skylien says:

    I don’t understand why an objective ethics/morality has to come from god. In order to not be a hypocrite or a sociopathic a-hole you need to stick to the golden rule. And is the golden rule not objective by itself?

    • Harold says:

      The golden rule is a good starting point, but is not objective nor universal.

      If we phrase it as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

      To start with, we cannot take it literally. People like different things, and we know this. If I were a masochist and desired that someone hurt me, the golden rule taken literally would mean I must hurt them. We generally consider this a bad thing to do.

      Few would think the golden rule means I must inflict my choice of music on others just because that is what I would like them to do to me.

      So how do we interpret it? In the music case, we would say not that you should play the music you like, but you should play the music *they* like. Doing unto them is not literally exactly the same as you would have done unto you, but the equivalent for the other person. We run into a problem because that requires us to know what the other person likes. We are back to square one, we must imagine ourselves in the other’s shoes. We should treat others as we would like to be treated given their likes, or “if I were them”.

      In the extreme this leads us to a dark place, and a confusion yet again between preference and meta preference. Say we observe or intuit that someone desires to go to heaven. However, unfortunately for them, they believe the wrong religion. If I had a false belief that would cost me eternal life, I would want anyone to do whatever it took to get me to see things the right way, including torture. Given their desire for heaven, to obey the golden rule I should torture them to believe my religion. So both the “interpreted” and the literal versions can compel us to do bad things.

      Some have formulated this interpretation into the platinum rule: “Do Unto Others as They Would Have You Do Unto Them.” This seems to place an impossible burden on us. Almost nobody lives by this rule as it does not incorporate reciprocity. We would have to say something like “”Do Unto Others as They Would Have You Do Unto Them, as long as they follow the same rule and are sufficiently caring of me that they would not want me to harm myself in order for them to gain…”

      Many religions and cultures express it as a negative rather than a positive. Don’t do to others what you would hate them to do to you. This can be achieved by ignoring everyone else. Christian apologists such as C.S. Lewis have made much of this to show that Christianity is superior to the others. However, this leaves us with a big problem if we are to claim the rule is an objective formulation of morality. There is not one rule, but at least two. Surely an objective morality should be accepted by most of the people in the world?

      Also there are some moralities that deny the golden rule specifically. Nietzsche thought the golden rule prevented self assertion and some religions or cults specifically exclude some groups from this treatment. Some “others” are too other to be included in such magnanimous treatment, be they infidels or homosexuals.

      So it is a good starting point. Perhaps as a working principle we can say follow the golden rule unless you have good reason not to. Not perfect, and it requires our reasons to be based on something, so we are still far away from an objective morality.

      • skylien says:

        Ok, I guess I should have described the golden rule as I know it first. I am not used to it in the positive but in the negative in following form:

        What you don’t want to be done to you, don’t do to others.

        Also, for me, it is obvious that “what you don’t want to be done to you” doesn’t mean what you personally don’t want to be done, but this “what” is obviously relative and depends on the person.

        So yes you have to know what other people don’t want to be done to them. However to a large degree we know what this is, like being killed, hurt, robbed etc.. For the other stuff (or any exceptions) we need to communicate with each other.

        ” This can be achieved by ignoring everyone else. ”

        That doesn’t follow. Why do you need to ignore everyone else? People talking with each other don’t violate that rule.

        Rightly understood for me this is one objective rule. And easy to follow as well. It is not just a starting point. The implications seem very complete to me.

        • Harold says:

          “Why do you need to ignore everyone else? ”

          I was not clear. You don’t *need* to ignore everyone else, but one way to comply with the negative golden rule is to not interact with anyone. Then you never do anything to them they don’t want done.

          • skylien says:

            Ok, though a little common sense and communication seems to be the better way 😉

  5. KS says:

    Hi,

    Just a short question. How do we know if nothing – the absence of everything – is even possible?
    The mind is capable of creating impossible concepts. How do people argue that this is a valid one?

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