Choosing our religion (2): can we choose what we believe?

June 1st, 2015 in Life. Tags: , , , , ,

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People argue over religious belief and disbelief. Christians generally say everyone should believe in Jesus, and will be judged by God according to whether they believe or not. Non-believers criticise, and sometimes mock, believers for their belief.

But can we choose what we believe?

I discussed last post the question of whether we have free will, but I’m assuming here we can make choices. But can we change our beliefs if we want to?

The question is important, because if we can’t change our beliefs, how can God condemn us for unbelief?

What are beliefs?

Beliefs are pretty much everything we think is true, from what we believe about God to thinking that I am sitting at a computer right now. Some of our beliefs are based on good evidence (e.g. I believe Mount Vesuvius blew up in the first century), some are just opinions (e.g. I believe I prefer chocolate to coffee) and some are strongly held but much argued over (e.g. I believe in God).

But of course we are mostly interested here in beliefs that are important for life.

Why do people doubt we can choose our beliefs?

The argument is that, if we have information about some subject, we can’t choose to believe something that is contrary to that information. For example, if I am holding a red ballon, and someone offers me $1000 if I believe it is blue, I cannot make myself believe it is blue for I know it is red.

The test is simple. Think of something you believe, and make yourself believe the opposite. You can’t do it (it is claimed).

Thus belief is considered involuntary, whereas actions are considered voluntary, because we can choose to walk over to the fridge and get a drink, or not.

What determines our beliefs?

Many factors influence what we believe, for example:

  • our upbringing and what we have been taught to believe;
  • preconceived opinions and biases;
  • what we want to be true;
  • our choices of what we read, listen to, watch and think about, and which of these we value or dismiss – it is easy to live in a bubble of our own choosing;
  • the information we have in our head, even if it is wrong information;
  • how we interpret information.

Our beliefs are the end result of all this. We can clearly choose most of these inputs, but once we have all these things in our head, there is no choice left, it is said, we have a belief.

Wait a minute now

But does this mean we have no choice about our beliefs? Clearly it is true that there are some things we can’t make ourselves believe, and many beliefs we can’t change on demand. But I can think of several reasons to doubt we can never change our beliefs.

A matter of definition

There’s an old joke about jumping off a tall building – it’s not the fall that kills you it’s the sudden stop at the bottom. Clearly we can choose to jump, but once we have, we can’t choose to avoid the sudden stop. So while in a pedantic way the stop is what killed us, it is just as true to say the choice to jump killed us.

I can’t help feeling it is the same with beliefs. If we choose what we will read, whose opinion we will value, and what evidence seems most important to us, we have chosen the information that is now in our head. Since that information either is our belief or directly determines our belief, we have effectively chosen what we believe.

Sometimes the waters are muddy

In many aspects of life, the information we have is conflicting and unclear. We can think of reasons to vote for either side of politics, we can think of moral arguments for and against harsh prison sentences, and there are arguments for and against believing in God.

Reading a book or having a discussion on one of these difficult topics can leave us pulled in both directions. Two people with the same information can come to different beliefs. It seems to me that sometimes at least we choose a belief rather than remain in doubt. Some may say we should remain agnostic, but nevertheless, we don’t always choose to.

No-one is totally logical

The argument against choosing our beliefs often assumes people are behaving totally rationally (if we can even define what that is). But other motives can easily determine our beliefs:

  • We may set our minds and refuse to accept the logical conclusion of the information we have before us, effectively choosing not to believe what is uncomfortable to us. Atheists accuse christians of this enough for them to agree this happens – and I think the same can happen with non-believers too.
  • If we hear about some questionable behaviour by one of our friends or relatives, we may refuse to accept the information because we want to believe the best of them. Again, we have effectively chosen our beliefs.
  • Sometimes athletes and sportspersons visualise success and train their minds to believe that they will succeed. Their belief may be poorly based, mistaken and manufactured, but it still seems like they have chosen it.
  • The power of positive thinking also seems like a way of choosing to believe we will be successful.

So are we responsible for our beliefs?

So I can’t help feeling we are responsible for most of our important beliefs, because of the choices we make about the information we will accept and take notice of. If our beliefs follow automatically from our choices, then the gap between choice and belief seems to be small, pedantic and perhaps even illusory.

Changing beliefs

Believers and non-believers alike are generally interested in “converting” people to their beliefs. But how can this occur?

In theory, all that is needed is for us to be given new information that leads to us re-assessing the evidence and thus revising our beliefs. But while a reasonable number of people change their beliefs about God during their lives (see True life stories for some accounts), sometimes more than once, it seems to happen less often than each side hopes. Why?

Each “side” has its reasons, which it applies to the other side, but we are all less likely to apply them to ourselves. If it was simply a matter of clear evidence, then logically we would all agree. So clearly we are all significantly affected by other factors – how we were brought up, what we want to be true, biases and selective thinking and reading, etc.

I think it is important to make sure we are familiar with both sides of important questions, and where we need expert input (from scientists, historians, philosophers, etc) we try to get balanced input not from the extreme views. Continually pointing up the weaknesses of other people’s views is an easy way to remain untroubled in our beliefs, but being willing to consider and admit the areas where our own belief is challenged is tougher!

Does God judge us by our beliefs?

I actually doubt this is true anyway. I believe God judges us by our actions and character. Jesus called people to receive God’s forgiveness and follow him. We are required to trust him with our lives. Those who haven’t heard of Jesus are judged according to the light they have been given (I believe). Certainly Jesus taught (Matthew 25:31-46) that there will be some who will be surprised to be with him in the age to come, but they received his grace and forgiveness, and so were there, because of their willingness to serve those in need.

Of course what we believe about Jesus will influence our character and actions. But I can’t help feeling that our response to Jesus is often based more on whether we want to follow him or not, which determines what we read and take notice of.

Some more reading

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20 Comments

  1. Choosing our religion – can we choose what we believe?

    We can choose God or not. We are given a “free will” to do as we please. It got Adam and Eve into much trouble several thousands of years ago. God sent his Son, Jesus, to come here to give his life as the Lamb of God who came to die, and shed his blood for us, to forgive all our sins, so we would not have to pay the price. Wow! We are free from sin because of what Jesus did for us, and we don’t have to do anything for it! Now, that’s a great deal.

    Our acceptance of Jesus is only the beginning. Anyone can say that they believe; even Satan and his demons believe in Jesus. So, what’s the difference? Jesus told us to repent of our sins – Satan will never. Jesus told us to believe in Him – Satan got that one, OK. Jesus told us to be baptized, which is when we receive the Holy Spirit – no, Satan would never do that, for that is when Jesus received the Holy Spirit, and God said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well please.”

    We can choose to believe in Jesus or not, even though we are believers. We can do what Jesus said to do or not. Many clergy today say that we don’t have to keep the commandments anymore – Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). It’s obvious today, if you “do the math,” that they either do not love Jesus, or they have been taught, and follow, those “false prophets and teachers” that Jesus warned us against.

    So, can we change our minds and do we have a free will to do as we choose who to believe and what to believe? Sure we do! If we choose not to follow God’s commands, well, just turn on the local, national, and world news, and see what happens if we do what we want and not as God wants. If we choose to follow Jesus and do what He told us, as in Matthew 25:31-46, and we care for others, repent of our sins, love God and neighbor, yes, then we enter Heaven. Is it faith or works – yes it is both. Is it the law or grace – yes, it is both. ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF THE MASTER, JESUS CHRIST. Did Jesus keep the law? Yes, all of them that applied to a man. Did Jesus do any good works and love his neighbors? You betcha! Did Jesus keep the Sabbath? You know He did.

    So, the bottom line is this – you can believe what you want. You will either pay the price here and for all eternity, if you do not do it God’s way, the way of Jesus, or you get blessed here and now and live an incredibly blessed and holy life in the Lord here, and on Judgment Day, you get to spend the rest of eternity with God and Jesus in Heaven forever and ever.

    If you choose to deny Jesus and God, that is your right and privilege, but make sure to bring lots of marshmallows – it will be very hot where you are going and you might as well use the flames for something. Eternity is a VERYU LONG TIME, my friends, so PLEASE MAKE GOOD CHOICES HERE AND NOW. We have until the day we die to do so. Be blessed. היה ברוך.

  2. Hi Eric,

    Just back home from vacation and I couldn’t help but read your blog a bit, after a few weeks of break and saying for the ‘x’ times to myself I shouldn’t write back. But this is a very interesting post so I am glad I read it. And I agree with everything, but come to different conclusions, which is pretty much your main point! Just like here:

    Two people with the same information can come to different beliefs. It seems to me that sometimes at least we choose a belief rather than remain in doubt. Some may say we should remain agnostic, but nevertheless, we don’t always choose to.

    That’s very telling because when I discussed things like prayer with you, or the universe being infinite or not, or miracles, or fine tuning, etc… the problem is always, literally always I think, that you based some of your beliefs on something you think you know, when I claim I don’t know, and thus have a different conclusion. Paryer does work sometimes, kind of randomly, but you think we know of enough examples to believe it works; nobody knows if the universe really started, or if it always existed, and we don’t even know if it makes sense to speak about ‘before’ the universe, or if casualty applies in the common sense, but you think we know enough about how it works to conclude it was created out of nothing by a supernatural intelligence; we don’t know it that same universe could have been, and it’s so vast we know we ‘don’t’ know a lot after all, with most of the mass being hidden and most of the universe being unseenable, yet you think we know enough to believe it was fine tune for life; and you think miracles do happen, even if nobody knows how it works, when it will happen next, why it’s never ever obvious and clear to all.

    So that’s why I am a non-believer, an Atheist, a Naturalist, a skeptic or a Materialist, whatever people think works best.

    That’s it 🙂

    Cheers and good luck!

  3. Hi Hugo, how are you going? I try to make my website addictive, but it doesn’t always seem to work! 🙂

    I think it is an interesting matter that you raise, for I think why apparently reasonable people come to such different conclusions as we commonly see is a challenge to understand. I have three thoughts.

    1. I think on the several matters you raise (fine tuning, the origin of the universe and healing miracles) I think the evidence points to a better than 50/50 chance that God did it (which accumulates to a greater total probability), whereas I presume you think that each is a less than 50/50 chance (and hence it accumulates the other way)? In which case, we disagree because we assess the evidence differently.

    2. But I think the interesting question is how would we each respond if we thought the total evidence was the same. e.g what would your response be if you thought the evidence was 25% likely that God exists, 50% likely and 75% likely? Would you be atheist, agnostic and theist respectively (which I would be), or would you be agnostic in all three cases because none of them are close to certain?

    3. I think another interesting question is what to do if we thought the evidence was 50/50. Most people would then choose to not be either a christian or an atheist, but they would probably live as if God doesn’t exist (e.g. they wouldn’t pray, change their behaviour, etc). But I wonder whether it wouldn’t be smarter, or at least as logical, to choose to live as if God was there as to live as if he wasn’t?

    What do you think?

  4. Hi,

    I am great, thanks!

    Regarding 1, and 2 actually, I don’t think the evidence points to any percentage at all. Therefore, no, I would not be like you if it were 50/50 because % don’t mean anything to me for these questions. I am already an agnostic because I don’t know what the universe could have looked like if it were fine tune versus not fine-tuned. I don’t know what the origin of the universe could be, if it’s eternal or not.

    I don’t even know if it even makes sense to talk about the universe not always existing, as it would mean that ‘nothing’ existed at some point, but nothing is nothing, by definition, so how can we have ‘nothing’ existing when ‘nothing’ means nothing exists… it’s a paradox. I don’t believe there was ever nothing and thus don’t know what was always there, if anything, as I cannot either believe that something is literally eternal. This is where human reasoning breaks in a way, because we know that either something existed forever, or nothing existed at some point.

    But Theists feel comfortable believing when there is no rational belief to be held, from my point of view, as they feel more comfortable choosing to believing something always existed, God, rather than conceding nobody knows at all and thus cannot possibly rationally believe that God is eternal. The obvious reason is that this is not why people believe… they believe based on a vastly different combination of culture, parental influence, emotional needs, strong personal experiences, pseudo-scientific arguments, or even just good old brain washing.

    Regarding how we act, mostly your #3 above, I have to concede something to you here, which you probably don’t hear often. I think you are absolutely correct that belief in God is better, that to live according to what we think God would want us to do is generally more moral, that some Atheists live as though there was no God and do immoral things because of this, and that we all feel like we would rather not have a God look over our shoulder. Most of us, I would think more than 90% of western Atheists, were raised with the idea of God and what it means to obey. We cannot remove that from our minds. But here’s the catch: it has absolutely nothing to do with an actual ‘God’, but only to do with our own sense of morality, our own instincts, observations and society interactions.

    What I mean by that is that we all feel bad if we do something ‘wrong’, and we know it. But how do we ‘know’ it’s wrong has nothing to do with religion, it’s only because of how we interact with the real world, with people around us. This is obvious when you think about the fact that most religious people do not even agree on what’s right or wrong, and that the most rational believers, people like you Eric, are actually the ‘worst’ believers! Now that might be even more surprising than what I just wrote, but what I mean is that the more rational you become, the less of a ‘good’ believer you are, as you think before believing, instead of following rules. The crazies of ISIS on the other hand are the ‘good’ believers, willing to do what our gut tells us is awful in the name of their God.

    So in a way yes, it is smarter to live ‘as if there were a God’ because that simply means to live ‘as if we were being watched all the time’, and we would all act differently if it were the case, believers or not. But it does not mean that God exists, it actually supports the point that God almost certainly does not exist, at least not the Christian God. Slavery is of course the best example… I watched 12 years a slave on the plane and there was this interesting line where a slave owner quotes the Bible to make sure he keeps his slaves docile… now who is the best believer? who lives as if ‘that’ God existed? Of course it’s really complex and we could argue all day long as to why slavery was banish, how believers helped, how it makes sense, etc… but at the end of the day, the Bible is and has always been clear, slavery was ‘ok’ according to this God, but people who live ‘as if there was a God’, ‘as if we were watched’, eventually realize that it’s awful to own people as property, even if it’s good for the slave owner.

    Anyway, I think I digressed enough already 😉

    Cheers

  5. Hi Hugo, thanks for explaining all that.

    I think when you say “…. % don’t mean anything to me for these questions. I am already an agnostic because ….” you are saying something similar to what I mean by 50/50 – i.e the evidence doesn’t point in any direction. I think that’s so. And of course that’s where we disagree in our assessment of the evidence.

    When I said that, if we were genuinely unsure either way, it might make more sense to live as if God exists rather than as if he doesn’t, I wasn’t thinking of what would make us most moral, just thinking it made sense. Your comments are interesting and, yes, a little surprising.

    “the more rational you become, the less of a ‘good’ believer you are, as you think before believing, instead of following rules”

    I think this is one of the places where I find the greatest misunderstanding of christianity as I and many christians understand it – and this misunderstanding occurs among other christians and many ex-christians as well.

    Many christians say that christianity is not a religion because a religion is all about fearing God and servilely doing what he says so we can earn his approval. But christianity (in the understanding of most churches) is about loving God because he first loved us and has “saved” us and we don’t need to earn his approval. I can say quite definitely that I don’t at all worry about God watching me (I welcome it) and I don’t believe we are required to follow rules, but rather allow the Holy Spirit to guide us.

    Anyway, I welcomed your “digression”.

  6. This belief vs. reasoning thing has become more and more troubling to me, being one whose faith was deeply influenced by Soren Kierkegaard. There are some out there who want to PROVE the existence of God or an afterlife using SCIENTIFIC METHODS. There are others who contend that reason alone can lead to belief in God or Christ (this blog NOT being one of those simplistic web sites). But something doesn’t feel right, doesn’t ring true, in these kinds of evidential or logical approaches to ultimate things. On the subject of CHRISTIAN belief, let me put it into Kierkegaardian terms: (1) between God and man there is an infinite qualitative difference; (2) this difference is reflected in the statements that God does not think, He creates; God does not exist, He is eternal (from Kierkegaard’s Journals); (3) Therefore, it is utterly inconceivable, completely irrational, totally absurd (his word) to claim that a particular man was God, the qualitative gulf between God and man being infinite. No matter what the upshot of a man’s life may have been, no matter if he was unanimously considered to be the greatest benefactor of the human race or the most worthy recipient of the highest accolades that can be imagined, that upshot of that human life could only lead to the logical conclusion that he was the greatest man who ever lived, the one who loved the most, who gave the most, who performed the greatest miracles, who had the greatest impact on history, etc., which has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with being God. Accordingly, there can be utterly NO historical evidence even suggesting in the slightest way that a particular man was God. Neither can one use reason or logic to help one believe that a particular man was God, since the very concept is inherently contradictory and impossible to be thought, actually blasphemous for traditional theism. What is one left with then? One is left with abiding faith, hope, and love which one subjectively chooses (I think the better word is “wants” or “needs”) to center in one particular human life, a life briefly lived in a remote outpost of the Roman Empire, which then makes one a “Christian”. Believers are not made by scientific proof or human reason. They are drawn to something that they cannot avoid or evade, or even if they can, they refuse to. They are drawn to Him by an attraction or need that grows into a love and then grows into a desire to be like Him, to the extent that one can summon the strength and courage to take a step or two along the path He laid down with His life and death and (as a matter of faith for the believer, against all reason) His resurrection.

  7. Hi,
    I’m glad you appreciated the comments.
    I wonder what you mean by that 50/50 thing, because it’s really not at all what I meant but it may just be different word choice? I take 50/50 pretty literally, not necessarily exactly 50% chance, but at least as something that has a clear probability % associated with it. The claims mentioned above don’t have any % at all I believe, that was my point.

    No time for the 2nd part…

    Cheers

  8. H Newton, I appreciate what you say, and I agree with some of it, but I can’t go along with it all, I’m sorry. I think Kierkegaard was right that some aspects of christianity are beyond understanding, but I don’t think that makes them beyond being known and reasonably believed. There is heaps in this world, even in my own brain, that I don’t understand, yet it is there. And I think you are right that christian belief can never be proved, but neither can almost everything in life, and we still make choices OK.

    My positive offering to the conversation is to suggest that while I think we cannot know and understand everything, I don’t think we should throw things out because of that, but add to what we think. So I still keep to orthodox christian belief about Jesus because I think it is true, while also accepting that some things we say about Jesus are analogy and beyond our understanding, and there are historical facts about Jesus that should be added to conventional belief.

    But I don’t argue much with people who hold different views of Jesus. They (and perhaps you) may be wrong (in my view) on some conceptual level, but if they (and you) are following Jesus, who am I to judge? I reckon the gospels show he was more interested in a positive response to him that led to a change in behaviour than he was in precise theology.

  9. Hi Hugo, all I mean by saying some people see the evidence for God as 50/50 is this: that these people see the options “God exists” and “God doesn’t exist” as equally likely or equally unlikely, or even equally incomprehensible. The emphasis is on equal. So I think that applies to you, would you agree?

  10. Hi, no, not at all! I am certain that the Christian/Hindu/Jewish/Islamic gods do not exist, and only leave a tiny door open for some sort of deistic god, which cannot be disproved. What I said I don’t know about are things like whether the universe is finite or not, whether it could have been fine tuned, whether it’s even conceivable that non-human minds exist, or that supernatural miracles really do happen once in a blue moon. The problem I am trying to illustrate is that for each of these topics, our beliefs differ mostly because of what we consider we ‘know’. You consider you ‘know’ enough about a lot of things I claim I don’t know about, and then we reach different conclusions. I don’t see this as some sort or arrogance where you pretend to know more than me by the way, but it’s still clear to me that we use knowledge claims differently.

    To emphasize on “equal”, I certainly do not agree that “God exists” is equally incomprehensible to “God does not exist” as the later is really easy to understand, works with the views of the real world I have now, but simply cannot be proven true because no negative claims like that can ever be proven true. And even if I don’t know how we can put a % number on the likelihood that a god does exist, this does not mean that I don’t know at all whether it’s possible for certain types of gods to exist, or not. The whole Jesus story for instance is clearly fabricated non-sense, I am sorry to say 😉 though I still see the value in the teachings and positive views that some believers have because of that!

    By the way, regarding the 2nd part above I could not address earlier, I have heard that comment about Christianity not really being a religion, or how it’s misunderstood, and I think it’s the other way around completely. People who make such comments, and I am not sure if you included yourself in that, do not seem to understand the perspective that non-Christians have, especially well informed ones. There is nothing mysterious about Christianity in my opinion and it’s not hard to understand how people “live through Jesus” or “with the guidance of the Holy Spirit”. As I said above, to me this is just acting as we think is moral for us, for people around us and as we think God would want us to be. It’s not out of fear, I know you don’t fear God, but you are still clearly acting as if you’re being watched, as if your thoughts are being read. You cannot make yourself not believe that just for fun, or even just for a thought experiment. As you wrote in your article, I cannot tell you ‘here’s $1000, now stop believing in God for 15 minutes and get back to me’. That would not work…

    Cheers!

  11. I guess it turns on the meaning of agnostic. I think it means not knowing. So if you are agnostic about God then it seems to me you are saying you don’t know either way. If you think it is unlikely that any God exists, then it seems to me you may not be agnostic – unless you regard all views less than absolute certainty as agnostic. So perhaps your definition is a little different than mine, that’s why I asked you how you would define different balances of belief and disbelief.

    The question of what God is like is a separate question. A Muslim and I both agree God exists, but he attaches a different description to God than I do. It seems like you attach a deistic description to God.

    The Jesus story may be fabricated nonsense to you, but not to the historians. Of course not all historians hold every part of the record of his life to be historically true, but that is a long way from being fabricated.

    I don’t act as if I am being watched by God, I believe very strongly I am being watched by God. It is just that I welcome that watching and don’t fear it.

    Thanks again.

  12. Hi Eric,

    The definition of agnostic is what it is: now knowing. I don’t think that’s open to interpretation. So no, I don’t know if a god exists, in general, but I certainly do know, just like you, that certain gods do not exist. We both know, to take the most cliché example, that Zeus does not exist and does not throw lightning down on us. The difference is that I also consider to know enough about how Christianity came to be to believe that this God also does not exist, certainly not in its most fundamentalist sense, where God created Earth 6,000 days ago, where we also agree, except that you believe in a more “modern” version which does not contradict the overwhelming scientific evidence for an old Earth.

    So knowledge and belief are certainly linked but not interchangeable, and I don’t think it’s our definitions that are different; it’s really just our beliefs and knowledge claims. I, for instance, do ‘not’ attach any specific definition to God. Theists like to ‘think’ that Atheists do such thing because it’s really really hard for you guys to grasp the idea that we really do not believe in any god at all… it’s as if you cannot wrap your head around the idea that once you stopped believing in God, there is nothing special about ‘any’ God. In other words, the fact that you think I have a more ‘deistic’ description of God shows that you clearly still don’t get it, even after all these interactions you had with Atheists. I do not reject 1 god more than another, and I do not accept 1 more than other. The only thing I am saying is that there are some gods which are ‘possible’ while other are ‘impossible’, but this does not imply in any way that there is a god I find more likely to exist, that I define as the God I don’t believe in, or the God I could possibly believe in. Well I guess yes, it’s “possible” I would believe in such god because its existence is possible, but it’s still so unlikely that it really does not make a big difference to me.

    You also missed the point on the Jesus comment. I don’t argue with historians; I don’t know if Jesus existed, or not, but they seem to think it’s more likely that he did than not. My point is that I don’t believe all the ‘magic’ stuff happened… these parts are clearly fabricated just like any other fairy tales. Of course you think otherwise and that’s the part I always find fascinating with modern rational Christians like you. You learned so much about the world we live in, the internet connected you with millions of people from around the world, who all believe different things, you can read more articles on more diverse topics, in a day, than your grand-parents ever did in years, yet… magic happened! Jesus did all this cool stuff! Oh but not these other gods, no no, these are false gods, or demons something like that, but not really the good God stuff 😉

    And this all goes back to acting as if God is watching you. Where the real problem lies… because honestly, this is a scary statement to read! Thankfully, you are among the sane ones, but there are lots of crazy people out there in the world, and the craziest of the craziest combine their harsh socio-economic context with strong religious beliefs, yielding… well you know… Of course, there are completely non-religious people who did horrible things, but the problem is that to have normally good people start to do weird things, you need this little ‘magic’ ingredient we call God, combined with ancestral beliefs and that solid notion that what God wants is good, and what’s good is what God wants. Therefore, if you act like you are being watched by God, you essentially do what you think God would like you to do, but that’s regardless of what ‘is’ actually good to do. This can twist your views of the world and only make it harder to adjust to reality. Ironically, this is what people like you already do… you adjusted your views based on what’s true, in real life, and that’s why you are so rational. But you still can’t help but think that God is there, and it’s almost impossible for you to ever change that, because God will be listening to you while you think about it. So how can you think about the possibility of not being watched when you believe you are being watched?

    Cheers

  13. “that’s the part I always find fascinating with modern rational Christians like you”

    Hi Hugo, not many people in my life have ever found me fascinating! 🙂 But there’s nothing irrational. The world looks to me like God created it, for reasons I’ve given many times. So if Jesus was his “son” then why should I find miracles difficult to believe? They are only irrational if there is a closed universe, but I don’t believe that.

    “But you still can’t help but think that God is there, and it’s almost impossible for you to ever change that, because God will be listening to you while you think about it.”

    One of the fascinating things for me is the misconceptions non-beievers sometimes have about God and the Bible (from my perspective at any rate). And this is one. The Bible shows many people doubting God, disagreeing with God, even arguing with God and raging against him. Some christians may teach that God will zap people who doubt or argue, but that isn’t what I believe. Doubt is often the doorway to new understanding.

    “So how can you think about the possibility of not being watched when you believe you are being watched?”

    I don’t really understand this question, I’m sorry. I can think about all sorts of things I know aren’t true – they’re called hypotheticals. I don’t suppose that’s what you mean, but that’s all I can understand. Sorry.

  14. Hello again,

    It’s interesting that you say that the world looks like God created it, because it’s also how you would say that you believe God exists, because the world looks like God created it. Not sure if you get the subtle but important differences in both statements?

    The only detail I find irrational about believing in Jesus’ miracles is the ‘magic’ part. It would actually make more sense to me if Christians were arguing that Jesus was someone really special, but did not do any ‘magic’ stuff, because that’s what we see today… Remember when we discussed prayer; that’s the most telling example. Here we are, with billions of people, more live today than all the humans before combined, with more technology than ever to record miracles, yet, the best examples of things like mysterious healing which may happen slightly more often, statistically, when people pray. But even believers like you are not completely convinced; it’s just slightly more likely than not, as you said before. So how can you combine the 2 beliefs? In other words, why believe that people who literally believe in ‘magic’ really did see ‘magic’ happen, but today, nope, no more ‘magic’, just statistics of how perhaps ‘magic’ sometimes happen in a very subtle way… I am really curious about that honestly 🙂

    Regarding the misconception you talk about, I think it might be a misconception on your part! I am certainly aware that people doubt, that people are disagreeing or get angry at God, and that there are tons of different types of Christians who think differently, and tons of religions if we want to make a broader statement. But the point is that all these people, including you, do not really understand how one can possibly, literally, not believe in any god at all. Which is actually what you expressed in the last paragraph. Let me try to explain…

    Even just as an hypothesis, you cannot really think about what the hypothesis I am proposing is, because the hypothesis is that God does not exist and is nobody is listening to your thoughts. The reason why you cannot really think about it is because you believe that someone is listening to your thoughts. So to think about ‘how it would feel to think without being listened to’, you would need to actually believe ‘nobody is listening’. But then that’s not an hypothesis anymore; that’s the actual belief that ‘nobody is listening’.

    Or, perhaps an easier way to express the same idea, is regarding the belief that God created the world. As you said, it looks to you as if that’s how it happened. But the problem is then, what would a world ‘not’ designed by God look like? And you cannot really express that, because the only world you know of was designed by God…

    Cheers

  15. Hi Hugo,

    “Not sure if you get the subtle but important differences in both statements?”

    No I don’t I’m sorry.

    “the best examples of things like mysterious healing which may happen slightly more often, statistically, when people pray. “

    Not sure where you got this from, but it’s not what I think. There seem to be two ways to study prayer. One tries to use a good scientific method by having control groups and prayer teams and measuring the health effects on the different groups of patients and comparing statistically. Trouble is, it isn’t how christians actually pray so it is measuring something well, but measuring something different. It gives very mid positive results overall.

    The other approach is to record what christians actually do and put up with a more difficult scientific method – i.e. check apparent healings medically. It doesn’t measure a statistical difference, but it seeks to identify a medical explanation, and if not and if the healing occurred after prayer, then it raise the possibility that God did it. This approach shows some quite amazing results, though only to a relatively few people (though millions overall).

    ” you cannot really think about what the hypothesis I am proposing is, because the hypothesis is that God does not exist and is nobody is listening to your thoughts. The reason why you cannot really think about it is because you believe that someone is listening to your thoughts”

    Hugo, I really don’t want to be rude, but you’re just making this up. I don’t think any of that is true about me. I believe someone is listening and observing because I believe in God, not vice versa.

    “what would a world ‘not’ designed by God look like? And you cannot really express that, because the only world you know of was designed by God”

    And this to is wrong (for me). It is easy to describe a world not designed by God, because theoretical physics can define zillions of such worlds. They are chaotic and don’t produce life. Many don’t last very long. If the universe arose by chance, it is the overwhelming probability that the universe would look like that.

    Now a plea. I am happy to keep talking, but please don’t keep saying I think this way or that – it is just a waste of time. You have some very strange ideas about me that you express with such certainty, yet are wrong. Please deal with what I actually say because that is what I actually think.

  16. Good morning y’all! The answer is very simple, my dear inquisitors!

    The very first LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS says, “Matter cannot be created or destroyed.” The Big Bang theory says that out of nothing came everything. This is impossible, according to our scientific laws and explanations.

    Science, and this law of thermodynamics, proves that from God came everything. Matter cannot create itself, which is why there has to be a Creator. The reasoning is not only very simple but, in science, we want empirical data. Well, the data is also simple.

    The very opening sentence in the Bible is there for a very good reason; everything in our universe revolves around it, “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth.” The Bible has never been proven wrong. All the stories in the Bible have been proven true, and none of them have ever been proven to be false. If you can show me one, I will be more than happy to discuss it with you.

    THE BIG QUESTION IS THIS – and I have asked scores of biologists, scientists, and physicists – “WHERE DID ALL THE MATTER COME FROM TO MAKE THE BIG BANG?”

    I can honestly say that nobody has ever been able to give me an answer. Well, that is not true; the answer is, “We don’t know.”

    So, my challenge is two fold:

    1) Where did all the matter come from, and

    2) If the Bible is wrong, anywhere, please show me where!

    P.S. I wonder why nobody ever tries to answer these two questions. Maybe, just maybe, there are no answers to them, except in the Bible and from God. It seems that our brilliant scientists and theorists have no answer, but God does. Hmmmmmmmm.

    Have a blessed day! Messianic Rabbi, David H. Winer

  17. Hi Eric,

    It’s funny because what you wrote here confirms that I do understand correctly what your thoughts are on the topics at hand. So I must be badly phrasing my own… oh well, the topics will come up again so I’ll just leave it at that for today. But if you want to reread my comments and ask something more precise, I’ll be reading.

    …….

    David,
    I believe these questions have been answered and discuss at great length, so claiming otherwise may be why you don’t get answers directly…

  18. Hi Hugo, yes let’s move on. You think you understand something about me which I think you don’t. You are happy. I am happy to leave it. 🙂

  19. We don’t choose “whose opinion we will value”, nor “what evidence seems most important to us”. You value someone’s opinion because of what you already know or believe about that person. Or because their opinion aligns with yours. If a complete stranger were to give you their opinion on a subject you knew or heard nothing about, could you simply choose to value their opinion?

    I have a feeling that you’re hoping to receive more affirmations than not. Perhaps it would be more revealing to ask yourself why the subject of “free will” and “choosing what we believe” is seemingly so important to you…and your religion.

  20. Hi David, thanks for your interest.

    “We don’t choose …. You value someone’s opinion because of what you already know or believe about that person.”

    Why do you think valuing someone’s opinion isn’t a choice?

    Do you think nothing is a choice? If not, what things do you think are choices?

    “If a complete stranger were to give you their opinion on a subject you knew or heard nothing about, could you simply choose to value their opinion?”

    I think I would consider the facts and their answer and make a choice how much I trusted them. What do you think you would do?

    “Perhaps it would be more revealing to ask yourself why the subject of “free will” and “choosing what we believe” is seemingly so important to you…and your religion.”

    I think free will is important because I think it reveals something about humanity and the world views we hold. Why did you think it was important enough to comment on?

    I’m guessing you have thought about this stuff a bit, and I’d be interested in your responses. Thanks.

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