Realistic Limits and Truthfulness

Fair enough, but would you concede that materialism is a belief and has burden of proof? (while atheism would simply be lack of belief in specific transcendent beings)

The Bible tells us that that particular lie won’t be held against us on judgement day. (Don’t know where it says that, but I’m sure it’s there)

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Is that the debate you are talking about?

I’m really enjoying it so far!


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Watching now too. Fascinating.

The debate was interesting to watch for other reasons, but, I really felt like Alister didn’t try that much to give arguments as to why God is not imaginary, in fact, many of the things he said could lead you to understand that his position is that God is imaginary, but still important. Had I not read his written material previously I would most certainly get this impression. I actually didn’t like Alister very much when I knew him only from his debates, but I do find his writtings to be very interesting, I wonder what causes such a difference in his attitude and line of argument when he is debating atheists compared to when he is writting.

Finally got around to finish watching this. The title involving God as a figment of the imagination really didn’t factor into the discussion at all. What really interests me is the phenomenological basis for sustained belief in God. I think there is something about us which supports it. So not much meat for the broth in this discussion.

Are you familiar with Justin Barret’s work? I think it would interest you a lot. If you want my two cents, I think people believe in God because it makes sense. Of course, just because a idea makes sense it doesn’t mean it is true, many scientific hypothesis which made perfect sense back in the day were falsified by experimentation. The problem is that most if not all arguments for God are inductive and not testable, that is why I still hold that Kant’s arguments in critique of pure reason are the strongest atheist arguments till today. But many ideas which started as pure metaphysical inductions ended up being true and proved to be by experimentation, which is why I’m sometimes surprised at the way in which many atheists consider the chance of that being the case virtually zero (although not equaling it to zero in name of scientific methodology). I don’t think we will ever have a experiment to prove or falsify God, but epistemological constraints don’t dictate wheter something is true or not.

Based on what I read on wiki about him I’d say I agree with his analysis regarding our psychological predisposition toward God belief. I don’t however think that we should naively believe in “an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good God who brought the universe into being", That may be what if feels like but even a little reflection suggests that conclusion is wrong.

If it is the nature of our minds which dispose us to believe such things then we should recognize that it is “as if” there was such a being. What really matters is not that this God knows everything but that He knows everything that is in your heart. To know what is in your heart it is only necessary to be there with you as a co-product of the same consciousness. That seems to me the more elegant solution.

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I don’t know if that is what you meant by that, but if you are concerned about the reliability of his work because of this assumption, let me make clear that he separates very well his personal religious beliefs from his work, he is also not a philosopher or theologian, but a cognitive psychologist whose work is very respected in the scientific community in his area, that is why I think you might be interested in his work. Of course, in his more popular works, like his books and talks, he does talk about his personal beliefs and how they relate to the way he interprets his research at a personal level, but he is very careful to make it clear what is pure scientific data and personal opinion. Two things you might find interesting from his research is that he shows strong evidence that the hypothesis of “people believe in God because they want to delude themselves and feel good” and “people only believe in God because other people told them to” are likely wrong. It seems to be an innate and sincere predisposition of mankind. He also talks about works (by other psychologists, not his) which suggests that being an atheist actually requires effort in order to override these natural predispositions. I have not yet read his books, but I plain to acquire them. From what I heard from his talks, it seems that “Why Would Anyone Believe in God?” is really good.

I’ve always felt that sort of criticism was off the mark as well as uncharitable. That is why I’d rather question the true nature of God than to question whether any exist as described. If there is another construct of consciousness which has always been projected as being separate I for one would want to achieve a productive integration. I think of it as embodying the intuitive wisdom of the what we are and what ends we should seek, while with our rational minds we have the capacity to reconcile those ends with the demands of modern life. Both are important. Einstein is supposed to have said “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” I think this is what leads Christians to say “Thy will be done, not mine”.

Thank you for the recommendation. I’ve just put a hold at my local library on his 2012 book “Born believers : the science of children’s religious belief”. I was surprised they didn’t have the book you mentioned “Why Would Anyone Believe in God?” If I like that one I will get the other one too.

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I have been intrigued by arguments on the existence of God, (or gods for some time, and I found Kant’s reasoning to exemplify (what I consider) the contradictions in the way that question is formulated.

I am and Orthodox Christian, and that way of asking a question is odd to say the least. I would rather ask, “How is it possible that human reason can come up with a Trinity, and a God who sent His Son to save humanity from its sinful ways?”

I suggest this question may be a fruitful in reasoning answers for both theists and atheists.

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Just wondering if the contradictions have to do with the difference between proving the existence of the God defined by his attributes versus the God one intuits is there. I imagine a whole lot of diligent rational work went into enumerating the officially sanctioned list of attributes. If a proof or disproof succeeds against those official attributes it would still leave open the possibility that the same arguments would fail in relation to the intuited presence of God. I’ve read some philosophy including some Kant but that was long ago and I’m not a big fan.

If I understand you correctly, you are right regarding articulating the attributes of God, but not regarding intuition. Theological discussions have shown that we may discuss attributes within revelation, but we cannot discuss in any way the essence of God. The attributes are taken as revealed in degrees until Christ, who is he final and complete revelation of God.

Kant (if I recall) shows us that proof and disproof on god (or God) more or less are the same and we need a transcendental philosophy to handle this (which he could not provide).

In any event, I hold to the view that we need to discuss the type of knowledge before we can venture to a serious discussion on the spiritual and the divine.

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I agree. My own preference is to begin with the phenomenology of God belief. So the type of knowledge at least starts as intra-personal. The question for me becomes is it also trans-personal and if so how does that work.

I cannot understand this - the belief in God is something people profess.

“Knowledge of God” is a phrase that is most often discussed in the negative (we cannot measure god, we cannot perform measurements on god, and so on).

If by trans-personal, you mean reflective and contemplative, but such that the person grown in attributes of Christ that are knowable through the person’s actions, than I would agree - but I think you need to elaborate.

NOTE: These are just comments on humans in general, and not religion specifically.

I would agree with most of those sentiments. It isn’t that people purposefully delude themselves. Rather, humans are innately fallible and are susceptible to believing in things that aren’t true or aren’t supported by evidence. A lot of “magic” (i.e. sleight of hand, mentalism) takes advantage of human fallibilities. Our brains fill in gaps and make false assumptions all of the time. It absolutely does take effort to understand human fallibility and biases and then work around them. This is why it takes effort to be a good scientist.

Humans are very susceptible to drawing false conclusions and false associations. It is as if our brains need to connect things together, even if that connection is false. Drug trials are a good example. One might think that if you give a possible headache drug to people who have headaches and their headaches go away then it means the drug is effective. But is that true? If you are the drug manufacturer, are you more likely to draw an unsupported association from just this data? This is where science comes in with a double blind study that includes a placebo. As it turns out, the placebo was just as effective as the drug. Intuitively, we may not think that a placebo is necessary or look past the possibilities of the placebo effect if we are emotionally invested in the drug being effective. That is just human fallibility.


This is exactly why I’m a Unitarian Universalist, rather than an outright Atheist.


I have a couple of good friends who, when their son was young, would give him a placebo to help him feel better. And they just called it a ‘placebo’ in front of him since he didn’t know what that meant anyway. It got to a point where he would ask if he could have a ‘placebo’ since he knew them to be so effective!

That same friend (the husband) was joking with me that they should have a section in the pharmacy labeled ‘placebos’. And then down the aisle they could have another section labeled ‘extra-strength placebos’.


True observations. I am sure there are reasons we are that way, as the ability to make associations is what enables us learn, find food, avoid berries that are poisonous etc. but it plays havoc with medical care in that pretty much all “alternative” therapies are placebo, and a pretty good chunk of standard therapy also.

That is a good point to take on board. It does take work to cultivate self-awareness and to keep enough skepticism around to keep from fooling ourselves.

I would add that it also takes work to be a good _______ (fill in the blank with Christian, or Buddhist, or Atheist, or any other of a host of things.)

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