Religious Epistemology

Belief without Warrant

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brasil5star

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Is God no more than a mental construct?
« on: February 13, 2013, 02:38:02 am »
From what I have seen, it seems humans have a tendency to admire the great and the exceptionally remarkable. For instance, where I live, the amateur bodybuilder popularly known as ‘Zyzz’ has been elevated into almost a God-like status and I think it is because he possesses qualities that some people consider unusually great, something so above the ordinary that it automatically attracts our attention and admiration. Another example is Diego Maradona, an Argentine footballer who’s extraordinary talent and success in football inspired even its own group of worshippers and religious services to pay tribute to his footballing career. These are two examples that show humans seek and admire greatness even to the point of religious devotion. Now say you were to imagine the most great or, to put it in another word, the most perfect being that you can possibly imagine. You would most likely need to turn to an abstract being, something that only exists in the mind and not in this material world (assuming that all material is imperfect). This perfect being that you imagined would probably end up being understood as God as it most certainly would be a being that is great, remarkable and extraordinary in every sense possible. So now that you have just imagined a perfect being that is absolutely great, what would be the next step to follow? Well from my two examples I have given before the next step would be to glorify and admire this being and it appears this is exactly what is occurring in this world past and present. This perfect being you imagined is being worshipped and glorified by hundreds of millions of people worldwide and it really should come to no surprises. Being the most perfect thing you can possibly think of means that this perfect being or ‘God’ must also have the perfect loving relationships, the perfect morals, the perfect wisdom, the perfect life, the perfect plan, the perfect nature, anything you can think of, this being you imagined has perfected it. No wonder so many people are willing to believe in this God you have imagined even if there is no proof that one exists outside of our minds at all. This imaginary God of yours does not end there however, because humans have come up with an ingenious solution of solidifying what was at first abstract into a concrete system of beliefs capable of convincing billions of humans worldwide. Over two thousand years ago, a story was developed so that humans can relate to your imaginary being and did this by incorporating elements of our own real world into its story. This story, along with its set of beliefs, became known as Christianity and to this day millions of people accept it as the work of God rather than the work of mankind. My only concern is that what you have accepted as the work of God, as you might have suspected by now, is not the work of God at all but actually just the clever work of our own human imagination - something that only exists inside our minds.

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Curt J. O'Brian

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Re: Is God no more than a mental construct?
« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2013, 12:46:11 pm »
Firstly, welcome!

Secondly, just for future reference, it's easier to read posts if they're broken up a bit by paragraphs. No insult is intended, please don't take offense! This is just my recommendation.

And now, onto your post itself.

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From what I have seen, it seems humans have a tendency to admire the great and the exceptionally remarkable. For instance, where I live, the amateur bodybuilder popularly known as ‘Zyzz’ has been elevated into almost a God-like status and I think it is because he possesses qualities that some people consider unusually great, something so above the ordinary that it automatically attracts our attention and admiration. Another example is Diego Maradona, an Argentine footballer who’s extraordinary talent and success in football inspired even its own group of worshippers and religious services to pay tribute to his footballing career. These are two examples that show humans seek and admire greatness even to the point of religious devotion.

Zyzz... I remember going to some youtube video and everyone saying R.I.P. Zyzz, that's how I learned of him. Yes, humans do seem to have an appreciation for what is great, and to an extent we do all want to feel like we're following something that's great. There's a certain sense of pride I have in being a USA citizen, ignoring all of the politics, it's pretty cool to be in the greatest political, economic, and military power on this planet. Indeed, humans do seem to have a tendancy to flock towards greatness.

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Now say you were to imagine the most great or, to put it in another word, the most perfect being that you can possibly imagine. You would most likely need to turn to an abstract being, something that only exists in the mind and not in this material world (assuming that all material is imperfect). This perfect being that you imagined would probably end up being understood as God as it most certainly would be a being that is great, remarkable and extraordinary in every sense possible. So now that you have just imagined a perfect being that is absolutely great, what would be the next step to follow? Well from my two examples I have given before the next step would be to glorify and admire this being and it appears this is exactly what is occurring in this world past and present. This perfect being you imagined is being worshipped and glorified by hundreds of millions of people worldwide and it really should come to no surprises. Being the most perfect thing you can possibly think of means that this perfect being or ‘God’ must also have the perfect loving relationships, the perfect morals, the perfect wisdom, the perfect life, the perfect plan, the perfect nature, anything you can think of, this being you imagined has perfected it. No wonder so many people are willing to believe in this God you have imagined even if there is no proof that one exists outside of our minds at all. This imaginary God of yours does not end there however, because humans have come up with an ingenious solution of solidifying what was at first abstract into a concrete system of beliefs capable of convincing billions of humans worldwide.

Well, first off, this part assumes that there is no proof that exists outside of my mind. How do you know this to be true? I certainly believe there's proof for God's existence. You may disagree with it, but I feel it's abundantly clear based on numerous philosophical, scientific, and historical arguments for the existence of the god of Christianity.

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Over two thousand years ago, a story was developed so that humans can relate to your imaginary being and did this by incorporating elements of our own real world into its story. This story, along with its set of beliefs, became known as Christianity and to this day millions of people accept it as the work of God rather than the work of mankind. My only concern is that what you have accepted as the work of God, as you might have suspected by now, is not the work of God at all but actually just the clever work of our own human imagination - something that only exists inside our minds.

While yes, this seems possibly true, do we have any reason to think that it actually *is* true? I just don't think this is really fair to theists, because it assumes that there is no evidence for theism. And it also seems to me that you're implying that, because humans seem to want to find something to worship, that therefore we've created God in order to worship him. Again, while this seems possibly true, it simply doesn't follow logically. That's like me saying that since humans seem to want to kill each other, that therefore every instance of a human killing another is intentional, and that this should be the default assumption. In fact, we know that many humans have killed others quite unintentionally, so this is obviously not necessarily true.

Tl;dr: My answer is short is that it seems possible that he's a mental construct. But, no one is served by us merely assuming that He is. There is evidence for, and against his existence, and it should be explored rather than ignored.
"Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires; but upon what foundation did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force! But Jesus Christ founded His upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”
–Napoleon Bonaparte I

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JLouis

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Re: Is God no more than a mental construct?
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2018, 05:06:00 pm »
No wonder so many people are willing to believe in this God you have imagined even if there is no proof that one exists outside of our minds at all.

@brasil5star, I appreciate your narrative. It provides a fairly clear picture of your position. I will focus my reply on your claim about proof.

As @Curt J. O'Brian pointed out, there is evidence of the existence of God that is external to people altogether. Such evidence is necessarily not confined to or generated by the imagination of a person. I will sidestep the topic of whether such evidence could be the result of shared imagination or multiple independent imaginations. This is because I want to focus on evidence that is particular to a single person.

I possess an abundance of evidence for God. The nature of this evidence is such that I am the only one with access to it. Let's call this internal evidence and call external evidence the kind of evidence that many people can examine. Does this mean internal evidence is untrustworthy? It is not easy for you to trust my internal evidence because you cannot even examine it. I believe this makes my internal evidence unconvincing for you. But, does this mean my internal evidence is untrustworthy in the sense that I should not trust it?

I claim that if a person has evidence of God, then (1) it is appropriate to interpret that evidence, and (2) it is inappropriate to discard that evidence even if the person is the only one with access to the evidence. I believe it is in full keeping with the spirit of science that all evidence of this (or any other) type be accounted for. Outliers are ascribed meaning. This could represent an important, but rare occurrence in the theory under study. It could represent noise or experimenter error. However, it is fundamentally unscientific to discard the evidence altogether.

You seem to have interpreted a person's internal evidence of God as being a product of the person's imagination. Your justification for this seems to be an argument by analogy: because people glorify and admire the two examples you provided, people also glorify and admire the perfect being they imagine and call God. Reasoning by analogy does not convince me in this case. Therefore, I find the interpretation to be unconvincing.

I also claim you can gain internal evidence of God. Romans 10:17 teaching us that "faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (NASB). So, this internal evidence comes by hearing people preach about Christ, reading the Bible with an intent to understand it (not just to know what it says), reaching out to God in prayer, and listening with an open heart to Christians talk about their personal relationship with God. I do not claim that everyone who hears a preacher talk about Christ or who reads the Bible will recognize or act upon the internal evidence, just that the internal evidence will be present. It is popular today in discussions about scientific evidence to exclude internal evidence from being "scientific" or a valid part of scientific reasoning. Whether this is called scientific or not is moot. The point is whether it is reasonable to reason from such evidence to draw conclusions.

This makes the topic of internal evidence more complicated. This view holds that I have internal evidence that you can not even in principle gain access to. It also holds that you can gain internal evidence of the same sort. Certainly this must be difference evidence. But if it is of the same sort, then by gaining your own internal evidence you can reasonably have confidence in my claim to have my own internal evidence. Then, my description of my internal evidence becomes external evidence of my internal evidence. This can make it reasonable for you to trust my internal evidence (as I describe it).

Finally, I claim there is external evidence that many people have internal evidence of God. Consider an experiment where I ask an individual to seek internal evidence of God using the methods outlined above. Trials of this experiment have been conducted a great many times. The changed lives of these people present external evidence separate from the internal evidence used by each person to believe in God. The difficult task in this setting is to examine the evidence of these trials and to draw conclusions from this examination.

There are multiple religions that can make this "repeated trial" kind of claim. It is clear that not all of these religions can be true, for some make claims that directly contradict the claims of another such religion. So, how are we to evaluate these trials? Again, I claim a good criterion is the measure of how lives are changed. This is difficult because some lives will not be changed because the person rejects or does not recognize the internal evidence even when present; some live will be changed despite rejecting the evidence; and so on. This represents an important area of evidence for the existence of God that is unexplored (to my knowledge).

My only concern is that what you have accepted as the work of God, as you might have suspected by now, is not the work of God at all but actually just the clever work of our own human imagination - something that only exists inside our minds.

My reciprocal concern is that you have discarded the possibility that internal evidence for God exists, that you have access to it, and that external evidence for God exists in the form of the aggregate of changed lives due to relationship with God based on internal evidence for God.