Sin is not making mistakes, it is part of our nature

Christian J, commented on my post about evolution.  In light of the conversion experience I had in November, my eyes opened to a a real vacancy within current Mormon practice and how the Gospel is taught to children. There is something that most Mormons just don’t get, or at least they don’t talk like they get it.  They are often very hostile to it. I believe that a big part of the problem is the LDS understanding of sin. I want to be clear that I think that the problem is not in the LDS scriptures, it is in what is taught in primary. Mormons describe sin as crime, i.e. intentional disobedience to a law.  I think this is a fundamental mistake that has dangerous psychological ramifications.  This recent conference talk “Avoiding the Trap of Sin” which I chose at random from the LDS website gives a absolutely run-of-the-mill-LDS description of sin. Elder Mazzagardi explains:

I asked my blue-eyed, cheerful, and innocent granddaughter how she was preparing for baptism.

She answered with a question: “Grandpa, what is sin?”

I silently prayed for inspiration and tried to respond as simply as I could: “Sin is the intentional disobedience to God’s commandments. It makes Heavenly Father sad, and its results are suffering and sadness.”

Clearly concerned, she asked me, “And how does it get us?”

The question first reveals purity, but it also reveals a concern for how to avoid involvement with sin.

Elder Mazzagardi gives a typical Mormon caveat about the “trap of sin” and points to how a child might avoid involvement in sin:

When I was a teenager, my curfew was 10:00 p.m. Today, that is the time some go out in order to have fun. Yet we know that it is at night that some of the worst things happen. It is during the dark hours that some youth go to places with inappropriate environments, where music and lyrics do not allow them to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Then, under these circumstances, they become easy prey to sin.

This teaching and counsel seems like commonsense to a Mormon, and it is absolutely typical of what is taught in church. Mormons should realize that from a Christian point of view, it is near madness.  Believing that we can “avoid involvement in sin” is a misunderstanding of Christianity. His recipe for salvation is equally troubling: “stay strong and make good choices that will allow you to eat the fruit of the tree of life.” I think this talk shows not just a deep misunderstanding of Christianity, but a deep misunderstanding of the vision of the tree of life in the Book of Mormon.

1 Nephi 8:10–12 explains that, in a vision, Lehi  “beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy”.  The fruit is the love of God.  The fruit is not obtained by obedience to the law, but by holding on to the “Word of God”   The vision does not describe the way out of sin, but the way to happiness, which is merely the recognition of the Love of God in Christ, not the achievement of righteousness.

Schopenhauer wrote: “The doctor sees all the weakness of mankind, the lawyer all the wickedness, the theologian all the stupidity.”  Schopenhauer is right.  I have been either a family-law attorney or criminal attorney for the last ten years. When it comes to sinners, my world is filled with the “hard cases”– rapists, child pornographers, sexually violent predators, murderers, thieves, fools, gangsters, madmen, and ordinary people fighting in court for money, vengeance, and control of children.  What goes on in family and criminal courts show how easy and common it is for lives to be cut to shreds not by people’s mistakes, or their intentional failure to follow the law, but by their human natures.

What is painfully obvious to me is that understanding and striving to obey human law has almost nothing to do with “involvement in crime”, and, likewise, God’s law, has almost nothing to do with our “involvement in sin”. Understanding how different we are from God, to our cores, is an important method of coming to that discovery. I think we have to understand the difference in order to accept the joy and freedom that the Light of Christ reveals.

Most Mormons might accept evolution as a theory for the explanation of how animals came about, but they don’t accept it as an explanation of human nature. They see our natures as being more godlike than fallen. They buy in to the popular myths that animal behavior is evil, and human nature and reason is, for the most part, good and divine.  Lets be clear, human criminals don’t act like animals, they act all-too-human.   The theory of evolution, or any other explanation of how we came about, may not effect our day-to-day lives, but the nature of our species absolutely does. The history of our species compared to other species shows that, of all the animals species on earth, human beings are the most monstrous and most in need of salvation. Human beings are not like animals in important ways, animals are much better behaved, more obedient to their own laws, and more in touch with their natures.  Human beings are separated from both their animal nature, and their divine nature. If anything, we need to become more like the animals we are and less like the humans that we aspire to be. More on this later. . .

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160 thoughts on “Sin is not making mistakes, it is part of our nature

  1. We’re definitely guilty and accountable to God for our particular sins, and by themselves they’d certainly be enough to justly damn us.

    But you are right in that we have a much deeper problem. Three problems, in fact, which are interconnected:

    First, we are ourselves guilty of Adam’s sin. When he knowingly rebelled against God, he did so as our representative, and we stand condemned for that rebellion before we’re even born.

    Second, as a result of Adam’s sin and fall, we have lost our original state of righteousness. God made us good and in his own image, “that is, in true righteousness and holiness, so that [we] might truly know God [our] creator, love him with all [our] heart, and live with God in eternal happiness, to praise and glorify him,” and we lost it. We were made good and we destroyed our own goodness. This goodness that we lost is more than just the absence of sin; it’s an active holiness that God intended for us to have but that is gone now. We’re not only guilty (due to Adam’s sin, above) and bent out of shape (our sin nature, below), but we’re also missing a bunch of pieces.

    And third, you’re right that as a result of Adam’s sin and our loss of righteousness, we inherit a sin nature. We’re slaves to darkness with a natural propensity to rebel against the God who created us and serve sin. And all of our actual, particular sins are an outworking of this poisoned nature.

    So it’s not that our particular sins are a non-issue, because they absolutely matter. But the bad news is a lot worse than our particular sins, because really they’re only the tip of the iceberg. And simply refraining from committing any particular sins–even if we could, which we absolutely can’t–wouldn’t even begin to fix the problem for us.

  2. Jared I agree that Mormon scripture does not teach that we can avoid sin, that its a contemporary misunderstanding by Mormons. Very sad, when its preached in an official capacity.

  3. Sin is separation from God. Adam’s sin separated him and his offspring, us, from God.

    We are separated from God. The only way back is through Christ.

  4. Jared I agree that Mormon scripture does not teach that we can avoid sin, that its a contemporary misunderstanding by Mormons. Very sad, when its preached in an official capacity.

    How does this square with canonical Mormon teachings about free agency and the ability to choose obedience over sin?

  5. Christian J,

    Ultimately, I think this is an educational problem. I think the educational policies can be changed with reasoned argument. But I have also found that in every case that Christ is taught, there is naturally almost violent opposition. I think the Church is in turmoil. Not organizationally, but in the minds of most of its members, they expect peace where there is no peace. Our friends in other faiths have plenty to teach us, but ultimately it is up to the Latter-day Saints to figure out how to right the ship.

  6. “How does this square with canonical Mormon teachings about free agency and the ability to choose obedience over sin?”

    k, let’s call it Semipelagianism.

  7. Jared, does your daughter read the BoM much? What about the voice of Jesus in the D&C?

  8. I think that many Mormons are unconsciously opposed to the full Light of Christ. Elder Mazzagardi included.

    It is not a matter of which books or prophets you believe in. When you are striving to be good and be worthy of the feast, there is deep opposition to the idea that all are invited. It lessens the achievement of the righteous.

  9. “It lessens the achievement of the righteous.”

    And the meek will inherit the earth. Interesting concept when you fully consider it. Damning to most of us, I would guess.

  10. I don’t think Mormonism is semi-pelagian, though. Given the Mormon doctrines about humanity’s nature (and the lack of an essential distinction between human nature and God’s nature–although I concede that Mormons affirm a distinction in role and hierarchy) and free agency, I’m not sure any doctrine other than strict Pelagianism is even possible.

  11. (BTW, The daughter I am referring to is an active Mormon, attends seminary and Church meetings dutifully, and is generally a “perfect child” by most Mormon standards.)

  12. But she reacts badly to teaching about Christ? In what context?

    In my experience, Mormons love to talk about Christ. They just get nervous when you start talking about anything Christ actually does for you. They prefer a Salvation-Possible-Maker instead of an actual Savior.

  13. I agree. The bad reaction is not to concept of a savior, it is a reaction to an explanation of grace and the kingdom of heaven. I think it is an intuitive reaction similar to the monkey in the cage in the animal empathy experiment. I think that people that strive to do well react harshly to any justification of sin, even when that justification is from God.

  14. “I think that people that strive to do well react harshly to any justification of sin, even when that justification is from God.”

    Just to clarify: God does not and cannot justify sin.

  15. What about Romans: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . ”

    Romans 5:1

    If sin is part of us, if we are justified, so is our sin. No?

  16. No, justification in Christian theology is the removal of guilt and penalty of sin before God. When you read Romans 5:1 that is what it is saying. “Therefore, since the guilt and penalties of our sins have been removed before God, we can have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    Its as if God no longer sees our counts our sin nature. And only Christ can offer the covering.

  17. What do you mean when you use the word justified? Our sin is set aside, it is not justified in and of itself, as in it is made OK in God’s eyes.

  18. I am just using Paul’s word. Justified = set straight = made righteous. Not sure of the best definition, what do you think?

    It seems mysterious and paradoxical to me, I can see why my daughter has a strong reaction.

  19. I understand your point. But bear in mind that I find Paul’s question to the Galatians relevant: who are we trying to impress and show our righteousness to? Man, or God?

    Justification is the setting aside our sin and a restoration of our original selves through Christ who lives in us.

    How can it be that God looks at it that way? Not entirely sure, but He does. Perhaps Galatians 2 is of help. See:

    “15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified[b] by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

    17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness[c] were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

  20. I think this is the point I am trying to make: Righteousness is not in the law, and it is not in our nature.

    I can see this is a fact, but I don’t understand how to effectively point my daughter to that fact when her mind is set that we are righteous in keeping the law, and that we are children of god by our nature. I don’t think this is a Mormon thing, I think it is deep in the understanding of righteousness that entrenched in the world.

  21. I don’t know your daughter, and can’t tell you precisely how to reach her.

    However, I did I just read through all of Galatians. It ends with this, Ch. 6:

    “11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which[b] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”

    He’s saying that the folks in Galatia were doing things so that they can be seen to others as doing what is right and avoiding being associated with Christ. You, above, indicated your daughter has a hard time discussing Christ. Is it because doing so would put her in a position of danger within her Mormon social position? Or is it because she has real theological problems with the idea of justification through Christ alone in that she does not need it or that she feels she has to do something to warrant it?

  22. I think it is hard to get that a person’s sin can ever be justified. It is difficult to imagine how failure can be made into success.

  23. I don’t think she, or even most Mormons, follow the law to justify themselves, they follow the law to avoid guilt and to have “safety and peace.”

    I think it is the same with the criminal law as with the religious law.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with the Mormon Church, she would not be ostracized if she understood salvation better. There would be no social consequences whatsoever. I think her faith in God and in the Church is very personal. I think she has faith in Jesus, but I don’t think she understands the nature of the love of God.

  24. The preexistence narrative makes Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism inappropriate categories to apply to Mormonism.

  25. I think most people are content to “live with” most of their sin rather to accept justification in Christ, mainly because an attack on our sin is seen as an attack on our selves. Admitting all of our faults is the same as admitting we are fundamentally faulty, this is not easy to accept.

  26. The preexistence narrative makes Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism inappropriate categories to apply to Mormonism.

    I agree, I haven’t found a heresy from orthodoxy that is directly comparable to Mormonism because of doctrine of the pre-existence. Mormon cosmology is extremely different than most traditional Christian heresies.

  27. It seems that the Mormon view of sin is going to start with their cosmology and Elder Mazzagardi explanation of sin is quite consistent with the preexistence narrative.

  28. I almost fell into disagreement with you at first reading of your article and I was about to unleash some knowledge on you; however, I agree with your comment that we are more comfortable living with our sin and seeking after so called “peace.”

    I reflected on that and see in my own life where I have my favorite sins that I refuse to let go and those that I an actively working to change my heart about. I know that through the grace of Christ that I can be perfected in Him as Moroni teaches in his work ‘…come unto Christ and be perfected in him….” Moroni 10:32

    I agree that we tend to nurse some of our sins. Hate that your observation of Mormondom is all too accurate to some degree, to which I am unsure. I asked my kids about sin.

    I was told that we can avoid sin, which is to not actively participate in the ones we know and repent of the ones we fail at. My oldest daughter says that it is a life-long process.

    I have a teen too, Yikes! He is good by LDS standards, but he believes that the atonement will not be able to help him. He is doomed for a Terrestrial life he says though he keeps doing all the average teen lds things like young men, scouts and seminary.

    He keep all the outward commandments like the word of wisdom, but the inward conversion to Christ is still being decided. I think your daughter is just flexing her brain a bit trying to personalize all that she has learned. I would not be too worried, just the normal worry.

  29. There are different kinds of sin, as the following enlightening verses indicate:

    1 John 3:4 NIV: . . . sin is lawlessness.

    Romans 2:12 NIV: All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.

    Romans 5:13 NIV: for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.

    Romans 14:23 NIV: . . . everything that does not come from faith is sin.

  30. Pelagianism proposes not only that the free will not to sin possessed by Adam remains after his sin but that Adam’s sin had no real effect.

    Mormon cosmology proposes this life as a necessary step of embodiment and a test for apotheosis. For this process to work a veil of secrecy is imposed at birth, Adam must “transgress” and fall, Christ must atone for the fall. All of this results in universal resurrection and meritorious apotheosis.

    So unlike Pelagianism something happens in the fall for Mormonism, although I am not sure what or why. Also the Mormon veil of secrecy from pre-mortal to mortal life really puts a kink in the idea of unchanged free will much less free agency.

  31. Loving the discussion on sin, I don’t think it’s an area we have explored.

    Jared, for some reason the powerful scene from Les Miserables came to mind where Jean Valjean is given an undeserved second chance. In your daughter’s mind the act of the priest might actually be considered grossly inappropriate and obscene. Might be a good place to start a conversation. Was forgiving the thief beautiful or wicked?

    I understand your daughter pretty well because I too was good at being good. . . but not forever.

  32. Thanks for the comments Rodric, I appreciate giving your and your kids’ points of view.

    I have a teen too, Yikes! He is good by LDS standards, but he believes that the atonement will not be able to help him. He is doomed for a Terrestrial life he says though he keeps doing all the average teen lds things like young men, scouts and seminary.

    My current spouse was a Mormon girl with basically the same sort of point of view, her kids are very good kids, but have no interest in religion at all. I am interested in how to reach kids like these. I think this is an area that Evangelicals and Mormons have a lot to offer each other.

    Stick around, and don’t be afraid to unleash knowledge.

  33. @Tim

    I asked her about the scene. She said that she approved, and thought it was great to be merciful, but admitted that she would have been puzzled as well. She said she would be like “Yeah, it was nice, but now we don’t have any more silver.”

    I think justice is always sitting in the back of everyone’s mind in these sorts of situations.

  34. It’s not our worst that condemns us. It’s our best. For that is not good enough, either…but leads us to a place where we are deluded into thinking that “the good I’ve done surely must be worth something.”

    When it comes down to our ability to make ourselves acceptable in God’s sight by what we are able to do, or to not do…things aren’t that bad. They are much worse than that.

    Sins are the symptoms. ‘Sin’ is the our true condition and we are bound to it.

    Thanks.

  35. The above (my comment) is clearly laid out in Holy Scripture. Plainly written and easy to understand (read the first few chapters of Romans).

    The BoM tells us the opposite. And that is why it is so dangerous.

  36. I really like this post, thanks for sharing, Jared!

    In my experience, Mormons love to talk about Christ. They just get nervous when you start talking about anything Christ actually does for you. They prefer a Salvation-Possible-Maker instead of an actual Savior.

    ZING! Love.

  37. Kullervo, it makes me fussy to think about being punished for Adam’s sin. I like Jared’s explanation of all this as a reflection on the difference between humanity and God and the idea that sin is a part of our nature and not the commission or omission of specific acts, but I am still SUPER resistant to the idea of punishment for someone else’s thing.

  38. Each of us has plenty enough to be punished for.

    Sins are the symptom, sin is our condition. A condition unto death.

    God is not interested in making us “better”.

    He’s trying to kill us off…so that He can raise a new person.

    (that’s what Baptism is all about – Romans 6)

  39. I’ve been really enjoying the conversation (and the previous one that inspired this) but there are just several things that don’t make any sense to me at all.

    Sorry though, I’m writing this on a phone so there will be typos…but let’s take kullervo’s first comment:

    “First, we are ourselves guilty of Adam’s sin. When he knowingly rebelled against God, he did so as our representative, and we stand condemned for that rebellion before we’re even born.”

    I don’t get this. I am with Katie on this. I am aware this just may be a carryover from Mormon background, but I don’t think it would make more sense if I didn’t have a Mormon background.

    As an atheist, Jared’s comments on nature via evolution make FAR more sense to me than the stuff about inheriting stuff from Adam, etc.

    But it goes further. If God created us, and God is all powerful and a different species and ask that stuff that Christians will say Mormons don’t properly understand, then how can Adam or anyone lose a state of righteousness? If God made us good, it sounds like he made bad stuff and that shouldn’t be on me. At least in Mormonism, there is this idea of eternal intelligences, God not having all that power, the fall being necessary, etc. I can see why non-lds Christians thinking this is heretical, but don’t see why the Christian framing makes any sense.

    I don’t know what it means to inherit a sin nature. Again, in an evolutionary context, I can maybe see how that works. But not in the way kullervo writes it or how it is framed in “Christian-ese”.

    I don’t get justification, but then again, I don’t get the atonement/salvation/etc. The other discussion, with talk of winning the race because Jesus already ran it, etc., was too confusing to be.

    Based on how much y’all folks and others write and talk about it, I’m willing to buy that there is probably something you all see from it, but for me, it is not believable.

  40. Andrew,

    Have you ever seen two little babies fighting over a rattle or some other toy?

    There it is. Our sin nature. We are born with it. Our selfish desires. Our desire to become our own little god. We all have it and it leads all to a death sentence. “The wages of sin is death.”

    The price will be paid. Either in this life…or the next.

  41. Theoldadam,

    But none of that has anything to do with Adam. None of that has anything to do with a deity, a fall, “inheriting” it. So, I’m asking how you shoehorn the Christian narrative in that.

  42. Because he sinned…we sin. It’s that simple. Sin entered the world and mankind through the sin of Adam and Eve.

    We ALL share that sin nature now. Except some Mormons and a few Christians I have met who are so prideful and deluded that they actually believe they have worked their way to sinlessness. Sad.

  43. But there is nothing to say that Adam fell and therefore we are all in sinful nature. There’s no reason to call that anything special (“sin nature”) and argue a divine scaffolding (e.g. We were created righteous then because of Adam, we lost that, but now Jesus can save us)

    The evolution story at least makes sense. But I don’t hear many Christians framing things that way… Not to mention many Christians who will reject science, insist a literal Adam, literal fall, etc.

    Like, you’re still not explaining why the Christian narrative makes sense as a narrative to describe this. You are just assuming that it is. But I’m saying that it doesn’t make sense as an explanation or narrative, so it is not convincing just for you to keep asserting it.

    I apologize to people on this blog if this is not the place for this discussion.

  44. This is related to how a great many Christians and religious people view sin and their need to work on shedding them:

    [audio src="https://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/working-on-your-sins.mp3" /]

    Just give it 5 min. or so and I think you may hear something different that is actually good news.

    Thanks.

  45. Is this not something that can be expressed in text/writing?

    And just the same, this is something that cannot be expressed outside of scriptures (which I have read, and have obviously not been convinced by)? Like, there is no “ELI5” here.

  46. If you can’t get your head around exactly HOW the problem came to be…just concentrate on the fact that you have this problem and that there is absolutely nothing that you can do about it.

  47. Romans 5:12

    “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned–“

  48. Why would I want to spend any time on that? Why wouldn’t I instead just go on living my life?

    Like, if I have a problem, shouldn’t it already be in my mind? If you have to convince people of the problem, then how can you begin to convince them of your narrative about the problem (including how it arises, whether it must be fixed, how it can be fixed, etc)

    You’re still assuming the narrative. But we are not even there yet.

    It just seems totally irrelevant, to be frank. I’m sorry.

  49. For me, I get the sin thing, I get that I have a sin problem–I know myself well enough to recognize that this is something that I have within me and can’t really escape.

    But tying it all back to Adam in a super literal way doesn’t really do it for me, either. Adam as a symbol, okay. Preaching the reality of sin and the need for grace, sold. But the other part just isn’t super convincing to me.

    I say this as someone who considers herself to be a Christian and is hoping to join a local Lutheran congregation here soon. However, I also acknowledge that my Mormon background could be causing some blockages here for me. 🙂

  50. Andrew, I have done quite a bit of thinking on those questions and the “ELI5″ of Christianity. I am not going to swear by my conclusions, they seem pretty tentative, but they may help you get why I changed my mind about Christianity.

    It is pretty clear that evolutionary biology is a very compelling way to describe the history of human nature, and I think biology and history show how conflicted humans are merely because they evolved as non-predators, and then became predators that can talk. There is an important connection between the development of the human species and our ability to talk ourselves out of fear and trauma and guilt. I don’t think any of this is inconsistent with the Christian message.

    I think Christianity was an earth-shaking development from monotheism, and appears to me, at least, to be the simplest way of making monotheism adaptable across cultures. The fact that Christianity can — in any way — deliver on some of its unique promises to free people from the psychological effects of “sin” is what makes it sort of astounding and worthy of attention. I think there is strong empirical evidence for its advantages as a personal religion.

    For me, it is clear that Christianity brings some people joy, changes lives, and leads to moral regeneration. The question I have is why it hasn’t worked far better than it has. I think the answer to that question is “human nature.” We, by our animal nature, are not really cut out for monotheism, even though an unconscious monotheism underlies all of our knowledge.

  51. I guess I’m not really cut out for this.

    When theoldadam asks:

    “Have you ever seen two little babies fighting over a rattle or some other toy?”

    I think, sure I have. that’s just what humans do. And I can recognize that as a piece of human nature.

    But I never think that that is something that is indicative of a “fall from grace,” or that divinity every was implicated anywhere in there, or that divinity is needed to “save us” from there. I don’t think of it in terms of a “sin problem.”

    So I’m totally lost on the whole discussion of Christianity, especially as an earth-shaking development from monotheism? What is the importance of monotheism, much less Christianity? Why should I care about either?

    Are the psychological effects of sin something that affects some people but not others? Consequently (or maybe just independently), is Christianity only advantageous for some people but not others?

    I mean, for me, I don’t see any major difference between Christians and non-Christians. I see human nature — I don’t see anything like changed lives or moral regeneration. And again, I’m interacting in communities full of people who themselves believe they are changed, saved Christians. So maybe I’m already looking at “the best Christianity can do” and not realizing that without it, things could be much worse? (But from my perspective, I don’t see it that way. i think things could be better without Christianity in politics, government, laws, social norms, etc.,)

  52. Humans were created to live in harmony with one another and rest of creation.

    We were not created to be selfish and self-serving.

    What happened in the Garden and what happens in our lives is more accurately described as a ‘rising’…rather than a ‘falling’. We wish to rise above our created status and be more like God…be little gods unto ourselves and not loving God and the neighbor as ourselves. We put ourselves first. This is why we must die.

    Jesus came to reestablish our harmony with God and the creation and to show us what an authentic human was created to be.

    And we staked him to wood and left him to die.

    That…is our sin nature. Our bondage to sin.

    We will not stop sinning because we don’t want to stop sinning. Otherwise we would.

    We don’t need tips for living…or life coaching…or a program wherein we work on shredding our sins…

    we need a Savior.

    That’s why He came.

    Off to church to be slain by God’s Word of law. And then raised again by that Word of promise in Christ Jesus.

  53. If I accept the garden narrative at all (which I’m not sure why I should), I still don’t get why anything humans did are our fault. If we were created by God, then we were created that way. We were created with the wish to rise above our created status.

    So if God made a flawed system, how is that our fault? Like, why do we believe in this convoluted path to get us back to a system that God messed up in the first place?

  54. Imagine if you’re solving a formula and you get one integer wrong in your first equation. . . the rest of your results are going to fail. It doesn’t matter how “righteous” the rest of your mathematics are, they are prone to fail because of the original sin in the formula.

    In the same way, Adam’s fall sent all of us in a direction where we need redemption, it just so happens that we compound Adam’s error with our own. In addition, the fall didn’t just mess things up for us, it ruined all of creation. Everything on the planet is now turned against the way it was intended to be. The whole system is limping along with its intended functionality still in sight but unable to perform the way it was meant to.

    Paul’s argument is that by one man, Adam, the whole thing has been set off; by another man, Jesus, it’s been made right again.

    So if God made a flawed system, how is that our fault? Like, why do we believe in this convoluted path to get us back to a system that God messed up in the first place?

    Alvin Plantiga has done a lot of recent work on whether or not God is at fault for creating a system where men have free will, and many (Christian and non) agree that he’s pretty well solved the issue. To return to the analogy, God asked us to solve the formula, but it was still Adam’s error that messed up the solution. If a school properly prepares a student for an exam and the student fails the exam due to his own negligence, is it the school’s fault just because the it presented the exam? How many students would love to absolve their own guilt with that excuse? “If no one had ever built this school there never would have been an exam for me to fail.”

    In the case of Adam, there was only one question on the exam.

  55. It seems the only way to compare God to anything like a school is to reduce God. That’s the only way that makes sense to me. So your analogy to school makes sense to me from within Mormonism. Schools do not create students. They are not all powerful or all knowing. They do not create equations. But these are the very things non LDS Christians criticize in Mormonism.

    Suppose that a school literally created the equation and the students, and is attributed to power and knowledge and perfection to do all that. How is it the student’s fault for being created any way? For failing anything?

    Again, this problem arises because you’re asserting a supposedly perfect God. I don’t know how I can stress that. The school simply is not like that.

    Maybe this is a different discussion, but how do non LDS Christians explain the existence or purpose of free will? (before we get into all of the complications of how free free will actually is, even from the Christian system, given that we have natures, were created a certain way, etc etc) because that is another thing that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Calvinism makes more sense because it drops that idea. But this also points out that Christians can’t even figure out how their own system works.

    I will put all audio files in a queue for listening at some point in the future, but do people really not get that some people are more visual/reading people than auditory people???

    Maybe I’m too dumb for Christianity if the only way you can explain it is through references to the Bible, audio files, and appeals to really smart people. Alvin Plantinga is not the person I would put as someone who could “explain like I’m 5”. I mean, it’s no skin of my nose though.

  56. Andrew I think you perfectly illustrate the problem with kindergarten answers. You’re not in kindergarten and your follow up questions reflect that. It’s an unfair burden to demand that we only provide answers that a five your old can understand and then be unsatisfied that they aren’t comprehensive enough.

    I mentioned Plantinga because I know that you’re intelligent and can read what he writes. He deals with these issues in the sophistication you hope to find.

    Incidentally, I directed you to that podcast episode not because I think it will give you a complete understanding of the Fall and sin, but because I think it will illustrate how Christians find the teaching instructive on fixing our problems and how it has explanatory powers for “why is the world the way it is?” [and my apologies for not giving you a written article, it’s what came to mind that didn’t require me to research to find another resource]

  57. Some things are just above us, and cannot be adequately explained or reasoned.

    Would anyone care to figure out how Jesus walked on water, or why the whale swallowed Jonah, and that he lived?

    Yes, there are many things that we can reason out. But there are many that do not satisfy our rational mind.

    So…”we walk by faith…and not by sight” (or reason).

  58. Andrew, are parents more loving when they tell their child to do everything an exact, certain way all the time or when they let their child have some freedom to do things their own way? Is the spouse who seeks to control every action of their husband/wife more loving than the one who gives their husband/wife space to be their own person? Does giving someone freedom necessitate loving them less?

    If God created a faulty system, its because He loves us and wants to give us freedom to choose or to choose otherwise.

    Also, bear in mind that inherent in your question is an assumption that a perfect world would look a certain way. Whose to say that the way God chose is not the perfect way?

  59. Jared, perhaps. I really don’t know your daughter, but had just read Galatians. I also have reason to believe that the Mormon culture is full of peer pressure. So, I asked the question whether she might be more concerned with her social status. I hope there was no offense in the question.

    Anyway, how we bring people to an understanding that they are sinful by their very nature is probably as varied as we all are people. I don’t know is there is a formula to provide. I think the issue is one of pride. Some here have expressed frustration that they sin because of Adam and Eve. I wonder if even this is a prideful response: being responsible only for your own sin.

    But to get people to realize their depravity is deep within them is hard. Its much easier to think of ourselves as basically good people who are prone to do bad things. Anything to suggest we are anything but basically good people is threatening.

  60. slowcowboy,

    Parents are not omniscient, all powerful beings who create their children out of whole cloth and give to them a nature out of whole cloth. So this analogy kinda fails in that any way that children might be “better” or “worse” off is dependent on how human nature is in our own universe (we happen to like having the perception of freedom and independence…But an omnipotent, omniscient God differs from humans in that he didn’t have to create us that way. We could have been created like, say, dogs, with an eagerness to please the alpha of the pack. The solution in Mormonism is that we eternal intelligences weren’t formed by God, so he’s dealing with what he gets anyway.)

    But let me say this: as a child, I did not like when my parents would give me freedom to do stuff, and then penalize me for not knowing how they wanted things done (because that freedom was a ruse — they clearly did have an expectation as to what they wanted me to do.)

    The spouse who gives their spouse freedom, but then critiques the other for not guessing their mind, or using their freedom in the way they were thinking…that’s a big problem.

    If you give me freedom (and I reiterate…human parents and human spouses don’t “give” freedom — whether people have freedom or do not have freedom is independent on whether parents and spouses tolerate/respond positively toward/accept such), let me be free. If you want me to follow a path, tell me that path. Show me why that path is valuable. Explain it like i’m 5. Don’t be cryptic and play riddles or whatever.

    I think there is a sense in which a lot of this current universe makes sense if we don’t assume there is a deity. But y’all seem to be saying that “well, actually, God made things one way [Garden of Eden], but then we fell from that perfection and broke it.” So, you can account for the brokenness, but you can’t really account for the previous perfection, or how little old us could break it — without cheapening God. That’s the part that doesn’t make sense to me.

    Also, bear in mind that inherent in your question is an assumption that a perfect world would look a certain way. Whose to say that the way God chose is not the perfect way?

    It just doesn’t inspire confidence or belief in such a god. I like to say that I don’t believe in god out of respect for him — I wouldn’t want to attribute shoddy craftsmanship to such a being.

    I mean, i guess this is what your scriptures say…”For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” God’s ways are not man’s ways…etc.,

    But I mean, why would I follow a God when what he considers “perfection,” “good,” “love,” etc., could be completely unrecognizable as such to me? I mean, if I’m just supposed to assume that anything God does is perfect — no matter how imperfect it seems to me. If I’m just supposed to assume that anything God commands is good — no matter how vile it seems to me. Then what is the point of making me specifically to be rebellious? Why are you setting me up to fail and then saying, “But now that I have set you up, here is Jesus”? How is that loving? How would a parent do that? How would a spouse do that?

  61. Well, Andrew, any analogy is not going to be perfect. The parent analogy is merely used to show that God loves as a parent loves and is not going to force us into various things. It was to answer your question on why God would mess things up by allowing Adam to eat the fruit.

    You bring up additional questions that show that I think you are really in a no-win situation now, as it pertains to your belief in God. Fair enough. You want to put God into your terms, not accept God for God. No matter what I say, you’ll find an excuse to dismiss it. For example, I could make any number of analogies concerning God’s perfect world for Adam and Eve in the Garden before they partook and none will convince you.

    Any system where freedom is given to a group will fall apart, especially one wherein there is a dissenting voice. Ask yourself this, what would you have done to improve upon creation?

    I’ll end with this. You said this: “But an omnipotent, omniscient God differs from humans in that he didn’t have to create us that way. We could have been created like, say, dogs, with an eagerness to please the alpha of the pack.” I guess I see us as precisely like dogs, with an eagerness to please the alpha of the pack. We are far too eager to please our fellow men than we are to please God. Perhaps you mean to suggest we should be eager to please God as leader of the pack. Perhaps, but again, what sort of world would that be and what would you do differently? If we were dogs, who would you be now?

  62. If you want me to follow a path, tell me that path. Show me why that path is valuable. Explain it like i’m 5. Don’t be cryptic and play riddles or whatever.

    There was only one commandment. “Don’t eat from that tree.”

  63. slowcowboy,

    For god to love as a parent loves, he would have to be considerably different than how god is typically portrayed. The love of human parents only makes sense because they are human. It works in Mormonism because God is considered akin to an exalted human. It does NOT work when non-LDS christians are trying to tell me that I am a CREATURE that might be adopted into sonship, rather than an actual child of God. You want the intimacy of family without the constraints that that familiarity brings.

    If my parent had created me from literal scratch with a conscious decision to imbue in me a propensity to mess us so that he could save me through some convoluted rube goldberg atonement machine, that would not make sense to me. The difference between human parents and God is that human parents have neither the power, nor desire to do that.

    You bring up additional questions that show that I think you are really in a no-win situation now, as it pertains to your belief in God. Fair enough. You want to put God into your terms, not accept God for God. No matter what I say, you’ll find an excuse to dismiss it. For example, I could make any number of analogies concerning God’s perfect world for Adam and Eve in the Garden before they partook and none will convince you.

    I just want you or anyone to say something that is believable to me. If this all is so believable to you, then why is that so difficult? I grant that we are different people and maybe that alone makes all the difference. Maybe it’s something like high level math — I certainly don’t understand that, but I recognize that mathematicians probably aren’t just making it up as they go (at least, most days I am not a mathematical constructivist…) Maybe it’s like that. But that doesn’t help me believe — that just puts me in a space where I say, “I don’t believe, but I recognize that y’all do and good for you.”

    I mean, it seems like you’re writing as if you think that I actually get it, but I am fabricating things to say to pretend that I don’t get it. I don’t know how to convince you that that isn’t the case (but really, I don’t feel any pressure or obligation to convince you of it, because it’s really no skin off my nose). I cannot simply choose for things that don’t make sense to me to make sense to me. I could choose to LIE, but I would have to live with that lie, not you. That’s not worth it to me. Lying and pretending to believe that I think God exists is not worth it to me, when I know I don’t actually believe it.

    You can make any number of analogies concerning God’s perfect world for Adam and Eve in the Garden, but the problem that the entire Adam and Eve set up is not believable to me. If you don’t have any way to convince me of that, that is not my fault. Blame yourself, or God. (I mean, really, I stress again, if God knows so much, couldn’t he put things in any form that would make sense to me? I mean, I accept that a lot of times when God does that, he strikes people down or whatever. Sure, whatever. He’s the boss, right?)

    Any system where freedom is given to a group will fall apart, especially one wherein there is a dissenting voice. Ask yourself this, what would you have done to improve upon creation?

    I am not saying that I am a perfect person or that I can speak for what perfect beings would do. But from my imperfect view, I don’t see why, if I were perfect, I would create junk (when I had every other possibility to create on my hands), then blame that junk for being junk, and then create an elaborate self-sacrificial scheme to save that junk that depends on junk recognizing the entire convoluted narrative (which I have programmed that junk to be resistant to doing.)

    Again, maybe 1) that is what I would do if I were actually perfect or 2) that is not the right way to summarize it. But if either is the case, someone should be able to explain what’s actually going on, why that is actually the case from an omniscient, omnipotent being, etc. (vs. say, Mormonism’s god.)

    Maybe the bigger question is…if God is perfect, why would he want to create a universe or humans at all? Is he getting anything out of this? I don’t know, if I were a perfect being, if I would create a universe at all. The entire setup implies there’s something he doesn’t know that he’s finding out on his own. It works for Mormonism. It just doesn’t make sense to me in traditional Christianity.

    I guess I see us as precisely like dogs, with an eagerness to please the alpha of the pack. We are far too eager to please our fellow men than we are to please God. Perhaps you mean to suggest we should be eager to please God as leader of the pack. Perhaps, but again, what sort of world would that be and what would you do differently? If we were dogs, who would you be now?

    I am intrigued by your development of my own analogy…especially since it also gets at the species difference in traditional Christianity. I wonder: would a human who bred and trained dogs (which again, this is not enough to describe God. God doesn’t just breed and train through trial and error. He created ex nihilo, supposedly) struggle to claim dominance over other dogs? Because most of the time when humans owners aren’t treated as the pack leader, it’s because of the deficiency in the human owner, not in the dog. That says something about God.

    But when there is not a deficiency in the human owner, and the owner is recognized as leader of the pack (I was using that synonymously with alpha…but I think splitting the two terms is helpful), then dogs will serve the owner at beck and call, will seek to please the owner, etc., etc.,

    If we were dogs, I would seek to please God. That would be what I found good and right. It would make sense — it would be natural and instinctual. It would not be *confusing*. It would not seem sometimes abhorrent.

    I would still assert that there are problems in this analogy that perfection would break…and not in God’s favor.

  64. Tim,

    How was it possible for Adam and Eve to eat from the tree, then?

    How was it possible for them to listen to the snake?

    Did they not know any better? (If so, what blame is to them?) Did they want to eat it? (If so, how did that desire get there?) Did they not have any ability to reject any command (so they couldn’t reject the serpent/distinguish between the snake and God?)

    Why was there a tree? What was God’s point with that?

    Did God plan for them to eat from the tree? Did he know it was going to happen? What was the point of doing that? What was HIS point? Was he wanting to see if they would or wouldn’t? But didn’t he already know?

  65. Andrew, as I said, you’ve made up your mind. You miss that we are created by God, separated to Him through sin. He loves every single one of us. Though a lot of his children will turn away from him, that does not mean he does not love you any more or less.

    Now, its interesting that you blame everyone in the equation of your belief but yourself. Its my fault, Christianity’s fault, God’s fault, but not your own. Maybe, just maybe, you have your answer right there. Its actually quite plausible as you’ve made no secret that you object to the idea of being condemned through another’s acts and don’t think you are a bad person. You’ve told us you fail to see a need for a savior or salvation at all.

    If that’s how you feel, fine. I mean that quite sincerely and honestly, and not dismissively. If you feel a certain way about religion, more power to you. All I can do, though, is present what I find so simple and straight forward. Its not my burden to convince you, only to present you the information. I am happy to do so, and to continue doing so. But I cannot get inside your head and turn something on or off. Pretending that I can is simply unrealistic. You know that as well as I do.

  66. Since my beliefs are not consciously chosen and cannot be consciously chosen, I cannot simply will, “OK, I believe this.” What I can do is I can choose whether or not to lie or whether to be honest. In this, I choose honesty. Do you disagree with me so far? (I mean, I am aware a lot of people do perceive beliefs as being consciously chosen…) If you think it is possible for someone to consciously choose what they believe, please tell me how you can turn that on and off like a switch. Describe what that is like. What do you do for that?

    i don’t see things that way. But one other thing I can choose to do is that that I can also choose to engage in contexts where I will hear people discuss about things that I don’t believe in to see if something will stick or choose to engage in contexts where people will just say the stuff that already makes sense to me/that I already agree with. So here I am.

    This doesn’t mean that I’m not going to ask critical questions. (Although again, if this is not the place or the time or I am stepping over any sort of line, then let me know or Tim, let me know, and I will be so far out of here!) I ask critical questions because I want to make sure things make sense to me, and I want to see your thought process for making sense.

    I don’t really object to the idea of being condemned either for my acts or for someone else’s acts (I mean, really, if God is all-powerful, what am I going to do? He doesn’t have to account to me!…but if so, I’m not really going to be able to square that with the idea that he “loves” me). But it is true that I don’t feel condemned. I don’t feel like I need a savior or need salvation. I totally recognize that I could be reprobate, created like this as a vessel of wrath. (In that sense, that Calvinist answer does really make sense — I don’t get it, because I’m designed not to get it!) Would i be happy with that? Not really. But hey, that’s also accounted for. But even then, I don’t really think that’s been shown to be the case. But at least that seems to better explain my personal experience than other things.

    I totally recognize that if God is who y’all say he is, he can do whatever things that I find utterly tyrannical yet call it love. He would be the boss, after all. So he can condemn me and call it my fault and I wouldn’t really be in much power to do anything about that. I’m OK with that. I don’t really see why I would kow-tow just because of that possibility.

    But I keep coming to places like this because I ask myself, “you know, what is making 2 billion + people think this anything worthwhile in this?” Because I would rather understand it than concede that 2 billion+ people are just completely incomprehensible.

    I am aware that you cannot get into my head and turn something off or on. But the frustrating thing is that supposedly, God is just the kind of being who could. Yet he doesn’t.

  67. Andrew, you don’t have to convince me of your unbelief, or even the reasons for it. What’s clear to me is that you have made up your mind. I am happy to answer questions, but now I am not sure there is a question to answer at present. I will even tell you that I don’t know if I don’t know an answer. I’m not going to pretend that I know it all. I don’t. Not even close.

    So, why do I believe? Because it makes more sense for me to believe when I look at all of the world than it does for me not to believe. To me, the very fact that you grapple with the existence of a god is evidence that a god exists. About the only explanation I could ever come up with through an evolutionary theory is that a belief in a god helps us explain the world around us in terms we understand. Maybe, but I take that we put value on things that really have no value as evidence of something more going on inside of each of us.

    You are free to agree or disagree, but while I have always believed, I think about life without belief and I come back to that idea: there’s something inside of each of us beyond what would logically be there from any other source.

  68. Can there be a difference between grappling with the existence of god and grappling with the existence of people who (from your own perspective) inexplicably believe in god?

    because I see a big difference there. I mean, I grapple with people who believe in essential oils, reiki, etc., etc., Does that mean all of those things exist and work?

  69. “Think of it as if justification restores our original nature as planned by God and overcomes the original sin of Adam.”

    I haven’t read all the comments so forgive me if I’m covering ground already covered.

    I don’t agree that justification restores our unfallen nature. If it did then we might never sin again. What justification does (in Catholic teaching anyway) is remove the *guilt* of Adam’s sin in us and translate us into the state of grace and of adoption as sons of God.

    I disagree that justification “justifies our sin” or that sin is “part of our nature”. True human nature is that of Adam before the fall. Since the fall we have been in a state of fallen human nature – the word “fallen” indicating that it’s not our true nature, just as describing a tree as fallen indicates that its true nature is to stand.

    “[W]e are born children of Adam, lacking the righteousness we need to unite us to God and allow us to enter his presence. Furthermore, because of our sinful inclinations, our concupiscence, we end up committing actual, personal sins, ones which incur God’s wrath and punishment. So because of original sin we not only lack the unity with God we would have if we were righteous, we also commit personal sins which actively incur God’s anger and punishment.

    “We are therefore in quite a fix. We need some way out of this situation. We need someone to save us from our otherwise hopeless faith. And, praise God, there is someone to save us: Jesus Christ, who paid the price for our sins by his death on the Cross, and who is able to restore us to the righteousness which restores our unity with God and which will allow us to go and be with God at the end of our lives. Justification is what that process of restoring righteousness is all about.”

    [ http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/JUSTIF.HTM ]

  70. Agellius, by and large I agree with you. My comment was in no way a complete or even adequate description of my view of justification. I absolutely agree that our sin is not justified, and never can be. When we are justified, we are made clean before God, so that our sins are not counted against us. When God views us after we are justified, he sees a clean “us” and we are counted as righteous. It is in that sense that we are restored and in that sense that Adam’s sin is overcome.

    To an extent, the argument over true human nature among Christians is one of semantics and points of emphasis. I do believe it is an important discussion, but what’s clear is that due to Adam, our inescapable tendency is to rebel against God, or to sin. Is that part of our deepest nature, or a deep condition that we can’t change? What, really, is the difference as to its applicability to our need for a savior?

  71. Cowboy:

    Part of my comment was directed at Jared’s question, “If sin is part of us, if we are justified, so is our sin. No?” I realize you never made any such statement.

    You write, ” Is that part of our deepest nature, or a deep condition that we can’t change? What, really, is the difference as to its applicability to our need for a savior?”

    If sin is part of our nature, that implies that God put it in us since God created our nature, i.e. he made us what we are. But God can’t create anything bad, therefore our nature must be good, albeit corrupted due to Adam’s sin.

  72. yeah, not saying it would have an impact on why you believe, but i guess that’s one of the things that get me about theists. My wondering why y’all believe doesn’t mean that I secretly believe in god, or that I’m grappling with belief in god.

  73. Good points Agellius. I think this is a good outlook. The question surrounds whether Adam’s sin was so great that it becomes a part of who we are. Is that our nature? I dunno that one. I don’t think it makes any difference, though, so I am not going to take a strong position on it. Either way, we need Christ.
    —-
    Andrew, from your point of view, I am sure your question about us annoys you very much, though it has little relevance to me and what makes me tick. Oh well.

  74. Why was there a tree? What was God’s point with that?

    Because to actually obey/trust/love requires a real option to do the opposite. The tree was a mechanism and an opportunity to disobey/distrust/reject.

    Maybe the bigger question is…if God is perfect, why would he want to create a universe or humans at all? Is he getting anything out of this?

    Because the creative act is beautiful and an expression of the love shared within the Trinity. The same is true of parents who choose to create a baby.

    I mean, it seems like you’re writing as if you think that I actually get it, but I am fabricating things to say to pretend that I don’t get it. I don’t know how to convince you that that isn’t the case (but really, I don’t feel any pressure or obligation to convince you of it, because it’s really no skin off my nose). I cannot simply choose for things that don’t make sense to me to make sense to me. I could choose to LIE, but I would have to live with that lie, not you. That’s not worth it to me. Lying and pretending to believe that I think God exists is not worth it to me, when I know I don’t actually believe it.

    I don’t think anyone is asking you to lie and say that you believe something you don’t believe. I also think you’re sincere in your disbelief.

    Since my beliefs are not consciously chosen and cannot be consciously chosen, I cannot simply will, “OK, I believe this.” What I can do is I can choose whether or not to lie or whether to be honest. In this, I choose honesty. Do you disagree with me so far? (I mean, I am aware a lot of people do perceive beliefs as being consciously chosen…) If you think it is possible for someone to consciously choose what they believe, please tell me how you can turn that on and off like a switch. Describe what that is like. What do you do for that?

    I can see how “belief” is an unconscious choice. I think faith and trust are completely within your power though. If you look at a bridge and think the evidence is sufficient to safely cross it you still have to make the choice to step out onto the bridge. That’s a display of faith in the bridge.

    Belief is something different. Christians believe that demons believe that God exists and that Jesus is the Son of God, but they don’t have faith or trust in God.

    Some people traverse their unbelief by displaying faith. They try it on and see how it fits and discover their belief (something akin to trying a new food). Others gather whatever evidence they need and discover it’s sufficient for belief and faith.

    I’m guessing you believe that vaccines work. How did you come to believe that? I don’t think belief in an all powerful Creator is necessarily all that different than a belief in any other thing.

    Jared will probably speak to this more but he agreed that it didn’t make sense to him, and then something clicked and suddenly it did and he couldn’t believe it was always right there in front of him without him seeing it.

    I can’t give you that thing that makes it click. There are many reasons why it remains hidden for many people. I bristle about Moroni’s Challenge being the sure fire way to “know” something. But there is a beautiful simplicity in it that I appreciate; “If you want it, try asking for it.”

    I don’t know if any of that is helpful to you but I think it’s a worthwhile conversation and I appreciate it you trying to figure it out. There are many things that people believe that don’t make sense to me. Usually it’s a worldview issue about “what is true?” or “what is valuable?” that allows me to make sense of it.

  75. Andrew writes, “Since my beliefs are not consciously chosen and cannot be consciously chosen, I cannot simply will, “OK, I believe this.” What I can do is I can choose whether or not to lie or whether to be honest. In this, I choose honesty. Do you disagree with me so far? (I mean, I am aware a lot of people do perceive beliefs as being consciously chosen…) If you think it is possible for someone to consciously choose what they believe, please tell me how you can turn that on and off like a switch. Describe what that is like. What do you do for that?”

    Andrew:

    People consciously choose to believe things all the time. I consciously choose to believe that my wife is faithful and trustworthy. I can’t prove it, and I’m not forced to believe it by indisputable evidence. I choose to believe it, partly based on evidence (she’s never cheated on me before – or maybe I’ve just never caught her?); partly because she’s honest (as far as I know); and largely based on intuition – my gut tells me that she’s a really, really good person and really loves me (whatever “good” is).

    You may say that it’s not really a choice unless I can choose to believe otherwise. Can I choose to believe that she is NOT faithful? I can claim to, but can I really believe it, merely by choosing to do so?

    Well, no, not under existing circumstances. I admit that my choice to believe in her is based largely on evidence; I just deny that basing it on evidence makes it no longer a choice.

    But what if I discovered contrary evidence? Suppose I came home early from work and found her sitting at the dining room table with another man? Or suppose I found emails from a guy, or heard voicemails on our answering machine? Could I not choose either to be suspicious and jealous, and get all anxious about it, until such time as she can prove that the messages are innocent; or else choose not to let it bother me in the slightest based on her track record?

    Or suppose her track record was bad, but she claimed to have turned over a new leaf. Even if she had been faithless in the past, can I not choose to believe that from now one she will be faithful, based on her promise to change?

    The thing about believing in God is that there is evidence both pro and con. You can choose to believe in a God or choose not to, depending on which evidence and arguments you accept. Your belief is not compelled either way, by evidence or otherwise. There is no strict mathematical or logical proof leaving no room for doubt. You can choose to believe, to disbelieve, or to suspend judgment. Your choice apparently is the latter, but others have chosen one of the first two options, have they not?

    I know that my conversion process involved choices on at least two occasions. One was the choice to believe in God as the all-powerful creator of the universe to whom obedience was owed. I struggled with that choice for a long time before I finally made it. In a sense you could say that I was forced to that conclusion, since nothing else made sense to me. Nevertheless I recall the moment of the decision, and there was very clearly an act of the will that took place in me. It was a surrender and a decision not to fight it any longer.

  76. Thanks for the response Tim.

    But what is it about Adam and Eve before fall that still gave them the option to trust or not trust, obey or not obey, etc., yet not be broken/fallen…yet now, after their fall, their descendants (us) are in such a worse off state? And does the difference in states between Adam/Eve and the rest of us change the calculus for any of our behaviors?

    Because the creative act is beautiful and an expression of the love shared within the Trinity. The same is true of parents who choose to create a baby.

    I’ll have to chew on this.

    I think faith and trust are completely within your power though. If you look at a bridge and think the evidence is sufficient to safely cross it you still have to make the choice to step out onto the bridge. That’s a display of faith in the bridge.

    did you mean to say insufficient here? Or..?

    I think that in this situation, if I thought that the evidence was insufficient to safely cross it, then yes, I still have to make a choice to step on to that bridge, but I can’t choose the sort of emotional or psychological response I’ll have (e.g., terror, fright, nausea, etc., etc.,) The question is whether I would find it personally compelling to subject myself to those things. The same reason I don’t lie (I have to live with the psychological and emotional response) would be reason for why I wouldn’t step out onto the bridge. So, that’s why it feel like asking me to lie as well — even if you externalize it to “trust” or “faith” (as actions) — it seems like, I know that I don’t actually trust this bridge because I am terrified even as I walk it. Or do you think that faith involves a sense of internal dread or terror that the object of your faith actually isn’t what is it cracked up to be at all?

    I’m guessing you believe that vaccines work. How did you come to believe that? I don’t think belief in an all powerful Creator is necessarily all that different than a belief in any other thing.

    Vaccines are considerably more tangible than creators…but I don’t want to give the impression that everything drills down to an objective/empirical sort of framework, because I don’t feel that way. More simply, it would be a more subjective answer: vaccines don’t fill me with dread. In some case, I don’t know how that came to be? Maybe some explanation someone gave me (regardless of how accurate or not) reassured me? Maybe it’s just something I’ve never considered deeply. But I recognize that I could totally have been an anti-vaxxer in some other life. Maybe I’ll become an antivaxxer after reading some article here or there. I recognize at some level that my beliefs, feelings, thoughts, etc., could be unjustified, but I feel what’s more important is that *they are still my own*. I have to live with them.

    I get that for people who have spiritual experiences that the belief in an all powerful Creator would make sense for them. But I can’t really say I perceive myself as having such experiences.

    I am definitely intrigued by Jared C’s story as I’ve already alluded to…that suddenness of things. At the same time, yes, it seems that what makes things “click” is different for each person. There is no one sure thing…

    re: Moroni’s challenge…this gets into the talk about lying for me. It’s not as if I haven’t tried it. It’s that I’ve tried it and it feels fraudulent. To me, leaving Mormonism was about not feeling fraudulent, like a pretender. But I’m circling back/checking out other denominations/religions on the way because I think, “But I still never got what made it work for believers..?” But I guess it’s not the same thing for everyone, and it’s not something that can be given to someone else.

  77. Agellius,

    See, when you ask about contrary evidence, that’s when my thoughts go like this: you could not choose whether you would be suspicious or not. You either would or you would not, but it wouldn’t be a conscious choice. You could choose (per my understanding) to act on that suspicion (or lack thereof), but the feeling, the thought, the sentiment would nag at the back of your mind. You would know you were living a lie if you went against your suspicion. I think a lot of folks live in unhappiness because of their suspicions. But that doesn’t mean they could just “will” to be happy and unsuspicious.

    At least, that’s how I feel. Again, maybe I’m just different on this point.

    I mean, i get that with evidence, people will go one way. I get that with contrary evidence, people *may* go the other way. (Not always, but sometimes.) But I don’t get that the going one way or another is a choice. If evidence is compelling to me, it’s not because I chose for it to be compelling. If evidence is not compelling to me, it’s not because I chose for it not to be compelling. So, I really don’t see how faithfulness and trustworthiness are choices. I get that there’s ambiguity and leeway and etc., etc., but how you feel about it is just the way you feel. I get that you can act in accordance with your feelings or not, but that to me is different than saying you’ve changed those feelings.

    You talk about your gut telling you something. But did you choose what your gut told you? If that is what you’re basing your decision on, isn’t it important whether you chose that? I don’t think I can choose what my gut is telling me. I think I can choose to follow my gut or go against it, but I always have to just “live with” my gut. And if I go against it, the practical consequence is I’m not going to be having a good time.

    The thing about believing in God is that there is evidence both pro and con. You can choose to believe in a God or choose not to, depending on which evidence and arguments you accept.

    But I don’t see “accepting” evidence and arguments as a choice. I can recognize that there’s evidence and arguments pros and cons. But I can’t just say that I find all evidence and arguments equally compelling. As a result, I can’t say that both sides are equally compelling to me. Maybe some people are at that state, but I don’t think even those people choose to be in such a state. I think that some of those people would love to choose to be more in one camp or another…but it’s not about choice.

    There is no strict mathematical or logical proof leaving no room for doubt. You can choose to believe, to disbelieve, or to suspend judgment. Your choice apparently is the latter, but others have chosen one of the first two options, have they not?

    I think this misses how I see the issue. I’m not saying that it’s a slam-shut case. I’m not saying that it’s about mathematical or logical proofs. I’m saying it’s about phenomenology. It’s about subjectivity. I don’t perceive that I can choose to believe. I perceive that I can choose to *lie*, but I will know it — and I don’t prefer to live with those consequences. I recognize that other people do believe and disbelieve, but I don’t think they choose that either. I mean, I just don’t see it. When slowcowboy writes, I don’t think, “This is a person who is similarly situated to me who just chose a different path.” I think “This is someone who clearly has had different experiences and perceptions that compel him to believe differently.”

    I do believe that what I can choose to do is subject myself to particular material over others. I can choose to keep reading sources that don’t make sense on the off-chance that something will stick, that something will seep through. But this process feels more like gambling to me — if someone wins at gambling, can we really say they chose to do that just because they did choose to spend the time/money placing as many bets as it took?

    I know that my conversion process involved choices on at least two occasions. One was the choice to believe in God as the all-powerful creator of the universe to whom obedience was owed. I struggled with that choice for a long time before I finally made it. In a sense you could say that I was forced to that conclusion, since nothing else made sense to me. Nevertheless I recall the moment of the decision, and there was very clearly an act of the will that took place in me. It was a surrender and a decision not to fight it any longer.

    Did you feel that this was a lie, that this was a lie you were telling yourself? Was your struggle over the prospect and damage of lying to yourself every day? Was the act of surrender an act to just go ahead and lie to yourself? Did that act of surrender turn that lie into a truth?

    I mean, maybe the answer is that I would have to lie to myself for xxx amount of time before I ‘got it’. But I suspect that’s not the case, because I haven’t heard *anyone* describe their conversion story quite like that.

  78. did you mean to say insufficient here? Or..?

    I think that in this situation, if I thought that the evidence was insufficient to safely cross it, then yes, I still have to make a choice to step on to that bridge, but I can’t choose the sort of emotional or psychological response I’ll have (e.g., terror, fright, nausea, etc., etc.,) The question is whether I would find it personally compelling to subject myself to those things.

    No I meant “sufficient.” I’m not asking you to walk out on a bridge that looks scary or you have doubts about. I’m talking about the kind of freeway overpass you went over many times on your way to work today. Go re-read what I said because I think you’ll see it in a different way. You exhibit faith everyday with all kinds of things that you don’t have any concern or fear about. That’s what faith in God can be like too.

  79. At this point, my conversion to my current position did not involve choice, except to believe in God in the most simple sense of there being a single mystery that is the source of all things. Not really much more than deciding to talk about things in terms of God.

    My conversion to belief in Christ came as the conclusion of an argument that I found inescapable. Of course, for most who call themselves Christians, my conversion is not “complete” and I probably don’t have orthodox views of Christ. Perhaps I am still counting the costs of traditional Christianity.

  80. Tim,

    Rereading it with that in mind does make it come out much differently. I guess I was caught up by a later line: “Some people traverse their unbelief by displaying faith.”

    So, are you saying that people can display faith when they believe evidence is sufficient and also when they have unbelief? That that action (going out on the bridge) doesn’t depend/relate to whether one believes the bridge to be sufficiently sturdy or not — it’s just the action of going out on the bridge?

    This form of faith doesn’t seem like quite the same thing, but maybe I have had an inflated view of religious faith to begin with…In any case, God still seems pretty different than a bridge, whether it be one that I find to be scary or one that I find to be totally normal/that I cross every day.

    Like, more often, I’m going to be driving over that bridge in a car. So, maybe I could say I have faith in my car. But do I? I mean, I recognize that my car has to be taken care of, has to be repaired, has to be maintained. There are tangible things to do for this. Maybe I trust a mechanic instead of maintaining it myself, but still, these are all tangible things. If my car breaks down, then my trust in it will decrease. i’ll be more suspicious of whether it might break down at any other time, or whether it might just decide never to start up again.

    So it doesn’t seem like God is part of the same sort of things. Or is he? Is that what you’re trying to convey?

  81. Andrew, I see it more with your recent posts tonight: you like the control, or so it seems. If so, that’s OK. Really, it is, but understand what the issue is and don’t put it off on something else.

  82. slowcowboy,

    I definitely don’t know how you’re drawing those conclusions, but if it makes you feel better about yourself, keep on keeping on.

    I would phrase things more like, “I like being honest to myself.” If that means control to you, then go ahead and put it like that. If believing in God or having faith in God register to you more as “losing control” rather than “being dishonest with yourself,” then good for you. To me, it registers in terms of matters of integrity or lack of integrity.

  83. Well, Andrew, when you post the following, forgive the conclusion:

    “I recognize at some level that my beliefs, feelings, thoughts, etc., could be unjustified, but I feel what’s more important is that *they are still my own*. I have to live with them.”

    Forgive me for making that conclusion. Its pretty straightforward, though. What’s most important is that you retain your emotions, etc..

    Again, no problem necessarily. I just want to point out that it seems you in fact want to retain control over everything rather than submit to something else. You can cloud it all in rhetoric of honesty, etc, but what, precisely, are you being honest about?

  84. slowcowboy,

    That line is right in the middle of an ongoing discussion in which I discuss how I do not perceive my beliefs, thoughts, feelings, etc., to be consciously chosen. So if I am in “control,” then the way I’ve been talking about it is a very funny way to frame it. For example:

    I cannot simply choose for things that don’t make sense to me to make sense to me.

    That doesn’t seem like someone who was in control would say, but maybe that’s how you interpret things.

    Since my beliefs are not consciously chosen and cannot be consciously chosen, I cannot simply will, “OK, I believe this.”

    This doesn’t sound like someone who perceives himself as in control of his beliefs.

    I’m not saying that it’s about mathematical or logical proofs. I’m saying it’s about phenomenology. It’s about subjectivity. I don’t perceive that I can choose to believe. I perceive that I can choose to *lie*, but I will know it — and I don’t prefer to live with those consequences. I recognize that other people do believe and disbelieve, but I don’t think they choose that either. I mean, I just don’t see it.

    This doesn’t sound like someone who is in control of his perceptions, or subjectivity, or phenomenal experience.

    I can’t choose the sort of emotional or psychological response I’ll have (e.g., terror, fright, nausea, etc., etc.,) The question is whether I would find it personally compelling to subject myself to those things. The same reason I don’t lie (I have to live with the psychological and emotional response) would be reason for why I wouldn’t step out onto the bridge. So, that’s why it feel like asking me to lie as well — even if you externalize it to “trust” or “faith” (as actions) — it seems like, I know that I don’t actually trust this bridge because I am terrified even as I walk it. Or do you think that faith involves a sense of internal dread or terror that the object of your faith actually isn’t what is it cracked up to be at all?

    This doesn’t sound like someone who is in control of emotional and psychological responses…

    I could go on. You say I think I’m in control, but in other messages, you say I don’t think I’m in control. What I am saying in all of these is that I have certain emotional, psychological, phenomenological experiences. I don’t choose those; I am not “in control” of what responses I have to particular actions I take.

    But these responses are signal and feedback. My lack of belief in a concept is not a choice. It is a response; it is a signal; it is feedback to claims I’ve heard and evidence that people have presented to me. I cannot consciously choose to change the signal or change the response. What I can do is choose to act in accordance with the response, the signal or not.

    But if I don’t act in accordance to the response, that doesn’t mean the response goes away. No, it stays there.

    For an analogy, if I touch my hand to a burning iron, I cannot choose not to feel pain. I can choose to act in response to that sensation, in response to my brain saying: “Youch! Hands off!” by removing my hand. Or I can force myself to tighten my grip. but if I tighten my grip, that isn’t going to make the pain go away. That’s not going to make the agony, the internal screaming to take the hand off, to stop.

    You ask me to hold on to a burning iron, to hold on tightly, but also to say that it is good and that it is worthwhile and valuable. But I from my experience that for me, it’s not good, it’s not worthwhile, it’s not valuable. I can choose to hold the burning iron, and I can choose to lie about what I’m experience, but I can’t consciously choose to make what seems to me to be a really bad idea into a good idea.

    The thing about beliefs, thoughts, and emotions, is that they are each internal to an individual. I have to live with my brain saying, “Hands off, hands off!” because my brain sends the signals to me and no one else. But you don’t have to live with *my* brain telling *me* that. You instead live with whatever your brain tells you. So if you hold on to the hot iron and say, “This is so pleasurable,” I grant that maybe you feel that way (somehow), but you can’t connect me to that feeling. That is what I mean when I say, “I have to live with my emotions.” That is what I mean about honesty. It’s about honesty to self, to my own experience and my own emotions.

    What I have asked at several places — to see perhaps if our messages are able to be synthesized together — is whether “losing control” for you is about lying about your own emotional state, psychological state, etc., Is losing control really just about grabbing on to the hot iron, being burnt, being in pain, but saying anyway that it feels good to you?

    If so, then maybe that’s the point. And if so, then you’re right. I am not willing to lie and pretend because of the emotional disaster it has been. I lived that life in the LDS church. So I’m going to need something a little more to try that again. If that’s what you mean by being in control, then we see similarly…but I doubt that’s what you mean, and here’s why: I don’t ever see anyone describe their faith in terms like this. They say they feel loved by Jesus. They say they feel God’s love. They say they feel God communicates with them. They never say, “Hey, you know what, when I say I feel loved by Jesus, I actually have never felt that way. I just say that because that’s the sort of thing Christians are supposed to say, and I am faking it till I maybe make it.” They never say, “You know, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the first thing about God’s love. I have never interacted with it. But saying that I feel it is the sort of action that Christians are supposed to take out of trust and faith.”

  85. Andrew,

    Now your position is starting to become more clear, and yes, I still maintain it is about control. Its about not getting hurt again. You seem to base your ‘honesty’ off a past experience with religion. The analogy of the iron perfectly demonstrates this.

    Its interesting in that the only answer that you seem to accept as right is if I were to say that I have been lying to myself. Isn’t this a bit arrogant in that the only right answer is the one you’ve conceived of in your life? Is it not possible that there is another answer? To you, apparently, there isn’t.

    That you cannot see the alternatives shows a mind closed. Your closed mind seems to be based off past experiences and shows its a reluctance to get burned again. Its a lack of trust, and that is a choice.

    Sorry, but I am not buying the honesty line. I am sure you think that’s exactly what it is, but I don’t think its about honesty. See, I honestly CAN say that I have experienced God’s love. I can also say that my God is nothing like burning a hot iron. I am not lying to repeat these things loud and clear.

    I don’t know what your experience with faith is. All I know is that you were raised LDS but have dropped it. But don’t assume all religion and all people see religion the way you did. If you continue to say that we Christians are lying to ourselves, you make that accusation with no evidence to support it. You make assumptions that are dangerous and reflect, I think, your own experiences rather than truth.

    See, there is more to life than what we see right in front of us. Its always a mistake to make sweeping generalizations about our own experiences. You miss quite a bit of life that way.

    Now, I’ll end by saying my point in bringing it up to you is only how that is how I see your position. I prefer to call a spade a spade and not play games. That’s how I see where you are, even after your last post. By no means do you have to see it the same, but I encourage you to consider the possibility that what I write is true.

  86. FWIW, I think it’s a risky business to play pop psychologist with people you only know online in order to get to the reason they don’t see things the way you do. Even if you’re right, it won’t be received as anything but poisoning the well.

    So, are you saying that people can display faith when they believe evidence is sufficient and also when they have unbelief? That that action (going out on the bridge) doesn’t depend/relate to whether one believes the bridge to be sufficiently sturdy or not — it’s just the action of going out on the bridge?
    Yep, that’s what I’m saying. Taking the step out onto the bridge is “faith” and it doesn’t matter if you earned a degree in civil engineering beforehand or you’re blindfolded and going at the recommendation of a friend.

    I mean, I recognize that my car has to be taken care of, has to be repaired, has to be maintained. There are tangible things to do for this. Maybe I trust a mechanic instead of maintaining it myself, but still, these are all tangible things. If my car breaks down, then my trust in it will decrease.

    I think “faith” requires maintenance but I don’t think God does. But there are some parallels. If you buy a Honda and it falls apart you’re going to naturally distrust all vehicles made by Honda until you’re convinced otherwise. If your experience with your first Honda is truly terrible you may never try one again.

  87. Tim, I don’t disagree, yet I just did it. Its tough to judge things through an online forum. However, I have to be honest, as I think Andrew would like, and tell him what I think. He’s posited that he can’t make any choices and that he’s just reacting. He’s said that he would be lying if he accepted a god. Fair enough, but then he also tells us that he’s been burned before and is not willing to get burned again. Sounds precisely like a choice to me.

    He’s also asked the question of whether I agree that he has no choice. I don’t, and explained why.

    I fully understand the problems with doing this online. I get it. But all we can work with is what is in front of us. And if there is something I hope that comes of my directly asserting my observations here is that perhaps he may see his position a bit differently.

    And by the way, I don’t discount his struggles or his hesitancy to accept religion. And this is one of the big problems of online discussions: its hard to convey emotion or empathy in one’s tone.

  88. slowcowboy,

    Its interesting in that the only answer that you seem to accept as right is if I were to say that I have been lying to myself.

    Nope. If you read my comment to Agellius, you will see that I also said:

    When slowcowboy writes, I don’t think, “This is a person who is similarly situated to me who just chose a different path.” I think “This is someone who clearly has had different experiences and perceptions that compel him to believe differently.”

    In other words, I think that we are NOT similarly situated. That you have had whatever different experiences, or have a relevantly different personality, way of looking at things, etc., where to you, this makes sense. This is why I keep on saying things like:

    If that’s what you mean by being in control, then we see similarly…but I doubt that’s what you mean, and here’s why: I don’t ever see anyone describe their faith in terms like this.

    (emphasis added)

    In other words, I doubt that you are seeing things similarly to the way I am seeing them because you never implicitly or explicitly say anything that makes me think you’re being dishonest to yourself. So I do not assume that you are being dishonest to yourself; I assume that you’re being honest to your own experiences, but that those experiences are different from mine.

    I raise all the possibilities that you might feel similarly to the way I do not because I actually think you feel that way, but because I think you DON’T, and I want you to be very aware that you DON’T have similar thoughts/feelings/perceptions on the subject. If it doesn’t feel like a lie to you (I’m not assuming that it does), then you are situated differently on the subject and you should recognize that. That’s what I’m trying to get at.

    In light of that, a lot of your comment just seems to miss the mark, so I won’t respond to most of it.

    One thing I will respond to is this:

    All I know is that you were raised LDS but have dropped it. But don’t assume all religion and all people see religion the way you did.

    Please also understand that I have experience with other religions. I have experience with non-LDS Christians (and experience with adherents of other religions) every day. I have never lived in Utah — I have lived in the Bible Belt for the vast majority of my life. So, I get to see how Christians behave and act every day. So, please don’t say I’m assuming all religion is the same — I am not. Part of my experience as a Mormon was getting bible bashed by Christians. Part of my experience as a Mormon was having my heresies pointed out on bus trips to and from various school events. Part of my experience as a Mormon was trying to defend something that I didn’t even believe in myself, and dreading that.

    I am not saying that all religions are the same. I am saying that even in their differences, I am not convinced. I am not persuaded. Please do not say even that I am assuming that all people see religion the way I did and do. Part of leaving the LDS church for me was realizing that it was fraudulent to continue pretending to believe when the other people in the church weren’t pretending. It was fraudulent to try to defend what I myself didn’t believe — especially when others actually did believe. And I knew it would be fraudulent to go on a two-year mission to try to teach it as truth when I didn’t believe it — alongside others who actually did believe it. It was because I realized precisely that other people didn’t see the religion the same way as I did and I had no business playing around with their religion. It was an honesty to myself and a respect to them.

  89. Tim,

    Yep, that’s what I’m saying. Taking the step out onto the bridge is “faith” and it doesn’t matter if you earned a degree in civil engineering beforehand or you’re blindfolded and going at the recommendation of a friend.

    Noted. But I still think that the repercussions of that faith would differ depending on whether one earned a degree in civil engineering or was blindfolded. I don’t think one should be surprised if someone is hesitant to walk blindfolded.

    I think “faith” requires maintenance but I don’t think God does. But there are some parallels. If you buy a Honda and it falls apart you’re going to naturally distrust all vehicles made by Honda until you’re convinced otherwise. If your experience with your first Honda is truly terrible you may never try one again.

    I see the maintenance aspect as having two sides…one is in the person faithing (e.g., me) and the other is in the object of faith (e.g., car, bridge, spouse, etc.,). I mean, I think of loyalty and trust in terms of: “is this person trustworthy?” Which has components on both sides: do I perceive them as trustworthy and what are they doing to show trustworthiness?

    I am aware that there could be a problem on either side. I am totally aware that it could be that I am an overly paranoid person on some issue and it’s not the other person/the car’s/the bridge’s/God’s fault. And I totally get that I could be limiting my experiences as a result. (e.g., being a recluse who never goes out if I don’t trust cars, bridges, or other people enough to drive out to them.)

    But with the God question, the tangibility comes into play again. I have been living my life pretty well without problems concerning questions about God. It doesn’t seem like I’m as limited as I would be if I didn’t drive in Houston (which would just not be a great thing since Houston is not a very walkable/bikable city). Instead, it seems people are framing this in terms of, “Well, what about after you die?” and “what about things that happened before you were born.” Those aren’t very compelling to me.

    I understand that it’s possible that 1) I got a bad honda, but it was a fluke, 2) Honda has improved over the years, 3) my Honda broke because of how I drove it, etc., So I recognize that it’s worth evaluating in the future. But I don’t have to commit to buying a new Honda. I can do a lot more research ahead of time, compare and contrast, etc., before actually buying a Honda. If I start driving one, and it doesn’t feel right, i don’t have to commit to feeling bad about driving it every day. I can say, “Nope, not doing this.” and get something else.

  90. Andrew, I’ll be brief here, but you keep coming back to your experiences. Yes, we have experienced things differently. Our experiences do shape us, sure, but do you think that our past experiences condemn us to certain paths and those paths cannot be altered, such that the alcoholic can never overcome his addiction and lead a productive and healthy life? Or the lover scorned who may or may not ever be able to love again?

    It seems your position concerning a lack of choice in the matter is guided by your past experiences, which is why I thought your example of being burned by the iron is a great analogy as to why you are apparently unwilling to accept other ideas on religion.

    Now, I don’t know what led you to reject Mormonism, and how that plays into your current state of belief. That may be entirely relevant; just the same it may not.

    I see conflicting ideas within your posts, so perhaps it is me who is confused. For example, on the one hand I see you talk about being burned by the iron and a natural reaction to that, and then I see you talking about being open to evidence, which you then reject. You mention it is about control, but then come back to that you have no control over your reactions.

    Maybe my posts have been entirely wrong, but they are at least to get to a point where a spade is a spade here. I just want to know what it is that keeps you in a position where you feel you have no choice, which is why I ask whether the alcoholic is doomed by his past experiences or the lover scorned?

  91. I don’t disagree that the civil engineer and the blinded man are going to have different experiences crossing the bridge. The engineer is going to have more confidence along the way. I hope the blinded man can eventually get the blind fold off but either way, they’re both on the bridge.

    But with the God question, the tangibility comes into play again. I have been living my life pretty well without problems concerning questions about God. It doesn’t seem like I’m as limited as I would be if I didn’t drive in Houston. . .

    I think this is a problem with how we present religion as a “life additive”. It’s not your fault that you pose the question, it’s our fault that we’ve presented religion as something that will sweeten your tea. It’s not fire insurance either and we’ve done you a disservice to say it was merely that too.

    I would say you should look into Christianity because you can be known and loved by your creator and you can know and love Him in return. There is deep fulfillment in unconditional love of any type and it’s at its deepest with God. It can’t be experienced elsewhere. It doesn’t just assuage loneliness, it produces deep and abiding joy that will transcend your circumstances.

  92. Instead, it seems people are framing this in terms of, “Well, what about after you die?” and “what about things that happened before you were born.” Those aren’t very compelling to me.

    I agree that these questions are not compelling ways of determining how to live life and decidedly less compelling to how to tell others to live life. Most things about living a reasonable life you don’t have to have much faith to accept, good sense is enough. I have a vested interest in having other people act reasonably according to their conscience. It is only reasonable that I do the same.

    In my view, the thought that a Christian has to give up their intellectual conscience is flat wrong. Christianity does not offer control of conscience, it offers freedom of conscience.

  93. slowcowboy,

    Our experiences do shape us, sure, but do you think that our past experiences condemn us to certain paths and those paths cannot be altered, such that the alcoholic can never overcome his addiction and lead a productive and healthy life? Or the lover scorned who may or may not ever be able to love again?

    It depends — I do think that in any case, a person would have to have compelling new experiences to possibly shake out the old…and I do think that in many cases, those new experiences aren’t consciously chosen.

    I am not saying that an alcoholic can never overcome addiction, although I think that some can’t and we can’t necessarily predict who is in what group. I am saying that overcoming addiction isn’t so simply a conscious choice. I think it cheapens the concept of addiction to say that people choose to be addicted, or just choose to snap out of addiction. I think that in a lot of cases, someone has to have a really traumatic experience that really motivates them — losing someone, perhaps. A really bad medical accident, maybe. But even with these “big experiences,” these experiences do not affect everyone the same (some people get further and further in without any change), and sometimes those experiences are not enough (they want to change…they want to stop, but they just really need another drink more.)

    So it doesn’t make sense to me to say, “the only people who stay alcoholics are the people who choose to be.” No, I know a lot of people who want to change things like that, but they just can’t. No matter how hard they try; no matter what programs they do. I know some people who do change as well, but they didn’t choose the difficulty level of the task.

    I know people who have had big experiences that created the motivation. I know people who have had big experiences that did nothing. So, the reaction to the big experience…it doesn’t seem like it’s the same for everyone, and it doesn’t seem like a conscious choice.

    I am not saying that the lover scored may not be ever able to love again. But the lover scorned did not choose to love in the first place, did not choose to fall out of love, and does not choose to fall in love again. These things can happen, but it’s not like you go around consciously saying, “I’m going to fall in love…now.” I know a lot of people who want to make particular relationships work out. Maybe it’s for the kids. Maybe it’s because they are gay but they want to fulfill their religious predilections by marrying someone of the opposite sex? So they do whatever they can, but they don’t seem able to just create the experience of love and being in it. They can’t *create* attraction. Maybe they develop other sorts of attractions, but even then that is not consciously chosen even when it happens. I get that some people change, some people are fluid. But I don’t get that people consciously chose that.

    It seems your position concerning a lack of choice in the matter is guided by your past experiences, which is why I thought your example of being burned by the iron is a great analogy as to why you are apparently unwilling to accept other ideas on religion.

    The crucial part about the iron analogy is this: it’s not just a past experience. If I were to touch a hot iron right now, I would have the same experience. If I were to touch a hot iron tomorrow, I would have the same experience.

    When I come here, I think, “Well, all of these people don’t seem burnt. How does it work for them?” Y’all are having a different experience, but it’s not clear that y’all chose for it to be that way. You certainly haven’t to this point communicated the difference in a compelling way. It’s not really your fault — I mean, if we are just different people, then communication would be difficult, if it is even possible.

    For example, on the one hand I see you talk about being burned by the iron and a natural reaction to that, and then I see you talking about being open to evidence, which you then reject. You mention it is about control, but then come back to that you have no control over your reactions.

    Firstly, I have not framed my own narrative in terms of control. When you have done this, I have reframed it and you have doubted my reframing. But let me try to synthesize something about this.

    I have been burned by an iron. I didn’t choose for it to burn me, but that is the reaction I have. I see others engaging with the same iron (or other iron-like things) and they don’t seem to be burned. I wonder what the difference is, but I recognize that I still am burned. I don’t think I can choose not to be burned by the iron…what I can do is choose whether I will keep touching it or not. What I can do is choose whether I will research other people’s experiences with the iron to find out if there is something that maybe I could apply to me, or something different about the iron to them.

    But at the end of the day, I don’t choose whether the iron burns me or it doesn’t. My experience is that the iron burns, and so I have taken my hand off the iron so that it doesn’t get burnt anymore. Occasionally, i put my finger near the iron. I feel that it is still hot, so I feel that if I were to grab it again, it would burn me again. I have no interest in that. Still, I see others grabbing the iron without a problem. I wonder why that is. Maybe it’s possible that they all are burnt, but they are just lying about it, but I don’t that is the case, since when I raise this up, they adamantly insist that is not how they feel.

  94. Andrew, sorry to harp on the idea of control, but I am not convinced that is not an issue for you.

    But I digress. I had the thought when reading your last post and your extensive talk about the iron. You ever wonder if we are picking up a different iron?

  95. Tim,

    FWIW, I have heard of other models for Christianity and other religions instead of the “life additive” or “fire insurance.” I have heard from some people that God doesn’t want to “rearrange” the furniture in the house, but he wants to tear it down and build something new.

    So I am a little familiar with that idea, but I think to myself: “But how is that still me?” I think, maybe for people who are so not OK with themselves that they want to be torn down (for whatever reason), that might be a great prospect, but what if someone doesn’t feel that way?

    However, with what you’ve said, I guess there is that impasse — if I haven’t felt loved or known by said creator, then I don’t really have any vantage point to understand what that would be like. Like, it isn’t even something I can even imagine, much less chew on, so it doesn’t even impact me in the slightest. I can say that when I look into Christianity and look into what Christians are saying and doing, I hear y’all (but not God) talking about this, but what I see and feel is not love.

  96. Jared C,

    I guess the sense though is that Christianity is not just about living a “reasonable life” so if you’re about a reasonable life, you’re not going to “get” Christianity. I dunno.

    I still don’t really know what freedom of conscience would entail. The way you frame it in your posts sounds promising, but I don’t know how it would work practically (and I still see people, Christians or otherwise, who still basically act the same way…so it’s not like I can just look at other people and go, “Oh, so that’s the difference.”)

    slowcowboy,

    But I digress. I had the thought when reading your last post and your extensive talk about the iron. You ever wonder if we are picking up a different iron?

    I think that is definitely a possibility. But if I approach different irons and feel the heat coming off them, then it’s still going to be a tough sell to grab on.

    Plus, these are things that people are offering to me, or these are things that I have seen them doing the same things, reading the same things, and they get it, but it’s not. Like, let’s say that the “Mormon iron” is different than the “Christian iron.” The problem is that there are still plenty of Mormons who seem to be totally happy with it.

    So I still also think it’s a difference in people, personalities, etc., If I could use a different analogy, maybe I would use cilantro. Some people love cilantro. For some people, it tastes like soap. I am pretty meh on cilantro, but it isn’t really soapy to me. But cilantro is cilantro is cilantro. Different people respond differently to it, and they don’t choose their response.

  97. I still haven’t figured out your point, Andrew, except that you don’t feel you have a choice.

    If we don’t ever have a choice, why does anything matter? If we do have a choice, where does our choice overcome the inevitable?

  98. Andrew:

    You write, “But I don’t get that the going one way or another is a choice. If evidence is compelling to me, it’s not because I chose for it to be compelling. If evidence is not compelling to me, it’s not because I chose for it not to be compelling. So, I really don’t see how faithfulness and trustworthiness are choices.”

    I get what you’re saying. In fact I’m pretty sure I thought of things that way myself at one time, but I guess I changed my mind about it at some point.

    I agree with you that we don’t always have conscious control over what strikes us as credible or compelling. But at the same time, we’re not robots. We don’t just do what we’re programmed to do. It’s not a simple matter of “data in, data out”. The way information strikes us has a lot to do with our internal attitudes towards various things. Our reasoning and our feelings about things interact within us in a complicated way, and it’s because of this complexity (IMHO) that we don’t always know why certain things sound right to us, and other things don’t.

    Examples that jump out at me are evolution and abortion. To many people, the arguments in favor of evolution are clear and obvious, and it appears that one could only disbelieve evolution due to ignorance or stubbornness. To many others, the arguments against abortion are equally clear and obvious, and therefore favoring abortion can only be due to willful ignorance or plain wickedness. Why do people have such differing attitudes? Do people have no control, whatsoever, over the attitudes that cause some of them to reject evolution or accept abortion (or vice versa)?

    I didn’t mean to say that the data about God are exactly 50/50 pro and con. But I think we agree that it’s inconclusive, from a purely logical standpoint. Now what makes the difference between someone who believes in God, versus someone who doesn’t? Is one person smarter than the other? Or is it just that the first person has happened to come upon more evidence in favor than against, or vice versa? In other words, is it merely “data in, data out”?

    Or could it also have something to do with each person’s expectations and attitudes, that cause some people to find the evidence adequate to belief, and others not to? And as to our own expectations and attitudes, do we have nothing to do with creating and shaping them?

    I contend that it’s possible — theoretically — that belief in God is not merely a matter of data and arguments, but also requires a certain attitude or openness to the idea. This attitude or openness may not be under our direct, conscious control at every moment, but it may be susceptible to being changed one way or the other, depending on the direction we choose to take our thoughts and the things we choose to do.

    You write, “Did you feel that this was a lie, that this was a lie you were telling yourself? Was your struggle over the prospect and damage of lying to yourself every day? Was the act of surrender an act to just go ahead and lie to yourself? Did that act of surrender turn that lie into a truth?”

    Well, obviously, since I believe God exists, I don’t think my decision to believe in him was a lie. Nor do I believe that a lie can become the truth. I think that God’s existence was always true, but that I didn’t want to believe it. Why? It’s been a long time, frankly, but I’m pretty sure part of it was due to the arguments against God’s existence. For example, the problem of evil: If God is good and all-powerful, then why do bad things happen? I think my attitude (in part) was that my life had been so painful to me, that a good God could not possibly exist. The struggle to believe in him was partly the struggle to accept the fact that if God did exist, he might not always do what I think he should. In other words, that God is sovereign — he can do what he likes, regardless of what I think, and I don’t get to stand in judgment against him. And also that he is much, much wiser than I am, so that a certain amount of humility in me is required; I had to accept that it might be rather presumptuous of me to assume that I knew better than the all-powerful creator of the universe.

    I think this shows how my personal attitudes could be mixed with my reasoning processes: Logic shows that evil should not exist if God is good and all-powerful — yet it’s possible that God could have reasons for allowing evil which are beyond my comprehension. But that latter proposition was hard for me to accept, because if true, it meant that God was a dirty, lousy so-and-so for letting such crappy things happen in my life. Thus I refused to accept the existence of a God who was good and also all-powerful — until I managed to humble myself and admit that God might know better than I do, and that the problem could be with my attitude towards him, rather than his treatment of me.

    So on the assumption that God exists and is all-powerful and good, it was my prior attitude towards him which was false, and my “surrender” led to my adopting the true attitude.

  99. slowcowboy,

    Your two questions don’t seem to frame things in a way that I would see them. I would say that firstly, anything ONLY matters because we experience it. So whether we have a choice or do not have a choice is irrelevant — because we are still experiencing stuff regardless of how it is chosen.

    The main issue is that some people think we do have a choice, and I’m trying to understand why they feel that way. Maybe they are looking at things in a different way, or they are looking at the choice differently.

    For example, Tim has expounded that the choice is crossing the bridge (regardless of how one feels about the bridge, what one knows about the bridge, etc.,) So, in this sense, he is accepting that someone may be terrified about the bridge, but the important thing is crossing the bridge. That being said, I’m not entirely sure why someone who is terrified would be motivated to cross the bridge. (To get to the other side, I guess? hehe.)

    If we do have a choice, where does our choice overcome the inevitable?

    I think i can choose to engage with people who think differently than I do. I see it a little like gambling…the outcome isn’t chosen, but maybe I can “win” or “lose” (e.g., see things from a different perspective, etc). I don’t know if that is “overcoming the inevitable” (or if one could say that someone who wins the jackpot was “inevitably” going to do so? maybe?)

  100. Andrew, I think there is absolutely choice. In a post above I asked about the recovering alcoholic. I do believe there is a choice there; same with the scorned lover. These aren’t easy choices, but choices nonetheless. I also realize addiction can hamper our ability to choose, but we can choose to give in to the addiction or to fight it.

    As to the scorned lover, of course trust is going to be difficult, but he/she must open up to the possibility that love is possible. This is a choice.

    Things are going to happen to us regardless of what we think should happen or expect to happen. I’m sure you’re familiar with the sayings about how the heroes get up after they’ve been pushed to the ground and all of that. That demonstrates a choice, a willingness to take circumstances back into their own hands and not merely react to everything that comes our way. Taking the bridge example, consider something like an Indian Jones scenario: one side of the rickety bridge is certain death, and if you can get to the other side you can survive, but man, that bridge is not in good shape. Is there a choice there?

    I find the question of whether we have a choice as completely relevant. We always have the ability to choose or to choose otherwise. If we lose that, what meaning is there in any experience?

    You wrote: “I would say that firstly, anything ONLY matters because we experience it.” This only means that we have experienced that something but says nothing about why it matters. Is meaning a choice?

  101. slowcowboy,

    I also realize addiction can hamper our ability to choose, but we can choose to give in to the addiction or to fight it.

    I think that saying “hamper our ability to choose” is understating it. For example, what colors our perception and inclination and motivation as to whether to “fight” or “give in” in the first place?

    But let’s not go into that. I’ll ask this: do you think that if someone remains addicted (even after trying to fight the addiction), that that is evidence that they didn’t try hard enough? That they didn’t fight it enough?

    I don’t. I think that fighting is often not enough, because being addicted is not a choice. I recognize that one may have more of a chance to recover if they fight it, but I think that is akin to saying: “You have more of a chance to win the lottery if you buy lottery tickets.” I wouldn’t say that means one can “choose” to win the lottery.

    Things are going to happen to us regardless of what we think should happen or expect to happen. I’m sure you’re familiar with the sayings about how the heroes get up after they’ve been pushed to the ground and all of that. That demonstrates a choice, a willingness to take circumstances back into their own hands and not merely react to everything that comes our way. Taking the bridge example, consider something like an Indian Jones scenario: one side of the rickety bridge is certain death, and if you can get to the other side you can survive, but man, that bridge is not in good shape. Is there a choice there?

    In these examples, though, you’re not describing someone who is making a choice out of thin air. You’re describing people with competing motivations. The hero gets pushed down, but he is motivated to get up. But did he choose to be motivated? (There are plenty of stories where the heroes LOSE their motivation. Something *else* must occur before they get the motivation again.)

    Take the Indiana Jones scenario you raise: one side of the bridge is *certain death*. Indiana Jones weighs a motivation to avoid certain death against the fear and terror of the rickety bridge.

    But did Indiana Jones choose to be more motivated to avoid certain death than to be afraid of the rickety bridge? From my vantage point, no.

    And what if Jones didn’t perceive certain death on one side? What if Jones didn’t perceive that he would survive if he crossed? What if Jones perceived that he had more of a likelihood of dying if he tried to cross than if he stayed where he was? These all change the calculation, and all of these perceptions are not chosen.

    You find the question of whether we have a choice to be relevant, but you ignore that you are putting all sorts of unchosen things *behind* and *around* that choice…just assuming them.

    If we lose that, what meaning is there in any experience?

    You wrote: “I would say that firstly, anything ONLY matters because we experience it.” This only means that we have experienced that something but says nothing about why it matters.

    Again, meaning is not in choice. Meaning is a subjective phenomenon from our experience. The very act of experiencing something is why it matters — there is no need for any external explanation! Things don’t matter if you don’t experience them, but they do matter if you do experience them.

    Is meaning a choice?

    Since I think that meaning is a subjective phenomenon, I don’t think it is a choice.

  102. Andrew, as I said long ago, you’re mind is made up. I do think it is about control for you. I think you are more comfortable being able to keep asking questions than providing answers.

    Its interesting how you say this: “What if Jones perceived that he had more of a likelihood of dying if he tried to cross than if he stayed where he was? These all change the calculation, and all of these perceptions are not chosen.”

    Isn’t perceiving a likelihood of one result over another making a choice? I fail to understand how weighing options, going in one direction over another does not involve choice. And I’ll be honest, you’re not likely to convince me, and that is my choice.

    As to meaning, I’ll be honest and say that I find your point of view rather depressing. For there to be no real meaning is simply a horrid view in my opinion. If we only react to what is presented to us and we are not able to put our own, conscious meaning on something, I think we lose so much of what I see as the beauty of life. The fact that we are here to experience anything is quite a miracle, when you think about it, but do we celebrate the birth of a child simply because it was experienced or because the beginning of life holds some inherent value that we recognize?

    There has to be more than just merely experiencing something.

    Now, returning to my first paragraph in this post, do you find it more comforting in asking questions or in providing answers?

  103. slowcowboy,

    I think you are more comfortable being able to keep asking questions than providing answers.

    I am comfortable providing answers on my domain of expertise (me, my personal experience, my personal perceptions). I am comfortable asking questions on things that are not in my expertise (other people, other people’s experiences, other people’s perceptions.) I think it appears that I am asking more questions than answering because this blog, by definition, is a space where I lack more expertise than I have. So I find it prudent to ask more questions than I answer.

    Isn’t perceiving a likelihood of one result over another making a choice? I fail to understand how weighing options, going in one direction over another does not involve choice. And I’ll be honest, you’re not likely to convince me, and that is my choice.

    I read the first line here and thought, “wow, no, perceiving a likelihood is not making a choice to me.” So even from there, we are in very different places. I do think that going in one direction or another is a choice, but if I say, ‘I am going to do whichever option weighs more/better/nicer/etc.,’ the weight of one option vs another — that’s not chosen. But I get that we are still not seeing eye to eye. You say that I’m not likely to convince you, and that is your choice. I say that I don’t know if you’ll convince me or not (I don’t know the future), because it isn’t my choice, but that your current arguments are not compelling. I think that’s how starkly different it is.

    As to meaning, I’ll be honest and say that I find your point of view rather depressing. For there to be no real meaning is simply a horrid view in my opinion.

    When you say, “I find your point of view rather depressing,” that really fits in line with how I see meaning. You find because it’s internal to you. Depressing (what you find) is the content of the meaning. It is because you experience a twinge of depression from considering my point of view. So the meaning of my point of view (to you) is depressing because you experience that. You perceive it to be that way.

    You live with your experiences. I live with mine.

    (As an aside, I would argue that you didn’t consciously choose to find it depressing and you couldn’t consciously choose otherwise. If that’s the way it makes you feel, you would either need some other data or some other experience to change that, but you can’t just choose that. You can’t just say, “Well, today, I’m not going to find Andrew’s viewpoint to not be depressing.”)

    I guess one thing is that I don’t separate “meaning” from “real meaning” like you are doing.

    If we only react to what is presented to us and we are not able to put our own, conscious meaning on something, I think we lose so much of what I see as the beauty of life.

    The way that I’m reading you is this: “If we don’t just stumble upon beauty and we are not able to consciously choose to force beauty onto other things, I think we lose so much of what I see as the beauty of life.”

    But I still see beautiful things. I still find things beautiful. I mean, if I could just consciously choose to find everything in life beautiful on the flip of the switch, I think that would be really weird. I’m not entirely convinced that that’s what you’re saying you can do. I think that there are some things you find beautiful, some things you don’t find beautiful, and you don’t force one into the other or the other into the one.

    The fact that we are here to experience anything is quite a miracle, when you think about it, but do we celebrate the birth of a child simply because it was experienced or because the beginning of life holds some inherent value that we recognize?

    We celebrate the birth of a child because we *experience* joy. I interpret your statement as saying that part of the reason you experience joy is because of your perception of what the beginning of life holds — but again, that is in your perception, not the thing in itself. The two things are not necessarily connected. If you didn’t perceive it, you wouldn’t have joy and you wouldn’t celebrate. For example, plenty of babies are born every minute (second, even) and you don’t celebrate each one. Is it because you don’t think the beginning of those lives hold inherent value that we should recognize? I don’t think that’s the case for you. I think that because you don’t perceive their births, you aren’t going to experience joy associated with those births, and so you’re not going to celebrate those births. Things have to come on to your radar before you can respond to them.

    I think maybe you’re viewing experience more narrowly or I’m viewing experience more expansively.

    Now, returning to my first paragraph in this post, do you find it more comforting in asking questions or in providing answers?

    As I said before, I like providing answers when I have them. That’s why I write very lengthy comments — even when a question hasn’t been explicitly asked. I recognize that the answers I can provide relate to me and my experience and perception. I can answer my perception of the outside world, but recognize that that may be different than how the outside world.

    But I also like asking questions. I recognize that there are a lot of answers I don’t have, and I’d like to ask people to figure out how they answer them. Not because it necessarily will explain more about the outside world, but that it will explain more about other people’s perceptions of the outside world.

    I guess I’ll settle for liking to ask questions more than answer them. Does asking questions have something to do with control?

  104. We’ve gone way astray of what this blog is about, but anyway:

    Asking questions can be perceived, using your (very carefully chosen word) as bucking responsibility. And I am very serious about that. Its one thing to be curious and not know, but eventually, you will be put in a corner, much like Indiana Jones. You will have to make a ‘choice’ based on what you value.

    Now, I’ve said it several times now, but your choice already made, and by asking questions, you can avoid providing an answer. I see that as a choice, you don’t.

    Its kinda funny to see how we can never reach a mutual understanding of even what “choice” means. I think it means consciously taking one option over another. I see that we do it all the time. You seem to think choice is something different, perhaps a reaction to forces around us, and the actions we take are a result of natural forces beyond our control. Any choice is limited by such constraints.

    I’ll end with something I told you among the first things I told you here: the answers are there. Its up to you to perceive them one way or another. I know you reject these notions that the evidence is there and that you have a choice in the matter. If not, saying you don’t have a choice is merely an excuse. Saying you don’t buy into it is one thing, saying you don’t have a choice is merely an excuse.

    …anyway.

  105. Slowcowboy,

    What you may be missing is that clearly Andrew is making a choice to abide by his intellectual conscience, by his recognition of what truth and meaning must be if you take into account the widest view of the human condition. The choice is thrust upon him by his respect for reason.

    The “excuse” is that he is not willing to give up his commitment to truth and integrity in order to believe something that is clearly unproven and intangible, that doesn’t seem to make people more committed to truth and integrity.

    I think he can see pretty clearly, as most non-Christians can see, that many Christians appear to be fooling themselves in the worst of ways, despite the fact that they claim to find joy in Christ.

    I can say that when I look into Christianity and look into what Christians are saying and doing, I hear y’all (but not God) talking about this, but what I see and feel is not love.

    This is precisely why there is a cost to count when engaging in Christianity. It is one thing engaging with “fallen” people that accept that they do not have the truth, and quite another dealing with “fallen” people who are certain that they are correct about things they could not possibly have certain knowledge of. Given that this sort of blindness is both contagious and damaging, it can be reasonably seen as insufferable.

    Reason is the “supernatural” power to understand the matrix of choice and culture that binds you, love is the “supernatural” power to cut through the matrix and point to the the heart of the matter that unites. Most people come to the Gospel in order to grasp love, but many seem to think that they can persuade people directly using reason when the Gospel is distinctively unreasonable.

    It is deep in human nature to sift into debating camps, and most of comparative religion is simply foisting a particular tribal view up as the most important and then demanding people make the “choice” of saluting it. By and large, Mormon Christians are no different than Protestant Christians in this area. The important observation that “God is dead” is simply pointing out that nobody is holding up God to worship, they are generally holding up something else.

    I think there are a lot of questions that should be answered in order to make clear that the God you are offering for worship is God, rather than your artificial image of God. It is not a judgment that can be made without plenty of examination.

  106. “I still don’t really know what freedom of conscience would entail. The way you frame it in your posts sounds promising, but I don’t know how it would work practically (and I still see people, Christians or otherwise, who still basically act the same way…so it’s not like I can just look at other people and go, “Oh, so that’s the difference.”)

    I think this is a difficult philosophical question, but I think you have to keep in mind that Christianity is a narrow way and though many may be able to describe it, few have fully passed through the gate.

  107. Jared, I actually disagree with little of what you write. However, I am not arguing for or against Christianity in the end. My contention has to do with simple reasoning techniques. Its a bit ironic to hear you say he has chosen to argue from reason, something that I think he has rejected.

    If he has chosen to apply reason here and in this way, his entire premise, I think, falls apart. Choosing to do something and using the non-availability of choice as an excuse is self contradictory.

    If I am to take this back to a conversation about religion, if his premise is that he has no choice, I disagree for the reasons I have stated. If his premise is that he simply cannot buy into faith, that’s a different argument, but he has a choice. He may reason that he has no logical choice but to not believe, but this is still acknowledging a choice: one in which he chooses to follow the logic to such a conclusion that there is no god.

    We can discuss the evidence in this latter scenario and the reasoning behind it. But when someone denies they even have a choice, that their experience and nature forbids the existence of choice, it is shutting down any discussion of any evidence by kicking the can down the road. You cannot argue such a position. All you have to do is keep asking questions and dodging answers. Saying I can’t help it is a dodge.

    But again, for emphasis, saying that I can’t come to another conclusion because of exhibits a, b, and c is something different.

    But there is evidence for a god. Whether one accepts it is up to the person receiving the message. Accepting it is a choice. Logically, it has to be. And no where in this statement is any evidence that I am suggesting a person must accept the existence of a god, let alone the one true God Christians believe.

    Saying there is no choice is like putting one’s head in the sand or covering their ears singing “La la la…” I’m not going to withhold that truth simply because someone else may not get it or be put off by it.

    I actually commend those who don’t give in to arguments for reasons of expediency. But that is not what he is arguing. Its in there, yes, but that’s not the thrust of his position: his position, is, or at least appears to be, that he has no choice, as if there is no alternative that even exists. He is thrust into his position and there is nothing he can do about it.

    I fundamentally disagree, because he DOES have a choice.

    Now, is the Gospel reasonable? Yes, and no. Yes, it is reasonable in that it makes sense. A logical and coherent argument can be put forth to its truth. There are also aspects of it that require faith, which can be seen as the hope in things not yet proven or known. So, there are assumptions or beliefs that ultimately must be accepted for it all to make complete sense. One can argue back and forth all day discussing these arguments and still not convince either party. But that does not mean reason is lacking.

    As I have said before on this blog, my aim is less to convince than to educate. In this discussion, my aim is to educate such that Andrew realizes there are indeed other plausible options. He gives lip service to being open, but his unceasing questions and his constant saying he has no choice indicates something else. I think his mind is made up, and any openness is mere pretense.

    Pardon me if that is offensive, but it is how I see it. One can certainly argue that maybe I should be quiet about it. Maybe, but just the same, I do think it is worth it to present these alternatives to him. And in the end, all I would ask is that there is an admission of the possibility that he in fact has a choice, right here and now, as to what to accept and believe, even if his choice is to reject God.

  108. I skipped a couple of comments but I am still reading…I’ll respond to just a few points in slowcowboy’s latest:

    If I am to take this back to a conversation about religion, if his premise is that he has no choice, I disagree for the reasons I have stated. If his premise is that he simply cannot buy into faith, that’s a different argument, but he has a choice. He may reason that he has no logical choice but to not believe, but this is still acknowledging a choice: one in which he chooses to follow the logic to such a conclusion that there is no god.

    I think that we may be talking about different things when we talk about choice. (I think that your separation between “he has no choice” and “he simply cannot buy into faith” is interesting, and maybe that’s worth pursuing to see if maybe we can synthesize something, but I still think there are some key differences.) I’m saying that in my awareness, beliefs are not the sorts of things that one can choose. They are not the sort of things that you choose after “logic-ing” it out. In other words, it is not a choice to “follow the logic” vs “eschewing the logic.” Beliefs are the result of whatever reasoning process one has internally undergone (where various premises or claims are either accepted or rejected based on all sorts of perceptions about available data, evidence, etc.,) but they are not the result of a choice, because the accepting or rejecting of premises are not conscious choices, and the perceptions that lead to that involuntary accepting and rejecting are also not conscious perceptions.

    At best, choices come into play when one says, “I’m going to put myself in an area in an attempt to experience certain experiences, perceive certain perceptions, etc., etc.,” And that’s what I am doing here. But that’s like saying, “I’m going to put myself in a casino in an attempt to win money.” If a gambler wins, did they consciously choose to win because they consciously chose to gamble?

    I see a couple of places where we have crucial disagreements:

    But there is evidence for a god. Whether one accepts it is up to the person receiving the message. Accepting it is a choice. Logically, it has to be.

    Whether evidence is perceived as credible or incredible is not a choice. And if one perceives evidence as incredible, then it doesn’t matter how much of that sort of incredible evidence you stack up, someone will not accept that evidence. You have to do something else — either present other evidence that a person doesn’t find as incredible, or do something to change either the very perception of the same evidence or to change the very person so that they see the existing evidence differently and credibly — to change the belief. Maybe it’s a matter of explaining it a different way, using different analogies, using different words. But it’s not a matter of conscious choice.

    Another place where we disagree is something like this:

    his position, is, or at least appears to be, that he has no choice, as if there is no alternative that even exists. He is thrust into his position and there is nothing he can do about it.

    I have the choice of whether to put any time, money, effort into a space where I could *possibly* experience different experiences, perceive different perceptions, etc., etc., etc., This is the gambling analogy I’ve been making throughout this and other comments. But whether or not I “win” is not something I choose. I am thrust into that position, but it’s not true that there is nothing I can do about it. I can keep throwing money, time, and effort on lottery tickets, put more money into the slot machine, etc., etc., etc., The question at some point would be, “why keep doing that?” but that’s an entirely different question.

  109. I think this post is relevant: https://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2008/05/10/dynamics-of-choosing-faith-does-god-have-to-believable-to-be-believed/

    and this quote

    “[M]any representatives of denominational and institutional religion . . often depict, not to say denigrate, God as a being who is primarily concerned with being believed in by the greatest possible number of believers, and along the lines of a specific creed, at that. “Just believe,” we are told, “and everything will be okay.” But alas, not only is this order based on a distortion of any sound concept of deity, but even more importantly it is doomed to failure: Obviously, there are certain activities that simply cannot be commanded, demanded, or ordered, and as it happens, the triad “faith, hope, and love” belongs to this class of activities that elude an approach with, so to speak, “command characteristics.” Faith, hope, and love cannot be established by command simply because they cannot be established at will. I cannot “will” to believe, I cannot “will” to hope, I cannot “will” to love – and at least of all can I “will” to will. Upon closer investigation it turns out that what underlies the attempt to establish faith, hope, love, and will by command is manipulative approach. The attempt to bring these states about at will, however, is ultimately based on an inappropriate objectification and reification of these human phenomena: They are turned into mere things, into mere objects. However, since faith, hope, love, and will are so-called “intentional” acts or activities, along the lines of the terminology coined by Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler, the founders of the school of “phenomenology”, these activities are directed to “intentional” referents – in other words, to objects of their own. To the extent that one makes intentional acts into objects, he loses sight of their objects. Nowhere, to my knowledge, is this brought home to us more strikingly than with the uniquely human phenomenon of laughter: *You cannot order anyone to laugh – if you want him to laugh, you must tell him a joke.*

    But isn’t it, in a way, the same with religion? If you want people to have faith and belief in God, you cannot rely on preaching along the lines of a particular church but must, in the first place, portray your God believably – and you must act credibly yourself. In other words, you have to do very opposite of what so often is done by representatives of organized religion when they build up an image of God as someone who is primarily interested in being believed in and who is rigorously insists that those who believe in him be affiliated with a particular church. Small wonder that such representatives of religion behave as though they saw the main task of their own denomination as that of overriding other denominations.”

  110. I mentioned in an earlier post we cannot agree on what a choice is. I provided a definition. I won’t rehash it now, but its clear we have different viewpoints on this fundamental word. by my definition, you always have an opportunity to do one thing or do another based on judgments that you perceive as beneficial to you. This is a choice. It is always, always present, the ability to choose or to choose otherwise, to act one way or to act another. These choices may be difficult and even unknown (such as a habit or an addiction) but they are still choices.

    And it is in that sense that I maintain that you CAN choose to accept different arguments, even to present different arguments. Which leads me to your section on the credibility of evidence. I want to emphasize, in no uncertain terms, that I in the post you comment from suggest that there are certain assumptions in a discussion of faith. There are such assumptions in virtually every discussion, even. Of course something will seem incredible when the assumption is not held. For example, my belief that I can talk to God through prayer is something that is incredible for one who does not even believe in God, as how can you talk to someone who doesn’t exist. However, granting the existence of God it is a completely rational and credible belief.

    How do you approach someone who does not share the same assumptions? Many of the things you list I actually agree with. A change of tactics can be necessary, however, that someone you are trying to convince must also be open to hearing the evidence and new tactics. (This is where I see you have closed your mind, and it is already made up that any evidence for God must come from God himself in a bolt of lightning sort of experience.) A position that does not allow for choice in this situation closes off any possibility to breach the difference in opinion. Such a position says strongly that, “You know, I would love to hear what you have to say, but really, its not going to matter because I can’t help that I can’t choose not to believe you. It just is.” In other words, any discussion of openness with the existence of a lack of choice is pretense and serves to shut discussion down.

    You say you have the choice to pursue experiences that might change your mind. How is that different from my position that you always have a choice? Your experience may be to open your mind up to the possibility that something may be true. You can choose to open up to various arguments, and work through them, and see where they take you. Saying that you can choose to engage in a conversation or go to a casino is absolutely a choice, and a big one at that. Its really is no different than what I am saying, except that your choice is in the action leading to the experience not in the reaction to the experience. Fundamentally, however, the distinction becomes one of semantics. (Though I am sure some might want to pick the differences apart, I see them pragmatically in that it is through the initial choice, whenever that happens, we shape our opinions.)

    When you say you have no choice, you really do have a choice. You always have a choice. Now, I spoke of assumptions, and perhaps this is one assumption we don’t share. While I don’t see how it is possible to avoid choice, maybe you really don’t, even though you admit the ability to make choices through deciding which experiences to engage in.

  111. Jared C,

    Love the comment, will have to check out the larger post and the following discussion later.

    slowcowboy:

    Of course something will seem incredible when the assumption is not held. For example, my belief that I can talk to God through prayer is something that is incredible for one who does not even believe in God, as how can you talk to someone who doesn’t exist. However, granting the existence of God it is a completely rational and credible belief.

    But my point is that assumptions, as beliefs, are not consciously chosen. So, your belief that you can talk to God through prayer would be something that would be incredible for one who does not believe in God, but the person who does not believe in God did not get there by choosing that. The person who believes in God did not get there by choosing.

    That a belief can appear rational and credible to one person does not mean that it will appear rational and credible to everyone. But also, that a belief can appear rational and credible to anyone does not mean that it is subject to conscious choice. These are two different matters.

    A change of tactics can be necessary, however, that someone you are trying to convince must also be open to hearing the evidence and new tactics

    All that I need to do to be open to hearing the evidence and new tactics is to continue reading, to continue being on places like this. I am doing that.

    But hearing evidence doesn’t mean finding it to be credible. Hearing evidence does not mean being convinced by evidence.

    Obviously, any sort of discussion among people could result in something that that changes an opinion. This would not be a conscious decision, but it could happen. So, continuing to bet could be helpful. However, it seems like a lot of this is an inefficient path to follow, given that one side is claiming that there is an omnipotent, omniscient deity who knows exactly what makes people tick (and indeed, could just make them tick in another way.)

    In other words, any discussion of openness with the existence of a lack of choice is pretense and serves to shut discussion down.

    I don’t think that is true. I mean, would you say that people choose to catch a disease? I wouldn’t. I would say that what someone could do is choose to mingle with people who already carry the disease (e.g., if one of your kids has chicken pox, you could put all the other ones in the same room.) You could even isolate the virus or bacterium or whatever that causes the disease and then inject someone with it (either through an inoculative process or something much more serious.) But whether the diseases catches or not is not a conscious choice. It’s something that’s happening on a much smaller level, a much more microcosmic level, with germs and antibodies and things like that.

    You say you have the choice to pursue experiences that might change your mind. How is that different from my position that you always have a choice? Your experience may be to open your mind up to the possibility that something may be true. You can choose to open up to various arguments, and work through them, and see where they take you. Saying that you can choose to engage in a conversation or go to a casino is absolutely a choice, and a big one at that. Its really is no different than what I am saying, except that your choice is in the action leading to the experience not in the reaction to the experience. Fundamentally, however, the distinction becomes one of semantics. (Though I am sure some might want to pick the differences apart, I see them pragmatically in that it is through the initial choice, whenever that happens, we shape our opinions.)

    I think we could be getting here.

    The difference between your position and my position is that in my position, I still am depending on a chain of other events occurring. To have choice over one part of a chain of events is not to have choice and control over the entire chain — unless one can establish a causal relationship for the events in that chain. If I set up a series of dominoes closely enough that if I knock the first one over, the others will fall…then if I push that first domino, I can still say that I pushed all the dominoes down because (colloquially speaking) I started the chain that resulted in the other dominoes going down.

    But I have brought up other examples (the gambling example, more commonly, but also the disease catching example from this comment) for counterpoints. If I choose to buy a lottery ticket, it’s true that I’m starting some sort of chain. But I don’t have enough control over other relevant parts of the chain (e.g., what numbers are picked to win, etc.,) to say that I had control over that chain. So, if I happen to win the lottery (or, more likely, if I lose the lottery), I can’t say that I consciously chose to win the lottery.

    You say that the choice to go to casino is absolutely a choice (so you agree with me there), but would you say that choosing to go to a casino is the same choice as choosing to win at a casino? You have to this point been very silent on that, only focusing on the choice to go into a casino. I think that absolutely, we have the choice to go into a casino. But we don’t have a choice to win. That is not within our control.

    We cannot reasonably or reliably predict that going into a casino will result in our winning. In fact, we more likely can predict that it will result in our losing (and thus losing a lot of money). We can’t just say, “Well, I just want to win more, so I will choose to win more.” So, choosing an action that may lead to an experience is not the same as choosing the experience.

    I think that collapsing the difference is a big misstep, because there are many cases where we can choose to do an initial action and NOT get some outcome. You can gamble all of your money away without winning anything, and without winning the jackpot. So the fact that deciding to go to a casino is not the same as deciding to win at a casino has big implications for your time, money, resources, etc.,

  112. For example, my belief that I can talk to God through prayer is something that is incredible for one who does not even believe in God, as how can you talk to someone who doesn’t exist. However, granting the existence of God it is a completely rational and credible belief.

    I think this belief is pretty incredible even if you do believe in God. You have to have a particular attitude toward God to even begin to pray, and that does not seem reasonable until you understand what the point of praying is. Is it reasonable to think that an ant can talk to a human? Is it reasonable to think that the ant can understand a human response?

    I think it is important to concede from the outset that when we are talking about God we are talking about a hidden mystery. The nature of Christianity is not to choose this hidden mystery but to point to another mystery, i.e. that God has a particular attitude toward mankind called “love”.

    My conversion to Christianity was the acknowledgment of what the “love of God” could mean, which is, that the apparent wrongness our worldly exploits are not relevant, and we won’t have to worry about them in this life when we adopt the same attitude toward ourselves and others.

    This attitude eliminates the psychological struggle between guilt and virtue. When we lose our guilt complexes, we can make rational choices regarding how to act in love, rather than simply acting to maintain our reputation in our minds and the minds of others. We are free to act inside or outside of cultural constraints according to a more “enlightened” conscience, rather than merely our attitudes about the cultural constraints.

  113. Andrew, I am not sure what you are arguing for now. I am simply arguing that you do have a choice. Going into a casino is a choice, playing a game is a choice, winning that game is a matter of chance. You can think you are going to win, but you won’t necessarily win. Playing that game is a choice you make based upon the possibility of winning. Again, back to Indiana Jones, you weigh your options and go from there. Logic dictates that its a game of chance and you may not win. I also understand that not everyone is logical in that other compulsions drive them to do certain things that are very difficult, though I don’t think impossible, to overcome. (But that is a different issue.)

    It seems like you are saying that your entire life is a mere reaction to scenarios that come before you. Choice is at best limited, in your view. I do think there is some truth to that in that we can’t control what happens around us or what others do. We are, in fact, dependent on others far more than most would like to realize. I don’t think, though, that this truth extinguishes within us our ability to react or react otherwise, in other words, we retain the ability to choose.

    I’d also like to comment on your statement: “All that I need to do to be open to hearing the evidence and new tactics is to continue reading, to continue being on places like this. I am doing that.” I disagree with you here. I can read information on politics that I disagree with and know that I am not going to change my mind. Sure, something might spark a change in opinion, but if I am so convinced that my political way is correct, very little offered will change my mind.

    Bear in mind, you’ve already told us that you need fire and brimstone sort of evidence, lightning strikes and the like, to change your mind. Its not a great leap to see that you are not really that open, despite your insistence that you are.

    Fair enough?

  114. Jared, you do bring about an important assumption from my comment: the belief in a personal God. There is nothing to suggest a belief in any god necessitates an ability to pray/talk/communicate with it.

    And just to clarify my point, though, was that even getting to the point where prayer is believable, one must acknowledge the personal nature of a god. Without that, any idea of a personal or impersonal god, let alone really communicating with him, is just fanciful.

  115. slowcowboy,

    I am simply arguing that you do have a choice. Going into a casino is a choice, playing a game is a choice, winning that game is a matter of chance. Playing that game is a choice you make based upon the possibility of winning.

    I think that if you agree that going to a casino is a choice and playing a game is a choice, but that winning that game is *not* a choice (but is instead a matter of chance), then that is a breakthrough moment.

    What I am saying is that beliefs, emotions, feelings, etc., are also to me a matter of chance.

    I’d also like to comment on your statement: “All that I need to do to be open to hearing the evidence and new tactics is to continue reading, to continue being on places like this. I am doing that.” I disagree with you here. I can read information on politics that I disagree with and know that I am not going to change my mind. Sure, something might spark a change in opinion, but if I am so convinced that my political way is correct, very little offered will change my mind.

    To connect what I have been saying to this part…What I am saying is that changing your mind is always a case of “something…spark[ing] a change in opinion.” So to me, the statement that you know that you are not going to change your mind assumes too much — you simply don’t know that. You might think that you know you are not going to change your mind, but since you don’t choose how your mind is set, you can absolutely be wrong in that thought. So you can’t know whether you will or will not change your mind because it’s a matter of chance, not choice — the chance that something might spark a change in opinion.

    All you can do is put yourself in a place where something *could* spark a change in opinion. If you can see that as analogous as the choice to go into a casino and analogous to the choice to play a game, then we agree about the level of choice. The actual changing of minds seems to me similar to winning the casino game — that’s a matter of chance that “something might spark a change in opinion” per your own wording.

    So then, going to the casino and playing a game is analogous to going to a place where people believe differently and deciding to read or hear what they have to say. Those are choices you can make. Whether or not your mind is changed in any way as a result of doing that is a matter of chance, the same as whether or not you win at the casino.

    Bear in mind, you’ve already told us that you need fire and brimstone sort of evidence, lightning strikes and the like, to change your mind. Its not a great leap to see that you are not really that open, despite your insistence that you are.

    I don’t think this is the case. I know that in case of scriptures, there are several examples (Saul/Paul, Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah) where there were really big sorts of evidences. So I know that per a Christian and per a Mormon narrative, those should be a possibility. But I also know in the case of the scriptures that there were people who saw pretty amazing things (Laman and Lemuel, Doubting Thomas) who saw those things yet still did not believe, and I also know in other cases where people saw something relatively small, but which was pivotal to them. So in my opinion, the thing that triggers a changes a mind cannot be objectively defined for everyone.

    But the greater point in my comments is that God — if he is all-knowing and all-powerful as Christians seem to want to say — should know whatever it would take to change my mind. whether that is something “big” or something “small”. It should not be a game of chance for any such god. But he either seems uninterested, unwilling, or incapable to do anything on this front here. And again, it’s no skin off my nose if that’s how things are going to be.

    Let me know your thoughts on that.

  116. Should God know what it would take to reach you? Here’s where I see the ability to choose as relevant. God does know what it would take to reach you. He knows it all, so there’s no reason to expect this to be different. But I do think it takes an open mind on your part to see that it is he is trying to communicate.

    So, I still disagree on whether we have a choice on what to believe. Of course we do. I think you conflate the ability to choose, even emotions and beliefs, with reacting to circumstances around us. We always retain the ability to choose, though our choices are shaped by our experiences, no doubt,

    I was only commenting on what you wrote earlier, that it would take something big to change your mind. That, call me crazy for concluding this way, indicates a closed mind.

    But here’s the problem I have with your approach: you’re already assuming that there is no god, so you start from a position of disbelief. You then say that God should know what it would take to change your mind, but God has not provided this evidence/experience. So because God has not talked to you in a way that you think He should already know, there can be no God (let alone god).

    What way do you think God should talk to you? How do you think God should reach you? Do you think it is possible that He may be trying to reach you in ways you have not considered? If so, are you open, sincerely open, to looking in areas and ways, and with new possibilities of thought, to find ways that God may be speaking to you? I do not suggest this is something akin to the Book of Mormon, but that if you are not looking everywhere, then you may be missing the message.

    And this is where the rubber meets the road with my objection to your position: you’re saying you are not able to look everywhere because you cannot control every part of your life, which is a mere reaction to everything that has happened before. So, you just move on ahead expecting God to reveal himself in a way that jives with your past experiences and beliefs. That is hardly an open way to view anything, let alone search for something. Its as if there is no active search there, and in place of an active search and expectation that whatever it is you are searching for must come to you.

  117. slowcowboy,

    Should God know what it would take to reach you? Here’s where I see the ability to choose as relevant. God does know what it would take to reach you. He knows it all, so there’s no reason to expect this to be different. But I do think it takes an open mind on your part to see that it is he is trying to communicate.

    I guess we still have confusion on what an open mind is. I think an open mind is reading different perspective, opinions, views, etc., You have said that this is not what it means to have an open mind because could read people’s politics you disagree with and think that you knew you were not going to change your mind. I said that since changing minds is always a matter of chance, that you wouldn’t be able to “know” if your mind was going to change or not, and it depends on something to spark that change.

    So, I still disagree on whether we have a choice on what to believe. Of course we do. I think you conflate the ability to choose, even emotions and beliefs, with reacting to circumstances around us. We always retain the ability to choose, though our choices are shaped by our experiences, no doubt,

    Yeah, we’re going to still disagree on whether we have a choice on what to believe if we can’t get straight whether belief is like going into a casino, playing a game at the casino, or winning at the game. I suggested that having an open mind is like going into a casino and playing a game — but that doesn’t guarantee belief, and it doesn’t make belief a choice. You have rejected that concept but haven’t replaced it with anything else.

    If I don’t see that he is trying to communicate, it’s not like I can just say “OK, now I will see.” I can keep looking around, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to see anything. But if God is reaching out to me, and if God knows where I am and knows how to find me, then he could make himself immediately visible and apparent. He doesn’t seem interested or willing or capable of doing such.

    I was only commenting on what you wrote earlier, that it would take something big to change your mind. That, call me crazy for concluding this way, indicates a closed mind.

    I guess I kinda want to stop you here…can you point me to what part of my comments you are referring to that makes you think that’s what I’m saying? I looked through all of my comments and have come up with the following comments on this topic:

    (I mean, really, I stress again, if God knows so much, couldn’t he put things in any form that would make sense to me? I mean, I accept that a lot of times when God does that, he strikes people down or whatever. Sure, whatever. He’s the boss, right?

    Note here that I am saying, “If God knows so much, couldn’t he put things in any form that would make sense to me.” I am not presuming that those things would necessarily have to be big things, but in the next line, I point out your own scripture’s precedent for using particularly “big” things like striking people down.

    The only other line I found was…

    I am not saying that an alcoholic can never overcome addiction, although I think that some can’t and we can’t necessarily predict who is in what group. I am saying that overcoming addiction isn’t so simply a conscious choice. I think it cheapens the concept of addiction to say that people choose to be addicted, or just choose to snap out of addiction. I think that in a lot of cases, someone has to have a really traumatic experience that really motivates them — losing someone, perhaps. A really bad medical accident, maybe. But even with these “big experiences,” these experiences do not affect everyone the same (some people get further and further in without any change), and sometimes those experiences are not enough (they want to change…they want to stop, but they just really need another drink more.)

    So it doesn’t make sense to me to say, “the only people who stay alcoholics are the people who choose to be.” No, I know a lot of people who want to change things like that, but they just can’t. No matter how hard they try; no matter what programs they do. I know some people who do change as well, but they didn’t choose the difficulty level of the task.

    I know people who have had big experiences that created the motivation. I know people who have had big experiences that did nothing. So, the reaction to the big experience…it doesn’t seem like it’s the same for everyone, and it doesn’t seem like a conscious choice.

    Throughout this section, I do note big experiences, but I note that it doesn’t seem like the experiences are the same for everyone, and these experiences don’t affect everyone similarly.

    But here’s the problem I have with your approach: you’re already assuming that there is no god, so you start from a position of disbelief. You then say that God should know what it would take to change your mind, but God has not provided this evidence/experience. So because God has not talked to you in a way that you think He should already know, there can be no God (let alone god).

    To the contrary, I am not assuming that there is no God. It is possible that there is no god, but I also recognize that it’s possible that God exists, and he is unwilling, uninterested, or incapable of reaching out to me. I recognize that it’s possible that I am unwilling to experience him reaching out to me. I recognize that it’s possible that I’m looking in the wrong places (even by going on a blog like this.) I have said these sorts of things several times in my comments. Whichever of these cases is actually the case is not that relevant to me.

    I specifically have not said: because God has not talked to me in a way that I think he should already know, there can be no God. I have several times recognized that it’s possible that God simply is unwilling, uninterested, or incapable of doing such. I have also several times recognized that it’s possible that I’m unwilling, uninterested, or incapable of doing such. But the big sticking point here is that you think people choose to be willing, interested, or capable of reaching out to God, and I don’t see that as the case.

    What way do you think God should talk to you? How do you think God should reach you? Do you think it is possible that He may be trying to reach you in ways you have not considered? If so, are you open, sincerely open, to looking in areas and ways, and with new possibilities of thought, to find ways that God may be speaking to you? I do not suggest this is something akin to the Book of Mormon, but that if you are not looking everywhere, then you may be missing the message.

    I cannot presume to speak for God, but I would imagine that there should not be any limit to how God could talk or reach out to anyone. I mean, it’s not like God is a radio signal where you have to have the right equipment tuned to the frequency in the right distance range to even hope to pick it up. This is a deity whom you argue exists everywhere, has the power to do anything, and is reaching out to me. There is no limit except any one of our lacks of creativity.

    And this is where the rubber meets the road with my objection to your position: you’re saying you are not able to look everywhere because you cannot control every part of your life, which is a mere reaction to everything that has happened before. So, you just move on ahead expecting God to reveal himself in a way that jives with your past experiences and beliefs. That is hardly an open way to view anything, let alone search for something. Its as if there is no active search there, and in place of an active search and expectation that whatever it is you are searching for must come to you.

    I am not able to look everywhere because I do not have the tools or the time. Suppose that God can only be found on Kolob. I would need a spaceship to go there. Suppose that God can only be found in the year 3000. I would need to live to the year 3000 to get there. Suppose that God can only be seen in infrared. I would need infrared glasses to see. If you think God could be hiding *anywhere*, then I could scour every rock at every moment until I die and still never find him.

    So, instead, I search at popular hubs where people claim to have found god. For example, on this thread are a bunch of people who claim to have found god. Y’all tell me about scriptures that speak of god. Y’all tell me about podcasts and audio files, etc.,

    But i have read your scriptures and god was not within them. If God is hiding within podcasts, then you got me — I have not spent the time to listen to all the podcasts!

    But it is not as if I am doing nothing. I am still on this blog (and other blogs), and reading books (and other books), and talking to people (and other people). I don’t have to do *any* of this at *any* time. I mean, i have busy days and work (work that could be done right now, even!) and yet I am here.

    But God is not here.

    Again, instead of me trying to find a needle in a haystack with no directions and no idea of where it is, I’m just pointing out that if your god is so omniscient, so omnipotent, he could come up with any other possible way. If I need different eyes to see or ears to hear, an omnipotent God could just give me different eyes or different ears.

    But he seems unwilling, uninterested, or incapable of doing such.

  118. Andrew, what’s your point in continuing to post? I feel like its a moving target. I was under the impression you were an atheist, and at best a skeptical agnostic, meaning that you really feel that there is no god, and if there is one, you have no clue on how to find it.

    If this discussion is about whether God exists as I believe He does, I can’t ever convince you of that. I certainly can’t convince you of that if you even reject that you have a choice in the matter. You expect God to come to you, as if you have no choice in the matter.

    I know you have brought up the issue free will/election. I don’t see that as ultimately a helpful way to approach the existence of God. You’ve used it to suggest that since you don’t believe, you were elected that way and move on. No big deal you say. I don’t believe, though, that election or free will proves the existence of a god either way. Who’s to say you find your evidence and then believe. So much for your prior thought on not being elected if that were to happen.

    But I’ll tell you my point in continuing to discuss: that maybe, just maybe, you will see things differently, either now or 10 years from now, as a result of this online conversation. I can never convince you of God– that’s up to you, a choice. Whether you don’t view it as a choice is really irrelevant. If you are reacting to what I am saying, in some way, the conversation moves you forward.

    Do I get something out of it? Of course, and I can tell you that I choose to post and respond the way that I think is appropriate. If I see evidence that I think is convincing, I choose to accept it. What makes it convincing? Something based on sound logic that overcomes what I currently view as correct. There, of course, is an element of the suggestive in here, and I make no mistake about that. Convincing is not always a black and white occurrence.

    You essentially end with this:

    “Again, instead of me trying to find a needle in a haystack with no directions and no idea of where it is, I’m just pointing out that if your god is so omniscient, so omnipotent, he could come up with any other possible way. If I need different eyes to see or ears to hear, an omnipotent God could just give me different eyes or different ears.”

    This misses the entire point of my last post. Your end of: “But he seems unwilling, uninterested, or incapable of doing such,” is where I glean the idea that you are not really open to YOU actually looking. You expect God to come to you. If there is a God, isn’t it in His discretion to talk to you in the way that He sees fit, not your discretion?

    (By the way, if I misrepresent you, my apologies. I make conclusions based on what you say. It seems you look for God to come to you in some obvious way, but I don’t think that is the case. While I see your words written on my screen saying you are open to the possibility that it may come from somewhere else in a less dramatic form, I also see you, as I have said very explicitly in my last two paragraphs that you think God is not willing, interested, or capable of talking to you and how that shows that you have expectations for God to meet about you. Those expectations are where I say that you are not as open as you say.)

    Now, all of this discussion these last couple days has been under the premise of choice. Its clear we disagree on the element of choice, what it means and what implications choice has on our ability to move in life. I still maintain that you have more choice than you are willing to admit, but if you are dug in that you have no choice, then I cannot convince you. I do hope that maybe you understand the role of choice a bit better.

  119. Andrew:

    You write, “But the greater point in my comments is that God — if he is all-knowing and all-powerful as Christians seem to want to say — should know whatever it would take to change my mind. whether that is something “big” or something “small”. It should not be a game of chance for any such god. But he either seems uninterested, unwilling, or incapable to do anything on this front here.”

    That’s precisely my point: In traditional Christian theology faith is considered an act of the *will*, not the intellect. If it were not, if it were simply a matter of data in, data out, then God would be entirely at fault for anyone’s failure to believe, since he’s the one who fails to make sure that everyone has the right data. But if faith is an act of the will, and if we all possess free will, then the choice of faith is yours and mine to make.

    Thomas Aquinas writes, “Now the act of believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the Divine truth *at the command of the will* moved by the grace of God, so that it is subject to the free-will in relation to God….”

    Also, “Faith implies assent of the intellect to that which is believed. Now the intellect assents to a thing in two ways. First, through being moved to assent by its very object…. Secondly the intellect assents to something, not through being sufficiently moved to this assent by its proper object, but through *an act of choice*, whereby it turns voluntarily to one side rather than to the other: and if this be accompanied by doubt or fear of the opposite side, there will be opinion, while, if there be certainty and no fear of the other side, there will be faith.”

    S.T., II-II, Q. 1, A. 4.

    You can assent to something through your intellect being sufficiently moved by its proper object, in other words, by seeing something with your eyes or having it proven for you. Or you can assent through an act of choice, whereby you turn voluntarily to one side or the other.

    Note carefully the following:

    “Because science is incompatible with opinion about the same object simply, for the reason that science demands that its object should be deemed impossible to be otherwise, whereas it is essential to opinion, that its object should be deemed possible to be otherwise. Yet that which is the object of faith, on account of the certainty of faith, is also deemed impossible to be otherwise; and the reason why science and faith cannot be about the same object and in the same respect is because the object of science is something seen whereas the object of faith is the unseen, as stated above.”

    S.T., II-II, Q. 1, A. 5, Ad. 4.

    The object of science is something seen, whereas the object of faith is the unseen.

    If you think about it, faith in the unseen *must* be an act of the will, precisely because it is unseen. You can’t be compelled to believe in something that is not perceptible to any of your senses, nor provable to your intellect. Anything you believe in that is imperceptible and unproven is faith rather than knowledge, and faith by definition is an act of the will.

  120. slowcowboy,

    what’s your point in continuing to post?

    I would like to say that it’s because I’m interested in finding out what other people think, and seeing if after comments after comments, we can come closer to understanding one another — whether it is me who better understands you or you who understands me. So, I continue to post under the hopes that something like that happens.

    But you know, it could be because I am an automaton who is programmed to futilely comment on blogs like this. Who knows?

    I feel like its a moving target. I was under the impression you were an atheist, and at best a skeptical agnostic, meaning that you really feel that there is no god, and if there is one, you have no clue on how to find it.

    Well, firstly, I think that my atheism has always been a lack of belief that there is a god, rather than a belief that there is no god. So if you modified that to be, “I really don’t feel that there is a god (but I also don’t feel that there is no god specifically), but if there is one, I have no clue how to find it,” then I think that would be a reasonable way to frame things.

    If this discussion is about whether God exists as I believe He does, I can’t ever convince you of that. I certainly can’t convince you of that if you even reject that you have a choice in the matter. You expect God to come to you, as if you have no choice in the matter.,

    I think that still confuses the issue. Whether you can or cannot convince me is not a matter of choice. It’s a matter of chance. Maybe you could convince me by saying something a certain way. Maybe something I’ve read will stick in my head for the next days/weeks/months/years and then just stew over. I mean, we really don’t know. Heck, maybe you’ll even convince me that beliefs can be chosen…but at this time, I’m just not seeing it.

    I do not expect God to come to me. I have stated many times that God can do whatever he wants. I have simply stated that God should have the power to come to me, if he were interested or willing to do so. I don’t expect it. I’m not holding my breath. But it should be possible.

    I know you have brought up the issue free will/election. I don’t see that as ultimately a helpful way to approach the existence of God. You’ve used it to suggest that since you don’t believe, you were elected that way and move on. No big deal you say. I don’t believe, though, that election or free will proves the existence of a god either way. Who’s to say you find your evidence and then believe. So much for your prior thought on not being elected if that were to happen.

    At the very least, the free will/election issue makes a lot more sense of the situation as I see it. One possibility is that God does not exist, yes. But another possibility is that God exists and we are incapable of recognizing that unless he changes us first. Both of those possibilities seem reasonable to me, given that I don’t think we can choose our beliefs. You’re right that the idea of election/free will doesn’t decide whether there is or is not a god, but that still doesn’t really matter.

    Calvinism utterly accounts for the fact of people “finding [their] evidence and then believing.” Irresistible grace is not the idea that the elect will be converted immediately, with little challenge, or little passage of time. Rather, as I understand it, it could involve a lot of meandering, a lot of challenge, etc., But only the elect get through that challenge believing.

    In that way, one doesn’t really know if they are elect or not.

    But I’ll tell you my point in continuing to discuss: that maybe, just maybe, you will see things differently, either now or 10 years from now, as a result of this online conversation. I can never convince you of God– that’s up to you, a choice. Whether you don’t view it as a choice is really irrelevant. If you are reacting to what I am saying, in some way, the conversation moves you forward.

    So we are in agreement there.

    Do I get something out of it? Of course, and I can tell you that I choose to post and respond the way that I think is appropriate. If I see evidence that I think is convincing, I choose to accept it. What makes it convincing? Something based on sound logic that overcomes what I currently view as correct. There, of course, is an element of the suggestive in here, and I make no mistake about that. Convincing is not always a black and white occurrence.

    I think that the difference in our opinion is that you say that you choose to accept stuff if you see evidence that you think is convincing. I say that since you didn’t choose for any piece of evidence to be convincing (because you didn’t choose to perceive the logic as sound), that you aren’t choosing to accept. But I don’t disagree with this basically…I just think that what you call a choice to accept assumes something that is not chosen (something being convincing to you).

    This misses the entire point of my last post. Your end of: “But he seems unwilling, uninterested, or incapable of doing such,” is where I glean the idea that you are not really open to YOU actually looking. You expect God to come to you. If there is a God, isn’t it in His discretion to talk to you in the way that He sees fit, not your discretion?

    It totally is in his discretion. But that’s my point — it’s not in my discretion to find God. it’s in his discretion! I can not do anything on this point.

    (By the way, if I misrepresent you, my apologies. I make conclusions based on what you say. It seems you look for God to come to you in some obvious way, but I don’t think that is the case. While I see your words written on my screen saying you are open to the possibility that it may come from somewhere else in a less dramatic form, I also see you, as I have said very explicitly in my last two paragraphs that you think God is not willing, interested, or capable of talking to you and how that shows that you have expectations for God to meet about you. Those expectations are where I say that you are not as open as you say.)

    I think what you are misinterpreting is that I say that I think God is not willing, interested, or capable of talking to you based on evaluation that I haven’t heard, seen, felt, perceived or experienced him at any point. This is not to say that he has to reach out in any particular way, but that he would know exactly what way it would be to reach out to me — if he were so inclined.

    I am not expecting him to reach out, or expecting him to reach out in any particular way. But I don’t perceive him reaching out to me in any way.

    Now, all of this discussion these last couple days has been under the premise of choice. Its clear we disagree on the element of choice, what it means and what implications choice has on our ability to move in life. I still maintain that you have more choice than you are willing to admit, but if you are dug in that you have no choice, then I cannot convince you. I do hope that maybe you understand the role of choice a bit better.

    You still haven’t really shown me how someone could choose to believe.

  121. Agellius,

    I think this is an interesting comment, but can you clarify some things from Aquinas?

    You say:

    In traditional Christian theology faith is considered an act of the *will*, not the intellect. If it were not, if it were simply a matter of data in, data out, then God would be entirely at fault for anyone’s failure to believe, since he’s the one who fails to make sure that everyone has the right data. But if faith is an act of the will, and if we all possess free will, then the choice of faith is yours and mine to make.

    Is your understanding of faith similar to Tim’s (e.g., crossing the bridge)? If so, what is the action of faith that can be willed, regardless of belief?

    You quote, per Thomas Aquinas:

    Thomas Aquinas writes, “Now the act of believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the Divine truth *at the command of the will* moved by the grace of God, so that it is subject to the free-will in relation to God….”

    The thing that gets me is this: “the act of believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the Divine truth at the command of the will moved by the grace of God.”

    What does it mean for the will to be moved by the grace of God? What if a will is not moved by the grace of God? Are wills moved by the grace of God by an act of an individual person’s will?

    Later, from Aquinas:

    Also, “Faith implies assent of the intellect to that which is believed. Now the intellect assents to a thing in two ways. First, through being moved to assent by its very object…. Secondly the intellect assents to something, not through being sufficiently moved to this assent by its proper object, but through *an act of choice*, whereby it turns voluntarily to one side rather than to the other: and if this be accompanied by doubt or fear of the opposite side, there will be opinion, while, if there be certainty and no fear of the other side, there will be faith.”

    What does it mean to be accompanied by doubt or fear or not? Is that an act of choice too? How would one turn voluntarily to intellectually assent to a thing when one is not sufficiently moved? What is doing the moving there? How is it done?

    “Because science is incompatible with opinion about the same object simply, for the reason that science demands that its object should be deemed impossible to be otherwise, whereas it is essential to opinion, that its object should be deemed possible to be otherwise. Yet that which is the object of faith, on account of the certainty of faith, is also deemed impossible to be otherwise; and the reason why science and faith cannot be about the same object and in the same respect is because the object of science is something seen whereas the object of faith is the unseen, as stated above.”

    I got lost here. Can you break it down further than to say that science is about the seen and faith is about the unseen? What is all of this stuff about “deemed impossible to be otherwise,” etc.,?

    If you think about it, faith in the unseen *must* be an act of the will, precisely because it is unseen. You can’t be compelled to believe in something that is not perceptible to any of your senses, nor provable to your intellect. Anything you believe in that is imperceptible and unproven is faith rather than knowledge, and faith by definition is an act of the will.

    Are you saying that God is not perceptible to any of our senses? That it doesn’t make sense to say, “I feel god’s love” or any of a number of things that I hear Christians say frequently? If we aren’t engaging with any of our senses, our intellect, etc., then what is it that we are interacting/assenting/believing with or in?

  122. First, let me address your question on choosing to believe. I don’t know how to show that. I am not educated enough in this area to even begin to show, technically, how one chooses anything. I do know there is enough evidence out there of people fighting through situations that involve choice. Some, in similar situations successfully navigate, others don’t. I don’t have enough faith to accept that some of these people simply had different experiences than other, and that drove their success. Something more is going on. (My choice to believe this or is this my composite experiences telling me that we all have choice? How do you even begin to answer this question? If I tell you it is my choice, are you going to tell me that it is not my choice? How do you know?)

    Now, as to you expecting (or not expecting) God to reach out, the importance of that you place the burden on God to reach you. That you don’t expect him to is really partly why you don’t believe anyway, and why you reject notions that you have to do something. And this is why you need to understand the gravity of you putting the burden on God: when you do that, you take it off of yourself. Its kinda like Pontious Pilate, washing his hands after condemning Christ to the Cross.

  123. slowcowboy,

    (My choice to believe this or is this my composite experiences telling me that we all have choice? How do you even begin to answer this question? If I tell you it is my choice, are you going to tell me that it is not my choice? How do you know?)

    I guess the issue is that I ask, “hey, if this is a choice for you, explain that.” Then people proceed to explain things either implying or explicitly stating a bunch of other things are are not chosen (at least, in my point of view.)

    So, for example, you said earlier:

    If I see evidence that I think is convincing, I choose to accept it. What makes it convincing? Something based on sound logic that overcomes what I currently view as correct. There, of course, is an element of the suggestive in here, and I make no mistake about that.

    This statement begins with a big “If”: If you see evidence that you think is convincing. But to me, being convinced by something is not a choice.

    You later say that what makes something convincing is that it is “based on sound logic that overcomes what you currently view as correct.” But do you choose what is based on sound logic? Do you choose for it to overcome what you currently view? For me, I don’t view these things as chosen. So your explanation of belief as a choice reads to me as belief as not a choice.

    Who knows? Maybe it is a choice for you. but I don’t see enough from your recounting of these choices to see how I would begin to make it a choice for me.

    Now, as to you expecting (or not expecting) God to reach out, the importance of that you place the burden on God to reach you. That you don’t expect him to is really partly why you don’t believe anyway, and why you reject notions that you have to do something. And this is why you need to understand the gravity of you putting the burden on God: when you do that, you take it off of yourself. Its kinda like Pontious Pilate, washing his hands after condemning Christ to the Cross.

    I think the issue is that you think I am rejecting notions that I have to do something, whereas what I’m really doing is pointing out that a lot of you are asking me to do something that I can’t choose to do. Tim and (perhaps) Agellius are the only two who have suggested anything else, but I still am not entire sure what Tim’s “crossing the bridge” would be, and I’m not entirely sure what Agellius’s “turning voluntarily to intellectually assent” would look like (or, even more for Agellius, what it would look like to turn voluntarily to intellectually assent to something that cannot be perceived in any way.)

  124. Andrew, right, just like Pilate, not accepting responsibility.

    This cheeky, perhaps more accurately ‘snarky’, response is how I see your position.

    I also see your rejection of choice as a belief, a faith. You can’t prove it any more than I can prove to you choices we make as what we believe, our faith.

    I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: you have made up your mind. You’ve decided you cannot choose to accept God, and therefore unless God makes himself known to you, you will reject Him as non-existent, not capable, uninterested, or unwilling to affect your life. I can’t begin to fully know why you think that way, but its clear you reject your own ability to choose or to choose otherwise, to take one path or another, at least as it comes to accepting God.

    I am not sure I can add much more to this body of thought at the present time. We disagree, and I hope that something positive has come out of this.

    But if you have specific questions, feel free to ask. I will do my best to answer them quickly and honestly.

  125. Andrew:

    (Sorry in advance for the length, but I wanted to give good answers to your questions.)

    You write, “Is your understanding of faith similar to Tim’s (e.g., crossing the bridge)? If so, what is the action of faith that can be willed, regardless of belief?”

    I was using “belief” and “faith” more or less synonymously, though they’re not really. St. Thomas contrasts “belief” with “sight”, and says that you can’t believe something that you see: It would make no sense to say “I believe in this pen in my hand”.

    So, you don’t make the act of faith “regardless of belief”. Rather, Christian faith is a specific kind of belief which we can only attain by God’s grace. This is because faith deals not only with whether God exists, but also whether God is all-good, all-wise and absolutely trustworthy. In other words, whether you are willing to submit your will and your intellect to him in all things, repenting of anything that conflicts with his will and resolving to live in accord with his commands.

    St. Thomas argued that the philosophical proofs of God’s existence are adequate to attain a belief in his existence, but placing your faith in him is something else entirely, and involves knowing and relating to him in a certain way.

    You write, “What does it mean for the will to be moved by the grace of God? What if a will is not moved by the grace of God? Are wills moved by the grace of God by an act of an individual person’s will?”

    For a will to be moved by the grace of God means that since faith is a supernatural virtue, we could not make the act of the will that is faith, if left to our natural abilities. Therefore if we make the act of faith, it’s only because God has enabled us to, supernaturally. However, God enabling us to do something is not the same as him forcing us to do it. We can choose not to do the things that he enables us to do.

    You write, “What does it mean to be accompanied by doubt or fear or not? Is that an act of choice too? How would one turn voluntarily to intellectually assent to a thing when one is not sufficiently moved? What is doing the moving there? How is it done?”

    By being “sufficiently moved” he means what I have referred to as finding something compelling. I have defined “compelling” as meaning that you have no choice but to believe it, either because you perceive it with your senses, or because it has been proven in some way. When something is not compelling, then you have a choice whether to accept it or reject it. Examples, again, are evolution and abortion: There is widespread disagreement on both issues. There is great evidence for evolution, but any scientist would admit that that’s not the same as proof. And the evil of abortion seems obvious to a lot of people, whereas a lot of others don’t see it that way.

    Personally, I have changed my mind on abortion. I used to hold the liberal position, but after becoming Christian I changed. This was not because of learning new things about abortion, but because of changing my attitude towards it. Note that I didn’t simply make up my mind that I would change my mind. But changing my mind about something else – Christianity – helped to changed my perspective on abortion. I think the root of it was that before I was Christian, I saw abortion as being akin to my right to have sex and not suffer the consequences if it could be helped. Whereas after becoming Christian, I saw that having sex was not a “right” but a gift of God to be used as he commands; and if that’s true of sex, it’s certainly true of the child resulting from sex.

    As I see it, the only way you could say that changing my position on abortion was not a choice, is if you were to say that my becoming Christian also was not a choice. In other words, I drifted into Christianity involuntarily, and then involuntarily became anti-abortion (and then involuntarily became a Republican). In other words I’m not really living my life, I’m just drifting along with the current of data and letting my mechanical brain pull me wherever the data dictates. I can’t prove to you that these things were not involuntary, but having lived through the experience I can testify to you that they weren’t. You can choose to believe me or not. : )

    If you want to know the strict mechanism of choice, in the same way you can explain the mechanism of eyesight (light strikes the retina initiating a chemical reaction causing protein A to bind with protein B … etc.), I can’t help you. I just think it makes sense, and it comports with how I experience things.

    You write, “I got lost here. Can you break it down further than to say that science is about the seen and faith is about the unseen? What is all of this stuff about “deemed impossible to be otherwise,” etc.,?”

    I explained the contrast between “seeing” and “believing” above: “Science” deals with what we can either perceive with our senses, or prove logically or mathematically; this is what he means by things that are “seen”. The “unseen” are things that we can’t perceive with our senses or prove, such as God. Things that are “seen” are “deemed impossible to be otherwise”, because when you see something, or when something has been proven, you know that it’s real and true (assuming you’re not a radical skeptic).

    What he’s saying about faith is that a faithful person is as certain about God’s existence as he is about things that are “seen”, despite the fact that God is unseen. How can anyone be that certain of what is unseen? Because faith is an act of the will, and we’re not robots or computers who have no choice about what to believe.

    You write, “Are you saying that God is not perceptible to any of our senses? That it doesn’t make sense to say, “I feel god’s love” or any of a number of things that I hear Christians say frequently? If we aren’t engaging with any of our senses, our intellect, etc., then what is it that we are interacting/assenting/believing with or in?”

    Ah! Now we get to the crux of what it means to say that God is unseen, and why our intellect can’t be compelled to believe in him. If you could literally see God, or feel him, or talk to him, then faith might not be needed. You would know him like you know your mother or the pen in your hand. But he is literally invisible, unhearable, untouchable. You can only know him through his effects, that is, the things that he has made.

    What if you were trying to figure out what kind of a person a sculptor was, solely by examining his sculptures? The first thing would be to conclude that there was a sculptor, of course. The second might be to admire his skill and sense of beauty. You could choose to think he must have been very good to have created such beauty. But then you remember that some great artists were not really wonderful people. Based on his work alone, the opinion that you form of him is a choice. Part of that will be based on the objective fact of his work, but part of it also might come from your attitude towards art in general, and towards this art in particular. And part of those attitudes could conceivably be based on your own character, which in turn could be based on your actions and choices; could it not?

    I agree that it doesn’ t make sense to say “I feel God’s love”, if the person means it literally. But if God is love and the source of love, then any time we feel love it makes sense to refer that love, and that feeling, to God, ultimately. And the same with any other good thing that we experience, including things like truth or enlightenment, beauty, moral goodness, the amazing scale and complexity of the universe, life, etc. We “feel” God when we refer the good things in life to him as their source, with feelings of gratitude, appreciation and awe.

  126. Andrew:

    Let me ask you this: Do you believe we can affect our own character, habits and personality traits by the choices we make?

  127. Agellius,

    No need to apologize about length…this is helpful. I will just try not to increase the length in my responses…

    I think the difference Aquinas makes between belief and sight is interesting, but I think I am missing something. I mean, I wouldn’t say, “I believe in this pen in my hand” because that sort of phrasing would be awkward. But if I saw a pen in my hand, I would say, “I believe there is a pen in my hand.” There’s that phrase: “seeing is believing”? I am aware that my sight can be fooled (and I might not see everything that exists), but these things don’t seem like they are on two completely different scales.

    Maybe there has to be parsed out what “belief in x” means vs what “believing that x exists” means?

    When you say that Christian faith is a specific kind of belief because faith deals not only with whether God exists, but also whether God is all-good, etc., what I am wondering is: what if someone doesn’t believe that God is all-good, all-wise, and absolutely trustworthy? How do we know if we are enabled (but not forced) supernaturally through grace to make the act of will of faith — especially when we do not perceive that God is all-good, all-wise, and absolutely trustworthy?

    As I see it, the only way you could say that changing my position on abortion was not a choice, is if you were to say that my becoming Christian also was not a choice. In other words, I drifted into Christianity involuntarily, and then involuntarily became anti-abortion (and then involuntarily became a Republican).

    But that’s the crux, isn’t it? People finding Christianity to be true/compelling/etc., doesn’t seem to be a choice. It either is to them or it is not. But I do admit that I don’t get what it means — what it looks like or feels like — to choose to do something that God has enabled (but not compelled) you to do. Maybe that is the piece i’m missing, but I don’t perceive it. I don’t know what that means.

    I think that the evolution and abortion examples aren’t really great examples of people not being compelled to believe one way or another. They are good examples of issues where there are great controversies, yes, but it seems to me that people are very polarized. People who believe one way believe that way strongly, and people who believe the other way believe that way strongly. When I talk about belief, it really isn’t so much dependent on objective proof or things like that, so that is not really the critical part. What is critical is people’s subjective experiences — and people perceive very strongly one way or the other. As you say: And the evil of abortion seems obvious to a lot of people, whereas a lot of others don’t see it that way. For people who believe the evil of abortion is obvious, do you think they could say, “Well, now, I’m going to believe that not only is the evil not obvious, but that it is not evil at all.” Do you think you could say that? Do you think you could say, “Well, I’m going to now not find Christianity to be true, and as a result, I will not have the Christian narrative to tell me that abortion is wrong”?

    That’s what I don’t get. I don’t think people can do that consciously. People may have some sort of change in experiences or change in perspectives (e.g., becoming Christian, etc.,) to have a change in that belief, but even then, things aren’t slam dunks: plenty of Christians are pro-choice, believe in evolution, believe in [insert anything] here.

    When you say:

    I just think it makes sense, and it comports with how I experience things.

    Well, that is a bit problematic for me. Because I think something like “I just think it makes sense” indicates something unchosen. (Could you choose for that to not make sense? Could you choose to experience things a different way just by willing that?) So if someone else “just thinks” something else makes sense, and a different sort of things comport with how they experience things, then that is an impasse.

    You say:

    Things that are “seen” are “deemed impossible to be otherwise”, because when you see something, or when something has been proven, you know that it’s real and true (assuming you’re not a radical skeptic).

    I don’t want to go into a radically skeptic road, but I would say this: you absolutely can see things that are not real and true. If you see a magic trick, you might think, “Wow, that magician did x!” But you can learn over time that that was just sleight of hand or an optical illusion or etc., So what you saw is not what you think you saw. Maybe that’s not relevant going further, since you separate seeing vs believing.

    What he’s saying about faith is that a faithful person is as certain about God’s existence as he is about things that are “seen”, despite the fact that God is unseen. How can anyone be that certain of what is unseen? Because faith is an act of the will, and we’re not robots or computers who have no choice about what to believe.

    So, the person just forces the certainty? He forces himself to say, “I am certain that God is and God is trustworthy”? How does this get past the lying perception that I’ve talked about waaaay earlier?

    Ah! Now we get to the crux of what it means to say that God is unseen, and why our intellect can’t be compelled to believe in him. If you could literally see God, or feel him, or talk to him, then faith might not be needed. You would know him like you know your mother or the pen in your hand. But he is literally invisible, unhearable, untouchable. You can only know him through his effects, that is, the things that he has made.

    Well, this is definitely moving things forward indeed. Why do people even pray? (I know you respond to feeling God’s love later on, but I want to get this out here.) Like, I was thinking that people prayed to hear answers from God. Maybe that answer didn’t come in a certain way, but it would still be something perceived through senses. But what you are saying is that you can’t perceive him through the senses.

    What if you were trying to figure out what kind of a person a sculptor was, solely by examining his sculptures? The first thing would be to conclude that there was a sculptor, of course. The second might be to admire his skill and sense of beauty. You could choose to think he must have been very good to have created such beauty. But then you remember that some great artists were not really wonderful people. Based on his work alone, the opinion that you form of him is a choice. Part of that will be based on the objective fact of his work, but part of it also might come from your attitude towards art in general, and towards this art in particular. And part of those attitudes could conceivably be based on your own character, which in turn could be based on your actions and choices; could it not?

    Suppose that you saw something and you didn’t see it as beautiful or skillful. Could you just choose to find it skillful and beautiful instead? Wouldn’t seeing it as beautiful and skillful be a prerequisite for thinking that the artist was very good for creating that.

    I mean, in our sculpture example, aren’t we basically saying that the universe is the sculpture? But we can say that any pattern of rocks and trees and mountains and nature and things like that are the result of evolution, plate tectonics, erosion, etc., etc., stars nova-ing and supernovaing, etc., We don’t find all of nature and the universe beautiful. In fact, different people may find different things beautiful, and some people may not have much of an appreciation for things like that at all. Or we can see things that fill us with dread and revulsion (have you read about some diseases we have on this planet? wow!). Some people may perceive this collection of things in such a way that they say, “someone must have created this.” But some people will just see them as a bunch of rocks, mountains, etc., etc., that came about through natural processes. I don’t think that’s a conscious choice, really.

    Do you really think that finding something beautiful is a choice? I don’t.

    At this point, i’m going to jump to your next comment, because you talk about character here:

    You ask:

    Do you believe we can affect our own character, habits and personality traits by the choices we make?

    I think that we can only do so indirectly, and that it depends on the element of character, the habit, the personality trait, etc., Certain things we may have more of a chance or likelihood to affect, but some things we are not really going to be able to change through choice.

    Like music. I think we each have certain tastes in music. We don’t choose our tastes in music. We don’t choose what music we find to be great and which music we find revolting at worst or boring at best. We can try to listen to different kinds of music, try to study up on music theory and figure out what the composer was thinking, what other people get out of the music, but there is no guarantee that we’ll change or start liking that music. It’s a gamble: cue the gambling analogy i’ve been using with slowcowboy.

    This has implications throughout your sculpture arguments.

    I agree that it doesn’ t make sense to say “I feel God’s love”, if the person means it literally. But if God is love and the source of love, then any time we feel love it makes sense to refer that love, and that feeling, to God, ultimately.

    Suppose that a gay man feels love in his relationship to his husband. I know a lot of folks who would consider themselves gay Christians, but I know a lot of folks who would consider homosexuality and gay relationships anathema. So, it seems uncertain whether we can even attribute love like this to God. In fact, it doesn’t make sense why we would attribute any sort of love to God. If we are talking about God being imperceptible, then why would we define God by perceptible experiences (e.g., love)? Why can’t we say love is love, instead of saying God is love? (which doesn’t help, because we can perceive love, but…if I am understanding you correctly, we can’t perceive God). Why is love a stand-in for God? Why do we even include him in the mix?

    This line of questioning applies to the other things you mention, thought:

    And the same with any other good thing that we experience, including things like truth or enlightenment, beauty, moral goodness, the amazing scale and complexity of the universe, life, etc. We “feel” God when we refer the good things in life to him as their source, with feelings of gratitude, appreciation and awe.

    Suppose we find that the commands that God has given (at least, or so his followers say as part of various religions) are not what moral goodness is about, but that we perceive moral goodness differently. Can we or should we still say we “feel” God by referring to the good things in our lives (that Christians or people of other religions would say are not good things) as having him as their source? Why would or should we want to do this (especially when we don’t feel like doing such)?

    And why would we only do so with the “good” things, and not any of the bad?

  128. Andrew:

    You write, ‘I wouldn’t say, “I believe in this pen in my hand” because that sort of phrasing would be awkward. But if I saw a pen in my hand, I would say, “I believe there is a pen in my hand.” ‘

    I think St. Thomas was drawing a technical distinction between “belief” and “sight” for purposes of doing philosophy and theology. I think it’s a common-sense distinction that most people would grasp fairly easily. If you had a pen in your hand you would be more likely to say “I have a pen in my hand” than “I believe I have a pen in my hand” (unless you had your eyes closed). And that’s what most people would expect you to say, because most people who are not radical skeptics believe the evidence of their senses the overwhelming majority of the time. (And even radical skeptics live as though they trust their senses, even while claiming to doubt them.)

    You write, ‘How do we know if we are enabled (but not forced) supernaturally through grace to make the act of will of faith — especially when we do not perceive that God is all-good, all-wise, and absolutely trustworthy?’

    I think that everyone receives that grace. I think that God himself and his attributes are inherently believable. By the same token I think evolution is inherently believable, yet some people reject evolution, right? The fact that it’s believable doesn’t force people to believe it; and the fact that people don’t believe it doesn’t make it unbelievable. I think the choice to believe in God is easier than you think, and I hope that one day you discover that for yourself.

    You write, ‘But that’s the crux, isn’t it? People finding Christianity to be true/compelling/etc., doesn’t seem to be a choice. It either is to them or it is not. … For people who believe the evil of abortion is obvious, do you think they could say, “Well, now, I’m going to believe that not only is the evil not obvious, but that it is not evil at all.”’

    I don’t think we’re that far apart here. I agree that we can’t always control the level of credibility that we give to things. What I’m saying (and what I think St. Thomas is saying) is that even when things appear credible to us, it still requires an act of the will to take the further step, from saying “these things appear credible” to saying “I assent to these things”. Again, things can appear credible and yet still be disbelieved.

    Yet I still think the extent to which things appear credible, is not entirely out of our control either. I recently became much more openminded about the possibility of evolution being true. This came about largely because I took a class in planetary astronomy (I’m way past college age, I just decided to take a few classes in hope of finally finishing a degree). Some of the things I learned in that class gave me a new perspective on how the universe formed. Thus, my actions created the conditions under which I was enabled to look at evolution in a fresh light.

    My point being that we can create circumstances under which it’s harder for us to believe in God, or circumstances in which it’s easier for us to believe in God. So even if we find ourselves in a place where it’s hard to believe in God, and have no direct control over how we perceive the evidence, it’s possible that we could do things which might put ourselves in a better place (or in a worse place).

    Don’t misunderstand: It’s not my place to judge the extent to which your disbelief is your own fault. Only God knows. And the Catholic Church does teach a doctrine called “invincible ignorance”, which means that some people may find themselves unable to believe, for various reasons, due to no fault of their own. But again, whether it’s due to any fault of our own, even we ourselves are not capable of judging, but only God. And his judgment is absolutely infallible, so while I won’t say that you need have no fear of damnation (I won’t even say that of myself), I can say confidently that you need have no fear of unjust damnation.

    You write, ‘I don’t want to go into a radically skeptic road, but I would say this: you absolutely can see things that are not real and true. If you see a magic trick, you might think, “Wow, that magician did x!” But you can learn over time that that was just sleight of hand or an optical illusion or etc., So what you saw is not what you think you saw. ‘

    Yes, but keep in mind that “see” encompasses not only eyesight but all the senses, as well as logical or mathematical proofs, as previously explained. Of course, any individual might be fooled into believing something that didn’t really happen. I’m not claiming personal infallibility for every person on earth. But I’m saying that we as a species generally consider the evidences of our senses reliable. If we’re to take the position that they’re not reliable, then we have to conclude the all the findings of modern science are unreliable, since all of those findings are discovered ultimately through the senses (even if only to read the information on a computer screen).

    Keep in mind also that if something “impossible” appears to happen before our eyes — like a stick that appears bent in the water — we have the other senses, touch, taste, smell and hearing, to verify whether we saw what we think we saw; not to mention our intellects, which serve to make us suspicious when something appears out of the ordinary. And how do we determine “ordinary”? It’s ultimately based on the experience of our senses as processed by our intellects.

    You write, ‘So, the person just forces the certainty? He forces himself to say, “I am certain that God is and God is trustworthy”? How does this get past the lying perception that I’ve talked about waaaay earlier?’

    As I said waaaay earlier, I can choose to believe, and refuse to doubt, my wife’s faithfulness, even in the face of evidence that appears to point to the contrary. Obviously if I encountered flat-out proof of her infidelity I would change my mind, and similarly in the case of God.

    You write, ‘Why do people even pray? … Like, I was thinking that people prayed to hear answers from God. Maybe that answer didn’t come in a certain way, but it would still be something perceived through senses. But what you are saying is that you can’t perceive him through the senses.’

    That’s true. Answers to prayer are a very subjective thing. You can never prove that something is an answer to prayer, although you may choose to believe it. Often I have prayed for something to happen and it happened, and I have chosen to consider that an answer. But I can’t say for sure that it was.

    You write, ‘Do you really think that finding something beautiful is a choice? I don’t.’

    No, I don’t think that finding something beautiful is a choice. Personally, I find virtually everything natural to be beautiful. The ugliness that I encounter is nearly always the result of man’s intervention, whether ugly buildings or roads, cars, pollution, graffiti, etc. Even granting that some natural things are ugly, I would posit that they are very much the exception.

    You write, ‘And why would we only do so with the “good” things, and not any of the bad?’

    Because we don’t believe God creates anything bad. I won’t elaborate now since this is already so long, but I will if you want me to.

  129. Agellius,

    If you had a pen in your hand you would be more likely to say “I have a pen in my hand” than “I believe I have a pen in my hand” (unless you had your eyes closed). And that’s what most people would expect you to say, because most people who are not radical skeptics believe the evidence of their senses the overwhelming majority of the time. (And even radical skeptics live as though they trust their senses, even while claiming to doubt them.)

    But note that what you’re saying here is that people would exclude the “I believe” from “I have a pen in my hand” because belief is already assumed, not because it’s not something that someone believes. As you yourself say: most people who are not radical skeptics believe the evidence of their senses the overwhelming majority of the time. (And this is not really something they consciously choose, either — even for radical skeptics, as you yourself point out.)

    So if this is a common sense distinction that Aquinas is trying to make, then I’m not following common sense. It’s kinda like English class — my English teacher would ruthlessly remove “I think” and “I believe” from essays — not because she doubted that we thought and believed these things, but because be default, if we make a statement, it’s assumed that we believe in this.

    I think that everyone receives that grace. I think that God himself and his attributes are inherently believable. By the same token I think evolution is inherently believable, yet some people reject evolution, right? The fact that it’s believable doesn’t force people to believe it; and the fact that people don’t believe it doesn’t make it unbelievable. I think the choice to believe in God is easier than you think, and I hope that one day you discover that for yourself.

    Do you think that something being inherently believable is the same as everyone receiving the grace. Would you say that evolution has a grace associated with it?

    But I still think there’s a gap here. So you’re talking believability in terms of qualities of the thing (e.g., God, evolution.) But I see believability far more subjectively, phenomenologically, and personally…belief tells us about ourselves and not about the thing that we are believing in.

    Let’s take something like a math problem. Does 0.99999~ = 1? Apparently it does, so you might say that that statement is “inherently believable.” And you are correct that just because it is inherently believable doesn’t mean that everyone is forced to believe in it. BUT it does not follow that believing in this fact or not is a choice. If you don’t understand the proofs to derive 0.999~ = 1, if you dispute the mathematical concepts, if the concepts and words don’t make sense, then you probably won’t think the two are identical. You might think, “Well, couldn’t you just ad .000….1?”

    That’s not their choice. They are in fact incorrect (as it turns out). But it’s not their choice not to understand.

    I mean, we can have things that are mathematically proven out. Objectively, 100%, utterly true. That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to believe it — and that doesn’t mean that whether one believes it or doesn’t believe it is a conscious choice that people make.

    I agree that we can’t always control the level of credibility that we give to things. What I’m saying (and what I think St. Thomas is saying) is that even when things appear credible to us, it still requires an act of the will to take the further step, from saying “these things appear credible” to saying “I assent to these things”. Again, things can appear credible and yet still be disbelieved.

    I think you’re sliding away from what I’m actually talking about. Here, it seems you are talking about the difference between, if I can reframe, possibility or probability and actuality. So, I read what you’re saying as saying, “Even when things appear possible/probable, it still requires an act of the will to take the further step to saying “These things are actual.”

    But my issue is that I don’t think either step is something you can will. I don’t think you can consciously control credibility (in terms of how possible, probable, likely, etc.,) you think something is…or actuality. In the quote that you’re responding to here, I say:

    People finding Christianity to be true/compelling/etc

    That is talking about actuality — people find Christianity to be ACTUALLY true, etc., It’s not about possibility or credibility. So the question is whether someone can actually will belief in actuality. I think it’s the same sort of boat as possibility — nope.

    (FWIW, i think people can believe things that are incredible to nevertheless still actually be true. Or I think people can believe things to be really credible, really probably, yet nevertheless not believe them to actually be true. But I don’t think they choose that consciously in any case.)

    Yet I still think the extent to which things appear credible, is not entirely out of our control either. I recently became much more openminded about the possibility of evolution being true. This came about largely because I took a class in planetary astronomy (I’m way past college age, I just decided to take a few classes in hope of finally finishing a degree). Some of the things I learned in that class gave me a new perspective on how the universe formed. Thus, my actions created the conditions under which I was enabled to look at evolution in a fresh light.

    When you say, “Some of the things I learned in that class gave me a new perspective,” that reads to me as something you did not choose.

    Like for me, I am really bad at math. I can take a math class and NOT GET IT. I don’t get it; I don’t learn stuff, I don’t get a new perspective, I fail the quizzes, tests, assignments. I just don’t get it. I can spend hours and hours studying, and have people explain it to me, but there’s no guarantee that I’ll understand. There’s no guarantee that my opinion will change. It’s all gambling. I am not proud enough to think that’s because I understand math more than the professor and the class and they are all teaching nonsense. No, I am going to say, “Hey, maybe these guys know what they are talking about.” But that doesn’t change how *I* feel. What *I* think. What *I* know and believe.

    So, I see whether beliefs are chosen about the same as whether someone can choose to win the lottery. Of course I recognize that if I want to win the lottery, there ARE certain actions I can take to make it more likely (e.g., buy a lot of tickets.) If I want to win casino games, I have to bet more. But whether I win or not is not a conscious choice.

    My point being that we can create circumstances under which it’s harder for us to believe in God, or circumstances in which it’s easier for us to believe in God. So even if we find ourselves in a place where it’s hard to believe in God, and have no direct control over how we perceive the evidence, it’s possible that we could do things which might put ourselves in a better place (or in a worse place).

    I think this is definitely fair. I do not disagree with this. But I would say a few things:

    1) It’s difficult to know what circumstances these are, as it’s not the same for everyone. (In learning about mundane subjects like math or science, we know that some people are more auditory learners, while some people are more visual learners, etc., So it’s difficult to say what actions would make someone more able to perceive the evidence on any given subject, because we are different.)
    2) Even if we create what one person thinks are ideal circumstances, we might not actually change belief. (If you are a visual learner, you can give me a very visual lesson on learning math, and that may not work for me. But heck, even if we are both visual learners, there is no guarantee that I’ll “see” the same thing. It’s not a choice; you’re at best creating better environments, but ultimately, it’s a matter of chance.)
    3) At the end of the day, we don’t have any guide for what the ideal circumstances are for ourselves. If only there were a being who was omniscient and omnipotent… (People aren’t born knowing what kind of learner they are; how they “work” on this level.)

    re: God’s judgment…I’m sure that at the end, then when “the big reveal” happens, he’ll explain it in a way that I find my judgment is absolutely just. But as of right now, it’s too hazy.

    Yes, but keep in mind that “see” encompasses not only eyesight but all the senses, as well as logical or mathematical proofs, as previously explained. Of course, any individual might be fooled into believing something that didn’t really happen. I’m not claiming personal infallibility for every person on earth. But I’m saying that we as a species generally consider the evidences of our senses reliable. If we’re to take the position that they’re not reliable, then we have to conclude the all the findings of modern science are unreliable, since all of those findings are discovered ultimately through the senses (even if only to read the information on a computer screen).

    firstly, there are some people who argue that our senses are not reliable and that the findings of modern science are not reliable. E.g., Science on evolution, the aging of the earth, etc., is incorrect because the earth was only created with the appearance of age.

    But generally, I agree with you. I would state further that most people don’t choose whether or not they believe their senses to be reliable — so whether those sense are or are not actually reliable is a separate question. If you do get fooled (in any particular instance), it’s not because you chose to be.

    As I said waaaay earlier, I can choose to believe, and refuse to doubt, my wife’s faithfulness, even in the face of evidence that appears to point to the contrary. Obviously if I encountered flat-out proof of her infidelity I would change my mind, and similarly in the case of God.

    I still don’t think you can choose this. I think you would have a reaction and that reaction would linger on your mind, regardless of whether you say you are going to go along with that reaction or against it.

    You say that if you encountered flat-out proof of her infidelity you would change your mind, but I don’t think this is necessarily the case. I mean, I guess a question would be: What would be flat-out proof? Finding her in flagrante? Well, she says, ‘it’s not what it seems!’ But whether you trust that protestation or not is not a choice. If you say, “Well, I’ll believe you,” but you really don’t, you’ll have that doubt always there in your mind, probably poisoning the future relationship. If you do believe her, but you say you don’t, then you will feel guilty for any harsh actions you take against her.

    Whether you doubt or trust her is not a choice, and it doesn’t require any particular level of evidence to trigger.

    I feel like we have a conceptual gap — if I’m understanding you correctly, would you say that there is a choice to believe whenever something doesn’t have proof?

    Because this comes through several places in your comment (including your discussion about answers to prayers), but I don’t see any of those situations in terms of choice just because they are unproven. But I’m noting the difference between us.

    re: not finding things beautiful to be a choice…since we agree here, I’m wondering if there is any way to move more from here. Because I think that aesthetic response (finding things beautiful) is more conceptually similar to feeling things, thinking things, believing things than it is to..doing things (actions).

    Because we don’t believe God creates anything bad. I won’t elaborate now since this is already so long, but I will if you want me to.

    I guess the issue is that when people describe the Christian narrative, it sounds like he created a bunch of bad stuff, it broke, and now he’s blaming us for it while creating this roundabout narrative to sacrifice himself to save us back.

    So when you just say “because we don’t believe God creates anything bad,” that doesn’t mean anything to me. Don’t worry about it if it’s too long. Maybe we can narrow the topic of discussion down for now?

  130. Andrew:

    You write, ‘So if this is a common sense distinction that Aquinas is trying to make, then I’m not following common sense. It’s kinda like English class — my English teacher would ruthlessly remove “I think” and “I believe” from essays — not because she doubted that we thought and believed these things, but because be default, if we make a statement, it’s assumed that we believe in this.’

    I’m having trouble grasping the difficulty. As I see it, St. Thomas is basically just defining his terms. Knowing means one thing, believing means another. Do you mean to say that you can’t see any distinction between believing and knowing with certainty? Or are you denying that we can know anything with certainty, therefore everything we know is a belief? Either (1) it’s all belief, or (2) it’s all certainty, or (3) there’s a distinction between belief and certainty. Which do you choose?

    You write, ‘Do you think that something being inherently believable is the same as everyone receiving the grace. Would you say that evolution has a grace associated with it?’

    Maybe “inherently believable” wasn’t the best term, but what I meant was that it’s reasonable to believe it, on an objective basis. Believing it is not entirely baseless. You don’t have to base your belief on a feeling of inspiration or a burning the the bosom, or a gut feeling, or a whim, because there’s objective evidence for it, or it’s a valid logical conclusion. I think that both God’s existence and the theory of evolution fall into this category: things that one is not compelled to believe, but which it is reasonable to believe.

    You write, ‘I mean, we can have things that are mathematically proven out. Objectively, 100%, utterly true. That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to believe it — and that doesn’t mean that whether one believes it or doesn’t believe it is a conscious choice that people make.’

    I think that there are certain things that you can’t help knowing, because they’re the result of a calculation or an undoubtedly valid syllogism, or they just too obvious to deny. For example, that there is more than one human being alive on the earth at this moment, or that 1+1=2. Someone who doesn’t believe those things is clearly out of touch with reality, for whatever reason. For such things, there may be no separate step from finding it believable, to assenting to it. For some other things, there can be a separate step between finding the evidence credible, and consciously assenting to it.

    Evolution again is an example in my own case. I have not yet given it my full assent, but I’m pretty sure I’m on the way there. It may never be proven to me beyond a doubt, but at some point I’m probably going to say, “OK, I’ve seen enough evidence, I’m now willing to drop my previous bias against evolution and accept that it probably reflects reality, and act and think accordingly.” Maybe the same thing will happen at some point with the idea of anthropocentric global warming. And I can say that it has already happened with regard to the existence and nature of God, as well as the Catholic religion.

    You write, ‘I think you’re sliding away from what I’m actually talking about. Here, it seems you are talking about the difference between, if I can reframe, possibility or probability and actuality. So, I read what you’re saying as saying, “Even when things appear possible/probable, it still requires an act of the will to take the further step to saying “These things are actual.”’

    No, I’m not talking about moving from non-actual to actual. Whether the thing is actual is what is being questioned in the first place. I’m talking about moving from finding that it’s credible or reasonable to believe that something is actual, to actually believing that it’s actual. They’re not the same thing. There are things that I consider reasonable to believe, but don’t believe or have not yet given my assent to.

    You write, ‘When you say, “Some of the things I learned in that class gave me a new perspective,” that reads to me as something you did not choose.’

    My point was that my actions, in this case deciding to take a class in astronomy, can affect the extent to which things appear credible to me, e.g. if I had not voluntarily decided to take that class, my view of evolution would not have changed. Do you disagree with this?

    You write, ‘Like for me, I am really bad at math. I can take a math class and NOT GET IT. I don’t get it; I don’t learn stuff, I don’t get a new perspective, I fail the quizzes, tests, assignments. I just don’t get it. I can spend hours and hours studying, and have people explain it to me, but there’s no guarantee that I’ll understand.’

    I didn’t say that every thing you do or study will result in you finding different things credible. I’m saying that it’s possible for us to do things, or refuse to do things, which affect the extent to which we find things credible.

    You write, ‘But I would say a few things: 1) It’s difficult to know what circumstances these are, as it’s not the same for everyone.’

    I agree.

    ‘2) Even if we create what one person thinks are ideal circumstances, we might not actually change belief.’

    I agree.

    ‘3) At the end of the day, we don’t have any guide for what the ideal circumstances are for ourselves.’

    I wouldn’t say we have no guide whatsoever, but I agree that it’s hard to know for sure.

    You write, ‘You say that if you encountered flat-out proof of her infidelity you would change your mind, but I don’t think this is necessarily the case. … Whether you doubt or trust her is not a choice, and it doesn’t require any particular level of evidence to trigger.’

    I totally disagree. I’m not a robot.

    You write, ‘I feel like we have a conceptual gap — if I’m understanding you correctly, would you say that there is a choice to believe whenever something doesn’t have proof?’

    I’m saying there is sometimes a choice to believe, and this happens in cases where assent is not compelled. Maybe not in every case, but definitely in some cases.

    You write, ‘I think that aesthetic response (finding things beautiful) is more conceptually similar to feeling things, thinking things, believing things than it is to..doing things (actions).’

    I think the aesthetic response is different from thinking, and believing is a kind of thinking, what St. Thomas calls “thinking with assent”.

    This evening or tomorrow morning I hope to post something which I hope is more focused on the crux of our disagreement.

  131. Andrew:

    It seems that the nub of our disagreement is that you think we cannot choose what to believe, and I think we can.

    We have gone around and around on this and still disagree. I’ve given my best explanations for my position, and you’ve given your best explanations for yours, yet we still disagree.

    What the ultimate ground of our disagreement? Is it rooted in the objective facts of life, outside ourselves? Or is it rooted within ourselves?

    I work on the assumption that the Law of Non-Contradiction is true: That something cannot be both true and not-true at the same time and in the same respect. Indeed this is the foundation of all reasoning. If you deny the LNC then we simply can’t discuss our disagreements.

    Therefore, since we disagree, we can’t both be right. Either people can choose what to believe, or they can’t. One or the other is true. We don’t agree which, but one of us is objectively right and the other is objectively wrong.

    Therefore, our disagreement must be due to something within me, or something within you, or both.

    You say that we can’t choose what to believe, but simply must believe whatever strikes us as true or at least convincing. So for some reason, your position strikes you as true, and therefore you have no choice but to believe it; and the same for me and my position.

    Does this mean we can never come to an agreement? If you think it’s possible for us to come to an agreement at some point, how will that come about? Doesn’t one of us have to change, interiorly, in some way?

    Do we have any control over whether we change in such a way as to come to an agreement? Can we do anything to bring that about? Or is it completely beyond our control, and we just have to wait until some chance event occurs which causes one of us to see things differently?

  132. Agellius,

    responding to your latest comment first, I absolutely think the crucial disagreement is on whether we can choose what we believe. Responding to your last three paragraphs first:

    You say that we can’t choose what to believe, but simply must believe whatever strikes us as true or at least convincing. So for some reason, your position strikes you as true, and therefore you have no choice but to believe it; and the same for me and my position.

    That is how I see it. But it seems that if I understand your comments correctly, your position is one (or ones?) of the following (please confirm which one or ones):

    1) We can will to assent to any claim, whether it strikes us as true or convincing.
    2) If claims strike us as “credible” or “reasonable”, we can choose to assent to the claim.
    3) We can reliably, inevitably choose to have any claim that has objective support but that doesn’t strike us as credible or reasonable begin to strike us as credible or reasonable through actions (e.g., taking classes), and then we can choose to assent to the claim.

    If 1 or 3 is true, then theoretically, your position is not just because you have no choice but to believe it (as it strikes you as true), but that you always have a choice to believe it or not, either because you can will it regardless of whether it strikes you as true or convincing, or because you can just start reading up on doxastic involuntarism until it seems credible, and then choose to assent to it. If 2 is true, then it depends on whether the claim seems reasonable or credible in the first place…if it does, then you can choose to believe (or not), but if not, then you have no choice to possible assent.

    Does this mean we can never come to an agreement? If you think it’s possible for us to come to an agreement at some point, how will that come about? Doesn’t one of us have to change, interiorly, in some way?

    Do we have any control over whether we change in such a way as to come to an agreement? Can we do anything to bring that about? Or is it completely beyond our control, and we just have to wait until some chance event occurs which causes one of us to see things differently?

    I recognize that people’s beliefs do change. I just don’t perceive this process for myself as a conscious choice. Maybe you perceive it for yourself as a conscious choice, but that is not how I perceive it.

    So, I think that we could come to an agreement if one of our beliefs changed, but I don’t think that belief change would be a result of conscious choice. That is not to say that I don’t think that there is no conscious choice anywhere associated, and I think that’s another place where we have disagreements. So, I think that what we can control is what things we choose to read, what things we choose to study, what things we choose the engage E.g., I can choose to post on this blog, read comments here, or not. And I think we agree on that. But where we still differ is that when I read something, I don’t perceive that I can decide whether anything I read here will be convincing or not. One thing or another *might* be convincing, but I don’t consciously choose that.

    If I could jump back to your earlier comment to try to illustrate where I think we differ on this:

    With regard to my math analogies, you wrote:

    I think that there are certain things that you can’t help knowing, because they’re the result of a calculation or an undoubtedly valid syllogism, or they just too obvious to deny. For example, that there is more than one human being alive on the earth at this moment, or that 1+1=2. Someone who doesn’t believe those things is clearly out of touch with reality, for whatever reason. For such things, there may be no separate step from finding it believable, to assenting to it. For some other things, there can be a separate step between finding the evidence credible, and consciously assenting to it.

    Evolution again is an example in my own case. I have not yet given it my full assent, but I’m pretty sure I’m on the way there. It may never be proven to me beyond a doubt, but at some point I’m probably going to say, “OK, I’ve seen enough evidence, I’m now willing to drop my previous bias against evolution and accept that it probably reflects reality, and act and think accordingly.” Maybe the same thing will happen at some point with the idea of anthropocentric global warming. And I can say that it has already happened with regard to the existence and nature of God, as well as the Catholic religion.

    My point was that my actions, in this case deciding to take a class in astronomy, can affect the extent to which things appear credible to me, e.g. if I had not voluntarily decided to take that class, my view of evolution would not have changed. Do you disagree with this?

    I didn’t say that every thing you do or study will result in you finding different things credible. I’m saying that it’s possible for us to do things, or refuse to do things, which affect the extent to which we find things credible.

    I would not strongly say, “If you had not voluntarily decided to take that [astronomy] class, [your] view of evolution would not have changed,” if only because there could have been other things that happened or other things that you did that led to such a change, but I get what you’re saying here, and I agree with the general gist — taking an astronomy class (a voluntary choice) was something that led to a greater possibility for your beliefs on evolution to change. In that sense, I agree that your actions (taking class in astronomy) can affect the extent to which things appear credible to you.

    But I still don’t see this as saying that you chose to believe in evolution. Firstly, I don’t necessarily think this is reliable enough to say that action a caused belief b. Because ultimately, while you did choose to take the astronomy class, you did not choose for things discussed in that class to so affect you that evolution looked credible. This is why I keep going back to gambling/casino/lottery. I totally recognize that if I want to win the lottery, I can increase my chances by buying tickets, and lower my chances by not buying tickets. But i can’t just choose to win. that is a matter of chance, even if the chances are affected by my actions.

    Also, I still totally disagree with your separate step between “finding the evidence credible” and “consciously assenting to it” because again, I don’t think assent is conscious. To me, the only difference between “finding the evidence credible” and “assenting to it” is not a CONSCIOUS CHOICE, but rather a perception about actuality (vs a perception merely about credibility), but neither perception is consciously chosen.

    So, when you say:

    No, I’m not talking about moving from non-actual to actual. Whether the thing is actual is what is being questioned in the first place. I’m talking about moving from finding that it’s credible or reasonable to believe that something is actual, to actually believing that it’s actual. They’re not the same thing. There are things that I consider reasonable to believe, but don’t believe or have not yet given my assent to.

    I’m not disputing that someone could find something credible/reasonable, but not find it actual. I am disputing that finding something “actual” is a conscious choice that one makes.

    I could write more about my disagreements with you on reasonability/”inherently believable”/”logically valid” (namely, I don’t think the objective truth or falsity of anything has much to do with belief [although we like to think so! we like to think that we believe stuff because it’s objectively true, objectively supported, logically valid and sound, etc.,], because belief is *subjective*), but I’ll pass that, unless you want to go further into that. I could also write more about about believing vs knowing (e.g., I think that knowing and certainty are categories of beliefs, so your line of questions about whether they are different or the same seems to miss the mark to me.), but I’ll pass on that too, unless you want to go further in to that.

    One thing I’ll briefly comment on, however:

    Therefore, since we disagree, we can’t both be right. Either people can choose what to believe, or they can’t. One or the other is true. We don’t agree which, but one of us is objectively right and the other is objectively wrong.

    I don’t think this is necessarily the case, because there’s an underlying assumption that is not necessarily justified. In this statement, you’re assuming that people are similar enough that what is true for one person on this front should be true for others…but it’s entirely possible that you and I are sufficiently enough different that what is true for you may not be true for me. It’s entirely possible that *some* people can choose what to believe, while *other* people cannot. I mean, I don’t want to assume any sort of extraordinariness or uniqueness, but that absolutely is a possibility, and that would not defy LNC.

  133. Agellius,

    I totally botched closing and opening blockquotes.

    I have quoted one of your paragraphs (“You say that we can’t choose what to believe…”), then I have three of mine, then I have two of yours (“Does this mean we can never come to an agreement?…”), and from there, your text should appear as two blockquotes in, whereas mine is only one blockquote in.

  134. Good for you, I don’t know how to block quote at all! Thanks for the explanation.

    If you don’t want to respond to my prior, long comment, don’t feel obligated. I won’t take your silence as consent. ; )

  135. Was there another comment I haven’t responded to? I should have responded to relevant parts from both the comment that begins with “It seems that the nub of our disagreement” and the earlier comment that begins with “You write, ‘So if this is a common sense distinction that Aquinas is trying to make, then I’m not following common sense.”

    there are a few parts from the earlier comment that I didn’t go into further detail, but I also said that if you want to go into further detail, then I can.

  136. Andrew: I wondered if I could ask you something personal, unrelated to this discussion. You could click my avatar and use the “Contact Me” form on my blog to send me an email, and then I could reply to you, if you don’t mind. Thanks.

  137. I thought I would do a bit of a reboot on our discussion, if you don’t mind.

    1. Do you agree that there is a difference between finding something credible, and giving your assent to it? Or do you think that people always assent to things which they find credible?

    Asking the same question in a slightly different way:

    2. Are you able to look at an opponent’s position in an argument and give credit for at least being credible, even if you disagree with it? Or do you consider all opinions with which you disagree to be non-credible?

  138. Sent you a message via your blog.

    But w/r/t reboot:

    1) Yes, I agree that there is a difference between finding something credible and assenting to it. (I would not say “give your assent” because I don’t think assent is consciously given).

    2) For some positions, yes, I can. Some things, I can say, “This is credible to me, but I don’t believe in it.” For other things, I think, “This just isn’t credible to me.”

  139. OK, I just wanted to make sure we were agreed on that.

    What would you say is the difference between finding something credible, and assenting to it?

  140. Credibility refers to beliefs about potentiality, possibility, probability…things like that.

    Assent refers to beliefs about actuality.

  141. Ahh. This may be where we’re missing each other (though we may still disagree).

    I wonder if the following might help you to see where I’m coming from (this is a quote from a post on my blog) [https://agellius.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/are-doubt-and-faith-compatible/]:

    ‘[John Henry] Cardinal Newman writes that there are three types of propositions: Interrogative, conditional, and categorical. You may ask a question (interrogative); you may draw a conclusion (conditional, since it depends on premisses); or you may make an assertion (categorical). He writes further that these types of propositions correspond to three modes of holding propositions in the mind: Doubt (interrogative), inference (conditional), and assent (categorical).’

    To Newman, “doubt” doesn’t necessarily mean having negative thoughts about a proposition. It just means that your mind isn’t made up. He says that doubt corresponds to an interrogative statement, because when you doubt something you’re questioning it. You’re not sure that it’s true, and you’re not sure that it’s false. You’re still pondering, or suspending judgment pending further information or insight.

    “Inference” of course is when you draw a conclusion from premises through logical reasoning, e.g., All mammals have hair, men are mammals, therefore all men have hair. He calls this conditional, because the truth of the conclusion depends on the truth of the premises: If the premise “all mammals have hair” is false, then you can’t be sure that the conclusion “all men have hair” is true. But if the premise is true, then the conclusion is true too.

    Assent is when you categorically assert something to be true, not necessarily as a result of a reasoning process. You may have arrived at your assent through reasoning, but having arrived there, you believe it to be true regardless of the reasoning that led you to it. Examples are the assent that I give to the proposition that when I drop something, it falls to the ground; or that my wife is faithful. Assenting to something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re right, but it means you’re sure of it. Will my wife always be faithful? That remains to be seen, but nevertheless I’m willing to assert categorically that she is now and always will be faithful.

    We previously agreed that finding something credible, and assenting to it are two different things. “Finding something credible” corresponds to “inference” in Newman’s terminology: It’s reasonable to believe, even if I disagree with it, because a valid argument can be made for it, although people may disagree as to whether the premises that lead to the conclusion are true. “Assent” doesn’t refer to whether or not something is correct in actuality, but rather your willingness to affirm, categorically, that it is true, even if you recognize that you’re not infallible.

    So doubt, inference and assent refer to the manner in which you are willing to affirm a proposition: Either you affirm it questioningly (doubt); or you affirm it conditionally (inference); or you affirm it categorically, i.e. unconditionally and without doubt (assent).

    Do you have any particular problem with defining terms in this manner?

  142. I think your blog post is probably good for explaining things how you see it, but I can say that I really don’t see things similarly to you. For example, the following paragraph from your post:

    To my mind, “doubt” is basically indecision: We have not yet determined whether to believe or assent to something. We don’t believe it’s true, and we don’t believe it’s false. If we believed it were true, we would no longer be doubting; and if we believed it were false, we would no longer be doubting; for in either case our mind would be made up.

    I don’t think doubt and faith (or even doubt and belief) are incompatible. Because to me, doubt and “assent” are two different beliefs.

    But I don’t think that really gets at the quote you have written here, so I’ll focus on that:

    …hmm, actually, I have attempted to write (and subsequently deleted) four different comments. I have a lot of problems with Newman’s typologies. I think his typology is idiosyncratic, and I also don’t think it accounts for a lot of possibilities of how people believe things. For example, assent as a “categorical” assertion of something as true doesn’t make sense — it just doesn’t seem like much of ANYTHING would be assented to (especially not, from your example, your wife’s faithfulness.) I don’t think we can really translate my terms to his (so I don’t really think “finding something credible” really translate to “inferring.”) I think that focus on inference as a product of logical reasoning is narrow and gives the wrong impression of things in several ways — in my view, credibility is not necessarily about logical reasoning. Credibility, assent, doubt, etc., all of these are phenomenological states. They are perceptions, feelings, intuitions, etc.,

    just a very frustrating typology.

  143. Well, I thought this new approach might help us bridge the gap, but it seems we’re as far apart as ever. Oh well, we tried. Thanks for the discussion anyway, I enjoyed it.

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