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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Inbox: Agnosticism and Folly

HS has managed to find Blogger’s word limit for comments with the following reflection on my September 6 post, so I’ll post his email in full here, as I think he makes some interesting and thought-provoking points:
“It has always been my contention that Christ’s existence and the validity of his teaching (and of the bible in general) can be assigned a relatively high probability of correctness.

To elaborate on that statement, note that we always have to, at least subliminally, go through this process of assigning probabilities (placing our bets) with practically all our knowledge. This is so because it is impossible for us to experience everything ourselves and 99.9...% of the time (meaning most often) we have to take someone’s word for having relayed fairly correct information to us, whether that is through formal channels (schooling, professional journals) or informal ones (like social networking). We accept or reject information by passing it through our intellectual and emotional filters, which are grounded in our own experience, knowledge, prejudices, opinion, preferences, temperament and inclinations. In other words, we are perfectly capable of putting our own spin on the information we receive (and which is already tainted by the spin of the source transmitting it), without being necessarily fully aware of that fact, before acting on it or passing it along to others. Because of the way we physically exist there is no way around this paradigm.

Then, how does one, can one, live their life given this uncertainty we are subjected to? Instinctively we go on by selecting the most probable path (to us, subliminally influenced by our filters). Scientists, including social scientists, have learned to employ statistical means to rank experiences (which includes formal test results) by their probability of correctness. This includes the probabilities regarding historical occurrences and figures, like Christ, his life, and the apostles. We, in turn, rank the probability of what is passed on to us by these authoritative figures and judge how to integrate this information in our personal lives based on who we are and what we think we already know and believe (our filters).

I will suggest here that, based on his process, one can actually develop fairly high confidence in the probability of God’s existence equivalent or better than we would assign to other historical figures or reports. This can then be translated into a typical statistical proof similar to what may come out of a social science experiment. This can be done as follows.

God cannot be directly shown to exist. Note that we have equivalent situations with physical science. If you see your doctor and he asks you to tell him on a scale of 1 to 10 what pain you are in, he cannot see or measure your pain in any concrete way and has to rely on your judgment, integrity and accuracy. Nevertheless, he could prepare a very formal and publishable scientific study of his patient’s pain level and threshold based on the 1 to 10 scale he introduced, and the estimates passed on by his patients concerning a particular illness. In other words, we, the world, consistently accept this type of approach except, as it seems, as long as we are not dealing with God and the potentially supernatural.

Richard Dawkins, or anyone else like him, is highly disingenuous in his arguments, especially since he has a science background, because he deliberately chooses to ignore his scientific training in regard to the God argument in order to buttress his own point of view. As a scientist he knows that if his experiment calls for measuring wind speed, e.g., that he has to use the right equipment and methods to accomplish that. As a practicing scientist he knows that there are laboratory and field manuals written outlining the procedure for taking wind speed measurement to get correct results, and that results will be incorrect if he does not utilize that knowledge. He is disingenuous because, as an informed and educated person, he knows very well, but will not admit to it, that with regard to religion and God there are also field manuals available with procedures and steps that need to be followed in order to obtain correct and concrete results in the religious sphere of investigation. These manuals are of course the bible, scriptural teaching, religious and oral tradition, etc.

Now, the manuals clearly provide several ground rules and procedures about taking God’s temperature, i.e., getting to know him so well that you know he exists even on a personal level and is therefore measurable by you with a degree of probability that you are satisfied with. Some of these ground rules are, follow the ten commandments, study and abide by Christ’s teaching, attempt to communicate with your test subject (God) on a personal and private basis through the techniques of prayer, church attendance and worship, integrate into a living religious community, and conduct information gathering and logging from fellow researchers (members and leaders of the community). If you follow these test procedures earnestly and sincerely with an open mind (which are also important field manual instructions), as you would pursue any other experiment for a test period of, let’s say, one year, you should then have gathered enough information to allow some valid conclusions for yourself.

God has thus given us an indirect way of measuring his presence by instructing us in the lab manual to learn to believe in him and by encouraging us to enter into a personal relationship with him. Thus, how can you claim to make any statement about God, or the idea of God, if you refuse to follow the lab test protocols and procedures, or even outright refuse to engage in the requisite experiments in order to obtain any insight and results? You, like Richard Dawkins, are then simply not qualified and entitled to say anything valid about the topic, and if you do, it is simply no more than uninformed speculation. Unfortunately, that is very often sufficient for likeminded people.

Now, it is possible that if you run the experiment you still arrive at the conclusion that you remain agnostic/atheist. However, then, like with any other statistical experiment, you have to take all data points into consideration, other experimenters and their results, and assign probabilities based on that as well.

Other experimenters will frequently have arrived at the conclusion that they have derived benefits by considering themselves as God’s adopted children and/or have observed such benefits for others. These benefits can be of all types, spiritual, emotional, and material. Now, benefits would be useless to us if they were only available in the hereafter, and therefore not measurable. By definition, they must therefore be available concretely in this world, in our lives. Once that is established, it is consequently true that they therefore must also be measurable through individual experience and through formal statistical processes similar to what the doctor did with intangible pain as mentioned above. In other words, a social scientist can, with formal statistical information gathering techniques, through interviews and subsequent analysis, develop and test various hypothesis concerning the presence and effects of God in people’s lives assigning measurement scales to parameters that are of interest and relevance in the experiment.

A very prominent and typical set of parameters that has been extensively tested, e.g., is the association (correlation) of crime and related social and developmental ills for people who do not pursue the God experiment compared to those who do by regularly attending church services. See my previous comments and sources appended to the blog topic “Agnosticism and Folly” Sept. 6, 2014. There I listed some excellent and extensive studies providing these conclusions.”

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