Monday, August 07, 2006
  Journey to Belief (part 2)

(part 1)

This encounter was not the beginning of doubt or questioning. That was a process that had already begun. But it was a sort of touching stone for me. I must, above all, I thought, base my beliefs on logic and reason rather than emotionalism.

The problem was, I wanted to just plain believe in God, desperately. I wanted the simple faith that so many of my fellow Saints (Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons) and Christians had. In a way, I hated over thinking things. It got in the way of just living. This 'rebelliousness' kept my development on hold for many years.

But after a while, I found I could no longer coast along in life. I began to question if I lead my lifestyle simply because it was what I'd been taught as a child. Our religion expected others to convert. What if I found out it was false and there was a truth out there I had to grab on to, convert myself to? Could I do it? Could I do what we Mormons wanted, even expected non-members of my church to do? Am I afraid to do what is right because I fear what those around me will think of me?

And then I read something that inspired me, in an odd way. It was an idea I gleaned from physics. I've since tracked it down to Einstein when he spoke of his theory of relativity as being "too beautiful to be false." Physics has a lot of this idea that the truth will naturally be beautiful. That concept rang in my head. It felt right, but that kind of thing is not enough for rigorous truth. It was a feeling, after all. A feeling and concept that supported what I wanted it to support. What it did was cause me to ask, "Is that really enough?"

To which question, this thought replied:

We can't know if there is or is not a god. I would not be able to find any absolutes on this search.

There is only one way for a person to know that he is correct in regard to the existence of an afterlife and God. That is if he believes in those things and they turn out to be true. If he believes and it is not true, he will never know that he has been wrong. If he doesn't believe and it is not true, he will never know that he has been right. And if he doesn't believe and it is true, then he will find out that he has been wrong.

This is actually a version of Pascal's Wager.

It isn't a fear of God thing, as Pascal's hedging of the bets seems to be, unless you desperately fear being wrong or simply going to the grave not knowing a thing. It is simply a statement of what we can and cannot eventually come to know with absolute certainty regarding God. It is a statement that makes a leap of faith towards the existence of God at least a reasonable proposition to pursue.

Because, no matter what view we take on the world, we make an assumption that is the foundation of our philosophy. It is an assumption that will rule our emotional responses and our motivations. It is an assumption about something that we cannot possibly know, which makes that assumption a leap of faith.

To be continued
Why must not accepting the existence of a supernatural being such as your god have a religious connotation forced into it? Is not believing in bigfoot or santa clause also a leap of faith? My lack of acceptance of the existence of the supernatural is based on the lack of evidence. That's it. Nothing more and nothing less. By your rationale I am also taking a leap of faith by not believing in cold fusion and perpetual motion machines. There are those in the world that believe in them as fervently as others believe in religious entities. By your rationale why pick the Judeo-Christian god and not one of the thousands of other religions to believe? There is obviously more to it for you than what you have described here. I look forward to future installments.
If he doesn't believe and it is not true, he will never know that he has been right. And if he doesn't believe and it is true, then he will find out that he has been wrong.

That's missing one aspect: faith in a higher being implies the adoption of a certain type of lifestyle, and adherence to specific dogmas or doctrines.

That goes a lot further than a simple "hedging of bets" arrived at through a particular mind set.

And a word to Dr. Bartram - faith is, by definition, the belief in something (someone?) unseen. Lack of faith can be seen as the opposite ... not believing in something (someone?) unseen. Those who approach the word "faith" from a religious perspective will be as unable to separate that aspect from faith as you are to see faith from their angle.

It's more than mere semantics ... and less, all at the same time. You really are not speaking the same language.
There are lots of definitions of faith. In this part, I'm using a definition of faith that basically means "Accepting an assumption that cannot be known."

Dr. Bartram's assertatation, that he lacks belief because of a lack of evidence isn't atheism, or maybe could be called weak atheism, but it is more closely aligned to agnosticism, unless he wants to go as far as to say he believes that there is no God.

And both of you are right. My logic so far, has not taken me beyond "it is reasonable to accept an assumption that a god or gods exist." There is not, yet, even a definition of those gods, let alone any doctrine that would come about from an understanding of who those gods are. Actually, I've skipped a step. It only speaks to an afterlife, but such a thing is either the result of deity or deity evolved because of its existence.

I guess I was only going to go far enough in this writing to speak about a benevolent god, as opposed to a malevolent or apathetic god. But if you want me to go further and speak as to why I'm LDS, I'm willing.
Weak atheism is fine. I would never tell someone that I know god doesn't exist, or worse, that I can prove it. But if asked, I would put money on god not existing. A god is not a factor in how I live my life. I would not consider myself agnostic about god anymore than I would consider myself agnostic about the tooth fairy.

I agree with Moof that two seperate languages are at play when it comes to discussions such as this.
Might I make a challenge? As a member of the LDS church I believe that the true gospel taught be Jesus Christ was lost from the earth shortly after His death- the apostacy (this is a very important historical fact that most members of the church don't really give much thought too). It was not restored in its fulness until Joseph Smith had a vision of Jesus Christ and God The Father and after subsequent revelations.

Now hear me out...I am not here trying to convert all sorts of readers here...there is a point to all of this...

As a child I suppose that I just accepted that the things I were taught were true. And I suppose that there are many adults that were raised in the church that to a certain degree still do this. This goes for any belief system, really. There came a time in my life when I studied and prayed and pondered and came to the conclusion that the things I was taught were true. There really was a prophet again on the earth and since Joseph Smith the earth has not been without a prophet. If I believe in Joseph Smith and any of the other prophets current and those in the bible, then there have been those that have seen and talked with God....this one simple testimony has a domino effect on other teachings and does to a certain degree make faith "simple". Now if I choose not to believe, then the reverse is true except it becomes much more is not simple...there has to be much more explaining, much more rationalization. But what about hard, physical, logical proof? There has been much uncovered through the ages. In fact, regarding the Book of Mormon, there have been many scholars who have basically proved it is a true book that was not made up by Joseph Smith, but have still not converted. Why? The simple truth of it all is the spirit of it all. When a person is truly humble, the truth will be made known through honest study and prayer or meditation. Don't start at the beginning, or the end of things...start somewhere in the middle, discover the truth and move on from there. The other stuff works itself out, it really does.

Besides, isn't the gospel, the earth God gave us, our bodies, isn't it all "too beautiful to be false"?
I'm reading, but I'm staying out of all this. I don't feel like being mean or stomping on someone's beliefs.
I have a problem with the term "weak atheism". That implies he is passive in his belief, essentially, that God does not exist. I don't think that's what Clark is. I think he's a force of nature in skepticism and therefore I would say he's an active and inquisitive agnostic, willing to be swayed by evidence in either direction but lacking any, he is comfortable with uncertainty and lives his life accordingly. I concur that Pascal's gambit offers little compulsion for a true agnostic.

Honest study takes on many forms, and some of us have to start at the beginning. I'm sure you've seen how our dad builds things. He is incredibly meticulous, almost to the point of exasperation. Everything has to fit perfectly, so the whole construction is sound. I think I took after him in this way.

Religion can be logical. For me, it must be. The whole construction, logic and emotion and spirit, must work.

Too many religious people go to church mindlessly, listening to warm fuzzies and nodding their heads having gained nothing but a group hug for being one of the in crowd, ready to pounce on anyone that does not conform. It is the simplest way to be religious, and the most destructive, as I'm sure you would agree.

Ex Utero,

You just pretty much described exactly what weak atheism is. Maybe it sounds bad, especially to a wordsmith. Check out wikipedia on it:

Weak atheism (also called negative atheism) is the lack of belief in the existence of deities, without a commitment to the necessary non-existence of deities.

I guess we could call him a negative atheist... but that would unleash negative vibes on him, and cause his chi energy to become blocked, which would mess up his aura...
Too many religious people go to church mindlessly, listening to warm fuzzies and nodding their heads having gained nothing but a group hug for being one of the in crowd, ready to pounce on anyone that does not conform. It is the simplest way to be religious, and the most destructive, as I'm sure you would agree.

Ah, the beauties of organized religion. (Please read with dripping sarcasm.)
I try not to get bogged down in semantics. I consider myself an atheist and I never eat babies or partake in satanic rituals. I'm a nice and morally upstanding atheist although the thread I was recently involved in on circumcisions over at may have some people thinking otherwise.

I'm not too far from Clark and I don't consider myself a weak atheist no matter what wikipedia says. I consider myself a hardcore agnostic and here's why: I think it entirely possible that there is an entity or two or zillions that are in comparison to us, quite God like. I simply don't think any of our current organized religions have a freakin clue as to what if anything we might have in common with her, him, them; nor do I think they know what it is that we are supposed to do in relations with it, him, her etc. For all we know we are the algae they, it, her, etc. sneezed off it's barnacle as it farted and accidently big banged us out of another dimension. I think it's actually somewhat conceited to assume that our existence is due to some higher intelligence. It is the equivalent of assuming the earth is the center of the universe. Perhaps we are in fact the equivalent of enterobacterim in a prordained cycle of perpetual uplift throughout the millenia, now in our own juvenile stage of evolution, but someday our tiny gut flora will be farted into a new dimension and grow up to write bibles about us. I do not lie awake wondering why I cannot know the truth of this. There are many things in life that we don't get to know. In the mean time, I've got a life to live and organized religion is not on my top ten list of things that lead to world peace (quite the opposite given the state of things in the Middle East).
Clark--you money-grubbing pediatrician you!

I read that thread and the comments. Wow! That man, was it Frank?, certainly had his mind made up with no room for debate.

Yes, you are evil. (more sarcasm, someone needs to invent some html tag for sarcastic comments!)

You are entirely right, of course, with your analogy using dad. I like to think that there are many meticulous ways to build a house. Some use a hammer and a nail, some use a nail get my point. It is all one step at a time and some of us use more "hands on", if you will, methods of building our house. I like to think that those that are just nodding at the warm and fuzzies are still holding the plans in their hands, not yet ready to build, but at least beginning the preparations. But they are holding onto something. And something good, something that could become a mansion someday. Churches are all different and have different plans. When I study out the plans of the church we belong to, the logic falls into place for me and the pieces all fit. Including (ex utero) what we have in common with that deity.

I have one question for those agnostics, or atheists, or weak do you explain the unexplainable? Prophecies, miracles and the like? It seems that some rely too much on happenstance and coincidence. I am truly interested to know your perspective. I must admit that I have studied many religions, but I never did really study the lack thereof, if you will.
Ah, prophecy is a many headed thing and they are deliberately ambiguous so that any happening may show a fulfilled prophecy. I bet Clark has a perspective on this.

Miracles--never seen one.

The lack of religion is just that--I have no need for a higher being. What is there to study?
"how do you explain the unexplainable? Prophecies, miracles and the like?"

Well first of all the unexplainable doesn't make me squirm like it does many people. Countless unexplainable events have been explained by science as it progresses. If it is worth explaining then someone is probably working on it.

Secondly, what miracles and what prophecies. I have seen no evidence that any such entities have been proven to be real. What I have seen is a never ending line of prophecies that have not come to pass or that have been explained as well as miracles that have been shown to be easily explainable.

What unexplainable phenomenon are you referring to?
I have to say that I have thought long and hard about "What miracles-never seen one" and what unexplainable phenomenon I should describe. You see, I understand that if there is no belief in deity then any thing I may point out would most likely be brushed off. There are many very specific instances of miracles that I could cite.

Is it just warm and fuzzy to say I believe the ability to create life within my belly and watch that life grow after birth is a miracle? The human body amazes me to no end. How could something as beautiful and magnificant be reduced to a coincidental and sudden occurance in nature? The sheer magnitude of variety of plant and animal life, not to mention geographic features, of the earth is staggering to me. How can this be reduced to happenstance?

I suppose the term miracle is defined by the one using the term...we all may think of different things as miracles. Miracles in the biblical sense- raising Lazurus from the dead, cleansing the river Jordan with salt no less, the many stories of Lepers being healed...all of these things require faith because we are so far removed from that time. There are so many modern miracles, however, that have modern witnesses. How can the story of Amanda Smith healing her sons hip after the Haun's Mill Massacre be explained if not a miracle? There are several accounts of this story, one in her own words, but here is a link to a nice account by her son just older than the one whose hip was healed:

I personally know of many, many stories of people who have been healed of illness immediately after being administered to. I know of many people that have had distinct impressions and after following their impression have helped a loved one or avoided crisis. These are not specifics, but they are real.
There are many other examples of miracles and I can give you examples of revelation and prophecy but I am confident in my beliefs and have no need to prove them. But I am more than willing to provide more examples, if they are sincerely desired.

I feel the need to add that I in no way think that because a person is agnostic or atheist (or weak atheist)they are less moral than a Christian, Jew or other religious sect. I see them as having their own ideology and being as passionate as any religion. I think that often we attach morals to the moral compass taught by religion. I dare say this is where morals come from in society...standards that are set by the religious majority who are working towards a goal of reaching their view of heaven.

May I pose another question- I assume that, by not believing in God or deity, an agnostic or atheist would not believe in an afterlife. Once we are dead, we are gone? I find that belief to be almost disturbing...the thought that if one of my children were to die they would poof, just be gone? I have a hard time with that. Why should we try to achieve anything if, in the end, nothing matters? Hmmm....

I've been learning alot from this little discussion, so I thank you all!
mommatn--I do not believe in an afterlife. You ask, why should we try to achieve anything if, in the end, nothing matters? For my own personal satisfaction. For the feel of elation that I have reached a goal that I set. Any achievements of mine are to make my life or the lives of others better. I don't need the promise of eternal salvation to be good or ethical.

My much-beloved father died suddenly in May. He is gone from this world. I have memories of him. That is all that is left. Death is final. He got one chance to live his life, love his wife, children, and grandchildren.

I shall now turn this around on you: Is that the only reason you progress through life--to reach the ever after?
"The human body amazes me to no end. How could something as beautiful and magnificant be reduced to a coincidental and sudden occurance in nature?"

I can't. This is a common misconception of the evolutionary process, that it is blind chance. It is, in fact, the complete opposite of blind chance. Every organism on this planet, including humans, have evolved due to a specific mechanism, natural selection, in which an organism which has gained a new trait leading to a survival advantage is more likely to live and procreate thus passing on this new trait. Please don't tell me you think evolution says we come from monkeys too.

"Is it just warm and fuzzy to say I believe the ability to create life within my belly and watch that life grow after birth is a miracle?"

It is warm and fuzzy but that's okay. The human body is mysterious and beautiful but no more mysterious and beautiful than the body of a giraffe or the cell wall of Staph aureus. But imagine how much more mysterious it was before the advances of modern medicine with their MRIs, ultrasounds, etc, etc. I have no doubt that we will continue to advance and explain what has in the past seemed miraculous.

And speaking of seeming miraculous:

"I personally know of many, many stories of people who have been healed of illness immediately after being administered to. I know of many people that have had distinct impressions and after following their impression have helped a loved one or avoided crisis. These are not specifics, but they are real."

I dare say you have only heard of many and have not been privy to medical charts. Many miraculous recoveries occur when the inital diagnosis was inaccurate or made up, or never obtained. Many witnessed miraculous healings are shams perpetrated by those who wish you to send them money. There are of course spontaneous resolutions of severe illness but this is not proof of divine intervention but just another mystery we have yet to figure out. I don't mind if you call it divine as I can't prove it isn't, just don't sell it to people as such and give them false hope or worse, convince them to forego appropriate medical care. An excellent treatment of miracle healings is James Randi's "The Faith Healers".

How many people do you think there are that pray and are prayed for but succumb to their illness? This is every bit as powerful a proof that there is no such thing as divine intervention as when their illness resolves. An anecdote is an anecdote no matter how you slice it. How many times do you think that someone has had an "impression" about something but they were wrong. That plane landed safely. That hurricane didn't come. These anecdotes don't make the news are make it into chain emails but are equivelant evidence against divine intervention as when someone guesses right.

I've got plenty more to say but I'm needed in the nursery.
So what is a miracle?


There is little need in evolution for sentience. Only dolphins come close to having it besides us and I think that's a stretch. It is either a cosmic joke, the touch of the divine or in fact simply the eventual by-product of highly evolved brain development in an extended window of zero predation. It's probably the thing that allowed us to wipe out the Neanderthals. Apparently we committed genocide of an entire species of humanoid that was 99.99% like us but was incapable of art (a by-product of sentience). By being self-aware we could identify ourselves as different from humans that we were capable of breeding with but we we snuffed them out because they were boring at parties (whether we did it by taking their resources or murdering them directly is irrelevant). So is it a miracle? I think it is. I think the jury is still out as to whether or not evolution is going to allow us to keep it. Once again, organized religion, the Middle East and Armeggedon scenerios come to mind...

If there is a God with a sentience that dwarves our own, I imagine that organized religion must have been put on earth as a test. It's sort of like the Neanderthal at the cocktail party test. If you can't make polite conversation, you flunk.
Just have to say that during my very busy weekend, where I still managed to write a couple of things, I've only followed the fact that there has been a lot of discussion. To be honest, I was a little afraid of what I'd find, but it is clear that I shouldn't have been.

Really cool discussion everyone, thanks.
Sarabeth- Let me try to explain just a bit of my belief system to you and (Granola, I hope I do this correctly) help you to see my point of view just a bit better. I do believe in beginning, no end. I believe in a God that created all things spiritually before they were physically created. I believe that not only do we have this life and an after life, but a pre-existence. I know where I came from, why I am here and where I am going. I do believe this life is a test. How we live our lives, how we treat others, integrity, faith, knowledge and wisdom (these are two distinct and different things)we have gained, etc. are all going to be a testimony and a witness to each of us and where we end up in the next life. I believe in a loving God that will bless all of His children accordingly and that each of us would be more than happy with even the lowest of His kingdoms. Bear in mind that the LDS view of the afterlife is unlike any other Christian religion. I also believe that if we simply live our lives focused on our own salvation then we have missed the boat a little...we should not be continually focused on self but should live lives of humble service...these qualities are not as easy as you would think to gain. We should seek to improve ourselves, yes, but often when we forget our own pain and suffering and go to the aid of another we find even more joy and peace. Because I believe in a loving God, I am working to build a relationship with Him. I understand the skeptics may balk at this and find it a waste of time, but how can it be if it leads me to do good in this world, to find peace in my soul and to give me hope? I am comfortable where I am and I do not think I could even begin to express to you the depth of my conviction for I cannot be swayed from the truth I know in my heart is real. I feel blessed to have something in this world I believe in so deeply that has brought nothing but peace, joy and happiness to my life. Warm fuzzies again? To the skeptics, me this is serious business.

Have I myself seen charts? No. But my best friend had a baby at 28 weeks due to placenta previa and his little life was touch and go for several weeks. She herself went to the doctor against the logic of her spouse because she knew something was wrong...had she not neither would be here. Her son should have died, the doctors did not know why he did not...they had to resucitate (sp?)him and not only did he survive, but he is a normal, healthy and bright nine year old. The doctors and nurses told her they had never seen anything like was a miracle. So although I did not see the chart, I believe that God needed this little boy to be here. I believe that scientific knowledge is given to us from God to bless the lives of others. I am thankful for the wisdom he has given to so many to advance science so that suffering can be lessened in this world. Can I ever say anything to soothe the skeptic heart? I don't think so, but that is ok. I am just as comfortable in my position as you are in yours. I applaude you for the obvious dedication and love you have for your work and wish the world had more like you in the medical world.

ex utero- Have you ever thought of the possibility that God created us in order that we could become like him someday? Wouldn't you want your children to have all that you have? But isn't it better if they earn it than if they are just given those things? But wouldn't you give them some instructions to help them on the way? That is exactly what organized religion is. But does he just inspire the believers? I believe that God inspires all people at different times in their lives. I believe the founding father's of our great country were inspired. I believe that scientists are inspired. The motto of BYU, a university ran by the LDS church, is "The Glory of God is Intelligence". A profound statement that, for me, gives a clue to the nature of God.
And if the boy had died it would have been said that god needed the little boy to be in heaven. I just don't care for the rationalizations inherent in belief that a higher power controls the events of our lives.
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A Mormon housewife who loves truth, science, rational thought, and reasonable action.

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Location: Utah

Granola is a mix of things: grains, nuts, bits of dried fruit, maybe some coconut. There's some fat in it, and it's a good source of fiber to keep those arteries and colons clean.

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