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Believe or not
Posted: 06 November 2017 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]
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David Smalley, of Dogma Debate,  recently spent a couple hours with a pastor, who was semi-liberal. But when he got to the question of belief, they really couldn’t agree. Smalley says his listeners have told him to drop this discussion because it’s too hard to explain and believers aren’t going to admit that they don’t choose to believe. Smalley described how a person grows up in an environment where everything they are presented with leads them to believe in Jesus, they never “choose”, it’s not a “decision”. They are convinced by the evidence they have available to them. He used the analogy of trying to choose to believe you breathe underwater, while you are underwater, you would never do it.

The pastor twisted this into saying Smalley was accusing them of faking belief. He tried using the example of believing his wife loves him, he does that without sufficient evidence. But Smalley called that a behavior choice, not a belief. I could see some problems in how Smalley was presenting himself, but I’m not sure anyone could really convince a believer of this definition of belief. I think it comes down to how free will is presented in the Bible, and most of modern history.

Anyone had any luck with this? Or maybe a good source how to explain it?

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Posted: 07 November 2017 05:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Lausten - 06 November 2017 08:46 AM

David Smalley, of Dogma Debate,  recently spent a couple hours with a pastor, who was semi-liberal. But when he got to the question of belief, they really couldn’t agree. Smalley says his listeners have told him to drop this discussion because it’s too hard to explain and believers aren’t going to admit that they don’t choose to believe. Smalley described how a person grows up in an environment where everything they are presented with leads them to believe in Jesus, they never “choose”, it’s not a “decision”. They are convinced by the evidence they have available to them. He used the analogy of trying to choose to believe you breathe underwater, while you are underwater, you would never do it.

The pastor twisted this into saying Smalley was accusing them of faking belief. He tried using the example of believing his wife loves him, he does that without sufficient evidence. But Smalley called that a behavior choice, not a belief. I could see some problems in how Smalley was presenting himself, but I’m not sure anyone could really convince a believer of this definition of belief. I think it comes down to how free will is presented in the Bible, and most of modern history.

Anyone had any luck with this? Or maybe a good source how to explain it?

This won’t answer you question but a best as possible I avoid the term “I believe” no matter the subject.  The question is do you actually believe something to be true or do you simply want it to be.  I fell its safe to say I believe the sun will rise tomorrow.  Why, because we have written evidence that it has done so for about 6 thousand years.  Science works in degrees of probability, not belief and the probability of the sun rising is 99.99999 etc.

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Posted: 07 November 2017 08:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Like a lot of things, he is both right and wrong.  There are matters of fact and there are matters of opinion.  It’s a fact that an air-breathing mammal cannot breath water unassisted.  But it’s also possible to hyper-saturate water with air so that it is breathable.  Imagine watching a demonstration of that—a dog for example, placed in a hyper-saturated tank, happily breathing water—and then being asked if you’d like to try it.  Now we’re into matters of opinion.  Do you trust the demonstration enough to try it yourself?  Or do you pass?  So for some things, just the facts are not enough.  It can be a question of choice.

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Posted: 07 November 2017 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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There is one thing regarding human psychology and how our brain works… Its related to teaching, and in theory our brain is formed by our experience and perception. In that sense its true that people are being formed to believe when they happen to be born in certain environment. Breathing underwater is bad argument. Being born in muslim community, or jewish community, or christian community is much better argument as those monotheistic religions claim they are all right, as in general all of the religions do. Would he believe in Thor and Odin when born in ancient Scandinavia? Zeus if born in ancient Greece? Answer is most likely yes.

On other hand, we do choices. Minor ones (like what to have for breakfast), or the important ones. People look for analogies and in their memories and attempt to make new decision, based on previous experience. And yes people genuinely might ask “What would Jesus do” and do decision based on that. So when presented with a question whether you believe in god, or particular religion and answer is “yes” this is really done based on free will, but also based on previous experience of the world.

“Funny thing about free will is that people will not see the difference without one.”
(Actually a reference to some fantasy book).

Our decisions are based on previous experience. Therefore there is no such thing as “free will” in a true sense, or in sense as we might expect “free will”. If you present a believer with such question, he is the only person who forces the belief upon himself.

Matter of whats right or wrong (emotionally based construct) usually gets in conflict of whats true or false (logically based construct). In first case, already learned experience - remembered emotionally does matter. In second case current information, and current knowledge matters more.

[ Edited: 07 November 2017 09:14 AM by Offler ]
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Posted: 07 November 2017 11:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Okay, Advocatus, what you’re describing is the introduction of new information. You aren’t changing the knowledge that water is not breathable, you are changing what you mean when you say “breath underwater”. I could just as easily say SCUBA is breathing underwater.

This is the same way someone becomes a “non-believer” in Jesus. At first they might believe a man actually bodily resurrected, then later they might believe that a regular man spoke some words that were inspired by God and was crucified, and still maintain their faith in the church and holy spirit. There are many possible levels for this. At no point do they simply choose to believe one version and start believing the other. They acquire new information and alter their perception of reality.

If we could choose to have beliefs that are not in sync with our perception of reality, then psychotic behavior would be a choice. The idea that you could determine if someone knew right from wrong at the time they were committing a crime would be impossible. No matter what you think about free will, there are limits to how free we are to choose to think something is true.

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Posted: 07 November 2017 11:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Offler, I think the idea is to start with something that everyone would agree on, something that no one would actually do, like suck in a lung full of water. Another example that was given is standing on the ledge of a tall building and stepping off as if it was a curb on the street, BELIEVING, you can make that step without injuring yourself. No one would do that. You can’t choose to believe things like that.

So, the argument goes, you don’t choose your religion either. As you pointed out. I agree, people make choices based on previous experience. That is actually the point. There has to be some previous experience, even if the experience is just what others have told you. If you have never tasted a certain food, you have an incomplete belief about what it tastes like, based on smell and the opinion of others, but you know tasting it will be an experience that is unique for you. But you wouldn’t believe it tastes a certain way and base your choices on that belief.

You raised the issue of right and wrong, and I think that’s a good point. There are questions that don’t have simple answers, and at some point we make a choice. But that’s still a decision making process, and we keep our minds open to new information (or we should). We might use a short hand term and say “I believe we should not spank children”, but we have reasons for that, we don’t simply choose to believe.

But, when it comes to god, people say you can choose to believe. They even say you first have to believe, then the scriptures will make sense, that you must first believe, then their god will reveal something to you.

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Posted: 07 November 2017 12:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Lausten - 07 November 2017 11:51 AM

Offler, I think the idea is to start with something that everyone would agree on, something that no one would actually do, like suck in a lung full of water. Another example that was given is standing on the ledge of a tall building and stepping off as if it was a curb on the street, BELIEVING, you can make that step without injuring yourself. No one would do that. You can’t choose to believe things like that.

Actually you CAN believe that you can step off a tall building without injuring yourself, but the real pain comes in when you put that belief to a test. Both metaforically and literally. We might call such individual crazy, David Icke or Heavens Gate, but it would not change that there is real genuine belief. People will discuss and act from such position, without any problem. Its clear people are willing to give up their life for their belief.

There is a wide set of assumptions starting with “everyone should agree”. “Everyone should agree that there is a god in heavens”, yet we are here. Looking for this kind of common ground is a good way to start conversation. In cases like this one it may uncover the differences, and then allow to build a bridge, but it might not be possible in every single case if the gap proves to be too wide.

[ Edited: 07 November 2017 12:25 PM by Offler ]
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Posted: 07 November 2017 12:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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we “might” call them crazy? might? We would, we definitely would. That’s the point. We are talking about sane people. If you are going to include people who think they can fly, then you are saying that people who believe in god are crazy. I don’t think they are. I think they are operating on assumptions handed to them by millions of people and supported by thousands of years of history. That’s different than acting against your own reasoning and ignoring your own decision making process. This isn’t about people believing or not, or how they act on their belief, this is only about how you arrive at a belief.

So, my question is about the gap. This seems like a good approach to me because it avoids complex philosophical logic. It avoids scientific ideas about free will. It offers a simple definition of belief. Seems simple to me anyway. There are some semantics, but the examples get through those. The statement is, you can’t just choose to believe in god, any more than you can choose to believe you can breathe water the same way a fish does.

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Posted: 07 November 2017 01:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Lausten - 07 November 2017 12:40 PM

we “might” call them crazy? might? We would, we definitely would. That’s the point. We are talking about sane people. If you are going to include people who think they can fly, then you are saying that people who believe in god are crazy. I don’t think they are. I think they are operating on assumptions handed to them by millions of people and supported by thousands of years of history. That’s different than acting against your own reasoning and ignoring your own decision making process. This isn’t about people believing or not, or how they act on their belief, this is only about how you arrive at a belief.

So, my question is about the gap. This seems like a good approach to me because it avoids complex philosophical logic. It avoids scientific ideas about free will. It offers a simple definition of belief. Seems simple to me anyway. There are some semantics, but the examples get through those. The statement is, you can’t just choose to believe in god, any more than you can choose to believe you can breathe water the same way a fish does.

How to distinguish sane believe and insane belief? “There is an invisible man, in the sky, watching over you.”

The question is whether the belief is harmful to society or individuals. Dawkins and Hitchens are convinced that religious beliefs are harmful. (I am not yet decided on that question personally even when I am leaning to agree with them). That is of course not a good position to open a discussion. But ok, lets keep things simplier, without immediatelly insulting the opponnent.

There is a significant difference between those two statements, as one of them can be easily tested, while the other one remains an assumption or claim. Therefore its not a good comparation at all. On the statement about breathing underwater (not thinking the oxygen oversaturation scenario) there might be an agreement it would be insane to state that, and harmful to test it. On the other statement there will be no agreement at all, without any way how to test it.

The pastor probably noticed that difference as well, and it backfired. In a metaphorical sense it is attack on the belief constructs in literal its not. But from my experience the clergymen are usually good at switching between literal and metaphorical, so getting a coherent reply might be problematic.

[ Edited: 07 November 2017 01:11 PM by Offler ]
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Posted: 07 November 2017 02:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I’m trying to avoid calling anyone insane. And avoid the issue of what’s harmful, since some things about religion are and others are not. I’m trying to keep it more to the question of how one might arrive at belief. Most people will agree there is some point where you make a “leap of faith”. But that is a phrase that is difficult to define. And the point that you are to make that leap is also difficult. Religions at least have training, like catechism, to prepare a person.

If someone can’t agree that stepping off a building is an indication of a break with reality, then it’s not much point having a conversation with them.

I’m also trying to avoid testing any of the beliefs. No person who is functioning normally would need to test breathing underwater with no special apparatus. They would know what would happen. That’s the whole point. I couldn’t tell if the pastor saw this analogy as an attack or not. It could have been he did not accept on a subconscious level, but we can’t know that. That’s where it becomes problematic.

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Posted: 07 November 2017 02:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Lausten - 07 November 2017 02:05 PM

I’m trying to avoid calling anyone insane. And avoid the issue of what’s harmful, since some things about religion are and others are not. I’m trying to keep it more to the question of how one might arrive at belief. Most people will agree there is some point where you make a “leap of faith”. But that is a phrase that is difficult to define. And the point that you are to make that leap is also difficult. Religions at least have training, like catechism, to prepare a person.

If someone can’t agree that stepping off a building is an indication of a break with reality, then it’s not much point having a conversation with them.

I’m also trying to avoid testing any of the beliefs. No person who is functioning normally would need to test breathing underwater with no special apparatus. They would know what would happen. That’s the whole point. I couldn’t tell if the pastor saw this analogy as an attack or not. It could have been he did not accept on a subconscious level, but we can’t know that. That’s where it becomes problematic.

I was already been called satanist, only because i attend metal music festivals. But since I dont believe in supernatural beings, it does not make sense of course.

Defense in form “Are you accusing us of pretending belief?” is more polite like i the one you can found in here (Slovakia). More openly are mostly journalists (metal fans are in person too scary to get confronted) accused of blasphemy and insulting god.  Goal is the same, to make yourself a victim and opponnent in discussion a villain. I would say that attempts at being polite, and not harm someones feelings would always backfire. Thats why so many people like attitude which was presented by Christopher Hitchens. Treat the people like adults.

So if someone is not able to discuss with you, without playing victim, then its not much point having a conversation either.

[ Edited: 07 November 2017 02:38 PM by Offler ]
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Posted: 07 November 2017 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Offler - 07 November 2017 02:32 PM

So if someone is not able to discuss with you, without playing victim, then its not much point having a conversation either.

I think the point here is to make the point without making anyone the victim. It really should be very simple. There’s no trick to it. That’s probably why David Smalley keeps trying to use it and gets frustrated.

Anyhow, might check out for a few days. Look forward to more talks soon.

[ Edited: 16 November 2017 01:03 PM by Lausten ]
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Posted: 07 November 2017 11:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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deros - 07 November 2017 05:11 AM
Lausten - 06 November 2017 08:46 AM

David Smalley, of Dogma Debate,  recently spent a couple hours with a pastor, who was semi-liberal. But when he got to the question of belief, they really couldn’t agree. Smalley says his listeners have told him to drop this discussion because it’s too hard to explain and believers aren’t going to admit that they don’t choose to believe. Smalley described how a person grows up in an environment where everything they are presented with leads them to believe in Jesus, they never “choose”, it’s not a “decision”. They are convinced by the evidence they have available to them. He used the analogy of trying to choose to believe you breathe underwater, while you are underwater, you would never do it.

The pastor twisted this into saying Smalley was accusing them of faking belief. He tried using the example of believing his wife loves him, he does that without sufficient evidence. But Smalley called that a behavior choice, not a belief. I could see some problems in how Smalley was presenting himself, but I’m not sure anyone could really convince a believer of this definition of belief. I think it comes down to how free will is presented in the Bible, and most of modern history.

Anyone had any luck with this? Or maybe a good source how to explain it?

This won’t answer you question but a best as possible I avoid the term “I believe” no matter the subject.  The question is do you actually believe something to be true or do you simply want it to be.  I fell its safe to say I believe the sun will rise tomorrow.  Why, because we have written evidence that it has done so for about 6 thousand years.  Science works in degrees of probability, not belief and the probability of the sun rising is 99.99999 etc.


That the sun will (appear to) rise tomorrow doesn’t take belief. You’d be better off saying, “Based on past experience and what is known of cosmology, I am confident that the sun will (appear to) rise tomorrow.

Or to make it simpler., “I expect the sun to rise tomorrow.” If anybody asks why you can go into the longer explanation.

I seldom use the word belief ot believe. It’s unnecessary in all instances. There is always a better word that is less likely to confuse the most easily confused theists.

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Posted: 07 November 2017 11:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Offler - 07 November 2017 09:10 AM

There is one thing regarding human psychology and how our brain works… Its related to teaching, and in theory our brain is formed by our experience and perception. In that sense its true that people are being formed to believe when they happen to be born in certain environment. Breathing underwater is bad argument. Being born in muslim community, or jewish community, or christian community is much better argument as those monotheistic religions claim they are all right, as in general all of the religions do. Would he believe in Thor and Odin when born in ancient Scandinavia? Zeus if born in ancient Greece? Answer is most likely yes.

On other hand, we do choices. Minor ones (like what to have for breakfast), or the important ones. People look for analogies and in their memories and attempt to make new decision, based on previous experience. And yes people genuinely might ask “What would Jesus do” and do decision based on that. So when presented with a question whether you believe in god, or particular religion and answer is “yes” this is really done based on free will, but also based on previous experience of the world.

“Funny thing about free will is that people will not see the difference without one.”
(Actually a reference to some fantasy book).

Our decisions are based on previous experience. Therefore there is no such thing as “free will” in a true sense, or in sense as we might expect “free will”. If you present a believer with such question, he is the only person who forces the belief upon himself.

Matter of whats right or wrong (emotionally based construct) usually gets in conflict of whats true or false (logically based construct). In first case, already learned experience - remembered emotionally does matter. In second case current information, and current knowledge matters more.


I say there is no such thing as free will but it isn’t all experience. It’s also genetics. There are countless factors that go into our decision-making and we are unaware of the vast majority of them. Those that we are aware of we have no control over, either. We just imagine that we do. Whatever our decision, we are likely to say, “Yes, I thought long and hard about this and this is the decision I’ve made.” In fact the decision was made for you long before you knew it, but now you are determined to think it came from your conscious deliberation. Our tendency to do that is also determined unconsciously.

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Posted: 08 November 2017 02:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Lausten - 07 November 2017 05:38 PM
Offler - 07 November 2017 02:32 PM

So if someone is not able to discuss with you, without playing victim, then its not much point having a conversation either.

I think the point here is to make the point with making anyone the victim. It really should be very simple. There’s no trick to it. That’s probably why David Smalley keeps trying to use it and gets frustrated.

That will not work in most cases where are two sides in discussion, while one claim “we know all from the Bible, and there is no need to test it, but not just that its blasphemy you know” and other claim “We know, that we dont know… Except few things we tested.”

The most logical statement i heard about religion was that we all should be agnostic about existence of god(s).  But that statement work only on logical level, not on emotional. Thats why most people of faith are not willing to get into the discussion, because individuals are both emotional and logical and those two sides get often into conflict. That initially causes confusion (which is the most interesting part on many “atheist vs believer” discussion) but over short time the individual settles into either logical or emotional thinking.

Thing is that confusion causes stir in emotions and fear, and by some religious blogers in my city its regarded as a bad thing, along with uncertainty (about God, future, universe, probably uncertainty whats good and whats wrong). Churches wants to provide certainty, comfort and world without fear.

If the individual settles into logical thinking he usually admits that he is not aware of any real proofs of god. That later embeds into sub-conscious and emotional level.

So, if there is any way how to divert attention, it will usually happen - like pointing out thing that was not meant to attack ones belief. I am sure that Hitchens was aware of this strategy in discussions, and i think thats why he in the end liked to argue with pastor Wilson. Wilson was usually following the point and making statements on topic and he did not tried to argue with the “disrespect card”.

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Posted: 08 November 2017 07:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I believe this may offer an important insight on the subject. It clearly shows the malleable functions of our perception of self and the world outside self.
https://www.ted.com/talks/anil_seth_how_your_brain_hallucinates_your_conscious_reality

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