Sunday, 6 May 2012

Playing Devil's Advocate

One of my Christian twitter correspondents, @LostForWords17, tweeted about one of my posts, Faithful genius - a contradiction? He said "This is really interesting, and I agree to a point. What about outside 'irrational' events which only Theists can explain?"  Naturally this got my interest and I invited him to write a guest post to explain, and he kindly agreed.   Here is it.  I have deliberately avoided expressing my views (except whispering the words Forer Effect to myself), but I might join in with the comments if you say something interesting.

Should We Doubt Faith?  Playing Devil’s Advocate 
by  @LostForWords17

As soon as you see the title, you may begin to think why someone such as myself is even bothering to write an article of this very nature on a blog such as this? It isn’t to Bible-bash; ironically it is to play Devil’s Advocate. This post is in regards to a previous entry which was titled ‘Faithful genius - a contradiction?

I actually agreed with this article - up to a point. There is something about having a belief, a faith, or lack of a faith, which turns a switch on or off inside of us - not necessarily changing our being but changing how we view and interact with the world all together [sic].

I also believe that having a way to deal and explain away patterns into a viewpoint is generally a key way to predominately survive, as it (usually) forms something within us which reacts in a very useful way to our surroundings and the intricacies of our very lives. I also agree that a smarter person with faith does not necessarily have a clear view of the world around them, just a better way of explaining it than others.

I see all of these patterns time and time again in the people around me - whether they have a faith or not. It is the issue of this explanation in regards to faith as a whole that I am going about questioning. So, how do I go about questioning about a theory that I see and believe in the world around me day by day? It is simple - expanding the horizon of such a statement predominately to explain away the notion of faith has its flaws.

I say this because there are many things I have seen which I have no control over; things which can only be rationally explained through a Theistic viewpoint. This may sound crazy, but some things which happen to be deemed irrational and unexplainable from a skeptical viewpoint can be a lot easier to explain and digest from a Theistic viewpoint.

Here is an example for you to discuss. This example is from my life as it is a lot better to use first hand examples rather than ‘stories’ and ‘tales’ which have been passed around to me by other people.

The example is quite a recent one. I was at a prayer meeting before an outreach day, and the group of Christians there decided to pray for me (as you do at a Christian gathering).  Don’t worry, it gets interesting! Just to note that most of these people praying for me had never met me before, with the exception of one who had briefly met me a few days before.

They started giving ‘words of knowledge’ to me that they could not have known about at all. Now a word of knowledge is when someone says something into another person’s life that they couldn’t have known about due to (what I believe) to be divine intervention.

This isn’t your rosy and hazy ‘you’ll be rich next year’ kind of word that you hear a guy dressed in a white suit on the TV say. It’s usually a lot more direct and blunt, more like ‘I feel like God told me that you just broke up with your girlfriend yesterday after expressing a lack of commitment to marriage, and your mother is bitter about it because she thought that she was the one. Do you want me to pray about it?’

These Christians at the prayer meeting started saying: “all my life I have felt like I never fit in anywhere, floating around various ideals and career ambitions trying to belong. I have tried so hard to actually fit in somewhere that I have wedged myself into an identity and a ‘box’ which isn’t actually me at all.”

They gave me the metaphor of being a toddler with a square shape, trying to hammer it into a circle hole and actually getting it stuck there. They then went on to say that: “I haven’t felt like I have belonged where I am this year, even surrounded by like-minded people with similar ambitions such as myself,”

They explained to me that this was because: “The purpose of this year was to wrench myself out of this box I had made for myself, and for me to be placed into where I am meant to be for the future,” (the square shaped hole so to speak).

Little did they know that I had felt dissatisfaction in such a way all my life, even now. This year, I am on a gap year Christian course which involves full time voluntary work, which I had felt led to. Last year I was a full time Music Manager, and eventual dropout student of the same subject. The fact that they even had the thought about me spending my whole life trying to put myself into a box and never really ever fitting in anywhere genuinely surprised me.

I had given them no inkling about this at all, and they had no idea who I was as a person - let alone my past (which involved a lot of uncertainty and rather swift movements from one thing to the next thing, more recently with me getting enveloped with Music - especially on the management side of things).

Now, this was just one ‘word’ that they had for me. In the space of ten minutes, they had rattled about 8 in total to me, all of which were completely spot on and true and/or linked on from a previous word I had been given.

A few days later, after I had begun to rationalise the seemingly impossible and thinking ‘maybe it was just me exaggerating’, I had three more words from three separate people. All these words either all matched up directly with something which had been said before, or something which had been said at least a few months before (that they could not know about!).

An example of the latter involves a teenager mumbling the words to me of the second half of a Bible verse, of which the first half has been ingrained into my mind after consistently entering into my thoughts in a way I can’t rationally explain. Interesting.

Now, before I sound like I am crazy and need to go and seek counselling as soon as I finish typing, let me remind you that these words came from people who didn’t know me; or matching words which came from various other people with no collusion, or (as in the example above) from someone I have never met before about something I have never shared about to anyone.

My point is, the only rational viewpoint I can give for this without a Theistic viewpoint is that I’m in The Truman Show. To me, that sounds irrational.

Whereas from my Theistic Christian viewpoint I can explain it like this: God is real and can speak to people whenever he wants to. He can also give people words to give to other people, which they wouldn’t know from any other source, or give people information about other people, which they wouldn’t know from any other source. Also, that this happens all the time in circles which conveniently happen to involve Christians.

You see, something irrational and inherently unlikely/ impossible, such as this scenario, can sometimes be easily explained and reasoned from a Theistic viewpoint. Does that make it necessarily right? No, it does not.

But it does raise the question- is a Theistic viewpoint necessarily something to be doubted? The problem I see with faith being explained away as adapting to patterns around us (which in its basic essence is what the original theory is based upon) is that not everything seems to be within the confines of finite rule and law.

And, contrary to any typical Christian stereotypes, there isn’t much from a typical skeptic’s worldview which can’t be rationalised and explained within a typical Christian Theistic viewpoint. (There are many Christians who see evolution as no problem to their belief system, and MANY MORE who don’t think the Earth is 6000 years old!)

Feel free to challenge or question anything I have said, and feel free to point out anything which might change/ deter my views on this.

PS: If you want any more direct examples that I have come across first or second hand, then  please ask me and I shall make sure I get back to you with them.


*******************

Thanks to @LostForWords17 for a well considered discussion of an aspect of faith and for a rational and reasonable line of discussion on Twitter.



Go ahead and comment about his experiences.

10 comments:

Recovering Agnostic said...

So where do you stand on spiritualists? Mediums? Horoscopes? There are plenty of people who claim to have some sort of privileged insight in this way, most of whom would be considered in error at best by most believers. For the most part, they honestly believe that they have a gift, but under controlled, objective test conditions the apparent effect disappears. Ask Randi how many times he's paid out on his challenge.

If you have clear objective evidence, rather than a collection of self-reported anecdotes which are liable to both reporting bias and confirmation bias, I'd be very, very interested. In the absence of that evidence, I'm not sure why I shouldn't file this with any number of superficially persuasive but ultimately unlikely supernatural claims.

That sounds harsh, but the point is that there are lots of wild claims about supernatural abilities or effects, most of which are mutually exclusive. If I was prepared to accept those claims based on personal testimony, I'd believe all sorts of contradictory things. Things that I'm sure you would agree were mistaken. The question is, what makes your claim any different?

Recovering Agnostic said...

So where do you stand on spiritualists? Mediums? Horoscopes? There are plenty of people who claim to have some sort of privileged insight in this way, most of whom would be considered in error at best by most believers. For the most part, they honestly believe that they have a gift, but under controlled, objective test conditions the apparent effect disappears. Ask Randi how many times he's paid out on his challenge.

If you have clear objective evidence, rather than a collection of self-reported anecdotes which are liable to both reporting bias and confirmation bias, I'd be very, very interested. In the absence of that evidence, I'm not sure why I shouldn't file this with any number of superficially persuasive but ultimately unlikely supernatural claims.

That sounds harsh, but the point is that there are lots of wild claims about supernatural abilities or effects, most of which are mutually exclusive. If I was prepared to accept those claims based on personal testimony, I'd believe all sorts of contradictory things. Things that I'm sure you would agree were mistaken. The question is, what makes your claim any different?

Recovering Agnostic said...

So where do you stand on spiritualists? Mediums? Horoscopes? There are plenty of people who claim to have some sort of privileged insight in this way, most of whom would be considered in error at best by most believers. For the most part, they honestly believe that they have a gift, but under controlled, objective test conditions the apparent effect disappears. Ask Randi how many times he's paid out on his challenge.

If you have clear objective evidence, rather than a collection of self-reported anecdotes which are liable to both reporting bias and confirmation bias, I'd be very, very interested. In the absence of that evidence, I'm not sure why I shouldn't file this with any number of superficially persuasive but ultimately unlikely supernatural claims.

That sounds harsh, but the point is that there are lots of wild claims about supernatural abilities or effects, most of which are mutually exclusive. If I was prepared to accept those claims based on personal testimony, I'd believe all sorts of contradictory things. Things that I'm sure you would agree were mistaken. The question is, what makes your claim any different?

krissthesexyatheist said...

Awesome buddy. do you have a blog of your own. You should.

Kriss

RosaRubicondior said...

Your friends should write horoscopes. They seem to have practised the art of making vague statements which could apply to anyone and telling people things they want to hear.

Would you have been equally convinced by a 'Gypsy' fortune-teller at a local fete or a Muslim mystic?

Would you like to buy a bridge? I can show you a picture of it to prove it's mine?

Frankie said...

Thanks for the comments, I assumed and understand that I would get them, I enjoy harsh criticism (surprising in any way that may seem!)

The quagmire I have to deal with is choosing an example which points to the basis of my argument, which sounded relatively plausible. I understand that it's nigh on impossible to display anything I say of such nature as evidence, but I stand by my word and don't mind it.

In regards to the 'Forer Effect' etc, this is an example which as I just stated is easy to ingest and take in from the argumental front, although I have a few others I could of used which are similar and more deeper, I decided not to.

In regards to other faiths, if you are actually interested in hearing my view on it, I think that some other faiths have power. It is a Christian doctrine which states although some may still have power, the source is different and doesn't really amount to much in the long run, whereas our source of power (using power in a vague term here) is genuine and alot more effective. In regards to Horoscopes, Psychics and other Spiritual phenomena, I believe that some of the time it may be real, but most of the time it may be made up.

I don't mind being boxed in with others though, as I understand that it's hard to see any difference unless you have closely analysed the subject for any prolonged period of time.

To summarise, just try to understand that I was arguing for a Theistic basis, not necessarily and exclusively a Christian one, but keep commenting and feel free to heckle my @LostForWords17 Twitter account!

Andy

Frankie said...

I do have one my brother set up which I post on maybe 3 or 4 times a year, but you can find me on @LostForWords17 on Twitter so come bother me there.

Plasma Engineer said...

I'm glad that a few comments have appeared. Thanks to all.

@Frankie, I think a few of my readers have already 'closely analysed the subject' for a more 'prolonged period of time' than you imagine. Some of them are more direct in their criticism of your viewpoint than I choose to be. But live and let live.

I think that most of them would be pleased to read your last paragraph and would probably argue that a generic theism is exactly the sort of evidence they seek against any specific theistic position.

Surely you have to agree that most gods would be offended if it turns out that you are praying to a generic theistic god. i.e. the wrong one. Certainly the god of the Old Testament/Torah/Koran seems intolerant of our inability to understand his wishes.

Plasma Engineer said...

I'm guessing that Blogger was not on best behaviour. Many thanks for persisting. I like your comment.

RosaRubicondior said...

Why do you need a 'theistic basis', i.e., a supernatural mystical dimension, which, being supernatural and therefore impossible to analyse, can never be more than a hopeful guess which is infinitely more likely to be wrong than right?

What's wrong with reality? What's wrong with being nothing very special at all, apart from being part of everything there is, of being the product of a 3.5 billion year process in which none of your ancestors ever failed to pass the fitness test, and having the great good fortune to be conscious of it and being alive today when we now know more than we have ever known?

What's wrong with being the means by which, after 14 billion years, the universe has gained self-awareness?

Reality is far larger, far more impressive and far more awesome than any prophet ever told us. Science looks for reasons to change our minds; religions look for reason not to.