Criteria for the Belief in a God

Bobby says:

How about a thread devoted to: the criteria to convince an atheist of divine existence.

No matter what the topic of discussion may be, it always ends up going in that direction! So why not establish a criteria and see if people can adhere to it?

Thanks for the new thread, Bobby!

59 Responses to Criteria for the Belief in a God

  1. The Atheist says:

    Bobby,

    Welcome to the blog!

    I’m not sure it’s necessary for everyone to agree on the same criteria, but I do agree that it is helpful for each person to contemplate what criteria would be compelling.

    My personal criterion is straightforward: I would be compelled to believe in a god if the evidence pointed me in that direction; if the existence of a god would best explain what I observe. So far, I don’t think the evidence is best explained by the existence of a god.

    Perhaps others can offer their own criteria for belief here?

    Along those same lines, what if I were to claim just for the sake of an example (as Bertrand Russell did), that a celestial teapot, which is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes, revolves around the sun in an elliptical orbit between Earth and Mars? What would your criteria be for believing my claim?

  2. Great topic here…

    I would be compelled to believe in a god if the evidence pointed me in that direction… So far, I don’t think the evidence is best explained by the existence of a god…

    These sentiments reflect an epistemological position
    There is more than one kind of ‘evidence’.
    Most commonly, the ‘evidence’ that atheists would appeal to is the ‘scientific’ kind. For most of these, in Dawkins-esque style, ‘science’ has (to use Dawkins’ wording from one of his debates with John Lennox) ’emancipated’ us from (what he admits as) an inherent ‘impulse to worship some kind of creator’…
    The general picture then, for most atheists, is that because ‘science’ provides all the ‘explanation’ we need for what we see, all other would-be ‘explanations’ are not only unneeded, but false.
    This assumes –quite unnecessarily– that no two ‘explanations’ (i.e. ‘scientific’ and ‘religious’ ‘explanations’) can co-exist. However, for many scientists, this is precisely the case.

    So then, for these people (including myself – though I’m no scientist), far from ’emancipating’ them from the worshipful impulse, scientific ‘explanations’ instead serve to enhance and enrich this impulse.

    So if it is not scientific ‘evidence’ that distinguishes belief from unbelief, then what kind of ‘evidence’ is it?

  3. The Atheist says:

    Dale,

    You make an interesting observation: that epistemological suppositions are really at the base of this discussion. However, I disagree that those suppositions are necessarily different for atheists and theists. Maybe we can explore this some.

    For anyone, whether atheist or theist, I think that any knowledge we have is acquired by sensual experience. That is, any primary knowledge we have of our universe is acquired by seeing it, touching it, etc. Any secondary knowledge of our universe is acquired by inductive reasoning about the primary knowledge (things fall when dropped, apples do not taste like oranges). Finally, a higher-level understanding of the universe is acquired by deductive reasoning (things fall when dropped, apples are things, therefore apples fall when dropped).

    Note that we need not exclude our emotions in this discussion of epistemology: our emotions are ultimately senses as well; they shape how we feel about the universe as known through our primary knowledge, secondary knowledge, and even our higher-level understanding. However, this sense is only an introspective sense – it applies only to our acquired knowledge.

    Any “knowledge” that dismisses these types of knowledge described above is delusional by definition (we define delusion to mean a belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary).

    So far you’ll agree that this is all true, but perhaps only true for atheistic thought. Let’s expand the discussion a bit by presuming that there is also a spiritual universe (or that the physical universe and spiritual universe are both dimensions of a single universe). Then to have primary knowledge of the spiritual universe, we have to have a sense – a spiritual sense – that allows you to experience elements of it first hand. A first-hand sense of God’s presence is an example of this sense. Without this spiritual sense, then we can only deduce the spiritual from our knowledge of the physical. Do you agree so far?

    This is what we actually observe. Some theists say they believe in the spiritual based on a first-hand sensation of the spiritual (they feel God’s presence, or the presence of an energy). Others say they believe in the spiritual based on physical knowledge (the physical universe seems to them to require a designer and they reason that the designer could not be physical). Then of course there are combinations of these 2 reasons for belief.

    If you still agree, then we no longer need to limit ourselves to the more superficial discussion of science vs. religion, and a loyalty to either one or the other. Instead, we can view the body of science as simply a knowledge base which is founded on the physical senses, and which is agnostic with respect to any spiritual senses. As such, because we both experience the physical universe in virtually an identical way, we should accept the body of undisputed scientific knowledge (and perhaps speculate about what is in dispute). Then in this discussion, we can focus on knowledge of the spiritual.

  4. Cheers, A3,
    I think I follow you here. Would you not agree, then, that Dawkins’ notion of science ’emancipating’ us from the worshipful impulse is a category mistake?

  5. The Atheist says:

    Cheers, Dale.

    I don’t know that I could show that the statement is a category mistake, but I believe the the statement is overly optimistic. I would concede that science can disprove certain fundamentalist claims, but even then I would not expect evidence, whether scientific or otherwise, to ’emancipate’ a fundamentalist from his position. More liberal forms of the world’s religions accept the findings of science but then superimpose a spiritual veneer over the accepted scientific view. I would not expect science to ’emancipate’ these believers either since in this case, science would be agnostic about the spiritual claims.

  6. Damian says:

    Interesting conversation guys.

    A3, I especially appreciated your overview of the different levels of knowledge – I’d not heard it put so succinctly before. And it intrigues me to think that there may exist a ‘knowledge of the spiritual’.

    Dale, do you agree with A3’s breakdown of the levels of knowledge and with the possibility that there is a separate spiritual sense? If so, are you aware of any formal methods that can be used to test such knowledge?

  7. The Atheist says:

    Thanks, Damian. Sorry to ditch you’re particularly interesting conversation about morals a while back – I got very caught up with work and personal obligations, and by the time I came up for air, the conversation had already wound down.

  8. Damian says:

    That’s OK mate. It started to go around in circles in the end.

  9. Hi A3/Damian,
    Re: Dawkins’ language about science & emancipation:
    According to Dawkins, it’s not just believers which need to be emancipated from that ‘worshipful impulse’, but all people he suggests. Not only does Dawkins assume that such an ’emancipation’ is a desirable thing, he says science has achieved this. It either has achieved it or it hasn’t. I (and I suspect you as well?) would say it hasn’t.

    Re: ‘spiritual sense’:
    Yes, I do think there is a spiritual ‘dimension’ (so to speak) to reality. I actually think that this ‘worshipful impulse’ Dawkins speaks of is one of many, many examples of ‘spiritual sense data’ (if it may be put like that). We all experience this. Hindu’s, Buddhists, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, Christians, Jews, Pagan, Pantheists… etc. I think we experience it as both transcendent (something ‘higher’ or ‘beyond’) and immanent (something ‘close’ or ‘near’).
    As for ‘formal methods’ to ‘test’ such senses, that sounds a bit like your wanting to treat the spiritual data like scientific data – know what I mean? What kind of ‘testing’ do you mean?

    Re: criteria for belief in a god:
    I do think it’s good to focus on this desire to put forth some criteria. A3, you began this by saying the criteria for you would be if ‘the evidence’ pointed to a god, you would be inclined to believe in one. Now that we’ve agreed there are different ‘kinds’ of ‘evidence’, could/would you restate that criteria more specifically?

  10. Damian says:

    Dale,

    As for ‘formal methods’ to ‘test’ such senses, that sounds a bit like your wanting to treat the spiritual data like scientific data – know what I mean? What kind of ‘testing’ do you mean?

    We can be fooled by optical illusions. Even though, say, object #2 looks longer than object #1 we can verify they are the same by using a ruler. If there is such a thing as a spiritual sense then presumably there would also be true or untrue aspects to this too. Has anyone come up with an agreed way of testing spiritual sense claims or intuitions?

  11. Damian,
    Yes, it would stand to reason that a ‘spiritual’ sense, like ‘optical’ sense, could be distorted. Of course, in the same way that ‘optical illusions’ do not invalidate our everyday, continual use of our optical vision; whatever ‘spiritual illusions’ there might be, this need not invalidate an everyday, continual perception of ‘spiritual’ things.
    But it is fair, I think, to wish for a way to test the spiritual sense. Those within the Christian tradition call this ‘discernment’ (current teachings/experiences/etc. are ‘tested’ against tradition), and I think others from other spiritual traditions would have similar ways of testing things.

    As for how this relates to ‘criteria for the belief in a god’, I think we’d have to talk about implications of the reality of a spiritual ‘dimension’ (however this is to be conceived).
    I think it’s good to start with general things, as opposed to specific things. For example, when discussing ‘evidence’ for a god, it is more helpful (I think) to refer to general things like the notion of design, or the pervasive sense of awe (Dawkins’ ‘worshipful impulse’), etc.; rather than immediately talk of fairies or demons (let alone orbiting teapots).

  12. oh yes, just also thought I’d invite discussion (in a similar vein) of my post on epistemology – rhsorgnz.ipower.com/fruitfulfaith/2008/10/knowing-about-knowing
    Cheers,
    -d-

  13. The Atheist says:

    Dale,

    Dawkins’ language about science & emancipation:

    I’d say that science has emancipated much of the world from many of the superstitions that it has held throughout the ages, and it has changed the face of religion as well.

    I actually think that this ‘worshipful impulse’ Dawkins speaks of is one of many, many examples of ’spiritual sense data’ (if it may be put like that).

    I agree that we humans have this sort of “impulse”, but I wouldn’t consider it a sense – I would categorize it as more of an instinct to act. I would consider the feeling of being watched or the feeling that something is lurking in the dark to be more akin to a “spiritual” sense.

    Now that we’ve agreed there are different ‘kinds’ of ‘evidence’, could/would you restate that criteria more specifically?

    I think my criteria still works: if there were a spiritual sense, akin to our physical senses, then we humans would have first-hand knowledge of the spiritual through this “sense” and it would be as real to us as anything physical. However this does not seem to be the case. Now this does not mean that a spiritual dimension does not exist, it just means we would have to deduce its existence through our reasoning about the physical world.

    Take magnetism for example – magnetism would be completely unknown to us if we did not learn to detect its presence through indirect observation. We can’t sense it with any of our physical senses, yet we can sense the force that magnetism exerts on other physical objects. If a spiritual world exists that we cannot sense directly, then we might still deduce its presence by its affect on the physical world.

    If there is a spiritual world, but we cannot sense it directly, and it does not act at all on the physical world, then we cannot know of its existence.

  14. I agree that we humans have this sort of “impulse”, but I wouldn’t consider it a sense – I would categorize it as more of an instinct to act. I would consider the feeling of being watched or the feeling that something is lurking in the dark to be more akin to a “spiritual” sense.

    Could you unpack how/why you ‘categorise’ the ‘impulse’ as instinct, opposed to a (possible) spiritual sense? Would it have to be either/or? Could it not be both? Of course, our categorisation of the ‘data/evidence’ is always influenced by our worldview and/or epistemological framework we’re operating with. It’s not surprising, then, that the ‘awe-ful feeling’ (pardon the pun) would be categorised/’held’ differently by an atheist and a theist. :)
    As for a sense of ‘being watched’ or something ‘lurking in the dark’, that seems quite a specific example of what I’d see as a rich, wide and varied amount of possible spiritual senses. Maybe a better question to ask is what is not a spiritual sense?

    if there were a spiritual sense, akin to our physical senses, then we humans would have first-hand knowledge of the spiritual through this “sense” and it would be as real to us as anything physical. However this does not seem to be the case. Now this does not mean that a spiritual dimension does not exist, it just means we would have to deduce its existence through our reasoning about the physical world.

    I’m glad you mentioned ‘reason’. I do think reason is a great tool for sensing the spiritual (i.e. ‘spirituality’ is not only emotional, but also a rational process). Also (without wanting to propose a ‘god-of-the-gaps’ position), I do think human consciousness –not mere sentience, but consciousness– could well be one of the most direct places where the spiritual and physical intersect. That’s not trying to stuff spirituality where it’s hardest to find – quite the opposite, it’s the easiest place to find it – because we all are conscious. We all experience the continual, self-reflective, other-observing, life/meaning-pondering, ethical/moral-reasoning, universe-inspired operation of the ‘self’.

    If a spiritual world exists that we cannot sense directly, then we might still deduce its presence by its affect on the physical world.

    I do think the spiritual does (continually) affect the physical world. I’ve already mentioned consciousness as a likely example of this, but I think it’s much wider. Again, the question could be asked in this way: where does the spiritual not affect the physical world? If God is the causal referrent for all existence (i.e. ‘nothing exists without God’), then all existence (in it’s glorious, horrifying and mysteriously beautiful unity and diversity) is ‘evidence’ for the existence of God. This gets us to at least pantheism.

  15. The Atheist says:

    Dale,

    Could you unpack how/why you ‘categorise’ the ‘impulse’ as instinct, opposed to a (possible) spiritual sense?

    An impulse as we typically understand the term is the motivation to act. A sense on the other hand is an awareness of some object (and for this conversation, it is important to note that the object could be either physical or spiritual). So if a “worshipful impulse” is the response to a feeling of awe which is inspired by the spiritual, then awe is the sense and worship is the impulse that the sense prompts

    Would it have to be either/or? Could it not be both?

    Worship has to be an impulse by your observation of it (you find that people seem to have an impulse to worship). But I suppose the act of worship need not be due only to impulse; it may for example be a self-serving act that makes one feel better. But it can’t be both a sense and an impulse: a sense is not an impulse and an impulse is not a sense.

    Of course, our categorisation of the ‘data/evidence’ is always influenced by our worldview and/or epistemological framework we’re operating with.

    I think this does happen – but I don’t think that is what is currently happening here. I think we are just defining terms at this point, and we are defining them in a way that they mean the same thing, regardless of one’s view vis-a-vie a spiritual universe.

    It’s not surprising, then, that the ‘awe-ful feeling’ (pardon the pun) would be categorised/’held’ differently by an atheist and a theist. :)

    ‘awe-ful feeling’ <– :))

    Pun aside, we actually agree that the sense of awe is a sense and not an impulse. Perhaps we also now agree that the impulse to worship is not a sense :)

    quite a specific example of what I’d see as a rich, wide and varied amount of possible spiritual senses.

    I don’t mean to limit the spiritual sense to only those sorts of things; I only mean to provide examples that we will both agree are not examples of sensing the physical.

    Maybe a better question to ask is what is not a spiritual sense?

    Excellent question! Let me propose these: (1) a sense which is non-spiritual is the sensual detection of a physical object or physical force. (2) an imagined sense is neither spiritual nor physical; a sense is not imagined if others who posses similar sensing abilities can under similar conditions confirm that the object of the sensation exists. Note that failure to confirm that an object is not imagined is not proof that the object is imagined.

    I do think reason is a great tool for sensing the spiritual…

    That’s also what I also would expect if the spiritual indeed existed. However, I haven’t found any of these arguments (at least the ones I’ve come across) for God or a spiritual universe to be compelling – they are either inconclusive or they are fallacious in some way.

    I do think human consciousness … could well be one of the most direct places where the spiritual and physical intersect.

    That could be, since we will agree that in the “self”, we sense something that seems non-physical. The choices for categorizing consciousness seem to be: consciousness is …

    1) spiritual – it is a product of the spiritual and can exist without the physical (by “spirit”, we typically mean a disembodied consciousness and by “body”, we mean a physical body)
    2) physical – it is a product of the physical and cannot exist without it
    3) neither – it is neither physical, nor spiritual
    4) imagined – not possible since imagination is the action of a consciousness

    Your thoughts so far?

    I do think the spiritual does (continually) affect the physical world. I’ve already mentioned consciousness as a likely example of this, but I think it’s much wider.

    How do we determine that the effects are the result of actions by the spiritual? Do we first know of a spiritual and then see its effects, or do we propose a spiritual because of the observed effects?

    Again, the question could be asked in this way: where does the spiritual not affect the physical world?

    I’ll propose that this is an invalid question. If the claim is that the spiritual affects the spiritual, than the onus is on the claimant to show that it does. If the claimant can’t justify the claim, then the claimant must admit at least that he is agnostic regarding the validity of the claim. If I claim that the celestial teapot (see above) exists, the onus is on me to support my claim – I can’t presume that my claim is true solely based on your inability to disprove it. If I can’t justify my claim, I don’t necessarily have to conclude that the teapot does not exist, but I must at least admit that I can’t know that it does (e.g., I have to be agnostic regarding the existence of the teapot).

  16. The Atheist says:

    Dales,

    I forgot to ask:

    when discussing ‘evidence’ for a god, it is more helpful (I think) to refer to general things like the notion of design

    If you concluded that the universe did not appear designed, would you beliefs about the spiritual or the nature of God change in any way?

  17. it’s getting ‘bit-sy’ (which is honestly no-one’s fault, just the nature of these things…) :)

    it can’t be both a sense and an impulse: a sense is not an impulse and an impulse is not a sense.

    I’m quite happy to agree that ‘awe’ is the feeling/sense/experience to which ‘worship’ (or impulse to so so) is the (natural) response to that feeling

    (1) a sense which is non-spiritual is the sensual detection of a physical object or physical force. (2) an imagined sense is neither spiritual nor physical; a sense is not imagined if others who posses similar sensing abilities can under similar conditions confirm that the object of the sensation exists. Note that failure to confirm that an object is not imagined is not proof that the object is imagined.

    ahh… ‘detection’. this brings up the (a la maurice merleau-ponty) ‘phenomenology of perception’. :) I’m not philosopher of consciousness, but I do think we take it for granted (we get used to it – since we’re conscious so often – most of the time!). It’s quite amazing. A good question is why aren’t we zombie-like in our perception of the world (‘sense data’)? Anyway, back to your 1 & 2… with #1, I don’t think it follows that a sensual detection of a physical object/force is automatically (by-default) non-spiritual; and with #2, I also don’t think ‘imaginary’ senses are (again) automatically not ‘spiritual’. To be sure an ‘imagined sense’ is a different kind of sense than a ‘physical sense’, but it doesn’t follow immediately that it’s not spiritual.

    I haven’t found any of these arguments …for God or a spiritual universe to be compelling – they are either inconclusive or they are fallacious in some way.

    …and this is at/near the heart of the questions put forth in the original post. What kind of ‘data’ or ‘evidence’ (or ‘arguments’) would you (even begin to) find somewhat compelling (or, heck, even at least interesting!) ???

    The choices for categorizing consciousness seem to be: consciousness is …

    1) spiritual – it is a product of the spiritual and can exist without the physical (by “spirit”, we typically mean a disembodied consciousness and by “body”, we mean a physical body)
    2) physical – it is a product of the physical and cannot exist without it
    3) neither – it is neither physical, nor spiritual
    4) imagined – not possible since imagination is the action of a consciousness

    Your thoughts so far?

    5) both 1 & 2

    How do we determine that the effects are the result of actions by the spiritual? Do we first know of a spiritual and then see its effects, or do we propose a spiritual because of the observed effects?

    I think it’s a matter of whether or not there is a ‘resonance’ with what we see and the claims put forward.

    I’ll propose that this is an invalid question. If the claim is that the spiritual affects the spiritual, than the onus is on the claimant to show that it does. If the claimant can’t justify the claim, then the claimant must admit at least that he is agnostic regarding the validity of the claim.

    Perhaps. Again, the original post is to seek criteria for the belief in a God, which helps claims like these to be formulated and discussed…

    If you concluded that the universe did not appear designed, would you beliefs about the spiritual or the nature of God change in any way?

    The ‘design’ that I see in the universe includes BOTH ‘order’ and ‘chaos’, ‘good’ and ‘evil’, so we’d have to agree on what ‘design’ means. Interestingly, people like Dawkins do happily agree that the universe ‘looks’ designed.
    also, the opposite question could be asked of you: “if you concluded that the universe did appear designed, would your beliefs… change in any way?”

  18. The Atheist says:

    Dale,

    it’s getting ‘bit-sy’

    We shouldn’t consider “Bit-sy” a fault at all but rather a valuable tool! Moving between different frames of reference (like gestalt or deconstruction for example) can give us much more insight into our world that we could never have by maintaining a constant frame – which is arbitrarily defined by our physical attributes anyway (our size, age, present location, realms in which we can survive, etc.). Think of this shift in frame as holding an object in your hand, and rolling it around with your fingers, sometimes looking at it up close, other times looking at it as a whole. “Bit-sy” is simply looking closely at a certain aspect of our world.

    I’m quite happy to agree that ‘awe’ is the feeling/sense/experience to which ‘worship’ (or impulse to so so) is the (natural) response to that feeling

    That’s helpful! Now we can return to the quest for spiritual senses. Do you propose that awe is a spiritual sense? What are other spiritual senses that allow us to experience the spiritual realm first hand?

    we get used to [consciousness] – since we’re conscious so often – most of the time

    That reminds me of a quote by Mark Whetu in “The Fatal Game” documentary: “It’s not that life is too short, it’s that your dead a long time.”

    :))

    A good question is why aren’t we zombie-like in our perception of the world

    Agreed! It’s a very good question.

    #1, I don’t think it follows that a sensual detection of a physical object/force is automatically (by-default) non-spiritual;

    Can you explain a bit?

    #2, I also don’t think ‘imaginary’ senses are (again) automatically not ’spiritual’. To be sure an ‘imagined sense’ is a different kind of sense than a ‘physical sense’, but it doesn’t follow immediately that it’s not spiritual.

    I agree in that we can imagine a sensation that is either physical or spiritual. My proposal is that an imagined sense isn’t useful in detecting objects (either physical or spiritual) in our universe. That is, we should not conclude that an object exists if we know that our only sense of it is imagined. If we believed that an object existed based only on an imaginary sense, we would be delusional by definition.

    …and this is at/near the heart of the questions put forth in the original post. What kind of ‘data’ or ‘evidence’ (or ‘arguments’) would you (even begin to) find somewhat compelling (or, heck, even at least interesting!) ???

    My original answer still stands: “I would be compelled to believe in a god if the evidence pointed me in that direction; if the existence of a god would best explain what I observe. So far, I don’t think the evidence is best explained by the existence of a god.” My subsequent commentary has been to both define “evidence” (both sensory and rational), and also to elicit either. So far we have made some progress along the lines of definition of evidence, but my elicitation of evidence for the spiritual has failed ;)

    5) both 1 & 2 [consciousness can be either physical or spiritual]

    Could you expand on this a bit? For example, is the mind a physical “thing”, even if it is also a spiritual “thing”? Is the brain fully physical? Is an electron fully physical?

    I think it’s a matter of whether or not there is a ‘resonance’ with what we see and the claims put forward.

    I’m not following – could you clarify, perhaps with an example?

    I asked: “If you concluded that the universe did not appear designed, would you beliefs about the spiritual or the nature of God change in any way?” and you said:

    The ‘design’ that I see in the universe includes BOTH ‘order’ and ‘chaos’, ‘good’ and ‘evil’, so we’d have to agree on what ‘design’ means. Interestingly, people like Dawkins do happily agree that the universe ‘looks’ designed.

    I’m still not sure I have my question answered. Would you mind giving it another shot?

    if you concluded that the universe did appear designed, would your beliefs… change in any way?

    I would believe that there was one or more designers who would be capable of designing and constructing everything from a quark to a web of galactic clusters, and everything in between.

  19. Damian says:

    I think I can see what Dale means by ‘bit-sy’; that the conversation forks into topics of ‘senses’, ‘physical/spiritual/imaginary’, ‘consciousness’, ‘design’ and so on.

    I’m particularly fascinated by the concept that we may have five definable physical senses and X definable spiritual senses (one of which is the sense of ‘awe’). With the five physical senses we can point to physical mechanisms (i.e. taste buds, retinas, etc) and trace them back to the brain without any need to invoke the spiritual.

    Before exploring the hypothesis that we have one or more spiritual senses and that one of them is ‘awe’, we should probably first see if there is a reasonable physical explanation. This is standard practice and serves us well with any interesting phenomena because so far there have been many thousands of things that have at first been ascribed to the supernatural realm only to be found to have natural causes (lightening, magnetism, epilepsy, and so on). If we’d not looked for natural explanations we’d still be as mystified as we were to start with and have a false view of at least some aspects of the world to boot.

    Would you both agree that this is a reasonable approach?

  20. Cheers guys,
    What I meant by ‘bitsy’ was this: a) make blockquote tag, select tag, ctrl-c, ctrl-v, ctrl-v, ctrl-v, etc., etc. select bit of text from comment, ctrl-c, ctrl-v, etc. :D …and like I said, it’s not anyone’s fault, that’s just what happens when you discuss something in detail (which it appears we’re happy to do). :)

    A3,

    Do you propose that awe is a spiritual sense? What are other spiritual senses that allow us to experience the spiritual realm first hand?

    Yes, I think our feeling of ‘awe’ is one of many examples of a spiritual sense. Now, I’m quite sure you could use fMRI scans on people currently feeling ‘awe-ful’ :) , and we would see the physiological correlates of ‘awe’; but that would say nothing of whether or not awe is a spiritual sense or not. All we would do is to confirm what we already know, namely that we are physical creatures with physical functions, and that if indeed there are spiritual senses, they would also have physical ‘side-effects’ (to put it crudely like that). As for other spiritual senses, I really do think the quesion ‘what are not (in some way) spiritual?’ is a good one. The thing is, I think we can sense both at the same time (i.e. a ‘physical’ event can also be a ‘spiritual’ event).

    #1, I don’t think it follows that a sensual detection of a physical object/force is automatically (by-default) non-spiritual…
    Can you explain a bit?

    I think I just did in response to the prior question. A physical event (caressing the neck of a woman, for example – which has all manner of physical explanations, not to mention evolutionary explanations) may indeed also be a spiritual event (two souls bonding – and please know that I’m not talking about a dis-embodied kind of spirit when I use the word ‘soul’).

    My proposal is that an imagined sense isn’t useful in detecting objects (either physical or spiritual) in our universe. That is, we should not conclude that an object exists if we know that our only sense of it is imagined. If we believed that an object existed based only on an imaginary sense, we would be delusional by definition.

    I think we often take ‘imaginary’ to mean ‘that which isn’t real’; and I’m not sure that’s helpful. Sure, it’s not ‘real’ in the same way that a rock or tree or another person is ‘real’, but an imagined thing (dream, idea, design, song, mathematical equation, etc.) can be real in other ways.

    5) both 1 & 2 [consciousness can be either physical or spiritual]
    Could you expand on this a bit? For example, is the mind a physical “thing”, even if it is also a spiritual “thing”? Is the brain fully physical? Is an electron fully physical?

    First, I meant ‘both’ in that consciousness can be both physical and spiritual (it doesn’t have to be either-or). The mind/brain example is a good one. The mind would obviously have physiological correlates which I’m just guessing would be in the brain and not in the big toe, but these physiological correlates do not at all demonstrate that the mind IS the brain and the brain only. Some are bent on insisting that neuroplasticity (the neurological re-working of the brain, often through disciplined, habit-forming thinking/mind-exercises), for example is ‘the brain changing the brain’. Well, the materialist is required to think this, for there can be no distinct entity controlling the brain, there can only be the brain controlling the brain. This is utterly against what we all continually experience. And the point here is not to say experience is all that matters or that experience trumps fMRI – it’s just to say that we have no reason to disbelieve our experience.

    whether or not there is a ‘resonance’ with what we see and the claims put forward.
    I’m not following – could you clarify, perhaps with an example?

    Take the mind for example. It ‘makes sense’ immediately that there is a ‘self’ which feels ‘inside’ us, and that we think, feel, imagine, etc. with this ‘self’. Ancient and modern thinkers call this the ‘soul’. Now different people define this spiritual entity differently, but the point is that we all experience ‘soul’, and our biological knowledge has anything but shown that this ‘soul’ is not real. My view is that there is a duality between soul and body (mind and brain), but I’m not a dualist in the Platonic sense. I think the spiritual soul is thoroughly embodied (as opposed to ‘trapped in the prison of the body’).
    Back to your question (Do we first know of a spiritual and then see its effects, or do we propose a spiritual because of the observed effects?). I think we first ‘know of the spiritual’ through our experience spiritual things (i.e. rationality, consciousness, the soul, etc.), and -as naturally as breathing- propose that they are real things. The question is whether or not these have been shown to no longer ‘make sense’ anymore.

    I’m still not sure I have my question [“If you concluded that the universe did not appear designed, would you beliefs about the spiritual or the nature of God change in any way?”] answered. Would you mind giving it another shot?

    Well (as I indicated in my first answer), yes, the proposed design (or lack of it) seen in the creation does (in some way, however directly or indirectly; however we are to understand causality) reflect upon the proposed designer.
    The real underlying question here is ‘what would a designed universe look like?’ We have only seen our universe, and can only guess if there are even other universes, so that gives us nothing to compare against (i.e. is our universe ‘a’ more or less designed than universe ‘b’ or ‘x’?).

    Damian,

    With the five physical senses we can point to physical mechanisms (i.e. taste buds, retinas, etc) and trace them back to the brain without any need to invoke the spiritual.

    and…

    Before exploring the hypothesis that we have one or more spiritual senses and that one of them is ‘awe’, we should probably first see if there is a reasonable physical explanation.

    As you will have seen reading my responses above to A3, I don’t think ‘a reasonable physical explanation’ automatically makes any spiritual explanations irrelevant or unreasonable.
    Like there are more than one kind of ‘evidence’ there are more than one kind of ‘explanation’ for things. To use (yet again) the brain/mind example: our neurological ‘evidence’ fits with one kind of ‘explanation’ of the phenomena, whilst our common experience is ‘evidence’ of another kind which fits with other kinds of ‘explanations’.
    My point is that more than one explanation can be True for the same phenomena.

  21. The Atheist says:

    Cheers Damian,

    I’m particularly fascinated by the concept that we may have five definable physical senses and X definable spiritual senses (one of which is the sense of ‘awe’).

    Yes, me too! If it turns out that we do have senses to perceive the spiritual, then I think we will have enough evidence to accept that it exits.

    I agree that it would be most reasonable to first look for physical explanations before turning to the spiritual if it is indeed the case that we cannot directly perceive the spiritual directly through our senses. But if we can perceive the spiritual through senses that are as real as our physical senses, then I think we would be as justified in looking to the spiritual for explanations as we would be in looking to the physical.

    Having said that, I agree that awe is a sense but I don’t yet accept that it is a spiritual sense. We feel a sense of awe toward many things that are purely physical – like the universe, watching a birth, or hearing a symphony. So in general, we feel awe toward things that we perceive are grander than ourselves. And as Dale pointed out, even if the imaginary doesn’t exist, it can have an effect on us and the effect can very real. If we imagine a God, we would feel a sense of awe toward him, and the feeling is real, even if God isn’t real. If we actually sensed God, we would also feel a sense of awe toward him and the feeling would be just as real. Then awe is not dependent on a thing being physical, or spiritual, or imaginary – it is dependent on our perception that something is grander than ourselves. So awe may turn out to be a spiritual sense, but we have not yet identified a reason to believe that it is.

  22. Cheers A3,

    I agree that it would be most reasonable to first look for physical explanations before turning to the spiritual if it is indeed the case that we cannot directly perceive the spiritual directly through our senses. But if we can perceive the spiritual through senses that are as real as our physical senses, then I think we would be as justified in looking to the spiritual for explanations as we would be in looking to the physical.

    In declaring it more reasonable to first look for physical explanations, then spiritual ones, it seems a priority is fixed a prori (how’s that for a cute little phrase… ;) ). Part of what I’m suggesting is that physical/spiritual explanations not only don’t have to be either/or, but also don’t have to be first/next[last?] either… The same phenomenon can have both a physical and spiritual explanation – and we can ‘look’ for (or appreciate) these explanations at the same time.

    We feel a sense of awe toward many things that are purely physical – like the universe, watching a birth, or hearing a symphony.

    You say ‘things that are purely physical’… But again, how do we know that (for example) a birth or a symphony are ‘purely physical’? These things certainly are not less than physical, but their physicality doesn’t automatically mean they are ‘purely’ (only) physical phenomena.

    And as Dale pointed out, even if the imaginary doesn’t exist, it can have an effect on us and the effect can very real. If we imagine a God, we would feel a sense of awe toward him, and the feeling is real, even if God isn’t real. If we actually sensed God, we would also feel a sense of awe toward him and the feeling would be just as real.

    Of course, if we’re going to consider the case of ‘if the imaginary doesn’t exist’, we also should consider the case of ‘if the imaginary does exist’. But yes, it’s at least a start to recognise that the ‘awe-ful’ effect on us is real even if the referent isn’t.

    So awe may turn out to be a spiritual sense, but we have not yet identified a reason to believe that it is.

    Perhaps, but we’ve also not yet identified any reason to believe that it is not a spiritual sense. :)
    This is all what it means to ‘read’ the ‘evidence’; and it’s what is behind our various differing conclusions about where the evidence leads. Hence my initial comment about epistemology.
    Good stuff, gentlemen. :) (oops, I assumed that A3 was a male – am I wrong?)

  23. The Atheist says:

    Cheers Dale and Damian,

    Dale,

    Yes, I think our feeling of ‘awe’ is one of many examples of a spiritual sense.

    When we think of physical senses, like site, touch, etc., we think of senses that allow us to objectively perceive things in our physical world. When we think of emotional senses, we think of senses that add subjective qualities to objects which we have already incorporated into our thought vis-a-vie our physical senses. Then emotional senses never operate directly on objects in the universe like our physical senses do, rather they operate on our mental images, out thoughts and memories. These mental “objects” might reflect real things in the universe (when acquired by our objective sense), or they might be fabrications that do not exist in the universe.

    So far, we have not identified any sort of objective sense to interact with the spiritual, that is, senses whose operation is analogous to the way sight and touch interact objectively with the physical. When emotional senses, like the sense of awe, respond to something that is not known to be physical (based our objective senses), then the response could be either to the spiritual or to the imaginary. If we have no objective senses to affirm the existence of the spiritual (and by definition, we do not have senses to “affirm the imaginary”), why should we presume that our emotional senses are responding to something real (the spiritual) vs. something imaginary? In fact, if it turns out there are no objective senses to detect the spiritual, then how can we distinguish spiritual from the imaginary? Can you give any example of an objective spritual sense?

    A physical event … may indeed also be a spiritual event.

    Do you mean that there is never a distinction between the physical and the spiritual, or do you mean the an object or an action may have both physical and spiritual components. If you mean the former, then could you define what you mean by “physical” and by “spiritual”? However if you mean that an act like love can have both a physical and a spiritual component, then how do you recognize the spiritual component. Do you recognize it with an objective spiritual sense, or an emotional sense, or with reason? Is it possible to perceive the spiritual through objective senses in the same way we can perceive the physical exclusively through objective senses?

    I think we often take ‘imaginary’ to mean ‘that which isn’t real’; and I’m not sure that’s helpful.

    I agree that the imaginary can have real effects, however the imaginary is not real by definition. On the other hand, I’m very happy to concede that the spiritual is as real as the imaginary! :))

    First, I meant ‘both’ in that consciousness can be both physical and spiritual (it doesn’t have to be either-or).

    I’ll ask the same questions about the relationship of the physical to the spiritual in this context as well:

    1) Are all things at the same time physical and spiritual?
    2) Do all things have independent physical and spiritual components?
    3) Are some things at the same time physical and spiritual?
    4) Do some things have independent physical and spiritual components?

    Are there other relationships between the physical and spiritual that we should consider instead? Where do love or consciousness fall within these relationships between the physical and spiritual?

    This is utterly against what we all continually experience. And the point here is not to say experience is all that matters or that experience trumps fMRI – it’s just to say that we have no reason to disbelieve our experience.

    We really don’t have a basis to say if it is against our experience or not, since for all we know, “this” is exactly how it feels when the brain changes itself (actually, when it – we – responds to the environment based on its – our – current state). I don’t think we have to disbelieve our experience when we consider the physical workings of the brain.

    Take the mind for example. It ‘makes sense’ immediately that there is a ’self’ which feels ‘inside’ us, and that we think, feel, imagine, etc. with this ’self’.

    We might explain the workings of our brain by imagining the “self inside” (a “homunculus” as it were). We would be saying that the brain is incapable of motivating itself – it needs someone or some thing to give it a direction, a will. The homunculus is the part of the brain that drives the rest brain. But doesn’t the homunculus need direction or motivation for the same reason the brain does? If the homunculus is physical, even in part, then where in the brain does the homunculus reside? If the homunculous is purely spiritual, can we detect it with any of our senses?

    I think we first ‘know of the spiritual’ through our experience spiritual things (i.e. rationality, consciousness, the soul, etc.)

    None of these are objective senses, so none of them allow us to objectively interact with the spiritual. At best, we may consider these things and conclude that no physical process could bring them about. But this would not be sensing the spiritual as you say we do, this would be concluding by higher-level understanding (see my distinctions near the beginning of the thread about primary knowledge, secondary knowledge, and even our higher-level understanding).

    Well (as I indicated in my first answer), yes, the proposed design (or lack of it) seen in the creation does (in some way, however directly or indirectly; however we are to understand causality) reflect upon the proposed designer.

    Then would you no longer believe in a God? Or you would still believe in a God, but this God would have different attributes than the one you currently believe in?

    The real underlying question here is ‘what would a designed universe look like?’ We have only seen our universe, and can only guess if there are even other universes, so that gives us nothing to compare against (i.e. is our universe ‘a’ more or less designed than universe ‘b’ or ‘x’?).

    That’s a good perspective – we have to make this judgment based not on examples of designed or not designed universes, but based only on the universe before us. I can begin to answer your question by considering reasons to conclude that the universe is not designed (in the same way that I can pick up a rock and say that that is not a space ship – even though I’ve never seen a space ship).

    First, we can look back in time to see that every physical object and every physical action in the universe has a physical cause – that is, all the way to very near its beginning. So from this perspective, if the universe was designed, then it was designed and created at its inception, but then left to unravel on its own. There are currently promising theories (M-Brane theory – an extension of superstring theory) which predict that space-time has 10 physical dimensions, any three of which are expanding while the others contract. There is a minimum size for the ones that are contracting (Plank’s Constant) and when they reach the minimum, three of those expand while the expanded three contract. The theory proposes that the “Bang” was simply our 3 familiar dimension beginning to expand. According to this theory, space-time always existed and always produces universes.

    Next, we can look at the reasons for proposing that the universe is designed and we can judge the soundness of the reasons. If we find one that is sound, we can accept it – but I’ve not found one so far. If we can’t find one to accept, then we have to at least argue why the default answer to the unknown should be “divine intervention”. In other words, why is “divine intervention” better as a default than an unknown physical cause? One reason to reject “divine intervention” as the best default is that it gratuitously introduces even more difficult problems about the origin of the divine.

    Finally, we can look at the “design” itself and find “flaws” (presuming the design was for the benefit of us humans).

  24. Cheers,
    I’m terribly tempted to respond (with appropriate detail) to this (necessarily and not suprisingly) long post; but I’ve got a wedding rehearsal at 5, and several key tasks to do this afternoon, so it will have to wait – I hope to get to it tonight…

  25. The Atheist says:

    Cheers, Dale.

    In declaring it more reasonable to first look for physical explanations, then spiritual ones, it seems a priority is fixed a prori

    True, but not arbitrarily so. As I explained, I prefer physical explanations first when we are only certain of the existence of the spiritual. Once we are sure of the existence of the spiritual (through objective spiritual senses or through convincing argument), then I would not prefer one category of explanation over the other.

    But again, how do we know that (for example) a birth or a symphony are ‘purely physical’?

    It’s not a question of knowing that something is purely physical, it’s a question of a reason to believe it is anything other. How do we know that everything doesn’t have exactly 27 dimensions of time? If we can’t say how we don’t know, then are we obligated to acknowledge that it might? Sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it? Let me use this opportunity to reiterate an important concept of rational thought that I expect we all agree with: the burden of the proof lies with he who makes a claim (recall our discussion of the “celestial teapot” above)

    we also should consider the case of ‘if the imaginary does exist’.

    We’ve already acknowledged that the imaginary can have real effects, however the imaginary is not real by definition. Other than the fact that the imaginary exists in someone’s thoughts, and the thought itself exists (for example, as a state of mind – but even then, the imagined object per se still does not exist), in what way sense can the imaginary exist?

    Perhaps, but we’ve also not yet identified any reason to believe that it is not a spiritual sense. :)

    Let me use this other opportunity to reiterate the same important concept of rational thought that I expect we all agree with: the burden of the proof lies with he who makes a claim :)

    We’ve already acknowledged that emotions, like the sense of awe, operate on thoughts and not on objects (either physical or spiritual).

  26. A3,

    if it turns out there are no objective senses to detect the spiritual, then how can we distinguish spiritual from the imaginary? Can you give any example of an objective spritual sense?

    When it comes to ‘verification’ of spiritual things, I don’t think we should expect to have an ‘objective’ measuring rod (so to speak). Not only are our own physical senses (smell for example) more subjective than we often realise, but I’d think our spiritual senses are ‘subjective’ too. It feels like you’re wanting to ‘test’ spiritual things as if they were physical things – am I making sense?

    Do you mean that there is never a distinction between the physical and the spiritual, or do you mean the an object or an action may have both physical and spiritual components. [in-quote response: the latter] If you mean the former, then could you define what you mean by “physical” and by “spiritual”? However if you mean that an act like love can have both a physical and a spiritual component, then how do you recognize the spiritual component. Do you recognize it with an objective spiritual sense, or an emotional sense, or with reason? Is it possible to perceive the spiritual through objective senses in the same way we can perceive the physical exclusively through objective senses?

    Continuing from above, really, I don’t think our spiritual sense is ‘objective’. I do think we can say it is inter-subjective though, which is probably far more helpful.

    1) Are all things at the same time physical and spiritual?
    2) Do all things have independent physical and spiritual components?
    3) Are some things at the same time physical and spiritual?
    4) Do some things have independent physical and spiritual components?

    Are there other relationships between the physical and spiritual that we should consider instead? Where do love or consciousness fall within these relationships between the physical and spiritual?

    I’m getting the sense (maybe a spiritual one!! :) ) that you are treating the physical and spiritual on one plane, so to speak. I think they are two distinct, yet overlapping planes (or spheres) of reality. In this sense, yes, any physical event within our time, space, matter universe (or multiverse, yada yada) has spiritual potentiality. It’s like the physical is a sponge, which is able to retain water (spirituality)…

    gotta run – will comment more later… :)

  27. The Atheist says:

    Dale

    When it comes to ‘verification’ of spiritual things, I don’t think we should expect to have an ‘objective’ measuring rod (so to speak). Not only are our own physical senses (smell for example) more subjective than we often realise, but I’d think our spiritual senses are ’subjective’ too … am I making sense?

    Yes, you are making sense. You seem to be conceding that we humans do not posses objective spiritual senses. The ramification is that we can only know of the existence of the spiritual through reasoning about the physical which we experience through our objective physical senses. That is, we must observe our physical universe and based on what we observe, we might conclude that what we are observing can only be explained by the existence of the spiritual (presuming that the spiritual can act on the physical). Recall my earlier analogy in this thread about magnetism when I was saying magnetism would be completely unknown to us if we did not learn to detect its presence through indirect observation. Similarly, any knowledge of the spiritual can only come through indirect observation.

    In what way do you view our physical senses, like the sense of smell, to be subjective? Are you saying that we have analogous spiritual senses which are subjective in the same way that the sense of smell is subjective, or when you refer to a subjective spiritual sense, do you mean something else by the term “subjective”?

    It feels like you’re wanting to ‘test’ spiritual things as if they were physical things

    I do indeed, but I am not insisting that ‘testing’ the spiritual in this way, through objective spiritual senses, is the only means by which we may know of the spiritual. Recall that this branch of the discussion, about the possession of objective spiritual senses, was an exploration of the epistemology of spiritual experience and its analog to the epistemology of physical experience. We acknowledged that we know of our universe through primary knowledge (the objective senses), secondary knowledge (by inductive reasoning about primary knowledge), and higher-level understanding (by deductive reasoning). I don’t think we have any objective spiritual senses and since you agree, we move on to an exploration of secondary and higher-level knowledge of the spiritual. Note that without objective spiritual senses, secondary and higher-level knowledge of the spiritual must be based ultimately on our primary knowledge of the physical.

    Continuing from above, really, I don’t think our spiritual sense is ‘objective’. I do think we can say it is inter-subjective though, which is probably far more helpful.

    Could you explain what you mean here by inter-subjective?

    I’m getting the sense (maybe a spiritual one!! :) ) that you are treating the physical and spiritual on one plane, so to speak. I think they are two distinct, yet overlapping planes (or spheres) of reality. In this sense, yes, any physical event within our time, space, matter universe (or multiverse, yada yada) has spiritual potentiality. It’s like the physical is a sponge, which is able to retain water (spirituality)…

    I’m really only fishing for your view of the relationship between the physical and spirituality – the reason for the 4 ‘options’ was just to illicit a definition of the relationship.

    You have already cited consciousness as an example of a point where the physical and spiritual might intersect, and I can understand why you would say that. But to get a better idea of your concept of the pervasiveness of the spiritual, would you say that a quark has a spiritual component (does it exist on the orthogonal spiritual plan in some form?). Does an electromagnetic wave have a spiritual component? Does a dog? An amoeba? If “yes” to these examples, could you explain what you mean by the spiritual dimension of, say, a quark or an electromagnetic wave? Or if “no”, could you elaborate on where you feel the physical and spiritual intersect?

    What do we observe in our physical universe that should make use accept a spiritual plain that intersects our physical plain?

  28. You seem to be conceding that we humans do not posses objective spiritual senses

    There will always be confusion with words like ‘objective’/’subjective’, etc. I do think we directly experience ‘the spiritual’, but I would not at all feel the need to say that this (direct) sense of the spiritual is ‘objectively‘ tested or examined.

    In what way do you view our physical senses, like the sense of smell, to be subjective? Are you saying that we have analogous spiritual senses which are subjective in the same way that the sense of smell is subjective, or when you refer to a subjective spiritual sense, do you mean something else by the term “subjective”?

    When I say that even our physical senses are ‘subjective’, I’m referring to ‘the phenomenology of perception’ (a la Maurice Merleau-Ponty). We have to interpret our ‘sense data’, and we sometimes get it wrong. Optical illusions, mis-identified sounds, etc. here‘s a taster.

    We acknowledged that we know of our universe through primary knowledge (the objective senses), secondary knowledge (by inductive reasoning about primary knowledge), and higher-level understanding (by deductive reasoning). I don’t think we have any objective spiritual senses and since you agree, we move on to an exploration of secondary and higher-level knowledge of the spiritual. Note that without objective spiritual senses, secondary and higher-level knowledge of the spiritual must be based ultimately on our primary knowledge of the physical.

    It appears your wanting to locate where a spiritual sense would be located within (or between?) the options of ‘primary knowledge’, ‘secondary knowledge’ and ‘higher-level understanding’. I don’t think we can say that ‘spiritual sense(s)’ are non-primary (even though I’m happy to say they are not ‘objective’). Like we have to interpret our directly sensed, ‘primary’ physical ‘sense data’, we have to interpret our directly sensed, ‘primary’ spiritual ‘sense data’.

    Could you explain what you mean here by inter-subjective?

    Inter-subjective refers to a shared-ness of ‘subjective’ experience among (or between) subjects. In the context of a search for a ‘spiritual sense’, it makes perfect and rational sense to say that spiritual senses are inter-subjective. They are not ‘objectively verifiable’, yet they are ubiquitous. See here.

    fishing for your view of the relationship between the physical and spirituality

    Yes, I do think everything from affection to amoebas have a spiritual aspect to them. Of course, I don’t think that each and every event in the universe has an exact, carbon-copy, tapioca pudding, bland, flat, same kind of spiritual aspect. I do think the sponge/water analogy gets at it decently.

    Another analogy I’ve found quite helpful is that of Flat Land. In a 2D world, 3D objects are always going to have 2D ‘explanations’, but that doesn’t mean that the sponge can’t (or won’t, or isn’t) hold water (to switch the metaphor back).

  29. last comment may have been held for moderation (3 links)…

  30. The Atheist says:

    Cheers, Dale. Sorry about the spam catcher – it can be a bit of a nuisance sometimes (but not near as much nuisance as all the real bona fide spam!).

    There will always be confusion with words like ‘objective’/’subjective’, etc. I do think we directly experience ‘the spiritual’, but I would not at all feel the need to say that this (direct) sense of the spiritual is ‘objectively‘ tested or examined.

    There is always a potential for confusion about terms in a general sense. But in a conversation like this one, we each have the opportunity to clarify what we really mean, despite the potential for confusion about the terms we use. You seem to be saying that both spiritual and physical senses have objective and subjective qualities such that they are equally reliable and equally unreliable as a means by which we can know our universe. Is this the case? If not, could you clarify? This might also help me better understand your claim about “direct experience” of the spiritual.

    I can’t think of any sense that I have, including imagined ones, which I can’t examine and therefore test in some way, and then offer up my findings for scrutiny. This is what we should expect because we can only have first-hand knowledge about something which we can examine. You seem to be saying that you have senses of which you have no first-hand knowlege, but we acknowledged earlier that objective senses (whether physical or spiritual) are the bases for all first-hand knowledge. Therefore the senses that you seem to be describing do not fit any usable definition of “sense”. Let me use an example to explain what I mean: I can unilaterally decide to call a stone a “spaceship”, and I can argue that I am justified in doing so because the stone and spaceship share some of the same qualities. But a stone and a spaceship are essentially different. In a conversation about space travel, “spaceship” is not a usable label for a stone despite my attempts to redefinition it as such. We can talk about “spiritual senses”, but if they don’t have the essential qualities of a “sense”, then the label is a distortion. While saying that ‘you have a sense that you can’t examine’ may explain an inability to show how these senses have qualities which are analogous to other senses, it more importantly implies that these “spiritual senses”, which can’t be examined, are not senses at all.

    When I say that even our physical senses are ’subjective’, I’m referring to ‘the phenomenology of perception’

    Now I see what you mean. However, do you agree that our physical senses are objective in a way that the spiritual senses you are describing are not? Physical senses are objective in that, except for fringe cases, multiple people are capable of sensing a given object, and based on comparing their sensual experiences, they can discern correctly (consistently) if they are all sensing the same object, and that the given object has specific attributes. Except for fringe cases, the perceived nature of objects seems by and large independent of the observer. This does not seem true of what you are describing as spiritual senses. To suggest that the subjectivity/objectivity of physical senses vs. what you have described as spiritual senses is only a matter of degree would be to grossly misrepresent the comparison, much like having a discussion about survival in the dessert and saying that an empty canteen with only a drop of water in it is like a canteen full of water – it’s only a matter of degree.

    It appears your wanting to locate where a spiritual sense would be located within (or between?) the options of ‘primary knowledge’, ’secondary knowledge’ and ‘higher-level understanding’.

    I wasn’t so much talking about “locating” spiritual senses as I was talking about the importance of the relationship between “primary knowledge” and objective senses, and that if we possess no objective spiritual senses, then our knowledge of the spiritual cannot be primary knowledge.

    Inter-subjective refers to a shared-ness of ’subjective’ experience among (or between) subjects.

    However, if what you are calling spiritual sense is not objective (as you agree that it is not), then it doesn’t contribute to primary knowledge of the universe. Emotions are a good example of shared experiences that can operate on our mind’s images, but as we acknowledged earlier, they do not contribute to primary knowledge of the universe – they don’t tell us what the universe contains.

    We may be very close to a point of agreement (though I sense that the agreement is not yet forthcoming), that we cannot identify any senses that give us primary knowledge of the spiritual universe. In this case, we can only know of the spiritual through secondary knowledge (which is based on the primary) and higher-level understanding (which is based on the secondary).

  31. quick comments:

    While saying that ‘you have a sense that you can’t examine’ may explain an inability to show how these senses have qualities which are analogous to other senses, it more importantly implies that these “spiritual senses”, which can’t be examined, are not senses at all.

    I’mnot saying you cannot ‘examine’ spiritual senses. Like there are different kinds of ‘evidence’, and ‘explanations’, there are different ways of ‘examining’.

    Physical senses are objective in that, except for fringe cases, multiple people are capable of sensing a given object, and based on comparing their sensual experiences, they can discern correctly (consistently) if they are all sensing the same object, and that the given object has specific attributes. Except for fringe cases, the perceived nature of objects seems by and large independent of the observer.

    Whilst, I’m not at all inclined to say that spiritual senses are ‘objectively’ verified, I would say that I think spiritual senses can be appreciated, confirmed, discerned and/or ‘verified’ by way of a quite similar process as the above quote outlines. And yes, like physical ‘fringe’ cases, there will also be spiritual ‘fringe’ cases.

    …if what you are calling spiritual sense is not objective (as you agree that it is not), then it doesn’t contribute to primary knowledge of the universe.

    Let me make a key distinction. I do think that the spiritual dimension/realm/etc. is real; so yes, I do think that it has an ‘objective’ existence. However, when it comes to our perception and sensing of this spiritual dimension, I am completely fine with saying that our perceptions and sensing of ‘the spiritual’ are not ‘objectively’ verified (i.e. there is no list in the sky of ‘genuine spiritual sensations’ against which we can ‘verify’ our would-be spiritual sensations – or our would-be appreciations of them). And, btw, if we’re talking about spiritual senses, then it’s not only “the universe” that we’re seeking primary knowledge of (unless, of course, you’re defining ‘the universe’ in terms which can include a spiritual dimension).

    We may be very close to a point of agreement (though I sense that the agreement is not yet forthcoming), that we cannot identify any senses that give us primary knowledge of the spiritual universe.

    The point is not that “we cannot identify” these ‘spiritual senses’, but that such senses would be ‘spiritually’ discerned and/or identified.
    A circle (2D) has primary knowledge of the lenth and width of a neighbouring square (2D), however, if the circle employs a 3D understanding, she may also have primary knowledge which leads her to understand the neighbouring object as not only a square (2D), but a cube (3D).

  32. The Atheist says:

    Quick responses to quick comments: :))

    I’m not saying you cannot ‘examine’ spiritual senses. Like there are different kinds of ‘evidence’, and ‘explanations’, there are different ways of ‘examining’.

    Actually, I thought you were saying that! :) But I’m glad you are saying that you can examine these spiritual senses after all. I think that’s where Damian was going earlier on when he was talking about testing spiritual senses.

    Whilst, I’m not at all inclined to say that spiritual senses are ‘objectively’ verified, I would say that I think spiritual senses can be appreciated, confirmed, discerned and/or ‘verified’ by way of a quite similar process as the above quote outlines. And yes, like physical ‘fringe’ cases, there will also be spiritual ‘fringe’ cases.

    Hmmm… “confirmed” but not “objectively verified”. Can you give me an example of anything that can be “confirmed” but not “objectively verified” (and explain why it cannot be objectively verified and then how it can be confirmed)?

    Note that my process outlined above is verified by testing. Damian had asked earlier about testing spiritual senses but you said that it couldn’t be done.

    I would like to explore how similar the test you have in mind for spiritual senses is to my test of physical senses. How would you set your test up, administer it, and measure its success or failure? If the test seems like a valid test, maybe we could all participate and see what happens!

    I do think that [the spiritual dimension] has an ‘objective’ existence. However, when it comes to our perception and sensing of this spiritual dimension, I am completely fine with saying that our perceptions and sensing of ‘the spiritual’ are not ‘objectively’ verified.

    I think we have then reached an important consensus: if the spiritual does exist, then we cannot have primary knowledge of it, but at best we can have secondary or higher-level knowledge of it. Let me know if you disagree. If you agree, then we are can go on to consider any secondary and higher-level knowledge that can give us reason to believe that the spiritual dimension exists.

    And, btw, if we’re talking about spiritual senses, then it’s not only “the universe” that we’re seeking primary knowledge of (unless, of course, you’re defining ‘the universe’ in terms which can include a spiritual dimension).

    Yes, thanks for clarifying that: I am defining the universe as physical, and potentially spiritual – if we can discover evidence of a spiritual dimension.

    if the circle employs a 3D understanding, she may also have primary knowledge which leads her to understand the neighbouring object as not only a square (2D), but a cube (3D).

    The circle may well acquire understanding that leads her to conclude correctly that the “square” is actually a cube – however this is not primary knowledge but is rather an example of higher-level understanding. Primary knowledge is the kind of knowledge you have that physical objects exist in the universe – you can see them, touch them, etc. Magnetism is a physical force that exists in the universe but unlike the force of gravity, we have no primary knowledge of it. We have higher-level knowledge of it which is based on our observation of things in the universe which we do have primary knowledge of (magnets and iron shavings for example).

  33. more…

    …there are different ways of ‘examining’.
    Actually, I thought you were saying that! :) But I’m glad you are saying that you can examine these spiritual senses after all. I think that’s where Damian was going earlier on when he was talking about testing spiritual senses.

    There may well be a distinction between the notions of ‘examining’/’testing’, and ‘appreciating’/’seeing’/’weighing’/’discerning’… Spiritual things are spiritually ‘examined’ (discerned).

    Can you give me an example of anything that can be “confirmed” but not “objectively verified” (and explain why it cannot be objectively verified and then how it can be confirmed)?

    Mathematics? Musical harmony? Human dignity? Consciousness? Reason? All things that are ‘confirmed’ to be very ‘real’ and important things, but we can’t really ‘objectively verify’ them.

    I think we have then reached an important consensus: if the spiritual does exist, then we cannot have primary knowledge of it, but at best we can have secondary or higher-level knowledge of it. Let me know if you disagree.

    and…

    The circle may well acquire understanding that leads her to conclude correctly that the “square” is actually a cube – however this is not primary knowledge but is rather an example of higher-level understanding. Primary knowledge is the kind of knowledge you have that physical objects exist in the universe – you can see them, touch them, etc. Magnetism is a physical force that exists in the universe but unlike the force of gravity, we have no primary knowledge of it. We have higher-level knowledge of it which is based on our observation of things in the universe which we do have primary knowledge of (magnets and iron shavings for example).

    Do we not have primary knowledge of magnetism (and gravity) when we see its effects? Can we not now ‘see’ magnetic fields, and the ‘strength’ of gravitational forces? You may have to spell out (for simple ole me) in more detail what you mean by ‘primary knowledge’? Then we can see what kind of consensus we may or may not have. :)

  34. The Atheist says:

    There may well be a distinction between the notions of ‘examining’/’testing’, and ‘appreciating’/’seeing’/’weighing’/’discerning’… Spiritual things are spiritually ‘examined’ (discerned).

    When we are talking about testing these senses, we are not talking testing the acuity of the sense – for example, we aren’t talking about testing someones sense of site to find out if he is myopic. Rather we are talking about testing to see whether it is a sense at all. While I agree that testing for something like acuity would differ from sense type to sense type (e.g., an auditory test would be different than a vision test), I disagree that testing whether a sense exists at all is different in any fundamental way. Whether we are asking if the sense of hearing imparts primary knowledge of the universe to us, or if the sense of site imparts primary knowledge of the universe, the basics of the test is the same. Why would we test a spiritual sense differently?

    We can “appreciate” something, but that doesn’t give us any indication of whether something is a sense or not. When whether discernment tells us whether something is a sense or not depends on what you are discerning when you observe a sense in action. How would you suggest we use discernment to verify that what you suspect is a spiritual sense is indeed a bona fide sense? I’m not sure how you can “weigh” or “see” a sense, perhaps you could explain.

    It seems to be boiling down to recognizing that any test we can imagine for a spiritual sense will fail to show that it is a sense at all. Alternatively, we can make the test vague enough (which may include obscuring what we mean by “testing” in the first place) so that we won’t know any more about the existence of spiritual senses than we did before we start. Your reflections?

    Mathematics? Musical harmony? Human dignity? Consciousness? Reason? All things that are ‘confirmed’ to be very ‘real’ and important things, but we can’t really ‘objectively verify’ them.

    I think if we are careful to define each of your examples, then we can confirm that they exist precisely because we can verify objectively that they exist (and only to the extent that we can verify objectively that they exist). I’ll also challenge that if we define them such that we cannot verify objectively that they exist, we also cannot confirm that they exist.

  35. The Atheist says:

    Oops!! Sorry – I mist this one:

    Do we not have primary knowledge of magnetism (and gravity) when we see its effects?

    We have primary knowledge of the iron filings, and primary knowledge of the magnet, but we have to learn about magnetism. By primary knowledge, I mean the sort of knowledge a baby acquires as it senses the universe and discovers objects. He doesn’t know what the objects are or what they do (he’ll learn about that later through experience – which will provide him with secondary knowledge of the universe), but he knows that they exist because he senses them directly.

  36. While I agree that testing for something like acuity would differ from sense type to sense type (e.g., an auditory test would be different than a vision test), I disagree that testing whether a sense exists at all is different in any fundamental way.

    If the very existence of a spiritual realm/dimension is in question here, wouldn’t that suggest that we wouldn’t know in advance whether or not testing for a ‘spiritual’ sense would be continuous or discontinuous with the testing of ‘physical/material’ senses? It’s a bit like multi-verse theory – we have no idea what a parallel universe would be like. The question at hand (in terms of the original post) is – what criteria would begin to warrant the existence of a spiritual realm. The answer to that should include a description of what one may expect such a ‘spiritual realm’ to be like…

    How would you suggest we use discernment to verify that what you suspect is a spiritual sense is indeed a bona fide sense? I’m not sure how you can “weigh” or “see” a sense, perhaps you could explain.

    It depends on what you think a bona fide sense is! :)

    …any test we can imagine for a spiritual sense will fail to show that it is a sense at all. Alternatively, we can make the test vague enough (which may include obscuring what we mean by “testing” in the first place) so that we won’t know any more about the existence of spiritual senses than we did before we start. Your reflections?

    Re “any test we can imagine”: What kind of tests are you imagining, and what understanding of reality is your imagination based on? Frustrating as it may seem, if we are seeking to confirm/discover the very existence of a spiritual realm (which there could potentially be many different kinds of…), then our ‘tests’ may indeed have to be ‘vague’ enough (at least initially?) to allow for discovery to take place.

    …if we define them such that we cannot verify objectively that they exist, we also cannot confirm that they exist.

    With these sorts of things, it’s always about definitions, isn’t it? :) (that has been my experience, anyway)

    By primary knowledge, I mean the sort of knowledge a baby acquires as it senses the universe and discovers objects. He doesn’t know what the objects are or what they do …but he knows that they exist because he senses them directly.

    Maybe it was ‘direct/directly’ that was throwing me? My point is that the ‘spiritual’ is sensed ‘directly’ (or ‘immediately/immanently’), but like any other sense, it must be interpreted. It would seem to me that as we learn things (i.e. as the baby grows up), we develop/define/refine our senses, and that this sensing would/could still be ‘direct’ and still give us ‘primary knowledge’ about real things. If ‘primary’ knowledge = ‘physically-derived’ knowledge, then that’s probably (and hopefully obviously) not helpful for our discussion.

  37. The Atheist says:

    Cheers, Dale. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you – I’ve been swamped the last 2 days with a project delivery that was due. I got it in on time (and the crowd goes wild!) and now I can settle back into the conversation. It’s really a good one by the way!! Thanks!

    If the very existence of a spiritual realm/dimension is in question here…

    Note that the existence of a spiritual realm would only be questioned by those of us who have no primary knowledge of it. We would have to depend on others who have spiritual senses to convince us that the spiritual realm was real. Compare this to people who are born without sight. They have to depend on the sighted to know that there is a vary real quality in the universe which they cannot perceive first hand. While it is quite easy for a blind person to convince himself that the sense of sight is real, that is not the case for any spiritual senses – at least none that we have discussed.

    I don’t think that an expectation that we should be able to test for the existence of a spiritual sense implies that the qualities of physical and spiritual senses (and therefor specific testing methods) are either similar or dissimilar. The fundamentals of testing are still valid in either case.

    what criteria would begin to warrant the existence of a spiritual realm. The answer to that should include a description of what one may expect such a ’spiritual realm’ to be like…

    This may be putting the cart before the horse: we are not groping for a spiritual universe without any expectation of what we might find (at least not as part of a conversation about what would constitute evidence for God, or more generally, a spiritual realm). Instead, we are seeking verification for claims made by those who say they have spiritual senses through which they “know” of a spiritual realm.

    It depends on what you think a bona fide sense is!

    I think a bona fide sense is a mechanism for reliably perceiving objects (either physical or spiritual) in our universe that can be demonstrated to be real. So to repeat the question with this clarification (or with more clarification if needed): how would you suggest we use discernment to verify that what you suspect is a spiritual sense is indeed a bona fide sense? I’m not sure how you can “weigh” or “see” a sense, perhaps you could explain.

    What kind of tests are you imagining…?

    On test I can imagine is asking those who claim to have a spiritual sense to describe something specific that they are sensing. Have each describe the specific thing. Compare the descriptions. Is there reason to believe that these people are describing the same object?

    …and what understanding of reality is your imagination based on?

    That’s sort of an odd question as it stands :) Allow me to rephrase and ask you to let me know if I have mischaracterized your question: “If tests are seeking to define the ‘real’, what is acceptable as ‘real’?” The answer is: those things which people claim to perceive that may be verified by the striking similarity between their independent descriptions of their perception.

    our ‘tests’ may indeed have to be ‘vague’ enough (at least initially?) to allow for discovery to take place.

    I think it’s fine to begin devising tests with the best understanding we have at the time, and then devise more specific follow-up tests based on what we learn. However, my comment was that it is possible (and also convenient, when the outcome of testing is expected to be detrimental to a claim!) to prefer false tests over bona fide tests (by “bona fide tests”, I mean tests which are falsifiable and which have outcomes that contribute toward evaluating a particular claim).

    With these sorts of things, it’s always about definitions, isn’t it? :) (that has been my experience, anyway)

    That’s very true! Personally, I find that definitions are as important as any other aspect of thinking and understanding. It make’s little sense for example for us to argue about the existance of God with the likes of Einstein or Spinoza if we don’t know if they think of God as a spiritual agent, or if they think of God as a synonum for Nature.

    However, I still challenge that if we define your examples such that we cannot verify objectively that they exist, we also cannot confirm that they exist and vice versa. I still don’t see your distinction between verifying objectively that something exists and “confirming” that it exists. Is there a distinction that our test for the spiritual should take into consideration?

    My point is that the ’spiritual’ is sensed ‘directly’ (or ‘immediately/immanently’), but like any other sense, it must be interpreted.

    I think we mean the same thing when we say “directly” and “immediately”. Then you seem to claim after all that at least some of us (do all of us?) have senses that provide primary knowledge of the spiritual. In other words, at least some of us can perceive things in the spiritual as directly (or immediately if you prefer) as they perceive things in the physical realm. Those people do not have to be taught that the spiritual exists, nor do they have to reason that it must exist, they discover it through first-hand perception. Those people have as much certainty about the existance of the spiritual as they have of the existence of the physical. Would you agree?

    It would seem to me that as we learn things (i.e. as the baby grows up), we develop/define/refine our senses, and that this sensing would/could still be ‘direct’ and still give us ‘primary knowledge’ about real things.

    Agreed. We don’t stop sensing things directly simply because we learn things about them.

    If ‘primary’ knowledge = ‘physically-derived’ knowledge, then that’s probably (and hopefully obviously) not helpful for our discussion.

    Agreed again. But as I have clarified, I am not equating physical primary knowledge with general primary knowledge. The way we have been using the term in this discussion, physical primary knowledge and spiritual primary knowledge are a subset of general primary knowledge (or just “primary knowledge”).

  38. A3,

    Sorry for the delay in getting back to you… It’s really a good [conversation] by the way!! Thanks!

    No worries for the delay! And yes, I appreciate your patience and willingness to follow points up

    …the existence of a spiritual realm would only be questioned by those of us who have no primary knowledge of it. …Compare this to people who are born without sight.

    I’m not saying that some people experience the spiritual and some don’t. I’m suggesting that we all experience –or have ‘primary (direct/immediate) knowledge’ of– the spiritual. It’s just a matter of how we interpret our experiences. And again (as I think I’ve said earlier), I’m not saying we each experience the spiritual in a cookie-cutter, rubber-stamped, carbon-copy kind of way.

    I don’t think that an expectation that we should be able to test for the existence of a spiritual sense implies that the qualities of physical and spiritual senses (and therefor specific testing methods) are either similar or dissimilar. The fundamentals of testing are still valid in either case.

    Yes – so what are these ‘fundamentals of testing’, and how do we ‘test’ their validity for both physical and spiritual things?

    we are not groping for a spiritual universe without any expectation… Instead, we are seeking verification for claims made by those who say they have spiritual senses through which they “know” of a spiritual realm.

    Yes, we all may know of many, many conceptions of what ‘spiritual’ things might be like. But we’re not seeking criteria for ‘God’ (i.e. a specifically defined understanding), but for ‘a God’ (see post title). Any kind of evidence for any kind of ‘god’ (or any kind of spiritual dimension of reality – in general) would be of note here, one would think. And the notion of ‘verification’ is still tough to get at because we don’t know (in advance) what ‘verification’ process or standards are proper for spiritual verification.

    I think a bona fide sense is a mechanism for reliably perceiving objects (either physical or spiritual) in our universe that can be demonstrated to be real. So to repeat the question…: how would you suggest we use discernment to verify that what you suspect is a spiritual sense is indeed a bona fide sense?

    Hmm… I might like to see what you mean by ‘reliably’ perceiving objects (as opposed to ‘un-reliably’ doing so, I suppose) and kind of methods you have in mind for ‘demonstrating’ the real-ness of objects (physical or spiritual). I suspect we’ll find it hard to agree on methodology. But I think that’s where a significant amount of the discussion lies. In one sense – you’re asking me ‘how do you know (reliably perceive, test, etc.) what you’re sensing is spiritual?’ and I’m asking ‘how do you know (reliably perceive, test, etc.) what you’re sensing is not spiritual?’

    On test I can imagine is asking those who claim to have a spiritual sense to describe something specific that they are sensing. Have each describe the specific thing. Compare the descriptions. Is there reason to believe that these people are describing the same object? (emphasis mine)

    How would we know that ‘the specific thing’ is actually the same thing being sensed in each case?

    “If tests are seeking to define the ‘real’, what is acceptable as ‘real’?” The answer is: those things which people claim to perceive that may be verified by the striking similarity between their independent descriptions of their perception.

    Oooh, a Matrix quote would go nicely here – Morpheus: ‘What is real? How do you define real?’ :) As for your answer, you surely don’t want to make similar descriptions the litmus test for reality do you? And when does similarity become ‘striking’? 95.6 agreement?

    …it is possible (and also convenient, when the outcome of testing is expected to be detrimental to a claim!) to prefer false tests over bona fide tests (by “bona fide tests”, I mean tests which are falsifiable and which have outcomes that contribute toward evaluating a particular claim).

    I hear you – and I’m all for falsifiability. But (to go again to Flat Land) can we truly ‘falsify’ a 3D explanation for what is at least (or is not less than) a 2D event/object?

    I still challenge that if we define your examples such that we cannot verify objectively that they exist, we also cannot confirm that they exist and vice versa. I still don’t see your distinction between verifying objectively that something exists and “confirming” that it exists. Is there a distinction that our test for the spiritual should take into consideration?

    This is what I meant when I said that the spiritual cannot be ‘objectively’ tested (‘verified’/’confirmed’). Part of the reason –this is significant, I think–is that we’re talking about belief here (‘criteria for the belief in a God’ – or for belief in a spiritual realm). Belief isn’t ‘confirmed’ in the same way as other kinds of knowledge (distance, weight, etc. – though philosophers would remind us that these as well can only be ‘confirmed’ by way of analogy or comparison!). The way I believe in God and spiritual things (and human worth, and harmony) is different to the way I believe in batteries, or CD’s or diapers (to name a few things in the room!). I can’t ‘confirm’ that my wife loves me, but I believe she does.

    In other words, at least some of us can perceive things in the spiritual as directly (or immediately if you prefer) as they perceive things in the physical realm. Those people do not have to be taught that the spiritual exists, nor do they have to reason that it must exist, they discover it through first-hand perception. Those people have as much certainty about the existance of the spiritual as they have of the existence of the physical. Would you agree?

    I wouldn’t say they don’t “have to be taught” or that they don’t have to “reason that it must exist”. I would say that we all experience reality as physical+spiritual, but some either prefer a physical+nothing-else explanation or don’t trust any spiritual explanations. Again to Flat Land – I think we all experience reality as 3D, but some either prefer 2D explanations or don’t trust any more-than-2D explanations. The key thing is interpretation: moving from experience to explanation. And as when we started the discussion, we save ourselves a lot of hot air by recognising that there are different kinds of explanations for the same experience, and these multiple explanations are not automatically contradictory.

    The way we have been using the term in this discussion, physical primary knowledge and spiritual primary knowledge are a subset of general primary knowledge (or just “primary knowledge”).

    OK then. So you agree that (in principle) we could all be experiencing ‘the spiritual’? Maybe we could talk about it in terms of taking primary experience of the spiritual and translating/interpreting it into primary knowledge of the spiritual?

    Passing note:
    I don’t mean at all to sound like a pain, but it occurred to me that we’ve spent all this time analysing claims by me about ‘the spiritual’, but the intent of ‘Bobby’ was to get criteria from you for the belief in a God. It all started with my critique of your notion of ‘the evidence’ in your initial comment. It seems to me that saying “I’d believe if ‘the evidence’ supported it” is basically the same as saying “I’d believe if ‘the criteria’ was met”… Which seems like only a restatement of the question ‘Bobby’ asked…

  39. The Atheist says:

    Cheers Dale,

    I’m writing this early in the morning – if I try to do it during the day or in the evening, I’ll never get to it (up against another deadline for work).

    I’m not saying we each experience the spiritual in a cookie-cutter, rubber-stamped, carbon-copy kind of way.

    Why do you believe that we all experience it (I don’t mean it in terms of a sort of solipsistic challenge, I mean in in terms of people who profess not to experience it)? For example, of a person claims to be blind but actually isn’t, we can both think of ways to uncover his deception. But there are indeed people who we believe are actually blind.

    How different do you believe the different experiences are? Are there some who experience these senses more “accurately” than others?

    …what are these ‘fundamentals of testing’, and how do we ‘test’ their validity for both physical and spiritual things?

    Begin with observed facts, form a hypotheses that explain the facts and any relationships between the facts, form predictions based on the hypotheses (e.g., if this hypothesis is true, then we will observe this predicted result; if the hypothesis not not true, then we will not observe the result), test the predictions.

    Yes, we all may know of many, many conceptions of what ’spiritual’ things might be like. … Any kind of evidence for any kind of ‘god’ (or any kind of spiritual dimension of reality – in general) would be of note here, one would think.

    Agreed.

    And the notion of ‘verification’ is still tough to get at because we don’t know (in advance) what ‘verification’ process or standards are proper for spiritual verification.

    I maintain that anyone who can perceive the spiritual knows in advance what we should be able to confirm. If I claim that my sense of sight identifies objects in the universe and a sightless person challenges my claim, then I know in advance what I am setting out to prove to the sightless person.

    I might like to see what you mean by ‘reliably’ perceiving objects (as opposed to ‘un-reliably’ doing so, I suppose) and kind of methods you have in mind for ‘demonstrating’ the real-ness of objects (physical or spiritual). I suspect we’ll find it hard to agree on methodology.

    Something is more reliable if it is unlikely to fail tests that we are contemplating. Something is unreliable if it is likely to fail the tests. An object is “real” if it is not “imaginary”. An object may be imaginary if only one person can perceive it. An object is likely to be real when 2 or more people can demonstrate that they can independently perceive it.

    you’re asking me ‘how do you know (reliably perceive, test, etc.) what you’re sensing is spiritual?’ and I’m asking ‘how do you know (reliably perceive, test, etc.) what you’re sensing is not spiritual?’

    I think this is a good observation and a good summary. I claim that what I sense is physical by our common understanding of the term – is is possible to redefine our definitions of physical and spiritual such that they are indistinguishable, but that is not get us any close to evidence for the spiritual or a god. I presume you also agree that you sense a physical universe in the same sense of the term, “physical”, that I use. Solipsistic refutations aside, I can demonstrate that people haves senses to perceive the physical.

    You claim that you perceive something more than the physical, and you claim that I do too. Yet as far as I can tell, you feel that no one can demonstrate that people can perceive the spiritual (note that a demonstration that people in general perceive the spiritual can succeed, even if I maintain that I personally don’t perceive it). Then if I am honest about my inability to perceive the spiritual (in other words, if I really don’t perceive it and I’m not just making the claim for the sake of argument), then you have no way to demonstrate to me that the spiritual actually exists. This lack of evidence for the spiritual in general undermines any belief I might have that there may be a god since gods, as we define them, are spiritual beings.

    How would we know that ‘the specific thing’ is actually the same thing being sensed in each case?

    We can hope to know by the consistency with which the distinguishing attributes of the thing are described from case to case. That’s why it is important for tests to be falsifiable – we can know that something is not consistent with more certainty by showing that the distinguishing attributes of the thing are not described from case to case. So we start with the claim by more than one person: “I can sense these objects”. Then we test for consistency.

    Oooh, a Matrix quote would go nicely here – Morpheus: ‘What is real? How do you define real?’ :) As for your answer, you surely don’t want to make similar descriptions the litmus test for reality do you? And when does similarity become ’striking’? 95.6 agreement?

    I LOVE that movie! And it’s theme is very apropos to this discussion. Actually, I do expect the test to be adequate, even the world of The Matrix. Similarity is striking when it is consistently better then a control case.

    I hear you – and I’m all for falsifiability. But (to go again to Flat Land) can we truly ‘falsify’ a 3D explanation for what is at least (or is not less than) a 2D event/object?

    No, we cannot falsify an explanation, we can only falsify a hypothesis – a hypothesis makes predictions can be proven false when the hypothesis is false, and cannot be proven false if the hypothesis is true (where the predicted observations can be shown to logically support the hypothesis). For example, a hypothesis of a 3D world might predict that an object (apparently 2D) may be placed in a “2D” ring and can be removed (placed outside the ring) without passing through the body of the ring. We can falsify the hypothesis by showing that the object can be found passing through the ring each time it is removed.

    …we’re talking about belief here … Belief isn’t ‘confirmed’ in the same way as other kinds of knowledge

    I completely agree – we are talking about a belief that cannot be substantiated by evidence – and certainly not by any spiritual sense.

    I can’t ‘confirm’ that my wife loves me, but I believe she does.

    However, if we define what we mean by “love” (for example, a feeling that compels us to …), I claim that you can have evidence that she loves you – though your wife might not appreciate all the scrutiny and testing :))

    I would say that we all experience reality as physical+spiritual

    Then from the discussion above, I would expect that it would be possible to demonstrate that some people experience the spiritual, regardless of the preference of some to ignore the spiritual.

    The key thing is interpretation: moving from experience to explanation…

    The whole of communication is based in moving from experience to explanation. I don’t see any reason that the spiritual experience should be exceptional.

    OK then. So you agree that (in principle) we could all be experiencing ‘the spiritual’? Maybe we could talk about it in terms of taking primary experience of the spiritual and translating/interpreting it into primary knowledge of the spiritual?

    Yes, my belief about the existence of the spiritual is not an a priori conclusion but rather a conclusion based on observation. In fact, I can save us some of the discussion by pointing out that I agree (and have already proposed) that primary experience, whether of the physical or the spiritual, is the basis for primary knowledge, whether of the physical or the spiritual.

    I don’t mean at all to sound like a pain, but it occurred to me that we’ve spent all this time analyzing claims by me about ‘the spiritual’, but the intent of ‘Bobby’ was to get criteria from you for the belief in a God. It all started with my critique of your notion of ‘the evidence’ in your initial comment. It seems to me that saying “I’d believe if ‘the evidence’ supported it” is basically the same as saying “I’d believe if ‘the criteria’ was met”… Which seems like only a restatement of the question ‘Bobby’ asked…

    You’re not being a pain at all by asking that question! Let me point out a few things in response to it: it sounds like in this question, you implicitly agree that if one makes a claim, then he has the onus of producing the evidence for the claim. Then most all of this discussion has not been about you or those who share your beliefs (except to point out from time to time where the onus lies for evidence perhaps). Rather the discussion is about what constitutes acceptable evidence, and even suggestions about how one might go about gathering the evidence. So I suggest that most of my commentary in this discussion is a direct answer to Bobby’s question about my personal criteria. And Damian made a comment early on about what his criteria might be.

  40. …as far as I can tell, you feel that no one can demonstrate that people can perceive the spiritual (note that a demonstration that people in general perceive the spiritual can succeed, even if I maintain that I personally don’t perceive it). Then if I am honest about my inability to perceive the spiritual (in other words, if I really don’t perceive it and I’m not just making the claim for the sake of argument), then you have no way to demonstrate to me that the spiritual actually exists. This lack of evidence for the spiritual in general undermines any belief I might have that there may be a god since gods, as we define them, are spiritual beings. (emphasis mine)

    Interesting. You note that a general perception of the spiritual can ‘succeed’, but then say that failure to demonstrate this to you shows a general lack of evidence…

    That sounds dangerously close to saying that no one else’s perceptions are real unless you also percieve them… :)

    For example, a hypothesis of a 3D world might predict that an object (apparently 2D) may be placed in a “2D” ring and can be removed (placed outside the ring) without passing through the body of the ring. We can falsify the hypothesis by showing that the object can be found passing through the ring each time it is removed.

    Sorry, I must be thick-headed, but I didn’t follow that example – could you give mor e detail or clarify for me?

    the discussion is about what constitutes acceptable evidence, and even suggestions about how one might go about gathering the evidence.

    So then, what kind of evidence would (for you) begin to constitute acceptable evidence for the spiritual?

  41. The Atheist says:

    Dale,

    You note that a general perception of the spiritual can ’succeed’, but then say that failure to demonstrate this to you shows a general lack of evidence…

    I’m not saying anything about whether “a general perception of the spiritual can ’succeed’”, I’m simply saying that it is possible for a demonstration, that people in general can perceive the spiritual, to succeed, and the success of the demonstration, and my willingness to consider the demonstration as strong evidence, does not depend on my personal ability to perceive the spiritual. Then I said that this type of evidence, which I am willing to consider, is lacking.

    That sounds dangerously close to saying that no one else’s perceptions are real unless you also percieve them… :)

    I’m really saying the exact opposite – I’m saying that I am willing to consider evidence that others can perceive the spiritual, even if I can’t personally.

    could you give mor e detail or clarify for me?

    Imagine paper cut-outs placed on a flat table. The thin paper cut-outs (although 3D in reality) represents 2D objects for this discussion. To simulate a 2D world, we can slide the cut-outs around on the table top, but we can’t lift them up – not even slightly. One of the cut-outs is shaped like the letter “O”. The other cut-out can be any shape, as long as it fits entirely inside the inner diameter of the letter-O cut-out. The 3D theory predicts that I can move the smaller cut-out in and out of the whole in letter-O without either rupturing the body of the letter.

    So then, what kind of evidence would (for you) begin to constitute acceptable evidence for the spiritual?

    One kind of evidence I would accept, as I’ve been saying, would be a demonstration that some people are able to perceive spiritual objects – and we’ve been over some of the details about what kind of testing might demonstrate this. Of course I would also be open to any compelling evidence.

  42. The thin paper cut-outs (although 3D in reality) represents 2D objects for this discussion.

    ‘although 3D in reality’ –> (made me laugh)

    The 3D theory predicts that I can move the smaller cut-out in and out of the whole in letter-O without either rupturing the body of the letter.

    It’s not the shape of the 2D objects that confused me, but thanks for the detail there. :) What I’m still unclear about is the specifics of the 3D theory; how would the 2D observations falsify a 3D hypothesis? The phenomena observed from a 2D plane (and from a 2D plane only!) would always have a perfectly complete and appropriate 2D ‘explanation’.

  43. The Atheist says:

    although 3D in reality’ –> (made me laugh)

    I have to admit, I was kind of chuckling when I typed it :))

    how would the 2D observations falsify a 3D hypothesis?

    By showing that the test object is observed passing through the O (for example by rupturing it if it’s solid, or by flowing through it if it’s liquid) to get in and out of it. If there were no evidence that the test object passed through the material of the O, then the theory would not be falsified.

  44. By showing that the test object is observed passing through the O (for example by rupturing it if it’s solid, or by flowing through it if it’s liquid) to get in and out of it. If there were no evidence that the test object passed through the material of the O, then the theory would not be falsified.

    I’m still confused – please be patient with me. In strictly 2D terms, there is no such thing as ‘passing through’. Those in ‘Flat Land’ would see various 2D phenomena occurring within the “O”, but would have no way of knowing whether or not the 2D phenomena correlated to any other ‘other-than-2D’ phenomena. In a 2D world, any ‘rupturing’ or ‘flowing’ would be understood completely in 2D terms – all 2D-ers could ‘see’ would be the 2D aspects of a ‘rupture’ or ‘flow’…

    Does this help? Let me know… Cheers.

  45. OK did a re-read and I think I’m closer to understanding you… (ignore my “In strictly 2D terms, there is no such thing as ‘passing through’…” comment above)

    But I still don’t think we could say a 3D hypothesis was falsified at all just by a ‘rupturing of’ or ‘flowing through’ of the ‘O’… Imagine this:

    I take my finger and put it through a doughnut and then rip it through one side. We know this is a 3D event, but Flat-Landers don’t. They would see this event (assuming the 2D plane ‘cut’ through the doughnut at just the right [flat] angle) in 2D terms: the ‘fleshy-composed-2D-shape’ [finger-‘slice’] utterly ‘disrupting’ the ‘doughnut-composed-2D-O-ring’ [doughnut-‘slice’].

    The would also be the case if we took a pencil and put it through a ring of soft cheese, etc.

    Flat-landers would have their 2D observational data, and would have 2D explanations about what they saw as 2D phenomena.

    Now, it should be said that –as I’m sure you’d agree– if the 3D theory (removing the smaller object from the middle of the ‘O’ without disrupting it, etc.) were ‘successful’, it would not prove the 3D theory. The 2D observation would ‘look’ like two subsequent (and not necessarily related) events: 1) the smaller object disappearing and 2) a similar/exact copy appearing outside of the ‘O’. The 2D explanation would be that of explaining how the smaller object disappeared and how the replica appeared.

    Seems silly to talk so pedantically about doughnuts, fingers, cheese and pencils, but do those examples help???

  46. The Atheist says:

    Flat-landers would have their 2D observational data, and would have 2D explanations about what they saw as 2D phenomena.

    In this case, there is nothing wrong with the hypothesis; there is something wrong with the test. A good 3D hypothesis would predict that the event happens and is not explainable by the object passing through the body of the ring. A test that doesn’t challenge the hypothesis doesn’t have much value.

    if the 3D theory (removing the smaller object from the middle of the ‘O’ without disrupting it, etc.) were ’successful’, it would not prove the 3D theory.

    Tests don’t prove hypotheses, they falsify them. Failure to falsify can be considered sufficient evidence that a theory is true as it becomes clear that falsification is not possible – for example when all known means of falsification have been exhausted. “Proven” theories are overturned when someone succeeds in falsifying it. This happens all the time in the world of science.

    Good hypotheses are written logically: B is true if and only if A is true – such that A is testable so falsifying A also falsifies B. Of course the logic can be a good deal more complex: B is true only if either A or C is true, but not when D or E is true (and the logical statement can be further complicated by logical relationships between A and C through E) … and so on.

    The more precise the logic, the stronger the connection between the assertions and conclusion, the more testable the assertions, the stronger the resulting theory is. When there are competing theories, the stronger theory is preferred.

    What I’m describing is how we humans go about understanding our world. We apply this same kind of thinking (whether formally or casually) to most every aspect of our lives, from studying cerebral palsy to developing superconductors to deciding which cell phone is the best value (despite advertisers’ claims). I don’t see any reason to treat proposals of a third dimension (or even a spiritual dimension) any differently – do you?

    Notice how different a good theory is from a claim that is not falsifiable – that is, a claim that makes assertions that cannot be adequately tested. An example of this is a claim that invisible pink unicorns exist. One making such a claim may plead that you must accept the possibility that these unicorns really exist since no one can prove otherwise. But it should be obvious enough why we don’t except that kind of reasoning when deciding what to believe. However, we might be more intrigued if someone told us that invisible pink unicorns exist because where people claim to see pink unicorns vanish into thin air, hoof prints can be seen in the dirt where no other hoofed creatures are around. We are more intrigued because now we can say: show us the pink unicorn, show us the hoof prints. Let us set up some cameras to be sure no one is stamping hoof prints into the ground with a mold, etc., etc. We immediately begin to think of other reasons for the hoofs, or for ways that someone can fake a pink unicorn and its disappearance, and we set out to prove the claim false. If we can’t (not because there’s nothing to test – but rather because there are good tests and those test fail), then we are inclined to take the claim more seriously and when we exhaust our means to falsify the claim, we are inclined to accept that invisible pink unicorns really exist.

    Seems silly to talk so pedantically about doughnuts, fingers, cheese and pencils, but do those examples help???

    It helps a lot! I wasn’t quite sure what you were asking before. Good analogies.

  47. Cheers.
    So then you agree that 2D observations cannot falsify 3D claims? (however frustrating that may or may not be to our modern ‘scientific’ sensibilities/dispositions?)

    And as for pink unicorns (or flying spaghetti monsters, or orbiting tea pots), given that I’ve not encountered any genuine reports of such phenomenon, and given the sheer ubiquity of human experience of ‘the spiritual’, it wouldn’t be hard to see why belief in ‘the spiritual’ would be a more ‘believable’ claim…

  48. The Atheist says:

    Cheers, Dale.

    So then you agree that 2D observations cannot falsify 3D claims?

    No, I think they can (sorry if that wasn’t clear). My example was proposing a 2D explanation for explaining how the 2D object gets in and out of the 2D ring – by passing through that body of the ring for example. Failing to show this would not falsify the 3D hypothesis. (there’s a lot of double negatives in there I know – sorry – I just don’t know of another way to talk about falsification)

    I’ve not encountered any genuine reports of such phenomenon

    That was precisely my point – we naturally follow this scientific method to a great extent (albeit casually and non-methodically) in our everyday thinking. We don’t consider reports like flying spaghetti monsters to be genuine because they are formulated in such a way that we cannot test them – that is, they are formulated such that you can neither prove them false, nor can you take them seriously based on failed attempts to prove them false. This is what is meant by falsifiability of a hypothesis. In our everyday lives, even when we are not thinking in scientific terms, of theories or hypotheses and how to methodically test them, we naturally tend not to take seriously those claims which are formulated in such a way that there is no way for us to verify (really falsify) them.

  49. So then you agree that 2D observations cannot falsify 3D claims? No, I think they can (sorry if that wasn’t clear). My example was proposing a 2D explanation for explaining how the 2D object gets in and out of the 2D ring – by passing through that body of the ring for example.

    So… how is it, then that the 3D claims are ‘falsified’ by 2D observations?

    We don’t consider reports like flying spaghetti monsters to be genuine because they are formulated in such a way that we cannot test them

    Nah, I reckon the reason we don’t consider these reports to be genuine, has nothing to do with ‘ooh darn, we can’t test them’, and everything to do with the fact that they are not ever genuinely/seriously reported (i.e. ‘I genuinely think the flying spaghetti monster exists’, etc.)…
    However, claims of spiritual experiences (or senses, appreciations, perspectives, etc.), however (i.e. ‘I genuinely think the spiritual realm is real’, etc.), are so ubiquitous they don’t even need to be ‘reported’…

  50. The Atheist says:

    So… how is it, then that the 3D claims are ‘falsified’ by 2D observations?

    By providing a better explanation of the observations. It doesn’t disprove that you didn’t “rip the doughnut with your finger”, but it shows that we don’t have to postulate that you did. A better execution of the test would be to put a marble in the doughnut whole without ripping the doughnut, then removing it – again without ripping the doughnut. The test would then fail to falsify. Notice that not just any ol’ test will do. Theories are strengthened most by tests that are least ambiguous.

    Nah, I reckon the reason we don’t consider these reports to be genuine…

    I don’t think that’s the case. While we may dismiss the flying spaghetti monster and invisible pink unicorns out of hand (because we know that they were devised to illustrate the point we are discussing – which is why I chose them as examples), it is not so with other claims. Take claims of close encounters with ETs, Nessie, Leprechauns, or Bigfoot for example. Many people believe that these things exist and claim to have seen and photographed them. But we want to see the photographs – have they been altered (a test to falsify)? Are the objects in the photographs really something else (a test to falsify)?

    The spiritual realm is another great example, and those of us who are skeptical want to “see if the photographs are real”. For one thing, even though a large percentage of people say they believe in a spiritual realm, different cultures describe this realm quite differently. So even if we were to allow that at least one description is right, it seems that the others (which would be the majority) are wrong – which undermines our confidence that they actually experience the spiritual realm as they claim they do.

  51. “So… how is it, then that the 3D claims are ‘falsified’ by 2D observations?” By providing a better explanation of the observations.

    …but the 2D observations don’t (in these scenarios) account for the entire event. They only see finger/pencil ‘slices’ crashing through doughnut/cheese-ring ‘slices’. That is not a ‘better explanation of the observations’.

    It doesn’t disprove that you didn’t “rip the doughnut with your finger”, but it shows that we don’t have to postulate that you did.

    So a 3D world doesn’t have to be postulated… Tick. But one can postulate one, and (more the immediate point here) the postulated 3D world cannot be falsified – at least in 2D terms.

    A better execution of the test would be to put a marble in the doughnut whole without ripping the doughnut, then removing it – again without ripping the doughnut.

    2D-ers would see a slowly appearing and/or disappearing ‘marble-slice’ – and would have accurate 2D descriptions of this phenomena – again, no need to postulate a ‘marble’ (‘whatever that is’, they would say) :)

    Take claims of close encounters with ETs, Nessie, [etc.]

    Not even comparable in number to those believing in ‘the spiritual’.

    …even though a large percentage of people say they believe in a spiritual realm, different cultures describe this realm quite differently. So even if we were to allow that at least one description is right, it seems that the others (which would be the majority) are wrong

    That doesn’t follow. The ‘finger-slice’ phenomena from my finger in the doughnut hole may cause some 2D-ers to wonder if the ‘finger-slice’ is actually a finger. They would be correct. Other 2D-ers might wonder if the ‘finger-slice’ is only a small part of an entire human person. They would be more correct.
    The reality of differences (slight or major) in more specific descriptions of ‘the spiritual’ does not negate the reality of consistency in the general notion of ‘the spiritual’ being real.
    Remember, we’re talking about any evidence for any kind of spiritual realm.

  52. The Atheist says:

    That is not a ‘better explanation of the observations’.

    From a 2D perspective, it is a better explanation if in fact, to reach the center of a ring (that is, any closed loop), you must always pass through the body of the ring. Notice that if I state it this way, I have the beginnings of a testable hypothesis that the universe is 2D – a test which we could falsify by placing an object in and out of the ring without passing through the ring.

    But [a 3D world] can postulate one, and … the postulated 3D world cannot be falsified

    It sounds to me that you may be confusing 2 separate concepts: proving that something does not exist, and falsifying a statement. Proving that something does not exist is not possible: we can’t prove the the flying spaghetti monster does not exist. Falsifying a statement (specifically, a logical statement) is possible and it is important for testing hypotheses (which are a series of logical statements). For example, falsifying a claim that all goose eggs are larger than duck eggs is accomplished by finding at least one duck egg that is larger than at least one goose egg.

    To rephrase your statement: A 3D world can be postulated such that it is impossible to prove that this 3D world does not exist. True enough – however this statement is useless in supporting a hypothesis that a 3D world exists. It is just as useless to say that A spiritual realm can be postulated such that it is impossible to prove that this spiritual realm does not exist

    Regarding falsification (vs. disproving the existence) – if the hypothesis states that in a 3D world, it is possible to move a body in and out of a ring without passing through the ring’s body and if the hypothesis depends on the prediction that the finger-through-the-doughnut test would not cause the finger to pass through the doughnut, then the hypothesis is flawed in that it violates logical principals (if X, then not X). Irrespective of the existence of a 3D world, this particular hypothesis would not support it.

    We might expect someone who conceives of a 3D universe, including the Flatlander who has seen this “thick” universe, who wishes to demonstrate the validity of his findings, to know that there are better tests than the finger-through-the-doughnut test. On the other hand, we might forgive a Flatlander who has no concept whatever of a 3D world, but has simply invented the idea of 3D, to not realize that the test was flawed. By analogy, we can extend this same criticism to those “Thicklanders” (denizens of the 3D universe?) who claim the existence of a spiritual realm.

    Not even comparable in number to those believing in ‘the spiritual’.

    At one time, most everyone believed that the Sun was a relatively small disk that passed through the sky, most everyone believed that the Earth was flat, and that astrology could be used to tell the future. Most children in western Christian cultures believe in Santa Clause. At one time, most Americans believed in witchcraft (I don’t know what the rest of the world believed). An extraordinary percentage still believe in psychic abilities.

    The point is that the number of people holding baseless (as opposed to false) beliefs is no evidence at all, since we know that large percentages of populations believe false things (that the Earth is flat or that the Sun and stars move through the sky over a stationary Earth). On the other hand, the number of people holding a belief based on some evidence is interesting to the extent that the evidence is producible and verifiable (flying spaghetti monsters or their trail of sauce is not producible or verifiable).

    The ‘finger-slice’ phenomena from my finger in the doughnut hole may cause some 2D-ers to wonder if the ‘finger-slice’ is actually a finger. They would be correct. Other 2D-ers might wonder if the ‘finger-slice’ is only a small part of an entire human person. They would be more correct.

    Based solely on the above, they would have no way to know how good their hunch was.

    The reality of differences (slight or major) in more specific descriptions of ‘the spiritual’ does not negate the reality of consistency in the general notion of ‘the spiritual’ being real.

    As you say, the differences in the descriptions do not disprove the existence of the spiritual (see my earlier comment in this reply about the difference between proving non-existence and falsifying a hypothesis). However, failure to disprove the existence of the spiritual does not support a hypothesis that the spiritual realm exists. Failure to disprove the existence of Santa Clause in no way serves as any evidence that Santa Clause exists.

    Perhaps as one who sees evidence of the spiritual realm, you can think of a better test than similarity of spiritual descriptions to demonstrate its existence?

    Remember, we’re talking about any evidence for any kind of spiritual realm.

    I wouldn’t say that we are talking about just any shred of evidence. Large footprints are evidence of Sasquatch, but footprints along aren’t very compelling.

    That said, I don’t think we’ve identified even a shred of evidence yet for the spiritual – have we?

  53. …if I state it this way, I have the beginnings of a testable hypothesis that the universe is 2D – a test which we could falsify by placing an object in and out of the ring without passing through the ring.

    What I see you saying is that you can ‘falsify’ a 2D hypothesis – by performing an action which could only be a 3D action. I would agree. But I’m not sure you’re getting the ‘flat-land’ point. See responses below.

    you may be confusing 2 separate concepts: proving that something does not exist, and falsifying a statement.

    I can honestly see why you may find talking about ‘non-falsifiable’ things frustrating (though you’ve been fairly patient here). But the point is not that we can or should believe in anything and everything which cannot be falsified (FSM, unicorn, sasquatch, tooth-fairy, etc.); rather, the point of Flat-Land (at least in our discussion) is that ‘falsification’ of the 3D world cannot be achieved in 2D terms. Whatever test one comes up with, as long as that test is a ‘2D’ test, it can’t be used to falsify a 3D world. If you can think of a 2D test that can falsify a 3D world (any kind of 3D world at all), please let me know.

    We might expect someone who conceives of a 3D universe, including the Flatlander who has seen this “thick” universe, who wishes to demonstrate the validity of his findings, to know that there are better tests than the finger-through-the-doughnut test.

    Yeah, it would be a subjective, flimsy ‘3D’, wholly different kind of testing altogether – quite hard for a 2D-ist to even want to bother with…

    On the other hand, we might forgive a Flatlander who has no concept whatever of a 3D world, but has simply invented the idea of 3D, to not realize that the test was flawed.

    It’s not so much that the test is ‘flawed’, but that any 2D test will cannot falsify a 3D understanding. Please show me one that can. That’s not stacking the deck in favour of 3D-ism (or –by implication– a spiritual realm); that’s just the reality of how different dimensions relate to one another.

    …the number of people holding baseless (as opposed to false) beliefs is no evidence at all

    Now I agree, of course, about numbers alone not being indicative of truth. But let us not pretend that the general notion of a spiritual dimension to reality is anything at all like claims about bigfoot, leprechauns; or the shape of the earth/sun (let alone claims about FSM’s or teapots).

    However, failure to disprove the existence of the spiritual does not support a hypothesis that the spiritual realm exists. Failure to disprove the existence of Santa Clause in no way serves as any evidence that Santa Clause exists.

    Great. It’s so simple. The existence of a spiritual dimension to reality is directly comparable to the existence of Santa Clause. Thanks! :)

    Perhaps as one who sees evidence of the spiritual realm, you can think of a better test than similarity of spiritual descriptions to demonstrate its existence?

    and…

    I wouldn’t say that we are talking about just any shred of evidence. Large footprints are evidence of Sasquatch, but footprints along aren’t very compelling.
    That said, I don’t think we’ve identified even a shred of evidence yet for the spiritual – have we?

    And with that, have we come full circle? Back to vague (or restrictive) uses of the word ‘evidence’?
    The ‘evidence’ of a spiritual dimension to reality has not only been testified to by humans throughout human history, but is manifestly and immediately available to all of us – in beauty, in relationships, in critical reasoning capacity (the very skills you and I are using [or attempting to!] in this conversation), in all things. You can choose to not see it, though. If you wish.
    And I’m not talking about flipping some mental switch and all of the sudden you believe in the Trinity. I’m talking about the difference between full-on naturalism and even just a vague, nebulous kind of pantheism (or panentheism). Or perhaps then some kind of weak or strong deism. Or even some agnostics, perhaps. All of these acknowledge the existence of some kind of spiritual dimension to life. They ‘read the data’ and come out with that conclusion.
    It’s not really a matter of ‘testing’ or finding the perfect, just-so wording of an hypothesis which can be falsified. It’s ‘seeing’ a kind of ‘something more’ to reality than only nature. That’s really all it takes to believe (quite vaguely) in a spiritual dimension to reality.
    The Flat-Land analogy isn’t so much about what kinds of fine-tuned tests ought to be developed, etc. It’s about seeing what can’t be seen. It sounds like stating the obvious, but you don’t see the spiritual dimension with your eyes. To say that in Flat-Land-ese, ‘you don’t see the 3rd dimension with 2D eyes.’

  54. The Atheist says:

    I can honestly see why you may find talking about ‘non-falsifiable’ things frustrating

    On a personal note, I don’t feel frustrated at all in this conversation. Though I sense that your motive is more to preserve your position rather than to explore the “best” position, I find you perfectly willing to consider my positions and to respond to them. This type of interaction makes for excellent (and all too rare) discussions! Thanks!

    ‘falsification’ of the 3D world cannot be achieved in 2D terms.

    Actually, I’m proposing that it can – and here are the conditions in which it can:

    * the universe is 2D
    –> in this case, we would expect a 3D hypotheses to be falsified

    * the universe is 3D but Flatlanders have no evidence for a 3D universe
    –> we would expect this case to be identical to the 2D case.

    * the universe is 3D, and Flandlanders have evidence for a 3D universe
    –> we would expect Flatlanders who have evidence of a 3D universe to do the following:
    1) present the artifacts which they claim is evidence for a 3D universe (and state reasons why the artifacts should be accepted as evidence)
    2) show why the evidence for a 3D universe is more compelling than evidence for a 2D universe
    3) try to show that the artifacts are not evidence for a 3D universe but are better explained as features of a 2D universe
    4) consistently fail step #3

    Whatever test one comes up with, as long as that test is a ‘2D’ test, it can’t be used to falsify a 3D world.

    To return from this analogy to our universe (that we are trying to better understand through this analogy), this sort of thing happens all the time. Consider that the following are to us as the 3D universe is to the Flatlanders:
    1) subatomic particles
    2) special and general relativity
    3) 10 physical dimensions of Superstring Theory
    4) a finite (non-eternal) universe

    1) had to be explained in terms of material which we could not touch (or directly sense in any other way)
    2) had to be explained in terms of non-relative time/space
    3) had to be explained (really, still being explained) in terms of 3 dimensions
    4) had to be explained in a seemingly static universe

    If you can think of a 2D test that can falsify a 3D world (any kind of 3D world at all), please let me know.

    Placing an object in and out of a 3D object without passing through the container. The objects should be designed such that the only way to perform the feat is to move the objects in a direction other than the accepted 2D plane.

    Yeah, it would be a subjective, flimsy ‘3D’, wholly different kind of testing altogether – quite hard for a 2D-ist to even want to bother with…

    You lost me here. Could you explain what you mean?

    It’s not so much that the test is ‘flawed’, but that any 2D test will cannot falsify a 3D understanding.

    I do think the test was flawed for the reasons I gave. But I disagree that 2D tests cannot be falsifiable. But 2D tests should fail to falsify if a 3D dimension exists.

    … let us not pretend that the general notion of a spiritual dimension to reality is anything at all like claims about bigfoot, leprechauns; or the shape of the earth/sun (let alone claims about FSM’s or teapots).

    I think that the notion of a spiritual dimension is different in important ways to the other examples. However, I compare the belief in a spiritual dimension because I think there are also important similarities which I hope I am at least begining to make clear when I said: “… failure to disprove the existence of the spiritual does not support a hypothesis that the spiritual realm exists. Failure to disprove the existence of Santa Clause in no way serves as any evidence that Santa Clause exists.”

    Great. It’s so simple. The existence of a spiritual dimension to reality is directly comparable to the existence of Santa Clause. Thanks! :)

    I’m not sure if you are joking here or not, so just in case, let me say that I realize the central role that faith plays in the life of the faithful. I understand the comfort it affords during difficult times and the richness it affords all of the time. I don’t mean any personal attack by the comparisons, nor to I mean the comparisons to trivialize the value or the central role of faith.

    And with that, have we come full circle? Back to vague (or restrictive) uses of the word ‘evidence’?

    Maybe not! Maybe we’ve made quite a bit more progress and are not back at the same point. Having discussed at length what we mean when we talk about evidence, and why some examples of evidence is more compelling than others, we are at a point to consider actual evidence. Can you present some?

    The ‘evidence’ of a spiritual dimension to reality has not only been testified to by humans throughout human history, but is manifestly and immediately available to all of us – in beauty, in relationships, in critical reasoning capacity (the very skills you and I are using [or attempting to!] in this conversation), in all things. You can choose to not see it, though. If you wish.

    Why are attributes like beauty, or any other qualia, not simply projections that we humans make on our observed universe? If beauty was an attribute of the universe, vs. something we project, should we expect to find more agreement about what is beautiful. Does evolution explain in part why we find certain things beautiful?

    Why should we consider mental processes in general to be evidence for a spiritual realm? If we agree that consciousness is not adequately explained completely by the physical, can consciousness be explained only by a spiritual realm? And in general, is our inability to understand something in physical terms evidence that the explanation lies in a spiritual realm?

    It’s ’seeing’ a kind of ’something more’ to reality than only nature. That’s really all it takes to believe (quite vaguely) in a spiritual dimension to reality.

    I’m not sure if you mean this or not, so let me ask: are you saying that we should accept that the spiritual world exists becomes some people (even most people) feel that it does?

    The Flat-Land analogy isn’t so much about what kinds of fine-tuned tests ought to be developed, etc. It’s about seeing what can’t be seen. It sounds like stating the obvious, but you don’t see the spiritual dimension with your eyes. To say that in Flat-Land-ese, ‘you don’t see the 3rd dimension with 2D eyes.’

    That’s a nice sentiment. In our discussion, you and I thought a bit deeper about the analogy and ask ourselves why Flatlanders should accept a 3D universe if all they can experience directly is a 2D universe, and I think we came up with some pretty good answers. And then we’ve applied the same thinking to ourselves and asked why Thicklanders should believe in a spiritual realm, or in Superstring theory for that matter.

    While we reached this point by discussing 3D, which we both agree exists, we also came to the same point from the opposite direction: asking about the existence of things we both agree do not exists, like the flying spaghetti monster, and asked when it is inappropriate to accept a claim.

    We found that we asked the same questions, whether we approached the problem from agreeing that something exists (3D) or from agreeing that something does not exist (flying spaghetti monster).

    So now, rather than arriving at our full-circle point, we can consider the question: does the spiritual realm exist? In answering the question, we can bring to bear some of the lessons learned about evidence and reasoning from Flatland and the flying spaghetti monster.

    As few threads do, this discussion has remained remarkably on-topic! The conversation has gone a long way in ansering Bobby’s opening question (I wonder if he’s read any of this): what are “the criteria to convince an atheist of divine existence”?

  55. Hi A3,
    I genuinely don’t have time to respond to each and every point, but will respond a bit…

    On FlatLand things:
    I still don’t see how a Flatlander could have a 3D world ‘proved’ to them – or have their 3D ideas ‘falsified’ by Flat observations/data. I feel I’m repeating myself over and over again: Any proposed/possible 3D events (intersecting with Flatland, of course) would look like 2D events, and would have 2D ‘explanations’/’data’. The simple point I’m making is that proposed/possible spiritual events (‘intersecting’ with our dimension(s), of course) will have physical explanations.
    (Btw, this video is a nice (maybe a bit cheesy?) synopsis of FlatLand.)

    On ‘evidence’ and faith/belief, etc.:
    I think some of the difficulty is with using analogies. Simply put, I think the FlatLand analogy is infinitely more helpful for our purposes than do compare the existence of a spiritual dimension to that of a FSM’s, Santa, etc.
    Right from the start, I’ve been trying to demonstrate that there are different kinds of ‘evidence’/’explanations’. I’ve been saying that more than one explanation (interpretation of the same ‘data’) can both be true for the same phenomena.
    The ‘data’ can be interpreted in different ways. It’s about interpreting experience. Some interpret their experience of reality as non-spiritual – others as spiritual. A person can ‘see’ evidence for the spiritual (and remain logical and rational in doing so) if they choose to. The real question is not ‘is there evidence for the spiritual’, but ‘why do we interpret the data differently’?
    A helpful way to rephrase Bobby’s question, I think, would be to ask you this:
    A3 – imagine yourself over a period of time in the future, coming to a state of eventually believing in a spiritual dimension to reality; what ‘evidences’ (interpretations/readings-of-the-data-of-reality) can you imagine that might possibly –in principle– accompany that journey?
    (((btw, the exact opposite question could –of course– be asked of a ‘believer’ – asking them to imagine coming to a state of unbelief – and to imagine ‘evidences’ for that journey)))

  56. The Atheist says:

    I genuinely don’t have time to respond to each and every point,

    No problem. I think this has been a fascinating conversation.

    Any proposed/possible 3D events (intersecting with Flatland, of course) would look like 2D events, and would have 2D ‘explanations’/’data’. The simple point I’m making is that proposed/possible spiritual events (’intersecting’ with our dimension(s), of course) will have physical explanations.

    We are indeed repeating – my earlier response to this same complaint was examples of how we Thicklanders are, despite being mired in the 3D, nonetheless able to demonstrate that 3D space-time warps in response to mass (general relativity), and we can theorize 10 space dimensions (and will soon have the technology to test the theory). So the fact that we only perceive 3 dimensions (or the fact that Flatlanders only perceive 2 dimensions) does not hinder our ability to demonstrate the existence of other dimensions. If there were a spiritual “dimension”, I would expect that some who are capable of perceiving it would also be capable of demonstrating that it exists.

    I’ve been saying that more than one explanation (interpretation of the same ‘data’) can both be true for the same phenomena.

    I agree. But even though I agree that more than one explanation can be true (as long as the explanations aren’t mutually exclusive!), I disagree that there is any compelling evidence that one of the viable explanations is that the spiritual realm exists.

    It’s about interpreting experience. Some interpret their experience of reality as non-spiritual – others as spiritual.

    Again I agree. Of course that is really a tacit admission (with which I agree) that we project our own fabricated meanings on reality and the spiritual is one of those projections. And these projections can vary widely from society to society – compare the D’ao (no-form) to Nirvana (no self) to heaven for example. However it doesn’t follow that ‘no projection’ (e.g., failure to “read in” any spiritual meaning) is itself a projection on observed reality, any more than it follows that atheist is a religion because atheism and religion are both responses to faith. The lack of “the thing” is not itself “the thing”.

    A3 – imagine yourself over a period of time in the future, coming to a state of eventually believing in a spiritual dimension to reality; what ‘evidences’ (interpretations/readings-of-the-data-of-reality) can you imagine that might possibly –in principle– accompany that journey?

    That’s an interesting question! My first response would be a first-hand experience – a visit from God himself, or a ghost, or some other spiritual being. Or possibly a glimpse into heaven or sheol or some other spiritual place. Even then, I would need a reason to believe I didn’t suffer some sort of hallucination – possibly other people could corroborate my experience by seeing me disappear, or by being there in the spiritual realm with me. Or possibly I could gain some sort of demonstrable knowledge during the experience that I wouldn’t have the capacity to gain under normal circumstances. Or possibly these events would happen to me frequently enough and anyone could observe with me and they could easily verify that it wasn’t “all in my head”.

    My more thoughtful response would be much less demanding – I would really settle for any compelling evidence. It doesn’t have to be a fantastic first-hand personal experience.

    btw, the exact opposite question could –of course– be asked of a ‘believer’ – asking them to imagine coming to a state of unbelief – and to imagine ‘evidences’ for that journey

    How would you respond?

  57. Dale says:

    Cheers, A3,
    Indeed, in spite of the repeats, the sustained focus is beneficial, I think.

    the fact that we only perceive 3 dimensions… does not hinder our ability to demonstrate the existence of other dimensions. If there were a spiritual “dimension”, I would expect that some who are capable of perceiving it would also be capable of demonstrating that it exists.

    Yep. But I’ve never said that a spiritual dimension couldn’t be ‘demonstrated’. It’s just that a 3D-ist can ‘demonstrate’ endlessly to a convinced 2D-ist, but as long as the 2D-ist sees all 3D demonstrations/explanations/’data’-interpretations as incompatible with his/her 2D explanations, the 3D-ist would be wasting his/time. After all, we’re not talking about whether evidence can be demonstrated for a spiritual dimension, we’re talking about what demonstrations of what kind of evidence would you find sufficient.

    It’s about interpreting experience. Some interpret their experience of reality as non-spiritual – others as spiritual.
    Again I agree. Of course that is really a tacit admission (with which I agree) that we project our own fabricated meanings on reality and the spiritual is one of those projections.

    Wait – I don’t think we can equate ‘interpreting experience’ with ‘projecting fabricated meanings’. We interpret our experience – we all do. Some interpret their experience as physical + spiritual; others interpret it as physical + nothing. There is no interpretive ‘objectivity’. We all have an interpretive ‘lens’ through which we view the world; which we can (fairly) call a worldview or ‘religion’ (and that’s being quite careful with the word ‘religion’).

    My more thoughtful response would be much less demanding – I would really settle for any compelling evidence. It doesn’t have to be a fantastic first-hand personal experience.

    Yes, I’ve intentionally not mentioned ‘miracles’ at all so far, as I think the spiritual dimension can be sensed without ever experiencing a ‘miracle’ (yet another tricky word and long conversation – let’s not open that can unless we truly must!). ‘Accepting evidence for the spiritual’ really is a matter of interpretations of the data of life (‘experience’ – including ‘experiments’!). But apart from speculate about different kinds of miracles (divine ‘visit’, heavenly ‘glimpse’, abnormal gaining of some kind of ‘knowledge’, etc.), your answer still (vaguely) refers to ‘evidence’ – in this latest version ‘compelling evidence’; which (again, not wanting to be a jerk here) really doesn’t answer the question. If someone asks what kind of evidence you’d even begin to find compelling, to reply ‘compelling evidence’ is merely a re-phrasing of the question. Let me try again:
    In imagining yourself in the future coming to believe in a spiritual dimension, having come to a new/different interpretation of your everyday experience, what kind of evidences or ‘points of interpretation’ could you imagine you might have found compelling on the way to this new-found belief?

    How would you respond?

    It’s quite interesting to consider isn’t it? In doing so, I am curious as to which ‘journey’ people would think would be the easiest/hardest? But I digress…
    I suppose for me to no longer believe in the existence of a spiritual dimension, I would have to a) be convinced that every last possible kind of spiritual explanation was in total and direct conflict with scientific explanations and b) be convinced that every one of the spiritual explanations were not only inferior to scientific ones, but were totally and utterly wrong.
    Naturally (no pun intended!), this is not easy for me to imagine, because (among other things) scientific explanations are formulated based on the non-scientifically derived assumption of the regularity of nature. And things like mathematics (did 1 + 1 = 2 even before anyone performed addition?) , the fact that evolution actually achieved beings rational enough to map their own genomic sequence, logic, musical harmony (did it exist before ‘music’ was made?), and much more would –at the very least– persuade me to be a kind of a vague pantheist or deist. In other words, the ‘every day’ evidence of there being something ‘more than nature’ is so common, I don’t know how you manage your full-on atheism! :) I’ve said many times, that the only interpretive ‘safe-ground’ is agnosticism. :) What has you convinced that nature is all that there is?
    (if you don’t get to this too quickly, given the ‘holiday season’ :) , I’ll understand – but I look forward to your responses)
    Cheers,
    -d-

  58. (just subscribing to comments)

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