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On Skepticism October 14, 2008

Posted by caseyww in Skepticism.

I suppose before we go any further, I had better answer a fundamental question about myself. Why doubt? Some may see what I’m doing here as a gamble with the highest stakes. Why risk my everlasting soul on matters that are probably beyond human comprehension anyways? Like Pascal, why not be safe and take the sure bet, defaulting to faith? Why be skeptical?

First, I believe the term ‘skeptical’ has frankly gotten a bad wrap. It is so often wrongly equated with ‘cynical’.  Defaulting to blunt and clumsy denial of belief in general is the realm of the cynic, which, to me, reeks of bitterness and isolation. Skepticism really has no problem with the act of belief itself. However, skepticism does concern itself with the methods and tools which are appropriate to establish belief in the first place.

Simply stated, skepticism looks for adequate evidence before accepting a belief as true. ‘Adequate evidence’ is admittedly a slippery term that we may have to spend time in future blog posts parsing out. For now it’s sufficient to establish that there is a range of skepticism that we all fall into. We all look for evidence when making decisions; it’s just a question of how much evidence we require and of what quality. Like most things in life healthy skepticism is a balance between requiring too little evidence (gullibility) and demanding too much (blunt denial). Further, skepticism holds that all beliefs are open to modification, affirmation or even outright trashing as new evidence comes to light.

I would argue that, while the term ‘skeptical’ may still sound too abrasive for most of us to adopt outright, we are all still secretly skeptical at heart. Let me explain. Think of all the countless beliefs or faith traditions that you think are bunk. The beliefs which are available but rejected surely outnumber the scant few we actually invest in. Okay, now seriously, take a second and think of just one proposition out there in the world that you personally think is utter trash and hold on to that for me.

Whether it’s alien abductions or Joseph Smith’s golden plates or the claim that the Comet Hale-Bopp could have borne your soul to heaven’s gate with its 1997 passing, for these things most of us practice perfect skepticism and we do so easily. But let me ask, why do we find it so easy to dismiss these claims? Why didn’t more of us commit suicide back in 1997 as we heard the news reports about the Heaven’s Gate cult in order to join them on their ‘journey’? Why weren’t we also swayed?

The answer here is typically so obvious that it feels a bit elementary to even regurgitate for you. We just ‘knew’ they were wrong. Their claim about the spiritual implications of a comet ‘didn’t make enough sense’ to translate into such drastic action. These thoughts are so secondhand that they tend to pass unnoticed through our heads. Since we’re not even tempted to action by such wild cultish claims we don’t identify the rigorous test we subject these claims to. But there is an important underlying rational system here that each of us constantly taps into which is worth recognizing. We all have a filter for establishing truth which, for 95% of the propositions we hear, defaults to doubt before investing in belief. Let me rephrase that. For all those things we don’t already believe, scrutiny is inherently skeptical in that it starts at doubt and then sees if there is sufficient evidence to transition to belief. 

This system is beautiful in its simplicity. We are constantly protected from acting on dangerous new beliefs by an underlying skepticism which naturally seeks tangible evidence before getting us into too much trouble. There is a problem here though.

Here comes the wrench. While our filters typically work perfectly on all those outside beliefs, we can have a very hard time applying the same standards for ‘adequate evidence’ to beliefs that have already been accepted. That is, we all have the tendency to loosen the standards for what constitutes ‘adequate evidence’ when it’s our personal beliefs that are being scrutinized.

Admittedly, this evolved tendency to stop applying close scrutiny to already accepted beliefs is almost essential. For example, we can’t constantly be assuaged by doubt over whether bread satisfies hunger or not. Once this belief is established we need to move on and focus our attention on more critical matters of truth and existence. Important things. Like whether chocolate is truly an aphrodisiac. You know, critical matters of faith! Seriously though, the bounds each of us individually sets around what is functionally true and what is not (ie. what we believe and what we don’t) allow us to focus most of our critical resources outwards where they can do the most good. However, the healthiness of this natural tendency is dependent on one thing:

Those beliefs that have made their way inside the bounds of belief must in fact be true.

Unfortunately, beliefs can often be let inside our bounds and subsequently go unchecked in error. In fact, when it comes to larger matters of belief (at least larger than chocolate) I would argue that the very nature of faith and religion often demand a lower criteria for what constitutes appropriate evidence. We often believe on the advice of authority alone or because of a highly subjective personal experience or sometimes because we have incomplete information or we misinterpret data. The reasons we can positively “know” things that aren’t actually so is a big subject that I think may also be another topic worth returning to in a later post, for now let’s move on.

To compound the issue we tend to treat beliefs like possessions. Even our vocabulary for talking about the act of belief betrays how possessive we can be over faith. We talk of holding, adopting or even buying a belief. You may even now be saying, “I don’t buy all this crap, Casey. This blog sucks.” I hope not. Anyways, the personal nature of belief itself can insulate us from being critical in those most important monumental decisions of faith where our worldviews are shaped.

I posit that it is for those beliefs that we hold most dear that we need to apply the highest levels of skepticism. It is precisely because these accepted beliefs are those which daily drive our actions and decision-making that we need to maintain the utmost level of intentional questioning about their validity, being always careful to demand appropriate evidence. Unnatural and sometimes uncomfortable vigilance.

In regards to my own faith, this is where I have taken a step back and restarted. I don’t want to commit the hypocrisy of submitting my traditional Christian faith to less scrutiny than I would the Heaven’s Gate cult just because it’s already been allowed inside my bounds of belief. The level of what constitutes adequate evidence for belief should be the same for both claims.

Further, if those beliefs we have accepted on the authority of our pastors or the personal experiences we have while singing together are in fact true then they should be never be threatened by this form of skepticism. Truth cannot be damaged by investigation.  That which is transcendent by definition cannot be changed or affected by the healthy skepticism each of us practices for those ‘other’ 95% of propositions out there.

Okay, in conclusion, I was asked in the comments on the “Invitation” post which specific claims of Christianity I am skeptical about? In light of the way we’ve been discussing skepticism here I’d have to answer: All of them, but none of them more or less than I am about Islam and Heaven’s Gate or evolution and the existence of black holes. I’d like to redefine the question a bit if I can (which I know I can…oh the power of running the blog! Mua-ha-ha-ha!…). Instead, of asking which biblical claims I’m skeptical about it would really be more accurate to refocus the question on which claims have been believed or defended on inappropriate evidence. This is a fantastic question that unfortunately is meaningless unless we agree on what constitutes ‘appropriate or adequate evidence’ first. Let me then end this post by throwing the question back to you guys to see if we can work towards a consensus. How do you think we should define what constitutes ‘appropriate/adequate evidence’ for belief in general?



1. caseyww - October 14, 2008

I’d like to preemptively focus our discussion here. I suspect most of us are subconsciously inserting ‘faith in Christ’ every time I say ‘belief’ which is half true but not really what I’m trying to discuss at this point. I’m truly interested in the act of belief in general and there will be plenty of time later to debate the virgin birth and so on if need be. For now I’d like to encourage all of us to address this question of ‘adequate evidence’ keeping in mind those claims you think are bunk. Remember that one piece of trash I asked you to hold on to?

Let’s be careful not bias our answers to naturally end up at the beliefs we already hold.

2. Michelle Wilson - October 14, 2008

Casey, I love your comments on skepticism! A truly wonderful word and some really great thoughts and insights.

The truth should be able to hold up to our deepest challenges.

Also, a brief and related defense of my comments on what Casey is looking for. I am coming from a position of faith and hold that God is truth. So if Casey is genuinely looking for truth, then in my mind, he is looking for God and will find him. It is this holding on to pre-existing bias rather than being genuinely skeptical which Casey is warning against that can damage that search. For instance if I rule out God and go looking for other explanations of truth, I may well miss what I have ruled out.

If I decide to go looking for Casey but decide that I only want to look outside of San Diego, won’t ask advice from anyone who knows him, and only want to search for him in tropical climates, I may eventually happen upon him. But it’s highly likely that I will find other things instead. It is helpful to cultivate a true objectivity and therefore a willingness to follow any logical leads.

3. Eric - October 14, 2008

[ Advance apologies for the length of this comment. ]

Speaking as someone who makes a living working in a relatively new scientific field (theoretical linguistics), struggling every single day with this very question as it applies to what I do, I can say pretty confidently that ‘adequacy’ or ‘appropriateness’ of evidence is probably the toughest thing in the world to define — that is, without falling into the trap of stacking the deck in favor of the answer you already seek (something which has already been astutely noted and discussed by other commenters on your first post). Even if we could all miraculously agree on a threshold of adequacy (what counts vs. what doesn’t), I’m willing to bet that we’d have a very, very difficult time agreeing on what counts as ‘better’ evidence (what counts vs. what counts more). Most folks (myself included) tend to have a trump card or two that they pull out when the evidence seems to be piling up on the other side.

A somewhat easier thing to define is the appropriateness of a given methodology to answer a given question, but not keeping this issue in mind can get in the way of profitable discussion of the ‘religion vs. science’ thing. (Antony’s last comment on your first post gets at this point in a different way, I think.) There is probably no Theory of Everything, despite physicists’ best efforts, and there is certainly no Methodology for Everything, despite most everybody’s desire to cling to what has worked for them before. (As the saying goes, if you have a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.)

A very simple example to show that there’s even an issue here: the question “How heavy is this book?” can be answered by simply weighing the book, but the question “How heavy does this book need to be for me to decide not to carry it back and forth to work everyday?” can’t be answered (only) by weighing the book; it crucially involves other considerations (for example: what my commute to work is like, what else I carry with me, the kind of bag I carry it all in, etc.).

Another example that is perhaps more to the point: the question “What’s this book made of?” can be answered by inspecting the book’s materials in various physical ways (and probably has a definitive answer), but the question “What’s this book about?” involves mental inspection of the words written in it (and may have different answers depending on the reader’s individual experience).

I hope you see where I’m going here: there are questions for which the broad methodology of ‘science’ is appropriate, and there are questions for which it is not, and likewise for ‘religion’. Science does not offer answers to questions about morality, but religion does. It is thus meaningful to ask whether one religion or another (or some other, related methodology) offers a better answer to a particular moral question, but it is not meaningful to ask whether science or religion gives a better answer to a moral question because science is just not an appropriate methodology for such questions.

Please note that I’m not claiming that science and religion can’t overlap at all in the domain of questions; I’m just suggesting that it’s worth considering this issue before needlessly worrying about which methodology has a better answer.

Here’s another interesting example from a lecture I attended the other day. The lecturer was talking about linguistic research she has done on specific aspects of language learning, comparing monolinguals and bilinguals. She prefaced the lecture with a kind of apology: she was not going to make any claims about whether bilingualism is a ‘good’ thing or a ‘bad’ thing because her research methodologies can’t support an answer to a question like that. However, one of the lecturer’s experiments showed a (very slight) delay in bilinguals compared to monolinguals in the acquisition of a certain linguistic property, so she followed this up with another experiment that showed that the delay had no larger significance — specifically so that her research couldn’t be said to support any claim that bilinguals are ‘delayed’ (because ‘delay’ = ‘bad’). I thought this was the most interesting think about the lecture: scientific methodologies indeed can’t answer a question like “Is bilingualism a good thing or a bad thing?”, but they *can* answer relevant questions like “What differences are there between bilinguals and monolinguals?” which can produce information that can then be used to better inform the ‘good vs. bad’ question.

4. caseyww - October 14, 2008

(RE: Comment #3)

I think you raise a very interesting point about methodology and the limits of scientific investigation. I wholeheartedly agree that science by its very definition is not equipped to address issues of morality. Science is purely observational and can really be used only to determine what “is” and not necessarily what “should be.” That being said, this doesn’t make issues of morality and belief exempt from skeptical inquiry. I think the best moral decisions are made when the best tangible evidence is considered.

I also agree with you that what get’s defined as ‘adequate evidence’ for belief is a very complex problem that in some sense is inherently subjective and variable. However, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of definition and consensus here.

I’m interested here in seeing what kind of evidence people do or do not think is adequate for belief on any range of propositions out there…whether it be to invest in a new drug for erectile dysfunction or to believe that book the Hare Krishna gave you at lunch. What kind of practical filters for truth are people actually using day to day?

5. Benjamin - October 15, 2008

Aha! Now I understand why I received a BA instead of a BS in philosophy. When science doesn’t explain something, my university calls it “art.” 🙂

Eric, well spoken sir. Your thoughts (as well as Michelle’s) reminded me of the debates among epistemological thinkers. One methodology that is never really debated in science or religion, but upon which both rely, is the use of logic. The use of logic as a part of science (e.g. the scientific method) and religion (e.g. any apologetic) is often ignored, but I think would be helpful here.

Specifically the concept of “a priori” knowledge, or pre-knowledge, describes things humans inherently know as the foundation of logic. As such, we come to logical rules for validity and truth; for example “A is A” applied would be “Casey is Casey.” This statement is “obviously” or “by common sense” or “a priori” or “logically” truth.

In short and without going any deeper, one methodology both science and religion can agree on, since they both depend on it, is logic. I think logic is a common ground for us here, with many logical rules, fallacies, and proofs available for use to each field (provided free of charge by google and wikipedia!). Atheists and skeptics alike can (and usually do) join in the fray on this level.

Would an a priori or logical truth be considered ‘adequate evidence’ for belief? I think so, even if you don’t believe it. 😉

After countless arguments (a good thing in logic) with folks on the topic of religion, I came to this important conclusion: despite all of the truths and falsities present in belief, faith, science, and religion, I know that my personal faith and belief stems from the fact that I simply WANT to believe. I believe what I believe ultimately because I want to. I want to believe in truth, therefore I want to believe in what appears to be ultimately truthful to me. Personal desire is the sort of glue that holds my logical pieces together. In my opinion, there is no other explanation for the apparent holes in the foundation of faith and belief.

6. Michelle Wilson - October 15, 2008

I liked Eric’s comments on the weight of a book. When you get deep into skepticism, it get more complicated still. What exactly do you mean by how much does this book weigh? Weight is something we define by how the book behaves relative to other things inside a closed system and is a humanly invented concept which is irrelevant outside of the purposes for which we want to measure its weight. It is not a property inherant in the book.

Once we start asking big existential questions, I am always reminded that the book is mostly empty space defined by the strange behavior of tiny particles I don’t understand acted upon by other objects which are also mostly empty space . . . in a cosmos which seems to be made primarily out of nothingness that has a seeming substance sustained by an energy we don’t understand . . . leading me to wonder which questions are even relevant to ask and leaving me rather awestruck.

7. Paul - October 15, 2008

Religion is not the birthplace of morality, it is only a place where one can pull moral ideals from. At the end of the day, each one of us is the guarantor of what makes a good moral decision. We read the golden rule and consider it to be a great moral lesson, yet we filter out the facts that the bible condones slavery, tacitly supports mass murder, treats women as a second rate humans, etc.

Sorry to use the bible as an example I’m sure all other religious and Mythological books and stories can be parsed just like this. I think it is clear that we are using our brains to determine what is moral and not (of course “using our brains” can mean a ton of things as well). Religion plays a part… but no bigger a part than any school of thought we can find meaning or lessons in.

8. Paul - October 15, 2008

sorry, want to apologize for sounding flippant (Casey, is there an option to edit posts? would be sweet if there was!).

Benjamin, your comments are spot on in my book. I’m certainly no expert in logic, but I can truly appreciate those who are adept at using it or identifying fallacies!

9. casey - October 15, 2008

A couple of things:

(RE: Comment #6)
Michelle- You’ve asserted: “Weight is something we define by how the book behaves relative to other things inside a closed system and is a humanly invented concept which is irrelevant outside of the purposes for which we want to measure its weight. It is not a property inherant in the book.”

I’d have to disagree. The weight of a book actually is not just a human construct. The book (and the atoms that make it up) have mass. They would have mass whether humans were observing them or not. Weight is just the force that results from two elements with mass accelerating towards each other, which we’ve called gravity. You’re absolutely right that the idea of weight is certainly not fixed because the weight of the book is dependent on the mass of both the interacting elements (in our case the Earth). That is, if the book was interacting with the moon its weight would be different because the mass of the moon is less. All this is to say that the mass of the book is certainly inherent in the book.

However, this is not to say that the universe is not mysterious and we shouldn’t have awe. It’s just that our observations of how the universe works are not all meaningless because they are only human constructs.

(RE: General discussion starting here in the comments)
Guys, I do really find the origins of morality and ethics interesting, especially in how they relate to religion and science and I want to spend some time on this topic in the future. That being said, I’d really love to hear what ideas you have about the topic at hand.

What makes for adequate evidence when you are contemplating whether to accept a belief or not?

10. Antony - October 15, 2008

Adequate evidence to accept belief? I hate to play the relativist, but I think that we really have shifting demands of what counts as “adequate.” I think that Benjamin is right – personal desire plays a huge part in the standards that we set.

And so if we talk about Heaven’s Gate, you’d have to show me the souls riding in the comet’s tail through a telescope before I’d believe that. If any member of HG told me about the awesomeness of the community or the charisma of the leader, it would not sway me to think that the underlying beliefs were ‘true.’ It’s totally foreign to me.

On the other hand, I was raised in the Catholic church and have been surrounded with Christianity my whole life. As such, my personal experiences tend to serve as confirmations of what I know. Whereas the testimony of community from HG does not move me to reconsider the tenets of the cult; my experiences in the Christian community could serve as evidence that being in a relationship with Jesus is transformative – thus, the community that results IS evidence for the truth of Christianity.

In a certain way I’m just repeating Casey’s main point without answering the question. But I think that – following Ben – the personal experience/desire aspect is something that we have to reckon with before we can actually speak of ‘adequate evidence’. It’s right to worry about the over-subjectivity of personal experiences. The mind is powerful and we can see and believe a lot of things that actually are not happening or true. But we must always return to personal experience – there is always a subjective kernel in all we do. In fact, what makes science persuasive is not that it rests on logic, per se. Rather, it’s that the scientific method is repeatable – that is, any individual – if they wanted to – could have the personal experience of doing the experiment and coming up with the same results. The same is true of logic – its ‘universality’ is really that we can each use our reason and arrive at the same conclusion. The point is that we cannot escape the personal subjective experience.

So I’m going to avoid answering the question because I have a certain problem setting up a single standard for truth here. From a scientific perspective, one the keys to ‘adequate evidence’ is repeatability. If many of us could do something and get the same result, then that’s a good sign that the thing is true, at least on a practical level. But repeatability is not possible for a lot of human experiences. For example, all of history happens once (although even that is an assumption, which many people would disagree with, though probably not too many of those reading this blog), and so the truth of history cannot be subject to the ‘repeatability’ criterion. Instead, we look for multiple perspectives to confirm its veracity (much like needing several witnesses to testify to x in a court case).

We find this unproblematic for history. Then again, we rarely think of history as part of our belief set (a mistake I think). The problem with multiple perspectives to confirm our belief set is that we are already inclined to confirm it. In a church, people see God everywhere. And taking a step back, I can’t say whether or not they truly see and feel God’s presence or if they see and feel their neighbors ‘seeing and feeling God’s presence’ and respond accordingly. I honestly don’t know how to separate those two possible phenomena. I don’t know the criterion of truth there.

11. Sam - October 15, 2008

I had an old Literature Professor who had a montra that he used often when we were diving into questions of ethics:

“Your metaphysics determine your morality.” Or put it more simply–how you think the world works implies how you believe you should act.

I use this general rule as a basis of whether to determine if I should accept a belief or not. (This also ties into the origins of morality, but yeah that’s way off topic).

To borrow the book scenario from earlier, a simple example:

I can look at the book, and I know that pressure is applied on the book via gravity, giving it weight. Therefore, if I let go of the book and it falls–that is a good thing, because it is abiding by the natural laws. There I have assigned a moral value (though a simple one) to how the book behaves based upon how I understand the world works.

I believe in applying a similar (though obviously much more complex) logical tool when assessing new beliefs and concepts.

If there is no God, then the natural and scientific world would be the only source of any sort of over-riding morality (life is a limited commodity, we know life is finite, murder creates a finite end to life, therefore murder is a grievous act, etc.) Metaphysics (in this case, science) implies a series of moral truths.

Likewise the existence of God(s) imply moral truths, based upon who you believe that God is.

12. Michelle Wilson - October 16, 2008

(RE: Comment #9)
But science is not this simple. The book is already interacting with the moon and all kinds of other things while it is here on the earth. The effect of the moon’s gravity is just negligent for the purposes for which we might want to measure the weight of the book. And mass is still what we choose to call a phenomenon we observe while watching particles interact. When you said that the book’s ‘weight’ changes depending on the circumstances, that is exactly what I meant.

13. casey - October 16, 2008

(RE: Comment #10)


Thanks for the insight.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘personal desire’ issue that you and Ben have brought up. Let me see if I can paraphrase without manipulating what you guys have said. Essentially, you’re asserting that our personal standard of ‘adequate evidence’ has no internal consistency; but that instead we are prone to raise and lower our standards depending on how much we ‘want’ something to be true. Therefore, since our internal measure for what constitutes adequate evidence is so relativistic there is really no hope of us, as a community, ever coming to any consensus.

(Please correct this if I’m wrong because I’m going to base my reaction below on this impression.)

Antony I think you hit the nail on the head in recognizing that this is pretty much the problem that I’m aiming to address with this post. I agree that because of pride, self-preservation, denial, narcissism or plain old delusion that we (humans) are very prone to skew our filters for truth to what we want to be true. However, I can’t make the jump to embracing this line of thought as acceptable and I think we need to effort to correct for our inherent bias if we ever want to have a hope of even approaching truth.

Further, there is a practical aspect of following this reasoning which can become pretty dangerous. An example: “I believe I can fly because I want to believe I can fly” brings me no closer to the truth of my actual flying abilities. In fact, bridges and cliffs become a problem for me with this worldview. This may sound silly, but we can extend this to all kinds of ill-held beliefs…”I can beat my cancer with the power of my mind because I want to beat cancer with the power of my mind.”

14. casey - October 16, 2008

(RE: Comment #12…but also applying to some this “personal experience” business that others have been bringing up.)

You’re absolutely right. My choice of the word ‘interacting’ wasn’t quite accurate. The book is in fact interacting with both the sun’s, earth’s, moon’s, your’s and my gravity. All elements with mass exert a gravitational pull on all others. However, the effects of gravity fall off exponentially as you get further away from an object and depend on that object’s mass to boot. Therefore it’s a pretty safe assumption that the book’s weight is determined almost exclusively by its ‘interaction’ with the earth. Like I said, on this I think we agree.

However, what I thought you were asserting above is that all of the book’s properties are a human construct. Am I reading you accurately here? If not, please let me know…

If so, I’d have to disagree that the book’s properties are only a figment of human experience. This was the point of my response. While the book’s ‘weight’ may be relative to the environment we are observing it in (the Earth) the book’s ‘mass’ certainly is not and neither of these depends on human observation.

What I think we’re circling around here (and this is a bit closer to Eric’s assertion when he brought up The Book) is that there is a difference between observing the book’s physical properties (which cannot be changed by a human construct) and observing the book’s content (which is entirely a human construct).

At the end of the day I hold that there is truth that each of has the opportunity to observe. Granted, there is a component of this truth that is relativistic and purely determined by the human experience and but there is also component of truth that exists with or without humans. An example: Red. Red as a human sensation of color which makes us think of warmth, vibrancy or anger is a truth that is purely determined by personal experience. However, red is also a particular wavelength of light over one section of the electro-magnetic spectrum (anywhere from 625-740nm) which is not subjective. I suppose it’s for this later type of truth that I think it’s productive to seek a consensus for what constitutes adequate evidence for belief. The real question is whether religious propostions are of the first or second type of truth.

15. Jordan DeArmond - October 16, 2008

Well, well, well, I would like to say that its about time! Finally all the cards are on the table, the lights are on and we are all out in the open. I guess only in a figurative sense, but none the less, here we are. I do however find it interesting that so many people have chosen to list themselves only by their first name or a nickname so as to keep a bit of their identity hidden. I applaud those of you willing to put your full names without fear or apprehension of true judgment of you or your beliefs. The conversation has moved, as most of you have referenced, from the security of a friends porch to the internet. Tons of people can view this blog if they happen to stumble across this link. So your opinions are subject to criticism, second guessing, judgment, speculation, and any other fancy word that means the same thing.

I did not have the pleasure of responding to the first post before the conversation moved onto the second topic so I have wrapped all of my thoughts into one response and I apologize if it comes out in a the form of a scribbled crayola drawing of a young child. Kinda crossing over the lines and imperfect, but still getting the picture across and done with all the focus and love in the world. I do not have any large words that some people might have to open a new tab in their browser to look up, nor do I have any degrees or qualifications that would legitimize my responses or certify my opinions as those of a wise man. But they are My opinions, My beliefs, My thoughts, My perceptions, and what has formed My reality.

In an attempt to respond to the question that Casey asked us to focus on I am finding myself struggling to decide on just one theory that I think is “bunk” to focus on. I guess in a short unrefined answer the only way to reach the point of adequate evidence is to be satisfied in your heart that what your studying or reading has lacked into the gears of your heart and head and made the operate together.

I have had the opportunity to serve this country that we live in and fight for the freedom to have blogs such as this. My time in the service was by far the best and worst time of my life. I forged relationships with men that will never fade or dissipate and I lost some of the best friends I have ever had. I have had to examine all of the aspects of God vs. Creation. Not so much from the point of studying the writings of men but more on the questioning of my soul, heart and head. If there is a God why is he allowing these good men to die? If there is a God why is there so much hate? If there is a God why didn’t He see all of this at the point of creation and design it different? Wait God designed it? Why aren’t I rich and living in a mansion with my wife and son with no worries? No, no there is no God, we all have free will, WAIT a second then why the HELL was I out there getting shot at for a bunch of ungrateful self serving punks? All of these are questions that went through my mind a million times and I end up back where I started. I realize that I am only here because there is a plan for my life that has yet to be fulfilled.

Is there adequate evidence to support any of what I said? Nope, but the gears of my heart and head are turning together. I don’t think there is a barometer to measure adequate evidence when talking about faith or belief. Is there any way to prove what Darwin said to be absolute truth? Nope. Is there any way to prove what is written in the bible? Nope. Both are theories. Sure some of Darwin’s theories have been proven to be true, and yes some of the stories of the bible have proven to be true. But how much weight do you put into a theory? There has to be something that moves you to the core of your being and shatters the walls of your soul allowing you to have peace. For me that is God, not to say that I lead a perfect life or that I have not questioned God or His existence. It’s hard to look at an “enemy” target through the scope of a M88 50 caliber rifle and squeeze the trigger then say bedtime prayers. Or think that you deserve to be alive after taking the life of another man. It took a long time but I have let go of the memories that have haunted my soul for so long. I was there because God wanted me there and the only reason I am here to write about it is because God wants me here.

Again, is there adequate evidence to support what I have written? Nope.

16. Bill Whitsett - October 16, 2008

Currently reading a book that quotes as a source William Clifford, a nineteenth-century Cambridge mathematician and polymath, who also had a superb mind for Philosophy. He wrote an essay entitled “The Ethics of Belief”…a paragraph I thought of his worth posting here: “If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot be easily asked without disturbing it – the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.”

Now…”adequate evidence”….(wow!) to support a belief. Criteria for what we believe in, and how we arrive there or slip away from?
Question: Does the rearrangement of furniture in any given manner around a room in your house allow for a more positive energy flow, which in turn would lead to more positive things happening in your life? Many people would say “yes” and would attest to it with stories of adequate evidence in their own lives as proof positive. Most us would be very skeptical even downright cynical. Put me down on the ubercynical list! (I used the “uber” word for all you “Uberist) out there) And yet thousands perhaps millions of eastern/oriental minds would full-heartedly agree with the premise. Because millions attest to it…do I then rearrange my furniture. So then at least for me…personal stories cannot be used as adequate evidence.
Can that which we call into question be “duplicated” or “replicated” to test, thereby achieving a certain performance base as to be reliable and then be called adequate evidence? Scientifically and mathmatically there is the No#1….some events only happen 1 time in life , this I have found to be true. If I carry that over into a faith based argument then I have to realize the “possibility” of wine/water at least once, sea’s parting at least once, virgins giving birth at least once, dead men ressurrected at least once…so then I have found it very hard to rule out the “possibility” of those things happening even in light of “inadequate evidence!”. However having said that it does not rule out my doubt of those things either. I will say this: If the bible is read in a literall/fundamental manner those things should be happening around us alot more as per the bible itself…(greater things than these shall you do in my name) and since that aspect has never been realized in my life, or the life of anybody around me, I would challenge anybody to raise a man dead three days from the grave… I do believe I now have “adequate evidence” that the literall interpretations must be flawed, due to the lack of supporting evidence.

Dont feel as if I really “thought all of that out enough?”

A great book
Truth, A Guide
by Simon Blackburn

17. Nancy O. - October 16, 2008

Though I have never seen God in my lifetime and I do not know anyone around me who has, I have “adequate evidence” of his existence because his Holy Spirit filled me with his presence from the time I invited him into my life. God’s presence is indescribable and undeniable. I wonder why he makes himself clearly evident in the lives of some and not in others. The reason is not because some are more deserving than others are, as I know I certainly am not. Could one reason be that those who have not “felt” his presence search for the truth and invite others to do in this type of forum, which causes people to think about him more than they otherwise would have? For those who believe in God, do you believe he is powerful enough to raise the dead, part the sea, and be the Creator of all life?

18. Karen DeArmond - October 16, 2008

I have read all you have written, it sounds reasonable and I understand your questions about God when we look at the world we live in, or that you would think that God treats women as second class citizens in the Bible which I can tell you He does not. Has man twisted the words of the Bible to treat women as though God created us as an after thought? Oh yes, sad to say. God created man out of the dust of the earth and God built the woman. He fashioned us. That does not make us lesser but equal with man.

I was not going to leave a comment as I do not believe that anyone will really pay attention to what I have to say. But then I checked my email and a friend sent me something that as I watched it I was reminded again of God’s great love for each and every one of us, even when we question His existence. Quite honestly it is not complicated which is what we would like to make it. It comes down to this: “For God so loved the world (you and me) that He gave His only Son…I would ask you to watch this video and maybe you already have…watch it again with no doubts, no questions, just the Love of a Father for his child


I have to admit I was surprised at the impact this video had on me. It made me realize how much I needed to pray for you all as you go on this journey of skeptism, that in the end you will find God as Josh McDowell did. He set out to prove that God did not exist and in the process found that HE truely does exist.

I agree with Nancy O. I have more than enough evidence of God in my life. Why do some expericence Him more than others? It comes down to Faith. If you attempt to reason with your mind how God works it will never happen. If we could figure Him out and why He does what He does then He would not be much of a God. And Nancy yes, he does raise the dead, part the sea and has created all life! He raised me up from a dead life of shame and fear; He has parted the sea and opened up a way of escape for me and most of all has made me new. I am living proof of the Power of God.

19. Jordan DeArmond - October 16, 2008

Casey, I would like to respond to comment 13 which was your response to comment 10. With the ideals that you, Antony and Ben are holding as truth I realize that you can never be in a true marriage. I know that this is a bold statement but these things require FAITH. Maybe I am reading you incorrectly but these philosophies cannot only be applied to God vs. Creation. You married Jess believing or having faith that she would remain faithful to you all the years of your life. Was there adequate evidence to support that? No! It was her word to you and your word to her and a step of faith that that commitment would be upheld. With a quick jog through your mental database I am sure that you can name people that you know personally that have been married and took the same vows you did and failed to follow through, therein displaying that the vows are just words and that it really is a faith that one has and steps into and that there is no guarantee.

I do not for one second dispute that there are obvious questions about the historical accuracy of the events of the bible. But I do not doubt the philosophical teachings of the bible. It’s about faith. it’s not about organized religion its about relationship. It’s taken 25 years and me experiencing hell on earth to realize that but I finally do. I have felt Him within me around me and I refuse to believe that due to some cosmic accident we are here. It is not because of ignorance that I refuse but rather simply because I choose to believe or have faith or whatever you want to call it, but none the less my adequate evidence showed up December 31, 2007 when my son was brought into the world. He is a true gift from God and a bond and love that passes all understanding came over me immediately. A bond and love so strong that even if you spent years spent in a friendship with someone could not ever replicate. Do i think hes perfect? Well yeah but that’s because hes only 9 months and his first word was Dada, but I also realize that at some point I will be dissapointed by him but I will still love him. I know that i will be furious with him but I will still love him. I know that I will sacrifice my wants and desires to give to him what he needs. That my friend is a God thing. I hope someday you will understand that joy and love.

20. Antony - October 16, 2008

Re: No. 19

Jordan – A pastor friend of mine just published a book on making the gospel the good news again. And one of the things that has really captured my attention is that he says the word often translated in the New Testament as “belief” is more accurately rendered “trust.” I think that’s what you’re driving at with the example of marriage. To make that vow with any sincerity, you’ll always lack ‘adequate evidence’ of the other’s intentions, but what you do have is trust. And giving trust is risky, not certain.

We tend to talk about belief as the knowledge of something as true or false. But at best, when dealing with people, there is a limit to what you can know, and you must act with trust.

And to loop back to Casey’s last post (No 14) – I’m still not sure what type of truth religion is. Is it an observable wavelength or is it like the perception of the color red?

Based on the last few comments – pause – before I go on, I do want to say one thing, Karen, I don’t know you, but I’m really glad that you posted. I watched the video and read your comment over several times with great interest because I’m coming from a different perspective. So I guess my word of encouragement to you is to keep showing love not only by praying but by participating here and sharing your perspective with those of us, who might not have connected with God in the same way as you have.

Based on the last few comments, it seems that the defense of religious truth is based, at least to a large degree, on personal experience. But to start to categorize personal experiences is going to lead to the idea of the ‘authentic’ experience versus the one that is not. Authentic ones are true, etc. But things are more complicated than that because of the redness issue. We do not experience the wavelength as a wavelength, we perceive redness. Which part of that is authentic? I don’t think this is a road one can down when talking about personal experiences (at least not too far down it).

So what for me ends up being the burning question is not how to evaluate my personal experiences as true or not, but how to understand and evaluate claims made on the basis of other people’s personal experiences in which I have not shared. What are the criteria for doing that?

21. Jordan DeArmond - October 17, 2008

I need to apologize to Antony and Ben for including their names in the last comment I made. I was distracted at the time and when I returned to the keyboard I completed a different thought. So with that Antony and Ben please forgive me for my inaccuracy in comment 19.

In fact Antony I appreciated your assessment of the ability to replicate the results of science and not those of human experience as it coincides with my comment 19. And Ben I love the simplicity of your declaration of simply wanting to believe.

Casey, I have never heard anyone say they can heal themselves with the power of their mind. Maybe healed through faith but not their mind. Is this what you meant or did you state it correctly that People are claiming to use mind powers to heal cancers? Just trying to clarify. And to respond to the whole “I want to fly therefore I can,” if you find someone who thinks that way tell them to show you and totally YouTube it for the rest of us.

And the last question I have for you Casey, how was your conversation with Jay from the Structural Engineers Association of San Diego? Haha sorry couldn’t pass up the opportunity to mention it. Love you Cuz.

22. Benjamin - October 17, 2008

RE: Comment #13 – Casey

“you’re asserting that our personal standard of ‘adequate evidence’ has no internal consistency; but that instead we are prone to raise and lower our standards depending on how much we ‘want’ something to be true. Therefore, since our internal measure for what constitutes adequate evidence is so relativistic there is really no hope of us, as a community, ever coming to any consensus.”

Oh, no you didn’t!!!!1!!11ONE!!1! Casey, consider yourself bitch-slapped for even implying that I could believe in a “relative” truth. Dear God, think man! While “I believe I can fly because I want to believe I can fly” may be an implication of something, like cocaine use, Peter Pan syndrome, or schizophrenic R Kelly fans, it is not an implication of what I was laying out.**

Personal desire is not a part of establishing the truth of a belief. That’s bassackwards. Personal desire is a part of establishing the belief of a truth (whether we know it to be true or not). Most people can agree that truth exists, that is, if you believe in existence at all. If we can agree that something or nothing exists, then we can agree that truth exists (separate from human thought or experience) too. If something exists, then the existence of that something is true. If nothing exists, then the existence of that nothing is true. It is not possible for these two beliefs (for nothing to exist and something to exist) to be true together. Either one is false and the other is true, or we’re just fucked. My head just exploded.

Now, believing in one of these two truths is an entirely different topic. Whatever sort of method people employ to believe does not affect whether it is true or not. Our belief or non-belief in truth does not affect it in any way, shape or form. So yes, as long as truth exists and people are able to believe in it, there is hope to come to a consensus on truth. My point was simply that I know personal desire as being one of my methods of coming to believe. In fact, I think it is quite a good one. I can think of no more common sense “a priori” or cooler way to believe besides in something that satisfies me completely. I’ll even throw it into the ring (along with logic) as one of the most reliable methods of evaluating a belief. I base that on the fact that I believe no reasonable person would ultimately deny pleasure for pain.

Actually, I agree with someone you mentioned in your first post, Blaise Pascal, who said, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

It seems pretty internally consistent to me.

**This paragraph is meant to be considered as sarcastic humor. Cheers, Casey.

23. Eric - October 17, 2008

Re: Jordan’s comments #19 & #21 — My name was not mentioned in #19, but I am struggling to understand the purpose of your remarks about what constitutes “real” marriage. I would hope that we can all lay bare our thoughts and beliefs here without passing negative judgment on the most personal affairs of others, regardless of the relevance to the topic. I don’t feel that an apology only to Antony and Ben — and only for “including their names” — is sufficient here.

That said, I believe that you probably did not intend to pass a negative judgment, Jordan, so maybe it’s just a question of wording. I think if you had said something like “my marriage is based in faith, and I’m struggling to understand how it could be otherwise”, then I would have just felt like explaining how I view my marriage somewhat differently (as others here might). But to state that people who don’t share your view of marriage don’t have a “real” one — whether you mention some people by name or not — is in my view not a productive way to encourage true conversation.

For the record: I’m 37, I’ve been a skeptic since I was about 12, and I’ve been married for over 8 years to the mother-to-be of our child. I’m reasonably certain that anyone who knows me and my wife Karen will tell you unequivocally that our relationship has a strong foundation of love, mutual respect, and trust (thank you, Antony, for bringing up this word). I can’t define my love for Karen any better than anyone else can — it just is. And I’m quite sure I won’t be able to define the feelings I will have when my child is born (or the feelings I’ve already been developing). Personally, I have never been able to satisfy myself with God as an answer to this kind of deep mystery, but I’m very interested to hear more details from people who have.

24. Nancy O. - October 17, 2008

Josh McDowell wrote an incredible book titled, “More Than A Carpenter”. He thought Christians were out of their minds. He put them down and argued against their faith. But eventually he saw that his arguments wouldn’t stand up. Jesus Christ really was God in human flesh. John became a speaker on college and university campuses, challenging people who were just as skeptical as he had been. One chapter in his book discusses science and how many people try to put off personal commitment to Christ on the assumption that if you cannot prove something scientifically, it is therefore not true and since one cannot prove the deity of Jesus or his resurrection, then twenty-first sophisticates should know better than to accept him as Savior.

Scientific proof is based on showing that something is a fact by repeating the event in the presence of the person questioning the fact. It is done in a controlled environment where observations can be made, data drawn, and hypotheses verified.

If the scientific method were the only method we had for proving facts, you couldn’t prove you watched television last night or that you had lunch today. There’s no way you could repeat those events in a controlled situation.

We’ve been given minds by enabled by the Holy Spirit to know God, as well as hearts to love him and wills to choose him. We need to funtion in all three areas to have a full relationship with God. I don’t know about you but I can’t rejoice in what my mind has rejected.

The above excerpts are from Josh’s book. I encourage you to read it. It’s an easy read and answers many questions posed here.

25. Jordan DeArmond - October 17, 2008

The only reason I apologized to Antony and Ben is because I had started a thought which included all three Casey, Antony, and Ben, and my baby started to cry and I got up changed his diaper. During this process I shifted gears mentally and sat back down having wiped my sons little ass and finished a totally different thought that had nothing to do with Antony or Ben. So an apology is sufficient. I believe that Ben and Antony understand what I’m saying.

I dont believe that Its a negative judgment either. Its merely the application of his thought process to another area of his life. I know that Casey and Jess married for the same reasons that you and I did. I was there on that day standing beside Casey as a groomsman. I am using an application that hits the hardest and closest to his heart to make it real.

If you read my first post (comm. 15) you would have seen that I warned that what comes out of my heart will be unrefined and imperfect but said with love. I love Casey and have admired and respected him since I was about 5 years old, he knows that I love him and that it will be damn near impossible to break that love whether we agree here or not.

26. Eric - October 17, 2008

Jordan — my reaction was to this fairly unambiguous statement in your comment #19:

With the ideals that you, Antony and Ben are holding as truth I realize that you can never be in a true marriage. I know that this is a bold statement but these things require FAITH.

This statement applies to anyone who is married and does not have what you call “faith”, which includes me — and I see now that my comment was unclear: I didn’t want you to apologize to Casey, but rather to reconsider your statement given that several of us here may be married but not people of faith. (This is Casey’s blog, of course, but I assume we’re all participating more or less equally in the discussion that he’s initiating and fostering.) You don’t need to apologize for offending me if you don’t want to, but I did want to register my offense.

Incidentally, I did read your comment #15 (with great interest) and have no problem at all with “unrefined and imperfect” comments “said with love”. I think that’s what we’re all here for. I haven’t asserted, nor would I ever assert, that you don’t love Casey (how could I — I don’t even know you!), but I do think there are better and worse ways to state things in this kind of conversation and I did want to assert that.

Now, having said what I wanted to say about this, I fear that my own continuing comments on this matter will do little to help the cause of the conversation, so I’ll refrain from saying anything more about it.

27. Jordan DeArmond - October 17, 2008


I see where you and I are broken in the understanding!!! I am not saying that marriage takes a CHRISTIAN faith! I am asserting that it takes a FAITH in one another! But none the less Casey’s question was about adequate evidence to have faith or a belief. I was applying the topic to another area of Faith. And to clarify the Antony Ben and Casey thing I had written “With the ideals that you, Antony and Ben are holding as truth…” when I got up to change the diaper. When I sat back down I completed a thought that had nothing to do with the first part of the sentence. It was an error on my part. Obviously I need to proof read before I post next time. I hope this brings clarity. And your offense has been registered and I hope it has been clarified.

28. Nancy O. - October 17, 2008

A few more excerpts from Josh’s book:

My new friends issued a challenge. They challenged me to make a rigorous, intellectual examination of the claims of Jesus Christ – that he is God’s Son; that he inhabited a human body and lived among real men and women; that he died on the cross for the sins of humanity; that he was buried and was resurrected three days later; and that he is still alive and can change a person’s life even today.

I thought this challenge was a joke. Everyone with any sense knew that Christianity was based on a myth. I thought that only a walking idiot could believe the myth that Christ came back from the dead. I thought that if Christians had a brain cell, it would die of lonliness.

But I accepted my friends’ challenge, mostly out of spite to prove them wrong. I was convinced the Christian story would not stand up to evidence. I was a prelaw student and I knew something about evidence. I would investigate the claims of Christianity thoroughly and come back and knock the props out from under their sham of religion.

I decided to start with the Bible. I knew that if I could uncover indusputable evidence that the Bible is and unreliable record, the whole of Christianity would crumble. Sure, Christians could show me that their own book said Christ was born of a virgin, that he performed miracles, and that he rose from the dead. But what good was that? If I could show that Scripture was historically untrustworthy, then I could show Christianity was a fantasy made up by wishful religious dreamers.

I took the challenge seriously. I spent months in research. I even dropped out of school for a time to study in the historically rich libraries of Europe. And I found evidence. Evidence in abundance. Evididence I would not have believed had I not seen it with my own eyes. Finally I could come to only one conclusion: If I were to remain intellectually honest, I had to admit that the Old Testament and New Testament documents were the most reliable writings in all of antiquity. And if they were reliable, what about this man Jesus, whom I had dismissed as a mere carpenter in an out-of-the-way town in a tiny oppressed country, an man who had gotten caught up in his own visions of grandeur.

I had to admit that Jesus Christ was more than a carpenter. He was all that he claimed to be.

29. Michelle Wilson - October 17, 2008

I was going to drop this one since it’s been left behind long ago, but I am newly inspired.

RE #14

Yes Casey, of course the book has clear physical properties. The language we use to describe them is human, but the underlying pieces do seem to exist on their own. But every time the scope of observation gets too big or too small, the mystery of it all becomes overwhelming to me. We can quantify and compare ‘mass’ which seems consistent and related to the number of tiny particles in the atoms that make up the book. But what the heck is a proton anyway??? I want to know what it is! Why is it there? Does it have parts that make it up that are too small for us to see? Or is it just what it is? And if so how can that be? Most people don’t seem to think or care about this stuff, but it makes me insane. And no matter how many answers people come up with, there is always another size down or another size up. For instance, is the universe actually infinite? Doesn’t it have to end somewhere? And if it ends somewhere, doesn’t there have to be something beyond it? The same questions apply to time. These are the questions that have kept me up at night since I was a small child and remain unanswered.

30. Karen DeArmond - October 17, 2008

I will have to read this book. I have read Evidence that Demands a Verdict, though it has been a while. To Josh’s last statement, it demands that we make a decision about who Jesus is. Many have said he was a good man or a great teacher but not God. The problem with that is He claimed to be the Son of God so in reality He is either who He said He is or He is a lunatic.

By believing the bible is just a book with some great stories and amazing poetry, then it is easy to discount the claims of Jesus.

The word trust is so simple yet so difficult to do. Trust: assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed; a charge or duty imposed in faith or confidence or as a condition of some relationship. We all trust in something, I have put my Trust in God, I have placed my reliance on His character, ability and strength. Then I must ask…What do you trust in?

It blesses me that each of you are searching for something bigger than yourself. I know that I cannot convince you that God is all that he says he is, that He is faithful and true, that He loves you beyond all reason or comprehension. I do believe and trust that you will find Truth in the end.

Antony, thank you. And what is my criteria for my experiences? That God is good and that He loves me, I mean really loves me. Based on that I know beyond a shadow of doubt that He is trustworthy. It took me a very long time to believe that. It has only been in the last 6 months that I truely believed it and began living as if I believed it. Anyone else have an answer for Antony’s question from comment 20?

Nancy, I especially enjoy reading your comments, you have such a heart for Father. Your writings have expressed so well what I have thought about only wasn’t sure how to express it.

31. Nancy O. - October 18, 2008

Many people want to regard Jesus not as God but as a good, moral man or as an exceptionally wise propher who spoke many profound truths. Scholars often pass off that conclusion as the only acceptable one that people can reach by the intellectual process.

Jesus claimed to be God. Either we believe him or we don’t. C.S. Lewis, former professor at Cambridge University and once an agnostic, understood. He said, “You can shut Him up for fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God”.

Was Jesus a liar?

Was He a lunatic?

Or was He Lord?

I cannot personally conclude that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic. He was – and is – the Christ, the Son of God, as he claimed. But many people cannot bring themselves to this conclusion.

The decision about Jesus should be more than an idle intellectual excercise. I do believe, from what I have read here , that the author of this blog, Casey, genuinly is searching for answers not only through intellect but ALSO with his heart and I do believe that he will find answers to his questions.

And what a testimony of his that will be!

32. Karen DeArmond - October 18, 2008

Amen and Amen!!

33. Nancy O. - October 18, 2008

Amen sista!! 🙂

34. caseyww - October 18, 2008

(RE: Karen and Nancy O.)

I have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed with the string of comments here. It’s not because I necessarily think you guys are wrong it’s that you are spending so much time answering a question that no one is asking at this point. (Even though I do think the level of argument represented by quoting huge swaths of Josh McDowell is diverting. Similarly I’m really not interested in playing the game of trotting out every agnostic who has become a Christian, this is anecdotal at best and one sided…there are plenty of brilliant people who have either remained agnostic when looking at the evidence for Christ or even stopped believing. I just don’t think this line of thought is productive.)

Back to the point, if you’ll notice, neither my blog entry nor anyone’s comments above have claimed that there is insufficient evidence to believe Christ is God. I’d like to reiterate my purpose in writing On Skepticism that at this point I’m more interested in talking about the things you don’t believe and why you don’t believe them.

The post above claimed that we are all skeptical when it comes to beliefs that are not already in our bounds of truth. I claim that there is a problem when we grant special exception to the level of evidence we would require for beliefs already let in because we are prone to guard propositions that are not true. What do you think of this claim of mine? Please note that I have asked nothing specifically about Christianity but instead about belief in general.

Let me pose a direct question to you two: Do you believe that the Koran is the inspired word of God? If not, then why not.

35. Nancy O. - October 18, 2008


Comment #16 inspired me to respond as I did, along with other references in this blog site regarding faith, God, science, and biblical examples of inadequate and adequate evidence.

I can understand your disappointment that I didn’t stay on target in relation to the purpose of your blog; however, I do hope you can appreciate that a few of us were inspired, touched, and even blessed as we shared our thoughts with one another!

But OK – enough of that already!

Honestly, the only thing I know about Koran is one comparison between the Koran and the Bible, and that is that Mohamed did not rise from the dead and Jesus Christ did.

But there I go again! I know that doesn’t answer your question; therefore, I will exit this forum so as not to divert your purpose for it.

It has been fun and thought provoking!

Karen – maybe we should start a blog site!

36. casey - October 18, 2008

Nancy O.-

I want to make clear that I am in no way asking you to stop posting here. In fact, I want exactly the oppisite which is to continue the conversation. I certainly expect comments aftert the post to inspire people in new directions…this is one of the more interesting parts of having a blog. However, if we all rabbit trail in our own directions we end up just talking at each other instead of with each other. I’ll admit, it does seem like you’re more interested in preaching than engaging since you’ve kind of written off the first direct question I’ve asked you and decided to exit the forum at the very hint of a challenge.

Anyways, I hope you keep reading and commenting but also keep in mind that this type of conversation requires a level of vulnerability and openess to new ideas.

37. Nancy O. - October 18, 2008

I didn’t answer your question about Koran because as I explained, I don’t know enough about it and do not have an intelligent answer to contribute. All I know about the Koran is what I shared with you.

I have not read the Koran. Have you? If so, maybe you can bring up some points in it that I and others who have not read it can relate to and then provide feedback about why we might not believe those points.

By offering who I am, Whom I love, and what my beliefs are as well discussing interesting and provocative books I’ve read that I thought related to the discussion doesn’t deserve insults, such as “preaching” at or “playing the game trotting out every agnostic that has become a Christian”, or “exiting out at the very hint of a challenge”. Those kinds of remarks are unfair and personal and exposure to that kind of vulnerability is something nobody would want to hang around for.

If a question arises regarding why I do not believe in something that I know anything about, I will join in the conversation. But certainly I did not say I would exit this forum because of a mere hint of a challenge. I simply want to respect your space and stay within the parameters you’ve set as far as the type forum you want.

I will wait to see if a subject comes up in which I can offer productive and stimulating feedback.

38. Nancy O. - October 18, 2008


Unless the Bible is off limits now, I have a question for you that you posed about the Koran since I know a little something about the contents of the Bible and other bloggers in this site have referenced it, as well.

Do you believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God?

Do you feel that other bloggers who have included the subject of God or faith or the bible in their comments were preaching? (e.i. #2, #15, #18, #19, and another one that shared he has experienced the mystery of God’s love through the love he has for his unborn child and his hope is that one day you would also experience and understand that.

39. Nancy O. - October 18, 2008

Here I am again because I just read some blogger’s comments under your Invitation page and must say there is one that I am completely blessed by – and that is from your mother (#30). Do you consider what she shared as preaching?

I say right on, Loree, right on. You blessed the socks out of this blogger and I am happy that you expressed who you are and Whom you love without concern about rabbit tailing out of bounds of the intention of this site!

From this point forward I will try to stay within Casey’s parameters – I just had to share this one last comment regarding the track several of us veered off into!

40. caseyww - October 18, 2008

Nancy O.

(RE: Comment #37)
The question about the Koran was an example. Pick anything you know about but don’t believe. I’m asking a question about what kind of evidence you look for before believing something. No, I haven’t read the Koran extensively but I am pretty familiar with the tenants of Islam. However, I’m not looking to debate the tenants of Islam with you just like I’m not looking to debate the tenants of Christianity with right now. Maybe in the future. What I am looking to talk about is what kind evidence helps us determine truth the best.

(RE: Comment #38)
When did I say the Bible was off limits?

If you’ll remember the end of the post above I ended with:

Instead, of asking which biblical claims I’m skeptical about it would really be more accurate to refocus the question on which claims have been believed or defended on inappropriate evidence. This is a fantastic question that unfortunately is meaningless unless we agree on what constitutes ‘appropriate or adequate evidence’ first.

I’m going to stick by this. I really don’t think you and I are going to convince each other of any particular belief without having a productive conversation about what evidence looks like in the first place.

That being said, I will answer your question. No, I do not believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. If I did than the discontent I expressed in the first post wouldn’t really make sense would it? The reasons why are complicated and things I hope to flesh out over the next months with this blog so I’m not going to give you the list now. But if you stick around, hopefully we can have that conversation in the future.

(RE: Comment #39)
Bringing up someone’s mom is an effective argument strategy. My mom’s comment was heartfelt and genuine. However, it was a declaration of faith that pretty clearly stated that she wouldn’t be able to entertain the kind of questions I’m asking nor engage in the conversation very much further. I was blessed immensely by her show of support in commenting but recognize that similar statements do little to encourage open-minded discussion.

41. Bill Whitsett - October 18, 2008

Not sure how close we are as a group to moving on to the next post by Casey but after having gone back and read every single one of these post up to date…I do have some comments on “adequate evidence”. Throughout these post some of the same general ideas and even the words themselves are used alot…”logic”, “knowledge”, “identify fallacies”, “reason”. Great stuff all of which I like to think I lean on to gather “acceptable evidence” before placing a whole-hearted belief in anything.
Went back to Post #5 by Benjamin several times, read it and reread it…gleaned from it. Yea, Ben I listened and heard, and felt uplifted by it. Had a little struggle at the end there with your conclusion that basically its just because “you want too!”, in spite of some of the apparent holes in the foundations of faith and belief. Could sit and explore that one for awhile. But liked your candid honesty in saying it.
Post #29 by Michelle: Oh how the poet in me did love this one. Yes! Isnt it wonderful that we have the ability to loose sleep over such wonderful and awesome reasoning….why? why? why?. And how I chewed on your post for days thinking “how small can we go”? Was blessed when it occured to me though that Gallileo himself had no idea at all that a “proton” even existed or a “nuetron”, “electron”, “atom”, etc. etc. but Michelle does. In the year 2008, Michelle has a clue…it may not be clear cut just yet, she may not have fully encompassed it. But by 2075 maybe her grandchild will be capable of seeing even smaller things, or perhaps quite larger things as well? Oh the poet in me did rejoice.
Some Post I cocked my head at a little: One blogger posted the link to a video and then asked me to look at it without “doubts” or without “questions”?…are you asking me to look at something without thinking about it? Anything placed before me will be questioned,…I believe even in the bible it says to “test all things to see if they are good”?
Alot of quotes from Josh McDowell. Lest we forget this is the age of the internet, I would challenge you to type into your search engine (If you have an open mind and will look at the other side of a coin) “Josh McDowell refuted”. Or here the site http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/jury. Here you will find biblical as well as worldly scholars debunking every chapter in his book “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” Yes, by the way, I have read it.
But here why I even broach that: The question as I saw it was “what constitutes our adequate evidence not only for what we do believe in but for what we do not”? We can throw “book writers” at each other all day, we can list off intelligent competent geniuses on both sides of the spectrum, we can circle our wagons and raise our flags proclaiming our righteous beliefs…but few of us tackled the question. Here I will do it again…take it out of the western religious arena and ask you…why dont you believe in UFO’s? why dont you believe in acupuncture? why do you believe bottled water is better than tap? And to take the lid off the can of worms for those in the western religious arena, for those so inclined to believe the bible to be the inspired word for word literall presence of God Himself, as was asked by one blogger if Casey believed it or not : John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who belives in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father. Why dont you believe you can turn water into wine?

42. Nancy O. - October 18, 2008

Just as your mom’s comment was heartfelt and genuine, mine were too, Casey. The difference is you know her heart and don’t know mine, so you were blessed immensely by her but described me sharing my heart as “preaching”.

You assume I used your mother as an argument strategy, which is the furthest thing from the truth of who I am. Essentially, your mother and I were coming from a similar place as far as expressing our declaration of Christian faith so I asked you why my comments were perceived as preaching when you didn’t shoot that same arrow at other bloggers who also made comments regarding faith, including the most profound and blessed one, which happens to be your mom’s.

Karen stated she enjoyed my contibutions; we engaged in conversation with one another, which was a cool benefit (to us anyway) of entering and participating in this blog. Regardless, our string of comments disappointed you a bit because it went off the track that you intended. We were learning from one another and enjoying each other’s blog world company but it wasn’t about what you wanted to talk about at this time, which is contrary about what I think open-mindness and flexibility is all about.

I am a pretty simple-minded girl; I am going to continue checking in and jump in when I understand the subject and feel that I have something beneficial to add. Know that where I come from is genuine and from the heart!

Thank you for taking the time to write and respond, Casey. Hopefully we and your other guests can have conversations in the future about the discontent you expressed in the first post.

43. Nancy O. - October 18, 2008

To get on point and answer your question:

Maybe because it’s late and I’ve been thinking too hard but there isn’t a single thing I can think of that I can say I do not believe in when I have not had first-hand experience or clear evidence of the facts to support my belief one way or the other.

Bill, you mentioned UFOs and alien abductions. I cannot say these events are not valid simply because I have not seen or experienced them; that would be, in my opinion, shortsighted and small-minded. I must add though – I hope to never see or experience either event because I think I’d have heart failure at a very young age!!!

Casey, you’ve posed a great, thought-provoking question but I think we need your help here by giving us an example or two of what you do not believe in and why. Maybe somewhere in your posts you have given examples and I missed them – please point me in that direction if you have and if you have, I’m really not dense; it’s just late and I’m feeling kind of braindead.

Bill – have you answered the question? Please direct me to your post if you have.

44. whytey - October 18, 2008

So, I’m going to ignore the somewhat daunting number of posts and respond to the question at the end of your blog in a totally self-centered, isolationist, forget conversation sort of way. I hope this is okay. In the discussion of what defines adequate evidence, I would say that it is important to evaluate the methods by/through which that evidence is collected. Evidence that, at times, seems adequate often becomes strikingly inadequate when new information comes to light about the data collection (I’m thinking along the lines of the adage that 97% of statistics are made up on the spot, any statistic can be compelling but shouldn’t be considered adequate unless we can validate the statistic, the subsequent analysis, etc.). So, in a sense, I guess that we can only begin to evaluate if evidence is adequate if that evidence was collected within accepted parameters. I also think that it’s a bit risky to put up a “adequacy bar.” Many times in the development of scientific theory evidence that many would consider to be “adequate” ends up proving to be strikingly inadequate as new data is collected. So, there is something to be said for the idea that it is impossible to gain adequate evidence. This question plays a big role in the debate between scientists who claim that we are close to coming to the “end of science” and those who say that we have only scratched the surface. And now I am tired…

45. Antony - October 18, 2008

Okay, I’ve posted twice, and both times I ALMOST addressed the question, but never quite got to it. My new commitment is to be clear, hopefully brief, and maybe even answer the question. (We’ll see how all that goes.)

It’s actually hard to think of something that I do NOT believe in, but I finally came up with one:

I do not believe that genetically modified foods (GMFs) are safe or beneficial for society. I’d say that I have ‘adequate evidence’ to declare that I’m more than just skeptical – I do NOT believe GMFs are safe or good. So, here are the types of evidence I use for my un-belief:

(1) Opinion of a respected authority. European markets have banned them because they have health concerns. So some professionals believe GMFs are not safe.

(2) Cultural/historical experiences. I’m skeptical of scientific tests about safety because of their short time horizons. The testing period is only a few years, and so they can’t say how it’ll affect us in 20 years. I believe this because a number of products, like some pharmaceutical drugs, have had to be taken off the market for ‘incidental side effects.’ So, by cultural experience I’m skeptical of new drugs, and I think of GMFs as being similar to manufactured drugs.

(3) Knowledge + Reason. GMFs have biological effects beyond our immediate health. They limit crop diversity, which makes crops more vulnerable to epidemics. [A lack of crop diversity in our diet also makes us more vulnerable to disease.] I don’t know how to describe this evidence. It’s a simple and clear point, supported by the little I know about biology. So it combines my knowledge and reason. To change my mind, someone would have to show me my knowledge was wrong OR that my reasoning is flawed.

(4) Lastly, my values. GMFs work against some of my values. Two quick examples – (A) I value ‘community’ and GMFs may make food cheaper, but they hurt local markets and fresh foods (which taste better!). (B) GMFs seem designed for profit, not to solve human problems. It’s very common for GMF seeds to not reproduce, so every year the farmer has to buy new seeds; it’s impossible to create a self-sustaining farm using GMFs. This, to me, is evidence of greed and wealth being valued higher than human welfare. And I think that’s morally wrong.

Okay, not so short, but I hope it was clear 🙂

46. Nancy O. - October 19, 2008

In post #41, the Bible scripture John 14:12 is sited, which is: Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he do also; and greater works than these he shall do because I go to the Father.” The question is then posed, “Why don’t you believe you can turn water into wine?”

I do believe that the scripture is absolutely valid and true; I do believe that if the Lord chooses, through His Holy Spirit, any miracle or work can come to fruition through man. Here is why:

Several years ago I attended a pretty conservative church. If anyone needed prayer, including for healing, they would write their prayer request on a sheet of paper and drop it in a basket, which was collected and delivered to the pastor. He would read the prayer requests out loud and the congregation would join in prayer asking for a variety of things, including healing. That was that. No theatrics, just simple prayer and then we moved on.

I never saw anyone healed; although, I did listen to testimonies of people who claimed their prayers were answered that they no longer had the illness they had before they prayed, etc. I believed them because I believe in the power of God; however, I admit that a few testimonies left me skeptical because they sounded too good to be true.

But one night my skepticism would change forever. On this particular night something different happened, the pastor had never done anything like this before. He pointed to a member of the church who had attended the church for years. One of his legs was approximately 6 inches shorter than the other one. He had always walked with a very noticeable limp and had his pants hemmed with the right pant leg about 6 inches shorter than the other so his pants fit properly. The pastor asked the man to come forward and proclaimed his leg was about to be healed. Then he asked the congregation to encircle the man and watch. I went and watched.

The pastor simply placed his hand on the man’s leg and quietly asked Jesus to heal him. I will try to adequately describe what I then witnessed firsthand, with my own eyes:

The man sat on a chair with his socks and shoes off and his legs extended. Inch by inch I saw nearly transparent images of his foot extend and then his “actual” foot extended to fit into the nearly transparent image. This happened around 6 times until his leg had lengthened to match his other leg. When he stood up, the pant leg that had been hemmed shorter to fit his previously short leg was too short now. He no longer walked with the limp. I stood in frozen awe of God’s power. A few people fell to the ground in praise and worship. It was “unreal” but it truly was real. It happened.

I fully believe comment #30 in Casey’s first post because like Loree, I too have witnessed a healing from God with my own eyes.

I also understand why some people are skeptical of things they have no concrete evidence, especially claims of this magnitude and beyond. I no longer doubt because you can’t make up what I saw.

So this is proof, at least to this believer, that John 14:12 it literal and true. There is no man who can change water into wine using their own will but certainly anything can take place through man by the power of God’s Holy Spirit in God’s timing and when He chooses.

Is anyone skeptical of my story? All I can say is it is absolutely true and I hope that some day each reader can also witness the power of God because it is quite incredible!

47. Eric - October 19, 2008

First, what Antony said in comment #45 just above. But, to add a rather cynical — but not completely dishonest — twist to it, I think that there are many things that we dismiss (as opposed to that we actively don’t believe in) based almost exclusively on only one of these four considerations, usually (1) though sometimes (4), and not so much (2) or (3). Who tells us something (Antony calls it ‘authority’, but the category could be broader) plays a huge role in whether we bother to think deeply about it before accepting it or discarding it, and so do our preconceived notions (Antony calls them ‘values’, but again the category could be broader). The problem is that reflecting on ‘cultural/historical experiences’ and developing ‘knowledge + reason’ take time and energy that we just don’t have time for in order to establish the bulk of our everyday beliefs, so we use the others as convenient shortcuts.

48. Bill Whitsett - October 19, 2008

Post #45…by Antony (Great!)
Post #47…by Eric (Great follow up!)…both “greats!” just my opinion of course.
Two questions posted by Nancy O. One directly to me in Post #43 “Bill have you answered the question?” and her other response in Post# 46, a question for everybody? “are you skeptical of my story?”…maybe I can combine my answers to both into one response.
What I dont believe in and why I feel there is not enough “adequate evidence” to support a belief in it.
Yes, I am skeptical of your story. I do not believe a miracle of that proportion occured. I will use Post#45 Antony’s measure for “adequate evidence” to try and prove my point:

Opinion of a Respected Authority: The entire American Medical Association, and 99.9% of the Doctors specializing in cellular and molecular growth, tissue repair, bone density, cartlidge and tendon reproduction capabilities would find fault with this story.
Cultural/Historical experiances: If this incident was in fact verified, why are there still crippled people of faith in the world. Historically the number of times such an incident was verified authentic in proportion to the number of disabled people….I know of no such verification. And in this particular case…was a name gotten, was a follow up done, was a news-bulletin released…I mean an honest to goodness miracle may have occured, and nobody knows where this guy is today? God himself was said to have touched somebody! The Great I am, the Creator of Heaven and Hell grew a leg in a matter of seconds and healed a man…and nowhere in the secular world did a ripple occur. No Doctor was called, no Scientist investigated..?
Knowledge/Reason: It is a very basic understanding of biology, and our physical make-up that tell us through logic…this story did not occur in the way witnessed. Hear me now…this is not to say that something did not occur, but thus far all we have is one eye-witness to an event. And our eye-witness truly believes in what it was that she saw. How many times have eye-witnesses on jury stands who have been completley sold out to what they saw, been proven, mis-lead? In this particular case…look at the place, the time, the atmosphere, the mentality,…we could go on further, look at the lighting, background investigation of healer, healee…an awful lot of variables which lead to my skeptisism, in light of “adequate evidence”. Once again…thousands of witnesses would attest to the authenticity of mormonism, do I then convert based on their witness!
Lastly my values: Dont you think I want to believe this. In the soft spot in my heart I yearn for such miracles. I want crippled men healed. But my values are such that I yearn for a “legitimate”, verified, documented, tested, cant be argued over miracle to occur. Not one that my simple mind can reason itself through. I have never seen such a thing happen and I have attended “alot” of pentecostal type meetings.
I have had things happen in my own life, two in particular that I would like to think were out of the normal explainable arena, the odds firmly stacked against the event (but you know what, lightning does strike people, couples living in Baltimore have won the lottery, and Gloris Leachman is still dancing, odd things can happen?) …but even these two, after careful examination become “possibilities” only for the supernatural…and under the light of “adequate evidence” both would be very hard to think “unexplainable”.
I am skeptical of the event…and cannot place a believe in something like that based on one eye-witness. Not enough “evidence” for me.
Nancy O. I have to tell you too….I loved the way you head on answered my question about turning water into wine. I dont have to agree with you to admire your authenticity in what “you” believe.

Just realized I really still havent answered the question for myself…I used anothers gauge.
My list for “adequate evicence” after days of thought would include.
Intelligent Reasoning
Verification and Follow-up
Un-biased Documentation
Provable Authenticity

and I still feel like I havent got a handle on it….(good stuff, to chew on)

49. Jeff T - October 19, 2008

Ok, I feel moved to jump in but don’t have the time to read all the postings. There likely will be something really good said that I have not read but I thought I would write something when I have the time (now) and take my chances of being fed to the lions.

I come from a psychological perspective that likely can only make things more clear. I think it’s an interesting topic, “adequate evidence.” I think though that adequate evidence is a moving target as some have already suggested, (see I did read some of the posts). However, I asked myself the question, “what is important to the person that has them believe something.” I come from an Object Relations perspective which focuses on the drive in us as humans in having a relational drive. From birth this is present, if we don’t get it we die or have at least a really hard time in life because of the lack of connection. With that being said, as I read the posts, I thought about how the subjective experience was often spoken of as less than empirical evidence. I think that subjective experience is a major factor in our belief. Subjectivity is often used pejoratively but I don’t see it as that. I have to say in my experience in working with people to help them find their motivation to behaviors not just the behavior, that this is the evidence that they need that makes changes in their lives. Now, that is outside of the focus of this blog but I think it’s an addition to what has already been said. Subjective experience, which often we can find the motives for why we believe, think, act, feel, is a major factor in most of what we do. For example, when you first found a boyfriend or girlfriend that you liked, we might say, he or she is so funny, they are so smart, they are so rich, they are so kind, but all that is based exclusively on how we feel. We pick those things out as “evidence” that we found a good match for ourselves. The ‘evidence” is how we feel. Someone might bring up that divorce rate is high so our subjective experience is not to be trusted. I have to disagree in the sense that I think what we believe, think, feel is dynamic and constantly changing although our experience of it feels as if it’s constant. But the ‘evidence’ is motivated by a dynamic, multi-determined subjective experience.

I believe (a risky word to use here) that much of what we do is motivated by things that we are not consciously aware of. It’s possible to find out some of what those things are since I have heard evidence of this over and over again as I hear peoples’ stories. What I have seen that never works in finding a mate is when someone writes a pro and con list and then makes a decision. Consciously our mind is not as influential and sometimes accurate as our feelings when making a decision. Relating to one another, which often influence what we allow ourselves to believe, is a subjective experience. Call it our intuition, (which I hold a lot of respect for and is much more sensitive than our conscious mind) or unconscious, or knowing, IS the evidence that we need for making relational decisions. Now is that quantifiable or stable, or the same for everyone? Absolutely not. Is it prone to error? Of course, and yet I stay an advocate for the necessity of listening to the subjective. Now I know this is messy and doesn’t wrap anything into a nice package but I think when we ask questions of this nature, we end up with more questions and that the answer is often obscured.

50. whytey - October 19, 2008

I really like Antony’s post and the methodical way in which he engages with his issue of choice. I think it also brings up for me the point that I was trying to make, but am not sure I’ve made yet. I’m not even sure I’m going to successfully make it now. One could safely say that one could have effectively made a decision on an issue using Antony’s types of evidence that would later prove to be a poor decision, or even an abhorrent decision. I’m thinking of a paper I read by Jefferson in which he used what are essentially Antony’s types of evidence to validate the institution of slavery (This was before his “wolf by the ears” we don’t want it but we’re stuck with it stance. So, it becomes essential that all beliefs, decisions, stances (especially those which are most important) be open to continued scrutiny, as those beliefs which truly have adequate evidence will continue to hold up to testing.

51. Sonja - October 19, 2008

Original post: “How do you think we should define what constitutes ‘appropriate/adequate evidence’ for belief in general?”

From Casey’s comment, “I suppose it’s for this later type of truth that I think it’s productive to seek a consensus for what constitutes adequate evidence for belief. The real question is whether religious propositions are of the first or second type of truth.”

One observation before making other comments.

So far, it appears that the consensus (at least of the majority of those who’ve posted comments) is that ‘adequate evidence’ for ‘belief’ cannot be confined to the later type of truth.

While this may be inconvenient for establishing a mutually agreeable definition of ‘acceptable evidence’, it is nonetheless true. Even those of us who wish it to be otherwise, observe that being human is not confined to tangibles and logic, or merely the things we know with certainty. We are dynamic creatures, and it is only fitting that our belief systems (adopted or merely propositioned) are complex enough to respectfully challenge, address, and teach to all aspects of our lives–emotional, intellectual, physical, relational, and spiritual.

Other comment
what is adequate evidence? well, it depends on what you’re trying to prove. if you’re asking for evidence at all, it’s because you want something to be justified. so what is it you want validated? demonstrating with hard physical evidence that the earth is round is quite different than demonstrating God exists. what is substantial evidence for one claim is not substantial enough for the other, or vice-versa.

what is adequate evidence for accepting a belief? depends on what the belief is claiming. proving that sin is real and proving that st. paul was imprisoned are two different things.

for the sake of all, please clarify what you mean by belief. then perhaps these comments can be tailored more appropriately and specifically.

if, as i suspect, by belief, you mean the types that take a combination of knowledge, trust, and doubt, then i think the only answer will be that you will not find the ‘adequate evidence’ you seek, namely the ‘second type’ of evidence you refer to. inherently, those types of beliefs fail to allow themselves to be proven materially or by quantification. inherently, they necessitate a combination of trust and doubt–such is their nature.

52. Paul - October 19, 2008

I will try to create a basic model that hopefully, encompasses the many points that have already been made about “adequate evidence”:

What is adequate evidence? well, it depends on what you’re trying to prove. There is more than one type of belief and each requires different tools for considering its adequacy.

1) Concrete phenomenon: The earth is round, the earth revolves around the sun, the earth is well over 6,000 years old. These beliefs require the scientific method in order to be considered valid claims. There are only a few criteria to consider evidence for concrete phenomenon as adequate:
A: objective evidence: evidence that is free from experiential or opinion bias
B: repeatable evidence: Can the evidence used be repeated to prove the concrete phenomenon?
C: reasonable evidence: A bit harder to pin down, but I refer back to Justice Brandeiss who considered evidence reasonable if it could survive the scrutiny of the marketplace of ideas (aka: can the majority of people see the evidence as reasonable for themselves?)

2) Experiential phenomenon: Experiential phenomena do not require the above criteria. Neither can the above be applied to prove it. Some examples are poetry that speaks to you on some level greater than “it was well written”, love for a spouse, “god is unconditional love”, etc.. This type of belief requires a different toolset:
A: personal experience
B: emotional response

Now of course, our experiences and beliefs don’t always fit neatly into these 2 types, but I think people would agree that they choose to use one of these models more often than the other when describing a specific belief. As an example of how these models can be used in the realm of religion, someone could ‘adequately’ believe in god or that god is unconditional love because these beliefs are experiential and therefore do not require nor find use for the first model… and thus, can be ‘adequately’ accepted by using ‘evidence’ from the second category. Now, the moment a person takes this belief and claims that god heals the sick, we have now stepped into the realm of concrete phenomenon and therefore what would be deemed adequate evidence for this claim would have to fall under the scrutiny of the first category.

53. Nancy O. - October 20, 2008

In response to Comment #48

I understand your doubt because I felt the same way until I saw God move with my own eyes.

Do you believe your God has the power to perform miracles? If not, why not?

I know this isn’t the forum but I am interested in what your perception of God is in relation to his power to do whatever he wills, whenever he wills.

54. Loree Whitsett - October 20, 2008

So, do we live the rest of our lifes in skepticism? What kind of life is that? We were all put on this earth for a purpose ,if I stay a skeptic do I ever find peace and joy or am I always questioning everything I see or everything someone says.When I get to the end of this amazing God given life am I sorry that I missed what I was here to fullfill.


55. casey - October 20, 2008

(RE: Comment #54)

I think we have very different views of what skepticism is. I see asking questions and looking for evidence as a beautiful pursuit of truth. That’s not to say that I hold any misconceptions about someday being able to lock down every bit of truth but I do think the pursuit is worthwhile. I also made it pretty clear in my post that I never want to be labeled as a cynic where I just doubt for doubt’s sake. Belief has its place when based on hard fought and well deserved evidence.

Further, I’m arguing that whether you like the label “skeptic” or not that everyone is very skeptical of the things they don’t believe. I think you would practice perfect skepticism if we were discussing whether following Vishnu or Buddha was the only way to salvation. I also think that there is a problem in being less skeptical about the things we do believe than those we don’t.

Lastly, what if our purpose on this earth is to search to our utmost for truth? I don’t want to get the end of my life and have not fulfilled that to my best. There is also peace and joy in searching out truth the best we know how.

Also, love you to (Everyone else…no snickering! I don’t mind being mushy with my Mom.)

56. Nancy O. - October 20, 2008


A mother like you, who obviously loves the Lord, prays for her son. To this woman, there are few things more sincere and beautiful than a mother’s prayers. Surely God listens and no doubt Casey will be blessed with answers and possibly be even more fulfilled and at peace because he found those answers by doing it his way and simply by being who he is.

As a Christian mother, there is nothing more important in my life than my child’s salvation. No matter how she gets there, all will be well with me as long as she arrives! For me it was simple because God made His presence clear to me but I realize that it might not be so easy for her; she might need to search for answers in her own way.

It is apparent that your son has an inquisitive and intelligent mind that he uses, and personally, I have benefited from this site because it has me thinking a lot more about Christ and other things I might otherwise not have!

In closing, I want you to know that your initial post (#30) was inspiring to me. It was real, straight from the heart, and it made me smile and feel happy!

57. Nancy O. - October 20, 2008


One more comment (at least for now)

I have often wondered why God makes His presence so clear to some; therefore, making it quite easy to love Him with complete assurance of His existence, and for others it doesn’t happen that way.

Personally, I think God made His presence distinctly evident to me because I am not the type of person to search hard and long for many things, so possibly I would not have “found” Him had He not met me where He did.

Your son seems to have a lot more drive and ambition than I do. Maybe, just maybe, he, in his search for evidence and answers, will meet more people and acquire more knowledge that God knows he needs in order to fulfill the purpose that God has for his life. Possibly he is being “equipped” in the armor of knowledge for a reason (?)

Just a thought 🙂

58. nicole - October 20, 2008

I lost my attention span at about post #15 or so, then saw some argueing, then a bullet-pointed list (by antony) which caught my attention again. so I skimmed it and thought I would write a bit too, but I am afraid it may be a bit redundant to his comment. so adequate evidence for belief/unbelief, for me personally (not in any particular ranking):
1. culture: I don’t think this has been brought up that much, though it does have some role in all of our perspectives/beliefs. I am inclined to not believe in feng shui because my culture did not foster an understanding of inanimate objects as having energy.
2. the opinions/statements of respected authorities
3. repeated results with sufficient controls: I largely use this method in claims related to my profession, but also general claims made by those epidemiology people (risks for heart disease, breast cancer, contacting MRSA at my hospital). It is interesting the degree of scrutiny I have in ‘sufficient controls’ (thinking of the “eating ice cream increases the risk of drowning” scenario) in this arena, but not in the arena of spirituality.
4. this one is more of a negative, I have have a big problem with absolutes. I am more apt to believe something if it is stated within a framework of situational constraints.
5. anecdotal evidence if I keep hearing it from many people or it comes from someone very close to me. Some type of new home remedy for my most recent cold will more likely gain my belief and even trial coming from my best friend rather than my co-worker (try zicam by the way– it’s amazing :)! )
I am being called to dinner so I will have to end here, but this is in no way an exhaustive list

59. Jeff T - October 20, 2008

Hey Casey,

You know I respect your pursuit of knowledge and truth. I’m with you on that journey (I know you hate that word). I have to admit that this topic is consuming my thoughts so here is my most recent rumination. It seems that in our dialogue the subjective experience is often minimized. So a question popped into my mind when reading your reply to your mom. You said “Belief has its place when based on hard fought and well deserved evidence.” So I wondered (sincerely with all due respect) what was it that had you believe that you should be married to your beautiful wife.? I am sure you had and have really good reasons for it. What made you a believer in such a life long commitment?

60. Nancy O. - October 20, 2008

Respone to Comment #48


I just read your response again to my account of God’s healing touch on the crippled man. A few additional points to ponder:

I was one of many eyewitnesses. I do not remember the name of the man who was healed, but let’s call him Happy. Happy attended our church for years with the short leg and then years afterward with the healed leg. It really was short and then it was long!

And, by the way, I know Who the “healee” was and He was not the man, the pastor. The pastor simply followed the instructions of you know Who.

You are right, for whatever reason – no “ripple occurred or scientist called” in relation to Happy’s healing. But then, that is no surprise to me because I recall at least one account on a television news channel with a physician who explained how he was perplexed about a patient’s medically unexplainable healing and said it could have only been God. Millions watched the story and then life went on without any bells and whistles proclaiming God was or at least could have been responsible.

There have been claims of God’s miracles throughout the ages but it seems to me that there is more attention and interest in the claims about alien abductions and UFO sightings than about anything relating to Jesus.

61. Loree Whitsett - October 20, 2008

I see your point Casey. It is hard to see the world from other peoples eyes and hearts. I’m working hard on not judging anyone for who they are [its one of the hardest things I’ve ever tryed to do].Sometimes in trying to understand someone we judge them in the proess. I like Nancy find it as easy as taking my next breath to believe in Christ and all He is. Thank you Nancy for your words, we are all in different stages, its the end result thats important.
So,I pray for you to have eyes to see and ears to hear.And that for the mush, XO Mom

62. Karen DeArmond - October 20, 2008

How do you think we should define what constitutes ‘appropriate/adequate evidence’ for belief in general?

This is the question Casey asked us. What we discovered is that it is different for each of us. I have thought about this all day, it has been in the back of my mind while I was working.

I need to break it down: What is belief: conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence.

Belief is based on examination of the evidence. What is appropiate or adequate evidence? What you consider appropiate for you may not be the same for me. No wonder this blog is so long, we cannot agree on what is adequate evidence.

I must first decide what I believe. Another word for belief is faith. I have faith that when I walk into a room and flick the switch the light will come on. I do not understand how it works, I know that it will work because I have paid my electric bill and put in a fresh light bulb. Do I need someone to show me how electricity gets from point A to point B before I flip the switch? How will I know if what they tell me is truth? They could tell me anything they wanted and I would not have a clue unless I searched it out and learned all I could about electricity. I choose to be clueless, I prefer to walk into the room, flip on the switch and let there be light. I believe it because I see it without knowing exactly how it works. Which would be adequate evidence.

The problem is that I cannot not separate belief from God, to me the two are tied together. So what is my evidence? The Goodness and Love of God. You say, “take a look at this world…injustice, death, starvation, suffering, pain, abuse, murder, hate.” And you say God is Good and Loving? Yes I do.

What is my evidence? Faith/Belief that even though I can’t make sense out of the “bad” that happens, that I can’t explain or understand why the “bad” happens, that I cannot “see” how it will all work out, that I have confidence in the Character of God who fulfills all His promises. For me this is more than enough evidence that has taken me many years to learn. Some of you will not accept this as reasonable evidence, you will throw it out as it has no basis in the ‘real’ world.

Therein lies the problem…we each have our own view of evidence on which we base our belief. What I consider evidence you may consider bunk and visa versa. I do believe there really isn’t an answer to Casey’s question.

PS. Nancy, I do hope that one day you will meet my sister Loree. She is an amazing woman, with a heart as big as the ocean. Her simplicity of Faith has always amazed me.

63. nicole - October 20, 2008

another thought came up while i was reading my current book (fiction) ‘brief wondrous life…’. without giving any of the story away in case you want to read it, there is a part that I just read tonight that said, referring to a ‘miracle’ of sorts: “and now we arrive at the strangest part of our tale…..but no matter what the truth, remember: dominicans are caribbean and therefore have an extraordinary tolerance for extreme phenomena. how else could we have survived what we survived?”
and it brought me back to this idea of belief and levels of evidence being wrapped up into one’s culture. then I had another thought I want to bounce around: maybe American culture, in many ways, fosters and develops skepticism in our young ones. My evidence: 1. those faith based cultural phenomena in America are debunked at around age 8-10 (hopefully no children read this blog): if you never learned that Santa/Easter Bunny/Toothfairy was fake, maybe you wouldn’t question other tenets of faith? 2. the scientific method drilled into our brains as early as elementary school: testing a hypothesis, breeding skepticism. 3. I had a 3rd but can’t remember it, so I will just say it was something about politics and celebrity and gossip and all of the questioning of character and truth that is involved in all three arenas.
So I would like to amend my earlier comment, and not just say that our beliefs and criteria are influenced by our culture– but that you Casey asking this question is influenced by your culture (I am imagining an 8 year old Casey in his room distraught thinking ‘If Santa Claus isn’t really, then there must be something else out there in my life worth questioning…” I am sorry that you didn’t start this blog 20 years ago Casey….

64. caseyww - October 20, 2008

(RE: Comment 62)

I think this is a really interesting idea that the repeated experience of the light coming on is adequate evidence to believe that the light will continue to come on without knowing how electricity works. This definitely points to a lot of those mysteries out there that science hasn’t tackled. I agree that just because we may not understand the exact mechanism by which something occurs doesn’t need to stop us from having what I would call an operational truth. Maybe it’s incomplete but it works.

I’m interested to explore how this relates to faith more.

65. caseyww - October 20, 2008

(RE: Comment 63)

Interesting idea about cultural basis for truth. More to come on that in the next post.

Luckily my parents are participating here in this forum. They should be able to tell you what 8 year old Casey would have done.

66. Karen DeArmond - October 21, 2008

Faith is the appropiate/adequate evidence.

Sight/understanding is the opposite of Faith;
Faith becomes sight/understanding.

This translates to all we believe, you believe in evolution…do you understand how it works? Can you prove everything you believe?

I believe in Creationism…do I understand how it works? Can I prove everything I believe?

Both of us would answer yes to the last question, yet both of us would disagree about the evidence. Both take Faith.

67. paul - October 21, 2008

Post 62:

I think we are equivocating on the words faith and belief. This is why I tried to break down “belief” into two separate magisteria.

When one has “faith” that the sprinklers will go on at 6AM is not the same thing as saying I have faith that God exists. The reason: you can prove that the sprinklers will go on at 6am because you programmed a machine to do this, and you can repeat test it. If you cared to know more about the exact workings of this machine you could take a class and be able to build it yourself from scratch. Just because at the time, we don’t know exactly how something works doesn’t mean it works because of faith.

Lets take this idea that we have faith in the way you are putting it. I seriously doubt anyone would actually fly an airplane if they thought that just faith would be enough for it to fly and land. You may hold that view, but the millions of researchers, engineers, technicans and mechanics might have something to say about why it isn’t faith that you will in all probability land on the ground safely.

Now, we as humans don’t operate with a full understanding of everything that goes on around us, nor should we spend all day figuring out how airplanes, toasters, cars, showers and light bulbs work. The reason? Because trusted experts have unanimously come to this conclusion that they do work AND you can test that they work for yourself. We do defer to experts on many things, but that does not make that thing taken on faith if a large body of people have already tested this. Does it require faith to know that when you put your glasses on you will see clearer? Do you really need to know the entire workings of lens optics to come to the conclusion without faith that “my glasses will make me see better”?

68. Loree Whitsett - October 21, 2008

Nicole, we as Casey parents did not want to tell our kids that there was a big man with a white beard that comes into our home and leaves them gifts.We worked really hard for what we gave them so we took the credit and they knew it came from people that loved them.We did tell them that santa was a good man that loved God and lived along time ago and that the spirit of Saint Nick lives in other people would go to the poor kids that did have enough, and I think we told them he put stuff in there stockings. But that did not last long.Casey was always a thinker,always older than his age and a great joy.


69. Nancy O. - October 21, 2008

I think faith is primarily a conviction based upon hearing and/or reading. In relation to our invisisible God, faith is full acknowledgement and firm conviction.

I think belief, in contrast, is an opinion held in good faith without necessary reference to its proof.

70. Sam - October 21, 2008

In Response to Anthony at #45.

I agree with you. You are reinforcing the post I made early on (which was pretty well ignored) and that we choose our beliefs based upon our perceived understanding of the world at large. (I understand Gravity, I see something following those laws, I agree that it is doing what it should be doing.)

Your response noted that your belief is based upon acceptable standards, cultural and historical standards, your ability to reason and logically discern a conclusion, and an application of your own moral beliefs.

You took the proposed idea (in the case of your example GMFs) and you compared it against your concept of the existing world. The primary action you undertook was comparing this new concept to the existing world and determining if you thought it fit in/made sense and was or was not a ‘good’ thing. (You compared it to your own metaphysical understanding of the world). And you then arrived at a conclusion, based upon how you see the entire world.

The concept of belief in anything is based wholly on how you have been taught/chosen to understand the world. It is not an arbitrary choice as many of the first few posts seemed to imply–when faced with a new concept every person will compare it to their existing body of knowledge/understanding of the world, and do one of 3 things:

1. If it is consistent, they will likely accept it.

2. If it is not consistent, they will either reject it, or modify how they see the world (the laws of your existential metaphysics) to make it fit.

3. They will ignore the discrepancy and refuse to either accept or reject the idea, and merely stick their fingers in their ears and sing a song and ignore the hell out of the idea that causes them a little existential angst. (Sadly, I believe this to be the most common action people take, the other two require bold action–either in denial or rational evaluation of their own metaphysics.)

We all do a combination of all three of the above on a daily basis when confronted with new information that we have yet to sort–and nobody does it with scientific impartiality.

71. Eric - October 21, 2008

To Sam’s list (in comment #70 just above) of three things that people do when integrating “a new concept [into] their existing body of knowledge/understanding of the world”, I’d like to add a fourth:

4. Despite any inconsistency, they simply (and unconsciously) adopt the new concept and do not modify how they see the world.

I think this is actually the most common action, but because it is indistinguishable from action 3 (especially from an outsider’s perspective), it’s easy to think that others are engaging in willful denial of a contradiction while we are constantly evaluating new beliefs against our background worldview.

There’s a good reason why it’s useful, at least temporarily, to maintain what are on the face of it contradictory beliefs: if everytime we encountered something new we had to judge it and adjust our base of knowledge, we probably wouldn’t have time to get on with everyday things like eating and sleeping. But this of course also enables us to keep contradictory beliefs around in our heads without ever really evaluating the contradiction.

72. Sam - October 21, 2008

I agree, though I think that your #4 is included in my #3.

I didn’t disclaim that I believe most of this process to be completely passive. We accept without evaluating, we reject without evaluating and we ignore without asking why. That is because the evaluation of new beliefs is (for the most part) reactionary, based upon the metaphysical schema of the world that we are sporting.

If I implied too heavily that this is a conscious and active process, that was in error. Like eric just said (though i may be taking it to the next pessimist stage), it is nearly always unconscious and reactionary.

Even now with an open discussion most people are expounding rather than exploring their positions (I am doing this too, it’s just an easy, at-hand example of the process.)

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