Is J. Neil Schulman justified (logically) in believing in God?


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JNS wrote: "FYI: My ultimate experience was February 18, 1997. Contact was released in July 1997, so it could not have influenced my experience."

Sagan's novel Contact was published in 1985. I assume Neil hadn't read it by February 1997. But the chronology is neither here nor there. Modern science fiction has been around since, let's say, the 1930s and 1940s. Neil's theology is one influenced by the ideas of sf. God is familiar with the literature.

That specific dialogue in the movie Contact written by James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg was not released until five months after my experience.

This is another case where the context of something I write in this forum is completely ignored to make a cheap irrelevant, paralogical straw-man argument.

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Ghs: So you're saying the effects on a young Rascal's Wanker negate the effect of Pascal's Wager?

George H. Smith asked me to attempt to negate my experience the same way he challenged his own arguments in Atheism: The Case Against God.

My book, I Met God -- God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith documents that that I have attempted to negate my experiences of a real encounter with God.

And here is my bottom line, even today: nothing I experienced can not be explained by conventional means. Nor have I ever claimed otherwise.

Why, then, do I persist in asserting the reality of the experience? Why don't I simply admit that I experienced a temporary break with reality and that my experience was fantasy cooked up by an imaginative brain that was stressed by dehydration and ketosis?

Here's why:

[video deleted]

FYI: My ultimate experience was February 18, 1997. Contact was released in July 1997, so it could not have influenced my experience.

You conveniently left out some relevant background details. Humans had previously received transmissions from a distant planet that gave a detailed blueprint for a mechanism beyond current technological knowledge. At the very least this gave considerable credibility to the experience related by Foster's character. Moreover, as I recall, at the end of the movie there is reference to a suppressed static-filled video tape that corresponds to the length of time reported by Foster's character.

If, in contrast, Foster's character had claimed to have been transported to another planet via a dream or by purely psychic means, and without any independent evidence that intelligent life exists on another planet, then her account would not have been credible. Lastly, keep in mind that her experience could be replicated by others in the same machine that she used. If, say, 100 people used the same machine but got negative results, then this would cast very serious doubts on her story.

So I tell you what, Neil: Have God send you some blueprints for a highly sophisticated device hitherto unknown to humans, and I will take your report more seriously.

Ghs

Perfect example of how you drop context.

James Woods' character in Contact, Michael Kitz, puts forward a perfectly plausible alternative explanation that the message and blueprints were all an expensive scheme to defraud the world, conducted by the eccentric billionaire S.R. Hadden. Kitz makes a perfect George H. Smith argument that nothing extraordinary happened. Ellie Arroway is left with no evidence to present that her experience was anything but subjective. She doesn't have access to the 18 hours of blank static anymore than I have access to anything that can prove my experience was real.

And I don't believe you. If I sent you the blueprints for the Interociter (a movie device stolen from the novel and movie This Island Earth) you'd find some reason to negate them as anything extraordinary.

As I said, the controversy could be settled by having other people use the same device. Foster's speech at the end is an absurd sop to religionists. No competent scientist would say such a thing. It would be relatively easy to verify that the transmission of over 60.000 pages of technical data came from outer space, not from Earth, and any scientist worth her salt would insist that her claims should be verified by repeating the experiment.

Moreover, the character played by James Woods is politically motivated to suppress evidence. It's been a while since I have seen "Contact," but I don't recall that he actually disbelieves the account given by Dr. Arroway (Foster). So do you claim that your evidence has been suppressed by the U.S. Government?

As for your Interocitor, simply reveal detailed blueprints for one that actually works, and we will go from there. At the very least you could make a fortune by selling them.

Meanwhile, are there any other works of fiction that you would like to cite in support of your personal experiences? How about "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and other movies by Ed Wood?

Ghs

Go fuck yourself, you dishonest snide cocksucker.

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The nub of the matter seems to be this: Neil had a subjective experience, for which he has no competent, contemporaneous evidence, other than his own testimony. He has no witnesses, no recordings, and no fingerprints. In fairness to Neil, we wouldn't expect recordings or fingerprints, but a contemporaneous witness would have been nice.

Of course, "evidence" is not the only thing that conceivably support his claims. For instance, during the 8 hour mind meld, God could have told him something or provided an insight that conceivably place tipped the scales somewhat in his favor regarding his claims. I half joked that an explanation for the cure for cancer could do this rather nicely, but something less and more difficult to test than this wouldn't hurt Neil's claims either, for example: an historical insight about a turning point in the Civil War, a comment on Jesus' rank in the pantheon, even something about whether there is such a thing as eternal punishment after death. So far, Neil hasn't offered much in this area either, unless one counts thoughts about Bill Clinton being over his head as president as a qualifying insight in this area. I do not, but perhaps there are great insights God gave Neil that he is not offering, for reasons of his (and God's) own. I have asked for them, and Neil so far is not sharing them.

Separate and apart from contemporaneous evidence and/or worthwhile insights, Neil's responses to standard objections to his experience could conceivably sway some to consider his experience more seriously, but frankly, his responses have revealed--to put it kindly--a fair amount of confusion and backtracking. And not a small amount of name-calling either. Less kindly, one could easily infer from Neil's responses that he is making some of his arguments up as he goes along. Although this doesn't end the matter, Neil has not exactly helped his cause during the course of this thread. One cannot reasonably expect Neil to convert Ghs in five posts or less, but is it asking too much for him to have advanced his argument better than he has done here? I don't think so.

Finally, I could see something vaguely akin to "inspiration" as a basis on which someone might further explore Neil's claims, but there is nothing particularly inspirational about the God he describes.

I, like most of us, have managed to go my whole life without threatening to kill somebody. Our introduction to Neil's God reveals that he has threatened to kill him at least once, and without much cause, as far as I can tell. But more important, in the absence of evidence or insights, there are frankly more inspiring Gods out there to choose from. As I have mentioned in previous posts, there is a decent literature (Carl Jung, Jack Miles, etc.) that argues/implies that the Christian God saw fit to die on the cross not only to allow atonement by us for our wrongs/sins (through belief in Him), but also because He decided/reached the conclusion that He too needed atonement. No offense to Neil, but Carl Jung is Carl Jung and Jack Miles won the Pulitzer Prize for his efforts. Moreover, there is also a fair amount of current theology afoot (known as universalism) that argues that the Christian God's death on the cross not only redeems those who believe, but everyone, including our very own George H. Smith and Starbuckle, who can't bring themselves to believe. One Death fits all, more or less.

My guess is that those inclined to believe in God will likely find a God willing to atone for His own misdeeds and prepared to save everybody as a result of His supreme sacrifice (and for which, for our purposes here, there is a great deal more contemporaneous evidence and subjective testimony) far more inspiring than anything Neil has said about his God.

Here is what seems to be left about Neil's claims: he has little or no competent evidence, he has presented to us no Godly arguments or insights of any significance, and his God is not all that inspiring, except, apparently, to Neil alone, and perhaps his sister.

None of this, of course, affects the sincerity of Neil's claim or the intensity of his 8 hour experience, but, at the end of the day, it is pretty thin gruel for the rest of us.

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Go fuck yourself, you dishonest snide cocksucker.

Okay, but I don't know how it is physically possible to fuck myself. Did God communicate a method of doing this during your chat with him? If so, that information would prove almost as useful to me as an Interlocitor.

Ghs

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Go fuck yourself, you dishonest snide cocksucker.

Okay, but I don't know how it is physically possible to fuck myself. Did God communicate a method of doing this during your chat with him? If so, that information would prove almost as useful to me as an Interlocitor.

Ghs

I came for the ideas and ended up staying for the sex, it seems. Both have been greatly disappointing, especially the latter. I hate to point out this thread is insane. Everybody keeps doing the same thing expecting different results. There haven't been any. Many others have come for the entertainment, I'm sure. I wonder if this one will be good for +500 posts.

--Brant

good God! There are 100 more posts than I thought!

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BC wrote: "There is a basic epistemological problem here. There is no clear way for an uninvolved party to distinguish between a genuine encounter with the Almighty (assuming there is an Almighty) and a psychic dysfunction."

This is true only if it is possible for an Almighty to exist. If the posited Almighty clearly cannot exist, it is easy enough to distinguish between the genuine encounters with the Almighty and an experience of a different character. Only a theist or agnostic can regard Neil's interpretation of his experience as possibly correct.

Question to Neil: do you regard your God as "almighty"? For a theist could dodge the issue by simply declaring his god not to be almighty. And wasn't it medieval Christian scholars who already came to the conclusion that God is not almighty enough to e. g. erase what has already happened? A God for example does not have the power to achieve things like the 1994 Tsunami never to have happened.

But maybe you meant "Almighty" simply as a general synonym for "God", in which case things are less complicated.

Atheists must be aware that, as soon a they declare the existence of a god as impossible, they too will be confronted with the burden of proof. For the most powerful BIT (Believers In Transcendence) argument is "Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence".

So while the atheist can examine and reject alleged evidence provided by BITs as invalid (this is what is currently happening with Neil Schulman's alleged evidence indicating to him the existence of a God), things can quickly unfold in the oposite direction should the atheist make the epistemological thinking error to declare "I know there is no God".

As long as the atheist simply states "I don't believe in a god, and all evidence theists have provided to prove existence of such being does not stand up to epistemological scrutiny", there is no danger of the burden of proof being placed on the atheist.

But claiming to possess knowledge of something is a different issue. In that case, the burden of proof is on the one who claims to possess such knowledge.

But the existence of a god can neither be proved not disproved. That's why I am a religious agnostic.

But to me, being an agnostic does not mean that I don't examine alleged evidence and 'proofs' by either side for their validity and soundness, which implies rejecting god concepts based on premises clearly exposed as false like e. g. a god who created the world in seven days.

Now the theist can choose to mold his concept of a god into something that he thinks cannot be attacked. This is what Neil Schulman has been trying to do here.

Let's look at what he says:

And that is the most important part of why I believe I have something to teach atheists, regardless of whether they regard my experience as real. I represent God as a being that does meet the definition of God (eternal consciousness, creator of the specific "universe" or continuum which we exist in, willful creator of all other consciousness beings) yet whose nature is not unknowable, does not violate the axioms of Existence, Non-Contradiction, and Identity (not "omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent") and the concept of which is not negated by any incontrovertible facts.

Neil is clearly trying to 'rationalize' his god concept in order to fit the principles he, Neil Schulman is interested in. The problem of this approach is obvious: for the identity of that god uncannily resembles another identity: Neil Schulman's own. Neil's God is like an invisible psychological twin miraculously sharing the same values as Neil - Objectivist values, libertarian values, etc, and I bet my bottom euro that this god also likes science fiction. ;)

Neil's stating that he has been God for a while only completes the picture.

Bottom line: Trying to 'humanize' one's god concept carries with it the danger of this god becoming to close to oneself, or too close to ideas one is familiar with anyway.

So the history of god concepts is also the history of humans adapting the god idea to their own world. Just as the god of the Old Testament is molded after the oriental tyrannical potentates the people of that time were familiar with, Neil's god is molded after what he is familiar with. Neil may be surprised to hear that he is merely part of that tradition.

I don't reject "transcendence," but the word has several meanings.

Can you think of a term covering both theistic beliefs in a god and non-theistic concepts like e. g. Buddhism which nontheless do have a transcendent element to them like one's deeds being judged, or the "Nirvana": I'm looking for a terminus technicus but the only one I can think of is "belief in transcendence". Any suggestions?

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The nub of the matter seems to be this: Neil had a subjective experience, for which he has no competent, contemporaneous evidence, other than his own testimony. He has no witnesses, no recordings, and no fingerprints. In fairness to Neil, we wouldn't expect recordings or fingerprints, but a contemporaneous witness would have been nice.

Of course, "evidence" is not the only thing that conceivably support his claims. For instance, during the 8 hour mind meld, God could have told him something or provided an insight that conceivably place tipped the scales somewhat in his favor regarding his claims. I half joked that an explanation for the cure for cancer could do this rather nicely, but something less and more difficult to test than this wouldn't hurt Neil's claims either, for example: an historical insight about a turning point in the Civil War, a comment on Jesus' rank in the pantheon, even something about whether there is such a thing as eternal punishment after death. So far, Neil hasn't offered much in this area either, unless one counts thoughts about Bill Clinton being over his head as president as a qualifying insight in this area. I do not, but perhaps there are great insights God gave Neil that he is not offering, for reasons of his (and God's) own. I have asked for them, and Neil so far is not sharing them.

Separate and apart from contemporaneous evidence and/or worthwhile insights, Neil's responses to standard objections to his experience could conceivably sway some to consider his experience more seriously, but frankly, his responses have revealed--to put it kindly--a fair amount of confusion and backtracking. And not a small amount of name-calling either. Less kindly, one could easily infer from Neil's responses that he is making some of his arguments up as he goes along. Although this doesn't end the matter, Neil has not exactly helped his cause during the course of this thread. One cannot reasonably expect Neil to convert Ghs in five posts or less, but is it asking too much for him to have advanced his argument better than he has done here? I don't think so.

Finally, I could see something vaguely akin to "inspiration" as a basis on which someone might further explore Neil's claims, but there is nothing particularly inspirational about the God he describes.

I, like most of us, have managed to go my whole life without threatening to kill somebody. Our introduction to Neil's God reveals that he has threatened to kill him at least once, and without much cause, as far as I can tell. But more important, in the absence of evidence or insights, there are frankly more inspiring Gods out there to choose from. As I have mentioned in previous posts, there is a decent literature (Carl Jung, Jack Miles, etc.) that argues/implies that the Christian God saw fit to die on the cross not only to allow atonement by us for our wrongs/sins (through belief in Him), but also because He decided/reached the conclusion that He too needed atonement. No offense to Neil, but Carl Jung is Carl Jung and Jack Miles won the Pulitzer Prize for his efforts. Moreover, there is also a fair amount of current theology afoot (known as universalism) that argues that the Christian God's death on the cross not only redeems those who believe, but everyone, including our very own George H. Smith and Starbuckle, who can't bring themselves to believe. One Death fits all, more or less.

My guess is that those inclined to believe in God will likely find a God willing to atone for His own misdeeds and prepared to save everybody as a result of His supreme sacrifice (and for which, for our purposes here, there is a great deal more contemporaneous evidence and subjective testimony) far more inspiring than anything Neil has said about his God.

Here is what seems to be left about Neil's claims: he has little or no competent evidence, he has presented to us no Godly arguments or insights of any significance, and his God is not all that inspiring, except, apparently, to Neil alone, and perhaps his sister.

None of this, of course, affects the sincerity of Neil's claim or the intensity of his 8 hour experience, but, at the end of the day, it is pretty thin gruel for the rest of us.

Maybe you find no inspiration in discovering that we are of the same kind of everlasting consciousness as God, but I do.

Maybe you can't distinguish between "killing" in the sense of extinguishing a conscious being forever, or merely separating that consciousness from its mortal body, but I can.

Maybe you aren't impressed by the idea that God respects others' liberty so much he won't overpower their independent volition, but I am.

And if God didn't give me something I can use as proof of his existence, maybe it's because he foresaw -- as I see now -- that someone bound and determined to choose any other explanation will always be able to find one.

I'm out of here -- and this time if I pray for anything, it's the willpower to mean it.

Edited by J. Neil Schulman
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Go fuck yourself, you dishonest snide cocksucker.

This is awesome. Neil acknowledges that "nothing I experienced can not be explained by conventional means," which is reasonable and shows he understands why no one here makes the leap of faith to belief in an eternal spirit. Great.

Then he posts a Youtube video of a scene from a science fiction movie as an answer to his own question -- if normal non-spirit explanations could account for the phenomena, why does he persist in his faith?

So, our George asks the obvious -- what other science fiction movies could be cited? That's a fair question, even if it threatens Neil with personal annihilation.

But Neil has a conniption.

George might be snide, Neil, and he might be dishonest, and he might be able to auto-fellate, but the question remains in the air: what in heck does a science fiction movie have to do with your resistance to normal explanations?

The only thing I can take from this exchange is that science fiction explanations trump real world explanations.

Which I think Neil Schulman will understand strikes most folk as completely Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

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[To Ghs]: Go fuck yourself, you dishonest snide cocksucker.

Such attacks merely indicate that the attacker has run out of arguments.

That he's willing to use.

All the arguments ran out the door several hundred posts ago. What are left are shadows on the walls and repetitions.

--Brant

thanks for telling us what you tell your grade-school students

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thanks for telling us what you tell your grade-school students

You're welcome. Hope it helped.

I hate to point out this thread is insane.

This thread is not insane at all, but merely shows the problems believers run into when epistemologically challenged.

good God! There are 100 more posts than I thought!

I'm convinced Neil's God will be thrilled to read even more posts about himself, after all, since this God has Objectivist values, he will know that selfishness is considered a virtue. :)

From my 1995 book Self Control Not Gun Control:

A Non-Christian's Prayer To Christ

Of course

You already know what happened.

So I'll just tell it

for the audience.

I'm at the Abbey.

The place where You have the monks.

Only I was at a conference

and it wasn't one of the monks

I was arguing with.

This guy

and I don't have to bring names into this

You know who it was

and so do those who were there

and it's not important for the rest of you

he's a preacher

an official spokesperson

for Jesus

and the Word of God,

particularly the newer stuff.

But the reason I'm listening to him

is that he was close to somebody

whose opinion I really respected

and he really knows his stuff.

Also, I like him a lot

on the first meeting.

Anyway, he's selling me that

the Bible says

You took the bullet for me

And if I don't say it's so

naming the right Names

I don't get into Heaven.

Let me tell you,

I want to get into Heaven.

Eternal rest has no appeal for me.

Neither does swimming in fire.

I say, what about the Jews?

No go, probably, he tells me.

They say God but they don't mean

Christ

and that's a rejection of what

You did

for them.

Some,

the real religious ones

might slip through, though.

And the Mormons, I ask?

You ever look into them?

he asks me.

A scam job, he says.

But the idea, he tells me

Is that if they had the choice

to accept You by name

and they didn't take it,

it's one ticket to a customer.

And the theater is cleared

between shows.

Now, it was late.

I'd been up since early morning

and I was in one of those places

where you take an idea seriously

and run with it.

And I'm thinking,

Okay, God's always been straight with me.

I'll pray again

and if I have to use the name Jesus,

what's the big deal?

Then it hits me.

My parents aren't going.

Neither of them is ever

going to pray to Jesus.

That's goes for all my relatives, too.

Well, maybe except my sister

since I've never been able to

figure out

what she thinks

or who she prays to

or for what.

But I want her in Heaven, too.

It just wouldn't be the same

without her.

My grandmother

the biggest heart I ever knew.

Not there, waiting for me.

My aunt

a great heart

even if I always thought she was

a Communist

if the words Jesus Christ ever

left her lips

it was as a curse.

Probably not in Heaven,

according to my preacher friend.

And there's my ex-wife.

Okay, I admit I didn't make the

smartest move in marrying her

it didn't work out

but, damn it, she has a hard time

believing in You

so that means she's not going either

and if my daughter gets in

she's going to miss her mommy.

My friends.

My beloved friends.

One wrote a book

in which You Killed Yourself.

Another used to believe in you

but doesn't now.

Another one pulls stuff

that even I think is crap

but he's done a lot of good stuff too.

I can't think of three friends

who make it past Your gate

under these rules.

If I ask to go

I'm leaving behind

everyone I loved.

Then I think about the Mormons.

They want so much

to make sure everybody gets into Heaven

that they get genealogies on everybody

then baptize them

even if they're already dead.

Maybe some people are offended by this

but not me.

I think it's sweet.

Looking out for the other guy

particularly the ones who are ready to dump on you.

Now that's Christian charity.

You have to love the Mormons

for making maximum effort.

This was starting to put me in a panic.

Let me see if I have this right

I say to You

In LA Times letters page style.

Someone who doesn't love anybody here

they don't care if anyone's left behind

so it doesn't cost them anything to

use one particular name

and get into Heaven.

No problem for the guy who never

learned to love

he gets in.

Somebody who's a coward

and would sell out his family

because they didn't use the right name

but because this moral cripple uses the right Name

he gets in?

What sort of God

I ask You

would set things up this way?

This would be really lame.

I'd cry for the Universe

made out of such cheap materials.

And I think of Heinlein's story

where he already looked at this problem.

You could always count on him

to get to the point.

Hey, Heinlein wouldn't be in Heaven either,

under these rules

and there goes the most interesting man

I ever met.

So cowards go to Heaven

and it's not the home of the brave?

Lovers and families

are split up for all time

with those who use Your Right Name

left in eternal grief

or worse

given some forever heroin?

I know.

That's not how C.S. Lewis

played it

in his book about a visit to Heaven.

He stacked the deck

so everyone who's there

is happy

and everyone who's left behind

is drained of all that was good

about them.

You know what?

That sucks, too.

I don't believe it.

That's not how God would set things up.

That's the kind of universe the devil

would think up.

Then it hits me.

If you have to make this choice

between being a selfish coward

looking out for Number One

and getting into Heaven

or rejecting You

because friends and lovers aren't going?

It's a test.

It's like the gag You pulled on Abraham

to test his faith.

Take your son

and sacrifice him to Me.

Only at the last minute

You tell him,

Good Job,

Just kidding.

That's got to be right, right?

If I love

You have to love more than a mortal, right?

You've had more practice at it.

If I don't want to go to heaven

if all the good guys aren't going

if those I love won't be there

then that's out of respect

for an absolute standard of

good and evil

that even God would have to obey,

right?

God has to be better than I am,

and care about good and evil

more than I do

Don't You?

And if I

cheap as I am

would cut some slack

to let the marginal cases in

You know

the ones who tried

but didn't get it completely right

but they must have some good in them if

other people love them

then you'd cut an ever better deal,

right?

Because that's what God would do.

Listen, God.

You've got a p-r problem down here.

You've got people spreading bad news

about You.

Saying that you're cheap

and grumpy

and bureaucratic

and mean.

And they say Your Own Book said so.

The same people say

if I take this attitude

I'm choosing to reject You.

I'm in the devil's teeth.

I'm just a crackpot

heading for the kiln

for refiring.

I think it's a slander on You.

I think this is a libel.

I think that THIS is Satan's lie.

Not MY creator, buddy!

He wouldn't be like that.

Take it back!

God is good

it says so right on page One

and if You ask me

somebody better take a blue

pencil to the stuff

that says otherwise

no matter what title it says

on the Book cover.

So, God.

By any Name.

Including Jesus Christ.

I don't believe that about You.

You take the good guys to Heaven

No matter what name they say

or even if their lips don't move

or maybe even if they don't believe

what they don't see

because that, after all, makes sense too.

And, I pray, I'll be seeing you

and all my lost beloved

just like You promised elsewhere

when it's my time.

Amen.

June 29, 1995

Neil,

I have the feeling that you were tormented by fear and anxiety at the time you wrote this. You are a seeker, there's no doubt in my mind as to that. May your search for sense lead you to where your mind and spirit can find peace.

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George might be snide, Neil, and he might be dishonest, and he might be able to auto-fellate....?

You got one out of three right. Of the two remaing alternatives, one is impossible and the other is unlikely.

Ghs

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[To Ghs]: Go fuck yourself, you dishonest snide cocksucker.

Such attacks merely indicate that the attacker has run out of arguments.

One of Neil's tactics has been to argue from hypothetical examples. This is always a suspicious enterprise. As Kant astutely pointed out in explaining why he didn't use many examples in Critique of Pure Reason, examples can frequently divert one's attention to irrelevant details. Moreover, examples don't speak for themselves. Their significance, if they have any, must be interpreted by placing them within a broader theoretical context, so people with different theories will often interpret the same example much differently.

Examples serve a useful purpose only if they can illustrate and thereby clarify the fundamental elements of an argument. But Neil's examples have typically been more complex than his primary argument, so they function as little more than decoys. There are so many possible and unspecified variables in Neil's examples that it is sometimes difficult to say with complete confidence how one would evaluate a hypothetical knowledge claim.

In the final analysis, Neil is using the old argument from human fallibility and limited knowledge. Isn't it possible that knowledge claims that are presently unsubstantiated might eventually be verified? Well, yes and no. This depends on the nature of the claim, and Neil's shotgun approach does not even begin to address the epistemological complexities involved here.

In addition, Neil has not considered the other side of this general argument, namely, that what we currently believe may eventually turn out to be false. In Neil's extreme version, in which virtually any knowledge claim, no matter how fantastic, may turn out to be true, it follows that virtually any knowledge claim, no matter how much we may be convinced of its truth, may turn out to be false. But Neil will not even concede the possibility that his present belief (that he talked to God) may in fact be false. Neil is in effect claiming an infallibility for his own beliefs while harping on the fallibility of skeptics.

Ghs

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Neil wrote in response to a post by Starbuckle: "That specific dialogue in the movie Contact written by James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg was not released until five months after my experience.

"This is another case where the context of something I write in this forum is completely ignored to make a cheap irrelevant, paralogical straw-man argument."

Granted, I've skimmed some of the posts. I haven't studied every post in this tribblish thread as assiduously as I should have if I were to immunize myself against the charge of completely ignoring this or that detail of them.

Against the charge of sullen obstreperousness and axe-murdering, therefore, I plead mere lazy slipshoddery. I really did simply miss the part of the relevant post or posts explaining how the weight of some point illuminating the God-meeting hinged on how the dialogue of the movie "Contact" differed from that of the book _Contact_. I may review the thread at some point to try to see where I ganged aft agley on this and other questions.

But if I erred, why not simply point out that I did err and how I did err, rather than imply that I went out of my way to dishonestly ignore the vast differences between the novel and the movie and the relevance of these to the God-claims? Accidentally missing a relevant point, if that's what I did, and actively ignoring a relevant point, which I did not do, are two different things. I just wish Neil's God were more forgiving. In any case, there have been more than a few reports of coincidental similarities in executions of ideas by fictioneers who often haven't necessarily read each other. I'm not sure how much hay one can make out of these things, or how much gold one can spin out of such hay. In conclusion, it's neither here nor there ipso facto dipse ixit with respect to the plausibility of the God-claims whether "Contact: the Movie" came before or after Neil's memoir.

My broader observation stands, and I do think that it is relevant to the question of this thread. If Neil were not a science fiction writer familiar with and practiced in the embellishments possible to familiar ideas, I think it would be less likely that he would have come up with the God-conversation and theology that he did. For example, in Neil's novel, written after Neil was God for a while, God explains that Adam and Eve were computer hackers. (I should stipulate--to forestall further charges about the ignoring and the paralogism-- that I don't remember offhand, first, whether this detail is a formal part of the theology or intended as a novelist's creative license; and, second, whether Neil clearly makes this distinction in this and other instances.)

Re another case where I may have "ignored" an argument-- If someone can point out to me the post in which Neil has explained his assertions about the multiple universes, what the evidence for his characterization or assumptions about these is, and how this evidence demonstrates the identity-preserving causal mechanisms available to his God, I would really really appreciate it. I've been looking for that post but I may have missed it if it was not sucked into one of the other universes. Thanks in advance.

Edited by Starbuckle
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GHS wrote: "There are so many possible and unspecified variables in Neil's examples that it is sometimes difficult to say with complete confidence how one would evaluate a hypothetical knowledge claim. ...Neil is using the old argument from human fallibility and limited knowledge. Isn't it possible that knowledge claims that are presently unsubstantiated might eventually be verified? Well, yes and no. This depends on the nature of the claim, and Neil's shotgun approach does not even begin to address the epistemological complexities involved here."

Yes, I think this is fair.

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what in heck does a science fiction movie have to do with your resistance to normal explanations?

Those of us who admire Ayn Rand are surely aware that a short work of art can often convey more than thousands of words of didactic argument.

Judith

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what in heck does a science fiction movie have to do with your resistance to normal explanations?

Those of us who admire Ayn Rand are surely aware that a short work of art can often convey more than thousands of words of didactic argument.

Judith

Yes. And this picture:

yawn%20big%20funny.jpg

outweighs the content of the entire thread.

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what in heck does a science fiction movie have to do with your resistance to normal explanations?

Those of us who admire Ayn Rand are surely aware that a short work of art can often convey more than thousands of words of didactic argument.

You are definitely right that Neil intended the excerpt from Contact to speak for him. He made that explicit in an email exchange with me subsequent to his departure.

For those interested (Ted, you can go lay down behind the stove and scratch for a while), Neil has put a post up at his blog -- I argue God with the Atheists. He won't be back, but invites the readers of his blog to visit here.

So the OL gang has now run off all the recent inbound spiritual cranks. I shall join Ted behind the stove.

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WSS wrote: "He won't be back..."

You have faith.

"So the OL gang has now run off all the recent inbound spiritual cranks."

What do you mean, "run off"? I wanted to find out what his argument was.

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I'm out of here -- and this time if I pray for anything, it's the willpower to mean it.

Are you lashed to the mast, Neil?

Neil, Neil! Hear the siren song of Objectivist Living! Whooooo! Whooooo! All you've ever wanted! And More! More! More! Whoooo! Whoooo! Whoooo! Whooo!

---Brant

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As I said, the controversy could be settled by having other people use the same device. Foster's speech at the end is an absurd sop to religionists. No competent scientist would say such a thing. It would be relatively easy to verify that the transmission of over 60.000 pages of technical data came from outer space, not from Earth, and any scientist worth her salt would insist that her claims should be verified by repeating the experiment.

I enjoyed Contact, but there definitely were a few spots in the film which were really lame. The idea that someone could successfully fake a signal from outer space is ridiculous. That Neil wants to believe that it is a "perfectly plausible alternative explanation" is quite telling.

Another lame spot in the movie is when McConaughey's character challenges Foster's to prove that she loved her dad, and, like the ridiculous fake signal theory, this also trips her up. It's pretty pathetic that her character was required to become so incredibly stupid at moments in order to help deliver the intended message.

J

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As I said, the controversy could be settled by having other people use the same device. Foster's speech at the end is an absurd sop to religionists. No competent scientist would say such a thing. It would be relatively easy to verify that the transmission of over 60.000 pages of technical data came from outer space, not from Earth, and any scientist worth her salt would insist that her claims should be verified by repeating the experiment.

I enjoyed Contact, but there definitely were a few spots in the film which were really lame. The idea that someone could successfully fake a signal from outer space is ridiculous. That Neil wants to believe that it is a "perfectly plausible alternative explanation" is quite telling.

Another lame spot in the movie is when McConaughey's character challenges Foster's to prove that she loved her dad, and, like the ridiculous fake signal theory, this also trips her up. It's pretty pathetic that her character was required to become so incredibly stupid at moments in order to help deliver the intended message.

J

I also found the conversation about Foster's father extremely annoying. I haven't read Sagan's novel, so can anyone tell me whether it contains a comparable scene?

On the other matter, I checked the Wiki plot summary of Sagan's novel and found this:

Ultimately, a machine is successfully built and activated, transporting five passengers – including Ellie – through a series of wormholes to a place near the center of the Milky Way galaxy, where they meet the senders in the guise of persons significant in the lives of the travelers, whether living or dead. Some of the travelers' questions are answered by the senders, with the senders ultimately hinting at proof of a Universal Creator contained inside one of the transcendental numbers. Upon returning to Earth, the passengers discover that what seemed like many hours to them passed by in only 20 minutes on Earth, and that all their video footage has been erased, presumably by the time changing magnetic fields they were exposed to inside of the wormholes. They are left with no proof of their stories and are accused of fabrication.

Thus, though Ellie has traveled across the galaxy and actually encountered extraterrestrial beings, she cannot prove it. The government officials deduce an international conspiracy, blaming the world's richest man in an attempt to perpetuate himself, embarrass the government and get lucrative deals from the machine consortium's multi-trillion-dollar project.

The message is claimed to be a fabrication from a secret artificial man-made satellite(s) that cannot be traced, because the message stopped once the machine was activated, a feat that is impossible unless one considers time travel feasible, and Ellie and other scientists are implicated.

Ellie, a lifelong religious skeptic, finds herself asking the world to take a leap of faith and believe what she and the others say happened to them. She finds only one person willing to take that leap: Palmer Joss, a minister, older man introduced early in the book.

In a kind of postscript, Ellie, acting upon a suggestion by the senders of the message, works on a program which computes the digits of π to record lengths and in different bases. Very, very far from the decimal point (1020) and in base 11, it finds that a special pattern does exist when the numbers stop varying randomly and start producing 1s and 0s in a very long string. The string's length is the product of 11 prime numbers. The 1s and 0s when organized as a square of specific dimensions form a rasterized circle.

The extraterrestrials suggest that this is an artist's signature, woven into the very fabric of space-time. It is another message, one from the universe's creator. Yet the extraterrestrials are just as ignorant to its meaning as Ellie, as it could be still some sort of a statistical anomaly. They also make reference to older artifacts built from space time itself (namely the wormhole transit system) abandoned by a prior civilization. A line in the book suggests that the image is a foretaste of deeper marvels hidden even further within Pi. This new pursuit becomes analogous to SETI; it is another search for meaningful signals in apparent noise. This idea, among other plot points, was omitted from the film version.

Ghs

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JNS wrote: "Why, then, do I persist in asserting the reality of the experience? Why don't I simply admit that I experienced a temporary break with reality and that my experience was fantasy cooked up by an imaginative brain that was stressed by dehydration and ketosis?"

This question, with the video clip from "Contact" as the answer, is what I nefariously neglected to comment on when I pointed out with regard to Neil's postscriptive FYI in re the release of the movie "Contact" that Sagan's book preceded the movie by many years (while carefully adding that I assumed that Neil had not read the book by the time God spoke to him). (Just FYI: don't reply to FYIs with FYIs of your own, no matter how congruent vis-a-vis the vectored data point; you'll just catch grief for it.)

Setting aside everything that was supposed to have happened in "Contact" and whether the events are credible, whether the Foster character is behaving realistically as a scientist, whether the script sucks or not, etc., and looking only at what we can glean thematic-import-wise from this one clip of this one scene, it all boils down to sincerity of emotion as the foundation and proof of truthiness.

When asked by the obnoxious but sensible Woods character why, given how admittedly un-credible her claims are, Foster-character doesn't simply admit that her experience didn't happen in the way she construes, she says, "Because I CAN'T," with all the emotive power you could want in a person stricken by inability to share the cosmically game-changing perceptions. Wants to share the transcendent experience, we're not alone, etc.

The gist of the scene is the woman's very sincere emotional conviction about what she thinks happened to her. Whether emotion trumps rational appeal to evidentiary considerations in the rest of the movie I don't know, as it's been years since I saw the flick, even longer since I read the book; but emotion does seem to trump such considerations in this not exactly soul-rattling clip. However, neither sincerity of belief, depth of belief, persistence of belief, nor any other quantum, flavor or contour of belief constitutes warrant for belief. Belief properly comes AFTER you get the proper warrants. And what one believes depends on one's methods for arriving at beliefs, methods subject to improvement.

Neil claims to have preserved an unstinting allegiance to rationalism and concomitant rejection of faith as a means of knowledge; yet these claims have been exploded on 97 separate and distinct occasions by George H. Smith in this thread, and been most signally belied by Neil's habitual reliance on ludicrous hypotheses in lieu of evidence, as explained in George's summary critique (post 563) of Neil's approach.

Why so paralogistic?

Neil had a feeling that he was God or that God was him during the eight hours of his trance. His trance did not happen in a vacuum. He had for years been wanting to believe in God. That's not too surprising, as many people do. Moreover, he's a science fiction writer and, even more moreover, a C.S. Lewis fan who in the process of rethinking his atheism had been finding more than charming storytelling to like in Lewis. Finally, by his own account, Neil had been suffering paranoia and severe physical debilitation or trauma of some kind just prior to his temp God-hood.

My hypothesis is that the rethinking+longing+imagination+trauma (all of these, not just the physical trauma) render Neil's hallucination-or-whatever-it-was at least explicable, if not likely or inevitable. But none of these factors, alone or in any combination with each other or with anything else, support to any extent the conclusion that Neil became God or that God became Neil. Yes, that's the sentence I just wrote; no reason to believe that Neil became God or that God became Neil, even briefly. So why indeed doesn't Neil then just accept that he didn't do the God-becoming? Because he "can't"; about which conviction he is emotional and sincere.

Neil says that during the event, he felt just as if he were God awakening to the knowledge that he is inhabiting the Neil-human; the "game was up"; God was revealed to himself. Okayyyyyyyyy... but...what DOES that "feel like," to know all of a sudden that one is God and to walk around emitting God-like insights?

Keep in mind, Neil's FEELING here is fundamentally all that Neil himself has to go by as proof that what his feeling conveyed to him is true--the boatload of purportedly transcendent super-cognitive insights being of the sort normally possible to any bright and talented professional dream-weaver or psychologically perceptive person enjoying a biochemically enhanced creativity binge.

Well, we know what it feels like to be God. It feels like what Neil felt like during his long-awaited union with the deity. QED. The 1) interpretation and the 2) feeling and the 3) belief are 1) coextensive and 2) mutually reinforcing, not to mention 3) self-reifying: the logic-proof, double-trinity package deal. Thus, if you believe that you are God or were for a while, that's all the proof you need to justify the conviction that you are God, or were for a while. You surely "can't" believe otherwise. At least, not without reassessing how you arrive at one's beliefs.

I hope that I am now on point.

Edited by Starbuckle
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Objectivism is not based on atheism, only its axioms.

The axioms of a philosophy are its premises. Rand explicitly formulated Objectivism's atheistic axiom: "No superantural dimension exists" (AR), which slams the door shut for any god idea to be snuck in through an epistemological backdoor, by e. g. boldly decaring that the supernatural is real, as Neil did. Neil was clearly trying to dissolve the boundary between subjective and objective here because he wanted to marry his "god" idea to Objectivist thinking principles; a venture which was bound to fail.

One is an atheist, aside from atheists who make it a religion in itself, for the same reason one doesn't believe the moon is made out of cheese. It is not believed. It is without faith. The cheesists might make an issue of this and exclaim that one of the pillars of Objectivism is non-cheesism.

Unlike the term "God", the term "moon" has a real, objective referent, the substance of which has been examined. That's the reason why there exist no "cheesists".

Since the term "god" has no objective referent, any discussion about a "god" is, from an epistemological standpoint, reduced to a discussion about a creation of the human imagination, with the god existing merely as a local resident in the mind of the believers. Declaring objective existence of what is subjectively imagined is a thinking errror.

Neil's posts offer ample study of this thinking error.

Example:

I prayed for proof. I then experienced what I regard as proof.

NS erroneously believes his subjective experiences qualify as proof.

[To Ghs]: Your arguments are consistently to drop context, misinterpret my statements by either adding elements I don't assert or leaving out elements I do, and to take specific answers to specific questions and generalize them to the point of absurdity.

Ghs was merely testing the validity and soundness of the argument as such, for which it is necessary to abstract from the given context and to transfer it.

Typical example of such procedure was Ghs asking Neil if he can give him a valid and sound reason why he should believe his god encounter more than e. g. Joan of Arc's god encounter.

Neil could have simply admitted "No, I cannot give you any such reason", but such 'epistemological honesty' comes with a huge price for the believer though. For it would place his visions/god experiences on a same level with the visions of all kinds of other believers, his own visions thus becoming a mere ingredient of a 'believer's brew' the religious and ideological mishmash of which is evident to even the less skeptical.

Since Neil wanted to save his so-called god encounter from being thrown into the mix with other so-called god encounters, he had only one option left: trying to discredit Joan of Arc's god encounter as not convincing. So he accused her of hallucinating (which one could call the pot calling the kettle black), and also arbitrarily declared the goals and values of his god as being morally superior to those which Joan of Arc's god suggested to her.

He tried to pull the "Since my god is morally better than Joan's, my god is the real one." card. Sounds crazy, but that's how it went down. In a desperate move, Neil now tried to switch from epistemology to ethics, and when that happens, you can bet that your debate opponent is already epistemologically checkmate. And Neil was checkmate. In fact he never stood a chance, and the epistemological rock against which his vessel crashed was this statement:

Claiming that God exists while failing to meet the burden of proof "merely communicates to others that one has a particular mental attitude known as belief".

(Ghs, Why Atheism, p. 32)

All attempts throughout history to "prove" the existence of a god have resulted in the same 'shipwreck'.

I wish Neil all the best though, and regret that he has left OL so fast.

Edited by Xray
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