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


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George, nowhere will you find me saying that anything in scripture is to be taken on face value as either historical or "true." But nonetheless even fiction tells us a lot about reality. In the case of scripture I think there are kernels of truth that can be found, separating wheat from chaff. And I find stories in scripture that parallel some of my own experiences, so I examine them more closely and use them for whatever value I can get out of them.

I have no problem with this, but it has no relevance to the problem of historical accuracy. It was you, not I, who mentioned the analogy of evaluating the testimony of witnesses in a court. Btw, I would think that you would find more of value in the noncanonical "Gnostic Gospels" than in the Bible.

Going back to your statement that "one's personal experience preferences count for zilch when analyzing historical records," I'd say that one's personal experiences are the only basis for building up a set of criteria which can analyze the external world, its accounts, stories, and records -- and that includes what premises of scientific inquiry one regards as definitive. For example, I believe that while the principle of parsimony -- Occam's Razor -- is useful, reality is messy enough to give us lots of cases where the simplest explanation is wrong. Likewise, just because the principles of positivism require falsifiability in testing facts, I'm confident that non-falsifiable facts play a central role in trying to figure out what is and isn't. Lots of cases boil down to "preferencing" one interpretation over another with nothing else to go on than what one's total life experience brings to the analysis.

We unavoidably use our personal experiences when attempting to understand history, because we have no other experience to draw upon. But our personal experiences are not the same as our personal experience preferences, which is the expression you initially used. A good historian will attempt, as much as possible, to exclude his personal preferences from his historical evaluations. This is the essence of objectivity --an ideal that, though it cannot be completing achieved, can nevertheless be approximated.

Occam's Razor is more of a rough guideline than a rule, and it is more useful in science than in history, where it has little application. But the issue of naturalistic explanations has nothing to do with Occam's Razor. Rather, this has to do with the issue of what qualifies as an adequate historical explanation to begin with.

Edward Gibbon addressed this issue in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In his scandalous account that attributed the rise of Christianity to purely natural rather than to supernatural causes, he wrote, somewhat tongue-in-cheek:

The theologian may indulge the pleasing task of describing Religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her nature purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian. He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings.

Our curiosity is naturally prompted to inquire by what means the Christian faith obtained so remarkable a victory over the established religions of the earth. To this inquiry an obvious but unsatisfactory answer may be returned; that it was owing to the convincing evidence of the doctrine itself, and to the rule providence of its great Author. But as truth and reason seldom find so favourable a reception in the world, and as the wisdom of Providence frequently condescends to use the passions of the human heart, and the general circumstances of mankind, as instruments to execute its purpose, we may still be permitted, though with becoming submission, to ask, not indeed what were the first, but what were the secondary causes of the rapid growth of the Christian church?

Although Gibbon was addressing a different issue than the one we are considering here, the same basic principle applies. History, by its very nature, deals with natural, or what Gibbon called "secondary," causes. If the historian leaves this framework, all bets are off.

Lastly, I'm not a positivist.

Ghs

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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, nowhere will you find me saying that anything in scripture is to be taken on face value as either historical or "true." But nonetheless even fiction tells us a lot about reality. In the case of scripture I think there are kernels of truth that can be found, separating wheat from chaff. And I find stories in scripture that parallel some of my own experiences, so I examine them more closely and use them for whatever value I can get out of them.

I have no problem with this, but it has no relevance to the problem of historical accuracy. It was you, not I, who mentioned the analogy of evaluating the testimony of witnesses in a court. Btw, I would think that you would find more of value in the noncanonical "Gnostic Gospels" than in the Bible.

Going back to your statement that "one's personal experience preferences count for zilch when analyzing historical records," I'd say that one's personal experiences are the only basis for building up a set of criteria which can analyze the external world, its accounts, stories, and records -- and that includes what premises of scientific inquiry one regards as definitive. For example, I believe that while the principle of parsimony -- Occam's Razor -- is useful, reality is messy enough to give us lots of cases where the simplest explanation is wrong. Likewise, just because the principles of positivism require falsifiability in testing facts, I'm confident that non-falsifiable facts play a central role in trying to figure out what is and isn't. Lots of cases boil down to "preferencing" one interpretation over another with nothing else to go on than what one's total life experience brings to the analysis.

We unavoidably use our personal experiences when attempting to understand history, because we have no other experience to draw upon. But our personal experiences are not the same as our personal experience preferences, which is the expression you initially used. A good historian will attempt, as much as possible, to exclude his personal preferences from his historical evaluations. This is the essence of objectivity --an ideal that, though it cannot be completing achieved, can nevertheless be approximated.

Occam's Razor is more of a rough guideline than a rule, and it is more useful in science than in history, where it has little application. But the issue of naturalistic explanations has nothing to do with Occam's Razor. Rather, this has to do with the issue of what qualifies as an adequate historical explanation to begin with.

Edward Gibbon addressed this issue in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In his scandalous account that attributed the rise of Christianity to purely natural rather than to supernatural causes, he wrote, somewhat tongue-in-cheek:

The theologian may indulge the pleasing task of describing Religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her nature purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian. He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings.

Our curiosity is naturally prompted to inquire by what means the Christian faith obtained so remarkable a victory over the established religions of the earth. To this inquiry an obvious but unsatisfactory answer may be returned; that it was owing to the convincing evidence of the doctrine itself, and to the rule providence of its great Author. But as truth and reason seldom find so favourable a reception in the world, and as the wisdom of Providence frequently condescends to use the passions of the human heart, and the general circumstances of mankind, as instruments to execute its purpose, we may still be permitted, though with becoming submission, to ask, not indeed what were the first, but what were the secondary causes of the rapid growth of the Christian church?

Although Gibbon was addressing a different issue than the one we are considering here, the same basic principle applies. History, by its very nature, deals with natural, or what Gibbon called "secondary," causes. If the historian leaves this framework, all bets are off.

Lastly, I'm not a positivist.

Ghs

SEK3* (entirely Objectivist in his epistemology and an atheist for all of his life past childhood) always emphasized that there is no such thing as an objective point of view. All points of view reflect the assumptions, if not the biases, of the speaker or writer, making them to one extent or another subjective. SEK3 suggested the best you could hope for is someone self-aware of their own assumptions and biases, and who declares them up front to the reader or audience.

Regarding historical events as "naturalistic" is rather odd when one includes the assumption of human free volition, as most Objectivists do. I'm not even sure the words "natural" or "supernatural" ultimately have any difference in meaning. A natural event is one we think we know the causes of; a supernatural event is one the cause of which we can't yet explain.

Let me give you an example, and it's one I brought up on the Amazon.com page writing a user comment on a Richard Dawkins book.

All attempts to negate intelligent design come down to providing a mechanistic theory of cause and effect, and I include statistical probabilities into this paradigm. But there's no way to trace this process all the way back to a first cause if that cause is not, itself, part of the specific space-time continuum we call the universe. The moment there's any possibility whatsoever of a causative agency entering from an additional continuum, all analysis grinds to a halt. So one can argue as reasonably that an intelligent consciousness residing outside our continuum designed our entire "world" (continuum, universe, heavens and the earth -- whatever you choose to tag it) and everything unfolded naturally from that architecture as one can argue that the whole shebang is self-starting or possibly even periodic. One can argue for intelligent design of this continuum without ever having to dispute evolution or natural selection as the means the animal life on this planet ended up here.

Nor if one is positing an external incursion into this continuum must one limit the assumption to a single architectural planning, with no revisions. If time is a function of a particularly continuum, incursion could exist at any point on the timeline. It just requires a mind with free will able to navigate to a specific point of entry, and externally impose an effect at that point. Lacking a good basis to track this sort of entry, it's tagged supernatural -- when, really, it would be entirely natural except for the "geographic" point of origin.

Now, is there any reason to take multiple continua seriously? Sure, because the best science we have does.

There's an old rhyme about a student of mathematics who ponders the square root of infinity and switches to the school of divinity. Having had experiences (with sufficient reason to satisfy my initial skepticism) that I regard as genuine contacts with people we consider the dead, tell me why what theologians call "heaven" can't be a better populated continuum somewhere on the 11 dimensions of the "brane," and I'll be more willing to consider my views crankish.

*Samuel Edward Konkin III, author of the New Libertarian Manifesto and editor of various "New Libertarian" magazines.

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SEK3 (entirely Objectivist in his epistemology and an atheist for all of his life past childhood) always emphasized that there is no such thing as an objective point of view.

Who's SEK3?

Likewise, outside of fundamentalist circles, virtually no biblical scholar would claim any longer that Matthew wrote the Book of Matthew, or that Mark wrote the Book of Mark, or that Luke wrote the Book of Luke. Many of the epistles attributed to Paul, however, were probably written by him.

In short, in most biblical accounts you are dealing with accounts that are far removed, whether by decades or by centuries, from real witnesses. You would never get a chance to evaluate the credibility of such "witnesses" in court, because they would never be permitted to testify in the first place. It's called "hearsay."

There's a writer named Bart Ehrman who's written some very accessible books on the history of the New Testament. Jesus, Interrupted was one of them. He has talks and debates available on YouTube.

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J. Neil Schulman wrote: "All points of view reflect the assumptions, if not the biases, of the speaker or writer, making them to one extent or another subjective."

Is the following an objective statement? "All points of view reflect the assumptions, if not the biases, of the speaker or writer, making them to one extent or another subjective."

If "subjective" is defined as "produced by a mind," then all assumptions, conclusions, inferences and statements of whatever kind are "subjective." But in that case, what is the point of distinguishing between a concept of subjectivity and a concept of objectivity? Obviously, "objectivity" has to do with method. If abiding by facts and logic are central to one's approach, one is more objective than if one merely indulges feelings and impulses and regards facts as annoying irrelevancies. Any time in discussion we point to a fact and say, "But aren't you forgetting Fact X? Doesn't that contradict what you're claiming?" we are relying on the possibility and importance of being objective.

It's true that anybody already has some theoretical understanding of the world when he comes to some new observation or issue, and that it's often useful and critical to know what a person's viewpoint is. But why would this mean that we can't be objective in either assessing either what's new to our cognitive territory or what's old (our current understanding)?

JNS: "SEK3 (entirely Objectivist in his epistemology and an atheist for all of his life past childhood) always emphasized that there is no such thing as an objective point of view."

Central to Objectivism is the claim that objectivity is possible. That's where the name comes from. If SK disagreed with that, he couldn't have been "entirely Objectivist" in his epistemology. It's not a side issue.

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J. Neil Smith wrote: "Now, is there any reason to take multiple continua seriously? Sure, because the best science we have does....

"...11 dimensions of the 'brane.' "

What is the definition of and scientific evidence for multiple continua?

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J. Neil Schulman wrote: "All points of view reflect the assumptions, if not the biases, of the speaker or writer, making them to one extent or another subjective."

Is the following an objective statement? "All points of view reflect the assumptions, if not the biases, of the speaker or writer, making them to one extent or another subjective."

If "subjective" is defined as "produced by a mind," then all assumptions, conclusions, inferences and statements of whatever kind are "subjective." But in that case, what is the point of distinguishing between a concept of subjectivity and a concept of objectivity? Obviously, "objectivity" has to do with method. If abiding by facts and logic are central to one's approach, one is more objective than if one merely indulges feelings and impulses and regards facts as annoying irrelevancies. Any time in discussion we point to a fact and say, "But aren't you forgetting Fact X? Doesn't that contradict what you're claiming?" we are relying on the possibility and importance of being objective.

It's true that anybody already has some theoretical understanding of the world when he comes to some new observation or issue, and that it's often useful and critical to know what a person's viewpoint is. But why would this mean that we can't be objective in either assessing either what's new to our cognitive territory or what's old (our current understanding)?

JNS: "SEK3 (entirely Objectivist in his epistemology and an atheist for all of his life past childhood) always emphasized that there is no such thing as an objective point of view."

Central to Objectivism is the claim that objectivity is possible. That's where the name comes from. If SK disagreed with that, he couldn't have been "entirely Objectivist" in his epistemology. It's not a side issue.

"Is the following an objective statement? 'All points of view reflect the assumptions, if not the biases, of the speaker or writer, making them to one extent or another subjective.'"

It's an axiomatic statement, inasmuch as positing the contrary requires omniscience and the ability to operate entirely vertfrei. The very nature of having a volitional consciousness precludes that.

"But in that case, what is the point of distinguishing between a concept of subjectivity and a concept of objectivity? Obviously, "objectivity" has to do with method."

I don't dispute that one can make mathematical statements, or deductively true statements, or statements as true to one's cognition as realistically possible (thus avoiding the analytic-synthetic dichotomy Rand so despised); I do dispute that one can entirely remove one's assumptions and biases from any attempt to solve an existential problem -- even if one is using a set of fixed rules to limit the method of exploration.

"JNS: 'SEK3 (entirely Objectivist in his epistemology and an atheist for all of his life past childhood) always emphasized that there is no such thing as an objective point of view.'

"Central to Objectivism is the claim that objectivity is possible. That's where the name comes from. If SK disagreed with that, he couldn't have been 'entirely Objectivist' in his epistemology. It's not a side issue."

Sam would not have described himself as an Objectivist even while adopting Rand's objectivist epistemology.

But to answer the question for myself: I have met no one (including Ayn Rand) capable of being 100% objective. Everybody has assumptions, inclinations, and biases as a result of personal experience. I don't even regard God as being entirely objective, since in my experience of him he has his own life experiences, preferences, and values guiding his judgments. Uncertainty of outcome is the nature of any volitional act -- even for God, having to contend with other beings with their own free will.

And I know it's coming sooner or later, so let me state it here: God is not omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. "So what makes him God rather than just a super alien?" is the next logical question. And my answer is, God is the original and unconditional consciousness, uncoterminous with existence itself; all other conscious beings are spin-offs.

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J. Neil Smith wrote: "Now, is there any reason to take multiple continua seriously? Sure, because the best science we have does....

"...11 dimensions of the 'brane.' "

What is the definition of and scientific evidence for multiple continua?

Try these as starting points: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation and here

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Membrane_%28M-Theory%29

Then debate them with "J. Neil Smith"; I'm not particularly qualified to. :-)

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SEK3* (entirely Objectivist in his epistemology and an atheist for all of his life past childhood) always emphasized that there is no such thing as an objective point of view. All points of view reflect the assumptions, if not the biases, of the speaker or writer, making them to one extent or another subjective. SEK3 suggested the best you could hope for is someone self-aware of their own assumptions and biases, and who declares them up front to the reader or audience.

Sam and I had a number of arguments on this subject, and I never agreed with him. Or, to be more precise, I never agreed with the extremes to which he carried the truisms that you mention.

I have been very interested in the notion of objectivity, especially in history, for a long time, so I may have more to say about this later, when I can find the time to organize my thoughts in a succinct manner. For now, a few brief remarks:

To say that no historian is perfectly objective does not mean that objectivity is impossible to some degree. It does not mean that all history is so irredeemably "subjective" that we cannot distinguish between good and bad histories. It does not mean that we have an epistemological warrant to choose one account over another because of our personal preferences. It does not mean, for example, that someone who prefers the story in "Inglourious Basterds" to authentic history can legitimately proclaim that Hitler really died in a theater in Paris instead of in his bunker in Berlin, on the ground that all history is "subjective," after all. (This is admittedly an extreme example, but the same principle applies to more realistic cases.)

Any serious discussion of this topic -- which has been debated extensively by philosophers of history -- needs to make some careful distinctions, such as that between so-called "atomic facts" (e.g., that a certain battle occurred on a certain day) and more complex interpretations of those facts. Virtually no historian would defend "presuppositionless history" (as Max Weber called it), but presuppositions are not the same thing as personal biases. We could not engage in any cognitive discipline, including history, without some conceptual and theoretical presuppositions, and it is a very peculiar argument to say that the very presuppositions that make a knowledge-seeking discipline possible are also the very things that disqualify it from ever attaining objective knowledge.

As I said, I may pick this up later.

Ghs

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GHS wrote: "We could not engage in any cognitive discipline, including history, without some conceptual and theoretical presuppositions, and it is very peculiar argument to say that the very presuppositions that make a knowledge-seeking discipline possible are also the very things that disqualify it from ever attaining objective knowledge."

This is one of the claims of some philosophical subjectivists, however: that cognitive mediation is per se subjective/distortive.

I met a thoroughgoing skeptic several months ago who claimed that he wasn't willing to believe, for example, that there had ever been such an institution as slavery in American history (not that he denied it; he was agnostic about it). What about all the documents and testimony, letters, journals, newspaper articles, ads offering rewards for runaway slaves, that strange allusion to "three fifths of all other persons" in the Constitution, etc.? He proposed that all such artifacts were the creation of a conspiracy (or simultaneous conspiracies). Whatever objection I raised could be countered by a further statement of doubt. I think he was partly sincere and partly playing devil's advocate. He never cited any evidence for such a saturating conspiracy, but didn't seem particularly bothered that he could not supply any evidence.

For those who don't adopt a procedure of universal doubt on principle, there is some point at which one can refer to facts that are indisputable, and then go further and discuss interpretations, when scientific or historical evidence permits certainty and when it is too incomplete, etc.

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GHS wrote: "We could not engage in any cognitive discipline, including history, without some conceptual and theoretical presuppositions, and it is very peculiar argument to say that the very presuppositions that make a knowledge-seeking discipline possible are also the very things that disqualify it from ever attaining objective knowledge."

This is one of the claims of some philosophical subjectivists, however: that cognitive mediation is per se subjective/distortive.

I met a thoroughgoing skeptic several months ago who claimed that he wasn't willing to believe, for example, that there had ever been such an institution as slavery in American history (not that he denied it; he was agnostic about it). What about all the documents and testimony, letters, journals, newspaper articles, ads offering rewards for runaway slaves, that strange allusion to "three fifths of all other persons" in the Constitution, etc.? He proposed that all such artifacts were the creation of a conspiracy (or simultaneous conspiracies). Whatever objection I raised could be countered by a further statement of doubt. I think he was partly sincere and partly playing devil's advocate. He never cited any evidence for such a saturating conspiracy, but didn't seem particularly bothered that he could not supply any evidence.

There is a very effective response to this kind of skeptic: the Bitch Slap.

Ghs

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GHS: "There is a very effective response to this kind of skeptic: the Bitch Slap."

Well, he was 19 at the time, so I cut him some slack.

He once complained that I had interrupted him, and I said, "No, you only THINK I interrupted you." His answer: "Okay, that's going too far..."

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Starbuckle:

I agree with George, the fact that he was 19 magnifies the reason for slapping sense into him. I have had the same relative situation with one or two or three holocaust skeptics. On my bulletin board which is quite cluttered by layers of "stuff" and just to the left of my desk, under one pin impaled stack is a small photo. This photo was personally taken by my uncle who was a Sgt. in Patton's army and liberated one of the camps. His personal testimony is embedded in me. I pretty much jam the photo in the skeptic's face and viscerally give his testimony.

I then give them a simple choice. One, to never make that argument in my presence again, or, two, be prepared to be thrown physically from the property with, as Shane stated, extreme prejudice, which would include lots of bouncing down both flights of stairs.

Adam

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I know this is an obvious video to post, but there might be one person in the universe who hasn't seen it yet.

<object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teMlv3ripSM?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0"></param><param'>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teMlv3ripSM?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teMlv3ripSM?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

Ghs

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GHS wrote: "We could not engage in any cognitive discipline, including history, without some conceptual and theoretical presuppositions, and it is very peculiar argument to say that the very presuppositions that make a knowledge-seeking discipline possible are also the very things that disqualify it from ever attaining objective knowledge."

This is one of the claims of some philosophical subjectivists, however: that cognitive mediation is per se subjective/distortive.

I met a thoroughgoing skeptic several months ago who claimed that he wasn't willing to believe, for example, that there had ever been such an institution as slavery in American history (not that he denied it; he was agnostic about it). What about all the documents and testimony, letters, journals, newspaper articles, ads offering rewards for runaway slaves, that strange allusion to "three fifths of all other persons" in the Constitution, etc.? He proposed that all such artifacts were the creation of a conspiracy (or simultaneous conspiracies). Whatever objection I raised could be countered by a further statement of doubt. I think he was partly sincere and partly playing devil's advocate. He never cited any evidence for such a saturating conspiracy, but didn't seem particularly bothered that he could not supply any evidence.

For those who don't adopt a procedure of universal doubt on principle, there is some point at which one can refer to facts that are indisputable, and then go further and discuss interpretations, when scientific or historical evidence permits certainty and when it is too incomplete, etc.

George there's an old Jewish story about a Yeshiva student who returns to his home town during a break and runs into his rabbi. "What have you learned at Yeshiva?" the rabbi asks him. "Rabbi, I was taught that if you know how to argue correctly you can prove anything." "Really? The rabbi asks. "Can you give me an example?" "Well, to take a difficult case, I can make an effective argument that neither of us really exists." "Do it!" the rabbi asks. "Well, to begin with--" the student says, when the rabbi slaps him hard on the face. "Tell me," the rabbi says, "if neither of us exist -- what hurts and what made it hurt?"

Existence exists. There is an objective reality. Things are what they are, independent of our preferences. This is what SEK3 and I agreed on with Rand that I submit made SEK3 and me lower-case objectivists.

History is classically defined as trying to figure out the past based on artifacts and documents. Both can be forged but to assume all are forged negates the possibility of a discipline of history at all.

Of course there are things that reasonable people can agree are facts. But when terms like "crank" are tossed around freely, it becomes quickly evident that one man's crank is another man's guru. One can aspire to objectivity -- one can draw inferences only from the non-controversial and on the face of it evident -- but I maintain that the acceptance of any controversial assertion as true or even possibly true is often -- perhaps usually -- mediated by one's assumptions, experience, and biases.

Look, I think you're humoring me, being polite to me, when what you really think is that my belief that my experiences reflect a real encounter with God is just nuts. How can you move your biases all the way out of a discussion when you've made your life's work refuting the very premise I'm saying my experience confirmed for me?

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Look, I think you're humoring me, being polite to me, when what you really think is that my belief that my experiences reflect a real encounter with God is just nuts. How can you move your biases all the way out of a discussion when you've made your life's work refuting the very premise I'm saying my experience confirmed for me?

how can one distinguish between a Divine Encounter and an hallucination? I have had hallucinations (while very feverish). They seemed very real to me at the time. I have also had "weird" things happen to me for which I have not been able to construct a "reasonable" cause. Even so, I do not attribute such happenings to an encounter with The Almighty. There is an old saying: the more extraordinary the event, the more extraordinary must be the evidence for the event.

I often talk to God, but I would be very worried for my mental health if I got a clear reply.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Look, I think you're humoring me, being polite to me, when what you really think is that my belief that my experiences reflect a real encounter with God is just nuts. How can you move your biases all the way out of a discussion when you've made your life's work refuting the very premise I'm saying my experience confirmed for me?

It's only that you are simply telling us about your experiences and their effect on you, not trying to ram them down our throats or convert anyone, without hypocrisy or other dissimulation. And there is so much we don't know.

--Brant

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History is classically defined as trying to figure out the past based on artifacts and documents. Both can be forged but to assume all are forged negates the possibility of a discipline of history at all.

Of course there are things that reasonable people can agree are facts. But when terms like "crank" are tossed around freely, it becomes quickly evident that one man's crank is another man's guru. One can aspire to objectivity -- one can draw inferences only from the non-controversial and on the face of it evident -- but I maintain that the acceptance of any controversial assertion as true or even possibly true is often -- perhaps usually -- mediated by one's assumptions, experience, and biases.

You are exaggerating the problem of forgeries in historiography. Nevertheless, historians don't merely "assume" that all the documents they use are not forged so they can do history. Diplomatics (i.e., the critical study of documents) has become quite sophisticated.

Let me give an example that will address most of your points. In the 15th century, Nicholas of Cusa and Lorenzo Valla exposed the Donation of Constantine as a forgery. (The Donation of Constantine is a phony imperial decree in which Constantine supposedly transferred political jurisdiction of the Western Roman Empire to the pope. This was supposed to have been a reward for Constantine having been miraculously cured of leprosy by Pope Sylvester I -- another bogus story.) Cusa and Valla called attention to anachronistic language used in the Donation, to its later style of Latin, and to its references to events that did not occur until after the purported date of the document.

The exposure of the Donation of Constantine (actually written between the eighth and ninth centuries) had momentous political consequences, for it destroyed one of the main pillars of the "papalist" claim that the pope had not only spiritual powers but sovereign temporal (i.e. secular) powers as well.

So did Cusa and Valla work from presuppositions and biases? Of course they did. One of their presuppositions was that a document supposedly written in the fourth century will not contain words, such as "fief," that were not coined until centuries later. Another presupposition was that the style of Latin found in a fourth-century imperial decree should conform to the style found in contemporaneous documents -- not to a style found in 8th century writings.

My point here is that some presuppositions are rationally grounded, and if they are rationally grounded, then they actually contribute to the objectivity of a historical investigation. It is therefore nonsensical to criticize historians for working with presuppositions until we know what those presuppositions are and have assessed their rationality. Not all presuppositions are equal.

But what about personal bias? Well, both Cusa and Valla had their biases insofar as both were opposed to "papalism." Cusa was a "conciliarist" who believed that final spiritual authority should reside in a council of bishops, not in the pope; and Valla was hired by Alfonso of Aragon, who was involved in a territorial conflict with the Papal States, to discredit the papacy.

Such personal biases, which are the rule rather than the exception in political conflicts, always raise the eyebrows of historians, but in many cases it is not all that difficult to factor them out -- especially when the evidence for one side is overwhelming, as it was with the Donation of Constantine. Cusa and Valla may have been motivated by their biases to expose the Donation, but the facts they adduced stand on their own.

The conclusion that the Donation of Constantine is a forgery, which has been substantiated by many historians and even conceded by the Catholic Church, is an objective historical conclusion. It is not a matter of biases or personal preferences. And -- to repeat -- the rational presuppositions that led to the exposure of this forgery are what made this objectivity possible.

Now, here you will probably reply that, yes, there are some cases like this in history, but there are also cases that are not nearly this simple. And of course you would be right to say this. But my purpose here was to establish the premise that history can be an objective enterprise in at least some instances. And even if not all cases are this straightforward, there is no reason why we cannot apply the same basic principles to more complex cases. True, we may end up, as historians often do, with probable theories rather than with apodictic conclusions, but arriving at probable theories is not a game of deuces-wild; rational standards apply here as well.

Ghs

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Mr. Schulman:

I have read the lion's share of your book on the link you sent earlier in this thread, and forgive me if you answered this question in the book, but here goes: what is the most significant insight you gained in the 8 hour period of the "mind meld" you experienced?

Also, I might add that the mind meld you describe strikes me as somewhat similar to the days after Paul's post-Damascus experience, but the God described in your book seems rather more "puny" than the Voice from the Clouds described by Paul. Just an observation.

Fwiw, the Buddhist mystics posit that the Universe is One Energy, that we are part of that Energy, and that this One Energy is, at bottom, benign, i.e., the Energy more or less operates on the Benevolent Universe premise, to use the vernacular of Objectivism.

The God described in your book seems more consistent with this Buddhist view than the Judeo-Christian Godhead.

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Look, I think you're humoring me, being polite to me, when what you really think is that my belief that my experiences reflect a real encounter with God is just nuts. How can you move your biases all the way out of a discussion when you've made your life's work refuting the very premise I'm saying my experience confirmed for me?

I have read too many accounts of religious experiences by people I respect to categorize all such people as "nuts."

As I recall, without having reread your previous posts, you initially conceded that your personal experiences carry no epistemological weight with others, i.e., that there is no good reason why others should interpret your experiences in the same manner you have.

Then you started talking about how you view similar stories related in the Bible. At one point you seemed to say that you were not making any historical claims about these reports, and that they merely provided material for a better understanding your own experiences. I said I had no problem with this approach.

But you kept vacillating, as you moved back and forth between the personal significance, for you, of biblical accounts and the cognitive value of such accounts. Did a god actually influence some events reported in the Old Testament, or should we accept a naturalistic explanation? You called this a chicken/egg problem, as if one option is as good as the other, and you went on to justify this statement by invoking the supposed subjectivity of history. We all interpret history according to our subjective experiences and biases, according to you, so you are justified in employing your experiences and biases when interpreting biblical accounts.

But you are not justified in doing this. For one thing, you would need to present reasonable arguments showing why your "presuppositions" are rationally warranted. You would need to present, in other words, good reasons why others should accept your claim that you talked to God. But even this wouldn't be sufficient; you would also need to show that the relevant biblical accounts can meet the minimal standards of historical credibility. You haven't even attempted to do the latter. Instead, you have claimed that your subjective experiences somehow give you the cognitive right to choose any historical account that conforms to those experiences. You have, moreover, defended this approach with the vague claim that everyone else does the same thing.

This is nonsense, pure and simple. And it doesn't become any less nonsensical by invoking truisms about presuppositions and biases in history. The same points could be (and have been) made about philosophy and science, in which case your "objectivism" with a small "o" would go down the drain of subjectivism.

It goes without saying that you are entitled to believe whatever you like. It should also go without saying that when you communicate your beliefs to others in the hope of persuading them that you need to move from the subjective realm of mere belief to the objective realm of justified belief.

Ghs

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It's only that you are simply telling us about your experiences and their effect on you, not trying to ram them down our throats or convert anyone, without hypocrisy or other dissimulation. And there is so much we don't know.

Brant,

This is the crux of my own outlook.

That is why I see a world of difference between Schulman and, for instance, that other dude who was preaching creationism.

I know there is past history going on in this discussion, which could account for some of the way Schulman has been received here, but past history or not, I like him--or better, I like what I have seen of him so far.

Michael

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