Love & Friendship


Dear Russell and Friends,

I’m back a week now and so happy to be so.  The cobwebs of jetlag are clearing.  I’m so appreciative of Russell’s Paean to a Peon in the last post.  I thought I would add my perspective.  When will I speak of the impact of visiting Israel?  Not for some time.  There is so much to digest before I’m ready to synthesize and share.

Last night we drove the 1.5 hours needed to pick up our oldest son at his dorm and take him out to dinner with his brothers.  We met two friends of his from high school out on a dinner date and discreetly enquired as to their social status.  He said they said they were friends.  They looked happy, compatible and able to enjoy each others company.  P1 said it with a twinkle in his eye.  “Yeah – – we’ve tried to tell them there’s more to it.”

Perhaps our young friends are discovering what the older crowd knows.  ‘Just friends’ is a middle school perspective.  Friendship lasts when passion fades.  What then is the difference between love and friendship and how does it relate to my friend Russell and me?

Love is a decision.  For a follower of Christ it is a command.  Love God.  Love others.  It has a description:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

It is hard.  At least for me.  Despite Russell’s insistence, I’m not kind by nature.  I actually enjoy sarcasm and that can be quite rude.  I am irritable and prone to resentment.  I don’t bear all things, don’t hope in all things.  Don’t endure.  Love is hard.  But to love and be loved brooks no description.  It is air and you only notice it when it isn’t there. Loving Russell was a choice.  I loved him because God loved him and I honestly admired him for the way he served his wife and daughters and cared deeply about the effects of his deconversion for them.

So, what is friendship?  I’m not sure that it is as much a decision.  It is actually harder to build than love in my opinion.  Friendship is aided by such things as common interests and disinterests.  Much of what Russell and I enjoy is spawned from the common interest of science.  Do our interests diverge?  Of course. Even in science my competency tends towards psychology & biology and his towards physics, math, engineering, computer science, formal logic … (you get the idea).

Friendship requires – – time.  I used to say that time was the currency of love.  That is true as far as it goes, but it is likely more true of friendship.  I can love someone out of respect for God and his commands or out of respect for a fellow human and her intrinsic worth as a co-member of the race.  I need not know her to treat her with love.  I only need the work of:  patience, kindness, humility, pliability, and selflessness. Only that.  Easy, right?  But friendship takes time.

So what if you start with friendship?  That is what happened with my wife.  We talked, walked, listened, wrote letters and realized that we enjoyed each other’s company.  We were teens and next enjoyed each other’s embrace then married and enjoyed sharing more and more of life.  But we were friends.  Still are. In marital love, friendship is an antibody to despair and divorce.

Russell and I inverted the process – – we started with a brotherly love.  The friendship has been building.

I’m curious as to the advice you might give another – – friendship, love, both?  How does it work for you?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit:  By Pictofigo (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Action Required

Our Team

Dear Russell & Friends,

Forgive my absence from the blog.  I completed a difficult assignment at work where I primarily work in the hospital with sicker patients.  I then traveled for committee work and experienced the wonders of perpetual delay in the flight back home.  That said, I read, considered and ultimately liked Russell’s last post very much.  What do I mean like?  Yes – – I hit the like button after reading the post and thinking carefully about it.  Perhaps for another day, but I think that you choose love and don’t necessarily choose like.  I like my bride and that has made all the difference for us.  I would love her from choice and obedience to a standard that is greater than me.  Love can be, often is, painful.  Like is pleasure of the purest form.  Diversion complete.

I liked Russell’s post because it really does reveal who he is – – one of the most moral and compassionate people I have met.

So what?  I downloaded the Charity Miles app.  I’ve begun to use it.  I pray for people who don’t have water as I marvel at how blessed I am to go to any sink or hose bib in my home and know that the water is potable.  I’ve stopped using distilled or filtered water and my tastes and thoughts have changed.

For the people who have joined us in this blog, would you please join our team?  You have many choices besides water – – that’s just the one that moved me on a base level.  The screenshot above is our team.  You can see that my friend Russell is more kinetic than me.  As a believer, do I welcome an atheist challenging me to put action to faith?  Oh yes I do.  I’m so thankful that my friend called me to action.  And will you join our team?  Please do.  I really don’t know why our follower count increases daily.  Perhaps our generation is ready to respectfully reason together.  Could you help our charity miles team grow as well by downloading the app and joining RussellandPascal?  You could.  Will you?

Pascal – – 1:16

Russell Unplugged



Dear Russell & Friends,

Good morning.  I’ve been thinking about this post for nearly a week and the coffee is just right.  Perhaps this will serve as useful background for those new to our blog.  It will certainly serve as therapy for me.  Most of the activity on the blog lately has been on Russell’s post The Problem.  It is one of his most important posts.  He might (would) put iMultiverse in the short list too.  A few miles away from here, perhaps in his sleep, Russell just smiled.

The comments have multiplied on The Problem as Russell has found a new interlocutor, unkleE.  I am 43 years old.  Russell is 7 years younger.  unkleE is twice Russell’s age and is doing, I think, what I want to do when I grow up.  He is reading, writing, engaging those who do not share his perspective of belief.  However, he is doing it in a way that I can’t – – from the personality type of INFP (81%) or ISFP (76%).  If I take the former it is only 1 letter away from Russell – – INTP.  So, from the perspective of age and from the perspective of a similar engineering-type personality he can engage Russell in ways that I can’t.

So what happened?  They both went out of their way not to offend.  That’s what I’ve been thinking about.  I have Russell’s permission to share our text stream as some of the comments unfolded.  One thing you’ll notice is that these texts had something I’ve never seen before – – an arrow at the bottom designed to reveal the words incapable of display on the largest of iPhones.  For an introvert, Russell has a lot to say.  That belies one of the misconceptions about introverts.  We have plenty to say.  Its just more comfortable in writing or with people we know well.  Russell has posted some of this in his own reply, but I’d like to give you a flavor of the text stream and what it means to know someone.  Concluding at the beginning, it takes time.  Russell and I are 2 1/2 years into a friendship that I hope will last.  It has not been easy to listen well or to be heard.  But it has been worth it.


R:  The unkleE comment was focused on one thing… why I’m not highly convinced that fine-tuning is a problem. He things I haven’t read enough, don’t understand the science, don’t understand large numbers, and am too biased against the evidence. That didn’t seriously hurt my feelings. I responded with more details, that’s his punishment for being critical. Haha. Gotcha’ unkleE! 🙂

P:  you two are quite a pair

R:  Indeed. I think we should Skype and hang out. I bet we’d get along great! That reminds me, are you still interested in trying a podcast, hangout-on-air youtube video with just our logo up, or some other type of audio-only conversation sometime?

P:  I actually am.  I’m interested in more than i’m successfully executing right now which is a deep and constant frustration

R:  I ran it by Howie and he’s interested. He’d join us.

I can see it being huge benefit for me for at least two reasons. Communicating ideas will, once the kinks are worked out, hopefully be done more efficiently. And it’s helpful to communicate tone of voice which adds important inflection and other vital information to the topic being discussed. It’s not very search engine friendly, but most of our hits probably don’t come from that and we have plenty of other written content on the site. I’d really like to see a comment on the blog, hit a button, record a response and paste it as a link. Haha. It would also be great to take someone’s question or point and invite people to a round-table discussion via hangouts-on-air, etc. I’d rather not do it live until we polish up a bit, though. 😊

I think I’ve made a mess of things on The Problem. In my very rushed responses I’ve done a poor job of taking the time to be as gentle as I’d prefer to be while disagreeing. Sigh. This is a rough time for me for multiple reasons. I need to learn to deal with those who challenge and criticize my form of reasoning without helping me understand and improve it by explaining exactly where it’s wrong and why. When I feel criticized with nothing to back it up, apparently, I push to hard to delineate my steps and get them to explain, but the only thing that gets discussed are the irrelevant details that aren’t part of the reasoning. I write so much that it’s hard for anyone to focus and I usually make a mistake or two that gets us further off topic. Then I get behind on work and rush my comments even more and, without taking the time to polish them, they sound more confrontational than I’d like. I now have two people saying what you’ve said (I require too much evidence). It’s not lost on me that more than one should sound alarms. Evidently, this is a hot-button issue for me. Not being told that, but being told that without an example to help me learn from. When I list the steps in my reasoning and show where I doubt and why, those specifics are avoided as if I didn’t say them (at least so far). I’m really looking for the place, exactly where my folly resides, but nobody seems to be pointing to it. I’m really beginning to feel like I’m just a very poor communicator. Maybe I am just blind to it and they’ve been pointing all along. But that doesn’t help me. 😟 I fear this is the central issue of the blog. People in camp A think people in Camp B require too much evidence. People in Camp B think people in Camp A are failing to express that they been aware of and properly considered all the assumptions and counter-evidence (often, like you, they have considered it). I don’t think anyone is believing things that are unjustifiable to them, and very few are believing things that don’t make sense. It’s almost always a communication problem where we don’t see everyone else’s evidence. So when other people think my standards are too high rather than assuming, as I do, that I’ve just seen different evidence, I want to either see what they’re seeing and fix the holes in my reasoning or ask them to tone it down a bit. But getting to the point where they point out flaws that are actually there rather than ones they assume because I didn’t clearly state everything in my comment, or getting to the point where they are willing to say it’s just different evidence rather than a high bar for evidence – both seem equally unachievable. Thousands of words later I don’t feel much closer to a resolution and I’ve likely offended people, which is the opposite of what I want. I have learned how to better express my argument for why I don’t have high confidence in fine-tuning, but I don’t think it’s helped. I think I’ve learned a lot of things not to do. No argument or point is worth being anything less than gentle and respectful, even when I feel continually misrepresented and as though almost all my key arguments are ignored, and even when time is short. This was a great lesson. Sigh. Thanks for the advice here. This helped a lot! 😊

P:Talk to your wife and ask her opinion.  She knows your heart better than anyone and will have insight here.  I think you are right about the central issue.  I can’t process the cognitive burden of 5,000 word comments and I accept different evidence in addition to empiric evidence.  The Hume quote bothered me because it was simplistic.  How much of your text do I have permission quote in a post of my own?

R:  Good advice. You can quote anything. I feel misunderstood when people think I only accept empirical evidence. Another sigh. I read interpreted his quote differently, as proportioning the level of certainty we hold to the level of evidence (pro and con). Non-empirical evidence counts, but empirical often should count more, so it’s a balance thing. I think most people agree with this, but we all tend to interpret things, at least initially, the way we’re primed for. That’s why I think the real difference tends to be that some people are comfortable staying in their beliefs if they seem right and feel good. Others have more of a tendency to actively seek out other potential explanations that could also account for the evidence (all kinds) and then hold back certainty a bit in the hopes that they don’t confidently believe false things. That’s why I try to learn about the assumptions and biases and examine them all for most claims. I can see that it’s unusual. But that seems to be the real difference. I don’t require empirical evidence or more evidence for confidence. But if I see other potentially equal or better explanations after actively examining everything, I’ll withhold certainly that my favored or initial explanation is definitely the right one. Does any of that make sense?

Also, I think the more someone is aware of and understands other alternate explanations and is aware of and fearful of their own biases (fear they made lead them confidently away from truth), the more they tend to reserve certainty in more things.  If someone has a personality that isn’t interested in such things, or hasn’t been made aware of both the flaws in our reasoning and alternative explanations, they tend to see people like me as being too critical. They just don’t think the same way. So I completely get where they’re coming from, I just think that sometimes they assume I just require too much evidence so that science won’t even lead me to confidence. What I really do is balance my confidence against all the factors I see, which isn’t usually what everyone else sees, because more than wanting to be right, I really don’t want to be confidently wrong. I think you and unkleE are somewhere in the middle on that spectrum (believe what feels right vs actively search for better alternative explanations and the modifying weight of our own biases) and I’m just closer to one end. I don’t like being on the end. 😦 Making the bell curve taller is my goal in all of this.

Wait, there are some people who do require empirical evidence and hold strong beliefs against the supernatural, etc., so am a little closer to the middle than I feared. 🙂 I need to be emphasizing caution to them more. We don’t see many. Instead I spend my time taunting biases and other possible explanations to well behaving believers in faith. Anytime I mention bias or MR I cringe. I really don’t like my position. There are very few situations one can feel like they’re being accused of bias and not feel criticized and defensive. It’s like you’re position of discussing sin. It has to start with us. I am biased too, etc. Everything on your side rests on our sin and need for a savior. Everything on mine rests on the flaws in our reasoning and alternative explanations that should keep us cautious of too much certainty. At the same time, you seem to get by just fine without talking about the points that offend people (sin) nearly as much as I talk about my offensive points. Of course, that’s largely because much of your audience doesn’t believe in it. 🙂 Some don’t believe bias applies to them either. Still, I need to learn from you. I feel my position is the more critical. 😦

P:  Wow.  Just read the last comment exchange.  IMO it would not have hurt your position to wait before responding.  IYO there were compelling reasons to respond promptly and perhaps the processing was already complete.  Hmmm…

R:  Haha. I know. I would have liked to have waited. 😦 On the other hand, I’m with family this weekend and have to drive tonight and get an early start tomorrow. I’m so far behind on everything that I really need to not have this dragging out during the week. If I didn’t respond this week I fear I may never respond. Losing momentum would have made it much harder to get back into the process and I likely would choose that over a post or two. I know you think he thinks like me, and in some sense he does because he can be technical, but in many other major areas I can’t see it. He and I process things as differently as you and I do. I wanted him to continue a few posts ago by addressing my responses to the actual argument he had made about fine-tuning rather than his opinion of my reasoning, unless he was willing to provide specifics that were related to the arguments. That’s not what’s been happening. He says it will happen in a future post on his site, but not in these comments, so they’re aren’t very helpful. The current cycle or avoiding those assumptions about his argument has gone through too many loops without being addressed and it’s dragging me down. It’s cut into my workout time more than my work time and that’s eating away at me. I wanted to wait, but more than that I wanted to be done so I can refocus. I caved. 😦 I feel bad about it. There is a lot of pressure from various areas at the moment and it was a huge relief to see something resolve. I realized this morning that what I pasted into the response was not my final draft but my first draft, which wasn’t softened. 😦 I do feel bad that I ended it on that and it was too offensive. Thank you for your follow-up, that helped a lot. 🙂

I just listened to that comment from last night. I wish I could delete it or edited it. But that wouldn’t be right. I really should have waited. 😦

Or at least checked it over to make sure it was the final version I had in the clipboard before I posted it. 😦

I will learn from this. Have a great day, Pascal.

R:  The last two points on each seem quite relevant.

Out of the block quotes and back to the coffee musings.  The last two points didn’t move me as much as the third and fourth bullet of the second section.  When I read how Spinoza handled the work of his predecessors and logical contradictions it resonated.  Did Russell feel the same way about Kant’s views?

So there it is – – a text exchange long enough for a post.  Why?  Because I sit across the breakfast table from this friend of mine and want to understand him better.  I like the way his mind works and want to discuss things on his terms, but I get in my own way.  I’m more like Spinoza (not a theist if I recall).

I do think that unkleE and Russell need to take a break.  I honestly agree more with unkleE in his way of processing.  But I won’t be able to communicate that well in writing.  I’ll need to communicate that in person with body language and tone of voice included.  That should happen Thursday night and in the many breakfast tacos that will follow.

If you have ever had the feeling of talking past someone or being talked past (Russell and I have both done that to each other then reconciled in person) how do you proceed?

Pascal – – 1:16

*photo credit:  By Tim Walker from United Kingdom (2003 Faith Saturn electro-acoustic guitar) [CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The faith of Hebrews vs the logic of Aristotle

Hi Pascal,

This is a response to some things that jumped out at me from your Digestion post. I loved it! I did want to clear up some things and hopefully get some clarification from you as well. I’ll jump right in… 🙂

Trusting David Hume on wisdom?

Then you quoted David Hume on wisdom.  David Hume – – I had an ephemeral response that I did not consider David Hume to be wise, but I couldn’t remember why.

For reference, here’s the quote I used in the post your responding to called Faith – is it good or bad? Why do we disagree?

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume

To be honest, I’m not surprised you’d object to the notion that Hume was supremely wise (though I’m not promoting that idea), but I am a little surprised that you’d object to the point of the quote. Perhaps you’re not but I was uncertain. Maybe you can clarify? I actually think you do try to proportion your belief to the evidence.

I saw the video you linked and I’ve read of Hume’s ideas in several philosophy books and YouTube videos. The Science Wars – What Scientists Know and How They Know It covered his philosophy pretty well and I researched him in the group of potential past thinkers that I was considering using for my blog name before we started. There are reasons I didn’t pick him. I’m also curious about why, specifically, you don’t consider him wise. I will probably agree with you. I don’t see him as any kind of authority on wisdom but I wouldn’t reject something he said because I don’t agree with all his views. While I’m not putting him up as an authority, it seems like your rejecting him as someone who could have any truth in what he would say about wisdom. I’m wondering what specifically you disagree with concerning the quote, not the man. If you imagine someone else saying it (the Pope, your pastor, Paul, a 15-year-old anti-theist), would it change how much you accept or reject the quote? For me, it would not (1 Thess, 5:21 in light of the belief that it is we who interpret what we believe is good). If it would for you, would you mind trying to explain why? If not, why does it matter whether or not you think he’s a generally wise person?

The faith of Hebrews vs the logic of Aristotle

Was Paul aware of Aristotle?  Likely so. … Did he present his reasons to believe in full view of the impact, then 350 years old, of Aristotle.  I argue yes.

I agree. I was trying to point that out in my post. I think we’re on the same page here, with some caveats I’ll add in a moment. 🙂 Maybe I failed to accurately represent concerns on this point.

The tension between Aristotelian logic and faith is neither contemporary nor insoluble.

Contemporary only, no. Though this isn’t just about Aristotle’s logic. Some logic dealing with reasoning is contemporary and also poses a conflict with faith.

Insoluble, yes (as I see it), with some definitions of faith, at least.

Aristotle formed explanations using his logic and those of his tutors. We now know some of his conclusions were wrong, but it isn’t the conclusions I’ve been pushing for, but rather, the best process of reasoning. His process is superior for finding true beliefs than that of some faith-based processes because he essentially said, “This is what I think is going on, but I don’t really know. When trying to understand the world, we should consider theories. But, really, it’s the facts that matter; and if the facts change, our theories should too.” The modern versions are even better than Aristotle’s, but his views represented a better version for obtaining truth (in my opinion) than those promoted by the author of Hebrews. As I mentioned, I heard you react by stating you don’t trust Hume on wisdom (I’m not promoting his wisdom one way or the other beyond the word “wise” which was in his quote), but I’m not sure if you actually disagree with the point of his quote or not. If so, what part do you disagree with? Is it bad to do as you seem to try to do, i.e. to proportion our beliefs to the evidence (to not believe things more strongly than the relative weight of the evidences call for)?

While Aristotle’s methods are not incompatible with the versions of reasoning we sometimes call faith (e.g. trust, confidence, hope, etc.), they are incompatible with the versions of faith-based reasoning that promote confidence in things we desire to believe in order to preserve other strongly desired beliefs which are based on weak evidence – especially since faith doesn’t promote passing those beliefs through a fallacy filter. Do you agree or disagree? Remember that I’m not saying this is the type of faith you hold. Only that it is the type of faith promoted by much of scripture. For example, the author of Hebrews promotes a view of reasoning based on faith (confidence in things we hope for even if they can’t be backed up with more substantial evidence) that is in opposition to many of Aristotle’s 13 fallacies. The Bible promotes this form of reasoning as a virtue and makes it the basis for salvation. It’s a key part of the central dogma of the Gospel and most other religions which essentially say, “reason this way.” But that way seems opposed to modern critical thinking, does it not?

I found this dialogue from 3:25 to 5:32 in the video relevant to the topic of the flaws in our senses and reasoning about objective truth and the best way to get there. I’m doubtful about his later conclusion that all reality might be accessible through experimentation, but I agree that we shouldn’t give up pushing the limits of discovery by assuming there are limits that may not actually be there if we look harder. I think you’ll like David Brin.

And this quote is from

Being able to detect and avoid fallacies has been viewed as a supplement to criteria of good reasoning. The knowledge of them is needed to arm us against the most enticing missteps we might take with arguments—so thought not only Aristotle but also the early nineteenth century logicians Richard Whately and John Stuart Mill.

So, Aristotle valued the process of reasoning more than any conclusion, distrusted his senses, and promoted steps for reasoning that at least tried to identify and account for logical fallacies or biases (the non-intuitive flaws in our reasoning). Since most faith-based systems of reasoning lack at least one of these steps, I still believe the religious-faith descriptions usually quoted are not based on what we currently believe to be the best form of reasoning if we prioritize true beliefs. We can’t know how much the author of Hebrews knew about this process of reasoning. It’s speculation, so it wasn’t my point. The degree to which we believe that the author also likely had exposure to this process of reasoning is the degree to which we cannot excuse the author from unknowingly promoting a less-accurate method. If the author did know it well and understand it, he rejected it intentionally, preferring faith-based reasoning.

The author likely had reasons to believe in Jesus’ resurrection which he thought were sufficient evidence for his confidence levels. But he promotes that others without the same level of experiences still believe it with a confidence that is out of proportion with their experiences because he believes doing so can begin to sanctify them. It doesn’t matter how one arrives at the belief (what process of reasoning one uses or how flawed it is), only that the conclusion is confidence in Jesus. The conclusion matters more than the processThat’s the problem and that’s the conflict I’m driving towards. It’s why faith systems promote high confidence in that conclusion to children from an early age, and why the steps of reasoning that work this way are less likely to lead to true beliefs (the crossword puzzle framework is already set and life experiences are interpreted within that light, constructing a world view based upon that foundation whether or not it’s true). It also justifies the beliefs of all religions who follow the same faith-based process, right?

Wisdom vs Intelligence – a future topic

…would I listen to Hume about wisdom?  Wisdom is something different.  Wisdom is less predictable.  So I can not only disagree with Hume’s philosophy, but challenge a quote where he points the path to wisdom.  That would be a delightful topic for future posts – – the difference (if there is one) between intelligence and wisdom.

Yes, it would be a good topic. I have some ideas that come immediately to mind but I’ll keep this response short(ish). I do think it’s wise to keep confidence in proportion to the evidence and it wouldn’t matter to me who the concept came from. Do you actually disagree? To be clear, you know I count subjective experience as evidence, right?

The argument from authority – science vs religion

No, I’m not arguing from the authority of a person (qualifications are always debatable, especially when we disagree with the person in a significant way), but the application of the concept. I used to do this much more before I learned about the argument from authority and still took all Bible concepts as divine and objectively authoritative.

When I present and idea, it’s the idea I’m ultimately standing on, not the opinion of the person who communicated the idea. The idea and it’s application are much more relevant than the authority of the people that spawn it (and Hume wasn’t the first to use the concept I mentioned). There are no true authorities in science (to me) in the same way we typically mean it. The reason I say this is that the authority-weight assigned to a scientist only extends as far their ability to accurately interpret the data. We may sometimes trust interpretations from people that we can’t easily verify, but only proportionally to the degree for which it’s been tested by other people, peer-reviewed to remove some bias and mistakes, etc. Essentially (as you know), it is constrained and the body of science seeks to retest, re-interpret, and revalidate that data, so there is self-correction baked into the process (unlike a long-dead “authority’s” voice in an ancient sacred text).

Biblical faith did not always acknowledge reasoning that could have helped people like me

My thesis is that the scriptures were constructed in full view of Aristotle’s epistemology.  They were not breathlessly awaiting a three minute lesson to correct their stark ignorance.  There is nothing new under the sun.

It’s not my thesis that the author of Hebrews did or did not fully understand Aristotelian logic. I don’t know the degree to which the author did and we can’t really say with confidence how much understanding was there. The description of faith doesn’t seem to have been the best way to come to true beliefs even then (because they could have known better at that time due to the socratic philosophers that preceded them). Either they knew of it and rejected it, or they didn’t understand it properly and rejected it, or didn’t know it well (ignorance). I don’t know which of the three is right, but I think it’s likely one of the first two options. I was just hoping to point out that the concepts of Aristotelian logic were not used when promoting faith-based reasoning.

My point was not about why the author didn’t use Aristotelian logic (due to ignorance, rejection, etc.), That was close to two millennia ago and we can’t know. We’ve learned much more since then about better methods for plugging some of the holes in our reasoning, but we still promote the view of faith as offered in Hebrews, primarily based on that argument from authority. My thesis was that there is now a better way of reasoning if we hope to increase our odds of reaching more true beliefs and fewer false ones – and we can each choose to use it or not. Those of us who come to confidences based on Aristotle’s and now science’s methods of reasoning cannot get to the same place as those who use faith-based reasoning unless we have a strong personal experience or see other compelling objective evidence. Faith-based reasoning leads to certainty in any belief that we believe comes from divine authority (see other religions). So a larger percentage of people achieve certainty in necessarily false things. Our belief about the origin of a belief being divine is subject to our flawed reasoning and almost always has a simpler explanation, so we shouldn’t hold high confidence that it actually does have a divine cause (faith says otherwise).

Clearing up other potential misconceptions

Switching gears a bit, I disagree with there  nothing new under the sun. New arrangements happen all the time. New and novel concepts are formed. It’s just far less likely than most of us commonly imagine.

Perhaps by my understanding of why your hope to live hundreds of years is misplaced.

I think we all would like to live longer, and that desire isn’t the problem. I don’t have an expectation to live hundreds of years, which is what I think your correcting here. I’ve said I believe it is within our capacity through scientific exploration to allow some of our descendants to live hundreds of years, and the degree to which we stop searching now is the degree to which they continue in extreme suffering and earlier death that could have been avoided by our attitude toward science now. I know your aware of senescence and you very likely agree. Some worms may outlive us due to our tinkering.

I do love science.  And to me, science unfolds the mechanisms that a creative and caring God used to delightfully construct the reality that we live in. Cosmology and post-translational modification equally awe me. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Amen (with a maybe, I hope so, on the God parts)! 🙂


The kids are available to play now (movie is over) so I’m going to enjoy them. Please forgive the redundancies (that’s what happens when I don’t have uninterrupted time) and typos. 🙂

It’s always a pleasure discussing these things and I truly can’t wait to hang out again.

Gentleness and respect,




Dear Russell and Friends,

For the past week I have been a reader.  I read every word of your last post Russell – – twice.  The context of my reading was heightened by a strong sense of self preservation.  I was riding shotgun as my 15 year old with a learner’s permit drove back from Colorado.  Thankfully, fear can enhance learning.  I also read most of the dialogue that you and unkleE conducted.  You are birds of a feather.  Each of you looked like you were concluding the discussion with tacit apologies for length, then kept going.  [insert good natured smile here].

One thing that struck me as I read your discussion about faith and reason was the nature of your replies to each other.  You respectfully asked unkleE if he minded a point by point reply and he answered that he rather preferred it himself.  It worked well and disciplined you both to visit and revisit each other’s arguments and to protect against the erection of straw men.  I got to thinking – – why do I rarely reply in this manner?  Is that related to the way I differ in my view of an evidence driven life although I work in an evidence driven field?  Perhaps so.

Although I rarely answer line-by-line, I hope you do know that I always want you to be taken in context and I overtly want the majority of readers here to realize that you are among the best of men.  Why do I answer like this?  What is this?  This, for me, is digestion.  You always get me thinking.  That is one of the things I value about you most.  I live in a land of thought and you provoke new thoughts, different angles, and novel chains of reaction.  So, when you write an epic on a topic that means much to me – – I think, digest, then reply.  It is analogous to the replies of hand-written letters – – a mode that I still cherish although employ too seldom.  It is diametrically opposed to the immediate communication of text message, IM or telepathy.

Digestion.  What were the results of my digestion so far?  First, let me offer that the topic we chose could populate a PhD thesis or even a life of study.  This digestive process will represent first pass metabolism alone.

Arguing with Dead People

If you forced me to choose between writing and the wheel as the greatest contribution to human progress, I would choose the pen.  What an honor to explore the thoughts of Aristotle and Hume.  What we read now and the links that we click are the honored descendents of that humble stylus, brush or quill.  You spoke of Aristotle and I summoned the best from my memory.  Disciple of Plato.  Tutor of Alexander the Great.  Father of observational science.  To make my joy complete, I found this – – well worth the 3 minutes.

Then you quoted David Hume on wisdom.  David Hume – – I had an ephemeral response that I did not consider David Hume to be wise, but I couldn’t remember why.  The internet and a short attention span to the rescue again.

You are more aware of logical fallacy than most.  It was one of our first studies together.  So, I know that you were not using Aristotle or Hume to argue from authority.  After two years of conversation with you I know that for sure.  My point is this and I know you will not argue.  It is okay to argue with, preferable to argue with dead people.  We have the greatest intellects of all time (Aristotle would certainly represent the 1% of the 1% of the 1% ad infinitum) available through writing, commentary, and the internet wayback machine.  How foolish for me to argue with Aristotle on the details of science which he got wrong when he essentially invented the scientific method and would freely acknowledge that his views should be revised when evidence accrued.

Was Paul aware of Aristotle?  Likely so.  In Acts, Paul presents to Greeks in Athens at the Aeropagus (Mars Hill) adjacent to the Acropolis.  Was Paul, who wrote his epistles in high Greek, unaware of Aristotle?  Unlikely.  Did he present his reasons to believe in full view of the impact, then 350 years old, of Aristotle.  I argue yes.  The tension between Aristotelian logic and faith is neither contemporary nor insoluble.

What of David Hume?  He also stands with the 1% of the 1% in terms of human intelligence and impact.  That there will be 1 of 10,000 people in that category is mathematically predicted and constrained.  But would I listen to Hume about wisdom?  Wisdom is something different.  Wisdom is less predictable.  So I can not only disagree with Hume’s philosophy, but challenge a quote where he points the path to wisdom.  That would be a delightful topic for future posts – – the difference (if there is one) between intelligence and wisdom.

I know that Russell was not arguing from authority, so I won’t walk down that path.  He knows that I can freely argue with Aristotle and Hume and that they, the giants, would welcome a challenge from an ant.  My thesis is that the scriptures were constructed in full view of Aristotle’s epistemology.  They were not breathlessly awaiting a three minute lesson to correct their stark ignorance.  There is nothing new under the sun.

The Possibilian Brain

You and our good friend Howie were the first to turn me on to David Eagleman’s Possibilianism philosophy.

I did like I usually do.  I watched it, thought about it, then ordered and read one of his books – – Incognito:  The Secret Lives of the Brain.  It is on the 2014 reading list – – and I’m barely caught up with the 2015 posts.  One thing that I liked about Eagleman was his call to humility.  I think that the 20 minute video is worth the watch, but I will spoil my favorite part of it.  He walks to one end of the stage and represents the strong atheist view, then walks to the other end of the stage and represents the young earth creationist biblical literalist view (I’m summarizing from a 1 year constructed memory).  Then he calls for gentility and arbitration in the middle.  And what is the mediator in the middle?  Science.  That is what moves him, what convinces him, and what he has and will continue to contribute to.  Science.

I have heard some fellow believers say, “I love science, and here is why I believe the earth is young.”  That is a non sequitur to me.  If I claim to love science to you and our readers, then how would I justify the statement?  Perhaps by the time I dedicate to reading science.  At least as much by volume as my annual reading list.  Perhaps by the time I dedicated to studying science.  Ten full years after a university bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.  Perhaps by my understanding of why your hope to live hundreds of years is misplaced.  Perhaps by my willingness and craft in caring for more dying people in the last ten years than I could ever personally know outside of my profession.  I do love science.  And to me, science unfolds the mechanisms that a creative and caring God used to delightfully construct the reality that we live in.  Cosmology and post-translational modification equally awe me.  We are fearfully and wonderfully made.  I get just as excited as you when I study, although I rarely offer to send a family recipe or jump up and down.

The Supremacy of Science and the Interaction Problem

I have not forgotten that I owe Victoria a reply on the video about Miracles and Televangelists.

Many here have already visited her excellent blog on neuroscience (also Eagleman’s area of expertise).  She is smart, funny, and compassionate.  She also explains beautifully how the human brain can construct the emotional experiences of joy, sorrow, and yes – – religion.  I found the video about miracles and healing to be especially relevant to my journey as I was raised in the charismatic tradition and I’ve actually been to a Benny Hinn service.

I have been digesting the video for quite some time and look forward to posting about it in the future. Apropos to current discussion is this – – what if the experience of religious devotion is mediated by neurochemical interaction?  Does that make it less believable or more?  For me it makes it more believable.  I am thankful to understand the biochemistry of reward, punishment, fear, and hope.  In a way that addresses the interaction problem.  Will we be able to locate the soul via functional MRI or PET?  Quite unlikely.  Do we really want to argue about angels on heads of pins.  I hope not.

I appreciate the explanations that science can give.  I love studying science.  It does not threaten my faith.  I hope that is not fatally conflicted.

Writing Russell Off

Russell did not wish to be written off as a

post-modernist strong-rationalist steeped in scientism

Dammit Russell.  Not only did you force me to quote you, but you packed three precise terms requiring definitions in seven words, hyphens excluded.

I’ll never write you off.

The Products of Digestion

Digestion provides two things:  nourishment and excrement.  I realize that this line of thought may be the former to some and the latter to others.  The point is this.  I love my brother Russell.  We think very differently.  This is a place where we encourage you to think differently and to realize that you are among friends.

What do you think?


Pascal – – 1:16



photo credit:  via WikiCommons, public domain

My Approach to Religious Friends and Acquaintances: A Guest Post

This is a guest post by Mike, my friendly neighbor to the north, at the Godless Cranium.  He graciously invited others to post to his blog and we agreed to exchange posts.  I respect his views and confirm that our correspondence online and off makes him a person I would gladly fellowship with.  I’m glad to see him actively blogging again.  

Mike, thank you for adding value to our home here. – – Pascal

First off, thank you for the opportunity to post a piece on your blog. I’m sorry for the delay. Without getting into too much detail, I was dealing with multiple issues that unfortunately took me away from my blog for some time.

However, I’m glad to be back and I hope you and your readers enjoy my take on how I approach religious friends and acquaintances.

Let Us Begin

Most of my family is religious. My mom talks about my dad being in heaven. She also reminisces about how anything that dies is also up there with my dad, and to be honest I just grin and bear it. My mom is aware of my non-religiosity and she agrees with most of my reasoning but she’s religious and that’s not going to change any time soon. She doesn’t attend church and thinks that organized religion is just there to suck money from you, but overall she believes in God and the bible etc.

I grew up around religion. I live in a culture where Christianity is prominent and I’ve grown fairly used to it. Over the years I’ve created a sort of code of ethics when dealing with religion. Here’s a few examples.


I’m a social worker and I work primarily with the deaf/blind. I avoid religious talk at work. I’ve accompanied clients to church and sat through the sermon. I’ve said a prayer for a client just going to bed. If asked about religion, I deflect because I don’t think it belongs in my professional life. When I’m at work, I’m there to serve my clients and if they find comfort in me praying with them, then I’ll be doing just that.


At social functions I do not bow my head in prayer. I do not pray. I do not sing hymns. I do not profess faith in a deity I do not believe in.

At functions or in public areas where I’m not working, I do not support religion. I do not actively go out of my way to embarrass people etc., but I also don’t partake in what religion is offering.

Personal Life

If you know me at all, you will probably figure out I’m not a believer. If you ask me about religion in a non-professional atmosphere, I will discuss my views with you. I will try to do so in a polite manner unless pushed to the brink with torture threats (like Hell) or other religious inanities. I’ve been told that I’m the anti-Christ on more than one occasion, for example, and that I have ‘weird views’ on religion as a whole.

That’s fine. I make sure that I don’t actively hide my religious views. I’m openly atheist without being in-your-face about it. But if asked or drawn into a conversation about religion, I will speak my thoughts.

I believe being openly atheist is important, since many, many people can’t be. Some atheists fear for their lives, some fear losing their family and friends etc. I’m lucky enough not to fear those things. I live in a part of the world where I’m free to speak my mind about religion. Sure, I may take a few social consequences, but I’m fine with that.


My wife was a Catholic when I met her and she is very much aware of my atheism. As are my step-kids, kids and close friends. We’ve had religious discussions and they are aware of my reasons for not believing. I never told my kids I was an atheist when they were growing up and I supported their right to choose religion or non-belief as they saw fit. My son believes in God and my daughter doesn’t much care about religion one way or the other. I love my family whether they are religious or not. I’ve even offered to attend church with my wife if it was important to her, as long as she didn’t expect me to bow my head (or kneel) and pray or in any other way compromise my own ethics. I would gladly (well…semi-gladly) sit quietly through a sermon if she wanted me too.


Basically, I try to strike a balance. I don’t pretend to be religious but sometimes I must put my religious and non-religious differences aside to help people I work with or care about. I’m proud of my atheism, because it took me a long time to arrive at. It meant many hours of reading and examining. It meant years of self-discovery, and I’m now comfortable with my non-belief in God.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t challenge that non-belief on a regular basis. I read many religious writings and constantly strive to find good arguments against my position.

I hope you and your readers enjoyed the post and thank you once again for the opportunity to post on your blog. As you probably know, I enjoy your writings very much.

Prayer for an Atheist

Dear Russell and Friends,

Recently, J’s brother became suddenly and severely ill.  Russell texted me that she was going to say goodbye as he was in a coma and not expected to live.  Some of J’s family believe.  Some don’t.  As she stands in the middle it can hurt.  Whether you believe or not, whether they believe or not – – when someone you love is hurting, you hurt.  That is part of love’s definition.  I said that I would pray.  I wrote it down so that my promise would not be hollow.  Then I ran.  That is where I do much of my thinking directed to God – – prayer if you will. Then I wrote.  That is where I write letters to God and leave a record of his answers and how they have changed my life.  I write several times a week in a large journal.  The entry is below.  I’ve addressed it Dear Father as I usually do – – my title for God.  As a father myself, I’m haunted and pricked each time I write those words.  So many incomplete fathers.  I am one of them.  One father who balances discipline and love.

I’ll end with the letter’s actual sign off.  Before I begin:

1)  Believers – – do you pray for skeptics?  How?

2)  Skeptics – – would this prayer offend you?  Would any?

Pascal – – 1:16

Dear Father,

I told a friend that I would pray this week for her brother who is severely ill.  He is an atheist.  She doubts.  His sudden fall has sent waves through a family and community.  A middle aged man scaling a noble cliff fell suddenly.  His back is broken and he writhes in blinding pain.  Will he walk again or even live?  I don’t know him, but I love him.  We’re the same age.  I too have fallen before.  I too have been rebuilt.  But what if I hadn’t.  What if I never recovered the sentience to hear your whisper of presence and reassurance?  What if I never thanked those who loved me despite my far flung successes and foundational failures?

I believe that you made and gifted this man.  I believe that you used his gifts to enrich men whether he knew you or not.  I think his metal is like mine – – an alloy of base and precious.  I think his heart is like mine – – a dividing line between good and evil.  I think his family is like mine – – loving him, hurting deeply, hoping for a chance to reconnect perhaps reconcile.

What if he doesn’t wake up?  If he was right about you then he’ll live in the memories he constructed.  His family and his work will stand as a testament to what he built and how he built it.  If I am right about you let me beg you this – – when the veil is lifted, when the choice is clear – – then let him choose.  You know that my heart has grown for those who deny you and even for those who hate me for following Christ.  We know it is illogical to hate the non-existent.  But it does make sense to hate Christ followers – – especially if they have hurt others by twisting your words or following a broad rather than narrow path.  I’ve done that.

I haven’t met this man, but I love him.  Please bring him back to the family that needs him.  I suspect that he has much to say and that they are needful of hearing it.  Please especially strengthen his sister – – my friend.  She thought, perhaps thinks, that she shares his atheism.  Comfort without you is thin.  Please comfort her.  I’m not sure what my good friend her husband thinks.  He is so hopeful that science will soothe the sting of death.  In my work with the dying I knew he was wrong.  I sit with families facing death from different perspectives – – four this week alone.  It is different.

I’m not asking for a deathbed conversion for a mind that may grasp nothing.  I do not understand completely how you will save all men through the work of Christ, but I know that you will.  And if this man lives to die another day please let me meet him and offer my admiration and compassion in person.



Arguing with Ayn


Dear Russell and Friends,

There she is.  Demure smile, confident pose, piercing eyes & cigarette in hand.  She created the best book title ever – – Atlas Shrugged – – a title that compelled me to read.  Her first name rhymes with wine.  She is worth arguing with.  We could not disagree more on so many fundamental things.  And yet.

Ayn Rand is one of the best, smartest, most incisive writers that I have read.  She has strong opinions well reasoned that are diametrically opposed to my worldview and philosophy.  Is reading her an exercise in frustration?  No.  Not at all.


Reading her is pure pleasure and reminds me that my life is too short to pick lesser books.  I’ve just begun The Fountainhead in its 25th anniversary edition.  Rand wrote the introduction in 1968 – – five years before I was born and a full 25 years before I could digest her ideas.

Now I’ll wrestle with Howard Roark just like I wrestled with Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden.  From the grave their ideas and speeches echo.  And so it is with Ms. Rand.  I want to invite her to our table and listen. Then I’d share what enthralls yet disappoints me.  Her protagonists are my antagonists – – they are Übermensch, gleaming strong and clear.  I need these antagonists – – worthy opponents in the circus of ideas. Her antagonists are straw.  Caricatures of bias, bigotry and weakness.  If only she could revise.  Would she?  If only she had the courage to face the strong and not the weak.  Would she?  Oh well.  Her gift to me remains – – enemies that I can respect and answer with a clear conscience.  Enemies that best me in more areas than I usually admit.  Enemies of concrete, steel, arcs and planes of soaring thought.  Enemies that could become friends.

What of my antagonist to her protagonist?  I hope to return her gift and not to duplicate her greatest mistake.

Pascal – – 1:16


photo credits:

Ayn Rand portrait by Phyllis Cerf (1916–2006) Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia –

“Objectivist1” by Michael Greene – originally posted to Flickr as Atlas 2. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –