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A skeptic would argue 'There's no scientific evidence to suggest that God (or crystal healing, or indigo children) exist. The onus is on the proponent of the idea to put evidence forward to suggest that that thing exists.'

The believer can respond that the grounds for their belief is that the idea has been around for a long time and has been passed down from an earlier time when 'God talked to them' or 'the aliens were around'.

Is there an epistemological reason we can't refute this? Is this simply a buck passing argument? (ie. the believer now needs to prove that God existed and no longer talks, or aliens once existed).

Don't scientists buck pass too? ie. 'We don't have a grand unified theory, but we have some ideas that we can't prove.'.

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Although the "ancient knowledge" argument is a valid one, it only scratches the surface of the real issue because the faith of a true believer has a firmer foundation. It really doesn't do you any good to only address the secondary arguments if you overlook the ultimate basis. To really get to the heart of the matter, you must come face-to-face with the question of faith itself, which is a gift of God instilled in the hearts of believers:

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Faith makes the existence of God immediately evident, so it isn't the type of information that can be refuted with arguments. Trying to do so would be like arguing that the sky isn't blue when he can see that it clearly is. As Herman Bavinck said:

"Believing and knowing are not distinct in the matter of certainty. The certainty of faith is as firm as that of knowledge. Indeed, the certainty of faith is the more intense of the two it is virtually unshakeable and ineradicable. For their faith people are prepared to sacrifice everything, including their life." (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, pg. 577)

To answer your question as to whether scientists also pass the buck: Yes. It's an unavoidable fact that all reasoning begins with supposedly axiomatic assertions which cannot be proven. In addition to that, modern science is trying to reach beyond the sphere of what may be verified by scientific means. String theory is a good example of that, given that scientists openly admit that there may never be any evidence to support it.

Although all scientific evidence depends upon observation, Max Tegmark pointed out that many scientists have deliberately avoided investigating the nature of consciousness which is the basis for all observation:

"A commonly held view is that consciousness is irrelevant to physics and should therefore not be discussed in physics papers. One oft-stated reason is a perceived lack of rigor in past attempts to link consciousness to physics. Another argument is that physics has been managed just fine for hundreds of years by avoiding this subject, and should therefore keep doing so."

It should be pointed out that although Tegmark believes that science should investigate the nature of consciousness, his own treatment of the subject is based upon assumptions for which he has no evidentiary support. He begins with the bold presupposition that consciousness is identical with the motion of particles:

"How can we generalize this and look for physical correlates of consciousness, defined as the patterns of moving particles that are conscious? What particle arrangements are conscious?"

  • I agree with you to some extent on the epistemic nature of religious experience. But then how do you go from the immediacy a that specific feeling to absolute certainty about one denomination against all others ? See this answer I gave to another post and this question I posted for details on my objections. – Alexander S King Mar 18 '16 at 15:58
  • @Alexander S King. That's kind of like asking how you recognize your father's voice. There's only one father from whom that particular voice comes. However, concerning the question of specific denominations, such discernment doesn't come immediately but must be sought with prayer and humility (Matt 7:7). True faith seeks to glorify God, and it's very easy for us to be blinded by our own pride. God directs those who seek the truth with sincerity, but it's impossible to go into details about how God actually brings that about in His sovereignty. – user3017 Mar 18 '16 at 16:44
  • Three unrelated children hear an adult female voice. Each one claims with certainty that it is his mother, not the other's mothers who is speaking. How do we know whose mother is speaking? – Alexander S King Mar 18 '16 at 17:25
  • There is only one God who is the creator of all mankind, so it's not really a question of trying to recognize somebody else's parent. Rather, it's trying to hear a voice that we are all to some extent familiar with. The reason that we have difficulty in hearing that voice is because we don't really want to. In our corrupted nature, man actively stifles the voice of his own conscience and in so doing he stifles his ability to recognize God's moral excellence. Restoration only comes through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, and that never occurs without faith and repentance. – user3017 Mar 18 '16 at 17:54
  • Do you have a non-scripture based proof that God is one and not many? – Alexander S King Mar 18 '16 at 18:40
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I would argue a skeptic argues even more than you claim. You say "A skeptic would argue 'There's no scientific evidence to suggest that God (or crystal healing, or indigo children) exist.'" That would be the argument of a scientific skeptic, one who trusts science but does not trust anything else. A full skeptic would also say that we do not know that scientific evidence is indeed a valid justification for any knowledge.

This is part of the reason why it is generally accepted that you cannot force someone to change their mind, only encourage them to do so.

If one starts from the assumption that minds can be changed, one can attempt to change their mind by deeply exploring their beliefs. This can take years, if not a lifetime. At some point, you may find a edge with which you can move their opinion. And who know, maybe in the process you'll expose an edge that lets them move your opinion. After all, isn't that what learning new things is all about?

Alternatively, nod, smile, give them distance, and find a way to benefit from their belief. It may be as simple as enjoying more smiles from them than you'd receive if they did not have said belief. Remember others are allowed to have beliefs other than your own, unless your beliefs state they are not allowed. You don't have to believe them, they don't have to believe you.

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This argument is a common one, and it is not easy to dispel. However,a simple answer to this idea is that knowledge passed on over time is subject to the interpretations of the people passing it on. This idea can be illustrated by children. When they play a game of telephone, some words or ideas can become mixed up or altered so much that the original message is unrecognizable by the time the last person speaks the final sentence.

The same is true for adults, especially when knowledge passed by word of mouth can become confused or altered by lack of repetition or a fallible memory. Knowledge passed down in ancient times was often passed from the eldest in the community to the youngest, and this type of knowledge transfer is problematic. First, the recipients have to be interested and of an age when the knowledge will be useful and has a chance of being retained. The elder has to have a perfect memory and have passed on this knowledge often enough that it NEVER changes from one telling to the next, which is highly unlikely given the fluidity of human memory.

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