A Little Atheism for Y’all

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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294 Responses

  1. Avatar Steve S. says:

    “‘You’re actually condemning yourself to Hell’ is a cop-out, because I am helpless to make myself believe something that strikes me as unbelievable”

    Exactly. Yet I’ve been asked a number of times why I “chose” to be an atheist. Utterly absurd.Report

  2. “The God professed by almost all Christians would happily subject me to all of the above and worse, for all eternity.”

    Is that accurate? The Bible is actually remarkably vague about the afterlife in general and Hell in particular.

    Personally, as a Believer that marches to my own drum, I like to think that God has some sort of ‘heaven-lite’ for good people that had no faith for one reason or another. He would give you a tour of Heaven first, which is the eternal equivelant of Disneyworld. Then he would take you to the atheist area, which is like those mobile amusement parks they set up for 2-weeks at the state fair. It’s fun, but you know it just ain’t Disneyworld.

    My God is a forgiving dude, but one with a sense of humor.Report

  3. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Such people scare me, for if they should ever feel that they could get away with it…

    Although I think non-theists are, in some ways, like any other discriminated group (whose group membership is not always obvious): it’s easy to damn them as a group, until you suddenly learn that three of the nicest people you know fall into that category.Report

  4. The late and somewhat liberal John Stott allowed that some souls could choose annihilation. If we truly have free will, that seems logical.

    He was universalist otherwise, that all souls that were left would, in eternity’s time, be in heaven.

    As for what is said on Facebook, there is always the Elvis/UFO factor, that 10% of people will believe just about any proposition, no matter how absurd. It also helps to start drinking as early as possible in the day.Report

  5. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    This atheist, like Jason, does not believe for a moment that those posts represent anything like how Christians really think or behave. Something went haywire psychologically here, and we already have a pretty good hint to get us started on figuring out how that happened.

    The posters ought to be ashamed of themselves, both for what they said and for painting their co-religionists in a very bad and unfair light. Some apologies and retractions are in order. If you doubt this, go back and read the actual facebook posts again, maybe substituting “Jews” for “atheists.” Chilling.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I agree with you Burt, except that the first link you post to notes what happens when we speak in anonymity. The FOX vehicle is a Facebook page, which means that these people are posting their name and pictures to what they are saying, and all of their friends and families can see what they posted.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        It’s a hint, not a full explanation. My hypotheses is that lots of people suffer from cognitive dissonance about the degree of attribution given to internet postings, or to put it another way, even though your name is on it, the fact that it’s on the internet makes it somehow “not real.”

        I could give you dozens of examples of this from my legal practice — people who get figuratively crucified by their own e-mails, instant messages, or facebook posts. Yesterday, it was my client getting stray remarks thrown against her, tomorrow it’s going to be yours. Today, it’s these people who posted about the WTC memorial dispute.

        If they’d have been thoughtful about it, they would have realized that those posts could indeed be attributed back to them – but if they were being thoughtful about it, they wouldn’t have made those posts in the first place. So by definition we’re talking about people who didn’t put much, if any, thought into what they were doing.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

          We see a lot of this as well. On of the things will implemented this past year for all of our clients was a Social Media Policy, exactly because of how amazingly short sighted some people are when putting things “out there.”Report

          • Avatar dhex in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            My hypotheses is that lots of people suffer from cognitive dissonance about the degree of attribution given to internet postings, or to put it another way, even though your name is on it, the fact that it’s on the internet makes it somehow “not real.”

            this vibes with my general experience as well. that there’s no “take-backsies” on the internet is lost on many people until they get burned in some real way.Report

  6. Avatar Anderson says:

    “The God professed by almost all Christians would happily subject me to all of the above [namely, Hell] and worse, for all eternity.”

    It’s odd, the church I grew up in (United Church of Christ) was so far from that kind of Christianity that I have hard time seeing your statement as the “God I’ve learned of”, so to say. I mean, jeez, we had more than a few openly gay people (and couples) in our church, noone ever talked about Christianity as the one way or else, and we went on work tours to help folks in need, not convert them. God was the question we kept asking, not an answer we mindlessly repeated. Our youth pastor encouraged us to have doubts, explore other faiths/not-faiths, but, most importantly, taught us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly (micah 6:8).
    Religion was a rewarding part of my life because of the community and desire to put others before oneself, though I could never really bring myself to fully say “I believe in God” because, well, it’s a powerful and scary assertion to make. Yet, noone seemed to mind. I’m sure this is heresey to alot of Christians, but, because this was my primary experience with religion, I hesitate to turn my back on the whole idea, no matter how many disgusting stories I read like the Fox one above. At the very least, I feel comfortable saying that Christians and churches are not robots; they come in all different shades.Report

    • Avatar Anderson in reply to Anderson says:

      Then again, I often think I would’ve ended up an outright atheist/disinterested in religion if I had grown up in the Catholic church down the block. Lord knows most of my friends who went there did.Report

      • I grew up in the Catholic church and most of my friends are either atheists or have at least left the Church. It’s a weird thing. Our parents went through a much more strict Catholic upbringing and are usually more devout.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

          I had 7 years of diocesian school, followed by Jesuits for 8.

          In my comparative theology course freshman year in college, the professor (an irascible old Jesuit of the “holy cow you should be a movie character” mold) said something to the effect of, “Half the people who take my class come out the other end as model Catholics, the other half become agnostics or atheists, either of which is a good outcome.”Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            Did he mean that in every case either outcome would be good (which would be impressive), or that he thought he was effecting a sorting process that was reasonably effective in helping people get to the views that were inherently right for them in an intellectually sound, reliable way?Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Michael Drew says:

              Yanno, I’m not certain. I’ll have to ask him.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Michael Drew says:

              I had about the equivalent education/indoctrination as Patrick (I must like his rhetoric because it reminds me of MY Jesuit teachers). The ready answers on faith/not faith and saved/not saved are found in the Bible as: “Faith is a gift” and “The chaff and the wheat”. The curious can look it up.

              Jesuits are the best drinkers BTWReport

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to wardsmith says:

                You gain a different perspective on the R.C. Church when you grow up with an uncle in the Jesuits and at pretty much every other major family gathering there is an additional priest around who couldn’t make it home for Christmas and they’re getting just as drunk as the laypeople.

                I remember meeting my high school president and saying, “Hey, Jerry!” and mortifying everyone else in my group. Hey, I saw the guy singing tunes while loaded when I was 6.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Pat, I had a similar experience at my Jesuit high school. Our mock election in 2000 saw 70% of the faculty vote for Gore and 20% vote for Nader despite the fact that both are “babykillers”. In my religion class junior year, we spent four weeks investigated primary sources for whether or not Jesus even existed. Screenings of “Jesus of Montreal” and “The Last Temptation of Christ” came later in the semester.

                Oh, and Mike, I think the declining numbers thing has a lot to do with the whole touching children mess. My grandmother went from mass everyday to moral conundrum on Christmas when that went down.Report

    • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Anderson says:

      can’t resist — here’s a take from Emo Phillips:

      I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said “Stop! Don’t do it!”
      “Why shouldn’t I?” he said.
      I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”
      He said, “Like what?”
      I said, “Well…are you religious or atheist?”
      He said, “Religious.”
      I said, “Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?”
      He said, “Christian.”
      I said, “Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
      He said, “Protestant.”
      I said, “Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
      He said, “Baptist!”
      I said, “Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
      He said, “Baptist Church of God!”
      I said, “Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
      He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God!”
      I said, “Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?”
      He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!”
      I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.

      — Emo Philips, comedianReport

  7. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    I think it’s hard to say what Hell is supposed to be like. It’s given some description in Revelation and (perhaps elsewhere; I’ve not been diligent in my study of the Scriptures in recent years), but the particulars are not exactly part of the core teachings of Christianity. My understanding is that Heaven and Hell are not physical but spiritual realms, so I don’t know how a very precise description can be given in that case.

    At any rate, I think the better definition of Hell from a theological perspective is simply “separation from God.” Perhaps, then, being entirely deprived of His love and grace and creation is on par with lakes of fire and the rest. More to the point, it should not then be a mystery that God condemns the unrepentant to separation from Him—why should God bring them close who have first rejected Him?

    I suppose Jason might group this explanation with the “you’re condemning yourself” category. I won’t hope to cure anyone’s unbelief in a combox, but I will say, as I’ve elaborated elsewhere, that one’s worldview—and atheists have worldviews just as Christians do—requires belief, too. Yet, the adoption of belief in a worldview is preliminary to all other beliefs, such that few if any can identify it as any conscious, affirmative act.

    That is an incomplete explanation, but do consider that the way you feel about Christianity, I feel about atheism. It simply does not present itself to me as a credible candidate as a personal belief system.Report

    • Tim – I agree with much of this. Contrary to what Steve S. says above atheism is as much a choice as Faith. I respect people’s decision to make that choice but then you can’t complain about the consequences if it turns out you were wrong. It’s almost like many atheists want a built-in escape clause for just such an event. On the off-chance God does exist they want credit for being a good person and a rationale thinker and forgiveness for non-belief and if Believers don’t offer that then we are being exclusionary jerks.Report

      • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        Mike — I’m afraid I must respectfully disagree about atheism being a choice. I’m sorry for the over-used examples, but I would vastly prefer to believe in the existence of dragons and hobbits and such things, but simply have no choice but to reject their reality, given the world I see around me. The exact same process happens in regards to any god that I have thus far heard of. It’s not a choice I make — I simply cannot reconcile that sort of belief/faith with anything that I see or have experienced.Report

        • “It’s not a choice I make — I simply cannot reconcile that sort of belief/faith with anything that I see or have experienced.”

          Personally I am a Believer but as someone that has studied history my entire life I have never been able to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. I am not so arrogant to believe that my powers of reasoning are without flaw so I acknowledge that my lack of belief is a choice to go with my brain even when my heart might tell me differently. Unless you believe your powers of reasoning are flawless and that you have the entire universe figured out, then you are making a choice based on available data.Report

          • Avatar Steve S. in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

            “Unless you believe your powers of reasoning are flawless and that you have the entire universe figured out, then you are making a choice based on available data.”

            As so often happens with the term “believe”, you are turning the word “choice” into a complete triviality.Report

          • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

            I’m sorry…I don’t really understand. My lack of belief in dragons and hobbits is arrogance? I’m stating that my reasoning is “flawless” if I don’t believe in dragons and hobbits? You do not have a lack of belief in dragons and hobbits? Somehow I have a choice whether or not to believe in dragons and hobbits? Not believing in dragons and hobbits means I think I have the “entire universe figured out”? (Please feel free to replace the nouns “dragons” and “hobbits” with any other mythological entities about which we have absolutely no evidence of existence.)Report

            • A lack of belief isn’t arrogance. A claim of certainty in disbelief sort of feels like it though.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to rexknobus says:

              We have plenty of evidence that neither dragons nor hobbits exist.

              We don’t have any evidence that God doesn’t exist. We don’t have any evidence that He/She/It *does*, either. But a paranormal entity that can suspend causation isn’t exactly the same class of being as a flying dinosaur. We’d expect, if dragons existed, that one might fly off with somebody’s cow on occasion. This doesn’t happen, ergo no dragons.

              I think Mike’s point is that he feels resolving the question of the existence of a Creator in the negative is in many ways as arrogant as claiming the existence of a Creator in the positive if you’re claiming to make that assessment based upon evidence and reason.

              Properly, if you rely entirely upon empiricism and logic, you should approach this question this as a null resolution.Report

              • “I think Mike’s point is that he feels resolving the question of the existence of a Creator in the negative is in many ways as arrogant as claiming the existence of a Creator in the positive if you’re claiming to make that assessment based upon evidence and reason.”

                Correct. And to the point of choice – if reason and logic are not applicable in a decision about Belief – then it becomes a matter of choice.Report

              • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Odin. Ra. Thor. Ganesh. Zeus. Ra. Isis. Did you actually choose not to believe in them and all the other deities that you may have come across in your readings and travels? And, since I am completely convinced that there is no Odin in Asgard or Zeus on Olympus, I am arrogant? And what makes your god special or different?Report

              • “Did you actually choose not to believe in them and all the other deities that you may have come across in your readings and travels?”

                Absolutely. I think a lot of other faiths have something interesting to offer but none of them compelled me. That is choice. My opinion is that one’s faith is very personal and one should commit to a faith only when they feel something that draws them in. I don’t think my God is any better than any other person’s god. And even if I did – that would still be my choice to believe that since I can’t exactly get the consumer report breakdown of the various dieties.Report

              • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Mike — o.k., I’m seeing where we part company on the matter of choice. Let me go back to another thing that you brought up:

                Do you think that, by denying the other gods mentioned, you are arrogant? (I understand that you don’t think that your god is superior — but you did choose it over all the others.)Report

              • Someone might choose Harvard over Yale. The point is that they are both good schools. One is just a better fit. It was the same for me with Faith. I don’t think mine is better – it’s just what is right for me. I don’t think that could be characterized as arrogance.Report

              • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Perhaps any decision reached honestly and with careful thought (or faith) that has room for respectful disagreement should not be referred to as “arrogant.”Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Where does this leave me, then?

                I suppose I am an agnostic on the question of “Uncaused Cause” versus “Infinite Regress.” I don’t know how to pick between them, and as was pointed out elsewhere, there are other alternatives, albeit even weirder ones. I’m not even sure where to go with those.

                The next trouble I have is that believers very, very quickly slide from “agnostic about the Uncaused Cause” to “agnostic about the Lord Jesus Christ who visited pre-Columbian Missouri,” or whatever bill of particulars they associate with the Uncaused Cause.

                And yet my agnosticism about the Uncaused Cause is not an agnosticism about God as He is usually understood — because I find those formulations of the Uncaused Cause absurd and incoherent. Think undiscovered elementary physical process, not big daddy in the sky, and you’ll be close to the thing about which I’m agnostic. On everything to the other end of the spectrum, I’m an atheist.Report

              • Jason,

                Personally I like to look at atheism and agnosticism at their most basic level. The simple question I would ask is whether or not you believe there is some sort of intelligent, super-natural power that plays a role in the universe? You can answer yes, no or undecided. Regardless of your answer it’s all choice because rationality and logic are not applicable in discussions of the supernatural so it’s ultimately an emotional decision i.e. choice.

                If you disagree with various aspects of man-made religion I think that’s merely just a disagreement over theology. I might disagree with a fellow Catholic about the necessity of priests in confessing our sins – but that is irrelevant to my Faith. I guess I feel like Belief transcends religion.Report

              • Hmmm it seems to me that the only rational/reasoned answer to the question is agnosticism/unknown. There is insufficient evidence to say with certainty that there is or isn’t a creator and it’s possible that such a question is unanswerable.

                The problem most people have with that is that while agnosticism pokes atheism in the eye once by not joining it in asserting that there is no God it is otherwise functionally and practically identical to atheism in that it would give zero weight to any claims the religious world makes on the real one. So as a practical matter agnostics and atheists tend to be on the same side in continuing to extricate the historically large temporal authority that theists hold from society.Report

              • The only significant disagreement I have with the first paragraph of this comment is the use of the word “choice” to describe an “emotional decision.” Emotional reactions to stimuli occur on a sub-rational level and are not properly described as “choices.” I might propose the existence of an intelligent, supernatural power that plays a role in the universe, and you would instantly react favorably to that suggestion. (Or the converse.) Your reaction is emotional, not rational, and therefore is not a choice; the intellectual justifications you summon for that reaction are rationalizations of an emotionally pre-determined response, not the response themselves.

                But I agree that it is unknowable for anyone no matter what their provisional position on the matter might be; I agree that one’s provisional position on the matter is motivated by emotion more than by reason or evidence.

                The second paragraph does not apply to a skeptic, for whom disagreements about theology are not particularly interesting. If belief transcends religion, great; plenty of people get those two things confused and it’s really not a discussion that is of much interest to those who eschew belief in the supernatural altogether.Report

              • North, That’s a good point. The way I would address that is to say that there are basically two types of agnostics: Skeptics and Searchers. The skeptics lean more towards atheism but are willing to leave room for the possibility. Those are the folks that will basically have to see God appear on their front lawn and levitate a car in order to Believe.

                I was very much a Searcher for the duration of my agnosticism. I was always looking, always hoping. Eventually I found Faith.

                I kind of feel like most atheists are actually Skeptic Agnostics.Report

              • Burt – maybe ’emotional decision’ isn’t the best turn of phrase. I was trying to convey that the decision-making process or ‘choice’ is not a product of reason. It’s a complicated dance between emotion, visceral feelings, suspension of pure reason and ultimately a sort of bargain between mind and heart.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                [Do you] believe there is some sort of intelligent, super-natural power that plays a role in the universe? You can answer yes, no or undecided. Regardless of your answer it’s all choice because rationality and logic are not applicable in discussions of the supernatural so it’s ultimately an emotional decision i.e. choice.

                I can’t say I agree. The principle of parsimony demands that I not adopt beliefs that lack evidence. When a belief lacks evidence, the answer isn’t “I don’t know,” but “no.”

                Note that this does not render “I don’t know” an impossible answer. One says “I don’t know” when confronted with evidence that falls short of compelling. Not when there is no evidence whatsoever, or when an idea itself is nonsensical.

                Here are three examples:

                1. Are there parallel universes? We have no evidence for (or against) the claim, so we have to say no, to the best of our knowledge, there are not. Parsimony.

                2. Can dogs predict earthquakes? There is some intriguing evidence to that effect, but not enough that researchers feel really confident about it. “I don’t know” is the appropriate answer here.

                3. Can colorless green ideas sleep furiously? The entire proposition is nonsensical, so no amount of evidence can ever support it.

                Many god-beliefs are like (3) for me. Some others are like (1). I’m not aware of any I would put in the category (2).

                I would be tempted to put the Uncaused Cause in with (3), but the only other alternative that even approaches making sense of the problem is an infinite regress, which is also a (3). So this gets perhaps a different category of “I don’t know.” But an “I don’t know” all the same.

                Some questions I admit straddle the lines. Consider: Is there life on other planets? We have a little evidence indicating that it may be possible. We have no evidence saying that it must be impossible. It’s clearly not a (3). But is it a (1) or a (2)? I lean toward (2), but I could understand if someone said (1), at least for the time being.Report

              • “I can’t say I agree. The principle of parsimony demands that I not adopt beliefs that lack evidence. When a belief lacks evidence, the answer isn’t “I don’t know,” but “no.”

                What I would suggest is that since the discussion is about the existence or non-existence of the supernatural the basic rules for what qualifies as ‘evidence’ are fairly loose and personal. Someone might believe that God literally spoke to them and they found Faith. I might believe that I see the hand of God in the natural world and that this brought me to Faith.

                If you are relying on empirical data alone for demonstrating the existence of God then you are creating an experiment which is guaranteed to fail.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                If you are relying on empirical data alone for demonstrating the existence of God then you are creating an experiment which is guaranteed to fail.

                Forgive me, but this does sound like special pleading: “People are most tempted to engage in special pleading when they are subject to a law or moral rule that they wish to evade. People often attempt to apply a “double standard”, which makes an exception to the rule for themselves—or people like them—but applies it to others. They usually do not argue that they, or their group, should be exempt from the rule simply because of who they are; this would be such obvious special pleading that no one would be fooled. Instead, they invoke some characteristic that they have that sets them apart; however, if the characteristic is not a relevant exception to the rule, then they are engaged in special pleading.”

                Or simpler: A house divided against itself cannot stand.Report

              • Jason – I am not asking for a special rule. What I am suggesting is that if you are relying on emperical data or the scientific method to ascertain the existence of the supernatural – you are not using science correctly. By definition the two cannot mix.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                And this sounds to me like the very essence of special pleading, repeated just after a denial of special pleading.Report

              • Thanks Mike, yes I think I get the idea of the distinction.Report

              • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                “What I am suggesting is that if you are relying on emperical data or the scientific method to ascertain the existence of the supernatural – you are not using science correctly.” — Mike

                Actually, if you use anything but empirical data or the scientific method you are not using science correctly. The “supernatural” is termed such because it cannot stand up to the rigors of proof. (If it could, we wouldn’t use the “super,” it would just be “natural.”) I certainly understand that most of the human beings who ever lived believe strongly in the supernatural. For whatever reason, I’m not one of them. But “science” does not function at all well without the rigors of experiment and proof.Report

              • I’m not sure I follow your point Rexknobus. You seem to want to challenge me on the point that using the scientific method to try and prove or disprove the existence of the supernatural is an incorrect application of the method…but then you proceed to explain how the supernatural cannot be explained by science. It seems like you are sort of proving my point.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                So far the only reason you’ve offered to avoid submitting supernatural phenomena to science is “I know what the results will be, and I won’t like them.”

                This is the absolute weakest reason I can imagine. It’s tantamount to putting one’s head in the sand.Report

              • Jason – maybe you could set up that experiment for us. How would you go about proving or disproving the existence of the supernatural using science?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                There’s an extensive literature in parapsychology. Do you really need me to refer you to it?

                As a general rule, scientists sometimes have difficulty figuring out what’s going on, but when the tests are designed by professional magicians, the so-called supernatural powers inevitably vanish.

                This should tell you something. Except when it doesn’t, because your supernatural phenomena are special.Report

              • I think Gould did the best job of disproving this notion. There is simply no common ground.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                If you are content to deal only in nonfalsifiable statements, then you’re right… science has nothing much to say to you.

                I’m not sure that there are any religions like that.Report

              • Are we talking religion or are we talking about the basic question of whether or not a higher power exists? I’m talking about the latter.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                You’d earlier referenced “the supernatural,” and I’d written of parapsychology.

                I thought we’d left the subject of the creator behind, as I’ve said my bit on it and have nothing more to add. Comments 38 and 44 being the most apposite.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Actually, “supernatural phenomenon (pneumatic irruption)”, occurs within the individual’s consciousness, as EV argued. However, I’m dealing with the problem in that it can occur metastatically, or in an immanent reality but we have to deal not only with the experiential element, we may have to conjure up some symbols. Here’s a terrific essay on the subject:
                http://www.anamnesisjournal.com/issues/2-web-essays/12-eric-voegelin-and-christianityReport

              • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                “…but then you proceed to explain how the supernatural cannot be explained by science. It seems like you are sort of proving my point.”

                Well, if your point is that the supernatural can’t be quantized, recorded, duplicated, repeated, counted on, or basically even happen, then I am indeed proving your point.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Not exactly. This gets back to the probabilistic nature of the Universe.

                We have a phenomenon that we believe is supernatural. Historically, when we’ve tested phenomena like these, we’ve established that one of the following is true: the observation was incorrect or incomplete, or the existing understanding of the laws of nature was incorrect or incomplete and extending the laws provides an explanation for the phenomena we believed were supernatural.

                As yet, there is only one event that has persistently resisted explication under our current understanding of the laws of nature, and that’s the Big Bang. Which isn’t surprising, as it is the one demonstrably unique event in the history of the Universe – at least, so far as we know right now.

                This means that I can reasonably assume that any event that is presented to me as a supernatural phenomenon is exceedingly likely to map to the former candidate list of supernatural phenomena -> it ain’t no miracle.

                Science can of course investigate these events, with the assumption that they are in fact not supernatural at all, but they represent one of the two previously mentioned failures.

                But if an actual honest-to-God miracle occurred, you couldn’t *discount* the possibility that there *was* a scientific explanation for the event. If angels appear on the White House lawn tomorrow morning and say, “Thus, we decree that the Statue of Liberty will fly!” and she takes off, what is the more reasonable explanation?

                That God wanted this to happen, or that a sufficiently advanced prankster was yanking our chain?

                Me, I’m going with the prankster. But I readily admit that this means that if a miracle *does* occur, I’m going to be the last guy in on it. Again, only one unique non-repeatable event in the history of the Universe that I know of with reasonable certainty, so it’s pretty unlikely I’ll have this egg-on-my-face moment.

                On the other hand, we’ve got scads and scads of examples of pranksters in the history of mankind, so it also means that all the miracle-believers are going to be the last ones in on the joke. And this has happened time and again.Report

      • Avatar mark boggs in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        I figure if I’m wrong about my doubt and go ahead and live an ethical life and do my best to be a good father, husband, etc. and this God still values the belief more than the actions, this is probably not the kind of God I could much respect anyway.

        I believe it was Wendell Berry who said, “The Gods are less for their want of praise.”Report

        • “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
          —Jesus in Matthew 9:13, quoting Hosea 6:6 which reads:

          “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings…”

          Also

          “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” Matthew 12:7

          The point being, there’s a lot of wiggle room here, and the Bible or its God is explicitly not all about the worship thing. A lot of people who reject the Bible don’t quite know what’s in it.

          And to be fair, it’s clear that many of those who believe the Bible is the Word of God don’t quite understand what it says either. Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord, meaning it’s His, and not man’s.

          Besides, everybody knows only Mormons go to heaven.

          Report

      • Avatar Ogdred in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        “On the off-chance God does exist they want credit for being a good person and a rationale thinker and forgiveness for non-belief and if Believers don’t offer that then we are being exclusionary jerks.”

        I beg your pardon. Since when is any of that up to the Believer to offer or deny? Has God switched to a democratic system, but only Believers get to vote?Report

      • Avatar Steve S. in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        “atheism is as much a choice as Faith”

        Bald assertion.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        Mike at The Big Stick‘s comment seems to strike the closest to my point here, which is: faith (or its absence) is much more like emotion than it is like logic. It cannot be chosen any more than one’s sexual preference or appetite for spicy food can be chosen.

        You either have faith in the supernatural or you do not; the most you can change consciously is your outward behavior. I could start going to church again, saying all the prayers, genuflecting and crossing myself, eating the little wafer of stale bread and drinking the watery wine, reading the Bible every day. But it wouldn’t change that deep down, I don’t think any of the rituals or writings or preachings are about anything real.

        It’s similar to being heterosexual, enjoying jazz, or preferring your food spicy — it’s not a matter of conscious choice. Call it a “preference” if you must, but “preferences” happen at an unconscious, emotional, level of cognition, and are not effectively subject to self-intentional change.

        Behaviors, of course, are subject to self-intentional change. But behaviors are not preferences; one can choose to behave other than one prefers. I can force myself go to church, but I can’t make myself like it — and for the same reason, I can’t make myself believe what I’m told there.

        It’s not a choice at all. To the extent we talk about one’s freedom to “choose” a faith, we are falling subject to a poverty of langauge, and it’s a false poverty at that. One’s beliefs simply exist; they might morph organically over time, but if so that is unlikely to be the result of any conscious decision on the part of the subject.Report

        • Mr. Likko, it’s a choice to close the question of God or continue to leave it open, even if one’s provisional conclusion is that He is Not.

          Or, as the man said, knock and it shall be opened to you, seek and you shall find, that stuff. Whether to knock or not knock is indeed our choice.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            At some point, the line between not closing questions and still being able to have beliefs just becomes impossible to parse. And because we need to go through the world having beliefs in order to do things (“I want to get to Walgreens tonight. I believe Walgreens is open until 10. I will go at 9.”), while the question of closing questions or leaving them open really has little praticatical relevance outside of forums like this, I wish to emphatically assert the superior importance of seeking reasonable belief over preserving the openness of questions in almost all cases. When questions are genuinely open, they are genuinely open. But when there is good reason to believe — or decide that a proposition is unlikely enough that one not to believe in it — we ought to believe, not fixate on the ultimate unanswerability of all, or even certain, questions. And there is nothing particularly special about the question of God in this regard. This is not to say that God is a closed question, only that at this point I think it is a question more worth focusing on belief about, rather than openness or closure.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

              …I should add, though, that this strong assertion of belief over openness is a bit of leap ahead of where I usually am on this question, and something that I am not entirely confident of and liable to reversemyself on for short periods of time (though I usually return the present position). Indeed, I’d say this is a question on which we should focus on openness rather than belief.;)

              Still, the importance of seeking belief over preserving openness is my current inclination. There are plenty of questions that are simply genuinely unsettled for me. I find belief (contra closure of questions) to be a valuable thing to develop where I can do so with any confidence.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            You confuse open-mindedness with experience.

            I knock at the door; it does not open. I knock again; still it does not open. I knock a third time to the same result. I seek, and yet I find not. I seek again, and still I find not.

            At some point, I stop knocking, I cease searching.

            I may “choose” when to give up searching or knocking, true. We might argue about whether that choice was made reasonably or not, sincerely or not.

            But the fruitlessness of the search, the failure of the door to open — the honest failure to find faith within oneself — is not subject to conscious control.Report

            • Likko, Mr. Drew’s reply is wise. As for giving up knocking, I cannot think of anything better to waste one’s time on instead. Man asks why; it’s in our nature, and this is The Biggest Why.

              A paler version of Pascal’s wager, then, not a leap into faith but a persistence at the door. My restless mind happens to be attracted to the arguments for classical theism. Even though they claim to work, and others claim they don’t, man is not done exploring the question and never will be. So my mind continues to knock.

              It beats Sudoku.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Thank you, Tom.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                It beats Sudoku.

                That’s arguable right? Because, if it beat sudoku, then we would never have reason to do sudoku and we would always be spending our spare time thinking about God. Which, though is an ideal, is certainly not the only ideal and spending less time thinking about God and His/Her Existence or Lack thereof and more time on sudoku is a valid option as well right?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Murali says:

                In a word, no, Mr. Murali. Even leaving God out of it, the philosopher would say and Aquinas would agree that intellection-contemplation is man’s highest function and purpose.

                And remember, the premise was that contemplating God [“quid sit Deus” might be more accurate] is a waste of time, because that contemplation has so far led him nowhere.

                Now I admit I’m gonna sit down and watch the ball game, but rest assured I’ll be thinking of this between innings.

                [Once, at his cousin the King of France’s formal dinner, Aquinas got lost in thought and out of nowhere cried out, “The argument is conclusive against the Manichees!”]Report

            • Burt – to use the same analogy… You can knock and knock and eventually walk away and call it a non-choice. I’ll agree to that. However, the choice lies in the assumptions you make about why no one answered the door.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Either someone is inside or they’re not. If someone is inside but doesn’t answer, then I am being excluded. If no one is inside, I am wasting my time. Either way there is nothing for me at that house.Report

              • Burt – so then you’re not atheist, you’re agnostic?Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Now you’re making me tediously delve into definitions.

                If by “atheist” you mean do I affirmatively believe, regardless of whatever evidence might exist, that there is no such things as the supernatural, then I would classify myself as an “agnostic.” In theory, someone might offer proof or logic or something that would convince me that the existence of the supernatural is substantially likely. (“Substantially” falls short of “probably” in this calculus.) This has not yet happened despite an earnest search in my youth, sporadically resumed in adulthood, and most of the usual debates, dialogues, evangelism, etc. I am by now deeply skeptical that any such proof or evidence exists, but open-mindedness compels me to make at least cursory listens for new pitches. And sparring with intelligent people of differing points of view remains a sometimes enjoyable pastime. But I’ve heard all the standard arguments and evalauted all the typically-proffered “evidence.” If you’ve got something genuinely new to bring to the table, I’ll listen, but at this point finding something genuinely new is going to be a real challenge for you.

                If by “agnostic” you mean I am genuinely uncertain about the supernatural, then you’d probably call me an “atheist.” My level of certainty that the natural, observable world is all that has tangible existence, that there is no Prime Mover, no Uncaused Cause, no Intelligent Designer, no Personal Supernatural, exceeds that of Ivory Soap’s purity. (That’s not even getting into incarnate dieties, ressurections, singing angels, demons, ghosts, fairies, djinni, or any of the other decidedly silly cultural detritus of pre-rational folklore, none of which has been argued for here.) I feel no need to intellectually revisit the issue having done so thoroughly and earnestly in my past and found nothing, nothing, nothing. I am more likely to win the lotto than I am to adopt faith.Report

              • Well then back to the door analogy – if you are willing to admit that someone might be on the other side of the door and they aren’t answering – that’s agnostic. If you are 100% certain that there is no one on the other side then I would call that atheism.

                Either way, making a educated assesment on whether or not someone is in the house is a choice.

                I would also add that it may be folly to assume that God would ‘open the door’ to the house. He might instead open a window or maybe the backdoor or expect you to just let yourself in. My personal experience with folks of no faith is usually that God didn’t appear to them in the way they expected so they assumed he wasn’t there. On the flip side, I am aware of the atheist argument that Believers see what they want to see, prescribing God for coincidence or happenstance.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

                By your definition, we are all agnostics, believers and non-believers alike. None of us ever be 100% certain that someone is on the other side, nor can anyone be 100% certain that no one is. By defining the term “agnostic” in such a way, IMO, the phrase is rendered meaningless. I prefer a definition that implies sincere and genuine uncertainty.

                Either way, making a educated assesment on whether or not someone is in the house is a choice.

                No, it’s not. It’s an observation.

                By suggesting that I’m knocking on the wrong door, you’re changing the analogy to the point it ceases to be useful. There’s only one door here — faith — and repeated knocking on that door yields no response. That I concede that I cannot know for an absolute certainty that no one is home does not render continued knocking to be a reasonable option. This state of affairs is not my “choice” in any meaningful sense of that word.Report

              • I would argue that we are not agnostic because we believe that we heard a voice that told us to come in. You didn’t. That might mean you were indeed ignored but also just as likely that you just didn’t hear them. Either one could be the right answer. If you pick one or the other then you make a choice. Another might not give up so easily and keep knocking, even if it took a lifetime.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

                My observations are not a matter of choice, any more than yours are. I’m done bashing my head against the wall repeating that.

                You insist that you have superior knowledge to me, that you get to be certain where I am obliged to concede uncertainty. No. You have the same obligation to concede at least minimal uncertainty as do I. Maybe you hallucinated the voice; that is as likely as me hallucinating the silence. Maybe one of us was deceived by a third party. Maybe one or both of us suffers from selection bias — hearing what we wanted to hear. Neither of us can ever be certain of these things.

                What we can do is respond to the evidence we have available to us. You say you heard the voice, so you believe. That is not faith. It is a response to evidence. See John 20:24-29.

                I, too, respond to evidence. The evidence I have gathered varies from yours. Where you heard a voice, I heard only silence. It is hardly surprising that my response to those observations should be different than yours.

                Yet you think it incumbent upon me to continue to gather evidence until I find evidence of which you approve. And somehow I’m the unreasonable one here.Report

              • Burt – I think you completely misinterpret what i am saying so let me try to clear a few things up:

                – I don’t expect you to do anything (and I think any reading of my comments which seems to imply otherwise might be a product of confirmation bias).

                – I also don’t think I have any kind of special knowledge that you don’t. I think I have seen the hand of God in the world and I act accordingly. Do I do so with 100% certainty? No. Faith comes hard, especially for me. But the glory is in the struggle.

                Now, I will agree with you that I have a level of uncertainty in the conclusions I have reached. I have that uncertainty because I didn’t reach a conclusion using the scientific method. I made a CHOICE. I contend you did the same. How? I would look to children for the answer. My youngest daughter is prone to making all kinds of silly claims (“I can eat this hot dog in 5 seconds) and when you challenge her on it her first response is usually to try to make a bet with you claiming 100% certainty. I immediately raise the stakes to unreasonable levels like, “If you are wrong then you have to give up TV for a month.” This will usually cause her to admit a level of uncertainty and she concedes to at least the possibility she is wrong. That is a CHOICE.

                If you claim that you are also uncertain about the non-existence of God (agnostic not atheist) then you would be unwilling to take a bet of huge consequence…right? But yet, if you have stopped ‘knocking on the door’ and the possible consequences are doom for your immortal soul, then you ARE taking that bet and that IS a choice.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      “why should God bring them close who have first rejected Him?”

      Um, something about unlimited grace, forgiveness, and loving all His Creation with an infinite, unconditional Love? I, too, have long taken not of the tension between this idea that Christians often discuss, and their efforts to actually get people to do things, such as believe and profess certain specific points of denominational doctrine among others, that the various churches in this world need to try to get people to do to be viable organizations.Report

      • What you are saying sounds like, “Our [Atheists] brains are so far advanced that we can ascertain the existence of the supernatural with 100% accuracy and therefore we are NOT joining the club…but just in case we are wrong, you have to forgive us and let us into the club or else you are jerks.”Report

        • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

          Mike — me again… or perhaps we atheists are saying: “I think that the Universe is a completely natural thing that, while certainly incompletely understood by us, doesn’t contain anything at all ‘supernatural.’ And if there is some sort of god out there that created the entire thing, as vast as it is, that spectacular being can hardly be particularly concerned about whether or not I worship it in a particular way, or, indeed, at all.”Report

          • Rexknobus – God may indeed not care and may have no admission criteria for Heaven at all. We just don’t know. So the point of friction is really between human Believers and human Atheists. In my anecdotal experience the Atheists seem verily offended by the suggestion of Believers that maybe God wouldn’t forgive them and let them into the party.Report

            • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

              Mike — you may well be right about some being offended. Personally, I would prefer the word “saddened.” And I do think that it is a shame that people would revere a being that they believe is large enough to create the whole darn thing, and yet be small enough to torture people for lack of proper respect/belief.Report

              • As stated by others (Kyle Cupp knows his stuff on Catholic theology) there is no real mention in most faiths of a place of torture for non-Believers. I think many of us believe it is like the Moses story where he was not allowed into the Promised Land because of his doubt. God didn’t torture Moses. One could argue that Moses tortured himself with regretting his actions for the rest of his life. If you will read my first comment at the top of the thread, i like to think that God would allow Atheists some sort of peaceful-but-not-as-cool limbo. A more fitting place might be to just let the lights go off for them since that’s what they spent their lives mentally preparing for anyhow.Report

            • Avatar Ogdred in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

              No, what offends atheists is that believers can’t acknowledge the contradiction between their “all loving, all forgiving” God and the “fact” that he punishes people for not believing in Him. It is amusing to us that the one unforgiveable crime, according to believers, is the lack of belief. Murder, rape, child molestation, grand larceny — all of these, according to the believer, can be forgiven.

              So, the one crime that can never be forgiven also happens (oh so conveniently) to be the one crime that the believer (by definition) cannot commit: not believing.Report

              • Ogdred,

                Define ‘punish’. What do you think that Believers think will happen to you? What if God does exist and allowed you to drift in a sea of blackness, unaware that you had a soul? It’s no different than the fate you already imagine for yourself. Would that be a punishment? Or what if he simply left you sitting on a comfy chair outside the gates of heaven? Is that a punishment? And if so, is it a punishment you consider to be cruel?Report

              • Avatar Ogdred in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                And what if God exists, but he prefers the company of atheists because he can’t stand groupies and sycophants? What then?Report

          • And if there is some sort of god out there that created the entire thing, as vast as it is, that spectacular being can hardly be particularly concerned about whether or not I worship it in a particular way, or, indeed, at all.

            I find such statements curious. If god does indeed exist, and is all powerful and all knowing, then why is it inconceivable that he or she might care how or whether someone worships him or her? I’m not saying I believe in his/her existence, et c., but I don’t understand why, once given certain assumptions, that conclusion is so beyond the pale.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

          I’m confused. Are you saying you think *I think* I need to appeal to you or other actual Christians or churches to give the okay to in order to cover my bases on avoiding eternal punishmentwhile being a nonbeliever in this life? Or are you saying you believe that is what I actually need to do?

          I was given to believe that all Christians teach that God is the one who makes the determination what happens to us when we die. Am I mistaken about that?

          What I am merely pointing out is that another message I have received about God is that He loves all His Creation, totally, without condition. This message I do not claim all parts of the religion share in, but nevertheless I have heard from faith teachers who I take to be serious about their faith. And my point is just that, much as it is an attractive idea, it does tend to blunt the threat that other Christians suggest is on the table, in which God’s love may be complete and total and unconditional or it may not be, but either way, if you think the wrong thoughts about Him for some critical portion of your life (the last moments of it being, I understand, particularly closely scrutinized ones), He is content to let you burn in the hottest fires in the universe for an infinity of eternities (or else just deprive you of His love for a similar period of time).Report

          • “Are you saying you think *I think* I need to appeal to you or other actual Christians or churches to give the okay to in order to cover my bases on avoiding eternal punishmentwhile being a nonbeliever in this life? “

            No. I am saying it sounds like your plan is to not believe but to also expect God’s forgiveness for said non-belief if he in fact exists.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

              My plan is indeed to not believe. That is the only concsious plan on the question I had had to this point. Should He exist, I will expect nothing because I will be so shocked that there is existence after “death” that I will be incapable of forming or holding expectations of any strength at all at that time. And any expectations I did have at that time, if I have this right, will be very much beside the point.

              But I believe I have been told things by faith leaders in my community that lead me to reasonably believe that I will be able to avoid eternal, or really any, damnation should it turn out He exists in the way they say he does, even if I don’t believe in Him. And so I am quite comfortable with this “plan” as you put it, though I hadn’t previously consciously made any of these calculations in explicit terms for myself.

              That is what I am saying.Report

          • Avatar Jonathan in reply to Michael Drew says:

            Just to examine one part of your comment:
            if you think the wrong thoughts about Him for some critical portion of your life (the last moments of it being, I understand, particularly closely scrutinized ones)…
            This assumes a temporal/linear existance that doesn’t necessarily jibe with a christian’s theology (certainly it does for some, but I’d argue not for people like Augustine or Calvin, to name two). Granted, this neither proves nor disproves your argument, but I think it demonstrates how difficult it is for us to understand how (for lack of a better word) God loves us.

            Many Christians will be quite willing to tell you what the consequence of your (non-)belief will be. Many of us will not.

            Some of us won’t even claim to fully comprehend your atheism (really, how could we? how can I fully comprehend my wife’s faith?). I wish it were more of us, but, sadly, it’s not.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      I will say, as I’ve elaborated elsewhere, that one’s worldview—and atheists have worldviews just as Christians do—requires belief, too.

      This is true, everything is uncertain to some degree so some belief is required to adopt any hypothesis as true. But not all hypotheses are equally likely, and thus believing in some things requires more belief than others. And if a god exists it does an excellent job of pretending that it doesn’t. I suppose that’s just another way of saying William of Occam is my co-pilot.

      And to be fair, I don’t so much believe that there are definitely no gods, so much as the probability that any gods exist are sufficiently low as to render the ideas as good as false. I only assign zero probability to propositions that are incoherent or internally inconsistent.

      consider that the way you feel about Christianity, I feel about atheism. It simply does not present itself to me as a credible candidate as a personal belief system.

      You’re right about that, atheism isn’t much of a belief system. Christianity (like every religion) has a set of epistemological, moral and social beliefs that make it a fleshed-out belief system. Atheism, by contrast contains only one proposition, and it’s a negative one. Atheists need to look in other places to find a belief system.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to James K says:

        Atheism, by contrast contains only one proposition, and it’s a negative one. Atheists need to look in other places to find a belief system.

        James, this is precisely right. It’s my number one gripe with atheistic critiques on religion. It is a precondition—if not directed by logic then certainly by the standards of fair and honest discourse—that if one is going to criticize another’s epistemology he reveal the terms of his own epistemology that make the criticism intelligible in the first place.

        I watched the Discovery channel’s first installment of its Curiosity series wondering how Stephen Hawking could manage to be such a brilliant physicist and cosmologist while remaining such a derelict about basic epistemology.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tim Kowal says:

          “It is a precondition—if not directed by logic then certainly by the standards of fair and honest discourse—that if one is going to criticize another’s epistemology he reveal the terms of his own epistemology that make the criticism intelligible in the first place.”

          I think this cuts to the core of what irritates most atheists I know about the faithful. (And I’m talking everyday rank and file atheists, not appearing on minni-Celebrity guesting on Hannity atheists):

          Why do I have to justify my lack of belief to you? I don’t ask you to justify your faith to me. What, I can find your tale of a man back from the dead that will judge me based on (fill in your own sect’s belief about this here) a bit lacking in the believability department for my tastes, but somehow that doesn’t count unless I couch it in language that befits your own beliefs?

          Why am I required to do that?Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Or here’s a better, simpler way of saying what I just totally muffed up trying to say above.

            You: You should believe in my God. And you’ll need to read this – this is how you should know he is real.

            Me: That’s not really compelling to me, sorry. I’m going to take a pass. You go on, though.

            You: That’s not enough. You need to first develop an epistemological basis for not finding my argument compelling.

            Me: Um… why?Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Tod Kelly says:

              Perhaps he can say that worldviews are not required to interact and relate; that they can exist in isolation, and he’s not saying you need to believe in his God. Other than that last, though, this is all simply not the case in practice. We interact, and we bring our worldviews along.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Tod Kelly says:

              Because many believers need confirmation to soothe their doubts — a non-believer who isn’t even doubtful about their non-belief seems like a threat to belief. It’s sort of like when someone creates strong science-based opposition to the radical claims of global warmers. The -Goreists won’t take their opposition’s scientic evidence as true opposition, they have to make it political, heresy, and then accuse them of opposing global warmers because they’re shills for corporations.. True believers who’ve done the spirutual work will be okay with an atheist, because the believer has dealt with doubt and needs no confirmation.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Yeah. “True unless someone can show me why false” is not an epistemology that anyone in the modern world needs to have any epistemology of his own in order to reject.Report

          • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Tod,

            Imagine I were to take the position that the internet does not exist, and give various reasons—e.g., I’ve never seen an electron, I wasn’t around when Al Gore supposedly invented it, etc. Your first reaction probably would not be to educate me on the science and behavior of electrons, how the computers in the world are connected together in a particular way that makes communication among them possible, etc. No, your first reaction would probably be to ask me how exactly I can purport to deny the internet exists at the same time I am communicating that thought by the use of the thing itself.

            In the same way, some transcendental basis—not saying, yet, that it has to be the Christian God, but something non-empirical which atheism by its very terms excludes—must be stipulated to exist before we can even have an intelligible discussion about it.Report

            • Avatar Matthew Goldey in reply to Tim Kowal says:

              Tim,
              Exactly – presupposing rational purpose and moral good(s) (etc.) is the challenge for secularism as, however you color it, humans have these suppositions. Whether (hopefully not) genetic flukes or instruction and knowledge from the divine, they must be addressed through the nature of existence and its origin.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Matthew Goldey says:

                Why does the proposition that supernatural entities do not exist necessarily fail for not addressing issues of morality?

                The potential utility of God in addressing isues of morality and existential purpose is not an argument for God’s existence. A perpetual motion machine would be an immensely useful thing too, but that doesn’t mean it exists.Report

              • Avatar Matthew Goldey in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Not to be to contrary, but I understood the crux of the matter from the parent thread to be that the extreme disconnect in conversation between atheists and believers flows from a confusion about where issues of good, bad, beautiful, etc. Not that God is convenient – rather, to borrow the metaphor – that if you find someone emailing who doesn’t hold that the internet exists, one possible first action is to try to figure out if that’s even possible or self-consistent.
                I meant to more clearly distinguish between specific ethics and overall moral constructs – eg. the capacity for rational thought, the appreciation for beauty, the existence of thought and matter. These are shocking and stark matters upon which one desires clarification if their premises are challenged because challenges feel (?!) like they assert a basis other than God rather than merely question the premises for faith.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Tim Kowal says:

              But atheism isn’t the full component of conceptual facilities that atheists have with which to interact with reality or other knowers. Atheism is just a word to describe the aspect of their thought relating to the question of gods. There is an entirely full world of thought available to atheists, or anyone, to help fill in our epistemologies. And atheists don’t say atheism is a worldview, except in the context of a world dominated by institutions created around the beliefs they reject and where it is indeed something of a rare view to take, which makes it something of an inevitable part of the identity of those who believe it. But it’s essentially a straw man for you to suggest that atheists think that the terms of atheism alone are enough to fill in their picture of the world, or that in a discussion between atheists and believers, believers can refer to their fully-formed, received idea of the universe, while atheists, by the terms of atheism, can only refer to their rejection of all that. That’s just a false limitation you are placing on the discussion you are talking about, not any actual limitation of the ideas that atheists can have access to in it, even qua atheists.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tim Kowal says:

              We can discuss unicorns or Luke Skywalker or virgins in Newport Beach, but that doesn’t mean that those things exist.

              …Or are you talking about Platonic Forms?Report

              • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Burt,

                There is no epistemology I know of that depends on the existence of unicorns or Luke Skywalker or Flying Spaghetti Monsters or monkeys studying Hegel on Mars in order to make reality intelligible. The existence or nonexistence of these things has no epistemological import.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                Okay, ignore my joke. I thought it was funny.

                The serious question is, why do we need to presuppose the existence of an entity outside of existence itself, in order to make sense of existence? If we’re talking about Platonic Forms, I might not buy in to that concept, but it’s an idea that makes sense to me as a means of finding a common vocabulary with which to discuss ineffable concepts like good and evil, why we should be good rather than evil, and what it even means to “be” good or evil.Report

              • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Burt,

                I don’t think Platonic Forms gets us all the way there without additional stipulations. For example, and perhaps most importantly, what shall we posit to explain how all men have personal and reliable access to the Platonic Forms? I imagine that would require that we stipulate that there is indeed extended reality, that it is common to all men, that all men have access to this reality by similar, reliable powers of perception, and all have similar cognitive constitutions that interpret that sense data in substantially identical ways. This is just a start, and it seems like a lot of premises to demand that we all agree to before we can even get our shared epistemology off the ground.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tim Kowal says:

              Tim, I think the difference here is this: The situation that you’re describing is – aside from being a fact vs. non-fact issue, not a theological problem – taking place in a neutral arena.

              The vast preponderance of atheists and agnostics I know and know of (Hitchens, Dawkins and some other famous outliers aside) have no desire to make you renounce your God. And, connecting to the source of Tim’s post, it’s not important for us that you renounce your faith in order to – say – be allowed to teach children, or have a job at the post office.

              *We’re* not trying to get you to change, *you’re* trying to get us to change. *We’re* not the ones saying you shouldn’t be allowed to hold public office or adopt kids, *you’re* the ones saying we need to be kept from holding public office or adopting kids.

              So you don’t think our reasons for not believing exactly what you believe are in the right linguistic “format?” I have a hard time believing that if we came up with just the right epistemological language that it would make a difference to you; I suspect that it would just lead to more discussions about how my beliefs still aren’t good enough for you.Report

              • Well, theism affirms the existence of the “trans-physical.” I suppose certain non-theistic schemes [Buddhism, say, no deity] still affirm the existence of the trans-physical; Plato speaks of “forms” and souls.

                But it seems to me that most modern atheists begin with a denial of the existence of anything beyond the physical, hence it is indeed they who limit the vocabulary and possible scope of such discussions.

                If I read Mr. Kowal correctly.

                We have spoken briefly of mercy and touched on “justice.” These things are trans-physical. But again, why be just? Let alone merciful, which seems to be contrary to justice? [If justice is fairness, mercy is unfair.]Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                If justice is fairness, mercy is unfair.

                Justice might be driven by utility than by deserts, or more likely by a blend of utility and desert, the exact recipe of which is still in dispute. (This is where I come down on that.)

                Or it might only be possible for justice to be dispensed by an omnipotent supernatural entity for whom all things are morally permitted since to such an entity, there can be not even a theoretical contradiction between mercy and justice. Doesn’t seem all that likely to me; YMMV.

                Or it might be that there is no such thing as objective morality (which could be the case either with or without a supernatural Creator). In which case notions of fairness, utility, desert, and justice are phantoms, and all we can have is mercy or its absence. An unpleasant thought, to be sure, but the thought of wasps isn’t very pleasant either and from time to time some of us have to confront wasps.Report

              • I used to think justice was utilitarian until Mao died in bed, the bastard.

                In which case notions of fairness, utility, desert, and justice are phantoms, and all we can have is mercy or its absence. An unpleasant thought, to be sure…

                Mebbe not. Is mercy trans-physical? If so, it’s a start.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                If justice is fairness, mercy is unfair

                The sermon on the mount refuted. This is one of the biggest reasons that Christianity seems unconvincing to me.

                That much of the western ethical zeitgeist has turned to a notion of mercy at the expense of justice is immensely problematic.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Murali says:

                Merci, Mr. Murali, for locating the live wire. That the post-Christian Western ethos is precisely one of mercy more than justice is perhaps the greatest irony. The lunatic in Norway’s sentence will be only 21 years; the worthless and weak get unconditional love from the state.

                I have no conclusions on any of this, what is good, what is best: it is never discussed, not even identified except perhaps by Nietzsche.

                I’m intrigued that to a non-Christian non-Westerner, it’s glaringly obvious.Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Murali says:

                Or as Terry Prathett put it “The good are innocent and create justice. The bad are guilty, which is why they invent mercy.”Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                *We’re* not trying to get you to change, *you’re* trying to get us to change.

                Au contraire mon frere. Going back to the original OP heading above (remember a CROSS was being discussed – something meaningful to Christians but anathema to atheists). Were atheists to sit in their corners and bemoan the stupidity of all believers that would be one thing. Instead activist atheists are attacking believers (specifically Christians) on all fronts and have been since some landmark cases brought by atheists decades ago gave the minority (atheists) unusual power specifically through the courts and specific interpretation primarily “separation of church and state”, a phrase no where in the constitution but imagined there by Hugo Black. Kind of like the right to privacy also not in the constitution but imagined there for Roe v Wade.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to wardsmith says:

                I think “establishment of religion” isn’t so far off of “separation of church and state”.

                I don’t think Atheists are being unreasonable in most of their cases regarding God-references in the public sphere (there are exceptions). I also think theists are regarding this far too much as an attack.

                There’s nothing wrong with putting the ten commandments on your lawn. Putting them on the courthouse lawn is something else. The gubbmit isn’t the best venue for these sorts of things.Report

              • Since the atheist concludes there is no god, religion then is simply culture. Why undermine a culture that got us this far?

                “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”—GWash

                As for “separation of church and state,” there is no church involved here, only culture. Did the 14th Amendment abolish culture?

                Well, yes, it seems to be read that way of late…Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                That’s my take.

                In the absence of a God, I can’t tell the difference between a public prayer and a public speech.

                Sadly, most theists disagree with me and they can tell the difference… indeed, they can (and have) explained to me which prayers are likely to be heard by God and under which circumstances (Did You Know: If your prayer does not conclude with “In Jesus’s Name”, God doesn’t hear it? This means that God doesn’t hear the prayers of Jews or Muslims! I have been assured that this is accurate) and why it’s important that we not only have the right people praying to the right gods, but exclude the wrong people from praying prayers that never get there or worse prayers to Baphomet or whomever it is that the Masons worship.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Atheists commonly argue that the prevalence of God references in culture and government provide chilling effects toward the Atheists.

                I’m not sure I buy this argument, but the ones making the claim are the minority group.

                The counter to them is, “Hey, it’s not required reading, it’s just cultural happiness!” from the majority.

                To which the minority replies: “Hey, you can have all your churches and your ten commandment signs on your lawn and I’ll fight the cultural battle myself, thanks very much. Just keep your institutions off the institution we all share.”

                The reply back from the “let’s put Crucifixes on state property” folks is lacking.

                Now, you can argue that the atheist isn’t really harmed and doesn’t have standing, but that seems to be a bad precedent to set, given that you’re not part of the minority group. This is textbook nanny-statism, isn’t it? “We decided this isn’t really hurting you any?”

                And really, what fishing harm does it cause the theist to keep the crucifix to the church steeple? Are there really so few church steeples in town? How is this “undermining” the culture?Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Of course religion is simply culture. There is no god in the Egyptian pantheon that looks like a kangaroo, but you will find animals the Egyptians were culturally familiar with like crocodiles, cats, dogs, and ibises. In an African church, Jesus has black skin, tight curly hair, and high cheekbones, like most of the parishioners. Vishnu and Kali are Brahmins, like the elites of the society who worship them. Thor has blond hair and blue eyes and fights with a hammer, a lot like the Scandinavians who worshipped him. Apollo doesn’t look a thing like a tiki god or an Aztec, but he does know how to play a Greek musical instrument.

                Gods are created in man’s image.Report

              • Oh, Pat, you rather turned the question around, which is usually what harm does religious expression do to the atheist?

                But my point is that the atheist is better off not undermining a culture that got us this far.

                “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. “—GWash

                I’d rather take my chances that greater religiosity would keep people from looting than would irreligiosity if not nihilism, which is the form that atheism usually takes when activated.

                [Not to say that’s the case with those here gathered. I stipulate “the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure” as does Washington. Such minds don’t loot.]Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                > Oh, Pat, you rather turned the
                > question around, which is
                > usually what harm does
                > religious expression do to
                > the atheist?

                Of course I did. They are the minority group.

                “It bothers us”.

                “Well, it shouldn’t, and we’re the majority group so we get to decide that since we think it shouldn’t, we’re going with ‘it doesn’t, you’re just being difficult because you like pissing on our parade’.”

                “No, you have plenty of parade going on that we’re not pissing on. *You’re* the ones
                pissing on *our* parade.”

                Are you comfortable with this dynamic, generally, Tom? If you’re not, what makes it exceptional enough in this case to overrule your discomfort?

                Put another way: if you find something culturally significant (because of a religious connotation), why are you asking the State to host it for you? Why not build your own memorial?

                You’re a small government guy, right? You’d argue against the NEA? What makes *that* argument okay, and this one not?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                what harm does religious expression do to the atheist?

                After all, they’re not nearly as offensive as a store clerk saying “Happy Holidays”.Report

              • Pat, I don’t see why the minority should try to exercise rights that a) undermine the culture b) perhaps don’t even exist.

                Wisdom says that every point need not be pressed. If the law calls for a pound of flesh, it is often not wise to extract it.

                Where did we get the idea the majority has no rights, anyway, or that they should be subjugated to those of the minority? This is an inversion of common sense.

                As for spending federal gov’t money on religion, I’m not in favor of that. But America’s history until lately has been to accommodate religion and free exercise, not suppress it.

                [There’s a whole deal on religion being left to the states by the Constitution, as it reads Congress shall make no law, but them’s some tall weeds these days since the 14thA has made virtually everything a federal case.]Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                > Pat, I don’t see why the minority
                > should try to exercise rights that
                > a) undermine the culture
                > b) perhaps don’t even exist.

                Well, (a) seems pretty obvious to me, thinking with my black hat on. If you’re a minority and you feel like everyone should be more like you, undermining the culture that has you in a minority seems to be a pretty blatantly obvious tactic.

                But that’s begging two questions: one, that refraining from putting a religious symbol on public land (or referring to God on the money, or whatever) is actually really undermining anything (and to be clear, this argument seems to me to be utter hogwash, Tom); and two, that the Atheist community on the whole is Machiavellian (which probably applies to some Atheists, but I don’t think it’s a blanket behaviour).

                > Wisdom says that every point
                > need not be pressed.

                Sure.

                > If the law calls for a pound of
                > flesh, it is often not wise to
                > extract it.

                And hey, one could also argue that even if we *were* a theocracy, it might not be wise to have the ambassador from somewhere else received by a dude in vestments.

                Even supposing that it is okay to have religious artifacts on public display, perhaps some restraint might not be a bad idea, right?

                I don’t see anybody being oppressed on either side of this argument, to be clear. But by orders of magnitude, the “we theists are oppressed by the atheists trying to take God out of the public sphere” seem to have a more spurious argument.

                Because “the public sphere” != “the government”.Report

              • There’s a co-dominion in the public square between gov’t and “society.” Gov’t is only the mechanism we use to tend it. The modern project is to obviate society and reduce everything to the abstraction of law.

                I caution, along with Washington, that this is a bad idea, indeed unpatriotic. A free society needs “society” to self-govern, or it is lost.Report

              • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to wardsmith says:

                “‘separation of church and state’, a phrase no where in the constitution but imagined there by Hugo Black.”

                Also imagined by 1. Roger Williams, 2. James Burgh, 3. Joseph Priestly, 4. Thomas Jefferson, 5. James Madison, and others during the Founding era.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to wardsmith says:

                At least “Interstate Commerce” and “General Welfare” actually *APPEAR* in the text.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

                But they don’t mean what you think they do.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to wardsmith says:

                FWIW, the cross is not anathema to me. The cross doesn’t belong in certain places, but clearly Christianity is a part of our culture. Boston’s Old North Church played a prominent part in the Revolution; it is appropriate for the government to contribute to its preservation as a historical site, open to all regardless of their faith. (The congregation can pay for the church’s ongoing religious activities.)

                I’d never heard of this cross before it became controversial a few weeks ago, but if it is genuinely the case that this particular formation of rubble caused people to find hope and inspiration to respond to the 9/11 attack, then that particular formation of rubble has historical value and should be preserved as such.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Ann Althouse asked the question “what would an atheist memorial look like?” and came up with the answer: a lawsuit.

                I laughed.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                With the judge perfectly healthy — poisoning him is a Christian thing.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Is there enough physical evidence to indict for attempted murder?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Since Christianity is a religion of love, I figured she thought he was lonely, like the old bats in Arsenic and Old Lace.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Eh, it’s more like Islam than you’d think.Report

              • That was my view of the 9-11 “cross” as well, Mr. Likko. It should not be controversial.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Agreed. There should be nothing controversial about the fortuitous appearance of religious symbols.Report

              • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Tod,

                If we’re going to argue about atheism versus theism, then just like in any argument, we implicitly understand as the basic terms of argumentation that if we fail to offer “good enough” reasons to maintain our respective original positions, we must concede.

                No need to regard this as proselytizing, lest you consider argumentation of any topic on any of these pages to be proselytizing also.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                Yeah, I was totally blowing off steam. My bad.

                I think the point that I was trying to make on line 64 (I seriously need to learn how to link stuff) is that if I don’t think hip-hop is an art form, I don’t have to derive a detailed theory of hip hop to say so.

                Theology is far better suited to come up with the types of language that you seek than, say, agnosticism or atheism. No question. But I’m not sure that’s because it’s intellectually superior. I think it has something to do with how it’s needed to find ways to splice those linguistic corners for thousands of years to justify it’s existence. It’s had a lot of practice, and linguistic battles is what it needs to both survive and thrive.

                If I tell you that this cracker literally transmogrifies into human flesh when you eat it, despite the fact that it still tastes like a cracker, if you spit it out or have your stomach pumped it’s still a cracker, and there is no trace on human flesh in your bowels later, it isn’t intellectual superiority that makes you create an entire epistemological system to show how this is so – it’s your intellectualism juggling to survive.

                If I, on the other hand, tell you that based on my mathematical calculations that tonight at exactly 2:13 am there will be a total eclipse of the moon, and then there *is*, it isn’t a lack of intellectual chops that’s keeping me from making a treatise to convince you that the moon eclipsed. I don’t have to, because it did.

                Asking an atheist to make their case using the tools expressly created for theology is like an atheist demanding a theologian to prove the existence of god using only mathematical calculations. Each is rigged for the other side.Report

              • Avatar Matthew Goldey in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                It’s just that the case isn’t solely about God. It’s also about how anyone can think, conceptualize non-empirical thoughts, or exist.Report

              • Again, though, you’re looking for theological responses to people that don’t believe in theological beliefs.

                For me, I look to neuroscience to tell me how we can think and conceptualize. Do we know all the answers? No, or at least not yet. And I would argue we have learned more this way than theology and philosophy about his subject.

                What is reality? I assume when you ask this you are not asking it in a word-definition way, but more in a metaphysical reality is an illusion so what is really real kind of way. If so, than the question just isn’t relevant to me and my beliefs. This is not a sign of intellectual sloth, anymore that not dealing with Jersey Shore in your metaphysics is. It just isn’t relevant.Report

              • Tod,

                Some kind of transcendental beliefs must be admitted before one can even do science, as science carries its own transcendental precommitments—i.e., order, causality, induction, etc. You’re jumping past all the hard stuff. You don’t need to give an account of it to do science, but in debates about atheism and theism, it’s fair game, and certainly relevant.Report

              • I’m not saying it isn’t fair to bring up in a debate. I’m saying you’re trying to argue on your home turf and pretend it’s equal.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Tim Kowal says:

              In the same way, some transcendental basis—not saying, yet, that it has to be the Christian God, but something non-empirical which atheism by its very terms excludes—must be stipulated to exist before we can even have an intelligible discussion about it.

              I agree completely with your first point, though I’d go further: atheists, in a critique of religion, don’t merely reveal an epistemology, but a metaphysics as well. It’s inevitable, and there’s no way to get around it: every ontological position implies a metaphysics, and every justification implies an epistemology. I see nothing wrong with this, of course, I just find it amusing and frustrating that many atheists deny it (“I don’t have a metaphysics or an epistemology, because I think that science in the broad sense is the sole arbiter of truth”).
              However, the statement I quoted above is absurd. I can have a perfectly intelligent discussion about the nature of just about anything without stipulating that it exists. We’d have to have some idea of its nature, in order to discuss it, but we wouldn’t need to include in that nature existence. The very idea that we would is counter to just about any epistemology I’ve ever heard of.Report

              • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Chris says:

                Chris,

                I may have been unclear. When I say we have to stipulate to some transcendental basis for reality in order to have an intelligible discussion about it, I really mean we have to stipulate to a transcendental basis to have an intelligible discussion about anything. Language, identity, logic, order, all things that are preconditions making intelligible communication with another human being in extended reality, must be given some account. It is simply not possible to launch into an argument, let alone make observations about the world or do science, without having already committed oneself to a whole host of underlying claims about reality. Declaring “atheism” or even “Occam” or “Bayes” doesn’t get you out of the metaphysical pickle any better than declaring “bankruptcy” gets one out of a financial pickle.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                Ah, then I agree 100%. Again, this gets to one of my biggest beef with the “New Atheists,” and a lot of the older school as well: the strange belief, as if philosophy had begun and ended with Carnap and Ayers, that you can get by without metaphysics and only a rudimentary epistemology (if I see it, I know it).

                I say this as an atheist, I should note.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Chris says:

                I think a lot of atheists have picked up on the anti-metaphysics cant of the Enlightenment. Often “metaphysics” here really just means “mumbo jumbo.” That’s certainly what it meant to many writers of the eighteenth century.

                Yet an empiricist metaphysics is a metaphysics just the same, albeit one possibly more amenable to doing science (among its many, many other virtues).Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Tim Kowal says:

          OK, well here’s my position:

          I am a strict Occamian, I believe it is epistemologically wrong to believe something exists without sufficient evidence. I’m also a Bayesian so “sufficient evidence” depends on the prior probability of the hypothesis being true (as Carl Sagan put it: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence). Any kind of god (let alone the specific God of Christianity) is a very extraordinary claim – omnipotence requires rewriting every law of physics to include an “unless God says so” clause. And gods offer little in the way of explanation of the universe. If God created the universe, what created God? If God can exist without being created, why not the universe itself?

          Since there is no reason to believe a god exists, that is a good reason not to.

          I doubt most atheists put that much thought into it, but then neither do theists. Most people believe what they were brought up to believe.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to James K says:

            James, your argument negates man’s most intrinsic yearning, the quest for the ground of existence. You turn away from the inquiry because you can not experience it in an immanent, quantitative condition and lack both the experience or the faith to turn toward (periagoge) the transcendent. You’ve embraced a position that defines the human being, the condicio humana, as merely an immanent experience when the true man, asks the question of the divine ground, and when they come together (experience) as a result of the seeking, questioning, yearning, the human-divine encounter, they participate, together, in a common consciousness. The theophanic event.Report

          • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to James K says:

            James,

            You’re quite right that claims about God or other transcendental entities, or the lack thereof, require “extraordinary” proof. When we talk about claims, such as the existence of God, which, when rejected, undermine the possibility of making intelligible all other claims, that’s fundamentally different than rejecting the existence of Santa Claus or the Stay-Puft marshmallow man. As Greg Bahnsen once put it, if I reject the idea that there are so many pounds of Cocoa Puffs in the world, that claim doesn’t have an effect on my other claims and beliefs about reality. But when I reject the transcendental basis for causation, induction (and thus the metaphysical preconditions for doing any science), and an objective morality, just to name a few, that’s extraordinary.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tim Kowal says:

              The problem is not the claim that God is the transcendental basis for causation and induction, I’m cool with that.

              The problem is that whole “objective morality” thing.

              The example I use a lot is “Cthulhu fhtagn”. This translates, more or less, to something between “He Waits” and “He Dreams”.

              Imagine what the universe looks like for a cow specifically being bred for organic grass-fed steaks. You’ve got sunlight, you’ve got grass, you’ve got water to drink, and salt to lick. A nice man shows up every day to scratch you behind the ears and tell you how nice (and fat!) you are and tells you to eat more.

              Tim, can you tell the difference between a loving hand and the hand of the farmer mentioned above?

              Cthulhu fhtagn, Tim.Report

              • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jaybird, can you elaborate a bit more? I’m not quite following.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                Assume a malicious creator. Active malice.

                Or, I suppose, benevolent in the same way that a beef rancher is benevolent to his cows.

                One day, maybe soon, He is going to eat us.

                Do you think that you would be able to tell between the loving touch of the master’s hand and the affectionate scratch of the rancher as he prepares you for what is to come next?

                Maranatha, Tim.

                He is coming.

                Soon.Report

              • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jaybird,

                I should have said that I understood that part of the analogy. So is your point that, even in the Christian worldview, Christians can’t be sure of God’s benevolence? I mean, sure, we can argue within the Christian worldview. But we still haven’t solved the puzzle whether atheists bring a worldview to the table.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                So is your point that, even in the Christian worldview, Christians can’t be sure of God’s benevolence?

                Not to the point where they have firm footing to argue against the skepticism against God’s benevolence of those who do not share your assurance in it.

                But we still haven’t solved the puzzle whether atheists bring a worldview to the table.

                Do *NOT* make me link to my freaking essay again.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                “But we still haven’t solved the puzzle whether atheists bring a worldview to the table.”

                Tim, why do atheists need to bring a unified world view to the table?

                This is seriously not a challenge. You keep asking for this as part of this debate, as you say, and I am really not sure why this is relevant. Can you flesh this out?Report

              • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                Tod,

                I offered the analogy above that if I reject the premise that the internet exists, I cannot expect to sit content with my skepticism while sitting and my keyboard issuing challenges to the world. If I expect to continue to be regarded as having any intellectual integrity, I am going to have to offer an alternate view of the world in which the internet does not exist and yet you and I can engage in discourse on things called blogs.

                Jaybird,

                I was having trouble finding a way to respond to your essay, but I’ll see about giving it another go soon. At any rate, as you acknowledge, it only purports to cover the objective morality angle, not all the other necessary metaphysical ingredients for a workable worldview.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                all the other necessary metaphysical ingredients for a workable worldview.

                I’ll try to add more blood sacrifices.Report

              • I offered the analogy above that if I reject the premise that the internet exists, I cannot expect to sit content with my skepticism while sitting and my keyboard issuing challenges to the world. If I expect to continue to be regarded as having any intellectual integrity, I am going to have to offer an alternate view of the world in which the internet does not exist and yet you and I can engage in discourse on things called blogs.

                I think this displays some pretty flawed logic, frankly. There is no organized atheist or agnostic worldview, no universal atheist or agnostic theology (though Mr. Dierkes once made an interesting argument that such a thing should exist: https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2009/02/02/thomas-aquinas-meets-the-flying-spaghetti-monster/ ). That hardly means that atheists and agnostics lack a worldview, nor even that they lack a basis for their views on morality. Fact is that most, if not all, atheists and agnostics have a worldview and a basis for their views on morality, even if that basis may differ from person to person. That you personally may reject most, if not all, such bases does not mean that they lack a worldview or a basis for their morality; certainly you would acknowledge that Objectivism (however distasteful one may find it) is a worldview and makes an argument for an independent basis of morality. That you (and, as the case may be, I) may find such an argument and worldview unpersuasive does not change the fact that it is a worldview and an argument. And, well, of course you do – otherwise you wouldn’t be a Christian. But if I find Christianity and deism unpersuasive, I don’t run around saying that Christianity and deism fail to present a worldview or basis for morality.

                Also, again: Euthyphro. If morality comes from God, there is no way to know that the God-given morality is good (which I take is Jaybird’s point). If morality exists independent of God, then it is objective and God is unnecessary to knowing morality.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                @ Tim

                > I offered the analogy above
                > that if I reject the premise
                > that the internet exists, I
                > cannot expect to sit content
                > with my skepticism while
                > sitting and my keyboard
                > issuing challenges to the
                > world.

                Yes, this is a bad analogy.

                You’re not arguing that the Internet doesn’t exist. You’re arguing that the Systems Administrator doesn’t exist.Report

              • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                Mark,

                I don’t think I ever said that atheists don’t have a worldview. What I’ve said is that they hardly ever offer one even as they glibly tear down other folks’. I have read Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. It doesn’t get at atheism’s most vexing epistemological problem, however. But it’s offered in the advanced course, though again, I wasn’t impressed enough with the teaser to seek it out.

                Jaybird has offered what he purports to be a defense of an objective morality in an atheistic model. It’s thus incumbent on me to stay the offensive on that front until I provide a response. But to my knowledge he hasn’t explained how his worldview allows him to do science or otherwise make the rest of reality intelligible. Burt, for his part, offered the Platonic Forms as a starting point. Then again, he indicated he did not “but in” to the concept. So Jaybird, Burt and I have started taking some of the baby steps in fleshing out what an atheist worldview might look like. But despite your suggestion that “most, if not all, atheists and agnostics” have a “basis for their views on morality”—and I take it this also goes for their views on the rest of their claims about reality—by and large they’re pretty tightlipped about what that basis is.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                @ Mark: Word.

                @ Jaybird: Word up! But why the scare tactics here? Just bring the hammer down bro.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                Tim, this dialogue gets really old. And tiresome. Plato covered this ground 2500 years ago, long before Christians ever made an argument against atheists. Or agnostics.

                There is no regression to suggest that the deist’s God-hypothesis is a better or more plausible account of how things go that ‘reason’ of the ‘universe’ hypothesis. There is no teleology question that doesn’t beg questions.

                Your argument isn’t that morality begins with God. It’s that moral justifications end in God. That’s just confused. The multiplicity of religious views is an obvious strike against your thesis. Coherent arguments would appear, to a rational non-biased decider anyway, to be decisively against your view.

                Is that really even debatable?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:

                Assume a surrealist creator. Everything seems normal, until one day you wake up with six heads, and accordions fall from the sky on silk parachutes.

                He is coming.

                Soon! (Gosh, I hope!)

                What I mean by this is that it appears very presumptuous to attribute any traits to the Creator. Some things in the universe are wonderful. Some are horrifying. Some are, yes, downright surreal.

                So how do we decide that God is like only some of it? Which parts do we choose?Report

              • Well, *IF* God is:

                A) The Creator
                B) Has something vaguely analogous to a personality
                C) Aware of humanity
                D) Interested in humanity
                E) Benevolent towards humanity
                F) Interventionist

                It’s not impossible to think that He may choose a handful of ways to manifest Himself to us.

                The problem is that that is a lot of camels to swallow to get to the gnat that we’re straining over.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jaybird, I never read the Lovecraft story (although I want to now) but wrote an essay in my Jesuit high school that was more of a sci-fi story along your same lines. After all, the Bible is replete with images of God as the good shepherd and as Khalil Gibran said, “Man is the meat of the Gods”. So there you have it.

                I even took this one step further in a short story I wrote to give my friend (an author with about 40 books under his belt). He hated it and loved it, so my job was done. The premise was basically what if what you eat receives /its/ afterlife from /you/? A mushroom has a pretty shitty life (literally) but if it gets to experience things the way /you/ do, that would be a paradise to the mushroom.

                So when Jesus said, “This is my body, given up for you”, he really meant it. Stranger in a Strange Land carried the meme a bit further but I think you get my point. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to wardsmith says:

                The problem with Lovecraft is the problem with Tolkien.

                We swim in the sea of their bastards and, going back to the Original, it’s easy to find it plodding/boring.

                It’s more fun to tell others of the stories than to read them yourself.

                Your short story sounds like a corker and makes the point excellently.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tim Kowal says:

              > But when I reject the transcendental
              > basis for causation, induction (and
              > thus the metaphysical preconditions
              > for doing any science), and an
              > objective morality, just to name a
              > few, that’s extraordinary.

              You understand that this is only extraordinary inside a framework of thought where a transcendental basis for causation and induction are givens and necessary.

              I mean, I can point at the world and say that it exists. I can then make all sorts of observations about how things act in the world. Drawing upon those observations, I can make a claims about how the universe acts, more generally.

              You can dispute my claims, that’s fine. You can dispute my observations, that’s fine too. But you can’t tell me that I have to explain to you *why* the world exists. We both see it. We both (apparently) agree that it is there. We can both accept it as given without having to explain *why* it is there.

              Its causation… or lack thereof… does not discount the fact that it is there. Unless, of course, you’re going to pull out Hume’s argument about induction.

              And while I’m sympathetic to Hume’s argument about induction in a Boolean universe, I’m not convinced that we live in one (in fact, I lean far, far over the other way). You can disagree with me, but neither is anyone who actually pulls Hume’s argument out, really.

              Because my counter to the “problem of induction” hasn’t ever been answered by people who take Hume (too) seriously.

              “Here, I have a gun. It’s loaded. I’m going to hand you the gun, and you point it at your own skull and pull the trigger. If there is no basis upon which we can ever agree that induction is a reasonable course of logical investigation, you have no reason not to pull the trigger. You don’t know what is going to happen. You can make no predictive statements whatsoever.

              If there *is* some basis upon which we can agree that induction *can* sometimes be a reasonable course of logical investigation, then we perhaps ought to move onto that point of the conversation.”Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                We value induction because it’s been seen to work in the past; that is, we conclude that induction works by a process of induction. This does lead to an infinite regress, which is a problem, but I find the invention of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent Person who contains three other Persons to be an over-elaborate solution to it.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                > we conclude that induction works by
                > a process of induction.

                Not precisely. This was Hume.

                We conclude that induction *works in many cases* by a process of induction. It is very likely to work.

                This is the difference between living in a probabilistic universe and a Boolean one.Report

              • Patrick,

                you can’t tell me that I have to explain to you *why* the world exists. We both see it. We both (apparently) agree that it is there. We can both accept it as given without having to explain *why* it is there.

                If we’re being skeptical—and that is atheism’s raison d’être, after all—why do we get to just assume the stuff you like? If we’re just going to assume a universe that suits our respective conclusions, let’s dispense with the argumentation part and go our separate ways.

                But if are going to actually proceed with rigorous skepticism, we’re going to discover, as Hume did, that strict empiricism leaves us stuck in Cartesian doubt. Thus, atheism starts at a disadvantage since, by its terms, it disfavors any knowledge not purported originating in sense data. To even get off the starting block, then, atheism has to take a step in the theist’s direction. And I am not ashamed to say I enjoy teasing atheists because of it.

                Regarding your “counter” to Hume’s unanswered (and unanswerable) problem of induction, respectfully, you miss Hume’s point. Of course we know what will happen if you pull the trigger. I know because the universe is ordered in a fashion consistent with God’s nature, I recognize that order as a creation of God in His image, etc. I can thus conclude that phenomena I have experienced conforms to orderly patterns that may be called laws of nature, such that future events will be like past events. When I see someone holding an object that resembles an object I have previously identified as a “gun” which fires projectiles that inflict mortal damage, I thus have a metaphysical framework that explains my fear as rational.

                In my worldview, induction is not merely “sometimes” reasonable—it is always reasonable, since the future will always resemble the past, and laws of nature are immutable. Nor do I suggest that atheists are unreasonable in using induction. I only suggest they cannot provide a worldview to explain why it’s reasonable.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                To even get off the starting block, then, atheism has to take a step in the theist’s direction. And I am not ashamed to say I enjoy teasing atheists because of it.

                Not really. Kant famously said that all knowledge is based on sense experience, but does not derive from sense experience. But this isn’t decisive against the empriricist: even Hume admits reason. He just circumscribes its utility to those things based in evidence.

                But I agree with your comment against Patrick re: Hume: he certainly wasn’t advocating any skepticism about the external world. Nor was he advocating any idea that important epistemic questions couldn’t be answered. In effect, his answer was that practice, and the way the way we experience the world, intrudes on philosophical reasoning to determine the way we act. But that certainly isn’t a point in your or Patrick’s favor with respect to the question at hand.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Stillwater says:

                > In effect, his answer was that practice,
                > and the way the way we experience
                > the world, intrudes on philosophical
                > reasoning to determine the way we act.

                That’s a fair point.

                But that’s not usually what people mean when they talk about turtles all the way down.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                > I can thus conclude that phenomena
                > I have experienced conforms to
                > orderly patterns that may be called
                > laws of nature, such that future
                > events will be like past events.

                Why cannot this be the conclusion of the Atheist?

                We agree that the world is there, we established that already. Why can we not agree that the “laws” of nature exist, without knowing where they come from?

                Indeed, the Atheist will simply say, “My acceptance of the laws of nature is based upon repeatable observations of the laws of nature. I accept them provisionally as the best explanation of the observations that I see so far. If something happens that does not fit in with my body of observation, I must either assume my observations are incorrect or my current understanding of the laws is incomplete.

                Historically, this approach leads to a revision of the laws, better observations, and more knowledge.

                You, on the other hand, accept the laws of nature based upon your belief in a lawmaker. When something happens that runs counter to your repeatable observations of the laws of nature, you must explain why the lawmaker has changed the laws. Indeed, historically, your approach leads to a slower revision of the laws, a rejection of correct observations, and retarded growth of knowledge.”Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to James K says:

            I’m basically with James on this one, though I would add that my difficulties with the personhood of God and with theodicy incline me strongly toward the noncognitivist position for many of the more conventional descriptions of God.

            Defining what atheism actually is turns out to be fantastically difficult, because in doing so we must define “God,” “belief,” and “not” … in order, I think, of increasing difficulty.Report

            • “Defining what atheism actually is turns out to be fantastically difficult, because in doing so we must define “God,” “belief,” and “not” ”

              I am not so sure I buy this. Let’s say you ask me to convert to your religion, and I decline because your beliefs do not seem plausible to me.

              Why do I have to create an entire metaphysical philosophy, just to say ‘no thank you” to you?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                You don’t have to. But if you want to be rigorous, to be philosophical about it, you should.

                Of course, in the case of rejecting a particular church, the work of defining “God” is already done for you. Probably more than half of the work of defining “belief,” too. Under such narrow conditions, even “not” becomes easier.Report

              • I still don’t get why. If I want to convince you that you need to abandon your God(s) – which I don’t – what you say here seems true. Otherwise…

                If you have developed an entire epistemological system to explain why the cracker turns to human flesh even though it clearly doesn’t, well… good for you. You may tell me that I need to use similar theological reasoning to reject this claim or I will be intellectually dishonest, but when you do so you are not convincing. To me, anyways.

                That’s not being intellectually dishonest – that’s just noting that the cracker doesn’t suddenly get all bloody.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                > But if you want to be rigorous, to be
                > philosophical about it, you should.

                I’m still out on the limb about what to say about this.

                I mean, this assumes that one’s philosophy can be closed, complete, and correct.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                You don’t have to create an entire metaphysical philosophy. You have one. It may be implicit, it may even be inconsistent (in fact, it almost certainly is, whether you’re an atheist or a theist), but you have one. What I find somewhat strange about Tim’s demand is that he lets theists off. Most theists, like most atheists, haven’t the slightest idea how their metaphysics gets us causality, to take one example. They can say, “God did it,” but this isn’t any better than saying, “God didn’t do it.” That is, for most people, it doesn’t license any inferences, because they haven’t worked out how God did it.

                If we want to have discussions about the existence of God, we’re going to have to flesh out our metaphysics and epistemology a bit, for ourselves and for our interlocutors, because otherwise we really can’t have a meaningful discussion. Unfortuantely, most people, theists and atheists alike, rarely do this, so they tend to either talk past each other or call each other idiots, or both.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Chris says:

                It’s ineffable.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

                I’ll add that, while it is certainly true that, should he or she actually think about it, the theist does have a wealth of philosophical and theological literature to draw upon in fleshing out a metaphysics and an epistemology (and an aesthetics and ethics, for that matter), what seems a bit odd about Tim’s demand is the failure to recognize that so does the atheist! I mean, our views go back at least as far as the theists in the history of philosophy, and the last few centuries has witnessed all sorts of atheistic or potentially atheistic philosophical world-views, including the various forms of positivism, empiricism, Spinozean pantheism, materialism (and physicalism), scientism, Husserlean idealism, Sartrean… whatever that is, Camusian absurdism, various forms of Kantianism (including the latter day sorts that you might find in 20th century Anglo-American philosophy), Marx-Nietzsche-Freud type suspicion, and so on and so forth. I didn’t even mention the various types of new agey shit that some atheists adhere to.

                In the long run, the vast majority of theists and atheists, whether philosophically inclined or not, share most of their folk metaphysics and folk physics, which makes discussing just about everything possible between people who may have very different views of the transcendental. In fact, the only place in which we really get into trouble is when we start to discuss the transcendental itself.Report

  8. Avatar TrueLiberal says:

    I find many people direct their disfavor with the bible, well deserved in many cases, at God about whom the book was penned rather than the fallible humans who actually penned it.

    I suggest the motives, perspectives, education and the state of the world at the time they wrote it should be taken into account when assessing the bible and it’s authors. Nonsensical is the best word to describe the idea all the stories in the bible are literal and infallible. They were men trying to describe the indescribable. If one is to be a believer, they in many cases were telling the world about things yet to happen and situations for which words had not yet even been invented. Imagine Ben Franklin, a genius I hope we can all agree, trying to write a book about personal computers and the internet. Not easy.

    I think these men generally did the best they could with what they had and in the case they didn’t, I think you can chalk up most of the hateful, tyrannical and irrational stuff to the fact they were people. Fallible, hateful, power hungry and bigoted.

    In other words, just because a person writes a book about someone doesn’t mean all of it is true or accurate.

    Mine is a loving God about whom a book was made from politically selected pieces of other books, written by many different men with different agendas, some of whom were tyrants, useful idiots or just plain sucked.

    They did the best they could, and the book was still pretty good.Report

  9. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    “The God professed by almost all Christians would happily subject me to all of the above and worse, for all eternity. ”
    The point that you miss, is that God would not condemn you or any other human being to hell for eternity, ‘happily.’
    I have to accompany the Mrs. to town and will ‘comment’ this evening or tomorrow, assuming you’re not just chumming the water. If you are legitimately seeking, searching, inquiring I’ll happily engage you.Report

    • “The point that you miss, is that God would not condemn you or any other human being to hell for eternity, ‘happily.’”

      God: Gosh, I am so sorry about this, Mr. Atheist. You’ve made some great contributions and we really appreciate all your years of hard work, but we’ve decided to go another direction.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Bob’s actually correct here. It is often claimed that God is angry, unhappy, or otherwise miserable when he sends souls to Hell. Unclear what’s making him do it, but that’s another question.Report

        • True, which is why I like the Veridian Dynamic take: You’re getting laid off because of things that those above you (that will be keeping their jobs) did. Similarly, I’m pretty sure babies don’t choose to, say, be born into a Jewish family in an all-Jewish town in the 9th century, never getting that revelatory moment of watching the 700 Club for the first time.

          The “but it makes God sad” just rubs the salt in the wound that much more for me.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          My understanding of it was that the sinner opts for Hell, not that God chooses to send the sinner there. God wants you to make a different choice, because He loves you.

          I could attack a straw man and call that a “blame the victim” mentality. But it’s probably more fair to look at it like Pinocchio choosing to be turned in to a donkey, lured there by the seductive but fraudulent promises of Pleasure Island and ignorant of the consequences of his choice.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

            For me, this kind of theological argument works really well when your universe is a big city where everyone knows about (for example) Christ, the Bible, and the Church; it’s more a question of choosing those, and not (for example) the nice things the Jews and Muslims are saying.

            It seems a lazy argument, though, when taking the whole of the world and it’s history into account, what with it’s countless number of people who never know enough to even consider this choice.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I envisioned it as this:

        Atheist: I was good to my spouse, a good parent, a good child, studious in my academics and diligent in my career, and I made life better for my fellow man through charity and my own labor. I wasn’t perfect but on balance I lived my life very morally. Turns out I was wrong about You, though. But still, don’t all my good works count for something?

        God: Nope. You were supposed to walk by faith alone, bucko! There’s the door downstairs, we’ve got a spot for you right next to Gandhi. Now git.Report

        • Avatar J.L. Wall in reply to Burt Likko says:

          God: Ever ever rip the flesh off a still-living animal and eat it, just for kicks?

          Atheist: What? No…

          God: Good. Raw chicken contains salmonella. Not that that’s much of a concern anymore — ha, it’s a joke!

          Atheist: [Nervous chuckling.]

          God: Now. About those children you were a parent to. Ever offer any of them as sacrifices to Baal?

          Atheist: No!

          God: Moloch?

          Atheist: Still no!

          God: Me?

          Atheist: I always thought it was best to consult a doctor when hearing voices, before your neighborhood angel.

          God: [Stern glare.]

          Atheist: Humor?

          God: All right. Head on up. But you’d better not be lying about that pagan-child-sacrifice bit. I’ll find out.Report

          • God is Dead, Signed, Nietzsche

            Nietzsche is Dead. Signed, God

            I did enjoy your story too, Mr. Wall. You just got me in the mood, although there are a few comments here that have departed from the well-rehearsed script of Flying Spaghetti Monsters and the like, perhaps by the mercy of God but certainly to the relief of all.Report

  10. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    The God professed by almost all Christians would happily subject me to all of the above and worse, for all eternity.

    I can’t speak for all Christians obviously, but this depiction of God is not the one currently proclaimed by the Roman Catholicism to which I profess belief. Nor does (or can) the Catholic Church say you’re actually condemning yourself to Hell because, even if it’s right about the existence of Hell and what actions would typically lead one in its general direction, it can’t know whether or not you, me, or anyone else is definitely going there. There’s no Residents of Hell counterpart to the Communion of Saints. Hell could be empty for all the Church knows.

    You also say Christianity asks you to believe something unbelievable, and you clearly don’t think it reasonable to believe the unbelievable. In other words, in your view, it is not reasonable to believe that Christianity is true. It’s in the name of truth that you reject Christianity. This is not, in Catholic thought at least, a disposition that condemns one to Hell.

    There’s something to the idea that people choose Hell in Catholic thinking. Dante painted a vivid image of it. This choice isn’t made because one is mistaken, though. It’s more akin to the willful, knowing choice to destroy a good friendship and harbor and fuel an unending hatred for that person. Or the deliberate, thought-out decision to assert oneself in ways that harm others.Report

  11. Avatar TrueLiberal says:

    Jason, I’m wondering what it is, exactly, you find unbelievable? The bible itself, church doctrine (if so which church), the existence of God (any higher entity or intelligence) or something else?

    Genuine question, Thanks.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to TrueLiberal says:

      I find the personal aspect of god impossible to believe. Either he has limits — which ultimately constitute personhood — or he doesn’t. In the latter case, he’s fundamentally not like us in personhood. Either Athena (personal but limited) or Azathoth (impersonal, limitless) strike me as more plausible than Jesus.

      I also find an impersonal uncaused cause neither more nor less plausible than an infinite regress. Both are ridiculous, and one must be correct. But I don’t know how to choose between them.Report

      • I just hope God was as stoned as I was during the 70s.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Presuming that God is morally perfect raises problems too. God, a morally perfect being, calls us to avoid temptation and sin. But being morally perfect, God cannot know what temptation is like; similarly, despite being omniscient, God cannot know what it is to commit a sin because God is incapable of sinning. Which also means God is not omniscient.

        This is the riddle of theodicy.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Ah hell Burt, we did those riddles in grade school. You really missed out on the whole parochial school thing. Jesus was the one who was tempted, that’s how God gets to know what temptation is like. Unfortunately, had he sinned he’d have been ineligible to be chief priest (think super-defense attorney). Jesus got to be God and not-God at the same time, its called a paradox. You don’t get to figure it out with reason, you have to use faith. Don’t have faith? That’s ok, you probably weren’t gifted in other ways either, like that 11″ pecker you were hoping for when you were 12.

          For the other childhood riddles, how about?

          Q If God is perfect can he create a boulder so big he cannot lift it?
          A “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”

          Pretty much the perfect all-occasion answer, proving even if He isn’t perfect he’s got a pretty good grasp of the get-out-of-jail free card.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to wardsmith says:

            Really? I see Jason’s personality-impersonality paradox and raise it with theodicy, and you think a dick joke calls the bet?

            Thank you, however, for conceding that it there is no logical way out of these paradoxes. Nothing else on this thread has made me feel more comfortable in my skepticism than this.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Burt Likko says:

              I don’t believe anything I could possibly say could convince you of anything at all, so jokes seem the best bet. I’ll never match Jaybird’s humor though – that guy cracks me up (or is it the cat writing?)

              Paradox by definition eludes our logic. Of course if you understood Godel, you’d understand that logic itself is a paradox, but being a lawyer you’ll settle for the kind of logic that works in courtrooms and you’ll be fine for that. Here’s one they should have taught you in law school: “This sentence is false”.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        > I also find an impersonal uncaused cause
        > neither more nor less plausible than an
        > infinite regress. Both are ridiculous, and
        > one must be correct.

        Point of fact, there are more than two options here.

        Everything we understand about causality is based upon the current structure of the Universe. It hasn’t always been this way.

        You don’t have infinite regress if there is a point in which T=0. What came before the Big Bang is inexplicable by our current understanding of how stuff works; it’s not infinite regress, it’s literally an entirely different *type* of existence. We might not even have infinite progress, if there is a point at which T=N for some finite N.

        Nobody knows for sure if the Universe reboots itself or not.Report

  12. Avatar Jonathan says:

    Yet I still can’t wrap my head around one thing in particular: The God professed by almost all Christians would happily subject me to all of the above and worse, for all eternity.

    I assumed you were talking about being an atheist, but if Anderson (above) is correct, well, the Lord that I’ve known wouldn’t condemn you for homosexuality.

    However, if it is the atheist thing, I’d present Rob Bell. I know he’s not universally loved, but his message that God might save atheists was espoused from the pulpit by my Presbyterian minister (he didn’t come down on either side, just stated we can’t presume to know).

    I found this line of yours interesting as well:

    …and we ordered by the Bible to submit to the rule of whatever political powers are at hand.

    I’m guessing you’re talking about Romans 13.
    Yesterday, I just so happened to read this response to Romans 13.

    Basically, the God I’ve come to know calls for love, charity and humility. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to live that way all the time.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jonathan says:

      Yes, it was the atheism I had in mind.

      I’ve actually encountered Rob Bell before, during a sermon at the Unitarian Universalist church we attend. The claim there was that he’d stumbled into universalism despite himself.Report

      • You guys attend a UU church?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jon Rowe says:

          We do. We started when our daughter was one year old. I’m not religious — still call myself an atheist — but I’d be stupid not to recognize the value of having a community dedicated to charitable, artistic, and spiritual matters.

          I’m also trying to raise a human being, not necessarily a clone of myself, and I recognize that many people find religion intensely comforting, even if I do not. If she wants it, she has a gateway. If not, she doesn’t have to go through.

          And yeah, I do have to grit my teeth at a lot of the lefty politics.Report

          • Can they at least cook? I mean, say what you will about the Southern Baptists, but the food is very, very good.

            (Pity about the lack of beer/wine.)Report

          • I wonder what you will do when she asks, “what happens when you die?” You will handle that as you will; but thinking back to when I was young (I have a pretty vivid memory of my younger years) I think I would want to hear — would be scared if I did not hear it — some kind of Santa Claus like myth. If I did have a kid I teach them when they were younger what has been termed moralistic therapeutic deism, which as far as I’m concerned has a far more chance of being true than the Left Behind crap. I know some friends who had that drummed into them when they were young; it scared the shit out of them so much that I’d say it qualified as emotional abuse of children.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jon Rowe says:

              I told my eldest this.

              “I don’t know everything for sure, buddy. There are lots of people who have lots of different ideas about what happens when you die. Most of those ideas conflict with other ideas about what happens when you die, so if one of them is right, the other ones are likely wrong. This is a question that people have been thinking about for thousands of years (Jack interrupts incredulously: ‘Thousands of years!?’)… yes, thousands of years, and they’ve spent lots of time thinking about this question and a bunch of them have written lots of stuff you can read when you get a little bit older and see if you can find the answer to this question.

              I do know this for sure, though: people will remember you after you die. The people who you are friends with and the people you treat well are going to remember you for being a good person. Your favorite people are all good people, right? And you like thinking about them? I think it’s a good idea to be the sort of person that people like thinking about.”Report

  13. Avatar MFarmer says:

    Alan Watts, or was it Rollo May, had a few analogies regarding ineffable spiritual matters — one was it’s like trying to kiss your own lips, and another is it’s liking trying to paper-wrap water.Report

  14. Avatar Matthew Goldey says:

    Your most passionate point touches on the paradox of Exodus 34:6,7 (below from ASV). How then can there be this apparent contradiction between what we understand as the kindness of God and a desire for justice? How can God be both loving and pure? In Christ.

    Ex 34: 6 And Jehovah passed by before him, and proclaimed, Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, 7 keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation.Report

    • Avatar J.L. Wall in reply to Matthew Goldey says:

      Or, go ahead and do a rough translation of the Tetragrammaton, and you get:

      “He is always Who he is always: [the One] Who is always, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; yet Who does not remit all punishment, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation.”

      It doesn’t solve anything, but it’s a) a bit more syntactically interesting this way, and b) heightens what you call the “contradiction” (though I’d call it a paradox, maybe; or just the Tetragrammaton: God is all these things, according to Exodus, because that is God’s nature.)Report

      • Avatar J.L. Wall in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        And a note on my translation: a single Y-H-V-H is worth a full “He is [always] Who He is [always].” The “always” is a grammatical point that I’ve been persuaded of, that it should be an “is” of perpetual being and coming-into-being, as opposed to a simpler, static “is.” So I truncated the second one for English syntactical niceness, and chose “the One” out of, I suppose, doctrinal niceness. (Doctrinal habit?)Report

  15. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Of all of the days to be stuck in the lab.Report

  16. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Jason, I really have no idea how to reach you or any other person who is in an egophanic revolt, as Voegelin would say.
    I wrote this ten paragraph thing and failed to notice my landline died and when I hit ‘submit’ it entered the etherea..so maybe God didn’t like what I said?
    The good news is that your consciousness is aware that you are not living in the ‘condicio humana’ rather you’ve been captured by a Second Reality that inhibits your existence as fully human, or human as God intended. Now, you’ve opened the door to this condition vis-a-vis your antipathy toward God, your skepticism but this is a singularly common event in modernity. The further ‘good news’ is that you are seeking, yearning, searching for the truth of existence (for whatever reason) and as such may find it, though it is confessedly difficult for the simple reason that you must renounce ‘self’ and overcome a hypostatized existence.
    The bad news is that you’ve chosen to be a participant in the field of contemporary disorders and to escape from that condition and to seek to recapture reality is the stuff of philosophers and saints. However, I have no doubt that this is a task that, while it may be difficult, is something of which you are more than capable.
    We must ackowledge that the tension, Voegelin tells us, between faith and reason is a mystery and, if you are telling us the truth, this is the place you must begin. Noesis, reason grounded on the divine, inexorably moves toward the revelation, the truth of existence and while God certainly and constantly ‘pulls’ you, you must freely choose to abandon the disordered life and obey Him.
    It is then, the experience of God, the Christ, the Word that is adumbrated in the noetic search, a mythological inquiry where within the layered and textured myth lies the truth, reality, and order of God. For the myth always contains the truth and begins the process of culling out ‘belief/faith’ from unbelief.
    For the sake of the discussion I want to eschew ‘doctrine,’ to avoid it altogether and to point to the idea of recapturing the experience. Doctrine has ossified the church to the point that Christians wet their pants when faced with a determined atheist.
    Our existence lies within the Platonic metaxy defined by the poles of immanence and transcendence. It is here where we ‘experience’ reality, both seen and unseen, existent and non-existent, time and eternity. It is here we experience the presence of God.Report

  17. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I’m one of those atheists who sees Christianity as little more than a wildly successful meme that does a fairly okay job of evolving as it needs to while still sluggish enough to keep feeding those who joined earlier.

    As such, the fact that there was a huge number of folks who responded as if they were not, in fact, filled with the Holy Spirit is entirely unsurprising to me.

    That said, there are dozens and dozens of interpretations of Hell and Hell Itself has evolved throughout the various centuries and covering everything from straight up torture to ironic punishment to purgatorial preparation for Glory.

    Keep in mind: Christianity was born screaming and covered in its own blood. The Romans tortured Christians and the children of Christians and if you’re stuck in a position where you’re watching you kids being impaled to the cheers of an audience, I imagine it’d be fairly easy to imagine a situation where you and your child are okay, and warm, and well-fed, and SAFE for forever and ever and one of the entertainments is watching the man who stuck yet another spear in your child’s stomach (to cheers) burn and burn and beg for a drop a single drop of water.

    Keeping a hold of the concept of Hell despite living in the most wonderful luxury today doesn’t really speak to a whole lot of generosity of spirit, of course… but what can you do? Pray for the Holy Spirit to turn their hearts?

    I do what I can to teach the doctrine of Universal Salvation to those who fear for my soul and for those who refuse Universal Salvation, I teach the doctrine of a purgatorial hell. Hey, let’s say that you’re going to a wedding but you’re covered in mud and dirt and tar and dust… you’d want to bathe first, right? You’d want to scrub and scrape and peel away at the cruft attached to you, right?

    Even if it hurt, right?

    At the end, you could go into the wedding looking ruddy and healthy and clean.

    What kind of person would *NOT* want that?

    Anyway, that’s the tack I take. (No, it doesn’t really work… but, hey, maybe I’m planting a seed.)Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      It would have been a vast improvement if the worst of religious intolerance were condemning people to an unpleasant afterlife without hurrying them toward it.Report

      • For the most part, Christianity is a religion of peace.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

          When is Christianity, rightly understood, a religion of war or physical violence?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

            It’s just like communism.

            If you’d actually *READ* Marx, you’d not see any Gulags at all in there!

            Which reminds me of a joke. What does communism have in common with an S&M convention?

            “Have you red marks?” is a good pickup line in both places.Report

            • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird says:

              Read the Old Testament. There are no gulags, but there is a lot of genocide. Christianity is a religion of peace now, but that’s because the Enlightenment neutered it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James K says:

                Genocide but no Hell.

                Hell wasn’t properly introduced until we got an afterlife. *THAT* required, at the very least, a Babylonian exile or two.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to James K says:

                James K, the Old Testament was the Hebrews, of whom I count certain friends. Jesus was a few hundred years after Plato and his people, mounted on crosses, littered the Appian Way for the amusement of the native population, as our beloved interlocutor, JB, has correctly illustrated.
                I’ve been looking but I can’t find anywhere in the Gospel of Jesus Christ where violence is advocated as a means to salvation. The derailed social sciences of the ‘Enlightenment’ are responsible for the warped ideologies of the 19th/20th century and 100-150 million systematically butchered souls.
                Re: the Enlightenment’s ‘neutering’ of Christianity I might suggest that the problem lay in the contretemps surrounding the debate between church scholars over the dichotomy between ‘mystical’ theology and school theology.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                I can’t find anywhere in the Gospel of Jesus Christ where violence is advocated as a means to salvation.

                The people responsible for the conquest and forced conversion of the Saxons, the Crusades against the Muslims, the genocidal Crusade against the Albigensians, the Northern Crusades of forced conversion and/or extermination, the Inquisition, the religious wars of the 16 Century, and the Thirty Years War got the idea from somewhere.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Mike, you’ve really done me in here. Let me check the Gospels and see if I can find Muslim, Inquisition, etc and get back with you. Man, younz are really smart dudes.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                I’ve heard of Christian apologetics before, but I didn’t realize its main tent is “deny everything and hide the evidence:”.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                Mike, Christianism cannot fail. It can only be failed.Report

              • Church-and-state in those days was the state co-opting the church for its own political purposes, not the other way around.

                And although some Islamic scholars deny that the Quran assures salvation for those who die in holy war, there are many who believe the Quran explicitly teaches that. There is no Christian equivalent.

                To point these things out is “Islamophobic” of course. But one can repeat any muddled nonsense about Xtianity and raise barely a murmur.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_LegendReport

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bull_of_the_Crusade

                A Bull of the Crusade (Spanish: Bula de la Cruzada) was a Papal bull that granted indulgences to those who took part in the crusades against Muslims, pagans or sometimes heretics.Report

              • Denying nothing. Digging back 500 years to feed your anti-Christian screed is what you feel you need to do.

                But judging times past by our modern sensibilities is the secret of doing bad history, and you’ve mastered it.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Not only that, I’m a soldier in the War Against Christmas, raising my “Happy Holidays” banner wherever I go.Report

              • “Christmas Kinetic Action” is what happens after a little too much eggnog. Boom!Report

              • “I can’t find anywhere in the Gospel of Jesus Christ where violence is advocated as a means to salvation.”

                Bob – I am curious as to how, for you, this statement is different from saying that I can’t find anywhere is Das Kapital where Stalinism is advocated.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Rtod, Marx was grossly derailed and without a clue as to human nature. Marx conjured a state of alienation (Hegel) caused by the worker dedicating his life to his work whereby his life becomes the object, the worker is thus objectified and Karl thought that this condition affected all of society and the only thing that could be done to escape was the act of revolution.
                “The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same self-alienation. But the former class finds in this self-alienation its confirmation and its good, its own power: it has in it a semblance of human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated in its self-alienation; it sees in its its own powerlessness and the reality of inhuman existence.” (Marx, The Holy Family, Selected Writings pp 131-55.).
                While the quote doesn’t origniate from Das Kapital it’ll do to examine Marx from the perspective that the means necessary to alter human nature, human consciousness, and society and to raise up not only a new society, but a new man, the ever popular Socialist Man. Marx was no fool, he knew that if anyone adhered to the grotesqueries inherent in his thinking rivers of blood would flow. And, of course, they did.
                Put another way, the Word validates the sanctity of human life in love and freedom, for Marx and his deranged fellows, “…all atrocities were justifiable, then, on the route towards freedom.” (E.V., “Marx inverted Dialectics”).Report

            • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

              Marx was mean to his children…that’s all I need to know!Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

            It’s a damned shame how frequently it’s misunderstood, then.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

      Mr. Jaybird reflects why Christianity/Catholicism reasoned its way to the concept of “Purgatory.” Any righteous soul would not see it as punishment, but would welcome such a chance to clean up before entering the wedding feast.

      Even if it hurt a bit.

      Theology isn’t all arbitrary. BTW, universalism, Christian or otherwise, universal reconciliation, has never traditionally held that you just skate into paradise, saint, sinner, murderer or priest.

      If you offend your friend, even if he forgives you, it’s you who doesn’t feel right unless you make repair, not him.Report

  18. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    I thought this thread would be an appropriate place to deposit this: http://www.collegehumor.com/video/6583358/why-religious-people-are-nerdsReport

  19. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    So I go to First Things, which I am told is a very important journal discussing very important moral and ethical issues from a Christian standpoint, one I should treat with far more respect than is my wont, and I find this. Jesus Christ, and I don’t mean that reverently.Report

  20. “I thought we’d left the subject of the creator behind…”

    Huh?Report

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