How do I know that God exists?

This is the second in a series in which we try and understand the most common objections to the Christian faith. Last week we responded to the objection that it doesn’t matter what we believe. You can find that here.

This time we’re thinking about how we can know that God exists.

Once again we’ll think about the answer to four questions

  • What do people mean?
  • Why do they say it?
  • What’s wrong with what they say?
  • How can we make progress?

1. What do people mean when they say ‘how can I know God exists?’

In other words, where are they coming from when they say this?

They could be coming from a place of genuine ignorance. And so what they mean is ‘I honestly don’t know whether God exists. But I’d like to know. And I’m interested in exploring this issue to reach a place of certainty’.

They could be coming from a place of scepticism. And so what they mean is ‘We can’t know whether God exists. And I don’t want to know. I’m not interested in exploring this issue’. For whatever reason they are convinced that there can be no God, there is no supernatural and that this world is all that there is.

And so it could be a question asked by someone seeking an answer or someone avoiding the Christian answer. They could be open minded on the issue of God’s existence and want to examine the evidence. Or they could be close minded on the issue of God’s existence and want to rubbish the evidence.

2. Why do people say that they don’t know whether God exists?

I think the single biggest reason is that God is invisible. We can’t see him and that creates issues for us in terms of knowing whether he’s there. The Bible acknowledges this issue when in John’s Gospel chapter 1 verse 18 the writer states ‘no one has seen God’. But I also think that there are two other reasons.

People misunderstand faith. Faith is commonly understood as ‘believing something for which there isn’t any evidence’. Therefore people assume that there’s no evidence to examine. And so if we simply can’t be certain whether God exists or not, what’s the point of investigating something for which there’s no evidence. But faith needs evidence otherwise it stops being faith and starts being speculation or superstition. Faith as understood on the Bible’s terms is going where the evidence is pointing.

People misunderstand knowledge. We often get confused about knowledge and especially about how we know things. Most of us fail to recognise that there are different types of knowledge. We know different kinds of things in different ways. And so we can end up looking in the wrong place if we want to know something. If I can put it this way, ‘we need to know how we know what we know’. For example,

  • I know that 1 + 1 is 2 and therefore 2 + 2 is 4 from my mathematical knowledge. I can prove that to you using intuitive mathematical logic
  • I know that if I hit my hand with a hammer it hurts from my personal knowledge of the experience. I can prove that to you by hitting your hand with a hammer!
  • I know that Gordon Brown is the Prime Minister from the news reports on the television, BBC website and the Times newspaper. I can prove that to you by going online.
  • I know a bit about the Second World War from the Imperial War museum. I can prove that to you by showing you historical documents

How we come to know things is different depending on the nature of the things that we want to know. We assume that we do know things and are prepared to act on that knowledge. But different kinds of knowledge are required in different ways. And so, I don’t use a calculator to find out who’s the Prime Minister. I don’t read the Times to find out more about the Second World War. I don’t use a hammer to discover the square root of 42. You learn different kinds of things in different ways.

So when we say ‘is God there?’ we may not find the answer if we don’t use the right kind of knowledge. And so to find out whether God exists we have to know what type of knowledge we’re talking about. So how would we come to know that? We’d come to know of God’s existence through historical knowledge because the claim of Christianity is that God appeared on earth in the person of the historical character called Jesus Christ.

If God is there what would convince you that he is there. In the same verse I mentioned earlier the John goes on ‘but God the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known’. In other words, someone other than God the Father namely God the Son has revealed what God is like. This person is none other than Jesus Christ, as verse 14 makes clear. And so if we want to know that God exists we need to look at the person of Jesus. And that makes perfect sense. After all, I don’t prove my existence to you with philosophical logic. I speak to you. God is not the conclusion of rational argument. He’s personal but he’s also infinite and the creator. We are finite and created and that limits how we can come to know him. The initiative must rest with him if we are ever going to be convinced of his existence. And he took the initiative when he came to earth in the person of his son, Jesus Christ.

3. What’s wrong with saying that God doesn’t exist?

There are two major issues with atheism, as I see it

i. It’s difficult to justify

The atheist assumes that God doesn’t exist. It’s a faith position built on the conviction that there is no God. It assumes that God is not there until his existence is proven. And so the onus of proof rests with the Christian. I don’t mind that and I’m happy to defend my position. But why should we assume that God doesn’t exist? Is that a reasonable assumption to make? Why not assume that God does exist? After all what evidence is there that God doesn’t exist? How can the atheist be so sure that God doesn’t exist? And if they don’t know why God doesn’t exist why do they base their life on the gamble that he’s not there? If we’re going to base our life on something that we don’t know, why not base it on God’s existence rather than his non-existence? There’s a bias there that we need to be aware of.

Christian Atheist
Assertion – their faith position The God of the Bible exists There is no such thing as God
Evidence – why they believe what they believe There’s evidence for God’s existence There’s no evidence for God’s existence
Conversion – what’s required to change their mind Requires the Atheist to disprove God’s existence Requires the Christian to prove God’s existence

ii. It ignores the evidence

Christians have characteristically responded to the question of God’s existence with a number of so called proofs. These include, but are not limited to,

  • the argument from creation which points to the existence of a God who’s a powerful designer order of the universe
  • the argument from experience which points to the existence of a supernatural God who explains the spiritual
  • the argument from conscience which points to the existence of a God who provides the basis for universal objective morality

They’re not bad. They can be helpful. But none of them is ultimately persuasive. But there is one argument that’s compelling; God has pitched up in person in human history. He has made himself known by appearing in person in Jesus Christ.

When Jesus was asked by Philip to give him a glimpse of God Jesus replied with these words, ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14). It was Jesus’ conviction that he made the invisible God known. He claimed to be God in the flesh. That claim is either true or it’s false. And the Christian claim that there is a God stands or falls on the identity of Jesus.

4. How can we progress the conversation?

We need to take this question seriously and acknowledge that it really matters. Encourage people not simply to make assumptions about this but to examine the reasons why they believe the things that they do.It’s not reasonable or responsible to not think about this issue.

And encourage people to recognise that we all come to this discussion with conclusions already in our minds.  Someone said to me recently that she knew that the Gospels must be unreliable because she knew that God does not exist. She was prepared to accept that the Gospels establish the divinity of Jesus. She just wasn’t prepared to accept that they were accurate in what they teach because her presupposition, from rational argument she would claim, is that there is no God. We need to try and suspend judgement whilst we examine the evidence.

So what do we do? There are questions to ask of the atheist that can lead to fruitful discussion.

  • What would God have to do to convince you that he’s there?
  • Who do you think Jesus Christ was and why do you say that?
  • Are you prepared to suspend judgment about whether God exist or not until you’ve re-examined the evidence?
  • Are you prepared to look at the evidence for Jesus?
  • Are you prepared to go where it’s pointing?

As we look at the Bible and especially at Jesus, he’ll walk off the page and settle the question of God’s existence for us once and for all.

37 thoughts on “How do I know that God exists?

  1. John Gault January 20, 2010 / 5:44 pm

    I don’t pretend to speak for all atheists, but I would be happy to give you my own, personal, answers to the questions you have posed to those who, like myself, classify themselves as atheists.

    “What would God have to do to convince you that he’s there?” There are many things that God could do to convince me of his existence. The easiest, and most sensible, would be to simply reveal himself in a fashion that is indisputable. Any dramatic, irrefutable gesture would be acceptable–levitating mount Everest, materializing at a Presidential news conference with the score to the upcoming Super Bowl–whatever. The God of the Bible is a supernatural being who has the power of omniscience and the power to subvert the “natural” laws of physics and science. Any proof as to his existence would have to verifiably demonstrate these powers.

    “Who do you think Jesus Christ was and why do you say that?” The simplest answer to this question is “I don’t know”. The odds are, that there was a person named Jesus who lived in that era in that area of the world. Beyond that, there is no evidence to support his existence much less his nature. None of the “documentation” regarding his existence (i.e. the gospels) is reliable for a number of reasons. First, it is second-hand. Second, it is verifiably from a significant period of time after the supposed death of Jesus Christ. Third, anything written in the gospels is thrown into doubt by the glaring inconsistencies and provable untruths that damage their credibility. There is no archaelogical evidence of Jesus’s existence either. Without fail, every piece of archaelogical evidence that has been produced to support his existence (astuary of Jesus, shroud of Turin, True Cross fragments) have been proven to be fake.

    “Are you prepared to suspend judgment about whether God exist or not until you’ve re-examined the evidence?” Without a doubt–assuming that there is something new to see in that evidence, I would look at it with an open mind. Keep in mind, however, that there will always be an evidentiary hurdle that the person of faith must conquer that the atheist does not. If a person (or a group of ten million persons) were to claim that the center of the earth is filled with chocolate pudding, it would be them who has to prove their thesis because the world functions exactly as it should if their assertion were false. Furthermore, it would be unfair to ask everyone in the world to give the pudding-theory equal weight as the iron/nickel theory just because nobody’s been to the center of the earth to see first hand and therefore nobody has “proved” what’s down there. God is the same thing. The world functions exactly as it should in the absence of a God–so while I would be happy to re-examine the evidence with an open mind I could not give the theory of God’s existence the same weight as what already makes perfect sense–unless there was very convincing evidence to the contrary.

    “Are you prepared to look at the evidence for Jesus?” Definitely. I would simply warn you that “evidence” is a very narrow term with very specific rules which define it’s meaning. For example, evidence that something in science is wrong or lacking (i.e. explanations of the Big Bang) is NOT evidence FOR Jesus. Evidence for Jesus would have to live up to the same standards of scrutiny that we apply to any other scientific hypothesis. It would have to relevant, verifiable, and it would have to point directly to a conclusion–to the exclusion of all other possibilities. Since the proposals of Christianity are pretty wild (compared to what we know of the natural world through science and rationality) the evidence would have to be correspondingly strong. There would need to evidence of, not only Jesus’s EXISTENCE, but of his nature–divinity, superpowers, omniscience, resurrection, etc. If such evidence exists, I would not only be willing to look at it, you couldn’t pull me away from it with wild horses.

    “Are you prepared to go where it’s pointing?” Definitely. A rational mind is always prepared to go where the evidence points. The question is, however, are you? Flip these questions back at yourself for a moment and see where they lead. What possible evidence would convince you that God DOESN’T exist? Are you prepared to SUSPEND YOUR FAITH while you re-examine the evidence that God in unnecessary for the universe to function exactly as it does? Would you go where that evidence points–even if it led you away from God?

    • andywoo January 21, 2010 / 8:27 am

      Wow – lots here and no time to read all the comments below (a school day awaits!). But, upon reading this (very eloquent) first comment last night 2 things did leap to mind.
      First, it’s just not reasonable to simply disregard the gospels as evidence regarding the existence of Jesus. That’s like considering the system of rule within England in 1215 but refusing to consider the Magna Carta (ie the most compelling evidence we have on the matter!).
      By all means quibble over details within the gospel.
      But acknowledge we are talking about 4 independently produced works, written within an early church noted for it’s integrity of conduct – accountable by the fact that some of those still living would have witnessed the events recorded, and compiled with very little care to make the church fathers (who presumably stood to gain by it) look good! They talk of Jesus, a man verified by external sources (see Josephus post below), by other Christian documents (Paul’s letters are of course older) and by the very existence of a flourishing new faith at the time – willing to embrace martyrdom for the sake of a carpenter’s son.
      Secondly, I do get a little irritated by the ‘chocolate pudding in the earth’ type argument, more commonly heard as comparing God’s claims to the tooth fairy. The comprison is silly – as you point out there is no reason to imagine the earth is filled with pudding (mmm, pudding – sorry) and no history of saying so. On the other hand, there is very much an ordered, stable creation to explain. In short, we can either speculate that it came from literally nothing, of its own accord. Or that it was created by something/one greater than ourselves (by definition, God). Both are worth considering and discussing – particularly when most of humanity, for most of history, has embraced worshipfully the latter. It’s certainly more worth examining than is the tooth fairy, and you full well know it!

  2. Shamelessly Atheist January 20, 2010 / 6:19 pm

    What would God have to do to convince you that he’s there?

    God, if it existed, would know exactly what would be required. Yet here I am still rejecting the god claim.

    Who do you think Jesus Christ was and why do you say that?

    The evidence for the historical Jesus is skimpy at best, but I am willing to concede it. Why? Because it doesn’t matter. The biblical Jesus, the one upon which people’s lives are too often predicated, did not. As Matt Dillahunty said in response to this and sums up the results of my own investigation into the matter, “The facts are these – there are no contemporary extrabiblical accounts of any events specific to the life of Jesus. That means no independent sources from any eyewitnesses with regard to his birth, life, miracles, ministry, death or proposed resurrection. The gospels are anonymous; We have no original manuscripts. They do not agree on details. They do not agree with recorded history and the consensus of New Testament scholarship is that none of them were written by eyewitnesses. The bible has stories about eyewitnesses, but we don’t have a single comment from anyone claiming to be an eyewitness. The process of canonization included books that doctrinally agreed with those in power, and eliminated and attempted to destroy books that were considered heretical by those in power. Yet those same books were considered inspired by other sects. Books like Revelations barely made it into the bible as many considered them uninspired. Books like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Apocolypse of Peter which have traditionally been considered divinely inspired were excluded. Paul’s epistles, some of which are of questionable authorship, were the first books of the New Testament to be written, and that was decades after the purported life of Jesus. The gospels were written many years later – perhaps even decades later – by unknown authors. Historians from the late first and second century do mention Christians and some refer to Jesus, but none of these were eyewitnesses, and most of them couldn’t even have spoken to someone who claimed to be an eyewitness. So we have the bible, a collection of stories by largely unknown authors who were unlikely to be eyewitnesses and we don’t have originals of their work. We have copies of copies of copies of translations of copies of copies of anonymous books reporting an oral tradition passed down for decades or centuries after the purported events in a time when myths, superstitions and god-men claims were plentiful; during a time when fact-checking and literacy were rare; and when doctrinal wars prompted forged documents (Paul even mentions this in the bible) in order to prop up competing theologies as orthodox or heretical. And for my money, that means none of it is believable. Contrast this with, for example, claims of alien abductions. You can – if you like – actually speak to people who claim to have actually been abducted by aliens. If you look around, you’ll find groups of people who tell consistent stories, and might even claim to have been abducted together. There are countless reports of UFO sightings, often by groups of people or, in rare cases, dozens or even hundreds of people in a particular town or area. These reports have been ongoing for decades, reported by countless news sources in addition to specialized periodicals. Many of these people sincerely believe their story. Do you? I don’t, because there isn’t sufficient evidence. Yet the quantity quality of evidence for these claims is vastly superior to any miracle claims reported in the bible. We have more evidence, and we’re not 2000 years removed from events, and we still don’t believe, and find the most fervent believers to be a little crazy. Yet somehow, millions of largely ignorant, well-meaning, nice people sincerely believe third-hand reports of miracles from thousands of years ago. And they don’t just believe – they strongly believe. They not only consider it not only absurd to disbelieve, but also their sacred duty to convince others – at a minimum – and legislate their beliefs on others, or worse. And yet we do not somehow don’t consider these people a little crazy.”

    What I find incredible (and amusing) is that believers will quote scripture to an atheist as if it were somehow, well, gospel. But for an atheist, quoting scripture carries no weight for the above reasons.

    Are you prepared to suspend judgment about whether God exist or not until you’ve re-examined the evidence?

    I have yet to see any evidence for the existence of god – only bad philosophy is ever presented.

    Are you prepared to look at the evidence for Jesus?

    As implied above, I have. It’s skimpy for the historical Jesus at best, and nonexistent for the bibilical one.

    Are you prepared to go where it’s pointing?
    I’m already there.

    In addition, as an atheist I do not say “god/gods does/do not exist”. This is a claim which requires justification, and as you point out, demonstrating a negative is difficult. However, I do reject every god claim I have come across as the evidence for each is insufficient to reject the null hypothesis.

  3. Lauri January 20, 2010 / 7:07 pm

    So much energy expended to argue your “positions.” Fanatics!

    Lovely! Though in a way I think you are more like Kinglsey Amis who said: “Its not so much that I don’t believe in God, its that I hate him.”

    So be honest with yourselves. At least Amis was.

    Stop your banter and say what you really think.

    • Shamelessly Atheist January 20, 2010 / 10:46 pm

      Lauri, where have I been dishonest? What I wrote is exactly what I think. Accusing me us of dishonesty where there is none is exactly the disrespect that John is talking about.

      And, please – I can not be angry with something that doesn’t exist. Can you be angry with leprachauns because there really aren’t pots of gold at the end of rainbows? That is exactly how we think of gods. Saying “Its not so much that I don’t believe in God, its that I hate him” is very disrespectful since what you are doing is telling me what I think rather than listening to me telling you what I think. If you cease to do this, I promise I will not do that to you in return. If your friend did indeed say

      One of my friends was dying of cancer. He was not a Christian, and one of my other atheist friends said things like, I hate God because a good god would never allow this to happen…

      then your friend was not an atheist. More likely your friend was just pointing out the Problem of Evil.

      So what I want to know is, if atheism isn’t a faith, or a belief like the belief in Thor why is it important to argue that God does not exist?

      It wouldn’t be, except that people make decisions predicated on their beliefs and this has become important in the political arena where decisions affect EVERYONE. I do not appreciate legislation which imposes a set of beliefs on everyone.

      Proposition 8 in California is a prime example of imposing a religious belief on everyone all the while ignoring that not everyone agrees with it. If a person thinks that it is wrong to marry someone of the same sex, they shouldn’t marry someone of the same sex. What they do not have the right to do is tell others that they should not marry someone of the same sex. Legislating a prohibition of same-sex marriages is simply wrong (and I doubt it will stand a constitutional challenge).

  4. John Gault January 20, 2010 / 7:20 pm

    Lauri,

    It is exactly this kind of disrespect (which, to be fair, is practiced by those on both sides of the argument) which makes meaningful discussion of God so difficult. I rather enjoyed reading the original post by theurbanpastor. Just because I don’t agree with his (or her?) obvious religious leanings doesn’t mean I can’t learn from his point of view. I also offered my opinions because they were asked for. There were specific questions directed at atheists in the post which I answered directly. My comments, while lengthy, were still far shorter than the original post, so your passive-aggressive shot at how much “energy” was expended in its creation was not only silly, but unwarranted. I know that Christians hate the comparison, but given your comment, I feel it is necessary. I do not hate God. I have no more feeling toward God than I do toward Santa Clause, dragons, Thor, or SpongeBob Squarepants. It is impossible to hate something that you do not believe exists–and despite your expert psychological insight into what I “truly” believe, I can assure you that I am pretty firm in my atheism.

  5. Lauri January 20, 2010 / 7:54 pm

    Ok, perhaps I was a bit aggressive, though don’t say I was passive aggressive. I was aggressive. Nothing passive about it. It’s just that its unusual for me to see more than one comment made on a blog post here that would reply from an atheistic perspective and so I assume that this post has attracted more than one ‘atheist’ and so I might correctly/ or perhaps less correctly assume that its been posted about else ware, which is good, though it does beg the question about who is reposting.

    But I am constantly surprised about how much energy is expended (in general) on trying to argue that God does not exist in the online environment, when if God does not exist, the matter should be left to fall on the ears of the quire; If faith or unbelief should be left out of the public sphere that is.

    So, if Santa Clause is truly as important to you as God then why spend so much time talking about not-god?

    One of my friends was dying of cancer. He was not a Christian, and one of my other atheist friends said things like, I hate God because a good god would never allow this to happen… Well, my reply is only that he did not have to deal with that problem because he was not a Christian… but that it was actually me who had to deal with it. So when it comes down to it, the anger that my friend felt was unjustifiable (to an extent, death is a horrible thing) unless he did have an inkling of God.

    So what I want to know is, if atheism isn’t a faith, or a belief like the belief in Thor why is it important to argue that God does not exist?

    No disrespect intended, and to be honest I would like to know how disrespect was given.

    Apropos: thanks for posting… I read what you said and think some of what you said had merit.

  6. John Gault January 20, 2010 / 8:08 pm

    The disrespect is in the inherent double standard that exists when talking about God. Those of faith are free to post, write, preach, and testify until their heart’s content–with the understanding that we are a nation that is tolerant of people’s faith. The atheist, on the other hand, is not only denied that same tolerance but, even when answering a direct question (or list of questions as the case may be), is called a fanatic–which is one of the nicer names I’ve been called for answering similar questions in the past. There is also the insult of trying to insist that atheists are not really atheists–implying that you have a better understanding of what is going on in my head than I do. “You hate God and you can’t hate something unless you believe in it”, “There are no atheists in foxholes” etc. are all attempts to tell others what they “really” think.

    As far as why I spend a SMALL amount of my time defending atheism on the web…Well, it’s because God is an important topic. I wasn’t kidding or exaggerating when I said that my own personal relationship with God is no different than my relationship with Santa Claus. The difference is that Santa Claus isn’t stamped on my money. My nation isn’t governed by a group of representatives and senators who model my nation after what they believe Santa Claus wants them to do. My president has never stood up and rationalized a war because Santa Claus was on our side. The fact is, the IDEA of God plays a very important role in our world–therefore, the REALITY of God is incredibly important to discuss.

  7. Phil C January 20, 2010 / 10:39 pm

    John Gault: “There are many things that God could do to convince me of his existence. The easiest, and most sensible, would be to simply reveal himself in a fashion that is indisputable.”

    There are a number of ways to respond to this, but the simplest is to ask what counts as indisputable: for most of human history God’s existence (or at least, the supernatural) has been indisputable, and only through the introduction of new forms of thinking – themselves disputable (that’s an important point) – has the situation changed. It’s also worth pointing out that Paul had a perspective on this as expressed in Romans 1:18 – the problem is with us, not with the evidence. If psychology has taught us anything, we need to examine our attitudes and motives as much as the evidence.

    “there is no evidence to support [Jesus’s] existence much less his nature.”

    This is not true, and your three supporting reasons are strange, irrelevant and wrong in turn. The gospels themselves are “archeological evidence”. There are no grounds for dismissing them as you do. The positive argument in their favour is something that takes time and extensive discussion, which is more than is possible in a blog comment!

    “The world functions exactly as it should in the absence of a God”

    That is a hugely controversial statement. theurbanpastor asks in his post why we should presume atheism – you have asserted we should, but provided no backing for it other than to assume that presuming atheism is somehow less ridiculous. That’s where the classical philosophical arguments introduce serious problems.

    I’ve tried to answer your post in a way that will prevent this becoming a neverending thread of death, but maybe that’s not possible…!

    • Shamelessly Atheist January 20, 2010 / 11:11 pm

      theurbanpastor asks in his post why we should presume atheism – you have asserted we should, but provided no backing for it other than to assume that presuming atheism is somehow less ridiculous.

      Phil, this is a burder of proof problem. We are not making the claim that there are no gods, and so there is no burden of proof require. What we are saying is that we have no reason – no evidence – which compels us to reject the null hypothesis (i.e., no gods) in favor of a claim of existence.

      “The world functions exactly as it should in the absence of a God”

      That is a hugely controversial statement.

      Ummmm… no. It isn’t. Cosmology, biology, etc. point to blind natural processes in answer to the question of how the universe, life, etc. came to be. Answering this would definitely be too long for a comment. For instance, discussing the guage symmetry of the universe and how that relates to the laws of physics is a big topic and very relevant as to why the universe works the way it does, as is abiogenesis, etc., and no one person is an expert in all of these areas. But in none of them is there any need for introducing any deity.

      for most of human history God’s existence (or at least, the supernatural) has been indisputable, and only through the introduction of new forms of thinking – themselves disputable (that’s an important point) – has the situation changed.

      No, many have disputed it, and it is certainly not the null hypothesis. If it were, which god? Some of the great Greek philosophers rejected the idea of gods. Atheism is hardly a new phenomena. But you are right in one respect – things have changed. Gods were invented as a placeholder for our ignorance, to fulfill a human need to understand why things happen that are beyond our control. We used to think of lightning as being the gods hurling bolts in their anger. We now know that these are static discharges. The tools we have for understanding the universe and our place in it are becoming increasingly more sophisticated, allowing us to explore places that even a few decades ago were thought impossible. Natural explanations are supplanting religious ones that were once thought unassailable.

      The gospels themselves are “archeological evidence”. There are no grounds for dismissing them as you do.

      Wow. Are you saying that hearsay testimony written based on oral tradition decades following the supposed events is ‘archeiological evidence’? If so, you and I have very different ideas about what constitutes ‘evidence’…

      • Phil C January 21, 2010 / 11:22 am

        Sorry, I missed this comment.

        You are right that it is about burden of proof. You have given me no reason to reject the “God hypothesis”.

        I think in my reply to John Gault below I explain what I mean in relation to your point about what a universe would look like without God (in short: we have no outside reference point to judge).

        As to historical views of God, you are right that I was generalising. There have been atheists through history, though they have been (and still are) largely a curiosity. The point I was making was a different one about social psychology.

        As to evidence, there are good reasons to trust the gospels – but I’m not going to copy and paste articles and books for you to read. If you are really interested, they are easy enough to find on Google.

        But actually, if you want to stretch the mind, you can now find Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga online. I’ve dipped into it and it’s fascinating.

  8. John Gault January 20, 2010 / 11:00 pm

    What’s wrong with a neverending thread? 🙂

    Indisputable proof–If God exists in the form and fashion proposed by the major religions of the world, then indisputable proof should not be an issue. I leave it up to God to choose his particular dramatic gesture. Sure, we could argue about whether certain proofs are indisputable, but an omni-powerful God would have no need to play in the shadows of debate. He could simply whip up a miracle that is appropriately grand, witnessed or experienced by all, and in proper opposition to any possible natural or scientific explanation as to remove all doubt. An all-powerful God would only remain hidden from the masses if he wanted to, or if he didn’t exist.

    Historical evidence–the gospels are the worst possible form of evidence in support of Jesus’s existence and they are no evidence at all in support of his divine nature. A story is simply a story. There are many, very old stories about Robin Hood or King Arthur as well, but they didn’t exist. King Tut did–we know because we found his body, his tomb, his tablets, his STUFF. Show me Jesus’s stuff–then show me that it’s “magic” stuff.

    Occam’s Razor–we should ALWAYS assume the absence of something new until evidence provides reasonable support to the contrary. The simplest explanation is usually true. Atheism is not a thing to be assumed, it is simply the state of affairs as it exists in the absence of an all-powerful, supernatural, unproven deity. If you wish to bring a God into a state of affairs that has no obvious need for his existence, then it is up to you to provide that proof. There is nothing in the functioning of the universe that warrants the assumption of a God–therefore the assumption of no-God (i.e. atheism) is the more valid point of view–absent evidence to the contrary.

    • Phil C January 20, 2010 / 11:45 pm

      Indisputable proof: It’s not that simple. The Bible tells how God has done exactly what you describe throughout history, but people who saw great things still decided to turn their backs on him.

      Historical evidence: There are all sorts of reasons to take the gospels seriously as history, and therefore as evidence.

      Occam’s razor: Before you can invoke the Razor you face the problems with atheism as a worldview, both practical and conceptual, let alone as the “simplest” worldview. (There are unanswered questions for the Christian as well, but they are far less fundamental.) And one of the central consquences of Christian belief is that if God is there, it would be impossible to conceive of a world without Him. So the assertion that the world is exactly as it would be without God is begging the question.

      • John Gault January 20, 2010 / 11:57 pm

        If someone refuses to believe indisputable proof, they are a fool. Fools do exist, and if God were to transport everyone on Earth to the moon and deliver a sermon from a glowing pulpit two hundred stories tall, I’m sure there would be fools who would still deny his truth–I would not be one of them, and you asked about what proof I would need. Your statement about the Bible telling of such events, however, is flawed by the inherent unreliability of the gospels as evidence. That leads me to your second point, to which I say–hogwash. Shamelessly Atheist addressed this ad nauseum, and I won’t insult him by retreading upon ground he has already covered, but the gospels are horrible evidence of ANYTHING, much less true, historical accuracy.

        Finally, you said “if God is there, it would be impossible to conceive of a world without Him”–well, I can easily conceive of a world without him, so it must be possible. I’m going to assume, however, that you juxtaposed your points and meant to say–if God ISN’T there, it would be impossible to conceive of a world WITH him–a’la Descarte (I think, its been a while since Philosophy 101). That is rubbish as well, since I can conceive of a world with all kinds of beings and entities which do not exist. God is not a special kind of fairy tale, it takes no different mental process to imagine him as it does to imagine vampires.

      • Phil C January 21, 2010 / 12:19 am

        Sorry John, this is in response to your point below this comment – the blog won’t let me reply to it directly for some reason.

        I think you misunderstood my point about God’s actions in history. He is not concerned with our belief in his existence, but in our life under Jesus’s lordship – what use is mere belief in his existence (as James points out – James 2:19)?

        As to the gospels as history: to your point, hogwash in return! I trust scholars over blog commenters. Which scholars you trust is a big question.

        “I can easily conceive of a world without him, so it must be possible” – No – if God really is the grounds of reality, we have no idea what it would mean to say that God isn’t. So you are begging the question.

      • Phil C January 21, 2010 / 12:19 am

        Oop, the reply went in the right place after all!

  9. Phil C January 20, 2010 / 11:04 pm

    Shamelessly Atheist:

    “God, if it existed, would know exactly what would be required. Yet here I am still rejecting the god claim.” – The Bible does not say that everyone will believe in God. It does say that many will reject the truth: as I pointed out to John Gault, Romans 1:18. (I know you don’t like it when people quote the Bible, but the point is a good one – surely we should assess ourselves prior to the evidence?)

    “The evidence for the historical Jesus is skimpy at best” – Nope. There’s a lot. Certainly more than for a lot of other historical figures.

    As to the long quote, most of the facts presented are highly questionable, either in terms of relevance to the question at hand, or of truth. There must be hundreds of books addressing all the points that this chap asserts. And that’s the problem with a post like yours. It’s possible to assert all sorts of things in a few minutes (or a copy and paste like you have done), and it takes so much time and effort to research each point that most people don’t bother. So I will return the favour: I assert that most of the points in that quote are either irrelevant, misinterpreted or not true. 🙂 But if people want to do further research, there are a lot of resources out there.

    “I have yet to see any evidence for the existence of god – only bad philosophy is ever presented.” – I think a lot of professional atheist philosophers would disagree with you on that.

    “I do reject every god claim I have come across as the evidence for each is insufficient to reject the null hypothesis.” – From someone called “Shamelessly Atheist”, you sound agnostic. Like John Gault, I think you need a good reason for your presumption of atheism.

  10. Shamelessly Atheist January 20, 2010 / 11:35 pm

    “The evidence for the historical Jesus is skimpy at best” – Nope. There’s a lot. Certainly more than for a lot of other historical figures.

    This is a fallacy. We have essentially no historical evidence for Jesus. For someone like Julius Caesar, we have coins minted with his likeness, busts, verified recorded historical events involving the personage and writings by contemporary historians and even his own writings. (Why did Jesus never bother to write anything down, by the way?) There is a little bit of evidence from textual criticism for the historical Jesus, but I have always found it very weak. The two figures certainly aren’t anywhere comparable.

    As to the long quote, most of the facts presented are highly questionable, either in terms of relevance to the question at hand, or of truth.

    Like what? That the gospels’ authorship is unknown? They aren’t known. That the gospels weren’t written for decades and are based on oral traditions? Not in dispute except by bible literalists. That they weren’t eyewitness accounts? They weren’t. (Whoever it was that wrote Luke even says so.) That the gospels contradict details in each other? They certainly do. That there were books excluded from the bible even though they were considered inspired by other sects? There were. For each I will give examples, but I’m pretending to work and my materials are at home.

    “I do reject every god claim I have come across as the evidence for each is insufficient to reject the null hypothesis.” – From someone called “Shamelessly Atheist”, you sound agnostic.

    You are mistaking my ‘statement of knowledge’ with my ‘statement of belief’. My statement of knowledge is that there is no evidence for any god(s). This does not preclude the existence of gods (though the Abrahamic one is out – its properties such as answering prayer, etc. have been tested and falsified), since absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (except in cases where evidence is expected, as with the Abrahamic god). My ‘statement of belief’, however, is that there are not gods and is consistent with my ‘statement of knowledge’. I acknowledge the incredibly unlikely possibility of some kind of gods’ existence, but only for intellectual honesty purposes. It would be more accurate to call me a ‘weak atheist’, but I’m an atheist nonetheless and for good reason – I have no reason to believe in a god or gods. As Stephen Colbert once said about agnostics, “Aren’t they just atheists with no balls?”

    “I have yet to see any evidence for the existence of god – only bad philosophy is ever presented.” – I think a lot of professional atheist philosophers would disagree with you on that.

    Tell Nicholas Everitt and others that. I know professional philosophers and I haven’t met one that can’t kill the First Cause argument in their sleep.

    Tell you what – give me your very best argument. You only get one shot. I mean, if your best one isn’t good enough, why would you think your second would be?

    • Phil C January 21, 2010 / 12:10 am

      –We have lots of historical evidence for Jesus. Of course it’s possible to set your benchmark as high as you like. The question is what actually happened in history, and there is easily enough evidence to argue for solid conclusions about Jesus.

      –Each of the examples you provide (anonymity of the gospels, etc), along with the stuff from the extended quote, has been known for a long time – for some of them, from the beginning. Their relevance to the question is variable. There are all sorts of resources out there for people interested to know how things might fit together.

      –I think you still need to provide a reason for your presumption of atheism. You can’t just assert it.

      –By “bad philosophy” you seem to mean arguments that are not compelling. I think it is possible to find grounds to deny any philosophical argument, so I’m not sure that this is a particularly productive line of comment.

      A more interesting question is how we move beyond pulling things apart to constructing a clear idea of the way things are.

      Out of curiosity, how did you come across this blog post?

      • Shamelessly Atheist January 21, 2010 / 9:08 pm

        I think you still need to provide a reason for your presumption of atheism. You can’t just assert it.

        I have done so. If I reject all god claims, then only the null hypothesis is left. Believing in a god without reason to reject the null hypothesis is simply irrational. This is more than sufficient to justify my atheism to myself, and if others take issue with that, too bad. I feel no need to further justify it and am mystified that anyone would think I need to do so. Now, if I was prothyletizing (as the writer of this blog is), that may or may be a different story, but I really don’t think so.

        Each of the examples you provide (anonymity of the gospels, etc), along with the stuff from the extended quote, has been known for a long time – for some of them, from the beginning. Their relevance to the question is variable. There are all sorts of resources out there for people interested to know how things might fit together.

        Then what problem did you have with the quote? I fail to understand this. Nor is this a game of Tetris, trying to fit the pieces together when each individual piece is itself lacking in quality. I mean, the bar for evidence of the historical Jesus is one thing – I have no problem imagining the existence of a carpenter named Jesus who did some theology. Hardly extraordinary. But the biblical Jesus is something else, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and even eyewitness testimony (which we do not have anyway) is quite insufficient.

        What would convince me is something along these lines: controlled double-blinded study showing the efficacy of prayer to a particular god which has this property. This has been done and there are several large studies in the medical literature (the STEP, MANTRA and MANTRA II studies) which not only showed no positive effect of prayer on patients recovering from by-pass surgery, but in the STEP study those patients who were prayed for and knew this actually faired worse (probably a Type II statistical error, but who knows?).

        By “bad philosophy” you seem to mean arguments that are not compelling. I think it is possible to find grounds to deny any philosophical argument, so I’m not sure that this is a particularly productive line of comment.

        I couldn’t agree more. But I don’t think they are just non-compelling. I have yet to hear a philosophical argument for the existence of god which is not severely flawed. First Cause, Argument from Morality, TAG, EAAN (that one is just bizarre) – you name it.

        Out of curiosity, how did you come across this blog post?

        It ended up in the ‘atheism’ tag somehow. I honestly don’t know how that works some time.

      • Phil C January 22, 2010 / 11:34 am

        Just on your point about scientific studies of prayer: CS Lewis wrote an essay titled The Efficacy of Prayer, which (from memory) illustrates how “testing” prayer just doesn’t make sense. From what I can tell, he wrote it long before anyone started wasting money on it.

  11. Tom Stanbury January 21, 2010 / 8:51 am

    Woah, 18 comments. Make that 19.
    This dialogue reminds me of tag team wrestling, which is definitely entertaining if nothing else.

  12. Lauri January 21, 2010 / 10:00 am

    “The disrespect is in the inherent double standard that exists when talking about God. Those of faith are free to post, write, preach, and testify until their heart’s content–with the understanding that we are a nation that is tolerant of people’s faith.”

    I didn’t say you shouldn’t post! I just wanted to know why you spend time defending not-god. I did forget you live in the US, so I understand a bit more about why you might want to. We are in the UK, where Rawlsian secularism is a much more prominent part of the public sphere. But, if you think the only or even main reason Bush et al went to war in Iraq was faith, Santa must be real. (Coca Cola uses him really well so fight against that too please, ill join you, oh and, Ill fight with you against any president or prime minister whose only reason to go to war is because he claims God told him to.) Lets return to this in a minute.

    “The atheist, on the other hand, is not only denied that same tolerance but, even when answering a direct question (or list of questions as the case may be), is called a fanatic–which is one of the nicer names I’ve been called for answering similar questions in the past.”

    But how did you find the blog post? Where you looking for a debate? Seeking converts to the not-god theory? What? Thanks for answering the questions, as I said, some of your insights are appreciated. That wasn’t the problem, or my question.

    “There is also the insult of trying to insist that atheists are not really atheists–implying that you have a better understanding of what is going on in my head than I do.”

    I am not saying you are insane, but we do diagnose groups of people with psychological disorders and tell them what is going on in their heads. So there is rational and reasonable precedent to do that sort of thing, though surly not based on one blog post!

    I was observing something about a type of atheist who is zealous and voicing my appreciation for Amis, or Hitchens, because they really do take the belief in God seriously and the implications of a version of god (which I don’t believe in). I don’t want to live in North Korea any more than Hitchens does, but his view of god is a negative one, his emotive arguments against theism seem to be a bit more honest than the more or less empty unproven assertions made on this thread.

    I don’t know what is going on in your head, I cannot make a claim to know. I simply asked the question, whether your zealotry isn’t actually a bit more about bitterness than it is about mind masturbation.

    Shameless Atheist, do you believe in evolution?

    • John Gault January 21, 2010 / 3:13 pm

      Just a couple quick clarifications, and then I promise to slink back into the shadows–until next time, muhahahahaha!

      Lauri,

      Your name links to a WordPress.com blog, so I assume you know how the Tag Surfer functionality works, but for those who read this blog but do not belong to wordpress, a quick explanation:

      When someone writes a blog, they tag it with certain “keywords” which help others search it out. Through Tag Surfer, other wordpress members receive excerpts from recently written blogs that contain the Tag (keyword) which they are interested in. One of the tags I subscribe to is “Atheism”, which is a tag urbanpastor chose to attach to his entry. Notice that I do not subscribe to “Christianity” or “religion” because I’m not interested in picking fights with those of faith who simply want to discuss spiritual matters among themselves. I simply like to hear what others have to say on the topic of atheism. In this blog, I read it and decided to answer the questions that were posed–simple as that.

      Lastly, I think that our geographic seperation is actually a big deal in this discussion. As I understand it, religion is a MUCH more private, personal matter in the U.K. Here in the States, religion–specifically Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity–are center stage in our politics and our culture. I believe this damages our nation, so I try to let my opinion be heard–a principle that we in the good ol’ U.S. of A are SUPPOSED to believe in but which we hyppocritically stifle at every opportunity. Anyway, that’s all for me, kids–John Gault, awaaaaaaay!

    • Shamelessly Atheist January 21, 2010 / 9:22 pm

      <blockquote.Shameless Atheist, do you believe in evolution?
      Believe? No. I provisionally accept (in combination) natural selection, sexual selection and genetic drift as the factual explanation (it is far beyond being a hypothesis) for the observed changes in variation of life over time as evidenced by a number of wide-ranging disciplines such as molecular genetics, evo/devo, geology, paleontology, cladistics, comparative morphology, selective breeding of animals, etc. This is a more precise representation of what most atheists mean when asked this question and answers “Yes”. Some atheists accept it without question, which I would then call a belief, but they are cheating themselves out of learning about something marvelous and beautiful. For me, it is a conclusion based upon empirical evidence (the only kind I’m interested in), not a belief.

  13. Shamelessly Atheist January 21, 2010 / 10:29 pm

    P.S. …

    But how did you find the blog post? Where you looking for a debate? Seeking converts to the not-god theory? What?

    John has already answered the first. Looking for a debate? Mmmmm, not really. Just answering the questions. Or were they not being honestly presented? I find airing out points of view leads to understanding and (hopefully) mutual respect. But you really should be expecting answers like these from us. We’re not sitting on a fence here, but have come to our atheism through reasoned conclusions.

    What we want is to be respected as contributing members of society (I’ve actually had death threats from Christians on my blog…), not treated as pariahs, seen as immoral individuals, and most importantly – as Christopher Hitchens says – to be left alone. That is, not prosthyletized to, not promote legislation which imposes beliefs on others (I’ve given one example), not base domestic or foreign policy on based on religious belief. In fact, remove religion from politics altogether. It is this last part that is the reason for raising our voices in dissent. Atheists have been pushed around for long enough. It’s long since time we made our voices heard. We outnumber Jews in the US by a wide margin (the third largest group world-wide behind Christians and Muslims), yet have no political voice. You can be that will change.

    Perhaps you folks should look to the situation here in Canada (I am a dual citizen of the US and Canada, by the way). Absolutely no discussion of a candidate’s religious views is ever discussed here. Canadians understand how irrelevant it is to carrying out the duties of political office. During elections in Canada, no news agencies even mention it. Contrast that with what we see on CNN or (if I ever bothered to watch the trash on) Fox News. Yeek. People like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter wouldn’t get the time of day up here on CBC or CTV. (Except for the news documentary which included Ann Coulter’s gaff saying that Canada had sent soldiers to Vietnam to fight alongside American soldiers… No wonder she was fired from MSNBC – she’s too lazy to bother with fact checking.)

    I have a question for you, Lauri. Do you not feel at least a little bit embarrassed by engaging in active prosthyletization? I find it utterly distasteful. Does that surprise you? I’m certainly not prosthyletizing here – I’m just answering the questions posed in the blog and in the subsequent comments. Atheists aren’t really into conversion, but if someone is convinced by our arguments we aren’t going to block admission to the club, either. The author of this blog posed questions that presumed the evidence was in favor of Christianity. I’ll bet that our difference of opinion is totally confusing to believers, especially those who evangelize.

    By the way, my acceptance of evolution has nothing to do with my atheism and is completely unnecessary to it, if that’s what you are thinking.

    • Phil C January 21, 2010 / 11:06 pm

      Shamelessly Atheist: This blog is based in the UK.

      • Shamelessly Atheist January 22, 2010 / 4:28 am

        LOL! Apparently, I can’t fact-check my own comment!

  14. Lauri January 22, 2010 / 12:05 pm

    Your last sentence interests me the most. The other stuff was more or less expected. But if you would like to explain why you are an atheist I would love to hear that.

    Shame on those Christians who threatened to kill you.

    I love Colbert, so I guess you might appreciate that I think O’Reilly and the others should be laughed out of the house. But its surprising that you equate them with God. Nothing godly about self serving, hypocritical, judgmental liars.

    I am hesitant to acknowledge that I am not ashamed to speak about the good news, because I am not sure what you mean by “engaging in active prosthyletization.” My experience of my activity in talking about Jesus has been very positivity received by people from all backgrounds including atheists.

    Am I ashamed of how some Christians go about it? Yes of course. But I am also ashamed at how society not only uses but abuses our deepest felt passions and loves to sell us products (Santa Clause and Coke is an example…) You may have heard of the Atheist Bus Campaign organized by Dawkins? I was embarrassed by the slogan. It was just sad really. Then there is the Stonewall campaign (Gay rights group in the UK) that is down right bullish in its shameless promotion of a type of ideology. (That is a can of worms in itself which I have posted about on my blog.)

    What kind of proselytism don’t you like? What sort of propaganda would you like to do without? How else would you liked to be left alone? And have you ever gone onto a blog post by a Christian or another faith and argued for atheism other than where the question was asked?

  15. Shamelessly Atheist January 22, 2010 / 3:53 pm

    But if you would like to explain why you are an atheist I would love to hear that.

    The reasons why I am an atheist have been discussed in the above comments.

    I love Colbert, so I guess you might appreciate that I think O’Reilly and the others should be laughed out of the house. But its surprising that you equate them with God.

    Huh? I think you should read the comment again. I did no such thing.

    You may have heard of the Atheist Bus Campaign organized by Dawkins? I was embarrassed by the slogan.

    Why? Was it any worse than what churches put up weekly on their own signs? My own preference would have been “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” with contact information for the CFI (or in Britain’s case, the RDF).

    What kind of proselytism don’t you like? What sort of propaganda would you like to do without?

    If someone asks me my belief in conversation and it turns into a discussion of views, that’s great. That’s how things would go ideally for me. But when it turns into an aggressive conversion attempt, I am immediately turned off. Here’s an example. My wife went out east to the Maritimes to visit a good friend of hers. This friend (a Christian) is the perfect example of how I think a person SHOULD be about their religion. I have never even discussed the topic with her and she never brings it up. A very tolerant person who understands that she has her own believe and others have theirs. Great.

    She wasn’t the problem. It was while my wife was out there visiting a second friend who lived close by that things went wrong. This second friend did begin telling my wife that she should go to church, find Jesus, etc. My wife did what many people probably do to you when you “speak about the good news”, as you put it – sit politely all the while wishing she would stop. Just because people politely listen does not mean they are necessarily giving assent. This is what many have been conditioned to do in discussions of matters religious. It’s wrong.

    My wife asked me after she got back what she should have done. I couldn’t tell her, because what she would do and what I would do are two totally different things. I think that perhaps she should have spoken up and calmly ended that line of conversation. If I had been there, things would have become very ugly very quickly. I don’t mind discussion, but when one side begins telling the other how they should live, my tolerance ends sharply. Here’s the kicker – I would feel the same were the roles reversed. I take secularism very, very seriously.

    I also give some blame to the first friend, who did nothing to intervene herself. Sam Harris is right. Moderates make excuses for the actions of their more evangelical brethren.

    And have you ever gone onto a blog post by a Christian or another faith and argued for atheism other than where the question was asked?

    Only when I see something eggregious, something that is obviously wrong in the extreme and simply promotes stereotypes of atheism. Here’s an example:

    atheistic rejection of God is precipitated by immoral indulgences, usually combined with some deep psychological disturbances, such as a broken relationship with one’s father. I also show how atheists suffer from what I call “paradigm-induced blindness,” as their worldview inhibits their ability to recognize the reality of God manifest in creation.

    This is from the flap of a book called “The Making of an Atheist” by James S. Spiegel. If you do not find this disturbing, then you and I have a big problem. He’s describing atheism as a sickness, in point fact exactly what the Soviets did with those who rejected communism and placed in institutions. As a recent release, it’s making the rounds and Christians are drinking this disgusting trip up like it was ambrosia. If atheists don’t stand up and call this guy out, we deserve what we get in the end because of it. But this is not the same as trying to convert anyone by any means.

    You could counter that Dawkins says god is a delusion, but Dawkins is not making the argument that believers are damaged goods and victims of trauma. All he’s saying is that believers have been indoctrinated during their formative years with a belief that he thinks is erroneous. He’s not saying it’s an illness that needs psychiatric attention. Spiegel’s stereotyping disgusts me.

    Yes of course. But I am also ashamed at how society not only uses but abuses our deepest felt passions and loves to sell us products (Santa Clause and Coke is an example…)

    Not the same thing. No one lives their lives predicated on Santa Claus (The Santa Clause was a bad Tim Allen movie. Sorry, couldn’t resist)…

  16. Lauri January 22, 2010 / 6:29 pm

    So you’re saying that your atheism is based on the lack of evidence for God, not your belief in evolution?

    My style of talking about the good news, is more like a discussion of views that you talked about, but I am not afraid of using the bible and language that is in the bible, but not necessarily telling people how to live their lives. That’s not my job at all, never was.

    I don’t try and labour the point with my good friends who are atheists, but simply point out things that I think might enlarge their lives (not necessarily in Christianese.)

    I never said that Santa is the same as an all encompassing faith, I just don’t like psychological abuse and manipulation, which I think advertising can often fall into. And I would say that people of faith are often involved in what “Skunk Anansie” calls “Selling Jesus.” Which I cannot appologize for, since I am not one of those guys who does (at least I hope not), but I will not shy away from speaking about my faith.

    Your right that you did not equate Fox news peeps with God. Sorry I was imprecise. What you did do was equate their world view with that of Christians who speak about their faith in public. I was simply saying that they don’t speak for me, or most of the Christians I know and they certainly do not speak for God. The same goes for Pat Robinson, though he might like to say that he does…

    I was not trying to compare Dawkins to Christian stuff. There are stupendously embarrassing things that Christians say and do. But I was simply saying that its not just Christians who say and do things that go against a Rawlsian secularism, that’s all.

    As for James Spiegel’s book, I have not read it so I don’t know what he is trying to get at, but you will agree that blurbs are meant to sell a book not argue a point. Having said that I recommend you read Frauds: The Future of an Illusion and pick out the parts which talk about faith as a delusion/illusion. Its been done before, communists did it to beleivers and non-communists alike.

  17. Shamelessly Atheist January 22, 2010 / 7:29 pm

    So you’re saying that your atheism is based on the lack of evidence for God, not your belief in evolution?

    Yes. Provisional acceptance (not belief – my acceptance of evolution and the theories describing the mechansim for change over time are conclusions based on evidence. A belief would be, say, metaphysical naturalism, which I subscribe to…) of evolution is unnecessary to coming to atheism. There are many biologists who work in the field of evolution who are Christian. Ken Miller and Sir Simon Conway Morris come immediately to mind.

    I gave Spiegel’s book a look over in a bookstore and it is indeed an accurate depiction of his arguments. Villification of atheists is ubiquitous, particularly in North America (not so much in Canada, but it does exist). We are apparently immoral beings with horns on our heads that worship Satan (that last one is rather a strange thing to say about an atheist…). What’s next – medicate us? Force us to wear the equivalent of the Star of David on our clothes? And where are believers who also disagree with Spiegel’s hypothesis? It is a very rare occasion indeed where believers denounce the Spiegels and Robertsons of the world. When encroachment on religious freedoms (or any freedoms) occurs, I stand up for the relgious even though I firmly rejec their beliefs. But when it is the other way round, believers never seem to be there for us.

    But I was simply saying that its not just Christians who say and do things that go against a Rawlsian secularism, that’s all.

    Which goes to a point that I haven’t made here, and that is religion is not a guarantor of good behavior. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t make one whit of difference (aside from making some believers totally obnoxious, like the ‘friend’ of my wife’s… What kind of friend would insult her like that?).

    Unfortunately, Pat Robertson and his ilk speak for millions and are rich beyond measure because of it. Good to hear you do not count yourself amongst his number. It is more of an American thing, almost a brand of Christianity. It’s also good to hear that you don’t try to take responsibility for others’ lives by trying to tell them how to live them. No one has that right.

  18. Lauri January 23, 2010 / 11:47 am

    My dislike is for Robertson is not because I am not American, or an American Christian. I studied in the US and am married to one who hales from the bible-belt. I know many Christians, if not all of the ones I know, who would say the same thing as I would about Robertson too. So perhaps you need to meet other sorts…

    As for Freud, because I think its important you take this point away with you. He makes it very clear that religious belief is a form of delusion. I have never heard any Christian articulate what Spiegels book does and to be honest, it puts an interesting twist on a previously overwhelmingly atheist argument about Christians. And no, your not insane.

    You are not being persecuted. I’m sorry but your statements about the Star of David are absolutely inappropriate and slightly infantile. That statement has nothing to do with your atheism and everything to do with a look, an encouraging look, at what real persecution looks like.

    Are you familiar with Alvin Plantingas articulation of the evolutionary argument against naturalism?

  19. Shamelessly Atheist January 23, 2010 / 6:12 pm

    My dislike is for Robertson is not because I am not American, or an American Christian. I studied in the US and am married to one who hales from the bible-belt. I know many Christians, if not all of the ones I know, who would say the same thing as I would about Robertson too.

    I’ll reiterate the question: where are those voices of dissent? They may disagree with him, not even like him, but they never stand up to denounce him. We atheists seem to be alone in this. Silence IS tacit approval.

    Asfor Freud, this is true. But he also said that women who claim to have been sexually abused as children are deluded. Pretty much all of Freud has been discredite in modern psychology. Maybe you haven’t heard this argument against atheism (I have), but I’m sure you have heard that we atheists are supposedly immoral and (from some extreme views) Satan worshipers. I’ve even been told that I am posessed by a demon. That one was amusing. That person would have been right at home in 14th CE Europe. Where do you folks get your material? It’s as if people who make these comments have never spoken to an atheist (a statistically unlikely occurance, even if they don’t know that they have) and they’ve managed to scare themselves out of ever doing that. but I get your point that the actions and beliefs of individuals are not a reflection of Christianity. Just remember that that is also true of atheists, and from my perspective I really don’t see the utility of religious belief as a behavior modifier (even if it were, provides no weight to the truth of the beliefs), particularly in light of prison population statistics. And of couse Dawkins, when he referred to god as being a delusion, was simply meaning ‘erroneous belief’ (which is a nice segueway into Plantinga…).

    Are you familiar with Alvin Plantingas articulation of the evolutionary argument against naturalism?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Yes. I talked about it with a member of the Dept. of Philosophy at the local U. The word ‘senility’ came up in the conversation, and not by me. It’s truly AWFUL! But you can read why I think so at the link provided. If that'[s the best argument (A purely philosophical one which, as I’ve intonated in previous comments, don’t hold much sway with me. Being a scientist, I’m all about evidence.), my metaphysical naturalism is in no danger from that quarter.

  20. Lauri January 24, 2010 / 3:33 pm

    That you have not heard the voiced decent you’re looking for may be due to lots of reasons. I would say that you hear Robertson et al because he is controversial and so the media like to give him airtime, as opposed to other, less controversial people. As for Fox News, you may know that Colbert is a Roman Catholic. So, in a sense people don’t necessarily wear their label when they make fun of, or criticise those that they disagree with and his persona is a satirical O’Reilly. I mean, you can’t have it both ways. If you want faith to be private how can you expect a public deceleration of faith against those figures in the public sphere who are unsavoury? Having said that, there are public voices that offer a different narrative and style. Rick Warren, Tim Keller, or Michael Gerson come to mind. They are very public figures, who you might not agree with politically but who take a very different tone than those you dislike.

    Freud’s psychological methodology has been discredited, but the legacy of that book is one which permeates the psychological schools of thought through Skinners Behaviourism to the way some characters think in the Cognitive camp. (My background is Psychology). So, no, it’s not just that Freud has been discredited. This book, which is not a “psychological” book as such, is more a continental philosophical tract, which has political as well as philosophical implications and still influences the European schools of psychology and psychiatry. (The reason why it’s not in the diagnostic manual’s is because Christianity does not seem to pose a threat to the wellbeing of the individuals engaged in the so called “delusion”, in fact the opposite is true for most Christians, but that is beside the point.)

    As for your final paragraph which is worth taking very seriously, I want to make some comments about style before I will try and engage with what I think the main lack or blind side of your blog post is.

    I think it would be wise of you to mistrust a philosopher who uses ad hominem when giving you a perspective on the thoughts and ideas of anybody. I am sure that is not the only thing he did or said, but let’s be honest, its logical fallacy that he should not have been using. The fact that you chose to repeat the slur weakens your argument. When I met him, he was witty, and much faster than most of the people around him will ever be and that was 3 years ago, just before he published his recent book. His arguments might not be persuasive, but that doesn’t justify idiocy on the part of your local philosopher. I appreciate that your blog post does call Plantingas career illustrious, but I am sure you know better than to propagate puny thinking, or what Harry Frankfurt calls “bullshit”.

    Secondly, I am not sure what the laugh was that you implied with the repetition of H’s and A’s. Was it a joyful belly laugh? Was it a sneer? Was it from a position of power, or from a position of weakness? Is it a bullying laugh or a laugh that would want to educate? My question about whether you knew about EAAN was not meant to be a trump used to dominate in a debate, it was a question about what you thought of his argument to which I got a reply. Thank you. I’m still mulling the post over…

    In relation to your blog post you argue quite rightly against some of the things that Plantinga wrote in his article in a popular Christian magazine, aimed not so much at the academic community but at the man in the street. So, while I think you make your point very well on your blog, I don’t think you really dealt with his argument articulated in his 2008 book (which was published in order to respond to criticisms after his 1993 argument.)

    Now, as you know from the Wikipedia entry, the debate continues, amongst philosophers and some have criticised Plantinga for not being pragmatic enough… Well, as a biologist/scientists, you must be more pragmatic than a philosopher and hence your argument is based on verifiability rather than thinking outside the box and imagining whether it is not possible that you may have missed something (intuitively or otherwise) that we cannot sense because we only have the five senses we have. So a 6th sense, might be something which has, through the evolutionary process eroded, with which we would be able to “see” that which we now no longer can, because it never was a threat to us, namely God. I cannot prove this of course, but it’s a thought experiment and I am playing a bit here, wanting to see what you think of that.

    Do you have a blog post about Thomas Nagel’s recent criticism of the New Atheists? I would like to hear your opinions there. Given that you cite PZ M., who is quite the activist (rather than “neutral” scientist), I am sure you will be well informed on the Nagel controversy and can let sheltered Theists know what’s going on.

  21. Shamelessly Atheist January 24, 2010 / 7:28 pm

    If you want faith to be private how can you expect a public deceleration of faith against those figures in the public sphere who are unsavoury?

    Lauri, this statement is just bizarre. Are you saying that it is a matter of you faith if you stood up and told Pat Robertson he was being dispicable when he claimed that Haiti had the earthquake coming because they made a pact with the devil? How about when he and Jerry Falwell were discussing how 9/11 was caused by the ACLU, gays and lesbians and secularism? What on earth does that have to do with publicizing your faith? I’d like to think you would stand up and voice your dissent because they are wrong. Just because they are religious doesn’t make them any more right. I see no relation between your faith and voicing dissent, and I’m quite frankly disappointed in you for not realizing that. Is this just an excuse to do nothing?

    When it comes to Freud, most people only know the name and what he said about dreams and train tunnels. I don’t know much more than that myself. And this digression isn’t exactly apropos. In Spiegel’s summary of his book was the first I had actually heard about what Freud thought of religious belief.

    As for Plantinga, I haven’t looked at the book. I don’t care to. I am skeptical that what he wrote in that article isn’t representative of the argument he presents in his book. If it isn’t, he’s a scoundrel. And I wasn’t the one who brought up the word “senile”. It is quite clear that Plantinga is deficient in several areas which are key to his argument. He does not understand how evolution shapes behavior. In his tiger example it is difficult to see how evolution would not have produced the optimal belief that tigers chasing you is bad. Anyone not having this belief would be tiger food, helping to remove this behavior from the gene pool. He does not understand basic probability theory. For instance, if a belief is either right or wrong (a true dichotomy), that does not mean the odds of a belief being true or false are 50/50, as he seems to think. He also seems to think that our beliefs can be trusted (the whole point of his argument), which is strange living in a world where alien abductions, homeopathy and psychics are rampant. If a belief is not testable (or worse, if it is testable and has been falsified, yet people still believe it) I’m not interested. And that’s where Plantinga really fails. We can’t trust our beliefs, but we can increase our confidence in their validity through testing and verification. Again, naturalism is in no danger from Plantinga. The evidence for that is all around him. The very computer he used to write his article is a direct result of the application of science. I find it patently absurd that the undeniable success which naturalism provides in understanding the universe and its contents with all of the creature comforts and technological gizmos that it provides is the result of a fallacious philosophy. Thus, by extension, I find Plantinga absurd.

    I laughed because the argument as he presented it was laughable, for reasons I give in my blog entry. When I can do that, it’s no longer an ad hominem. If it walks like a duck… For a full hardcore philosophical refutation, I suggest Stephen Law’s post on the matter (link in the blog entry).

    I’ll have a look at Nagel’s comments. I remember looking at them before, but if I didn’t post about them I doubt they had any import on me. I’ll let you know.

  22. Lauri January 25, 2010 / 11:00 am

    On Robertson you missed my point. The point isn’t that I did not speak up. I did to the extent that I was allowed to. I did in this blog post. I am saying that there are Christians or Jews or other people who believe in God, who criticize what he has said and how he said it, its just that they don’t ware their faith as obviously as Robertson does. Stop obfuscating.

    Freud is important because he influenced the development of psychology as a science, which says, often and not unequivocally what Spiegel is claiming about Atheists. Thats all.

    I know you did not call Plantinga senile, your mentioning what this other professor said about him is irrelevant to the discussion and weakens your argument.

    I don’t think your laughter was ad hominem at all. I just wanted to know what where behind the H’s and A’s. Whether you think something is laughable, doesn’t mean you can laugh while arguing for the points you made in the post.

    I am sure Plantinga simplified his argument for the Christianity today readership. After all the 2008 book, is a book not an article. He presumably used examples that are more readily accessible to his readership in Christianity Today.

    You also misrepresent Plantinga in relation to his use of technology and science. And indirectly you are saying0 that faith and science are incompatible. Thats simply not the case.

    Let me know what you think of Nagels book nominations…

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