Introducing Theists’ Thursdays At Camels With Hammers! Tell Your Theistic Friends!

Last April, I had an exciting influx of theistic readers when my article about why atheists resent being told we are going to hell got the attention of Real Clear Religion and Slacktivist. This attention was so relatively big that I was interviewed on the radio for the first time, by Drew Marshall. And while so many theists were still hanging around, I was grateful to have a ton of replies from them on my  piece about why I define faith philosophically as inherently irrational and immoral.

But with my chaotic teaching schedule and so many irons in the fire, I have not yet done justice to all the theists who gave me their attention and feedback on those posts (or on many others over the years). And as the tone of the blog frequently shifts away from directly addressing theists and back to addressing my predominantly atheistic readership, it seems like most my theistic readers either  wandered away or stopped regularly chiming in.

SO. I have decided to devote Thursdays henceforth to addressing theists. If you theists out there are bored or put off by what I do the other 6 days of the week, that’s fine. Thursdays are for you. Thursdays, I’m going to address your concerns, your challenges, your blog posts, your e-mails, your Facebook comments, your comments section participation. I hope to be able to get ahead and advance write these posts to guarantee a steady stream on Thursdays.

I welcome you to start today sending me e-mails at camelswithhammers @gmail dot com for me to consider responding to. Write out your own questions, criticisms, defenses, etc. Link me to blog posts or articles you think I would have trouble answering or which speak for you. Use this comments section to get our discussion rolling and I will either write replies to what you say in the comments or in future posts or by linking you to past posts which already address some of what you want and can help us advance our discussion. To help orient you to how to be most effective in getting a good conversation with me and my commenters going, please read this post. I find a lot of theists are as much or more interested in learning about my personal story of how I became an atheist as they are in dealing with my arguments for atheism. If you’re one of those theists, you may profit a lot from reading my posts on how I deconverted from conservative Evangelical Christianity.

I also encourage my atheist readers to stick around and help give theistic commenters attention and responses beyond what I can personally do. And share this post or others in the series with your theistic friends and family or other interlocutors that you think might benefit from this engagement project. Remember, everyone, theist or atheist, to abide as closely as you can by my civility pledge while posting here so that we can have as constructive and enjoyable discussions as we can.

Last but not least, I want to advertise that on Sundays I will be regularly featuring dialogues, both fictional and with other real people (whether written or over video) and hopefully some of those will be with theists too. If you are a theistic blogger, clergy person, professor, seminarian, graduate student, theology or philosophy major, author, activist, etc. and you would like to debate or discuss with, me whether in writing or on video, be in touch and hopefully I can slot you in for a Sunday feature in the future!

So, in the comments below, I would love it if all you theists who read this would introduce yourselves, help orient me and my readers to exactly what your own positions are (since everyone thinks a little differently and if we don’t straighten out what each other as an individuals believe, we risk talking past each other). You can also take a shot at explaining why you think we atheists are wrong or posing questions to me and others here.

Welcome again!

Your Introductions and Thoughts?

A Moral Philosopher on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson
ISIS’s Iconoclasm, The Bible, and The Problem With Taking Literalism Literally
Atheism Is Not A Religion. But There Should Be Atheistic Religions.
7 Exciting Announcements About My Online Philosophy Classes
About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • JTEberhard

    My place is open 24/7, 7 days a week. ;)

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      hahahaha Well so is mine but I have a wider range of topics I want to address…

    • Rubbs

      This may be so, but Dan’s approach is less combative if not less accommodating. I say this as someone who’s more combative that Dan :)

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      I don’t know. I think the difference between JT and me is even narrower than that. It’s often just whether we use insult words. And sometimes I’m a little more diplomatic and abstract and will steel man theists’ arguments for them. But often I’m fairly aggressive, within the bounds of civility.

    • Rubbs

      Totally agree. Civility was the better way to phrase what I was trying to say. You, as usual, are much more articulate than I.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Okay, I’ll add mine: The difference between belief, faith, a belief in a Supreme Designer, Christianity ignoring the rest of the Bible but looking at the starting points Jesus gave (4 specific ones – Do not judge, Acknowledge and appreciate your creator, take care of your creators products as if they were special (includng yourself), and the Lord’s Prayer and how it is specific to individuals or flawed groups) and working OUT from those. Looking at the Bible as a holy book just like every other book ever written (yes, I’d include even things like “Mein Kampf” in that category.) How a perfectly designed universe would make use of flaws (this is one of my favorite discussions with atheistic cosmologists and physicists.) Subjective vs. Objective reasoning, and how to go immediately to objective reasoning.

    That’s a starting point . . .

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Looking at the Bible as a holy book just like every other book ever written (yes, I’d include even things like “Mein Kampf” in that category.)

      Did you just Godwin yourself less than 2 hours after the beginning of the first Theists’ Thursday?

      How can all books be “holy” when the word “holy” means “set apart”. If everything is holy nothing is holy.

    • BobbyStruck

      I don’t understand this thought:

      “How a perfectly designed universe would make use of flaws.” It seems to be self-referentially incoherent. How can a perfectly designed universe have flaws?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Bobby, that’s a good question, and I’ll give it a shot, (and Dan, I’ll go after yours in a second, too). It depends on what the part of the Universe you’re looking at is for. For example, a filament for a light bulb would be “flawed” even if it was perfect if it weren’t inside the container designed for its use – it would fail. Inside the whole, though, its function could be essentially perfect.

      Another example might be a star sapphire – it has specific defects, without which, it would not be what it is. With people, their struggles make them what they are – Ghandi would not have been the man he was without what he had to endure. Same with Martin Luther King Jr or Nelson Mandela. The things we would consider imperfect about their life turned out to be key to making them what they are.

      Dan, my answer to you is the ability to capture thought and carry it on to other generations is what is “holy.” It allows the transfer of ideas. And I’ll have to say, I actually agree with you in this case – I don’t really find anything set apart from anything else. I guess I think of everything as “Wholy” rather than certain things having special significance. And this may be a flaw in MY design – I can’t understand what a Supreme Designer would set aside, “Gorshc, there’s no real use for this other than to satisfy MOI because all the other stuff I made doesn’t . . . “

    • 3lemenope

      Doesn’t that more point to the idea that the notion of ‘perfection’ is a very poorly formed one? It reminds me of Plato’s exploration of the compresence of opposites; everything that is big by some measure is small by some other. What, then, is bigness itself? If a gem is a perfect star sapphire, it is by definition also a flawed sapphire. So do we consider the asterized gem flawed or perfect?

  • Lane

    I’ll bite. I apologize for the length ahead of time. If you are going to disagree with me, I want you to at least do it for the “right” reasons. So here goes…

    I’m a Christian. My background: I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. I converted about 7 years ago (mid-twenties), before that I would have probably been best described as a “none” or maybe agnostic; I just hadn’t put much thought to the question up that point. As for education, following my time in the Navy as a nuclear reactor operator, I earned a BS and MS in electrical engineering.

    My beliefs as a Christian could be considered for the most part orthodox; I would not be described as liberal. I’m for the most part Reformed or Calvinist in my theology; I have a high view of the sovereignty of God and everyone’s need of God’s Grace. I am aware of the common criticisms of this set of beliefs with regard to its emphasis on election (or predestination). However, I do not try to get into the mind of God to try to figure who is or is not elect and why. I try to treat everyone as if they are elect, whether or not they are currently aware of it. I believe even the surest atheist, could one day be the surest Christian. This set of beliefs does not allow me to look down on anyone for their unbelief, since I have done nothing to deserve God’s free gift of Grace. It leads to both humility and confidence at the same time.

    Continuing, I believe in both special (the Bible) and natural (science) revelation; each molding the interpretation of the other. I believe that evolution could be the means that life developed, but I do not believe in Evolution as an all-encompassing worldview. I do believe that all humans were created in the image of God, and thus have some intrinsic value. I believe that life has purpose. I believe that humans are God’s representatives or stewards in Creation (universe), and that we have fallen short of our calling. In our fallen states, we have broken relationships with: God, Creation, other people in community, and ourselves. I believe that Jesus’ work was to restore all these relationships.

    Why worship God? People were created for worship; whether or not we are aware of it, we worship. We worship all sorts of things: our money and possessions, our career, our relationships (both number and depth), our children, our spouse, our nation, our sexuality, our experiences, characters in books or on TV; we worship politicians and political parties; economic systems, hobbies, food, knowledge, celebrities, sport teams and players; and most often: ourselves (appearance, body, intelligence, knowledge, talents…). Not that these things are bad in and of themselves, but should we orient our lives around any of them? All these things are hollow, empty, insufficient, and fleeting. Most importantly: they fail. None of these things live up to our expectations. No matter how much we have (or have had) we always need more, but can’t quite seem to get enough. They all fade. Worse, they all can be taken away in an instance – our possessions, our looks, our health, our job, our family – gone. We cannot depend on or put our faith in these things – these idols. Only our infinite, unchanging, unfailing, just, loving God is worthy of our worship. We must strive to be oriented toward God in all things, not because God needs our worship, but because we need God to worship.

    Please, be kind. =)

    • erin.nikla

      How do you know god is infinite, unchanging, unfailing, just, and loving?

      This world does not look to me like the creation of such a god. What evidence do you have to the contrary?

    • Lane

      The intention of my previous comment was just to introduce my beliefs. However, since you asked, I will *briefly give you reasons why I personally believe. These may not convince you, but they do me.

      My very existence and for that matter the rest of the universe cries out for a reason for its existence. That reason can hardly be from within the universe (or within the multiverse); for example I can’t create myself, neither can the universe. So something has to exist by its very nature and transcend the universe. There is nothing about the universe that makes its existence necessary. If so it would have always existed, and there is definitely no evidence for that; on the contrary there is huge amounts of evidence for it finitude. Since the cause exists outside a finite universe it, it seems it would have to be agent. Otherwise, if the cause was eternal so would the effect (the universe). So that at least points to a very powerful transcendent unchanging agent. That sort of sounds like a god to me.

      But that was not really my path to belief. On a personal note, I became open to belief in God by the testimony of others. Once I started reflecting on my own existence, and my sense of objective morals, I became convinced that a god existed. Upon reading, hearing, and reflecting on Jesus’ life and work I became convinced that He was who He said He was. Belief that Jesus is God, that He came to die for us, and was raised from the dead, changes one’s life. The change I observed in my own life reinforced my belief. Other beliefs, such as the authority of Bible, the theology mentioned earlier, and the attributes of God you questioned came later.

    • erin.nikla

      However, since you asked, I will *briefly give you reasons why I personally believe.

      I did not, in fact, ask you that.

      Other beliefs, such as the authority of Bible, the theology mentioned earlier, and the attributes of God you questioned came later.

      So you believe god is loving, just, and unfailing, for example, because you started believing there was a creator and the available theologies told you so?

      I guess that answers my question about evidence in a kind of roundabout way….

    • smrnda

      Just a few questions.

      You use the word ‘worship’ and the you have a pretty big list. I would contest that I worship absolutely nothing. How do you differentiate between *liking* something and *worshiping* it?

      In terms of things failing, things fail all the time, but it’s rare that everything fails at the exact same time. You’re an engineer so you’re probably familiar with assessing points of possible failure in any complex system and redundancies that enable a system to continue to function once a component has failed. Even if you’re saying something as mundane as ‘things you like can be disappointing’ it’s unlikely that all will disappoint at the same time.

      Then the other thing is, do the things I like or put confidence on deliver? I’d say that, so far, (I’m an atheist from a secular Jewish family) the things I have confidence in have delivered pretty solid results. My exposure to Christians doesn’t seem to suggest they’re really doing better than anyone else. The other issue is that Christians have *rules* about what they’re supposed to feel.

      It’s kind of like a person who works for a drink company. They’re supposed to tell you that Coke tastes great. You don’t bash your product, but it introduces the problem that you’re not really capable of being truly honest about how you feel about it.

      The other thing is that god and life, as described by Christians, seems empty, futile and worthless to me. Contending with any entity that demands 100% obedience and 100% control sounds horrible – I don’t want to live in North Korea.

    • Lane

      I can see how the word “worship” can be taken wrong outside a Christian perspective. To clarify, I would ask: what is your ultimate concern, what has your biggest fear of loss, or what is it that you wrap your identity around? I would say whatever you answer would be what you “worship”. I was suggesting that wrapping your life around such a thing is dangerous. It can be dangerous physically and emotionally; it can harm your relationships; it can harm you spiritually.

      As for rules about how Christians should feel, there shouldn’t be any. That would result in inauthentic living. I can completely understand running away from that. However, in the Bible there are both psalms of praise and lament. There is even a book called lamentations. Not to mention Job. The full range of human feelings is both allowed and expected.

      If you find that the loss of autonomy from God threatening, that’s probably not too surprising. That’s why humanity fell in the first place: rejecting God, and elevating ourselves in His place. However, what God offers is hope. God offers, starting in this life with its fullness in the next, is the righting of yourself and your relationships; the meeting of your true deepest needs. I’m not sure how you got to North Korea. God is not some slave driver. He loves you, and wants to redeem you and all of Creation to Himself.

    • smrnda

      Thanks for the response.

      I have lots of diverse concerns and interests, and would have a hard time picking anything to put at the top of the list. It also seems hard to separate one thing from another – I’m in a committed relationship, and I have a career, but I don’t see these things as necessarily in conflict. I need to make $, but I also need a life outside of work.

      I’m familiar with the Bible, having read it a few times. I honestly found absolutely nothing to relate to at all. I mean nothing. I can’t think of a single Biblical character that I’d be able to relate do.

      On autonomy, my life has worked out better because I’ve insisted on doing things my way and I disregarded the unwanted advice of people who thought they knew better. I’m old enough now that this can no longer be dismissed as youthful over-confidence and that warnings that “you’ll think differently when you’re older” are more and more irrelevant. Looking back, the people who wanted to tell me what to do were probably often insecure people who wanted control and status as a way to inflate their own egos.

      I also don’t believe that love and authority can coexist. It can’t for me – if someone wants to tell me what to do, I’ll listen to them if they attempt to persuade me as an equal, but I have no interest in accepting arguments from authority on any topic.

      My comparison with North Korea came from what I heard from a refugee who had escaped: he said “Kim Jong-Il controls every thought and action.” That’s about the same as the Christian god – the demand for total control, total submission, and total obedience. You don’t treat someone you respect like that, and people are really not typically so bad that they need this program.

      Taking a long view of history, humanity has done far better since we started rejecting gods. Secular nations are doing better than religious ones, and a good book on the topic is Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature.”

      Perhaps the biggest issue for me is that I’d say I’m relatively happy and content. I’ve had some pretty bad things happen to me, but nothing ever made me think ‘well, let’s check out god.’ (I have done some Jewish holidays with family and relatives, but it’s more a family/cultural tradition.) It seems that Christianity addresses none of the questions I have and provides nothing that looks appealing. It *does* seem to teach people to feel guilt and shame over just normal human feelings, particularly sexual feelings, but I think of that as just a trick to manipulate people. Sexual feelings can’t be shut off, make people feel guilt, then sell them the cure.

      I once knew a Christian guy who, of course, asked me about how my relationship with my parents had been since this is usually taken to be relevant, but I had really permissive parents and things turned out okay.

      On ‘feeling rules’ – we all obey these and they aren’t so much conscious rules as things we learn from the behavior of those around us (I think Arlie Hochschild was the first to use that term.)

      I just feel that Christians try to sell me on things that I already have.

    • Lane

      This sort of discussion can get rather contentious, and I would like to thank you for the cordial dialog.

      “I also don’t believe that love and authority can coexist.”
      - I would just point to the parent-child relationship as a counter example. This is probably why you’ve been questioned about your relationship with your parents in past.

      “Christian god – the demand for total control, total submission, and total obedience”
      - If the authority was truly benevolent and had your best interest long term in mind, it might be easier to submit.

      “I’d say I’m relatively happy and content.” I am glad to hear that, and hope that continues.

    • smrnda

      I try to be cordial, particularly on Dan’s blog.

      On the example of parental love. I’d agree that it’s still love, but it’s definitely more problematic than love between equals. Childhood is also a very temporary phase, where over time parents (at least as far as I can tell) seek to decrease the level of control they have over kids. Childhood isn’t a very long time, you become an adult and then you can make your own decisions, and I find a lot of parent-child relationships get better once the authority structure falls away. On authority, there’s no real perfect solution for the parent/child problems. If you’re permissive, you can run the risk that the child will resent not being given enough direction. I look at relationships based on authority the way I look at things like riding a bike or mining – you can make them safer, but they always come with some big risks.

      Part of the issue is I’m definitely a product of the Enlightenment where authority is viewed as something that’s not just possible to abuse, but something that is actually *bad* in that, if you give a decent person too much authority, they’ll turn bad. It’s where we get our notion of human rights, and that governments and other power structures need proper checks and balances and the idea of the social contract – that we’re governed by rules we at least have some say in. It’s kind of that the narrative of human history that I have isn’t based on a fall from some golden age but of a series of improvements, mostly based on decreasing the power of authority and granting people greater and greater autonomy.

  • Hilary

    Hey Dan, this looks interesting. We’ve exchanged a few posts recently, so you should have a decent take on who I am online. If you really want to know more then enough about me and my beliefs, I’m one of the panelists on Libby Anne’s Judaism 101 series, and reading through those archives should be enough for the NSA. But for anybody else who hasn’t yet met me at Patheos, I’m a liberal, Reform Jewish lesbian with 3 cats, a wife, and a job in biotech manufacturing. (Protein purification – column chromatography rocks my life and pays the student loans.)

    To be honest, trying to argue about God and faith with atheists a very low priority for my time on line. I’m more interested in how we can work together, online and IRL, to make our lives better. I care to see Judaism properly represented and understood for what it is, but I’m not out to convert anybody. I don’t care if you disagree with everything it is, but please disagree accurately with what it actually is today, not what it was 2.5 thousand years ago. Dan, if you ever wake up in the middle of the night, absolutely consumed with the need to understand the New Testament from the Pharisee’s POV, and what their ethics and beliefs were from their own records, shoot me an email and we can talk – I’ve studied them and their history a bit. (The offer is sincere, but I’m not holding my breath that this is interesting to you.)

    One thing I’d love to see you talk about is the value of culture. If there is no value to religious beliefs, is there a value to having specific cultural beliefs that are not 100% rational? I just made a new friend who laughed when told me that he has a yarmulke with the word ‘atheist’ embroidered on it in Hebrew, and anther one with the word ‘apikorus.’ A yarmulke is the little beanie head covering Jews wear, and apikorus means heretic. And yet he chose to move here recently in part because there is a decent Jewish community where I live, and he keeps kosher. What value is there in keeping kosher even with no belief in God? Also, how do you confront a culture that is toxic, and change what is hurting people? What is the overlap of religion and culture, and where are they different?

    Also, how do atheists respond when religious people are doing things they approve of, specifically out of religious beliefs? I know everybody here likes to make fun of Creationists, but what about ~13,000 Christian clergy signing their name to a letter asking congress to teach evolution properly in science class?

    What exactly are the boundaries of religious freedom in a multi-faith secular society? When is it ok to let someone indulge in something they believe is important, no matter how irrational it looks from the outside, and when does a common set of rules for a public sand box need to be uniformly enforced? Are there other non-secular, non-scientific beliefs besides religious ones that should be protected, or at least allowed and tolerated? What type of public boundaries should be enforced between two groups with absolutely irreconcilable beliefs?
    I’m sure I can think of a few more things to talk about, but that’s a good start.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Dan, if you ever wake up in the middle of the night, absolutely consumed with the need to understand the New Testament from the Pharisee’s POV, and what their ethics and beliefs were from their own records, shoot me an email and we can talk – I’ve studied them and their history a bit. (The offer is sincere, but I’m not holding my breath that this is interesting to you.)

      I would seriously love to read what you have to say about that. Those are all excellent other issues you raise. I cannot even begin to give replies here. I will try to touch on them at some point though. At some point I should address my thoughts on Judaism. It’s a unique case since in this case what you’re talking about is a cultural/ethnic group seeking to preserve itself through all sorts of identity markers that are religious in primary designation. I think there is a certain value in that. I also think generally that there is a value to the non-rational in religions distinct from the irrational.

      Here are two posts that seem up your alley:


    • Hilary

      This was more of an opening salvo, a bit of yeast for rising thoughts. I think questions and serious thoughts about culture, good culture and toxic culture, and real mixed up messy cultures with both attributes, is worth a lifetime of exploring. (not to mention E. coli cultures, and their own unique types of social media. I’m sorry, it’s late I’m tired and making bad pop culture/science puns.) But overall it’s just stuff to think about – I’m glad to see atheists working on the social support and connections that religion has offered, because it is an important part of being human regardless of belief.
      Sometimes when I hear people talk about not belonging to any particular religion, nationality, tribe, whatever, but only to the whole human race I get really skeptical, or cynical. Because I feel that to belong to everything without any distinctions is to belong to nothing. It’s like a straight man saying he loves every woman equally, but doesn’t have a specific love for a specific woman. The eternal problem with this is that one of the easiest ways to have a specific identity is to base it off of a specific enemy, or some other us vs them polarization. And religion is great at creating that polarization but it does not have a corner on the market. So I think it’s a good thing to have some serious philosophical thinking about the value of unique, distinct cultures, and when cultural values go from beneficial to toxic, why that happens, when, how, and how to counteract it. This would probably make a good Forward Thinking topic.
      About the Pharisees – you should have my personal email as blog moderator. It’d probably bore most people here, and I’d like to explain some stuff personally, for you to decide if it is worth considering publicly here. But purely from a historical point of view I think you’d find it interesting looking at some of the historical forces that Christianity developed in opposition to. If you want to start looking yourself, google “Pirke Avot.” It is the most easily accessible and understandable literary/theological work that dates to the transition from Pharisee to Rabbi. It’s the Jewish religious literature written at about the same time-ish as the NT, and is still very much in use today. I use parts of it in my own moral compass, and so far what I’ve taken from it works.
      I’ll look at the two links latter. I’ve got a clogged toilet to try and deal with before tomorrow morning. I’m crossing my fingers that baking soda and vinegar will triumph where a plunger and snake have failed. I don’t mind cleaning my cats litter boxes, but I hate it when my litter box fails.

    • Feminerd

      Hey Hilary, if you don’t mind, could you email me info about your biotech company? My sister is graduating with her PhD in ~6 months and looking for a biotech-type job. I was part of that Judaism panel, technically, but I never said much. I posted under M until the Disqus changeover.

      Sorry for the OT post.

    • Hilary

      Oh, you’re M? I didn’t realize that! Sure, I’ll email you about it.

    • Feminerd


    • smrnda

      Isn’t the ‘apikorus’ for heretic derived from the name “Epicurus?”
      My Hebrew is barely existent but I think I recall being told that once.

  • Hilary

    And how come my comments always end up ‘waiting to be moderated’ here? That doesn’t happen over at Love, Joy, Feminism.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      No idea! I’ve been wondering myself. I try to fish you out as soon as I can! I’ll see if I can put you on the “white list”.

  • Dwight Welch

    We’ve talked before by video, as a clergy member and liberal would love to do it again someday over the topic of religious naturalism. I’ve been lazy so I haven’t done adequate blogging for myself for a number of years but enjoy reading your articles in any case.

  • Verbose Stoic

    First, since I responded to some of your dialogues on my blog without you, I am available for dialogues if you need me and let me know in advance so I can set the time aside.

    Second, I am a theist. nominally Christian, nominally Catholic. But I am a very odd theist, as much of my stances on the issues are more philosophical than usual. A big issue for me is the fact that I take belief — in the philosophical sense — very seriously. I think that we really do need to believe things, and believe things that we don’t know to be true. The reason is that since we can’t test all of our beliefs to get that justification, the easiest way to learn what you ought or ought not believe to be true is to pick a side, incorporate it in our Web of Belief, and then act based on the Web. If we have false beliefs, then when we act on it we eventually ought to find contradictions, things that don’t work as expected if all of our beliefs are true. So, then, we can go and see what belief was wrong, adjust, and move on. The only thing this doesn’t work for are beliefs that don’t have actual consequences … but for those, it really doesn’t matter WHAT we believe.

    So I reject the idea that we should believe based on some sort of proportion of the evidence, or some probability that it is true; if we are short of knowledge then that can only be based on our current beliefs and evidence, all of which can and are likely to change frequently. We cannot constantly update our Web based on a probability changing if we want to use acting on the Web to test beliefs, because our actions will not be consistent enough to do that. I also reject the idea that one should not believe something or drop a belief because the evidence for it is not enough to justify knowledge; to me, that’s the whole purpose of belief.

    I admit that I am a theist mainly because it was one of the beliefs I was taught during childhood, but frustrate atheists to no end by not being at all concerned about that. Again, I will not drop a belief simply because I don’t have enough evidence to know that it is true, and I don’t think the evidence against the existence of God is sufficient to force me to reject the belief; there are no inconsistencies in my Web of Belief, and the evidence against the belief in God does not rise to the level of knowledge. That I would have a different belief if raised differently is also not a convincing argument to me; I agree with Plantinga that if I have warrant for my belief, that other cultures believe otherwise is not an issue, and if I don’t have warrant for that belief then it doesn’t matter what other cultures believe as well.

    I find the Problem of Evil to be unconvincing as an argument. It works as an emotional argument, as we wonder how God could allow that, but as an emotional argument it resembles too much the cry of the child that their parents don’t really love them because they make them do things they don’t want to do. As a philosophical argument, I think it can be blunted in all forms, which makes it bad as a positive argument for the non-existence of God, which it is clearly intended as. But how it can be blunted is long, and so I won’t go into that here.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      First, since I responded to some of your dialogues on my blog without you, I am available for dialogues if you need me and let me know in advance so I can set the time aside.

      Yes. You’ve done me the kindness of many critical replies. If you are interested in doing a direct dialogue, I owe you at least that much at this point. Let’s set something up. Why don’t you send me links to your replies to me and suggest a topic you would like to directly take up with me and we can do a written exchange over a week and then publish it on a Sunday. How does that sound?

    • Verbose Stoic

      I’ll do that, probably later today when i have some time.

  • Alex R

    Well, let me start off the intellectually honest conversation with a question: how do _you_ (personally) resolve the problem of evil? For me, that’s one of the biggest barriers to believing in a god in any sense of the word that the Abrahamic religions take.

  • erin.nikla

    Do you see how “usually atheists are immature and intellectually dishonest” might not be seen as a particularly inviting opening to conversation with atheists?

    I’d love to be convinced there’s no God, there’s a lot of splendid sinning I’d like to do and scores to be settled that I’d like to indulge myself in.

    Depending on the kind of sinning you are talking about, you should be aware that, in general, the impulse to be moral and the desire to be a good person don’t go away when one doesn’t believe in god.

  • marysl

    My name is Mary, and I’ve gone from Catholic to Baptist to Lutheran. I stopped going to church because of all the hatred, bigotry and hypocrisy. I have a lot of problems with the OT and cannot believe a just God would act that way. I have problems with the NT because the books in it are not written necessarily by the people who are said to have written them, and the NT’s composition was decided by a group of men in a power struggle. I don’t know what to believe anymore, but I cannot reject God. I’m stuck in a no-man’s land philosophically speaking. I lurk here and in other similar blogs a lot, but almost never post. I’m here and watching and trying to make sense of it all.

    • 3lemenope

      If I might make a suggestion on the church front, if you are questioning these things and are irritated by the hatred and bigotry often on display, a Unitarian-Universalist (UU) congregation might be helpful (I make no guarantees on the hypocrisy issue, though; they are human, after all). They tend to be safe spaces for folks who have questions and doubts or are looking for a social church without the nastier side of doctrine, where you can freely explore Christianity and other religious traditions–and atheism as well if you want–without feeling judged by your fellow parishioners.

  • Thilo Young

    From what I’ve seen so far it seems you are using the term “good” in different ways without distinguishing them.

    “Good” can be used in the sense of “useful to accomplish X” or in the moral sense. Each time it is used we must distinguish. A shotgun can be good for killing yet that killing can be morally bad.

    We can say something to be “bad” for human survival (like a giant asteroid) but not morally bad.

    My question is rather simple:what is the grounding for “morally good” that distinguishes it from “preferred”?

    In other words, why is human survival or prosperity as we define it intrinsically good rather than merely “liked best” (which is obviously not an objective standard)?

    Note the simplicity of the question. If possible, try to offer me a simple
    and succinct answer, and PLEASE don’t offer methods of how one can
    ascertain what is good, which presumes upon a good to ascertain, but
    simply tell me why something is good in itself.

    Thanks so much!!!