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Religion: Billions into a Black Hole

Religion is a hugely costly machine, but what does it produce?  Let’s compare religion to a big corporation since we know how those work.

Graph argues that corporations provide more value for the money input than religions.
Take General Motors (on the left of the red revenue scale in the figure above).  In 2010, U.S. sales were $73 billion, and that bought three million vehicles.  Pretty simple—$73 billion goes in and three million vehicles comes out.

We can peek inside to see where the money goes.  Of the incoming revenue, 87% went to automotive cost of sales—manufacturing and materials purchasing.  Next, 8% to sales/marketing and G&A (General and Administrative)—the cost to sell the vehicles plus overhead.  The final 5% was profit.

Compare this to religion (on the right side of the revenue scale above).  In the U.S. for the same year, donations to religion were $101 billion.  But that isn’t the only input.  Few GM employees spend their free time selling or manufacturing cars, no matter how much they love the company, but religious believers do the equivalent all the time.  They volunteer in all sorts of ways for the benefit of religion: evangelizing, serving as deacon or pianist, doing repairs on the church structure, making food for potlucks and bake sales, and so on.  How much is this worth?  Multiply by a couple hundred million American Christians and we get an extra 50% of income (a very rough guess).

Where does the church’s income go?  We don’t know for sure.  The IRS grants tax-exempt status to qualified organizations in return for those organizations opening their books to show the public how they spent their money … except for churches and ministries.  All we know is that every year about $100 billion (plus a lot of volunteer effort) goes into a black box.

Obviously, personnel must be a huge cost—there are roughly 600,000 paid clergy in the U.S.  Buildings, land, and other capital outlays are another biggie—megachurches don’t just build themselves.

So, what’s the output?  This black box gets twice the input of GM; what’s religion’s equivalent of six million vehicles?

Nothing goes back to society through taxes.  Maybe 10% passes through to good works outside the church.  (Again, this is just a guess since churches’ books are closed.)  Maintenance of the congregation is another expense, and to some extent this is worthwhile—helping those in need and providing a community for the members.

The rest is the church’s equivalent of marketing—recruiting new members and keeping current members within the fold.  General Motors knows that customers of Buick and GMC vehicles won’t remain customers without ongoing marketing, and churches know the same.

And maybe that’s the best way to see religion.  Religion is a very inefficient route to charitable giving (imagine a charity with 90% overhead), and religion isn’t necessary to get the social benefit of community.  Those benefits could be provided without the inefficient machinery of the church.  Religion must be propped up with marketing as is done with Chevy and Cadillac (with an imaginative dose of fire and brimstone thrown in) to remind customers that they’ve backed the right horse.

GM doesn’t need faith to stay in business, but it’s the only thing keeping religion going.

Inspiration credit: Richard Russell suggested this comparison.

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About Bob Seidensticker
  • http://www.facebook.com/karludy Karl Udy

    Apples and oranges Bob. Firstly, you are comparing an individual company with a conflation of all religious groups in the US. Choose an individual charity to compare with GM, perhaps World Vision – they’re one of the larger religious charities worldwide.

    Secondly, the church is admittedly not in the business of making “things”. Any service company (as opposed to a manufacturing company) would also have a big fat question mark as an answer to what they have done with the money they received. Maybe you could take AAA as a suggested company. Now to compare AAA with World Vision would certainly be a better comparison but even then may not be close enough.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      I could compare a Christian charity to GM, although a better comparison would be to a secular charity (World Vision vs. CARE, MercyCorps, or Oxfam, for example). But comparing charities wasn’t the point. The Christian Church isn’t very much like World Vision.

      I see your second point. The Church vs. AAA or Match.com or a call center, maybe? Perhaps even a nonmanufacturing company like an insurance company.

      I chose a manufacturer because their output is tangible. You can, literally, kick the tires. But a service company might be more apt.

  • Rick Townsend

    Bob,

    The number of errors you have made in the current post is significant. I will focus on what I see as the four biggest ones.

    1) To lump Christianity, Judaism and Islam into one big pot and try to generalize is grossly unreasonable. The amount of humanitarian aid from the Islamic community following natural disasters such as the Tsunamis in Indonesia and Japan is near nonexistent. The amount of aid from Christian individuals and relief organizations is in the billions. The amount contributed from nations was billions as well, with the US portion being greater than the sum of contributions from all other nations. In 2009, the US government contribution to various forms of aid was 28.67 billion. The most generous islamic nation was Saudi Arabia, which gave 51.8 million, or less than two tenths of one percent of the US contribution. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_governments_by_development_aid) In the reference you provided, total giving in the US to all charitable organizations was in excess of 280 BILLION, order ten times the government amount, in 2009, and 290 BILLION in 2010. This is over 5,000 times as much from generous individuals in the USA alone compared to the total Saudi contribution amount. (No totals from Saudi individuals was given.) While not all of this amount was given from Christians or to Christian organizations, it clearly demonstrates a difference in the character of giving between nations with large influence in history from Christian thinking leaders. You can’t lump apples and rocks. (Oranges are still a fruit, so it isn’t reasonable to compare them to apples in this dissimilar comparison of religious influence!)

    2) You assert that we don’t know where the money goes in contributions to religion. I counter you must not have done the research. I have never nor would I ever give to an organization whose books are not open to accountability. While statistics for the aggregate of “Christianity” as a whole may be difficult to ascertain, they are not impossible to figure out for organizations worth giving to. I suspect that you as a philanthropist do due diligence before contributing. You aren’t the only one who is careful and deliberate. You need to do more homework on your organizations before contributing if this is not the case for you. Our church and Christian organizational contributions are made thoughtfully and with reasonable research.

    3) You claim that nothing goes back to the government through taxes, and claim this is a bad thing. I suspect you are happy with the return on the tax investment from TARP and other government programs. The larger the organization, the less efficient its efforts are likely to be. Bureaucracies are like that. Find some good small ones that work. Try http://www.kenyakidscan.com.

    4) Finally, a point you didn’t address is that throughout history of Judeo-Chrsitian philanthropy, the major impetus in expanding humanitarian aid in terms of hospitals and medical assistance, food, clothing, job skill training and the like has been from Christian charities. Nothing else comes close. You cannot compare the paltry (by comparison) efforts of governments, NGOs, and so on. They are not in the same ballpark.

    There are other errors, such as comparing a single company to the whole of US Christianity as Kari alluded to, as opposed to US GDP to US Philanthropy, but there is only so much space.

    You claim your blog is “clear thinking about Christianity,” and “an energetic but civil critique of Christianity from an atheist viewpoint.” While your comments are indeed civil and energetic in tone, in content they are angry and bitter. Why are you so unbalanced in your claims in this post, and why are you so mad at Christianity?

    Rick

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      The amount of humanitarian aid from the Islamic community following natural disasters such as the Tsunamis in Indonesia and Japan is near nonexistent.

      Interesting. Thanks for that.

      I wonder if the aid from Christian countries is because they’re Christian or because they’re from the West? If the latter, either our stronger economies than those in Muslim countries or something secular in the history of the West might explain it. I’m trying to think of a country that’s (1) Christian, (2) not in the West, and (3) has a strong economy so that charity is reasonable to expect. I dunno–maybe South Africa? Or maybe looking at the upper class of Christians in non-Western countries. Let me know if you know of any statistics on this.

      2) You assert that we don’t know where the money goes in contributions to religion. I counter you must not have done the research.

      My point was that churches don’t fill out IRS form 990 like nonprofits are required to do (except churches). If there’s another way to find the equivalent information, you’re right: I am ignorant of this.

      I have never nor would I ever give to an organization whose books are not open to accountability.

      If you’re a member of a church, it’s probably a different story, but that insider information isn’t available to the rest of us.

      Is there an equivalent of http://www.charitynavigator.org/ with which I can check Saddleback church or Mars Hill church, for example?

      Bureaucracies are like that.

      Big government bureaucracies can be worrisome, I’ll grant you that.

      a point you didn’t address is that throughout history of Judeo-Chrsitian philanthropy, the major impetus in expanding humanitarian aid in terms of hospitals and medical assistance, food, clothing, job skill training and the like has been from Christian charities. Nothing else comes close.

      Long ago, the church was the only game in town. I agree–let’s give credit where it’s due. Universities are another biggie that the church has pioneered (though you were talking more about philanthropy).

      Things are changing, however. Those *%#! socialist countries in Europe are doing a better job in creating a wholesome society than we are. What if we saw religion as a stopgap, a crutch? (This was the point Marx made in his “opiate of the masses” quote.) Maybe fixing society’s ills is actually the government’s problem. That’s the approach taken in much of Europe–society takes care of itself rather than forcing the church to clean up the mess. And it seems to be working.

      There are other errors, such as comparing a single company to the whole of US Christianity as Kari alluded to, as opposed to US GDP to US Philanthropy

      My goal was to look at religion, not at philanthropy.

      Why are you so unbalanced in your claims in this post, and why are you so mad at Christianity?

      Because of the negative role Christianity plays in American society today.

      • Rick Townsend

        You’ve conceded major ground on most of my points, for which I commend your open-mindedness.

        You’ve also asserted the superiority of socialist Eastern European nations in creating “wholesome [societies],” which, as Wikipedia might say, needs documentation.

        So does your final low blow that Christianity plays a negative told in American society. This is a highly inflammatory and subjective charge that would be difficult to imagine you can support with objectively verifiable data.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        You’ve conceded major ground on most of my points, for which I commend your open-mindedness.

        I see clarification rather than concession, but it’s good to see that we’re more on the same page.

        You’ve also asserted the superiority of socialist Eastern European nations in creating “wholesome [societies],” which, as Wikipedia might say, needs documentation.

        No–Western European. And I did provide documentation (though that article is admittedly quite long). Here’s the punch line:

        Of the 25 socioeconomic and environmental indicators [quantitative measures such as homicides, suicides, life expectancy, STDs, abortions, divorce, alcohol consumption, etc.] the most theistic and procreationist western nation, the U.S. scores the worst in 14 and by a very large margin in 8, very poorly in 2, average in 4, well or very in 4, and the best in 1.

        Ouch!

        So does your final low blow that Christianity plays a negative told in American society.

        Low blow? So you’re cool with Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps? With Harold “The sky is falling!” Camping? With Rod “Give me your money!” Parsley? With Ted “Do as I say, not as I do” Haggard?

        Much of what I object to many Christians agree with.

        • Rick Townsend

          Sorry about the Eastern vs. Western European quote. Sometimes the numbers are representative of better accuracy in reporting, such as the US infant mortality statistics. I don’t know if that is the case here, but it would take a lot of research and serious number crunching to determine which societies are on the whole better, and it would be a subjective call in any case. Also, in the case of Western Europe, those are largely countries with a great influence of Christian thinking in the past that shaped their underpinnings. (Remember the Reformation?)

          As for Phelps, Camping et al, — REALLY? You are extrapolating my comments to suggest I agree with them?? They aren’t mainstream Christianity, they are the aberrant fringe. For the record, nope. Not cool with the crackpots like those you mentioned. Clearly I didn’t say anything that would suggest that I was in agreement with them or their ilk.

          You’re going to have to do better than that in terms of objective data that Christianity is playing a “negative role” in culture. Unless you want me to paint your side with Michael Moore and Kieth Olbermann and say they represent your views. (They are closer to mainstream liberal thought, though, than the crazy pack you trotted out and assigned roles on my side of traditional Christianity.) You didn’t bring Moore and Olbermann up as representative of the whole of atheism, so it would not be fair of me to suggest that an extreme example like one of them does so.

          None of that advances a civil discourse.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        Rick said:

        You assert that we don’t know where the money goes in contributions to religion. I counter you must not have done the research.

        Bob replied:

        My point was that churches don’t fill out IRS form 990 like nonprofits are required to do (except churches). If there’s another way to find the equivalent information, you’re right: I am ignorant of this.

        I didn’t get a response to this. You claimed that we know where the money goes, that churches aren’t a black box. The only mechanism I know of is the IRS form 990, and churches aren’t obliged (and so don’t) file this form. Another approach would simply be to have their books online, available for public inspection. For an organization like the church, overseen by the Divine Accountant, you’d think that this would be standard practice. After all, if they need to justify their expenses to the Big Man, justifying them to society should be easy, right?

        But they don’t. You suggested that there’s an openness that I’m missing, that I haven’t done the research. Where is this information available?

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        in the case of Western Europe, those are largely countries with a great influence of Christian thinking in the past that shaped their underpinnings.

        That’s true. But, as I made clear, we’re trying to figure out why one country greatly influenced by Christian thinking (the US) performs so much worse than other countries greatly influenced by Christian thinking (Western Europe). The Christian part is common, so we must look to the differences to understand why they beat the US on so many points.

        As for Phelps, Camping et al, — REALLY? You are extrapolating my comments to suggest I agree with them?? They aren’t mainstream Christianity, they are the aberrant fringe. For the record, nope. Not cool with the crackpots like those you mentioned. Clearly I didn’t say anything that would suggest that I was in agreement with them or their ilk.

        Then next time I say that I am concerned about excesses of Christianity, you might want to respond with, “Amen, brother!” instead of calling my comments a “low blow.”

        Unless you want me to paint your side with Michael Moore … and say they represent your views.

        Amen, brother!

        (See how easy it is?)

        I didn’t say that Fred Phelps is identical to what you call Christianity. I said that I was concerned about the excesses of Christianity. And it sounds like you agree. You seem to be furious about something, but it’s not clear what that is when we seem to be in agreement.

  • Rick Townsend

    Sorry, that’s “negative role” in the last paragraph. (Spell check… oops!)

    But since I’m adding, would you consider your final comment to be “clear thinking on Christianity” that is “an energetic and civil critique?”

    And it appears you are acknowledging in your final comment that you do indeed find yourself angry with Christianity. Thanks for your transparency in this matter.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      But since I’m adding, would you consider your final comment to be “clear thinking on Christianity” that is “an energetic and civil critique?”

      I don’t know what “final comment” means.

      And it appears you are acknowledging in your final comment that you do indeed find yourself angry with Christianity. Thanks for your transparency in this matter.

      Hate the sin; love the sinner. I hate Christian excesses. Where Christianity has a benign or positive role in society, I have no problem.

      • Rick Townsend

        Regarding your comment, “Hate the sin; love the sinner. I hate Christian excesses. Where Christianity has a benign or positive role in society, I have no problem.”

        I also hate allegedly Christian excesses. When they do that, they usually aren’t real Christians. But you minimize the positive and maximize the aberrations which are harmful.

        So I think we agree. Except the overall characterization…

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        I also hate allegedly Christian excesses. When they do that, they usually aren’t real Christians.

        You mean excesses by alleged Christians? OK, but the Christian/non-Christian distinction is subjective. I try to avoid the controversy by accepting everyone’s self-identification.

        But you minimize the positive and maximize the aberrations which are harmful.

        Minimize? Maximize? The positive aspects of Christianity aren’t interesting to discuss. We agree on them, right?

        Highlighting the good that Christians do isn’t my focus. Yay for the good that Christians do! It is substantial.

        Now, let’s get back to topics that I find more interesting.

  • RandomFunction2

    Hi Bob,

    I do think that Churches sell a product. A spiritual product. And it is meaningfulness and hope. Most people cannot bear the indifference of the universe, the pointless suffering that befall them and the endless worldly injustices. So they are glad when an authority tells them that better days will come.

    Churches also provide a social network that may be effective when the person faces a loss or a hardship.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      The benefit of a social network is indisputable, though those exist outside the church.

      And aren’t meaningfulness and hope also available outside the church? Couldn’t we get the benefits without the negative baggage?

  • Paul

    And it is no suprise that God knows this too.
    According to the book of Revelation he likens false religion to a Harlot riding a Beast (political powers) which it the near future will turn on her and completely distroy her. The Bible says they do this because God put it in their heart to carry out his thought. Revelation says that religion will be stipped of her riches and be completely burned with fire.
    Why would God do this to someone who has claimed to worship him?
    Because religion has misrepresented him and become a like a prostitute and sells her wares (false teachings) for a costly price, which people have been buying for centuries.
    Yes so you are right, Religion has been no profit (for it’s people) for centuries and God will judge her for what she is, and I say good ridence to her.

  • Rick Townsend

    The replies are getting jumbled, but regarding your concern about transparency of organizations because they don’t file a form with the IRS (I’m not a tax expert and know nothing about a Form 990), I did indeed answer your concerns. If you have any questions about where a church or organization spends its money, ask. The reputable ones are open and accountable, and will readily answer your question. But no, there is no great database in the sky that tabulates all of the expenses of all of the individual churches and Christian-based organizations. You have to research individual ones. Not a bad tradeoff for not having a bureaucracy to do the tabulations. Want another government agency doing that for you?

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      I’m not a tax expert and know nothing about a Form 990

      It’s the form that 501(c)3s are obliged to fill out. It’s a quid pro quo–the public gives nonprofit status to the organization, and in return, the organization shows where its money goes.

      Except for religious organizations.

      If you have any questions about where a church or organization spends its money, ask.

      And what is Benny Hinn going to say when I make that request?

      Senator Grassley followed your advice. He asked six televangelists for information and got dribbles of information. Two stonewalled him, basically saying, “Make me.”

      It’s a topsy-turvy world we live in when those nonprofits who should be most driven to be squeaky clean are the least transparent.

      But no, there is no great database in the sky that tabulates all of the expenses of all of the individual churches and Christian-based organizations.

      Once again we agree. This was my point. There is a great database in the sky for every nonprofit (except the religious ones). I believe http://www2.guidestar.org/ is one. For example, GuideStar has World Vision’s 990 from 2008 here.

      Not a bad tradeoff for not having a bureaucracy to do the tabulations. Want another government agency doing that for you?

      You mean, like how the IRS collects 990s and makes those available so we the public (the ones who are granting this nonprofit status and would like in return evidence that the money is being spent wisely) can inspect?

      Yes, I would indeed like that for all nonprofits, especially the ones who don’t want to be transparent.

  • Bob Calvan

    Rick Townsend

    Yes, anyone can see Bob’s hatred for the Christian God.. Bob says he does not hate something he does not believe in. But the book of Romans tell us different.. Tells us Bob knows God and suppresses God’s truth in unrighteousness. Bob can not stop shaking his fist at his Creator..And I tell Bob all he is doing is heaping more coals on his head, and makes hell worse for himself.

    And as usual he ignores anything we tell him..I have told Bob over and over not to include Christians, that are not Christians in his arguments.. But he refuses to do so. In this blog he includes Cults, and non Christians and puts them under the Christian umbrella..I very dishonest thing to do.. But at least Bob is consistent with his atheistic worldview. That is what I would expect from a moral relativist. Just his subjective opinion. That is relative, and arbitrary. Bob is not held to an absolute standard of truth and honesty. As I find in every atheist I have met so far.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Ah, more claims of the fabled objective morality. I’m still open to evidence that such a thing exists. Do you have any?

  • Bob Calvan

    yup,
    Is it absolutly wrong for you (Bob) to torture babies for your own pleasure?

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Is it? I see no evidence of that.

      I certainly think that it’s wrong. I think it’d be wrong for anyone to do it, not just me. But I think we’re smart enough to see that a moral instinct like this, even one that’s shared among almost everyone else in the species, does not justify the claim that this is an objective (that is, supernaturally grounded) moral truth.

      Universally-held moral opinions vs. universal moral truths–the former explains morality and is an all-natural explanation. No supernatural assumptions necessary.

    • Retro

      “Is it absolutly wrong for you (Bob) to torture babies for your own pleasure?”

      Not if you believe in God it isn’t always wrong!

      Then the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, all the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury, destroy with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old. Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the LORD’s house. So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.
      Joshua 6:2-27

      The LORD Almighty says: ‘Attack the Amalekites and do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants.”
      1 Samuel 15:2-3

  • Bob Calvan

    Retro

    What does that have to do with torturing children for you own pleasure?

    Yes , lets build a straw man and attack that.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Bob C:

      I didn’t see any response to my distinction between universally-accepted moral instincts (a natural explanation that explains the facts) and universally-true moral absolutes (a supernatural explanation built on handwaving and wishful thinking). Your thoughts?

    • Retro

      How is killing a child because you gain pleasure from it really any different than killing a child because you want to please God?

      You wish to say that your God is the source of all morality, but then you must explain away why your God commanded His believers to slaughter children.

      Have you ever just stopped for even one moment and actually thought about why you need to spend so much time coming up with explanations for why an infinite and all-powerful God would have needed to have His believers kill children? Can you really say that it makes sense?

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        Things are so-o-o-o much easier when you drop the God presupposition and follow the facts where they lead.

  • RandomFunction2

    To Retro,

    BobC is right. Torturing a baby out of obedience to God’s absolute will is not the same thing as torturing a baby for pleasure, though it’s hardly more moral.

  • RandomFunction2

    Hi Bob the atheist,

    Or maybe the problem is not God himself, but taking archaic texts as divine revelations?

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      That’s indeed a problem, but when you drop the archaic texts, what happens to God?

      • RandomFunction2

        Hi Bob,

        Then God is believed in, but naturally, without all those layers of superstition that make traditional religion unbelievable. And I would say that God makes himself known in some (subtle) ways to many people, but he does not send explicit messages to so-called prophets as if they were on the phone with him. In many cases, God reveals himself to people by making them aware of what he is NOT. That’s why some atheists may be inspired by God. They protest the absurdities of common pictures of God. Of course I don’t mean to make atheists believers against their will. Even if an atheist had the best possible picture of God in mind, he still could deny his existence. Because people are free. And because atheism is far from a groundless absurdity.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        But you’ve moved beyond Christianity to deism here–is that right? Or do you posit an active god, but one who isn’t any of those recognized by conventional religions?

        I can’t imagine much to complain about with this kind of thinking, even though it doesn’t match mine.

  • RandomFunction2

    Hi Bob,

    You may call it a brand of Deism, though historical Deists wanted to do away with divine revelations and only keep a God that can be proven by reason and the exigencies of morality. I, however, maintain that God’s existence cannot be proven (or what can be proven is, to be fair, far from the full package). So my stance is a bit shakier than that of historical Deists when it comes to knowing God. But I make up for it by postulating some subtle and soft revelation, that speaks not by words, but through awe, feelings, the attraction of values and hunches. I do think that ordinary religion can be explained away by atheists, but what is remarkable is that some believers are dissatisfied with such a religion and try to come closer to the One that is beyond all idols.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      And as a fellow human, I find little to object to in this thinking. That is, the negative effect that you have on society is not worth mentioning. (As just one example of what troubles me, I just listened to an interview with Janet Heimlich, author of “Breaking their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment.” Wow–that’s a problem.)

      But as for the grounding of your beliefs, it does sound like your “soft revelation” could be better explained by natural mechanisms. Your thoughts?

  • RandomFunction2

    Hi Bob,

    Maybe psychology will shed light on how we form our religious ideas, and it has already started to explain the mechanisms of spirit belief, how it emerges from natural brain processes as a side-effect. But spirit belief is only a primitive kind of religion. I don’t think that psychology will be able to prove that all religious ideas and religious feelings are groundless delusions. After all, a believer always has the possibility of locating psychological explanations at one level of causality and God at a superior level (just as the workers and the architect have the same goal, but operate at different levels). That would mean that some psychological processes have a special meaning in the universe as they bring us closer to God. Just as other psychological processes bring us closer to one another, and so are also meaningful.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      I think you’re right that psychology/neurobiology won’t be able to explain away all instances of religious ideas or feelings. But “you can’t prove me wrong!” isn’t an especially strong grounding for anything IMO.

      Again, this is a rather small point compared to other topics that’ve come up in the comment stream here.

      • RandomFunction2

        Hi Bob,

        True, but God belief is not an arbitrary construct like Russell’s orbital teapot or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Neither is it a folkloric superstition like fairies or Santa Claus. God has unique ontological properties: he is the ultimate explanation of things (though atheists may be content with natural explanations), the ultimate ground of morality (if there were two independent grounds, which one would be binding hic et nunc?) and is the object of our ultimate concern (as Tillich put it). God is also the One who has the power to quench our thirst for enduring happiness. Most people feel that there must be a way to happiness, but many take wrong steps to that goal… Because the question of God is also a question about happiness (and I don’t just speak of cheap rewards in some heavenly Disneyland).

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        RF2:

        but God belief is not an arbitrary construct like Russell’s orbital teapot or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

        OK, but if the detectability of God is the same as the teapot or FSM, doesn’t that tell you something?

        Neither is it a folkloric superstition like fairies or Santa Claus.

        OK, but God is in precisely the same bin as Allah or Shiva, and those gods don’t exist, right?

        God has unique ontological properties: he is the ultimate explanation of things

        “God did it” is a possible explanation for everything. But something that explains everything explains nothing. You’re no wiser with “God did it” as an explanation; compare that with a plausible scientific explanation.

        the ultimate ground of morality

        OK, but so are Xenu and Brahma. Why should those guys play second fiddle to Yahweh?

  • Bob Calvan

    Bob,

    “…….“God did it” is a possible explanation for everything. But something that explains everything explains nothing. You’re no wiser with “God did it” as an explanation; compare that with a plausible scientific explanation..”

    Yeah, I love the scientific explanation of the creation..Nothing did it. Something created nothing. Matter came from non matter. There is powerful science.

    And they mock Christians when we say God did it.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      What scientific discipline says “something created nothing”?

  • Bob Calvan

    All of them.
    Something came from nothing, order came from non-order, life came fron non-life, and intelligence came from non-intellegence. That is todays science! Once you give science matter and life ,boy there ready to go. But Science says matter and life came from NOTHING!

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      What I thought you were getting at was “The Big Bang says something came from nothing,” which it doesn’t. The Big Bang was an expansion event, not a creation event, and there is no consensus on “What came before the Big Bang?”

      But thanks for that clarification. Yes, science does say that complexity comes from simplicity. I’m not sure where the problem is. Are you saying that some claims of science are incredible, so you reject any that you don’t like?

  • RandomFunction2

    Hi Bob,

    True, God is not detectable by scientific means. He is not a black hole or an electron. But people believe in him because they feel he is there or he must be there to fill a void, to make life meaningful. There is a void in the human spirit, at least in most people, and God comes and takes up this place. Augustine said: Our heart is worried until it rests in God.

    Besides, when God is covered by layers of superstition, then we get Brahma, Allah, Shiva, Yahweh. I want to believe in a God striped of superstitions and of particular revelations. Can you understand that?

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Sounds like you’re saying: “God” is what we call that feeling that we’re able to pull over us, like a blanket, when we’re feeling cold and alone. OK, I’ve heard that kind of definition before. But this simply identifies how we respond to stress; does it give any evidence of there being something actually there?

      I certainly understand your wanting to discard all the layers of tradition and superstition. But now that you’ve done that, what’s left?

      • RandomFunction2

        Hi Bob,

        No, it provides no scientific evidence for God. Many believers believe because they feel something is missing in their lives, and God is the most plausible answer. God gives them meaning, purpose and strength and is a force for growth.

        Some also believe because they feel an explicit connection with God. But I am more skeptical of such religious experiences.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        I’m still seeing two ways that we could characterize this.

        (1) God gives believers that which is missing in their lives.

        (2) “God” is simply a metaphor or model in which believers imagine something that we have no evidence for. But, though the being may not actually be there, the comfort they receive is real.

        You seem to be saying that 1 is where you come down on this issue. But isn’t 2 (better stated, of course) a reasonable explanation of this popular embrace of “God”?

        And BTW, I appreciate this civil discourse. Doesn’t always happen, as I’m sure you’re aware!

  • RandomFunction2

    Hi Bob,

    Besides, I never claimed that “God did it” was a respectable explanation of particular events. Again, I urge you to distinguish between two levels of explanations: one that is “proximate” and open to scientific investigation, and the other one that is “ultimate”, and that is the realm of philosophers and theologians. For instance quantum physics is a proximate explanation, but either naturalism or God are ultimate explanations. Remember my analogy of the building site with the workers and the architect?

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      What does it mean to say “the realm of philosophers and theologians”? Let me quickly admit that, after hanging out at apologetics.com for several years, I see philosophy as simply a smokescreen to avoid uncomfortable questions. I’m sure it has value, but I’ve lately only seen it used to obfuscate, not clarify.

      Anyway, I wonder what tangible anything philosophers can give us.

      I don’t know what you mean by naturaliism/God being the ultimate explanation of quantum physics. Are you saying that these two stop the endless cycle of “Yeah, but what caused that?“?

      • RandomFunction2

        Hi Bob,

        While it’s true that the scientist is never allowed to give up his or her investigation for deeper explanations, it’s nevertheless true that there cannot be an infinite regress of explanations. Even if the scientist must operate as if the final explanation will never be found, the possibility of a final and general explanation is postulated for a coherent picture of the world, be it naturalistic or theistic. The consequence is that the endless search for deeper explanations is the realm of scientists while the search for the big picture is the realm of the philosophers and theologians (and YOU have been doing philosophy since you started to argue atheism). You need not have read Spinoza, Hegel, Heidegger and Derrida to do philosophy.

      • Paul

        Hi Bob,

        You said…”I see philosophy as simply a smokescreen to avoid uncomfortable questions”.
        I agree with RF2. YOU have been philosophising since I have been watching this blog! Is it because you are smokescreening your fear of the possiblilty of a God?

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        I’m happy to accept that. Nevertheless, what I have been doing seems much more tangible than what would result by asking philosophers: “Tell us what the ultimate cause is.”

  • RandomFunction2

    Hi Bob,

    True, I cannot tell the psychological difference between mere god belief and a real God acting upon us through psychological processes. It boils down to a question of faith. So, no, I don’t think there are any compelling reason to believe. So if you want me to acknowledge that your stance is reasonable, I can do so.

  • Bob Calvan

    The Big Bang was an expansion event, not a creation event, and there is no consensus on “What came before the Big Bang?”
    Big Bang is a expansion event? So how did nothing expand?

    • RandomFunction2

      To BobC,

      You are wrong: it was not the case that “nothing” started to expand. It was rather a very dense mass. Besides, the big bang is not, stricto sensu, the beginning of the universe, but rather the earliest point at which our physical theories, when applied to the past, still make sense and allow us to understand the history of the universe. In other words, what we call the big bang is rather the time when things become open to scientific investigation.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Perhaps you’re not familiar with the Big Bang. If you think nothing expanded in the Big Bang, I think you need to read up a bit.

  • Paul

    Hi Bob,
    Thought I would share something to consider, with regard to intelligence coming from something intellegent.
    An archeaologist finds a rock which is carved with meanful language of well defined letters. Rightly the archeaologist concludes ‘someone’ has engraved this. It is believed that only someone with intelligence can string a simple sentence with meaning together. People even scientists always associate meanful information with an intelligent mind – unless such information is contained in a living cell!
    I am sure Bob you have heard of the DNA. The DNA (deoxyribonucleric acid). It is carried along by a double-stranded molecule that looks like a twistered ladder. The DNA is like a recipe or program that directs the information, growth, maintenance and reproduction of trillions of cells that make you and me Bob.
    The units that make up the DNA are called A, C, G and T. These four characters combine to form ‘sentences’ and intructions to replicate the cell. This DNA is like a library that contains about 3 billion letters or nucleotides long. If we were to print this out it would fill 200 volumes of 1000 page telephone book. One cell contains about 2 meters of DNA, if you unraveled all your DNA in your trillions of cells it would reach between the earth and sun 670 times.
    We have some very clever men like mathmatical biologist Joshua Plotkin who admits even he is incedibly naive when it comes to understanding even most basic things in the cell and cell biologist Tony Pawson a cell biologist at the University of Toronto, explained: “The signalling information in cells is organized through networks of information rather than simple discrete pathways,” making the whole process “infinitely more complex.” than previously thought,
    If intellegent men Bob cannot understand the amazing complexity of the cell, then what intellegence put it together in the first place?

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      It is believed that only someone with intelligence can string a simple sentence with meaning together.

      And we think this because we’ve seen it happen. What is the precedent for your supernatural Designer??

      This DNA is like a library that contains about 3 billion letters or nucleotides long.

      The DNA of the onion is 5 times longer than that of humans. Apparently, your “Designer” put a lot of slop into DNA (or maybe the onion is so complex that really needs that much more).

      Every cell in your body contains a broken gene for making vitamin C. Most other mammals don’t need to eat food with vitamin C; they make it themselves. But not apes like us. Why would the Designer put a broken gene into our DNA? I is powerful evidence in favor of the sloppy process of evolution–is the Designer just messing with us?

      If intellegent men Bob cannot understand the amazing complexity of the cell, then what intellegence put it together in the first place?

      Evolution is the scientific consensus. By what authority do we reject that?

      • Paul

        By the authority of design and logic. Even scientists (the humble ones anyway) admit their lack of knowledge. So logic tells me that someone very clever designed the cell onion or not. Design in itself tells of intellegence. What scientist would not want credit for their discoveries. Discoveries of things already designed and made. Do you think that intellegence would not want credit for his work?

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        Let me get this straight. You’re saying that you (a non-scientist, I’m guessing?) are rejecting the overwhelming consensus of an entire field of science.

        You don’t understand evolution as well as any of the biologists in this community (again, I’m assuming you’re not a biologist) and you set yourself up as judge of the entire field?

        logic tells me that someone very clever designed the cell

        Conclude whatever you want to, but for a nonscientist to make this conclusion in a field he doesn’t understand is unsupportable.

        • Paul

          Thats your answer to simple logic?
          Yes I am a non scientist, I have an average intelligence and truth is simple.

          For you a non christian to make conclusion in this field is unsupportable. How can you judge the Bible a book you admitted some time back that you have not read, but rely on others for comment. Not wise Bob. What about scientists who do/did believe in God? Are you going to say they don’t know what they are talking about?

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        Yes I am a non scientist, I have an average intelligence and truth is simple.

        You have the gift, my friend! Very few people are able to look at a field of study that they don’t understand and see the falsity that underlies it. I’m impressed.

        Since you’re able to dismiss unpleasant sciences as easily as that, do something about quantum physics. Evolution makes pretty good sense, but quantum physics is completely nonsensical. Of course, it’s been verified by experience very precisely, but who cares? It bugs me. Let’s get rid of it!

        How can you judge the Bible a book you admitted some time back that you have not read, but rely on others for comment.

        I’ve read many books about the Bible, though I’ve not read the entire Bible. What’s the rule? Must I read the entire Bible? How many times? Maybe we can also demand that I read some standard books of commentary?

        My approach, for better or worse, has been to listen to bazillions of podcasts, and read many articles and books. It’s an interesting journey, but of course I’ll always be an amateur. Of course, I could make mistakes. But I’m showing my work, and I encourage anyone to point out errors. Have I made a mistake? When I do, please point that out.

        Not wise Bob. What about scientists who do/did believe in God? Are you going to say they don’t know what they are talking about?

        I don’t follow the question. Someone is very smart and he believes in God so I should believe also?

        • Paul

          I have always believed that true science was based on proposing a theory, collecting unbias evidence and concluding with known facts (unbias) what the logical answer with available evidence unencumbered by predudice.
          I have found that by and large the community of scientists of today and the past, don’t want to believe in a creator and look at any answer other than the obvious. Those scientists who do believe in a god find themselves isolated by that community not because of facts. The unpleasant sciences you speak of, is that there is a God.
          I and others have indicated your errors, but like the ones you admire and read you refuse to accept the answers because it does not fit your preconceived ideas.
          You need far more faith to believe in the theory of evolution, than there being a creator of superior intelligence than your own. I mean that kindly Bob.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        You need far more faith to believe in the theory of evolution, than there being a creator of superior intelligence than your own.

        How would you respond to the guy who has no more expertise than playing flight simulator games on his PC getting up from his seat on the airplane to go give the pilots some advice? How would you respond to someone who has no more expertise than reading the Health column in the newspaper badgering the surgeon about to go in and operate on you?

        This is how I see the armchair scientist who sets himself up as judge and jury over all of Science and proclaims what’s valid and what’s invalid.

        We laymen are stuck with the many scientific consensuses(?), I’m afraid. Tjhey may not be correct, but they’re the best approximation to the truth that we have at the moment.

        • Rick Townsend

          Bob said,
          “We laymen are stuck with the many scientific consensuses(?), I’m afraid. Tjhey (sic) may not be correct, but they’re the best approximation to the truth that we have at the moment.”

          Too often, that excuse is simply a way to avoid using judgement. There is always someone who knows more about something. I am not the airplane designer, but in the case of a malfunction I have to use my best judgment about how to handle the situation. I am not the scientist / engineer who designed the car or traffic laws but I operate in that sphere all the time. I am not a doctor, but like many, if a serious cancer diagnosis comes my way, I can do research and make an informed decision about what I think is the best course of action. They make movies about laymen who do those things. It only took a little boy to notice what everyone else saw but was afraid to say—that the emperor has no clothes.

          When science makes statements that don’t make sense, you don’t have to be a scientist to notice. And when the consensus in biology is that evolution is fact, they are out of their league anyway. They study how things work. How they came into being is beyond their area of expertise. It is the fallacy of category error, and when you appeal to them, you are committing it as well.

          There are no experts in the field of ultimate origins, because no hypothesis can be experimentally used to PROVE scientifically that evolution was the means by which we got where we are, for instance. The only predictive statement that can be checked is that new species and characteristics should be popping up all the time. They aren’t.

          No PC simulator pilot has ever given me advice. If he did, I would evaluate it and most likely dismiss it. But if it was relevant information about a place I hadn’t been but which the simulation had accurate information, even his inputs could be useful. I would evaluate it, not insult his lack of expertise.

          It’s time to use your head and stop using this wrong-headed logic.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        When science makes statements that don’t make sense, you don’t have to be a scientist to notice.

        Scientists say that two subatomic particles can be “entangled” so that, if they are separated, a modification to one particle will show up apparently instantly in the other particle, even if they’re miles apart. That makes no sense. And yet that’s the way the world works. This is just one example of zillions where science shows that reality is a lot crazier than we expected.

        The more you get into science, the more you see that our common sense is of little value. Sure, it violates common sense, but so what?

        If common sense were the tool to use, why would we need the field of science?

        There are no experts in the field of ultimate origins

        I was talking about evolution, not ultimate origins.

        … because no hypothesis can be experimentally used to PROVE scientifically that evolution was the means by which we got where we are, for instance.

        Science doesn’t prove anything. Ever. Science is always provisional.

        The only predictive statement that can be checked is that new species and characteristics should be popping up all the time. They aren’t.

        Is this what evolution says? Show me that the consensus within the field of Biology is both (1) we should see new species all the time and (2) that ain’t happening.

        It’s time to use your head and stop using this wrong-headed logic.

        I’ve been trying to encourage a little humility–for you to see your limitations and where you need to accept the consensus of people who are in a far better position to know than you. I’ve failed.

  • RandomFunction2

    Hi Bob,

    Your series of objections have struck something in me. I need to reconsider my beliefs to make sure I don’t believe unscientific superstitions.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Share with us what you conclude!

    • Rick Townsend

      RandomFunction2 wrote: “Your series of objections have struck something in me. I need to reconsider my beliefs to make sure I don’t believe unscientific superstitions.”

      You are wise to have this attitude. Don’t take at face value anything that is unsubstantiated by science. That would include complexity from simplicity (DNA) order from disorder (the universe) systematic functionality with no explanation (physics) and mutation leading to improvement in an organism’s ability to survive (evolution).

      Happy Thanksgiving! You have arrived in the land of reason!!

  • RandomFunction2

    To all,

    I think I will become an agnostic. I see no evidence for the existence of a good god, especially in the animal kingdom, and I find the freudian and cognitivist explanations of religion convincing. Besides, people can be good without God. And many atheists have meaningful lives. It’s only when an atheist’s close relative or friend dies that I see the meaninglessness of atheism. But there is a difference between saying that God does not exist and saying that the higest causes are unknown to our intellects.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      RF2:

      I agree with your preamble. Well said. And I call myself an agnostic as well (and an atheist).

      It’s only when an atheist’s close relative or friend dies that I see the meaninglessness of atheism.

      The ultimate meaninglessness of atheism. There’s as much meaning in the atheist’s life as there is in the believer’s. This isn’t jotted down in a celestial diary somewhere; timeless beings don’t note and remember what we do. But I don’t see this affecting our lives here except to make them more precious and special.

      And, of course, the Christian saying, “Ooo! Over here! We offer ultimate meaningfulness!” doesn’t count for much IMO. It’s easy to say it; not so easy to back it up with evidence.

      But I think we may be on the same page here.

      • Rick Townsend

        Bob said, “I call myself an agnostic as well (and an atheist).”

        An agnostic believes that the ultimate truth of a matter is unknowable. An atheist has concluded concerning God that He does not exist. I don’t see how you can be both. Can you explain?

        And what evidence can you offer that there is no evidence concerning the existence of God? All one has to do to counter that notion is point to evidence that supports the existence of something greater than what we can observe to defeat your evidence that there is none.

        Bob also said, “…of course, the Christian saying, “Ooo! Over here! We offer ultimate meaningfulness!” doesn’t count for much IMO. It’s easy to say it; not so easy to back it up with evidence.”

        I’ve never heard a Christian say this. To trivialize the position of the Christian is a great way to win him over. The belief that there is a creator, that he revealed himself through scripture and through embodying his character in a human body to reveal it more fully, and that he made a way for us to be eternally in his company, that he confirmed through fulfilled prophecy that he does indeed exist, none of this contains the words, “Ooo! Over here!” Great technique, that elitist condescension thing.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        An atheist has concluded concerning God that He does not exist.

        An atheist has no god belief. That’s me.

        And what evidence can you offer that there is no evidence concerning the existence of God? All one has to do to counter that notion is point to evidence that supports the existence of something greater than what we can observe to defeat your evidence that there is none.

        This seems to be in reply to something I said, but I’m missing the context.

        Tell me more about “evidence that supports the existence of something greater than what we can observe.” I appreciate that there are limits beyond which science can’t (yet) see. Is this what you’re talking about?

        I’ve never heard a Christian say this.

        What? You’ve never heard a Christian argue that Christianity offers ultimate meaning?

        Great technique, that elitist condescension thing.

        Yeah, that must strike you as harsh, quite unlike any reply you’d make.

        • Rick Townsend

          Bob said, “An atheist has no god belief. That’s me.” Does that mean you don’t have any position on it that you can defend (agnostic) or that you believe firmly that there is no god (atheist)?

          Concerning “evidence that supports something greater than what we can observe.” We know of no example in observable science of matter coming into existence without a cause, of order without someone putting things in order, of information complexity without someone making it complex and functional, of accurate future predictions similar to fulfilled prophecy, of a big bang without a big banger—a cause. All of these indicate evidence for something greater than what the evolutionary naturalism position provides.

          Concerning your comment, “What? You’ve never heard a Christian argue that Christianity offers ultimate meaning?” NO, that is what I gave you examples of. I’ve never heard a Christian say with your implied oversimplifying tone, “Ooo! Over here! … ” Sorry that I also included the idea that there is meaning in Christianity. We do say that.

        • Rick Townsend

          Bob said, “Yeah, that must strike you as harsh, quite unlike any reply you’d make.”

          I was going to ignore this comment, but thought better of that. I try to avoid emotionalism and snarky comments, but if I fail, let me offer my apology. Feel free to call me on it and point out specific places where I have done that.

          Thanks.

        • Paul

          Bob you amaze me!
          You said, “unlikeliest cause imaginable–that a supernatural being …”
          You have no answers and are so quick to dismiss out of hand the existence of a superior intelligence. You were so quick to denounce me a little back in this discussion for having no knowledge of science, are you not doing the same? As you certainly have no knowledge of God.
          Why is it so unlikely that there is a superior intlligence Bob?

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        Does that mean you don’t have any position on it that you can defend (agnostic) or that you believe firmly that there is no god (atheist)?

        I don’t think we’re yet on the same page. I agree that someone who is certain there is no god would be an atheist, but the term is much broader than that in my definition. I have no god belief. Someone like that is an “atheist.” I don’t need to make a positive case to be an atheist.

        I also disagree with your definition of “agnostic.” The focus with theist/atheist is belief (“I do/don’t have a god belief”) while the focus with gnostic/agnostic is knowledge (“I do/don’t know something”).

        Putting that aside and getting back to my own position, the evidence tells me that there is no god. This evidence seems to me to be enormous. Nevertheless, I would change my position given sufficient evidence.

        We know of no example in observable science of matter coming into existence without a cause,

        Are you referring to the Big Bang? This is not a creation event but rather an expansion event.

        …of order without someone putting things in order

        Huh?? An acorn grows into an oak. (A thousand other examples left as an exercise to the reader.)

        …of information complexity without someone making it complex and functional

        No, I can’t think of an example. So this is cause to introduce the unlikeliest cause imaginable–that a supernatural being who created everything did it?

        … of accurate future predictions similar to fulfilled prophecy

        I’ve seen zero compelling examples of fulfilled biblical prophecy, though I’ve read about many.

        … of a big bang without a big banger

        Or a sand dune without a sand duner? Or rain without a rainer? Or a mountain without a mountaineer?

        Causes can be natural.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        Paul:

        You have no answers …

        There are many questions that Science has yet to answer. If this is your point, I agree.

        …and are so quick to dismiss out of hand the existence of a superior intelligence.

        Was I not clear? I don’t dismiss a supernatural intelligence; I just say that it is an insanely remarkable claim. Sure, there could be a supernatural being that created the universe and picked out one planet out of all that vastness to treat as special, but he still wants to be hidden and not just come out and make clear that he exists.

        That is just about the most remarkable claim (or maybe “impressive claim”?) that I can think of. Could be true, but I’ll need evidence in proportion to the immensity of that claim.

  • Rick Townsend

    Bob said, regarding his views, “…my own position [is that, the evidence tells me that there is no god. This evidence seems to me to be enormous. Nevertheless, I would change my position given sufficient evidence.”

    This helps to define your position. But when you say, “I have no god belief,” this phrase is misleading. You do currently have a god belief. You currently believe that god doesn’t exist. I understand your caveat that you would change your position if there was sufficient evidence.” But still, you DO CURRENTLY hold to the BELIEF that there is not a god. I am not sure how using the phrase “I have no god belief” does to clarify your position, versus the more accurate (IMO) “I believe god does not exist.” Is there some reason you choose to use the term that seems (to me, at least) to be less clear?

    You also raise an interesting question regarding the “sufficient evidence” category. What sort of evidence would you find convincing?

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      This helps to define your position. But when you say, “I have no god belief,” this phrase is misleading.

      I prefer “I have no god belief” because it makes clear that the Christian is the one who has the burden of proof. That said, I’m delighted to offer my own positive arguments for why God doesn’t exist. But I don’t have to.

      Also, “atheist = someone who has no god belief” is a popular definition within the atheist community.

      You also raise an interesting question regarding the “sufficient evidence” category. What sort of evidence would you find convincing?

      In short, the evidence that the Christian claims to have (but doesn’t): strong evidence of fulfilled prophecy, strong evidence that the Bible is historically accurate, strong evidence that God/Jesus acts in our world today, and so on.

      Before we launch into those discussions, let me suggest that you wait until those topics come up in the blog posts, as they surely will.

  • RandomFunction2

    To all,

    To be more specific, it’s wrong to define atheism as a mere lack of belief, because babies and animals lack god belief, yet they cannot be meaningfully said to be atheists… Atheism is the self-aware rejection of god belief, which means the person has understood the idea of God available in his or her culture, yet has denied that this idea is real.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      “denied” stops me. Does the atheist make a positive claim? In the case of unicorns or leprechauns, I don’t know that the nonbeliever does. Instead of active disbelief, there is simply a lack of belief. The person who doesn’t believe in unicorns shoulders no burden of proof.

  • RandomFunction2

    Hi Bob,

    I still have big doubts… While it’s true that god belief gives full meaning to life, given that there is no clear evidence for God (at least for more than an indifferent and remote first cause), it may be wishful thinking and a refusal to face the real world.

    Besides, it’s obvious that people don’t need God to be good. In many instances, atheists are more moral than believers. Still, at a theoretical level, there is something unsatisfactory about naturalistic morality. Like the lack of a transcendent standard that is needed in meaningful moral arguments. Besides, values are best seen as deriving from a unique source, a source that is personal. If values did not have a single source, how could we compare them? But the source needs to be personal, because only a person can understand rights and duties. If values were freely floating in the air, it would be a most bizarre system. And then, why should we pay heed to such abstract values?

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      RF2:

      While it’s true that god belief gives full meaning to life…

      God belief is at the pinnacle? I haven’t see this. Wouldn’t “believing all the true things” be better?

      And I’m sure you’ll agree that “I believe X because it’s the more pleasant option” is beneath consideration.

      it’s obvious that people don’t need God to be good.

      Yes, agreed.

      Still, at a theoretical level, there is something unsatisfactory about naturalistic morality. Like the lack of a transcendent standard that is needed in meaningful moral arguments.

      A transcendent standard that all acknowledge exists and that all can objectively see? Sure, that’d be fantastic. I see zero evidence that such a thing exists, so lamenting that naturalistic morality doesn’t have it is to say nothing IMO.

      Besides, values are best seen as deriving from a unique source, a source that is personal.

      “Best” because that explains the facts best? I don’t see that. Why doesn’t evolution explain our values?

      If values did not have a single source, how could we compare them?

      For humans, it is a single source: human DNA. We all share it, which is why we all (more or less) share the same morality.

      But the source needs to be personal, because only a person can understand rights and duties.

      That I think I ought to do X is no proof that X has been defined by some super-person. My instincts say that I ought to do X–that’s enough. Evolution explains that; no need to posit a super-being.

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