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“I Used to be an Atheist, Just Like You”

I can believe that you used to be an atheist. An atheist is simply someone without a god belief. It’s the “just like you” part that I’m having trouble with.

Lots of Christian apologists introduce themselves as former atheists. Lee Strobel, for example, often begins presentations with a summary of his decadent, angry atheist past. The implied message is that people like me convert to Christianity all the time. With the ongoing prayer experiment, I want to revisit this question and make a few changes.

Here is my original argument. First, consider three groups of people.

Group 1. Christians are here.

Group 2. The atheists need two groups. People in Group 2 are technically atheists because they don’t have a god belief, but they don’t know much about arguments in favor of Christianity, rebuttals to those arguments, or arguments in favor of atheism. Nothing wrong with that, of course—the God question doesn’t interest everyone—but they’re not well informed about atheism.

Group 3. These are the well-informed atheists. They understand both sides of the ontological, teleological, cosmological, transcendental, fine-tuning, and moral arguments and more. They are at least well-educated amateurs on evolution, evolution denial, and the Big Bang. They can make positive arguments for atheism, not just rebut Christian apologetics. And so on. I put myself into this group.

For each of these groups, how likely is it for people in these groups to be argued into the opposite camp?

Group 1, Christians. Lots of Christians have deconverted: Rich Lyons from the Living After Faith podcast. Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Community of Austin. Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Bob Price, the Bible Geek. Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus. The hundreds of pastors in the Clergy Project.

They’re now all in Group 3, and they’re particularly interesting because they were very well informed Christians. Education turned them away from Christianity.

Group 2, Uninformed Atheists. Many in this group have converted to Christianity. This sounds like the group that the imagined former-atheist-now-Christian came from.

Group 3, Well-Informed Atheists. But here’s my point: I’ve never heard of anyone in Group 3, the well-informed atheists, who converted to Christianity because of intellectual arguments. Of course, this makes me vulnerable to the No True Scotsman fallacy—rejecting any counterexample with, “Oh, well that guy wasn’t truly a well-informed atheist”—but I invite you to comment with anyone I’ve omitted.

Well-informed Christians deconvert to atheism (and are happy to explain, using reason, why they left), but well-informed atheists don’t convert to Christianity through reason. More education about the history and origins of Christianity increases the likelihood that the Christian will deconvert, but more education increases the likelihood that the atheist will stay put.

This is an asymmetry that I don’t think apologists appreciate. Becoming a well-informed atheist is a one-way street. It’s a ratchet; it’s a gravity well. Once you become a well-informed atheist, you’re stuck. (What about conversion through non-intellectual reasons? Let’s set that aside for the moment.)

Here’s why I argue that no well-informed atheists convert to Christianity through intellectual arguments. By their fruit, you would recognize them.

Well-informed atheists, now Christians, wouldn’t make the arguments that apologists make. They wouldn’t make arguments to which I have a quick rebuttal. Indeed, they would focus on those arguments which they knew (since they’d been just like me) I had no response to.

These former atheists would know all the secret passwords and trap doors to get into my secret atheist lair, and, as Christians, they would walk back in and blow it up. But we never see this. Christians are still making the same old arguments, banging on the atheist stronghold with a rock hammer. I never see an “ex-atheist” who hits me where I live, who explains why my arguments are wrong from my perspective.

Next time: Let’s take a look at some prominent atheists who have become Christians. Do they disprove this argument?

Of all tyrannies
a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims
may be the most oppressive.
It may be better to live under robber barons
than under omnipotent moral busybodies.
The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep …
but those who torment us for own good 
will torment us without end,
for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
— C.S. Lewis

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 10/5/11.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Gordon
  • Alexandra

    You forget about Leah Libresco of Unequally Yoked.

    • jose

      She was already a platonist and a dualist before converting to religion. Given catholicism is neoplatonic, it doesn’t look like a big leap from where she was.

  • Bob Seidensticker

    I’ll discuss Leah and two other ex-atheists on Friday. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

    • Sarah

      I think that she always sounded like a christian even when she called herself an atheist. She was so interested in taking their apologetics seriously, earnestly debating the luminescence of the emperor’s feathered hat instead of pointing out that he was naked.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    We all convince ourselves that our decisions are rational. They are usually emotional, intuitive and experiential. We then use the rational part to prop up the emotional decisions we have made. The difference between us is that I admit that the basis of my religion is intuitive, emotional and experiential and that the intellectual fits what I have experienced. It sounds to me like you really do believe that your intellectual arguments are the reason for your beliefs.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things makes your point that we use our intellectual firepower to support a belief arrived at by non-intellectual reasons. Someone is raised a Mormon, say, but then as an adult says, “Oh no–it’s not because I was born into it. Mormonism makes complete sense.” And then he goes into a long apologetic argument about the intellectual underpinnings, etc.

      Yes, this does sound like a difference between us. I certainly admit that I’ve got a fallible brain that does a so-so job at telling me what reality is, just like you, but I don’t see my emotional/intuitive foundation.

    • smrnda

      And I also believe that the continuum hypothesis in set theory is an undecidable proposition for purely emotional reasons as well. I think the problem with your remark is that you’re arguing that everybody’s decisions are all equally driven by emotion and intuition and that everybody’s rationalizations came into play after the fact. I wouldn’t deny that it could be true for most people most of the time, but some people are more rational than others, and some people do better at being rational in certain areas.

      Perhaps you’re just projecting something onto others that’s true for yourself?

      • mike

        Actually, that decisions are made by emotional, not rational, forces is well established imperically. This is true for the religious and the atheist alike. Our egos drive our conclusions and how we go about testing them. Doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t challenge our reasoning and conclusions or understand the real world. But, to my mind, we should be careful assuming we “know” very much.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Quine

    Most people are wrong about religion. We know that because almost all religions have incompatible beliefs and none represent the majority of humanity, so even if one of them did turn out to be true, that would be a minority position. Thus, most people *must* be wrong about religion.

    If some religion were true, out there, it seems odd that we can’t seem to converge on that fact. I suspect that part of the reason that so many are wrong about religion is that they don’t take the time to do the examination that Bob has mentioned. A few do, and some of those drop religions that have deep contradictions re the actual world around us (aka “reality”). That does not happen very often with Bob’s Group 3, because for informed atheists, the focus on reality self-heals such problems.

    • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

      If some religion were true, out there, it seems odd that we can’t seem to converge on that fact.

      If atheism were true that would be more odd. It would mean more people would be more wrong. So the consensus argument does not favor atheism.

      Majority theists

      Most popular theistic religion: Christianity

      Most popular form of Christianity: Catholicism

      I would never be convinced by this argument. I wasn’t when I was protestant. As a Catholic it does make sense to me that the true religion is not that hard to find.

      • Kodie

        Catholicism, much as I hate to say it, is not an airborne virus. It spreads by word of mouth, and sometimes by a series of brutal wars. It’s not like you look out the window and say it looks pretty Catholic today; you heard it from someone, everyone in town is Catholic, your parents baptized you and brought you to church every week, or the Catholics came to your village, built you a school where you can learn to read their bibles every day. Hearing about one thing at the expense of not hearing anything else can have a high persuasion factor, just sayin’. Not really having a choice about it kind of cuts your chances also.

        There’s also the fallacy of the majority. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argumentum_ad_populum Just because most people believe something does not hold logically that it’s true. It doesn’t mean it’s not true. You just can’t base your conclusion on the fact that a majority believes something to be the case. Think of Catholicism like Wal-mart – it’s the biggest store in town and everyone shops there, doesn’t mean it’s the only place that sells shampoo or the best place to buy a television.

        • Joan P

          Catholicism does not and has not spread by brutal wars. That’s Islam. Oh, are you talking about the Crusades? I am so tired of the falsehoods and exaggerations about this. The Crusades were started to defend Christian people and holy sites from invading Muslims who were known to convert by force and the sword. Did some Crusades go bad? Yes. But their purpose was not to spread Catholicism, it was to defend her believers from those who wished them harm.

        • plutosdad

          No, the brutal violence that occurred in the American Colonies before the constitution and 1st amendment, where your life was in jeopardy if you were Catholic and ventured out of Maryland, or not Puritan in Massachusetts, or not Quaker in Pennsylvania, or a Muslim or Indian outside of Rhode Island.

          THAT violence.

          Now there is still some, but more violent rhetoric at anyone who demands the state stop supporting one brand of Christianity or religion.

        • Donalbain

          Yep! Exactly. It was totally necessary to kill all the Jews in Jerusalem to defend the Christian? City!

        • Rtvik

          “Holy Roman Emperor” Charlemagne did not spread Christianity with gentle words. The Northern Crusades were not fought against Muslims, nor against any nation “threatening” Christianity, unless threat is perceived in mere existence of age-old pagan societies (whose point of view none of them bothered to understand or study). The whole history of the RCC is filled with such examples. What about the Huguenots and other “heretics”?
          Ever heard of the Goa Inquisition? Hindus, Muslims and even newly converted Christians were killed in large numbers for not being up to the standards of the RCC, or even speaking their own mothertongue. And all this was instigated by a person the church calls a “Saint”.
          Not to mention the large-scale violence in other lands “blessed” by the RCC (the french verb blesser is more applicable here).
          You’re the one lying. Your only consolation is that it may be out of brainwashed ignorance.

        • Will

          Are you joking? Catholicism wasn’t spread through warfare? What are you talking about?

        • Litesp33d

          Catholicism like ALL early Christian religions was spread with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other and lies and deception coming out of their mouths. Islam still does it that way because the enlightenment passed them by. If it could get away with it xtianity still would. If I can paraphrase one of their own, Desmond TuTu. When the white man came to Africa we had the land and they had Bibles. They said close your eyes, bow your head and pray. When we opened our eyes we had the Bibles and they had the land.

      • Cafeeine

        You misunderstand the problem. The problem is precisely the lack of consensus. Describing Catholicism as the most popular form of the most popular religion sounds important, until you realize that this still represents less than a sixth of the global population. This means that about 6 billion humans disagree with you on the truth of Catholicism. For these people, finding the purported truth of Catholicism was that hard to find. For a religion that claims its truth claims are revealed by an all-powerful entity that presumably wants its story known by every one, this is not a trivial issue.

        This is a problem for every religion that claims a divine revelation and a supernatural entity that actively desires interaction. Atheism on the other hand has no such issue. The non-existence of any gods is completely consistent with nobody being aware of this fact.

        • joeclark77

          If you can find a billion or more people to agree with you, I think you’re doing pretty okay in the realm of ideas.

        • Bob Jase

          I’ll bet you can still find at least that many uneducated people who think the sun goes around the Earth, that temperatures cause ‘colds’ and that people can be possessed by demons.

          I don’t find any of that okay.

        • Cafeeine

          ”If you can find a billion or more people to agree with you, I think you’re doing pretty okay in the realm of ideas.”
          If you’re discussing human-borne ideas, sure. Not if your ideas are such that include a nigh-omnipotent entity that actively desires these ideas to take hold. Why is it there are more Muslims and more Buddhists than Catholics? You can give anthropological and sociological explanations, but none of those work when you take into account an extant and motivated deity. A billion followers is impressive, but only if you look at it from a non-theistic perspective. From a believer’s perspective, the fact that six billion people, six sevenths of the global population disagree with you, should be disturbing.

        • joeclark77

          Bob: People *can* be possessed by demons. Ask yourself whether any normal adult could do what an abortionist does, day in and day out, without some sort of evil spirit taking possession of him.

          Cafeeine: God doesn’t force people to join his Church, that’s the point. Catholicism by the way is at least as popular as Islam (and far bigger if you include the Orthodox) (and way, way bigger if you count Protestants). Buddhism is a drop in the bucket of world religion. If a billion plus people believed in global warmingism, you’d be jumping up and down about how that “proved” the theory was irrefutable. Careful you don’t adopt a double standard.

        • J-Rex

          Abortion doctors are demon possessed? “Global warmingism” ?
          Way to make absolutely certain everyone here will think you’re a complete idiot, Joe.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JC: Abortion doctors perform an important service. I don’t see the problem.

          (If Christians cared much about abortion, you’d think that they’d be demanding whatever public school sex education that would minimize unwanted pregnancies … but that never seems to happen.)

          way, way bigger if you count Protestants

          6.1% of the world is Protestant. Don’t overestimate their importance.

          If a billion plus people believed in global warmingism, you’d be jumping up and down about how that “proved” the theory was irrefutable.

          Do you not understand how science works? What the public thinks doesn’t matter. No one counts them when figuring out the scientific consensus. Evolution and global warming are the consensus; therefore, laymen like us have no choice but accept that as the best provisional approximation of the truth we have at the moment. It ain’t perfect, but it’s all we got.

          J-Rex: :)

        • Cafeeine

          Sorry for the delayed response, busy work week.
          “Cafeeine: God doesn’t force people to join his Church, that’s the point. Catholicism by the way is at least as popular as Islam (and far bigger if you include the Orthodox) (and way, way bigger if you count Protestants). Buddhism is a drop in the bucket of world religion. If a billion plus people believed in global warmingism, you’d be jumping up and down about how that “proved” the theory was irrefutable. Careful you don’t adopt a double standard.”
          Forcing doesn’t come into it. No one can force me to join the catholic church, but I still believe the organization exists, because it is evident it does so. Believing in the existence of your god could have been the same, yet it isn’t.
          If God came up to me, and asked me “will you join me?” if I have the kind of free will theists usually embrace, I should still be able to say “no”. So his hiddeness is a non-factor in me being forced or even coerced to join.
          The argument fails when you consider people who were perfectly willing to accept God into their lives, so long as they were certain it was not just their imagination. In those cases, the divine hiddenness in effect forces those people OUT of the church, by not providing the evidence that was required.
          “Global Warmingism”? Really?
          No, I wouldn’t call a billion plus people believing in global warming a reason for you to accept it as true, I would call the scientific consensus a reason to accept it as true. In fact, I expect there probably are more than 1 billion people who accept GW, and I don’t think that is a good reason to accept it, so there you are.
          Don’t assume everyone else has the same crappy standards as you do, it leads you to make crappy arguments as well.

        • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

          Actually I think the problem is worse for atheism. Atheism says almost all people are very wrong about the central truth of their lives. Catholicism says they are right about the existence of the supernatural but mistaken about the content of it. The Catholic Church has an advantage because she is founded by Jesus who is the God-man. Everyone else is just trying to figure God out by human means. We have God’s most significant self-revelation as our point of reference so we are going to get things more right.

        • Kodie

          That is a perfectly circular argument.

        • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

          Not sure what you mean. The question was, assuming the truth of your system how can you explain the data as regards to religious belief world-wide? Atheists have to assert that something, maybe evolution, made the vast majority of people believe something false.

          Catholics have to assert that what people actually believe is not that far off. Human understanding of God is improving. Jesus and the church are a key part of that.

          I think the atheist system has a much less plausible explanation. But where do you get the notion of a circular argument?

        • Kodie

          The Catholic Church has the advantage because god said so? Human excessive literature based on a character named god may be getting more and more detailed, but that doesn’t mean any closer understanding of an actual deity. You know what’s different? I don’t get my understanding about god from some childish unclued fixation on what I think a deity is supposed to be like (as I’ve been and all atheists get accused) – I get all my information about this deity and how they sense him from what Christians say about him (and so do you). Christians, on the other hand, listen to their own preachers and priests about what atheists are like and what we think and how we know what we know. Just the words that you choose tell me you are not listening to atheists to get a grasp on it, but whatever you’re told within your church or faith – gossip.

        • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

          You miss the point again. The Catholic church does not have the advantage because God says. It has the advantage because most people believe something close-ish to Catholicism and only a small minority are anywhere near atheism.

          I get all my information about this deity and how they sense him from what Christians say about him

          I have to say you seem to have trouble understanding me. That might be my fault but understanding other people does not seem to be a huge strength for you

          Christians, on the other hand, listen to their own preachers and priests about what atheists are like and what we think and how we know what we know.

          This just isn’t true. I listen to a ton of homilies and sermons. I have never heard atheists or atheism mentioned. It does not come up. So we don’t get our ideas from church. Mostly we get them from you guys

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Randy:

          most people believe something close-ish to Catholicism and only a small minority are anywhere near atheism.

          One study (Phil Zuckerman) I heard places the number of nonbelievers worldwide at about 750 million. The number of Roman Catholics is bigger, but not much. Seen another way, most people in the world reject Catholicism–it’s yet another minority belief.

      • Anonymous

        It is very simple for a very large number of people to all be wrong at once in exactly the same way.
        In a school setting, this is how you would know they cheated on the test by copying off of each other.
        In reality, the correct answer is found by experiment, and anyone can perform the experiment without copying from each other, and get the same answer. So it is entirely possible for only a very few people to have ever done the research and study to show up to the test with the right answer, and not need to cheat.

      • MountainTiger

        Alternatively, there may be some common ways of misperceiving the world that make supernatural claims attractive. As Kodie says, religion is transmitted by the same processes that transmit other elements of culture; furthermore, religious traditions change over time. Both of these things suggest that those trying to explain why religion is common would be better served by studying human societies than by trying to find supernatural things.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        One source (Phil Zuckerman) says that nonbelief is the third-largest belief category, after Christianity and Islam. But those two religion are quite fragmented, leaving nonbelief as the largest single group.

      • Ted Seeber

        Hate to be a Catholic arguing against my own religion, but that’s by design, not discovery. Well, it’s also by discovery- but as Nostra Aetate says:
        “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. ”

        That includes atheism and any other non-Christian religion you can imagine. We take the good and reject the bad. Catholicism is the scientific method of theism.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Ted:

          The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.

          I like the sentiment, but this could be interpreted to mean: if it happens to coincide with what the Catholic church already accepts then (duh!) the Catholic church accepts it. It’s a nice thought, but I don’t know that it gets us anywhere.

      • Litesp33d

        “If atheism were true that would be more odd. It would mean more people would be more wrong. So the consensus argument does not favor atheism. Majority theists.”
        That may be true but it is based on a very unlevel playing field. Most believers are indoctrinated into the religion of their parents from birth. They are not given a choice of which religion they choose. However when you educate people and show them more choices they invariably adopt atheism. ALL surveys show that the poorer the persons education the more likely they are to be religious. This is why in the well educated Western world religion is dying rapidly and in the third world it is rising. Hence the recent new pope coming from Latin America where the RCC has the citizen ship by the throat. Most large religions are political organisations posing as religious ones and pay no taxes on their income.

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy
    • J-Rex

      Bob said he’d leave non-intellectual conversions aside for now.

      The best way I can explain it is it wasn’t just perceiving something or experiencing something, it was experiencing some particular thing in a whole new way of experiencing it,” Horn says. “And it was the fact that it was a new way that was strange, more so than the interaction with the new thing … The only word I can use for it is a mystical sense. I had never experienced it. I had never perceived anything that way before and I would maintain that what I perceived mystically was Jesus Christ.

      That sounds like a metaphysical reason for converting, not at all based on intellectual arguments. The key is, would he ever be able to come here and convince us that Christianity is real? Even though he’s apparently good at debating, it sounds like he wouldn’t. He said he couldn’t explain it.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        And most Christians in this bin would probably admit as much. This “realization” that Christianity is correct doesn’t show any of the rest of us the path to Christian truth.

  • Kodie

    This does go both ways, though. A lot of ex-Christians will explain how devout they used to be and why they came around to not believing, and a Christians answer to that is that they never felt the spirit.

    Quite a few of these used-t0-be atheists claim that they were indoctrinated in the public schools and were taught about evolution, but that is part of the conspiracy and now believe ID to be more credible. I can sort of understand that – ID as opposed to straight up Creationism sounds science-y and makes a huge point about doubting evolution because that’s what “they” want you to think. Based on my own public school upbringing, as easy as it is to comprehend and agree with evolution, if someone tells you it’s a conspiracy though, ID is difficult to refute with just what you may have learned in high school biology (if you even stayed awake for it). This group also thinks highly of their own intelligence. They are not going to try to tell you about a talking snake and they might not believe that fairy tale, it’s the irreducible complexity, missing links, or other parlor tricks of bad logic that they feel have been rationally assessed. This group also seems likely to have been brought up in a home that wasn’t strict or fundamentalist as they harken back to their “atheist” upbringing – no morals, lenient, possibly liberal Christian and/or in name only. The judgment of having been not a true Christian, and non-true Christians are atheists to them.

    Leading me to the third ex-atheist – the ex-scoundrel, the drug-abuser, sleeping around, possibly homosexual curiosities, abortions, all these crazy times when they may have grown up in a stricter household and rebelled. They may have always believed in god, but they were too immature to know what was best for themselves all along. I hate this 3rd group the most because this is the worst understanding of what an atheist is, and they approach all atheists as if we are immoral and that god is obvious. This is actually what they’ve been told, I’m pretty sure there’s a passage about equating atheism or non-belief with what they associate as bad behavior, immorality. Besides the sense of judgment, any time someone feels themselves out of control however that may be and loathes themselves at the end of the day would tend to lead one to Jesus if they’re inclined to believe in it anyway and were just turning their back on god. But it’s also the “I know the answer to all your problems because it worked for me” angle. Some atheists are not thrilled with their lives and engage in self-destructive, self-loathing, or non-productive behaviors, but it’s not because they lack Jesus.

    I’m in your Group 2 actually, I had considered myself an atheist because my family didn’t have a religion and my grandfather was an atheist (a very obnoxious one) and I’ve told that back-story a couple times already. Religion wasn’t a topic of conversation but I was intrigued at times. I considered it like being from somewhere – every family had a heritage and every family had a religion. I didn’t know too much about being Chinese or being Jewish, and put it in the same category of “different from me and that’s ok.”

    At some point in my 20s I kind of looked into it again and I’m glad I did. I could have been a Group 2 forever. I believe my sister to be, since she tends to seek out new age “wisdom” but I don’t know exactly what she believes, or anyone in my family, since we literally never discuss it at all. I actually gave it a lot of thought in small doses here and there, from college and over the years. This started to happen shortly after I became aware (as late as my late teens) how seriously people take their beliefs. I thought it was, you know, I’m part Italian isn’t that quaint and I can’t even make spaghetti; you’re Catholic and have sex with your boyfriend; he’s a Jehovah’s Witness and doesn’t celebrate his birthday. People get really defensive about it and when I realized that there was a larger disagreement about this than I had originally comprehended, I was motivated to firm up exactly why I don’t believe in god, since I was never taught either way. I gave it a lot of thought and as many logical opportunities to be possible as I could. I didn’t read any books about it, I am not scholarly about logical arguments or debate. I can’t make an airtight argument against god other than “seriously?” I’m still just winging it.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Kodie:

      I’m pretty sure there’s a passage about equating atheism or non-belief with what they associate as bad behavior, immorality.

      Maybe you’re thinking of Rom. 1:18–19 where nonbelievers are those “who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.”

      • Kodie

        That sounds like one of the passages I’m thinking of. Mainly just reading what Christians have to say about atheism always sounds really warped regarding the dangers they’ve heard about or possibly experienced, being addicted to drugs or something is all part of the same pleasure-seeking hopelessness that atheism is; turning your back on god, etc. The farther away you get from god, the more likely you are to end up in the gutter, and people really feel that compulsion to stick to rigid rules or else all the bad things will happen – that’s the association they have and how they approach atheists. Without god for grace and humility, you become a drug addict, a careless sex fiend, or a brutal dictator. You know, just because a drug addict at rock bottom can get a sandwich from the nearest helping friendly proselytizer, Jesus gets the credit for turning their life around, because they used to be an atheist just like one of us. Now their life means something, and now they can talk to church groups and warn them of the dangers of having even a little doubt.

        I am not making this up – real Christians (at least they identify themselves; I get that it’s up for debate from other “true” Christians) have come through the forums and blogs and described this type of scenario or posted links to testimonies that sound just like this as if it’s supposed to be convincing.

    • smrnda

      I run into people in the third category and usually think of them as irresponsible idiots who can’t function unless someone else hands them a sheet with a million rules and forces them to confess their sins to an auditorium several days a week. It’s like people who tell me if they’d been beaten as kids they wouldn’t have gotten in so much trouble -people who are incapable of any sort of internal motivation and can’t survive without a carrot and a stick.

  • ctcss

    “They’re now all in Group 3, and they’re particularly interesting because they were very well informed Christians. Education turned them away from Christianity.”

    Actually, I don’t really find them all that well informed. Possibly well educated, like Ehrman, but not nearly as well informed as you seem to be saying. All too often they seem to have let go of their faith rather than defending it against doubt. And far too often they seem to have become convinced that their belief in God somehow has to be grounded in materialism or to be in harmony with materialism. (Jesus certainly didn’t seem to be preaching about or conveying a materialistic outlook.) I don’t see how someone well informed about the nature of God can come away with the idea that matter and its properties have anything at all to do with God. It’s as though they decided that the gospel narratives were replaceable with science textbooks. If a person wants to know more about matter and its properties, a science textbook is the place to go. But trying to inform one’s self about the nature of God by examining the nature of matter is very likely going to have one go right off the rails, as the Clergy Project members seem to show.

    People need to decide who and what it is that they are worshiping. If one is worshiping matter, one is not going to be worshiping God. And if one is going to be placing matter at the top of the heap and God somewhere further down, then it is very likely that one has been worshiping a god rather than God.

    So, no, not particularly well informed.

    • machintelligence

      I don’t see how someone well informed about the nature of God can come away with the idea that matter and its properties have anything at all to do with God

      That is your problem, right there. If God is to have any current effect on the universe, He must interact with matter. There is no valid evidence that this has happened (see the Templeton prayer study). http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
      The difference between undetectable and non-existent is a pretty subtle one.
      Also:

      All too often they seem to have let go of their faith rather than defending it against doubt.

      Faith is just gullibility dressed up in its Sunday best. It is not worth defending. For an interesting atheist perspective, try” Good Reasons For Believing in God”
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvJZQwy9dvE
      You can start at 12:20 to avoid the long introduction.

      • Ted Seeber

        “If God is to have any current effect on the universe, He must interact with matter.”

        Why, when he has a billion Catholics to interact with matter on his behalf?

        • smrnda

          Then why should I believe it’s him? You’ve basically argued that your belief in God is proof enough for me. I could act ‘on behalf’ of a fictitious person and probably pull it off with actual paperwork to prove the person was real if I knew a few people in the right places.

        • Arkenaten

          @Ted.
          This is the type of assinine response that leaves no doubt as to why atheists regard religious people like yourself as complete twits. If this is the level of intellectual argument you offer, is it any wonder you are at times ridiculed?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Ted: Are you saying that God leaves no evidence of his existence in our world? If that’s the case, he’s functionally nonexistent. Why should we worry about him?

    • DreadCanary

      Well-informed here does not refer to being well informed on the nature of god. Well-informed in this context is specifically informed on the content of arguments for and against theism. The objection here is that people who claim to be former atheists are rarely able to address the rather famous and well thought out atheistic objections to theism.
      But you bring up a fantastic point. People do need to decide what it is that they are worshiping. If they are worshiping a god that is not material and cannot be known or verified scientifically, how does one know or verify a god and how to worship it?
      If we cannot test the existence of god the way we can test the truth of scientific theories because he/she/it is a different category of thing, in what way could one be informed about god or even be assured that he/she/it/we/they existed? What would differentiate the true god from the false one(s) when there are no tests to show which is true?
      In a nutshell what would a well-informed god believer know and how would they know it in a way that would let an objective party discern their correctness from the incorrectness of someone else who “knew” something entirely different?
      This is the answer that must be given in order to ascertain if anyone could be well-informed in the manner you’re using the term.

    • ZenDruid

      People need to decide who and what it is that they are worshiping. If one is worshiping matter, one is not going to be worshiping God. And if one is going to be placing matter at the top of the heap and God somewhere further down, then it is very likely that one has been worshiping a god rather than God.

      What’s this “worshiping” thing? Why is it necessary? Is it to show other people that you can grovel more nobly than them?

      • Ted Seeber

        In Bob’s other post I brought up “Why shouldn’t atheists be proud to be atheist even if the Catholic Hell exists? They should WANT to go to a place where they are free from God and his minions”.

        Likewise, your post proves to me you don’t know the definition of Heaven. Obviously the purpose of worship here is *practice for worship in heaven* and nothing more.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Ted:

          Likewise, your post proves to me you don’t know the definition of Heaven.

          But you do? And all the other Christians who have different views of heaven (fire and brimstone by Fred Phelps; “the gates of hell are locked from the inside” by others; etc.) are just wrong? Seems a bit arrogant to claim that you’ve got it all figured out.

          Obviously the purpose of worship here is *practice for worship in heaven* and nothing more.

          Yeah–makes total sense. If I ever created a universe, having my creation worship me would be the Prime Directive.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      far too often they seem to have become convinced that their belief in God somehow has to be grounded in materialism or to be in harmony with materialism.

      My point is that you can be converted into Christianity or deconverted out of it just through intellectual arguments. That is, by maintaining a materialistic outlook.

      I agree that, by going outside this (some sort of epiphany or spiritual something-or-other), any atheist can become a Christian, but you’ve left intellectual arguments behind at that point.

      It’s as though they decided that the gospel narratives were replaceable with science textbooks.

      Science textbooks have evidence behind them. Not so much the gospel narratives.

      as the Clergy Project members seem to show

      These clergy and former clergy are fed up with spouting a religion that isn’t actually real. The Clergy Project helps them get out of that.

      one is not going to be worshiping God

      Shouldn’t we decide that God exists before we worship him? I see no evidence.

      • Ted Seeber

        “Science textbooks have evidence behind them. Not so much the gospel narratives.”

        Define the term evidence.

        • Arkenaten

          Evidence in its broadest sense includes everything that is used to determine or demonstrate the truth of an assertion.

          How’s that definition grab you, Ted? Succinct enough?
          Now, show us evidence of God will you?

    • Joan P

      I have to agree. Most atheists that I have encountered in person and in comboxes really are not that well-informed about what authentic Christianity is. If they were ex-Christians, then they never seemed to have grown out of their childhood idea of God, and if they were pretty much life-long Atheists, their idea of God is still rather shallow and childish, in spite of their obvious intelligence and education. Heck, I don’t believe in the God they claim that Christians believe in.

      Also, speaking of well educated, informed Christians becoming Atheist: I believe Catholicism is the One True Faith and has the fullness of Truth in Christ. There are many deeply spiritual, prayerful, well-educated and highly intelligent Catholic mystics out there, and I am not aware of any of these people becoming Atheist. My point being, and I know it’s the No true scotsman thing, but really, if they were authentically Catholic, knowledgeable about their faith , had a deep prayer and spiritual life, I doubt very much that these persons would deconvert to atheism. At least all the ones I know of remained Catholic for the rest of their lives if deceased, or are still Catholic today after many, many years.

      • Kodie

        I only go off of what Christians themselves say, and a lot of them say different things about it, but the arguments they try to use in order to convince me they aren’t insane or why I should believe like they do are in line with a persuasive marketing campaign for a bag of potato chips or a laundry detergent. There is nothing to believe in if that’s the best they can come up with.

      • Arkenaten

        @Joan P
        “Most atheists that I have encountered in person and in comboxes really are not that well-informed about what authentic Christianity is”

        LOL.
        Are you serious? The average atheist knows more about Christianity than a Christian is ever likely to know in his or her lentire ife.
        And the average Catholic wouldn’t even know what the word, ‘Catholic’ means or the etymology of the word.
        Only a minority would know who Thomas Aquinas was or even how imporant he and Augustine were to Catholicism.
        I would also be prepared to put my neck on a block and bet that 3 out of 4 Christians have never read the bible cover to cover. Few have even read the NT.

        I had dinner once with a woman who considered herself Christian and she couldn’t even tell me what were the first two Commandments!

    • plutosdad

      You are skipping over the 5 to 10 years each of us spent defending our faith, reading apologetics, arguing, etc. You look at us now and say “oh you are merely well educated and don’t defend your faith”, you didn’t know me between my 25th and 35th birthdays, when I read everything I could, and argued all the time.

      Don’t forget also, most christians and most churches were against us even studying in the first place. So no only are we struggling with science and truth, but struggling against our churches when we try to pursue truth.

      • ctcss

        When I mentioned defending one’s faith, I was thinking more along the lines of defending it to one’s self, rather than arguing religious points with other people. When I read Dan Barker’s experience, I was rather dismayed by how readily he let his faith dribble away. The way he described it, it reminded me of someone who gradually falls out of love with their spouse. To do such a thing IMO is to be neglectful of the need to maintain such a relationship. Hopefully, one would remember the very solid reasons one chose their spouse in the first place. If they allow themselves to get distracted by other potential partners or situations instead of defending their decision against temptation or neglect, it would be rather easy to discard something formerly regarded as precious.

        I don’t need to defend the reasons I believe in God to anyone else. I just need to remember the reasons I believe in God in the first place. As long as I do that, and continue to maintain the qualities in the relationship that I valued so much as to want to participate in it in the first place, I don’t see why my relationship with God cannot continue.

        As to fighting with your church about studying and trying to understand, why didn’t you find a better church to associate with? Not every church is against study. In fact, I would say that if one’s church is against such things, it doesn’t sound like it was a very good place to be in the first place. Also, what has material science to do with one’s belief in God? One’s relationship with God is not dependent on matter, nor is it formed or delineated by matter. Science only discusses objects, laws, and forces from a material standpoint. All of matter could vanish and your relationship with God would still be the same.

        • Kodie

          If you realized you were deluded, wouldn’t you quit? You also make it like leaving a church is a matter of opinion – the things you don’t like about it, maybe they’re the “right thing” though, if there’s really a god. Oh, just choose one that isn’t so rigid. But that’s not the point of going to church and abiding by a deity. Once you realize your faith was based on nothing, it’s not the rules that are too strict, it’s that they are all based on the one same central character who doesn’t exist. Some people are dissatisfied with a church but still believe in god and find another sect to join, but when faith goes away it’s because you realize there is no god, and the whole time you believed, that was in nothing. Why defend that? It would actually be impossible to do, although some people keep up appearances for their family or because they’re actual clergy.

        • ctcss

          “but when faith goes away it’s because you realize there is no god, and the whole time you believed, that was in nothing. Why defend that?”

          This is why faith (trust) has to be as well grounded as possible. One cannot know everything. That’s why trust has to be placed somewhere when dealing with those you have chosen to closely align yourself with. (See my reply to Bob below.)

        • Kodie

          You cannot always reconcile this and when you can’t, there is no reason to defend a relationship that is one-sided. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. I would not say it’s being as grounded as possible but entrenched in such a way that you don’t even look for a way out. Whenever a doubt creeps up, there’s an apologetic for that, and so on. I guess it’s something I could not even explain to a believer, but ex-believers know what I mean. Sometimes doubt leads to more doubt and you realize every defense of the illusion is an excuse instead of a good reason.

          As per your relationship analogy – there are a lot of things you could learn about your spouse that you might choose to work through together, granted. But at what point do you think it’s not worth saving? At what point do you keep lying to yourself and commit to being in it for the long haul just for the sake of not admitting you’re alone? I mean, if someone you’re married to stops coming home at night, at what point do you stop making dinner for the both of you? At what point do you show up at parties by yourself and not tell people he/she is away at their college reunion or had to work or was home with the flu? Even if he/she’s on the couch watching TV and has no intention of getting up to join you or acknowledge you, at what point do you decide that’s not the life you meant to have together? That person’s not working with you, then you have to end it, right? If you know it’s just pretend, it becomes obvious.

        • ctcss

          Kodie

          You seem to be talking about failed relationships, not successful ones. But even successful ones often require quite a bit of work. You must realize that there are those who believe in God who feel that their relationship with Him works. And I would hazard a guess that a number of those (including mine) are based on a rather firm (and often hard won) grounding. That doesn’t mean that doubts never occur, because there are always questions and tough times, and answers usually require a lot of effort in order to grow God-ward. But I certainly wouldn’t call the relationship I have experienced one sided. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am in thought regarding God if I had nothing but doubts and failures in my efforts to learn more about God. And that’s the point of working to firmly ground one’s faith. Faith that is fairly well secured can take a person through tough times, just as remembering the (hopefully) solid reasons and principles on which one based their marriage to their partner can help one through tough times that can occur in married life. And in response to your “Once you see it, you can’t unsee it” comment, I would have to agree. But it cuts both ways. To me, it’s pretty hard to throw away one’s experience of God and go with non-belief because once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

          I do realize that there are people who have had bad experiences regarding God, just as there are people who have had bad experiences with marriage. But a bad marriage experience doesn’t mean that the principles under-girding a good marriage no longer apply. It just means that in that particular bad experience, those principles weren’t being adhered to (or understood) by one or both parties. In a somewhat similar way, a bad experience regarding God can also result from lack of information or from harmful information, as well as through bad personal example. I am usually rather dismayed when I hear the kinds of stories that ex-believers tell regarding the toxic views they have been fed regarding God and the harsh treatment they have received from clergy or family heads. I daresay I also would have chucked religious belief if that was what I had been exposed to. But just as it is possible for someone to find a a good marriage using helpful information and a loving partner, I think that many people can also find a better God experience by being exposed to more helpful theologies and kinder, more compassionate, and selfless practitioners of religion. Personally, I am still religious in large measure because of the helpful family and church people I have been exposed to.

          That said, believing in God or not believing in God is a very personal choice, and people should have the right to choose their own pathway in life. I have no idea what your personal experience has been, but regarding my own experience, I don’t see a reason to abandon my religious pathway anytime soon. Quite the contrary. I want to stick it out to see where it all leads to. (And no, I am not talking about death or the afterlife. I am very much a here-and-now kind of religious believer.)

        • Kodie

          You must realize that there are those who believe in God who feel that their relationship with Him works.

          Or there wouldn’t be religious people, of course. But you make it sound like the deconverts really just gave up on god. They realized he doesn’t exist and there was nothing to hang onto. There’s a difference. I was never religious so I don’t know absolutely, but I could guess that even if it seems to be working, the main part of it hinges on the existence of a deity. I think the sentimental things are probably the hardest to let go, that seems to be the way relationships dissolve, but some things can’t go back the way they were because there’s nothing there and you’d eventually realize that. I’m not telling you what to do but hopefully explaining why people don’t defend their faith like you think they ought to.

          If there were a god or you still thought there was, if that issue wasn’t damaged by new information, then I think that’s what one would probably do – one still believes there is a god but needs to reconcile other issues with that belief will go to great lengths to rationalize. If the one thing you realize no matter how much you wish it weren’t true is that there is no god at all, then you might dwell on the wishes that you hadn’t realized, you might feel adrift, you might even be afraid for yourself to admit it to anyone you know and continue to act the part. I believe the metaphor usually goes, “you can’t unring the bell.” I don’t think you really understand it ever going that way. You’re disappointed in people for not fighting hard enough for something real – which people would have if they thought it was.

        • Owlmirror

          The difference between a relationship with a spouse, and a relationship with God, is that the spouse is obviously real, and God is not obviously real.

          Why is it important to maintain a “relationship” with an imaginary friend?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          ctcss:

          it reminded me of someone who gradually falls out of love with their spouse.

          Comparing a relationship with a spouse with a “relationship” with someone you’re not even sure exists is a poor comparison. If you realize you were deluding yourself about the existence of either one, that’s hardly a cause for dismay.

          I don’t need to defend the reasons I believe in God to anyone else.

          True, but you need to convince yourself that there’s more than wishful thinking propping up your god belief.

          I would say that if one’s church is against such things, it doesn’t sound like it was a very good place to be in the first place.

          I would imagine that most churches would be a little annoyed if you started questioning and weren’t satisfied with the answers they could give.

        • ctcss

          “Comparing a relationship with a spouse with a “relationship” with someone you’re not even sure exists is a poor comparison.”

          Every time I try to explain this concept using this example, non-believers immediately jump on the fact that a spouse can be seen whereas God cannot. What they keep forgetting though, is that while a spouse can be seen, their thoughts cannot be seen. Thus, it is very possible for a spouse to appear to be loving, yet be plotting betrayal in their hearts and in their (so far, unseen) actions. Unless a person is going to have their spouse followed and monitored in all ways 24×7, there is no way that one can truly know what the spouse is up to. (And if one feels that they must monitor their spouse in such a manner, it would seem that one is either paranoid, or that one has made a hugely tragic error in choosing their spouse. I would not give very good odds on such a marriage surviving.)

          So my example is not about a matter-based individual vs an entity that cannot be perceived with the senses. It is about the concept of the relationship which truly cannot be known either with a tangible person or an intangible entity. Thus the example is about the trust one must have regarding the hidden motives and actions of one’s partner/spouse/friend/deity that more correctly illustrates the concept being portrayed.

          I trust God in the same way that I trust my spouse. Humanly, I cannot absolutely tell if my spouse is loyal and faithful. However, I chose to marry her based on the qualities and the actions I could discern, both when I decided to align myself with her and also over time. But since I cannot read her mind, nor am I having her monitored around the clock, I am still exercising trust in what little I believe I know about her. Likewise, I chose to align myself/be in harmony with God based on the qualities and actions that I could discern about Him, both in the descriptions I have read, the examples of God’s care given by others who I trust, and in the care I have personally experienced when turning to Him. I am not monitoring God around the clock either, but just as I trust my spouse to be there for me when I need her, I also expect God to be there for me when I need Him. Why? Personal experience over time.

          Am I able to demonstrate this to you? I sincerely doubt it. Likewise, I cannot demonstrate to you that my wife is a trustworthy partner. All I know about and care about is that both God and my wife have passed my tests for being trustworthy. That’s all that I need. (I certainly don’t need an outsider’s sign-off on such a personal matter, especially when they have no relevant information to contribute on the matter.)

          “True, but you need to convince yourself that there’s more than wishful thinking propping up your god belief.”

          I believe I have answered that above.

          “I would imagine that most churches would be a little annoyed if you started questioning and weren’t satisfied with the answers they could give.”

          If a church finds that they are not giving satisfying answers to sincere seekers who really are in need of help, I would suggest that they, in all humility and compassion for those seekers, continue to look for better answers to convey useful information about God. If a church truly responds with annoyance towards someone who is “hurting”, they are displaying what would seem to be a very bad bedside manner (vs a Christ-like demeanor) IMO.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          ctcss:

          Unless a person is going to have their spouse followed and monitored in all ways 24×7, there is no way that one can truly know what the spouse is up to.

          But I know that the spouse exists!! You see the difference, right?

          Add mystery to the spouse side all you want, but we must return to the fact that we know the spouse exists (and don’t even think to ask the question!) while that is the question with God. Huge, huge difference.

          So my example is not about a matter-based individual vs an entity that cannot be perceived with the senses.

          You’re trying to handwave away the issue. I’m afraid it doesn’t work. The “God is like a spouse” analogy fails.

          How about saying that God is analogous to Poseidon? You call out to either one and get no reply. If your prayers are answered, you can’t be sure you’re not just fooling yourself. And so on.

          Am I able to demonstrate this to you?

          You mean “Am I able to show that this is a compelling analogy?” No, I’m afraid not.

          Likewise, I cannot demonstrate to you that my wife is a trustworthy partner.

          But it would be a straightforward process for me to be convinced that she exists!

          I would suggest that they, in all humility and compassion for those seekers, continue to look for better answers to convey useful information about God. If a church truly responds with annoyance towards someone who is “hurting”, they are displaying what would seem to be a very bad bedside manner (vs a Christ-like demeanor) IMO.

          Yes. Finally, something we can agree on.

        • Kodie

          I’m reminded of this plot line from Pushing Daisies:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=KKxkfXLeCTY#t=93s

  • http://industrialblog.powerblogs.com IB Bill

    Let’s posit that atheism is true. We live in a vast, purely materialistic universe, that spontaneously ordered itself out of chaos. Somehow, the four forces of the universe came about (gravity, electromagnetism, strong force, weak force), but there was no higher intelligence at work, and the ordering process brought about by the laws of physics was not the sign of some intelligence at work.

    In this vast universe, clumps of proteins, either through some natural law or randomness, got increasing sophisticated to the point where there was life on at least one and perhaps many planets. Species developed various degrees of self-awareness, the most linguistically sophisticated and technologically savvy on this planet proved to be humans. Big brains, opposable thumbs, language.

    Our lives are purely materialistic. We have an idea of justice, but there will no settling of accounts, and those who received injustice in this life — well, too bad. We can fight for justice and fairness in this life, but we have a problem of universals — we have no standard to define abstractions, including freedom and justice, right and wrong, except the most powerful can impose their definitions on us.

    Love, beauty, music, dance, poetry, every sublime feeling of wonder, even religious rituals — sentimental coping mechanisms. You’re going to die and be remembered for a while, then not. No matter what, entropy wins, the stars go out, the protons break down, the atoms fall apart, and the universe ends in a sea of non-matter, no space, no time, just an eternal sea of subatomic and possibly sub-sub-atomic goop. Perhaps at that point it will spontaneously re-order itself. It doesn’t matter because your consciousness will long have ceased and you ain’t coming back.

    Life is thus a power struggle which all are destined to lose; justice an abstraction and the advantage of the stronger and you have no recourse except to be strong, as long as you can be strong; freedom — oh, that’s just some people talking. Reason? Oh fuck — that was taken down by the postmodernists. Reason — that’s just a story the powerful tell themselves so they can oppress others.

    Optimism and gratitude? Well, that’s great if it works for you. Justice and fairness, well, who signed on to your idea of justice and fairness? I think it’s fair to form a band of pirates and take what we want from those outside our merry band. Too bad if you don’t like it. I guess you could make a utilitarian argument that it won’t work socially in the long run, and that as there is a universal and completely unintelligent yet intelligent-seeming physical order, there is a similarly universal moral order, at least among us humans, wired into our brains, but I’m tempted to say, “Well, if that works for you, great. My pirates and I — we think that’s too slow. I mean, yes, something within my brain says I should be fair and not just take your stuff, but I can quench that sense with rum and women — until I weaken, at which point someone will replace me. I just hope it’s quick.”

    All this is to say, atheism tells just as fantastical story about the natural order as any religion. That’s why I keep pushing you away from the supernatural and back onto the question of the natural order of the laws of physics and the natural moral sense — the fact that these exist in themselves is an ultimate mystery except with an act of faith (either in a spontaneous ordering of the universe or a Creator) and as an act of faith, tells us more about the psychological needs of the answerer than the answer itself, no matter which one you choose. The order of the universe is the big mystery and always will be.

    • DreadCanary

      Matter has defined properties as part of being matter. The four “forces” that you describe come about as part of what particles are. An atom has to have all four properties in order to qualify to be an atom just as a human needs to have certain other properties to qualify as being a human. But that isn’t exactly the main point.
      As to justice, reason, and your other abstractions you are completely right in that the atheistic position cannot ground them in universal truths-that is truths that exist apart from the human minds that posit them. And yes, you are completely welcome to disagree about the kind of world you want to live in. In fact, you are welcome to share an agreement of what justice is and then decide that you don’t want to live in a society that cares about that ideal. If we look historically or cross-culturally we will immediately notice that differing ideals of justice have been adopted by societies. We will also immediately notice when certain ideals about how society ought to work correspond with better living conditions.
      The argument for cooperation isn’t that it is universally the best option, but that it seems to lead to longer, healthier, more contented lives–which is something many people want to the point of being willing to fight to impose it on those that don’t. The argument for reason isn’t that it is a perfect view of the world but that it has consistently produced better results than intuition and guesses. Of course, if reason is only a story that does not lead to correct results that correspond with reality there is no motivation to act in any way. At that point one might as well skip eating and instead keep a hand attached to one’s own mouth in the belief that the circle formed by your arm will keep you in existence. People can SAY reason is just a story, but truly living without it doesn’t result in living for very long.
      Atheism itself tells no story. Science tells a story (a story that is only considered true until a better one comes along) atheism is at most rejection of a popular story. An atheist may have a different story that they accept as a current best explanation for some phenomena–for example I think the human moral sense comes from a sense of community that grows out of being a creature that survives primarily in groups–but that does not mean it is the final or universal story and is only considered provisionally true until more evidence comes in. That I am comfortable with provisional answers certainly tells you something about my psychological needs but doesn’t thereby add weight to an argument for god’s existence.

    • smrnda

      And then explain to me why the secular societies are the ones that seem to work better. There are plenty of rational reasons to have a just, orderly, fair society, and I’m thinking that most religious believers really aren’t not killing or rioting because it’s against their holy book. If you want a decent standard of living, you’re going to have to follow certain rules – in the end, any other system creates more losers than winners. I really doubt that you would become the pirate in your post just since you *know* that not only would it not work out for others, there’s a good chance it wouldn’t work out for you. As Dashiell Hammet once said, he never met a thief or a robber who could actually make a living at it.

      On universal morals, we have the same problem there we have with engineering. There isn’t some universally ‘best bridge’ since the requirements for bridges in different places are going to be different, the way that ‘best practice’ in building houses has the same problems. Best practice for morals seems to fit under the same umbrella there. We have moral conflicts all the time, and even the religious believers I meet don’t seem to come away with ‘well, thanks to my objective standard or morals I know X is the only right thing to do here.”

      I see no reason why the absence of a god would make the arts less meaningful – they are as interesting as human beings could possibly be. It’s a blast to enjoy – it has whatever meaning was put into it by whoever made it, along with whatever meanings can be drawn out of it. I mean, yeah, Shakespeare is long since dead and doesn’t know we’re still putting on his plays, but I doubt that drained his joy out of writing them. I, and most people, probably find enough enjoyment out of life that the prospect that we’re going to be dead for way longer isn’t an issue.

      The problem with god seems that in the god centered universe, it’s either what god wants or its meaningless. If I like a movie but it fails to promote god’s party line, then it’s anathema. If your fun isn’t adequately god-centered, it’s a moral offense. If you break the deity’s ridiculous rules of conduct that have no utilitarian value, god’s all pissed at you.

      • http://industrialblog.powerblogs.com IB Bill

        I could be a pirate … if I wanted.

        I like your response, though, but I’m afraid I’m at work and can’t give it the thoughtful response it deserves. Cheers in the meantime.

        • smrnda

          Depends on what you mean by piracy. If you’re talking the high seas kind, it isn’t the glamorous business it used to be. Hoping if you’re at work you are in a more lucrative business.

          Perhaps after long years of thinking about it, I reached the conclusion that if the god-centered universe was the way things were, it was really no better in any way than a universe without god, and sometimes worse. For every problem posed by materialism (or whatever someone wants to call it) solved by theism, it seems to produce 10 more problems. I didn’t see that as “mystery at the core life life” I just saw a bad explanation, and the bad explanation required me to believe absurdities.

      • Ted Seeber

        “And then explain to me why the secular societies are the ones that seem to work better”

        I see no evidence that they do at all.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Then allow me to provide some evidence. Go to this link and search for “Phil Zuckerman”:

          Conference Notes

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Bill:

      Life is thus a power struggle which all are destined to lose

      So why would evolution have selected for a moral sense? The “the strong survive” is an uninformed caricature of reality. Being helpful, loving, compassionate, and so on has survival value. “Power struggle” isn’t the way to see it.

      Justice and fairness, well, who signed on to your idea of justice and fairness?

      You’ve never participated in a give-and-take where one party convinces the other party to change his mind? You’ve never seen debate within government? Do you know how laws are made?

      I think it’s fair to form a band of pirates and take what we want from those outside our merry band. Too bad if you don’t like it.

      And are you truly motivated to become a thief? That sounds like it’ll be a good life for you? You think you’d prefer a lawless society where bands of pirates could ply their trade?

      What planet do you come from?

      I guess you could make a utilitarian argument that it won’t work socially in the long run

      No, I make a moral argument that I don’t want to take someone else’s stuff. How about you? You’d be totally cool with knocking that old lady over the head and taking her purse if you knew you wouldn’t be caught?

      If so, and only your Christian beliefs are keeping you in line, then I guess I’m glad you’re a Christian!

      atheism tells just as fantastical story about the natural order as any religion

      Show me how the atheist (or naturalistic) view of the world fails. Show me what it doesn’t explain. It explains morality, society, the natural world …

      the fact that these exist in themselves is an ultimate mystery

      A hundred years ago, we had other vexing questions about reality. We’ve answered those now, and we have a new set. And in a couple of hundred years, we’ll have yet another set. “Science has unanswered questions; therefore God” fails as an argument.

    • jose

      Natural sense of morality is not at all an ultimate mystery, but rather a matter of scientific research. It’s not strange all humans share some common ground in terms of morality, because we’re all humans after all. We share many other psychological traits; we also share the use of language among many other characteristics. My favorite examples are the acts of singing and dancing. Every single culture that ever was has had songs and dances. It is not something divine, it’s just human – as human as the hair in your armpits :)

      • Ted Seeber

        I see no evidence that evolution has selected for a “moral sense”.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Primates have a moral instinct. Instinct comes from evolution.

          If primates weren’t social animals, it wouldn’t have been especially advantageous.

        • jose

          You’re probably looking in the wrong places :)

  • Caleb Gates

    Is Alister McGrath on that list?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Leah Libresco, Richard Morgan, Antony Flew.

      I don’t know McGrath’s story. Can you point me to it or summarize it?

      • Caleb Gates

        I’ve heard him speak of it before. But I don’t see much detail on it online. There’s a little information on this page, but it doesn’t go into detail.
        http://christianevidence.org/faith/page/science_does_not_exclude_god

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Interesting story, but I don’t think it informs our argument much. I’d call him a Type 2 atheist.

  • joeclark77

    I was one of those ‘category 3′ atheists who converted as a result of an intellectual path. If you are truly curious about the truth (a philo-sopher, a lover of truth) you’ll eventually realize that the “rebuttals” of the arguments for God’s existence, for Christianity, and finally for Catholicism, are all shallow, relying on double standards and other fallacies.

    I’d also like to hear your reaction to some of the stuff that John C Wright (a science fiction author and former category 3 atheist) writes on his blog. He blogs about apologetics, science fiction, and pictures of Catwoman at http://www.scifiwright.com/, and his conversion story is at http://www.scifiwright.com/2011/09/a-question-i-never-tire-of-answering/. He recently posted a series of discussions about natural law, which you can find if you scroll down to August 22 where it begins.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Joe:

      you’ll eventually realize that the “rebuttals” of the arguments for God’s existence, for Christianity, and finally for Catholicism, are all shallow, relying on double standards and other fallacies.

      Your assurance that they’re flawed does nothing to tell me why. I can’t follow you into Christianity if I still (wrongly) believe the intellectual arguments. Throw me a bone here.

      Thanks for the tip about John Wright’s conversion. I’ll take a look.

    • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

      That’d be the same John C Wright who gave us his charming opinion of gays on LiveJournal a while back, right? The Christians can keep him.

  • DrewL

    This is about 14 paragraphs of rationalizing a No True Scotsman argument.

    It boils down to “well no TRUE atheist has ever converted to Christianity.”

    Then in the next breath: “Oh but, clearly TRUE Christians have converted to Atheism.” Oh of course, sounds like a fair assessment.

    Arguments like these make me glad I’m not part of a faith movement that deifies human reason as infallible, particularly when the said movement spends a lot of time embodying the very cognitive deficiencies and limitations they want to believe don’t exist. In other words, you are a man of great faith to believe you’ve done anything beyond tribal, self-aggrandizing rationalizing in the above post.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Drew! I’ve missed your wit.

      OK–I’ve figured out that you don’t like the argument. But you gotta give me some reasons.

      • DrewL

        Wikipedia really says it the best:
        When the statement “all A are B” is qualified like this to exclude those A which are not B, this is a form of begging the question; the conclusion is assumed by the definition of “true A”.

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

    • Kodie

      Why are you then glad to be part of a faith movement that deifies an invisible being who is infallible? Human reason is of course fallible and none of us have said it isn’t. But it’s not a very good argument for not choosing atheism and kind of being a jerk about it. I happen to think there are no credible arguments for god’s existence, least of all “god exists because you guys make mistakes.” Are you saying you’re not falling for some logical trap? Maybe you’re not trying to win converts here right now, but every argument to believe in god that I’ve ever seen a Christian make is weak, not just once in a while. I don’t think Bob’s article is so much a demonstration of why atheism has to be true, but why Christianity doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and why people deconvert when they’re no longer comforted by the excuses each argument has to make for the one before it. Of course people are persuaded to believe, but it’s difficult to believe they had really thought about what they think, and easy to see why they might be persuaded. I grew up in a secular environment and exposed to very little religion due to where I lived. I was not indoctrinated against religion or religious ideas, but I know how marketing works and I know when someone’s trying to sell me something. If someone’s looking for something, especially when they grow up in an environment where having a religion feels required, that god is assumed to exist, yes, they will shop for the one that reflects what they want to believe is true or the one they feel has helped them the most. Still no proof for it.

      • DrewL

        Of course people are persuaded to believe, but it’s difficult to believe they had really thought about what they think, and easy to see why they might be persuaded.If someone’s looking for something, especially when they grow up in an environment where having a religion feels required, that god is assumed to exist, yes, they will shop for the one that reflects what they want to believe is true or the one they feel has helped them the most.

        You are proclaiming your faith in a belief system called “naive realism.”
        http://www.civilpolitics.org/content/if-you-dont-agree-me-there-something-wrong-you-introduction-naive-realism
        That’s not a religion I care for, but to each his own.

        • Kodie

          No, I’m saying that your reasons for being glad you’re not an atheist are identical to the reasons you’re glad you are a Christian – you like your bad arguments better, so you insult Bob’s, completely unironically.

        • DrewL

          Didn’t read the link did you….you can lead a horse to water….

        • Kodie

          You still haven’t given any reason why you believe what you believe other than you have extreme reservations about the given argument and then you called me a horse. If you think this is supposed to be clever or something, I can’t tell yet.

  • ZenDruid

    I’d rather be educated to the detriment of indoctrination than the other way around.

    Public atheism is a political movement which is developing in opposition to the evangelical political movement that has been entrenched since the 1970s. Every political movement necessarily has its platform, but that doesn’t make New Atheism a religion.

    • ZenDruid

      Nor, I might add, does that make all New Atheists atheist. For simplicity’s sake, N.A. is a catch-all term for a) people who object to the diktats of the demagogues in the public sphere and b) those who are marginalized and disenfranchised by the demagogues due to irreconcilable differences.

      • DrewL

        Wow, this is like the True Scotsman in reverse. “All men of good reason are True Scotsmen.”

        Anabaptists hate all demagoging in the public sphere (they have for about 500 years) and are thus marginalized by the media and conservative political leaders. Are they New Atheists?

        • ZenDruid

          I could categorically state that I as a NA support whatever goals the Anabaptists might have, other than inflicting their own dogma. I’m with the heretics and apostates always. Consider this an outreach, I guess….
          I’ll say that the vocal atheists form the necessary core of anti-demagogic sentiment. Sadly, the focus is more on the sentiment than the issues. It is bandied about that 95% of American Catholic women use birth control in spite of the Pope. It’s clear whom the NAs support, but the overriding Big Bad Godless meme gets in the way.

        • Ted Seeber

          I’m sorry, are you claiming that New Atheism isn’t dogmatic? Because I find that statement to be either blind or ridiculous.

        • ZenDruid

          Ted, I said New Atheism is a political movement with a platform. The only “dogma” I’m aware of is our unanimous opposition to letting the idiot run the village.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        ZD: The “new” in New Atheists is the high profile of the arguments, in my opinion.

      • joeclark77

        I’ve only heard the term New Atheists used by their opponents. In my understanding it refers to the crackpots like Dawkins and his fans, a new sort of atheism that mixes profound ignorance with loudmouthed contempt and mockery of what it does not care to understand. When I see the term used, it is generally being used to compare Dawkins, Hitchens et al unfavorably to the more philosophical atheists of the past, like Nietsche. The “old atheists” understood Christianity 101, and some philosophy and metaphysics which they could argue intelligently about. The “new atheists” primarily make hay by being outrageously outraged at cherry-picked bible verses whose context they do not care to know, making up fake quotations that they claim were written by Thomas Jefferson, and mocking wild-eyed evangelicals and Mormons as if by doing so they nullify Augustine and refudiate Aquinas.

        I do not mean to imply that our host is one of the “new” or one of the “old” defined in this way, just sharing what my impression has been of the use of the term “New Atheists” by those who oppose atheism.

        • DrewL

          Dude joeclark, gotta name some names if you’re going to make wild accusations like that. Even Bob has gotten better about naming names.

          You are correct that most New Atheists have probably never read Nietzsche. If they had, they wouldn’t hold such a blind faith in Enlightenment humanism, rationalism, and scientism. A brilliant atheist dismantled all of these belief systems a hundred years ago and did us all a favor. Now a few airport-book writers think they are doing something “progressive” in trying to dig up the corpses of century-hold philosophy. If only their disciples would read wikipedia….(sigh)….

        • ZenDruid

          Don’t mention Nietzsche if you can’t even spell his name. He is only one of many, and not even that important to the movement. Try Hume and Paine and Ingersoll. For a deeper look, try Cicero and Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.
          And if certain Christians hadn’t burned down the library of Alexandria, we might have been able to read the original words of Zeno and Cleanthes and Chrysippus.

        • smrnda

          You argue that the new atheists are mocking something that they do not understand. I’ll admit that people like Dawkins haven’t done the type of research into religion that older atheists did, but it’s kind of why I didn’t get taught to use punch cards when I studied computer science.

          As far as Augustine and Aquinas, Aquinas based many of his philosophical concepts (many of which he used as a basis for moral arguments) on a faulty understanding of physical science, and Augustine just seemed like a mundane case of someone who could only see living purely for pleasure or purely for ascetic purpose, just someone who couldn’t find balance, and so wanted nobody to find it. I’ve just never seen these figures as towering intellects full of insight and wisdom. I don’t even think you can begin to start making worthwhile statements about life and existence unless you get some factual matters right first.

        • Ted Seeber

          “I didn’t get taught to use punch cards when I studied computer science.”

          That offends me much more than any religion. Every discipline needs history classes. Heck, in my software engineering course, we had to wire AND gates from transistor level- and that wasn’t that long ago (early 1990s). It was necessary to understanding how the machine worked. We also had to code fortran in punch cards and learned Octal-based assembly on a DEC-PDP-11 where the only hard copy output was on a teletype.

          I remember my favorite setting on a VT100 terminal was 9600 baud- because that was a comfortable reading speed.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JC:

          I’ve only heard the term New Atheists used by their opponents.

          The “New” to me is that these books are newly popular. They’re bestsellers now, where atheist books had been ignored in the past.

          crackpots like Dawkins and his fans

          You could tell us precisely why Dawkins is wrong. Or you could just pretend that you’ve made a strong point by making a vacuous statement. I’d recommend the former.

          The “new atheists” primarily make hay by being outrageously outraged at cherry-picked bible verses whose context they do not care to know

          Sounds like you’re cherry picking the most idiotic atheists rather than wrestling with the best that modern atheism has to challenge you with.

          making up fake quotations that they claim were written by Thomas Jefferson

          No, I think you’re thinking of David Barton’s laughable book about Jefferson that was recently pulled by his own Christian publisher.

  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken atheist,

    The problem I see with this new argument of yours is that there is no definite boundary between group 2 and group 3. Just how much knowledge does it take to qualify for group 3? Suppose an atheist is familiar with science, but not with biblical studies, does it exclude him from group 3? Or if an atheist is familiar with the Bible, but not with creationism, does it count? Your groups are artificial: each individual atheist has some relevant things he knows well and some relevant things he is ignorant of. Same for each individual Christian. No one can be an Encyclopedia of apologetics, philosophy of religion, theology, biblical exegesis, Church history, world religions, and science!

    So your groups are ad hoc constructs: they don’t represent real patterns. Even a seasoned philosopher of religion who happens to be an atheist may still have weak spots. It has become impossible to master all the relevant knowledge of the field today.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Then propose something better. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. Or are you saying that the whole argument is built on sand?

      • RandomFunction2

        To Bob the broken atheist,

        You may have said something like: The more an atheist learns about apologetics and atheism, the more unlikely he is to convert.

        • abb3w

          I’d tend to agree. I think Bob may be conflating probabilistic tendencies with certainties, and oversimplifying fuzzy categories to artificially sharp delineation. My understanding is that sociological metrics rarely get above r=0.9 correlations, except for trivial relation-by-definition.

          More intelligent, more educated, and more informed people may be more likely to become and remain irreligious; but it’s a tendency. Trying to state it as an absolutely certain thing seems empirically sloppy. Trying to express it in terms of confidence intervals might be more exact; EG, “having taken an intitial sample of 4000 students, examining the 200 cases of irreligious upbringing, and extracting the 20 cases where the outcome was religiosity more than 1 standard deviation from the initial sample, all cases either involved relatively low academic ability or an emotional trauma as precursor, often both; indicating the chances of rational and intelligent deconversion occurring has a 99% confidence bound of occurring in less than 10% of deconversions.”

          Confidence interval picked out of thin air (actual value left as an exercise); other numbers, not entirely haphazard. Bob might find interesting the Altemeyer/Hunsberger “Amazing Conversions” study, which deals with both religious conversions and deconversions.

          Accurate measure would seem to require relatively large and longitudinal samples, and be complicated by the rate possibly changing over time with the change in the population’s distribution of religiosity. Anecdotally, my impression is that such religious conversion might be a ~1% phenomenon, with deconversion due to rational argument tending rather higher.

  • Vksun

    As per Christian doctrine, there are three levels of knowing God. One is knowing through nature (“The heavens declare the glory of God”, “people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse”). Second is scripture/testimony of who have known God etc. Third is actual/fuller relationship with God.

    Now, you will say that that the statement in the Bible that “what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” is just an assertion and cannot be proved. Sure, but for the sake of argument, let us assume that there is God and that Bible is right on the points I made above. If so, here are the answers to points you ask:

    Group-1 are people who did not suppress truth – they took the hint of Creator from nature, understood the importance of God, prayed about revealing further truth with all their heart/mind/soul, and got the fuller revelation from God. These may be people from illiterates to well-learned scholars/philosophers etc.

    Group-2 can be case where, a person for a while resisted truth (for extraneous reasons like desperately not wanting any morality, or want to go by the fad of the day etc) but realized and came back to a place they seek God with all their heart/mind/soul and God reveals in a relationship. Here again, there can be ordinary people or scholars or “well-informed” (but since you call well-informed as group-3, we will see that separately).

    Group-3 – It is possible that much of this group did not go to level3 (mentioned in first paragraph), and they probably talked about God as they were influenced by some apologist etc, but never went into deeper relationship with God. At some point they get disillusioned and may become atheist. Since they know more, it may have taken more hardening and more resistance against God to become atheist, hence more unlikely to change.

    Now, you say, even if Group3 become Christian, they wont give ‘intellectual’ reasons. The very reason they became Christian is because they understood that there is level3, which does not by-pass reason, but can be reached on top of it. In levels1 and 2, one can keep arguing for ever.
    You ask about Christians making general apologist arguments. They make those arguments because they believe/know that God has made humans in such a way that everyone instinctively see that heavens declare the glory of God (cosmological argument), that God convicts us of sin (moral argument) etc – the apologist arguments are just a reminder or making people conscious of these, and most people just instinctively see the point (because God has already placed that common-sense hints of God in the heart through means of nature, sin etc). It is easy to ask a lot of questions and we all should ask, but many see the point and take the hint to pursue the matter further, praying and seeking God etc. Some fall to other side and refuse to take the hint. So, Christian apologists are not trying to hit ‘atheist stronghold with a rock hammer’ – they are just reminding ordinary people and appealing to inclinations/hints that God has already given to all of us, and encouraging them to take the hint and purse the matter further with God in their lives.

    Group3 people who became Christian, due to their own experience, may be mostly addressing a hard atheist while talking, while others may be just addressing to all people in general, based on above mentioned considerations.

    • smrnda

      Okay, I was raised a nothing. I looked into the sky (not the ‘heavens’) and I saw stars. From what I understood in those days, they were this balls of hot gas. I went to a museum and I saw some dinosaur bones. I read some medical books and learned how the body works pretty well in may ways, but is prone to many problems.

      If I’d been a primitive and I saw something glowing in the sky, I’d probably think the same way they did, the way technology would seem like magic to some similar primitive. In some ways, this is what people talk about when they say that science removes kids’ sense of wonder. I’m glad it did, instead, it turned me into someone who knew that behind seemingly miraculous or inexplicable things, you can find an explanation with the right knowledge.

      On your take about people resisting for the sake of rejecting any morality, I just don’t think Christian morality is that good the way I think an absolute monarchy is a bad form of government. I’ve got a book that’s best advice to a slave is to be a better slave – it can’t even envision a world without slavery. I want a morality where nobody is going to get pissed and shat on, not one that tells someone to eat more of it. I think that unless actions harm people, we shouldn’t be condemning them so I reject the stance on sexual ethics even though I am totally sexually inactive myself.

      My take on the personal relationship is that I lived less than 2 miles from my grandparents. I didn’t feel like we had a very personal relationship and I saw them almost every couple of week just because the generation gap was too big. I don’t think I have a relationship with my brother anymore since we exchange only maybe 4 emails a year, and haven’t talked in person in probably 5 years. So when people talk about this deep personal relationship, it’s like a delusion where everybody is eating saltines crackers day after day and saying they’re full in spite of the lack of nutritional value. (My taking this analogy to how Christians are happy is that after the saltines, they get the real food of social support they need.)

      As for the answers, they don’t seem that compelling. The whole ‘all are sinners’ – given what passes for sin, it’s a pretty empty statement. Plus, not all religions believe in this original sin business (ask some Jews about it sometimes.) People can be good or bad, but to a great extent that’s because of factors beyond their control, so the task is to have a better incentive system. Look at secular nations with high standards of living and you’ll see they’ve figured this out.

      I guess my other thing – these questions we’re supposed to be asking that we need religion to answer, I never asked them or if I did, I thought I’d already found a better answer. Why are we here? (Do we need a reason?) What is the purpose of life? (What is the purpose of cinema? Art? Computers? Why do things need an official purpose?) Why should a person live one way and not another? (What works. Plus, for people who think being an asshole would be fun, try being around a duplicate of yourself, If you won’t like you if you were someone else, you should change.)

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Thanks for the mind meld!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Vksun:

      Group-1 are people who did not suppress truth

      But how would they know this?? How would they know that their embrace of Christianity isn’t just like the Hindus’ embrace of their nutty religion, or the Muslims or the Scientologists?

      desperately not wanting any morality

      Wow–is that a straw man.

      God reveals in a relationship

      Reveals? What does God reveal? I see the sun; why isn’t the evidence for God just as obvious and unambiguous?

  • JoeC

    I was wondering if you could give your strongest positive argument to atheism, I have yet to find one that satisfies me, but I am always willing to hear a new one. Perhaps the reason I can’t find one is that I just haven’t talked to anyone in the group 3 of Atheists.

    • Bob Seidensticker
      • JoeC

        Ok, so one thing I’m curious about is if you consider a creation event necessary for the existence of the universe and if not, why not?

        Second, I have not yet managed to understand why given an omniscient and all-powerful God, He is required to work in miracles to enact his will. Why could the universe not simply be designed in such a way that His will is manifested by natural means. That would be what seems to be lacking in the first post at a quick glance.

        As for the second, I was under the impression that non-Christian sources such as Tacitus had recorded at least various events in the life of Jesus. I may be missing the point you are actually making. I am also unclear as to whether you are making the distinction between reports of miracles and actual events or historians. The example of Suetonius confused me as well. If the historian reported it, why are you claiming historians reject miracles?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe:

          if you consider a creation event necessary for the existence of the universe and if not, why not?

          I suppose, but you probably know that when you get into quantum events (like the creation of the universe would’ve been), things get pretty weird. Cause and effect doesn’t work the way we think of it, for example. Your assumption–gotta either be a creation event or not–may be a poorly formed dichotomy.

          If the historian reported it, why are you claiming historians reject miracles?

          There’s a critical difference between (1) it is the case that Suetonius recorded a spirit who talked to Julius Caesar and (2) historians say that a spirit talked to Julius Caesar. You’ll read only the first one in history books.

        • JoeC

          So by creation event, I mean was there a point where nothing existed or and then something existed, or do you believe that there has always been “something” that existed. (I’m thinking of the argument that the universe, after reaching a state of high entropy will still have random quantum mechanical spikes at low entropy, one of which is eventually, over an infinite period of time, large enough to result in a Big Bang event.) And if so do you have a better answer for that it exists than “it just does.” Because that’s where I’ve seen a lot of quantum arguments end up, although Physics isn’t my field so I certainly could be missing the proper explanations. I just have not managed to find anything through my exploration of the subject. And do you have a link to how Cause and Effect is altered at the quantum level so I can flesh out my understanding some?

          As for the second point, your claim would then seem to be that “modern” historians reject miracles, not that historians reject miracles. Am I correct in that interpretation? The reason I am interpreting it this way is that you referred to Suetonius as a historian and also that he said a spirit talked to Julius Caesar. Hence, as far as I can tell you have provided your own counter-example.

          Also, I was just wondering why you didn’t address my second paragraph? I can think of several reasons and I was curious if any of them were the actual one.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe:

          or do you believe that there has always been “something” that existed.

          The jury’s out, so I don’t puzzle over this question. I have nothing profound to say on this.

          how Cause and Effect is altered at the quantum level so I can flesh out my understanding some?

          Here’s one starting place. In summary: radioactive decay and the production of particle/anti-particle pairs are, under some interpretations of quantum mechanics, causeless.

          your claim would then seem to be that “modern” historians reject miracles

          Yup.

          I was just wondering why you didn’t address my second paragraph?

          Because I agreed with it.

        • JoeC

          Sorry I took a while to respond. My labtop has died so I’ve been using the computer labs for my computer purposes. It’s going to take me a little while to figure out how exactly causality works with Quantum Physics. I probably won’t be confident in a guess as to what’s right about that for a month or so. And for future reference, you can assume that I’ve read any wikipedia article on a topic we are talking about so there’s no need to link me to those. If I ask for evidence I would prefer something stronger than what I can find on the first page of a google search. It’ll just save us time if you assume that. (I know it’s not something that you can normally take as a given.)

          Given causality holds and that there was at one point nothing and then there was something is true, would you consider the prime mover argument to be valid? If not, what else is lacking?

          Now for the rejection of miracles comment, this seems to have first started with Baruch Spinoza in the 1600′s. Before this I suppose miracles were accepted by historians. At this time, it would also seem that History was beginning to see itself as a more of a science, as such it does not seem to me unsurprising that historians would reject miracles since they cannot be explained by science. David Hume seems to say that no matter how many witnesses are present at a miracle it must be rejected. He says, “I always reject the greater miracle.” Which in any such instance, it is less of a miracle that people should lie than that the miracle should have occurred. This is the line of reasoning that would seem to me to have inspired the rejection of miracles by historians and as such has not shown that miracles do not exist, but rather a recognition that it is not the purview of historians to say whether miracles exist or not.

        • JoeC
        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe:

          Given causality holds …

          But it doesn’t at the quantum level.

          … and that there was at one point nothing and then there was something

          How can there be a “before” the Big Bang (for there to be nothing) if time started with the Big Bang?

          the rejection of miracles by historians and as such has not shown that miracles do not exist, but rather a recognition that it is not the purview of historians to say whether miracles exist or not.

          That historians reject miracles doesn’t prove that miracles don’t exist. Such a proof will probably never happen. But it’s a pretty strong data point.

        • JoeC

          That isn’t proven yet, I have found that evidence is pointing towards nonlocality while causality holds. Hence why I said I need to do more research.

          Are you familiar with finite state machines? They can continue to switch between states indefinitely and once begun the state at which it was initialized can’t be determined. However, they still need to be initiated. This would have to be done by something outside of the system. Just as a prime mover would be outside the universe and thus outside time. If I can create a universe that looks infinite to it’s inhabitants I don’t see why the type of being God would be couldn’t. I’m not sure if that completely answered your question. I think the simple answer is that there is something outside of Time.

          I’d also like to know if those are the only two things lacking for the prime mover argument to be valid. Otherwise how am I supposed to know what else needs to be investigated?

          I disagree, I think that they have an inability to properly analyze miracles. There is a refusal to admit under any circumstances that miracles exists, thus they cannot impartially analyze them. To me it’s the same thing as claiming that an atheist doesn’t believe in miracles is a strong data point for miracles not existing. In other words, I think that the field of history has simply been defined as excluding miracles, as such the claim that they exclude miracles doesn’t add any information. I would be very surprised if no historian believed in the existence of miracles even though they don’t report them as true in their history books.

        • JoeC

          I don’t seem to have used the blockquotes properly either. could you give me a short example of how to do so?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe:

          That isn’t proven yet

          Nor will it ever be. Science doesn’t prove things. Are you saying that it’s not the consensus?

          If we agree that causality is in doubt, then I suggest you not use it in your arguments.

          I’m not as well versed on the topic of quantum causality as I’d like, so let me know what you find on this.

          If I can create a universe that looks infinite to it’s inhabitants I don’t see why the type of being God would be couldn’t.

          How to hammer the facts to fit a Christian presupposition is a project that I have no interest in. I come at this from the other side: given the facts, where do they point?

          I disagree, I think that they have an inability to properly analyze miracles.

          So the fact that the entire field of History scrubs miracle stories out of accounts of history is of no consequence? We can’t learn anything from this?

          There is a refusal to admit under any circumstances that miracles exists

          That may be a bias for some people, but it doesn’t apply to me.

          it’s the same thing as claiming that an atheist doesn’t believe in miracles is a strong data point for miracles not existing.

          Well, we’re not talking about one historian, we’re talking about pretty much all of them. And we’re not talking about random people but the discipline of history. You can reject this approach, but I need reasons to see why this isn’t just you tweaking things to support your presupposition.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          To highlight a quoted selection, use “blockquote” in front (replace quotation marks with angle brackets) and “/blockquote” at the end.

        • JoeC

          Are you saying that it’s not the consensus?

          I am saying that it is not yet a fact by the below definition and that the evidence I am seeing points toward a significant enough possibility that causality will eventually be proven to hold.

          “In science, ‘fact’ can only mean ‘confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.’ I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.”
          Stephen Jay Gould

          How to hammer the facts to fit a Christian presupposition is a project that I have no interest in.

          I don’t understand what you mean, could you rephrase the statement and perhaps go into greater detail.

          If we agree that causality is in doubt, then I suggest you not use it in your arguments.

          I need some axioms if I’m going to use logic. What are the axioms you are operating under? Even if it is uncertain, we can still prove things using it as long as we can prove the same thing regardless of whether or not it’s false. It’s called case analysis. But we have to temporarily assume one truth value or the other.

          So the fact that the entire field of History scrubs miracle stories out of accounts of history is of no consequence? We can’t learn anything from this?

          I claim that this is Begging the Question, that History defines itself as a field in which miracles are reported, but not judged as true or false. We can conclude that History agrees that the definition of a miracle is an event which takes place in such a way that it can’t be explained by science and as such should not be recorded as unequivocally true. Why would it change the truth value of anything if a field that only reports the credulous refuses to report what is, by definition, incredulous.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe:

          Even if it is uncertain, we can still prove things using it as long as we can prove the same thing regardless of whether or not it’s false.

          If you introduce a claim into an argument and it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or false, I suggest you remove that claim. It’s superfluous.

          History defines itself as a field in which miracles are reported, but not judged as true or false.

          I’m reading things differently. Seems to me that History makes quite clear that it doesn’t think miracles are true. Reports of miracles are certainly part of the historical records, but did those miracles actually happen? History says No.

        • JoeC

          If you introduce a claim into an argument and it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or false, I suggest you remove that claim. It’s superfluous.

          The claim I am introducing is not that causality is true, but rather that causality being true implies something else. I do not claim p, but rather ~p\/p is true for any dichotomy, such as causality holds or it does not hold. I will then attempt to prove p->q so that I can later claim q. Now if I do not know that p is true that does not necessarily mean that q is not true. (p->q)-/->(~p->~q) If I can additionally show that ~p->q and know that ~p\/p is true then by case analysis I can conclude that q is true. Alternatively, if there is not enough information to conclude whether or not p is true, and I can conclude that ~p->~q is true it will basically make the truth value of p one of the goal posts you talked about in a previous post. So there is value in discussing the effects of causality if it is true and if it is not true. Hence why I asked earlier if causality holding along with the something from nothing idea holding would be sufficient proof for the prime mover argument. Because then we can continue with further discussions. Otherwise we are halted in deciding anything until the truth of causality is known, rather than perhaps having to alternatives that are contingent on the truth of causality.

          As for History, looking at the wikipedia page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_method , it has on the checklist for evaluating eyewitness testimony, “Do his statements seem inherently improbable: e.g., contrary to human nature, or in conflict with what we know?” Any miracle would automatically fail this test, because by definition miracles are inherently improbable. Therefore the fact that Historians reject miracles tells us only that miracles are inherently improbable, not that they do not happen. We already knew this.

        • JoeC

          Forgot the “/” in the blockquote.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe:

          Any miracle would automatically fail this test, because by definition miracles are inherently improbable.

          Right. There are lots of natural explanations (like: “he’s lying”) that are more likely than that a miracle happened.

          Therefore the fact that Historians reject miracles tells us only that miracles are inherently improbable, not that they do not happen. We already knew this.

          Yes, we did already know this. I’m surprised you raised it.

          And I repeat my question: does the fact that History scrubs miracle stories out of the accounts of history not tell us something?

        • JoeC

          And I repeat my question: does the fact that History scrubs miracle stories out of the accounts of history not tell us something?

          And I repeat, nothing more then we already know. History judges miracles in exactly the same way that science judges miracles, and so does not lead to any greater knowledge about whether or not they are true than looking at how science judges miracles. Were a million people to witness a miracle, historians would still report that a million people purported to have seen a miracle. According to historians, if science says something is impossible then it didn’t happen regardless of what other historical evidence for it is present.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe:

          And I repeat, nothing more then we already know.

          You’re saying that the fact that history rejects all miracle stories tells you nothing. Fair enough, but to me it’s a pretty powerful statement when a discipline either rejects them out of hand or considers each one and has so far rejected each one.

          History judges miracles in exactly the same way that science judges miracles

          If scientists kept coming up against an odd phenomenon that would be best explained with a supernatural explanation, they’ll slowly realize that they need to expand the definitions of “science.” That this isn’t a problem is telling, IMO.

  • Phil

    Bob and JoeC,

    In the comments to Bob’s September 2, 2011 post entitled “Science Answers the Big Questions,” Bob was asked a similar question–specifically, “What justification will you offer us for your belief that ‘there is no God’”? Bob answered (see November 6, 2011; 8:03 am comment) by stating that he had written “5 posts on this topic.” Unfortunately, the hot link there doesn’t work. Is it possible to get it re-posted? (re-linked?) Thanks.

    • JoeC

      The link doesn’t seem to work for me either from that comment. I would appreciate a link to a post if Bob has already written one(or five, but one should be sufficient.)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Darn! Technical difficulties. Let’s try that again:

      Historians Reject the Bible Story

  • Pingback: How Could an Atheist Convert to Christianity?

  • Ted Seeber

    I find a lot of Group 1 atheists LIKE to think they’re in Group 3- but that their pro-Atheist apologetics have a tendency to be narrowly focused on the sect of Christianity they left and are utterly inadequate to handle Catholicism in general or the Latin Rite in specific.

    And don’t even get me started on the ones that have failed to read Nostra Aetate and think that Catholicism is just another brand of Christianity.

    • smrnda

      If I have to wade through that mountain of dreck to get to some truth, God is expecting ridiculous things out of me. Yeah, after 10,000 more pages of studying obscure doctrine I’ll finally see the light.

      To me, Catholicism is, as a religion, a cheap way of dodging the request people have to “please, explain what you people believe so that it won’t take me a lifetime.” It’s just a way to avoid having to make clear, definite points about what you believe and then argue that a person cannot reject it because they haven’t offered line by line refutations of some 2000 years worth of scribbling in Latin.

      As a Catholic, are you convinced that you know enough to reject Jainism? Zartosh? All forms of Buddhism? Various animisms and paganism? Do you know enough about indigenous beliefs of Native Americans to be sure that they aren’t true? With thousands of religions who can sift through this stuff? Any of these people can make the same assertion that the average atheist is ill equipped to reject specific claims made by their religion, but you’d have to argue that Catholicism is actually making some general claims that are sufficiently different from the general claims made by other religions, or that religions are really making sufficiently different claims from other religions of the same style.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        :)

    • Arkenaten

      No, please, Ted, we WANT you to get started. Enlighten us as to why Catholicism is not just another brand of Christianity. Is it perhaps because the Pope wears what amounts to a floor-length dress, perhaps?

  • Phil

    And don’t even get me started on the ones that have failed to read Nostra Aetate and think that Catholicism is just another brand of Christianity.

    I don’t understand. How is it not just another brand?

  • Doragoon

    “More education about the history and origins of Christianity increases the likelihood that the Christian will deconvert”
    I have trouble imagining that divinity schools are having waves and waves of people dropping out to become atheists. Or are you claiming that there’s some special knowledge that they are keeping secret to keep them from becoming atheists? That view makes atheism sound like a gnostic cult.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Perhaps you’ve heard the aphorism that the best avenue to atheism is for a Christian to simply read his Bible.

      This is what I was talking about (perhaps not as clearly as I could’ve).

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  • Gabriel

    Edward Feser’s “Road from Atheism” is well worth a read in this context. He was as “Group 3″ as one might imagine. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/road-from-atheism.html

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Yes, someone else recommended Feser. That’s a long discussion. Can you summarize?

      Why do you think that he was a well-informed atheist? And what got him to convert?

      Thanks.

  • A Christian

    I personally was a very well informed atheist. I persued philosophy from the time I could start thinking about existential questions. I studied years worth of material and arguments not just for atheism, but for religions as well. Yet I still became a Christian at the end of all my searching.

    Saying group 3 doesn’t exist is illogical. As if no one in the history of mankind has ever been a well informed atheist who converted to Christianity. Out of the millions of people throughout history and today that have been Christian you don’t think at least one person has had this experience? Besides myself?

    Will you religiously refuse to believe my story? (That is rhetorical.)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I still became a Christian at the end of all my searching.

      Are you saying that you’re a counterexample to my hypothesis?

      As if no one in the history of mankind has ever been a well informed atheist who converted to Christianity.

      Look–it’s all in the post. No reason for me to waste yours or my time repeating myself. If you don’t get my point, I can only appeal to you to go back and reread it. Or read some of my other comments.

  • MNb

    Hm, yes, one can argue that Feser was a well-informed atheist. If the link Gabriel provided is to be believed he knew lots of stuff during his atheist period. What made him convert according to his own account (there is no reason to disbelieve it) is the cosmological argument according to Aristoteles and Thomas of Aquino.
    The problem as far as I can see it is that he understands even less about modern physics than he accuses (not unjustified) Krauss and Hawking concerning philosophy. Still he makes some claims about modern physics. The nicest one is this: “yeah, Quantummechanics isn’t based on causality, but on probability. We still need a First Cause though. Because: why else are there quarks?”

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The nicest one is this: “yeah, Quantum mechanics isn’t based on causality, but on probability. We still need a First Cause though. Because: why else are there quarks?”

      And then problem solved, right? We don’t need to worry about what caused the First Cause because we can just define that away.

      But this doesn’t make Feser sound very well-informed.

  • MZ

    Atheists always amuse me when they make-believe that their perspective is the only rational way of looking at the universe. Or they would, if they didn’t believe it so fiercely – then it just sounds arrogant and annoying.
    By the way, there are three former atheists I can readily think of who became theists from reason alone: C.S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, Antony Flew. And myself, incidentally, but I’m not what you’d call famous. Atheism simply didn’t make sense after a while; it had too many holes and it didn’t seem interested in answering the REAL questions. It was a lazy way to view the world, actually, and rested on too many assumptions that were by no means given.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      MZ:

      Atheists always amuse me when they make-believe that their perspective is the only rational way of looking at the universe.

      Who says that? The ones that I know only say that it explains the facts best.

      By the way, there are three former atheists I can readily think of who became theists from reason alone: C.S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, Antony Flew.

      And, as I made clear in the post, that they were atheists is only the first criterion.

      I discuss three atheists who became Christians in this post.

      Atheism simply didn’t make sense after a while; it had too many holes and it didn’t seem interested in answering the REAL questions. It was a lazy way to view the world, actually, and rested on too many assumptions that were by no means given.

      If you have the time, I’d be interested in hearing the main holes in the atheist worldview and the main positive arguments for Christianity that convinced you.

  • Jason

    This article is right on the money. Once you know the truth, you cannot simply “un-know” it. That’s why becoming a truly informed athiest is a one-way street.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks! I’m glad it was helpful.

  • Litesp33d

    I can believe that you used to be an atheist. An atheist is simply someone without a god belief. It’s the “just like you” part that I’m having trouble with.
    Two issues I would raise are the just like you. If you say just like you that carries a whole load of assumption that if you wear the badge atheist you are all the same. I have been to many atheist humanist meetings over the years and can say that if you get 30 such people in a room you could easily have 32 opinions. That is what free thinking scepticism is about.

    Consequently I have issues with the definition an atheist is simply someone without a god belief. The implication is that God(s) do exist you just choose to believe they do not. Whereas the reality is ALL gods are man made and the only place they exist is in the minds of those that think they do. A much better definition that stops atheists immediately being on the back foot in any discussion and makes the believer have to justify why they believe rather than the atheist having to justify why they don’t. Prove your God exists not ask me to prove it does not.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Lite:

      I have been to many atheist humanist meetings over the years and can say that if you get 30 such people in a room you could easily have 32 opinions. That is what free thinking scepticism is about.

      And that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about opinions, I’m talking about knowledge.

      Yes, I agree that theists have the burden of proof.

  • baal

    “I never see an “ex-atheist” who hits me where I live, who explains why my arguments are wrong from my perspective.”
    I’ve been looking for these people and their arguments for at least 15 years and with some diligence in the last 5. They don’t exist or are so completely cut off from the internet that you don’t even see their fingerprints.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      When you see what happened when Antony Flew became a deist–he was carried aloft on the shoulders of adoring Christians despite his credulous acceptance of creationist arguments–you can bet that if any serious atheist claimed that he could undercut atheists’ arguments, he’d get a similar welcome.

  • Rebecca Horne

    I am not 100% sure of the last part of this–the sorts of arguments an educated ex-atheist would make. I used to be a well-informed Christian–the sort who valued and studied science and gave significant, honest thought to my religious beliefs. I eventually became an atheist for reasons that are maybe 90% intellectual and 10% emotional.

    And I’ve found that with my new perspective and priorities, I find much more significance in certain arguments than I ever did as an Christian. For example, as a Christian, the “problem of evil,” felt like nothing more than word-play–the sort of argument that, even if you can make it work logically, carries no real significance. As an atheist, it seems much weightier.

    As an atheist I am now convinced, or at least moved, by arguments that did not seem convincing when I was Christian. If I was arguing about the existence of gods (which I don’t actually do very often), I would likely end up using some arguments that I *know* can be rebutted, and trying to insist that my opponent just *take this seriously! It actually means something!*

    I can very much imagine the same thing happening in reverse. Though, as you hint at, this may be due more to emotional conversion than intellectual.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      The way I condense this down: I see no apologist who would be like I would be if I became a Christian for intellectual reasons. If I knew the many intellectual ways that my old atheist arguments were flawed, I would eagerly share them with the world.

      I hear nothing like this, just the same weak Christian arguments.

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