Atheism as a Positive Worldview

In a previous post, Shattering Stereotypes, I discussed ways in which atheists can clear away the noxious stereotypes about us that are spread by religious groups and that hinder our ability to get our message across. That is the vital first step in speaking effectively on behalf of atheism. But once we have cleared that ground of the thorns and thistles of stereotypes, we must decide on what to build there. Again, we nonbelievers will achieve more if we speak in unison – if we agree on a plan and join together to support it, thus creating a strong, consistent narrative that society and the media can easily understand. For that narrative, I propose the following: Atheism is a positive worldview. Contrary to the false views put out by religious leaders, the life of an atheist can be at least as full of purpose and hope as that of any religious person. We can adopt as our motto a verse from the Bible, Matthew 9:12:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

Nothing could be more apt to the message we should be trying to convey. Religion has convinced people that they are sick so that it can sell them the cure. But atheists have a better message: we are healthy, and we were healthy all along. It is in our power, if we so choose, to live lives of freedom, happiness and accomplishment free of the burdensome weight of religious superstition. With this in mind, I offer a set of talking points that concisely explain why atheism can and should be considered a positive worldview.

Atheism is a positive worldview because…

  • …it gives a deeper appreciation for and sense of spirituality toward the cosmos.
    A great many religions in existence today believe that the world is a fallen or accursed place, something evil and twisted toward which our attitude should be revulsion and repugnance. Even those groups of theists who do not believe this tend to believe that our only purpose in this life is to escape it in favor of a far superior place, and that this world is at best a distraction and at worst a dangerous threat to that goal. In opposition to this view, atheism gives a deeper appreciation of the beauty and uniqueness of this world, leading us to the recognition that it is neither fallen nor accursed, but a majestic and wonderful place and the site of the only life we will ever live. Rather than scorning it and seeking to escape it, we should appreciate it for what it is and what it offers us, and take advantage of the wonderful chance to be alive while we possess it. And rather than the egocentric view that creation was made only for our sake, atheism offers the gift of greater humility when we grasp our true place in the universe.
  • …it imbues our lives with the knowledge that our goals really matter.
    Most varieties of theism believe that God will ultimately judge all people’s souls and reward or punish them as they deserve. But the inescapable corollary to this is that anything we do in this world to reduce suffering or establish justice does not matter in the long run. On the other hand, if this is the only life we have, then our goals regain their urgency, and we regain the knowledge that they really do matter. Anything we want to accomplish, any good we want to work, anything we want to learn or do, we have to do them here and now, and live this life to the fullest. Though the finitude of love and happiness is a great tragedy, in a way it also makes them all the more precious and important. It would be much easier to take the beauty of a rose for granted if it did not inevitably fade away.
  • …it offers the freedom to make up your own mind and choose your own direction in life.
    As opposed to organized religion, which sets strict rules for what believers should value, how they should act and what they should do with their lives, atheism offers the freedom to make up your own mind for yourself and go wherever the free intelligence takes you. As opposed to having the answers to life’s questions prepackaged and handed down from on high as sacred dogma that may not be questioned, atheism invites the seeker to explore new realms of thought, discover new vistas of purpose, and decide for themselves what those answers should be.
  • …it offers freedom from the fear of arbitrary divine wrath.
    Atheism grants freedom from the guilt and shame that ensue from believing a powerful being is always watching your thoughts and marking them down to use against you, or that every act one commits is a sin, or that life is nothing but a steady accumulation of spiritual tarnish that must regularly be purged to avoid dire consequences. As atheists, we know that thoughts alone can never be harmful, only acts; that human nature, though far from perfect, is not irredeemable but carries just as much potential for good as for evil, and the only ones to whom we are responsible for our conduct are ourselves and each other. Atheism banishes the fear of an afterlife of eternal pain and replaces it with the realistic view that morality consists of the practice of virtue and obeying the rational commands of conscience.
  • …it offers morality superior to that of ancient texts.
    The scriptures of most religions still endorse grossly immoral practices such as slavery, torture, genocide, and the oppression of women, and these passages have been used to justify inquisitions, holy wars and persecutions since time immemorial. Although most mainstream churches no longer practice or support such acts, the impetus for change came from human conscience, not from new revelations; and bizarrely, even while they disavow these evils, they still believe in the sacred authority of the texts containing them, unaltered. In addition, many modern churches still strongly support some of these evils or others, such as anti-gay discrimination. By contrast, the humanistic morality compatible with atheism is far superior to these primitive, often savage moral systems. An atheist can recognize the equality of all people and the absolute immorality of inflicting suffering without hesitation, and can unequivocally condemn the evils of the past and does not have to defend any text that supports them.
  • …it offers hope for the future.
    According to the writings of most religions, the world is doomed to apocalypse and destruction, and no action taken by any human being can avert this disaster. To make it worse, most of those same religions teach that when this occurs, the souls of the majority of human beings will be sent to Hell, where they will suffer for all eternity. This is an unremittingly horrible worldview, leaving us nothing to look forward to but a dark fate bereft of hope. By contrast, atheism blows away these gloomy visions and replaces them with the light of freedom. The future is in our control, and it is our choices that determine what we will make of it. We are not guaranteed a positive outcome, but neither is that possibility ruled out. A bright future of happiness for all humanity beckons us, if we have the will and the courage to do what must be done to make it real.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • TheLastChance

    …it offers morality superior to that of ancient texts.

    Just thought I’d point this out. Atheism itself offers nothing of morality. Atheism is the lack of a god. Secular humanism is a form of morality, but the two are not the same idea. A theist can be a secular humanist, but a theist cannot be an atheist.

    Otherwise, great post.

  • Philip Thomas

    When Adam says ‘Atheism’, he usually means a particular moral and philosophical system which he has constructed around the core belief of Atheism. Possibly this system is a secular humanist one, I don’t really feel able to judge.

    Of course, you can adopt most of this wordlview while remaining a theist if you like. Theism isn’t intrinsically reliant on ancient texts, for example. It doesn’t even have to involve belief in an afterlife!

  • dhagrow

    I have never been a believer in any of the world’s religions. My parents are religious, and they exposed me to many Hindu, Buddhist, and especially Christian beliefs and ceremonies. Yet religion just never mattered to me, perhaps because of the variety of conflicting beliefs I encountered in my youth. Still, it wasn’t until I began reading and thinking about what it actually meant for a person to be an Atheist that I began to identify myself as one. It wasn’t until I had read things like this post that I realized Atheism is something that needs to be shared with others. Most of these points have always been a part of my worldview. But I credit Atheism for the depth of meaning I now find in the first and last points. I think an understanding of how these things can be the result of an Atheist point-of-view would do a lot for how people see Atheism in general.

    I like the motto. It should be put up on billboards like the God ads. The source of the quote could be used to get it up where an obviously Atheist ad would never be accepted.

  • Archi Medez

    Atheism is often presented in the negative, both morally and in terms of its factual claims. I think it’s best to make a distinction between atheism per se and the typical package of beliefs (moral and otherwise) held by atheists. Atheism per se is merely (a) the claim that there is no evidence (or insufficient evidence) for a deity and therefore no need to believe in said deity or, in addition, (b) the belief that the evidence and arguments that the deity does not exist are overwhelmingly strong. Note that some atheists may believe (a) without agreeing with (b), but all atheists accept at least some version of (a).

    There is another way of looking at this problem, and that is to characterize the theism vs atheism debate as between two competing theories on the origins and status of the concept of a deity. Both atheists and theists agree that the concept of deity exists, but they differ in terms of what they believe about the concept. Generally, atheists have an alternative theory (or at least some informal hunches) about how the concept of deity originated. Atheists generally hold the positive belief that the concept of deity originates in humans, in imagination and cultures; it is a mythological concept. This is a positive empirical claim, and there’s plenty of evidence to support it. From this view, atheism may be seen as simply a by-product, or consequence, of this positive theory about the origins of beliefs.

    Likewise viz. the moral concomitants of atheism: The rejection of certain theistic moral beliefs is not simply a negative act, but rather is a consequence of having adopted a positive moral schema in which a certain percentage of theistic moral beliefs happen to be rejected, though not all may be rejected. (All moral beliefs within the theistic package are not inherently theistic, e.g., thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, for example, are not primarily, nor even necessarily, theistic moral beliefs. Though shalt not commit idolatry, however, is a purely theistic moral belief (or alleged moral belief)).

    I’m not trying to be mischievous, but one could chracterize theism as the product of a negative view–negative in asserting that naturalistic theories are inadequate in explaining the world/universe; and that humans are not capable (or are in some way deficient) of morality and therefore need an extra-human guide to lay down moral codes.

    In sum, atheism is often framed in exclusively negative form, but it is perhaps better characterized as the by-product of positive theories about the world and morality. I think Adam’s article captures this point.

  • Archi Medez

    Note: “extra-human” meaning outside the human, or other than the human, or in addition to the human.

  • Rowan

    Does theism have any implicit morality itself? Although most people – Christians, for example – would argue yes, I’d say that maybe it doesn’t. Consider: all theism means is that you believe in the existence of a deity. That’s it; no morality is implied. Of course, once you do believe in the existence of that deity most people would then take the extra step of finding out what he, she it or them want; and after that is the problem of whether or not to follow the commands laid down.
    I’d say that most theists – Christians, for example – don’t think of it like that. The choice to support or follow the deity is made in the act of believing in him. But really, that isn’t implicit to theism. Isn’t it possible to imagine a person who believes in God but consders him to be evil? Sometimes I think this is what some Christians think atheists are.
    So no; theism does not carry automatic morality, just like atheism. The difference is that for the theist, the morality that people assume to go with their beliefs is more clearly spelled out and formalised.
    Any thoughts?
    I must say, it’s interesting reading these articles and comments!

  • Jon Howard

    Atheism is an unmixed good as it tallies with the truth. Simply…

    …there is NO evidence to support any belief in either a god/gods, a spiritual reality underpinning the world or core divinity that is to be found within anything. To whit:

    Evolution accounts for how life emerges from ‘dead’ matter.

    Evolution and cognitive neuroscience accounts for how mind arises from ‘dead’ matter (so “no thank you, Mr Locke” and a similar sentiment to any Mr Hindu, Mr Buddhist or Mr Mystic).

    Cosmology accounts for how there can be a universe/multiple universes without any need to resort to a god.

    and

    Philosophy accounts for all reasons why god is a redundant proposition.

    To nail my colours to the mast, truth embodies reason enough to pursue it. Without the truth we live in a state of ‘mauvaise foi’, which is worse than living in a coma or living through yet another performance of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical IMO.

  • http://rightside.fissure.org Shishberg

    Rowan,

    I’d say that most theists – Christians, for example – don’t think of it like that. The choice to support or follow the deity is made in the act of believing in him. But really, that isn’t implicit to theism. Isn’t it possible to imagine a person who believes in God but consders him to be evil? Sometimes I think this is what some Christians think atheists are.

    The bible certainly says that’s possible. I often think Christians’ view of atheists is influenced by James 2:19:

    You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder.

    Funny how they’d rather see atheists as demonic than genuinely not believing. (Yes, I’m generalising. A lot of Christians think no such thing.)

    So no; theism does not carry automatic morality, just like atheism. The difference is that for the theist, the morality that people assume to go with their beliefs is more clearly spelled out and formalised.

    Any thoughts?

    One thing that’s genuinely surprised me since becoming an atheist is that there is actually a lot of agreement between atheists’ moral positions; at least, those who bother to make their opinions public. It’s as if the rational mindset that concludes that there’s no god always leads to the same conclusion that humanism is the best basis for morality. The agreement isn’t complete, but it’s much closer than you’d expect from people who by definition only have one belief in common.

    On the other hand, Christian morals are all across the spectrum from pacifist to militant, massively charitable to completely dissociated from “worldly needs”, environmentalist to, um, not environmentalist at all… but usually with some belief that their moral system is the correct divinely inspired one that all people should aspire to. It’s actually really surprising how little agreement there is between groups who claim to share the same perfect moral guide.

    I’d say that Christians agree on the fact that there is a perfect moral standard, and devote a lot of energy to upholding it (except those who take the “faith alone” thing to the extreme of bothering with morality at all, which is another discussion entirely), but the bible is so morally ambiguous and contradictory that no one can agree on what that standard actually is.

    Don’t know how well that expands to theism in general… Islam, for example, seems to have a lot of the same problems at the moment, but that may just be a matter of distancing itself politically from terrorism. I dunno.

  • Philip Thomas

    “the concept of deity emerges in humans, in imagination and cultures: it is a mythological concept”

    Ok, here are some other concepts which have emerged in humans, in imagination and cultures: history, law, philosophy, science, culture, imagination, war, terrorism, the univesrse…

    See my point?

  • http://rightside.fissure.org Shishberg

    Ok, here are some other concepts which have emerged in humans, in imagination and cultures: history, law, philosophy, science, culture, imagination, war, terrorism, the univesrse…

    See my point?

    There are two categories of things here. History, law, philosophy, culture, imagination, war and terrorism (and science, if you mean the scientific method) are products of the human species; you’re right, they have emerged from our thoughts, and they have no independent existence outside us. It makes no sense, for example, to talk about culture in the absence of humans (or at least life).

    On the other hand, the universe (and science, if you mean the things that experimental science has discovered) are independent of us, and would exist even if we didn’t. All that we’ve done is uncovered, to some degree, how they work. We didn’t actually create them. You can’t really say that they “emerged in humans, in imagination and cultures” – the only thing that emerged is an understanding of them.

    Archi’s point is that god belongs to the first category. The existence of a deity is something we’ve constructed, not something that was there independently for us to discover.

  • Philip Thomas

    I was referring to the concepts as concepts. The concept of Science is a human construct which historians of thought can trace. The concept of the Universe is a human concept which historians of thought can trace (with a little more difficulty). The concept of a deity is a human concept which historians of thought can trace. Etc. But this demonstrates nothing about their relation to the real world.

  • Rowan

    Philip:
    “the concept of deity emerges in humans, in imagination and cultures: it is a mythological concept”
    Ok, here are some other concepts which have emerged in humans, in imagination and cultures: history, law, philosophy, science, culture, imagination, war, terrorism, the univesrse…
    See my point?

    Hi Philip,
    I’m not sure that I do see your point. Are history, philosophy and law real? Well, no, not as such, but we use their illusions to produce the effects we desire. Now it is undeniable that religion is also used in society, and very effectively. But that doesn’t mean that it’s true. What is the difference in the effect of a religious idea that is real and another that is not? None that I can see. People think that God exists; and this seems to be as good for them as if he really did.

    Of course, it would be possible for a true religion (ie, one which actually had an existing God) to be superior to a false one. Are there any differences Christians can show between their religion (which they believe to be real) and a hypothetical religion in which God did not exist but people thought he did?

  • http://rightside.fissure.org Shishberg

    I was referring to the concepts as concepts. The concept of Science is a human construct which historians of thought can trace. The concept of the Universe is a human concept which historians of thought can trace (with a little more difficulty). The concept of a deity is a human concept which historians of thought can trace. Etc. But this demonstrates nothing about their relation to the real world.

    Okay, sure. But if you read Archi’s comment again, it says

    Both atheists and theists agree that the concept of deity exists, but they differ in terms of what they believe about the concept. Generally, atheists have an alternative theory (or at least some informal hunches) about how the concept of deity originated. Atheists generally hold the positive belief that the concept of deity originates in humans, in imagination and cultures; it is a mythological concept. This is a positive empirical claim, and there’s plenty of evidence to support it.

    The point is this: atheists don’t deny that the concept of a deity exists, or that it can be traced historically, or that it exists in human minds. Rather, they say that if you do trace it historically, you’ll find its origins are purely in human imagination. Theism, on the other hand, says that the concept came from correct observations about the real world. That is the difference – not whether it exists as a human concept, but where the concept itself came from.

  • Philip Thomas

    Rowan, I guess there is some phiosophical divide between us: I do think philosophy, law, and history are real, while acknowledging they are also social constructs a la postmodernism. But I don’t think this divide corresponds to that between atheists and theists.

    The difference would be the existence of God, of course. Now if God didn’t exist there would have been no Jesus of Nazereth and Christianity probably wouldn’t be present in its current form. But I’m not going to convince you of that…

    Yeah, I understood the point Archi was making. My point was that all concepts originate in humans: if the point is merely that then it is banal. If the point is that deities are purely imaginary, I think we need some more evidence than “they were thought of by humans”.

  • Oz

    I disagree, Philip. Concepts that are true originate in nature; it takes a human to formulate them but they aren’t just made up. Of course, you also have false concepts that are just made up.

  • Rowan

    Well, no need for a philosophical divide, Philip. I’m quite happy with calling philosophy, law and history real, just so long as we don’t mean that they’re real in the sense that, say, an apple in my hand is.
    I’d also be happy to call religion real. But that doesn’t mean that the God it is based on is; just as science and history are both real, but their subject may not be – and in fact, they state that it isn’t, in many cases.

    “If God didn’t exist there would have been no Jesus of Nazareth and Christianity wouldn’t be present in it’s current form.”

    This would be a really strong argument for the truth of Christianity, IF it could be shown that Christianity would be impossible unless true (which I believe is what you’re saying?)And that’s what I was asking about earlier.

    JP Holding has an argument along those lines, but I think I’ve seen it debunked.

    As for “If the point is that deities are purely imaginary, I think we need some more evidence than “they were thought of by humans”" – no, I think really what we need is some evidence that they were not only thought of by humans.

  • Rowan

    So is there any evidence for there being any differences between the world we live in now and a world in which God did not exist?

  • Philip Thomas

    Oz: ah but Nature consists only of things: it takes a human to conceptualise.

    One could construct a hypothetical world which was only different from our world in that God doesn’t exist, yes. Much as one might choose to imagine that the entirety of the world is a delusion being experienced by oneself. There would be no evidence that could show you otherwise…

  • tminuspi

    Interesting how all the hair-splitting returns to the much-travelled (but rarely-acknowledged) agnostic axiom: “I don’t know.”

  • Padishah

    Interesting how all the hair-splitting returns to the much-travelled (but rarely-acknowledged) agnostic axiom: “I don’t know.”

    Only for those engaged in blind faith – and you can find them for any ideological stripe.

  • tminuspi

    Oh, don’t get me wrong…..you’ll never find a greater nontheist than the one you’ll find in me; but you can debate the concept of reality and the reality of concept until you’re blue in the face, and at the end of each and every day, whattaya got? Sloppy prioritization has been a shockingly-affordable human hallmark for some time, but I suspect that the efforts of the rationalist(s) will eventually shore up a better future for the species (and drag the worrisome kicking and screaming into the next stage of discovery). The starting post on this page exemplifies those ideals, and I’ll applaud that at every opportunity.

  • Padishah

    So you would rather we engage solely in empiricism with no regard for abstract reasoning? You see no legitimate field of study for philosophy?

  • tminuspi

    Nothing of the sort. As an individualist, I realize that everything is continuously being looked into, latched onto, discarded, and/or pulled along with various goals in mind. It’s quite a smorgasbord, and societies are becoming more diverse with respect to their dietary intake. I’ve been told I lean too closely to technocracy, but I personally just see that as the better way to head. As philosophies come and go, time might be the ultimate yardstick for mine.

  • Archi Medez

    If the point is that deities are purely imaginary, I think we need some more evidence than “they were thought of by humans”.

    Comment by: Philip Thomas | June 18, 2006, 6:14 am

    To try and tie this back to Adam’s article…the context was that atheists have positive (not to say, 100% certain) theories about the world and about morality, and the specific point you’ve cited was that atheists generally have a positive theory about the origins and status of deity concepts, i.e., they are mythological. I’m not sure that you’ve understood this point, because not all concepts are mythological. For all practical purposes, by mythological, I mean fiction or else erroneous beliefs.

    Of course, there are tons of evidence that deities were thought of by humans. This comes not only from research in various empirical sciences (especially cultural anthropology), but also from developmental cognitive psychological studies (e.g., some young children develop a concept of an anthropomorphic being—e.g., ask a toddler where do mountains come from?, and some of the children will give their theory, drawing upon the known properties of agents [perhaps from their experience in the sand box making mountains], and transforming some properties [e.g., mountains are bigger, ergo need a bigger entity to build them], and reflecting the child’s temporary ignorance of geology. Likewise, questions on the status and origin of morality are often dealt with in the manner of the child in the sandbox. People know that they have a sense of right and wrong, and they know that their societies (i.e., huge numbers of people) have moral rules; but lacking knowledge of cognitive neuropsychology, social networks and group dynamics, etc., they appeal to some greater anthropomorphic intelligent force that is responsible for the widespread and long-standing moral codes in the society.

    The problem, for the sake of the theist vs atheist debate, is not that there is a lack of evidence for the positive atheist theory that the god belief is mythical. There is so much evidence for the positive atheist theory of deity (as myth) and so little evidence (i.e., zero) for the positive theist theory of deity (as real) that the contrast is staggering. The two actually are not comparable, because one is a scientific theory, whereas the other does not qualify as a scientific theory. The problem is that theists are trying to push their positive theory of deity as scientific, and then, when the normal criteria of scientific research and evidence are requested of them, they cry foul and say things like “you can’t prove that God doesn’t exist”. In the sphere of positive claims, this is just cheating. Theism is a positive theory that makes positive empirical claims about the world and human psychology (and morality), whose proponents cheat by appeal to the absence of evidence (a negative) to try and protect their theory from demolition.

  • Padishah

    There is so much evidence for the positive atheist theory of deity (as myth) and so little evidence (i.e., zero) for the positive theist theory of deity (as real)

    On what grounds do you propose this? There is solid scientific evidence that God does not exist, and no possible evidence that He does? Are you quite sure you are not being somewhat selective in your interpretations here?

  • Archi Medez

    Padishah

    You said:
    “On what grounds do you propose this?”

    I already said:
    “Of course, there are tons of evidence that deities were thought of by humans. This comes not only from research in various empirical sciences (especially cultural anthropology), but also from developmental cognitive psychological studies…”

    Check it out.

  • Rowan

    I haven’t really looked into the difference between strong and weak atheism much. Are they compatible?

  • dhagrow

    Sometimes I think it would be more accurate to call weak atheists “disbelieving agnostics”, in that they do not believe in any gods, but accept that they have no proof. Strong atheists would just be atheists then, those who believe that there is sufficient proof to show that there are no gods. Believing agnostics would then be those who believe in a god or gods, but accept that they have no proof. In practice, it seems that only believing agnostics are considered agnostics, while the others are all atheists. That assertion of belief or disbelief in gods is more important to people either way than the existance of proof.

    Really there is no line between the various definitions. I call myself an atheist because I think that disbelief has the potential to benefit humanity much more than belief. I am a weak atheist because I accept that there there is no proof either way. I don’t think that no one should be seeking proof, but I don’t think it helps much to argue it in it’s absence. There is evidence both ways (more than zero on the theist side I think; though not scientific evidence), and that’s what anyone should consider when choosing their side. But there is no proof. Which, I think, is why I too consider the assertion of belief or disbelief to be more important.

    Wikipedia has more on strong and weak atheism in the Atheism, Strong atheism, and Weak atheism entries.

  • Philip Thomas

    Archi Medz, I was linking the two halves of your statement “religion is the product of human imagination and culture” and “it is mythological”, and thinking that you had deduced the second from the first. If they were merely seperate assertions, I don’t think they are obviously fallacious.

    Of course, deities were (and are) thought of by humans. So are apples, dogs, the internet, pi, and so on. Indeed, any dialogue we have can only consist of things thought of by humans…

    atheists generally have a positive theory about the origins and status of deity concepts, i.e., they are mythological.

    This sentence suffers from the same problem. Things are not mythological just because you have a positive theory about their origins and status, even if said theory is more or less correct. One can construct a theory about the origins of Science, but this does not demonstrate Science to be a myth. Now, if you mean “atheists generally have a positive theory about the origins and status of deity concepts, which theory states they are mythological”, that is probably broadly true.

    Hey, I have theories about the origins and status of deity concepts which can be expressed in Anthropolgical terms without reference to their truth or falsity. They might even be the same theories as you mention….

    Returning to the question of “what would the world be like if God didn’t exist?

    Well, obviously this question presupposes God exists. I believe God intervened in the world at cetain key points. He created it and he sustains it. So the world wouldn’t exist. But assuming it did exist, the religion of the Jewish people would not have developed on quite the same lines. Jesus of Nazereth wouldn’t exist, because he is the Son of God (I wasn’t claiming that Christianity is impossible unless true, I was assuming it to be true and working backwards), and therefore without God he wouldn’t exist. Saul would therefore not have been converted on the Road to Damascus. So Christianity wouldn’t develop on quite the same lines either.

  • Padishah

    Archi: “”Of course, there are tons of evidence that deities were thought of by humans. This comes not only from research in various empirical sciences (especially cultural anthropology), but also from developmental cognitive psychological studies…”
    Yes, and atoms were thought of by the ancient Greeks without any empirical evidence at first. That did not neccessitate that they did not exist.

  • Rowan

    But Philip, we are asking you to prove that Christianity is impossible unless God really does exist. Because if Christianity is possible without God, then how do you know that this is not the world we live in?

    If there is an explanation for every proof religion has to offer, other than the existence of God; if religious experiences are simply mental phenomena, if miracles are myths believed by the gullible, if answered prayers are random chance, if creation myths are disproven and if logic is not on the theist’s side – if, in short, all of the theists proofs for God can be explained as a product of the belief in God – then what answer do you have, can you have, against atheism?

    To take your example above: if God does not exist then yes, it’s certainly possible that Christianity would be the same today: as it is, people believe that Jesus was the son of God; and this is a state of affairs that it is quite possible to achieve without an actual God, or indeed an actual Jesus.

    I think Adam has addressed a point like this before:

    “I can imagine a world where God’s existence would be an undeniable fact.

    I can imagine a world where cities in heathen nations regularly exploded in flames for no apparent reason; a world where we could go to the Middle East and see the entrance to the Garden of Eden, locked and barred and guarded by a flaming sword, with misty green Paradise visible in the distance beyond the gates; a world where angels flew alongside planes blowing trumpets and calling on sinners to repent. I can imagine a world of miracles and spirits, where faith healers could cure severed spinal cords or regenerate lost limbs, where prophets called fire from heaven, sent rain, parted seas and multiplied loaves and fishes, where voices boomed from the sky in answer to prayers, and where the entire geologic record consisted of fossils randomly jumbled throughout strata of flood-deposited sediments. I can readily imagine a world like this.

    However, we don’t live in that world.”

    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/gaps.html

  • Rowan

    Oh, by the way, I withdraw a comment I made a while back about Adam needing to update his site with information about ID. He already covered it in the God of the Gaps essay. True, it only took him two paragraphs to do so, but I really dont see what more needs to be said. :)

  • SpeirM

    I think it’s a positive thing just to shed unnecessary baggage. One runs faster and more comfortably.

  • Padishah

    if miracles are myths believed by the gullible

    This is of course the issue. If Jesus was not in fact resurrected the notion of God within a Christian framework collapses.

    The fact that ‘faith healers’ and other charlatans parade ‘miracles’ is not clear proof that the latter cannot occur, just as the fact that some things percieved as revelation are merely the product of mental disturbance does not preclude revelation really existing.

    if, in short, all of the theists proofs for God can be explained as a product of the belief in God – then what answer do you have, can you have, against atheism?

    If the existence all the other countries in the world can be explained as the product of a giant government conspiracy to keep the population controlled, what answer can you have against my theory of mono-statism?

  • SpeirM

    “The fact that ‘faith healers’ and other charlatans parade ‘miracles’ is not clear proof that the latter cannot occur, just as the fact that some things percieved as revelation are merely the product of mental disturbance does not preclude revelation really existing.”

    It’s hard to get past the inference that you’re deliberately ignoring an observation already well made here. It’s not the commonplace that needs proof. It’s the uncommon; the outlandish. It doesn’t matter that charlatans don’t disprove miracles. Why should we believe miracles occur, or ever have?

  • Philip Thomas

    Padishah is an atheist, by the way.

    He is right though, I claim there was at least one genuine miracle, the Resurrection. If you can prove that did not occur, I will abandon my faith.

    If Christianity is possible with God, how do you know that is not the world we live in?

  • SpeirM

    “Padishah is an atheist, by the way.”

    I stand chastised. He did seem to be arguing in the other direction.

    “If you can prove that did not occur, I will abandon my faith.”

    I’ll say it again: it isn’t the commonplace that needs proving. What’s commonplace is that when people die they stay that way. What needs proving is that there has ever been an exception to that rule.

  • Padishah

    You could call me a strong agnostic – I consider it very unlikely that a theistic-type deity exists, though it is of course possible. This does not however mean that there is no evidence that supports this view, or that science has somehow ‘disproven God’, which seemed to be the assertion in various of the claims about positivism above.

  • SpeirM

    Actually, Padishah, I think you and I would agree on the basics.

    I’ve grown a bit reluctant to apply “atheist” to myself of late. That’s not because I don’t realize it can easily comprehend my own views of things. It’s just that in common parlance “atheist” tends to imply something other than what many “atheists” themselves mean by it. Why use the term if I’m just going to mislead people with it?

    I can’t prove there’s no God. I don’t care to try, publicly or privately. It is possible to be genuinely agnostic about things like this. For instance, are UFOs alien spaceships? I doubt it, but I don’t out-and-out deny that they could be. I think I’m more than justified in maintaining my skepticism until some awfully good evidence comes along.

    What I do stand firm on is that, if there is a God, the Bible must misrepresent him. If he genuinely appears there at all, it’s only as a grotesque distortion. Consequently, one can’t derive any reliable information about him from it. It’s easier and more parsimonious just to suppose there’s no real connection between him and it.

    That’s why Philip puzzles me. He’ll claim that he doesn’t rely on the authority of Scripture and yet Scripture provides the foundation for Christianity. Jesus quoted it. Paul quoted it. (Almost no one, atheist or otherwise, disputes that Paul wrote at least Galatians, Romans, and the Corinthians.) The other apostles, too. These people founded that Faith. They believed it authoritative. Take away the Bible stories and what is there left of Christianity, really? Why even call it that? The resurrection account itself is found in Scripture. What makes that part so believable and yet allows for the rest to lie under suspicion?

  • Philip Thomas

    SpeirM, I’m not sure if I grasp what you are saying. You seem to think that there are two valid positions about the Bible: 1) Everything it says is literally true and 2) Everything it says is false. I maintain that there are a number of positions between these two extremes, and I happen to hold one of them. I don’t “take away the Bible stories”, but I do say that they may be inaccurate in some respects, most obviously where they contradict each other or contradict other historical evidence.

    This is much the same approach as I would take to any historical document, of course.

    Now, why do I believe the Resurrection and not, say, the Garden of Eden? Well, there is complete agreement in our sources that the Resurrection happened, and our sources are within a few decades of the events described. The Garden of Eden is a contradiction of the creation story offered immediately beforehand and our sources are hundreds of years away from it.

  • SpeirM

    Now you’re mischaracterizing me, Philip. I am not saying that the Bible has to be deemed either all true or all false. What I’m saying is that, on average, there’s no better reason to believe one of its outlandish stories than another.

    Let’s forget the Garden of Eden. How about the Exodus: the parting of the Red Sea, mysterious sources of food and water, etc? According to tradition, the story of the Exodus was written as it happened. (You seem to be big on tradition.) There weren’t even the few decades removed. Do you believe all that?

    How about the stories in the Acts of the Apostles? Do you believe the story about Ananias and Sapphira? Do you believe that when the shadow of Peter fell over sick people they were healed? (Both chapter 5) In chapter 19, cloths were taken from Paul’s body to heal people. (Prompting the silliness practiced by some televangelists today.) Were these accounts written within an acceptable amount of time after the supposed event? Would you believe similar tales from other religions if they were recorded as promptly? If not, why not? Why shouldn’t your reasoning apply equally to your own?

    Do you think Paul spoke for God or not? Sometimes? How do you make the distinction? If he said something that doesn’t square with what we’ve discovered since, he wasn’t speaking for God? How about when he pinned his whole teaching on the notion of the “first Adam”? (Romans 5; I Cor 15) Don’t we pretty much have to accept that there was a literal Adam if we’re going to buy into Pauline theology? If there wasn’t a literal first Adam, what’s the need of a literal second? I submit that Paul believed the Genesis stories. Why don’t you? Because you have the benefit of science to tell you they couldn’t have happened? What if Paul had? How might it have affected his theology? But what difference would that make? Is your religion founded on divine revelation or isn’t it? If not, it’s a human invention.

  • Rowan

    Now this is an interesting exchange. Philip, I wouldn’t like to antagonise you, although I see my previous posts were a little…freely written. But I must say I agree with a lot of what SpeirM is saying; the commonplace doesn’t need proving. If I understand correctly, Philip, you have a reasonable attitude about issues in the Bible which means you do not believe many of the stories to be literal? But you do maintain that the Resurrection occurred. You have to ask, why?

    It was David Hume, I think, who asked: “Which is more probable? That a man should come back from the dead, or that a man should tell a lie?” What’s so unbelievable about the idea that the people who wrote the bible were quite simply wrong? Just like all christians believe the Muslims, Jews, Mormons and Vikings to be wrong.

    I’m really not sure where to go from here. You think that a man came back to life. Why? Because a story has been written about him doing so? What weight can this have?

    Yours, sincerely puzzled!

  • Archi Medez

    Yes, and atoms were thought of by the ancient Greeks without any empirical evidence at first. That did not neccessitate that they did not exist.

    Comment by: Padishah | June 19, 2006, 7:09 am

    The Greeks could not test these ideas empirically, no, but the idea was in principle testable. (Measuring atoms is a technical problem, and to solve it required a more sophisticated conceptual framework and more extensive knowledge base). But the belief in a deity (as real and not just a concept like elf, angel, etc) is for all practical purposes not testable, even though theists insist that the deity exists (a positive empirical claim). This is why I say it is cheating. To assert that the deity is real is to enter the game of science, but to refuse to allow the idea to be tested (or to try and bend the rules so that it cannot be tested) is like asking to win by forfeit. Theists are trying to use absence of evidence to support a positive assertion.

    I should add, of course, that the Bible for example does make numerous empirical claims (e.g., regarding the efficacy of prayer). I believe Adam has discussed this on this site. The evidence shows that prayer doesn’t work. Does this mean that we can be 100% certain that it doesn’t work? No, it means that we can be about 99.9% (or some very high figure) confident that it doesn’t work.

  • Archi Medez

    atheists generally have a positive theory about the origins and status of deity concepts, i.e., they are mythological.

    This sentence suffers from the same problem. Things are not mythological just because you have a positive theory about their origins and status, even if said theory is more or less correct. One can construct a theory about the origins of Science, but this does not demonstrate Science to be a myth.

    Philip,

    Things fit into the category of mythological when certain criteria are met. Is an apple a myth? No. I’m not talking about all concepts, and I’m not sure where you’re going with insisting my statements about deities apply to all concepts. They don’t—unless you can put your deity on the table next to that apple where I can see it or otherwise measure it (or its trace or effect).

    The criteria that establish a concept as being of mythic status are met not by asserting that they are met, but by gathering empirical evidence to find out whether or not, or the extent to which they are met. Atheists believe that the deity is mythological in that it does not correspond to anything real. (Indeed, most theists also insist that any deity other than the one of their own religion is mythic).

    Theists have not yet proposed any test which would allow us to detect the real existence of God, but we nevertheless have the concept of deity (or concepts of deity, deities, etc). Which claim is more credible: That the deity is mythic, or that it is real? Theists are making a claim that poses as scientific (i.e., that the deity really exists; it is not just a concept), but it turns out that the deity concept fits much better with the theory, and the corresponding pattern of evidence, that the deity is of mythological origin and status, than it does to the theory that the deity has real status.

    We know that people can think up gods. We can observe them doing it and we can observe their products. We could run an experiment simply to demonstrate this point by having 100 college students take five minutes to invent a god, and write about it to give a description. All healthy students could do it except perhaps those who refused to participate. So we know that people can think up gods, and at the same time we have no evidence that any gods exist (except as ideas). The atheist theory of deity (i.e., the positive theory that it is a myth) is supported by evidence, but the theist theory of deity (i.e., that it is real) is not. This is a terribly simple point. No discussion of deity should proceed until this point is acknowledged.

  • Interested Atheist

    or, to put it another way, if you see a screaming, foaming-at-the-mouth man wandering down the street dressed n his pyjamas and brandishing a bloody knife, you could say to yourself that he’s in his pyjamas because his clothes are all being washed, he’s screaming because he’s a very bad singer preparing for the opera, he’s wandering down the street because he can’t decide which way to go and has something of a memory problem, he’s carrying a knife because he needed an impromptu mirror to finish his shaving, its bloody because he thought it was too bright and would look better with a touch of red, and he’s foaming at the mouth because he accidentally swallowed a cake of soap for breakfast.

    But it’s much simpler to say that, on first glance, he’s probably a dangerous madman.

  • Philip Thomas

    SpeirM, thankyou for the clarification. I am still rather puzzled that you cannot see that some Bible stories (or statements) are more believable than others. Still, each to his own.

    I do not believe in the parting of the Red Sea: Archaelogical evidence demonstrates the events of Exodus to be false.

    I do not make a judgement on the stories in Acts (beyond the very beginning where it is concerned with the Risen Lord). Their truth or falsity seems unimportant to me, except insofar as they constitute evidence for an early Christian community.

    I believe accounts that I consider worthwhile evidence: though sometimes I suspend judgement. Of course, the closer the account is to modern times, the more evidence there should be for it, other things being equal.

    Sometimes Paul speaks for God, and sometimes he doesn’t, a feature he shares with Church leaders down the ages. The criteria for deciding the difference is the same as for anyone else.

    A literal First Adam is not needed: one merely needs to posit the existence of Sin, which then requires Christ.

    Rowan, I do indeed not believe many of the stories in the Bible. I beleive the Resurrection because it seems to fit the evidence. A man may lie, but how many would need to lie to create the Church? And not only lie, but die for something that they themselves believed was a lie?

    I don’t think Muslims are wrong in a strong sense. Muhammad was clearly a gifted man and a natural leader and he is not reputed to have worked miracles, let alone risen from the dead. I don’t think Jews are wrong, at least not liberal Jews who acknowledge the probably mythical nature of much of the Old Testament. I do think Mormons are wrong: I think this because of the 11 people who said they witnessed Josiah Smith and the Angel, the founding myth of Mormonism, 11 of them later deconverted form the Mormon religion. I think Vikings were wrong, but since their stories are clearly mythical and involve no witnessed miracles (as far as I am aware), they can be dismssed quite easily.

    Archi Medz. I agree with you that things fit into the category of mythology when certain criteria are met: I was disagreeing with you about what those criteria are.

    Apples are not mythical: But neither are they as simple as one might think: the word “apple” signifies a particular cultural construct which attaches to certain permutations of atoms…

    My test for the existence of God is simple: If Jesus of Nazereth rose from the dead, God exists. If he didn’t, God doesn’t exist.
    I claim that my theist theory of deity is supported by evidence, that is the evidence for the resurrection. It looks like we’re not going to get anywhere…

    Interested Atheist: first impressions are one thing, considered analysis another.

  • SpeirM

    “I am still rather puzzled that you cannot see that some Bible stories (or statements) are more believable than others.”

    Don’t be puzzled. I, too, see some Bible stories as more believable than others. The difference between us is how we judge one believeable and the other unbelievable. A simple relating of a mundane historical event that doesn’t defy what we know of the world and reality is fairly easy to swallow. (On the other hand, I’m not going to found a religion on it, either.) Men rising from the dead? Well, what mystifies me is how anyone could call that believable without a whole lot better evidence than we’ve got. People died for the belief? People have died for every belief. A whole church was founded upon the supposition that it was true? Bear in mind that this “church” was a mighty few people right at first. Very, very few indeed! A few deceivers can easily gull a few more gullible people, and that’s all it takes. It’s happened over and over and over throughout history. That’s why lies, misinterpretations, and snowballing legend are much, much more believable explanations than that a man actually rose from the dead.

    “Sometimes Paul speaks for God, and sometimes he doesn’t, a feature he shares with Church leaders down the ages. The criteria for deciding the difference is the same as for anyone else.”

    So go ahead and say it: you don’t believe Christianity is a revealed religion. There’s nothing finally authoritative because each person is free to decide for himself and what is and what is not God’s revelation. Am I then free to decide that the Resurrection story falls into that category?

    “A literal First Adam is not needed: one merely needs to posit the existence of Sin, which then requires Christ.”

    But don’t you see? Without a literal first Adam there is no sin. Man is not a fallen creature because there was no Fall. If men sometimes act like animals, it’s because they are animals. God shouldn’t be punishing us for being the way he made us then. (And don’t focus on the punishment thing if you don’t believe in that and miss the overall implications of what I’m saying thereby.) He should be rewarding us on those occasions when we manage to rise above our animal natures. In other words, if the story of the Fall isn’t true, what’s the need of a Redeemer? No first Adam obviates the need of a second.

  • Philip Thomas

    You are free to disbelieve the Resurrection if you wish. Indeed, if you have concluded that the Resurrection didn’t occur I would much rather you honestly affirmed your disbelief than that you concealed it (which, to be fair, you show no signs of doing).

    Sin is not dependent upon the literal existence of Adam. It is inherent in the nature of human beings (which is not to see that all humans sin, since there were at least two who did not). Christ’s sacrifice is necessary to redeem us from that.

    God does reward us when we rise above our animal natures, but that in itself implies those who do not are punished, if only by being denied the reward.

  • Shawn Smith

    Philip Thomas,

    What reward does God provide? Eternal life? Forever is a very, very, very, very, very, very, very long time. It is time enough to do everything you could possibly do thousands of thousands of thousands of thousands of times over, with no end in sight. As eon after eon passes by, I would be screaming for oblivion if I were to find myself in that position.

    If I were somehow made “infinite” upon my death, well, I can’t even properly think of what that means, as I can only conceive of infinity in abstract mathematical terms. I just don’t want to live (exist) forever.

  • Philip Thomas

    Well, I do. Infinity does not necessitate the exhaustion of every possibility: though it is a very common error to think it does. All one needs is to posit some other things which are infinite in size. Say there are an infinite number of pleasures- then you can spend all eternity experiencing them- moreover, you can spend all eternity experiencing half of them, which is still an infinite amount.

    Since the amount of stimulation to a particular pleasure centre measured between two abitrary values of ’1′ and ’2′, has infinite possible gradations, I don’t find the idea of an infinite number of pleasures at all implausible.

  • Archi Medez

    Philip,

    My test for the existence of God is simple: If Jesus of Nazereth rose from the dead, God exists. If he didn’t, God doesn’t exist.
    I claim that my theist theory of deity is supported by evidence, that is the evidence for the resurrection. It looks like we’re not going to get anywhere

    Right. Because theists want to make an empirical claim, but they don’t want to do the empirical research that might endanger it.

    This suggestion of Jesus rising from the dead is in theory testable if (a) Jesus was alive today, (b) he was observed to be killed and all medical tests, with continuous monitoring, ensured that he was brain dead for some period significantly longer than any other recoveries (e.g., there are many such accounts documented in the medical literature, so we’d have to show that this recovery was somehow not a natural revival), and (c) he came back to life according to all medical tests.

    What would this show? This would show that Christians who take the resurrection as empirical evidence of God’s existence are correct–or at least, it is consistent with their theory that the deity is real, and refutes the atheist theory that the deity is not real.

    Problems:

    1. The story of the resurrection, and all such stories, are conveniently removed in time. In particular, the story of the resurrection is situated conveniently at a time when no such empirical evidence could be gathered. That’s the game played by many theists. The alleged evidence is either far removed in the past or is merely promised at some unspecified point in the future.

    2. The kind of evidence needed to support the resurrection having happened in the past cannot be obtained. We could not, for example, upon digging up some bones, find that Jesus had been alive at one point, then dead for a period, and then risen after that. Indeed, how would we know that the skeleton was of Jesus?

    3. Even if the experiment showed that Christians were right and that atheists were wrong, what does this actually say about the deity? Science wouldn’t just stop there. No, there would be further investigation into this mysterious force allegedly behind the observed resurrection. Science is provisional, and, though generally based on causal explanations, is probabilistic viz. the confidence in the conclusions.

    Finally, I will note that the Koran states that the crucifixion was an illusion, and that Christ was not actually put to death and there was no resurrection. I have no reason to believe the account of the resurrection, and I have no reason to believe the Koran’s claims either. But the one atheist theory is more parsimonious, and that is that all of these accounts are myths; they do not refer to real events.

  • Philip Thomas

    The Koran’s testimony is 500 years late: in fact that part of the Koran was one of the reasons I rejected Islam.

  • SpeirM

    Well, Philip, I despair of getting you to deal with the implications. You seem to respond a lot without actually answering much. But, I don’t know. Maybe you really think you are answering. (And I would plead with you. Go back and read Archi’s last post again. Consider all of it, not just the final paragraph. Answer the rest of it.)

    Let me ask you this: Considering the quality of the evidence, do you think God can reasonably expect our belief in him? (And by “expect,” I mean more like “demand.”) More particularly, do you think he could justifiably expect us all to become Christians? Do you believe he would be just in being angry with us if we didn’t? Do you see the actual evidence as being of that quality?

    (I know we’re ganging up on you. I almost feel apologetic. I would, except you chose to be here. I will say this: you don’t complain about it.)

  • Shawn Smith

    Well, to be perfectly honest, I don’t see how there could be an infinite number of pleasures. I can’t think of anything actual that is infinite, with the possible exception of the entire Universe/Multiverse. But even on those terms, I can’t say I understand it, and can only talk about it in very abstract terms.

    … Since the amount of stimulation to a particular pleasure centre measured between two arbitrary values of ’1′ and ’2′ has infinite possible gradations …

    Where can you possibly get that conclusion? I don’t see how objects that have a non-zero size (subatomic particles) in a finite space can have an infinite number of positions. Just because we can talk about an infinite number of real numbers between 1 and 2, those numbers are abstract entities, with no physical analog. I’m sorry, I just don’t understand.

  • Archi Medez

    The Koran’s testimony is 500 years late: in fact that part of the Koran was one of the reasons I rejected Islam.

    Comment by: Philip Thomas | June 20, 2006, 3:21 pm

    Philip, this returns us again to the need for empirical evidence to resolve such questions. Muslims will claim that because the Koran came later, it is, like later editions of a book, a more correct version. But the issue of temporal priority doesn’t really help decide anything. An important logical point must also be raised, which is that, given that the respective New Testament and Koran accounts of the resurrection contradict one another, then one of them has to be wrong, and both of them may be wrong.

  • Philip Thomas

    SpeirM, I read all of Archi Medz post, but I didn’t see anything that needed answering apart from the last point on the Koran. Sure it would be more convenient if the Resurrection had happened in a laboratory: but it didn’t.

    I can easily imagine an infinite number of pleasures. I’m not sure how I can help you to do so though. Perhaps if you think of a hotel which has as many rooms as positive integers, and in each room there is a different pleasure? Remember that the afterlife doesn’t take place in the material universe, so physical laws may be radically altered. As for subatomic particles being of a non-zero size, that may only be because our measuring instruments can’t go beyond a certain level: there could be an infinite progression of smaller and smaller particles.

  • SpeirM

    “Sure it would be more convenient if the Resurrection had happened in a laboratory: but it didn’t.”

    The question is, what compels us to believe it happened at all?

    And, again, you didn’t address the questions I asked. I won’t bother to ask again. I don’t pretend to read minds, but how can I conclude anything but that you don’t want to deal with the implications?

    By all means, believe. You’ll have the comfort of knowing you’re among a vast majority. But your reluctance to give a straight answer to some fairly straightforward questions suggests those questions bother you. One can only ask, Why?

    But I’ll leave that question rhetorical.

  • Rowan

    Hi Philip,
    Sorry for the slow answer. Also for a mistake I made – I posted under Interested Atheist” as well while on another computer. IA and Rowan are both me. Sorry for the confusion.

    You said:
    “Rowan, I do indeed not believe many of the stories in the Bible. I beleive the Resurrection because it seems to fit the evidence. A man may lie, but how many would need to lie to create the Church? And not only lie, but die for something that they themselves believed was a lie?
    I don’t think Muslims are wrong in a strong sense. Muhammad was clearly a gifted man and a natural leader and he is not reputed to have worked miracles, let alone risen from the dead. I don’t think Jews are wrong, at least not liberal Jews who acknowledge the probably mythical nature of much of the Old Testament. I do think Mormons are wrong: I think this because of the 11 people who said they witnessed Josiah Smith and the Angel, the founding myth of Mormonism, 11 of them later deconverted form the Mormon religion. I think Vikings were wrong, but since their stories are clearly mythical and involve no witnessed miracles (as far as I am aware), they can be dismssed quite easily.”

    You see, it’s that thing at the start of your comment that I have trouble with. “The resurrection seems to fit the evidence.” I really don’t think that’s a good argument for a miracle or other apparently impossible occurence. I would say that any other possible explanation is enormously more likely that the Resurrection. “Which is more likely, that a man told a lie, or that a man came back to life?” We know that the one occurs regularly, the other has never been observed to occur that we can reliably attest to – but we do know that many stories about people coming back to life have been written and believed – but not believed by us.

    ut, you said, many people would need to lie to create the Church. And not only lie, but also die for their lies. Well, yes – but so what? It’s happened before. And referring to it as “lying” is probably a bit too black and white, although I know I started it first. I dare say they believed it was true, and died for their beliefs in sincerity – but is this such an unheard-of thing?

    As to you arguments against other religions being true:
    Well, I must say I’m at a bit of a loss with your saying that Muslims and Jews aren’t wrong. They deny that Jesus was and is the Son of God; and if Christians can say that this doesn’t get them sent to hell then how can you say anything is certain?
    As to the Mormons – well, I’m sure that they have a perfectly good explanation. And the Vikings – in what way are their stories any more mythical than the Bible? I must admit, I’m not too up on Norse mythology myself, but the idea of a World Serpent seems as mythological as six-day creationism; and I’m sure that if, by some accident of history, the Viking religion had survivied and prospered we’d see apologists for Odin!

  • Philip Thomas

    Speir M, I presume you are referring to points 1,2, and 3 made by Archi Medz. In the whole of these points there is only one question, and I took it to be rhetorical. Maybe I’m being slow. What are these questions I am not answering?

    Rowan, if the early Christians believed they had seen the Resurrection, what makes you think they hadn’t?

    I do not think people are sent to hell for their beliefs.

    The Viking stories are not more mythological than the Garden of Eden or the Flood (etc, etc). They are more mythological than the narrative presented in the Gospels and in Acts. I would hope this is fairly obvious.

  • SpeirM

    “What are these questions I am not answering?”

    I asked whether you believe the evidence for Christianity is of sufficient quality that God would be just in becoming angry with us for not being Christians. Ignore the question of hell. I’m just asking whether God would be justified in getting mad at us, regardless how that anger might be expressed or not expressed at all. And don’t get sidetracked on individual cases, such as, “Well, that would depend on what the person knows,” or some such thing. Assume the basic tenets of the Faith–your own beliefs are fine–that are generally known. Does the evidence for those rise to a level of such quality that God would be right in getting angry when someone doesn’t believe them?

    Bear in mind that I’m focusing on *the quality of the evidence* here. Does it, *in your opinion*, rise to a sufficiently high standard–is it compelling enough–that God would be justified in becoming angry over those who don’t buy it? I think “yes” or “no” will suffice (because, really, either you believe it does or you don’t). Go ahead and explain all you like, but start out by taking a positively identifiable position one way or another, please. Commit yourself.

    You might be surprised when I tell you I’m not asking this as a quibble. (Although I’ll certainly feel free to quibble if I see the need.) More than anything, I want to see, in words that can’t be misinterpreted, what you think about this.

  • Philip Thomas

    God would not be justified in “getting angry” as you put it. He would be disappointed (and rightly so). But it is not right to get angry with people for having incorrect beliefs, even patently incorrect ones (such as a belief tables are made of marshmallow), unless those beliefs might lead them to harm themselves or others. In the fulness of time we will all be brought before the majesty of almighty God and given the chance to choose to follow him or refuse him. Then there will be time for anger, for refusal at that judgment will lead to harm for the refuser.

  • SpeirM

    Philip, you came within a whisker of answering my question. When you wrote, “…it is not right to get angry with people for having incorrect beliefs, even patently incorrect ones…,” you approached it and then backed away. I don’t care about the issue of whether anger, per se, is justifiable, even by God. My interest, as I stated, was the quality of the evidence.

    I’m really not trying to railroad you. I’m not trying to herd you into the corral of my choosing so I can get you into the slaughterhouse later. (How’s that for an analogy!) I don’t have canned rebuttals cooked up for whichever way you respond. Obviously, if you had admitted that the evidence not of sufficient quality that God would be justified in getting angry, that would have been as much as admitting that the evidence really isn’t very good, as the rest of us have insisted. But, if as I expected, you had said you believe the evidence really does rise to that standard, there’s not much I could do except disagree, for the reasons I and others have stated.

    But, I’ll bite. Why wouldn’t God be justified in getting angry? What would make it “not right”? Are right and wrong determined by what God does or is he held to a standard of right and wrong that is beyond him? Would it not be right simply virtue of the fact that he does it?

    And, just because I’m curious…

    “In the fulness of time we will all be brought before the majesty of almighty God and given the chance to choose to follow him or refuse him.”

    Where do you get that? It’s certainly not in the Bible. Has it been been a teaching of the Cathoic Church? I doubt it, but, never having been Catholic, I can’t say for sure. Where did it come from?

  • Rowan

    Hi Philip,
    I must say this has been an interesting conversation!

    If the early Christians believed they had seen the resurrection, what makes me think they hadn’t? Because people coming back to life from the dead is a phenomenon we consider to be impossible; and history shows us that whenever any of the many impossible things people believed were tested, they were found to be ungrounded.Besides which, I must say my Biblical scholarship isn’t up to much – but I think saying that the early Christians saw the resurrection is a bit strong. The four accounts of it were written a long time after the event, and not by eyewitnesses.

    Anyway, I don’t believe a man came back to life for the same reason I wouldn’t believe a two-thousand year old story of a man turning into a bird.

    Regarding hell – well, I’m not quite sure what your take is on this. If there is no hell, what do we need saving from?

    As for the Viking stories – well, there we have it. They are as mythological as the Garden of Eden or the Great Flood. Yet there are plenty of Christians who believe in those today.

  • Philip Thomas

    SpeirM, I believe there is a Universal Moral Code which defines right and wrong. This code is followed by God (by His free choice).

    The Last Judgement is a standard Christian doctrine. That it involves a choice on the part of the judged is hinted at in several places, but I am probably going a little further than most interpretations. In this I follow C.S.Lewis.

    Rowan, the epistles of St.Paul contain numerous references to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, of which the most natural explanation (despite attempts to demonstrate otherwise) is that they refer to a person called Jesus who lived on Earth and was crucified. The Gospels are thought by most scholars to have written down an oral tradition about Jesus, of which the narrative of his death was the most detailed part.

    I didn’t say Hell doesn’t exist, just that people are not sent there for their beliefs. Hell is consequent on rejection of Almighty God (ultimate rejection, not mere unbelief in this life). It has to exist as a posssibility, since we have free will. There may not in practise be anybody in it, though.

  • Rowan

    Well, Philip, your beliefs sound goos enough to me, but I shouldn’t think it would be hard to find Christians to disagree with you. “There may not be anyone in hell?” Goodness me!

    The gospels were written from an oral tradition about Jesus? That sounds reasonable, but it doesn’t sound like good evidence to consider them to be true. Are you conceding that the Gospels are not eyewitness accounts?

    I must say, I think your particular interpretation of Christianity doesn’t sound too bad at all, but not as believable as you say.

  • Philip Thomas

    I know many Christians would disagree with me. But there are some who would agree- certainly the university chaplain at Durham is of the view that there may not be anyone in hell. And the Catholic church now teaches that no one (apart from God), can say for sure that a particular person is in hell (in contrast to the position for heaven)

    I concede the Gospels are not eyewitness accounts, with the possible exception of John. Their character as a particular type of source obviously means that we should be cautious about accepting everything they say as true. But it is still good evidence that Jesus existed. (The Resurrection narrative is a seperate issue, though of course if Jesus didn’t exist he couldn’t have been resurrected).

    Thankyou. I’m not sure what your interpretation of atheism is (you are an atheist?). But if it is in broad agreement with Adam, I see very little to criticise.

  • SpeirM

    “The Last Judgement is a standard Christian doctrine. That it involves a choice on the part of the judged is hinted at in several places, but I am probably going a little further than most interpretations.”

    Yes you are going a “little” further. In fact, there’s nothing in Scripture that hints that the judged will have any choices at the time of the judgment.

    Perhaps the most famous passage is in Revelation 20:

    Rev 20:11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.
    Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
    Rev 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.
    Rev 20:14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
    Rev 20:15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

    Now, your version of things would be a lot more palatable. If would be a lot more just, because it would allow for an informed choice. People would choose on the basis of actual indisputable evidence at hand.

    Then problem is, that’s not what Christianity teaches. It teaches we have to believe now based upon the kind of evidence that Christians themselves wouldn’t accept in any other context. If we don’t make the “right” choice, well, you see for yourself what the “inspired” writer said.

    What I’m wondering is, where did you find your inspiration? I don’t recall Lewis being of that opinion, although I may not be remembering right. The “chaplain at Durham,” maybe? Where does he get his inspiration? I mean, when we’re talking about heaven and hell and such, there’s nothing in the physical world that will give us any help at all in resolving the matter. There will have to be revelation, some kind of knowledge imported directly from the spirit world. What revelation do you or C.S. Lewis or the good chaplain refer to?

    You’re not just making things up as you go along, are you? ;)

  • Philip Thomas

    In The Great Divorce C.S.Lewis paints the choice as falling on the soul in question. The judgement in Revelation is based on the “book of deeds”, which consitutes a record of the soul’s choice.

    You are correct that there are difficulties in having knowledge of the world to come. Besides Revelation there is also what we are taught about the nature of God, inlcluding that he is Good. There is still an extent to which I am indulging in idle speculation, or “making it up as I go along”…

  • Rowan

    Well, thank you, Philip. I’ve enjoyed your friendly conversation, but I think that’s enough for the moment. Maybe see you on another thread.

  • SpeirM

    “The judgement in Revelation is based on the “book of deeds”, which consitutes a record of the soul’s choice.”

    Huh? Strange that in all my years of studying and teaching Revelation I’ve never even heard of any “book of deeds.” Got something to back that up with?

    “Besides Revelation there is also what we are taught about the nature of God, inlcluding that he is Good.”

    Yes, and as Adam has pointed out in a recent thread, the Bible can be quite ambiguous about how “good” God is. It says he’s good and then talks about him doing and plotting things that clearly aren’t good. (Remember, you just said there’s a standard independent of God.) So, which is it? Why should I accept what the Bible says about God being good and reject what it just as clearly says about him someday having people cast into the “lake of fire” because of decisions they made based upon insufficient evidence? You just decide God is good, ergo, he can’t really mean all that? Or, God is good, so the parts that would show him to be an ogre can’t be inspired? What not start out with “God is an ogre,” and conclude that the parts about him being good aren’t inspired? Experience from the real world? I’m sure you wouldn’t mean earthquakes and hurricanes and tsunamis and asteroid impacts and erupting volcanoes and disease and whatnot. They don’t show that God is good, so where do you get the idea? My guess is, ultimately, the Bible. Even your traditions derive from it.

  • Philip Thomas

    I meant “Book of life”, sorry about that.

    As you point out, there is a definite contrast between the Benevolence of God and some of his actions as described in the Bible. However, the central truth of the Resurrection makes no sense at all if God is not Good. Hence I believe God is good and accounts which describe him as otherwise are spurious.

    My sources are, as always in relgious matters, threefold: Revelation, Tradition and Scripture. Scripture is not the most important in this case, because as you have said the bullk of scripture does not portray a benevolent God.

  • SpeirM

    “…the central truth of the Resurrection makes no sense at all if God is not Good.”

    That’s a fact.

    Okay, Philip. Seventy-plus posts on this thread and a lot of them are mine. I’m tired.

    Besides, there’s just a wee little chance we could start going in circles. :) I think I’m ready to move on.

  • Philip Thomas

    I will not detain you further then. Live long and prosper.