Feedback on the Theist's Guide

Earlier today I was notified of a post on a blog titled Naked Pastor, “An Anti-Response to An Atheist“, which is a response to my essay on Ebon Musings, “The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists“.

Below is the text of a comment I left on that site in response to the post and some other commenters in residence.

* * *

Hello all,

I’m the author of the essay this post is responding to. If I may, I’d like to offer some thoughts.

First, on Heidi’s comment:

The atheist writer surely deserves to be commended for attempting to be open-minded, though his requirements for proof would cause even his own belief-system to fail.

Do tell – why do you say that? The items I listed are applicable only to supernatural belief systems, which atheism is not. Atheism is, rather, the default position. It is what we should rationally conclude if no religious faith can offer persuasive evidence of its truth.

And for Rick Cockrum:

His conditions are impossible to achieve under any belief system, whether theistic, atheistic, polytheistic, or panentheistic.

Again, I’m puzzled by this comment. My conditions are impossible to achieve? So you’re saying it’s impossible for prayer to have any measurable effect on anything? It’s impossible for God, if he exists, to simply show up at my doorstep in a form I can perceive? It’s impossible for a god who inspires holy books to convey any knowledge beyond what was already available in the culture at the time? Not only do your statements imply that God is not omnipotent; they imply that he is completely impotent. And how is a god who cannot affect the world in any way substantially different from a god that does not exist?

He says I will judge the eternal based on mind and matter.

Yes, that is exactly right. And I say that for one very simple reason: mind and matter are all I have. I cannot make decisions based on evidence I cannot see, senses I do not possess, or knowledge I do not have. Of course I make decisions using my own mind based on the facts that have been presented to me. What on earth do you imagine is the alternative?

Of course, I know what you’re going to say: faith. But faith is not a means of gaining knowledge at all: it is a way to convince yourself of the truth of beliefs you already hold, nothing more.

David Hayward’s post is a good example of this. Mr. Hayward says he believes in God because he perceives God as an immediate reality not dependent upon evidence. Surely he is aware that millions of people have relied on that same method throughout history, and through it have come to diametrically and often violently opposed conclusions about the identity, nature, and desires of the being they claim to be perceiving.

The vast divisions and endless squabbling among humanity’s many religions show clearly that religious experiences do not reflect a single, unchanging reality. If they did, our beliefs would have converged by now, but they have not. In fact, religious confusion and division are more rampant than ever, and unanimity seems farther away than ever. Compare this to science, which in just a scant three hundred years (compared to the many millennia already allotted to theologians) has reached an astonishing degree of agreement about many of the most fundamental facts regarding the nature, origin and fate of the universe we live in.

Mr. Hayward, you say that God has “pressed upon your mind” in a way that is “beyond knowledge” and “beyond proof”. I invite you to consider the possibility that, fervent and sincere as your beliefs plainly are, they are mistaken. As a human being, and particularly as a Christian, I assume you agree with me that human beings are fallible, and that we can be wrong even about things which we deeply and passionately believe to be true. I propose for your consideration that this may be one of those things. Clearly you’ve had some kind of powerful experience; I would not seek to deny or downplay that. But I would politely suggest that it may not represent what you think it does.

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.

  • John P

    I hope he posts your comments, Adam. So far, I don’t see them. I wouldn’t want to accuse the Naked Pastor of having no clothes.

  • http://www.nullifidian.net/ nullifidian

    Just as an observation to your original essay, I’ve had a similar discussion with a christian (who perhaps wasn’t as tempered as the good pastor) over at Atheist Perspective and then continued over at my blog.

    When I explained the situation that you so succinctly mentioned re: knowing what evidence would convince you (I was a little more demanding than you were in your essay!) he replied that there was the possibility of the provision of evidence that would convince him to renege his religion, namely: “that Jesus a) didn’t die on the cross b) that he survived his time in the tomb, c) that he didn’t rise from the dead and wasn’t seen by those who claim to have seen him”, all of which obviously presupposes the existence of the Jesus character of the bible in the first place.

    I’m not convinced that he would have claimed these conditions if I hadn’t already mentioned the far more common situation of theistic denial in the first place, but it’s something to ponder.

  • schemanista

    From the comments:

    It always amazes me how you can just go outside, look around and not believe in God. To think that all of this is random, to me, is completely illogical and senseless.

    It would amaze me too, if someone stepped out of my door into my neighbourhood in Toronto and thought that everything she saw around herself was random.

    I’ll have to find the link, but I once saw a critic describe Plantinga as a “cargo cult logician” because he uses the symbols and language of logic without really understanding what they mean.

    “Abundant Blessings” and most of the other commenters in that thread seem to fall into this category.

    Random? “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  • http://www.nullifidian.net/ nullifidian

    schemanista: +10 points for a The Princess Bride reference. :-)

  • schemanista

    null: [woot] Atheist mod points! Truly you can’t take them with you.

    ;o)

  • http://www.jmilillustration.com jmil

    This was a great series of posts. I’m usually only a casual reader through my “google homepage” but this inspired me to congratulate you. As a former believer who always struggled to find ways to believe (even though all logical evidence pointed otherwise), it kind of makes me sad to see people revert to their subjective “feelings” of being influenced by a higher being. I don’t know if they simply don’t realize or ignore the fact that people who believe in ALL religions feel these same feelings about their deity of choice. Hell, even schizophrenics sincerely believe that they’re being watched by the CIA. Again, thanks!

  • Jim Baerg

    I posted this comment after “An Anti-Response to An Atheist”:

    I think a point that may be confusing is whether someone who declares himself to be atheist means 1) I am convinced beyond all doubt that god does not exist (strong atheism), or 2) I have yet to hear a convincing argument or see convincing evidence for the existence of god, & until such happens I will take the default position of assuming god doesn’t exist (weak atheism).

    I suspect Heidi assumes Ebonmuse is a strong atheist, while somewhere on his web pages I saw him explicitly state that he was a weak atheist.

  • http://aloadofbright.wordpress.com tobe38

    Ebonmuse,

    Your response was great. There have been more comments since and I’ve waded in with this:

    Hello all,

    Interesting discussion, I’m a bit late but I’ll wade in if that’s ok?

    By Heidi: “The reason I said what I said is that I’ve always believed that even atheism requires a type of faith in order to believe that it is the true state of things. To clarify, I would define “faith” simply as believing in something to be true. In this case it would be believing that there is no God.”

    I’m afraid that your definition of ‘faith’ is simply wrong. Faith is “Mental acceptance of and confidence in a claim as truth without proof supporting the claim” (Wiktionary). Without proof. This is what makes atheism the default position. We are atheists because we have no evidence for any gods.

    By TTM: “What if you die and discover that there is a God? What if He at that point finally manifests Himself to you supernaturally? What if He says He longed for you to have faith in Him and to share a personal relationship with Him and to spend eternity with Him? Do you feel, given this new knowledge, you would be able to say that living your earthly life according to atheistic standards was satisfactory?”

    The question wasn’t addressed to me, but I’d like to answer it anyway, if you’ll be so kind. I would say to God, “If you wanted me to believe in you, why did you want me to have faith? Why didn’t you just present yourself and say, ‘hello’? Why all this faith business? You presented yourself to Moses, why not me? You’re the all powerful creator of the universe, and you know everything, so you knew when you created the universe that I wouldn’t believe in you, because that’s how you made me. Why didn’t you just create me to believe in you? And if you’re all powerful, why did you either cause or allow such horrific things to happen to your creations? Why did you let good people die of horrible diseases or be killed in earthquakes and hurricanes?” I would have more questions, than anything else.

    And yes, I could say my life based on “atheistic standards” was more than satisfactory, because I based my beliefs on reason, logic and evidence, not faith, gut feelings, wishful thinking and guessing. I valued human beings in their own right, spoke out for their happiness and rights to freedom, and spoke out against their suffering.

  • Freeyourmind

    Great post Tobe ^

    And rock on Alex, great points as usual.

    One point I’d like to make to “Heidi” when she says “It always amazes me how you can just go outside, look around and not believe in God. To think that all of this is random, to me, is completely illogical and senseless.”

    It’s just the opposite in reality. It amazes me that YOU can just ASSUME that it was all just created by “something” or “someone”. As I’ve always said, 2,000 years ago I could understand people believing that it was all just created. But to believe the same ideas today, with how much FACTUAL information we have about the world, is honestly completely ignorant. We KNOW where things have come from today and how they’ve evolved. In the end in comes down to the same fact, Atheists require evidence (which in terms of nature we have plenty of), Theists do not. I’m sorry but having blind faith is never a good thing, no matter the subject.

  • http://nakedpastor.com nakedpastor

    Ebonmuse: Thanks for the gracious response to my article on your article. Interesting discussion on both of our sites!

  • http://aloadofbright.wordpress.com tobe38

    I had a few responses to my first comment on nakedpastor’s site (to which I’ve just replied) and nakedpastor paid a visit to my site. I just wanted to say, with my hand on my heart, that I can’t remember the last time I saw a group of theists and a group of atheists debate so ammicably. Well done to everyone!

  • http://www.myspace.com/trenchesfullofpoets Will E.

    Nakedpastor is doing the same old shuck ‘n’ jive his kind always do: “There is a Wisdom that is beyond all human thought and discussion.” He just skyhooks his explanation right out of the realm of critical discussion. His post ends just at the moment I thought he was getting started. He uses words to ultimately say nothing– who was it who said that to talk of gods essentially is to talk of nothings? “Of this other Wisdom that presses upon me, what more can be said?” Plenty, man, plenty.

  • Darren

    To speak of a wisdom that is beyond all human thought and discussion smacks of Rumsfeldian “known unknowns and unknown unknowns” – meaningless twaddle to obfuscate rational discourse. It’s ultimately another way of saying “I can’t explain it, so just do as I say.”

    Anybody that expresses such thoughts can also be considered to be quite small-minded if they will not even attempt to discuss that which they have been taught is beyond them. Know your place, and do not argue!

  • schemanista

    Of this other Wisdom that presses upon me, what more can be said?” Plenty, man, plenty.

    Indeed. This reminds me of Skeptico’s fallacy of “appeal to other ways of knowing”.

  • Chris

    schemanista
    you quoting me;
    Chris:At this point in my life I am satisfied with these conclusions and I am no longer compelled, at this time, consider them further.

    Too bad. I was willing to take you seriously up until this point. You’ve swallowed a whole dose of creationist/anti-evolutionist bunk. If you ever want to do something about that, pop over to Ebon’s site. We’ll leave a light on.

    However, I am sure that, like you, in the end I will still feel that same way.

    Well, at least you’re honest about it.
    me responding
    well said; my responce at nakedpastor.com read;
    Actually, I can’t, in fairness leave it at that. You make an excellent point. My statement can only give the impression that I have closed my mind to any new ideas. So I reword it for fairness.
    At this point in my life I am comfortable with my current conclusions and, barring any new earth shattering evidence or sound deliberation, I will stick to this and focus my time and energy on other disciplines and studies. As I stated before, I feel these debates are useless and they almost never result in the changing of anyone’s mind. I repost this over at ebon’s as well. Thanks for calling me out on that one!
    (my other comments cam be seen over there as well. This is definitely one if the better debates I’ve seen. Well done to all!)

  • sleepdev

    As an atheist myself I have to admit that the Naked Pastor in “An Anti-Response to An Atheist” makes a very good point and one that others should take note; the extended quote by T.F. Torrance describes more clearly than I have seen before the paradox of mental dependency. I say paradox as not to offend any theistic readers, secular readers feel free to switch in ‘symptoms’.
    Without getting into too much detail I can describe this, mental dependency, as simply a belief without which one would be unable to efficiently parse new information. This
    belief is something more than a light impression, it has become a working model for understanding and thus beyond reach of direct logic.

    However I don’t mean to discourage, although it may be circular evangelism is important for many other reasons; I would just like to suggest that when you hear something like ‘Beyond knowledge. Beyond proof’ it may be time to switch strategies, I suggest the socratic method as always.

  • Polly

    Verily, we all need a certain set of axioms in order to function and process the input from our 5 senses. Getting at this set of presuppositions is difficult in the extreme, since by their very nature, they are unlikely to admit in anything that would overturn them. If I see every wonder of nature as an example of God’s creativity, then how am I supposed to view relics of evolution?
    Ah, but therein lies the solution. We all have multiple axioms as our foundation. Show where they conflict and then you can spot the cracks.
    In fact that is the basis for the oldest argument against god – the argument from evil.

    We’ve all got cracks, some are just more cracked than others.

  • eye of horus

    There are no minds. Once you’ve seen through the soul, you’ve seen through mind as well. Don’t focus on the so-called individual, but on culture and the net of inter-person communication, mediated mainly by language(s).

    Xianity has taught dualism borrowed from Plato and Zarathustra along with with a perspective that “reality” must be built from the “inside” out.

    Accepting presuppositions which should be questioned vitiates discussions on religion and theology. Metaphysical dualism / moral dualism / mind-body dualism — no wonder so many attempts to understand Nietzsche fail. “Beyond Good and Evil” and “Twilight of the Idols” deserve to be approached as radical attacks upon dualism. (Not as tracts for atheism, immorality, and materialism!)

    Xianity is a syndrome caused by dualistic delusions. However, the mistaken respect accorded it must also be swept aside.