A Message to the “Nones”: Don’t Reject God Because of Human Suffering or Christian Bullshit

It’s one of the most notable cultural statistics of our time: According to the The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the number of people claiming no religious affiliation—the so-called “nones”—is rising rapidly. About one-fifth of the U.S. population is either atheist/agnostic, or has no particular affiliation at all. A fair number of the unaffiliated still consider themselves “spiritual,” but don’t affiliate with a particular religious group for a host of reasons, including perceptions of religious institutions as being overly concerned with money and power.

I am supremely irked by the “spiritual but not religious” label that so many unaffiliated folk claim. But I am going to leave that issue to other Christians to argue.

Instead, I want to speak to a problem that many good-hearted, quick-minded people have with religion, and particularly Christianity as it is practiced and articulated here in the U.S.—the failure of religion to adequately answer the problem of evil and suffering. Quite simply, many people cannot reconcile the brutal pain and stark unfairness that characterize so many human lives with the Biblical notion of a loving God who is intimately involved in his creation and the lives of his creatures.

Last week, a Texas mother of two penned a viral post on CNN titled Why I Raise My Children Without God. Nearly every point she made hinged on the disconnect between the religious vision of a loving, just God and the sadness, pain, and injustice that mark human life.

The post is rife with odd assumptions and failures of logic. The author rejects God based largely on the inane statements many Christians make about God. For example, she writes:

Take for example the senseless tragedy in Newtown. Rather than address the problem of guns in America, we defer responsibility to God. He had a reason. He wanted more angels. Only he knows why. We write poems saying that we told God to leave our schools. Now he’s making us pay the price.

She utterly fails to recognize that 1) most Christians are as horrified as she is at the idea that God would allow children to be murdered for a reason, any reason, and particularly to fill a need for “more angels,” and 2) many Christians are indeed responding to Newtown by renewing our commitment to more effective gun-control measures.

In another head-scratching statement, the author writes:

If God is fair, then why are some babies born with heart defects, autism, missing limbs or conjoined to another baby? Clearly, all men are not created equally.

Here, she seems to be confusing the Bible with the Declaration of Independence.

But setting aside the author’s mistakes in logic and failure to separate who God is from the foolish things that people say about God, her fundamental problem—How can I tell my children that the universe is watched over by a God of love and justice when the world is full of so much agony?—is a legitimate, understandable problem for many people. It is a problem for many of the “nones.” And frankly, it is a problem for many of us who fiercely claim belief and are raising our children as Christians.

To the Texas mom and others for whom this fundamental disconnect between a loving, involved God and a pain-soaked world is an insurmountable stumbling block to faith, please understand something:

Any Christian who tells you that God orchestrates or allows terrible suffering for some grand purpose is lying. The notions that “everything happens for a reason” or that “God just needed another angel” or “God gave me cancer so I would become a better person” are not from the Bible. They are bullshit. (As is the notion, by the way, that the primary reason to believe in and follow God is to get to heaven.)

The Bible actually never explains suffering, except in the broadest sense of pain being the result of our living in a fallen world—a world that is broken, that does not operate as our loving, just, merciful God intended it to. Instead of explaining suffering, the Bible just tells us to take care of people who suffer. By doing that—by offering food and clothes and water and company and mercy to those who are hurting—we are God’s hands in this world. We are helping to heal the world. We are ushering in God’s kingdom. Simply by giving someone a glass of water or holding their hand as they cry. This is remarkable.

You might have balked a little at my use of the word “fallen” to describe the world and humanity in the last paragraph, with its whiff of original sin and the mythic story of Adam and Eve. That’s why I tend to use the word “broken” instead. Because, really, who can look around this world, at schoolchildren murdered in Connecticut and hostages murdered in Algeria and the daily misery of abused children, babies born in refugee camps, suicidal war veterans, bombs falling on civilians, rape as a strategic tool of war, and not believe our world is broken?

Here’s the thing: The world is broken not because God is unfair or absent, but because of us. Because we are broken, all of us, and we have the terrible habit of allowing the misery spewing out of our own broken places to ooze all over other people. Most of us don’t bring assault rifles to elementary schools, of course. But we gossip, we hoard, we belittle, we sneer, we ignore, we care more about protecting ourselves and our stuff than caring for other people.

Texas mom, you take offense at the notion that it’s our brokenness, our free will and tendency to use it poorly, that leads to suffering. You wrote, “‘He has given us free will,’ you say? Our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.”

Yes, exactly. God has stepped in to guide us, both in our scriptures and more radically, in the person of Jesus Christ. And just as our children are ever-so-capable of ignoring our guidance or rejecting it outright, so does humankind frequently fail to heed God’s guidance. Jesus Christ showed us in every action and encounter how the world is supposed to work and how we are supposed to relate to one another—with charity, forgiveness, generosity, peacefulness, healing. acceptance. Jesus Christ made clear in the most obvious way possible that God knows all about how it feels to suffer, all about rejection and brutality and murder. And then Jesus Christ showed us, through the resurrection, that even the worst the world can throw at us, even a horrifying, bloody death, is no match for God. The light of God shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Tell me, even if the story of Jesus’s resurrection seems nutty to you, haven’t you had experiences in which darkness has simply failed to overcome light? In which something new and promising has sprouted from a stinking pit of death and hopelessness? That fact—that life can overcome death, that light can outshine darkness, that the goodness of creation and of people continues to flourish in spite of everything—is the fundamental truth to which we who believe in a just, loving, merciful God cling. We have to. We can’t imagine any other way of negotiating this vale of tears, any other source of hope strong enough to get us up out of bed every day to work for peace and justice and love, even if on some days it’s just in our own households or our own souls that we labor, even when we are overcome, as you are, by how terrible we can be to one another, how awful life can be for the living.

The God we believe in is not a capricious wand-waver, answering “the silly prayers of some, while allowing other, serious requests, to go unanswered,” as you wrote, Texas mom. Honest Christians will tell you that we don’t have any idea how prayer works. We even sometimes doubt that it works at all. We get as pissed off as you do when someone claims that God secured them a prime parking space at the mall, while our prayers for a friend to be healed from cancer go unanswered. So why do we pray?

You know how children, when they are sick or lonely or sad, sometimes just need to be with their mom or dad? Even if they know we can’t fix things. We can’t make their tummy feel better or take away the sting of a friend suddenly deciding she’s not a friend. They seek us out anyway, finding solace in our presence, a smidge of healing in telling us how bad they feel and leaning their head on our shoulder. In part, prayer is like that. When I tell God how sad or angry I am, when I lean on God, I feel better. I feel less alone. (The Psalms, by the way, are full of whining, groaning words to pray when we’re fed up…See? The Bible isn’t so out of touch after all.)

And we pray because we truly believe that with God nothing is impossible. Just like you, we don’t understand how that could be, given that there’s an awful lot of work that needs doing in this world for which God’s infinite possibility could be put to good use. But the fact that we don’t understand doesn’t mean that we have no choice but to believe that either God is an unfair, powerless tease, or God is not real. It just means we don’t understand. It just means that God is God and we are us. Which is essentially what God told Job in the only Biblical passage in which God speaks directly to why good people sometimes suffer unspeakable horrors.

God is God (loving, just, merciful). We are us (broken, beloved, God’s hands in the world). Our best bet for bringing this world more closely in line with who God is instead of who we are is to listen to what God has told us, in the words of scripture, the lives of the saints, and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to live accordingly.

I have never been one of those Christians concerned with saving other people. Salvation is God’s job, not mine. I understand why believing in God, particularly in light of how awful this world can be, is too much of a stretch for many people. Sometimes it’s a bit of a stretch for me. But I keep on believing because I haven’t found another way of understanding the world that so fully incorporates the worst and best of life in this broken world, that acknowledges how terrible things are while promising that they can be better than we can possibly imagine.

I do ask that before you reject God, you realize that the voices whose bullshit proclamations—about what God wants, what God does, who God loves, and how God works—tend to get airtime are not speaking for most of us. And they are certainly not speaking for God.

Author’s Note: This post is not intended to critique all “nones” or all of the reasons that people choose not to affiliate with a religion. Given the 9,000-plus comments and 60,000-plus Facebook shares on Texas Mom’s CNN post, it appears that her reasons for rejecting religion struck a chord and are shared by others. This post was meant to counter Texas Mom’s statement of non-belief, which was full of inaccuracies and logical failures, not to argue with well-reasoned, clearly articulated atheist/agnostic beliefs. The concerns Texas Mom wrote about found an audience among people disillusioned by prevalent cultural notions of who God is, and by our failure as Christians to offer a theological world view that connects with their lived experience of a world where bad things happen for no good reason. This post is addressed to Texas Mom, the thousands of people who responded positively to her message, and the many people I’ve heard say over the years that a major stumbling block to belief is the disconnect between who God is supposed to be and what they see and experience. That disconnect is a central concern not just for those who don’t believe, but for those of us who do, which is why I chose to address it.

About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • DaveP

    I am one of the “nones” you refer to. I’d label myself as agnostic with a Christian background.

    > Don’t Reject God Because of Human Suffering …

    Among the people I know who are also “nones”, that’s never been the reason. In fact, I’ve known several people who’ve become Christians because of their own personal suffering.

    > … or Christian Bullshit

    That’s closer to the reason, but I would have phrased it more delicately.

    > many Christians are indeed responding to Newtown by renewing our commitment to more effective gun-control measures.

    Case in point. Most of the “nones” with Christian backgrounds I know of are “nones” because they perceive that many “Christians” have taken the Christ out of Christian.

    For example, I find it ironic that I (a “none”) find myself arguing that God (Christ) really meant it when he said “Sell your cloak and buy a sword” Luke 22:36, while some “Christians” argue that God (Christ) really didn’t mean that — and instead of siting quotes from God (Christ) saying otherwise, they site man-made “interpretations”.

    As God (Christ) said: “Their worship is farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God”. Matt 15:9.

    Also, not all Christian groups are losing members to the “nones”. Mormons, for example, are growing. I think the Christian groups that are growing are the ones who are perceived to be keeping the Christ in Christian. So for example, instead of following the gun-control teachings of men (and women) as in Newtown’s “Gun-Free Schools”, they follow Christ’s command to “Sell your cloak and buy a sword”. With results that I think Christ would approve of:

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/12/27/gun-classes-teachers-utah-ohio-shooting/1793773/
    “Utah has allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons on K-12 campuses for 12 years now and, said Aposhian, “We have never had any accidental or intentional shootings.””

    • Jay

      DaveP,
      “Sell your cloak and buy a sword” Luke 22:36

      The interpretation you have decided to adopt is in and of itself man made because, well, you are a man. I’m Catholic, and I don’t know what your background is… You might be interested in this article: http://www.catholic.com/documents/just-war-doctrine.

      With that said, I think there’s more to the decline and rise of certain sectors of Christianity besides keeping Christ in Christianity. If it weren’t for immigrants, Catholicism would be going REALLY down in this country. As for Roman Catholicism and gun control, the Vatican’s chief spokesman Rev. Lombardi said that they were behind the Obama administration’s plans for increased gun control measures.

      • DaveP

        Thanks, I found the article to be very interesting and informative.

  • Jen Schaefer

    There are reasons I question the existence of God- bullshit and suffering are not among them. My primary reasons are scientific, logical, and a thought that the unknowable cannot be known. I think it’s arrogance to think there can be knowledge on either side- there is only deep belief.

    I face the cruelty of the world with a faith that most of humanity is good. I don’t lean upon scripture for that. I lean upon my friends, my family, and my community. I see us pull together in times of crisis and pain.

    Just as you would bristle at cherry picking quotes from those who don’t represent your view, understand you have done the same. “Texas Mom” speaks for no one I know. We are not all dismissive of religious views, nor do we think that the zealots of either side represent the masses. The spectrum of non-believers is as vast as those of Christians.

  • smrnda

    I’ve always identified as a none, since I thought religion was mostly a museum piece growing up and it wasn’t until college that I realized that religion, particularly Christianity, was still a pretty strong force outside of just the Bible Belt.

    My take on religion is that there’s no way to actually evaluate its truth claims, and even ones that can be investigated at best can fall under the heading of speculation. I focus my attention on areas where I can get more reliable information. In terms of human behavior, for good or ill, I think everything about the human condition can be explained through psychology, sociology and economics. The key to living in a better world rather than a worse one comes out to a problem of having the right type of incentive system. If we don’t want violence, study the problem of alienated people and what might work to fix it. People are neither good nor evil nor broken, they just respond to their instincts and the environment.

    Perhaps a reason why I came to disbelieve later was the whole hype about a ‘personal relationship’ with god. It doesn’t look like much of a personal relationship to me. I attended a pagan ceremony once and I also attended a Christian church and in both spaces people ‘felt’ the presence of the divine, and I left thinking it was just a matter of psychological suggestibility.

    The other thing is I think people can generate just as much support for an authoritarian, uncaring god as for a loving one. It’s cherry picking either way, and once you look into problems that automatically emerge when you try to combine love with authority, there’s really not much I find compelling or satisfactory in the Christian belief system. To believe, I’d have to engage in constant self-deception and I’d have to keep admitting that a lot didn’t add up. With materialism I don’t have to do the same mental gymnastics .

    • KSP

      There are ways to examine the truth claims of Christianity (not all of the, of course, but a good many of them), and there is ample scholasrship devoted to that very thing out there. The problem is that most believers aren’t interested in examining and testing those truth claims–and nor are most unbelievers. So it is often overlooked. But it is there and in abundance for those who care to examine it. N. T. Wright and Gary Habermas are two who come immediately to mind whose work is largely devoted to such examinations. Oh, and the Jesus Seminar folks, too.

      • smrnda

        Just to let you know, I’m familiar with all the authors you named and more. I came away with the same conclusion that I started with – that at best, we can conjecture about what might have happened, but supernatural events lie outside of the realm of systematic inquiry. Nothing can make me ‘sure’ that Jesus rose from the dead, much like I am not sure about a number of historical events for which there exist little evidence or which are unlikely. How much more apologetics do people like me need to read before we can say we’ve read enough?

        The other problem is the belief that, if you start with a little faith, you can get some experience. The experience isn’t credible, and cannot be tested. If prayer works, it should work the way a pill does, whether you believe in it or not, or else the issue is more confirmation bias than anything else.

        • Jay

          If prayer worked like a pill (ie, we got whatever we prayed for), then wouldn’t that mean that prayers that were quite selfish and evil would be answered as well ? If you prayed, God could you just kill that person finally, that means that that would happen. If you prayed that you were the only person on the planet, that means that would happen… Is this what you mean? Regardless of your confirmation bias hypothesis, I’m not sure prayer being like a pill really would work out very well.

          • smrnda

            I agree and that’s what I was trying to suggest – we can test a pill but we cannot test prayer, since any answered prayer could be taken as proof, but any unanswered prayer can’t be taken as proof that god does not exist and does not answer prayer, since there’s always some way of explaining an unanswered prayer away – god has other priorities, the prayer was somehow wrong either in how it was made or that it requested something bad.

            Perhaps I’m just too used to straightforward communication. If I make a request of someone, they never just don’t do it- they tell me they won’t and why.

        • Jay

          Well, I understand what you are saying and it seems like you have thought this through quite a bit. From reading what you have said, it appears you believe that if God and his actions cannot be explained through scientific inquiry, then we can never know of his existence and thus we can only hypothesize upon his existence.

          How one is to come to the conclusion of whether or not there is a God is up to the individual. I invite you though to reconsider whether or not this is the best way to determine the existence of God. Choosing science, something that is meant to explain physical realities, as the gold standard to determine the existence of God, someone that is supposedly not confined to physical realities, sets you up automatically for the conclusion you have come to.

          Fr. Robert Barron’s website wordonfire does have a commentary on this particular reasoning if you are interested entitled “Fr Barron comments on Scientism and God’s Existence.” I’m guessing you’ve already heard of him, but it might be a video you might be interested in looking at. Yes, more apologetics, I know :)

          Take care

    • Jordan Savariego

      “To believe, I’d have to engage in constant self-deception and I’d have to keep admitting that a lot didn’t add up. With materialism I don’t have to do the same mental gymnastics .”

      I think there’s a lucid honesty to what you said here. Many who say they follow Christ do have to self-deceive in order to maintain their perspectives. Oftentimes their lofty religiosity doesn’t match up with the way they live out their lives, and they seem unwilling to recognize it. To want to avoid that is what many of us Catholics (I’m Catholic) would call virtue! So from my perspective, even you, who say you do not believe… I believe you have a great deal of potential working for you to develop faith.

      In terms of what you said about having to “keep admitting that a lot didn’t add up,” you are right! I have to do this every day! The truth is that God is oftentimes more a mystery than a certainty. The strange paradox is this: In order to grow in knowledge of God, I have had to admit how little I really know about Him, over and over again. I believe this is once again a reflection of this virtue of authenticity that you’ve expressed by wanting to avoid self-deception.

      It is worth noting that many who say that they follow Christ fine-tune their so-called God to their personal preferences. This gives them a false sense of certainty. In reality, one of the magnanimous qualities of God as we can understand Him while on this earth is His Mysterious quality. Constantly in my faith as a Catholic, just as every day it can be heard being said in the celebration of the Mass, I must bear the words, “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.”

      By saying that you don’t want to do the mental gymnastics, you’re expressing a kind of honesty rarely found among Christians, and which I struggle to bring to light even in myself. This unwillingness to bear whatever cost is the very reason I’m writing on a blog, and too afraid to really connect with people on the street. To truly preach Christ is a danger to oneself, even in a country like ours (today it might be jails and mental institutions under charges of disturbing the peace, not crosses). Just as many will receive Good News gladly, others will lament their loss of power over those people called to deeper conversion, and then react with vengeance. And you know what? It’s OK to not want to bear through struggle. Christ himself, in his humanity, did not want to mount the cross, but He did anyways by way of His divinity; and we need His strength in us in order for us to do the same.

  • Dorfl

    “I do ask that before you reject God, you realize that the voices whose bullshit proclamations—about what God wants, what God does, who God loves, and how God works—tend to get airtime are not speaking for most of us. And they are certainly not speaking for God.”

    Yes, I know. The reason I lack a belief in God is that I haven’t heard any good reason to think such a belief would be true.

  • Pingback: A Message to the “Nones”: Don't Reject God Because of Human … | Nail It To The Cross

  • http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Sequences Alex

    To disbelieve that God exists because many believers use that belief in ways that are harmful would be just as irrational as believing in God because that belief is comforting. The utility or disutility of a proposition is entirely unrelated to its truth or falsehood, and the problem of suffering is only evidence against God’s benevolence, not against God’s existence. (The evidence against God’s existence is simply the absence of evidence for the exististence of such an entity, or of any detectable phenomenon for which the existence of God is a necessary or even a plausible explanation.)

    Note: the website linked above is not in any sense my website, but it is one of the best places to go if you want to understand where I’m coming from and why I am counted among the “nones.” The primary author of that site is one of the most intelligent and articulate proponents of atheism, methodological naturalism, and humanistic ethics currently alive; if you want to engage with the non-believers’ best arguments, instead of merely attempting to show that some atheists can write B.S. just as silly as some Christians’ B.S. (I don’t think you actually have shown that in this article, but that seems to have been your intent), that’s a good place to look.

    • Vicki

      Alex, What website are you referring to? I’m interested in reading there.

      • Brian Westley

        I think he means the website his name links to.

  • http://www.christianpiatt.com Christian Piatt

    Good stuff Ellen. Thanks.

  • Mike Sullivan

    OK, I got lost at your rebuttal on point 1: “most Christians are as horrified as she is at the idea that God would allow children to be murdered for a reason, any reason”.

    This seems somewhat paradoxical. I know that you are a Christian blogger. You have explained that you are pro choice on the subject of abortion and support the use of genetic screening to provide information as part of a process that may result in the choice of an abortion based on a genetic or biological difference/disability.

    So where is your God when these unborn children have their lives taken by another for any reason. Who is promoting this choice for any reason.

    And you wonder why people walk away, yes?

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Texas Mom was addressing the idea that God is intimately involved in the murders of children–proactively either allows or orchestrates suffering–for a purpose. This is not a Biblical notion, but unfortunately it’s a notion that Christians tend to propagate when they say silly things like, “Your child died because God needed another angel.” I wasn’t addressing the morality of human action, but of God’s action.

      • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

        And besides the fact that theodicy and human morality are two different topics (I addressed the first in this post, not the second), the implication of your final sentence—that Christians like me who hold more liberal political views are the cause of people leaving belief behind—is not rooted in the facts. The fact is that the majority of people who don’t affiliate with a religion hold more liberal/progressive political and social views on things like abortion and homosexuality.

        • DaveP

          > Christians like me who hold more liberal political views are the cause of people leaving belief behind—is not rooted in the facts. The fact is that the majority of people who don’t affiliate with a religion hold more liberal/progressive political and social views on things like abortion and homosexuality.

          Maybe it is rooted in the facts. It all depends on who the “nones” are leaving.

          According to the survey, the “nones” are indeed more likely to support abortion and gay marriage … than average.

          But all churches/denominations are not average. Some churches/denominations are even more “liberal” than the “nones”.

          For example, according to the survey, the “nones” are not more liberal than average when it comes to “big government”. So if the “nones” are leaving those churches/denominations where the members are calling for “big government” social actions (“More social nets!”, “More gun control!”), then they might indeed be leaving because of the views of people who are even more “liberal” than them.

          For example, the Episcopal church is a big advocate of “big government” gun control — and the Episcopal church has lost about 25% to 30% of its membership in the past decade. So it may indeed be people who have more liberal political views than the “nones” on issues other than abortion and gay marriage, who are the ones driving the “nones” away.

      • Daniel Lafave

        The Problem of Evil is something that has plagued theistic religions since the dawn of philosophy. It’s certainly not an insignificant thing. The modern form of the argument is the Evidential Problem of Evil, that the existence of gratuitous evil provides evidence against the existence of a supreme, all-powerful, loving, deity. Theology has traditionally devoted tremendous effort in producing theodicies in order to rebut the Problem of Evil. In fact, we know of Epicurus’ formulation of the argument, only because Lactantius quoted it in his “De Ira Dei” in order to argue against it. Bart Ehrman has stated that the reason the Problem of Evil is the reason why he no longer a Christian, and he wrote a book “God’s Problem” about it. The Problem of Evil has been a very big deal in the history of religion. So, it’s odd to suggest that human suffering shouldn’t be part of the reasons that people conclude that there are no gods.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      And congrats on being the first commenter to bring up abortion despite this post having absolutely nothing to do with abortion. I feel like I should give out a prize, because someone always goes there, no matter what I write about.

      • Mike Sullivan

        Thanks, but you did make an observation that was inconsistent with your own position. It is this type of inconsistency on morality that turns people away from your faith. When we acknowledge that our own child are divine beings before birth, then we reject the notion that it is OK to take that life. But I accept that many Christians think its OK to play God and decide what type of people are born, and to take the life of others.

  • Jennifer

    I’m one of the irksome “spiritual but not religious” nones. I did not grow up with any religious background, but feel deeply that there is a God. It’s not so much that I am rejecting or leaving a particular religion, but that I haven’t found a religious home that I feel comfortable in. God can exist independently of the religious descriptions of him.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      There’s lots to say about the “spiritual but not religious” claim, and I’m not sure whether I’ll actually tackle it here on the blog in a future post. I did find a lot in the Lillian Daniel piece (to which I link in the post) that spoke to my irkedness (that is probably not a word….). I find that this claim is often used as a cop out by people who are simply unwilling to lay claim to any particular belief, or commit to any sort of religious community (which are arguably difficult communities of which to be a part…I am very sympathetic with the impulse to stay away from pesky, difficult religious communities because I have it myself, often). I think it’s important to articulate what one really does or doesn’t believe, and support it, and some people just claim the SBNR label without doing the hard work of thought and articulation. That said, obviously I am making HUGE generalizations and I’m sure there are many folk who could clearly articulate a well-thought-out justification for this label. I’m going to assume you are one of them (and would honestly be interested in knowing more if so). Another huge generalization: I always have much more respect for anyone who can clearly articulate their reasons for claiming a particular religious identity than I do for those who trumpet that identity regularly but are unable to articulate why. In other words, I would have much greater respect (and probably better conversations) with an SBNR person who had spent time and effort thinking through why that label fits and could explain it to me than with someone who calls herself a Christian and goes to church every week but is unable to tell me what she believes, why, and how her faith influences her daily life.

  • Anon

    Agnostic Mormon here. I think you fail to recognize the dynamics of religious communities. For instance, many of the Christian assumptions you rebut here are common among my co-religionists and in fact bring them great meaning someone. I fail to grasp such an approach myself but they are nonetheless my people and woshipping with them (in my own way) yields a more complete religious experience for me than anything else I’m likely to encounter.

    You would have me simply reject their approach, but the social curiosities of community mean that I am bound to them in a sense, albeit often in a state of tension. And I can easily see why people in my situation become “nones” rather than just seeking out a more “accommodating” congregation.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      You hit on something that I struggle with. I certainly know fellow Christians for whom some of the assumptions I rebut here have great meaning. And I would likely not sit and argue theology with someone who was struggling with something, and found some peace through one of these assumptions. But there is a difference between pastoral/communal relationships within a faith community and what I’m doing here, which is a form of apologetics or even (gasp) evangelism. If a lot of the Christian cliches alienate people, both those who don’t believe and those who do (and they do indeed alienate people), then we have some duty to look at why that is so, and also to challenge their validity if, like the notion that God lets children die to gain angels, it is not supported in our canon or theological history.

      • Anon

        “If a lot of the Christian cliches alienate people … then we have some duty to look at why that is so, and also to challenge their validity if, like the notion that God lets children die to gain angels, it is not supported in our canon or theological history”

        Amen! :) In fact, I carefully draw upon the progressive elements of my theology to push the envelope and call for change in what is often a very conservative church. Ironically, most of the worst elements I encounter in religion can be countered by the tradition’s own (sometimes forgotten or neglected) theology.

  • Anon

    *bring them great meaning.

  • http://angiespoint@blogspot.com Angie VanDeMerwe

    The beginning of someone’s journey into a “None” might be experience with Christians and the issue of suffering in the world, but, then, any thinking person begins to “go back through” their belief system and look at their beliefs objectively and ask themselves questions about why they believed in the first place. These questions are revealing about a person’s emotional or social needs. Acceptance of one’s human needs and understanding them in a larger context of familial failure or familial nurture helps to understand uncritical bias. But, the investigation also must question the validity of the Church’s claims as to “God”. After these questions are face and answered, it becomes improbable that the person will ever come back to “faith”. They might choose to associate with a Church for social benefit, but the Church no longer is viewed in the same way. The Church is not viewed in a supernatural way, but a natural human institution, as belief in the supernatural become problematic and suspect. Reason takes over where “naive faith” one resided. Then, experience is understood not as “God’s ordination” or “Providence”, but human political systems. That is what makes for suffering; tyranny. And as people begin to understand history in a broader way than “faith”, they begin to understand that political systems are based on philosophical opinions and beliefs, just as “faith systems” are. Then, it is a matter of what political system and what philosophical views about humans make the most sense and breed the best environment for the human. “Faith” is viewed as a limited viewpoint and limits a person’s choices about their life.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      “….any thinking person begins to “go back through” their belief system and look at their beliefs objectively and ask themselves questions about why they believed in the first place.”

      Agreed, which is why I included that note indicating that I was not addressing the concerns of all or even most “nones,” but rather responding directly to a blog post by a “none” that struck such a resounding chord that I felt it needed a response. That and the fact that it was poorly argued.

      I am learning a lot from better articulated and reasoned rejections of religion, for which I am grateful. Thanks.

      • http://angiespoint@blogspot.com Angie VanDeMerwe

        Philosophical views do not negate scientific methodology. What makes a human a human? That asks a question that many are asking today….one cannot reduce it to religion. Our brains are what humans have in common, but how are our brains affected by our personality/temperament, experiences within contexts?….no two people will have the same “outcomes”……though there are similar social/emotional needs and brain responses as to personality concerning humans.

  • Todd S. Jenkins

    Although my faith has never waned, I dropped the label “Christian” some time ago because of all the toxicity that surrounds the term these days. To judge Christianity by its public face today, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that Christ ever had anything to do with it. Adulterers and usurers are venerated, the poor are cursed as lazy parasites, life is only important while one is still in the womb, and God is inextricably linked with the worship of guns, money and self. I find myself relating a lot more to my Buddhist and atheist friends these days because of the abomination the church has become. I try to follow the principles that Christ Himself laid out to the best of my ability, and I can’t help but wonder when Leviticus became the be-all and end-all of the New Gospel. I actively hate the state of the church today, and I long for the day when many of its members are either transformed or permanently silenced. The Church is nothing; may Christ live outside its walls within those who really believe in what He wanted for us.

    • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

      “The Church is nothing”

      Hmm … Jesus appears to have a different take on that. (Matthew 16:18.)

      Cheers,
      Tim

  • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

    “To judge Christianity by its public face today, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that Christ ever had anything to do with it. Adulterers and usurers are venerated, the poor are cursed as lazy parasites, life is only important while one is still in the womb, and God is inextricably linked with the worship of guns, money and self. ” – Yup. I agree with you there. I continue to try to defend the faith by communicating that there is a different way of being Christian (a way I and many believe is more authentic) than the way that makes headlines.

  • Mike

    Wow! Great piece. I am an adult Christian who started out with an adolescent faith, then lost it when it couldn’t withstand the rigors of life in this broken world. I spent several years as a “none” and SBNR before eventually realizing orthodoxy really IS true, but requires a “second-half-of-life” position to really understand it. I realized my adolescent faith was supposed to fall apart – it’s only training wheels. It gets you through the immature stages, but lacks any real power to transform one’s immaturity. It has to die to become something “more.” There’s nothing wrong with us or with immature faith falling away, but when we believe it’s the real deal, the struggle to see it fleshed out as such is devastating and people give up. This is the process we are supposed to go through, but a lot of people don’t hang on long enough to experience the transformation of their faith.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Interesting story! Thanks for sharing it.

    • Jeannie

      I just want to say that I appreciate this comment (as well as the post). “Second-half-of-life” — that sounds like something from Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward (?) which has quite a helpful model I think.

  • http://civil-conversations.blogspot.com Sam

    I left the Christian faith once I started thinking through many of the things I always took for granted as true facts but I continued to love the Bible and the meaning of Jesus’ life. As I studied theology and world religions and history I continued to dance around and flirt with the idea of returning to a progressive form of Christianity.

    I genuinely wish I knew even one person like you in real life. The only thoughtful, science-embracing, progressive Christians I’ve ever know are through the internet. The Christians I know in real life (every member of my family, many of my friends) are faithfully towing the Bullshit Christian party line (Christian=Republican, Non-Christian=hell bound).

    In the end what keeps me from once again identifying as Christian is two-fold: first, I can’t hold the belief that Jesus’ death was a substitutionary atonement for the sins of the world, but also because of all the baggage that is part-and-parcel with the term Christian.

    With all the attention the craziest Christians get, you can hardly blame anyone for assuming that is the standard (if not universal) view of Christianity.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      There are actually a number of Christians, often associated with the so-called “emergent” movement (with which I seem to identify, although I’m still figuring out exactly what it means), who are challenging the substitutionary atonement idea. I don’t know enough about it to say much more than that, although you’ve inspired me to look into it more.

      “With all the attention the craziest Christians get, you can hardly blame anyone for assuming that is the standard (if not universal) view of Christianity.” – I know, and that fact makes mainline, progressive Christians like me weep with frustration!

  • DaveP

    > A Message to the “Nones”: Don’t Reject God Because of Human Suffering or Christian Bullshit

    Ellen, the survey that you cited had an interesting result buried in it: the increase in the number of “nones” may have had nothing to do with beliefs, suffering, politics, or Christian (or Jewish or Muslim or Wiccan or whatever) statements about tragedies.

    It can be entirely explained by marital status.

    There was no increase — zip, zero, nada — in the percentage of “nones” among married people.

    All of the increase in “nones” — every last bit of it — was among single people.

    So maybe the real reason for the increase in the number of “nones” is that churches/synagogues/mosques are losing their reputation for being a good place to get dates. :)

    http://www.pewforum.org/unaffiliated/nones-on-the-rise.aspx
    “Trends in Religious Disaffiliation, by Demographic Groups
    % who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated among …

    Married
    2007 — 14%
    2012 — 14%

    Not married
    2007 — 20%
    2012 — 24%”

  • Michael Box

    You are a bell of mindfulness ringing a clear crisp tone. When I grow up I hope to be half as transparent, not only in my writing but in my life as well.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Well golly. Thanks.

  • Richard T

    What comes through to me most clearly from the Texan’s report is that she rejects the version of god that is usually taught to children. That’s how I started, too. The toddler-sized god seemed not just unconvincing to me, but insulting. In due course I encountered the teenage-sized god and the full-sized one, which were less insulting but no more convincing.

    You write that you “can’t imagine … any other source of hope.”. I feel sad for you. There is one, and it sustains me. It can even be undides me.. I’m even starting to look death in the eye without flinching. We humans are n’t broken; we’re still being made.

  • Richard T

    Pardon me: for “undides me” please read “understood”.

  • He Man

    Well..I was raised in a Christian home, went to Christian school and church. I haven’t been in almost 15 yrs. Reason I am a “none” is probably sacrilegious to most Christians. I take a more cynical view of God. Al Pacino as Satan really sums it up for me in “Devil’s Advocate”. God is a sadist. He likes the pain and suffering so you come to him. He is all knowing, all powerful. He knew/knows the future. When he created EVERYTHING, he knew Satan would rebel. In fact, Satan is just a pawn in the whole game. Satan thinks he has power but he is part of God’s plans. God gave us free will but at the same time we are all predestined. He knows who’s going to heaven or not. He created the world screwed up, then sent Jesus to “save us” so we all come to him..for his ego. If you don’t come groveling to him, then you are sent to hell. If you really think about it, heaven sounds pretty boring. All we do for eternity is “praise and worship Him”. Not sure if there are “mansions”…but it sure as hell isn’t the Playboy Mansion. You won’t need to sleep…have sex…or any other human function or desire. So not sure what the “mansions” are. Metaphor maybe? Heaven sounds like it will be one really long ass church service for eternity. Hell sounds worse. I didn’t ask to be created. So now I am stuck in this what we call “existence”. God knows that without crying out to him, you are nothing. Big twisted game.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      I don’t grovel to God, and also don’t believe in predestination. And there are much more creative and appealing visions of heaven out there than what you have articulated….understanding of course that no one this side of death can possibly say what heaven might be like, only speculate.

      • Nick Gotts

        Is there any reason whatever to believe in these “creative and appealing” visions of heaven, any more than in He Man’s cosmic sadist? If anything, less so, as the amount of evil in the world makes it an obvious deduction that if there is an omnipotent being, it has a rather nasty imagination.

  • http://www.reasonsforgod.org Carson Weitnauer

    Ellen,

    I get at what you are saying here and think it is important: if you’re going to reject Christianity, do so for good reasons, not inchoate ones! I think the use of the word ‘nones’ is obscuring an important reality: that everyone is committed to *something* (more here: http://www.reasonsforgod.org/2013/01/there-are-no-nones/). That is, Texas Mom has her own worldview that needs as much rational defense as she thinks Christianity is lacking. By contrast, if we accept the unlabel of “none” for her worldview, the structuring or the framing of the dialogue makes it look like Christianity (or Islam, or what have you) is the only belief system in need of reasoned, intellectual support.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Well said Carson. Thank you. As a friend of mine put it, in response to some of the comments here saying that I was painting “nones” with too broad a brush—my post was not meant to respond to ALL reasons that people reject religion, and especially not to respond to reasons that are well-reasoned and articulated, but rather to respond to Texas mom’s “lazy articulation of non-belief.” And I agree also that we all have a world view, we’re all committed to a belief system, even if it is one that says we are an accident of nature, that chance rules all, that death is the end.

      • http://www.reasonsforgod.org Carson Weitnauer

        In fairness to you, I think your original post made that clear. But that’s another issue with the word “nones”: it lumps together people who come from so many different places. I don’t think the intelligent atheists wish to be in the same group as Texas Mom (or maybe they do, I don’t know). But using different terms for the multiple groups within the so-called “nones” would make this clearer.

  • Chris Brown

    Dear Ellen,

    Speaking as an atheist who was converted by science rather than any of the reasons you have listed (I am a physicist), I would nevertheless like to point out some curiosities about your post. The first of which is that, while you claim that the Texas mother makes a “logical fallacy” in her objections to God, you do not seem to know what the fallacy actually is. For example:

    “She utterly fails to recognize that 1) most Christians are as horrified as she is at the idea that God would allow children to be murdered for a reason, any reason, and particularly to fill a need for ‘more angels,’ and 2) many Christians are indeed responding to Newtown by renewing our commitment to more effective gun-control measures.”

    Neither of your responses above are actual arguments in your favor, nor do they even answer the objections she has raised in the passage you provided. Like the Texas mother, I am curious as to why a loving God would allow massacres to occur. However, all that your response has told me is that (respectively) 1) some Christians have the same objections that I do, and 2) some Christians are stepping in to do the work that God apparently is too lazy to do. Although such Christians seem to be reasonable (from 1) and ethical (from 2), this says absolutely nothing about their God. Later in the article you told the Texas mother not to reject God because of Christian bullshit; in response to this passage, I implore you not to accept God solely based on Christian “good deeds”.

    Your response to the problem of suffering seems to be as follows: “The world is broken not because God is unfair or absent, but because of us. Because we are broken, all of us, and we have the terrible habit of allowing the misery spewing out of our own broken places to ooze all over other people. Most of us don’t bring assault rifles to elementary schools, of course. But we gossip, we hoard, we belittle, we sneer, we ignore, we care more about protecting ourselves and our stuff than caring for other people.”

    This is a gross oversimplification. To state that the world is fucked up just because of humans is ignoring the fact that the world was a bitter, fucked up place LONG before humans ever even existed. Humans did not invent death, we did not invent disease, we did not invent natural disasters, we did not invent resource starvation (though we certainly cause much of it), nor did we invent the calamity that wiped out most of the Earth’s population in the time of the dinosaurs. We did not invent the Black Death, which obliterated one-third of Europe’s population over the course of a mere five years. And to this day, the top ten causes of death in the world are heart disease, stroke, respiratory infection, pulmonary disease, diarrhoeal diseases, HIV, varying forms of lung cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, and – finally, one caused by us – traffic accidents. Your armchair philosophizing simply does not hold up to the facts: the nine leading causes of death annually, collectively comprising very nearly half (49.9%) of the world’s fatalities, are directly caused by God (provided he exists). By comparison, bad drivers are apparently humans at their deadliest and yet only pull in 2.1% o f fatalities.

    Humans are largely corrupt animals – I do not disagree with that. But blaming humans for all of their own suffering, while letting God off the hook, is like blaming a rape victim for “wearing that dress”. (Oh wait, your Bible does very nearly that. Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

    Your flippant rejection of the problem of suffering continues:

    “In another head-scratching statement, the author writes:
    If God is fair, then why are some babies born with heart defects, autism, missing limbs or conjoined to another baby? Clearly, all men are not created equally.
    Here, she seems to be confusing the Bible with the Declaration of Independence.”

    No, the author is merely confusing your God with a kind and loving one who is at least as ethical as some slave-owning men in the past. Perhaps you do not believe in that kind of God. Our mistake.

    Let me make one thing clear: humor and sarcasm aside, I do not think that you endorse a terrible God. I think that you believe in a just, merciful and loving God. However, when you are presented with the problem of suffering, it is clear to me that you have no real response to the issue – and no response is a perfectly fine response! But rather than doing what 99% of Christians do when presented with an atheistic argument – namely, shrug and move on with your life – you have chosen to 1) come up with an entire bullshit philosophy to support your faith, and 2) cast all who disagree with your particular views as “fallacious” (while presenting no fallacies) and “illogical” (ha!). What you have displayed in writing this article, is precisely why athiests have a problem with the religious.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Very interesting. Thank you.

      First, I should clarify that when I used the term “logical fallacies,” I was not referring to the high brow fallacies that concern undergraduate philosophy majors. I was referring to simple failures of logic. And Texas mom’s main point was essentially, “People who believe in God say inane things about God’s role in suffering, so I am going to reject God,” which is kind of like my saying, “My husband’s co-workers say mean things about him in the lunchroom, so I’m going to divorce my husband.” She rejected God based on ideas about God that a large number of believers would reject, as she does. That is not logical.

      Your other points, about suffering not clearly tied to human brokenness, is more interesting. Perhaps it would interest you to know that I don’t usually write Christian apologetics. I usually write about living with a painful genetic bone disorder that one of my children inherited from me. We know a thing or two about suffering with no clear cause, about “natural” suffering, in our family. The idea that I would offer a “flippant” rejection of the problem of suffering (and that such is all I can offer) is ridiculous given the amount that I have written about that very thing, in detail, for several years. I was indeed flippant in response to the absurd and insulting implications of Texas Mom’s piece, that either 1) all believers accept the schlock that some believers offer in response to suffering, or 2) we haven’t actually noticed that life can be tragic, bloody, unfair, and full of grief, so we need non-believers to explain it to us. I have noticed. Some of the believers whose faith I most admire have suffered far worse pain than my own of cradling a 2-year-old whose femur just snapped when she slipped on a book on our living room floor.

      I do not believe our suffering with dozens of broken bones is God’s will. I do not believe it is the result of my or my daughter or anyone else’s sin. I do believe it is a manifestation of life in a broken world, a world that is not as God intended it to be. I think the worlds’ brokenness–all of it–is somehow related to our brokenness, to our not being as God intended us to be. In some way that I cannot fully comprehend. And that idea gives me far more comfort than the idea that God would “give” me this bone disorder, and my daughter the same, for some lofty purpose. That just seems cruel.

      Also, God is eternal and therefore outside of time. So making an argument based on linear human time (there was death before humans) only makes sense from our standpoint, not God’s.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • Nick Gotts

        I am sorry to hear of your suffering and your daughter’s, but again, you offer nothing but piffle and waffle in response to the problem of evil.

        I do not believe our suffering with dozens of broken bones is God’s will. I do not believe it is the result of my or my daughter or anyone else’s sin. I do believe it is a manifestation of life in a broken world, a world that is not as God intended it to be. I think the worlds’ brokenness–all of it–is somehow related to our brokenness, to our not being as God intended us to be. In some way that I cannot fully comprehend.

        It’s not that you “cannot fully comprehend”; it’s that suffering and evil make no sense at all in the context of belief in a benevolent and omnipotent being; and you have not advanced one iota in making sense of them.

        Also, God is eternal and therefore outside of time.

        If this makes any sense, then it makes no sense to say the world, and we, are not as God intended us to be: an “outside time” God must view, and create, the whole of time in a single act, including all the choices agents within time make. At what point could he have “intended” anything at all different from the actual creation?

  • DaveP

    > Speaking as an atheist who was converted by science rather than any of the reasons you have listed (I am a physicist), …

    A physicist who is an atheist based on science?

    Then of course you can reference the experimental data that shows that God doesn’t exist. Right?

    • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

      Or, DaveP, you could put “proving a negative” into your favorite search engine and find lots of great hits by Richard Carrier, James Randi and others about how that is done. And it has been done.

      • DaveP

        I agree. Proving a negative is easy if you have the experimental evidence. For example, James Randi proved that Uri Geller didn’t have the power to magically bend spoons by performing a controlled experiment where James Randi provided the spoons.

        Since Chris Brown claimed to be an “atheist converted by science”, then surely there must be at least one paper in a peer-reviewed scientific journal containing the experimental evidence that God doesn’t exist. Right?

        But for some reason, I haven’t heard of it. I’d be greatful if Chris or you could provide the citation.

        • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

          I doubt you are being honest with your request, either that or you don’t understand science. Or both. I could provide a specific link, but I already gave you enough to find your answer. I could take on specifics and say, God’s spirit is supposed to be everywhere, yet I don’t His presence, but you would give me a theological explanation of what I’m doing wrong or you would say that’s not what God is to you. That’s why when you ask for a paper proving the non-existence of God, I suspect you don’t understand science.
          There is no such paper any more than there is a paper that proves global warming. There is a scientific consensus on global warming because there are numerous studies on average temperature, ice core data, tree rings, how carbon holds heat, etc. those add up to a theory. The same goes for prayer healing disease, Moses parting the Red Sea, revelations, and Jesus’ face appearing on toast. All of those can be shown to be false, that’s what science does.
          All you have is your personal experience, and that’s wonderful, you are welcome to it. But it is not science. And before you say it, you’re right, nothing can be proven absolutely false, science already knows that, it is a fundamental premise of science. That’s why we keep exploring, while you stop at 2,000 year old scriptures. Science can show that the likelihood of God existing is so small, it makes very little sense to base your worldview on it.

          • DaveP

            > I could provide a specific link, but I already gave you enough to find your answer.

            In my experience, when someone on the internet says that they can provide a link but they don’t, that means that they can’t. All it would take is one citation of one paper in one peer-reviewed scientific journal that contains experimental evidence that God doesn’t exist. I would think that such an amazing paper would have received a lot of publicity, but for some reason I’ve never heard of it.

            > There is no such paper any more than there is a paper that proves global warming.

            Well, if there is no such paper, why did you claim to be able to provide a link to it? I didn’t ask for a link to a paper that proves God doesn’t exist, only to a paper that contains the experimental data that God doesn’t exist. There are lots of scientific papers containing experimental evidence for (and against) global warming.

            > The same goes for prayer healing disease, Moses parting the Red Sea, revelations, and Jesus’ face appearing on toast. All of those can be shown to be false, that’s what science does.

            Incorrect. And here’s how to scientifically show that your statement is incorrect: by providing a link to experimental data for prayer healing disease as published in a scientific paper in a peer-reviewed journal. From the Pubmed database at the NIH:

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20686441
            “Study of the therapeutic effects of proximal intercessory prayer (STEPP) on auditory and visual impairments in rural Mozambique.”
            South Med J. 2010 Sep;103(9):864-9. doi: 10.1097/SMJ.0b013e3181e73fea.

            > All you have is your personal experience, and that’s wonderful, you are welcome to it. But it is not science. And before you say it, you’re right, nothing can be proven absolutely false, science already knows that, it is a fundamental premise of science. That’s why we keep exploring, while you stop at 2,000 year old scriptures.

            I don’t know what assumptions you are making about me, but I am an agnostic.

            > Science can show that the likelihood of God existing is so small …

            Really? Then please provide a citation to a scientific paper in a peer-reviewed journal containing the experimental evidence that the likelihood of God existing is small.

            Thanks!

          • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            You’re not worth it Dave. http://www.skepdic.com/prayer.html
            You are not trying to understand what I said. There isn’t some single experiment that indicates God exists or not. To determine the small percentage I mentioned, you take all the studies that were ever done about something that would prove God, and all the miracles that used to be attributed to God and all the claims people have made and note how many times they have turned out false, and figure that the odds of any new God claim being true are very small. You can do it on a napkin, you don’t need a study.
            __ You also ignored what I said about science never claims 100% certainty, which is to say agnosticism is the scientifically correct choice, so congratulations on that.

          • DaveP

            > You’re not worth it Dave.

            In my experience, that’s what people on the internet say when asked a 2nd time to provide a link that they said they could, but can’t.

            > To determine the small percentage I mentioned, you take all the studies that were ever done about something that would prove God, and all the miracles that used to be attributed to God and all the claims people have made and note how many times they have turned out false, and figure that the odds of any new God claim being true are very small.

            That’s not science, that’s picking and choosing opinions about anecdotes. Worse, you are admitting that you are picking and choosing biased opinions about biased anecdotes, because you are ignoring all of the claims and evidence that people believe shows that God does exist. For example, many people consider that our mere existence is evidence of a creator, and almost everyone on earth believes that they exist.

            > You can do it on a napkin, you don’t need a study.

            Napkins are rarely published in peer-reviewed science journals.

            > … agnosticism is the scientifically correct choice …

            I agree. So did Einstein, who also described himself as an agnostic, and who was more inclined to denigrate atheists than believers.

            Which was why I was bemused to read Chris Brown describe himself as a physicist who was “an atheist who was converted by science” and asked him to provide a reference to the “science” which describes the experimental data showing that God doesn’t exist. Which apparently you aren’t able to provide either.

            By the way, the closest I’ve ever seen a reputable physicist come to trying to claim that God does not exist is Stephen Hawking, in his book “The Grand Design”. Near the end he tries to claim that God need not exist because the universe could have arisen without a creator if the laws of physics were constructed in a certain way — but then he neglects to mention who constructed the laws of physics. ;)

          • http://winter60.blogspot.com John Wolforth

            “For example, many people consider that our mere existence is evidence of a creator, and almost everyone on earth believes that they exist.”
            I think I might have heard of that. ID I believe it is called. It’s been proven false in a court of law. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/intelligent-design-trial.html

            “but then he neglects to mention who constructed the laws of physics.”
            People constructed them. We deduced them by experiment and observation. We admit that we might be wrong. Unlike you who sets a requirement for evidence that he doesn’t even understand.
            Here’s your dang link http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/theory.html

          • DaveP

            > I think I might have heard of that. ID I believe it is called.

            No, neither I nor Chris nor Laustner mentioned the religiously-based Intelligent Design (thinly disguised Creationism). ID postulated a God who was actively guiding the evolution of species, the progress of history, etc. What I was referring to was the more basic question of how/why does our universe exist? Until atheists can show that our universe was created without a creator, by referencing scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals containing experimental evidence that no God exists, then atheism is even more faith-based than faith, since people who believe in God(s) can produce the pretty strong evidence of our mere existence as evidence that the universe was created.

            > It’s been proven false in a court of law.

            Incorrect. The judge didn’t say that it was false. He said that it violated the separation of church and state because it was religiously based instead of scientifically based. “The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District#Analysis_and_criticism

            > Here’s your dang link

            Nope, that’s a link to sophomoric atheistic word play, not a link to a paper in a peer-reviewed science journal that contains experimental evidence that no God exists. Try again.

          • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            “…since people who believe in God(s) can produce the pretty strong evidence of our mere existence as evidence that the universe was created”
            That’s called the argument from ignorance: You don’t have an explanation, so there must have been a God that did it. Science says, we don’t have an explanation, so let’s continue to study the question. We have some theories about what underlies Newtonian physics, but it is very difficult to experiment on that. We have come up with ideas like string theory and quantum mechanics that might show how an entire universe with causes and affects can emerge from something that doesn’t have the laws of time or space that we experience. But we don’t know for sure, so we keep looking.

            Even if I accepted your theory that some superior being created the universe, how does your evidence lead to any specific God? Ellen is talking about the Christian God of the Bible, let’s try to stay on topic. All you have demonstrated here is that there is a possibility that there is (or was) a superior being. I already conceded that. We disagree on the probability of that being true and how it should affect our lives.

          • DaveP

            > That’s called the argument from ignorance: You don’t have an explanation, so there must have been a God that did it.

            Incorrect. It is not arguing from ignorance, it is reasoning by analogy:
            We exist. We were created by our parents.
            Van Gogh paintings exists. They were created by Van Gogh.
            The universe exists. Therefore, by analogy, something created it.

            > Even if I accepted your theory that some superior being created the universe, how does your evidence lead to any specific God?

            It doesn’t. I wasn’t trying to provide evidence, I was asking for it. This part of the discussion was started by Chris Brown saying that he is a physicist who is “an atheist who was converted by science”. So I asked him (and you) for a link to a paper in a peer-reviewed scientific journal that provided experimental evidence that no God exists. He may be an atheist, but if he or someone else can’t provide a link to a paper in a peer-reviewed scientific journal that provides experimental evidence that no God exists, then he is overreaching when he says that science supports atheism.

            > All you have demonstrated here is that there is a possibility that there is (or was) a superior being. I already conceded that.

            Cool. So if you are an atheist like Chris, then your atheism is not based on science, but on faith that there is no creator.

          • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            “Cool. So if you are an atheist like Chris, then your atheism is not based on science, but on faith that there is no creator.”

            You’re missing that point that a probability can be based on science. You do not have to be 100% certain about something for it to be considered scientific.

            I prefer the term atheism because it better describes how I act in the world. Agnostic describes someone who still has some questions they are pondering. Being 99% sure that there is no current religion that describes a god that could be real is enough for me to live as if this is the only life I have and that it is up to me to make it meaningful. In other words, I am atheist to all known religions. I’m actually more certain than that, but 99% would have been good enough.

            Compare that to faith. I suspect most people have a certainty much higher than 1% that they made the right decision about their god and that it is worth the gamble to believe in the hopes that there is a reward for it after this life and that making that gamble supplies them with some meaning. Not exactly apples to oranges.

          • DaveP

            > You’re missing that point that a probability can be based on science. You do not have to be 100% certain about something for it to be considered scientific.

            I agree.

            But I already asked you to link to a scientific paper in a peer-reviewed journal that gave experimental evidence regarding the probability that there is no God.

            You didn’t provide such a link, therefore your assessment of any probability that God does not exist is not scientific.

            > I’m actually more certain than that, but 99% would have been good enough.

            Good for you. But since you can’t provide any experimental data from a peer-reviewed scientific journal to support your assessment that there is no God, your 99+% belief in no God is not scientific. It is as much faith-based as someone who is 99+% sure that God exists.

            Which leads to an interesting question: if you have such a high degree of faith that there is no God, why do you feel the need to try to use science as a crutch, instead of standing on your own two faith-based feet? Kind of reminds me of vocal Creationists, only at the other end of the spectrum.

          • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            Response is below

    • Megan
      • DaveP

        :)

        • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

          Not sure what you’re smiling about DaveP. You are the one screaming for a proof that God does not exist. So you are the guy on the left.

          • DaveP

            > Not sure what you’re smiling about DaveP.

            Because I think it’s funny.

            > You are the one screaming for a proof that God does not exist.

            Because you keep saying that you can provide scientific evidence that God does not exist, but y0u never do.

            Here, I’ll give you another chance. You said:

            > I could list thousands of experiments and evidence … anything else you or anyone else might think up as evidence for God

            The existence of the universe is evidence for God.

            If there was no creator of the universe, then the universe wouldn’t exist.

            You claim that your 99+% faith in no creator is based on science, and you claim you could list “thousands of experiments”.

            So please reference just one paper in one peer-reviewed science journal that gives experimental evidence that the universe doesn’t exist.

            Thanks!

          • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            “Because you keep saying that you can provide scientific evidence that God does not exist,”
            I didn’t say that. I said you can prove a negative, I explained how to prove a negative and said that you don’t do it by conducting an experiment and writing a paper about it. YOU keep asking for experimental data published in a journal.

            “If there was no creator of the universe, then the universe wouldn’t exist.”
            That is a 3,000 year old statement. A more accurate statement would be, “if there was no possible way for a universe to exist, then this one wouldn’t.” It is possible however that a universe could exist without a pre-existing consciousness being involved. It could exist without some other matter from which to build it. That is the current theory; that space, time and matter came into existence as a result of physical laws unlike the ones we observe and experience, laws that we are just barely beginning to understand.

            There are thousands of experiments on that topic alone. Lawrence Krauss has an excellent talk about where the universe came from. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjaGktVQdNg Granted, just because we have a theory of how a universe can be created without God doesn’t prove that there is no God, it just reduces the likelihood that a God was involved. But you aren’t interested in that. You don’t want to question any of your beliefs.

            You are no better than the gospel writers who wanted to make some meaning out of the death of Jesus, so they said he’s coming back. After a couple hundred years, more people tried to make it mean something. Many have predicted his return, some quite recently. At what point do you consider that it just ain’t gonna happen? That the negative has been proven? Or do you not believe in the second coming? In that case, where’s your published paper proving it won’t happen?

          • DaveP

            Tsk, tsk. Despite your claim to be able to provide “thousands of links”, still not even one link to one paper in one peer-reviewed science journal containing any experimental evidence to support your claims.

            > Granted, just because we have a theory of how a universe can be created without God doesn’t prove that there is no God, it just reduces the likelihood that a God was involved.

            Incorrect. Theories don’t change the likelihood of anything. That’s like saying that someone who can’t provide any links, but claims to be able to provide “millions of links”, is more persuasive than someone who only claims to be able to provide “thousands of links”. To change likelihoods, you have to deliver results. And for theories, the results are experimental evidence in papers published in peer-reviewed science journals.

            > That is the current theory; that space, time and matter came into existence as a result of physical laws unlike the ones we observe and experience, laws that we are just barely beginning to understand.

            That changes nothing.

            Physical laws that bring space, time and matter into existence to create a universe are evidence for God.

            If there was no creator of those physical laws of the universe, then the universe wouldn’t exist.

            You claim that your 99+% faith in no creator is based on science, and you claim you could list “thousands of experiments”.

            So I’m looking forward to a reference to at least one paper in at least one peer-reviewed science journal that gives experimental evidence that the universe doesn’t exist.

            > You don’t want to question any of your beliefs.

            What beliefs? As you previously said “agnosticism is the scientifically correct choice”, and I’m an agnostic. I believe what the evidence shows. Right now, your evidence for atheism (all of your zero links to papers in peer-reviewed science journals containing experimental evidence to support your assertions) is even less than any self-respecting Creationist could provide.

            > At what point do you consider that it just ain’t gonna happen? That the negative has been proven? Or do you not believe in the second coming? In that case, where’s your published paper proving it won’t happen?

            I don’t know if or when Jesus will return. I think that any other statement would be as un-scientific as your faith-based belief in atheism.

          • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            I provided you a link that explains that the link of the experiment about prayer that you provided is not valid. That’s how you prove a negative. Someone says, “this proves God exists”, and you respond with with either “that data or analysis is not valid” or “that is not proof of God”. In this case it was both. I provided a link that explains how the universe could have come from “nothing”. You just moved the goal posts back to say that God is required to create the laws of physics. Again, you’re stuck in the cause and effect timebound universe that we live in and claiming that you know that similar cause and effect continues to be a law from outside of that. I don’t know how you could know that.

            You won’t even say anything specific about exactly what you think God is, so how can I provide any counter evidence? And, what little you have said, when I have provided links, you have dismissed them. So, there is no point in continuing to discuss with you. This is normally how these internet discussions end, both parties leave feeling they have won.

          • DaveP

            > I provided you a link that explains that the link of the experiment about prayer that you provided is not valid.

            I don’t think so. The link I posted was to a paper published in a peer-reviewed science journal about an experiment that showed that “proximal prayer” has a healing effect. I just looked back through all of your comments, and nowhere could I find where you posted a link to a paper published in a more recent peer-reviewed science journal that refuted those results. If somehow I missed your link to a more recent paper in a peer-reviewed science journal that refutes the result of the “proximal prayer” paper, then my apologies, and could you please repost it?

            > I provided a link that explains how the universe could have come from “nothing”. You just moved the goal posts back to say that God is required to create the laws of physics.

            There are no goalposts. You claimed you could post links to “thousands of experiments” that refute “anything else you or anyone else might think up as evidence for God”. “Anything else” includes, well, “anything else”.

            The existence of the universe is evidence for God.

            If there was no creator of the physical laws that brought the universe into existence from “nothing”, then the universe wouldn’t exist.

            > You won’t even say anything specific about exactly what you think God is, so how can I provide any counter evidence?

            This discussion hasn’t been about what I think God is, it’s been about atheists who claim that their atheism is based on science. But I think it’s pretty clear from the lack of scientific evidence provided, that atheism is just as faith-based as any God-based belief system.

            Personally, I don’t know what god is, or even if god exists. Or even if our concept of numbers (0, 1, many?) applies to counting how many, if any, gods there are. Maybe god(s) exist in some sort of space of transcendental numbers, where integers and rational numbers don’t even apply. Who knows? I don’t.

            > And, what little you have said, when I have provided links, you have dismissed them.

            That’s because the 2 links you provided (as far as I can tell by looking back through the comments) were to an “atheist prayer” and a Youtube video, not to a paper published in a peer-reviewed science journal that provided experimental evidence to support your beliefs and claims.

  • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    You said, “Here’s the thing: The world is broken not because God is unfair or absent, but because of us.”
    Do you really think this is something new? Do you think because you call worse Christians than you on their bullshit that makes you better, or will convince me you know what you are talking about? Everything you lay out above this “thing” leads to the conclusion that it is up to us, God ain’t comin’ to help. There have been lots of words of wisdom since Christ, and a lot of them are better. And what words are you talking about anyway? Most of the Bible is known to be mistranslated, or does not directly quote Jesus, or was edited. Christian scholars say this, not “nones”. We became nones because of what your best scholars said.

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      Well said. As an addition, if the world is broken because of ‘us’, who or what created us and made us so badly that we wreck everything we touch? If a parent takes their unruly, disobedient children to the library and they start tearing up the books, who is held responsible? Not to mention the children with heart defects and autism aren’t broken because of their or anybody else’s choices, and people who are squashed in their own home because of an earthquake didn’t die because they were sinners. It is ludicrous to constantly let god off the hook for these things, unless one accepts that god is either powerless or does not exist.

      In fact, Dollar’s crack about the Declaration of Independence in response to the point that congenital defects cannot possibly be the result of free will and so fly in face of god’s alleged justice and fairness is a rather uncharitable and dismissive response, in my opinion, and the lack of concern or compassion in this issue is surprising for somebody struggling with her own disability. The valid point is allowed to slip by in the zealous chase for a reason to try to correct somebody she disagrees with. It is clear, though, that the equality referenced is not some confused nod to the founding documents of the United States but a comment on the clear lack of fairness in god’s supposed design.

      In short, god doesn’t get a pass on responsibility for his own creation, and it is telling that the CNN piece had to be misunderstood to even begin to try to justify this being’s complete lack of consistency when it comes to natural evils like genetic abnormalities and earthquakes. It is ironic and unfair to be hammering home the idea that Texas Mom’s heartfelt explanation of her lack of belief were “illogical and full of inaccuracies” when Dollar apparently isn’t even reading it correctly.

      • DaveP

        > who or what created us and made us so badly that we wreck everything we touch?

        Who is this “we” you refer to? I, and most of the people I know, improve almost everything we touch. For example, I consider modern medicine a big improvement over leeches, so I don’t think medicine has been wrecked by the touch of medical researchers.

        • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

          Alright Dave, now you are just a troll. Quit misquoting people. Ellen wrote this article with the classic theological theme that it is our free will that has caused the brokeness. She said we wrecked everything. JohnWhite is asking her to explain that. So ask Ellen, or anyone else who wants to defend that theology who this “we” is.

          • DaveP

            > Quit misquoting people.

            Huh? Ellen never said “who or what created us and made us so badly that we wreck everything we touch?”

            I quoted that directly from JohnMWhite’s post.

            > She said we wrecked everything.

            No she didn’t. I just searched her post and she never even used the word “wreck” or “wrecked”.

            Perhaps you should follow your own advice about misquoting people? Or use a more accurate word than misquote?

            But here is another point from JohnNWhite’s post:

            > It is ludicrous to constantly let god off the hook for these things, unless one accepts that god is either powerless or does not exist.

            I think that limiting it to only those 2 options (powerless or does not exist) relies on too many assumptions about our knowledge of god.

            For a wild but illustrative example, if in the dimension or whatever that god inhabits (let’s call it heaven, for arguments sake) there has been a huge outbreak of some sort of disease among all of the billions times billions times billions times billions of residents of heaven, incapacitating all except a small number (say, a 1 billion) of them. Then to cure that disease, god might find it faster to run a computer simulation with 7 billion simulants in order to see if the simulants can find a cure for the disease, rather than trying to do research on 1 billion healthy inhabitants of heaven.

            In which case, it wouldn’t be ludicrous to let god off the hook for the suffering of the 7 billion simultants because: 1) those 7 billion simulants are helping to save the lives of billions times billions times billions times billions (“Greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for his friends”), and 2) the simulants aren’t really real.

            Kind of like testing cosmetic products on simulated rabbits instead of real ones. Are the researchers evil because of the simulated pain of the simulated rabbits, or are they noble for sparing the real rabbits from pain? In neither case are the researchers powerless or non-existant.

          • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

            I was paraphrasing Ellen’s position, which is clear and is the position of Christianity, that humans are fallen and broken and therefore cause bad things to happen by act of will and our own crappy nature:

            “Because we are broken, all of us, and we have the terrible habit of allowing the misery spewing out of our own broken places to ooze all over other people. Most of us don’t bring assault rifles to elementary schools, of course. But we gossip, we hoard, we belittle, we sneer, we ignore, we care more about protecting ourselves and our stuff than caring for other people.”

            You are deliberately stretching one part of my post to a childish degree of literalism just so you have something to argue against, the exact tactic of the OP that I already described.

            Your computer example requires far, far more assumptions about the nature of god than my assumption that the word ‘god’ means what people generally think it means – an omnipotent, all loving and wholly good and just creator. That creator doesn’t get let off the hook for the mess made by its creation. You are clutching at very silly looking straws by trying to argue that there is an outside chance god is just the IT guy in a really busy celestial hospital.

          • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            JohnNWhite grabbed the same quote I would have to explain what Ellen was saying. You’re right, you quoted JohnNWhite’s words. You also took them out of context, which is equivalent to misquoting. You are also right that Ellen did not use the word “wrecked”. She did use all the words quoted above which could be summarized as “wrecked”. So, good luck with being right DaveP. You’re very good at that. You are not very good at understanding others, considering opinions that are different from yours’ or logical thinking. But at least you are right.

          • DaveP

            > I was paraphrasing Ellen’s position, which is clear …

            Yep. My apologies for too hastily reading your comments.

            > … that the word ‘god’ means what people generally think it means – an omnipotent, all loving and wholly good and just creator.

            You mean, Christian people? I don’t think Hindu people, and maybe not even Islamic or Jewish or Buddhist or Shinto or Confucian people, and certainly not atheist or agnostic people, make those same assumptions. Since you put god in small letters, it wasn’t clear to me that you were referring specifically to the Christian God.

            > That creator doesn’t get let off the hook for the mess made by its creation.

            Why not? For example, if our time here on Earth is merely training for whatever comes next, then “the mess” might merely be tough love — kind of like how parents who love their children will make them do chores and homework and spank them. The children may whine and complain and their rear-ends might get hurt, but later they will appreciate the reason for their “suffering”.

            > You are clutching at very silly looking straws by trying to argue that there is an outside chance god is just the IT guy in a really busy celestial hospital.

            I don’t think so. The closest thing we have today to experimental universes are the simulated worlds created by researchers and computer game companies. If today’s exponential rate of progress in shrinking memory chips and processors continues, then in about 260 years we’ll have enough computer power to simulate all of what is currently the observable universe.

            Instead of little girls carrying around Nano-pets on their bracelets, they might have Nano-verses. I wonder what the residents of those Nano-verses will think of their “gods”?

          • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

            I don’t just mean Christian people or the Christian god. The more complex pantheon of Hindus is not what I was referring to, and none of their gods are ‘omnipotent and omnibenevolent’, but the Abrahamic god of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the deist god, the celestial watchmaker, the common concept of a creator god in charge of the universe fits the bill. I’m not sure where you get the idea that Muslims, Jews, atheists or agnostics don’t regard the broad god in that manner. I can’t help but detect a whiff of No True Scotsman billowing from under kilt.

            Why doesn’t a creator get off for the behaviour of its creation? For the reason I already said. We hold parents responsible for their children. There is no reason to presume that life is just a test – you are just making up another “what if” that has no grounding, no evidence, no way to test or falsify, and nothing to do with the facts at present. Regardless, if such a test exists, that god created it and that god holds all the cards. If that god sets up rules and then creates players who can’t follow them, whose fault is that? You’re also ignoring the core point of my original post and of what Texas Mom was saying: you can’t say that free will or disobedience or naughtiness are the reason god lets bad things happen when many of these bad things happen regardless of the exertion of that free will. Need I point for a third time to the autistic children, the heart abnormalities, the earthquakes? If these are ‘spankings’ from god, they are abuse, not loving correction, because they are punishing people who have not and could not do anything to deserve it. What sins can a zygote commit that it has its heart mutate to have a hole in it so that it can never run and play like other children? Why does my gay friend’s marriage mean my other friend’s home in New York gets flooded?

            If you equate the upset at raising a child who will never be like his peers and likely need institutional care for life with whining and complaining about a hurt rear end, you demonstrate exactly why I never use a capital g when referring to the capricious, malicious, unsympathetic monster that so many believers make excuses for. I have no respect for it as a concept, or for its apologists. They have outsourced their conscience and compassion. That may seem unfriendly and off-putting, but try to examine that kind of remark from the other side. It may not be your intention, but you are suggesting that human pain and suffering is childish whining and that questioning why this suffering ‘has to’ occur is immature. Making excuses and minimising the pain of the suffering only makes their suffering greater.

            Your video game analogy still is ridiculous, and you don’t seem to quite get why. It is not about the plausibility of a universe-simulating computer. Your idea requires a catalogue of assumptions and is pure speculation, again with no way to test and no reason to even think it’s true. There is no reason to take it seriously, it’s a wild guess, just as likely to be right as the entire universe being the marble at the end of Men in Black, or the real god being R2D2. It is also a dodge – we’re not talking little girls with nano-pets, we’re talking about gods, in particular creator gods, supreme deities, these gods have a broad but fairly accepted definition – all powerful and all loving. They also have significant counter evidence – indiscriminate suffering – and these concepts of loving, powerful gods and a creation that suffers regardless of its behaviour are mutually exclusive.

          • DaveP

            > I’m not sure where you get the idea that Muslims, Jews, atheists or agnostics don’t regard the broad god in that manner.

            I guess I’m just not as willing as you to stereotype whole religious groups. For example, I am an agnostic, and your assertion that because I am an agnostic I regard the “broad god” as “omnipotent and omnibenevolent” is false.

            > There is no reason to presume that life is just a test …

            I didn’t. If you go back and reread what I wrote, I said “training”: “For example, if our time here on Earth is merely training …”. Which is entirely different. Sorry that you wasted a whole rant based on a misreading.

          • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

            You’re parsing the term ‘god’ to the point of meaninglessness, just to be argumentative. I’m not using stereotypes, I’m using a dictionary.

            And I did not misread your post. What do you propose the ‘training’ is for? Unless you’re going to tell me that training is for the fun of it, I think I am justified in thinking there’s some kind of test at the end, though my phraseology was based not only on your own words but the broader and common theistic concept that life is somehow all about preparing for judgement. Again you are being overly literal for the sake of having something to argue against. And if I cannot correct you and clarify myself without being accused of ‘ranting’ then why are we even trying to talk about this issue? You’re not even trying to have an honest discussion. It is rather unfortunate.

          • DaveP

            > You’re parsing the term ‘god’ to the point of meaninglessness, just to be argumentative. I’m not using stereotypes, I’m using a dictionary.

            Which dictionary? According the Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, the definition of “god” (with a small “g”) is “a being or object believed to more than natural attributes and powers and to require man’s worship; specif : one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality”. I don’t see the words “omnipotent” or “omnibenevolent” there.

            Not that I think that people who write dictionaries have any special authority to determine the attributes of god.

            > And I did not misread your post.

            Sounds to me like you did. I said “training” and never mentioned anything about a “test”.

            The funny part is that in that in your first post you said “There is no reason to presume that life is just a test …”, and in your next post you said “I think I am justified in thinking there’s some kind of test at the end”. :)

            > What do you propose the ‘training’ is for?

            I already told you. “For example, if our time here on Earth is merely training for whatever comes next …”. I hypothetically proposed that the training is for whatever comes next. Maybe in heaven god is having a battle against Satan and needs soldiers. Maybe god needs missionaries to send to hell. Maybe god is leveling up in a giant computer game and needs more believer points.

            You can get other possibilities from actual religions; the concept that life here on earth might be training for the next life is not my own. For example, “Life on earth is a training ground and is meant to be challenging. Opposition helps us grow spiritually.” http://aboutmormons.org/basic-mormon-beliefs

            > And if I cannot correct you …

            I would be grateful if you would correct me. If you find I’ve made a mistake, please post a link to the correct information.

  • thin-ice

    I am another “none”, but with 46 years as an evangelical, theology degree from a Bible college, and years of missionary work in Europe under my belt.

    My problem with God, in particular the evangelical God, was the concept of hell, and which you re-affirm in your column. My former theology states that all humans, in God’s eyes, are broken, worthless and prone to disobedience. Thus, we need a savior. And we need a (primitive) blood sacrifice to atone for our sins. And if we don’t accept the prescribed solution – believing that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb who died for my sins – then I’m going to spend infinity being tormented, or at least separated from God (although the OT and NT state it far more graphically than that mild condition).

    Well, I finally called BS on that. Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron notwithstanding, the vast majority of humans try to live a kind, considerate, gentle life. Does anyone deserve eternal, non-ending torment for that? Or for not believing correctly? NO. NO. NO. And I will spend the rest of my days warning people against believing such non-sensical drivel. May the “Nones” increase in strength and influence, until religion is but distant figment in our collective memory.

  • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    “But since you can’t provide any experimental data from a peer-reviewed scientific journal to support your assessment that there is no God, your 99+% belief in no God is not scientific.”
    I’ve already covered this, but I’ll try again. The paper you want doesn’t exist because that’s not how science works. It works by providing evidence to help understand specific testable questions. It usually doesn’t bother with a question like “do unicorns exist?” because there is nothing there to work with. The evidence for non-existence is that there is no evidence for existence. There are only unverified stories and personal accounts. There are no fossils, no DNA, no pictures, no corroborating evidence. A question like “where did the universe come from?” is too big for one experiment. There are many smaller questions to be answered, but the important point is that science does not give up and say, “Let’s just say God did it.”

    So I do not use science as a crutch, I use it to provide and make judgments about evidence and I have seen how that leads to knowledge that creates a better world. I could list thousands of experiments and evidence that prayer doesn’t work, people aren’t born of virgins, Moses didn’t lead anyone anywhere, Hell doesn’t exist, Jesus didn’t say most of the things attributed to him, thunder is not the sound of God bowling and anything else you or anyone else might think up as evidence for God, but you wouldn’t care because you are stuck on this idea that anything less than 100% certainty is equivalent to a faith based decision. You’re starting to really bore me.

    • DaveP

      > It works by providing evidence to help understand specific testable questions.

      Exactly. That’s why, despite your and Chris Brown’s assertions that your atheism is based on science, you haven’t been able to provide any links to any scientific papers in any peer-reviewed journals with any experimental evidence that no God exists.

      Here, let me give you some simple examples of citing scientific evidence:

      > … prayer doesn’t work …

      According to science, proximal prayer does work:

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20686441
      “Study of the therapeutic effects of proximal intercessory prayer (STEPP) on auditory and visual impairments in rural Mozambique.”
      South Med J. 2010 Sep;103(9):864-9. doi: 10.1097/SMJ.0b013e3181e73fea.

      > … people aren’t born of virgins …

      According to science, human parthenogensis can and does occur:

      http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v11/n2/abs/ng1095-164.html
      “A human parthenogenetic chimaera”
      Nature Genetics 11, 164 – 169 (1995)
      doi:10.1038/ng1095-164

      > So I do not use science as a crutch … I could list thousands of experiments and evidence that … Hell doesn’t exist …

      Really? No need to list thousands of experiments and evidence, please link to just one article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal with the experimental evidence that Hell doesn’t exist.

      > So I do not use science as a crutch … I could list thousands of experiments and evidence … anything else you or anyone else might think up as evidence for God

      I never claimed that belief in God is science-based. Until someone comes up with a testable experiment, it’s faith-based.

      You and Chris Brown claimed that your belief in no God is science-based.

      So, if you still wish to maintain that your belief in no God is science-based, please link to a paper in a peer-reviewed science journal with the experimental evidence that no God exists.

      > You’re starting to really bore me.

      In my experience, that’s another thing that people on the internet often say when they claim that they can provide a link, but can’t.

  • Marcion

    Is there free will in heaven? If there is, is there suffering in heaven? And if there is free will in heaven, and no suffering, then god is clearly cable of creating a state of affairs in which free will does not cause suffering. And if he can do that, why doesn’t he do that in the first place instead of letting his children suffer horribly?

    • Jordan Savariego

      Marcion,

      First off, Jesus is both child of God, and God Himself. He came down to suffer with us.

      As per your question, Why this way, and not the heaven-only scenario you mentioned? I have yet to discover a truly definitive answer. As a Catholic, I have resigned from obsessive intellectualism and accepted it as both mystery, and reality. For perhaps a deeper understanding of how inconceivable God’s purposes are to us, check out “Fr. Barron comments on Terrence Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’” It discusses and enlightens the perplexing paradox of nature versus grace, as well as God’s response to Job when Job expresses frustration with God about suffering!

      • Jordan Savariego

        P.S. That video can be found on YouTube. It’s relatively concise, 10 minutes long.

      • Marcion

        I’m sorry, but the death of Jesus just doesn’t help solve this problem. What does it accomplish? Symbolism? If I broke my leg, I wouldn’t feel better knowing my dad took a sledgehammer to his shin to show how much he cares when he could be taking me to the hospital. I’d just think he’s seriously disturbed. Any god that chooses to suffer with its creations instead of relieving their suffering is as incompetent as it is masochistic. If god wants the universe to be a certain way (sinless) and is capable of making it a certain way (heaven), why doesn’t he just make it that way? Honestly, divine mysteries look indistinguishable from plot holes.

        Speaking of mystery, if god’s purposes are inconcievable, how can you say anything definitive about him? How can christians say that god has a very specific set of characteristics (omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, died for our sins, etc.) while also claiming that he’s incomprehensible? For all you know, the entire christian story could be a lie created by god to amuse himself while he waits for the fulfillment of his real goal: not salvation for his children, but to create a certain quantity of iron via solar fusion, at which point the universe fulfills its purpose, the stars go out one by one, and god devours the frigid corpse of his creation. If god is incomprehensible, you have no reason to assume my story is any less likely than Jesus dying for our sins.

        • Thin-ice

          Excellent, Marcion. Christian theology is riddled through with inconsistencies, contradictions and incompatible concepts. And when these are highlighted, the apologists fall back on “Mystery” as the ultimate explanation, if indeed logic fails to provide an answer.

        • Nick Gotts

          I LOL’d. It’s amazing how Christians think reminding you that Jesus had a rotten weekend for your sins* will make the hideous tally of human and non-human suffering over the eons acceptable collateral damage for whatever God’s purposes might be.

          *After all, after dying, he was alive again – and equipped with superpowers – in less than 48 hours.

  • Deb Sutter

    Wonderful article! I agree with your core premise. Thank you for taking the time to write it. Here is my personal situation… I was raised Catholic. I learned about Christ during 8 long years of Catholic school. I hated having to learn the Bible stories. I hated being told I had to accept the inconsistencies in Catholicism. And I hated being told I had to be/act a certain way to “buy” my way to God through the Church. Ironically, I always loved Jesus Christ. Jesus’ core teaching about love always made sense to me. Fast forward 30 years to the present day – I love and understand Jesus more now than I ever have in my entire life. The truth in his teachings resonate with my soul — I understand them from a realistic, yet mystical, point of view. No church or religion brought me closer to God. No amount of Bible study brought me closer to God. My LIFE brought me closer to God. When life broke me, it was Jesus Christ and God’s love that saved me, allowing me to understand myself and my place in the world on a whole new level. It is God inside me (the same God that Jesus spoke of, who was inside him) who continues to guide me in my life. Closeness to God is what keeps me sane. I consider myself “Spiritual” because I loathe having to box myself into one religion’s interpretation of God. God is God, Christ is Christ, and I am me – it will always be us three for me. And I reserve the right to experience God only as He wishes it – it’s more fun that way. :)

  • gg

    I don’t reject god. You can’t reject what doesn’t exist.

  • Jim

    I agree with the author that these are poor reasons to not believe. There are much better ones. For me and many nones it’s about accepting magic and or the supernatural into our metaphysical views. I categorically reject the supernatural as there is not a single shred of evidence to suggest that reality is anything other than a confluence of natural forces. This means no Yaweh, leprechauns, fairies or gods of any type.

    The lady from Texas is right about one thing, capital G God isn’t worth worshipping, even if he was real. While she may not have started with the best reason, she is rejecting faith and therefore coming to her senses. For me, the most dangerous part of religious belief is the faith. Once faith is accepted you can form a metaphysical view based on nonsense.

  • DaveP

    > The lady from Texas is right about one thing, capital G God isn’t worth worshipping, even if he was real.

    Or, maybe God is worth worshipping even if he isn’t real.

    Just like Christmas is worth celebrating even if Santa Claus isn’t real.

    According to evolution, intelligence evolved because it confers a reproductive advantage.

    If people who worship God have more children on average than people who don’t, then worshipping God is the intelligent thing to do — even if God isn’t real. And there is evidence that religious people have a higher birth rate: “Religious men and women differ from the standard of the 2-child-family and are more likely to have 3 or more children on average.” http://suite101.com/article/sociology-religion-and-birth-rate-empirically-connected-a372129

    2 children per family is below the natural replacement rate of about 2.1 to 2.5 children per family, so any group that averages only 2 children per family or less is going extinct.

    In a practical sense, “God” may be a convenient shorthand for all of the reasons that parents have for teaching moral lessons to their children.

    • Nick Gotts

      Two problems with your reasoning:
      1)Both in the USA, and in most of Europe, the number of “nones” is increasing rapidly, so clearly the group is not going extinct. Even if believers have more children, those children are leaving religion at a rate that more than compensates for that, for changes due to immigration, and for any nones becoming religious.
      2) Why do you think this:

      If people who worship God have more children on average than people who don’t, then worshipping God is the intelligent thing to do

      is true? Why is it intelligent to maximise the number of your children? It’s never been a goal of mine; I couldn’t care less whether I have any biological descendants in a couple of centuries. The theory of evolution is an explanation of how certain aspects of the world came to be as they are. It does not in any sense tell you what you should do or what your goals in life should be.

      • DaveP

        > 1)Both in the USA, and in most of Europe, the number of “nones” is increasing rapidly, so clearly the group is not going extinct.

        Yes, the “nones” are going extinct.

        According to the survey that Ellen posted, all of the increase in “nones” in the US was among single people, so the “nones” are like moths being attracted to an extinction light. None of the increase in “nones” in the US was among married people.

        And in most of countries in Europe the populations are going extinct because the reproduction rate is about 1.59, which is far below the replacement rate of about 2.3: “The average total fertility rate in the European Union (EU-27) has been calculated at 1.59 children per woman in 2009.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_fertility_rate

        If you look at the fertility map in the wikipedia article, you’ll see that the more highly “religious” areas of the world (for example, the US and South America) have higher birth rates that the less “religious” areas of the world (for example, Canada and Europe).

        > Why is it intelligent to maximise the number of your children?

        Because that’s how evolution works.

        Intelligence evolved because it confers a reproductive advantage.

        If you can’t figure out how to successfully reproduce, then Mother Nature doesn’t think you’re very smart.

        You can even figure out your own “natural IQ”. Since the replacement rate is about 2.3 kids/family, your “natural IQ” is:

        0 kids = 0 IQ
        1 kid = 43 IQ
        2 kids = 87 IQ
        3 kids = 130 IQ
        4 kids = 174 IQ

        > It does not in any sense tell you what you should do or what your goals in life should be.

        By “you”, are you referring to me? If so, your statement is false.

        If, on the other hand, by “you” you were trying to overreach and make your statement sound more general than is warranted, then we can rephrase it to encompass only the opinions that you know to be true:

        “It does not in any sense tell me what I should do or what my goals in life should be.”

        That’s now a true statement, if that’s what you believe.

        What’s your natural IQ?

        • Nick Gotts

          Sheer drivel: if the numbers of a population are increasing, it is not going extinct, although you might think there are reasons it will do so in future. However, the increase in nones is predominantly among young people, who are less likely to be married – and I hate to risk bruising your delicate sensibilities, but it is possible for single people to have children.

          Because that’s how evolution works.

          Intelligence evolved because it confers a reproductive advantage.

          If you can’t figure out how to successfully reproduce, then Mother Nature doesn’t think you’re very smart.

          “Mother Nature” doesn’t think anything at all; and if “she” did, why should that concern me? You are simply repeating the fallacy of the appeal to nature, in the form of a false belief that the theory of evolution is prescriptive; that it tells you what you should do. You may have decided to focus on maximising your reproductive success, but there is nothing irrational or unintelligent in selecting different goals.

          I can’t really believe the garbage about “natural IQ” is intended seriously, but just in case it is: IQ is not a ratio variable, i.e. it cannot meaningfully be manipulated mathematically as if it were a quantity of stuff.

          • DaveP

            > Sheer drivel: if the numbers of a population are increasing, it is not going extinct, …

            False. For example, even if the number of physically infertile people is increasing, they are still going extinct. The “nones” are, on average, socially infertile people. I.e. not smart enough to reproduce.

            > However, the increase in nones is predominantly among young people, who are less likely to be married …

            The smart ones will get married, have children, and then figure out why it is good to take their children to church (or mosque, synagogue, etc), and will also figure out why symbolism (Santa Claus, God, Allah, etc) are handy shorthand for complex social behaviors (generosity, morals, etc).

            > – and I hate to risk bruising your delicate sensibilities, but it is possible for single people to have children.

            Of course. But the typical single parents have one kid which is being raised by the mother, which is far below the replacement rate, and which gives both the mother and the father a natural IQ of 43. “The Typical Single Parent is a Mother … She is Raising One Child” http://singleparents.about.com/od/legalissues/p/portrait.htm

            > “Mother Nature” doesn’t think anything at all; …

            And your evidence of that is? I think the mere existence of the universe is evidence for a God or Mother Nature or whatever that at least thought enough to develop the laws of physics.

            > and if “she” did, why should that concern me?

            Because one of the consequences of Mother Nature’s thinking up the laws of physics is that if a large car is about to hit you, that it might be best to get out of the way.

            > You are simply repeating the fallacy of the appeal to nature …

            That’s only a fallacy if the appeal is false. All of physics is an appeal to nature.

            > … in the form of a false belief that the theory of evolution is prescriptive; that it tells you what you should do.

            Only if you want to survive. For example, if you are in an environment where being chased by lions is a common occurence, then intelligent people will consider the doctrine of “survival of fittest” to be a prescription to practice running so that they will not be the slowest in their group.

            > You may have decided to focus on maximising your reproductive success, but there is nothing irrational or unintelligent in selecting different goals.

            Perhaps not irrational, but it certainly shows that your “different goals” were unintelligent if you fail to successfully reproduce. Intelligence evolved because it confers a reproductive advantage.

            > IQ is not a ratio variable …

            False. In fact, the very definition of IQ is as a ratio: “… the ratio of a person’s mental age to their chronological age (multiplied by 100)” http://www.thefreedictionary.com/IQ

            The “natural IQ” uses that same definition, except it replaces “mental age” and “chronological age” with “number of children” and “replacement rate”.

            > … it cannot meaningfully be manipulated mathematically as if it were a quantity of stuff.

            False. The “quantity of stuff” is the number of children you have.

          • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            His “natural IQ” theory proved my troll theory.

          • DaveP

            > His “natural IQ” theory proved my troll theory.

            It’s not my theory. It’s standard evolutionary theory, going all the way back to Darwin (“natural selection”), Spencer (“survival of the fittest”), and Haldane. All I did was multiply the standard fitness coefficient (which is centered around 1) by 100 (so that it is centered around 100 like traditional IQ scores). You can read more the fitness coefficient at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitness_(biology)

          • Nick Gotts

            DaveP, you are becoming increasingly incoherent.

            Sheer drivel: if the numbers of a population are increasing, it is not going extinct, …

            False. For example, even if the number of physically infertile people is increasing, they are still going extinct. The “nones” are, on average, socially infertile people. I.e. not smart enough to reproduce.

            If a population is increasing, then it’s not going extinct as long as the increase continues, whether that increase is from births or from (geographical or cultural) immigration. The population of nones is increasing, and you have not shown that this process is bound to end.

            However, the increase in nones is predominantly among young people, who are less likely to be married …

            The smart ones will get married, have children, and then figure out why it is good to take their children to church (or mosque, synagogue, etc)

            No, they won’t. The smart ones, in the normal meaning of the term (you don’t get to redefine the terms “smart” and “intelligent” to mean “fecund”, as you are tyrying to do), are the most likely to be nones; and levels of religious observance are remarkably stable after the early 20s: it is simply a myth that people return to religion in large numbers as they age, or when they marry or have children.

            I think the mere existence of the universe is evidence for a God or Mother Nature or whatever that at least thought enough to develop the laws of physics.

            Why is what you think of any interest, if you can’t justify it? If you have an actual argument for this claim, I’ll consider it. But since all the thought we have any knowledge of requires bits of physical stuff moving about according to the laws of physics, the question arises of how this entity managed to think without them.

            All of physics is an appeal to nature.

            I’m afraid you’re just demonstrating your ignorance. The “appeal to nature” has a specific meaning. Try googling it.

            For example, if you are in an environment where being chased by lions is a common occurence, then intelligent people will consider the doctrine of “survival of fittest” to be a prescription to practice running so that they will not be the slowest in their group.

            No, only those ignorant of the theory of evolution would do that. There is no “doctrine of survival of fittest” that tells anyone what to do. “Survival of the fittest” is a summary, little used these days as it is potentially misleading, of Darwin’s key insight: that those members of a population best adapted to local conditions are most likely to leave descendants, and that this can change the characteristics of the population, if it is not perfectly so adapted. It tells you what happens in nature; it is not advice from Darwin, Mother Nature, or anyone else.

            Perhaps not irrational, but it certainly shows that your “different goals” were unintelligent if you fail to successfully reproduce. Intelligence evolved because it confers a reproductive advantage.

            You evidently think the first sentence follows from the second, but it simply doesn’t; I suggest a course in elementary logic. The fact that feature X evolved “because it confers a reproductive advantage” does not mean that’s all it can be used for, or that it’s what it should be used for.

            the ratio of a person’s mental age to their chronological age (multiplied by 100)

            A remarkably silly definition, as it can only work for children. In fact, a measured IQ is just a score on a battery of tests and it makes no sense to treat them as quantities of stuff.

            The “natural IQ” uses that same definition, except it replaces “mental age” and “chronological age” with “number of children” and “replacement rate”.

            Did you invent this silly term yourself? Because as you point out yourself, it tells you nothing the fitness coefficient doesn’t. What’s silliest about it is that you take what is a good ratio variable – number of children – and compare it to a squishy, ill-defined measure like IQ. But I suppose it’s part of your campaign to change the meaning of “intelligent” to “has lots of kids”. I don’t think it will catch on.

          • DaveP

            > The population of nones is increasing …

            And the average birthrate in the US is decreasing because of that. The “nones” are the ones dying out, because religious people have on average 3 or more children. “Religious men and women differ from the standard of the 2-child-family and are more likely to have 3 or more children on average.” http://suite101.com/article/sociology-religion-and-birth-rate-empirically-connected-a372129

            > The smart ones, in the normal meaning of the term (you don’t get to redefine the terms “smart” and “intelligent” to mean “fecund”, as you are tyrying to do) …

            Normal meaning? The only scientific meaning that counts in the long run is the evolutionary meaning. Any definition of intelligence that isn’t correlated with a higher-than-average birth rate is incorrect. Intelligence evolved because it confers a reproductive advantage. That’s why we’re smarter than the ape-like ancestors that we evolved from.

            > … are the most likely to be nones;

            False. The fact that “nones” are reproductively less successful shows that whatever definition of “smart” that you would like to use is scientifically incorrect.

            > Why is what you think of any interest, if you can’t justify it?

            I said “I think that the existence of the universe …”. If you think I can’t justify that the universe exists, please present evidence that the universe doesn’t exist.

            > Try googling it.

            Sure: “An appeal to nature is an argument or rhetorical tactic in which it is proposed that “a thing is good because it is ‘natural’, or bad because it is ‘unnatural’”. As you can see from the definition, it’s not a fallacy like you said; it’s an argument or rhetorical tactic. Confirming exactly what I said: it’s only a fallacy if it’s false.

            > those members of a population best adapted to local conditions are most likely to leave descendants

            I agree. Intelligent people are better able to adapt to local conditions, which is why intelligent people are more likely to leave descendents. “Nones” are less likely to leave descendents.

            > It tells you what happens in nature; it is not advice from Darwin, Mother Nature, or anyone else.

            Knowing what happens in nature is the best advice: that’s what science is. If an intelligent person knows that penicillin will cure an infection, an intelligent person will probably take penicillin.

            > But I suppose it’s part of your campaign to change the meaning of “intelligent” to “has lots of kids”. I don’t think it will catch on.

            It’s not part of my campaign, there is nothing to catch on, it’s just a description of evolution. Intelligence evolved because it confers a reproductive advantage. If someone proposes a definition of intelligence that isn’t correlated with a higher-than-average birthrate, then their definition is incorrect.

          • Nick Gotts

            DaveP

            Religious men and women differ from the standard of the 2-child-family and are more likely to have 3 or more children on average.”

            So what? This has been true for years, and yet the proportion of nones keeps growing.

            Any definition of intelligence that isn’t correlated with a higher-than-average birth rate is incorrect. Intelligence evolved because it confers a reproductive advantage. That’s why we’re smarter than the ape-like ancestors that we evolved from.

            You’re proving once again your ignorance of evolution. Intelligence confers a reproductive advantage in some circumstances; in others, its costs exceed its benefits. If this were not so, chimpanzees and other more distant relatives of humans would have evolved higher intelligence in the same way some humans did. Thus your attempt to redefine intelligence as fecundity is simply foolish. Moreover, if you try to identify intelligence with reproductive success, you are committed to saying that a well-adapted and lucky codfish produces millions of offspring that survive to adulthood is far more intelligent than any person who ever lived. Stop. Being. So. Silly.

            I said “I think that the existence of the universe …”. If you think I can’t justify that the universe exists, please present evidence that the universe doesn’t exist.

            Silly troll: dishonestly quote-mining yourself makes your game obvious. What you said, ansd what I asked you to justify, was:

            I think the mere existence of the universe is evidence for a God or Mother Nature or whatever that at least thought enough to develop the laws of physics.

            Evidently, you can’t give any justification for this claim, or you would have done so.

            The appeal to nature is a fallacy, because there is no reason to think that because something exists or happens, it is good. You have not even attempted to justify the claim that this is so, and it commits you to absurdities such as the belief that it was good for a large proportion of women to die in agony in childbirth, until modern medicine greatly reduced the number of victims of this entirely natural process.

            Knowing what happens in nature is the best advice: that’s what science is.

            No, that’s not what science is – add another topic to the list of those where you insist on displaying your ignorance. Science is an institutional system with systematic ways of expanding human knowledge of the world and correcting its own errors. However, it can’t tell you whether your goal should be to have as many children as you can, enjoy yourself as much as you can, make as much money as you can, live as long as you can, do as much good as you can, acquire as much knowledge as you can… That’s up to you, and attempting to shuffle it off onto either “God” or “Nature” or “science” is moral and intellectual cowardice.

          • DaveP

            > So what? This has been true for years, and yet the proportion of nones keeps growing …

            Yep, the proportion of nones keeps growing, at the same time as the birthrate keeps falling.

            A time when birthrates are declining is a time of high evolutionary pressure. That’s when the less fit get weeded out fastest. In a time of declining birthrates, a larger percentage of the population is failing to replace themselves. That’s why the nones are becoming a larger percentage of the population.

            > Intelligence confers a reproductive advantage in some circumstances; …

            That’s why I almost always say “on average”.

            > If this were not so, chimpanzees and other more distant relatives of humans would have evolved higher intelligence in the same way some humans did.

            Chimpanzees are evolving higher intelligence the same way humans did, just not as fast because of the different rates at which the mutations leading to intelligence have happened to occur. Just as within humans, intelligence is evolving at different rates (religious people have a higher natural IQ than non-religious people). Birds are also evolving higher intelligence at different rates (I’ve heard that ravens are more intelligent than robins). Even mollusks are evolving higher intelligence (I’ve heard that octopuses are more intelligent than oysters).

            > Moreover, if you try to identify intelligence with reproductive success, you are committed to saying that a well-adapted and lucky codfish produces millions of offspring that survive to adulthood is far more intelligent than any person who ever lived.

            Codfish don’t produce millions of offspring that survive to adulthood. Otherwise, a million codfish in one generation would turn into a trillion codfish in the next generation. Assuming an average codfish weighs about 20 lbs, in just 4 generations codfish would outweigh the entire earth. In reality, the population of codfish has declined in recent decades.

            > Evidently, you can’t give any justification for this claim, or you would have done so.

            Justification for the claim that “I think the mere existence of the universe is evidence for a God or Mother Nature or whatever that at least thought enough to develop the laws of physics.”?

            That’s my opinion (and I think the opinion of a great many others). If you’d like to convince me that my opinion is incorrect, please present any evidence you’d like that the universe doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t have any laws of physics.

            Oh wait, if the universe doesn’t exist then your evidence doesn’t exist either, so if you can provide evidence that the universe doesn’t exist, that it means that it does exist, which means that the laws of physics exist, and I’ll just use names like God or Mother Nature for whatever it is that came up with those laws of physics.

            > … it commits you to absurdities such as the belief that it was good for a large proportion of women to die in agony in childbirth …

            No it doesn’t. Pointing out that fact that intelligence evolved because it confers a reproductive advantage in no way makes a value judgment about whether intelligence (or anything else in evolution) is “good” or “bad”. Evolution works no matter what we think of it.

            > However, it can’t tell you whether your goal should be to have as many children as you can, enjoy yourself as much as you can, make as much money as you can, live as long as you can, do as much good as you can, acquire as much knowledge as you can…

            Sure science can. For a simple example: a person may decide to acquire as much knowledge as they can. But if science says that a moon-sized exoplanet will strike the earth in about 2 months, that person might change their goal to enjoying themselves as much as they can. Based on the advice of science.

            For another example of good advice from science, specifically evolution:

            If you’d like to maximize the likelihood that your children are smarter than you (for example, so that on average they will be better able to support you in your old age):

            1) find a spouse who came from a large family and who wants to have more children than you do; the expected value of your spouse’s natural IQ is then higher than yours.
            2) make sure that your spouse wants to have at least 3 children, otherwise both of you have below average natural IQs.
            3) have as many children as your spouse wants. Not only will the average natural IQ of your children be higher, but your smartest child will also on average have a higher natural IQ than the smartest child of people who have fewer children than you.

            Good advice from science, courtesy of Charles Darwin, et. al.

          • DaveP

            > 1) find a spouse who came from a large family and who wants to have more children than you do; the expected value of your spouse’s natural IQ is then higher than yours.

            P.S. Since religous people have a higher natural IQ on average than non-religious people, the advice from science can be summed up as:

            Go to church, it’s an excellent place to meet your future spouse. :)

        • ngotts

          So by your “reasoning” a codfish, which can have millions of kids, has a far higher “natural IQ” than you. If that doesn’t give you a hint that your concept of “natural IQ” has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence, nothing will.

  • Nick Gotts

    This article is the usual waffle and drivel that results when a Christian confronts the problem of evil.
    Compare:

    most Christians are as horrified as she is at the idea that God would allow children to be murdered for a reason, any reason

    and:

    we pray because we truly believe that with God nothing is impossible.

    Right: so God could put everything to rights, right now. Specifically, he could prevent children being murdered. But he doesn’t. So either he doesn’t exist, there are things that he cannot do, or he chooses to allow all the evil that occurs, including children being murdered.

    Just like you, we don’t understand how that could be, given that there’s an awful lot of work that needs doing in this world for which God’s infinite possibility could be put to good use. But the fact that we don’t understand doesn’t mean that we have no choice but to believe that either God is an unfair, powerless tease, or God is not real.

    Yes, it does, if you value intellectual honesty.

  • Droopy

    I didn’t really find much of what you said here to be compelling if I’m to be honest, but I really only want to comment on one specific sentence.
    “But I keep on believing because I haven’t found another way of understanding the world that so fully incorporates the worst and best of life in this broken world, that acknowledges how terrible things are while promising that they can be better than we can possibly imagine.”
    It’s the part after the comma that truly confuses me. Why do you think this promise ought to exist? Have you seriously considered the possibility that things will never be “better than we can possibly imagine”? A belief shouldn’t have to promise you certain things to evaluate as true. It is either true or it is false and that stands apart from how you might feel about it or how it relates to your ideal image of the world.

    • Nick Gotts

      Indeed. Wishful thinking is one of the greatest threats we face, individually and collectively; I’m thinking specifically about climate change denialism in the latter case. There’s a strong argument that we have an ethical duty to avoid believing falsely where we can; in any case, to glory in wishful thinking as Ellen Painter Dollar does is in my view profoundly wrong.

      • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

        I do not participate in climate change denialism. There are many of us progressive Christians who regularly advocate for all sorts of social and political change. I’m not sitting back waiting for some kind of “pie in the sky” heaven and thinking we have no responsibility to make the world better. Indeed, part of why I’m a Christian is that I believe Jesus Christ spoke about and modeled some of the most effective ways to bring about positive change in the world—engagement with the “other” and the marginalized, sacrificial giving, nonviolence, forgiveness, prophetic witness. And when I speak about the promise of things being better than we can imagine, again, I’m not talking about heaven. I”m talking about modeling the ministry of Jesus Christ to make things better in this life, in this world. To usher in the kingdom of God here and now, in very practical ways. I’m also speaking about “everyday resurrections” that, to me as a Christian, circle back to Christ’s resurrections—examples of people and places and situations that seemed hopeless but that ultimately became hopeful again, because of personal sacrifice, prophetic witness, individuals courageously stepping up to change themselves and their communities. That’s what the kingdom of God is to me. It is not wishful thinking. It is paying attention to the miraculous possibilities for transformation, healing, and redemption that surround us, if we are willing to pay attention and to get down to the hard work of confession, repentance, sacrificial love, and vulnerable connection with other people to help make that transformation, healing, and redemption happen in this world.

        • Nick Gotts

          All completely beside the point: if you choose your beliefs on the basis of what you want to be true, not on the basis of evidence, then you’re no different in that respect from a climate change denialist .

        • Marcion

          Why can’t god change things himself? He is omnipotent, after all.

  • rumitoid

    I am not exactly a none. I am one of those Christians who feel compelled to make it plain that I am not “one of those Christians” but settle instead on none. The common ugliness I have witnessed by Christians in regards to this president over the past four years is what I cite as my reluctance to claim a religious identity. The term “un-Christian” has lost all meaning. The kookiest and vilest amongst the political right all claim to be Christians. They have not been “separated out” to do God’s will and work but “divided against” those they were meant to love and help.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      “The term “un-Christian” has lost all meaning. The kookiest and vilest amongst the political right all claim to be Christians.”

      I absolutely agree with you. I still call myself a Christian. I will not cede the term to those who misuse it.

      • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

        And thank God for that. If we (and by “we” I mean non-whacko Christians and reasonable atheists) leave Christianity to the fundamentalist, we risk reverting to the military based religion of Constantine. That may have seemed like a fringe statement a few years ago, but we dodged a bullet with this last election and Michelle Bachmann is still in Congress.

        But my alliance with liberal theologians is tentative. I hope to see the fundamentalists return to their marginalized former days when right-wing politicians were not afraid to speak up against them, and they didn’t have so many dang guns.

        When that happens, I will still be here to debate the magic powers of Christ and still be speaking out on the negative affects those beliefs have on our culture. Because if you really take a hard look, it is the legitimization of those beliefs, the misuse of logical and intellectual arguments, that allows the fundamentalists to keep coming back.

        • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

          “But my alliance with liberal theologians is tentative. I hope to see the fundamentalists return to their marginalized former days when right-wing politicians were not afraid to speak up against them, and they didn’t have so many dang guns.”

          That gave me a good laugh (the last line especially). Thanks for this and your other contributions. I agree with your final paragraph as well. The struggle for me (one of them anyway) is to talk about my faith in a way that makes clear that I think deeply about it with some intellectual rigor (that I am not simply swallowing illogical magical thinking without reflection) but also makes clear that my faith is not a purely intellectual exercise. Finding the right language is hard, sometimes it feels impossible. I do value conversation though, so I keep trying, with mixed results.

  • A Hermit

    Wouldn’t it just be simpler to admit that Christianity has no answers? That’s basically all this article says…

  • ksb935

    I don’t understand why some people feel the need to make up an imaginary friend (God, Jesus, etc.) to console them when they hurt, or to remind them how to be good. Why not just reach out to other humans (friends, therapists, etc.) for support?

  • ngotts

    “First off, Jesus is both child of God, and God Himself.”

    Since this is logically impossible, it follows that doctrinally orthodox Christianity is false.

  • Tom Williams

    I think the most fascinating features of people are the invisible, features I cannot see or smell or touch or taste. For me, it’s reasonable to believe that beings with invisible qualities were created by a being with invisible qualities. You all have exhibited many of these qualities in your posts, and I feel like I know you a little bit even though I’ve never seen you. I don’t reject that behind your intelligent posts there are real people. Even though I can’t prove it, the evidence suggests you are not imaginary.

  • Andy

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