All Believers Are Atheists, All Atheists Are Believers

The quote from Mark Russell comes from an article which asks whether the “new atheists” are making old mistakes. The above is just one of several memorable quotes in the article. Another is when Russell writes, “I began to wonder if the New Atheists were combatting fundamentalism by duplicating its mistakes.”

Or related interest, approaching this from the other side, Jeremy Myers wrote in a recent blog post:

Many atheists, I believe, have rightly declared their non-belief in a god that truly does not exist.They have gone looking for a god that does not exist, and, having failed to find him (and how could they?), have declared that god does not exist. Christians take offense to this, and come up with all sorts of arguments for the existence of God, but fail to recognize that they too are arguing (in many cases) for the existence of a god that does not actually exist.In such cases, it is the atheists who are the true worshipers of the true God, for they have recognized the non-existence of the non-god.

Click through to see how he gets there, and where he goes with it.

See also Jerry Coyne saying things such as that the Bible refutes apophatic theology because it contains anthropomorphisms. Seriously.

And, by way of contrast, Paul Flesher suggests that religion not being rational is not the insightful criticism some think. See (or rather, hear) also the conversation between Jim Bradley and Michael Ruse on religion and science.

Here are some other posts related to the topic of religionless Christianity and religious naturalism, which I meant to share several months ago but never managed to until now:

Richard Beck blogged about Bonhoffer’s religionless Christianity.

Jerry Coyne showed his inability to understand religious naturalism, and suggested that even rational religion is “doing it wrong.” Larry Moran’s thoughts on the conflict between reason and superstition are also relevant. But see on the other hand Chet Raymo on religious naturalism, and John Wilkins on primary and secondary causality.

 

 

  • Brian P.

    All well and good. Yet, if it weren’t easier to fill the offering plate with the byproducts of anthropomorphic superstitions and existential fears, then we might have something.

    • Pseudonym

      We could always go the Michael Dowd route, and embrace the anthropomorphism with eyes wide open.

      • Brian P.

        We could. I’m not though sure the majority of the clergy has the confidence that would meet the Average Sunday Offering goals to cover the expenses of the first-world programs.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    I don’t see how that quote makes any sense unless one defines “believers” and “religion” to mean pretty much anything..

    • Pseudonym

      And “atheist”, for that matter.

      • Brian P.

        As if these words don’t already have the loosest of meanings of the language…

  • Matt Brown

    The New Atheists arguments are based on outdated scholarship in Philosophy during the 20th century.

  • Herro

    >See also Jerry Coyne saying things such as that the Bible refutes apophatic theology because it contains anthropomorphisms. Seriously.

    I think you might be misunderstanding the great ailurophile. He seems to be refuting someone who claims that Christians have always believed in a god who wasn’t an “immaterial mammal” (or something like that), that being a modern novelty.

    Jerry points out anthromorphisms in the bible to refute that. Seriously ;)

    • Matt Brown

      Since when did Coyne become a philosopher of Religion???

      • Pseudonym

        It’s one of the great ironies of New Atheism that many New Atheists seem to love taking sides in theological arguments.

        Having said that, he’s sort of right. Anyone who would argue that Christians have never believed in a deity that’s partly anthropomorphic is quite ignorant of history. It’s clear from the record that there is a trend, and the trend continues today.

        In fact, it’s clear from the Bible itself; many of the differences between J and E are about God being seen as less like a tribal deity and more like a classical deity. The movement away from pure anthropomorphism and towards something more philosophical continues right through to Paul. And then it continues; the Iconoclasm of the Reformation (and the Muslim conquests of the Arabian Peninsula, too!) are part of this trend.

        Of course, the trend isn’t always steady. It’s more punctuated equilibrium than gradualism.

        So yes, I agree with Coyne on this point. Where we disagree is that I think this proves that religion has always changed as the world changes. It’s not that religion has had to retreat because of modern science. Religion has always been in a process of change. The belief that there is such a thing as “traditional Christianity” is wrong, whether it’s a Christian or an atheist who believes it.

        • Matt Brown

          It’s quite sad that many Churches are changing as a result of culture. In my opinion(As An Evangelical Christian with respect to Liberals), I feel that a lot of churches are becoming too open with other belief systems. It seems like a lot of Churches are moving toward a postmodernist type view, that all religious truths are equal and that there is no absolute truth.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            It is quite sad that some people think that there are churches which do not change. They typically reflect aspects of their culture uncritically because critical engagement with culture would involve acknowledging that there is no such thing as culture-free religion, and having the honesty and reflective ability to do the hard work of engaging their culture. Such streams of Christianity tend to be satisfied with a rejection of a few superficial elements of culture, with no honesty about the much more extensive and deeper ways they mirror their cultural context.

            • Matt Brown

              A lot of churches don’t always have the right approach when engaging today’s culture. I do think that liberal churches have a better way of drawing people to their churches(even though I disagree on some of their beliefs) because many people today view conservative evangelical churches as bible-thumping hypocrites. I think if a church follows the way Christ did in his approach to outcasts, sinners, and non-believers, then it is really doing its job.

              • Matt McDowall

                Christ said he wanted the old laws up held…..

                Please look up the old laws and tell me how many of these we should follow….

                There is your homework assignment for you.

                Stop viewing Christ as this perfect being – he wasn’t – he was simply an apocalyptic prophet who thought the end times would come in his lifetime and who got executed for crimes against the state…. He said some nice stuff, some completely contradictory stuff and and some absolute horrendous bullshit….

                • Matt Brown

                  Christ said that he didn’t come to abolish the law but fulfill it. He never said upholding the law was mandatory for salvation and eternal life.

                  • Matt McDowall

                    Read your book a little more clearly: Paragraphs below: Clearly you are wrong. read.

                    Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil.

                    18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.

                    19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

                    20 For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.

                    • Matt Brown

                      The Pharisees taught a distinction between various commandments. They had divided the Law into 248 commandments and 365 restrictions, and held vehement discussions as to which commandment was the greatest. Here Jesus reacts to the idea that the Old Testament, the Law in particular, is a collection of unrelated commandments, any part of which can be considered as more or less applicable than another part. He teaches His disciples that the Scriptures are indivisible, even to their smallest details.

                      The Kingdom of Heaven does not consist of an undifferentiated holiness, without any shading. There are classifications and an order of merit (cf. 5:12; 6:20; 10:41-42). Faithfulness and unfaithfulness to the Scriptures in teaching and practice form one yard-stick (not the only one, see Matt 5:11-12 among others) for the reward one receives.

                      http://www.elim.nl/en/theology/matthewmatthew-5.html

                    • Matt McDowall

                      wow – your really back tracking aren’t you?

                      Desperately trying to come up with any illogical reasons to justify this.

                      you see that is why theology is worthless….it is putting the cart in front of the horse so to speak…

                      rational people acquire evidence and make an informed decision based on this….theologians try to make the evidence fit their own bias.

                      That’s why you have theologians for Islam and every other religion in the world. They start off with a particular bias and then try to prove it….Which is illogical.

                      The reason I assume your a Christian is because your parents were (or raised in a country where majority Christian)…the fact of the matter is that I would be having this same conversation with you if you were born in Iran and were a Muslim….

                      You would be saying that the Koran is holy, Mohammed is the light and way and that the miracles he performed and flew to heaven on a horse is true and is “historical”.

                • Pseudonym

                  Please look up the old laws and tell me how many of these we should follow….

                  There is your homework assignment for you.

                  Sure thing!

                  I’m a Gentile, and I’m going to assume that you are too; apologies if I got this wrong. Then the answer to your question is in Acts 15.

                  The Council of Jerusalem (as it is now known) decided that the only laws that apply to Gentiles are the so-called Noachide laws. These are the laws that were given to Adam and Noah. As their symbolic descendants, these are the only parts of the Law that apply to us.

                  I’m going to use the list from the Babylonian Talmud, but all such lists are broadly similar. They are:

                  1. No idolatry.
                  2. No murder.
                  3. No theft.
                  4. No sexual immorality.
                  5. No blasphemy.
                  6. No eating meat with the blood still in it (or possibly meat taken from an animal while it is still alive).
                  7. Maintain courts to provide legal recourse.

                  I don’t know about you, but apart from the occasional piece of black pudding, I’m following all of them fairly well.

                  EDIT: By the way, please point this out to anyone who thinks that the Ten Commandments should be erected outside a public courthouse. I’d love to see their reaction.

          • Matt McDowall

            Why is this sad Matt? Do you think your beliefs are inline with the earliest Christian followers? Christians in the early centuries wouldn’t even recognize you as a Christian!

            Do you support slavery? demeaning women’s rights? Stoning of homosexuals?These were ALL early Christian beliefs but have changed over time. And many more!

            Actually why don’t you research the historicity of Christologies and learn what early Christian sects believed. Learn how their views were different (Ebonites, Marcionites and so on) and why.

            You will also see the evolution on how eventually Jesus was made to be a “god” at the council of nicea in 325 AD. Do you really think early Christians thought he was God incarnate? Nope, wrong!

            The reason why your Church is changing is because now we know that many of their dogmas are completely nonsensical and lack complete morality. Hence why we don’t own people as slaves now….

            btw that is a good thing.

            • Matt Brown

              Some of the earliest Christians did believe Jesus was God. Paul’s epistles already show that Christians were gathering together to worship Jesus as Christ and Lord. However, I look to what Jesus thought of himself. Jesus made radical claims to divinity. His resurrection from the dead verifies these claims. This makes Christianity falsifiable.

              No. I don’t support slaver. Demeaning women’s rights. Or stoning homosexuals. I’m not sure how this is at all relevant to who Jesus was and what he did and taught. I don’t think what you posted is accurate.

              • Matt McDowall

                True…but in what sense? Man then God? Half man/half God? on of two gods? 12 gods? 365 gods? You see the idea of him being elevated to God incarnate, and always god was in the 3rd century. Eg. Trinity.

                Secondly Jesus doesn’t make claims that he was God. Only in the last Gospel (written 120 years after the fact!) did he do this and scholars don’t even try to use John since it so fabricated compared to the other Gospels. The earliest – Mark (still written around 50 years post fact) does not even allude to this…Either way does it make any difference if he did claim to be it? NO! How many people have claimed divinity over the thousands of years. Do you believe this too?

                you do know that the virgin birth is a mistranslated from Isiah too right?

                The point about slavery etc is that Jesus was a JEW. He believed in the old laws! Your views about people & morality are NOW so completely different to how Jesus thought and his earliest followers it is comical.

                And don’t think of the Resurrection as historical…It ain’t. you accept this on faith and faith alone….actually many early christian sects believed his resurrection was spiritual – not bodily…hmmmm….

                • Matt Brown

                  “True…but in what sense? Man then God? Half man/half God? on of two gods? 12 gods? 365 gods? You see the idea of him being elevated to God incarnate, and always god was in the 3rd century. Eg. Trinity.”

                  Both fully God and Man.

                  “Secondly Jesus doesn’t make claims that he was God. Only in the last Gospel (written 120 years after the fact!) did he do this and scholars don’t even try to use John since it so fabricated compared to the other Gospels. The earliest – Mark (still written around 50 years post fact) does not even allude to this…Either way does it make any difference if he did claim to be it? NO! How many people have claimed divinity over the thousands of years. Do you believe this too?”

                  The Gospel of John wasn’t written 120 years after Christ. The Gospel of John was written 60 years after Christ. And it contains unique material that is independent of the synoptics(Matthew, Mark, Luke). John’s Gospel contains some material that goes back very early. Mark’s gospel alludes to Jesus’ thinking of himself as more than a prophet. In fact, all 4 gospels do this. For example: Mark’s gospel already shows that Jesus can forgive sin(Something that only God can do). Mark’s gospel shows Jesus as able to heal the sick and paralyzed on his own command. In other words, while other faith healers existed during the time of Jesus, none of them where able to do miracles on their own command. They had to ask the Father to perform these kind of miracles. Jesus spoke as though he had authority. More authority than if he were just some prophet. His teachings were such contradictory in the Pharisees eyes and many Pharisees claimed that he was a blasphemer because of his radical claims.

                  “The point about slavery etc is that Jesus was a JEW. He believed in the old laws! Your views about people & morality are NOW so completely different to how Jesus thought and his earliest followers it is comical.”

                  Jesus never supported slavery.

                  “And don’t think of the Resurrection as historical…It ain’t. you accept this on faith and faith alone….actually many early christian sects believed his resurrection was spiritual – not bodily…hmmmm….”

                  It is historical. Historians and scholars genearly agree that after Jesus was crucified, he was buried in a tomb by JoA and that it was found empty 3 days later by women followres. His disciples and skeptics had apperances of him over a 40 day period. In various locations throughout Israel. His disciples were convinced that they had seen the risen lord. All of this is best explained by that fact that God had raised Jesus from the dead like Jesus said what would happen to him.

                  • Matt McDowall

                    Yes, I know you believe he was fully God and man however this was not the case in early Christologies…

                    Your second paragraph is really just ramblings saying that you believe whats in the book. Well the Muslims believe their book too. So what? Just because it says he did miracles in your holy book doesn’t mean in fact it occurred – I hope you understand this point. Joesph Smith wrote from magical gold tablets the book of Mormon, its in the book and says so, do you believe this also?

                    Jesus supported the old laws. So you fail there. And kinda ironic with all his wisdom he can’t mention that slavery is bad….

                    No. The resurrection isn’t historical. how could you prove this happen…historians have to accept what is most plausible. You are choosing the least plausible scenario…Maybe they went to the wrong tomb? maybe he wasn’t even buried? maybe they moved the body….you see all of these are more plausible than your Resurrection story…you have a very funny interpretation of what Historical means…lastly only the resurrection, you say three women….have you checked what the other Gospels say? Wow guess what!?! They are all different! LOL. Now when was Jesus buried – before the Passover or after? yet again it depends which gospel you read….They don’t even agree with one another and you call it historical! ROFL!

                    • Matt Brown

                      “Yes, I know you believe he was fully God and man however this was not the case in early Christologies…”

                      You assert this but don’t show how.

                      “Your second paragraph is really just ramblings saying that you believe whats in the book. Well the Muslims believe their book too. So what? Just because it says he did miracles in your holy book doesn’t mean in fact it occurred – I hope you understand this point. Joesph Smith wrote from magical gold tablets the book of Mormon, its in the book and says so, do you believe this also?”

                      My point was to refute your notion that Jesus never thought of himself as divine when he made claims that no prophet alone would have. Most scholars agree that Jesus did perform miracles as mentioned in the gospels and that he debated with Jewish pharisees because they are historical unlike the Book of Mormons or the Quran. If you understand NT documents, then you understand that they are on the same level as Greco-Roman biographies.

                      “Jesus supported the old laws. So you fail there. And kinda ironic with all his wisdom he can’t mention that slavery is bad….”

                      You assert that I fail here but don’t show how. Jesus didn’t abolish the law but claimed he fulfilled it.

                      “No. The resurrection isn’t historical. how could you prove this happen…historians have to accept what is most plausible. You are choosing the least plausible scenario…Maybe they went to the wrong tomb? maybe he wasn’t even buried? maybe they moved the body….you see all of these are more plausible than your Resurrection story…you have a very funny interpretation of what Historical means…lastly only the resurrection, you say three women….have you checked what the other Gospels say? Wow guess what!?! They are all different! LOL. Now when was Jesus buried – before the Passover or after? yet again it depends which gospel you read….They don’t even agree with one another and you call it historical! ROFL!”

                      You’re correct that historians do look for the most plausible scenario, but so far, no natural explanation has convinced historians that happened. Your arguments are based on rejected theories that explain the historical evidence.Contradictions just go to show that the accounts aren’t mythical, but are historical in nature. If they were a genre of myth then we should expect agreement by all of them but we don’t see that. And second, this is something that liberal scholars agree upon. They agree with the burial/empty tomb(75%). They agree with the bodily apperances of Jesus after his death(95%). And they agree that the disciples were convinced they had seen the risen Christ. This shows that Jesus’ claims are validated becaues of the evidence of his resurrection.

                    • Matt McDowall

                      “You assert this but don’t show how” –

                      Go read up on some Historians. Bart Erhamn ain’t bad – was a fundamentalist then slowly actually learning about the NT.

                      ” Most scholars agree that Jesus did perform miracles”

                      Wow, theologians maybe…they ain’t historians. Sorry to break it to you bud. Go read up on the historical Jesus of Nazareth. You have a very weird interpretation of what Historical evidence actually means.

                      “You assert that I fail here but don’t show how. Jesus didn’t abolish the law but claimed he fulfilled it.”

                      Please read your book – again below.

                      19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

                      “You’re correct that historians do look for the most plausible scenario, but so far, no natural explanation has convinced historians that happened.”

                      a miracle by sheer definition is the least plausible. You finally understand? How can you sit there with a straight face and say historians think miracles are plausible. Anything is more plausible than a miracle because I will say it again, a miracle is the LEAST plausible….that’s why it is called a MIRACLE!

                      OMG my brain hurts.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Jesus supported the Old laws, but his statement never meant that one has to obey them in order to receieve salvation and eternal life. That’s impossible. If that were the case, then why would Jesus criticize the Pharisees and teachers of the law? They were the ones who thought you could get to God by their works, but Jesus clearly told them you can’t. And he called them out for their hypocrisy because of this.

                  • Matt McDowall

                    your an Atheist to every other God except your own…once you slowly realize why you dismiss all other Religions apart from your own you will understand why I dismiss yours.

                    • Matt Brown

                      I’m not an atheist. An atheist is someone who universally has no belief in any God or lacks belief. My denial of false Gods and belief in the one true God makes me a Christian Theist.

                    • Matt McDowall

                      you fail to understand the point….essentially you reject all other Gods accept your own, I guess on at least some sought of rational grounds.

                      Eg. you don’t believe Mohammed flew to heaven on a horse or he was illiterate and wrote the whole Koran because there is no evidence for it, right? I mean its implausible to suggest this…right? Why in Earth would you believe this…?? And I’m sure you don’t – like me.

                      But Hey people do and it baffles me…i’m sure it baffles you too! because we both don’t believe it.

                      the problem and question is this – How come you are not using the same logical standard that you apply to Islam or any religion for that matter and not applying it to your own belief…

                      How come it is good enough for you to accept a miracle in your holy book and not be willing to accept a miracle in another holy book. There is no more evidence to suggest miracles occurred in the bible no more than the Koran or any other religious book, and vice versa.

                      Like I said, I would be having the same conversation with a Muslim, he/she would believe as amendmently and as firmly as you would that Mohammed did these miracles and Allah is the light and the way…with no more evidence….

                      think about it.

                    • Matt Brown

                      Why do you cite a slogan/statement that is so commonly used by the New Atheists, but is in fact fallacious and undermines itself?

                      suppose a critic of Platonism said:

                      “When you understand why you regard the things of ordinary experience as in various ways imperfect or less than fully good instances of their kinds, you will understand why I regard Plato’s Form of the Good as being less than fully good.”

                      The objection to goodness is based on a faulty understanding of what goodness is. It supposes that there are various levels of goodness.of course, that is not what it is at all. The Form of the Good doesn’t have goodness in some more or less incomplete way; rather, it just is goodness, participation in which determines the degree of goodness had by things which do have goodness only in some more or less incomplete way.

                      God is not “a being” alongside other beings, not even an especially impressive one, but rather Being Itself or Pure Actuality, that from which all mere “beings. He’s not an amalgam of composite beings where they are all equal and the same. That in of itslef is a contradiction.

                    • Matt McDowall

                      Answer the question…

                      Would you (most likely) be a Muslim if you were born and raised in Iran?

                      Simple….

                    • Matt Brown

                      I don’t know. but that in of itself commits the genetic fallcy. The genetic fallacy tries to show a belief to be false based upon how it originated. You have to judge a belief system based on facts and evidence.

                    • Matt McDowall

                      Answer the question……your avoiding it.

                      many beliefs around the world….answer the question….what is most realistic….would you most likely be a Muslim or not?

                      c’mon use some of that common sense of yours…its an easy question.

                    • Matt McDowall

                      I can make it easier for you….

                      If you were born in Greece 5000 years ago, would you have believed in Apollo?

                    • Matt Brown

                      The answer(That I already gave) is: I don’t know. But your question(s) are non-sensical because it commits the genetic fallacy.

                      That’s like asking “Hey Matt McDowall, if you were born in North Korea, would you be a communist?” It may be true that you would be a communist McDowall, but does that make the ideology/belief in communism false? No of course not. A belief is judged on facts and evidence.

                      I am a Christian because of the facts and evidence(Which historians agree on).

                      The empt tomb. The bodily apperances. The disciples belief that they had seen Jesus as the risen Lord are all natural facts. What’s supernatural or extraordinary is the best explanation of these facts, and that’s where scholars differ on.

                    • Matt McDowall

                      A simple question like this illustrates precisely how fragile Religious logic is..

                      We BOTH know that you would be , by most accounts and most likely a Muslim – Yet you cannot admit this. A simple Hypothetical you cannot and won’t answer.

                      This isn’t to say Islam is correct nor Christianity – I’m not insinuating this statement so it isn’t a fallacy at all – It is a hypothetical question in which you already know the ramifications too.

                      You state a belief is judged on facts and evidence – Well we would hope but this is not the case.

                      Is it not a fact that beliefs are forged most commonly geographically? Is this not evidence that different beliefs occur in different localities over different periods of time?

                      you say that beliefs are judged on facts but yet miserably fail to recognize beliefs have a very strong correlation to where you are from and what period of time.

                      We do know that both Christianity and Islam can’t both be correct…..so there is a problem isn’t there….

                      Answering your question….yes, hypothetically I would most likely be a communist. – you see, it ain’t that hard.

                    • Matt Brown

                      If you’re not claiming that you’re commiting the genetic fallacy, then why in your earlier posts say this?:

                      “The reason I assume your a Christian is because your parents were (or raised in a country where majority Christian)…the fact of the matter is that I would be having this same conversation with you if you were born in Iran and were a Muslim….

                      You would be saying that the Koran is holy, Mohammed is the light and way and that the miracles he performed and flew to heaven on a horse is true and is “historical”.”

                      Aren’t you not trying to discredit my belief based upon how it originated?

                    • Matt McDowall

                      Oh Geesh read it again would you- “I assume”

                      I assume this because evidence (good evidence !) illustrates that our beliefs – especially religious – are dictated by a) your parents beliefs b) where your from….

                      If you can’t admit this well you are completely naive or ignorant.

                      I “assume” you are Christian – I’m not assuming just because you are Christian you are wrong, no more than a Muslim is wrong.

                      Your evidence (or should I say lack of it) suggests that your beliefs are impractical, not rational and not inline with what we understand about the nature of reality.

                      And I bet I’m correct, actually I Know you know i’m correct – hence why Christians like avoiding this question.

                    • Matt Brown

                      That’s how the genetic fallacy works. It assumes a belief is falsed based upon how it originated.

                      I’m not sure why you claim I have a “lack of evidence” when I don’t. You also claim that my position is out of touch with reality when it’s not. This is an event that happened in history.

                      Do you think I’m an irrational person?

                    • Matt McDowall

                      AS I said – if you ACTUALLY READ closely – I assume you are CHRISTIAN based on the EVIDENCE that beliefs are inherited typically geographically. This is true. you know this.

                      I don’t assume you are wrong because of this, nor muslims or hindus – Your arguments for your own particular deity are weighed individually and it so happens that I don’t find your arguments nor the Muslims at all, in the least persuasive.

                      I don’t think your irrational….not entirely, its what called selective bias. you choose not to evaluate your own beliefs to the same standard as any other religion.

                      You maybe scared…Who knows.

                      But a Muslim, or Hindu or Jew for that matter has the same amount of persuasive evidence than you do…..All you have is an empty tomb (which is evidence of an empty tomb) and hearsay written decades after the fact by superstitious people…zero, absolutely zero contemporary….and we know for a fact the gospel writers amended the texts to convince the early Jews….

                      Sorry, but that ain’t evidence…that’s your claim – which fails to meet any criteria even close to evidence.

                      You may think it is evidence but that shows you have a extremely low bar of evidence, often referred to has gullibility.

                    • Matt Brown

                      “I don’t think your irrational….not entirely, its what called selective bias. you choose not to evaluate your own beliefs to the same standard as any other religion”.

                      I don’t have a selective bias. I’m a Christian becaues of the evidence. It’s not a matter of subjectivity but objectivity. The Judeo-Christian worldview is the only worldview that is “objective” and falsifiable.

                      “You maybe scared…Who knows.”

                      Scared of what?

                      “But a Muslim, or Hindu or Jew for that matter has the same amount of persuasive evidence than you do…..All you have is an empty tomb (which is evidence of an empty tomb) and hearsay written decades after the fact by superstitious people…zero, absolutely zero contemporary….and we know for a fact the gospel writers amended the texts to convince the early Jews….”

                      The Empty Tomb is not the only thing. The Post-mortem apperances. The disciples belief that they had seen the risen Christ. Some of the material within the resurrection narratives go back to within 1-5 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. That’s very early compared to other ancient documents.

                      “Sorry, but that ain’t evidence…that’s your claim – which fails to meet any criteria even close to evidence.You may think it is evidence but that shows you have a extremely low bar of evidence, often referred to has gullibility.”

                      This isn’t my claim. This is the claim of historians and scholars.

                    • Matt McDowall

                      that’s ok – We both know your answer.

                      in all accounts, you would most likely be a Muslim and would, in the most plausible hypothetical scenario believe the Koran to be true….

                      Whether it is or not, who knows, but your arguments would be no different to what you say now.

      • Herro

        Matt Brown, I don’t get your question. Coyne doesn’t have a degree in philosophy of religion. But he writes on the subject.

        • Matt Brown

          I’m just saying that he makes a lot of bad arguments.

          • Herro

            Even if true, how is that relevant to the discussion? Are you saying that this particular argument he makes is bad?

            • Matt Brown

              yes

              • Herro

                Care to elaborate?

                • Matt Brown

                  It seems that he thinks that there are no good arguments for God’s existence becaues people were killed for heresy.

                  • Herro

                    Of course he doesn’t say anything like that.

                    • Matt Brown

                      That’s the impression I got from reading his blog post on it.

  • arcseconds

    Russel’s article is quite good, but that quote is a bit silly, and probably the worst part of the entire article. It’s a piece of vacuous false equivalence.

    While it’s true that there are plenty of people that embrace myths and rituals and venerate things where those myths and rituals and objects of veneration aren’t part of what we would normally call religion in order to give their life meaning, and it’s perhaps worth drawing parallels with religion, and atheists are by no means immune to this (and the ‘new atheists’ in particular are not), it’s not true of everyone, and it’s certainly not true that everyone is really trying to do the same thing even when they do do these things.

    There are some approaches, existentialism and some forms of Buddhism spring to mind, that are specifically aimed at destroying mythology in one’s own life, and removing notions like ‘the mystery of oneself’, which they might explicitly see as an illusion. Rituals may be engaged in, but the very point of the ritual might be that it’s an essentially empty activity.

    The only way that the statement could be true is, as Enopoletus Harding suggests, that the terms have such wide applicability that the statement really says virtually nothing. ‘Everyone has some understanding that they are doing something sometimes’, maybe.

  • Psycho Gecko

    So this atheist religion y’all think exists…what are the tenets? The holy book? What is asserted without question? What afterlife does the atheist go to in their religion? All these sorts of questions are quite normal to religions, but this entire thing reads like yet another attempt to claim that atheism is a religion. There are a few well-known cliches that tend to provide a response, like “Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color.” and “Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.” Atheism is a lack of a belief. That doesn’t make it a belief system.

    Further, I’d have to wonder how the Buddhists feel about being lumped in with a second religion in y’all’s view, considering that Buddhists don’t believe in any deities. Yeah, Buddhists are atheists. If Atheism itself was a religion, why would anyone consider Buddhism a separate religion? Wouldn’t it just be a different sect? Or doesn’t this show how this weird attempt to claim that atheists are religious is ridiculous?

    • Matt Brown

      So Atheism is merely a psychological belief system then?

    • arcseconds

      I’m sorry, who is saying an atheist religion exists?

      As far as I can see, no-one, including Russell, is maintaining what you’re arguing against. Russell says ‘we all create our own religion’, but that doesn’t mean we all create the same one. What he says is quite compatible with everyone having quite different ‘religious’ beliefs

      And whatever he means by that it’s not necessarily ‘belief in a God’ or ‘belief in an afterlife’ or any of the other things you mention.

      I don’t agree with the quote, perhaps for some of the same reasons as you do, but what you’re arguing against is not what he’s saying.

      • donsalmon

        if the philosophic God is an Absolute, then it is hard to imagine any group that is more purely radically fundamentalist (or to use a delicious word, fundamaterialist) than the new atheists. They defend an Absolute, only distinct from all others – utterly mindless – and not even mindless in the existentialist sense – purely abstract, quantitative. Utterly and wholly derived from their own thinking, they worship it as the only possible explanation for everything, and yet offer no explanation for anything other than everything is what it is and we can show you correlations to prove it – which we call “causes’ in the hopes you don’t see through our game.

        If the end of religion means the end of atheism, that could be a very good thing.

        • arcseconds

          That’s an interesting perspective, but I don’t think it’s right.

          I think the thing that fills in for God for the most part with movement atheists is not material reality, but rather reason. Or at the very least both: material reality perhaps fulfills the creative function and they hold it in a certain amount of awe, but it’s reason that they adore, and it’s reason that will redeem us and liberate us from evil.

          Also, are all new atheists materialists? I’ve just seen some statistics of a survey of academic philosophers recently, and they are (unsurprisingly) by far and away mostly atheists, but what surprised me is that nearly a third of them are non-physicalists about the mind. Of course, a run-of-the-mill atheist isn’t going to have thought about this stuff as much as an academic philosopher has, but non-physicalism might still not be universal amongst new atheists.

          Anyway, it’s not that movement atheists don’t exhibit some similarities to religious people, but rather that not all atheists are movement atheists. Jack Collins, an occasional commentator here, liked to describe himself as a ‘sedentary atheist’ and pointing out that. his dad never said “Son, we’re atheists. Put on your Sunday worst and we’ll go not worship stuff.”

          Most atheists, I reckon, are sedentary atheists. Their lack of belief in God factors about as much in their life as their lack of belief in the tooth fairy. Of course, as a result they live a different lifestyle than actively religious folk, but the difference between the life of an average atheist and someone who officially believes in God but practically never attends church nor spends any time thinking about God (of which there are a great many) is hardly worth remarking on.

          Russell’s telling us that such people will have some kind of ‘religion’ anyway, which I guess might be sports fandom or something, but while of course it may be true that most people have something that fills in some of the roles that religion does for religious people, I don’t think it’s necessarily true of all people, nor do I think there’s a common subset of roles filled for all people who do have some kind of religion-replacements, and I certainly don’t think that everyone is trying to ‘grasp the mystery of [themselves]‘.

          The other thing I’d want to stress is I don’t even think that religious people are necessarily after the same things in their religion.

          • donsalmon

            If they’re non physicalists (the academics) about the mind, are they dualists? This is even worse than physicalism, to me, in terms of utter irrationality to the point of incoherence.

            But of course you’re right about people who aren’t interested in thinking. The casual atheist (which is what I was until i was 17) simply has no interest in religion (nor do I, apart from hoping for its imminent demise). I decided I was an atheist when I was 5, using logic quite similar to Russell in his “Why I am Not a Christian” (you can see I don’t have much respect for Bertrand, sorry:>). When I was 17, something happened, but it took another 17 years before I could articulate why science has no explanation for anything.

            I was reading a book by Richard Morris, in which he pointed out it was merely an assumption – a purely rational one, utterly without empirical foundation – that laws of nature were the same throughout time and space. The whole foundation of scientific explanation just immediately fell apart for me when I read that.

            Not sure of myself (I was a musician at the time, this was before I became a psychologist) I went to a professor of chemistry at the school where I was teaching. He had studied science in Madras (now Chennai) and his professors regularly taught chemistry in a Vedantic context). We talked at some length about scientific explanation and he agreed fully.

            Imagine my delight when I spent the summer of 2011 writing “Shaving Science With Ockham’s Razor” and found the Steven Weinberg, in his 2003 New Yorker essay, “Does Science Explain Everything? Anything?” essentially said the same thing, though he admitted it mostly kicking and screaming against it.

            A friend of his – a fellow physicist – had said to him casually, “You know, science doesn’t really explain anything.”

            Rumi put it much more simply: “The entire Koran is teaching nothing from beginning to end but abandonment of belief in phenomenal causation.”

            ****

            I should end there, but you may be interested in the book, “The Waning of Materialism”. The authors reviewed major philosophers of science, and concluded about 80% of them were not physicalists. This isn’t very promising, as they are mostly phenomenalists, which is hardly a step beyond positivism.

            My prediction? By the end of this century, the vast majority of scientists will be non dualists, along the lines of Vedanta and Tantra.

            We’ll see!

            • donsalmon

              Oh, one more point. I made a comment on another one of Professor McGrath’s essays – I can’t find it now; it was related to this idea that science doesn’t explain anything (I put it in a rather silly way, saying that strictly speaking (that is, without recourse to any “laws of nature” or “fundamental forces”) it would be impossible for a scientist to actually ‘explain” (this is going to sound impossibly ignorant, so please ponder for a moment the word “explain”) why a rabbit couldn’t’ at any moment turn into a roller coaster.

              Professor McGrath “politely” suggested I look at a beginning book on cosmology. Which of course wouldn’t’ even deal with this question! Because it couldn’t’.

              But anyway, I just wanted to stop by for another moment and say – Earlier this morning, just prior to meditating, I turned at random to a page in Sri Aurobindo’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, and found a perfect response to his comment about “cosmology”:

              “… the divine Transcendence is not a negation, nor is it an Absolute empty of all relation to the universe. It is a supreme positive, it is an absolute of all absolutes. All cosmic relations derive from this Supreme; all cosmic existences return to it and find in it alone their true and immeasurable existence. “For I am altogether and in every way the origin of the gods and the great Rishis.” The gods are the great undying Powers and immortal Personalities who consciously inform, constitute, preside over the subjective and objective forces of the cosmos. The gods are spiritual forms of the eternal and original Deity who descend from him into the many processes of the world. Multitudinous, universal, the gods weave out of the primary principles of being and its thousand complexities the whole web of this diversified existence of the One. All their own existence, nature, power, process proceeds in every way, in every principle, in its every strand from the truth of the transcendent Ineffable. Nothing is independently created here, nothing is caused selfsufficiently by these divine agents; everything finds its origin, cause, first spiritual reason for being and will to be in the absolute and supreme Godhead,—aham ¯adih. sarva´sah. . Nothing in the universe has its real cause in the universe; all proceeds from this supernal Existence.

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                It seems to me that you are saying, in effect, that because we do not know why the laws of physics are the way they are, we cannot accept the laws that dictate how molecular and larger structures behave as sufficient explanation for why certain combinations of substances remain stable; but if we merely assert that there is another layer of reality which we then assert has the property of being self-explanatory, then we have an adequate explanation. Doesn’t that seem odd to you? Isn’t it better to acknowledge that existence is mysterious, and that any stopping point in attempts to explain it will seem arbitrary?

                • donsalmon

                  Ay, I don’t know if it’s possible to make the point in the proper context in a discussion forum like this, without all the context. My point is in the context of present scientific methodology. I spent 9 years in grad school conducting research and studying the methodology primarily out of an interest of making sure that, when I critiqued it, I had some idea what I was talking about. The point is, WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF PRESENTLY ACCEPTED scientific methodology – which is astonishingly close minded and limited – there is no explanation for anything. Nothing. It’s all completely arbitrary (the description is not arbitrary at all – I mean the explanation.)

                  Look here’s another completely different context, and I find people who haven’t and the experience of lucid dreams (or extensive contemplative experience) usually find it difficult to, but if you’re willing to give it enough time (or just read the “Shaving Science With Ockham’s Razor” essay) it might make more sense.

                  Imagine you are in an extended lucid dream. That is, you are aware you’re dreaming but nobody else in the dream is aware. Assume it is a shared dream – that is, people you know and talk to in waking are there in the dream, but no matter what you say to them, they think you’re wrong and they’re awake.

                  Now, you can visit any scientific lab in the world in this dream. The scientists give you all kinds of explanations about physical causes, and you try to explain to them that there are no physical causes in these labs because it is all within a dream. You visit some parapsychologists and witness verifiable, repeated, expertly conducted experiments, verifying psychokinesis. You go back to the evolutionary biologists (still in the dream) and tell them that their whole notion of time, space, the boundaries of mind, are in error because this is a dream.

                  What do you say to them that will make them understand? They’re probably going to say, “Look, we don’t care about all that abstract philosophizing (which is how they will refer to your attempts to point out they’re dreaming) we are only interested in what is ‘practical’.

                  Here’s still another way of putting it. What are you aware of write now – where do the keys on your keyboard “exist”, where is the computer itself? For your, at least, you know it only through the medium of awareness (notice I didn’t say “your’ awareness since this is not an existent that is findable in any way).

                  Full stop. Now, the physicist comes along, and says, “when you tap the keys, you hear a sound because of various movements of the atmosphere, which strike the outer then inner ear, are transformed into electro-chemical impulses traveling down the auditory nerve to the thalamus, which are then sent to various regions of the cortex and somehow (utterly mysteriously) become “sound.”

                  These “sound waves”, alleges the physicist, would exist in an entirely mindless universe.

                  Now, why should I accept this article of faith? When all I know of sound is through the medium of awareness, why should I make this astonishing leap of faith and assume that outside of the medium of awareness, something (what, purely quantitative?) exists? I can’t imagine anything more absurd – something Tertullian would have appreciated, no doubt.

                  Why not apply Ockham’s razor (now I’m only speaking within the limited scientific context; I think there’s better ways to understand the world, but we have to start from where we are), and say, if all I or any human can ever know is through the medium of awareness, why not assume – since in our astonishingly limited scientific domain we can only make these assumptions, since our post medieval science we have forbidden direct examination of consciousness – that whatever is there, also exists in some kind of medium of awareness (this of course is not meant as any kind of “proof” – which despite Anselm’s tiresome ratiocination – is impossible, as the Katha Upanishad clearly stated 3000 years ago or so)?

                  Well, if you follow up on that, you’ll see that virtually all the explanations that physicalists offer us will have to be radically revised, from the bottom up (or even better, from the top down).

                  I’m sorry, i can’t do any better than this in a brief comment. The essay spells it out much more clearly.

                  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                    So you are confusing different levels of explanation. I see the problem now. You are in essence saying that a person creating a keyboard is not an adequate explanation for the existence of a keyboard, since it does not mention where the human being came from in the first place. Can you see the problem? An explanation can be perfectly adequate in its own terms, even if that explanation invokes something the existence of which in turn requires explanation.

                    • donsalmon

                      I’m quite familiar with this, and Weinberg actually resorts to this in order to defend his physicalism.

                      Personally, I’m all for James’ radical empiricism. Science would be better off NOT claiming that underlying level of explanation. If scientists would adhere to it, we’d all be better off.

                      The problem is, scientists don’t. They only have access to the superficial level of explanation, but they ASSUME that because that is all they know, that is all there is. Because of this, they get almost everything wrong, assuming that quantitative explanation is ALL THERE IS, rather than all they have access to.

                      Again, if they took your advice (well, you’re not directly giving advice, but implying it), science would stop being so desperately blocked from advance.

                      In fact, this dual level of explanation is exactly the point of my essay! So, again, please, before responding again with a point I already made (i had assumed that this dual level of explanation was implicit in what I was writing – isn’t that exactly the point Rumi was making?) look at the Shaving Science essay.

                      Of course, that’s why most philosophers of science are phenomenalists, because they understand this issue of levels of explanation.

                      Now, try explaining this to Steven Pinker or Daniel Dennett. Or even better, Patricia Churchland. Philosopher David Lane just tried making the same point over at Skeptiko, and acknowledged that Ms. Churchland, one of his heroes, evidently failed to understand it.

                      Ockham’s razor, get it? The explanation is adequate in its own terms, fine, stop there.

                      The problem is, Churchland, Dennett, Pinker, Dawkins, etc don’t. That’s the whole problem in a nutshell. Sam Harris is an interesting mixture of confusion – he is constantly conflating all kinds of different levels (there’s more than 2, actually). An interesting study. We need several brands of Ockham, maybe.

                    • donsalmon

                      But that 2 levels of explanation is the essence of everything I’ve been saying! Perhaps I can’t say it clearly enough in a short comment. If scientists would apply what you just said, I’d have no problem. The problem is they don’t, and it completely eliminates their credibility (at least, as long as they confuse the “phsyscialist’ explanation with Reality).

                      That’s why I referred to Ockham’s Razor in the title of the essay. I guess I can’t be any clearer about it, because this confusion of “levels of explanation” notion is exactly the foundation of what I’m saying!!

                      You might either try the essay, or look at Alan Wallace, who has been making the same point for 25 years in a variety of astonishingly clear books

                      I also apologize if my tone is impatient or disrespectful; I’ve been saying this in so many forms and for so long, that when someone comes back and makes the same point and assumes they’re making a different point, I perhaps get a little impatient. I apologize.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Maybe you do not realize that you seemed to be saying the opposite of what you now claim to have been saying all along. Now that you have been made aware of this, perhaps you will manage to be clearer in the future!

                    • donsalmon

                      If i “seemed to be” saying it the seemed may have been in your mind

                      Point 1 atheists are absolutists. Obviously this means they are conflating the relative wth the absolute (confusion of levels)

                      Point 2 when you take a relative level description, like genes cause depressions (conflating mental and physical) you are again conflating levels of explanation

                      This was the main point from the very beginning

                      The problem is assuming something that was not there

                      I’ve observed these conversations between hundreds of professional philosophers over 8 years on the journal of consciousness studies forum and it isn’t any bt

                    • donsalmon

                      Finishing up

                      Any better there

                      It has nothing to do with clarity. It’s about what Owen Garfield calls the residue of unresolved positivism

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      I believe that there is another level of explanation that must be invoked to account for why your comments make little sense.

                    • donsalmon

                      Wow, you don’t understand what I’m saying so the only response is it doesn’t’ make sense. I’ve been refraining from taking a stance as a clinical psychologist, but since you bring it up, yes, I do think there’s another level of explanation – not philosophic – as to why this is difficult.

    • David_Evans

      I would like to adopt the convention that:

      #1 Atheism is the specific belief (not a belief “system”) that there are no gods.
      #2 Agnosticism is the lack of any beliefs on the existence or non-existence of gods.

      It’s unfortunate, to my mind, that some people who fit #2 call themselves atheists. It means we need a different term to describe #1.

      • Psycho Gecko

        Seems odd that you’re trying to redefine everything like that.

        Atheism is the lack of belief in any deities and agnosticism is the idea that you can’t know if any deities exist. They are answers to two different questions; one is regarding belief, the other is regarding knowledge. Most atheists are agnostic atheists because it’s not a mutually exclusive term. That is, we acknowledge that we can’t know for certain that gods don’t exist, but we don’t believe in any deities unless there is evidence for them. This includes the likes of Richard Dawkins, to use an example of someone y’all seem to consider a fundamentalist.

        The belief that no god exists is gnostic atheism, also known as strong atheism. Yeah, it’s already an entirely separate view.

        Very few people hold this belief in general, as it’s impossible to prove that no deities exist, though there are specific deities that can be proven to not exist. Still, the idea that absolutely no deities exist is a claim that can’t be supported by evidence, so the same standards that causes atheists to give up their beliefs prevent them from being strong atheists.

        Maybe people like yourself would know that if you actually tried learning about atheists before deciding what we are and aren’t.

      • Matt Brown

        Unfortunately, a lot of skeptics are #2 but use #1 as an “umbrella” term to describe that they are really #2. Atheism on this definition is now merely a psychological belief. The question of whether God exists or not is still on the table.

  • Ian

    For Kierkegaard, the irrationality of faith was the point. Any system that could proceed rationally would never bring a person to the crisis, or decision, and therefore was not genuine faith. I agree with him, though I disagree with whether that is a good thing.

    I also agree with Rodney Stark’s formulation of theology (quoted via Bernstein in Coyne’s post on rationality) that theology is the logical outworkings of a particular model of God. Fides quarens intellectum. And thus, I agree with Bernstein that it has a very strong propensity to built out pure fantasies. Is ‘rational religion’ different? Yes, and no. Tillich has more connection with the real world than Barth, but his theology is still reads as a grand rationalisation of the mythos.

    • Pseudonym

      Kierkegaard compared faith with falling in love. On the face of it, the complete emotional investment that you make in someone that you fall in love with wouldn’t win a rational cost/benefit analysis. We can argue about whether or not falling in love is a good thing.

      • Ian

        It depends on who you fall in love with, I guess.

        Though it strikes me we all fall in love with figments of our imagination, to some extent.

  • Pausanias

    Atheists and theists basically believe in the same God.

    Both agree God is impotent or evil because He doesn’t prevent suffering.

    Both agree God doesn’t have a plan for our lives because he isn’t all knowing. This is shown, for instance when God says to Satan in the book of Job: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on
    earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and
    shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, THOUGH YOU INCITED ME against him to ruin him without any reason – Job 2:3.” So, Satan persuaded God to do things He wasn’t going to do, meaning God has no foreknowledge of what He is going to do.

    So, God is either non-existent, or else evil, or else powerless and ignorant.

    Christians also maintain the ridiculous position that God should be given praise for anything good that happens, but never blamed for anything bad that happens.

    It’s all very silly.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      But there are other religious options besides theism and atheism, such as pantheism and panentheism.

      • Pseudonym

        My first thought on reading the headline is that omnists are not atheists in any sense of the term.

  • Matt McDowall

    Mark Russell quote is simply horrific word play and is completely nonsensical.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I disagree. He is trying to point out that, despite the impression that each side in the alleged divide tries to give, both atheists and religious believers have more in common than they sometimes admit.

      • Matt McDowall

        as much as he maybe illustrating this point (I’ll grant that) he con volutes his message by using words which already have established meanings.

        Not only is it nonsensical by the mere definition of the words he likes using and applying his own meaning too but intern doing this confuses the audience.

        Its like listening & reading Deepak Chopra!

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Which words are you referring to, and what leads you to believe that he is broadening them beyond their accepted use, rather than that you may be limiting them beyond their range of historic use?

        • Pseudonym

          Would you agree that the same is true of the old “believers are atheists with respect to all other gods” argument? Doesn’t that stretch the usual meaning of “atheist” past its breaking point?

          • Ton_Chrysoprase

            I don’t see why it would. Perhaps it’s better to say that the stance of an atheist and a believer concerning gods the believer does not believe are identical.

            • Pseudonym

              That’s accurate in a tautological kind of way. I don’t believe in the things that I don’t believe in.

              • Ton_Chrysoprase

                Plus atheists and believers of a certain persuasion do not believe in things that believers of another flavor do believe in and that are equally as compelling as the things the first set of believers believes in, which neither non-believers and believers of variety b believe in.

          • beau_quilter

            Actually, it returns us to one of the most ancient uses of the word, by the Romans, who referred to Christians as atheists because they rejected the Roman pantheon of gods.

            • Pseudonym

              I hadn’t thought of that, that’s a very good point. Perhaps this is a more accurate usage than the modern “lack of belief in any gods” definition?


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