What Christian Arguments Could Use a Good, Short Answers?

A year ago, this site’s readers submitted a list of short and sweet answers to various questions atheists are often asked.

Now, I would like to compile a list of short, snappy, effective responses to arguments against atheism we always hear.

For example, “Being an atheist requires more faith than being religious.”

What other “arguments” like that are there?

How would you respond to those questions in a quick, non-philosophical sort of way?

Leave questions and responses in the comments.

  • Rob

    Being an atheist requires more faith than being religious.

    What the hell are you smoking?

  • Oldman

    In what way does it require more faith to believe what is demonstrably true than believing what cannot in any way be proved?
    There is not one passage within the first two chapters of Genesis that are not contradicted by evidence and some are contradicted by other scripture in the same book. So I repeat: “Which beliefs need more faith?”

  • Ubi Dubium

    Well – a classic:

    “Atheism is a religion too!”
    Atheism is a religion the way “not collecting stamps” is a hobby.

  • Joe

    Atheists have no morality.

    So the only thing that keeps you from killing random people and raping random women is your belief in god?

  • MathMike

    Being an atheist requires more faith than being religious.

    And don’t you feel like such a looser for taking the easy way out.

  • JackC

    Q: Doesn’t it take just as much faith to NOT believe in god as it takes to Believe?

    A: As soon as you admit that there is a possibility that there is no god, I will admit that there is a possibility that there might be one.

    Hint: There is, in my experience, absolutely NO chance that the true godbot can – ever – admit this. If they do, you (now dropping down from hard atheist to more “agnostic” territory) can continue the discussion, since you have just elicited wiggle room and you have a perhaps more accepting subject.

    JC

  • http://msatheists.org Oliver

    “Atheism do not provide a world view that promotes hope.”

    Aside from the fact that atheism is not a world view, many atheist subscribe to Humanism, which is a world view. The hope found in Humanism tries to be as realistic as possible because it puts hope in the abilities of people. This differs from religion, which can define hope in whatever outlandish ways they want.

  • Ubi Dubium

    “You actually believe in god. You’re just angry at him, that’s all.”
    And so you’re just angry with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy?

    And here’s a link to a wonderful list from De-conversion of a whole bunch of those catchphrases xians are always throwing at us, thinking they have us all figured out. Good source material for this.

  • vegatee

    Atheism is a religion the way “not collecting stamps” is a hobby.

    Thank you for that, Ubi Dubium. :o )

  • http://bamoon.com BrianM

    Yes, thanks, Ubi Dubium! That’s the first argument that popped into my head when I read the post, but I’ve never been able to come up with a pithy response. Perfect.

    As an atheist, I’ve been asked by Christians “Have you read the Bible?” (because in their minds, I couldn’t possibly be an atheist if I just sat down and read it), to which I’ve always answered, “Yes, I’ve read the King James Version and the NIV several times, front to back. How about you?”

  • renascence

    Here’s a few because I’m feeling creative.

    Christian: Being an atheist requires more faith than being religious.
    Atheist: If, by faith, you actually mean “logic” or “reason”, then yes, I agree.

    Christian: How can you be so sure that God doesn’t exist? Don’t you need to scour every corner of the universe to be 100% sure?
    Atheist: No, I only need to look around the world today and be reasonably convinced that God, if he exists, is doing something seriously wrong.
    Or, an alternative answer: So you telling me that I’m going to hell can be said without an iota of evidence? Wouldn’t you have to be entirely sure of that?

    Christian: You’re just stealing morals from Christianity!
    Atheist: You’re saying that like the natural principles of love and loyalty originated from the Bible…which they didn’t.

    Christian: What if you’re wrong about the whole God question and it turns out that we’re right? Wouldn’t THAT put a dent in your ego?
    Atheist: In my opinion, it’s about doing right, not being right.

  • Ubi Dubium

    “You just need to read the Bible more!”

    OK – I’ll read the bible cover to cover, if you will read Origin of Species cover to cover. Do we have a deal?

    (And if they agree – “Well, I’ve already read the bible cover to cover twice, so let me know when you’ve read Origin of Species twice.”)

  • http://micketymoc.bluechronicles.net/ micketymoc

    Christian: You’ve made yourself into your own God.
    Me: That’s ridiculous. I still believe in a Supreme Being, and that’s Mrs. micketymoc.

  • http://jewishatheist.blogspot.com JewishAtheist

    Atheism is a religion the way “not collecting stamps” is a hobby.

    I also like:

    Atheism is a religion the way bald is a hair color.

  • Joe

    “God doesn’t believe in atheists”

    errr, actually this one is tough. Anyone have a good witty response to this?

  • Ubi Dubium

    “Jesus Christ is either who he says he is, or he is the biggest con man history has ever known.”

    Or St. Paul was the con man. Or maybe you are.

    @JewishAtheist -
    Yes, I love the “bald” one too – it was in one of the poster contests here, so I didn’t use it.

    This is fun! Hemant, this should’ve been a contest!

  • Sophia G.

    “If there is no God, there are no moral absolutes and we can do whatever we want with no regard for the consequences.”

    Who said there are moral absolutes?

    “You have no morals!”

    If killing people is immoral only because God said it is immoral, then God could say wearing blue is immoral and that would be evil too. However, if God had a reason for declaring murder evil, and not the wearing of blue, then an atheist can use that same reasoning to come to the same conclusion.

    (Not exactly quick and snappy, but I tried.)

  • Jason

    I think it is notoriously difficult, as many “arguments” presented by Christians are brutally vague, equivocate like nobody’s business, commit countless logical fallacies, and require knowledge of a wide range of scientific fields.

  • Ron in Houston

    Here’s my take. Religion is a means to deal with the fact that we’re very finite creatures in a world that is often hostile and difficult.

    In other words, it is a way for people to deal with the reality that we’re all going to die. No insult to anyone younger than my 48 years, but often we don’t really think about death when we’re young. It’s like we just choose to ignore it.

    I’ve seen this phenomena over and over again. The belief in “eternal life” is nothing more than the child wishing when blowing out the birthday candles that death doesn’t exist.

    So, to the extent that you’re willing to say there is no “eternal life,” or no soul that reincarnates or whatever, then you’re a brave soul willing to face the fact that death might just be it.

    So, to the extent that atheism says, “hey, this is it,” then it really takes more faith than belief in religion.

  • http://laissez-fair.us/ I like tea

    “Being so certain there’s no God is the height of arrogance.”
    Answer: “Actually, being so certain there is a God, that you know exactly what he wants of you, that he listens to your every prayer, that he’s watching you every second, and that he inspired your particular holy book and not any of the others is the height of arrogance. Also, I’m only about 95% certain there’s no God.”

  • 5ive

    “you think we are all here by accident?!”

    You claim to actually know how we all got here? The most brilliant people on earth wouldn’t lay claim to that knowledge.

  • http://www.fabulouslyinthecity.com Fabulously in the City

    Oh, gosh, doesn’t a simple “no” suffice? I mean, how does being an Atheist require more faith–that’s the antithesis of atheism! It is utter and entire LACK of faith!

    Grrr….argh!

  • Franz Dibbler

    On forums I’ve seen people trot out some paraphrase of CS Lewis’ Trilemma: that Jesus was either Lord, Lunatic, or Liar. Few of these folks actually read CS Lewis but instead go for the tidbits that demolish the idea that Christ was a Liar or a Lunatic from derivative works by Strobel or Josh McDowell. Anyway, the snappy retort is to pose your own “Trilemma”. Jesus was a Man, Myth or Misunderstood.
    (see, all the bits start with the letter “M” which is one step *beyond” their Trilemma so it must be a better argument. /sarcasm.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03859405216390259275 Rose

    “Have you read the Bible?”

    Not entirely. My Jewish parents would be displeased.

  • Cafeeine

    I’m pretty sure I coined this, or at least got to it on my own.

    “If you don’t believe in a a God, why don’t you just kill yourself? Whats the point?”

    Because my post-death schedule is empty. My pre-death schedule however, is still full.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    A lot of them could use a short answer like “Arsehole”.

    However, I think Cectic has a good approach, if one that might be lost on the other party.

  • Daniel Hoffman

    Jesus was a Man, Myth or Misunderstood.

    Ha.
    Well, if He was misunderstood, then we should renounce language as useless.
    If He was a myth, so was Napoleon.
    And, no one denies that He was a man.

  • http://www.anthroslug.blogspot.com anthroslug

    A few commong ones for me:

    “It’s arrogant of you to claim that you know that there is no God!”

    I don’t claim to KNOW that, you’re the one claiming knowledge here – I’m simply pointing out that we we know of the world is consistent with there not being a God. But, if you want to talk arrogance, which one of us is making the claim that the supreme and almighty creator of the universe is looking out for them personally?

    —————–

    “You have no basis for morality without the Bible!”

    Well, when you begin obeying the Bible and stoning disobedient children to death and killing people with bad eyesight who go to Church, then I might take what you say a little more seriously.

    ——————

    “Without Jesus in your life, you must be so lonely and miserable.”

    Ummm, I’m not the one who feels the need to try to frantically convince everyone else that I’m right. Are you sure I’m the one who is lonely and miserable?

    ——————-

    “I know someone who was an atheist like you, but then they saw the light and were saved!”

    Yeah, I know one person like that, too. Of course, I know twenty who used to be theists before they stopped and actually thought about the matter. Now they are all atheists.

    ——————–

    “You just want to be an atheist so that you don’t have to think that God will hold you responsible for your actions!”

    Uh-huh…of course, you believe that the sins of all Christians, no matter how great (including murder, rape, child molestation, etc.) will be forgiven if someone simply believes in Jesus – but that someone who is truly a good person who works hard to improve the lot of others doesn’t believe, they’ll be tortured for eternity.

    Umm, tell me again, which one of us isn’t being held responsible?

  • Gabriel

    Well, actually there doesn’t seem to be any reliable historic evidence that there was a jesus christ as described in the bible. So a myth is a completly accetable description. There is a lot of reliable historic evidence that Napoleon existed. It would seem obvious that he was misunderstood or there wouldn’t be so much violence over what he said.

  • Wes

    Daniel Hoffman said,

    July 21, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    Jesus was a Man, Myth or Misunderstood.

    Ha.
    Well, if He was misunderstood, then we should renounce language as useless.
    If He was a myth, so was Napoleon.
    And, no one denies that He was a man.

    1.) We have no evidence that Jesus himself (if he even existed), ever claimed to be God. His later followers claimed he was God.
    2.) If you think the historicity of Jesus is even in the same ballpark as Napoleon, you are truly delusional. While no writer—Christian or non-Christian—mentions Jesus until many decades after his supposed death, and not one shred of archeological evidence exists to corroborate his existence, we have tons of evidence for Napoleon.
    3.) Many people deny he was a man. Lots of people think he never even existed to begin with. As I said, nobody mentions him at all until decades after his death, and no archeology confirms the gospels.

  • Daktar

    Christian: Have you thought about your immortal soul?
    Atheist: As a matter of fact I have. Along with fairies, dragons and unicorns.

    Christian: Are you a Satan worshipper?
    Atheist: If I believed in Satan, then wouldn’t I have to believe in God, whom your book says is going to win eventually? Why would I pick the losing side?

    Christian: Are you some kind of baby eating monster?
    Atheist: Well…yes. I thought everyone knew that.

    This is fun.

  • http://mcshaggy.blogspot.com Father Shaggy

    To the best of my recollection, barely half of Americans voted at all in the last presidential election. So slightly more than a quarter voted for him.

    Some would say that country gets the government it deserves, but no one deserves that guy, and our PM isn’t much better (Harper).

  • Justin

    I’ve had it in mind to go through the Bible and make a list of the contradictory moral commandments and the parts about human depravity and making a list of them, so I can turn it around on anybody who’d try to argue that atheism is nihilistic or that it somehow devalues humanity. At least, if I can get away from video games long enough…

    So there’s my two cents. Of course, this argument works better if you’ve got the basic gist of the Old Testament memorized.

  • ubi dubius

    “God Loves You!”
    “Then why doesn’t he ever call?”

  • ubi dubius

    “I’ll pray for you.”
    “I’ll slaughter a goat in your honor.”

  • ubi dubius

    True story:

    “I got you tickets to the Creationist Museum.”
    “Oh, I’m sorry, I promised to take the kids to the Aquarium that day. What day was that?”

  • http://journals.aol.ca/plittle/AuroraWalkingVacation/ Paul

    Re: “not collecting stamps.”

    I used to use that all the time, but I dislike the negative inherent in it, so I cast about for an alternative. “…Like bald is a hair colour,” is great. I came up with, “like sobriety is an addiction.”

    I had a friend use the old, “without God, where do you get your morals?” I almost choked on my coffee. This was an intelligent, successful, business professional, yet he fell into the old canard without thinking. My response? I simply asked him if he thought I was immoral. He had to allow that I was not. (Only works for someone you know well.)

  • http://www.fabulouslyinthecity.com Fabulously in the City

    Ubi/ Your True story –HILARIOUS! I’m definitely gonna re-tell that ;-)

  • TheDeadEye

    Ha.
    Well, if He was misunderstood, then we should renounce language as useless.
    If He was a myth, so was Napoleon.
    And, no one denies that He was a man.

    Misunderstood, like so many xians arguing over which translation of the bible to use?

    Did Napoleon room with Jesus? Share a flat? Lovers? How exactly are they connected?

    If he didn’t exist, then he wasn’t a man. So you can count me in the denying camp.

  • Vincent

    As an atheist, I’ve been asked by Christians “Have you read the Bible?” (because in their minds, I couldn’t possibly be an atheist if I just sat down and read it), to which I’ve always answered, “Yes, I’ve read the King James Version and the NIV several times, front to back. How about you?”

    My answer is “Yes, even took a college course in it, taught by an ordained Benedictine monk while I was living on the monastery grounds. I’ve read much of the apocrypha too. What’s your point?”

  • http://www.BlueNine.info/index.php EKM

    I do not know if making jokes about eating babies is smart. We are dealing with people who either do not like or cannot detect irony or sarcasm.

    Anyway…. Another is “You are just saying you don’t believe so you can do whatever you want.” That is not why I say I do not believe, but would that be a bad thing? Aren’t religious people in this country always yakking about freedom and how wonderful it is?

    Granted, they do until they meet someone who disagrees with them or does something they don’t like. I think to a lot of people “freedom” really means “freedom to conform”. That to me seems like anti-freedom.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    THEIST: Jesus was either lunatic, liar, or lord.

    ATHEIST: You’re forgetting “legend”.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    “You atheists are just as close- minded as religious fundamentalists.”

    Is “No” a pithy enough answer?

    No, I guess not. How about:

    “Actually, I’m open to the possibility that my atheism might be mistaken. I can even give you a list of the kinds of evidence that would convince me that my atheism was mistaken. Now, can you tell me what evidence would convince you that your faith was mistaken?”

    (Tip of the hat to Ebonmuse for this one.)

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    I’ve had it in mind to go through the Bible and make a list of the contradictory moral commandments and the parts about human depravity and making a list of them, so I can turn it around on anybody who’d try to argue that atheism is nihilistic or that it somehow devalues humanity.

    Someone’s done the work for you. Check out the Skeptic’s Bible. Very, very useful resource.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    Question: There’s no such thing as atheism. If you can’t prove that God doesn’t exist then aren’t you an agnostic rather than an atheist?
    Answer: *sigh* Get a dictionary. There’s a difference between lack of belief and lack of knowledge.

  • http://www.religiouscomics.net Jeff

    “God doesn’t believe in atheists”

    errr, actually this one is tough. Anyone have a good witty response to this?

    The King leprechaun also doesn’t believe in anyone who doesn’t believe in leprechauns.

    Or

    God must not believe in free will. I guess that means no one can be saved.

  • Franz Dibbler

    This whole thread is just like the old Mad magazine’s “Snappy answers to stupid questions”.

    Question: Why are you not out killing and raping if you are an atheist?
    Answer: Since this is the only chance at life we get, why would I want to deprive somebody else of their life. If the only thing stopping you from leaning out a window with a high powered rifle and shooting up town, then keep your faith.

  • http://rarusvir.blogspot.com/ Rarus.vir

    Lewis Black says that he would like to have faith, but he has thoughts and that just screws up the whole faith thing.

  • TXatheist

    What if you are wrong?

  • Cafeeine

    What if you are wrong?

    Depends. What if we are both wrong and there is a deity out there that only accepts skeptics and freethinkers into heaven? I’m fine then, but can you really take that chance?

  • TripMaster Monkey

    Rational arguments rarely work against theists, as they are (by definition) irrational. You can craft the most elegant and well-supported arguments possible, and theists will flatly deny their validity, usually by yammering something about faith.

    So, you want a good, short answer against a Christian? Just point over their shoulder and exclaim “Oh crap! It’s JESUS!!!“. When they look over their shoulder, quickly walk away. c^_^?

  • ash

    “God doesn’t believe in atheists”

    well, the feeling’s mutual then…wait, did you just put me on a par with your god?…um…thanks?

  • http://onscreen-scientist.com Bob Estes

    Since this is the “Friendly” Atheist site, I dare to write here as a former atheist, current friendly theist. I’d just like to remind everyone that the question of God’s existence is really the most important one we have to answer, since it determines whether or not we find purpose in the universe. There is not really a competition between atheists and theists. There are arguments for God that involve no references to scripture of any kind. I invite you to read my post On the Breaking of Bad Habits Acquired in One’s Youth: Smoking and Atheism for something about my personal experience.

  • http://www.BlueNine.info/index.php EKM

    If God does not believe in atheists, and atheists exist, then that means God does not exist.

  • http://madmansparadise.blogspot.com Asylum Seeker

    You’re looking for an excuse not to believe.

    I assume, then, that you use your religion as an excuse not to believe in every other religion.

    Your decision is based on other Christians’ behavior, not on Jesus’ teachings

    Jesus’s teachings are irrelevant to believing the doctrine pertaining to his divinity. The decision to not be Christian is lack of belief in the supernatural mentioned in the Bible, not the bad behavior of Christians or the maxims that Jesus allegedly stated.

    You have a rebellious spirit.

    It is not rebellious to not believe in something. If it is, you owe Zeus an apology.

  • Cafeeine

    “Atheism is a religion too!”

    –If that is so, then when Christians disbelieve in Zeus, Ra, Akhenaton, Thor, Krishna and Zoroaster they actually have seven religions?

    or

    –If Atheism is a religion, what would not having a religion be like?

  • http://rarusvir.blogspot.com/ Rarus.vir

    Nothing gets me quite as worked up as an imaginary argument.

  • Everett_Marx

    “Being an atheist requires more faith than being religious.”

    If you have less faith than I do, shouldn’t you be following me?

    Pray for an increase in faith–then maybe you can be an atheist too!

  • http://www.tenthousandplaces.com Steve Heimler

    [...]There’s a great discussion unfolding over at Friendly Atheist regarding religious people who flippantly dismiss atheists. The typical (unthinking) arguments are listed along with some good-natured atheistic comebacks[...]

  • Pingback: » I think atheists are funnier than a lot of Christians I know

  • Jaroslav Sveda

    Excellent comments here. Too bad that I too think that most theists won’t even think about the arguments.

    Cafeeine said:

    … when Christians disbelieve in Zeus, Ra, Akhenaton …

    Wasn’t Akhenaton a pharaoh? Maybe you meant Aton?

  • Cafeeine

    Wasn’t Akhenaton a pharaoh? Maybe you meant Aton?

    Well, pharaohs were supposed to be ‘gods on earth’ no?

    You are in fact correct, although the point would stand, as Akhenaton is a good representative of the religion.

  • http://www.shadowmanor.com/blog/ Cobwebs

    “Without god there is no basis for morality.”

    The Aztecs believed that their gods demanded human sacrifice, and lots of it. They were being extremely moral by their religious standards when they performed what our society would call murder. It appears that morality is malleable across cultures, whether or not there’s a deity involved.

    (Either that, or just tell them to actually read what passes for morality in the Bible. Yeesh.)

  • Justin

    Greta Christina said,
    July 22, 2008 at 1:24 am

    I’ve had it in mind to go through the Bible and make a list of the contradictory moral commandments and the parts about human depravity and making a list of them, so I can turn it around on anybody who’d try to argue that atheism is nihilistic or that it somehow devalues humanity.

    Someone’s done the work for you. Check out the Skeptic’s Bible. Very, very useful resource.

    Thanks for the tip. I’ve known about the Skeptics Annotated Bible for some time, but I would be using other Bibles to corroborate the verses.

  • Justin

    Greta Christina said,
    July 22, 2008 at 1:24 am

    I’ve had it in mind to go through the Bible and make a list of the contradictory moral commandments and the parts about human depravity and making a list of them, so I can turn it around on anybody who’d try to argue that atheism is nihilistic or that it somehow devalues humanity.

    Someone’s done the work for you. Check out the Skeptic’s Bible. Very, very useful resource.

    Thanks for the tip. I’ve known about the Skeptics Annotated Bible for some time, but I would be using other Bibles to corroborate the verses.

    Sorry if this double posts: I had trouble w/ the blockquoting.

  • Richard Wade

    Christian: “Without belief in God people would run around committing terrible crimes.”

    Me: “I think you just gave us a very candid description of how you would behave if you didn’t think you have a policeman in the sky ready to punish you. While that shows your morals are very shallow and immature, at least you’re being honest about it.”

  • David D.G.

    “Atheism/Evolution/Science is just a religion!”

    No, atheism/evolution/science isn’t a religion; it’s a personal relationship with reality.

    ~David D.G.

  • Jaroslav Sveda

    Cafeeine:

    Well, pharaohs were supposed to be ‘gods on earth’ no?

    Well frankly i completely forgot about that one, but when you allow deified people, it gets weird… Is it really that hard to accept existence of much of Roman emperors, which were also considered gods? Eg. “Do you believe in Hadrian?” After all, there’s evidence that all these praraohs and Roman emperors existed. And you bet they tried to get rid of every mention of Akhnaton after his death.

  • ASC

    Statement: “Being an atheist requires more faith than being religious.”

    Response: “No, I economize by combining ‘lack of faith in Jehovah’ with related lacks of faiths in all other gods and supernatural entities, resulting in less overall faith.”

  • Siamang

    Since this is the “Friendly” Atheist site, I dare to write here as a former atheist, current friendly theist. I’d just like to remind everyone that the question of God’s existence is really the most important one we have to answer, since it determines whether or not we find purpose in the universe.

    Hi Bob Estes and welcome.

    I am wondering if you’re going to keep posting here, or if you’re doing a one-or-two-off post. (I tend to get deep into conversations with new posters who have provocative questions… then they leave!)

    Anyway, I hope you’ll stick around and have lots of nice in-depth discussions here. We can certainly use more thoughtful posters like you.

    As far as your statement above goes…

    “…the question of God’s existence is really the most important one we have to answer, since it determines whether or not we find purpose in the universe…”

    You are assuming quite a few things in that statement. For instance, you are assuming that we CAN indeed answer that question…. it may be totally beyond us to answer it.

    But moreover, I think you are making several unsupported assumptions within the question itself. First, that a universe WITH a god is actually a purposeful universe. There may be a purposeless creator ‘god’ or gods. There may be a god of chaos. The ‘god’ that created the universe may not in any way resemble a thinking being in any way we humans could recognize. Concepts like ‘purpose’ or ‘intention’ might not apply whatsoever to a being which exists outside of time. The creation of the universe may have been unintended or accidental. The creation of the universe may have destroyed the creator. It may have been actually an act of destruction of something that existed previously.

    You are also assuming that a universe without a god is a universe without a purpose. There’s no way you can know that one either, but you conveniently assume it without stating that you are merely assuming it. Well, since I am part of the universe, why can’t I just have a purpose and then therefore the universe has a purpose (among many)?

    You seem to think that believing that a god exists determines whether or not we find purpose in the universe. You are assuming that it is for us to find purpose in the universe. That is unsupported. I might very well assert that the most important thing is to find life in the universe. Or humor. Or chocolate. Or unicorns. Not everything we hope to find in the universe necessarily exists.

    Simply signing up with a church doesn’t reorder the universe. Merely choosing to believe in a god doesn’t suddenly create purpose in the universe.

    You seem to equate “purpose” with “God”. I think you’re playing fast and loose with some pretty nebulous concepts, and using one to smuggle in the other. I think you need to be more specific, because these assertions up to now are pretty slippery.

    Define what a purpose of the universe would be. Let’s assume that the universe HAS a purpose. What is it accomplishing? How do we know that it is indeed accomplishing this task, and how do we know when it has accomplished this task?

    We don’t know these things, and we probably will never know these things. I’m being honest with myself when I say “I don’t know”. I won’t join a church full of people who are sure until I’m sure as well.

    Have you evidence?

  • Cafeeine

    Well frankly i completely forgot about that one, but when you allow deified people, it gets weird… Is it really that hard to accept existence of much of Roman emperors, which were also considered gods?

    It does get complicated, although Jesus would arguably fall under the same category. I can accept a human upon which the theistic deity is based without believing the supernatural claims of it.

  • Axegrrl

    Bob Estes said:

    “I invite you to read my post On the Breaking of Bad Habits Acquired in One’s Youth: Smoking and Atheism for something about my personal experience.”

    Hi Bob:) I read your blog/essay (quite articulate) and I have a question: what made you become a theist? was it because your previous ‘worldview’ (as an atheist) carried with it “the burden of purposeless mortality”? is that the main reason?

    I ask because, although your blog post/essay is quite lengthy, you never really seem to touch on the specifics of what led to your ‘conversion’.

  • Daktar

    John Pritzlaff said,

    July 22, 2008 at 12:51 am

    THEIST: Jesus was either lunatic, liar, or lord.

    ATHEIST: You’re forgetting “legend”.

    That’s sharp. Very sharp. Kudos to you :D

    This one’ll probably only work for Brit atheists.

    Christian: God hates fags!
    Atheist: Good thing there’s a smoking ban then.

  • Karl Withakay

    “God doesn’t believe in atheists”

    errr, actually this one is tough. Anyone have a good witty response to this?

    If God doesn’t believe in atheists, and here I exist as one example among many, God must have imperfect knowledge of the universe, and therefore not be God per your definition.

    Also, If God does exist, who are you to speak for what he believes in? I don’t recall it being mentioned in any holy scriptures that God doesn’t believe in atheists. Did he speak to you personally and tell you this information?

  • http://metroblog.blogspot.com Metro

    @Daniel:

    Ha.
    Well, if He was misunderstood, then we should renounce language as useless.
    If He was a myth, so was Napoleon.
    And, no one denies that He was a man.

    Are you serious? I can’t quite tell, but before invoking Poe’s Law I’ll answer you:

    Language is not useless. However, translating from oral history, to written Aramaic and Hebrew, to ancient Greek, to Medieval English, to modern English has been demonstrated to perpetuate multiple translational errors, rendering the text problematical at best. Not to mention the difficulty of selecting from multiplicities of sources, many contradictory. Which version of the Bible is your favourite?

    So let’s modify your statement: Language is useless if you, the saviour, failed to write down a blessed word of your own and instead left it to people a generation or two behind you to write your legend down. You’d think that if His dad wrote a table of Commandments on stone that His Son would at least have left us a note.

    We have considerably more evidence for Napoleon. I’ve seen his tomb. And the building he had built to house it is pretty convincing. We have portraits done from life, and we have clear and multiple historical (often unflattering) accounts by people who knew him as a friend, an enemy, a leader, and in other ways. Do you offer me such a mass of evidence? Can you show me the tomb of Christ? Even if it were empty, its existence alone would be compelling evidence.

    As to denying that he was a man … um, I hate to tell you, but many people deny he was even a person.

    Me, I reckon there might have been a teacher named Joshua Ben Joseph at one time. He may even have been wise–although his followers’ records are a bit garbled.

    But his historicity is, if anything, more suggestive to me that he was just a guy, not divine–which again is something many people deny, and which lies at the real heart of the argument.

    @Fr. Shaggy:
    A big RAAAA-MEN! to the Harper statement. Why do you think no-one’s dragged his religiosity into the political spotlight? I can’t make it out.

    @Bob:
    Your post “On the Breaking of Bad Habits Acquired in One’s Youth: Smoking and Atheism” is mistitled. I had not to read very far before discovering this sentence:

    “Someday I may trace on these pages (if I may call them that) my path to recognizing that our universe is created and meaningful.”

    You then go on to quote a few major modern atheists and discuss them. Badly, judging by the few segments I could bother to read. I was personally interested in your own spiritual journey (I already quit smoking a couple of years ago).

    Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t just the sheer massive length of the post that put me off. But your arguments, such as they are, mostly fit nicely into Daniel Florien’s hundreds of proofs. I commend them to you as a resource. You could have saved us both some time by simply annotating which ones you were using.

    Near as I can figure, you compare your former atheism to your smoking habit, and claim that reading atheist books reinforced your atheism the way smoking reinforces identity and addiction, with selected quotes and discussion.

    Well, reading your arguments tends to reinforce my atheism. You could safely have reduced the length of that post by chopping it to the final paragraph.

    I’d like to point out, as both an ex-theist and ex-smoker, that I view theism the same way you do atheism. Each prayer I sent heavenward (without receiving verifiable or credible answers) reinforced my own sense of having a special relationship with my Creator. Every mass I attended boosted my sense of community. Likewise, every smoke I enjoyed with my friends powered both my sense of individuality and my peer-group membership.

    However, I soon found that my individuality as a smoker was a lie. I was just another dupe. I came to feel similarly about Christianity. If parents smoke, the children tend to smoke. Only my dad smoked, but both my parents went to church.

    Final observation:

    “Are you truly open to revelation? The best way to become open to it must be through prayer, but few are the atheists who would start from that point.”

    I think I’ll let that stand as emblematic of your arguments.

  • http://metroblog.blogspot.com Metro

    Damn …

    Short, snappy argument FAIL

    Sorry, raging case of SIWOTI syndrome.

  • Darryl

    Simply signing up with a church doesn’t reorder the universe. Merely choosing to believe in a god doesn’t suddenly create purpose in the universe.

    If I understand your excellent post, Siamang, your meaning here refers to a factual and objective reordering of the universe and purposive universe. I agree, but in the fictive, subjective sense of the universe believing does reorder the universe. What else could keep so many people in their faiths but a feeling that the universe has changed profoundly? For me, what the atheist needs to do, if possible, is to convince the believer that she/he is mistaking the one for the other.

  • Karl Withakay

    the question of God’s existence is really the most important one we have to answer, since it determines whether or not we find purpose in the universe.

    You can argue that it determines whether or not we find a purpose to the universe, but to me the question does not affect whether we find a purpose in the universe, only whether the purpose is preordained by a higher power, or whether we find our own purpose in the universe.

    Maybe we’re special because God created us in his own image, or maybe we’re special because billions of variables came together at the right time and place to ignite life on a hunk of rock orbiting a nondescript star in a nondescript part of a nondescript galaxy.

  • http://www.BlueNine.info/index.php EKM

    I was about to comment on Bob Estes’ blog, but Metro got most of my points in.

    Is Bob Estes out to prove the existence of some God, or God as Christians understand him?

    Plus, why the smear linking atheism and smoking? You barely touch on smoking at all.

    After looking into Lee Strobel and his “Half-Case For Christ”, I am pretty skeptical of people who claim to be former atheists.

  • Jessica

    Well, here’s one my Mom (who’s uber-Catholic) pulled on her husband (who’s an atheist):

    My mom basically told him to come to church with her one Sunday a month.
    To which he responded: Sure, if you’ll stay home from church one Sunday a month.
    Of course, she was all like “No, that’s not how it works!!!” and was all offended. LOL, well, how do you think your atheist husband felt? Supposedly her purpose was not to try to convert him (yeah, right!) but to try to spend more time with him. Well, wouldn’t staying home one Sunday a month accomplish the same goal?

  • Siamang

    Metro, you nailed it with your final observation.

    Bob Estes wrote:

    “Are you truly open to revelation? The best way to become open to it must be through prayer, but few are the atheists who would start from that point.”

    To put it short and snappy: I prayed. Nothing happened. I’ve tried it several times, in several ways described by believers as the way to get certain results. When they failed, others told me I did it wrong. Must I repeat this attempt with each and every ‘god’ and ‘conception of God’ believed in by thousands of generations of humanity?

    Because if you excuse me, I’ve got some living to do before I die. I’ll leave the chasing of ghosts to the Ghostbusters.

  • http://onscreen-scientist.com Bob Estes

    Replying to Siamang’s questions and statements:

    I am wondering if you’re going to keep posting here, or if you’re doing a one-or-two-off post.

    No plans, no promises, as I have other things to do as well. But thanks for the welcome.

    “…the question of God’s existence is really the most important one we have to answer, since it determines whether or not we find purpose in the universe…”

    You are assuming quite a few things in that statement. For instance, you are assuming that we CAN indeed answer that question…. it may be totally beyond us to answer it.

    Yes, I agree that when we start looking, we can’t know whether an answer is attainalble. In my mind, I have found the answer, so I posed the question that way. I probably should have said “TRY to answer.”

    There may be a purposeless creator ‘god’ or gods. There may be a god of chaos. The ‘god’ that created the universe may not in any way resemble a thinking being in any way we humans could recognize. Concepts like ‘purpose’ or ‘intention’ might not apply whatsoever to a being which exists outside of time. The creation of the universe may have been unintended or accidental. The creation of the universe may have destroyed the creator. It may have been actually an act of destruction of something that existed previously.

    Well, I think you’re getting into the orbiting teapot zone there. One can imagine many seemingly logical possibilities about the nature of God, but the examples you give are not consistent with the actual universe and its wondrous physical laws. Maybe that’s just the physicist in me talking. I see a universe that burst into being, then evolved with the formation of stars in which elements heavier than helium formed, and with planets around some of the stars, on at least one of which planets life came into being and evolved into more and more complex forms, finally reaching conscious intelligent life capable of posing the question of purpose. So, I am willing to make the assumption that if there is a Creator, that Creator has power and intelligence beyond our comprehension, but not in some bizarre way. I don’t know if you’ve read my post or not, but it touches on that.

    You are also assuming that a universe without a god is a universe without a purpose. There’s no way you can know that one either…

    That’s a conclusion I reached during my life. I don’t know that it was my original assumption. I know I used to try hard to convice myself that we made purpose and that that was enough, but it didn’t work. It’s not a question of logic but of inner satisfaction. If you feel the universe has purpose without God, you are feeling something I can’t, but there is no convincing logical argument to be made, just evaluating for yourself. My blog post dealt with quotations from a couple of well-known atheists (Dawkins for one) that looked for purpose in the universe (assuming materlalism, i.e. no God) and saw none.

    Merely choosing to believe in a god doesn’t suddenly create purpose in the universe.

    No, there is a true answer to the question of whether or not the universe has purpose, so one person’s opinion, which could be right or wrong, does not change the answer by creating purpose. I don’t think that you can really choose to “believe in a god.” What I’m saying is that when one recognizes that God exists, then one at the same time recognizes purpose, since God would not have created the universe without a purpose, even if one’s understanding of the purpose is incomplete. At the same time, one feels that it was done out of love for creation. Now, while one can’t choose to believe, one can choose to be open to being convinced or not. Again, I refer you to my blog post.

    Define what a purpose of the universe would be. Let’s assume that the universe HAS a purpose. What is it accomplishing? How do we know that it is indeed accomplishing this task, and how do we know when it has accomplished this task?

    We don’t know these things, and we probably will never know these things. I’m being honest with myself when I say “I don’t know”. I won’t join a church full of people who are sure until I’m sure as well.

    There is no distinction to be made between God’s purpose for the universe and the purpose of the universe. So asking if the universe is accomplishing its purpose is the wrong way to put it. God is accomplishing God’s purpose through and for the universe.

    You are starting to ask theological questions really. Once one recognizes that there is a purpose, then the next step is indeed to try to find out what it is and how one should order one’s own life to be in harmony with it. That’s the point at which one starts to look around at existing religions. God exists. One may have felt God’s presence in some way that was well beyond an intellectual decision that God must exist. To an outsider or to yourself at an earlier time any such mystical experience might be classed as pathological, yet you have to decide what it meant. One realizes revelation by God is not ruled out, and then there’s a new set of data to evaluate: that of the teachings and beliefs of existing religions. They have after all been right on the most important question.

    Have you evidence?

    I say the evidence that the universe was created by a supernatural intelligence is there in the workings of the universe, including the production of moral beings in it. You are not yet convinced of that, and I sense you are not quite ready to seriously consider it. I refer you again to my blog post, which is quite long.

  • David Crespo

    My turn (@Bob):

    the question of God’s existence is really the most important one we have to answer, since it determines whether or not we find purpose in the universe.

    Religion might determine whether we find purpose in the universe, but not whether we’re imagining it or not.

  • David Crespo

    @Bob:

    I don’t think that you can really choose to “believe in a god.”

    You seem to be making the classic, “You guys really believe in god, but you’re in denial” argument, and your subsequent use of the word “recognize” reinforces this impression. If one can choose not to believe in god, i think it’s implied that one can choose to believe. I think you might be saying that true faith doesn’t feel like a choice, and I imagine that in a world of so-called “true” believers, this might be true. However, in modern Christianity, doubt is welcomed as a strengthener of faith. The acknowledgment of such doubt means to me that many believers do, in fact, acknowledge the alternative to belief, and are thus choosing to continue to believe.

    As is also often the case with theists, you are using the phrase “keeping an open mind” as a synonym for becoming a theist. I’m sure flat-earthers complain of a lack of open minds as well. What I mean, simply, is that one does not have to temporary believe something in order to realize that it’s a load of crap, and I think temporary belief –preferably, on your part, leading to permanent belief — is what you mean when you refer to an “open mind.”

  • http://onscreen-scientist.com Bob Estes

    Replying to Axegrrl’s question:

    what made you become a theist? was it because your previous ‘worldview’ (as an atheist) carried with it “the burden of purposeless mortality”? is that the main reason?

    Well, I said maybe later… But here is a brief outline. Over time there got to be more and more things I couldn’t explain to my satisfaction in a purely materialist framework. One step was my realization that mathematics was a type of a non-material reality. I had no doubt that we made discoveries in mathematics about real but non-material objects, as a proof was a proof mathematicians could agree on. An even more important realization was that good and evil had an objective reality in the sense that whatever planet intelligent life happened to evolve on, the basics of moral behavior involving relationships between those moral beings would be virtually identical just as the basic conduct prescribed by all religions on Earth are the same. I’m not talking about food taboos, I’m talking about condeming murder, theft, lying, etc.

    As a physicist, even without having read about the fine-tuning of physical constants in the universe so that everything just happened to work out to make life possible, I started noticing things myself. I remember the first one had to do with the strength of the so called weak force of particle interactions. I had always viewed it as an unimportant oddity until I pondered its role in the reactions inside stars. The action of the weak force is a necessary step in the the nuclear fusion reactions that power the stars, such as our sun. If it were just a little stronger, stars would burn out in a short time, and life would never have had a chance to start. It was as though this step involving the weak force had just been put in to regulate the rate of star burning. Thinking about it still gives me chills. My atheistic mindset was too strong for me to abandon it over that observation alone, but the fact haunted me, and many others joined with it to make it seem something funny was going on. I never was really convinced by the dismissive argument that said why of course the constants are just right for life, we’re here aren’t we? That to me is a typical atheist’s evasion. Then there were things like the music of Bach. Where was that coming from? The universe was so beautiful that that in itself seemed to argue for something beyond physics.

    I’m talking about decades of being a hard atheist, so all these things kept kicking around in my mind, but shuffled out of sight most of the time. At a crucial point I read the Polkinghorne book I mentioned in my blog post, and his arguments just finished driving in a lot of nails I had already gotten started. From rational conviction that God probably existed came a final plunge into theism that was far from merely intellectual. On the other side of that experience I was a different person, and there is no way I could ever go back to being an atheist.

    I was relieved of the burden of purposeless mortality at the time of my conversion. Was the burden the cause of the change? I can’t answer that question, and I can’t know to what extent I was guided to my conclusion (not coerced), though I feel I was.

    Hope that helps, but I’ll probably say more on my blog one of these days.

    Thanks for your kind words and approach.

  • David Crespo

    From rational conviction that God probably existed came a final plunge into theism that was far from merely intellectual.

    Your “insight” about mathematics is difficult to follow. Of course mathematics is non-material and abstract: we made it up. It endures as a system of study partly because many types of math have real-world applications, and partly because it’s just interesting. The fact that we can imagine a non-material reality implies nothing more than the fact that we can imagine a non-material reality.

    the basics of moral behavior involving relationships between those moral beings would be virtually identical [to ours]

    Why would they be the same? There’s absolutely no basis for comparison between us and purely hypothetical extraterrestrial cultures. They could be a hive-mind, with no notion of the individual, or they could embody infinite other possibilities. Your assertion that most religions prescribe similar moral principles also lacks a basis in reality. The so-called perfect set-up of the fundamental physical constants is trivially explained by the anthropic principle.

  • Seabhag

    @ Bob Estes

    An even more important realization was that good and evil had an objective reality in the sense that whatever planet intelligent life happened to evolve on, the basics of moral behavior involving relationships between those moral beings would be virtually identical just as the basic conduct prescribed by all religions on Earth are the same. I’m not talking about food taboos, I’m talking about condeming murder, theft, lying, etc.

    There’s absolutely no evidence that I’ve ever seen that would make me think that there is an objective reality for “good” and “evil” across the universe. The simplest question to ask is “why WOULD” there be one? Our ‘morality’ seems to be based in the evolution of our species. If another intelligent race evolved through a different evolutionary parthway, there’s no reason to expect that race to have the same values of “good” and “evil” that we do.

    Your thesis that all religions on Earth have the same prescribed values is bogus. Cobwebs already cited the Aztecs as a perfect example. Even the morality of the OT verses the NT differs. You want us to believe that a moral code that isn’t even consistent across a single **planet** is consistent across the entire **UNIVERSE**? Go on, pull the other one.

  • Darryl

    Everything you mentioned seems to be an elaboration of the cosmological argument, or the argument from design. None of them is compelling. You were bothered by a Universe with no purpose, and now you feel better. Same old things. Reading your words makes me consider again the idea that propensity to believe in religions may be genetic.

  • http://onscreen-scientist.com Bob Estes

    I’ll try to get to the others but first David Crespo since it’s a little shorter.

    I don’t think that you can really choose to “believe in a god.”

    You seem to be making the classic, “You guys really believe in god, but you’re in denial” argument, and your subsequent use of the word “recognize” reinforces this impression.

    I don’t know how you get that out of anything I said, I suppose by your being too focused on “classic” arguments. I’m not even arguing at all, just stating my opinion. I think you are being too argumentative, but that seems to be the culture. I know full well that “you guys” don’t really believe in God, because i was one of you for most of my life.

    If one can choose not to believe in god, i think it’s implied that one can choose to believe.

    I wasn’t saying you could choose not to believe in God either. I think one goes with what seems most likely to be true. Now that I feel certain of the truth about God’s existence, there’s no way I could make the choice of disbelief. When I was an atheist I could and did choose to avoid all contact with anything religious for decades though, so I could try to choose not to consider.

    I think you might be saying that true faith doesn’t feel like a choice, and I imagine that in a world of so-called “true” believers, this might be true. However, in modern Christianity, doubt is welcomed as a strengthener of faith. The acknowledgment of such doubt means to me that many believers do, in fact, acknowledge the alternative to belief, and are thus choosing to continue to believe.

    I should recognize that there are degrees of belief and that some will choose to strive or hope to gain stronger belief (or belief at all), but I wouldn’t call that choosing to believe. If they could choose they wouldn’t doubt. I feel blessed by the strength of my faith in God, but don’t have the same feeling about Christianity, which in a way seems to have been devised to be difficult to believe.

    As is also often the case with theists, you are using the phrase “keeping an open mind” as a synonym for becoming a theist.

    Your mind-reading powers are not as strong as you imagine. I say what I mean.

  • Darryl

    I didn’t mean to sound smug in that last post. It just seems as though you were not an educated atheist back when you still were. I will wholeheartedly agree with you that the Universe is a wonderful place; I’ll even admit that I once thought as you do, and am still tempted to explain all this wonder by believing in something that I wish to be true, but is likely not. I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone knows yet, just how all this works as it does. We may never crack the code, but that’s no reason to start dreaming up gods to make us sleep better at night.

    At a concert of Charles Ives music, at which the composer was present, a member of the audience began to complain about the dissonance of the music. Ives stood up and said something to the effect of “shut up and use your ears like a man!” I say, use your brain like a man (sorry women). Some things are difficult to accept–so what, do we just avoid them and prefer comforting beliefs, shut our eyes and whistle past the graveyard?

    You mentioned the music of Bach. When someone thinks life on earth is a miracle and doubts the theory of evolution, they’re probably ignorant of science or at least biology. When someone uses Bach as an argument that there is a god, they either have an inflated view of what the man accomplished, or they’re not a composer. Just because you don’t understand what Bach was doing, and you’re enamored with him, don’t make him a vessel of god.

  • Axegrrl

    Hey Bob, thanks for your fleshed-out response, I appreciate you taking the time to do so:) Discussions of this nature will _always_ fascinate me:) Anyway, I just have a couple of questions…..

    I had an interesting talk with a university professor friend of mine (who teaches religious studies) recently and she echoed some of the ‘reasons’ for believing in a higher power that you described – the passage in which you mention the ‘weak force of particle interaction’ brought to mind a specific talk/essay by Douglas Adams, in which he says:

    “Man the maker looks at his world and says ‘So who made this then?’ Who made this? – you can see why it’s a treacherous question. Early man thinks, ‘Well, because there’s only one sort of being I know about who makes things, whoever made all this must therefore be a much bigger, much more powerful and necessarily invisible, one of me and because I tend to be the strong one who does all the stuff, he’s probably male’. And so we have the idea of a god. Then, because when we make things we do it with the intention of doing something with them, early man asks himself , ‘If he made it, what did he make it for?’ Now the real trap springs, because early man is thinking, ‘This world fits me very well. Here are all these things that support me and feed me and look after me; yes, this world fits me nicely’ and he reaches the inescapable conclusion that whoever made it, made it for him.”

    Here’s my question: do you think that the above (which suggests a specific kind of ‘projection’ on the part of early man) might be the deeply-rooted ‘foundation’ for our concept of ‘God’ and in particular, the notion of there being ‘intent’ behind our existence? Is it unreasonable to consider the possibility that that long-passed-down viewpoint has made us inherently ‘partial’ to the idea of a ‘creator with intent’?

    And in regard to this comment of yours:

    Then there were things like the music of Bach. Where was that coming from?

    Strong belief in something can produce wondrous inspiration, and I don’t think one can necessarily differentiate that from an inspiration that came from ‘somewhere else’. As well, what about the music of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Bizet, Verdi, Debussy, Ravel? (all agnostic or areligious) where was all their music coming from?

    Again, thanks for the discussion/interaction….it’s such a rarity to have articulate, respectful and vibrant discourse on the ‘internets’ :)

  • Siamang

    Bob Estes, you wrote,

    but the examples you give are not consistent with the actual universe and its wondrous physical laws.

    So you assume that the god’s existence(s) are constrained by the laws of the observable universe as we are able to perceive them currently?

    …on at least one of which planets life came into being and evolved into more and more complex forms, finally reaching conscious intelligent life capable of posing the question of purpose. So, I am willing to make the assumption that if there is a Creator, that Creator has power and intelligence beyond our comprehension, but not in some bizarre way.

    Well, that’s a huge assumption, now isn’t it? I could equally say that the history of the universe culminates in life capable of surfing internet porn, so I’m willing to make the assumption that if there is a Creator, He likes Girls Gone Wild-dot-com. It’s as well supported an argument.

    I wrote:

    You are also assuming that a universe without a god is a universe without a purpose. There’s no way you can know that one either…

    You responded:

    That’s a conclusion I reached during my life. I don’t know that it was my original assumption.

    So that’s a conclusion you reached? Based on what investigation?
    Were you really able to observe universes with gods and purposes, and without gods and purposes and thereby determine that purposeful universes always had gods, and godless universes never had purposes?

    Claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

    I know I used to try hard to convice myself that we made purpose and that that was enough, but it didn’t work.

    I don’t try to convince myself of anything. I try to best understand the world I find myself in. It may not be enough… oh well, tough shit, those are the breaks.

    It’s not a question of logic but of inner satisfaction.

    My inner satisfaction is not placated so easily. I have to be more honest with myself than that. I don’t claim to know things about the universe that I cannot. If you must in order to feel satisfied with your life, then go ahead. But don’t expect to come to an atheist website and change minds with that kind of argument.

    What I’m saying is that when one recognizes that God exists, then one at the same time recognizes purpose, since God would not have created the universe without a purpose,

    You cannot possibly know that unless you are God.

    I say the evidence that the universe was created by a supernatural intelligence is there in the workings of the universe, including the production of moral beings in it.

    Why? How is that evidence for the supernatural? Morality isn’t any big deal, it’s just a set of social behaviors… robots evolve social behavior in evolutionary simulations, for example. It’s right there in game theory and Nash equillibria.

    How is the existence of the natural supposed to be evidence for a supernatural intelligence? That’s a complete non-sequitur. It’s like saying that the existence of bats is evidence of the existence of vampires, or the existence of skeletons is evidence of the existence of zombies.

    I think you’re a nice guy, and I’m glad you’re part of the conversation… but I’m afraid your reasoning is rather weak. You’re assuming things about God that you cannot possibly know. That does not seem to make you doubt the boldness of your assertions or shrink from wildly inflated claims to knowledge. Like most believers, you’re the utmost authority on the Unknowable Ineffable.

    Or as the late George Carlin called it, “the all-time champion of false-promises and exaggerated claims — religion.”

    I keep my claims modest and close at hand to what I hold.

    I don’t know what, if anything, caused the universe to be in the shape we see it today. Neither of us knows. You weren’t there… I wasn’t there. Neither of us knows what, if anything, decided to put this all together in this way.
    Neither of us really knows.

    It’s just that one of us is being honest about it.

  • Darryl

    Okay, Bob, I read your blog. Let me just say that it was out of respect for you, because, on the merits, it was a waste of my time (and I’m not getting any younger).

    I have to comment on a few of your statements.

    You say that God is “the only possible source of purpose.” No, I am a source of purpose.

    You speak of moral beings, but you don’t define what they are? I know from experience that morality is malleable, that it changes from place to place and from time to time. Morality is clearly a human product. Atheists like Dawkins argue against the existence of God because the idea of God that is offered by most believers is one of a good, just, loving, nurturing God while the world we know shows no signs of such a providential hand. It is possible that there is a God or god-like creature that doesn’t give a damn about us and our suffering, but is that your god? Is that what gives you comfort? I don’t think so. You attribute goodness and the source of morality and meaning to your God. Isn’t it fair that atheists should question that god?

    “Purpose cannot be pulled out of the material universe without reference to a Creator whose power and wisdom, by very virtue of their being the Creator’s, are beyond question.” Nothing is beyond question. What a stupid thing to say: “I postulate there is a god; now, no one can question this god.” Hell, that’s how religions get started!

    “So what about suffering? That there are some things beyond the limits of our understanding is something we must humbly accept.” Jeezus, what an idiotic statement. And then you quote Isaiah? You’re using the Bible as your guide to what god is?!

    “Just as smokers continue to light up in order to relieve the anxiety brought about by the onset of nicotine withdrawal symptoms, so that the main purpose in the drug’s use becomes preventing the negative psychological effects of the addiction itself; so did I find comfort in reading such statements, though small comfort, from the ever present sense of despair that came with my bleak view of the universe as a place without meaning.” Got it. You wanted comfort, and there was none, so you switched beliefs to one that comforted you. Okay, so you’re weak. I can understand that, but don’t use it as an argument for theism.

    “Are you truly open to revelation? The best way to become open to it must be through prayer, but few are the atheists who would start from that point. Only a miracle will satisfy you? Just remember that if God exists, you are not in a position relative to the Creator to set the terms of your enlightenment.” There is so much assumption and begging of the question to that statement that I don’t know where to even begin a refutation of it. I’m stunned that an intelligent person could even make such a statement.

    “Also, keep in mind that if God exists, then so does the spiritual realm; for God is not material. Thus a categorial dismissal of the spiritual right from the outset is already a renunciation of the inquiry. If we are spiritual creatures as well as material, then internal evidence may need to be considered also, even though it is not objective in the sense that you could guarantee the same experience to another under the same conditions.” How do you know that God is a spirit, or that we have spirits? Your conception of God is gotten from traditional sources; sources that are filled with ridiculous concepts. Doesn’t that give you cause to doubt your ideas about God?

    “. . . for an atheist to accept God’s existence requires him or her to drink long from the cup of humility . . . ” Again, this humility you speak of sounds just like the Biblcial crap about the creature humbling itself before God. Do you really think that a being capable of creating this Universe would be so petty and insecure as to require humility from mere nothings like us? Such a creator wouldn’t give a shit what we do.

    Dude, it’s clear to me that you never thought through your atheism. You were just young, arrogant, and ignorant. You are a narrow thinker; probably good for a work-a-day physicist, but not for someone tackling a subject like the existence of god.

  • David Crespo

    Lots of fun. Come back, Bob!

  • http://onscreen-scientist.com Bob Estes

    OK, back to Metro.

    your arguments, such as they are, mostly fit nicely into Daniel Florien’s hundreds of proofs. I commend them to you as a resource. You could have saved us both some time by simply annotating which ones you were using.

    I guess because of the nature of this forum or perhaps this thread, everyone seems to view everything in terms of arguments. I really made no arguments in my post, and didn’t claim to. I made what I suppose could be called an assertion that there is no way to find purpose in the universe while confining oneself to materialism, and I urged people to seriously consider the case for God’s existence without raising up the shield of ready-made arguments. There is no proof of God’s existence, in the sense of a mathematical proof. Otherwise only those incapable of reasoning would be atheists, which is decidedly not my point.

    I’d like to point out, as both an ex-theist and ex-smoker, that I view theism the same way you do atheism. Each prayer I sent heavenward (without receiving verifiable or credible answers) reinforced my own sense of having a special relationship with my Creator. Every mass I attended boosted my sense of community. Likewise, every smoke I enjoyed with my friends powered both my sense of individuality and my peer-group membership.

    I don’t disagree that the same effect was at work. If there is a physiological component to group identity it applies to different sorts of groups. It can obviously be used in a manipulative way as in mass demonstrations in praise of dictators, for example. I mentioned it in the context of my own history because it was something I had just realized during the course of writing my piece, as a way of explaining my remembered happiness in finding companionship in despair.

    However, I soon found that my individuality as a smoker was a lie. I was just another dupe. I came to feel similarly about Christianity. If parents smoke, the children tend to smoke.

    I can’t disagree that children tend to follow the lead of their parents, which says nothing in itself about whether the parents are providing good examples or guidance. I don’t know what led to your disenchantment with Christianity, or your particular church, but I would ask you to consider whether you haven’t thrown the baby out with the bath water.

    Final observation:

    “Are you truly open to revelation? The best way to become open to it must be through prayer, but few are the atheists who would start from that point.”

    I think I’ll let that stand as emblematic of your arguments.

    And, I guess I can let your last sentence be emblematic of your seeing everything in terms of argument. The context of my sentence was a suggestion to atheists who demand convincing evidence of God’s existence that they should specify to themselves, if they could, what that evidence would look like. My main point was that evidence for God was in the nature of circumstantial evidence. I was not in the least recommending one should only accept a direct revelation from God, just making a comment to anyone that took that position. I didn’t rule it out as a possibility, but only pointed out that I thought it improbable without the minimum condition of prayer. That’s speculation on my part.

  • David Crespo

    @Bob

    mass demonstrations in praise of dictators

    Like…church?

    Anywho, your insistence that you’re not making “arguments” indicates a simple misunderstanding of the word. An argument, an assertion, a statement, anything where you’re making any kind of point whatsoever, they’re all the same thing. Yes, you are making points, so you’re making an argument.

    As a scientist, you hopefully understand that claims can’t be made about the natural world without evidence. As there is, by definition, no way of acquiring evidence about the supernatural world, it is impossible to make a substantiated claim about it, and thus not worth considering.

  • http://www.deconverts.com Mike

    I wonder if anyone has taken the time to determine exactly how many “leaps of faith” are required if you are to be a theist instead of an atheist.

    Atheists require no leaps of faith whatsoever as the atheist position is the default one.

    Theists on the other hand have all their work ahead of them.

    It would be an interesting experiment to quantify all the various things that one must “believe in” in order to be a theist.

  • http://onscreen-scientist.com Bob Estes

    David Crespo,
    I’m afraid you’re the one that doesn’t know the meaning of the word argument. An argument is the reasoning behind a point of view or assertion designed to convince others of that point of view or assertion. If I say that I doubt many atheists will choose to start praying, that is not an argument, it is a statement of my opinion. That is the kind of thing that has been called an argument in this forum. Your extension of the meaning of argument to include “an assertion, a statement, anything where you’re making any kind of point whatsoever” would nullify the meaning of a good word.

  • Siamang

    Bob Estes wrote:

    The context of my sentence was a suggestion to atheists who demand convincing evidence of God’s existence that they should specify to themselves, if they could, what that evidence would look like.

    And you think we haven’t done that?

    Isn’t the very idea that we’re atheists predicated on the notion that we DID in fact decide what the evidence should look like, and found that evidence lacking? You may not agree that my standards are appropriate, but, you know, I have actually thought about this. Maybe that’s a big surprise to you.

    Here is why I often find conversations with theists on here very frustrating. Because in these circumstances it just sounds like you’re here to preach and not to share, converse, learn or understand the people here.

    What I’d like is if you *asked* “what would that evidence look like for you?” “What is it you’re looking for and not finding?” Or “How have you come to this position that you require evidence of this sort?”

    Instead, you’re not asking. You’re not entreating any kind of interaction at all. You’re just telling us that we’ve got it wrong, and “suggesting” that we should think about this stuff.

    For example, you wrote:

    “Are you truly open to revelation? The best way to become open to it must be through prayer, but few are the atheists who would start from that point.”

    Instead of asking us if we’ve tried prayer… which is a totally relevant question… you tell us that few of us have.

    Really?!?!

    I think most atheists in America are former theists. Have you considered that most atheists might be atheists because they spent years of their life praying and felt no effect at all? That might be a question worth asking… after all, you’ve got a lot of atheists right here ready to answer. We’re all ears.

    Asking questions is a sign of respect. Treat us like human beings here. Don’t come here to chortle “ho ho ho, I once thought as you did, ho ho ho” and tell us where we’ve got it all wrong.

    I’m not sure what your goals here are. If they are conversation, you’re failing. If they are conversion, you’re failing. If they are to convince us that you’re a deep thinker, you’re failing.

    So why are you here? Is it to make yourself feel superior by dangling some meat over the edge of the dinner table to see if the dogs jump?

    Anyway, it sounds like you’re more interested in feeling good about your own position rather than sharing ideas and thoughts. That’s fine, knock yourself out. I think your ideas are nebulous and your logic circular… but if it gets you through the day, I have no desire to change your mind.

  • David Crespo

    I’ll admit I exaggerated the definition of “argument”, but my point was that your post was full of arguments, or by your own definition, full of statements supporting a point of view. A few examples:

    My main point was that evidence for God was in the nature of circumstantial evidence.

    A point! And then…

    I thought [recognition of God] improbable without the minimum condition of prayer

    That’s a big claim.

    I think one goes with what seems most likely to be true. Now that I feel certain of the truth about God’s existence, there’s no way I could make the choice of disbelief.

    First sentence is the claim, second sentence is the support. Smells like an argument.

    Bob, your obvious high intelligence combined with your seeming desire to avoid thinking about your beliefs deeply enough to consider them in terms of argument leads me to the conclusion that you really, really want to believe in some kind of deity. I’m reminded of the anecdote where one guy told his relative he was no longer a Christian (or Jew, or whatever), and the relative asked, “Well, what religion are you now?”

    There seems to be in many theists a need for some very poorly defined notion of purpose or meaning in life, and this need itself is rarely questioned. When examined critically, it is evident that this need is artificial and arbitrary. To me, the other most important sign of the preposterousness of belief in the supernatural is the flood of contradictions tolerated by the faithful in their own minds. For example, the idea of an omnipotent being that actually cares about you, or even has the human feeling of caring at all. Also, a deity is a superficial solution to the question of purpose because we cannot know if our beliefs are true.

  • http://onscreen-scientist.com Bob Estes

    I’ll never catch up with all these responses. I am grateful for the chance to communicate “across the chasm,” despite the occasional insult. For now, let me try to clarify a secondary point about mathematics.

    David Crespo a little earlier said:

    Your “insight” about mathematics is difficult to follow. Of course mathematics is non-material and abstract: we made it up.

    My view is that we didn’t make it up; we discovered it. Since every competent mathematician will agree with every other one on a particular established mathematical truth, no matter how abstract or esoteric, that gives mathematics the status of an objective realm, and the study of mathematics the status of a science, but not of a science that studies material reality the way our natural sciences do. A devoted materialist, I was arguing with a mathematician about the reality of mathematics. At one point he replied to my objection: “I’ll grant you it’s not a material reality.” And I realized he was right, and that my belief that only a material reality existed was false. This was for me, personally, a significant realization. I’m not saying it leads to theism, just that it was a step on the way for me in clearing away the idea that reality had to be material.

  • David Crespo

    I disagree most wholeheartedly with your assertion that we discovered mathematics. The fact that mathematics is objective does not imply that it is a window into some universal reality.

    The point of math is that it’s based on axioms. The rest of mathematical study involves the consequences of these axioms. As long as mathematicians agree on the axioms, they absolutely cannot reach disparate conclusions. Mathematics is the only objective discipline, precisely because all conditions are accounted for. The reason science is not as clear is because there are things going on that we don’t know about. But with math, we define the universe of discourse.

    Reality is just a crappy version of the mathematical ideal (which we have fleshed out in our imaginations over time), which basically never exists in the natural world. For example, it is impossible to have something be a perfect (I mean perfect!) square. But we can imagine it. This doesn’t mean that there is an ether hiding in the fourth dimension, rather invisible but still affecting the third, that contains these ideals.

  • Darryl

    We invented mathematics. It has an objectivity to it that corresponds to the objectivity of our material Universe. It’s like sight. As a function of our material body it give us ‘real’ information, but it’s unique to our kind of eyes and our kind of brain. It doesn’t give us all there is to see, and other kinds of eyes/brains see differently. We invent instruments to permit us to see what the naked eye cannot. Math is an instrument of our design. I would assume there are other maths besides the ones we have invented thus far–there must be.

    But, to your idea, don’t you think there’s a mighty wide chasm between thought (as in mathematical thought) and spirit? We know where thoughts reside, and we know they are sensations in our material brain. If a brain dies, thinking ceases. We know how to alter thoughts, induce feelings and images, and how to enhance or diminish certain kinds of thoughts by manipulating the brain. How do you get from there to extrapolating a spiritual realm in which god dwells?

  • http://onscreen-scientist.com Bob Estes

    Just to deal with the latest from Darryl:

    I would assume there are other maths besides the ones we have invented thus far–there must be.

    I don’t know about “other.” I view it more as the unexplored territory of a single vast (limitless?) domain.

    But, to your idea, don’t you think there’s a mighty wide chasm between thought (as in mathematical thought) and spirit?

    I, of course, don’t know exactly what the relationship is between thought, spirit, and brain. It’s one of the ultimate mysteries. My point was not that mathematics as a non-material reality shed light on the question you raise, but just that the idea of a non-material reality was new to me and made me rethink my 100% materialist view of reality. To others the concept might not be that important.

    We know where thoughts reside, and we know they are sensations in our material brain.

    Well we know that thoughts are accompanied by brain activity. Where thoughts “reside” is beyond us in my opinion, but I think it is a spiritual realm.

    If a brain dies, thinking ceases.

    Not to say that’s wrong, but to take the stance of others in this thread, we don’t know anything about that, since the person who once thought can no longer communicate with us. We just know that all thought linked to activity of that brain has ceased.

    We know how to alter thoughts, induce feelings and images, and how to enhance or diminish certain kinds of thoughts by manipulating the brain. How do you get from there to extrapolating a spiritual realm in which god dwells?

    I wouldn’t overstate what “we know how” to do. The interesting thing about such brain stimulation experiments (the ones I have read about anyway) is that the people experiencing them are aware of what is going on (e.g. they can hear the sound they make) but they don’t feel that it is being done by themselves. So there is a personality and a will that is somehow standing above the localized brain activity. A very fascinating subject. To me, having a strong faith in God, I can only answer “I don’t know how God does it,” as I have to say to many other things, on the question of spirit and brain relationship.

    Obviously it was not because of a clear understanding of this mystery that I came to believe in God. I wouldn’t say that death of the brain meaning the final end of the person is ruled out by God’s existence. I just don’t know the plan, though I have faith that all will be well, whatever the answer is.

  • David Crespo

    The faith that all will be well no matter what is probably the worst part of it.

  • http://onscreen-scientist.com Bob Estes

    I imagine this will be my last comment in this thread anyway, but I thought I owed Siamang one.

    The context of my sentence was a suggestion to atheists who demand convincing evidence of God’s existence that they should specify to themselves, if they could, what that evidence would look like.

    And you think we haven’t done that?

    Isn’t the very idea that we’re atheists predicated on the notion that we DID in fact decide what the evidence should look like, and found that evidence lacking? You may not agree that my standards are appropriate, but, you know, I have actually thought about this. Maybe that’s a big surprise to you.

    Based on my own experience, you can (without ever acknowledging it to yoursefl) decide there is simply no evidence short of direct miraculous intervention by God that would be deemed sufficient proof of God’s existence. The idea simply becomes unthinkable within the context of a totally materialist outlook. God, being supernatural, is simply defined away. So I don’t think my suggestion that atheists examine whether there is any sort of evidence that could convince them is either insulting or superfluous.

    For example, you wrote:

    “Are you truly open to revelation? The best way to become open to it must be through prayer, but few are the atheists who would start from that point.”

    Instead of asking us if we’ve tried prayer… which is a totally relevant question… you tell us that few of us have.

    Really?!?!

    I think most atheists in America are former theists. Have you considered that most atheists might be atheists because they spent years of their life praying and felt no effect at all? That might be a question worth asking… after all, you’ve got a lot of atheists right here ready to answer. We’re all ears.

    Let me repeat that I was not recommending that anyone demand revelation, as I think there is convincing circumstantial evidence for God. But regarding those who would only be satisfied with revelation, I said that I thought few atheists, meaning currently confirmed atheists, would choose what from the atheistic standpoint would seem a ridiculous idea, namely praying, as the place to start looking for God. The fact that they had previously prayed before becoming atheists would possibly make them even less likely to start with prayer. That’s all.

    I’m not sure what your goals here are. If they are conversation, you’re failing. If they are conversion, you’re failing. If they are to convince us that you’re a deep thinker, you’re failing.

    So why are you here?

    Well, I had no idea I would be engaged in such a long dialog. I pointed out a post to my blog, and that provoked some responses, which I felt I should answer. Actually, you asked me if I was going to stick around or disappear right away, with the implication that you’d rather I didn’t vanish immediately. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to answer everyone. Anyone that is interested in email contact with me can go to my blog to get my address.

  • David Crespo

    Well, to ask Bob to leave wasn’t nice at all.

    Circumstantial evidence is really only permissible in sissy crap like law and social science, not in the hard stuff.

  • Siamang

    I never asked him to leave. I asked him what goals his conversation here had for him in an attempt to get him to ask questions of us instead of telling us where we had failed or not thought about stuff or whatever.

    Read what I wrote upthread, David. Did you think it came off as a request for him to leave?

    If so, then I totally failed what I was attempting, which was to get him off the mode of coming here and making judgements and pronouncements, and actually engage us in two-way conversation.

    I notice that he didn’t respond to what I thought my main point was, which was “stop telling us what we supposedly think, and instead *ask* us.”

    So it’s quite likely that he didn’t get that out of what I wrote.

  • Siamang

    Bob Estes wrote:

    But regarding those who would only be satisfied with revelation, I said that I thought few atheists, meaning currently confirmed atheists, would choose what from the atheistic standpoint would seem a ridiculous idea, namely praying, as the place to start looking for God. The fact that they had previously prayed before becoming atheists would possibly make them even less likely to start with prayer. That’s all.

    So those of us who used to be believers and prayed all the time and got nothing, and eventually stopped praying and came to the opinion that an interactive prayer-answering God either didn’t exist or didn’t exist for us… We should pray again, just to make sure? How about again and again and again?

    What about me? I fit that bill. And as a result of conversations on this board and its predecessor, I did pray again. Again nothing. I have done it since then numerous times. Still nothing.

    We’ll have some awful prayerful atheists around here, if the way to prove to you that we have an open mind is to keep praying all the time.

    But I’m getting tired of all the times I’ve said “how high?” when a theist tells me to jump in order to prove to them that I have an open mind.

    Anyway, I’m sorry if I inadvertantly unrolled the “unwelcome mat”.

    Take care.

  • llewelly

    Siamang:

    So those of us who used to be believers and prayed all the time and got nothing, and eventually stopped praying and came to the opinion that an interactive prayer-answering God either didn’t exist or didn’t exist for us… We should pray again, just to make sure? How about again and again and again?

    The goal, Siamang, is to portray us as a bunch of quitters.

  • Darryl

    I got the feeling from reading Bob’s blog and his comments here that he is one of those people who simply wanted to believe. Too many of his statements simply assumed the validity of ideas drawn from religion and not based in any empirical proof. Like prayer. What does prayer have to do with whether or not god exists? Prayer is something people do once they believe. It has no validity without belief. He pretty much said he didn’t understand the brain-spirit connection, that it was a mystery, but he believed it anyway. I think for him the standard of evidence is lower than for us; for him, evidence corroborates or confirms what he already believes, what he chose to believe. In short, faith for him is not a matter of evidence but of will–the classic Christian understanding of faith sans the action of the Holy Spirit.

    The upshot for me is that, if his faith did not come about by real evidence or substantive cause to doubt his former atheism, then he shouldn’t be giving the impression that, as a physicist, he is making an argument from reason and evidence.

  • JustMe

    “Have you read the Bible?”

    I have up to three responses. They can be used as a set in the order below, or as stand alone responses depending on the situation.

    1. “You do realize that it’s your religious book, not mine, right?”

    I wait to see if they acknowledge this statement before continuing. Many Christians really think that non-Christians are some form of lapsed Christian that just has to be shown some bit of information that will act like magic on the non-Christian and snap them back to Jesus.

    For some people, I have to assert to them that “I am not a Christian, (do you understand?)” … if they don’t get all bent out of shape and need to be calmed down, I can continue with one of the other responses.

    2. Yes, I have. Twice, plus commentary. Once on my own, and once as literature as well as part of a comparative religion class.

    3. I’ve read a few different religious texts. How many did you read before deciding on your religion?

  • http://metroblog.blogspot.com Metro

    @Darryl:

    You got it right. An argument is a premise used to explain a belief, whether you’re specifically using it to debate someone or not.

    @Bob:
    Your argumentation, for that is what it is (at the minimum you meet the terms for definitions 3,4, and 5 here) doesn’t seem logical.

    If we start from the logical position, sliding beneath Occam’s Razor, we begin with the premise that there is no god.

    You say the Weak Nuclear Force is evidence for Him.

    But I don’t understand why. Does it require a god to produce marvels? Surely gravity is at least as wonderous.

    Darryl pretty much said the rest of what I wanted to say in his last post. Belief is an act of will.