Scientology Spokesperson Can’t Admit His Own Beliefs

How embarrassed do you have to be about your religious beliefs that when someone simply questions what they are, you refuse to answer?

That’s what happened when Nightline‘s Martin Bashir questioned Scientology spokesperson Tommy Davis about the whole Xenu thing (at the 3:40 mark):

At least Davis has the good sense to not admit to believing such absurd things. Regardless of what he says on tape, he could have simply lied, said “No, those are not my beliefs,” and move on with it.

Now, how do we shame those people who believe in reincarnation?

Or those people who believe that Heaven or Hell are actual places?

Or those people who believe that a god created the world in a week, that Adam and Eve were actual people, or that Jesus came back to life after being killed and has any ability to cleanse us of sins now?

It’s all the same degree of delusion. The only difference is we’re more used to hearing whatever mythology is adopted by the people around us.

(via Tiny Frog)

  • littlejohn

    The only difference between a cult and a religion is how recently it was made up.

  • http://twitter.com/almightygod almightygod

    Lol, Scientology.

  • http://www.hammatime.net Hamma

    Priceless.

    The funny thing is the religious who laugh at Scientology when their beliefs are just as outlandish.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Oh my, if you act like that, with the feigned offense get out of jail free card you’re just making a fool of yourself. Well done Mr Bashir.

  • http://twitter.com/Nanti_SARRMM Sam, the Nanti-SARRMM

    You may disbelieve that which others believe, but wouldn’t it be good to find out why they believe in such? If they’re just abiding by what they have been taught, or if they actually, sincerely believe those things? What then? Are you going to try and “shame” those that genuinely believe too?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    You may disbelieve that which others believe, but wouldn’t it be good to find out why they believe in such? If they’re just abiding by what they have been taught, or if they actually, sincerely believe those things? What then? Are you going to try and “shame” those that genuinely believe too?

    It’s a fair question.

    But even if they don’t “just” accept it — even if they sincerely believe it — there’s no evidence for any of it.

    And yes, those beliefs that have no basis in reality should be questioned and believers should have to defend themselves constantly. We shouldn’t just let them get away with beliefs that have consequence in our world.

    It’s not harmless, either. People who don’t believe in the nonsense can’t get elected in our country. People die over their adherence (or lack of it) to these beliefs.

    We’d be better off without them. It wouldn’t fix all our problems, obviously, but a large source of several of them.

  • http://www.TrickyBuddha.com bobisimo

    I don’t understand the spokesman’s refusal to answer. He says it’s offensive to Scientologist beliefs to answer the question. Did scientology do away with their Xenu/sci-fi background, or do they just refuse to speak about it publicly?

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “It’s all the same degree of delusion. The only difference is we’re more used to hearing whatever mythology is adopted by the people around us.”

    I disagree. If Christianity is a delusion then it is not a delusion by the same degree as other religions.

    If we’re talking questions of degree then monotheistic religions are by nature less delusional than pantheistic religions.

    I’m a Christian and I only believe in one more God than you do.

  • http://amywithlemon.com amywithlemon

    I understand the whole “I’m not going to dignify that with a response” defence.

    BUT- it’s still a defence, so yeah. Figure it out.

    Also,
    Xenu be praised.

  • http://amywithlemon.com amywithlemon

    I disagree. If Christianity is a delusion then it is not a delusion by the same degree as other religions.

    Why not? What defines it as being less delusional?

    Also, when answering, try to give a reason that wouldn’t apply for any of those other really obviously delusional religions.

  • bigjohn756

    So, Davis threatens Bashir with walking out and it scared Bashir so much that he asked the same question…twice more. He must have been really petrified that Davis would actually leave. Notice that the final question went along just fine until the word Xenu came out at which time Davis, knowing that he had no answer he could use publicly without embarrassing himself, had to leave.

    I expect that Scientologists have so much invested in their “religion” by the time they find out about the silly Xenu part that they must continue in spite of it just to save face.

  • Jasen777

    Have to say that was more amusing than an interview with most Christians would be.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Can you imagine Mr Bashir asking Hemant – “is it true, and correct me if you’re wrong here – that you’re an Atheist and don’t believe in god or gods?” – and the vast difference in response he’d get?

  • http://www.relativelyunrelated.com/ Dan J

    Davis did not refuse to answer because he found the question offensive.

    He refused to answer because the contract that he signed when he joined Scientology does not allow him to divulge information of that nature. Information about Xenu is not for the newly initiated. He’s under contract, and he knows who signs his paychecks.

  • Hammurabi

    Nathan, how do you figure that…

    “If Christianity is a delusion then it is not a delusion by the same degree as other religions.

    If we’re talking questions of degree then monotheistic religions are by nature less delusional than pantheistic religions.”?

    A scientologist could make the same claim as you in reference to his own religion. You are just making an assertion that the ridiculous things you believe are less ridiculous than the things they (or pantheists) believe. Can you demonstrate this? Why is it more crazy to think that Xenu the galactic overlord threw frozen alien souls into earthly volcanoes which led to all human suffering than it is to believe that the first man(made of dust) and woman(made from the rib of dust) were created without the ability to tell right from wrong and were tricked by a talking snake to eat from a magic tree that they were forbidden from eating from by an invisible patriarchal figure who knew everything and could do anything and knew for a fact that his creation would eat from the tree but put it there anyways which resulted in all of mankind’s suffering?

    (run-on sentence powers, activate!)

  • ATL-Apostate

    From what I’ve read (on the innernets, of course), the Scientologists are not supposed to talk about their kooky beliefs outside of the Scientology community. That’s what “offended” Mr. Davis.

    Of course, reading his body language, it didn’t look like he took offense to the question, but rather was humiliated by the sheer stupidity of his beliefs, culminating in him storming out of the room like my 3yo when I told her that Cinderella was “just pretend.”

    Yeah, that was kind of a dick thing for me to do.

  • http://home.countthatdaylost.com CharlesP

    To respond to the first comment. When I still considered myself a Christian (though I was certainly on my way to deconversion at that point probably) I adopted the differentiation as Religions kill OTHER people, Cults kill their OWN people… It’s the reason, generally speaking, that religions can last longer than cults.

  • http://alifaroukshaikh.wordpress.com/ Ali Shaikh

    “All religious systems, it is confessed, are subject to great and insuperable difficulties.” – David Hume

    It is incredibly amusing and pathetic how the Christian, or Muslim, or Jew, or Hindu, etc will immediately react if the same process is applied to their beliefs, although they seem to easily be able to laugh at the absurdities of Scientology.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    @Hammurabi,

    There are a lot of assumptions in your question.

    I would suggest that saying all religions are equally delusional is a blanket generalisation that can not be demonstrated.

    “You are just making an assertion that the ridiculous things you believe are less ridiculous than the things they (or pantheists) believe. Can you demonstrate this?”

    Not at all. The nature of our beliefs, assuming God does not exist, are equally deluded. But I believe in fewer delusional things than the pantheist. I wasn’t necessarily referring specifically to the question of scientology – more to the statement that all religious beliefs exhibit the same degree of delusion.

    If we’re talking about the existence of a theistic entity, or entities, which would seem to be the core of the theism v atheism distinction, then (provided atheists are right and we’re deluded) the degree of delusion must centre around the number of Gods, not how fanciful the God(s) may or may not be.

    To suggest that all delusions are equal in degree rather than in nature is fallacious.

    If I, as a Christian, am deluded and it turns out there are no Gods then I am surely less deluded than someone who thought there were thousands. Or that we came from a superior alien race.

    I would be deluded in nature, certainly.

    Also, I think the vast majority of Christians (outside of America) don’t hold to the position you suggest they hold to regarding Genesis. Those that do are the inflexible fringe who believe that God is incapable of metaphor or nuance. Sadly atheists apply that understanding to both Christians, and our God.

    The fact that some of us are less rigid in our understanding of a creation story that by all indications and assumptions was written a significant amount of time after the event does not mean we are performing intellectual contortions.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “It is incredibly amusing and pathetic how the Christian, or Muslim, or Jew, or Hindu, etc will immediately react if the same process is applied to their beliefs, although they seem to easily be able to laugh at the absurdities of Scientology.”

    I’ll laugh at the absurdities of all other religious beliefs. And If I am deluded you’re right to laugh at the absurdities of mine – as I am right to laugh at your absurd “head in the sand” disbelief in the God who created the world.

    That’s the nature of a claim of absolute truth. You rise or you fall on it.

  • TheLoneIguana

    The only difference between a cult and a religion is how recently it was made up.

    Or how good their PR department is.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Nathan, “pantheism” is not belief in multiple gods. I think you mean “polytheism.”

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    “The only difference between a cult and a religion is the amount of real estate they own.”

    Quote attributed to Frank Zappa.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Concerning pantheism, if the touch wielding mob shows up at my door, I will admit a belief in pantheism. (That God = the universe). No need for theistic beliefs of personal saviors, heaven and hell. Nothing really delusional. Just a re-naming of “the universe”.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    I meant the idea that everything is God, or capable of being God.

    But polytheism works too…

    Both sit in contrast to monotheism. Pantheism is so abstract that it can’t help but be riddled with multiple delusions (and therefore a greater degree of delusion than monotheism), or have multiple in built delusions as a result of having multiple Gods (again, a greater degree of delusion).

    I guess my argument is that if someone says “there is only one God and he is defined as this…” they are by nature (if they are wrong) deluded by a lesser degree than either someone who says “there are many Gods and they look like this” or “There are many Gods and I can’t define any of them”…

    The fact that, for example, Christians hold many other religions to be delusions while those religions hold Christianity to be the basis of their beliefs (ie Mormonism), suggests an extension of the degree of delusion is required to hold those beliefs.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    I was particularly thinking of pantheistic religions because of the reference to reincarnation in the post.

  • Casimir

    I don’t understand the spokesman’s refusal to answer. He says it’s offensive to Scientologist beliefs to answer the question. Did scientology do away with their Xenu/sci-fi background, or do they just refuse to speak about it publicly?

    They’ve always been cagey about it, for obvious reasons. When Scientology’s documents about Xenu were originally revealed, they tried to keep people from reading it by saying that knowledge was dangerous and could cause severe physical/mental damage (if you hadn’t been prepared by going through 7 or so auditing sessions). But lots of people have read them without having their brains explode so I don’t think they use that one anymore.

  • http://chaoskeptic.blogspot.com Iason Ouabache

    “It is in violation of my religious beliefs to talk about my religious beliefs.”

    Well, that’s rather convenient then, isn’t it?

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Hamma said:

    The funny thing is the religious who laugh at Scientology when their beliefs are just as outlandish.

    One of the last things I did before giving up my own religion, actually. I decided to look at the things I believed in the same light.

    Also, bobisimo said:

    I don’t understand the spokesman’s refusal to answer. He says it’s offensive to Scientologist beliefs to answer the question. Did scientology do away with their Xenu/sci-fi background, or do they just refuse to speak about it publicly?

    Scientologists are trained to lie about their beliefs. I’m not hyperbolizing, either; they’re literally told to lie to people about what they believe and pretend offense whenever someone gets too close.

  • Hammurabi

    Nathan, I completely concede your point that a “liberal” christian who takes the events of the bible as allegory, not history, is less delusional than someone who believes them to be true despite the overwhelming contradictory evidence.

    However, while I can see your reasoning on the whole one-god-is-less-delusional-than-multiple-gods thing, I still disagree. You seem to be stating that:

    -If 1 god requires x delusion, than y gods requires xy delusion. Where y is any number greater than 1.

    -xy > x, therefore many gods are more delusional than one god.

    My rebuttal would be:

    -Any supernatural entity that intervenes with reality requires x number of suspensions of the natural mechanisms of the universe.

    -For no known (to me, that is) interventionist god does x=0

    -For an omnipotent god, x=infinity

    -For a pantheon of gods of number n, x=x(1) + x(2) +… x(n) which can be approximated as infinite for any number of sufficiently powerful deities.

    -Therefore, many gods is equally delusional as one god.

    Tah-dah! I’m surprised my ass isn’t more sore from pulling all that out… ;)

  • ethin

    Nathan…

    pantheist

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • http://differentfrequencies.blogspot.com Dan

    You bring up a good point. I shouldn’t laugh at Scientologists for their beliefs because I don’t want you to laugh at mine. Sadly, you’ll laugh at mine anyway.

    However much you shame me, though, I can’t stop believing…anymore than you can stop apparently.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    No… I don’t think you got it. The point isn’t that you shouldn’t want people to laugh at your beliefs. The point is that if you’re willing to examine another person’s beliefs and find them laughable, you should be willing to submit your own beliefs to the same sort of scrutiny.

    You absolutely SHOULD laugh at Scientologists for their beliefs. Their beliefs are ridiculous.

    It’s not a matter of shaming you. It’s a matter of being astonished that you can believe things we consider ridiculous. People who are otherwise perfectly reasonable can believe the silliest things. I used to. But you shouldn’t conflate dismissal of your beliefs with dismissal of you. I laugh all the time about things people believe, but I’m not laughing at the people.

  • http://lyonlegal.blogspot.com/ Vincent

    I believe in fewer delusional things than the pantheist.

    I don’t know… You have that whole trinity thing, and apastolic succession, and transubstantiation. The list goes on and on. You have a lot of beliefs I would find delusional (and as you conceded, if there is no god they are).
    The pantheist doesn’t believe in more than one god (which could be less than you, depending how you consider the trinity). The pantheist also doesn’t have so many weird thoughts, merely that the universe is moving according to its thoughts.

  • Richard Wade

    Nathan, your willingness to look at your own beliefs in that hypothetical way is very brave of you. I’m being sincere here, not ironic. Maybe you don’t think of it as brave, but most of the Christians with whom I have conversed, whether fundamentalist or liberal, still would not touch the idea of “if it were not true” with a ten foot pole. Thank you for this interesting discussion.

    I think looking at our differences from an angle other than the delusion question might be more productive, at least in promoting better understanding. Wondering which religion is more delusional, by nature of the number of gods believed or by nature of the bizarreness of the beliefs is not very useful because there is no way (that I can figure, at least) to quantify delusion into countable units. I mean, imagine trying to compare the very weird beliefs about one god to the slightly weird beliefs about hundreds of gods. Let’s see, these three beliefs are each a 1.6 on the goofyness scale, but that one is a 3.7…

    If I am reading you correctly, the important thing to you is whether or not someone’s belief is correct. To most atheists, the important thing is why a person holds a belief or not.

    Most atheists will believe, or to say it more accurately, have confidence in the veracity of a claim because there is convincing evidence. An absence of such evidence will result in an absence of such confidence.

    Most theists believe their religion’s claims for many various reasons, but not for reasons that involve something that an atheist would consider to be evidence.

    So just so that you can better understand our viewpoint, the amount of things that you believe or the strangeness of what you believe is not the central reason that we disagree. It’s about the causes of your beliefs.

    We don’t reject believing in gods because of some stated quantity or quality about those gods, like nice gods, nasty gods, kinda reasonable gods or bizarre gods. We reject believing in things of all sorts for which we don’t see the evidence that we need.

  • http://pippinbarr.com Pippin

    Is it meant to be ironic that this blog is called the Friendly Atheist? So much that goes on here is full of spite and bitterness about religion. You need to “shame” all the religious people out there? Seriously?

    Or is it that the blog only friendly to atheists?

  • Siamang

    Hey, I get another nickel!

    I get one every time someone complains that this blog isn’t friendly enough.

    Pippin, we ARE the friendly ones.

    So much that goes on here is full of spite and bitterness about religion.

    Well, if religion had put you through what it’s put some of us through… you’d have earned a right to vent a little bit, too.

    Seek to understand us before you condemn us.

    If you see someone who you didn’t like their post, ask them what their lifepath was to get them here. You may be surprised.

  • Markus

    Scientology is not a Church but a commercial enterprise. The only things their poor members believe are the following: the members in lower ranks are told the Xenu crap so that they feel hope that their spending of their thousands of bucks makes some kind of “Sense”. Members in higher ranks believe it’s good that lower rank members give them all their money. That’s all.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    @Ethin – I’m pretty sure I’ve got a functional definition of pantheism – and I would say that reincarnation is unique to pantheistic beliefs.

    I was, in my original comment, addressing the idea that somehow Christianity (my particular religious) is as delusional as Scientology or the odd pantheistic “the world is God” idea…

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Hammurabi,

    I am by no means a Liberal Christian.

    For example, I think homosexuality is a sin.

    I don’t think Christians should be homosexuals – those of you who don’t believe in God can do whatever you like though…

    I don’t think you have to be a liberal to try to understand the Bible the way God intends it to be understood. And I don’t think you have to be liberal to apply a rudimentary understanding of written communication to a text.

    What sort of theist (of any ilk) does not believe God is capable of metaphor or other “sophisticated” language.

    I’m not liberal – the people you consider to be the normative Christians are the fringe fundamentalists.

    I often wonder if the atheist cause would be better served by supporting the Christians who are trying to teach other Christians good doctrine rather than throwing out the proverbial baby and bathwater.

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Pippin, I’m the designated friendly atheist for today. We take turns. Read my comment to Nathan above. It’s friendly. Tomorrow I may be full of spite and bitterness, although I hope not. Hemant or any of several others will be friendly in my stead.

    You’ve just met Siamang. He can be very friendly. His arguments are sharper than a razor, but he’s basically a very decent, kind person, and I’m lucky to know him.

    These are contentious subjects. People hurt and kill and die over these beliefs that we consider to be absurd, and it is frustrating and heartbreaking to have to helplessly watch the mayhem most of the time. Sometimes we’re the targets. Even with reasonable and caring people, things can get spiteful and bitter.

    But these are not excuses, just explanations. I take your comment to heart, and I’m sure that others do as well. I’ll keep it in mind the next time I’m about to lose my temper, and I think I will be a little less likely to explode.

    Friendly is something to strive for and to sometimes reach. Friendly doesn’t ever mean “make nice.” Civil is what we more often get. Some spitefulness and bitterness are inevitable with so many people, so much pain and so much craziness.

    Please stick around and add your own friendliness to the mix. Show us your example.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Richard,

    “Wondering which religion is more delusional, by nature of the number of gods believed or by nature of the bizarreness of the beliefs is not very useful because there is no way (that I can figure, at least) to quantify delusion into countable units.”

    I think you could ask the broader populace to assign a figure to each idea, say out of ten, and average it.

    It’s not an exact science – but nor is the kind of psychology that suggests that religious belief of any kind is a delusion. That’s not an objective claim, and it misses the same kind of hypothetical thinking that you praised.

    I would be happy to hear any atheists to say “If God exists we are delusional”… I think that’s both reasonable and rational. Provided we understand delusion as not understanding the true nature of reality.

    “Most atheists will believe, or to say it more accurately, have confidence in the veracity of a claim because there is convincing evidence. An absence of such evidence will result in an absence of such confidence.”

    Where is the evidence that this is the best framework for understanding the world?

    At this point I’ll refer to Hammurabi’s neat little syllogism… and suggest that one of the fundamental points is fallacious.

    “Any supernatural entity that intervenes with reality requires x number of suspensions of the natural mechanisms of the universe.”

    I don’t actually think “intervention” necessarily contravenes natural mechanisms. We know and understand the science of the cycle that leads to rain – this does not meant that God does not set the cycle in motion or cause patterns in the weather that lead to rain when it is prayed for…

    I don’t think God works contrary to science – except in the person of Jesus Christ who was unique, physical, and met most of the criteria atheists I talk to put forward as “evidence” that they would accept for God.

    Perhaps God would be more forthcoming with providing living, breathing, evidence if we hadn’t taken the last opportunity for observation and nailed him to a couple of planks of wood in a humiliating fashion.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “So just so that you can better understand our viewpoint, the amount of things that you believe or the strangeness of what you believe is not the central reason that we disagree. It’s about the causes of your beliefs.”

    That may be true for you – though I find, in my experience, the reason that most atheists are atheists has nothing to do with the causes of my beliefs – that may be an apologetic framework that develops later.

    I’d say people become atheists because they don’t like the options of God put forward by whatever religion they’re brought up in. That was certainly the impression I got when PZ Myers sent a horde of angry (and unfriendly) atheists to my blog a couple of weeks ago… most of the commenters were bitter and twisted about the specific idea of the Christian God, or the specific experiences they’d had in their failed indoctrination.

    I don’t think not liking the way God works is a valid reason for unbelief.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    Whenever I see a clip like this featuring any religion I wonder how people can fall for it. If you approach a faith from a completely neutral position, with a broad general knowledge of science and with an inquisitive mind every one is revealed as a myth passed on to others.

    OK, we all fall for myths from time to time that’s why we have snopes and mythbusters but shouldn’t they make an effort to check their sources. Shouldn’t those entering a religion find out what the ideas presented are based on? Shouldn’t those already within a religion take time to reassess their faith and examine its roots? As an atheist I know that I do.

    Nathan wrote

    I don’t think not liking the way God works is a valid reason for unbelief.

    You’re absolutely right. It assumes a priori that there is a god and that this god’s works are the cause of suffering and pain. This is more the position of a Satanist than an atheist.

  • Neal Jansons

    They are supposed to respond like this, they are instructed specifically to say this.

  • DoubleW

    If you have a belief that something is true, why are you annoyed when someone asks you if it is? If you believe in the existence of tiny pink elephants, then your answer to such question is “Yes, i do believe in tiny pink elephants”. If you’re offended, that means you know it’s all lies.

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Nathan, this is a fun back-and-forth.

    I think you could ask the broader populace to assign a figure to each idea, say out of ten, and average it.

    I think all we’d get there is a survey of the most popular notions. Whether they’re actually delusional would not be shown by how popular or how unpopular they are. That fallacious argument is so old it has a Latin name, so I’m not sure that’s what you meant to say. Anyway, whether they are delusional would have to be shown by some kind of comparison to reality. Most of the notions you’re referring to are not testable in such a way.

    I would be happy to hear any atheists to say “If God exists we are delusional”… I think that’s both reasonable and rational. Provided we understand delusion as not understanding the true nature of reality.

    Ohh. I think this may be a source of confusion between us. I think of “delusion” as a persistent belief that is not correct, or that persists in the face of contradicting evidence. You are using it here as “not understanding the true nature of reality.” I would call that situation “ignorance.”

    Using “delusion” my way, then most atheists could not say that if God exists then they are delusional, because they simply do not have any belief inside their heads about any gods to be correct or incorrect.

    They are simply unconvinced. So I guess if there was a god they could say they were ignorant.

    Having no beliefs about gods does not mean having a belief that there is no god. These are two separate things. By far, most atheists do the former. I know only a few who do the latter.

    This is often a hard distinction to make for a believer. It really is possible to have no belief about a given claim. Having a contradicting belief in its place is not necessary. For most atheists, a lack of evidence results only in a lack of belief. A contradicting belief would require its own evidence, and regarding gods, there’s not much of that either way.

    Where is the evidence that this is the best framework for understanding the world?

    You just asked for evidence while implying that looking for evidence is not necessarily the best framework for understanding the world. Oh please. I’m alive, my wife is alive and my daughter is alive all because of an evidence-based framework for understanding the world. The previously used framework resulted in mass death preceded by hideous pain. Maybe I’m being gullible, but that is pretty convincing evidence for me.

    Every believer who eschews requests for evidence while pretending to posess some loftier experience of reality will suddenly become a dedicated empiricist when he’s accused of a serious crime of which he is innocent. He’ll want a good lawyer, of course, but having a silver-tongued barrister won’t be enough to make him feel secure. No, he’ll want solid, physical evidence on his side. You know, like a knife with the victim’s blood on the blade and another person’s fingerprints on the handle, and a video placing him, the defendant many miles away at the time of the dirty deed.

    Tap into that non-evidential way of understanding the world the next time you get a toothache. I hope it works.

    I don’t think God works contrary to science – except in the person of Jesus Christ who was unique, physical, and met most of the criteria atheists I talk to put forward as “evidence” that they would accept for God.

    A story in an old book is not evidence. Otherwise, Oz is a real place. A book is not true simply because it says it’s true. It has to refer to evidence outside of itself, and that evidence has to be pertinent to the specific claims it makes. Evidence is three-dimensional and has mass. It can be observed by more than one person. It does not require special, privileged perception to perceive it. When measured by more than one person, the measurements are not exactly the same, but they are close.

    Perhaps God would be more forthcoming with providing living, breathing, evidence if we hadn’t taken the last opportunity for observation and nailed him to a couple of planks of wood in a humiliating fashion.

    What, did we hurt his feelings? Is he pouting? I thought he knew all that butchery was going to happen ahead of time, being omniscient and all, and that’s why he came down. To do that blood sacrifice thing. Otherwise, if those guys had left him alone, they’d have made him wrong. That couldn’t happen, could it?

    I said:

    So just so that you can better understand our viewpoint, the amount of things that you believe or the strangeness of what you believe is not the central reason that we disagree. It’s about the causes of your beliefs.

    To which you replied:

    That may be true for you – though I find, in my experience, the reason that most atheists are atheists has nothing to do with the causes of my beliefs – that may be an apologetic framework that develops later.

    I think you may have misunderstood me, and I’m sorry. I’ll state it differently. Delusion or not delusion is not what most atheists focus on. Convincing evidence or no convincing evidence is what they focus on.

    I’d say people become atheists because they don’t like the options of God put forward by whatever religion they’re brought up in. That was certainly the impression I got when PZ Myers sent a horde of angry (and unfriendly) atheists to my blog a couple of weeks ago… most of the commenters were bitter and twisted about the specific idea of the Christian God, or the specific experiences they’d had in their failed indoctrination.

    I don’t think not liking the way God works is a valid reason for unbelief.

    Look. Atheists come from many various backgrounds with many various experiences. For you to psychoanalyze them in simplistic, blanket terms, using the old “they are angry at God” canard or the “they were hurt by some misguided religious person” canard is to completely miss the point and to miss the opportunity to know and understand some wonderful people, just as wonderful as your Christian friends. It’s unfortunate that your blog was invaded by some angry atheists. By the look of your post, you were provoking some anger by telling them about themselves rather than asking them about themselves.

    Try it. Ask about our thoughts, feelings and actions, rather than telling us.

    Angry, serene, hurt, uninjured, bitter or sweet, atheists cannot be lumped into one characterization. They are simply unconvinced because they need more than stories, pleasant feelings and wishful thinking to convince them of what you believe. They’re not being stubborn or defiant. They simply by their nature need something to convince them that has so far not been forthcoming.

    Nathan, I have no interest in challenging your beliefs about gods. I am only interested in challenging your beliefs about atheists. Because those beliefs, persisting in the face of contradictory evidence, are definitely delusional.

  • Jerad

    Nathan: if god ends up being proven to exist I’ll admit my supposition was wrong. As would, I think 99.9% of atheists. Remember atheist doesn’t mean “believes there isn’t a god,” but “doesn’t believe there is a god” huge difference.

    As for your blog post that got swarmed upon… it really did exhibit the stereotypes of a christian that never bothered to meet an atheist (for those that don’t know Nathan is referring to the five things that would make atheists seem nicer that was bouncing around a while ago. http://st-eutychus.com/2009/five-things-that-would-make-atheists-seem-nicer/ )

    Richard Wade: I always love reading your writings here, when are you gonna start a blog of your own?

  • Jesavius

    I remember when I lived in LA me and my girlfriend would pass the church of Scientology a lot due to our bus route went through sunset blvd. For laughs and giggles we went in to take a survey and tour. I must say they do have their crap together and I can see why a lot of people join them. It seems to be a great alternative to Christianity. My feeling why the spokesperson was angered with the question is why many believers are angered when posed with a question that mocks their religion. One thing that I got from the tour is the orthodox of the religion. Like all religions it’s very systematic and community based. Like all religions if you follow the doctrine faithfully, responsibly, and blindingly you’ll actually have a nice life. That’s how I explain why there are so many successful christian scientists. So to say you guys believe in some guy named xenu who put alien souls in volcano’s is missing the point. Martin Bashir should have phrased it much more professional instead of like a tabloid journalist. Of course the spokesperson would have then responded that he couldn’t divulge that type of information. Yeah, L Ron Hubbard informed that people wouldn’t be able to handle that story. Reason of course secrecy always elevates the information that is being withheld. Which of course is a cop out, but, dude, you’re an English journalist what the hell is it with trying to sound like a FOX anchorman. Is NBC getting their asses handed to them in ratings that bad by FOX?

  • http://seangill-insidemyhead.blogspot.com/ SeanG

    I don’t have anything to add except I want to clear up the confusion about pantheism. There are several varieties of it. Naturalistic Pantheism is the type that many atheists can get behind. NP throws out everything supernatural. There are other versions of pantheism where god=universe. In NP, universe=freakin’ cool, and I can understand it with science.

    Wikipedia has a pretty good page:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheism#Varieties_of_pantheism

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I don’t really buy the argument that polytheism has more delusion than monotheism. Is seems to me that it is irrelevant how you divide up your “woo”. You can have all your “woo” in belief in one God or have your “woo” divided up in belief in n-gods. Either way, it is all the same “woo”. Atheists, on the other hand, simply discipline themselves to gain knowledge about the word using the scientific method. Where there is no knowledge, there is ignorance but there is no shame in ignorance. We don’t need “woo” to fill in ignorance. The scientific method is methodically increasing and refining knowledge. Will it eventually explain everything? Perhaps not, but I simply prefer to say “I don’t know” about certain things verses having a belief in “woo”.

    I do say that this is an interesting conversation. Thank you Nathan for your thoughts.

  • muggle

    Nathan, Richard said it so much better and so much more patiently than I would. But, frankly, I couldn’t care less about your dang opinion.

    Of course, I am one of the exceptions who is not afraid to state positively there is no god. Do I have to prove this? About as much as I have to prove there aren’t really fairies at the bottom of your garden.

    “storming out of the room like my 3yo when I told her that Cinderella was “just pretend.” Yeah, that was kind of a dick thing for me to do.” LOL, ATL! I had to do the same thing with my six year old grandson ala his desire to acquire a magic wand like a certain Mr. Harry Potter’s. His first grade class is learning the difference between fiction and nonfiction and I said upon his wishing for said wand for about the 500th time, you do realize that Harry Potter’s fiction, don’t you? He didn’t quite storm out the room but did pout a bit!

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    And If I am deluded you’re right to laugh at the absurdities of mine – as I am right to laugh at your absurd “head in the sand” disbelief in the God who created the world.

    Nathan, the quote above seems to reveal fundamental ignorance about atheism. I was born an atheist. I have never believed in any gods. I was never indoctrinated into any religion. It’s not like I go through my daily life obsessed with deities in general, let alone your particular deity. My disbelief is natural and organic. I was simply never convinced to believe otherwise. I’m not sticking my head in the sand, denying all this wonderful, convincing evidence for the supernatural. I have seen no evidence for it whatsoever. And if I do see such evidence, I am open to changing my mind.

    There’s a reason that so many atheists are frustrated by their interactions with theists. It’s that many of them simply don’t seem to understand us. They automatically assume that we are trying not to believe in their god. They think that we secretly do believe but are being childish and petulant by denying that their god (remember, it’s always a particular god) exists. They think we are atheists because a religious person did something bad to us. I was never hurt by any religious person. I simply don’t find religious stories convincing. You can’t will yourself to believe in something that you don’t find convincing.

    Asking us what we believe is fine, but please don’t presume to tell us what we believe, like you know our thoughts and experiences better than we do.

  • Siamang

    Anna said:

    And if I do see such evidence, I am open to changing my mind.

    At the risk of disrespecting the conversation, I will nevertheless caution Nathan in anticipation of a line of argument which he may attempt.

    Nathan, please don’t let your next argument be “well, even if I HAD lock-solid evidence, you wouldn’t believe it anyway.”

    It’s usually the next move of apologists at this point. I’m trying to wave you off of that claim if you were about to employ it.

    If this wasn’t an argument that you were going to forward, I apologize in advance. I by no means intend to second guess you.

  • Anon

    Xenu, LOL

  • http://twitter.com/Nanti_SARRMM Sam, the Nanti-SARRMM

    And yes, those beliefs that have no basis in reality should be questioned and believers should have to defend themselves constantly. We shouldn’t just let them get away with beliefs that have consequence in our world.

    So what influence does the belief in Xenu, or whoever he is, have on everyday life or other facets of other Christian denominations that don’t generally affect the public?

    It’s not harmless, either. People who don’t believe in the nonsense can’t get elected in our country. People die over their adherence (or lack of it) to these beliefs.

    We’d be better off without them. It wouldn’t fix all our problems, obviously, but a large source of several of them.

    Yes, there are some unfortunate consequences to a predominate religion in America. I agree that candidates for political office shouldn’t have to be be treated to the type of unofficial religious test that goes on and other things that occur of that nature.

    However, you cannot say that we, as a nation or even civilization, are better off without them. There are so many positive roles that religion plays in day to day life that it’d be impossible to discount them. Looking at the tangible benefits, you have the Red Cross, Salvation Army, the LDS Church/Mormons and many others who respond to disasters, who volunteer to give their goods, to help in times of need. Think of things like Katrina and other major disasters. Religious groups provided aid to them, helped rebuild areas, all voluntary actions.

    So my argument is that even though you think and claim that religion has no sensible purpose and should be exposed for the fraud that you think it is, doesn’t mean that your thoughts on it are correct or that Religion doesn’t have some influence for good.

  • Siamang

    The Red Cross is not a religious organization.

    There are so many positive roles that religion plays in day to day life that it’d be impossible to discount them.

    I’d argue that religions often take their cut “off the top”, then give back some to charity.

    If you’re stealing billions from grannys across the country, then give millions to build a hospital wing, you come off looking like quite the philanthropist.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    In a good year the church where I used to go spent about 10% of its tithing proceeds on charity. In the last couple of years, the church could barely pay its staff and utility bills with nothing left over for charity. Not a very efficient charitable organization. They were far more interested in pure evangelism.

  • Siamang

    Anon. LOL.

  • medussa

    How can you call yourself a spokesperson for an organization when you won’t speak on the subject?

    If Bashir’s phrasing was so offensive (which I didn’t perceive), then please educate him and his audience as to the more appropriate phrasing? Just saying “that’s offensive”, but not explaining why, is not being a spokesperson.

    How often have theists asked me “why do you want to be queer?” or “do you want to die of AIDS?” or “why do you hate men?”. Or for that matter “why do you hate the church?”
    And to merely answer “that’s offensive” is my right, but isn’t in any way educational or helpful, and certainly unbecoming for a spokesperson.
    You don’t have to get into every detail, but you can start by saying that being gay is not a choice, and I don’t hate men, or the church for that matter. Oh, and lesbians are the least likely group to get AIDS…

    The right way to handle this would be to say something along the lines of “Martin, that’s offensive. What we believe has been completely distorted. Here’s what the truth is: yada, yada, yada.” Or “Yes, I do believe in Xenu, but what that means has been distorted”, or better yet, “No, I don’t. Xenu is an allegory that represents blah blah blah”.

    I might not believe him, but at least he’d retain the right to call himself a spokesperson for the religion.

  • http://bespokeblog.wordpress.com Ben Keller

    Nathan:

    I find the mono/polytheistic level-of-delusion debate similar to saying that the man who says he was abducted and probed by four aliens is less deluded than the man who said it was five.

    Ben

  • http://web.utk.edu/~bvanderf/ Hazor

    It irks me when people are offended only because they want to be or have been told they should be.

    I know little of scientology, I’ll admit, but is it really so wrong for him to say, “No, I don’t believe that. As I just said, it’s a lot of misconceptions or lies.”? Is it really so unacceptable an idea that the sheer notion of using it as a response should offend them?

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Concerning Zenu.

    There seems to be a psychological principle here that a religion needs some kind of crazy component in order for the adherents to accept to get them to cross some kind of psychological threshold to become devout. Only then will they reliably tithe and spread the word. If Scientology was just a group of people using a fancy “lie-detector” test as an aid in psychotherapy, they wouldn’t have the devout celebrities giving them all that money. They probably start out with some basic psychotherapy that gives the newbies some relief, then through a variety of strategies (possibly involving the “device”) they get the people to end up believing in Xenu. Once the Xenu belief occurs, they “have you”. Of course, from outside the group, a belief in Xenu seems crazy. The spokes person knows this and they want to keep the Xenu aspect quiet so as not to scare possible new people away.

    A similar thing happens with Christianity with a belief in Jesus. Once you believe in Jesus, they “have you”. The only difference is that since Christianity is the dominant religion and there is so much peer pressure to be like everybody else, Christians can safely advertise the belief in Jesus.

    If Scientologists were the dominant religion, they would tell the world about Zenu and Christians would be “very careful” about when to broach the Jesus subject.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “If this wasn’t an argument that you were going to forward, I apologize in advance. I by no means intend to second guess you.”

    Funny then that that is exactly what you tried to do…

    “There’s a reason that so many atheists are frustrated by their interactions with theists. It’s that many of them simply don’t seem to understand us. They automatically assume that we are trying not to believe in their god. They think that we secretly do believe but are being childish and petulant by denying that their god (remember, it’s always a particular god) exists. They think we are atheists because a religious person did something bad to us. I was never hurt by any religious person.”

    That goes both ways – my problem with atheists is they don’t try to understand theists. We’re all lumped in together – much like you’re all suggesting I’ve done.

    I can’t “understand” atheists because all atheists are different, and are atheists for different reasons… but then it seems perfectly acceptable for you guys to make sweeping generalisations about theism even when we all clearly demarcate ourselves into sets of religious beliefs, denominations and philosophies. It’s much easier to address our beliefs specifically and yet you refuse to.

    I am a theist for very different reasons to the Muslim, the Scientologist or any presuppositionalist.

    I am a Christian because I believe the “evidence” about Jesus Christ is compelling. My theism probably comes inductively from that point. I suspect this is true for many, but not all, Christians.

  • Siamang

    Funny then that that is exactly what you tried to do…

    I’m confused, Nathan. Did I misunderstand you? That second quote isn’t by me.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “I don’t really buy the argument that polytheism has more delusion than monotheism. Is seems to me that it is irrelevant how you divide up your “woo”. You can have all your “woo” in belief in one God or have your “woo” divided up in belief in n-gods. Either way, it is all the same “woo”.”

    But isn’t a woooooooooooooooooooo by nature more of a delusional step than a woo?

    It would seem that given your fundamental supposition that no Gods exist each additional God that you add to your pile requires an additional delusion.

    While some people may be deconverted all at once into atheism, I suspect it is equally likely that you would have to convince them one by one.

    I know this flies a little in the face of modern atheist apologetics where you just lump all theism together and attack it. But as a believer I can tell you I find that position strange and unconvincing.

    On one hand one of the implicit aims of the “new atheism” seems to be to remove delusion from society – and on the other Muggle suggests he doesn’t need to prove his position on the Christian God any more than he does on fairies.

    My point would be that if your aim is to remove the Christian delusion from society (and there are many delusional Christians out there – particularly in the US) then you should probably start thinking about addressing Christian claims. And not the claims of dumb Christians – the claims of those Christians who set the Christian agenda. The theologians and the progressive (but not liberal) evangelical church.

    “As for your blog post that got swarmed upon… it really did exhibit the stereotypes of a christian that never bothered to meet an atheist”

    And yet, here’s the thing, I’m surrounded by atheists. Probably 90% of my friends are atheists. I discuss faith with maybe half of those regularly – and each comes at the topic with a different approach to atheism but a consistent (and incorrect) approach to Christianity. Most of them have some background (in their childhood) in Christianity and most make childlike assumptions about what Christianity is.

    I realise that Australian culture at this point is radically different to American culture largely because we’re mostly free of fundamentalist Christians who believe in a 6,000 year old earth, a literal thousand year reign of Satan on earth and some of the other fringe ideas that come from reading the book of Revelation as anything but a vision of hope for the early church facing incredible persecution from the Roman Empire.

  • Siamang

    then you should probably start thinking about addressing Christian claims.

    What claim hasn’t been addressed?

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Which claims have?

    Every time an atheist (or a “Christian”) brings up the Old Testament as though it’s a big stick it shows that they’re ignorant of the way the Bible works.

    The Old Testament establishes the need for a Messiah and gives some of the details of what that Messiah will look like.

    The law gives Israel (a picture of God’s people) an identity different to surrounding nations. It’s not for us to follow now – though some principles (like the ten commandments) are good and worth keeping.

    If you can’t grasp those points and want to run around telling me that the God of the Old Testament is an angry racist who kills children then I’m not really interested in engaging with the finer points of atheism.

    I don’t understand a) why God can’t be an angry racist who kills children (though I don’t think he is), or b) why atheists never seem to understand how Christians grapple with the issue of God doing things that we think (humanly speaking) are not good.

    You make all sorts of strawgod assumptions when dealing with the Christian God that are fairly easy to knock down.

    I got panned a bit for using “pantheism” in a way many deemed incorrect (because I did not acknowledge naturalistic pantheism) – I don’t think atheists rightly understand omniscience or omnipresence… And I don’t know where the idea of omnibenevolence came from but the idea that a good God must be good to everyone all the time is not found anywhere in the Bible – which is the instruction manual for the Christian God.

  • Siamang

    You make all sorts of strawgod assumptions when dealing with the Christian God that are fairly easy to knock down.

    hmmm… there’s that collective “you” again.

    Nathan, I’m an individual human being. Have a conversation with me, or any other individual here.

    Address us directly. Ask us individually to answer you.

    Which Christian claim would you like me, personally, Siamang, to address?

    Let’s have a conversation, not a harangue.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    Nathan you dislike all theists being lumped together and who can blame you. Who would want to be associated with the likes of Fred Phelps, Muslim suicide bombers and the money grabbing whack jobs of Scientology? Yet there is one thing that you have in common: you believe in gods. Similarly all atheists take the opposite view: we don’t believe in gods.

    What we unbelievers find incredible is that believers genuinely accept and support the claims of their religions by believing in gods. You have no evidence that supports your views and many alternative explanations that are more viable. The harm done in the name of religion throughout history is also well documented.

    It doesn’t matter whether it is a Muslim or a Christian making bombs to kill people who believe in different gods. It doesn’t matter if it is a Christian or a Jew who argues against equal rights for gay people. It really doesn’t matter because your beliefs colour your views and actions in the world we share and your beliefs are not based on something that we can accept.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    That goes both ways – my problem with atheists is they don’t try to understand theists. We’re all lumped in together – much like you’re all suggesting I’ve done.

    Which atheists are you talking about? That’s not something I personally have ever done. I fully recognize that all theists are different, and people are theists for a variety of reasons. However, in the end, doesn’t it come down to belief? No one would be a theist if they didn’t believe that their god existed. Surely we can agree on that?

    I can’t “understand” atheists because all atheists are different, and are atheists for different reasons… but then it seems perfectly acceptable for you guys to make sweeping generalisations about theism even when we all clearly demarcate ourselves into sets of religious beliefs, denominations and philosophies. It’s much easier to address our beliefs specifically and yet you refuse to.

    I have no interest in stereotyping theists or lumping them together. Obviously all religions are different, and that means all theists believe in different things. Sometimes the differences are slight; other times they are major. However, theism is theism. Definitionally, it’s a belief in a god or gods. Monotheism, polytheism and pantheism are all forms of theism. You seem to want atheists to take your form of theism more seriously than we take others? For us, they’re all foundationally the same. They’re all based on a belief in deities.

    Atheism, likewise, is a lack of belief in deities. Definitionally, that’s all it is. No matter what our backgrounds are, the one thing we have in common is that we lack belief in any god. Remember I said that I don’t think you understand atheism itself, which leads to you not being able to understand atheists. All atheists are different, but atheism is the same thing no matter how you slice it. And the stereotypes you mentioned simply don’t fit. If someone is “mad at God,” then that person isn’t an atheist. That person really does believe that a god exists. He or she is simply an angry, hurt, confused, or rebellious theist. If you insist on confusing the two, you’ll have very little chance of ever understanding us at all.

    I am a Christian because I believe the “evidence” about Jesus Christ is compelling.

    Yes, of course. Who would deny that? I do not doubt that theists are very sincere in their beliefs and are convinced that they are true. However, that does not make your brand of theism unique. Wouldn’t a devout Muslim feel the same? As atheists, we are simply not convinced that what you believe is true, just like we are not convinced that what Hindus or animists believe is true.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    hoverFrog,

    It doesn’t matter whether it is a Muslim or a Christian making bombs to kill people who believe in different gods.

    Atheists kill people too. This is hardly unique to theists.

    The fact that humans do bad things sometimes does not make me want to either stamp out all humanity.

    “It really doesn’t matter because your beliefs colour your views and actions in the world we share and your beliefs are not based on something that we can accept.”

    Again, you can reverse this statement and it’s true for Christians and their thoughts on atheists.

    Your belief on when life begins no doubt colours your thoughts on abortion.

    That’s something we find as heinous as you find our views on gay people. Really, if you consider the number of abortions going on and the potential future numbers we’re looking at a similar number of lives lost (assuming, as Christians do, that a fetus = human life).

    You ask for empathy and yet it doesn’t go both ways.

    The only thing that defines both groups (atheists and theists) is the point of nominal distinction. I believe in God. You don’t (or you remain unconvinced by the evidence – which really is too fine a point to actually consider as a difference).

    Why do you think that, given we are at irreconcilable points of difference on that matter, we are, as a society, better off living as though God does not exist rather than living as though he does? I’ll put two caveats on the question…
    1. Provided there is some sort of systemic provision for people not to believe in God, and the ability for those people to determine their conduct with regards to personal morality.
    2. Your answer should not refer to “evidence for God” because Christians believe we have evidence for God in the beauty and complexity of creation. We interpret the facts differently.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Siamang,

    How about you, specifically, describe to me your understanding of the Christian God and explain how you think the Old Testament works in the minds of normal Christians (not the fringe fundamentalists).

    Orthodox Christian belief has been pretty cut and dried on this matter for thousands of years, and it’s not the version we see in America. Modern fundamentalist doctrine was established in the early 20th century and most Christians globally did not buy into the idea that Levitical laws should be applied either to Christians or the general public.

  • Siamang

    How about you, specifically, describe to me your understanding of the Christian God and explain how you think the Old Testament works in the minds of normal Christians

    Sorry, I couldn’t begin to guess which set of beliefs is “normal.”

    I know there’s a really, really wide range, believed in by Christians of lots of different variation.

    Looking at the OT myself, it just looks like a bunch of old legends and laws.

    My understanding of the Christian God is that it’s assumed to be a creator of the universe, and an interactive force in people’s lives. It’s assumed to have a character and personality, and self-awareness. It’s assumed to have desires and a desired set of behaviors that it wishes humans to follow.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    You want to talk about arguing against a strawman?

    my problem with atheists is they don’t try to understand theists.

    Just who on earth are you talking about? I’d be willing to bet that MOST of the people posting here WERE theists.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Oh, and

    How about you, specifically, describe to me your understanding of the Christian God and explain how you think the Old Testament works in the minds of normal Christians

    That’s a lovely Courtier’s Reply.

    I don’t need to know anything about your god to know that the evidence presented for its existence is rather paltry.

    Your answer should not refer to “evidence for God” because Christians believe we have evidence for God in the beauty and complexity of creation. We interpret the facts differently.

    Oh, please. The beauty and complexity of creation are overrated. If you use that as an argument for your god, you’re just ignoring the simple and ugly sides of the universe. Not to mention that, at best, that’s an argument for a deistic god, CERTAINLY not the Yahweh of the Bible.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Richard,

    Sorry, I missed your thoughtful and lengthy comment while replying to later discussions…

    Let me rectify that.

    “Every believer who eschews requests for evidence while pretending to posess some loftier experience of reality will suddenly become a dedicated empiricist when he’s accused of a serious crime of which he is innocent. He’ll want a good lawyer, of course, but having a silver-tongued barrister won’t be enough to make him feel secure. No, he’ll want solid, physical evidence on his side. You know, like a knife with the victim’s blood on the blade and another person’s fingerprints on the handle, and a video placing him, the defendant many miles away at the time of the dirty deed.”

    Yes, but a good eye-witness account, or four, would be helpful too.

    I think evidence is great and helpful. I just think all evidence is tainted by philosophy. Perhaps a better question – and the one I was trying to ask – is “who says scientific naturalism is the best form of evidence”?

    It’s good. Certainly. A naturalistic understanding of things helps us understand the way things work. But understanding the way something works does not do away with the thing that makes things work that way. Gravity didn’t suddenly disappear when we understood that it existed and its effects – we even gave it a name.

    Why does God disappear simply because we can better mechanically explain his actions?

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Why does God disappear simply because we can better explain his actions?

    You really ought to think these things through more.

    Why does Zeus disappear simply because we can better explain his actions?

    When you can answer that question in a fashion that does not similarly dismiss your own God, you’ll have a point to make.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    A story in an old book is not evidence. Otherwise, Oz is a real place. A book is not true simply because it says it’s true.

    Ahh, but it was actually a story in four widely circulated accounts that were later edited into one volume for ease of access.

    It has to refer to evidence outside of itself, and that evidence has to be pertinent to the specific claims it makes.

    That seems to be a pretty narrow understanding of evidence. If only one source exists that does not make the source “not evidence” it makes it a lesser form of evidence.

    The men who wrote the gospels (and I mean understood in the orthodox sense not in the sense postulated by those at the fringes of theological research who publish directly to the masses rather than in peer reviewed academic literature) did so with a seemingly genuine belief that what they wrote was true – and it was believed by many people of their generation who saw Jesus in the flesh. There was ample opportunity to nip Christianity in the bud early on – and yet the manuscripts of the gospels were distributed widely in a culture that mostly relied on the spoken word for dissemination of ideas. There were, as I mentioned, plenty of people who saw Jesus. It should not surprise us, based on their culture, that few written accounts exist. It would be a surprise to me if the written accounts were allowed to survive in that time if they were remarkably different to the spoken accounts.

    Evidence is three-dimensional and has mass. It can be observed by more than one person. It does not require special, privileged perception to perceive it.

    Yes, which is exactly why I believe that Jesus is the pivotal character in the question of theism v atheism. He claimed to be God. He appeared in testable form to many witnesses – and used spokespeople who certainly weren’t the “specially privelaged” people culturally speaking – a troupe of fishermen, outcasts and labourers.

    When measured by more than one person, the measurements are not exactly the same, but they are close.

    We have written accounts, accounts that aren’t the same, but are close. Both from eyewitnesses and a researcher who spoke to eyewitnesses.

    Ironically I think Jesus met every standard of evidence you just put forward – the fact that I personally wasn’t there means I have to rely on the accounts of others. I don’t have a problem with that.

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  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “Why does Zeus disappear simply because we can better explain his actions?”

    Why should Zeus appear in the first place?

    I would rule Zeus out because I rule Jesus in.

    Here’s why your atheist v theist paradigm doesn’t work when you’re talking to Christians (or at least Christians like me).

    I don’t start off assuming God and then pick one – I start off being convinced by the evidence surrounding Jesus – if his claims are true and he was resurrected then the Old Testament becomes legitimate and the God of the Bible exists.

    If I was not convinced about Jesus and his divinity then I would probably be an atheist. All the other gods look too much like the kind of gods humans would invent.

    A God who suffers in our place in a humiliating manner who we don’t earn love and respect from by our deeds is unique amongst any religions I’ve discovered.

  • Siamang

    Well, I’ll let Richard respond to you in his own fashion point by point.

    I’ll just give you my own experience of what you said, Nathan. And it’s just this:

    People are superstitious. People today, and people then.

    I don’t think that the testimony of a few followers of a charismatic cult leader thousands of years ago are sufficient to establish the existence of a supernatural realm. If you think the supernatural exists, *show me the supernatural*. If all you’ve got is a book where the supernatural supposedly happened, well, I’m sorry, but I cannot force myself to believe something I don’t believe based on nothing more than “well, this book says so….”

    It’s a book written by men. Men are fallible. Men are easily deceived. Especially people from a superstitious time, in a superstitious place, writing about all sorts of magical events.

    All I’ve got is my own reaction to what you say. And honestly, my reaction, gut reaction, is that it’s just a bunch of old legends.

    Show me the supernatural. Not a book about the supernatural.

    PROPORTIONALITY is the standard by which most of us evaluate the claims of others. Trivial claims require trivial evidence… usually no evidence, you just rely on general goodwill to accept them.

    If I told you I owned a chevrolet, you would accept evidence proportional to that claim. If you found me particularly untrustworthy, you might require I show you the car keys or the title deed.

    If I told you I owned a lear jet, and yet dressed like a homeless person, you might require evidence proportional to that… you may require that I show you the jet and talk to the people at the airport.

    If I told you I commanded the United States Air Force, you would require an altogether more impressive body of evidence before you believed me. You would require to see me in uniform, and on the news with the President, and with an everpresent company of Airmen of very high rank. You would require that I live near Washington DC, and you would require that I would have a multi-decade history of military service of high distinction.

    A few chapters written in an old book is not proportionate to the claim that the normal laws of nature were temporarily suspended and a God-man walked the Earth, two-thousand years ago.

    As David Hume put it:

    ‘That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish….’ When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Siamang,

    I’m happy for you to make decisions on the basis of your gut feel.

    I’m not happy for you to call me delusional because my gut feel leads to a different conclusion.

    At the end of the day that’s a question of your gut feel and my gut feel.

    “A few chapters written in an old book is not proportionate to the claim that the normal laws of nature were temporarily suspended and a God-man walked the Earth, two-thousand years ago.”

    Again, that trivialises the matter. It wasn’t just a few chapters in an old book. It was many chapters in at least four books that were widely circulated amongst people who didn’t have a particularly strong written tradition (because of literacy levels), which was accompanied by a speaking circuit that stretched as far as the eyewitnesses could roam – that also led to the death of these eyewitnesses who refused to recant their claims in order to save their lives.

    There would have been ample opportunity for those opposed to Jesus to discredit his documented miracles much closer to the time they occurred.

    Refusing to believe something just because it happened a long time ago seems odd. Particularly given the free reign we’re prepared to give speculative science (and I’m not talking evolution at this point) on the matter. How many billions have been invested into experiments like the Large Hadron Collider on the basis of speculation?

    Regarding Hume and the miraculous – I would agree with his position.

    When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived…

    What makes you think that a group of fishermen and blue collar workers would start up a belief system to purposefully deceive people? They don’t strike me as deceitful – particularly when you consider that one of the fundamental tenants of Christianity is “don’t lie”… I find that suggestion unlikely.

    Either your suggesting that the disciples and the leaders of the early church were purposely deceitful or Jesus was. And I think that’s unlikely.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    There were, as I mentioned, plenty of people who saw Jesus. It should not surprise us, based on their culture, that few written accounts exist.

    Sure. But we have none from people who saw him. Unless you want us to believe that, when the oldest gospel was written around 70AD, it was written by an eyewitness who decided not to write anything for 40 years after Jesus’ death. In fact, the earliest post-Christ writings – those of Paul – show great discrepancies with the teachings of the gospels.

    Why should Zeus appear in the first place?

    I would rule Zeus out because I rule Jesus in.

    So the first deity you’re convinced of is the one that must exist?

    Please. I asked for an argument that can dismiss other gods but not yours. Your reply was a dodge, not an argument. Why should Yahweh appear in the first place?

    I don’t start off assuming God and then pick one – I start off being convinced by the evidence surrounding Jesus – if his claims are true and he was resurrected then the Old Testament becomes legitimate and the God of the Bible exists.

    For you to even give passing credulity to the idea that Jesus’ claims of godhood were true, you had to begin with the assumption that a god existed, and that miracles such as a resurrection were not only possible, but likely to have actually happened. You could not otherwise accept such a proposition. Saying that you did not begin by assuming God is like saying that you can conclude that a particular dragon is most likely to exist when you never started with a belief in dragons and there is no evidence that such things exist besides the word of people who believe in dragons.

    Not to mention that your conclusion does not follow from your premise. Does Jesus ever claim to be the god of Abraham? Does he seem at all similar to the god of the old testament? What if his claims were false, but he were still resurrected? Even if his claims were true and he were resurrected, how on earth does that say anything about the Old Testament, which was essentially constructed by committee vote? It’s a human document, not a divine one.

    Also not to mention that your only source of evidence to substantiate Jesus’ claims is that of a single collection of texts with little to no external confirmation. If this is a valid source of objective evidence, then so is any collection of religious texts.

    If I was not convinced about Jesus and his divinity then I would probably be an atheist. All the other gods look too much like the kind of gods humans would invent.

    What makes you think yours isn’t, and all the others are? Your god is an emotional, judgmental, temperamental being with serious self-confidence problems. He even says that his name is Jealous. He’s a human being writ large. He’s precisely the sort of thing that people would invent. So is the Christian afterlife – an eternity of bliss without any suffering for the good guys, and a vicious revenge fantasy come to life for the bad guys. If that doesn’t smack of human invention, I don’t know what does.

    I’ll repeat what I said before: What makes you think yours isn’t man-made, and all the others are? When you can answer that question in a fashion that does not similarly dismiss your own God, you’ll have a point to make. An argument that is evidence for everything is evidence for nothing. You need to come up with something exclusive to your god.

    A God who suffers in our place in a humiliating manner who we don’t earn love and respect from by our deeds is unique amongst any religions I’ve discovered.

    It’s not unique. You have not looked very hard.

    But I find that it’s repugnant. A deity that favors worship over good works is one that has no care for the condition of mortal beings. His own pride is more important to him than any good we can do. This world is utterly meaningless to Yahweh.

    Not to mention that the idea that the god had to suffer in our place is astonishing. Did he not have any better way to solve the problem? Why create the need for that suffering in the first place?

    I believe that Jesus is the pivotal character in the question of theism v atheism.

    And it is for this very reason that you almost certainly don’t understand what atheism is.

    Atheism is not denial of your beliefs. It is disbelief in all gods. Yours is only one of many. It is not any more central to the idea of theism vs. atheism than is Quetzalcoatl. Your god holds no special place to anyone but you and other believers.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Nathan, I appreciate that your beliefs are special to you. I also appreciate that the beliefs of an adherent of any other theology is special to them. With all the world’s diverse religions it is apparent that god-belief is initially an emotional sub-conscious decision where one only then goes looking for “evidence” later to substantiate it.

    I do admit that I don’t understand why religious people think their God needs or wants to be worshipped. I don’t understand the concept of a God demanding faith as a criteria for entrance into heaven. That to me sounds like a human invention (by religious leaders of old). I don’t have any faith in any particular holy book. I am of the mind that the laws of nature are not any different now than they were 2000 (or 6000) years ago. I don’t think there was a time in the past when miracles happened but then later stopped. I think all the miracles in the bible are of the same stature as “weeping statues” and “Jesus on toast” that we still hear about today. People see and interpret what they want to see. It would be SO EASY for a god to demonstrate His divinity but it never seems to happen. All we have is old stories written by superstitious people from long ago. I don’t think the gospel authors ever saw or met Jesus. I think they were simply penning an oral legend to concur with Old Testament prophesy. If it wasn’t for some clever chap adding Revelation 22:18-19 to the end of the new Testament, we probably would have about a thousand additional books to the bible by now instead of just the Book of Mormon.

    P.S. I do like the golden rule, the notion of not being selfish, and leaving a little bit in life to “chance” but one doesn’t need a whole supernatural worldview to adhere to those pseudo-Christian principles.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “For you to even give passing credulity to the idea that Jesus’ claims of godhood were true, you had to begin with the assumption that a god existed, and that miracles such as a resurrection were not only possible, but likely to have actually happened.”

    Not true. I had to start by saying – this Jesus guy seems culturally important maybe I should see what the fuss is about.

    I didn’t have to start by assuming God – I had to start by investigating the claims Jesus made.

    Saying that you did not begin by assuming God is like saying that you can conclude that a particular dragon is most likely to exist when you never started with a belief in dragons and there is no evidence that such things exist besides the word of people who believe in dragons.

    No, au contraire, if I came across significant belief in dragons and the people believing in dragons said “you should believe in dragons”, then my job is to investigate either the independent claims of dragons or a dragon’s claim to dragonhood does not necessitate a previous belief in dragons.

    “Does Jesus ever claim to be the god of Abraham”

    Yes. Assuming the accounts are accurate, for a moment at least, he makes significant claims to be the Messiah and the one prophecied about in the OT – and when Peter says “show us the father” he says “if you have seen me you have seen the father” etc.

    “Also not to mention that your only source of evidence to substantiate Jesus’ claims is that of a single collection of texts with little to no external confirmation.”

    Indeed. Though I question the need for external confirmation or even objectivity in order for a document to be true. I would rather have a source of information that reveals its bias than a source of information that is inherently biased that claims to be objective.

    Bias does not equal untruth.

    “If this is a valid source of objective evidence, then so is any collection of religious texts.”

    Indeed. And at this point I would direct you to my answer on the question of the existence of Zeus. I see no reason to believe in Zeus. Or in any other God, because they look exactly like the type of God that humans would create. I don’t think Jesus looks like that.

    Judaism and Islam make quite contrary claims about Jesus. I can only hold on to one of them. So I eliminate those two on different basis. Islam because it’s the word of one psychotic prophet and Judaism because I believe the Old Testament to be a precursor to Jesus.

    What other texts deal with Jesus? Given that he’s my starting point I’m only really considering claims made about him.

    I think we can all see that Scientology is a pyramid scheme and the Mormons are the fanciful invention of a single American fraudster almost two thousand years after the fact.

    Their popularity can be explained by their benefits. In Scientology you become famous and in Mormonism, America has a more important role to play in God’s eyes.

    “It’s not unique. You have not looked very hard.”

    Examples please.

    “A deity that favors worship over good works is one that has no care for the condition of mortal beings. His own pride is more important to him than any good we can do. This world is utterly meaningless to Yahweh.”

    Your first premise contradicts your conclusion. Worship (or glory) gives meaning to this world (so far as Yahweh is concerned). That’s a fundamental tenant of much orthodox Christianity – the chief end of man is to glorify God.

    You might believe that were you God you would do things differently – but that says nothing of the nature of God.

    “Not to mention that the idea that the god had to suffer in our place is astonishing. Did he not have any better way to solve the problem? Why create the need for that suffering in the first place?”

    If he had created a better method where your salvation was guaranteed and no suffering existed where would the glory be in that situation? If that is the purpose of creation? And how would you feel if your autonomy was so impinged? The only option would be to remove your freedom to live your life your way.

    “And it is for this very reason that you almost certainly don’t understand what atheism is.”

    Yes, I apologise. I should have framed that better. I thought my point was obvious given that my argument is that atheist apologetics don’t work for Christians because they don’t address the fact that our worldview starts at Jesus and radiates outwards from there (in many cases).

    What I meant is “I personally believe that Jesus is the pivotal character in the question of theism v atheism. Because I think the question of God’s existence hangs on the question of the divinity of Jesus.”

    This is because I too reject all other Gods. On much the same basis that you do.

    Atheism is not denial of your beliefs. It is disbelief in all gods. Yours is only one of many. It is not any more central to the idea of theism vs. atheism than is Quetzalcoatl. Your god holds no special place to anyone but you and other believers.

    And yet I don’t see Quetzalcoatl claiming to have come to earth to fulfill well documented prophecies and claiming to be divine.

    It’s quite possible that Quetzalcoatl is the real God and I am misguided. But I don’t think so.

    And were there a claim from a competing deity I’d have to weigh it up against the claims of Jesus – which I have already found to be convincing. It’s likely I’d be biased against that sort of claim.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Not true. I had to start by saying – this Jesus guy seems culturally important maybe I should see what the fuss is about.

    I didn’t have to start by assuming God – I had to start by investigating the claims Jesus made.

    That you think it is logical to assume the supernatural as a reasonable conclusion based solely on the popularity and influence of a belief system and the claim that a bronze age text is true and reliable is really quite astonishing.

    Your first premise contradicts your conclusion. Worship (or glory) gives meaning to this world (so far as Yahweh is concerned). That’s a fundamental tenant of much orthodox Christianity – the chief end of man is to glorify God.

    No, it really doesn’t. If the chief end of man is to glorify God, then this world is meaningless. It’s the glorification that matters, and any and all human suffering is justifiable so long as the glorification continues. What’s with his self-esteem issues, anyways? Why the need to constantly be worshiped?

    You might believe that were you God you would do things differently – but that says nothing of the nature of God.

    Actually, YES, it says quite a lot. If I can think of a more humane way to solve problems than through the repeated slaughter of human beings (the flood, the Red Sea, Jesus, etc.), then my nature is significantly more considerate of mankind than that of the god of the Bible. That the Biblical god’s most commonly used tool is death and suffering on grand scales is quite revealing about his nature.

    If he had created a better method where your salvation was guaranteed and no suffering existed where would the glory be in that situation? If that is the purpose of creation? And how would you feel if your autonomy was so impinged? The only option would be to remove your freedom to live your life your way.

    What utter nonsense. You honestly think free will is impossible without suffering? Besides, I was talking about Jesus’ suffering. God’s best solution for the problems he saw was to let his son be tortured? What kind of sicko is that lazily unimaginative?

    This is because I too reject all other Gods. On much the same basis that you do.

    No, you absolutely don’t, as evidenced by the thing you said at the end of your comment:

    And were there a claim from a competing deity I’d have to weigh it up against the claims of Jesus – which I have already found to be convincing. It’s likely I’d be biased against that sort of claim.

    This is not why I reject gods. I reject gods because there is no evidence that isn’t based entirely upon circular reasoning.

    This is also exactly what I meant when I said this before: So the first deity you’re convinced of is the one that must exist?

    You should be judging all the deities by the same standard, not by the standard of the one you like best.

    And yet I don’t see Quetzalcoatl claiming to have come to earth to fulfill well documented prophecies and claiming to be divine.

    Oh, PLEASE. Well-documented? I could collect a much bigger, more well-documented book of “prophecies” by going through all the horoscopes in the country for a single day and picking out those that came true. And we’d know that they were actually meant to be predictive, too.

    The prophecies of the Bible were not considered prophecy until someone figured out a way to write a story later on that made them seem like prophecies. Ask a Jew about old testament prophecies and see how many of your supposed prophecies they recognize. They only became prophecy after the fact. It’s like shooting a machine gun at a barn, then painting the bullseye in a way that covers all the bulletholes.

    Not to mention that you’ve just given me a basis for accepting the claim that a deity exists, but you’ll be hard-pressed to justify using that basis. Why should a deity only be considered viable if it comes to earth and fulfills prophecies? Why have you chosen that as your standard for determining which deity is real? You can’t simply assert that something is the standard by which all claims should be judged. You have to back up the claim that the standard is valid.

    I question the need for external confirmation or even objectivity in order for a document to be true.

    Your standards of evidence are vanishingly low, and I’m absolutely certain that you would never say this about anything but the Bible. What if I produced a supposedly ancient affadavit from one of Jesus’ disciples explaining how they’d faked all the miracles? Would you accept it, or would you need external confirmation? If you need external confirmation for that, but not for the Bible, you are not being a rationally discerning person.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    There is a word for people who are willing to believe a document without requiring external confirmation or objective examination of the evidence:

    Gullible.

    This is not something you should be proud of.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Jeff,

    Nathan, I appreciate that your beliefs are special to you. I also appreciate that the beliefs of an adherent of any other theology is special to them.

    While I appreciate your attempts to be conciliatory I’d rather be simply “wrong” about a matter than “deluded” or emotionally attached…

    With all the world’s diverse religions it is apparent that god-belief is initially an emotional sub-conscious decision where one only then goes looking for “evidence” later to substantiate it.

    I look at the world differently to you. That does not make me deluded. That makes you think I am deluded.

    Your statements are true only if atheism is proven to be correct. Which it can’t be. Nor is it measurable. It is a philosophical decision based on a naturalistic understanding of the world.

    You might possibly be wrong. I might be right. We can’t possibly know that though. Both our positions require faith – and both atheists and theists work to make the gap between knowledge and belief smaller.

    You’re no doubt more convinced of your particular belief having arrived at a conclusion and continued to search for evidence to back it up.

    “god-belief is initially an emotional sub-conscious decision”

    If I knew more about genetics and the “God gene” we’re meant to have developed evolutionarily I could argue that it’s not emotional or subconscious but ingrained – I suspect god-un-belief has just as many emotional attributes – particularly because an earlier commenter admitted it came down to gut feel.

    “I do admit that I don’t understand why religious people think their God needs or wants to be worshipped.”

    For the Christian, who assumes the Bible reveals God’s character and the way we’re to understand him the answer is that this is in the Bible. We (Christians) didn’t make this up. Either someone a long time ago did, or God did.

    “I don’t understand the concept of a God demanding faith as a criteria for entrance into heaven. That to me sounds like a human invention (by religious leaders of old).”

    What criteria would you have developed? How do you decide who to invite to a party?

    “I don’t have any faith in any particular holy book. I am of the mind that the laws of nature are not any different now than they were 2000 (or 6000) years ago.”

    I would agree. Though I’d suggest that there’s a God maintaining law and order.

    “People see and interpret what they want to see.”

    Indeed. I think the same can be said for those who place their faith in “our best current thinking”. I think our best current thinking is good. I am glad we have medicine. And other good things. But the best current thinking 100 years ago wasn’t such a good thing and I think it’s reasonable to assume that the best current thinking in 100 years will be different to our thinking now.

    It would be SO EASY for a god to demonstrate His divinity but it never seems to happen. All we have is old stories written by superstitious people from long ago.

    That’s your interpretation – as you indicate in the next paragraph.

    I don’t think the gospel authors ever saw or met Jesus. I think they were simply penning an oral legend to concur with Old Testament prophesy.

    I think that’s a pretty cynical interpretation based on philosophy not fact and pretty wildly refuted by anyone who spends any time studying the Bible either from a theological or historical perspective.

    While there are some people who would benefit from the continued existence of Christianity I think there are plenty of scholars who could make a lot of money going on the speaking/writing tour debunking common understandings of the Bible.

    There is no peer reviewed research that I’ve encountered that suggests this is the case.

    “If it wasn’t for some clever chap adding Revelation 22:18-19 to the end of the new Testament”

    This was the end of Revelation, not the end of the New Testament. When Revelation was written there was no New Testament.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Mike,

    I’m not sure I have the time to answer all of your points. I’ll pick some of them. Let me know if I miss any that you think are important…

    “This is not why I reject gods. I reject gods because there is no evidence that isn’t based entirely upon circular reasoning.”

    “That the Biblical god’s most commonly used tool is death and suffering on grand scales is quite revealing about his nature.”

    I don’t think circular reasoning is a good enough reason to reject God. It may be that circular reasoning is the way God did things.

    Your rejection of God hinges too much on how you would do things, or rules you’ve constructed. That’s fine. But it doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist.

    This is also exactly what I meant when I said this before: So the first deity you’re convinced of is the one that must exist?

    I am not convinced of all Gods, or of God’s need to exist. I am convinced that Jesus is God. Everything else flows from that point.

    You’re not grasping the subtle distinction – I guess similarly to my inability to grasp the distinction between not believing in any gods and saying there is no god.

    “The prophecies of the Bible were not considered prophecy until someone figured out a way to write a story later on that made them seem like prophecies.”

    Which is of course why the Old Testament prophets were called prophets. And again, this is your interpretation of the Old Testament and of the writing of the New Testament – it’s not grounded in anything but your philosophical presuppositions.

    What if I produced a supposedly ancient affadavit from one of Jesus’ disciples explaining how they’d faked all the miracles? Would you accept it, or would you need external confirmation?

    Do you have one? I have not seen one. Nor have I heard claims of such. I would like to think that I would approach the matter with an open mind. You might disagree. It would certainly make life easier. I’d want it to be demonstrably written by the disciples.

    It seems to be a case of:

    “I reject the miraculous therefore anything that seems miraculous must have an explanation.”

    You’re coming at the issue with more presuppositions than I am. There’s a word for that. Prejudiced.

  • Siamang

    Nathan:

    I’m happy for you to make decisions on the basis of your gut feel.
    I’m not happy for you to call me delusional because my gut feel leads to a different conclusion.

    Nathan, when have I ever called you or any other believers in God “delusional”?

    I have not. Ever. Again with the lumping us all together. I am an individual human being. Please address me as an individual.

    This seems like an issue you are having some difficulty with.

    At the end of the day that’s a question of your gut feel and my gut feel.

    I think that if a God existed, it might have better evidence than just “gut feels” in its favor.

    Again, that trivialises the matter. It wasn’t just a few chapters in an old book. It was many chapters in at least four books

    Which still doesn’t rise to the level of simple reality. A hundred cultists killed themselves because they believed that a spaceship was following the Hale-Bopp comet. If all 100 of them wrote a book, would that be a reliable account of this supernatural event? Would it cause you to believe?

    that were widely circulated amongst people who didn’t have a particularly strong written tradition (because of literacy levels), which was accompanied by a speaking circuit that stretched as far as the eyewitnesses could roam – that also led to the death of these eyewitnesses who refused to recant their claims in order to save their lives.

    …. according to popular tradition. But again we have no actual evidence of the martyrdom of these people. And, see above, cultists are often willing to die for their beliefs. It doesn’t make them true.

    Refusing to believe something just because it happened a long time ago seems odd.

    It’s the lack of here and now evidence that’s the problem.

    Particularly given the free reign we’re prepared to give speculative science (and I’m not talking evolution at this point) on the matter. How many billions have been invested into experiments like the Large Hadron Collider on the basis of speculation?

    I disagree. The LHC isn’t speculative. But anyway, you’re wandering off-topic.

    “What makes you think that a group of fishermen and blue collar workers would start up a belief system to purposefully deceive people? “

    Maybe they were crazy. Maybe on drugs. Why did L. Ron Hubbard create a religion? Why did Joseph Smith? Why did David Koresh, or Sung Myung-Moon, or Jim Jones or Marshall Applewhite or Elizabeth Claire-Prophet?

    But that’s beside the point. I don’t have to prove that human beings starting a religion *might* be a bit dishonest or less than skeptical about it. I’m at the default position… that of a mortal human being who’s never seen anything supernatural in his life. And you come here and say that there’s a supernatural God, and you know all about him.

    How the heck can you be so all-fired sure about that? I didn’t come to your website to preach the gospel of atheism. You’re here, and you claim to know the secrets of the whole flipping universe.

    Well, it’s awfully big of you to come here and enlighten us, but so far all you’ve got is lip-flappage.

    They don’t strike me as deceitful – particularly when you consider that one of the fundamental tenants of Christianity is “don’t lie”… I find that suggestion unlikely.

    Right. Because liars NEVER claim to be honest!

    Either your suggesting that the disciples and the leaders of the early church were purposely deceitful or Jesus was. And I think that’s unlikely.

    What’s more likely… a god-man came to earth and arrested the very forces of nature then left completely without a trace, or some men lied?

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Atheism is not denial of your beliefs. It is disbelief in all gods. Yours is only one of many. It is not any more central to the idea of theism vs. atheism than is Quetzalcoatl. Your god holds no special place to anyone but you and other believers.

    This bears repeating.

    Nathan, atheism has no more to do with Jesus than it has to do with Krishna or Hanuman or Tengri or Ngai. None of us are born believing in any deity. Whatever deity you come to accept later in life (typically during early childhood) is a result of simple cultural exposure. We can all laugh about how deluded the Scientologists are, but if we had been raised in a Scientologist society, then the vast majority of people would simply assume that Xenu existed. Even people who weren’t quite convinced would remain “agnostic” about Xenu, thinking that perhaps his existence was perfectly plausible.

    I know that you believe your religion is true, but as atheists, there’s simply no reason for us to take your claims any more seriously than we take the claims of other religious groups. Maybe it’s easier for us to step outside of our culture and think about the concept of theism in general. It has nothing to do with your god in particular. The reason we don’t think your god is special is because we see no fundamental difference between it and the god of the Maasai people, many of whom still worship Ngai to this day.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Siamang,

    Nathan, when have I ever called you or any other believers in God “delusional”?

    I have not. Ever. Again with the lumping us all together. I am an individual human being. Please address me as an individual.

    Context is king. This post calls my beliefs delusional – my comments are in response to this post – your comments are on my comments made in response to this post.

    I may not have been referring to a specific instance where you called me delusional – but to suggest that is wrong of me to refer to my beliefs being delusional on a post that makes that claim is a little preposterous.

    If you want to be addressed individually then we should be having this discussion privately not on a public forum. Feel free to email me – nm(dot)campbell(at)gmail.com.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “The LHC isn’t speculative.”

    It’s trying to recreate a particle that may or may not exist. That seems speculative to me.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “Maybe they were crazy. Maybe on drugs. Why did L. Ron Hubbard create a religion? Why did Joseph Smith? Why did David Koresh, or Sung Myung-Moon, or Jim Jones or Marshall Applewhite or Elizabeth Claire-Prophet?”

    Those are all individuals. If you can’t make a distinction between their claims and those of Jesus then you’re kind of missing the point.

    Why do you think Jesus has so many more followers than these people? Better marketing?

    “I’m at the default position… that of a mortal human being who’s never seen anything supernatural in his life. And you come here and say that there’s a supernatural God, and you know all about him.”

    That’s not what I came here and said. I came here and said my beliefs are less delusional than the beliefs of others.

    “It’s the lack of here and now evidence that’s the problem.”

    Indeed. So how can you believe any accounts of anything from the past?

    How the heck can you be so all-fired sure about that?

    I haven’t claimed to be sure about anything. I have claimed to have considered the evidence for Jesus and found it convincing enough. I am not one hundred percent sure of anything. That would be a silly position. But I have a degree of surety that is sufficient. For me.

    “I didn’t come to your website to preach the gospel of atheism.”

    No, but plenty of others have.

    You’re here, and you claim to know the secrets of the whole flipping universe.

    Not at all. There are many things about the universe that the Bible is silent on. I have not claimed to know anything more than the fact that Jesus Christ claimed to be God, in doing so, dying and being resurrected he validated the Old Testament and led me to a belief in God. That is the claim I have made.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “Nathan, atheism has no more to do with Jesus than it has to do with Krishna or Hanuman or Tengri or Ngai. None of us are born believing in any deity.”

    I understand this point. I don’t know why you guys keep repeating it as though I’ve missed it.

    Christianity has everything to do with Jesus and nothing to do with Krishna, Hanuman or Tengri or Ngai.

    So, if you want people to stop bashing you over the head because you’re atheists and not Christians – stop treating Christians as though all these gods are equally illegitimate. We agree with you.

    None of your reasons not to believe in those gods apply to Jesus who, if the Bible is to be believed, came as a real and observable person and met your requirements for measurability.

    Sure, he did this some time ago which leaves us needing to assess other people’s accounts. But until you present me with other gods whose claims are testable and contradictory I remain unconvinced by your philosophically driven, ignorant polemics about the Bible and its authors.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Nathan,

    You seem to place an inordinate amount of weight to the gospel stories as justification for your belief. You might want to expand your base a bit. The peer-reviewed gospel scholars, as clever as they are, have only so much to work with. They can’t get into the minds of the actual authors and know what they were thinking. I suggested one secular explanation for the gospels, that they where penned based on oral legend to fulfill Old Testament prophesies. There are other secular explanations as well. Perhaps an execution did take place but as any line of 1st graders can tell you, if you tell a story to the first one and they pass it down the line, quite a different story will arrive a the other end. With that 40 years, or so, of oral tradition it is rather hard to expect that the story line didn’t drift somewhat especially considering the tendencies of the people at the time to attribute the supernatural to so many things. Of course I understand that you probably think the story line was so compelling that it was communicated without distortion all that time and finally accurately written down with exact Jesus quotes and all. I just find that completely improbable. Other explanations are that the gospel stories actually have a metaphoric meaning that has been lost over time. People now mistakenly take them literally.

    Some Christians have a faith in Jesus without a belief in the way the gospel stories have traditionally been interpreted. For example, retired bishop John Shelby Spong of the Episcopal church.

  • Edmond

    Wow…

    You guys are good at quoting each other in those little boxes, I can’t figure that out.

    My favorite quote of Nathan’s was “I think our best current thinking is good. I am glad we have medicine. And other good things. But the best current thinking 100 years ago wasn’t such a good thing and I think it’s reasonable to assume that the best current thinking in 100 years will be different to our thinking now.”

    Obviously, the understanding of the universe won’t be the same in 100 years as it is now. But now that humanity has stumbled onto the magic of critical thinking, we will never be the same. Don’t expect that to change in 100 years. I think the growth of atheism lately shows this.

    This is why I prefer the term agnostic. That way, the critical thinking is directed everywhere, rather than just at theism. We feel the same way about UFO’s and werewolves as we do about gods. Maybe it wouldn’t seem like Nathan was so ganged up on if he were arguing against a bunch of agnostics instead of atheists.

    Another great quote of Nathan’s, “None of your reasons not to believe in those gods apply to Jesus who, if the Bible is to be believed, came as a real and observable person and met your requirements for measurability.”

    And, WHY again is the bible to be believed? This is what many of us are asking. I remember hearing it in a song somewhere, “For the bible tells me so!”, but that’s really just catchy indoctrination. But really, why IS the bible to be believed? This is the leap of faith so many of us can’t make. Your religion has no more right to break the laws of reality than any other.

    My favorite quote, after reading all that (and I did), was Siamang saying “And you come here and say that there’s a supernatural God, and you know all about him … and you claim to know the secrets of the whole flipping universe.”

    I know you felt that was directed at you because you were at this site and everyone was driving their comments towards you, but I think what was meant was, in general, in LIFE, theists are people who we agnostics share the world with who claim they have answers to the mysteries that we all know no one CAN have the answers to, and we want to know HOW you think you have these answers.

    And you point to this… book? And say it’s true because it says it’s true?
    And then wonder why we can’t make that leap of faith for your religion, even though you agree with us that all the others are wrong/crazy?

    C’mon, man…

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “I suggested one secular explanation for the gospels, that they where penned based on oral legend to fulfill Old Testament prophesies.”

    That’s quite possible. But I can’t understand why they would do that.

    “With that 40 years, or so, of oral tradition it is rather hard to expect that the story line didn’t drift somewhat especially considering the tendencies of the people at the time to attribute the supernatural to so many things.”

    Assuming a 40 year gap represents the time between the events and the recording of the events rather than the time between the events and our first surviving parchments.

    “Of course I understand that you probably think the story line was so compelling that it was communicated without distortion all that time and finally accurately written down with exact Jesus quotes and all. I just find that completely improbable.”

    And that’s fair enough. It doesn’t make interpreting the documents in a particular way (through the eyes of two thousand years of theology, orthodoxy and historical scholarship) delusional. It just means that you think it’s improbable.

    “Some Christians have a faith in Jesus without a belief in the way the gospel stories have traditionally been interpreted. For example, retired bishop John Shelby Spong of the Episcopal church.”

    There are many Christians who don’t consider Spong a Christian any longer. He certainly wouldn’t have been ordained had he held the views he held now when he applied for the job. Holding them now in the church he does now isn’t really a problem – but you’ll notice significant schism amongst Christianity on his point.

    I know this opens up the “no true Scotsman” fallacy – but you have to draw your borders somewhere. In the case of the Scot it’s at the borders of Scotland… it’s not good enough to feel Scottish. Or call yourself Scottish. You have to actually be Scottish…

    I think someone should pose the “No true Maori” fallacy – because apparently in New Zealand all you have to do to claim indigenous benefits is claim to feel like you’re a Maori.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Edmond – highlight the text you want to put in a box and hit the little button that says bquote.

    “And, WHY again is the bible to be believed? This is what many of us are asking.”

    I’m asking why it shouldn’t be.

    I know criticism exists of the Bible – and I haven’t read any that wasn’t either written with the agenda of discrediting it, written by some religious nutcase, or written by a crackpot. I don’t know of any serious academic works that have been properly peer reviewed that discredit it as a historical record. And any works that do would surely be overwhelmed by reams of paper dedicated to its legitimacy. I want to be careful not to be suggesting that the volume of support is indicative of truth.

    I, personally, think the content itself is enough. But then I haven’t come at it with the same baggage of bad teaching or bad examples from intolerant fundamentalists who want to establish Christendom in my country and bring about the end of the world by reestablishing foreign states…

    It’s certainly not a scientific document, nor is it an exhaustive history of the world. All it is, in my opinion, is the way God chose to communicate to his chosen people – be they Jews (OT) or Christians (NT) and those wanting to join that crew. This is not unique thinking. It is the way the Bible has been understood by the orthodox Christians who wrote the creeds, the confessions of faith of major denominations and the famous figureheads of the reformation like Luther and Calvin.

    “And you point to this… book? And say it’s true because it says it’s true?”

    I wouldn’t say it was true if it said it was false. You all make too much of circular reasoning.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “But now that humanity has stumbled onto the magic of critical thinking, we will never be the same.”

    What makes you so sure that critical thinking is the pinnacle of thought?

    How can we know that a naturalistic understanding of the world gives us the real picture – how do we know that it is not some evolutionary trick ensure that our species survives. If that’s what religion was (a social construct designed to perpetuate the species) how can we be sure we’ve reached that point where our thinking really is free of the constraints or influence of evolution?

    Every generation believes their thinking is the best thinking. But it only takes a generation or two for that to shift. Or less in the case of some of the stupider elements of post modernity where you get jumped on for making a truth claim that contradicts somebody else’s truth claim (eg some “offensive” bus ads that really aren’t).

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I said: “I suggested one secular explanation for the gospels, that they where penned based on oral legend to fulfill Old Testament prophesies.”

    Nathan responded: “That’s quite possible. But I can’t understand why they would do that.”

    Probably for the same reason any of the other worlds religions/ sects/ cults were started. From the atheist perspective, Christianity doesn’t deserve special treatment to be an exception to the rule. I do admit that Christianity has a compelling storyline with Jesus (thus its popularity) but a compelling story line does not mean it actually happened. There is good fiction and bad fiction. Good fiction is more popular.

    Nathan, activity on this thread will probably start to drop off a bit since its so far down in the list. I hope you stick around on this site because you are an interesting person to converse with. For some here you are the archetype Christian and you have been a good sport.

  • http://pippinbarr.com Pippin

    Richard (Wade): Hey, thanks for the reply there. I somehow missed out on getting the comments on this post via email, so didn’t manage to keep track.

    I think there’s plenty of very good-spirited discussion and thought going on here, I just find it bleak when so much of what can seem to define the blog is about being anti-religious. It just doesn’t feel terribly constructive at times.

    Naturally, people are completely entitled to vent and so on. I just worry that ‘atheist’ is coming to be defined as anti-religion.

    Also naturally: the blog is made up of all sorts, and I needn’t pay too much attention to the hyper-negative ones.

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  • Stellar Duck

    About the whole argument about the Bible: Nathan, you lean on the fact that the gospels were written and distributed in a time when literacy was rare. If I understand you correctly this lends credence to the veracity of the Bible?

    That seems to be a pretty narrow understanding of evidence. If only one source exists that does not make the source “not evidence” it makes it a lesser form of evidence.

    The men who wrote the gospels (and I mean understood in the orthodox sense not in the sense postulated by those at the fringes of theological research who publish directly to the masses rather than in peer reviewed academic literature) did so with a seemingly genuine belief that what they wrote was true – and it was believed by many people of their generation who saw Jesus in the flesh. There was ample opportunity to nip Christianity in the bud early on – and yet the manuscripts of the gospels were distributed widely in a culture that mostly relied on the spoken word for dissemination of ideas. There were, as I mentioned, plenty of people who saw Jesus. It should not surprise us, based on their culture, that few written accounts exist. It would be a surprise to me if the written accounts were allowed to survive in that time if they were remarkably different to the spoken accounts.

    I would argue that The Iliad was widely known (and later written down) in a period where literacy was rare. It was believed to be an account of wars with Troy and was used in many arguments to shore up ones own arguments. In fact, if you read forensic speeches from Athens (or any other Greek texts) you will often find the line: ‘As the poet says’ followed by a line from one of Homers works. In that form of society it was a valid argument and the two texts formed a shared volume of knowledge and could serve as guidelines.
    That does not mean they were true or that Achilles ever fought Patroclos. Just because the book says so does not make it so. And there are quite a corpus of texts concerning, say, the Trojan war. The Iliad, The Odysey, The Aenid and The metamorphoses to name some. All together they take up more pages than the bible and corroborate each other better than the 4 gospels. But that does not mean they are true.

  • Siamang

    Nathan wrote:

    I may not have been referring to a specific instance where you called me delusional – but to suggest that is wrong of me to refer to my beliefs being delusional on a post that makes that claim is a little preposterous.

    Then the word “You” shouldn’t have been in the sentence. It’s not hard.

    Listen Nathan, you seem to be here to have an argument and not a sharing and a listening of different points of view. Which is fine. The internet is full of those kinds of things, and it seems like you’ll have plenty of takers here as well.

    I, however, am not interested in yet another internet ‘debate’ about religion. Been there a thousand times over.

    I think I grasp your position clearly, that you believe that the gospels are accurate depictions of factual events.

    I think I have communicated clearly the reasons why I do not feel that *for me*, in my life path to this point, written accounts are sufficient proof of a supernatural realm that I don’t have any evidence even exists.

    I was attempting to give you a clear account of my thought process. Take it or leave it, but it’s my thought process.

    Since I was not the person who called your beliefs delusional, I think you and I have got all the understanding of each other that can be accomplished here. May you find peace.

  • Siamang

    Hi Pippin!

    It just doesn’t feel terribly constructive at times.

    I agree. See my exchange with Nathan. I felt that was, for me, going down a useless path of arguing rather than listening.

    I just worry that ‘atheist’ is coming to be defined as anti-religion.

    I think that’s a natural part of the pendulum of human social endeavors. What are the Republicans today if not anti-Obama? What were the Democrats if not anti-Bush?

    I think, especially in America, we’ve come recently from a period of hyper-religiosity. And of course a lot of people grew up in homes where they suffered under beliefs they disagreed with. I know people who were beaten by their mothers for not believing in their church. I know people who were abused sexually by their priests, and saw the church turn their back on them when they tried to tell. I know a guy who’s mother ran a doomsday cult which brainwashed him into believing that the end of the world was upon us (back in the 80′s). All of these people are part of the atheist movement too.

    So when these folks are riding that pendulum, do you really expect them to be blase about religion? Or do you think that from their point of view that religion might be a “more harm than good” type of scenario?

    I think that religion could use, could deserve, and could benefit from some criticism. Including by people who used to be religious, but aren’t anymore… but who still bear the scars.

  • muggle

    “on the other Muggle suggests he doesn’t need to prove his position on the Christian God any more than he does on fairies.”

    First of all, Nathan, I wonder why you presume I’m a he even though you don’t have to read very many of my posts to know I’m a she. Oink, oink, little piggy!

    Second of all, I’m not trying to deconvert anyone. I don’t give a flying fuck what any fool believes. As long as they don’t try to legislate it onto me.

    Thirdly, I don’t. Why in heck would I be any more required to disprove your god than I would be fairies? Popularity? Santa Claus is pretty damned popular too and I also feel no burning desire to disprove him. In fact, I wholeheartedly promote Santa. He is the most excellent lesson little kids can ever receive in skeptical thinking. Ever hear of anyone pass the age of 10 really believing in him? No matter what their mommy and daddy tell them. And 10′s being generous. I don’t think I’ve actually ever heard anyone past age 8 and some even then pretend they do to get the presents.

    You see, you seem to think I have to disprove your silly myth to disbelieve. No, I don’t. I just have to realize how preposterous it is and ask for proof of it precisely because it is preposterous.

    That said, using Siamang’s argument (and it appears he hit the nail on the head): I’m 99.99% certain there is no God. But be glad you can’t prove there is one (gee, I wonder why, could it just be because there ain’t) because, you’re right, if you could prove to me the whole Christian balogna, I wouldn’t become Christian and start praying to Jesus Christ with all of my might. I’d start making some very serious deals with the Devil, who’s at least more honest and doesn’t ask his worshippers to wait for pie in the sky some day based on nothing but his word and rewards them here and now.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    I understand this point. I don’t know why you guys keep repeating it as though I’ve missed it.

    From your responses, it doesn’t seem like you do understand this point, but maybe we’re just misinterpreting each other.

    Christianity has everything to do with Jesus and nothing to do with Krishna, Hanuman or Tengri or Ngai.

    Of course. I never claimed otherwise. Christianity is about Jesus, not those other deities. This is apparent. But as atheists, we see no reason to consider Jesus to be different from Krishna, Hanuman, Tengri or Ngai.

    So, if you want people to stop bashing you over the head because you’re atheists and not Christians – stop treating Christians as though all these gods are equally illegitimate. We agree with you.

    I don’t quite follow. You agree that all these gods are equally false? Your statements would seem to indicate otherwise. You consider Jesus to be a special case, a more convincing god than all the others. That’s fine, of course, since you’re a Christian, but it makes no sense to those of us who are atheists.

    None of your reasons not to believe in those gods apply to Jesus who, if the Bible is to be believed, came as a real and observable person and met your requirements for measurability.

    Other people have already addressed this. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of holy scriptures from many different cultures around the world. There are thousands of different deities and thousands of different religions, both ancient and modern. I will repeat that atheists do not see any convincing evidence for the supernatural in general, and it has nothing to do with your deity or holy book. We don’t find your holy book to be convincing evidence of the supernatural, anymore than we consider the Vedas and Upanishads to be convincing evidence of the supernatural.

    Sure, he did this some time ago which leaves us needing to assess other people’s accounts. But until you present me with other gods whose claims are testable and contradictory I remain unconvinced by your philosophically driven, ignorant polemics about the Bible and its authors.

    You seem to fundamentally fail to grasp the point that atheists need not consider Christianity at all. We are not atheists because we lack belief in Christianity. We are atheists because we lack belief in the supernatural. There are millions of atheists who come from cultures in which Christianity is a minority religion or simply not present at all. No matter what the dominant religion of our culture, the reason that we’re atheists is because we see no evidence for deities. It doesn’t matter which deity. Atheism is the same whether we’re in Iran or Japan or India or the United States.

  • muggle

    “I’d be willing to bet that MOST of the people posting here WERE theists.” Allowing myself to be informally polled, I was. It was an attempt to get to know and understand him better in order to get closer to him that lead me away from that belief. I came to understand better all right.

  • Bleu

    You might possibly be wrong. I might be right. We can’t possibly know that though. Both our positions require faith – and both atheists and theists work to make the gap between knowledge and belief smaller.

    This is one of the dumber things I’ve ever read.

    1st) an argument from ignorance. (“We can’t know I’m wrong, so I’ll consider that a win for me.”)
    2nd) Here’s a link so I don’t have to waste time typing this.

  • muggle

    “What makes you think that a group of fishermen and blue collar workers would start up a belief system to purposefully deceive people? They don’t strike me as deceitful – particularly when you consider that one of the fundamental tenants of Christianity is “don’t lie”… I find that suggestion unlikely.”

    Gullible! With a capital G! On the other hand, why wouldn’t they be deceitful? Note said workers no longer had to work for a living afterwards. And what better misdirection to their lying is there than a rule that says don’t lie. I’ve long taught my daughter to never trust anyone who says “trust me” without demonstrating why they should be trusted.

  • Edmond

    “And you point to this… book? And say it’s true because it says it’s true?”

    I wouldn’t say it was true if it said it was false. You all make too much of circular reasoning

    Oh my goodness, of COURSE you wouldn’t extoll the veracity of the bible if the bible ITSELF CLAIMED it was false. Who would do that? But why are you so quick to accept it as truth just because it says it’s true? ALL the “holy” scriptures the world over also say that they’re true! Why don’t you believe them?

    And we make too much of circular reasoning? Uh, that’s because circular reasoning is BAD. It can’t just be brushed aside. It’s a HUGE hurdle for people who are objectively trying to find the real truth in an issue. You CANNOT just expect to be believed as true just because you are claiming that you are truthful. It would be naive for someone to do so. There MUST be some sort of external, verifiable, cross-confirming evidence!

    Bottom line, you have chosen to accept christianity on faith. But, I feel, you fail to successfully explain why you don’t also accept ALL religions equally on faith. Or, at least, why you don’t reject christianity on the same basis and standards that you reject all other religions.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Nathan, you seriously need to do more research into the history of the Bible. When you say this:

    Assuming a 40 year gap represents the time between the events and the recording of the events rather than the time between the events and our first surviving parchments.

    You reveal that you quite simply don’t know what you’re talking about. The oldest surviving New Testament parchments we have are from the second century around AD 125, and they’re only partials.

    This is the oldest surviving copy of a New Testament text, and it’s 3.5 by 2.5 inches in size. It contains a grand total of five verses.

    Also:

    I don’t think circular reasoning is a good enough reason to reject God. It may be that circular reasoning is the way God did things.

    I was talking about YOUR reasoning. Circular reasoning is a FALLACY, not a valid form of reasoning. Something cannot be guaranteed to be true just because it says it is.

    Do you have one? I have not seen one. Nor have I heard claims of such. I would like to think that I would approach the matter with an open mind. You might disagree. It would certainly make life easier. I’d want it to be demonstrably written by the disciples.

    Give me a BREAK! Have you even bothered to compare a LIST OF THE GOSPELS to a LIST OF THE DISCIPLES? Only one name matches. You’re using ONE source from someone who shares a (COMMON) name with a disciple and three from people whose identities are absolute mysteries. These were not eyewitnesses. Do you ever think about the fact that they recount the birth and part of the youth of Jesus? How on EARTH do you believe that those are eyewitness accounts?!

    It seems to be a case of:
    “I reject the miraculous therefore anything that seems miraculous must have an explanation.”

    You’re coming at the issue with more presuppositions than I am. There’s a word for that. Prejudiced.

    Uh, NO. It’s called “being rational.” Ruling out the natural and jumping to the supernatural first is a completely unfounded way of doing things. Accepting the claim of “it’s a miracle” is only reasonable if you’ve ruled out every possible natural explanation. It’s not a matter of prejudice, or ruling miracles out a priori. You’re saying that the standard of evidence for justifying a claim of a miraculous event is that someone says it was a miracle.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Wow. So much to respond to.

    Stellar Duck said:

    “That does not mean they were true or that Achilles ever fought Patroclos. Just because the book says so does not make it so. And there are quite a corpus of texts concerning, say, the Trojan war. The Iliad, The Odysey, The Aenid and The metamorphoses to name some. All together they take up more pages than the bible and corroborate each other better than the 4 gospels. But that does not mean they are true.”

    Indeed. I agree entirely with this statement. The Illiad, Odysey and Aenid… all these texts… contain some truth but don’t claim to be the complete truth…

    I think that’s the difference. They’re clearly poetry, and an element of history.

    I believe the Bible contains a similar mix. I think the gospels (which clearly contain different information to each other describing the same stuff) can be both historically true and at the same time addressing theological imperatives.

    Siamang said:

    Then the word “You” shouldn’t have been in the sentence. It’s not hard.

    I apologise if you feel unfairly represented by my generalisation. I’ve given my reasons for doing so.

    “I agree. See my exchange with Nathan. I felt that was, for me, going down a useless path of arguing rather than listening.”

    I’m sorry you felt that way. I was certainly trying to gain a better understanding of where you were coming from.

    I think that religion could use, could deserve, and could benefit from some criticism.

    I agree.

    Jeff said:

    “I hope you stick around on this site because you are an interesting person to converse with. For some here you are the archetype Christian and you have been a good sport.”

    I’ve been here for a while – and while not seeking to troll – I do enjoy this sort of argument because I think any belief that is not open to the criticism of people who disagree is pretty dangerous. I think that goes for both sides of this debate too.

    Muggle said:

    “First of all, Nathan, I wonder why you presume I’m a he even though you don’t have to read very many of my posts to know I’m a she. Oink, oink, little piggy!”

    I apologise for assigning you a gender. It was not my intention to offend. I have not, I confess, read many of your posts. I am a feed subscriber rather than a regular visitor to the comments…

    “You see, you seem to think I have to disprove your silly myth to disbelieve. No, I don’t. I just have to realize how preposterous it is and ask for proof of it precisely because it is preposterous.”

    No, I think you need to show cause why the beliefs of the majority (in the US) should not be legislated. I think you also need to disprove my particular belief in order to label me as delusional. It’s not enough to assert that there are no gods. That doesn’t convince anybody who thinks they have a relationship with a specific God. I’m sure Muslims feel the same way. I know it’s hard work – but considering each God on their merits (or lack thereof) seems more courteous to those who disagree with you.

    Anna said:

    I don’t quite follow. You agree that all these gods are equally false? Your statements would seem to indicate otherwise. You consider Jesus to be a special case, a more convincing god than all the others. That’s fine, of course, since you’re a Christian, but it makes no sense to those of us who are atheists.

    It’s quite simple. When you’re talking to a monotheist the argument that all these other gods are invalid and irrational is silly. We’ve made that decision already by affirming one particular God. Clearly we think this God is something special.

    The rest of her points can be summed up and responded to with a blanket statement.

    I am here as a Christian. I understand that atheists reject all gods. That they reject the very premise of god.

    But I started commenting here because of the statement, which I believe is incorrect, that all beliefs in God are equally delusional.

    I don’t think this is true. I reject all concepts of God but one. Others (like the Bahai) embrace all concepts of God. They must surely be deluded by a greater degree.

    Then, I felt like the discussion turned to the specifics of Christianity.

    My suggestion to you, as atheists, if you want your criticisms to be heard (and many criticisms of religion are valid) is that you address the particular beliefs people have (which some here have done) rather than pretending the question is irrelevant and lumping us all together. Some commenters here have done that. In my opinion those discussions were the most productive. Just glibly dismissing the concept of God because you have chosen a particular philosophical framework will not convince anybody who actually believes in God.

    I’m sure you talk about your beliefs (or lack of beliefs) about God(s) pretty regularly. As do Christians. You’re probably sick of it. But most of you sound like you’re sick of the status quo too – so I’m not sure what other options you have.

    Bleu,

    It wasn’t an argument from ignorance. I was simply pointing out that both standpoints require a certain philosophical null hypothesis and an element of faith. I am not delusional just because I disagree with you. I am only delusional if I am wrong.

    Edmond,

    “But, I feel, you fail to successfully explain why you don’t also accept ALL religions equally on faith. Or, at least, why you don’t reject christianity on the same basis and standards that you reject all other religions.”

    I think it’s pretty obvious that you can’t logically accept all religious beliefs as true. But that does not make all religious beliefs automatically false.

    I don’t reject Christianity because I believe there are characteristics of the Bible that aren’t shared by other human texts. I don’t think the God of the Bible is the kind that humans would construct. I think it unlikely that the type of fraud you guys are suggesting could be perpetuated over the time frame it was by the number of disconnected people who contributed to it.

    Mike,

    “Give me a BREAK! Have you even bothered to compare a LIST OF THE GOSPELS to a LIST OF THE DISCIPLES? Only one name matches.”

    I wouldn’t be so sure that your sources on the gospels are the most objective. If you start from the assumption that they are all false then it’s likely you’ll be able to reach that conclusion and support it with the ideas of others who started with a similar assumption. I don’t see any reason to disregard the idea that John’s gospel was written by the disciple John – who also wrote the letters named 1 John, 2 John and 3 John.

    That’s one down.

    Luke – was clearly not a disciple. He doesn’t ever claim to be a disciple. He does claim to have spoken to the disciples and other eyewitnesses.

    I think it’s likely that Luke was originally written as a legal brief for the trial of the Apostle Paul.

    Matthew was the disciple formerly known as Levi, the tax collector. I see no reason to think otherwise. Why should I not, starting from a neutral position on the gospels, assume that they are written by the people they’ve been attributed to since much closer to the time. Why is our thinking 2,000 years later (when we’re caught up in the throes of post-modernity) likely to be more accurate than the thinking of hundreds or thousands of years ago?

    While Mark was not a “disciple” in the sense of being one of the twelve – he was, it would seem, a witness to these things. Jesus’ band of merry men was never limited to twelve people – the twelve were followers with special responsibilities.

    Most scholarship suggests that at the very least Mark wrote what Peter dictated to him.

    I am not some naive, gullible fool who has not investigated the documentary evidence. I would suggest that those of you who only believe the criticisms of the critics of the Bible are being just as naive and gullible as you accuse me of being.

    Thought on the matter is very much divided, if you’re going to make assertions at least have the courtesy of considering the other side of the debate.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Nice complete dodge on the fact that the gospels can’t be eyewitness accounts based solely on the fact that they tell the story of things Jesus’ followers could not possibly have seen.

    This is why I cannot possibly consider your argument valid. You’re using, as a source, a set of documents that claim to bear witness to things the authors could not have witnessed. This is like using my telling of the history of the Apollo missions as a primary source. It is a laughably poor basis for an argument.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “Nice complete dodge on the fact that the gospels can’t be eyewitness accounts based solely on the fact that they tell the story of things Jesus’ followers could not possibly have seen.”

    Again, a journalist does not necessarily see all the things he accounts, nor does a writer of history see all of those things – but they can talk to those who did.

    It’s not a dodge – I start with the gospels from a neutral standpoint (although now that I have decided to put faith in them I am biased) – you start with a skeptical standpoint. Your conclusions follow your hypothesis. This is completely reasonable.

  • muggle

    “Maybe it wouldn’t seem like Nathan was so ganged up on if he were arguing against a bunch of agnostics instead of atheists.”

    Edmond, in other words, I should lie to spare his teensy, weensy little feelings?

    He crashed here. I did not go into his website and start telling them what fools they are to believe, though I think it. I don’t go cruising around Christian sites to mock Christ out of respect. Pity they can’t show the same respect.

    This is why I hate the motherfucking egotistical golden rule. They probably actually think they’d want someone to come and save their soul. I just want them to respect me enough to a) realize I’ve heard it all before, b) leave me alone about Jebus already and c) stop trying to legislate their beliefs into laws and demand I follow them.

    What I revere is the truth and the truth is I’m Atheist — not Agnostic.

  • muggle

    I needn’t pay too much attention to the hyper-negative ones.

    Right back at ya, pippin.

    I’m so sick of being pressured to censor my “negativity” that I couldn’t give a flying fig how it’s taken any more.

    All that “stop being so negative” bullshit is just a method to suppress speech you don’t like.

  • muggle

    Excellent link, Bleu. Thanks. This is going to save me a whole lot of typing in the future too.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    It’s not a dodge – I start with the gospels from a neutral standpoint (although now that I have decided to put faith in them I am biased) – you start with a skeptical standpoint. Your conclusions follow your hypothesis. This is completely reasonable.

    It’s also completely wrong. I did not start from a skeptical standpoint. I started from a fundamentalist, Biblical literalist standpoint.

    Why do you put faith in the text? How does that make any sense? Is the text your god? If not, why this bizarre assertion that it’s reliable, despite the total lack of external confirmation? Why do you give this text a special privilege that you wouldn’t even give to the claims of a used car dealer? You can try to rationalize it away as much as you want by saying that the passages in the book that were identified by latter passages in the book as prophecies that the book confirmed were fulfilled, but you still have only one source. There is nothing but that book to provide what you claim is sufficient evidence to convince a reasonable adult to believe the book.

  • muggle

    I apologise for assigning you a gender. It was not my intention to offend. I have not, I confess, read many of your posts. I am a feed subscriber rather than a regular visitor to the comments…

    “You see, you seem to think I have to disprove your silly myth to disbelieve. No, I don’t. I just have to realize how preposterous it is and ask for proof of it precisely because it is preposterous.”

    No, I think you need to show cause why the beliefs of the majority (in the US) should not be legislated. I think you also need to disprove my particular belief in order to label me as delusional. It’s not enough to assert that there are no gods. That doesn’t convince anybody who thinks they have a relationship with a specific God. I’m sure Muslims feel the same way. I know it’s hard work – but considering each God on their merits (or lack thereof) seems more courteous to those who disagree with you.

    Wow, where do I begin? Okay, let’s take it from the top.

    That was discourteous of you to put it nicely. You seem to expect us to hang on your every “sacred” (that’s in quotations for a reason in case you’re too dim to get that) word but admit you don’t read ours. How rude! It certainly wasn’t your intention not to offend either!

    I need to show cause why the beliefs of the majority shouldn’t be legislated? Excuse me? Are you kidding me? Read the goddamned constitution and if you don’t like it, overthrow the government. (You’ll note I’m not too worried that you’ll succeed.) Because majority rule does not take precedence over minority rights in this democratic republic that’s why I don’t have to show cause that the majority doesn’t get to oppress the minority.

    Psst, stupid. (Obviously, I’m way beyond having any respect for you.) It’s a little thing called freedom. That’s why you’re free to be such a bloody fucking moron.

    But thanks for pointing out that block quote thing. I never noticed it. About the only thing I can thank you for and it’s so tiny.

    Everything else you’ve had to say has been disrespectful and, well, not very intelligent, frankly.

    People keep pointing out that your god requires the same proof as any other god if you want to prove him. That a fiction book written thousands of years ago isn’t exactly proof of anything. And neither is popularity and you just don’t get it. I seriously think you have no comprehension skills at all.

    Geesh, it’s like talking to a brick wall. I think I’ll follow Siamang’s example and give it up. Since you’ve decided that all discussion about Jebus has to start with the presumption that he is unless you can prove he isn’t — well, go discuss this with a kid who doesn’t believe in God but ardently and passionately believes yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

  • Pingback: St. Eutychus » On Hitchens

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Muggle,

    Now you’re making offensive assumptions.

    “Are you kidding me? Read the goddamned constitution and if you don’t like it, overthrow the government.”

    I am Australian. I live in Australia.

    “That a fiction book written thousands of years ago isn’t exactly proof of anything.”

    Now you’re making a claim with no proof. Who says it’s fiction.

    Sorry Mike, I was referring to your arguments here…

    It’s also completely wrong. I did not start from a skeptical standpoint. I started from a fundamentalist, Biblical literalist standpoint.

    That’s probably just as problematic as starting from a skeptical standpoint. I assume you don’t read poetry as literal fundamentalist history – why did you do that with the Bible?

    why this bizarre assertion that it’s reliable, despite the total lack of external confirmation? despite the total lack of external confirmation?

    The fact that corroborating texts does not exist is not a killer blow – especially when you consider that before they were all put in one volume they were in fact 27 corroborating texts.

    Why do you give this text a special privilege that you wouldn’t even give to the claims of a used car dealer?

    I don’t. I have taken it for a long test drive. I’m pretty confident that it’s a good purchase. You’ll probably suggest that this is confirmation bias.

    I ask what the Christian experience would look like if the God of the Bible were true – and I think it would look pretty much like things you’ll suggest are both circular reasoning and confirmation bias.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    The hypothesis “God exists” is as false as the hypothesis “Gods exist” from an atheist view point. I don’t see it as a question of degree at all. The Bible, the Torah, the Tripitaka, the Bhagavad Gita and all the other holy books ever written come from a false hypothesis. Christians (or any other faith) must provide evidence to support their hypothesis before the writings that came from it can be given any weight. That is why we keep asking for evidence.

  • Island Jack

    Wow, i love reading the comments in this blog. i must say that i am a theist (in the manner that i believe in a supreme being what ever name you want to give that being is fine by me). I don’t care for organized religion basically because what i see is a group of people claiming to have higher status than me trying to tell me what to do based on some of thier bs ideologies. I started out in life as a christian with a mixed upbringing as a Catholic and a Lutheren (tell me that isn’t crazy) with a native american grandfather laughing all the while claiming the bible was a book the Jews wrote to make money off of. I would always kindly remind him that the Jews didn’t write the whole bible but that the Romans are the ones who built christianity with all of thier pagen gods built into it so that thier empire could continue on (read about Constantine before you attack me). So the romans are the ones that helped to build Christianity into a multi billion dollar industry.

    Siamang, muggle and hoverfrog,

    i honestly love reading your posts and believe that you are very level headed. Although I do believe in a God (making me a theist) i really appreciate alot of your comments from an individual atheist point of view (meaning i recognize your belief as being yours and not representative of all athiests).

    Nathan,

    I admire your passion for Christianity but maybe you need to dive a little deeper. Meaning look at what churches are preaching versus what they are doing. I regularly attend a variety of Christian churches every Sunday because different people to include my immediate family ask me to. I always enjoy the laughs and usually spend most of my Sunday Afternoons answering questions and having people research for themselves my disagreances with the sermons. I particularly love the big churches that totally misrepresent the meaning of the bible and then cry so dramatically while doing it and passing around at least 2 offering plates. One church I frequent at least once every 6 months does at least 2 and sometimes up to 5 collections (and that has only been while i was there so who knows how many more they do. According to church members there is always a minimum of 2 collections). I believe that the original message of Jesus has been so distorted and manipulated over the generations that very little of the original intent is even thier. The only thing i would offer is OT versus NT. In the 10 commandments read the first 2 then tell me if Jesus is God. I don’t buy into the whole trinity God the father, the son and the holy breath. All i would ask is that you keep an open mind and discern for yourself what the truth may or may not be.

    Thank you all for your opinions and advise as I honestly appreciate.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    It’s quite simple. When you’re talking to a monotheist the argument that all these other gods are invalid and irrational is silly. We’ve made that decision already by affirming one particular God. Clearly we think this God is something special … I am here as a Christian. I understand that atheists reject all gods. That they reject the very premise of god.

    Of course. But Nathan, the only reason I even responded to you in the first place is because you said this:

    And If I am deluded you’re right to laugh at the absurdities of mine – as I am right to laugh at your absurd “head in the sand” disbelief in the God who created the world.

    What is an atheist to make of that? It doesn’t seem like a statement from someone who understands that atheists have nothing against your particular god. It didn’t come across as being written by someone who understands that atheists reject all gods or the premise of gods.

    Rather, it seemed like a direct slam against us for not believing in what you happen to think is the one true god. It sounded like you think that atheists secretly believe in your god, but are being willfully ignorant and deliberately obtuse.

    “Head in the sand disbelief” is a pretty strong statement. This is what prompted me to try to explain that atheists don’t consider your god to be more or less likely than any other. Now you claim you knew that all along, but your previous statements certainly didn’t indicate that to me.

    But I started commenting here because of the statement, which I believe is incorrect, that all beliefs in God are equally delusional. I don’t think this is true. I reject all concepts of God but one. Others (like the Bahai) embrace all concepts of God. They must surely be deluded by a greater degree.

    Okay. I personally don’t think “deluded” is a very constructive word, loaded as it is with negative connotations. And I think trying to measure “degrees” of “delusion” is a fruitless endeavor. Either theistic beliefs are true or they are false. If they are false, then monotheists are just as wrong as polytheists. It has nothing to do with the number of deities they happen to believe in. If those deities do not exist, then no one who believes in a god is correct.

  • Edmond

    Let me first address Muggle, who didn’t like the word agnostic, because she didn’t want to spare Nathan’s feelings. To that I would say, no problem, fine, please do call yourself whatever you like, and rail away at Nathan and everybody else however you like. Be polite, or don’t be polite, I’ll read the posts either way, and I’m sure going in that I’m going to agree with the atheists every time. I was just saying that I personally prefer the word agnostic. Actually, I prefer agnostic-atheist, or atheistic-agnostic, or “soft” atheist, or whatever. As an agnostic, I believe that it’s impossible for us to know whether any gods exist and therefore pointless to form a belief system on the subject. However, as an atheist (and a realist), I think that gods are highly unlikely.

    Next, back to Nathan…

    I think it’s pretty obvious that you can’t logically accept all religious beliefs as true. But that does not make all religious beliefs automatically false.

    No, it doesn’t AUTOMATICALLY make them false. But they can’t ALL be true. Either only one is true, or NONE are. Again with the “likelihood” arguement. It is FAR more likely that none are true. Please see the post on this site with the short video of Richard Feynman explaining his skepticism of UFO’s to see how scientific “likelihood” applies to religion. Then trip out on the groovy moving design.

    What I’d really like to ask Nathan to address is all the ASININE crap that is in the bible. Bats are birds. Rabbits are cows. Pi is 3. Gay people are abominations. Shellfish is an abomination. Does none of this bother you? Do you not see how archaic and ignorant of a document this is? Christians call this book “the inerrant word of god”, so why are there so many errors? There are stacks of websites devoted to the errors, inconsistencies and downright self-contradictions within the bible. Surely you’re not blind to these glaring problems? As a gay man, I visit many blogs where trolls (or gay rights opponents) quote good old Leviticus as justification for vilifying and marginalizing gay people. The responses pile up as people further counter-quote the bible’s ridiculous prohibitions against shellfish, wearing mixed fibers, and I don’t know how many other ancient caveats. However, the trolls NEVER reply back. I’ve never heard one rational argument about why it’s ok to let the bible to lead you to hate gays, but also ok to ignore the rule about not eating shellfish. Do you have any explanation for the utter garbage that fills the bible? Other than the obvious explanation that it was written by the hand of MAN, not god.

    Further, why is christianity not a unified front? Why so many different denominations and interpretations? Forget about the different RELIGIONS fighting amongst each other. You take two different people who attend the same CHURCH and they won’t be able to agree on the same message the bible is trying to convey. If this book is, again, the word of god, why isn’t everyone on the same page? Some are creationists, some accept evolution. Some hate the gays, some want to welcome them into the flock. Some protest across the nation with big signs that say GOD HATES… well EVERYTHING, apparently. Why so much division among believers of the same faith? Why doesn’t your book unite you all equally? Does god WANT you fighting between yourselves? Atheists have an excuse, we HAVE no book which we all rely on. Why don’t all christians preach exactly the same message?

    To me, this all adds up to a religion that is chock full of HOLES. I don’t see how someone can sincerely say they investigated and studied the religion, and found it to be solid and reliable, let alone defensible.

  • Island Jack

    Edmond,

    I think you make very good points. Especially your last statement which is why I basically turned my back on all Religions. Isn’t it funny how basically every major religious sect (not just christianity) does nothing but fight over whose right and whose better. The more i studied the more disapointed i became and the more i questioned different church leaders. The most common response i received to the simplist questions was “your faith is not strong enough which is why you can’t understand”. LMAO.

    By the way if you ever want to hang up any Christian just refer to Leviticus. I have found that this leaves them all tongue tied as they then try to explain that some sins are ok but others aren’t.

  • Siamang

    Thanks, Island Jack.

    I hope you stick around and contribute often.

    In response to your comments, last night I had a conversation with an observant Jew who was wearing a Yarmulke. He had a witty comment that he says when someone asks him if he believes in God. He said something like “Yes, but not as much as God would like him to.”

    It made me think a bit about a different perspective on the idea of belief… that there really aren’t merely two positions. I though of the position of a “non-claimant”.

    A non-claimant would hold a philosophical position where she asserts that a God may or may not exist, but that any specific assertions of God’s attributes would, by necessity as human assertions, be so far short of Godliness as to be uselessly false upon utterance. I could imagine this person saying that an atheist might be more right than wrong, in at least they have the virtue of not describing God with a human aspect. In the view of the non-claimant, a (positive) atheist and a theist would be equally wrong, for each misdescribes attributes of God, an atheist describing the aspect of non-existence, the theist describing any other aspect.

    Anyway… it’s off topic, but I thought I’d share.

    Cheers!

  • Island Jack

    Siamang,

    First thank you. I think I have found a good site for some real insightful blogs.
    Thought it was in this blog but guess it was in another where i more or less gave some of the views that you described above. The one thing that probably bothers people the most about me is that I do believe in a Supreme Being (we will just call it God for arguments sake) but at the same time I constantly strive not to put human aspects on God. I think i picked this philosophy up in my studies of Taoism. Although i will probably put a lot of thought into your “non-claimant” quote as this is the first time i have ever heard of this. Just goes to show that we all still have a lot to experience and learn.

    Thanks and as always have a beautiful day and hope to converse with you more later.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    non-claimant

    That reminds me of some Zen teachings.

    When the mortal mind appears, buddhahood disappears. When the mortal mind disappears, buddhahood appears. When the mind appears, reality disappears. When the mind disappears, reality appears.

    From a non-claimant perspective, once you start to describe god, you’ve lost god.

    I guess atheists are closer to god :)

  • Siamang

    Yeah, I probably gleaned it from zen.

    Yet still, in the moment last night, it seemed like a new idea to me. Probably because I hadn’t attached it to the western idea of holding a philosophical position before. It was the combination of the notion of ineffability with a philosophical stance. At least the notion seemed new to me in the moment.

    It seems like an interesting way to look at the problem…

    Actually more precicely, I like it as a way to describe certain aspects about how I feel about atheism. Perhaps for a future conversation with my mother or other theists who I would like to honestly discuss my feelings with in a non-threatening way.

  • muggle

    Island Jack, I hope you stick around too. Now those were good, interesting comments whether I agree with them or not. At least, well thought out. I had a Wiccan friend who used to compare the Bible to a kid’s game of gossip or telephone. By the time you merely get around the classroom, the one sentence is completely altered. So how can the bible be unchanged after thousands of years and numerous translations?

    Edmond, I was perhaps too harsh with you yesterday (I can get hotheaded; it’s my biggest fault) so thanks for your patience with me. Agreed. It is up to each of us to discribe our own belief set. I think our biggest difference is I have no problem labelling myself hard Atheist though really I dislike this hard/soft label. It implies one has a heart like a rock and the other wishy washy. Hardly apt!

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “What is an atheist to make of that? It doesn’t seem like a statement from someone who understands that atheists have nothing against your particular god. It didn’t come across as being written by someone who understands that atheists reject all gods or the premise of gods.”

    Not at all. I accept that your basic philosophical standpoint is that there is no God.

    I don’t think science answers whether God exists or not. I think any atheist resting on science must first infuse science with their philosophy – just like Answers in Genesis do.

    My point was that it’s all well and good for you to point and laugh at theists but if that’s the tone you want to go for you should expect theists to point an laugh at you.

    Rather, it seemed like a direct slam against us for not believing in what you happen to think is the one true god. It sounded like you think that atheists secretly believe in your god, but are being willfully ignorant and deliberately obtuse.

    That certainly wasn’t my intention. I don’t believe atheists believe in God, I believe there are plenty of atheists in the fox holes. I think the Bible suggests that people will not believe in God. I’m thinking particularly of 1 Corinthians 1 Why should I then try to deny that?

    “Head in the sand disbelief” is a pretty strong statement. This is what prompted me to try to explain that atheists don’t consider your god to be more or less likely than any other. Now you claim you knew that all along, but your previous statements certainly didn’t indicate that to me.”

    Again, you’re making all sorts of assumptions of my character based on the crazy American Christians who run around with their fundamentalist infused ideas and try to impose Biblical law on you.

    I guess you’re used to people coming in and not understanding atheists – that’s not what I’m doing. I’m coming in and telling you you don’t understand Christians.

    While Island Jack gives a great picture of the mess of church life – not all churches are “Christians” in the true sense of the word.

    Christians are those who follow Christ. Christ ran through the kind of temple Island Jack describes with a knotted rope whipping people and turning over their tables. Judge the truth of Christianity by Jesus not by his followers. I don’t pick the bands I like based on who else likes them. A true Scotsman is from Scotland. A true Christian follows Jesus. I can call myself a Scotsman all I like, but I can’t be a Scotsman if I’m not Scottish.

    Incidentally, imposing Biblical law on people who aren’t Christians is quite a ridiculous idea. Over and over again the Bible makes the distinction between Christians and non-Christians that we have the law of God written on our hearts – and non-Christians don’t.

    To treat everyone as though they are Christians is not a Christian idea.

    I’ll address Edmonds comments in a separate comment. I’m not scared of Leviticus references. I’m scared of Christians who don’t understand Leviticus.

  • Edmond

    @Muggle:

    I completely know what you mean. Sometimes I hate using the word agnostic because no one knows what the hell it is! My partner often asks me: “What are we again?” I have to tell him “YOU can call yourself whatever you want, I like to think of myself as…” but seriously, it gets to be a pain to have to explain it every time, even to my own life partner!

    Don’t worry a second about being “harsh” with me. I didn’t even notice. More, I felt like you were just scolding me for what probably sounded like me asking you to go easy on the poor xtians. I sure didn’t mean that! Go for it! I was really just trying not to be “off-putting” for Nathan, so he would continue to answer questions.

    Speaking of, I’m still waiting for answers to my last questions. I don’t 100% expect Nathan himself to answer, I really had to search for this posting once it slipped off my iGoogle page. But ANYONE of the “Christian Lifestyle” could please tell me HOW you defend a book that is supposed to be INERRANT when it’s clearly full of error! Human mistranslation? Then stop worshipping it if it’s wrong!

    OK, OK, I know you guys don’t actually worship the book itself, but I’m not arguing semantics here. Like I said before, on the sites I frequent, where pro-gay opinions are bandied about, someone inevitably pulls out the Leviticus/Man-shall-not-lie-with-man crap. Of course, the community there doesn’t take it lying down, and counter-quotes with all the other garbage in the bible that xtians flat out ignore, like not eating shellfish. But, NO ONE ever comes back with an explanation! EVER! Is it THAT much of a conundrum for xtians? Is it that easy to shut you all up? Could someone PLEASE respond to my accusation that the bible is full of errors, contradictions, and PILES of ridiculous old laws that no one follows anymore?

    And while you’re at it, please respond to my other question above, as to why all xtians are not unified in their beliefs and interpretations of the bible? Do you not all have ONE god and ONE truth? How could there be so much disagreement between you all? Why do we atheists have to listen to you accuse EACH OTHER all the time of not being REAL xtians? How do you expect any of us to take your beliefs seriously when you can’t agree on what your beliefs are?

    Or will this all continue to go unanswered, unchallenged?

  • Edmond

    Alright, I spoke too soon, Nathan was posting while I was, and I look forward to his response. Though, reading his latest one, I shouldn’t expect to get much of an answer to my question of “why aren’t xtians unified”. It looks like he feels, as most xtians do, that he is the REAL xtian, as are those who share his exact beliefs. Anyone else is lying, or misguided, or whatever.

    I was very glad to see him post this:

    Incidentally, imposing Biblical law on people who aren’t Christians is quite a ridiculous idea.

    Since I am a gay man living in Washington State, my rights are currently under the xtian chopping block, and it should be understandable that this fact has me PISSED. Not only are the religulous trying to TAKE AWAY rights that have ALREADY BEEN GRANTED, they are also trying to bend the existing laws so that both the signers of the referendum and those that donate against us can keep their names hidden. They claim fear of harrassment, completely OBLIVIOUS to the fact that this is what they’ve been doing to us for years!

    This is all justified by quoting Leviticus, apparently by xtians who “don’t understand Leviticus”. Well, I’ll be very glad to read Nathan’s explanation. I would HOPE that it will DENOUNCE those xtians who are fighting against gay rights. If not, I hope Nathan is only briefly taking time out to answer my question from his busy day of protesting Red Lobster.

  • Edmond

    Oh, and also Nathan, thanks for your help with the quote box thing.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    What I’d really like to ask Nathan to address is all the ASININE crap that is in the bible. Bats are birds. Rabbits are cows. Pi is 3. Gay people are abominations. Shellfish is an abomination. Does none of this bother you?

    I think it’s culturally imperialistic to expect a book written before the advent of the scientific method to deal with things with scientific precision.

    Why should the Bible present things like Pi accurately before Pi was discovered?

    How would a culture, before Pi, describe the size or amount of material used in a circle? What makes you think a circle shape has to be a perfect circle.

    I think most of these problems you have with the Bible stem out of your definition of “inerrant”. I’m sure it’s a definition that comes from some fundamentalist Christians you know but those of us who are normal (not liberal), and hold to the idea of inerrancy, understand it slightly differently.

    Christians call this book “the inerrant word of god”, so why are there so many errors?

    The Bible is the word of God about God, humanity and God’s plan to bring humanity to him through Jesus. It is not the definitive word on bird species, nor on physics. It is about God for people to understand God. Trying to use it as a text to understand anything else is dangerous.

    It is inerrant in so far as it describes God’s intentions for his people. In the Old Testament he intended them to be Holy and set apart. The laws, while some seem silly, were designed to do this. To make Israel look clearly different to the nations around them.

    The Law shows us that God’s standards are greater than our own – and impossible to meet. Which is why Israel could make atonement for their sins through sacrifices and repentance.

    The law was, in commonly accepted, historic, reformed, Christian doctrine established for Israel as a standard that could not ever be met.

    When you get to the New Testament you see Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, tell the religious police (the Pharisees) that they’ve got the law all wrong. That they see it as a measuring stick to live up to – when in fact they should always, if they want to meet God’s standards, go further.

    The fundamental idea of Christianity is that we can never meet those standards. And that’s where Jesus comes in.

    I feel a bit like I’m preaching – but I’m trying to answer your question in a way that shows where I think both you, and American cultural Christianity, miss the point. I’ll try to be shorter from here on in…

    As a gay man, I visit many blogs where trolls (or gay rights opponents) quote good old Leviticus as justification for vilifying and marginalizing gay people.

    Using Leviticus to vilify anything seems odd. And you’re right that in order to be consistent people using Leviticus should vilify a whole lot of things… Leviticus, if it says anything about morality, says that none of us can hope to be moral.

    I believe homosexuality is a sin. Not because Leviticus says so – but because the Bible says so over and over again (take Romans 1 for a New Testament example) But I also believe that sex outside of marriage is a sin. I believe disobeying your parents is a sin. Interestingly, the English word for sin came from archery – and meant to miss the target. Bible translators appropriated it because it describes the Biblical concept of missing God’s standards.

    That you miss God’s standards is not a reason to hate you, bash you, ostracise you or vilify you. It’s a reason to love you, pray for you, and reach out to you.

    If you became a Christian, as a gay man, you would need to repent and try not to be gay, just as I, a heterosexual need to work at being faithful to my marriage and not pursuing sex with whomever I please. We all have sinful desires in one area or another that are innate and instinctive. The fact that homosexuality is genetic does not, for the Christian, immediately remove the taint of sin. Sin is genetic. The Bible, while written before genetic theories were developed, suggests that we, as humans, are innately and inescapably sinful.

    Again, I feel like I’m preaching. I’ll move on.

    Further, why is christianity not a unified front? Why so many different denominations and interpretations? Forget about the different RELIGIONS fighting amongst each other. You take two different people who attend the same CHURCH and they won’t be able to agree on the same message the bible is trying to convey.

    Being a Christian does not magically make you not human. We’re still sinful. We’re still stupid. We’re still arrogant. We still think we’re right about everything. That’s human nature.

    Churches are also full of people who aren’t actually Christians. And if the Bible is to be believed that’s completely understandable. You can dismiss this as circular reasoning if you like – but the Bible says much more about looking out for false teachers within who will cause schism and debate than it does about homosexuality.

    To me, this all adds up to a religion that is chock full of HOLES. I don’t see how someone can sincerely say they investigated and studied the religion, and found it to be solid and reliable, let alone defensible.

    That’s your opinion. I have investigated and studied the religion and found it to be reliable. I would not stick with it otherwise.

    Holes, in my experience, generally come from poor understanding. There are plenty of things I don’t understand about Christianity, but again, this does not automatically make holding beliefs in Christianity illogical or delusional. Why should God be completely understandable?

    I’ve never heard one rational argument about why it’s ok to let the bible to lead you to hate gays, but also ok to ignore the rule about not eating shellfish.

    That’s because there’s no Biblical rationale to hate anybody. We’re all in the same boat. If more Christians were able to grasp the idea of “there but for the grace of God go I” the world would be a much less confused place.

    The difference between homosexuality and the shellfish issues (in terms of sinfulness) is that the New Testament makes it clear that non-Jews who become Christians are not bound to the Old Testament law at all, while for Jews it becomes a matter of conscience. However, as I mentioned earlier, homosexuality is consistently described as both sinful and conduct that Christians shouldn’t engage in.

    The Bible expects non Christians to behave like non Christians though. So if that’s your choice, it’s your choice. Christians shouldn’t tell you not to be gay, they should tell you to be a Christian.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Not at all. I accept that your basic philosophical standpoint is that there is no God.

    I would define atheism as being a simple lack of belief in deities. I don’t personally make an assertion that none exist, although other atheists may do so. However, I’m glad that you do not think we secretly believe in gods. That’s how I initially read your comment.

    I don’t think science answers whether God exists or not. I think any atheist resting on science must first infuse science with their philosophy – just like Answers in Genesis do.

    Science cannot prove that deities do not exist, and it doesn’t have to. The burden of proof is on those who make an assertion that gods are real. Atheists are simply withholding belief in deities until we get convincing evidence of the supernatual.

    My point was that it’s all well and good for you to point and laugh at theists but if that’s the tone you want to go for you should expect theists to point an laugh at you.

    That’s not something I’ve ever done. I don’t think either side should be laughing at the other.

    That certainly wasn’t my intention. I don’t believe atheists believe in God, I believe there are plenty of atheists in the fox holes. I think the Bible suggests that people will not believe in God. I’m thinking particularly of 1 Corinthians 1 Why should I then try to deny that?

    I believe you. I’m just telling you how it came across. “Head in the sand disbelief” sounded like you meant just the opposite of what you’re saying now, and that’s how I interpreted it. Like most atheists, I have been repeatedly asked why I am mad at a particular god or why I’m blind to all the evidence for that god. I have also been told that I’m not really an atheist, that I secretly do believe deep down. As you can imagine, this is rather frustrating.

    Again, you’re making all sorts of assumptions of my character based on the crazy American Christians who run around with their fundamentalist infused ideas and try to impose Biblical law on you.

    Your character? I don’t see how this follows from anything I’ve said. I don’t even know you. I could not begin to guess your beliefs on political or social issues, and we’re from entirely different countries to boot. I was simply telling you how I read your previous statement. Even if you didn’t intend it to be derogatory and dismissive, that’s how I interpreted it.

    I guess you’re used to people coming in and not understanding atheists – that’s not what I’m doing. I’m coming in and telling you you don’t understand Christians.

    All of us? Many of the people who post here used to be Christians. I’ve never been one, but I do think I have a good handle on the belief system. However, I’m not an expert. There are many different varieties of Christianity out there, and making generalizations is rather difficult. Personally, I’ll leave that to others to debate.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “It looks like he feels, as most xtians do, that he is the REAL xtian, as are those who share his exact beliefs. Anyone else is lying, or misguided, or whatever.”

    I don’t think being wrong about Christianity makes people not Christian. I just think it makes them wrong about those things.

    I think most of the Christians you have a problem with are from the loony fringe.

    Christianity needs a bit of a clean up – I just don’t think we need to throw it away and start again.

    I can’t spend too much time addressing these points because I’m at work…

    But I think there are clearly passages in the Bible (like this one in John) that warn people that bad doctrine that bears no fruit (and I suggest that’s where people like the “God hates Fags” mob sits) is going to lead to ruin. This would, to me, suggest that God expects bad doctrine to arise from our human thinking.

  • Edmond

    Nathan, I sincerely appreciate your responses, and I am honestly enjoying this debate. I’m at work too though, so I’m going to hold off going into much more, as I’m off soon and can collect my thoughts better at home. I know you don’t speak for everyone that shares your religion, but it’s nice to have at least one person who will have a rational debate.

    That said, I AM going to stew about one thing you said:

    If you became a Christian, as a gay man, you would need to repent and try not to be gay, just as I, a heterosexual need to work at being faithful to my marriage and not pursuing sex with whomever I please.

    I’m not even going to touch on whatever might be going on in your marriage and what you need to work on.
    HOWEVER. IF I were to become christian (NOT gonna happen) how exactly would you suggest I “try not to be gay”? Actually, scratch that, I think what I mean to say is, HOW DARE YOU suggest that such a thing is even possible? There are a lot of things that atheists might suggest to theists that might piss them off, but let me tell you that NOTHING pisses off gay people more than being told that they should/can try not to be gay. Let me be perfectly clear here, and I think that since I am gay, I am something of an expert in this area: BEING GAY IS NOT A CHOICE. I did not choose this any more than you choose NOT to be gay. I CANNOT and WILL NOT “try” not to be gay, and to suggest otherwise is to insult my dignity as a human being and to my place in society. I know for a fact that there are gay christians, but I suppose some (not you?) would argue that they’re not (sigh) REAL christians.
    Let me ask you this, WHY has god decreed that homosexuality is a sin? What exactly is wrong with it? It’s not un-natural, as science has shown that nearly all of “god’s” natural animals engage in homosexual behavior. Is it the procreation thing? Is the planet too under-populated for christian tastes? What is UP with the sexual repression that permeates nearly ALL religions? Is god really that set on depriving everyone of joy and love?

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “HOWEVER. IF I were to become christian (NOT gonna happen) how exactly would you suggest I “try not to be gay”?”

    There’s no easy answer to that question. And there are plenty of Christians with homosexual inclinations who struggle with it.

    As you’ve said you’re not going to become a Christian any time soon this is purely hypothetical.

    BEING GAY IS NOT A CHOICE. I did not choose this any more than you choose NOT to be gay.

    Having homosexual inclinations is not a choice. I agree. Acting on them is. Really it comes down to a choice between wanting to live out God’s desires or your own.

    I CANNOT and WILL NOT “try” not to be gay, and to suggest otherwise is to insult my dignity as a human being and to my place in society.

    Well yes, that’s what Christianity is. Fundamentally it’s your choice to sacrifice your own “dignity” for the sake of God’s glory. A decision to forgo your own autonomous declaration of identity. It only addresses your place in society if you choose to be defined by your sexuality.

    Most heterosexual guys I know have natural desires to want to sleep with as many women as possible. Christianity requires that those desires be repressed.

    As do my wedding vows. I’m not suggesting I have a problem there – but before I was married I had to commit to the idea of not having sex before I met and married my wife.

    Clearly we have different philosophical standpoints on the issue of the expression of sexuality. Both probably framed by our underlying philosophy regarding the existence of God.

    “Actually, scratch that, I think what I mean to say is, HOW DARE YOU suggest that such a thing is even possible?”

    I’m not suggesting it’s easy. It requires either a commitment to abstinence or working hard to express your sexual urges in a married, heterosexual relationship.

    It’s really not an easy doctrine – but again – not being easy doesn’t make it false. It just makes it hard.

    “WHY has god decreed that homosexuality is a sin? What exactly is wrong with it? “

    I don’t know. But it’s God’s prerogative to decree whatever he wants. Really.

    “It’s not un-natural, as science has shown that nearly all of “god’s” natural animals engage in homosexual behavior.”

    For the Christian God is the arbiter of “natural” not science. We might observe natural things happening – but we understand that it’s not just humanity that is broken, but the whole world.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Nathan, would you be an enthusiastic Christian if the bible said that men SHOULD lie with men and that hetero-sexual relations is a sin? Would you wonder why god made you heterosexual but wrote that you should go against your own nature? Or would you conclude that bigoted men wrote that and attributed it to God. Just curious.

    I do like your position, though, that Christians shouldn’t try to legislate and force their own morality on everybody else. If all Christians were like that, then we could truly live and let live. Christians can believe anything they want because they won’t be hurting anyone else. You would probably see the “new atheist” movement dry up almost over-night.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “Nathan, would you be an enthusiastic Christian if the bible said that men SHOULD lie with men and that hetero-sexual relations is a sin?”

    I haven’t seen a belief system that suggests this, so again we’re dealing purely with hypotheticals…

    I wouldn’t lie back and think of England.

    My point is that at the end of the day we have natural inclinations and it is our decision (this is where choice comes in) whether to act on them or not.

    I know the dangers of mentioning other perversions in the same context as homosexuality – but people socially or genetically predisposed to all sorts of sexual stuff that we consider inappropriate.

    Would you wonder why god made you heterosexual but wrote that you should go against your own nature?

    Of course. It seems natural to wonder about that. Just like it is natural to wonder about suffering. Or why children die. I don’t think the fact that these things happen to other people means that God doesn’t exist, nor should I think so if it happens to me.

    I have several Christian friends who struggle with homosexual attraction, but they’ve chosen to build their identity on Christianity rather than homosexuality so they don’t act on that attraction.

    “Or would you conclude that bigoted men wrote that and attributed it to God.”

    I don’t think this conclusion necessarily follows your premise.

    It’s not like homosexuality was exactly frowned upon by Greek culture, or in fact any culture during the times the Bible was written.

  • Leia

    “I think evidence is great and helpful. I just think all evidence is tainted by philosophy.”

    – Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
    -A system of thought based on or involving such inquiry
    – and on…

    Philosophy always getting in the way /facepalm.

    Using inquiry to better understand and decide our morals, what is “good”, and what is “bad” shouldn’t be the antagonist. Participating in self-driven thought and inquisitive behavior should never be discouraged. When it is discouraged I begin to question that as well.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    Nathan, the homosexuality issue is a volatile one but I will suggest this: Your claim that modern day homosexual relationships between consenting adults is condemned in the bible is wrong. Leviticus 18, as I think you’ve pointed out, is a cultural passage that condemns a range of activities that the people of the time considered bad. The myth of Sodom and Gomorrah isn’t about homosexuality but about disobedience. Romans is talking specifically about activities in the temple. It is clear that wild orgies (while fun) were considered bad by the writers. The point that the temple orgy featured same sex activities is really a distraction.

    I obviously could go into more detail but I don’t think I need to because the key point on homosexuality is that it is a matter of interpretation. Nowhere in the bible does it describe normal relationships between same sex couples. Only the cultural prohibitions and an orgy are condemned. How could you interpret that? You could extend the limited scope of the bible to include all gay relationships or you could interpret it more compassionately and accept that the bible was a book of it’s time. As a follower of Jesus what choice seems more appropriate to you?

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Romans is talking specifically about activities in the temple.

    I don’t agree with that interpretation of Romans.

    “Nowhere in the bible does it describe normal relationships between same sex couples”

    And yet the Bible speaks volumes about relationships between opposite sex couples.

    “You could extend the limited scope of the bible to include all gay relationships or you could interpret it more compassionately and accept that the bible was a book of it’s time.”

    Or, like I’ve argued, I could accept that one of the largest theme of the Bibles is the struggle against our sinful desires in order to follow Christ. Homosexual attraction is no doubt one of the hardest crosses to bear. But any action that doesn’t meet God’s standard – including homosexual sex – is sinful and needs to be repented of. It’s forgivable – and I think lots of Christians need to realise that, and it’s no worse than having sex outside of marriage – I think a lot of Christians need to realise that too… but it’s a sin. The key to forgiveness is repentance. The God of the Bible forgives anyone, for anything, on the basis of repentance – the idea of making things ok with God because they’re now culturally ok is relatively new. And it doesn’t do anybody any favours. Because it makes people assume they’ve got nothing to repent of…

  • Island Jack

    Nathan,

    You make some very good arguments and in reading your posts I see where it appears that you have actually done some studying of the bible. What i mean is that you appear to have researched and looked at the translations (whether through Lexicons or study of the languages). This is very uncommon in most religions especially Christianity.

    The biggest problem that i have always had with Christianity is that when i question things in the bible looking for meaning, the majority of Christians would simply read the passage and take the passage literally. They often times don’t like looking at the concept or idea behind the entire situation and are almost always lost when i start talking about the way the passage was translated from the original text. And believe it or not this was when i was just a tween. LOL.
    I was raised to search for the answers myself and to consider the sources from which i seek knowledge. I am naturally an inquisitive person and rarely take anything at face value. I was that crazy kid that was not really kicked out of sunday school but more or less considered a nusiance because i asked to many questions and questioned the answers. You know the one who said “If God created Adam and Eve and they had Cain and Abel and Cain kills Abel and was sent to the land of Nod to live with the Others. Who are the Others and where did they come from?” I believe that the simple questions that children ask are often times the most important because they are seeking answers that are almost always the basic foundation of any belief. As they grow older they are shaped and molded and usually move through life with out questioning things because somewhere along the way they made someone angry by asking to many questions. They then end up getting the Proverbial “Because I said So” answer and then they don’t question as much anymore until eventually they quit questioning and just accept whatever explanation and teaching is given to them.
    Look at any religion. What do you have? The majority of the followers don’t actually do any real research into thier religion they just accept the teachings of the leaders and repeat like little parrots what they heard (or think they heard) with no real understanding. My stepchildren are discovering this concept and constantly question me about hundreds of things after they go to Church on Sundays.
    Ok i will get off my soapbox now and let this discussion get back on track. thank you to everyone for letting me give my opinions.
    Nathan my only advice is to keep on keeping on and follow your heart and keep your faith. Unfortunately we won’t always have the answers to everything and that is fine. The biggest step forward is realizing that we don’t know or understand it all and to accept that. You appear to already know that which gives you a big headstart on most Christians.

  • Edmond

    Back at work now, I didn’t turn on my computer last night at home, but I spent plenty of time thinking about this discussion, prepping my statements, trying to anticipate responses, the things we all do. But finally, I realized we’re just going to have to agree to disagree. I’m not going to convince you, and you’re not going to convince me. Maybe as a relative newbie to this blog stuff, I’m behind the curve on this. This is probably a realization that the more experienced people here have already made. So I’m going to say my last piece on this post, though if there are any significant responses, I may chime back in briefly.

    Ultimately, the problem that I and other atheists have is that we can speak with one guy who insists that his exact set of beliefs just happens to be the exact right recipe to make god happy, while not seeming to realize that every religious person in the world is saying the exact same thing about THEIR beliefs, and not realizing how ridiculous and unbelievable that makes him look.
    I explained to Nathan that asking me to change my homosexuality just to appease some god is an insult to who I am, and to my place in society. His response:

    It only addresses your place in society if you choose to be defined by your sexuality.

    No, I’m defined by many things, but my homosexuality is only one of them. But it’s an important part, because it goes beyond sexuality. It addresses who I love, and who loves me. It would address who I would marry, if I could. Would you say that your marriage to your wife is an insignificant part of your life and who you are in society, not to mention how you interact with society? Would you say that your marriage only has significance if you define yourself by your sexuality? I would think not, I would think that you feel very strongly about your marriage and how it places you in society. You and your wife operate as a team. I would think you’d be very proud of that (in as much as xtians are allowed to feel pride). I would think you would vehemently defend your position in society as a husband.

    Most heterosexual guys I know have natural desires to want to sleep with as many women as possible. Christianity requires that those desires be repressed. As do my wedding vows. I’m not suggesting I have a problem there – but before I was married I had to commit to the idea of not having sex before I met and married my wife.

    Well, if my partner and I COULD get married, we wouldn’t have that problem, would we? But no, xtians think they own the copyright on that. And I’m not talking about having multiple sexual partners. I’m talking about having ONE. Your book does not require that your desire for your wife be repressed, does it? So why should I? Who SHOULD I have desires for? Should I deny who I am, and fake attraction for some poor woman? Should I dupe this woman into a loveless and sexless marriage, because some ancient text says that who I am is a sin? You (all xtains) need to stop trying to separate the quality of BEING homosexual from the sex act itself. A person CAN remain abstinent and try to repress any of their true feelings from manifesting, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, or that it’s healthy for them. Or that it changes them from being homosexual. It just makes them into a repressed person. I would argue that that is bad for everyone in society, since we have to share the world with such a twisted, self-hating person.
    When I asked why homosexuality is a sin, in other words, what good, obvious, easily explained reasons did god have for decreeing that it is wrong, Nathan’s response was:

    I don’t know. But it’s God’s prerogative to decree whatever he wants. Really.

    “I DON’T KNOW.”
    Where have we heard this before, and recently?

    U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker asked what harms may befall California if gays are allowed to marry there. Charles Cooper, the lawyer for backers of Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriages, had an unusual answer, the New York Times reports. “Your honor, my answer is: I don’t know,” Cooper said. “I don’t know.”

    Obviously, as Island Jack spelled it out, this is just rote memorization of indoctrination. You don’t have any real good REASON for believing this, other than you were TOLD to. You haven’t done any soul-searching to try to figure out why this is a sin, you simply accept it as it’s written. If you HAD done any soul-searching on this, I would think that you would come to the inescapable conclusion that this book and its doctrines are misguided, obsolete, and irrelevant. If you believe something strongly, you need good reasons for it. If you are asked WHY you believe it, and your answer is “I don’t know”, we call that a FAIL.
    When I suggested that homosexuality is not unnatural, as many xtians would have us believe, because science has observed it in nature, the response was:

    For the Christian God is the arbiter of “natural” not science. We might observe natural things happening – but we understand that it’s not just humanity that is broken, but the whole world.

    I don’t even GET this. The whole world is broken? Do you say this BECAUSE science has observed homosexuality in animals? Is this what makes the world broken? How did it get this way? How did god let it get so out of hand? Did humans break it?
    In a much earlier post, Nathan said:

    Also, I think the vast majority of Christians (outside of America) don’t hold to the position you suggest they hold to regarding Genesis. Those that do are the inflexible fringe who believe that God is incapable of metaphor or nuance. Sadly atheists apply that understanding to both Christians, and our God.

    How do we know YOU’RE not the “inflexible fringe”? This is yet ANOTHER case of “they’re not REAL xtians”.
    And this finally, is the problem. As long as you’re waving your hand saying “Me! Me! I’M the one who has the right answers!” all the while ignoring the BILLIONS of others saying the SAME THING, then no, we can’t take you seriously.
    The bible may have some pearls of wisdom here and there, but nothing that didn’t predate it, and nothing that a decent human being couldn’t figure out on their own. I can put no stock in a god that supposedly made me who I am, and the religion that says I need to change. I have no respect for a belief system that answers serious, life-affecting questions with “I don’t know.”

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    Nathan

    I don’t agree with that interpretation of Romans.

    That’s fine as long as you acknowledge that we are both interpreting it. Most atheists are fine with anyone holding whatever beliefs they like but draw a line when it impacts on the lives of others. You can believe in all the gods you want and interpret your holy book in whatever way you want to but when you label and judge other people you cross a line. When you (not necessarily the individual you) insist on laws being imposed that limit the freedoms and rights of those you judge because of your interpretation you cross another line.

    To be frank you and I do not know if there are gods or not. If you make the assumption that there are then you still do not know what thoughts the gods have. By some interpretations of the concept of gods you cannot know the mind of your god, it is too vast and too unknowable. To judge others because of an assumption and an interpretation of a book clearly written by men within a cultural context seem to me to be the height of arrogance.

    Moreover the book that you glean this interpretation is the same one that commands you to not judge, to be compassionate and to treat others as you yourself would wish to be treated. Like many Christians it seems that you are cherry picking the scriptures that you use to guide your decisions to support a decision that you have already made.

    Perhaps I prejudge you and perhaps you are simply parroting opinions provided to you by family members and authority figures. We are all products of our upbringing after all but there is no good reason to retain such views in the face of contradictory evidence. Ask yourself what harm homosexuality really does. Be as objective as you are able. Do you think that a loving god would really condemn gay people for something that does no harm to one another and no harm to society? Is that really “God’s standard”?

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Edmond,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I too will probably make this my last comment on this post. I’ll try to address HoverFrog as well.

    “Ultimately, the problem that I and other atheists have is that we can speak with one guy who insists that his exact set of beliefs just happens to be the exact right recipe to make god happy, while not seeming to realize that every religious person in the world is saying the exact same thing about THEIR beliefs, and not realizing how ridiculous and unbelievable that makes him look.”

    Ultimately there is only one right way to please God – the freedom that Christians have, in terms of our relationship with God, is to be wrong. We understand that being wrong is forgivable.

    This creates problems for outsiders because you never know what you’re going to get…

    “Would you say that your marriage to your wife is an insignificant part of your life and who you are in society, not to mention how you interact with society?”

    Not at all. It is very significant. But it’s a matter of what you primarily identify as. I primarily identify as a Christian, not a husband. Every other part of my identity flows from that. That’s kind of the point of Christianity. So if I were a man who was same sex attracted and I became a Christian it would change my thinking about my sexuality. It does. Like I said, I’m not arguing from abstract here, I have a few friends for whom this is a real struggle. But if you’re convinced of one truth your experience doesn’t necessarily alter the truthfulness of that moral absolute.

    I no doubt would really enjoy many things that I don’t do because I’m a Christian. They could well be really fulfilling and give me an identity… but I’m a Christian first.

    ““I DON’T KNOW.”
    Where have we heard this before, and recently?”

    I find that most issues people have with Christianity come from people making absolute statements about things they’re unsure about. I would rather tell you honestly that I don’t understand something than pretend that I do… again, not understanding God completely is not a reason not to believe in God.

    “You haven’t done any soul-searching to try to figure out why this is a sin, you simply accept it as it’s written. If you HAD done any soul-searching on this, I would think that you would come to the inescapable conclusion that this book and its doctrines are misguided, obsolete, and irrelevant.”

    You’re making a lot of assumptions here that start off with two philosophical premises that I disagree with – one is that if something doesn’t seem to have negative results it must be a positive, and two is that you assume I haven’t done any soul searching.

    Like I say, and like my next point that you didn’t understand was trying to make – the one where I said God is the arbiter of good… I believe good is defined by an external being, not by my internal conscience or a harm based ethical equation. Since I first believe that Jesus is who he says he is, and that therefore God is who he says he is, it follows that I take God’s word more seriously than human feelings. Humans do not have a consistent ethical framework – what you consider to be right and natural is considered by many – even non-Christians (the Dalai Lama for instance) to be unnatural and wrong.

    “The whole world is broken? Do you say this BECAUSE science has observed homosexuality in animals? Is this what makes the world broken?”

    I say this because the Bible makes that observation in Romans 8. It says the whole of creation (the earth) has been frustrated and broken by sin.

    “As long as you’re waving your hand saying “Me! Me! I’M the one who has the right answers!” all the while ignoring the BILLIONS of others saying the SAME THING, then no, we can’t take you seriously.”

    I think you’ll find that my beliefs on most things are pretty consistent with Biblical Christianity from the get go. I try to stay faithful to what the Bible says (using historical context and an understanding that Jesus is central to the interpretation of every bit of the Bible). You make assertions about “billions” of others that are based on the actions of the well documented fringe who have been denounced by just about every normal Christian denomination in public statements or reactions.

    “I can put no stock in a god that supposedly made me who I am, and the religion that says I need to change.”

    Why not? That’s the fundamental teaching of Christianity to everybody – not just to homosexuals. We all need to change, and none of us want to. That’s kind of the point. I completely understand your frustration though – the church has been pretty good at singling homosexuals out for special treatment, as though they’re somehow different to adulterers, people having casual sex, or people who tell lies to their spouse… and the Bible says we’re to love sinners (it doesn’t actually say anywhere that we’re to hate the sin – just that we’re to hate our own, and occasionally discipline other Christians within the church for their own good).

    As you are not part of the church, and you seem quite certain you don’t want to be, I’d suggest you keep campaigning for the right to marry your partner and live happily ever after.

    I don’t think marriage is a sacred institution that is the church’s to dispense to whomever they please. It’s a legal relationship and you’re being denied the right to form a legally recognised institution. It seems unfair to me – and I don’t think the Bible says anything about state instituted marriage.

    It does say that if you’re a Christian you shouldn’t be a practicing homosexual, and it does say that God’s ideal picture of marriage is between a man and a woman.

    “I have no respect for a belief system that answers serious, life-affecting questions with “I don’t know.””

    I’ve covered this already – but you’re conflating my response with God’s. God knows, I don’t. The Bible probably knows, I don’t. I know all that I need to know though – that is I know that I personally am convinced that Jesus is who he claimed to be as recorded in the Bible.

    Now, to HoverFrog…

    You can believe in all the gods you want and interpret your holy book in whatever way you want to but when you label and judge other people you cross a line. When you (not necessarily the individual you) insist on laws being imposed that limit the freedoms and rights of those you judge because of your interpretation you cross another line.

    I agree entirely.

    I think Christians have a right to speak up on a Christian position on policy, but not a right to implement it on the whole country (whichever country) on the basis that they believe God thinks they should.

    The only social issue I really think Christians should be arguing about are issues that have direct impact on people’s lives, like poverty, abortion, war and immigration. Abortion is probably a controversial one – but I think that if it’s even remotely possible that a fetus could be classified as a human it should be, and its life should be protected. We can talk about that elsewhere…

    “By some interpretations of the concept of gods you cannot know the mind of your god, it is too vast and too unknowable.”

    Clearly we have different points of view on what the Bible actually is – but again this is born out of philosophical presuppositions more than out of any desire for accuracy.

    I would suggest that 1 Corinthians 2 probably addresses your issue here – Christians claim to have the mind of God both through the Bible and the Holy Spirit.

    To judge others because of an assumption and an interpretation of a book clearly written by men within a cultural context seem to me to be the height of arrogance.

    Once you believe that the Bible isn’t out to lead you down the garden path, it’s consistent to believe all of the Bible. If you believe in a God who intervenes through a physical and observable visit from his son then it’s reasonable to assume the same God can guide the writing of his Holy book. Well, that’s my logic anyway.

    It is arrogant. Christianity is simultaneously the most arrogant and the most humble religion I’ve looked at.

    On the one hand we claim to have a personal relationship with the only possible God, we make God much bigger and more powerful than any other religion – and yet at the same time we say that humanity without God is doomed, broken and of no eternal value. We claim that as individuals our works have no bearing on our futures. Most other religions have a meritocracy at play where if you’re really good and impressive you can claim to be really good and impressive… Christianity doesn’t do that.

    Christians who do that are in danger of finding out that they’re not Christians when it’s too late to do anything about it.

    Ask yourself what harm homosexuality really does. Be as objective as you are able. Do you think that a loving god would really condemn gay people for something that does no harm to one another and no harm to society? Is that really “God’s standard”?

    Why does God need to make decisions on the basis of harm and not his own intention?

    Why, if I believe that humans will inherently reject the Christian God, should I be surprised that this rejection manifests itself in ways humans enjoy and find harmful?

    I don’t think God condemns people on the basis of homosexuality – I think that’s an expression of the problem not the problem. I think God condemns the people who reject him.

    All of your assumptions are loaded with your understanding of the way God should work. I’d rather try to understand the way God says he works than the way I think he should work. If it’s pie in the sky at least it’s a well defined pie made by an expert…

    I can back up any of the claims I have made about Christians and what God thinks using Bible passages – I don’t because I know you see no real value in the Bible and it would waste all of our time for me to post them.

  • http://beefybass.wordpress.com Randy

    Not sure if this has been brought up already, but, technically speaking, Christianity is not a monotheistic religion. The notion of the Holy Trinity and the belief in the Devil and Angels negates the whole monotheistic approach.

    This is in response to Nathan’s first comment:

    “If we’re talking questions of degree then monotheistic religions are by nature less delusional than pantheistic religions.

    I’m a Christian and I only believe in one more God than you do.”

    Just sayin’.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Randy,

    I don’t think that had been brought up.

    But the trinity is more complex – from a theological standpoint – than the simplification that it’s a case of multiple Gods.

    The angels, the devil and demons do not fall into the category of “gods” either. Not in Christian belief anyway – I can see how they’d meet the definition for other believers in the supernatural.

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