There is (Probably?) No God

I hear atheists saying both of the following statements and it would be nice to have it cleared up.

Which statement should atheists be using?

1. There is probably no god.

2. There is no god.

I should note that when I say “probably no god” in #1, I mean any amount less than 100% certainty.

I’ve habitually been saying #1 most of my atheist life. A lot of readers argue it ought to be #2.

Proponents of #1 include Richard Dawkins (who has a chapter in The God Delusion titled “Why there almost certainly is no god“) and advocates of the atheist bus campaign slogan “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” We don’t have absolute knowledge so we can’t know for sure whether or not a god exists, but it’s *very* unlikely one does based on what we know so far.

Proponents of #2 say we have no hesitation about saying unicorns and Zeus and the Tooth Fairy don’t exist. We don’t say “Mary probably didn’t have a virgin birth.” We don’t say Scientologists are probably wrong. So why do we bother qualifying the statement when it comes to a god?

Which phrase is the right one?

  • littlejohn

    There is *probably* no right answer to this.

  • http://thenaturalbuddhist.blogspot.com JohnFrost

    That’s a great question. The problem, I think, is that the virgin birth, unicorns, Zeus, these things are all very specific; whereas the concept of “God” is very nebulous.

    I think if we are talking about a Fundamentalist version of “God,” we can absolutely say he doesn’t exist. However, I find that most of my friends, anyway, mean something very wishy-washy and nebulous when they talk of “God,” and will always move the goalposts if you point out a particular fallacy about their idea of “God.” So, in that case, I guess we have to say, “Yeah, that God probably doesn’t exist, either.”
    Though, if I felt inclined, I might offer a qualifier, like, “Nah, c’mon, there’s a higher chance that we’re all in some kind of Matrix than that the kind of deity you’re talking about exists.”

  • Izzy

    God is an archetype, this character exists in all tribes and cultures. He could have the shape of the sun or moon, an animal or an old men who keep treating people with fire and danation.
    The God doesn’t exists, but the character… god exists.
    So, I use both options, it depends on my necessity. When I talk to someone who says:
    It is on god’s hands. I think about a goat trying to help someone. When I think about the absurds people do in God’s name, I think about an old man with an whipper in his hand and a really ugly face.
    For the first option I say:
    He may help you.
    For the second, I say:
    God exists ? Are you kidding me ?

  • http://sekty.blog.pl Wojtek

    There’s another option:

    3. Statements `There is no god’ and `God exists’ (where god means all-mighty, all-knowing, etc. being) are meaningless because definition of god is nonsense.

    I find it appropriate in discussions with theologians.

  • RPJ

    There probably aren’t unicorns (anywhere within the universe, at any point in time), not Zeus, nor Tooth Fairy; Mary probably didn’t have a virgin birth; and scientologists are indeed probably wrong. Prove the nonexistence of any of them before declaring that they definitely do not exist.

  • suomynona

    I’m in the no god camp. My understanding of the universe does not suggest nor require one to exist. The supernatural realm in intangible and untestable therefore irrelevant. No evidence to the contrary will change my mind because no evidence will ever exist. I suppose I’m a fundamentalist atheist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DavetheApostate David Hawkins

    We can be absolutely just as certain about the existence of God as we are about anything else imaginable that does not exist. I see no good reason that because of semantics we should say “probably”. Would anyone really consider the existence of leprechauns so plausible that they would feel it necessary to say “There are… probably no leprechauns.”? This is why I cannot claim agnosticism.

  • http://www.twitter.com/dofang Dofang

    In everyday conversation I simply say, “I see no reason to believe in God.”

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    Prove the nonexistence of any of them before declaring that they definitely do not exist.

    ”There is no god.” =/= “There is definitely no god.”

  • Deltabob

    My preference, particularly when speaking with people who do believe in a god is this, “I believe there is no god”.

    In my experience, making an “I” statement is less confrontational. Given that most people of faith understand the concept of believing something without needing hard evidence, they seem to accept my statement of belief more readily than a global statement.

    The response to my “I” statement has been more likely to be something like “Ok, can you tell me why you believe that,” instead of “You’re wrong, I know there is a god.”

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    I should note that when I say “probably no god” in #1, I mean any amount less than 100% certainty.

    I think that’s misusing it, Hemant. Do you say, “The sun will probably rise tomorrow”? (A ginormous meteor could strike before then. Maybe 1 in 10^10 chance) Or “George Washington was probably the first president?” (It could be a lie. Maybe 1 in 10^5 chance.)

  • PrimeNumbers

    For any specific God, it’s quite reasonable to say that it doesn’t exist. For god in general, like a non-personal, non-interventionist deist type god, I’d insert the word probably to make it that such a god probably doesn’t exist.

  • http://frankcornish.wordpress.com Frank Cornish

    The statement that “There probably is no God” is more scientific, and I am an agnostic atheistic. There is no way to definitively say that there is no God, because we don’t even have a way to develop a testable definition of “god” because of the moving goalposts of believers and the competing claims of religions. For the Abrahamics, God is the Creator, punisher, redeemer, host of heaven and all. There is certainly no reason to believe in that one, but since even that one has causes considerable ink to be spilled over what “He” is, we can rule out the likelihood that it is knowable or unknowable with absolute certainty.

    Science doesn’t work within any absolutes. So, the statement “There Probably is No God,” would be the more scientific one. Now, the probability is that I am wrong, but I imagine that probability to be so tiny as to be as insignificant reason to hedge my bets, a la Pascal.

  • Lifer

    How about ‘There are probably no gods’ instead of seemingly attacking the singular ‘god’ associated with abrahamic tradition?

    Maybe that doesn’t evoke the reaction from theists that we want because they don’t feel as challenged? We are ignoring the pantheists, are we not? ‘Gods’ makes a lot more sense to me because it goes after them all at once and has doesn’t set off Christian persecution alarms. What say you?

  • http://icanhaz.com/meranie meranie

    “There is probably no god” is better in my eyes because it leaves the door open slightly. I have a really hard time with biblical language because it’s so black and white and sure of itself; I’m open to the idea of there being a god, I just haven’t found enough proof to believe in it myself. (Does that mean I’m agnostic? Horror!)

  • K

    I tell people “I don’t believe in God.” It’s not up to me to define someone else’s version of reality. Yes, it would be nice if no one spent one moment of their lives thinking that some invisible man in the sky is watching everything they do. It would be wonderful if people were good and moral because it was the right thing to do. But I’m in no position to speak from any kind of authority and tell people “There is no God, you’re stupid and deluded in believing otherwise.” If someone lives a good, moral life, treats others with respect, but yet also happens to believe there is a God, then so what? Let that person be. It’s when people begin to force others to their views that I have problems. This goes for atheists as well was believers. I personally don’t have the evidence, nor does anyone I’ve ever met for either side of the argument. Until there is evidence, either way, I speak from my own expereince and let others believe what they wish.

  • Brad

    What ever happened to good old fashioned “lack of belief in god?”

  • Bible Belt Non-Believer

    I agree with Dofang and K…just say YOU don’t believe there is a god. We atheists often complain about Christians foisting their beliefs as truths upon us. We don’t want to fall into the same trap/category. : )

  • Peregrine

    Here we go again, trying to figure out the best way to not believe in something.

    Let me know when you figure it out. I’ll just be over here not believing.

  • JD

    Ruling out specific beliefs in god is more certain than ruling out any chance of any and all kinds of gods. Out of thousands of options, one of those *might* be true.

  • David

    As the probability of God is so small that in the public level of scientific understanding it translates into no God. You may as well go with no God to make it clear there is no God. So can we drop the capital G?

  • NewEnglandBob

    I usually say “There is no evidence of any gods”. If challenged, I ask for evidence.

  • MattB

    Well I’ve never said, “There’s probably no fairies” so…..

  • http://jetson.wordpress.com Jetson

    I think it is perfectly fair for an individual atheist to say “there is no god”. If that statement were challenged, then you can qualify based on the specific god being posited at that moment.

    Depending on where you live, the god in question would probably be assumed as either Bible God, or Allah. Once that is established, the atheist is free to admit that, depending on the specific attributes, that there is always a possibility for said god to exist, but probably not!

    I mix and match those two phrases depending on the situation.

  • Claudia

    I’m more into “I don’t believe in god(s)” or “There is no reason to believe in god(s)”.

    Of course we don’t say “there are probably no unicorns” and therefore “there are probably no gods” is a double standard. However we have to accept that language is used for the purpose of communication, and hence we have to take into account what most people will understand when we say “There is no god”. They are not likely to make it to the fact that we feel about gods the way we feel about fairies unless they are a fellow atheist, but are more likely due to theistic training to assume we actively deny the possibility of the existence of gods, which I find, in the case of a deistic god, to be an unscientific position at the present time.

    Sometimes there are no catchy, one-sentence answers to questions. The only way we can be true to our values as rationalists while still communicating is by putting the qualifier in and then whenever possible explaining why it’s there.

  • Lifer

    What ever happened to good old fashioned “lack of belief in god?”

    I don’t feel like I’m ‘lacking’ anything desirable and I believe most atheists feel the same way. This feeds into the theist view that something is ‘missing’ in non-believers, something that can eventually be attained (some believe it’s their job to give it to you). Didn’t a Vatican representative say we weren’t fully human or something because of this line of thinking?

  • Sue D. Nymme

    In casual conversation, I say “There is no god.” It’s an opinion, not a statement of omniscience or definitive proof.

    If it gets down to details or debate, then of course more-nuanced statements come out: “There is probably no god,” “I’ve seen no credible evidence or argument,” “Let’s define ‘god’ first,” etc.

  • Lobar

    It would be pedantic to routinely use “probably” whenever epistemological proof is unavailable (almost always). If you asked me about unicorns, I’d say “there are no unicorns”. So it would be giving undue concern to the sensitivity of theists to reply to queries about God with anything softer than “there are no gods”.

    Only when pressed about how I arrived at either conclusion would clarify I my position to be “there are almost certainly no gods/unicorns”, which I feel gets the point across better than “probably”.

    edit: pretty much what Sue D. Nymme posted three minutes faster than I did

  • MarkP

    IMO it is fair to say the Christian God, as described by the Bible and modern theology, does not exist. The same goes for each of the religions making specific claims about their deity’s actions in the material world.

    However, a deistic, non-interventionist deity probably doesn’t exist, as it is unnecessary to explain existence and Occam’s Razor makes it the less likely explanation. This is generally the type of deity apologists (in my experience) eventually resort to defending.

  • http://atheistcamel.blogspot.com/ Dromedary Hump

    Unless one is an absolutist we can never be 100% certain of the existence or non-existence of something proffered for which there is no incontrovertable proof.

    I give God or gods the same probability of existing as I do alien abductions and their ever popular anal probings… lets say
    900 Billon to 1.

    Thus “the probability that God/gods exist is so small as to render them a fallacy” works for me. It may not be a handy phrase, but I don’t find myself having to use it that often. I usually use the short form: “God is a fallacy”

  • Stephen P

    I think Littlejohn got it right:

    There is *probably* no right answer to this.

    What is appropriate depends on the context: whether one is writing a philosophy thesis or having a chat in the bar. However if one wants a single all-purpose phrase, I’d offer:

    Gods are products of the human imagination.

    This is less definite than making a statement referring to “no god” or “all gods”, but avoids having to specify “probably”, which does often sound awfully weak.

  • Tyro

    If we were speaking to a reasonable, intelligent, responsible adult then I would pick #2 every time and only describe caveats in the event of confusion.

    However there are plenty of theists who are none of those things and who will actively twist words through quote mining and ellipses to completely flip people’s meaning around so when dealing with these people I will choose #1.

    Let’s face it, religion still has some privileged positions, whether because of the deference of opponents or the child-like tantrums and ignorance of proponents. This is one of those.

  • http://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    There is probably no god, except the god of Nutella – and smartasses..there is definitely a god of smartasses.

    Oh shit – I’m a deist.

  • Anonymouse

    @rpj
    If I assert that there’s a crocoduck monster living under my bed, should that force you to include the qualifier “probably” with regards to me not having a crocoduck until you are able to prove its nonexistence?

    The burden of proof should be with the theists.

    Still, I’m in the “probably no god” camp, agree with John Frost.

  • http://virtualityforreal.blogspot.com Allytude

    No. 1 for me. It shows one is educated – more so than the “There is God” camp and one knows Math- probability and all! Unless definitely proved otherwise, as a scientist I would stick to no. 1.

  • Richard

    I think it depends on context.

    When talking to people who are just culturally Christian, “there is probably no god,” seems to be best.

    When we say “there is no God” we might mean, “God is about as likely as the easter bunny, and can be denied in the same way,” but most people seem to hear, “I have philosophical certainty of the non-existence of God.”

    Inserting the ‘probably’ weakens the rhetoric a bit, but sidesteps an inane discussion about if it’s possible to know things.

  • CarolAnn :)

    One should say what one believes to be true – I say, “There is no god.”

    I do tend to be an absolutist. :)

  • Parse

    I would argue that this depends on how you say anything else. Do you say “MST3K was the greatest TV show ever” or “MST3K was probably the greatest TV show ever?” How about “Evolution is true” or “Evolution is probably true?”

    When I say absolute statements about anything else, it is generally understood to have the caveat that it is so to the best of my knowledge, and can change if new evidence comes to light. Why should what I say about the (non)existence of God be any different?

  • Tucker

    I typically say “I don’t believe in any gods” primarily b/c most Christians I come into contact with would twist my “probably” into meaning they need to try harder to witness to me since in their minds that “probably” would mean I’m on the fence about it. There’s still a chance for conversion if I don’t seem 100% certain. That finality to it usually gets people to shut the fuck up.

  • Karen

    How about, “I don’t believe in a personal god?” Because even though I don’t, you might.

    Also, if I start stating anything with absolute certainty then I am merely accomplishing something that I hate: Dogmatism is just plain ugly to wear in any season.

    Anyway, it’s too bad that an experience of something in the imagination has become an absolute. It’s taken the wind out of everyone’s sails.

  • Lou

    It all boils down to “Burden of Proof”. When and if believers in god can show empirical evidence that god exists, then as a scientist I am duty bound to either refute or accept it. Until then however, its: “put up or shut up” as far as I’m concerned. On a practical level there is no real reason to believe in god other than cultural tradition. It would be amusing at best to see if god’s existence could be proven. After all, how do you prove a supernatural idea with natural evidence?

  • http://squintedriving.blogspot.com Shanghai_Or_Bust

    I try not to limit myself to just one brief sentence but if I have to my assertion, or response, tends to go like this:

    I don’t have enough faith nor have I seen enough evidence for the belief in any sort of god worthy of my worship, time or money.

    By getting that faith thing out of the way they(believers)usually lose a big part of how they would respond.

  • Danielle

    I live my day to day life as if I thought #2 but when I sit down and really think about it I know it really is #1 – but I do know for certain that the Christain/Jewish/Muslim/etc God’s do not exist. As Richard Dawkins said there is an exceedingly small chance that some god does exist, but that does mean the chance is there – it’s really all semantics for me. It’s scientifically unsound to reject something 100% completely unless it’s been proven not to be there, but it’s also scientifically unsound to act as if something is there when there’s not proof that there is.
    Then again, if we’re not talking about the Christain/Jewish/Muslim/Hindu (etc etc) Gods, and we’re just talking about “something great and myseterious” than what kind of God is that in the mystical sense anyway? I honestly think it doesn’t really matter.

  • Christopher

    Great question!
    It is safest to state that we have no belief in our own imaged explanation, or currently presented religious dogma, regarding the existence of a god. In addition, no one can affirm with omniscient certainty that there is no god (except the presupposed non-existent god—ouch now my head hurts). However, the ‘probably’ probably make us sound somewhat weak and doubtful to some people for or against our position. The ‘probably’ qualifier is just one of many uncomfortable/burdensome positions/platforms we correctly uphold to engage people in rational thinking. Trying to state an unknowable as a certainty would expose us to the ridicule that atheism is a belief system.

  • British Cat

    There is no *evidence* that there is a god, therefore I do not believe in one. I’d go with #1 because, as others have said, “god” is a very murky concept. #2 is fine as well, because on the balance of probability, there isn’t one–not enough evidence to say that there isn’t one, but plenty of evidence against an all-powerful, all-loving one! (Right back to the Problem of Evil….)

  • Casimir

    I lack belief in Santa Claus.
    There is probably no Easter Bunny.
    There is no evidence of monsters under my bed.
    I cannot be 100% certain of the non-existence of a free lunch.
    Well, you’d have to define “place like home”.
    To be true to my values as a rationalist, I’d have to say that it is merely my opinion that “there is no” business like show business.

    ♫ The sun’ll probably come out…Tomorrow! Maybe bet your bottom dollar that… tomorrow… there could perhaps be sun… ♫

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    Personally, my phrase I use is that I don’t care if there is a god or not. My life doesn’t depend on there being one or not.

    But if I had to choose one, I would go with #1 as we do not have any concrete evidence that there is no god. Most things point towards the fact that there is no god, but no one has ever come back from the dead with any hard proof.

  • Shannon

    I also just go with “I don’t believe in god”. But I also might say that about unicorns. I can’t say with 100% certainty that there are no unicorns living right now, or that did live in the past. I haven’t done the research and, as we’ve said, you can’t prove a negative either. I believe they are made up. And going into the history and discussing narwhales and mythology and possible explanations is more interesting than stopping at the supernatural explanation. But it’s also more interesting than stopping at “they aren’t real – discussion over”.

    I’ve also discussed with my daughter that I don’t believe in fairies and I don’t think they exist as opposed to “fairies aren’t real”. She’s still opting to disagree with me on that one ;-)

  • jugglingbuffoon

    Among intelligent people, for all practical purposes there is no difference between the two. One is just being meeker than the other.

  • Casimir

    Christian apologetics attack the “There is no god” statement on the “don’t have absolute knowledge” grounds merely as a marketing gimmick. They want atheists to say “There is probably no god” or otherwise qualify it because “there is probably no god” means “there may be a god”, thereby making belief in God look somewhat reasonable. Because even atheists admit there may be a god.

  • http://blog.cordialdeconstruction.com Karl Withakay

    Say whichever you believe. Atheism is not a belief system per say. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in a god or gods. Beyond that you can say whatever you want.

    The question assumes that atheists should all be of one mind and in universal agreement, and I think that’s a big mistake. Atheism is not a religion that requires conformity to a set ideology. We who do not believe in a god are atheists, not Atheists. You get to be called an atheist if you do not believe in a god, there really are no other requirements; you don’t have to pass a no true Scotsman test. We are a diverse community with many perspectives.

    Personally, I switch between both depending how specific I am trying to be and on who my audience is, like with many topics. Sometimes I say vaccines don’t cause autism, and sometimes I say that there is no credible scientific evidence to support the theory that vaccines cause autism.

    Different audiences may have a different understanding of what the word god necessarily means, and for certain audiences, saying there’s probably no god means to them that you are not sure that Jesus Christ is not the son of God. To those people, I would say there is no God. To other people I might say I see no reason or evidence to support believing any god exists, though I can’t 100% rule out some incomprehensible, all powerful, intelligent progenitor of the big bang, even though I don’t believe there was one.

  • maddogdelta

    I have to say I’m torn. I guess it depends on capitalization. If it is written “There is no God”, implying YHWH, the bipolar god of the Israelites, then I will go with that statement.

    If it is written, “There is no god”, then that opens up the “definition” question. After all, everyone knows that the goddess Jessica Alba exists….

  • AxeGrrl

    Dofang wrote:

    In everyday conversation I simply say, “I see no reason to believe in God.”

    Works for me.

    If we’re talking about a ‘speculative’ being (and whatever definition of ‘God’ a person uses, its existence IS speculative), then one can’t really justify using definitive language when discussing it.

    Seems pretty straightfoward to me.

  • Revyloution

    I think its the wrong question. Neither is the right phrase.

    Using either sentence is meant to start a conversation. Depending on the target audience, and the conversation desired, both phrases have good use.

    Many believers have fallen for the fallacious Pascals Wager. If you start a conversation with them using ‘probably’ they wont be offended, and will give their reasons for for believing. With that opener, we can begin a dialog to widen their doubts and show the faults in Pascal.

    When you deal with believers like Comfort or W. L. Craig, you can come right out of the box and say ‘There is no god.’ Then force them to define what ‘god’ is. Once they are required to define their god, you can begin tearing it down. If you leave them the slippery ‘probably’ they will use that tiny gap to wedge in their Grand Motivator.

    It’s all a matter of gauging your target, and using the best tools you have.

    When talking to other non-believers, its a moot point and, as Peregrine pointed out, we just don’t care.

  • J B Tait

    Atheism refers to our belief, not to the existence of the God.
    So if you say you don’t believe in any of the gods propounded by any of the religions, then that is your a-theism. I do not accept the existence of any god so far described by others.

    But we can’t say for certain there is no god of any sort, just because we have not yet discovered or alleged a suitable one.
    There might well be unicorns, just not the ones of our fantasy. We can’t prove the negative. We might find them deep in the Amazon jungle, on Titan, or circling a star in another galaxy.

    So what you need to decide is: Is there a god like the one described by a certain religion? That could be an easy “there is no god–at least not like yours” answer.

    What if the Sun were an organized-energy being (who would be able to see all time and all space all at once) who bound droplets of herself to matter (the awareness of animals) in order to see time as a flow and space as location? No gravelly voiced old man with a beard telling us to do nasty things to our fellow beings, but maybe a Universal intelligence? No Earth Mother but maybe we were seeded by some long-lived ET who will come back to sort us out?

    So the (no God/probably no God) is an overly simplified artificial dichotomy.

    It might be more accurate to say:
    - There is no God like your God.
    - There is no evidence of your god.
    - A god like your god cannot exist
    or
    - Your God is too small.

    But that gets too personal and really does become an attack on their beliefs.

    So what we need is something more certain than “probably” but less all-inclusive than “no god” which comes down to
    There is demonstratively no God.
    I wish I knew how to turn “God is implausible” or “the Gods you describe are disprovable” into a statement in the same form.

  • Andrea

    I say “I don’t think God exists.” That “think” moves it out of the feeling/believing framework into a more rational sort of space.

  • Tuco

    I’m in with Dromedary and Danielle. As a scientist, I definitely prefer “There probably is no god.” Strictly speaking, I would prefer something like “There is no testable, reproducible observational or experimental evidence that supports the existence of a god,” or, “The probability of god existing is so infinitesimally low that it virtually precludes the possibility.” However, since so many people – creationists and fundamentalists chief among them – can’t seem to grasp the simplest of concepts, such as the difference between the scientific and vernacular uses of the word “theory,” the “probably is no god” route is probably better.

    I think making a conclusive statement like, “There is no god” is essentially the same as saying, “There is a God.” Both statements have exactly the same evidence to support them; the difference is that religious people seem to have the ability to accept at least this particular idea without any evidence whatsoever, which to me is an absurdity. I think statements like “There probably is no god,” or “There is no evidence for god,” put us in a more intellectually honest position.
    Of course, we are not obligated to convince anyone else, share our views with others ad nauseum, or evangelize the way some religions are, so in response to someone asking about our religious views, for example, we can always simply say, “It’s none of your f*****g business” (or, I suppose, “Thank you for asking, but that is something personal that I prefer not to discuss”). It really only becomes an issue when the religious attempt to compel others to believe or behave as they do through coercion, policy or violence (all of which, of course, happen every day). Even then, logic, reason, and rationality are not necessarily protective, which is why I’m so glad I live in the United States, where we are Constitutionally protected from religion.

  • http://zackfordblogs.com ZackFord

    Because of how different audiences might respond, I think it’s better to stick to #1 as a habit.

    I think for most of us, we probably see very little distinction. We don’t believe in God. We live our lives as if there is no God. It’s only one more baby step to saying there is no God.

    The problem I have though is that my biggest complaint against believers is that they hold truth without proof. People are astounded when I explain that I don’t “believe” anything, I either understand it or I don’t. If I were to start asserting things that I could not prove, then I would be doing just the same as them.

    That’s why I always say “I do NOT BELIEVE in God” to distinguish from saying “I do believe in NO GOD.”

  • J B Tait

    @Axegrrl: That is a delightful way to put it.
    @Revyloution: Good point about the “tiny gap.”
    @maddogdelta: Alas, the subtlety is lost in conversation and lost on the readers of posters, but this is an important distinction.
    @Karen: Thank you for a very considerate way of phrasing it.

  • http://www.justnbusiness.com Justin Chase

    #2.

    Technically #1 is more correct, but probably only useful in a scientific situation or a conversation where being strictly, logically accurate is important. But for all practical purposes just go with #2.

  • Tori Aletheia

    For most circumstances I’d say “there is no God” is acceptable because usually when we speak of “God” in conversation we are speaking of the specific Abrahamic God that most theists in at least the US would claim to believe in. As Vic Stenger would say, since the evidence that should be there for the Abrahamic God is absent, it is evidence of absense, and we can say that God doesn’t exist for sure.

  • Jennifer

    There is no god.

    The burden of proof falls on the believers. You cannot prove a negative. However, until there is some shred of evidence that there may be a god, the default is that there is none. By evidence I’m speaking in scientific terms as in verifiable, reproducible evidence, not some book of fiction from hundreds of years ago!

  • Frank

    Outside of mathematics there is no proof of anything, that doesn’t mean we should put the word “probably” in front of every statement we make about the world. To insist on saying that there probably is no god is like insisting on saying “Barack Obama is probably the president of the united states, but we can’t be completely sure. There is no proof you know.” It’s technically true, but we can be certain enough that Obama is the president that “Obama is the president” is a correct shorthand for the longer statement, and works better in conversation. The fact that god doesn’t exist is no different from the fact that Obama is president.

    Also, I disagree with putting Dawkins in the #1 category. Just because he uses the word “probably” in the title of a chapter when he is trying to make a particular point, doesn’t mean he would use that word in everyday conversation or in other writing.

  • Phrosty

    I always say ‘probably’, because I am against lumping things into absolutes.

    For example, one might think you should say ‘gravity makes things fall down’. However, there is undoubtedly a situation somewhere in the universe where one’s perception of ‘down’ is contrary to the ‘gravity makes things fall down’ theory (i.e. a small satellite in orbit).

    Hence, ‘there probably is no god’, as the probability is astronomically high, yet never absolute.

  • Minneyar

    If you require that “probably” be inserted before any statement that you don’t have absolute proof of, then you’re going to be inserting it into everything you say.

    I’m probably not going to spontaneously explode into a cloud of atoms, and a meteor is probably not going to fall on my house, and my mother is probably not being controlled by an invisible alien parasite that is trying to take over the world. I don’t have absolute evidence of any of those things, but I don’t have any problem saying that they’re not true, no “probably” about it.

    And so I don’t have any problem saying that supernatural deities do not exist.

  • http://uiucatheists.blogspot.com Edward Clint

    The problem with the qualifier “probably” is that we’d never use it in plain conversation regarding any other item of similar likelihood. You’ve never in your life said ‘the earth is probably not flat’, even though technically this also merits an epistemological ‘probably’. So it isn’t quite honest.

    To give this special regard to gods is also linguistically wrong- it puts god in the same probability ballpark as anything else we’d put in that sentence such as “It probably won’t rain today” or “the Packers will probably win today”. Which make it sound like god(s)’s existence might be a coin toss. Philo argumentation aside, this is not the meaning we wish to convey.

  • http://Thenaturalbuddhist.blogspot.com JohnFrost

    I think Casimir brings up a good point about the way some theists will twist our honesty and accuracy against us.
    I think the overwhelming consensus (not that we’re voting or anything) is that it all depends on context. To a “spiritual,” non-religious friend, I might say, “the idea of a god is ridiculous!” To a religious, non-fanatic friend or coworker, I’d probably say something like, “I don’t believe in any supernatural deities.” And then to my own mother, I say things like “the more I learn, the more I realize how unnecessary a god is. I’ve never seen any good evidence to support the existence of God.”
    They get to make blanket declarations–not only about their god existing, but also how he feels about the economy and your sex life–without caring what other people think. But if we’re going to make an impact, we have to consider the context in which our words will be taken and what their effect will be.

  • bigjohn756

    Aren’t gods simply human constructs? As such, gods are fictional, and, therefore, should be treated just like any other fictional character. Do you go around saying there is probably no Bilbo Baggins? No? Neither do I. Gods exist only as ideas and should be discussed as such. In reality there are no gods. It’s OK to say so.

  • Liudvikas

    I’d say we should go with #2. While “there is probably no god” is more accurate, as there are no certainties in this universe, but it also seems weak, more like a doubt.
    “there is no god” is good for all intents and purposes, because probability of gods existence is so minuscule, that there’s no need to acknowledge even the possibility of such event.

  • http://athornyway.blogspot.com/ Craig

    There is no god. I agree with the commenter who pointed out that everything is technically less than 100% certain, but like the sun not rising tomorrow, or the earth being obliterated by a rogue asteroid, the chances of gods are so infinitesimally small as to be as close to 100% as possible.

  • JulietEcho

    I personally think that the “probably” is a good way of preemptively avoiding theists throwing out the “You can’t prove it!” argument, which is tiresome and can be time-consuming. It signals that you’re not being closed-minded – that you’re open to being convinced, if the proper evidence came along. And it doesn’t weaken the statement. When pressed, I would certainly say that I’m not 100% sure there are no fairies or that tarot cards are a complete joke. There just aren’t hordes of people out there who disagree vehemently enough to take offense or want to jump into debate-mode over tarot or fairies.

    I agree that there are better options out there than either choice – “I don’t believe any gods exist” is my standby, although when I’m talking to someone who is likely to find it offensive to have their God lumped in with other gods, I go for the “I don’t believe God exists” to avoid poking a hornet nest.

    ETA: I don’t do these things for the sake of the theists I’m talking to. I do them for my own convenience, because I get sick of having the same dumb conversations over and over, and unless I want to have those conversations, I’d rather not be bothered.

  • Nora

    I get why people are going the “I believe god doesn’t exist” route, but I think that can be a mistake. It just encourages the believers to say “See? You have FAITH too!” which is one of the most annoying, projecting arguments they make.

    I go for the “There is no god,” statement usually, unless I’m with people I care about and don’t want to get into an argument with (my family), and then I take the softer “There is very probably not a god” option.

  • Sue D. Nymme

    When I make a statement like “There’s no god” or “I don’t think any such thing exists,” and someone comes back with “But you can’t prove it,” I just blink at them. Like they’ve said something ridiculous. Because they have.

  • CatBallou

    God is not real.

  • http://krissthesexyatheist.blogspot.com krissthesexyatheist

    We don’t know for sure that there is, or is not a tea pot, or any other kitchen utensil floating out in space, but there probably is not. I doubt soooo much that there is a God(s). It is highly unlikely. Is there? I don’t know with 100% certainty, but there probably is not. Happy New Year to everyone. Please be safe.

    Kriss

  • Richard Wade

    Dateline June 5, 2214, New Brooklyn, Autonomous Republic of Memeia:

    A massive explosion severely damaged the Temple of Probably No God in the early morning hours, the latest in a series of retaliatory bombings between the No God Sect and the Probably No God Sect that has wracked the city for months. This was apparently in retaliation for a bombing at the Temple of No God last week. There were no injuries, because the temple is closed on Sundays.

    Both atheist groups have been in a steadily growing doctrinal conflict for the last 200 years, but it has escalated recently into a bloody war over whether there is no god or there probably is no god. The violence has sent shockwaves around the world and threatens to spill over the A.R.M. borders into the neighboring country of Dawkinsia.

    A spokesperson for the Temple of No God issued a statement that they would not relent in their struggle, while a spokesperson for the Temple of Probably No God said that they would probably not relent.

  • Michael

    Saying “there is no god” is perfectly correct.

    The burden of proof is on the people who claim there is a god. So until they provide evidence of a god then it is perfectly correct to say “there is no god”.

  • Brent

    I think we have to be very careful with the words we use in this conversation, because contextually they have different meaning to different people. Words like “believe” especially. To many theists, the existence of their god is a fact, and they use the word “believe” as we would use it to describe something like our support of a sports team, i.e. “I believe in the Chicago Cubs”. The existence of the team is not what is being discussed. I think it is more appropriate when discussing this with theist to say something along the lines of, “I do not think that there are any gods.” This addresses the actual issue of existence as well as rejecting all possible gods at the same time. Although, just to play devil’s advocate, gods certainly do exist, at least as a concept. I think it would be wonderful for someone to copyright the concept and sue religious organizations for infringing on intellectual property rights.

  • Revyloution

    +1 internets for Richard Wade

  • pete

    The huge difference I see in the atheist/agnostic camp from the fundamentalist Christian camp I came from (and am happily freed from) is the absolutist mentality and attitude that no evidence could sway them. They had made up their minds and they were stagnant.

    I love the freedom of being able to be a part of a group of people who aren’t stagnant. Who are open to new evidence but who can say, the “evidence” I’ve been presented with up till now has not come close to convincing me. Will any evidence ever be presented that will? Probably not but I’m open anyway.

    As someone who seeks to further the cause of non-belief and help free people from religion I find it far better to keep the open mind than the closed one. If we are going to draw young people toward the light and produce lasting change we must be the group that stands in stark contrast to the absolutist fundamentalism of all religions.

    Number 1 furthers the cause. Number 2 doesn’t.

  • moopet

    As has been said by several others, I am of the opinion that it is pointless to add a qualifier to something with such a low probability in general conversation. It’s not even of the order “there’s probably no unicorn in my teepee”, it’s more like “I probably wrote the word teepee in the last sentence”. When you start getting to vanishingly small likelihoods you just turn into a doubter who doubts anything exists outside his own untrustworthy inputs. What is your one purpose in life? To explode, of course.
    Scientifically, why is there not equal pressure to pepper the classroom with “probably”s like “force probably equals mass times acceleration. Now solve for X”? After all, it’s possible out entire understanding of the physical universe is entirely incorrect. Or maybe there’s just no damn god.

  • Danielle

    @Frank

    Dawkins says himself he’s only a 6/7 on the atheist scale ;).

    I think this issue really has nothing to do with what we actually have to say every day, but what we really truly mean when we say it. No one would say “Obama is probably the president of the US”, obviously. But if this statement were to be broken down to the extent that the god argument is, it would end up with the same sort of qualifying “probably”.

    I don’t think it’s neccessary to put a probably in front of everything, but then again everything isn’t argued about nearly as fiercly as religion.

  • Jeff Dale

    “There is no god” – Consistent with “There are no unicorns” or “Elvis is still dead,” but gives theists the opportunity to counterattack with “You can’t prove it.” (Now it’s too late to correct to a tiny fractional possibility, because they’ll hold onto that tiny fraction as if that’s all they need.)

    “There is probably no god” – Logically precise, avoids “You can’t prove it,” but sounds weak to theists, and opens us up to “But you aren’t sure, haha!” (The idea of proportioning belief to the evidence, by which we cautiously insert “probably,” is simply lost on theists in this context.)

    “God is fictional” or “gods are imaginary” – Very clear, but may be taken by theists as contemptuous. Generally inadvisable to let theists think they have license to go ad hominem.

    “I don’t believe in god(s)” – Avoids the problems above, but points theists to their (mis)use of the word “believe,” which they define as intentional and contra-evidence rather than involuntary and in proportion to evidence, which makes them think our belief is in parity with theirs, and makes atheism seem like just another religion. Then you’re stuck with “See! You have faith too!” or “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist” (as if they thought religious “faith” were something they could have too much of).

    “I see no reason to believe in god(s)” – Better than the above, because it asserts the role of reasoning in forming belief AND also works on the theists’ (mis)use of “believe” (since we’re saying, in effect, that we see no reason to “believe” the way they do). One potential problem: theists already look at the need for evidence, and the quality of their own evidence, very differently than we do. They’ll either say we’re stubbornly ignoring the evidence, or that it’s ridiculous to expect evidence.

    “There’s no evidence for god(s)” – Shortcut to potential problem identified for the previous one.

    “I don’t think god(s) exist(s)” – May avoid some of the problems with “believe” identified above. Of course, theists will just say “You’ve gotta have faith.” This is fine, as long as you’re prepared to argue that “faith” as they (mis)use the term just means intentional contra-evidence belief.

    “I see no reason to think god(s) exist(s).” – Combines the previous one with the best part of the 5th one above.

    “I’m convinced there’s no god” – Avoids the problems with “believe.” Avoids the problems with asserting nonexistence (with or without “probably”). Asserts the role of reasoning. May still lead to the evidence problem (we’re stubbornly ignoring it, or it’s ridiculous to expect it), but they’d have to bring it up, which means we have the opportunity to give our view of the evidence.

    I think I prefer either of these last two. Any thoughts?

  • http://stereoroid.com/ brian t

    To me, this simply illustrates the gulf between philosophy and reality:

    Philosophy: since I can not prove a negative, and am in no position to make definitive statements about the whole universe: sure, I’ll allow that there’s a non-zero probability of a god of some sort. I don’t know everything.

    Reality: OK, but what do I do, here and now? I am expected to make decisions about all sorts of things on the back of incomplete information. I do not see any actual evidence for religion, and no need for it to play a role in my life, or anyone’s. Therefore, I act as if there are no gods, when deciding what to do or not to do.

    I don’t see any conflict: a very slim possibility of something supernatural does not require me to do anything different.

  • AxeGrrl

    JulietEcho wrote:

    I personally think that the “probably” is a good way of preemptively avoiding theists throwing out the “You can’t prove it!” argument, which is tiresome and can be time-consuming. It signals that you’re not being closed-minded – that you’re open to being convinced, if the proper evidence came along. And it doesn’t weaken the statement. When pressed, I would certainly say that I’m not 100% sure there are no fairies or that tarot cards are a complete joke. There just aren’t hordes of people out there who disagree vehemently enough to take offense or want to jump into debate-mode over tarot or fairies.

    Nicely articulated.

    I don’t make definitive-sounding proclamations about anything I don’t have an affirmative belief about….and as you said, JulietEcho, including the ‘probably’ more clearly suggests/reflects that my mind is open to evidence (if any should ever appear).

    I prefer expressing some doubt to a) be consistent and b) to avoid being accused of holding a ‘faith position’, just like believers.

  • flawedprefect

    There is DEFINITELY no God like the Abrahamic God of the Xian bible – that’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. I am agnostic to the idea of a prime-mover because there is no evidence either way to its existance, but there is certainly enough evidence to believe there isn’t one.

  • Daniel Klein

    There is no god, because pussyfooting around won’t get us anywhere. Saying “there is probably no god” only gives the feeble minded who disagree an in to open a tiresome discussion, and believe-you-me, the first time I realized as a young man that there were other people quite as absolutely certain as me that there is nothing and no-one above us, that was a huge relief. “There is probably no god” wouldn’t have come anywhere near.

    We do not examine each and every statement for absolute cosmological and mathematically provable truth, and we should stop pretending like the god question is special somehow. There is no god. There are no unicorns. Santa Claus is an unemployed, scary man, and your mother never really loved you.

    No wait.

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    “I don’t believe in gods”/”I don’t see any personally persuasive reasons to believe in gods” works for me.

    I’m not making statements about the existence of gods. I’m making a statement about my *belief*. Namely, I don’t believe. I think that arguments like the celestial teapot are instructive to this case. They don’t show that celestial teapots don’t exist…rather, that even if they do, we don’t have reason to believe they exist, and so it’s reasonable not to believe they do.

  • Shatterface

    ‘Probably’ is just a cop-out.

    You might as well say you ‘probably’ aren’t a brain in a jar and that the real world ‘probably’ isn’t just an illusion created by mischievous imps playing around with your electrodes.

    There’s more evidence of the existence of Yeti or the Lock Ness Monster. I’ve seen photos, not just images in burnt toast.

    You don’t have to rewrite all the laws of physics to accept the existance of leprechauns either.

    To extend the use of the word ‘probably’ in cases like this renders it meaningless. Water is ‘probably’ wet. 2 plus 2 ‘probably’ equals 4.

  • http://gamergranola.wordpress.com bobisimo

    I prefer:

    [blockquote]“What if there are no gods? Stop worrying and enjoy your life.”[/blockquote]

    It’s going to come across as wishy-washy to many because we would never say something so ridiculous as “What if there is no tooth fairy or Santa Claus?” And the point, to them, is that there is no difference.

    But I believe there is. I’m an atheist but an agnostic atheist. I don’t believe this is something we can know, where it’s easy to know we’ve created the idea of the current incarnation of Santa, etc.

    Besides, “There is no God” is very aggressive. If you’re trying to to appeal to other atheists, then fine. But if you’re appealing to people on the fence, or trying to play to intelligent believer’s sensibilities, to convert them, then you’re going to put them off with an aggressive statement.

    Phrasing it as a “What if…” is an understood way of encouraging people to think over possibilities without making it an instant argument. It’s not precisely clear but I think that works in its favor here.

  • country squire atheist

    “There is no god.” is best.

    Happy New Year, Hemant and to all
    the bloggers on “Friendly Atheist.”

  • RPJ

    If I assert that there’s a crocoduck monster living under my bed, should that force you to include the qualifier “probably” with regards to me not having a crocoduck until you are able to prove its nonexistence?

    Yes. There probably is no crocoduck under your bed. Until I, or at least someone who documents it, tests the area under your bed and determines that there is, in fact, no crocoduck, then I don’t know FOR CERTAIN that there isn’t.

    The burden of proof should be with the theists.

    The burden of proof is with whoever makes a positive statement. “There is a crocoduck under my bed” is a positive statement; unless you prove that there is one, I can assume reasonably (though not logically) that it does not exist. “There is no crocoduck under your bed” is a negative claim, but the second statement is not merely the negative of the first; it is its own claim. The burden of proof, of course, lies with the positive claim, but that does not imply that the negative claim is true until proven false. Unless I prove that there is no crocoduck under your bed, I cannot logically claim that there is not (though reasonably, that statement is probably true).

    There is no god.

    The burden of proof falls on the believers. You cannot prove a negative. However, until there is some shred of evidence that there may be a god, the default is that there is none.

    The default assumption for any claim is that it is not true until proven true; however, this does NOT mean that it is false until proven true.

    The paragraphs on this site put it better than me. http://home.earthlink.net/~mylnir/debate/logic.me.html#burden

  • Shatterface

    If your partner said ‘Do you love me?’ would they settle for ‘Probably’?

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    But Shatterface, love, like *belief*, is something internal to an individual.

    You can know for a certainty if you love someone. You can know for a certainty if you believe or do not believe.

    But you don’t necessarily know for a certainty if God does exist or not.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    It completely depends on context.

    The aim is to convey meaning.

    If I was using it in the same ordinary conversational way as I might say to someone “no, there aren’t any brain-eating zombies”, and I didn’t think it would be misunderstood, I would say “there is no god”.

    However, in many contexts, it will be taken as a 100% assertion, in which case I would qualify it in some way, because the “right” phrase is the one that conveys the intended meaning.

  • AxeGrrl

    Shatterface wrote:

    To extend the use of the word ‘probably’ in cases like this renders it meaningless. Water is ‘probably’ wet. 2 plus 2 ‘probably’ equals 4.

    Unfortunately, unless you can prove the assertion ‘There is no God’ as unequivocally as you can prove 2+2=4, that analogy is baseless.

  • muggle

    Either. There are no rules of Atheism, dammnit. Say whichever floats your boat.

    Okay, had to get that off my chest, now I’ll go read everybody else’s comments.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Add a third option:

    3. There is definitely no god.

    Which is the best choice now?

    I prefer “I don’t believe in gods” but only because I don’t and the plural form “gods” makes it seem less like I’m picking on the believers personal faith in their god. Not that I usually let that bother me. ;)

  • Shatterface

    ‘You can know for a certainty if you love someone.’

    You can’t know for certain if that person exists outside your own head and if so that you aren’t mistakenly speeking to her twin sister/clone/android duplicate/alien shapeshifter.

    I’m not making THAT mistake again.

  • muggle

    There is no God, you’re stupid and deluded in believing otherwise.

    K, you can say there is no “God” without adding the rest. Or even thinking it. I think they’re mistaken. Deluded is a bit extreme given it’s something they’ve been taught is real. Unquestioning, mistaken, but stupid and deluded?

    Brad, it’s not a lack, thank you very much. It’s an absence. I utterly hate that term. Lack implies something needed missing. Not. I just don’t believe. I don’t lack anything by not doing so.

    Let’s face it, religion still has some privileged positions, whether because of the deference of opponents or the child-like tantrums and ignorance of proponents.

    And I should cede them that privilege why? “God” doesn’t exist to strike me with lightning.

    Richard, loved the analogy. But a shiver ran up my spine. Perish the thought of Athiests getting that zealous.

    Happy New Year, country squire! And everyone else too, including those I’ve vehmently disagreed with. Variety is the spice of life.

    Now not to provoke an even longer thread but may I ask a couple of things:

    What the hell’s wrong with being assertive? They sure as fuck are. Yes, even that friend telling you they’ll pray for you is being assertive.

    And why is it such sacrilege to disagree with Dawkins or PZ Meyers? Frankly, I’m sick to death of Atheists quoting them like theirs is the final word, the be all and end all of everything. They may be educated as hell but they’re still only human. There is no “God” including these two.

    And wrap your head around this, I got so sick of Christians exclaiming “There is a God!” every time something goes right that I fell into the habit of exclaiming “There is no God!” whenever anything goes wrong years ago. Oddly, in that context, I usually only get a chuckle. Of course, I don’t hang around churches or revivals. And I don’t live in the Bible belt.

  • Hugh

    Define this “god” thingy. Surely that’s the first order of business before debating whether or not a god exists. My own view is that “god” is so poorly defined and such an incoherent concept, there is no point in even addressing the question of his/her/its/their existence. The god concept is what a scientist would call “not even wrong”.

  • Chakolate

    I agree with rpj, and Christopher Hitchens, as well. An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence. I have no evidence that there is no god, virgin birth, unicorn, FSM, or teapot in orbit around the moon, so I don’t claim they don’t exist.

    The fact that we fail to say ‘probably’ when we speak of virgin births and Zeus and the Tooth Fairy is simply an oversight on our part. A good skeptic (something I aspire to be) would be very careful about such claims.

  • http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~edmin/Pamphlets/ Cyberguy

    I agree with Tucker (December 31st, 2009 at 8:37) regarding the way “probably” conveys a false sense of doubt about our atheism. It sounds like a prevarication.

    I am as certain that god does not exist as it is logically possible to be certain about anything!

    Yes, I could be mistaken. This world could be the Matrix, or created 5 minutes ago with a fake history, or I could be a brain in a jar hallucinating it all, or some other scenario that requires us to disbelieve all our senses. But I think the probability of any of these is so near to zero as makes no difference.

    We don’t preface our everyday speech with “probably” just to be 100% logically rigorous about everything. In the same way, it is not necessary to pedantically use the word “probably” in explaining the non-existence of any gods to a religious person who typically neither understands nor respects rational logic.

  • Ivan Soto

    It’s negligibly probable that there is a god AND I live my life as if it’s metaphysically certain that no god of any kind whatsoever will ever be found.

  • Karen

    I disbelieve that there is a god.

    But yeah, depends on the context and audience. I outright deny the existence of the Abrahamic god Yaweh or whatever “his” name is supposed to be. (And btw… superstition about True Names… Very stupid.)

  • Kaori

    I usually tell believers I have no need of their imaginary friend. This works particularly well with christians and other cultists which actively proselytize. One or two doses of this medicine and they will not come back for more.

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    ‘You can know for a certainty if you love someone.’

    You can’t know for certain if that person exists outside your own head and if so that you aren’t mistakenly speeking to her twin sister/clone/android duplicate/alien shapeshifter.

    I’m not making THAT mistake again.

    Unfortunately, someone existing is not criteria for you loving them. (Loving someone, likewise, isn’t sufficient for knowing they exist)

  • dude

    I won’t be able to fly tomorrow and no gods exist. No probably required.

  • http://tenmazero.livejournal.com Caelum Grey

    This is an important distinction, and a reason laymen continue to insist that atheism is a religion.

    There is no convenient way to state that we are 99.7% sure there is no god, but we won’t discount that tiniest possibility because in a scientific approach no possibilities should be completely discounted. Therefore, we have the “there is probably no god” camp.

    That statement seems a little weak to most of us, and it’s always uncomfortable to squeeze that “probably” in. It makes us look uncertain to theists. So there’s the “there is no god” camp. But theists take a look at that statement and declare that we are as fundamentalist and certain in our “beliefs” as any mullah or priest.

    Some opt for a third statement, “God is pretend.” In some ways, I think this more effectively communicates the way most of us are thinking. It addresses God more specifically, and therefore can be construed to include the faintest possibility of some other kind of god-like entity, but asserts the patent falsehood of the God conceived by the popular religions.

  • Rodney

    There is no observable god.

  • MDG

    There are no gods.

    Why should we only deny the existence of monotheistic gods?

  • AxeGrrl

    “I see no reason/evidence to believe in God”

    So simple.

    So intellectually honest :)

  • alex

    IMO, both are equally good. Yes, greedy leprechauns might exist, the Sun might not rise tomorrow, and an invisible dragon just might be sleeping under my house. I think the semantics are insignificant in this case, where the first choice is more pedantic (after all, can you be 100% sure of anything at all?), and the second one is more realistic.

    I remember reading about some fundie that said “how do you know Columbus existed?” To me the answer to this question is similar to the one about a god. Yes? Cool. No? Whatever. Life goes on.

    Based on observations and logic, god is irrelevant, and, therefore, so is questioning his existence.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    If you say that a creator probably does not exist, then you are more correctly an Agnostic since probably means that you are not 100% sure. There really is only two possibilities how we came about. We either were created or we came about by chance. Well maybe three. A creator could of created a one celled creature and then set up the laws of evolution. Since science cannot prove or disprove a creator, it seems to make sense that all atheists are more likely agnostics with leanings towards there not being a creator. Calling yourself an atheist is saying that you believe, without a doubt, i.e, 100% that a creator does not exist. Since science cannot prove or disprove a creator, than you are, like the religious person, basing your belief on FAITH.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I prefer “There is probably no god” to be the statement associated with atheism. This statement is more inclusive of more people providing a “big-tent” atheism. Of course, individual people are free to adopt the stronger statement “There is no God”.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    I hear you Jeff, but the Cambridge dictionary states that an atheist is someone who believes that God or gods do not exist. That sounds like 100% to me. Therefore, it seems that someone who states that a god probably does not exist should be referring to himself as an agnostic with leanings towards the nonexistence of a god or gods. Maybe this blog should be changed to Friendly Agnositic. :-)

  • Jeff Dale

    Since science cannot prove or disprove a creator, than you are, like the religious person, basing your belief on FAITH.

    This is a common misunderstanding. We have no credible evidence of a supernatural creator, let alone specifically the being envisioned in various ways by Christians. And many persuasive arguments have been posed against the likelihood of such a being’s existence, whereas the arguments of the apologists (new and old) have been thoroughly refuted. Thus, if we were simply to take a dispassionate view of the evidence and apply our reasoning, we must conclude that the existence of a god is very unlikely.

    One doesn’t need “faith” to believe that there are no unicorns, for example. We can’t entirely rule out the possibility that we might find a unicorn somewhere, perhaps on another planet, but that doesn’t mean that we’re wrong to believe, on probability, that there are no unicorns. The same is true of gods: we can’t rule out all possibility that any such being exists, but we are justified in reasoning that the likelihood is vanishingly small. What “faith” means in this context is choosing to hold to a belief that isn’t supported by evidence and reasoning.

    If you say that a creator probably does not exist, then you are more correctly an Agnostic since probably means that you are not 100% sure.

    This is another common misunderstanding, even among atheists. In its formal sense (the sense intended in this context), agnosticism is the view that the ultimate reality (God, the essential nature of things, etc.) is unknowable. Thus, agnosticism is about knowledge (what can be known), whereas atheism and theism are about belief (what we think to be true based on evidence and reasoning).

    There are atheist agnostics: those who think we can’t know about “God,” but believe based on the evidence that he doesn’t exist. There are even theist agnostics: those who believe there is a “God” but that his existence and true nature are unknowable. Actually, there are quite a lot of theist agnostics, though many of them don’t realize it, because when they really examine the way the world is and what happens in it, they find it incomprehensible given their conception of “God,” and so they fall back on ideas like “God works in mysterious ways” (pure agnosticism).

    What seemed like agnosticism to you in atheistic assertions made here is actually just the proportioning of belief to the evidence, the rational way we form beliefs in all other areas of our lives. It is reasonable to keep in mind the possibility of being wrong, however remote. We might sometimes say “there is no God,” just as we say “there are no unicorns,” simply because the probability of being wrong is so small. But when we think it might be important to speak precisely about that small probability, we might add the “probably.” But “there is no God” is not materially different from the same statement with “probably.”

  • Richard Wade

    Wayne Dunlap,
    Be careful not to thump on a dictionary the way a fundie thumps on a Bible.

    Don’t rely on a book for knowledge so heavily that you ignore the reality around you that you can experience with your own senses.

    Noah Webster, who wrote the first American dictionary was a very devout Christian and his bias was strongly in his work. Sadly, that bias remains as dictionary writers simply copy much of his first definitions without doing fieldwork and revisions to reflect more accurately the world around us and the current state of our use of language.

    Books are static, while life and language move, change and evolve. Atheists are the best authorities on what atheism is, not a dictionary or any other old book.

    And no, an agnostic is not an atheist who hedges. Agnosticism is a position about knowablility, while atheism is a position on belief. Separate.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Hi Jeff,

    On your rebuttal to my statement that Atheist, like religious people, are basing their beliefs on faith, I’ve heard a similar argument, except the unicorn was substituted with some sort of teapot in space. :-) I understand the point, but we are talking about the start of life here not the existence of a unicorn and, of course, we do not have to have faith to say there are no unicorns since we have never seen one. We know that life started some way, but we don’t know how. You say there is no evidence of a creator and I must say that, yes a creator has not stood forth and directly proved its existence. Science has subjected what they felt was a similar broth existing at the beginning of life and subjected it to electrical current. They have come up with proteins. However, no life so far. Perhaps the scientists have not yet come up with the correct brew, but so far they have not been able to show that they could produce a living one celled creature or life of any kind. So, for now, we simply do not have the scientific proof that life could have started without the hand of a creator. To make matters worse, life requires a number of things all at once. Let’s jump to animals like ourselves. I know the argument that evolution occurred over an extremely long period of time, but what I cannot put my mind around is the fact that we and all animals require a number of things simultaneously for us to exist. That would be digestion, elimination, respiration, circulation, a way to cool down the body to prevent overheating, a flap to close off our lungs to keep food and liquids out when we swallow & reproduction. We could have had everything but reproduction and the individual would simply live out its life and die and the whole process would have to begin again. Still, in spite of my beliefs, I have no proof so I must consider myself an agnostic with leanings towards a creator or an agnostic believer. I believe you already coined a similar phrase. In fact a friend just set up a blog called The Believing Agnostic. He is quite eloquent in his explanation of his beliefs, and if you or anyone else is interested, I can give you his site address. Anyway, due to the fact that science has not yet been able to create life and, also because it appears too many things would have to occur at once for evolution to work, I feel that a creator cannot be ruled out. That is why I feel that someone stating 100% that a creator doesn’t exist would have to be basing it on faith since there is no scientific proof to show that life or the universe started by itself. And yes, I realize that, if a creator does exist, it would have to be more complex than the entire universe. And I would agree. If anything, a creator would have to be far beyond anything we could imagine and definitely not like the petty god described in the Old Testament.

    In reply to your rebuttal to my statement “If you say that a creator probably does not exist, then you are more correctly an Agnostic since probably means that you are 100% sure.” I agree that atheism is about belief, but that belief is that there is no god. A Theist says there is. Adding an “A” in front means you believe there isn’t. I got the following from about.com. “The broader, and more common, understanding of atheism among atheists is quite simply “not believing in any gods.” No claims or denials are made — an atheist is just a person who does not happen to be a theist. Sometimes this broader understanding is called “weak” or “implicit” atheism. Most good, complete dictionaries readily support this.”

    You stated that the probability of there being a creator is minute, but, based on my beliefs stated above, I have to disagree. That said, I am willing to state that I could be wrong, and, therefore hold to my statement that I am an agnostic with leanings towards a creator.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Richard Wade,
    What other means do I have of settling this? The reason for dictionaries is so that everyone can be on the same sheet of music, otherwise everyone could end up with slightly different definitions. My definition came from the Cambridge Dictionary. I believe that the statement from About.com pretty much sums it up. It states as follows: ” The broader, and more common, understanding of atheism among atheists is quite simply “not believing in any gods.” No claims or denials are made — an atheist is just a person who does not happen to be a theist. Sometimes this broader understanding is called “weak” or “implicit” atheism. Most good, complete dictionaries readily support this.” It is pretty straight forward. A Theist believes there is a god. When you add an “A” to the front, it then means someone who does not believe there is a god.
    It does not say probably. My feeling is that if you are an atheist, you believe 100% there is no god and though you can call yourself an atheist when you say there probably is not god, you are stating that you are not 100% sure and probably it would be more correct for you to say you are an agnostic, but almost positive there is no god.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Wayne,

    The statements

    “There is no God” and
    “I don’t believe in God”
    are not equivalent.

    For many atheists, they don’t believe in God because there probably isn’t a God.

    Apparently for you, you believe in God because there possibly is a God. It sounds like you may be a deist where you envision a non-interacting God.

    I view theism as supposing an interacting God that can be influenced through worship and prayer.

  • Jeff Dale

    @Wayne: I appreciate your thoughtful and honest comments here. It’s great that you’re here engaging in this kind of discussion. In the spirit of conscientious inquiry, I will reply as best I can, with all due respect.

    we do not have to have faith to say there are no unicorns since we have never seen one

    Same is true for a god. There’s no credible evidence that anyone has ever seen one.

    You say there is no evidence of a creator and I must say that, yes a creator has not stood forth and directly proved its existence.

    This fact unavoidably contradicts elements of this being’s nature that Christians attribute to him: his desire for a personal relationship with his creations, his “Great Commission” to spread the word (which an omnipotent being could’ve accomplished much more successfully), the persistence of reasonable doubt, etc. Also, other facts about the world we see are incompatible with the existence of the Christian creator, particularly the widespread occurrence of unnecessary evil (both natural and moral). All theodicies (defenses against the problem of evil) have been shown to be fatally flawed. Several types of apologist arguments have been offered: cosmological, teleological, ontological, miracles, religious experiences. These too have all been shown to be fatally flawed.

    All of these are reasons for disbelieving the existence of the Christian god, and there’s no credible offsetting evidence in his favor. This doesn’t entirely rule him out, but it makes him very unlikely. When something is very unlikely, we are justified in disbelieving it. That’s not “faith” of the sort used in religion. In the religious context, “faith,” means a belief that is held intentionally, without or in spite of evidence. “Belief,” properly understood, is involuntary and in proportion to the evidence: it irresistibly forms in our minds when we see and understand the evidence. I can’t help disbelieving in any gods, because the evidence makes that conclusion unavoidable; I would need religious “faith” to shield my eyes from that conclusion, not to embrace it.

    We know that life started some way, but we don’t know how.

    But positing a supernatural origin only adds to the complexity, posing more questions than it answers. If we had other reasons to believe that a creator god exists (see above), then we would have reason to suppose he might’ve been involved in the origin of life. Since we don’t, and since supernatural explanations are always weaker than natural ones (once they’re discovered), we have every reason to assume that a natural explanation will eventually be found, as has been the case with so many other natural phenomena that were mysterious to people at the time when they invented gods.

    Or to put it another way, if humankind had got this far without believing in any gods, and suddenly the question came up today, when so much of nature has been explained, what are the odds that anyone would point to life’s origin and say, “we have to come up with something supernatural to explain it”?

    we and all animals require a number of things simultaneously for us to exist

    But every system and feature of our bodies evolved in innumerable small steps over geologic stretches of time. If they all had come into existence at once, in their current form, we would have a hard time finding a natural explanation (and yet a supernatural one would be even less likely). But everything can easily be traced back to gradually evolving forms over time. Even when we don’t have all the fossils we’d like (a fact which is easily explainable in reasonable probabilities), we do have copious evidence in modern species’ DNA.

    The combination of genetics, statistics, and immense time make evolution by natural selection inevitable. The evolutionary explanation is so thoroughly supported by the evidence that there’s no reason to doubt it, if that’s what you’re suggesting in your post. I highly recommend “The Making of the Fittest” by Sean B. Carroll for a thorough but generally accessible explanation of the subject.

    “The broader, and more common, understanding of atheism among atheists is quite simply “not believing in any gods.” No claims or denials are made — an atheist is just a person who does not happen to be a theist.

    This is the broader definition. To be an atheist, one needs only not have belief in any gods. And of course, within the broader definition are a lot of folks who are also willing to assert that they actively disbelieve in any gods, for reasons like those I’ve given above. But none of these folks is agnostic simply because they admit there’s a very small chance they’re wrong. The agnostic is the one who thinks metaphysical entities are, in principle, unknowable, but he still has to form beliefs (theistic or atheistic) depending on the evidence.

    You stated that the probability of there being a creator is minute, but, based on my beliefs stated above, I have to disagree. That said, I am willing to state that I could be wrong, and, therefore hold to my statement that I am an agnostic with leanings towards a creator.

    I guess it’d be better simply to say that you have doubts, or that you’re willing to entertain doubts. That’s natural! Many religious people so strongly want to believe that they just can’t allow themselves any doubt. Even a little bit of doubt is dangerous, since the forced suppression of doubt (and denial or avoidance of the evidence) is necessary to maintain intentional belief. (Actually, this is another one of those things that makes us atheists suspicious of religion: the deeply ingrained insecurity that its ideas wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny, the supposed sinfulness of doubt, etc.)

    It seems to me that religious belief can only persist on “faith,” in the religious sense. And of course, that’s exactly what a lot of religious people say. (“You’ve gotta have faith.”) But I’m getting at something a little different. Most people want to be rational, want to believe that they’ve formed their beliefs rationally (in all areas, not just religion). A great variety of religious arguments have been promulgated to provide rational support for religious belief, and I think most religious people assume their belief is rational because of one or more of those arguments, OR because apologists who seem to know what they’re talking about (such as W.L. Craig) have supported such arguments. But every one of those arguments has been effectively refuted. So what I say is, it’s only possible to go on believing by maintaining “faith,” intentionally holding onto belief without or in spite of evidence, and knowing that one is doing so. By contrast, if one is willing to see the evidence for what it is, let the arguments speak for themselves, and not let oneself dodge the arguments (“This can’t be right, so there must be something wrong with it, though I can’t see what.”), i.e., to let belief form naturally and involuntarily in proportion to the evidence, I think atheism is the unavoidable conclusion.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Jeff, it seems like we are arguing semantics here. However, I kind of see what you are getting at. Still, if I simply said I believed a god existed, I would think that I would be basing it on faith if I did not add that I am agnostic because I can’t prove it, and, therefore, have to admit that I don’t know for sure. I would think that would also be the case on the atheist end. I think I lean more towards theism rather than deism only because some things that have happen in my life that seemed purposeful, though I admit could just be coincidence. Some try to hold this up as proof of a god who intervenes in their lives. Funny, you stated that you feel that the existence of a god is highly unlikely, and I feel that it is highly likely, but I am still keeping an open mind that I could be wrong. So far, my readings on evolution have not dissuaded me from this view. They have only convinced me that evolution is a fact and that the creationists are off base.

  • Richard Wade

    Wayne Dunlap,

    Yes, I really like the About.com explanation too. It clearly explains how people who lack belief in gods and people who hold a strong belief that there are no gods can both correctly and sensibly call themselves atheists. I think that you are still mixing the weak and strong variations up, and you are still getting “agnostic” mixed up with “weak atheist.”

    The beef I have with most dictionaries, (and fortunately there are some exceptions) is that they use the least commonly held position, the strong atheist position, for their one and only definition. The better, more nuanced dictionaries include two definitions, and those describe both the weak and strong positions.

    Yes, dictionaries help us to be on the same sheet of music, but they are not gospel. They are written by people who are subject to ignorance and bias. When we find that they are too primitive in their definitions, we should argue with them, writing letters to the editors, explaining how they have missed the full set of definitions that are actually used by speaking people. Don’t shake dictionaries in people’s faces and tell them they’re wrong, without considering that it could be the dictionary that is inadequate.

    As has been said by me and others here, agnosticism is a statement about the knowability of the existence of gods. Atheism, weak or strong is a position about belief in gods. These are two completely separate things. An agnostic is not an atheist who is hedging.

    I, by calling myself a weak atheist am making a statement about my inner mind. I’m saying there are no beliefs in gods inside my head. I am not saying anything about whether gods are knowable or not. That is a different subject that agnostics focus on. My lack of belief does not imply the necessity of gods being knowable or unknowable. It’s just the lack of belief, period. And my lack of belief does not imply the necessity of an active, assertive belief that there are no gods, either.

    I think some of the confusion also comes from two slightly different flavors of the phrase, “probably not.”

    Many people read “probably is no god” in the bus ad slogan as if it means “maybe, kinda, sorta.” As if they are hedging. I read it as “it is not probable.” This refers to the inadequate arguments and evidence we have been offered by theists so far.

    The problem is that we can only go by the descriptions of those who believe in gods, and they’re as slippery as eels. They constantly add caveats to thwart challenges to their assertions. “Oh, he can only be seen if he wants to be,” etc.

    Being 100% free of, or empty of, belief in gods does not mean the same thing as having a 100% certain belief that there are no gods. The first, the weak one, is the simple lack of belief, and from that position one can say that the reason for their lack of belief is that they find it improbable. They need a more probable or convincing argument than they have heard, so far, so they still lack any belief in gods. But both positions are about not having a belief in gods, and are saying nothing about the knowability or the unknowablility of gods, so they have nothing to do with agnosticism.

    I don’t take the strong atheist stance because I think it is strategically unwise. In a debate with a theist, I want him to have to do all the work. He makes the assertive claim, and so he has to come up with the evidence. Why should I work as hard as that if I don’t have to? I listen openly, but I end up saying, “That’s not convincing. It seems very improbable. I still have no belief in the god that you have described, because your argument is faulty and your evidence is inadequate.”

    Strong atheists, by making an assertive truth statement, put themselves in a position of having to come up with evidence to back up their claim just as much as the theists do. I think all belief, and by that I mean a persistent assumption of the truth of something in the absence of evidence, is foolish. So I don’t do it at all, about anything. I’ll have a few working hypotheses, just to see, and if confirming evidence comes along, I’ll have more confidence that it is correct. If not, I’ll drop that hypothesis. Continuing to assume things is something I try to avoid. Once again, just to be clear, this is not a statement about whether the thing in question is knowable or unknowable. It is skepticism. It is not agnosticism.

    So I would best prefer the slogan, “I find the existence of gods improbable because the the arguments are faulty and the evidence is inadequate, so I hold no belief in gods in my mind.”

    But that’s just way too much to read on a passing bus.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Wayne, the evangelical Christians that I know think that it takes a lot of faith to be an atheist because one must have faith that there is no God if they are to avoid going to hell and be tortured for all eternity. The evangelical Christian has this view because they believe in hell with all their heart and can’t conceive of someone really not believing in hell without some huge belief system to supplant the hell belief. That is why some evangelicals say things like “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist” or “it takes more faith to be an atheist”.

    All I say is that just because one group of people can think up a very negative fiction, doesn’t mean that I need to adopt another belief system to “get around” their fiction. For example, I could sit down and write very elaborate details on what might happen to someone if they didn’t believe certain things that I just happen to make up. I wouldn’t then say that you would need faith not to believe those things I just made up. The only difference with those evangelicals that say I need faith not to believe is that THEY believe.

    I can understand that since you have a little faith, you would think that atheists need a little faith as well not to believe. But just because that is your view, doesn’t mean that is actually what is going on in the minds of atheists. That is just the rationalization that is going on in your mind.

    I offer these comments just to let you know what is in my mind. I appreciate learning what is in your mind as well.

  • Jeff Dale

    Speaking of hell, that’s often an interesting starting point for theistic discussions. A lot of Christians have noticed that infinite punishment for finite crimes is vastly disproportionate and utterly irreconcilable with the notion of a morally perfect god (or even a morally average one). Ultimately, many of them find it hard to believe that any person who does his best to be moral could be condemned to eternal torture. But that leaves open the possibility that morally virtuous atheists would be spared the trip to hell. Which makes Christian belief seem optional. Which kinda undermines the whole edifice.

    I’ve had numerous encounters along these lines with believers. Someone says something atheistic. A believer chimes in with concern for the person’s soul. (“I’ll pray for you.”) The believer is asked point-blank if this particular nonbeliever, whom she knows personally, deserves hell. Then comes the equivocation: can’t admit that hell is barbarous nonsense unworthy of her god, but also can’t say that this moral, nonbelieving human in front of her deserves hell.

    “Faith” is what people do when they find themselves on the horns of dilemmas like these, and decide to tell themselves it’s a mystery. The Christian god has to be swaddled in a massive, impenetrable blanket of mystery to be believed. But in that case, if they admit that their god is utterly inscrutable, beyond comprehension, how can they go on in other circumstances thinking that they have a personal relationship with him, that they know his nature, and that they know what he wants them to do?

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Thanks Jeff, I also appreciate your well thought out comments.
    I agree that there is no credible evidence that anyone has encountered a god. There are those who claim they have, but there is no way of determining if they really did. Some claim to have had visions, but I personally remember waking up outside under a bridge and saying something like where am I and hearing my wife saying I was dreaming. Yet, it was so real and it took a bit of shaking myself in spite of having sat up on my elbow before it went away. Of course some could say I left my body and my spirit traveled there, but I doubt that. James Randi, the skeptic, said he found himself up on the ceiling looking down on his body lying on the bed with the cat lying beside it. When he later told his wife of his experience, she told him that it was not possible since the cat was locked in the basement. Still, there are a lot of people, including me that have had things happen in their lives that seemed purposeful. Yes they could all be coincidences, but how can we be sure.
    Funny you should mention the creator’s failure to spread the word. I have argued this with my Christian friends. I had one hit me with Paley’s Wager saying that if he is wrong about his Christian belief, then we will both die, but if he is right, then he will go to heaven and I to hell. Problem with that is that there is a fallacy in that Christianity might not be the correct religion. Christians believe in just one God, but there are so many different beliefs right within the Christian religion, not to mention all the other differing religions. If there was a creator who created the whole universe, and this creator wanted everyone to follow certain rules and to worship him a certain way, how unreasonable is it to expect that this creator could get it right so that everyone on earth would be on the same sheet of music.
    Randi did a number on the evangelical healers. He exposed them as what they are, scammers. That said, I remember an article in the paper here a number of years back where a kid was in a coma and the parents were praying to Saint John Neuman who’s body is preserved in glass at a church in Philly. Well, sometime later when they went to see their kid he had just come out of the coma and wanted to know who the little boy was who visited him. Well, security said that no little boy had come past their check point. Sometime later, the parents took their kid to see John Neuman’s glass enclosure and the kid looked up at a photo of John Neuman when he was a kid and the told his parents that that was the kid who came to see him. Now, I admit that it could have been all made up, but it did make me wonder.
    I know longer believe in Christianity. The reason why is that I could not understand why Jesus would be preaching fervently for the people to prepare themselves for God’s coming kingdom if it was going to happen until millenniums later. Even Paul, when asked by a church if they should help the poor, responded no because they were soon to be elevated to God’s coming kingdom and the rich and powerful Romans who ruled them was to be put down. I could not find answers from any religious sources including my minister. Finally, I found the answer in a Teaching Company college lectures titled The Historic Christ by Bart Erhman. He quoted quite a number of passages including Mark 9:1 in which Jesus said that there would be some of them there who would still be standing when God arrived in glory in his kingdom, i.e., it was supposed to happen then when the people needed it to rescue them from Roman rule, not millenniums later. To me that made Jesus a failed prophet. In fact, James Randi in his hatched job on Nostradamus, The Mask of Nostrodamus, he had a similar passage to the one I quoted and had it in his appendix which read Other Failed Prophets and certainly not God since you would think that God would get it right.
    I agree that natural explanations are the best, and perhaps we will one day find one to show once and for all that there is no creator involved. You make an excellent point when you say that we don’t consider a god responsible when we come up with natural explanations. You only have to look at Egyptian polytheistic beliefs in ancient times. They believed that there were gods involved in such things as the wind and the son was explained by a god who went across the sky each day and then into the underworld at night before coming up again the next day. Science has given natural explanations and, therefore, no one believes that these natural occurrences are due to gods.
    I do understand that evolution came about by steps over a long period of time and have read a number of books on evolution, but have yet to see an explanation how a living being could exist without all the systems I mentioned being there all at once. I guess I have to continue reading until I get the answers. Funny, I was going to mention having read Carroll’s book in an earlier post, but couldn’t remember his full name and the name of the book. I also saw him on a recent PBS special on evolution. The Making of the Fittest was an excellent book. Genetics simply verifies what we have seen from fossils that we have evolved from fish and can blame our bad backs on that. Also, that whales were once land animals. I get so frustrated when creationists claim that evolution is just a theory and that we should be teaching creationists as a theory as well. Sad how they try so hard to disprove evolution even though there is so much evidence that it can pretty much be considered fact.
    Well, when I was Christian, I believed everything that was spoon fed to me because my parents were Christians as well. This is long ago. I’m 63 now. I remember an declared atheist laughing at me and stating that I was wrong, but I could not see his point of view since I thought I was right since this was what I had been told. I even remember an English course in college in which they did some time on religion of the Bible and referred to the story of the strong man Sampson as a rustic folk tale told around the camp fire. I found that upsetting. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago that I started questioning things and not finding answers from religious sources, finally found them in secular sources. BTW, the college professor I mentioned, Bart Erhman, was once a died in wool evangelical and fundamentalist. However, after much research, he started to notice inconsistencies and things that made him finally determine that the Bible was man-made and not God-inspired. He is now an atheist. I believe he has stated that the creator of the universe would have to be even more complex and that he could not believe that. A friend, who is also an atheist, questioned that if there is a creator, who created the creator. Christians would answer that he always existed.
    Incidentally, a creator could be the one described by Aristotle, the unmoved mover. This god created everything and then stepped aside. I can go one further and say, perhaps it set up all the laws of evolution and the universe and then stepped aside. That would certainly explain why no one has seen this creator.
    All and all, we actually agree on many things. I, and it may be because I still haven’t quite read enough on evolution, just find it difficult to comprehend that we could have come about by chance when it seems to me that we need too many things to occur simultaneously. Also, the physicist’s explanation that matter can come from nothing is fascinating but a bit difficult to accept. BTW, I read The Blind Watchman and did not buy the supposed demonstration of natural selection to the selection of symbols as believable. It smacked of someone actually making the choices and not by it happening by chance. A friend told me to read this and I was very disappointed.
    BTW, it is nice to have a discussion with an atheist instead of a Christian because, from time to time, they will be patronizing and warn me that I am in danger of going to hell. Funny, the Israelite prophets would inform the people that the reason they were taken over by another nation is because they did not follow God’s laws. However, eventually, the Israelites begin to notice that they were being taken over even when they were following the laws to the letter, so they had to find another explanation. That is where Satan came in. The real reason is that they were strategically in a bad place where larger warring nations found them to be an easy mark.

  • Jeff Dale

    @Wayne:

    Your perspective is very interesting, and novel (at least in my experience). Most of the time, when we hear someone wondering how all the species could be so various and complex, or marveling at the number of seemingly motivated coincidences, they’re positing these as reasons to believe in a (Christian) god. Most of those people, presumably, will not have spent much effort on the likes of Bart Ehrman or James Randi. You seem to place some stock in the atheist view, even if you don’t quite embrace it yet.

    Evolution is, of course, hard to visualize. Your difficulty with it seems not to be a lack of info, or plain denial, but a preoccupation with the idea that many coordinated bodily functions would all have to come into being at once. We probably ought not get into detail here, but I think the literature on evolution (including Carroll’s book) cover this pretty well. In brief, I’ll use our human selves for illustration. If you could go back thru the generations, to earlier and earlier humans, then primates, then earlier stages of mammals, etc., at each stage of descent, our ancestors were slightly different from their predecessors, but at each stage they were successful organisms (as demonstrated by their procreation). If you go back far enough, you’ll find ancestors whose organs are very different from our modern ones. In some ways, their organs will be very primitive by comparison to ours. But they were adequate for the needs of those ancestors in their environments. If you go back further, you’ll eventually find ancestors with still much more primitive organs, but whatever state those organs were in, they were adequate for those ancestors’ needs. What’s more, we often find other animals with versions of those organs in various stages of evolution comparable to what our ancestors might’ve had. The eye is a good example: it started as a patch of cells that gradually developed a primitive sensitivity to light, and evolved by innumerable small but functional stages up to the various highly evolved eyes we see around us today, and various examples of various intermediate stage can be found in the animal kingdom. Thus, natural explanations are quite satisfactory and well supported by the evidence. You’ve expressed skepticism for theists’ conception of a divine being, and seem to understand the problems of positing supernatural explanations, so it would seem reasonable, by your own expressed views in the rest of this discussion, to accept the scientific conclusion in favor of the supernatural conclusion.

    As for what you’ve called coincidences, or events that seem to be purposeful (in a sense that suggests a divine will), I don’t need to explain to you the fallacy of religious experiences, but you see this in a different light. I don’t know what’s in your catalog of experiences, and it probably wouldn’t be worth getting into the details here, but I’d suggest that you may be laboring under a cognitive bias, as we all do at various times to some extent. You probably know something about the way our minds work, with cognitive shortcuts that are helpful on balance but have some unfortunate side effects, like a quick thought that tells us to run from a loud roar without waiting to prove that it’s from a lion, but which occasionally causes us to run off a cliff when there wasn’t actually a lion close by. Perhaps the significance of these coincidental experiences is artificially magnified in your mind because the countless other times when nothing coincidental happened weren’t memorable, or because they confirmed teleological notions you held at the time (forming your impression of the events) but have since abandoned, or because of the common misunderstanding of what randomness looks like (e.g. thinking that a series of repeating coin-flip results couldn’t happen randomly, when such series are actually predicted by statistics to occur more than rarely). It’s also possible that you’ve actually had some extreme coincidences in your life, but that too presumably could have a reasonable statistic explanation, given the vast number of people who’ve lived. I don’t know! But in any case, considering all the other reasons for believing supernatural beings to be unlikely, it’s hard to imagine a series of coincidences so unlikely that one would be justified in giving credence to a supernatural explanation of them. Your own expressed views and knowledge would reasonably seem to suggest agreeing with this point.

    So, if I understand you correctly, you’re aware of the problems with the Christian god and rightly conclude that he’s very unlikely, but on the other hand, you see some room for suspecting that there might be “a” god of some sort, perhaps very different from the Christian conception. Two things are probably worth noting in regards to discussing such a god:

    [1] Most of my effort has been in understanding the improbability of any version of the Abrahamic god, and though some of the results of that effort are broadly applicable to ALL gods, I could benefit from more study of broader conceptions of gods. So I hope you will continue to post from this perspective.

    [2] Since the problems we face from religion seem to come mostly from Abrahamic religions, and since your conception of a god seems not to motivate you to suppress reason, comments made here and on other threads that are antagonistic to religious belief may simply not apply to you, though it might sometimes be hard to tell at first.

    Cheers.

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  • Wayne Dunlap

    Richard Wade.
    Wait a minute, that isn’t the way I interpreted it. ?
    Oh, oh, here is something else I found in about.com. Maybe I should have stuck to the dictionary definition. Ha! Anyway here it is: A person can believe in a god (theism) without claiming to know for sure if that god exists; the result is agnostic theism. On the other hand, a person can disbelieve in gods (atheism) without claiming to know for sure that no gods can or do exist; the result is agnostic atheism.
    But, wait a minute. I might be right after all since I stated that if you state that you believe that there probably is no god, just by saying probably you are saying that you don’t know for sure. Therefore, you are an agnostic with atheistic leanings or an agnostic atheist. Cool. I also like the About.com explanation, but for a different reason than you do. It is saying the same thing that I was saying, i.e., a, as you put it, weak atheist who says that a god probably does not exist rather than doesn’t exist period is not just an atheist but an agnostic atheist. OK, I must admit that I didn’t quite say that. What I said is that he is not an atheist but an agnostic with atheistic leanings. I later relented and said that saying he was an agnostic atheist also made sense. So, in a way neither one of us was a 100% correct in our definition, but I am willing to accept this About.com definition. To me, it makes sense. A person who states that there is probably no god is an Agnostic Atheist since he admits that, though he is almost sure, he still might be wrong and therefore doesn’t 100% know for sure. I like it, but I’m sure there are those out there who won’t agree. As far as dictionaries are concerned, you may be right about some being biased, but if you look at enough of them and the vast majority gives the same definition, then odds are that it is the correct one. Just for the sake of argument, I just pulled out The American Heritage dictionary of the English Language. It states that an Atheist is one that disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods. That sure looks to be a 100% belief. There is no addition about “weak atheists”. The only possibility is that the definition has changed or modified since the copyright on this dictionary, yes it is a huge hard copy, is 1992.
    If you are stating that you are a weak atheist, you are essentially admitting that you don’t know for sure. To my mind, that makes you an agnostic atheist.
    The problem with stating there is a god is that you must base it on faith. Supposedly, there were prophets in the Bible who claimed to be in communication with God. Trouble is, how can you be sure he wasn’t making it up? Oral Roberts claimed that God told him that he was going to call him home if he did not raise a certain amount of money. Good thing he had that wealthy guy waiting in the wings in case it didn’t work, which it didn’t since most people decided he either had gone off the deep end or was simply conning them.
    Ok, it appears we do agree since you stated that “strong atheists”, i.e., those who state that they 100% do not believe a god exists, are putting themselves in the predicament of having to come up with evidence like the theists. I must add that since there is not scientific way of proving or disproving a god, both but themselves in the position of basing their beliefs on FAITH.
    I like your slogan, “I find the existence of gods improbable because the arguments are faulty and the evidence is inadequate, so I hold no belief in gods in my mind.” Yes it is a lot to read on a bus. How about Agnostic Atheist? ?

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Jeff,
    Funny you should mention that the evangelical Christians think it takes a lot of faith to be an atheist because one must have faith that there is not God if they are to avoid going to hell. I knew a guy who told me that he woke up one day and felt that he was headed to hell and immediately joined the Church. He is the same one who told me that, if he was wrong, we would both die, but if he was right then he would go to heaven and me to hell. Too bad he didn’t know that the true God was the Goddess Isis. ? Recently, another friend informed me that this guy was made an elder in his church. I mentioned to this 2nd friend that this now elder once told me that I was in danger of going to hell. This second friend told me that he agreed. Guess I’m doomed. Funny, I don’t think I have much to worry about. However, the life after death thing does have a certain appeal.
    BTW, have you noticed that the Bible is very clever in that it states that you must be careful not to listen to false prophets? That, essentially, causes people to close their minds to any argument against what the Bible states, no matter how plausible that argument might be. I have Christian friends like that, and I understand where they are coming from because I was once a Christian like them too.
    I have disagree with you when you say I have a little faith because I am an agnostic which means I admit that I do not know and therefore have not put myself in the position of being forced to show proof. I only need to explain why I tend to lean towards the belief that a creator exists.
    BTW, I find it amusing that Archey Bunker stated that Faith is believing in something so ridiculous that nobody in his right mind would believe it. ?

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Jeff Dale,
    To add some more complication, there was a man named Marcian who believed that the God of the Old Testament was a revengeful god, but that along came the God of the New Testament who was good and wanted to help prevent people from being sent to hell, so he made a covenant that he would come down in human form and sacrifice himself on the cross if the God of the Old Testament relented and stopped sending those who believed on God in human form. Marcian goes on to state that Jesus was faking it when he appeared in human form. He really was in spirit form and could not suffer on the cross, but the God of the Old Testament didn’t know that. Marcian got tossed out of the Catholic church. He was only using one Gospel, I think Luke, and he was cutting and pasting it. Still, you must admit that his theory that the God of the Old Testament could be different from the God of the New Testament could hold credence.
    Yes, when Christians try to explain how the trinity is not three gods, they simply say “it’s a mystery”.
    If you haven’t read Sam Harris, Letters to a Christian Nation, I highly recommend it. It is a very short book but holds back no punches. For example, he quoted a passage in the Old Testament that it was A OK to put your daughter into prostitution. Abraham, for fear of his life, lied that his wife was his sister and allowed her to be put into a harem. So much for the morality of the Bible.

  • Jeff Dale

    Another way to look at the dictionary question is that when a dictionary goes thru updates, it takes on new definitions according to what has some demonstrated usage. The old definitions tend to stay until they long after they’ve gone out of use, at which point they may be marked “archaic.” And the new ones may only be appropriate in some contexts, or among some speakers, and might be contradictory of other definitions of the same word, and might be completely inappropriate for some uses.

    It’s true that some people use “agnostic” to refer to doubt, and some people expand that use to a wide variety of questions that have nothing to do with religion (e.g., “I’m agnostic on whether the Colts will win it all this year.”) Thus, these uses have found their way into dictionaries. All dictionary makers want to be up-to-date, so if most of them have these definitions, that doesn’t add to the legitimacy of the definition. It’s the usage that determines legitimacy. A hundred years from now there might be nobody left who doesn’t think these uses of “agnostic” are legitimate.

    All we’re saying is that these definitions muddle up the use of the word in this kind of discussion. The definition of “agnostic” used by philosophers, for whom both debates like this and the clarification of language used in such debates are part of the job, is as we have stated it to you. Sticking to that (original) definition simply makes it easier for us to have this kind of discussion and effectively communicate with each other and be sure we know what we mean. There are other, better, ways to describe the shades of doubt we’ve touched on.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Wayne,

    I’ve often thought that Christianity wouldn’t be half bad if it dropped its notion of the afterlife and all the damned and saved business. If Christians just concentrated on spreading the message not to be selfish and work to make this world a better place, then perhaps I would sign up. Of course, then it really wouldn’t be much different than secular humanism. It seems to me that all the business with the afterlife is just human invention to gain control and influence over other humans. If there is some kind of creative force in the universe, I prefer to think of it as a benign creative force. Nothing like an Abrahamic God. I also think it interesting that people think the new covenant is better than the old covenant. At least the God of the Old Testament only kills you. The God of the new Testament tortures you forever after you die. I’ll just take death.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Jeff Dale,
    You are correct that I no longer believe in the petty Christian Old Testament God. So, yes the comments made to Christian apologists would not apply to me because, in most cases I would be making similar statements to these apologists as you or others on this board might.
    I do understand the concept of evolution, but one problem with fossil evidence is that, and I’m not positive of this, it only shows you bones and not the internal organs so we really cannot see the gradual changes in these organs or that some didn’t come about until later and the creature still managed to survive. The same goes for the eye. I have read about it starting as something that is sensitive to light. Still, I don’t believe there is any physical evidence of this so we can only assume that this theory is correct. Funny, the theory of evolution is a ‘scientific theory’ because there is so much evidence that it can’t be denied. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if the theory of the evolution of the eye can be considered scientific theory because I don’t believe there is any physical evidence. Now I say this, but I must admit that I may have missed the statement of this evidence in the books I have read. So I am quick to admit that I could be wrong. What we do have is some sort of evidence that we evolved from fish and that the whale evolved from a land animal. I believe I read something about them reverse evolving a chicken, but I don’t remember the details. I will have to check my evolution books and get back to you on that. One other thing, I believe they have found is fossilized one celled creatures, so, perhaps it is possible to find fossilized internal organs. Still, I don’t remember reading anything about this. I must admit frustration because I can’t seem to find an explanation how we could survive without all the systems we now have with them being there simultaneously. So, for now, I really have no other choice but to assume that a creator was responsible, but I am still looking.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Jeff Dale
    I had written what my coincidence was, but last minute pulled it out because it left me feeling vulnerable. I thought I had saved it to word, but was mistaken, or I would send it now. The important thing is that it was a whole series of things that happened that seemed to have a purpose in my life. Yes it could have been a coincidence, but didn’t seem like one. If you really want to hear it, I can write it up again.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Jeff,
    I listened to lectures on Philosophy of Relgion and the lecturer called himself an agnostic Presbyterian or some such protestant religion. He explained that he was a member of a church even though he did not believe in the religion or that there was a god who deserved to be worshipped because he liked the good things that the church did, and that is what he really believed in.

  • Jeff Dale

    the lecturer called himself an agnostic Presbyterian or some such protestant religion. He explained that he was a member of a church even though he did not believe in the religion or that there was a god who deserved to be worshipped because he liked the good things that the church did

    Well, by his own description of his beliefs, he’s an atheist. Perhaps it’s not a contradiction for him also to be a Presbyterian, if it’s a community that he can feel a part of without buying into its metaphysical claims. (Sort of like being “culturally Jewish,” I guess.)

    So, this fellow is actually an agnostic atheist Presbyterian: holds the ultimate reality (metaphysics) to be unknowable, but believes that “God” (probably) doesn’t exist, and allies himself with the Presbyterian Church for reasons other than metaphysics.

  • Jeff Dale

    So, for now, I really have no other choice but to assume that a creator was responsible, but I am still looking.

    What I’ve tried to point out is that this seems to be a contradiction of your own reasoning. In other parts of our discussion, you’ve agreed that positing a supernatural explanation raises more questions than it answers, so that a natural explanation is superior in principle (even when we don’t yet have all the evidence). Yet on the question of species generation you see a lot of evidence in favor of evolution and no evidence of a creator, and you still think a creator is more likely?

  • Jeff Dale

    but one problem with fossil evidence is that, and I’m not positive of this, it only shows you bones and not the internal organs so we really cannot see the gradual changes in these organs or that some didn’t come about until later and the creature still managed to survive.

    These kinds of gaps in the physical evidence are not a problem for (at least) three reasons:

    [1] Many intermediate forms can be found in existing species, demonstrating the plausibility or likelihood of more advanced forms having evolved from such intermediates.

    [2] The DNA of existing species provides an excellent road map for the history of more advanced forms. Even if we find we don’t have much history on any given advanced form, we have plenty of history on many other advanced forms to show how complexity evolves from simplicity over and over again.

    [3] A supernatural explanation would STILL be vastly more complex and less likely than any natural explanation we’re hoping to uncover, for the reasons we’ve both discussed.

    I can’t help but wonder if the theory of the evolution of the eye can be considered scientific theory because I don’t believe there is any physical evidence

    There is evidence of the kind I’ve described above (including plenty of intermediate and divergent forms). We don’t need fossilized eye tissue to get a pretty good handle on how eyes evolved.

    Plus the explanations developed for the origins of eyes aren’t really a separate theory, but a part of (and consistent with) all the rest of evolutionary theory, which is based on very good science many times over.

  • Richard Wade

    Wayne Dunlap,
    I’m enjoying this conversation, and I appreciate your patient and conscientious effort to understand and be understood.

    From the About.com article, I can accept the agnostic atheist label, as long as “agnostic” is an adjective and “atheist” is the noun.

    I do still have one little quibble with something you said about strong atheists, which may be a fine point to others, but is important to me and a few folks I know. You said, (emphasis mine)

    Ok, it appears we do agree since you stated that “strong atheists”, i.e., those who state that they 100% do not believe a god exists, are putting themselves in the predicament of having to come up with evidence like the theists. I must add that since there is not scientific way of proving or disproving a god, both but themselves in the position of basing their beliefs on FAITH.

    I agree with the general thrust of what you’re saying about strong atheists, although some will get pissed at the word “faith” and argue that they have other ways to be so sure without either empiric proof of a negative or faith, but that is not my quibble. One has to be very careful about the exact placement of the words “not” and “no” in these phrases:

    “they 100% do not believe a god exists” could be interpreted as “they 100% have no belief that a god exists.” That describes a weak atheist like myself, being empty of such a belief. (Yes, it’s apparently unknowable, given the long-standing descriptions by theists, so I’ll accept the adjective “agnostic” too.)

    But in order to be absolutely clear that one is describing a strong atheist, it would be better to say “they 100% believe there is no god.”

    I’m pretty sure that you understand the difference, but the confusion leaks into the exact phrasing. Please excuse me if I unnecessarily elaborate with these distinctions:

    “Do not believe” is different from “Believe it is not”. Different.

    “Not believe it is” is different from “Believe it is not”. Different.

    “Not believe there is a god” is different from “believe there is no god”. Different.

    “No belief in gods” is different from “belief that there are no gods”. Different.

    It’s sometimes hard for people who have had strong beliefs to comprehend the complete absence of beliefs. They assume that a person who doesn’t share their belief must must have a counter-belief in place of the one that they have. No, it can just be an empty space, a vacuum.

    If you say that you have an apple in your lunchbox, and I say that I do not have an apple in my lunchbox, that does not mean that I’m saying that I have an orange in there instead. No, it’s just empty.

    My mind is clean of beliefs. There aren’t any contrary, opposite beliefs that came in to take their place. I’ve worked hard to sweep out anything, yes, no, up down, left, right, anything that is not supported by evidence. Now I have lots of room for thinking.

    Again Wayne, I so appreciate the heartfelt and candid tone of your dialogue with Jeff and Jeff Dale about very personal and significant things, and your patience with my pesky little nit-picking about words. My hat is off to you and my hand is out to you. All the best.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Wayne,

    I too have enjoyed and benefited from all the posts from everybody here including your own. I wanted to add some words about the notion of a false dichotomy. I consider it a false dichotomy to say that if there is missing evidence or an insufficient proof of something (like evolution) then therefore another proposition (like creation) must be true. This is like harboring a background belief that presents come from Santa Clause and then considering the notion that your parents put the presents under the tree. If you stay up late Christmas eve for a couple of house to see if your parents put any presents under the tree and don’t see them before you fall asleep.. then wake up in the morning and there are presents under the tree, that does not mean that Santa Clause was the one that put them there. Its possible that your parents put them there after you went to sleep. It is also possible that they were placed there by someone other than your parents or Santa Clause.

    Likewise, speciation could happen by evolution as it is currently described in biology books or it could also happen by a different notion of evolution that we have yet to discover. It isn’t just between our current notion of evolution and creation.

    I liked Richard’s example of the apple in the lunchbox as well.

  • JC

    I am in the #1 camp, but have been reconsidering that position for some time and I’m thinking about saying #2 and clarifying as needed. #1 is more technically correct, but assuming God means the Christian notion of God, I’m at least as certain that he doesn’t exist as I am that you do exist Hemant, and I wouldn’t go around saying that you only probably exists.

    However, Dawkins is in the #2 camp, chapter titles aside. Somewhere in this recent Intelligence Squared debate, during the Q&A, a question about the atheist bus campaign comes up. Someone (the moderator or AC?) points out that the buses said “probably.” Watch a little bit longer though and you’ll see that Dawkins mentions something to the effect “that we wanted it to read ‘there is no god’ but the advertising board wouldn’t approve it unless we added probably.” While that isn’t an actual quote, I do recall him saying “we wanted” not “they wanted.”

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Jeff Dale
    You might be correct that the promise of an afterlife is a way to gain control of humans.
    The important thing to remember is that the New Testament says that when you die, you don’t go anywhere. You are dead. It isn’t until sometime later when the dead will be brought out of their graves and resurected. They then will be judged and either sent to heaven or hell. But the Christians no longer have to worry since they have accepted Jesus as their saviour and will be saved. BTW, I believe hell was invented in the Old Testament. But I’m really not completely sure of it. Ancient Israelites believe in a place called Sheol where it was dark and gloomy, but no punishment was attached to it. BTW, Paul believed that Jesus was the beginning of the resurection and that everyone else would soon be resurected as well. Incidentally, perhaps those who die wait around in Sheol until the resurection. What a delight. I agree that death is far better than forever torture, but heaven sounds divine. Too bad that the “after death experiences” of some who died and were revived, were true. They end up going through a tunnel and end up in some really pretty place with all their loved ones who died before them. The trouble is, astronauts riding in the centrugal machine have had similar experiences, and they were brought on by lack of oxygen to the brain. Some people with near death experiences have seen their lives flash before their eyes. The going through a dark tunnel could be rememberance of being born.
    Here is a site I found on Hell http://www.gospelassemblyfree.com/facts/hell.htm

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Jeff Dale,
    Atheist Agnostic Presbyterian? Interesting, but not sure if that fits the bill. He also had his kid in a religious Sunday school until he found out that they were teaching that man’s ultimate destination was Hell. He pulled his kid immediately and put her somewhere else. I can’t help thinking he is an agnostic.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Jeff Dale,
    I agree that my statement that I have no other choice but to assume a creator is contradictory to my own reasoning. Now that I read it over, I realize that that wasn’t really what I was trying to say. I didn’t mean I don’t have any choice. What I meant to say is that, through my own reasoning, it appears that you need all the systems I mentioned simultaneously which makes it very hard for me to believe that that could have happened by chance. Therefore, it seems to indicate that you need a creator. And, yes, what I am saying does smack of someone automatically assuming that when there is something they don’t understand, there must be a supernatural reason for it. But in this case, I feel that I might be justified. However, I am willing to hedge my bet and state that there could be a natural explanation that hasn’t been shown yet or I am missing something in the writings and college lecture tapes on evolution.

  • Jeff Dale

    @Wayne:

    Jeff Dale
    You might be correct that the promise of an afterlife is a way to gain control of humans.

    You’re responding to “Jeff” in this case. I didn’t say that.

    I believe hell was invented in the Old Testament

    I don’t have quotes handy (someone else here might, if you’re interested), but the concept of hell is derived from the words of Mr. Christ hisowneverlovingself, as reported inerrantly in the “good book.”

    @Jeff:

    Well said. (false dichotomy discussion)

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Jeff Dale,
    More on evolution. Question. Have scientists been able to track the evolution of internal organs? I know they can determine the size of the brain by the size of the brain cavity. We have come from fish, but they have all the systems that we have. The difference is that they are adapted to water. Have they been able to observe the change from simple one cell animals on up to more complex beings? Speaking of complex, I acquired a college lecture on Biology. I remember studying a human cell in biology in 1964. The cell was considered very simple with a couple of spots. Well, the cell is extremely complex. It is like a miniature factory. And that is just the beginning. Then these cells have to be coordinated into our body. It was stated that there are something like billions of things that have to be exact or something goes wrong. We even have fail safes. I wish I could remember examples. The funny thing is that by listening to this course, I thought it would help me find answers to how we came about by chance, but, instead, it made it even more difficult to cut a creator out of the equation because it showed that we are so much more complicated than I ever imagined and that so many things had to go right or we could not exist. I know we have gaps because fossil need special situations to form, but do we have enough of these fossils. Another problem is how genes could have developed by chance that act like a computer center after the combination of the sperm with the egg and then directing it to produce a specific species. I’m afraid that that just boggles my mind. You say that a creator makes this more complicated, and I suppose it could, but then again, it makes more sense when it appears that something so complicated could not exist without some sort of intelligence designing it. Sounds like I am one of those IDers who believe that everything was created in 5000 years, but not so. I was so happy when the school board, who tried to place intelligent design as another ‘theory’ in the science class, lost the court case in Dover PA. Evolution is fact. Believing in a creator lacks tracks of this creator so it does not belong in a science class. Still, who is to say life wasn’t started by a creator and the rules of evolution established by this creator or maybe evolution really is the tracks of a creator experimenting until it gets it right.
    As far as evolution of the eye goes, I believe that we have organisms that have some sort of simply eye, so that can help to indicate how the first eye started.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Richard Wade,
    I am also enjoying this conversation. It is very enjoyable having these discussions with you, Jeff Wade and Jeff. All your comments are well thought out. I also appreciate your patience.
    When you say “No belief in gods” is different from “belief that there are no gods”, I can sort of see what you are saying, but in the end, isn’t this just different ways of saying the same thing? In the first statement, you are saying that you have no belief in gods. That is 100%. In the 2nd statement, you are saying that you believe there are no gods. Now, if you modified the 2nd statement and said that you believe that there are probably no gods, then that would be what you call a weak atheist, and I would take that to mean that you weren’t positive and would make you an agnostic atheist. The way you presented the 2nd statement does not say probably so there is no choice but to consider it also 100%.
    I’m not sure that the orange/apple in a lunch box works here. Saying you don’t have an apple in your lunch box means just that. You need to go further and state that your lunch box is empty or you have something else in your lunch box. Either could be the case. If you say there is no god, then life had to come about by chance. If you say there is a creator, life didn’t come about by chance and either evolution has been set up by this creator or the creator was merely experimenting until it got it right and we are actually seeing tracks of this creator rather than a chance occurrence. Life could only have come about by chance or by a creator. Since we have no evidence how life started, if we either state that life started by chance or by a creator, we must base it on faith. OK, maybe not faith but on our intellect. But using our intellect does not necessarily make it so, and therefore can’t be considered fact.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Thanks Jeff,
    Feeling is mutual that these discussions have been enjoyable and beneficial.
    In response to your statement, I am not stating that missing evidence or an insufficient proof of something makes the existence of a creator to be true. It doesn’t. All I am saying is that life could only have come about by two possibilities, either by chance or by the intervention of a creator, and that I find it difficult to get my mind around the possibility of complex life coming about without the hand of a creator, especially when we could not exist without all our systems such as digestion, elimination, a flap to keep food from going down our lungs, respiration, circulation and reproduction having occurred simultaneously. I admit that, though I believe this, I have no evidence to back up this belief, and that is why I am an agnostic.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Jeff Dale,
    According to one source, there is a brief reference to such a place as hell in Daniel. The place reserved for the wicked dead was called Gehenna by Jews. Early references depict it as a temporary place of punishment similar to the Catholic purgatory. It became a permanent place of torment by the time Christianity was established. There is no fully developed teaching about hell in the New Testament, though there are frequent mentions of it. I do recall Jesus’ parable about the man being sent to hell and asking Jesus to tell his brother so he didn’t end up there as well. I’m not sure exactly where I saw the reference to the lake of fire where, upon judgment day, the evil people would be thrown into the lake of fire.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Wayne says:

    All I am saying is that life could only have come about by two possibilities, either by chance or by the intervention of a creator

    I disagree. I grant you that current biological theory describes evolution as proceeding by various selection mechanisms aided by random (chance) mutations and other mixings of the genetic code.

    But there are other possibilities that could also be in play without the hand of some kind of supernatural intelligence.

    One example is that there could be some unintelligent (natural) subtle tendency of the universe to slightly favor increases in complexity in environments with available free energy. If this were the case, all the probability equations of the chance of certain things happening would be changed dramatically.

    Some scientists argue that nature abhors a gradient and given time and the right conditions, matter will self organize in forms to better dissipate the gradient. Living processes are very good at reducing free energy gradients.

    My main point is that it isn’t just between chance and a supernatural creator. The field of abiogenesis (origen of life) is fairly new and the last word has definitely not been written on the theory of evolution.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Wayne Dunlap:

    All I am saying is that life could only have come about by two possibilities, either by chance or by the intervention of a creator, and that I find it difficult to get my mind around the possibility of complex life coming about without the hand of a creator. . .

    I agree with Jeff (non-Dale) that these are not the only two possibilities. However, more generally, while I can understand why you have difficulty “getting your mind around” life coming about by chance, I don’t understand why adding in a God makes makes it any easier to “get your mind around it,” or why it would strike you as a reasonable explanation, as if it was just another scientific hypothesis. If there’s some physical phenomenon that you don’t understand, saying that it’s caused by some mysterious entity, called “God” doesn’t strike me as explaining anything. We have no way of testing this hypothesis, and just using the word “God” doesn’t explain anything. When someone says “Oh, maybe there’s a God that did it,” they might as well say “Oh, maybe Gavaraxx, OmphLord of Gumpaland did it” or “Oh, maybe it was caused by the collision of some giant mystical turtles,” for all the explanatory power that it has. I’m honestly not trying to be insulting, or start a fight, especially since I know you’re an agnostic, and accept evolution. But I honestly don’t see why saying “Maybe God did it” is at all satisfying or an acceptable explanation, and would be interested in hearing why you find it satisfying and/or acceptable.

    To put my same question in a different way, what other scientific questions would you find it acceptable or satisfying to say “because God did it”? There are lots of scientific questions for which we don’t currently have good answers. Would you find “God” an acceptable or plausible answer for all of them? For example, the observed rotation curves of galaxies are inconsistent with the mass distribution of galaxies. Why is this? Possible answers: (1) There is some sort of “dark matter,” which is does not emit electromagnetic radiation (i.e. is invisible), and which we don’t yet know what it’s made of, but which affects the motion of stars through it’s gravitational effects. We need to come up with more detailed hypotheses as to what this “dark matter” is made of, and where it came from, and devise tests of these hypotheses (2) God made the rotation curves of galaxies look that way. Do you find (2) a satisfying or reasonable explanation?

    BTW, the lake of fire is in Revelation, chapters 19-21.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Jeff says
    >One example is that there could be some unintelligent (natural) subtle tendency of the universe to slightly favor increases in complexity in environments with available free energy. If this were the case, all the probability equations of the chance of certain things happening would be changed dramatically.>
    I agree that you need to have certain situations for complex life to exist, but that is a given. With all of the billions of star systems out there, the odds are good that at least one would have the ideal situation for life. However, you still are left with two possibilities, as I see it, and that is that life started by itself or that a creator started it. Scientists have done experiments with what they feel is the original soup and subjected it with electrical charges and have actually come up with amino acids, so that could indicate that it could have happened. Still, they have yet to have developed life and, though it doesn’t mean that life did not start by itself, it still does not confirm that it could have.

  • Richard Wade

    Wayne Dunlap,

    When you say “No belief in gods” is different from “belief that there are no gods”, I can sort of see what you are saying, but in the end, isn’t this just different ways of saying the same thing? In the first statement, you are saying that you have no belief in gods. That is 100%. In the 2nd statement, you are saying that you believe there are no gods. Now, if you modified the 2nd statement and said that you believe that there are probably no gods, then that would be what you call a weak atheist, and I would take that to mean that you weren’t positive and would make you an agnostic atheist. The way you presented the 2nd statement does not say probably so there is no choice but to consider it also 100%.

    No, they are not just two ways of saying the same thing. This is not merely a semantic difference. This is two completely different states of mind.

    The complete absence of belief in gods does not mean the same thing as the presence of belief that there are no gods. I don’t know how to help you see this important distinction. You are still not grasping the complete absence of belief, yes or no, on a topic in a person’s mind. You keep assuming that if they don’t believe X they must therefore believe anti-X or non-X. They might, as a strong atheist would, but they don’t have to.

    Theist: “Do you believe in God?”

    Richard: “No.”

    Theist: “So, you believe there is no God?”

    Richard: “No.”

    Theist: “Wait, I’m confused. You say that you don’t believe in God, but then you say that you don’t believe there is no God?”

    Richard: “That is correct. I don’t have a thing called a belief in gods in my mind. I also don’t have a thing called a belief that there is no god in my mind either.”

    Theist: “And why do you have no belief in god?”

    Richard: “Because I have seen no convincing evidence.”

    Theist: “And why do you have no belief that there is no god?”

    Richard: “Because I have seen no convincing evidence for that either. I don’t hold beliefs that are not supported by evidence. The popular descriptions of gods by believers include caveats and excuses for their gods not being subject to evidence, so the belief that there is no god is just as unsupported by evidence as the belief that there is a god.”

    The whole “probably” thing and the agnostic thing is a red herring that is confusing the issue. “Probably” is not “maybe” in those statements. It refers to the proposition being found to be not probable. That is a reason that either a weak or strong atheist might take their positions. The weak atheist finds the proposition to be improbable, so he has no belief in his head about gods. The strong atheist also finds the proposition to be improbable, so he develops the belief that there is no god. Improbability is a reason, an explanation, a cause for the two very different reactions, but it is not a softening of either reaction.

    I, as a weak atheist am not someone who has a weak belief that there are no gods. I don’t have an iffy, maybe, conditional belief that there are no gods. A weak atheist has no belief in his head about gods one way or the other. I don’t believe things yes or no, if there is not evidence yes or no. In my case I very thoroughly keep it clean in my head. In there, no assumptions last for very long without supporting evidence, and their contradictory assumptions do not last for very long without supporting evidence either. It feels so much better and works so much better than when it was cluttered with unfounded beliefs and unfounded contrary beliefs.

    I’m busy doing something else instead of believing things. I’m thinking.

    Belief is a very specific mental activity. It is not something that a person has to be constantly doing. It is quite possible for a person to be not doing it at all.

    Counting down from a thousand by sevens is a specific mental activity. If you ask me if I’m doing that, and I say “No,” do not then assume that I just said “No, I’m counting up by sevens instead.”

    I’m not counting up or down by threes either, or anything of the sort. There’s just no counting up, down or sideways going on in there. The absence of the first does not require the presence of the other. They are both absent. Neither are present. The same with beliefs about gods or no gods.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Autumnal Harvest,
    > while I can understand why you have difficulty “getting your mind around” life coming about by chance, I don’t understand why adding in a God makes makes it any easier to “get your mind around it,” or why it would strike you as a reasonable explanation, as if it was just another scientific hypothesis.>
    Actually, it is difficult to get my mind around either one of these possibilities. All I know for certain is that we are here and that it is due to one of the above. Since we cannot yet scientifically prove either one of these possibilities, I really cannot see the problem of intellectually considering that, due to our complexity, that it would be reasonable that a creator may have been involved. That said, science may eventually determine how life came about and actually produce it that way in the lab.

    Hee, hee! Actually it was the Goddess Isis. Seriously, think about it. You seem to ridicule a creator or god as an explanation, but think about how difficult it is to also believe that somehow matter appeared all by itself out of nothingness and then blew up and created the universe.

    You definitely make a good point here. The ancient Egyptians had a god or goddess to explain all sorts of phenomenon such as the movement of the sun across the sky or cause of the wind, etc. So you do have a valid argument. I can’t deny that, so perhaps my belief is simply a throwback to my former Christian days. And, believe me, I am trying to find out, but have been frustrated so far when looking at evolution for answers. So, as a result, my hypothesis seems as good as any of the two possibilities.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Autumnal Harvest said
    ,
    > while I can understand why you have difficulty “getting your mind around” life coming about by chance, I don’t understand why adding in a God makes makes it any easier to “get your mind around it,” or why it would strike you as a reasonable explanation, as if it was just another scientific hypothesis.>

    Actually, it is difficult to get my mind around either one of these possibilities. All I know for certain is that we are here and that it is due to one of the above. Since we cannot yet scientifically prove either one of these possibilities, I really cannot see the problem of intellectually considering that, due to our complexity, that it would be reasonable that a creator may have been involved. That said, science may eventually determine how life came about and actually produce it that way in the lab.

    Hee, hee! Actually it was the Goddess Isis. Seriously, think about it. You seem to ridicule a creator or god as an explanation, but think about how difficult it is to also believe that somehow matter appeared all by itself out of nothingness and then blew up and created the universe.

    You definitely make a good point here. The ancient Egyptians had a god or goddess to explain all sorts of phenomenon such as the movement of the sun across the sky or cause of the wind, etc. So you do have a valid argument. I can’t deny that, so perhaps my belief is simply a throwback to my former Christian days. And, believe me, I am trying to find out, but have been frustrated so far when looking at evolution for answers. So, as a result, my hypothesis seems as good as any of the two possibilities.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Autumn Harvest. I copied my previous post to you from word and used brackets around three of your comments, however, for some reason when I copied them here, the 2nd and 3rd comment vanished. I deleted the whole thing, but ended up losing your last 2 comments again.

    Your 2nd comment was “When someone says “Oh, maybee there’s a God that did it, they might as well say “Oh maybe Gaavaraxx, OmphLord of Gumpaland did it.” I responded Hee, hee.

    Your 3rd comment was “There are lots of scientific questions for which we don’t currently have good answers. Would you find “God” an acceptable or plausible answer for all of them? For example, the observed rotation curves of galaxies are inconsistent with the mass distribution of galaxies. Why is this? Possible answers: (1) There is some sort of “dark matter,” which is does not emit electromagnetic radiation (i.e. is invisible), and which we don’t yet know what it’s made of, but which affects the motion of stars through it’s gravitational effects.” I responded You definitely make a good point here.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    http://www.thebelievingagnostic.blogspot.com/

    Hi everybody. I am including the web site for a blog named TheBelievingAgnostic.

    My friend set this blog up last month. He writes very eloquently and I’m sure some here might find his blog of interest. If you would at least check it out, I know he would be grateful. Though he admits he can’t prove it, he is a Christian and he said that he would definitely appreciate a perspective from an atheist’s view point. Since I have seen how well thought out your comments are, I know you would be a welcome addition to his blog. Thanks. Wayne Dunlap

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Richard makes good points and also accurately describes my own form of “weak atheism”.

    On the topics of cosmology, abiogenesis, and irreducible complexity, I would like to put out there that it is not necessary to harbor a belief with those subjects either.

    Personally, I accept that the current scientific theories on these subjects are the best we have at the moment but I don’t find it necessary to need to believe any of the theories are TRUE.

    I don’t have a creator belief nor do I have a belief in any of these scientific theories. As someone who likes to think about such subjects, I find that the scientific theories are much more satisfying because they provide logical details to analyze and explore (unlike religious propositions which all boil down to just saying “God did it”). Personally, I am comfortable in simply saying “I don’t know” for many of the profound questions of the universe. I don’t personally find it necessary to fill in these unknowns with “beliefs”.

    I don’t have the hubris that I happen to live at the time in human history where we accurately answer all these questions. It is also possible that the brains of the Homo sapien primate simply cannot answer some of these questions (and never will). Even if this is the case, I still prefer to simply say “I don’t know” instead of positing a God.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Wayne, you can use the “blockquote” tag if you want to quote. (Although I understood which parts of my comment you were responding to, anyway.)

    I know my comments about Gavaraxx and mystical space turtles seems like ridicule, but I was actually serious, in that I really don’t see why those are logically any better or worse explanations than “God.” (Of course, I understand that the latter two explanations sound sillier, given the society we live in.)

    What I was trying to get at (and maybe not expressing it very well), is that as I see it, God/Gavaraxx/turtles are not valid competing scientific hypotheses. It’s not just that they’re bad scientific hypotheses, or hypotheses that I disagree with, but that they just fail to even be scientific hypotheses. They’re supernatural explanations, that fall out of the realm of science, and don’t predict or explain anything. Saying that “life came from God” doesn’t really explain anything about life—it doesn’t make any predictions about what that life is going to be like that can be tested, it doesn’t have any way of being falsified, it doesn’t let apparently unrelated observations fit together in a coherent pattern—it just sticks a word in at the end of “life came from . . .”. Why does filling in the blank with the word “God” make it more of an explanation than sticking in the phrase “giant mystical space turtles,” or a nonsense word (e.g. “pragasactra”)? What I was trying to express earlier, is not so much that “God did it” is a bad explanation, or a silly explanation, but that it’s a non-explanation—it’s really a refusal to try to explain things.

    In your posts, you repeatedly say that there are things that it seems like science doesn’t have good explanations for yet, and that’s why you think it’s reasonable to answer them with “Maybe God did it.” I think this misconceives science. Science is an ongoing process for figuring out how to come up with and test scientific hypotheses, not a book of answers. I agree that there are things that science doesn’t have good explanations for, it’s just that I think that’s to be expected, and that it doesn’t make to fill in the gaps with “God did it.” If that’s not an acceptable answer for rotation curves of galaxies, or thunderstorms, I don’t see why that’s an acceptable answer for abiogenesis, either.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Though he admits he can’t prove it, he is a Christian. . .

    While I consider myself a skeptic, I’m willing to take his word that he’s a Christian; he doesn’t need to prove it. :)

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Autumnal Harvest says:

    Why does filling in the blank with the word “God” make it more of an explanation than sticking in the phrase “giant mystical space turtles,” or a nonsense word (e.g. “pragasactra”)?

    Because a creator would have to be more complex than the entire universe and a giant mystical space turtle wouldn’t fill that bill.

    What I was trying to express earlier, is not so much that “God did it” is a bad explanation, or a silly explanation, but that it’s a non-explanation—it’s really a refusal to try to explain things.

    I agree that it does not explan how it was done, but science has already figured out that the universe started with the big bang. I am only saying that I think that a creator might have been necessary to start this off. I am not saying that I know for sure that this is the case, just that, through reasoning, it seems more plausible than it happening by itself.

    It’s not just that they’re bad scientific hypotheses, or hypotheses that I disagree with, but that they just fail to even be scientific hypotheses.

    True, it is not a scientifc hypotheses, but so what? Science does not have all the answers. Tell me how an explanation that a god produced matter out of nothing and created the universe is any more difficult to accept then that matter was created out of nothing by chance and blew up to form the entire universe.

    BTW thanks for mentioning Bquote. I was wondering how you did that.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Jeff,
    Thanks for leaving a comment at TheBelievingAgnostic. You were the first to post outside of a circle of friends and Shane Hayes was thrilled to get your comment.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Because a creator would have to be more complex than the entire universe and a giant mystical space turtle wouldn’t fill that bill.

    I don’t see why you say that. You don’t know the properties of these giant mystical space turtles, or the properties of this creator, so I’m not sure how you know which, if either, is more complex than the entire universe. Although, if we assume that this creator is more complex than the entire universe, how does that make things more plausible? You started out thinking about a creator because of the mind-boggling complexity of the abiogenesis and the Big Bang, and your fix to this problem is that they were caused by something even more mind-bogglingly complex? It seems like this makes your problem worse, not better.

    Tell me how an explanation that a god produced matter out of nothing and created the universe is any more difficult to accept then that matter was created out of nothing by chance and blew up to form the entire universe.

    Well, as I’ve been trying to say, I don’t even see that that constitutes an explanation. Just saying “X did it” where “X” is some mysterious thing that I don’t know the properties of, don’t know how to test, and therefore don’t know how to evaluate the plausibility of, isn’t an explanation. It’s just a phrase, masquerading as an explantion. It’s not that I find it difficult to accept, so much as I don’t see why I would believe in an “explanation” that doesn’t actually explain something. But this is essentially what I’ve said before, and I think there’s some sort of communication mismatch; we seem to be going in circles :o

    I’m not really trying to convert you from agnosticism to atheism (or agnosticismto agnostic atheism, or strong atheism, or whatever, I’m not really crazy about all this terminology). Really, I just don’t understand why you consider “God did it” to constitute an explanation for abiogenesis, but not for the rotation curves of galaxies. Or am I making an incorrect assumption? If someone said “the rotation curves of galaxies can be explained as God’s will” would you think that constituted an explanation?

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I just don’t understand why you consider “God did it” to constitute an explanation for abiogenesis, but not for the rotation curves of galaxies

    Interestingly, Nathan (a Christian who sometimes leaves comments at this site) doesn’t distinguish between things that “God did” and things with natural explanations. He considers God as having done and been responsible for EVERYTHING. I find that stance unsatisfying because it doesn’t provide me with any information about either God nor the things He supposedly did.

    For example, image a detective investigating a murder where it is known that the murderer is one of 10 people. If a surveillance camera shows that the murderer had dark hair but in fact all 10 possible suspects also have dark hair, the dark hair clue doesn’t help the detective narrow down the field.

    I think that saying “God did it” is just a poetic way of saying “I don’t know” that some people take too seriously and literally.

  • http://criticallyskeptic.blogspot.com Kevin

    On Topic – not to detract from the wonderful discussion:

    “I don’t have a reason to believe in gods.” is my personal statement, and if pressed, “I see no evidence for their existence.”

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Autumnal Harvest

    I don’t see why you say that. You don’t know the properties of these giant mystical space turtles, or the properties of this creator, so I’m not sure how you know which, if either, is more complex than the entire universe.

    True, I don’t know the properties of a creator, but there is nothing stopping me from coming up with an educated guess. Science does this all the time.

    Although, if we assume that this creator is more complex than the entire universe, how does that make things more plausible? You started out thinking about a creator because of the mind-boggling complexity of the abiogenesis and the Big Bang, and your fix to this problem is that they were caused by something even more mind-bogglingly complex? It seems like this makes your problem worse, not better.

    It doesn’t necessarily make it more plausible. I am merely guessing that, if a creator was responsible, then it would probably be more complex than the entire universe. I’m not sure why a creator makes things more complex, or if so, why does this nullify this as a possible explanation.
    It doesn’t necessarily make it more plausible. I am merely guessing that, if a creator was responsible, then it would probably be more complex than the entire universe. I’m not sure why a creator makes things more complex, or if so, why does this nullify this as a possible explanation.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Autumnal Harvest Says:

    It’s not that I find it difficult to accept, so much as I don’t see why I would believe in an “explanation” that doesn’t actually explain something.

    I can understand you wanting an actual explanation of how life started or what triggered off the big bang, but no one knows. I can only give an educated guess that I think a creator may have been involved. However, like you said, I can’t know what this creator is like and I certainly cannot tell you how he did it. But, I can bet you that it is something a bit more plausible than a giant turtle. -:)
    I just want to add one more thing. You and most atheists want everything to be nicely figured out by science, and I understand that. However, science shouldn’t be considered the “be all, end all”. Science admits that it is not equipped to determine whether or not a creator exists. Many scientists will admit that, though evolution is a fact, it does not necessarily mean that everything started by itself without the help of a creator. Evolution shows the tracks of how life has changed over time. It states that it was through natural selection, but it cannot determine whether or not evolution started off by chance or if a creator was involved in what is called natural selection. As far as converting me to your way of thinking, if you do, that is just fine. I am looking for the truth because I don’t have all the answers. By looking for truth, I was able to determine that Christianity was man-made rather than God inspired.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Interestingly, Nathan (a Christian who sometimes leaves comments at this site) doesn’t distinguish between things that “God did” and things with natural explanations. He considers God as having done and been responsible for EVERYTHING.

    Yet I’m sure that whatever Nathan says, he does make some sort of distinctions. I’m sure that if his car breaks down a day after he gets it back from the mechanic, he doesn’t accept “God did it” as an explanation from the mechanic.

    You and most atheists want everything to be nicely figured out by science, and I understand that.

    No, no, no, no, no! And another “no,” for emphasis. As I said in my last post, science does not explain everything, and I don’t expect it to. I’m perfectly happy saying that we don’t currently have a good explanation for abiogenesis, or the rotation curves of galaxies, or a million other things. I’d like science to try to figure out explanations for these things, but I’m comfortable not having everything figured out. I’m saying that filling in the things we don’t have explanations for with “God did it” isn’t actually an explanation.

    This is an interesting conversation, and I don’t want to cut it short, but there seems to be something about our viewpoints that we’re not able to communicate to each other, and I’m not sure what to do other than just repeat myself, so I’m going to jump out of this thread unless you have any objections / suggestions. (If you want, you could try to explain why “God did it” can be called an “explanation” for abiogenesis, but not for the rotation curves of galaxies, that might help.)

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Autumnal Harvest says:

    I’m perfectly happy saying that we don’t currently have a good explanation for abiogenesis, or the rotation curves of galaxies, or a million other things. I’d like science to try to figure out explanations for these things, but I’m comfortable not having everything figured out.

    Makes sense to me. I agree. I also agree that we probably have gotten to the point that we would be saying the same thing over and this is probably a good point to cut it. Thank you. I really enjoyed this discussion. :-) If you haven’t done so already, could you please check out my friends blog, http://www.thebelievingagnostic.blogspot.com/
    He just stated it last month and would be thrilled if you would leave a comment. Thanks. Wayne Dunlap

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Autumnal Harvest,

    I just checked the believing agnostic site and see you left a comment. Thank you. I also noticed a couple of others from this site too. Much appreciated.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Hi Jeff,
    Just to let you know. Shane Hayes has responded to your post.
    http://thebelievingagnostic.blogspot.com/2009/12/believing-without-proof-shane-hayes-you.html#comments

  • Pingback: Atheism described with Venn diagrams | 1 2 3 Religious Comics

  • http://dannyman.toldme.com/ Daniel Howard

    In my book, Atheism is reverence toward God.

    If God is almighty and all powerful, and leads an existence in the Universe beyond my ability to perceive it, then the most responsible approach I can take towards this thing beyond my perception is to shut the heck up about it, and focus on our collective worldly life.

    So, maybe “God does not exist within my perception of reality.”

    Or perhaps, “The question of God’s existence is irrelevant, but if for some reason it needs to reveal itself unto me, I bet it could hook that up.”

    Or more modesty? “I have been unable to perceive the existence or intentions of God. I do think that Faith is important, and I put my faith in humanity, which tests my faith as surely as God tests the faith of its believers.”

    http://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/08/oh-god-whatever/

  • Wayne Dunlap

    “The question of God’s existence is irrelevant, but if for some reason it needs to reveal itself unto me, I bet it could hook that up.”

    Exactly. If a God who created the whole universe wanted to be worshipped and in a special way, it only makes sense that he would be able to make that wish known. Instead we have numerous different kinds of religions and many different sects within a religion like we do with Christianity. What does that tell you? Also, we are assuming, that, if a God exists, this god is the only one.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Hi Jeff,
    Shane has responded to your latest comments on http://thebelievingagnostic.blogspot.com/2009/12/believing-without-proof-shane-hayes-you.html#comments

    Wayne Dunlap

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Thanks Wayne. I am subscribed to that post on his blog so I got the email. I’ll comment on it within the next day. He basically asked me about “Pascal’s wager”.

  • http://s2solutions.us/wordpress Seth Strong

    When you say what you think it means exactly that whether you couch your phrase in “I know…” or “probably…” that whatever you say afterward should be treated with the normal everyday set of skepticism. I don’t believe in a God. That’s the same as saying I know there is no God to me. You don’t get to check your skepticism because I said I know. I don’t know in the scientific sense. I know there is no God as logically legitimately that believers know there is a God. However, I consider it an advantage that there is no evidence for their Gods. That confirms my bias.


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