Is Liberal Religion Really Part of the Problem?

Hi Friendly Atheist friends! Mike Clawson here. I know it’s been forever since I’ve posted (that’s the problem with graduate school – it doesn’t leave you much time to write anything not class related), but I recently came across an interesting article on AlterNet.org that I wanted to share with y’all. Titled “Should I Quit My Religion? Some Questions for the New Atheists,” the author, a Unitarian/Universalist, challenges the New Atheist claim that “moderate religion” is just as bad as fundamentalism provides legitimacy or justification for extremist religion. (UPDATE: My apologies for being too general in my earlier statement. I assumed y’all would know which arguments I was referring to, but I should have been more precise.)

For his first counter-argument the author questions the logic of such a claim in the first place:

The first question I have for Harris and Dawkins is this, do other liberal and moderate things justify their extreme forms? For example if Harris drinks liberally or moderately shall we conclude that he lends credibility or legitimacy to alcoholism? Does his liberal behavior justify the tens of thousands of deaths each year which are attributable to alcohol abuse? Why? Why not? Does the pot smoker give credence to the heroin addict? How about politics? Does the liberal congressman Dennis Kucinich lend credibility to the Bush administration era policies that led to torture, war and occupation? Is Kucinich guilty for associating with the political system despite his fierce criticism of U.S. Imperialism? Was it enough for congressmen to speak out against the Vietnam War? Or should they have rid themselves of all government? Following Harris’ logic one could also say that the child building a baking soda volcano for her science fair legitimizes the most dangerous nuclear weapons that we have ever known because they both employ science. Can you think of any other real world examples that the logic of Dawkins or Harris would actually apply to? Or is this only true when it comes to religion? If so, what is unique about religion that makes this principle valid?

He also points out that many liberal religious people are at the forefront of promoting both progressive, rational thought and social action:

If the new atheists engaged in modern theological study they would read things like this from Pacific School of the Religion (PSR) Biblical studies professor and Methodist lay minister Jeffrey Kuan, “All talk of God is a construct.” It was in my Bible studies class at PSR that I first learned that the Exodus was not a real historical event and it was in my Christian history class that my professor said, “You can’t prove the existence of Jesus.” It is also where I read “Is God a White Racist?” by the black theologian William Jones. Any mainstream or progressive seminary such as Harvard, Yale, Duke, Union, Emory, Pacific School of the Religion (PSR) or my school Starr King School teaches a critical, historical and scientific understanding of the Bible, Christianity and religion. If the goal is to get people reflecting on why they believe what they believe, to understand the history of Christianity and Empire, to see how patriarchy and racism are within traditional theology and to employ reason, science and archaeology in religion then the new atheists have a friend in many seminaries and religious institutions.

And anyone involved in causes like civil rights or the queer liberation movement knows that religious people are on the forefront of them. Yes, of course much of the bigotry advanced is done so by religious people and institutions. However, there are many queer religious leaders and lay people who are passionately engaged in issues of social justice and human rights. The “you’re either with us or against us” approach of the new atheists isn’t helpful because it negates the contributions of religious people in the reforming of religion and the resisting of injustice. The reality is that liberal religious people have done way more to effectively transform religion than any atheist ever has or will.

Of course, I wouldn’t expect that everyone here will agree with his arguments (and as he points out, he’s open to being persuaded otherwise), but either way, it is a well-written piece from someone (like myself) who is sympathetic towards atheist concerns and causes, and would prefer to see atheists and liberal religious people work together on the larger problems of society rather than being mutually dismissive of each other. I thought it might provide good fodder for discussion. You can read the rest of the article here.

  • http://awesomethingoftheday.tumblr.com t3knomanser

    It isn’t about religion itself, in my mind. The problem is faith. Religion is just a symptom. Faith, you see is utterly terrifying.There is nothing, no act too vile, no kindness too great. Faith justifies anything that you want it too, since faith can never be rationally examined.
    Moderate religion draws the ire of atheists because it still demands faith. It is only through our good fortune that the moderates have used that faith to justify thief adherence to cultural norms, and not, say, stinging adulterers.

  • Nakor

    He makes quite a valid point, but I think I’d like to play devil’s advocate anyway. Are the liberal religions wrong because of the extreme religions, or are the liberal religions simply wrong?

    If you look at all the evidence and try to come to a reasonable, logical conclusion, I think that most of us (atheists) will conclude that the liberal religions are still incorrect (logically flawed). And in many cases the followers of these religions are still passing them on to some extent — for example, to their children. And that’s still wrong.

    You don’t want to call a given religion wrong for anything they do that is harmless, but it’s surprising just how much isn’t harmless (albeit sometimes only harmful to the believer, such as trust in tarot/horoscopes, etc.). If it only harms the believer, and nobody else, then I do not object (much like I don’t object to people drinking alcohol). But if there are aspects to it that are potentially harmful to others, such as proselytizing (especially to youth or people in mentally weakened states such as AA attendees, depressed people, etc.), then I do think that those aspects need correcting.

    Incidentally, that’s a stance I’ve held for quite a while. For example, I’ve never had a real beef with Wiccans, who in general tend to not proselytize at all and often refuse children under 18 into their groups. Some do and I don’t like that, but most don’t, and on this I would judge the individuals by their own actions. I still think they’re incorrect and harmful to themselves, but as long as they remain harmful only to themselves (and not in a significant, immediate or health-related manner) then it remains their problem and not something I really object to.

    There’s one other small addendum to my response to his argument. Atheists sometimes argue against religion because it’s morally wrong, but to some extent it’s also because we’re trying to encourage scepticism, rational thinking and the truth. Just because your religion doesn’t do terrible things doesn’t mean we don’t want to show why we think it doesn’t make sense and explain why we think people should think more rationally, even about religion. We love the truth.

    Sorry for the length!

  • TychaBrahe

    I have a religious belief about astronomy. Despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, I believe that the Universe is slightly closed and will collapse on itself at some distant point in the future, perhaps to be reborn in a Big Bang that results from this final collapse.

    I choose to believe this because sometimes the thought that in the end, the galaxies will be too far away to see each other, and one by one the stars will go out depresses me mightily.

    People have an inherent selfishness within them. Society demands that we act selflessly for much of the time. Even stopping at red lights instead of buying a humongous car and just intimidating other drivers as we go through is a small act of selflessness. If people use religion as an excuse to act humanely when the desire is to be cruel, to act with compassion when the desire is to be petty, to demand justice even when the injustice does not affect us, then I have no problem with religion. As George Carlin said, “Religion is like a lift in your shoe; use it when you need it.”

  • http://yetanotheratheist.net Yet Another Atheist

    The broad, generalized comparisons made in that article really bother me. It isn’t as simple as comparing religion to drinking alcohol or being a politician.

    If the person casually drinking alcohol were going around telling others to drink alcohol, saying they were going to suffer eternally if they didn’t, then I’d have a problem with it. If the liberal congressman went around saying that everybody should be a liberal, and if they didn’t they were going to be thrown into a pit of fire after they died, then I’d take issue with it.

    I’ve had even liberal religionists tell me I was going to hell for not believing in their horseshit, and that I needed to be saved and get to know Jesus and accept him as my savior. I don’t care if you’re the most liberal person who believes in God, you still believe in a fairytale, and if you’re proselytizing and passive-aggressively threatening others, then we’ve got a problem.

    Keep your religion to yourself, and I’ll keep my vitriol and sarcasm to myself.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    I’ve criticized Harris on the same point before, but I think it’s trickier than that. It’s tricky, because there are multiple different interpretations of what it means for moderates to enable extremists, and multiple independent lines of reasoning as to why it is so. It is not a general principle that moderates enable extremists. Instead, it’s more like a collection of observations specific to religion.

    For example, the observation that whenever we criticize fundamentalists, the more liberal religious people often feel the need to take it personally. It doesn’t happen all the time, but we’ve all seen it.

    And anyone involved in causes like civil rights or the queer liberation movement knows that religious people are on the forefront of them.

    Stop flaunting your religious privilege. To some extent, atheists aren’t allowed to be at the forefront of social movements. It’s not good for the image, and all that.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    … challenges the New Atheist claim that “moderate religion” is just as bad as fundamentalism.

    Mr. Clawson: These are your words, not those of the AlterNet article’s author. And way to start out with a strawman. Could you please point out which “New Atheist” has claimed that moderate religion is “just as bad” as fundamentalism? Linkies, please.

    What they have said is that moderate religion is still wrong, that it is not compatible with science, that promulgating the “faith is a valid way of knowing” meme is detrimental. I am not aware of any prominent “New Atheist” claiming that moderate and fundamentalist religion are equally bad.

  • Rob H

    The issue is one of category and not degree. Most of the examples brought up in the article are, frankly, ridiculous. Making a baking soda volcano is categorically different from making a weapon. Yes, they both employ science, but science is not a “bad thing.” Magical thinking, on the other hand, is a “bad thing.” Magical thinking is what all religious belief systems share. We aren’t attacking the *anti-religious* things that religious liberals do, such as critique the Bible with evidence-based arguments.

    It’s wonderful that the author learned that Exodus wasn’t true in a religious studies class. But at that point he’s doing history, not religion, and the correction was only necessary because as a child he was lied to by religious people relying upon a religious book.

  • Rob H

    Also, to answer the question “Is Liberal Religion Really Part of the Problem?”

    Yes, it is. Religion is. Magical tihnking is. Religious PEOPLE are not. There is a difference. The sourced article lumps the two together.

  • Aaron

    I think the comparison of drinking and smoking are flawed, as I do not think that Sam Harris suggests that non-drinkers are somehow flawed and that if you don’t have a couple of beers you are somehow an unfit person or should be marginalized.
    I also do not think that Harris (I don’t know the guy, he might do this, but I doubt it) tries to get his children or the children of others to drink in order to be good people.
    But honestly, I have no problem with liberal theists, they seem to mostly just try to put a face to the hard-to-quantify concepts of right and wrong.
    What I dislike is the extremists using the existence of the liberals as ammo for their bizarre behavior. Whenever a fundamentalist says “This is a Christian nation!” he conveniently ignores the fact that a large portion, if not a majority, of those other Christians are not Christians in his book as they simply do not believe the right version of Christianity. I am sure that my brother Ray believes that Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and others (it’s a partial list) are apostates and will burn just like the atheists, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sihks will (plus I forgot to mention that his church’s version of Christianity teaches that only a tiny portion of the world population, including members of his church, will be saved; doctrine of election and all that). He has directly referred to the Catholic church as an “apostate church.” I am sure that he (and possibly my favorite nephew) would scream bloody murder if they heard statements like

    “All talk of God is a construct.” It was in my Bible studies class at PSR that I first learned that the Exodus was not a real historical event and it was in my Christian history class that my professor said, “You can’t prove the existence of Jesus.”

    which would just further confirm their conviction that Satan is out to get them and they they are the only ones keeping the faith.

    It is similar to an alcoholic saying “Just about everyone has a drink now and then” in order to justify his binges.
    I suppose I have more of a problem with how fundamentalists relate to the liberals, than I have with the liberals. the liberals are mostly just annoying (“Have a blessed day!”), which is OK. I can be annoying as well.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    And anyone involved in causes like civil rights or the queer liberation movement knows that religious people are on the forefront of them.

    There’s someone who ought to read Freethinkers by Susan Jacoby. (And so should all of you.)

  • NorDog

    “…it is a well-written piece from someone (like myself) who is sympathetic towards atheist concerns and causes, and would prefer to see atheists and liberal religious people work together on the larger problems of society rather than being mutually dismissive of each other.”

    I would like to see ALL people work together on larger problems, even orthodox religous and atheists.

    Having said that, this guys approach to his faith, i.e. liberal progressive Christianity, should be something many here applaud.

    By liberal progressive religion, I don’t mean religion that is liberal and progressive as regards social ills. Rather I mean religion that is liberal and progressive as regards the tenants of its own faith.

    Many here cannot fathom any religious faith worthy of respect. The type of Christian faith described by this guy almost always leads to a destruction of the faith. A good thing according to many commenters I’ve observed here.

    As Flannery O’Connor once said of the Eucharist, “If it’s just a symbol, the hell with it.”

    This guys approach fundamentally denies the tenants of Christianity. Most people (even us religious types) have no stomach pretending to value that which we see as false.

    Religious communities that have embraced the approach described here have withered and died.

    If atheists really want people to abandon Christianity, they should support this guy all the way. He’s a better friend to your cause than you may realize.

  • p.s.

    I agree with YAA, except for the part about keeping religion/beliefs to yourself. I think that sort of dialog is incredibly important, if only to promote understanding. The interactions between religious groups (and atheist/secular groups) has hugely improved over the last 50 years, and it would be a shame if that progress started to stagnate now. Of course, talking to a dogmatic nut who is only interested in telling you about your impending damnation isn’t the most productive use of time, but from what I understand about “the liberal religious” that isn’t really their style. Beliefs in god(s) is not going to go away anytime soon, and I think it would be a mistake to alienate a group of people who are honestly interested in helping society, either through dialog or acts (not by spreading “the word”).

    incidentally, I do know a handful of theists who will openly acknowledge that their beliefs are not logical, but a product of faith. This seems like a shift in the right direction to me.

  • littlejohn

    It seems to me that this is a very easy argument to answer. The analogies offered are simply false.
    There is a profound difference between a social drinker and a dangerously heavy drinker. The social drinker is actually improving his health, if cardiologists are to be believed; the extremely heavy drinker is damaging his liver and increasing the likelihood of killing someone in a car wreck. (Although I should make it clear that so long as you don’t drive drunk, how much you drink is a personal, morally neutral matter.)
    But religious people, whether moderate or extreme, are both factually wrong. Neither can produce a convincing argument in favor of his beliefs. The more extreme religious beliefs and more offensive in that they are more likely to lead to murders of abortion doctors, violations of the First Amendment, and holy wars. Both conspire to tell lies to children.
    But that doesn’t make the moderate believer right, it simply makes him less dangerous.

  • http://irrco.org Ian

    I’m an atheist, but its depressing to see how many commenters don’t understand what liberal religionists actually believe.

    “If the person casually drinking alcohol were going around telling others to drink alcohol, saying they were going to suffer eternally if they didn’t, then I’d have a problem with it”

    Erm, no. Find me a UUer that believes that. You’re thinking about mainstream or fundamentalist religion.

    “Magical thinking, on the other hand, is a “bad thing.” Magical thinking is what all religious belief systems share.”

    Erm, no. Some liberal Christians think magically, sure. So do many atheists I know who read horoscopes and buy crystals. But I know lots of liberal religionists who don’t think magically. In fact I know a lot of liberal religionists who are religious naturalists or deists, or cultural Christians, or humanistic Jews.

    The problem is that many atheists simply have never talked to, read, or otherwise taken time to understand what people believe, in their own terms. If you don’t understand something, and you aren’t willing to learn from those who do, shut up. You’re no better than a creationist who refuses to learn any real biology.

    I agree with the original article. The best place to find critical thinking on theological and biblical issues is in liberal universities, mostly taught by those who would identify as liberally religious. The ‘slippery slope’ attack is just as stupid when it comes to religion as when right wing fundamentalists use it to condemn dating.

  • Rob H

    I actually agree with NorDog, but would clarify that liberal theology is good insofar as it undermines religious dogma. The idea that you should critically assess the Bible (or whichever holy book is your own) is apostasy, and it leads many to eventually reject the faith. Liberal theology tugs in two directions: the “theology” part bolsters the idea that faith is an acceptable method of gaining knowledge (this is the part that “aids and abets” extremism), while the “liberal” part undercuts this. (Also, I know we’re throwing some of these terms around in less than exact ways, but I think that’s okay)

  • p.s.

    But religious people, whether moderate or extreme, are both factually wrong.

    that doesn’t necessarily make it morally wrong.

    Both conspire to tell lies to children.

    not necessarily. Many parents expose their children to a myriad of faiths, as well as atheism. As long as children are aware that there are other beliefe systems (and lack of belief) and that those beliefs/non-beliefs aren’t necessarily wrong, the parents are doing just fine. I don’t think it would be fair to ask parents to stop going to church (or whatever religious activity they choose to partake in) just to avoid exposing their children to their ideas.

    my parents lied to me about santa clause and the tooth fairy, and that didn’t harm my social or intellectual development at all.

  • alex

    Makes sense. Much like saying that science is evil because tens of thousands of people died from atomic explosions, I think it’s a bit silly to say that religion is the root of all evil because people blew others up or flew planes into buildings full of other people. Science is a learning tool; religion is a social construct. The fact that religion is based on superstitions and is irrational by its nature is another thing. Irrational things, however, are not necessarily bad, either: for example, art is also pretty irrational.

    I don’t want to defend religion, but, to be fair, we shouldn’t just blame it for all evil done in the name of it. When religious people say, “what about all the good things Hitler religion did?” usually the response is, “that’s not necessarily a religious ideal, look at Humanism”. I think that the Crusades, the Islamic terrorism, the anti-choice movement, the homophobia — all those and more are simply manifestations of human intolerance, selfishness, bigotry, and fear. Religion is simply used to justify all that crap (and lead others into it, of course — but then again, it’s not guns that kill people), but much like we shouldn’t be “angry at God” because, for all we can tell, there isn’t one, there’s no reason to blame a man-made concept — intentional or not.

    In other words, we don’t need to believe in absurdities to commit atrocities. It’s just convenient to justify the latter with the former.

    On the other hand, I can’t help but agree with Yet Another Atheist that there’s a difference between a quiet pothead and a loudmouth proselytizer that wants everybody in sight converted to whatever they believe or practice. I can easily tolerate a nut who believes that Jesus will send him/her to Heaven, but that changes quickly when they start to preach and try to convert me, too.

  • Rob H

    @Ian
    (On magical thinking) “Erm, no. Some liberal Christians think magically, sure. So do many atheists I know who read horoscopes and buy crystals. But I know lots of liberal religionists who don’t think magically. In fact I know a lot of liberal religionists who are religious naturalists or deists, or cultural Christians, or humanistic Jews.”

    Like I said, we aren’t using these terms very rigorously, but I don’t think the article or the commenters here are referring to deists who consider themselves culturally Jewish or culturally Christian. We are talking about Lutherans, non-fundamentalist Baptists, etc. They certainly hold magical views, eg the Son of God rising from the dead. Beliefs in horoscopes and crystal power are also *religious* beliefs.

    Again, it’s not that people think magically or not. It’s that the *beliefs* are examples of magical thinking or they aren’t.

    It’s also not a “slippery slope” argument. I’m not arguing that dabbling in liberal religion will turn you into an extremist (actually, if anything, it’s probably the opposite).

  • Silent Service

    Yes religion is wrong. Even my moderate religious friends attack my lack of religious belief when the subject comes up out of a misguided belief that they have to save my soul, or I’ll go to hell for being Bi and not accepting their jewish zombie. No, I’m not going to ask a nuclear weapons team to demonstrate the explosive potential of their equipment at a middle school science fair. What an epic load of crap these arguments are.

    Does your straw man always whistle tunes from the Wizard of Oz?

  • NewEnglandBob

    No, it is an extremely poorly written article. I wont bother to spend the time to point out that nearly everything said, in every sentence is wrong, a bad analogy or straw man arguments.

  • Laura

    Really interesting discussion here and at Alternet. The comments on both boards remind me that the reasons I can’t “come out” to my religious family as an atheist are the exact same reasons I can’t “come out” to my atheist friends as a Unitarian Universalist. The list of assumptions, misconceptions, and outright untruths is very long on both sides of the debate.

    Somebody on Alternet asserted that no liberal religious folks have read Hitchens or Dawkins. Wow. So far off the mark. Some of us even understood them.

    And here, there’s an assertion that all liberal religious folks engage in magical thinking. Also way off the mark. More than half of my very large UU congregation self-identifies as atheist, secular humanist, and skeptical.

    I’m no religious accommodationist. But believe me, we need the dialogue. There are a whole lot of folks inside UU churches (and UCC churches, and others) who have common social/political cause with atheism, but who find it difficult and demeaning to work with people who constantly try to tell them who/what they are — ie, soft-headed, believers in magical thinking, filled with woo, etc. We don’t like it any more than atheists like to be told they are hard-hearted, mean, and headed straight for hell.

    I would encourage all atheists to try looking for friendship rather than assuming enmity.

  • phira

    I’m an atheist Jew, which (among a lot of non-Orthodox Jews) isn’t all that rare. So I guess that sort of puts me in the camp of liberally religious. I observe some of the more important holidays, I get annoyed if I go to shul (which I do rarely enough these days) and see people wearing flip-flops and jeans, and if I end up having kids, I’d want them to go to Hebrew school. But I don’t believe in any gods, I don’t believe in any sort of previous or after life (although that lack of belief is consistent with Judaism), and you couldn’t pay me any sum of money to keep kosher. Really.

    The thing is, if you’ve got a religious person who fights for progressive causes, does not try to enforce h/er religion on others, and doesn’t treat h/er religion like The Truth, then who cares? It doesn’t bother me if people believe in god. It just bothers me when they act like EVERYONE should believe in god.

    I’d also like to remind people that all too often and too easily, we set up a two-sided issue with atheists on one side and conservative Christians on the other. It’s not as simple as a dichotomy, and it’s also annoying to ignore all of the kinds of faith and organized religion that exist.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    To answer the title first I’d have to say that liberal religion is part of the problem but then I define religious faith as a problem in itself. Religious faith is not based on good, empirical evidence or modelled on observation for which we have no other explanation for. It is an hypothesis without a good foundation.

    Having said that I could point to dozens of other human behaviours that suffer from the same problems and some of them are things I like. Instead I think it is worth considering the impact of religion rather than the veracity of religion. What does a liberal religion do that is equivalent to what a fundamentalist religion does? Well not too much. Cherry picking your bible to come up with decent, humanistic morals and a compassionate worldview is genuinely a good thing as long as you are going to maintain your belief in that same bible. I’d rather have that that a literal adherence to biblical inerrancy and to hell with anyone who has a question or disagrees.

    What liberal Christianity for example does do is provide a platform for more radical views. It is easy to see how the faithful can move from (and too) a position of liberal faith towards (and indeed away from) a harsher and more judgmental view. I think that I’d rather that the compassionate, kind, liberal people had no step down to religion so they didn’t make that leap. I think that would be worth the cost of removing a step up for the fundies. Well wishes and a sack are worth the sack so I can’t see that happening.

    I’d rather have a liberal believer than a radical but with faith there are no checks and balances to tell the faithful to stop and look at what they are doing in the name of their god. The faith itself is justification for their actions and you can find justification for just about anything in religion. Faith is whatever the faithful want it to be and I have a hard time trusting those who don’t have a normal method of reviewing their own behaviour and telling themselves that they’ve maybe gone too far or not done enough.

  • Samiimas

    And anyone involved in causes like civil rights or the queer liberation movement knows that religious people are on the forefront of them. Yes, of course much of the bigotry advanced is done so by religious people and institutions. However, there are many queer religious leaders and lay people who are passionately engaged in issues of social justice and human rights.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/128291/americans-opposition-gay-marriage-eases-slightly.aspx

    These political differences in support for gay marriage may stem from even larger differences by religion. Americans who say religion is “very important” in their lives oppose legal same-sex marriage by 70% to 27%. In contrast, Americans who say religion is not important to them support gay marriage by just as wide a margin.

    Differences on the issue are also apparent by religious affiliation. Notably, 81% of Americans who claim no religious affiliation favor legal same-sex marriage. That compares to 48% support among Catholics and 33% among Protestants (including those who identify as Christian but do not specify a particular Christian denomination).

    I’m so bloody sick of this tactic. I’ve been seeing it so often recently to, where people hold up a handful of examples proving they’re group isn’t bigoted and ignore the simple statistics that prove otherwise. Another blog I go to is actually trying to push the idea that the damn teabaggers support gay rights using this tactic. The worst part is that it works, in a few decades the exact same churches that supported prop 8 are gonna be claiming that no ‘True Christian’ ever hated gay people and the mean old atheists are just pointing to a handful of bigots who misinterpreted.

    I hate to have a double rant but I actually went back and read the actual link after writing that comment about that one quote. I wish I hadn’t. He briefly mentions the actual issue in the first paragraph, belief in the supernatural AKA: completely made up bullshit with no evidence whatsoever by mentioning that he doesn’t believe in completely made up bullshit with no evidence. Good, no problem there. The problem comes in the rest of that page where he writes as if all or even the majority of ‘liberal and moderate’ Christians are like him, they don’t believe in the supernatural, and it’s just the ‘conservative’ ones we should be mad at.

    That’s a lie. The majority of religious people believe in the supernatural, they believe in things with absolutely no evidence and they tell other people it’s okay to believe in things with no evidence. I’m pretty sure that’s the simple idea those mean old atheists are trying to get across when they say that moderate religion promotes more extreme forms of religion. But admitting that the atheists have a logical point like “Society being okay with people believing in one thing with no evidence will encourage people to believe in more things with no evidence” would look bad so the author instead opted to spend the next 4 pages trying to mention Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as much as possible so anyone who disagreed with him would look like an asshole.

  • mike

    I think that the phrase “Liberal religion is part of the problem” is directly on the mark. They are not the problem, but they sit quietly right next to the problem and in so doing become a part of it.

    As to the comparisons:
    Drinking: Very mild drinking does not contribute to alcoholism. Moderate drinking (esp. in a social context) does contribute to alcoholism. With alcohol there is a tipping point.

    Heroin: Very mild use of heroin definitely leads to abuse as it is highly addictive.

    Kucinich: Does he lend credibility by not resigning or fiercely picketing or emigrating to Canada? Yes, so he did what he could to fiercely oppose Bush. Wars have Conscientious Objectors. They leave because they do not want to be a part of the problem of war. I don’t want war, do you? Now what will you do? Something (even leaflets), I hope.

    Now back to religion. I am glad that some scholars learn that Exodus didn’t happen and that proof of Jesus does not exist, … in college. These people are great and could be a part of the solution. But then they sit quietly in church with everyone else as the preacher says “their blood shall be upon themselves” and “stone them” and “will burn in hell”. Are there organizations of these scholars trying to educate the Catholic Church or the Southern Baptist Church or the Evangelicals. Aren’t many preachers/priests among these learned scholars?

    Enough of them are sitting on the sidelines that nothing changes. And then the problems in religion point to their followers (including the quiet scholars) and say that they are right and possess the truth, otherwise someone would correct them.

    The problem with religion is that it contains some excessive brutality. You may have gotten past that and embraced only the good parts … with your college education. However, most people do not have such an education and they accept the plain words that say “hell”, “abomination”, “kill”, etc. Any moderate approach contains a clear danger of lending credence. Any casual approach lends credence. Only a carefully examined approach may finally enlighten religion.

    I don’t think that you are against us because you are not for us. I think that you are against us because you are quietly standing beside people who are against us.

  • Bob

    The premise seems to be, “Non-theists could learn a lot from liberal theology.”

    Such as? What idea stands exclusive to liberal theology, that can only be reached through it?

    It seems that what we have here is a milder version of ‘the importance of Christianity’ meme that gets shopped about by evangelicals.

  • http://irrco.org Ian

    @Rob H, Since the author identifies as UU, I’m not sure how you can conclude that this is ‘really’ referring to mainstream religion.

    And when a liberal christian says that Jesus is the Son of God, they often don’t mean the same thing as when an evangelical says it. (not to mention the fact that Christianity seems to be the only religion some folks have heard of).

    I’m not saying they’re right. I’m just saying that folks need to understand what they actually mean before caricaturing them.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I’ve recently been to two different Episcopal churches (one for a confirmation, one for a funeral). The Episcopalians like to think of themselves as theologically liberal.

    I’ve also recently been to a fundamentalist Baptist funeral. The preacher at the Baptist church preached a bit of hell-fire during the funeral sermon.

    In each case, though, the same message was presented that everybody will be judged for admittance to some kind of afterlife. For the Episcopalians, the message just isn’t so much “in your face”. It is nevertheless in the Apostles’ Creed that everyone recites during the services.

    My point being that all the major denominations believe basically the same things. They differ in how aggressive they are in gaining converts, the tactics they use to keep people “in the fold”, and how brazen they are in dressing prejudice attitudes up in purple cloth.

    Of course the UU and certain Emergent churches are significantly different in what they believe (and that is encouraging). They just aren’t “major” yet.

  • Aj

    Mike Clawson,

    …challenges the New Atheist claim that “moderate religion” is just as bad as fundamentalism.

    A deliberate falsehood. I will quote three of the “four horseman”, the vanguard of the so-called “New Atheists” directly contradicting this outrageous, ignorant, malicious lie.

    Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion:

    There are, then, people whose religious faith takes them right outside the enlightened consensus of my ‘moral Zeitgeist’. They represent what I have called the dark side of religious absolutism, and they are often called extremists. But my point in this section is that even mild and moderate religion helps to provide the climate of faith in which extremism naturally flourishes.

    Sam Harris, The End of Faith:

    There are, in other words, religious moderates and religious extremists, and their various passions and projects should not be confused. One of the central themes of this book, however, is that religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others. I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.

    Daniel Dennett, TEDTalk 2002:

    And, as with germs, the trick is not to try to annihilate them. You will never annihilate the germs. What you can do, however, is foster public health measures, and the like, that will encourage the evolution of avirulence. That will encourage the spread of relatively benign mutations of the most toxic varieties.

    Perhaps later I will post the failures in logic of Be Scofield. Although the other commenters have already gone to work on it, and I may not have anything to add to it.

  • Rob H

    @Laura
    “And here, there’s an assertion that all liberal religious folks engage in magical thinking. Also way off the mark. More than half of my very large UU congregation self-identifies as atheist, secular humanist, and skeptical.”

    I assume that you’re talking about me, since I was the one that brought up the term. To be clear, I am not trying to lump UUA in with fundamentalist religious people. From what I can tell, UUA has no creed or religious beliefs, but only several broad philosophical principles (checking the website, I find no problem any one of them). I would think of that as more of a philosophy than a religion, but you are welcome to consider it a religion if you want. These terms are very loose, and if you are comfortable with that terminology, more power to you.

    I was referring more to the people that I thought the article was talking about: religious moderates such as Martin Luther King, Jr. There are many, many more moderate Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims than there are people in UUA (and obviously, some of them are in UUA).

    Also, no need to hide your membership in UUA! You should be proud, and if you think people outside your group (like myself) have misconceptions about it, please educate us.

    TL;DR: I don’t think that your beliefs are magical just because you’re in the UUA, partly because I would not consider UUA a religion, although I recognize the validity of the use of the term “religion” in a broad way so as to cover UUA.

  • Deiloh

    Religion is like a pregnant woman trying to decide over a glass of wine or a barrel of beer. Although the glass might not do anything harmful, still wrong. Why? Because it isn’t just an individual at risk and harm could pass to the next generation.

    BTW nobody thinks of alcohol and drugs as magic happy spirits making everything all better. Society in general is aware of the risks and that is why there are laws and watch groups. Can a theist be told it is okay to consume a little religion but public displays of excess religion will land them in jail?

  • Rob H

    @Ian
    I don’t mean to imply that he’s secretly talking about religious moderates or anything. The examples from the article are Dr. King, Universalist Christians, Starr King School of Ministry, Bishop Spong, Jeffrey Kuan (Methodist), and many others. Also, IIRC, the pieces he quotes from Dawkins and Harris are about religious moderates. Again, it’s a terminology problem that’s lumping together groups that I don’t think, for the purposes of this discussion, need to be combined.

  • http://thishollowearth.wordpress.com/ Victor

    Liberalism is part of the problem, since the problem is people being taught an inaccurate model of the universe. If religious thought were taught outright as mythology and nothing more, then it would make no difference if it’s taught liberally or conservatively. It’s belief in the supernatural, and it makes no difference if that belief adheres to every word of a particular book of scripture or if it takes the liberty to skip any passage that disagrees with that belief. One way or another, it unproven super-naturalism left over from primitive world views.

  • Hitch

    Well indeed there are multiple problems. For one New Atheism is misunderstood. If one follows for example Hitchens debate, for practical matters he is fine with people holding any belief they want as long as it does not have negative political and social consequences.

    And indeed none of them treats all religion as equal, there is quite a bit of nuance in the argument.

    I know very liberal religious people, they are pro-gay marriage, pro-life, for separation of church and state and despite being roman catholic are extremely critical of the pope. However they are also much closer and more sympathetic towards atheists.

    I think there is a weird “I’m liberal but” backlash against New Atheism going on that still tries to otherize atheism usually based on poor or false reading of what new atheists actually say.

    To take the question seriously: Do I need to give up my religion? The real answer is to look at the different proposals, compare the criticisms and merits and then come out with some sort of decision. But this is not the discourse we have here. Some internal criticism is cited as being equivalent to the question whether religious faith interferes with critical thinking and factual decision making. As long as people do not engage with this question but still, though from the liberal end give creedance to some world view, yes there is a problem, because the challenge as posed has not even been really considered.

    I for one have no problem with someone who in detail looks at it and comes down on the side of Religion for some set of reasons. At least they went through the motions and considered the arguments. That’s more than we get from virtually anybody today.

  • Aj

    Laura,

    And here, there’s an assertion that all liberal religious folks engage in magical thinking. Also way off the mark. More than half of my very large UU congregation self-identifies as atheist, secular humanist, and skeptical.

    How are secular humanists in anyway religious? They don’t believe in the supernatural, and they’re committed to reason and evidence as the route to knowledge. They’re not only non-religious, these ideas are antithetical to religion. As is skepticism, but you can be generally skeptical as secular humanists are, or you can be selectively skeptical.

    All religious people are magical thinkers, because they all believe in the supernatural. Atheists can be magical thinkers, because not believing in deities doesn’t mean you don’t believe in the supernatural. Atheism and magical thinking are fully compatible.

    The article brings up the Bishop John Shelby Spong, who has claimed he’s not a theist, but a post-theist (i.e. atheist), and he does not believe in miracles. The “new atheists” don’t have a problem with people who occasionally want to wear a dress and funny hat. That’s not religion.

    How can you possible read Dawkins and understand him if you don’t know what religion is?

  • http://twitter.com/jtradke jtradke

    Can we all take some time to define our fucking terms? Some people are taking “liberal religion” to include things like atheist UU’s or secular Jews, while others make the implicit assumption that “liberal religion” necessarily implies theism.

    Which is it? Which are you using? Which definition is the person that you’re responding to using?

    I’m so fucking fed up with people talking past one another, stuffing their pants with all the umbrage they can manufacture, instead of tackling the central confusion which is underlying the entire discourse.

    Sometimes I wonder if all human conflict would cease immediately if people just understood what the hell the other person was saying.

  • http://whoreofalltheearth.blogspot.com Whore of All the Earth

    I wrote about this recently. I don’t think moderates are complicit in legitimizing fundamentalists. I think the analogy between those who have a drink now and then legitimizing alcoholism is spot on. In my experience, fundamentalists think moderates are just as wrong as non-believers. Fundamentalism is its own brand of crazy.

  • P. Coyle

    The answer to the question whether liberal religion is part of the problem depends on the answer to the question of what the problem is. For atheists, “the problem” is belief in supernatural entities, a belief that atheists consider thoroughly unjustified. If “liberal religion” is simply one form of belief in supernatural entities, then, yes, it’s part of the problem. If it were something else, then maybe not, but it it isn’t, then let’s please define our terms.

    That having been said, it does not mean that an atheist like myself can’t cooperate with adherents of liberal religion (or, heck, conservative religion) on matters of mutual concern that having nothing to do with our respective beliefs about the existence of supernatural entities. I do so all the time. I live in a country full of believers in the supernatural, so I don’t have much choice.

  • Hitch

    I think the terms are quite clear. The article in question is by a follower of an organized religion and quotes clergy and religious theologians. This is very clearly not about secular humanists, secular jews, humanist chaplains, secular rabbis etc etc.

    Those are a whole separate topic, especially those who contribute to otherize New Atheism just like the most conservative religious people.

  • Exoteric Technocratic Neo-Prudentist

    I may be repeating what someone else has said, but the clarification bears repeating.

    The new atheist mean “moderate” as a less extremist view of the same beleif system. A good comparison with extremist GW Bush policies are “moderate” republicans. They may disagree with the actions themselves, but feel the need to defend part of their “in group,” even if it is just from the critisism of outsiders.

    This buffer the “moderates” create insulates extreists from the harsh critisism they deserve. They are not refered to as “just as bad,” but they help further the problem.

  • Revyloution

    The one evil of liberal Christianity is that it shares the same name as fundamental Christianity. By claiming that 1/3 of the world believes in Jesus, they get to use the argumentum ad populum. People who study logic know this is fallacious, but very few people study logic (and I’d bet a strong majority are atheists). That alone gives people the feeling of being right, just because everyone around them believes the same thing.

    I just don’t see how liberal Christianity is able to separate itself from all the other forms of Christianity. They have the same book, the same messiah, the same god. As long as people think there is truth in those stories, they can be used to create fundamentalists.

    And of course, the exact same argument stands for liberal Muslims, liberal Buddhists, or any religion that has a subset of violent fundamentalists.

  • Laura

    @Aj
    I know what religion is.

    @jtradke
    I think you hit it just right. The loose way we are all using “liberal religion” to mean different things is causing confusion. I don’t feel that I am qualified to define the phrase, so I’ll happily slink back to lurker status.

  • http://secularshawshank.wordpress.com Andy

    Is there anyone out there who is capable of criticizing the new atheism without generalizing and misrepresenting the arguments? Toss this article onto the trash heap of self-satisfied, half-thought out critiques of the new atheism.

    And anyone involved in causes like civil rights or the queer liberation movement knows that religious people are on the forefront of them.

    Puh-leese. A movement for queer rights would not need to exist at all were it not for the forces of religion. The only people left out there arguing against gay rights are religious people making religious arguments. Now religion wants credit for being “at the forefront” of the movement? Are they there because they’re religious, or are they there because any fool should be able to see that the cause is just? Make up your mind.

  • P. Coyle

    The original article Mike Clawson refers to states:

    “I’m a liberal religious person who doesn’t believe in doctrines, dogma or a supernatural God. 19% of members in my tradition identify as atheist…. Here’s my question for you: Should I abandon my tradition because liberal and moderate religion serves to justify the extremes?

    The first thing I would ask the author is what he or she believes that makes him or her a “religious” person, liberal or otherwise. When someone like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins attacks “religion,” are they really attacking something that has such a diffuse meaning that it can even mean “atheism”?

    I hardly think that it can be claimed that Harris and Dawkins are attacking atheism and atheists! Perhaps the author is merely confused by what Harris and Dawkins are trying to do.

  • Parse

    The problem with Be Scofield’s argument is that he is oversimplifying the views of Harris and Dawkins. If they were simply making blanket statements about how liberal religion provides cover for more extreme forms, he would have a valid argument. But there’s something missing from the quotes he pulls from Harris and Dawkins – their support for their statements. If the other behaviors Be lists could be supported in the same method, then he might have valid analogies.

    I would agree that liberal religion can provide cover for more extreme forms, because there are people in both camps – liberal and extremist – who seek to conflate the two. Arguments against extremist beliefs are taken as arguments against either belief in general, or against the right to believe what you want. That then gets turned into ‘Why are you attacking my liberal beliefs?’ or ‘Why can they believe what they want but I can’t?’

    If the liberal drinker argues that the alcoholic should be able to drink as much as they want, or the pot smoker argues that drugs are drugs and by criticizing the heroin addict we criticize him, then the analogy is apt – and those specific drinkers or smokers are wrong.

    Be Scofield’s providing a pretty good illustration of Harris’s and Dawkin’s point – he’s protecting other religious beliefs by claiming that arguments against them are actually against his own.

  • ACN

    “I’m a liberal religious person who doesn’t believe in doctrines, dogma or a supernatural God. 19% of members in my tradition identify as atheist…. Here’s my question for you: Should I abandon my tradition because liberal and moderate religion serves to justify the extremes?

    This word, “God”, I do not think it means what you think it means. I would love to see the author attend a mosque, synagogue, or non-UU church, these practicing religious people will tell you that you aren’t religious, rather that you’re an atheist, and I think I would agree.

  • Aj

    The reason why Be Scofield’s argument is fallacious is because he is framing it in a dishonest way, completely divorced from reality. Harris and Dawkins are not arguing that religious moderates beliefs justify religious extremists beliefs. Harris and Dawkins argue all religious beliefs are based on faith (wish-thinking, revelation, or authority i.e. bullshit), there’s no moderate faith or extremist faith, it’s all faith. All religious people, even moderates, protect and encourage faith, they create an enviroment for extremist beliefs. Harris writes about extreme pacifists and suicide bombers in his book. He doesn’t argue that the belief “no killing whatsoever” can justify or lead to “kill for martyrdom” beliefs. If they actually read The End of Faith these people wouldn’t even be posting stupid articles like this. That’s looking at things from the opposite end, which is stupid and ignorant, because people aren’t forming those beliefs without first believing in revelation or a book. Society not only condones but encourages that kind of irrationality.

    The question is, how can Be Scofield attempt to address Harris and Dawkins when he hasn’t even bothered to try to understand their argument? These “liberal” religious people are wilfully ignorant. They go on about something that has nothing to do with the argument, what liberals believe. You think Dawkins raised as an Anglican doesn’t know what liberal religious people believe, or that he doesn’t talk to his Bishop friend? It’s ridiculous, these “liberal religious” people are completely dishonest, they don’t have the capability of logic to actually address actual arguments, so they create these straw man arguments.

  • P. Coyle

    But in defense of Be Scofield, he writes on his blog (June 13th),

    Being an atheist in America means being less than human. I know from personal experience, not from being an atheist but from being raised Christian in a conservative Christian town and holding negative biases about atheists. Like many others I thought that a belief in God was the foundation of morality, that Christians were superior to others and that atheists were a threat to believers. I didn’t, however, reach this conclusion consciously after weighing the facts and examining the issue independently. But rather it was something so ingrained within the culture that it permeated the social conscience. And of course atheists were just one group among many targeted by some Christians. But for several years now there have been movements both religious and secular that have championed the rights of other marginalized groups such as gays, people of color and women. Now it’s time for religious and spiritual people to take a stand for non-believers of all varieties.

    Hear hear!

  • P. Coyle

    Correction: It wasn’t his personal blog, it was Tikkun Daily.

  • http://www.ramshornstudio.com Beth

    The Friendly Atheist should be renamed the Angry Intolerant.

  • Denis Robert

    Insofar as a religion is indistinguishable in practice from “no religion”, then I have no problem with it. Insofar as one’s belief in a God is indistinguishable in practice with no belief in a God, I have no problem with it. Otherwise, I will disagree with it publicly and loudly. And that is my right, as it is the right of all of the people complaining about the “New Atheists” to do so.

    I believe many confuse “disapproval” with active antagonism. If a “New Atheist” says that they disagree with a believer, that is immediately interpreted as some sort of attack, rather than simply the expression of the “New Atheist”‘s belief. But when, as is the case here, a believer expresses his disapproval of “New Atheists”, this is just interpreted as a simple expression of his belief.

    There is a critical double standard at play here, and it stems primarily from the believers’ own insecurity. It may be that they know, deep down, that there is something not quite right with their beliefs, or it may be some irrational sense of victimhood; in any case, it’s not justifiable.

  • Rob H

    @jtdrake
    The authors Scofield takes issue with go to great lengths to define their terms. Scofield either missed them or intentionally ignored them. I am not aware of (not to say they don’t exist) any major “New Atheist” thinkers who think secular humanism, UU, etc. are “part of the problem,” or even that they are actually religions in the sense that they generally use the term.

  • http://www.ramshornstudio.com Beth

    Atheism requires faith there is no God because it cannot be proven there is not a God. It is only reasonable to believe in a creator because the universe exists and so do humans and all the living things of the Earth. To believe that all the universe is just a random happening is highly unreasonable given the intricacy and order of the universe. There is far more evidence there is a creator than that there is not.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Atheist MC

    I’m really not sure that the legitimate concern that moderate religion supports fundamentalism is addressed by discussing UU. UU is such a catch-all “church” that caters (particularly in the U.S) for the social needs of less than dogmatic religionists thru deists to atheists that it hardly features. I’m not aware of Dawkins making specific pronouncements on UU either (other new atheists may well have).
    There are large swathes of moderate religion that DOES believe in biblical and qu’ranic fundamentals. They may not apply them in practice, because their own moral compass is better than their chosen scripture. However they are loathe to directly criticise those who use scriptural literalism to justify violence and in silence condone it. That doesn’t even mean they approve, but they won’t condemn.
    While it is undeniably true that liberal christians in particular have high profile tolerance for, say, gender issues and reject the anti-scientific opinions of the conservatives it is not an outright rejection of what should be seen as prejudice and persecution. If they reject fundamentalist world views they should say so, unequivocally.

  • Rob H

    Hmmm, reading over some of Scofield’s other stuff, I don’t really think he’s arguing in good faith. Check out http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2010/02/09/christopher-hitchens-the-orthodox-protestant-atheist/
    Essentially, he’s arguing that, because Hitchens is using the perfectly acceptable and PRACTICAL definition of a Christian as one who believes “that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven,” he “is in agreement with the many forces in history which have led to the extermination, torture and destruction of ‘heretics’ for simply believing the ‘wrong’ form of Christianity.”

    Obviously, you can define “Christian” a number of ways, but Hitchens’ definition is totally valid and pretty close to what most people would agree with.

    But he brings it up because his argument always goes back to this idea that atheists can’t understand the nuance of *real* religious understanding. It seems like kind of his thing.

  • http://www.ramshornstudio.com Beth

    I am a Christian and a liberal. I define a Christian as someone who follows the teachings of Christ. The teachings of Christ are very reasonable.

  • Sesoron

    The problem is, indeed, with the notion that faith in unsupportable propositions is a virtue. There’s a rather fine line between saying that supernatural assertions that have never been proven should be given some credence and that they should not. The analogy to alcoholism isn’t quite as neat as the Unitarian author seems to suppose, but I’ll run with it. Having irrational faith in extremely significant propositions is similar, not just to drinking, but to driving drunk, because this is the point at which it starts affecting the outside world. We don’t generally put any laws on drinking in the privacy of one’s own home, but we do control drunk driving quite severely; even if you only need to move your car a block or two, it is still an immense risk to property at the very least and possibly lives.

    Similarly, once faith is on the table as a virtue inculcated from childhood, it opens the door to outside consequences. A poor old Kiwi man might squander his life savings to his church, or an already disadvantaged mother, fearful of the spiritual consequences of abortion or contraception, might force herself to raise a number of children in poverty. Still worse, the mind virus of faith makes a person vulnerable to many sorts of persuasion against which a healthy dose of skepticism would serve as a vaccine. Yes, alcohol can lead people to do some pretty stupid and destructive things. But this is nowhere near on the scale of what, in its most extreme forms, religion has wrought* and continues to wreak*.

    *It is apparent to me after a cursory fact-check that these two words are unrelated either in English or in their ultimate Indo-European derivations. But I still like the way it reads, so you’ll have to put up with this caveat.

  • nathan

    oh, how could I argue thoroughly and yet still prevent a topic from fragmenting? *sigh*

    Lets use a similar alcohol analogy.
    1 drink is not dangerous for most people, this would be a loose spirituality at best. Completely harmless.
    2 drinks and we have a non-religious believer. Not entirely harmless, but no one is going to care too much.
    3 drinks is the most liberal of religions. Some people might be a bit fuzzy (my wife would be drunk). Mostly they follow common sense still, though some people might show poor judgment, while others start pushing for beer runs.
    5-7 drinks in is a moderate religion. Everyone is a bit stupid now, some of them fall asleep while others get very defensive of their drinking.
    10-15 drinks in is conservative religion. Justifications of the amount of alcohol one drinks are common. Some people die by now, most do not. Generally people are on a road to keep drinking, pushing drinks on others, and if their smart but not wise they might drive home.
    20+ drinks in are the alcoholics that believe so much that even heavy drinkers are trying to pull them back. This is a true believer, who would jump off a boat so that he would walk on water. He dies if no one saves him.

    Now technically a “liberal” religion is nowhere near as bad as the true believers. Of course at what point is religion a good thing? Why does god have to be evoked? We can have philosophy gatherings, with all the same traditions as standard christianity. Without the use of a questionably translated and even more questionably interpreted volume of books written second or third-hand by sheep-herder once-slaves from a desert a few thousand years ago, I think the traditions would greatly improve

  • P. Coyle

    Maybe he’s not arguing in good faith, or maybe he just doesn’t want to speak plain English (or maybe it comes down to the same thing).

    Call him a “postmodernist.” That may be one reason why the self-described postmodernist Mike Clawson called our attention to him. My observation is that most atheists are emphatically modernists and are thus inclined to view with suspicion those who, like them, reject the woo, but who, unlike them, are for some reason unable to let go of the woo-speak. Mike Clawson himself seems to subscribe to the woo as well as to the woo-speak, but that’s less clear of Be Scofield. Is Scofield an atheist who is simply afraid to embrace the Scarlet “A” word — perhaps because, as he notes, with pardonable exaggeration, “being an atheist in America means being less than human”?

    FWIW, Christoper Hitchens’ opinion on postmodernism is as follows:

    The Postmodernists’ tyranny wears people down by boredom and semi-literate prose.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Or is this only true when it comes to religion? If so, what is unique about religion that makes this principle valid?

    I think what’s unique is the widespread belief that religious faith is a virtue in itself. I can’t think of any other belief that’s considered immune to criticism the way that faith is, and the liberal faithful seem just as happy to jump on the bandwagon and demand respect for their beliefs as the conservatives are.

    People can legitimately disagree about personal taste in other areas. You can debate the value of a certain piece of art, for example, but you can’t call into question the idea that faith is good without ruffling feathers. To me, religion seems like a unique hobby that demands respect and admiration from everyone in society, not just its adherents. If I think football is boring and a waste of time, no one cares. But if I think the same thing about faith, then I’m considered unpatriotic, immoral, hedonistic, etc.

    That said, I’m not sure I agree that liberal religion in itself is a problem. I like the UUs. I think they’re good people. I agree with them politically. But their existence and the automatic respect they get for being religious (religious privilege) still supports the idea that faith is necessary and good. I’d like to see more religious liberals speaking out against religious privilege, much the same way as straight people should speak out against heterosexual privilege.

  • http://www.ramshornstudio.com Beth

    Mocking someone, ridiculing someone, forcing your opinions on others is all intolerance. When you latch onto something that is precious to someone else and you viciously and self righteously try to force them to agree with you that is called hatefulness and being intolerant. That is what these activist atheists are doing and it will blow up in their faces. These people are doing exactly what the fundamentalist Christians they hate so much did which makes them hypocrites. Today’s atheist activists are operating under the dubious and most arrogant assumption that they are right and every one else is wrong.

  • Rob H

    @Beth

    “Atheism requires faith there is no God because it cannot be proven there is not a God.”

    I don’t have “faith” that there is no god. I simply remain unconvinced of the existence of each faith’s particular god as described by its adherents.

    “It is only reasonable to believe in a creator because the universe exists and so do humans and all the living things of the Earth.”

    Your unstated (and unsupported) premise is that all things that exist must have a creator. Your argument is conclusory and circular.

    “To believe that all the universe is just a random happening is highly unreasonable given the intricacy and order of the universe.”

    I don’t believe that the universe is a “random happening,” so the reasonability of that belief is immaterial. Also, the universe is extremely disordered, and becoming more disordered every successive moment. And again, your conclusion relies upon the unstated premise that initricacy is evidence of agency.

    “There is far more evidence there is a creator than that there is not.”

    I look forward to seeing it.

    “I define a Christian as someone who follows the teachings of Christ.”

    That is a perfectly valid, although not overwhelmingly popular, definition.

  • P. Coyle

    I am a Christian and a liberal. I define a Christian as someone who follows the teachings of Christ. The teachings of Christ are very reasonable.

    I think there are grounds for reasonable doubt as to what the teachings of Christ actually were, but, insofar as we can tell, for the most part they were based on the assumption that there exists a supernatural being that these days we generally refer to as “God,” who had done certain things and behaved in certain ways, etc. Atheists do not consider this to be a reasonable assumption.

    If your opinion is representative of “liberal Christianity,” then, yes, liberal Christianity is part of the problem as atheists define the problem.

  • Ron in Houston

    Honestly, why the duality? Why must “liberal religion” be either good or bad?

    The fact is that liberal religion is both. It can be good, but it still can be bad.

    What I think atheists need to do is learn to discern the good from the bad. We need to co-opt the good while pushing away the bad.

  • Guy Allen

    There is no comparison with those examples. Apples and oranges. There are plenty of examples of moderation going overboard. We don’t need moderation, we need excess. Can anyone think of something that you can do in excess that does not lead to catastrophe? Sam Harris knows.

    It’s called being reasonable. It’s called being rational. When has rationality brought about disaster on a grand scale? Never. It is the only thing the world has never had enough of. The only experiment yet to be tried. We do not need more moderates, we need more extremists.

    Extremist scenario:

    Drop an amnesia bomb on Afghanistan, swoop in and re-program, move on to Pakistan. See the problem?

    Atheism is so strict on freedom that extremism like this isn’t in our nature. We want to convert, we want to brainwash, but just by being who we are it hampers us.

    I think for the sake of our species we put our morals and ethics on the shelf for a while and be the devil that they think we are. Reminds me of Justin Currie’s lyrics from his song “Ready to Be”, except that one’s about cheating on a girlfriend:

    Whatever they’ve been seeing, I know him
    He lives between the moments, when I’m an
    angel in silence
    He’s climbing over the railway fence
    Trying to dispose of the evidence
    Trying to compose it so it all makes sense
    Trying to get ready to be, ready to be
    The devil they’ve been seeing in me

  • trixr4kids

    I agree with the author of the AlterNet piece, Mike.

    I’ve been making this argument ever since I read The End of Faith. (Another mistake Harris made: He assumes that scriptural literalism is somehow more honest than liberal religion. This is a bogus assumption. There is nothing inherent in religion that makes scriptural literalism de rigueur, and in fact fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon).

    We need to fight superstition and the sort of philosophic totalitarianism epitomized by fundagelicalism. Our quarrel is not with apophatic, abstract, liberal religion.

  • ecorona

    omg – i breathe almost all the time, so i must be responsible for enabling all life on earth!

    i also think the liberal stance presented sounds more agnostic than believing.

    everythingenableseverything

  • Jeff Dale

    False analogy. Criticism of dangerous intoxication does not at all entail criticism of moderate use of intoxicants. Even if acceptance of moderate drinking or pot smoking does create a more favorable social climate for drunk driving or heroin-fueled crime, simple reasoning will tell people to avoid the latter while feeling free to enjoy the former, without any cognitive dissonance. Moderate drinkers and pot smokers don’t urge us not to criticize drunk drivers or people who steal to feed a heroin habit; they don’t worry that such criticism will cause them to stop enjoying moderate use.

    But religious extremists justify barbarism by reference to the authority of ancient books and blind acceptance of their incredible claims, and with tribalism spawned by other people’s acceptance of rival books and claims. Meanwhile, many religious moderates keep the same books and either accept the same incredible claims or feel constrained from denouncing them. And when we point out the books and articles of faith that underwrite the extremist barbarism, we’re told by these same moderates (and others) that it actually has nothing to do with their religion, and that we must be tolerant to a fault of any belief system no matter how unjustified. These moderates essentially have to do this because their own belief system is equally unjustified and they’re reluctant to confront that fact, no matter how circuitous the avoidance or denial becomes.

    Enter the theologians and apologists offering fallacious justifications for faith, which most people don’t have the training to see through (but are eager to accept), and which can’t be useful to moderates without also demolishing the logical basis for criticizing extremism. Where are the apologists for drugs and alcohol saying that any use of intoxicants must be tolerated?

    Furthermore, extremists are generally more faithful to their religious doctrine than moderates, who allow themselves to reinterpret or selectively ignore scripture in light of scientific and humanistic developments. This is still better than extremism, but it allows the extremist to think he’s a true believer and more worthy of his god’s favor, while the moderate has no coherent religious basis for disputing him on it. Where are the drunk drivers claiming that their dangerous behavior makes them better humans than moderate drinkers, and that anyone they happen to crash into is worthy of hell? The point is, that view is not logically supported by the view that moderate drinking is acceptable.

    Should we disrespect moderately religious people, and spurn their cooperation in matters of mutual social concern? Of course not. We should respect them as people, and respect their more enlightened views. And bluntly accusing them of supporting extremism (which is not what the so-called “New Atheists” are doing) isn’t likely to help much. But we hide from the facts at our peril. We should hope to persuade them to abandon what’s left of their unjustified faith and help us isolate the extremists.

  • Robert

    This is a sincere question- How can an atheist believe in the supernatural?

  • Robert

    Guy Allen- Extreme rationalism causing a problem on a grand scale- The Holocaust. Hitler’s version of a rational solution to his perceived problem.

    According to Harris- “some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.” Sounds like extreme rationalism.

  • Loren Petrich

    Susan Jacoby discussed the black civil-rights movement and feminism, though not gay rights.

    The only churches that strongly supported the civil-rights movement were the black churches, and their elders sometimes complained that many of the activists were too irreligious and disrespectful. The rest were either diffident or opposed. Many of the Religious Right’s predecessors back then had opposed the civil-rights movement, and they only associated themselves with it after they saw that they had lost.

    As to feminism, it’s mostly secular. In fact, some 19th-cy. feminists’ critiques of the Bible provoked some familiar-looking controversy.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    @Beth, “The teachings of Christ are very reasonable.”

    Jesus has many good humanistic teachings attributed to him. I give him that. On the other hand, according to non-Universalist Christian belief, Jesus doesn’t follow his own teachings when judging people for the supposed after-life. According to modern interpretations of scripture He condemns everyone to hell for not believing the right things and generally sucking up. He does not seem to be a very pleasant fellow after you die. Kind of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

  • Jeff Dale

    @Beth:

    Atheism requires faith there is no God because it cannot be proven there is not a God.

    Disbelief in unicorns, vampires, and the tooth fairy requires faith because it cannot be proven that those things don’t exist. Have you been “saved” from the wrath of these things?

    The teachings of Christ are very reasonable.

    Some of his teachings (if he really existed, and if they really are his teachings) are admirable, but some are not. He advised people to discard their families, careers, and possessions because the end of the world was near. That’s not reasonable.

    Mocking someone, ridiculing someone, forcing your opinions on others is all intolerance. When you latch onto something that is precious to someone else and you viciously and self righteously try to force them to agree with you that is called hatefulness and being intolerant. That is what these activist atheists are doing and it will blow up in their faces.

    Nobody is “forcing” opinions on anyone. Ridicule is a valid (though sometimes double-edged) weapon against ridiculous opinions. Any opinion that’s too fragile to withstand criticism needs to be reconsidered. Nobody here is being hateful. Hate is endorsing the murder of homosexuals, adulterers, unchaste women, infidels, people who do any work on Sunday, etc., not to mention the idea of infinite torture in hell, all of which the bible actually does, and which seemingly well-meaning Christians (moderate or extremist) teach to children before they’re old enough to judge such ideas rationally.

    I stand ready to change my mind as soon as adequate reasons to do so are provided. None seem to be forthcoming.

  • Aj

    Be Scofield,

    …religion is merely a sociological system of meaning making.

    That really says it all about how deranged this person is.

    Beth,

    Jesus’s teachings don’t sound that reasonable to me:

    a) Do not accumulate wealth.
    b) Take no heed of the ‘morrow.
    c) The world is going to end soon.
    d) Love your enemy.
    e) Do not resist an evil person. Do not defend yourself.
    f) Lust is adultery and you will go to hell.

    If people say half of those things we call them crazy.

    Also most atheists don’t have a positive belief in the non-existence of gods, and no sane atheist thinks that the universe is “random”, or evolution for that matter. Probably wasting my time on a creationist troll.

    trixr4kids,

    Their approach to interpreting scripture is more honest in many cases, if not their following of scripture which is selective in most cases. At least they don’t say that Genesis was not meant by the authors to be taken literally because of its poetic structure, or Augustine’s argument that because scripture is true anything that’s literally incorrect must have been meant metaphorically, because the alternative that ignorant desert dwellers didn’t know something and made something else is unappealing. If that’s not the height of dishonesty, I don’t know what is.

    Robert,

    Atheists can believe in ghosts, elves, pixies, fairies and other supernatural beings. Atheists can believe in dowsing, psychics, souls, astral planes, astral projections, and an assortment of other New Age supernatural bullshit. They can because these things are only associated with deities, not reliant on them. There are plenty of far eastern religions that have no gods, but plenty of supernatural phenomena.

  • Jeff Dale

    Extreme rationalism causing a problem on a grand scale- The Holocaust. Hitler’s version of a rational solution to his perceived problem.

    Holy cow. Talk about ideas in need of ridicule. Are you serious?

    The Holocaust was based on, among other extremely irrational ideas, the odious notion that Jews (and homosexuals, and various others) are sub-human enemies of God. Does it even need to be said (again, and again) that Hitler’s antisemitism, and a large part of the justification of his policies, was expressly Christian in his own words, and resonated with a large segment of the Christian German public? The role of the Christian bible in justifying antisemitism cannot be ignored.

    This argument, that the Holocaust is “rational,” makes the mistake of conflating conclusions with premises. The premise key was that Jews (for example) are sub-human enemies of God. The conclusion was that they should be exterminated. Hitler was positively drunk on the premise, so it’s not too hard to see how he came up with the conclusion. Just because he was able to work his way from a premise to a conclusion doesn’t mean that he or the Holocaust were rational.

    And before you say it, I’m in no way suggesting any kind of equivalence between Christians and Nazis. I’m just saying that the Nazis were able to find a way to justify themselves in part because of their faithful belief in the “truth” of the bible.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    @Robert,

    “This is a sincere question- How can an atheist believe in the supernatural?”

    Well, I do believe that if I drop my buttered toast on the floor, it will probably land butter-side down. That’s about it for my unjustified crazy beliefs ;)

    I think this experiment was actually done on Myth-Busters but I can’t remember the outcome.

  • Robert

    Thanks for that answer. Your answer raises another question. If an atheist doesn’t believe in any deities, how can that atheist believe in a soul or an afterlife and be consistent with his believe that there are no deities? It seems to be that such a believe would simply be a believe in a “deity” of some sort, just not a God. Like a force beyond this world. And the same “evidence” they would use to support those claims would be the same type of evidence that they reject for a God. I am sure this is a generalization, but I am trying to understand the way of thinking.

  • Aj

    Robert,

    Guy Allen- Extreme rationalism causing a problem on a grand scale- The Holocaust. Hitler’s version of a rational solution to his perceived problem.

    According to Harris- “some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.” Sounds like extreme rationalism.

    Hitler’s anti-scientific racial ideology, occultism, and Christianity were not rational. The way you phrase it any time you perform an action that’s logically deduced to result in a desired goal, good or bad, it’s “extreme rationalism”. What is the alternative? Repeatedly attempting an action that will not produce your goal. The Nazis shut down the German Freethinkers League. If Germany was a lot more rational, with more freethinkers, they wouldn’t have swallowed all that bullshit, submitting to authority and propaganda.

    Harris’s response:

    This paragraph appears after a long discussion of the role that belief plays in governing human behavior, and it should be read in that context. Some critics have interpreted the second sentence of this passage to mean that I advocate simply killing religious people for their beliefs. Granted, I made the job of misinterpreting me easier than it might have been, but such a reading remains a frank distortion of my views. Read in context, it should be clear that I am not at all ignoring the link between belief and behavior. The fact that belief determines behavior is what makes certain beliefs so dangerous.

    When one asks why it would be ethical to drop a bomb on Osama bin Laden or Ayman Al Zawahiri, the answer cannot be, “because they have killed so many people in the past.” These men haven’t, to my knowledge, killed anyone personally. However, they are likely to get a lot of innocent people killed because of what they and their followers believe about jihad, martyrdom, the ascendancy of Islam, etc. As I argued in The End of Faith, a willingness to take preventative action against a dangerous enemy is compatible with being against the death penalty (which I am). Whenever we can capture and imprison jihadists, we should. But in most cases this is impossible.

    You wouldn’t kill Osama bin Laden? If you would then you can stop misrepresenting Harris now.

    Robert,

    If an atheist doesn’t believe in any deities, how can that atheist believe in a soul or an afterlife and be consistent with his believe that there are no deities? It seems to be that such a believe would simply be a believe in a “deity” of some sort, just not a God. Like a force beyond this world. And the same “evidence” they would use to support those claims would be the same type of evidence that they reject for a God.

    Not all atheists are rational, some were just brought up to believe in different set of beliefs that didn’t include a god. Evidence doesn’t come into it for them. Souls and the afterlife don’t require gods, they just require belief in dualism. Deities are not required to believe that consciousness and other parts of the mind are non-physical and can operate independent of brain, therefore can exist outside the body, and after death.

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

    Fundamentalists literally believe what their religious texts say.

    Liberal and moderate theists will sculpt their texts into a form that is most pleasing to them, but still claim the same label as the fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim, etc).

    In a way, the fundamentalists are more justified to believe what they do. If you begin with their premises – that is, that their text is the word of a god – then a literal belief system is perfectly rational. The moderates, on the other hand, have no more justification than “it feels good to believe what makes me happy.”

    So yes, liberal religion can be a part of the problem, because it often glorifies magical and irrational thinking above and beyond that of fundamentalists. Neither have rational beliefs, but the liberals and moderates simply don’t care – they believe, because they believe, because they believe.

    I’ve seen liberal theological leanings often lead to relativism and postmodernism – the philosophies that truths are only relevant within context (and have no actual objective essence), and that all truths are equally valid. My own parents tend in this direction… it drives me nuts.

  • alnitak

    The notion that the religious are leading the charge in civil rights or gay rights is silly. As Fredrick Douglass said, religions are expert at joining accomplished reforms, claiming that they were always on the right side, indeed that the reforms were their ideas. As for his education, “Wow!”, a news flash, the exodus isn’t historical! Next thing, the professor will reveal doubts about the talking snake!

  • Robert

    Aj,

    I understand your argument regarding Hitler. I did not mean to imply that this was the only reason he did what he did. That is why I used the term
    “perceived problem”. But to deny that he rationalized his actions as a reasonable solution is not an example of rationalization gone amock is going too far I think.

    Would you use your same reasoning to argue that extreme fundamentalism is not the cause of harm done in the name of religion?

    I don’t agree that Harris’ explanation solves the problem. From what we know, Osama bin Laden ordered the killings and helped orchestrate them, so he is culpable, not just for his beliefs, but for his actions.

    thank you for the answer regarding atheists and souls.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    This is a complicated issue, because the world is not divided into bigoted religious extremists, Unitarian Universalists, and “New” atheists. Each person has to be judged individually, and we may find that we agree and disagree about different things with different people. I think that people who believe in secularism and equal rights need to work together. That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree with each other, though.

    The author of the article Be Scofield discusses his form of faith (with no belief in a supernatural God and support for equal rights for marginalized groups) without acknowledging that there are many liberal religious people who don’t agree with him. There are some who support equal rights but still believe in a supernatural God. There are some who may not be that observant with the traditions of their religion but still discriminate. There are those who may discriminate against some groups but not others. Just as the extremist and most bigoted fundamentalism can’t be generalized to all religious people, neither can the most secular, non-supernatural, and accepting form of faith be discussed as though it applies to all liberal religious people.

    Likewise, there is great variety among atheists as well. Some may support equal rights, some may not, and some may support equal rights only for some groups. Atheists may have other beliefs which contradict evidence.

    Be Scofield:

    The reality is that liberal religious people have done way more to effectively transform religion than any atheist ever has or will.

    Religious people transforming their faith should not be confused with fighting for equal rights in society in general. Both of them can be done together but not necessarily. I think the first was probably done very much by religious people (since they are members of these religions and therefore would need to be the ones to push for reform from the inside). The second was and is being done by both religious and non-religious people. Plus, without the secularism and freedom of speech that both religious and non-religious people fought for, religious people would have had a much more difficult time reforming their faith from the inside. (As a previous commenter mentioned, Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers shows how secular people, both religious and non-religious fought for equal rights.) We can’t just give credit to religion for successes that many people contributed to. As a previous commenter mentioned, I’m also waiting for the future when some religious people will probably accuse the Christians who oppose equal rights of not being “real” Christains.

    On the issue of whether moderate religious people are somehow contributing to the problem, again that depends on what each individual believes and which issue we’re talking about. If a person believes that miracles are real, they are contributing to the problem of people believing in the supernatural (regardless of their views on other issues such as equal rights). If someone believes that a group of people should be discriminated against, they’re contributing to that problem (regardless of their views on whether or not God actually exists). I do think that more liberal religious people can contribute to the problem if they are giving money and/or support to a certain Church even if they don’t agree with what it’s doing.

    I do think there is a problem with religion getting a special status and with people thinking it is wrong to criticize religion. Sometimes, I think that liberal religious people as well as extremists contribute to that, even though it’s done in different ways. The extremists go on about this being a Christian nation and so on. Meanwhile, some (not all) liberal religious people try to lie and claim that their holy book is nicer than it actually is, in order to stop criticism. Instead of admitting that there are bad parts in scripture, there are some who try to ignore that the problems even exist, insisting that it’s all interpretation, even for passages that explicitly say to do something bad. I think this is what leads to the atmosphere mentioned by some of the authors, in which religious beliefs are considered off limits.

    (Sorry for the long comment, but I hope I was able to make myself clear.)

  • spacestudent

    The problem with religion is in the mind of the believer. They read a book or hear a story and say “YES, this is true”. Then they view the world and say either “yes, this is also true” (liberal religion) or “NO, my story/book is more true than this world” (fundamentalist religion). Though this is not to say that the liberal is the same as the fundamentalist, they are not even close. They are both, however, on the wrong side of the line of evidence.

    It makes me wonder what other stories they are willing to believe? Do the think praying helps, despite the evidence, and will they consequently spend their evenings on their knees instead of doing something to actually help? Do they believe in astrology? Homeopathy? Telepathy? Chiropractic treatment of disease? Vaccine papers from imbeciles? That they are not partly responsible for the oil leakage in the gulf and Nigeria, despite driving a huge car? Do they deny the evidence of AGW?

    There is something wrong when you have to abandon the philosophy of science in order for beliefs to work. I actually do not see where you should draw the line, and on what logical ground you should do so, about any of the things above once you say “hey, the philosophy of science doesn’t work on this thing”. Do they draw it where it feels good? Where the evidence is in favor? Where they hope it to be? Is it all good?

    I think religion removes logic from the discourse and since logic and science appears so vividly to work (me writing this here and now from my remote corner of the world is case and point to that), religion should go instead. Faith is just bad for people.

  • P. Coyle

    From what we know, Osama bin Laden ordered the killings and helped orchestrate them, so he is culpable, not just for his beliefs, but for his actions.

    According to what most Christians believe, it was God who made people mortal, so God is as culpable for the deaths of the people whose killing Osama bin Laden ordered as is bin Laden himself is. Indeed, Christian beliefs would seem to imply that God is culpable for each and every human death that has ever occurred or ever will occur. Some Christians are totally oblivious to this obvious logical implication of their own beliefs. Those who are not oblivious tend to be inclined to blame the victims.

  • ckitching

    This article, and the thousands penned exactly like it are how religious liberals are “aiding and abetting” the extremists. It seems that far too many of them are willing to let the ‘new atheists’ make all the theological arguments against the extremists and then complain when we do so. I think they need to ask themselves why so much ink (electronic or otherwise) is wasted on ‘new atheists’ who have virtually no political power, while so little is spent attacking the theology behind the religious right, who have wield enormous power.

    Why is it that only the UU pastors are ever willing to speak to the press in support of atheist billboards, lawsuits against state-sponsored religious invocations, etc, but they are dozens lined up to speak in opposition to these? I’d happily call liberal believers my allies if it didn’t seem like they were always lining up to speak against me.

    Then there is the quote-mining. The pastor mentions a large number of things about Dr. King’s beliefs, quotes Chrisopher Hitchens (misquoted actually), and claims this means he could’ve been just as effective as a lawyer. On the contrary, Hitchens says the exact opposite: “The entire self-definition of “the South” was that it was white, and Christian. This is exactly what gave Dr. King his moral leverage, because he could outpreach the rednecks. But the heavy burden would never have been laid upon him if religiosity had not been so deeply entrenched to begin with.” Hitchens is saying that Dr. King as so influential because of the power of the church in the south, and the fact that he was an incredible preacher. This is practically the same thing the pastor finally says at the end of the article. (Did he even bother to read Hitchen’s books before criticising them?)

    If every believer was like this Pastor, I probably would not care what people believed, and I doubt many others would care enough to write and read books in opposition. However, not even most believers are like him. Instead we have people opposing science education because it can be incompatible with literal bible readings, opposing research because of supernatural belief in souls, repressing gays and women because of biblical passages, attempting to make everyone observe their religious practices through force of law, and in the very extreme cases, killing innocent people and flying planes into buildings.

    So, no, we can’t shut up quite yet.

  • Robert

    P. Coyle, You have a very wrong view of the christian faith. Mainstream Christians do not believe that God caused people to be mortal.

    The rest of your argument is simply illogical.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Puh-leese. A movement for queer rights would not need to exist at all were it not for the forces of religion. The only people left out there arguing against gay rights are religious people making religious arguments. Now religion wants credit for being “at the forefront” of the movement? Are they there because they’re religious, or are they there because any fool should be able to see that the cause is just? Make up your mind.

    Going further, I would question the assertion that they’re actually there. I’m sure someone has compiled a list of the 25 most influential religious leaders in the United States. Someone should go through that list and figure out which (if any) of those people are “at the forefront” of the LGBT civil rights movement. If any of them are, I’m betting it’s a tiny percentage. In fact, I’d wager that the vast majority of them are on the opposite side.

  • Hollynoats

    You know, I’m a little confused, if not irked, by this paragraph:
    And Richard Dawkins states, “The teachings of “moderate” religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism.” And when asked about why he lumps liberal religions like Unitarianism in with fundamentalism Hitchens responded a reference to Camus stating that he believes all religion is comparable to rats and vermin.

    So are they talking about Dawkins or are they talking about Hitchens? And if they’re talking about Hitchens, when did he come into the story?
    -
    To the point of the article, even if religion ever becomes “good” there will always be humans around to inevitably make it “bad.”
    -
    This is random, but while I was reading this article, I realised that Unitarian Universalism is the type of church my mother used to attend, and subsequently took me to, as a young child. I distinctly remember never enjoying attending the ceremonies, and only liked when the whole congregation bellowed “OM” because that meant it was almost time to go home.
    When I was 13 she converted to Catholicism, and took the family along with her. The reasons she left the Unitarian church were because she felt empty all the time, and felt it wasn’t fulfilling her spiritually.
    The straw that broke the camel’s back, as she put it; what made her decide to leave the Unitarian church was this: she saw a lesbian couple sitting together during the service, holding hands.
    This is why she became a Christian. (One of these things does not belong…)
    So I’m going to agree with Richard Dawkins. While moderate religion may not be extremist in and of itself, it CERTAINLY opens the door to extremism very, very wide. Purportedly with loving, spiritual, god-like arms and hugs laced with Angel juice and no lesbians holding hands.

  • Aj

    Robert,

    Rationalism had nothing to do with what Hitler did, it’s not a “reason” for doing anything. The beliefs that Hitler had that led to his actions were irrational. Rationalization is not rationalism, it’s actually counter to rationalism. Hitler did rationalize his hatred for Jews.

    I don’t think fundamentalism is a cause of harm, as the kind of harmful beliefs they hold aren’t strictly fundamentalist, just conservative, and as such are held by evangelicals, Catholics, and many more. My problem with fundamentalism is that they deny reality, they believe that the Bible is historically accurate, and the events are literally true.

    It is my understanding that Osama bin Laden did not plan or order specific attacks, but funded and justified the use of violence. Sam Harris is clearly referring to Osama bin Laden and people like him in The End of Faith, he specifically refers to what US forces are doing in Afghanistan. You may disagree with his premise about Osama bin Laden. Do you disagree that if Osama bin Laden wasn’t personally involved in any attacks it would ethical to kill him anyway? Even if he still broadcast the same hatred and told his followers killing civilians was justifiable.

  • Mike Clawson

    For all those who were complaining that I was inaccurate in my description of the New Atheist position on moderate religion, I’ve gone back and updated it to be more specific. I apologize for not being more careful before.

  • DemetriusOfPharos

    I had plans to write out a well thought-out answer to each point brought up, right up until I read the following two statements:

    If the new atheists engaged in modern theological study they would read things like this…

    Several problems here: the poster assumes that all “new atheists” haven’t read their suggestions. Some atheists take great delight in being more well versed in theology and theosophy than their religious counterparts. This statement is as bad as a christian|mormon|muslim|jew|scientologist|whatever who assumes everyone would convert if only they would just read $SACREDTTEXT. Its a complete fallacy – most of the conclusions “modern theology” is just now coming to are conclusions atheistic or freethinking philosophers came to centuries ago. May I suggest Plato, Socrates, Seneca, (More recently; Bertrand Russell and Thomas Paine), etc etc ad nauseum.

    And anyone involved in causes like civil rights or the queer liberation movement knows that religious people are on the forefront of them…

    You lost me completely there.
    1) The most vocal opponents of civil rights, ‘queer’ liberation, and even women’s rights were/are prominent religious people. In the case of women’s rights, it was largely Elizabeth Stanton (amongst others) who propelled that movement forward, and she was as atheist as any of us.
    2) The fact that there are religious people on both sides of an argument is an absolute red herring – it has nothing to do with the morality or righteousness of a movement and only undercuts the religious claim of divine intervention.

  • Karmakin

    The problem is the privilege

    The problem is the privilege

    The problem is the PRIVILEGE.

    The problem is when religious liberals demand special dispensation for their views, merely because their are part of their religion, this special dispensation ALSO goes in our culture to the extremists. That’s the problem.

    When religious liberals come out and admit that their religion is just a social club, and their own individual empathy and good sense has more to do with their morality than their religious beliefs, then the privilege is less of a problem. But generally speaking, most religious liberals look to expand the privilege, not acknowledge it and work to minimize it.

    I’m not asking for miracles. You can’t eliminate privilege overnight. All I’m asking for is self-ownership to be taken. And they’re simply unwilling to do that.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    @ckitching (July 21st, 2010 at 6:04 pm):

    This article, and the thousands penned exactly like it are how religious liberals are “aiding and abetting” the extremists. It seems that far too many of them are willing to let the ‘new atheists’ make all the theological arguments against the extremists and then complain when we do so. I think they need to ask themselves why so much ink (electronic or otherwise) is wasted on ‘new atheists’ who have virtually no political power, while so little is spent attacking the theology behind the religious right, who have wield enormous power.

    I’ve noticed this as well. I’ve read articles (via links on sites like Pharyngula and RD.net) in which the author will admit that there is religious extremism in the first few sentences and then go off for the rest of the piece about how atheists are the real, bigger problem.

    It seems that there are some (again, not all) liberal religious people who are fine with criticism of their religion only when it’s coming from them, and not when it’s coming from atheists.

  • P. Coyle

    P. Coyle, You have a very wrong view of the christian faith. Mainstream Christians do not believe that God caused people to be mortal.

    According to the catechism of the Catholic Church,

    The Church’s Magisterium, as authentic interpreter of the affirmations of Scripture and Tradition, teaches that death entered the world on account of man’s sin. Even though man’s nature is mortal God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin. “Bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned” is thus “the last enemy” of man left to be conquered.

    If Catholics can be considered “mainstream Christians”, I stand corrected. God designed people to be immortal unless sin happened. Unfortunately, the Catholic God is apparently somewhat lacking in foresight and was caught completely off guard by the fact that sin happened. It was something he hadn’t planned for. In any case, God has obviously never seen fit to redesign people so as to be immortal regardless of the existence of sin, so it would seem that he is quite comfortable with human mortality, and, his lack of foresight notwithstanding, it should not not have come as a surprise to him that, when large aircraft are flown into tall buildings full of people, lots of those people die.

    Just how sin causes death is unexplained by the Catholic catechism. In addition, we are left to scratch our heads trying to account the deaths of animals. Is it the case that Catholics believe that mortality among house pets is a consequence of human sin, or do they think that the death of dogs is the consequence of the sin of some long ago dog-Adam who pooped on the carpet after God told him not to? Bad dog. Bad, bad dog.

  • http://secularshawshank.wordpress.com Andy

    or do they think that the death of dogs is the consequence of the sin of some long ago dog-Adam who pooped on the carpet after God told him not to?

    Dog-Adam probably pissed on the Tree of Knowledge. He couldn’t reach the fruit.

  • Unholy Holly

    Suppose some day moderate religious culture did die out, leaving only fundies, extremists, and non-theists. People whose religious views are currently on the far end of the bell curve (on the woo side) would likely be more visible. I think this is partly the point that Harris makes saying that moderate religious thinking gives the dangerous fringe fanatics a legitimate foothold in society as long as woo is tolerted by well-meaning folks.
    I don’t mean to imply that all fundie/extremists who are left will be dangerous and violent, but if the moderates were to fade away, the extremists would have a harder time going about their business of god-incited terrorism in a civil society.

  • ff42

    I don’t see religion itself being the problem, but two beliefs (that religion maintains itself and shares with others) that is 1) Somebody/Something [God or Government] else will fix the problem, met out justice, give me a reward and 2) Somebody/Something else justifies my actions (or lack thereof).

  • http://www.streetprophets.com Recall

    There are plenty of liberal Christians who are raging bigots when it comes to atheism. I don’t see why I should treat them any differently.

  • http://apprising.org Ken Silva

    “There are plenty of liberal Christians who are raging bigots when it comes to atheism.”

    No doubt; people sure can be knuckleheads sometimes, even an atheist, no?

  • Todd

    So many great comments here. A couple things that occurred to me right off that bat that I don’t think anyone else has addressed directly in the comments (and my apologies if someone has):

    First, how can one identify themselves as “religious” and then claim not to believe in a supernatural god? What does that even mean? That strikes me as – and forgive the clumsy analogy – something like claiming to be a Yankees fan but not believing in baseball.

    Second, the whole “atheists are just as stridently fundamentalist” argument seems to be trendy. It’s also crap. As someone alluded to above, disbelief in unicorns is not an act of faith; it’s a logical conclusion based on the complete absence of any supporting evidence. It is not “fundamentalist” to call someone out on a belief system built entirely upon a set of suppositions for which there is not one iota of evidence.

    Finally, my main objection to Scofield’s piece is that, while much of it is superficially devoted to a defense of religious moderation, it seems to me that the central argument is that religious moderates are important allies in achieving social justice. No argument here, but employing that argument in defense against criticism of religious thought is specious. That many religious people fought – and fight – in support civil rights and peace or against bigotry, poverty, and violence is irrelevant to criticism of religion on an intellectual, rational, or logical basis. In fact, all religious people should support civil rights and freedom. Unfortunately, many don’t. Those who do are to be commended and are certainly valuable allies against violence and oppression. Even so, that doesn’t immunize them from criticism.

  • Joel

    He starts that whole article with a deeply flawed premise. He says that he’s a liberal religious person who “doesn’t believe in doctrines, dogma or a supernatural God”.

    In that case, he’s not religious. If there’s no supernatural god and no doctrine, it ain’t religion.

    It’s a philosophy, it’s a community of like-minded people, it’s a regular gathering to create positive feelings, but it’s not a religion. So the problem that Dawkins mentions doesn’t apply to him.

  • Dan W

    From what I read of the article, I don’t like the analogies. Someone can compare religion to drinking alcohol or being a politician, but they’re not as similar as the writer of the article thinks. The example of Dennis Kucinich and the Bush policies doesn’t work because Kucinich’s ideological views were opposed to Bush’s policies, so that’s more comparable to two competing religions. In fact, the article’s author uses some incredibly poor logic to criticize New Atheists who point out that liberal religion is part of the problem.

    Honestly, I agree with Dawkins and Harris on this. Liberal religion may be more accepting and tolerant of diverse groups of people than extremist religion, but both still believe in an imaginary deity, and both use that belief to justify much of their actions. I think it’s good to have moderate religious people as our allies against the fundies, but just because some religious folks aren’t bad people doesn’t mean that the ideas promoted by religions are good. Also, all the good done by religion can just as easily be done by people with no religion, and the good things done by religions are heavily outweighed by the bad things done by them.

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    The funny thing here is I’ve read an interview with Sam Harris where he was pretty positive about Unitarian Universalism. He was interviewed by UU World magazine (official denominational magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association).

    Here’s what he said about Unitarian Universalism:

    Does Harris’s criticism extend to Unitarian Universalism? Since he doesn’t mention our denomination in his book, I called him to find out. His initial response was comforting. “If I could wave a magic wand and make everyone a Unitarian Universalist,” he began, “I’d be tempted to do so, because I doubt that people would then fly planes into buildings, blow up children at street corners, or bend U.S. foreign policy to conform with biblical prophecy.”

    But he’s not totally positive in his impression of Unitarian Universalism. Here’s what he says about the UU response to irrationality and sectarian strife:

    “Insofar as you’re reluctant to criticize irrationality and sectarianism,” he adds, “you’re not offering what wisdom and rationality you could offer. No one is winning any points for holding their tongue, and to the extent that you are reluctant to offer a religious counterpoint, you are conceding the field to the dogmatists.

    The rest of the interview / book review can be found here:

    Does tolerance disarm religious liberals?

    http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/5817.shtml

  • ElitistB

    Although one person’s imaginary friend may be less offensive than another, that in no way negates the fact that they are still imaginary and should be labeled as such.

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

    Yes to what a lot of people said about progressive/ moderate religion lending credibility to the idea that faith without evidence is reasonable. Also yes to what a lot of people said about nuance and differences of degree: we can acknowledge that progressive/ moderate religion isn’t as bad as the extremist/ fundamentalist varieties, and still have serious problems with it.

    I also want to say this, which I haven’t seen anyone else say here yet. (Although maybe they did and I missed it — this is a lot of comments.)

    I do a lot of engaging/ debating with believers, on my blog and on Facebook. And in my experience, progressive and moderate believers can say some of the ugliest, nastiest, most vicious, most personally insulting, most bigoted shit about atheists I’ve seen from any believer. I’ve been called a fascist, compared to Glenn Beck, had the Stalin argument trotted out, and worse — by liberal, ecumenical, “spiritual but not religious” believers.

    And these progressive believers can also be some of the most stubbornly resistant to actual evidence about what actual atheists actually say and do and think. I can’t tell you how many progressive believers continue to insist that atheism means absolute 100% certainty that God doesn’t exist, or that atheists are close-minded and unwilling to consider the possibility that we might be wrong, or that atheists want to use law or force to stamp out religion, etc. etc. etc. — no matter how many atheists are standing in front of them saying, “Um, no, actually we don’t think that.”

    The progressive believers’ commitment to ecumenicalism, and to the idea that saying you don’t agree with someone else’s religious beliefs is just about the worst thing one person can do to another, is often so deeply rooted and so unquestioned that they absolutely will not let go of it. Thus resulting in the laughable sight of people belligerently and close-mindedly battling for tolerance and getting along. (That is, it’d be laughable if it weren’t so sad, and if some of these people weren’t people I used to think of as friends and allies.)

  • Neon Genesis

    As an atheist, I’ve met several atheists before who can be pretty vicious too. I’ve met several homophobic atheists who think gays shouldn’t be given equal rights and that homosexuality is unnatural and disgusting. I’ve known some atheists who think anyone who believes in global warming is no different than dogmatic fundamentalist Christians. I’ve met libertarian atheists who think we should wage a violent revolution against Obama and his administration to take back America. I’ve known atheists who have defended the extremism of the Tea Party. I’ve known atheists who supported that guy who murdered a member of the IRS just because they hate taxes. I’ve known atheists who have supported European nations that want to take away Muslims’ freedom of religion either by banning burqas or minarets. I’ve seen other atheists who supported Geert Wilder’s anti-Islam crusade. Sam Harris supports torture, Hitchens is a delusional Bush apologist, Bill Maher is a crazy anti-vax conspiracy theorist. Do you want me to go on with more examples of vicious atheists, Greta? Of course not all atheists are vicious or intolerant but let’s stop deluding ourselves into think atheists are magically different from the rest of society and are some high and mighty people who can do no wrong. Where’s all the moderate atheists calling out other atheists who do outrageous things like the examples above?

  • Jeff Dale

    let’s stop deluding ourselves into think atheists are magically different from the rest of society and are some high and mighty people who can do no wrong. Where’s all the moderate atheists calling out other atheists who do outrageous things like the examples above?

    Um, where did this come from? Has anyone here even remotely suggested that atheists are high and mighty and can do no wrong? And have you never heard an atheist call out another atheist for being wrong? I’ve heard it plenty. Besides, how is your list of atheist transgressions, though impressive, related to this topic? Did someone in this thread deny global warming or defend tea party politics, and nobody else here called them on it? I truly don’t get it.

  • http://pjzen.wordpress.com/ PJ

    I had decided to stop getting involved in “religious” debate blogs but I had to come back to say this. The real reason the author of this article(I don’t know his name because I won’t click the link) wrote this article, was to create controversy. Get all of us atheists in a snit and clicking on his website and making him money. He has no interest in changing his beliefs. He is not trying to help the world by opening up rational lines of discussion. People like Mike clawson do that.

  • Loren Petrich

    So it’s trolling?

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

    Robert said:

    P. Coyle, You have a very wrong view of the christian faith. Mainstream Christians do not believe that God caused people to be mortal.

    So the wages of sin are death because they just are, and God had nothing to do with it. At all. Got it.

    Except that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever in a world where your god makes all of the rules. Either sin leads to death because God made it so, or sin doesn’t lead to death. Those are the only two options from a Christian perspective. And since the first option is the one Christians go with, that would mean that yes, God caused people to be mortal by following through on his own rules.

  • Robert

    Man caused death by disobeying the rules they knew about. As an example, it would be like blaming congress for writing the penal code and causing someone to go to jail when they broke the law. Making the rules isn’t causation in the way you are stating.

    P. Coyle- Why should God have made men immortal here on Earth? He gave us souls that are immortal. And your comments about God’s “foresight” are a completely false understanding of the doctrine of freewill.

  • Aj

    Greta Christina,

    I do a lot of engaging/ debating with believers, on my blog and on Facebook. And in my experience, progressive and moderate believers can say some of the ugliest, nastiest, most vicious, most personally insulting, most bigoted shit about atheists I’ve seen from any believer. I’ve been called a fascist, compared to Glenn Beck, had the Stalin argument trotted out, and worse — by liberal, ecumenical, “spiritual but not religious” believers.

    This is my experience too. Mike Clawson brought up Stalin (i.e. “killing in the name of atheism” argument) on the comments section of this blog one time.

    Neon Genesis,

    Sam Harris supports torture…

    That’s a wild misrepresentation. You’re a liar. You don’t give a shit about the truth. You can’t pretend to be ignorant on this, you’ve been fucking shown that this is a lie. Again, Sam Harris had to create a FAQ for people like you, that are incapable of reading. Although I highly suspect that you didn’t read The End of Faith, you just read some dipshit write and lie about it. Unlike Mike Clawson you’re not going to rescind your comment, you have no shame.

    Where’s all the moderate atheists calling out other atheists who do outrageous things like the examples above?

    Read the comments on atheist blogs. That’s where I found out about Bill Maher’s craziness, on the comments of this blog. I disagree with Hitchens on almost everything outside of religion and his strong stance in support of free speech, but I know atheists who criticize him on political sites without mentioning they’re atheists. Your complaints are mostly about right-wing and very fringe libertarians that you must admit are quite rare for the mostly liberal atheist communities on the net. Even so, you’re saying a group of atheists won’t call people out on things they say? You obviously don’t know shit about atheists.

  • Rob H

    @Robert

    Man caused death by disobeying the rules they knew about. As an example, it would be like blaming congress for writing the penal code and causing someone to go to jail when they broke the law. Making the rules isn’t causation in the way you are stating.

    That example isn’t applicable. The difference is that god apparently made people, and is also both omniscient and omnipotent. Congress isn’t; they can’t change human nature.
    It’s more like this: if you know for a fact (and without a doubt–remember, all-knowing, right?) that your dog will bite someone on Tuesday, and you have a magic wand (again, all-powerful, right?) that can make it so that your dog won’t bite anyone, but you just never wave the wand, aren’t you in some way responsible for the dog biting that guy on Tuesday? I mean, you could have easily stopped it, and you didn’t. It may not be equivalent to biting the guy yourself, but you have to admit there is some measure of culpability.

  • Neon Genesis

    AJ, you’re one of those vicious irrational atheists I know, so go away, I’m not speaking to you.

  • plutosdad

    God could have avoided all the pain and suffering by not creating humans in the first place. Since he knew the Fall would occur, and knew the vast majority of humans would not choose him, out of both ignorance and incredulity in addition to immorality, his very act of creation is extremely evil by his own standards. Being ignorant or merely having higher standard for evidence is far less evil and immoral (if at all) than his act of creation of us knowing what would happen.

    That’s the problem.

    (and no I’m using God’s standard of good and evil to judge him, not some magic standard external to me that is used to prove he exists. i.e. he is not “evil” is is evil according to his own definition of evil)

  • NorDog

    “God could have avoided all the pain and suffering by not creating humans in the first place. Since he knew the Fall would occur, and knew the vast majority of humans would not choose him, out of both ignorance and incredulity in addition to immorality, his very act of creation is extremely evil by his own standards.”

    Does this mean you think that to exist and to suffer is worse than to have never been at all?

  • P. Coyle

    God could have avoided all the pain and suffering by not creating humans in the first place.

    And God could have avoided the pain and suffering attributed to any particular person by not allowing that person to have come into existence. If we place the initial responsibility for 9/11 at the feet of Osama bin Laden, the ultimate responsibility belongs to God, for God either created Osama bin Laden, or allowed Osama bin Laden to come into being and to do what he did. No God, no Osama. Presumably, God thought that a world in which the Twin Towers attack was carried out was a better world than one in which it was not carried out, because that is the world that he permitted to exist. This is essentially the case presented by Leibniz that “everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds” so scathingly satirized by Voltaire in Candide.

    The only obvious alternative is to abandon the notion that God is both omnipotent and omniscient. As an example of the latter approach, I’ve seen a Christian argue that God’s omniscience only means that God knows everything that “can be known,” but even God does not know for certain what the future might hold and thus lacks the perfect divine foreknowledge commonly attributed to him. One interesting implication of this argument would be to say that even God does not necessarily foresee all the consequences of his own actions.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Does anyone else feel like they’ve dropped into bizarro-world when there’s constant arguing over the personality of an imaginary deity?

    Of course it’s ridiculous when they claim that their deity is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient, but theists will never see that. They will never see their god as immoral or culpable of any wrongdoing. It’s almost pointless to get them to try. Not that I want to stop you guys from trying, it’s just that it seems like an endless merry-go-round to me.

  • P. Coyle

    Why should God have made men immortal here on Earth? He gave us souls that are immortal.

    I have yet to see a coherent account of what “souls” are and why anyone should remotely care whether they are supposedly immortal.

  • Robert

    Plutosdad,

    Or God could have created all humans to love him automatically and all go directly to Heaven, but he didn’t. True love is determined by freewill. It gives us the ability to love out of choice, not out of predetermination or manipulation.

    So you have obviously studied God and you have rejected him, I assume for a lack of evidence. And you now say that because you have, his plan is immoral? I will use the same example I used before that has not been answered- Assuming a father built a fire that was needed to provide warmth and protection to his child. He tells the child not to stick his hand in the fire or he will get burned. he tells the child the effects of that burn- that it will hurt alot. The child, chooses not to believe the Father and sticks his hand in the fire and gets burned- Is the father being immoral?

    The bible teaches that God’s judgment is righteous. To me that means that we will be judged on our knowledge. If you don’t know the rules, like a child or someone who has never had the Gospel told to them, will be judge differently then one who has heard but who has rejected it.

    Rob H- God being all knowing and all powerful, does not get in the way of freewill. If you want to say that this makes god culpable in the suffering, then please also give Him credit for love, mercy and grace and all the good in the world as well.

  • Neon Genesis

    “Although I highly suspect that you didn’t read The End of Faith, you just read some dipshit write and lie about it. Unlike Mike Clawson you’re not going to rescind your comment, you have no shame.”

    A picture of me holding my copy of The End of Faith: http://i18.photobucket.com/albums/b131/forbiddenangel666/Picture0011.jpg

  • P. Coyle

    Of course it’s ridiculous when they claim that their deity is omnipotent, omnibenevolet, and omniscient, but theists will never see that. They will never see their god as immoral or culpable of any wrongdoing. It’s almost pointless to get them to try. Not that I want to stop you guys from trying, it’s just that it seems like an endless merry-go-round to me.

    I’ve seen a number of accounts by atheists or agnostics stating that the thing that finally caused them to give up on religion was the old “problem of evil” (which might better be called the “problem of suffering”). Bart Ehrman come to mind (see his book, God’s Problem).

    The realization that God, if he exists, is not omnibenevolent but evil, or at best indifferent to human suffering, does not necessarily imply that God does not exist. However, for whatever reason, people don’t seem very interested in holding onto a belief an evil or indifferent God.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    The only obvious alternative is to abandon the notion that God is both omnipotent and omniscient. As an example of the latter approach, I’ve seen a Christian argue that God’s omniscience only means that God knows everything that “can be known,” but even God does not know for certain what the future might hold and thus lacks the perfect divine foreknowledge commonly attributed to him. One interesting implication of this argument would be to say that even God does not necessarily foresee all the consequences of his own actions.

    For an even more radical theory along similar lines (for those who are interested in serious philosophical discussion and are open to the possibility that there are other valid forms of Christianity besides fundamentalism) is Derridian philosopher/theologian John Caputo’s book The Weakness of God.

  • NorDog

    “I have yet to see a coherent account of what “souls” are…”

    I would recommend Aristotle’s “De Anima”.

    “…and why anyone should remotely care whether they are supposedly immortal.”

    Well, it’s a big question.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    I’ve seen a number of accounts by atheists or agnostics stating that the thing that finally caused them to give up on religion was the old “problem of evil” (which might better be called the “problem of suffering”). Bart Ehrman come to mind (see his book, God’s Problem).

    True enough. I’ve never been a theist, so I suppose I tend to take a pessimistic view of getting people to question the morality of their religious beliefs, especially when (like Robert) they appear to be fundamentalists who argue for them quite happily. I would guess that most people who leave Christianity because of the “problem of evil” are actually troubled by it. Robert’s not. He apparently thinks it’s fine and dandy, hence the endless merry-go-round.

    Then again, even if one person won’t see it, you never know who else might be reading. I suppose there must be many lurkers who are on the fence, and since the morality of the biblical deity is almost never called into question in mainstream society or the mainstream media, it’s good to have voices out there willing to condemn immoral concepts like “hell” and “sin.”

  • Aj

    Mike Clawson,

    For an even more radical theory along similar lines (for those who are interested in serious philosophical discussion and are open to the possibility that there are other valid forms of Christianity besides fundamentalism) is Derridian philosopher/theologian John Caputo’s book The Weakness of God.

    What do you mean by fundamentalism? It seems like you people use the word “fundamentalism” to mean anyone you personally disagree with. Those Christians who believe in an omniscient and omnipotent God are fundamentalists, not because that has anything to do with fundamentalism as explained in encyclopedias and by historians, but it’s to do with them disagreeing with you. You’re basically saying here that Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, and Lutheran are fundamentalist denominations.

    Also what do you mean by “open to the possibility that there are other valid forms of Christianity”? We’re atheists, if you have forgotten, we don’t consider any Christianity valid. The only reason we’d reject a “form” of Christianity is if it doesn’t fit our definition. Definitions are not valid or invalid, they’re necessary for communication. If you have another definition of Christianity, that includes whatever you believe, that’s just as valid, but that’s not the one we’re using. Perhaps if you people weren’t so fringe we’d create separate categories for Christians. Don’t criticize our use of words, and don’t try to make it out to be a belief about validity.

  • plutosdad

    Robert, free will is why god does not step in and stop people from committing evil. it does nothing to excuse god from creating humans in the first place, when he knew the vast majority of them would suffer eternally.

    For you to be right, and for God to be good, the most accepted versions of what constitutes salvation must be wrong. From augustine up to the current theories.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Also what do you mean by “open to the possibility that there are other valid forms of Christianity”? We’re atheists, if you have forgotten, we don’t consider any Christianity valid.

    I took what Mike wrote as meaning that there are other ways to interpret Christianity, and those ways are just as “valid” as more conservative ways. IMO, Christianity is a matter of self-identification. If you want to call yourself a Christian, regardless of what you actually believe, that’s fine with me. John Shelby Spong is just as much a Christian as Jerry Falwell. Of course it doesn’t mean that I think Christianity itself is valid, just that it’s perfectly valid for both of those people to call themselves Christians.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Yes, what Anna said.

  • P. Coyle

    So you have obviously studied God and you have rejected him, I assume for a lack of evidence. And you now say that because you have, his plan is immoral? I will use the same example I used before that has not been answered- Assuming a father built a fire that was needed to provide warmth and protection to his child. He tells the child not to stick his hand in the fire or he will get burned. he tells the child the effects of that burn- that it will hurt alot. The child, chooses not to believe the Father and sticks his hand in the fire and gets burned- Is the father being immoral?

    THE SIN! IT BURNS!

    I suggest the following addition and changes to your analogy:

    1. The father has known with 100% certainty since before the child was even conceived that the child will disobey. He causes the child to be conceived anyway.

    2. When the child sticks his hand in the fire, the hand is not burned. Indeed, the child often derives enjoyment and benefit from doing sticking his hand in the fire, so he does it a lot. Often, though not always, one of the father’s other children suffers severe burns when the first child sticks his hand in the fire. The father permits this in order not to interfere with the free will of the first child, considering the free will of the first child more important than the suffering of the second child.

    3. In order to punish the child for the disobedience that he knew with 100% certainty would occur before the child was ever conceived, thirty years later the father kills him. Then he brings the child back to life for the purpose of administering electric shocks to the child’s genitals. It is important to note here that the punishment is not administered for any suffering caused to the second child (which the father ignored), but for disobedience.

    It’s still far from a perfect analogy, but it’s closer.

  • John

    Todd Says:

    First, how can one identify themselves as “religious” and then claim not to believe in a supernatural god? What does that even mean? That strikes me as – and forgive the clumsy analogy – something like claiming to be a Yankees fan but not believing in baseball.

    I think others have touched on this, but another way of describing it is that “religion or religious” can be defined functionally. I am a religious humanist and the humanist part includes being an atheist. I define myself as religious because a significant part of my life involves a UU church. UUism has always been defined as a religion. UU is not the only religion that does not require belief in the supernatural. Some Quaker meetings are open to atheists, some forms of Buddhism are atheistic, these are also considered religions. And you don’t get to define them as not religions just to satisfy a need for simple definitions.

    The UU religion is where I encounter the following:
    1. A weekly service including an almost always very interesting lecture/sermon, singing, watching and listening to live music, and announcements about interesting activities.
    2. Teaching youth about cultures and exploring ethics and morality.
    3. Extremely enjoyable interaction with people of all ages. I mostly only experience the interaction with such a range at church.
    4. A community to which my wife and children can belong and we don’t have to all have to be humanists or existentialists or deists or christian or whatever other world view one of us is exploring at the moment.

  • P. Coyle

    Here’s Richard Dawkins’ commentary on postmodernism. Regrettably, the “Postmodernism Generator” at Monash University appears to be no longer in operation.

  • Aj

    Anna,

    I took what Mike wrote as meaning that there are other ways to interpret Christianity, and those ways are just as “valid” as more conservative ways. IMO, Christianity is a matter of self-identification. If you want to call yourself a Christian, regardless of what you actually believe, that’s fine with me. John Shelby Spong is just as much a Christian as Jerry Falwell. Of course it doesn’t mean that I think Christianity itself is valid, just that it’s perfectly valid for both of those people to call themselves Christians.

    I don’t know what you mean by “valid” then. The dictionary says “well grounded in logic or truth or having legal force”, and that’s close enough to what I had in mind. To say that one form of Christianity is “valid” and another “invalid” dosen’t make sense from our perspective. Also “interpret Christianity” is confused, in the way I use the word, but even more so in the way you use the word. If Christian is just a label that anyone can use regardless of what you believe, then how can Christianity be interpreted? Something that can mean anything to anyone cannot be interpreted. It’s not a case of validity at all, it has nothing to do with that, it’s semantics.

  • Colin

    My thought is, we (as atheists) are a small enough group that we ought to take allies where we can find them. Though we may disagree on the existence of god, for the most part we’re going to line up with must UUs or others from the liberal fringes of religion.

    However, the true “liberals” in the church are a very small minority. Go to your phonebook and count the number of Unitarian churches vs the many Methodist/Baptist/Catholic congregations.

    While I think Harris/Dawkins may be a little too hard on the truly liberal denominations, I think they are spot on when it comes to the moderates. Many moderate, mainstream congregations (like the one I was raised in) have extreme elements within them, but these extreme views are rarely challenged because certain issues (ie. gay marriage) are viewed as irreconcilable within the congregation. When these congregations fail to stand up to the actions of more extreme churches, they lend implicit support to the more extreme actions.

  • Rob H

    Robert-

    God being all knowing and all powerful, does not get in the way of freewill.

    I do think that god being all-knowing and all-powerful gets in the way of the concept of free will. If your god knows everything, including my actions before I perform them and my thoughts before I think them, then I don’t actually have a choice in any meaningful way because my thoughts and actions are predetermined—because he made me the way I am, knowing how I would turn out.

    If you want to say that this makes god culpable in the suffering, then please also give Him credit for love, mercy and grace and all the good in the world as well.

    Sure, but then the question becomes “why have suffering at all?” To go to the analogy of the dad telling his kid not to touch the fire, the fact that fire is necessary and dangerous is fine. However, if the dad could snap his fingers and make it so the fire could give warmth without burning, but he didn’t do that, we would call him a monster for endangering his child needlessly.

  • Jeff Dale

    @Aj:

    To say that one form of Christianity is “valid” and another “invalid” dosen’t make sense from our perspective.

    I think the confusion you’re encountering here is because of equivocation of terms. We agree that no form of Christianity is valid metaphysically (i.e., as a description of reality), but I don’t think it’s incoherent to talk of valid or invalid descriptions of Christianity itself, which is what I think Anna means. Thus, it doesn’t seem “invalid” for a conservative Christian or a liberal Christian, or for that matter an atheist who participates in Christian activities for social reasons, to refer to himself as a “Christian” (though the latter case is another equivocation that can lead to some confusion in discussions like this).

    But actually, I think what Anna means could be more precisely phrased in terms of justification or coherence. Seems to me that a fundamentalist Christian who acknowledges the barbarity the bible says was ordered by God, but rationalizes it as God’s privilege, is more justified and coherent in his beliefs than a moderate Christian who cherry-picks the bible and never notices [1] that he has no reason to think God has informed him which passages he should disregard, and [2] that a supposedly moral God would want the barbarity purged from any book purporting to provide moral guidance in his name.

  • Jeff Dale

    @Colin:

    Go to your phonebook and count the number of Unitarian churches vs the many Methodist/Baptist/Catholic congregations.

    True, but it’s also worth noting that there are many Catholic or Protestant denominations that are much more liberal-leaning than their average, especially in liberal communities where many religious liberals will continue in their childhood churches out of habit and accustomed identification and thereby collectively swerve the congregation toward the liberal. And even in less-liberal areas there are often significant numbers of liberals within more conservative congregations for the same reason.

    The problem, as you’ve noted, is that even the liberal-leaning congregations are limited in their liberalism by dogmatic influence from up the church hierarchy and by the more conservative leadership and elders within the congregations. Religious identities are hard to shake, ingrained as they are from childhood, since even people whose beliefs have strayed far from the dogmatic core of their church have a hard time confronting the fact that either their church is wrong or they’re risking God’s displeasure. Since the displeasure of unseen, unheard beings is notoriously tricky to measure, these folks need to get used to a lot of cognitive dissonance as they reconcile their continued identification with a church they disagree with. Maybe persuading these people to try UU is the best thing we can do for them.

  • Gibbon

    There is a very simple reason for why this ‘enabling’ argument is not convincing, for me at least. That reason is the obvious point that from the extremist’s perspective, those who are religious at least, anyone who does not believe exactly as they do is to be considered as the enemy. In fact, with respect to moderates and liberals they are actually the real enemy of the extremists and fundamentalists, because they are said to have been corrupted by sources other than the religion. It is what makes it possible for the violent groups, such as al-Qaeda, to attack others who may belong to the same religion but not denomination; the extremist or fundamentalist does not regard the liberals and moderates to be true adherents of the religion.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Aj,

    To say that one form of Christianity is “valid” and another “invalid” dosen’t make sense from our perspective. Also “interpret Christianity” is confused, in the way I use the word, but even more so in the way you use the word. If Christian is just a label that anyone can use regardless of what you believe, then how can Christianity be interpreted? Something that can mean anything to anyone cannot be interpreted. It’s not a case of validity at all, it has nothing to do with that, it’s semantics.

    It’s not the form of Christianity that’s valid, it’s that Christianity is a valid social category. As long as the people involved claim to follow the teachings of Jesus, regardless of where they stand on supernatural beliefs or various theological points, I think it’s perfectly legitimate for them to claim the title for themselves.

    Since Christianity is matter of self-identification, there will be a wide range of people who claim to be Christians and those people vary widely in their interpretations of their scriptures. As an atheist, I find all those interpretations equally valid (or invalid, as the case may be), but I don’t think there’s some “true” form of Christianity, or that one form is “truer” or more legitimate than any another.

    Does that make more sense? I think Jeff sort of got what I was driving at. It’s not that any form of Christianity is coherent or justifiable on a metaphysical level, but I think it’s fine for people to put themselves in that category as long as they identify with it.

  • Baconsbud

    Gibbon I agree that most fundies look at liberal and moderates the same in regards to being fallen. I don’t think how fundies view them has anything to really do with enabling them. I see the enabling coming when the liberal and moderates attack those speaking out against select fundies instead of calling them out as they should. Many times the fundies are allowed to push their agenda because the liberals and moderates remain silent.

  • Jeff Dale

    @Gibbon:

    the extremist or fundamentalist does not regard the liberals and moderates to be true adherents of the religion.

    It’s a fair point as far as it goes, but I don’t think it undermines the conclusion.

    To understand, it helps to consider two ways in which moderate religion “enables” extremist religion. First is a sense of legitimacy; for example, widespread belief among moderates that a book is the word of God provides a mainstream foundation on which the extremists can build. Second is the tendency of moderates to rationalize away the religious basis of the extremists, and urge tolerance of all religious views, in order to shield their own religious views from awkward questions.

    Your point does indicate a potential mitigating factor to the first way. To the extent that extremists regard moderates as not being legitimate examples of their faith, they will not feel that moderates’ views lend legitimacy to their own. But this doesn’t wipe out the connection. A world in which a sizable majority believes in a blissful afterlife, and that a god told us how to get there in an ancient book, is presumably more comfortable for the extremists than one in which most other people have left those myths behind. It’d have to be somewhat harder for them to train a new generation of fanatics if their beliefs were much more marginalized in the world at large; at the least, it’d require extravagant efforts at isolation.

    And this doesn’t even address the second way. Even if both the extremists and the moderates deny any connection with each other, they still share a habit of faith without evidence, and make a virtue of it, and share the same holy books. As has been pointed out here repeatedly, moderates insist on accommodations in law and discourse to shield their views from any kind of challenge, because their views are very vulnerable to challenge. These accommodations inevitably shield the extremists as well.

  • Aj

    Anna,

    What’s an invalid social category? I don’t know what valid or invalid mean in that context. Do these people claim ownership of title so that others must now consider them Christians? They’re free to call themselves Christians, but I don’t have to. Christianity has been around longer than they have, Christians and atheists have been using the term to mean a certain religion with a tradition and history, a certain set of beliefs they still have in common. You’re free to use your definitions of a Christian: a) anyone who claims to be a Christian, or b) anyone who follows the teachings of Christ. I was aware that some people use these definitions, I don’t think they’re useful definitions or categories, and I won’t be using them.

    That’s all I want to respond to, that atheists not considering some people “Christians” is nothing to do with legitimacy or validity, so what Mike Clawson wrote was a misrepresentation.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Aj,

    Okay, I see what you’re getting at. I think it’s just a difference of opinion. I see Christianity as an extremely broad social category. For me personally, whether or not people claim specific supernatural beliefs isn’t all that relevant when it comes to what they call themselves, but I agree it can be confusing. Perhaps such people should qualify their statements by labeling themselves “symbolic Christians” or something similar. But I don’t guess that outsiders like us have much of a say in what people call themselves.

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

    Robert:

    As an example, it would be like blaming congress for writing the penal code and causing someone to go to jail when they broke the law. Making the rules isn’t causation in the way you are stating.

    Actually, yes, it is ultimately the fault of the people who wrote the penal code that the person went to prison. Without the code, there would be no punishment. The imprisonment is a direct result of the crime only because someone wrote the penal code.

    You say that “Man caused death by disobeying the rules they knew about.” You’re making this argument from a Christian perspective, right? In other words, you’re talking about the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Bypassing the obvious question (i.e., “do you think this was an actual historical event that actually happened”), didn’t God warn Adam that in the day that he ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree, he would surely die? And don’t most Christian denominations say that this indicated a spiritual death, rather than a physical one, seeing how numerous verses throughout the Bible say that we’re “dead in our sin” (which is obviously not speaking about physical death)?

    In other words… you either have to say that God was lying about Adam dying the day he ate the fruit, or that he was speaking of spiritual death, or that ‘day’ was metaphorical (a metaphor for what, I don’t know). None of those options really imply that man was designed to be immortal.

    In fact, Genesis 3:22 explicitly says that God DIDN’T design man to live forever:

    And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

    So your argument that “Mainstream Christians do not believe that God caused people to be mortal” is only as valid as your typical mainstream Christian’s unfamiliarity with the Bible.

    Anna:

    Does anyone else feel like they’ve dropped into bizarro-world when there’s constant arguing over the personality of an imaginary deity?

    All the time.

    Robert again:

    I will use the same example I used before that has not been answered- Assuming a father built a fire that was needed to provide warmth and protection to his child. He tells the child not to stick his hand in the fire or he will get burned. he tells the child the effects of that burn- that it will hurt alot. The child, chooses not to believe the Father and sticks his hand in the fire and gets burned- Is the father being immoral?

    Every time I hear examples like this, I can’t help but wonder if you spent more than five minutes coming up with it. You seem to be forgetting that your belief system demands that God made everything work the way it does.

    To make your example an actual metaphor for the Christian god, the father would have to also be the one who made it so that fire burn things for eternity (but only long after the things first entered the fire), and he would have to be the one who created the mind of his child (including its rebellious nature). So yes – a being that creates the laws of physics such that fire burns things without ever ceasing, and creates a child with a mind built to rebel, who then sits back and watches his child become engulfed in never-ending flames – yes, that being is utterly without moral authority of any kind!

    The bible teaches that God’s judgment is righteous. To me that means that we will be judged on our knowledge. If you don’t know the rules, like a child or someone who has never had the Gospel told to them, will be judge differently then one who has heard but who has rejected it.

    All well and good, but utterly unrelated to anything the Bible actually says. In fact, the Bible says precisely the opposite. Romans 1:20:

    For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

    You may feel a little better about worshiping a deity that created hell by convincing yourself that he’ll make exceptions for people who don’t know any better, but all you’re doing is inventing a god that makes you feel warm and fuzzy. It’s certainly not the Biblical god. Your only reason for believing that a deity such as the one you’re describing actually exists is that you want it to be true, and find the alternative (that God sends the innocent and ignorant to an eternity of suffering) as equally repugnant as I do.

    On the subject of free will: If human beings truly have a free will, then that means our decisions are not actually caused by anything external to our minds. This essentially makes every choice an uncaused cause, because if you try to say that there was a cause, then that cause is what resulted in our decision, and our will is no longer free. What does this say about God, who is often given special status as an uncaused cause?

    Gibbon:

    There is a very simple reason for why this ‘enabling’ argument is not convincing, for me at least. That reason is the obvious point that from the extremist’s perspective, those who are religious at least, anyone who does not believe exactly as they do is to be considered as the enemy.

    And how, exactly, does that matter?

    The fact that liberal/moderate theists paint faith with a positive brush is a problem, and it’s part of what makes your average theist cringe when atheists attack fundamentalists. I don’t care if fundies see them as the enemy – they’re both engaged in magical thinking, and the fact that the non-fundies are more friendly about it is an enabler for the fundies.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    You may feel a little better about worshiping a deity that created hell by convincing yourself that he’ll make exceptions for people who don’t know any better.

    It doesn’t even really make sense because where exactly is the dividing line between “too young to know better” and hellbound? Modern conservative Christians talk about some slippery “age of reason,” but wiggle out of providing specifics by saying it depends on the particular person. But it’s not well thought out at all. Their assertion means that there’s a precise moment at which children are unqualified to go to hell, and then a precise moment at which they become qualified for it. But isn’t the development of religious belief a process? It’s rarely a lightning bolt moment. Plus, religious belief isn’t even a conscious choice, so it’s not like people can force themselves to believe something they don’t believe in. Robert clearly thinks I “studied and then rejected” his deity, but I never developed a belief in it to begin with. So when was the moment that I became a candidate for eternal hellfire?

  • Jeff Dale

    @Anna:

    Their assertion means that there’s a precise moment at which children are unqualified to go to hell, and then a precise moment at which they become qualified for it.

    Ah yes, and don’t forget the other logical consequence of this doctrine: the immorality of letting a child live long enough to reach the age of reason and thus become exposed to the risk of eternal torture. Why would any parent take that risk, when they could guarantee eternal bliss by sending them to “be with God” before the age of reason?

    Horrifying? To me, yes. But hey, I didn’t make this stuff up.

  • http://www.streetprophets.com Recall

    And then there’s the problem of how anyone can be happy in heaven when they know that other people are suffering in hell.

  • Jeff Dale

    @Recall:

    And then there’s the problem of how anyone can be happy in heaven when they know that other people are suffering in hell.

    … Or how you could still be yourself in any meaningful sense if God somehow removed your concern for those people.

  • cathy

    @samiimus, I just wanted to thank you for your post. That part about religion helping queer people made me puke in my mouth a little. Um, no, as someone who is a queer person heavily involved with other queer people, who knows older queer people, I can safely say that queer people are far more likely to be nonreligious and most of those that aren’t are either pretty close or are members of an alternative religion (Wicca, etc.). It is pretty clear to anyone familiar with western history in regards to sexuality that Christianity played a key role in building homophobia. Christian homophobia is as old as Christianity and, while I understand that a tiny, tiny, tiny, amount of religious people don’t hate us, denialism about the harm done isn’t gaining you friends.

    I wanted to add that I do know some awesome queer people who consider themselves nonreligious but culturally Jewish. I don’t see someone who maintains certain cultural aspects (foods, etc) but does not follow or believe religious idealogy as religious. That said, I don’t know any Christians who actually act that way about Christianity (which might be cultural, in the US or the west). People who celebrate Christmas and paint easter eggs but don’t believe in God or practice religion just call themselves atheists, maybe because Christianity is assumed as a background.

  • Nordog

    “Horrifying? To me, yes. But hey, I didn’t make this stuff up.”

    Well, actually, you did, or at least you got it from someone who did, because it is not a logical consequence as you say it is.

  • P. Coyle

    “Horrifying? To me, yes. But hey, I didn’t make this stuff up.”

    Well, actually, you did, or at least you got it from someone who did, because it is not a logical consequence as you say it is.

    It is a perfectly logical consequence for any Christian sect who believes that young children automatically get a free pass to heaven. Such sects presumably think that a just God would not condemn an infant to hell (or deny it entrance into heaven) just because the infant did not “believe in Jesus.” They would also tend to reject the doctrine of Original Sin, a doctrine which implies that even infants are sinners. Sinners, not because of anything they have done or failed to do, but because sin is a hereditary condition.

    If you believe that infants have a free pass to get into heaven, then infanticide would be sanctioned — nay, mandated — by the Golden Rule.

    Now you may argue that infanticide would be prohibited by the “Thou shalt not kill” commandment. If so, then you also need to argue, first, that infanticide even for the purpose of guaranteeing an infant’s salvation in the afterlife is murder and thus prohibited by the commandment. And you also need to argue that the Golden Rule does not supersede the Jewish law and thus does not supersede the commandment.

    I don’t know of any legal systems in “advanced” countries that would permit infanticide even as an expression of freedom of religion. However, there is now a safe and effective way around that problem. If you believe that “human life begins at conception” and mean by that that when a sperm and an egg unite the resulting fertilized egg receives an immediate “soul” transplant, then logic implies that a good Christian mother would be one who aborts all her “unborn children” while she is still legally able to do so.

    Obviously, the notion that Christian mothers ought always to abort their fetuses will not be a successful meme for the spread of a religious sect. It would be a “memetic defect.” Any sect that always aborts its children is likely to end up going the way of the Shakers. It could only survive by proseletizing, not by the religious indoctrination of children. The successful religious meme is the one says that it is the religious duty of couples to “be fruitful and multiply.” This practice (which, as the world’s population closes in on seven billion ought now to be regarded as a form of antisocial behavior), together with aggressive proseletization, will all other things being equal tend to cause a sect which believes such a thing to become a kind of invasive species, choking the life out of other sects (to say nothing of atheism).

    Atheists, like Christians and other theists, must deal with all sorts of genuine moral dilemmas, but atheists do not have to deal with imaginary moral dilemmas arising from a belief in an imaginary deity.

  • NorDog

    “… Or how you could still be yourself in any meaningful sense if God somehow removed your concern for those people.”

    Or, it could be that those in Hell are where they choose to be. Heck, it could even be the same place as Heaven. I’ve seen and heard many comments from atheists that if God did exist they would still reject Him and choose Hell. And really, Hell is primarily a state of being separated from God. For many atheists that would be like Br’er Rabbit being in the briar patch. Wouldn’t it?

  • Jeff Dale

    @NorDog:

    Or how you could still be yourself in any meaningful sense if God somehow removed your concern for those people.

    Or, it could be that those in Hell are where they choose to be. Heck, it could even be the same place as Heaven. I’ve seen and heard many comments from atheists that if God did exist they would still reject Him and choose Hell. And really, Hell is primarily a state of being separated from God. For many atheists that would be like Br’er Rabbit being in the briar patch. Wouldn’t it?

    I’ve heard comments like that from atheists, but unlike them (if they’re sincere), I’m not so sure I’d choose anything like the Xian concept of hell over anything like the Xian concept of heaven.

    You should know that the idea that “Hell is primarily a state of being separated from God” is an invented rationalization that is refuted by a plain reading of the bible. There is simply no getting around the fact that Xians must either arbitrarily cherry-pick the bible or accept that their god inflicts eternal torture on a very large number of seemingly dead humans. This choice actually offends your natural human conscience, and threatens to make you conclude either that God is a moral monster or that goodness and morality are meaningless, so you allow yourself to accept an ad hoc notion of mere “separation from God.”

    I don’t know about you or anyone else, but I for one cannot muster the moral indifference to resist being horrified and outraged if I were to believe that eternal torture was going on. I would feel sympathy even for the worst earthly criminal forced to undergo that. Only excision of my entire moral sense would enable me to accept that, at which point I would not be the same person I now am and have always been. My personality (who “I” am) would essentially be dead (like my body) and therefore not enjoying heaven anyway.

    You make the mistake of many theists in not even being able to conceptualize what it means to be atheist. We atheists are not in rebellion against any gods; we simply see no legitimate reason to believe they exist. Thus, it’s absurd to suggest that we would enjoy being “separated from God,” even if you can get around the fact that the Xian hell is nothing like a bunny’s homey “briar patch.” If I said that you should worship Zeus or risk being “separated” from him for eternity, how much thought would you put into this choice?

  • Jeff Dale

    Or, it could be that those in Hell are where they choose to be.

    This really begs for further analysis. Hell either is torment or it is not. People at risk of being sent there either have the choice to be there or they don’t.

    If hell is not torment, it’s not the Xian hell.

    If hell is torment, the Xian god is a moral monster if he forces (or even permits) anyone to go there.

    If hell is torment and we do have the choice of whether to go there, we have to ask how we’re making that choice.

    Either God gives us full knowledge of the consequences of that choice, or he does not. If he does not, then he is a moral monster. If he does, how does he?

    The wildly conflicting and self-contradictory claims of religions makes it abundantly clear that God’s guidance to us in the here and now is far from unambiguous. Even God’s existence (let alone his desires or opinions) is not supported by credible evidence, leading atheists to notice that there’s far more reasonable justification on the side of nonbelief than of belief.

    Thus, if God gives us all the info we need for our choice between heaven and hell, we are left with two possibilities: either he judges us on our good intentions during our earthly lives regardless of which religious views we accept (if any), so that our moral behavior constitutes our “choice,” or he lets us make our choice after we die and gives us all the necessary info at that time.

    If it’s the latter (and assuming hell is the Xian hell, as it must be if we even need to have this argument), then everyone chooses heaven, and hell is empty. You don’t need omnipotence, or even high intelligence, to know that everyone would choose eternal bliss over eternal torment. So then why did God supposedly create hell?

    And if God simply judges us by our moral behavior during our earthly lives, we’re left with a few conundrums for anyone who still wishes to cling to Xian faith.

    For one thing, faith becomes optional; as long as you’re a good person, you’ll go to heaven.

    For another thing, you have the problem of the threshold between salvation and damnation. Is it coherent to think that there’s some threshold at which a person on one side is just barely non-bad enough to go to heaven, while a person on the other side, only slightly less good, is bound for hell? From that it would follow that a person could tip themselves over the threshold with a relatively minor offense. And what about people who do bad things (perhaps enough to earn hell) but then turn their lives around to become extremely good, essentially becoming different people? If someone has earned hell, should he just do whatever the hell he wants thereafter, no matter how much harm he does to others? Is that the kind of benevolent order the Xian god wants for us?

    And finally, is any finite earthly crime worthy of infinite punishment, with no chance of redemption? That’s not life in prison (which in the here and now is sometimes necessary for people we can’t trust on the loose), that’s forever. And even if infinite punishment could be justified, inflicting it on someone without his foreknowledge and understanding of it would be immoral in the extreme. We have neither the foreknowledge nor the understanding, because it’s not clear from any evidence we have that infinite punishment actually is awaiting us (a moral god would make it unambiguous), and in any case there’s no way we finite beings can ever truly comprehend infinity.

    Thus, one of these follows from the above:

    [1] The Xian god is immoral, or
    [2] The Xian god doesn’t send people to hell, and we’re all free to believe or disbelieve in God without consequence (and the evidence decidedly points toward nonbelief), or
    [3] The Xian god doesn’t exist.

    QED.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    You make the mistake of many theists in not even being able to conceptualize what it means to be atheist. We atheists are not in rebellion against any gods; we simply see no legitimate reason to believe they exist. Thus, it’s absurd to suggest that we would enjoy being “separated from God”

    Exactly. I’m an atheist because I have honestly never seen even a shred of evidence that we live in anything other than a purely material world. If I saw evidence to the contrary, I would absolutely consider supernatural claims. If your deity existed and was omnipotent, wouldn’t it know how my mind works? Wouldn’t it know everything about me? So why would it create me in such a way that I seem to be lacking a “god part” in my brain? It seems to me that it would be purposely holding back evidence that would make me consider that it exists.

    I know it’s hard for Christians to understand, but the biblical deity really isn’t any different to me than the Hindu deities or the ancient Norse deities. I don’t come from a Christian background. I was never taught to believe in the Christian god and I never developed a belief in anything supernatural. I get the sense that many Christians think we are just being stubborn and rejecting the obvious. But what’s obvious to you isn’t at all obvious to me.

    If this means that I’m “choosing hell,” don’t you honestly have to question how much of a choice it is? I can’t just decide to believe in something because someone tells me to. If someone told you that you had to believe in Hanuman the monkey god, wouldn’t it seem absurd to you? Could you actually make that choice? Belief’s not like a light switch that you can flick on and off at will. You have to be convinced or persuaded first.

  • Robert

    Too many folks have added comments to address them one by one but please allow me respond generally.

    If you are going to try and attribute some of your perceived attributes of God as the basis of your decision to not believe in Him, then I would suggest that you study all of the attributes that are attributed to him in the Bible. You can’t really pick and choose.

    The Bible is clear that God is loving, just and righteous. Psalm 145:7

    Everyone who is arguing that he is immoral is doing so from your perspective of morality. From the idea that a loving God would not allow suffering, that a loving God would give you just the evidence that you need to believe, that a loving God would not have created man at all knowing that some would not recognize him and reject him. All of this is a version of morality base upon our perspective. Not from the perspective of God who clearly sees our time on Earth as temporary and is more concerned about our eternal destiny and has a much larger picture in mind then we maybe able to see.

    From the Christian perspective, we may not know the will of God in everything that happens. But we do believe that it is part of his plans for our life because the Bible tells us that He has great plans for all that love him.

    As for the analogy I gave, it stands even with the distorted modifications. Because part of the puzzle that you missed is the work of Jesus and grace. God also gave all his children the way to avoid the fire and he himself suffered it for us all. And that way is through Jesus Christ.

    P. Coyle, your discussion wholly misses the notion of God’s grace and the Bible is very clear that we are saved by grace through faith. I won’t even address the warped notion of infantcide because that is simply stupid, other then to say that any good non insane Christian mother would never hold that rational.

    Finally, as for those who say its just not enough evidence, that is still an opinion. From your perspective its not enough. From God’s perspective it is enough. If you reject it, that is your choice. That is not God’s fault for not giving you enough evidence. And, the Bible tells us that if you sincerely seek him he will reveal himself to you, which means in the ways you may need and he will also send the holy spirit to you to help you. So there really isn’t an excuse for those who have been exposed to it and are old enough to understand.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Ah, Robert, you’ve been hanging out on Friendly Atheist for a while, but you still seem to have absolutely no sense of our perspective. Have you actually learned anything, or are you just here to push your religion on us? It really appears as though you are completely unable to comprehend our point of view.

    I won’t even get into the rationalization of hell, but you seem to deny that our experiences are our experiences. It’s not an “opinion” that I see no evidence for deities. I really do see no evidence for deities. If you’re unwilling to believe that (because your deity seems obvious to you), then I don’t know what to say. But I’m not lying about my experiences, and, leaving morality completely aside, I certainly can’t choose to believe in something that seems absurd, illogical, and implausible to me.

  • NorDog

    “You should know that the idea that “Hell is primarily a state of being separated from God” is an invented rationalization that is refuted by a plain reading of the bible.”

    As a Catholic, I don’t depend on a “plain reading” of the Bible. After all, I’m not a literalist fundie type. For me there is also the early Church fathers and tradition that predate what we call the canonized scripture.

    “Thus, one of these follows from the above:

    [1] The Xian god is immoral, or
    [2] The Xian god doesn’t send people to hell, and we’re all free to believe or disbelieve in God without consequence (and the evidence decidedly points toward nonbelief), or
    [3] The Xian god doesn’t exist.

    QED.”

    Yeah, I think there may be some faulty syllogizing going on here.

  • NorDog

    “Thus, it’s absurd to suggest that we would enjoy being “separated from God,” even if you can get around the fact that the Xian hell is nothing like a bunny’s homey “briar patch.” If I said that you should worship Zeus or risk being “separated” from him for eternity, how much thought would you put into this choice?”

    Hey, I’ve just been told by self-identified athiests, on numerous occasions, that if there was a God, He would of necessity be immoral, and thus the athiest claims he/she would rather go to Hell than spend time with the evil creator.

    Should I have not taken them at their word?

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

    Robert:

    Everyone who is arguing that he is immoral is doing so from your perspective of morality. From the idea that a loving God would not allow suffering, that a loving God would give you just the evidence that you need to believe, that a loving God would not have created man at all knowing that some would not recognize him and reject him. All of this is a version of morality base upon our perspective. Not from the perspective of God who clearly sees our time on Earth as temporary and is more concerned about our eternal destiny and has a much larger picture in mind then we maybe able to see.

    Just to be clear – you’re saying that the optimum moral system (the one held by the creator of the universe) is one in which a being capable of doing literally anything has made the right moral choice by allowing people to doom themselves for eternity? That somehow this is a better moral basis than the ones we can come up with, under which we intervene on the behalf of those who seek to harm themselves?

    You think that the perfect perspective is one in which human suffering is merely a means to an end?

    You expect anyone to accept that there is a “much larger picture” simply on the basis of your assertion that there must be one?

    If faith allows people to go on believing that every terrible thing that happens is part of the plan of a perfectly loving god, I’m glad I abandoned years long ago. That sort of logical inconsistency must do wondrous damage to your psyche.

    By the way… do you care to respond to anything I said before, especially about my conclusion that you’re inventing a deity that makes you feel happy rather than believing something with actual justification? Or how about the fact that you claimed God does exactly the opposite of what the Bible says he does… thereby proving that you are making it up as you go along?

  • Nordog

    “Just to be clear – you’re saying that the optimum moral system (the one held by the creator of the universe) is one in which a being capable of doing literally anything has made the right moral choice by allowing people to doom themselves for eternity?”

    No being is capable of doing literally anything. God cannot do things that are contradictory, for instance God cannot create an uncreated being. God cannot force someone of free will to choose him.

  • Jeff Dale

    @NorDog:

    Yeah, I think there may be some faulty syllogizing going on here.

    OK, I’m game. Instead of just shrugging off my conclusion, please let me know which of my premises is faulty and/or how my conclusion fails to follow from those premises.

  • Jeff Dale

    @NorDog:

    God cannot do things that are contradictory

    Creating a world with one less child rape is not contradictory. Please explain how this world could possibly be better with a child rape than without it.

    Remember that God is supposedly omnipotent, as in having infinite capabilities (excluding anything contradictory). Not only can he supposedly do anything non-contradictory, he can do it with exactly zero effort.

    I can think of many ways to improve this world. One is to give pedophiles a little more self-restraint so that they don’t rape children. Why won’t God do this?

  • Nordog

    “Creating a world with one less child rape is not contradictory. Please explain how this world could possibly be better.”

    Yeah, your statement and question are a bit puzzling, especially in light of the fact that they are in response to my statement regarding non-contradiction.

    The discussion of the “Problem of Evil” is a long, contentious, and time honored one.

    My comment about God and contradiction was not offered in light of anything other than to counter the idea that any being is capable of doing anything whatsoever.

    Do you agree that no being is capable of doing anything whatsoever? I think you would agree.

    A list of the way the world could be better would be exceedingly long.

  • Aj

    Despite claims to the contrary when the analogy was proposed in the comments on another post, I answered it:

    For your analogy to be honest you would have to change it to: An invisible man tells a child to tell another child that if they don’t believe in him at some later date he’ll grab his hand and stick it in a fire. The child doesn’t believe the other child, and at some later date the invisible man grabs his hand and sticks it in the fire.

    Also, it’s God that puts people in hell, not human acts. They claim God created everything, then he must have created hell. How do they get to hell? Either God puts them there or created a system where they eventually go there. Do we claim that cattle have choice in meat production? This idiotic concept of “freewill” which is obviously false if you understand reality, is the premise that drives this insanity. Anyone who thinks people choose to believe or choose to have every thought is delusional. Jesus once said “lust” was a sin according to the Gospels. How can people lack even this basic self-awareness? Cognitive dissonance theory, one of the ways people believe strange things is through this mechanism, it’s one of the drivers of wish-thinking that’s a fundamental part of religion.

    To top it off we have someone claiming to speak for God, to know its perspective, even though God is a concept more complicated than the universe itself. Any time a theist does this they are projecting their own desires and intelligence onto a God that can’t by logic be like them. It’s not surprising that their God is as fallible as them, not understanding logic, evidence, or reason.

    NorDog,

    I don’t believe you, or I don’t believe the people you have been talking to, but mostly you. If they were talking about the honest interpretation of the Bible, and not whatever you’re doing, then hell isn’t a nice place. Sure, heaven is not a nice place either, considering what constitutes a good time according to Jesus, but it’s not torture, perhaps. I don’t think anyone’s going to honestly pick the eternal torture door.

    The Gospels are pretty clear that hell is a place, with fire, wailing, and gnashing. Even if you did believe that the Bible is meant to be read with the kind of gymnastics that is necessary for your interpretation, and in the Gospels Jesus did say he was deliberately confusing, that’s not exactly responsible behaviour. If you’re trying to give a message, that’s pretty important to uneducated, ignorant, with differing levels of intelligence, you don’t write it so it reads the opposite of what you’re trying to say. Yet that’s what modern interpretations of the Bible suggest, that God decided to inspire complete morons to spread his message, and in the end the wrong message was spread around the world for centuries and is still by an overwhelming amount the most popular interpretation. And as I’ve already stated in response to Mike Clawson, this isn’t literalism or fundamentalism, this is all the big denominations.

    That’s not the most insane part though. As Christopher Hitchens pointed out. Even if as a Catholic or other more enlightened Christian, you believe in evolution, you believe that for tens of thousands of years humans existed in much harsher times than the last 6,000 years, yet a saviour only comes in the last 2,000 years. The solution of course is making himself a scape-goat to himself, so he can forgive us of our sins, both of which he created.

  • Nordog

    “I don’t believe you, or I don’t believe the people you have been talking to, but mostly you.”

    What exactly, please, is it that you don’t believe?

  • Jeff Dale

    @NorDog:

    Creating a world with one less child rape is not contradictory. Please explain how this world could possibly be better.

    Yeah, your statement and question are a bit puzzling, especially in light of the fact that they are in response to my statement regarding non-contradiction.

    You dodged the question, from MikeTheInfidel. Here it is again:

    Just to be clear – you’re saying that the optimum moral system (the one held by the creator of the universe) is one in which a being capable of doing literally anything has made the right moral choice by allowing people to doom themselves for eternity?

    So let me revise it for you in a way that avoids your dodge:

    Just to be clear – you’re saying that the optimum moral system (the one held by the creator of the universe) is one in which a being capable of doing literally anything that isn’t contradictory has made the right moral choice by allowing people to doom themselves for eternity?

    Now. You’re a good sport, I think. Do you have an answer for this question?

  • http://hourlily.tumblr.com hourlily

    @NorDog

    If free will leads to sin and there is no sin in heaven, that means there is no free will in heaven. If freedom of choice is an integral part of being human, why would we not have that freedom in paradise? An eternity of mindless obedience doesn’t seem much better than hell.

  • Nordog

    “Just to be clear – you’re saying that the optimum moral system (the one held by the creator of the universe) is one in which a being capable of doing literally anything has made the right moral choice by allowing people to doom themselves for eternity?”

    I didn’t mean to dodge the question because it was, I thought, addressed to someone else.

    It started out, “…you’re saying…” and since I didn’t say what came after I thought it was addressed to someone else. I didn’t say anything about “optimal moral system”. I don’t pretend to know what that would be.

    Anyway, I’ll address your modified version of the question (though I think my answer can be pulled from various things I have already written).

    First, there’s still a problem for me in the way the question is formulated.

    While possibly not contradictory in an absolute sense, for God to create an individual with free will, and the destroy that free will so as to prevent the individual from rejecting Him, it would at least contradict the goodness inherent in our creation as beings with free will.

    Then again, it may indeed be contradictory in an absolute sense. I don’t know.

    And since damnation, or Hell, or whatever you wish to call it, is fundamentally, ontologically, a state of willful separation from God, those in Hell have rejected God. For Him to prevent that separation would be to deny the individual his free will.

    In an odd sense, God is the ultimate pro-choice advocate. He just doesn’t destroy the necessary consequences of those choices.

    Recap:

    I don’t know what an optimal moral system would be.

    God allows people to reject Him because to not allow it would require that He destroy free will. Personally, I think allowing free will is better than destroying it.

  • Jeff Dale

    A list of the way the world could be better would be exceedingly long.

    That’s exactly the point. We don’t need a long discussion of the Problem of Evil. It’s trivially easy to think up hundreds of non-controversial things to put on the list of how to make the world better. But I’ve never heard a single plausible reason to believe that every single one of them is both beyond the power of an omnipotent being and beneath the concern of a morally perfect being. If you’ve heard of any such reason, I’d sincerely like to hear it.

    In the end, we have a potentially endless list of challenges (the Problem of Evil) that seem to have no answer. We have four choices: [1] God has some reasons we can’t fathom, [2] God is not omnipotent, [3] God is not morally perfect (far from it), or [4] God doesn’t exist. [2] or [3] is unappealing for Christians, and absurd for atheists since we first have to be given a reason to doubt [4]. So how do we choose between [1] and [4]?

    If we were already convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of God’s existence, omnipotence, and moral perfection by some other very persuasive evidence, we would have to default to [1]. But how plausible is [1] on its own? If a father lets his children suffer preventable injury, pain, and death, don’t we need a pretty hefty justification before we conclude that “he must’ve had some reason?” It’s not as though we’ve been offered justifications that are implausible. As far as I know, not even implausible justifications have been offered. If we don’t even know of a possible justification, let alone a plausible one, what reason (other than wishful thinking) do we have to believe [1]?

  • Jeff Dale

    @NorDog:

    While possibly not contradictory in an absolute sense, for God to create an individual with free will, and the destroy that free will so as to prevent the individual from rejecting Him, it would at least contradict the goodness inherent in our creation as beings with free will.

    How would it be “destroying” free will to make us with slightly more moral sense and self-restraint? Again, to return to my example, an omnipotent being could give his pedophiles more self-restraint. No effect on free will, just a slightly altered psychological composition.

    And since damnation, or Hell, or whatever you wish to call it, is fundamentally, ontologically, a state of willful separation from God, those in Hell have rejected God. For Him to prevent that separation would be to deny the individual his free will.

    Again, I’m not aware of anything in the bible to suggest that hell is “separation from God,” or that the only people who go there are those who essentially send themselves there by “rejecting” God.

    And again, you’re circling back around to some of the points I’ve already made, which you brushed off without explanation as faulty syllogism (unless “NorDog” is not “Nordog“). If you’d care to return to my post above, I’d be interested in knowing what, if anything, I’ve missed.

  • Nordog

    We seem to be talking about different things.

    My focus has been on making the point that Hell is not something of which someone is a victim, rather it is the consequence of choices.

    Your focus has been on what is often referred to as “The Problem of Evil”.

    “How would it be “destroying” free will to make us with slightly more moral sense and self-restraint?”

    It wouldn’t. But it would be destroying free will to make us such that we couldn’t choose to reject a moral sense and self-restraint.

  • Jeff Dale

    @NorDog:

    How would it be “destroying” free will to make us with slightly more moral sense and self-restraint?

    It wouldn’t.

    Full stop. OK, now, why won’t God make us with slightly more moral sense and self-restraint? Doing so would presumably enable more of us to be worthy of heaven (or more likely to choose heaven, if you insist). Why is he willing to let some people go to hell when he could effortlessly, and without destroying free will, attract more of us to him?

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

    No being is capable of doing literally anything. God cannot do things that are contradictory, for instance God cannot create an uncreated being. God cannot force someone of free will to choose him.

    And of course this is something you can demonstrate factually, not merely your belief…?

    God allows people to reject Him because to not allow it would require that He destroy free will. Personally, I think allowing free will is better than destroying it.

    This leads to the conclusion that you believe maintaining free will is better than *not* sending people to hell – whatever that may be.

    We live in a universe where our will (free or not) is limited by what it is possible for us to do. We can’t choose to fly unaided, for example. Were we designed to function in such a way that rejecting God were not possible for us – in the same way that it is not possible for us to fly – would you consider this to be destroying free will?

    And if God were capable of setting things up that way… why didn’t he? If he had the option to create a world where none become separated from him, go to hell, etc. (and the Bible says that he doesn’t want that any should be destroyed) … then why didn’t he?

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

    By the way, you’re right, I wasn’t initially addressing you; it was in response to Robert.

    As for the assertion that your god can’t do anything contradictory: why not? Isn’t he the supreme being, by definition? What’s keeping him from doing something contradictory? Wouldn’t it have to be greater than him?

    And since damnation, or Hell, or whatever you wish to call it, is fundamentally, ontologically, a state of willful separation from God, those in Hell have rejected God. For Him to prevent that separation would be to deny the individual his free will.

    And where on earth does this model of hell and god come from? How can you say something with such confidence, as if there can be no doubt that it’s true?

    The things you’re saying are in partial contradiction to the original scripture. Either the Bible is partly wrong, or whatever later church doctrine you’re citing is partly wrong.

  • Gibbon

    Jeff Dale

    I just going to respond without quoting you.

    Even though you are doing your best to argue that the liberal religious person provides legitimacy for extremism, I still don’t believe that you have managed to connect them. That they are both relying on the same book does not appear to be reason enough to say that one gains anything from the other; that common factor does not allow for the possibility that the liberal is responsible in any sense for what the extremist does. They will both be aware that they share a common scripture, but each party interprets the book differently, reaches different conclusions, and applies that book in different ways, so it does not make sense to even remotely criticise the liberal for the existence of extremism. No doubt the extremist will acknowledge that the liberal is correct in regarding the scripture as the word of God, but given that the extremist believes the liberal has got everything else wrong makes it virtually impossible to accept the notion that he receives any confirmation of his beliefs and his actions from the liberal.

    As far as I can tell there is only one reason for why one would pin even the minutest amount of blame on the liberal for extremism, and it comes from how one views religion and particularly scripture. That view says that religion even in the hands of good people is still a bad thing because overall it possesses a negative essence, which would mean that even when the intentions are good it can only be destructive. It’s like a knife, even though we can use it as part of a positive or constructive process the knife it self is still negative, because it can only be used to reduce or destroy things. Likewise with religion, as long as one views it in the same respect as a knife then it can never be regarded as positive.

    From what I can tell this negative essentialist view of religion is held by a fair number of people, particularly atheists and New Atheists, including many here. If I’m correct about that then it will not be possible for me to agree with you, because I don’t view religion as being inherently negative, nor for that matter do I view it as naturally positive. I take the third position, where two options seem equally as likely then perhaps there is a third, and for me the third option is that religion is value neutral and that any value that it may have is assigned to it by the person using it. My reason for believing this is that one can list all the bad things that religion has been used to achieve but one can also list all the good things that it has been used for, and because religion can’t be both positive and negative one has to make a choice, and because both appear to be equally as likely then it is neither; neutral.

    So we are unlikely to agree on whether liberal religion is bad. You view religion as negative, I see it as neutral.

  • Jeff Dale

    @MikeTheInfidel:

    As for the assertion that your god can’t do anything contradictory: why not? Isn’t he the supreme being, by definition? What’s keeping him from doing something contradictory? Wouldn’t it have to be greater than him?

    I don’t think there’s really any debate about this. Contradictions are logical impossibilities; they come from our concepts and the definitions of words. For example, the words “circle” and “square” are used to represent certain shapes, and if we think someone ought to be able to make a “square circle,” we’re simply using the words incorrectly. Omnipotence is generally understood to mean unlimited metaphysical capabilities. Presumably, an omnipotent being could make us believe we see a square circle, or could make us use the word “square” to mean “circle,” but either way there still can’t actually be any such thing as a “square circle” as long as those words mean what they do.

  • Robert

    Mike,

    Let me address two points you make in the comment that you claim I didn’t address. one is the Fall and the idea that Christians do not claim that God created death. it is clear that the Bible teaches that God perceives us to not just be biological creatures. he breathed life into us and created us with souls that have immortality. so when the fall occurred and sin entered the world, then were were dead. take that spiritually or literally, the result is the same. We were separated from God.

    As for your Roman quote, you took that out of context. Roman’s 2 goes on to say that the people Paul was talking about were those who even though they did not hear the law as was given to the Jews 9 the Gentiles), they had evidence to know that God existed and was real. Yet they continued in their sinful ways and never turned to him. For that they were condemned. He goes on to criticize the Jewish nation for thinking they were better for having known the law and then rejecting it. So place that in context.

    Now respond to what I have written. If the Bible says that God is just, righteous and all loving, how does that make him immoral? Or are you just going to ignore that those attributes are given to God in the bible and pick and choose those which enforce your notion that he is evil and therefore can’t exist.

    NorDog is correct that God, even though he is all powerful, can’t be contradictory. He can’t contradict his own being and his own nature. He created humans with free will. Free will to choose how they would act and whether they would love him. Anything else would be against his nature, because to love someone anyway less then freely would not be true love.

    To argue that somehow tweaking pedophiles to be a little less attracted to kids is just silly. When pedophiles give into those lusts, they do so freely. Call it what you want- a sickness or an illness or whatever, but they know its wrong and they do it anyway. That is their choice.

    To say that God should have designed us in a way that we could not reject him, is just a different way of saying we should not have been designed with free will. If we didn’t have a choice to reject Him, we aren’t accepting him of our own free will.

  • Nordog

    “Full stop. OK, now, why won’t God make us with slightly more moral sense and self-restraint? Doing so would presumably enable more of us to be worthy of heaven (or more likely to choose heaven, if you insist). Why is he willing to let some people go to hell when he could effortlessly, and without destroying free will, attract more of us to him?”

    Full stop? Really?

    Who says God doesn’t allow us slightly more moral sense and self-restraint?

    Slightly more than what? What we have now? What we would have if He didn’t provide for the increase we have? In making that evaluation, one would have difficulty establishing a baseline of moral sense and self restraint by which to recognize the increase born of Divine Grace. The question seems to come from no where and go to no where.

    I think your last question must be misstated…

    “Why is he willing to let some people go to hell when he could effortlessly, and without destroying free will, attract more of us to him?”

    The former is not mutually exclusive from the latter.

    Besides, I don’t mean to be unfair, but my suspicion is that you (and many atheists) are approaching subjects like this not simply from a purely materialistic viewpoint, but also from a strictly logical viewpoint.

    Now logic and reason is great and important and all that. But one makes a mistake if one expects human behavior to be in accordance with logic. We’re not Vulcans on Star Trek after all.

    I mention this because your question seems to suggest that no one would fail to choose God if God would simply give everyone an adequate sense of moral behavior and self-restraint.

    The problem with this approach to the issue is that it doesn’t allow that fear, greed, pride, etc. sometimes trump one’s sense of moral behavior and self-restraint.

    I suspect pride ranks first of these in trumping morality and restraint, but hey, maybe that’s just me.

  • Nordog

    I wrote: “No being is capable of doing literally anything. God cannot do things that are contradictory, for instance God cannot create an uncreated being. God cannot force someone of free will to choose him.”

    MikeTheInfidel wrote: “And of course this is something you can demonstrate factually, not merely your belief…?”

    Mike, do you really need an argument for that? Are you saying you think there is a God and he can create an uncreated being and he can force someone of free will to choose him?

    Mike, please don’t be contradictory for contradictory’s sake.

    Do you reject the concept of indemonstrable first principles, such as “the whole is greater than the part” or “a thing cannot be and not be in the same respect at the same time”?

    Do you require a demonstrable proof of them?

  • Nordog

    I wrote: “Now logic and reason is great and important and all that. But one makes a mistake if one expects human behavior to be in accordance with logic. We’re not Vulcans on Star Trek after all.”

    That should have been…

    “…makes a mistake if one expects human behavior to ALWAYS be in accordance with logic.”

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    No doubt the extremist will acknowledge that the liberal is correct in regarding the scripture as the word of God,

    Just as a point of clarification, but most “liberal” Christians do not regard the Bible as “the word of God.” In Karl Barth’s formulation, for instance, Jesus Christ alone (as the Divine Incarnation) is the “Word of God.” The Bible simply bears witness to the Word, but is not itself “the Word.” Similarly, even John Calvin (whom many of us liberal Christians have a lot of problems with) recognized that God’s “Word” (i.e. God’s self-revelation to humanity) comes in many different forms, not merely through the words of a book. These days, most liberal Christians are happy to admit that the Bible itself is not a perfect, infallible representation of “God’s Word,” but instead sees God speaking to us in variety of different ways. (This is why you will often see United Church of Christ churches with a big “comma” logo and the motto “God is still speaking,” implying that the Bible is not a “once and for all” authoritative text.)

    Anyhow, carry on with your debates. I just thought I’d clarify that.

  • Gibbon

    Mike Clawson, you may be right there. The same basic point was made in a university course on Islam I took earlier this year. Via a comparison it was explained that the position that Jesus Christ holds in Christianity is the same as what the Qur’an occupies in Islam. So, clarification accepted.

  • Jeff Dale

    @Gibbon:

    First off, I should clarify that I don’t think that moderates should be blamed or criticized for “enabling” extremism. Presumably, the moderates wouldn’t knowingly support extremism, or we wouldn’t be calling them moderates. All I want to do is persuade moderates to do whatever they can to help against extremism.

    Your knife analogy seems apt, though your conclusion that it’s negative seems odd. Cutting things is often useful, which means knives are sometimes positive. As you point out, it depends on the uses one puts it to, so it can be positive or negative in different measures.

    So I guess I’d say that I do view religion as a net negative, but I don’t merely assert that arbitrarily, disregarding the positive “uses” of religion. I try to back up my assertion with reasons, and I ask for reasons from those I debate with. Unlike some atheists, I don’t generally think of religion as essentially bad, because I hold human flourishing as the highest good rather than truth for its own sake, but I note that, empirically, religious subversion of truth is generally more negative than positive (and could become much more negative in this era of WMD’s). It’s often said by atheists that the positives of religion can be had in other ways, and that seems true to me, but as with anything else I’m open to counter-arguments.

    As for your point about “enabling,” I already agreed with you that extremists won’t take moderate views as direct support for their own, because (as you pointed out) they regard the moderates as off base. You’ve essentially just restated your point here. But I then made two further points that you seem not to have acknowledged, so maybe I need to clarify:

    [1] Extremist views are indirectly supported by moderate views (whether either side realizes this or not). The common foundational aspects (faith without evidence, the authority of ancient superstitious texts, etc.) mean that extremist views don’t seem nearly as extreme as they would if those foundational aspects were exclusive to them. Here’s an analogy: If we encountered a cult that believed the world was inhabited by huge red fire-breathing dragons, they’d seem odd to us, and ultimately would seem odd to some of the children they’re attempting to indoctrinate (unless totally isolated from outsiders). But if the world was already filled with people who believed in moderate-sized green friendly dragons, that cult wouldn’t be so far outside the mainstream. I’m not arguing that red-dragon-believers would be vindicated by the opposing beliefs of those green-dragon-believers; I’m arguing that they’d feel less out of place in a world full of dragon-believers (similar kinds of beliefs) than in a world where they were the only dragon-believers.

    [2] Even if [1] is not true, it is still the case that moderates call for exorbitant restraint in any criticism of religion. When moderates fail to stand up to the more extreme elements of their own religions, or demand tolerance of all religious views and shout down any attempt to point out the obvious religious motivation of extremist violence, they are enabling extremism, plain and simple. I’m not saying that any of them do it knowingly or maliciously, and I’m not saying that none of them ever stands up to extremism, I’m just saying they could do a lot better if they were secure enough in their faith not to worry about calling attention to the hazards of extremists’ faith. But of course, moderates almost by definition aren’t particularly secure in their faith, and can’t be because moderate faith is supported neither by the real world we see around us nor by the supposedly holy books.

    Now, I might be mistaken about this, but restating your point and arguing that I have a “negative essentialist” view of religion don’t refute what I’ve said.

  • Jeff Dale

    @Robert:

    If the Bible says that God is just, righteous and all loving, how does that make him immoral? Or are you just going to ignore that those attributes are given to God in the bible and pick and choose those which enforce your notion that he is evil and therefore can’t exist.

    Robert, I appreciate your weighing in here, and I assume you’re being sincere, but I don’t see how you could have so completely misunderstood this. None of us said, or would say, that God being just, righteous, and all-loving means he’s immoral. We’re saying, look at the world around us, and explain how it’s even remotely plausible that an omnipotent, all-loving, perfectly moral deity is in charge of it. We’re not ignoring his supposedly bible-given attributes; we’re saying those attributes are emphatically denied in the world we actually see. To affirm this wildly contradictory being, for whom we have no credible evidence, we have to deny the lifelong reality of our experiences, for which we have abundant credible evidence.

    To argue that somehow tweaking pedophiles to be a little less attracted to kids is just silly. When pedophiles give into those lusts, they do so freely. Call it what you want- a sickness or an illness or whatever, but they know its wrong and they do it anyway. That is their choice.

    I don’t think you realize what this sounds like. Think of it from the perspective of the raped children, or their parents. The omnipotent ruler of the universe decided to give some of his people the desire to rape children, then he let them rape children. If you were in position to stop these rapes, would you? Of course you would. You’re not a moral monster. Do you seriously think these rapists’ free will would’ve been impaired if God had simply made them without the urge to rape children in the first place? If God exists, he’s a moral monster. Tell me what I’m missing here.

    To say that God should have designed us in a way that we could not reject him, is just a different way of saying we should not have been designed with free will. If we didn’t have a choice to reject Him, we aren’t accepting him of our own free will.

    In what sense have I rejected God? I haven’t seen any clear sign that he’s even spoken to me, directly or indirectly. Has he spoken to the billions of people born in non-Christian cultures who live and die without ever hearing about Jesus? How can you “reject” something if you’re not even aware of what the choices are? If God thinks he’s given us an unambiguous choice, he’s way off. And if our choice is ambiguous at best, and eternity hangs in the balance, and God had the ability to make our choice unambiguous, how are his actions just?

    I don’t think I suggested that God should’ve designed us so that we couldn’t reject him. I’m just saying that he could’ve designed us, and the world, better, and communicated with us much more clearly, without taking away our free will. But if he exists, and he chose to punish some of us forever for his own design flaws and his own poor communication, then how can we say he’s moral?

  • Jeff Dale

    @NorDog:

    Who says God doesn’t allow us slightly more moral sense and self-restraint?

    Slightly more than what? What we have now? What we would have if He didn’t provide for the increase we have? In making that evaluation, one would have difficulty establishing a baseline of moral sense and self restraint by which to recognize the increase born of Divine Grace. The question seems to come from no where and go to no where.

    It doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from examination of the world around us and our own human natures. Read my comments to Robert just above. If God is omnipotent, he could’ve designed us and the world better, so that there’d be less pointless suffering. Do you disagree? We can think of many things that’d make the world better. So explain how an omnipotent deity would’ve been unable to do those things. Don’t just say “free will”: explain why doing those things would’ve actually impaired our free will. And if he could have done those things (without impairing free will) and chose not to, why say he’s moral? If you would’ve done any of those things if you had the power, are you not more moral than you describe him to be?

    Besides, I don’t mean to be unfair, but my suspicion is that you (and many atheists) are approaching subjects like this not simply from a purely materialistic viewpoint, but also from a strictly logical viewpoint.

    Now logic and reason is great and important and all that. But one makes a mistake if one expects human behavior to be in accordance with logic. We’re not Vulcans on Star Trek after all.

    This is unfair, but not for the reason you think. You yourself probably value evidence (the material world) and logic (consistency of beliefs) as much as we do. You want to have beliefs that are true, just like we do. When there’s no credible evidence to support your beliefs, you talk as though there’s something other than logic to judge the coherence of beliefs and something other than evidence to corroborate them. But if any good evidence of God showed up, you’d turn around and say you had justification in the material world for your belief.

    The problem with this approach to the issue is that it doesn’t allow that fear, greed, pride, etc. sometimes trump one’s sense of moral behavior and self-restraint.

    So God allows us our eternal destiny to be swayed by our base emotions? Again, he supposedly gave us those emotions. What possible reason could there be for him to make us fearful, greedy, proud, etc., in the first place? And if he did, and if our lives are some sort of test to see if we can overcome our base natures, why couldn’t he just let us know, unambiguously?

    So many questions, so few answers. And we can’t just say “it’s a mystery” unless we already have some other, independent reason to believe God exists. The line workers at a factory don’t always know or understand the reasons for the CEO’s orders, but at least they can verify that there actually is a CEO. We’re trying to figure out whether to believe God exists in the first place, so running into an endless stream of dead ends is not a promising sign.

  • Robert

    Jeff Dale, I do understand the point you are making and many of Christians have said the same thing- If there is a God and he is supposed to be all loving and all powerful, then why is there evil in the world and because there is evil, then he can’t exist.

    It is a debate that has waged for centuries and one we certainly won’t solve here, but the discussion is very worthwhile I think. C.S. Lewis even struggled with this thought. So did Einstein. They came down on opposite sides of the argument ultimately.

    I understand you to be saying that because there is evil in the world, then the Christian God as described in the Bible cannot exist. My point was simply that if you are going to use some of the attributes of the Christian God in the Bible to support that argument, then use all of them.

    You ( you in the universal sense, not you personally)look at evil in the world as evidence that the God I believe in can’t exist. I look at that same evil and see the sins of man who is actually conducting those atrocities. You look at a natural disaster and say if there was a God in control of the universe this wouldn’t have happened. I look at that same natural disaster and see it as a tragedy that God could have prevented but in his will and as part of his overall plan he didn’t so some better good must come out of it. I also see it as an opportunity to show the world an example of Christian’s acting like Christ and helping their fellow man. the same events, a different world view.

    A Christian believes that God is all loving, righteous and just and has faith in him despite the evil in the world and that by loving God and following his teachings, alot of senseless suffering could be avoided. That belief motivates millions of Christians to help alleviate that evil and suffering.

    First, don’t forget that according to the Christian belief, God created a perfect world. There was no evil or sin before the fall. He also created man with a free will that was necessary for us to be human and to love him freely. So a discussion of evil cannot exclude free will.

    The problem with the argument that God should not allow evil, is that he would have to stop ALL evil, including evil thoughts, otherwise your argument would still be made. To do that he must destroy our free will. Destroying our free will would destroy our ability to freely love him and would destroy who we are. Sure some people misuse that free will but that is not God’s fault. God doesn’t create someone to be a pedophile, they act out on their sick desires. Desires that they know are wrong. They are not innate desires that they don’t know are wrong. You can’t say that a Catholic priest doesn’t know its wrong- of course he does. People are born with a conscious to know what is right and wrong. You can’t blame God for people doing things they know is wrong.

    I am sure at some point in the past you have had the thought in anger that you wanted to harm someone. You didn’t act out on that thought. Why? Probably because you knew it was wrong. You made the choice not to ct out on your desires.

    Could he have created us without free will? Sure, but would you really like that? Would you really like to be a robot with no free thoughts? All in the seemingly altruistic thought of avoiding evil? The only reason you know joy is because you know sadness. If we never experienced one we could not appreciate or enjoy the other.

    Could he have created us all with the inability to question his existence? Or could he appear every Sunday night on the evening news and tell us he’s around? He could, but unless he destroys free will people would still question him and deny that it happened. Look at those who still deny how 9/11 occurred or that we actually went to the moon. The point being that because we have free will and all that entails, some people will misuse it and do evil, some will use it to decide there is no God, others will use it to love God and and others will use to to helps millions of people.

    You argue that there isn’t enough evidence, yet billions of people believe in God or in a diety of some sort. Very few people are true atheists according to the studies that firmly believe that there is no God. So I would suggest that the problem of not enough evidence is an individual problem- i,e,- not enough for you to believe. Believe in God comes to people in countless different ways. The “evidence” isn’t the same for everyone.

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

    Robert:

    If the Bible says that God is just, righteous and all loving, how does that make him immoral? Or are you just going to ignore that those attributes are given to God in the bible and pick and choose those which enforce your notion that he is evil and therefore can’t exist.

    No, I’m going to point out that simply defining a deity as having those attributes doesn’t mean it actually does. I can call myself a millionaire and still be dirt poor. And the things that Yahweh does in the Bible prove those claimed attributes to be false.

    If the god of the bible is really just, righteous, and all-loving, then he’s using an incredibly twisted definition of justice, righteousness, and love. Either he exists and the Bible is false, or he simply doesn’t exist.

    God says he doesn’t lie. God says he’s good and just and righteous and loving. Or, at least, a book says it. And we believe the book because God wrote it, and God doesn’t lie, so we know it’s true. Et cetera.

    As for your Roman quote, you took that out of context. Roman’s 2 goes on to say that the people Paul was talking about were those who even though they did not hear the law as was given to the Jews 9 the Gentiles), they had evidence to know that God existed and was real.

    Ah, yes… the “context” dodge.

    Are you saying that it was obvious to those people that god exists, but not to people now? Wouldn’t that mean that, contrary to scripture, God is a respecter of persons?

    NorDog is correct that God, even though he is all powerful, can’t be contradictory. He can’t contradict his own being and his own nature. He created humans with free will. Free will to choose how they would act and whether they would love him. Anything else would be against his nature, because to love someone anyway less then freely would not be true love.

    You keep saying can’t, can’t, can’t. Your implicit assertion is that the laws of logic are a force more powerful than your god. How could this possibly be so? What gave God his nature, and how does it restrict him from changing it?

    To say that God should have designed us in a way that we could not reject him, is just a different way of saying we should not have been designed with free will. If we didn’t have a choice to reject Him, we aren’t accepting him of our own free will.

    That’s just abject nonsense. You’re ignoring what I said. We are not able to freely choose to fly. An omnipotent being absolutely could design us in such a way that we could not freely choose to sin, and yet have free will of the limited sort you believe we do now. Such a deity make it physically impossible for us to sin. If you think it couldn’t, you’re just limiting your idea of what’s possible for a god to that which you can imagine.

    NorDog:

    Mike, do you really need an argument for that? Are you saying you think there is a God and he can create an uncreated being and he can force someone of free will to choose him?

    Mike, please don’t be contradictory for contradictory’s sake.

    Do you reject the concept of indemonstrable first principles, such as “the whole is greater than the part” or “a thing cannot be and not be in the same respect at the same time”?

    Do you require a demonstrable proof of them?

    You are asserting that a god that created the universe is restricted by the laws of logic. I assume that you have absolutely no basis for this claim apart from simple assertion. Or, if you do, please present it.

    Is God supreme, or are the logical absolutes supreme? On what grounds do you claim that a deity could not freely commit acts of logical contradiction?

    Now logic and reason is great and important and all that. But one makes a mistake if one expects human behavior to always be in accordance with logic. We’re not Vulcans on Star Trek after all.

    You’re now using an entirely different definition of logic, I assume… otherwise, everything we do must be in accordance with logic ;)

    You’re probably using ‘logic’ to mean ‘rationality’ here.

    Robert:

    I understand you to be saying that because there is evil in the world, then the Christian God as described in the Bible cannot exist. My point was simply that if you are going to use some of the attributes of the Christian God in the Bible to support that argument, then use all of them.

    You really are missing the point. Really.

    We live in a universe that directly contradicts the claimed attributes of its supposed creator. Even if you take all the attributes of the Christian god into account, they’re still contradicted by reality. Saying that god is just, righteous, and all-loving is still contradicted by reality. What attributes do you think we’re missing here? What attributes could possibly justify the claim that there is an all-loving, perfect god that created a universe full of suffering and a vast many creatures that he knew beforehand would be spending eternity suffering even more?

    I’m rather convinced that there can be no quantitative or qualitative attributes that could possibly offset that, when paired with the claim the this god loves everyone and doesn’t want anyone to perish.

    The problem with the argument that God should not allow evil, is that he would have to stop ALL evil, including evil thoughts, otherwise your argument would still be made. To do that he must destroy our free will. Destroying our free will would destroy our ability to freely love him and would destroy who we are.

    And? You prefer a deity that creates beings that can choose to cause suffering? This is the best that a perfect god could create in a perfect world?

    You don’t seem to be getting the major premises of your religion here: God made the rules. Sin causes separation because God says so. If the evil in the world is the result of man’s action, it’s because God set things up that way. Ultimately, the suffering in the world would have to be caused by God’s creation of humanity.

    Do you honestly think that God could not have given us free will and made us unable to sin?

    If God’s creation was perfect, why did man have the desire to sin in the first place? How could that possibly be called perfect?

    You need to be thinking about this from a perspective that includes much more than just scripture. Creating a character that is internally consistent is not difficult. Making it match up to reality is. And the Biblical god just doesn’t match up to reality.

    You argue that there isn’t enough evidence, yet billions of people believe in God or in a diety of some sort.

    For any given religion, there are more nonbelievers than believers. And the models of god that these various religions have are vastly different. Moreover, the models of god that the tens of thousands of sects of Christianity have are vastly different.

    How on earth is the popularity of belief in the generic concept of a deity evidence that it exists?

    I would suggest that the problem of not enough evidence is an individual problem- i,e,- not enough for you to believe. Believe in God comes to people in countless different ways. The “evidence” isn’t the same for everyone.

    Any evidence that cannot be confirmed by multiple people is not evidence – it’s conviction.

    If your god exists, and he has the attributes described of him in the bible, then there would be evidence of his existence that could be confirmed by everyone. In fact, you could prove your god’s existence to me or anyone else by taking him at his word – that anyone with faith the size of a mustard seed could move a mountain (Matthew 17:20). Or that whenever two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name (Matthew 18:19-20), that whatever they asked for would be done so that it could glorify God (John 14:13). I’m sure you could rustle up another couple of true believers and pray in Jesus’ name that something visible happened.

    And before you go off on a tangent about how you’re not supposed to test God, I can pre-empt you by showing that Jesus not only misrepresented the meaning of the passage he was quoting, but he misquoted it.

    In Luke 4:12, when Satan tells Jesus to throw himself to the floor of the temple to prove that God would save him, Jesus said “said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Satan was telling Jesus to put his abilities to the test.

    Jesus was misquoting Deuteronomy 6:16 – “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.”

    Commentaries on this passage say things like this about the meaning of ‘tempt’:

    By doubting his power, refusing lawful means, and abusing his graces.

    In other words, I would be the one tempting God, by doubting his power. It has nothing to do with demonstrating God’s ability. In fact, Moses did precisely that at Massah, the place referenced in the verse. Massah was the place where Moses struck a rock with his staff and it produced a spring of water, a miracle performed to convince the Israelites that Moses’ god was real after they’d begun to doubt and turn to other gods.

    And remember – if Moses can perform a miracle to prove God’s power, then so can you, “for there is no respect of persons with God” (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+2:11&version=KJVRomans 2:11). Either anyone can or nobody can.

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

    and of course I screw up the last link…

  • Jeff Dale

    Good thoughts Robert, for the most part, and well said. You won’t be surprised if I have counter-points, but well done nonetheless. :-)

    My point was simply that if you are going to use some of the attributes of the Christian God in the Bible to support that argument, then use all of them.

    This still puzzles me. I’m not trying to use some or all of the bible’s description of God to find him in the world. I’m looking at the world to see what description of God, if he exist, is appropriate. I’m willing to use any description in the bible that we have some plausible justification for using. Sure, there are plenty of things in the world that, if God exists, might justify calling him loving. But that only works if you assume he either doesn’t know about or can’t fix the bad stuff. “Loving” and “allows pointless suffering” are incompatible, so the question is whether there is pointless suffering. More on this momentarily.

    Btw, just to clarify, I wouldn’t say the biblical god “cannot” exist, but rather that he is wildly implausible — just as likely to exist as, say, Zeus or the Easter Bunny.

    You … look at evil in the world as evidence that the God I believe in [probably doesn't] exist. I look at that same evil and see the sins of man who is actually conducting those atrocities.

    But still, God supposedly made us and made all the rules, and could have made us and the rules different. Why should innocent people suffer from other people’s sinful acts? Hold that thought.

    You look at a natural disaster and say if there was a God in control of the universe this wouldn’t have happened. I look at that same natural disaster and see it as a tragedy that God could have prevented but in his will and as part of his overall plan he didn’t so some better good must come out of it.

    Here’s the logic that makes this work:

    [1] The all-loving, omnipotent God of the Christian bible exists.

    [2] We see moral and natural evils in the world that God could and would prevent, if he didn’t have overriding reasons not to do so.

    [3] Therefore, God has overriding reasons, such as:
    … [3a] Preserving free will.
    … [3b] Providing opportunities to model Christian love.
    … [3c] The need to know evil in order to know good.
    … [3d] Other reasons unknown to us.

    Let’s see if this works.

    I also see it as an opportunity to show the world an example of Christian’s acting like Christ and helping their fellow man. the same events, a different world view.

    Here’s [3b]. But I would ask, if the tsunami had killed 20,000 instead of over 200,000, or if 100 of today’s pedophiles had been created with more restraint or weaker urges, wouldn’t there still be plenty of opportunities to model Christian love? What reason is there to think that the amount of suffering in the world just happens to be the exact amount we need? Notice that we have no theory for explaining one seemingly arbitrary level of suffering versus another; we could perhaps agree that some amount of suffering was worthwhile, but I suspect that our natural compassion would lead us to agree on a much lower level. Thus, [1] enables us to shrug and trust God to set the level right, even if we don’t understand why it has to be so high. But if we don’t start with [1], we wouldn’t conclude [1] from the level of suffering we see.

    To see this, just imagine a Muslim telling you that the amount of suffering in the world is the exact amount necessary. You wouldn’t say, “Hey, whattaya know! The amount of suffering does seem like the exact amount that the god described in the Qu’ran would happen to need! I guess that makes Allah more plausible!” If you don’t start with [1], you’ll wonder why so much suffering is necessary and be skeptical until you get plausible answers.

    He also created man with a free will that was necessary for us to be human and to love him freely.

    This alludes to [3a]. But again, wouldn’t a pedophile with more restraint or weaker urges have at least as much free will as any other pedophile? Couldn’t God have given us the ability to master all our urges, so that our choice is truly free? Free will is supposed to be a good thing. Again, notice that we have no theory for explaining why someone with one personality would have less free will than someone who happened to be created with a different personality, or why the innocent victims of the toxic personalities should have to suffer, so the level of “sin” seems arbitrary. Thus, again, [1] enables us to shrug and trust, while if we didn’t start with [1], we wouldn’t conclude [1] from considerations of free will. Again, just imagine a Muslim claiming that Allah can’t make people different than they are without impairing free will, and you’ll wonder why Allah couldn’t get by with just one fewer tsunami victim, and be skeptical until given a plausible answer.

    The problem with the argument that God should not allow evil, is that he would have to stop ALL evil, including evil thoughts, otherwise your argument would still be made.

    You’ve misunderstood my argument. I don’t necessarily expect God to cure all evil. Even if some level of evil is necessary, it seems wildly implausible that so much is necessary. I only make my argument because even somewhat less suffering would seem make the world better. Think about it: every infanticide, every plague death, every genocide death, every minute of torture endured, every life made miserable by abuse or isolation, would have to necessary or offset by a greater good. Can you (or God) blame me for being skeptical?

    Sure some people misuse that free will but that is not God’s fault. God doesn’t create someone to be a pedophile, they act out on their sick desires. Desires that they know are wrong. They are not innate desires that they don’t know are wrong.

    But they are innate desires, and God is supposedly omnipotent. If he can’t impair our free choices, he could still have made us differently, or at least saved the innocent victims of our evil choices.

    Could he have created us without free will? Sure, but would you really like that? Would you really like to be a robot with no free thoughts?

    Again, I can’t imagine why making us with different natures would’ve destroyed, or even merely impaired, our free will. Was my free will destroyed when God made me not a pedophile? Would a pedophile become a “robot” if given instead a personality like mine?

    The only reason you know joy is because you know sadness.

    This suggests [3c]. But really, it’s just silly. Of course, we would still know joy if there was less sadness. And why should any sadness be necessary for joy anyway? If everyone had joy 100% of the time, we probably just wouldn’t have a name for it, but it would still be joy. And there are other ways to relieve the tedium (?) of endless joy than inflicting sadness. And finally, isn’t heaven supposed to be a place of endless joy? Do we need sadness in heaven too, or do we suddenly become able to “know” joy without sadness after we die?

    Could he have created us all with the inability to question his existence? Or could he appear every Sunday night on the evening news and tell us he’s around? He could, but unless he destroys free will people would still question him and deny that it happened.

    If he appeared to us in a way that was hard to explain without positing an extremely powerful being, a lot more people would believe. That’s what evidence does for us. Instead, he could just resolve the conflicting claims of different religions, thus making one seem obviously right, or in some other way become less hidden to us. He supposedly wants us to “know” him, right? As things stand, it’d be grossly unfair if he blamed us for being skeptical.

    You argue that there isn’t enough evidence, yet billions of people believe in God or in a diety of some sort.

    And they have wildly different ideas about his nature and desires, even within the same religion. Christians who attend the same church disagree on nearly every major moral issue of the day, from abortion to euthanasia. Could he be any less clear? And if any of those billions of believers had come up with credible evidence of the existence of his god, let alone his nature and desires, we would’ve known by now. Where is this evidence? Is there any reason to believe other than wish-thinking, reliance on popular opinion, or persistence in what one was taught in childhood?

    Very few people are true atheists according to the studies that firmly believe that there is no God.

    This is frankly absurd, and I can’t imagine where you got it, or why you don’t know it’s absurd if you’ve spent any time talking to actual atheists. By recent estimates, there are something like 3/4 of a billion humans today who doubt or disbelieve the existence of a god. And in any case, there are about 5 billion people who disbelieve in the Christian god, and you summarily dismiss their gods whose evidence is just as good as yours. You are an atheist too, and you have the same justification in your atheism as we do. You just choose not to examine your own faith in the same way.

    One last thing: [3d]. You didn’t mention this, but would you care to take it on? When all of the above is considered and nothing is working, you could fall back on “there must be a reason we don’t know.” Again, the logic is like this: God exists, and things happen that we wouldn’t expect him to allow, but since he does allow them, he must have a reason we don’t know. Obviously, this doesn’t work unless we start with [1]. It’s a tacit admission that the arguments indicating the implausibility of God (including those outlined above) are right, but that you have some other reason to believe that overrides them. What is this reason? Why start with [1]?

    I maintain that all of these questions and dilemmas disappear if you just let go of the implausible assertion of God’s existence. You think otherwise, but can you directly explain away these questions and dilemmas, rather than side-stepping them or replacing them with your own caricatures of my arguments? Any of them?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Mike Clawson, you may be right there. The same basic point was made in a university course on Islam I took earlier this year. Via a comparison it was explained that the position that Jesus Christ holds in Christianity is the same as what the Qur’an occupies in Islam. So, clarification accepted.

    I’ve heard that same comparison in my own courses here at a liberal Christian seminary.

    At any rate, my clarification was in support of your overall point. If anything, the differences between a liberal and conservative view of scripture make the contrast between the two groups even more pronounced. They are NOT both using the same book as justification for their beliefs. The conservative uses (their own selective interpretation of) the Bible as a foundation for their beliefs, while the liberal Christian references scripture (through the lens of historical-critical scholarship), but also balances this with many others sources of knowledge, including both reason and experience.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Nordog:

    My focus has been on making the point that Hell is not something of which someone is a victim, rather it is the consequence of choices.

    Neither you nor Robert addressed my previous questions about choice. I really don’t understand the assertion that people can choose what to believe. Does your mind work that way? If you visited India and someone told you to start believing in Vishnu, could you actually do it? It would be impossible for me to do that, and I would imagine it would be impossible for you to do it, too, because neither of us has the slightest reason to believe that Vishnu is real instead of imaginary.

    Anyone can go through the motions. Anyone can attend religious services. Anyone can read religious scriptures. Anyone can pretend to pray to a god. Those are all choices. But I just don’t get how someone can actually make a choice to believe in something if they aren’t convinced of its veracity. I never chose to be an atheist, and I couldn’t choose to start believing in deities. That’s just not how my mind works.

  • P. Coyle

    P. Coyle, your discussion wholly misses the notion of God’s grace and the Bible is very clear that we are saved by grace through faith. I won’t even address the warped notion of infantcide because that is simply stupid, other then to say that any good non insane Christian mother would never hold that rational.

    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that dead baby is not saved, because babies are obviously in no position to have faith. I will provisionally accept what I think to be your claim that the Bible is clear in the implication that any infant who dies is damned for all eternity. I will also accept the implication that a Christian mother whose baby dies ought to rest assured that her baby is certainly hell-bound. Pardon me if I still seem a little uncertain about what you are trying to say, but I’m still trying to feel out exactly what you believe. Christians are all over the map when it comes to the question of who is saved, who is damned, and why, and it often takes a certain amount of poking and prodding to determine where any particular Christian stands.

    Catholics by the way, seem to be somewhat undecided about the matter, although for them the issue is not one of faith, but of baptism. Some Catholics hold that maybe, just maybe, unbaptized infants get to go to heaven after they die. Others say, nope, if the baby dies unbaptized, to hell it goes. Still others hold to the theory of Limbo, which I guess is a kind of baby hell. Perhaps the Bible is clear, but Catholics aren’t necessarily as bibliolotrous as evangelicals.

    The notion of loving parental infanticide that I presented was based on a logically valid argument. You reject the argument because you reject one of the key premises as false. Fair enough, but an argument with a false premise can still be logically valid. Someone who accepted that premise — that a loving God would not condemn a dead baby to eternal damnation for lacking faith (something it could not possibly have had), but would instead treat the baby as saved — would either have to accept the argument, or reject another of the premises. There are certainly Christian sects who accept the premise in question (my in-laws belong to such a sect), but perhaps they are heretics. I certainly don’t claim that they actually follow the logic of their beliefs to its obvious conclusion.

    I do tend to accept the premise that, whoever or whatever he loves, a god who condemns dead babies to hell cannot be said to love babies. At the very least, he doesn’t love dead babies, nor apparently does he love the live ones that he allows to die. I do not use this as an argument for saying that the god in which you believe does not exist. I only say that, if your god does exist, your characterization of it as loving requires a certain amount of qualification.

  • Nordog

    “Neither you nor Robert addressed my previous questions about choice. I really don’t understand the assertion that people can choose what to believe. Does your mind work that way?”

    Anna, I only have a moment right now for a reply. Let me just say that my position is that everyone has a different path in life, however, if one seeks for truth on its own terms, then God will provide. He may not provide in the time or manner one would desire, but He will provide.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Nordog:

    Anna, I only have a moment right now for a reply. Let me just say that my position is that everyone has a different path in life, however, if one seeks for truth on its own terms, then God will provide. He may not provide in the time or manner one would desire, but He will provide.

    So what does that mean? My “path in life” is to be an atheist, but if I’m sincerely interested in the truth, then eventually your deity will reveal itself to me? I guess that’s okay as far as it goes, but I have to question why you’d want to believe in a deity that hides and plays mind games with people. There are plenty of folks who are atheists for their entire lives and indeed die as atheists. According to your beliefs, are lifelong atheists not interested in truth? It makes it sound like you think we’re lying or insincere. I just don’t get it, and I still don’t see how this addresses the issue of choice.

  • Jeff Dale

    @NorDog:

    Let me just say that my position is that everyone has a different path in life, however, if one seeks for truth on its own terms, then God will provide. He may not provide in the time or manner one would desire, but He will provide.

    Hi. Whenever you get a chance, a few quick follow-ups seem necessary. I mean these questions sincerely.

    Should we atheists, who are “pursuing truth on its own terms,” assume that atheism is the path God had in mind for us? Or should we assume we’re mistaken and turn to a religious path that seems to us (given the way God made us) to be a seriously compromised pursuit of truth? If the former, does God intend for us to be “separated” from him after death, whatever that might mean? Why then did he make us? And if the latter, why would God give us a mind and expect us to pretend we don’t notice some of its conclusions? Or, for that matter, does God vainly crave insincere worship from us?

    As for “God will provide,” isn’t that just another way of saying we don’t know why he does what he does, but eventually we’ll get what he thinks we need? It’s like, “believe now, he’ll vindicate your belief later.” It’s a last resort when we can’t figure out how to reconcile God with what we experience in the world, but we want to keep believing anyway. “God exists” is assumed, and we figure out as much as we can from there, but ultimately have to punt without finding any really satisfying answers. Where does one get the faith to do that?

  • Jeff P

    @Anna,

    I agree with your comments about choice.

    I think religious belief is largely subconscious.
    People only consciously rationalize it after the fact.

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

    Let me just say that my position is that everyone has a different path in life, however, if one seeks for truth on its own terms, then God will provide. He may not provide in the time or manner one would desire, but He will provide.

    What does it even mean to “seek for truth on its own terms”? Does this phrase actually have a meaning?

  • Jeff Dale

    seek for truth on its own terms

    I interpreted this as something like, “being open to the truth, without imposing our biases and desires on it.” But perhaps I should’ve been more attentive. It could also mean something like, “being open to accepting something as truth even if it doesn’t look like truth.” In that sense, isn’t that how religious faith works?

  • Robert

    Jeff Dale, I will answer your issues tomorrow. Its late where I am now.

    P,.Coyle- Your argument is not logical nor is it a correct interpretation of Christianity.

    It is my believe that babies who die are not judged for a lack of faith. God is just and righteous . But that being the case, does not mean that Christian mothers would kill their babies before they get to the age of accountability. Instead they would raise them to love God and pray they would become Christians knowing that to kill them would go against the beliefs they live by. Instead of killing their child to assure heaven, they would teach that child about God knowing that the child has free will to decide for itself. that is consistent with their beliefs. Your argument goes completely against their beliefs and for that reason it makes no logical sense.

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

    Not really. After all, if a murderer can be forgiven for murder by becoming born again, it makes perfect sense that a mother could kill her child to assure its place in heaven and then ask god for forgiveness.

    By the way… can you provide a justification for your belief that babies aren’t condemned for their lack of faith, considering that the Bible says that people are sinful at their birth – or even at their conception (Psalm 51:5)? Why do you believe what you believe, other than that to believe otherwise (i.e., to believe the logical consequence of what the Bible actually says) would make your deity repulsive?

  • Aj

    There’s an outstanding display of ignorance on what the “new atheists” are actually saying. It’s as if they haven’t tried to understand. I think it says a lot about Gibbon, Clawson, and Scofield that they can’t state the argument that they’re trying to refute. Although I suspect this will not help them, as they’re not interested in reason or truth, I will try to state the arguments against religion. Perhaps it will help others who are genuinely interested. It first helps to understand terminology. Religions are systems of supernatural beliefs, also the social structures and practices that come about from those beliefs. Religions are not “used” or “misused”, they are adhered to or adopted.

    The argument isn’t that moderate (not “liberal”) beliefs support extremist beliefs. This is absurd, those belief are most of the time opposites. It’s absolute fantasy to suggest that the “new atheists” claim that extremists receive confirmation for their beliefs from moderates.

    The argument is that by societies general promotion of faith (wish-thinking, believing despite of evidence) as a virtue, the concept that certain books have authority, and the idea that there is a God and it communicates through revelation. These are religious concepts, all highly supported by moderate religion, and faith and revelation are required and promoted by all religion. It would require a significant lack of intelligence not to make a connection between these common factors and extremist religious views. Religion is not value neutral, religion values irrationality.

    The claim is not that religion can only result in negative outcomes. Dennett and Harris see certain religions as a benign influence. Dawkins contends that while its possible, claims of religion doing good can be better explained by innate morals in many cases. Hitchens views religion as a negative force on the basis of freedom, but doesn’t deny positive works by religious people. Hitchens agrees with Dawkins, and challenged anyone to name something good done in the name of religion that couldn’t be justified by a secular person. This of course is followed by the obvious fact that I believe all “new atheists” agree: religions can have beliefs that justify acts that no good secular person could. Summed up by Steven Weinberg:

    With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

    In conclusion, I will try to sum up the “new atheists” stance: Irrational beliefs in absence of or despite evidence are dangerous and they often lead to much harm. Promoting such beliefs referred to as “faith” is irresponsible. Adopting the values of the Enlightenment would be a good step in the right direction.

  • Steve

    I think it depends on what exactly the “problem” here is. Is it religion or the belief in a god in general? Or is the negative influence organized religion has on society in many countries? (and that’s really the main problem with extremist religions/sects)

    If it’s the former, then an atheist has a problem with it in any case. They might go about it in different ways. They may not be as a overt and overbearing. But they still believe and that in itself is wrong from an atheist POV.

    If it’s the latter, however, some kind of liberal church could be a good thing, depending on how it’s done. Or at the least it wouldn’t be a bad thing. They could still believe, but maybe they keep that to themselves and don’t try to dictate their doctrine on all of society.

  • Robert

    Mike the Infidel- Look at these passages-

    Deuteronomy 1:39- God acknowledges that children have no knowledge of good and evil and aren’t held accountable

    Isaiah 7:16- “before the child shall know to refuse evil and choose good”- God knows the difference

    2 Samuel 12:12-23- King David being told by God that he will be with his baby boy in Heaven

    Condemnation not based upon original state but upon rejection of God- Luke 10:16; John 12:48; Romans 1 and 2; 1 Thess. 4:8

    God will judge righteously and justly- 1 Cor. 4:5
    Heb 4:12-13; Eccl 12:14, Romans 2:15-16

    There is ample Biblical support for the doctrine that even though we are born into a state of sin, that God will not judge us for that state until we reach the age that we can know him and reject him.

  • Robert

    Anna,

    I realize that you are asking this question sincerely and that you believe that you simply can’t choose to believe in something and as such you can never choose to believe in God. But you are selling yourself short and in actuality do choose to believe in things everyday. Based upon the evidence you see before you in any given situation you act based upon some level of belief. If you didn’t you would be frozen and unable to do anything. For example you hop on a plane believing that the airline has done everything they can to give you a safe trip, you drive through a green light trusting and believing that the other drivers will stop at their red light, you trust your spouse or significant other and believe that they will be faithful so you open your heart in faith. Those are all choices you make to believe in things.

    Starting a belief in God is much the same way. It is a longing to know Him and an open and sincere search. He takes over from there. There are countless people who at one time in their lives professed to be atheists and then converted to believers- the Apostle Paul, C.S. Lewis, Anthony Flew, Chuck Colson, Lee Strobel, etc… So the fact that you profess to be an atheist today does not mean that you will always be that way.

    God reveals himself through general revelation (the creation) and through special revelation (the Bible, the apostles, etc..) He also uses events or people in people’s lives to reveal himself to people.

  • Robert

    Jeff Dale,

    Very thoughtful comments. Thanks you.

    I would start my response with the question- If God doesn’t exist, where does evil come from? If there is no God as described in the Bible why is there any evil in the world at all? Wouldn’t evolution have already weeded out all the evil people? Wouldn’t evolution have already cut down the desires of a pedophile to the point that those folks don’t do harm to innocent children? Wouldn’t evolution have already weeded out all disease? Evolution has had billions of years and these problems are still here. Evolution could have fixed these problems by now but it hasn’t. Because there is evil, evolution must not be real.

    That is in essence the argument you are making. I understand the distinction between evolution and the attributes the Bible gives to God. I am just trying to point out the logical flaw. Just because something is not how you would like it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    You are professing the argument made famous by David Hume. The attempted logical argument that any level of evil means that there can be no all powerful God. That argument though is flawed because is ignores the notion that there may be an overriding better reason for evil to be allowed by God. This notion means that the seemingly logical conclusion outline by Hume and you is not necessary.

    There could be many reasons, some of which I outlined before. The overriding one I believe is moral free will. Enough free will to make moral choices. C.S. Lewis said it best:

    C. S. Lewis writes in his book The Problem of Pain:
    “ We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them.”

    And all of your arguments get down to what I mentioned earlier- if in fact the presence of evil is used as the basis for denying the existence of God, then logically you must say that the mere presence of any evil proves that and thus God must get rid of all evil before you would say there is a God. One pedophile is too many. One murder is too many. But the dilemma you pose is not solved by saying therefore there is no God. It is solved in saying that God has created us with sufficient free will to make moral choices and the suffering is caused by us exercising that free will in a way that harms others.

  • Steve

    You don’t even know what evolution is. You rely on a typical anti-evolution argumentation and claim that we think everything is about evolution. It’s not. At least not for humans. While there is evidence for even short-term genetic variations in humans (recently discovered in Tibetians), we have very complex thought patterns. We can decide for ourselves and aren’t bound by our instincts. Let’s call it free will. What we do isn’t bound by our genetic makeup.

    None of the things you listed are determined by genetics. They are behavioral traits caused by external factors. For example society, upbringing, psychological conditions. The reasons are myriad and way too complex to discuss here, but they aren’t rooted in some inborn drive to do bad things.

    Disease? Have you thought about this for even a nanosecond? Aside from genetic disorders (which can be hereditary or come from errors during cell replication for example) and things that simply go wrong during the function of our bodies, many diseases are caused by different organisms! Viruses and bacteria. Yes, evolution clearly applies to them. Especially to them, because they reproduce incredibly fast. But it’s not human evolution. So why would they have died out? They are by far the most adaptable, survivable lifeforms on the planet (I’m applying this loosely to viruses here).

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Robert:

    I realize that you are asking this question sincerely and that you believe that you simply can’t choose to believe in something and as such you can never choose to believe in God.

    It’s not that I believe I can’t. It’s that I actually can’t. Did you read my previous comparison to Vishnu? I’d willing to bet a million dollars that you, not coming from a Hindu background, could not choose to believe in Vishnu. If that’s true for you, why wouldn’t it be true for me? If someone coming from a non-Hindu background is unable to believe in a Hindu deity, then why wouldn’t someone coming from a non-Christian background be unable to believe in a Christian deity?

    But you are selling yourself short and in actuality do choose to believe in things everyday. Based upon the evidence you see before you in any given situation you act based upon some level of belief.

    Your analogy to airplane and car safety seems to indicate that you just don’t get what we’re talking about. We’re talking about believing in the existence of something. I can’t believe something exists if I have seen absolutely no evidence for it. Evidence is key. I see no evidence to support belief in the supernatural. I have never seen evidence that would make me even consider anything along those lines. If I saw it, I would consider it. I’m not closed-minded. But I don’t see anything to support the assertion that any deity exists, let alone a specific deity from a specific culture.

    Starting a belief in God is much the same way. It is a longing to know Him and an open and sincere search. He takes over from there. There are countless people who at one time in their lives professed to be atheists and then converted to believers- the Apostle Paul, C.S. Lewis, Anthony Flew, Chuck Colson, Lee Strobel, etc… So the fact that you profess to be an atheist today does not mean that you will always be that way.

    I think it’s a lost cause. You start off assuming a particular god, and that’s a product of your cultural conditioning. You have to already think the biblical deity is more likely to exist than other deities. So you have to want to believe in your deity to believe in your deity, basically. Seems like an endless circle. As I’ve said, the problem here is the lack of evidence that we live in anything other than a purely material world, not the existence or non-existence of particular gods or goddesses. I don’t consider deities the main issue. They’re only one of many supernatural things I don’t believe in. I don’t believe in spirits or angels or ghosts either.

    God reveals himself through general revelation (the creation) and through special revelation (the Bible, the apostles, etc..) He also uses events or people in people’s lives to reveal himself to people.

    Well, that’s the problem. You already start off with an assumption of your god, and you consider everything around you evidence of your god. I do not. A book is not evidence of any god. The physical world is not evidence of any god. If that’s all you’ve got, then I don’t understand why you have such a hard time seeing the reasons people don’t believe in it. Again, your specific god is not the main problem. I’m just looking for evidence of the supernatural. Once I’ve got that, then I could begin to consider various specific supernatural claims.

    If your god wants me to believe in it, it can change my mind quite easily. If it created my brain, it knows what evidence to provide. The fact that it hasn’t done so indicates that it either doesn’t want me to believe in it, or it doesn’t exist. And of course I see no evidence to believe that human conceptions of deities are any more likely to be real than human conceptions of unicorns or mermaids. There are thousands upon thousands of deities from a wide range of human cultures, and there is no reason to believe any one of them is real. If deities did exist (unlikely, but theoretically possible), I think they would be far beyond the understanding of mortals.

  • Aj

    There’s no breaking through circular reasoning like that.

    a) All arguments from design are logically fallacies, arguments from ignorance. The only reason you think God is revealed through “creation” is you think it is a “creation” because you believe in a God.

    b) There’s no evidence that the Bible is genuine revelation, and there are plenty of other examples of claimed revelation with the same amount of evidence supporting them (i.e. none). No one believes in the Bible because they used reason or evidence.

    c) Viewing events and people as God revealing himself is confirmation bias and superstition, it’s irrational. We are biased to see intention in natural events, this can be explained by evolution. There is plenty of misplaced attribution to agents throughout history to make the case that we’re really bad at discerning intention.

    Lee Strobel is a liar, he was never an atheist, what he says about the time he claimed to be an atheist doesn’t make sense. Anthony Flew is senile, his failing logic is sad, but not failing enough to become a Christian, so apparently a different God revealed himself by attacking Flew’s brain. There are plenty of examples of atheists turning theist, I just found it surprising that the ones picked were some of the worst anyone could pick.

    Freewill is an illusion. Neuroscience suggests many choices are made before the self is aware of it. Genes, chemical states, memory, situations all effect outcomes like murder. How can a God that interferes so much according to scripture and apparently reveals himself all the time be accused of making free will void if he interferes with the brain so that people are less likely to commit sins? Freewill is a nonsense from a pre-scientific ignorant age, but it’s a convenient lie for theists. It’s no better than blaming disease on demons.

    Anyone who claims that belief is a choice is in heavy denial. I ask them to believe in unicorns or some other supernatural being, as a choice, but they never come back and say they’ve done it. They just ignore the challenge, it’s like they can’t read something that contradicts their irrationally held beliefs. If belief isn’t a choice then there’s an awful lot of problems with their theology.

  • Robert

    Aj,

    If belief isn’t a matter of choice, then why do some atheists change their minds and believe and others do not?

    I would say the same to you- anyone who doesn’t see that belief is a choice is in heavy denial. They are rationalizing their lack of belief.

    As for my analogy about evolution, I mentioned that to make a point. But really the questions weren’t answered. Steve, aren’t we finding out that alot of diseases are caused by genetics? Of course not all of them. But the point I was making was more basic- the fact that humans have not evolved enough so that these don’t exist doesn’t mean that you would say that evolution is not true. That would not be logical. It was an analogy to the argument that because there is evil there is not God. An equally illogical argument.

  • Aj

    Robert,

    I didn’t understand your point about changing minds in the first place. Belief isn’t a matter of choice. People change beliefs all the time. These things aren’t mutually exclusive. Obviously I have given one example, someone’s mind wasn’t functioning as well as it did. A lot of the time people become emotionally receptive to irrationality. Sometimes theists lose their faith because of bad events, which is irrational, but happens. The converse is true, sometimes good things happen to atheists and they irrationally believe. Events, mental states, propensity of almost everyone to attribute natural events to agency, and the infinite capacity of humans to come to mistaken conclusions.

    Whether belief is a choice doesn’t effect my lack of belief. It causes problems for your theology, but not other theologies, that I also don’t believe. I don’t need to rationalize anything concerning belief for my lack of belief. Perhaps it’s because you never were truly an atheist you don’t understand this.

    I recommend reading an introductory book on evolution. Evolution isn’t some predetermined plan, or progress towards ever better qualities that we would be interested in, there’s no evolving “enough”. Natural selection, survival of genes that are successful at reproducing themselves, is what drives evolution. There are many ways genetic diseases will not have pressure on them to cease. One way is that they benefit the organism in other ways, such as sickle-cell anaemia and malaria. Another way is that they’re only detrimental when they’re combined with other genes, or there are two copies such as recessive genes. Also genetic disease doesn’t mean they’re necessary hereditary in origin, they could of course be mutations. Evolution is not progressing towards not having genetic diseases. There has not been as far as I’m aware a steady decline in genetic diseases.

    Also I don’t understand your point. The question is could God, being the all powerful being some claim, make a world with less evil in it?

  • Jeff Dale

    @Robert:

    If belief isn’t a matter of choice, then why do some atheists change their minds and believe and others do not?

    Beliefs are not “chosen” like one chooses what to order at a restaurant. We always “choose” the alternative that seems most justified or most likely to be true.

    I believe the plane won’t crash because the number of flights vastly exceeds the number of crashes, and I have reason to believe that if the reporting on those two numbers was way off, people would notice.

    I believe that my wife is faithful to me because I’ve been with her for years and, although I’m not an exceptional judge of character and behavior, my experience with her strongly suggests that I know her well enough to be confident of her fidelity.

    Unless I’m gripped by irrational fear, I cannot just “choose” to believe that the plane will crash, until I see evidence that outweighs or overrides the public knowledge of airline safety. Perhaps the particular plane I happen to be on has a flight crew who are acting drunk and despondent.

    Unless I’m gripped by paranoia, I cannot just “choose” to believe that my wife is unfaithful, until I acquire some reason to downplay or disregard my years of experience with her. Perhaps I came home and surprised her in bed with someone I don’t know.

    Unless we’re being irrational, none of us (you included) can “choose” to believe in God’s existence until we are persuaded that God’s existence is the most likely or most justified alternative. (Clearly, you’re persuaded, and I’m not.) If I were “longing to know him,” as you put it, I would already have decided he probably exists, or perhaps wanted to convince myself that he exists because I want to become a part of what so many other theists are enjoying.

    Of course, if I want strongly enough to convince myself that he exists, my quest to discover the truth of his existence has just become biased in favor of believing that he exists, irrespective of the truth. Any proposition that one must want very much to believe in order to believe seems pretty doubtful. How was it for you? Did you long to know him, or was there a time when you were genuinely neutral on the question and were then persuaded by reasons to believe that he exists? If the latter, what were those reasons to believe?

    Note that since our beliefs, even religious beliefs, must reflect what seem to us to be the most justified or most likely alternatives, changes in belief must indicate either that we have acquired new reasons to believe that changed the weight of alternatives, or that we have reached a different conclusion on our earlier estimation of the weight of alternatives (perhaps because of a change in our biases, or because we recognize a mistake in our earlier estimation). Some theists become atheists after, say, reading the bible for themselves. Some atheists become theists for reasons that are unknown to me, but might be legitimate for all I know; or perhaps it’s wish-thinking, wanting to believe that a supreme being is looking after us and our lives can go on forever. In either direction, when they reconsider an old belief, they do so in light of whatever evidence they happen to have at the time, and under the influence of whatever biases they happen to have at the time, either of which could be different than the last time around. But in every case, their “choice” is still constrained to whatever the evidence and their biases point them to.

    With that in mind, I have to ask: If the reasons to believe that persuaded you of God’s existence were shown to be fallacious, and no new reasons to believe in God’s existence were forthcoming, would you change your estimation of the weight of alternatives? I’m not talking about conclusive proof that God cannot exist. (Don’t hold your breath.) I mean a demonstration that all the reasons given for belief in God don’t work, so that you’d have to be irrational (wish-thinking) to go on believing in spite of not having working reasons.

    This is easy to misunderstand, so I suggest thinking of it this way. For each reason to believe that God exists, imagine if the exact same evidence pointed to the existence of some other deity, such as Zeus. For example, you might say something like, “I feel God’s love in my life.” Now imagine someone else saying “I feel Zeus’s love in my life.” I assume this won’t make you even slightly more inclined to believe that Zeus exists. You know you can’t just say that Zeus “exists for him but not for me,” because Zeus either exists or does not exist. So if you think the Zeus-believer is vastly overestimating the likelihood of Zeus’s existence based on his subjective feelings, you should wonder how you justify (to yourself, not to anyone else) why your subjective feeling is persuasive to you. If it’s persuasive to you because you already believe in God, that doesn’t necessarily mean your belief in God is mistaken, but it does at a minimum mean that you have to recognize the likelihood of confirmation bias and stop thinking that your subjective feeling is a true “reason to believe.” You might have other reasons, but they’re subject to the same honest examination.

    If, after examining all your reasons, you found that none of them is persuasive on its own when examined in this way, then you would’ve determined to your own satisfaction that you have no legitimate reason to believe in God’s existence. You’d have to admit that on any other proposition but God’s existence, you would not be persuaded by such faulty reasons. To go on believing under such circumstances would be irrational. You would be an atheist, not by choice, but because you’re persuaded it’s the most justified and most likely alternative.

    On the other hand, if you can’t or won’t even undergo the honest examination in the first place, you’re being willfully irrational, refusing to pursue truth because you don’t want to admit that your belief might be mistaken. This overwhelming tendency, among moderates and extremists alike, to exempt one’s religious views from one’s own normal rules of belief-formation, and to refuse to notice that one has done so, and to preserve this charade by insisting that we tolerate everyone else engaging in their own respective self-deceptions, is the reason why many of us believe (most justified, most likely) that moderate faith enables extremist faith, in spite of the obvious differences in the specifics of their beliefs.

  • Robert

    Jeff Dale,

    Such an examination would be fruitful if there was the same non subjective evidence for Zeus as there is for God. The reasons I believe are vast and varied. From the logical arguments, to the biblical truths found through archeology, to the history of Christianity, to the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus, to the proof of Jesus’ life outside of the Bible, etc. That is evidence for me that is not personal or subjective such as how God has worked in my life or those lives that I have seen.

  • http://Religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    @Robert,

    Your own comments here seem to suggest that you first believed and then later on went fishing for reasons to rationally justify your beliefs. From what you described, any “choice” you made was subsequent rationalizations of a previous sub-conscious restructuring of thoughts and emotions in your brain. We all do this. This is probably how all important decisions are made in our lives. To suppose that there is a God gracing and damming people based on these uncontrollable subconscious mental processes is a bit ridiculous.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Robert

    Such an examination would be fruitful if there was the same non subjective evidence for Zeus as there is for God. The reasons I believe are vast and varied. From the logical arguments

    The logical arguments apply to gods and not to any specific god such as the one favoured by Christians. They are not compelling and a close examination of the arguments on any atheist forum will demonstrate why.

    to the biblical truths found through archeology

    Archaeological evidence for real places and events is just as strong for the Olympian pantheon as it is for the Hebrew deity. Moreso if you take into account the strong contradictory evidence of a global flood.

    to the history of Christianity

    Every religion on the planet has a history. Some are better documented than others. Scientology or the Jehohah’s Witnesses have a very detailed history. Islam is replete with historical claims that can be verified. Buddhism has a strong history and Hinduism has a history that goes back 4500 years. Why are you discounting them?

    to the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus

    This is as compelling as the evidence for the resurrection of Mithras. Actually on this particular topic the evidence is contradictory and confusing. the only accounts we have of course come from the bible and these accounts are very different where they exist at all. In addition there are described events that have absolutely no corroborating or independent support such as the resurrection of the dead in Matthew.

    to the proof of Jesus’ life outside of the Bible

    There isn’t any. The historical Jesus uses critical analysis of the gospel texts and some commentary from contemporary scholars interested in the beliefs of the Jews and the offshoot cult of Christianity.

    That is evidence for me that is not personal or subjective such as how God has worked in my life or those lives that I have seen.

    It is entirely personal and subjective unless you are able to demonstrate some objective evidence of divine intervention within your life or the lives of others. There are enough reports that someone, somewhere must be able to produce some evidence that can be corroborated independently. It can’t all be personal testimony can it?

    Well of course it can and that should tell you something.

    However with that all said it isn’t the stories and myths of pantheons and gods that form the basis of most people’s faith but their upbringing and traditions within their local culture. The concept of deities itself is where atheists fail to adopt. This occurs as a higher level than those of individual deities. Before producing arguments for this god or that god the question of gods existence needs to be addressed and that requires prior examination of what a god is? These arguments are not often explored and when they are they are not compelling.

  • Jeff Dale

    @Robert:

    Such an examination would be fruitful if there was the same non subjective evidence for Zeus as there is for God. The reasons I believe are vast and varied. From the logical arguments, to the biblical truths found through archeology, to the history of Christianity, to the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus, to the proof of Jesus’ life outside of the Bible, etc. That is evidence for me that is not personal or subjective such as how God has worked in my life or those lives that I have seen.

    Thanks. I’ll give you this: you’re remarkably tolerant and patient with our persistent challenges to your views, unlike so many theists who cry persecution at even the mildest of openly expressed unbelief. Now I’m going to have to dial down my restraint a little bit, but please understand that it’s out of respect for you as a human who deserves better than the ideas you cling to.

    I’ve read the logical arguments. I’m familiar with all of the popular variations. I’ve also read very persuasive refutations of them. By “persuasive,” I mean they’re persuasive to anyone who’s trying to figure out if the logical arguments give reasonable justification for belief in the existence of God. Of course, they’re not persuasive for people who assume God exists and hang onto the merely possible. Incidentally, even William Lane Craig doesn’t say that these arguments establish specifically the Christian god (i.e., they’re equally effective in establishing Zeus), but must be combined with other evidence.

    As for the bible, there are a lot of problems, even if you want to believe there’s something transcendent about it. It’s cobbled together and internally inconsistent. It’s written in widely varying writing styles, indicating multiple authors, sometimes from chapter to chapter within the same book. Many parts of the bible are admitted even by conservative scholars to be forgeries and fabrications, while the rest of it is of uncertain provenance at best. The Gospels themselves were written decades after when Jesus is supposed to have died, and were almost certainly not written by eyewitnesses, but instead derived from a long chain of oral stories told by highly superstitious people, and written down by evangelists who presumably were motivated to make their stories competitive in the religious marketplace. And even the originals of those texts, as of the rest of the bible, are apparently lost, so we only have copies of copies of copies. And of course, what’s actually in the bible today was selected from a variety of dubious texts by a group of church leaders a few centuries after Jesus is supposed to have died, while the remaining texts were suppressed (and their adherents oppressed). Even if Jesus did exist and the preachings attributed to him in the bible are somewhat accurate, he was evidently convinced that the world would end very soon (oops), so he urged people to abandon their families, homes, and jobs to follow him (and obviously indicates no interest in anyone forming a church). Plus, the bible is chock full of morally offensive passages (involving genocide, slavery, etc.) that were endorsed by Jesus and simply can’t be explained away, reputed visions can now be explained by modern brain science, and so on, and so on.

    Archeology and history? There’s no mention of Jesus, or of any of the incredible events attributed to his life and death, by most of the Roman and other historians of the time (who would certainly have known and chronicled them), and the few references found are extremely vague and possibly inserted by pious forgers much later. There is no archeological evidence of any of the events of the Gospels. Archeologists, including the religiously-motivated ones, have also concluded that the Exodus, the Flood, and many other events of the bible almost certainly didn’t happen, from among other things the continuity of ancient Jewish habitation, the absence of corroborating records in Egypt, the implausibility of the number of people and animals departing Egypt, as well as the number of Egyptian people and animals killed, the absence of evidence of a worldwide flood, the problems with all that water (where it came from, why it didn’t alter the earth’s rotation, where it went, etc.), the problems of having two of every species living on a boat and then somehow migrating back to their normal habitats all over the world and repopulating them without the genetic problems of inbreeding, and so on, and so on.

    And evolution, which you mentioned above? The evidence is so overwhelming, there is so much supporting data and physical evidence, from the fossil record to the genome, that it’s simply ludicrous to deny it. The price for denying evolution is monstrous; dozens of scientific disciplines would have to be redrawn from scratch or discarded altogether. More than that, you’d have to argue that thousands or millions of scientists, across the decades and around the world, have concealed a huge secret, conspiring to fabricate evidence, write and then peer review mountains of published papers, educate new scientists in the deception while indoctrinating them into the secret, and all the while never a peep about it leaked out to the public. No scientist with a guilty conscience, no disgruntled spouses or academic rivals exposing the conspiracy, no grad students horrified when let in on the secret, no careless emails or mislaid notes hinting at this massive fraud, no undercover journalists turning something up, nothing, nothing, nothing. Many theists at least have the sense to accept evolution but argue that God somehow guided it, though there’s no evidence of that, and it’s actually extremely unlikely given that God would’ve had to have guided it in such a way as to make everything come out exactly as the statistics and models say it should if it’s unguided in every detail. And really, do you want to believe that your god is so deceptive as to lay all these fossils in the ground, design us and all other species with DNA showing unmistakable signs of having evolved, allow us to see micro-evolution in action (pepper moths, birds of Galapagos, microbes vs. antibiotics, etc.) and to breed and domesticate animals (artificial selection), both using the same mechanisms as macro-evolution, and ultimately allow us to gather oceans of evidence in favor of evolution, just so some of his more favored mammals could wish it all away in a breathtaking act of stubborn faith?

    I’m aware that there are apologists who seem to think they’ve answered all of these objections. What they’ve actually done is concocted a fog of misdirection and epistemological legerdemain in which one argument is battered down over here while it’s supposedly rescued or replaced by another argument over there, which is then battered down in turn, like some giant whack-a-mole game. This in turn spawns and sustains a massive and relentless army of zombie arguments in the minds and mouths of believers who don’t have the training to see their fallacies and outright absurdity, and don’t stop repeating the arguments no matter how many times they’re refuted. My suspicion is that the apologists themselves (at least the more sophisticated ones) know that they’re not playing fair. I suspect that they know they don’t have answers to the objections, know when they’re sidestepping the issue and throwing up a smokescreen, know when they’re offering the merely possible as if it were more than adequate for confident belief, know that they’re fooling their audience and falsely slaking its thirst for confirmation, and know that their audience will then rain zombie arguments down on us atheists. I suspect that they do it because their faith is unshakable, and they assume that God must have his reasons for letting it seem as though there’s no legitimate justification for believing he exists, so it’s the apologists’ job to sustain the flock (by any means necessary) in a skeptical modern world until such time as God sees fit to reveal all and vindicate them. This, of course, just emphasizes the point about the dangers of religious faith.

    I’m not sure there’s much else to say. I suppose I could give you book recommendations if you want them, but it won’t do any good if none of the above even dents your certainty. To be fair, I should likewise be willing to read things you suggest and make a sincere effort to question my conclusions. But since I’ve already heard so much of what the apologists have to say (at first hand and in zombie form), I’ll do it this way: If you’re willing, think of just a few books that you think are the best of the best, on any of the pertinent subjects. It could be contra-evolution, evidence for the resurrection, answers to objections to logical arguments, biblical exegesis, or whatever, but it has to be so good that you think any fair-minded atheist reading it ought to wonder a bit if he’s made a mistake. I will first try to determine if there are any published rebuttals to your recommended books, since I’d prefer to go straight to the theists’ answers to those rebuttals. But ultimately, if we have a few good candidates for me to read, I’ll choose one and read it as open-mindedly as I can. Then, if I think it has anything to say that makes me reconsider our position, I’ll admit it here, unequivocally, and move on to the next book. What we probably shouldn’t do is keep hashing this out in painstaking detail here, taking up Hemant’s electronic real estate for an interesting but tangential discussion, after even most of the lurkers have moved on. But in saying that, I didn’t want you to think it was because I don’t want to hear your responses to what I’ve said. You’re certainly welcome to respond in detail and I’ll read it if you do. I just think we’ve reached a point where we either have to go get some good sources and make things authoritative or give it up. Either way, it’s been a pleasure sparring with you.

  • http://religiouscmics.net Jeff P

    Here is how I could become a believer.

    First there would have to be some kind of current event that challenged all contemporary notions of causality. This event would have to be such that no scientific paradigm shift could absorb and explain the event. It would also have to be such that my mind couldn’t conceive of any future paradigm shift explaining the event. My mind would also have to be such that it “needed” an immediate explanation to explain the event where just saying “I don’t know” wasn’t good enough. If all of these things applied, then it is possible that my mind would sub-consciously self organize its wiring to re-enforce cultural subliminal myths and traditions to form a God belief. Then I would wake up believing.

    Perhaps for me the biggest impediment for forming theistic beliefs is a comfort I have in not needing nice simple explanations for everything. I’m comfortable in saying “I don’t know” about such questions as “How did it all begin” (although I am curious). I’m also comfortable with knowing that when I die, I die. I feel lucky to be able to experience being alive and don’t minimize the experience with obsessing about death and fantasizing about an afterlife

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

    Robert:

    There is ample Biblical support for the doctrine that even though we are born into a state of sin, that God will not judge us for that state until we reach the age that we can know him and reject him.

    That’s exactly the point. There’s ample Biblical support for ANY position, if you cherry-pick the right passages. If you were honest with yourself, you’d admit that this is what you’re doing.

    God reveals himself through general revelation (the creation) and through special revelation (the Bible, the apostles, etc..) He also uses events or people in people’s lives to reveal himself to people.

    Isn’t it funny that all of these things exist/happen even if the deity doesn’t?

    If belief isn’t a matter of choice, then why do some atheists change their minds and believe and others do not?

    Because not everybody can spot a logical fallacy when they see it.

    Aren’t we finding out that alot of diseases are caused by genetics? Of course not all of them. But the point I was making was more basic- the fact that humans have not evolved enough so that these don’t exist doesn’t mean that you would say that evolution is not true. That would not be logical. It was an analogy to the argument that because there is evil there is not God. An equally illogical argument.

    Except that your god is supposed to care about human beings over everything else in creation. Evolution doesn’t care. It can’t. It’s just a process; it doesn’t have a mind. It’s not aiming toward a goal. And we certainly aren’t guaranteed perfection.

    From the logical arguments

    Please name one which hasn’t been thoroughly refuted. And when you’ve done that, please demonstrate how a logical argument proves that something exists. And when you’ve done that, explain how you can make the jump from “generic deity” to Christian God without a massive amount of assertion.

    to the biblical truths found through archeology

    The fact that a location in the Bible actually exists says absolutely nothing about the events it describes. According to the Spider-man comic books, Peter Parker lives in New York City. But you wouldn’t use that as evidence that the comic books are true and Spider-man actually exists.

    to the history of Christianity

    I don’t think you really know much about this. What, specifically, are you referring to?

    to the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus

    How could you possibly say you have evidence of this?

    to the proof of Jesus’ life outside of the Bible

    There is none. There are no contemporary extra-Biblical accounts of Jesus’ life. There are writings from other authors who mention that there were people who believed he was the messiah, but absolutely nothing describing what he did. There are writings from historians of Jerusalem written at the time he was supposed to have been crucified, and not a single one of them mentions any of the miraculous things that happened when he died, like the sky turning black, an earthquake and aftershocks, and the dead of the city rising from their graves and going around town. These are the sort of things that you think would have been recorded, but they only show up hundreds of years later in the writings of historians who have nothing but hearsay to go on – never in the writings of the historians who were actually there.

    That is evidence for me that is not personal or subjective such as how God has worked in my life or those lives that I have seen.

    The fact that you call it “how God has worked in my life” proves that it is subjective, because there’s no evidence that it actually was a deity.

    Robert – do you believe that evolution happens? If so… then what happens with the whole “original sin” deal, since Adam and Eve never existed?

  • P. Coyle

    P,.Coyle- Your argument is not logical nor is it a correct interpretation of Christianity.

    It is my believe that babies who die are not judged for a lack of faith. God is just and righteous . But that being the case, does not mean that Christian mothers would kill their babies before they get to the age of accountability. Instead they would raise them to love God and pray they would become Christians knowing that to kill them would go against the beliefs they live by. Instead of killing their child to assure heaven, they would teach that child about God knowing that the child has free will to decide for itself. that is consistent with their beliefs. Your argument goes completely against their beliefs and for that reason it makes no logical sense.

    I am afraid that I don’t understand the nature of your objection to my argument. I am most certainly not arguing that Christians do kill their children, or have abortions, in order to assure those children a place in heaven. What I am arguing is that, if they believe that a child dying very young is assured a place in heaven, that is what they ought to do. The fact that their actual behavior is inconsistent with their beliefs is interesting. However, it is relevant here only to the extent that we might want to have a broader discussion about whether it suggests a broader pattern of difficulty on the part of believers to reason to a correct conclusion from a given set of premises.

    If you really want to address the argument, you need to make the case that it makes logical sense, given your premises, for a loving parent to deny a child the certainty of heaven and give the child instead a reasonable chance to go to hell.

  • P. Coyle

    After all, if a murderer can be forgiven for murder by becoming born again, it makes perfect sense that a mother could kill her child to assure its place in heaven and then ask god for forgiveness.

    There’s more to it than that. I am arguing here that the mother would have done nothing for which she need be forgiven. Her killing of the child would not, given the premises stated, have been murder, where murder is defined as “a morally objectionable killing” (though it might have been murder defined as “a violation of the laws of a given jurisdiction”). Instead, it would have been a morally unobjectionable expression of her love for the child and a fairly straightforward application of the Golden Rule.

  • plutosdad

    There is ample Biblical support for the doctrine that even though we are born into a state of sin, that God will not judge us for that state until we reach the age that we can know him and reject him.

    And not too many centuries ago people believed there was ample biblical support for ignorance resulting in eternal damnation. Hence they were baptizing babies by Origens’ time. And Augustine certainly did not believe in the innocent ignorance that modern christians propose.

    It is not the bible, it what christians want to THINK is in the bible in any given century, which is constantly changing and, amazingly, matches the morality of the world around them.

  • Robert

    Gentlemen,

    I have enjoyed our conversation and to use a phrase from Jeff Dale, I don’t know what more to say. We will surely continue this conversation. The questions you all pose and the responses I would need to give could take days. one book i would recommend you read is Norman Geisler’s Christian Apologetics as well as anything from C.S. Lewis. Both have been very informative to me on these topics.

    I take all of your comments as sincere expressions of your reasons for not believing in God and i hope that you have taken mine the same for my belief in not only his existence but as He is described in the Christian faith.

    I am not leaving the debate at this time for any reason other then time. Actually, I am leaving for a mission trip in Africa. I will return to our discussions upon my return.

    Sincere prayers for God’s blessing to you all. ( you may not think that means much, but of course, I do :) )

    Take care

  • charles

    the bible is mythology. jesus never existed. the notion of god is nonsense.

  • Jeff Dale

    Robert, when you get a chance, I recommend this outstanding article by Greta Christina, mainly about the problem of free will:

    Why Does God Reveal Himself to Some People and Not to Others?


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