Psssst – We’re Winning

the Parthenon, Athens – 2012

In the past week I must have seen a half dozen articles, essays and blogs attacking polytheism. Some were from Christians, others from atheists.  Some were mocking, others were rational.  Some appealed to the authority of scientistic materialism, others appealed to the authority of scripture. But all of them thought polytheism was important enough to devote writing time and publishing space to counter it.

Though even the Big Tent of Paganism is still comparatively small, we’re no longer small enough to be ignored.  Paganism in general and polytheism in particular aren’t proselytizing religions, but we are growing rapidly, and at least a few people are seeing us as a credible threat to their own religion.

Unless someone is spreading misinformation, lies or slander, I see no reason to rebut these essays.  The writers are attempting to keep their flocks in the fold, which is understandable.  But they aren’t always successful – some of their followers are finding polytheism a more attractive alternative.

There are good reasons for this trend.

Polytheism addresses the diversity of human culture.  The Middle East is a very different place from Northern Europe.  The geography, climate and history are different.  While much of human experience is universal, these local differences have driven local adaptations:  some physical, some cultural and some religious.  Though mobility and the internet have broken down much of our isolation, these differences still present themselves, in individuals if not in groups.  Polytheism recognizes that different people have different languages, different customs, and different gods.

Polytheism addresses the realities of Life.  As John Michael Greer says in A World Full of Gods (the best modern presentation of polytheistic theology I’ve found yet):

It can be argued that the universe, with all its evils and miseries, is consistent with the existence of a single, unique, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent god, but that claim is hard to defend and open to forceful challenge. The claim that evil and suffering are consistent with the existence of a large number of limited gods, on the other hand, encounters no such difficulties. From this standpoint it’s reasonable to say that traditional polytheism is a more straightforward explanation for the world we actually experience than classical monotheism.

And…

The rain god and the wind god do not act everywhere all the time; that is a matter of common experience. The goddess of justice does not act everywhere all the time; that, too, is a matter of common experience … Maybe you would prefer the universe to function in some other way, but it does not, and it makes a good deal more sense to acknowledge that fact than it does to condemn [polytheism] because it does acknowledge that fact.

Polytheism provides an honest response to the problem of evil.  Monotheists argue there is only one god and he is all-good and all-powerful.  Why, then, is there evil in the world?  If the god of the monotheists can prevent evil and chooses not to, he is not good.  If he would like to prevent evil but cannot, he is not all-powerful.  Theologians and philosophers have struggled with this question for 3500 years and have come up with a variety of explanations, none of which are entirely satisfying.

As Greer explains, the problem of evil simply isn’t an issue in polytheism.  Our gods and goddesses are neither all-powerful nor all-good.  Like so much of Life, they simply are.

Polytheism provides a personal connection to Nature.  Both evolutionary biology and our own intuition tell us we are a part of Nature, not separate from it. More and more people are coming to understand that reverence for Nature is not only beneficial on a personal level, it may very well be critical for our long-term survival as a species.

For some, worshipping Mother Earth is enough.  Others are content to honor what they see as God’s creation.  But many of our goddesses and gods have a direct connection to Nature:  Poseidon is a god of the sea, Nut is a goddess of the sky, Cernunnos is a god of the forest.  It is easier to form a meaningful relationship with an individual than with a concept.

Polytheism promotes cooperation and understanding.  If there are many gods, there are many ways to worship and honor them.  The god who called me may not have called you and vice versa – your beliefs and practices may be very different from mine.  If I visit your temple (even if your temple is a small altar on the top of your dresser) I am not being unfaithful to my gods if I honor yours.  I’m simply being a polite guest.

Much religious discord is simply a cover for political discord – issues of power and control.  Polytheism is no panacea for these problems.  But to the extent that the respect for religious diversity inherent in polytheism removes religious discord, it focuses attention on the true source of the problems.

Religions rise because they address the concerns of the people who follow them – and they fall because they don’t.  A good religion provides a framework for understanding the world and interpreting experiences.  A good religion teaches spiritual practices to draw us closer to the gods and each other.  A good religion promotes values that help its followers live meaningful lives, both individually and collectively.

For a growing number of people, polytheism and its various Pagan expressions are doing a better job of this than the mainstream religions.

It’s still very early in the game, but we are winning.

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About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.

  • Nathan Boutwell

    Even when I was a Christian minister, I never could quite accept the idea that Christians were monotheist. How can monotheists have three gods? I only heard two explanations that came close to satisfying my question. One was Unitarian. The other was polytheist — that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were indeed three separate gods. Now, as a polytheist, I can look back at that answer and feel even more satisfaction. Polytheism does answer more questions, at least mine.

  • kenofken

    “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” – Gandhi.

    We’re three-quarters of the way there….

  • Josh

    Coming from someone who was a Christian, to classifying myself as an atheist, I have found a greater connection to the universe since I started exploring polytheism. Despite still being very “new,” I have not had the doubt that I experienced as a Christian.

  • Mikal

    “As Greer explains, the problem of evil simply isn’t an issue in
    polytheism. Our gods and goddesses are neither all-powerful nor
    all-good. Like so much of Life, they simply are.”

    I think this is partly the reason why so many feel drawn to the gods/esses in the first place, as their mistakes and personalities make them easier to relate and talk to. I’ve always felt more at ease talking to someone that has gone through some of the same experiences as I’ve had, because you know they understand how it feels. Knowing my gods don’t expect perfection from me, so much as expect me to do the honorable thing when life gives you a shit salad, makes a huge difference in how close I feel to them after all. I wholly agree with all parts of your other points as well, this just stuck out a bit for me.

  • pennyroyal

    I’m an secular humanist and I respect paganism and my pagan friends. Their idea of god/goddess is of an immanent (in nature) presence, which I don’t have a problem with. It’s the idea of an abstract god who is all powerful and all seeing and the notion of original sin that I never could stomach. Paganism is a gentle religion.

    • jeo

      *NEOpaganism is a gentle religion. Original pagan religion was not.

  • Roger Wolsey

    um. alrighty then. but this progressive Christian doesn’t feel particularly threatened.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Progressive Christians are good like that!

  • Guest

    The rain god and the wind god? It’s the 21st century, we have scientific explanations for these things. There’s no longer any need to cloak our ignorance in a human face and pray to it. Would the results of praying to the rain god be any better than chance? I doubt it.

    I like nature, I think it’s important to preserve it for human health, but I don’t see how personifying a forest will make me closer to it. If anything, it will mean I see it wrongly- a forest is not a person, it doesn’t act like a person. If you want to understand a forest, look at the forest itself, don’t just imagine a human with a few leaves on them or horns. The same goes for the sea. The sea is not a person, it isn’t self-aware. A sailor might think the sea is angry with him, but actually the sea doesn’t feel anger, or any kind of emotion. I would argue that it doesn’t really help to imagine the sea is a person. If you plead with it, you won’t be heard. If you give offerings to the sea, you lose the offerings and don’t really gain anything. Sometimes you might get lucky and get what you want by chance, but that doesn’t mean offerings work.

    I don’t think you are ‘winning’. Paganism might have grown a little bit, but it’s still a minority religion (or, a bunch of religions) and likely to stay that way. Why? because it’s clearly made up (even the reconstructionists don’t really follow the old ways. Where are the animals sacrifices?) it contradicts science even more than the mainstream religions do (thunder is not caused by goat’s hooves) and paganism is already riven by factions which will eventually tear it apart. Oh and magic can be proven not to have a statistically significant effect. In other words, it doesn’t work. And when people who are dabbling in paganism work that out for themselves, they’ll leave.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Most Pagans have a deep appreciation of science – it tells us much about how the world is. But it’s not the only way of understanding and relating to the world.

    • Genexs

      “Guest” gives us a fine example of the ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy. However, the most infotaining part of the comment are the bits where our beliefs, philosophies, and practices are stereotyped and ridiculed. We are also reminded that we are likely to remain a minority. This stands as a fine example of the very phenomena John Becket has written about in this excellent piece.

      • BillYeager

        Do you know what ‘appeal to authority’ even means? Whilst many might not spot the dishonest use of “appealed to the authority of scientistic materialism”, in the main article, the fact you believe that ‘guest’ employs such a fallacy shows that perhaps it is just the general intellectual dishonesty that theism (or polytheism) requires, to blame for the false accusations that ‘appeal to authority’ is being employed by those who cite ‘the scientific method’ as being the most reliable process by which we can determine the most likely true facts about our reality.
        ‘Appeal to authority’ requires that the person making an assertion of ‘fact’ reference an ‘expert-on-the-subject’ person, or body of people, as ‘evidence’ of the validity of the claim being made.
        The ‘scientific method’ of reasoning and critical thinking does not employ or accept ‘arguments from authority’, as assertions are generally only accepted as ‘most likely factual’ by way of the existence of supporting, objective, evidence that is repeatable and measurable.

        • Genexs

          Ah, another head ache producing word wall from the scientism crowd, from someone who hurls insults dressed-up as “evidence”. The reason it’s an “appeal”, Sparky, is that science is your monotheistic God, which you feel free to clobber over the head of everyone else.

          • BillYeager

            So that’s a resounding ‘No’, then. You evidently don’t know what ‘appeal to authority’ means when discussing fallacious argument and you appear unable to discern it’s meaning even when it has been clearly explained to you.
            Probably best to learn how to use debating tools correctly before you employ them erroneously. It only serves to harm your argument further if you repeatedly demonstrate intellectual dishonesty or wilful ignorance. Unless, of course, you are claiming the ignorance is not wilful.

          • Genexs

            Bill, respectfully:

            You always fall back on terms such as “dishonest” and “vapid”, when someone raises legitimate points. Then you hide behind a veneer of eloquence, when insulting or stereotyping people’s ideas, beliefs, or opinions. Your favorite targets are writers who mean the least harm, where you comb their posts for the slightest hint of an opening. Then you plaster their comment sections with word walls built from a tool kit clearly honed for sparing with the stridently faithful, with little regard or understanding of the authors actual philosophy, beliefs, or culture. Are the pickings getting so slim, that you have to bring this sort of intellectual bullying here?

          • EmpiricalPierce

            While I’m not entirely enthused with BillYeager’s tone, as an atheist and naturalist, I do agree with the underlying sentiment. Let me put it this way: The post mentions Poseidon by name. Can I infer from that name a mutual belief in the existence of Zeus? If so, what do you gain from this belief?

            As I understand it, Zeus has lightning within his domain. Can we infer something from historical writings on how to avoid antagonizing Zeus and thus never run the risk of being struck by lightning? Tests have shown that wearing metal and being the highest object in the area significantly increase the risk of being struck by lightning; does this mean that Zeus is angered by people doing such things? Why assume that this happens for divine reasons when there are consistently testable methods of manipulating lightning through entirely natural means?

            Am I entirely off base here on what believing in Zeus means, and if so, what is the point of believing in Zeus in your own words?

          • Tybult

            “Am I entirely off base here on what believing in Zeus means”

            Pretty much.

            “what is the point of believing in Zeus in your own words?”

            Ask a dozen pagans, and you’ll get a dozen answers. For me, he’s an archetype, he’s part of an internal and mental landscape, and he’s an embodiment of the reverence I feel for the sky.

            Why do I feel reverence for the sky?

            Because I am what I am.

          • EmpiricalPierce

            That doesn’t really tell me anything. It sounds like you’re saying you just believe for the sake of believing. In which case, Occam’s Razor is not very happy with you (not that I’m seriously suggesting that it’s a conscious entity).

          • Tybult

            Well, I guess if you want to take all of my words and complex ideas and throw them in the trash, and substitute in some ridiculously reductionist phrase instead, I can’t really stop you.

            Doesn’t make for a very good conversation though.

          • EmpiricalPierce

            There’s a difference between complex ideas and purple prose. What does “internal and mental landscape” mean? Why create or assume an embodiment of your reverence for the sky and call it Zeus? Comments like “Why do I feel reverence for the sky? Because I am what I am.” look like an effort to sound profound without actually saying anything substantial.

            If the difference between our beliefs are “I believe X about the sky for Y scientific reasons” and “I believe X about the sky for Y scientific reasons… And Zeus”, what’s the point of believing in Zeus other than to just sound mystically reverent without any real purpose or adding any useful information? I can look at the sky and feel awe and reverence for nature without any need to anthropomorphize it with fictional entities.

          • Tybult

            Do you see this awful conversation we’re having? Like most conversations on the Internet, it’s pretty awful. Think about it. Maybe over a glass of chardonnay.

            Me? I prefer a good malbec.

            As we sit here, sipping our wines, thinking about awful Internet conversations and the futility of convincing a person of anything, I’ll add another idea.

            It’s about how Occam’s Razor isn’t very useful when it comes to subjective things like personal interactions and emotions and history and spirituality.
            Imagine that I’m using a lot of bad words when I explain this idea, because I feel you used the Razor incorrectly.

            But beyond all the bad words, I’m really saying that when Occam’s Razor gets used on people, it can lead to silly ideas like “humanity’s function is to labor,” or “humanity’s function is to accept Jesus”, or “the marketplace will solve every problem.”

            Silly ideas that try to squash people down into automatons of various sorts, and always end up with catastrophic results.

          • EmpiricalPierce

            Alright, let’s try a different angle.

            First off, Occam’s Razor is very simple: Do not add assumptions without necessity. In the examples posted above, “I believe X about the sky for Y scientific reasons” vs “I believe X about the sky for Y scientific reasons and Zeus”, the “and Zeus” adds nothing whatsoever. It’s a bald claim that provides nothing useful to the explanation and serves no purpose, except for someone who wants to believe in Zeus for the pure sake of believing.

            But maybe you don’t care about that. Maybe we’re both right? Maybe X happens because of Y, and because Zeus, and Thor, and Jesus, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster (though all of these explanations are completely indistinguishable from the purely scientific Y). It’s nice and inclusive, but it generates a lot of confusion just so people can be silly.

            I wouldn’t even mind that so much, though, if it weren’t for people who inevitably go beyond that point. “X happens because Y… And if you do Z, Zeus will send you to the lightning pit to be tortured for eternity after you die, so don’t do Z and shun anyone who does! And convert everyone to Zeusism so that no one ever does Z and angers Zeus!” If that claim sounds ridiculous and paranoid, well, I already have religions like Christianity and Islam to point to that prove my concerns are substantiated.

            For the sake of preventing the suffering and strife that inevitably results from superstitious beliefs, why not just uproot the weed of superstition and be done with it?

          • Genexs

            Hi EmpiricalPierce (kewl nick, btw):

            Thanx for your kind (mostly, heh) comments and questions. The thing is, most of us modern Pagans don’t spend all our time arguing what God or Goddess ‘exists’, or if any of them exist at all. In fact, some Pagans are Atheistic. Also, you keep insisting on what most of us consider high level concepts or visualization exercises (such as the personification of natural forces), should be reduced to incidents understandable to children on a playground. It seems you are trying to impose a reductionist framing on us, which (I’m sorry to say) sounds uncomfortably like someone saying “we don’t believe right” and will be punished for not correcting ourselves. Most of us Pagans have kind of had enough of that–from the strident followers of the Abrahamic religions. In addition, please keep in mind the the vast majority of us are pro-science, in that we accept things like like evolution and the terrible impact we are having on our Mother Earth.

            Also, please recall that almost all the sciences, such as astronomy and medicine, had their genesis in Pagan cultures. In fact, what has now come to be understood as the scientific method was pioneered by the ancient Greeks. So again, the fact that you seem to be trying to shoe-horn us into other religious traditions and faiths, and hang around our necks the horrible injustices committed in the name of those faiths, is at the worst very condescending–or at best–comes from a perspective that is sadly misinformed about our history and movement.

            Since you seem so fascinated by Zeus, perhaps I should ask you to recall what he said about human kind , when he addressed the other Gods and Goddesses who wondered why they should care about us. It was at the end of Homer’s “Iliad”, after so much bloodshed.” It is because “‘we have enduring hearts”, he said. The Gods and Goddesses have little to loose in their battles, but we humans can loose much. There are terrible consequences for us, when we take risks or decide on the wrong path of action. But yet, the survivors get back up on their feet, to face the day again. That is why, according to Zeus, the Gods should love, care, and respect us. I find that concept a far cry from what is advocated in Abrahamic faiths. (Then again, your millage may vary.) But as someone who was an Atheist for most of his life, I strongly feel our two camps have much in common. I just think it would be so more productive if we could celebrate the values and concepts we share, and join together, and try to help this planet, instead of repeating the esoteric arguments that have gone on (almost unchanged) for the last 3 thousand years.

          • EmpiricalPierce

            Thanks! I am quite fond of the username.

            It’s true that my issues with Paganism may simply result from a misunderstanding of it (I fail to see how an atheist could be a Pagan, for example, since to my knowledge Paganism is polytheistic and thus logically the two would be mutually exclusive). It’s also unfair to cite the concept of eternal punishment as an example and come across as lumping you together with the Judeo-Christian family of religions given my current nebulous grasp of Paganism, so I apologize if I offended.

            However, at the risk of sounding unimaginative, I fail to see how Paganism, as I currently view it, could add anything to a worldview that isn’t naturalistic, unverifiable, or false. Perhaps you could try and explain what Paganism is and what it’s supposed to add to a worldview?

          • Genexs

            Thanx for this opportunity at dialog. Although we are a very eclectic bunch, and our book of rules can fit on an index card (and can be updated), one of the most important ones is that proselytizing is a very bad thing. Although most of us don’t have a concept of “sin”, breaking that rule is considered to have dire consequences for all involved. We believe that most people are on whatever spiritual path they should be on, whether Atheist, Christian, Wiccan, or whatever. Manipulating someone is a bad thing. That is one of the reasons most of us don’t chomp-at-the-bit when challenged or evangelized by some Atheists.

            That brings up the interesting concept of Atheistic Pagans, who I hope would speak up and answer this better than I can. But basically the Gods and Goddesses are viewed more like Jungian archetypes, than discrete beings. In addition, many love to participate in Pagan rituals, both to celebrate the cycles of nature, and to better get in touch with their ethnic or spiritual roots. There also were a number of ancient Pagan religions or philosophies that embodied Atheism, such as the Epicureans.

            Many of us don’t consider our chosen religion to the ‘end all’ of thinking or decision making. Philosophy and religion can be very separate for us. And perhaps most uncharacteristically of many other religions, we can belong to several at once. Btw, this has been well documented in the ancient world. As an example, the Emperor Julian II was a member of a a Temple of Hecate, was a very active follower Mithras, and underwent the Elysian Mysteries.

            Also, I would like to say there’s no need to apologize. But damn, I wish you guys would cut out including “The Flying Spaghetti Monster” in lists which include our Gods. Heh! It would be like me saying “We need to have a serious discussion about Atheism. My favorite authors and Atheists are Chris Hitchens, Carl Sagan, and Sherlock Holmes”.

            Getting back to Zeus, have you ever heard of the book “Zeus: A Journey through Greece in the Footsteps of a God” by Tom Stone? If you have a sec, read the reviews at Amazon, and you’ll get the idea. The book is a blast! For someone who wishes to be more familiar with the ups and downs of Pagan history, you could not go wrong with two books by Charles Freeman “The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason” and “AD 381: Heretics, Pagans, and the Dawn of the Monotheistic State”.

            That’s all I can get to right now. I know there are some here who will not agree with everything I’ve said about Paganism, and that is how it should be. But I hope I’ve helped. If I’ve failed, let me know.

          • EmpiricalPierce

            Sorry for the slow response; got caught up in a mess this week. -_-

            Regarding your description of atheist Pagans, I’m reminded of those I’ve heard described as “Cultural Catholics/Christians/Jews/etc”, who go along with the rituals and social norms even though they do not believe in the supernatural religious claims.

            Perhaps that’s where some of my confusion is coming from; I generally expect religion to make some sort of claim to knowing about one or more supernatural beings, the origins of the universe, spectacular miracles and historical events, etc., and such claims typically contrast sharply with observable reality. That is why I feel inclined to say “Are you guys for serious?” when I hear people name dropping Poseidon and the like. For those who aren’t making such claims and are instead in it for the sake of enjoying the culture, more power to them.

            But why the FSM hate? Is it age and origin discrimination? I am very disappointed that you have so little respect for the noodly goodness that has brought such humor and mirth to my life. Perhaps the legend and mythos of the FSM is just starting, and it needs time to catch up with oldies but goodies like Zeus.

          • Genexs

            Age discrimination–yes! I’m old school. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the good Rev. Stang, of the Church of the Subgenius. Praise Bob! If you have not heard of it, please google it. There’s a great introductory clip on the home page. It’s hilarious. (In the 80′s, videos from the Church were shown on the old “Night Flight” show on the USA channel, which is where many people first were indoctrinated into the teachings of the Church.) The “de-vivals” they thru a number of years ago were a hoot, they worked grade-B 50′s SciFi into their mythos. What could be better than that? Also of note are The Cnidarians, who worship a giant earth-eating jellyfish. I got to spend time with the Rev Stang and J. Sailing (the founder of the Cnidarians) at the Death Equinox conventions, held a number of years ago in Denver., CO. It’s a miracle I survived. Then again, maybe I didn’t.

          • EmpiricalPierce

            I feel like such a whippersnapper now. This is the first I’ve heard of the Church of Subgenius or the Cnidarians. I bow to your superior knowledge of humorous religions.

          • BillYeager

            Apologists for theism are no different from fundamentalist theists, in that they promote and excuse wilful ignorance and, see my reply to the user above, intellectual dishonesty. That you probably don’t mind the ‘New’ atheists taking on the religious zealots, but would rather we leave your little ‘harmless’ myths alone, ignores the same fact I raised above, that there is no difference between the grandest, most elaborate and venerated, religions and the ‘harmless’ personal belief system of an individual. They are all based on subjective wishful thinking, deception and dishonesty – Hardly evidence of healthy psychologies.
            As for your ‘tone complaint’ and accusations of ‘intellectual bullying’, really, does it ever occur to you that when a person resorts to ad hominem insults, rather than responding with an objective counter to an argument, they are pretty much admitting to everyone that they cannot argue against the position that has successfully challenged their assertion?

          • Genexs

            No, it’s just that such “tone complaints” have been made against you elsewhere, and even has now been mentioned by another here.

          • BillYeager

            What’s your point? – That’s a rhetorical question, by the way, just like the one at the end of my previous reply.

          • Genexs

            My point is…EUREKA! Now we know who “Guest” is! Heh!

          • BillYeager

            Riiiiiiight. Of course it is. Because we’re both skeptical of theist claims, we must be the same person, yes? Or is it because I successfully challenged your assertion that ‘guest’ had used the fallacious argument of ‘appeal to authority’, I must be ‘guest’? Or both. Yes, two false assumptions must equal one correct assertion, SURELY!!!!11!!!!!!1!!1!!!

          • Genexs

            Bill, you are wrong. What “Guest” did (to be more accurate), would be “an appeal to unnamed or unidentified authority”. That is an acceptable and understandable form of the ‘appeal to authority’ type of fallacy. “Guest” does this a number of times in the post.

          • BillYeager

            Again, please, try and refrain from making erroneous claims about a concept you clearly struggle to understand.
            Nothing in that post is an ‘appeal to authority’. He/She references the fact that ‘magic’ has been proven not to work. Perhaps you believe that merely referencing accepted scientific understanding is tantamount to an ‘appeal to authority’. Let me correct you on that – It isn’t.
            He/She references an objectively proven fact, one which has been established time and again by way of multiple, double-blind, randomised, objective experiments. They all show the same thing, namely, that ‘magic’ does not have a statistically significant effect. It doesn’t actually do anything.
            He/She is not making an ‘appeal to authority’, that would require them to state something like, “Magic has been proven not to work BECAUSE James Randi says it doesn’t.” Ok? Do you understand the difference now? One is referring to repeatable objective experiments which can be carried out by anyone and the other relies on an assertion made solely on the basis that AN AUTHORITY ON THE SUBJECT says so.
            The latter is, therefore, a fallacious ‘appeal to authority’. The former is not.
            Now that you, surely, understand what the term means, are you going to maintain your belief that the post falls foul of that particular fallacy?

          • Genexs

            Sorry Bill, I understand what you are trying to say, but I feel you are being a tad too rationalistic about this. Many embrace absolutist definitions of these terms, but (as you surely are aware), other do not. In fact, the definitions often remain somewhat imprecise, and one form of argument (or fallacy) can morph into another. Besides this, I strongly feel this dialog has strayed far from the subject at hand. At this point, we are being inconsiderate to the author of this blog and his readers. I appreciate you feel strongly about ‘religion, or not’. But there are other areas of Patheos, and other sites such as ScienceBlogs, where these matters undergo lively discussion. I post to those places frequently, and look forward to pursing such topics with you there.

        • blsDisqus

          So, BillYeager: since you state here that theism “requires intellectual dishonesty,” you must have some real, solid proof that God does not exist. That really is news; please elaborate.

          Also please explain how so many really top-notch thinkers – oh, like Aristotle, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Mendel, Pascal, Euler, Maxwell, etc. – could be classified as “intellectually dishonest,” while you’re at it…..

          • BillYeager

            Your first paragraph deals with two entirely separate issues. For me to demonstrate that theism requires intellectual dishonesty I do not, at all, have to prove the existence, or otherwise, of ‘God’.
            Theism cannot survive without the absolute state of intellectual dishonesty being maintained by its proponents. It cannot survive critical analysis, nor objective reasoning. Theism *requires* the use of fallacious arguments, whilst believers have to employ a wide and varied range of fallacies it needs, in particular, one specific fallacy as a general rule, that of ‘special pleading’.
            The theist asserts that their faith, their ‘God’ is exempt from the normal rules of objective reasoning (See Sagan’s ‘The Dragon in my garage’ for reference). That the requirement for ‘special pleading’ is needed in order to maintain their ability to believe in their myth is intellectually dishonest and, yes, even some of the greatest thinkers of our species have also been known to suffer from this affliction, most likely as a result of the indoctrination they experienced as children, that taught them to believe, without question, in any number of ‘paranormal’ entities and mythological tales.
            Please remember, the issue is not what you are asserting, but that you are asserting it without any objective reason or evidence, Your theism is no different to anybody else’s, nor is it any different from, say, arbitrarily making something up and declaring it to be true.

          • blsDisqus

            Theism cannot survive without the absolute state of intellectual dishonesty being maintained by its proponents. It cannot survive critical analysis, nor objective reasoning. Theism *requires* the use of fallacious arguments, whilst believers have to employ a wide and varied range of fallacies it needs, in particular, one specific fallacy as a general rule, that of ‘special pleading’…..The theist asserts that their faith, their ‘God’ is exempt from the normal rules of objective reasoning…..

            These are merely re-assertions of your previous assertions; please make a positive argument, if you’re going to assert that theism is incorrect. Let me point out, again, that if theism requires “dishonesty,” it can only be because there is no truth to truth to it. That is your argument here, whether you acknowledge it or not; support it. (And BTW: various ideas about God are different, just as there are various different other kinds of philosophies of living. In fact, the only theism I’ve ever seen that was “arbitrarily made up and declared to be true” is the famous “flying spaghetti monster” so beloved of the tedious “New Atheism.” Fortunately, the more intelligent atheists realize that”the flying spaghetti monster” is a ridiculous caricature, and something that no theist would waste a second on, because – like a “flying teapot” – it doesn’t have any actual meaning or serve any useful purpose.)

            Of course, I realize that your use of the word “dishonesty” is merely a rude and inaccurate ad hominem anyway, since “dishonesty” indicates that people know what they’re saying is untrue, but assert it anyway. If you could find some word that actually makes sense given what you appear to be arguing here, it might help. So far, all you’ve said is that “I don’t believe what you believe, therefore you are wrong and dishonest.” Not very convincing, I’m afraid. Engage the topic, maybe?

            It’s clear that you haven’t actually investigated this topic in any depth, in any case, or you’d know that people like Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas – and many others – have actually spent lifetimes using “critical analysis” and “objective reasoning” in the service of their philosophy and theology. Theologians engage questions that human beings find important – even if you’ve never considered or cared about them yourself. It’s certainly true that many of these questions have nothing to do with atoms, and can’t be tested in the laboratory. Here are some examples: “Why is there something, rather than nothing?”; “Is anything sacred?”; “What is the best way to live my life?”; “What sorts of duties and obligations do people owe to other people and/or their societies?”; “When, if ever, should we engage in war”?; “Do all persons really have ‘certain inalienable rights’ – and if so, what are these rights, and why? Where do these rights come from?”; “Is there any power that can aid me when my life seems meaningless, or when I’m overwhelmed by circumstances?” (i.e., “From where is my help to come?”).

            People throughout history have asked all these questions, and more – and they’ve found real answers in religion. Too bad you can’t accept the actual evidence on this count….

          • BillYeager

            That is one epically chock-full-of-yummy-fallaciousness reply you’ve got going on there. Where to begin?
            1. Please do not, dishonestly or ignorantly, insist that I did not make an argument providing for evidence of the intellectual dishonesty that theism employs. In the brief space needed to make these comments readable I focused primarily on the ‘special pleading’ fallacy in order for you to be able to understand a simplified example. Your lack of ability to comprehend basic reasoning is evidence of either intellectual dishonesty or wilful ignorance. The simplicity of the argument I used shouldn’t be beyond anybody who is capable of participating in an online discussion, so I believe you are intentionally seeking to present yourself as being unable to understand something in order to avoid the need to respond with a cogent argument.
            2. Please explain the difference between something arbitrarily made-up and declared to be true and the mythological stories you ascribe to. In terms of there, supposedly, being a way with which the latter is constructed that provides for reasonable evidence as to its validity. “When you understand why you dismiss all the other gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours” – Stephen F. Roberts – paraphrased.

            3. The term ‘intellectual dishonesty’ is not an ad hominem, it is a valid term to describe the mental process employed when a person, or people, seek to employ fallacious logic in order to maintain an unsupported assertion. If there was good reason to believe then there would be no need to depend on logical fallacy to justify such belief.
            4. As for that list of questions at the end, there is a reason why religion is used to answer them. They are acute examples of the fallacy of ‘begging the question’, in that they falsely imply the basis for their asking is objectively reasonable, when they are actually rather meaningless. Without religion providing an extensive array of presuppositional fallacies they are as no more valid than asking something like, “Is light happy?”, or “Why do raindrops love?”.

          • blsDisqus

            Let’s work backwards, shall we?

            #4 is “chock-full-of-yummy-fallaciousness” in the form of straw men; you’ve ignored the questions I actually asked, some of which – even if you don’t have any theological or philosophical imagination at all – deal with questions that almost anybody would find important, and are not at all on the order of “Is light happy?” (I find it ironic, actually, that people who absolutely demand clear thinking from others can engage in this level of sophistry.) The point of the thing, of course, was to show that there are many questions about living that do not rest on simplistic empirical “proofs” – that we all must indeed make certain assumptions about “meaning” and “what’s right.” The question is, where do these assumptions come from?

            #3 is chock-full of assertion and ad hominem; not worth spending a second on.

            #2 might be slightly interesting, although of course you have no idea at all what “mythical stories I ascribe [sic] to.” Another problem is that it does assume what it’s setting out to “prove,” i.e., that “Theism is untrue.” (I do realize that you don’t understand that this is the question at issue here; perhaps you’ll get it eventually.) I’ll quote from something written by an atheist on the subject, though ( http://www.newrepublic.com/article/the-celestial-teapot ); maybe this will help:

            “….belief in God is not like belief in a teapot. The referent–the content of the belief–matters here. God may be just as undisprovable as the teapot, but belief in God is a good deal more reasonable than belief in the teapot, precisely because God cannot be reified, cannot be turned into a mere thing, and thus entices our approximations. There is a reason, after all, that no one has ever worshiped a teapot: it does not allow enough room to pour the fluid of our incomprehension into it.”

            The writer reports later in the article that even Richard Dawkins agrees with this: “But the idea of some kind of creator, said Dawkins, ‘does seem to be a worthy idea. Refutable– but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect.’”

            Even Dawkins acknowledges that this issue here is “refutability.” I’m simply asking you to go ahead and refute it.

            #1. Ah, yes: “Special pleading.” Here’s a definition:

            Special pleading is a formal logical fallacy where a participant demands special considerations for a particular premise of theirs. Usually this is because in order for their argument to work, they need to provide some way to get out of a logical inconsistency – in a lot of cases, this will be the fact that their argument contradicts past arguments or actions. Therefore, they introduce a “special case” or an exception to their rules.

            The question is: who here has demanded “special considerations for a particular premise of theirs”? (http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Special_pleading) As far as I can tell, nobody here except you is “demanding” anything.
            Furthermore, where is the “logical inconsistency” referred to here? You do see, I hope, that assuming the existence of God introduces no “logical inconsistency” anywhere – right? And which arguments “contradict past arguments or actions”?

            Again I point out that assuming that theism requires “special pleading” means that you have definitive proof that theism must be untrue. Otherwise, there’d be no “logical inconsistency” at issue.

            So, for the tenth (or so) time: go ahead and disprove God; we’re all waiting with bated breath….

          • BillYeager

            4. You asked a series of questions that are based on presuppositional fallacies and I pointed this out and even went so far as to give you examples of the same TYPE of question, one which requires the use of presupposition. Your failure to understand the term, even when supplied with reasonable simple examples, beggars belief.
            Again, I am drawn to consider the nature of the ignorance on show and ask myself, “Is it wilful?”.

            3. Re-stating a false assertion does not make it magically true. Perhaps you should look up the term ‘Intellectual Honesty’ in WikiP, whereby you will see it reference the notion of ‘intellectual dishonesty’ as a counterposition to the subject. No an ad hominem, no matter how many times you throw that word about. Or is it that you need to look up the meaning of ‘ad hominem’ too?

            2. I don’t need to know what mythical stories you ascribe to in order to highlight the fact that you would have to employ logical fallacy and intellectual dishonesty in order to maintain a belief in them. Unless, of course, you have proof that your God, or Gods, exist?

            1. Again, please do some research on what ‘special pleading’ constitutes. That link you provide doesn’t even have a written definition for the term. You clearly don’t understand it well enough yet if you maintain an insistence that *your* personal beliefs don’t require special pleading.

            The burden of proof is in the person making the assertion. I am merely highlighting that your assertions (theist beliefs) are based on logical fallacies and, therefore, intellectually dishonest.

            I don’t have to disprove the existence of God, you have to prove it. Otherwise you’re just playing a game of ‘because I say so’.

          • blsDisqus

            You’re right about ad hominem in #3; that was my mistake. I was thinking about #1, and mixed them up; please don’t act so innocent, though. You do really enjoy ad hominem and gratuitous insult, and have used both liberally here. (You should realize this is an indication of weakness, not strength; whenever somebody starts hurling insults it’s a clear indication that they don’t have anything much of substance to say – or else, I suppose, that they’re just bullies and sadists who enjoy trying to hurt other people.)

            In any case, I can see that you’re working from a script here, and are not going to engage anything that’s actually being said. Do keep in mind, please, that you are the person who’s made “assertions” here – i.e. “Theism requires intellectual dishonesty” – and that I am the person asking you to justify your assertions. I remind you again that you really don’t know what I do or do not believe, because I haven’t said a word about it.

            What you’re saying here, really, is that all people throughout most of human history – and most people alive today – have been and are engaging in “intellectual dishonesty” for professing belief in God or in gods. And we’re just supposed to take your word for it, I guess, “because you say so.”

            It’s all getting to be so old by now….

          • BillYeager

            *sigh*

            Again, I beg you, please don’t keep ignoring the marked differences between the content of my post, the framework of my argument, and your replies, which choose to focus on claiming that I am insulting you and how this means A and therefore B.

            I am not using insult in my reply. I simply speculate that, due to the level of ignorance you displayed in your responses, when it comes to understanding, or not, terms of rational debate, you may be intentionally trying to muddy the water by refusing to respond with a cogent argument in order to avoid having to accept that the position I have presented is, in fact, correct.

            I will ask you again, please explain the difference between something arbitrarily made-up and declared to be true and the mythological stories you ascribe to. In terms of there, supposedly, being a way with which the latter is constructed that provides for reasonable evidence as to its validity.

            If you review the conversation so far, after having taken the time to actually understand the terms I used, you would have to admit that my position is one of simply expressing and demonstrating how the assertions that you make, as with all theists, are based on fallacious reasoning (although, originally, I focused on Genexs’s improper allegations of ‘appeal to authority’ with regards to the post by ‘Guest’). It is this that I am trying to draw to your attention.

            There is little need, even, for us to consider what the content of your assertion is, if we know that you arrived at that conclusion by way of fallacious logic and intellectual dishonesty. I have explained, repeatedly, why and how theism employs logical fallacy, yet you continue to pretend you do not understand my words. I do not believe that you are incapable, therefore I have to conclude that you are being wilful.

            There is a differences between hypothesising/speculating about the existence of a God, or Gods, based on the establishment of a rational reason to in the first place and actually declaring a personal faith in its/their existence.

            The post you make declaring that theism is the ‘only logical conclusion’ requires that your presuppositions are true in the first place. That science does not know, yet, what caused the Universe to come into existence at the Big Bang, does not mean that mankind can simply stamp ‘God was here’. It would, in fact, be more logical to accept that there is probably a causal process that led to the presence of energy in this Universe, one that can be tested and understood, in time.

            The creation of entities for which there is no evidence, or reason, to even imagine them in the first place, as ‘explanation’ for the answers to areas of our reality that science does not yet fully understand, is beyond asinine, it is childish and arbitrary. There is no difference between whatever you can imagine in your head and all theist belief, Both are created the same way, by human imagination.

            So what is the difference in validity between your theism and a concept that is arbitrarily conjured in being by another human in their imagination?

          • blsDisqus

            There is little need, even, for us to consider what the content of your assertion is, if we know that you arrived at that conclusion by way of fallacious logic and intellectual dishonesty.

            That is a really breathtaking statement of close-minded bigotry. It certainly explains, though, why you believe you’re making an “argument” of some kind here. And it is refreshing, I have to say, for somebody to openly admit they’re not really interested in anything that happens outside their own head.

            The fascinating thing is to watch people who claim that “science” is the only valid basis for discussion and means of knowing about anything – it’s fascinating that they themselves can’t be bothered to actually investigate a question before pronouncing about it…..

          • BillYeager

            Evidently your limited understanding of epistemology drives your belief that you are making a cogent argument for your case. The truth is, you are not. You are simply demonstrating that you do not grasp basic concepts of rational debate and reason, but that you also clearly conflate faith with knowledge.

            Your response to my declaring, that for the purposes of challenging your assertions we do not actually need to construct an argument against what you are contending if we know there is no reasonable justification for you to come to such a conclusion and that it is self-evident that your assertion is derived by way of fallacy, failure to maintain intellectual honesty (seeing as you respond so badly to the term ‘intellectual dishonesty’) means that the first response to what you are stating is to highlight that the premise you employ to reach that conclusion, is erroneous.

            Although I am more than familiar with the fact that accusations of ‘secular bigotry’ are the de-facto response to the loss of theist privilege, it in no way means that the accusation is true.

            You roundly declare statements to be ad hominem ‘attacks’, when they are not, as well as asserting my argument to be borne of a ‘closed’ mind, when the openness, or otherwise, of one’s mind is not measurable within the context of the manner in which you have used it. To assert such a thing, when it is simply your subjective and arbitrary declaration resulting from your lack of establishing a reasoned position in the first place, is patently false.

            To roundly condemn my position, by way of avoiding any response which would require you to establish, and maintain, intellectual honesty, is nothing more than the continued attempt to divert attention away from the valid questions being asked of you.

            “. . .what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?” – Taken from Sagan’s “The Dragon in my Garage” and an example of another form of the question I keep asking you and that you keep avoiding answering because you cannot respond with an objectively reasoned answer other than one word, “nothing”.

            “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

          • blsDisqus

            Bill, this is the last time I’m going to say this: I haven’t made any claims here; you have. You are the person who jumped into this conversation, claimed that “theism requires intellectual dishonesty” – and you are the person who won’t or can’t make an argument defending that claim.

            You’ve been doing a lot of hand-waving about “special pleading,” for instance – without actually citing any instances of “special pleading.” You’re really going to have to make an argument about something at some point, I’m afraid.

            I have already answered your question above, in fact (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2013/08/psssst-were-winning.html#comment-1029664358); it would probably help, too, if you’d actually read my comments before scolding me about not answering them. I’ll elaborate here, though: the reason that “God” and “an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire” are different is that the idea of “God” has actual content. Ideas associated with God are, for example, “goodness, beauty, mercy, grace, power, strength, creation, love, help for those in need, care for the oppressed, justice, ultimacy”, to name just a few. The idea of “an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire,” by contrast, has no content at all that anybody could possibly find important. And the reason for that is, precisely, because it’s been “made up” to serve as a predictable and oh-so-tiresome straw man that apparently atheists believe to be a supremely clever and indeed knock-down argument against theism.

            This is a clear indication that atheists do indeed have their fingers firmly planted in their ears, refusing to listen to anything outside their own heads.

            I am interested, though: would you bother trying to discuss anything with somebody who believes that “there is little need, even, for us to consider what the content of your assertion is”? What would be the point of this, pray tell?

            Why would anybody waste their valuable time in a sham “conversation” with somebody who claims they’re not really interested in listening in the first place?

          • blsDisqus

            (I should make a correction to some of what I’ve said above; when speaking of “atheists” I should always say that I’m talking about “fundamentalist atheists,” or “obnoxious internet comment board atheists” – because I don’t think atheism is by definition wrong, and it’s certainly not the case that all atheists are as obnoxious as these people are.

            I’m really talking about the fundamentalist atheists who seem to have nothing better to do than to jump into conversations that have literally nothing to do with them and make themselves and their tedious, totally uninformed personal opinions the center of attention. The ones, that is, that believe that believe this sort of thing to be their sacred duty to their own god, science – yet are filled with the kind of “contempt prior to investigation” (as displayed above) that’s actually the antithesis of responsible science.

            And I will try to make that clear from now on.

            It’s fascinating, actually, to notice that fundamentalist religionists and fundamentalist atheists are two sides of the very same coin….)

          • BillYeager

            My goodness, perhaps I do need to reconsider my assumption that the level of ignorance on display is wilful, as that would require that you did actually have the capacity to understand the concepts being discussed within it and that you are intentionally misrepresenting them in order to maintain your insistence that your position is superior to mine.
            I fear that it may simply be the case that you are genuinely unable to comprehend the proper meaning of the terms being used as well as failing to understand how they apply to the concepts being discussed, possibly because you don’t actually understand the concepts being discussed.
            That’s not an ad hominem, btw. It is a reasonable evaluation of the data in front of me, the information you present in your replies when responding to that which is in mine. Any reasonable person reading the exchange between us, one who does understand basic debating tools and does understand what abstract nouns and intangible concepts are, would quickly spot that your responses are more heat than light and that you, unless it is intentionally wilful, do not properly understand the subject we are discussing. To then insist that you can build a personal belief system on such soft sand is going to be an exercise in absurdity.
            You are entitled to your own opinions. You are not entitled to your own facts.
            I have explained ‘special pleading’ as simply as possible, as well as providing a link that offers an example of how theists have to apply it in order to maintain their belief once their assertions have been challenged with reason and critical thinking. For you to claim that I haven’t is, quite simply, evidence that you are a liar, or woefully incapable of even simple comprehension.
            Do you know what abstract nouns are?
            Do you know what intangible concepts are?
            Let me give you a clue – They are all the words you keep using to describe “God” and, get this, they can EQUALLY be used to describe Carl Sagan’s invisible dragon.
            “God”, as a fictional character, is no different in ‘validity’ to your “God” as an intangible concept that you have assigned a slew of abstract nouns to.
            There.Is.No.Difference.
            But, then, I figure you’re just going to continue to erroneously use words and apply concepts that you don’t actually properly understand, in order to maintain your assertion that I am wrong and you are not.
            A fine example of intellectual dishonesty or, if you insist otherwise, wilful ignorance or, worse, woeful ignorance.
            Which one is it going to be? You know, you could make it none of them and actually make the effort to connect the dots and learn the subject properly. Simply responding with false claims of ad hominem, tone complaints and rolling out the usual asinine knee-jerkery about “fundamentalist atheists”, while employing a great deal of ad hominem yourself, is not good enough. You might be able to fool yourself, but you do not fool me and you do not fool anyone else who has the capacity to actually understand the terminology and the concepts being discussed.
            Good day to you, Sir.

          • blsDisqus

            Actually, I just went through our conversation comment-by-comment, and cannot find a single example of you pointing to anything that’s actually happened during the course of it – nor have you left a single link. I’m the one who’s left numerous links, in fact. Nice try, though.

            What I did find was your repeated assertions that “theists must use fallacies” – but, nope: not a single actual example of any such thing. In any case, I’m not asking for a link or an example of what all these alleged theists do; I’m asking for a simple, straightforward, logical proof of the declarative statement that “Theism requires intellectual dishonesty.” You’ve been braying about this since you got here, after all; it really isn’t too much to ask that you explain your reasoning [sic]. Color me completely unsuprised that this hasn’t been forthcoming – and I’m certainly not holding my breath that any such explanation will ever be offered.

            It’s unfortunate that you have such trouble with “intangibles” – like ideas, for instance, or “the method of constructing a proof.” You really will have to learn to deal with these things at some point, though, if you want to engage in argument with other people who won’t just take your word for something “because you say so.”

            Stop raving about “fallacies” and start actually talking about something, IOW. And FYI: the bully-boy tactics and supercilious attitude have really gotten beyond stupid – particularly considering they’re coming from somebody who hasn’t contributed a single interesting idea here….

          • BillYeager

            “(The problem, Bill, is that calling people “intellectually dishonest” is equivalent to calling them liars. . .And them’s fightin’ words, pal. Not to mention in this case gross
            slander, since people aren’t, in fact, generally lying about their faith in God.” – ‘Slander’ is incorrect, the words are written, therefore it, if it were correct in this case, which it is not, would be ‘Libel’. You really must stop using words you do not understand.

            Your insistence that a person cannot be intellectually dishonest about their faith in their God reveals your absolute failure to comprehend even the basic premise of the discussion here and, by the way, whilst you are the one erroneously conflating (or confusing) ‘intellectual dishonesty’ with ‘lying’, you will actually find that I gave you a number of ‘outs’ in my description of what was apparent in your responses.

            “A fine example of intellectual dishonesty or, if you insist otherwise, wilful ignorance or, worse, woeful ignorance.”

            That you have self-selected your position as the former, rather than either of the two subsequent options, is your prerogative, but you cannot then complain about it afterwards. I now see that it is, actually, a combination of all three.

            If you absolutely *must* keep demonstrating just how much of a raving idiot you are (yes, an ad hominem, but one built on the observational facts that are evidenced within each and every one of your replies), let me, one last time, lead you to the water, point at it, and loudly inform you that it is a liquid you may wish to consider quenching your thirst with. That you choose to stand there like an ass, braying repeatedly that there is nothing to drink, then, by all means, continue to delude yourself to death.

            You, repeatedly, claim I have not explained how theism requires the ‘special pleading’ fallacy, this is an entirely false allegation:

            “. . .in particular, one specific fallacy as a general rule, that of ‘special pleading’.
            The theist asserts that their faith, their ‘God’ is exempt from the normal rules of objective reasoning (See Sagan’s ‘The Dragon in my garage’ for
            reference).”

            I didn’t include a hyperlink because it is normally considered improper to include links away from someone’s blog. I made the mistake of believing you were capable of using an internet search engine with the
            term I put in quotes, which is the reason I provided it.

            Or, tell you what, if you still insist that you absolutely cannot (or will not, perhaps. Although it’s probably cannot given how this conversation has gone so far) understand the content of “The Dragon in my garage” and how it relates to ‘special pleading’, try reading “Elephants’ Wings” by PZ Myers. If you are still unable/unwilling/incapable of understanding the ‘special pleading’ issue, then your intelligence level must be sub-normal, or you are a liar. It is that simple. There is nothing more I can do for you.

            Once again and, hopefully, finally, Good day to you, Sir.

            BTW, No idea why you include the Latin adverb ‘[sic]‘ in your reply. I guess it is additional proof of your propensity to keep employing terms you do not actually understand. Pro-tip: It’s not doing you any favours.

          • blsDisqus

            (The problem, Bill, is that calling people “intellectually dishonest” is equivalent to calling them liars.

            And them’s fightin’ words, pal. Not to mention in this case gross slander, since people aren’t, in fact, generally lying about their faith in God. Get a clue at some point that it’s supremely arrogant and in fact irrational to call people liars simply because they disagree with you about a question that can’t be proved either way.

            Believe it or not, people actually don’t appreciate being gratuitously insulted and wrongly charged of lying by some total stranger online – particularly one who can’t tolerate anybody who has different opinions than he does, and who is unable to answer a simple question about something he himself made grandiose claims about.

            Stop being so shocked, shocked that people are confronting you about your “tone” here, and the things you’re saying. )

          • blsDisqus

            (What’s really fascinating, in fact, is that atheists refuse to acknowledge that theism is a completely logical proposition, following easily on from empirical observation about the nature of physical matter.

            In fact, theism is the most logical conclusion – perhaps even the only logical conclusion – that human beings could have come to: theism says that the things that exist – the universe and all that there is within it – didn’t just pop themselves into being. Theism claims that there is a First Cause, I’d say quite obviously because that is the way the physical laws in our universe work.

            Theism was and is also an attempt to find meaning and purpose in the universe; this is also a totally logical idea, given the way the human mental processes evidently work.

            In any case, it’s clear that atheists also engage in the kind of “wishful thinking” they haughtily decry in others; the interesting thing is that they seem stuck, perseverating at the “denial of the the gods of others,” all the while ignoring their own delusions. I mean, the universe is utterly mechanistic, after all; there is no actual meaning to any of it. Nature is red in tooth and claw, and sheer “genetic survival” is the only actual principle at work, apparently.

            Which says, as far as I can tell, that any other meaning we find in existence must be imposed upon it by ourselves. Interesting that somehow this never comes up in any of these discussions….)

          • EmpiricalPierce

            Perhaps I can try a different angle that should make it easy to understand the fallacy behind theistic thinking.

            Almost everyone (including you, I suspect) comfortably disbelieves in the existence of leprechauns, unicorns, or Santa Claus. Almost everyone also comfortably disbelieves the existence of every god that is from a religion that is not their own (I’m unsure where you stand on this as a Pagan).

            And another example: Let’s say I posit that we are all in the Matrix, which was designed as a test for us. When we “die”, those of us who rejected all supernatural beliefs are released and allowed back into the real world. On the other hand, those who embraced supernatural beliefs are tossed into the refuse pits to rot. This example is certainly possible, and you have no way of proving it wrong, but I suspect you comfortably disbelieve this as well.

            Why? Because there is no good evidence to support it. And the same is true of all gods; that is why I do not believe in any of them. Why should we not reject belief in gods without needing to absolutely prove their nonexistence when we reject belief in unicorns and the Matrix without having absolutely disproved their existence?

            As for the “First Cause” argument, the problem is that you must, at some point, say that something existed without needing to be created (which theists prefer to call god). However, why claim “in the beginning there was god(s) who created the universe” when we have no evidence for their existence and we could just as easily say “in the beginning the universe was already here”? Besides, it’s entirely reasonable to suspect that the origin of the universe comes from some impersonal “universal force/principle” which is not a thinking being any more than gravity and convection are.

            Theism is an attempt to understand the universe that resorts to making stuff up without any regard for evidence. This is quite apparent if you study the growth of knowledge throughout human history; naturalistic explanations have replaced supernatural explanations for lightning, the sunrise, disease, earthquakes, etc. countless times, but naturalistic explanations have not been replaced by a more convincing supernatural explanation even once. Why, then, should we consider it to suddenly be more reasonable to resort to supernatural explanations for the universe when in the past, naturalistic explanations have been beating out the supernatural every single time?

            Consequently, that does indeed mean that life has no inherent meaning, but that gives us the benefit of being able to create meaning for ourselves. I am getting what I want out of life by learning and spending time with my friends and family, and so I am satisfied with that.

          • blsDisqus

            Because there is no good evidence to support it. And the same is true of all gods; that is why I do not believe in any of them.

            Well, I think the existence of the universe itself is some pretty decent evidence for something prior to and greater than us. And, in fact: we know that universe wasn’t always here; science itself now knows that there was a point when the universe began to exist. However, I do believe somebody somewhere took on the question of God’s existence even in an eternal universe; it’s somewhere in either Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas – but I don’t know what it says.

            Your Matrix example is interesting; the thing is, though: religion – at least the religions I’m familiar with, and no, I’m not a Pagan, so I’m not speaking from that point of view – is an order of magnitude more interesting. Judeo-Christianity, for instance, touches on almost everything human beings believe to be important: the purpose of existence, the meaning of our lives, the nature of the holy, morality, culture, history, anthropology, psychology, etc. It has produced some of the world’s great works of art, via music, visual arts, literature, poetry, etc. Many – perhaps most – of these ideas have held up very well over time, too – although some have not.

            All religions I’m aware of are also vitally concerned with the plight of the poor and sick, and encourage their adherents, on a regular basis, to remember the needy, the infirm, the sick, the suffering, etc., and to take steps to help and even to love them.

            In addition, Judaism and Christianity teach that human beings are “made in the image of God.” If that teaching takes hold – which it eventually did – then human life becomes valuable, and you can challenge any society that professes belief in this God – and thus the creation of human beings in God’s image – about their mistreatment of any person. You can show that they are not living up to their own faith claims. That’s pretty important. Meanwhile, the Psalms speak of God as defender of the defenseless, friend of the poor, champion of “widows and orphans,” and so forth.

            So it’s of course true that the content of the religion matters; over the centuries, people have come to value all of the things I mentioned above, and this I’d say is why some religions have continued to exist while others have died off. It also explains why there’s no religion that worships a fire-breathing dragon living in a garage – and neither is there one based on the Matrix you describe. Those “religions” have no meaning to anybody, or any real content. They don’t say anything of value about the human condition; they are, here, invented for use as “arguments against religion.” The problem is, they are nothing like the religions we’re talking about! Judaism and Christianity (and I’m talking about them because I don’t know much about other religions) contain and express all the values and ideas I mentioned above, and more. These things are quite central to human life; they are important to people. It isn’t true, either, that religious people are “indoctrinated” and can’t escape their “programming.” I’m a former atheist myself, and many, many quite sober and rational people have decided that religious claims make sense and can produce a kind of “good fruit” that can’t be produced in any other way.

            Christianity makes a really audacious claim, in fact: that the God who created the universe “humbled himself” to take on human nature. He lived on earth, not as a conqueror or king, but as a healer and teacher – a man without a home at all, who liked hanging out with people who were hated and rejected by society, and tweaking the noses of the authorities. He allowed himself to be arrested, tortured, and killed, dying a hideous death at the hands of the military – all for really no reason at all. That is: God Himself died on the cross in form of a man innocent of all wrongdoing; there’s plenty of really remarkable raw material for thought in that idea, and it’s occupied theologians and religious people for two thousand years now. And there are many implications of such a belief; I’m sure you can think of some of them.

            Anyway, science itself is starting to show that religious practices and habits – prayer, meditation, self-examination, confession, becoming part of a community, and so forth – can in fact be beneficial to peoples’ well-being and even their physical health. If you’d like some links I can provide them.

            Religious people don’t actually look to religion to explain “lightning, the sunrise, disease, earthquakes, etc.,” although they probably once did. (Christ himself, BTW, denied that there was any “supernatural” explanation for disease or suffering, so this isn’t anything new.) Religious people today are scientists, physicians, mathematicians, etc., and no major religion denies any of the findings of science. Thomas Aquinas (123th C.) built his work on that of Aristotle, and believed that the truths of science and those faith could not contradict one another.

            As I said above: atheism to me seems a perfectly reasonable position to take – but I don’t think it’s very interesting, or actually goes anywhere. Furthermore, I think it’s a category error to expect science to answer any questions of, say, morality and value – but we do need ways to talk about morality and value. I find the basic assumptions of Judeo-Christianity – human being made in the image of God – and a God who’s a healer and friend to the oppressed – to be an excellent starting place for this.

            I believe that the existence of God can’t be proved or disproved – so I simply don’t worry about the question at all. If you view religion as a trite and limited “belief in a set of supernatural propositions” whose major focus is determining who does and who does not get into to heaven – well, I can well understand why you reject it. But there is much, much more to it than that.

          • EmpiricalPierce

            Regarding the universe beginning: Then I shall rephrase. What evidence do you have that the universe was created by a god or gods, rather than created by some universal principle which is as impersonal and unthinking as gravity and convection?

            The reason religions touch on almost everything humans believe to be important is because they were created by humans. Humans created them, so of course they’re going to concern what we consider important; why would we create something we consider unimportant? And those important questions aren’t answered by religion alone; philosophy and science (depending on the question) can answer them as well. The problem with religions is that they have a nasty habit of inventing answers and then asserting them as true without any regard for evidence and reality.

            And religion can pay lip service to the poor and sick, yes, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. In the Bible, Jesus said to turn the cheek and to sell all you have to give to the poor, but the conservatives in America, despite being the more staunchly religious party, are also the ones more inclined to loosen gun control, pursue warfare, and cut social programs that those in poverty depend on. It seems that for all their Christianity, the words attributed to their Christ don’t mean much to them.

            Besides, I’d rather care about social issues for rational reasons. More egalitarian countries with strong social safety nets have lower violent crime rates, for one. Oh, and in America, the less religious states also, on average, have lower violent crime rates than more religious ones. The same goes for less religious countries compared to more religious ones. The evidence suggests that if religion has an effect on society, it’s more likely negative instead of positive.

            Christianity and Judaism had over a millenia to make human life valuable, and instead it just sparked religious wars and was used to justify torture and horrific public executions (granted, such things were happening before Christianity and Judaism came around, but they certainly didn’t put a stop to them). An objective look at history certainly can’t even correlate Christianity with an increase in peace and valuing of human life, but you know what can be correlated with it? The enlightenment. The growth of education and notions of forming beliefs based on evidence and rational thought instead of superstitious dogma. There’s a good reason why an age marked by the spread of reason is called “the enlightenment” and an age marked by the domination of religious thought is called “the dark ages”.

            If anything, religions make human life less valuable by equating our existence on Earth to a rest stop that we use for a relative nanosecond on our way to an eternal afterlife (and if you’ve ever had the displeasure of using an interstate rest stop, you know how horribly people treat those). On the contrary, it is the realization that this life on Earth is all we have that makes life precious, and the notion of an afterlife makes our life here less valuable.

            It’s true that the Matrix example is used purely as an argument; as an atheist in the south, I am asked (and sometimes even threatened) “aren’t you afraid of Hell?” a frustrating number of times, and I created it as a possibility that would punish people for not being atheists to help illustrate my arguments against religious thought. But again, those questions don’t need to be answered by religion, and I would argue shouldn’t be answered by religion, because religions have a nasty habit of just making stuff up with no evidence then demanding people believe it on faith “or else”. And that superstitious authoritarianism that is so endemic in religion is absolutely poisonous.

            And yes, religious people are indoctrinated. Christians are raised from childhood to unquestioningly hold beliefs that any non-Christian can see as ridiculous. Likewise with Muslims, Hindus, etc. Their religious claims are mutually exclusive, so at the very least all except one group are in fact indoctrinated and delusional, but it’s more likely that all of them are, instead of all save one.

            Sure, things like meditation and community can be extremely valuable to people. But unfounded superstitions about god or gods are not a required part of the package.

            When you say that religious people don’t look to religion to explain lightning and such but once did, you illustrate my point. Those things were once believed to be caused by spirits, demons, god, etc. until reason and experimentation destroyed those notions with evidence. The history of human knowledge is a long story of true naturalistic explanations uprooting and replacing false supernatural ones. Given this constant trend of the natural replacing the supernatural, why privilege belief in the supernatural over the natural when the supernatural has lost every single time the two have come into conflict in the past? If you point to what we don’t yet know and say “that’s god”, then you have defined an ever shrinking deity. Even worse, odds overwhelmingly favor your god turning out to simply be your ignorance. Ignorance should not be worshipped, it should be eradicated by knowledge.

            Actually, Christ did in fact promote superstition. Luke 8:26-39 and Matthew 8-28-34, remember? All sorts of crazy conditions can afflict the human brain, yes, but never once has a mental condition (or any other condition, for that matter) been linked to demonic possession. If Jesus had really been god, that would have been a great time to explain the nature of mental illnesses, disease, etc. and get people started on the path to modern medicine. Of course, since it’s just a story written by ancient men, it’s not surprising that Jesus simply echoes a popular superstition of the time.

            As for “no major religion denies any of the findings of science”, have you never heard of young Earth creationism? Religion drives people to flat Earth levels of reality denial. This is because reality and faith come into conflict all the time; there’s no way the garden of Eden story of the Bible happened as described, or the global flood, or the Egyptian exodus. The birth of Jesus is also attributed to both before 4 BC and after 6 AD due to archaeology revealing temporal conflicts between events in Matthew and Luke. People deny reality in many or even all of these things for the sake of preserving religious beliefs.

            Faith constantly drives people to fight against reason. For example: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/28/sanal-edamaruku-indian-rationalist-weeping-christ-miracle-hoax-faces-jail_n_2201897.html

            The reason atheism is uninteresting is that it is not a comprehensive belief system, and comparing atheism to a religion like Christianity is for the most part apples to oranges. Atheism is to, say, Secular Humanism as theism is to Christianity. And a philosophy that promotes the use of reason over faith (or a religion if you want to call it that, though I strongly object to the term) like Secular Humanism is far better equipped to handle the big questions in life than a religion like Christianity, which promotes faith over reason.

            It’s true that the existence of god or gods cannot be proved or disproved, but that only holds true for certain notions of gods. The precedent set by human knowledge thus far stacks the evidence overwhelmingly against personal, interventionist notions of god like the Yahweh and Jesus concepts. The question is between an atheistic universal principle vs a deistic non-interfering god or gods, which indeed is a moot point (and one on which I default to atheism, since there is no evidence to urge me towards belief in a deistic concept and away from a default position of nonbelief). The problem is that nearly everyone who wants to argue for the existence of god is trying to argue for a personal one, not a deistic one, and the notion of a personal god is nonsense. They also try to force their sets of supernatural propositions on other people, causing all sorts of suffering in the process. For these reasons I hold that belief in gods should be discouraged in general, given the superstition and social ills such beliefs have a habit of breeding.

          • blsDisqus

            “The notion of a personal god is nonsense,” eh? Just like that? I think what you’re actually saying is that “I don’t believe in this, therefore it can’t be true” – but this of course is just a personal opinion. And the problem you’re going to have is that huge numbers of religious people have experienced the benefits of prayer for themselves – I mean, literally billions of people over the course of history. The world’s bookstores and libraries are full to overflowing with thousands of years of writing on the topic, and elaborations of techniques useful for prayer and meditation – and of course the billions of religious people alive today are still experiencing the same benefits. So that’s going to be a bit of a tough sell, I’d say; in any case, I thought “rationalism” was all about paying strict attention to evidence? Does that just not count, when it argues against your own ideas and opinions?

            I could point out some of the problems with your response above; I could point out that “correlation is not causation” in regards to the alleged violence/religion correlation, and that it’s quite likely that people are “more religious” because of poverty and violence, and not the other way around; I could say that “less religious” is not equivalent, especially in the United States to “atheist”; I could point out that Europe was in large part a violent continent of warring, raiding, and pillaging tribes prior to its Christianization, and that Christianity wasn’t responsible for “the dark ages” (a caricature of the period that historians don’t use any longer, BTW) but rather overcame “the dark ages”; that you are refuting things I haven’t said (i.e., “young earth Creationism” is a fringe belief, not a “major religion”); that you continue to talk about the “supernatural” – a word I haven’t used here at all – when I’ve been talking pretty straightforwardly about some of the empirically-demonstrated benefits of religion; etc. But we’ve all had these discussions many times, and I’m kind of tired of discussing the same old things. If you insist, we can talk more in depth about whatever you like, though; taking them one at a time, and in some depth, is more helpful, I find, than shallow sounds bites about larges numbers of topics. I don’t dispute, BTW, that there are bad forms of religion, or that the church has made its own share of mistakes in history. I believe that much of today’s American Evangelical Christianity has many negative aspects, and that many of its adherents confuse religion with conservative politics, culture, and patriotism. There are other forms of Christianity, though – and I think it would probably help if you knew something about them.

            I will point, though, to one bit of empirical evidence that has made a huge difference in my thinking, and that’s this: none of the wars and wholesale slaughter of the 20th Century had anything to do with religion. One estimate ( http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM ) is that 262,000,000 people were slaughtered by their own governments – a figure that doesn’t even take into account the estimated 160,000,000 who died in wars during the same period ( http://www.scaruffi.com/politics/massacre.html ). That’s almost half a billion people. Quite a large part of this occurred in officially atheist states, too, BTW. In fact, this single fact – all this mass killing, and none based in religion – is a major reason I’ve been convinced in favor of religion and specifically in favor of Christianity. I’ve come to believe that when nothing’s sacred except what comes out of peoples’ often quite sick imaginations, then nobody in the world is safe. And yes: religion has also caused its share of problems – but seriously: nothing anywhere near this.

            Here’s the Catholic Catechism ( http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p1s1c3a1.htm ) on “Faith and Science”: Faith and science: “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.” “Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.” We can talk more about this, if you want – but this doesn’t “promote faith over reason.” I think you really ought to read more about the history of Western Christian theology, which is, if anything, overly rational.

            Here’s an interesting question for you: consider the fact that post-Enlightenment and modern atheists or agnostics have continued to convert to Christianity (and, I guess, other religions, too, but again I don’t know much about others). There are plenty of examples of this – William Wilberforce, James Clerk Maxwell, Rene Girard, and this whole list here: ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_converts_to_Christianity_from_Atheism ). Doesn’t this say that there must be important and valuable ideas in Christianity that make sense to rational modern people? These people aren’t raving crazies, after all, and none of the people I know are, either. We simply recognize that Christianity has a great deal to offer, and says a great deal that’s true about the human condition. It continually challenges people about our motives and actions, which allows for deeper and deeper levels of understanding and change – and its highest value is “charity” – i.e., “love.” It seems difficult to argue with any of that….

          • EmpiricalPierce

            You say about halfway through your post “If you insist, we can talk more in depth about whatever you like, though; taking them one at a time, and in some depth, is more helpful, I find, than shallow sounds bites about larges numbers of topics.” I agree. Let’s narrow it down and keep the debate a manageable size. I also apologize for turning a bit caustic in my last post; as an isolated atheist in the Bible belt, I find myself dealing with the worst religion has to offer on a regular basis. It is sometimes difficult to maintain a respectful tone, especially when discussing Christianity in particular. That said, let’s discuss prayer and meditation.

            Granted, meditation is useful. Anyone who meditates, atheists included, can experience the mental benefits of clearing, resting, and focusing the mind. But why imagine that meditation works because of a personal god deciding to give us magical help as a reward, instead of for naturalistic reasons like sleep?

            As for prayer, sure, huge numbers of religious people – not just Christians, but also Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, et al. have experienced the benefits of prayer… And the benefits of the placebo effect. And everyone who prays (or doesn’t pray) experiences good fortune and bad fortune in approximately equal amounts. So is there a personal god answering the prayers of anyone, no matter who they pray to or even if they don’t pray at all? And if so, isn’t that personal god a bit of an ass to answer the prayers of some while letting so many millions of people die in agony the world over despite the fervent sincerity of their prayers?

            The reason why people think prayer works is because people overreport the successes of prayer and underreport the failures. You never see headlines saying “family of cancer patient fervently prays for recovery, cancer patient dies week later”. Furthermore, if you measure the rate at which prayer does and doesn’t work and compare it to a group of people not being prayed for, there is no significant difference between people who get prayed for and those who don’t.

            http://www.nbcnews.com/id/12082681/ns/health-heart_health/t/power-prayer-flunks-unusual-test/

          • blsDisqus

            I didn’t think you were caustic, so no need to apologize – but thanks anyway. ;-)

            Prayer is a very interesting topic! What you describe here as “the placebo effect,” is, for me, one of the primary benefits of prayer! When I spend some serious extended time in prayer – particularly whe I’m feeling off-balance in some way, either mentally, emotionally, or spiritually – I almost always feel about five hundred times better afterwards. This has consistently been true for me over the course of the past 25 years or so; perhaps some get this benefit from meditation, I don’t know – but I don’t. Prayer is the thing that works for me – and there are good reasons, I believe, for this.

            Actually I’m really interested in finding some research data on this topic, and have been looking online for it for years now. So far, it doesn’t seem anybody’s studied this thing specifically – but I expect somebody eventually will, because it’s such an interesting phenomenon.

            Prayer is a way of bringing yourself back to “first principles,” and of flushing away all the unimportant and often harmful garbage the mind stores up (and sometimes fixates on): distraction, worry, depression, anger, envy, fear, etc. This is not actually “placebo,” BTW; it’s real – and of course it’s normal to “feel” a lot better as a result.

            It’s also a way of “offloading” a lot of these things onto somebody or something else – and of getting needed distance from some of your own problems; this is one way it differs quite a bit from meditation. And I’m afraid there’s really no other way to do this kind of “offloading” than via faith in God (or some external Power Greater Than Yourself).

            And that “Power Greater Than Yourself” is a concept that comes from Alcoholics Anonymous; here’s something interesting on the topic from its 11th Step:

            We liked A.A. all right, and were quick to say that it had done miracles. But we recoiled from meditation and prayer as obstinately as the scientist who refused to perform a certain experiment lest it prove his pet theory wrong. Of course we finally did experiment, and when unexpected results followed, we felt different; in fact we knew different; and so we were sold on meditation and prayer. And that, we have found, can happen to anybody who tries. It has been well said that “almost the only scoffers at prayer are those who never tried it enough.”

            Those of us who have come to make regular use of prayer would no more do without it than we would refuse air, food, or sunshine. And for the same reason. When we refuse air, light, or food, the body suffers. And when we turn away from meditation and prayer, we likewise deprive our minds, our emotions, and our intuitions of vitally needed support. As the body can fail its purpose for lack of nourishment, so can the soul.

            And I have found this to be true for myself.

            I’m not at all, BTW, talking about prayer as a magic means of “getting what you want” or even about “healing the sick”; I’m speaking of it as a means of “maintaining conscious contact with God,” and of clearing away blockages to that contact; that’s the major goal of prayer. Likewise, “intercessory prayer” isn’t a means for multiple strangers to magically heal people with serious heart conditions; it’s a way to keep those you love in mind and heart – and to help ease their minds and hearts, too. In the real world people often ask for the prayers of the people of the church they belong to, precisely because it makes them feel cared for by those they care about.

            Studies like the one you point to are, to me, both sad and ridiculous; it’s hard to believe people are still wasting their time on this superficial stuff. I find this particular study to be totally creepy, actually; I really can’t imagine believing that it’s perfectly OK to perform this entirely bogus “research” on people with serious heart conditions – let alone intruding upon them emotionally the night before their operations with this bizarre, absurd idea.

          • blsDisqus

            This article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-schiffman/why-people-who-pray-are-heathier_b_1197313.html

            is, I guess, a source of some links about the health benefits of prayer. I haven’t looked it over closely and I’ve only gone to a couple of the links so far – but there’s quite a bit of research out there now about the general health benefits of religious affiliation. I can find and post some, if you like….

          • EmpiricalPierce

            To clarify: I consider meditation to be a type of mental practice designed to clear and focus the mind, and prayer to be an attempt to commune with and request assistance (such as knowledge, cure for an illness, etc) from a god or other such higher power. Perhaps you define prayer differently, but the vast majority of people, when praying, actually think they’re talking to a supernatural entity that is inclined to handle their problems for them, and that notion is plainly false. They may garner meditative benefits from prayer depending on how they do it, but that is for entirely naturalistic reasons and is not evidence that the fictional being they are addressing exists outside their minds.

            That said, much of your first and third paragraph describes benefits I attribute to meditation, not prayer. Perhaps you’re praying in a meditative way, but you’re gaining benefits because you’re tapping into a known effective mental exercise. To reiterate, there is no reason to think a mental exercise is effective because a personal god is rewarding you instead of for naturalistic reasons like sleeping.

            Here’s a little secret about me: I enjoy writing fiction, and I have mental constructs of several of my favorite characters in my head who I turn to for different perspectives and advice. It’s a surprisingly helpful mental exercise. However, underneath all that is the unspoken acknowledgment that for all the personality these characters have, they are no more than fabrications that do not exist beyond my own mind. Likewise, I don’t doubt that you can and do gain benefits from fabricating a personal god whom you can “offload” your problems on, but that doesn’t mean it’s anything more than a mental construct. That is important to remember: The moment you start seriously thinking that the characters in your head are not just in your head, you open the door to all sorts of ridiculous and dangerous delusions.

            As for the link you gave, please turn your attention to this line from the third paragraph: “It doesn’t matter if you pray for yourself or for others, pray to heal an illness or for peace in the world, or simply sit in silence and quiet the mind” That last bit tellingly reveals that it is simply discussing the benefits of engaging in meditative practices. Again, prayer can grant meditative benefits depending on how you do it, but that is not evidence for anything beyond the natural.

          • blsDisqus

            You can classify things any way you like, of course – but if you expect to have a reasonable conversation with me, you can’t classify things for me in the way you personally prefer.

            I’m not very interested in what you think “the vast majority of people” are doing; I very much doubt you’re correct, in fact – and it’s a bit rich, frankly, that somebody who doesn’t pray believes he knows more about the topic than somebody who does.

            If you want to know more about what I’m talking about, then I’m glad to answer. If you just want to lecture me and tell me what I think based upon your own beliefs – well, I think I’ll call it quits. I honestly do have things I’d rather be doing than engaging in such a discussion….

          • EmpiricalPierce

            These posts seem to be getting out of order. -_- Hopefully this reply will appear where it should in the comment chain.

            I’ll agree that I was overly narrow in defining prayer as specifically a request for assistance, but in any case prayer is an attempt to commune with some sort of higher power which does not exist as more than a mental construct. It doesn’t matter if your prayer is to ask for help, or to give thanks, or to ask how the imaginary being’s day is going; the being is still imaginary in any case, and can give no answer beyond what you give yourself from your own mind. The moment you think any “answer” a god gives you comes from anything beyond the mental construct in your head, you are delusional. In acknowledging that fact, I indeed know something about prayer that those who believe in a god do not: prayer only talks to yourself, not a higher power.

            If all you’re trying to say is that prayer and meditation offers you naturalistic benefits, then I agree and there’s nothing to discuss. If you’re trying to say your prayers are going any farther than the reaches of your own mind, then you are wrong and are promoting a harmful idea.

            As for Jesus being real… Maybe and no. Did Jesus, the Jewish rabbi who went around preaching and wound up on the wrong side of the local authorities real? Quite possibly. But that’s not the Jesus most Christians believe in. Jesus, the miracle performing godman and aspect of Yahweh is who they believe in, and that Jesus is fictional.

            As for meaning, it is true that human beings have no inherent meaning, and the only source of it is what we create for ourselves. The difference between me and the average religious person is that my meaning is based on an acknowledgment of that reality (“Humans have no inherent meaning, so it’s up to us to create our own.”), whereas the meaning of the average religious person is based on the rejection of it (“No! I know I have meaning, which means Jesus created me with an inherent purpose and has a super special plan he made just for me!”)

            In a way, you could say the fact that humans create their own meaning means that life does in fact have meaning, but the notion that this meaning comes from a nonexistent higher power instead of from ourselves is delusional.

            I would even go so far as to say mine is superior due to being based on reality instead of falsehood for this reason: All humans, whatever their intentions are, seek to fulfill their intentions. But any beliefs based on falsehoods will inevitably lead us to actions that are counter to our intentions sooner or later. Thus, by basing my beliefs and my meaning upon reality instead of delusion, I am superior at achieving my intentions.

            How about you? What is your meaning, and how do you defend it?

          • EmpiricalPierce

            To illustrate my point: Let’s say your chosen meaning is to please a mental construct dubbed Jesus that you’ve created in your head. In that case I suppose it’s possible to achieve your meaning, but the acknowledgment that Jesus is only a mental construct and not a higher power distinct from you makes you essentially atheistic.

            If your chosen meaning is to please a higher power distinct from you named Jesus, then you can only fail, because such a being does not exist to be pleased.

          • blsDisqus

            I will point out one other thing, EmpiricalPierce, as a parting comment and food for thought:

            I pointed out above that If God (i.e. “A purposeful Creator”) does not exist, then clearly the universe is merely a collection of random particles that began to exist somehow and continue along their merry way, being shaped or shaping themselves into this form or that, by means of mysterious natural laws which also somehow came into being from apparently nowhere. Clearly, from this we deduce that nothing, living or dead, can have any inherent purpose at all; that’s a first principle in this universe, isn’t it? This would of course include all human beings; we, along with everything else that exists, are merely random collections of these various particles, shaped into our current forms by forces we can’t see or feel, all seemingly driven entirely by the desire to do anything it takes to ensure the survival of our own genetic material. (Oh, wait, there’s a purpose! But never mind that for now.)

            You’ve agreed with this basic scenario; you claimed this was correct – that there is no meaning in anything that exists, although you’ve pointed out that we can create our own meaning.

            So I have to ask: what exactly is the difference between your “created meaning” and mine? Why is your personal invention any different than – let alone superior to! – what you have claimed to be my absolutely ridiculous personal invention (i.e., God)?

            I mean, apparently we’re both inventing something that isn’t actually there, right? The problem for you, though, is that by doing this you are violating your own assumptions and first principles, i.e., the strict acceptance of reality – AKA, in this case, the recognition that existence has no meaning whatsoever. That’s your original claim, after all – so isn’t it rather problematic in this system to “create meaning” when you already know there is no “meaning”?

            This is a classic reductio ad absurdum result; I don’t see any way around it. Do you?

  • Agni Ashwin

    The Elohim never went away.

  • Kevin

    In response to your imbedded quotation:

    “It can be argued that the universe, with all its evils and miseries, is
    consistent with the existence of a single, unique, omnipotent,
    omniscient, and omnibenevolent god, but that claim is hard to defend and
    open to forceful challenge. The claim that evil and suffering are
    consistent with the existence of a large number of limited gods, on the
    other hand, encounters no such difficulties. From this standpoint it’s
    reasonable to say that traditional polytheism is a more straightforward
    explanation for the world we actually experience than classical
    monotheism.”

    And an even more straightforward explanation for all the suffering we experience in the world is that the forces of nature to which we have attributed agency are simply blind, brute, and pointless forces. It seems to me that a world with many, limited (and brutal, neglectful, and anti-life) gods is no different than a world with no gods. So why multiply entities to explain our experience of suffering?

    Suppose I changed some of the words in the quotation like so [changes are bracketed]:

    “It can be argued that the universe, with all its evils and miseries, is
    consistent with the existence of a single, unique, omnipotent,
    omniscient, and omnibenevolent god, but that claim is hard to defend and
    open to forceful challenge. The claim that evil and suffering are
    consistent with the existence of a large number of [human beings caught in the maelstrom of blind, brute and pointless forces], on the other hand, encounters no such difficulties. From this standpoint it’s reasonable to say that [naturalism] is a more straightforward explanation for the world we actually experience than [any theism].”
    Hardline atheists only make up about 5-10% of the population in the US, but the “Nones” (those with a general skepticism of religious claims) make up roughly 20% and they are the fastest growing group in America. So I think it’s safer to say that WE are winning.

    On a friendlier note, if you were to press me on whether I would like to have pagan or fundementalist christian neighbors, I would gladly take the pagans.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      It’s not a winner-take-all game! You guys are winning too, and winning bigger (numerically anyway) than the Pagans are. There’s room for both of us.

      Your approach is reasonable and it speaks to my intellect. But it doesn’t speak to my soul, which is why I’m a Pagan and not an atheist.

  • rockout4jesus

    While Pagans tend to be the minority in our culture, it does seem to be the default religion.

    From the earliest cave scribbles to modern day Wicca, there seems to be a strong human desire for answers to abstract questions.

    Paganism is more abstract than Christianity, which is more cut and dried. I suspect that is what attracts people to it.

    Of course, there are Pagan elements IN Christianity itself, and I acknowledge and appreciate those elements. Paganism is the forefather of all theology.

    With that said, I, like another liberal Christian poster, am not threatened in the least by Paganism, or even Paganism as the hypothetical “dominant” religion.

    In fact, if my Pagan friends are any indication, the world would be a gentler place if that were true.

    Pagans could run things a lot smoother I think, and if the Christians and Muslims start to go at it, the Pagans can just stick them in the naughty corner until they decide to play nicely with each other…


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