Atheism’s Two Big Failures

It’s really wrong to stereotype.

Speaking of all atheists, could they be more irrational than they are whenever they insist that rational thought is the best way to process reality?

A. It’s no more rational to assume that there isn’t a God than to assume that there is. The atheist seeking to demonstrate his allegiance to rational thought could do no better than to admit that he possesses not one more iota of objective, empirically verifiable proof that there isn’t a God than anyone else possesses that there is. Claiming it’s more rational to assume there is no God is like claiming it’s more rational to assume a tossed coin will come up tails rather than heads.  The rational mind must admit that, at best, it’s even either way.

B. Claiming that the rational mind is the best tool for going through life is like claiming that a hammer is the best tool in the carpenter’s tool box. It isn’t. Hammers are great for pounding nails, but they can’t saw wood worth a dang. The rational mind is great for some things, but useless for others. I use my rational mind to do my taxes and keep road directions in my head; it plays no role whatsoever in, for instance, my experiencing of art, intuition or emotions.

Atheism fails in these two ways: By claiming it’s more rational than not to assume there’s no God, and by asserting or suggesting that it’s possible—let alone desirable—to lead a life defined by rationality.


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  • Ha! I totally agree with this. I did disagree a while back with your bit about Agnosticism not working out, as I’m a pretty much a die hard agnostic and think there are more out there than are willing to admit it.

    but yeah, Atheists drive me crazy being as dogmatic as any fundamental religion. They can’t see that their arguments make a number of assumptions just because their assumptions agree with “most people’s view on reality”

  • RayC.

    So, based on this I have decided to now believe in God, Zeus.

    No, but really, that’s why agnosticism is the best alternative to belief or non-belief. You know that any atheist worth his salt is going to reply to this by stating that the burden of proof is on the individual who says that something exists and not on the individual that says something does not exist. Much like I would be beholden to give you proof that a pink elephant exists if I stated such, and would be wrong to ask you to take my word for it.

    Just sayin…

  • Satyrblade

    Ah, but John – you’re making the irrational generalization that “all” atheists believe the two points you refute.

    Though not an atheist myself (Pagan and proud, thank you very much! 😉 ), my understanding about atheism – gathered both from book research and from discussing the subject with atheists – is that MANY (not all) atheists are not so much foes of the CONCEPT of irrationality, or disbelievers in all things that lack “objective” verifiable proof, as they are people who abhor the irrational – and very often destructive – BEHAVIOR of religious people and institutions.

    The common line I hear from atheists is not, “God does not exist because we have no proof of God’s existence” – it’s, “God must not exist because he/she/it/they have not smacked the living hell out of people who use God’s name and supposed scriptures to commit the most vile acts imaginable.” That’s not the same idea at all.

    The major source of outrage I see, hear and read in atheism is that religion inspires and incites people to act in extremely irrational ways that imperil not only their own existence but the well-being of every other living thing within reach. Although I disagree with the idea that “There ain’t nothin’ out there except what I can prove,” I’m totally in agreement with them about the previous point. (cf. the whole “The world must end in the Middle East so that God/ Allah/ Jehovah/ etc. can give his Holy Land to us, so let’s start WWIII!” idea.) Religious folks who shake their heads and fists at the concept of atheism would do well to look in the mirror and see the seed of such beliefs in their own behavior.

    And for the record, labeling such people as wrong, evil and stupid – especially in an irrational fashion – just reinforces their beliefs.

  • This “rationality” argument keeps rearing its ugly head for one reason: its a circular argument. I think using the word “rational” is also misleading here. If everything were based on rationality, then the concept of the divine would have never evolved as a tool in human development because early Man (and now modern man) would have observed their environment at face value. Thus, the imagination would have never segwayed us toward religion.

    Arguing for the existance of a God using rationality then is futile, because a belief in such a being is based on faith, not rationality. Faith exists outside of empirical observation and confirmed, tested, verifiable analysis. As you say, it’s like using a hammer to saw something in half. Conversly, it would be wrong to say that it is equally irrational to deny the existance of God, because this beings existance is outside of observable science. God is an add-on. He is not required for reality as science observes it. As Stephen Hawkins recently stated, “God is not required for the universe to exist”.

    So then, we should leave rationality where it belongs (observable science) and not use it improperly as a tool for supporting the existance of something only faith (decidedly irrational belief despite a lack of evidence) can hold to be plausible instead of true.

  • This “rationality” argument keeps rearing its ugly head for one reason: its a circular argument. I think using the word “rational” is also misleading here. If everything were based on rationality, then the concept of the divine would have never evolved as a tool in human development because early Man (and now modern man) would have observed their environment at face value. Thus, the imagination would have never segwayed us toward religion.

    Arguing for the existance of a God using rationality then is futile, because a belief in such a being is based on faith, not rationality. Faith exists outside of empirical observation and confirmed, tested, verifiable analysis. As you say, it’s like using a hammer to saw something in half. Conversly, it would be wrong to say that it is equally irrational to deny the existance of God, because this beings existance is outside of observable science. God is an add-on. He is not required for reality as science observes it. As Stephen Hawkins recently stated, “God is not required for the universe to exist”.

    So then, we should leave rationality where it belongs (observable science) and not use it improperly as a tool for supporting the existance of something only faith (decidedly irrational belief despite a lack of evidence) can hold to be plausible instead of true.

  • Dadsprimalscream

    Well, here’s an angle I don’t see presented in your post or in any comments yet… I don’t see myself as falling into either category…atheist or believer. And since your whole argument presents that false dichotomy that if you’re not one of those, then the other must be more correct, I seems pretty weak to me.

    I see myself as accepting the irrationality of both of those positions. Whereas a coin toss works when there are only two choices, it doesn’t work in cases where there are more than 2 choices… I hate to break anyone’s bubble but those are not the only two choices here….God or no God. Using an overused example, just because I may believe in a Flying Spaghetti Monster, do I then get to categorize everyone who doesn’t believe in the true FSM (or even a cheap imitation) as atheist?

    As to point B, I think your own argument pretty well defeats itself. Neither rationality nor faith are adequate tools in and of themselves for going through life relying on those alone. Therefore, neither faith nor rational thought are complete answers but a combination of those tools AND OTHERS best serve a person… and there you’ve made the perfect argument as to why I refuse to align myself with either side. They are both inadequate.

  • Just playing Devil’s Advocate here: I don’t think Atheists reject religion solely based on rationality vs. irrationality. Everyone is different, but I think massive amounts of scientific evidence supporting things that contradict The Bible, like evolution, are what make Atheists reject religion.

  • I was just arguing something like this in the comments at HuffPo to some religion and public life article – the comments there *always* get derailed. I ought to to stop giving in to commenting there. I seriously don’t know why I’m there anymore and sometimes the pages upon pages of rabid “the future has no place for you!” rants make me feel like dying.

    Anyway, I don’t try to defend God there – some do, textual slaugther results. I figure God can defend himself when and if he wants to. I only try to defend the idea of “Believers aren’t all idiots” and “We have reasons to believe, too.” …. and of course “We aren’t all evil, we’re human, just like you.” Of course, I did see a comment that compared Christians (not Christinaity – *Christians* – *people!*) to Polio…

    A lot of things about the “debate,” as it were, really really annoy me. First off, the idea people bring up that Faith of Any Kind = Pure Bad while Science = Pure Good. “Religion flies people into buildings, Science flies people to the moon,” as they say (someitmes peppered with quotes from Thomas Jefferson or John Lennon). I pointed out to someone – “Science also gave us atomic bombs.” Very few broad subjects in this world are pure good or pure evil – it depends upon what people do with them.

    Speaking of flying into buildings – I hate that, too. Well, I hate how *everyone* uses 9/11. All those poor people who died should rest in peace. (I’ve decided that if someone ever makes me a martyr for a cause I didn’t support, I’m gonna do my best to come back and haunt them). Religious people died on those planes and in those towers, too, but you wouldn’t know it the way anti-theists crow about it. They also like to blame the *wrong* religion. (Not that Muslims should be attacked – I think it’s horrible what common Muslims go through with discrimination in the USA) but it seems like anti-theist atheists just *love* to blame Christianity for it for some reason. That “flying into buildings” like is given in respose to people who mention Jesus constantly. It’s like blaming Muslims for what Hindus did and Hindus for what Buddhists did- or something. Also, Dr. George Tiller. I’ve reminded at least one person that he was killed *at a church that he was a member of.*

    Anotehr thing is the whole “discounting of anything I personally do not see as evidence.” Honestly, I think God can stomp on some people and they wouldn’t see it as “proof” enough of his existance because they’ve already decided what they believe. I try time and again to say “Yes, I have reasons to believe what I do – I just know that they are personal and I cannot take them to a science classroom, or convince you to believe. ” Yet, they’ll act like *my* reasons aren’t enough for *me* to believe just because it doesn’t fit *their* personal criteria for “reason.” (Then, they’ll go into some irrational tirade about how all spirituality and spiritual people are alike or how they hate it all because some Christian once said something insensitive to them, or use a No True Scottsman fallacy if historical indescretions by atheists are brought up…)

    If a person is an atheist, I’m fine with that – despite the above tirade… it’s just I ask to not be looked down upon as some kind of sub-human or lesser creature or obelete being. I also ask to be *very careful* of not making your non-religion a religion by adhereing strictly to the words of certain popular personalties and treating all their writings as “holy” (the be-all end all of conversation). Realize that science and technology, while the best way to understand our physical world and improving everyday life, isn’t immune from abuse and people using it in dubious ways. Most of all, remember that you’re a human, too – prone to seeing the world through your own lenses with all your own preconcetions, prejudices and preferences. And please stop telling the spirital that we are “holding the world back” or that the future has no place for us (even if you believe it wholeheartedly). It’s fantastaclly offensive.

  • Anonymous

    “John – you’re making the irrational generalization that “all” atheists believe the two points you refute.” Hence my opening nod to that very point. (Didn’t we already have this discussion somewhere?)

  • RayC.

    Religion is a man-made institution designed to deal with issues facing human beings, such as ethics, questions pertaining to purpose, and how to understand the world we live in.

    Being a human-devised institution, it is naturally going to re…flect the vagaries of human behavior and desire, hence both the good and bad done in its name.

    Government and the Market are no different, each devised by humans for humans, both susceptible to the contradictory impulses, good and bad, inherent in the human condition. The reason religion gets an extra special critique by some is because it purports to represent something higher than humans, namely God or the supernatural. Take the reality of this higher power out of the equation and what you have left is just another human agency.

    It seems, therefore, to hate religion is really a manifestation of hating humanity, because, after all, humanity has the same exact tendencies as does religion—good and bad. Now, whether or not religion as we know it today will continue to exist is anybody’s guess. I’m sure the human race will figure out how to address those needs/desires that science, goverment and the market fail to address.

  • Anonymous

    Ooops—hit the “like” instead of “reply” button. Anyway, Dads, I didn’t say anything about there being only two ways to believe. I said there either is or isn’t a God. Not the same thing at all. The former is prescriptive; the latter is descriptive. And your refutation of my point B can only leave me wondering why you’d bother writing a critique of a piece you’ve clearly barely read at all.

  • Anonymous

    But … same thing. Denying scientific evidence = rejecting rationality.

  • this is an interesting observation, since it’s predicated on the notion that in order to be religious, you must accept the Bible (or whatever “irrational” tenet) as literally true in the face of “reality” which is “different”. however, it doesn’t account for the notion that the Bible (or whatever) is symbolically, as opposed to literally, true. some religious people do accept symbolism. Jesus, in fact, was a pretty symbolic guy and everything about his life had a meaning in context. so, i don’t think that Genesis 1, for instance, means that the world was created in 518,400 seconds in the year 4004 B.C. rather, it means that God is responsible for the universe, including its laws of physics and biology, which are reflected in evolution, and ultimately in us. i find myself arguing with both atheists and literalist-fundamentalists about this.

  • If someone is claiming a “higher power” – investigate and scrutinize it, definitely. I am too lazy to look up the verse, but there’s a verse somewhere in the New Testament about “testing all things.” Even if modern religion has become irrational – one can find some reasonable roots within the core. I think part of the problem with Americans in general is that it doesn’t seem that many of us like to read – so many people will just sit back and let some charismatic individual tell them what to think/do rather than seek out a matter. Seen this sad state in “rational” people, too (there are a few atheists who will bash the Bible while *proudly* proclaiming they’ve read not a lick of it because they “don’t read fairy tales.”) They do seem to be in the minority, though – seems that most read the thing for the sake of “ammo” and are surprised when they find a Christian who’s actually read it/knows what they are referencing!

    I forgot to go on about in the above, regarding “other tools” – I’ve also said that I believe in other irrational things. I believe in Love. I believe in Courage. (These things are terribly irational as anyone who’s been in love or stood up for someone can attest). I believe in Free Will. — There are some scientists who posit that things like this do not actually exist – that free will is an illusion because everything we meat-puppets do is just a biochemical response. Should scientists ever proove this theory – I seriously doubt that concepts such as love, courage and free will are going to go away.

  • JohnB

    Minor problem.

    A) Atheists have no specific belief in a god. This is not the same as assuming thta god doesn’t exist. No claim is made other than there is no evidence to support making a claim.

    B) Just what is the alternative to using reason? Even in this article you use reason to express a point.

  • Exactly, RayC. Religion, because it is represented and propagated by humans, is fallible. I’m cool with religion, in fact, I love studying it as a human phenomenon. However the failure to see all religion as progressive and reactionary is myopic at best. Otherwise we wouldn’t have some spiritual sequel every few hundred years.

    I won’t say whether or not God exists because I cannot prove it either way, but like the wind, we can only judge/qualify a thing such as wind (or God) based on its influence on objects of the physical, observable plane. In this case, God (as “revealed” in scripture) has a mixed track record based on his influence (like a breeze bending a tree limb) or, religion, has had on mankind. And as for a being that claims to be the same today, yesterday, and forever, well…actions speak louder than words.

  • Julie Parker

    I’m an atheist because I don’t need someone or something in charge of my life.

  • I believe in God, and also don’t need someone or something in charge of my life.

  • Anonymous

    Seems to me that evolution only contradicts the way some people interpret the Bible. The Bible, itself, does not claim to be infallible or any sort of means to invalidate man’s scientific interpretation of the world around him. It does claim to be inspired by God and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. In other words, how man can relate to God. Science can never claim its own understanding of evolution with absolute certainty. In the words of Stephen Gould, evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth. Though the Bible makes a claim for perpetual truth, the truth it speaks of pertains to the incorporeal or spiritual aspect of humanity.

  • I agree The Bible is totally fallible. But, if we reject that the Earth was literally created in a split second, then who is to say the parts about Jesus are accurate?

    Again, I can’t speak for Atheists, but I would assume this is the logic they would apply. And I don’t share the belief that Atheists reject all irrationality but simply refuse to live by a text or religious code that dictates behavior they don’t believe in.

  • Anonymous

    I believe in the reality of God, and also don’t need someone or something in charge of my life.

  • Because that’s sort of a black and white way of thinking.

    Different parts of the Bible are written in different ways/styles. I’m not going to take the Psalms the way I’m going to take the Epistles. One is poetry and songs – meant to be pure art. The Epistles are letters. Some of the Old Testament stuff is codes for priests. Some of the Bible is written as history. Jesus liked using parables – little allegorical stories. We don’t know if “The Good Samaritan” actually happened (it would be very sweet if it did), but the literalness of the story wasn’t important: the lesson was.

    Just because a Christian or Jewish believer takes one part of the Bible one way (seeing Genesis as symbolic), doesn’t mean that they have to take the entirety of it the same way. There’s a Psalm in which David is talking about bashing infants of an enemy nation’s brains against stones. I sure want to take that as a bit of poetic David-rage rather than as a commandment.

    And say… you do reject the Bible outright. That’s fine. Just because you reject people’s belief in the Bible doesn’t mean that you ought to reject people for belief in a general “God.” Diests reject miracles but subscribe to a root cause. I think that Wiccans observe a God and a Goddess (having NOTHING whatsoever to do with the Bible). So on, so forth. Then there are people like the Buddhists, who believe in a spiritual path and things like reincarnation, but no Supreme Being.

    I don’t know, it just seems like a person rejecting *all* forms of faith without investigating them based upon their experiences with a single faith (or, worse yet, a single interpretation of a single faith) throws the baby out with the bathwater. Doubly so if they use it as a platform for looking down upon others. Rejecting faith on the idea that “faith/the concept of God is irrational” whole-hog, not based on any one religion but based upon pure concept seems a little more sense-making to me than “I hate my Fundie parents.”

  • Anonymous

    I have no idea how long it took to form the Earth. Some believe in a literal seven day creation, others prescribe to the notion that a day to the Lord is as a thousand days to man, or vice versa. I believe in a God who transcends physics and science as we understand it, so yes, either interpretation casts no aspersion of inaccuracy on Jesus. If I reject the gospel of Christ and His testimony passed on by the Apostles, I reject it because I have instead chosen my own philosophy or the philosophy of another person who may or may not claim any divine rite.

    I wonder if vary many atheists have contemplated the teachings of Christ as opposed to the “religious code” and behavioral dictates of Hebrew law. As an agnostic, I came to the crossroads decision that apart from supernatural intervention, I couldn’t honestly love my neighbor as myself…let alone love God with my all my heart, soul, strength and mind. Loving my neighbor as myself seems altogether reasonable and rational. Being ABLE to love my neighbor as myself is not only unbelievable, but impossible. Yet with God, all things are possible.

    Have a great Tuesday, Nichole

  • John, why do you need God in your life?

  • JohnB

    RE: “Here’s a rational thought: Anyone who denies the massive, intrinsic, necessary, and wonderfully rewarding role that irrationality plays in the everyday fullness of the human life, has never been in love—nor passionate, joyful, enraged, depressed, moved by art, or spiritually inspired—is lying, or is so out of touch with their emotions it’s just sad.”

    I can be passionate without being irrational. In fact, I do it all the time. I sing, dance, enjoy art, love others and have amazing relationships, all without being irrational. Speculating as to my innermost thoughts and emotions, and suggesting that if I don’t do things the way you do that I must be emotionally broken seems to be a bit irrational. Suggesting that being irrational is somehow at the heart of our emotional state seems to be backwards from what I have observed.

    Allowing ones emotions to control their behavior is at the heart of irrationality.

  • pentiptycene

    I am a Christian, and I’m disappointed to see these are fairly feeble and old arguments constantly repeated. The atheists on the thread have already provided their rebuttals so I won’t reiterate. My favorite arguments for God’s existence are in C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity or possibly in Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Both men argue essentially that humans have certain needs which can only be met by God (for justice, meaning, agape love), and why would we have these needs if there was no God. No doubt the atheists on the thread will have many rebuttals for this argument as well, probably along the lines that endless human longing for things which do not exist was somehow good for the survival of the tribe. (Always interesting how atheists assume that things that were good for the survival of the tribe are no longer good for the survival of the human family and should be discarded because now we know better). In any case I wonder why Christians and atheists aren’t yet tired of arguing with one another yet, was there ever a more unprofitable enterprise? I became a Christian because it became clear to me that a universe without God, where there can be no redemption from all the suffering of people and animals, is an utterly vile place. I had a choice, either live in a vile universe, or live in one where God is our rock and our redeemer. I’m sure that this ‘argument’ (if I can even call it that) looks like complete nonsense to everyone who isn’t inside my head, but it works for me. I don’t think anyone rationally decides whether or not to believe in God based on the arguments.

  • RayC.

    “I became a Christian because it became clear to me that a universe without God, where there can be no redemption from all the suffering of people and animals, is an utterly vile place. ”

    May I add: this world is sad and beautiful. I’m sorry that you only see the sad part of it. And may I ask: if this world is a “vile” place and God is responsible for the existence of this universe than doesn’t that raise some red flags? By the way: I am not an atheist.

  • Ric

    When I read your comment, JohnB, I hear Leonard Nimoy’s voice, aka, Spock. And I love Spock.

  • Ace

    Not a big fan of Mr. Spock, huh? Well, Live long and prosper, anyhow! V,


  • Tautologicalman

    I have to admit that he was a childhood hero.

  • Marcelo


  • Anonymous

    Who said anything about “need”?

  • Anonymous

    I love, love, love Spock. Just because I understand that rationality is only ONE of the many great faculties at our command does not actually mean, see, that I hold rationality in disdain. (Okay, new rule: READ POSTS before commenting on them. That way there will be, I know, at least one less blogger out in the world driving around with a gun on the car seat beside him. Great! Thanks!)

  • Anonymous

    @JohnB: Ah. So your experience with passion is that it never overrides your rational mind. Hmm. I see now that I should go back and change what I wrote to, ” … is lying, is so out of touch with their emotions it’s just sad, or is painfully boring.”But I won’t.:-)

  • Not speaking for the above poster, but speaking for myself – I see both beauty and pain, and beauty within pain. As I converesed on an earlier thread on this blog in which folks were arguing the Problem with Pain, I think pain, in this life, might actually be necessary as it’s possibly the best way for us dumb humans to relate to each other. No matter who we are – we all feel pain of some kind. However, I also hope for it all to make sense someday, for there to be some “resolution to the plot.”

    In reply to some of what the above poster said (two birds with one stone commentary here) – some of my thoughts are similar. I like the idea of redemption/Heaven because I fear oblivion (sometimes even more than the Hell-concept), yet, the one thing that I fear more than oblivion? Meaninglessness. Yeah, there’s the idea that people can find meaning in their lives and lives of people they touch… I crave more. I crave cosmic meaning, eternal meaning – if not for my own immortality of spirit, then, at least for someone who *is* eternal to remember me. Family, friends – they aren’t eternal. They’ll eventually die. Cities and civlizations crumble. Eventually the universe will die and nothing any of us has ever done will stand. To me, there’s no hope or meaning in that, in the pure materialistic sense.

    And it seems to be the cruelest thing of all for a species to know about its own eventual death – both collectively and individually. Animals, as far as we know, aren’t aware from an early age that no matter how many predators they outrun, Death will get them in the end. About the only evolutionary advantage I see in such knowledge is “maybe it will encourage us to breed lots before we go” – but… animals breed just fine on lust and bonding (dependant on species) alone. It sure doesn’t make me want to breed (I’m aesexual, anyway)… it makes me feel like killing myself or staying bed all day moaning “why bother?” To know of our end, to me, has many *spiritual* advantages but absolutely *no* materialstic advantages. It just seems to me the cruelest of all universes for us to know of things like inevitable death and extinction if there is no eternal meaning behind it all.

    So, even those who don’t believe in God/Heaven/Eternity/The Great Will of the Macrocosm/whatever can, of course, see why such beliefs appeal to some of us, and (for some of us) provide a basis for getting up out of bed every day, correct?

  • JohnB

    My facility for reason allowed me to predict you would make such an implication.

    Now, let me get back to my suduko 🙂

  • “Allowing ones emotions to control their behavior is at the heart of irrationality. ”

    Agree, one hundred percent.

  • Then in what capacity does this being exist in your life?

  • I have to wonder “what of irrational people?” though.

    I am a highly emotional person. I am not coldly logical – in fact, I have a *literal brain impairment* that keeps me from being a Spock. I have a typical “artistic temperment” I guess. I’m bipolar. I regulate it with medication and use coping skills, but the fact of the matter is that I am highly emotional all the time.

    I’ve been lead by society and expecially the proudly “very rational” to believe that I am an inherently *inferior* person because of this. Because of something I was born with a predispotion to, developed, and now cannot escape. Bipolar is considered a chronic condition, like diabetes. Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it for life. I try to recognize my emotional states and to tell myself when my irrationality is becoming dangerous, but the fact of the matter is that I cannot help being “a highly emotional being.”

    Does it make me less of a human?

    Strangely enough, an atheist (someone I have friendly bull-sessions with on HuffPost) once called me “so damn rational” Not ironically, either – she thought I had some very rational arguments. Surprised the hell out of me for someone to describe me like that.

  • pentiptycene

    Don’t worry about me, I see the beauty. I’ve lived a very good life so far, I have no reason to believe that my future will be bleak. My problem is, I can see that many (most?) people are not as lucky as me, it is their suffering that I can’t stand. How can the universe treat me and my family so well, and treat others so cruelly, that is what I find vile. Why hand me more than I need and let others starve? If I were to devote my whole life to helping those less fortunate I would not correct the imbalance, unless I became one of them, and what good would that do except to increase the suffering. My hope is that when we die, we will be shown why all this suffering was necessary, and how those who suffered are recompensed. So it boils down to: if there is no God the universe is the sort of place where I am rewarded and much worthier people are punished, if there is a God there is a chance that this vile-seeming universe can be redeemed.

  • pentiptycene

    You prove my point, that it strikes us all different. Death (of individuals and civilizations) always seemed like a great relief to me. Death is the great equalizer isn’t it, a way that the richest tyrant is the brother to the poorest beggar. We all take different journeys, we all have the same destination, I always liked that. I agree with you about meaningless though, that would be truly horrific.

  • Suz

    Total thumbs up!!!!

  • As I said, spiritual benefits. I think the equalizing factor is one of the biggest ones.

    It’s just, in the pure-materialistic sense, there’s a certain meaninglessness in it – if there’s no eternal value of any kind. I don’t see now a species knowing it’s going to die helps it survive when plenty of species seem not to know and thrive just fine.

  • pentiptycene

    I’m not sure what you mean by irrational. What is rational about enjoying art? The resources used to make a painting would surely have been better spent on research or (insert your favorite cause here). I think John’s point was that you use the irrational parts of yourself to enjoy certain aspects of life. We are all partly rational and partly irrational.

  • pentiptycene

    Interesting point. I suppose a pure materialist would say that like difficult childbirth, knowledge of death is not in itself beneficial to the species. Instead it is an unavoidable side effect of our intelligence which is beneficial. Also, I’m not at all sure that animals don’t know they will die. I’m no zoology buff, but I remember something about elephants having ‘graveyards’ where they all go to die when they are old. Since we typically can’t communicate with animals about abstract concepts I’m not sure how we would know if they are aware of death. I wonder if the researchers who talk to chimps with sign language have thought to ask about it.

  • I don’t think I said all animals – more like, we just don’t know what animals think and many species don’t seem to be aware, at least not from childhood, like we are. There have been studies on this, on “how self-aware are animals?” Remember seeing a television program in which a deer-cull was shown in a park and the deer, scattered from the gunshot sounds, wandered back later to graze around their dead bretheren like nothing had happened. The sound of the gunshots scared them, but they didn’t seem to register “member of my herd is dead here” at all. Pidgeons don’t make retirement plans. I’m pretty sure the old horse with gastric problems at the barn I work as a stablehand at isn’t so much aware of “I am going to die” as he is “I am in pain.” (Owner’s trying to save him, but he may have to be put down).

    Hmm. Cats may think they are immortal. They seem to think they are gods. I love ’em, though.

  • JohnB

    I wouldn’t use the word irrational with respect to being “moved by art” or “enjoying art”. I’d only agree that the resources would be better spent in (insert your favorite cause here) would be appropriate if one had to make a decision based on scarse resources. If one has the resources (time, money, supplies, etc), it seems extremely rational to use them to enjoy life.

    I believe living life to its fullest is probably the most rational thing we can do. However, to do so, one needs to be rational on how to spend their resources. It’s a pretty huge mischaracterization of atheists to suggest they deny these things, which seems to be the final point of this post.

  • I’ve been wondering… for a while now, actually… if you’ve ever read this article:

    It’s an article on Cracked by David Wong – “10 Things Christians and Athiests Must Agree On.” It sums up a lot of sanity in a funny manner.

    Now, it *is* on Cracked, so expect some language. It’s also interspersed with image macroes “meant to offend everyone” – I really like the hairless little “godless” goblin-kitty.

    I’ve been tempted to post it in respose to arguments on HuffPost, but feared it would just be dismissed because it comes from a comedy site.

    I think it’s a must-read for extremists/hardcores on either side, but sadly, I don’t think any of them will read it.

  • pentiptycene

    I guess my point was that, you do not use the rational part of yourself to enjoy art, you use the emotional part, can we say the ‘non-rational’ part. I don’t see how a purely rational being would enjoy art, other than perhaps appreciating the precision and skill with which something was made. I think he was actually saying that atheists (and everyone else) enjoy their lives using their non-rational as well as their rational faculties, and that it was wrong to elevate the rational above the non-rational, as both are necessary for a good life.

  • pentiptycene

    I guess I will forever fall into the “we just can’t know what animals most are thinking” camp, we can’t really even know what other people are thinking, we barely even know what we are thinking ourselves.

  • Anonymous

    In the same way anything else does that I’m really interested in and constantly aware of.

  • Textjunkie

    Oh well, I don’t read HuffPo so I probably haven’t seen all the comments and arguments on these topics there. But rationally speaking (yet another commenter whose favorite Star Trek character was Spock!), I don’t see how the evidence for God is very strong. Personal revelation unfortunately doesn’t fit well into the bin of rationality. You can experience it–as you have, I have, and others as well–but it may change your personal mind, but it doesn’t constitute rational evidence (though I grant I may be conflating rational evidence with scientific evidence, since I’m pushing for publicly reproducible evidence, here). And multiple anecdotes of personal experience doesn’t make it much better. It indicates there’s something weird going on, but it’s open to so many other interpretations it doesn’t help much.

    Absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence, yeah, we all got that. But rational thought starts with some prior distribution of probabilities and then changes those probabilities based on the evidence. Refusing to change your priors in the face of evidence is irrational; changing your priors with no evidence is equally so. If your priors are that there is no God, and you have no personal or scientific evidence that points that way, your priors won’t change (ditto for invisible unicorns and Zeus). If God clobbers you in the broom closet, then yeah, it’s rational to change your mind–but it’s really hard to convince anyone else who didn’t experience what you experienced that they should change their priors too.

    I think you’ve made the argument that the weight of testimony over the millenia in favor of the Christian God should be taken into account as evidence (could that many people be mistaken in their experiences?), but within a certain framework of thought, that isn’t really a selling point. So from the external observer who’s looking for publicly reproducible evidence of a God, it’s not looking like a strong case. (He isn’t a tame lion, and all that.)

    Your other point re: rationality and nonrationality–yes re: the richness of nonrationality. But if I have to pick only one of the two on which to base my decisions re: spending, working, making laws, etc., I’m going with rationality first. (And a little rationality in the experience of emotion can really save on therapy bills. 😉

  • Anonymous

    You said, “I think you’ve made the argument that the weight of testimony over the millenia in favor of the Christian God should be taken into account as evidence…” You’ve definitely mistaken me for someone else. That’s not an argument I use.

  • atheocrat

    The overwhelming majority of atheists do NOT assume that there isn’t a supernatural. Consequently, the entire post is a waste of space, based as it is on a false premise. It would be helpful if the religious would come to terms with the commonly accepted sense of atheism, as understood by atheists. That is to say, a lack of belief in deities, and not a belief in the lack of deities.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I don’t know why more people don’t grasp that … .

  • Ace

    I was being rather facetious actually. Did I hit a tender spot? Poor dear.

  • Atheists experience the irrational joys of life 5,000,000,000 times better than any religious person. Prove me wrong.

  • Anonymous

    Ace: I deleted your last comment. Let it go, if you want to keep commenting here.

  • Anonymous

    Infants do.

  • Anonymous

    I have difficulty finding any contradiction between being emotional and being rational. If these were contradictory, then being human would be impossible. Put another way, if I Held these positions to be contradictory I would be an ahumanist.

  • Textjunkie

    whoops! My bad on that.

  • RayC.

    Shadsie, I think you stated probably the greatest problem that has faced mankind since he had a fully developed consciousness and that is the knowledge of his/our eventual death.

    I think this is the primary denominator to everything else we think and do — I wouldn’t be surprised if religion developed as a result! No one atheist or theist is happy about dying. but more than that we to lesser or greater degree have to face that reality. As Socrates states (I think it’s Socrates!): the number one importance of the philosophical journey is learning how to die.

    And in this sense, religion, above all other human institutions, addressed this problem most directly. I am not religious myself (was once), but that is not because I’m okay with death. I simply had to frame its eventuality differently. In the end, all of us, theist, agnostic (me), atheist have to face death and hopefully we come to terms with it before that fateful day. I’ve heard it said that Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors for a reason: we are all different and as many differences as there are, there are ways of addressing the eventuality of our own deaths.

  • If *you* had grasped it, why pen a post demonstrating the opposite, unless it be to deliberately mislead? Somewhat ironic too, your closing remark (“Christians: Don’t Too Readily Dismiss Atheists/Rationalists”) – given the inaccurate stereotype you’d just trotted out!

  • Anonymous

    “When everything began, it was all Meaningful. The Meaning lived with God sharing the same Being. The Meaning, then, was with God at the beginning and through Meaning all things came to be; no single thing was created without Meaning. All that came to be was alive with Meaningful life, and that life was the light of humanity. The light shines on in the darkness and the darkness has never mastered it.” I suppose these questions have been asked and answered in different ways for a long time. I can’t fully agree with the authors argumentation but I agree it is not reasonable to pit the rational against the emotional since we all have and need both. If God is no more real than the reality of poetry, isn’t that real enough? Am I more really me without my poetry? What fool would think I were really me without my concern for the unseen things of justice and beauty and truth? These are the reasons I love science and math and God as I understand him. For me it is necessary to skip dismiss every superstitious interpretation of the faith that was once delivered to the saints. The scriptural figure of Jesus speaks against religious hypocrites among the organized religious and praises the pagan centurion for his faith when he recognizes Jesus’ authority over unseen powers.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, you and the Egyptians.

  • I think the optimal way to be is a balance, actually. This is what irks me about the “overly logical” … they often don’t realize their own illogic.

    I have an online/messenger friend (met in a fandom). I haven’t seen him on in a while, I hope he’s okay, he’s probably busy with school. He *prides* himself on being logical. He likes philsophy, has, according to him, been trying to follow Stoicism. He is *not* an atheist – in fact, he is a Christian (of a sort. Kind of a Deist-Christian. Turned me onto the idea of Christian Universalism, actually). But he is big on logic. Thinks “the heart should be a pump for blood.”

    And he is very logical most of the time. However, when he gets upon certain subjects… Oh, love and women – (I guess he likes to talk to me because I’m a female he has firmly in his “friend not lust object” box)… but I’ve known him to get on depression because of being rejected by a girl and pretty much… flip his nut. And he *doesn’t* seem to *realize* how irrational he sounds.

    I live in emotion and have called myself “proudly irrational,” but, apparently, I have rational moments. My Mr. Stoic friend is irrational about matters of love, but doesn’t quite realize it.

    If you are without rationality, you might think you must kill people because your dog tells you to. If you are without some irrationality (such as emotion), you may be a sociopath – with no more empathy for other people than a rock.

  • “Cats were worshipped as gods in Ancient Egypt. They’ve never let us forget it.” __ Common saying.

  • I live across the street from a cemetary. An old one. I also have skulls in my home (not human! One of my hobbies is cleaning and painting wildlife and livestock skulls as an art form. I live in Pennsylvania now, but was born and raised in the Arizona – where that’s a somewhat common thing. I’ve got a Georgia O’Keefe thing going on).

    Am I a morbid thing? Oh, yeah.

    There has been some research into the death/religion connection – there was an article recently on Huffpost about it, actually. Proposed how religion probably started as a response to live – tapping into healing and community. The whole “religion only developed because we fear death” is something of a misconception. Not all religions have an afterlife – or a very dull/dark/unfavorable one for everyone regardless of beliefs or behavior.

    You can even find this in the Bible. The book of Ecclesiastes is written from the ancient Jewish perspective that had “Sheol” as concept. Sheol was just “the place of the dead” kind of dark-nothingness. God is referenced, repeatedly, but it would seem the author thinks that God rewards people in life – (and that life is meaningless! Meaningless says the teacher! because rich, poor, good and wicked all go to the same nothigness).

    I also seem to remember learning in church (when I used to go) years ago about one of the debates between the Pharasess and Sadducees in Jesus’ time (I hope I’m not mistaken) – that the Pharasees contended for an afterlife while the Sadducees contended that there was not and that God only dealt favor in life. The eternal life that Jesus talked about – not a new idea, but probably not as popular as it is today.

    I proposed earlier on some thread on this blog that I don’t think any of us really believes in our own deaths. When people who don’t believe in afterlife speak of death, they often compare it to falling asleep – but, really, that’s *not* the same as *nothingness.* It is impossible for the existing to accurately imagine non-existance. (And yes, I’ve been under general anesthesia before – I’m still trying to figure out where “I” “went” during the time I was out and wouldn’t have gone under if I didn’t expect to awaken).

  • I’ve met not a single atheist who believes in ghosts – most I’ve seen don’t even hold to the idea of humans having a “soul.” Some seem to believe in the possiblity of aliens, but I’ve seen such people (including the delightful Mr. Hawking) ridiculed for that by other atheists. Most I’ve encountered absolutely *bristle* at the idea of supernatural-anything.

    So, if you’re an atheist who believes in the supernatural, I think that would put you in a minority, or at the very least, not among the *vocal.*

  • I think that is an unprovable premise…

    At least until someone invents a machine that allows us to go inside each other’s minds and feel their every experience.

  • Anonymous

    An excellent article. And the frequent use of the term dick is suspicious too. I wonder if David Wong ghost writes for John Shore?

  • Anonymous

    Yeah! Oh wait! I think I know why.

  • Anonymous

    Man, you Episcopalians are so authoritarian.

  • Penile humor and references are a hallmark of all the articles and topics and Cracked. Why I warned.

    I still want the cat that’s exibited as proof that there is no God, though. I have a thing for “ugly-cute.” The breed’s a Sphinx. Read they are prone to skin problems.

  • Anonymous

    Going by my own faulty memory I think Jesus sided with the Pharisees saying that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was the God of the living and not of the dead. (The Living God, get it?) Many people find this to be no argument at all, but for me, it is the most convincing argument I know.

  • Ace

    Didn’t used to be. Not sure what’s happened in the last few weeks.

    I think I’ll stop posting here voluntarily, actually. It’s gotten decidedly less friendly than it used to be. Not sure why, but oh well.

    Have fun without me kids.

  • Anonymous

    Ace: your last comment here, directed to me personally, was as condescendingly insulting a comment as I’ve ever received–as it’s possible to write. Amazing you’d have the gall to then pretend to be “not sure what’s happened” with the good vibes on this site around … well, you.

  • Marcelo

    Which is why I find Christian Existentialism so fascinating…and so rewarding as a lens to view these things.

  • Marcelo


    I just did. Actually, I did just as well as you’ve just proved your numerically-derived and universally true measurement.

  • I’m really interested in religion and how it affects the psychology of its adherents…but that doesn’t mean I worship any of its more prominent personalities.

  • Anonymous


  • I disagree that to enjoy art or any aesthetic is “non-rational.” Everything we as humans (and the rest of nature) do has a reason with an equal expectation. It is completely rational to enjoy art due to the response it summons. We experience “joy” or “pleasure” in the same way that we seek love for the response. Pavlov’s dogs offered a great proof for this. Drug users share a great deal of psychology with their more pious counterparts simply because while so-called rational folks don’t see the reasoning behind abusing your body for pleasure or talking with an effigy of one’s ego, respectively, the people who participate in these activities are indeed rational because drug use and religious observance produces an expected and predictable reaction. Chemical flares in the brain are similar in relation to religious observance, drug use, love, and even orgasm. No wonder the quote “Religioin is the opium of the people” is so poignant.

  • Anonymous

    You should maybe look up the word “poignant.” Because … well, that saying isn’t poignant at all. I think you want “trenchant,” or “salient.”

  • Poignant according to good ol’ Webster:

    1) painfully affecting the feelings 2) deeply affecting

    2) designed to make an impression

    The quote I provided is poignant within the context of my comment because Marx does in fact make an impression–often negatively so, among the religious. Think about it John, does reducing the experience of religious pleasure or joy to nothing more than the effects of opium (even through metaphor) paint a rosey image of your faith? Nah, I wouldn’t say so.

    On the other hand, you’ve presented some fine synonyms. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Alllllllllllllllllllllllll righty, then!

  • Anonymous

    Um. Okay. On my post for today, you’ve been asking for my advice on your writing career. I would totally like to suggest learning to discern the difference between the connotative and denotative meanings of words. (Also, it might be wise not to ask advice from people you keep insulting.)

  • Don’t think I’ve insulted or attacked you today John. Just taking part in the discussion like everyone else. For the time I’ve followed your blog, I’ve always respected your views (even when I haven’t agreed). I always appreciate any advice, even if just asking an opinion. As a published writer, I’ve learned to take criticism constructively and not as a personal attack. I’m sorry you see my comments on your public forum as a personal affront.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry you can’t grasp how “Think about it John, does reducing the experience of religious pleasure or joy to nothing more than the effects of opium … paint a rosey image of your faith? Nah, I wouldn’t say so.” is insulting. Not to mention telling me how I’d do well to appreciate the depth of “Religion is the opium of the masses.” Sheesh.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that experiencing art is very rational. In particular, art that causes pain encourages us to bear uncomfortable emotion(s) that many people would otherwise prefer to obscure with a cloud of pot smoke, or a church-led boycott of the gallery.

    The idiom, “No pain, no gain!” is not only true for building muscle, it’s also true with respect to building relationships and being of more use to others. As a former doper, and current church worker, I have experienced that both pious religious observance and recreational drug use are based in narcissistic gain…how it makes ME feel. If my goal, instead, is how I can be used to help someone else, even if I get no sort of payback, I trust that paying goodness forward will make this world a better place and ultimately come back to me. I mean let’s be honest, nothing we do is COMPLETELY selfless.

  • I must admit I had a hard time reading this post because that dang yellow bulls eye looked like it was spinning on the page as i saw it from the corner of my eye. I kept glancing at it… it then would stop rotating. I believe that “someone” is trying to hypnotize me. What are you really up to John Shore? Are you the Devil?

  • Anonymous

    Don’t you with the devil WAS that lame at hypnotizing people?

  • Check out the passage you just quoted John. It’s a question. And then I answer it as I see you or any other relgious person would. That no, reducing a religious experience down to the effects of opium does not paint a rosey image of your faith. Or…do you think it does?

    If you really look at what I’ve been saying, you’ll find that you’re throwing blows at me for nothing. I haven’t insulted your faith. On the contrary, I’ve defended it as rational (which is strange because you’ve categorized faith as irrational). I’ve also pointed out that Marx’s quote is poignant because it’s insulting to those who believe and degrades an experience they hold to be true.

    If my ability to craft stories and use language was so off, I wouldn’t be published John. I haven’t insulted you. If you don’t enjoy active participation (even if some opinions are different than yours) then maybe hosting a public forum isn’t the best idea. But I would advise that you learn how to differentiate between those who insult you and those who are merely attempting to have a conversation with you.

  • I think there is some punctuation missing in there somewhere… First the bulls eye spinning and NOW this strange sentence that confuses and perplexes the reader. I know what you are up to John Shore. Quit!

  • Anonymous

    Even if there was such a machine, wouldn’t feeling someone else’s every experience still be interpreted and gauged according to our own mind? One man’s torture being another man’s tickle.

    Quick verbal test.
    Say the words, TICKLE TEST ten times.

    If you realize that you’re actually saying something else, you can stop. : )

  • Anonymous

    Oh, sorry: I meant “wish.”

  • Anonymous

    Maybe I’m out to lunch, but the tenor of the post seems antagonistic. Reason/Rationale is a subjective thing. My reasons for belief are obviously not sufficient for another, nor should I expect them to be. Belief and trust in a thing that is intangible as far as science can examine, demands that we create our own standard for qualification.

    Love is as good an example as any. We perceive love according to our own purview. We believe we are loved and trust in that love because the other person has said that they love us. We cannot know that person as fully and completely as they may (or may not even) know themselves. Break-ups, separations, and divorces prove preponderantly that we, as individuals, believe and trust in love even though, statistically, the odds are barely sweeter than the player’s odds in a casino. Some may have a system for success, some my cheat, some cut their losses, break even and live to play again. Others are destroyed, lose everything, and swear off playing forever.

    Another John wrote that God is love. In that text, many have hung their hope of knowing eternal and unconditional love. Love without end…love no matter what! I don’t begrudge the atheist their rationale. Theirs is not mine any more than my experience with love is theirs. I hope and I pray that all people could experience the forgiveness I experienced. Is that what happened to you in that supply closet, John? I’d have to say that one afternoon as stood in the parking lot of the church my mom and dad baptized me in as an infant…the same Episcopal church I saw , as a six year-old, my first born-again believer. An old wrinkled, relatively scary looking dame…beaming the joy and acceptance of the true and living God. The same church I walked away from at 11 years of age because of the backstabbing hypocrisy of those who had none of the joy and acceptance of that weathered old lady that I assume had passed on to the light that shone in her homely, yet beautiful face.

    Love is frightening. There is little about love that is solidly anchored in rational thinking. We can’t ultimately know it. As much as we need it, we can’t depend on it to always be there. However, most of us continue to trust, believe, and hope that love won’t fail us, and that we won’t fail love.
    If I seem irrational to an atheist for trusting in something that cannot be contained, examined, measured, verified, and reported in a peer reviewed publication, that’s ok. I don’t expect their experience to be my experience. I give them that. I hope…I pray that they would come to know the God they don’t believe in. Is that any more irrational than hoping or praying that even my worst enemy would find a love that’s unbelievable?

    Please excuse the sermonizing.

  • Anonymous

    I like that you focused on just pointing two significant problems of atheism, but there are so many and some seem more significant to me than the ones you point out. For instance, what about the absence of spirituality within atheism? People want to aspire to something, to hope for something beyond the physical plane of existence. When you deny that longing, it’s like denying a plant soil. The growth of the being is cut off.

  • Just what I needed! Arguing with my atheist brother makes my head hurt. This gem will go to the head of my arsenal.

  • Anonymous

    Great to hear! thank you!

  • Cris

    Wow well done article! I come across the same issues in apolegetics, thanks for helping me come up with more arguments!

  • Mike Bruno

    If you are arguing against a straw man, you would be right. As someone already pointed out, there is a profound difference between “I don’t believe in God” and “God does not exist”. You rightly rail against the latter, but every atheist I know (myself included) says the former.

  • Mike Bruno

    To point B., I would submit that, if one is concerned with genuine truth (not the mushy opiate of ‘Truth’), then empiricism is the only viable tool we have to separate the genuinely true from that which we can convince ourselves is true. I think it is safe to say that rational thought leans heavily on empirical thinking. So, if truth is of concern, then rational thought is, indeed, the best tool we have. If you are looking for comfort or utility and unconcerned with truth, then you may need another tool.

    ‎”If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is. If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.” – Richard Feynman