10 Reasons Why I Listen To Atheists Revisited

street_photos_nyc.gifLisa and I are taking the day off today to go to Fredericton. I want to visit the art store there and pick up some woodcut printing supplies. We also plan on hanging out over lattés at Chapters for a while. So I dug back in my archives and pulled out this article that I posted back in August of 2006. Interested in your thoughts.

  1. I believe that all voices should be free to speak and to be heard.
  2. I believe that they are not afraid to ask some hard questions that I think need asking.
  3. I believe that God cannot be scientifically or logically proven, as they insist.
  4. I believe they have the ability to expose idiocy that has risen to the level of taboo.
  5. I believe their critique of church life can be more objective, therefore more incisive.
  6. I believe, as they argue, that the church and the state must be kept separate.
  7. I believe I must respect even the strongest opponent of my views and beliefs.
  8. I believe, since I have atheist friends, that most mean no harm.
  9. I believe they can, like anyone, employ measures that threaten human liberties.
  10. I believe that sometimes I have been one myself!

These are generalizations, since “atheist ” does not describe a cohesive, homogenous or unified group.

The fine art photograph is the creation of my friend Mark Hemmings, and is from his New York City collection.

About David Hayward

David Hayward runs the blog nakedpastor as a graffiti artist on the walls of religion where he critiques religion… specifically Christianity and the church. He also runs the online community The Lasting Supper where people can help themselves discover, explore and live in spiritual freedom.

  • Darren

    Allow me to offer my opinion of theists from an atheist point of view. These are admittedly generalisations, but generalisations become such for a reason: the majority conform. I will follow the convention of using “they” that the poster has established. I’ll respond to the numbered points above, and might add a few more in a later post.

    1, Speaking and hearing are both important important in a conversation, but “they” don’t seem to be very good at listening.
    2, Quite often, “they” cannot or do not answer the question at hand, but resort to quoting chapter and verse, as if that is an explanation in it’s own right.
    3, Most people agree that a god cannot be proven, yet “they” cling to the argument that neither can their god be disproven. This is frustrating.
    4, “They” do not want to be exposed, seemingly.
    5, No comment to make here. I have never been to church as an adult.
    6, “They” make the mistake of believing that secularism and atheism are synonymous. They are not. Look it up.
    7, While I respect your right to hold unverifiable beliefs, I cannot respect the belief itself, nor the right to use such beliefs to dictate governmental policy.
    8, Atheists mean no harm. We’re trying to avoid the harm that theists perpetuate.
    9, Can “they” admit that much evil has been done in the name of religion? I do not accept that atrocities committed by alleged atheists excuses those evils perpetrated in the name of religion. Theists avoid this issue time and again. Why try to defend it?
    10, As Richard Dawkins says, everyone is an atheist to some degree. I happen to believe in one less god than you.

  • jake

    Darren – I could not have said it better myself. Amen! (pardon the pun)

  • Fred

    Dave, I like your list.

    Darren, your list isn’t too bad.

    Number 6, though–you insist on pointing out the difference that exists between atheism and secularism which is fair enough. But then in number 7 you take the secularist position. Are you writing as an atheist, a secularist, or both?

    Number 9 is too easy…much evil has been done in the “name of religion,” and even, more specifically, “in the name of Christ.” But that’s not Christ anymore than someone can stick jelly beans in their ears, call themselves a “Darrenite,” and say that they faithfully represent YOU.

    As for number 10, if you truly mean what you say about the weak arguments of theists, then you recognize the weakness of Dawkins’ statement (actually, I’m pretty sure it didn’t originate with him). Dawkins is the atheist version of someone like Lee Strobel. Both pretty smart but smug enough that an opponent is not likely to really listen.

  • http://poeticrebirth.blogspot.com Heidi

    Good list. I got most excited though over your reference to getting woodcut printing supplies!! Hope you enjoy Fredericton under today’s lovely blue sky.

  • http://www.weeitalianchick.blogspot.com Ivonne

    Interesting that just last night I had a conversation about an atheist friend of mine who left a very valuable comment on my blog recently. From the way he spoke, he portrayed a great deal of compassion, kindness and goodness – finger prints of God, in my book.. Very wise words, pastor. I am toatally inspired by your thinking!

  • Terrence

    I can think of no better reply to Item # 3 than the following:

    Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, “Some gardener must tend this plot.” The other disagrees, “There is no gardener.” So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. “But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.” So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol it with bloodhounds, for they remember how H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen. But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. “But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves.” At last the Skeptic despairs, “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener, or even from no gardener at all?”
    — Antony Flew

  • http://www.abundant-blessings.com Abundant Blessings

    Regarding #7 in particular:

    I believe that my biggest problem with these discussions is in the attitude many people take; that if you do not believe( disbelieve) the same way they do or conceive things the same way they do, then you are just plain stupid. It is very difficult to have any type of exchange when either side takes that attitude.

  • http://www.abundant-blessings.com Abundant Blessings

    p.s., I should note that the discussions on this particular blog have not had the type of “attitude” I described above. It seems most of those posting here want to have a real dialogue, not just spout off.

  • ttm

    1. I believe that all voices should be free to speak and to be heard.

    Agree.

    2. I believe that they are not afraid to ask some hard questions that I think need asking.

    Agree.

    3. I believe that God cannot be scientifically or logically proven, as they insist.

    Somewhat agree. I don’t think that belief in God and scientific evidence are incompatible, but I cannot explain myself in the manner or at the academic level atheists seem to require. The God of the Bible requires faith–reasoning everything out in detail to the point where there are no more questions or mysteries would eliminate the need for faith. God cannot be proven, but, in my opinion, that doesn’t make Him imaginary or a delusion embraced by unthinking automatons.

    Theories woven by atheists AND theists have many presuppositional threads on the backside which aren’t readily noticed but are crucial in holding together the theories adorning the walls.

    4. I believe they have the ability to expose idiocy that has risen to the level of taboo.

    Not sure I understand the question. What is meant by “risen to the level of taboo.” Taboo to whom? Explanation, anyone?

    5. I believe their critique of church life can be more objective, therefore more incisive.

    Perhaps. When theists attempt objective considerations of atheism or secularism they are often derided for not having done enough homework or needing to achieve a higher level of knowledge/wisdom before offering an opinion. Objectivity is needed–but even a scientist driven to a life of objectivity must get up close and personal with the specimens of study.

    6. I believe, as they argue, that the church and the state must be kept separate.

    I believe that the U.S. is founded upon a requirement that no religion or particular denomination or movement should assume state control thereby demanding that all citizens adhere to the tenets of that particular religious system. In my opinion, that does not mean keeping church and state in completely separated spheres of influence.

    It’s my understanding that the Biblical term “church” does not reference a place of worship or an organization, but to a collective group of individuals. If this view is taken and applied, it would be impossible to separate church and state without annihilating all believers. This fear, I think, is what leads to atheo-phobia and outright hatred on the part of Christians toward those who militantly demand church/state separation.

    7. I believe I must respect even the strongest opponent of my views and beliefs.

    Agree, unequivocally. They have a right to choose whatever they believe. And I have an obligation before God to love others as I love myself. Period.

    8. I believe, since I have atheist friends, that most mean no harm.

    I have no atheists as good friends. It is likely that many atheists want to make this world a better place for humanity. Atheists are probably MORE aware of making this world a better place and MORE ACTIVE in the immediate now than religious people who place greater emphasis on the world to come.

    9. I believe they can, like anyone, employ measures that threaten human liberties.

    Agree. We are all capable of great depravity and ill will toward others.

    10. I believe that sometimes I have been one myself!

    I cannot remember ever NOT believing in God…but I have asked Him on several occasions “Where the Hell are you?”

  • http://microclesia.com John

    Speaking of inter-ideological conversations… here’s one in the just-released Newsweek magazine, between super-athiest Sam Harris and Big-Box Pastor Rick Warren.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17889148/site/newsweek/

  • ttm

    Terrence:

    I enjoyed the story by Flew. I hadn’t heard it before and appreciate its ability to get me thinking about stubbornness and scientific inquiry.

    I would ask you, do these things exist?

    Love
    Faith
    Respect
    Fear
    Wind
    Anger
    Gravity
    Passion
    Conscience

    They are invisible and intangible, but most assume they exist because of their tangible effects. It is, however, impossible to “catch” them and package them up in pretty little boxes with shiny bows to be given or sold as we wish.

  • ttm

    John, Thanks for the link to the Harris-Warren dialogue. It was great reading.

  • Michael

    The following is a literal translation of the Greek text of the Constantinopolitan form, the brackets indicating the words altered or added in the Western liturgical form in present use:

    We believe (I believe) in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages. (God of God) light of light, true God of true God. Begotten not made, consubstantial to the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary and was made man; was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again according to the Scriptures. And ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, and shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, of whose Kingdom there shall be no end. And (I believe) in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son), who together with the Father and the Son is to be adored and glorified, who spoke by the Prophets. And one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We confess (I confess) one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for (I look for) the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

    Peace Be With You
    David (Follower of Jesus Christ)

  • http://sportsfanjohn.blogspot.com John

    David, I believe that the reason so many Christians discount the views of not only atheists, but anyone who doesn’t walk lockstep with them on every issue. Items #1 and 2 are indicative of the problem.
    Most Right-wing Evangelical Christians don’t believe “that all voices should be free to speak and to be heard”, especially if they espouse an idea that proclaims freedom to the prisoner or healing to the sick/lame. Most likely they did something to deserve to be a prisoner or sick & lame.
    AND
    If they ask hard questions about God or faith. That just might shake the foundations of their narrow brained world. Why on earth do we discount the intellectualism of someone who disagrees? On average 50% of people we meet, disagree with us. How sad to narrow the field of potential friends by such an extend.

  • http://asbojesus.wordpress.com jon birch

    love the list…
    and re. dawkins in the list above, which is also made interesting reading, he is a very bad listener with all the holier than thou of the most entrenched fundamentalist christian.

  • http://biscotti_brain.blogspot.com wilsonian

    I agree with everything but number 1. I don’t believe that people should be free to speak hate or of the destruction of others. That, sadly, has nothing to do with whether on is a ‘believer’ or not, but thought it should be said.

  • Terrence

    David, have you ever heard of a man named Appolonius of Tyana? He lived about the same time as Jesus Christ, and was chronicled to have done many of the same things Jesus did, including rising fromn the dead and ascending intio heaven. I would love to know on what basis I coiuld be confident that Jesus is the Savior, and Appolonius is just a fable.

  • http://barbara007typepad.com Barbara

    Great list and great timing since I just started hanging out with an atheist recently. I am being open to his ideas and he listens but argues with mine. I like what Wilsonian said but I guess free speech wouldn’t be free speech if we put stipulations on it.

  • Michael

    Greetings John
    I felt some pain reading your post. Can’t you see how you create conflict by being in your HEAD and espousing your opinions and ideas? I imagine you have quite a lot of fear and pain, possibly unresolved childhood trauma. You are not wrong or right, but a TERRIFIED, “Little Boy!” The only hope for you is John 3: 16, but I imagine that that would be difficult for you, especially since you have hardened your heart against God. Do you want to go to HELL, John? I have experienced it (HELL) and it is absolutely terrifying. I hope I have scared you, John!! I LOVE you, John and I pray that Jesus will deliver you from your sins. Salvation is always the ending of the minds fascinated identification with the dead and unchanging image of what it was. It is the complete reversal of the
    “natural” order of things a METANOIA – the Greek word for repentance, meaning precisely a turning around of the mind, so that it no longer faces into the past, the land of the shadow of death, but into the Eternal Present.
    So long as the mind is captivated by memory, and really feels itself to be that past image which is “I” it can do nothing to save itself; it’s sacrifices are of no avail, and it’s Law gives no life.

    Peace Be With You
    David (Follower of Jesus Christ, who died on a cross for my sins).

  • Mark C.

    ttm:
    It’s good that you’re holding up examples of existent intangibles. Regardless of whether you answered Terrence well, a question popped up in my mind during his metaphor. I will share it with you after I explain the following.

    Love: Intangible by definition.
    Faith: Intangible by definition.
    Respect: Intangible by definition.
    Fear: Intangible by definition.
    Wind: Tricky. Because of this, it’s a bad example. Wind is a flow of light particles.
    Anger: Intangible by definition.
    Gravity: Intangible by definition.
    Passion: Intangible by definition.
    Conscience: Intangible by definition.

    Certainly, no one will object to what I’ve written above. What you’re saying is this:

    God: Intangible by definition.

    Okay, no problem there yet. However, the definition, insofar as one can be agreed upon, is not complete. Another part of the definition states that God is a causal agent. How does God act? No one knows, because God is defined to be intangible, and no part of his intangibility is based in the tangible. (Your example above of emotions is an example of intangibles that have tangible components, i.e. activity in the body that causes them.) So no one may be expected to study God without God making it absolutely clear that it is he who is acting. And I’m not talking about God using tangible things. I’m talking about something like “He moves his arm and does ___.”

    But wait a minute… didn’t I just say that God was intangible by definition? Yes, I did. As soon as God is claimed to be a causal agent and possess qualities/attributes we see only in humans and other tangible entities, the definition becomes internally contradictory. “He” and “she” are pronouns we use to refer to a biological entity of a particular sex. If there is no sex, there is no sexual pronoun. Whence, therefore, the male God? (Note: Stating that God existed first and simply modeled the first man after himself won’t work, since I don’t accept the Bible as “theologically factual”, whatever that would mean for me. Furthermore, if men hegemonized early societies, then of course their god would be male… the majority always wins in cases of interpretation and establishment.) If God possesses even emotional attributes that humans possess, it all of a sudden would mean that God had biological needs, since emotions are important for the performance and life of the organism they exist in.

    For the same reason, positing that God wants to have a relationship with people is thoroughly odd and misguided. Relationships are for the benefit of biological organisms. They cannot be separated from organic life, as we only know of their presence in the latter, and they seem to be due to biology, instead of imposed on it by some outside influence.

    The same sort of argument also dictates that God cannot be living, and thus cannot be sentient.

    If God is intangible, it is not what people think it is, and it is most certainly not what Christians think it is (only using the Christian god as an example; keep in mind that all gods are said to be or to have been alive and sentient).

    If God has the attributes everyone claims, then God is tangible (here, I count even the most elusive elementary particles as tangible entities, so everyone can see my lower limit of the tangible).

    Can’t have it both ways, so which do you choose: intangible and not the god you believe in, or tangible and the personal god you believe in, but with limitations due to its tangibility?

  • Michael

    Greetings John
    I felt some pain reading your post. Can’t you see how you create conflict by being in your HEAD and espousing your opinions or ideas? I imagine you have quite a lot of fear and pain, possibly unresolved childhood trauma. You are not wrong or right, but a TERRIFIED, “Little Boy!” The only hope for you is John 3: 16, but I imagine that that would be difficult for you, especially since you have hardened your heart against God. Do you want to go to HELL, John? I have experienced it (HELL) and it is absolutely terrifying. I hope I have scared you., John!! I LOVE you, John, and I pray that Jesus will deliver you from your sins.

    Peace Be With You
    David [follower of Jesus Christ, who died on a cross for my sins].

  • Mark C.

    Okay, so I didn’t exactly state my question. It was rhetorical, anyway, and can be easily inferred from my above post.

  • Fred

    Mark C.

    Wow. Some good thought.

    However, you seem to be equating “tangible” with “real.” Can you back that up? Is what is “real” only that which is tangible?

    Also, you say that relationships cannot be separated from organic life. How do you know? Isn’t that based on a huge set of presuppositions?

  • http://microclesia.com John L

    Mark C thoughtfully said: “…positing that God wants to have a relationship with people is thoroughly odd and misguided. Relationships are for the benefit of biological organisms.”

    This is what makes Christ so compelling for so many people – the idea that God becomes flesh. C.S. Lewis said it best – either (1) JC was a lunatic, or (2) he was who he said he was. I would add a third possibility – that the NT texts are simply fiction.

    Many of us have looked at the texts, their origins and historicity. We think the historical Christ as presented is likely accurate. Many atheists (and Xns..) find problems with the ancient texts and their origins. I think they’re wise to remain skeptical. Skepticism implies an active interest in the topic under scrutiny. And that’s the seed of inspiration – wrestling with the Issues. (remind me to share a long story about Beethoven on his death bed – related to this topic)

    For me personally, the Jesus story is far too compelling to ignore. I wrestle constantly with my questions and utter lack of faith. Yet the man Jesus remains my center of attention.

  • ttm

    Mark C.:

    Wow! Lots to think about for me…

    I really wasn’t attempting to answer “Terrence’s question well” because I didn’t realize he had asked one. I received his comment not as a question but as a story to ponder.

    I deliberated the inclusion of wind as an example of an intangible existent, but chose to include it because the point I was making was not really one of ease of definition but difficulty of packaging.

    Let me look again at what you said: “Okay, no problem there yet. However, the definition, insofar as one can be agreed upon, is not complete. Another part of the definition states that God is a causal agent. ”

    Who determines the inadequacy or sufficiency of the definitions? Why do you look for a “problem” with the definition of God? You seem not to look for the same problems of definition with the other things I listed, though many might include “causal agent” as part of their complete definitions as well. Love, fear, respect, conscience are viewed by many as causual agents for occurences and actions.

    You wrote: “How does God act? No one knows, because God is defined to be intangible, and no part of his intangibility is based in the tangible. (Your example above of emotions is an example of intangibles that have tangible components, i.e. activity in the body that causes them.) So no one may be expected to study God without God making it absolutely clear that it is he who is acting. And I’m not talking about God using tangible things. I’m talking about something like “He moves his arm and does ___.”

    I simply do not follow this. Chalk it up to lack of intellectual prowess if you like, but I just don’t get it. Why does HOW God acts factor into a discussion of IF He exists? I assume that you, Mark C., exist. I have never seen you, touched you, heard your voice, smelled your cologne or lack of it, and I have absolutely no idea how you move or act! But I believe that I am quite right in assuming you are a being who exists.

    You wrote: “But wait a minute… didn’t I just say that God was intangible by definition? Yes, I did. As soon as God is claimed to be a causal agent and possess qualities/attributes we see only in humans and other tangible entities, the definition becomes internally contradictory. “He” and “she” are pronouns we use to refer to a biological entity of a particular sex. If there is no sex, there is no sexual pronoun. Whence, therefore, the male God? (Note: Stating that God existed first and simply modeled the first man after himself won’t work, since I don’t accept the Bible as “theologically factual”, whatever that would mean for me. Furthermore, if men hegemonized early societies, then of course their god would be male… the majority always wins in cases of interpretation and establishment.) If God possesses even emotional attributes that humans possess, it all of a sudden would mean that God had biological needs, since emotions are important for the performance and life of the organism they exist in.”

    Why must there always be an either/or component to God? Many atheists and rationalists say God must be either this or that. He cannot be both. Why? If God is truly God I would not expect that he would conform to any definition or limitations which I create. I would also expect humanly created definitions to use terminology limited to human thought and experience. Because, so far, that is all we are able to use. Say, for instance, a man in the 1279 had a dream about a modern day helicopter…He would attempt to explain what he “saw” to his friends in the terminology of the 1200′s. Though that definition might be inadequate and incomplete in a scientific sense, it would have to suffice until such time that humanity has caught up with, and grown into the future with its added knowledge.

    I assume your motivation in addressing my questions to Terrence stems from your desire to help me to move beyond what you view as faulty thinking. I appreciate that you want me to find truth in what I believe, to strengthen what is good, and to depart from what is found lacking.

    The thing is, I believe that I CAN have it both ways. God is both intangible and tangible. I cannot prove that to you. I cannot explain that to you. It is a paradox of truth which I accept at this point.

    Thank you, Mark, for your response. Your words have not been mere letters on a screen. They have gone in one ear and will not go out the other until I have wrestled with them a bit. Thank you for helping me to evaluate my perceptions of the tangibility and intangibility of God.

  • Terrence

    John L, this may help: http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/blessing.html

    ttm, the helicopter dream is a bad analogy. The dreamer would have said SOMETHING, like “noisy-wind devil chariot in sky,” or “giant metal bird” or some such. But you seem to be saying we can say NOTHING about God:

    If God is truly God I would not expect that he would conform to any definition or limitations which I create. I would also expect humanly created definitions to use terminology limited to human thought and experience.

    Exactly- human thought and experience is all we have. Discussion on any other plane is meaningless. Substitute “20 Questions” for God:

    Is it male or female?
    Can’t say

    Is it living or dead?
    Can’t say

    Is it animal or vegetable?
    Can’t say

    Is it a person?
    Can’t say

    Have I ever seen it?
    Can’t say

    Have you ever seen it?
    Can’t say

    …and so on. A one-pound box of Flying Spaghetti Monster noodles to anyone who can identify the author of the following, cause I forgot:

    “A nothing will do just as well as a something about which nothing can be said.

  • ttm

    Terrence,

    Please re-read my comment…”He would attempt to explain what he “saw” to his friends in the terminology of the 1200’s. Though that definition might be inadequate and incomplete in a scientific sense, it would have to suffice until such time that humanity has caught up with, and grown into the future with its added knowledge.”

    Of course he would say SOMETHING unless he was too afraid to engage in conversation with people who would call his experience faulty because it doesn’t match what they think an “experience of a helicopter should be.”

    It might be a bad analogy in the sense that one could argue the helicopter wasn’t real because it was “only a dream.” My point wasn’t for us to argue whether the dream was valid or not, simply an attempt to say that our human explanations or attempts to define things and experiences are limited.

    That does not make the things being discussed “nothing” and or “something about which nothing can be said.” They are just not what you seem to need.

    While you skewer believers who base their beliefs upon something “about which nothing can be said” I would ask you, don’t atheists have an awful lot to say about “nothing”?

  • Terrence

    Here is a more eloquent reply than I could give:

    http://www.daylightatheism.org/2006/06/why-do-we-care.html

    as for my 2 cents, your question would be better put to believers. If you’re so convinced, why is it necessary to spend your precious time to flock to church 52 times a year, pray all the time, read the Bible, listen to others read the Bible to you, (only the non-disgusting parts, of course), etc.?

  • ttm

    Your question is an awesome one, Terrence. I’ve been asking some related questions myself lately since I quit attending my church.

    I still read the Bible, pray, read books (and blogs) which consider Christian concepts and God, but I don’t think it’s to convince myself of anything. I think it’s to continue to deepen my understanding of God and thereby enhance a relationship I’m already convinced is very real.

    Again, I appreciate your dialogue. It sharpens my thought process and challenges my assumptions. Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out later.

  • Terrence

    Fair enough!

  • Mark C.

    Fred:

    You said: “However, you seem to be equating ‘tangible’ with ‘real.’ Can you back that up? Is what is ‘real’ only that which is tangible?”

    Not at all. I don’t equate the real with the physical (i.e. that which I can touch with my body). I equate the real with that which I experience. The problem is in accurate identification of what we experience. I would argue that theists do not somehow experience the existence of gods, therefore I would not count those gods as being real entities. However, I experience love, fear, hate, etc. Those I most certainly consider real. Part of the problem in discussions such as this is that we don’t have common definitions, simply because the definitions rest on presuppositions.

    “Also, you say that relationships cannot be separated from organic life. How do you know? Isn’t that based on a huge set of presuppositions?”

    Relationships are simply the realizations of possible interactions between two existents (the possibility for interaction depends on the natures of the existents considered), whether they be love and jealosy, a knife and blood flowing from a knife wound, or parents caring for their children. Although I know you were speaking of social relationships, I’m a person who likes to make everything clear, to eliminate ambiguities, so that’s why I include other kinds of relationships.

    Social relationships impact both parties involved. They would not be in a relationship if they did not both benefit (assuming rationality, which should be okay for discussion purposes). There are different ways to benefit from social relationships. The two that come immediately to mind are material benefits and emotional benefits (the extension to other social relationships would end in the same, so I leave out further social benefits). God has no use for the material, and emotions are meant to benefit the life of the physical organism, either by motivating it to act to benefit itself, or to manipulate the other party in the relationship. When I use the term “benefit” in that sense, I am mostly considering the search for food and a mate–the latter if the organism can reproduce sexually. To cut to the chase, emotions are for biological entities. God neither requires the physical, nor is he a biological entity (this also ties in to what I said previously about God’s tangibility or intangibility).

    Social relationships cannot be separated from biology because biological entities are the only things known to us that can be social, pretty much by definition. Social relationships are therefore tied inextricably to the living, and the living, by definition, are biological entities.

    That is why the ascription of human qualities and attributes to a god is nonsensical, and that is the reason for the dichotomy I stated in my post.

  • Mark C.

    ttm:

    You said: “Who determines the inadequacy or sufficiency of the definitions? Why do you look for a ‘problem’ with the definition of God? You seem not to look for the same problems of definition with the other things I listed, though many might include ‘causal agent’ as part of their complete definitions as well. Love, fear, respect, conscience are viewed by many as causual agents for occurences and actions.”

    It is up to the person using a term to determine its definitional adequacy, whether its merely for the personal purposes of identification and consequent action, or for the purpose of using the term with others. Something I cannot stress enough but which is difficult to articulate is this: language would not have come about were it not for the reality of social relationships. Language is meant to communicate. If you use language with others, therefore, there needs to be consensus on meaning. If you wish to prove anything, there needs to be a consensus on meaning. If language is not tested in a social context, there is a likelihood that its meaning is either internally contradictory or otherwise muddled or uncertain. Language did not develop for use by individuals in isolation. (I suppose this will be disputed due to my evolutionary view on language.)

    I do not look for a problem with the definition of God. When presented with the descriptions, which, by the way, are on a lower level of identification that definitions, I realized that something was wrong. It is because many of the terms lack meaning that squares with verifiable human experience (must be verifiable to others, as well, for purposes of proof; but inverse this requirement, as I did with language, and you end up with the following: if something can’t be evidenced to others, there is a good likelihood that it is not what the individual thinks it is).

    I do not know of any problems with the definitions of the things you listed, because they are either physical (e.g. wind), or are products of the physical (the emotions), both of which are verifiable to others. When I speak of causal agents, I speak of direct causation. Consider: x causes y causes z. When you say that emotion causes things, I consider that an “x causes z”, or an indirect, causation. What I am speaking of when talking about causal agents are of the kind “x causes y” and “y causes z”. Emotions are the manifestations, or externally-experienced effects, of physical interactions internal to an individual. Socially, the indirect effect of one person’s emotional state is a change in the emotional state of another person. The direct effect would be a physical change in the other person’s body, which would then cause that person’s emotions.

    Even what I have exhibited as direct causation is indirect on a lower level. But for our purposes, I am considering only bundles, so to speak. Bundle of causes and effects A (physical interactions within the body) results in bundle of causes and effects B (emotion).

    You said: “I simply do not follow this. Chalk it up to lack of intellectual prowess if you like, but I just don’t get it. Why does HOW God acts factor into a discussion of IF He exists? I assume that you, Mark C., exist. I have never seen you, touched you, heard your voice, smelled your cologne or lack of it, and I have absolutely no idea how you move or act! But I believe that I am quite right in assuming you are a being who exists.”

    If God exists, he has certain properties. The coherently-defined properties he is said to possess are only known to be present in physical entities. It therefore follows that if God has these properties, God is physical, and has a physical method of interacting with other physical existents (God cannot influence the wind unless he can do something to the gas particles of which wind is comprised, and if he can do this, he does it a certain way, thus, I ask “how?”) Therefore, if God exists with these properties, he has a method of interacting with things that should be detectable scientifically (unless he were to work on, say, such a small size scale that we couldn’t detect him, but relying on such a supposition is ad hoc, and therefore unacceptable).

    I am a being who exists insofar as I am a causal agent, one of the effects of which is the process of making these typed words existent. For all you know, I could be a super-advanced AI. However, given your preexistent body of knowledge, you are certain, and rightfully so, to conclude that I am a human. This sort of reasoning about what you know is possible for certain existents should factor into the deliberation of what properties a nonphysical god can possess. Consistency is needed.

    You said: “Why must there always be an either/or component to God? Many atheists and rationalists say God must be either this or that. He cannot be both. Why? If God is truly God I would not expect that he would conform to any definition or limitations which I create. I would also expect humanly created definitions to use terminology limited to human thought and experience. Because, so far, that is all we are able to use.”

    God must be either this or that because the physical existents and nonphysical existents we are considering are disjoint. There are separate consequences for each that the other does not share. Thus, when God is said to possess things from both sides, there is something wrong.

    God need not conform to definitions we currently have. However, if you have no idea what you’re talking about, then talking about what this thing does is irrational. I’m not using that term in an attempt to inflame, by the way. I’m using it because, without definitions, there can be no reasoning.

  • Mark C.

    The following is not necessarily true: “The coherently-defined properties he is said to possess are only known to be present in physical entities.”

    So let me elaborate. Those properties are not only known to be present only in physical entities, it is the existence of those physical entities which allows for the existence of those properties. What I am saying is this: you can’t have one without the other.

  • http://microclesia.com John L

    Terrance said: “John L, this may help: http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/blessing.html

    Thanks for this! Apollonius is a fascinating figure of Roman history. Did he really do all the miracles attributed by his sole biographer? Unlikely, lest he gathered a following akin to Christ, which he didn’t. True, he had a small following, but it was mostly Roman intellectuals, not a broad cultural spectrum as would be expected from a Christ-like being. Moreover, in reading deeper about Apollonius’ life and behavior, he’s simply not someone I would choose to follow.

    As for other miracle workers and saints, I’ve studied quite a few. I’m admittedly attracted to those who profess and exemplify undying love, selfless forgiveness, mercy and aid to the outcast and marginalized. Christ is the finest embodiment of these ideals I’ve yet found, though I hold many others in high regard. This often gets me into trouble with other Xns (!)

    There is also the slippery realm of “personal experience” which cannot be argued or demonstrated objectively, and which brings up other inter-religious issues that wander far from this conversation. Maybe another time.

    If the Ideals I follow and profess ultimately prove to be vacant fables, then I hope on my dying day I can say with honor and integrity that I have loved, had mercy, forgave my adversaries, and walked in peace. Whether Jesus is Ultimate Truth, or simply a good moral teacher, I will continue to follow his Spirit.

    Perhaps I’m wasting my life – but I can’t find any ideal and anybody else I would rather waste my life for.

  • http://sportsfanjohn.blogspot.com John

    To David or Michael or whoever you are,

    Your comment is a VERY good example of the hate mongering that I was alluding to in my original comment. You use words like; peace, love and your offer of prayer. But the subtext of your message is that YOU with YOUR omnipotent power have condemned me to HELL (your words).
    One of my favorite passages in the Gospels is in in Luke 4 (Jesus’ return to Nazareth). The Greater context has a multitude of messages that can be applied in our lives, but in this situation I cite verses 18-19.

    18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to preach good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
    to release the oppressed,
    19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

    The right-wing political evangelicals LOVE to skip over their responsibility to the un-lovely of our society. It is so much easier to condemn the sick and wounded (of body and spirit), than it is to take them in and proclaim their freedom from the oppression that is foisted upon them by people like you (as you did me in your post). You don’t know me, you don’t know the pain I have experienced (much of it caused by stupid church people), but you know how to condemn me.
    I just hope that when you are in church this weekend celebrating the resurrection of the blue-eyed WASP Jesus (he looked more like Osama bin Laden than Brad Pitt, btw) that you say died for your sins, that you have an epiphany and understand that he died for the sins of the homosexual, atheist and the girl who thought an abortion was her only choice. Your condemning comments are driving the nails deeper into MY Saviour’s hands and feet. Your condemnations are saying that HIS blood was spilled only for those that meet your criteria.

    I thank the Father that MY Saviour offers forgiveness, healing and comfort to all those that the Right-Wing Fundamentalists write off as not worth their time.

  • Mark C.

    GEEZ! I keep having to correct myself. Nix that last statement in my last post. The dependency goes in only one direction, not both.

  • ttm

    Mark C.,

    I happen to agree with you that language is evolutionary and that it’s use in social contexts is what causes it to evolve and shape shift, if you will. I disagree that there must be a consensus on meaning in order for communication to occur. I can understand what you mean by the term you use and at the same time can have a different definition for that term and we can still hold a conversation about the thing in question. And, yes, I also agree that if one is to prove something to another–common definitions must be agreed upon.

    Still digesting the causal agent explanation…X causes Y causes Z. Would this be an example: physical sensations cause lust for the guy next door which causes me to kill his girlfriend? So physical sensations are the causal agent of murder or lust is the causal agent of murder? Or my lack of conscience is the causal agent? Hmmm….I’’m not sure how that whole causal agent tangent got going…or how it relates to whether God exists. Or if it is as easy as X causes Y causes Z, therefore X causes Z.

    You’re right that descriptions are not definitions…I don’t know that I would rank one over or under the other, but no, they are not the same. You make a very good point that both language and experience, in isolation, may not be what the individual thinks they are. Gibberish and schizophrenia are very real to the individual and obviously not valid realities to the rest of the world. This is the point that tends to piss off Christians because they cannot believe that someone would question their sanity…but, though I believe I am sane, I do see how atheists might view Christians (especially the fundamentalist extremists) as whacko.

    I’ve known of a few situations where an individual felt something which wasn’t presenting evidence to the world and it turned out to be true. For example, a mother who felt something was wrong with her child despite lack of presenting symptoms. A patient who tested positive for an STD, but insisted doctors keep following the case and three years later was found to be STD free and doctors said there never was an STD present. The patient knew/felt the truth…the doctors were basing their evaluations on “evidence” which appeared true but was false. In any case, I see your point, but would argue that things are not always so cut and dried or black and white as you seem to suggest.

    Your insistence that God act within “acceptable” physical and scientifically detectable ways seems kind of arrogant to me. I mean no disrespect. But if there is a God and He created the universe, who are we to question how He moves or to insist that He moves in a particular way so that we can verify it? This is where faith enters the picture, I think. The Bible (which I know you do not believe, but please allow me to define faith my way so that you can see where I’m coming from) defines faith as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. So, for me, a person of faith…I’m okay with NOT verifying God’s movements and definition, but I am certain He exists. I understand that for you, God is a untangle-able knot which makes the rope good for nothing but a dark corner and little mice who will chew upon it.

    Although I originally saw similarities in how I believed in the existence of God and the existence of you despite lack of tangible evidence, I don’t know that consistency is necessary in how I assess whether you exist and whether God exists. They are apples and oranges…both of which I enjoy in the fruit salad of my life. But I don’t approach them the same way. Apples I wash and eat whole–peel and all. Oranges I peel first and eat piece by piece. I am not consistent in my approach to them…but I will give up neither simply because I approach them in different ways.

    Even in the light of your very careful and logical assessment of my view of God, I can’t help but believe that He does “possess things from both sides.” I can see from your perspective of rational thought and logic that I am accepting and acquiescing to an impossibility which is at the least very weird and taken to its fullest explanation, stupid. If there is one thing that I am learning through this dialogue it is that though my beliefs are highly reasonable to me, they are anything but that when viewed through the filters of others.

    We shall have to agree to disagree. And I wish you the best on your path to the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Thank you for your thoughtful dialogue, Mark, I’ve enjoyed it.

  • Terrence

    John L, that is a peaceful summation. Can I assume from your statement that you hate your father and mother, as He has instructed you?

  • http://microclesia.com John L

    Terrence asks: “Can I assume from your statement that you hate your father and mother, as He has instructed you?”

    No more than I would pull out my eye or cut off my arm.

    Poetry, Terrence. Metaphoric imagery. The OT Psalmist says God will “shelter us under his wings.” Somewhere, someone is no doubt visualizing God as a giant bird.

  • http://aloadofbright.wordpress.com tobe38

    All I can really say regarding the original post, is that, again, it is nice to see a theist acknowledging these points. There are many inaccurate stereotypes spread about atheists and what we stand for, and any work that battles against the anti-atheist propaganda, is gratefully received, regardless of where or whom it comes from.

  • terrence

    So the bible is nothing but poetry and metaphor? Whew, that clears up a lot. Jesus says clearly and plainly, with no strings attached (like that insipid copout, “sometimes the answer is no”) that ANYTHING you ask shall be given. Well, OK, so long as we can say he didn’t really mean it.

  • Fred

    Mark C.,

    You said, “I equate the real with that which I experience. The problem is in accurate identification of what we experience. I would argue that theists do not somehow experience the existence of gods, therefore I would not count those gods as being real entities. However, I experience love, fear, hate, etc. Those I most certainly consider real. Part of the problem in discussions such as this is that we don’t have common definitions, simply because the definitions rest on presuppositions.”

    How then do you deal with the theist’s assertion that he/she experiences God or has experienced God?

    “Relationships are simply the realizations of possible interactions between two existents (the possibility for interaction depends on the natures of the existents considered), whether they be love and jealosy, a knife and blood flowing from a knife wound, or parents caring for their children. Although I know you were speaking of social relationships, I’m a person who likes to make everything clear, to eliminate ambiguities, so that’s why I include other kinds of relationships.”

    And based on your presupposition that God does not exist, relationship with him is a non sequitor. However, if God does exist, and further, desires relationship with us (regardless of our ability or lack of ability to comprehend him on our own), then relationship with him is more than possible.

    “Social relationships impact both parties involved. They would not be in a relationship if they did not both benefit (assuming rationality, which should be okay for discussion purposes). There are different ways to benefit from social relationships. The two that come immediately to mind are material benefits and emotional benefits (the extension to other social relationships would end in the same, so I leave out further social benefits). God has no use for the material, and emotions are meant to benefit the life of the physical organism, either by motivating it to act to benefit itself, or to manipulate the other party in the relationship. When I use the term “benefit” in that sense, I am mostly considering the search for food and a mate–the latter if the organism can reproduce sexually. To cut to the chase, emotions are for biological entities. God neither requires the physical, nor is he a biological entity (this also ties in to what I said previously about God’s tangibility or intangibility).”

    Again you are approaching the issue from a purely naturalistic/material set of presuppositions. Why would God not benefit from relationship with us? He can benefit from relationship with us without REQUIRING relationship with us.

    “Social relationships cannot be separated from biology because biological entities are the only things known to us that can be social, pretty much by definition. Social relationships are therefore tied inextricably to the living, and the living, by definition, are biological entities.”

    Says the naturalist.

    “That is why the ascription of human qualities and attributes to a god is nonsensical, and that is the reason for the dichotomy I stated in my post.”

    You try to explain God from the perspective of biological relationships. I try to explain biological relationships from the perspective of God. We are approaching it from completely different sets of presuppositions that are both consistent and coherent. But do they match observation? Do they properly explain life?

  • Fred

    terrence:

    When someone says that the Bible uses poetry and metaphor, it doesn’t mean that the Bible is NOTHING BUT poetry and metaphor. That’s a straw man argument.

  • terrence

    OK, cool. What guide do I use to figure out which parts are poetry and metaphor, and which parts are plain speaking? I’m supposed to murder my bride if it’s discovered she’s not a virgin. Literal, or metaphor? I’ll go to hell if I wear linen mixed with wool. Literal, or metaphor? The incarnated Son, God Himself, cursed a fig tree cause he couldn’t get a fig when figs were out of season. Literal, or metaphor? I have disobeyed the ten commandments by not murdering homosexuals, not burning witches, and just today I dined on young goat boiled in its mother’s milk-metaphor or literal?

  • Fred

    Now you’re asking some good questions. There are answers for those that really aren’t too hard to find. Where do you think you would start drawing those lines?

  • Mark C.

    Fred:

    Such a good, challenging response you gave. I will respond as best I can, though I doubt I will convince you any more than I already have.

    You said: “How then do you deal with the theist’s assertion that he/she experiences God or has experienced God?”

    I deal with it as a claim reflective of psychological experiences, whether they be brought on by internal states or external occurrences. Here’s why. If you make a claim to a person and expect that person to believe you (should they not already agree), it is up to you to verify the truth of your claim. If you can’t verify the truth of your claim, there’s no point in letting others hear the claim, because they will not understand what you are talking about. What I mean by this is that if someone expects me to believe something, they had better give me backing that is logically sufficient to result in my belief. What I do NOT mean is that truth depends on how many people are in agreement. But as far as the verifiable existence of something goes, there’s something to be said about numbers. I don’t know about you, but I would believe the people who study the human mind, thoughts, and behavior (i.e. psychologists and sociologists), over someone who says there’s some spooky external agent that no one can possibly verify the existence of, and which has no consistent pattern of action with which to use as evidence for verification.

    What the claimants experienced, if you go by my requirement of speaking of direct causation (with the “bundle” qualifier that I spoke of), is the motion of matter and energy in their brains. What caused that motion? Let’s look and see instead of laying down a hypothesis and leaving it at that.

    You said: “And based on your presupposition that God does not exist, relationship with him is a non sequitor. However, if God does exist, and further, desires relationship with us (regardless of our ability or lack of ability to comprehend him on our own), then relationship with him is more than possible.”

    Of course one can’t have a relationship with a nonexistent. I’m not so odd as to claim one could, and I’m not trying to employ any trickery in my argument. But you must concur… if something does not exist, one can’t have a relationship with it.

    What if God exists? What does a having a relationship with “someone” that is not a someone entail? How does the interaction take place? Tell me what God is, and I’ll tell you if there’s a possibility of his existence or not. No, I’m not being arrogant, though that’s how it may appear. If I stick to the meanings of the words used to describe or define God, I will be able to discern the possibility or impossibility of the described being’s existence from such. So far, no one trying to convince anyone of the existence of ANY god has used coherent definitions (this is an induction from my own, personal, experience).

    You said: “Again you are approaching the issue from a purely naturalistic/material set of presuppositions. Why would God not benefit from relationship with us? He can benefit from relationship with us without REQUIRING relationship with us.”

    I do not accept the natural/supernatural dichotomy that people on both sides often attempt to pull. I think that, given what is called “supernatural” and how said set of entities is always poorly defined or described, that said term is meaningless, except as a means of conveying the fact that people believe in the existence of unverifiable phenomena that are CLAIMED to be able to defy all scientific knowledge of how the universe works. Thus, I come at the problem from the only reliable route I can: that of verifiable experience. In my opinion, dividing the issue into one of “natural vs supernatural” is fallacious, and only serves to give ground to beliefs that, in truth, have no such grounding.

    From experience, I induce that there is regularity of occurrence. That is what allows scientists or humans in general to investigate anything, and the induction is available to each and every person. Accepting, instead and prior to said induction, that there is a god is a very queer way way of trying to get at truth, indeed! And the problem is… if you accept this prior to the induction of regularity in all things… why did you accept it? Chances are it was because you were taught to accept it by your parents, and it became ingrained in your head and permeated your every mental process. Is subservience to parental authority ever a reliable way to get at truth? Negative. Where did they get those ideas, I wonder…? I would hope that these questions and thoughts arise for every believer sometime in their lives, but it seems that they don’t, and that saddens me.

    Given, for the moment, that God can and does exist… how would he benefit from a relationship with us?

    You said: “Says the naturalist.”

    So say the people who study living things, the existences of which are verifiable. “Living” equates to “functioning organism”. Do you know the criteria used to establish what an organism is?

    You said: “You try to explain God from the perspective of biological relationships. I try to explain biological relationships from the perspective of God. We are approaching it from completely different sets of presuppositions that are both consistent and coherent. But do they match observation? Do they properly explain life?”

    I “try” to explain God from the only sorts of relationships humans know of. One can’t explain things using the converse perspective unless both parts of the statement make sense. The god part makes no sense, and thus, neither does explaining things from that perspective.

    One can presuppose the existence of God, sure, but is this presupposition internally coherent? And does the union of the words used to describe/define it square with verifiable reality? That is what we should be asking first. You state that such a presupposition is consistent and coherent, yet I have not seen an argument proving such… neither here, nor in the 4-5 years I’ve been an atheist.

    Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that I have been lenient with regard to my nouns. Were I not trying to be somewhat polite, I would use the regular noun (with article) “a god” in place of the proper noun “God”. As long as there is no method of verification and no actual evidence, all gods are on equal footing, and everyone elses’ gods are just as real to me as yours is.

    (I keep feeling I should apologize for my tone before responses come in. I’m tired, and don’t control my tone as well in such a condition. Please be patient with me if I’ve upset you.)

  • terrence

    Thinking over Mark’s last, I see a possible commonality between theists and atheists. If “deeply felt personal experience” is sufficient proof of a claim, then’s let’s accept that, along with the necessary corollary that all such experiences must be equally valid, such as the gentleman in the asylum who deeply feels he is Napoleon. Wait, that might be perceived as an insult. Change “Napoleon” to “Zeus.”

  • Fred

    Mark C.,

    I would love to respond to your complete response, which is entirely in good taste and not insulting in any way. The “commenting on a blog” is a bit cumbersome, which makes it awkward, so in spite of the lengthy response I’d like to make, let me respond to one point:

    You said:

    “So say the people who study living things, the existences of which are verifiable. “Living” equates to “functioning organism”. Do you know the criteria used to establish what an organism is?”

    From what I understand, that is a question that scientists are having some difficulty with. What is “life”?

    Then again, if God by definition is outside out universe (which he would be according to a Christian worldview; I can’t speak for other belief systems), then his being “alive” wouldn’t necessarily correspond to what qualifies for life within our universe. Let’s take a couple of specifics–growth and reproduction. Not necessary for God; in fact, it could be logically argued that it is impossible if you’re taking strict orthodox definitions. I could argue that God is relational and that he does “grow” in relationship and he does “reproduce” in relationship, but again that’s a appealing to a couple of presuppositions.

    However, the biggest problem with asking God to conform to a scientific definition of “life” is that science specifically deals with what happens and can be measured in our own universe, according to consistent laws.

    You said (here I go, carried away again):

    “One can presuppose the existence of God, sure, but is this presupposition internally coherent? And does the union of the words used to describe/define it square with verifiable reality? That is what we should be asking first. You state that such a presupposition is consistent and coherent, yet I have not seen an argument proving such… neither here, nor in the 4-5 years I’ve been an atheist.”

    But how does “no god” become consistent with a universe that follows these set laws? Why is the universe logical? Repeatable? Consistent? How can such a universe come to be? A naturalist/materialist must come to the conclusion that the universe ultimately has no meaning. But if there is no ultimate meaning, then there is no particular meaning, no matter how much we try to “make” meaning.

    That kind of circular argument even goes back to explanations of the origin of the universe–according to the big bang theory (which I don’t really have a problem with in the “big picture”). The current explanation is that our universe arose from a quantum fluctuation (because of the zero-point field, Heisenbergs’ Uncertainty Principle, etc.). But that is inconsistent with the theory itself which says that physical laws were beginning to be established AFTER the first unit of Planck time (a minuscule fraction of a second AFTER the big bang). How can the big bang emerge based on physical laws which had not yet been established?

    That’s a huge contradiction. But that is appealing to universal laws to explain “suprauniversal” or “extrauniversal” phenomena. It doesn’t work. I would argue that you are attempting to do the same with the concept of God (or “a god”; that doesn’t offend me).

    In my own experience, however, I would say that I do see consistency and coherency in theism (which requires revelation to understand God AT ALL–for the reasons that you have already described).

  • Mark C.

    Fred,

    Nice to have this dialogue with you, by the way. I haven’t had a good discussion like this in a while.

    You said: “From what I understand, that is a question that scientists are having some difficulty with. What is ‘life’?”

    Though there is no set definition of life, all definitions deal with the biological. The only existent I’m aware of that straddles the line between life and nonlife is the virus, and I think it is generally not considered life, though I do believe it is studied thoroughly in biology because it’s so much like life and so heavily impacts life forms. Though I know there are gripes to be had with Wikipedia, check out the article on “Life”. You can glean from the first paragraph what I was speaking of, assuming no one changes it between now and when you look.

    You said: “Then again, if God by definition is outside out universe (which he would be according to a Christian worldview; I can’t speak for other belief systems), then his being ‘alive’ wouldn’t necessarily correspond to what qualifies for life within our universe. Let’s take a couple of specifics–growth and reproduction. Not necessary for God; in fact, it could be logically argued that it is impossible if you’re taking strict orthodox definitions. I could argue that God is relational and that he does ‘grow’ in relationship and he does ‘reproduce’ in relationship, but again that’s a appealing to a couple of presuppositions.”

    Before defining God to be outside of the universe, we need coherent/intelligible/etc. definitions of what it means to be outside of the universe, and we need a definition of “universe” to do that.
    “Life” refers to the biological. If God is “outside our universe”, a new term would have to be coined. This alteration of definitions is what so thoroughly irks me in these issues and discussions.
    Of course if God exists, he is relational. But I’m talking about social relationships, specifically.

    You said: “However, the biggest problem with asking God to conform to a scientific definition of “life” is that science specifically deals with what happens and can be measured in our own universe, according to consistent laws.”

    To reiterate, I’m not saying that God should conform to our definition of life. I’m saying that the term should not be redefined on the fly to suit one side of an argument, and that, were God to exist, a new term would be necessary.

    You said: “But how does “no god” become consistent with a universe that follows these set laws? Why is the universe logical? Repeatable? Consistent? How can such a universe come to be?”

    The laws are our explanations of how the universe operates, not prescriptions to the universe that tell it how to operate.
    Asking why the universe is logical, repeatable, and consistent seems very silly to me. I’m no longer in the Objectivist camp (those know-it-all idiots… *grumble*), but they’re very good to harp on people to keep definitions and causes pinned down. We should not be asking why the universe is any one of those, because those simply follow from what it means for a thing to exist. A proton will always have the properties we associate with a proton, and therefore will always behave the same way. Our use of logic rests entirely on the assumption of regularity, which itself follows from the fact that things exist. (The only possible issue I could see confusing people here is quantum mechanics. But there, a proton is still a proton, too, and always behaves like a proton.)
    Asking how the universe came to be is, if it’s not a pointless question, on the very frontier of science and discussion of it with our level of knowledge is therefore questionable. I’d be interested in hearing more about the distant past around that time, but I don’t need an answer on that issue to determine my theism or atheism. I’m an atheist because I don’t perceive a god. That’s all there is to it.

    You said: “A naturalist/materialist must come to the conclusion that the universe ultimately has no meaning. But if there is no ultimate meaning, then there is no particular meaning, no matter how much we try to “make” meaning.”

    Meaning is something that conscious beings ascribe to things. If there was no consciousness before the universe “began” (a concession I give you just to make discussion easier), then the universe has no meaning. But “consciousness” has a definition, and I doubt it could be applied to God for that reason.

    You said: “The current explanation is that our universe arose from a quantum fluctuation (because of the zero-point field, Heisenbergs’ Uncertainty Principle, etc.). But that is inconsistent with the theory itself which says that physical laws were beginning to be established AFTER the first unit of Planck time (a minuscule fraction of a second AFTER the big bang). How can the big bang emerge based on physical laws which had not yet been established?”

    I’m not a quantum physicist or cosmologist (I only have two courses of engineering physics and plenty of lay reading under my belt), but I don’t think quantum fluctuations count as physical laws. Quantum fluctuations don’t seem to be determined by anything, and so they cannot fall under physical law. If they do, then I would think the law would be a statistical observation. But I’m not going to argue this point one way or the other. My atheism doesn’t rest on it, nor do I think it should. Plus, I really don’t want to say anything factually inaccurate with regard to physics.

    You said: “That’s a huge contradiction. But that is appealing to universal laws to explain “suprauniversal” or “extrauniversal” phenomena. It doesn’t work. I would argue that you are attempting to do the same with the concept of God (or “a god”; that doesn’t offend me).”

    I think I’ve cleared up what I’m trying to do with the “concept” of gods in one of my above paragraphs, so… well, I hope I cleared it up.

    You said: “In my own experience, however, I would say that I do see consistency and coherency in theism (which requires revelation to understand God AT ALL–for the reasons that you have already described).”

    If comprehension of the nature of God depends upon him evidencing himself to me, I would like to know what has counted as revelation for you. Besides… you do realize, don’t you, that playing the revelation card makes any discussion of God rather pointless, and that “revelation” could possibly be explained perfectly well by psychology?

  • Mark C.

    For those interested in where I’m coming from from a philosophical standpoint, I’ve found some Wikipedia articles that, at first glance, anyway, describe my position.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theological_noncognitivism

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignosticism

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verifiability_theory_of_meaning

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    Very interesting. This atheist agrees with most of your list. Just one point of contention. I certainly do not believe that any god can be scientifically or logically proven. What I believe is that the very concept of the Christian god is such that it is logically incoherent. It cannot exist in the way a square circle cannot exist.

    In any case, I see no reason why believers and non-believers cannot interact, learn from one another, and gain mutual benefit from doing so. There is but one stumbling block, described here: http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/2007/03/atheist-theist-dialogue-one-obstacle.html

  • L.Nielsen

    Sorry I come into this a bit late, but here are my 2 cents about us atheists:

    1. I believe that all voices should be free to speak and to be heard.
    Agree.

    2. I believe that they are not afraid to ask some hard questions that I think need asking.
    Agree.

    3. I believe that God cannot be scientifically or logically proven, as they insist.
    I don’t think atheists want theists to prove a god exists, but theists make the claim of a god and therefore we have the right to demand theists come with some form of evidence, before we consider the claim. None has ever been produced. And like Darren says no evidence does not amount to “God cannot be disproved either” beeing a valid argument.

    4. I believe they have the ability to expose idiocy that has risen to the level of taboo.
    Agree.

    5. I believe their critique of church life can be more objective, therefore more incisive.
    Agree somewhat, but sometimes a little revolution (peacefull, please) from the inside can be just what the doctor orders.

    6. I believe, as they argue, that the church and the state must be kept separate.
    What I want and argue for is a society where religion is a private matter of no concern to the state. In Denmark church and state are not formally seperated, but we have nevertheless not had a anti-secular inclined governmentleader since at least the sixties, perhaps not in the last hundred years or more. The largest (the only?) religiousbased party hasn’t even enough voters to get in the danish “congress” (at least 2%). The “seperated” U.S.A. has a president who was elected thanks to the christian right, who has gone to war after talks with a god, who opposes homosexuals although I don’t think homosexuals in general hurt him and who on religious grounds has opposed science, wich could potentially help billions in the next few decades.

    7. I believe I must respect even the strongest opponent of my views and beliefs.
    I respect people of other views and beliefs but not necessarily the views and beliefs. I will not withhold critisicm of those views and beliefs and I cannot accept belief in something for wich no evidence exists as acceptable foundation for laws.

    8. I believe, since I have atheist friends, that most mean no harm.
    I have to quote Darren here: “Atheists mean no harm. We’re trying to avoid the harm that theists perpetuate.”
    I am sure that many people of faith do not mean harm, but by trying to impose their view on gays, stemcellresearch or freedom of speech on the rest of society the in fact harm other people.

    9. I believe they can, like anyone, employ measures that threaten human liberties.
    The most harmfull and deadly measure is forcing opinions and ways of living onto other people and religion are very good at that. So is the religionlike ideologies of communism and nazism. The problem here is non-evidence-based dogma.

    10. I believe that sometimes I have been one myself!
    Darren quotes Richard Dawkins and with that I totally agree. I do not believe in Thor or Athene either.


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