The all-or-nothing lie of fundamentalist Christianity (part 1)

I wound up having a lot of fun at the Slacktivixen’s 25th high school reunion. It was kind of like going to a wedding reception without the wedding beforehand — a big, friendly party where everyone just happened to be one year younger than me and a lapsed Catholic. Good times.

I think 25th reunions are more relaxed than 10th or 15th reunions, where some folks are still competing and comparing. By your 25th, everybody can admit they’re on Plan B or Plan C in life and no one seems to have the desire or energy to pretend otherwise. (Church, I think, should be more like a 25th reunion in that regard.)

I haven’t been back to Jersey for any class reunions or homecomings in a long time, but hearing all those stories of the ‘vixen’s high school years got me thinking again of my alma mater, Timothy Christian School.

TCS, which I attended from third grade all the way through high school, is a fundamentalist private school. It’s not “evangelical,” but full-on fundie. I’m talking a literal reading of an inerrant, infallible King James Version Bible, with young-earth creationism taught in science classes and Hal Lindsey and Josh McDowell books used as textbooks in Bible class. It was about as effing undie as fundie can be.

And that meant I was taught the very same house-of-cards construct of faith that I’ve often criticized here.

Fundamentalist Christianity is a package deal — an inseparable, all-or-nothing bundle of teachings and ideology that says every piece depends on every other piece. If any one piece of it isn’t true, fundamentalism insists, then it all falls apart and none of it is true.

That’s a cruel construct that sets you up for a miserable future. It guarantees an eventual crisis of faith that can lead either to a lifetime of white-knuckled denial and desperate pretense or to the abandonment of the whole enchilada.

Viewed from the outside, this all-or-nothing claim doesn’t make much sense. From the outside, the separate components of fundamentalism’s package deal do appear separate and separable. From the outside, it just seems kind of silly to insist that, for example, belief in the Golden Rule requires and is somehow dependent on belief that the universe is only 6,000 years old.

But from the inside, within fundamentalism, this all-or-nothing message is pounded home again and again with such frequency and urgency that it seems true to those shaped by that world. Belief in Jesus, in forgiveness, or in faith, hope and love, really does come to seem contingent and dependent upon all those other beliefs in inerrancy, literalism, creationism, and whichever weird American variant of eschatology your particular sub-group of fundies subscribes to.

And that means, for those shaped by fundamentalism, that belief in Jesus, faith, hope and love are all constantly imperiled by even fleeting glimpses of reality. Some such glimpse will eventually penetrate the protective fundie shell — the recognition that maybe all sedimentary rocks didn’t come from Noah’s flood, the realization that the Synoptic Gospels can’t be easily “harmonized,” the attempt to evangelize some Hellbound Episcopalian that results in them getting the better of the conversation. And when that happens, the whole edifice threatens to topple like some late-in-the-game Jenga tower.

At that point, the reality-punctured fundie is trained to believe they have only two choices. Either they can fiercely decide to pretend it never happened and that they never caught such a glimpse — thus becoming the sort of person who is increasingly capable of such pretense and denial. Or they can chuck it all and embrace the nihilism and meaninglessness that they were always taught was the only alternative to this fragile fundie faith.

We were taught that at TCS too. Such all-or-nothing fundamentalism was what we were constantly told was true.

But we were also shown something healthier.

This was, I think, an accident — an unintended fluke of providence or luck. But for me and for others who were shaped by Timothy Christian, it was a saving grace. It was something that equipped us and enabled us to escape the all-or-nothing lie at the center of the house-of-cards fundie faith.

In part 2, I’ll discuss what this saving grace was, and why it mattered for me even if, at the time, I barely noticed it.

(Part 2 of this post is here.)

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  • http://twitter.com/WayofCats WayofCats

    I never realized it at the time, but my 7th grade fundie school had the same approach; at least in Part 1. Since I was already familiar with “my way or the highway” it didn’t even register.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Well, yes. That’s what it means to endorse, not just an idiosyncratic ontology or ethics, but an idiosyncratic epistemology.

    That is, if we disagree about what exists in the world, or about what right action consists of, we can agree or disagree piecemeal. But if we disagree about how I can know things, the result is necessarily an all-or-nothing construct: to challenge any piece of it as false, or even as unknown, is implicitly to challenge its epistemological underpinnings, which in turn challenges everything that rests on them.

  • lowtechcyclist

    “At that point, the reality-punctured fundie is trained to believe they
    have only two choices. Either they can fiercely decide to pretend it
    never happened and that they never caught such a glimpse — thus becoming
    the sort of person who is increasingly capable of such pretense and
    denial. Or they can chuck it all and embrace the nihilism and
    meaninglessness that they were always taught was the only alternative to
    this fragile fundie faith.”

    Man, even after all the years I spent hanging around with various types of fundies and evangelicals, I’d never realized how fundamentally cruel fundamentalism is.  I mean, I’d heard the “you’ve got to believe it all, or none of it” line, but even when I was a young Christian in my teens, it just struck me as too incredible to believe; I couldn’t even believe that the people who were feeding me this line believed it themselves.

  • Madhabmatics

     It’s as old as the hills, peep this section of a Chesterton essay on american morality:

    “By righteousness she means, of course, the
    narrow New England taboos; but she does not know it. For the inference she
    draws is that we should recognize frankly that `the standard abstract right
    and wrong is moribund.’ This statement will seem less insane if we consider,
    somewhat curiously, what the standard abstract right and wrong seems to mean
    — at least in her section of the States. It is a glimpse of an incredible world.

    She takes the case of a young man brought up `in a home where there was an
    attempt to make dogmatic cleavage of right and wrong.’ And what was the
    dogmatic cleavage? Ah, what indeed! His elders told him that some things were
    right and some wrong; and for some time he accepted this strange assertion.
    But when he leaves home he finds that, `apparently perfectly nice people do
    the things he has been taught to think evil.’ Then follows a revelation. `The
    flowerlike girl he envelops in a mist of romantic idealization smokes like an
    imp from the lower regions and pets like a movie vamp. The chum his heart
    yearns towards cultivates a hip-flask, etc.’ And this is what the writer
    calls a dogmatic cleavage between right and wrong!

    The standard of abstract right and wrong apparently is this. That a girl by
    smoking a cigarette makes herself one of the company of the fiends of hell.
    That such an action is much the same as that of a sexual vampire. That a
    young man who continues to drink fermented liquor must necessarily be `evil’
    and must deny the very existence of any difference between right and wrong.
    That is the `standard of abstract right and wrong’ that is apparently taught
    in the American home. And it is perfectly obvious, on the face of it, that it
    is not a standard of abstract right or wrong at all. That is exactly what it
    is not. That is the very last thing any clear-headed person would call it. It
    is not a standard; it is not abstract; it has not the vaguest notion of what
    is meant by right and wrong. It is a chaos of social and sentimental
    accidents and associations, some of them snobbish, all of them provincial,
    but, above all, nearly all of them concrete and connected with a
    materialistic prejudice against particular materials. To have a horror of
    tobacco is not to have an abstract standard of right; but exactly the
    opposite. It is to have no standard of right whatever; and to make certain
    local likes and dislikes as a substitute.”

  • esmerelda_ogg

    I’d never realized how fundamentally cruel fundamentalism is.

    Oh, believe it. I spent several years in my early teens terrified of hellfire because I just couldn’t swallow everything my church claimed – and if you believed logic or evidence over the King James, then God was just waiting to say “Gotcha! You’re going down.” (Besides, I was also told that I was sure to go to hell for playing cards with my grandmother. Even at ten, that seemed like overreacting.)

    Life is much better as one of them there Hellbound Episcopalians, where the base assumption is that God loves you.

  • P J Evans

     I was also told that I was sure to go to hell for playing cards with my grandmother.

    My father’s father was sure that playing solitaire was going to send you to Hell. (Scrabble was all right, though.) My father did eventually play solitaire himself, but it took a while.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    My father’s father was sure that playing solitaire was going to send you to Hell.

    Wait, I thought it sent you blind?

  • Carstonio

    Keeping to himself he plays the game,
    Without her love it always ends the same,
    While life goes on around him everywhere,
    He’s playing solitaire.

  • Tricksterson

    Every night it’s all the same
    And so it must be all a game
    Of chess he’s playing

    “But you’re wrong Steve. You see  it’s only solitaire.”

  • rrhersh

    “Viewed from the outside, this all-or-nothing claim doesn’t make much sense.”

    On the other hand, I have more than a few times had the discussion/argument with an atheist in which the atheist insists that as a Christian I am obliged to espouse the most damnfool reading of the Bible imaginable.  My declining to do so typically provokes a response either that I am not a real true Christian, or I am weaseling.  My pointing out the many centuries of such readings seldom makes much of an impression.

    Now, it is entirely possible that some of these disputants are former fundamentalists.  (Garrison Keillor observed, IIRC, that in Lake Wobegon even the atheists are Catholic or Lutheran:  they all don’t believe in God, but it is distinctively the Catholic or the Lutheran God they don’t believe in.)  In this model, the former fundie Christian becomes a fundie Atheist, never imagining that there is anything in between. 

    I have, however, known the background of enough to know that this is not the only explanation.  Some have never been part of any organized or quasi-organized religion.  Everything they know about Christianity they learned from popular media.  In this model, they look at whatever damnfool stuff filters through popular media, observe that it is damnfool, and fail to consider the idea that the media filter is selective about what it lets through, or that most everything is pretty damnfool once it works its through the popular media filter.  Once that idea gets lodged in their heads, there is nothing for it, for those who are pretty darned damnfool themselves.

  • Carstonio

    Some have never been part of any organized or quasi-organized religion. 
    Everything they know about Christianity they learned from popular
    media.

    I admit that part of my own knowledge about Christianity came from the media. Also, I refuse to inquire about other people’s beliefs out of respect for their personal boundaries, so I only learn about people’s religious affiliations if they volunteer these. And the vast majority of the time, these are people interested in recruiting others. So most of the Christians I know are probably non-fundamentalist and I’m simply not aware of it.

    But ultimately non-fundamentalist religion of any sort doesn’t make sense to be. The expectations that I perceive from them seem deceptively mild, and I’ve learn from sad experience that there are too many people whose expectations are never going to be satisfied. I attended UU services for a couple of years, and even there I wondered at first if these folks were really strongly doctrinaire and I had misunderstood. I don’t remember whether I scanned their bookshelves for telltale copies of Duane Gish and Hal Lindsey, but I can imagine myself doing that.

    Even when I’ve volunteered for secular organizations, it has often felt that they wanted me to be involved as much as possible. I perceived myself, perhaps inaccurately, as having to either please the volunteers or please my wife, or risk getting one or both angry at me. And my wife isn’t quick to anger, and neither were the volunteers, and of course my wife would come first if I had to choose between her and the volunteer group. Since religion appeared to involve expectations for me or my behavior, it seemed reasonable to me to worry about a similar conflict. The theology or the organization could increasingly demand that I put it first over everything else in my life, particularly since the former involves a being of immense power whose Old Testament resumé doesn’t inspire comfort.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    rrhersh: It sounds like the atheists you’re discussing/arguing with are fairly poor at reasoning, or at least at elucidating the reasons for skepticism.  Saying to someone, “How can you not believe in Creationism? You’re a Christian!,” strikes me as a classic example of “category as cudgel.” Speaking as an atheist, I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone what they do or don’t “actually” believe, or judge whether that jibes with the category in which they profess membership.
    I think the correct criticism that atheism has vis-a-vis the baby of Christian ethics and doctrines and bathwater of goofy “Biblical literalism” is this: The atheist rejects the Bible as an authority. We don’t see it as providing much of anything useful, whether on topic of cosmology *or* ethics, and we see no reason why it would be afforded any more authority than one would normally grant to the highly edited anthology of loosely connected Bronze/Iron Age literature that it is.

    If there’s a good working, expansive definition of “Christian” that tends to capture all the people who would self-affix the label, it’s probably “People Who Think the Bible is Special and Important”.  Atheists see no reason to afford it such specialness and importance.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If there’s a good working, expansive definition of “Christian” that tends to capture all the people who would self-affix the label, it’s probably “People Who Think the Bible is Special and Important”.

    Relies on a specific understanding of the word ‘Bible’. Lots of people think the Tanakh is special and important but have no particular feelings about the New Testament, other than perhaps frustration at the common belief that the Tanakh is the prequel to the New Testament. And while I know the Tanakh and the New Testament aren’t as important to Muslims as the Qu’ran is, I do have the distinct impression that they are still important–there’s got to be a reason Christians and Jews are [supposed to be] treated with respect as fellow People of the Book, respect that members of non-Abrahamic religions and no religion don’t get [at least not for that reason], right?

    As usual I don’t know how to categorize Mormons. Are they still Christian now that Romney’s lost?

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Well, let’s say, “People Who Think the Bible–Consisting of the Old and New Testament–Is Special and Important to the Exclusion of All Other Texts”. That excludes Jews who don’t regard the New Testament as Important as the Tanakh, and Muslims and Mormons, who regard later texts as arguably more Important, perfect, or final. Still leaves plenty of room for sects to argue over what are OT/NT apocrypha what aren’t.

    Of course, I’m not keen on applying such categories myself, as I noted. It’s all the same ball of wax to this atheist anyway. People can call themselves whatever they want, but when their belief systems distill down to “non-rational” it just blurs together for me.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    “People Who Think the Bible–Consisting of the Old and New
    Testament–Is Special and Important to the Exclusion of All Other Texts”

    Um, I would say it’s more accurate to define “generic Christian” as someone who thinks Jesus is* supremely special and important.  That still doesn’t settle the question of Mormonism (though as I understand it, from an LDS point of view they are Christians), but it does clear up any confusion about Jews, Moslems, and others.

    *Present tense verb deliberately chosen, since by our beliefs he continues to be a living man/God.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Well, let’s call it a “text-based definition,” then. Perhaps many Christians would define their beliefs independent of the Bible, and therefore it’s not accurate to tether the definition of a Christian to the holy text. However, wouldn’t it be the case that every uniquely Christian belief that a Christian could espouse necessarily originates from the Bible? (Or at least from traditions and doctrines that allegedly blossom from the text?)

    Again, I don’t want to get too hung up on definitions, since one of my original points is that categories just end being used to beat up on people.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    wouldn’t it be the case that every uniquely Christian belief that a
    Christian could espouse necessarily originates from the Bible? (Or at
    least from traditions and doctrines that allegedly blossom from the
    text?)

    Answering you from within a Christian perspective (and, no offense, but your dialogue with Ellie Murasaki leads me to think that you would probably consider such a perspective worthless verging on harmful), this takes us into complicated and disputed territory. In other words, there are scholars who make careers out of disagreeing over the nuances of whether what you said is true or not (I’ve read / tried to read a number of them; J. D. Crossan and N. T. Wright are two prolific examples.) So I want to reply somewhat cautiously and tentatively, merely offering additional points to look at.

    First, from the fundamentalist point of view as I was taught it, the entire Bible was dictated to its human authors by the Holy Spirit, rather as Moslems hold that the Koran was dictated to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel. But from the non-fundamentalist position, we have to consider the question, “where did the people who wrote the Bible, and especially the New Testament, get their beliefs and information”?

    At a very early stage, it must have been the case that the text blossomed from traditions and doctrines. From there out, traditions and doctrines and text-as-understood-and-applied interacted with each other in complicated ways. Fundamentalists, and the Anabaptists they develop from, like to believe that they’re leaning on the text and nothing but the text; but even they start with ideas about the right way to interpret it.

    Words to live by: It’s more complicated than that. Everything’s more complicated than it looks at first glance.

    Finally, I really don’t like getting into vehement unresolvable arguments, and I suspect we’re heading into one. So I’m probably going to bow out now. Have a good life.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Good summary. I might be atheist now, but my background is in the Lutheran (Missouri Synod) and Southern Baptist world-views, so I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the either the fundamentalist’s or theologian’s perspective on the Bible.

    I wonder if you surveyed contemporary Christians as to whether their beliefs “come from” the Bible, what proportion would answer “Yes”?

    It is interesting that more lay Christians don’t strive to learn Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic so that they can read the Bible in its original language. For all the fetishization of the King James Version’s linguistic idiosyncrasies in some evangelical circles, there’s nothing like fundamentalist Islam’s insistence on the original Arabic version of the Quran as its “purest and truest form.” (I could be wrong, but I seem to recall that some Salafist / Wahhabist sects regard non-Arabic Qurans as intrisically lesser.)

    Are there any major world religions that are not rooted in part in a holy text of some kind? Even a pseudo-animistic faiths like Shinto has its Kojiki.

  • http://twitter.com/pooserville Dave Pooser

    I wonder if you surveyed contemporary Christians as to whether their beliefs “come from” the Bible, what proportion would answer “Yes”?

    Didn’t somebody do a study back in the ’80s in which they discovered that 60+% of American Christians thought “From each according to his ability to each according to his need” was a quote from the Bible, and 80+% attributed “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” and “God helps them that help themselves” to the Bible as well?

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Interesting. I haven’t heard of those aphorisms being ascribed to the Bible. The one I’ve heard about is “God Helps Those Who Helps Themselves,” which the Barna Group’s polling has shown to be commonly misconstrued as a Bible verse.

  • The_L1985

    Wicca is hardly big enough or old enough to count as “major” (at least in this century–who knows what the future will bring). But it also doesn’t have any equivalent to the Main Religious Text. There are books about Wiccan ritual, written by Wiccans, but they’re more along the lines of a lectionary.

    Also, WRT original languages, reading part of the Torah in the original Hebrew is a pretty big part of Bar Mitsvahs (are they in Bat Mitzvahs as well? Am I pluralizing that wrong? Jewish commenters, I’ll leave further elucidation to you, because I’m a wee bit out of my depth).

  • Andrew Wyatt

    I don’t think Wicca rises to the level of “major”. I suppose Wiccans can dream, though.

    It seems as though modern organized religions, even animistic ones, require some kind of text in order to propagate themselves.  No faith can succeed in the contemporary age via oral transmission alone.

    I suspect that some Chan / Zen Buddhist sects would say that the first step  to True Enlightenment would be to take your treasured copy of the “Treatise on the Two Entrances and Four Practices” and burn it.

    One could also imagine a mystery cult that has a holy text which the faithful are *forbidden* to copy, because the physical text itself has a sacred quality that cannot and should not be replicated. However, this would seem to work against the widespread dissemination of the faith. Mystery cults don’t really fly in the digital age. Religions don’t want to be exclusive clubs, but worldwide cultural forces.

  • Jenny Islander

    Re a holy text which the faithful are forbidden to copy: Ursula Le Guin imagined something like that in Always Coming Home.  The imaginary future tribe in the book, the Kesh, are highly literate, with libraries and notes on scratch paper and everything in between.  However, there are certain sacred verses everybody knows that are only transmitted orally.  Even the anthropologist-narrator, “Little Bear Woman,” honors this convention.  Thus she carefully describes the customs of the winter solstice festival, which lead up to the singing of the Winter Carol at dawn, but when it comes to the Carol itself, she simply notes, “The words of this song are not written down.’

  • EllieMurasaki

    I wonder does ASL (or whatever their equivalent is if they have one) count as oral? Because it doesn’t rely on the mouth like talking does (that’s where the word ‘oral’ comes from, Latin for ‘mouth’), but it’s sure as hell not writing. And it would suck to be someone for whom talking is indetectable or meaningless in a culture where important cultural things are only conveyed by talking.

  • Madhabmatics

     That actually doesn’t clear up anything about us Muslims. Lots of older Christian writers have argued that Islam is actually a Christian heresy, so if “thinks Jesus is supremely special or important” or even “Thinks Jesus is coming back one day” is what makes someone a Christian, all us Muslims are Christian.

    also why are you using “moslem” are you a time-traveller from the 1800s

  • esmerelda_ogg

     No offense intended on spelling – that’s the way I was taught to spell it over fifty years ago, and I lose track of which transliteration is the approved current version. Thanks for the clarification re Muslims and Jesus – how would you distinguish between the two religions, then?

  • Madhabmatics

    Haha it’s fine I’m always just curious, at least it wasn’t Mohammedan or Musselman. >:P

    That’s a pretty good question, I think the waters are actually a bit muddier than a lot of people on both sides want to think. I usually differentiate by “Accepts that Mohammed (pbuh) was the last of the old-testament style prophets” – that also helps differentiate Islam from say, Baha’i, who are really really close but think that there was another prophet after The Prophet.

    (This is one of the fun things about watching Shia argue – if you ever see someone talk about “Twelver Shia” or “Seveners,” it’s because Shia sects differentiate themselves based on how many Imams [who are kinda prophet-like but also kinda not] they think there were before the last one went into Occultation. So some sects think there were 12 and the 12th is in occultation, some think there were 7, etc.)

    [occultation is a really cool word that is surprisingly confusing when used with modern people who don’t know what the root of the word “occult” means]

  • esmerelda_ogg

    modern people who don’t know what the root of the word “occult” means

    Oh well, I guess it’s hidden from them ;)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     The phrase that always makes me come to a full stop for a second before going “Yes yes I know what that word means” is ‘Occult bleeding’.

  • EllieMurasaki

    But thinking of it as bleeding related to some arcane ritual is so much more fun!

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Given which part of your body tends to be involved, that really does not make it better.

  • Tricksterson

    It could also be argued, probably more effectively, that you’re both Jewish heresies.

  • Madhabmatics

     I dunno, our claims kind of rely of Christianity being mostly right, so maybe Christians are the Jewish Heresy and we are the Christian Heresy and Baha’i are the Islamic Heresy

    but whose heresy are the Cao Dai????

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    It could also be argued, probably more effectively, that you’re both Jewish heresies.

    Heretics all!

    I may be, as far as I understand it*, a trinitarian heretic. I welcome all others with my outstretched heretical arms.

    *that is, not very.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    The atheist rejects the Bible as an authority. We don’t see it as providing much of anything useful

    Speak for yourself there. While I reject the Bible as an authority, the idea that one of the most important documents in the world, historically-speaking, cannot provide anything useful, makes me want to scream. 

    Not to mention that I do in fact find some very valuable ethical tales in the Bible. Some of them are likely not meant to have the lessons I take from them, but that does not matter. They are stories. Good stories are always “useful”. Good poetry is always “useful”. History is always “useful”. 

    Any time any atheist says “atheists believe”, it never ends well. One of the points of being an atheist is not to believe stuff just because other people believe it. Maybe my belief in this is why I tend to get along so much better with most left-wing religious people than with most atheists, at least atheists on the internet; left-wing religious people don’t tell me what I supposedly believe.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    I suppose I should say, “As an atheist, I reject the Bible as an authority. I son’t see it as providing much of anything useful. ”

    As for its utility as an artifact historical or aesthetic object, I’m not really denying that in any sweeping way. When I say, “useful,” I mean it in the context of Fred’s original post: as a text from which one might draw conclusions about the nature of God and lessons about morally correct action in daily life.  Fred self-identifies as an evangelical Christian, so I think it’s safe to assume he doesn’t regard the Bible’s only/primary value as historical/aesthetic.

  • hf

     Come on,  now. The Bible is like the Star Wars films: you wouldn’t expect it to supply good public policy today (because nobody intended it to). And if you draw ethical lessons from it, make sure they have some secular (aka real) basis. At the same time, anyone familiar with probability would expect the Bible to get something right. And given its popularity, only superhuman wrongness could prevent someone, somewhere from reading useful lessons into it.

    You could disagree with any of that, but doing so would be wrong and silly.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I’m an atheist. I think the Bible is Special and Important. So is the Bhagavad Gita, the Qu’uran, and etc. Anyone who dismisses documents that have influenced cultures for thousands of years as unimportant is someone I have a serious problem with.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Anyone who dismisses documents that have influenced cultures for thousands of years as unimportant is someone I have a serious problem with.

    Well, I wouldn’t dismiss the “importance” of those documents in an objective historical sense, I have no doubt we’d be a lot better off if we disregarded whatever backwards lessons they allegedly impart regarding the right way to live. One is much better off relying on one’s own moral judgment.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I have no doubt we’d be a lot better off if we disregarded whatever backwards lessons they purport to impart regarding the right way to live. One is much better off relying on one’s own moral judgment.

    I want very badly to agree with you. The trouble is there are a great many people who think that atheists have no morals because atheists have no religion and morals come from religion; at least some of these people specify that they don’t know why atheists refrain from killing annoying people, because murder is only wrong because religion says so. This implies that the thinkers only behave morally (for whatever value of ‘morally’, including but not limited to not killing annoying people) because of their religion. That implies that these people have no moral judgment, not even enough to realize that killing annoying people is bad for reasons unrelated to religion-says-so.

    And that implies that if we were to take religion away from these people, they would stop behaving morally, which in some cases would include killing annoying people.

    That scares me.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    I’m not sure how you “take religion away” from someone, so the thought experiment might be moot, but…

    Anxiety about the hypothetical depraved behavior that might be exhibited by an individual who is only barely morally restrained by religious belief: That doesn’t strike me as an adequate justification for perpetuating falsehoods about the nature of the universe. As an atheist, I think that holding fast to objective truth is an unalloyed good, and not something that should be held hostage in the name of protecting society from hypothetical near-madmen who will go on murderous rampages if Hell doesn’t exist.

  • EllieMurasaki

    As an atheist, I think that holding fast to objective truth is an unalloyed good

    And as an atheist myself, the hell is ‘objective truth’? How do you know—not ‘how are you ninety-nine point bar nine percent sure’ like I am, how do you know—that there are no gods, rather than no gods who care to talk to you?

    Given that chance that I am wrong about gods, and given that religion absolutely does have beneficial effects sometimes, I am not down with trying to convince anyone to stop being religious. Minimize the harm religion does, yes, of course, which certainly can include convincing people that there are no gods provided they’ve indicated a willingness to be so convinced. Hope religion dies a natural death, yes, that too. Work to make religion go away? No.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Um… I think it’s obvious what “objective truth” means in this context: the Earth revolves around the Sun, humans and chimps evolved from the same ancestor, polonium has four oxidation states. Stuff like that. As opposed to subjective/aesthetic statements like, “Coffee tastes awful” or “The Third Man is a great movie.”

    The existence or non-existence of gods is self-evidently an objective question, unless the definition of “god” is so meaningless that it becomes a meaningless question.

    Granted, one has to retain a certain level of uncertainty with respect to the aforementioned “objective truths”. All statements of fact are, on some level, provisional. But outside of a philosophy class or a late-night pot-brownie feast, I don’t regard it as particularly productive to get fixated on epistemological wankery along the lines of “Yeah, but how can you ever, like, really *know* anything, man?”

  • EllieMurasaki

    The existence or non-existence of gods is self-evidently an objective question

    Is it? Because from here it looks unfalsifiable. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but it’s damn hard to prove the objectively true answer to an unfalsifiable question.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    I think so; maybe we’re talking past each other at this point. Is there a common definition of God that is *not* independent of the consciousness of humankind? Most theists seem to believe that God is an independent entity that has a reality apart from the belief in Him/Her/It.

    To clarify: I tend to self-identify as atheist, but I think that I can more accurately be described as “Ignostic”: All definitions of god that have been advanced to date are either easily dismissed as not objectively true or are so content-free and insubstantial as to be meaningless.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Suppose I didn’t exist in hospital or DMV or IRS records, and I were communicating with you, only you, and only when I’m not being recorded. How would you prove I exist? How would someone with whom I don’t communicate prove I don’t exist, over and above proving that there is no record of my existence other than your recorded statements that you say are you quoting me?

  • Andrew Wyatt

    How would you prove I exist?

    I think that the more relevant question is: What is the consequence of you existing in this scenario? If there is no consequence external to the (apparent) fact that you are speaking to me, my situation would be indistinguishable from that of a mentally ill person who is hearing voices in their head.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The onus is on the person claiming the existence of an otherwise not obviously physically verifiable phenomenon to prove the claim.

    The onus is NOT on anyone else to DISprove the claim.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     @Invisible_Neutrino:disqus Will thousands of eyewitness accounts over thousands of years do ?

  • KevinC

    Would it do for UFO aliens, faeries, djinn, angels, demons, everybody else’s gods and goddesses, Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, the Chupacabra, the Night Hag, witches and wizards (not people who believe in Wicca, but people who actually cause plagues, miscarriages, milk to be sour right out of the cow, etc. with their spells and fly around on brooms), vampires, shapeshifters, and so forth?

  • Tricksterson

    Does for me.  But then I admit I’m crazy.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Sure. If you’ll also grant the same respect to the claims of people who’ve made eyewitness accounts of Zeus, Brahma, The Space Brothers, Eris, and Elvis…

  • EllieMurasaki

    Shockingly enough, I do know that. I also know that there is no reason to object to $PotentiallyHarmfulBehavior unless and until it leads to $ActualHarm, and belief in entities that may or may not actually exist is a potentially harmful behavior, not actual harm.

  • Madhabmatics

    who is the onus on to not turn everything into a high-school debate match

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    If you say God exists it’s not my job to prove God doesn’t exist.

  • Madhabmatics

    Yeah but it’s also not your job to turn everything into a knock-down drag-out fight about who is ~right~ about life, the universe and everything?

    It’s also not the religious persons job. Preferably everyone whose job that was would remain unemployed, alas.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    The onus is on the person claiming the existence of an otherwise not obviously physically verifiable phenomenon to prove the claim.

    The onus is NOT on anyone else to DISprove the claim.

    I wish I could like this a thousand times.  It is on my personal list of “arguments” I hate: “Well, you can’t prove that there isn’t a god!!”

  • Madhabmatics

     Ellie, an atheist, was not claiming that god exists, which is why it’s really silly to go “Well the onus is on Ellie to prove that God exists.”

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Actually, I was agreeing with IN’s comment that the onus is on any person making a claim to show that something exists.  The onus is not on the other person to show that it doesn’t exist.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    People who are religious and believe in deities often implicitly talk as though everybody listening shared their assumption that their deity exists.

    It’s a really irritating habit, and it’s one that leads to people like me insisting firmly that they are not taking onboard that assumption up front.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    You might look back through your Popper; he noted that empirical testing used parsimony as well as falsifiability, even if he got the philosophical justification wrong.

  • Carstonio

    There are questions that are unfalsifiable because of their premises, and there are other questions that are unfalsifiable because evidence either way is out of our reach. the existence or non-existence of gods falls into the latter category. Gods either exist or they don’t, and we simply have no way of knowing if they do or not.

  • Tricksterson

    So where does “It’s wrong to kill/steal/lie” fall?  Objective truth or aesthetic/subjective?  And why?

  • AnonymousSam

    I would argue that the previous statement is objective truth. What does harm at an individual level inevitably affects others around them. That this is Truth for me and the cornerstone of my reality makes it part of my religion.

  • AnonymousSam

    But outside of a philosophy class or a late-night pot-brownie feast, I don’t regard it as particularly productive to get fixated on epistemological wankery along the lines of “Yeah, but how can you ever, like, really *know* anything, man?”

    I find I need that epistemological wankery to better define objective truth. I’m not keen on embracing the truth along with a rule never to question it — that’s kind of the point of this blog post.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    I have no objection to epistemology per se. The wankery that I allude to it the sort typified by the original comment to which I was responding: That would be EllieMurasaki’s apparent assertion that there is a vast substantive gulf between a truth that is known with perfect (100%) assurance and a truth that is provisionally “known” with 99.99% assurance. I would contend that such a gulf might matter for philosophers, but substantively, it’s non-existent.  Both types of truth lead us to make the same sort of judgments and take the same sort of actions.

    Is it accurate to say that there’s no way to *really* know whether or not my sense are being constantly manipulated by a Cartesian daemon? I suppose so. Does it really matter, in any way that can possible affect how I go about my life? Not really. So I tend to think of it as wankery: An interesting basis for Brain-in-a-Jar science-fiction blue-skying, but not really useful.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I think you misunderstand me.

    I know with 99.99% certainty that there are no gods. Our host knows with 99.99% certainty that there is a god, and further that this god has a record, check the Gospel of Matthew. Neither of us can prove our case, and we can’t both be right. We can be, and are, both right on the subject of which way is magnetic north.

    And given that believing in a god is not itself harmful, and for bonus points has produced beneficial effects for Fred and his readers, I do not think it is wise to slam him for being wrong on the subject of whether gods exist.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    On the contrary, I’d say that theists’ claims can be rejected for lack of evidence or because they aren’t really claims at all.  We would need to be clear about what exact claim we’re discussing before we can go down that road.

    I think it’s self-evident how much harm religious thinking has and can cause–particularly to children–but whether or not there are harms is beside the point. Is it really controversial that we should generally strive to describe reality accurately? Holding on to a description of reality that we know to be inaccurate seems unwise. (Although it is a comfortable position for those whose power is predicated on the maintenance of that inaccurate description.)  People survived pretty well for tens of thousands of years while also believing in lava-spirits, but it doesn’t follow one should reject plate tectonics in favor of lava-spirit-belief.

    I wouldn’t read Fred’s blog daily if I didn’t value his writing and insights–but he’s still a theist, and therefore he and I (and many of his theistic readers) have very different first principles.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I think it’s self-evident how much harm religious thinking has and can cause–particularly to children–but whether or not there are harms is beside the point. Is it really controversial that we should generally strive to describe reality accurately? Holding on to a description of reality that we know to be inaccurate seems unwise.

    For the fifth time, you and I may know there are no gods but we (meaning rather broader than just ‘you and I’) know no such thing. As evidence I present the world’s proliferation of religions. And whether harm is done is MY ENTIRE FUCKING POINT.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Erm. Pointing to the widespread nature of unsound beliefs doesn’t really constitute a case for those beliefs. Argumentum ad populum and all that.

    Otherwise known as “50 Million Smokers Can’t Be Wrong!”

    I’m not sure where you’re going with this, since you seem to agree that theistic claims are unsound.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I am not trying to present a case in support of theistic beliefs. I am trying to present a case in opposition to attacking theistic beliefs. If you can present evidence that theistic belief–the belief itself or things that always accompany it regardless of the denomination of the believer, not things that accompany it in some denominations but not others such as creationism and faith healing and sexism/heterosexism/cissexism and child abuse–is harmful, I’ll shut up and go away. But I sincerely doubt you can.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    I think there’s a intrinsic value in letting go of beliefs that are false, whether or not the perpetuation of those beliefs result in tangible, proximate harms. The maintenance of any false beliefs always requires mental effort and results in invisible costs–lost opportunity costs, if you will.

    Regardless, I’m not sure how a belief can be removed from the “things that accompany it.” What belief has *no* effect on the believer’s behavior? The only way that can work is if the belief itself is nonsensical, or content-free, or descriptive of a universe that has no relationship to this one.  I might declare that I “believe” that All Flurrborxes Have Six Yungblatts, for example.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I’m not sure how a belief can be removed from the “things that accompany it.” What belief has *no* effect on the believer’s behavior?

    You’re misunderstanding me. “Jesus Christ is Lord” is a belief that is sometimes but not always accompanied by “gay sex is sinful”. The latter is harmful and needs to be done away with; the former is not harmful and can be let be. For some people, convincing them that gay sex is not sinful requires convincing them that Jesus Christ is not Lord, but the number of queer and queer-friendly Christians out there indicates that that is not true of everyone.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    “Jesus Christ is Lord” is just as nonsensical as All Flurrborxes Have Six Yungblatts. A Christian might attest to a deep belief in that statement, but it’s not really descriptive or informative. What does that belief even mean? Some Christians would attest that it *contains* a belief in the divinity of a historical human being known as Jesus, that he was (somehow) an omnipotent, omniscient being (and also that being’s son… somehow). However, not all self-identified Christians believe this. That’s the rub of nonsensical belief statements: They can be changed on a whim and deformed into whatever any individual likes.
    “Gay sex is sinful” is a actually an interesting example. Since “sinful” doesn’t really mean anything outside of a worldview that accepts “sin” as a concept, it probably needs to be re-framed to have any meaning. Perhaps “gay sex is deviant”. That’s *kind of* of a statement of belief, but it shades into a subjective / aesthetic statement, like “gay sex is icky” or “gay sex is awesome.” However, if one believes that gay sex is deviant,  it likely has consequences on one’s behavior, and in particular how one treats gay people.

  • hf

    She implies that de-converting Fred and his theist readers (specifically) seems like a poor use of your time. I sort of agree – I think they might benefit, overall, but I wouldn’t expect the gain to justify the effort.

    I still think people should know the underlying correct epistemology, hence my harping on the question, ‘Where does all this detail come from?’

  • Andrew Wyatt

    I’m not trying to “de-convert” anyone (least of all Fred), but I do think it’s worthwhile to point out fallacious reasoning, *especially* when the people peddling it otherwise make lots of good points or write eloquently. Discussing these matters with theists at Patheos is a much better use of my time than discussing them with, for example, the average comment denizen at Free Republic, or a random selection of family members and acquaintances on Facebook. 

  • vsm

    The thing is, many theists have evidence for their belief in God. Google “I felt the holy spirit” and you get half a million results. It’s not scientifically acceptable evidence, but science is just one system of knowledge. Granted, it’s quite effective at what it seeks to do, but that doesn’t prove other systems focusing on different kinds of knowledge are invalid.

  • Carstonio

    What do you mean by “different kinds of knowledge”? The question is not whether some people have such experiences, or whether they’re justified in believing that these are caused by a god or holy spirit. If that were the case, this thread probably wouldn’t exist. The question is whether the experiences are caused by a god or holy spirit as objective fact. Assuming that such people are telling the truth about having the experiences, we shouldn’t flatly rule out other possible causes. What you’re describing might be called subjective knowledge. Also, there are deists and others who believe in gods without having such experiences. 

  • Andrew Wyatt

    I’m not sure what that “different system of knowledge” might be, other than a cavalier reliance on logical fallacies like, “I once felt warm and tingly, therefore the Holy Ghost is real.”

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which doesn’t actually rule out the possibility that some of those instances are people interacting with entities on another level of existence, which interactions we cannot or cannot yet predict with any accuracy.

  • vsm

    You can dismiss religious experiences if you wish. I don’t put too much stock in them myself. However, deciding you only accept valid knowledge to be something that can be gained via the scientific method is not the default position and it is not something that is accepted by all humans. Thus, calling religious beliefs objectively false will simply not be convincing to anyone who doesn’t share your epistemology.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    When you find a “system of knowledge” other than empiricism that provides results, let the rest of us know, because you’d be the first.

  • vsm

    What kinds of results would you like? The same kind being produced by the scientific method? That’s not really what modern theists think revelation is for.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Curing medical ailments, predicting thunderstorms, putting remote sensing probes on other planets. Things like that.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     > What kinds of results would you like? The same kind being produced by
    the scientific method? That’s not really what modern theists think
    revelation is for.

    That’s an excellent question.

    In the view of modern theists, what kinds of result is revelation for?

    A related question: in the view of modern theists, does revelation in one religious tradition (say, Christianity) get different results than revelation in another religious tradition (say, Zoroastrianism)?

    (If, as seems likely, modern theists vary in their views with respect to these questions, feel free to restrict yourself to the subset of modern theists you were speaking for in your comment.)

  • vsm

    I’m afraid I’m getting rapidly out of my depth here, never having had a religious experience of any kind (unless Touhou Zen counts), nor being particularly knowledgeable about them. All I know is that several people report having them and their life being improved by them. I probably shouldn’t have talked about revelation in this context, since it implies new knowledge is received when religious experiences seem to mostly confirm what is already known or at least suspected.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

     

    I don’t
    know that I necessarily agree that revelations from God only confirm what is
    already known (at least if you mean what it already known to the individual having
    the experience).  One of the best-known
    examples of religious experiences is Paul’s experience of communing with Christ.  Prior to that Paul was an opponent of the Christian
    movement: if he were only going to see what he already believed or wanted to be
    true presumably his vision would have urged him to continue to oppose it.

  • vsm

    Hence the “mostly”. Paul appears to have indeed gained new knowledge, assuming everything happened as described.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    I don’t see any reason to believe it didn’t, at least not from Paul’s point of view.  Paul talked about the conversion experience in one his believed-to-be-written-by-Paul letters, so the alternative is that he lied.

  • vsm

    I don’t really think he lied, either. As much as I sometimes wish he’d kept his views to himself, he seems like a sincere guy in his letters. It’s just that he may have misremembered or failed to report some unconscious event or there may have been some other psychological factor in play, which is why I added the disclaimer. People are notoriously bad at reporting events that happened to them. Of course, everything may have indeed happened as he wrote.

  • Mark Z.

    When you find a “system of knowledge” other than empiricism that provides results
    You mean “produces results that can then be verified by empiricism”, right? I just want to make sure we know how this deck is stacked.

  • Carstonio

    The issue with religious experiences is that they can’t be independently verified. We have only the person’s word for it. That’s not sufficient for deeming the experience to be objective knowledge, although it could be considered subjective knowledge.

    It’s very possible that many people have such experiences and don’t consider these to be religious and don’t believe these to be the work of gods. I don’t even know what “a religious experience” means, partly because the term is so vague. Perhaps similar to how I would have no way of knowing what it’s like to be a woman.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

     “Holding on to a description of reality that we know to be inaccurate seems unwise.”

    Well, I agree, but that could be an argument by theists against atheists as easily as it could be an argument by atheists against theists.  Many theists believe atheists are holding on to an inaccurate description of reality just as firmly as atheists believe the reverse, after all.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Not really. 

    Or, that is only true if the theists are using definitions of “accurate” and “reality” that differ drastically from the definitions being used by atheists.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

     How so?  Is the argument that theists know that there’s no God(s) but are deciding to believe in him/her/it/them anyway?  Because that’s no more true than the reverse argument by RTCs that atheists know there’s a God but have decided not to believe anyway.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    That’s not my argument at all.  You said that theists can say, just as easily as atheists, that theirs is the accurate view of reality.  Well, on the areas in which theists and atheists differ, this is not true.  Not unless the theists are using different definitions of “accurate” and “reality,” in which feelings count just as much as evidence, and things need not be verifiable.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

     Well, there we get back to the problem of proof.  Unless you’re claiming that the non-existence of God is not only empirically verifiable but HAS been empirically verified, then someone who believes there is NO God isn’t acting on evidence any more than someone who believes that this IS one.  Both are extrapolating beyond the available evidence.

    (Aside: I personally consider the fact that many other people have reporting seeing/hearing/communing with God to be a piece of evidence in favor of God.  Sure, they could be hallucinating, but now we’re back to the problem of epistemology: anyone who says they see anything could be hallucinating, but we don’t automatically dismiss eyewitness reports on those grounds.  However, I’m not claiming this constitutes “proof” as given the inability to systematically replicate them, the possibility that they are hallucinations does clearly exist.)

  • Andrew Wyatt

    [S]omeone who believes there is NO God isn’t acting on evidence any more than someone who believes that this IS one.

    Sure they are. Just like someone who goes about their daily life as if there are no leprechauns is acting on evidence.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    Because God is a
    leprechaun?  I don’t think that’s a
    widespread theist belief.

     

    Because neither leprechauns
    nor God exist?  That’s your belief, not
    mine.  (The God part, that is.  I don’t believe in leprechauns.)

     

    Because neither the existence of leprechauns nor the existence of God is empirically
    verifiable even in principle?  That would
    depend on what the claim being made about the nature of leprechauns and God, of
    course.  However, if neither leprechauns
    nor God are empirically verifiable, then beliefs concerning their existence or
    nonexistence can’t be based on evidence. 
    That’s what it means to not be empirically verifiable.

     

    Because there is can by empirically
    demonstrated that neither leprechauns nor God exist?  I’m unaware of such a demonstration with
    respect to God.  (Re: leprechauns – well,
    that would depend on the claims being made about the leprechauns.)

  • Andrew Wyatt

    As you point out, the answer depends on the claim in question, but I would say that the most common claims about God are as self-evidently false as those regarding leprechauns.

    You keep asserting that belief in the non-existence of something that can’t be empirically verified is not an evidence-based belief, which I suppose is strictly true. However, non-belief in a thing whose characteristics are entirely beyond the realm of proof is a perfectly reasonable boundary to place on human understanding. Otherwise we could spend eternity dreaming up hypothetical things that cannot be verified, instead of, you know pursuing sustenance and pleasure. Are we to treat all those hypothetical, non-verifiable things as worthy of our time? And if they are unverifiable, what possible effect can they have on our reality? Why are we even bothering considering them? 

  • AnonymousSam

    Speak for yourself. I have, on and off, made a modest living as a writer of categorically fictional events which have been described to have made an impact on the thinking and perceptions of others. :p

  • EllieMurasaki

    Don’t forget all the people whose behavior is dictated at least in part by their beliefs on the existence and (if applicable) nature of the afterlife.

  • AnonymousSam

    Which is a category that can be further split several times, for good and ill.

    I can understand not being particularly thrilled to learn that someone was only doing good because they thought they would get more personal reward out of it later on, but it’s more preferable, to me, to not doing good at all. That would be my dislike/hate relationship with the Salvation Army, who regularly seems to be hunting for an excuse to leave the homeless and poor high and dry.

    Meanwhile, like the Salvation Army, there are people who seem to hold a lot of absolutely horrible views because, hey, them’s the rules. Some of them even seem to be relatively good people outside of certain subject matter, but with a lot of others, I doubt whether or not their belief is supported by religion really makes a difference.

    I’m utilitarian enough to conclude that I’d rather have any excuse to do good, even if it were based in nonsense, at least until I can trust people to stop doing ill for any reason of which they can get ahold.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

     

    “As you point out, the answer depends on the claim in question, but I would
    say that the most common claims about God are as self-evidently false as those
    regarding leprechauns.”

     

    How can something be both commonly claimed and self-evidently false?  Commonly claimed and false, sure.  But if it’s commonly claimed than its falsity
    apparently isn’t that self-evident after all.

     

    At any rate, clearly anyone who makes claims about God would not agree that
    their claims are self-evidently false.

     

    “You keep asserting that belief in the non-existence of non-verifiable
    things is not an evidence based belief, which I suppose is strictly true.”

     

    Strictly
    true?  It is true.  One can’t assert both that the existence of
    God is unfalsifiable and that it can be shown to be false.  Those are mutually contradictory statements.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    You seriously can’t imagine a commonly held, yet self-evidently false statement about God (or anything, for that matter)? People (theists and otherwise) believe all kinds of things that are facially untrue. Heck, their self-evidential falsehood of a belief is often held up as a *virtue*.

    I didn’t assert that the existence of God can shown to be false. I asserted that we can proceed as if it can. Because unfalsifiable things can be safely disregarded.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

     Um… no, I can’t.  I can imagine beliefs about God that *I* think are self-evidently false, but if the person who held the belief agreed that it was self-evidently false, presumably that person wouldn’t hold it to begin with.

    At any rate, I don’t really think this discussion is going anywhere except in circles, so I think I’ll drop my end of the rope now. :-)

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

     You keep saying that God’s existence is self-evidently false.

    So – am I stubbornly clinging to what I know is false, or am I simply insane?

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Now that I ruminate on it, “self-evidently” is probably the wrong phrase, and I concede that I’ve abused it in my comments above. It implies a priori reasoning, which isn’t necessarily the case. I would substitute, “False Upon Trivial Inspection”.

    To answer you question…. /shrug. I don’t what specific claims you would make, and I don’t know your mind. Generally, I don’t pretend to know why people believe strange things. I don’t know why I sometimes find myself believing strange things for no real rational reason. But I do try to set those beliefs down and walk away from them when I encounter them.

    Perhaps a good opening question would be: What is specific claim you would make about the nature of God?

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    No.  First of all, if anyone is claiming something exists, they have the burden of proof.  If they meet that burden, then and only then does the burden fall to those who say it does not exist.

    You are also defining all atheists as those who believe there are no gods.  This actually ties back into my earlier comment that it is possible to be an atheist who is agnostic as to some gods and gnostic as to others.

    An atheist, someone who does not believe in any gods, is not “extrapolating beyond the available evidence.”  He or she is concluding, based on the lack of evidence, that there is not enough there to justify belief.

    As to your aside: yes, there are people who report communing with God.  There are people who report communing with many types of supernatural beings, many of which contradict the existence of the others.  In other words, this argument ad populum does not work: the reports cannot all be right.  They can, however, all be wrong.  And absent any corroborating evidence, it is irresponsible to take them as evidence of anything beyond what is taking place inside the reporter’s own mind.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    “First of all, if anyone is claiming something exists, they have the
    burden of proof.  If they meet that burden, then and only then does the
    burden fall to those who say it does not exist.”

    And
    as I’ve said before, I strongly disagree.  I think the burden of proof
    falls on the person who’s proselytizing.

    I’m not trying to convince anyone there is a God, or that their lack of belief
    in God is irrational.  I think it’s
    perfectly fine and reasonable not to believe in God, or to believe there is no
    God.  (Though I don’t think the latter
    belief is any more strongly based in evidence than theism is.) 

     

    However
    – correct me if I’m wrong – the reverse doesn’t seem to be true.  That is, it appears that some commenters are
    arguing that the belief in God *is* irrational.   Personally, I don’t see that I’m obliged to
    respond to the charges of irrationality by proving God exists (something I
    agree cannot be done, at least at this time).

     

    As
    far as the difference between “not believing in God” and “believing there is no
    God” (for any particular value of God) I will readily agree that these are
    different with respect to the current state of empirical evidence.  So if you’re saying that believing in the existence
    of a given God and believing in the non-existence of said God are going beyond
    the existing empirical evidence, but that holding no belief concerning the
    existence of God is not, then I agree.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Unless you’re talking (in the context of theism/atheism) of a very specific and uncommon event in which an atheist accosts a theist on the street and starts trying to deconvert him or her, the burden of proof logically lies with the person making an affirmative statement.

    It is not your job to show me that the invisible elf that lives in my chimney does not exist.  It is up to me to show that it exists.

  • vsm

    very specific and uncommon event in which an atheist accosts a theist on the street and starts trying to deconvert him or her

    Indeed, that happens very rarely on the street, but one does see it on the information superhighway.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Gotta watch out for those Evil Internet Atheists (TM).

  • vsm

    Exactly. Mostly I just wanted to type out information superhighway, though.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    How very Buck Williams of you.  ;)

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

     It is not your job to show me that the invisible elf that lives in my
    chimney does not exist.  It is up to me to show that it exists.

    Why? Why should I be entitled to proof about your invisible chimney elf one way or the other?
    Just because you happen to believe something weird and implausible, that doesn’t give me the right to yell at you, to storm into your house and demand to see your chimney, or to do anything beyond roll my eyes and think you’re weird.
    Should you begin making elf-related requests to me… well, that’s another story.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    I’m not saying anyone has the right to yell or break into my home. 

    And I don’t recall too many news stories about believers being subject to home invasions, church invasions, or even simple yelling, from atheists who think they’re wrong.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    And I don’t recall too many news stories about believers being subject to home invasions, church invasions, or even simple yelling, from atheists who think they’re wrong.

    Didn’t say there were.

    What I’m saying is – if you tell me your favourite colour is green, you don’t have to prove it. If you tell me your sister’s name is Felicity, you don’t have to prove it. If you tell me there are 537 episodes of Doctor Who, you don’t have to prove it. If you tell me there’s an invisible elf living in your chimney, you don’t have to prove it.

    If I don’t believe that your sister’s name is Felicity, and you want me to believe it, then… yes. You have the burden of proof. Likewise, if I want you to stop believing that your sister’s name is Felicity, I have the burden of proof.

    But just saying something, either way, doesn’t mean you have the burden of proof. No matter how weird the thing you’re saying is.

  • Carstonio

    I agree to a point. None of the items in your second paragraph would be high on a critical information list, unless the invisible elf would suffer burns when you try to light your fireplace.

    Suppose you tell me that if I don’t say Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit on the first day of the month, an innocent person on the other side of the world will die. And then, say, Sgt. Pepper tells me that this person there will die if I do say Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit. Both of you say that these words have inherent power over the innocent person’s life or death, but this power cannot be detected scientifically. Both of these claims can be false, one or the other can be true, but both can’t be true. In that situation, it would be natural to want to know for sure without risking the person’s life.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Suppose you tell me that if I don’t say Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit on the first day of the month, an innocent person on the other side of the world will die. And then, say, Sgt. Pepper tells me that this person there will die if I do say Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit.

    Indeed, if you say Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit on the first day of the month, an innocent person on the other side of the world will die. And if you don’t say Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit on the first day of the month, an innocent person on the other side of the world will die.

    And that’s pretty much the extent of what I have to say about this whole thing.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    ‘If you say a word I will cut off your heads; and if you do not say a word, I will also cut off your heads.’

  • PatBannon

    [blockquote]’If you say a word I will cut off your heads; and if you do not say a word, I will also cut off your heads.'[/blockquote]

    1. “Two words.”
    2. “Mu.”3. *sprint*

  • PatBannon

    Oh, for the love of…why, Patheos? Why?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    You can’t use BBCode here. It has to be legit HTML.

  • EllieMurasaki

    What’s that?

  • Mark Z.

    First of all, if anyone is claiming something exists, they have the burden of proof. If they meet that burden, then and only then does the burden fall to those who say it does not exist

    If anyone is claiming anything, they have to provide evidence for it, or else nobody’s going to believe their claim. That’s how argument works. You don’t win on a technicality because your claim happens to be phrased as “X does not exist” rather than “X exists”.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Having the burden of proof when you argue for the existence of something is not a technicality–it’s logic.  It is not enough for me merely to assert that the invisible elf lives in my chimney.  I have to provide evidence and if I can’t, then yes, you win, because I have not met my burden of proof.  The onus is not on you to prove a negative.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Yes. But if you assert the nonexistence of said elf, the burden is on you. It’s not the “does exist” part that makes something a positive claim; it’s the you asserting part.

    Atheists who simply don’t believe in gods aren’t making a positive claim and have no onus to prove anything. But the atheist who says “Your god does not exist” is making a positive claim, and is the one with the burden of proof.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    A negative can’t (usually) be proven. Especially in the case of beings asserted to exist that may or may not have physical extent into our plane of existence, for which no reproducible proof exists.

    It’s like the difference between the prosecution and the defence. The prosecutor has to make the case. The defense isn’t actually obligated to have the defendant say a word.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    It’s like the difference between the prosecution and the defence. The prosecutor has to make the case

    Except that it isn’t. The prosecution is the one making a claim. The claim could be positive or negative. It’s still the prosecution even if the claim is “You didn’t pay your bill.”

  • Anton_Mates

     

    A negative can’t (usually) be proven.

    A universal negative can’t usually be proven.  But that’s because of the universal part, not the negative part.

    “There is no money in my wallet right now”–easily proven.
    “There is no flying pig anywhere in the universe”–not easily proven.

  • Mark Z.

    Yeah, well, what if I don’t agree that I haven’t met my burden of proof? Who has the burden of proof when arguing about that? Telling me that I have the burden of proof isn’t going to change anything.

    And “proving a negative”, oh, the worms in that can. I believe that the Tigers won the World Series this year. But tactically, it’s far superior to claim that the Giants did not win the World Series, or even that the Tigers did not lose, because, ha ha! now I’m asserting a negative, and I don’t have to prove it. The onus is on you to prove that the Giants won, and I simply don’t think any of your evidence is good enough. You disagree? Well, now you claim that you’ve met the burden of proof and I claim that you have not. Once again, the onus is on you. And so it goes.

    A formal burden of proof pretty much requires a neutral third party to judge (1) who has the burden of proof and (2) if they’ve met it. We don’t have that. If I’m trying to persuade you of something, then you are the arbiter of whether my argument is sound. You decide what counts as valid evidence; you decide how much evidence is needed to establish my claim, and you decide how much skepticism to apply versus how much to accept on good faith.

  • Andrea

    *weeps*

    I WANT to believe that. :(

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     > Well, there we get back to the problem of proof

    Well… perhaps that’s moving too far too fast.

    Let me back up a step and ask you, on your view, what is proof for?

    That is, why is proof valuable, if indeed it is valuable; why should we care whether we have proof for an assertion, if indeed we should; why ought we prefer assertions we can prove to assertions we can’t prove, if indeed we ought to?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     And why is “proof” always “scientific proof”? What about *legal* proof?

    Because, as I alluded to before, under the law, eyewitness testimony is not considered as reliable as forensic evidence. But the eyewitness testimony of *many thousands of people*? That carries some weight.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     Yes, that’s true. Though I still think that it’s moving too fast. Until we can establish why proof is something we would prefer to have than not have, and what we use proof for, I’m not sure how useful it is to talk about different kinds of proof.

    For example: I would say we require legal proof to control when and in what way the machinery of state is permitted to exert its power on citizens, and I don’t think that goal is relevant to claims about divinity in a secular jurisdiction. So it’s really not clear to me what legal proof has to do with evaluating claims about divinity where I live.

    But someone living in a theocracy might have a completely different take on it.

    Mostly, I think talking about what is and isn’t proof when we don’t have a common understanding of what proof is for is kind of like talking about what is and isn’t green when we haven’t figured out if we’re talking about painting the living room, reducing carbon emissions from a smokestack, or throwing moldy leftovers out of our fridge.

  • AnonymousSam

    For that matter, how can we know that something having been caused by a hallucination also makes it invalid evidence? My most meaningful conversation with God occurred during a hallucination brought on by severe illness and sleep deprivation.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Well, I agree, but that could be an argument by theists against atheists as easily as it could be an argument by atheists against theists.

    Um, not really. Just because a theist finds purely reason-based descriptions of the universe’s phenomena personally unsatisfying doesn’t mean that those descriptions are wrong.  A theist might *believe* that a reason-based description is inaccurate, but unless they have a basis for that belief beyond “I wish it to be so,” then they’re just hocking loogies into the wind, so to speak. If wanting a description to be true is all that is needed to make it true, I need to start wishing for all ice cream to be fat-free.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    As an atheist, I think that holding fast to objective truth is an unalloyed good

    As a postmodernist, I find the idea of “holding fast to objective truth” to be kinda suspect.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    That’s swell and all, but I suspect you still brushed your teeth this morning, set your alarm clock last night, and stepped on the accelerator to make your car go at some point today? Post-modernist or not, treating certain provisional truths–brushing prevents tartar buildup, time will proceed linearly while your sleep, and stepping on the accelerator produces forward momentum–as if they were 100% objectively true is the most reasonable and safest way to go about our daily lives.

    As someone once said, we’re all scientists. We just don’t recognize most of what we do as science.

  • Madhabmatics

     You don’t have to be a “post-modernist” to know that thinking that you have the monopoly on “Objective Truth” leads to pretty shitty things, like thinking it’s a-okay to mistreat people because they are “Objectively Wrong”

  • Carstonio

    Taking a full leap into No True Scotsman territory, I suggest a true recognition of the concept of objective fact includes the admission that one doesn’t have a monopoly on it. 

  • Andrew Wyatt

    I never said I had a monopoly on objective truth.

    I do, however, think it’s entirely appropriate to take certain kinds of statements more seriously than others. Specifically, statements that have some basis in observation and reason should be taken more seriously than statements that… aren’t.

    This tends not to be controversial when one is talking about the banalities of daily life. Most of us don’t go around touching stoves we have reason to believe might be hot.

  • Madhabmatics

     There is a difference between “Yeah I don’t take this thing seriously at all” (even “I think giving credence to this is dumb”) and “I know the Objective Truth”

  • Andrew Wyatt

    You comment was in response to my assertion that it’s most appropriate for us all to operate as if certain thing were 100% objectively true, even if we can’t prove as much. I don’t think that’s the same thing as saying, “I know the Objective Truth.”

    That said, there are plenty of things that are so close to Objective Truth that I would bet $1,000 on them in a heartbeat. The fact that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow, for example.

  • AnonymousSam

    Ah, but most of us don’t treat these as true, we just don’t think about them as being false. One could argue that it’s a state of constant dissociation from the universe, a way of going about life which entails a mental truce with chaotic butterflies by not acknowledging physics and chemistry until they become a problem.

    For some reason, the above strikes me as hilarious. Must be the hour.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    To get back to your point about religion acting as a check on the “naturally immoral”: Setting aside the question of whether we should perpetuate untrue beliefs because of their social utility… I think that, as an atheist, how much one worries about this depends to some extent on one’s views of human nature. Are people naturally disposed to be decent and good or depraved and evil?

    While I recognize that human beings are, at bottom, tribal apes, and therefore brimming with animal urges, short-sighted thinking, and nasty xenophobia, Meng Tzu’s famous parable about a child falling down a well has always  struck me as having more truth than not. Put a city-born Swedish child on the rim of a well and a rain forest hunter-gather adult from Papua New Guinea will instinctively try to stop them from falling in. (The reverse also holds true re: Papuan child and Swedish adult.) We seem to have evolved some measure of instinct that creates a rudimentary species selection effect. The “normal” person reacts with revulsion to pain inflicted on members of their own species, independent of enculturation.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The “normal” person reacts with revulsion to pain inflicted on members of their own species

    Except for the minor detail that a lot of people don’t consider large swathes of the species to actually be other people.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    That’s sort of where I was going: I suspect that Othering is a phenomenon of enculturation, not something intrinsic to our biological species.

    Unfortunately, there’s no real way to test this without hermetically sealing children away from society from the moment of their births, which might be, you know, a wee bit problematic.

  • esmerelda_ogg

     Re your example of the child on the rim of a well – actually, this probably even goes past species boundaries. I read a news story several years ago which reported that a toddler had managed to fall into the gorilla enclosure at a zoo (don’t remember where). One of the female gorillas went to the child, picked it up, and carried it to the door where zoo staff normally came in and out of the enclosure. She waited there with the baby until human staff came to retrieve it.

    I’m reasonably sure gorillas have no religious beliefs.

  • Tricksterson

    What if the adult (regardless of ethnicity) has something to gain from the death (or at least temporary absence) of the child (regardless of ethnicity).  Now self interest, that is a universal constant, although the details may differ.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    I believe that Meng Zhu’s thought experiment was presented abstractly for a reason: It was about the intrinsic moral imperatives that exist independent of the particulars of social obligation, material advantage, and so forth. The scenario is presented such that the child and adult have no connection other than their shared humanity. So, in the same way that the scenario becomes null if the child is a blood relative of the adult, it’s null if the adult has anything to gain from the child’s death.

  • Katie

     Tricksterson: Meng Zhu actually brings this up.  According to him, what is important, because he’s concerned with setting the lower limit for ‘this person has a moral sense’ is that when the person sees the baby crawling towards the well, that their first impulse is to save the child.  The *second* impulse may be ‘if this child dies, I will inherit a fortune’ or ‘OMG!  I must save MY BABY’, but what matters is the first impulse.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That seems like an oversimplification. Suppose it’s a certainty that Adam would leap to save baby Zoe from the well. If Zoe is endangered not by the well but by the fact that the local municipal water system is crappy or nonexistent, or by the fact that Zoe lives in a food desert, or basically anything where part of the solution is Adam being more charitable and/or paying more taxes, then it’s a lot more iffy whether Adam will do anything to save Zoe. If he does nothing–and remembering that if he saw her crawling for the well, he’d rescue her–what does that indicate about whether Adam has any moral sense?

  • Katie

     All of which are perfectly valid objections to using this as a baseline.  I was trying to explain the point that Meng Zhu was making, not to endorse it.

  • EllieMurasaki

    *nodnod*

  • KevinC

     IMO the argument that people can’t have m0rality without religion is just a cudgel fundamentalists use to club unbelievers with.  Ask anyone who says that, “If you stopped believing in your religion tomorrow, would you immediately start killing annoying people and setting kittens on fire?” and see if you get an “Oh, hell yeah!  I would totally run amok if I didn’t think God was hovering over my shoulder with a lightning bolt in His hand!”

    I think any real unhinged bloodthirsty murder-person who’s held back only by belief in the Bible would just turn to the copious parts of the Bible that sanction the murder of annoying people.

  • Tricksterson

    Which forms spontaneously from the ether?

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Which forms spontaneously from the ether?

    Moral conscience seems to be a intrinsic property of our social intelligence, quite independent of any particular set of cultural rules. Why this is so is debated, although there is compelling evidence that there is an adaptive advantage to being altruistic in a highly social species such as ourselves. We know that moral reasoning has a neurological basis, as experiments have shown activation of particular parts of the brain during moral stimulation and decision-making. There have a few interesting studies of children with particular types of frontal lobe damage that show they lose the ability to absorb and live by moral codes.

  • stardreamer42

     Being able to separate the baby from the bathwater is important. There’s a great deal of wisdom and good advice in the Bible; there’s also a lot of pernicious nonsense, and some stuff that’s downright toxic. But the thing is, the wisdom and good advice are not exclusively found in the Bible, whereas a lot of the not-so-good stuff is Bible-specific. That’s a problem, because where and how do you draw the line in discussions with the devout?

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    There are fundies of every kind. People get fundie over sports teams, ffs. Most atheists are not fundies, though certainly a high percentage of internet ones seem to be. But then, a high percentage of any internet anything seems to be fundie. 

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    “Zealous” would be a more precise term.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    Learning about religion only from the popular media is actually relatively unusual in the US; only about a quarter of atheists were raised without a religious background. Most were brought up either Protestant or Catholic, with the ratio between about that for the overall population.

  • KevinC

     I think that, rather than the atheist being a fundie, this phenomenon has more to do with fundamentalism trying to treat the Bible as a scientific treatise.  Many atheists, particularly the ones that get involved with debating fundies, tend to have a scientific bent, or at least exhibit a high regard for science.  In science, a hypothesis or theory makes certain testable predictions, and if those predictions don’t pan out, the model is wrong, period, at least to that degree.  If we found fossil bunnies in the Cambrian, then evolution by natural selection goes down like a Jenga tower.  If the orbit of Mercury does not accord with Newton’s equations, then Newton’s equations are wrong, at least with regard to planets orbiting deep in powerful gravity wells.  Scientists have to go in search of a new theory that incorporates the new data, like relativity.  Scientists don’t get to say, “Well, sure, but St. Newton didn’t mean us to take his equations literally!”  They don’t get to cling to phlogiston as a beautiful metaphor or a meaningful allegory, no matter how much they might like it.  Jenga tower.

    Fundamentalism basically took the notion of “orthodoxy”* and recast it in quasi-scientific form, in an attempt to counter the prestige of science.  The Bible (as read by fundies) makes various testable claims (recent, special creation, Noah’s global Flood, miraculous Exodus, etc., etc.) which, as with any good scientific model, must be true if the model is to be held as accurate.  Unlike scientists, however, fundies can’t update the Bible if parts of it should turn out to be in error.  Instead, they have to cheat and will themselves to believe that its (alleged) claims do, in fact, match reality.  All evidence to the contrary is a liberal conspiracy.

    The fundies do have a logical basis for their approach, even though it does lead them to error.  It goes like this:

    1) There is an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and morally perfect God
    2) This God desires to reveal itself to humankind
    3) Hir chosen method of revelation is a book

    A God as described in Premise 1 cannot fail to communicate effectively, by definition.  Whatever human flaws and foibles there might be cannot (again, by definition) overpower omnipotence and omniscience.  Such a God cannot make mistakes, again, by definition.  Nor can it lie, whether by commission, omission, or dissimulation.  It follows then, that any communication from an omnimax, morally perfect God must be both infallible and effective (i.e., able to be accurately received by its target audience).  From this, the all-or-nothing approach of fundamentalism follows.

    Liberals can point out, accurately, that the Bible is not that sort of book.  It’s not even a book, but an anthology of different genres written by and for people of different times and cultures, and few if any of the authors even imagined that they were writing an infallible scientific treatise.  That kind of literal, testable-claims approach was not part of their world-view.  It would seem that liberals would question or reject Premise 3, but I have yet to encounter a liberal who can state plainly what, if anything, they would put in its place.  How can we know that (as Fred has argued) the Book of Jonah (more or less) accurately reflects God’s nature, and the Book of Joshua doesn’t, and not the other way around?  How do we know that Jesus forgiving the woman caught in adultery is the “real deal,” and Jesus talking about everlasting weeping and gnashing of teeth (not to mention the TurboJesus of Revelation!) isn’t?  Maybe mystical experience (St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, etc.) could be the way, but what to do with mystical experiences that validate fundamentalism (e.g. those of fundamentalist Charismatics)?

    The God/Jesus of liberal Christians like Fred is certainly nicer than the God/Jesus of fundamentalism, but it seems to me that liberals have to ignore the entire long history of Christian “orthodoxy” with the same fervor that fundamentalists have to ignore fossils, in order to sustain their position that traditional Christian doctrines can be abandoned at will without toppling the doctrinal structure.

    *Ever since the Council of Nicea, Christians have been writing up lists of “the True, Infallible Doctrines” which one must believe in order to be a Real, True Christian.  It’s also present, if not so formally stated, throughout the New Testament.  RTC’ism was not invented by Southern Baptists or “New” Atheists.

  • ReverendRef

    From the outside, it just seems kind of silly to insist that, for
    example, belief in the Golden Rule requires and is somehow dependent on
    belief that the universe is only 6,000 years old.

    I personally would have gone with . . . is somehow dependent on belief that Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel were literally the only four people on the earth, but Cain managed to find a wife elsewhere bit.  But the point is the same.

    the attempt to evangelize some Hellbound Episcopalian

    Yeah . . . lotta good that did me, as I got myself ordained into said church.  Oh well, I’ll take pushing “all means ALL” over a very special exclusive brand of heaven any day.

  • MelodicC

    @rrhersh “In this model, the former fundie Christian becomes a fundie Atheist, never imagining that there is anything in between.”

    Thank you. I’m a liberal Christian that recognizes discrepancies. Talking to my Atheist sister, her attitude is very “if this part of the bible is untrue, how can you believe any of it is?” How do you explain to this mindset that that is not the point of the Bible. It’s a collection of genres non of which were meant to be historical or scientific.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    How do you explain to this mindset that that is not the point of the
    Bible. It’s a collection of genres non of which were meant to be
    historical or scientific.

    One place to start is to talk to them about your own experiences with the Bible, and whether there’s anything special about the Bible in those experiences. If there is, you can talk to them about what that special thing is, and what makes the Bible special in that way. (If there isn’t, then perhaps you can explain why you pay the Bible any particular attention at all, and whether you believe anyone else ought to.)

  • rrhersh

    My usual approach (which meets with only limited success) is to expand on the “genre” bit by using passages which are obviously metaphorical.  Even most fundamentalists who insist on a “literal” reading of the Bible understand that “The Lord is my shepherd” is a metaphor, even if they will refuse to use that word.  If your interlocutor can accept that this passage is metaphorical, you can then discuss what literary genre (e.g. lyric poetry) it falls into.  Once that door is open, you can discuss the genre of various other passages. 

    Persuade your interlocutor that “Near Eastern creation myth” is a genre, and you are practically home free.  The difficulty is that while lyric poetry has an unbroken tradition from the ancient world to the present day, Near Eastern creation myths do not.  Not only did people stop writing them, they forgot how to read them–or that they even existed–until they were rediscovered in the 19th century.  The opening of Genesis is the notable exception, and much confusion derives from its literary context having been forgotten.   The Psalm being a lyric poem is immediately obvious.  The genre of the opening of Genesis, on the other hand, is much more subject to misunderstanding, with much wackiness ensuing

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    The question may be more about what basis you have for your choice of hermeneutics, and why you constrain your choice to one that still leads to Christianity rather than one of the alternative hermeneutics which does not.

  • Jill H

    “Fundamentalist Christianity is a package deal…”I will be reading this post in chunks over days–holy mackerel! I find it near impossible to explain to outsiders the depth to which fundie indoctrination affects your ability to hold concepts like faith, hope, salvation, compassion, etc. in your body after you’ve abandoned fundie religion. Fundamental, literalist, legalistic faith is severe– there’s just no other way to classify it. And it severely impacts your life when you are raised to structure your life around and on it. The trappings of my once-severe faith have been gone for nearly 2 decades, but the residual emotions and synaptic pathways are still alive and kicking, especially since I’ve decided to re-examine Christianity for myself. It’s like I’m running a metal detector over a minefield. All kinds of fun…

  • The_L1985

    During college, I felt so hampered by insanely oppressive Catholic ideas of right and wrong WRT sex, modest clothing, and reproduction, that I felt like I pretty much had to throw it all out and start from square 1 in determining what I do and do not believe about the topics. I wasn’t yet sure which of my former beliefs were helping and which weren’t, so I started by asking myself the “in this situation, which is worse and why” question and going from there.

  • LL

    Hal Lindsey used as a textbook? (shakes head)

    Your parents and that school owe you an apology.

  • aproustian

    I’m an atheist not least in part because I choose “nothing.” It took a few years of transitioning before I knew that it really wasn’t a choice for nihilism–it never felt like it was, but hey, you grow up learning one thing…

    I remember when one of my sisters (who is now a very liberal Christian) told me how jealous she was that I didn’t have to worry about reconciling things like dinosaurs and the age of the universe and the Bible.

  • Cor Aquilonis

    My issue with the perspective that the Bible has value aside from being a holy book is that, once I start lining it up with its genre competitors, the Bible simply fails to be competitive.  Comparing the Bible as poetry to just about any major poet is to find the Bible utterly disappointing.  Comparing the Bible as a historical reference to modern history books is is to find the Bible beyond pathetic – downright false.  To use the Bible as a moral guide is, even if you only use the New Testament (ad disregard the horrors int he Old Testament), pretty weak when I compare it to modern thought.

    Beyond the Bible’s use as a Holy Scripture that will show you the character of God and guide you to Everlasting Life in the Heavenly City, I see no value.

    (Please forgive the weird sentence structure, it’s been a long Monday.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    So something has to be good art to be art at all? Recorded oral tradition is of no literary value, and due to its lack of scientific rigor, no historical value?

  • vsm

    [blockquote]Comparing the Bible as poetry to just about any major poet is to find the Bible utterly disappointing[/blockquote]
    Really? You find things like the beginning of Genesis, Job’s speeches, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Songs, Ruth’s speech to Naomi, Jesus’ sayings, the Gospel of John, St. Paul in his more poetic moods and the Book of Revelation aesthetically disappointing?

  • Amaryllis

     .. and many of the Psalms, and large chunks of Isaiah and some of the other prophets …

    …not to mention all those poets, ancient and modern, who were inspired by Biblical language– where would T.S. Eliot have been without Ezekiel?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    .. and many of the Psalms, and large chunks of Isaiah and some of the other prophets …

    Thank you for chiming in with this. People say “oh yeah, Song of Songs is poetic” but forget the prophets. Man, the prophets will kick your arse and leave you with a metaphor to roll your tongue over in one swift movement.

  • vsm

    I should probably start reading them, then. I recently became interested in reading the Bible, but have been mostly keeping to the first half of the Old Testament. There’s just something intimidating about the prophets. It’s like getting into a new genre of music you know little about.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I strongly recommend it. I like reading the prophets so much more than the earlier books (mostly–Haggai is not crash hot!) There’s so much depth, fiery passion, and beautiful imagery in there. It’s such a shame that they seem to be largely ignored or glossed over.

  • The_L1985

    But that’s not the appropriate context for a religious text. The Bible falls rather nicely under the category of “Ancient Religious Texts,” and is fairly representative of that genre.

  • mattias marois

    wll if the morals of the bible is so bad, then go murder people, go rape woman, and go steal stuff, obviously all that is bad because its in the bible

  • Madhabmatics

    Like the whole “You believe in God, and therefore implicitly say it exists, and therefore must spend every waking moment justifying it to to me” is hella annoying

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

     “Like the whole “You believe in God, and therefore implicitly say it
    exists, and therefore must spend every waking moment justifying it to to
    me” is hella annoying”

    Yes, this. 

    I don’t care if other people believe in God or not, but the idea that theists are under some sort of obligation to justify their beliefs by proving to random atheists that God exists is annoying to say the least.

  • Carstonio

    Theists, and atheists, are only under obligation to justify their positions if they insist that these are irrefutable fact. Most don’t but some do.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    “Theists, and atheists, are only under obligation to justify their
    positions if they insist that these are irrefutable fact. Most don’t but
    some do.”

    Oh, I agree completely.  I’m just disagreeing with the proposal that theists have a special obligation to justify their beliefs, whereas atheists can just be assumed to be correct without any justification whatsoever.

  • Carstonio

    You would have a point if we limit atheism to the position that no gods exist, which is different from simply not believing in the existence of gods. But I haven’t encountered anyone who says that the latter should “be assumed to be correct without any justification whatsoever.”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CUJHSQSQYTYT4DPZSKTVESYNQ B

    I was responding to the comment below: “The
    onus is on the person claiming the existence of an otherwise not
    obviously physically verifiable phenomenon to prove the claim.  The onus is NOT on anyone else to DISprove the claim.”

    Unless I’m trying to proselytize I don’t agree that the onus is on me to prove anything.  Nor do I agree that if an atheist is trying to persuade me that God doesn’t exist, I’m still the one who’s supposed to prove the existence of God (if indeed that’s what was meant by the original comment).

    I generally thought atheism WAS the position that no gods exist, whereas having no beliefs one way or the other was agnosticism.  But, perhaps I am mistaken about this.

  • Beroli

     

    I generally thought atheism WAS the position that no gods exist, whereas
    having no beliefs one way or the other was agnosticism.  But, perhaps I
    am mistaken about this.

    Like most or all words, “gnostic/agnostic” and “theist/atheist” have multiple definitions. The ones I prefer, personally, are:
    Theist: Belief in some manner of deity
    Atheist: Not a theist
    Gnostic: Knows, or believes s/he knows
    Agnostic: Does not know
    Gnostic theist: “God(ess)(es)(s) exist(s), in exactly form X, Y and Z.”
    Agnostic theist: “I believe the divine exists in some form.”
    Gnostic atheist: “There are no gods, NONE.”
    Agnostic atheist: “I don’t believe in any religion I know, but I don’t rule out the possibility that one or more gods exists in some form, nor do I rule out the possibility that there are no gods.”

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    And it can get even more complicated: I’m an atheist, but gnostic or agnostic depending on the god.

  • Madhabmatics

    Look at the path that lead us to this place. Ellie is an atheist who basically said that (correctly) that “Objective Truth” is a pretty touchy idea and perhaps getting rid of a bunch of people based on what our limited human understandings of truth are might be jumping the gun.

    This lead to her being told that the onus is on the atheist to prove that God exists.

  • Cor Aquilonis

    So something has to be good art to be art at all?

    Did I say that?  No I didn’t.  I’m saying that the Bible is terrible in comparison to other, more recent pieces in genres in which it is claimed to be an excellent example.  I made no sweeping judgements of its status as art, or what does and doesn’t define art.

    Recorded oral tradition is of no literary value, and due to its lack of scientific rigor, no historical value?

    Did I say that?  Again, no I didn’t.  I said that, when compared with the wealth of available literature in many genres in which the Bible is said to be a paragon, the Bible comes up short again and again. Also, the Bible contains many accounts it presents as historical fact that are not supported by archeological or historical investigation.  I will trust your Google Fu and intellectual honesty to be strong enough to find some examples. 

    Really? You find things like the beginning of Genesis, Job’s speeches, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Songs, Ruth’s speech to Naomi, Jesus’ sayings, the Gospel of John, St. Paul in his more poetic moods and the Book of Revelation aesthetically disappointing?

    That’s what I said, sort of.  Compare any passage from the Bible to comparable selections from even high school literature textbooks, and anyone would disappointed.  The characters are unbelievable, the story rings hollow, it insults the audience both intellectually and morally, and the pacing is wretched.  You’ve been reading Fred’s LB posts, right?  Do your own criticism of the books of the Bible in comparison to other books in the same genre – honestly.  Do books of the Bible really stack up?

    Anyways, I didn’t realize that my opinion on the Bible’s quality as literature would get other people here so… defensive.  I probably should have.  Originally, I thought that my post would add to the discussion, but I can see now that it’s only causing devisiveness.  I will continue to lurk, but unless someone wants me to contribute and asks me to, I’ll hush up now, and not derail the discussion any further.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yeah, see, what you said isn’t that the Bible is bad literature. (I disagree but I do not care to debate the point.) What you said is that the Bible is valueless.

    Literature has value. We can argue over how much value any given work has, but given the number of literary allusions to the Bible, I think it’s safe to say that it’s fairly high-value regardless of its quality.

  • vsm

    Have you read the parts I mentioned? I’m asking because I don’t think your criticism really applies to any of them. True, if you pick a passage at random, there’s a chance it’s something that’s exactly what you describe, but that’s hardly surprising. Not every part is meant to be poetry, and not all poetry is equally good. The parts that are good are rather impressive, at least to me, and I don’t think any supernatural beings were involved in writing them.

  • The_L1985

    I’m surprised you still haven’t mentioned any creation myths. “Creation myth” is a genre. So, for that matter, is “regional folklore.”

  • hf

    Burden of proof seems like a distraction. A better argument against theism would be, ‘Where does all this detail come from? Do you realize how much variety exists in the space of possible minds and mind-like processes that shape the future? At least go read Friendship is Optimal and admit that you’re talking about something less human than CelestAI.’

    Somewhat related, with emphasis in original:

    If we ask who was more correct—the theologians who argued for a
    Creator-God, or the intellectually unfulfilled atheists who argued that
    mice spontaneously generated—then the theologians must be declared the
    victors: evolution is not God, but it is closer to God than it is to
    pure random entropy.  Mutation is random, but selection is non-random. 
    This doesn’t mean an intelligent Fairy is reaching in and selecting.  It
    means there’s a non-zero statistical correlation between the gene and
    how often the organism reproduces.  Over a few million years, that
    non-zero statistical correlation adds up to something very powerful. 
    It’s not a god, but it’s more closely akin to a god than it is to snow
    on a television screen.

    In a way, Darwin discovered God—a God that failed to match
    the preconceptions of theology, and so passed unheralded.  If Darwin had
    discovered that life was created by an intelligent agent—a bodiless
    mind that loves us, and will smite us with lightning if we dare say
    otherwise—people would have said “My gosh!  That’s God!”

    But instead Darwin discovered a strange alien God—not comfortably “ineffable”, but really genuinely different from us.  Evolution is not a God, but if it were, it wouldn’t be Jehovah.  It would be H. P. Lovecraft’s Azathoth, the blind idiot God burbling chaotically at the center of everything, surrounded by the thin monotonous piping of flutes.

  • Carstonio

    evolution is not God, but it is closer to God than it is to
    pure random entropy. Mutation is random, but selection is non-random.

    That sounds a little like the central assumption of intelligent design, which is that order can only be designed. Apparently the author views any large, powerful natural process that involves order or non-randomness as godlike, and that may arguably be simple anthropomorphism.

  • stardreamer42

    “The problem with oaths of the ‘death before dishonor’ variety is that, given enough time, they inevitably divide people into two groups: the dead and the forsworn.” – Miles Vorkosigan

  • mattias marois

    and whast up with “liberal” christians or any liberal (i fail to see any difference between a christian liberal or athest liberal) bashing conservatives for killing in wars, but will ignore the genocide they support?????????????????

  • EllieMurasaki

    What genocide do liberals support?

    If your answer includes the word ‘abortion’, you need to explain why you do not support mandatory organ donation by anyone who has a spare kidney or a whole liver or whose corpse is in good enough condition for the organs to be reusable. You also need to explain why there is nothing objectionable in forcing someone to endure months of discomfort followed by dramatically increased household bills, or horrible physical health problems followed by death, or nasty mental health problems followed and/or accompanied by dramatically increased household bills and enforced contact with the rapist and/or domestic abuser. Note that the months of discomfort followed by heavy financial burden is the best-case scenario. Oh, and explain why you do not support measures that will reduce unwanted pregnancies, measures that will reduce the burden inherent in caring for a child, or research into the causes of spontaneous abortion shortly after fertilization.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Awesome. So the results of non-empirical systems of knowledge cannot be verified or judged or observed, except by non-empirical systems of knowledge. As someone once said, “Well isn’t that convenient?”

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Empirical systems can be proven by emperical systems. And the bible is true because the bible says so.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    False equivalency. Double awesome.

    I’m still not clear on why one would cleave to any knowledge system that has no better chance of producing knowledge than would random darts flung at a wall.

  • vsm

    Believing in God because of a religious experience is a form of empiricism. The scientific method and empiricism are not the same thing.

  • http://twitter.com/ScribeJay Jay H

    “(Church, I think, should be more like a 25th reunion in that regard.)”

    Fred, I hope you won’t mind if I make a meme-graphic out of this. I’ll give you attribution. :-)

  • KevinC

    Fred: From the outside, it just seems kind of silly to insist that, for
    example, belief in the Golden Rule requires and is somehow dependent on
    belief that the universe is only 6,000 years old.

    I think the apparent confusion here comes from the fact that “belief in the Golden Rule” means different things “from the outside” vs. “from the inside.”  From the outside, “belief in the Golden Rule” means something along the lines of “The Golden Rule is a good guideline most of the time, but I wouldn’t want to have a masochist or a suicidal person take it literally and practice it on me or other people.”  Of course this has nothing to do with a 6,000 year-old Earth. 

    From the inside, “belief in the Golden Rule” means “belief that the Golden Rule is an eternal moral absolute, handed down directly from on high.”  It’s the absolutism, not the Golden Rule itself that is dependent on “Biblical infallibility.”  If the Bible is fallible, then any particular part of it, including the Golden Rule, may also be fallible.  It becomes just another human idea, rather than Divinely-Inspired Holy Writ.  I think they keystone of the fundamentalist project is the belief that their ideas aren’t merely human, but divine in origin.  In this, I think they are trying to imitate and counter science.  In science, the goal is to set up your observations and experiments in such a way that Reality itself acts as the arbiter of whether or not a given hypothesis or theory is correct, rather than “human factors” like bias, popularity, an advocate’s charisma, group politics, and so on.  Even though this doesn’t always work, it works pretty well, most of the time.  This gives science a certain “solidity.”  There is not going to be some new fad or sect of science that restores the idea that the Sun goes around the Earth.  Questions like that aren’t matters of human opinion, the way questions of theology ultimately are.

    IMO, fundamentalism seeks to “one-up” science by holding up the Bible as a divinely-created, infallible data-set that (putatively) validates their beliefs.  If (your interpretation of) the Bible is infallible, then for whatever areas it covers, you are infallible.  A pretty appealing idea to anyone with a fundamentalist or authoritarian mindset.   

  • Carstonio

    Heh. The analogy only works if it’s the same innocent person in both claims. It’s about one person’s life hanging on a decision and lacking any way to find out which decision will save the person’s life. 

    Fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam both say that people are doomed to hell based on what position they take about Jesus, whether he was mortal or divine, but they take opposite positions. There’s no way for an outsider to know which position would avoid hell, so it would almost amount to flipping a coin. Most Christians would probably agree with Fred that their fundamentalist colleagues are engaging in bad theology. But whether a theology is sound or unsound has nothing to do with its factual accuracy. 


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