New blogalog

Had a guy email me yesterday asking if I’d revive the blogalog idea after the cl disaster.  I’m willing to give it another go.  His name is John Henry, which is kinda neat because I have a dear friend back in Springfield, MO named John Henry.  Small world, eh?

Anyway, here’s his first email.  Mine will go up tomorrow.

Good start, and tough to answer as written. I believe in God because I have always sensed his presence; on a very fundamental level, existence without God doesn’t make any sense to me.

That is not, however, why you should believe. It’s not even necessarily why many other believers believe. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and it looks different in different people, just like love looks different in different couples. Your relationship with God is not my relationship with God; that’s between you and the Holy Spirit. The best I can do is tell you that he’s amazing, and that he loves you, and he wants you to get to know him.

In my experience, it’s pretty pointless to tell someone they “should” believe in God. Every conversion is a different story, a process of being wooed by God, and logical proofs are about as relevant to the central question of faith as they are to the question of whether or not you should be friends with someone. It’s not as simple as deciding, “Hey, I think I’ll start believing in God today,” although there is, in every conversion, a leap of faith – a moment of choice, where you can choose to accept or reject God’s love and existence. It’s about the scariest thing you can face, but I think it’s necessary. Faith and free will couldn’t coexist without it.

In case that’s poor grist for the blogalog, a few questions for you:
-How would you define God?
-What are your reasons for your conviction that God, as defined above, does not exist?
-Does it bother you that others believe in God? If so, why?


About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • ACN

    -What are your reasons for your conviction that God, as defined above, does not exist?

    The Burden of Proof is outside, he’d like a word.

    • ACN

      In retrospect, I think I’m even more shocked that in a debate allegedly representing the affirmative for theism, the theist asks the atheist how to define god.

      What a cute trick. If the atheist accepts your bait, the theist gets to respond that his god is, shockingly predictably, nothing like the evil being that the atheist has invented.

      You’re representing the affirmative.
      Define your god.
      Provide your evidence that it exists.

      And before you ask, “No”. You don’t get to re-cast the debate in terms of double negatives to weasel your way out of having to defend your affirmative claim.

  • JT (Generic)

    -How would you define God?

    Why do we get asked this?

    John, how would you define xletrumitoper? Nevermind that I’m the one who believes that xletrumitoper exists and I’m telling you about xletrumitoper.

    Shouldn’t the person who’s babbling about xletrumitoper be the one to define it?

    -What are your reasons for your conviction that God, as defined above, does not exist?

    Why do we get asked this too? A 5 millisecond Google search should reveal that we don’t hold any such position, not to mention we keep saying it over and over and over.

    What we say is that “The case for [whatever] has not been successfully made, therefore it’s not yet accepted as a claim”.

    Why is this hard to understand?

    -Does it bother you that others believe in God? If so, why?

    It bothers me when people around my are factually wrong, specially when their wrongness keeps leading them to make atrociously bad decisions that harm people around them.

    All it would take is for one of these people to start believing that I have a demon inside me that needs to be excised with an axe, and I would die. It’s critically important that peoples’ are actually true.

    • joseph

      Well good to establish early on if you mean a tri-omni god, a deistic god, an epicurean god, pantheistic god etc, probably gives JT Eberhard the advantage of narrowing his defensive line. Have a bit of a chat about what’s logically possible for an omniscient, omnipotent god etc.

      I’d agree it’d be better for the guy to give his own definition, and say “hey what do you think?”

  • eric

    there is, in every conversion, a leap of faith – a moment of choice, where you can choose to accept or reject God’s love and existence. It’s about the scariest thing you can face, but I think it’s necessary. Faith and free will couldn’t coexist without it.

    I don’t buy that a leap of faith is necessary for free will. Many, many people in the bible are given firsthand empirical evidence of God. Adam and Eve. Abraham. Moses. Pharoah and the entire Egyptian army. All of the Israelites wandering in the desert, who get to see the pillar of fire etc. All of Jesus’ disciples who meet him post-crucifiction and everyone else who sees him after his death. And, perhaps most famously, Satan. It is really, really hard to maintain a claim that firsthand knowledge of God robs one of the free choice to accept/reject God, given the obvious counterexample of Satan.

    So, if we accept the bible, there’s lots of people who could not experience what John says is necessary (a leap of faith), because they had proof on which to base their decision. Having this proof, on its own, neither banned them from heaven nor caused any unwilling person to worship God, since this ‘proof-full group’ includes both Jesus’ closest disciples and Satan, respectfully.

    And so the question remains, why are we excluded from this group?

  • Rob

    -How would you define God?

    It’s not my place to define God since I’m not a believer. As Matt Dillahunty points out, all theists have their own form of religious belief, so it’s important to always start the dialog with “what do you believe and why?”. This will tell you if/how you should argue. If you define God as the Sun for instance, we can agree that their is a God as long as it’s left at that.

    -What are your reasons for your conviction that God, as defined above, does not exist?

    You’re analogy of faith to love doesn’t fully stand up to scrutiny. I could concede that (given your usage) faith and love are similar in that they both are defined internally in terms of individuals feelings. I have no reason to doubt that believers have feelings that make them happy that they might call ‘faith’, but unlike love we don’t have any evidence that this is a two-way relationship. For instance, if I tell you I get good feelings while praising the Muslim God Allah, you probably wouldn’t doubt my feelings, but would doubt my conclusions.

    So faith, as defined as a feeling, can definitely exist and bring individuals great comfort, but acknowledging that gives no credence to your truth-claims.

    -Does it bother you that others believe in God? If so, why?

    I couldn’t care less until you start to impose your beliefs on others. I’ve always had a bit of a personal libertarian streak, so as long as your beliefs don’t have a negative impact on others then I don’t care if you stockpile Twinkies while wearing a tinfoil hat to prepare for the alien invasion.

    However, in terms of the big three, this is rarely the case. The religious want to teach pseudo-science in classrooms. They discriminate against gays in marriage and hate-crime legislation. They use religious arguments in debate around women’s healthcare. This is why we fight, and this is why we aren’t speaking out against tinfoil hat guy.

  • JT (Generic)

    Faith and free will couldn’t coexist without it.

    Faith shouldn’t exist.

    Can he demonstrate that we actually have free will, and is not just an illusion?

  • brianpansky

    “How would you define God?”

    This is basically the question I was hoping John was going to answer as I read his writing.

  • cag

    How does one define that which does not exist?

    • B-Lar

      First, bring it into existence as a subjective concept, then define as required.

      Make sure that you dont look too honestly or closely at it and, given enough time and your mind will make the unchallenged concept appear entirely real.

      You are now ready for internet debate! Congratulations!

  • fastlane

    I believe in God because I have always sensed his presence[.]

    Bullshit. I’ll tell you what happened, because I’ve seen this before, especially with relatively young children.

    1) The religiot (often a minsiter/priest/shaman) asks something leading, and seemingly harmless like, “you know that feeling you get when happens?”

    2) Maybe ask one or two similar questions.

    3) The religiot says “That is god.”

    4) This ‘proof’ only works on those who are emotionally vulnerable, but if you can do it when they are young, it will be associated with ‘god’ for possibly the rest of their lives.

    The best I can do is tell you that he’s amazing, and that he loves you, and he wants you to get to know him.

    1) How exactly does one ‘get to know’ your imaginary friend? Read the book? That’s what made many of us into atheists in the first place.

    2) How does your ‘sense of presence’ lead you to know all this other stuff? I would submit that if you were raised in a Muslim country by a muslim family, you would be making all the same pathetic assertions, but substitute Mo for Jeebus.

    It’s about the scariest thing you can face, but I think it’s necessary.

    Wait…What??? What’s scary about deciding to believe in the same delusion that 80% of the country also believes in? What’s scary is taking the steps required to start thinking for oneself, and being willing to own up to one’s own decisions.

    Your attempts at deflection of the burden of evidence have already been addressed.

    JT, I admire you for wanting to do this, but I’ll bet $100 that we are unlikely to see anything we haven’t seen thousands of times before. It’s fun to play with new chewtoys, though.

  • Art Vandelay

    Does it bother you that others believe in God? If so, why?

    I know a few people that just sort of anthropomorphize the universe in their own personal albeit very ambiguous ways. I don’t care about that. It bothers me that people think that the supernatural claims that any particular religion make are true because at that point…they’ve stopped thinking for themselves and they’re willing to take the intellectually dishonest position of “Faith” and bestow virtue upon it. That bugs the crap out of me. If Faith were pretty much universally recognized as a character flaw, I wouldn’t have a problem with it because you’d fall victim to come sort of social ramifications for preaching it. The idea that it’s seen as a virtue is probably the single greatest problem that society has today.

  • iknklast

    To say that the faith required is the same as deciding whether to be friends with someone is…wow. Disingenuous? I’m not sure that’s enough to sum it up!

    When I decide whether or not to be friends with someone, I don’t have to first determine if they exist – they are standing in front of me, working beside me, or such. Their presence is already established. I am not being asked to decide if I want to be friends with someone who may (or may not) exist. It’s not even close to the same thing! Definite analogy fail.

    And it’s not usually totally faith-based when we decide whether or not to be friends with someone. It’s usually based on our observations of that person, whether they have acted in a way that warrants our friendship, or whether they’ve been a total jerk-wad and don’t deserve a second thought from us. Oh, yes, sometimes we end up liking someone who is a total jerk-wad for some reason not clear to us, but still…we are basing it on actual experiences of that person, their charisma, or the million dollars they just gave us to be friends with them…whatever. It ISN’T faith, even though we are sometimes going beyond the evidence to take a chance. It’s a calculated risk, and that’s different.

    • kagekiri

      Yeah, it’s a stupid comparison; let’s see what happens if we play along..

      “Yes, you could make an imaginary friend early in life, who you talk to and trust. After you’ve grown up, you may come to realize they only exist in your mind, even if you fabricated realistic emotional interactions and conversations with them! When you don’t realize this, it means you’re deluded.”


      “You may make friends easily and almost intuitively, but if you found out your new friend was actually a genocidal murderer who condoned rape and gloried in owning slaves who worshiped xim and tortured those who refused, NOT immediately distancing yourself from them and condemning their actions for fear of punishment from your ‘friend’ would mean you were an immoral appeaser or similarly morally impaired.”

      “God is that psychopathic arrogant murderer; he starts off seeming all love and salvation when you convert, but then you read the Bible, and you start to realize things don’t square up. Besides the lack of proof of existence besides emotionally manipulated followers who ‘feel’ and ‘experience’ him, he’s not a friend worth keeping nor a character worth respecting. He does not keep his promises, does not speak when you ask, does not even have good moral ideas in Jesus (thought-crime: fuck that shit).”

      “Job, held up as an example of righteousness, basically says that it’s okay if God murdered his entire family, he just doesn’t understand why, and God just brags about his greatness and says shut up, I’ll give you another family if you just shut up. In reality, God was just showing off to Satan despite Satan being evil and God supposedly knowing everything. Fuck that kind of friend.”

    • eric

      There’s only one logical form that says you have to think it’s true before you know it’s true, as you do with claiming you have to have faith first. It’s called making an assumption, and that’s not a valid logical form.

  • Drakk

    Did the full email transcript from cl ever go up? I’m curious to see how much of a train wreck it really was.

    • JT Eberhard

      They didn’t. I’ll throw them up tomorrow.

  • Sandro

    The “cl thing” was only a disaster because you got scared. It was obvious.

    • JT Eberhard


      • Richard

        …wait, that would prove evolution.

        • Rory

          Not if it was put there by Satan to delude the faithless!

    • Michaelyn


    • Drakk

      I’ll wait for the transcript before making judgements like that.

  • a3kr0n

    JT – Off topic or on topic I don’t know, but I’ve been trying to remember what you said last Saturday in Madison when you said “I think you are a thief”. I searched and couldn’t find it here. Could you post that please? BTW: After your talk my friend commented that he thought you would make a good politician! Me too!

    • Michaelyn

      It goes something like this:

      You can’t prove god doesn’t exists. You can’t prove smurfs don’t exist. JT had a fun argument for this.

      Believer: You can’t prove that god doesn’t exist.

      JT: You’re a thief. You take things from people. You should stop that shit.

      Believer: *sputters* No I’m not!

      JT: Prove it.

      Believer: You don’t have any evidence for…ohhh.

      Took this from:

      • A3Kr0n

        Yes. Thanks!

  • Anteprepro

    Hmmm. So, he can’t conceive of existence without God (incredulity is the best evidence, after all) and has “sensed His presence” and has a relationship of some kind, while never specifying any information about this “sense” and waffling like crazy about how you can’t expect consistency from people who claim the same thing, or expect everyone to have comparable faith/supernatural relationships/Jeebus senses. Wow. Why bother go on when he has already conceded that all of this beyond logic and is all about emotions and unpredictable incidental connections with The Spirit World?


    choose to accept or reject God’s love and existence

    Here’s the thing one of the many, many things that Christians believe uncritically and unreflectively: That accepting existence is linked to accepting love, and vice versa. This makes sense in most ways, with the major exception being the most relevant to the more vile points of Christian doctrine, i.e. Hell. That implication is that one rejects love by not accepting the existence of something. Yes, it is impossible to actually accept the love of someone you don’t believe exists, but it is a distinctly different animal from not accepting love from someone you do believe to exist.

    So, the puzzle:
    Is an adopted child refusing to accept the love of his biological mother if that adopted child believes the mother, who does indeed love that child deeply, is actually dead? If the adoptive child’s adoptive mother was a saint who regularly showed her love for the child, but he never accepted that love, would that be the same kind of “rejection” as the former scenario? And, digging further in the implications, does that child deserve to be punished for allegedly “rejecting” the love of the biological mother that he doesn’t believe is even alive anymore? Would he deserve to be punished for not returning the love of his good, caring adoptive mother?

    It is pretty clear that, for those not thoroughly lobotomized by faith, that there is:
    1. A large difference between rejecting the love of someone known to exist vs. the love of someone not known to exist.
    2. No good reason to punish the non-lover, even when the person rejected is very loving and obviously real. The case of “rejecting” love of someone not believed to be real would be absurd and cruel to punish.

    It seems that it is only these personal relationships with magical entities that make belief tantamount with love, and make both lack of belief and lack of love something worthy of horrible punishment. I would ask that Christians who want to continue the above line of argument to do an experiment. I want them to try to refer and govern their actual human relationships in the same way that they claim a relationship with YHWH is defined and governed. Just for one, simple little day. It will really put things in context for those who do so and have the tiniest spark of intellectual integrity.

  • I’m_not

    well I’m convinced. Where do I sign?

  • dcortesi

    Something John Henry said early on has been ignored by all commenters, and JT didn’t mention it in his first reply:

    Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

    This is a frequent christian trope and it is a smelly weasel of a postulate, a nasty little bit of illogic.

    First, if you don’t believe, they can completely ignore any reasons you give for not believing; you simply haven’t been “given the gift of faith”. It isn’t their failure for not convincing you; it isn’t due to any logic or argument you raise or anything you may passionately think; it’s all completely out of their hands because the Faith Fairy hasn’t blown the magic dust on you—yet.

    Second, the people who use this never seem to realize that it makes a complete joke of the Free Will argument. They are calmly asserting that belief is a random dispensation by a quixotic, unpredictable god (remember, the “Holy Spirit” is the third person of a unitary god). And yet they excuse god of cruelty for condemning unbelievers to hell because the unbelievers have willfully rejected god. Is faith a gift? Of is it a willing choice? Can’t have it both ways.

  • John-Henry Beck

    Hey, you’ve got a friend named John Henry here in Springfield? Too bad I didn’t have a chance to read this before Skeptics in the Pub yesterday – you should really convince him to come. You tend to have the coolest friends.

    (Yes, I’m being a jerk about getting my name wrong. :)