Bad Atheist Arguments: “Don’t Believe Something Just Because it Makes You Feel Good”

Bad Atheist Arguments: “Don’t Believe Something Just Because it Makes You Feel Good” January 4, 2017

Andy Bannister The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist book This is part 5 of a critique of The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments (2015) by Andy Bannister (part 1). The book promises to critique a number of atheist arguments.

Chapter 5. Aim for That Haystack!

In today’s opening episode, our hero is tandem jumping out of an airplane. Things are exhilarating at first but then become terrifying when it’s clear that his partner, the experienced jumper, isn’t wearing a parachute and is planning on breaking their fall by landing in a haystack. He says that parachutes might make you feel good because you’re afraid of death or you remember them fondly from your childhood, but “just because something makes you feel good, it doesn’t make it true, does it?”

Bannister connects this to Freud’s theory that God is simply a heavenly version of their earthly father who’ll make sure that we safely get through this scary world, and he admits his own frequent reflections on mortality. (Which reminds me of apologist William Lane Craig, whose own childhood anxiety about death seems to have set him on his path as an apologist.)

Let me quickly agree with Bannister’s point: just because you want something to be true is no evidence that it is. What’s strange though is hearing this from him. He imagines that it’s the atheists who have the problem with wishful thinking? He has this issue backwards for the entire chapter. It’s so backwards, in fact, that I use a quote from him to close this post.

He touches on C. S. Lewis’s Argument from Desire: thirst and hunger exist, so we know that there’s water and food, and a desire for God exists, so we know that there’s a God. (I respond to that argument here.) This isn’t quite as fanciful as the Ontological Argument, but it does argue that desire points to God, which undercuts the point of the chapter.

He anticipates one obvious rebuttal. We all agree that water and food exist, but we don’t agree that God exists. He responds by handwaving that we don’t sense anything directly. The mind can be deceived or wrong. In an extreme case, you could be a brain in a jar.

After trying to cast doubt on our knowledge of mundane things, he tries to boost God belief. “There is a wealth of evidence that you can engage with to explore that question, ranging from philosophical and scientific arguments, to moral and ethical arguments, to arguments from literature and history, as well as those from personal experience.” And (again) he gives us none of it, saying that this isn’t that book.

Sorry—you get no points for an empty declaration.

Could Christianity be invented?

He next considers the idea that Christianity was invented. “If Christianity were mere wish-fulfilment, just a psychological projection, then those who dreamt it up had pretty impoverished imaginations.” He sketches out the more comfortable religion he would invent: a distant god who didn’t interfere, relaxed moral standards, freedom, and easy entry requirements to a great heaven. But being a good Christian is really hard. Conclusion: Christianity wasn’t invented.

I know of no one who says that it was. There’s a big difference between a religion deliberately invented (Bannister’s proposal here) and a religion that was manmade instead of having real god(s) behind it. Only Christians use this straw man. Note also that ordinary morality constrains hedonism, too, so Christianity is just one more path that puts constraints on our lives.

And let me push back on his characterization of Christianity as a burdensome religion. I never read about a Christian who says, “Y’know, same-sex marriage doesn’t affect me a bit. In fact, I’m delighted by the idea that homosexuals can get married and that society supports that. But my hands are tied—my understanding of the Bible makes clear that this is wrong.” On the contrary, God always seems to conveniently agree with their moral position that the other guy is wrong. There are exceptions, but the God that Christians believe in is often a projection of themselves. Because the Bible is so ambiguous, the Christian hydra has morphed into tens of thousands of denominations, and Christians get to choose the God that fits best.

Bannister agrees: “If you are religious, a sure sign that you’ve [created your own God] is that the God you claim to believe in spends most of his time benevolently blessing all of your own prejudices, desires, and ambitions.” It sounds like atheists aren’t the group he should worry about.

I can’t resist adding the wisdom of third-century church father Tertullian: “The Son of God died: it is wholly believable because it is absurd; he was buried and rose again, which is certain because it is impossible.”

They couldn’t have made up this stuff, so therefore it’s true? Sorry—I need evidence.

Tough love time!

Bannister quotes atheist Aldus Huxley to illustrate the problem with a flexible approach to reality: “We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.” Bannister expands on this: “Other atheists who have reflected carefully on their motives have similarly admitted that their atheism is not so much rational as emotional.

Huxley doesn’t speak for me. My rejection of Christianity is (to the best of my ability) entirely rational, and I’ve never heard anyone say that they pick and choose facts to cobble together a worldview they want.

No, let me correct that: I see Christians doing that a lot. It’s just that I never hear that from atheists.


See also: “I Used to be an Atheist, Just Like You”


Bannister next brings up atheists who say that they’re open minded enough that a compelling miracle would make them believe. “Really? Forgive me, but I think I need to call your bluff. . . . You see, belief isn’t really what God is looking for. As the New Testament itself memorably puts it: ‘Even the demons believe—and shudder!’” He wants to know if these atheists then just say, “Huh—so God exists. Who knew?” and proceed with life, or would they surrender to God and commit their lives to following him?

But where’s the bluff? Bannister is correct that belief in and commitment to God are two very different things. Why should servitude to God automatically follow from belief? The Old Testament makes clear that God is a nasty piece of work (more here and here)—why serve him?

We leave this argument with Bannister’s taunts following us: “But don’t walk away because you are rebelling at a deeper level and merely hiding behind the fig leaf of bad arguments.”

You flatter yourself. Don’t tell me that the atheists have bad arguments when you’ve got no arguments! Give me some plausible frikkin’ arguments and then we can decide if I’m rebelling.

Continue with part 6.

What you feel about God doesn’t
answer the question of whether there is a God.
— Andy Bannister,
The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist

Image credit: Greg Palmer, flickr, CC

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  • eric

    If Christianity were mere wish-fulfilment, just a psychological projection, then those who dreamt it up had pretty impoverished imaginations

    I think the treatment of slavery is a pretty good example of exactly this. The biblical authors say a lot about how to limit it, but none of them appeared to have the imagination needed to just to declare this common cultural practice wrong. This even extends to the New Testament, where Paul sends a slave back to his slave-owner (Philemon) with the admonishment (to the owner) to treat the slave more like a brother than he treats his other slaves, because this particular slave is now Christian. If that’s the best, most loving solution Paul can suggest, then I think ‘impoverished imagination’ pretty much fits the bill.

    • Herald Newman

      Impoverished imagination also seem to be a problem for the apologists. Christianity seems to have a way of stunting your ability to think outside the box, but not stunting your ability to rationalize why you’re inside the box.

      • Pofarmer

        Uhm, if you think outside the box you’ll lose your eternal soul and everlasting life. That’s a pretty powerful motivator.

        • MNb

          For those who are convinced they have an eternal soul.

        • Pofarmer

          Well, yeah.

    • Robert, not Bob

      Not just this. Consider Thomas Jefferson, who did have the imagination to come to the conclusion that slavery was wrong-but still couldn’t bring himself to try to end it, because his wealth was based on it. Biblical writers would have known any calls against slavery would have been opposed by all the powerful in society.

      • Giauz Ragnarock

        “calls against slavery would have been opposed by all the powerful in society”

        Assuming they did think Jesus, omnimax being that he is, was the most proactive abolitionist ever (seriously, they’re liars), they also believed these rich guys, who might have also been Christians, could have smashed Jesus and all existence with a mildly displeased thought.

      • Yet Christianity touts the fact that indeed it was opposed by most for a long time, and still is in many cases.

    • Greg G.

      The limitations were only for fellow Israelis. Leviticus 25:44-46 says it was OK to treat foreign slaves as slaves. An ox that was known to gore people could get you killed if it killed a person, but it was a 30 shekel fine paid to the owner if it killed a slave.

    • Great point about Paul’s bold “solution” to slavery (which is what I’ve heard it called by Christians) coming from an impoverished imagination.

      The biblical authors say a lot about how to limit it

      I can’t think of any examples. They regulate it–is that what you mean?

      • Well they limit it to foreign people, not Hebrews, in Leviticus (with a couple glaring exceptions).

  • Tommykey69

    Since Christianity evolved out of Judaism, it’s creation had to fit at least somewhat within the Judaic framework.

    • adam
      • The_Wretched

        I had someone pull a “how come there are still chimpanzees” today.

      • Rudy R

        And why were there only 1000 Christians at the end of the first century? Why weren’t all the other Jews convinced that Jesus was the savior?

        • Pofarmer

          Yep. You’ve got all the Jews in Jerusalem that supposedly witnessed all this. The Triumphal entry into Jerusalem with massive crowds. The very public trial with Jews shouting to kill him. The very public burial, and then, the RESURRECTION????? OMFG the gold standard of miracles. And, yet, you get almost no Jewish converts. You get no priests or rabbi’s writing about it. Nothing. No historical record at all. Interesting. And then a lot of what we’re finding out, things like Jewish temples with Astrology symbols built into the floors and etc, are at odds with what we thought we knew about Jewish customs. It’s almost like Christians just made it up as they went along.

        • adam

          ” It’s almost like Christians just made it up as they went along. ”

          The strangest part is that they are STILL making it up as they go along.

        • Jim Jones

          “Christianity: 2,000 years of everyone making it up as they go!”

        • Pofarmer

          One thing that gets me is the number of “scholars” who invest thousands of pages arguing that the resurrection must assuredly have been an historical event. Really? It’s one reason that I don’t really trust any Christians ideas on, say, the Historicity argument. If you believe someone rose from the dead, I don’t trust your judgement on much else about that person.

        • adam

          “One thing that gets me is the number of “scholars” who invest thousands
          of pages arguing that the resurrection must assuredly have been an
          historical event.”

          Well of course, but without such MAGIC, Jesus was nothing more than a common itinerant preacher/street magician that nobody during his time would have noticed.

          ” If you believe someone rose from the dead, I don’t trust your judgement on much else about that person.”

          It is a fundamental denial of reality.

          Again, how does Santa get into homes with no chimney?

        • Max Doubt

          “If you believe someone rose from the dead, I don’t trust your judgement on much else about that person.”

          There ya go.

        • Pofarmer

          ;0)

        • All the rest were just in denial and rebellion supposedly. Not that we really have any indication all of them had ever even heard of Jesus…

        • adam

          Because Jesus wasnt the savior of the Jews.

        • Herald Newman

          I’m curious if you have a source for this? I did a quick check and found a paper called “How many Jews became Christians in the first century?” which suggests that there weren’t more than 1000 Jews that became Christians.

        • Rudy R

          I can’t recall exactly…probably something I read recently from Richard Miller.

  • John Grove

    In all honesty, there is not one single Christian argument when put to the rigors of reason and rationality and/or science that is even the slightest bit convincing in any way whatsoever. The whole foundation from start to finish is on sinking sand. It can only be believed by the monumentally naïve or the willfully dishonest or someone who just lacks the capacity to think critically.

    • Kevin K

      Of course, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Because if there were clear and compelling evidence in support of the notion that there is a god and we understand what it wants from us…well, we wouldn’t need any arguments at all.

      Instead, what we get is the a la carte menu approach to argumentation. Pick one from each column, continue until you throw up (or convert). Don’t like the Ontological Argument? How about the Kalaam? Or the Argument from Design?

      The more arguments there are, the less likely it is that god exists. Because each successive one is an attempt to rescue the failures of all the previous arguments. Failure upon failure upon failure.

      • adam

        “The more arguments EXCUSES there are, the less likely it is that god exists.”

        FTFY

      • I was chatting with a Christian just today, and he admitted that emotional arguments are what made him Catholic, not intellectual ones.

        I guess the key is finding counter-emotional arguments to get them out. And that’s a tough job.

        • Pofarmer

          “You can’t reason someone out of a position they weren’t reasoned into”. Comes to mind.

        • Dangitbobby

          You’re a worthless piece of ass that god wants to burn for eternity.

          I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty counter-emotional to me.

          If I were going to be religious, there are plenty of choices that don’t require the eternal damnation of souls, if we are relying on emotion only.

        • The whole self-debasement thing is weird. It’s seems like a B&D thing or what you do with a dominatrix. I guess it pushes some elemental buttons, but c’mon, Mr. Christian–stand up like a man.

          Their response, of course, is that the atheist is too proud to bend the knee (just like they’re too proud to bend the knee to Odin).

      • Rudy R

        The smarter theists (apologists?) know they need to rely on logical arguments to maintain their belief, because empirical evidence, the gold standard of epistemology, is virtually nonexistent.

        • Pofarmer

          because empirical evidence, the gold standard of epistemology, is virtually nonexistent.
          .
          FIFY.

        • Theoretically, what would be empirical evidence for God’s existence? Many of the arguments (cosmological and design, for instance) do rely on empirical evidence (not that I buy it).

        • Pofarmer

          They don’t really rely on empirical evidence as much as they co-opt it and misinterpret it.

        • Well yes, like I said the arguments don’t pan out in my opinion.

        • TheNuszAbides

          not unlike the most entertaining conspiracy theories, they rely on fact [as a hook for attention or a relatively inarguable point of departure] and proceed to vividly color in all of the spaces that aren’t clearly marked.

        • Rudy R

          Cosmologists, and physicists, don’t buy into it either.

        • No, mostly they don’t.

        • Kevin K

          The problem with those arguments is that they’re not relying on empirical evidence that obligately points to the presence/intervention of a supernatural something-or-other.

          They’re using observations about of the universe and declaring that the only way it could have gotten the way it is is through divine intervention. To which I always reply, “Aliens”.

          “Evidence” is the fuzzy word here. In order to count as evidence in favor of a deity, it has to both reject the null hypothesis “no god needed/exists” AND it has to also reject alternative hypotheticals (aliens, et al.)

          If their “evidence” in favor of the existence of a deity could be used in favor of the existence of universe-building aliens, then it’s not “evidence”. That’s why the KCA, Fine Tuning, Watchmaker, and other arguments of that ilk fail. Because “aliens”.

        • Absolutely-the conclusion doesn’t follow at all. My point was only that empirical evidence is indeed invoked, though not persuasively.

        • Kevin K

          Yeah, it’s magic hand-waving. They can recite fact-after-fact (sometimes accurately, often not) about the universe; but when the rubber meets the road, none of those facts cannot be explained with all-natural solutions.

          And if an all-natural solution couldn’t be found (which has never happened in the history of looking at such things), then “aliens” is actually the next-logical conclusion. Given the fact that aliens would be (by definition) in a sense “existent” — made of some substance that would be amenable to discovery and confirmation — like every other thing in the universe and probably outside of it.

          “Supernatural” something-or-other as a generic solution fails for lack of specificity, and lack of a general ontology. So, it’s by far the least likely of the possible alternative solutions. And so they hand wave and resort to fallacious reasoning (fallacy of retroactive improbability, hasty generalization, excluded middle, etc.).

          So, for the theists out there looking at these arguments (looking at YOU, William Lame Craig), first you have to explain why all-natural solutions don’t work, THEN you have to explain why “aliens” isn’t the answer, and THEN you have to define the supernatural thing in question that is the solution (which is the toughest job of the lot), and THEN you have to prove that it’s the one-and-only Santa Claus.

        • I think they would say that aliens need an explanation as well, and thus can’t have created the universe. Of course that assumes the universe requires a creator (or creators, if this case).

          Thus far I’m usually unclear on what supernatural is even defined as. Often it seems to be just a synonym of “unexplained” or “unexplainable” (which is even worse).

          You’re right, those steps are totally neglected in what I’ve seen.

        • adam

          “I think they would say that aliens need an explanation as well”

          Cant it just be ‘aliens’ all the way down?

        • They say not, than infinite regress is impossible. I don’t know, but it seems odd to me too. Anyway it doesn’t really seem that necessary to say “aliens all the way down”.

        • adam

          As opposed to ‘turtles all the way down’.

        • Yes, though it’s not that different.

        • Kevin K

          This arises with regard to the question “how did the universe come into being”. If I say “aliens”, the next question is then “how did those aliens come into being, then.” A natural follow-up.

          To which my reply is “not my problem. You asked a specific question, and I gave you a specific solution.”

          Besides which, infinite regress is just as much a problem with a supernatural solution, especially one that cares what humans do with their genitalia. The magic hand-wavers define their supernatural thingy-whatever as being “eternal” (whatever the hell that means) to get around this — but again, it’s a claim made in the absence of any verifiable evidence.

          I’d actually be perfectly fine with a either an eternal or a non-eternal god being the creator of the universe, if there were evidence in favor of such a proposition. Isn’t.

          As to the definition of “supernatural”, that’s their biggest stumbling block. You can easily define the ontology (big word) of existent things. You can even give an ontology of all sorts of non-existent things (Bigfoot, Nessie). But there is no satisfactory ontology that has been proposed for anything supernatural, and most especially a supernatural, eternal, out-of-universe universe-creating thingy dingy that cares whether my gay friends get married or not. Not unless you use words that themselves carry no ontological weight (spirit, et al).

        • Well perhaps so. I think of this in regards to the Big Bang. We can ask “what came prior to that?” or “why did it occur?” That question may be something we can’t answer though even in practice. “I don’t know” will have to do for now, or maybe forever.

          Of course it’s true infinite regress would be a problem on supernaturalism too, though so far I haven’t seen anyone claim that.

          I agree that an eternal God is not proven. To me it gets interesting when you learn that Aristotle, who invented the “first cause” bit, didn’t believe in a God that was anything like the Christians’ at all anyway. It was more like deism from what I understand.

          Yes, the term seems empty of content in most cases, or just a synonym of unhelpful things such as “unexplained”.

        • Dangitbobby

          And in short, they are just moving the problem one step back.

          Who created the creator?

          No one, they say. He’s eternal.

          The problem is – that answers nothing. The universe could also be “eternal” – we have several hypothesis that rely on it – the cyclic universe, the multiverse, etc.

          In short – they are just swapping terms here. Replace “eternal universe” with “God” and there you go.

        • MNb

          If you prefer to be a bit more specific: replace “eternal God” with “eternal quantum fields”. Then our Universe doesn’t even need to be eternal.

        • Pofarmer

          Part of the problem with something being immaterial and eternal is that Time really doesn’t have any meaning without matter. Time is an emergent property of a Universe. So they’re just talking more nonsense.

        • Kevin K

          True. Time and space are interwoven.

          If it weren’t…well…that would mean that the god(s) quite literally waited for an eternity before (t)he(y) created the universe. It just doesn’t track. What was the condition that changed in order to prompt this goddy thingy whatsit to do whatever it did in order to make the Big go Bang? Why isn’t eternity in whatever state it was in prior to that enough?

          Of course, having given this some thought, I can actually think of a logical scenario that would make theists’ heads explode. And now you’ve probably thought of it, too. Which would be consistent with the world we see around us and perfectly solves the “problem of evil.”

        • Pofarmer

          I dunno. Let’s hear it. d;o)

        • What was the condition that changed in order to prompt this goddy thingy whatsit to do whatever it did in order to make the Big go Bang?

          Christians try to avoid the “Why did God wait so long before creating the universe?” problem by saying that he’s outside of time. But then nothing can change in that state. He’d be in hibernation, unable to do anything.

          Maybe there was some sort of time-starting alarm clock …

        • Greg G.

          If God was outside of time, he couldn’t couldn’t make a conscious decision to create the universe. It would all happen at the same time, so there is no reason to think God is a conscious, feeling, decision-making being capable of regret or love.

        • adam
        • Pofarmer

          Did you see the Ben Shapiro interview where Dawkins used the “Aliens” gambit and people lost their shit? It was quite humorous.

        • I didn’t see that. Was Dawkins referring to panspermia?

        • Pofarmer

          I think he was just trolling Shapiro.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SL7CCyuXAS4

        • Kevin K

          No. But I’ll bet it was epic.

        • Kevin K

          Take out the qualifier “virtually” and you’re spot on.

    • The_Wretched

      Try to prove the existence an immaterial abstract or any supernaturalism is going to be impossible. That’s the nature of reality. They can’t succeed even before they start.

      • Greg G.

        That’s the nature of the supernatural. It is contrived to be untestable, unprovable, and immune to evidence.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          Supernaturalism language is basically Newspeak. It is designed so that people beholden to it cannot use the language to criticize the authorities. Double plus good Big Brother : double plus ungood Big Brother :: sinless Jesus : sinful Jesus. We are arguing with Oceanians, and the bullshit is peanut butter consistency.

        • It’s not even clear most times what the “supernatual” means, or how that differs from the “natural” however defined then. Heck, it’s often used as a synonym of “unexplained” so what, anything we don’t understand is “supernatural”? It is notable that the things which we do understand seem to start being called “natural”.

        • Pofarmer

          I don’t have any problem with someone talking about their supernatural stuff, whatever, doesn’t matter. However, when you say that your supernatural stuff affects natural stuff, now we have a claim we can test. And it never, ever, never pans out.

        • In my experience we don’t even get that far. Theoretically, if (for instance) weeping statues of Mary are “supernatural”, then obviously there is some interaction, though how that works is anyone’s guess (I’m assuming here they actually do weep without any natural explanation of course).

        • Pofarmer

          (I’m assuming here they actually do weep without any natural explanation of course).

          Except, once again, we’ve never seen that. There is always a natural explanation whenever something is properly investigated. The blood of Januarius, for instance, now has a perfectly good explanatin by someone who was studying ancient Alchemy. The “miracle of Lanciano” I’m sure, has a similar explanation, but the Church has shut off all access to it.

        • Well yes, this was just speaking theoretically.

        • Dangitbobby

          Funny how that works, right?

          Supernatural sign happens, church cuts off access from that “sign” so it can’t be investigated. From the signs that ever *have* been investigated, it is always some mundane phenomena that causes it.

          And we can’t have our miracles being attributed to simple, natural phenomena, now can we? Gotta keep fleecing the sheep with BS.

        • Greg G.

          That’s what I mean. If something that is said to be supernatural is discovered to have testable evidence, it becomes a natural phenomenon. It cannot still be supernatural because it no longer fits the definition of supernatural.

        • How do you define it?

        • Greg G.

          Supernatural: an imaginary realm or property so believers in a undemonstrable thing can have an excuse for the absence of evidence and to protect the belief from scrutiny.

        • adam

          ” have an excuse for the absence of evidence and to protect the belief from scrutiny.”

          In conjunction with blasphemy, has worked pretty well up until very recently.

        • Yes, that seems similar to what I said, “unexplained”.

        • Greg G.

          But what is unexplained? It has never been detected in any way. That is by definition. It has only been imagined. When you discover some phenomenon, then it becomes unexplained. When a concept only exists in the imagination, no explanation is needed.

        • I mean it’s often used as a synonym of anything that is felt to be unexplained (or unexplainable). So there are people who feel consciousness is a supernatural thing, for example, and that’s something we detect all the time.

        • Greg G.

          I see. I think that use is more like hyperbole, isn’t it?

        • Maybe for some, but I’ve seen it in all apparent seriousness too. One Christian I met claimed science will never explain consciousness, without reservations.

        • Susan

          One Christian I met claimed science will never explain consciousness, without reservations.

          Of course. The history of supernatural claims is that they point at things no one can explain and think that by doing so, their explanation is sufficient but they never provide an explanation at all.

          It is always “You can’t explain it. Therefore, my explanation wins.”

          But their explanation explains nothing.

          Much like evolution and physics and moral concepts, , they don’t bother to look at the explanations done in neuroscience and philosophy that addresses that neuroscience.

          It’s all just “Wow, man. Thinking about it just blows our minds.”

          Then, they tell us that it couldn’t exist without Yahweh or Yahwehjesus or Allah or Karma or whatever.

          Without showing how any of those ideas explain anything.

          They’re down to consciousness now.

          Can’t explain consciousness? I can.

          Yahwehjesus.

          It’s a very old fallacy.

        • You’d think that they would look at believers in other religions, see that they also boldly stated that they had the answer, and yet realize that their answers were all different.

          Kidding! For some reason, the obvious flaw is never obvious.

        • Pofarmer

          Because those other religions are wrong.

        • Yes, I know.

        • Pofarmer

          And we have a long, long list of exactly this thing happening.

      • Pofarmer

        Well, sorta. I mean we know that there are immaterial and abstract things. I mean, those are the concepts that we all use to navigate the world. The problem is with the claim that those immaterial and abstract things exist apart from minds.

    • Unfortunately, this book won’t change your mind on that point.

    • Jon Morgan

      Or those who were brought up with it.

  • Michael Neville

    “If you are religious, a sure sign that you’ve [created your own God] is that the God you claim to believe in spends most of his time benevolently blessing all of your own prejudices, desires, and ambitions.”

    That sounds like every priest, preacher, and miscellaneous Bible-thumper who tells us what it is that their god loves and, especially, hates.

    • Kodie

      Well, think about it – these people need more information about god because deciding what he really wants is something you have to leave up to experts. And if you don’t like your regular expert’s opinion, find a different expert until you find one you agree with.

  • Kevin K

    Ugh. The “rebellion” argument. The worst. I was right earlier. There’s nothing redeeming about this screed at all.

    • Lerk!

      I suppose I used to believe this, but I didn’t really know anyone who had left the church simply because they realized that it was hogwash. Everyone I knew who had left did so because of some “sin” that wasn’t accepted by our church. Or if you heard of a preacher who was teaching something a little different, it was always because they were trying to excuse some family member’s behavior.

      Then I realized that the Bible was hogwash. Haven’t changed my life a bit! Not trying to “excuse” anything!

      Oh, wait, they probably think I just don’t want to have to show up 3 times per week. I’m trying to excuse my lack of desire to serve Yahweh by claiming I don’t believe in him.

      • Kevin K

        I’ve always wondered about that. I mean, according to the rules of that game, the only thing required of you in order to get into heaven is to believe in the existence of the earthly avatar of the supernatural creator of the universe…right?

        So, once you’ve done that, what’s the point of going to church? Again, and again, and again, and again. If the door knockers ask you “have you accepted Jesus”, shouldn’t a “yes, thanks” be enough to turn them away with a smile? And shouldn’t that then absolve you from any further obligations? Why all the hugga mugga? What’s with the singing and the shouting and the exhortation to really-really-really believe?

        Seems to me that if you have to convince a person of a proposition once a week (at minimum), then that proposition might be a tad weak to begin with.

        • adam
        • Lerk!

          In the version of Christianity I was in, it wasn’t once-saved-always-saved. We had plenty of proof-texts to show that you could “fall away.” Serving the god until you die was definitely a requirement. My sister-in-law even worried about my father-in-law when he was caring for my mother-in-law who had Alzheimer’s, when he didn’t go to church anymore even when she offered to stay with her mother. She wondered whether he was losing his faith and was worried about his soul. Truth is he had become very feeble and wasn’t comfortable being around people anymore. She believes he’s in Heaven now (or Paradise, or wherever you go before the final judgment), but she was truly concerned. In one of Paul’s letters he talks about how sad it would be if he himself were to become “disqualified” after having devoted most of his life to “the cause.”

          That’s why the religion survives.

        • Kevin K

          Creepy. Truly creepy.

          Of course, you could troll those kinds of people by implanting them with the “don’t think of an elephant” suggestion that if they have the slightest, teensiest scrap-of-an-iota doubt on their death beds, then it’s off to hell with them. Which means that no matter what you did during life, at the last moment you could wreck it all.

          But I would never be so cruel. Those people have enough problems as it is.

        • Pofarmer

          Yes fear, deep seated, primal fear.

        • Wait a minute–you must be thinking of another religion. Christianity is the religion of love, remember? It’s being smothered in a big, fuzzy blanket of God’s love, where he comforts you during trials, right?

          Christianity has psychological downsides–who knew?

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower
    • Kodie

      I’ve seen Christians even claim what drives them toward their beliefs is the difficulty in believing it. It’s easier not to believe it, not just because you “can do whatever you want,” but that atheists rebel against the pure absurdity. I guess that’s getting into a different argument, but they pride themselves for putting up with a lot for the hunt to understand something that defies being understood. I am sure mostly, they start with their own feelings, and they are sold on feeling something and attributing it to god, of seeing a coincidence that’s supposed to mean something and deciding that it does.

      What I really hate is that they are learning a lot more in church than just how to be Christians, but how and why to avoid being atheists. They may be learning false things about science, for example, and why they should be suspicious of scientists and public schools brainwashing their kids, while also absorbing fake science that appears competitive with actual science because religion realizes it can’t compete with science in its usual format, and fighting for the right to pray in school and hang banners and plaques and perform songs and plays to make sure all the children in town get brainwashed Christian in case they aren’t getting it at home. If they would only realize that their church is lying to them about science, they might ask, “what else might they be lying about?” Getting all their information filtered through church, not just their religious beliefs, and then insulting everyone else’s intelligence with their parroting arguments, and saying we just want to be ignorant and live in darkness and be sinful is just so ridiculous.

      • Kevin K

        Of course, the end result of all of that is what you see in the outcome of the recent election. People voted in droves against their own self-interests, not just with Dear Leader, but in the entire Republican Congress, which seems dead set on repaying their constituents’ votes with … well … death.

      • Pofarmer

        If they would only realize that their church is lying to them about
        science, they might ask, “what else might they be lying about?”

        GregG says this was instrumental in his deconversion. I think it will affect a lot of kids going forward with access to information.

  • The_Wretched

    I want some rather ludicrous things that are or nearly are impossible….

  • The fact that both atheists and atheists can suffer wishful thinking tells us nothing. Sure, we can think of easier religions than Christianity, but also harder ones. In any case, while atheism is easier for some, others find it hard (as Christians seem fond of noting other times).

    It seems to me the argument from desire is, like many, useless by itself. You would have to establish God’s existence by other means. Of course if you’d done that, it wouldn’t be necessary anyway. C. S. Lewis (who coined the argument) did the same thing he does, arguing we don’t have direct experiences. This seems like a self-defeating tack, however, as Lewis was fond of claiming others took.

    • Pofarmer

      You would have to establish God’s existence by other means. Of course if you’d done that, it wouldn’t be necessary anyway.

      That’s the nut of it, right there.

  • Jim Jones

    > Bannister expands on this: “Other atheists who have reflected carefully
    on their motives have similarly admitted that their atheism is not so
    much rational as emotional.”

    Those are the fake atheists who later on “find god” after they are “done sinning”. They’re a different group from those who “hate god”. Another example of the weird notion that they can fool the omniscient god they have invented,

    • adam

      ” Another example of the weird notion that they can fool the omniscient god they have invented,”

      Hey
      Adam and Eve hid from said god in its own garden.

      And that god was not bright enough to guard the magic fruit tree until AFTER his innocent and ignorant children ate off of it.

      Only a fool would be unable to fool such a ‘God’.

  • epicurus

    Here is a 30 interview with Bannister about his book. Randal Rauser in places tries to gently coax Bannister into being a bit less general in his assertions. My apologies if this has been posted before in the comments section of one of the parts of Bob’s reviews, I haven’t had time to keep up with all the comments.

  • Sophia Sadek

    Ever since Nicea, Christianity has been all about enduring torment in the here and now in order to achieve bliss in the after-death. Christianity naturally eschews that which feels good.

  • Lerk!

    “If Christianity were mere wish-fulfilment, just a psychological projection, then those who dreamt it up had pretty impoverished imaginations.”

    “I know of no one who says that it was.”
    Exactly. It wasn’t invented by people trying to dream up a religion to suit themselves, it evolved from another religion (or two or three). Had it been all chocolate and roses, it would have failed. It had to evolve a way to keep people chained to it in order to survive, so rules abound with threats for those who might seek to be unbound.

    • Giauz Ragnarock

      “it evolved from another religion (or two or three)… to suit [the contemporary] themselves…” as all authoritarian political regimes must.

    • Kodie

      Well, they are still dealing with reality and misery, and god doesn’t provide much, so why would any religion come from the idea that wishes come true? I don’t even understand it. I was thinking how some people really do respond well to negative reinforcement, the little digs and insults that motivate quite a lot of people apparently? to try harder and prove to whomever that they are worthy. Dad isn’t pleased by my effort, I’ll surely get my revenge on that nasty man by working harder to get perfect so he’ll give me a hug that never comes. This way is favored by people because it does get results – you get a child that grows into an adult who works hard and doesn’t live in the basement, and when you’re the grown-up, you become dependent on the parental disapproval or else you’d stop being a responsible person, because it’s all up to you to please yourself, right? As long as you have an authority to judge you, you can behave, and without it, you can’t control your immature impulses…. and I really think their ideas about atheism come from lies they hear at church about us, and you know, they want to go to heaven, the literally lust for the day when they can stop working for the reward that never comes, and just do whatever they want to do.

      • Lerk!

        I think the lies about atheism are part of the evolution of the religion.

  • Pofarmer

    It appears that Paul Ryan and the Republicans are determined to go all out full tilt scorched earth stupid. Keep in mind that under current law no federal $ can to to fund abortions.

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwif8NOlk6zRAhVBKCYKHV29CIwQFggpMAM&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnn.com%2F2017%2F01%2F05%2Fpolitics%2Fpaul-ryan-planned-parenthood-obamacare%2F&usg=AFQjCNGOkeWtcMH9ChOkt1iYoP771tWiBw&sig2=nS_1XWJ3SyOKOB2ZBDjNPQ

    “House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that Republicans will move to strip all federal funding for Planned Parenthood as part of the process they are using early this year to dismantle Obamacare. ..”

    How is that not just a big Fuck You to all the mainly underprivileged and poor people that Planned Parenthood serves?

    And, also, do they even worry about the consequences of these actions? Do they give two shits at all? I voted for Republicans since Dole, but, Holy Fuck. They’ve lost me.

    • adam
    • Planned Parenthood did 320,000 abortions in 2015, which were just 3% of the 9.5 million medical tests/procedures/services they did–Pap tests, breast exams, birth control, STD tests, and so on. That’s what the federal funding goes to.

      But “PP does nothing but abortions” is an easy concept that is popular among their base. Who wants to go through all the trouble of educating the public on this matter when there is some low-hanging political benefits to harvest?

      Why stop at removing Obamacare when you can screw people in other ways as well?

      • Pofarmer

        I wonder, what was their percentage of the total number of abortions performed, then?

        Edit.

        And also, obviously, there are going to be a shit ton of consequences, whether intended or unintended. Wouldn’t it be interesting if shutting down Planned Parenthood resulted in more abortions instead of less? That’s certainly a possible outcome.

        • There were close to 700K abortions in 2013. The high was 1.43M in 1990.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_statistics_in_the_United_States

        • Yes, a bump up in abortions is certainly a possibility if you stop PP from helping people with contraception.

          I’d mention all the other health services they provide, but who the hell cares, right? We’re talking about the rights of clumps of cells!

        • Pofarmer

          Hey, we’re just talking about poor women and their reproductive health. Who cares, right? Sluts should stay off their backs and not get breast cancer, right?

        • Max Doubt

          “Yes, a bump up in abortions is certainly a possibility if you stop PP from helping people with contraception.”

          It’s also a possibility if a bunch of heathens decide to snub this Christian nation’s overwhelming Christian mandate, the one shown by the landslide victory of their candidate, and start to get more abortions on purpose just to persecute those nice Christians who only want to save women from hell. Look, all you have to do to make good people stop having abortions is to make abortions, and all other forms of women’s health care for that matter, more difficult to acquire. Come on guys, you gotta think like a Christian!

  • Rt1583

    “Aim for That Haystack!”

    This reminds me of the opening moments of the film The Other Guys wherein the two superstar detectives jump off a building aiming for non existent bushes.
    Relying on the non existent bushes or, in this case, the haystack the best one can hope for is serious injury.

    A parachute is a thing that exists and it makes the individual feel good because, more often than not, it does its job. The same can NOT be said of the non existent thing.

    On desire: As you pointed out we all, regardless of our nationality, desire food but the same is not true of god. Further, depending on nationality, those who desire god desire a different god. Logically, since we are all of the same type (human) and we all desire food it should follow that, if god were real, we should all desire god AND we should all desire the SAME god.

    On invention: The problem I see with his statement of impoverished imaginations is that he’s making his statement based upon what he knows and his invented god/religion is framed by that. The Christian religion is at least 2,000 years old and their invented god/religion is framed by what they knew. That it is vague and fluid is evidence of human nature imposed upon it.

    On miracles: Bannister quotes the demons believing and shuddering. The problem with this argument is that, according to the mythology, the demons are actually part of the machine. They, if they existed at all, have insider knowledge of the whole thing so they don’t really believe anything. They aren’t on the outside looking in, they are part of the game so they know.

    Is it really so much to ask to be made a full party to the game? Believers like to say that god sees humans at some level as slightly less than, equal to or above the angels. If this is so why are we not privy to the whole thing? Demons are, according to believers, less than us by far and they know. Why shouldn’t we be allowed the same and, more to the point, why shouldn’t we demand the same?

  • MR

    I’ve never heard anyone say that they pick and choose facts to cobble together a worldview they want.

    No, let me correct that: I see Christians doing that a lot. It’s just that I never hear that from atheists.

    Ditto. I’ve never heard an atheist say anything remotely like, “I don’t believe in God because it makes me feel good,” or because “I don’t want to believe in God.” I have, however, had Christians tell me straight out that they believe in God because they want to believe. Just more projecting, I guess.

  • Dr Sarah

    ‘ “If Christianity were mere wish-fulfilment, just a psychological projection, then those who dreamt it up had pretty impoverished imaginations.” He sketches out the more comfortable religion he would invent: a distant god who didn’t interfere,
    relaxed moral standards, freedom, and easy entry requirements to a great heaven.’

    Curious as to whether Bannister’s read the Pauline Epistles? Those last three points seem to me to be a very good description of what Paul felt he’d found in Christianity.

    Paul, according to what we read in his letters, seems to have had a very perfectionist approach to keeping the Jewish Law which left him burdened with guilt over not feeling able to keep it as perfectly as he felt he ought (which, by the way, actually isn’t a typical Orthodox Jewish view and doesn’t seem to have been a typical Pharisaic view of that time either, but that’s another story). In his view – and this is something that comes through very clearly expressed in his letters – the salvation theology of Christianity was what rescued him from this.

    Hence, to Paul, Christianity did mean relaxed moral standards (as he no longer had to worry about keeping every detail of the law). It did mean freedom (from his previous worry and guilt over what he saw as his failure to keep every detail of the law). And it did mean easy entry requirements to a great heaven (instead of a lifetime of being careful of the details of the law, he could pledge faith in a
    resurrected Jesus as a once-and-for-all act that would place him automatically in God’s favour and destined for heaven).

    (It wouldn’t get him the first point, but I’d disagree with Bannister that ‘a distant god who didn’t interfere’ would be any sort of a selling point anyway if the other three conditions were in place. My observation has been that in fact people are generally all in favour of an involved god who does interfere, as long as said god is interfering to get them what they want.)

    Paul’s letters, therefore, are a brilliant illustration of exactly the kind of wish-fulfillment and psychological projection that Bannister himself says people would go for. This certainly doesn’t mean he deliberately invented it (on the contrary – he’d hardly have found those claims satisfying if he’d known them to
    be imaginary), but it does mean that he had massively strong motivation to believe it unquestioningly.

    • I’m halfway through Paul and Jesus by Tabor. It’s surprising both how Paul’s very different views changed the Jewish Jesus as well as what a 100% Pauline Christianity would’ve looked like.

  • zapp7

    I attended a debate with Andy, and he made the strange claim that a good test for telling if something is true is to ask if it is “existentially satisfying.” Basically, in his view, if a belief is satisfying or comforting, then it is more likely to be true. I don’t understand how someone can make this claim while believing themselves to be logical.

    • I see this a lot–not worrying about whether their beliefs are true or not but about whether they’re satisfying or pleasing or similar.

      Andy wants to assume God, which gets him a God-given appreciation for what makes sense existentially. With that, he can find God. QED.