When Christians Themselves Don’t Know Why They Believe

When Christians Themselves Don’t Know Why They Believe January 13, 2020

Why do Christians believe? Not because Christianity is true but pretty much for the same reason every other theist believes—because they were raised that way.

I’d like to use a puzzle to illustrate the thought process of the believer—or indeed any of us who feel backed into a corner, needing to defend a position. Seeing this flawed thinking in a more familiar, non-Christian context (and realizing that we all do this to varying degrees) may help us better understand how Christians believe.

Lateral thinking puzzle

Imagine two strings hanging from the ceiling in an ordinary room—an office, say, or a living room. Your challenge is to tie the strings together, but if you hold one, your arms aren’t long enough for you to reach the other. Using items typically in such a room (pencils, tacks, light bulbs, etc.), how many different ways can you find to connect them?

This puzzle dates to 1931 when psychologist Norman Maier first did the experiment. His subjects fairly reliably came up with solutions in three categories. (Pause here if you want to think up your own answer to the puzzle. How many categories can you find?)

Here are the categories.

  1. Make one string closer. There isn’t a second person to hand you string 1 while you hold string 2, but an easy alternative is to pull string 1 as close to string 2 as possible and hold it in place by tying it to a chair. Then grab string 1 and return to pick up string 2, and tie them together. There are lots of variations (replace the chair with a table, hold the string in place with a heavy weight, tack it to a wall, and so on), but these are unimportant. They all fit into this one category.
  2. Lengthen the string. Tie string 1 to something long like an extension cord. Grab the other string and then reach for the extension cord to pull in the first string.
  3. Lengthen your arm. Hold one string with one hand and use a broom or yardstick to reach the second string.

Did you get those? How about the fourth option? (Pause for a few minutes, if you want, to see if you can find it.)

In Maier’s 1931 experiment, only forty percent of the subjects found the fourth solution within ten minutes. Here’s that solution: tie a weight like a stapler or coffee mug to one string and make it swing like a pendulum. Hold the other string and wait for the pendulum to swing toward you, and then grab it.

Punch line

Now we’ll connect this puzzle to the problem of how the human mind justifies itself. The climax of the experiment was when the psychologist gave a clue for the fourth solution. To the sixty percent who didn’t come up with it themselves, he hinted at it by walking past one of the strings and knocking it “accidentally” so that it swung. That prodded an additional forty percent of the subjects to come up with the solution.

The interesting part was the final step when he asked the subjects with the new insight why they came up with the solution. The answer, of course, was “You brushed the string, and it moved like a pendulum. That helped me realize that I could make one string swing to me while I held the other.” But only one person answered with that. The rest gave answers ranging from “It just came to me” to some elaborate explanation or other. One supposed insight involved the mental image of monkeys swinging from trees.

Connection to Christianity

Why do Christians believe? Mostly because they were raised that way. Christian apologist Jim Wallace agrees and has said that, in his experience, this is a popular (but insufficient) Christian explanation for belief.

Nevertheless, Christians will often rationalize an intellectual foundation. They might point to the apparent design in nature or wonder where morality would come from in a world without God. This parallels the result of Maier’s connect-the-strings experiment. Those subjects wouldn’t state the actual reason for their belief and gave rationalizations when asked.

Or, perhaps those Christians couldn’t admit the actual reason because they honestly thought their belief was well grounded in evidence. Here, the intellectual part of the brain is simply rationalizing what the emotional part told it to rationalize—“I reject that argument; go make up a reason why” or “we’re doing it this way; go justify that.”

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink analyzes Maier’s subjects this way:

Were these people lying? Were they ashamed to admit that they could solve the problem only after getting a hint? Not at all. It’s just that Maier’s hint was so subtle that it was picked up only on an unconscious level. It was processed behind the locked door, so, when pressed for an explanation, all Maier’s subjects could do was make up what seemed to them the most plausible one.

Beyond simply being a fascinating look into the human mind, I see two lessons from Maier’s experiment. First, Christians’ explanations for their beliefs are unreliable, even if delivered earnestly. This experiment shows how Christians may think they’re believing for rational reasons when in fact they believe for emotional reasons (or, at least, non-intellectual reasons). To see that, find out when a Christian adopted their rationalizations. They likely learned those arguments after becoming a Christian.

Second, we all have (more or less) the same brain, and atheists aren’t immune from bad thinking. A little humility helps.

See also: Your Religion Is a Reflection of Your Culture—You’d Be Muslim if You Were Born in Pakistan

A man with a conviction is a hard man to change.
Tell him you disagree and he turns away.
Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources.
Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.
— Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger


Image from nahid hatamiz, CC license

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Michael Neville

    I thought of the 4th solution to Maier’s experiment first because it seemed to be the obvious way to get string 1 moving while I held string 2.

    • Greg G.

      That was my first idea, too. Then I tried to come up with a Rube Goldberg solution.

      • You didn’t try to pray it closer?

        • Greg G.

          There’s a good idea.

          Maybe two copper rods bent into L shapes might dowse them together somehow.

    • Bob Jase

      I disregard 4 as just a variation under 1.

      • Maltnothops

        Like M. Neville, number 4 was my very first thought. Like you, I thought it was a variation of number 1.

        It would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between religious belief and the various solutions.

  • While we’re mostly interested in Christianity here in the developed western world, you could replace “Christianity” with “religion” and the essay would still work, but extend to the entire world.

  • Bob Jase

    My ex knows exactly why she ‘believes’ – She goes with whatever church says things that make her feel good. She switches denominations without a thought based on what fellow believers say or do – dogma, creed, philosophy don’t matter. Back in November she switched to another Baptist sect, the 3rd at least for this bunch. Now she takes ‘bible’s class twice a week where they don’t actually read the bible, just a book that tells them what the bible ‘say’s (I’ve read it and it doesn’t say what they claim).

    She has & wants no clue as to the history of her religion, not theological not literal. I love throwing actual bible quotes at her that are horrible, she refuses to believe they are from her magic book and when I show her they are she is convinced I’ve somehow inserted them

    Typical Christian, not as vile as Rethugs.

    • Maybe you should avoid Bible quotes and instead just give verse numbers. Then she’d have to look them up herself in her own, reliable, Bible (not that Satanic version you use).

      • Jim Jones
      • Bob Jase

        Oh I look them up in her bible and its driven her crazy trying to figure out how I put the words there.

    • Jim Jones

      If you could insert verses (that’s some Twilight Zone stuff there) you’d also have to renumber all the remaining verses.

      Have you tried getting her to look them up in an online bible?

      • Bob Jase

        On a computer machine? Black magic!

  • igotbanned999

    There’s another solution: Tear the strings off of the ceiling and then tie them together (hey, nothing in the description says that’s against the rules)

    • abb3w

      While this Gordian solution seems a form of “make one string closer”, checking the original publication indicates it does not seem to fit any of the four categories described therein.

  • RichardSRussell

    It’s not just religious beliefs, it’s decisions in general. Tons of research into how the brain works (see particularly Daniel Kahneman, Daniel C. Dennett, and Sam Harris) lends credence to the idea that the rational part of the brain simply invents explanations for what the irrational part has already decided.

    In one notable experiment, split-brain people were shown one image to the left eye and a different one to the right eye. Then they were asked questions about what they’d seen and what they knew about it. The part of the brain that hadn’t seen Image X was nonetheless able to come up with “explanations” for it, often quite inventive and imaginative.

    • Yes, split-brain thinking is an excellent example of the situation.

    • ephemerol

      In a 1977 study with a 15-year-old split-brain patient from Vermont identified as P. S., [Michael] Gazzaniga (then a professor at Dartmouth) and his graduate assistant Joseph LeDoux performed a visual test similar to the one Jenkins had undergone years earlier. The researchers asked P. S. to stare straight ahead at a dot, and then flashed a picture of a chicken foot to the brain’s left hemisphere [right eye] and a picture of a snowy scene to the brain’s right hemisphere [left eye]. Directly in front of the patient—so that he could process the sight with both hemispheres—was a series of eight other pictures. When the researchers asked him to point to the ones that went with the images he saw, P. S. pointed to the picture of a chicken head and a picture of a snow shovel.

      So far, the results were as expected: Each hemisphere had led P. S. to choose an image that went along with the one that he had seen from that side moments earlier. The surprise came when the researchers asked him why he chose these two totally unrelated images.

      Because the left hemisphere, which controls language, had not processed the snowy scene, they believed P. S. wouldn’t be able to verbally articulate why he chose the snow shovel. “The left brain doesn’t know why,” Gazzaniga told me. “That information is in the right hemisphere.” Neither hemisphere knew what the other had seen, and because the two sides of his brain were unable to communicate, P.S. should have been confused when Gazzaniga asked him why he had picked the two images he did.

      But as Gazzaniga recalled in his memoir, P. S. didn’t skip a beat: “Oh, that’s simple,” the patient told them. “The chicken claw goes with the chicken, and you need a shovel to clean out the chicken shed.”

      Here’s what happened, as the researchers later deduced: Rather leading him to simply say, “I don’t know” to Gazzaniga’s question, P.S.’s left brain concocted an answer as to why he had picked those two images. In a brief instant, the left brain took two unconnected pieces of information it had received from the environment—the two images—and told a story that drew a connection between them.

      Gazzaniga went on to replicate the findings of this study many times with various co-authors: When faced with incomplete information, the left brain can fill in the blanks. Based on these findings Gazzaniga developed the theory that the left hemisphere is responsible for our sense of psychological unity—the fact that we are aware of and reflect upon what is happening at any given moment.

      “It’s the part of the brain,” Gazzaniga told me, “that takes disparate points of information in and weaves them into a storyline and meaning. That it’s [sp?] central gravity.”

      One Head, Two Brains,” The Atlantic.

      I recall reading about this particular experimental anecdote years ago elsewhere, and it’s immediately what came to mind when I read the OP.

      • MR

        Yes, excellent illustration, thank you.

      • Len

        This is not entirely dissimilar to something I occasionally experience. While I’m not, as far as I know, split-brained (hare-brained, maybe ;-)) I suffered a four-minute lack of oxygen a couple of years ago and my memory is sometimes a bit wobbly. If I can’t remember something, then my brain works out what is, for me at least, the most logical explanation for the missing part – a sort of bridge over the memory gap – and inserts that into my “memory”. I am then completely convinced that that is what happened. Apparently that’s not uncommon for people who have serious memory problems.

    • Anri

      Imma bring up my first exposure to a pop-level exploration of ideas including these: Phantoms in the Brain by V. S. Ramachandran. and Sandra Blakslee. Discusses other unusual brain functioning as well. The last chapter gets a bit editorial/mystical for my tastes, but I still enjoyed reading it.

  • MR

    …find out when a Christian adopted their rationalizations. They likely learned those arguments after becoming a Christian.

    For me this is quite obvious when they come in spewing the typical apologetic lines right off the bat. These aren’t scenarios they come with themselves. It’s propaganda that is spoon fed to them and they are simply regurgitating. Ask them point blank when they came to belief and what convinced them, and watch them bob and weave.

    • Yes, my opinion as well. Problem is, while this thinking convinces experienced atheists, it means nothing to Christians. I was trying to make it approachable for them as well.

  • digital bookworm

    I ran into a pair of cute young Morman missionary girls last summer and felt brave enough to admit my atheism. We talked in circles around each other for about an hour. Just before they rode off on their bicycles I asked them wether they thought they would be Mormans if they had been born in Saudi Arabia, Iran or Pakistan. They looked at me like I was the crazy one.
    Pffft! Right over their heads.

    • abb3w

      Probably not. Contrariwise, it could be a minor starting point for first doubts, which can grow over time, even if that point isn’t one of the more common starting points reported.

      Nohow, the experiment mentioned seems to suggest that most atheist deconverts won’t be aware of all of the factors that led to their deconversion — even among those factors most significant.

      • Paul Douglas

        Planted a seed?

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      Fifth-dimensional question…they just couldn’t see it?

  • Kendall Fields

    Coming up with pathetic reasons to attack Christianity? How sad you are.

    • Golly! Your remarks are so insightful that I have nothing to say in response.

      Well done–another soul won for Christ! Or something.

      • Kendall Fields

        Your sarcasm needs some work.

        • Your arguments need some work. “How sad you are” is what you say when you have no argument.

        • Kendall Fields

          And your writing need some work. Using the same faulty arguments your group has used for years don’t help you at all.

        • Why is this hard? “You suck!” isn’t an argument.

          You think that this post has problems? Great–show them to us. You’ve thrown down the gauntlet, so the two leading candidates for what happens next is (1) you publicly show the world my mistakes, or (2) you stumble on with your “You suck” argument and publicly declare that you’ve got nothing.

          Ball’s in your court.

        • Kendall Fields

          Oh I not doing a “you suck” argument like you seem to think. I could point them out to you but just as you have shown in the past you aren’t exactly the best person to chat with. Besides if I actually want to debate with you it would be somewhere else instead of your faulty court. I don’t need to “show” your mistakes when you have displayed that exactly in your own article. Ball’s in the hoop for a three-pointer, Bobby. Want to try and place a foul on me?

        • Ignorant Amos

          Bwaaaahahaha! You lose. We all see it. Now do everyone a favour and piss off with your non-argument fuckwittery.

        • I could point them out to you but just as you have shown in the past you aren’t exactly the best person to chat with.

          Ah, I see. You’ve got loads of devastating arguments, but because of (reasons) you won’t share them with us. Yeah, that’s a compelling argument. Remind me to delete this post, because you’ve destroyed it.

          Besides if I actually want to debate with you it would be somewhere else instead of your faulty court.

          You’re not able to debate. But even if you could, what’s wrong with here? Sure, other commenters would pile on, but you and I could still have our debate.

          Problem is, your bluff has been called. Put your cards on the table.

          Want to try and place a foul on me?

          I’m considering that, yes. Time wasters get a red card.

        • Kendall Fields

          First off your sarcasm doesn’t work. You wouldn’t do too well as a comedian and the same goes for your writing skills. I should know. Saying I’m unable to debate because you can’t understand the truth that I pointed out. I have seen enough of your articles to get a clear picture besides going by a certain someone you aren’t good at febating anyway so it would be a waste. I’ve called out your bluff and your house of cards fell as quickly as it stood up. Unfortunately for you, you aren’t a referee.

        • you can’t understand the truth that I pointed out

          ?? You’ve pointed out no fucking truth! Why is this hard? Ask the wizard for some brains.


        • Melinda

          Ask the wizard for some brains.

          FFS Bob…you made me spit soda all over my monitor and keyboard. Gee, thanks 🙂

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          That’s what vegan zombies eat…BRAAAAAAAAANNNNNN

        • Melinda


        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Honey-child, YOUR KIND don’t get to decide if sarcasm works…especially when you suffer from sarcHasm (a gulf so big you can’t realize what a fool you’re making of yourself).

          Free your own mind, rather than attacking us as a proxy for those doubts you won’t face..it’s like Robin William’s character in The Fisher King, and the Red Knight who terrifies him so:


        • Ignorant Amos

          A quick flick through the fuckwitt’s commenting history will tell ya all you need to know.

          A complete and utter time wasting piece of shite.

        • Yup. Father Christmas just delivered you an early present.

          I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that absolute cluelessness goes with Christian belief, but I continue to be amazed. Do they really not know how they look when they make their non-arguments?

        • Greg G.

          I checked his history. All he does is accuse atheists of not debating but he has no argument to debate.

        • The lack of self-awareness goggles the mind.

        • Lark62

          Or perhaps “boggles”?

        • Not if you’re really goggle-y.

        • Michael Neville

          I looked at his history. A whole lot of “you atheists suckk” and no “this is what’s wrong with your arguments”.

        • BertB

          That’s really all you need to know about him/her. Not here for a discussion, just to raise hell. If I read Bob’s comment correctly the nitwit is now banned. Good riddance.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Kendie-poo, I’m still convinced, is attacking us as proxies for his/her own doubts that s/he is too terrified to face.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Nahhh…I’m feeling mean, but Kendall-poo is the very Platonian form of ignorant, troglodytic bad behavior 😉

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          You’re not really good with self-knowledge or self-reflection, either, are you? (Bless Your Heart…)

          And if you weren’t so offensive, it might almost be pitiful. As it is, it’s schadenfreude-ly 69fucking HILARIOUS!

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Do you have ANY other schtick besides being an offensive, up-your-nose insect DESPERATE for attention?

        • Greg G.

          Check his posting history. That is all he has.

        • Kendall Fields

          I’m surprised you can even say you have an argument at all. Even reading your headlines tell me all I need to know.

        • tell me all I need to know.

          How fortunate. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

        • Kendall Fields

          And why should I leave? If I leave it will be on my accord or do you plan to be like other atheists who can’t deal with the truth and ban me? Go right ahead.

        • Done.

          do you plan to be like other atheists who can’t deal with the truth

          Do you truly not see the problem? You’ve given us no truth to deal with! The next time you engage with an atheist, don’t blow it. Don’t get into the conversation unless you actually have substantive points to make. Point out errors, show what was omitted from the argument, something. But dick-swinging bravado backed by absolutely nothing just makes us laugh at you.

        • BertB

          By “done” I hope that means he/she is banned. Such people just create chaos and contribute nothing.

        • Your wish was granted.

          One hesitation is that they will then tell their empty-headed friends how they intimidated those atheists with their awesome arguments so that only banning would stop the onslaught of godly Troof. But then, they’ll say whatever they want, regardless of the facts, so it’s not worth worrying about.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          “A wise man can bear the vicissitudes of being maligned by charismatic fools for daring to think freely”

          –Somebody else, but it seems to fit here.

        • Lark62

          Pigeon chess – knock over the pieces, crap62 on the board then fly off boasting that they won.

        • Melinda

          Show us some truth then. You’ve been asked multiple times. We’re waiting.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          I fear you’re destined to be disappointed in that, dear lady…

        • Melinda

          Not holding my breath for sure.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          A *cultured* person, when they realize they’re unwelcome, leaves.

          Which means I expect you and YOUR KIND to 69shit in the punch bowl here until the stars burn out.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          All you’re doing is going on offense and being a nasty little piece of work.

          And it’s all because you can’t bear the idea of your own doubts, but can’t quell them.

          Prove me wrong.

        • Michael Neville

          Instead of tossing out a meaningless sneer, why don’t you explain why you think the OP is pathetic?

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Compensatory reflex lashing out…did I get it right?

        • Melinda

          Your intellect is what needs work. Do you have anything at all to add to the conversation or are you just a drive-by troll???

        • Kendall Fields

          Really? Calling me a troll for pointing out the truth? Don’t be a child.

        • Uh … you’ve pointed out no truth (except giving us a pretty strong indication that you’ve got nothing).

          You still want to ride this train? Maybe you should quietly disappear to dampen your humiliation.

        • Kendall Fields

          I have pointed out the truth. You claim Christians don’t know why they believe in God when you already should know the answer why we believe. Still want to ride your “Foolishness Express”? I should warn you it leads to nowhere.

        • Ignorant Amos

          You claim Christians don’t know why they believe in God when you already should know the answer why we believe.

          Reading for comprehension not a strong trait with you too, it seems. Typical Christer.

          If you could just show us where Bob claims Christians don’t know why they believe in God, that would be grand?

          Not all Christians believe in God for the same reasons ya idiot…heck, not even all Christians believe in God ffs.

        • While you’re here, you should read the post. The argument is that many Christians might think they know why they believe, but they actually believe for other reasons.

          I should warn you it leads to nowhere.

          Except to hell, right?

        • Kendall Fields

          I think your statemwnt applies more tobyour fellow atheists than to any Christian. And yes it does lead to hell but that is not my full point.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Yeah, that’s the point.

          We don’t give a flying 69FUCK what you or YOUR KIND think…as long as you have the politeness to leave us the 69FUCK alone.

          But YOUR KIND can’t do that, can you? After all, if we don’t believe, that gives credence to the doubts your mind raises like waves, like the tides, and which you fear to address.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower


          You pointed out an *assertion* that you proselytize vociferously for fear that your own doubts will overwhelm you and leave you prey to the fear of xtian ‘hell’ that you don’t believe you can overcome.

          Prove me wrong.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Maybe you should quietly disappear to dampen your humiliation.

          Maybe the fuckwitt should be “disappeared”, it’s obvious that the dickhead isn’t here for any productive rason, or to engage in any manner fruitful to the conversation. i.e. the idiot is a trolling Christer.

        • Your argument is compelling, as usual. That’s on my short list of options.

          (In this time of pronoun importance, I think “Kendall” is a girl’s name. But she can still be a dickhead.)

        • Ignorant Amos

          In this time of pronoun importance, I think “Kendall” is a girl’s name.

          Ahh, right. A was assuming tradition. It’s usually males that come here who are this fucked up, though certainly not exclusively.

          The name Kendall is a boy’s name meaning “valley of the river Kent”. While Kendall originally started as a boys’ name, it began to shift to the girls’ camp around 2000. Now much more popular for girls, it might be best to consider the more masculine Kenneth or Kenton.

          But I stand corrected. Ta!

          But she can still be a dickhead.

          Yep, like that other word I like to use, but curtail usage, because yank sensitivities and all that. “Dickhead” in this context is not gender specific. Something I strive to avoid.


        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Change her name to “Richard Cranium”?

        • You’re ever the gentleman!

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Dunno…Kendall here functions like catnip toys / chew toys and claw sharpening toys…important to good snarky skeptic health!


        • Ignorant Amos

          I prefer a bit more proactive response from my chew toys. Something I can get ma teeth into. Kendall wasn’t that, so good riddance.

          But each to their own a suppose.

        • Melinda

          What truth? And who is acting childish? You drive by, drop a couple of insults, then ignore all the questions you are being asked.

          Childish indeed. Classical theist projection. When you supply some ‘truth’ I will react to that not thinking you are a troll. You current behavior indicates you are.

          Edit: Punctuation.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          I have yet to see ANY truth from you.

          You attack us as a way of trying to lay the doubts in your mind that terrify your emotions, yoked as you are to an inchoate, overwhelming fear of the xtian hell and the thoughtcrime you worry will send you there.

          It’s blatantly obvious.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          You DO realize that you’re violating both
          – The Great Commandment, AND
          – The Great Commission,

          with your offensive, microcephalic bleating here…right?

      • Bob Jase

        But which of the 40,000+ Christs? And if one Christ saves there are still 40,000+ others that .condemn.

    • Anri

      Feel free to demolish them, then. I think you’ll find most sections of this family of blogs quite willing to engage in debate. That, at least, has been my experience.

      • Kendall Fields

        All you guys do is attack Christians not debate.

        • Michael Neville

          When you bring something worth debating then we’ll debate you. All you’ve done so far is insult us and whine when we insult you back.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower


          We’re fine with beating up boors like you as rawhide treats…but there are a LOT of xtians here. They just don’t attack without thinking, and consider the other person’s points the way you obviously don’t DARE to.

          And if you consider analysis of the failures in the *ideas* of xtianity of personal attacks…well, that sounds like a personal failing you should address.

        • Geoff Benson

          You don’t even begin trying to debate.

        • D.M.S.

          Ok, Kendall how do you debate someone who is blind to God/Jesus truth?
          Even the atheist that grew up in a church with mom and dad is the only atheist you can actually debate. But how would you know if they were?

    • Raging Bee

      Going this far out of your way to snipe at us with nothing of substance to say? How sad you are.

      • Kendall Fields

        Going out of your way to try and insult me? You truly are sad.

        • Michael Neville

          So it’s acceptable for you to insult us but we can’t insult you back. Thanks for showing you’re a typical hypocritical Christian.

        • Ignorant Amos

          No one has insulted KF, unless an honest observation is an insult, then am guilty as charged, and give zero fucks about it.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          How is accurately describing your rude, invasive, and boorish behavior an ‘insult’?

          You play stupid games of attack, you win stupid prizes of scorn.

        • Geoff Benson

          You pop up randomly on non-religious forums, making evangelical type statements, then bristle when challenged, complain about others not debating you, then disappear to hide behind a rock, only to show yourself on some other post days later.

          You never debate. You never provide coherent responses. You refer to souls and belief in god as though they are statements of fact. That might work in your Christian echo chambers but I can assure you they don’t work here.

    • abb3w

      What makes you think this critique is particular to Christianity? It would seem also a caution about those who disaffiliate from religion, that they may not recognize the sources of their motivation after the fact.

      • Kendall Fields

        You mean how your motivations is to turn against God and follow evil?

        • abb3w

          That’s a hypothesis.

          However, the claim would seem undermined by apparent inability to use criteria allowing prior identification of that for predictive indication of who will leave versus who will stay. “Follow evil” also seems particularly problematic, in light of research on RWA and SDO measures.

        • Kendall Fields

          Nope that is what is in your heart. Those who leave and never return never truly in their hearts believed in God while those who only leave temporarily do believe. Simple as that. However your faulty claim about believers has no room to stand.

        • BertB

          Lots of judgmental and unsupported assertions, nothing else of interest.

        • abb3w

          …you find “judgmental and unsupported assertions” of interest? On what basis?

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower


          They’re inadvertently revealing.

        • abb3w

          Which claim?

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          YOUR KIND are *not* uniquely capable of mind-reading those whose freedom you abhor.

          If you want to know what we’re thinking, you could ASK us…but you don’t dare. Your terror is too all-consuming, which is why you flail away in a pathetic attempt at an attack that is all sound and fury, signifying NOTHING.

        • Machintelligence

          Ah yes, the old “no true Scotsman” argument.

        • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

          “Those who leave and never return never truly in their hearts believed in God…”


        • Generally speaking, when good people deconvert, they are motivated to become better people.

          I have known a few people who quit going to church because they didn’t want to abide by the rules, but those people aren’t nonbelievers (unless they were never believers in the first place). But around here (Patheos Nonreligious) most everyone came to the realization, often through Bible study, that what they’d been taught as truth their entire lives was actually mythology. When that happens, a person has to start thinking about morality rather than just accepting what an ancient book says. (Christians actually think about morality, too, and ignore the immoral requirements in the book.) Deconversion allows people to be honestly good, rather than just rule-followers.

        • Yes, Iron Age morality isn’t as good as the modern kind. Christianity keeps Christians stunted.

        • abb3w

          If you’re interested in the topic of deconversions, I recommend Ebaugh’s “Becoming an Ex” and Altemeyer and Hunsberger’s “Amazing Conversions” studies. The latter includes both religious conversions and deconversions, which provides some interesting contrasts.

        • Very interesting. Thanks! I added both to my Nook wish list.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          You still have to *demonstrate* this ‘god’ of yours.

          Until then, stop wasting our time with your pathetic bad-tempered drivel.

        • Lark62

          Demonstrate that your deity is not evil.

    • BertB

      Adhering to superstitious beliefs is what’s really sad.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      I’m curious…how *else* do your hallucinations manifest themselves beside seeing ideas that aren’t there?

      Or is is your quivering terror at realizing that your religion is nonsensical and not worth your time, in contrast to your inchoate anxiety inculcated in you before the age of reason?

  • Len

    Option 4 (tie a weight and swing the string) was the first thing I thought of.

    • Lord Backwater

      Me too, but I kind of figured it would be lumped in with option 1.

  • Lucy

    Frankly, Option 4 is the least efficient one, for a number of reasons:

    First of all, in some ordinary rooms, there are things like sculptures, knickknacks, plants, and (god forbid) living animals running around. Any one of these things could be hurt or broken (whatever is applicable) by the swinging pendulum.

    Second, for those whose ordinary rooms might contain an animal – some animals will seriously wreak merry havoc with the pendulum if they don’t get hurt first. Like if it’s a parrot? Or a monkey? Or even a cat who insists on jumping to greater and greater heights (for that last one, the pendulum could be a disaster for the humans, the room, and the cat).

    Third, some people have disabilities and hand-eye coordination issues that can make catching the pendulum difficult.

    And fourth, given the video-game nature of that solution, the other solutions are just plain more reliable anyway, and the pendulum would only be the most useful solution if it’s the only one (and even then, a lasso-type solution could be an equal or better option).

    • Machintelligence

      If there is a cat in the room, initiate string play with the cat, and when it grabs the string, convince it to follow you over to the other string.
      Several hours later…
      I guess that isn’t going to work.

  • Converts exist, like Wallace, though usually with poor reasoning from what I’ve seen.

  • RichardSRussell

    Ptui! Religionists and rationalists arguing among themselves about how to tie the ends of the string together, when clearly the psychics have it all figured out. You just sit and meditate and will the ends to come together, fall in love, get hitched, and live happily ever after.

  • LastManOnEarth

    I prefer the one where one uses a rug to tie a room together.

    • Curses! I didn’t expect the Interior Designer Gambit.

      • Greg G.

        Nobody expects the Interior Design Gambit!

      • epicurus

        But is it an argument for intelligent interior design!

        • God slips in through every crack, doesn’t he? I need to get a restraining order.

    • Michael Neville

      Feng shui, the art of spatial arrangement and orientation in relation to the flow of energy, should also be taken into account.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower



  • Kev Green

    If most Christians had solid reasons to believe then there wouldn’t be any need for apologists.

    What about the fifth solution? It said you had to tie the strings together. It didn’t say they had to still be attached to the ceiling.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      I don’t know. Apologists are superficially similar to science communicators like Sean Carroll and Brian Greene.

      Of course, reality has expressed no desire to be understood, so science requiring communicators is more explainable than a god who wants a relationship and could speak for himself. But there is some superficial similarity.

  • This is dumb at best and offers nothing about belief. Only one solution is needed and that is to stand on a chair and tie the strings together. Duh!
    People belief in gods primarily because they do not think, do not want to think, or are not capable of thinking critically. It does help to be really dumb too.

    • Michael Neville

      The great string-tying guru has spoken!

      People often believe in gods because they’ve been indoctrinated into god belief from infancy and this indoctrination is reinforced by family and society on a continuous basis.

    • The strings are stated to be too far apart to do that. It specifically says you can’t reach both at the same time. If your arm-span is 5 feet 6 inches, the strings are at least 5 feet 7 inches apart, so your solution doesn’t work.

      Additionally, the puzzle itself and one’s ability to come up with solutions wasn’t the point of the illustration. The point was that, when the idea of the pendulum was introduced the subjects didn’t even realize what made them think of it, but they rationalized an answer anyway, in much the same way that it doesn’t even occur to adult believers how they came to belief. They typically became believers because their religion was presented as being obviously true from the time they were able to understand language, but they come up with a rationalization as if they came to faith at a much later time in their lives.

      • Machintelligence

        Humans are not rational animals so much as rationalizing animals.

      • Phil

        “If your arm-span is 5 feet 6 inches, the strings are at least 5 feet 7 inches apart, so your solution doesn’t work.” yes it does. Standing on a chair would give you a couple of feet extra to play with.

        • Standing on a chair doesn’t make your arms longer!

        • Phil

          No but it means you can get closer to the other sting by the square root of 2 times the height of the chair squared.

  • Derek Mathias

    My “fourth” (actually fifth) solution was to cut or bite through one string, or just yank it out of the ceiling, then go over and tie it to the other string.

    • Phil

      Hah, my thoughts exactly!

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “When Christians Themselves Don’t Know Why They Believe”

    Not too surprising. When asked to describe their god clearly they are not able to… and many Christians haven’t actually read the Bible, they only know what they have been told it says.

    • Rennyrij

      One of the first “alarms” to go off in my head, about my religion, was when, after Church one Sunday, I asked the minister whether it was necessary to read the whole bible in order to be a Christian. “Oh, no! Oh, no, WE’ll tell you what you need to know!”, he cried. Walking home, the closer to home I got, the less I liked that answer. There were other times when I was sort of non-plussed by his answers. I left the church many years later. I wish I had gotten smarter earlier!

      • Ignorant Amos

        There’s good reason why the powers that be don’t want the minions to be reading the bloody thing, and declare parts irrelevant in modern society.

        “Irrelevant” here refers to a biblical concept or practice that is no longer viewed as valuable, applicable, and/or ethical. Thus, whereas most Americans today regard genocide as contemptible, that was not the case in many biblical texts. In fact, Michael Coogan, a widely respected biblical scholar, admits that some biblical practices are so objectionable today that churches try to hide parts of the Bible from their members. As Coogan phrases it,

        “Conspicuously absent from lectionaries are most or all of such books as Joshua, with its violent extermination of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan at divine command, or Judges, with its horrifying narratives of patriarchy and sexual assault in chapters 11 and 19-to say nothing of the Song of Solomon, with its charged eroticism, or of Job, with its radical challenge to the dominant biblical view of a just and caring God.”

        Likewise, our modern medical establishment has discarded the supernatural explanations for illness found in the Bible, rendering such explanations irrelevant. Here are some more examples of scientific and scholarly “discoveries” that provide further evidence of the Bible’s irrelevance:

        • Though modern science has demonstrated otherwise, some biblical authors held that the universe was created in only six days.

        • Despite the weight that theologians place on the words and deeds of the great figures in the Bible (Abraham, Moses, and David), research indicates that these figures are not as “historical” as once thought.

        • There is no independent evidence for the life or teachings of Jesus in the first century CE, which means that most modern Christians are not even following Jesus’ teachings.

        • Biblical authors generally believed that women were subordinate to men.

        ~ Hector Avalos, “The End of Biblical Studies”, Introduction.


      • C_Alan_Nault

        I know what you mean. I like pointing out to them that the 10 commandments plaques & displays all have the wrong commandments on them. When they show their surprise I inform them that there are 613 commandments, not just 10. And the ones the Bible calls the 10 commandments aren’t the ones on the plaques… except for numbers 1, 2, and 4.

        Correct list here: http://fayfreethinkers.com/tracts/tencommandments.shtml

  • BertB

    My first thought was…grab one string, walk over to toward the other one, grab it and tie them together. There’s nothing in the stated problem that says they don’t hang down far enough to do that. If you are holding one with your arm extended, and when you walk as far as you can, holding the end of it, if you still can’t reach the other one, then how can they be tied together? I can’t picture a situation where that is possible.

    • Greg G.

      There’s nothing in the stated problem that says they don’t hang down far enough to do that.

      Except for:

      Your challenge is to tie the strings together, but if you hold one, your arms aren’t long enough for you to reach the other.

    • BTS

      My first thought was to “cheat” and remove the 2 ceiling tiles holding the strings, set them on a workbench, and then tie them.
      Assuming it is a drop ceiling. If not, get a pair of scissors and gouge out the drywall around the strings to “make” ceiling tiles, then put them on a workbench.

  • Grimlock

    Sometimes it feels as if apologists are stringing along their fellow believers.

  • BS1: Why do Christians believe? Not because Christianity is true but pretty much for the same reason every other theist believes-because they were raised that way.

    GW1: I agree that this is the primary reason. However, let’s pursue the issue further. During adolescence most children begin to challenge many of the ways they were raised and this continues into young adulthood. Some children just throw out their religious teachings and others retain them. Why the retention by some? Hypotheses: 1) They had low innate curiosity. 2) They didn’t learn critical thinking skills. 3) They were indoctrinated more thoroughly. 4) They need to retain the religious ideas to remain in a social group.

    • Michael Neville

      Oh look, Gary “I have my idiosyncratic way of commenting which I think is just neeto-spiffy-keen even though everyone else thinks it sucks” Whittenberger has come to present a poorly written something for us to ponder.

      • Sophotroph

        Don’t say that! You’ll be treated to 900 poorly-formatted pages about why it’s the only good system and everybody should use it!

        With bonus gaslighting about how you’re the only one in history who was ever bothered by it so it’s a “You” problem.

      • I disagree with your opinion. I believe what I have written is excellently expressed.

        • Michael Neville

          That just shows how self-deluded you are.

        • I disagree with both of your opinions.

        • Michael Neville

          Of course you do. You’re like Trump, narcissistic, rather stupid, and self-deluding. Doesn’t it make you proud to know you share those attributes with the Maximum Leader?

        • That’s just an ad hominem attack which is irrelevant, mean, and useless. Do you have anything relevant to say about the topics raised in the presented essay or are you just going to spew your hatred of other participants in the discussion?

        • Michael Neville

          To be an ad hominem attack I would have had to say that your argument was wrong because you’re narcissistic, rather stupid and self-deluding. Since I didn’t write anything about whatever argument you made then what I wrote wasn’t ad hominem. Instead I expressed exasperation that you were back on this blog. If you don’t like what I wrote then that’s your problem, not mine. However, I’ll give you a fix for your problem. Stop being a narcissistic, rather stupid, self-deluding person and I won’t call you that again.

        • Thanks4AllTheFish

          Be happy the topic isn’t abortion. Gary’s cornered the morality and ethics debate on that one.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Oh, he thinks he’s got that one all figured out…hasn’t he?

        • Thanks4AllTheFish

          Check my comment history from about 10 days ago.

        • Ignorant Amos

          The John Chau fiasco is another one where his fuckwittery has manifested itself.

          He was talking ballix from a position of complete ignorance on that one too. Still, he just couldn’t admit to being in error though.

        • Thanks4AllTheFish

          I would dearly like to hear from other members of whatever chapter of the Florida Freethinkers of which Gary belongs. Is he as insufferable and full of hubris as he sounds here?

        • The John Chau fiasco

          Dang. You bet me to it.

        • Cynthia

          Ah yes – his infamous suggestion to shoot a random person and call it “approximate justice” since a fair trial wasn’t feasible. And no, I don’t think he meant it as a joke.

        • Or the topic being John Chau, that missionary who invaded North Sentinel Island. Gary insisted that the natives (who have had minimal contact with outsiders) should be prosecuted for murder. His position baffled me.


        • Thanks4AllTheFish

          It’s clear to everyone but Gary, that he has a very rigid world view and one can only wonder how well that works for him in everyday interactions? I have yet to see him alter one iota of his stated position on what he believes are absolute truths no matter how much documented or conflicting information is offered. Would that all of us (over the age of 15) were so confident in our deliberations. Imagine a society like that?

        • BertB

          Imagine a society like that?

        • Michael Neville

          I had forgotten how Gary insisted that the Indian government should have hanged each Sentinelese for conducting themselves in a manner of which Gary disapproved.

        • Susan

          I had forgotten how Gary insisted that the Indian government should have hanged each Sentinelese for conducting themselves in a manner of which Gary disapproved.

          Oh, I remember it well.

          That, and how (I’m guessing), he impregnated a woman who didn’t want to have his baby (I can’t imagine why not), and how she should have been forced to, because his investment was 50/50 so he has fifty percent ownership.

          No amount of reasoned dialogue on either of those points mattered to Gary.

          He would just tone troll any negative response to those egregiously inhumane positions.

          And then block anyone who responded negatively to the positions or the tone trolling.

          F69uck ‘im.


          EDIT: 27 minutes later to straighten out my tenses.

        • Cynthia

          Yeah, the “property rights” argument.

          Even as someone who is pro-choice, the idea of referring to fetuses as property just sounded gross. Then, there was the whole idea that a man’s disappointment was somehow worse than forcing a woman to be subjected to significant physical burdens and risks that include death.

        • Your behavior is way out of line. It is irrelevant, mean, hateful, useless, and in violation of Patheos rules. Apparently you aren’t interested in presenting anything about the topics raised in the presented essay.

          Because you continue to make uncivil remarks or personal attacks against me and/or others, to make flawed excuses for your misbehavior, to fail to take responsibility for your misconduct, and/or to enable others to do the same, I’m not going to waste my time with you any longer. In the future I will not read, think about, or respond to your posts. I will devote my time to others who are both able and willing to have a civil and rational discussion of controversial subjects. And so, I am blocking and blacklisting you.

        • Michael Neville


        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          “How can we miss you if you won’t GO AWAY??!!”

        • Thanks4AllTheFish

          Uh-oh Michael. Gary has taken his baseball and bat and stomped off.

          Oh, and you’ve been blacklisted so none of us can chat with you anymore.

          Sealions, what are they good for?

        • Max Doubt
        • MR

          I don’t even bother reading his stuff anymore.

        • Ignorant Amos

          I know that many of my comments can be a real chore and for most it’ll be a case of Tl;Dr, but GW really is a struggle in molasses. He really thinks his unique formatting is impeccable.

          He’s also a major Tone Troll who has a really thin skin.

    • I can imagine a personality thing, where some people are comfortable not questioning authority while others are more rebellious and want to figure it out themselves. Perhaps this ties into your 1).

      • Yes, I think so.

      • BTS

        Bob, in my case it was exactly that, fear of authority. Good people don’t question authority, especially on religion, the thinking goes. I was raised thinking adults had it all figured out and are never wrong. I don’t think my parents ever admitted making a single mistake. I did not start outwardly questioning until my thirties. Now in my forties I am a decided skeptic.

        • Congratulations on moving to the light side of the Force.

        • Otto

          Fear of authority … exactly that. They want us to fear their authority and it is why they don’t want to teach the real history of the …(Church, Bible, Christian history…fill in the blank). What really helped me overcome the “authority” issue was learning about those things…and I am still learning. Now they can’t say things that I know are complete BS. They hope to talk over your head and get you to submit out of ignorance.

          Oh and I dropped any idea that the religion is a moral authority when I found out that their complicity in child abuse went right to the top of their hierarchy. No way they are an authority on that.

  • abb3w

    While it may satisfy more reflexive impulses, such source derogation would seem to tend unpersuasive to the person insulted and to his co-believers, and to do hardly any to bolster the attitudes of unbelievers.

  • Flint8ball

    My wife is christian and I am atheist. I was raised catholic and she was raised as generally believing in god, but not a church goer. Our religiousity has gone in opposite directions. However, we both never really gave our beliefs much thought growing up. It seemed that most/all the people I knew believed in the christian god in some way. THat’s just the way it was. Fast forward 30 years and I started to consider what I believed and why (thanks YouTube). This led me to be an atheist. My wife suffers from health issues and experiences hope through her religiosity which has grown since we met. I choose not to engage her in religious conversation. I don’t want to ruin her hope and she knows she can’t convince me that god(s) exist. She doesn’t consider the truth of religion, just the feeling it brings her. Luckily she goes to what I consider a fairly modern non-denominational church. She’s not prejudice or homophobic, or otherwise exhibiting negative behaviors that church can often foster. In other words, fortunately religion doesn’t drive us apart.

    • That’s a challenging situation. Religion can certainly be divisive.

    • Ignorant Amos

      I’ve been there.

      A regular here, Pofarmer, is in a position that is a bit more of a toxic predicament, but he seems to be able to mange keeping all his plates spinning at the same time.

      Still, as Bob says, challenging situation indeed.

  • John Do’h

    People claim to believe in religion because it makes them feel special, feel important. That is all modern religion is… I’m awesome because I pretend to follow a religion. People usually follow their family’s/culture’s religion because it has an established support system… they are not making up the religion on their own, everyone else pretends to believe too!

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    Why, Ah’d almost thiynk that yuh considered Kendall uncouth and pathetic, both!

  • MR

    Just stumbled across this quote I had saved that, if a bit of a stretch, seems to apply:

    Asked whether a statement is true, we consider it as a hypothesis which is subject to investigation and must eventually be judged in the light of the relevant evidence. It is by no means immoral for a scientist, historian, or philosopher to hope that some proposition may be proved true, or to feel strongly about it. But it is considered immoral for him to be partial to the point of suppressing relevant evidence, and it is a sign of incompetence, if not a violation of professional ethics, if he fails to undertake a relevant investigation for fear that its results might be fatal for a belief he cherishes.

    The attitude of religious people toward religious propositions is quite different from all this. If a man accepts a religious proposition as true, it is hardly ever after having first considered it as a hypothesis and found compelling evidence through an impartial inquiry. Few religious people have studied comparative religion, and hardly any have attained their beliefs as a result of such a study: yet this would be de rigeur if the religious person’s attitude toward the religious propositions he believes were at all similar to the historian’s or the scientist’s attitude toward the propositions with which they concern themselves.

    The fact that the religious person frequently considers his religious propositions ever so much more important only aggravates the problem. The more important the issue at hand, the more it demands careful scrutiny. This is a simple but important point which most religious people overlook.

    –Critique of Religion and Philosophy, Walter Kaufmann

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Great quote. I may have to steal that one myself.

    • epeeist

      Yeah, here’s my Kaufman quotation from the same source:

      Why are most believers so reluctant to specify the meanings of the religious propositions they cherish? There are at least three reasons. First there is security in obscurity. Precision invites refutation.

      Secondly, many religious propositions, including almost all statements about God, are not reducible to any one meaning but essentially ambiguous. The believer feels that the original proposition is more profound than any translation he could ever hope to furnish: there is somehow more to it-namely, though he is not likely to think of it in these words, an indefinite number of other possible interpretations.

      The third point is intimately connected with this ambiguity. The believer senses, however dimly, that previous generations, and even other believers today, associate widely different meanings with the same propositions. What determines his acceptance of religious propositions is not primarily their peculiar adequacy to his own intentions and ideas but a desire for continuity. As soon as a particular translation of a religious proposition is accepted as completely adequate, the continuity both with past generations and with one’s own disappears.

      Walter Kaufman – Critique of Religion and Philosophy

      • MR

        Yes, I’ve used that one in the past, too. I should probably give that book a re-read.

      • BertB

        That’s a great quote. Thanks for posting it.

      • Excellent. The varying definition of “faith” fits in here somehow. But Kaufman goes much further.

  • AlexanderTheGoodEnough

    If I’m in the mood to mess with them, I’ll ask a proselyting Christianist just what is it about their Bible that makes it more special and authoritative than any other holy writ. Why believe it at all? There is, of course, no good answer, and the Christianist typically becomes very confused or tries to change the subject.

    • rationalobservations?

      When a religionist talks about “the” bible – ask which one? Almost all are ignorant of the history and evolution of bibles from the oldest 4th century originated prototype (Codex Sinaiticus – online since 2008) OR one of the very different books written by teams of men since the 4th century.

      The KJV differs from the prototype in more than 14,000 ways as one example of vast modification exaggeration, adding to and deleting from the prototype bibles.

  • Phil

    What are the psychological reasons for my 5 option: Cut the strings down and then tie them together.

    • Bob Jase

      Dunno but I don’t even know about my 6 option – first find which walls are load-bearing…

  • Phil

    First question tho must be “What’s the point”

  • John Grove

    In my mind, religion consoles the greatest fear human beings have……….namely death.

    An excellent book on this is by Stephen Cave, “Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization”

    • Michael Neville

      There’s no doubt that the various afterlifes or reincarnations promised by religions are a major selling point for those religions.

      • Greg G.

        a major selling point for those religions.

        With a double-no-money-back guarantee.

    • Ignorant Amos

      In my mind, religion consoles the greatest fear human beings have……….namely death.

      In my mind, religion compounds the fear of death. At least for those practising extrinsic religiosity. Those deeply devout, or intrinsically religious, show a less death anxiety in studies, but for different reasons than the average atheist.

      I fear the prospect of death because of all the stuff I’m going to miss. Also, the manner in which it might come. But the actual condition itself, not at all. Even though am fairly certain there’s nothing after, to be concerned about to cause anxiety either way.

      • Pofarmer

        To quote Mark Twain. “I was dead for billions of years before I was born, and it bothered me not a whit.”

    • BertB

      The thought of living forever is not attractive to me, John. Especially if I have to stay in this old carcass that is beginning to creak and ache at age 83. Do we get an overhaul or a new model when we die? Watching the “progress” of human affairs here on earth might be interesting for a while, but I think it would get pretty boring after a couple thousand years. Especially if mankind self-destructs, as it appears we are determined to do. The prospect of an eternity of boredom…yuck. But there’s no reason to think that’s gonna happen. Just wishful thinking…or not thinking.

      • Ignorant Amos

        Do we get an overhaul or a new model when we die?

        The Christers haven’t thought it through.

        What age of body do we get? Who’s the love of one’s life? What body will they be in? Will I be in an older body…or whatever…than my grandparents choice? All a bit of a nonsense.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I always felt a strong pang of guilt because, much as I love the people close to me, spending an eternity with them felt more daunting than enticing.

          So how are these types of disparities handled in heaven? If I’m eagerly looking forward to endless time with my wife and her idea of bliss is sampling new partners, what gives? Am I changed? Or her? Do we all have our own version of heaven with copies of everyone else, so I can have my “wife” as close as I want regardless of what she’s doing in her version? If so, can it really be said that we are spending time with each other?

          Like everything else with religion, the whole thing crumbles when you give it more than a cursory review.

        • Ignorant Amos


        • Greg G.

          If heaven lasts for an infinite time, you will spend an infinite amount of time with every person who ever lived, which may mean an infinite amount of time apart from each person. If some Christians are right, you will spend an infinite amount of time with everyone who was ever conceived.

          The Buybull bulleevers will cite the trick question about the woman with seven husbands that the Sadducees asked Jesus where he said there will be no marriage in heaven.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Depends on which flavour of the cult one follows.

          Sinners and the unbaptised can’t get in apparently.

          Which means Heaven will be a bit shite for my wife if she’s there waiting for me to pitch up.

          And as for all those Catholic mothers who are there while their infants are in Limbo because that was a thing. Not much of party for them either.

          No thought has gone into the concept at all, bunch of daft nonsense believing eejits.

        • Greg G.

          Depends on which flavour of the cult one follows.

          Don’t they believe Paul?

          1 Corinthians 7:14 (ESV)
          14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

          The NIV and NKJV use “sanctified” in place of “made holy”. Maybe that is considered to mean something else, like a “bait-and-switch” scam.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Don’t they believe Paul?

          Not all of them, not everything he said, and only when it suits them.

          The NIV and NKJV use “sanctified” in place of “made holy”. Maybe that is considered to mean something else, like a “bait-and-switch” scam.

          Am reading Hector Avalos’ book, “The End of Biblical Studies”, and it’s fascinating. I can’t put it down. I don’t know if you’ve read it yet, but the whole thing is a complete dishonest clusterfuck. And dishonest translating is just one factor and fudge they’ve used.

        • Pofarmer

          Well now you’ve made me buy a book. This will get into my blog and Call of Duty time.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Am the same chum. I’ve loads of books that I read a bit of, then come back to, then set down again. Not many keep me glued. Fortunately, I’m cutting down a bit on the alcohol consumption with a couple of nights off through the week, so a couple of hours bedtime reading has materialized as a result. But Avalos’ book has me lifting it at free moments through the day. A don’t do gaming, so it doesn’t affect such…but am not as glued to my tech as much the last day or so. And so far, I’m enjoying the experience.

        • I just came across the concept of Dry January. (In Baader-Meinhof fashion, I heard it several times, in quick succession.) Is Dry January a thing in your neck of the woods?

        • Ignorant Amos

          Aye. But that would be a bridge too far for me. Three days is a struggle ffs.

        • Otto

          The Bad Jesus is an interesting book of his too.

          I got to hear him speak once…I would pay a good amount of money to just be able to sit in on his lectures.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Ta for the recommendation.

        • IIRC, it was Avalos who I heard tell about a raising from the dead in his own church. (The takeaway being, of course, that fantastical claims are pretty common; proof is very uncommon.)

        • Ignorant Amos

          Yep…talk is cheap.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Btw, my wife won’t be waiting on me, she was an atheist too. I just used it as an example of a potential issue with the nonsense.

        • Michael Murray

          What about the s-word ? Is there going to any of that ? You know. Shopping.

        • Ignorant Amos

          That’ll be in Heaven for the missus, but it must mean there is Shopping in man Hell, well, this man anyway.

        • epeeist

          Hell would be shopping malls without bookshops…

          EDIT: corrected mis-spelling

        • Greg G.

          After my wife and I were married, we went to visit my sister so they could get to know each other. My sister took us to a mall. I found the food court, some coffee, and a cinnamon roll. A few more of those later, my sister called to say they were finished, so I met up with them and led them toward the door. Just as I opened the first set of doors, I heard my wife say,”Ooooh, 70% off!” I rolled my eyes and the lady coming in started laughing, so I know we are not the only guys like that.

        • David Cromie

          The S-word is surely ‘sex’.

        • BTS

          I think the idea is you’re so busy enjoying the beatific vision of god that you won’t really care much about your surroundings, including the people. The reward is the unification with god, not the presence of the others. As a waning/lapsed/questioning Catholic, that is my understanding.

          Now, of course, as Aquinas said, the just in heaven will look down with satisfaction at those in hell as they rejoice in god’s justice. Lovely.

        • Otto

          If my worst enemy was eternally punished in the Hell the Catholic Church teaches I would not be able to enjoy heaven. I guess I have more empathy than that god.

          A recovering Catholic.

        • One solution: you’re anesthetized or zombified or some other way made not yourself so that your human decency/outrage is gone.

          Heaven sounds like hell if you must be drugged to tolerate it.

        • Otto

          Than whoever is ‘enjoying’ Heaven isn’t me.

          Damned if I do…Damned if I don’t I guess….lol

        • Ignorant Amos

          Yeah, that’s Hell revamped for the modern societies…Catholic Hell is excommunication from YahwehJesus. But it’s altogether something else, regardless of Francis attempt to sterilize the concept.

          The catechism seems clear enough on the parts where Hell is something just not in Heaven with God.

          1034 Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.614 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,”615 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”616

          1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

          The chief punishment? Perhaps. But am in no doubt, it has been the fear of the other bit that has been used to scare the living daylights out of children, historically. And am not altogether sure that the clerics at grassroots level have not continued that trend.

          And Catholics have been quick to complain about other denominations taking the wishy-washy view of Hell-lite. Early Church patriarchs were in no doubt what Hell was supposed to be.


          Now, of course, as Aquinas said, the just in heaven will look down with satisfaction at those in hell as they rejoice in god’s justice. Lovely.

          Yep, Aquinas clearly thought Hell was a place.

          “And since a place is assigned to souls in keeping with their reward or punishment, as soon as the soul is set free from the body it is either plunged into hell or soars to heaven,… ~ Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae


          Aquinas wrote a lot of nonsense about an imaginary place, invented as a “carrot or stick” scenario, in order to get the gullible to sit up and obey the rules.

        • Lark62

          Christians haven’t thought anything through. Else they wouldn’t be Christians.

      • Michael Murray

        If the Catholics are right then some 70-80% of “people” in heaven are fetuses. I think conversation will be a bit limited.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Catholic fetuses only started getting into Heaven recently. And that’s been part of the RCC’s fudge, because of uproar from the minions in the pews. But the concept has still not been fully rejected and is up to the parochial authorities.

          limbus infantium or limbus puerorum…Infants in Limbo, which is a place at the edge of Hell.

          While the Catholic Church has a defined doctrine on original sin, it has none on the eternal fate of unbaptized infants, leaving theologians free to propose different theories, which magisterium is free to accept or reject. Limbo is one such theory.

          The Catechism says…

          1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them.

          Except the fuckers didn’t give them the full funeral rites and the bodies of those born dead or died before getting baptised, were put into unconsecrated ground, and most fetuses didn’t even get that. Creating so much pain and heartache for devoutly believing Catholics for centuries.

          And the theory of Limbo hasn’t been closed. Something that could easily have been done, because it isn’t a doctrine or dogma. That leaves parents in a state of wondering. It’s one of the most rotten theological constructs the bastards have come up with. And what’s worse, given the circumstances on the issue of the necessity for baptism, the alternative to Limbo is Hell.

          In fact, the document [“The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized” ~ Pope John Paul II] explicitly states that “the theory of limbo, understood as a state which includes the souls of infants who die subject to original sin and without baptism, and who, therefore, neither merit the beatific vision, nor yet are subjected to any punishment, because they are not guilty of any personal sin. This theory, elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium. Still, that same Magisterium did at times mention the theory in its ordinary teaching up until the Second Vatican Council. It remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis” (second preliminary paragraph); and in paragraph 41 it repeats that the theory of Limbo “remains a possible theological opinion”. The document thus allows the hypothesis of a limbo of infants to be held as one of the existing theories about the fate of children who die without being baptised, a question on which there is “no explicit answer” from Scripture or tradition. The traditional theological alternative to Limbo was not Heaven, but rather some degree of suffering in Hell. At any rate, these theories are not the official teaching of the Catholic Church, but are only opinions that the Church does not condemn, permitting them to be held by its members, just as is the theory of possible salvation for infants dying without baptism.


          Limbo is a theology that really does grip my shite. Do ya not remember the OP I got put up on RDFRS?

        • Ficino

          Catholic fetuses only started getting into Heaven recently. And that’s been part of the RCC’s fudge, because of uproar from the minions in the pews.

          It’ll challenge the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, but I wonder whether some priest with an eye for beefing up the take from the collection plates will start talking about doggies and kitties getting into heaven. Or even horsies.

        • Greg G.

          I would pay (even in the collection plate) to watch a priest baptize a cat.

        • Otto

          My wife wants to see a Chocolate Chip cookie turned into Jesus by a Priest.

        • Sounds like a waste of a perfectly good cookie.

        • BertB

          My thought exactly. Beat me to ir.

        • Otto

          As long as it works the same way the cookie would be perfectly edible afterwards…in fact there would be no discernible difference…;)

        • Greg G.

          Symbolic cannibalism with chocolate chips. That sounds a little better.

        • Otto

          Hey Greg you need to respect Catholic beliefs. There is nothing ‘symbolic’ about it…that is actual cannibalism to them!

        • Greg G.

          Yes, of course. If you take a cracker without the cannibalism, it’s kidnapping.

        • MR

          Amazing insight, as always!

        • BTS

          This is such a game changer for me. I hadn’t given this idea its just due earlier in my life. Then I read the posts involving David Nickol and his comments about fertilized eggs that don’t implant, etc. on Strange Notions. This is a critical philosophical problem for the believer, because so many of the Christian arguments focus on what we have to do in this life to be saved.

          Why would an all-good and loving god create a system in which 70-80% of his beloved creatures don’t get to participate in the process at all, ever?

          Other than a convoluted appeal to mystery, I’ve never gotten a good answer.

        • Otto

          Other than a convoluted appeal to mystery, I’ve never gotten a good answer.

          And we never will…because there isn’t one.

    • D.M.S.

      Actually that’s the other way around. Christians don’t fear death at at all.
      It’s mostly non-Christians that fear death.

  • Maltnothops

    183 comments? Must be a butthurt Christian in the comments.



  • RichardSRussell

    Ha ha, I just noticed the little gray “NONRELIGIOUS” tag above the headline. Must be the equivalent of “Here there be monsters” or “Danger! High Voltage!” warnings for naïve religiots who just happen to stumble on this blog.

    • I’ve signed up for notifications for lots of Patheos blogs (Nonreligious, Catholic, Evangelical,…), and if the persuasion of the blog author doesn’t immediately come to me, I always look there. Handy.

  • Phil Rimmer

    I started with what are the essential objects in an office and an analysis of how lazy I am (pretty lazy). I’m not going to rearrange furniture. Lifting the coffee mug to my lips is about my limit. That handle looks pretty useful for tying things to. Drinks coffee first then job done.

    Now, solve for two strings even further apart. They’ll only meet at head height, and all the string has been used up. Drinks coffee. Ah, the stapler!

    Ignorance of how one’s own brain works seems implicated in the frequent religious failure of this specific self awareness. The existence of a sub conscious doing all the initial ideation applying much simpler heuristics of valuation seems lost on many and seems a particular anathema to the religiously dogmatic. I think the fondness for the idea of “free will” is a related, obfuscating metaphysical concept (closeting a soul).


    “When you will have made him a body without organs, then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom.”

    But, of course, we are a body with organs…

    • Thanks4AllTheFish

      Promise me you aren’t motivated enough to form a new religion.

      • Phil Rimmer

        Well, there’s a great idea I’ve just had!

        • Thanks4AllTheFish

          Yet another reason I should just STFU.

        • Phil Rimmer


          Anyway, you know I’d cut you in…

  • Phil Rimmer

    Neurally there appears a drive to close-off events causally. This may be for reasons of energy saving. The brain, and particularly its more recent additions of PreFrontal Cortex and its general purpose inferencing ability, needing an extra 400 calories to run for 8 hours.

    Endless evidence for this quickness to ascribe a cause exists. My favourite, because of its neural directness, is the account of direct electrode neural stimulation during brain surgery (performed often under local anaesthetic when regions need very careful location). The surgeon putting pulses into a specific region (possibly near the ACC) elicits a sudden laugh from the patient. Why did you laugh asks the surgeon. Because of the look on the nurse’s face says the patient without missing a beat. We are practised post hoc narrators careful to display complete ownership of our actions at all times. Even those in advanced stages of dementia, even after losing the ability to identify their nearest and dearest own their own actions.

    This drive to a fully singular self also underlies a speed in our predictions of outcomes. We need a simple self model to be able to process quickly what may happen in any given encounter.

  • Ellabulldog

    A fifth way exists. The rules never said a person could not MOVE or remove one or both of the strings from the ceiling. Right?

    For the last year or so I have been simply stating that people don’t know WHY they believe. They only know what they believe and then practice confirmation bias and motivated reasoning to justify to themselves why. Or just ignore the why because the dissonance hurts their mind too much because they have such an emotional attachment.

    The cultural influence is huge.
    Sunk costs factor in.
    Fear is a big motivator.
    Brainwashing/indoctrination is a word they can’t stand but aptly applies to many.

    While I did read Blink I didn’t remember this experiment. Thanks for the reminder.

    Cognitive science has also shown that the human brain can be pre-disposed to such superstitious beliefs.

    It’s nature and nurture.

    Of course the 6th way is prayer. If you believe and just ask God to connect the strings it magically happens.
    “could not resist a sarcastic joke” 🙂

  • D.M.S.

    Is this the string theory?
    I believe that Christ Jesus died on the cross for my sins and on the 3rd day He was risen from the dead.
    And lives today.

    And I was raised in an atheist/agnostic home my Dad didn’t believe at all in God. My mom thought she believed but we only saw church a few times.