An Atheist Walks into a Christian Meeting about Atheism…

An Atheist Walks into a Christian Meeting about Atheism… November 29, 2016

Last night I attended my first Lifetree Café gathering at a Lutheran church in my area.  Lifetree Café is a casual café-type setting where a session leader directs discussion based on accompanying videos and pre-selected Christian topics.  The topic of discussion last night was atheism — more specifically, Giving Up on God: The Rise of Atheism.  I heard about the gathering when a friend forwarded a local newspaper clipping announcing the event.  After doing some research on Lifetree, I decided I would attend and see what their perspective was as well as seize the opportunity to shed some light on any misconceptions that may be discussed.

Here’s my synopsis of the one-hour meeting:

I walked into a room of about 50 people (I’m guessing), a large handful of whom greeted me as soon as I walked in, offering me coffee and making me feel welcomed. I was told I could sit wherever I wanted and introduce myself. In front of me were several 4-person tables, a TV screen queued up with a video presentation, and a presenter area ready for the session leader to take the reigns.  I poured my coffee and took a seat at one of the tables with 3 people already sitting at it.  They graciously introduced themselves and provided me with a name tag and a pen.

Of course, the first question I was asked, as expected, was, “Do you go to this church?”  I quickly said no, only to be presented with the follow-up, “What church do you go to?”  I answered, “I don’t,” and could see I took my tablemates by surprise.  The gentlemen who asked the question, Steven, apologized quickly, possibly not knowing how to react to that.  I assured him it’s no problem.  That’s not even close to offensive. I would expect that a room full of Christians would assume I’m also one and ask that very question.  It’s just a request for information, not a judgment. Anyone who follows this blog knows I’ve had some really offensive things hurled my way.  This was not such an occasion.  I quickly told the table I was raised Catholic, was once a born-again Christian, and am now unaffiliated. (I didn’t say I was an atheist at first because I wanted to avoid having people get their defenses up right off the bat.)

On with the meeting.

The format was not what I expected. The session leader read from materials provided by LifeTree, showed some slides and/or video clips, then asked the tables to discuss amongst themselves for a few minutes.  After that, we’d move onto the next discussion topic.  I expected more of a group discussion, but I can see how that could derail the meeting if 50 people each want their turn to address the crowd.  In the video clips, we hear from a former Christian-turned-atheist and a former atheist-turned-Christian.  More about that in a bit.

First topic: People of different cultures. Discuss when you befriended someone of a different culture.  Interesting lead-in to a talk about atheists. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re from a different culture, but I get where that’s going.  The nice thing here is that they’re setting up a discussion about trying to understand or accept differences.  Encouraging.

On to the next topic. We’re starting to get into the nitty gritty now. We were provided the definition of atheism — a lack of belief in a deity and lack of belief in anything supernatural.  I’d go with the former and drop the latter.  Atheism doesn’t reject supernatural concepts by definition; it just refers to the lack of belief in gods.  While it’s true most atheists reject all supernatural ideas, some do believe in ghosts or spirits or other supernatural concepts not related to gods.

Second question to ponder: What do the majority of Americans have against atheists?  Prior to the question, the session leader quotes recent survey results regarding the views Americans have about atheists.  As we all know, those results were disconcerting. In my 4-person table group, I opened up a bit more about the fact that I’m an atheist and mentioned that it’s really a lack of understanding that drives these statistics. Everyone seemed to agree and I thought the acceptance I was feeling at my table would carry over to the room.  But when the session leader asked if anyone wanted to share their thoughts with the room, one woman at the table next to me spoke up, “I don’t have a problem with atheists. I just feel sorry for them.”  Thanks for your sympathy, but I’m good.  I just smiled and brushed that one off. I bet she had no idea one was sitting near her.

Next up was a video containing clips from interviews with the atheist and Christian I mentioned.  The atheist gentleman was just ok.  Considering who his audience was, I think he could have explained some of his thoughts a bit more clearly.  He was relatively unpolished and may not have known what he was being interviewed for.  The Christian woman, on the other hand, despite being a former atheist, was fairly dismissive of atheism.  She mentioned that atheism had an attraction because it meant there was no one to answer to and that life was meaningless.  I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the feeling I got from her viewpoint.  As one of my readers suggested in comments on my last post, she seemed to compare atheism with nihilism, which is a totally false equivalence.

The next discussion question: What is the attraction to atheism?  This one bothered me. I took the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions.  Atheism isn’t something people get recruited into or attracted to from an ideological perspective.  It has no dogma or doctrine.  Atheism is a conclusion based on a lack of evidence.  No one decides to become an atheist because it’s glamorous.  Why would you willingly join a minority position that is attached to an unshakable stigma and is legally discriminated against?  We’re not “giving up on God” or “angry at God” or any of those other assertions. We simply used critical thinking to come to the conclusion that the supernatural folklore of millennia ago is unfounded and archaic.  

Another discussion topic dealt with where people turn for guidance. While Christians may turn to God, atheists may turn to other people or their own reasoning.  Can atheists be good without God?  Obviously, we know they can.  Here’s how I explained it to my group.  When you’re making a decision not to lie, cheat or steal, or whether or not you should do something good for someone, are you doing it because you took a moment and thought, “Is this ok with God?” No.  You’re doing it because it’s good for the people it benefits, right in front of you.  When someone falls down, do you pick them up because the Bible says you should, or are you doing it because you have natural empathy?  There are good and bad people on both sides of the God argument.  Belief or nonbelief does not dictate that.  Interestingly enough, an older woman at our table told a story about how a devout Catholic took advantage of her charity and took over her home and life until she had to file legal orders to remove her.  

During that discussion I also mentioned being the author of Understanding an Atheist, and that bridging the divide between believers and nonbelievers was very important to me.

In the video portion for the Good without God section, the Christian woman suggested that Christianity was the source of morality in the world.  News flash: morality predates Christianity.  She also suggested that Christianity should be involved in governance of the people, because we had governments of atheism in the past — that was called Communism.  That got a mixed reaction from the room.  The atheist in the video spoke about morality in the animal world and many in the crowd snickered or gasped, seemingly dismissing that notion.  Because we’re not monkeys and all.

All in all it was a positive experience.  And the aforementioned Steven at my table… well it turns out he has atheist children and has trouble understanding how anyone could be an atheist.  I left him with a signed copy of my book.  He seemed excited to read it.

When the session was over, I stayed for about a half-hour longer and talked with the table about atheism, my book, and my background.  They seemed genuinely interested in what I was trying to accomplish.  A few others came to our table and joined in the discussion, asking Steven if they could borrow the book after he was done with it.

I left my first Lifetree meeting feeling encouraged that common ground could be found between believers and nonbelievers if we take the time to listen to each other and make an effort to understand each other.  As I mention in the book about discovering someone you love or respect is an atheist,

You may disagree on the topic of religious belief or origin of the universe, but in the end, your friend or family member is still the same person you love, trust, and respect. Atheism is a lack of belief. So just like anyone else, atheists are not defined by who they’re not. They are defined by who they are – the same person they were, but without religion.

Again, I encourage all of my readers to stay up to date on what topics are going to be covered by Lifetree in your area and attend if you can.  Instructions for finding that out are in my previous post.  Next month (12/12 for me), Lifetree is presenting “In the Beginning: An atheist professor considers intelligent design.”  I smell a God’s Not Dead strawman argument here, but I’ll keep an open mind and see what happens.  My cover is blown now, but I’m still optimistic that the people at Lifetree will remain open with their thoughts and accepting of my attendance.

 


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  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    Well done. I’d have probably gotten my dander up a bit at the strawmen being presented, and even if I kept quiet (likely), body language would have showed it.

    • Tailored

      Yeah, I would not be a good ambassador either 😉

      • Kevin K

        Me three. I’m afraid eye-rolling would be involved.

  • Kate Karwowska

    Very cool <3

  • Pofarmer

    She mentioned that atheism had an attraction because it meant there was no one to answer to and that life was meaningless.

    I’ve also seen this expressed by others what was essentially Hedonism. They weren’t really atheists, they were hedonists.

    • Kevin K

      That’s the old “you just want to sin” argument. Ugh. The worst.

      • Pofarmer

        Things is, I think there actually are Christians who “lapse” for just this reason. They want to do things, have “fun”, whatever, but they never really look at all the underlying philosophy of the religion that they’re rejecting. They just don’t like the rules. So then they think that their experience is everyone’s.

        • Kevin K

          Then they’re complete and utter brain-dead idiots. Because the reasoning goes like this.

          1. There is a god who has a set of behavioral codes that it has clearly established and are known to everyone.
          2. The punishment for violating those behavioral codes is unimaginably horrific eternal torture. Trillions of Earth-years of torture, and that’s just the knife’s edge of what “eternal” means.
          3. Even though I know with certainty this god exists and the punishment that awaits me, I choose to pretend otherwise in order to violate those god-directed behavioral codes. Even though my pretense does not affect the ultimate outcome.

          It’s the opposite of reason. Not just illogic, but anti-logic.

          • Pofarmer

            But they can always “come back to Jesus” and it’s all good.

        • Bravo Sierra

          So many of those “I used to be an atheist” types are like that. It makes my head hurt when they say that.

  • Comrade Carrot-Blog Vegetarian

    Interesting.

    I had never heard of Lifetree. I attend an interfaith series every summer at a local church, representing primarily the atheist/agnostic position, but also speaking on behalf of the Gnostic and dystheist positions when applicable. The quality of the conversation has increased every year. While (in the first year) I was answering questions like “how can atheists be moral”, I was, this year, instead answering questions like “what is the relationship between natural facts and moral facts on an atheistic view”.

    I think conversations like this are incredibly valuable, and most valuable if they are sustained. I really appreciate your writing about this, and I look forward to reading your next post about it.

    I may drop by a Lifetree event here if I have the time.

    • Raging Bee

      “Dystheist?”

      • Comrade Carrot-Blog Vegetarian

        It’s a person who believes in a god, but rejects the idea that god is perfectly good in a moral sense.

        They may actively believe in an purely evil god, or they may simply believe god is morally flawed, but still capable of good actions (like any other person).

        I was a committed dystheist for some time, and am pretty familiar with the literature of and philosophy behind that school of theology. As you can imagine, it’s the height of blasphemy in many Christian circles, so it doesn’t often come up in conversation 🙂

        • Nonsanta Maria

          I have literally never heard that term before. Thanks for elaborating. I spent a great many years as a dystheist before becoming an atheist. Now I have a word for it 🙂

        • Kevin K

          Where do trickster gods fit into that system? Like Kokopelli?

          • Comrade Carrot-Blog Vegetarian

            I don’t know much about Kokopelli specifically. Aboriginal mythology is a subject I need to catch up on. On cursory review, (and I may be wrong) his trickery is playful and exploratory, and doesn’t have a moral dimension. I wouldn’t regard him as a dysthestic character.

            But trickster Gods in general are a fascinating breed, and play all sorts of roles in the context of their respective mythologies. They’re divine social rebels, challenging divine rules, and exposing what is arbitrary and artificial about the divine order.

            There are trickster Gods who are clearly dystheistic characters. Dolos comes to mind…a character who fomented deception with the aim of exploting others and creating moral dischord among the gods.

  • smrnda

    When people asks what attracts people to atheism, it sounds as if they’re viewing themselves as some kind of business wondering what the competition is doing to attract more business than them. Perhaps a better question would be why people are leaving so many religions. What isn’t appealing about belief in gods? It isn’t like most atheists are even part of any sort of atheist groups, organizations or anything.

    With the Communism deal, I also agree that we shouldn’t have a government based on atheism, but the problem is that people confuse a secular government which is neutral about religion, and where religion has no role, as the same thing as an atheistic government. Part of this is that I think people, particularly Christians, have a tough time with the idea of neutrality. That might be because Jesus said the ‘whoever isn’t with me is against me.’ And another part of the lack of getting neutrality is just privilege.

    • Of course a Christian cannot understand an atheist not being part of a group somewhere, having been told all his life that we conspire with Satan to lead others “astray” and all that. Count on it also that when a church’s attendance numbers are shrinking, the rats which aren’t jumping ship are more likely to first consider which other churches would be siphoning off those who are gone.

      I agree there should not be an atheistic government any more than there should be a theocracy, but the important thing about that “Communisism deal” is that atheism never had a thing to do with Communism’s problems. The problem was the idealism of Communisim, in which the State itself became unquestionable, like a god, and it’s why every Communist State excepting North Korea either made concessions to capitalism or died. Idealogy is just as bad as any theocracy for it’s failure to correct and improve its positions. Science is all about correcting past mistakes and moving forward, learning and implementing new and better ways. Critical thought is the underlying basis for science, and it’s this which we need more of in any government. Critical thought does support atheism, but it can only exist in the absence of ideology.

    • Mark in Ohio

      I have to say I love the depths of the discussions I find around here. In some ways the Christian belief that religion is a key to morality and needs to be a part of government kind of reminds me of the Microsoft insistence on ignoring the difference between the operating system (code that runs the computer) and the interface (how you operate that code). If you aren’t that familiar with the issue, you buy the company line that they are one and the same. Most Christians are taught from the the beginning that their religion is the only key to morality and therefore must be present for a moral government. They never give this view a second thought. Although the items are closely related, they are not intrinsically linked. As Linux proves, you can install several different configuration interfaces over the same operating system. Many programs, such as my music player software, offer highly customizable pre-designed front ends, with completely different appearances. Some offer more or less functionality and user-friendliness. In that vein, Christianity is just one way for humanity to filter their interface with reality and society at large. Personally, I find that it has greatly restricted functionality and poor user friendliness.

      • Bravo Sierra

        They weren’t “one and the same” back in the days of DOS and Windows 3.1. 😉

        • Brad Feaker

          Another old timer 🙂 Remember having to purchase the TCP/IP stack separately until Windows 3.11 (Windows for Workgroups) came out?

      • I would like to congratulate you on the nerdiest analogy ever posted on SecularVoices. Well done!

  • Nonsanta Maria

    The group was much smaller at the Cafe that I attended. I’m also planning on going back for the ID chat. I’m anticipating that either no one will want to sit with me, or everyone will want to sit with me. I’m not sure which scenario makes me more nervous lol.

    • Kevin K

      We’ll see, but the ID thing seems like it’s ripe for the old slippery slope. All-natural (what the evidence unanimously points to) > God directed (which is where folks like Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins reside) > God did it (the pope, at least in terms of human ensoulment and such) > God did it all at once using magic words (Ken Ham) in the Terrarium Garden of Eden.

      Give an inch, they’ll take a mile.

  • Aegis

    Every time I see a post like this I’m a little envious of the self-control demonstrated therein. I’d never be able to resist the urge for at least low-level fucking with people. Showing up in a shirt of the Sephirothic diagram or something.

  • Mr. A

    Good that it went over so well. My last conversation with a Christian didn’t, so now I have hope again of finding common ground and getting along. Then again my last conversation was on the internet so, well, you know…

  • Steven

    Kevin, thank you for coming to Lifetree cafe and for being so patient, kind and loving to a room full of Christians. Also, thank you for writing about your experience at Lifetree Cafe and for the great discussion and input. I am currently reading your book, that you kindly gave to me. I have a good feeling it will help open up further discussions with my children and I appreciate that more than words can say.
    I hope to see you again soon!
    Steven

    • My pleasure Steven! I hope to see you on the 12th, and I hope you enjoy the book.

    • Brad Feaker

      And thank you (from a complete stranger) for reaching out and trying to understand us instead of condemning us. I wish more believers were like you Steven. I live in the heart of the Bible belt and the hatred and derision that have been hurled my way a truly discouraging at times.

      I wish you well and hope Kevin’s book will help you bridge the divide with your children.

      Peace…

      • Steven

        Thank you for your kindness Brad. I actually know many believers who feel the same way as I do. However, I do wish there were more. I am sorry that you live in a place where there is hatred and division – I certainly have no room for that in my life. Please don’t be discouraged! You are now witnessing that people can actually talk about this and learn from this in a kind and respectful way! Many thanks to Kevin Davis for getting the ball rolling!

        All the best,
        Steven

        • Brad Feaker

          And I can sympathize with the position you are in, as I put my parents in the same position when I left my faith behind. My mother never accepted the fact that I was an atheist and it made visits to home very uncomfortable for me at times. She would have her pastor “coincidentally” drop by when I came home and constantly bombarded me with Bible verses and the “I’ll pray for you” routine. And this went on for years.

          So it makes me happy to know you are seeking a deeper understanding and ways to connect with your children despite your religious differences.

          And thanks for your words of encouragement. I try not to ever let it get me down, but I am human and to hear such things from people you formerly called a friend is disheartening.

          And I too have this issue to deal with as my beautiful wife is a Christian. But she decided that whatever my belief, or lack thereof, it had not changed the person I was or the man she fell in love with. So we simply respect each others position and get on with life. She does not try and convert me and I do not try to dissuade her. And it has worked wonderfully.

          So there is always room for common ground and I am sure you will find it.

          Peace…

    • Vin Rohm

      Steven, my father couldn’t understand how I couldn’t believe in god, either. His insistence that I really did believe in god but was just “acting out” was probably the most insulting thing he could have ever said to me. I hope you don’t take that position with your own kids.

      This atheist doesn’t hate god. I don’t hate god anymore than you hate Santa. My “lack of belief” is compelled by the utter lack of “good” evidence (objective and verified facts and information) for god’s existence, and not by any hatred of god, or of a desire to “sin.” I’m as moral as anyone else. I am good to others, not because I expect some reward after I die, but because I empathize with the suffering of others and I just don’t want to see any one suffer.

      I suggest you talk to your kids, and really “listen” to them. Most of us (atheists) have nothing against believers in god. We might have an issue with those who try to push religion (ID, Creationism) as science in the science classroom. We might have an issue with those who want to impose their religious rules on everyone else, including those who don’t believe in your religion or god. But that’s because those things are impositions on our rights and our freedoms.

      I’m not asking you to become an atheist. No….your belief in god is just as compelled as my lack of belief, and I would never want to change you. I want you to have the same freedom of belief as I cherish, which carries with it the right to reject for yourself those beliefs that don’t make sense to you…including my own lack of belief.

      If it’s a fear of your children going to hell that compels your concerns, just let me know and I will gladly explain to you why that place of torment does not exist, this according to Christian doctrine, not contrary to it.

  • guerillasurgeon

    Thank God I live in a country where this basically isn’t necessary, because very few people give a shit about what your religion is.

  • Sophia Sadek

    I just hope you remain unsinged.

  • A rabbi, a Catholic and an atheist walk into a bar in Heaven…

    The rabbi says “Praise Jehovah – nobody else had to die so that we could be here!”

    The Catholic says “Thank Jesus our Brother for dieing on that cross so that nobody else would have to die so that we could be here!”

    The atheist looks at them and says “I would have climbed up on that cross and died just for you two fuckers if it meant I could spend all this time somewhere that you’re not!”

  • See Noevo

    “An Atheist Walks into a Christian Meeting about Atheism…”

    A real atheist and a fake atheist walk into a Christian Meeting about Atheism, and the fake atheist wonders aloud “Don’t these people understand that they should instead have faith in their rationality?”
    And the real atheist responds
    “Why should anyone have faith in their “rationality”?”

    Get it?

    Ha ha!

  • Kevin K

    Interesting. Good for you. I suspect the end goal of this whole thing has to be some sort of evangelism.

    • Carl McMahan

      either that or stealth apologetics

      • Kevin K

        I actually think it’s overt apologetics.

        It’s answering the question: “Why should I continue to believe in this stuff if there are people leading completely normal, everyday lives who have figured out that it’s all bunk?”

        It’s trying to get the kiddies to continue to believe in Santa after they’ve figured out that the old man’s whiskers are fake, and the presents are hidden in a closet.

  • Nichelle Wrenn

    I went to my local (smaller) Lifetree Cafe as well. I was raised secular so I enjoy events like this as a way to not only be an effective witness (to borrow a phrase) for what an atheist is but also gain insight into the minds of some believers. I’m a voracious reader but one can only go so far reading books about believers. I have found the best way to respectfully dialogue with them is at events like this. I think I may attend the Intelligent Design talk as well.

  • JedRothwell

    The discussion question: “What is the attraction to atheism?”

    As an atheist I say: nothing. It isn’t attractive. It is like algebra or Microsoft Word. It’s how things work, so deal with it.

    Atheists and scientists sometimes try to substitute science for religion by saying how attractive and awe inspiring the scientific view of things is. Popularizers such as Carl Sagan blather about how knowing the actual scale of the universe is breathtaking. Honestly, I don’t get it. Why is that more breathtaking than knowing the actual scale of graphite production in Brazil? It is just a fact, with no emotional content for me.

    Scientists often find themselves in conflict with religious people. That’s unfortunate, but they are fools to try play the game by the rules of religion, trotting out the “awe inspiring” trope, as if to say, “Hey, we can inspire awe too!”

    Darwin wrote in the conclusion to Origin of the Species: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” Sorry, Chas, I don’t see the grandeur. I get that living things are beautiful and wonderful, but that’s probably because I am one. It is altruistic narcissism.

  • Paul

    Hi Kevin,
    Thanks for sharing your experience at the Lifetree meeting. I was wondering if you could clear something up for me though. You said,
    “Atheism is a conclusion based on a lack of evidence.”
    I can agree that it’s a conclusion, but is it really based on a lack of evidence? Don’t we all have the exact same evidence? If you think about it, we all live in the same universe, the same galaxy, and on the same planet. We all see the same sky, mountains, bodies of water, plants , animals, etc.. We all even have access to the same religious texts. One person examine at all of that and conclude that there is a God. Another can conclude that there isn’t. I would say that Christianity is a conclusion – a conclusion based on the evidence. I agree with you that atheism is a conclusion, but wouldn’t it also be a conclusion based on that same evidence rather than based on a lack of evidence? I was just wondering if you could clear up that last part for me. Thanks for your story. I certainly agree that Christians and atheists need to have more civilized discussions.

    • Bravo Sierra

      I think the statement is worded that way in part because of its implications for who has the burden of proof. It’s difficult to prove a negative. Just Google “Russell’s teapot” for an example of that.

      It’s also a statement about the willingness to accept evidence for gods if it ever were to come to light. I personally know Christians who are kind of proud of getting their doctorates and never having to take a course that might contradict their faith. I could be wrong, but I doubt atheists would place the same limitations on their learning. In fact, I think higher education and strong religion are usually inversely correlated.

      Thanks for letting me weigh in.

      • Kevin K

        There are a lot of highly educated religious people — but humans are famously adept at bifurcating.

        I have a friend who is a (liberal) Christian who has two PhDs in science. His most-used phrase about his more conservative co-religionists is “the bible is not a science text”.

      • Paul

        “I think the statement is worded that way in part because of its implications for who has the burden of proof. It’s difficult to prove a negative.”

        I seems to me it shouldn’t be that hard. If you look at Aristotelian logic, 2 of of categorical claims are negative.
        “No S are P”
        “Some S are not P”
        If I were to say “No U.S. Senators are Muslim” , that is a negative claim that should be able to be proven or dis-proven.

        But like I said in my first post, I think Christianity is a conclusion, just like the author said that Atheism is a conclusion. I’m not asking for proof. I’m interested in how people come to their conclusions.

        I can’t speak for other Christians, but I’m learning all the time. Whether it’s academically or just from people who believe/think differently than I do.

        You can weigh in any time. Thanks for you comments Richard!

        • Bravo Sierra

          But what if there is a U.S. senator who is a closeted Muslim? Or what if Islam is THE OBJECTIVE TRUTH, and being Muslim is the default, and all who claim not to be Muslims are just rebelling against Allah? Are you starting to understanding what I’m getting at now?

          Thanks for the dialogue.

          • Paul

            I understand what you mean about being a closeted Muslim, or perhaps a closeted Christian in Muslim country. Especially in a public arena such as politics. They might not be willing to public admit their particular religion. But maybe I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Are you saying that’s why negatives would be hard to prove?

          • Bravo Sierra

            Yes, I am saying that’s why negatives are hard to prove. Proving something beyond a reasonable doubt is one thing, but religion has very little to do with reason.
            Can you prove there is no Valhalla? Yeti? Leprechauns? extra terrestrials among us?
            See what I mean?

          • Paul

            I understand what you mean about trying to prove there is no Valhalla, Yeti, etc, but could you please elaborate on this statement?:
            “…religion has very little to do with reason.”

            Can you explain what you mean by that. Don’t we all use the same laws of logic? The author said that atheism is a conclusion. I would argue that Christianity is as well. But everyone is using the same laws of logic.

          • Bravo Sierra

            Is religion not based on faith?

          • Paul

            Not blind faith. Not fideism. Like I said, it’s a conclusion based on the evidence.

          • Bravo Sierra

            All right. Because I know you’re probably dying to share, at the risk of opening up a big Pandora’s box, what evidence do you have for which particular god or gods?

          • Paul

            As I said previously, we all have the exact same evidence. What I’m trying to get at in this discussion is how people can look at the exact same evidence, but come to completely different conclusions.
            edit: Maybe something to do with axioms?

          • Bravo Sierra

            Yes, it is fascinating how prior experience affects our perceptions of the world.

          • Max Doubt

            “What I’m trying to get at in this discussion is how people can look at the exact same evidence, but come to completely different conclusions.”

            People who believe gods exist assume their conclusion. Atheists don’t. You believed your god tales were true before you ever considered the matter. You want gods to exist, so you view whatever you call “evidence” through a filter that supports that conclusion.

            The difference you’re asking about is this: When considered objectively, there is no evidence to support any claims that gods exist as anything other than figments of individual human imaginations. Any “evidence” that makes you think your version of a god exists can just as easily explain millions of other fictional explanations we can come up with. So we reject the “evidence” you accept.

    • Kevin K

      God of the Gaps. You’re inserting gods where human understanding is incomplete.

      Always a bad idea, as Laplace demonstrated to Newton.

      • Paul

        No, it’s not God of the Gaps. It’s not inserting God where human understanding is incomplete. It’s only taking into account, the things we do understand, the things we do observe. We can use science to understand how the planets rotate, to understand how the human body functions, etc. It’s based on evidence. It’s based on what we do understand, not what we don’t.

        • Kevin K

          And none of those things you mention require any sort of supernatural intervention. In fact, we’ve worked out the all-natural forces that act on those things.

          There are no “hidden variables” … and god would be a hidden variable.

          You’re just embarrassingly wrong. Stupidly so. Every subsequent post you make declaring that there is any sort of godly “fingerprint” in any of the inner workings of science that we do understand only marks you as an uneducated rube.

          First Rule of Holes applies here.

          • Paul

            You made an assumption about my education. But since you think that I am uneducated, please educate me. Please tell me about the all-natural forces that exist on everyone single piece of evidence, not just the ones I mentioned. Are you sure that you’re not pushing a “natural forces of the gaps” argument in places where human knowledge is lacking? If so, how can you be sure that you’re not?

          • Kevin K

            Nice strawman there. Careful it doesn’t catch fire.

            YOU were the one who proposes that all-natural phenomena show a “god signature”, if you will. I am pointing out that is patent nonsense.

            So, you want to show me where the “god signature” is in all-natural phenomena? In order to do that, you’re first going to have to describe what this god signature consists of, how it is measured, how you know it is the signature of godly work and not that of natural forces or alien life forms … just get started.

            Second Rule of Holes is the same as the first.

          • Paul

            Huh? You were the one that said those things that I mentioned could be explained by natural forces. I only pointed out a few examples as it would be impossible to mention everything. But to summarize what I meant by having the same evidence: the universe and everything in it. Sorry for assuming that you could explain EVERYTHING by natural forces, instead of just those things that I mentioned.

            You said: “YOU were the one who proposes that all-natural phenomena show a “god signature”

            I said no such thing. I said we all have the exact same evidence, but that people come to different conclusions. I’m trying to understand why that is. Do you think that you and I come to different conclusions because we have different education levels? You seem to think that I’m am uneducated rube. But then you mentioned your friend with 2 PhDs who happens to be a Christian. So why is it that we all look at the exact same evidence but come to different conclusions (despite varying education levels)?

            Thanks for the discussion by the way. It’s very helpful in my search for understanding.

          • Kevin K

            BZZT. Wrong. The natural world does not offer you ANY justification for presupposing that a supernatural entity or force of any kind exists.

            Nor did I claim the observe is true — that the all-natural universe we see prohibits the existence of a supernatural something or other. What IS true is that there is no evidence in favor of anything supernatural, and that every single time a supernatural something-or-other has been proposed as a solution to a problem in our natural world, a natural solution appears shortly thereafter, completely obviating the need for such a thing. Therefore, the only logical approach when looking at the natural world is to assume that the answer to a question does not lie in the supernatural realm…because it has never, ever, ever offered a single instance where it can be verified as the obligate solution.

            As I mentioned (and you didn’t catch), a single example is Newton’s laws of planetary motion. He couldn’t figure it all out, and inserted god where his calculations failed. Laplace famously fixed those equations without the need to invoke supernatural intervention. But there are literally millions of examples.

            You are now invited to name ONE single instance of a natural-world problem where the solution can only be derived by invoking the intervention of a supernatural force.

            Third Rule of Holes, same as the other two.

          • Paul

            It looks like you want to talk about something different than I do. You’re not answering my question: Why is it that we all look at the exact same evidence but come to different conclusion? That’s what I’m trying to find out.

            In the rest of your post, albeit somewhat off topic, you make some statements that raise some interesting questions, and it also helps a bit in trying to understand how you personally come to a different conclusion than I do. For example:

            “The natural world does not offer you ANY justification for presupposing that a supernatural entity or force of any kind exists.”

            First of all, I only said that we all look at the exact same evidence and some to different conclusion. But you maybe onto something about presuppositions (or axioms as I called them in my discussion with Richard Cranium). Do you think that you have presuppositions?

            “What IS true is that there is no evidence in favor of anything supernatural.”

            How do you know that to be true?

            “…every single time a supernatural something-or-other has been proposed as
            a solution to a problem in our natural world, a natural solution
            appears shortly thereafter, completely obviating the need for such a
            thing. Therefore, the only logical approach when looking at the natural
            world is to assume that the answer to a question does not lie in the
            supernatural realm.”

            1) It’s a non-sequitur. Just because something has always been explained with a natural solution, does that mean it always will be?
            2) Are you sure that something HAS ALWAYS been explained by a natural solution?
            2) Why make an assumption? Why just assume that the answers will always have an natural solution. Why not keep an open mind about things? It sounds like you are presupposing naturalism. Are you?

          • > Why is it that we all look at the exact same evidence
            > but come to different conclusion? That’s what I’m
            > trying to find out.

            Because some people, namely creationists, start with the assumption that there is a creator. They start with the assumption that the bible is a history book. They start with the assumption that the subjective “testimony” of their holy book is more valuable than the objective evidence provided by nature.

            When you start with absurd assumptions like creationists do, you come to their nutty conclusions. It’s really very simple.

          • Paul

            OK, so I’m starting to get the idea that it has something to do with axioms/presuppositions/assumptions, whatever you want to call them.

            You mentioned creationists, but what about atheists? Kevin K said “Therefore, the only logical approach when looking at the natural world
            is to assume that the answer to a question does not lie in the
            supernatural realm”

            Sounds like he has a particular, as of yet unjustified, starting point. I’ll wait to hear back from him on that. What about you Herald? Would you say that there is an axiom/presupposition/assumption that influences the conclusions that you come to?

          • > Sounds like he has a particular, as of yet unjustified, starting point.

            No, his position simply does not assume that the supernatural exists. We cannot investigate beyond nature, and we try to find answers in the only thing we can investigate: Nature. Anything else is unjustified.

            > Would you say that there is an axiom/presupposition/assumption
            > that influences the conclusions that you come to?

            In terms of my epistemology, depending on the what is being addressed, I have several. First, I start with the analytical vs synthetic distinction.

            When addressing analytical problems, namely math, logic, etc, there are well understood rules about what is legal, and what is not. The problem with this stuff is that it isn’t really useful without empirical observations to back it up. I can make all kinds of rules to form all kinds of crazy systems, but if they don’t map onto reality, they’re rather useless. The math we invented is useful because it has a way of mapping onto reality.

            For the synthetic, that is propositions about the outside world, I have several assumptions. The system is very well described here: http://casualentropy.blogspot.ca/2015/10/what-is-truth.html

            When I’m doing science, I have three basal assumptions, just like every other scientist:
            1.That the universe exists
            2. That you can learn something about reality
            3. Models with predictive capabilities are more useful than models without predictive capabilities.

            From that, science starts, and it’s all you need.

          • Max Doubt

            “Why is it that we all look at the exact same evidence but come to different conclusion? That’s what I’m trying to find out.”

            I explained it to you above (or below depending on how your Disqus comments get sorted). Your willful ignorance of my explanation is noted. It makes your comment about actually wanting to understand seem dishonest.

          • Paul

            Max Doubt

            @Paul

            • 4 HOURS AGO (emphasis added)

            “I explained it to you above … Your willful ignorance of my explanation is noted. It makes your comment about actually wanting to understand seem dishonest.”

            Excuse me? This conversation took place YESTERDAY. You’re responding to this conversation TODAY. How could I be willfully ignorant of your explanations when I haven’t even read them until today? And you think I’m the one being dishonest?

          • Max Doubt

            “Excuse me? This conversation took place YESTERDAY. You’re responding to this conversation TODAY.”

            Excuse you? No. I’m refering to a comment I made yesterday.

            “How could I be willfully ignorant of your explanations when I haven’t even read them until today?”

            Because you were here making several comments after the post where I provided the explanation.

            “And you think I’m the one being dishonest?”

            Yes.

          • Paul

            I figured out the issue. I had you blocked. I never saw your comments yesterday. I check out this article again today before logging into DISQUS. When I went to post my response to you, all your comments disappeared. So the conversation yesterday was between me and Kevin K. as I saw it.

            FYI: I’m really not interested in your personal opinions about me. I remember now why I blocked you.

          • Max Doubt

            “FYI: I’m really not interested in your personal opinions about me. I remember now why I blocked you.”

            Hey, I can’t blame you for turning and running. After all, here you are repeatedly asking for explanations that are actually being offered, at length, while you willfully ignore them. That probably makes you feel pretty silly.

          • Kevin K

            You’re not looking at “the evidence”. You are inserting your presupposition into observations about the universe. That’s exactly the opposite of looking at “the evidence”.

            You could make an identical claim that the normal laws of physics are caused by the god Shiva, by the Titans, by Yahweh, by aliens, by unicorns….or my favorite, by interdimensional alien monkeys who shat the universe into existence out of their red monkey butts.

            There is precisely and exactly the same amount of evidence for each of those propositions — zero. You’re just choosing the one you’re more comfortable with and declaring victory.

            Sorry. Science doesn’t work like that. You have to disprove the null hypothesis, which in this case “no god exists”. And you can’t do that. No one can. Until you get there, your assertions are meaningless.

            And we’re done here. I have better things to do with my time than argue with a presuppositionalist who doesn’t even know the first basics of the subject he’s expounding on.

          • Max Doubt

            “I said we all have the exact same evidence, but that people come to different conclusions. I’m trying to understand why that is.”

            I explained it to you above (or below depending on how your Disqus comments get sorted).

    • Max Doubt

      “I can agree that it’s a conclusion, but is it really based on a lack of evidence? Don’t we all have the exact same evidence?”

      Yes. And when it comes to claims that gods exist, none of us have any objective evidence to support the notion.

      “If you think about it, […] One person examine at all of that and conclude that there is a God. Another can conclude that there isn’t.”

      Atheists conclude that so far there is no objective distinction between the universe as if no gods exist and the universe as if it were occupied by or under the influence a god. The atheists conclude that so far there is no substantive difference between what people believe to be gods and any other figments of their imaginations. On the other hand, those who believe gods do exist do so in spite of their inability to even objectively define the entities.

      “I would say that Christianity is a conclusion – a conclusion based on the evidence.”

      When atheists talk about a lack of evidence, keep in mind we’re talking about objective evidence. Gods can’t be weighed or measured, and they take up no space. They don’t emanate or absorb any light, heat, or other radiation. They don’t attract or repel by gravity or magnetism. They don’t do anything at all outside of the heads of the individuals who believe they exist. And inside those people’s heads, in their individual imaginations, no two of those gods are the same.

      “I agree with you that atheism is a conclusion, but wouldn’t it also be a conclusion based on that same evidence rather than based on a lack of evidence?”

      No. You’re using “evidence” and “conclusion” in slightly different ways than we are. We’re talking about objective evidence and tentative conclusions.

      What you call evidence, the stuff that supports your belief in gods, we atheists reject because it’s not objective. We reject it because if you applied your standard of evidence to other claims for the existence of any other thing, you’d have virtually no filter to sort what is real from what exists only in your mind. We reject it because what god believers consider evidence is almost entirely built on arguments from incredulity and ignorance and various related fallacies.

      So on the issue of evidence, it can be said atheists have come to their conclusion based on a lack of objective evidence, and that god believers reach their conclusion without concern for what we can objectively demonstrate to be true.

      Also, the atheists’ conclusion is implicitly tentative. Bring on some objective evidence, something we can measure or weigh, some method to distinguish the thing you call a god from any other figment of your imagination, and we’ll be all about modifying our conclusions. Science is a process, ongoing, and the only reliable way we have to determine what is real or true. It’s that scientific tentative conclusion we’re talking about.

      “I was just wondering if you could clear up that last part for me. Thanks for your story. I certainly agree that Christians and atheists need to have more civilized discussions.”

      When you’re involved in discussions with people who don’t accept your claim that gods exist or that some kind of god character or entity has some influence over the workings of the universe, be prepared to objectively demonstrate that’s true. Or stop talking as if it is. That right there can help you be more civilized in your discussions with atheists.

    • lynus55

      You are ignoring the fact that one of those conclusions is 100% wrong. that is the difference.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    You didn’t mention, was this ELCA or some other Lutheran sect (synod)?

    The Christian woman, on the other hand, despite being a former atheist, was fairly dismissive of atheism. She mentioned that atheism had an attraction because it meant there was no one to answer to and that life was meaningless.

    I will say, if that is how she feels, then I am glad she is not an atheist any more. Seriously, if you want to be atheist because it means you don’t have to answer to anyone, then I would prefer you didn’t. I would consider you a really bad atheist, and frankly, don’t want to be associated with you.

    And if you think that life is meaningless as an atheist, then, that’s not a real selling point. Find something that gives your life meaning, then. I hope you can find meaning as a theist, but I don’t share your view. My life is anything but meaningless.

    the Christian woman suggested that Christianity was the source of morality in the world.

    Nothing needs to be said about this lunacy.

    Man, this woman is supposed to be a good example of someone who converted from atheism to Christianity? If I were a Christian, I would be horrified. Wow, this woman is a piece of work. The implication that she has no moral compass without God, and that she saw lack of a moral source as a benefit? I’m glad she has found something to provide her with that guide, but that means nothing for us who don’t have that problem. Christianity is the crutch for people who lack their own morals? Great lesson.

    I used to be interested in hearing the testimony of people who “converted” from atheism to Christianity. But after hearing more than a few, I discovered that the one thing they have in common is that they are all lousy atheists. I mean, I’m surprised she didn’t haul out Pascal’s wager. If you think you can’t have morals if you are an atheist, or think that Pascal’s wager is a legitimate argument for God, then you are a pretty lame-ass atheist. Take your weak thinking and become a theist. Please.

    • Kevin K

      There is some fascinating literature in the sociology realm about conversion experiences. People have them all the time — going from being unbelievers to believing in Christianity, Hare Krishna, $cientology … whatever. The experience is quite reproducible, and you can even map it on functional MRI imaging.

      And I think one of the principles for a certain subset of people is that whatever cult they convert to, it’s something that gives structure to an otherwise unstructured life. You see this particularly in the case of alcoholics/drug addicts who transfer their addictive focus to the cult. So, these people quite literally “need” the cult to protect them from their own addictive behaviors. (Which I don’t view as “immoral” per se, but could lead to immoral acts through lying, stealing, etc.)

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        And you know, if these people say, “I had a personal revelation that made me convert” I wouldn’t argue. The problem with that situation is that it is only applicable to that single person, and can be used against others. It belies their motives. It’s not about “here’s what made me convert,” it’s “here’s why you should convert, too.”

        If the reason you converted was because God opened your eyes, that means nothing to me until God opens MY eyes. And it puts the conversion in God’s hands, not mine.

        • Kevin K

          That’s a good point. And, in addition, I’ll pile on by noting that the conversion experience reported by newly minted Christians, Muslims, Hindi, Buddhists, Hare Krishna, $cientologists, and every other cult looks exactly the same.

          If there were just one true god or one true path, this wouldn’t be the case. There would only be one conversion experience directed at the “true” one.

          So, like you, I don’t denigrate their experience. Because it’s very real and powerful (neurochemically based). The problem is attributing that experience to an external “whatever”.

  • DogGone

    2016??Come on

    • ??

      • DogGone

        The most recent comment here is from 3 years ago. I don’t understand how posts are chosen for the splash page. ” encourage all of my readers to stay up to date”–it isn’t your fault. I’m sure you would like people to read this older post. I don’t know about others, but I prefer fresh pieces with new community interaction.

        • I wasn’t aware this post was on any splash page. I don’t control that.

          • DogGone

            Nods, I know. As I said, it wasn’t your fault. I’m irritated with Patheos, not you 🙂