Sam Harris Asks Questions Jordan Peterson Can’t Answer

Sam Harris Asks Questions Jordan Peterson Can’t Answer July 23, 2018
[Update, 7/30: Wow, that escalated quickly! If you enjoy this, see my follow-up piece here, in which I start answering some of Sam Harris’s questions. Thanks for reading!]


[Update, 9/15: Both Harris and Peterson have now released all the debates on their official channels. Click here for Night One and here for Night Two. See also unofficial links to Dublin here and London here.]


To say Jordan Peterson has had a busy summer would be an understatement. His book tour has taken him around the country and the world, peppered throughout with multiple interviews and other appearances. Those of us who have stuck with him since his initial viral rise have been all too happy to gobble up the new content, though we do wonder when the man has found time to sleep. Among these numerous appearances, perhaps his most anticipated have been a series of debates with Sam Harris.

Wikimedia commons/Gage Skidmore

Sam Harris is a name some Christian readers may feel they haven’t heard in a while. He burst onto the scene in 2004 as the youngest of the infamous “Four Horsemen” (together with Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens). Books like The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation were hailed glowingly as “a sustained nuclear assault” and “a breath of fresh fire” against the plague of religion, including Judeo-Christian religion.

But if the Four Horsemen were a band, we’d say they broke up a long time ago. Hitchens is dead, Dennett is old, and Dawkins was last seen wondering whether maybe we should de-stigmatize cannibalism. Harris, on the other hand, has launched a successful solo career, including but not limited to developing his own theory of morality, networking with free speech and anti-Islam activists, and offering meditation workshops. For the most part, these enterprises have run on parallel tracks to the critique of Judeo-Christian ideas in particular.

However, with the rise of Jordan Peterson, Judeo-Christian ideas are getting a new lease on life, if not in an orthodox sense, at least in a sense that still makes Sam Harris uncomfortable. It bothers Sam intensely that Peterson could sell out a theater multiple nights in a row for an in-depth lecture series on the book of Genesis. It bothers him that Peterson doesn’t dismiss Christianity as primitive Stone Age thinking. It bothers him, because it shows that for all the Horsemen’s yeomanly efforts, the Bible still hasn’t been relegated to the dustbin of history. And the effects are making themselves felt within his very own fan base, causing one YouTuber to ask in so many words “Is Sam Harris Losing his Audience to Jordan Peterson?”

But Harris is a fairly equable conversation partner, and the fact that he and Peterson have recently been thrown together in the strange conglomerate known as “The Intellectual Dark Web” has made it inevitable that they would meet formally to hash these questions out. Harris and Peterson met in four debates total this month, including two held in Vancouver and two held in the British isles. Diverging from the opening statement/cross-examination/rebuttal format of a typical debate, they functioned more as free-wheeling dialogues, occasionally punctuated by contributions from a moderator (in Vancouver, evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein did the honors, while in Dublin and London they were joined by British journalist Douglas Murray, on whom more anon).

All four were sold out and professionally filmed, but to the ire of many fans (and the openly expressed disapproval of Bret Weinstein himself), producer Travis Pangburn has chosen to delay their release until August. Fortunately, bootleg audio of the debates has surfaced on YouTube. They might not be there for long, but meanwhile, I’ve listened to all four and found them to be a rich vein of discussion material. For Harris to have emerged as a challenger to Peterson is not something I would have predicted. But their live fencing matches have fascinatingly and tellingly exposed the fault lines in both men’s thinking. They are a must-hear for any Christian who wants to understand our culture’s spiritual zeitgeist, not only for what Harris and Peterson are bringing to the table, but for how the crowd is reacting to them.

So, while Pangburn dawdles, let’s discuss.

First of all, in case any confusion still remains (and in some circles apparently it does), it should be emphasized that while Peterson functions as the avatar of religion in these debates, the jury is still out for him on the truth claims of Christianity proper. He is a thoroughgoing pragmatist in the technical sense that if you’ve found an idea that seems to work in your everyday life, the mere fact that the idea works makes it true. Thus, when he observes that he cannot help resorting to religious language when dealing with his clinical patients, or that Christianity seems to be the engine that has historically kept Western civilization from descending into nihilism, as far as he is concerned this makes Christianity true. Or at least, true enough.

If that strikes you as a rather alien definition of “truth,” Sam Harris agrees with you, and I agree with Sam Harris. To speak truthfully, in the classical understanding, is to say of what is that it is and of what is not that it is not. In modern parlance, we would call this the “correspondence theory” of truth. It’s the only logically sustainable theory.

But Peterson is not so much concerned with logical sustainability. He’s concerned with sustainability, period. And he believes we have already seen what happens when atheists behave in consistently logical fashion. For him, the path of truth is synonymous with the path that takes Western civilization as far away from the gas chambers and the gulags as possible.

Here is where Harris raises his hand to protest that this is rather insulting, considering he’s written a whole book developing an atheistic framework for morality. If only enough people would just be reasonable and buy it (pun intended), we could have our cake and eat it too. Imagine no gas chambers, no gulags, and no God. It’s easy if you try. Needless to say, Peterson is unconvinced.

But now here’s the question of the hour: What are we talking about when we talk about God?

Sam Harris has had his answer since 2004: God is a personal entity, outside space-time yet able to intervene in human affairs. God is a Being to whom one could pray, and from whom one could expect to receive an answer. Sam Harris, of course, does not believe in such a God. But he knows whom he has not believed.

There was a time not so long ago when Jordan Peterson’s answer was more or less equally clear. As recently as half a year ago, when a reporter asked “Are you a Christian? Do you believe in God?” he answered, “I think the proper response to that is no, but I’m afraid He might exist.” This is the voice of Jordan Peterson, the modern man, articulating if not a properly atheistic response, at least a recognizably agnostic one.

But lately, he has been less forthcoming, asking what the questioner means by “God” and “belief.” At times he has appeared downright testy. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Sam Harris, who wonders why Peterson can’t just unequivocally say “No,” like every other sophisticated person in Sam’s world. All right then, he asks Peterson in Vancouver, night one, what do you mean by God?

Jordan obliges, with a volley of definitions: “God is how we imaginatively and collectively represent the existence of an action of consciousness across time.” “God is that which eternally dies and is reborn in the pursuit of higher being and truth.” “God is the highest value in the hierarchy of values.” “God is the voice of conscience.” “God is the source of judgment, mercy, and guilt.” “God is the future to which we make sacrifices.”

An intriguing volley, to be sure. But not quite what Sam Harris is talking about when he talks about God. It’s all very well to talk about the utility of a God-concept. The problem for Harris is that civilized people in the 21st century still believe in a magical man in the sky. And they still believe in a magical man who performed miracles and rose from the dead. To kick off the London debate, Harris takes a straw poll of people in the audience (about 10,000 strong), to see what percentage believes in a personal, prayer-answering, living and active god. He then points at the ones who cheered affirmatively and turns to Peterson: “This is my concern.”

In Vancouver, night one, Harris zeroes in on the resurrection. Surely, as a man of science, Peterson can at least acknowledge that the resurrection probably didn’t happen? Surely this is the lowest of all possible bars for a modern man to clear? The ensuing exchange is fascinating:

Harris: “Let’s put this probabilistically. Anything is possible. I’ll tell you that it’s possible that he was physically resurrected.”

Peterson: “Well wait a second, I didn’t say that he was. I said it would take me 40 hours to answer the question. I didn’t say that he was.”

Harris: “Well how’s this for an answer: Almost certainly not.”

[loud applause]


Harris again: “What’s wrong with that?”

[more applause and some laughter as Peterson pauses]


Peterson [testily]: “It’s a fine answer, and people have been giving that answer for a very long period of time. But the idea doesn’t seem to go away.”

Harris: “And that’s evidence of what, exactly?”

Peterson: “I don’t know.”

Aye, there’s the rub. Peterson is a man in two minds. He is two men in one man: There’s Jordan Peterson, the man who feels in every fiber of his being that we are more than merely material, that we have souls (whatever this means), that we are made in the image of God (whatever this means), and that the only way through life is to imitate Christ (whatever this means). And then there’s Jordan Peterson, the man of science, the man of hard data and experimentation and evidence, who told a journalist he left the church in his teens for “the reasons that everyone’s leaving.” This is the Jordan Peterson who finally does say in so many words to Sam, “I mean, I’m perfectly aware that making a deistic case or a case for religion in the face of the rationalist atheists is…well, it’s a very, very difficult thing to manage.”

It is telling that when Harris mockingly compares belief in God to a belief in Batgirl or astrology in these debates, Jordan’s immediate reaction is not to protest that this is a category error, but to say Batgirl and astrology aren’t as silly as all that. Indeed, the make-believe games of children and the make-believe games of adults are all equally fascinating, provided you view them all as manifestations of the same unfathomably deep psycho-evolutionary phenomena.

But, Harris protests, we are children no more. We must become men and put away childish things. We must, to the best of our ability, live as integrated beings. And we must respect the man in the crowd enough to tell him he’s wrong, instead of implying that “stupid people still need their myths.” This is the part where Peterson interjects, “We’re all stupid.” “We’re not that stupid,” Sam fires back. We’ve kept up this charade of Santa Claus in the sky long enough. It’s time to break the spell. It’s time to wake up.

Here, a third player enters the stage: the aforementioned Douglas Murray, who sits literally and figuratively between Harris and Peterson in the British debates. Harris tells the audience that they would be gravely mistaken to view Murray as a mere third wheel for the main event. He’s right. A verbal wunderkind, Murray wrote a biography in his teens, wrote a book-length defense of neo-conservatism in his 20s, and has established himself as a world-class authority on international politics, with particular emphasis on Islam and immigration. For a sample of his formidable oratory talents, look no further than this blistering speech on the prospect of a nuclear Iran, delivered when he looks to have been roughly my age. Murray is still only 39 years old.


If you examine Murray’s work, you will see that in his genteel British way, he has been saying many of the same things Peterson is saying. On his side of the pond, he sees how Islam has rushed into the hollowed-out corpse of European Christendom. He sees that nature abhors a vacuum, and for a continent to lose its faith has been to lose everything. So when European parents reflect that maybe church and Christian school would be “good for the kids,” Murray isn’t inclined to argue with them. Indeed, he is inclined to think that even a watered-down, cultural Christianity may be the last bulwark between Europe and its death, be it death by Islam or death by assisted suicide.

So yes, Sam Harris is welcome to trot out his moral landscape and assure us, like the meme, “This is fine.” But as Murray puts it in one of the UK debates, “We’d love for it to be Sam Harrises all the way down. The problem is that underneath Sam Harris, it’s hell.”

Yet, if you ask Murray what he personally believes, he will tell you that of course, a perfectly rational man can’t really be a Christian any more. That spell broke for him long ago, when he discovered how German higher criticism had (he thought) decisively disqualified the Bible as a source of reliable truth claims. In the article where he first “came out” atheist, he recalls how his younger, painfully devout Anglican self tried to wade through this scholarship and put it aside with a shudder. He never looked back. Once you’ve learned Santa Claus isn’t real, you can’t unlearn it.

Now ten years on from that article, Murray speaks with the voice of an older and wiser man, a man who’s simply too tired to muster his old callow insouciance about religion. The glibness of the New Atheists is cold comfort to him. It’s all very well for Richard Dawkins to announce that science has “solved” everything. But as Murray devastatingly writes in his book The Strange Death of Europe, “…[M]ost of us still do not feel solved. We do not live our lives and experience our existence as solved beings.” (p. 267) The pat evolutionary narrative tells us one thing. Intuition tells us another thing. It tells us we are more than mere animals, mere cogs in the wheel. “We know we are something else, even if we do not know what that else is.”

And right there in a nutshell, Murray captures why Sam Harris is losing his audience to Jordan Peterson: People are tiring of glib. They have a need that is unmet, a void that is unfilled. And, as Peterson bluntly informs Harris on stage in London, watered-down Buddhism isn’t going to fill it.

But I would like to give Sam Harris his due. Setting aside the fact that no materialist truly practices what he preaches, at least his sermon has a point: We were not made to be split beings. We were not made to stake ourselves on blind faith. Our hearts and minds, our instincts and our knowledge, are meant to be aligned.

Jordan Peterson cannot offer such an alignment. But Christians can. More specifically, Christians prepared to give a rational answer for the hope that is in them. Christians prepared to stand up and politely demur that the ship of rational faith did not sail with the H. M. S. Beagle, that David Hume and David Strauss were beaten at their own game by their own contemporaries, and that you are quite welcome to approach the Bible as you would approach any historical document, because it is more than equal to the scrutiny.

This is not a sexy thing to say. It’s not a popular thing to say. It requires patience and time. It requires that we go back to the stack of books that the anguished young Douglas Murray shoved aside for another day. It requires that we take a hard look at the explanatory power of the Darwinian model. It requires that we ask the heirs of Hume just what exactly they mean by “extraordinary evidence.” It requires that we give Sam Harris what he wants when he asks us to put the resurrection probabilistically, which requires that we learn something about probability theory.

Now I say “we,” but I recognize that for many of my Christian readers, this sort of thing is just not your bag. I don’t wish to bind burdens on anyone’s backs. But let me make this appeal, at least: If you are a pastor, or a youth leader, or anyone with any kind of status in your church community, don’t hush people when they come to you with intellectual doubts.

Don’t hush the high-schooler who slides his Bible across your desk and says, “Explain to me why I should believe this book.”

Don’t brush aside the 13-year-old Jordan Peterson in your pew who walks into your office and says, “I’ve read Darwin you know. What’s up?”

You can say they’re being cocky. You can say they’re just making excuses. And maybe you’re right. But maybe you’re wrong—fatally, spectacularly wrong.

And if you can’t answer their questions, seek help from those who can. Say yes when they offer to speak at your church. Say yes when they offer you resources. Don’t shrug them off with a “Thanks, but we’re okay,” because I can assure you that some significant percentage of your young people are not okay. And if you don’t anticipate and repair what cracks are forming now, they may never be whole again.

Sam Harris is right to be worried. He’s right to be nervous. But he’s also right to sense that at the end of the day, Jordan Peterson can’t answer the questions he’s asking. This is not because Jordan Peterson is a con man. He’s simply a man who still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.

As Christians, we have an opportunity to complete the work Peterson has begun, whether he realizes it or not. We have an opportunity to show how the mind’s understanding might meet the heart’s longing. We have an opportunity to point people to the God who gave us faith and reason, and pronounced them both good.

Jordan Peterson has set the ball. It’s up to the Church to spike it.

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  • Valence

    I think Sam’s approach to naturalism has a lot of problems, but there are other stronger versions that rarely get discussed. I personally like Sean Carroll’s poetic naturalism, as it allows us to talk about descriptions on different levels without dragging everything back to particle physics. If physics is all their is, we couldn’t possibly imagine the world in useful ways using particle physics, so our minds build important and valid shortcuts and models on different levels and and scales with varying degrees of accuracy.
    Besides, given physics, we can put the idea to rest that the universe doesn’t have a goal…it’s goal is to maximize chaos (entropy). I’m surprised Jordan hasn’t brought this up yet, maybe he is unaware that entropy gives time it’s arrow.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Yeah, I’m a little bit familiar with Sean Carroll. He doesn’t have a good answer to the cosmological argument though.


    We need meaning in our lives, a sense of purpose that makes life bearable. We have not solved the questions of consciousness, which is very real and stems from our divine nature that is in commune with God. Dr. Peterson gives the world hope, and, Sam Harris takes us down a path of misery. Therein lies the answer….

  • Angela

    I love this article so much. I think that elitist atheists like to think they are so empowered and strong because they don’t need a “crutch” like faith. It’s incredibly prideful, but makes sense if you like to think you are smarter than the vast majority of the world who believes in religion. I will do my part to answer questions of skeptics as best I can, and to seek to understand the deeper truths of God’s Word so I can explain it to others. Thanks for writing!

  • BryantIII

    In the tenth paragraph from the end you wrote,”We were not made to stake ourselves on blind faith.”
    First, I do not accept the premise that faith is blind. Faith is never blind. It is objective in that it requires an object. It is subjective in that it requires a subject.
    Second, Every one has faith, believe or trust. Every one applies a degree of reliability to the evidence whether that evidence is textual or physical. It matters not whether that faith, belief or trust is in science, knowledge, god, no god (a + theos: alpha negative), without god (a + theos: alpha primitive meaning without a visible form of God; Jews and Christians were called “atheists” at one time by the polytheists), polytheists, etc. It is still faith.
    Third, Faith and Knowledge go hand in hand. Both Faith and Knowledge are intuitive, intellectual and experiential. The difference lies in that Knowledge is limited to in time. All we know is what has been revealed from the Past and Present (I am not talking about Special or Supernatural Revelation at this point). Faith, on the other hand, takes what has been revealed from the Past and Present and projects that Knowledge to the Future.
    Fourth, while our Knowledge is limited to what has been revealed, there is still the continual input. This is where Special or Supernatural Revelation comes in. Natural revelation is restricted to the evidences of nature to the omniscience and omnipotence of things eternal, i.e the Godhead. Special Revelation gives the added information needed to address the missing element, Who. In this instance, God.
    Science does not like the idea of God being in the equation of explanation of the world. God is beyond measurement. If God does exist, then there is a God who we are responsible to. Science will not allow that. To do so otherwise, will lead one to a Hell unthinkably horrendous or to a Heaven unthinkably joyous.

  • RobertArvanitis

    “Can’t unlearn Santa Claus…” Yes. Yes you can. When you increase in faith and so come to understand what he means.
    PS: it’s always been age dependent. At 6 you believe in Santa Claus. at 16 you don’t believe in Santa Claus. At 36 you ARE Santa Claus. At 66, you finally look like Santa Claus.

  • @EstherOReilly

    And yet Harris is right in this: As long as what Peterson offers is purely pragmatic it cannot offer ultimate hope. It cannot anchor the self to a saving power beyond self.

  • @EstherOReilly

    Thanks for reading!

  • Roger Morris

    “Sam Harris is a name some Christian readers may feel they haven’t heard in a while.”

    That just shows you what a bubble echo chamber Christians live in. Sam Harris is more popular and successful than ever with a wildly popular podcast “Waking Up”, more books, and is a regular speaker to large audiences around the States and internationally.

    You need to come out from under your rock a little more.

  • Illithid

    I’m not sure what kind of answer the cosmological argument requires. All it says, AFAIK, is that if causation holds prior to the origin of the universe as we know it, then the universe has a cause. Since we can’t currently investigate “before the universe existed” (if that even means anything), we ought to stop there, shrug, and wait for better data. Unless we’re cosmologists or theoretical physicists, in which case we have an interesting problem to tackle, probably for a long time to come.

  • Mike

    Peterson knows the answers, BUT they are unacceptable by the masses, this is why he punts. He knows damn well that “God” concept is a computational “algo”/”pattern” used by the brain to manage system-wife psychological entropy that emerges during “computation” of the “self”‘s future life, as the brain can’t compute past “death” frame. Different people use different “algo’s” to “resolve” system wide psych entropy/anxiety (different approaches to finding meaning in life). Different cogntivie capacity also gives people varying ability to handle the anxiety for longer period of time, thus enabling search for a better “algo” to resolve entropy/”anxiety”. Peterson did studies on psychological entropy (so did Jung), and its thermodynamic/neurobiological correlates. BUT, talking about it will not SOLVE ANYTHING for ANYONE. Thus he must balance the topic, and that he does. Like no one else. More power to him.

  • @EstherOReilly

    The first rule of writing is to know your audience. Clearly *I* don’t live under a rock, else I wouldn’t be turning around an in-depth analysis of bootleg debate audio within less than a week of its leak.

  • @EstherOReilly

    Considering what the universe consists of (including a breathtaking array of intricate, living organisms that manifest evidence of design at multiple levels), I think we can say a bit more about what might have caused it beyond the amorphous “cause.”

  • Peter Phillips

    Still, Harris may be right. Not that I want him to be, but he might be.

  • Peter Phillips

    LOL! I’m 60 and fat. All I need is the beard.

  • David Marshall

    How can one find that God does not exist by studying the human brain? This is a non sequitur.

    I believe in God not because some irrational mechanism in my brain forces me to believe, but because I have run across good evidence and good arguments for His existence, and for the reality of Jesus Christ.

  • Bruce McKay

    @Mike I think the simple response is that Peterson does not know the ‘answers’, and that’s because he knows there are no answers. The map is not the territory.

  • @EstherOReilly

    He’s right, but only partly right. He’s also importantly wrong.

  • Illithid

    Ah, “design”. That indicates that this is going to be either a very long conversation or a very short one. I’m not a biologist, but my B.S. is in biology, and I’ve maintained an interest in the subject over the years. I see no evidence of design in living organisms. If you wish to continue, I’d be interested in what you find the strongest example, and I promise to be polite. If you don’t, I won’t take it amiss.

  • Bruce McKay

    Um, Mr. Morris, maybe it’s your “bubble echo chamber” that is wildly inflating your estimation of his popularity. And how could you possibly make such a sweeping generalisation about “Christians”, especially considering there are well over two billion of them spread throughout the planet. I think you should take your own last line to heart. Cheers.

  • @EstherOReilly

    You’re harshing my mellow, man.

    Genetic code?

  • Illithid

    Though it’s often scorned as a source, I’ll refer you to Wikipedia’s fairly decent article on abiogenesis. In brief, though we have as yet a quite incomplete picture of how it happened, I see no reason not to suppose that the chemistry of life arose by natural processes under the conditions of prebiotic Earth, from complex organic molecules which we have observed to form spontaneously from very simple precursors, and which we can also detect in interstellar space.

    May your mellow return to its previous harmonious state.

  • Dennis Okeefe

    The question of whether God really exists or whether its just beneficial for humanity to believe is essential for real peace of mind but can only be answered individually through deep inner search. The fact that Christianity as well as most other major faiths are in crisis is a clear hint that a newer and more age appropriate revelation may be near. If God exists, surely He is aware of the need and prepared to deliver as has occured about every thousand years. Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad each changed humanitys understanding of the divine. So lets keep our eyes open!

  • Gallowglass

    Brilliant! LOL.

  • SkyLukeWater

    “It’s the only logically sustainable theory.” should read “It’s my only logically sustainable theory.”

  • @EstherOReilly

    Sorry, I just don’t see how you get code from primordial soup. And you’re still pushing back the question of where even your “simple precursors” would have come from. You’re free to believe if you like, but I see plenty of reason for skepticism.

  • FreethinkingWorldGuy

    Interesting article, although the preamble—that is, before getting to debate specifics–was quite long!

    I noticed a few things meriting correction / clarification:

    “…we could have our cake and eat it too.”

    That really should be

    “…eat our cake and have it too.”

    Yes, I know most people state the analogy backwards (as they often do when they say “I could care less”; should be “I couldn’t care less.”), but that doesn’t make it any more correct than maintaining an unconstitutional prayer-in-school practice that’s gone on for decades!

    “Imagine no gas chambers, no gulags, and no God[-beliefs].”

    I never refer to “a person’s god” (as in “With your god…”), because doing so implies acceptance of existence of said god(s)–a bit silly from an atheist’s standpoint! I make an effort to point out that people certainly do possess god-beliefs, but that’s the totality of the existence that we can all agree on. Using language that implies god-existence isn’t appropriate—especially in the context of articles like this.

    “The problem for Harris is that civilized people in the 21st century still believe in a magical man in the sky.”

    This makes it sound like Harris’ problem. I’d suggest “The problem Harris identifies is that…” Or if the author isn’t speaking from an AFAH position (atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, and humanists) position and seeks to treat Harris without undue bias, “The problem Harris perceives is that…”

    “He [Murray] sees that nature abhors a vacuum…”

    Intriguing! Although that said, the vastness of space–that is, most of the universe as we know it–is a vacuum.

    “…and for a continent to lose its faith has been to lose everything.”

    First off, continents don’t lose their faith, but more importantly, it’s better to qualify as in “lose *religious* faith.” To the point, AFAH people DO have faith; the difference is, they place ALL of
    theirs in fellow human beings, with NONE to spare for supernatural beliefs. Another way the intent could have been stated is “… a whole continent’s population trading in religious faith for
    reason.” (… or from a positive rather than negative / losing position: “finding reason.”)

    “But I would like to give Sam Harris his due. Setting aside the fact that no materialist truly practices what he preaches…”

    Okay, that just sounds like a backhanded slap, couched as a complement.

    I’ll just end on a positive note and agreement with the author on this healthy concept:

    “… let me make this appeal, at least: If you are a pastor, or a youth leader, or anyone with any kind of status in your church community, don’t hush people when they come to you with intellectual doubts.”

  • FreethinkingWorldGuy

    Careful with characterizations like “elitist atheists.” That sounds like stereotyping.

    What makes an atheist “elitist”? Fame / popularity? Money? I qualify as an “atheist”, and I appreciate the point that religion(s) can serve as a “crutch”. And, I feel a certain degree of “empowerment” and strength as a freethinker. But none of those things make me an elitist.

    “I will do my part to answer questions of skeptics as best I can…”

    On that, I applaud you for your openness to discussion.

  • FreethinkingWorldGuy

    Well then, don’t ask Santa for a razor!!! (-:

  • Bill Pavuk

    I have read and like a lot of what Jordan Petersen has to say. I was recently watching some interviews with him where is ideas were very compelling, very interesting. But then, he got on the subject of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. He surmised that since anthropologically speaking, make-up for women is about stimulating physical attraction from others, a woman who wears make-up cannot rightly say that she did not invite sexual advances from others and that therefore sexual harassment in the workplace is not a real thing. I sat slack-jawed at this idea, disturbed at his version of “logic.” That said, I look forward to having a look at the conversations between him and Sam Harris.

  • FreethinkingWorldGuy

    “We need meaning in our lives, a sense of purpose that makes life bearable.”

    Sounds reasonable. I believe that human beings are pre-wired with a strong instinct for survival–and not just of ourselves or even limited to others of our own species; other life forms too–which itself serves as a basic and fundamental purpose. We are products of millions of years of evolution; amazing stuff!

    “We have not solved the questions of consciousness, which is very real…”

    I can go along with that to some extent.

    “…and stems from our divine nature that is in commune with God.”

    Okay, that’s your personal belief. I don’t buy it.

    “Dr. Peterson gives the world hope, and, Sam Harris takes us down a path of misery.”

    By this, are you equating atheism with misery? Sorry, but that’s a no-go. Also, religious beliefs are not required to possess hope.

    And further, Harris actually GIVES me hope: The sooner we migrate away from religious beliefs and come together to address serious, life- and planet-threatening problems (like our own out-of-control population growth, global warming, cancer, etc.) the better chance we–and other species on this blue gem of a planet we call “Earth”–will have for long-term survival.

    While I am generally a live-and-let-live kind of person who treasures things like religious freedom and equality under the law, and beyond obvious kinds of issues and conflicts that often come with religions (e.g. wars, second-classing of citizens, female mutilation practices, etc.), I am concerned that religion-subscribers tend to be quick to ignore global issues that we need to be focused on–together and collectively.

  • lewlorton

    This is just a modern version of ‘I don’t know X, therefore god’.

  • Jeff

    Is this really considered a debate? The fact is that religion is based exclusively on faith and rejects evidence and so believers can, and do, make anything up to support their argument; Religious people have the conundrum in which they are forced to prove the existence of god, which is not possible because religion is based on faith. The biggest problem for religious people is the fact that religions exist, not one reality that would exist if there was a god. The argument about different worldviews creating different religions about god is specious, it is simply a rationalization offered to avoid the conflicts between religions that couldn’t exist if god existed.

    Religion exists because of our minds, we are evolved animals and have an innate worldview based on family and religion is simply an extrapolation of our evolved nature. Enough of the empty philosophy, prove that god exists.

  • Fartrell Cluggins

    His ideas like those are what put up all the red flags, while also enlightening me as to why he’s so popular with today’s alt-right and other lost males. They feel attacked (because they’re told they are by their bubble media) and are looking to lash out and seek guidance. Peterson seems to be a father figure, and they gobble up and believe everything he says.

    He’s very disingenuous when it comes to speech, he loves to pick %0.01 of the kooks on the left and attribute those wackdoodle ideas and words spoken to the entire left, and once again, his followers eat it up like gospel. The cult of personality is thriving like never before in America, and it’s very worrying.

    I realize this post was kind of a tangent, but your post nailed it and inspired me to post. We are in a scary time where hardly anyone is taught to think anymore, they just want to be told how to think. It all leads to where we are now, and it’s all downhill from here.

  • Valence

    Let’s say there is a first cause. Do we have good reason to think it is an intelligent entity?
    Fine tuning is interesting, but I’m not convinced the universe is fine tuned for life, considering how rare life is.

    I’m sure we could find common ground on anti-theists who are comically dogmatic and much like the Christian fundamentalists they despise. Intellectual humility is everyone’s friend.

  • Valence

    As long as you stick with “might” I’m perfectly fine with it. I like the Spinozan conception of God myself, and it seriously inspired Albert Einstein. Of course his theology led to serious scientific errors (per his own later admission) including his assumption the universe is static, and his certainty that “God doesn’t play dice”.

  • Valence

    I’m an atheist, but I see arguments about design applying to the nature of reality itself that led to life in the first place. Even evolution finds optimal solutions to problems via evolutionary convergence. We also know from physics that the universe has a goal of sorts, to maximize entropy. Entropy maximization gives time it’s arrow, and is our best explanation of why life exists in the first place. The universe might be like this because it must be, but the idea of a cosmic designer isn’t preposterous, it just isn’t parsimonious.

  • @EstherOReilly

    You keep using this word “faith.” I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • Valence

    You might be interested in my response above. Abiogenesis does not preclude a cosmic designer. It does call into question a designer that meddles in his creation.
    I’m fascinated by the concept of design and creation (I’m an engineer) but I would argue having to meddle and “Fox” your creation indicates you made a mistake in the original design. God wouldn’t make mistakes.

  • @EstherOReilly


  • Illithid

    I agree it’s not preposterous, just not indicated. I’d also be wary of describing the universe as having a “goal”. Anthropomorphic terminology is inherently misleading, though it’s a bias that’s built into our language and difficult to avoid. Cool article.

  • Valence

    I think faith can be a very good thing, and it need not be tied to dogmatism and certainty of belief. When someone starts a business, they do it knowing (if they are intelligent) more new businesses fail than succeed, but they have faith that they could succeed despite the odds. If you have faith in religious axioms that might be true, but that faith inspires you to make the world a better place, I don’t see how this can be anything but positive. Faith in the wrong things can be quite negative, however.

  • Valence

    I agree we must be careful with anthropomorphic terminology, and if a cosmic designer does exist, I don’t see any good reason such a “thing” (not sure the right word to use) would be anything like homo sapiens, perhaps other than our ability to create in very limited ways.
    Of course I am a proponent of an often under used and acknowledged theory of truth called the pragmatic theory of truth. This theory does not replace correspondence theory, but it’s an important supplement that is much more applicable to evolution and much of reality than correspondence theory. Under pragmatic theory, things are true if they accomplish their intended goal. Thus goal placement and conception is necessary to understand anything under pragmatism.
    Calling the increasing entropy a goal isn’t trivial, as it’s goal that gives rise to all other goals, including evolutionary goals (replication and reproduction utilize more energy and increase total entropy in the universe). Evolutionary goals give rise to human goals, and we are certainly increasing entropy at an unprecedented rate. It’s certainly nothing like what theists think the universe is for, but there is a pretty fascinating nesting of functional (nonanthropomorphic) goals that’s fascinating.
    Jordan Peterson seems to be largely using the pragmatic theory of truth without telling people that’s what he’s using….I’m not sure why. Maybe he doesn’t know enough philosophy/epistemology to know the theory has a name, and is particularly interesting to someone like me (an engineer) who deals primarily in pragmatic truth. My designs are “true” when they accomplish their purpose….but many designs can be “true” (making it a somewhat relativistic form of truth, but certainly not self-refuting relativism). I view religion through this lens…it’s pragmatic beliefs to help social cohesion and reduce group fighting (I can back this up with a ton of science).

  • C_Alan_Nault

    ” I will do my part to answer questions of skeptics as best I can, and to seek to understand the deeper truths of God’s Word so I can explain it to others.”

    Can you define what you mean by the word god?

  • Illithid

    The simple precursors are chemicals such as methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and water. They form from elements like carbon, hydrogen, oxgen, and nitrogen. They form because they are more energetically stable than their constituents. For example, the net binding energy of 2 (CH4) [2 methane molecules] is greater than that of C2 + 4H2 [1 carbon and 4 hydrogen molecules], which means that energy is released during that reaction, so it will occur spontaneously when those species are present. And the atoms themselves come from supernovae (except the hydrogen, which was present prior to stellar formation).

    The word “code” is unfortunately misleading. It’s an analogy used by DNA researchers, but it doesn’t mean that it’s really a code, any more than the “voice of the wind” is really a voice speaking a language. DNA is a very complicated molecule that catalyzes its own replication, more stably than did the RNA that (probably) preceded it. We do not know everything about how it works, and our picture of how it came to be is far from complete. However, our ignorance on the subject does not warrant the assumtion of agency in the process, any more than our ignorance of geology warranted the assumption that volcanic eruptions were due to the anger of the god Vulcan.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    ” We have not solved the questions of consciousness, which is very real and stems from our divine nature that is in commune with God. ”

    That statement makes no sense.

    First you say we have not solved the questions of consciousness. ( as an aside, what exactly are these questions you speak of?)

    Then you say “which is very real “… I agree with that part of your statement.

    Then you make a claim you present no proof for & say it stems “from our divine nature that is in commune with God. “.

    Can you prove we have a divine nature?

    Can you prove this alleged divine nature comes from a god?

  • Valence

    I’m an atheist, but I haven’t paid much attention to Sam for quite a while. He is a decent guy, but I think he makes some serious errors on philosophy. For example, he mixes levels of description when it comes to free will, and mangles the topic. I prefer Sean Carroll’s approach to naturalism, and he ends up making a fool at of Sam because Sam keeps pressing him on Free Will. It’s worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. At least Sam argues in good faith, and I find his exploration of some topics interesting….but there is better stuff out there. More should be doing podcast/youtube stuff like him, however. Of course, the hard core intellectuals are usually busy doing other things (like Sean Carroll doing theoretical physics research). Dan Dennett schooled Sam on free will a while back…but Sam never updated his beliefs. Some of Sam’s inferences from neuroscience are pretty unwarranted as well, in my book. Like Peterson, he’s interesting but I find myself disagreeing quite a bit (part of the point, probably).

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “You keep using this word “faith.” I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    In the dictionary, the word faith has several definitions.

    The definition that matches the religious meaning of faith is:

    Strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.


    a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
    b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof

  • Valence

    It isn’t that science doesn’t “like” the idea of God, it’s just completely out of the philosophical bounds of what we call science, given the axioms of science. It’s truly our most impressive branch of knowledge, but it can’t answer how things should be, and there are all kinds of important forms of knowledge (like engineering in my case). Philosophy is at the top of the tree of knowledge, course, but lack of consensus in philosophy can be pretty disheartening.
    Oh, and if you are wrong and Muslims are right…you are going to hell anyone. I look at that as a pretty effective trick to motivate moral behavior. Even having an eye on the wall motivates moral behavior. In general religion seems to be evolutionary adaptive and lot’s of the “tricks” in religion have pragmatic explanations. Jesus’s message of love, forgiveness, and self sacrifice is particularly powerful, as self sacrifice in a group tends to motivate more self sacrifice and altruism.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “I think faith can be a very good thing,”

    Not in the religious sense. In religion, faith is a belief that is not based on proof.

    Using a chair as an example for faith I can present the following secnarios.

    Non-religious use of faith:

    Knowing what a chair is & having sat in chairs before, I can see a chair & after a cursory examination decide to sit down on it because I have faith it will support my weight. If the chair breaks under my weight, I will NOT say it was because my faith was weak.

    Religious use of faith:

    Believing a chair exists despite the fact that I cannot prove it exists & cannot define what I mean by the word chair. Not seeing a chair, I have faith there is one there & I have faith it will support me. When I attempt to sit in the chair I cannot see, if I fall to the ground I will assume it is because my faith was weak.

  • Valence

    I’m an atheist, but agree that too many atheists are incredibly narcissistic and prideful, as you. I try to avoid pride…but it tempts us all. Part of human nature. Of course having no self-esteem comes with it’s own set of problems. Balance is needed.

  • Illithid

    Not a fan of this pragmatic theory. We already have a perfectly suitable word for what this theory calls “true”; the word is “useful”. Religion may have been useful at one time as a means to promote social cohesion. It still has good aspects. I think that as our answers to certain existential questions are influenced by our worldview, it becomes more of a hinderance to believe large-scale falsehoods about the world. For example, a civilization-ending asteroid impact is a real threat. The idea that we are being watched and cared for by a being who controls our fate, and whose will would dictate whether we experience catastrophe, would tend to dissuade us from taking action to abate that threat. That didn’t matter when the horse collar was the hot new thing in technology, but it does now.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    People who believe a god exists think they can have their cake & eat it too even if it is not there.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    Can you define what you mean by the word god?

  • C_Alan_Nault

    Can you present this good evidence so it can be examined?

  • Valence

    I think the problem of consciousness, at least the hard problem (not soft problems) is unsolvable for boring technical reasons. Basically, any study of reality must be objective by it’s very nature, especially science, but consciousness is inherently subjective. It might literally be impossible to study and explain something inherently subjective with inherently objective tools. I got this argument from Thomas Nagel, and it’s pretty compelling. It could be wrong, of course, but it’s quite logical.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Every one has faith, believe or trust”

    The difference between non-religious faith & religious faith can be considered this way.

    Non-religious faith would be having faith that a chair I have never sat on before will support my weight.

    Religious faith would be having faith a chair that isn’t there will support my weight.

  • Valence

    I’m a humanist, but I view humanism to be fundamentally religious in nature, given a functional definition of religion. Sure it’s cleaned up and has no need of the supernatural, but I can’t prove it’s axioms to be true any more than most religions can. Have you read Yuval Harari’s work? He makes compelling case that humanism is the functionally dominant religion today, but it will likely lead to serious contradictions as we progress with things like the Gilgamesh project.

    I’ll link the two books he wrote, in case you are interested.

    I’m also kind of a futurist, and have a sort of “faith” we will be able to save ourselves from calamities we are creating like climate change via technology. That faith is what drove me to study science, engineering, and technology. I’d argue my religion is better than others, but I still view it as a religious competition of sorts.

  • Valence

    Religious use of faith: Donating your hard earned money to helping the poor….if they are actually following Jesus’s teachings.

    Evidence to support the idea:

    Even heaven and hell motivate behavior…I just think that trick is unethical. It’s easy to see why it developed though. Only works if you believe it, of course.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Religious use of faith: Donating your hard earned money to helping the poor”

    Except that atheists can & do also donate money to help the poor. Faith is not required to donate money to help the poor.

    “Even heaven and hell motivate behavior…I just think that trick is unethical. It’s easy to see why it developed though. Only works if you believe it, of course.”

    Heaven & hell are the adult equivalent of “if you are naughty, Santa Claus won’t give you any presents”.

  • Valence

    I didn’t say faith is required to donate, but religious people do, in fact donate more. This would imply religious faith motivates increased donation.
    Religion isn’t supposed to be true in the science sense, it’s adaptive and evolved in a Darwinian sense. Groups with the right combination of motivational myths cooperate better and are more altruistic. Read this excellent book by Jonathan Haidt. Why do you think all cultures have religion?

  • Illithid

    I have not read or even heard of him. I’ll rectify that. I agree that humanism qualifies under some definitions as a religion. We all have unprovable axioms, but I like to think of mine as more “working assumptions”, which emphasizes that they are subject to change given appropriate evidence. My axioms are things like the existence of an objective external universe, and of other cognitive entities.

    I have no faith we’ll save ourselves. I hope we do. I can’t estimate the probability that we will. We’re stubborn survivors, but we’re now busily fouling our nest without yet having the ability to leave it… and the next storm could knock it down anyway. That is a downer aspect of atheism; accepting that the universe could kill us all tomorrow, and that it would neither know nor care. I used to want to colonize space. Then I hoped to retire to an orbital habitat. Now I just hope to see some kind of serious commitment to sustained off-planet human activity before I die. We’ve got half a century, at the outside. The first group to colonize interplanetary space will rule humanity, but I don’t even care who does it: China, the E.U., Brazil, Nigeria. Anyone. We don’t get off this rock, we’re gonna die.

  • @EstherOReilly

    Dude, this street epistemology schtick is kind of thin. And really obvious. Just saying…

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Religion isn’t supposed to be true in the science sense”

    Until a religion can present evidence that it’s deity or deities exist, religions cannot be considered true in any sense.

    “Why do you think all cultures have religion?”

    Fear of death, mainly. After that, hope that while you may have it tough in this life you will have a better existence in an alleged afterlife. After that, hope that people that get away with things in this life will be punished in the afterlife for what they got away with in this life.

    Also religion was a way to get things from people without having to work.

    The following quote is attributed to Mark Twain.

    “Religion was created when the first con man met the first fool.”

  • Lacunaria

    So, under pragmatic truth theory, would you say that it is true that God exists? Would you characterize Peterson as believing that is true?

  • Judgeforyourself37

    The Bible cannot be taken literally. Remember when it was written centuries ago in a male dominated society. So many things that were thought to be true, then, are not today. Such as the Sun revolving around the Earth. Seizures caused by “demons,” is another favorite non-truism.
    If you want someone who will make you feel less like a heathen if you are not a Fundamentalist but have Fundamentalist friends who want to “save your soul for you.” They may insist on telling you that unless “you think as they do” you will go to “Hell.” No, you will not and neither will I.
    Please read a book that was written in 1998. It is by Bishop John Shelby Spong and entitled “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” That book lifted the burden of heathenism off my shoulders. It may do the same for you. They book is out of print but any book store, such as Barnes and Noble can obtain it for you. It is not written in deep theological terms, so that non-clergy can find that book easy to read and uplifting.

  • Dennis Okeefe

    God cannot really be defined adequately by any mental construct. Hence the impossibility of convincing anyone who hasn’t had some experience that subjectively gives them that conviction. God can never be proved or explained but people can and do seek to experience God. That experience occurs beyond the bounds of the intellect which is a hard leap in our rational age. Like anything of value it requires sincere effort to take the step into what could be called post rational mind which will be the next step in human evolution. Not non rational but rational plus. As Jesus said, Seek and you find. The usual methods involve prayer or meditation but asking God in all sincerity from the core of yourself for some proof has also been known to work.

  • Valence

    Think about it this way, if we calculate the probability of our survival as a species as low, we might not be as motivated to save ourselves. If we have faith and try, we have nothing to lose we were already doomed. If we don’t try and were wrong, we would have doomed ourselves by our own miscalculation. Sometimes bias can be rational, given carefully applied pragmatism. I agree an accurate understanding of reality via correspondence theory is critical, imagine me using religious texts to create an automation system design. There is still an intelligent place for pragmatism overlaid on an accurate correspondence theory map of reality.

  • Judgeforyourself37

    God is spirit, an energy force within all humans. Some of us use this energy force and some of us do not. It allows us to accomplish our goals. Some us have lofty goals and some, due to circumstances, have goals that just get them through the day.
    God is not a deity who lives “up there somewhere.” God is that spirit that is in you and around you. When you pray, either for yourself or someone else, you are calling on that spirit to give you or your friend/relative the strength you or they need to get through and perhaps conquer whatever difficult time you or they are facing.
    Heaven and Hell do not exist.
    Our life is here and now, it is not a dress rehearsal. Make the most of it. Do what you can to help others, be compassionate, kind and yes, ambitious. Be good to others but do not completely ignore being good to yourself. Just do not be so good to yourself that you take from others.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “God cannot really be defined adequately by any mental construct. ”

    What are you basing that claim on?

    “Hence the impossibility of convincing anyone who hasn’t had some experience that subjectively gives them that conviction.”

    Hence there is no reason for anyone to believe a god exists, even someone that claims to have subjectively experienced god, since people can misinterpret things & can hallucinate.

    “God can never be proved or explained but people can and do seek to experience God. ”

    People also seek to experience bigfoot, but so far they have come up with no evidence that bigfoot exists.

    “That experience occurs beyond the bounds of the intellect which is a hard leap in our rational age.”

    It is a hard leap because the phrase ” That experience occurs beyond the bounds of the intellect ” is meaningless gibberish.

    You used the term “That experience occurs beyond the bounds of the intellect “. Can you define what you meant?

    “Like anything of value it requires sincere effort to take the step into what could be called post rational mind which will be the next step in human evolution.”

    Another meaningless phrase. Not having presented any evidence that a god exists, assuming this god is of any value is a claim that can be dismissed.

    ” Not non rational but rational plus.”

    Another meaningless term

    You used the term “rational plus”. Can you define what you mean by the term?

    ” As Jesus said, Seek and you find. ”

    Again, another unfounded claim. With no evidence that the Jesus of the Bible existed, anything that is claimed to be something Jesus said is on par with anything said by a character from Lord of the Rings or from the Harry Potter books.

    “The usual methods involve prayer”

    Can you present any evidence that a prayer which required divine intervention has ever been answered? ( in other words, praying to find your lost car keys & then finding them isn’t convincing evidence of an answered prayer)

    “or meditation”

    Meditation is a method of altering your mind state ( as are drugs and alcohol). An altered mind state is not a good rationale to believe that anything the altered mind experiences is valid.

    “but asking God in all sincerity from the core of yourself for some proof has also been known to work.”

    LOL. And can anyone present this proof?

    And let me guess, if someone does try that & gets no proof it is their fault, not god’s.

  • Illithid

    Agreed. Even if the situation seems hopeless, the rational stance is to aknowledge that one’s assessment could be flawed, and try anyway, having nothing to lose. “Faith”, in that sense, might be a functional mental shortcut, particularly if time for contemplation is scarce. Although I don’t think humanity’s situation is hopeless at all… just dire. And when some of our elected decision-makers ignore serious threats because “God promised not to flood the world again”, we need to consider that the usefulness of that particular way of thinking may have run its course.

  • james warren

    Both believers and atheists recognize the supernatural theism at the heart of today’s Christianity. The believer thinks it is factually correct and obvious, while the unbeliever thinks it is nonsense.

    I think they’re both wrong. Metaphor is the only language available to talk about the holy and the sacred–whether you see it in a God of some kind or you recognize it in an Amazon jungle.

    When Christians take their foundational texts literally, they forfeit the great claim and hope of their religions. When atheists take them literally and declare them nonsensical, they forfeit the epic truth of our mysterious and unnamable existence.

  • Wile F. Coyote

    Can you please link to the source which provides data establishiing the per capita breakout of donation rates between religious people and atheists? I hope the statistics cited include percentage of gross income donations from members of the two groups.

    I’m also curious about the data base(s) and methodology utilized to yield this information. [edited a bit for clarity]

  • Wile F. Coyote

    If such a thing as ‘epic truth’ about existence is available, but that epic truth is also mysterious and unnamable, then by definition it is beyond any sort of conciousness/language capacity. It is by your own definition no more likely to be extracted from contemporary texts than from any texts previous, including Iron Age biblical text couched in metaphor and open to vast individual interpretations, but with no means of testing for accuracy about ‘the holy and the sacred’, let alone any amount of veracity re such claims.

  • Gabriel Lyon

    This article is the very problem Sam Harris was talking about. No, the Jury is in on the Bible. Even respected conservative scholars can’t robustly defend the entirety of scripture. This is a losing enterprise and makes Atheists like Harris and myself look at you and shake our heads. We are tired of ungrounded metaphors which are used by Peterson being used as a cover for bad religious ideas. I mean at least have a more liberal theology because the Bible is way too problematic to see it as very authoritative.

    Also if Peterson’s ideas are so far from how Christianity is practiced than isn’t he just as guilty of pleading on behalf of his special interpretation of texts as much as Harris is in his moral theory? Eventually yeah you do have to fight for what you think is true. That’s a strength not a weakness.

  • Gabriel Lyon

    Just look up the size of the waking up podcast. Sam Harris is doing quite well financially. He is faaaar from obscure. New Media is putting up numbers that make traditional media jealous.

  • Gabriel Lyon

    It’s amazing but people don’t know about the richness of the philosophical literature on naturalism defenses/positions and defenses of moral realism.

  • Gabriel Lyon

    Poor atheist here. Christians are the majority in the U.S. Many of us atheists would like a “crutch” but we carry on without it as much as possible because truth matters.

  • Henry

    Why the claim that the “Correspondence Theory of Truth” is the only one that can be logically defended ?

  • Izak Burger

    I’ve been unable to put my finger on what it is that bothers me so much about Peterson. The best I could do (so far) was to say that his very pragmatic sensible and conservative common sense approach seems to have too hard an edge. I get the feeling it lacks the soft edge that I have in the past described as “come as you are”. Peterson says, make your bed in the morning and stand up straight. This is admirable and certainly a good way to attack life, but I get the feeling that we can do one better: Come, all you with unmade beds, …

  • Izak Burger

    Not an expert with this, but I suspect any counter theory would rely on correspondence in itself and obliterate itself in the acid bath of its own claim. But that’s just a guess 🙂

  • Izak Burger

    David is the author of many books… though probably not a household name 🙂

  • Izak Burger

    Yeah, even with the podcasts and things… he doesn’t dominate the conversation as much as he used to 🙂

  • Dr_Grabowski

    Sam Harris, in his book The Moral Landscape tries, but I think fails, to provide an alternate, wholly secular account of morality.

    Harris begins by offering up two examples of contemporary humanity: one is a successful professional, with friends, family and travel. The other, as I recall, is being chased for her life through some hot oppressive jungle. Laying out the foundations of his system, Sam wants us merely to accept that of the two, it’s better to be the person in the first situation, which no serious theist is going to question, all things being equal.

    Got it. It seems, though, that he is using “better” to mean not morally better, but simply “better off”.

    To nail down “better” better, another scenario could be outlined, accepting the same examples Harris offers, what if we, for reasons of our own, deliberately drop off person A in a Boko Haram or ISIS encampment, thus instantly giving them the life and lifestyle of person B?

    Would that be a wrong thing to do ?

    What can “wrong” possibly mean in a universe that is a morally silent, blind swirl of meaningless particles?

    But yes, we need, like Francis Schaeffer, to give honest answers to honest questions.

    My friend Dr. Don Williams says that

    “Francis Schaeffer was right: In the Post-Christian world, lay men and women can no longer afford to remain ignorant of critical issues and questions that used to be the domain only of philosophy majors. The biblical world view can no longer be taken for granted, even by Christians. If we do not all think in terms of world view, that is, think philosophically, we will be able neither to discern the biblical world view, nor to retain it, nor to disciple others in it, nor to communicate it to non-Christians. Not only is the unexamined life not worth living, it is not even possible any more for those who wish to be faithful Christians and faithful witnesses for Christ.”

  • Dennis Okeefe

    Questions lead to more questions in the merry go round of the mind. God is for those who get tired of the round and round and move into the lost and found phase. All I say will seem as nonsense to you as long as you are content in the round and round. If you are content as an atheist, there is no need to change. If you are not content, then you have become a seeker. If that is the case, the best advice I can give is to not seek with the intellect but do so with the heart, which is another word for the higher or more intuitive functioning of mind.

  • Valence

    I agree, and a Christian would argue (especially Catholic) that people aren’t familiar with the wealth of philosophical literature defending Christian theology and thought. Some of it is quite interesting, especially Thomas Aquinas.
    Fun fact, the central Enlightenment principles that drive humanism did come from Christian philosophy, especially natural law philosophy. Atheistic moral realism today is based on the originally Christian concept of natural law. I think it answers the euthyphro dilemma…core moral principles are as transcendent as mathematical properties and are in part explicable via math in fields like game theory. Even if God exists, theists understood that God couldn’t do things that are logically impossible. I would argue it’s logically impossible for a group to be successful if it thought killing innocent people was moral and good.

  • FreethinkingWorldGuy

    Right on! Thank you for the correction. Both words are quite “nice”, but the meaning difference is handled via “i” or “e”. Correction made.

  • Valence

    But it isn’t the only logically defensible one. The problem lies in a false idea that there can only be one kind of truth. I’m an engineer, and I deal in pragmatic truth all the time. Of course I can’t ignore reality via correspondence theory, but when I create a new design to solve a problem, there is nothing in reality that corresponds to the new design…I have to create it. My design is “true” in as much as it serves it’s purpose. Pragmatic theory is quite defensible, but using it to the exclusion of correspondence theory creates serious problems. Trying to live by correspondence theory is impossible, especially if you are creative and goal oriented. I do think the scope of pragmatic truth needs to be carefully limited, however.

  • Valence

    See my post above, pragmatic truth is quite defensible in a limited scope. The idea that there can only be a single valid approach to truth is wrong, from my perspective.

  • FreethinkingWorldGuy

    Yes, and your comment highlights my earlier point that god-believers’ beliefs do exist, whereas existence of any gods is not proven. Extending on this, we are all born atheists, so someone who takes on religious beliefs (“converted”) may or may not keep them. A person who later in life shucks them in favor or reason does not so much “become” an atheist, but “deconverts” (returns) to his/her natural state of atheism.

  • Valence

    Peterson is to blame for being wishy washy in his explanations, but I understand where Peterson is coming from and have no problem with it. Peterson is primarily dealing in psychological pragmatism, especially in how it relates to human motivation. Beliefs are true in how they motivate positive action. This ties right into to the work of many brilliant scientists who have studied religion and religious psychology, including E.O Wilson and Jonathan Haidt. Religions beliefs evolved for pragmatic group purposes in order to motivate right action and group cohesion.
    Peterson’s core failure is to not distinguish between pragmatic and correspondence theories of truth. He is right, however, that pragmatic truth is the primary evolutionary truth. Evolution is directed at reproduction, and thus false stories via correspondence theory are effective in evolutionary terms if they promote reproduction (“be fruitful and multiply”) and motivate group cohesion. One core problem with human morality is that we are very tribal, and we tend to care most about our kin. This is why Christians are commanded to love your “brothers and sisters in Christ” and treat them as your kin. Universalistic religions like this were very adaptive in their day…though they could also motivate out-group hatred for those who refused to become “brothers and sisters”. I see outgroup hatred among the nonreligious just as much, so I think it’s a mistake to blame outgroup hatred on religion….it’s human nature that religion attempts to mitigate. I recommend this book on the topic, and he goes into detail about human nature and morality, especially moral emotions like moral elevation (the sacred) and moral disgust (taboos…the emotion is directly connected to physical disgust).
    A more sophisticated atheistic view of religion than what Sam presents is more of the current consensus on the topic. Sam is actually still embracing a decade on consensus that is now dying, from my perspective.

  • Valence

    Anthropology shows this is wrong. There are almost NO atheistic societies in human history. Sure you can find a few rare exceptions, but in general humans evolved as hunter gatherer tribes with animistic beliefs (many gods that inhabit objects and animals). Most people really seem to be prewired to believe in gods and spirits. It’s a simplistic heuristic for explanation, and can be used to bind people together. There is even a branch of neuroscience dedicated to studying the mechanisms that lead to these beliefs.

  • Valence

    I was raised Christian…but I literally couldn’t believe it. I’m one of those people that who minds constantly highlight inconsistencies (like the annoying tendency to notice everything unrealistic in a movie) so I literally couldn’t maintain belief by early high school. Too much simply didn’t add up, and if you attribute something to a super intelligent entity that doesn’t make mistakes…it better be really good and consistent.
    I think my background does help me understand Christianity and Christians quite well, however. I can talk for hours about Bible stories and theology, and have even studied a good bit of it in recent years as it relates to history. The more important part of Christianity is the emphasis on love and forgiveness (found in other major religions too). This is a powerful antidote to tribal feuds, and very good for everyone’s mental health.

  • Valence

    I still have hope. I hope I can make the future at least a little better for my kids and those who come after me. I figure being dead will be like it was before I was born…nothing at all. I’ll make the most of the little time I do have, and I will be content to have been gifted with one life to live. It’s enough and much better than none at all. Let’s make it count.

  • FreethinkingWorldGuy

    What do you mean by “…this is wrong.”

    Do you dispute that we are all born atheists? Even if we are born “pre-wired” for religion-beliefs, we do not–indeed cannot–possess them until our brain develops to a certain degree. And then, we do not spontaneously take on god-beliefs. They must be infused by the process of indoctrination, which is typically done well before our brains have developed critical thinking skills.

    From your link, there is this at the very beginning:

    “The neuroscience of religion, also known as neurotheology and as spiritual neuroscience *attempts* to explain religious experience and behaviour in neuroscientific terms.”

    As I highlighted, “attempts to explain”. This is a controversial topic; not settled by any stretch.

    Look, I am open to the idea that we are pre-wired to accept religious beliefs. But that doesn’t make any particular religious set of beliefs correct, any more than other false beliefs, such as that the world is flat. Belief in flat Earth served us just fine for millennia–but the fact that virtually all humans–many millions–believed that didn’t change the fact that the Earth is spherical.

    Further, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that religions generally have a lot of perks–from membership to a social club and network (which, from an evolutionary standpoint was likely quite advantageous), to provided answers and “truths” where they were otherwise difficult or impossible to come by.

    To your claim:

    “There are almost NO atheistic societies in human history.”

    Frankly, I am more interested in societies–NOW. There are atheistic societies now doing quite well. Did you know that there is an inverse relationship between prevalence of atheism and violence (that is the higher the level of atheism, the more violence)? Here’s an excerpt that cites a few modern-day atheist societies that do quite well:

    “The existence of Denmark (and similarly secular, successful societies such as Sweden, Japan, etc.) is noteworthy for several reasons. 

    First, Glenn Beck, Christine O’Donnell, and their conservative
    Christian sheep are wrong: religious faith is not necessary for a
    society to be successful and well-functioning. Belief in God, love of
    Jesus, prayer, and Bible study — these things are clearly not required for a country to be happy and prosperous. They may even be unnecessary distractions.”


    Daniel Dennet wrote a book: “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon”. Dennet explores the role religions played and psychological aspects thereof. But he also makes a convincing argument that whatever advantages religious might have provided to humanity before, in modern times are outweighed by the pitfalls. I agree with him on that.

  • Kevin W

    You are correct that these are the popular definitions of the word. Recording the evolution of language is what dictionaries do. Meanings of words change over time. However, in interacting with realms of knowledge (like particular worldviews and belief systems) it is disengenuous, or at best intellectually careless, to try to shoehorn popular definitions (themselves contingent upon fashion, and thus anti-intellectual by nature) into intellectual discussions. One must ask what a proponent of a belief means by the word in question, and proceed accordingly.

    The best definition of the Christian definition of “faith” is, “trust of what one knows to be true, in the face of one’s irrational moods and fears.” The opposite of this woukd be a phobia like fear of heights. The bulding is not going to collapse, and I am not going to be blown off the edge by a gust of wind. Such things are against what I have learned to be true, even though they are remotely possible. Better for me to have faith and just enjoy the view.

  • Valence

    But he also makes a convincing argument that whatever advantages religious might have provided to humanity before, in modern times are outweighed by the pitfalls. I agree with him on that.

    I do too. My primary point is that it’s critical to understand religion and human psychology in order to change minds. People hold on to their religion for important psychological reasons, and understanding/explaining those reasons can help someone to understand their own psychological attachment. This is a much better approach to what I see some atheists doing…just acting like religious people are “stupid”. I think that’s actually counter productive and encourages people to double down on their belief system. We could also learn to improve humanism, and try to add some of the appeals of old religion to humanism to make it better. For example, one can explore and enjoy the symbolism in mythology without thinking it’s true in an objective sense. Most people live by narrative, and creating your own hero myth about your life could motivate a lot of people.
    It’s entirely possible that the loss of religion and our failure to properly replace it’s sense of community and other items is directly related to the rapid increase in mental illness we are seeing across the west. Take this large analysis of the study of religion and mental health, for example:

    “Gartner, Larson and Allen reviewed the literature and found numerous variables, which had positive correlations with religiousness. Of physical health, religiousness was related to decreased smoking and alcohol consumption, as well as positively effecting heart disease and blood pressure. A confound was that, at least in the elderly, physical health supported religious activities, more than the other way around. Religious commitment and participation seemed to affect longevity, as well, especially in men.[5] Suicide rates were consistently found to have a negative correlation with religiosity. Suicide ideology was also lowered, as well as, more disapproving attitudes towards suicidal behavior. An interesting finding was that church attendance was a major predictor in suicide prevention, even more than employment.”

  • Shirley Blake

    My questions came late in life after I had spent my college years earning a degree in religion complete with learning both Greek and Hebrew. I love the Bible but it is not a literal historical book by any means. Additionally, there seems to be little consensus among Christians as to what Christian behavior is relative to their biblical belief system. Happily I have found the truth. All religions are the same and if individuals in each religious sphere of influence treat people and the world around them humanely, then I’m good with that. If they don’t well then prove to me how they are better than animals. I just don’t buy it.

  • Shirley Blake

    Except some of us never believed in Santa Claus at all. I always kneel my parents were the gift givers. And I never perpetuated that particular mythology with my children. But nevertheless cute analogy

  • Edward Silha

    There are too many instances of immoral actions that have been driven by religion to allow it a get out of jail free card. When a person or group believe it knows the true word of god, what is to stop it from acting on its beliefs, even if the acts violate the rights of others? What is to stop them from attempting to enshrine their belief in laws?

  • Edward Silha

    Your comment also applies to some Christian spokesmen that wield significant political power.

  • FreethinkingWorldGuy

    I agree completely with everything you wrote up to this line (so won’t repeat that):

    ” For example, one can explore and enjoy the symbolism in mythology without thinking it’s true in an objective sense.”

    While I agree that that in itself has merit in its own right, I’m not sure that adding it as an integral part of humanism would necessarily improve humanism, though in any case I do appreciate your idea.

    “Most people live by narrative, and creating your own hero myth about your life could motivate a lot of people.”

    Maybe, but I have enough real life people–both past and living–who I consider heroes. While I appreciate interest in mythological heroes, real life heroes work fine for me. My gut instinct is that there are many more I don’t know but would consider heroes if I knew them.

    I looked into your link, and found this in the Intro:

    “Religion appears to be a psychological necessity for mankind.”

    Okay, that’s pretty thick. I’m not convinced of that. For one thing, it is countered by the previous examples I gave you (e.g. Scandinavia).

    “From mental health perspective religion provides much -needed guidelines, which can help individuals to devise a course for their lives.”

    First off, though religions can and do provide guidelines, guidelines can come from elsewhere (as you alluded to yourself, humanism). And secondly, not all religious guidelines are good–by any stretch of the imagination.

    “Stresses and strains as well as uncertainties of life can be tolerated more easily by the believers.”

    That may be, but I suspect that it has to do with more with membership to a group and the social avenues provided, rather than doctrine, which I think we are close to the same page on based on other things you said.

    “However, many outmoded rituals and belief systems might inhibit positive growth and may lead to mental ill-health.”

    That makes sense, but one crucial question there is this: Who decides which rituals and belief systems are outdated? That is a wholly subjective call. In general, any particular religion-subscriber will assert that his or her religion is “correct”, and the rest are wrong (e.g. “outdated”).

    While an interesting data point, I wouldn’t put a huge amount of stock in this study (to be fair, I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I’ve already voiced my concerns about conclusions drawn in the Introduction).

    On this:

    “…the loss of religion and our failure to properly replace it’s sense of community…”

    First, I would frame that differently: I see “loss of religion” as “gain of reason” (… and potential for more inclusive, less bigotry, etc.).

    Also, the freethought community has been busy, growing and improving over the years. I have been a member of a freethought church (yes, it actually had “church” in its name), freethought fellowship, and am now part of a freethought network of friends, which is a broader part of the AFAH Community (atheists, freethinkers, agnostics and humanists).

  • Henry

    Hi Valence,

    One might argue is that your approach seeks to make a closer and closer approximation of the truth via the Correspondence Theory
    and time and money and practicality limit how close you get.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    Not following you. Are you claiming that being a published author of many books is good evidence for a god?

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Questions lead to more questions in the merry go round of the mind. God is for those who get tired of the round and round and move into the lost and found phase.”

    In fact, adding god to the mix only raises more questions, it does not answer any questions.

    “All I say will seem as nonsense to you as long as you are content in the round and round.”

    It will seem nonsense if you make claims and then will not present evidence to prove the claims.

    “If you are content as an atheist, there is no need to change. ”

    I am content and see no need to change because no one claiming a god exists ever presents any evidence for a god.

    But being content does not mean I do not want to change my position if it is mistaken. Do you have any evidence for a god?

    Do you have a clear meaningful definition of this god?

  • C_Alan_Nault

    ” If that is the case, the best advice I can give is to not seek with the intellect but do so with the heart, which is another word for the higher or more intuitive functioning of mind.”

    Nonsense masquerading as a profound statement.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    You forgot to define what you mean by your statement “”That experience occurs beyond the bounds of the intellect “.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “The best definition of the Christian definition of “faith” is, “trust of what one knows to be true, in the face of one’s irrational moods and fears.””

    Which Bible passage are you quoting?

    The definition for faith I was able to find in the Bible is “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.) ( Hebrews 11:1)

  • OhioGranny

    JP did answer the question. People just don’t like the answer.

  • Gabriel Lyon

    I actually was thinking more about Cognitivist Semantic Theories.

    Ethical naturalism (also called moral naturalism or naturalistic cognitivistic definism)is the meta-ethical view which claims that:

    Reductive naturalism

    Ethical sentences express propositions.
    Some such propositions are true.
    Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of human opinion.
    These moral features of the world are reducible to some set of non-moral features

    Non-reductive naturalism

    Ethical sentences express propositions.
    Some such propositions are true.
    Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of human opinion.
    These moral features of the world are not reducible to some set of non-moral features, but are supervened by some set of non-moral features

  • ajollynerd

    “People are tiring of glib. They have a need that is unmet, a void that is unfilled.”

    Isn’t it just as possible that the problem is less one of filling the unfilled void, and more one of accepting the void as a fact of life? Most truly religious people I know sustain their faith (to a greater or lesser degree) on the fear that if they don’t they will suffer for eternity, because they are incapable or unwilling to accept the idea that this existence is all we get. It’s funny, but once you accept the void as a reality, you don’t need so much to try and fill it.

  • Gabriel Lyon

    I actually don’t need to defend Sam Harris’s view on one topic to see the validity of his argument here. For example I think he is too harsh on Islam because as psychologists like Haidt like to point out stated beliefs don’t do amazingly well in predicting human behavior. However, in order to be intellectually honest you have to assume the value of objective facts. I am glad you see Peterson’s error on that point. Christians can’t get out of defending their views on the merits by simply appealing to some weak form of pragmatism.

  • Dennis Okeefe

    Intellect I would define as thought or reasoning which mostly occurs within the limits of what we read or hear about. It is external knowledge more or less imposed upon us. Above and beyond that is inspiration upon which all creativity and wisdom depends. And if I say that is the realm of spirit or higher functioning of the mind would that have any more meaning to you? Its there to be accessed but one has to reach for it.

  • Gutsav0

    Best article of its kind I have seen thus far. Captures both men at this moment in time. Harris and Peterson have found each other, and sharpen themselves against each other. They each do the other considerable good – and sell books, too.

  • Gutsav0

    I experience the void not as simply a word or a readily apprehendable state of affairs. I experience it as an emotional and intellectual invitation with vast potential meaning. At the very least in the surrounding of it, the way an accretion disk surrounds a black hole perhaps. Books and paintings have been created to get at the void. And in recent years, music goes there, too, very successfully. Check out the music of Australian avante-garde metal band, Portal: any song will do, but Oblotten has the sound of void to my ears.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Intellect I would define as thought or reasoning which mostly occurs within the limits of what we read or hear about. It is external knowledge more or less imposed upon us.”

    Our intellect is a product of our brain.

    “Above and beyond that is inspiration upon which all creativity and wisdom depends.”

    Not following you here. Are you saying this “inspiration upon which all creativity and wisdom depends” is not a product of our brain?

    “And if I say that is the realm of spirit or higher functioning of the mind would that have any more meaning to you?”

    Bottom line is you are still talking about things which are a product of our mind. Calling it a higher function or our mind isn’t clear, and how are you defining the word spirit?

  • Izak Burger

    You asked if he can present the evidence so that it can be examined. I’m saying he’s presented it already in book form. That is perhaps not the most useful to you, of course, since it requires purchasing the book and reading it (and I am not being funny here… I do understand this takes time and effort), it is really just for the info of the readers of this public comment section.

  • ajollynerd

    Either way, it sounds like you’re not trying to *fill* the void, so my comment was probably not directed at you

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “You asked if he can present the evidence so that it can be examined. I’m saying he’s presented it already in book form. ”

    But he started this thread & made the claim here. I am now asking him here to present this alleged evidence here.

    If he is not prepared to prove what he claims here, he should not be making claims here.

    “That is perhaps not the most useful to you, of course, since it requires purchasing the book and reading it (and I am not being funny here.’

    So he has evidence that a god exists, and he will share this evidence for the low cost of……

  • Dennis Okeefe

    I think I need to end this back and forth so I will leave you with one final thought. Mind is not a product of the brain. Consciousness is not dependent on physicality, its rather the other way round. Science will come around to this view eventually. Later.

  • Dimitri

    Jordan Peterson’s psychology is messed up, and I would say he doesn’t know much about Jung but Jungian psychology is not really useful these days (so I’ve heard).

    Not to mention Jordan is a huge broflake peddler to the MRA and any He-Man Woman-Hater movements.

  • Kevin W

    That is a good definition. That comes from the letter to the Hebrews, the main point of which was to encourage Jewish believers in Yeshua Messiah to not abandon their belief in him because of persecution. They had evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, and had experienced Him first hand. The passage you quote is in the intro to a long section about people’s trust in God in difficult circumstances. In that sense, “faith” is better translated as “trust.” Of course if one trusts in someone to fulfill a promise, one has “faith” in them, since there can be no present empirical evidence that a free agent will perform a future act. So, in that sense, one’s faith (or trust) IS the evidence. But it is, or should be, based on a knowledge of the person who made the commitment.

  • Krishnam

    Lovely, Lovely, Lovely! Beautiful. The ending was just every empowering.

  • @EstherOReilly

    Does it not bother you at all that in your framework, there’s no final justice for the wicked? That there’s no final comfort for the comfortless? No mother and child reunion for the mother who kills her child in a freak accident? No restoration of the things you can’t restore, no grace to catch the soul you cannot catch?

    I am not saying that the mere fact that we ache for these things makes them so. I am saying that in your heart, you cannot deny that you ache for them too.

  • Rowdy Joe

    Yes this .0025% of the population is correct, and the other 300,000,000 of us are crazy delusional idiots. Even tho basic biology and science refutes their claims. WERE the ones in the wrong. lol simpletons.

  • Valence

    Yes, but I have embraced rationalism and critical thinking. A big part of critical thinking is understanding bias, and a big part of bias mitigation is being skeptical of what you want to believe. Done properly it should be about evidence, and I don’t see any evidence of cosmic justice, at least in relationship to human affairs. Innocent children die of disease daily. Whole populations of devout Christians get slaughtered by natural disasters. The wicked often prevail over good people. Reality seems quite amoral, thus it’s up to us to enact justice, hoping and praying don’t seem to accomplish anything except ease the anxiety of the person praying (which can be psychologically helpful). You could call this way of thinking my religion if you want, but it serves my decision making well.

  • Name Redacted

    The main problem with Jordan Peterson is that he invents new answers to questions asked when they are simply worded differently and these new answers fun afoul of earlier answers. It seems to me he has no actual set of principles. I am defining principles as what you stand for; and you only have principles when it is inconvenient to have them. The main problem with religious people is that they invent their own gods – they no longer use common definitions (like “faith”) – They only use what they want out of various books. I have no problem with any of this at all as long as what you do stays away from others and causes no one harm. However, the worship of gods has been very destructive for society in the past and at present. Have your belief system all you want – believe in whatever you want – never expect others to agree with you and do not tell others how to rightly live their life. Do no harm. This particular article suffers many of the common problems. Makes accusations that cannot be substantiated properly. Wanders in its justifications and attacks. Seems to sit atop no principles at all. and suffers from the great folly of youthful thinking – in that youthful thinking is grand and admirable while equally unfocused and unconsidered.
    The other main problem I have with religious debates or commentary of any kind with atheists is that the definition of atheism is ignored by the religious as it is here in this article. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in god or gods, ie the God claims. That’s it. Everything else is about something else and informed by something else.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    “But Christians can. More specifically, Christians prepared to give a rational answer for the hope that is in them.”

    This is where this post goes from actually fairly interesting—insightful, even—to ‘ok, now you are missing the point.’ I’m not interested in merely “rational.” There is much that can be rationalized, so to speak. Questions for truth-seeking have more to do with: “Is this accurate to reality?” and “What are the flaws in this idea?”

    Christianity spends a fair bit of time trying to prove itself and disprove other viewpoints. But that’s only half the process of truth-seeking. Trying to prove atheism/Islam, etc. is never seriously on the docket for Christians. If science has taught me one thing, it’s that we need honest consideration of multiple hypothesis to arrive at what is correct. So much of Christianity, from the way churches discourage critical thinking to the antagonistic objective of most (if not all) apologetic endeavors, undermines very core processes of truth-seeking—processes which science taught me, yet are much more than science but good general philosophy.

    So my point is: You are advocating for answers without recognizing that valuing doubt itself is something Christianity never gives. It is unambigously against doubt. On the occasion where a dichotomy is appropriate, “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” (Richard Feynman).

    What I am suggesting is you’ve already lost people like me by the mere fact that you think that you and others can conclusively answer these questions. And that you think this is a good thing.

    In an honest consideration of reality, there is no escaping some measure of uncertainty. There is no avoiding doubt.

  • Vince

    Even the very most basic things we use have been intelligently created (by humans). The earth and it’s rotation and seasons etc, is more complex than anything on it yet by happenstance it exists? Please. The earth was obviously intelligently created. It would be absolutely absurd to deny this. If I said to a software developer who developed a complex application “did you know that app developed itself?” of course he would think I was crazy yet it’s accepted that the earth came rolling into existence on its own accord?! Impossible. Everything you interact with each day was intelligently created. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the earth, moon and sun wasn’t created. Also, at different times of the year the moon, which is significantly smaller than the earth, will occupy the same space as the sun, which is significantly bigger than the earth, from the vantage point of the earth. Absolutely impossible to be a coincidence. The mechanisms and precision do not exist in nature. Fill free to believe that we are alone in the universe but you are wrong.

  • Lacunaria

    What’s the use of debating Laplace’s demon absent quantum uncertainty?

    I don’t see how either of them resolve the logical conflict of compatibilism. Using different levels of description only changes how we talk about it, right? Or does Carroll believe that actual free will is emergent rather than an illusion?

    What’s even stranger is that they both seem to acknowledge that determinism would drastically change our moral frameworks, which is circumstantial evidence for free will, but then they both nevertheless seem to conclude that determinism is still the basis and free will is therefore an illusion. What is the rational explanation for that leap?

  • Lacunaria

    Regardless of how rare life is, the universe is structured for its creation. That and emergent free will makes sense if there is an intelligent Creator.

    The only other feasible alternative is your approach that there is no God and yet it is useful to believe there is. But I wonder if you get the same benefits if you don’t really believe, don’t really articulate prayers, etc.

  • Lacunaria

    Yes, God wouldn’t make mistakes within his control, but if an intelligent Creator exists, then creating things which he doesn’t control would be the whole point of creation, because all deterministic outcomes would already be known to him. Intercession would then be both necessary and limited to preserve free will.

  • Lacunaria

    I think O’Reilly acknowledges your point with “don’t hush people when they come to you with intellectual doubts” and “You can say they’re being cocky. You can say they’re just making excuses. And maybe you’re right. But maybe you’re wrong — fatally, spectacularly wrong.”

    I would say that she implies more answers in Christianity than she actually provides in the article, but encouraging Christians to be welcoming and prepared to give rational answers for their beliefs is a great admonition.

  • Lacunaria

    Well, every model is limited and truth is defined by its narrow application to reality. But the real insight of pragmatism is that just because something is true does not mean that we are better off believing it is true.

  • @EstherOReilly

    Valence, while I don’t know what arguments specifically gave you pause in high school, I could make a guess about some of them, and I can say speaking as someone who places a high premium on critical thinking, many things that are pitched as objections from “inconsistency” boil down to bad philosophy and poor judgement. I’m not saying that as a Christian, I’m saying that as a philosophically-minded person who knows a little bit about how historical reportage actually works.

  • @EstherOReilly

    I believe in rationalism and critical thinking as well. I believe that Christianity is the most rational explanation of the evidence at hand, and I would be glad to discuss some of that evidence with you or anyone else. You’re regurgitating problem of evil type arguments here, but these have been well and amply answered within the Christian framework for centuries. Moreover, your naturalistic presupposition is preventing you from escaping a strictly earth-bound, this-life view of any evil that might occur. If you refuse to allow even the possibility of an after-life that might balance the cosmic scale, you’ve fallen prey to circular reasoning.

  • PaleyRedivivus

    “No, the Jury is in on the Bible. Even respected conservative scholars can’t robustly defend the entirety of scripture.”

    I’m interested in this claim, but I’m not sure what it means. Would “robust defense” have to mean defending inerrancy, Chicago Statement style? Or would (say) a defense of the substantial historicity of the Gospels also qualify? In the latter case, the state of affairs among respected conservative scholars might turn out to be rather more complex.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    I’ve not been on O’Reilly’s channel before, but I happened to notice that Patheos linked to another of her recent posts called “Is Doubt a Sin?”. There she takes a less-extreme perspective than the title (to her credit), and one which is probably more in the line of what a lot of Christians think.

    At minimum her view of doubt is one which values it as less than faith. “Whatever doubt is, it is certainly not a thing to be embraced,” as she says in the post. Yet, it is not a stretch to say that, at worst, she considers it more like a malady of the soul.

    I don’t personally think that doubt is always a virtue, but I do think there is much for which it is the virtuous state.

  • @EstherOReilly

    Indeed. I only have so much space in one article!

  • @EstherOReilly

    I think doubt is a natural process people go through, and indeed when it comes to seeking good reasons for believing that a religious framework like Christianity might be true (something that isn’t immediately obvious, like “I have a hand”), a “skeptical but open” posture can be a healthy thing. This was another point Harris made in the talks which I agree with, saying that we’re talking here about the difference between believing something with good reason and believing with bad reason. However, and if this makes you bristle I’m sorry, I can only speak the truth I’ve arrived at by honest inquiry, but I believe that if you do investigate the evidences in a fair-minded fashion, in the end to reject them is to be in error and/or in denial. Good philosophy, good science, and good history, well considered, all point to the same answer here. So you might say in the end my problem with doubts about the truth of Christianity is more scholarly than religious in nature.

  • chizwoz

    I think Jordan’s right that Sam’s rationalist attempt at morality just isn’t enough.
    I don’t really buy that Christianity is the answer either. Jordan says it contains all of these emergent biological truths that have been encoded throughout the ages. But when I look at most of christian history, people just weren’t showing this wisdom at all. Christianity through most of history was just being used to justify totalitarianism, just like Islam is today.

  • LLobaAzul

    I saw the same interview and that’s not what I heard.

  • Lacunaria

    I don’t think she values doubt less than blind faith, rather she values doubt less than greater certainty.

    In that sense, doubt is a lesser state that we all strive to overcome — without cheating with false confidence. This is not to belittle having doubts, since that is how we learn, as you and others mention, but you are not maturing as a Christian (or atheist) if your respective doubts aren’t being resolved.

    I can see why you’d bristle a bit. O’Reilly boldly asserts the existence of Christian answers to difficult questions without providing them. The comment threads gives a sampling of them but they are not easy and uncertainty seems baked into them, which might be part of the cosmic point.

  • LLobaAzul

    While the existence of God cannot be proven (in any way that I know of), you mention that you believe “Christianists” are wrong on the subjects of affordable health care and global warming. Both of those subjects are quantifiable and if you learn about the economics of government run “health care” (or rather, healthcare insurance), and the history/science of climate change, you may very well end up agreeing with the so-called “Christianists”.

  • Aamer Kastoff

    Being realistic, there is no proof an atheist would accept and no one who has allowed themselves to see, feel, experience, acknowledge God will ever be turned away.

    Where atheists lose people is atheists always claim their beliefs are better, even though they claim the belief system they proselytize is not a belief system. There is a difference between “I don’t believe in this thing” and ‘I will now bring it up regularly, try to convert people, make fun of those who disagree with me, and claim others beliefs are ignorant and wrong.”

    Atheism is not better (just the past century show the horrors of atheist leaders/governments) and that is what people like Sam Harris want everyone to believe. An atheist who will not even acknowledge the crimes, genocides, massacres, hundreds of millions killed, and other crimes of atheism is not someone who should be listened too. I can acknowledge crusades from centuries past, I can acknowledge the horrors of Islam, I can point out the silliness of many religions but I rarely have ever heard an atheist acknowledge the crimes, horrors, and silliness of atheists. Where is the honesty and truth the atheists claim to want when it comes to their belief?

  • FreethinkingWorldGuy

    Not likely.

    One of my primary sources of info re: climate changes is Science News magazine, which I’ve read “religiously” for several decades. Christianists tend to deny science that doesn’t mesh with their doctrine–in particular in this context, climate science data that has been accruing for decades.

    As far as health care goes, the ACA has helped millions of Americans, including myself. But no thanks to evangelicals, who wholeheartedly and happily support healthcare-blasting DJT.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    “I believe that if you do investigate the evidences in a fair-minded fashion, in the end to reject them is to be in error and/or in denial.”

    This is the opposite conclusion from my current state of consideration.

    “Good philosophy, good science, and good history, well considered, all point to the same answer here.”

    Would you suggest your best examples for scholarship in each area pointing in that direction? (Frankly, I’m not optimistic, but I am interested.)

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    “you are not maturing as a Christian (or atheist) if your respective doubts aren’t being resolved.”

    That rather depends on if the question is genuinely resolvable. If not (or likely not), then the mature place is one of remaining uncertain.

  • Aamer Kastoff

    You wrote: “Most truly religious people I know sustain their faith (to a greater or lesser degree) on the fear that if they don’t they will suffer for eternity, because they are incapable or unwilling to accept the idea that this existence is all we get.”

    Interesting most people I know and the ones I have talked to and interviewed around the world see their faith as an integral part of themselves and have been touched by deity. I can think of maybe a handful (maybe three) that had “faith” based on some eternal damnation and few who could not deal with life. I have interviewed atheists in prisons and that are ex-cons who believe they can do whatever they want because they believe; “This is all there is.”

  • Lacunaria

    I agree, but then you’d be agnostic.

  • Charles Farley

    Great article!

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    Yes. And I think that’s ok for some things.

  • Steven Easley

    Esther is missing something in this long, tiresome, rambling superficial survey of circumstances that inacurately protrays Peterson. Esther must not like him as close as I can tell? Did not see discussions but assure you these are questions Peterson has but an intellectual quiver away. Te author appears to twist facts to a conclusion rather than to wring truth from it. Clearly Harris’s definition of God is not valid and while I have read none of Harris’s works, my guess is Harris’s definition is different than presented here. And the whole correspondence theory thing rings of something between niavity and dogma, as Pragamtism neatly justifies Peterson’s consequentialism, among others. Let the lesson be this, believe nothing you hear and half you see, including this.

  • rileyhasthoughts

    You know the bit in the article about how people are getting tired of the glibness of the New Atheists? You’re… that. I don’t think you’re going to be convincing anyone who doesn’t already agree with you, because you’re coming across as extremely arrogant and assuming (I’m not talking about this comment specifically, but your general attitude across your comments on this article). You’re not taking the Socratic paradox very much to heart; you are absolutely 100% confident about something that intellectuals have wrestled over for thousands of years.

    The truth is, that if you take logic and reason as the one, true virtue, your statements hold. Nothing you’re saying is illogical. The more interesting debate, however, is over the place that reason and faith have in human existence. Arguing that God (nevermind which god for now) doesn’t exist because there’s not enough physical evidence to justify belief is a sound argument – but it’s only looking at one side of the picture.

    The fact of the matter is that faith plays an integral part in every human’s life, believer or atheist. NOT the type of faith based on NO evidence – because no one just starts believing in fairies because it popped into their head spontaneously, and if it did, we are prone to think they’re crazy – but the type of faith that trusts in something based on lived experience. The goodness of humanity. The skill and attention to detail of the engineers who designed the car we’re driving. The love and loyalty of our partner.

    Again, I don’t think the points you’re making aren’t sound. Just that you appear to be missing the human element of the conversation. You should feel free to continue to have faith in your convictions. 🙂

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “So, in that sense, one’s faith (or trust) IS the evidence.”

    Nope. All someone’s faith or trust is evidence for is that that person has faith or trust in the thing. It does nothing to show that the faith/trust is valid or warranted.

    ” But it is, or should be, based on a knowledge of the person who made the commitment.”

    No, it should be based on what they are claiming faith or trust in.

    If they claim they have faith in the existence of a deity, unless they can present evidence that the claimed deity exists their faith can be dismissed as nonsense.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “I will leave you with one final thought. Mind is not a product of the brain. Consciousness is not dependent on physicality, its rather the other way round.”

    Can you present evidence of a mind that exists without being the product of a physical brain? If not, your claim can be dismissed as nonsense.

    Can you present evidence for a consciousness existing outside of a physical brain? If not, your claim can be dismissed as nonsense.

  • PaleyRedivivus

    Not only does Esther obviously like Peterson, Peterson apparently likes this article, as he’s just tweeted it this afternoon.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    ” you’re coming across as extremely arrogant and assuming”

    So when someone makes an extraordinary claim ( in the case of a god, the claim is a god exists) & I ask them if they have any evidence to prove that claim you think my asking them that is arrogant and assuming?

    “The fact of the matter is that faith plays an integral part in every human’s life, believer or atheist. ”

    There is a VAST difference between someone having faith that a light will light up when they throw the light swithc and someone having faith that a universe creating deity exists because the universe exists.

    “NOT the type of faith based on NO evidence – because no one just starts believing in fairies because it popped into their head spontaneously”

    Not the type of faith based on no evidence?

    OK, what is the evidence that a god exists?

    “Arguing that God (nevermind which god for now) doesn’t exist because there’s not enough physical evidence to justify belief is a sound argument ”

    I have never argued that a god exists… I have never claimed that a god does not exist.

    All I have done is ask people that claim a god exists to show me the evidence to prove their claim.

    “- but it’s only looking at one side of the picture.””

    WHAT other side of the picture?

    I have seen no evidence for a god & because of that I do not believe a god exists. My claim is a claim of what I believe.
    I could be wrong.

    A believer claims a god exists & I ask them to show me evidence.

    There is only 1 side here. The believer has made a claim about the existence of something & I ask them to prove their claim.

  • Carlos Alejandro Rios

    This is an important article.

    If you are an atheist, take it as a challenge to look for the deep and complex kind of meaning that our hearts demand. Don’t just make a caricature of God that you can easily do away with. Struggle against great theist thinkers like Aristotle, Aquinas, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, John Lennox, William Lane Craig, and Alvin Plantinga.

    If you are seeking for meaning diligently, unsure on the existence of God, keep searching, keep knocking doors, keep fighting. What is driving you is likely a profound void in your heart. You seem to intuitively know that your existence is more than just the product of the randomly guided process of evolution.

    If you believe that there is a God that gives meaning to your life, don’t simply keep a bare minimum understanding of what the implications of his existence are. If you think God gives meaning to your life ask how, and why, and by which means does he do so. If God really is a big deal to you, it’s time to spend some time figuring out what is it, precisely, that makes him so important.

  • Wait, the author is a Christian? I’m confused. I still don’t know on what basis Christians have to claim the Bible is true.

  • PaleyRedivivus

    Have you ever looked into the historical evidence for the Gospels?

  • I have in the past but don’t remember what I uncovered. Currently and primarily I would be interested in historical evidence for the resurrection and other miracles, however I don’t believe a “pick and mix” approach to believing in the central tenets of the faith.

  • PaleyRedivivus
  • Be honest, have you read all 75 of the pages of this argument?

    Going off the principle of evidence, if there were compelling evidence in this argument, would it not be a part of every preacher’s weekly sermon? The fact remains that because evidence for miracles is always limited, we do not have a reason to believe in them.

  • Christoph Reeber

    Great Article. Really like the imagery of Peterson setting a ball we need to spike.

  • Kishan Aria

    Jesus Christ who is God is real. Just look for him. Pray to him. Read the Bible with no bias. Try a local evangelical church and see for yourself the truth and love of God.

  • PaleyRedivivus


    Yes, I have read every page. It’s hard going at some points, but there it is. I’ve also read numerous books on the topic, from many different angles, including those quite critical of the resurrection. It’s one of my keen interests.

    “[I]f there were compelling evidence in this argument, would it not be a part of every preacher’s weekly sermon?”

    I wish. I’ve known enough preachers to be able to say with confidence that many of them have little or no idea what the evidence is for their own beliefs. And some of them are actually afraid of evidence. One elder at a church recently told a friend of mine that to base one’s faith on evidence was “works salvation.” That was his excuse for refusing to look into the evidence.

    “The fact remains that because evidence for miracles is always limited, we do not have a reason to believe in them.”

    I find this statement puzzling. The evidence for just about anything of interest, in history or in science, is limited. It does not follow that the evidence is inadequate for rational belief. And it certainly does not follow that we have *no* reason for belief.

    If the issues are important and there is enough evidence to make it, let’s say, a genuinely open question — a live option — whether it is true, then the only reasonable thing to do is to investigate with a seriousness proportionate to what is at stake. That is what Peterson himself is doing right now.

  • John Hill

    Now come on now, you can be both entirely rational and a fairly orthodox Christian if you’re smart about it. Let me show you how it’s done here…

    1. Regarding The Gospels:
    a) The Resurrection: collapse the distinction between resurrection and resuscitation for a moment, because the medical community defines death as the irreversible cessation of cardiopulmonary and brain functions, thereby rendering the creed impossible by definition. There’s plenty of historical evidence to argue an Atheist from the position that the apostles just spontaneously made up the resurrection story, to the position that Jesus “survived” the cross, shocking the unscientific apostles into a philosophical coma so to speak. Frankly, roman crucifixion is slow and sloppy to kill its victim, and Jesus was brought down early and sent into the tomb with healing aloes. Cynical as this latter position might sound to a devout Christian, there is nevertheless a real opportunity to haggle with the atheist about the nature of death and how dead Jesus plausibly needs to be in order for the Creed to be meaningful. And in principle, Jesus could have been pretty dead for an extensive period of time and still spontaneously resuscitated later on (ever heard of the ironically named Lazarus syndrome?), if you’re familiar with the literature. Nor need this be arbitrary: the probability of Jesus’ resuscitation can be directly related to the character of the individual in question, again if you know the literature on metabolism, oxygen deprivation, immune and nervous system etc, especially in the case of crucifixion, where a victims’ vain struggles will kill them all the quicker.

    b) The Virgin Birth; Now I’m sure that, considering the infinite parallel universes that converge on the present moment, one of them has the historical Jesus of Nazareth as we know him being born parthenogenetically with XX male syndrome. Plus, an asexual genotypic-woman-man strikes me a just the kind of bloke who would be free from sin.

    c) Other instances of miraculous healing, feeding of the multitude and water-to-wine: well what else is the placebo effect but healing through faith? And the water to wine miracle sounds like the power of suggestion as well (power of the word?): you know, you dye white wine red, and most professional wine tasters can’t taste the difference. As for the feeding of the multitude; I find there’s more magic in the miracle of sharing than there is in conjuring food out of nothing; I don’t know about you. The rule of thumb I’m going with here is that, anything David Blaine/Derren Brown, a sophisticated herbal doctor or politician can pull off, Jesus of Nazareth can pull off as well. It’s inevitable that some arab jew of that level of awesomeness was going to come along around that time and start the world’s greatest religion. Ever been to India? It’s gurus galore! And they all say they’re God whether they’re talented or not; that’s just standard vedanta for them.

    2. Regarding The Trinity:
    Okay, I have a table already made for this, because Jordan Peterson, with his skeptical Darwinian Phenomenalism, speaks with a Heideggerian ontology of Being; Objective Order & Subjective Consciousness. How far removed is that from the old neo-platonist/scholastic Holy Trinity of yore? Plus he flirts with the universalism of the same old school platonism, so that what’s more objectively real increases as you climb the angelic hierarchy of living forms and laws etc: Peterson is practically, St Aquinas, but nobody sees it because we’re historically blinded by the two false prophets Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, responsible for the decline of Christianity for the last millenium, exacerbated by Descartes materialism and Newtonian determinism. But modern Physics is prevailing through it all: read Paul Davies books!

    | Neoplatonist [ Christian] |
    | Being [ Father ] | Order [ Son ] | Consciousness [Holy Spirit] | | Petersonian
    | τὸ ἕν [ θεός ] | ψυχὴ κόσμου [λόγος] | νόος [ πνεῦμα ] | | Greek
    | The One [ Theos ] | Cosmic Psyche [Logos] | Nous [ Pneuma ] | | English

    God the Father (Being):
    ->The One, See “Henosis,”
    ->Theos, See “Theosis,”
    [Greek Orthodoxy purposefully connects individual self (“I”) to cosmic self (“God”); Peterson advocates Theosis.]

    God the Son (Order):
    ->Cosmic Psyche,
    [Sometimes “True Word” for Peterson; keep in mind John 14:6, “I am The Way and The Truth and The Life.”]

    God the Holy Spirit (Consciousness):
    [Remember: Peterson is a phenomenologist.]

    There, you see, eh? If you believe in Being; Objective Order and Subjective Consciousness, and who doesn’t, then you practically believe in God, the trinitarian unity of these three principles cast in infinite terms i.e. your finite being, order and consciousness approximates and participates in God’s infinite Being, Order & Consciousness. Okay? And if you don’t buy that, then, you know, just throw in some Stoic Naturalistic Pantheism, and/or some Hegelian God-Is-Ultimate-Reality Pantheism, and you’re good to go as a “liberal” Christian anyway; is that really so bad a compromise?

    3. Regarding Prayer and Worship
    Okay, I think we’re all in agreement that this Santa Claus paradigm of God has got go. Just saying some prayers and behaving real nice, won’t in fact cause christmas presents to fall out of the sky; I mean how would that work anyway? Does the universe just solipsistically change according to what our mind thinks about everyday, by selectively collapsing of the Schrodinger wave function at opportunistic junctures of undetermined chaos? Come on now, that’s just vain and stupid; maybe that’s how God’s infinite consciousness does create the world, but not our finite stupid naked ape lump of the spirit. I’m quite glad the universe behaves according to higher principles than my own whims, and thank God for making it that way. Man shall not live by bread alone; and keep your prayers short because the Father knows what’s best for you. And if the Father does give whatever you pray for in the Son’s name, I can only assume that’s because when you truly pray in the Son’s name, it’s the Son that speaks and not your vain ego; and the Son is, of course, never so vain and stupid as to pray for the Giants to win the superbowl or whatever, so the whole superstitious thing is averted.

    With that said, let’s be clear that all around the world, people reverentially attend temples of one kind or another, and partake ritual acts and prayers. Clearly this stuff is good for us. So let’s be sensible about this, break down prayer into its component categories, of meditation of the Intellect, affection of the Heart, affirmation of the Word, and sacred silence of the Spirit, and realise that all four of these dimensions of prayer are entirely rational and good, and therefore the whole of the activity cannot be irrational and bad. Okay? Alright. Same sort of sentiment goes for rituals; rituals are manifestation of harmony with the cosmic order. Peterson totally gets this, and let us also follow him on what he’s saying about the power and necessity of Archetypal Mythology in art and literature etc. That’s good stuff. That’s why you’re all here isn’t it? Alright then.

    4. Death, Damnation and Destiny.

    …Oh and if you’re upset about the whole eternal damnation in Hell deal, well, first thing to recognize is that heaven and hell are cultural archetypes that manifest themselves all over the world throughout history, and nobody else feels compelled to interpret those themes in strict and literal materialist space time dimensions, so why should we? If you’re thinking because the bible says so, well then examine the Jehovah Witnesses who take the bible as literally as one can: they don’t believe in eternal souls burning in hell forever; they follow the entirely biblical point of view that we have our eternal life in the resurrected body and soul of Jesus Christ. And I mean really, if all we are is some misapprehended part of Jesus body and soul, then I think Jesus should have the right to do what he wants with his infinite body and soul. Mmkay? When in doubt, just follow the grand old protestant tradition of blaming everything that’s gone wrong in Christendom on Scholastic Roman Catholics.

    And, you know with matters such as this, the whole “what’s going to happen to me when I die?” I mean, it says in the Old Testament that the spirit that was in you returns to god, and your body turns into the dust from whence it came. But more on the spirit in the New Testament, is this key verse:

    “The [spirit] bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

    Personally, I lean towards the three buddhists teachings, that every finite thing considered comes to an end, is intrinsically unsatisfying, and is devoid of any real objective substantial independant identity, i.e. devoid of self; self is an illusion. If that’s the case, then let us forget about ourselves, and instead let us ponder and find salvation in the everlasting infinite, supremely & solely satisfying, and ultimately real and true Being that is. Okay? Mmkay.

    “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” –Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

    So go forth, and be rational non-superstitious Christians! …so, you know, we don’t all start sleeping around and embezzling from our employers; lest civilisation collapses in the next economic recession-depression. That would be a terrible shame.

  • Kevin Wells

    Lets leave aside the Hebrews passage. I dont want to get into explaing the difference between trust in a person ( that a person is trustworthy) and trust in the truth of propositions. “Faith” in the Heb. passage clearly means the former.

    In any case, the proposition, “one must only believe what can be empirically proven” cannot itself be empirically proven, and so proves to self-destruct. Indeed, just discussing the merits of such a proposition requires beleif in tge laws of logic (law of non-contradiction, etc.) Which cannot themselves be empirically proven, but rather are the basis for empirical investigation.

    To parody your last statement: “unless one can provide evidence that one’s memories are accurate, then one’s belief in their accuracy can be dismissed as nonsense.” This would be handy for a defense attorney in a cold-case murder trial: “I know tgat these 3 witnesses say, and im sure they ‘believe’ that they witnessed the defendant commit the crime, but without physical proof, we can dismiss their testimony. Your honour, I move that all testimony based on personal recollection be stricken!”

    Nope. People get convicted all the time on eyewitness testimony alone.

    But anyhow, just because a person’s belief A is unwarranted, doesn’t mean A is false. Warrant is a question of epistemology, not ontology. Perhaps for every person with an unwarranted belief in God, there are a hundred who can present evidence supporting such belief. And, it may be true that such belief is internally justified, like one’s belief that one’s memories are mostly accurate.

    Still further, almost everything scientific anyone (including scientists) knows is based almost completely one trusting the testimony of other persons. You cant get less empirical than that.

    To be clear, if you trust your memory, you must reject empiricism. If you trust that other people you interact with have minds, (i.e. aren’t zombies or hallucinations) you must reject empiricism, and, if you believe that logic and mathematics work, you must reject empiricism.

    But back to evidence for God: are you really curious, or just whisting in the dark?

  • @EstherOReilly

    I would love to, though I’m juggling a number of balls at the moment. Let me circle back when I have a bit more time. (I probably should have given links in the body of the article itself.) One or two other people on this thread may also be able to furnish good suggestions. I see someone else up-thread has linked an academic article I’ve also shared and found useful on the point of giving Sam a probabilistic analysis of the resurrection. It’s long and involves a little bit of math, but the style makes the reading experience fairly smooth, in my opinion anyway. I’ll begin by leaving that here, as it’s been made publicly available:

  • PaleyRedivivus

    You might start here:

    Or if you want something free, here:

  • The fact that truth matters is exactly why I am a believer. I was raised in a Christian home and walked away from it as a teenager. I wanted nothing to do with it. I didn’t want to believe it at all. I certainly didn’t want to be accountable to any god. I wanted to live my own way, and I tried hard to convince myself that there was no God, because that is what I wanted to believe. But in the end, the reality of God was something I simply couldn’t get away from, despite my best efforts. I realized that to deny Him was to lie to myself, and deliberately so. Truth led me back to God, not a desire for some sort of crutch.

    And I never understood the crutch argument anyway. If I wanted a crutch, I would make up my own god (as so many do), or convince myself that what I do in life doesn’t really matter, because in the end it will be like I never existed anyway, so go for the all gusto and get yours while you can (which is what I tried very hard to convince myself of, that was the crutch I wanted most). And if I did make up a god to make me feel better, that God would certainly not be the God of Christianity who demands that I give Him all of myself, and live a life of self-sacrifice, even laying down my life for His sake: “If anyone wants to be my disciple, he must up deny himself, take up His cross and follow me”, and “if anyone tries to save his life, he will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.” Everything in me fights against such a life of self-sacrifice and self denial. Why would I want that as a “crutch”? I look to follow Jesus for many reasons, but the main reason will always be because I am personally convinced that He is indeed, “the way, the truth and the life.”

    I left my crutches behind to follow Jesus because truth matters. You don’t have to believe what I do, but it would be nice if you entertained the possibility that many Christians believe in Christ for the same reason you reject Him…a desire to know and conform to the “truth.”

  • You write: “I think they’re both wrong. Metaphor is the only language available to talk about the holy and the sacred–whether you see it in a God of some kind or you recognize it in an Amazon jungle.

    When Christians take their foundational texts literally, they forfeit the great claim and hope of their religions. When atheists take them literally and declare them nonsensical, they forfeit the epic truth of our mysterious and unnamable existence.”

    Is what you just wrote about understanding the “the holy and the sacred” just a metaphor, or should I take it literally?

  • LastManOnEarth

    No thanks!

  • Henry

    Not sure you are properly speaking of pragmatism.

  • Kishan Aria

    Ok reject the truth

  • Lacunaria

    Well, William James redefines “truth” which complicates matters, but he’s basically advocating useful beliefs over strict correspondence, as I summarized. See the section 3.2 James on truth:

    The true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief, and good, too, for definite assignable reasons.

    […] This suggests that a belief can be made true by the fact that holding it contributes to our happiness and fulfilment.

    The kind of passages just noted may lend support to Bertrand Russell’s famous objection that James is committed to the truth of ‘Santa Claus exists’ (Russell 1949: 772). This is unfair; at best, James is committed to the claim that the happiness that belief in Santa Claus provides is truth-relevant. James could say that the belief was ‘good for so much’ but it would only be ‘wholly true’ if it did not ‘clash with other vital benefits’. It is easy to see that, unless it is somehow insulated from the broader effects of acting upon it, belief in Santa Claus could lead to a host of experiential surprises and disappointments.

  • Musketball

    essentially, Peterson remains inquisitive and open-minded enough to spend 40 hours trying to answer a question of faith, while Harris will eventually arrive at pondering the destigmatization of cannibalism.

  • aparent

    Who has seen George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison? Where is the evidence of their existence? Of their mighty deeds? Are they just myths? Is there a single photograph of any of them or their contemporaries? No, and yet you and I accept and live in the world they and their intellectual friends created. You are experiencing the “miracle” of this country passed down through generations from real people unseen but known to people like us, many among us ungrateful, doubting Thomases who come up with all kinds of reasons to reject the beliefs that have sustained us through the centuries. Likewise Christianity which has suffered much abuse as smug, arrogant “rational, scientific” fools like Harris make use of relatively recent theories to explain everything and teach us that chemistry and biology make philosophy, history and religion “irrelevant.” Hogwash. Recall “social darwinism.” Recall the horrors of the 20th century. Recall morality-free atheistic communism, devoid of God. Recall Poland in the 1970s, a country that demanded God back from the totalitarian butchers who banned mention of Him. Recall the hope that Pope John Paul II brought to a world weary of being told “God is dead.” Look at what the “sexual revolution,” which teaches that sex is transactional and meaningless has wrought, just for example in male-female relationships. The devil is loose and having a field day today. That’s all Peterson is trying to say. (And to me, Harris is the devil’s unwitting tool.)

  • rummager

    Religion has always searched for ways to stay relevant, while science and the education of the masses have always been a threat. As science has advanced, so, too, has religious erudition. Peterson is a continuation of that tradition. He knows full well that the educated have, for the most part, deserted traditional religion; yet, he seemingly has a deep need to hang onto it in some form. The form which he has constructed, with the help of Jung and bulwarked by the example of Solzhenitsyn, appeals to the intellect. It constantly compels us to think that he might be onto something. That form of answer to doubt is not much different than the illiterate who can dismiss most learned argument against belief, with the assertion that there must be “something”. Peterson has so far been able to deflect most critiques. His one misstep was debating Matt Dillahunty. Dillahunty truly made him look bad, and, reduced his argumentation to word salad.

  • gimpi1

    Absolutely. Wanting something to be true is death on objectivity. My desires or fears have no bearing on reality.

  • Anthony Costello

    Great article. Very clear, and a good assessment of Harris and Peterson’s positions, neither of which, I think, do the evidence for historical and biblical Christianity justice. Just watch Harris’ debate against Craig to see that more clearly. I would hope that more in the church would not only discover the depth of Christian Apologetics that is being done today, but also that we would move into the even deeper waters of orthodox Christian philosophy of Religion and analytic Theology. How many of us are reading the Plantinga and Alstons of the scholarly world? How many are taking into account the new work in Analytic Theology by scholars like Michael Rea, Oliver Crisp, or Tom McCall. These names and their defenses not only of Christianity broadly, but of particular, classical doctrines of the Christian faith are not getting the kind of attention in our Churches that they should be getting. Many of the “New Atheists'” claims have been answered and answered thoroughly by Christian philosophers and theologians. We just aren’t looking there, we would rather watch Youtube videos of Peterson waxing eloquent about Jungian bible interpretation, then do the hard work of picking up the Oxford Companion to Natural Theology. Anyway, for my part, it’s time to step up our intellectual game as a church.

  • Scott D.

    Thank you for this article. When I read/listen to Peterson, especially 12 Rules, I know there’s a Christian in there, under wraps, but there all the same, waiting to reemerge. I pray he gets there. The shame for those of us who profess Christianity? Peterson seems to be a better Christian, functionally, than the VAST majority of us. Peterson makes me want to be a better Christian. Heck, Sam Harris does, too.

  • James

    Thought the article was good..

    “We were not made to be split beings. We were not made to stake ourselves on blind faith. Our hearts and minds, our instincts and our knowledge, are meant to be aligned.”

    …and I think this is the point. The religion/science schism is not only a societal one but reflects the schism in ourselves, trying to find the unifying element of meaning (the sense of something greater, a “hidden” heart truth to be realised) and reason (the truth understood “simply” from that which appears).

    It will be by healing that schism within ourselves that we heal the greater schism, I think – and that this task is perhaps what human life is about.

    This polarisation across all aspects of life is painful and doomed to tragedy and pain and is but a reflection/ of our split/broken selves – and our reality is a projection of our selves from a Buddhist point of view.

    That the schism exists despite many fully developed paradigms developed over thousands of years – across materialism, deism and “pansychisms” (probably not strictly accurate but by which I mean the traditional (not the SH version

  • Xavier

    “When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”

  • Henry

    James is pondering “Instrumental Truths”, which to our great shame, is how most of us
    operate, we like to believe as true that which provides us with what we think we should
    have, mostly in order to be happier. So James is willing to admit that people will act
    as if something is true, even though, as far as we know, it cannot be true.

    That is a different question that what was first posed, is it not ?

  • Lacunaria

    Do you mean the question that you posed or Valence’s response? Because I think Valence’s response is consistent with James.

    You’ve almost got James but the key is that he does not describe instrumental truth as a shame. In fact, he is saying it is a good thing — that a false-ish belief can be good. Correspondence truth is not our ultimate goal, rather goodness is. Truth just usually leads us to goodness.

    To put it in consequentialist moral terms: if a false belief has better results than a true belief, then what should we believe?

    Bear in mind that, in reality, we never know the full truth and that knowing some truths without others can lead to travesty. Note also that the entire business of morality involves predicting an inherently uncertain future.

    Therefore, it’s plausible, for example, that people should believe in God (with a certain moral code, ultimate justice, etc.), even if he (or it) doesn’t exist.

  • Widuran

    The only way for salvation is through Jesus Christ

  • CombatMissionary

    This debate never ceases to amaze me. I have a question I’d like atheists to answer:
    Why is it so important that everyone NOT believe in God?
    I’ve no problem with an academic discussion, but some atheists seem just as militant as the most rabid religionists. To paraphrase the article, all things are possible, and in many ways, this discussion is merely about probabilities.

    I’ve often heard militant atheists cite examples of religion driving people to do horrible things, but did the 20th century not teach us that those demanding the downfall of religion can do things equally as horrible as the religionists, if not more so? Godless Marxism killed tens of millions in that century. It occurs that the problem of horribleness isn’t a religious problem; it’s a human problem.

    Further, having grown up in California, my experience assures me that for many adherents, the movements surrounding environmentalism, labor, and Marxist principles are no less a religion than Christianity, having adherents who are no less ignorant about the founding tenets and no less zealous about spreading their own gospels. At least the vast majority of organized Christian religions disavow violence and threaten their faithful with divine wrath should they spread their doctrines therewith. I don’t think I’ve seen the same from the Leftist religions.

    By all means, let the discussion continue.

  • Liam

    As Christians you got to quit teaching that the Bible is the sole authority on all matters of the faith. This is purely a protestant teaching that arrived about 500 yrs ago. It’s easily dismantled by atheist or anyone else who pursues truth. American Evangelicals especially always argue from the position of scripture alone without any thought of what the Bible is or where it came from.

  • @EstherOReilly

    To continue, I’ll link a few more free resources. First, I’d like to point you to one of David Hume’s contemporary opponents, because Hume’s argument against miracles is really at the root of a ton of the skeptical output since then. George Campbell is just one Christian scholar who mounted a thorough response in Hume’s day, and if I’m not mistaken Hume himself wrote in a letter, “The Scot has beaten me.” It’s a bit stodgy, but the contemporary agnostic philosopher Jonathan Earman quoted Campbell among others in his own much more technical work explaining the errors in Hume’s probability theory. He said Hume’s Christian opponents were intuitively much closer to the mark, though none of them yet had the tools to formalize their arguments. So, free on Google Books, here’s George Campbell’s A Dissertation on Miracles:

  • apole loide

    good points. mostly.

    “judeo-christian” is as bogus a construct as “islamo-christian”. the western religion you refer to is xian, not “judeo-xian”

    “And right there in a nutshell, Murray captures why Sam Harris is losing his audience to Jordan Peterson”
    “losing his audience”? their audiences are different. i listen to jp for his comments on gender, psychology, etc, but not for his religious opinions.

    “…which requires that we learn something about probability theory.” so you cant read research! everyone who finishes a degree should know the central limit theorem. but even thats not necessary to understand that the probability of you having eggs tomorow is much higher than the probability of you having pigeon tomorrow. we are all probabilistic. even the educated fleas.

  • apole loide


  • apole loide

    speak for yourself. religion is a greater misery.

  • apole loide

    a boogie woogie sky wizard that fixes all your and others injustices wouldve been wiser to be proactive with its awesome super powers and prevent wicked in the first place. but god is as god has to be for people who would rather have b.s. explanations than no explanation for death and suffering.

  • 3vil5triker .

    You’re making a category error.

    If the question is if atheists have committed atrocities, then the answer is: sure, they have. But if you’re asking if they have been committed in the name of Atheism, the answer isn’t so much “no” as it’s that the question doesn’t make sense, because as you mentioned, Atheism is not a belief system.

    Now, if you want to talk about specific atheistic ideologies, then that’s fair game. We can talk about Buddhism. We can talk about the state imposed atheism of totalitarian communist regimes. We can talk about Secular Humanism.

    But Atheism in and of itself is not an ideology. Its just a null hypothesis; a blank slate when it comes to religion.

    To illustrate my point, I have far more in common with an orthodox Catholic than I’ll ever have with Richard Spencer, a White Nationalist, even though we’re both Atheists.

    I hope this cleared things up a bit.

  • Kacy Ray

    ” networking with free speech and anti-Islam activists, ”

    This is inaccurate. You have to be careful with this. His pals like Maajid Nawaz and Hirsi Ali are not anti-Islam, they are anti-Islamist. Islam is a religion, Islamism is a political ideology. Nawaz is, himself, a practicing Muslim.

    Harris is anti-dogmatism, that’s true. And he’s against religious dogma in general. But his main issue is with the political ideology of Islamism.

  • Michael Buckley

    I went from being a prideful atheist to optimistic agnostic after watching many Jordan Peterson videos. I believe he thinks many levels deeper than Sam Harris does. We must be incredibly narcissistic and egotistical to believe that our brains have the ability to know how everything works, even science and religion. Peterson does a great job (still) trying to figure this out – Harris thinks he already has.

  • cipher
  • cipher

    If you think C.S. Lewis and William Lane Craig are “great theist thinkers”, you aren’t really struggling. You’re just looking for validation.

  • cipher

    “Being realistic… ”

    Conservative Christians have no sense of irony.

    “…there is no proof an atheist would accept and no one who has allowed themselves to see, feel, experience, acknowledge God will ever be turned away”

    There is no valid argument that a theist would allow to jeopardize his/her hold on his/her security blanket.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    So, Earman and Campbell give a defense for epistemic justification of general belief in miracles? And you find their cases to be stronger than, say, C.S. Lewis’ Miracles?

  • cipher

    “This is not because Jordan Peterson is a con man. He’s simply a man who still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.”

    This is really rather pitiful. It doesn’t speak well of your God that a man can search for most of his adult life and not find him.

    (And yes, Christian apologists I know; he wasn’t searching with an open heart or mind. He didn’t really want to find.

  • @EstherOReilly

    Not exactly. Earman is agnostic, and so he isn’t definitively giving an answer one way or the other on a specific miracle. All he is saying is Hume’s attempt to just wave it away doesn’t work, probabilistically. You need to get down and dirty with the specific evidences/data, instead of shrugging and going, “Eh, dead men rising again isn’t a thing that typically happens, so basically I’m going to say any natural explanation is prima facie more probable.” That’s not how the math works.

    Campbell, however, is a Christian making more of a positive case. It’s been a long time since I looked at the Lewis, but my guess would be it’s an apples and oranges kind of thing. Again, Campbell is targeting the specific kind of argument Hume is making, whereas my recollection is that Lewis is considering more the philosophy of miracles.

  • @EstherOReilly
  • @EstherOReilly
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  • I do not believe what you wish for is possible. You cannot spike the ball because the moment to strike has long past. Culturally, we are downstream from any moment we could re-embrace traditional orthodox organized religion – particularly Protestant evangelicalism – as a uniting source of meaning and wisdom. And its precisely because you have to tickle the sacred texts in the way Joseph Campbell, Jordan Peterson, or Carl Jung (but I repeat myself) do in order to produce wisdom. They do not stand up to historical analysis in the way dogmatists want, or fit into the modern framework of science comfortably. It’s anachronistic to even make such an attempt. Sam Harris is right about the sacred texts being … limited (though still more relevant than he thinks) in what they can do for us now. What he’s wrong about is the larger problem of pure materialism providing meaning. It’s something more attuned philosophers like Owen Flanagan have been working on for some time now. This is why Harris’ answers seem glib and he often seems so out of touch with people’s lived experiences on the ground (not just on the topic of religion either).

    A metaphysical framework may be necessary for meaning to be sustained in human beings, but its unrealistic to expect people to return to the old time religion in precisely the way it used to be. A new synthesis is needed, and one way or another it will come. Its in all our interests to participate in that project and ensure it succeeds. Otherwise I fear the return of unwise, hubristic secular religions like Communism and Nazism.

  • Aamer Kastoff

    Thank you for proving my point.

  • Aamer Kastoff

    Yes, you cleared up your own opinions. Atheists still, in fact, killed in the name of atheism (hundred plus million) and that seems to be something to date I have never see/heard an atheist admit. – Cheers

  • cipher
  • 3vil5triker .

    So instead of engaging with my actual position, in which I explain what Atheists actually mean, you rather brush that aside in favor of a strawman that fits your narrative.

    Its entirety your prerogative, but at least you shouldn’t pretend you’re interested in having an actual conversation.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    I assume you have already seen the evidence for god’s existence (otherwise why believe god exists?).

    Why not present that evidence here. Or at least describe what the evidence is.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “In any case, the proposition, “one must only believe what can be empirically proven” cannot itself be empirically proven, and so proves to self-destruct. ”

    Who has presented that proposition? I haven’t. Why are you engaging in strawman arguments?

    “To parody your last statement: “unless one can provide evidence that one’s memories are accurate, then one’s belief in their accuracy can be dismissed as nonsense.” This would be handy for a defense attorney in a cold-case murder trial: “I know tgat these 3 witnesses say, and im sure they ‘believe’ that they witnessed the defendant commit the crime, but without physical proof, we can dismiss their testimony. Your honour, I move that all testimony based on personal recollection be stricken!””

    To show how your statement is asinine, I challenge you to present a murder case that was decided solely on eyewitness testimony.

    And equating the testimony of an eyewitness to a crime with someone’s testimony about a supernatural event or entity is childish……. unless you see no difference between someone claiming:

    “I saw 2 guys that look like the defendants kill the victim”


    “I saw 2 demons kill the victim then open a portal to hell & leave”

    “People get convicted all the time on eyewitness testimony alone.”

    Can you present examples that prove this claim?

    Here’s the thing. Even if you CAN present examples that prove that claim, the claims of those eyewitnesses not comparable to claims that a god exists.

    “But back to evidence for God: are you really curious, or just whisting in the dark?”

    If you have evidence for god, please present it.

    But to actually be evidence that proves a god exists, you first must define the god clearly.

    Part of the problem is the people that claim a god exists have been unable to define this god in any way that is meaningful.

  • PaleyRedivivus

    I gave you two sources to start with, one of them free. Anyone who thinks the issues are important is free to click through and read them.

    It’s rather petty to complain when someone who has provided references declines the invitation to compress serious arguments into a comment thread on a blog. Life is short; pick up a book where it’s been done already!

  • PaleyRedivivus

    See Esther’s most recent post …

  • PaleyRedivivus

    So I take it you missed the U2 allusion …

  • cipher

    No, I got that. I don’t think it affects my point. Pop cultural reference aside, the conservative Christian party line is that if you seek God, you’ll find him*, and if you don’t, it’s because you didn’t really want to, and God won’t force himself upon you, yada yada… .

    (*Unless, of course, one is a Calvinist, in which case it was God’s will that you not find him, but its still somehow your fault.)

  • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

    Also, our “evidence of design” for actual designed objects is the knowledge of the companies and people who make the objects. Gravel, tiny rocks one could find anywhere, may be created in a rock-breaking process, but the rocks are raw material not designed. We have no one to connect to the formation of rocks.

  • PaleyRedivivus

    I guess I don’t see the objection from the fact that Peterson hasn’t found Christianity yet. By his own admission, he’s just begun to look into the historical evidence this spring. What’s that line from Spinoza? “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.”

  • cipher

    Fine – then it applies to the countless others who’ve searched and not found, myself being one of them.

    No person of faith will countenance someone who genuinely tried and failed, because if it failed to work for them, it could one day cease working for you – and to a person of faith, that prospect is terrifying. The very existence of people who search and do not find has to be denied: “You didn’t really search, you weren’t really open to God”, etc. (Again, unless one is a Calvinist, and then it’s “I’ve got mine; I guess you don’t get yours – sucks to be you!”)

  • PaleyRedivivus

    So, here you are — you’re alive, you’re in full possession of your faculties, to all appearances you have time. What have you read in the way of historical evidence regarding the truth of Christianity? If you stopped with Bart Ehrman, maybe we can convince you to reopen the examination.

  • Domen Lisjak

    I don’t understand Harris. He wants to get rid of the Bible and God; but wants to establish his book for moral landscapes and way of living?
    I think he doesn’t understand that he is basically doing what the Bible has done 2000 years ago. Striving for some ideal way of living, but using rationality instead of faith. But rationality has always been a two edged sword. What is rational to someone is not rational to others. Basing Harris’ “new religion” on science is so misleading and wrong, because science has been such a small piece of our history.

    I think it will take a lot more from these “atheists” to write a new law of living that will be as impactful as the sacred texts we have now.

  • cipher

    I gave it decades – and not merely Christianity, but other religions as well. I have the right to walk away. I no longer discuss the history of it, and certainly not with someone I don’t know.

    Again, this is a harsh reality that people of faith (any faith) are simply not prepared to face – that people look sincerely, for lengthy periods of time, and simply do not find.

    Meanwhile, you’ll notice the blog owner didn’t respond.

  • Steven Smith

    To the true seeker, the realization usually comes that religion is man-made and culture-dependent. Yet, for a religion to endure, it must offer something, even if it’s just the shared experience of believing in something unproven with others. The intuition that we are more than hunks of matter is valid in my mind. Where to go with that is up to all of us to figure out in the span of our lifetimes.

  • John Davis

    “So, under pragmatic truth theory, would you say that it is true that God exists? Would you characterize Peterson as believing that is true?”
    A Pragmatist would say that is it true that belief in God exists. It is impossible to say definitively whether God exists because there is no way of distinguishing between a world where God exists and one where He doesn’t. Even if you have a first-hand experience that you characterize as divinely inspired, you cannot know for sure that it is in fact so. However, it is perfectly reasonable (from a Pragmatic perspective) to choose to live as though God exists without the need for proof, and I believe this is Peterson’s expressed position. (I’m avoiding the whole issue of what “exist” means in this context).

  • PaleyRedivivus

    “I have the right to walk away. I no longer discuss the history of it, and certainly not with someone I don’t know.”

    To stop looking is your choice — but then maybe you shouldn’t throw Jeremiah 29:13 in Christians’ faces without at least quoting it to the end.

    “Again, this is a harsh reality that people of faith (any faith) are simply not prepared to face – that people look sincerely, for lengthy periods of time, and simply do not find.”

    Nobody here has said they don’t. Some people who walk away come back, too. They have interesting things to say about their journeys.

    “Meanwhile, you’ll notice the blog owner didn’t respond.”

    I’m guessing Esther isn’t keeping up with all of the comments — here or on Twitter — now that this one has passed 10K shares.

  • cipher

    Actually, I was referring to Matthew 7:7-8:

    “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

    To which they forgot to add, “(except for when it isn’t)”.

    But I understand your meaning: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” – which is the response I expected. You’ve illustrated my original point.

    Let’s not waste any more time on this, shall we?

  • PaleyRedivivus

    If you’ve stopped, you’re not seeking any more — n’est ce pas?

    Be well.

  • Aamer Kastoff

    First, you have no position to engage in. You stated you opinion, I acknowledged it and reiterated a fact. Second, I never pretended to be interested in having a conversation. Why are you making things up? Weird you would use fallacies right after wrongly accusing me of doing the same. Look up straw man and if you have any integrity you will acknowledge it didn’t happen ( I won’t hold my breath I think you are a type two; see below… Hope I am wrong, we will see).

    Do you actually read my original post? I have zero interest in wasting time having a conversation with anyone who has cognitive dissonance at the level virtually every atheist the posts is afflicted with. Nothing I wrote invited conversation.

    There are two types of atheists:
    1.) Real atheists by definition who simply do not believe in deity or intelligent design do to what the feel or think is a lack of proof. You rarely hear from them, let alone read anything from them because they do not treat atheism as a religion and have no desire to be asshats. These atheists are great. My atheist friends and brother fit this category.

    2.) The atheists that can’t shut up about their atheist religion/beliefs which they will argue is not a religion/belief even though it fits all the definitions and they behave like its a religion and have a zealots belief in atheism. They proselytize just as much as any other religion, you know the other religions that so many atheists nearly orgasm from insulting at every chance.

    These atheists rage pots, reply non-stop, troll, have a desperate need for the last word, use fallacies constantly but will never admit it and they of course will accuse you of using fallacies. They have mass cognitive dissonance. No proof or evidence will ever be enough so there is no point in having a conversation (conversation being a lie because all the atheist wants is more replies they can rage at you about). Basically everything they accuse the religious of being they, the atheists, are but worse, so much worse.

    Last note; the type one atheists I know HATE the type two because they make all atheists look like ignorant tyrannical sheeple just claiming to be atheists because they think it makes them sound smart, different, or edgy (it doesn’t). Type two atheists regurgitate atheist memes straight from Facebook and actually think it makes the “educated.”

  • Lacunaria

    I basically agree with you. I just wanted to press Valence that this is more accurately a theory of belief (as you have just described) rather than a theory of truth.

    It is strange, at first, to reason about belief independent of truth, but I think that uncertainty necessitates that approach.

  • 3vil5triker .

    But what you reritirated is not a fact and was actually the whole point of my post.

    The only thing needed to qualify as an atheist is a single position on a single subject. At some level you acknowledge this by talking about different kinds of atheists.

    Do some atheists believe and behave in ways that are analogous with the religions they criticize? Sure, but that goes beyond the scope of what atheism is. Maybe we simply don’t know or don’t have a name for it yet.

    For similar reasons, you will keep getting pushback when you start talking about people getting killed in the name of “atheism”.

    There are a lot of steps needed to go from “I don’t believe in God” all the way to “therefore I must start killing people”, and to just label all that under “atheism” is imprecise, lazy and unhelpful.

  • Richard Sanderson

    “networking with free speech [and anti-Islam] activists”

    Is networking with free speech advocates a bad thing?

    History shows us that those who opposed free speech were fascists, so I will gladly “network” with those who oppose fascists, i.e. free speech advocates.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    It’s rather petty to ( when asked to provide evidence) tell the person to go someplace else to check it out.

    The discussion is happening here.

    Is there some reason you do not want to present that evidence here. Or at least describe what the evidence is?

    I would guess the answer is you know the alleged evidence is not convincing.

  • PaleyRedivivus

    Suit yourself. Complex objections often require complex answers. The links are there — other people can have a look even if you won’t.

  • John Davis

    I would say Pragmatism is a theory of truth, not a theory of belief. Pragmatism is an alternative to the correspondence theory of truth.

  • Lacunaria

    Haha, I know that’s the official line, but can you see how that is inconsistent with how you just described it?

    Nothing you’ve said affects truth, it only affects the rationality of belief. “it is true that belief in God exists” is just correspondence theory.

  • John Davis

    In my Pragmatism, truth is part of a continuum of proposition – belief – truth. There is no fundamental difference between belief and truth, it’s just a difference in confidence. And, of course, some truths are “more true” than others. (I’m leaving aside axioms, which have a different sort of truth).
    Contrast with the correspondence theory where belief and truth are entirely different categories.

  • Lacunaria

    Confidence in what? How do you measure that?

  • John Davis

    Confidence based on the reliability of the source of the proposition, its congruence with other beliefs I hold, consequences of the belief being incorrect, etc.
    Suppose a friend tells me King Henry II was born in 1132. That’s a proposition and is also their belief (unless they are lying). I assess the reasonableness of the proposition and the veracity of the friend on historical matters and perhaps that becomes my (provisional) belief also. Later I check on wikipedia which confirms the date and so my confidence in the belief is increased. I might now say that I believe it is “true” that King Henry II was born in 1132 (even though wikidedia could be incorrect). But I don’t care all that much whether this is definitively true or not – it is “true enough” even if it is out by a few years, because the consequences of being wrong in this case are minimal. I would exercise more caution with regard to making claims of truth if my friend were to tell me that a particular wild mushroom was safe to eat, for example!

  • Aamer Kastoff

    Again I acknowledge your opinion and my facts stand. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not facts are facts. I appreciate your attempts to be reasonable. And even though I made it very clear I am not looking for dialogue I will entertain you. Please answer these questions.

    I will keep this simple and use just one religion and these are simple yes and no type questions:

    Are atheists worse than Christians?

    Is atheism a better belief (please do not argue atheism is not a belief its pointless, wrong, and factually by definition is a belief) system than Christianity?

    Are you an atheist?

  • TinnyWhistler

    Disclaimer: I’m not an atheist.
    In my experience, it’s because they have personally been mistreated or witnessed mistreatment (or what they perceive as mistreatment) by Christians who justify said treatment with their faith. Thus they conclude that

    One example I’m thinking of is a person I was close to growing up. Their parents were/are very vocally against queer people. My friend is trans and bisexual. How do you think that turned out? My friend withdrew from Christianity after a period of severe anxiety and depression in their mid to late teens before they even came out because they couldn’t continue in a worldview that had taught them an enormous degree of self-hatred. They aren’t militant in their atheism but they do believe that the world right now would be a better place without Christianity.

    I’m sure you’ll disagree with their conclusion but that’s why. Everyone I know who grew up Christian and has since left the faith has done so because of things they disagreed with that Christians do in the name of Christianity.

  • TinnyWhistler

    “Even the very most basic things we use have been intelligently created (by humans)”
    Not true. I can go out into the woods and pick up a fallen stick and use it for a whole number of things. Humans did not make that stick. I’m sure you don’t mean this, but I’m also not sure what you do mean.

    “The earth and it’s rotation and seasons etc, is more complex than anything on it yet by happenstance it exists?”
    Off the top of my head I’d argue that the mechanism of protein folding are waaayy more complex than the earth’s rotation (or at least much less understood) and those are certainly on the Earth. The seasons are similarly much more easily modeled than the very basics of how cells work. (disclaimer: I have a physics, not a biology background, but I’ve attended a few talks on knot theory and how it relates to protein folding that I found fascinating). Not one says the earth exists by happenstance.

    “The earth was obviously intelligently created.”
    Depends on what you mean by intelligently created.

    “If I said to a software developer who developed a complex application “did you know that app developed itself?” of course he would think I was crazy yet it’s accepted that the earth came rolling into existence on its own accord?!”
    If a software engineer created a system of software that could develop its own applications (This is something that a friend of mine from college used to play around with. He was interested in machine learning applications and this isn’t that far off from that) and you said “did you know that app developed itself?” they’d say “No! Rather, I created a system that could create applications and left it to run. The software I built created the application.”
    No one thinks the earth popped into existence of its own accord.

    “Everything you interact with each day was intelligently created.”
    What’s your criterion for intelligently created? If you mean everything in existence, then this isn’t a falsifiable claim.

    “Don’t be fooled into thinking that the earth, moon and sun wasn’t created.”
    Created by what mechanism?

    “Also, at different times of the year the moon, which is significantly smaller than the earth, will occupy the same space as the sun, which is significantly bigger than the earth, from the vantage point of the earth. Absolutely impossible to be a coincidence. ”
    Not a coincidence, it’s how physics works. For an example, put a ball on the floor and look at it. Then move away. The ball looks smaller.
    By “occupy the same space as the sun” do you mean an eclipse? That’s not an annual event. It’s predictable based on how bodies orbit each other. Orbital mechanics is a well-studied topic in physics.

    “The mechanisms and precision do not exist in nature.”
    Not sure what you mean by this, but orbital mechanics is pretty well studied if that’s what you’re talking about.

    “Fill free to believe that we are alone in the universe but you are wrong.”
    I’m really, REALLY tempted to make a joke about space aliens here.

  • camainc

    Excellent article. I’m glad we’re on the same side. Or, more correctly, in the same family. Thanks for this and the follow-up.

  • CombatMissionary

    It’s a good point; the diversity of viewpoints within Christianity tends to allow for the creation of sects or groups that are far more severe in their teachings than others. And it’s certainly a cautionary tale for Christians about the difference between teaching people to seek God’s help to overcome our weaknesses rather than teaching people to hate themselves. The saddest part to me is when people, being more emotional than logical beings, become the thing that they hate by becoming militantly against the thing that hurt or offended them, and worse, when they whitewash an entire group of religions as being identical to that one religion, sect, or even individual that hurt them (which is the case in many more instances than former Christian atheists alone).

    However, I find that many people in society who militantly demonize Judeo-Christianity these days have never been members of those religions. It fascinates me how politically in vogue it has become to be against particular religions in the public eye these days among certain prominent circles. I suppose much of it is due to media spotlights being given, over the past 40 or more years, to people who have been offended by the religious, and then much of the media portrayal running on the assumption that all the religious are identical. The Overton window has indeed been shifted, and many of those who demand understanding and tolerance have become unwilling to understand and tolerate in return, without ever having known those for whom they hold contempt.

  • TinnyWhistler

    I think people speaking up about their bad experiences in Christianity has snowballed (that is, people talking leads to more people being comfortable stalking) and led to a rather loud conversation of “You’ve hurt me!” for better or for worse.

    I think from that there have been two reactions that have contributed to what you’re talking about: one from churches and one from atheists who had never been in the church. While some churches have taken steps to acknowledge past wrongs and try to fix them moving forward, many others have either become defensive (it was very bad that happened…but that’s an outlier!) or accusatory (she was asking for it). Some atheists who have never gotten to know Christians have responded by jumping on the bandwagon/rolling snowball and seen adding their condemnations to the chorus as proof of their own intellectual and/or moral superiority. They preach the “good news” of atheism because they hear of atrocities in the church and want to let people know they can leave, just like Christians preach the “good news” of the Gospel because they want to bring people in.

  • Gabriel Lyon

    I left Christianity for the reason that truth matters as well. I would say though that it helps that ultimately Christians argue that all things will work together for good. So there is pain in leaving faith. Just look at the sincere people of other faiths, what most biblical experts say about scripture, and suddenly you begin to ask what reasons to I have left to believe other than it is meaningful to me?

  • I ask all kinds of questions all the time. Obviously, I don’t find the questions/supposed problems that trouble you very compelling. Yes, there is meaning in believing, but not if what I am believing is a lie. There is no merit in that and no real meaning in fantasy. Christianity does give meaning to my life, but only because I am convinced it is true. If I were convinced it was not true, I would leave it behind. As I said, I already tried that many years ago. It was in trying to leave it behind that I realized I was lying to myself, not in believing.

  • Richard Elliott II

    How good to find such a website. Great article. ” . . . don’t hush people when they come to you with intellectual doubts”. I could not agree more. 🙂 Overall, I believe Peterson’s presentations have been beneficial to most everyone. He’s made people feel addressed in a new way by biblical material. And Peterson has given people “politically confused” a new way to approach the political landscape. But I am wearied by this continuous ” God-talk”. It’s like God is relegated to the realm of ideas to be analyzed, critiqued, and in some cases ridiculed and believers intellectually trashed ( like we have never heard this crap b4 ). I am surprised these Harris debates have been so popular. I appreciate the attempt of Peterson to “deal with God” as the transcendent being and not God as a thing that is just here, there and everywhere. I hear the atheist crowd with their fear of religion as so much magical thinking. But it’s just the case that some people do get what they pray for ( and on a regular basis), and some don’t. Jesus dealt with this all the time. I have learned that God can confront you, mature you, train you, comfort you anyway he wants. And he can be immediate and unmediated as can be. Every believer learns pretty early that God is no errand boy running here and there to fulfill all our “good intentions”. But I believe one of the best thing a church leader can do is encourage prayer – individually, but especially in groups.

  • Lacunaria

    consequences of the belief being incorrect

    How do you judge the correctness of a belief? Isn’t it by comparing the belief to reality? At which point, it sounds like you are just substituting “correctness” in place of “truth”.

    Again, it seems apparent that correspondence theory defines truth, while pragmatism defines what we should reasonably believe is true for our purposes.

  • John Davis

    “How do you judge the correctness of a belief?”
    By its utility. If I act in accordance with a belief and achieve my expected outcome, the belief is correct (or “true enough”). OK, it’s a bit more complicated than that, because every action is taken against a background of countless beliefs, held with varying levels of confidence. But if I believe a wild mushroom to be safe to eat, and I eat it and feel sick, I shall consider my belief incorrect.

  • 3vil5triker .

    Yes, I’m an atheist. I think the atheist position regarding the supernatural claims of Christianity is more reasonable. Does that make it a better belief system than Christianity?

    Well, first off, it depends on what do you mean by “better”. What metrics are we using to make that determination? Second, even if I forgo the whole argument on whether or not Atheism qualifies as a belief system, you would still be left with a belief system that only has a single proposition. That’s not enough to make any kind of meaningful comparison.

    That’s not to say that atheists don’t have beliefs, its just that they go beyond the scope of simply “Atheism”. Most of the atheists I’ve encountered online would qualify as Secular Humanists, but that’s not always the case.

    Where we seem to be at an impasse is on the usage of the word “Atheism”. What annoys me is your insistence that my usage of the word is “just my opinion”, when in fact its widely used and accepted. You’re the one who’s imbuing the word with additional baggage.

    Look, you can say atheists have committed atrocities; that’s undeniable. You can say people have committed atrocities in the name of atheist ideologies; that’s factual and accurate. But when you go as far as to say that people have committed atrocities in the name of Atheism, then you will get one of two reactions:
    a. That’s not true, or
    b. What do you mean by “Atheism”?

    And this is what I meant by not being conductive to a dialogue. Its not that I wanted to have one with you, its that your insistence on your usage of the word “Atheism” being the one true factual definition is counterproductive and only ends up with you and whomever you’re arguing with to just talk past each other.

  • Lacunaria

    That is a very reasonable way to form beliefs, which is what pragmatism actually describes. That’s why you keep using the phrase “true enough” rather than “true” when a belief is useful. You are using pragmatic belief on top of the correspondence theory of truth and not as a competing theory of truth.

  • John Davis

    I don’t believe I am making use of the correspondence theory of truth at all. While I am happy to accept the existence of a shared reality, I am making no claims of correspondence to its nature.

  • Lacunaria

    The correspondence is established by whatever process validated part of your model.

    Here’s a test: describe a case where the correspondence theory of truth and your theory of truth contradict each other.

    Because both theories say that “it is true that belief in God exists” and both theories allow that your other examples are “true enough”. But only pragmatic theory adds that belief is reasonably based upon utility rather than truth.

  • John Davis

    “The correspondence is established by whatever process validated part of your model.” — That’s only a correspondence between my perceptions and my mental model. That’s not what the correspondence theory means at all! From Wikipedia: “The correspondence theory of truth states that the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world and whether it accurately describes (i.e., corresponds with) that world.” (

    “King Henry II was born in 1131” may be pragmatically “true enough” for me, but is not true by correspondence theory.

  • Lacunaria

    That’s only a correspondence between my perceptions and my mental model.

    Perceptions of what? You keep referring to one part of a relationship as though it is complete by itself, but perceptions don’t exist independently, rather they “relate to the world” via our senses, by definition.

    “King Henry II was born in 1131” may be pragmatically “true enough” for me, but is not true by correspondence theory.

    Of course not, because in the first case you are asserting “true enough for me” and in the second case you are asserting “true”. Those are two different predicates and there is no conflict between them using either theory.

    Correspondence theory has nothing to say about what is “true enough for you” because it is simply a theory of truth, not a theory of what you should believe for what purposes.

  • Patrick Ponticel

    Overall, Esther, you’ve provided a fair opinion that I might quibble with on the edges. For the most part, well done. However, the other part is breathtakingly presumptuous–at least that’s how I view it. In declaring as you do that Jordan Peterson is “simply a man who still hasn’t found what he’s looking for,” you seem to be implying that until becomes an unqualified Christian he is somewhat of a lost soul. Seems preposterous in addition to presumptuous in summing him up that way. If he seems unsure in his thinking, it’s only because he is plumbing the deepest depths of the aspects of life that are the most unsure, that offer no hard answers (except to those with blind faith). To me, your criticism of him is analogous to criticism of a basketball player for missing shots from 60 feet away; the player will seem lost in that he will miss the vast majority of his shots, but is he really lost? No, he’s just exploring the limits of his capabilities, as JP is doing in his thinking about God. Being unsure is just being honest in the seemingly unsolvable figuring-out-God puzzle. Peterson strikes me as an extremely honest man. In that sense, he is as far from lost as anyone I know of. What he’s looking for, and I’d argue what he’s found, is a voice proclaiming the value of God/religion in a vague sense, which he seems to believe is the best sense in which to understand it (and I think I agree with him in that). Does he make every 60-foot shot in making his case? Of course not. Nobody should be held to the impossibly high I’ve-found-an-answer-to-every-question-relating-to-God standard that you hold him to. But that’s just my opinion, and I appreciate your sharing your opinion as you did.

  • Patrick Ponticel

    “As Christians, we have an opportunity to complete the work Peterson has begun.” Peterson is making the reverse case, I’d argue: He is completing the work Christians have begun. Seems to me (and to Peterson) that the more Christian fundamentalists try to “complete” the work, the worse off Christianity is, starting with Jerry Falwell’s politicization of Christianity and culminating in Jerry Falwell Jr.’s complete embrace of an amoral president. Not much credibility left to work with. Peterson offers a different path around the smelly Falwell sewer system. It might not be all roses along that path, but it might also be the only one available. In blazing this path, Peterson might be considered a modern-day Martin Luther of sorts.

  • Michael Roy

    Honestly, as a religious person, I’m not willing to accept the void because the void just doesn’t make any sense. I just can’t look at the almost infinitely complex universe we live in and our ability to reason and desire and think and dream and conclude that it all just exists for no reason. It’s much more rational, in my view, to believe that there is some force we can’t measure or sense that is responsible for creating the universe the way it is and sustaining it despite the more than gargantuan chances that it shouldn’t exist. And it makes sense that this force created the universe this way for a reason: because there is an objective morality grounded in reality that we are meant to follow. And it makes sense that perhaps this force would want to interact with the universe and the people in it that he created to give them just some sense of direction, even through possibly coming down as a person Himself and establishing a theologically infallible Church to carry on the Spirit of truth so that truth is never completely lost by us.

    All this makes way more sense to me than to explain away this universe of immeasurable substance as nothingness.

  • james warren

    It’s ALL metaphor.

    By metaphor I don’t mean abstract symbolism that you force the reader to dig through, so that he can make-believe he understands what the story’s about, [while looking down his nose at the audience].

    What I’m talking about is “show; don’t tell” metaphors.
    These happen in every effective story, whether we consciously realize it or not.

    Our minds are metaphorical machines.
    We associate events, objects, people with our perceptions of them.

    It is our perceptions—not raw facts—that determine how we react.

    And these metaphors, these perceptions, are more important even than the reality behind them.

  • james warren

    I see what you mean.

  • Wile F. Coyote

    Cool. When I released the burden of supernatural belief, I turned and wandered a little ways down the path of mysticism/spiritualism. I always regretted I wasn’t aware at the time there are signposts warning those two things are just like religion, if you know where to look. Once I found them, I began making it a practice to point them out to others. Glad I wasn’t offensive.

  • Aamer Kastoff

    First, thank you for answering one of the questions. I had already guessed you are an atheist and its nice you didn’t lie or dodge. That leaves the second question which was really yes or no and you decide it needs metrics, fine.

    I get you don’t like that mass atrocities were done in the name of atheism and that you don’t want to acknowledge it. But it is true and factual. I will not deny reality any more than, what seems to be, your cognitive dissonance will let you own atheists do bad things in the name of atheism.

  • 3vil5triker .


    We seem to be using the word “atheism” with significantly different meanings. I’ve already explained what I mean by that word, and I’ve already told you that definition is not “just my opinion”; its a valid and widely used one.

    Now, unless you’re going to make the case that mere disbelief in God and/or the supernatural is motivation enough to commit mass atrocities, then just what the heck do you mean by the term “atheism”?

    Because we’re clearly not speaking on the same page on this.

  • james warren

    Everything is metaphor.

  • james warren

    Myths and metaphors are not fanciful tales.

    My point is not that those ancient people [those “OTHER” people] told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically.

    They actually told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally. Thanks to the Enlightenment.

    That’s when logic, scientism and rationality emerged.

  • Lilly Munster

    When Theists are cornered in their illogical and ridiculous BullShit, they ALWAYS resort to snark. If Christianity had any intellectual or moral validity, it would not be in massive decline.
    It is doomed for the same reason all the other 3,000 preceding religions have died……they are irrelevant. The only real enemy of Religion is education. No one is more responsible for the death of Christianity…..than Christians. They behave badly. They hold on to bigotries and raw hatreds. They have self-destructed. Don’t blame Sam Harris…..he is only an articulate WITNESS, not the cause, of the abandonment of myth based nonsense.

  • Andy Kumar

    What I don’t understand is how can the Bible claim God created man in his own image to rule over all the animals yet many of the animals have the taste for human flesh and want to kill and eat us, and are easily physically capable of doing so (lions etc). It just seems contradictory to me, clearly humans are no “chosen ones” and therefore to me the Bible already became fiction.

  • Hesperado

    I think it’s a mistake for a Christian to conclude that faith eliminates the “void”. The former Pope John Paul II wrote poetry as a younger man; one poem, “Abyss”, speaks to the problem of the void, a problem that doesn’t go away with the Gospel ( Some excerpts:

    “We all bear it in us.
    When men are gathered together
    they shift the abyss like a boat
    on their shoulders…

    Though you see no abyss in the mind
    don’t imagine that it’s not there.
    Light may not reach your sight, but the boat
    shifts on to your shoulders:
    the abyss is clothed in flesh,
    become fact
    in all men.”

    Other thought-provoking writers on this subject would be for example T.S. Eliot, Paul Tillich, Kierkegaard, Miguel de Unamuno.

  • Hesperado

    Blessed are those with unmade beds,
    for they shall see the day of hospital corners…

  • Hesperado

    “Basically, any study of reality must be objective by it’s very nature,
    especially science, but consciousness is inherently subjective.”

    Any study of reality is unavoidably subjective. Objects don’t “study” themselves.

  • Hesperado

    Miguel de Unamuno seemed to argue that doubt is an ever-present (in this life) dimension of faith. “Faith that lacks doubt is a dead faith indeed” he said.

  • jehanne

    In the meantime, you go through life unable to explain away supernatural phenomena, unable to answer a thousand question that lay waste to the idiocy of atheism. You also must believe something akin to if you stare at a rock long enough, give it water and sunlight, it will one day turn into a screaming eagle. (all by chance, no less)

  • April Davidson Hollingsworth

    When I was a believer, my void was much bigger than it is now. The thought that the majority of the people that ever lived would end up in hell was the most unsettling idea imaginable. I’m at peace now.

  • April Davidson Hollingsworth

    The importance of Christianity depends on what’ve type of church you are a part of. In mine it was more about believing all the right things about faith and Jesus (us a gift, not if ourselves, trinity, always existed). If you questioned those people would “worry about you.”

  • April Davidson Hollingsworth

    I’m the opposite. I sought god because I wanted to do his will. After much study and prayer, I realized he wasn’t there.

  • Widuran


    For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

  • This debate never ceases to amaze me. I have a question I’d like atheists to answer:
    Why is it so important that everyone NOT believe in God?

    No one atheist can speak for anyone but themselves–never mind all or a significant proportion of ‘atheism’, as such–but as an atheist I can give you my response.

    To me, the belief itself about the basic metaphysical question–is there an active mind behind the universe who cares about its contents in a way at least analogous to human conceptual understanding?–it does not matter one bit to me which side of that question a person comes down on. Nobody knows either way for sure, and so indulging our inclinations is mostly inevitable and part of the general course of making momentous choices about our lives and how we would like to live them. Some people react to the options with indifference, and some people have strong inclinations towards one or the other. Intuitions are part of personality, and it’s an important part of personal authenticity and growth to be given the social and personal leeway to lean into them, so to speak.

    But, and this is ‘the but’ to end all.

    Theism basically never strictly comes alone. The Philosopher’s God is worshiped by no one, and that includes philosophers. Tillich is about as close as that gets. Most people–the vast majority–who settle upon believing that there is a mind behind the universe that cares about its contents in a way they might personally approach and understand then, pretty sensibly, start trying to figure out what that mind might actually care about and what it wants from all of us. Those who particularly fancy one or another of these accounts of the true thoughts of the mind behind the universe, like all good and dutiful fans, just can’t wait to share with everyone they meet the great news about how they’ve figured it all out, how theirs is smart and true and the others are dumb and wrong, and now we have to reorganize society and your choices and your life to make a social space for receiving the wisdom of the way of life described by the supposedly, purportedly, absolutely-I-promise true thoughts of the mind behind the universe, who loves you and Demands OBEDIENCE.

    It’s that whole bit that tends to make theism less of a free and unencumbered metaphysical choice and more analogous to your neighbor playing really loud music all the time. And they don’t care if you like the style or the artist. And won’t stop pestering you about band trivia or what your favorite song is. And become extremely angry if you ask them to lower the volume or criticize the band’s oeuvre in any way whatsoever.

    People who just won’t take no for an answer. People who think their opinions should rule your life and your choices. That gets tiresome. It makes some people cranky. And if they have experience with one or two of the more toxic fans, that can spill over into a more permanent hostility. Hostile to the band. To the style of music. To loud noise entirely.

    The package is the problem. It’s why many atheists seem to care more than you might expect about what other people believe. It’s not that it’s about a god–that’s a metaphysical speculation, and often an entertaining one–it’s that it’s always an unending and from-all-conceivable-angles salespitch for a particular, specific God who has stories and rules and followers ready to go, acting analogously to the most annoying Nickelback fans in the world. And nothing even instrumentally useful about a deity comes without one of these pre-packaged bundles, so inevitably hostility to one religion’s idiosyncratic theism is going to spill over to a general irritation with the concept, because it never appears in a real-world context apart from the irritants.

  • “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.”

    You know, most atheists are not ignorant of the philosophers and authors you listed–many atheists were once theists, for a somewhat banal explanatory point on that–and yet remain atheists. You attribute this somewhat bizarrely and without warrant to “a profound void in [our] heart[s]”.

    Interesting approach. “Let me tell you something about you that you don’t know.” Uh, huh.

    Do you find that gets results often?

    A bit of a suggestion: Dial down the condescension and sanctimony, and perhaps add more knowledge and context. What about those thinkers do you think we should get out of reading them? Chesterton alone is one of the most prolific writers in the English canon; merely throwing names at people gives them no guidance whatsoever. They are as likely to pull from Chesterton the sentiment I quoted atop rather than one you’d much prefer–he was not an optimistic guy when it came to the transformative nature of the product you sell; he was more of a free-minds-make-choices type regardless of professed belief. Aristotle is a particularly odd suggestion without some guidance. Not only is he a massive founding figure in the Western Philosophical canon, and so impossible to approach casually, but pointedly there is no end to the possible conclusions one could draw from such a study. It doesn’t all lead to Aquinas; Nietzsche was easily as much a reaction to Aristotle as Aquinas was. Hylomorphism as easily leads to Epicurus as it does to anything one finds in Christendom.

    Is this meant to be throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks evangelism?

  • kid_charlemagne2

    Ah, Sam Harris the pro-Israel “atheist.”

  • CombatMissionary

    Thanks for your answer. It’s actually such a reasonable metaphor, and gave me a good belly laugh to boot! Something that everyone can understand and even relate to personally. I’d even have to say, within the religious world (and even within each religion itself, I’d suspect), it even applies very well. I’m reminded of a comic strip a member of my own church drew one time, with a guy up at the pulpit looking rather kooky, saying, “…and that’s when God told me that I needed to start feeding my cat vegetarian food…”

    The older I get, the more I am reminded of what I was told in my youth: people won’t care about what you have to say until they know how much you care. Conversations about religion are most effective when people are interested, and if that’s going to happen, it won’t be until after people know that you’re genuinely their friend. Be a good person and a good friend, and evangelization will probably take care of itself.

  • Henry

    James goes deeper than you give him present credit for.

  • Scott F

    I think these are not contradictory but rather that both people exist. They are my two Buckets of Faith ™, one for those driven by Love and the other for those driven by Judgment.

  • Scott F

    I used to revel in atheist arguments about Biblical inconsistencies until I learned that Thomas Paine was making exactly the same arguments in 1794 and Porphyry in the 3rd century (!)

    There are no new arguments on either side, it would seem. Over time, I have stopped trying to find THE argument that will sink the Church and convince my family and friends. I live my life and oppose the more modern nonsense I encounter every day. Probably wasting my time there, too …

  • Raging Bee

    Thanks for proving Lily’s point. What color is the sky in your bubble-verse?

  • Aamer Kastoff

    Clearly we are not on the same page. I continue to state facts, like the hundreds of millions killed by atheists, and you have your opinions and denial of atheist atrocities. – Cheers

  • 3vil5triker .

    Now you’re just lying. I have not denied anything; in fact, as anybody can see, its the exact opposite. But I guess that’s easier than to respond to what I actually said.

    By the way, its considered bad form to upvote your own posts.

  • Aamer Kastoff

    Your lying and and have made no valid points.

  • Aamer Kastoff

    Now you’re just lying.

  • 3vil5triker .

    You accused me of denying atrocities committed by atheists when its the exact opposite, you failed to address the point I was making regarding the usage of the word “atheism”, except to brush it off and then ignore it, and you upvoted your own posts.

    What exactly am I lying about?

  • Aamer Kastoff

    Your lying and still have made no valid points.

  • 3vil5triker .

    And now you devolved into pure trolling. I guess there was nothing underneath those superficial-level talking points.

  • Aamer Kastoff

    Yawn. Yet again you are lying (no surprise there) and accusing others of being what you have from the start; a Troll desperate for attention and that most important of all things to trolls: the last word. You are going to win me five bucks because I bet you will post again, and you you will, because trolls like you can’t help themselves. So go ahead and prove me right…

  • 3vil5triker .

    Well, who am I to deprive you of five bucks? Lunch is on me, enjoy.

  • Aamer Kastoff

    And there it is… full admission you’re trolling. Thanks and cheers

  • 3vil5triker .

    Man, what are you, 12? You understand that this conversation is public and that anybody else can read the entire thread for themselves and make a determination beyond your juvenile “I know what you are, but what am I” retort, right?

    Your attempt at deflection and projection to salvage your wounded ego is cute, but its consumed enough of my time. Take care.

  • Aamer Kastoff

    And again here you are really beating into the ground you are a troll desperate for the last word. I get, we all get it, you are a troll, you are a troll, and proud to be a troll. Sheesh kid get a life.

  • Napoleanofthetrump

    Dude, are you a 17 year old or did you get kicked in the head by a donkey.

  • cipher

    ^^This is the reason we need intelligence and mental health testing as a prerequisite for voting.

  • Napoleanofthetrump

    So, donkey.

  • cipher
  • I experienced Christ as the consciousness of the Sun. This was over a period of several years when I was using a legal substance intermittently. I wrote an ebook about my experiences interacting with Christ and God, which is free to download in pdf form, and the ebook is also available to read on blogger, links below

    link to my free ebook, “Messages from the Sun God, Jesus Christ”

    link to the ebook on blogger:


  • Jesse H

    And is the only basis of your reason your experience? And could you not have a different experience?

  • jekylldoc

    The confidence on display in claiming that the church can now “spike” the ball that Jordan Peterson set up, is not backed up by any argument made here. It’s disappointing to read so many flashy talking points, including an implication that the problems Peterson points to can be solved in an Aristotelian framework, without a single resolution of the tough problems involved. Not even a position taken, except that it’s time to spike the ball.

    “Our hearts and minds, our instincts and knowledge, are meant to be aligned.” Therefore what? If the intellectual doubts of the young are encouraged and given scope for questing, they will find the truth?

  • This non-existent ball shall remain suspended forever, never to be spiked.
    The author intends this very pretense, but I wouldn’t call it confidence.
    Come, let your spiritual longings be nourished with a never-ending purgatory (best we can offer is an infinitesimal probability of salvation).
    It may never end — the author has promised no deliverable afterlife commodities here (as the foolishly confident zealot would have offered, freely).

    It’s a very interesting read. I’ll give it that.

    The trouble is: it is a belief without gravity. Are the flock suspended like Schrodinger’s Cat (on meat hooks?), until some freak martyr leap manages to get the ball back into the atheist’s court?

    Better if the religious folk admit defeat, and promise some messianic figure will come give a proper rematch.

  • Imagine that — a religion where the faithful wait not on a messiah’s salvation, but on an intelligent person’s provision of a proper religion.

    At last, we have found the only proper religion: we believe we will be forever owed a proper religion.
    There must be a saving placebo (we know — by faith — three things: 1-it must exist, 2-it can have no rational basis, and 3-it will never be found).

    This (nihilism must devour nihilism itself) no one can deny. This is the word of no one.

    Take this all of you, and bask in the bounty of a self-consuming nothingness — for nothingness will be given up for you (there is no greater sacrifice).
    Behold, the ball can only be spiked through the center of net. How score ye this miracle?

    The Nothingness is your only foothold to conquer the nihilism.
    I suggest fastening lines to the peak of the abyss (rather than to imaginary inhabitants).
    Can I get a witness?

  • jekylldoc

    I am one of the religious folk. I identify Progressive. I also think Peterson gets something about life for real folk that Sam Harris and his flock fail to understand: a right-brain, mythos, approach to life must be included in our understanding of how to do life, and how to believe. We each need to make our own peace with the tough issues presented by life, and the task of making a church out of all those little separate revelations is a job bigger than the smartest human mind can solve.

    Evangelicals, who mainly claim that the “answers” are in the Bible, are trying to use a left-brain approach to the intellectual questions and so generally end up forcing the answers despite what reason implies. Better to hold on to the mystery and quit pretending to know all the answers (which applies just as much to Sam Harris.)

    Admit defeat? Of course. Our savior was defeated. Accepting defeat is the key to being a person of value, rather than a person of power.

  • I like this:
    /We each need to make our own peace with the tough issues presented by life, and the task of making a church out of all those little separate revelations is a job bigger than the smartest human mind can solve…
    Admit defeat? Of course. Our savior was defeated. Accepting defeat is the key to being a person of value, rather than a person of power./

    “Together they wept & moaned
    in a forced community
    that cut across tribal
    & cultural lines.”
    ~Richard Rohr

    Rupture of the Ordinary
    Fri, 10/19/18
    Richard Rohr,

  • jekylldoc

    It was a tough series about African-American spirituality. I was glad when Fr. Rohr picked it up again. Not too many years ago I would have glibly said, “We all have our middle passage.” But the truth is we don’t, any more than we all have our cross to bear. Still, we do have the questions, as Palmer points out.

  • Prospector

    But, a valid ID is too much for you, eh?

  • / Not too many years ago I would have glibly said, “We all have our middle passage.”But the truth is we don’t, any more than we all have our cross to bear. Still, we do have the questions, as Palmer points out./

    To be honest, I ask: what obliges you to say
    this is your truth? MHO the questions reveal one’s own Cross:
    Do I have gifts the world wants and needs?
    • Does my life have meaning and purpose?
    • Whom and what can I trust?
    • How can I rise above my fears?
    • How do I deal with suffering, my own and that of my family and friends?
    • How can I maintain hope?
    • What does my life mean in the face of the fact that I am going to die?

    “Life is a bridge. Don’t build a house on it.”
    ~ fake Indian proverb

  • jekylldoc

    It’s true that everyone faces those same fundamental questions. But the difference between an easy life and a hard life is real, and I think it is important to me (as part of the answering those big questions) to recognize my level of privilege. If you live among those on the edge materially, where hunger and disease are daily threats, it gradually sinks in that life has dealt many of us a much nicer hand to play than many others. This comfort and ease is not fundamental to living meaningfully, and in fact it can be a barrier if we fix on maintaining the privilege. It is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

  • /I think it is important to me (as part of the answering those big questions) to recognize my level of privilege/
    “Comparisons are odious,” means that to compare things can lead to various problems. One of Shakespeare’s comic characters put it in a more humorous way, saying, “Comparisons are odorous,” meaning they smell bad!

  • jekylldoc

    True enough. Comparisons may sometimes be useful, but they always gum up the works of being human together.

  • To be honest I’m always on the verge of becoming a Fundamentalist!! I used to plow with such Folk in my younger days / some of it rubbed off… always carry the flavor if not the intention. I wish it were true / that black and white thinking !! God be merciful to me a self center… …
    This came to me today:
    MHO this is not a path any of us would sign up for…

    John 15:15
    Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you
    Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

  • Henry

    While someone should seek to discover the truth while admitting that they may never do so, it is the search that makes one’s soul more honest
    which is what James is after.

  • Omnipitous

    Santa Clause is an exact analogy. Jesus may or may not have existed like St. Nicholas. There is evidence to support both. But neither one delivers on the promise. Prayers are never answered except in your imagination, and Santa Cause doesn’t deliver presents and climb down your chimney, (If you even have a chimney) except in your imagination. You are free to believe nonsense if you want to. Some of us don’t.

  • RobertArvanitis

    Permit me to ascribe to you a degree of morality; you eschew murder, say, even if you could get away with it. That is your own, peculiar form of nonsense. Science only ever tells us how, not why.
    To have a tolerant civil society we agree on a common set of such nonsense, with mutual respect, I for your beliefs and you for mine.
    (P.S. Santa Clause with an “e” is a movie. Is Santa Cause a political movement?)

  • Omnipitous

    Morality comes from the same place as religion. It is man made. Morality is a necessity for survival. Morality is also observable in many species besides humans. Science does not tell you why, because it isn’t trying to. Some questions are ridiculous on their surface.

  • RobertArvanitis

    Ok. For you, morality is a product of game theory, specifically the iterated prisoner’s dilemma.
    Glad you agree on the proper role of science.
    Now only one question remains – your interest in a faith focused site, especially given your pugnacious attitude.
    In case we don’t correspond again, Merry Christmas !

  • linc

    I’m sick of people trying to make JBP a Christian apologist!!
    And it’s time he worked out that HE isn’t one as well!!
    And there is an obvious reason why atheists are rushing to engage him as an apologist!!
    If you want to engage him in this area, hang about for another couple of years!! (his timetable!)

  • linc

    …and I should also add, that Harris does not have any credentials in Theological studies or REAL experience or journey as a Christian, so in that respect he really has NO precise knowledge base to speak from!!

  • John Davis

    How do you judge the correctness of a belief?

    If the result of my actions based on my beliefs is what I expect, then my belief it “correct” (or “true”). My beliefs are hypotheses about the world and testing them empirically either reinforces or undermines them.

    The problem with the correspondence theory is that it makes unverifiable assumptions about how correspondences between truth and reality can be established.

  • John Davis

    “it is true that belief in God exists” is just correspondence theory.

    No it’s not, because I am using “true” in the pragmatic sense, not the correspondence theory sense. I am making a proposition about my beliefs based on my observation of reality, I am not claiming this is some absolute Truth about reality. Though I can see how I might be accused of splitting hairs.

  • John Davis

    perceptions don’t exist independently, rather they “relate to the world” via our senses, by definition.

    Well, I can make inferences about the world based on my perceptions, but I don’t consider them very reliable. Sometimes I dream and the world I perceive this is very different to the one I perceive when I am awake. My knowledge of science tells me that there’s all kind of things going on around me all the time that I can’t perceive.

    Of course not, because in the first case you are asserting “true enough for me” and in the second case you are asserting “true”. Those are two different predicates and there is no conflict between them using either theory.

    There is no Pragmatic equivalent of “True” in Correspondence theory. That’s not how Pragmatism works.

  • John Davis

    You are using pragmatic belief on top of the correspondence theory of truth and not as a competing theory of truth.

    Not so. I don’t accept the assumptions made by the correspondence theory of truth.

  • John Davis

    Confidence in what?

    Confidence in the “correctness” or “reliability” of the proposition.

    How do you measure that?

    Depends on the belief. Often empirically. If I attempt a task, I use my knowledge, experience and wisdom to determine the best method and I will continually compare my actual progress with my expectations and attempt to improve my method in the light of new information. If I complete the task successfully, I will have a better set of beliefs about how to accomplish the task in the future.

    Or maybe two friends give me incompatible information, giving me conflicting beliefs with low confidence. Hopefully I can research the subject and identify the “more true” (more useful) belief, which I will then hold with higher confidence.