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The CafeMom Atheism FAQ, by Clairwil

Posted by on Jun. 20, 2011 at 3:25 PM
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by on Jun. 20, 2011 at 3:25 PM
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by Silver Member on Jun. 20, 2011 at 3:26 PM
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 1

What do Atheists believe?


Everyone believes in something.  What do Atheists believe in?

Actually, some people do try to avoid having beliefs of any sort.  Such people are called "rationalists" or "skeptics".  Holding a "belief", in this sense of the word, means "attributing more certainty to a statement than you can justify using objective evidence".  Skeptics tend not to hold beliefs in UFOs, ghosts, Elvis sightings, and many other things.

But you're right.  Not all atheists are skeptics about everything.  What the group of people referred to as "atheists" have in common is that they don't hold a belief in existence of supernatural deities.

Why is there even a name for that?

Because theologans came up with one.  If academics started studying Elvis sightings, one of them would probably come up with a specific name for people who didn't hold a belief in Elvis still being alive.

So, Atheists believe that the God doesn't exist?

No, that would also be a belief.  There is no absolute objective proof that a supernatural deity of some form doesn't exist, just as there is no conclusive proof that nowhere in the Universe does there exist a thousand mile high statue of Mickey Mouse - nobody has searched every planet around every star to check for the absence of such a statue so, until they have, there is always a very very small remote possibility.

Does that mean Atheists are the same as Agnostics?

Technically an Agnostic might think there is some evidence suggesting the existence of a supernatural deity, just not be 100% convinced.  Though in practice, many think it is unknowable.  It is quite possible to be both atheist and agnostic, and some use the phrase "toothy-fairy agnostic" to indicate which end of the agnostic spectrum they are.

But what is the point of life, if you don't believe in God?

Religion is not the only source of morality or purpose.  Philosophers have advocated various ideas on how one should live, ever since Plato and the Ancient Greeks.  Without one authorative source telling you what to do, you have to make up your own mind about which sources make sense, just like in the rest of life.  That doesn't mean the truth is not out there and everything is relative - in fact there is a lot of agreement over basic morality.

Atheists think religion is useless, then?

Not necessarily.  Not all religions or branches within a religion require a belief in supernatural deities.  Some Atheists identify as being Secular Humanists, Unitarians or certain types of Buddhist, for example; and go along to meetings of their religion as a practical way to organise communal effort to do good in the world.

But if Atheists are not against religion, why do all Atheists attack religion?

They don't.  Some Atheists support particular (non theistic) religions, and most don't care one way or the other about their neighbour's religious beliefs.  It is just that you're more likely to notice the few who do.

Ok, but why do some Atheists attack believers?

They don't.  When was the last time you read about an Atheist strapping explosives to their chest, stepping into a Church, and shouting "Die in the name of Atheism" ?  Physical attacks are incredibly rare, and it is important to distinguish between physically attacking someone, and just mocking or disagreeing with their views verbally.  It is important to make this distinction because it is NOT rare for believers to commit acts of violence in the name of their religion.  Such acts fill the newspapers every day, and it is unfair to tar Atheists with that brush.

*sigh* Why do some Atheists verbally attack the religious beliefs of some believers?  We don't do any harm.  Why won't they just leave us alone? 

Of the small number of Atheists who do care about the issue enough to question the beliefs of others, different Atheists have different approaches and reasons.

Some Atheists used to be believers, before they wised up.  They have the zeal of the convert, and are convinced that their previous faith was manipulative and harmful to those who supported it.  They are out to free their bretheren from the chains of oppression, and see the pain of having a belief questioned as something the victims need to go through for their own good, like foul tasting medicine.  (Most commonly seen in ex-Catholics, ex-Fundamentalists and ex-Scientologists.)

Some Atheists see supernatural Religion, as a whole, as being one of humanity's biggest mis-steps.  They perceive the net effect of supernatural belief as having had a harmful effect upon history and society.  They don't deny that some good comes out of it, but when they look at the past and the effect of religion in other countries, they think the good is outweighed by evils like priests torturing small children in Africa because they think the children might be witches. They want to get rid of such supernatural nonsense; lock, stock and barrel.

And some Atheists oppose specific actions by specific believers or types of believer, that have caused harm to themselves or those they care about.  Examples include physical attacks by homophobes, early morning weekend door to door preaching, calling all Atheists pedophiles and satanists (of the rumoured 'eat your baby' sort), organising campaigns to alter the science curriculum in local schools, scaring children at Halloween with pamphlets threatening hellfire, and general rudeness.

Yes, but I didn't do any of that.  I don't torture children or even be rude to Atheists online so it is well out of order to question things that I hold sacred - that have as deep an emotional connection to me as my children.  Why can't Atheists just be polite?

Most of them are.  However, this is a discussion forum.  Why should your religious beliefs get a free pass, when no other sort of belief does?  If you really can't stand your beliefs being questioned, don't post here.

by Silver Member on Jun. 20, 2011 at 3:26 PM
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  • Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 2

    Do Atheists worship Satan?

    No, Atheists don't worship any supernatural being.

    There is a form of Satanism created by Anton La Vey that is another one of those religions that doesn't actually hold that the supernatural exists, and some Atheists belong to that, but they're a tiny minority.  Atheists do not, as a general rule, go around dressing up in robes at midnight to sacrifice babies any more than Christians, Jews or Muslims do.

    Are Atheists evil witches?

    No, Atheists do not have supernatural demon granted powers to cast evil spells that affect reality.

    There are some wiccans and pagans who call themselves witches, and some of them think of their mother nature Goddess as more of a metaphor than a supernatural deity, which would allow them to count as Atheists, but they're a tiny minority of Atheists.  And those sort of witches are no more evil, on average, than the general run of Christians, Jews or Muslims.

    Are Atheists Nazis?

    Despite the claim by the pope, there is a very real difference between wishing people would voluntarily stop holding a belief in the existence of supernatural deities, and shooting people in order to suppress a particular church that is an inconvenient obstacle on your path to world domination.  Being an Atheist does NOT automatically make you want to dress up in black leather and march around shooting people.

    Were Nazis Atheists?

    Some religious people like to claim that their holy text preaches being nice and that therefore anyone who isn't nice is not following the holy text and therefore should not be counted as a member of their religion which, by definition, would leave all the nasty people in the world counting as Atheists.  This is a named logical fallacy: No True Scotsman.

    In fact people are quite capable of being irrational and believing one thing, while carrying out actions that are incompatible with those beliefs.  Indeed if they weren't then churches would not have the concepts of "sin" and "forgiveness", because all their followers would behave perfectly.

    Hitlers actions were indeed evil (if not totally insane) and absolutely incompatible with the moral teachings of all known sacred texts.  However, none the less, that doesn't mean he didn't hold a belief in the existence of supernatural higher powers.

    As for the general run of his followers, the individual members of the Nazi party were not executed after Germany surrendered.  They mostly quietly went back to living lives as ordinary citizens, and it is notable that Germany is a Christian country, not an Atheist one.

    Were Communists Atheists?

    Theoretically.  Certainly Stalin was.  As has been demonstrated by the dissolution of the USSR, though, banning churches had no effect on whether the individual people in the country remained believers, so one has to conclude that most of the members of the Russian communist party were actually members of the Russian Orthodox christian faith.

    Stalin himself was an egomaniac, whose main strategy was to crush any opposition to his hold on absolute power by any means available.  Since organised religion was focus for people's allegiance that competed with his communist party, he saw it as a threat to his power, and did indeed target religion, destroying churches and killing priests.  But it seems likely that his motivation for doing this was not the cause of Atheism since, the moment it looked like having a religion around would be actually useful and support his power, he immediately reinstated the Russian Orthodox church as the official state supported religion.

    Do Atheists have no morals?

    Some Christians define "having morals" as meaning being against masturbation, sex before marriage, homosexuality and abortion under any circumstances.  In that sense of the word, most Atheists have no morals.

    Reasonable people define "having morals" as meaning that the person hold various types of action (such as lying, cheating, breaking promises, theft and murder) to be not just unwise or illegal but actually wrong.  In that sense of the word, Atheists are on average at least as moral as any other group in society.

    Where do Atheists get their morals from, without a God to define good and evil for them?

    The same way humans always have.  By looking at the evidence and making up their own minds.  For example the Golden Rule was around long before the Bible was written, and appears in the works of most Atheist greek philosophers.

    Would your average Christian immediately cheat on their spouse or go on a murder spree if they stopped believing that they might go to hell for doing so?

    Are Atheists nicer than average?

    They are less likely to end up in prison, and more likely to donate to charity than people who hold a belief in the existence of a supernatural deity.

    However this could be just because people who don't care about things are less likely to go to the trouble of thinking through their beliefs and actually coming out as Atheist, rather than remaining fuzzy.

    Are Atheists smarter or better educated than average?

    The longer someone spends studying science, the more likely they are to be an Atheist.  Less than 10% of the members of the US National Academy of Sciences believe in a personal god.

    There is a negative correlation between the average religiosity of the people in a country, and their average IQ.

    However correlation is not the same thing as causation, so this could be caused by a third factor such as poverty.

    Why did the Atheists turn Universities into godless indoctrination centres?

    Because they win a free microwave oven for every god-fearing Christian they manage to delude onto the path of Satan.

    Or, just possibly, because the aim of a University is to expose a person's mind to new ideas, and teach them to think clearly; so a person going to University is more likely than average to discard irrational ideas they were indoctrinated into as a child.

    Why are the Atheist Illuminati plotting a New World Order?

    *shh* that's meant to be a secret.

    Remember, Atheism is not a religion.  There are no organised places that Atheists all go to in order to meet each other.  They have no way to all conspire together in secret.  While no doubt there are organisations in this world that work towards various ends, you can't assume that said organisations are doing things in the name of Atheism just because they are not explicitly Christian in nature, any more than a garden gnome fanciers club plays with plastic lawn ornaments to further the cause of Atheism.

    How do I come out as an Atheist to my parents?

    This is a hard question.  For a devout believer, being told their child doesn't accept Jesus Christ as their personal saviour is equivalent to hearing "Hey Dad, I've just decided to chop both my legs off then set myself on fire.".  And, if they don't understand what Atheism is, they may understand it to mean "I have no morals, worship Satan, hate God and hate you."

    So telling their parents that they are not just going through a phase of doubting, and they are actually Atheist, can be a nerve-wracking experience for a child, since they love their parents and don't want to spoil the relationship.

    There is no one good way to do this, or any way that is guaranteed to have a happy result.  I would suggest trying to correct beforehand as many misconceptions about Atheism as possible.  If you like, leave a copy of this FAQ around somewhere they can find it.

    What do I do if my child comes out to me as an Atheist?

    If you have just found a copy of this FAQ in your child's bedroom, DON'T PANIC.  They might just be interested in the subject and trying to find out more.

    But would it really be so bad if they had become an Atheist?  They are still the same lovely person that you raised and shaped.  They haven't changed their opinion about whether people should be nice to each other, just about the reason for doing so.  Indeed there Christian Atheists who don't believe in the supernatural, but who do believe in following the moral teachings of Jesus and who still count themselves as Christians.  Would God really reject such people, when he didn't condemn Thomas for doubting?

    Saint Francis of Assisi said a good Christian should preach the Gospel at all times, but use words to do so only when necessary.  What example do you wish to set your child of how a loving Christian behaves towards their child?

    Was everybody born an Atheist?

    Yes.  Children are not born believing in Christianity or Islam, any more than they are born believing in the virtues of sound economic policy or in the skill of a particular football team.

    Atheism is not a belief.  It is a lack of one, and so therefore the default state.

    Where can I find out more?

by Silver Member on Jun. 20, 2011 at 3:27 PM
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 3

What do others say about Atheism?

"I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots."
-- George W. Bush

"just as ATHEISTS do not see fit to acknowledge God, God has given them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful"
-- Robert T. Lee

"outright rejection of God and institutionalizing of atheism actually does produce evil on incredible levels. We're talking about tens of millions of people as a result of the rejection of God"
--Gregory Koukl

(talking about a highway sign saying "ADOPT-A-HIGHWAY : ATHEISTS UNITED ")
"A physical sign. It could have easily said 'You will now be attacked by Satan.' 'Entering this industry, you are now on the highway to darkness...'"
--Billy Ray Cyrus

“On one front, you have a secular, atheist, elitism. And on the other front, you have radical Islamists. And both groups would like to eliminate our civilization if they could. For different reasons, but with equal passion.”
--Newt Gingrich

"atheism is evil"
--Statement subscribed to and agreed with by thousands of people liking the facebook I-hate-Atheism page

"It’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!"
--Rep. Monique Davis

What do other Atheists say?

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

"The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church."
--Ferdinand Magellan

"Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer."

“Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear”
--Thomas Jefferson

"I belive in God, only I spell it Nature"
--Frank Lloyd Wright

"Which is it, is man one of God's blunders or is God one of man's?"
--Friedrich Nietzsche

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
--Douglas Adams

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
--Stephen Roberts

"We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes."
--Gene Roddenberry

"Science adjusts its views
Based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observation,
So that belief can be preserved."
--Tim Minchin

"Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-o, and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have."
--Penn Jillette

"Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man -- living in the sky -- who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do.. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! ..But He loves you."
--George Carlin

"The time to be happy is now.  The place to be happy is here.  The way to be happy is to make others so."
--Robert G. Ingersoll

What are some good books on the subject?

"The God Delusion", by Richard Dawkins
"God is Not Great", by Christopher Hitchens
"Why I am not a Christian", by Bertrand Russell.
"Letter To A Christian Nation", by Sam Harris
"Breaking the Spell", by Daniel Dennett
"Your Inner Fish", by Neil Shubin
"Letters from Earth", by Mark Twain.
"Small Gods", by Terry Pratchett.
"Critiques of God: Making the Case Against Belief in God", by Peter Adam Angeles
"In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion", by Scott Atran

What are some good videos on the subject?, by Richard Dawkins, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, by Penn Jillette, by Mr Deity

by Silver Member on Jun. 20, 2011 at 3:28 PM
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 4

Why did you write this FAQ?

Over the last 2 years I've participated in many threads in different CafeMom groups, on topics related to Atheism. I noticed that I was spending a lot of time writing long careful replies to questions I'd already answered two or three times before in previous threads.  Often questions that take only a second or two to ask, and that the questioner never even bothers to read the answers to.  Rather than give poor short answers or leave these questions unanswered, because sometimes they are asked sincerely, a while back I went over past threads and collected together all my answers to repeated questions and put them into one document.

You said "wised up".  Why are you being so mean and sarcastic?

In a desperate attempt not to bore the socks off everyone, I have written this FAQ in the form of a Socratic Dialog.  The persona of the character taking the part of the Atheist answer the questions is sometimes a little sarcastic, but their replies are intended to resonate - to be recognisable as the authentic voice of the Atheists they are speaking on behalf of.  And in that particular question "wised up" is how an ex-scientologist would see it.

Ok, but why did you post this FAQ?  I asked a simple short question, and I was sincerely hoping for personal responses.  You've blasted out this long impersonal FAQ.  You're boring me!

This FAQ is my personal hand-written response.  Because it is in the form of a dialog, it is a bit hard to extract small portions without losing context and previously defined terms.  I figure that if it answers additional questions you didn't ask as well as the one you did, no harm done; and where one person is asking a question, there are probably others who considered asking it and who might appreciate a full answer.  Sorry if I bored you.  If I have confused you, however, or failed to answer your precise question fully, please do expand on your question and ask for more detail.

But hang on, didn't you just claim to be speaking on behalf of all Atheists?

No, of course not.  There is no Atheist leader or pope.  And if there were, I wouldn't want the post.  Too much danger of assassination.  I speak for myself, except where I have explicitly attributed a statement otherwise.  However it is notable that this FAQ has been circulating for over a year, in atheist groups and others here on CafeMom, with little objection from other Atheists.

For that matter, why do Atheists post at all? 

I post because I enjoy doing so.  I'm a teacher, and enjoy educating people.  I mentioned in an earlier answer some of the reasons other Atheists have for speaking against religion, but another reason to post about Atheism is to combat the artificial sense of isolation which can be created even in a room full of Atheists if none of them speak up and identify as being Atheist.

I have a theory that so-called "Atheists" still at least partially believe in God.  If they were secure in their Atheism, they wouldn't feel a need to defend it.  Isn't all this anger and hatred just a sign that your real motivation for wanting to reject God is because you fear his wrath and want an excuse to be selfishly disobedient to his will without having to burn in hell?

You have, perhaps, been confused by Epicurus' riddle, which examines the problem of evil by considering the hypothetical nature a God would have to have if he existed.  Atheists neither hate nor fear "God" in the sense of the purported supernatural deity worshipped by the Abrahamic religions, because they don't hold a belief in His existence.  It would be like being afraid of Sauron, Lord Voldemort or Daleks.  They may make the hypothetical statement that they would hate Him (or consider him unworthy of fealty) if he existed.  They may hate the concept, or still have superstitious fears in the same way a child will hide behind the couch when Daleks appear, even though they know Daleks are fictional, just through cultural indoctrination.  But that's different from actually believing He is real, rather than a creation of the human mind. 

Yes, but I've heard Atheists say "Oh, God!", "Damn it to hell", "Bless you" and such like.  Don't they say there are no atheists in foxholes, and that everyone fears damnation when they are on their death bed?

If you do a bit of research on minced oaths, you'll find that several of the things you say (like "drat") have derivations that date back to pagan times.  Does that mean you believe in Odin?  There are, in fact, plenty of Atheists in foxholes.   They even have their own website (  I refer you to Christoper Hitchens' answer about deathbeds:

So you're 100% totally utterly convinced that God doesn't exist?

Some Atheists will give an unadorned "yes" in response to that question.  I'm a philosopher and a scientist.  I'm happy dealing with small numbers.  Not just 1 in 100, or 1 in a million, but numbers like 1 in 10^1080 (the estimated number of atoms in the observable universe), which is a 1 followed by 1080 zeros.  So I prefer the more pedantic answer, which is that while I'm not 100% convinced of anything outside the realms of pure mathematics and logic, I'm at least as convinced that God doesn't exist as I am that the Earth is not resting on the back of a giant turtle or that my standing in front of a speeding car is generally a bad idea.  So my reply is "yes, for all practical purposes".

Ah ha!  So there is some doubt in your mind.  In that case, I have this amazingly convincing argument you simply must hear.   If you accept Christ into your life and He turns out not to exist, you've not lost anything.  Whereas if you don't and He does exist, then you've lost an infinite amount.  Surely as a mathematician you must acknowledge that if you have any doubt at all, however small, as long as it is finite, then a finite times an infinite is an infinite, so it is therefore in your best interests to believe?

This argument was first stated by Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician who pioneered much of probability theory, including expected values.  What you need to understand is that, while you might find a particular argument convincing, that doesn't mean other people will.  And it isn't because they are stupid or pig headed.  If you go into a discussion convinced that you have a crushing argument and that they can't have come across it before (otherwise they'd already have been persuaded) you are in for a disappointment.  There are a small number of 'set piece' arguments beloved of evangelical Christians, that most Atheists have heard many times before.  "Pascal's Wager" is one of these, and you are very unlikely to be the first person presenting it.  So please, have a little humility, and possibly even do a bit of research to find out the most common objections to your argument, before presenting it.

Yes, but I have to present every argument I can, even those that are likely flawed or doomed to failure, because I have to try my hardest to convert you.  Christ gave Christians a Great Commission to spread the Good News. 

Did he tell you that you have to go about it in a stupid way?  I won't try to persuade you here that you are incorrect in your interpretation of what Matthew 28:19 requires you to do.  You are responsible for your own actions, and the consequences to the reputation of Christianity as a whole.  Many Atheists will respond "Stop trying to convert me!", because they are bored with the whole thing and find it pointless.  Personally I say "Go ahead, if that's what you enjoy, but if you want to engage my attention try to go about it intelligently, and please stick to the netiquette of the particular group you are in, or you're going to annoy everyone.".  In fact I even coordinated members of several groups, both Christian and non-Christian, to assemble a separate FAQ giving advice to Christians on ways of carrying out the Great Commission that have proven to be most effective on CafeMom at actually converting people.

I believe!  That's why I do things.  Why do you bother trying to convert me?  You don't believe in anything.   You said so.

Yes, you believe.  I get it.  But that's not the only motivation people have for their actions.  Please note the definition of "believe" that I gave at the start of the first part of this FAQ.   Your beliefs affect your actions, and your actions affect other people.  I care about what happens to people, therefore I care about your beliefs.

Is that why you're so negative?  Why can't you make this FAQ be about the positive aspects of Atheism, or at least keep it general?  Why do you have to keep singling out Christianity?  And those books and videos you linked to were even worse.

More CafeMom posters belong to Christianity than another other religion.  An FAQ document, by its nature, is shaped by the questions that get asked, and a majority of the questions asked of Atheists on CafeMom are asked from a Christian perspective.  It is usually not possible to answer a question about why you are not convinced by someone's argument without being negative in some way.

If you wanted to be positive, couldn't you just present your story of how humans and the world came about?  I look at the world and I see so much that science has not explained.  That's why I believe in God.  If you want to persuade me to stop believing, the onus is on you to provide a complete alternative explanation for everything The Bible explains to me.

I might well address specific questions about the positive story that science tells, which Atheists frequently get asked about, in a future part of this FAQ.  But I'd like to start by referring you to Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about The God of The Gaps:

You have not convinced me.  What about the atheist bus campaign?  You say Atheists are only negative about Christianity in response to Christians doing stuff first, but how is saying "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake." a comparable response to "There definitely is a God."?  Atheists have to spend real money to put these slogans on buses, and they can't be doing it because they enjoy discussion.  So why do it?  Do they have a "bible" to go by?

Yes, they do have to spend real money.  More, in fact, than the Christians do, because the bus company's insurer says Christians are more likely to vandalise Atheists buses than Atheists are to vandalise Christian buses. 

No, Atheists do not have a single authoritative holy text upon which they all agree upon and defer to.

Humans have evolved a variety of instincts.  In various situations some of these are generally altruistic on an individual level (such as a mother's instinct to sacrifice to protect her children), and some of these tend to be more selfish or, in some circumstances, even destructive or self-destructive.

So no, people in general just don't need a holy book to cause them to do things, even altruistic things.  It's just human nature to be that way.

Yes, but what specifically motivated the particular Atheists who contributed money to that campaign?

Some were hoping to speak to those who are culturally Christian; those who don't actually believe, but hadn't thought of admitting it to themselves or others.  Those Atheists feel that religion is on par with Communism or smoking.  Something irrational that, on average, blights lives and harms society.

But mostly people gave money for that very human reason: feeling isolated.  The original journalist who sparked the idea, Ariane Sherine ( did it from frustration at the inequality whereby she was surrounded by Christian messages on buses, but felt lonely walking down the street, not knowing if anyone around her was an Atheist, or if she was the sole Atheist in a city of a million people, not daring to stand on a soap box and shout to the world "I don't believe!  Who's with me?" because that sort of thing is generally frowned upon.  Atheists know that when they meet a fellow mind and actually are lucky enough to learn from them that they are far from alone, it makes them feel less lonely, less isolated, less like a lone voice of rationality screaming into the dark of night against teeming gibbering hoards.  So they want to share that positive feeling, help other Atheists feel it by letting those others know that they too are not alone.

What's the point of arguing?  You have your story and I have mine.  They are both theories, and so are just as likely as each other.  I find mine more persuasive.  You can't prove anything, so it is all just opinion.  Why can't you be open minded?  Why do I have to accept your truth?  Why can't you let me have my truth and be done with it?

There's a wonderful quote, generally attributed to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts."

The problem here is one of definitions.  It is far more interesting to discuss substance than definitions, but if we can't at least make clear which definitions each of us are using, we'll never reach the substance.  Here's a link to the definitions Clairwil uses on CafeMom.

Lewis Carroll wrote: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.", so I won't try to argue that my definitions are 'right' and yours are 'wrong'.  I will ask that we stick to a precisely defined and self-consistent set, and that if you wish to use a different set of definitions from the ones I am using, you make clear what yours mean.

Ok, I'll try asking the above question again, this time using your definitions:

My hypothesis is that our universe was intentionally created by an intelligent benevolent supernatural deity, whom I know by the name of " יהוה " (pronounced "Yahweh", and addressed or titled as "Lord", "Adonai", "Allah" or "God") and who has personally intervened in the running of the universe (through miracles) within the last 10,000 years.  I find the evidence, both objective (historic records, fulfilled prophecies, physics of the universe, etc) and subjective (my personal internal experiences and instincts) to be at least as persuasively supportive of my hypothesis as it is of the alternative that you present (that there is no need of your hypothesis to explain our observed universe and history)

Just because science can't evaluate subjective evidence, that doesn't make it any less real.  And it is not just me who has this subjective evidence.  A majority of the 7 billion people living on Earth believe in some form of supernatural deity or deities.  Scientists are in the minority and, even then many scientists are also believers.  So if you were truly open minded, wouldn't you acknowledge the possibility that the majority are correct?  Isn't it a bit arrogant to insist that, just because you have not experienced direct revelation, it doesn't exist?  If we're wrong, how do you explain why so many people have these experiences and are persuaded by them?  We can't all be mad or stupid. 

Nicely phrased.  I suppose I better answer.  :-)

If you look at a demographic map you'll notice that a person's religion is highly correlated with that of their parents and the society they are raised within.  We can therefore discard any claim that there is persuasive objective evidence of the tenets of any one specific religion, and focus on the more general claim that there is an intelligent benevolent supernatural deity who created the universe and intervenes within it, and that subjective human mental experiences should be counted as evidence towards this, and that the existence of said deity is the best or only explanation of the nature and uniformity of such experiences.

Sociologists use the term "religiosity" to describe the propensity towards religious belief (depth of belief, level of religious activity, how important religion is to the person).  From twin studies we know that, in adults, roughly 50% of a person's religiosity depends on the genes they inherit from their parents.  It is an active area of scientific research, identifying which genes are involved, which parts of the brain they effect, and what the evolutionary advantages were to a tribe of having those genes.

What we do know, so far, is that an experience indistinguishable from religious revelation can be artificially induced by activating certain parts of the brain, either directly with electrodes or indirectly via specific chemicals.

Occam's razor tells us that if hypothesising a supernatural creator deity to explain the experiences people have been taking as subjective evidence doesn't add any predictive power (ie it makes no predictions that can be confirmed by objective evidence before dying and discovering whether or not there is an afterlife) then we should go with the simpler explanation that is it a purely naturalistic phenomena.

It doesn't require stupidity or madness to explain why so many people accept such experiences as supernatural.  Just an understanding of the workings of the physical brain and evolutionary forces that we've only gained in the last 50 years or so.

You rather blithely dismissed the possibility of objective evidence back there.  Even if we disallow subjective evidence, how do you explain why so many people also believe the objective evidence also supports their beliefs?  What about the fine-structure constant, the Goldilocks Zone, that matter exists at all?  What about irreducible complexity, eyewitness accounts of miracles and all the rest?

Rather than talk here about the specifics of each case, I'd like instead to address a generality about the nature of evidence and how we evaluate it.  Baysian probability tells us that our estimates of probability depends not only on the evidence, but also upon our prior estimate.  In other words, when we receive new data, we don't re-evaluate everything from scratch.  We use the new data to modify the probability we calculated previously.  This results in a number of psychological features: Confirmation Bias, and The Backfire Effect.

This means that if someone is already pre-disposed to believe in a supernatural deity (through being raised in a religious environment, for example) then they will tend to evaluate evidence which supports that conclusion as being more reliable than is justified by the objective data.  Its just human nature to behave that way, because we have limited memory and computational ability.  You see the same thing happening in all areas, not just to do with religion. Part of the reason why the scientific method is so powerful is that it is a systematic attempt to overcome our propensity to fool ourselves.

So is that it?  Are Atheists always going to persecute us Christians, with their demands to remove God from money, schools and holidays?

The same psychological effect that affects people's estimation of the reliability of evidence also acts to heighten their feelings of persecution.  This amplified feedback causes a vicious spiral where even a mild defensive response by a minority of the other side will in turn cause an escalation.  While no doubt there is some blame on both sides, a useful concept to bear in mind is Christian Privilege.

It sounds like you're saying that there is no hope for communication.  That the two world-views are entirely incommensurable.  I've noticed that Atheists often over-simplify or entirely fail to understand the true subtleties of the religious position on things like hermeneutics, theodicy and apologetics.  The Bible tells us that you have to ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit in order to correctly understand.  Have you tried casting aside all doubt and just believing?  Then it will all make sense to you.  Otherwise you're just attacking straw-men.

One side's straw man is another side's moving target.  There is usually not just one religious position on things like theodicy (explaining the problem of evil) but several, and many posters seem not to care about the validity of the arguments they use, switching position to suit the particular aspect they want to address.  As P. Z. Myers says in "The Courtier's Reply", sometimes the details are irrelevant when the whole foundation is rotten.  One fundamental problem is that once you allow miracles and ineffability, anything may be explained in terms of them.  It is circular reasoning to require someone to believe before evaluating the evidence to justify the belief, because belief affects the evaluation process.

The other problem is that religion is a meme, honed by generations of evolution to precisely target weaknesses in the human ability to think rationally.  Is religion appealing?  Does it feel instinctively 'right' to many many people?  Yes, because those religions that most effectively elicit that mental response have been those most likely to spread.

The only defence, the only mental vaccination, is to explore reality according to a process designed to shore up our mental failings and reduce our ability to fool ourselves: science.

by Silver Member on Jun. 20, 2011 at 3:34 PM


by on Jun. 20, 2011 at 3:41 PM

Good idea to collect all of your responses into a document that will be easy to C&P when the need arises.  

by on Jun. 22, 2011 at 4:51 PM

Very well written, love this! Thanks for putting it together.

by on Jun. 24, 2011 at 10:40 PM

Amazing job!  Thanks for sharing it!

by on Jun. 25, 2011 at 11:02 AM
Wow. I love this. Just wow.
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