We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Some Good Friday thoughts from an atheist about pain and its history

I will start this posting, having written the rest of it already and therefore possessing foreknowledge of what it contains, with a warning to easily offended Christians. This posting contains ideas that may offend easily offended Christians. So, if you are an easily offended Christian and sincerely do not wish to be offended yet again, best to stop reading now.

Christians are perfectly free to be offended by my anti-Christianity, just so long as they realise that I am likewise disgusted by many of the things they keep on proclaiming, mostly with no objections from me, both for its barbarity and for its contempt for normal standards of truth-seeking or logical argument. The offence is mutual.

Okay. Today being Good Friday, I have taken it upon myself to give the talk at my last Friday of the month meeting. Getting another speaker at such a time, and then perhaps having to soothe him or her because only three other people showed up, is more bother than the looks-bad factor of me doing the talk myself. (I did the same on the last Friday of December 2004, which happened also to be New Year’s Eve. That went okay.)

And since it is Good Friday, I will be talking about Pain: its history; how that history might explain why Christianity, and in particular the crucifixion story, has done so well down the centuries; the fact that recently pain has abated for lots of lucky people in lucky countries like mine, and the fact that this might do something to explain the recent decline of Christianity in lucky countries. Christianity thrives in adversity, but wilts in comfort, not least physical comfort, which is why completely wiping out Christianity has proved so hard. Communism tried, but the more you torment Christians the more like Christ they feel. Meanwhile Communism, lacking a story that makes any sense for those unfortunates caught up in its numerous failures, is itself rapidly crumbling, not least at the hands of Christians.

Most histories of pain seem to be histories of pain relief, which is understandable. But what effect on life generally did the prevalence of pain have, in all the centuries when pain was prevalent? And what has been the effect of the recent and remarkable abatement of the pain, for millions upon millions of fortunate people, like me, and very probably, you too, for decade after decade? I did not mention it in my email to my congregation, but pain also has a bearing on the libertarian political ideas that are the ongoing agenda of these Friday meetings. Libertarianism, you might say, is the idea that in our dealings with one another, we will forego the infliction of physical suffering upon each other, and confine ourselves only to doing things that all concerned consent to voluntarily, without any physical threats being exchanged. Libertarianism in this broader, non-ideological sense, of not getting what we want by hitting people, has been relentlessly growing in recent decades. We are now lucky (favourite phrase in that piece: “controlled oblivion”) enough not tohave to endure nearly as much pain as in former centuries.

I have lived for over half a century and have experienced hardly any physical pain at all, and I am surely now quite typical, in my country. It took a recent and very minor accident to make me think seriously about the subject at all. But in former times, people suffered terrible pain quite routinely, from such things as frightful, unanaesthetised medical procedures, from childbirth, or from the fact that medicine could offer no cure and little solace for our pains (think only of dentistry), breakages and other accidents (often caused by arduous and prolonged physical toil such as most of us are now spared). This means, I surmise, that for us now to create pain for each other, just to get what we want, now seems far worse to us than it must have done in the past. This has all manner of intriguing effects.

Consider education. The command-and-control education system which our teachers still try to operate depends on, among many other things, the judicious application, every now and again – especially to boys – of torture. Certainly the people who began these educational arrangements had no compunction about inflicting the occasional beating. Our teachers now try to – or are told that they must – abjure torture as a means of classroom control. Yet they still try to exert the same old command-and-control, either out of sheer habit or because they have no faith in other, more libertarian, arrangements. Accordingly, we should not be surprised that the lives of our teachers have recently become more stressful.

At the other end of the age range, what effect will the increasing number of old people, kept alive by modern medicine and the modern food industry, hobbling about or driving about in annoying little electric trolleys, grumbling about their aches and pains, have on our beliefs about pain?

To me, the Christian obsession with their founder’s crucifixion, however inspiring it may be in bad times, is absurd, not to say barbaric. I mean, a blood sacrifice to God, of God’s only son? Is that supposed to cheer God up? Is that really something for civilised people seriously to believe in? But, as I (along with the rest of the Baby Boom) get older, as my body starts seriously to malfunction, and as hurts take longer and longer to go away, will the story of the crucifixion start to seem less daft to me? I cannot see myself overcoming my scientific type objections to Christianity as a body of supposedly truthful doctrine about the nature of the world, but I can see myself becoming slightly less scornful of all this crucifixion mumbo-jumbo that an atheist such as me who loves classical music has to put up with. I do not, however, think that I will ever modify my scorn for the notions embodied in the Holy Communion. Every week, we eat God. Charming.

So, in other words, if my attitude is anything at all to go by, I do not think that the medical travails of the Baby Boom in its dotage will be enough successfully to relaunch Christianity in the pain-free modern world. More likely responses will be redoubled enthusiasm for such things as yet more pain-killing drugs, and ever more intense argument about euthanasia, not least among the Baby Boom’s descendants who will be keener and keener to be rid of this ever-ghastlier generation.

I love Grand Theories of history, and also their close cousins, Interesting Aspect theories of history: history as the history of the means of communication, history as the history of warfare, history as the history of the potato, or of art, or cultery, or sport, or travel. I loved Guns, Germs and Steel.

Pain seems to get less of a mention in such theorisings, which is especially offputting when you consider how prominently military matters figure in such ideas. (Sometimes, you can read an entire book about battles with hardly a mention of anyone actually finding the experience of battle painful.) No doubt there are histories of pain out there which are more than just the history of anaesthetics. If so, and you know of such, links please.

Just as a final, further for-instance, even my cursory pain-googling reminded me that the prevalence in our culture of alcohol owes much to the fact that, for many centuries, the only widely available palliative for pain was getting stupefyingly drunk.

Happy Easter everyone.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

146 comments to Some Good Friday thoughts from an atheist about pain and its history

  • As a future Lutheran pastor I say that your commentary on Good Friday, pain, and history is approved, or at least is not worthy of a Fatwa 🙂
    Peace,
    Chris

  • Winzeler

    Brian, I hope you have the intellectual discipline and honesty to follow the comments on this post, because you just opened a can of worms. I think you owe it to yourself to observe its effect.

  • Well-written and reasoned, although not entirely within my conception of Faith.

    In relation to pain, however: One of the constant themes throughout Scripture was Jesus’ miracle-workings, cures and whatnot, which would be equally thought-provoking to those unfortunates of ancient times that you’ve imagined, no?
    Pain was a real, everlasting fact of life, yet here was a loophole.

    And then, we have another, contrary curiousity: We’re told that Jesus was a carpenter, yet in all Scripture there is only one instance where we read of Him making anything. And it was a scourge.

    Our Lord, I believe, was no stranger to the infliction of pain, even perhaps something of a torturer, as well as a victim of torture. There’s a deeper curiousity in that, if one has the courage & faith to look within it.

    /rambling

  • veryretired

    One of the greatly malicious aspects of all religious doctrines, regardless of particulars, has been the demand that belief must be total and unquestioning. As a corollary, there were always taboos which placed certain areas of thought or investigation off limits—the Gallileo story is the best known, but there are a myriad of sequels across the spectrum of world cultures.

    The progress that has come fairly recently in the human story has, at its base, the rejection of taboos, and the acceptance of empirical observation, research, and the scientific method as the standard upon which knowledge of reality should be based.

    This is not, of course, a universal situation. The relentless effort to find an alternative means of apprehending reality which might allow assertions based on theory, or faith in ideology, instead of unfeeling science pervades our culture. Much of the world still defers to the pronouncements of mystics and shamans of one kind or another, indeed, one can predict the level of progress in a culture by first learning which has primacy —science or mysticism.

    There is a desire, so ancient as to be almost reptillian, to have a way of circumventing the harsh, unbending laws of nature. Even though we have gained intellectually in our understanding, the emotional level of our development is woefully lacking. Faced with the unbending rules of cause and effect, many of us still hope a fervent prayer might cause some unkown power to subvert reality, and deliver us from evil.

    But the answer lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.

  • Good post. A couple of random thoughts:

    1. The infliction of psychic pain is as offensive as the infliction of physical pain.

    2. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the use of psychoactive drugs to relieve mental suffering becomes as routine as the use of anesthetics now is to relieve physical suffering.

    3. Remember hearing about the anti-anesthesia fulminations of 19th-century Christians? (I seem to recall they were especially exercised about the potential use of anesthetics to relieve the pain of childbirth.) Perhaps they were more prescient than they suspected.

  • I hope that rant made you feel better, Brian, because it had no other virtue this Catholic could detect. Your demonstrated lack of understanding of the Crucifixion is exceeded only by your presumption in writing so contemptuously about it.

  • Willy

    Christianity thrives in adversity, but wilts in comfort, not least physical comfort, which is why completely wiping out Christianity has proved so hard.

    Seems to be doing ok in the US

    Willy

  • Brian, I think your usually reasoned approach to whichever topic interests you, let you down on this one. You completely missed the point of crucifixion, which despite being cloaked in pain and sacrifice is the opposite of barbaric.

    In a strange way, I’d understand had you got worked up about theodicy rather than crucifixion, since that is the way your fundamental objection to crucifixion seems to be heading (as far as I can tell). This is because within the universe where evil exists, crucifixion is indeed meaningful and profoundly revolutionary. So challenge God’s power to erase evil and we have a debate albeit not a very original one. Talk about crucifixion without proper understanding of the Christian teaching about it and I have to agree with Francis W. Porretto…

  • Brian,

    OK, I am probably disposed not to be easily offended by you because I know you, but I don’t think I would be even if I didn’t. Why not? Because your objections are seriously meant. The communion one is shared by many Protestants vis a vis the beliefs of Catholics.

    Can’t say I’ve specifically thought about all this though.

    “None”,

    I have been reading “Chloroform: the Quest for Oblivion” by Linda Stratmann. [Disclosure. I know the author. She’s not a Christian.]

    It says that the extent of denunciations of anasthesia from the pulpit has been much exaggerated. A more common objection to anasthesia during childbirth was that the universally experienced pain must have some useful purpose. (You still hear this one nowadays.)

    Of Sir James Young Simpson, the pioneer of chloroform, it says,

    There had been a few objections to ether based on the Biblical curse on Eve, but they cannot have been either numerous or serious since Simpson had not published any rebuttal.

    This was unusual behaviour for Simpson, a vigorous controversialist.

    Early in 1847, Professor Miller had discussed the matter with the Reverend Dr Chalmers, Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, who had advised that any who took this view were “small theologians” and advised Miller to take no heed of them …

    The indefatigable Simpson did publish a pamphlet called “An Answer to the Religious Objections.” Stratmann writes:

    The existence of this pamphlet has always suggested that the use of anasthesia brought about a storm of opposition from the pulpit, yet there is no evidence of any such thing. A detailed examination of the periodicals of the time made by A.D. Farr revealed only seven references to the issue, none of them in opposition … Simpson clearly enjoys using rhetoric, sarcasm, humour and the results of mugging up on Biblical Hebrew to trounce every objection that could possibly be raised. There was nothing he enjoyed more than setting up an opponent for the precise purpose of knocking him down again … These comments caused considerable annoyance to Professor Montgomery, who wrote to Simpson protesting that he had never made any of the statements attributed to him.”

  • I agree with Willy’s point. Certainly Americans are as free of pain as Europeans. Maybe it’s the kind of religion on offer that drives Europeans away. The pallid “socially conscious” Unitarian style isn’t doing too well, in the US or UK. Muscular Baptism is, in the US, but isn’t tolerated at all in the UK (I don’t mean it’s illegal, just frowned upon like smoking in San Francisco). The contempt of liberals, Northerners and Europeans may be one of the main supports for good old Bible Belt religion.

  • I should have said, many Catholics have a response to the Protestant objections to transubstantiation, which is that there is no particular reason why the universe should align itself to one’s spontaneous feelings of plausibility.

  • James

    Good post. I was getting the (occasional) feeling that only apologetic (or perhaps that should be “simpering”)agnosticism was considered acceptable here.

    Oh and to Francis; as a former Catholic myself (and speaking on behalf of many Catholics I’ve known) I can say that Brians “lack of understanding” is well founded.

    A father allowing the torture of his son for the sake of sins (of others) he is himself well capable of extinguishing in an instant is not what I’d call the best example of the “family values” rhetoric many Christians seem to bang on about.

  • Winzeler

    veryretired, in response to your opening statement, I think this is why the vast majority of Christians are incapable of defending their faith. I’m not saying faith always needs to be defended, but for those of us who have questioned some of the premises, it does become severely defensible.

    By the way, 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” Any Christian reading and applying the Bible to their life is obligated by it to test even their own faith.

    In response to Brian being “offensive,” I point out Psalm 119:165; “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” To me it seems hard to be a devout Christian while remaining easily offendable -if that’s a word.

  • veryretired

    I am not an opponent of religious belief, and find any number of valuable thoughts in the Bible, both old and new. I long ago gave up any pretense of being anything but a weak and miserable sinner, and I find my life to be more relaxed without the necessity of maintaining the pose of self righteousness.

    My comment was specifically aimed at the tendency of any all encompassing belief to attempt to answer all questions, whether spiritual or having to do with the natural world, and compounding that error with a demand for purity of belief.

    I have long thought that the difference between free and repressed societies was that repression begins with a demand for unity of belief in all things, while excusing all sorts of grotesque actions because they were in defense of the faith, while free societies allow a wide range of belief without penalty as long as one’s actions are within a specified lawful framework.

    Thus, North Korea’s prisons are places of unspeakable horror for any who even appear to lack faith in “the Dear Leader”, and the custodians are above any law, while even the wardens of child killers in our society are held to certain standards of lawful behaviour, and liable to be prosecuted for abusing their charges.

    Personally, I found the original post about pain to be utterly banal, but the derivative arguments are interesting. I am ambivalent about the role of religion in society, as it has been used too often to justify the monstrous in the name of something holy.

  • Natalie: Thank you for the reference. However, I share Brian’s contempt of Christianity and Christian teachings. More ass they for promoting the idea that “pain is (good for you/good for the baby/serves you right/take your pick).”

  • I agree witht he orginal post and just wanted to add that the numbers of devout christians in the US have been dropping. While most people 80% still say they are Christian the majority say so more for social reasons, not religious. There are some interesting studies out there on this also, but I don’t really have time to go look them up, sorry.
    Bec

  • Denise W

    I am a Christian. I believe contempt of Christianity and Christian teachings stems from misinterpretations of the Bible and the sins of Christians. Veryretired, you described yourself as a weak and miserable sinner. Well, so am I. Everyone is. Being a Christian doesn’t make a person holier than thou, even though there are those who seem to think they are by trying to act like it. Self righteousness is a sin. Jesus did not teach people to be self righteous. I can understand how that kind of behavior would turn someone away from Christianity. If I didn’t know the truth, I probably would have turned away from the Faith myself a long time ago. There are certainly many preachers and priests who have misled people, too. The fact is we ALL fall short of the grace of God. No one is perfect whether you’re a prostitute or the girl next door who sings in the church choir. That’s why Jesus suffered and died on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to suffer the wrath of God. He took our place. It doesn’t mean that our lives will be without pain. It means we should humble ourselves, yet at the same time we don’t have to beat ourselves up over everything we do wrong when we accept that Christ died for us that we would be forgiven of those sins.

    Brian, you’re right when you say that the Faith is weak when people are comfortable. It’s so easy for people to forget God when everything is going smoothly. Then when things come crashing down, people suddenly turn to God, using prayer as an emergency kit. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone.

    As for the crucifixion being brutal and barbaric, yes, I agree. But it wasn’t Jesus or Christians who invented the crucifixion. That was how the Romans carried out the death penalty in those days. The cross represents Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection.

    As for the Holy Communion, I take communion but I don’t believe that I’m eating God and I don’t believe that the cracker I eat turns into the body of Christ. Communion to me is symbolic. The cracker represents the body of Christ and the wine (or grapejuice) represents the blood that Jesus shed. Blood is important because it is life. Life that Jesus gave.

    No offense to Catholics, but I’ve known a lot of Catholics who ended up turning away from Christianity altogether because of all the strict rules. I don’t think that God intended for a teacher of God’s word such as a priest to never marry. It makes me wonder if that’s why altar boys are sometimes molested by some priests because priests are not allowed to have sex. Why? Sex is not a dirty thing when you are married to the one you do it with. That’s just one of the things I don’t understand. But enough of my rant.

  • Ryan A.

    I’m always a bit puzzled by these types of comments. From what I remember of my Lutheran (ELCA and its forerunners) upbringing, it wasn’t the suffering of Jesus that was emphasized during the Easter holiday, it was the Resurrection. “He Has Risen” and all that. I always thought that explained the lack of the crosses with Jesus’s body depicted on it that the Catholics seemed to have, but rather a simple empty cross that we Lutherans had. I dunno, that’s what I took away from it all I guess. It seems too many people seem to equate either fundamentalism or some sort of harsh Catholicism with all of Christianity.

  • Winzeler

    There is a fundamental issue I feel compelled to address. The notion that science and logic are the primary purveyors of truth is a LIE. On a fallibility scale, science and logic have no better track record than faith.

    For hundreds of years science gave us bloodletting. Twenty years ago science told us to stay away from calcium if we had problems with kidney stones. Now it says high calcium in the diet has nothing to do with them. Science can’t even bring resolution to the DDT debate. Science gives us carbon dating and other such debatable manuevers to prove things. If you don’t know what I’m talking about read up on dating methodology:
    1. Hypothesis
    2. Experiment
    3. Compare results to #1, if the agree move on to #4, if they disagree go back to #2
    4. Conclusion
    Look at social and cognitive sciences. People globally aren’t any better off in quality of life and rational capacities than they have been in the past. Science gave us Vioxx and Celebrex. It also gives us chemotherapy and ultrasound (Look up some of the arguments against even the discriminate use of either.).

    Well, what about logic? Samizdata, in its own right, stands in defiance of the infallibility of logic. I have seen people like toolkien, Euan Gray, Perry de Haviland, HelenW, Johnathan Pierce, and veryretired go at a subject using logic for days on end with no resolution. Make no mistake, these are not ignorants. They are intelligent, rational, and capable thinkers. Logic gave us the works of Nietszche, which may have (even if distorted a little) justified Hitler’s little spattering in the history books. Look at how well logic has unified liberals and conservatives, libertarians and statists, creationists and evolutionists, pro-gunners and anti-gunners, ad-infinitum.

    The biggest problems with science and logic is they rely on fact and analysis of fact. The first problem is we will never have all the facts. The second problem is our own cognitive processes are never totally removed from emotion and the finite capacities of our brains (or even our collective brains -society). The point is we can never have all the facts and we can never even comprehensively analyze all the facts.

    We’re all going to give glory and worship to something. If it is the truth we’re after let us hold up neither science nor logic as our gods. For me, the universe and all its complexity and grandeur necessitates a Creator -one who is knowable, but not comprehensively comprehendible, and who has revealed himself to his creation in lasting, tangible ways. The notion of revelation (divine or not) gives faith a distinct advantage over logic and science. Test the faiths. If you’re honest with yourself you’ll see they are no less concrete than logic, reason, science, whatever.

  • Winzeler

    My spelling error!!!! aarrgh.

    I just looked at “On the Way to Malta” again and realized I butchered Johnathan Pearce’s name. How ironic! I just gave him a hard time about spelling only to be humbled by it myself. Sorry, Johnathan!

  • rca2t

    I am surprised that you do not make reference to Nietzsche’s main criticism of Christianity, that it tries to convert pain into meaning, and therefore increases pain instead of reduces it. As a Christian, I have always thought that Nietzsche was profoundly mistaken about how Christians view pain. Christians try to see the world through the eyes of the sufferer because, even when they are not suffering themselves, they realize that it is only the sufferer who sees the world truly, who sees the injustices that we elide in our comfortable individualism. There is something irreducible about pain (and joy) that have something to do with our possessing what we clumsily call a “soul.” and which science and rational individualism systematically miss in their avoidance of all but clear and distinct ideas.

    Also, no one ever said Communion was supposed to be “charming.” It’s not a happy meal. It speaks to a symbolism of sacrifice that is deeply woven into the ancient fabric of our souls. You should rather praise Christians for sublimating the act and not actually performing it on animals or people, as many religions do. Or, on whole groups of people as many ideologies do.

  • James

    There is a fundamental issue I feel compelled to address. ….
    Winlezer, this has got to be one of the funniest posts I’ve seen here to date.
    For hundreds of years science gave us bloodletting.
    And for at least 2,000 years the Bible has given us a young earth created in six days. Now, which one has moved on a bit since then? Hmmmm, I wonder which one.

    Here’s a little tip; If a process fails the scientific testing process, then it’s not actually science. Bloodletting fails the scientific test. That they didn’t see that back then is their failing, not sciences’. Bloodletting is, strictly speaking, prescientific.

    As for the DDT debate, science isn’t the problem, and I’m amazed you can’t see that (or perhaps you do). It’s a battle of ideology, NOT science. We know what DDT does and doesn’t do.
    The biggest problems with science and logic is they rely on fact and analysis of fact. The first problem is we will never have all the facts.
    And religion overcomes the fact problem by doing away with the need for them altogether. Neat.
    The second problem is our own cognitive processes are never totally removed from emotion and the finite capacities of our brains (or even our collective brains -society). The point is we can never have all the facts and we can never even comprehensively analyze all the facts.
    So in fact what you appear to be saying is any failing of science is OUR fault, not a failing of the process itself. Well at least that makes sense.

    Ah, and the old “Carbon-14 doesn’t work scam”. Very convenient if you want to believe in the young earth or the Turin Shroud.
    We’re all going to give glory and worship to something.
    There’s the equivocation hook….
    If it is the truth we’re after let us hold up neither science nor logic as our gods. For me, the universe and all its complexity and grandeur necessitates a Creator -one who is knowable, but not comprehensively comprehendible, and who has revealed himself to his creation in lasting, tangible ways.
    Simply put; science sucks, choose my god. That’s the punchline, BTW.
    The notion of revelation (divine or not) gives faith a distinct advantage over logic and science.
    Which is of course a statement followed by a veritable list of good reasons why it has these revelatory advantages…
    Test the faiths. If you’re honest with yourself you’ll see they are no less concrete than logic, reason, science, whatever.
    Oh, there not here. Hmmmm, must be around here somewhere…..

    And Christians wonder why we’re repulsed by their religion when they post stuff like this.

  • rca2t

    Hey James, I think Winzeler is trying to express something along the lines of what D H Lawrence once wrote (I paraphrase):

    Science is bunch of little truths yielding a great Lie;
    Religion is bunch of little lies yielding a great Truth.

  • Denise W

    Yes, Ryan. You are exactly right. It is about the Resurrection. I just wanted to explain why Jesus suffered and died since Brian’s post was about the pain. The Resurrection is why we celebrate Easter and it’s what our whole faith is based upon.

  • Denise W

    Ryan, you are also right about the empty crosses. And I’m not Catholic, by the way.

  • Denise W

    James, six days in God’s time can be thousands of years. It’s not the same as our six days on earth.

  • James


    Hey James, I think Winzeler is trying to express something along the lines of what D H Lawrence once wrote (I paraphrase):

    Science is bunch of little truths yielding a great Lie;
    Religion is bunch of little lies yielding a great Truth.

    That statement makes very little sense. Given that it was DH Lawrence who said it though, that’s not really surprising. However, replace the word “Science” in the first line with “Michael Moore” and we’re getting somewhere.

    And I think Winzeler’s point was more along the lines of “my ideology can beat up your ideology”.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    I mean, a blood sacrifice to God, of God’s only son?

    I thought Jesus was executed by the Romans. Christians claim he died for our sins. I haven’t heard anywhere bar here that he was a blood sacrifice to God…? I admit that a great deal of Christian imagery is pretty wacky, however I find the story of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection a tad bizarre, but poignant nonetheless.

    As a non-Christian, I am respectful of – esp. Protestant – Christianity’s enabling and more-or-less benign influence on the developed nations of the world. However, I would never become a Christian. It particularly irks me how (like all the other major religions) the highest celestial reward is unattainable if I happen to be a non-believer, regardless of my worthiness. I therefore find Christianity, along with the other major religions, insufferably arrogant.

  • James

    James, six days in God’s time can be thousands of years. It’s not the same as our six days on earth.

    Genesis says nothing about “God’s time” being different. Six days to the people who actually wrote the Bible is exactly the equivalent of six days today. Otherwise, we would most certainly be referring to “years” as “days”. Unless he somehow stretched the days and nights, a major event that somehow didn’t seem important enough to mention at any point in the Bible. I’m sure that if we study up on our Aramaic or Hebrew, we’d find that “day” means pretty much the same thing to them as it does to us. I’m also pretty sure if you read any other text (ancient or new) in these languages, they tend not to refer to “thousands of years” as “days”.

    Genesis says the night was divided from the day. Sounds awfully like what we call a day these days (pardon the pun). It’s funny how far into the ridiculous people are prepared to bend interpretation.

    Or do you have some unique revelation from this god regarding how he marks time?

    Sorry, but it’s not a matter of interpretation. Neither is it a matter of interpretation that grass appears before the creation of life in the oceans, or that “winged fowl” were created before “every thing that creepeth upon the earth” (in complete contradiction to the fossil record). Neither does it say that the fowl and creeping things shared a distant common ancestor in one of those “days” gone by.

    I would have thought all this was just common sense. But then I’m just an atheist, what do I know?

  • rca2t

    James,

    The statement makes a great deal of sense actually, in spite of it’s author (not my favorite either). It’s too bad you can’t see it. By the way, I agree with your sentiment about MM, but it would make more sense to say that his films are a bunch of little lies that yield an even greater lie.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Denise :

    James, six days in God’s time can be thousands of years. It’s not the same as our six days on earth.

    So when should I interpret the bible literally and when should I interpret it metaphorically? The “6 days is a metaphor” argument is disingenuous, I believe, for the precedent it sets. It says “days”. I don’t see any reason why we should take it any other way than as read. Unless you want to open up the whole New Testament to metaphorical interpretation. Dangerous.

    Admittedly, Christians are on a hiding to nothing on this issue, because if you do take the phrase literally, it makes Creationism look like a bunch of crap. Alternatively, if you interpret it as a metaphor, you leave the New Testament open to complete butchery and abuse.

  • James

    James,

    The statement makes a great deal of sense actually, in spite of it’s author (not my favorite either). It’s too bad you can’t see it.

    That’s because it’s not there to see. What you appear not to see is that no explanation is given of what exactly this “big lie” is.

  • Winzeler

    James, your faith and my faith aren’t all that different.

  • Winzeler

    Regarding the science, if you will not agree that, in science, today’s realities perpetually become tomorrow’s absurdities, then I concede the whole science half of my point. You win. However, don’t criticize me if I’m not willing to build my life on shifting sand like that. You can do what you want with it.

  • Winzeler

    Suffering, you’re willing to suffer for art, but not arrogance? (Crude humor) Is it arrogant to posit that no one is worthy and that no one attains the highest celestial reward based upon worthiness?

  • One of the greatly malicious aspects of all religious doctrines, regardless of particulars, has been the demand that belief must be total and unquestioning.

    I think Judaism is an exception, at least to some extent, at least during some periods in history.

    It particularly irks me how (like all the other major religions) the highest celestial reward is unattainable if I happen to be a non-believer, regardless of my worthiness.

    Absolutely does not apply to Judaism.

    I am not proselytizing, BTW: Jews don’t do that:-)

    Winzeler: I agree with you that our ability to know all the facts is greatly limited, which renders science and logic quite imperfect. Is this imperfection a good enough reason to abandon reasoning and investigation of facts altogether, though? What makes you think that faith is more perfect than science, other than the fact that it feels more perfect? To me neither is, and that’s fine, since both can coexist in peace within the universally non-perfect brains of universally non-perfect humans.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Absolutely does not apply to Judaism.

    Alisa – To be honest, I don’t rank Judaism as a major religion due to its relatively small number of followers, however I realise its important role in history. I also accept that, despite being a moderately sized religion in regards to the faithful, it certainly punches above its weight, to use a boorish cliche. Thank you for informing me on that issue, however – I didn’t know.

    Winzeler – I absolutely believe that worthiness (as defined by one’s personal morality) is infinitely more important than, say, faith. For that reason, I believe that, doctrinally speaking, an atheist *should* be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven if he leads a good life, even if he gets the whole existence of god/heaven & hell thing wrong. ‘Spose there’s a couple of reasons why I wouldn’t be a Christian right there.

  • James

    James, your faith and my faith aren’t all that different.

    Wow, such stunning argument from someone who’s never met me. I’m truly humbled. Humbled, I tell you.

    Again, these people wonder why we turn our noses up at them.

  • Suffering: To be honest, I don’t rank Judaism as a major religion due to its relatively small number of followers. You are right, of course. It’s this whole “no proselytizing” thing, along with some demographic, um, setbacks:-)

  • James

    Regarding the science, if you will not agree that, in science, today’s realities perpetually become tomorrow’s absurdities, then I concede the whole science half of my point. You win.
    Then I consider your point conceded. You don’t know science, or it simply frightens you. Strange to seek solace in one relgion among many thousands in existence, each with it’s own differing ideas about the nature of the universe. Talk about building one’s life on “shifting sands”.

    In religion, yesteryear’s absurdities remain today’s absurdities. If that’s the price of the certainty one so desperately craves, you may keep it. I personally wouldn’t lower myself, even if I believed in its god.

    However, don’t criticize me if I’m not willing to build my life on shifting sand like that. You can do what you want with it.
    I will criticize, because the desperate need for this magical “certainty” and protection, so powerful that it drives rational people to seek irrational non-answers, is something I consider a grave weakness. I will not “buy” strength from another, especially something so ethereal as a god concept.

    And in the case of our species, one that has come from nothing to running this world (through an understanding of those “shifting sands” of observation, understanding, acheivement and hard work), I will continue to criticize it for such silliness.

    We are better than religion. We’re stronger than that.

  • Wild Pegasus

    I thought Jesus was executed by the Romans. Christians claim he died for our sins. I haven’t heard anywhere bar here that he was a blood sacrifice to God…

    That’s exactly what Christianity teaches:

    “Behold! The Lamb of God, who removes the sin of the world!” John 1:29
    “For even Christ our passover lamb has been sacrified for us.” I Corinthians 5:7
    “Therefore, be followers of God, like beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ has loved us and has given himself up as an offering and sacrifice to God for a sweet scent.” Ephesians 5:1-2
    You could also read Hebrews 9 and 10, which describes how Christians harmonise the Jewish sacrifices and the crucifixion. It’s enlightening reading into just how truly perverse the religion is at its core.

    – Josh

  • Winzeler

    Thank you, Alisa. I was not saying we should abandon reason or science in the pursuit of truth. Neither was I upholding faith to a level higher than science or logic. I was quite simply suggesting that science, logic, and faith pass and fail all the same tests.

    Suffering, I’m going to reply first by saying I highly respect you, your opinions, and the way you seem to treat the opinions of others -even if the others’ are inflamatory. That said, I’ll pose some questions. How worthy would I have to be to enter the kingdom of heaven? Perfect? Close? Better than…? How many lies do I have to tell to be a liar? How many things do I have to steal to be a thief? How many people do I have to hate to be a hater? How much screwing around do I have to do to be an adulterer? How much sin do I have to commit to be a sinner?

    I do agree that personal worthiness is infinitely more important than faith, but if I use even my conscience as a guide (let alone something hard like Jesus’ teachings) I find myself condemned, unworthy. Perfect worthiness (Christians would call it perfect righteousness) is emphatically the only basis for entering into the kingdom of heaven. If you seriously want to look into it, I suggest you read up on imputed righteousness. I also suggest (even more so) that you read it from the horse’s mouth.

    James, you can hurl all the insults you want. I will still maintain that science and logic are no less shakey than faith as sources of truth. I don’t know how you can go outside at night, look up at the cosmos and arrogently assert that we’re “better than that.” We can’t even count the stars, let alone master them. What, in your perception, justifies their existance better than a Creator? Big bang? Let me ask you this, how much time would you have to apply to nothing before it became something? For all our billions of years of evolution and greatness we still can neither destroy nor create energy (not to mention the fact that we haven’t even seen it done). Where did all this energy come from? Your personal answers to these questions are why I said your faith is not unlike mine -they both require either a.) a pre-disposition, or b.) a “leap.”

    By the way, I don’t in the least wonder why you are “repulsed” by my religion or why you turn your nose up at me. I pray God blesses you and you have a happy Easter and weekend.

  • Winzeler

    I have a NON rhetorical question I’d like answered. I have read a lot of these threads over the past 6 months or so and I have been around the world (Middle East, Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, Europe, North and South America), and I have never seen an opinion (be it a political ideology, national ideology, hobby preference, sports team preference, you name it -even an another religion), receive opposition with the same vehemence as Christianity. If you’re disposed to this, would you please tell me why? I don’t want mere insults, I just want to know what offends you so much?

  • So when should I interpret the bible literally..?

    I think never. “The letter kills” & etc.
    I suppose its odd that one can resort to Scripture to urge someone not to resort to Scripture, but there it is.

    It particularly irks me how (like all the other major religions) the highest celestial reward is unattainable if I happen to be a non-believer, regardless of my worthiness.

    This isn’t so, but is a misinterpretation. A common one. The answer to that conundrum is found within Romans “Those who have not the Law yet still abide by the Law are a Law unto themselves…”

  • Winzeler

    “…even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences testify in support of this, and their competing thoughts either accuse or excuse them on the day when God judges what people have kept secret…” (HCSB)

    This is the completion of the thought urthshu started quoting. I would have to confirm it, but I think the “letter” is referring to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible which contained the covenant God made with the children of Abraham, specifically his grandson Jacob).

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Winzeler – I agree. It’s very trendy to bash Christianity these days. I, however, see (Protestant, esp.) Christianity as the basis of Western civilization’s greatness. I also think that Jesus taught some amazing truths that are worthy of our attention.

    And thankyou for your kind words, which are reciprocated. I suppose a Christian would answer your questions by saying that God judges such things. I, however, cannot fall back on this. Actually, as an agnostic, I see no reason to. At the end of my life, I know I will look back and realise that I have done bad things to good people. Hopefully, I will have done a great deal more good than bad. And I hope my regrets will not amount to nearly as much as my triumphs. I want to be a good father and a good husband. I want to spend heaps of time with my kids. Having said that, I’d like a good career, but I don’t want to lose sight of the really important things in life. I don’t want to regret not spending enough time with my children. My father feels this way about my sister and myself. Obviously I have done and will do more bad things; been a hypocrite, cheated people, lied, etc. However, I’d like to remain honest with myself about these actions, retain perspective when suffering consequences, learn and improve. I don’t expect I’m going to be righteous. However, if I die a markedly better person than I am now (and I think I’m more-or-less decent), I’ve led a successful life.

    Perfect worthiness (Christians would call it perfect righteousness) is emphatically the only basis for entering into the kingdom of heaven.

    So how does anyone gain entry? It must be quite an exclusive club.

    I think never. “The letter kills” & etc.

    I really hope you don’t mean that. So the letter kills. Who determines what the “spirit” of the bible is? This position is not tenable. Christianity would become a complete dog’s breakfast (even moreso than it is now, with all the schisms and such) if your flexible interpretation of the bible was applied widely.

    “Those who have not the Law yet still abide by the Law are a Law unto themselves…”

    Does that not break the first commandment?

  • Johnathan

    Brian, interesting post. Besides the pain factor, another factor explaining the hold of religious faith even among more comfortable times is that of redemption. It is the idea that one can turn life around after screwing up. It is psychologically very powerful. A lot of self-help gurus who are atheists in many ways strive to convey to their clients the emotional impact bound up in the Easter message of life beginning anew.

    As a lapsed Anglican who is now a skeptic about religion in all its forms, I still feel the great power of that message, even though I choose to ground my views on the evidence of my senses and what little reasoning capacity nature has given me, rather than on some revealed religion. And I feel too much respect for much of the wisdom contained in the Old and New Testaments to assume that pain is the main factor. As someone said above, if pain were key, how come Christianity has such a deep hold in the biggest economy in the world?

  • cyborg

    “James, you can hurl all the insults you want. I will still maintain that science and logic are no less shakey than faith as sources of truth”

    You seem to have this misconception that because science has changed its views that is it useless for finding truth. The reality is that if science didn’t change that would be a problem. It is self-correcting. If new facts mean old theories are no longer tenable then to hang onto the old theories is to fly in the face of reality.

    Religon however is useless for finding truth because it’s basic premise is that people had knowledge revealed divinely thousands of years ago. When what they wrote down doesn’t jive with reality those of faith merely say ‘well, you’re not interpreting it correctly!’, whether or not there is any actual justification for this interpretation in the texts. Or they just deny reality outright – evolution being the main bone of contention for the biologically ignorant.

    The assumption that you can trust what people who were clearly ignorant of much of science and history (their own included) are a reasonable guide to truth is just absurd to me. It all rests on the assumption that these people were actually receiving knowledge from a divine source – and when one critically examines what these people have written down, claiming this divine source as inspiriation, one can only conclude either the divine source doesn’t know what it’s talking about or these people were just making it up as they go.

    “I don’t know how you can go outside at night, look up at the cosmos and arrogently assert that we’re “better than that.””

    That’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying when he looks up at the cosmos and he wants to understand what it’s all about he will put his trust in a method that ACTUALLY examines the cosmos, rather than assume that people who thought stars could fall to earth have anything useful to teach him about it.

    “Where did all this energy come from?”

    The truth is that no-body knows. There are lots of questions to which the answers simply aren’t known. To think that placing god in these gaps actually answers them is ludicrous though. If we were satisfied with placing god in our knoweldge everytime there was a gap in it we’d still think rainbows were created to remind a (omniscient mind) god not to kill us all, that thunderbolts were thrown down by Zeus, that the Nile river is flooded by Atum masturbating, that stars are just lights maybe mere metres above our heads, man was created from dust and so on.

    With all the myths and legends from around the world dreamed up by the human mind to explain things around them and maybe, just maybe, gain some control over an indifferent universe by anthropomorphising it then worshiping the gods they created in order to curry favour with the universe. Which is what happens when people rationise senseless occurances as god’s will, or pray, or do any other multitude of god related acts.

  • cyborg

    “As someone said above, if pain were key, how come Christianity has such a deep hold in the biggest economy in the world?”

    You’re forgetting how big the gap is between the rich and the poor in the US. Some areas are like a third world conutry.

    And take a look at the most Christian areas of the US – the large, poor, red states. The least Christian? The rich, small, well educated, blue states.

  • “Poor red states”? Are you sure?

    Oh, Winzeler: I see your point.

  • Winzeler

    You seem to have this misconception that because science has changed its views that is it useless for finding truth.

    No, I have the conception that because science (maybe to split hairs: the application of science) has demonstrated its fallibility by subjecting hypotheses to its own methodology, analyzing the results, and forming conclusions, only to have new evidence force the revision of the conclusions. The process of science is irrefutable. However, the progress isn’t. Scientific methodology would hypothetically eventually arrive at absolute truth, but because its a work in progress, the level of progression cannot be trusted. Maybe one could rationally trust the process, but because the process cannot be completed in any of our lifetimes the notion is nebulous.

    My intention is not to exalt faith in religion, only to put faith in science and logic into proper perspective.

  • James

    Winzeler,

    What cyborg said. He’s saved me a lot of time, thanks mate. But I have some points to add;

    No, I have the conception that because science (maybe to split hairs: the application of science) has demonstrated its fallibility by subjecting hypotheses to its own methodology, analyzing the results, and forming conclusions, only to have new evidence force the revision of the conclusions. The process of science is irrefutable. However, the progress isn’t. Scientific methodology would hypothetically eventually arrive at absolute truth, but because its a work in progress, the level of progression cannot be trusted.

    Since when has ‘trusting’ been relevant? Science proceeds independently of our ‘trusting’. Sounds more like impatience to me. “Well, science hasn’t perfected itself yet, so I’ll choose this religion instead”. How fickle. It seems you believe religion is somehow less fallible than Science. Rich, for a religion with a 6 day creation myth.

    Oh, and that self-revisionism of Science? That’s it’s strength, not the weakness you may wish is was.

    Maybe one could rationally trust the process, but because the process cannot be completed in any of our lifetimes the notion is nebulous.

    So the defining factor is that it can’t do it “in any of our lifetimes”? What you really mean is within YOUR lifetime. Very strange statement for someone convinced of things bigger than himself. Your existence or the duration of that existence isn’t the defining criteria of the validity of Science. And they call us atheists arrogant.

    My intention is not to exalt faith in religion, only to put faith in science and logic into proper perspective.

    That’s not your intent at all. Sorry to have to say it, but I doubt you really grasp the “proper perspective” you refer to. You even equivocate on the concept of “faith”, so I’m not convinced you understand that either. What you’re saying is revealed religion is superior as an explanation of the universe, and then proceed to provide no evidence to back it up. That’s just not good enough from a human being.

    Outside of satisfying your own emotional needs, you’ve given no demonstration that your religion has produced superior results. Simply, because there isn’t any.

    And we are better than that.

  • cyborg

    “Scientific methodology would hypothetically eventually arrive at absolute truth, but because its a work in progress, the level of progression cannot be trusted.”

    Then stop using that scientifically created tool you’re using to post here – since it can’t be trusted.

  • Winzeler

    Cyborg, something doesn’t have to be trustworthy as a means to attaining truth in order to be used for purposes of pleasure, self-expression, communication, et al.

    James, if you’re going to go about the business of dictating to me my own intent, you stifle the discussion, and that’s fine.

    I would still like to have you answer my question from above though:

    I have a NON rhetorical question I’d like answered. I have read a lot of these threads over the past 6 months or so and I have been around the world (Middle East, Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, Europe, North and South America), and I have never seen an opinion (be it a political ideology, national ideology, hobby preference, sports team preference, you name it -even an another religion), receive opposition with the same vehemence as Christianity. If you’re disposed to this, would you please tell me why? I don’t want mere insults, I just want to know what offends you so much?

    Your reaction to my position strongly suggests you’re meeting some emotional needs of your own. I really want to know why I get such inflamatory responses from you (and others).

  • cyborg

    “Cyborg, something doesn’t have to be trustworthy as a means to attaining truth in order to be used for purposes of pleasure, self-expression, communication, et al.”

    Then where are the great advances religion has given us? If religion is so great for gaining truth what truths has it actually given us? Theists can’t even agree with themselves about that. You can argue with each other about truth for millenia and get nowhere.

    Try arguing with the universe about the nature of an electron and you won’t get very far. Try to persuade a proton it’s something it’s not and your argument falls on deaf ears.

    Science is about listening to nature – theology telling it what it is. You tell me which is a more sensible approach.

    “If you’re disposed to this, would you please tell me why? I don’t want mere insults, I just want to know what offends you so much?”

    Probably not simply because the theology has led to some of history’s most reprehensible characters and events but because at its core it says humans are shitbags unworthy of life except by the grace of the creator. I don’t know about James but I find that pretty offensive.

  • Winzeler

    Cyborg, I accept your last paragraph.

    Science is about listening to nature – theology telling it what it is.

    About this part, I think it’s wise to have a healthy dose of both.

  • cyborg

    “About this part, I think it’s wise to have a healthy dose of both.”

    Again I fail to see what theology has acomplished by utilising supposed divine revelations that have not been shown to have any bearing on reality.

    Unless you’re suggesting it’s healthy to have one foot in reality and the other in fantasy.

  • Denise W

    Cyborg,

    This may come as a shock to you but there are well educated people in the red states too. Where I am certainly doesn’t look like a third world country either. There are a lot of Christians in this area and they are mostly middle class, not rich or poor.

  • cyborg

    “This may come as a shock to you but there are well educated people in the red states too. ”

    I do know this – however you cannot deny that these states are where the fudamentalist power bases are. These are the states that want stickers labeling evolution as ‘just a theory’ (if they want to equivocate label the Bibles as well).

    “Where I am certainly doesn’t look like a third world country either.”

    I’m sure it doesn’t. For one thing you are probably white. For another you ARE using the internet. That hardly implies that you’re worrying about where your next meal is coming from. Besides I didn’t say it was the red states that were like third world countries. Merely pointing out that some of the poorest areas in the US are like that.

    ” There are a lot of Christians in this area and they are mostly middle class, not rich or poor.”

    You seem to have mixed up two points I made.

    The first point was on the rich-poor gap. It’s huge. One of the other posters didn’t understand why with the basic hypothesis about pain that the US should be so Christian. I was merely pointing out that there are some incredibly poor people in the US.

    As to why people are Christian simply experiencing ‘pain’ is not the only reason – although there is a train of thought that considers suffering something divine and to be encouraged (much as Mother Teresa did, despite the popular view that she eleviated suffering she considered those who were suffering Christ-like and lucky). So I’m not insinuating that Christians are mostly poor.

    The major reason as I see it for people being Christian is simply of tradition – their family is Christian hence they are. I doubt most people even bother to think about it – they just accept what their parents say on authourity and pass it onto the next generation.

  • I have never seen an opinion (be it a political ideology, national ideology, hobby preference, sports team preference, you name it -even an another religion), receive opposition with the same vehemence as Christianity.

    Here’s a partial answer. Many ideologies can be assigned to one or both of two major groupings: permissiveness and utopianism. The former group (wrongly) percieves Christianity as a killjoy. The faith’s code of ethics proscribes a lot of activities that seem like fun in the short run but are injurious in the long term. (One wonders why the excessively prudish Islam gets a pass.)

    The latter group (rightly) perceives it as an obstacle to utopian fantasies. The concept of utopia is that of an earthly paradise, the perfection of human society. Christianity denies that such is possible; it claims that human perfection will be achieved only in the afterlife at the direction of God, not in the here and now under the direction of the United Nations or International ANSWER or the Screen Actors Guild or whatever.

    And you can’t have a perfect society unless the government controls its culture. Christianity promotes a culture independent of either government** or popular whim; it is therefore hostile toward such external control. Utopianism always involves control over the socialization of children through schools and other mechanisms; Christianity (and a few other ideologies) claim that such authority belongs to parents.

    (** The state churches of nominally Christian nations were the product of heresy. Constantine violated the original intent for the independent church.)

    Utopianism is often socialistic in nature; socialism attacks the Christian (and libertarian) principles that charity is a voluntary enterprise, and that the individual is responsible for his or her economic activity.

  • Shawn

    “The major reason as I see it for people being Christian is simply of tradition – their family is Christian hence they are. I doubt most people even bother to think about it – they just accept what their parents say on authourity and pass it onto the next generation.”

    I have been a Christian for more than twenty years and the above statement is utterly false. Most of the Christian I have met and known think very deeply about their faith.

    The idea that in order to be Christain you must be ignorant, not much of a thinker, or poorly educated is one of the great liberal myths, and like all liberal myths, it is a lie.

    As a Christian I am not offended by anything said in the above posts and the article, just saddened at how ignorant so many are about the Christian Faith. It is pointless arguing about this with “intelligent” “rational” people convinced of their own intellectual prowess.

    As for barbarism, the worst barbarism in human history was carried out by regimes that rejected Christianity in favour of “reason”.

    We had the “reason” and evolutionary “science” of the Nazi’s racialism, and the “reason” of Soviet Marxism.

    The previous centuries of of the Christian West were benign by comparison.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    I have been a Christian for more than twenty years and the above statement is utterly false. Most of the Christian I have met and known think very deeply about their faith.

    I agree, most of the Christians I know think very deeply about their faith, too. However it is true that a majority of Christians are born into Christian families. Seeds are forcefully implanted in children, who are fertile ground because kids are so impressionable. Thus patterns are set from a very young age. Once you start down that path… Of course, the flipside is true for children raised in secular households. Most secular folk harbour cynicism of varying potency towards Christianity that they inevitably pass to their children. This is true of myself; my cynicism was replaced with respect (if not adherence to) Christianity as a religion only a couple of years ago – I’m 24 now.

  • Euan Gray

    The idea that in order to be Christain you must be ignorant, not much of a thinker, or poorly educated is one of the great liberal myths, and like all liberal myths, it is a lie.

    It doesn’t happen too often, but for once I agree with Shawn. There are a great many highly educated and intelligent people who are Christian – including in such groups as doctors, physicists, chemists and biologists, groups one might think would have a more mechanistic explanation of life, the universe and everything. There are also many ignorant and uneducated people who aren’t religious. What does this tell us? Nothing, other than that intellect is no bar to religious belief, and that ignorance does not imply that one will be religious.

    Many of the western arguments against Christianity are directed more or less against the Catholic Church. It is true that Catholicism requires a greater degree of unthinking obedience to the rules, not least because of its rigid formal hierarchy and its express idea that infallible wisdom flows from one man with considerable temporal power. Many of these arguments don’t work, or don’t work nearly so well, against Protestantism or Orthodoxy. In both these cases (perhaps more so in Orthodoxy), it is quite possible to have significant theological differences with priests and bishops without being shunned, anathematised or excommunicated.

    Humanity has a deep, basic need to feel that all is not in vain, that the suffering we go through on this earth is not for nothing. Christianity, like the other monotheistic religions, meets this need, by offering the hope of eventual spiritual reward. Where Christianity differs from Judaism and Islam is that it offers an illustration of this in the suffering, physical sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of Christ, who was both man and God. The whole point of Easter is to remember this illustration, which is the basis of the Christian faith.

    Christianity, IMO at least, is somewhat more practical than many, if not most or even all, other religions. It bids us recognise that we are not perfect, nor are we perfectible. It does NOT (outside more extreme Protestant cliques) say that we are pre-doomed to damnation for our sinful humanity. It does NOT say we can make everything perfect on earth if we only follow the rules or institute some theory or other. What it does say, at heart, is that if we accept that we are imperfect and often wrong, if we exchange arrogance for a touch of humility, and if throughout our lives we strive to become better people by following the example of Christ, then we can hope to share this ultimate reward. Of course, it’s much more complex than that, but it seems a handy enough one sentence summary.

    Secular humanism can achieve much. It can advance our knowledge, give us material ease & comfort and make us physically healthy. It cannot, and of course does not pretend to, answer the basic spiritual needs of humanity. Yet these needs remain since they are a fundamental part of human nature. There really is no secular answer to them.

    EG

  • Johnathan

    Euan, another key reason why Christianity has endured for so long is the message of forgiveness. It explains, in my view, the robustness of the Christian message in contrast to Islam and its penchant for vengeance, at least as it is proclaimed by fundamentalists. I believe also that the otherworldly core of Christianity helps explain the workability of the separation of Church and State in most modern societies, which has proven to be a boon, and not a hindrance, to religion.

    Cyborg’s comments are excellent, particularly on the difference between science and religion. Very well expressed.

  • Winzeler

    and if throughout our lives we strive to become better people by following the example of Christ, then we can hope to share this ultimate reward

    I basically agree with your whole post, but isn’t this part more arrogance, only subtler. It seems like this is still the “I can do it mentallity.” Having read the Bible six times and memorized the book of Romans, I would say the basic tenant of Christianity (exclusive Bible-based Christianity) is that we can never do it, but that we have a substitute who perfectly did it and is willing to impute his having done it to us. From a Christian standpoint, way too many people are trying to buy or earn what they can’t -what Jesus is dying to give them freely.

    Anyway, good post. By the way, Johnathan, I totally agree with your separation of church and state sentiment. How many examples do we have of the abysmal failure of religion by compulsion?

  • James

    James, if you’re going to go about the business of dictating to me my own intent, you stifle the discussion, and that’s fine.

    I’ve dictated nothing to you and well you know it. Don’t be so dishonest. You’re still posting, so don’t presume to accuse me of stifling anything.

    I would still like to have you answer my question from above though:

    I have a NON rhetorical question I’d like answered. I have read a lot of these threads over the past 6 months or so and I have been around the world (Middle East, Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, Europe, North and South America), and I have never seen an opinion (be it a political ideology, national ideology, hobby preference, sports team preference, you name it -even an another religion), receive opposition with the same vehemence as Christianity. If you’re disposed to this, would you please tell me why? I don’t want mere insults, I just want to know what offends you so much?

    You couldn’t have read anything on this site and come to the conclusion that somehow Islam gets a free pass. I’ve been reading here for at least 2 years now, and I’m quite sickened at how Christianity is kit gloved on many occasions. Islam has been rightly vilified here in the past. I wish we were being more fair and including Christianity in that more often.

    As for why you’ve experienced such hostility across the world, if you haven’t looked into Christianity (and the organizations that promote it) and figured that out, then I doubt I can really enlighten you. Part of that is likely due to your emotional investment in it. I also found such things difficult to understand from the inside, due to the limited perspective it permits. Perhaps you should have asked those people who expressed that hostility, I certainly can’t speak for them.

    Of course, you can simply choose to believe that they’re all wrong, and simply meeting some “emotional” need by sounding off. But then if you really thought that about them (or me) you wouldn’t be asking the question.

    Your reaction to my position strongly suggests you’re meeting some emotional needs of your own. I really want to know why I get such inflamatory responses from you (and others).

    Blah, blah, ‘you cling to your ideology just as much’ blah, so on and so forth. If you think my posts are “inflamatory” responses you don’t get around much. Of course, it’s easier to call them such than consider the possibility that they have merit. But let me give you a friendly tip; until such time as I start advocating the death of all believers and church burnings, I think you can lay off the Christian melodramatics just a tad.

    My reaction expresses hate for most of what most religions stand for, and much of what it does throughout the world in the name of it’s ideology, and of how very little the more “moderate” of Christians do to mitigate the more “radical” and “evangelical” elements of their belief (Hmmm, now what other religion have we been levelling that accusation at…. Couldn’t be Islam, could it? No, no, couldn’t be. We only bash Christians after all, don’t we?). Again, if this simple point is not obvious to you, I can’t help you see it. See above post for the answer to your second sentence.

  • James

    I agree, most of the Christians I know think very deeply about their faith, too. However it is true that a majority of Christians are born into Christian families

    I’d have to disagree with that. Coming from a vastly Catholic country, with Catholic family members, Catholic friends, and living in Catholic communities, any real ‘thought’ regarding faith very rarely enters most minds. More accurately, it is typically a matter of levels of emotional investment, with everyday folk at the lower end of investment, clergy somewhere about the middle, and evangelical and fundamentalist being the most invested. Of course, the level of investment can wax and wane over the course of a lifetime. But we should never confuse intellectual reflection with emtional need.

    My experience has been that the spread (and sustenance) of belief are more typically a result of what you might call ‘parental memetic propagation’. Go to Dublin City in the Springtime, find some children on their Communion day, and ask them why, without fail, they’ll all have wallets or purses. Then try and assess their levels of deep doctinal understanding. The usual reasons put forward why a child should go through this ceremony have, in my experience, boiled down to some form of “we’ll, all the other kids are doing it”.

    When most people know so very little about the nature of their faith (never mind the texts it is based on), we can’t in any honesty say that genuine intelligent reflection enters the equation in the majority of cases.

    And when it does, a goodly portion of those I’ve known who’ve looked deeper have discarded their faith.

  • cyborg

    To the Christians replying to me:

    Yes I know there are intelligent Christians. My Grandmother happens to be one of them, has a degree in Chemistry from a top university here in the UK. I’m sure many of you think you’ve examined your faith deeply. The truth of the matter for most people they simply DON’T. Most Christians haven’t read the entire Bible – lets be frank, there’s great swathes of incredibly boring bits like the levitical law and genologies. Most are unaware of a context outside their faith. Most simply follow the direction of their pastor and get on with their lives thinking little more of it.

    It is incredibly easy for people to compartmentalise – Christian scientists who do not apply the same rigorous standards to their experiments as they would their faith for example. Don’t doubt the human ability for self-deception.

    Oh, BTW, ‘Gott Mit Uns’ to whoever thinks the Nazi’s were godless atheists.

  • In Re: Suffering for my art:
    Sorry for not responding earlier. If you’re still reading this…
    I think never. “The letter kills” & etc.

    I really hope you don’t mean that. So the letter kills. Who determines what the “spirit” of the bible is? This position is not tenable. Christianity would become a complete dog’s breakfast (even moreso than it is now, with all the schisms and such) if your flexible interpretation of the bible was applied widely.
    I’d be the first to say my own Faith [Quaker-related] is something of a dog’s breakfast- and I’d hasten to add that I’m not a very good Believer, though I do try. The emphasis for me is not on the letter of the Law, but on the power & glory, that which is of God.
    The spirit then, is what is living, less so what is written. There are consistent, logical reasons for that when its reflected upon.
    For instance, if the Resurrection was for the entirety of Creation, then how could that message of hope be something that only those who can read can be part of? How can it be delimited to something bought & sold, and how is that in accord with the spirit of Christ? If it’s only a discrete event in fulfillment of prophesy, then how can it be applied to all of humanity, the majority of whom never heard of that body of scripture?
    That doesn’t mean the written Scripture is useless, though, just that it’s of lesser importance to that which is God.

    I understand that’s a non-starter for some. 🙂

    As for it not being tenable- I agree. But then, most of Faith is not. That’s what is being argued throughout this thread, in a way.

    “Those who have not the Law yet still abide by the Law are a Law unto themselves…”

    Does that not break the first commandment?
    Yes and no. Yes, in the sense of idolatry, but no in the sense of recognizing the power of God, obeying that which is Holy, striving to lead a Holy life, etc.
    If you’ve never had the Commandments to work with in the beginning, what then? That’s what the passage deals with. I believe the Apostle goes on to say that if one gets exposed to the Law at some point, its better for them to follow it thereafter.

  • Winzeler

    Urthshu, having that book memorized, you’re basically right, but to expand on your thought: the law unto themselves is their conscience which basically bears witness to the laws of God -the primaries being Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

    James, consider the language of all your previous posts and mine. Then ask yourself who has the deeper emotional investment in their belief.

    Part of communication (discussion) is hearing and listening. If you’re too busy determining my intentions, you’ll be too busy to attempt to understand where I am coming from. That’s what I meant by “stifle.”

    I haven’t followed long enough to see Islam-bashing, and I’ll take your word on it.

    I have been beaten up once for my faith and verbally abused dozens of times, not all suffering is death or church burnings. Certainly you understand that rejection from peers is tough in its own right.

    Back to our discussion. We haven’t gotten anywhere the way we’ve been going at it. I’ll try something else. How does secular humanism or atheism attempt to deal with morality? Religion in this sense deals with the governance of behavior in ways I don’t think secular humanism or atheism can. Somehow or another notions of right and wrong have to be dealt with.

    The second thing that has to be dealt with is purpose. How does atheism deal with life’s purpose? Does it propose pleasure? how about affluence? respect? individualism? greater good of society? to leave a legacy? to leave possessions that others get to use up and even squander? What purpose does an atheist apply to their life to justify their next breath? Have they even thought about it, or are they blindly going about life, eating up the food, drinking up the water, breathing up the air, and taking up the space? Obviously, these questions can’t be answered for everyone by anyone on this blog, but how about for you?

  • Denise W

    As it was mentioned above, most Christians are born into Christian families to start with. This is true in a lot of cases but not always so. I was born into a Christian family. But the person in my family who had the most impact on my Christian faith was my grandfather who for many years before I was born was an atheist. I wasn’t told this until after he died and it came as a shock because all the years I’d known him he was such a devout Christian. He didn’t come from Christian parents. Yet he was always searching for meaning in life. He would be up all hours of the night reading books and studying different religions. He was a very wise and intelligent man who came to know God through a nephew who became a pastor.

  • Urthshu, having that book memorized, you’re basically right

    At last! It happens so rarely. 🙂
    Thank you, BTW, for that expansion. I’m no scholar by any means in religious matters, so it’s great when I can read further viewpoints. I understand what you’re writing there, too: The law is written in their hearts.
    That’s where its supposed to be and that’s the exact problem that so many have with professing Christians, isn’t it? That they’ve the law on paper but not in their hearts?

    Its enough to make you suspect non-Christians have a leg up or something. LOL

  • cyborg

    “How does secular humanism or atheism attempt to deal with morality? Religion in this sense deals with the governance of behavior in ways I don’t think secular humanism or atheism can. Somehow or another notions of right and wrong have to be dealt with.”

    As an atheist I don’t see a difference. Religion just claims that god is the arbiter of morality when infact god is just the simplistic justification for the rules (and perhaps the ultimate arbiter of punishment). The main claim as to the superiority of divine morality is its permenance and absoluteness.

    This is patently not the case since it is self-evident that what Christians today consider moral is not the same that Christians have always considered moral. For one thing there are issues today that simply didn’t occur in the past.

    If a Christian accepts that Christian morality has not remained consistent they may argue that it is absolute – but the correct divination of the rules from the Bible requires the correct interpretation. Of course, every Christian who says this claims to have that correct interpretation – whether or not they can come to a concensus with each other. (Also there is a failure to recognise that what worked for people thousands of years ago in a radically different society may not be appropriate today).

    The way I see it society creates morality to suit its own ends. If the morality is no longer tenable it changes. Morality is self-evidently a changeable feast. There are no absolutes, only choices and possible consequences of those choices.

    In other words when you say religion can deal with morality in a way seccularism can’t I don’t see why – mainly because I don’t see any real difference other than a simplistic ‘god said so’ reasoning branching from the religious side. The reasoning process is unimportant mainly – society will find the morality to fit or it will die.

  • Winzeler

    Cyborg, I can go with you on that assessment. Society determines morality as a means to self preservation. Fine. Nevertheless, I do believe that there are consistent moral standards, for which there must be an authority. Rules and guidelines have no capacity without authority. The reason I believe in consistent moral standards is from all the history I’ve read (as well as the “law in their hearts” issue urthshu and I have been talking about). Basic moral tenants have always been in place. Some, obviously have flexed a bit (i.e. polygamy), but others have been steadfast (murder, theft, homosexuality, adultery). I know that people in droves have condoned these actions (I even have on occasion -also permitting is not the same as condoning), but it is either in violation of their consciences or their consciences have been so seared by repeated abuse so they no longer have them. These aren’t hard and fast facts that apply in all cases, but I do believe that within a not-so-loose framework people have a general concensus of right and wrong.

  • cyborg

    ” I do believe that there are consistent moral standards, for which there must be an authority. ”

    Even if that authourity is fictional?

    “Rules and guidelines have no capacity without authority.”

    Do you not have a judiciary and legistlate in your governmental system? That’s given authourity. No god required.

    “but others have been steadfast (murder, theft, homosexuality, adultery).”

    Well no. Despite the Christian spin on history homosexuality has NOT been a problem for many cultures. There are others for which the concept of property is alien and hence theft an impossibility. Whether or not killing a person is murder is largely up to society and is certainly a changeable feast. And some people just don’t get hung up on adultery either – it’s such a problem for Judo-Christianity because a woman is essentially the property of the man, so it’s effectively a type of theft. (Same with Biblical rape).

    “but it is either in violation of their consciences or their consciences have been so seared by repeated abuse so they no longer have them”

    Well let’s take your examples of ‘steadfast’ morals.

    1) Murder – how does abuse tie in here? When killing is considered good is the conscience unaffected by social acceptance (for example, killing an enemy soldier). There’s no clear cut answers as to when and when it is not right to kill. Your Bible is about as useless as any other religious guide for clearing that up (given the context it is given in).
    2) Theft – again how does abuse work here? If one were stealing food in order to survive (poaching for example) does that affect their conscience or it is merely a tempory relaxation on the respect for social laws given a current dire situation?
    3) Homosexuality – please tell me homosexuals only exist because of abuse. I would love to pull the wings off that fallacy. Where is the violation of one’s conscience here?
    4) Adultery – again abuse? Violition of conscience? Perhaps one should recognise that marriage can chain people together unsuitably and that just because two people are married doesn’t mean they’re in a relationship.

    ” These aren’t hard and fast facts that apply in all cases,”

    Well you see here’s the thing. If they aren’t hard and fast then they’re really no better coming from a fiction. People still have to make up their own minds sans god.

  • James

    Oh, BTW, ‘Gott Mit Uns’ to whoever thinks the Nazi’s were godless atheists.

    Right, and those who claim the Communists and fascists were the logical outcome of “rationalism” and “reason” might do well to remember the name Lysenko.

  • Winzeler

    Well, yes they do. People redefine their own moral codes all the time for the purpose of self-justification.

    Do you not have a judiciary and legistlate in your governmental system? That’s given authourity. No god required.

    Regardless of the governmental system (dictatorship to democracy) the authority in your example still comes back to an individual or at best a collective. In other words, humanity is self-governing -yeah right.

  • cyborg

    “In other words, humanity is self-governing -yeah right.”

    Yes it is. Glad you’re catching on. Even your god felt the need to appoint Judges and then Kings.

    If you’re big on god directed behaviour then perhaps you shouldn’t live in a democracy.

  • James

    James, consider the language of all your previous posts and mine. Then ask yourself who has the deeper emotional investment in their belief.

    You really don’t get it yet, do you? I’m an ATHEIST. I LACK belief. I can’t have an emotional investment in a belief I don’t have. Therefore, the answer to your question is; you do, obviously. I accept Science as the best method to knowledge we have until (or if) something better comes along. My support for it is PROVISIONAL, but your belief in your religion is ABSOLUTE. Who’s really the one most invested here? Again, the anwser’s obvious.

    You fail to see that in a very fundamental way, I am simply not like you when it comes to these matters. I’m not simply another believer like you that you seem to think I am. I’ve not simply chosen another creed to follow. It’s not just that I lack faith in your creed, it is that I have excised faith from my methods of thinking, and as a mechanism by which to furnish support for any ideology. I can’t have “faith” in my own position as I’ve simply abandoned the use of faith.

    Thinking of “faith” in a slightly broader sense, then which of the following could be considered to be more “faithful”; One who commits to a single person for a lifetime, or one who stays with someone only so long as they prove useful to them?

    Ideologically speaking, it’s pretty clear that one of those individuals fits no reasonable definition of being “faithful”. It’s also pretty clear which of those groups I fit into, Ideologically speaking.

    And that’s the huge difference between us; I’m prepared to give up on any ideology that proves incapable of being used to build a better understanding of our existence. I have no attachment to them beyond what they can do to genuinely advance our understanding. I hold nothing resembling faith, because faith CANNOT be provisional. And my atheism and support for Science are BOTH provisional.

    I do get put out when I see people abandoning that unique capability of humans for provisional acceptance in order to buy emotional succour. It’s something a child would do – trade some liberty for emotional safety. I think adult humans should be beyond that. As I’ve said before, as a species we are better than that.

    I also find it insulting to those people around us, who by blood or by choice, take on the task of providing that “emotional succour” that is a necessary part of human existence. There’s no need to invent a character to provide it. There are humble human beings all around us capable of it! I can think of few revelations more amazing than that. Getting nailed to a tree for Humanity’s “sins” so Daddy can resurect me later is a cheap trick by comparison. That’s a one-off redemption. But humble humans have made redemption a daily event on this planet.

    But of course, many would say that their acheivements are ‘acts of God’, or they are ‘the instruments of God’. What a sickening devaluation of human endeavor.
    Or as Jerry Falwell I believe once told a child who was puzzled by his atheist Grandfathers decent and honourable behavior, it was God all along, acting through him. Non-believers couldn’t really be capable of moral behavior all on their own, now could they?

    Religions often pass off the good intentions and actions of everyday people as gifts from a benign father figure. It’s like a Father getting all the praise for some worthy feat his child attained of his own effort.

    Part of communication (discussion) is hearing and listening. If you’re too busy determining my intentions, you’ll be too busy to attempt to understand where I am coming from.

    Completely wrong. I know where you’re coming from, because I was a believer also. I’m not determining your intentions and you know it. I’m simply exposing them.

    That’s what I meant by “stifle.”

    What you mean by stifle is I’m not paying the usual deferrential respect that’s payed to “those of sincere faith”. I see no reason to pay such respects, and I’ve explained pretty well why above, I think. That believers feel hard done by (stifled) by that is something they’ll have to live with.

    I haven’t followed long enough to see Islam-bashing, and I’ll take your word on it.

    No need to. Read through the archives.

    I have been beaten up once for my faith…

    I’d guess probably by someone of another faith or sect.

    …and verbally abused dozens of times, not all suffering is death or church burnings.

    Let’s not get too carried away. To be “verbally abused” is hardly worthy of being termed “suffering”. If it was, you’d have a truckload more sympathy for non-believers. If only all attacks on us would be nothing more than verbal abuse…

    Certainly you understand that rejection from peers is tough in its own right.

    I’ve come to realise that rejection is tough in proportion to the quality of ones peers. Or perhaps (as is my experience) non-believers simply have thicker skins.

  • Euan Gray

    I’m an ATHEIST. I LACK belief. I can’t have an emotional investment in a belief I don’t have

    An atheist has belief and faith just as much as a Christian does. The Christian believes that God exists, the atheist that God does not exist. Neither position can be proven and each is therefore a matter of faith. If you insist that you have no belief than you are not an atheist but an agnostic – most “atheists” I know are actually agnostic but prefer the atheist label. In my experience, atheists (as distinct from agnostics) are often less secure in their belief than Christians. Some suggest that this is because the Christian loses nothing if he is wrong, but the atheist loses rather a lot.

    Others suggest that this is because God has a sense of humour and likes a giggle at the insufferably smug just as much as anyone else.

    I accept Science as the best method to knowledge we have until (or if) something better comes along

    So, of course, do many Christians. There is nothing in Christianity that says the scientific method is wrong or to be avoided. The scientific method is perfectly good for rationalising why people have deep spiritual needs, but hopeless for trying to satisfy them – this is where religion comes in.

    It’s something a child would do – trade some liberty for emotional safety. I think adult humans should be beyond that

    Adult or child, it is a basic human need.

    As I’ve said before, as a species we are better than that.

    The historical record would suggest otherwise.

    I’d guess probably by someone of another faith or sect.

    Of course, atheists never abuse religious people. Or send them to the gulag. Or close their churches. Or prevent them even discussing their religion with others.

    EG

  • I'm suffering for my art

    An atheist has belief and faith just as much as a Christian does. The Christian believes that God exists, the atheist that God does not exist.

    I was wondering when someone would make this point on this thread.

    Some suggest that this is because the Christian loses nothing if he is wrong

    Except a crapload of wasted time and effort. In terms of sacrifice, the atheist bets against the afterlife, the Christian bets against this life.

  • Winzeler

    Suffering, uhhh…you’ve misperceived the Christian life. My life without Christ (drunk, smoking, always vying for the best girl -lonely) was absolutely miserable. The Christian life for me has been tough at times, but internally, spiritually I have had a peace that transcends any physical discipline to which the faith may call me.

    He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. -Jim Elliott

    But even with that, my Christian journey certainly hasn’t been without joy.

  • Winzeler

    James, I think I understand you.

    And that’s the huge difference between us; I’m prepared to give up on any ideology that proves incapable of being used to build a better understanding of our existence. I have no attachment to them beyond what they can do to genuinely advance our understanding. I hold nothing resembling faith, because faith CANNOT be provisional. And my atheism and support for Science are BOTH provisional.

    If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re telling me that you will accept what Scientific method gives you, even as it is advancing.

    Having an understanding of your provisional outlook, I will tell you my story. (I’m sorry about its length. I tried to trim it, but couldn’t.) I was raised in a predominantly Christian environment. As a kid I participated in many of the Christian disciplines. I have no idea if I was actually a Christian as the Bible defines it (Romans 10:9 “That if thou shalt confess the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised him from the dead thou shalt be saved.). When I was 17 I joined the US Navy. In the Navy I tried everything that pleased me –excessive drinking (to the point of sometimes even being almost perpetually drunk days on end), smoking, soliciting prostitutes, to my everlasting shame, I even robbed another man of his wife once. My third year in I got married to a woman who already had a child and a long history of abuse. Her father killed himself when she was 9, she had been raped twice, and her mom’s second partner liked her and her sister a little too much. After a six-month deployment through the Med and the Persian Gulf, I got back to find things with her a little strange. One night I snuck off the ship when I wasn’t supposed to (duty rotation) and walked in on my wife being banged by some man I had never met on my couch in my apartment. They didn’t know I was there, so I just left. The combination of that, having my best friend get out and go back to Virginia, and a new chief in my division that was a pure egomaniac, made me realize it was time to go. I smoked some weed, turned myself in, and got kicked out.

    Back home I ended up in a church service and decided I might try to embrace some of this stuff –it seemed to keep my parents happy anyway. So I did. I tried it for two years and got married to a Christian woman. Shortly after we got married we lost our first daughter to some medical complications to which no one has the answer. After that, I began to seriously question my faith. I really began to examine even the basic tenants of Christianity. I was having some discussions with my wife’s parents and some other people where certain Christian doctrines were just not adding up. Besides that, I didn’t feel anything in the form of a relationship with any “higher divine being.” He just wasn’t there. I basically came back to square one with the whole thing and decided to give it all up. Then I felt a deep spiritual impulse (I would say now it was the Holy Spirit described by the Bible) that told me, “Believe first, then you’ll understand.” Having that, and with no reason to at all but to experiment (your scientific method in action), I tried it. I chose to believe some things that were seemingly impossible. (One in particular was the fact that there could be a sovereign God that would give mankind a free will. Those two concepts are absolutely irreconcilable by logic –or so it seemed.) It seems almost instantaneously after that, I began to acquire understanding. God gave me understanding regarding timelessness, regarding the reconciliation of his sovereignty and man’s free will. He just loaded me up with a whole ton of things I never could figure out with my intelligence until I decided to trust the seemingly impossible. Even from there I have grown. I have gotten now to the place where knowledge is only a by-product of having an almost weird relationship with a deity that half the world doesn’t even believe exists. But I do, furthermore I know it, because I have felt him and heard him.

    Now about you (You can take this or leave it.) How does your atheism satisfy you when you think about your death? There is absolutely no empirical data about what happens to us after death. You simply cannot apply the scientific method to what happens to us when we die. I personally anticipate my own death. The promises my faith give me about my everlasting existence give me great thoughts of pleasure and joy. (That is not to say I will violate God’s plan for my life by skipping out on the rest of it by doing something stupid. The Bible says “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) It also says, “…For we walk by faith, not by sight…” (2 Corinthians 5:7) According to the Bible (particularly the New Testament) if you wait to see the truth before you’ll believe, it will be too late. If you don’t accept this that’s fine, but if you ever feel a deep spiritual inference that it’s true, you better pay it heed –that’s God revealing to you who he is, and if you reject him, he’ll reject you.

  • cyborg

    “Neither position can be proven and each is therefore a matter of faith.”

    If your god exists then it can be proven. Only things that exist can be shown to exist. It is not possible to show that something doesn’t exist. That’s the burden of proof.

    Of course Christianity define’s itself out of existance.

    “Some suggest that this is because the Christian loses nothing if he is wrong, but the atheist loses rather a lot.”

    Rubbish. Pascal’s Wager only works if you assume you’re right. If you factor in over 1000 different basic religions and 3000 sects in your own alone then it’s rather less certain that simply believing is going to produce a desired result in the afterline ain’t it? It’s not simply a case of whether you place a bet on option 1 or option 2 – you now have a couple of thousand.

    “Of course, atheists never abuse religious people. Or send them to the gulag. Or close their churches. Or prevent them even discussing their religion with others.”

    I see people are going to continually bring up communists here. Hey, why not learn the actual history of the commnuist revolution before blasting off sounds bites eh?

    Whilst you’re doing that how about learning about church inspired atrocity.

    “I will tell you my story”

    I’ve read enough testimonies thanks. They all sound the same, and they’re all as useless as factual information regarding the effectiveness of any relgion – since most relgions have them. Self-deception is my conclusion, not divine intervention.

  • Winzeler

    Is physicality the only proof there is? How about emotion, mental, idealogical, logical, or maybe even spiritual?

    “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” -John 4:24. What if God insisted on not being physically provable.

    I’ll read your personal testimony if you’ll read mine.

  • cyborg

    “Is physicality the only proof there is? How about emotion, mental, idealogical, logical, or maybe even spiritual?”

    Emotional proof is dubious at best. People ‘feel’ things that they consider true which simply aren’t. It’s an argumentitive fallacy to appeal to emotion (which is why reading a ‘testimony’ from me would be worthless, I don’t want you be persuaded by emotions, since they are unrealiable as a guide to truth).

    Mental? Ideological? How are those proof systems?

    Logic is the tool by which we analyse truth and hope to find proof. It cannot prove anything about reality on its own – since it is upon the user of logic to ensure the logical system models reality well enough to make predictions about it.

    Spirtual? I fail to find any evidence that such a thing as a ‘spirit’ exists and hence claims of ‘spirtual fulfillment’ sound nonsensical to me. Prove souls exist first then convince me I need mine saving.

    “What if God insisted on not being physically provable.”

    Then it’s not very nice for an omniscient being to damn well over 2/3rds of his creation to eternal torture knowing that they would not be convinced by the ‘evidence’ he left behind.

  • Duncan

    ” How does your atheism satisfy you when you think about your death?”

    We don’t expect atheism to satisfy anything. Because it isn’t a belief system.
    Atheism is simply the denial of taking things without a shred of proof, espcially when they fly in the face of everything we have personally experienced. I personally have never experienced anything that would point to an afterlife… and the fact that alot of people want it to be so doesn’t convince me.

    If it were illegal to brainwash children with religious beliefs, and that’s exactly what it is, (note: being a libertarian, I would never support such an proposal) and all people were introduced to it when they reached rational adulthood, I’d be willing to bet most religions would drastically decline within one generation.

  • Duncan

    And as for agnositcism… just because I can’t prove that unicorns DON’T exist, I don’t feel obliged to go around saying I neither beleive nor disbelieve in them.

  • Winzeler

    But you feel obliged to publicly label yourself an atheist.

  • Duncan

    “But you feel obliged to publicly label yourself an atheist.”

    I’m… not … quite… sure… what you’re pointing out there, but no… I don’t feel “obliged.” It’s simply an adjective that means I disbelieve the existence of god/gods.

  • Winzeler

    If it was disbelief, you wouldn’t (I think) feel obliged to correct somebody whom you thought was wrong. You wouldn’t feel any compulsion to comment on it whatsoever. If it was disbelief there would be nothing motivating you to defend a position. There is no defense for a non-position. If you’re defending something, it’s a position. The only way you could make an assertion would be if you’re trying to be on the offense, in which case you would be trying to gain some ground (or in other words: to gain a position -that you might later be able to defend).

  • Winzeler

    If you went to a blog discussing who should have winned the Michigan State/Kentucky basketball game last night, and you didn’t care or have a belief either way, you would jump into the discussion and try to defend the fact that you didn’t have a belief. (Unless you just like having your name show up on blogs, but I refuse to credit you with that kind of superego)

  • I used to be an Atheist. Gave it up as a position, kept to the scientific inquiry. It works for me only in the sense that I don’t regard matters of Faith to be subject to scientific inquiry anyway, so they’re compartmentalized.
    FWLIW.

    Other than that, one of the things that always annoyed me about religion is that the adherents typically claimed they had the truth and everybody else could go to Hell, literally. That always struck me as completely obnoxious, you know?

    So: Atheists all too often do the very same thing. Isn’t there another way? Why not just be tolerant?

    I’m asking, not accusing.

  • Winzeler

    If it were illegal to brainwash children with religious beliefs, and that’s exactly what it is, (note: being a libertarian, I would never support such an proposal) and all people were introduced to it when they reached rational adulthood, I’d be willing to bet most religions would drastically decline within one generation.

    Obviously, but that has nothing to do with the legitimacy of religion any more than the difficulty in teaching an adult a new language does with the legitimacy of the language. It has to do with teachability. Try raising a child without ever teaching them obedience, and see how well they adjust to it when they become an adult. It will be almost impossible. Does that illegitimize obedience (even as a logically sound path to take -given that disobedience generally comes with consequences -at work, in social cliques, in government)?

  • Euan Gray

    If your god exists then it can be proven

    Not necessarily. The reason is that the Judaeo-Christian God is said to be beyond space and time, since this is necessary in order to create space and time in the first place. We, however, are creatures of space and time and are therefore confined to the use of methods which work within this context. In principle, therefore, even if God does exist it is not necessarily possible to prove that God exists.

    I believe, but cannot swear to it, that the same basic principle applies in Islam, since AIUI Allah is held to be the creator of all things and thus not necessarily amenable to logical proof of his existence or otherwise.

    Only things that exist can be shown to exist

    Indeed, but not everything that is thought to exist can be shown to exist. This is particularly the case in physics, where the components of sub-atomic particles generally cannot be shown to exist – their existence is necessary for the mathematics to work, but that doesn’t actually mean they do exist.

    Pascal’s Wager only works if you assume you’re right

    I wasn’t think specifically of this, but you do make a valid point.

    What does a Christian lose by being a Christian? He can drink, he can eat what he chooses, he is not commanded to go to church every day or every week, he can marry as he pleases (but not another man). He is urged to humility, to respect his fellow man, to eschew violence, to avoid hypocrisy and cant and to be honest, faithful, moderate and decent. It is, to be frank, hard to see what is objectionable in this.

    It is perfectly true that there are many atheists who are also decent, moderate, faithful, honest and honourable people, just as there are many Christians who are not. Religion is not necessary for morality.

    Hey, why not learn the actual history of the commnuist revolution before blasting off sounds bites eh?

    I do know something about it, which is why I’m quite comfortable raising the subject.

    Whilst you’re doing that how about learning about church inspired atrocity

    I also know about this.

    My point was that neither the atheist nor the Christian can feel particularly comfortable with the history of oppression and violence on “their” side. Naturally, the contemporary atheist can retort that he is not a militant communist who wants to see Christians carted off to the gulag, but equally the contemporary Christian can retort that he is not the sort of person who wants to see atheists or adherents of other religions brutalised.

    The problem arises when either militant position gains dominant power. The Christian churches have often justified their brutality on the grounds that they are doing God’s work. The Soviet justification is that religion is a primitive and unscientific superstition and should be removed in the interests of advancing humanity. Both are wrong.

    Just as wrong is the Buddhist theocracy that formerly existed in Tibet. Buddhism is an atheist philosophy, and yet when the enlightened ones governed Tibet there was no shortage of oppression, brutality and atrocity meted out to the non-Buddhists.

    When the political and moral systems in a state are the same, this leads to this type of problem. It makes no difference if it is Christian, Moslem, Buddhist or atheist. This is not an argument against the state or against morality – IMO both are necessary. However, an atheist state imposing an atheist morality is just as bad as the Christian church exercising substantial temporal power.

    If it were illegal to brainwash children with religious beliefs […] and all people were introduced to it when they reached rational adulthood, I’d be willing to bet most religions would drastically decline within one generation

    The closest we have yet come to this is the collapse of the anti-religious USSR which prohibited (to all intents and purposes) the religious education of children. Quite the opposite of your prediction has so far come true, in that the rise of religious observance by adults now free to choose has been significant.

    China has a similarly atheist official policy, although somewhat more pragmatic than the Russian one. There again, religion is a persistent and even growing annoyance to the state.

    EG

  • cyborg

    “If you went to a blog discussing who should have winned the Michigan State/Kentucky basketball game last night, and you didn’t care or have a belief either way, you would jump into the discussion and try to defend the fact that you didn’t have a belief.”

    People who watch basketball games aren’t trying to convince other people to live one way or another simply based on its outcome – nor do they generally discuss people who didn’t watch the basketball game.

    What is it with Christians and analogy? Can’t you people talk about concepts plainly?

  • Duncan

    “If it was disbelief, you wouldn’t (I think) feel obliged to correct somebody whom you thought was wrong. You wouldn’t feel any compulsion to comment on it whatsoever. ”

    Why does disbelief in something exclude me from commenting on my disbelief in it? Maybe I just like to point out when I feel someone is wrong because it makes me feel good about myself.

    Arguing against the case for god is no different to me than arguing against the case for Santa Claus. That may sound simplistic… but it’s really that simple to me. Every reason you can point out why Santa doesn’t exist, can be be applied to God.

  • Winzeler

    OK, plainly put, I’m not asking you, James, or anyone else to “live one way or another.” If you want to reread all my comments, knock yourself out. I’m not asking you to change your behavior one bit. I will communicate to anyone who will listen what I believe is the truth, but I will not thrust it on anyone who doesn’t want to hear. By its very nature, through a blog, I am only communicating to those who want to hear. I’m not tracking anybody down and compelling them to listen to what I have to say. People can take it or leave it. They can ignore or read.

  • Not necessarily. The reason is that the Judaeo-Christian God is said to be beyond space and time, since this is necessary in order to create space and time in the first place.

    Right, right. From our vantagepoint, it might not be even visible/testable. An odd ‘proof’ [if you want to call it that] for the concept that I liked to play with was:
    [set of odd numbers]

    Reason why is that both sets are infinite, but one’s a larger infinity. Comparatively, yeah, our material universe is infinite, but that doesn’t mean it includes everything. All theory, all fun. 🙂

  • Ah. Didn’t show up.
    It said:
    [set of odd numbers] less than [set of all numbers]

    sorry

  • cyborg

    “The reason is that the Judaeo-Christian God is said to be beyond space and time, since this is necessary in order to create space and time in the first place. We, however, are creatures of space and time and are therefore confined to the use of methods which work within this context. In principle, therefore, even if God does exist it is not necessarily possible to prove that God exists.”

    However Christians claim god interacts with this world – making him testible.

    If he didn’t interact with this world and was totally outside he may as well not exist from our frame of reference. That’s a deist position though – the Christian god is placed firmly in the frame of testibility by the claim that he interacts with humans.

    ” their existence is necessary for the mathematics to work, but that doesn’t actually mean they do exist.”

    And theoretical physicists like to argue about their mathmatical models all the time. But not yet has one tried to convince me that if I don’t believe in this sub atomic particles then I will be sent to hell.

    “My point was that neither the atheist nor the Christian can feel particularly comfortable with the history of oppression and violence on “their” side.”

    No – but Christians still like to profess superiorty due to god mandate. I argue there is no god – just humans acting as they do. The different groups simply cite different authourities for their mandates – often with little real justification for doing so other than on their say so.

    You basically support this argument with your examples – there’s no fundamental difference between the groups inspite of the fact they believe they’re right and everyone else is wrong.

  • Winzeler

    However Christians claim god interacts with this world – making him testible.

    What if the interaction didn’t happen on our terms but on his? Then they would still not be testable by our standards.

  • Euan Gray

    However Christians claim god interacts with this world – making him testible

    Only insofar as God is said to do this, and of course only when agreement can be reached on what would constitute evidence of the existence of God. Generally “evidence” has been along the lines of “I don’t know why this happens, ergo God does it,” which is somewhat unsatisfactory. These days, we are more inclined just to admit we don’t know.

    There is also the problem of proving a negative. It is hard to prove that God did NOT do it, and if you want to get sufficiently vague about it you can say there is no reason why God would not have created the universe 15 billion years ago and used evolution. It’s clutching at theological straws, but it’s an argument that is made nonetheless.

    However, in general religion is not about proof but about faith. AIUI, the Catholic Church still holds as doctrine that the existence of God can be logically proven. As far as I am aware, no other church believes this.

    But not yet has one tried to convince me that if I don’t believe in this sub atomic particles then I will be sent to hell

    So far not even the fundamentalist loonies have postulated the existence of luciferon particles, or even the element diabolicum (possibly with an atomic number of 666). It is likely only a matter of time, however.

    but Christians still like to profess superiorty due to god mandate

    And atheists like to profess superiority due to their use of logic and the scientific method. Neither side is immune to claims of irrefutable superiority, complete with guns and torture in case you didn’t get the point first time around. See above re moral authority and temporal power.

    You basically support this argument with your examples

    Yes, I know, and this is intentional. Although I have a great deal of sympathy for the Christian faith, and see nothing objectionable about it in principle, I am actually agnostic.

    I dislike and distrust the more extreme arguments on each side, and find the hysteria and unwillingness to listen exhibited by the hard-core atheist just as unpleasant and unjustifiable as the same traits shown by some Christians.

    EG

  • cyborg

    “What if the interaction didn’t happen on our terms but on his? Then they would still not be testable by our standards.”

    Well the claims made by people who apparantly were contacted ‘on his terms’ don’t stand up to scrutiny.

    (That’s be the Bible btw).

  • cyborg

    “What if the interaction didn’t happen on our terms but on his? Then they would still not be testable by our standards.”

    The problem here is that the Bible is the only claim you’ve got to that interaction, and it fails miserably to stand up to scrutiny. Apart from that the best you’ve got to offer are emotional appeals that don’t separate you from the pack in the slightest – especially for a religion that likes to claim it’s the truth as loud as possible at every opportunity.

  • cyborg

    “There is also the problem of proving a negative. It is hard to prove that God did NOT do it, and if you want to get sufficiently vague about it you can say there is no reason why God would not have created the universe 15 billion years ago and used evolution. It’s clutching at theological straws, but it’s an argument that is made nonetheless.”

    Which is all very fine, but not very Christian – which is why most don’t use that argument.

    “And atheists like to profess superiority due to their use of logic and the scientific method.”

    Not really – atheists can be as irrational as anyone else (you don’t have to have thought about it a great deal to simply disbelieve in gods). I’m just not pretending that any human created god makes any sense at all.

    “Although I have a great deal of sympathy for the Christian faith, and see nothing objectionable about it in principle,”

    Christianity’s basic principle is that humans are worthy of horrible torture from birth.

    What’s not to object?

  • Winzeler

    it fails miserably to stand up to scrutiny

    It has over 40 different authors all saying basically the same thing over the course of a few thousand years. By the way, it’s survived for two thousand since its completion. No less credible than any history book. The recorded witness of x amount of people generally gets preserved as having been the truth. I don’t know of any book that has stood the test of time and scrutiny like that of the Bible.

    By the way, say what you want, it’ll last another two thousand.

  • Euan Gray

    cyborg:

    Your view of Christianity seems somewhat narrow, and appears to be informed only by the Catholic Church and/or less mainstream Protestant cliques.

    Christianity’s basic principle is that humans are worthy of horrible torture from birth

    It says this where, exactly?

    EG

  • cyborg

    “It has over 40 different authors all saying basically the same thing over the course of a few thousand years.”

    Basically the same thing (the NT renders the OT obsolete in the main part – so much for the eternal law of the OT)? I don’t think so – but that’s a huge topic of discourse hardly within the scope of a blog comment system.

    “By the way, it’s survived for two thousand since its completion.”

    No, the Bible wasn’t completed two thousand years ago (it doesn’t take a genious to figure this – the most generous dates for the writings of the gospels are around 65CE, and Paul wrote long after that, and the Christinan Roman Church only finalised the canon long after that).

    “The recorded witness of x amount of people generally gets preserved as having been the truth. ”

    I’m not entirely sure what that’s supposed to mean but we only have the hearsay of people who lived after the death of Biblical Jesus, not actual eyewitness testimony from x amount of people.

    ” I don’t know of any book that has stood the test of time and scrutiny like that of the Bible.”

    Then you don’t know that many books – and are probably unaware of the numerous criticisms of the Bible as a divine work.

    “By the way, say what you want, it’ll last another two thousand.”

    Copy a lie a million times over and it’s still a lie. A lie that lasts a million years gains no more truth.

    Either way it hasn’t lasted two thousand years yet – not in a single form. Not without Christians coming along and interpretting it more correctly than before realising the deeper ‘truth’.

    Besides if it lasts another two thousand years how much longer are you guys going to wait around for your second coming?

  • cyborg

    “Your view of Christianity seems somewhat narrow, and appears to be informed only by the Catholic Church and/or less mainstream Protestant cliques.”

    Hardly – I’m familiar with most forms of madness that parade around as Christianity.

    ” Christianity’s basic principle is that humans are worthy of horrible torture from birth

    It says this where, exactly?”

    The whole point of god manifesting as Jesus was that people were so bad he required a blood sacrafice to fix the rules he set up in the first place in order to allow himself to forgive people (as if that’s weren’t ludicrous enough). Without people being fundamentally sinful, i.e. worthy of hell from birth, the whole point of a saviour (that is Jesus pays for our sins in order that we can go to heaven) is completely moot. Nothing else in Christianity matters without this central meme.

  • James

    Winzeler,

    You’re still not getting it.

    A – to lack, be without
    Theism – God belief.

    Atheism doesn’t “satisfy my spritual needs’. Because it’s not a belief system. Let me spell this out for you.

    I’M NOT AN ATHEIST IN ORDER TO FEEL BETTER.
    I’M NOT AN ATHEIST IN ORDER TO HAVE MEANING IN MY LIFE.
    I’M NOT AN ATHEIST BECAUSE I DISLIKE EVERY SINGLE OTHER CREED KNOWN AND UNKNOWN.
    I’M NOT AN ATHEIST BECAUSE “EVERYBODY” HAS TO BELIEVE IN SOMETHING.
    I DIDN’T DELIBERATELY CHOOSE TO BE AN ATHEIST.

    I’M AN ATHEIST SIMPLY BECAUSE I HAVE A LACK OF BELIEF (NOTE LACK OF BELIEF) IN GODS. I DO NOT SAY THEY DON’T EXIST, I’VE SIMPLY FOUND NO EVIDENCE OR PROOF (YET) TO PRESUME THEIR EXISTENCE. It is the descriptive label of the state of lacking a belief.

    That’s also not agnosticism (literally “without knowledge”), it is atheism (often referred to as ‘
    weak’ or default atheism). Agnosticism makes one claim too many for me.

    True, there are atheists who state there is no god (called ‘hard’ atheism). They are not obliged to prove this, because if something does in fact not exist, there can be no evidence that will conclusively prove it one way or the other. It if actually doesn’t exist, then by definition there can be no evidence. For this reason, any form of atheism is provisional. While it bears no burden of proof, it can be falsified (i.e., a god can be shown to exist). It can be proved wrong. But it must be PROVED wrong. Hard atheism also cannot be considered a belief system, because as I’ve explained here before, it would mean that anyone who believes in the nonexistence of the tooth fairy, dragons or bigfoot has a religion. A silly statement.

    Regarding atheism;

    IT DOESN’T BRING ME SOLACE (IT CAN’T)
    IT DOESN’T BRING ME COMFORT (IT CAN’T)
    IT DOESN’T GIVE MEANING TO MY LIFE (IT CAN’T)
    IT WON’T SAVE ME FROM DRUGS, SEX, CRIME, LUST, ADULTERY OR ANY OF THE OTHER FAILINGS YOU’VE LISTED (GUESS WHY?)

    Anyone who has tried to use atheism as a way to find meaning in their life has failed, because they didn’t actually know what atheism was, for one thing. It’s not wonder they failed. It is pointless to use atheism as a means to spiritual fulfillment. Because it’s not capable of that. It doesn’t claim to be. I would say atheism was never designed to fill that role, but then atheism was never “designed”. It’s not something thought up by someone. It wasn’t invented. Athesim may be the starting point for someone on a personal philosophical journey, but it can be nothing more.

    Atheism has been discussed in philosophical terms ad nauseam. Being an atheist may also have “philosophical implications”. But it is not a philosophical system. It isn’t like your religion. It’s not like any religion, because it’s not a belief system. Chalk and Cheese, as they say. It is missing the fundamental requirement of all belief systems; belief. You’ve GOT to have belief in something in order to have a religion.

    ATHEISM HAS BEEN DISCUSSED IN PHILOSOPHICAL TERMS AD NAUSEAM. BUT IT IS NOT A PHILOSOPHICAL SYSTEM. IT IS NOT A *SYSTEM* full stop.

    Secular Humanism can be considered a philosophy. It can be a source of meaning and happiness. But Secular Humanism isn’t atheism. The terms are not interchangeable. Most Secular Humanists are atheists (or agnostics), BUT NOT ALL ATHEISTS ARE SECULAR HUMANISTS. And not all Humanists are even atheists or agnostics! And many believers call themselves Humanists. This shows clearly that atheism is independent of any philosophy. Also, if you want to know the substance of Secular Humanism, how it might bring meaning to one’s existence, that’s actually very easy to do. Simply pick up a copy of the Free Inquiry magazine. It’s all there in the first few pages, printed in plain language, exactly what unites and provides purpose for Humanists the world over. They even have a list of “Humanist Affirmations”. Of course, you won’t actually find what gives each Humanist happiness, simply a set of values they hold in common. Humanists discover what’s important to them on their own.

    Part of the reason you have difficulty understanding atheism is because you consider it impossible for anyone to live a happy life while lacking “meaning” or “spritual purpose”. But the simple fact is, for millions of humans everday in this world, it is in fact POSSIBLE to live this way. Think about it. They’re living that way, RIGHT NOW. I have no complusion to “spiritual fulfillment” in any religious sense (perhaps even in any sense you might understand or recognise). I gain happiness in my life through my personal acheivements and those of the people close to me. I gain happiness through the results of my endeavors and reaping the subsequent rewards. I gain it through self improvement. I gain it in the time I spend with my wife, the dog, in a hobby, eating, drinking, communicating, living. Partaking in all the mundane things any human does.

    The events you’ve previously described regarding your life are very typical for believers. No disrespect meant, but it’s pretty much near-textbook conversion stuff. There are many non-believers in this world who’ve gone through just exactly the same thing you have, came through it, and at no point ever felt a need to “turn to God”. That says more about one’s perspective on their own personal needs than it does about the efficacy, let alone the existence, of a god. You came to your belief through what could be described as an emotionally traumatic time. I didn’t become an atheist in anything like that way. In fact, I came to it through calm analysis and the simple realization that “Oh, guess that means I fit the definition of atheist. Oh well….” This again puts into clear perspective the “emotional investment” issue discussed earlier.

    I’m not proud to be an atheist. Pride in lacking a belief is a laughable contradiction. I’m deeply proud of the fact that when I was delving into matters of belief and lack of belief, I stuck with a reasoned, logical and honest system of thought and inquiry. That I was prepared to accept whatever conclusion, come what may, provided it was the result of rigorous thought and fair analysis, based on the best standard of investigative methodology we have was my real acheivement to be proud of.

    Atheism was merely incidental. A logical side-effect, nothing more.

  • Winzeler

    Any historical reference established before one’s own lifetime requires the perceived truth to be established based on the testimony of x amount of witnesses. Every single non-fictional piece of writing has to be taken on the testimony of witnesses. Hisorical reference includes religion. Any parts you chose to accept require a certain amount of faith.

    No, the Bible wasn’t completed two thousand years ago (it doesn’t take a genious to figure this – the most generous dates for the writings of the gospels are around 65CE, and Paul wrote long after that, and the Christinan Roman Church only finalised the canon long after that).

    I’m well aware of this. I was simply rounding numbers to simplify. The canon was brought together somewhat progressively between 170 and 367 AD. An interesting note: apparently the content of the canon was accepted by many churches and leaders acting independently of each other. Around 397 or so, they all really started to cooperate and regionalize this acceptance in the council of Carthage.

    Romans 3:31 “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” Jesus Christ and the New Testament are not the abolition of the Old Testament, they are the fulfillment. The Old Testament was the preparation for the New, so to speak.

  • James

    Of course, atheists never abuse religious people. Or send them to the gulag. Or close their churches. Or prevent them even discussing their religion with others.

    Actually, the people who carried out those things often were religious. Religion didn’t disappear with the advent of Leninism/Stalinism, it was simply hidden. Now, given that the majority of people in the USSR were religious, what chance does that give you of finding many people along that chain who were religious yet went along with the gulags, the purges, the disappearing? Sorry, but no one flicked a religion OFF switch in Russia.

    It amazes me when grown men and women can claim Stalin did what he did because he was a non-believer. I’d be embarrased if I thought that way. He did it because he was a power hungry sonofabitch. We have a history filled with dictators who were religious, and when a handful come along who aren’t, we somehow claim it’s a reflection on atheism! On a lack of belief, of all things! And the funny part is, they didn’t even do these acts of horror out of even a misguided sense of atheism. Communism had gotten rid of the Czars. The only other power bloc capable of thwarting their hold on power was the Church. And we really think they attacked the Church out of some deep philisophical imperative? Please.

    Saddam subjugated the Shias and other sects. Stalin subjugated all creeds. For EXACTLY the same reason; The one obvious craving of every tyrant in history – POWER. Atheism is irrelevant, but you already knew that.

  • cyborg

    “Any historical reference established before one’s own lifetime requires the perceived truth to be established based on the testimony of x amount of witnesses. Every single non-fictional piece of writing has to be taken on the testimony of witnesses. Hisorical reference includes religion. Any parts you chose to accept require a certain amount of faith.”

    Again, the Bible IS NOT the testimony of x amounts of witnesses. It is HEARSAY.

    “An interesting note: apparently the content of the canon was accepted by many churches and leaders acting independently of each other.”

    So, what happened to those churches that had the Gospel of Thomas as part of their canon eh?

    “Romans 3:31 “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” Jesus Christ and the New Testament are not the abolition of the Old Testament, they are the fulfillment. The Old Testament was the preparation for the New, so to speak.”

    Jesus said the law was not to change until ALL was fulfilled, until heaven and earth passed.

    Has he fulfilled everything? Nope, you’re hanging on for a second coming for that.

    Has heaven and earth passed? Does it look like it?

    Does Paul trump Jesus?

    And how much sense does it make for god to setup an eternal law he knew he was going to change later?

  • Winzeler

    Having reread my post I see now that it was not clear (maybe even accidentally misleading) that the time span between my “traumatic” experience was over two years. It was the discussion and my refusal to accept dogma without testing it that pushed me into the doubt phase. The “traumatic” experience had nothing to do with it.

    James, you’re going to have to trust me, I get it. I understand what you’re saying about your motivation to accept the atheist label -because its definition matches the conclusions you have reached in a reason oriented, scientific method approach.

    Let’s toss out the terms atheist and agnostic. (We can even toss religion and Christian -I feel the same way about your abusing those terms as you feel about the way you think I’m abusing the atheist term.) I don’t care about them. They only seem capable of clouding the issue.

    That said, I can see how accomplishment can give you solace, purpose, and pleasure, but you didn’t respond to my inquisition regarding to your death. It requires no faith at all to know that you will die. Does your psyche require you to mentally deal with the concept of either your personal afterlife or your personal non-existence? Agreeing that atheism cannot address this issue, what are your personal conclusions about it? Again, remember there is no empirical (or any kind, for that matter) data about your existence post death. (By the way, not feeling any need to resolve it is, in fact, a legitimate response.)

  • Winzeler

    Cyborg, I can’t think of any biblical description of the law calling it eternal. Where did you get that?

    All historical reference is subject to the “hearsay” scrutinization -unless of course, you’re holding an original copy of an autobiography, but to be convinced it was an autobiography would require you to rely on “hearsay” that it was original. I’m not sure the point of this particular topic, but it’s interesting to say the least.

  • cyborg

    “Does your psyche require you to mentally deal with the concept of either your personal afterlife or your personal non-existence?”

    Wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so.

    So I would guess he feels much the same as I do about it – he’d rather accept the truth with a clear mind then cloud it for emotional security.

  • Winzeler

    I just looked up the Gospel of Thomas, and apparently that’s a recent phenomena.

  • Winzeler

    then cloud it for emotional security.

    I’m not sure what that means.

  • cyborg

    “I just looked up the Gospel of Thomas, and apparently that’s a recent phenomena.”

    How recent? What about the Gospel of Mary? Source.

    “I’m not sure what that means.”

    If he took you line on the afterlife he’d be denying his own judgements merely so he can feel better about his own death. He’s already eloquently explained why he doesn’t believe.

  • Winzeler

    MySourcewas the first hit on a Canon of Scripture search.

    You’ve sufficiently explained the afterlife concept. How about non-existence?

  • James

    That said, I can see how accomplishment can give you solace, purpose, and pleasure, but you didn’t respond to my inquisition regarding to your death. It requires no faith at all to know that you will die.

    True enough.

    Does your psyche require you to mentally deal with the concept of either your personal afterlife or your personal non-existence? Agreeing that atheism cannot address this issue, what are your personal conclusions about it? Again, remember there is no empirical (or any kind, for that matter) data about your existence post death. (By the way, not feeling any need to resolve it is, in fact, a legitimate response.)

    In as much as any other human’s psyche does yes, it’s something I’ve given thought to. Let me explain. In my experience, there are some basic ways people deal with death, I’ve given three below;
    1) They turn to religion or some other philosophy to seek solace from the oblivion of nonexistence. Sometimes out of fear, sometimes for a feeling of satisfaction. Sometimes, even so they don’t have to think about it. This is a common enough strategy for many people. I would say the reason for the invention of many if not all religions is to deal with this one issue.
    2) They accept, perhaps dislike, maybe fear, or calmly accept the fact that they will die, but are more inclined to concentrate on their lives than their deaths. I fell pretty much into this camp at one time in terms of accepting that while I didn’t wish to die, untimately there’s nothing can be done, and to become obsessed by it is counterproductive. But in more recent years my opinion’s changed somewhat.
    3) More recently, it’s become clear that far from being some pre-ordained law of the universe, some unchangeable law of reality, the wasting and death of organisms is part of the physical process of how they operate, shaped by the evolutionary forces that modified them. And year after year, we understand more (and can do more to affect) these processes. Some people, many of whom fall under the umbrella of Transhumanism, are of the opinion (and I’ve come to share it) that with sufficient knowledge and advancement, humanity not just can, but will intervene in the mechanisms that make us mortal, with a view to mitigating their effects. Not so much immortality (accidents do happen, true immortality appears thus far to be impossible) but more indefinite lifespan. That is, an end to the normal process of physical decay, or a moving of the consciousness to a non-organic substrate. Leaving aside whether one would consider this a good thing, there’s no know law of the universe that makes this impossible.

    Of course, this doesn’t (or certainly shouldn’t) buy one comfort. You could still die long before such interventions are available. Or be unable to access them for whatever reason. Therefore, for the moment, you’re left in pretty much the position outlined in point 2. Of course, knowing that it is conceivable to modify human lifespan means that it’s brought that much closer to reality, as one can affect the speed at which it’s achieved by advocacy and/or direct involvement or investment. But the message at the moment must be “don’t count on it – yet”.

    I may not get there to see the day we overcome death, but I take some fulfillment in having been involved in some small way in spreading the idea that it’s defeatable.

    That, and perhaps a good cryonics policy 🙂

  • Actually, the people who carried out those things often were religious. Religion didn’t disappear with the advent of Leninism/Stalinism, it was simply hidden. No, it did not dissapear, and it was not totally hidden, either. People went to church openly, at least in the 60ies and 70ies. On the other hand, atheism was very prevalent, especially among the young people.

    All that is beside the point, though. It does not really matter whether Stalin was really an atheist, just as it does not matter whether the heads of the Inquisition were true believers. As you yourself pointed out, what motivated all those people was their thirst for power. So, to expand on EG’s point: neither religion nor atheism are immune to being used as means to grab power by those who crave it.

  • Euan Gray

    Hardly – I’m familiar with most forms of madness that parade around as Christianity

    But you’re only objecting to things that are pretty much specific to Catholicism.

    Without people being fundamentally sinful, i.e. worthy of hell from birth, the whole point of a saviour (that is Jesus pays for our sins in order that we can go to heaven) is completely moot

    This concentrates on the Catholic conception of original sin, which is not necessarily shared with other churches. Orthodoxy, which can be thought of as much closer to the original idea of the Christian church, takes a quite different view of original sin and denies that any person can be held personally accountable for the sin of another where that other lived and died long before the person in question was even born.

    Furthermore, Christianity in general does not state that the only thing necessary for salvation is faith in Christ, although some Protestant churches do say faith alone is sufficient. Others say those who are saved are pre-selected and there is nothing anyone can do about it. The Catholic church essentially says faith and observation of the sacraments is enough. Orthodoxy says faith and the sacraments are necessary, but perhaps more important is the life-long process of striving to approach the example of Christ.

    A blanket assumption of the kind you make simply doesn’t apply to all variants of Christianity.

    It amazes me when grown men and women can claim Stalin did what he did because he was a non-believer

    Me too. Perhaps you could point out where anyone said such a thing on this thread?

    For EXACTLY the same reason; The one obvious craving of every tyrant in history – POWER. Atheism is irrelevant, but you already knew that.

    Yes, of course I did. So is religion.

    History shows perfectly well that people can use, and have used, religion as an excuse for brutalisation of non-believers. It also shows that people can use, and have used, atheism as an excuse for brutalisation of religious people. The point is that criticising Christianity on the basis of its historical record of brutality when in power is ineffective, since atheist philosophies have resulted in the same thing in the same circumstances.

    I am not saying that Stalin et al. did what they did because they were atheists. However, it is fact that the excuse used was frequently atheism. These are two separate things. One could also say that Alexander Borgia (Pope Alexander VI, the one who had a son by his own daughter) did not do what he did because he was a Christian, but just because he wanted power.

    Stalin, a former seminarian, also allowed the church considerable freedom from 1943 onwards. Indeed, active large scale persecution of the church essentially ended then, and was not revived until the late 1950s under Khrushchev. Interestingly enough, there were more functioning churches in Russia in 1947 than there were in the mid 90s and the post-war low point was probably reached in the 60s/70s (read Timothy Ware’s “The Orthodox Church”, but be aware he is a bishop in that church).

    EG

  • cyborg

    “But you’re only objecting to things that are pretty much specific to Catholicism.”

    Not in my experience. This is a pretty typical view of born-agains.

    “Orthodoxy, which can be thought of as much closer to the original idea of the Christian church, takes a quite different view of original sin and denies that any person can be held personally accountable for the sin of another where that other lived and died long before the person in question was even born.”

    Original sin is not necessary component of the outlined dogma. Redemption is or Christianity is moot – take out Jesus’ sacrafice and it’s hollow. If there is nothing to be redeemed then it is also hollow – Jesus’ sacrafice was pointless. Hence we all must be sinners worthy of hell or the whole thing falls apart.

    “Furthermore, Christianity in general does not state that the only thing necessary for salvation is faith in Christ, although some Protestant churches do say faith alone is sufficient.”

    Oh I understand this well, the whole works vs faith argument is one I’ll leave to the Christians – save to say the Bible is contradictory on this issue which is why it’s a problem for them. Most maintain that without faith you cannot be saved however. Heaven’s not a place for good people – it’s a place for believers.

  • Winzeler

    Eaun and cyborg, to understand the faith/works thing, you have to understand imputed righteousness. Yes, the Bible says that the basis (the requirement) for eternity with God in heaven is an absolutely perfect life lived in total subjection to the laws of God. Obviously none of us has done that. Does that mean the Bible says we’re all doomed to hell? No, the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For [God] has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” The doctrine of imputed righteousness says that by faith in Jesus Christ we have our sin imputed (or put upon) him at the cross (which killed it), and by faith in Jesus Christ we have his perfect life and righteousness imputed (or put upon) us. Also Philippians 2:12-13 says, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Notice is says “work out.” It doesn’t say “work for.” Christians become Christians unto good works, not by them.

    James, if death is only non-existence then all philosophical and moral disctinctions between animal rights and human rights virtually disappear. If there is no eternal component to a human being there is nothing except scale to separate one from my cat…or the doe I shot with my bow last hunting season. Not even self-awareness can make that distinction. Step on a cat’s tail and claim it’s self-awareness distinguishing humans from animals. Watch a deer in agony bleed to death and you will have to do some mental gymnastics to claim it’s not self-aware. If there is no eternal component to humans, then the libertarian ideology applies equally to animals (or it’s undone by our treatment of them). But all that is hogwash, and we know it. There is something in all of us that tells us humans (individuals, not just the collective now and in the future) have certain inalienable rights, and we know it violates something to violate or extinguish those rights.

  • Euan Gray

    Original sin is not necessary component of the outlined dogma

    I’m afraid you’re wrong. The concept of original sin is in fact absolutely key to the idea that humanity is innately sinful. Without original sin, we would be judged exclusively on an individual basis and there would be no need for a general act of universal redemption such as Christ’s since humanity would not be pre-condemned, and thus the whole Christian philosophy would disintegrate.

    If there is nothing to be redeemed then it is also hollow – Jesus’ sacrafice was pointless. Hence we all must be sinners worthy of hell or the whole thing falls apart

    But we can only ALL be sinners if there is something about the very fact of humanity that makes humans sinful. In the Christian religion, this something is original sin. What do you think it is?

    save to say the Bible is contradictory on this issue which is why it’s a problem for them

    The Bible is self-contradictory on many issues, which is why many of the more intelligent theologians see it more as allegory than literal truth. They also tend to oppose the excessive focus on one particular thesis at the expense of the whole. Combine a cherry-picking approach to scripture with these multiple contradictions and you can create just about any doctrine you want, which explains the proliferation of Protestant churches.

    Most maintain that without faith you cannot be saved however

    Almost all Christian churches say that faith is essential to salvation. I say “almost” because although I am not aware of any that don’t say this, it is in principle possible under Christian doctrine (in certain circumstances) to be saved without faith. A few churches say that faith alone is both necessary and sufficient. Almost all say that faith is necessary, but not sufficient.

    EG

  • Johnathan

    Euan Gray is entirely right. The idea that Christ’s sacrifice was essential to save Man cannot be divorced from belief in Original Sin. Without the OS doctrine, the idea that a guy who got murdered by Roman armed thugs somehow clears up my past misdeeds falls into dust.

    BTW, I wish religious types stopped claiming that atheism is as much of a faith-based point of view as religion. Atheism is merely non-belief. One is not required to prove a negative. The onus of proof should be on those who follow views based beyond the tests and disciplines of logic and the evidence of one’s senses.

  • Winzeler

    Johnathan, Euan doesn’t seem to be a religious type (self-proclaimed agnostic) and he’s the only one claiming that.

    The Bible does say, though, “…that which may be known of God is manifest in them (speaking about all people), for God has showed it unto them.” Romans 1:19

  • Euan Gray

    if death is only non-existence then all philosophical and moral disctinctions between animal rights and human rights virtually disappear

    Well, there’s something in that. But then you go on to say…

    Step on a cat’s tail and claim it’s self-awareness distinguishing humans from animals

    [On a pedantic point, humans are animals. All life on this planet so far discovered is related. We share 98.6% of our DNA with the bonobo chimpanzee, 70% with the fruit fly, over half with the common or garden cabbage and even a quarter with yeast, which is on the border between life and non-life.]

    Self-awareness is not the ability to feel pain, it is the ability to formulate an abstract concept of one’s self as an individual being. If you look in a mirror, you know that the face you see is your own – because you are aware of your self. A cat looking in a mirror only sees another cat, it has no abstract conception of itself as an individual creature. Similarly with dogs. A chimpanzee, however, can recognise the reflection as itself and so, unlike cats and dogs (or deer) is considered to be self aware.

    This doesn’t mean, of course, that animals don’t feel pain or have no ability to experience emotion. Most people who have owned a dog will recognise that they can indeed experience emotion, although almost certainly not to the same extent we can.

    Humans are self-aware, but are not unique in this. Chimpanzees are commonly accepted to be capable of this, and there is strong evidence that dolphins and gorillas are too. Humans are also not unique in their use of tools, nor in their invention of agriculture or cooperative hunting. About the only thing that really does make us unique is the ability to control fire.

    Some argue that the other great apes, or at least some of them, should be afforded the protection of rights such as apply to human great apes. I have some sympathy for this idea, but am not wholly convinced. On the other hand, if we restrict rights to ourselves, what criteria are we arbitrarily selecting to ensure only we qualify?

    EG

  • Winzeler

    How about my 16 month daughter? She knows her name, but when she looks in a mirror she says, “baby.”

  • cyborg

    “How about my 16 month daughter? She knows her name, but when she looks in a mirror she says, “baby.””

    Humans aren’t self-aware from birth.

  • James

    James, if death is only non-existence then all philosophical and moral disctinctions between animal rights and human rights virtually disappear

    Because they and we, all die? No, one doesn’t follow from the other. All animals remove solid waste from their bodies. Should that be the criterion by which we claim they’re the same as us? You’re treating death as a special case because you hold a religious belief, but there’s nothing to indicate that’s a solid basis on which to determine whether animals are equal to humans in some way or not. The philisophical and moral distinctions you refer to are based on differing characteristics, not what we have in common. We all die and are lost into non-existence, but so what? I can see no solid reason why this should be the criterion to decide moral equivalence, given that it’s something we all have in common. Death is a commonality, not a dividing line, as we all are subject to it.

    Humans are capable of practical and abstract creativity, self understanding and self reflection, specific and explicit self awareness, abstract (not just instinctual or practical) problem solving capabilities in addition to all the other features of any animal with a reasonably complex brain. And of course, while animals may feel emotions, they appear incapable of understanding those emotions on a basic level. They simply feel. However, (some of) the features I listed above (and probably others I’ve overlooked), while often seen (or at least, seem to be present) in other animals, do not appear to either be present or anywhere near as developed as they are in humans.

    These differences are of no relevance to nature. But to us (rightly or wrongly) they are crucial in deciding whether we afford peer status to another species. So far (and I believe rightly) we have refrained from putting any other creature on the same level of sentience as ourselves. After all, the concept of the right to vote means about the same to my dog as it does to the keyboard I’m typing this with.

    Of course, the more practical (although not necessarily the more correct) criteria that humans use to determine ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ status is genetic i.e. is the being genetically human? By doing this, we can include within the human sphere (and therefore provide rights to) humans who are incapable of one of many or the human-unique traits I listed above (and in the case of egg-sperm conceptions, perhaps a little too far) . Even so, it’s interesting to note that even that fails when the human is what we call “brain dead” i.e. non capability or potential for human sentience.

    The deer you shot last season, when it was dying, may have felt fear, discomfort, pain, panic. But it probably didn’t wonder how its family would survive without it, what emotional impact it would have on those in its immediate circle, or how it might escape this desperate situation (or perhaps even ‘damn, I ain’t getting out of this one!’). It probably didn’t curse the fact that it wouldn’t get to experience the fullness of a long life, to make dreams come true and fulfil lifelong desires. It likely didn’t regret not having passed on instructions to the others of what to do in the event of its death. It’s almost certain that it wasn’t even aware it was about to die. It most likely can’t understand the concept of death. In fact, the best evidence we have is that it likely wasn’t thinking at all, merely experiencing.

    If this animal can be shown to be capable of this level of understanding, then I think you’d agree it should be accorded rights comensurate with such a high level of sentience. But it’s highly unlikely that deer, or any other animal (bar humans) is capable of that sort of thought. However, I see no problems with a set of guidelines regarding what we would consider ‘ethical’ treatment of animals, depending on what we determine their level of sentience to be. As an animal lover myself, I am emotionally repulsed by deliberate malicious unecessary suffering inflicted on an animal. However, I’ve no issue with someone hunting a wild animal and killing it for food (or even sport, for that matter) because the end goal is not to cause it pain for pain’s sake, but for sustenance.

    When you avoid stepping on your cat’s tail, it is out of human emotional concern for the creature. But the cat in all likelihood cannot understand or reciprocate that understanding, let alone that feeling. We (most of us) seek not to inflict undue pain on other creatures because of our own intelligence-informed emotional awareness. We are capable of pity, sympathy, empathy. These are emotions that appear to be even more divorced from the other species we share this planet with.

    As far as nature is concerned, being a mere process with no conciousness, the concepts of ‘moral distinctions’ are irrelevant to it. But such ‘distinctions’ are not irrelevant to humans. We alone on our world appear capable of understanding these things.

    We might say that this kind of thinking is very human-centric, and it is. But ultimately it is so because it’s humans who are capable of this thinking. These decisions fall to us because we’re at the top of the sentience chain (at least on this planet).

    So, until such time as the deer you chase down looks you in the eye and pleads for you to spare its life, I think we’re relatively safe in assuming you’re not commiting murder.

    Although, as a human, I hope it’s done quickly.

  • Winzeler

    Well thought out and well communicated, congratulations.

    So now we’re to the point of consensus on evolutionary distinctions. Let’s now consider these evolutionary statuses (from least to greatest): nothing (absence of anything), something (inanimate object with no developmental process), life (trees, viruses), intelligence (animal life, including mammals, amphibians, etc.), self-awareness (humanity), immortality of self-awareness (Transhumanism you talked about above). At this point this is all hypothetical in our discussion. Let’s subject them to your means of the acquiring of truth, the Scientific method. Ergo, now we need to experiment and collect data from the observations. Do we (or anybody we can cite) have any recorded observations of nothing turning into something of its own accord, from which we may collect data to analyze? What about the next step? Do we have any observations we can analyze of life coming from non-life? Do we have anything suggesting intelligence can come from mere life? Have we ever observed intelligence becoming self-awareness? How about the last step? After thousands of years of observing self-awareness, do we have any observations suggesting it is progressing into immortality?

  • cyborg

    “viruses”

    Not considered alive by many biologists.

    “Do we (or anybody we can cite) have any recorded observations of nothing turning into something of its own accord, from which we may collect data to analyze?”

    Yes, quantum boiling where virtual particles spontaneously pop into existance and then disappear again. Responsible for Hawkin radiation IIRC.

    “Do we have any observations we can analyze of life coming from non-life?”

    No. Although this does sound like the rather disengenious “how did life come from a rock?” argument.

    “Do we have anything suggesting intelligence can come from mere life?”

    Yes. Please open your eyes.

    “Have we ever observed intelligence becoming self-awareness?”

    As I already pointed out a child is not born self-aware. When your child starts lying to you then you will know it is self-aware. Children who do not lie do not understand that their perspective is different to someone else’s – hence they are not aware of themselves.

    “After thousands of years of observing self-awareness, do we have any observations suggesting it is progressing into immortality?”

    What does that even mean?

    This all rather sounds like it’s leading up to a big argument from ignorance.

  • Euan Gray

    No. Although this does sound like the rather disengenious “how did life come from a rock?” argument.

    We do, however, understand (and can replicate) how amino acids form from simple molecules (ammonia, water, methane and carbon dioxide).

    We have reasonable theories as to how the universe came into existence that do not require the existence of God to explain. Short of going back in time 15 billion years, it’s impossible to prove one way or another.

    We know how stars, planets and solar systems form.

    We know how amino acids form from simple substances.

    We have, AIUI, a gap in knowing how amino acids form complex proteins.

    We have a good idea of how DNA formed (or can form) from complex proteins.

    We know that evolution happens on a genetic level, and we know how it happens. The existence of things like methycillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus are proof that mutation and selective evolution actually happen.

    We don’t live long enough to demonstrate the evolution of distinct species, but the mechanism is understood and the experiments that we can perform (on good old drosophila melanogaster) show that the mechanism seems to work. We have circumstantial evidence in the form of certain species of mosquito living in the London Underground of the rise of new species.

    In all, it is simply absurd to argue that God is NECESSARY to explain life, the universe and (possibly) everything. Things such as existence, life, intelligence and self-awareness can be explained to an astonishing degree without invoking the supernatural, using mechanisms which undoubtedly do exist and do happen. This is why I used to be an atheist.

    However, none of this means that God CANNOT exist. It is possible, although perhaps implausible, that God does exist and created these mechanisms expressly to reach the end that existed in the divine mind. This cannot be proven one way or the other, and it is perhaps pointless to explore this avenue anyway. Which is why I am now an agnostic.

    EG

  • cyborg

    “We do, however, understand…”

    Well until someone actually creates life artificiall you can be sure theists will be trotting this line out again and again – not matter how strong the circumstantial evidence.

    “his is why I used to be an atheist. … Which is why I am now an agnostic.”

    Semantically there is no conflict in being both.

  • Euan Gray

    Well until someone actually creates life artificiall you can be sure theists will be trotting this line out again and again – not matter how strong the circumstantial evidence.

    Step 1 – We create speciation by selective breeding of plants and animals over thousands of years. Ah, but that doesn’t prove evolution, it is objected.

    Step 2 – We observe speciation in the mosquitoes of the London Underground. No, that doesn’t prove it either.

    Step 3 – We observe natural selection repeatedly in nature. Proves nothing, of course.

    Step 4 – We observe mutation in things such as MRSA. Doesn’t prove anything.

    Step 5 – Guess what? Cloning doesn’t prove anything either.

    And so on.

    Presumably the creationist (many Christians do actually accept evolution) wants to provide a gallon of water, a bucket full of ammonia, a tank of methane and a few blocks of dry ice and expects this to be turned into a particle physicist inside a fortnight. Six days for preference.

    I am quite confident that one day we will be able to create life from non-living material. Why exactly we would want to do this is another question, but one generally finds that if something can be done then sooner or later it is done. I suspect, though, that before that one or both of the following things will happen:

    Discovery of life on another planet (Mars or Europa seem favourites at present), thus showing that there is nothing unique about the fact there is life on Earth;

    Creation of true self-aware machine intelligence, thus showing there is nothing unique or divine about mind.

    Semantically there is no conflict in being both.

    Technically, yes. However, for all practical purposes “atheist” really means someone who believes God does not exist, even if it technically doesn’t. The meaning of words changes as the popular idea of the meaning changes. For example, in computer terms “hacker” just means a programmer who tinkers with reverse-engineered code or someone else’s code, but in popular terms it means a computer bad guy – the correct word is actually “cracker” for that meaning. Similarly, “critique” is not a verb (the correct word would be “criticise”), but is commonly used as one. Things change, and people should probably get over it. To insist upon the technically accurate definition of atheist is increasingly pedantic – the fact that people seem to keep having to do it should probably tell them something.

    EG

  • cyborg

    ” The meaning of words changes as the popular idea of the meaning changes.”

    Yes it does. Which means we need to correct the popular idea of the meaning when it distorts the word so much it means nothing. Especially when many words, such as evolution and atheist, are so abused by theists.

    Words are precious things. Without them we cannot express thought. Although that’s a topic for another time.

  • Winzeler

    Without trying to uphold theism, I just want to address evolution theory. In order for evolution theory to be acceptable one statement has to be true (otherwise the whole thing seems to unravel):

    At some point in time (beit most likely a very long time) something OF ITS OWN ACCORD came from nothing.

    At first glance there are two particular problems with that assumption.

    1. There is no evidence that something can come from nothing OF ITS OWN ACCORD. The only thing we have supporting this is “virtual particles” being created by quantum boiling. Quantum boiling being an extremely difficult thing to accomplish, virtual particles are so finicky they have never even been observed. In fact, other than the fact that we can see their effects, we have no reason to believe they’re there (sounds like a religion to me).

    2. When did time start? Who invented time? Did time magically begin when nothing of its own accord decided to become something?

    Without having to believe in a God, its pretty easy to see that evolution theory requires as much faith as any religion.

  • cyborg

    “At some point in time (beit most likely a very long time) something OF ITS OWN ACCORD came from nothing.”

    Exogenesis and abiogenesis has got bugger all to do with evolution. You can easily believe a god created the first life and then allowed it to evolve. It won’t change the fact that it DID evolve and CONTINUES to evolve as is OBSERVED.

    “Without having to believe in a God, its pretty easy to see that evolution theory requires as much faith as any religion.”

    Except it’s a fact – it’s been observed.

    “(sounds like a religion to me).”

    So, there’s a load of physicist basing their lives around the worship of virtual particles?

    No. It’s a model for explaining Hawking radition. No faith required – Hawkin radition exists. If someone comes along with a better explanation then that’s the way it is.

    You really still don’t get the scientific method do you?

    “When did time start? Who invented time? Did time magically begin when nothing of its own accord decided to become something?”

    You’re the one that wants it to be magiced out of nothing by a god.

    Argument from ignorance.

  • Winzeler

    It won’t change the fact that it DID evolve and CONTINUES to evolve as is OBSERVED.

    This I agree with, but if you continue reducing your argumentation to mere insults, I’m done with the conversation. Having never called you ignorant, I’ll ask you not to say it of me.

    Evolution and deism are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but one must ask, “If they coexist, which one is subjective and which is objective?” I think the existence of time and the existence of anything suggests that at some point in time something came from nothing. I don’t think it could have done this of its own accord. It had to initiated. That initiation I believe to be God.

  • cyborg

    “I think the existence of time and the existence of anything suggests that at some point in time something came from nothing. I don’t think it could have done this of its own accord. It had to initiated. That initiation I believe to be God”

    I already pointed out this is a fine and dandy opinion to hold but it’s still an argument from ignorance. (Which is not an insulting term, it’s an argumentitive one before you accuse me of being insulting again).

  • Winzeler

    OK, then in your understanding tell me how time began and how something came from nothing without any influence. If you can’t and you hold that there is no God, then you have a belief just like I do, because it cannot be proven.

  • cyborg

    “OK, then in your understanding tell me how time began and how something came from nothing without any influence.”

    Don’t think it did. It’s probably existed in some form or another. The first law of thermodynamics would imply this.

    “If you can’t and you hold that there is no God, then you have a belief just like I do, because it cannot be proven.”

    Fraid not.

    Why?

    Simple. If I say I don’t know why the universe exists then I’ve hardly got a belief about it. You can’t make the fact that you can’t provide substantiation for a god that you believe created the universe an issue of belief for me. That’s like making hair colour an issue for a bald man.

  • Winzeler

    So you would presume that it has always existed in some form or another, and that there was no inception of material existence.

    “If you can’t and you hold that there is no God, then you have a belief just like I do, because it cannot be proven.”
    Fraid not.
    Why?

    Actually this is true, because you don’t seem to be saying there is no God. They key to the statement is “if you hold there is no God.” As long as you don’t postulate anything about the existence of a God (except that he is unprovable, but saying he is unprovable is altogether differenct from saying he doesn’t, or can’t, exist), then you’re right; You don’t have a belief.