I Went To Church Today

You heard me right.

It was a somber occasion. My father-in-law died this past January in an auto accident, and today being All Souls Day, his church had a little commemorative ceremony for all of the congregants who had passed on in the last year. My mother-in-law asked us to be there, so the family came in to be with her. It was hard enough for her, she doesn’t know I’m an atheist, and, what the hell, if I can’t go to church when asked to support a family member who I do love, then what kind of human being am I? So I put on my suit and went.

I used to think that, if anything, attending a church service that I found relatively boring was a good opportunity for introspection.  The sermons are usually dumb, the music is repetitive, and there’s nothing interesting to read in the pews (though I did pull out the Bible and showed my son some of the more egregious passages in Leviticus – he now knows where Christians get their authority for putting homosexuals to death). So, I started thinking about, of all things, being in church. I was married in this church almost thirty years ago, and used to attend with sporadic regularity when the children were younger, mainly at my wife’s insistence, but there were times when I did look forward to going. It’s a Protestant denomination (United Church of Christ), one with relatively liberal theology and politics, but still solidly in the theistic camp.

There are many people here I know, good, solid people. Hard working, compassionate, community-centric people.  Many of them have been regularly attending services, and participating in the life blood of this small section of the larger community, since I got married, and before. I reflected on how much I respected these people, something you would not expect from someone writing a blog such as this. These are salt of the earth people, people with all the best intentions, people who would give you the shirt off their backs. Christians, all of them.

The common denominator, the one thing that brings them all together, is their belief in god. The Pastor, a very nice woman, (or so she seems, I really don’t know her, and only met her once) speaks of god as if he is her personal friend and confidante. The elders are upstanding men and women of the community. The newer members are all fresh-faced adults and children with an intensity about them that is striking.  In short, this is an organization that is a force for nothing but good in this community, at least on the surface (perhaps there are a few Desperate Housewives in the congregation – maybe even some desperate househusbands). These folks support each other in times of need, collect money for charitable causes outside the community, and otherwise provide a sense of focus for the lives of all the members. As an atheist, how can I criticize this?

Well…it’s like this, at least for me. Mass delusion. What else can explain it? Everyone of those very good people, (myself included, at one time) has to be convinced that their god exists, or they wouldn’t sit in church every Sunday to sing his praises. I’m not saying that such mass delusion is wrong (even though it is for me) but it IS necessary to keep this group, and all the other groups like it, cohesive. They all have to collectively believe in something for which there is not a shred of evidence, else they would probably dissipate, and the church would crumble (figuratively, and eventually literally).

So, does the good they do, the sense of righteousness (and you know I hate that word) they feel, outweigh the lack of truth in their beliefs? Is it OK to let them continue merrily along believing in what amounts to a lie, because the benefits outweigh the perceived disadvantages of knowing the truth? What would happen to their sense of good, their empathy towards their fellow humans, if I was able to stand in front of them and convince them, intellectually, that while their faith has done well by them up to this point, their faith was based on nonsense? Would they all fall on each other, beating and killing their neighbors, stealing the gold off of the alter, breaking the stain glass windows? Somehow, I don’t think so.

The Golden Rule –  treat your neighbor exactly as you would have them treat you – predates Christ by hundreds of years, and is found in almost every culture. This convinces me that every one of these wonderful people would be just as wonderful without their current beliefs. They might channel their good sense in other directions, they might not meet up every Sunday to sing songs and read sanitized excerpts from scripture, but they would still be outwardly empathetic towards their fellow man, and they would find new and, I think, better ways of expressing it. And even if they knew that their god wasn’t around to demand that they refrain from killing, lying and stealing, they’d also know that without him, those things would still not be advisable.

What bothers me about this kind of mass delusion is the latent cynicism that’s needed to hold on to these kind of beliefs. One must really feel that man is inherently bad, evil, capable of the worst degradations, without some kind of incentive to keep him on the straight and narrow. Like a lion being tamed by the lion tamer, god and eternal punishment are seen as a metaphorical whip and chair. There is nothing like 2000 years of being told that you are sinful to instill such cynicism in the human psyche. If the only way to save yourself from the sins of man, and his fictional first mother and father, is to believe in god, then what choice do you have, if that’s all you know? I can certainly understand why all those people band together to believe in such nonsense, when they’ve been indoctrinated to believe in the inherent evil of humanity. They’re scared to do otherwise.

This is what happens when you put me in a church with nothing else to do. There is no way I’m going to convince those people that what they are doing is worshipping a fantasy, but there is also no way I’m going to do the same thing, even though in some small way I envy their community. I value truth more than feeling good. In fact, I can feel good and value truth at the same time. I wish they could too.

So, for all of you good souls out there, who don’t believe in souls, happy All Souls Day.

77 thoughts on “I Went To Church Today

  1. This is my first visit to your site and I have only read this article which seems to be sincere and more or less fair. I am sure that elsewhere you address presuppositions that you merely assume here: that Christians are deluded and that you have the truth. It would seem that the atheist has to make certain pretentions to omniscience in order to exclude the possibility of the existence of God. In other words, how can anyone know that something or someone does not exist unless he knows everything that does exist? There is also a certain smugness, a sense of superiority over these poor deluded Christians who have to have their religious crutch to get through the day.
    There are certain contradictions in your article: the reference to Christians getting their authority to put homosexuals to death, yet they are “very good people” with the “best intentions”. There may be some out there, but I don’t know any genuine Christians who desire or feel they have the authority to put homosexuals to death.
    Concerning the Golden Rule, granted that similar things had been said before Christ, but in the negative sense: “Don’t do anything to others that you don’t want them to do to you,” instead of “Do for others what you would want them to do for you,” which is quite different. It is one thing to say, “Don’t kill anyone because you wouldn’t want them to kill you.” It is quite another to say, “When your enemy is hungry, feed him; it he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12:20).
    Concerning the first fictional mother and father, the evidence is clear that all humans came from the same parents. Whether or not you call them Adam and Eve, we are all descendants of the same first parents.
    Concerning man’s innate goodness, it seems that the killing fields of the innumerable wars of the past 50 years, corruption in governments and business, the growing crime rate, the inhumanity of man toward man, betrayal at the family level, etc., should put that myth to death. If there is any good in anyone, it is because we were all created in the image of God. The closer we stay to Him, the more we reflect His goodness, for He alone is good.
    May I suggest a book by former atheist Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith. Thanks for allowing me to respond.

  2. First to SI: Great post. I recently had to do the church thing for a funeral. I share your opinion that all the sweet and nice people who believe would be sweet and nice anyway. The religious beliefs aren’t the cause. Yes, we can call it delusional or any other negative thing but most of the time (thankfully) we see it in this form, completely innocuous. It’s like when people condemn alcohol by showing drunk driving statistics but the truth is most people use alcohol responsibly. Same goes for gun owners, pot smokers, or any other thing people like to say are harmful to society. Should we not need religion, alcohol or guns? Sure, but as long as people use these things responsibly and don’t hurt others with them, then they’re manageable vices. What most of our arguments against religion come from are instances when it is hurting others like denying gay rights, attacking abortion clinics, challenging Science, threatening children’s educations, preventing actions that could help curb AIDS and so on.

    To Mr. Ellison – gosh, where do I begin?
    It would seem that the atheist has to make certain pretentions to omniscience in order to exclude the possibility of the existence of God
    Always a favorite, btw. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That’s how this world works and everywhere else we demand this so why does the god issue get a pass? If you say there’s a god, you have to prove it before you can expect people to believe you. Atheists are waiting for that proof. It’s not our burden to disprove nonsense. Would you say you have “pretentions to omniscience” for excluding the possibility of the existence of Thor or Odin? How about of leprechauns or unicorns?

    There may be some out there, but I don’t know any genuine Christians who desire or feel they have the authority to put homosexuals to death.
    Ah, the old ‘well those people are crazy and a minority’ along with a dose of ‘none of the christians I know…’. The opposition to homosexuals is biblically rooted. You don’t get to feel good about yourself simply because you won’t kill them if you still actively oppose the granting of their full civil rights.

    Concerning the Golden Rule, granted that similar things had been said before Christ, but in the negative sense
    Nice try. Confucius wasn’t arguing for mere self-interest but rather doing the right thing for the right reason. A translation of his version of the golden rule goes
    “What one does not wish for oneself, one ought not to do to anyone else; what one recognises as desirable for oneself, one ought to be willing to grant to others.”
    The idea is empathy for others. Christianity doesn’t necessarily teach empathy. It’s fine to say “turn the other cheek” but you might do so reluctantly and may still feel anger and hatred to the attacker. Doing so because you’re told rather than because it’s right are very different. Face it, the stuff said by your Jesus character is nothing new.

    Concerning the first fictional mother and father, the evidence is clear that all humans came from the same parents
    It shows we come from a common source, along with many other species. It’s not proof of any Adam and Eve fairy tale.

    Concerning man’s innate goodness, it seems that the killing fields of the innumerable wars of the past 50 years, corruption in governments and business, the growing crime rate, the inhumanity of man toward man, betrayal at the family level, etc., should put that myth to death
    Humans aren’t perfect, that’s for sure, but religion hasn’t helped stop any of it either. I won’t go into instances where I think it was the cause of some of it. I’ll just say it hasn’t stopped any of it, making it superfluous.

    If there is any good in anyone, it is because we were all created in the image of God.
    You still haven’t proved that we were created, god exists, or that being like him is a good thing, so this whole statement is silly.

    Oh, and Lee Strobel is an asshat. Here’s a nice review of The Case for Faith.

    Have a nice day 🙂

  3. It must be said, I couldn’t resist. Very fair article btw, I always wonder why my fellow atheists have such an aversion to church, as if they’re actually going to be struck down when they enter. But thats probably just my friends.

    Anywho! On to business:

    J. Gary Ellison:

    [H]ow can anyone know that something or someone does not exist unless he knows everything that does exist?

    I have to say I prefer the label of anti-theist as it means that even if the Judeo-Christian/Islamic/Hindu God existed there is no way I’d be in favor of them. However! Just because we cannot prove that God doesn’t exist doesn’t mean its as statistically likely as his existence. I would refer you to Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion for an in-depth look at the probability of God. And then there is the wonderful analogy: If I told you I had an invisible, incorporeal, heatless dragon in my garage, how could you disprove it? Yet no one is seriously suggesting such a thing could exist (I hope)

    I don’t know any genuine Christians who desire or feel they have the authority to put homosexuals to death.

    This always makes me chuckle. The BIble plainly states that you should put homosexuals to death. In fact it is ‘the due penalty for their perversion’ – Romans 1:26-27, NIV. So how on earth could the people who are promoting this horrid idea not be “genuine Christian”. Thats completely nonsensical unless you mean to be a true christian is to pick and choose which parts of the bible you believe in, but then surely your argument is somewhere along the lines of: I think what God meant to say way…..And no atheist I know is that presumptuous.

    “When your enemy is hungry, feed him; it he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12:20).

    I hate to keep referring to men greater than I but I feel their words would have more effect than mine. Please watch Christopher Hitchens’ speech at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LKLeSKobcY. Feeding and clothing your enemy seems like a rather silly thing to do. If a jihadist comes to my town (as has happened) and blows up a subway or two (as has happened) and I then feed him and aid him I see that not only as disrespectful to all the loved ones of mine he just destroyed but also as a sign of support for his cause. I do not want to make enemies, but if someone makes an enemy of me and I cannot reason with him, I cannot negotiate and I cannot expect mercy of course I want to aid his demise.

    And honestly, if we’re suddenly getting our morals from scripture here lets look at the many genocides of God shall we?

    Concerning the first fictional mother and father, the evidence is clear that all humans came from the same parents

    I think what you’re referring to here is The Seven Daughters of Eve This states that we all have common ancestry which can be traced back using our mitochondrial DNA. There may not even be 7, numerous other “daughters” have been put forward to fill in racial and geographical gaps in this theory. Its a developing theory, and furthermore doesn’t mention or prove the existence of Adam and Eve.

    Concerning man’s innate goodness…..

    Yes! For once lets actually concern ourselves with it. The news stations, every major media outlet looking for a nice drama & gossips abound love to focus on the negative news of the day. This is because it would be boring to have a half hour program explaining why Mrs McGee made cupcakes for all the homeless men in her city.

    People commit acts of kindness every day, and they outweigh the acts of evil by far. Just look at the people around you if you need proof! Even if you see someone get mugged that day you’ll see others rushing to help that person after the fact, then throughout the rest of the day you may notice small things like a person giving up their seat on a bus or giving change to a homeless person, even a smile goes a long way.

    With that last point you have completely proven the blogs talk of cynicism to be correct. Its just….ohh! Infuriating and frustrating all at once.

  4. There’s a wonderful commercial on the TV lately, and it shows one person extending an act of kindness to another, while being watched by a third person. That third person then does an act of kindness to another, while being watched, etc. on down the chain. It goes on and on, theoretically into infinity.

    Almost makes me want to buy the advertiser’s services, if I could only remember who they are. 😉

    If it’s on YouTube, I’ll edit this with the link.

    [EDIT] linky

  5. @ J. Gary –

    Philly Chief made some great points and I’d just like to re-emphasize one part of what he said.

    It’s a cheap trick to justify (in your own mind) that atheists are “wrong” because they are arrogant and think they have some special, and greater, knowledge than the rest of you have. We have no such thing. What we have is EXACTLY what you have. We have reason.

    We choose to employ it when looking at supernatural claims. So do you. You do it when it comes to every single supernatural issue that you reject. You reject it from a simple scientific viewpoint – the evidence available doesn’t point to its validity.

    When it comes to your own faith – whether Islam, Judaism, Christianity (or specifically, one of hundreds of off-shoots of Christianity), Hinduism, Hellenism, etc – you turn off this reasoning that you probably use in just about every other part of your life. Then, you change the goal posts for “reason” and claim you REALLY ARE using “Reason” when you accept whatever it is you believe.

    @ SI –

    You said: ” can certainly understand why all those people band together to believe in such nonsense, when they’ve been indoctrinated to believe in the inherent evil of humanity.” and back in the beginning of the post said “My mother-in-law asked us to be there, so the family came in to be with her. It was hard enough for her, she doesn’t know I’m an atheist,”

    And I can understand why people don’t tell everyone they know that they are an atheist.

    Both are based on fear. For the theist – fear of death, fear of societal melt-down, etc. For the atheist – fear of rejection from community, dealing with antagonism, etc.

    But from a purely rational viewpoint, I can’t see how we ever move significantly towards a secular community if the very people who live purely secular lives don’t take up the challenge of dealing with the discomfort of telling people what we think. We have SOME effect in our blogging. We have a much greater effect in our everyday relations with people. You’ve inspired me. I’m going to make a full-blown post about this.

    Please don’t take what I’m saying as a harsh criticism. It’s not. I really do understand the fear.

  6. Well, it’s fear, to a certain extent. It’s also my normal inclination to not proselytize in person. Of course, I do it here, but there is no captive audience, nor a relation who would feel compelled to listen. I’ve told lots of people in my family. I’ll tell the rest, if the subject comes up, and the opportunity arises. My m-i-l doesn’t know, (I think) though enough people do that could have told her. It’s just not that big a deal – yet.

    I use to fear telling my father. I don’t anymore. There’s a part of me that wants to tell him, even though it will sorely disappoint him, because I feel very confident in my atheism. Funny thing, when I was a Catholic, I did not feel confident enough to talk about religion with him.

  7. I’m looking forward to your post, John. Off the bat, I’d say there’s more to not telling people than simply fear of rejection. Part of it is I don’t see why it always has to be brought up. I won’t hesitate to admit it if asked, but I don’t go out of my way to broadcast it to anyone. Outside of my mother, my family has no idea where I stand on religion, politics, or many other things. Plus, I’d be a hypocrite if I was constantly yelling “I’m an Atheist!” since I always complain about people spouting their religious beliefs anywhere and everywhere.

    I’ve been to these funerals and weddings in churches with friends and family and I’ve never just started into “this is all crap”. I don’t close my eyes, bow my head, genuflect, cross myself, or any other silly thing everyone else does. If that sets off a red flag to someone and they feel like confronting me, so be it. If not, well I guess they can just assume I’m not christian, not that particular brand of christian, or maybe just a lazy christian.

  8. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone set up a community center dedicated to secular activities? They could even meet for coffee and debates on a Sunday! Then we could have secular weddings & funerals in a nice venue and no one would be forced to listen to a priest say: Well they’re in a better place now and have completely forgotten about you and everything you ever had together. That scared and angered the heck out of me when I was a child.

  9. SI, excellent post and John, I look forward to your follow-up post. I’m still catching up from the weekend so you may already have it up.

    Godless, it’s already possible to have secular weddings and funerals. I had a secular wedding (I suppose it was technically a civil union since it was performed by a Justice of the Peace) and funerals.

    In fact, though I don’t care what happens to my body after I die, I think that’s one thing I’d put in a will. God shouldn’t be mentioned during the eulogy, if there is a eulogy. Whatever my family and friends want otherwise to help them out, I’m fine with it. Just don’t go perpetuating the lie that I’m in a better place. 🙂

  10. P.S. I’ve never told my parents that I’m an atheist, although I did have a conversation with my mother once, on our way to a funeral, about why I no longer believe. it was uncomfortable and I wasn’t secure enough in my logic to disagree with her. I’m afraid I probably came off arrogant by trying to explain that the world works differently than they taught me when I was growing up. Their world refutes around faith and there’s no argument against faith (that’s just Satan talking).

    My family here though I don’t have any difficulty talking to. My husband is in the broadest sense a apatheist (he’s apathetic about god and doesn’t really care enough to argue about it… which makes my passionate atheism at times confusing to him) and my mother-in-law is religious, but only in a very broad sense (theist for the most part).

    I think if one day religion becomes so unimportant that we’re all like my husband it’ll be a good day.

  11. I want to be clear that I’m not talking about prostletyzing or angrily denouncing every religious occasion. I don’t do that, and most of you could guess that I don’t just from reading other things I’ve written. But I’ll talk more about it in my post.

  12. ordinary girl – Sorry I should’ve made that clearer. I am perfectly aware that not every establishment makes you have a religious wedding, same with funerals or any other administrative ceremony. But a nice, secular venue where people can meet and not have atheism turned in to its own religion (the ethical society falls under that category for me), where they could also hold weddings and funerals would be nice

  13. I’ve started listening to the podcasts from the Atheist Community of Austin and one of the things they’re looking for is a community center. I suppose it would be like what you’re wishing for, Godless. In fact, the president jokingly has been looking for an old church for the center. I’m envious of them because it sounds like they have a very rich social community. I’d love to go on their bat cruise.

    Ordinary girl, I love the term “apatheist” and will no doubt use that many times to come in the future. It describes my wife perfectly. She doesn’t understand why I get worked up either, but at least she expresses grief or at least numerous eye rolls at “the churchies” as she calls them. She also will say when she sees certain people, especially on tv, “ew, he/she looks religious”.

  14. Its a hard idea to convey! A place where people can have the rituals and the comfort of having a community which works together, but without someone standing on a pulpit preaching to them, which is what tends to happen even in secular churches.

    My mothers an ex-evangelical and for years she’s been dragging my father to various humanist and secular and bright and freethinker (oh the labels!) “churches” or “community centers” and every one of them just has too much preaching! (A matter of opinion obviously) I brought up the ethical society especially because they indoctrinate children by teaching them about the great life and works of their founder which I think is close to abhorrent.

    I think a lot of church goers would stop going to church and give up their ideas if there was a replacement for the rituals and socializing they do there. Not to mention the “feel good” factor of donating once a week.

  15. I don’t have any problem going into a church or synagogue, just as I don’t have any problem shopping in a children’s toy store. I don’t feel as if I’m necessarily associated with the group at whom the service is aimed.

    I will say that the most “purgative” and “uplifting” memorial services I’ve attended were irreligious ones. When a family does not believe in an afterlife, they can take the occasion of someone’s death as an opportunity to celebrate his or her life. We don’t do that enough for one another while we’re still breathing. Believe it or not, on three separate occasions, I’ve been encouraged to recall “some funny things about ….” Somehow, recalling the humorous quirkinesses of the deceased brings him or her back to life in people’s memories far better than empty praise does. Those oddities of personality that distinguish each of us from the others is, after all, part of humanity’s vibrancy. And, really, laughter is just as good at releasing emotions as tears — and, I believe, honors the dead person in a much more profound way.

  16. SI, this is a nice post and an especially poignant one for me. I’ve had to cut a deal with my wife on the whole church going nonsense because she insists on making them go to church until they’re of the age of majority (or somewhere close to it).

    I get along to go along because it took me until the age of 42 (which is not long ago) to finally let go of my Christian delusions. But given the way my children have no interest in keeping faith, I don’t think their right of passage back to the atheism they were born with won’t take as many years.

    BTW, I haven’t told my parents that I am an atheist. Everyone else in my family knows, but according to my sister, my telling them would literally kill them. The thought of that happening is enough to keep me silent on this matter. The only benefit I derive from telling them is hurting their feelings or, worse yet, pissing off them and my siblings. Peace.

  17. Spartacus, you said: I’ve had to cut a deal with my wife on the whole church going nonsense because she insists on making them go to church until they’re of the age of majority (or somewhere close to it).

    Did she likewise cut a deal with you? Do you get to explain why you don’t want to go to church? Do you at least get to tell the kids that some people do not go to church, and that not going to church when they grow up is acceptable.

    I’m not saying you should constantly be skeptical about every single thing the kids tell you happened in church. But you should at least sometimes be able to express the opinion that not everyone thinks the church is right about everything. If you’re not free to do that, exactly what deal did you cut?

    And I don’t think you should succumb to your sister’s blackmail. I’ve heard too many stories about “If you tell Mom and Dad thus-and-so, it will kill them.” Your sister is bullying you, in hopes that if you don’t “commit” yourself to atheism, you’ll eventually come back to your religious roots.

    It sounds to me like you are being made to feel ashamed of your enlightenment. You sound like a decent, thoughtful guy, and you should not stand for psychological extortion from anyone. Your ideas are not going to kill your parents and they’re not going to kill your kids.

  18. Excellent post, SI.

    As a musician I play in churches quite often, and it’s always worth while to hear what people say when they’re in their own parlor. As I mentioned elesewhere, I recently heard a clergyperson long for another celebration of St. Bartholomew’s Day. Felt the French Catholics had a great idea, thought its time had come again.

    My family is Southern Baptist, and even after I realised at a very early age that I didn’t believe a word of it, I would have said that “we” were baptist and included myself. At least until I hit the pre-teen years.

    I suspect that this religious thing is a very multileveled subject but has a very large “brand” issue involved. A we-they sort of thing.

  19. Great post, SI, I sincerely loved it.

    Methinks the issue gets complicated, however, as many religious folks will claim that they think humanity is fundamentally good by virtue of their souls, and that we, as “darwinists”, are the ones who reduce humankind to mere animals.

    I think such an argument is fundamentally misleading, and, if you probed, you would find they have the kind of contempt for humanity that you describe. After all, we all have “original sin,” and it is coming to god for forgiveness of our original nature that makes us clean.

    It’s actually kind of sickening. Especially when you throw in that the use of your own “god-given” faculties, if they lead you astray into disbelief, will get you cast into hell. In fact, the more obedient you are, the better, even if humanity’s most ennobling aspect is the intellect, that’s the one thing they think will get you into trouble.

    I think the anti-intellectualism, the willingness to accept ideas without evidence or proof, and its capacity to mobilize large number of people based upon such things are what ultimately make religion dangerous breeding grounds for cults, fascism, and some other truly scary ideologies. What better conditions for meme propogation than a large group of similarly minded people willing to accept whatever an “authority” tells them even without evidence?

    Then again, like you said, it also has capacity to really help people and galvanize them to some truly selfless, charitable endeavors.

    Dennett gets into some of these issues in an interview with Bill Moyers. Check it out on YouTube.

  20. Back in the real world, where exist some non-deluded people:

    George Bush is a good Christian. His hobby is massive slaughter and torture of human beings.

    Nazi camp guards were good Christians. Hitler was a practicing Catholic.

    Our CIA torturers likely consider themselves good Christians.

    The anti-life crowd that regularly promotes the killing of OB-GYN doctors pride themselves on their Christianity.

    Simple point – once you accept a religious delusion as your moral and ethical guide, you can be gulled into doing anything, no matter how heinous. When you refuse to look at the real world, when you refuse to accept reason based on empirical knowledge and evidence, when you accept what is patently false on the evidence or lack thereof, you choose to live in an asylum of the mad, and the loudest madman will be your guide through life.

  21. Ric:

    I think you cite the definite, most serious danger that goes along with religious belief– ultimately it can lead to people evaluating claims, not based upon their own review of the evidence, but upon the “authority” of whoever speaks loudly enough.

    Point taken.

    But Jimmy Carter is a good christian too. He builds houses for poor people and travels around trying to bring peace to war torn parts of the world. A perfect man? Probably not, but I would bet he’ll cite his personal relationship with Jesus as a big part of why he does what he does.

    Does that sound silly to me? Yes. Do I think he might do those same things if he became an atheist? Almost certainly, because he’s a good man. But that doesn’t change the fact that being a christian hasn’t turned him into a zombie willing to do whatever the loudest madman tells him to do. In fact, he has walked away from the Southern Baptist Conference because he feels the organization has taken a turn towards authoritarianism.

    Again, I agree with you about the dangers of religious belief. But I don’t think religion is devoid of positive influence or that being religious NECESSARILY turns one into a mindless zombie.

  22. I would say the two best examples of mindless zombie-esque behavior are the pilgrimage at Mecca and ‘holy’ communion. But thats just my opinion

  23. A –

    What is “A”? Is there “B” after “A”? And is there “Z” before “A”? Inquiring minds want to know… 🙂

    Anyway, I don’t disagree that believing in and of itself will not turn a human into a nasty little zombie, but I do think that believing does put a little zombie into the believer. I do think that religion greases the hinges and opens the door and spills wax on the floor in the next room. Religion provides the authority a person needs to justify beating up the little Jew Christian Muslim Hindu Black White boy next door.

    Without religion you have to face yourself and your choices, unmediated by superstition and godly authority, and you have to do it here and now, not in some vague afterlife where you fiddle with your harp and halo or dodge pitchforks and flames. I think most people don’t want to examine their thoughts and actions, and religion gives them the out they need. “God says…” is good enough for them. At the extreme is the Christian who devoutly believes he can do anything he wants to because God, or Jesus, or whatever it is, will forgive him and welcome him into heaven. Lynching a black or shooting an atheist is okay by their lights. Suicide bombers are cut from that cloth.

    And I’ll betcha that’s what the Boy Emperor Bush believes. Harps and halos all around, but just for rich Republicans who support him. What’s that, you say? Something about sticking a needle into a camel? Say what?

    Screw it. Gotta go watch the soccer game. Someone told me god lives in the ball and if the light is just right I’ll be able to see him. I used to think he lived in my backgammon set, but that can’t be true – I lost too much. Hardly the action of a benevolent god.

  24. Ric said: “Screw it. Gotta go watch the soccer game. Someone told me god lives in the ball and if the light is just right I’ll be able to see him.”

    Look Ric, I hate to spoil your little supernatural fantasy, but if god lives in a ball it’s a basketball. OK?

  25. Or, at least, John and “A” are! Knicks do look better this year, A. Thanks to the addition of Zach, the emergence of Curry and a guy like David Lee coming off the bench. I still think playoffs are a longshot. Unless god intervenes.

  26. Curry is great. It’s about time they had a real post-up threat and I have loved watching him grow as a player. Playoffs? Definitely a long shot, but I thinkthis might be the first season they make any meaningful progress towards rebuilding.

    Also, God doesn’t exist, and religion sucks.

    p.s. A player once asked Bobby Knight why they didn’t pray before games. Knight answered “If God cared who won, he’d buy a f–king ticket!”

  27. A.

    I’m not a big fan of Curry, but he has certainly made strides since 2 years ago.

    Losing to the Magic at home tonight? God heard what you said. He is a vengeful god. (Damn, it’s getting hard to keep the basketball rolling with SI laying down the preconditions)!

    My Lakers are looking pretty decent. If they don’t trade Kobe (god forbid) they will surprise all of you haters. And don’t tell me you aren’t a Lakers-hater. You know you are. You all are. I saw it in a vision.

  28. I’m not even a basketball fan and I hate the Lakers. I think it’s a Philly thing. Since Philly is the big city that always gets ignored, we respond by hating higher profile cities and everything associated with them. 🙂

    There should be a rule that when a team moves to a new city, if their name no longer makes sense for that part of the country, it should have to change. Utah Jazz? Maybe Utah Polygamists. There’s jazz in Utah? Arizona Cardinals? Lakes in LA? Silly.

  29. Well, it’s an “Eastern” thing, too. New Yorkers generally hate us. Until they they feel their own private hell, move to ours and make this one even worse. Sorry A! Actually there are TONS of really good reasons to hate L.A. but I’m a lifer and will probably die here. I hope not, but I probably will. don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of good things about L.A. and I know if I moved to Hawaii I’d immediate start “missing” and “whining” like all transplants seem to do. somehow, though, I think I’d adjust rather easier than most. The one thing I’d still do is watch Bruins games. UCLA (the campus, the research, the sports) really IS an L.A. oasis.

  30. Don’t get me wrong, I fully expect the Knicks to self destruct by playoff time, because God hates me. The truth is I blame Marbury for not being enough of a team player to be point guard. I have always felt he was meant to be a twoguard.

    And I totally agree with Philly-chief regarding team names. As a fan of jazz music and a lover of all things creole, I think it’s bizarre that Utah should have a team called “The Jazz” (even though I love how they play). I think it would also soften the blow for some cities when their teams jump ship. I have friends whose dads would still spit on the ground to hear the words “LA Dodgers” and even “San Francisco Giants” spoken together.

    More proof there is no God… to say nothing of what happened to the Mets this year.

    We better knock it off before S.I. starts up some sort of Neo-Inquisition… then again, isn’t S.I. “Sports Illustrated”?

  31. For some reason it bothers atheists to point out that atheism, like theism, offers an answer to a metaphysical question, and which it claims is correct. To put it another way, claiming to know for certain that God doesn’t exist IS an extraordinary claim.

    As long as one stays with “I believe/don’t believe in God” and leaves it at that, fine. But once you state “I know God exists” or “I know God doesn’t exist” you’ve thrown down the gauntlet, as it were, and now you have a burden of proof, which applies equally to theist and atheists, a point I am continuously debating with hard core atheists and religious fundamentalists alike. I know this comment won’t be popular here, but in truth the two groups are just two sides of the same coin.

    -smith

  32. “To put it another way, claiming to know for certain that God doesn’t exist IS an extraordinary claim.”

    Most atheists would agree with you – and therefore make no such claim. It’s all a matter of probabilities. There is no “evidence” for god beyond faith. There are endless scenarios in which “no god exists”. Therefore, I accept no gods. That’s not the equivalent to someone who “believes” in a god. I make NO extraordinary claims. Those who believe in gods do. Who is the burden on?

  33. Exactly, John

    -smith

    If you argue with an atheist who claims “I know god does not exist”, either you are debating a fool, or you are creating a straw man for an argument. I know of NO atheist that makes that claim, including yours truly.

    Put another way, I would never claim that I know Zeus exists, either, however, I live my life, as do you, based on the assumption that he doesn’t, because the probability is so low that there is nothing that points to his existence. Same with the Christian god, or the Muslim or Hindu ones. It doesn’t matter, for all practical purposes, whether there is certainty in the answer. If you’re looking for certainty in metaphysics, you’re tilting at windmills.

    Atheism does answer a metaphysical question, but the question is not “Does god exist?” . The question is “Is their sufficient evidence to believe in god?”. The answer is quite clear.

  34. Well it’s nice to see you discussing the topic away from home, smith, since on your blog “debate” is simply restating again and again what you said before followed by asking if your opponent has truly read or understands what you’ve written until they either agree with you or go away.

    Yes, you can’t say absolutely there is no god; however, the complete absence of evidence for gods is sufficient to not only act as if there are none but to say things like “there is no god”. ‘Oh, but you can’t prove that’ you’ll say and yes, you’d be correct, but do we make stipulations like that when speaking of unicorns, leprechauns or gremlins? No, we don’t. To do so would not only provoke laughter, but may have people begin to question our state of mind.

    Consider for a moment how the world would be different if we extended this loophole, the “you can’t absolutely disprove this” loophole, beyond just gods. Every “my dog ate my homework”, “the devil made me do it”, or “sorry I was late, I was abducted by aliens” excuse would have to be considered. All those fantastic tales in the old Weekly World News couldn’t be dismissed. Claims of hearing voices in your head wouldn’t alone be enough to warrant psychiatric care. How could civilization carry on like this? Should the burden of proof be on the teacher to either x-ray a student’s dog or follow it around waiting for a stool sample to definitively see if the dog did eat the homework?

  35. I literally just blogged on this very topic under the title “of micro-chips and mexican standoffs.”

    Atheists do not have to prove that God does not exist, only the sufficiency of whatever they believe accounts for creation without a god.

    To hold an atheist to the burden of proving god does not exist means atheists must prove a negative. This works nicely for theists, of course, who can then conveniently play “three card monty” with god, constantly hiding him someplace “far from the twisted reach” of the evidence (“Tambourine Man” Dylan reference for S.I.).

    Atheists don’t need to prove the definitive absence of god anymore than the definitive absence of unicorns, space aliens, sea monsters, or micro-chips in our heads. I think the debate gets increasingly complex even without that burden of proof, and I think we do, nonetheless have a burden to account for how the universe exists without god.

    But to definitively prove god does not exist?

    No.

  36. SI said: “I would never claim that I know Zeus exists, either”

    Philly Chief said: ” or “sorry I was late, I was abducted by aliens” excuse would have to be considered.”

    “A” said: “absence of unicorns, space aliens, sea monsters,”

    Smith, let’s just focus on one of these ideas, because it is actually a VERY common belief:

    Many people believe that they or others have been abducted during sleep by space aliens, that those aliens visit us on a regular basis, do experiments on humans, etc.

    I don’t say I’m “agnostic” about these claims. To me, and hopefully to you, they are absurd. From this, do EITHER of us say, “I KNOW that aliens are not here and doing these things”? Of course not. Not if we are true empiricists. What we do say is, based on the fact that there is a complete lack of compelling evidence for it being so, we will continue to live our lives as if it is untrue. This is EXACTLY what atheists do with god, and for EXACTLY the same reasons.

  37. As far as people claiming to be abducted by aliens, we certainly do not say “based on the fact that there is a complete lack of compelling evidence for it being so, we will continue to live our lives as if it is untrue.” What we say is, “yeah right pal, and I got a bridge for sale” or “you’re fucking crazy” or simply “fuck off”. The idea is dismissed outright with no asterisk, no footnote, and no respect. The amazing thing is I think there’s a greater chance of aliens abducting people, giving them anal probes, erasing their memories and beaming them back to where they were than there being some god in the sky watching us and tallying up how many times we swear or masturbate in order to decide if we’re going to hell yet I’m supposed respect the idea of a god and respect people who buy into it.
    Tally man, Tally man, tally our insanity.

  38. Most atheists would agree with you – and therefore make no such claim. It’s all a matter of probabilities. There is no “evidence” for god beyond faith. There are endless scenarios in which “no god exists”. Therefore, I accept no gods. That’s not the equivalent to someone who “believes” in a god. I make NO extraordinary claims. Those who believe in gods do. Who is the burden on?

    The burden of proof is on the one who insists that others believe as they do. This applies both to both religious fundies and hard core atheists alike. I don’t object to atheism; heck, I’m not sure what I believe myself half the time. I suppose I would be what one might call a “weak theist”, or, if you prefer, a deist. I do believe in the existence of a higher power of some sort, but I make no claim to know much more than that. But like yourself, I believe that most religious dogma is just so much nonsense.

    If you argue with an atheist who claims “I know god does not exist”, either you are debating a fool, or you are creating a straw man for an argument. I know of NO atheist that makes that claim, including yours truly.

    Well, I’ve met quite a number of fools in my life, both theist and atheist alike.

    Atheism does answer a metaphysical question, but the question is not “Does god exist?” . The question is “Is their sufficient evidence to believe in god?”. The answer is quite clear.

    There is more than one answer to this question, and each answer is also quite clear to its proponents. I agree it’s difficult to argue with someone who does not see a lot of evidence for god’s existence, since god, if he exists at all, hasn’t exactly gone out of his/her/its way to make his/her/its existence obvious. But on the other hand, one might very well look at the universe, at not only how complex it is, but also how improbably efficient it is, and come to the conclusion that some sort of deistic entity had a hand in it. This is not proof of course, but it could be construed as evidence. Proof and evidence are not the same thing. The point is that we can look at the same universe and come to differing, yet equally reasonable, conclusions. One possible conclusion is that a higher power was at work here.

    The real silliness comes in when one starts insisting that one knows what god wants (god is merciful, or god doesn’t like homosexuals, or god gets pissed off if you eat a hotdog on Friday). Blowing holes in religious dogma is easy. Completely dismissing the concept of some sort of higher power is not so easy.

    ‘Oh, but you can’t prove that’ you’ll say and yes, you’d be correct, but do we make stipulations like that when speaking of unicorns, leprechauns or gremlins?

    This is a variant of Russel’s “Celestial Teapot” argument, and while it remains one of the war horses of the atheist’s arsenal, it really proves nothing. Of course there are lots of silly things that the imagination of man has dreamed up over the years. And yes, you can certainly put man’s various conceptions of god in that category. Zeus, Thor, Jehovah, et. al are, just like gremlins and unicorns, clearly the product of human imagination.

    And you’re right, I can’t absolutely disprove the existence of any of those things. However, science has done a pretty good job of explaining the nature of this planet to us, so it’s a pretty safe bet that that those things don’t exist, and have never existed, because they just don’t fit into the evolutionary scheme of things on this planet. (Of course I believe in evolution.)

    Science has done a less complete job of explaining the origins of the universe. Not surprising, given that the universe is a whole heck of a lot bigger than planet Earth. For example, physicists still grapple over the question of how the universe managed to survive the first minutes of the Big Bang, when, according to the laws of physics, matter and antimatter should have canceled each other out completely and immediately.

    As it turns out, it’s been discovered that anti-matter does, in fact, deteriorate at an ever-so-slightly higher rate than matter, which explains why there is matter in the universe at all. The problem is that, even with the best models derived from experiments with particle accelerators, scientists can only account for approximately one BILLIONTH of the matter in the universe.

    So am I arguing for the abandonment of science? Of course not. Clearly, science, not religion, has taught us what we really know about the world and the universe. What I’m saying here is that, given the seemingly infinite nature of the universe, there is a certain amount of arrogance in the assumption that because something is not readily apparent to the five rather limited senses of a certain insignificant carbon based anthropoid life form, then it necessarily follows that this something cannot possibly exist.

    However, in discussing god, we are talking about something that, if it exists at all, (a big if, I grant you) must, by definition, transcend human understanding. I have no doubt that the ants in my ant farm are totally unaware of my existence, yet I am fairly sure that I exist. Thor and gremlins are analogous. The notion of god-in its purest, deistic concept-and gremlins are not. This argument is really nothing more than a red herring.

    Of course, I should also mention that the inability to disprove god’s existence is NOT a proof of god’s existence, and I do not offer it as such.

    I think the debate gets increasingly complex even without that burden of proof, and I think we do, nonetheless have a burden to account for how the universe exists without god.

    I agree. Dawkins tries to counter the “argument from design” with the anthropic principle, but fails rather badly. It is easily the weakest point in an otherwise rather well written book. His argument rests on the possibility of multiple universes, even though there is no more evidence of this than there is of god. In the end, even he is forced to grudgingly admit it’s just more speculation.

    I don’t say I’m “agnostic” about these claims. To me, and hopefully to you, they are absurd. From this, do EITHER of us say, “I KNOW that aliens are not here and doing these things”? Of course not. Not if we are true empiricists. What we do say is, based on the fact that there is a complete lack of compelling evidence for it being so, we will continue to live our lives as if it is untrue. This is EXACTLY what atheists do with god, and for EXACTLY the same reasons.

    But on the other hand, many perfectly reasonable people do believe in the existence of intelligent life on other planets, given the sheer number of planets out there, if for no other reason. There is no evidence of intelligent life elsewhere, but in this case absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Again, it is important to note that not possessing evidence is not the same thing as the evidence not existing.

    This is how I see the god question. To many perfectly reasonable people, a universe created by a higher power simply makes more sense than a universe that just somehow got to be this way because of a series of happy yet highly improbable coincidences. This hardly makes them deluded. But I see this as more of a logical debate rather than religious one, because, like most of you, I dismiss religious dogma as so many fairy tales. I’m also perfectly prepared to accept the idea that I may be wrong. Maybe it really IS just a series of happy coincidences.

    As I stated before, I do not have a problem with atheism per se, any more than I have a problem with Christianity per se. I only object to the somewhat dogmatic, know-it-all tone that extremists on both sides of this issue tend to adopt.

    Sorry to be such gasbag. I’m addicted to debating. I wish you all well. 🙂

    -smith

  39. 1) “The burden of proof is on the one who insists that others believe as they do.”

    I disagree. The burden of proof is on the one who makes a positive assertion in dialogue with another. If I say natural selection adequately accounts for creation and you disagree, then I have the burden of proof and you can poke holes. If you say god adequately accounts for creation, then you have the burden of proof and I can poke holes. If someone doesn’t care about changing anyone’s mind that’s fine, but if you want dialogue that’s the only way it works. If, on the other hand, you don’t want to assert anything and remain skeptical or contrarian, then, by all means fire away. But once you take a positive position on the origin of the universe, once you offer an alternative, you have the burden to defend it.

    2) “But on the other hand, one might very well look at the universe, at not only how complex it is, but also how improbably efficient it is, and come to the conclusion that some sort of deistic entity had a hand in it. This is not proof of course, but it could be construed as evidence.”

    I agree with your basic point here about proof versus evidence and what I have learned to call “warranted” belief. I don’t, however, think this alters the burden of proof issue, and I completely disagree about the efficiency of the universe– how “efficient” are male nipples? The human appendix? And in the words of Billy Connelly, “Farting must be a design problem. If God had meant for us to fart we’d have chimneys on our heads.” I’m kidding a bit, and I disagree with you, but I recognize people will look at the same evidence and arrive at different conclusions. Still, I think some, if not most, of the people who look at the evidence and conclude “god” are people who already WANT to believe in god, and this seriously impairs their objectivity.

    3) “What I’m saying here is that, given the seemingly infinite nature of the universe, there is a certain amount of arrogance in the assumption that because something is not readily apparent to the five rather limited senses of a certain insignificant carbon based anthropoid life form, then it necessarily follows that this something cannot possibly exist.”

    I would not call the point of view you describe “arrogant.” If anything, I would call it arrogant to claim that we, limited as all the evidence suggests to our senses, can possibly come to know such a transcendent divine being, talk to him intelligently, and get him to do favors for us. I am fully aware you don’t claim we can, but if we cannot, and if this ultra-transcendent god is inaccessible to us, then you beg the question, “Who cares?” What could the existence of such a remote, transcendent god have to do with our lives? It would almost be as if… well, he didn’t exist at all. Same goes for the ant farm– the ants at least know enough, I presume, not to pray to you, ask you to cure their sick, or ask you to help them find things they lost. For all practical purposes, the ants are “a-smithists,” right? Or at least agnostics– you may matter to them a great deal, but whether they are aware of you or not makes no difference to their ultimate fate. From their perspective, you may as well not exist. Again, how different is that from being an a-smithist? Absent hard evidence of Smith, why fault them for wanting to see more proof before they for a Smith Cult?

    4) “As I stated before, I do not have a problem with atheism per se, any more than I have a problem with Christianity per se. I only object to the somewhat dogmatic, know-it-all tone that extremists on both sides of this issue tend to adopt.”

    I dig you, Smith. You seem like a righteous, humble, open minded dude.

    5) “I’m addicted to debating. ”

    Clearly!

  40. smith said:

    As I stated before, I do not have a problem with atheism per se, any more than I have a problem with Christianity per se. I only object to the somewhat dogmatic, know-it-all tone that extremists on both sides of this issue tend to adopt.

    Far be it from me to dispute your experience with fools, so I won’t argue with your other points. You’ve obviously thought them through, and I find many areas of agreement between us. But this last comment I’d like to expand on a bit.

    I’m probably guilty of it myself sometimes, but it’s sometimes hard not to confuse the occasional dogmatic tone of atheists, with dogmatic statements. The former, I think, is brought on more from frustration than from certainty of belief. The frustration comes from dealing with people who you’d like to discuss matters with logically, reasonably and critically,and find that they want none of it. So you have to resort to telling them, dictating to them, why their beliefs are nonsense, and that can come off as dogmatic.

    It’s one thing to say that there is no god (sheer dogma) and another to say their is no evidence for god (sheer rationality). The latter said sternly, sometimes condescendingly, can appear dogmatic. It’s not.

    Ironwolf has an excellent post on his blog, about Christians who won’t admit that their beliefs are based on nothing at all. When they enter the realm of rational argument with irrational beliefs pretending to be rational, they invite dogmatic toned arguments. If they’d just say, up front, “look, I have no basis for my beliefs, I just believe” we’d all get on a lot better.

  41. “one might very well look at the universe, at not only how complex it is, but also how improbably efficient it is, and come to the conclusion that some sort of deistic entity had a hand in it. This is not proof of course, but it could be construed as evidence. Proof and evidence are not the same thing. The point is that we can look at the same universe and come to differing, yet equally reasonable, conclusions. One possible conclusion is that a higher power was at work here.”

    Explain how it’s reasonable to believe the necessity for a creator. You claim it’s reasonable, in fact just as reasonable as not seeing the need for a creator. There’s nothing reasonable about the cosmological argument in which, at an impasse, one sticks in an invention called “god” as a solution then magically this solution is proof of the existence of the invention! How is this reasonable?

    “there is a certain amount of arrogance in the assumption that because something is not readily apparent to the five rather limited senses of a certain insignificant carbon based anthropoid life form, then it necessarily follows that this something cannot possibly exist.”

    Just as we’ve already managed to extend the range of those senses via technology, perhaps we’ll one day create a god detector. Until then, as A has said, “who cares?”. If he’s not there, he might as well not be there, and we can proceed with effectively sticking him in the “not there” column.

    I’ll head over and read Ironwolf’s article now, SI. I have to say I agree with the statement that we’d all get along better if the theists would just say “look, I have no basis for my beliefs, I just believe”. This is my sticking point with what smith said above. I don’t see anything reasonable there. If however, they want to play the faith card, well so be it. It’s like some schoolyard game tagging something and yelling “safe!”. 🙂

  42. I tried to post this before, but it might have gotten caught in the spam catcher. I apologize in advance if this hits twice.

    [EDIT: It did, but I can’t figure out why. I deleted the first one. SI]

    “A” and “SI”:

    Thank you for your gracious responses to my points. Yes, I suspect that we would probably agree on more than we disagree. You have no idea how many migraine-inducing headaches I have had with the fundies. Allow me to address one point, however:

    I would not call the point of view you describe “arrogant.” If anything, I would call it arrogant to claim that we, limited as all the evidence suggests to our senses, can possibly come to know such a transcendent divine being, talk to him intelligently, and get him to do favors for us.

    I probably could have picked a better word than “arrogant”, but since WordPress does not allow for the editing of comments, I guess I’m stuck with it now. “Unwise” may have been a better word. But your point about the folly of thinking we can “know” the nature of god is well made.

    I am fully aware you don’t claim we can, but if we cannot, and if this ultra-transcendent god is inaccessible to us, then you beg the question, “Who cares?” What could the existence of such a remote, transcendent god have to do with our lives?

    That’s quite accurate. God, as a justification of one’s actions, is a dangerous and double edged sword. It is true that there have been some who have lived exemplary lives due, in part, to their religious beliefs, but it is undeniable that many odious things have been done in the name of God.

    But one may attribute the nature of this universe to a Deistic creator based on observation and deduction, while not blundering into the aforementioned folly. That’s really my only point here. But I agree with you: people who act as though they have somehow found God’s cell phone number are insufferable.

    Oh, and “A”, I happen to think you and “SI” are pretty “righteous dudes” yourself, and I couldn’t help noticing from your profile that you like poetry. I’ve been guilty of a little poetry myself, so I hope you’ll stop by and check it out sometimes.

    Sorry, had to slide that one in there. 🙂

    Regards to the both of you.

    -smith

  43. Phillychief,

    Just as some people have a need for god to exist, you seem to have a need for him NOT to. Why do you have such a hard time allowing for god as a POSSIBLE explanation of the universe, just one out of many possible explanations? Your dogmatic stance–insisting that you see NOTHING reasonable in my argument– is simply proving my original point.

    Oh, btw, I just read something rather interesting about you. You write in your profile that you believe that “the Kansas City Chiefs will once again win the Superbowl”.

    And you say I’m deluded? Clearly, you are the biggest believer in miracles and divine intervention of all if you believe THAT’S ever going to happen in your life time. Every man of sense knows that God is a New England Patriots fan.

    With tongue planted firmly in cheek, I remain,

    Very truly yours,

    Smith

  44. Smith said: “But on the other hand, many perfectly reasonable people do believe in the existence of intelligent life on other planets, given the sheer number of planets out there, if for no other reason. There is no evidence of intelligent life elsewhere, but in this case absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Again, it is important to note that not possessing evidence is not the same thing as the evidence not existing.”

    It is in the sense of defining probabilities that we call ourselves atheists. Those same probabilities can lead a reasoning person to conclude that there is likely “life out there”. That, though, is a far cry from the alien abduction stories I brought up! “Life” could well be mostly uni-cellular and totally devoid of higher intelligence. My gut tells me that there is probably now, or has been in the past, higher intelligence. I doubt we’ll ever know though.

    God is Packers fan, Smith. Satan does support your team though, and that’s good enough sometimes.

    By the way… I totally misunderstood the original tone and texture of your debate points (probably my fault). Despite that, I hope you can appreciate the tone and texture of the responses you received here. At least you now have some atheists you can talk about who could hardly be labeled “dogmatic”.

    Hey, S.I…. aren’t you glad “A” and I kept this post alive with sports talk? It ended up quite fruitfully, I think. And now come full circle for the second time as we start slamming each others football teams instead of basketball. What a world!

  45. “Just as some people have a need for god to exist, you seem to have a need for him NOT to. Why do you have such a hard time allowing for god as a POSSIBLE explanation of the universe, just one out of many possible explanations? Your dogmatic stance–insisting that you see NOTHING reasonable in my argument– is simply proving my original point.”

    What I need smith, is for people to stop presenting inventions as facts and then dancing around like children saying “you can’t disprove god” with an annoying little nyah nyah lilt. The god of the gaps, the baroque contortions of logic, the perpetual moving of the goal posts and everything else associated with trying to make an invention held aloft by faith as either fact or worthy of faith is ridiculous and is as far from reasonable as you can get.

    Now I’d like you to reread what I wrote the last time because I did not say I saw nothing reasonable in your argument. What I said was I don’t see how the necessity for a creator is reasonable so I especially can’t see how you can call that and not needing a creator “equally reasonable”.

    As for my comment on the Chiefs, I didn’t say when they’d once again win the Superbowl, did I? I may be deluded sir, but you need to start reading things a bit more carefully. 😉

  46. I agree that if atheists sound dogmatic or closed minded those traits result from dogmatism about the rules of the debate and our desire to find some common ground for a discussion.

    For instance, Phillychief’s frustration over “nyah, nyah” and SI’s railing against some theists’ refusal to acknowledge that they don’t know, the just believe on faith. I’m hoping to check out Ironwolf’s post soon.

    But I’m really only writing this so I can say the following:

    As a Jets fan, I know enough to lay off of football for the time being. As a Mets fan, I know better than to believe in god. As a Knick fan, at least our prodigal point guard turned up again.

    Hope springs eternal.

  47. the baroque contortions of logic

    Hey! You stole that from A. I wanted to steal it first.

    On this whole, is some belief in a deistic creator reasonable, thing, while I personally am not a deist, I can see how it might be reasonable for an individual to look at the universe, and posit some form of a creator. That doesn’t make it true, and in my opinion, is an abrogation of human intellectual responsibility to think things through.

    I’m not sure it’s legitimate to simply “look” at something, and then come to a conclusion. Theists “look” at the night sky, and conclude a creator, simply because their emotions take over and they are struck with shock and awe and wonder, reason subsequently becomes short circuited, and they allow their gut to come to their conclusions. Is that reasonable? One might argue, not in the sense of the definition of the word “reason”, because clearly they aren’t reasoning things to logical conclusions. But is it reasonable in the sense that it’s human nature to do so? Then I’d say yes. I certainly can’t fault humans for being human.

    But really, it then becomes a matter of semantics. We’re arguing over words, not ideas. I’m more concerned with the truth of the proposition, and getting hung up on whether atheists argue dogmatically or not is a distraction from the essential question – is what we are arguing about true?

  48. As for my comment on the Chiefs, I didn’t say when they’d once again win the Superbowl, did I? I may be deluded sir, but you need to start reading things a bit more carefully. 😉

    Just bustin’ ya pal, just bustin ya. Remember, I’m a Red Sox fan. We believe in miracles because we lived through one in 2004. 🙂

    -smith

  49. I stole it first. Nyah nyah. 😉

    Yes, I find it reasonable that people will do something unreasonable like take the sense of awe they get in their guts looking at the universe and form the “truthiness” that there must be a god; however, I don’t see how the reasonableness of expecting unreasonableness makes the unreasonableness reasonable.

    Too bad A that the “Mangenius” doesn’t seem to be the messiah Jets’ fans thought. I have mixed feelings about Herm of course, but Chiefs’ fans give him some slack because we know the root of our problems is our awful GM who cares more about being just good enough to put butts in the seats and turn a profit than building a champion.

  50. I don’t see how the reasonableness of expecting unreasonableness makes the unreasonableness reasonable.

    It’s too early in the morning to try to figure this out without coffee. Isn’t there something in the WordPress spam filters that would have blocked this before noon, or something? Gotta check the manual. 😉

  51. “It’s too early in the morning to try to figure this out without coffee.” I hear ya. I just had my second cup and I’m even having trouble with “Too bad A that the “Mangenius” doesn’t seem to be the messiah Jets’ fans thought.”

    Which brings me to a request I’ve been meaning to make:

    “A” – can we run a name vote on your pseudonym like we did on mine? It’s difficult to use “A” in a comment. How about “Einstein’s Tongue” or “Memester”?

  52. Maybe before I leave town for Thanksgiving, or just after I get back, I will put up a “Name Me” poll.

    I’m open for nominations if anyone has them. Perhaps A-Theist? Or A–hole?

  53. Too bad A that the “Mangenius” doesn’t seem to be the messiah Jets’ fans thought.

    Mangenius? Mangina is more like it. Or, as he is known here in New England, “Rib Boy”. I can’t wait until the next time the Jets play the Patriots. Only divine intervention will prevent that slaughter. Come to think of it, if the Jets do beat the Patriots, that will incontrovertible proof of the existence of God. 🙂

    I have mixed feelings about Herm of course, but Chiefs’ fans give him some slack because we know the root of our problems is our awful GM who cares more about being just good enough to put butts in the seats and turn a profit than building a champion.

    There’s nothing worse than being a fan of a team owned by people who don’t “get it”. We’re fortunate here in Mass. since three out of our four major sports teams are owned by people who do indeed “get it”. Unfortunately, the Bruins are owned by Jeremy Jacobs, who, like your Chiefs’ owner, is only interested in how much beer he can sell.

    -smith

  54. I’m open for nominations if anyone has them. Perhaps A-Theist? Or A–hole?

    You’re being a little hard on yourself, dude. I thought you were a pretty nice guy.

    Y’know, for an atheist. 😉

    -smith

  55. A –

    I don’t like either of those either. Let me give some thought and I’ll give you a suggestion for the poll. YOU give it some thought too!!

  56. Thus spake Phillychief:

    What I need smith, is for people to stop presenting inventions as facts and then dancing around like children saying “you can’t disprove god” with an annoying little nyah nyah lilt.

    Who’s doing that? Certainly not I.

    If you recall, my original comment was: “For some reason it bothers atheists to point out that atheism, like theism, offers an answer to a metaphysical question, and which it claims is correct.”

    And here you, acting all bothered, thereby proving my point. Please remember that I was making a point about (some) atheists, not about god. Believe or disbelieve in god as you will. It doesn’t matter to me. I respect your right to believe whatever you want, as long as you respect my right to the same.

    You also said:

    Now I’d like you to reread what I wrote the last time because I did not say I saw nothing reasonable in your argument.

    Which is factually incorrect because you had previously stated:

    This is my sticking point with what smith said above. I don’t see anything reasonable there.

    If you don’t feel I’ve written anything reasonable, I suppose it’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. But when you accuse me of being “irrational” just because I postulate the existence of a higher power as a POSSIBLE explanation for why the universe is the way it is, even though I stress that it’s just one out MANY possible explanations, it’s just like when the Christian fundie tells me I’m damned because I haven’t accepted Jesus as my savior.

    To which you may reply: “it’s okay for me to be this way because I know I’m right”, but strangely, that is exactly what the Christian would say.

    I’m not trying to pick a fight with you, dude, I’m really not. But I feel compelled to point out to you that, unlike some of the other bloggers who have responded to my comments, your stubborn insistence on the absolute correctness of your beliefs simply makes you a mirror image of the fundies I’m sure you despise, and therefore you validate my original point.

    -smith

  57. smith,

    Seriously dude, slow down, deep breaths, reeeead, don’t skim.

    1) I said GM, as in General Manager, not owner. The owner Lamar Hunt (you know, the guy who created the AFL, coined the term “Superbowl”, has that trophy named after him, arguably changed football forever, you know, THAT guy) passed away last year but his sons maintain ownership of the team and the stadium.

    2) Did I say YOU were inventing gods and nyah nyah-ing? No, you just find people doing that to be reasonable. LOL

    3) Alright, maybe the “above” was ambiguous. I was referring to the bit I quoted at the start of that post, which was above. You thought I meant above as your entire post. Nope. Although not as clear as I could have been, I would think the fact that I singled out that one quote, made a point about that one thing, then made the “above” remark responding to SI’s comment about theists just having faith would be clear enough that I was referring to just that one quote. I even said (and you quoted) “sticking point”, as in one, the one thing. Seriously, if I thought your whole post made no sense, why would I just quote that one part? I’d systematically quote and dissect every nook and cranny of your post then. But hey, alright, “above” was too ambiguous. Fine.

    4) Help me out boss, can you quote the part where I called you irrational?

    As for the rest of what you posted, yowza! In the timeless words of Sgt Hulka, “Lighten up, Francis”. Yes, I question how you can see someone’s necessity for a creator as being reasonable. So instead of perhaps explaining why you find that reasonable you go on an emotional rant, bring up christians who spout dogma and than presto-chango magically I’m just like a dogmatic christians. Nice. Is this what passes for philosophizing up in yaw pawts? Wicked awesome.

    It’s real simple. You asserted that it’s reasonable to think there’s a god. I said it isn’t. Balls in your court. Go.

    Sadly up until now you’ve not defended your assertion, you’ve casted disparaging remarks towards me for not accepting your assertion, misrepresented my comments and now have the nerve to say I’m the one proving your original point. Oh there’s someone here proving your original point alright. You’ve certainly learned something from when the christian fundies told you you’re damned because you haven’t accepted their magic man, but sadly it’s not what you should have learned. Extra nice touch is the “I’m not trying to pick a fight with you, dude”. That’s a page right out of the christian playbook, present the peace and love which belies the truth of your actions.

  58. As for the rest of what you posted, yowza! In the timeless words of Sgt Hulka, “Lighten up, Francis”. Yes, I question how you can see someone’s necessity for a creator as being reasonable. So instead of perhaps explaining why you find that reasonable you go on an emotional rant, bring up christians who spout dogma and than presto-chango magically I’m just like a dogmatic christians. Nice. Is this what passes for philosophizing up in yaw pawts? Wicked awesome.

    Wow. And you say I’M the one who needs to lighten up? For heaven’s sake, I was trying to show you a little sympathy with your Chiefs, and you can’t even accept that from me!

    As far as the whole god thing goes, I’m only going to say this one more time because this has gotten tedious: my original point was about how some atheists get their panties in a bunch at the mere suggestion that a god might exist in some form or another–and here you are with your panties in a serious bunch.

    Do you realize that you have a remarkable faculty for making my point for me while simultaneously missing it altogether? No, obviously you don’t.

    Theism really has nothing to do with this. My comment could just as easily have been made BY an atheist, if you think about it.

    (sighs) The prosecution rests, M’Lud.

    -smith

  59. Ah, the “I know your are but what am I” retort. Classic.

    I’ll say this one more time because this has gotten tedious: It’s real simple. You asserted that it’s reasonable to think there’s a god. I said it isn’t. Balls in your court. Go.

    If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you purposely incite people by making claims you refuse to substantiate then use the inevitable frustration of your audience as some cockamamey “proof” of your point.

    btw, you didn’t like my Bostonese? I thought it was funny. F-ickin wee-id. Oh well.

  60. btw, you didn’t like my Bostonese? I thought it was funny. F-ickin wee-id. Oh well.

    No, no, no. You’ve almost got it, but not quite. It’s “f*ckin’ wee-uhd”.

    But that’s a tricky one. Try something easier. Start with “wikkid hahd”, as in, “being a Jets fan is wikkid hahd.”

    Next, you can progress to something more idiomatic, like the classic “wikkid pissuh”, as in, “the Red Sox are World Champions; it’s wikkid pissuh”. “Pahk the cah in Hahvud Yahd:, while cliched, is another helpful exercise.

    Finally, after a little practice, you can put it all together: “I pahked my cah in front of the bah, went inside and smoked a cigah, and I met this girl, who got me wikkid hahd”.

    Come, Phillychief, come, join us over hee-uh at the dahk side. Wee-uh all waitin’ for yuh: me, God, Satan, and Bill Belichick. It’ll be fun.

    In fact, it’ll be wikkid pissuh! 8)

    -smith

  61. Man, 68 people and counting all arguing with you! I gotta figure out how to draw that sort of contentious audience. I need to pick way way more fights!

    murderofravens ““For some reason it bothers atheists to point out that atheism, like theism, offers an answer to a metaphysical question, and which it claims is correct.”

    Murder: it bothers us because we think your claim is wrong. Theism provides a particular answer to a metaphysical question (well, it’s debatable in my mind whether it actually provides an answer, but at the very least it claims to, and that’s what matters for the definition). Atheism is being someone who doesn’t happen to, for whatever reason, accept that particular answer, end of story. That’s not to say that atheists don’t have, as individuals, all sorts of opinions on metaphysics. But there isn’t an atheist metaphysic. It’s instead just a catch-all category for “what ain’t theism.”

    If you take the mere fact that people disagree with you, or even get worked up when arguing with you about something, as proof that you’re correct, you’re picked a very very unreliable epistemology I’m afraid. 🙂

  62. I should have added that those atheists do have to defend their particular metaphysical assertions if they make them, and it is true that too often some atheists don’t understand the particulars of the burden of proof, thinking that it shields any anti-god claim from scrutiny, when in fact it only shields skepticism.

    This is why I don’t go in for the “God doesn’t exist just like unicorns don’t exist” stuff. In fact, I don’t even really go in for the “unicorns don’t exist” stuff. Claiming things like that isn’t just technically sketchy, it’s also perfectly unnecessary. “You have given me no good reason to think they exist” does the job quite nicely, has the same desired effect (i.e. we don’t bother believing that unicorns exist without evidence), and doesn’t put us in a pickle if it turns out that, in fact, against all seeming evolutionary odds, they do.

  63. Man, 68 people and counting all arguing with you! I gotta figure out how to draw that sort of contentious audience. I need to pick way way more fights!

    Your envy is palpable. 😉

    Bad, my ancient nemesis: we meet again! How many blogs does this make? Where the hell did you drop from, anyway? (using “hell” in its metaphorical sense, of course). But you’re right: I am a horrid man at heart. 😉

    murderofravens ““For some reason it bothers atheists to point out that atheism, like theism, offers an answer to a metaphysical question, and which it claims is correct.”

    Murder: it bothers us because we think your claim is wrong.

    Fair enough.

    Theism provides a particular answer to a metaphysical question (well, it’s debatable in my mind whether it actually provides an answer, but at the very least it claims to, and that’s what matters for the definition). Atheism is being someone who doesn’t happen to, for whatever reason, accept that particular answer, end of story. That’s not to say that atheists don’t have, as individuals, all sorts of opinions on metaphysics. But there isn’t an atheist metaphysic. It’s instead just a catch-all category for “what ain’t theism.”

    But it all still boils down to: I believe a supreme being exists somewhere out there, and you don’t. We’re both making statements about the universe, neither of which can be conclusively proven through empirical observation. Now, before you get your knickers in a twist, read my comment to the bottom. I may surprise you. 😉

    If you take the mere fact that people disagree with you, or even get worked up when arguing with you about something, as proof that you’re correct, you’re picked a very very unreliable epistemology I’m afraid. :).

    Actually, considering the consistency with which they get worked up, I’d say so far it’s been pretty reliable. 😉 And in any event, it’s proof that I’m correct about (some) atheists, which has been my point all along, but certainly not proof that I’m correct about god. But then, I never claimed I was. (correct about god, that is).

    I should have added that those atheists do have to defend their particular metaphysical assertions if they make them, and it is true that too often some atheists don’t understand the particulars of the burden of proof, thinking that it shields any anti-god claim from scrutiny, when in fact it only shields skepticism.

    In this we agree entirely.

    This is why I don’t go in for the “God doesn’t exist just like unicorns don’t exist” stuff. In fact, I don’t even really go in for the “unicorns don’t exist” stuff. Claiming things like that isn’t just technically sketchy, it’s also perfectly unnecessary. “You have given me no good reason to think they exist” does the job quite nicely, has the same desired effect (i.e. we don’t bother believing that unicorns exist without evidence), and doesn’t put us in a pickle if it turns out that, in fact, against all seeming evolutionary odds, they do.

    Another excellent point. Here’s something I think we’ll agree on: It’s like the “you can’t prove there’s no gold in China” argument. The reasonable reply is: “maybe I can’t prove there’s no gold in China, but, given the paucity of evidence to support that claim, I will not spend millions of dollars on a gold mining expedition. But I’ll concede the point and agree that, yes, MAYBE there is gold in China. Just don’t ask me to open my wallet to prove it.”

    This is, I think, how most atheists view the god question. Given the paucity of evidence (a point I readily concede) you just aren’t prepared to live your life as though he does, or even might, exist. Have I got it right?

    It’s just that as someone who could best be described as an agnostic Deist, I sometimes feel like I’m fighting a two front war. The fundies tell me I’m damned, and the atheists tell me I’m deluded. Frankly, I feel like I’m neither. As John Lennon once wrote, “It gets on my tit!”. 😉

    Nice to see you again, Bad. Be well.

    -smith

  64. “But it all still boils down to: I believe a supreme being exists somewhere out there, and you don’t. We’re both making statements about the universe, neither of which can be conclusively proven through empirical observation.”

    No twisted panties, but as stated, still wrong I think. THe key point is that “I don’t believe in God” is not a statement about the universe: it’s a statement about the contents of my head, nothing more, nothing less. You got the god belief, I don’t got it. God belief is, perhaps, a statement about the universe (if you’re talking a deistic-scale universe creating God and not the like, temporal the God of hedgehogs <–reference to an excellent comic series: anyone? anyone?), but not having god belief isn’t a statement about anyone other than the person who doesn’t have it.

    “Actually, considering the consistency with which they get worked up, I’d say so far it’s been pretty reliable. ”

    Or that you’re consistently exasperating on this topic, which is the alternative that makes the epistemology so troublesome! 🙂

  65. Wow: murderofravens had just clued me into splogging, and lo and behold, a splogg trackbacks here that for some insane reason saw fit to splogg my comment about messing up my html! And on a blog rather in-aptly called “Learn Spanish” no less.

    I do pity the poor sucker who clicks on the “read more of this blog post” link only to realize that the “excerpt” was, in fact, my complete expression of wisdom.

    Really breaks down the 4th wall of splogging, though.

  66. THe key point is that “I don’t believe in God” is not a statement about the universe: it’s a statement about the contents of my head, nothing more, nothing less.

    Alright, I’ll give you that one. Of course, it can just as easily be said that “I believe in God” is also merely a statement about my head.

    Or that you’re consistently exasperating on this topic, which is the alternative that makes the epistemology so troublesome!

    But as my “gold in China” comment demonstrates, I am at least willing to try to see the other side’s point of view.

    Wow: murderofravens had just clued me into splogging, and lo and behold, a splogg trackbacks here that for some insane reason saw fit to splogg my comment about messing up my html!

    God moves in mysterious ways. 😉 Btw, I did give you a real link on my blog tonight. God knows why. I must be a glutton for punishment. 😉

    -smith

  67. “it can just as easily be said that “I believe in God” is also merely a statement about my head.”

    It possibly could be said, but nowhere near as easily. A belief is an verb that implies an action, and that action IS generally understood as, itself, the act of making a claim about, in this case, part of the fundamental nature of the whole gosh darn universe.

    “God moves in mysterious ways. 😉 Btw, I did give you a real link on my blog tonight. God knows why. I must be a glutton for punishment. ;)”

    I dunno though: (sarcasm) I may abandon my old blog altogether now that, according to “Learn Spanish” I have all these new “blogs” in people’s comment sections. I’m going to be awful busy! (/sarcasm)

  68. This splogging thing is geting annoying. It’s bad enough I have to look at all the spam and delete it (or save misdirected comments) but this “learn Spanish” thing is only being recognized as spam about half the time. PITA

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