The Reason/Belief Disconnect

You’ve seen this before. Something good happens, and the recipient thanks god. This, despite the fact that the recipient has had nothing but bad luck up to that point.

I saw this yesterday in a front page article in my local paper. Leonard Wansley was killed back in 1994. He offered a ride to a man he didn’t know, and for the favor, he was stabbed forty times and left in a creek. Before he died, he struggled with his attacker, apparently causing the man to leave DNA evidence in his car. The case remained unsolved until this week.

In 1990, the FBI started a pilot program eventually known as the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, for short, a database in which resided DNA samples from unsolved crimes. The year Leonard was killed, Congress passed a law which expanded the pilot program nationwide, and the DNA evidence from Leonard’s murder was entered into it, and sat there until Rafael Jesus Rios Sr, a now 33 year old man from New York, was convicted of an unrelated crime, and, as mandated under the law, was required to give DNA samples for testing against the FBI database. He did, and they got a hit, and when confronted with the evidence, he confessed to the crime. Another unsolved mystery solved.

Leonard’s 91 year old mother was happy. She could now rest, knowing her son’s death would be avenged by the state criminal authorities.

Meanwhile, despite years of waiting for answers to her son’s murder, Annie Mae Wansley said she never lost hope.

“I said the Lord would take care of it,” she said. “And I guess he did.”

I’m sure Mrs. Wansley is a very nice woman, and she didn’t deserve to have her son taken from her in such a gruesome manner. She is obviously a religious woman, because she gives credit to her god for finally bringing some semblance of justice for her son. I certainly have no intention of taking that away from her, or the sense of happiness it engenders. I mention her case as an example, however, of the clear disconnect between religious thinking and critical, rational, scientific thinking.

It was the DNA evidence that broke the case. It was the efforts of intelligent, clear thinking individuals who recognized that compiling a database of DNA samples from unsolved crimes just might help move them into the solved column. It was science, going back to the discoveries of Watson and Crick, and the technological advances in DNA analysis that culminated in the authorities securing the computer generated match, yet who gets the credit from his mother? God.

Someone needs to explain to me where god was when Mr. Rios was plunging his knife forty times into Mrs. Wansley’s son . Perhaps they could explain to me why he didn’t show up then, and maybe deflect the knife a bit? Or how about when the police first started investigating the murder after his body was found? Why didn’t god make sure the murderer was just a little sloppier, perhaps by leaving his wallet with identification at the scene?

In short, why do humans, using science, do all the work, and god gets the credit? Is it because Mrs. Wansley prayed every day for them to find her son’s killer? Maybe, but, if so, why did she have to pray every day for 13 years, before god finally listened? Were the circuits to heaven’s Answer Line overloaded for 13 years? Or perhaps, as many Christians like to claim, the answer was a resounding “no” for 13 years, until, like a parent who finally gives in to a badgering child, god finally threw up his hands and said, “Alright, already. Here’s some DNA to match. Now leave me alone!”

It seems that many people are more inclined to attribute unexpected good fortune, not to the efforts of their fellow humans, but to their particular guardian angel, or whatever supernatural entity they look to to help them when they feel impotent in matters of the world. This is the same sense that drives beliefs in pseudoscience, such as homeopathy, astrology, ESP, etc. They may contract a relatively incurable disease, like cancer, which statistically will go into remission on its own on occasion, but if it does, it’s considered a “miracle”, personally delivered by god, to his faithful servant, rather than the more likely, yet rare, act of nature it clearly is.

This is known as confirmation bias. Religious thinking, where the existence of an all powerful, omni-benevolent god is presumed, expects that the good things we experience, especially the rare ones, are the result of supernatural intervention. It is the rarity of the event that allows people to expect that there is no rational, material explanation, and hence it must be an act of god. Good things that happen every day, like making a green light when you’re in a hurry, or finding the item you want to purchase is on sale, are not usually attributed to acts of god (though I’m sure some fervent believers are inclined to do so). Once indoctrinated, (or infected) with the religious presuppositions, one is biased to expect that good things only come from god, so when they do, their bias is confirmed.

Back to Mr. Wansley, human effort, not supernatural intervention, has brought a criminal to justice, one who would probably have escaped that justice otherwise. DNA testing has changed the face of law enforcement.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if god had thought to tell us about DNA when the Bible was written?

49 thoughts on “The Reason/Belief Disconnect

  1. There’s a conversation in The Sparrow — which I know you’re reading — that poses this very question. Why do doctors get blamed when a patient dies, but god is thanked when a patient is cured?

    I often wonder how survivors of natural disasters can bring themselves to thank god when their next-door neighbors have been killed. Why don’t they get pissed off at god for destroying their community? Nah, that’s the devil’s doing. God just didn’t get there quick enough to rescue everyone.

  2. Great post. A Veritable Plethora had a post in a similar vein at Thanksgiving.

    While I was in Florida visiting in-laws, we went to Blue Springs State Park to watch the Manatees. The state has a shoestring budget for the parks. A goup of underpaid rangers and volunteers staff a manatee monitering program which includes counting the animals and looking for sickness or injury. While we were at the park, a rescue van from SeaWorld showed up with about 20 vounteer divers along with paid staff to rescue an injured manatee. The rescue itself was unsuccessful. Like cats, manatees do not like to be herded and the injured manatee was last seen (buoy attached) heading up the St. Johns River. But while we were watching the preparations, I overheard a woman say, “Thank god that with the lord’s guidance they knew one was injured.” I wanted to say, “No, thanks to the underpaid professionals and unpaid volunteers, as well as the (mostly) progressive conservation community, they knew one was injured.” I didn’t. Sigh.

    I was at a forest fire in Salmon, Idaho (the Clear Creek Fire in Salmon-Challis National Forest) back in 2000. The fire was about 120,000 acres when I arrived as an SEC2 (Security Specialist Level 2 (that means I don’t carry a gun)). The fire was also growing by about 2,000 to 5,000 acres per day. It was threatening the water supply for the city of Salmon. The Forest Service contracted for about 15 feller-grabbers (logging vehicles which can cut a tree down, grab the tree and pile them out of the way (picuture the tree-cutting machine from the “Lorax”)) to build the ‘Custer’ line (so-called because it was the last stand before Salmon lost its water supply). I worked traffic control for 34 hours strait to help get them up the mountain (lowboys and switchbacks are a bad combination). During the two weeks I was there, one man died of a heart attack and there were at least five injuries (mostly orhopaedic) requiring evacuation. When the line on top of the mountain held, what did the mayor say? You guessed it. “Thank god the fire was stopped.” Um. How about, “Thanks to the 3,500 firefighters and support personel who stopped the fire.

    Unfortunately, the examply you give here is just one of millions of cases where people do the work, make the discoveries, volunteer time, take lower paying jobs out of love for the work, or sacrifice personally to do something, and then the invisible guy up in the sky gets the credit. Is god really that desperate for attention that he takes credit of the work of mere humans?

    Sorry for the long post. Occupational hazard.

  3. EX.

    Yes, I remember that, and it’s one of the reasons why I still can’t figure out where the book’s coming from – skepticism or dogma? Maybe I’ll know when I finish it.

    Billy

    Long posts are welcome. You do them well.

    Of course, I don’t believe god takes credit for anything, because he doesn’t exist. But humans sure are plenty eager to give him the credit, aren’t they?

  4. God’s a psychopathic narcissist. Humans like that in their gods. The real question is what’s god gonna do when humans shortly scrub themselves from the face of the earth? Is he well supplied with mirrors? Does he have other planets of idiots to mess with?

    And Billy, you should’ve said that thing to that woman. I did. The dame’s mouth flapped a couple of times, nothing came out, and she walked away looking quite confused. I recommend the experience to all atheists. And I have yet to be struck down by godly lightning.

  5. And there might some intellectual fruit to be picked from the question as to why humans created a god who’s a psychopathic narcissist.

  6. “Of course, I don’t believe god takes credit for anything, because he doesn’t exist. But humans sure are plenty eager to give him the credit, aren’t they?”

    The part about god taking credit was an attempt at tongue-in-cheek humour. But I do think, based on evidence from conversations with others, that many of the people giving god credit actually believe that god is taking the credit.

  7. Ric:

    Part of me would like to go back and tear her a new one. Watching her confusion would be good. Unfortunately I am not the world’s most assertive person (my dad has said that I have the most unassertive writing style on earth (and I think he is correct)) and I tend to eschew confrontations.

    Just curious. What were the circumstances under which you tore her a new one?

  8. Remember also the impact that a positive affirmation of belief has. If something of a long-shot happens (the doctor says this patient will die, people pray, the patient lives) it is never forgotten. The story is repeated over and over by all of the parties involved – sometimes even the Doc! But when the doctor says “death”, people pray, and death occurs, then the “will of god” is invoked and all of the sincere prayers are quickly forgotten. It’s a no-lose situation for the theist.

    SI said: I certainly have no intention of taking that away from her, or the sense of happiness it engenders.

    Don’t worry, Bud. I have it on good authority that she is a frequent reader of A Whore in the Temple of Reason and The Meme Pool, but she hates the Spanish Inquisitor and never stops by here.

  9. Billy said:

    “I do think, based on evidence from conversations with others, that many of the people giving god credit actually believe that god is taking the credit.”

    I would add that many of the people giving god credit believe that they are required to do so. The omni-benevolent deity does not look kindly on those who fail to acknowledge him as the source of all their blessings. This deity appears to suffer from either narcissism or a serious lack of self-esteem.

  10. I used to have no problem with people arbitrarily thanking their god for human accomplishments. I thought those people were ridiculous, but, theoretically, they didn’t hurt me.

    But then I started realizing that I did have a problem with those people. They were the very ones who were trying to prevent further human accomplishments — because science conflicts with what their imaginary “god” has “told” them.

    I’m thinking, now, of (1) stem-cell research, and (2) work being done to anticipate the way deadly germs are likely to evolve. But I’m sure that in the future the pious will have negative reactions to other scientific advances.

    That’s probably why we should go out of our way to correct them when they show their gratitude to their god for results that were attained by good, solid science.

  11. SI, you list many questions in this post that you deserve to have the answers to. I’m not good at citing the actual Scriptures they come form, but that probably wouldn’t impress you anyway.

    First, you said that God didn’t solve this case, but DNA did. But since God created man, He created DNA. So without God, the DNA evidence, and the work of scientists, would not be possible.

    You asked where God was during the murder, why he did not stop it from happening. As we see throughout history, God does not generally intervene in these kinds of situations. Since He gave us free will, it is up to us to make our own and decisions and deal with the judgment that is to come. Fortunately, we have the ultimate gift of Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins so that all of us, even Mr. Rios, can be forgiven.

    You asked why people use Science and God gets the credit. God has given us all science and all scientific discoveries. Man has not invented any part of science, only discovered it. We didn’t invent nuclear energy, it was there all the time waiting for us to figure out how to utilize it (and then our free will causes us to turn it into bombs. Go figure for a broken, disconnected people). We didn’t invent DNA, it was always there waiting for use to discover and use.

    You asked why God waited 13 years to answer the prayers of the mother of the victim, and why it took so long. Being timeless, God’s time schedule is not the same as ours, and faith requires respecting that. But even if Rios was never caught, he could not escape the judgment at the end of life.

    As for miraculous healing, I will agree with you that some diseases such as cancer do go into remission on their own, and not just for Christians or religious people. But I challenge to explain other miracles that science simply cannot explain. One of the members of my church is a survivor of TERMINAL brain cancer. He was given just months to live, and that was about 5 years ago. When the doctors did the final MRI before attempting to operate, the tumor was GONE. Not in remission, but gone. The doctors openly said they have no logical explanation, it can only be explained through faith.

    In closing, I noticed in your about you section that you said you read a number of books on this subject. I would encourage you to read The Case for God, The Case for Christ, or anything by Billy Graham. I would also encourage you to find a non-denominational, Bible believing, grace filled church that doesn’t just preach to it’s members but teaches them as well. Discovering the love of God and understanding the sacrifice of His Son has been the greatest gift of my life. I encourage you to not give up hope, and will pray for your eyes to be opened to the greatest love of all.

  12. For every unexplained phenomena (or what looks like such) that is beyond the capacity for mere humans to understand because of the massivity or sheer complexity of a situation that one cannot comprehend, there is a god behind it all. As well, fear and the unknown promote the hope of one’s mental stability by reaching for something that can provide relief; god is there. The kernel of of controversy to all of this is not the above hopefullness of relief, it is the after product of expectation from one human to another and the condemnation of things that don’t add up in the god column of reason. Throwing gas onto that fire is the misrepresentation of facts done purposely by those who know better to scare people into making unreasonable decisions such as stem cell therapy bans, to keep the masses in line. It is from that veiw point that the road to hell in lined with good intentions by those who fall for these control points and deception to form strong opinons that prevent the further evolution of human through the time we are given (which is short). We look for a light like moths to a flame and use the mysticism of man to keep myths alive, and although colorful, they are detrimental to our ultimate survival. So the quaint becomes dangerous, the innocuous-harmful. Yet we all have a spirit that drives us, an energy that one cannot deny and in the quest to understand the essence of who we are we open a Pandora’s box that has something for everyone.

  13. men4god said: “The doctors openly said they have no logical explanation, it can only be explained through faith.”

    This is exactly the sort of either/or argument that is used repeatedly by those attempting to force an authoritarian world view upon the people of the world. That is right up there with: if you don’t support the president, you support the terrorists; or, if you don’t support the president’s right to spy on Americans without a warrant, you want the terrorists to win. Straw man arguments do not stand up. Ever.

    Had the doctors been truly open minded, I could picture the quote as, “The doctors openly said they have no logical explanation, it can only mean that there are still things researchers have not discovered about cancer, the human brain, and the immune system.”

    You also say, “I encourage you to not give up hope . . ” What, in Spanish Inquisitor’s writings, or any of the writings by rationalists on this or any other atheist site, gives you the idea that atheists are without hope? I dare you, I double dog dare you, to show that atheists do not have hope. But you must do it through reason, scientific method, evidence, and reproducible results. Saying that a 1800 year old (or 1600, 800, 400, 100 (depending on the translataion and version)) religious tract (that went through so many edits that scholars have a hard time finding out what it originally said) or modern writing by a 20th century religious authoritarian supports you view does not work. At least, it will not work for me.

    I also note that you fall back on the old ‘who are we to understand the ways of the lord’ and ‘the lord has a different sense of time’ canards. The point is, if the phsyical reality can be fully (or even mostly) explained through rational thought, why invent a supernatural being as a creator?

  14. At one point during the Tet offensive in 1968 my unit was in real trouble. A fellow in my section was terrified (he was not alone) and almost totally non-functional. He called to his mother, also not an unusual thing, I heard the same thing from both sides, and we finally fought our way out and this young man fell to his knees. Pretty easy, because one or the other of us, usually me, had to shove or drag him along or move him out of the way he was so loop legged.

    I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a personal relationship with Gaia, but he fell to his knees and yelled, “Thank you God! Praise Jesus for saving my life!”

    Huh!!??

    I hold nothing against anyone for being afraid, even indulging their superstition in situations of extremity, but I heard him calling for his mother, no mention of any deity, and yet, he gave credit somewhere he had not sought. Just something I’ve wondered about for decades, how he justified it.

  15. Billy: I can’t remember what the particulars of the incident were. It was something minor a long time ago. I suspect I was not in a good mood, but the result was mood-altering. 🙂

    men4god: Not to be rude, but bwahahahahahahahahaha. You’ve really got to be smarter than that to hang around this neighborhood. But of course the people around here won’t beat the crap out of you, figuratively speaking, but you won’t get away with spewing nonsense at them either. Some will even argue politely with you. Waste of time, I always say. I’m just not as nice or as tolerant as these folk. …. I just reread your post to make sure I wanted to say what I’ve said. Yup, I do. In fact I’m going out into the back yard now, or as soon as I take my Nyquil and blow my nose, and burn some bibles, stomp on a few crucifixes, and make some comments at least as irrational as yours. Should be a good time for all. Yowsah!

  16. Billy: There was another time when a middle-aged man and a woman came to my door. The woman started talking about how beautiful the world was, blah blah blah, and of course she was heading down the road to selling me god stuff. I interrupted her and told her I was an atheist and she was wasting her time. She said “Oh, I’m sorry.” I said I wasn’t. She couldn’t come up with anything to say then. Her husband was standing behind her and I swear he was on the verge of busting up laughing at that point. I suspect he didn’t dare though. That was a good day.

  17. Ric:

    I love it.

    When I was in high school, I had major knee surgery (not that I was a real good linebacker anyway). I was home for three weeks after getting out of the hospital (by the way, morphine doesn’t kill the pain, you just don’t care about the pain) and one day, there was a knock at the door. I was so desperately bored that talking to a stranger actually sounded good (this was pre-cable (which shows how old I am)). I opened the door to my first experience with Seventh Day Adventists insanity.

    I listened to their schpeale for about five minutes. Then I caught something they said: “We believe in living the way the early christians did.”

    I interruped them. “You realize that many of the the early christians lived in small, communistic communities?” Before they could respond to that, I pounced. I began berating them, asking them how, in Reagan’s America, they could go door-to-door espousing the most evil -ism of all, communism. I ranted for a good 90 seconds, said “Thank you for your time” (my mom insisted that, even while insulting someone, I should be polite) and shut the door. The look on their faces was worth the pain of going to the door and back.

    As I shut the door, I heard one of them say that I will accept god, and I will ask god to forgive this sin.

    Now, keep in mind I was sixteen. A kid. At the time, if they had asked, I would have described myself as a generalized theist.

    I remember bits and pieces of their sales pitch, but I really don’t remember any reason included. It was all belief.

  18. men4god

    Thank you for at least attempting to refute what I said. That takes a certain amount of courage, especially on a blog like this. I was all ready to pick your statements apart, but I can tell (and I agree with Ric) that it would be a waste of time to do a point-by-point, because I’m sure your mind is firmly rooted. However, I must say one thing.

    You do realize, don’t you (having read my post) that when I ask what looks like a rhetorical question about why would god allow certain things to happen, or why wouldn’t he tell us about DNA, what I’m really saying is that there is no such entity as the god you envision (or any other for that matter) and the fact that he would allow a murder, and then take credit for the belated discovery of the murderer, actually is very good, almost irrefutable evidence that he doesn’t exist.

    So when you answer my rhetorical questions with explanations of how god created DNA and gave us free will and all the other blah blah blah, you are assuming that which I’m inferring doesn’t exist – god. That makes your answers to my questions circular. In effect you’re saying god exists because he exists. As Ric noted, that just won’t work here.

    But thanks for trying.

  19. I see your point. Yet, it is impossible to determine whether or not human beings do the work of God when they use DNA to find murderers. Maybe it’s not right to say “Thank God for catching that murderer.” But maybe it is right to say “Thank God for good people.”

    Reason and theism can coexist. Doubt and faith are intertwined. I wouldn’t recommend anything by Billy Graham, but if you’d like to read an interesting work, Paul Tillich’s “Dynamics of Faith” is a good read for both atheists and theists.

    “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.” – Galileo Galilei

  20. The Case For Christ was written by one-time atheist Lee Strobel.

    Spanish Inquisitor, I don’t expect to sway your beliefs, just as you said about men4god, I assume yours are equally “firmly rooted”. I thought possibly you may become more interested in the book knowing that it was written by: a journalist with a law degree, and atheist. All of which made him very skeptical about “God”.

  21. StruttinWolf

    I actually plan on reading one of Strobels two books in the future. I’ve read commentary on the books, but of course, that’s not the same thing as reading the books. When I do, I’ll probably review it here.

    From the “digests” I’ve read of his books, I’m not encouraged, because he seems to posit the same arguments I’ve seen already, which wouldn’t be helpful.

    I’m frankly convinced that the Christian mindset actually fills one type of intellectual need, while the atheist one fills a different one. It may be that Christians look for comfort, not logic in their reasoning, while atheists need to see tab A fit exactly into slot B.

    I’m one of the latter. It has to make logical sense to me. Saying that free will explains your god’s inaction when he is supposed to be both omni-benevolent and omnipotent means that there’s a tab C out that with no slot D to fit into.

    At least, that’s me.

    But again, thanks to all theists who actually take the effort to comment. I really appreciate it. Know that I’m really looking for that argument that changes my mind. I’ve yet to see it, but one can hope.

  22. Has anyone noticed that the religious types who post to atheist blogs all seem to say the same things, the same way. It’s as if they’re clones. Either that or it’s one little guy pumping out boilerplate god material. Same ideas, same words, same tone. It’s been two thousand years and they haven’t come up with an original idea or thought yet, and even the whole Christ thing was just a ripoff from a dozen other religions and myths. It boggles the mind. Mine, anyway – which, come to think of it, isn’t all that hard to do.

    I think I bruised a toe stomping a crucifix earlier. Nuts! Gonna limp off to bed now.

    Billy, I guess you were pretty young when they came around to your door. I mean, hell, son, you let them talk for five minutes. Ouch! But good comeback at them, top notch. Wish I’d thought of it.

    And morphine is such nice stuff. I spent two days on it in hospital during a little heart episode. ‘Twas so nice. I envy myself.

    LP: Reason can be used to support almost any point of view. It’s a tool. So, sure, reason and theism can coexist. And I can use a screwdriver to pound a nail home too. But if you reason from unprovable premises, such as ‘god exists’, you get invalid arguments. All theology fails on that one point. It’s as if you turned the Empire State Building upside down and expected it to support itself on a single radio antenna. Faith isn’t evidence. Belief isn’t evidence. So-called sacred texts are not evidence. There is nothing that proves that single premise on which all religion and theology rest.

    Of course if you accept the premise on faith, you (speaking impersonally) can go ahead and argue whatever you want. You can even sound reasonable. But in the end you can’t prove anything and you can’t make the arguments valid. We live in this world, the real world, and to survive in it we need to operate from evidence-based real world reasoning. You can sit by a pool of water for several days before dying of thirst. God’s not going reach down with a Dixie cup and give you water. But you might be able to figure out how to cup your hand to hold water and get it into your mouth. In one case you die. In the other you live. Faith gets you dead. Reason gets you going to the next pool of water over the horizon.

  23. Well, Ric, I think you’ve just touched on really the futility of any sort of argument regarding theism or atheism. You say “if you reason from unprovable premises, such as ‘god exists’, you get invalid arguments.” How can one not say the same for atheism? I’ll concede that I cannot put God under a microscope or drag him into a courtroom. I’ll even concede that documented scientific accounts of miraculous events fail to provide any concrete evidence to the existence of a God.

    Yet to claim that “there is no evidence that God exists, therefore he does not exist” is only argumentum ad ignorantiam. Perhaps 500 years ago I could have said that black holes don’t exist and gravity is a myth. A lack of evidence doesn’t make me right.

    Your water analogy reminds me of a joke I once heard.

    A massive hurricane flooding a town and everyone’s evacuating except for one guy. His neighbors come by in a car and say “Get in man! This whole place is going to flood!” He responds, “Don’t worry. God will take care of me.” As the water level rises, he moves to his roof. A man is a boat comes by and says “Quick! Jump in! You’re gonna drown!” to which the man on the roof responds, “Don’t worry. God will take care of me.” Later, as the water rises even higher, a rescue helicopter comes. The pilot calls down “Get in or you’re going to die!” As expected, he sends the helicopter away, saying “God will take care of me.”

    Well, that man dies in a flood. But when he finally comes before God, he asks, “Why didn’t you save me?” To which God responds, “Are you joking? I sent you a car, a boat, a helicopter…”

  24. Perhaps 500 years ago I could have said that black holes don’t exist and gravity is a myth.

    Fifty years ago, prior to the discovery of the Kerr Solution to Einstein’s equations, skepticism about the existence of black holes would have been entirely reasonable. What’s your point?

    Yet to claim that “there is no evidence that God exists, therefore he does not exist” is only argumentum ad ignorantiam

    How do you feel about the statement “there is no evidence that God exists, therefore it is not reasonable to believe that God exists”? No? How about “there is no evidence that God even exists, therefore statements that claim to know specific details about God can only be spurious”?

  25. [What’s your point?]

    My point is that you cannot presume that something is or is not a reality based on a lack of evidence.

    [How do you feel about the statement “there is no evidence that God exists, therefore it is not reasonable to believe that God exists”? No? How about “there is no evidence that God even exists, therefore statements that claim to know specific details about God can only be spurious”?]

    I agree with your notions and I like both statements. You might find this surprising, but I think believing in something with absolutely no evidence is close to insanity. While some would define that as “faith,” I can assure you that faith is not believing in something despite a lack of proof. That is blind faith and that *will* get you killed.

    While I’d rather not get into the details of my own faith, I can assure you doubt always plays a large role and I sincerely do not think anyone can maturely believe in a God without some degree of skepticism. When you ignore rationality in favor of belief that opens the dangerous door to fanaticism. When it comes to atheism and theism, we find that there are fanatics on both sides.

    I’m just being a maverick by trying to point out both sides seem to suffer from the same problem. I don’t really see a difference between atheism or theism. Both views rest on baseless arguments. The only apparent different is that the atheist worships the “no god” while a theist worships God. I don’t want to be particularly long-winded on this subject, but I’m sure you’ve all heard the argument that you can neither prove that God exists or that he does not exist.

    I simply think atheists fail to recognize that they are themselves not very different from their theist counterparts. I read the term “firmly rooted” before on this page describing a theist. Yet many atheists give me the impression that Jesus H. Christ could walk right into their house and shake their hand and they would still refuse to believe that a God exists.

  26. Okay, I’ll leave you guys alone. I know that swaying your minds would seem (at least to you) completely impossible. I really didn’t “come here” to do that anyway. I saw a blog post in the religion column and I went to it. That’s all.

    I also know that my quotations of scripture are not going to sway your minds if you don’t believe in them. Waste of time you say.

    But I want to address one thing Billy said: that atheists don’t have hope. If you don’t believe in God, then you don’t believe in an afterlife. If you don’t believe in an afterlife, then all you have is this life and nothing else. When you die, you are gone, never to exist again. That’s pretty sad and hopeless, don’t you think?

    I know that when I die I am going to Heaven, where my soul will live forever in the presence of the living god. There will be no disease, no hunger, no sadness, and no more death. Can I personally recreate this in some scientific way? I can’t but there are scientists and even mathematicians who have proven that is real. But that doesn’t matter to me. What matters is the power of Christ working in my life, which has brought me more happiness then you will ever know.

    So go ahead and cling to reason and scientific method (which doesn’t explain everything all the time). I pray that it brings you some semblance of peace in your life, until the love of Christ pierces your heart.

  27. Right, m4g, no afterlife. But we have this whole life to be hopeful about. We live now and accept that’s what we’ve got and we deal with it, and guess what, there’s a whole lot of happy atheists out here.

    But never mind, I’m wasting pixels and keeping you from your delusions and from fortifying your ignorance.

  28. LP: Put it this way, which I think you may have been getting at. There’s no evidence god exists. There’s no evidence god doesn’t exist. There’s no evidence, period. Where there is no evidence, where no facts exist, it’s reasonable to assume that the subject, god in this case, does not exist.

    Given that, and given that rational people have to live their lives now, in the present, it seems sensible to base our life decisions and actions on the most probable reality. It’s not reasonable to include in those decisions something that is, on the state of the evidence, a fantasy. (Please don’t bring up Pascal.)

    The theists create evidence, as evidenced (!) by the crust of dogma and creative fiction they’ve put together. Atheists see neither evidence nor lack thereof, and decide to live in the real world without the fantasies (and the fantasies about my sixth grade teacher don’t count).

    And yes, Mr. Christ could walk into my house and I’d consider him a huckster. What’s he going to do, turn water into wine? Any competent magician could manage that. Near as I can figure, theists like being tricked, like illusions and delusions, because it helps them get through the day. Beats me how they can live with so many contradictions, outright lies, and magisterial dishonesty, and not go insane. That’s a good trick.

  29. The reasons why you continually have instances like this victim’s mother crediting her god for this DNA discovery that lead to finding her son’s killer, and similar stories of people crediting their god for when doctors save them or their loved ones, for when rescuers save them or loved ones or a manatee or even the mundane like thanking Jesus for fining their car keys is fear and doubt. The whole idea of a magic man in the sky taking care of things and the even more fantastic idea of him having a kid who helps out, too, is just way too much to accept under critical review. In happy, trouble free times, it may be simple to mindlessly accept these fairy tales but when faced with real crises, it’s a whole different matter. Any serious examination of situations where innocents or good people suffer or die, or when you or your loved ones seem to be made to suffer needlessly, is going to make it extremely difficult to keep up the charade and hold off doubt.

    If you happen to be lucky enough to weather a crisis completely or even partly unharmed, then immediately the magic people get thanked out of fear. There’s the fear that if you don’t thank them, this or worse may happen again and there’s the fear that if you had doubt at any point during the crisis, you need to hide it from them. The latter is like saying, “hey, I never doubted you for a minute. Nope, not me, I believe. I always have. Yup”. Now when you or your loved one is that one person who say survives a plane crash, it’s perhaps easy to thank your magic people and go on believing, but what of the friends and family of all those who died? Now they have some work to do to keep up the charade, which is why you don’t see any critical examinations of these events. How could you? No, for the seemingly senseless tragedies of the world, only senseless answers will suffice, such as “It was his/her time”, “God works in mysterious ways we can’t comprehend”, or the completely narcissistic belief that the whole thing was a test of faith made just for you.

    Now contrary to what LP wrote, religious faith is most definitely faith in something despite lack of proof. Now let’s ignore the whole question of evil issue because it’s just a quagmire of a diversion from the root issue, the issue of god belief. LP argued that

    Yet to claim that “there is no evidence that God exists, therefore he does not exist” is only argumentum ad ignorantiam. Perhaps 500 years ago I could have said that black holes don’t exist and gravity is a myth. A lack of evidence doesn’t make me right.

    Then what is belief without evidence? Furthermore, what is basing your life on rules you believe are from your evidentiary deficient god? The example of black holes is cute, but no group has been validated for their centuries of black hole belief by such a discovery, nor have they been justified in their centuries of abuse against non-believers and gays or their mandates for genital mutilation handed down from their holy holes by such a discovery. The point of the argument that LP quotes is that without any ability to perceive a god since by definition it’s supposed to exist beyond the realm of perception (except theists claim a special magic sense by which they can sense it), without any evidence for it having done anything before or doing anything now, it’s just as if it doesn’t exist. If it’s just as if it doesn’t exist, then we might as well act as if it doesn’t pending some shred of evidence that may one day turn up, like perhaps LP’s example of one Jesus H. Christ walking up and shaking our hands.

    Now irrational belief is alright I guess and seemingly harmless but when that irrational belief leads to personal misery or afflicting misery upon others, then it’s no longer ok. Now aside from the obvious ills from issues like attacking non-believers or another “evil” group, there are the yet to be fully realized ills that will result from say the blocking of stem cell research and the attacks on children’s science educations. When I first started reading SI’s article here I immediately was hit with the irony of how the work of science, the long time whipping boy of religion, is the means by which this poor woman’s god gave her and her dead son justice. The same spirit if inquiry that lead to the discovery of dna and subsequent breakthroughs is precisely what’s discouraged in religion. But of course when faced with such irony, one can always maintain their senseless belief with more senseless stuff like…

    “since God created man, He created DNA. So without God, the DNA evidence, and the work of scientists, would not be possible.”

    “God does not generally intervene in these kinds of situations”

    “God has given us all science and all scientific discoveries.”

    “Being timeless, God’s time schedule is not the same as ours, and faith requires respecting that”

  30. M4G’s thesis about this alleged entity’s timelessness, not our way (even though I’m assured by the twice born that we are ‘in it’s image’) so we can’t comprehend, etc. puts me in mind of a comedy routine I once saw, it was in the form of a song.

    The man said to god,
    “What’s a million years to you?”

    God says,
    “A minute…”

    Then the man says to god,
    “What’s a million bucks to you?”

    God says,
    “A penny…”

    Then the man says to god,
    “Will you give me a penny?”
    Ad god says, “Yes, I will…
    “In a minute…”

    M4G, I’ve been around the world, seen a lot, done a lot. I know I’ve been fortunate, to say the least.

    Due to injuries and illness and their effects, I’ve made my three score, but the ten doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, maybe three score and a lustrum if nothing goes too haywire. Been an atheist since I was five, and as far as I or anyone else actually knows, dead is dead. No devil gleefully waiting to torment me forever for (allegedly) doing what it wants, no deiity waiting for me with a golden harp to do forever what I can hardly stand now. I play the harp NOW, I enjoy it and give joy to others NOW. It’s what I know I have.

    I play in churches all the time, hear everything that’s said, and I always come back to the words of Rudyard Kipling’s mother;

    “Fear of the Lord is the begining of falsehood.”

  31. “Good things that happen every day, like making a green light when you’re in a hurry, or finding the item you want to purchase is on sale, are not usually attributed to acts of god (though I’m sure some fervent believers are inclined to do so).”

    Darned tootin’ they’re inclined to do so. Ingrid’s fundamentalist grandmother has thanked God for helping her find the peanut butter jar, and for opening a space in traffic for her to merge into.

    And on the topic that the comment thread evolved into: I do think theism and reason can co-exist, in the sense that theists can be rational people. Obviously. Most rational people throughout history have believed in God.

    However, I think that theism is an obstacle to reason in that it is (not always, but usually) an assumption that cannot be questioned. Minimally, the assumption that God exists; and there are usually several more specific assumptions, such as that there is only one God, or that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good. Whenever you have an assumption that cannot be questioned no matter what evidence or arguments arise to counter it, you have an obstacle to reason.

    To demonstrate this point, I invite any theists reading this to take Ebon Muse’s challenge. In his “Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists,” he points out this:

    “Ask any believer what would convince him he was mistaken and persuade him to leave his religion and become an atheist, and if you get a response, it will almost invariably be, ‘Nothing – I have faith in my god.’ Although such people may well exist, I personally have yet to meet a theist who would acknowledge even the possibility that his belief was in error. Many theists, by their own admission, structure their beliefs so that no evidence could possibly disprove them.”

    So if your answer to the question, “What would convince you that your belief in God is mistaken?” is “Nothing,” then you’ve proven our point. Your belief is not reasonable, and in fact defies and denies reason. If you have a different answer, let Ebon know.

    (Link: http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/theistguide.html )

  32. “When you die, you are gone, never to exist again. That’s pretty sad and hopeless, don’t you think?”

    Nope. I’m pretty okay with it, actually.

    I’d like to paraphrase something Richard Dawkins said: The fact that I was born at all makes me impossibly lucky. The odds against it — against any specific person being born — are beyond astronomical.

    So complaining about death — complaining about the fact that I get about 70 or 80 years instead of eternity — is like winning a million dollars in the lottery, and complaining because it wasn’t fifty billion. It is ingratitude of the highest order.

    Full text of what Dawkins wrote is here: http://richarddawkins.net/article,350,To-be-Read-at-my-Funeral,Richard-Dawkins

    And I’d also like to point out the obvious: namely, that the desire to belief in God and the afterlife is not evidence that God and the afterlife are real.

    I’d like to believe a lot of things. I’d like to believe that an AIDS vaccine is just around the corner. I’d like to believe that all the starving children around the world will get fed. I’d like to believe that Alan Rickman is, at this very moment, racing up my stairs to knock on my door and ravish me. That would be swell. But my desire for these things to happen does not provide even the slightest shred of evidence that they will.

  33. LP

    You might find this surprising, but I think believing in something with absolutely no evidence is close to insanity.

    Then, you’d make a good atheist. 😉

    The only apparent different is that the atheist worships the “no god” while a theist worships God.

    I’d love to know how you justify that conclusion. How does one worship “no god”? I think I know what you are saying but I really don’t think worship is the concept you’re reaching for here. An Atheist may be committed to the concept that there is no god, based on the lack of evidence, but that commitment doesn’t rise to the fawning worship of a god.

    Yet many atheists give me the impression that Jesus H. Christ could walk right into their house and shake their hand and they would still refuse to believe that a God exists.

    Contrary to what Ric said, (and I don’t think we disagree, really) if JHC walked into my house and could confirm to me, without doubt, that he was actually who he said he was, as a critical thinker, I would have to accept that. Any atheist will tell you, if he/she’s honest, that the lack of belief we call atheism is provisional, and that it could be reversed with evidence. Simple magic tricks might not work (it depends on what they are) but truly supernatural evidence would. I give the example of rearranging the stars in the night sky to spell out “God exists”. That would probably do it for me.

    Men4god

    Okay, I’ll leave you guys alone.

    No, if you have something to say, please do so. It might be met with derision, but you (As opposed to your contribution) won’t be. At least not by me.

    I understand that it is impossible to relay in any language your sense of faith. Can’t be done, because faith is, by definition, not based on anything, so you can’t provide for us the “thing” of “anything”. That doesn’t mean you should leave.

    If you don’t believe in God, then you don’t believe in an afterlife. If you don’t believe in an afterlife, then all you have is this life and nothing else. When you die, you are gone, never to exist again. That’s pretty sad and hopeless, don’t you think?

    Not at all. It’s only sad and hopeless if you expect that there is a life after we die. If you don’t expect that, why would it be sad and hopeless?

    I would turn that around and surmise that your present life is sad and hopeless, else why pine for the afterlife? What’s wrong with this one? I have a lot of hope, just not for me, but for those that will come after me. My kids, my friends, everybody. I have great hope for them. And I have a wonderful expectation for the remainder of my life.

    What I find to be sad and hopeless is the idea of living one’s entire life as if I’ll continue on when I die, and find out, at that last split second, that I was wrong. What’s sad and hopeless is all those people that will do that, and never go where they think they are going, and won’t know it, ever. That is such a melancholy concept, it’s depressing.

  34. SI:

    Yes, I remember that, and it’s one of the reasons why I still can’t figure out where the book’s coming from – skepticism or dogma? Maybe I’ll know when I finish it.

    I’ve read the book three times and I’m still not sure. At first I thought skepticism, but on this last re-read I think dogma. But, that’s mainly due to the sequel, which I largely ignore. Ann was a great character, I thought, but I was so pissed off at one point with what the author did with her character.

  35. What would convince me that Christianity was true? How about if Christians had lifespans of say, about 150 years?

    When theists claim that is impossible to disprove the existence of their god, I would have to agree that yes, it is not possible to prove 100% that their god does not exist. But what can be done is to make a good argument that the existence of their god is improbable. And what Christians are saying is that I should structure my life around something that my reason and intellect tells me is impossible. That I cannot do.

  36. [When theists claim that is impossible to disprove the existence of their god, I would have to agree that yes, it is not possible to prove 100% that their god does not exist. But what can be done is to make a good argument that the existence of their god is improbable. And what Christians are saying is that I should structure my life around something that my reason and intellect tells me is impossible. That I cannot do.]

    You realize that you can logically and rationally deduce that it is impossible for God to not exist, correct?

  37. Well I mean, I’d certainly try. But as much as I like reading the stuff here and talking with you guys I’m gonna go look at LOLcats.

  38. What are atheists response to Pascal’s Wager?

    I am a believer in the Judeo-Christian “God”. I have doubts sometimes, but then I go back to all of the evidence, which is finely presented in “Case for Christ”. Plus, I don’t lose anything by believing. I am happy, I work, I play, I smoke cigars and a pipe, I drink beer frequently, I pray, I watch tv, I play poker, I support 2 children in Africa with 1/8 of my monthly paycheck… all of the things I do as a follower of Christ, and I would do if an atheist. So, I’m just not sure why the difference. Why vilify Christians as ignorant and illogical sheep.

    I came across this post at my WordPress login page. I run a college sports blog! I don’t claim to be a theologian or philosopher; perhaps only an aficionado of tobaccos and English beer.

  39. StruttinWolf said:

    What are atheists response to Pascal’s Wager?

    Here’s my take on it. There are other angles of refutation. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and seems to be just another form of rationalizing something you WANT to believe in. It proves nothing.

    Keep coming back. I do believe there are other smokers here (though Exterminator is trying to quit – don’t tempt him). I could use a black and tan, but that’s Irish isn’t it?

  40. men4god said: “But I want to address one thing Billy said: that atheists don’t have hope. If you don’t believe in God, then you don’t believe in an afterlife. If you don’t believe in an afterlife, then all you have is this life and nothing else. When you die, you are gone, never to exist again. That’s pretty sad and hopeless, don’t you think?”

    As Greta Christina said, I’m okay with that.

    I’m reminded of a poem by Lee Hayes (one of the Almanac Singers (see, I’m not THAT young)) wrote before his death. I don’t remember the whole poem (and I tried google, but there are a lot of lee hayes’s out there), but the part I remember is:

    “Put me on the compost pile,
    To decompose me for a while.
    And when radish or tomato you munch,
    You may be having me for lunch.
    And then excrete me with a grin,
    Chortling there goes Lee again.”

    This poem strikes at the heart of my personal agnostic atheism (or atheist agnosticism (the jury is still out)). The matter in my body was created by the stars (thermonuclear reactions can create some interesting elements) and is a part of this insignificant planet whirling around an average star in an average galaxy. The matter in my body could very well have been in a proterosuchus, or a carcharodon (sp?), or a wooly mammoth. The matter in my body will return to the soil (dust to dust, anyone?), be used by plants, be eaten by herbivores (or omnivores (do omnivores eat Dodge Omnis?)) to be eaten by parasites or insects or carnivores.

    I am perfectly at peace with the thought that this is my one chance to get it right. The only way I will continue to live in this world is through my descendents (they are teenagers right now, but show promise of becoming actual thinking human beings), my works, and the memory I leave.

    My hope is in who I am, the effect I have on others, and my children. I live my life to improve the world and improve myself. I do not live my life to please an unverifiable ‘god’ who is unprovable by any reasonable process (faith is not a reasonable process).

    Spanish Inquisitor: the Yuengling brewery in the coal country of eastern Pennsylvania (the oldest in the United States) makes a fantastic black & tan. And as far as smoking, a good briar, some black cavendish and two fingers of Pinch, tidy (no ice, no water), is my idea of a good evening.

  41. Struttinwolf: You know smoking is bad for you, right? Alright, so you choose to do it anyway. Fine. Would you make me smoke? Would you make little kids smoke? Would you want part of your 1/8 income for Africa go towards providing pipes and fine tobacco for those kids? Would you make it mandatory for people to be smokers in order to hold public office? Should Presidential debates be dominated by discussions of how smoking will guide their decision making?

    Point is, have your belief. Knock yourself out. I think it’s bad for you but hey, it’s your life. Just don’t make me have to suffer from it. I don’t need to breathe in all that 2nd hand faith.

  42. Two nice, incisive comments, Billy and Philly (the Illy twins?).

    Billy, Yuengling is a nice little brewery. I had a good friend in college who lived on Mahantongo St in Pottsville. His neighbor was the owner of Yuengling. He used to have some wonderful keg parties.

    The Yuengling black and tan is good, but it’s pre-mixed. I like the Harp Lager, Guinness combination, with one floating on top of the other.

    Philly, that was an excellent metaphor for why atheists can disbelieve, and not impose their disbelief on anyone. When I’m eating out in a public restaurant, I have no problem if the people in the next booth want to pray before their meal, as long as they do it quietly and don’t insist that I join in.

  43. I’ve always been a fan of the porter. For a long time (and still today in really shitty bars) the only beer you could get on tap was Bud, Miller and their light variants and at the end of the taps there was Yuengling Lager. Times have gotten better, but still the lager is ok. I have friends that have awful beer taste. As a compromise sometimes, the beer bought was Yuengling lager, or in these parts you only have to say “lager”.

    SI, have you tried Smithwick’s yet? I think Guinness puts it out, or at least is responsible for it’s distribution. There’s a great pub down here on 202 called Stoney’s with that on tap and many fine English foods (and no, that’s not an oxymoron). The fish ‘n chips are the best I’ve ever had.

  44. “Struttinwolf: You know smoking is bad for you, right?”

    Actually, studies show that casual pipe smokers live longer on average. I usually go on a long walk with my dog while I smoke, thus getting some much needed exercise and fresh air. I do not inhale the pipe smoke, so your statement has no basis. :o)

    And what’s with “would you make me smoke”? Am I making you do anything? You must have read my post with a predisposition against theists. I am sure I did not command anyone to do anything. Actually, go back and read both of my prior posts on here. I did not make any claims to be better than you, or even more correct. I only stated my personal beliefs and findings. If you don’t want me to do that, then you are the one imposing your belief system on me.

    By the way, SI, if you would visit my site you will find a picture of me holding a Half and Half (the 1/2 Guinness 1/2 Harp mixture you spoke of). The key to pouring a H&H is pouring the Guinness over a spoon held bottom side up. That way it doesn’t mix.

  45. By the way, SI, if you would visit my site you will find a picture of me holding a Half and Half (the 1/2 Guinness 1/2 Harp mixture you spoke of). The key to pouring a H&H is pouring the Guinness over a spoon held bottom side up. That way it doesn’t mix.

    I looked, but unless you’re talking about that goat you’re squeezing in half, I couldn’t find it, but then I didn’t look too deep. But I know what you mean. The last one I drank was on Thanksgiving at the pub in the UK Pavilion in EPCOT, and that’s exactly how they prepared it.

Comments are closed.