The Middle Ground

As an atheist, defending my lack of belief has become a preoccupational hazard. Invariably I find myself debating Christians who try to convince me of the goodness, the power, the love, or just the mere existence of their god. Reciprocating, I try to show them that their beliefs rest on false premises, or vaporous evidence, or a book with no authority. In return, I often get circular reasoning, appeals to authority, and a multitude of logical fallacies galore. It can be very frustrating.

But the most frustrating aspect of these debates is the assumption by Christians that we are on opposite sides. We’re not.

When a Christian posits an argument that they believe is a “killer’, irrefutably proving the existence of god, (while I mentally roll my eyes) it is clear what the main difficulty with their argument is. They start with a bias. They argue from the assumption that god exists, when that assumption is what they are trying to prove. However, most times, they can’t see that. They are blinded by their subjectivity into thinking that they are being objective.

Atheists don’t argue from the assumption that god does not exist, which you would expect if we were on opposing sides, where the common perception places us. The only assumption an atheist makes is that the evidence, if properly pursued, will lead to the right conclusion. From that assumption we look at the evidence, both pro and con, and accept or reject it, as appropriate until a conclusion can be reached. So in a theist/atheist debate, the atheist is the only one with no ax to grind. The atheist is the only one who is arguing from a neutral position. The atheist is the only one taking the middle ground.

There is a continuum of the argument that looks like this:

God Doesn’t Exist <———————————————-> God Exists.

In the middle of that continuum is atheism and, perhaps, agnosticism. Both are essentially skepticism. Atheists are not at the end, affirmatively claiming the lack of existence of god. We are in the middle, simply pointing out that there is no evidence, anywhere, for god’s existence. One could validly pick any point on that continuum, and make that argument. Atheists, depending on the strength of their convictions, probably lean a little further left than right, but I know of no Atheist who claims god doesn’t exist. Show us evidence and we’ll move to the right. We may say we don’t believe he exists, but that is not the same thing as saying we believe he doesn’t exist; an example of a distinction with a difference. A big difference.

People who do, affirmatively, reject all notions of god, higher authority, morality, or purpose, are called nihilists. Nihilism 1 is a philosophical position that suggests that human existence is without objective meaning. Nihilists, almost by definition, do not believe in the existence of gods. While there may be more to the philosophy of nihilism than a rejection of the concept of god, (and I certainly am no expert – there is much more to the history and philosophical underpinnings of the theory than I can do justice to here) it is fair for purposes of this post to place nihilism, NOT atheism, as the counterpoint to theism. Nihilism comes from the Latin word meaning “nothing”. To most theists, god is everything. A better point/counterpoint would be hard to find. The point here is that atheism is decidedly not nihilism, (although nihilism is atheistic) and with theism at one end of the spectrum, and nihilism at the other, atheism lies somewhere in between.

So when I am having a debate with a Christian about the existence of god, to a truly impartial outside observer, it seems to me that my position should be given more credence, because I have taken the only truly neutral rhetorical position, by simply pointing out that there is no evidence for the proposition “there is a god”, and therefore, it is reasonable to have no belief in god until the evidence shows up. The theist position, starting from the proposition that there is a god, is not neutral.

There are a lot of different debates one can have with a theist. Is religion preferable to no religion? Is scripture the inerrant word of god? Can atheists be moral? All good questions and all good topics of debate. But each and every one of them is pointless until you answer the ultimate question – does god exist? – because if the answer is “No”, then it is a waste of time to discuss the others. They become merely academic arguments.

On that ultimate question, where is the best place to stand, while attempting to answer it? I say it’s on the middle ground, looking left and right to the two possible answers. From the middle, it’s the shortest distance to either answer. If you are standing at either end, the odds of you changing your mind, and moving to the opposite end of the continuum is much higher, than if you are in the middle. It is easier to become irrationally entrenched in your beliefs, rejecting good arguments because you are too invested in them.

This is why I think a debate between an atheist and a theist is somewhat doomed, and therefore frustrating, from the beginning. The theist has already made up his mind. The atheist has not. (And if you don’t agree with that, theist, then ask yourself how many times you have said “You can’t prove god doesn’t exist”, or “prove to me that god doesn’t exist”. Does not the very nature of those questions assume god’s existence?) If your position is neutral to start, you should be able to go either way. If you’re simply defending that which you already believe, and have invested your life in, it’s dubious, at best, that you’ll change your mind.

Remember high school debate club? That was where you were assigned one side of an argument, or the other, and told to research it and debate it. As a rule, you had no prior bias, and even if you did, you had to force yourself to ignore it, because you may have been assigned the opposite argument. This type of debate is the ideal debate. Both sides are presumably starting from the middle ground. Additionally, they must convince impartial, non-participating judges, not each other. So they have no personal stake in the outcome, other than to do an effective job convincing the judges, (perhaps for a good grade, or at least the satisfaction of knowing they were more convincing).

Atheism is the philosophical position most amenable to these impartial, high school debates. Atheism sits firmly on the middle ground, in the “show me” state of existence.

1 The artist is Randall Munroe, and his licensing terms are here.

54 thoughts on “The Middle Ground

  1. And of course, a lot of us atheists once were religious believers. We have known what it was like to believe in the existence of a god. The difference between us and people who currently are religious is that we questioned the basis for our religious faith, held it up to scrutiny, and realized that our faith did not square with our sense of reason and morality.

  2. Great post, SI. I eagerly await comments from your Christian readers.

    Christian readers: Please do respond — without deflecting the conversation elsewhere. If you can stick to the topic as stated by SI, I’m sure that some of us atheists will be interested in hearing your reactions. Thanks.

  3. Good post. As you know, I’ve spent far too much time in the past day or so responding to someone I presume is a theist (he refused to make a claim) over at the chapel.

    My position is that theism, as currently postulated, is incoherent, therefore logically impossible, therefore false. Deism is, in my view a fairly tenable position, but not particularly important to the way people live their lives. I don’t believe some ultimate theistic version of God is impossible, but I do believe that such a being would not look very much like people currently think it does. If theists can come point me toward a coherent God that can pass muster scientifically, logically, etc., then I will embrace theism. Until such evidence is provided, I will not believe in God.

  4. I just want to respond to chappy briefly with a question that perhaps should be leveled at every smug Jesuitical “scholar” in the religion business:

    Why would a god who actually wanted to be believed in reveal himself in such a way that only theologians who are fully steeped in the most arcane jargon and convoluted thought-processes can supply “evidence” of his/her/its existence?

    In other words: If it looks like NO duck, “quacks” like NO duck, and walks like NO duck, then there’s NO good reason to assume that it’s a duck.

  5. I know I’m nitpicking, but you say “There is a continuum of the argument …” where I would have said “There is a continuum of the certitude…”.

    Hm, unless you made the continnum two-dimensional, and added a vertical (validity of reasoning) axis…

    Great post!

  6. I get in the most trouble with deists when there is any discussion because I, in that neutral ground, don’t believe and it doesn’t matter to me. To them, for reasons of culture and personality, the existance of a deity, one they define pretty much by themselves, matters a great deal. Indifference is even worse, it seems than hostility, drives them nuts.

    A local doctor here, a muslim, owns several salukis. I heard him defend his ownership (dogs are, I understand, ‘unclean’) of these critters in thiswise: they are not dogs, they are salukis. They certainly RESEMBLE dogs, he’ll admit that, but these are salukis, quite different.

    You cannot argue with such a mindset involved in religion no matter what logic you use.

  7. John,
    Your suggestion about “a continuum of certitude” is interesting. Scientifically minded people discuss knowledge claims probabilistically. All knowledge claims are provisional, some with a higher degree of probability than others. The day that scientists proclaim something with certitude is the day that science, and all human inquiry, for that matter, dies.

    There’s a lot of fuss because some folks don’t want to accept that evolution has been “proven.” This means that the theory has been tested so many times under so many conditions that there is a high probability that it is correct. Nevertheless, even Richard Dawkins has said that, if evolution is ever disproven, then he will revise his beliefs accordingly. Note also that, notwithstanding the fact that evolution has been supported countless times, it will only require one falsification to cause the whole theory to be re-examined and either revised substantially or discarded completely. Claiming that something has been proven is not a declaration of certitude, it is a declaration that a theory is robust and highly probably likely.

    Having said all that, your proposal for an additional axis that would measure validity of reasoning would be an excellent complement to SI’s initial model. The more I think about it, the more I’d like to see it. How about it, SI?

  8. 2 dimensionally, would it look like this? (and pardon the inability to draw well in a comment.)

    l |
    i |
    i |
    t |
    f |
    i |
    God does not exist _____________________God Exists

    Maybe not. What exactly are we measuring? The probability of the likelihood of the particular position? If so, you’d see a straight line running down from a high point on the left to the lowest point on the right.

  9. SI – thanks for the initial attempt. I can see how an angular line would be difficult to do in a comment. You’re right about how the graph would look and, upon further consideration, I think such a graph would be too uninteresting to be worth the trouble. Thanks for indulging me.

  10. Great post.

    In my understanding, agnostics feel it’s not possible to know god if he’s in fact supernatural and existing beyond the natural. Atheists feel that definition is meaningless and need that definition validated before we’ll accept it.

    I’d have to say a graph is impossible to create that would satisfy all sides because believers have a different definition for “evidence” and therefore their “validity” score would be higher than what we’d give them as a score (ie – “0”). They take as evidence such things as claims of personal revelation, what believing makes people capable of, and the multitude of other believers as evidence. So without having definitions in common, common ground becomes impossible.

  11. I’d have to say most atheists I know aren’t in the middle of your line. Dawkins posits a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being “God absolutely does exist, no questions ever” and 7 being “God absolutely does not exist, no questions ever” and then places himself at 6. For a lot of us the argument is really pretty much over; we’re at 6 because there’s no definitive proof, but we’re not at 4 any more because the evidence is so mountainous on one side and so non-existent on the other that we just can’t keep on with the “open mind”. There comes a point where … well, I’ll let Isaac Asimov say it:

    I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.

    I know lots of atheist who are content to say “God” doesn’t exist, but for some value of “god” that doesn’t equate to any religion’s description to date, well, who knows?

    That’s pretty much where I am. Firmly on 6.

  12. ps – I’ll add that Dawkins figures 7 is an untenable position (and I agree) for much the same reasons as you give – and that 1 is a much-occupied spot on the scale.

  13. Actually rate myself at 6.9999.

    One of the problems I had with the 2 dimensional graph, is the component of probability. Philly touched on it in his comment. I think god is so highly improbable as to be non-existent. Others might find him highly probable, or somewhat probable. But how do you graph a subjective view of probability?

  14. Well, my comment was a jocular throwaway, but some of the blame rests with SI for writing such an interesting and thought-provoking post.

    It just seems to me some people’s beliefs are based on ad-hoc suppositions (often contradictory or tautologous), whilst others base theirs on cogent argument.

    SI, I was thinking of a 2-D continuum resembling the plane (showing the origin), so more like a cross than like an L – something like the Pournelle chart.

    It would take someone smarter than me to determine how much utility the concept has 🙂

  15. here’s the thing:

    what sort of evidence would it take? – for us to believe that a “god” exists – i honestly don’t know – would we believe something that appeared in the sky and simply said it was GOD? – would we have to put it through a battery of tests? (like the Catholic Church do when they try to decide whether something counts as some divine thing) – and at the end of it, why couldn’t we just conclude that this being is some random – really powerful – alien – instead of GOD

    are most people simply built to want to follow something? – anything? – at the cost of – everything?

    i don’t know about you, but should someone/thing turn up and say it’s GOD – and should the “appropriate” people (???) decide that it’s GOD and CASE CLOSED – i guarantee you, i’m not going to be one of those people who would “move to the right”

    i mean, isn’t the whole idea of a god/gods a human construct to begin with? – the idea of waiting for evidence for something that humankind just made up seems kind of ludicrous to me – god/gods are born out of our psyche and our need for a god-like idea/ideal/entity – to make up for what we perceive as our shortcomings – a divine superhero, if you will – i have no wish to participate in that kind of self-deception (as i once did) – and i never will

    i’m just saying…


  16. We probably would not be able to tell the difference between a god and a powerful alien, just as if we discovered a primitive tribe somewhere on the planet they would be incapable of knowing we weren’t gods.

    Another thing to consider is say for a moment all those stories of personal revelation are true. Everyone on the planet who claims they “know” and “feel” god actually do feel the presence of a very real entity BUT that entity wasn’t the god they imagine. It could be aliens, Satan, or some thing no one has ever heard of. How could anyone know?

    So the whole thing is absolutely absurd. It would essentially be impossible to verify the existence of god by any means, empirical or otherwise.

  17. eviltwit (love the moniker)

    Welcome to the Inquisition! Stick around for some more torture. 8)

    I used to think that having the words “god exists” spelled out in the sky via a re-arrangement of the stars would convince me, but you and Philly have made me re-think that. Of course, it would have to be confirmed by astronomers as a true movement of celestial bodies in opposition to known laws of physics, and even then, it doesn’t preclude a really powerful alien presence, which mean that it would still be a natural, not supernatural, phenomenon.

    The same could be true of my other favorite example. Actually raise my mother from the dead, after 16 years in her grave. Hell, a really smart, advanced race of aliens could take cloning to it’s logical conclusion and bring her back.

    This whole discussion points out the true absurdity of the concept of the supernatural. Another word for “supernatural” would be “super reality” – a separate reality. But then that forces a redefinition of the term “reality”, to mean something other than “everything there is”. Is there something more than “everything”?

    We either live in a natural world, which by definition is everything that exists, or it’s all a figment of our imagination.

    I prefer to live in the former.

  18. I was going to say that I agree with Ridger, except most of you have taken that to be a given. It’s not that I’m on the middle of the continuum, but it is true that in a debate with a theist, I’m the one who is willing to be swayed by actual evidence and my mind (as an atheist) has only been made-up due to the fact that for 54 years no one has been able to present evidence proving a god.

  19. That’s a really good point, Evo, that most theists don’t seem to understand. Try as they might, so far there has been no evidence ever shown by anyone for the existence of god. None. Nada. Zip. It ain’t happening, so far.

    That’s one of the big grounds for disagreement. Ordinarily, many Christians, for instance, (to pick a particular theism) point to the Bible as evidence, when under any commonly accepted understanding of evidence, that simply doesn’t cut it. Christians find the Bible to be perfectly acceptable evidence, which just confirms to atheists that they haven’t any idea about the rules of evidence, logic or reason. If they are willing to accept the Bible as evidence for god, then why not Harry Potter for evidence of wizards?

    OK. I’ll stop…

  20. Any argument over religion really boils down to whether or not, in this one instance, it’s worth chucking out the window all the rules that we base reality on and how we make decisions concerning it. In a sense, theists do most of our work for us in that during the majority of their day to day existence they employ all the rules we do, therefore validating them. So they really have to work hard to show why it’s worth it in a particular situation to abandon that which we both esteem so highly and couldn’t function without. Tall order, imo.

  21. Evo –

    Such egotism! Worthy of The Lion! 54 years of no proof? How about several thousand years. The believers, of all gods, have had all that time to come up with evidence, or proof, or even an argument that works.

    They’ve come up with nada, zilch, zip, bupkus, lion dung.

    The middle ground doesn’t exist. You (speaking generally now) can stand there of course, waiting for the proof or the argument, radiating skepticality, but I suspect that just invites potshots from the ones and twos. The sevens will be at the end of the hall, calling out “Come on, let’s go get a beer. You’re wasting your time. C’mon, c’mon.”

    As has been noted, you cannot argue with theists, unless you accept to some degree their premise. Since they can’t prove the basic premise, they’ve got nothing. The middle ground only works if you’re dealing with the natural world, the evidential world, if you will. You can take a middle ground on evolution, for example, because it is evidential and empirical, and could be modified by further evidence.

    How can you argue with an eternally fixed position that is never subject to modification? You can’t. Go get a beer. Play some pool. Talk Patriots and Giants. Your head will hurt less.

    The only thing that keeps anyone in the middle is the emotional tug, the “Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to be loved by superdaddy and to live forever?” syndrome. You can give in to it, or go get the beer. The beer’s real. To consider accepting something that has nothing but thousands of years of failure on all levels of belief puts you closer to accepting the falsehood than it does to being genuinely skeptical.

    “There is no spoon.”

    Unless you believe there is.

    Count me a 7. I humbly accept my egotistic certainty. Somebody’s gotta face down those other guys with just as much chutzpah as they exhibit. Let’s face it, though. Nobody’s going to win that war. It’s a matter of how one chooses to live – with unexamined beliefs, or with examined unbelief.

    I’ll take the latter and a beer, please and thank you very much.

  22. spanqi –

    The blog is becoming readable for some reason. Maybe it’s Vista. Still makes my eyes swim though. What is this attraction you have for darkness?

  23. Well, despite your being in a tunnel, no one can accuse you of tunnel vision. That’s a plus.

    I suspect you’re attracted to the drama of the black and the red. Shades of Stendahl!!

  24. Waking up with certain thoughts this morning leads me to revise and extend my remarks of yesterday. (This is why it is dangerous to wake up alone year after year.)

    Yesterday I noted in passing that you can take a middle ground on evolution because it’s an empirical theory, or something to that effect. It’s right up there in the other post.

    But I don’t think that’s legitimate either, except in the limited sense of intellectual logic. The evidence is in, it’s overwhelming. While some things might come along that require a tweak here or there, there can’t be any doubt that evolution is a fact of the biosphere.

    The Dawkinsian Ones on evolution are like mad dogs. They’re out of their mind, they don’t know they’re out of their mind, and they will keep on charging no matter what.

    Evolutionists need more Dawkinsian Sevens to beat back the mad dogs. You can’t sit there in the middle and say to them, well, yes, if some legitimate evidence comes along that refutes the theory, we’ll have to change it. Might as well wave a red canard at a bull.

    Look at it this way. Give the rabid dogs political power and they will jail and kill the atheists and the evolutionists and a few others. They’ve done it throughout their history, and they will do it again given the chance. Do you really want to be sitting in the middle then?

  25. Ric

    My point was that atheism is not really in direct opposition to theism. As a philosophy, it’s not a philosophy. So it stands… well, maybe the middle is not the best metaphor. Maybe on the sidelines, refereeing the battle between theism and non-theism.

    But in science, I agree. There is no middle ground in science. It either is, or it’s not. Like horseshoes. It’s either a ringer, or it’s not. The best science for the moment is the true scientific explanation. We have to live our lives as if it is, because it’s the best that knowledge has given us, and because life is measurably better than it was when we religion ruled. That doesn’t mean we stop looking, but the man in the street lets the experts do it, and we live our lives as if evolution, quantum mechanics, particle physics, etc. are all true.

    It makes no sense to say “well, because all scientific knowledge is provisional, it might not be true, therefore I reject it completely and henceforth will revolve my life around the science of magic.” Where is the rationality, much less the common sense, in that?

  26. Spanqi –

    I think that may be too narrow a definition of atheism. Of course if we accept it as simply either anti-theism or a neutral referee, we can be done with it or we can act on those narrow grounds. I have to disagree that it’s not a philosophy.

    Doesn’t taking an atheistic stance ask that we examine how we live our lives, how we choose? The simplest thing is to accept godly morality but excise the god part. The more difficult path is to ask what the consequences are of choosing a godless life, related to how we choose what actions to take and which to refuse.

    I think that to say ‘I am an atheist’ requires an examination of basic questions. What is murder, for example? Is it ever justified? On what grounds? Is it okay to steal from the rich and give to the poor? Why? Is it okay to steal from the poor and give to the rich? And so on.

    I think we too often assume a basic morality that is simply expropriated from the Christians. Not necessarily a wrong thing to do, but to be honest with ourselves we need to examine the precepts and put them into an atheistic framework.

  27. You’re putting the carriage before the horse Ric, twice.
    First, atheism is a result of critical thinking (generally). One doesn’t just become a critical thinker because he’s an atheist.
    Second, secular morality doesn’t come from the bible but rather biblical morality was originally based on pre-existing, secular morality and has since been tempered by the evolution of society’s sensibilities.

  28. hi again –

    just another two cents

    well, i guess i’m a “seven” – like, like Ric, i’m just going to have to accept my “egoistic certainty” – mostly for the reasons i stated somewhere up this thread and for the reasons stated by Ric

    i don’t put that much time worrying about it anymore – i mean, when there can’t ever be any real evidence why bother

    i do have problems with the concept of morality – such a gray area – what really is true morality? – and with the RWChristians throwing it around – i actually, really, have come to despise the word – MORALS – ugh – i live my life how i chose – it is not in my interest to go around cheating, stealing or murdering people – so, i don’t – should someone try to rape me, or hurt a loved one – all bet’s are off, if i can retaliate without going to jail – i have no problem maiming someone for life – as for forgiveness, which is another thing Christians love to throw around like it’s something that makes them more holy – or holier-than-thou – depending on the forgiver and the forgivee – i’ve been fine living without forgiving certain people – certain people do not deserve forgiveness – i’m not bitter – i’m just being honest with myself – suits me – being honest with myself

    i guess that’s where the answers to the basic questions come from for me – from a place where i just want to enjoy life – we only have one – that’s it – no more – why make it difficult by getting yourself in trouble all the time?

    i know, i ramble – but hopefully some of it makes sense:)

  29. Philly –

    Okay, so I have two carriages and one horse. Sue me! 🙂

    I’m not convinced that all atheists come to it via critical thinking. I suspect many may come to it from the bullshit factor. It’s like a pie in the face – one day, bang splat, you realize the religion stuff is bullshit, but you don’t jump in and start doing critical analysis. Maybe it’s building for a while. And I think it likely that a good many just drift away because the religion doesn’t fill the need they feel – not proper atheists, but not true believers either – tweeners, as it were. The people who do do the critical thinking are few and far between, I believe, and find it hard to get up and go away from the religious culture. Chappie, if I recall correctly, had quite a struggle. Pre-blogworld such people would have been hard pressed to find any support for thinking critically about their religion.

    As for morality, sure, the Christians stole it from the cultures around them, but try making that argument to the religious groups. So, de facto, morality comes from the cultures primary religious book, the Bible. For the hard core Christians there was no morality before Christ. If a person bails out today from a church, he’ll take the morality with him, but until he examines it in a new framework of godlessness or serious doubt, he won’t have rooted out the church in him.

    Okay, how many carriages and horses do I have now? And I’ve got noplace to keep the damn horse.

  30. It may not be critical analysis on the level of say addressing the ontological argument, but you can’t come to ascertain bullshit without critical thinking.

    So called “tweeners” I wouldn’t classify as atheists. There are a great number of people who don’t care for religion but who also don’t give it any thought whatsoever. I believe someone labeled such people apatheists, as in so apathetic that they’re atheists by default. Honestly, I think most christians are apathetic theists, too.

    Deconverts will no doubt take the good parts of their religion with them to shape their own morals, but morality isn’t dependent upon a holy book. That was my point.

    Whatever you do with the horses, don’t stand behind them.

  31. Another interesting and well thought out post on your part.

    I agree with your assertion that we’re not on opposite sides, although perhaps for different reasons than you intended. I honestly believe that most people fall somewhere in the middle. In my (admittedly humble) opinion, both religious fundies and hard-core atheists are minorities that occupy two ends of a broad spectrum. Most believers of my acquaintance, if pressed a little, will admit that there is a sandgrain of doubt in the oyster of their faith. Most atheists of my acquaintance will admit that their argument is not so much with the concept of a god per se, but rather with people who insist that their religious beliefs are based in fact. Deism is an acceptable viewpoint to many atheists I know, even if they do not share that belief.

    Let me put it another way. Were I to say that I believe in the possibility of intelligent life on other planets, I probably wouldn’t get much argument here. Were I to point out that one cannot disprove the existence of intelligent life elsewhere, most people would acquiesce to that. The fact that it hasn’t been disproven is pretty much the only argument going for spending millions of dollars on SETI.

    Now, were I to take this a step further and say that not only do I believe on intelligent life elsewhere, but I also believe it takes the form of little green men living on Pluto, at that point you might be tempted to argue with me. Were I to argue that we can’t prove that those little green men don’t exist, at that point you would trot out the Flying Spaghetti Monster faster than I could say Dick Dawkins, and in this case your rebuttal would be valid.

    So while a reasonable person might very well speculate on the existence of god in some form or another, once we try to put a human face on this concept (e.g. Thor, Jupiter, Jehovah, et. al.) at that point we leave ourselves open to criticism.

    That said, of course, most people DO try to put a human face on their god. I suppose this is only human nature. And while it is true that many odious things have been done in the name of religion, it also true many people have derived comfort and strength from their religion. As long as they don’t try to make it my problem, I don’t begrudge them that.


  32. I concur with MoR. It boils down to two concepts that are ingrained in the Constitution, freedom and respect. We’re all free to think what we want and we all agree to respect each other’s rights including the right to think whatever you want. The conflict lies when one group breaches those tenets and acts to impose it’s beliefs on others.

  33. I too concur with MoR. And Philly.

    I have no problem whatsoever with anyone believing in a deistic god. However, the deistic god is categorically not what religion is about anywhere in America, or the world for that matter. Anywhere there is a church, temple, synagogue or mosque, you’re not talking about deism. Because deism requires no manifestation or imposition of belief. If god created the universe, and then walked away, never to be seen or heard from again (the essence of deism), for all intents and practical purposes, he’s not only not here, but requires no worship, no morality, no community, no nothing. In effect, no religion.

    Deists are not trying to force their viewpoint on the rest of society, thereby creating the conflict Philly alludes to.

    So deism is the not the opposite of atheism. On that continuum I metaphorically referred to, deism and atheism are fairly close together. Most religion, probably 80% of the world’s population is at the far right side of the “god exists” spectrum.

  34. I concur with MoR.

    That’s twice today! A new age of miracles is indeed upon us! 😉

    By the way, I really must thank you in all sincerity for not making any Patriots jokes. I’m sure the temptation was overwhelming. Resisting it was a truly (ahem) Christian thing to do. 😉
    (joke, honest!)

    Deists are not trying to force their viewpoint on the rest of society, thereby creating the conflict Philly alludes to.

    So deism is the not the opposite of atheism. On that continuum I metaphorically referred to, deism and atheism are fairly close together.

    Agreed. Certain religious fundies of my acquaintance regard me as a godless heathen. I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective.

    It is interesting to note that in the 18th century deists were treated much as atheists are treated today by the religious establishment. Ironically, if you go over to a site like “Rational Responders” the deists get slapped around almost as much as the fundies. I think this says more about “Rational Responders” than it does about deism.

    Most religion, probably 80% of the world’s population is at the far right side of the “god exists” spectrum.

    Hmmmm. I see your point, I just wonder how accurate your math is, particularly when you use the phrase “far right”. My experience has been that the average man on the street (at least around here) received his religious “education” at Sunday school, while learning about things like evolution and big bang in a public high school, where religion is scrupulously avoided (at least in Massachusetts; I can’t speak for other parts of the country). Somehow our hypothetical man on has synthesized all these concepts into a consistent world view, while not getting overly worked up about any of them.

    Of course, my view of this issue is probably a little skewed by the fact that I live in Massachusetts: not exactly a hotbed of religious fervor. I suppose if I lived in a part of the world where more people think they’re getting their marching orders directly from god I might feel differently.


  35. Bah! I screwed up the blockquote: “Most religion, probably 80% of the world’s population is at the far right side of the “god exists” spectrum.” Sorry again.

    WordPress needs a little tweaking in this regards, methinks.

    [EDIT: I fixed it. You had a “/blockquote” where you should have had a “blockquote”. SI]

  36. Your Pats pissed me off. I hate the Giants more than I hate the idea of the Pats going 19-0. The few minutes a day Belichek sleeps, do you think he just has nightmares of Manings? LOL

  37. Your Pats pissed me off.

    Not half as much as they pissed me off, believe me.

    I hate the Giants more than I hate the idea of the Pats going 19-0.

    Really? Now that’s interesting.

    The few minutes a day Belichek sleeps, do you think he just has nightmares of Mannings? LOL

    Nah. One thing about Belichick, he just moves on. He’s almost Vulcan in his lack of emotion. Next year will be interesting.

    What really annoyed me is that I had this idea for a theist parody post, something along the lines of asking god for showing me a sign that he existed, and voila! the Sox win the World Series, and the Pats go undefeated. The punch line would come when an atheist would ask me, “what about New York fans? Weren’t they praying?”. And I would come back with, “God doesn’t give a shit about their prayers, only mine”. It would have been funny. Honest.

    But then the dumb bastards had to go and lose. Another potentially brilliant post down the shitter. Oh, well. Perhaps this is final proof of the validity of Manichaeism. 😉

    Nice to see I’m not the only insomniac around here.


  38. I see your point, I just wonder how accurate your math is, particularly when you use the phrase “far right”.

    Admittedly, it is hard to use percentages, to pigeonhole any one group, when by definition, a continuum is just that – a series of points on a line representing everyone. I used 80% as a rough guesstimate, trying to exclude atheist and Buddhists from the world’s population. And the far right I referred to is the line I drew in the post.

  39. Belichek is no Vulcan and he does not just move on. Every game last season where they kept ran up the score and played the starters late he was reliving that failed drive against the Colts the year before over and over and over.

    Philly people hate NY more than Boston. It’s a proximity thing I guess. Secretly, It’s envy and let’s face it, we don’t envy Boston. :)~

  40. Religion needs to be eradicated

    An unattainable goal I know like perfection, but one that we should still attempt. The heading alone I know will put some people off and turn them away but I hope it is also a strong enough statement to draw in others and give them cause to at least question their belief’s, making a theist question his/her beliefs’ is what I hope to do each time I discuss or debate religion.

    I just read Spanish Inquisitor blog titled ” The Middle Ground” and started off thinking it was a nice post and a good point of view. After reading through all the reply post I think Ric’s reply gave me the most help in understanding my own opinions or “belief” if you will. Most people know their own thoughts, belief’s, and feelings though at times can’t put them into word. You just feel something is right or wrong (not in good/evil but as in correct/incorrect) but have a hard time explaining it to others (at least I do). That’s one area which Ric’s post gave me some insight “the emotional tug” statement that lets me put my understanding into words and helps me be able to express them to others (I hope coherently).

    Short background on me is I was raised catholic, in my teenage years I did not follow any faith but still held a belief in god, early 20’s I did not truly believe but did not discount the possibility, and now age 38 I can state that there is not a god of any kind and that the very idea of a god is flawed. Even now as I discount the very Idea of god I have a twinge, a slight “feeling” of blasphemy, that “emotional tug”. The early life of being raised with religion, the rules and punishments that go along with that upbringing are so ingrained in us that it is hard to go against them. It takes no effort at all on my part to say I don’t believe in santa even though as a child I believed in him with all my heart, the only difference is that no one said I would burn in hell forever if I did not believe. I hope that some day I can say god damn it without that twinge of fear inside.

    I am sure that a lot of people will say that this is a bold, arrogant, and close minded statement and that you can’t state that there is no god if you can not disprove his/her/it existents, that is what makes the idea flawed. The existence of a deity is the only concept that does not need to abide by the rules of evidence. There is nothing else, no other idea, theory, or concept that would be excepted by any individual without the rules of evidence in today’s society. Everything has to be proven, this includes religious events today. If I ran for president and said god told me too and angels are running my campaigned, everyone including theists would have me committed (for my own good of course). How about individuals that claim stigmata are they embraced and held up as holy symbols, no of course not because they are too easily disproved, in fact they are investigated by the church to disprove them (this would be the catholic church I am referring to here). The bible (insert holy scripture of choice here) is held up as evidence in every debate on religion I have heard, knowing that the non-believers side of the debate will not except it as evidence.

    So what is this evidence, a book from over 2000 years ago, from a time when science did not exist. When people did not question anything because they did not know anything. A time when it was believed the world was flat, universe revolved around the Earth, and natural disasters were the wrath of god. When they did not know what an atom, element, or nuclear power was, a book written 2000 yrs ago, copied by hand 1000’s of time, and translated to 100’s of languages, this is what is held up as evidence.

    So I ask myself why do they believe, why does an educated intelligent person believe in a supernatural being. My co-working whom I debate religion pretty much on a weekly bases tells me he gets a peace of mind knowing, morals, and a purpose to life. That is plain false, if religion did not exist then you would have chosen something else to fill up your life to give you a peace of mind and purpose to your life and we already know religion is not a requirement of morals (non-sapient animals display morals). Religion gives you 2 things that you can’t get from anywhere else (I speak not of all religions cause I don’t know all of them but at least the 3 main ones) 1) An afterlife, existence beyond the death of our bodied and 2) Final judgment & punishment against those that have done us wrong. I say stop wining, life isn’t fair, it’s not fair that I have to work hard all my life to get by while the mean bad guy can sell drugs and party all the time , it’s not fair that I only have 100 or so years to experience life, it’s not fair that I try to be a good loving person and the guy who robs a bank gets away with it, there must be some eternal equalizer that makes life fair and worthy of me choosing to be a good person. I say that if you need a reason to be a good and moral person, your not a good person.

    This is why religion needs to be eradicated, religion does no good. It does not feed the poor, care for the sick, help those in need, or do good works. People do these thing and then give the credit to their chosen religious figure. On the flip side of that religion does do harm, the people that are in charge of our countries and governments believe and listen to imaginary friends. Base their lives and ours on rules set down over 2000 yeas ago in a society we would call primitive. They alienate, subjugate, control, and manipulate their followers. Religion is a bad idea in an adaptive changing society that we live in today. I can not sit on the fence in the middle of Dawkins scale, 7 is the only stance. If you allow any possibility for a supernatural being as god then you most also allow for the possibility (not the probability but of any supernatural being. Can you allow for the possiblity of elves, faieries, unicorns, and dragons to exist? To eradicate religion you must make a choice, 1 or 7. I am now a 7.

  41. Thanks Scott, nice comment.I doubt you’ll find too many people here who would disagree.

    I’m struck by the fact that it took you so long to get from “not following the faith” of your parents to finally figuring out your atheism. I had the same experience, and it took me longer. I wonder if it’s our shared Catholicism that causes the process to drag out?

  42. This is why religion needs to be eradicated, religion does no good. It does not feed the poor, care for the sick, help those in need, or do good works. People do these thing and then give the credit to their chosen religious figure. On the flip side of that religion does do harm, the people that are in charge of our countries and governments believe and listen to imaginary friends.

    So when something good (e.g. feeding the poor) is done, it’s the people, not religion. When something bad (e.g. suicide bomber) is done, it’s religion, not the people. I see.

    It’s a specious argument, because you’re trying to have it both ways. Irrespective of whether one believes in god or not, the fact remains that through the years religion has motivated people to do both great good and great evil. Conversely, great good and great evil have been done by atheists. Trying to make a blanket statement like “all religion is bad and has to go” is as logically unsound as saying that everyone has to convert to Christianity or they’re going to hell.

    On a pragmatic note, I would add that if someone out there refrains from doing bad things because he fears he will be punished by the Old Man in the sky, then I think that that is a useful fear, however unfounded it may be. A bit cynical, perhaps, but there it is.


  43. I wonder if it’s our shared Catholicism that causes the process to drag out?

    Four years at a Catholic college did more to beat the Catholicism out of me than anything Dawkins or Harris could have said.


  44. Philly people hate NY more than Boston. It’s a proximity thing I guess.

    It’s interesting to note that during the Revolution both Boston and Philly successfully held the British at bay. The British never captured either city. New York, on the other hand, was occupied by the British for most of the war. Wusses. ;>)

    Secretly, It’s envy and let’s face it, we don’t envy Boston. :)~

    Oh, I completely understand. Apart from three Super Bowls, two World Series, what’s to envy?

    :)~ back at’cha, fella! ;>)


  45. Murderofravens,
    Taking religion out of your scenarios, the person who feeds the poor would still feed the poor, being good does not need a reason it’s that persons nature and the person who suicide bombs would not be blowing people up. I am not aware of (and there is a lot I am not aware of) any other stated reasoning for suicide bombers. Religion isn’t going to make a bad person good, but it will make a good person do bad things even when those things go against there nature like bigotry and hate.

  46. MoR – That sounds nice but it’s not true. The Revolutionary War began with the British taking Boston in 1775 and later Philadelphia (remember Valley Forge? You think Washington wanted to be there instead of being warm and cozy in Philadelphia?). New York may have been occupied longer. I don’t remember.

  47. MoR – That sounds nice but it’s not true. The Revolutionary War began with the British taking Boston in 1775 and later Philadelphia (remember Valley Forge? You think Washington wanted to be there instead of being warm and cozy in Philadelphia?). New York may have been occupied longer. I don’t remember.

    Well, it WAS 2 in the morning, so I was kinda oversimplifying so I could get to bed! But since you insist:

    The British were driven out of Boston on March 17, 1776. They abandoned Philly after the Battle of Monmouth, June 28, 1778. The important fact here is that the British never retook either city. New York, on the other hand, was occupied until virtually the end of the war.

    So the point I was trying to make, inane as it was, was that it wasn’t surprising that Philadelphians hate New York more than Boston, since both cities share an important history.


  48. Religion isn’t going to make a bad person good,

    Not always, certainly. But there have been many instances of people turning their lives around by embracing religion. There are many instances of people finding the strength to do the right thing because of their religious beliefs. Your argument ignores this.

    but it will make a good person do bad things even when those things go against there nature like bigotry and hate.

    While it’s true that many odious things have been done in the name of religion, your argument that good would exist without religion, while religion only engenders evil, is extremely simplistic.

    Can a person be “good” without being religious? Of course. But they can also be evil without being religious. Eliminating religion would not, as you seem to think, eliminate evil from the world.


  49. Can a person be “good” without being religious? Of course. But they can also be evil without being religious. Eliminating religion would not, as you seem to think, eliminate evil from the world.

    Then it sounds superfluous. 😉

Comments are closed.