Contesting Christianity: Wrapping Up

Sign with line through Christian cross

(This post is part 10 of the series entitled “Contesting Christianity.” Please see the index for the other posts in this series.)

Well, we have come to the end of my ten-part series. What a journey it’s been! I hope that it has been informative and has made you think about which arguments can or should be used to defend Christianity, and which should be left aside. But to wrap up this series, I’d like to share a few more thoughts about how to think about beliefs in general.

What about Faith?

FaithMany Christians are not interested in defending their beliefs from logic and reason. They are not worried about constructing sound arguments to support Christianity. For many, it is all about faith. So what about faith? Why do we have to be so concerned with having reasons to believe? Why can’t we just believe?

I have a hard time answering this question. To me, it is so obvious that rationality is important. It has immense practical value, and we use it all the time (though not perfectly) in making decisions about life. We compare which food products to buy. We question the reasons why someone made the remark that they did. We use reason at work, at home, and at school. It pervades our lives. But yet, some wish to leave it at the door when they enter a church service, appealing to faith instead. And to be honest, I can’t give someone a reason to use rationality. After all, that would be using rationality to prove rationality. I can only appeal to the idea that it works in every other area of our lives—and when we use it we seem better off for it. Why not use it in that final domain of religion?

Calvin and Hobbes - Math Is a ReligionI define faith in this case, as you probably can tell, as belief with no regard to, or in spite of, reason and evidence. Some define it differently, as some sort of belief that jumps from evidence to a reasonable conclusion. I have no problem with that sort of faith. But that is rationality.1 Beyond that, however, one gets into strange territory. The knight of faith (to use the Kierkegaardian expression) becomes guided by his emotions and by the beliefs that were given to him at a young and impressionable age. Beyond the lands of reason and evidence, it seems like anything is acceptable so long as it feels right. If one is acting in spite of evidence, why not believe in unicorns? Why not believe in flying space monsters? Why not believe in Hinduism, or Judaism, or the Dreamtime of the Australian Aborigines? There don’t seem to be any criteria for establishing what one should or shouldn’t believe when reason and evidence have been thrown out the window. But since the knight of faith has been told from his boyhood that there is an invisible being outside of space and time who controls the world and wants him to be good, he believes it. It’s comforting. It’s reassuring. But out there in the surrealist lands of faith, the question of, “Is it true?” has no meaning. It no longer matters if God is actually out there when one is only relying on faith to guide oneself. And that is a strange land indeed, one in which I do not wish to travel. To those who want to venture out into these lands unknown, good luck. I have nothing to say to lure you back, but I will warn you to watch out for the flying monkeys.

The Essential Maxim

EvidenceTo the rest of us living back in the land of reason and evidence, I believe there to be one important maxim that we should follow to be in accordance with the local customs of this territory. The maxim is this: Only believe in something if there is sufficient evidence to support it. This, to me, is fundamental. Regardless of whether you think my ten-part series has been successful in convincing you that the evidence and arguments supporting Christianity are poor, I hope that you all can at least take away this maxim as something important. When we take a look at a statement, whether it is “God exists” or “It is raining outside” or “Unicorns exist” or “Canada is an excellent country,” these statements must be backed up with proper evidence. For more extraordinary claims, we should expect that more evidence be produced to support them. If I tell you that I just got a ride in a flying saucer from some particularly nice space aliens, I should expect you to ask me to prove it, and prove it with good evidence. For more mundane statements like “It is raining outside,” the evidence does not need to be so rigorous.2 But the point in all of this is that evidence is required.

Now, certainly people have offered evidence to support God’s existence. But evidence can often be interpreted in multiple ways. In addition, some evidence may contradict other evidence. With your eyes closed, you may take falling drops of water to be evidence of rain, but if I am aware that you are standing in the shower, the better explanation is that it is not actually rain. So what is even more important is that you offer a logically valid argument that properly interprets the evidence. This is the sort of thing that I have been dealing with in this series: arguments that present evidence for the truth of Christianity. In some cases, I have challenged the validity of the evidence itself. In other cases, I have offered additional evidence which counteracts the evidence already put forward. And in other cases, I have challenged the structure of the argument which puts the evidence in a logical framework. And if I have been successful at these, then the argument no longer stands. If I can kick out enough of the legs of the structure holding up Christianity, the entire structure may collapse. After all, to return to the maxim (or a variation of it), if there are not sufficient sound arguments to support the Christian faith, then one should not believe it.

Conclusion

Like I mentioned at the very beginning of this series, I don’t really expect to convince people that Christianity is all wrong because of what I’ve written. (Certainly I think they should be convinced of this, but my expectations are more realistic.) But I hope that I have at least been able to get Christians to think about the reasons why they believe what they do. I hope that I’ve been able to inform some people of the counter-arguments that non-Christians use when they conclude that Christianity is not true. I believe that truth is important, and so I have written this to try to correct what I believe to be the mistakes and bad arguments which Christians often use. This is done not with malicious intent, to see the faith of believers destroyed and crushed. I am just trying to do what I can to dismantle bad arguments and get people to use good arguments (if there are any) to support their beliefs. In this way, we all win. We are all a little less wrong and a little closer to truth, that goal which remains ever-elusive yet always on the horizon. My hope is that we as human beings can learn to let go of all that restrains us and follow the evidence wherever it leads. Then, and only then, will we be able to find what really unites us: the search for truth.

Notes:

  1. Please note, of course, that there is a difference between saying one has that type of faith, and actually having that type of faith. My own suspicion is that many, if not most, people who claim that their faith is “rational” merely use it as a rationalization, where deeper investigation would reveal that their faith really rests on little more than feelings and wishful thinking. []
  2. Realistically, I may not ask you for any evidence at all, and simply assume that you are capable enough of determining whether there is enough evidence that it is raining. If you are deaf and blind, however, and haven’t recently stepped outside to feel it raining, I might be a little more suspicious. []

19 responses to “Contesting Christianity: Wrapping Up”

Franky!

Jeff,

From my perspective. I do think many Christians are interested in defending their belief and logic.

You say this “They are not worried about constructing sound arguments to support Christianity.”

Jeff, I think you are so convinced that God does not exist, or that Christianity is illogical, that you have blinded yourself to any of the evidence available that may support the existence of God.

Are you actually suggesting that, those on this list (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_thinkers_in_science) were or are, illogical in their faith? And believed without reason?

I agree with you when you say “it is so obvious that rationality is important.”

And you describe so perfectly, the exact problem that some ‘Christians’ have, they believe because they have always been told to believe, and they have never examined the evidence.

You defined faith as this “belief with no regard to, or in spite of, reason and evidence.” That is not a proper definition of faith at all, you cannot go and write a blog and start redefining terms to support your argument. Jeff, you are clearly a smart individual, but to start redefining a word to support your argument is unreasonable and illogical. And is not the way to begin on a journey in search of truth.

Jeff, when it comes down to it, we all have faith in something. Whether that is in ourselves, our logic, our reason, our rationality, and/or in the evidence. When you believe in a scientist’s research into a certain topic, you have faith that the scientist followed the proper protocol, that his research was unbiased, and that his conclusions are factual. Is that not true?

Jeff, you even said this “But evidence can often be interpreted in multiple ways.” Since you are interpreting the evidence one way and someone is interpreting it another way, is it not possible that you’re interpretation could be wrong?

Jeff, you said this “My hope is that we as human beings can learn to let go of all that restrains us and follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

When you prepared your arguments, did you study the opposing arguments, did you look at the other side of the coin, or did you take Wikipedia to fuel your argument?

Jeff, if you are going to be a researcher you must examine all the evidence on both sides of the coin. I encourage you to read this book: http://www.amazon.com/Reason-God-Belief-Age-Skepticism/dp/1594483493/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1295383770&sr=8-1

And if you can’t purchase it, let me know your address and I’ll mail you a copy.

Jeff

Frank,

Let me clarify my statement: Many Christians are interested in defending their beliefs, and many are not. Certainly there are many Christians who defend their faith with reason and evidence, and I commend them for it (even though I don’t think their reasons or evidence are sufficient). But I have encountered many Christians who are content to simply believe based on some personal experience or based on upbringing or based on what the Bible and their pastor say and nothing else. I don’t fault them for not dedicating their life to Christian apologetics, but I do think that they should spend more time figuring out why they believe what they believe and whether those reasons are sufficient.

Does that clarify my statement? I’m not trying to say that there are no reasonable Christians—far from it. I’m just trying to say that most of your “average Joe” Christians haven’t written any papers for philosophy of religion journals, or written books (or even read them!) about the defense of the Christian faith. So I don’t deny that there are important Christian thinkers. I’m just appealing to the “common man”, which is why I have kept this whole series at what I hope is a pretty basic level. (That includes using websites like Wikipedia as sources rather than philosophy of religion journals.)

Regarding my definition of faith, I know that you and I disagree on how to properly define that word. I feel that my interpretation of the word brings out a better distinction between faith and evidence/reason. There’s no reason, though, why I couldn’t “start redefining terms to support [my] argument”. Writers do it all the time. And as long as they properly define their terms beforehand (which I did) so that people know exactly what they mean, there’s no problem. If you agree that we should use reason and evidence, then you also agree that we should not have the type of faith I described (the faith that is in spite of, or contrary to reason and evidence). That you normally use a broader definition of “faith” is a discussion for another time and place, but if we don’t disagree on that specific point, I don’t think there’s any reason to draw it out.

When you prepared your arguments, did you study the opposing arguments, did you look at the other side of the coin, or did you take Wikipedia to fuel your argument?

Yes, I have studied the opposing arguments. I lived for 21 years of my life as a Christian, during which I was very interested in apologetics and eagerly gobbled up all the resources I could that gave out arguments for the existence of God and/or the truth of Christianity. As I look behind me right now, I have a whole stack of books about Christian apologetics (I’m counting 9 books, but I think I’ve gotten rid of some), including the popular ones like “The Case for Christ” and “Mere Christianity” as well as some other (better) ones. That’s not to mention the whole slew of websites I’ve read, audio debates that I’ve listened to, etc. During my own doubting process, I spent literally 9 months where I consumed arguments for and against essentially every day. I gathered every resource I could find, both online and in print and in person. I don’t claim to be a philosopher of religion, but I think I would qualify as a layman who is well-educated on the subject.

Of course, I know Wikipedia isn’t the best source for these things. My own use of it tends to be a stepping stone. Normally it gives a pretty good overview of a given topic (as most encyclopedias do), and then the sources at the bottom provide good fodder for further research. Wikipedia is rarely my endpoint, but it makes a good starting point. I used it in this series mainly because it’s an online series, and so I wanted online resources. Of course, I tried to offer further resources at the bottom of each article, very few of which were from Wikipedia. So yes, I have looked further than Wikipedia, and I would never advocate anyone using it as their only source for information on the topic.

As far as the book you recommended is concerned, I’ve given up on popular-level apologetics books. The fact that Timothy Keller is a pastor suggests to me that he likely will not have anything I haven’t heard before, since he is most likely not educated in the higher-level intricacies that are present in current debates within the philosophical literature. That’s not a criticism of him, it’s just that I am pretty confident that I’ve heard almost all of the commonly used arguments in support of Christianity, so I doubt he would have much to add. So in virtue of my own limited time, I choose not to read books like that anymore. If he’s got anything particularly unusual to say, perhaps you could just summarize that part for me instead of me reading yet again the same re-hashed arguments.

But let me ask you the same: Have you studied the opposing arguments? Have you read something like 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God (popular-level) or The Non-Existence of God (more scholarly)? Because I would likewise encourage you to read books that advance the opposing arguments. Like you said, it’s important to examine evidence on both sides of the coin.

Sam

As someone who knew you when you were younger, let me say I am disappointed. I was always intrigued by your intelligence and your love for studying the Word of God. How sad that your heart has turned the other way.

I am praying for you, Jeff…praying that God will work a miracle in your life. That is the only way you are going to truly understand what faith is.

Jeff, I am praying for you and that God will reveal Himself to you in ways you never thought of. And I am praying that he will bless your life and everything that you lay your hands on.

Jeff

Hi Sam,

Well thanks for the comment. Fortunately, I don’t see my loss of faith as “sad”. I truly, honestly believe that I gave Christianity its best shot and researched the evidence for it as best as I could. You’re right that I did love studying the Bible, and I put in the honest effort to understand it. But now I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t hold sufficient weight for me to believe it as true. And while that was painful at first, I now am pleased that I went through that process, and I view my honest attempt at seeking truth to be of benefit to me, not a “sad” event. I don’t think that it is sad when anyone seeks truth to the best of their ability.

Still, you are welcome to pray for me all you like if you think it will make you feel better. I’ve done the same and no miracle has shown up yet, so either God doesn’t care or he’s taking his sweet time to show himself in a real, recognizable way. He knows what it will take to convince me, so he’s welcome to do it anytime. Until then, though, I remain of the opinion that he probably does not exist.

Thanks again for your comment. I don’t know exactly who you are (I’m trying to remember Sams from my younger days), but I appreciate you stopping by!

Franky!

Jeff,

I want you to know I enjoy immensely, these conversations we are having. Even though I don’t know you personally, and you don’t know me personally.

You said this “I don’t fault them for not dedicating their life to Christian apologetics, but I do think that they should spend more time figuring out why they believe what they believe and whether those reasons are sufficient.”

An amazing statement. I agree 100% with that. You got to know why you believe what you believe!

Now you say this, “I’m just trying to say that most of your “average Joe” Christians haven’t written any papers for philosophy of religion journals, or written books (or even read them!) about the defense of the Christian faith.”

You are right, but with that same logic, most if not all, your “average joe” atheists, have neither written a paper, a book or even read a book. So don’t go making a claim about Christians, but neglect to suggest that atheists do the exact same thing.

You said this, “I feel that my interpretation of the word brings out a better distinction between faith and evidence/reason.” Jeff, we are arguing and debating with reason and logic, not feelings and emotions. I don’t care if you ‘feel’ that your interpretation is good, it’s not. It’s a bad definition.

Jeff, like I said, to argue you can’t redefine words. It’s ridiculous to even think that. You simply redefined the term faith, to make it ‘fit’ into your argument. However, if you do a simple google search of the definition of faith, you do not get the definition you suggested faith is. Faith is not believing in something with no regard to reason. The term “blind faith” may be a better term for your definition, but not ‘faith.’ Faith, in the Bible was always believing something after one had reason to believe. For instance, the story of Peter walking on water, he had faith he could walk on water, but only after he saw Jesus do it first.

Jeff, I could argue that I have faith that when I role two normal dice, I will get the number 13. There is no reason or logic to even suggest this. But with your definition I could use the word faith. However, I am pretty sure you would call me an idiot.

Now I would be displaying faith, if i said, that when I roll two dice I will get a total of 2. The chances of me rolling 2 are less then 3%. Although the probability is very low compared to say 6, 7, or 8 there is still a slim chance that I will role a 2.

The same with having faith in God, the probability exists that God does exist, because we have no 100% concrete evidence suggesting he does not, (you even agreed with this). You may think the probability of the existence of God is very slim, but there is still a slim chance that God does exist, therefore, it is not unreasonable or illogical to have faith in God, because there is still probability. The same logic could be used to suggest that the atheistic belief is based on faith as well.

Now you’ll argue that unicorns could exist, however, I would argue, that we all would agree the unicorn is a mythical animal, that was depicted in art throughout history.

Jeff, you said this “I don’t claim to be a philosopher of religion, but I think I would qualify as a layman who is well-educated on the subject.” Jeff, listen your 23? You got nothing on the great thinkers of our lifetime and in the past. I am not doubting you are smart, but to think that you are ‘smart enough’ to figure out the God issue is well pretty brave of you. I don’t claim to have the God issue figure it out, thats why I have faith, just like you do to.

Socrates said this “The only real wisdom is knowing you know nothing”. The same can be applied to both of us. Jeff, it takes faith to believe atheism and it takes faith to believe Christianity.

I would rather die, having lived the Christian faith with the fear of a real God that is in control of the universe and at death find out I was wrong that God existed , then live my life as living the Atheist faith, with no fear of God and the believe that our existence is cause of mere chance, and take the chance that after death God does exist.

Jeff you said “in virtue of my own limited time, I choose not to read books like that anymore.”

Interesting, so you are no longer a critical thinker, as you believe that you have found everything you have been searching for and the pursuit of knowledge is nothing less then complete for you. I wish I had that much confidence.

Jeff, both books you have suggested I have read either all of our part of, and also on my bookshelf are similar books.

I must profess, that I admire your faith in your belief, because you have clearly researched it and are striving to know why you believe what you believe. A good lesson for all of us following a set of beliefs, (a religion). Whether we are Christians or Atheists, we must know why we believe, and as you said earlier, we cannot rely on our emotions and ‘feelings’ to cloud our judgement from either following a certain belief, or from even walking away from a certain belief, which I know many have done.

Jeff

Frank, I’m enjoying our conversation too!

You are right, but with that same logic, most if not all, your “average joe” atheists, have neither written a paper, a book or even read a book. So don’t go making a claim about Christians, but neglect to suggest that atheists do the exact same thing.

Well sure, I wasn’t trying to say otherwise. My own opinion is that there are well-educated and reasonable Christians, and there are well-educated and reasonable Muslims, and there are well-educated and reasonable atheists, etc. At the same time, there are also irrational and unreasonable Christians, Muslims, atheists, etc.

Jeff, like I said, to argue you can’t redefine words.

You absolutely can. Philosophers, for example (who argue frequently), do it ALL THE TIME. They say, “Although the term _____ has several connotations, for the purposes of this paper, I will use it to mean _____ only and not ______.” Then they go on to use that word for the rest of their paper, and as long as you keep in mind what they are referring to when they use the word, there is no problem. The important point is that you properly define your terms so that others understand what you mean by them. And I did that. If you want to substitute each instance of the word “faith” in my article with my definition, “belief with no regard to, or in spite of, reason and evidence”, it should still work just fine. I’m not doing anything that’s sneaky or underhanded here. I’m just using a word in a specific way to mean a specific thing.

Not to mention that this is certainly not the first time faith has been defined this way. There is no consensus on just what faith means. Take a look at this link for some examples. For one example, we can take a look at Martin Luther: “Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding.” That doesn’t sound like faith and reason get along too well according to him. There are other Christian thinkers who have said similar things (I think there is a quote by St. Augustine that is similar, but I can’t seem to find it at the moment.)

Now I would be displaying faith, if i said, that when I roll two dice I will get a total of 2. The chances of me rolling 2 are less then 3%. Although the probability is very low compared to say 6, 7, or 8 there is still a slim chance that I will role a 2.

Well, in one sense, that displays my definition perfectly. You say that there’s less than a 3% chance you’ll roll a 2. But then you say “I will get a total of two”. Your definite statement is far more certain than the improbable event would suggest. So your statement goes far beyond the evidence at hand to suggest certainty where there is none. That would fit within my definition of faith. It’s going beyond reason and evidence to make claims that are unjustified. If you instead said, “I will probably roll a 6 or 7”, that would be within the realm of reason. And I wouldn’t classify that as faith.

You may think the probability of the existence of God is very slim, but there is still a slim chance that God does exist, therefore, it is not unreasonable or illogical to have faith in God, because there is still probability.

I’m sorry, but this is absurd. You’re arguing that because it’s metaphysically possible for God to exist, therefore regardless of the probability, it’s reasonable to believe in God. I would like to see you apply that to any other area of life. That’s the stuff that gambling addictions are made of. “I know that it’s extremely unlikely that the horse with the broken leg will win the race, but because there is some minuscule probability that he could do it, I’ll put all my money on him.” The point of calculating probabilities is that you will then modify your belief to line up with what is most probable. Otherwise, there is no point in even talking about probabilities. Mere possibility is not a sufficient standard for belief.

Jeff, listen your 23? You got nothing on the great thinkers of our lifetime and in the past. I am not doubting you are smart, but to think that you are ‘smart enough’ to figure out the God issue is well pretty brave of you. I don’t claim to have the God issue figure it out, thats why I have faith, just like you do to.

I never claimed to be on par with the “great thinkers”. But part of the point of reading books is to extend our knowledge beyond the great thinkers of the past. Because they struggled with questions, we can use their work to move past and not (necessarily) have to struggle with the same issues ourselves. But again, I think you are putting words in my mouth. I have reached a conclusion on the “God issue”, but I don’t claim to have “figured it out”—my conclusions are always open to change. I am always willing to reconsider if I come across new arguments or evidence. The difficulty is that 95% of the time, the same arguments get re-hashed over and over again. People still use the ontological argument. They still use the argument from design. These things have been dealt with over and over again, and it all gets a little bit tiresome. I don’t want to wade through the same arguments over and over again in the hopes of maybe, possibly, potentially finding someone with an original argument. The only place where that’s a real possibility is in the philosophical literature; you’re simply not going to find solid, robust arguments in the popular-level books. So I don’t often waste my time on them anymore.

Theoretically, sure, I would try to read every book that has ever been written, because I want to make sure I haven’t missed anything. But practically, I can’t do that. So I focus my energy on writing that actually has a possibility of giving me something new. That, to me, is not a lack of “critical thinking”, but a realistic constraint on my own energies. I don’t claim to know everything or have found everything.

I would rather die, having lived the Christian faith with the fear of a real God that is in control of the universe and at death find out I was wrong that God existed , then live my life as living the Atheist faith, with no fear of God and the believe that our existence is cause of mere chance, and take the chance that after death God does exist.

And thus you prove my point here: This is simply a restatement of Pascal’s Wager. It’s a “But what if you’re wrong?” argument, and it’s based on chances and consequences rather than real arguments and evidence. I’ve already said my piece about Pascal and his wager in my last article. As far as I’m concerned, the point is to take a look at the evidence and determine what is most probable, and then believe that. Sure, there’s a chance you could be wrong, but at least you’ve got the best chance of being right. Beyond that, there’s no reason to concern yourself with, “But what happens if you’re wrong?”

Franky!

Jeff,
Finally have time to respond.

Let’s skip the first part of your response, because it seems we both agree.

Now to redefining language:

Sure, philosophers do it all the time – they change the definition of a word to fit into their context. But is this really the best way to argue? For instance, I am going to define the word faith to mean “this” and you’re going to define it to mean “that”. We would just end up arguing in circles. It almost seems like a cop-out on your part.

Also, have you actually researched for yourself, your evidence to support the existence of no God? Have you studied and done the research and gathered the evidence and what not? No. You have read books and gathered others thoughts and others arguments but you have not done any of the research. So is it not illogical then to argue that you are not putting faith in what you read in books? Jeff you have faith that the books you are reading are logical and have reason. I have faith that the Bible teaches the story of humanity?

Were you at the beginning of time? Did you see the earth become the earth, did anyone see that happen? No, of course not. So why can you argue that matter was created through a certain way, when you have no evidence that actually happened? You will argue science teaches us that…

Jeff, the law of science is observational, everything that is “science” must go through the process of the scientific method. You and I must be able to observe science before we call something science. So therefore, creation or Darwinian evolution is not science because we cannot reproduce creation or evolution, we both have to have faith. The atheist has faith and the Christian has faith.

Can we agree on this?

Jeff the probability of the creation of earth being by chance is highly improbable. In fact many philosophers, mathematicians, physicists all state that the creation of earth and human life is impossibly probable.

You said “The point of calculating probabilities is that you will then modify your belief to line up with what is most probable.” Sure. So why don’t you do that when it comes to creation? What is the probability that earth created through randomness? The Big Bang? Chance?

All I am trying to say is that the atheist and Christian view of existence both rely on faith. Nothing-else.

It is improbable to think that the matter of this universe began without a creator. This I can see. Nothing on earth exists unless it was first created. Nothing at all. So why would you even suggest that life began without a designer. There is no chance in hell of that happening.

If I claimed, that I just randomly pushed buttons on the keyboard and amazingly words and sentences and thoughts appeared. Would you not think I am insane?

Jeff you also said this “But part of the point of reading books is to extend our knowledge beyond the great thinkers of the past.”

But yet, you argued in previous comments that you do not read anymore “Christian” apologetic books, yet you read “atheistic” apologetic books? I don’t understand!

“I am always willing to reconsider if I come across new arguments or evidence.”

You’re not though.

Finally, you said this, “As far as I’m concerned, the point is to take a look at the evidence and determine what is most probable, and then believe that.”

So what is the probable chance that something can exist without it first being designed and then created? What is the probable chance that the first gas that created the first atom just happened to appear?

Jeff the atheist worldview is a sad worldview. For an atheist if life happened just because then why on earth are you here? If there is no purpose behind the creation of life then your life has no purpose and if you have no purpose to live, why are you living?

A life without God, is a life without purpose. If your just here by chance and I am just here by chance, why should I care about you? Why should I follow certain morals?

An atheist when it comes down to it, is believing in one idea (no God) but yet refuses to live in such a way that declares there is no god.

Why should I care about democracy? Why should I care about the poor? If life happened by chance, why should I care if I drink free trade coffee? Or support local farmers? Or be a social activists?

All I am saying is this, if you believe that there is no god, then start living like there is no god. Put your money where your mouth is, and stop doing what so many Christians do and live a life of hypocrisy. Stop caring about other people. Stop doing good. Stop preaching your belief. And live your life for yourself and no one else.

I think many Christians become atheists, not because they don’t believe in an unseen God but because they want to be their own God. They want to make the rules and live their life without god.

Jeff

Alright, now that I have a few minutes, I can respond to your comment.

Also, have you actually researched for yourself, your evidence to support the existence of no God? Have you studied and done the research and gathered the evidence and what not? No. You have read books and gathered others thoughts and others arguments but you have not done any of the research. So is it not illogical then to argue that you are not putting faith in what you read in books? Jeff you have faith that the books you are reading are logical and have reason. I have faith that the Bible teaches the story of humanity?

Frank, since you still want to harp on the definition of “faith”, let me use your definition for a second. You say that faith is essentially trust or belief, even including rational beliefs. If you want to define it this way, then this means both you and I have a certain amount of faith we both share: We both believe that the outside world exists, that the sky is blue, etc. But then, on top of all those shared beliefs, you have a whole ton of extra belief that I simply do not have. You believe that there is an omnipotent deity that created the universe, and that the Bible was inspired by this omnipotent deity, and that there was a guy on earth 2000 years ago that was actually God and that his death brought about the salvation of humanity, and so on and so forth. You and I have faith in many things, but then you have piles and piles of extra faith that I simply do not have. So if you want to say, “Well you have faith too,” that’s fine, but it doesn’t escape the fact that you have much more than I do. Yes, sometimes I have “faith” that the authors of books aren’t crazy, just like you do. But you also have faith that a guy 2000 years ago brought a guy back from the dead. For either definition you want to use, you still end up with much more faith than I.

Were you at the beginning of time? Did you see the earth become the earth, did anyone see that happen? No, of course not. So why can you argue that matter was created through a certain way, when you have no evidence that actually happened? You will argue science teaches us that…

I don’t argue that matter was created, period. I also don’t have any specific beliefs about how matter came into existence. I’m willing to say “I don’t know” when there is not adequate evidence to indicate what option is most probable. Now of course, science has the Big Bang theory of matter, but there is debate whether that actually indicates the “beginning” of matter or simply the beginning of the most recent cycle in a cyclical model of the universe. But either way, I don’t have a strong opinion on it, let alone a strong belief. This is, most likely, unlike your own strong beliefs that God created the universe. Once again, this would indicate that you have more faith than I do.

Jeff, the law of science is observational, everything that is “science” must go through the process of the scientific method. You and I must be able to observe science before we call something science. So therefore, creation or Darwinian evolution is not science because we cannot reproduce creation or evolution, we both have to have faith. The atheist has faith and the Christian has faith.

This is a pretty naive view of science. Please note I’m not trying to use “naive” in a pejorative sense. But science does not operate (and never has operated) on observation alone. It has always had theoretical constructs to go along with observation. If we relied on observation alone, science would simply be spinning its wheels and not making any progress whatsoever. Now, as I showed in my article on creationism/evolution, evolution actually is built upon many observations which we can make in the present day. This feeds into the theoretical model in the same way that a detective can look at present-day clues at the crime scene to piece together what happened in the past. Clearly we did not witness the evolution of the dinosaurs. But we have present-day evidence which strongly indicates to us that it did, indeed, happen. We can connect this evidence to evolution through the predictions that evolutionary theory makes. This is unlike the creationist model, which offers no solid predictions for us to test. Since, then, evolution offers predictions which have been verified, and creation offers no predictions whatsoever, once again, creationists rely on more faith than evolutionists.

I’ll continue this in another comment…

Jeff

Jeff the probability of the creation of earth being by chance is highly improbable. In fact many philosophers, mathematicians, physicists all state that the creation of earth and human life is impossibly probable.

Sure, “many” philosophers, mathematicians, and physicists may say that. “Many” others say the opposite. Your point? What we need are arguments and evidence, not appeals to authority.

Moreover, I have heard many Christians trot out the claims of “such-and-such had a 1 in 10 trillion trillion chance of happening by chance!” I never trust these calculations anymore, because generally they are either miscalculated or misinterpreted. I’ll explain why in a second, but let me say this first: Even if the statistic is accurate, it is irrelevant anyway because nobody claims that life appeared by chance. Seriously. Nobody claims that several hundred amino acid just happened to bump into each other and then decide to get together to form a self-replicating strand of RNA. To say that this is what evolutionists claim (which creationists often say) is a straw-man.

There are other factors at work here, the most significant of which are the natural forces that govern molecules and atoms. Certain particles have certain characteristics which make them attract or repel other particles. This is basic chemistry. And these chemical laws govern which combinations of atoms will form into molecules, and which combinations of molecules will form to create more complex chains. Thus, the theory is that under the right conditions, these essential amino acids will naturally form into a very simple self-replicator. Of course, this is a testable theory that molecular biologists are still working out—obviously, the more one knows about the initial conditions of earth, the more one can figure out whether the theory is sound or not. But regardless of whether the theory is true or false, the reason these statistics are either miscalculated or misinterpreted is that they don’t include the chemical laws that govern the amino acids. The “by chance” means that the calculation is based on these amino acids just bumping into each other and then spontaneously forming a chain. But this does not happen by chance, it happens by chemical laws. In other words, given the right conditions, it will happen.

Now, I will say that it would be fair to work out the likelihood of the initial conditions being present on primordial earth. But most of these calculations don’t cover that—mostly because there are too many unknowns. Anyway, I hope that I’ve explained that well enough. The moral of the story is that those calculations are interesting for mathematicians but ultimately irrelevant for origins of life research.

You said “The point of calculating probabilities is that you will then modify your belief to line up with what is most probable.” Sure. So why don’t you do that when it comes to creation? What is the probability that earth created through randomness? The Big Bang? Chance?

You say that like it’s easy to come up with a calculation of the probability of things we don’t even understand. If/When physicists have a better sense of just how “fundamental” the fundamental laws of physics are, perhaps it might be easier to calculate. But regardless of this, if creationism offers no testable predictions (How do you test, “God did it”?), then there really is no contest. It’s not a theory that has any credibility, because there’s no way to say, “We’ve shown it is probably true” or “We’ve shown it is probably false.” As an analogy, if I offer a theory that says that there are invisible fairies on my lawn that are undetectable by any means, then there is literally no way to prove that theory true or false. This makes it a worthless theory.

It is improbable to think that the matter of this universe began without a creator. This I can see. Nothing on earth exists unless it was first created. Nothing at all. So why would you even suggest that life began without a designer. There is no chance in hell of that happening.

See, there’s the problem. You are using things on earth to make inferences about the creation of the universe itself. That’s a bad inference. Why? Because we don’t see anything get “created” on earth. Nothing whatsoever. When we see a table get created by a carpenter, the wood does not appear from nowhere. All the carpenter does is form the already-existing wood into a different shape. That’s not creation, that’s just making new combinations of the same stuff that already exists. We have no examples of things being created. Zero. Zip. Nada. So there is absolutely no way to say whether the creation of matter out of nothing is probable or improbable. We have no reference point to make that calculation.

If I claimed, that I just randomly pushed buttons on the keyboard and amazingly words and sentences and thoughts appeared. Would you not think I am insane?

Yes, but I fail to see how that is really analogous. I’m not saying that matter forms randomly. (We have no evidence that it forms at all—maybe it was always here!) I’m not saying that life arose randomly (chemical processes kick-started it and non-random natural selection took over once life had arisen). So the analogy breaks down.

But yet, you argued in previous comments that you do not read anymore “Christian” apologetic books, yet you read “atheistic” apologetic books? I don’t understand!

I don’t read many “atheistic apologetic” books, either. I read (or try, anyway) good books. I try to avoid bad books. And as far as I’m concerned, most of the arguments in favour of Christianity are simply bad arguments. But many atheist books use bad arguments too, or use rhetoric rather than solid argumentation, and I don’t like them either. So my avoidance of Christian apologetics books is a subset of my avoidance of bad books altogether. But as I mentioned, I’m inclined to read more scholarly works, like philosophy journal articles, since the likelihood of them being good arguments is increased. And I’m certainly okay with reading Christian philosophical arguments and atheist philosophical arguments. My preference, either way, is that they’re good arguments.

Stay tuned for part three 🙂

Jeff

Jeff the atheist worldview is a sad worldview. For an atheist if life happened just because then why on earth are you here? If there is no purpose behind the creation of life then your life has no purpose and if you have no purpose to live, why are you living?

Well now, we’ve certainly switched topics, haven’t we? Now we’re back into consequentialist arguments: Atheism is sad, therefore don’t be an atheist regardless of whether it’s true or false. I think the “sadness” of it is irrelevant to whether it’s true.

But with that said, I’ve already dealt with this here. The fundamental thing to realize is that regardless of what your opinions are about the sadness of atheism, there are many, many happy and fulfilled atheists out there that are proving you wrong. You are entitled to your uninformed opinion on this matter, but every day, there are millions of people who disprove it. I, myself, have found no decrease in happiness since I left Christianity and became an atheist. Sure, there are sad atheists, but there are sad Christians as well. And as far as purpose and meaning is concerned, my life is still full of purpose and meaning. What you have to realize is that we are meaning-making machines. We make meaning for our lives all the time! Meaning is closely related to values, and I certainly value many things. Everything from a cold glass of lemonade all the way up to my love of psychology and my desire to make the world a better place—all these provide my life with meaning. There is no reason why meaning and purpose have to be imposed on us from the outside. We have plenty of it inside us already, and none of that is dependent on there being an omnipotent deity out there somewhere.

A life without God, is a life without purpose. If your just here by chance and I am just here by chance, why should I care about you? Why should I follow certain morals?

Why does chance mean meaninglessness? Regardless of why I’m here or you’re here, the fact is that we’re here now. Why should you care about me? Why should I care about you? Because we’re decent human beings! Our mothers presumably both taught us to share our toys with the other children and not to say mean things, and you know what? These things are typically things that help us get along with each other. And getting along with other people generally helps us to get on with our lives doing the things we want.

But you know what else? I like being nice to people. Fancy that! You see, humans generally have a little thing called empathy. They can feel what other people are feeling. They can imagine what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes. And that means that they can reach the conclusion, “I shouldn’t do things that I wouldn’t want done to me,” a general principle that has been with us for at least as long as we’ve had written languages to write the rule down (and probably before that, too). So why be nice to other people? Because it’s fulfilling and satisfying to be nice to other people! Or if you like: Because it provides purpose and meaning to our lives to be nice to other people!

An atheist when it comes down to it, is believing in one idea (no God) but yet refuses to live in such a way that declares there is no god.

The fact that you think that not believing in a God would make you a moral monster makes me glad that you do, actually, believe in a God. Is the only thing that stops you from killing your loved ones the fact that you believe in God? Is the only thing stopping you from tearing into your workplace and slicing everyone’s necks open with a hunting knife the fact that you believe there’s a magic man in the sky? That, to me, is frightening. But I think you and I both know that this isn’t the case. If you had it proven to you tomorrow that God did not exist, you would not wake up and no longer love your wife or children (if you have them), or stop caring about your friends, or stop loving your favourite TV show or hobby, or make you want to kill and rape people. That’s absurd. You do these things because of something that is inside you already.

Why should I care about democracy? Why should I care about the poor? If life happened by chance, why should I care if I drink free trade coffee? Or support local farmers? Or be a social activists?

Those are all good questions, and there are arguments in favour and against all of those, but those are issues for philosophy class. I doubt you do those things because of your belief in God either. If you do them, you probably do them because you think they’re reasonable things to do that have merits of their own.

All I am saying is this, if you believe that there is no god, then start living like there is no god. Put your money where your mouth is, and stop doing what so many Christians do and live a life of hypocrisy. Stop caring about other people. Stop doing good. Stop preaching your belief. And live your life for yourself and no one else.
I think many Christians become atheists, not because they don’t believe in an unseen God but because they want to be their own God. They want to make the rules and live their life without god.

First of all, you’re contradicting yourself. If the reason I became an atheist was to “make the rules and live [my] life without god”, then why would I keep doing the same things I did before? Second, I became an atheist because I don’t believe God exists. Like you, I was fully indoctrinated into the idea that atheists lived shallow, meaningless, purposeless lives, and that made it all the harder for me to even question the idea that God might not exist. When I finally realized that he probably didn’t, I fully intended that I would have to suck it up, take it on the cheek and resign myself to this purposeless existence. I was honestly prepared to be miserable for the rest of my life, if it meant believing the bitter truth.

Then I found out that atheism really wasn’t so bad, and that the whole idea that atheists have no purpose or meaning in their lives is simply a silly thing that Christians tell other Christians to keep them from actually questioning their faith in any real seriousness. When I became an atheist I didn’t stop loving my family or caring about my friends or having hopes and dreams and ambitions and interests. Those were all still there. What I instead found was that those were the things that gave my life meaning all along, but I just had convinced myself that it was the invisible guy in the sky that had been giving it to me instead.

Franky!

In response to your tweet about not having enough energy to respond:

Christians jumping on the atheist bandwagon piss me off. What’s the probability of you jumping on the next “

Jeff

Frank, my apologies for that. I was tired and cranky when I wrote that, and I had just come home to find about 10 emails that I needed to respond to, one of which was your comment here, and it just hit me the wrong way. Sometimes Christians seem to bring up the exact same questions over and over again, and some days it just feels like “I’ve answered it for the millionth time and why can’t they learn and can’t they just find the thousands of other atheists that have answered it already through a simple Google search”. But of course, that’s not fair to you, who (I’m assuming, anyway) asked these questions honestly and deserves an honest answer.

So again, my apologies. I will take the time to write out a thoughtful response for you, hopefully later today. Just need to find a bit of time to sit down and write it.

Franky!

Apology excepted. I to was cranky when I wrote my response to your tweet. Looking forward to your response. Have a great day doing what you do.

Adamoriens

Hello Jeff,

You wrote the following:

To the rest of us living back in the land of reason and evidence, I believe there to be one important maxim that we should follow to be in accordance with the local customs of this territory. The maxim is this: Only believe in something if there is sufficient evidence to support it.

What evidence do you have to support your maxim? Are there justified beliefs for which we have no evidence?

Jeff

Hi Adamoriens,

Well, that is a tricky question. While, of course, there is no rock that one can turn over to find my maxim underneath, I think that it can be justified pragmatically. The evidence is that when we use this maxim, it generally works. For instance, the history of science shows us that when we actually spend time systematically observing evidence, we can create models that help us predict future observations. This sort of evidential reasoning has helped us increase our lifespan, create amazing technologies, and even sent us to the moon. Clearly, the predictive success of believing in things when there is evidence to support them is evidence in favour of using it as a general rule.

Moreover, it can be justified in a philosophical/mathematical sense, because it is essentially a (simplified) version of Bayesian reasoning. Bayesian statistics uses prior knowledge and then updates it accordingly when new evidence comes along. It is a mathematical formula for inductive reasoning, and although there may be philosophical problems that induction has faced (with Hume being the most notable example), I don’t think it’s feasible to throw out inductive reasoning altogether. We rely on it almost entirely in our everyday lives.

So in both an evidential/pragmatic sense and an abstract/philosophical sense, I think my maxim can be justified. But you also asked if there are justified beliefs for which we have no evidence. To be honest, I haven’t spent enough time studying epistemology to really have a firm conclusion on this. I am willing to at least entertain the notion that we have some beliefs like this, such as that the outside world really exists, but I generally reject the attempts of reformed epistemology to insert God as a “basic belief”. I really just don’t think it works. So regardless of whether we have some non-evidential justified beliefs, I don’t think belief in God is one of them. As far as I’m concerned, “I have an intuition that God exists” is not a valid justification for a belief in God.

Anyway, I hope that answers your questions. I’d be interested in hearing your response to what I’ve said. Thanks for the comment!

Adamoriens

Hi Jeff,

I asked because I was curious as to how you would respond. With regard to Reformed Epistemology, it would be incorrect to characterize a properly basic belief in God as an “intuition,” since intuition by definition depends on other beliefs, and so is not properly basic. Plantinga holds that belief in God is akin to belief in our memory or those pesky “other minds.”

I too have little background in epistemology, so I feel silly lecturing others about it. I too am slowly working my way through Nicholas Everitt’s book. I’ve got the chapters on miracles and arguments from scale remaining. Did you enjoy it?

Jeff

Well, I could certainly be wrong about this, but my understanding of the word “intuition” used in a philosophical sense is essentially an understanding of something that seems to be completely apparent, like “1+1=2” or “Rape is wrong.” (I don’t necessarily agree that these are apparent, but I’ve seen them used as examples.) The way I’ve always seen the word used is not in conjunction with other beliefs, it’s simply some statement that is immediately seen as obviously true.

Whatever you want to call it, though, I don’t agree that the belief in an omnipotent supernatural being is anywhere close to belief in one’s own memory or belief that others have a mind like one’s own. They seem to be in different categories altogether. But this is compounded by the fact that Plantinga discusses the “sensus divinitatis”, the “sense” that is supposed to be able to perceive God’s existence directly. He himself seems to imply that if this sense does not exist, then belief in God cannot be properly basic. But that, to me, seems to be an evidential claim (unless one wants to argue that belief in the sensus divinitatis is properly basic!). And since we have approximately zero evidence for this divine sense, there’s no reason to believe it exists.

Anyway, you asked about Nicholas Everitt’s book. I really enjoyed that book! Certainly there is much more that could be said about each of the arguments he brings up (as is true of most philosophical arguments), but I think he makes a pretty solid case. Regardless of one’s own views about atheism, the way he cogently lays out the arguments makes his book vastly superior to more popular-level atheist books like, say, “The God Delusion” or “God Is Not Great”. Those latter books rely too heavily on rhetoric rather than substance, and Hitchens in particular uses arguments from consequences too often—that religion leads to violence, that God is an asshole, etc. Overall, Everitt’s book is one I’d recommend, whereas I hesitate to recommend Dawkins or Hitchens to anyone as examples of good atheist arguments. What do you think of it so far?

Adamoriens

Anyway, you asked about Nicholas Everitt’s book. I really enjoyed that book! Certainly there is much more that could be said about each of the arguments he brings up (as is true of most philosophical arguments), but I think he makes a pretty solid case. Regardless of one’s own views about atheism, the way he cogently lays out the arguments makes his book vastly superior to more popular-level atheist books like, say, “The God Delusion” or “God Is Not Great”. Those latter books rely too heavily on rhetoric rather than substance, and Hitchens in particular uses arguments from consequences too often—that religion leads to violence, that God is an asshole, etc. Overall, Everitt’s book is one I’d recommend, whereas I hesitate to recommend Dawkins or Hitchens to anyone as examples of good atheist arguments. What do you think of it so far?

I sympathize with your sentiments on Dawkins and Hitchens. One of the negative side-effects of New Atheist proliferation is that theist apologetics tends to spend most of its time engaging their arguments. If instead we had a group of more philosophically-rigourous atheist polemics, popular Christian apologetics and the whole conversation in general would be more productive.

Reading Everitts book was more educational than anything for me, so I dont have the knowledge base to confidently critique it. But it`s refreshing to read commentaries that are stuffed with content rather than rhetoric. This is why I became interested in philosophy of religion in the first place.

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