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June 1st, 2018, 02:14 AM
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This originally came from CafeMom.

Quite a few of the words and phrases in it used to be linked to definitions. If you have any questions, please ask.

Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 1

What do Atheists believe?


Everyone believes in something. What do Atheists believe in?

Actually, some people do try to avoid having beliefs of any sort. Such people are called "rationalists" or "skeptics". Holding a "belief", in this sense of the word, means "attributing more certainty to a statement than you can justify using objective evidence". Skeptics tend not to hold beliefs in UFOs, ghosts, Elvis sightings, and many other things.
But you're right. Not all atheists are skeptics about everything. What the group of people referred to as "atheists" have in common is that they don't hold a belief in existence of supernatural deities.

Why is there even a name for that?

Because theologans came up with one. If academics started studying Elvis sightings, one of them would probably come up with a specific name for people who didn't hold a belief in Elvis still being alive.

So, Atheists believe that the God doesn't exist?

No, that would also be a belief. There is no absolute objective proof that a supernatural deity of some form doesn't exist, just as there is no conclusive proof that nowhere in the Universe does there exist a thousand mile high statue of Mickey Mouse - nobody has searched every planet around every star to check for the absence of such a statue so, until they have, there is always a very very small remote possibility.

Does that mean Atheists are the same as Agnostics?

Technically an Agnostic might think there is some evidence suggesting the existence of a supernatural deity, just not be 100% convinced. Though in practice, many think it is unknowable. It is quite possible to be both atheist and agnostic, and some use the phrase "toothy-fairy agnostic" to indicate which end of the agnostic spectrum they are.

But what is the point of life, if you don't believe in God?

Religion is not the only source of morality or purpose. Philosophers have advocated various ideas on how one should live, ever since Plato and the Ancient Greeks. Without one authorative source telling you what to do, you have to make up your own mind about which sources make sense, just like in the rest of life. That doesn't mean the truth is not out there and everything is relative - in fact there is a lot of agreement over basic morality.

Atheists think religion is useless, then?

Not necessarily. Not all religions or branches within a religion require a belief in supernatural deities. Some Atheists identify as being Secular Humanists, Unitarians or certain types of Buddhist, for example; and go along to meetings of their religion as a practical way to organise communal effort to do good in the world.

But if Atheists are not against religion, why do all Atheists attack religion?

They don't. Some Atheists support particular (non theistic) religions, and most don't care one way or the other about their neighbour's religious beliefs. It is just that you're more likely to notice the few who do.

Ok, but why do some Atheists attack believers?

They don't. When was the last time you read about an Atheist strapping explosives to their chest, stepping into a Church, and shouting "Die in the name of Atheism" ? Physical attacks are incredibly rare, and it is important to distinguish between physically attacking someone, and just mocking or disagreeing with their views verbally. It is important to make this distinction because it is NOT rare for believers to commit acts of violence in the name of their religion. Such acts fill the newspapers every day, and it is unfair to tar Atheists with that brush.

*sigh* Why do some Atheists verbally attack the religious beliefs of some believers? We don't do any harm. Why won't they just leave us alone?

Of the small number of Atheists who do care about the issue enough to question the beliefs of others, different Atheists have different approaches and reasons.

Some Atheists used to be believers, before they wised up. They have the zeal of the convert, and are convinced that their previous faith was manipulative and harmful to those who supported it. They are out to free their bretheren from the chains of oppression, and see the pain of having a belief questioned as something the victims need to go through for their own good, like foul tasting medicine. (Most commonly seen in ex-Catholics, ex-Fundamentalists and ex-Scientologists.)

Some Atheists see supernatural Religion, as a whole, as being one of humanity's biggest mis-steps. They perceive the net effect of supernatural belief as having had a harmful effect upon history and society. They don't deny that some good comes out of it, but when they look at the past and the effect of religion in other countries, they think the good is outweighed by evils like priests torturing small children in Africa because they think the children might be witches. They want to get rid of such supernatural nonsense; lock, stock and barrel.

And some Atheists oppose specific actions by specific believers or types of believer, that have caused harm to themselves or those they care about. Examples include physical attacks by homophobes, early morning weekend door to door preaching, calling all Atheists pedophiles and satanists (of the rumoured 'eat your baby' sort), organising campaigns to alter the science curriculum in local schools, scaring children at Halloween with pamphlets threatening hellfire, and general rudeness.

Yes, but I didn't do any of that. I don't torture children or even be rude to Atheists online so it is well out of order to question things that I hold sacred - that have as deep an emotional connection to me as my children. Why can't Atheists just be polite?

Most of them are. However, this is a discussion forum. Why should your religious beliefs get a free pass, when no other sort of belief does? If you really can't stand your beliefs being questioned, don't post here.

Last edited by Aletheia; June 1st, 2018 at 02:17 AM.
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June 1st, 2018, 02:21 AM
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 2

Do Atheists worship Satan?

No, Atheists don't worship any supernatural being.

There is a form of Satanism created by Anton La Vey that is another one of those religions that doesn't actually hold that the supernatural exists, and some Atheists belong to that, but they're a tiny minority. Atheists do not, as a general rule, go around dressing up in robes at midnight to sacrifice babies any more than Christians, Jews or Muslims do.

Are Atheists evil witches?

No, Atheists do not have supernatural demon granted powers to cast evil spells that affect reality.

There are some wiccans and pagans who call themselves witches, and some of them think of their mother nature Goddess as more of a metaphor than a supernatural deity, which would allow them to count as Atheists, but they're a tiny minority of Atheists. And those sort of witches are no more evil, on average, than the general run of Christians, Jews or Muslims.

Are Atheists Nazis?

Despite the claim by the pope, there is a very real difference between wishing people would voluntarily stop holding a belief in the existence of supernatural deities, and shooting people in order to suppress a particular church that is an inconvenient obstacle on your path to world domination. Being an Atheist does NOT automatically make you want to dress up in black leather and march around shooting people.

Were Nazis Atheists?

Some religious people like to claim that their holy text preaches being nice and that therefore anyone who isn't nice is not following the holy text and therefore should not be counted as a member of their religion which, by definition, would leave all the nasty people in the world counting as Atheists. This is a named logical fallacy: No True Scotsman.

In fact people are quite capable of being irrational and believing one thing, while carrying out actions that are incompatible with those beliefs. Indeed if they weren't then churches would not have the concepts of "sin" and "forgiveness", because all their followers would behave perfectly.

Hitlers actions were indeed evil (if not totally insane) and absolutely incompatible with the moral teachings of all known sacred texts. However, none the less, that doesn't mean he didn't hold a belief in the existence of supernatural higher powers.

As for the general run of his followers, the individual members of the Nazi party were not executed after Germany surrendered. They mostly quietly went back to living lives as ordinary citizens, and it is notable that Germany is a Christian country, not an Atheist one.

Were Communists Atheists?

Theoretically. Certainly Stalin was. As has been demonstrated by the dissolution of the USSR, though, banning churches had no effect on whether the individual people in the country remained believers, so one has to conclude that most of the members of the Russian communist party were actually members of the Russian Orthodox christian faith.

Stalin himself was an egomaniac, whose main strategy was to crush any opposition to his hold on absolute power by any means available. Since organised religion was focus for people's allegiance that competed with his communist party, he saw it as a threat to his power, and did indeed target religion, destroying churches and killing priests. But it seems likely that his motivation for doing this was not the cause of Atheism since, the moment it looked like having a religion around would be actually useful and support his power, he immediately reinstated the Russian Orthodox church as the official state supported religion.

Do Atheists have no morals?

Some Christians define "having morals" as meaning being against masturbation, sex before marriage, homosexuality and abortion under any circumstances. In that sense of the word, most Atheists have no morals.

Reasonable people define "having morals" as meaning that the person hold various types of action (such as lying, cheating, breaking promises, theft and murder) to be not just unwise or illegal but actually wrong. In that sense of the word, Atheists are on average at least as moral as any other group in society.

Where do Atheists get their morals from, without a God to define good and evil for them?

The same way humans always have. By looking at the evidence and making up their own minds. For example the Golden Rule was around long before the Bible was written, and appears in the works of most Atheist greek philosophers.

Would your average Christian immediately cheat on their spouse or go on a murder spree if they stopped believing that they might go to hell for doing so?

Are Atheists nicer than average?

They are less likely to end up in prison, and more likely to donate to charity than people who hold a belief in the existence of a supernatural deity.

However this could be just because people who don't care about things are less likely to go to the trouble of thinking through their beliefs and actually coming out as Atheist, rather than remaining fuzzy.

Are Atheists smarter or better educated than average?

The longer someone spends studying science, the more likely they are to be an Atheist. Less than 10% of the members of the US National Academy of Sciences believe in a personal god.

There is a negative correlation between the average religiosity of the people in a country, and their average IQ.

However correlation is not the same thing as causation, so this could be caused by a third factor such as poverty.

Why did the Atheists turn Universities into godless indoctrination centres?

Because they win a free microwave oven for every god-fearing Christian they manage to delude onto the path of Satan.

Or, just possibly, because the aim of a University is to expose a person's mind to new ideas, and teach them to think clearly; so a person going to University is more likely than average to discard irrational ideas they were indoctrinated into as a child.

Why are the Atheist Illuminati plotting a New World Order?

*shh* that's meant to be a secret.

Remember, Atheism is not a religion. There are no organised places that Atheists all go to in order to meet each other. They have no way to all conspire together in secret. While no doubt there are organisations in this world that work towards various ends, you can't assume that said organisations are doing things in the name of Atheism just because they are not explicitly Christian in nature, any more than a garden gnome fanciers club plays with plastic lawn ornaments to further the cause of Atheism.

How do I come out as an Atheist to my parents?

This is a hard question. For a devout believer, being told their child doesn't accept Jesus Christ as their personal saviour is equivalent to hearing "Hey Dad, I've just decided to chop both my legs off then set myself on fire.". And, if they don't understand what Atheism is, they may understand it to mean "I have no morals, worship Satan, hate God and hate you."

So telling their parents that they are not just going through a phase of doubting, and they are actually Atheist, can be a nerve-wracking experience for a child, since they love their parents and don't want to spoil the relationship.

There is no one good way to do this, or any way that is guaranteed to have a happy result. I would suggest trying to correct beforehand as many misconceptions about Atheism as possible. If you like, leave a copy of this FAQ around somewhere they can find it.

What do I do if my child comes out to me as an Atheist?

If you have just found a copy of this FAQ in your child's bedroom, DON'T PANIC. They might just be interested in the subject and trying to find out more.

But would it really be so bad if they had become an Atheist? They are still the same lovely person that you raised and shaped. They haven't changed their opinion about whether people should be nice to each other, just about the reason for doing so. Indeed there Christian Atheists who don't believe in the supernatural, but who do believe in following the moral teachings of Jesus and who still count themselves as Christians. Would God really reject such people, when he didn't condemn Thomas for doubting?

Saint Francis of Assisi said a good Christian should preach the Gospel at all times, but use words to do so only when necessary. What example do you wish to set your child of how a loving Christian behaves towards their child?

Was everybody born an Atheist?

Yes. Children are not born believing in Christianity or Islam, any more than they are born believing in the virtues of sound economic policy or in the skill of a particular football team.

Atheism is not a belief. It is a lack of one, and so therefore the default state.

Where can I find out more?

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ ... intro.html

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ ... m/atheism/

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/RationalWi ... econverted


http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/a ... _index.htm



The Ultimate Atheism F.A.Q.

Atheist FAQ

Atheism: Belief in no god, or no belief in god.


Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 3

What do others say about Atheism?

"I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots."
-- George W. Bush

"just as ATHEISTS do not see fit to acknowledge God, God has given them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful"
-- Robert T. Lee

"outright rejection of God and institutionalizing of atheism actually does produce evil on incredible levels. We're talking about tens of millions of people as a result of the rejection of God"
--Gregory Koukl

(talking about a highway sign saying "ADOPT-A-HIGHWAY : ATHEISTS UNITED ")
"A physical sign. It could have easily said 'You will now be attacked by Satan.' 'Entering this industry, you are now on the highway to darkness...'"
--Billy Ray Cyrus

“On one front, you have a secular, atheist, elitism. And on the other front, you have radical Islamists. And both groups would like to eliminate our civilization if they could. For different reasons, but with equal passion.”
--Newt Gingrich

"atheism is evil"
--Statement subscribed to and agreed with by thousands of people liking the facebook I-hate-Atheism page

"It’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!"
--Rep. Monique Davis

What do other Atheists say?

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

"The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church."
--Ferdinand Magellan

"Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer."

“Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear”
--Thomas Jefferson

"I belive in God, only I spell it Nature"
--Frank Lloyd Wright

"Which is it, is man one of God's blunders or is God one of man's?"
--Friedrich Nietzsche

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
--Douglas Adams

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
--Stephen Roberts

"We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes."
--Gene Roddenberry

"Science adjusts its views
Based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observation,
So that belief can be preserved."
--Tim Minchin

"Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-o, and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have."
--Penn Jillette

"Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man -- living in the sky -- who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do.. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! ..But He loves you."
--George Carlin

"The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so."
--Robert G. Ingersoll

What are some good books on the subject?

"The God Delusion", by Richard Dawkins
"God is Not Great", by Christopher Hitchens
"Why I am not a Christian", by Bertrand Russell.
"Letter To A Christian Nation", by Sam Harris
"Breaking the Spell", by Daniel Dennett
"Your Inner Fish", by Neil Shubin
"Letters from Earth", by Mark Twain.
"Small Gods", by Terry Pratchett.
"Critiques of God: Making the Case Against Belief in God", by Peter Adam Angeles
"In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion", by Scott Atran

What are some good videos on the subject?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxGMqKCcN6A, by Richard Dawkins
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RjW5-4IiSc, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhG-tkQ_Q2w, by Penn Jillette
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qzf8q9QHfhI, by Mr Deity
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June 1st, 2018, 02:32 AM
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 4

Why did you write this FAQ?

Over the last 2 years I've participated in many threads in different CafeMom groups, on topics related to Atheism. I noticed that I was spending a lot of time writing long careful replies to questions I'd already answered two or three times before in previous threads. Often questions that take only a second or two to ask, and that the questioner never even bothers to read the answers to. Rather than give poor short answers or leave these questions unanswered, because sometimes they are asked sincerely, a while back I went over past threads and collected together all my answers to repeated questions and put them into one document.

You said "wised up". Why are you being so mean and sarcastic?

In a desperate attempt not to bore the socks off everyone, I have written this FAQ in the form of a Socratic Dialog. The persona of the character taking the part of the Atheist answer the questions is sometimes a little sarcastic, but their replies are intended to resonate - to be recognisable as the authentic voice of the Atheists they are speaking on behalf of. And in that particular question "wised up" is how an ex-scientologist would see it.

Ok, but why did you post this FAQ? I asked a simple short question, and I was sincerely hoping for personal responses. You've blasted out this long impersonal FAQ. You're boring me!

This FAQ is my personal hand-written response. Because it is in the form of a dialog, it is a bit hard to extract small portions without losing context and previously defined terms. I figure that if it answers additional questions you didn't ask as well as the one you did, no harm done; and where one person is asking a question, there are probably others who considered asking it and who might appreciate a full answer. Sorry if I bored you. If I have confused you, however, or failed to answer your precise question fully, please do expand on your question and ask for more detail.

But hang on, didn't you just claim to be speaking on behalf of all Atheists?

No, of course not. There is no Atheist leader or pope. And if there were, I wouldn't want the post. Too much danger of assassination. I speak for myself, except where I have explicitly attributed a statement otherwise. However it is notable that this FAQ has been circulating for over a year, in atheist groups and others here on CafeMom, with little objection from other Atheists.

For that matter, why do Atheists post at all?

I post because I enjoy doing so. I'm a teacher, and enjoy educating people. I mentioned in an earlier answer some of the reasons other Atheists have for speaking against religion, but another reason to post about Atheism is to combat the artificial sense of isolation which can be created even in a room full of Atheists if none of them speak up and identify as being Atheist.

I have a theory that so-called "Atheists" still at least partially believe in God. If they were secure in their Atheism, they wouldn't feel a need to defend it. Isn't all this anger and hatred just a sign that your real motivation for wanting to reject God is because you fear his wrath and want an excuse to be selfishly disobedient to his will without having to burn in hell?

You have, perhaps, been confused by Epicurus' riddle, which examines the problem of evil by considering the hypothetical nature a God would have to have if he existed. Atheists neither hate nor fear "God" in the sense of the purported supernatural deity worshipped by the Abrahamic religions, because they don't hold a belief in His existence. It would be like being afraid of Sauron, Lord Voldemort or Daleks. They may make the hypothetical statement that they would hate Him (or consider him unworthy of fealty) if he existed. They may hate the concept, or still have superstitious fears in the same way a child will hide behind the couch when Daleks appear, even though they know Daleks are fictional, just through cultural indoctrination. But that's different from actually believing He is real, rather than a creation of the human mind.

Yes, but I've heard Atheists say "Oh, God!", "**** it to hell", "Bless you" and such like. Don't they say there are no atheists in foxholes, and that everyone fears ****ation when they are on their death bed?

If you do a bit of research on minced oaths, you'll find that several of the things you say (like "drat") have derivations that date back to pagan times. Does that mean you believe in Odin? There are, in fact, plenty of Atheists in foxholes. They even have their own website (www.militaryatheists.org). I refer you to Christoper Hitchens' answer about deathbeds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTWnL9kuniQ

So you're 100% totally utterly convinced that God doesn't exist?

Some Atheists will give an unadorned "yes" in response to that question. I'm a philosopher and a scientist. I'm happy dealing with small numbers. Not just 1 in 100, or 1 in a million, but numbers like 1 in 10^1080 (the estimated number of atoms in the observable universe), which is a 1 followed by 1080 zeros. So I prefer the more pedantic answer, which is that while I'm not 100% convinced of anything outside the realms of pure mathematics and logic, I'm at least as convinced that God doesn't exist as I am that the Earth is not resting on the back of a giant turtle or that my standing in front of a speeding car is generally a bad idea. So my reply is "yes, for all practical purposes".

Ah ha! So there is some doubt in your mind. In that case, I have this amazingly convincing argument you simply must hear. If you accept Christ into your life and He turns out not to exist, you've not lost anything. Whereas if you don't and He does exist, then you've lost an infinite amount. Surely as a mathematician you must acknowledge that if you have any doubt at all, however small, as long as it is finite, then a finite times an infinite is an infinite, so it is therefore in your best interests to believe?

This argument was first stated by Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician who pioneered much of probability theory, including expected values. What you need to understand is that, while you might find a particular argument convincing, that doesn't mean other people will. And it isn't because they are stupid or pig headed. If you go into a discussion convinced that you have a crushing argument and that they can't have come across it before (otherwise they'd already have been persuaded) you are in for a disappointment. There are a small number of 'set piece' arguments beloved of evangelical Christians, that most Atheists have heard many times before. "Pascal's Wager" is one of these, and you are very unlikely to be the first person presenting it. So please, have a little humility, and possibly even do a bit of research to find out the most common objections to your argument, before presenting it.

Yes, but I have to present every argument I can, even those that are likely flawed or doomed to failure, because I have to try my hardest to convert you. Christ gave Christians a Great Commission to spread the Good News.

Did he tell you that you have to go about it in a stupid way? I won't try to persuade you here that you are incorrect in your interpretation of what Matthew 28:19 requires you to do. You are responsible for your own actions, and the consequences to the reputation of Christianity as a whole. Many Atheists will respond "Stop trying to convert me!", because they are bored with the whole thing and find it pointless. Personally I say "Go ahead, if that's what you enjoy, but if you want to engage my attention try to go about it intelligently, and please stick to the netiquette of the particular group you are in, or you're going to annoy everyone.". In fact I even coordinated members of several groups, both Christian and non-Christian, to assemble a separate FAQ giving advice to Christians on ways of carrying out the Great Commission that have proven to be most effective on CafeMom at actually converting people.

I believe! That's why I do things. Why do you bother trying to convert me? You don't believe in anything. You said so.

Yes, you believe. I get it. But that's not the only motivation people have for their actions. Please note the definition of "believe" that I gave at the start of the first part of this FAQ. Your beliefs affect your actions, and your actions affect other people. I care about what happens to people, therefore I care about your beliefs.

Is that why you're so negative? Why can't you make this FAQ be about the positive aspects of Atheism, or at least keep it general? Why do you have to keep singling out Christianity? And those books and videos you linked to were even worse.

More CafeMom posters belong to Christianity than another other religion. An FAQ document, by its nature, is shaped by the questions that get asked, and a majority of the questions asked of Atheists on CafeMom are asked from a Christian perspective. It is usually not possible to answer a question about why you are not convinced by someone's argument without being negative in some way.

If you wanted to be positive, couldn't you just present your story of how humans and the world came about? I look at the world and I see so much that science has not explained. That's why I believe in God. If you want to persuade me to stop believing, the onus is on you to provide a complete alternative explanation for everything The Bible explains to me.

I might well address specific questions about the positive story that science tells, which Atheists frequently get asked about, in a future part of this FAQ. But I'd like to start by referring you to Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about The God of The Gaps: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vrpPPV_yPY

You have not convinced me. What about the atheist bus campaign? You say Atheists are only negative about Christianity in response to Christians doing stuff first, but how is saying "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake." a comparable response to "There definitely is a God."? Atheists have to spend real money to put these slogans on buses, and they can't be doing it because they enjoy discussion. So why do it? Do they have a "bible" to go by?

Yes, they do have to spend real money. More, in fact, than the Christians do, because the bus company's insurer says Christians are more likely to vandalise Atheists buses than Atheists are to vandalise Christian buses.

No, Atheists do not have a single authoritative holy text upon which they all agree upon and defer to.

Humans have evolved a variety of instincts. In various situations some of these are generally altruistic on an individual level (such as a mother's instinct to sacrifice to protect her children), and some of these tend to be more selfish or, in some circumstances, even destructive or self-destructive.

So no, people in general just don't need a holy book to cause them to do things, even altruistic things. It's just human nature to be that way.

Yes, but what specifically motivated the particular Atheists who contributed money to that campaign?

Some were hoping to speak to those who are culturally Christian; those who don't actually believe, but hadn't thought of admitting it to themselves or others. Those Atheists feel that religion is on par with Communism or smoking. Something irrational that, on average, blights lives and harms society.

But mostly people gave money for that very human reason: feeling isolated. The original journalist who sparked the idea, Ariane Sherine (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree ... t.religion) did it from frustration at the inequality whereby she was surrounded by Christian messages on buses, but felt lonely walking down the street, not knowing if anyone around her was an Atheist, or if she was the sole Atheist in a city of a million people, not daring to stand on a soap box and shout to the world "I don't believe! Who's with me?" because that sort of thing is generally frowned upon. Atheists know that when they meet a fellow mind and actually are lucky enough to learn from them that they are far from alone, it makes them feel less lonely, less isolated, less like a lone voice of rationality screaming into the dark of night against teeming gibbering hoards. So they want to share that positive feeling, help other Atheists feel it by letting those others know that they too are not alone.

What's the point of arguing? You have your story and I have mine. They are both theories, and so are just as likely as each other. I find mine more persuasive. You can't prove anything, so it is all just opinion. Why can't you be open minded? Why do I have to accept your truth? Why can't you let me have my truth and be done with it?

There's a wonderful quote, generally attributed to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts."

The problem here is one of definitions. It is far more interesting to discuss substance than definitions, but if we can't at least make clear which definitions each of us are using, we'll never reach the substance. Here's a link to the definitions Clairwil uses on CafeMom.

Lewis Carroll wrote: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.", so I won't try to argue that my definitions are 'right' and yours are 'wrong'. I will ask that we stick to a precisely defined and self-consistent set, and that if you wish to use a different set of definitions from the ones I am using, you make clear what yours mean.

Ok, I'll try asking the above question again, this time using your definitions:

My hypothesis is that our universe was intentionally created by an intelligent benevolent supernatural deity, whom I know by the name of " יהוה " (pronounced "Yahweh", and addressed or titled as "Lord", "Adonai", "Allah" or "God") and who has personally intervened in the running of the universe (through miracles) within the last 10,000 years. I find the evidence, both objective (historic records, fulfilled prophecies, physics of the universe, etc) and subjective (my personal internal experiences and instincts) to be at least as persuasively supportive of my hypothesis as it is of the alternative that you present (that there is no need of your hypothesis to explain our observed universe and history)

Just because science can't evaluate subjective evidence, that doesn't make it any less real. And it is not just me who has this subjective evidence. A majority of the 7 billion people living on Earth believe in some form of supernatural deity or deities. Scientists are in the minority and, even then many scientists are also believers. So if you were truly open minded, wouldn't you acknowledge the possibility that the majority are correct? Isn't it a bit arrogant to insist that, just because you have not experienced direct revelation, it doesn't exist? If we're wrong, how do you explain why so many people have these experiences and are persuaded by them? We can't all be mad or stupid.

Nicely phrased. I suppose I better answer.

If you look at a demographic map you'll notice that a person's religion is highly correlated with that of their parents and the society they are raised within. We can therefore discard any claim that there is persuasive objective evidence of the tenets of any one specific religion, and focus on the more general claim that there is an intelligent benevolent supernatural deity who created the universe and intervenes within it, and that subjective human mental experiences should be counted as evidence towards this, and that the existence of said deity is the best or only explanation of the nature and uniformity of such experiences.

Sociologists use the term "religiosity" to describe the propensity towards religious belief (depth of belief, level of religious activity, how important religion is to the person). From twin studies we know that, in adults, roughly 50% of a person's religiosity depends on the genes they inherit from their parents. It is an active area of scientific research, identifying which genes are involved, which parts of the brain they effect, and what the evolutionary advantages were to a tribe of having those genes.

What we do know, so far, is that an experience indistinguishable from religious revelation can be artificially induced by activating certain parts of the brain, either directly with electrodes or indirectly via specific chemicals.

Occam's razor tells us that if hypothesising a supernatural creator deity to explain the experiences people have been taking as subjective evidence doesn't add any predictive power (ie it makes no predictions that can be confirmed by objective evidence before dying and discovering whether or not there is an afterlife) then we should go with the simpler explanation that is it a purely naturalistic phenomena.

It doesn't require stupidity or madness to explain why so many people accept such experiences as supernatural. Just an understanding of the workings of the physical brain and evolutionary forces that we've only gained in the last 50 years or so.

You rather blithely dismissed the possibility of objective evidence back there. Even if we disallow subjective evidence, how do you explain why so many people also believe the objective evidence also supports their beliefs? What about the fine-structure constant, the Goldilocks Zone, that matter exists at all? What about irreducible complexity, eyewitness accounts of miracles and all the rest?

Rather than talk here about the specifics of each case, I'd like instead to address a generality about the nature of evidence and how we evaluate it. Baysian probability tells us that our estimates of probability depends not only on the evidence, but also upon our prior estimate. In other words, when we receive new data, we don't re-evaluate everything from scratch. We use the new data to modify the probability we calculated previously. This results in a number of psychological features: Confirmation Bias, and The Backfire Effect.

This means that if someone is already pre-disposed to believe in a supernatural deity (through being raised in a religious environment, for example) then they will tend to evaluate evidence which supports that conclusion as being more reliable than is justified by the objective data. Its just human nature to behave that way, because we have limited memory and computational ability. You see the same thing happening in all areas, not just to do with religion. Part of the reason why the scientific method is so powerful is that it is a systematic attempt to overcome our propensity to fool ourselves.

So is that it? Are Atheists always going to persecute us Christians, with their demands to remove God from money, schools and holidays?

The same psychological effect that affects people's estimation of the reliability of evidence also acts to heighten their feelings of persecution. This amplified feedback causes a vicious spiral where even a mild defensive response by a minority of the other side will in turn cause an escalation. While no doubt there is some blame on both sides, a useful concept to bear in mind is Christian Privilege.

It sounds like you're saying that there is no hope for communication. That the two world-views are entirely incommensurable. I've noticed that Atheists often over-simplify or entirely fail to understand the true subtleties of the religious position on things like hermeneutics, theodicy and apologetics. The Bible tells us that you have to ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit in order to correctly understand. Have you tried casting aside all doubt and just believing? Then it will all make sense to you. Otherwise you're just attacking straw-men.

One side's straw man is another side's moving target. There is usually not just one religious position on things like theodicy (explaining the problem of evil) but several, and many posters seem not to care about the validity of the arguments they use, switching position to suit the particular aspect they want to address. As P. Z. Myers says in "The Courtier's Reply", sometimes the details are irrelevant when the whole foundation is rotten. One fundamental problem is that once you allow miracles and ineffability, anything may be explained in terms of them. It is circular reasoning to require someone to believe before evaluating the evidence to justify the belief, because belief affects the evaluation process.

The other problem is that religion is a meme, honed by generations of evolution to precisely target weaknesses in the human ability to think rationally. Is religion appealing? Does it feel instinctively 'right' to many many people? Yes, because those religions that most effectively elicit that mental response have been those most likely to spread.

The only defense, the only mental vaccination, is to explore reality according to a process designed to shore up our mental failings and reduce our ability to fool ourselves: science.
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June 1st, 2018, 02:37 AM
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 5

Why don't you believe in the Norse Thor?

It is a great myth, with lots of morality, but not only is there not a shred of objective evidence, there are bits that seem to have been made up to explain life that would seem reasonable thousands of years ago, but which now contradict the common understanding of reality in ways that not only require one-off miracles but a wholesale rejection of history, physics, human nature and/or ethical behaviour. And, further more, there are rational explanations for how the belief came about, including evidence tracing many elements of the mythology back to earlier myths from other tribes.

Why don't you believe in the Pagan Gaia?

It is a great myth, with lots of morality, but not only is there not a shred of objective evidence, there are bits that seem to have been made up to explain life that would seem reasonable thousands of years ago, but which now contradict the common understanding of reality in ways that not only require one-off miracles but a wholesale rejection of history, physics, human nature and/or ethical behaviour. And, further more, there are rational explanations for how the belief came about, including evidence tracing many elements of the mythology back to earlier myths from other tribes.

Why don't you believe in the Islamic Allah‎?

It is a great myth, with lots of morality, but not only is there not a shred of objective evidence, there are bits that seem to have been made up to explain life that would seem reasonable thousands of years ago, but which now contradict the common understanding of reality in ways that not only require one-off miracles but a wholesale rejection of history, physics, human nature and/or ethical behaviour. And, further more, there are rational explanations for how the belief came about, including evidence tracing many elements of the mythology back to earlier myths from other tribes.

Why don't you believe in the Christian Yahweh?

It is a great myth, with lots of morality, but not only is there not a shred of objective evidence, there are bits that seem to have been made up to explain life that would seem reasonable thousands of years ago, but which now contradict the common understanding of reality in ways that not only require one-off miracles but a wholesale rejection of history, physics, human nature and/or ethical behaviour. And, further more, there are rational explanations for how the belief came about, including evidence tracing many elements of the mythology back to earlier myths from other tribes.‎

But, but, but I'm a Christian. And you called my beloved baby Jesus a "myth". That's insulting! I just knew you were a Satan-inspired hateful anti-Christian.

You didn't object when I called Thor a "myth".

Yes, but he is one. And nobody believes in that stuff, anyway.

They used to. And, indeed, there are some sincere worshippers of Him still living in Iceland. Also, you didn't object when I called the Pagan mother goddess a "myth", and there are lots of pagans still around.

My point is that you're anti-Christian, and you can't even answer 10 simple little questions that I have.

Sometimes the correct answer to a short question isn't the shortest answer. "Why do elastic bands pull back when stretched?" for example. However, since this is an FAQ and your "simple little questions" are ones that get asked of Atheists a lot, I'll give it a go, if you really insist. But remember, you're the one who raised the Christian-specific questions, not me.

Will it make you happy?


Ok, go ahead and ask them...

1. Argument from sacred writ

Despite the words being written down and translated by multiple hands in different countries, during different ages and even in different languages, the Holy Bible is a uniquely consistent document, both with itself and with reality, unequaled in style, poetry and wisdom. Not only is this perfection clear evidence of a single guiding authorship behind those hands, but it contains scientific knowledge and makes predictions (that have turned out to be correct) that it is highly unlikely even an educated person of those times could have made unaided by foreknowledge.

Most early Jewish and Christian writings were passed on orally long before being written down, which gave each generation in the chain a chance to edit out bits they felt were clunky, foolish or no longer relevant. These writings were then further scrutinised by theologians who, in a series of Church councils, selected a sub-set they felt were self-consistent to become the Bible, and this was further altered by translators who added glosses to various passages. However, despite 2 Timothy 3:16, the claims by some Christians that the Bible is inerrant is severely tested by Skeptic's Annotated Bible / Quran / Book of Morman>, and leaves them looking like pretzels, their intellectual integrity in tatters.

2. Argument from historical evidence

Ok, but even if for the sake of argument I grant that God only authored the events, and the words used to describe those events were authored by fallible humans, those events were still amazing! Burning bushes, falling city walls, water into wine and, above all, Jesus returning to life after being crucified. These events were witnessed, accounts were written by contemporary historians, and archaeological evidence backs it up - these things did happen. The apostle, Saint Paul, was executed, and he stayed faithful right to the very end. If he wasn't stupid, evil or insane, how do you account for him and many other eyewitnesses giving their lives for a lie?

None of the archeological evidence, or evidence from contemporary historians, supports the miraculous nature of any event mentioned in the Bible. The only accounts which do are those from believers, and most of them were not written down by first-hand eyewitnesses. Paul, for example, never met Jesus - he appointed himself an apostle on the basis of a vision he had. We actually have little better data on the life of Jesus than we do on the life of King Arthur or Robin Hood. If you read the accounts of people who have survived being members of a cult you find that otherwise quite sane and well intentioned people do sometimes give their lives for strange reasons.

And, when it comes to things like Noah and the age of the Earth, if a world-wide flood of anything like the magnitude described had happened during the last 6,000 years, the evidence really ought to be there unless God used additional miracles to intentionally hide the evidence.

3. Argument from modern evidence

Ok, but what the miracles that have happened since then? Prayer works. Every day requests for healing are answered and Christians gain in prosperity through the power of prayer. If it wasn't, why is Christianity the most powerful religion, and Christian nations the most powerful in the world? What about the Shroud of Turin, stigmata and miraculous events and appearances witnessed by thousands?

Miracles similar to those claimed by Christians have also been made by other religions and, indeed, by believers in aliens and ghosts. The same standard of evidence should be used in evaluating all these claims, whatever their nature or originating organisation - proper scientific investigation.

And, despite the claims of spiritualists, faith healers and prosperity theologians, science has never been able to verify any effect of prayer stronger than the placebo effect, and certainly nothing like amputated human limb entirely re-growing. Nor have claims like the shroud, stigmata and self-lighting candles panned out, when examined in detail by science's impartial eye.

The symbiotic relationship between the spread of Christianity and the spread of Europeans across the globe is hardly to Christianity's credit.

4. Argument from design: humans and the world

I look around me and I see signs of a loving Intelligent Designer everywhere. In my baby's smile. In the beauty of the flowers. In the warmth of the Sun on my face. Despite the misery caused by human wars and sin, this is a bountiful planet and humans are amazingly designed to enjoy it. For it to be chance would be a coincidence beyond belief. I believe that everything is as it is for a purpose, even if the reasoning is hidden from us sometimes, and to be other than it is would to be less than perfect. Is something vital missing from you, that you're so cold you don't instinctively feel this too?

Atheists generally accept the scientific view that the human species evolved from ancestral species which they share with the other forms of life on Earth, and that via this process we adapted to the Earth, rather than vice versa. There are evolutionary reasons why flowers look beautiful, why we appreciate the Sun's warmth and why happy babies please us.

Atheists are not inhuman. They have the same evolved capacity for wonder, to experience the numinous, as theists do. They just have a different interpretation of what it means and where it comes from.

We do find the Earth to be bountiful, but geocentrism went out with Copernicus, and spread through the universe are many many planets that fall within the Goldilocks Zone, and which would be equally bountiful towards aquatic-evolved carbon-based life forms.

And, though the human body is indeed wonderfully well adapted for passing on copies of DNA, when looked at in detail it is obviously a 'bottom up' rather than a 'top down' design, a bazaar rather than a cathedral, locked into an historic body plan that, in some particulars, better suited a fish or a mammal that moved on all fours.

5. Argument from design: the laws of nature and the existence of the universe

But, even if I accept evolution, the very basis of the laws of nature, the fundamental constants of physics, the speed of light and the relative strength of the various forces, are finely tuned to values that permit stable suns and planetary orbits. How do you explain that or, for that matter, why the universe exists at all? How can matter, or even information, be created without a Creator?

By definition we cannot know what lies outside our own universe so, if our universe were created by some event in a 'higher' universe, we cannot know what laws prevail in that other 'higher' universe. This means we have no basis to predict how many other universes at our level exist or have existed, in series or in parallel with our own, under different laws of nature, and what percentage of them will have achieved sentient life. To state that the values of the fundamental constants are improbably requires us to assume that the universe we can know about through the natural processes of physics is the only one that exists or has ever existed. M-Theory and various other theories suggest otherwise.

Likewise everything we known about causality is based upon our observations of this universe, and may be inapplicable to a higher universe operating under different laws. This applies also to the laws of thermodynamics, but even given the current laws of thermodynamics, it is quite possible to have increases in order in local areas - only closed systems must never decrease their entropy.

6. Argument from reason: Descartes

One should doubt all that one can, but there are three things that cannot rightfully be doubted, and these are mutually supporting. I cannot doubt my own existence, because in order to doubt there must exist that which does the doubting (cogito ergo sum). I cannot doubt reason itself, because this method of doubt is itself based upon reason. And I cannot doubt God, who reason tells me exists and who is the guarantor that my reason is not leading me astray, for God is another word for perfection, and it is more perfect for something to exist than for it to not exist, therefore God exists.

Just because you can conceive of a thing, that doesn't make the thing possible, let alone probable. I can conceive of colorless green dreams that sleep furiously.

7. Argument from reason: C. S. Lewis

One absolutely central inconsistency ruins the popular scientific philosophy. The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears... unless Reason is an absolute, all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based.

Lewis wrote this argument before the advent of digital computers which, despite being based clearly based upon purely physical mechanics, can be rather efficient at logical processing; far more so than "the random movement of wind through the trees".

8. Argument from authority

Your above replies don't make sense to me. I'm sure Descartes and Lewis were far more intelligent than you are. Why can't you just accept that the greatest thinkers of all time, such as Newton and Leonardo da Vinci, were Christians, and bow to their authority? And not just them. A majority of humans who've ever lived believe in God, as do a majority of women in America and on CafeMom. What makes you so special? Why should I trust your authorities over mine? Why should I trust science? Scientists weren't there at the creation of the Earth, but God was. And God speaks directly into the hearts of the authorities I trust, and into my heart so I know which authorities to trust. Can you say the same?

Science doesn't require that you trust scientists not to lie. It only requires trust that at least some out of the millions of scientists on the planet Earth be greedy and selfish enough to wish to gain wealth and career advancement from the reputation they can gain if they manage to point out errors in the papers published by other scientists.

No doubt Descartes, Newton et al were fantastically intelligent men. But intelligence alone is not enough. They were prisoners of their environment and the amazing thing is that anyone in the Dark Ages broke out initially at all, to then open chinks of light through the wall by which to guide out others.

9. Argument from morality

Moral obligations are real, not illusory. But in the Atheist worldview there is no way to proceed from descriptive statements (about what is) to prescriptive statements (about what ought to be). Therefore Atheism is wrong. To argue otherwise is to support rape, genocide, pedophilia and the torture of cute fluffy kittens. You're not a kitten rapist, are you?

How would God existing make the is-ought problem any easier? Epistemology is an active area within Philosophy but, just because there are open questions within it, that doesn't mean there are no answers, or that an Atheist society would leave people to act any way they desired in absense of having found 100% convincing justification for the Golden Rule. In life one has to learn to handle degrees of uncertainty, and to take action upon provisional conclusions based off imperfect data. To jump for an answer because it promises certainty, even if the answer is not necessarily the correct one, is an infantile act. It is a false dichotomy to assume that the only alternative to jumping for such an answer is to do nothing.

10. Argument to self-interest

Look, you don't have to really believe initially. Just pretend, obey the rules, and maybe real belief will creep up on you once you've opened your heart to it and immersed yourself in the lifestyle and rituals. You can't be certain you're right, and what if you're wrong? If you go alone with the crowd, you'll be popular, accepted, helped through life and given comfort, moral support and much more. If you're down, our 12-step programs and charities are ace at getting you back on your feet. Talking of which, look at all the good works we Christians do which you could help with if you joined us. Wouldn't that make you feel good about yourself? You're not afraid or selfish are you? And think of the reward, an infinitely long afterlife of perfect infinite happness! Or you could remain a no-friend grumpy guts, piss off all your nice respectable neighbours and end up burning in hell for all eternity. Choice is yours, pal.

Sounds like the Mafia to me. Pascal and Dante have much to answer for. And what kind of twisted deity would put people in that position anyway?

Many, many, many reams have been written about this Wager. I shall not even attempt to summarise them all here. My favourite is the one which points out it isn't a binary choice, because there are other deities competing for your fear, and if you're going on pure probability then Ikadz (the god of \aleph_\omega torture) is a scarier prospect.

There you go, that's your 10, all asked and answered. Happy now?


*sigh* Why not?

You didn't go very deep in your answers. They raised lots more questions. I want to task you on each particular miracle in history and have you disprove it. And I only got to present the arguments of Descartes and Lewis. There are hundreds more!

No doubt there are. Christianity enslaved the minds of Europe, both dull and brilliant, for more than 1000 years. Of course they came up with many many arguments, more than any single person could have time to refute in a single lifetime. Not all arguments are equally strong or valid, though. I'm presuming you chose your best 10 to present. By induction, every time you present an argument that turns out to have flaws, the probability decreases that your next argument will be any better.

You're going to have to try harder than that, if you want to shake my faith. I'm strong, I still believe!

I wasn't trying to shake your faith. You were trying to convert me, remember? Matthew 7:18 " A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. "

Why do you keep referring to the Bible if you don't believe in it? " The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. "

Actually, Shakespear wrote that. But, even if true, it doesn't mean all non-Christians who cite scripture are inspired to do so by Satan. There's a lot of good advice in the Bible (among other stuff), and quoting it when relevant is one way to reach towards common ground and understanding.

Look this confrontation rehetoric is all very well but, as you say, we've only scratched the surface here. If we discuss this in depth, we're going to be at this a long long time. Can't you accept that I'm basically a well intentioned person, and that not accepting your religion doesn't make me evil?

If you think in terms of "weak" and "strong", with people entering Christianity from outside having previously been weak lost sheep, and people leaving Christianity being weak doubters, that's going to colour how you percieve Atheists. But in the verse I quoted Jesus is talking about how to judge whether a tree is good or not. If you take a clear look at those who leave Christianity you'll notice that generally they don't immediately run out to have adulterous orgies or indulge in murderous bank-robbing sprees.

So if you were not trying to convert me, what was the point of this FAQ again?

Think of it as a conversational starting point. If you want to actually engage and discuss evidence with me, rather than preach at me to gain brownie points, then you need to understand where I'm coming from and what I'm already familiar with. By all means present one of the above arguments, but please at least do me the courtesy of finding out in advance what the common objections are to the argument and adress those objections, so we can get to the meat of the discussion, rather than waste our time addressing straw-men.

And, in particular, if you raise an argument, then finish the discussion. Don't just copy'n'paste a list of 20 arguments from your favourite evangelical website and, when Atheists spend hours writing well thought out replies to those 20, say you don't understand the scientific details but authorities you trust do and the onus is upon the Atheist to find out more, then posting a new 20 in another thread (or even the same 20, a month later). (See also: this journal and this one.)

(The journal linked to above:
How to Annoy an Atheist
Mar 10, 2008 at 9:31 PM
By onezenmom)

1. Ask her why she is bitter against God.

2. Tell her that if there’s no God, she might as well go out and kill people.

3. At every available opportunity refer to Atheism as "a religion".

4. Be utterly adamant that creation/intelligent design is a "science" while pointing out that evolution is "just a theory".

5. Prove that god exists by pointing out where in the bible it says so.

6. Use multiple versions of Pascal’s Wager as though you thought them up yourself.

7. Explain that any biblical passages you agree with are "the word of god" while at the same time dismissing any you disagree with as being "metaphorical" or "out-of-context".

8. Refer to Atheists as illogical, faith-based and fundamentalist. Or any other term that has previously been used to accurately describe you.

9. Cite Kent Hovind as a legitimate source of information.

10. …and call him “Dr. Hovind.”

11. Tell them that the universe is too complex to “just exist,” and must have been created by a God who “just exists.

12. Use the fact that the Atheist can't fully explain to you how the universe was formed as evidence that god done it.

13. Don't worry about details such as the logistics involved with Noah's ark, how the human race came from two people without incest or why the bible contradicts itself so often.

14. Say you will pray for her; And make sure she knows you said it out of spite.

15. No matter how many times you are corrected and how much evidence you see to the contrary ... Always claim that America is a Christian nation founded by Christians on Christian principles.

16. Say that separation of church and state isn’t in the Constitution; insist that the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments.

17. Accuse them of persecuting you.

18. Point out that we all take things on faith.

19. Use the Second Law of Thermodynamics to disprove evolution.

20. Before starting an argument, say “You’re an atheist? That means you’re going to hell!”

21. After losing the argument say, “I pity you.”

22. End a discussion with “Well, I know you’re smarter than I am, but I know I’m right.”

23. Repeat something over and over, as if that made it true.

24. Repeat something over and over, as if that made it true.

25. Repeat something over and over, as if that made it true.

26. Accuse them of willfully ignoring the “obvious truth.”

27. Use bad math to back up your claims.

28. Tell her that she acknowledges Christ every time she uses “A.D.” - which, of course, stands for “After Death.”

29. Insist that the Bible is meant to be taken literally — all except that verse she just showed you.

30. Insist that Noah’s Ark and the Shroud of Turin are real.

31. …and tell him about the special on FOX where you saw it.

32. Tell him you must study the Bible for many years to reject Christianity.

33. …and when he points out that you reject Islam despite never having studied the Qu’ran, say that you have faith, and faith is all you need.

34. Ask him how he knows God isn’t real if he can’t see the air.

35. Talk about how you used to be a miserable, sinning, drug-abusing, alcoholic, sex-addicted, spouse-beating criminal until you found God.

36. When shown that the Bible says that Pi=3, say that the Hebrews didn’t know anything about science, so it’s not their fault.

37. When shown the creation account in Genesis, insist that the Hebrews had all kinds of scientific savvy, being inspired by God.

38. Smile smugly and tell him that there are no atheists in foxholes.

39. Equivocate scientific faith with religious faith, and conclude that, metaphysically, you are both in the same boat.

40. Claim that archaeology is proof of the Bible’s truth.

41. Misconstrue logical terms in order to prove that logic does not work.

42. Claim that logic is the atheist’s god.

43. Use only circular reasoning.

44. Claim that the atheist only uses circular reasoning.

45. Claim that circular reasoning is legitimate due to circular reasoning being legitimate.

46. Use the phrase “Hate the sin, love the sinner” as a blanket response to the notion that Christianity is at fault for something.

47. State that Christianity has done a lot of good along with all the mass murder.

48. When he takes the time and trouble to explain where your analogy or interpretation is at fault, begin your response with a *sigh*, so he’ll know how patient you’re being.

49. Offer inane apologetics books in the hopes that he hasn’t heard the arguments in them a thousand times already.

50. When asked if they would sacrifice their own child for God, respond with “God would never ask me to do that.”

51. Carefully explain that Lot’s daughters were never in danger of gang rape, and that Lot knew this all along.

52. Tell him that Christians aren’t perfect — just forgiven.

53. Claim that Einstein was a Christian.

54. Claim that Darwin recanted evolution on his deathbed.

55. …and when he tells you about the Lady Hope myth, cry.

56. Vehemently claim that the theory of evolution is incompatible with theism, then turn around and blame the theory for promoting atheism.

57. Say that evolution is not proven — therefore the Bible is correct.

58. Tell him it’s his responsibility to prove that God doesn’t exist.

59. Ask what he believes in, if not God.

60. Explain that Buddha’s last words were “Jesus, forgive me.”

61. …and tell him that you were “saved” when you heard that story.

62. …and when he explains that Buddha died 500 years before Jesus was born, give him a blank look.

63. Say that God can’t reveal himself with any real proof, because that would remove the need for faith.

64. When something awful happens, tell him not to blame God — he doesn’t interfere.

65. When something wonderful happens, tell him to credit God — he made it happen.

66. Explain that it doesn’t matter whether or not he thinks he’s sinned – all humans were imbued with original sin at the moment of their birth.

67. …then tell him that babies automatically go to heaven.

68. …and mentally retarded people.

69. …and those with Down’s Syndrome.

70. Treat nothing he says as credible, because he is possessed by Satan.

71. Show that the Bible must be true because when you take the original Hebrew letters, spread them out and twist them around, you can spell words.

72. …and when he points out that that will work with literally any work in any alphabet, accuse him of closed-mindedness and blasphemy.

73. Spell it “athiest.”

74. Spell it “evilution.”

75. Tell him that Hitler was an atheist.

76. Tell him that he’s playing right into Satan’s hands, because Satan’s greatest ploy is convincing people that God doesn’t exist.

77. Claim that Jesus is the God based on the Old Testament, then turn around and say that the Old Testament has nothing to do with the New Covenant.

78. Use the word “presupposition” incorrectly, repeatedly.

79. Say that God believes in him, whether or not he believes in God.

80. Call the Branch Davidians a “cult,” but insist that your particular faction is a “religion.”

81. …and argue that a practical distinction actually exists.

82. Tell him that he can’t use absolute logic because God is the only absolute.

83. Tell him the signs are there — he’s just not looking.

84. Say that you know in your heart that belief in God is perfectly logical and rational.

85. Insist that homosexuality is a choice.

86. Insist that Thomas Jefferson was a Christian.

87. Tell his that it’s not a religion — it’s a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

88. When asked what’s wrong with evolution, tell them that it doesn’t account for the origin of matter.

89. Tell him that fossils in the earth are the Devil’s work.

90. Grossly misunderstand the word “theory.”

91. Ask how she can possibly raise children in a godless environment.

92. When the subject of homosexuality comes up, say “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

93. …and expect it to be taken as an intelligent remark.

94. Post something inflammatory about him, wait for him to respond, then go back and delete or edit your post so that it appears that the atheist is attacking you for no reason.95. Point to something in nature that’s really cool, and call it proof of God’s existence.

96. Take advantage of a horrible national tragedy, caused in large part by religious fanaticism, by pushing your own religious fanaticism as the only thing that will save us all.

97. …and announce that the tragedy only happened because of those who ignore your religious fanaticism.

98. Insist on deathbed conversions.

99. When ending your conversation with the atheist, promise to read whatever book the atheist may have mentioned, knowing darned well that you yourself never made it through Leviticus.
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 6

You mentioned "world-view" earlier. What does that mean?

The ancient Greeks split the study of knowledge into two parts: technê (the application of knowledge) and epistêmê (the understanding of knowledge). In modern philosophy we call the study of knowledge in the abstract "epistemology", and one of the most active areas within epistemology is coming up with a "theory of justification" that explains when someone is or is not warranted in holding a statement to be likely to be true. An example of a proposed theory of justification is Susan Haack's foundherentism which, like most candidates, looks at how coherently the beliefs within a particular world-view support each other.

The sociology of knowledge is the study of the relationship between human thought (approximately what Michel Foucault terms a "discourse") and the social context within which that thought arises (approximately what Foucault terms the "épisteme"). Foucault, in his "The Archeology of Knowledge", written in 1969, expands on the work of Thomas Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", written 1962, expanding Kuhn's idea of scientific paradigms to fields outside science.

For Kuhn, in the context of sciences like physics, a paradigm is a theoretical framework (a fundamental model or perception of events) shared by the members of a (scientific) community - a global thing, like a zetigeist or genius seculi; and once an individual scientist has shifted from their original paradigm to one with better explanatory or predictive power, they can't shift back. Nobody rejects the germ theory of disease to posit the possibility that miasma causes disease. Nobody posits that ether carries light, once they understand modern physics and optics, and how the new paradigm predicts everything that can be successfully predicted using the old paradigm plus some new stuff that the old paradigm gets wrong or just doesn't predict.

In short, a world-view is more than just what someone sees when they view the world. It is the assumptions, values and mental tools that shape the method by which the person views the world and interprets what they see into their internal model of reality.

And "incommensurable" ?

If there are two castaways stranded on a desert island with no books, one who speaks only English and one who speaks only French, the two languages share sufficient vocabulary and sentence structure that if they go back to small simple basic things they can find a common understanding from which they can work up to a full translation from. If instead the languages spoken had been English and Chinese, they'd have had no recourse except to learn each other's language from scratch, pointing at objects and naming them.

Commensurability is a measure of how far back you have to go before you arrive at common translation or standard of measurement. Two world-views are incommensurable if, when you try to compare them, you find that on the attribute you're trying to compare, they either (from within the world-view) disagree on the answer (because they use different definitions or methods of measuring it) or disagree on whether that is the important attribute to use for comparison.

Kuhn holds that, within hard science, no two world-views are ever entirely incommensurable, because they share a common scientific methodology that scientists can use to agree whether a prediction failed or not - it is tested against objective reality. Foucault holds that, when it comes to things like literary criticism or economics, there are no universally agreed objective standards about whether a particular book is important, or whether employment is more or less important than inflation, but agrees it is still possible to shift from one world-view to another.

There's a useful metaphor for this process, from a computing technique mathematicians sometimes use to find approximate solutions to numeric problems called "simulated annealing". Consider a graph with high points (called "maxima") and low points (called "minima") like this one:

Sometimes you know the equation, and can just solve it. But, at other times, the situation is like having a black box with some dials to twiddle, and a single output (which you want to be as big as possible). One way to search for the dial setting that produce the biggest output would be to set the dials all to zero then start systematically searching through all the possible settings, but that might take years. If the graph is simple, you can usually find the answer much faster by noting how large the output is for ten different random settings, then concentrating your search near the random setting that had the largest output and making some smaller random changes, narrowing down on the best of those, and then making some last very small changes to fine-tune your solution. This process is known as "simulated annealing" and the amount of random noise you use to vary the solution at each stage is known as the 'temperature'. You start off at a high 'temperature', making big random jumps, then slowly cool things down, making smaller and smaller changes:

If you lower the 'temperature' too fast, you can get stuck at a local maxima. To make the shift to a different maxima (perhaps a higher one), you'd have to increase the 'temperature' again. This is a nice parallel with commensurability. You can think of a stable world-view as being a local maxima. To shift to a different maxima requires increasing the 'temperature' of your search process - in other words, how far back to basics you go, how many of the assumptions of the world-view you need to question or put on hold at the same time before you can take a look at the world-view from 'outside' (a different world-view) to decide whether or not you've been trapped by circular logic and indoctrination, blinded by a hardness of heart and a will not to see.

What is the Atheist world-view? How does it differ from the Christian world-view?

There is no single Christian world-view, nor single Atheist one. There are multiple variants of each. However to a large extent they fit neatly on a single spectrum which starts at one end with a purely naturalistic world-view, in line with the current scientific consensus, in which there is no compelling evidence for (or need to hypothesise) any supernatural souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, daemons or Intelligent Designers. At the other end of the spectrum is the highly non-naturalistic world-view in which everything is fundamentally miraculous, and the only apparent regularities in the part of the universe that living beings are usually allowed to directly perceive with their worldly senses are those regularities temporarily allowed by God (an individual intelligent being, creator of the Universe and prime directing force of all that happens within in).

By looking at the path connecting these two extreme ends, we should manage to touch upon many of the variants that lie between. But, before we look at them in detail, it would be useful to step back a moment to answer a few other questions first...

How incommensurable are they? Can we really compare them and say one is strictly superior to the other?

It is possible to compare world-views on many different criteria. One can look at statistics to say which world-view leads, on average, to less depression, greater financial success, longer life, less time in prison, stronger friendships, etc. But averages don't necessarily apply to individual people, and there is no agreed standard outside both world-views which we can use to decide which criteria are the important ones to use for comparison. So we can't say that any world-view is strictly superior to another one, because we'd have to specific for which purpose it is superior.

So if there are no good grounds to shift world-views, isn't looking at them a waste of time?

What we can do is ask ourselves whether a world-view is stable (self-consistent in the light of the evidence it admits), and whether it is superior on the criteria that are claimed by that world-view to be the important criteria. These things can (in principle) be true of multiple world-views, however, so nobody can be convinced away from a world-view against their will, as long at it is a stable maxima. In order for shifting to be possible, there must first be doubt (the 'temperature' must be raised) - an openness to questioning basic assumptions within one's world-view and asking oneself "What if these assumptions are wrong? Would that alter the criteria I've been using to decide whether they are correct or not?"

Doubt is bad! You're evil and selfish to want me to doubt. Why should I entertain doubts if I'm perfectly happy with my current world-view and want to hold onto it?

There are two traditions within Christianity, with respect to doubt.

The first stance is that one should strive to have as little doubt as possible (Jude 1:3) and that those who believe without seeing are blessed (John 20:29). Some go so far as to see all doubt as being the work of Satan, a malicious attack on precious faith that is best defended against by clinging to certainty.

The second stance distinguishes between short term and long term, and holds that one path to arrive at greater long term certainty is to start off by entertaining short term doubts (to better examine and deal with them). This matches well with what we observe in simulated annealing - the greater the range of possibilities checked, the greater the confidence one can have that the maxima you return to is a global maxima rather than just a local maxima.

Here are some quotes on the subject:

" True wisdom is less presuming than folly. The wise man doubteth often, and changeth his mind; the fool is obstinate, and doubteth not; he knoweth all things but his own ignorance. "

" Who never doubted, never half believed. Where doubt is, there truth is...it is her shadow. "

" Great doubts...deep wisdom. Small doubts... little wisdom. "
--Chinese Proverb

" Doubt is the vestibule through which all must pass before they can enter into the temple of wisdom. "

" If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. "

" If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties. "
--Francis Bacon

" If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger. It knows God more certainly and it can enjoy God more deeply. "
--C. S. Lewis

That's not a good enough reason. You've already mentioned in earlier parts of this FAQ that you think religion causes harm, so your self interest is clear - you just want me to doubt because you want me to shift world-views from Christianity to Atheism. Why should I listen to you? What's in it for me?

If the prospects of gaining wisdom and greater certainty and understanding of your own faith isn't enough, consider that by gaining a deeper understanding of both world-views (and how they see each other) you'll also be improving your own ability to persuade people to shift away from Atheism and towards Christianity. Understanding is a two-edged sword. That's the drawback of truth and honest open enquiry - you don't know, in advance, where it will lead you. But wisdom is a prize worth the risk:

" O wad some Power the gift tae gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us! "
--Robert Burns

" Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. "
--Proverbs 4:7

" Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men "
--Ecclesiastes 7:19

Here are two longer pieces, from a Christian point of view, on doubt and wisdom:

Great Faith and Great Doubt (http://www.reformedreflections.ca/biogr ... lewis.html)
The Epistemology of Religion (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/relig ... stemology/)

You mentioned "predictive power" earlier. What does that mean?

Suppose we are looking at the relationship between two variables, x and y. If we were told the value of y for 5 different values of x, we could plot them on a graph:

If we thought we spotted a trend in how these points were arranged, we could draw a line through the points, then extrapolate it onwards, in order to make a prediction of what value y would have when x was 5.

However, what if the relationship wasn't a straight line? If we're allowed a curved line (a polynomial) then, given enough flexibility in the equation, there are an infinite number of possible curves we could have fitted to our 5 data points. This is why testing is important. If you make up an explanation using all the available data, with no way of acquiring more, then it is too easy to fool yourself, because no mater what the data, it is always possible to come up with an explanation if you know in advance the data the explanation needs to fit. We can use occam's razor to pick the simplest explanation that fits (the least flexible one), however that's not guaranteed to always be correct.

This is why, when a good scientist does factor analysis, they perform exploratory factor analysis on a random subset of the available data, then use confirmatory factor analysis on the balance to test whether the predicted relationship actually holds.

Here's how America's National Academy of Science defines some basic terms, as used in science:

Fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed.
Law: A descriptive generalization about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under stated circumstances.
Hypothesis: A testable statement about the natural world that can be used to build more complex inferences and explanations.
Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

Hypotheses can be tested either using predictions OR by using postdictions, however in the case of postdictions great care has to be taken that the person making it has not already had access to data they are extrapolating towards. How strongly and accurately an hypothesis can make testable falsifiable predictions is known as its predictive power. A classic example would be Mendeleev's prediction of the chemical element: germanium

Beyond predictive power, there is a further attribute that scientists like hypotheses to have: explanatory power. This doesn't mean just coming up with an explanation for something because, as we've seen, it is always possible to come up with an explanation. For a hypothesis to have explanatory power means that it provides explanations of additional phenomena, outside the scope of the original thing being predicted. An example would be plate tectonics, which not only makes predictions about the location of rocks of various ages but, in addition, also links in explanations of the ring of fire and the mid-atlantic ridge. The greater the scope of the things being explained, the greater the explanatory power; however the type of explanation matters - it is perhaps better to say it is the ratio of the scope to the flexibility of the explanation. It is the opposite of 'rescuing devices' and 'ad hoc hypotheses'. Here's how David Deutsch words it:


Why do predictive and explanatory power matter?

It is easy to make up a set of assertions that are coherent with themselves. For example:

STATEMENT (1) = "Statement (2) is correct."
STATEMENT (2) = "Statement (1) is correct."

That's an obvious example of circular reasoning; it doesn't reference reality. But it is quite possible to to come up with a set of statements that cohere with reality as well as with themselves. Imagine some poor person trapped in a cult that believed:

STATEMENT (1) = "All these statements were given directly by me, cult leader Andrews."
STATEMENT (2) = "Everything I, cult leader Andrews, say is true."
STATEMENT (3) = "The moon is made of green cheese."
STATEMENT (4) = "Any evidence you come across that seems to contradict one of these statements is an illusion magically placed there by the evil Hamburglar in order to test your faith in me."

What advice could you give the person?

You could point out the lack of supporting evidence outside the statements themselves. You could point out their lack of predictive power (none of the things hold that one could deduce onwards from the moon being made of green cheese, such as the effect upon tides of the moon weighing less than it would if made of rock). You could point out their lack of explanatory power (statement 4 is 'ad hoc', it keeps getting used and doesn't allow us to predict onwards to anything, nor does it have any context outside the flaws in the other statements it is trying to explain away. It makes the power of the theory increasingly poor, rather than increasingly rich. And you could change "Hamburglar" to "invisible fairy", or the suggested motivation, without altering anything.). You could point out alternative explanations for how these statements might have ended up being issued by Andrews.

Imagine the trap the poor person would find themselves in if cult leader Andrews added:

STATEMENT (5) = "Doubt is bad. Trust without evidence, because that is a virtue. Shun disbelievers, because they are minions of the Hamburglar."

Consider how useful that statement is to Andrews and in what sort of organisation such statements would need to be given high importance. Wouldn't you hope that the person could find it within themselves to doubt, just for 1 hour, just long enough to find out for themselves whether or not they are trapped within a net of self-supporting lies? Whether the trust that they have placed in the source of statements is well founded, or whether that trust has been abused?

So, as we now go onto look at the actual world-views, that's what I invite you to do. Step back and consider impartially the explanations given in each world-view. Ask yourself whether they are rich explanations (full of predictive power), or poor explanations (ones that might make for a great story, but that don't lead anywhere and could have many details altered without altering their visible impact). Ask yourself whether they are the quality of explanation you'd accept in any other area of your life, if they came from someone you didn't yet trust.

Ask yourself, if you had been trapped in a cult, would you have managed to escape it?


Of course real cults are not that obvious about it. They dress it up in a good story. Here, for example, are the 'exit videos' of the Heaven's Gate cult members who suicided:


That's why predictive and explanatory power matter. Once caught in a net, it is your only hope for even realising that the net exists and is a net.

Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 7

What is the Christian world-view?

As mentioned previously, for the moment I'm using the phrase "Christian world-view" to refer to the most non-naturalistic version; I'll come onto the other variants later. So, here it is....

Traditionally a world-view can be split into 6 components:

Etiology ("What happened in the past?")
Cosmology ("What is life, the universe and everything? How does it work? What is human nature?")
Eschatology ("What is going to happen in the future?")
Epistemology ("How do we know this?")
Philosophy ("What should our goals be?")
Praxeology ("How should we try to attain those goals?")

What is the Christian Etiology?

For convenience I've used the dates from the Ussher chronology, where available. The precise dates are not central to the Christian world-view, but do provide a useful framework within which to organise the claimed events.


infinity - God the creator, God the Logos and God the holy spirit exist, ab initio
???? - At some point God creates the non-physical universe and all the angels
4004 - Over a 6 day period, God creates the physical universe and everything in it
3950 - Satan, the mightiest of the angels, rebels, and is cast out from heaven
3900 - Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden
3500 - Sumerians build the City of Ur: cuneiform writing, pottery, the wheel
3100 - Pharaoh Menes founds the 1st Egyptian Dynasty (the Palermo Stone)
3000 - The stone circle at Stonehenge is used for cremations and as a cemetery
2667 - Vizier Imhotep builds a pyramid for Pharaoh Djoser, near Memphis in Egypt
2494 - 5th Dynasty - worship of Osiris common in Egypt: resurrection
2349 - Noah's Flood
2250 - The Tower of Babel
2150 - Sumerian text, The Epic of Gilgamesh
2100 - Sumerian text, Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta
1921 - God's call to Abraham
1800 - The 12 tribes of Israel are captive in Egypt
1772 - The Code of Hammurabi
1491 - The Exodus from Egypt, leg by Moses
1400 - Hindu text from India, The Rigveda
1200 - Earliest surviving Chinese writings, detailing 500 years of Shang Dynasty history
1050 - King David makes Jerusalem his capital
1012 - Founding of the first Temple in Jerusalem, by David's son, King Solomon the Wise
1000 - Zarathustra invents monotheism: magi, omniscience
900 - Old Testament starts to be composed
800 - The Indian epic, The Mahabharata, is composed
753 - Foundation of Rome
625 - Earliest surviving fragments of the Old Testament
588 - Babylon captures Jerusalem and destroys the first Temple
512 - The second Temple is built
450 - Old Testament edited into a final stable form
420 - Mozi, in China, publishes writings: universal love and the Golden Rule
344 - Aristotle publishes De Caelo
330 - Israel conquered by Alexander the Great
250 - Earliest copes of the Old Testament written in Greek
67 - Worship of Mithras spread by the slaver pirates conquered then spared by Pompey
63 - Israel conquered by Romans
30 - Hillel the Elder, and the Pharisee/Sadducee/Essene split.
4 - Birth of Jesus


27 - Jesus baptised by John the Baptist
32 - John the Baptist executed. Jesus leads at the feeding of the 5000.
33 - Jesus is executed on the cross. Pentecost.

What is the Christian Cosmology?

There are two aspects of the universe - the physical, and the non-physical.

Or, as Bishop Berkeley suggests with the doctrine of subjective idealism, we misunderstand the nature of what human minds perceive as the physical universe, and that in fact it is God who implants ideas (the thoughts we interpret as sensations of an objective external reality) directly into our minds in an orderly manner. The only things that fundamentally exist are the Mind of God, our Minds, and the ideas communicated between them. All else (trees falling in forests when no human is around to see them) exists only as an idea in the Mind of God.

Either way, God is the supreme creator. Everything exists and happens by His sovereign will (either at His instigation, or with His permission). He chose and set in motion the cosmos, with perfect foreknowledge of how the results would play out and all is as He intends, except where He has created beings with permission to choose to withdraw themselves and their surroundings from the sheltering perfection of unity with His guiding spirit.

God is omnipotent, in that His absolute power can effect whatever is not intrinsically impossible. He cannot create a square circle; He cannot create an object that both exists and does not exist; He cannot take an action that is both in harmony with His nature and attributes, and that is at war with them. For this reason, he cannot sin, he cannot change the past, and he cannot reverse his own decrees. We talk about his potentia ordinaria (regulated power) which is the things he can do limited by the decrees he has already announced.

It follows from this that he is omniscient and omnipresent, since both those are powers that are neither intrinsically impossible, nor things he has forbidden Himself by decree.

The species Homo sapiens sapiens, the descendants of one man (Israel, son of Abraham), the planet Earth, and the recent milennia (2000 bce to 2000 ce) are the focus of this physical universe, in the sense that the rest of it is just backdrop scenery for this central play.

The events marking changes of act in the play are: the Creation, the Fall, the Redemption and the Consummation

God created humankind in His own image [Genesis 1:27], in that they have both a physical aspect (the body) and a non-physical aspect (the soul) [Ecclesiastes 12:7], however the nature of man changes in each act [Romans 8:18-25]:

During the first act (while living in the Garden of Eden), humankind was in a state of innocence - human nature is entirely good, humans have a relationship with God, humans are immortal in body and soul, humans have bodily appetites but these are not excessive - rather they are perfectly constrained by rationality and consideration of higher needs.

During the second act (Old Testament), humankind was in a state of sin - human nature is corrupted, humans have chosen to separate themselves from God, humans are mortal in body and soul, and suffer from concupiscence.

During the third act (after the first coming of Jesus), humankind is in a state of grace - through the atonement of Jesus (by some combination of incarnation, living as human, teaching the Good News, then suffering and death on the cross) a link was offered by which the separation from God could be bridged, and those humans who choose to accept that link, that thrown life-line, by going through the salvation process, are 'born again' (regain their divine-likeness of having an immortal non-physical aspect), and though their physical body remains short-lived and dies, they become part of the Body of Christ (the one universal church of Jesus' righteous followers) and through indwelling (unction or anointment) of the Holy Spirit they regain a way to resist concupiscence.

During the last act (after the second coming of Jesus), humankind will be in a state of glory - of those who are saved, their bodies will be physically resurrected, their minds and souls will be healed, then thier bodies will be transformed into the glorious state they would have had before the fall, the beauty of the soul manifest in physical form, immune from pain or decay, unrestrained by matter and perfectly obediant to the will. Of those who fail to find favour in God's eyes at this last judgement, opinions differ, the main camps being:
a) eternal conscious suffering (possibly including fire and torment by Satan's devils)
b) final irreversible separation from the mind of God, causing the person to cease to exist
c) a millennia long period of suffering and learning, followed by reconciliation
either way, not nice and something worth any effort, action or choice in order to avoid.
(some denominations disagree - see section on Eschatology)

The very nature of physical reality (including time and causality) is fluid, and changes between acts, like the scenery in a play. In the beginning God did indeed create the world in six days, and everything in it including Adam and Eve. After the Fall and again after the Flood, He reshaped the universe and the laws of nature (or gave permission for it to be reshaped by humankind's decision to separate from Him) resulting in a more predictable mechanistic appearance compatible with a naturalistic creation and evolution.

Those within whom the Holy Spirit dwells have, through it, the chance to request that pieces of reality return to being 'more in tune with'/'under the protection of being better connected to' the Mind of God, and God will always respond to such requests, though the response may be "no, that piece isn't ready or has not consented" and the person making the request may not be sufficiently in tune to hear or recognise the response.

People are under the illusion that the predictability of the laws of physics is the natural state of things, and that miracles are exceptions to this. The more fundamental truth is that the universe is and always was intended to be miraculous, a warm and comforting place that responds to will, and the cold mechanistic appearance we perceive is damage caused by our separation from God, like a leg with the circulation cut off that goes cold and numb, and can be physically moved but no longer generates its own motive force.

The reason why miracles seem abundant at some points in history, and scarce at other times, is a combination of how widely the ripples from a miracle would spread and how ready the people that would be affected by the ripples are to consent to the possibility of being closer to God.

What is the Christian Eschatology?

A great leader will arise, who will make a peace treaty with Israel. This marks the start of the Apocalypse and the end times and, in particular, a 7 year period termed the Tribulation. Half way through, the leader will break the peace treaty, leading the forces of Gog and Magog in an attack upon Israel. He will set up some worldwide political or economic system. At the end of the Tribulation there will be a battle at Armageddon (a flat area just north of Megiddo, in Israel) at which time Jesus will return to earth for a second time, this time in power and in glory, to rid the Earth of the leader and his armies, and to herald 1000 years of peace. At His name, every knee shall bow. At the end of the 1000 years comes the Last Judgement, where God passes judgement and evil is finally and permanently banished from the world. The world as we know it ends, to be replaced by a new Jerusalem (a new heaven and earth).

There may or may not be a Rapture at some point in this process. Denominations differ.

What is the Christian Epistemology?

We know the Christian worldview to be true through the personal witness of the holy spirit.

What is the Christian Philosophy?

God is perfect, and had no need to create humankind and a physical universe to contain them. The reason He chose to create humankind (other beings in His own image, with rationality and free will) was not for their benefit, nor because he needed anything they could supply Him with (such as praise and worship), but because it pleased Him to create a theatre in which all of His primary aspects could be manifested.

A thing is good for the purpose of obtaining a desired result, if it is an efficient means of increasing the chances of that result happening. Often the result is implicit in the function of the thing, so when we say that a thing is "a good hammer" it is understood that we mean the thing is efficient at knocking nails into walls because that purpose is implied by our identifying the thing as a hammer.

The purpose of humankind is to exercise their rational free will in a way that pleases God.

Conscience is a human's consciousness of what will please God. Humans are fallible, but as a human grows up it is a faculty that can be improved in accuracy through knowledge, reason and a strengthened personal relationship with God. (Alternatively some see conscience as being part of the Holy Spirit and inerrant, and the fallible thing being our ability to listen accurately to it.)

Good, for a human, is to will action in accordance with the human's conscience.

Evil, for a human, is to will action against the human's conscience.

Moral, for a human, is to attempt or desire actions (for any reason) that are pleasing to God .

Immoral, for a human, is to attempt or desire actions (for any reason) that are displeasing to God .

Acts of supererogation are actions that please God, above and beyond the call of duty, such as the three counsels of perfection (Chastity, Poverty and Obedience).

Sins are actions (externally or internally, intentionally or unintentionally) that displease God.

Virtues are habits that incline a human away from sin such as the Dianoetic virtues (Nous, Episteme and Sophia), the cardinal virtues (Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude), the three graces (Faith, Hope and Agape - for translation of "Agape", see here and here) and various other heavenly virtues (Patience, Kindness and Humility).

Vices are habits that incline a human towards sin such as Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride.

What is the Christian Praxeology?

The way to please God is to seek Salvation (an acceptance of the life-line to connection with God, offered through a relationship with Jesus), but interpretations differ on precisely how this is achieved.

The process of Salvation can be divided into steps (traditionally 12 of them: Foreknowledge, Predestination, Calling, Regeneration, Faith, Repentance, Justification, Adoption, Sanctification, Mortification, Perseverance, Glorification)

One view translates the Greek word pistis as "faith" (meaning "belief, trust and reliance") and charis as "grace". In this view:

Sola gratia - Salvation can not be earned on merit. It is not something we deserve. It is available to us only as a gift, by grace alone.
Soli Deo gloria - the gift comes from God alone, and to God alone is praise and glory due.
Sola fide - the gift can be received only by our having faith, and by faith alone.
Solus Christus - and that faith must be in Christ, because it is through Christ alone the gift may be received.
Sola scriptura - the holy Bible is the Word of God because every word in it is divinely inspired and carries God's full authority. It is clear and sufficient; it presents everything a person needs to known in order to obtain salvation and live a Christian life, with no requirement for additions from pronouncements or revelations, and with no requirement for interpretation by scholars or clergical authorities.

In this view, Christ is a redeemer, 'buying back' humanity from Satan's power by offering himself up as a substitute sacrifice, to take in their place the legal penalty for breaking God's law. This legalistic view of honour is similar to the feudal one in medieval times when this interpretation of Salvation started to become common, and was based upon the German tribal concept of wergild.

The feudal idea of submission to a Lord fits in with this view that Christianity is about accepting Jesus as your Savior (God has a plan for you, and you need to invite Him back into your life as the leader, get in harmony with Him by changing how you live to let Him use your talents for His purpose).

The other, older, view translates pistis as "faithfulness" (loyalty to Jesus and commitment to his teachings) and charis as "favour" (which implies an obligation to expend effort in response).

In this view, Christ is a martyr, whose atonement was to set an example that would bring about a positive moral change to humankind. In the words of the joint declaration on justification signed by the Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists: "They place their trust in God's gracious promise by justifying faith, which includes hope in God and love for him. Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it. ". This contrasts to both Legalism and Antinomianism, and fits the 'New Perspective on Paul' theological shift.

So what is this life plan, these works, that God lets us know, through the words of the Bible, that He finds pleasing? The Bible contains many prescriptions, which can roughly be divided into:

Noahide law (prohibition of Idolatry, Murder, Theft, Arayot, Blasphemy, Injustice, and cruelty to animals)
Mosaic law (613 laws given to the Jewish people - lists here and here, including dietary and ceremonial requirements)
The Decalogue
The Threefold Duties (to God, to Others and to Self, listed in the New Testament)
The Sermon on the Plains (Luke 6 - "Give to everyone who asks you", "Love your enemies", "Do to others as you would have them do to you", "Forgive", "Do not judge", "Do not condemn")
The Great Commandments (Mark 12:28-24 - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart", "Love your neighbor as yourself")
The Great Commission ("Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you")
Opinions differ about which of these 'Covenants' apply to Christians, based mainly on varying interpretations of Matthew 5:17-20. Opinions also differ on how to go about interpreting the Bible (an area of theology called hermeneutics):

Some translations (eg KJV) are also inspired, inerrant, and can be take literally
The original Greek and Hebrew texts are inerrant, but need to be interpreted in context
Scripture must be interpreted in the context of the teachings of the Church
Scripture was written by errant men, but the sum weight of these witness reports is reliable
The Bible is not God's only scripture - Joseph Smith, and others, also received revelations
However Christians are near unanimous in accepting the Catholic hermeneutic principle of Reverence ("study must be begun and prosecuted with a spirit of reverence and prayer" - ie with the guidance of the Holy Spirit)

Also there's the example of how Jesus Himself interpreted scripture, who appeared to take entirely literally the accounts of Adam and Eve, Noah, Johan and Lot. (eg Matthew 12; Luke 17; Mark 10).

With that in mind, what of fallen angels, Satan and Hell? We have Jesus' own words on the matter [Matthew 25:31-46] that He accepted the literal existence of the devil, and eternal punishment in eternal fire. (And that it is the fate of anyone who ever meets a hungry person but then does not feed them despite being able.)

If Satan is pure evil, does that mean God is pure good? No, because it is meaningless to ask whether God is good. Good for whose purpose? His own? A better question is whether He is omnibenevolent - is He as kind to everyone as it is possible to be? Again, the answer is no, because kindness can contradict justice, and justice is also one of God's fundamental attributes. What He is is perfect, with infinite justice and infinite mercy in perfect proportions, and He can act in no other way but in perfect ha
rmony with His own nature. It is by contemplating His works that we improve our understanding of what perfection is.

Does God's omniscience extend to the future? Are our choices predestined or do we have free will? God has decreed that humankind in general have free will, so for the general run of humankind, our choices are ours. None the less, God is able to predict many things, though His knowledge of our likely choices and His own plan and actions; and He reserves the ability to steer history by intervening in individual cases by hardening hearts or by revelation. (eg Romans 9:14-18). (Opinions differ: some believe in single or double predestination.)

One final point on Praxeology, and that is Orthopraxy (blood, sacrifices and sacraments - the external traditions of how one lives, such as attending Church services, being baptised, taking communion, wedding vows, paying tithes). Some Churches place a stronger emphasis upon this than others, but few consider participation in these to be a prerequisite for salvation, or the practices to be immutable.
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 8

What is an Atheist world-view?

As mentioned previously, for the moment I'm using the phrase "Atheist world-view" to refer to the most naturalistic version; I'll come onto the other variants later. So, here is an example...

Traditionally a world-view can be split into 6 components:

Etiology ("What happened in the past?")
Cosmology ("What is life, the universe and everything? How does it work? What is human nature?")
Eschatology ("What is going to happen in the future?")
Epistemology ("How do we know this?")
Philosophy ("What should our goals be?")
Praxeology ("How should we try to attain those goals?")

What is the Atheist Etiology?

Maximum Minimum Event

13,830,000,000 13,570,000,000 Start of this universe
4,590,000,000 4,490,000,000 Start of the Earth
4,100,000,000 Surface of Earth cools enough for RNA to form
3,800,000,000 3,400,000,000 Start of life on Earth
2,800,000,000 2,400,000,000 Simple multicellular organisms
2,100,000,000 1,600,000,000 Eukaryotic cells and sexual reproduction
600,000,000 580,000,000 Complex multicellular life with Hox genes
550,000,000 500,000,000 Cambrian 'explosion' and ozone layer
500,000,000 Fish
300,000,000 Reptiles
260,000,000 End of the Karoo Ice Age
230,000,000 First Dinosaurs
200,000,000 Mammals & break up of Pangaea supercontinent
150,000,000 Birds
130,000,000 Flowers
65,000,000 Last Dinosaurs
55,000,000 50,000,000 Rats, Whales, Bats, Camels & Primates
40,000,000 Split between New World and Old World monkeys
35,000,000 30,000,000 Grass, Pigs, Cats, Dogs
25,000,000 Split between Old World monkeys and apes
10,000,000 Savanna ecosystem : herbivores & carnivores
7,000,000 Split between Gorilla and Chimpanzee ancestors
6,500,000 Split between Chimps and first hominids
5,000,000 3,000,000 Mammoths, Saber-toothed cats & modern horses
2,580,000 Start of the Quaternary Ice Age
2,000,000 First members of the genus: Homo - stone tools
1,200,000 Last common ancestor with Homo erectus
500,000 Last direct common ancestor with Neanderthals
530,000 400,000 Language, Fire, Wooden Spears
300,000 150,000 Last Homo erectus dies
200,000 Homo sapiens sapiens
170,000 First wave of migration out of Africa
160,000 Genetic Eve
120,000 Start of most recent glacial period
60,000 Genetic Adam
35,000 32,000 Earliest cave paintings
28,000 Last Neanderthal dies
24,000 22,000 Venus of Willendorf religious sculpture
15,000 12,000 Bering land bridge, arrows, pottery
11,850 Oldest timber datable using dendrochronology
11,400 End of most recent glacial period
11,000 9,000 Agriculture, Animal domestication, metals
11,000 Oldest building found by archeologists
9,500 Oldest living tree (a spruce tree, in Sweden)
5,500 Oldest bulding that is still standing
5,500 5,000 Bronze, Writing, the Wheel





Changes in biodiversity over time (extinction events marked with triangles)

(vertical axis in thousands of genera)
(horizontal axis in millions of years)

Human migration patterns (waves dated by time in thousands of years)

What is the Atheist Cosmology?

" All things are made of atoms - little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. "
--Richard Feynman

All atoms and collections of atoms (such as bricks, apples and people) so far observed behave in a way that is consistent with there being certain regularities that are absolute (they have not changed since these regularities were first discovered) and universal (they apply everywhere we've seen, to everything we've seen). These regularities generally reflect symmetries of time and space, and conservation of quantities; and can often be expressed as surprisingly simple and elegant mathematical equations that are valid (accurate, on a probabilistic level, within statable limits) within well defined constraints. The study of this is called "physics".

Examples include motion:


and electromagnetism:

Looked at more closely, we find the atoms themselves are made up of collections of smaller charged and uncharged particles, which let the atoms be categorised into distinct categories called "elements" and sub-categories called "isotopes" and "ions", and which also allow the atoms to link together and unlink, under certain conditions, in a predictable fashion, forming compounds with distinctive properties. The study of this is called "chemistry".

One particular element, Carbon, has valences suitable for forming a wide variety of complex compounds, and the study of these is called "organic chemistry", because these compounds form the basic for the sorts of interactive system that have the property of being able to decrease their internal entropy at the expense of the entropy of their surrounding environment (by, for example, sensing and moving about that environment in order to consume parts of it and convert those parts into growth, self-repair/self-preservation and self-replication). We call this property "life" and the study of these living systems "biology".

Biologists notice that there are also observable regularities among living organisms, especially the large ones with calcium bones. Each individual organism is made up out of a mainly cooperative ecosystem of tiny cells, each of which contain strands of a chemical known as DNA. The cells in the body reproduce and die many times during the individual's lifespan, but stored in regions of the DNA molecule (known as "genes") is information, encoded as patterns of amino acids (known as "alleles"); this information contains instructions on how to construct cells, adapt them to specialised functions and alter the chemicals they process (which in turn, via something similar to 3D origami, dictates the shape of the resulting creature). The information gets replicated and passed on each time, very very accurately (fewer than 1 mutation in every billion amino acid pairs copied). And, if the individual is lucky, on a few occasions during their lifetime they may meet up with another individual whose DNA is compatible, and combine the information from the two individuals in a fashion that results in the creation of a new smaller third individual who (with aid) may become self-sufficient and head off to consume parts of the environment and, in turn, create more small individuals. This process is known as "sexual reproduction".

The group of individuals whose DNA is compatible enough to result in fertile offspring is known as a "species", but this isn't a concept with absolute fixed boundaries, because it is quite possible to have a chain of individuals where A is compatible with B, B is compatible with C, C is compatible with D, but (if you continue the chain) you reach the stage where A is not compatible with Z. When these individuals are all alive at the same time, this is known as a "ring species".

When these individuals are spread out over time there's a different name for the process. If you have A who is the parent of B and Z (who get blown by a hurricane to a different island). Over the generations B gives birth to C, who gives birth to D, etc; while Z on the other island gives birth to Y, who gives birth to X, etc. Eventually if, when two distant descendants meet: K (descendant of B) and T (descendant of Z) and they are not compatible, we say that "speciation" has occurred. They are two new species.

One biologist, Charles Darwin, pointed out that all species of life on Earth seem to fit neatly into a single forking ancestral tree and that the direction in which successive generations of individuals in a species change over time is explainable by the selective pressure from the environment which is more likely to kill off individuals before they have reproduced if those individuals do not fit into the environment as well as their peers do.

A later biologist, Richard Dawkins, pointed out that, seen from the point of view of the alleles in an individual's DNA, the large sacks of bones walking around are just the alleles way of spreading copies of itself, and that each allele is in a symbiotic relationship with the other alleles in the genome of its species. He additionally pointed out that ideas also face mutation, selection, adaptive pressures and hereditary, and that the patterns by which ideas spread and change over time obey the same underlying mathematical model as the biological evolution of species (this is known as "meme" theory).

One of the things explained by the current scientific consensus theory of how biological evolution happens (hereafter referred to as "evolution") is why there has been specialisation among individuals in species that sexually reproduce into two genders, "male" and "female". Different species have chosen different strategies when it comes to offspring. Some have lots of offspring, but invest as little time an energy on producing each one as possible. Other species have fewer offspring, but invest more in improving the chances that each individual offspring will survive until adulthood. Where there is an unequal burden in which gender parent provides the direct investment (generally the female provides more), sexual dimorphism springs up, with the male taking on a different role (sometimes acting as a provider or protector to the female, and sometimes acting as a risk-taker, with fewer males breeding, but those males which do breed then acting as mate to more than one female).

Among the types of specialised cell in the bodies of vertebrates are ones that pass on messages via secreting chemicals (the endocrine system) and via electrical signals (the nervous system). These systems permit living creatures to model reality and make decisions ("thought"), experience positive and negative feedback ("feeling"), store these thoughts and feelings and input from their senses as data for later retreival ("memory"), change their decisions depending upon that stored data ("learning") and project their model forwards to consider possible futures ("anticipation"). These abilities give creatures a capacity for adapting to their environment on a much faster timescale than would be allowed by just waiting to see which individuals survive long enough to pass their alleles on to the next generation. The lessons learned this way are not passed on in the genes, but they can still be passed on via teaching and example, from one generation to the next.

The study of how animals behave, as influenced by nature (genes) and nurture (memes), is called "ethology". The reward and aversion systems of animals have evolved intrinsic motivational drives that are adapted to working in the interests of the animal's DNA. These drives include

survival (not dying from starvation, cold, heat, thirst, being eaten, disease or injury)
reproduction (having sex and raising children)
safety (gaining, holding and organising a safe predictable territory, then saving up resources)
grouping (gaining acceptance into a group who can share defence of territory and resources, staying in contact with them and being loyal to them)
respect (increasing status within the group, leading to preferential access to resources and reproduction, influence over decisions, and power to strike down defectors, betrayers and competitors).
fun (improved health, reduced stress, seeking novelty, mastery of skills - improving your quality of life improves your survival and reproductive success)

The more complex the animal's brain, the more likely the animal is to have the more complex drives that depend upon grouping, learning and anticipation. Humans (and some of the other higher primates) have brains capable of abstract thought, and in addition to the above can also experience drives that are abstractions of the more basic ones, such as Autonomy (a need to express individuality, to achieve cognitive independence from the social group) and Idealism (a need for social justice - an ethical system generalised beyond fairness and loyalty to just one social group).

It is notable that these drives are not, from the perspective of the individual creature (as opposed to the creature's DNA) entirely selfish, and can lead to altruistic actions (such as a mother fighting off a predator to defend her cubs, rather than running away; or a member of a tribe taking wounds in the process of defending the tribe from outsiders or from insiders not obeying the social mores and expectations of the tribe - its rules). The abstraction of the altruistic drives and positive emotions that are seen in both humans and other animals (the love of a mother or mate, loyalty to the pack and a desire for fairness) can lead, in humans, to actions we'd consider truely heroic or altruistic and, when we use a brain scanner to look at which parts of the brain are active, we can trace down the physiological mechanism behind it. It turns out that the way brains are wired is to, by default, see all people as 'us'. There is a mechanism layered on top of this which keep track of favours, fear, 'trustworthiness' and group membership. However when this mechanism is inhibited by certains chemicals (such as Oxytocin or MDMA) the brain reverts to the ego-less state of a newborn baby.

The study of how humans think and behave (and how that depends upon the brain) is called "psychology" (and "neurology").

What is the Atheist Eschatology?

Atheist world-views tend to predict very little about the future (except that the regularities of nature are likely to continue to hold, by Occams Rasor) and, even then, only in terms of probability.

The Sun (the star the planet Earth orbits) is due to expand as it gets older, destroying the Earth completely in about 7,600,000,000 years time, however the Earth will become unpleasant to inhabit (no seas or atmosphere) in just less than 1,000,000,000 years' time, as the increasing heat boils everything off.

What is the Atheist Epistemology?

The source of the reliance we can place upon the findings of science is our knowledge of human nature.

The 'best practices' of the scientific community (sometimes known as the 'scientific method') is the community's collective wisdom on how not to fool itself, accumulated over generations by exerience of the flaws that can be introduced if any element of the method is left out. The basic cycle, that can be carried out by one person in isolation is:

STEP 0 : Start with an initial null hypothesis and make that your current hypothesis
STEP 1 : Via thought and observation, generate a variant hypothesis that explains everything observed so far at least as well as your current hypothesis
STEP 2 : Design an experiment for which your two hypothesis predict different outcomes
STEP 3 : Carry out the experiment
STEP 4 : If the variant won, make your variant the current champion. Return to step 1 and keep challenging it until it either falls over and you have to replace it, or until you've tested it so strongly that you've gained lots of confidence in it.

However the wider method, and the one from which we gain confidence, stems from:

STEP 5 : When you have confidence, publish your hypothesis, your data, and the experiements you carried out in sufficient detail that others can attempt to replicate your findings

Any individual researcher or even an entire research lab could be involved in fraud. However the more people involved in a conspiracy, the lower the chances that it will be kept, especially if people have a strong incentive to defect. Academics generally read all new papers, as they get published in the relevant reputable peer-reviewed academic journals in their specific area of research. And academics get status from publishing responses to papers, especially if the paper is making an important claim and the academic can refute what it is saying. So, if you see a claim made in a paper published in a relevant reputable peer-reviewed academic journal and, checking the citations, you find that several high-impact papers cite it without denouncing it, this tells you that for it to be obviously fraudulent would require thousands of scientists living in different countries to simultaneously decide to selflessly sacrifice the money and status they'd achieve by pointing out the fraud. Human nature tells us this is amazingly unlikely to happen.

What about non-obvious frauds or just flawed experiments that can't be replicated?

If a paper has been around for 10 years, and is making a major claim, yet nobody has published a follow up or tried to replicate it, that would be seen as suspicious and lead to people ceasing to cite it and either investigate or turn towards alternative hypothesis. Academic is a ferocious jungle and the only ideas which survive to trigger new generations of science built on top of them tend to be those that are actively fought for and survive hostile testing from groups backing other candidates. People point at medicine and say "Doctors change their minds all the time about what the best treatment for a particular disease is" and point at Galileo and say "Everything could be wrong, anything in science could change completely at any moment", but that's not so. The vast majority of the body of scientific findings is very stable. The cutting edge that changes at a faster rate is more publically visible precisely because changes generate publicity. Doctors face two difficulties, in that there are restrictions on what sort of experiments you can carry out on human patients, and they don't have the luxury of saying "we don't know yet", because sick people want a best guess they can try right now, not certainty in 10 years time.

If you're going to bet on whether a scientific prediction, drawn randomly from a textbook in a library's science section, is true or not, you'd be a fool to accept 50:50 odds. The predictions of science are far far more likely to be right than they are to be wrong. That's not 100% certainty, but it is a source of reliability. It is a bet you take every time you put your life at the mercy of a car, a plane, an electrical appliance or a building constructed according to Newton's principles of mechanics. It is base hypocracy to take that bet every time, when it comes to immediate danger to the life of yourself or your child, but then throw up your hands and say "Science isn't reliable" when it comes to scientific questions that don't put you in danger.

What is the Atheist Philosophy?

There is no agreement on a theoretical level between Atheists on the purpose of life because, as Hume famously declared, you can't logically deduce an 'ought' statement from an 'is' statement.

This doesn't mean that there is no absolute morality and that morality is all relative. It just means we can't prove which answer is correct.

On a pragmatic level, though, consensus can be reached. There are multiple atheistic religions, such as Secular Humanism, that have codified answers:

" The basic components of effective morality are universally recognized. Paul Kurtz has written of the “common moral decencies”—qualities including integrity, trustworthiness, benevolence, and fairness. These qualities are celebrated by almost every human religion, not because God ordained them, but because human beings cannot thrive in communities where these values are ignored. " (source)

Last edited by Aletheia; June 1st, 2018 at 03:00 AM.
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June 1st, 2018, 03:10 AM
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 9

What is the Atheist Praxeology?

So if the motivating force behind human nature is to further the replication of the information stored in our DNA, but the agreed consensus is that it would be good for society if people lived their lives with a certain amount of benevolence and cooperation, such as the sort of ethical reciprocity encoded in the Golden Rule ("Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss."), how does Atheism address the real life situation where these two conflict?

The answer lies in the concepts of Rights, Liberty, Justice and the Social Contract...

"All men are born free and equal."
--John Adams

"No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land."
--Magna Carta

"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."
--John Stuart Mill's 'harm principle' from his book On Liberty

"Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others."
--John Rawls's 'first principle of justice' from his book A Theory of Justice

"The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins."
--Oliver Wendell Holmes

The law, inasmuch as it is created by the people acting as a body, is not a limitation of individual freedom, but its expression. Thus, enforcement of law is not a restriction on individual liberty, as the individual, as a citizen, explicitly agreed to be constrained if, as a private individual, he did not respect his own will as formulated in the general will. Because laws represent the restraints of civil freedom, they represent the leap made from humans in the state of nature into civil society. In this sense, the law is a civilizing force.
--paraphrase of Jean-Jacques Rousseau from his book The Social Contract.

So, for Atheists, the authority of the state does not stem from any divine mandate, nor are rights inalienable things granted by God. People are granted rights by the state, and the state is granted its authority by the people. This covenant in which these are exchanged is the social contract - an implicit agreement to abide by the rules of the society you accept membership of. The studies of how humans interact in and form societies and cultures are called "sociology" and "anthropology".

It may seem like this idea of liberty boils down to the Silver Rule:

"First, do no harm"
--The Hippocratic Oath

"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow."
--Hillel the Elder

with no positive obligation to help, beyond the minimum required not to harm, and this would seem to be reflected in many of the rights that modern societies have chosen to grant, which are formulated as rights for their citizens to be free from the state doing certain things to them (such as torturing them, or trying to prevent them moving from city to city) which don't entail an obligation upon the state to help the citizen overcome obstacles not placed there by the state (such as pain from a disease, or lack of funds to pay for transport).

For example, most of the rights listed in:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
However there's one important right, that stems back to the animal drive to hold territory and store resources, that we need to discuss in detail: the right to own property.

With ownership of an object comes the freedom to dispose of it as you will and thus contracts to exchange objects with other free individuals which (if entered into with the undeceived and uncoerced consent of all parties) are binding. From this concept of property, and a medium of exchange ("money") we get economics, which raises the question of what the fair and just distribution of resources in society should be. And this is where the political tension between the Silver Rule and the Golden Rule enters into our story. How much of a person's wealth and income is it just or wise for a society to require, under the social contract, that a citizen surrender each year to the state in order to retain their citizenship? Should only enough be collected to maintain the Silver Rule, leaving all insurance and charity to personal preference, or does it benefit society to institute some measure of collectivised insurance and charity to compensate for the vagaries of happenstance, for discrimination by individuals or organisations other than the state, and for the inequalities of opportunity caused by those with disproportionately high levels of resources leveraging the resulting power to gain an even greater share and pass that advantage on to their offspring?

Secular societies are no closer to reaching a consensus on this question than non-secular societies, but most consider a certain amount of collectivised charity (such as free or subsidised education for young children) and collectivised insurance (such as maintaining a military defence force) to be just as much a sound long term financial investment as investment in common public goods (such as a transport infrastructure and scientific research).

A secular society, by the way, is one in which the state does not endorse any particular religion as being superior to any other; nor does it discriminate between individuals based upon their membership (or lack of membership) of a religion but, rather, it judges each individual upon that individual's own actions. It has nothing to do with whether or not the guiding values behind the state's laws are in accordance with the values of any particular religion.

Part of the reason why the rights granted by societies deal with things like property and membership of groups is that human identity is fluid. There's a biological basis to this, seen with the phantom limbs of amputees and in the way a driver can concentrate so hard that their sense of body extends to include the car itself, and they physically wince away from an approaching branch. It is part of the same brain mechanism that sees us identify with other people, unrestrained, in certain mental states (eg meditation) or under the influence of certain chemicals. People identify as their job role, their religion, their property, the point of view from their visual senses, or even a physical organ they mistakenly believe to be the seat of emotions (the heart). From the point of view of science, we can talk about the atoms that make up a humans's body, the information stored in their DNA and brain, or the external information stored about them in books and brains of others; but there is no basis upon which we can state that one combination of these is the 'correct' identity of a person (or even that a person has a single identity that is stable over time). Turner's self-categorization theory talks about this, and is part of the science of "social psychology" which studies how people influence each other's thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

This view of humans as prone to being irrationally swayed by social pressures contrasts sharply with the Homo economicus of Adam Smith's rational action theory but is increasingly being taken into account by behavioural economics which uses game theory to model humans as agents with cognitive biases and social preferences.

How accurate is this view of human nature? Human as neither fully rational nor fully irrational, neither intrinsically psychopathic nor intrinsically 100% altruistic, but all shades in between? In the last few years the US military has run simulations of entire Iraqi villages, using meme theory and the scientific view of human nature, individual villagers represented by software agents of varying personality types, interacting with each other and spreading competing rumours around the virtual model of the village. The results have been remarkably accurate to what happened in the actual village. That's what science does - it builds increasingly accurate models of reality, and that's what it has now achieved with modelling human behaviour.

What does the Atheist world-view look like from the perspective of the Christian world-view?

A Christian critique of Atheism needs to say not only why they think the Atheist narrative is flawed, but also explain why, given those flaws, there are still so many people who find it to be more plausible or attractive than the Christian narrative - how did Atheism come about, if the world started initially Christian?

I've listed elsewhere in this FAQ many of the Christian objections to the Atheist narrative, but now is the time to provide the remainder of the critique.

From the Old Testament, first came wickedness (when men stopped trying to obey the Lord) then came disbelief (after the Lord scattered humankind, breaking the continuity of oral history). Thus was Atheism born:

"And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5)

"Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. " (Genesis 11:9)

"The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good." (Psalm 14:1)

"As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly." (Proverbs 26:11)

The Christian narrative is not less plausible than the Atheist narrative. The Atheist view of what happened in the past is based upon theories, not facts, not first hand eye-witness accounts of the life of the first man and woman. Humans are designed to know, in their hearts, that science reveals only a heartless and imperfect view of reality that changes every week, elliminating as it does consideration of direct evidence that the Holy Spirit reveals to us. Whereas, for those who accept the Holy Spirit into their hearts, the Christian narrative sings with a certainty that has never changed in over 2000 years.

In the Atheist world-view morality is relative (however much hand waving they might try to paper over with 'consensus') but everyone (unless they are a psychopath) instinctively know this is incorrect; some despicable acts are absolutely wrong, and would be in any universe - and even the hardened atheist will feel guilt and shame for doing them, even when alone on a desert island with no 'consensus' to condemn them for it.

So why do Atheists stick with their Atheism? Christ returned to Earth bearing the Good News for everyone, but He knew there would be those not open to accepting it. You can lead a mule to water, but you can't make them drink. The Atheist is like a swimmer who, against the counsel of wiser heads, insists on swimming out into uncertain waters. When the lifeboat turns up and offers to throw a rescue ring, the Atheist is too proud to accept it and, in his foolishness declares the ring to be a stone weight, despite the evidence of his eyes that the others folks rescued and drying themselves off on the boat are far happier than those desperately swimming around trying to find firm footing. Some Atheists will even yell insults at those offering to throw a ring, jeering at the rescuers because the Atheists don't want to admit to themselves they were wong and are afriad of being judged - being seen to have made a bad decision.

Christ predicted this. From the New Testament we have:

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me." (John 15:18-21)

"And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet." (Matthew 10:14)

"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." (Matthew 7:6)

"As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God." (Romans 3:10-11)

"we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." (Romans 14:10-11)

"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:" (Matthew 25:31-32)

Peter Hitchens writes:

We choose the belief we prefer. The only interesting part of this discussion concerns our reasons for our choices. I have found atheists, for the most part, reluctant to discuss this...

Religious believers are entitled... to speculate on why someone would not wish to be bound by an unalterable moral law. And they are justified in asking why this wish should be so profound that such persons actively desire that the universe should be a pointless and meaningless chaos, without design or purpose.

An atheist in a society still governed by the Christian moral law has great personal advantages. The almost universal idea among the college-educated young, a sort of crude J.S. Mill belief that 'nobody has the right to tell me what to do' is a very powerful force in modern western societies, excusing as it does a great deal of sexual promiscuity and drug-taking which do immense damage and create huge unhappiness....

My conclusion, after dozens of such arguments, is that the atheist can see quite clearly the advantages of his unbelief... But he can also see that if these advantages would pretty rapidly disappear if everyone discovered them and exploited them.

...an atheist in a society in which the postman and the policeman, the doctor, the civil servant, the politician, the banker, and your employer, not to mention your next-door neighbours, are entirely free from universal moral obligations is, ah, more problematic. As we increasingly find out.

Daily we see on television the consequences of this declining morality (pornography, promiscuity, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, drugs) as God is removed from or reviled in schools, state and the media. War, crime and all things bad are increasing. Family, purity, respect, politeness and common decency are in decline as desire for unearned money and indiscriminate tolerance fight to take God's rightful place in society.

And, finally, here's Jesus own words on why there are goats in the world as well as sheep - his explanantion of the Parable of the Sower (I've given the versions from both Mark and Matthew):


9And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

10And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.

11And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:

12That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

13And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?

14The sower soweth the word.

15And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.

16And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;

17And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended.

18And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,

19And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.

" (Mark 4)


9Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

10And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?

11He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

12For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

13Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

14And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:

15For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

16But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.

17For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

" (Matthew 13)

Convincing, yes? Reading those words you feel a warm certainty inside you.

But now comes the hard bit. The next few parts of this FAQ are about what the Christian world-view looks like from outside - from an Atheist point of view. With what mindset should you read them? Combatative and scanning only to find the first bit you disagree with? Gullibly, accepting it without evidence as gospel truth? Or is there a third option? Here's a zen koan:

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868–1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

There's a word for this concept that's used in the bible: "selah". It can indicate a point in a psalm where there should be a musical interlude. It means "Pause a moment, quiet your mind, open yourself to listening."

*** Selah ***

Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 10

What does the Christian world-view look like from the perspective of the Atheist world-view?

An Atheist critique of Christianity needs to say not only why we think the Christian narrative is flawed, but also explain why, given those flaws, there are still so many people who find it to be more plausible or attractive than the Atheist narrative - how did Christianity come about, if the world started initially Atheist?

I'll split this into three answers:

The origins of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective
The attractions of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective
The flaws of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective

The origins of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective

I'm going to further split this:

What are the adaptive advantages of religiosity?
How do religions evolve?
What is the evolutionary history of ancient Judaism?
What is the evolutionary history of modern Christianity?

What are the adaptive advantages of religiosity?

Large brains are expensive. The brain is responsible for 20% of the energy human bodies use (compared to 13% for chimps, and 2-8% for other vertebrates - source). Visually-oriented animals in a competitive hunter-prey environment conducive to hiding and stalking (such as a forest or savannah) who can recognise patterns in incomplete data thus generating hypotheses to explain what they are seeing, gain an advantage from this ability to predict., and so tend to have larger (or more active) brains for their body size.

The evolutionary pressure is not towards making perfectly accurate hypotheses. Rather, the advantage goes to the animal who generates an hypothesis quickly enough to escape a tiger before the tiger pounces, and there is a bias towards seeing a pattern where none exists, over missing a pattern where one does exist, because it is better to run away from shadows unnecessarily nine times if, on the tenth time, you escape being pounced upon. (Or, from the tiger's point of view, the reward of catching a meal outweighs the cost of investigating a few rustling bushes that turn out to be just the wind.)

Compared to plants, the bodies of other animals provide a rich bounty of calories and nutrients. Animals, such as wolves, dolphins and apes, that hunt as a group using tactics (and who communicate to coordinate) can afford larger brains if using group tactics provides a sufficient advantage in calories gained that it compensates for the additional calories expended in the thinking needed to do the prediction, coordination and awareness of social roles/status required to carry the tactics out.

Bipedalism offers apes a number of advantages (reach higher, wade deeper, run faster, see further) however the resulting hips compared to the adult brain size means that the children are born at a comparatively earlier developmental point compared to non-bipedal animals or ones with smaller brains. Baby chimps or humans are helpless and dependant upon their mother for much longer than baby lions or horses, despite lions and horses being large animals with a long life expectancy. This vulnerable stage (and the necessity for group defence against external threats) leads to a species with complex social dynamics, interactions and emotions. This extended childhood also provides an adaptive advantage to those family units where the children have a prolonged 'tame' phase in which the children remain in the safety of the authority of the adult parental figures, accepting what they say as true, learning from them, trying to 'fit in'. In dogs and cats that are domestic (as opposed to feral) you also see this personality phase prolonged into adulthood.

There is much more to the tale of why it was humans who have developed the intelligence they have, and where factors like tool use, fire, specialisation, trade, sexually-selected for ornamentation and Machiavellian social politics come into it. Too much to do justice to here - if you're interested I recommend the books "Up from Dragons" and "The Ancestor's Tale". However we have enough of the tale to now start talking about magic and religiosity.

Magical thinking is a by-product of pattern recognition. When a creature sees that two things are correlated and decides that one of them is causing the other, they are sometimes right and sometimes wrong. When it works, that can be very important. The principle of sympathy (like produces like) gives a prediction that's better than a random guess in many situations, and the principle of contagion (what happens to one bit, happens to the rest of the thing) has predictive power in situations relating to disease, contamination, complex social situations, or anywhere there may be a hidden third factor at work.

When magic thinking is combined with the ability to hypothesise the intentions of a sentient being behind otherwise unrelated events (an important ability in Machiavellian social politics), we get Animism (and Totemism) - the hypothesis that there are sentient spirits associated particular locations or things, that can influence physical reality, that have emotions and personalities, and that can be influenced by actions in physical reality.

Combined with some features of how consciousness is implemented in our brains that leads to the illusion that consciousness never ceases, and it is a short step from spirits to ancestor worship and the idea that humans have a spirit that lives on after death. These basics are a cultural universal, which indicates they have a biological basis rather than a culture-specific one. Not only are these polytheistic beliefs present in the earliest hunter-gatherer cultures we know of (the San Bushmen in Africa, and Aboriginal Indigenous in Australia), there are strong indications (eg burial, and flowers left on graves) that Neanderthals had them too.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/artic ... er-say-die

In terms of the neurology of the brain, modern religions are not much different. Religiosity is how religious a person is - how much they think, feel and behave in a religious manner. Many studies have investigated the question of whether religiosity is due to genetics, shared parental environment, personality or other factors. What they've discovered is that multi dimensional scaling can be used to factor religiosity into three dimensions:

Involvement (Are supernatural agents, eg the Christian God, involved with life on a daily and personal basis?)
Emotion (Are these supernatural agents more loving and forgiving, than wrathful and punishing?)
Knowledge (Does religion tell us more about the big picture, eg "How the world was created?", than about the small picture, eg "How should I vote in the next election?")
and that these dimensions each directly correspond to activity in three specific parts of the brain involved with Theory of Mind. This directly explains why people on the autistic end of the spectrum tend to have a lower religiosity than people on the schizophrenic end of the spectrum (link). It also explains why there is a strong correlation between religiosity and scores on two of the four Myers-Briggs scales ("Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N)" and "Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)" ) with people on the NT end being less religious, on average.

Here's an article with more in-depth information about the neuroanatomy of religiosity, but before I leave the brain, I want to touch on the debate over whether it is the brain causing the religiosity or whether it is how a person has thought and used their brain while growing up that is the cause of the changes in the brain. The latter may have seemed plausible 20 years ago, but they have since done twin studies and even tracked down specific genes. There is definitely a significant genetic component to religiosity, and a majority of the causality between brain and practice is in the direction of the brain affecting the practice not vice versa.

http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi ... ne.0007180

In other words, if there's a supernatural creator who designed humankind, then He deliberately created some individuals to be, right from birth, less likely to believe in Him.

So, if religiosity is significantly genetically based, why wasn't it selected against in the tribal environment? In evolutionary terms, religiosity started as a spandrel - a by-product of something else that is selected for. However, once it had started, it turned out that religions can have positive effects upon the survival of the genes of a tribe of believers. By appealing to the human instinct for a protective authority to shelter them, it improves cohesion and discipline in a tribe. In times of war, the idea of luck and a protective spirit you can pray to (a concept straight out of totems and magical thinking, and something you often see when people roll dice) improves morale. In times of peace, the idea of reward or punishment being handed out in an afterlife makes people more content with the status quo, reducing anxiety (which improves health). For these group selection effects not to suffer from the 'free rider' problem, it is also necessary for religions to include a doctrine of shunning or otherwise punishing members of the tribe who refuse to act as though they believe. (The logic behind the power of blood and sacrifices, by the way, stems from the contagion part of magical thinking, and is very useful for a religious leader when it comes to demanding tithes, altruism or picking people to go out to fight on the religion's behalf in battle.)

We're now going to move on to look at what happened when this instinctive religiosity moved from a tribal environment to larger, more complex societies, and whether it remained an adaptive advantage. However, before I do, here are some links to the growing body of research that's been done on this topic:

Evolutionary Religious Studies - resources page http://evolution.binghamton.edu/religion/resources/
EXREL http://www.cam.ox.ac.uk/research/resear ... l-science/
The Adaptive Logic of Religious Beliefs and Behaviourhttp://evolution-of-religion.com/publications/
In Gods We Trust https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/reader/0195 ... x151867-21

How do religions evolve?

About 11000 years ago, a major technological breakthrough was made in the Fertile Crescent (the flood plains of the Nile, Jordan, Tigris and Euphrates rivers): a grass, einkorn wheat, was domesticated. The floods ensured the nutrients in the soil didn't get depleted, and the increased yields from the strain of wheat selectively bred by generations of gatherers meant that, for the first time in history, a food source in one location was so abundant that having granaries to store the surplus outweighed the benefits of moving around to take advantage of migrating animals. Agricultural civilisation had arrived and, with it, the flat social structure of the hunter-gatherer tribes was supplanted by governmental forms with specialised leaders, hierarchies and bureaucracy. (It happened in the Fertile Crescent, rather than on other flood plains because, as the meeting point of Africa, Europe and Asia it retained greater biodiversity when other areas became squeezed by climate changes. It happened 11000 years ago, rather than earlier or later, because of the stability from the Holocene inter-galacial period.)

The faiths of hunter-gatherer tribes tended to be local to each tribe, with just a few shared archetypes (such as having a mother goddess in charge of things like fertility and childbirth - Hathor, from Egypt, is a good example of this). With civilisation and fixed end points for boats and caravans to aim at, came greater trade and communication. And, with it, the spread of ideas. With storehouses full of grain, and rulers with specialised soldiers, came war, conquest, and further spread of ideas. With hierarchies and rulers needing to tax a population of farmers to support soldiers and the construction of buildings came a selective pressure upon those ideas. If you are a ruler whose priest of Hathor is telling the farmers that you've the support of the gods and they need to tithe grain to you if the gods are to be pleased and grant them a good harvest next year, then it matters to you whether the farmers are worshipping Hathor, rather than Isis, Ninsun, Ashtart, Asherah, Ninhursag, Gaia or Allat - Goddesses with similar roles (and often shared symbology and mythology), but different names.

One of the first changes implemented by the priestly class (specialists who, supported by the abundant food, could be supported by city to do nothing but intervene with the spirits on behalf of the people) was to formalise a local polytheistic collection of worshiped greater and lesser spirits into a hierarchy - a pantheon of named Gods that defined who was 'in' and who was 'out', and set demarcation on which spirit you sacrificed to for intervention with which aspect of nature (who did storms, who did grain fields, who did fishing, who did war, etc). And, being priests, this was done in the form of a story - which gods in the pantheon came first, who married whom, who gave birth to whom (and how - being created from a body part or secretion of another god, was popular). As worship of heroic ancestors combined with hereditary rulers you sometimes got not only rulers who acted as priests, but also rulers who were worshipped as semi-divine (or who would be, upon death, and who planned ahead).

The concept of 'god' vs 'demon' wasn't as clear cut then as it is now. The patron deity of the city on the other side of the valley was a spirit, just as your patron deity was, and you hoped that yours would be more powerful than theirs and help you win the upcoming war against them (monolatrism). 'Good' versus 'Bad' was more a sense of 'these guys are good for us'. To use football as a metaphor, it is a sense of 'our team' versus 'their team'. As the stories of the priests became more complex, the home team deities started being portrayed as not just the local spirit the local people prayed to for intervention in a particular area of nature, but the creator of that aspect everywhere, the sole deity of it, requiring that the competing deities from other regions be cast into lesser roles and unfavourable lights. (A belief in prayer, by the way, is also a consequence of magical thinking: link, link.)


magical thinking - The Skeptic's Dictionary - Skepdic.com

Over time, as factions of priests within a religion competed for power, it was common to see the religion's 'back story' change, with the previous head of a pantheon being demoted to a minor god of hunting or some such, and a new deity being credited with the creation of the world (sometimes both, with the world being created from the slain body of the being who, 200 years earlier, had been worshipped as the chief god in that same region). As empires grew, spread, merged and crumbled, you also saw pantheons merging, with new deities being added into the story, roles changing and names of similar deities being hyphenated then merged.

And it wasn't just religions that evolved by competing against each other for individual worshippers and nations, growing, splitting and mutating by changing deities, the properties of deities, and the religion's back story and practices. In the same way that biological evolution can be seen from the point of view of the genes rather than the individual creatures, the cultural evolution of religions can be seen from the point of view of the memes (specific doctrines and practices) rather than the individual religions. Doctrines, practices and archetypal story elements change inside religions and pass between religions fairly easily, sometimes associated with a particular deity, but often centered on a particular city, sect, priesthood or community of worshippers and staying with them even as the city passes from the control of one religion to another as the city is conquored by a different empire. The Roman conquest of Greece is a great example of this, where many of the elements of the resulting religion ended up being far more Greek than Roman.


60,000 - Neanderthal buried with flowers in the Shanidar Cave in northern Iraq
9000 - Granaries first appear in villages, and spread through the fertile crescent
9000 - Göbekli Tepe, in Turkey - world's oldest religious structure: animal spirit pictograms
8000 - The city of Jericho builds a large wall to defend against the river Jordan flooding
8000 - Wooden structures at Stonehenge in England, precursor to the later stone circle
7000 - The settlement of Lepenski Vir, in Serbia. by 5500 BCE they are smelting copper.
6000 - The port city of Ugarit founded, in Syria
5000 - Cities on the island of Crete trade with both Ugarit and Egypt
5000 - The city of Uruk (Erech) founded in Sumer (Shinar)
4100 - Temples built on Malta, showing organised religion fully established
3500 - Sumerians build the City of Ur: cuniform writing
2250 - The city of Babylon (Babel) founded; has a tower

By this time the original Sumerian religion has spread throughout Mesopotamia and on, to influence religions in both Greece and Egypt. There's a complex pantheon, and each region has varying names for the deities in it. Each city has its own patron deity (accorded the title of "El", "Baal" or "Marduk", depending upon region).

City Deity Role

Erech An Lord of the Sun
Eridu Enki Lord of Water
Nippur Enlil Lord of Wind
Ur Nanna Lord of the Moon
Babylon Haddad Lord of Lightning
Carthage Kronos Lord of Time (Egyptian: Amun, Sumer: Hamman)
Sippar Shamash Lord of Justice
Ishtar Queen of Heaven
Anat A virgin war goddess (a mix of An and Ishtar)
Mot Lord of the Underworld (Death)

Here's a simplified diagram, showing one local version of just part of the pantheon:

For more info, see: full list of gods, more complex diagram, timeline




An example of an early meme that spread through the region is the explanation of the yearly cycle of seasons. The Sun (An, titled Baal or El, depending on the region the story is being told in) dies and his wife Anat (or, in some versions, his sister) descends to the underworld in order to contest against Mot (death). Mot doesn't want to release him, but finally agrees (after being beaten or tricked) to let him live above ground for half of each year. This resurrection story is seen everywhere, from Egypt (Osiris) to Greece (Demeter)

An example of an early religion that drew heavily on previous ones in the region, and went on to influence others, is Zoroastrianism. Zoroaster took the chief God from the Persian pantheon, Ahura Mazdā (“Wise Lord”), and declared him to be the only God, relegating a few of the most popular of other deities in the pantheon to a lesser status ("beneficent immortals"), and discarding the rest, or casting them as angels or demons. Mithra (previously the second most powerful deity in the pantheon - a warrior sun god who punished covenant breakers - 'protector of wide pasture lands') was retained, but recast as being an aspect of Ahura Mazdā. The religion also featured the memes: free will choice between good and evil, heaven, hell, confession, penance and spiritual purification via immersion in water.

For further examples of stories and deities evolving, see Titanomachy.

http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~doug ... butes.html

Last edited by Aletheia; June 1st, 2018 at 03:16 AM.
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 11

What is the evolutionary history of ancient Judaism?

In about 2200 BCE, the Amorites (a nomadic Semitic people, originally from the Levant, in Syria) were hit by a drought and migrated west to settle in the Judean mountains, in Canaan. They eventually built a number of small cities, including Shaddai, but were tall and retained a reputation for being fierce (if uncivilised) warriors. Their local patron was a variant on Enki, and was referred to as El (chief God), or to distinguish him from the chief gods of other cities, the El Shaddai (the chief God of Shaddai).

In about 1420 BCE, the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep II goes on a successful campaign in Canaan, capturing 89,600 prisoners, including some mountain Apiru or Habiru (disreputable nomadic bandits or mercenaries).

The Kenites are a tribe of Shasu (Bedouin nomadic tinkers and shepherds from Midian, in the Sinai desert) and, according to the Amarna Letters (a set of Egyptian tablets dating back to around 1340 BCE), their tribal God is YHWH.

In about 1200 BCE, there starts to be evidence of some Israeli settlements in the mountainous regions of Canaan. There's no evidence of mass invasion or slaughter - it seems to have been a merging of tribes, mainly Canaanite, with some external Kenite influence. These Israelis are monolatrist, not monotheist (monotheism hasn't been invented yet), but do worship Yahweh as their patron deity, and Ishtar alongside him, as His consort (he's even briefly added into the Canaanite pantheon, as a cupbearer and son of the chief Deity, but is swiftly promoted, in the local area, to being the chief Himself).

By about 1000 BCE, the Israelis (under a leader, David) have taken control of parts of Canaan, which splits into two Kingdoms a few years after his death:

and over the next 500 years the sources which will eventually get redacted into a single document (The Torah) are written:


950 : the Yahwist source ( J )
850 : the Elohist source ( E )
719 : Northern kingdom, Israel, falls to Assyria
600 : the Deuteronomist ( D )
587 : Southern kingdom, Judah, falls to Babylon
500 : the Priestly source ( P )

These document not only had a different style and content, they were each written for a different political purpose (eg justifying the united kingdom, versus stamping out heresy during the exile):

"J was identified with a rich narrative style, E was somewhat less eloquent, P's language was dry and legalistic. Vocabulary items such as the names of God, or the use of Horeb (E and D) or Sinai (J and P) for God's mountain; ritual objects such as the ark, mentioned frequently in J but never in E; the status of judges (never mentioned in P) and prophets (mentioned only in E and D); the means of communication between God and humanity (J's God meets in person with Adam and Abraham, E's God communicates through dreams, P's can only be approached through the priesthood)" (source)

It is notable that monotheism enters the documents only after the concept became popularised by Zoroastrianism.

For further information, see:

Canaanite FAQ canaanitepath.com
Judaism - A Historical View http://www.majorreligions.com/judaism_c ... l_view.php
Judaism Influences http://www.patheos.com/Library/Judaism/ ... ences.html
Poly-Yahwism http://thescribalpen.tumblr.com/post/17 ... -canaanite
The Origin and Growth of Religion http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=BSfK ... &q&f=false
Yehouah / El Shaddai http://www.askwhy.co.uk/judaism/0245Can ... ligion.php
Israelite Religion to Judaism: the Evolution of the Religion of Israel http://www.adath-shalom.ca/israelite_religion.htm
Canaanite Religion http://www.askwhy.co.uk/judaism/0245Can ... ligion.php

What is the evolutionary history of modern Christianity?

Modern Christianity evolved from ancient Judaism, and continues to evolve still. The distinction between ancient Judaism and modern Judaism is important, because Judiasm kept changing too. Modern Rabbinic Judaism didn't start until 600 CE. Back in the time of Christ, Judiasm was heavily divided. Their main holy books had been only recently written down, and the oral tradition saying how to interpret those books wouldn't be written down for another 200 years, so there was plenty of scope for different groups to place different amounts of emphasis upon which prophets were the most important. The Sadducees were the priestly class associated with the Temple; they followed the letter of the law strictly, and didn't believe in an afterlife. The Pharisees were shaped by the far harsher conditions after the Temple was destroyed; they looked for justice to happen in an afterlife, believed in prayer and the coming of a messiah. The Essenes rejected this fight for control over politics, and withdrew to live in simple communities in the desert; probably influenced by the Pythagoreans, they believed in the equality of the sexes, poverty, healing the sick, not keeping slaves, hospitality, helping outcasts, and only using violence in self-defence. Both John the Baptist and Jesus were likely trained in the Nazorean sect of Essenes. (sources: link, link, link, link)

Why do I say "likely"? Well, we actually have fewer independant sources of evidence about the life of Jesus that are generally supposed. To start with, the 4 gospels are not four independant eyewitness accounts:

There are a number of theories of precisely in what order things happened, but there's general agreement that the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John all show clear evidence of being written after Mark and of copying material from Mark.

Those four were not the only gospels, but the others are now considered to be non-cannonical. However this agreement on which should be counted as the 'inspired' body of literature to make up The New Testament didn't happen until over 500 years after the death of Christ. Even today there are still books that appear in Catholic bibles that don't appear in Protestant ones.

450 - Old Testament edited into a final stable form
420 - Mozi, in China, publishes writings: universal love and the Golden Rule
344 - Aristotle publishes De Caelo
330 - Israel conquered by Alexander the Great
250 - Earliest copes of the Old Testament written in Greek
67 - Worship of Mithras spread by the slaver pirates conquered then spared by Pompey
63 - Israel conquered by Romans
30 - Hillel the Elder, and the Pharisee/Sadducee/Essene split.
4 - Birth of Jesus

27 - Jesus baptised by John the Baptist
32 - John the Baptist executed. Jesus leads at the feeding of the 5000.
33 - Jesus is executed on the cross. Pentecost.
36 - Paul converts to Christianity, having never met or seen Jesus
37 - Birth of Josephus, the Jewish Roman historian
47 - Doubting Thomas (Saint Thomas, the Apostle) founds the Nestorian Church, in Asia
50 - The first Apostolic council, with Paul, Peter and James (the brother of Jesus)
64 - Paul dies, Nero persecutes Christians after the Great Fire of Rome.
65 - Sayings of Jesus written down in the Q document
70 - Destruction of the second Temple by Romans, in response to a Jewish revolt
70 - Gospel of Mark, written by someone who met Saint Peter in Rome
80 - Gospel of Mathew, written based on Mark and the Q document
90 - Gospel of Luke, written based on Mark and the Q document
100 - Gospel of John, written by the community founded by John
125 - Rylands Papyrus 52 (earliest survivng fragment of any part of the New Testament)
200 - Tertullianus formalises the concept of the Trinity
200 - Jewish scholars start writing down the Oral Torah (the Mishnah and Gemara)
215 - Origen wrote On First Principles: the immortality of the soul
325 - Emperor Constantine calls the first ecumenical council at Nicea
553 - Emperor Justinian unifies doctrine and persecutes heretics: eternal ****ation

What about non-gospel sources? Here's one speaker (David Fitzgerald) making the case that we have no more reliable evidence that Jesus existed than we do for King Arthur or Robin Hood, if we restricted ourselves to non-gospel sources. (He also talks about the reliability of the gospels themselves, but I'll come onto to that in a moment.)


Ten Beautiful Lies About Jesus (PDF) http://www.nazarethmyth.info/Fitzgerald2010HM.pdf
Objections to Fitzgerald. http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?a ... ald+Nailed
Fitzgerald's responses to those objections. http://davefitzgerald.blogspot.com/2012 ... ragic.html
My point here is that I say "likely" because there is serious academic doubt about the historicity of many of the details (eg money changers being driven out of the temple, part of the nativity story, events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus such as darkness falling and mass raising of the dead near Jerusalem). The question of what we can work out about the life of Jesus if we can't rely upon the gospels being word-perfect accurate is an active field of academic interest (see Historical Jesus).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicit ... s_of_Jesus

But what about the key event? If Jesus was not bodily resurrected 3 days after being crucified, what's the atheist alternative explanation for how such a belief might have come about? Let's look at the accounts of the resurrection from each gospel, in the order that the gospels were written:

Paul - no hint of bodily resurrection. Jesus appears to witnesses after the crucifiction only in heavenly visions.
Mark - empty tomb and a messanger promising a future meeting, but no witness of bodily resurrection
Matthew - first account of someone actually seeing a bodily resurrected Jesus
Luke - much more dramatic telling of the story, with details added to fill in plot holes (eg the ascension) and forestall objections
Each gospel writer has a particular agenda and intended audience (see these pieces on the personality of Jesus and the ethics preached by Jesus, and why they vary from gospel to gospel). Each is addressing ten years or more of questions raised by the previous account, and is writing long after any eyewitnesses who might contradict their words are dead. This isn't precisely a dishonest process. The gospel writer isn't an eyewitness either - they are working from the previous tellings of the story, perhaps with the aid of a Q document (a collections of sayings attributed to Jesus), and are trying to cobble together a pleasing coherent narrative "this is how it must have been", given their limited information.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ
http://www.answering-christianity.com/b ... christ.htm
Atheist Bible Study: The Ethics of Jesus

For a much more detailed analysis, here's an excellent piece written by a Christian Bishop: the resurrection. http://johnshelbyspong.com/sample-essay ... urrection/

And, even when written, things didn't remain fixed:

Indeed, modern Christianity as it is preached and practiced, bears little resemblance to early Christianity. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline ... rsity.html How the words of the Bible are interpreted has left large scope for continued evolution of the religion:

632 - Death of Muhammad ibn Abdullah, founder of Islam
650 - Earliest surviving fragment from the Qur'an
1054 - Great Schism - Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic churches separate
1099 - Crusaders conquer Jerusalem
1274 - Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica
1277 - Tempier's Condemnations: the primacy of divine omnipotence over reason
1321 - Dante publishes The Divine Comedy: firey pits of hell
1455 - Gutenberg's Bible
1487 - The Inquisition publishes the Malleus Maleficarum: witchcraft and satanism
1521 - Protestant and Catholic churches separate
1611 - Publication of the King James Version of the Bible
1633 - Galileo Galilei tried and imprisoned for the heresy of thinking the Earth moves
1739 - George Whitefield's Great Awakening brings the Evangelical revival to America
1770 - The Enlightenment: Holbach's The System of Nature and Diderot's Encyclopedia
1779 - Act of Toleration amended, the rise of Liberal Christianity: Quakers, Unitarians
1787 - Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed
1854 - Pope decrees doctrine of Mary's Immaculate conception
1859 - Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species: universal common descent
1862 - Phineas Quimby sparks the New Thought movement: Prosperity theology
1870 - Doctrine of Papal infallibility
1878 - The Niagara Bible Conferences publish their 14 point statement of faith
1906 - The Pentecostal revival: primacy of healing, speaking in tongues and other miracles
1921 - William Bryan starts the campaign against 'Darwinism'
1928 - Women gain the vote in Britain
1930 - Wilkinson publishes Our Authorised Bible Vindicated: divine preservation of the KJV
1961 - Henry Morris publishes The Genesis Flood: Young Earth creationism
1963 - Brother Hagin broadcasts: Word of Faith, Positive Confession, Televangelism
1965 - Pope decres Dei Veibum
1967 - Homosexuality decriminalised in Britain
1978 - Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

The interpretation of Christianity practiced in a baptist church today, or even a catholic one, shows clearer signs of having adapted to prevailing political environments over the years (eg on slavery, the equality of women and the divine right of kings) than it does of being an unwavering single divine moral voice that people may vary from but doesn't itself move.

On the contrary, when you look at how the different doctrines spread through a geographic area over time, what you see is an organic pattern of growth and competition that's precisely the same as you observe when you watch how a species changes and spread over time, competing with other species and adapting to new environments:


Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 12

The attractions of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective

This is the second section in our break down of how modern Christianity appears from the perspective of an Atheist world-view. In the first section we covered an atheist explanation of how Christianity evolved. In the third section we'll cover what, from the perspective of an atheist world-view, appear to be flaws in the Christian narrative. In this section we're going to cover an atheist explanation of why people born to Christian parents, in a society where Christianity is the most common religion, become Christians. Why they believe.

Colds pass around when the weather gets chillier or people's immune system are otherwise lowered. First a person is exposed to a strain of virus they are susceptible to and it gets inside their body - they are infected. Second, once inside, the virus fights the immune system and is either defeated or it gains hold and overwhelms the system - it grows. Third, the virus changes to fit the flaws in the host (thus deveoping new strains), and changes the host to better fit it - it adapts. Fourth, a specific change the virus makes in the host is altering its behaviour to increase the chances of the virus being spread on to new hosts (eg sneezing in the case of colds, but also being passed onto partners and children for other viruses) - it spreads.

In the same way that a cold virus is a collection of DNA genes, we're going to look at a religion as a collection of doctrinal memes, and examine how they fit the flaws in people's mental immune systems:

How do Christian doctrines infect?
How do Christian doctrines grow?
How do Christian doctrines adapt?
How do Christian doctrines spread?

How do Christian doctrines infect?

It is a lot easier for a belief (of any sort, not just religious ones) to appeal to a person's emotions and subconscious instinct-driven mind, than it is to appeal to their rationality. We've already seen how some people are, from birth, more prone to relying upon their feelings and intuition over their conscious logical thought and external senses. People also tend to be less rational when they are young or stressed.

Indeed, despite children going through rebellious phases where they want to prove their independence and differentiate themselves from their parents, on average young children are primed to accept as true 'general knowledge' they are told by authority figures - it tends to bypasses all objective rational evaluation, because they trust. Later in life a religious person may change denomination but, if they stay religious at all, less than 5% switch to a religion that is different from the one they were raised in for the first seven years of their life (eg going from Christian to Hindu, or vice versa).

There has been extensive research done on how children think at various ages, and how that ties in with their developing conception of a personal God. All young children are animists, however as they grow older the concept of a personal God serves as a surrogate attachment figure, and how this is strengthened depends upon their initial parental attachment. Insecurely attached children are most likely to be strengthen their attachment to God during those periods in their life when their primary attachments (to their parents, or sexual partners) are being weakened, or when they are feeling more in need of security (such as in sickness, in danger or in old age). Securely attached children, on the other hand, tend to strengthen their attachment to God when their other attachments are also strong.

It is from this former type that Feuerbach gets his idea of 'religion as wish fulfillment'. He writes: "the whole world, with all its pomp and glory, is nothing weighed against human feeling. This 'omnipotence of feeling' breaks through all the limits of understanding and manifests itself in several religious beliefs: the faith in providence, which is a form of confidence in the infinite value of one's own existence; faith in miracle, the confidence that the gods are unfettered by natural necessity and can realize one's wishes in an instant; and faith in immortality, the certainty that the gods will not permit the individual to perish."

Apologetics such as C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia introduce certain concepts very early, and set an expectation of what natural justice is. And even in children's stories that are not explicitly Christian, magic is common, sarcrifices (or arduous quests) can be demanded by authority figures, and faith is generally rewarded. Classical art, music and literature are all filled with Christian imagery. Just by being raised by Christians or in a culture with a Christian heritage, people are likely to think that certain concepts are plausible or good, so when they then get a certain type of mental experience, they are primed to accept it and interpret it as being the love of Jesus or divine guidance, and confirmation of the Christian world-view they've already been exposed to and already half-accept as plausible without having to think about it. (People raised with different expectations, on the other hand, when they make a supernatural interpretation of such experiences at all, often differ strongly in how they interpret it: aliens, multiple entities, trees and Nature, voices of ancestors, etc. The emotions and imagery they then associate with it can also vary.)

So what, then, are these experiences, that Christians interpret as absolutely certainty, direct divine revelation and a personal relationship with God?

The temporal lobe is the part of the brain where we process sound and vision signals and tie them in with memory - it is the bit that tells us whether an image is coming from outside or inside, how 'real' it is. When it doesn't function correctly (such as during an epileptic seizure or after a blow to the head) this can lead to visions; but it can also experience abnormally activity in religious people when they are exposed to certain religious cues (link). There is debate over whether this can also be externally triggered by a special helmet designed to emit particular magnetic fields (the "Koren helmet") or whether that is just an unusually good cue for those who are suggestible in that direction. (You can read the two sides of the debate here and here.) Either way, though, an experience indistinguishable from 'real' religious revelation can be re-created on demand by scientists. (Further info: a program by the BBC, and a book on it.)

Glossolalia (speaking in tongues) is, by the way, also associated with activity in the temporal lobe. (link)

How do Christian doctrines grow?

Once a person has been exposed to Christian doctrines and initially convinced of their truth, how do those doctrines then act to preserve and increase that belief, in the face of increased mental opposition as the person grows older, has less need of comfort, or encounters challenges to the doctrines? And how does this tie in with how the brain operates?

A lot of religion, as it is practiced, serves to increase the emotional importance to the person of identifying as a faithful follower of that religion. It redefines what it is to be a "good" person. It is present at emotional high points in the person's life (marriage, and baptism of new babies). Religious practice often results in the individual spending lots of time with other people of the same faith. This ties their social circles and support networks to their belief, and biases the flow of information going to the person in favour of information that supports their beliefs. It also has a profound emotional effect, because the more someone has sunk into their religious identity and built their life around it, the greater their Escalation of Commitment.

The brain is designed to defend that investment, even to over-riding contradictory external evidence. The ventral striatum (shown here in red) is part of the brain that is strongly associated with emotional and motivational aspects of behavior, and is connected with disturbances such as schizophrenia:

It shows increased activity in adolescents when acting according to peer pressure rather than sense, and it also shows increased activity when believers assert the truth of religious statements (such as "Angels really exist") compared to when they assert the truth of non-religious statements (such as "Eagles really exist"). (link)

This mechanism exists in order to help humans carry out long term plans with determination, rather than getting side-tracked by self-questioning at the first setback, wasting the effort invested so far. However it can be hijacked by certain cognitive biases. There are many believers who say things like:

When I look into the eyes of my beautiful children, I see God. Every flower, bird, rainbow, I see him. Looking around, there has to be a Creator. I don't believe a collision of two stars or whatever it was in the big bang theory could cause the beautiful things in this world. Seeing isn't believing - believing is seeing. I feel God in my soul, I hear him in the pitter patter of the rain. God is as real as the air I breathe. I cannot see it, but its there.

Such people are not liars, crazy or stupid.


What they are is human.

The human brain uses Bayes' Theorem (the correct mathematical way of updating a probability estimate upon receiving a new piece of information). A consequence of this is that how we view evidence depends upon which evidence we've seen so far. In practical terms, what this means is that we have a tendency to carry on believing what we already believe, and downgrade evidence that contradicts our beliefs. This is known as "Confirmation Bias" and is a very important concept so please, if that's not a term you've come across before, please spend 5 minutes reading the brief summary at WikiPedia.

And that's just one cognitive bias. Other relevant ones are Pareidolia, Subjective Validation and Belief Bias. (do read about the fMRI scan experiment carried out on that last one).

The people who look at events in their personal past and declare that they can see in those events clear evidence of a divine plan, or even miracles, are exhibiting precisely the same normal human limitations of how bad we are at estimating certain types of probability as most of the human population (excluding, perhaps, certain very wary and skeptical mathematicians) are all sorts of non-religious situation (link, link, link). People are also bad at estimating how rational or irrational they have been, consistently over-estimating their own rationality (link).

A third brain mechanism some forms of Christianity take advantage of to keep hold of a person is the moral dimension of purity. The sacrament of confession, with the resulting absolution, can give a feeling of cleanliness that is almost addictive (the way someone with OCD repeatedly washes their hands) - and the church is the only available 'pusher'.

Home | moralfoundations.org
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the ... -wash-away

How do Christian doctrines adapt?

Cults use deception to lure people in, extreme behaviour modification techniques to manipulate them while in, and coercion to dissuade them from leaving. Cults persuade their followers that the cult is the only means of salvation, and the money and effort of the followers is being put to good use, while supporting the cult leaders in a fine lifestyle. (link to "how cults work" howcultswork.com)

Most religions are different. The leaders are themselves believers rather than hypocrites. They don't love bomb new members or give them a false impression of what the holy book or being a member is like. They are not over-controlling of members' daily lives and associations. They don't combine intense group events with tiredness or even sleep deprivation to lower rationality. And they don't force followers to shun others who have left the faith.

But they do share a surprising number of basic behaviour modification techniques in common.

Repeated ritualistic public affirmations of belief - catechisms, confirmation ceremonies, spoken creeds
Peer pressure - an emphasis on putting your best face forwards, and testifying giving credit to God
Altered definitions - a lot of time listening to or reading the holy text and explanations of it, building up a private technical vocabulary of words and concepts specific to the religion. They become habituated to the lifestyle.
But the biggest thing Christianity does is to make the follower feel that coming up with reasons for why doctrine is justified is their personal responsibility. They are exposed to multiple 'strains' of interpretation, and encouraged to seek out or develop one that best satisfies their own personal cognitive biases. They are made to feel that a failure to be satisfied is a failing on their part, and a sign of insufficient effort or faith. And so they fill in gaps in the meta model (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meta_model ... _structure) in the same way a subject reads meaning into the Forer text (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forer_effe ... onstration).

And the killer doctrine, the one that holds it all together, is that there doesn't need to be any objective evidence that the new interpretation is more accurate than the old interpretation - just it feeling more right is, by itself, all the evidence that is needed. The only bounds are peer pressure, and the follower can always gravitate to a new denomination that better fits the interpretation that feels most natural to them, where they then share interpretations, infecting others and being re-infected themselves with multiple similar strains, reinforcing the truthful feeling ("others believe this, so it is something I discovered rather than made up").

It is this personal adaption that leads, church by church, denomination by denomination, to evolution of the religion as a whole.

How do Christian doctrines spread?

Historically much of the spread of Christianity has happened through politics (the entirely of Sweden was converted when the King was converted), economics (missionaries followed the East India Company into Africa) and the sword (the Conquistadors). However there have always been, and continue to be, many doctrines and practices that contribute to spreading on a personal and church level.

Children are taught to honour their father and their mother. Parents and god parents promise to raise the children in the faith, and are encouraged to bring them along to services and Sunday school. Doctrines connected with staying married, not masturbating, not using contraception and not aborting all lead to larger than average family sizes (link), even when normalised for age, country and income. Followers gain social status from having children who are seen to follow the faith (eg First Communion). The modern extreme of this is the Quiverfull movement which, unsurprisingly, is growing fast.

Doctrines such as the protestant work ethic and prosperity theology lead to men gaining wealth and spreading the faith through marriage and supporting large families. Doctrines which treat women as objects, such as the high value placed upon sexual purity (abstinence and virginity before marriage), and submitting to the man as the head of the household (including on issues of sex) also affect the spread of the faith. Sexual mores and restrictions tend to be preached about more often than things like cheating on taxes, or driving politely, because those other things have less impact on the spread of the faith.

Interestingly enough, in the early Church, there was a common doctrine of total chastity for everyone (not just monks or priests) and not having children, because it was felt the second coming of Christ was immanent. The theological justifications for this were just as strong as for the alternatives, however the groups following that doctrine eventually all died off, leaving the alternative to spread unopposed. Similarly groups that have preached a vow of poverty have failed to make headway in the general population (because it makes raising families rather hard).

I mentioned earlier that churches tended to encourage followers to invest time and money in the church, because of the emotional impact upon the follower from doing so. But, of course, on a church level that can provide an active church with vast income. And, over generations, that translates to vast wealth and power, all too often invested in grand works of art and extensive (tax free) properties. Here's a church that's 20 minutes drive from my home:

Magnificent, isn't it? A true labour of love, by the craftmen who build it (or, at least, the ones not making gargoyles that looked like the bishop). A lot of labour, in fact. Over the centuries more than 10 million man hours were spent on the construction and decoration. It wasn't just a place of worship. It was a seat of ecclesiastical governance and a statement of power - it says "We're going to be here for ever, we hold eternal truth."

Churches have always lobbied for civil power. In western countries, for most of the last 1500 years, it was a criminal offense punishable by death (or, at minimum, socially very very unwise) to be anything other than a Christian. Church scholars drafted laws for the kings (think of Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Richelieu), which gives a 'home court' advantage if you're trying to carry out The Great Commission, and even today there are still very real social advantages to presenting as a Christian in most western countries. Like a fish surrounded by water, this privilege is only noticed when absent - it seems the natural state, because it has been around for so long. Christians do not lack book publishers, TV channels, radio shows, or access to any other channel when they want to proselytise; and doctrine positively encourages this. Indeed, Christian practice includes everything from witnessing on personal blogs and discrete fish bumper stickers to megaphone street preaching and knocking on doors at the weekend. This 'home court' advantage can be so strong that in places like America's Bible Belt many people (who in other areas might describe themselves as agnostic, apathetic or lapsed Christians) will claim the social identity of being a believer out of lazy acceptance, because in that area it is strongly in their self interest to do so (their children are bullied and they can't make friends otherwise).

We can quantify these effects, by looking at a map of the world:

If religious belief were based upon objective evidence then between people who had equal access to that evidence, we'd expect to see that the fraction of them who accepted or rejected it would not vary from region to region.

However when we look at the map what we see is that, even in places like Europe and the United States, where public libraries in all towns stock books on a wide variety of religions and internet access is readily available, there are large swathes of land where most people share the same religion, and clear boundaries between those swathes - boundaries that have not moved much since large wars or migrations over 200 years ago.

Consider two neighbouring countries in Europe, Greece (98% Christian) and Turkey (98% Muslim). If there is one true religion in the world, supported by objective evidence, then just from straight statistics we can say that less than 5% of the followers of that religion are following it because of that evidence. And that if there is convincing subjective evidence supporting it of a supernatural origin, the God of that religion is not being even handed in which nations He gives that evidence out to.

Or, alternatively, there is no God. It is the simpler explanation for the observed pattern.
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 13

The flaws of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective

I'm going to divide the flaws into four top level categories:

1. Failures of consistency
2. Failures of theory
3. Failures of practice
4. Failures of complexity
And then, probably subdivide some of those categories.

1. Failures of consistency

Even if we can't judge one world-view by the values of a different world-view it should, at minimum, live up to its own values. Seen from outside, there appear to be many places that the Bible contradicts itself, reality, common sense or our moral intuition. But contradictions can always be papered over or explained away, if one is allowed a sufficiently complex explanation. The thing I'd like you, as a Christian, to bear in mind as we look at the apparent contradictions in this section is not whether you can come up with an explanation to reconcile each one, but the nature of the explanations. Are they simple explanations that would be immediately obvious with no external prompting to a Christian of even average intelligence, as long as they were familiar with the Bible? Or are they complex explanations, that required thought and ingenuity on someone's part to devise? Are they powerful explanations that, because they correspond to reality on some deep level, explain not just the apparent contradiction at hand, but make further useful predictions and tie in well with other areas? Or do they seem more like ad-hoc explanations, that raise more questions than they answer, that have no predictive power, that are isolated and drive you further away from consensus reality, and that could have many aspects of the explanation varied without altering the dead-end to curiosity that they provide?

Why is this important? Doesn't science have hideously complex explanations? What could be simpler than the Holy Spirit telling us that two passages in the Bible are both correct, and that we don't have to understand how that is the case, just that it is; that the Bible tells us that unbelievers, who don't accept the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will be unable to see; that things are the way they are because that is the will of God, and it is not for us to question; that we should just have faith, and not let Satan into our hearts?

It is important because you are not an unbeliever, and the Bible says that, for believers, the Holy Spirit will not just affirm truth, but will guide even simple people to clear explanations of that truth, with no outside help required. (1 Corinthians 2, 1 Corinthians 10, 1 John 2). "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true" - 2 Tim 3:16. It is whether the explanations of the apparent contradictions are consistent with that, the Bible's own standard, that this category's title refers to.

A) apparent contradictory descriptions of the same physical thing or sequence of events
B) apparent contradictions between attributes, motives, values, rules and actions
C) apparent contradictions between the Bible, prophecies and history
D) apparent contradictions between the Bible and science
E) apparent contradictions between the Christian narrative and common sense

A) apparent contradictory descriptions of the same physical thing or sequence of events


In (Genesis 1:25-27) God creates non-human animals before humans.
In (Genesis 2:18-19) God creates humans before non-human animals.

The Great Drought

In (1 Kings 18) it lasted less than 36 months.
In (Luke 4:25) it lasted longer than 36 months.

Who did the Egyptians buy Joseph from?

In (Genesis 37:36) it says the Midianites.
In (Genesis 39:1) it says the the Ishmaelites.

Who moved David to take a census?

In (2 Samuel 24:1) it says God.
In (1 Chronicles 21:1) it says Satan.

Was Jesus the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament?

In the Old Testament it says the Messiah will be descended on his father's side from King David (link to a full explanation of why the Jews do not accept Jesus)
In the New Testament it says Jesus was not sired by a human father

B) apparent contradictions between attributes, motives, values, rules and actions

Is it ok to drink wine?

In (Judges 13:4) it says "drink not wine"
In (Proverbs 31:6-7) it says "Give wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more."

Is it ever ok to lie?

In (2 Chronicles 18) it says Yes.
In (Matthew 19:18) it says No.
How did Judas feel about betraying Jesus?

In (Matthew 27:5) he felt so bad about it he threw away the money, then hung himself
In (Acts 1:18) he went on a spending spree with the money, then was slain by God

C) apparent contradictions between the Bible, prophecies and history

Were the Twelve Tribes of Israel named after the children of Jacob?

The Bible says: Yes (Genesis 49)
History says: No. (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jso ... 20039.html)(What were the twelve tribes of Israel (Jacob)?)

Did Iraq become a perpetual desolation within 70 years?

The Bible says: Yes (Jeremiah 25:12)
History says: No. Even if you interpret "the land of the Chaldeans" as just the city of Babylon, that didn't decline until 275 BCE, 264 years after the conquest of the Chaldeans by the Persians.

Did Jesus return within the lifetime of some of his audience?

The Bible says: Yes (Matthew 16:28) (Luke 9:27) (Mark 13:30-31) (Mark 14:62) (1 John 3:2) (1 John 2:18)
History says: No.

Was Egypt uninhabited for 40 years after being crushed by Nebuchadnezzar?

The Bible says: Yes (Ezekiel 30:10-11)(Ezekiel 29:10-12)
History says: No. (http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics ... Carchemish)(http://www.goatstar.org/failed-propheci ... er%20Egypt)

According to the Bible, before the tower of Babel was cast down (and it wasn't built until 2250 BCE), humans were of a single race and spoke a single language. On casting it down, humanity was split up and scattered to the four corners of the Earth, and multiple languages (and races and cultures) were formed.
However, using dendrochronology, we can date to the precise year timbers in buildings around the world going back more than 4000 years earlier than that, complete with artifacts and buried bodies showing unbroken culture and habitation of those settlements all the way up to the present day. Indeed, given the unbroken timeline from the Old Testament (used by Bishop Ussher) the Great Flood itself must have happened at least 300 years after the first pyramid was built in Egypt without, somehow, interrupting the succession of Pharaohs or the culture of the Egyptians. The timelines are not just different in scale, or fixable with some fudge like treating days as thousands of years; they are hideously incompatible, fixable only by use of explicit miracles (for details compare the religious timeline in part 7 of the FAQ with the scientific timelines in parts 8 and 10).

D) apparent contradictions between the Bible and science


The Bible says: Unicorns exist and Ostriches are uncaring parents (Job 39:9-16)
Science says: We have no evidence in favour of unicorns existing, and much evidence in favour of Ostriches being attentive parents

The Bible features Satyrs, Giants, Cockatrices, Dragons and talking Demons
Mythology from that region and period also features these things
Science does not feature these things

Science says the human species evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, from previous non-human species
The Bible is often interpreted to say this is not the means God used to create the human species. However this is a really really big issue, so I'll defer dealing with it in detail to later part of this FAQ.


Modern science says the Moon orbits the Earth, the Earth orbits the Sun, the Sun orbits the centre of our galaxy (the Milky Way), etc. and that stars are varying distances from the Earth, with the nearest being 4 light years away.
Ancient science was split on the question. In 230 BCE, a Greek astronomer named Aristarchos came up with the first heliocentric model of the solar system, but most Greeks, Babylonians and Egyptians went with the celestial spheres model. Both, though, saw the stars as being at a more or less fixed distance away from the centre of the solar system, leaving a divine space 'the heavens' beyond this shell of stars. Stars could 'fall' from this shell down to Earth (and were much smaller that the Earth) and, similarly, creatures from Heaven would descend in a physical vertical motion from somewhere beyond the sky, past the stars then the clouds, before landing on the Earth (in just the same way that those who died and lived in the underworld were physically downwards beneath the surface of the Earth). (link)(link)(link)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almagest#P ... tary_model
The Bible uses a model that is compatible with the scientific knowledge of their time, showing physical vertical movement from the Earth to the Heaven where God lives in many places, stars falling, and even the Sun being held still for several hours in order to aid a battle. For example: (Matthew 24:29) (Genesis 11:4-7)


Science says the Earth is billions of years old, and never suffered a world-wide flood deep enough to cover the tops of the tallest mountains on Earth
The Bible says otherwise


The Bible lists many miracles that contradict the known laws of physics
Science has found no evidence that miracles can take place

E) apparent contradictions between the Christian narrative and common sense

Jesus rides two donkeys at the same time

In {Zechariah 9:9} it is predicted the Messiah will enter Jerusalem riding "upon an ***, and upon a colt the foal of an ***". The literal interpretation of this is two different animals. However, if you are familiar with the usage of the period in which that was written, that construct is better translated to mean "just upon an ***, even such an *** as was a colt, the foal of an ***" (ie one animal).
In {Matthew 21:1-7} the author mistranslates the earlier scripture and, to fulfill the prophecy, invents and describes in detail the ludicrous scene of Jesus riding two donkeys at the same time.

Continued in the next part:

i) Choice of miracles
ii) Divine Hiddenness

Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 14

1. Failures of consistency (continued)

There are two last failures of consistency I want to address, before I go onto the questions of 'good and 'evil', and I've split them off into their own FAQ part, so I can go into the detail they deserve:

i) Choice of miracles
ii) Divine Hiddenness

i) Choice of miracles

The English word "miracle" can refer to a number of things. In the New Testament the authors talk about signs and wonders (Semeion and Terata) and about mighty works (Erga and Dunameis), and these can be effects caused either directly by God, or indirectly via a secondary agency. They are often categorised by type of effect into miracles of creation and miracles of providence. Creation of matter (eg the universe), creation of force (eg walking on water) and massive alteration of biological life (eg allowing Balaam's *** to speak) all count as miracles of creation - things which contravene our current understanding of the laws of nature. Unusual plagues, weather, disasters, animal behaviour and healing all count as miracles of providence - things that don't contravene the laws of nature but which would (without a guiding force behind them) require unbelievably high coincidences of timing, target selection or magnitude. Which is not unreasonable. If something wasn't impossible or, at minimum, highly unlikely, how would you know it to be a miracle?

http://www.bj005a3881.pwp.blueyonder.co ... acles.html
http://christianity.about.com/od/biblef ... -Jesus.htm
Miracles of the Saints

However, given all of the things that an omnipotent power might have chosen to do, that break natural laws, or the mathematical laws of probability, why did He choose the particular things he did choose to do, at those particular times? Have a look at the miracles of the Old Testament, the miracles of the New Testament, and the miracles of the Saints. Then compare the magnitude of effect of each event, with how long ago it was claimed to happen.

Why are so many of them the type of effect that can be duplicated by modern confidence tricksters and stage magicians, or by claiming credit after the event for something that happened by chance? And why is it that, the closer we get to modern times (when there are independant witnesses who could call foul on made up claims), the weaker and more ambiguous the miracles become. No more parting of seas or bodily sweeping people up into the clouds. No more destroying cities in fire.

There's a whole website dedicated to examining just this one specific question in detail:

Why won't God heal amputees?
Why Won't God Heal Amputees?

It is a good question. Why, out of all the types of healing ascribed to miraculous divine power, are none of them unambiguous miracles of creation like re-growing an entire amputated leg. Why are they all restricted to being miracles of providence?

ii) Divine Hiddenness

500 years ago, Divine Hiddenness wasn't an issue. It didn't get listed in any of the great religious debates, it just wasn't a question anyone raised. If asked whether there was evidence of God, a priest would point at God's Works (the erga): the stars in the sky, the sun rising in the morning, the animals grazing in the fields, the tides of the sea, and say "You can't explain any of that. Those things are obviously all the work of God. Who else?"

But since then, bit by bit, science has started to explain the things we see around us. And, slowly, the percentage of atheists in the world is increasing. So why has God allowed this non-belief to spread? Why isn't He providing evidence that these atheists find more persuasive?

Here's how Richard Carrier puts the argument from the existence of non-belief:

It is a direct contradiction to claim that someone is loving yet never does what a loving person does--because the name refers to the behavior. To be loving literally means to be loving. You can't be heartless and claim to be loving. As Christ himself is supposed to have said, "it is by their fruits that shall ye know them." The only possible exception here is when a loving person is incapable of acting as he desires--either lacking the ability or facing too great a risk to himself or others--but this exception never applies to a God, who is all-powerful and immune to all harm.

Just look at what Christians are saying. They routinely claim that God is your father and best friend. Yet if that were true, we would observe all the same behaviors from God that we observe from our fathers and friends. But we don't observe this. Therefore, there is no God who is our father or our friend. The logic of this is truly unassailable, and no "free will" excuse can escape it. For my father and friends aren't violating my free will when they speak to me, help me, give me advice, and answer my questions. Therefore, God would not violate my free will if he did so. He must be able to do at least as much as they do, even if for some reason he couldn't do more. But God doesn't do anything at all. He doesn't talk to, teach, help, or comfort us, unlike my real father and my real friends. God doesn't tell us when we hold a mistaken belief that shall hurt us. But my father does, and my friends do. Therefore, no God exists who is even remotely like my father or my friends, or anyone at all who loves me. Therefore, Christianity is false.

So is Carrier right? Are there things God could do, that He isn't doing, which would persuade far more atheists that God exists than are currently persuaded?

If you ask Atheists "What could God do tomorrow that would change your mind and make you at least 95% certain that God exists?" you get a wide variety of answers (from moving Mount Everest to the sea just off New York, to appearing during the superbowl and changing everybody's nachos to live salmon), some sillier than others. But the point is that you do get answers. So, given that there are things God could do in order to change the minds of Atheists without violating their free will, why hasn't He?

And it isn't just vast physical acts. Why do so many of the prophecies in the Bible contain the same sort of ambiguity found in the prophecies of Nostradamus? If God could forsee the modern world, and He wanted us to believe, why doesn't the Bible contain precise predictions such as "In September 2006, light from a supernova in the direction of the Perseus constellation will arrive at the Earth"? Why no prime factors of large numbers? Why no useful advice about the effects of burning fossil fuels upon the environment?

One answer to this question that's sometimes offered is that God refuses to give certain proof of His existence in order to test humanity's faith. This theory of "Divine Hiddenness" is a new idea, suggested only since the advent of modern science, but it has an unexpected consequence.

Eliezer Yudkowsky writes:

Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld, a priest who heard the confessions of condemned witches, wrote in 1631 the Cautio Criminalis ('prudence in criminal cases') in which he bitingly described the decision tree for condemning accused witches: If the witch had led an evil and improper life, she was guilty; if she had led a good and proper life, this too was a proof, for witches dissemble and try to appear especially virtuous. After the woman was put in prison: if she was afraid, this proved her guilt; if she was not afraid, this proved her guilt, for witches characteristically pretend innocence and wear a bold front. Or on hearing of a denunciation of witchcraft against her, she might seek flight or remain; if she ran, that proved her guilt; if she remained, the devil had detained her so she could not get away.

Spee acted as confessor to many witches; he was thus in a position to observe every branch of the accusation tree, that no matter what the accused witch said or did, it was held a proof against her. In any individual case, you would only hear one branch of the dilemma. It is for this reason that scientists write down their experimental predictions in advance.

But you can't have it both ways—as a matter of probability theory, not mere fairness. The rule that "absence of evidence is evidence of absence" is a special case of a more general law, which I would name Conservation of Expected Evidence: The expectation of the posterior probability, after viewing the evidence, must equal the prior probability.

So if you claim that "no sabotage" is evidence for the existence of a Japanese-American Fifth Column, you must conversely hold that seeing sabotage would argue against a Fifth Column. If you claim that "a good and proper life" is evidence that a woman is a witch, then an evil and improper life must be evidence that she is not a witch. If you argue that God, to test humanity's faith, refuses to reveal His existence, then the miracles described in the Bible must argue against the existence of God.

Once science started explaining some of the 'divine works' previously held up as evidence of God's existence, the initial reaction by believers was to appeal to God as the cause for those phenomena human knowledge had not yet explained. When science filled in a particular gap in our knowledge, the believers just jumped to pointing at the next unfilled gap. Which tactic worked fine while there were plenty of gaps. However, by 1894, some believers noticed that the number of gaps were shrinking alarmingly and that, by basing their argument for God on this type of support, their support shrank over time as science grew. Henry Drummond, a Scottish Christian evangelical writer, argued against the tactic, naming it "God of the Gaps". But, despite that, it is still a popular tactic even today, for good reason. Because, if there is not obvious physical evidence out there shouting "God exists", it raises the question "Why isn't there?". Jesus tells his followers to go spread the message. One of the 10 commandments is to believe in God. It seems to contradict God's declared desire (that worship of him spread) that He Himself is trying to hide away all evidence of His own existence.

Here's Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about the problem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HooeZrC76s0

And here's a longer piece on it, from the BBC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBhm4zv0f7w

Further info: (link) (link) (link) (link)
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ ... elief.html

There seem to be three approaches to Divine Hiddenness.

The first is the hopeful approach, the God of the Gaps. God has given us more persuasive evidence, we just don't recognise it yet. This says "Well, maybe you can explains the tides and the origin of species, but maybe the next gap I point out will be the one that will be forever unexplainable by science."

The second is the approach that anticipates failure. God hasn't given us more persuasive evidence, because He doesn't want to (for some mysterious reason). This argues there will never be evidence and makes up excuses in advance of the test taking place. Carl Sagan wrote about "The Dragon In My Garage".
The Dragon In My Garage

Yudkowsky added to it:

A man who comes to us and claims: "There is a dragon in my garage." Fascinating! We reply that we wish to see this dragon—let us set out at once for the garage! "But wait," the claimant says to us, "it is an invisible dragon."

Now as Sagan points out, this doesn't make the hypothesis unfalsifiable. Perhaps we go to the claimant's garage, and although we see no dragon, we hear heavy breathing from no visible source; footprints mysteriously appear on the ground; and instruments show that something in the garage is consuming oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide.

But now suppose that we say to the claimant, "Okay, we'll visit the garage and see if we can hear heavy breathing," and the claimant quickly says no, it's an inaudible dragon. We propose to measure carbon dioxide in the air, and the claimant says the dragon does not breathe. We propose to toss a bag of flour into the air to see if it outlines an invisible dragon, and the claimant immediately says, "The dragon is permeable to flour."

Carl Sagan used this parable to illustrate the classic moral that poor hypotheses need to do fast footwork to avoid falsification. But I tell this parable to make a different point: The claimant must have an accurate model of the situation somewhere in his mind, because he can anticipate, in advance, exactly which experimental results he'll need to excuse.

The third approach is the simplest explanation. God hasn't given us more persuasive evidence, because He doesn't exist.
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 15

The flaws of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective, continued...

2. Failures of theory

There was an arcade game popular in the 1970s called "Whac-a-Mole". The player stood in front of several holes, and out of one hole stood a mole. The player had a mallet, and it was easy to whack a mole back into its hole. But, when you did, another mole immediately popped up. It was physically impossible to keep all the moles down at the same time. And, because it was random which of the holes the mole would pop up in, unless a spectator kept careful track, it would be very difficult to tell whether every single mole had been defeated at least once.

Discussing the problem of evil can be rather like playing Wack-a-mole, unless you are very systematic and keep track of every variation, so I apologise in advance if the next bit seems overly legalistic or mathematical. But we are tilting at giants here - the problem of evil is so complex that there's an entire branch of Christian theology (called "theodicy") dedicated to dealing with this one question.

The basic problem can be simply put:

Benevolent parents care about their children. They care whether the children are happy, and they also care about protecting the children too much - children need to have some freedom to make mistakes and learn from them, and learn to take responsibility for them, if they are to grow up and live their own lives.

There are different parenting styles, and some parents are more protective than others. It can sometimes be difficult to judge if another parent is a good parent, especially if that other parent knows more than you do about challenges their child will have to face when grown up.

But, at the end of the day, there are some examples of bad parenting that are pretty clear cut. If a parent has ten children, gives them each a phone and says "call me if you need help", then steps back and watches over the fence while three of the children cut each other to pieces with chainsaws, and two of them accidently stab themselves because the parent left the garden full of knives, and bleed to death in hideous pain; then few people would hesitate to say that isn't good parenting. Not if the parent was watching over the fence, and had time to intervene, and the power to intervene, but didn't. Sure, the children who didn't use their phone are foolish, and the parent's feelings might be hurt by the implied rejection, but is that a good enough reason to condemn so many to painful avoidable death?

So that's the problem that's faced theologians through the ages:

If there's a God who is both powerful and benevolent, then why do we still see around us so many actions and events that seem to be the sort of things a powerful and benevolent being would and could do something about?

and they have come up with many many different potential answers to it.

Some of the potential answers justify the situation in term of limitations on what it is possible that even a divine being could do. Some argue that besides being benevolent God is also just, and the situation we see is the result of a perfect balance between these two attributes - in other words, humanity deserves it. Some argue there are other factors still hidden from us that in fact make everything ok, and we should just trust and go with the flow. Some argue that anything is ok if God does it, because he made us and gets to define what "Good" is, and what would be evil for a human parent to do might be being defined by God as being good for God to do.

These defences raise many questions. What actually are good and evil? Are they absolute or relative? What is justice and what parts do sacrifice and atonement play in it?

Think of the mole as representing God's culpability. Each defence is a potential hole through which the mole can escape through, and only by systematically blocking all of them can that culpability be firmly pinned where it belongs. Blocking every hole is impossible in the original arcade game, and so it feels like I'm attempting the impossible here, to show that every defence of evil existing on Earth is flawed, and none of them leave intact a viable being consistent with Christianity existing, who is both the creator of the entire universe, and worthy of being worshipped.

But that's the aim of this section of the FAQ - to demonstrate that Christianity is flawed not just in practice, but in theory. The whole idea of a supremely powerful and benevolent being is just plain incompatible with the evidence of cruelty and random natural destruction we see around us.

Let the defences and mole whacking begin...

2.1.1 Defence: God created everything, including the concept of what "Good" means. By definition, good is doing what God wants you to do. It is meaningless to doubt whether God is good, because without him there is no absolute standard to give the word something to refer to.

Let's start off by trying to construct an example of action that, as universally as possible, is seen as being evil.

Suppose Olive is a 6 month old baby girl, and Michael is a 40 year old man. If Michael kills Olive, we'd generally see that as bad. But everyone has to die sometime, and perhaps it was an accident, so let's add in that he isn't stupid, sick or being forced at gun point. He deliberate kills her in a way that that involves extreme pain for several hours. Perhaps he was a doctor trying to save her life and, after hours of failed surgery, put her out of her misery? Then let's specify that his actions were in no way to her benefit or thought to be in her benefit. He chucks her into a fire then stands back to watch her burn and, after she crawls out, slowly die in agony from the burns, fully intending when he chucked her into the fire that this would happen.

For want of a better example, let's call that an example of an "evil" action.

But suppose he was doing it, not for her benefit, but for the benefit of others? That by doing so he could save 10 other children from a similar fate, or cause rain to come thus causing great happiness to millions?

If we now specify that the "evil" wasn't a just action (the child didn't deserve that fate) and that it wasn't done to prevent greater evil, or to allow a greater good, then we can term it a "gratuitous evil".

That tells us what we, as humans, commonly see as being evil, but it doesn't tell us why that action is evil. Might a different sentient alien species or a human society in a different universe come to a different conclusion? Could God, if He chose, alter the definition of "evil", such that gratuitously torturing babies became a good thing, that all right-thinking moral humans should willingly do? This is known as the Euthyphro Dilemma, after a line by Plato which he attributes to Socrates, where Socrates asks Euthyphro, "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?"

If God declared that the scent of burning baby was sweet to Him, and commanded human sacrifice, should we obey, if he also made clear that the only 'greater' good being achieved by this was to please Him or convince Him that the sender of a request message was sincere by the cost paid in trade?

Principle IV from the Nüremberg Tribunal states:

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Further more why would someone be obligated to follow God's commands? Mere commands do not create obligations unless the commander has some commanding authority. But this commanding authority cannot itself be based on those very commands (i.e., a command to obey one's own commands), otherwise a vicious circle results. So, in order for God's commands to obligate us, He would have to derive His commanding authority from some source other than His own will.

So pure obedience isn't an excuse, but this wasn't an academic question for our ancestors. In previous parts of this FAQ we detailed how the power of blood and sacrifice is a natural concept for humans, because of magic thinking. It has a logic that appeals, and ancient religions in many parts of the world have included the blood sacrifice of animals and humans; generally the best and healthiest, not the lame or dying. If your local deity isn't benevolent, so much as a force of nature with its own rules, a power you have no choice but to make deals with in order to survive, then the "no alternative moral choice" part of the Nüremberg definition comes into play. If you wanted something small, a chicken or dove might do. A larger favour might require a large and perfect animal such as a pure white bull, or an unwanted human slave. A great favour might require a beloved child. At the top end, the only worthy sacrifice was royal blood, even the reigning monarch himself (poor King Domalde, for example). There's no numerical comparison possible. The monarch wasn't allowed to substitute in 1000 slaves for himself. It is about blood as an alchemical reagent, the pain, the emotion, the symbolism involved. Like calls to like, and so forth. It models the deity involved like a powerful neighbour who can be propitiated by gifts of gold and concubines. Indeed, if you look at the Salic laws of Weregild, there are strong parallels.

Is that sort of deity worthy of worship? You might worship Him for pragmatic reasons, or even from some abused Stockholm-syndrome gratitude for personally having escaped the worst the world can throw at one. But He isn't worthy, not unless you are the sort of person who worships powerful people because you admire power itself.

Is it just a matter of allegiance? Who has the bigger stick, heaven or hell? Even most Christian apologists dislike this defence. As C. S. Lewis puts it:

If good is to be defined as what God commands, then the goodness of God Himself is emptied of meaning and the commands of an omnipotent fiend would have the same claim on us as those of the 'righteous Lord.'

So, onto the next mole...

Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 16

The flaws of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective, continued...

2. Failures of theory, continued...

2.1.2 Defence: Even if God were not 100% good, He would still be worthy of worship. We rightfully praise and follow the examples of heros who are human, despite their having a few flaws. God created us, created the whole universe - that's better than anything any human hero has ever done.

In Norse mythology, Odin created the world as best he could from the materials he had to hand - the body of a giant he'd slain. He didn't work unopposed - there were other giants and gods who, while less powerful than Odin, he couldn't slay them at will without bringing on a preordained catastrophe. And, while definitely powerful, good and heroic, he had several personality flaws (a taste for deceit and violence) which would stop him being categorised as 100% good.

If Odin was good enough for the Norse to worship, why shouldn't the Yahweh of Christianity be deserving of worship even if he set a less than perfect example during the Old Testament years? Shouldn't He be judged by what he is now, post-Jesus, rather than by what he was then?

This is a moot question, because that's not the situation described by Christianity. According to theology, Yahweh is the sole creator of the entire universe, unconstrained by anything other than his own imagination and desire to be consistent with his own nature. According to theology, if there are supernatural powers of evil (eg the devil), they have no power except that permitted by God or permitted by those with the free will to allow the devil's influence in.

So, if we accept the world at face value, how heroic should we judge the deity with total control over it, if we leave aside questions of free will to future defences that concentrate on that?

Well, to start with, the natural world is full of things that are not just painful ("red in tooth and claw"), but that are cruel by design.

For a start there's this species of wasp in Australia that attacks spiders:

Only it doesn't immediately kill them. It paralyses them (the food stays fresh longer, if alive), and then injects the spider with eggs which then hatch and eat the spider alive, from the inside. While the spider is still conscious.

How much effort would it have taken a God, powerful enough to create the entire universe, to just slightly alter the venom the wasp evolved, so that the spider as well as being paralysed would also lose consciousness?

Then there are the painful fatal hereditary diseases that attack children. Alexander disease is incurable. It usually starts at around the age of 3 and kills within 10 years of starting. It causes the affected person to slowly begin to lose body function and eventually the ability to talk, and one of the symptoms are painful seizures. How little would someone have to care about humanity to not fix that if they could? You wouldn't even need to redesign biology or how humans work - just replace the mutated version of chromosome 17q21 in the gene pool, with the unmutated version.

And how about the physical world? You could argue that earthquake, volcanos and tidal waves are an integral part of the planet Earth's design, and without active vulcanism it would have cooled too quickly before life could evolve. But what about meteors, like the one that recently hit Chelyabinsk in Russia? Either you have to believe in a God who set the clockwork running on day 1, and who doesn't physically intervene (which contradicts what the Bible claims, because that has plenty of miraculous physical interventions) OR you have to accept that God could sweep the space lines clear every 100 years, but can't be bothered or does a poor job at it. Can you really worship a deity who is less heroic than a future version of NASA armed with big space lasers?

Maybe there is an excuse for God's apparent behaviour in one of the other defences, but just saying that he's less than perfect doesn't cut it, if we want to maintain that He is the supreme being, the sole creator of the universe, not just one deity among many, opposed by evil Gods or forces nearly as powerful as He is.

If you have that much power, you'd have to be worse than Donald Trump to not use it, unless there's some other mysterious reason not to.

Next mole...

2.1.3 Defence: So maybe he doesn't have that much power. Maybe the tales handed down in the Bible, or deduced by theologians, exaggerate what He can do. Like the Wizard of Oz, he is good, but not all powerful.

Suppose Yahweh is only the creator of our universe, and there are hierarchies above him, imposing constraints upon him that we are unaware of. Suppose he is required to give Satan some access to our world, to twist it and make things less perfect. Suppose some court above Yahweh ruled upon what punishment Eve's sin merited, and He is not allowed to make childbirth safe and painless, or increase our lifespans, or splash a message across the moon in 1000 mile high firey letters announcing His existence and what exactly people need to do in order to get into heaven. Suppose there is some law or logic or reality which says "this is how the magic of sacrifice works, and Jesus has to be killed before you can forgive them", that Yahweh can't fight? Possibly some law that Yahweh himself wrote, without thinking about the consequences, that he can't change because that isn't in his nature?

Well, firstly there's no evidence of these constraints in the Bible, other than those we can deduce from evil existing and God not having done more about it. We can make up as many stories we like about how things might be worse for us in an alternative universe without his intervention.

But precisely the same argument could be used to justify anything, even the depredations of the worst of tyrants.

And, secondly, it is rather similar to the situation in Japan or China, where you have local Kami (spirits) to appease and plead for aid from, who notice humans, but above them is whole bureaucracy of heaven, with many tiers of Gods, at increasing levels of abstraction and lack of caring about the everyday problems of mortals.

It leaves one wondering who is the actual being owed gratitude to for our existence? Is it the nice local one, Yahweh, or is it the one above Him who ordered us created, and set the constraints within which He is allowed to work?

We might, for pragmatic reasons, want to worship Yahweh, if the great being above Yahweh has ordered Yahweh to punish anyone who doesn't worship. But that's not the same as Yahweh being worthy. And how good could Yahweh really be, if he is freely obeying orders to allow all the avoidable pain and misery we see about us on the planet Earth? Should he have consented to allow the creation of the world in the first place, if he knows in advance that the majority will be condemned eternally to a fiery lake?

Either the Bible is lying to us about hell and our chances of ending up there, or the version of Yahweh this defence insists upon is little better than a trustee prisoner, collaborating with cruel prison owners in return for a chance to spare a few prisoners from being whipped.

Let's look at the central mystery of Christianity: the Atonement

According to most denominations, Jesus won salvation for humanity by the atonement (his shedding his blood on the cross - his living as a human and willingly dying) which reconciled humanity with Yahweh and redeemed their sins.

There are disagreements over which bits were important (his teachings or his dying) and what the mechanism was (a ransom or an example), but they all agree that it was necessary in order to gain something important from Yahweh (his mercy, or a place in heaven, or his love, or justice, or something), and that this important thing could have been gained in no other way (or in no other way consistent with God's love and nature). Theologians talk about it being a sacrifice on Jesus' part. He suffered and, by doing so, won a victory of some kind - did something great and magnificent we should all be supremely grateful for, the ultimate 'good' action.

Why? Why that constraint? What's the story logic behind it?

That substitutionary blood sacrific is just a universal constraint of how justice in the universe works, that even God must bow to, might make sense 2000 years ago, when the Roman empire was in full swing and sacrificial offerings were common. But what ethical being today would freely choose that as a fundamental rule of how a universe should work, if they have a free choice in the matter?

Back then it might make sense to excuse God's actions as necessary, sacrificing his own son because no other was pure and powerful enough to do. But who was he offering that sacrifice to?

And if it wasn't necessary, If God freely chose for things to work that way, in foreknowledge of what sacrifice would be necessary, then how meaningful was it? It becomes a play put on for our benefit, a painful boxing match that the event organiser could have replaced by a ballet, but thought the boxing more dramatically appropriate. Are those the actions of a kindly Wizard of Oz? Or of a P. T. Barnum?

God being under constraints (whether external or internal) doesn't work as an excuse for the evil we apparently see around us. There needs to be something else, some other defence, if it is to retain any connection to Christianity and not be just a made up story - an excuse based solely upon the fact that we do see evil.

Next mole...

Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 17

The flaws of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective, continued...

2. Failures of theory, continued...

2.1.4 Defence: So maybe there is an absolute definition of good that doesn't rely upon God, and God is 100% good, but we just are not smart or knowledgeable enough to fully understand not just whether a particular choice was good, but to understand what the highest idea of good is.

There are many different systems of ethics in the world, however some understanding can be gained by looking at the types of reasoning that lie beneath them, that develop through predictable stages as people's brains alter with the change from child to adult:

Lawrence Kohlberg tied these stages into the type of logical reasoning and theory of mind children had at different ages (the work of Piaget and others):

Progress through Kohlberg's stages happens as a result of the individual's increasing competence, both psychologically and in balancing conflicting social-value claims. The process of resolving conflicting claims to reach an equilibrium is called "justice operation". Kohlberg identifies two of these justice operations: "equality," which involves an impartial regard for persons, and "reciprocity," which means a regard for the role of personal merit. For Kohlberg, the most adequate result of both operations is "reversibility," in which a moral or dutiful act within a particular situation is evaluated in terms of whether or not the act would be satisfactory even if particular persons were to switch roles within that situation (also known colloquially as "moral musical chairs").

Knowledge and learning contribute to moral development. Specifically important are the individual's "view of persons" and their "social perspective level", each of which becomes more complex and mature with each advancing stage. The "view of persons" can be understood as the individual's grasp of the psychology of other persons; it may be pictured as a spectrum, with stage one having no view of other persons at all, and stage six being entirely sociocentric. Similarly, the social perspective level involves the understanding of the social universe, differing from the view of persons in that it involves an appreciation of social norms. (source)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_K ... l_elements

So what if there is a stage 7? What if there is some higher moral principle that God is following, that is as mysterious to us as a painful jab in the arm is mysterious to a child who doesn't realise the doctor is doing it for a good reason.

Let's look at some of the actions, described in the Bible, that this mysterious 7th stage would have to be sufficient to classify as good, and see if there is any element of predictability left to us, or if it appears so arbitrary to us that all our current moral intuitions become worthless.

Richard Dawkins claims:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

and there are whole websites dedicated to listing such incidents in the bible: eg rape and misogyny

Bible: Women

but perhaps such sites are biased and quote things out of context? Perhaps they exaggerate, or don't mentioned which attitudes were perfectly normal for those times?

What are the apparent crimes, that must be justified if this particular defence is to succeed?

I'll pick just two. Firstly the Deluge:

Genesis 7:21-23
King James Version (KJV)

21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man:

22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.

23 And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.

Not a lot of ambiguity in that description. God did it with his own hand, drowning billions of cute baby puppies, kittens, and other innocent animals. Even ones on continents that humans had not yet spread to. When he could have just as easily sent a plague to wipe out only the humans.

Second, the genocides, such as:

1 Samuel 15:2-3
King James Version (KJV)

2 Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.

3 Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ***.

I've heard attempts to justify this using conventional morality, by claiming that ALL the animals in the entire nation were defiled by bestiality and could never live normal happy lives, or that there were insufficient child care facilities in a desert to look after the toddlers of the slain adults, and it was a mercy to use a sword rather than to let the die of thirst in a desert.

This is from the all powerful deity who created the universe? He couldn't send an unexpected rain cloud, or fix the animals?

And, if we expand beyond the events recorded in the Bible, we'd still also need to explain the morality of allowing natural evils (such as meteors, wasps, and cruel illnesses) and human-influenced evils (such as serial killings by people born psychopaths, or just people maimed for life by drunk drivers). God created things perfect, but then they deteriated after Eve sinned, and God couldn't change things back without hurting free will? That's a different defence - here we're just interested in whether such things can be excused by claiming that these things are actually good, and we're just too dumb to understand what 'good' really is.

Ok, so that's the challenge. Is it plausible that there is some advanced version of morality which, just by itself, is sufficient to make such things seem good? We're not in a position to say that's impossible. But there are a number of unpleasant consequences of such a defence.

Firstly, such hidden knowledge directly contradicts the claims made in the Bible that it is possible to tell good from evil ("by their fruits ye shall know them"), and that we can understand and do right.

And secondly, the explanantion is entirely ad hoc - it has no predictive power at all. Given a situation in the Bible, you can't predict beforehand what God's response will be based on the premise of Him being good in an incomprehensible way - it robs us of the moral predictability.

Consider these two paintings:

One of them was done by a respected artist. The other was done by a monkey. Can you tell which is which?

As it turns out, even in abstract art, there is still an element of artistic predictability, lay audiences guess which was done by the artist more than 50% of the time. (link)

But if you can't tell the difference between an order issued by a good deity, and one issued by a selfish war deity, is there any meaning left in saying that the deity is setting a moral example? It returns us to the issue of "Divine Hiddenness". Even a chainsaw wielding sociopath does good things occasionally. How do you tell the difference?

And, if you can't, why is He worthy of your worship? Because He claims to be?

Next mo.. actually, before we get onto the next mole, a quick aside to answer yet another question that is frequently asked of Atheists:

Well, if you don't accept our explanation of what evil is, how does Atheism explain it? Why haven't we evolved to be always happy? Why do humans do nasty things to other humans, even at cost to themselves?

Saying evolution 'cares' about something is to mistakenly cast it as a being with feelings but, to make the wording easier, let's take 'caring' in this context to mean "is concerned with" in the same way that the equation determining the period of the swing of a pendulum is concerned with the length of the pendulum, but isn't concerned with the colour of the pendulum.

Evolution cares about the survival of genes. It doesn't care about the survival of individual creatures, except in as far as that affects the survival of their genes. If a creature has already mated and is now too old to mate again, and can't do anything more to affect the survival of its offspring, as far as evolution is concerned, that creature might as well curl up and die, to stop using up food the offspring might one day make use of. For example, after mating the male dark fishing spider just curls up and dies within a few hours - his purpose is over.

And evolution certainly doesn't care about whether individual creatures are happy or unhappy, in pain or feeling pleasure, active or depressed, except in as far as those states and emotions have utility, are useful on average for the purpose of keeping the creature alive or spreading its genes.

Pleasure and pain are evolution's carrot and stick - tools used to punish and reward the creature, to manipulate it into following the behaviour that evolution cares about. It isn't a perfect system - it paints with broad brush strokes. So damage to the body is painful, even in circumstances where that's necessary for the body to survive. And it can be 'gamed'. So orgasm is pleasurable, even when it comes from masturbation or when using a condom, with little chance of children resulting.

But in general we can use this model of what pleasure and pain are for to make predictions of what sort of activities will be pleasurable or painful, and (particularly for mammals with simple enough brains not to get confused by things like guilt or shame) these predictions have a good track record for accuracy.

For those interested, there's a paper about this:

Natural Selection and the Problem of Evil (2007), by Paul Draper

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ ... /evil.html

and discussion of that paper, online.

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ ... asure.html

As to the nature of evil, when it comes to whether individual people are 'good' or 'evil', it turns out that this often depends upon context. Research has been done showing that it is possible to deliberately set up a situation where 90% of people (normal everyday people, not psychopaths) will carry out significantly evil actions (such as painfully electrocuting an innocent person, to the point of death), with no physical coercion, threats or legal penalties - just social pressure.

The following video is by Phil Zimbardo, who ran the original Stanford Prison experiment, and who was called in as the expert witness over the Abu Ghraib abuses.


(LINK to complete series - note, there are photos shown in part 2, with advanced warning, that are not safe for work or children.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiAy50f- ... redirect=1

Again, this model of what evil is differs from that offered by religion, in that it has predictive power, that has been systematically scientifically confirmed.

Ok, now onto the next mole...
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June 1st, 2018, 03:43 AM
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 18

The flaws of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective, continued...

2. Failures of theory, continued...

2.1.5 Defence: So maybe there is an absolute definition of good that doesn't rely upon God, and God is 100% good, and we do understand what good is, but we're missing vital information about the consequences of His choices, that would be needed in order to judge whether God's choices are good

This is known as the Unknown Purpose Defence (UPD), and it is a big one, because there are many different types of information we might be missing.

A famous chain email claims:

" Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is not like faith, or love that exist just as does light and heat. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light. "

(This is based upon the theology of St Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, which is very mainstream.) http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/ar ... vil-exist/

One variant of that is to say that God has taken no evil actions because, once we know the full circumstances, we'll realise that we live in the best of the possible alternatives He could have picked between.

For example, here's one person's testimony praising God for picking an alternative where they were badly injured, rather than an alternative where they died:
http://christianity.about.com/u/ua/test ... sstory.htm

How God Saved Me
On Nov. 29, 2011, I was crushed in an accident. I died at the scene and during surgery. Today I am recovering from the accident. I had my small intestine removed, part of my colon and bowel, and my pelvis was broken and shattered along with intensive nerve damage to my right leg. They didn't expect me to live as I was induced to a coma for five days. When I came to, I had a breathing tube and a feeding tube. My pelvis wasn't surgically repaired, as they were waiting until the internal organs were healed enough. God and his angels were watching over me during this time as God watches over us every day. It has been a hard road towards recovery and healing, but God is the great physician. God has a plan for me, and this is why I didn't die on that Tuesday, November 29, 2011. God is good.

Some go further, and claim that life would be pointless, that we could have no appreciation of the value of Good, unless we had also experienced Evil and so could understand the contrast. In other words, this is a utilitarian argument - the temporary pain and apparent injustice of our lives in this world is justifed by the resulting greater good consequences in the afterlife.

William Lane Craig states the Unknown Purpose Defence thus:

We aren't in a good position to assess with confidence the probability (or improbability) of whether God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting bad things. Suffering that appears utterly pointless within our limited framework may be seen to be justly permitted in God's wider framework. The brutal murder of a child may have a ripple effect through history such that God's reason for not preventing the evil may emerge only centuries later or in another country. (Dallas Morning News, June 13, 1998)

According to Craig, then, we have no grounds for saying that it is probable or improbable that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil, and so we have no grounds for saying that evils are gratuitous just because they appear so to us.

There are numerous variants of this defence, each with a different aspect of fate or divine mechanics that's mysterious to mere humans, that might explain the appearance of gratuitous evil in the world, IF it were true. For instance, John Hick suggests that suffering is necessary to grow souls, so the more we suffer now, the greater we'll be in the afterlife.

It is impossible to disprove such explanations, however we need to note a number of characteristics of them, harking back to discussion of explanatory power in part 6 of this FAQ.

Firstly, they are ad-hoc. They are constructed in order to explain evil.

Secondly, they have no predictive power. For example, you can't reason from prior suffering being necessary to have a fun experience of the afterlife to anything else, such as how we would then expect suffering to be distributed between people. What did innocent babies who die young do to annoy God, that he robbed them of a full lifespan of suffering and so condemned them to a tepid worthless experience of heaven?

Thirdly, most parts of the explanation are interchangeable, without altering anything substantial. So, for instance, we could say God is perfectly just, and needs wrong doing in order to have a chance to exhibit that justice by judging wrong doers. But we could equally well say that God is perfectly merciful, and needs wrong doers to exist in order to exhibit his mercy by sending them all to heaven anyway. Or that he is a perfect bureaucrat, and needs wrong doers to exist in order to be able to exhibit his full master of complex red tape and forms for tracking their wrong doings.

Fourthly, precisely the same types of argument based upon stuff we don't know could be used to argue that God is evil and to explain the existence of good in the world:

If God is perfectly evil, how then can we explain that there appear to be good things in world? God is great beyond our understanding, so it is unsurprising that we don't yet realise how everything we appear to see is actually part of his plan that will result in the maximum possible pain and suffering, but here are some elements of the plan. Rather than kill off humanity, he wants lots of population, and to give them time to be tempted and fall, so that more souls will end up in torment in hell. He allowed beautiful things to exist, in order that we realise how ugly the ugly things are, and allows some happy wealthy people to exist, in order that others feel more the depths of their suffering in sickness and poverty. He gave up free will, risking that we'd do some good acts (which he hates), because it allows us to be morally responsible for evil acts (which he loves). He could have made us into puppets that only do evil, but then he would not have the pleasure of seeing us choose evil. To maximize evil, evil god designed us so that we can perform evil acts from our own will. Nothing good exists, except that it enables the existence of second order evils (for example, there could be no true depths of jealousy without love). (link)http://www.cafemom.com/group/117342/for ... ure_of_God (site now dead)

Similarly, we don't know that the ripple effect through history of Craig's "brutal murder of a child" will be good rather than bad. Given what we know of the effects of previous murders, if we were betting, we'd have to say the odds are that, on average, violence begets fear and hatred, which then beget more violence.

Nor have we any basis to think that God was somehow forced to choose only between two alternative universes for the car crash victim: one where the victim died, and one where they were permanently maimed. One can always imagine something worse, but what of all the possible better outcomes that one can also imagine?

One can usually find a possible side benefit from even the worst event, such as learning to cope with horrible stuff, or gaining empathy for people. But how about all the less nasty ways that people can increase their empathy, or improve their coping skills?

The price of the Unknown Purpose Defence is the same as the price of the defence that we don't understand what good actually is. We lose all moral predictability, all sense that the suggested deity is setting a moral example. We are being asked to take his status as "good" on faith, in a way that nullifies ALL of the deities actions. Because, if we can't use him taking a life as evidence of him being evil, then neither can we use him saving a life as evidence of him being good. If we can't use evidence of him being apparently cruel, then neither can we use evidence of him being apparently kind. If his motives are mysterious to this extent, then there is no reason to believe that the apparent sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was a benevolent action rather than a malicious one. Because, if we have a totally free hand to just make up stories, we can make up stories to explain it either way.

Christianity has had 2000 years of some of the best minds in Europe (and elsewhere) trying to come up with plausible stories that resonate, that appeal to our intuitions, that feel 'right'. But you have to bear in mind that part of the reason why some such stories now appear to make sense is that we've been raised in a culture where we've been told those stories from birth - they have become part of our culture's underlying assumptions about how the universe works.

Which leads us onto a special case of the Unknown Purpose Defence, the last mole and the number 1 most popular defence. So popular and integrated with our culture's worldview that it no longer seems to be an 'unknown' purpose. I'm talking about freewill...

2.1.6 Defence: If evil didn't exist, that would rob us of our free will

Free will is one of the biggest topics in philosophy, because it is tied in with so many other deep questions, such as 'mind versus brain', 'determinism, predestination and the nature of time and causality' and 'what it means to be a moral actor who can justly be held responsible for their actions'. It is obviously useful in law to be able to distinguish between a man who shot his wife because he was angry with her for burning his lunch again, and a man who shot his wife because of a hypnotic suggestion, or because his children were hostage, or because a chip in his brain place there by the evil Dr. Doom was controlling the movements of his body. Or a man who shot his wife after having had a brain injury, and thinking she was an attacking wolf, or a paper target at a fun fair. Or because it had damaged his IQ so much that he was just pulling the trigger because he liked the pretty bang-bang sounds.

But does it really exist? Or is it mostly an illusion, that we find useful for pragmatic purposes? In the same way we think about the objects around us as being 'solid', even though physicists tell us that they are more than 99% empty and less than 1% actual physical matter? Before we get onto the religious context, let's start with what modern science can tell us.

Libet, Benjamin (2002). “Do We Have Free Will?” in Kane, ed., (2002), 551–564

Libet conducted experiments designed to determine the timing of conscious willings or decisions to act in relation to brain activity associated with the physical initiation of behavior. The studies provide strong evidence that actions are already underway shortly before the agent wills to do it. As a result, we do not consciously initiate our actions. (Though we may be able to later veto them, before carrying them out.)

Wegner, Daniel (2002). "The Illusion of Conscious Will." Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

That human actions are ever initiated by their own conscious willings is simply a deeply-entrenched illusion. He goes onto explain why our cognitive systems generates this illusion.

We can accept what science tells us, and still hold criminals to account for their actions. The pragmatic justification for making use of the concept, and making use of legal trials and punishments, is unaltered by the neurological details of what is going on in the physical brain. In the same way, the actual nature of matter makes no difference to a juggler, just as long as the balls are caught by his hands, rather than passing through them.

Interestingly, when we look at the ancient Greek philosophers, before there were Christians intent on having a reason to think their God just, they didn't find a mechanistic universe view to be a great stumbling block. (LINK) - most were content to accept that if a deity had predetermined that a criminal should do something bad and then get caught, the right thing was still to punish that criminal, even though he couldn't have avoided that pre-determined fate.

Here's Sam Harris talking about it:


According to the Bible, it was possible to have free will before evil existed, or was known about, because Adam and Eve didn't start off knowing about it.

Genesis 3:3-6
King James Version (KJV)

3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

either that, or He originally created them without free will. Either way, if it is valuable to God that evil exist in order that we can use free will to choose not to pick evil, then it must have always been His intention that Eve eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Or, to put it another, way he knew in advance that she would likely do it, and decided to go ahead and create her anyway, rather than someone with a slightly less gullible or curious personality. In the same way a dog owner who puts an untrained puppy next to a steak intended for his own lunch shouldn't be surprised when the puppy eats it, despite being told not to. Before Eve knew what right and wrong were, how could she know that it was wrong to disobey God?

By the way, the iconography of the Garden of Eden: the tree, the snake, the eating of the fruit, can all be traced back to earlier religions in the region that ancient Judaism stemmed off from.

Common scene found on seals from the twenty-third and twenty-second centuries BC: a seated male figure (identified by his head-dress of horns as a god) facing a female worshiper. The date palm and snake between them may merely be symbolic of fertility.

However, for the sake of argument, let's take it at face value. Let's assume that God is benevolent, and that He created a universe with a species of sentient creatures in it (humans), that he wanted to be able to exercise a free choice between doing good and doing evil, because only by being morally responsible for their own actions could the greatest good be achieved in the long run. (We don't need to specify the precise mechanic of why that is. If it helps visualise the situation, assume that people enjoy more the rewards they feel they have deserved, and so the souls that reach heaven will enjoy heaven more if they know their entry was deservedly granted based upon their freely choosen actions in life.)

From that premise, what sort of universe would we predict He would create? What sort of features ought it to have?

We'd expect low child mortality, so the vast majority of people got a chance to make choices
We'd expect a vast majority of people in the world to agree on which actions are good and which are evil
We'd expect people to be equally capable of rational thought and anticipating the consequences of their actions, rather than those who are already suffering from disease and poverty having a larger than average chance of physiological changes taking place in the brain (such as depression) that impair their decision making ability and strength of will.
We'd expect people to have an equal chance of developing empathy, rather than some (such as certain types of autistic people) having to work much harder. Similarly, we wouldn't expect psychopathy, or other mental conditions affecting moral decision making, to exist.
you can continue the exercise (there are many other predictions one can make), but even based upon that small sample, it is clear that our current universe is far from what would be expected from a benevolent creator who values our making free choices between good and evil. It is, on the other hand, what would be expected from naturalistic evolution that isn't interested in giving people an even break.

When it comes down to it, God valuing our free will so much that he inflicts natural evils such as spider wasps and meteors, is just another made up story, with no more basis or predictive power than any of the other suggested defences. It is an excuse. And a poor excuse, at that.

2.2 Failures of theory, summary


(A) God does not exist

(B) God does exist, AND good and evil are arbitrary thing that God can define however He chooses
-- eliminated in 2.1.1

(C) God does exist, AND good and evil are defined independently of God, AND God is a being that is less than 100% Good
-- eliminated in 2.1.2

(D) God does exist, AND good and evil are defined independently of God, AND God is 100% Good
-- we can split this up, as a new argument:


Premise: We observe happening around us acts that appear to us to be gratuitously evil

Premise: Any being that was 100% good would prevent all acts that were actually gratuitously evil, if able to do so



(E) God isn't powerful enough to do so
-- eliminated in 2.1.3

(F) The acts that appear to us to be gratuitously evil are actually good
-- eliminated in 2.1.4 and 2.1.5

(G) It is not the case that [ God does exist, AND good and evil are defined independently of God, AND God is 100% Good ]

The only possibility not eliminated is the first one:

(A) God does not exist

Apologies for getting mathematically rigorous there - I did try to give fair warning at the start of this game of whac-a-mole, that it was tricky to keep track of all the possibilities, and check off that each one in turn had been blocked. If you are not mathematically inclined, you might find more to your taste this summary of the flaws in the defences against the problem of evil that has been written as an alegorical tale of 12 police officers excusing why they didn't step in to prevent a murder:

The Tale of the Twelve Officers

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ ... /five.html

It is interesting, by the way, to look at the psychology of why worshippers want to believe that the deity they follow is not just powerful and on their side, but is a moral example worth following. There are strong similarities between the excuses we see here, and the excuses offered by people in another situation where they are at the mercy of a more powerful individual:

God as Abuser: Similarities Between the Christian God and Abusive Spouses

http://atheism.about.com/od/whatisgod/p ... busive.htm

The line "He hurt me because I deserved it" should ring warning bells in the minds of Christians desperately seeking to excuse what they see around them, A lingering death from starvation isn't for a child's good, and famines have happened naturally, long before Oxfam or modern transport made stopping them possible.

We don't deserve that. None of us do.
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June 1st, 2018, 04:22 AM
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 19

The flaws of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective, continued

3. Failures of practice

We've discussed what different parts of the Christian message are consistent or inconsistent with, and whether there are some deep logical problems with the core story and principles.

But what does theory matter? Who cares, as long as it is doing good? As long as, in practice, it delivers on its promises?

3.1 What does Christianity promise?

" I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. " (John 10)

" You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it. " (Matthew 21)

Matthew 7:7-11
King James Version (KJV)

7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:

8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

There is a strand within Christianity, which spawned what is known as the "Protestant Work Ethic", that says some people are "elect" (meaning that they are predestined to be saved) and that one indicator of this is how a person lives their life. If a person works hard and lives frugally, they are likely to gain wealth and social success. And so, God being a God of justice, and a God who loves those who love him, such wealth and success are most likely to come to those who are elect, as a sign of God's favour.

When combined with the Pentecostal view of healing (if you're sick, that's lack of faith), this lead onto the prosperity gospel of the 'Word of Faith' movement, which interprets literally:

Mark 11:22-23
King James Version (KJV)

22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.

23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.

Just 'name it' by making a "positive confession" (eg reciting a promise of scripture), and you can 'claim it' (your faith in God will generate an actual force or power which will enable those things you named to come into fruition).

But this is a straw-man, because most Christians don't interpret those parts of the Bible that literally. They may be willing to take any claims that Christians are wealthier, healthier, happier or saner than their non-Christian peers as evidence of the benevolence of Yahweh and the soundness of their decision to follow Christianity, but they stop short of saying that the Bible promises these things.

Many Christians will tell you what God has promised about the afterlife, or about the big promises he made to the species (eg no more world-wide floods threatening to exterminate the whole of humanity). Some will talk about gift of the spirit (like discernment, or tongues), but they are controversial. But what of this life? Is there anythng most Christians will agree that God has promised his followers while they are on Earth, by which we can judge the worth of those promises?

God promises that:

He will meet your needs and grant you peace of mind (Philippians 4)
He has a plan for your life (Jeremiah 29)
You will not be tempted beyond what you are able to bear (1 Corinthians 10)
He will work for your good and intercede for you, to further his purpose (Romans 8)
Effectively, the Bible says that God promises you that if you give your life to Him, He will use that life for good purposes, and fix things so good actually results, rather than good intentions having bad consequences.

Should we then expect pefect behaviour from all Christians?

The stock answer is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. A Church isn't a showcase of perfect people, but a recovery ward for sinners and we are all sinners. But even so, and despite everything we said about mysteriousness in our discussion of the problem of evil, if God's promise is worth anything, then there ought to be evidence at least of a statistical effect - that on average the influence of Christianity has had a net positive effect upon the world, and upon its followers. That, on average, individual Christians are likely to be nicer and better behaved, because of their Christianity.

3.2 Have Christians and Christianity ever done any good?

Yes, obviously.

Many famous philanthropists were deeply Christian.

There are people who have been inspired by Christianity to devote their lives to helping others. And others, whose lives were on a downward spiral, who were inspired to change what they were doing and shape up.

Christian institutions have, on many occasions, been responsible for feeding the poor, preserving books, brokering peace treaties to end wars and fighing for justice. Many people consider the Roman Catholic Church to be the largest organisation in the world that does charitable activities.

But these things beg further quesitons...

Looking at the list of philanthropic trusts, Getty (born 1892) was a Methodist and Hughes (born 1905) was an Episcopalian. But would they have been less philanthropic if they'd followed some other system of moral teachers, like Bill Gates (born 1955)?

There are people all over the world who devote their lives to caring professions, not just in religious countries. There are people whose get inspired to change their lives from a bad path to a good path due to reading something that touches them, or the intervention of someone kind, without religion being involved. How do we tell whether it would be less or more common, if the particular person who intervenes wasn't attributing their intervention to religion?

How do we tell whether there would have been other non-religious institutions that fed the poor, preserved books, etc, if religion hadn't already had a stranglehold on the institutions in that country? After all, if a university, hospital or school has already been built, you don't go and build a competing one right next door just because the first one was started by a church.

Answering this sort of hypothetical question is never easy, and sometimes isn't even possible. You have to take great care that you choose your statistical evidence fairly, rather than with bias aimed at supporting an answer you want to believe. And it is rare that you can find populations that can be fairly compared. If you look at different countries, than you have to take wealth and local culture into account. If you look at the same country over different time periods, then you have to take into account any other factors that might have changed (such as increased globalism or new technology).

And, finally, all the arguments that can call into question whether a particular act of good done in the name of Christianity would have still happened without Christianity's influence, can also be applied to whether a particular act of evil done in the name of Christianty would have still happened without Christianity's influence.

We can't look at just the good in isolation. We have to look at both things, the good and the evil done in the name of Christianity, and work out the net effect as best we can.

In short, brokering a peace treaty to end a war is a good act, but we have also to ask whether religion caused that war in the first place, whether there were other wars where the influence of a Pope or church prolonged them rather than shortened then, and whether countries of equal prosperity but less religion in the same period also had fewer wars.

3.3 War

Jesus said to love your neighbour, love even your enemies, and to turn the other cheek when they hurt you. How does the track record of Christiantiy measure up to that standard, in practice?

Following the Reformation in 1517, most of Europe ended up in a series of religious wars between Protestants and Catholics, that carried on at least until 1660 (the Restoration of Charles II of England). This period included the various successors of Henry VIII (Protestant), Mary I (Catholic) and Elizabeth I (Protestant) under which Britain's affiliation swung so much a song was written about the Vicar of Bray whose nimbly followed all the changes. There were numerous bloody uprisings by those more sincere and less nimble than the deft Vicar (eg Wyatt's Rebellion, the Prayer Book Revolt), not to forget the Gunpowder Plot.

All in all, a lot of killing, not just done in the name of religion for political reasons (though there were some political factors involved), but often traceably and provably because of religion (eg through a particular monarch's personal convictions, such as Mary I or Oliver Cromwell).

Far from trying to broker peace, it was usually the religious authorities who were pounding the pulpit to get money and soldiers behind the effort. For comparison, China was being ruled by the Ming Dynasty and was, at that time, roughly comparable in wealth to Europe. They waged a couple of short wars (less than a year each) against Vietnam, and against Sri Lanka. And they nastily put down a series of rebellions in the south of their country by the Miao, similar to Cromwell's actions in Ireland.

When you read the histories, including surviving letters and personal journals, and compare the two area (one where religious division was a major factor, and one where it wasn't), the conclusion is inescapable that religion did play a major role, and was directly responsible for much of the death and ongoing division.

And that's just war between two branches of Christianity. It doesn't even touch upon the crusades against the followers of a different religion or the persection of pagans and heretics. But before we move on, we should mention a special category - wars where one of the armies was directly under the authority of a church rather than a nation, such as the Salt War and the War of the Eight Saints. In one particularly awesome moment, at the Siege of Mirandola in 1510, the pope decided his general was being rather negligent and so, sacking the general, the pope took personal command of the army as they took advantage of some cold weather to storm over a frozen moat and sieze the enemy citadel by surprize, slaughtering the poor defenders in bloody hand to hand combat.

The painting Julius II enters the breach at Mirandola

3.4 Science

In Europe, after the decline of the Roman Empire, during the early period of the Middle Ages sometimes known as the Dark Ages, many of the mathematical, medical and scientific texts written in Greek were burned or left to decay, but the Christian monasteries did preserve some translations and summaries written in Latin by approved sources (such as Calcidius, an early Christian whose translation into Latin of the bits of Plato's works that he agreed with, was the only version spread by the Church for a period of nearly 800 years).

Today the evidence of progress is so overwhelming (our increased lifespans, the increased information available to us, the things technology allows us to do that our ancestors never dreamed of) that it is hard to conceive of a time when the concept wasn't accepted. But back then, theology declared man was in decline - that we used to live longer (several biblical figures are claimed to have lived to be more than 200 years old) and that we were closer to god. The time of the Greeks was seen as a golden age, a time of legendary geniuses such as Aristotle, a pinnacle of knowledge that would never been equaled let alone surpassed. Even during the Carolingian Renaissance, the objective was only to preserve, spread and better understand that previous knowledge, not the experiment to find new knowledge. Theory reasoned from the Bible, previous authority tested by time, and spiritual intuition were seen as being more reliable than experiment or observation, and medicine was mired in theory of humours and the demonic theory of disease.

Where would we be now, if the natural human inclination to use our reason had not been forced for so long to subjugate itself to unchanging authority endorsed conclusions?

No amount of later Christians being involved in refining the method of science or being scientists can compensate for that gap. Remember, we're trying to look at net effects here. Even as late as Galileo in the 1600s, the Church was still having a dampening effect in many areas of science, forcing conclusions to be phrased in twisted ways in order to avoid implying anything that might dangerously conflict with theology.

Some Christians argue that science is a mixed blessing, because it makes wars nastier and developed atomic bombs and internet pornography. But it is notable how few historians say they would want to live in the past, unless they could very carefully choose their gender, social status and not fall ill or need dentistry.

Talking of gender...

3.5 Equality

Historically Christianity has been strongly connected to hierarchy, being supported by it, and supporting it with authority stemming from non-evidence based sources such as Biblical pronouncements about kings ("Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves" - Hebrews 13), husbands ("Wives, respect and obey your husbands" - 1 Peter 3), parents ("Children, obey your parents as you would the Lord" - Ephesians 6) and slave owners ("Slaves, always obey your earthly masters. Don't obey them only while you're being watched, as if you merely wanted to please people. Be sincere in your motives" - Colossians 3)

Not only is that antithetical to the change required for scientific progress. It is also antithetical to the change required for progress towards equal human rights for all, no matter a person's race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or disability. (Did I mention Leviticus 21? "Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles.")

There have been some denominations (generally the less hierarchical ones, such as the Quakers) which did strive towards equality on various things before the movement became popular. And there are many Christians who, once something such as racial equality became acceptable, became willing to defend it, since it was now part of the 'status quo'. But, in general, Christianity because of its conservative hierarchical nature, has been behind the curve on all the equality fights - a dragging anchor rather than a billowing sail. Wouldn't you expect, if Christians were receiving guidance from a holy spirit that knew inequality to be wrong, that on average they would be ahead of the curve, leading the charge for greater morality in society?

Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of equality for women.

On the afternoon of July 20th, 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton stood before a convention at Seneca Falls, New York, upon Women's rights to proposed a motion:

Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.
The resulting anti-suffaragist movement who fought against this were mainly conservative Christians, and the campaign they mounted was one of the dirtiest in history.
stopthereligiousright.org -&nbspThis website is for sale! -&nbspstopthereligiousright Resources and Information.

Here is one of the postcards they distributed:

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Votes ... =isch&sa=X

Sermons were preached against women voting in pulpits across the country. Indeed, so fiece was the religious opposition, that a resolution to tackle it was one of the initial demands agreed at Seneca Falls. (LINK) (LINK)
http://womenshistory.about.com/library/ ... r_ch09.htm
http://washingtonhistoryonline.org/suff ... frage.aspx

Preachers were as certain then that equality for women was wrong, as preachers before them were certain about slavery being the natural condition for those suffering the 'Curse of Ham' (black skin), and preachers after them were certain about homosexuality being an abomination.

A few preachers might be excused as selfish individuals twisting the word of the lord for their own ends. But when an interpretation is near universal, and lagging the rest of society, then we have to accept that Christianity has, in this, been a net evil upon society, showing no statistically valid evidence of guidance from a benevolent wise being.

Even today, a century later, a majority of Christians in the world follow denominations where women don't have equal rights to lead services and interpret the word of God.

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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 20

The flaws of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective, continued

3. Failures of practice, continued

3.6 Individuals

Ok, but what if all of the historic torture, inquisitions and missionary invasions were problems caused by the hierarchical natures of sort big religious organisations that tended to be best fit to survive in the environment of historic Europe? What if that wasn't the sort of church Jesus intended? What if that were all just one big ghastly mistake?

How well does Christianity work out nowdays, across the world, on a personal local level of individual church communities and lives, rather than on the scale of nation spanning evil impersonal bureaucracies corrupted by power?

3.7 The role of the local church

The Bible constrains ministers to serve and care for their congregations, like a good shepherd tending to a flock of sheep. Not to lord it over them or look out for personal gain, but to be humble and set a good example. (1 Peter 5)

I could talk about famous preachers who are millionaires, but that would be a cheap shot. Despite the institutional riches of the wider church organisations with vast holdings of property, most individual ministers are not fantastically rich or greedy. They are decent men, trying to do what they feel is right.

But how successful are they at achieving that aim? Of making church congregations non-judgemental communities of quiet law-abiding hard working citizens, at which all feel welcome?

Much earlier in this FAQ we discussed the possible advantages to a believer of reading the parts of this FAQ that show what the Christian worldview looks like to those not inside it. So I'm going to tell you a secret here, that you could use to benefit your church.

For the last 60 years, the number of people in America that are no longer affiliated with any particular church has been dramatically increasing:

and a Christian research organisation, the Barna Group, has been doing detailed research to find out why. And the answer they've come up with is rather interesting.

It turns out that traditional churches have evolved to be very good at ministering to young adults who follow the traditional life path of leaving home, getting an education, finding a job, getting married and having kids—all before the age of 30. But society has been changing, that life path is increasingly less common, and churches (because of the conservative hierarchical nature of religions) have been increasingly falling behind in their ability to serve the new less traditional portion of their flock. We're not talking criminals and layabouts here. Statistically, the disaffected mostly fall into a group characterised by the label “young creatives:” Actors, artists, biologists, designers, mathematicians, medical students, musicians, and writers.

When surveying people who regularly attend church, what the Barna Group found is that between 20% and 40% described their church as being like a country club, only for insiders. They see it as out of touch with the world they live and work in, anti-science, and ignoring the problems of the real world to instead concentrate upon movies, music, and video games are harmful - concentrate on sex. In particular, they see that the “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.” (source) (source). (For explanation of why, there's a good essay about Fossilized Opinions.)
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightat ... -opinions/

Ok, but what about the remaining 60%-80% - the portion of the flock that still feels comfortable with the traditional church and the traditional church values? That attends services and coffee-mornings, that feels a personal connection with God when they sing hymns praising Him, and hears timeless wisdom in the words preached from the pulpit. On average, do those words affect how they behave? Does that feeling of personal connection actually translate into sinning less?

3.8 Teen pregnancy

"With data aggregated at the state level, conservative religious beliefs strongly predict U.S. teen birth rates, in a relationship that does not appear to be the result of confounding by income or abortion rates." (source)http://www.reproductive-health-journal. ... ent/6/1/14

And by "strongly", they mean a positive correlation of 0.73, and odds of the data producing that by chance of being less than 1 in 2000. The same relationship holds true when you compare between countries across the world, with the less religious ones having fewer problems with teen pregnancy. There a detailed discussion of the reasons behind this here, but to summarise: it is directly related to the message that is, in practice, given from pulpits about purity, sex, virginity, and the source of worth of women.

3.9 Divorce

Divorce rates, by religious affiliation or non-affiliation, in the USA, 2005:

21% - Atheist or agnostic
23% - Christians as a whole (all denominations)
29% - Baptists
30% - Jews

(http://web.archive.org/web/200710200526 ... 05-11.html) And, again, this is backed up by multiple studies, including international ones, and the relationship is still strongly there, even after controlling for income and other non-religious factors. (Note, adultery is also just as common among Christians.).God is Imaginary - 50 simple proofs

3.10 Prison

Affiliation % in population % in prison relative frequency

Atheist 6% 1% 0.2
None 24% 9% 0.4
Other ** 3% 3% 1.0
Jewish 1% 1% 1.0
Christian 65% 77% 1.2
Muslim 1% 9% 9.0

** Hindu, Pagan, etc.

In America, Christians are more likely than average to commit serious crimes like homicide, and end up in prison. (And that's not to do with income; nor is it explained by people converting after being arrested.)

Which makes in interesting that:

When it comes to the death penalty, atheists and nonreligious people are also markedly less supportive than their religious peers (Beit-Hallahmi 2007; Gallup Poll, 2004). As for the general treatment of prisoners, secular people are much less supportive of retribution and are less likely to favor harsh ⁄ draconian sentencing than religious people (Grasmick et al. 1992; Blumstein and Cohen 1980). A recent survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Survey (2009) found that secular, religiously unaffiliated Americans are the group least supportive of the governmental use of torture. (source) https://docs.google.com/file/d/1eh1VW8S ... edit?hl=en

Especially given what the Bible says about God judging Christians on visiting prisoners, feeding them and ministering to them (Matthew 25).

3.11 Other sins

Steven Weinberg said "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

Where as the Bible says (Psalm 14) that those with no God are filthy, corrupt people who do abominable works. "there is none that doeth good, no, not one."

Which is correct?

When look at worldwide, of the societies where people are free to choose whether to worship or not, the less religious ones tend to score far better on a wide range of measures; from how much supportive aid, per capita, the country gives to poorer nations; to how likely they were to rescue Jews being persecuted during the Holocaust. (source) https://docs.google.com/file/d/1eh1VW8S ... edit?hl=en

This ties in with the atheist view of religion, which says it is an evolved social practice, and that certain forms of it spread better in societies that are screwed up and individuals feel more in need of security and promises of justice in an afterlife. (link https://docs.google.com/file/d/1D3Qca3D ... edit?hl=en) Whereas it flatly contradicts what we'd predict from the religious view of religion, that it is a blessing not a curse.

The World Value Survey Cultural Map 2005-2008

Source: Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, "Changing Mass Priorities: The Link Between Modernization and Democracy." Perspectives on Politics June 2010 (vol 8, No. 2) page 554. (source) http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/wvs/ar ... le_base_54

If you are a Christian who goes to church, look around you, and ask yourself how well your community and the people who prosper within it match up to your standards. To quote one ex-Christian, "my step son's mother is a Christian and she is one of the most horrible people I know. Cruel, vengeance filled, dishonest. So I looked at that and it seemed to me Christianity had taken away from her accountability."

Dave Barry said "If someone is nice to you but rude to the waiter, they are not a nice person."

How well do the people in your Church behave, not to you or others they recognise as Christians in good standing, but to the parents of a daughter who was raped by the pastor's son and who wants to go to the police rather than let the pastor deal with it? To their non-Christian neighbours? To people they meet once at random in a big city, who are not of the same 'social status' as them and who'll they'll never meet again?

Surprisingly, this is something that scientists have actually managed to study rather accurately:

because such things are easy to set up proper randomised trials upon. Many studies have found the same, and it isn't just waitresses in particular. Christians are also more likely to steal newspapers rather than leave the correct money in the honesty box, if they think they are not being watched. (source) http://epiphenom.fieldofscience.com/201 ... ppers.html

But you don't have to trust scientists on this one. Just find a cafe near a church, and ask the waitresses there about Christians and tipping. Here's an article on a Christian website admitting to and discussing the problem - (LINK). http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/ ... ppers.html

3.12 Summary

Christians are more likely to notice other Christians being nice, both because they are more likely to be the recipients of that niceness, and because that's who they spend time with. So the above results, based on reliable statistics about the general population, and looking at the whole of history, may well seem shocking - "That's not the religion I recognise, full of wars and selfish people. The people in my local church regularly donate time and money to the local homeless charity, and visit each other when sick or bereaved. Those statistics must be wrong."
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-t ... ref=false

The thing is, non-Christians are also mostly nice, donate to charity and help out acquaintances who are in need. What the statistics say isn't that all Christians are nasty. Just that, on average, being Christian doesn't seem to make people nicer, better behaved or less sinful than their non-believing irreligious neighbours.

Christ said to love thy neighbour. But so did many non-Christian moral philosophers, and apparently the non-Christians have been better at listening.

Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 21

The flaws of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective, continued

4. Failures of complexity

4.1 Occam's Razor

In 1323, in the village of Ockham in the south of England, a Christian scholar, Friar William, wrote a book entitled the "Sum of Logic" (Summa Totius Logicae). In this he expounded a now famous principle:

It is futile to do with more things, that which can be done with fewer.

This means that if you need to choose between two alternative explanations for something then, other things being equal, it is rational to prefer the theory that makes the fewest ad hoc assumptions.

Later mathematicians have proven that the reason why it is rational, is that the simpler theory actually is more likely to be true. (LINK) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomonoff ... _inference

Note, though, that phrase "other things being equal". If two theories don't have equal explanatory power (for instance, because one of them contradicts known observed evidence), then the 'other things' are not equal, and the Occam's Razor tie-break doesn't apply.

4.2 What is complexity?

So how should we measure the complexity of a theory? The number of words needed to explain it? The age of the youngest child able to comprehend it?

It turns out that there's a catch to measuring it that way, and to understand the catch you need to know about black boxes.

If you've ever experimented around with electronics, trying to create a new device, you'll know that breadboarded circuits can get complex rather fast:

And if the device is one you want to take somewhere in order to test, it is handy to have a way to protect the delicate water-vulnerable components, so shops like Maplins sell what are called 'project boxes':

These are just sturdy boxes, often black, into which you can pack your device, and then drill one or two holes in the side for the buttons needed to control it, and another hole for whatever the output is.

It is from this we get the concept of 'Black Box Testing', in which someone is given a simple looking black box with two inputs and one output. They are told which combinations of input ought to produce which output, and then asked to test whether the box is working or not, without ever looking inside it.


The important thing to note, though, is that putting the device inside a black shell hasn't made the device itself simpler. All it has done is hide the complexity, in order to make using it simpler.

The same thing happens with language.

We can call a structured asset-backed security in which an obligation to repay a debt is resold as packaged pledged collateral, a "CDO", but just calling it by a short name doesn't make the thing referred to any less complex. A bank might be misled into thinking it is simple and something they understand, if they use the short name frequently enough that it seems natural to them, but that doesn't make them correct.

So to measure how complex a theory actually is, we need to unpack all the words, unpack all the black boxes. This can be difficult if frequent use has made us unaware of how much complexity a simple-seeming word is hiding.

It is made harder when you realise that the words used in an explanation, may themselves then be in need of explaining. For example, what exactly is a "structured security" in the context of financial instruments? We have to look at recursion, and ask at what point we no longer need to explain our terms.

Luckily the hard work in coming up with a good definition of what "complexity" actually is was done back in the 1960s, by a couple of mathematicians who came up with Kolmogorov–Chaitin complexity, which is now the standard definition accepted by academia, and the specific definition used in the proof that (other things being equal) the simpler theory is more likely to be correct.


4.3 How simple is the God hypothesis? (Part I)

People are familiar with the word "God". They use it frequently, so it feels simple to them, in the sense of being basic and fundamental.

And it is easy to explain to young children that "In the beginning, there was God, and He created everything. He lives in a nice place called Heaven, and if you follow His rules on how to get there, the real part of you, your soul, can go live with Him there after your body dies here on Earth."

All you have to do is accept on faith just one ad-hoc premise "The supernatural universe-creating deity described in the Bible exists", and then everything else is explained. You can't get fewer than just one ad-hoc premise. Surely William of Ockham would approve?

Compare that to science, with unpronounceable words like "Deoxyribonucleic", lots of mathematics and competing hypotheses to explain abiogenesis, rather than the certainty of just a single straight answer from an eye-witness. Surely science contains far more complexity than religion?

This reply comes in two parts, because before answering the question, I want to talk about faith.

Why is faith relevant to complexity? The key is that word "ad-hoc".

When a child is very young, they usually accept without questioning the explanations given them by authorities they trust. They might be curious about what Santa finds to eat at the North Pole, but a contradiction between the North Pole being empty and Santa living there won't bother them. Much of life, from mirrors to motor cars, is indistinguishable from magic for them, anyway.

When a little older they start to play the "Why?" game. You tell them that Santa eats fish that his elves catch for him, and your daughter asks "Why?". So you tell her "On Fridays, Santa only ever eats fish", or "Squishy-La-La only knows how to cook fish", and she asks "Why?" again. So you hastily make up yet another explanation, to fill in the holes in the first one: "It is always Friday at the North Pole because the sun never sets so the day never changes" or "Each elf is only ever allowed to learn how to do one thing." and she won't mind if the explanations are fantastic or raise more questions than they answer, because that makes the game last longer and fantasy is fun - she wants the world to be strange and magical.

That's what an ad-hoc explanation is. It is one, generally without supporting evidence, that's been assembled after an unanticipated hole in the previous explanation has been revealed. It has the form and appearence of an explanation, but it didn't predict the thing it is being used to explain, because it was assembled after it was raised, for the special purpose of explaining it.

You can explain anything, if you are allowed to use as many ad-hoc assumptions as you like, but every time you have to add one, you decrease the probability of your explanation being correct.

Humans often don't enjoy the feeling of questioning something they've already decided to believe in. It is an unpleasant sensation, ranging from an irritating waste of time, to unsettling, like an annoying person rocking a boat or solid ground turning out to be quicksand. So many, when asked whether "Who created God?" is as valid a question as "Who created the Universe?", will take the first answer that comes to mind, without caring whether the particular answer they grabbed is a good one, because they have faith there there does exist a good answer out there, and they are not particularly bothered to hunt for it - knowing it exists is enough for them.

But, without that child-like faith, deeper questioning reveals that the 'simple' explanation of God that can be given to a child contains issues, black boxes, that unpack to reveal many many ad-hoc assumptions. I've mentioned some of these in the FAQ in passing, but in Part II of this answer I'll gather them in one single place, to make clear what believing the 'God Hypothesis' actually entails.

4.4 What is faith?

According to the original Greek story, when Pandora opened her box, she released many spirits, both good and bad. Among the good ones were Pistis, Elpis, and Agape. Pistis was the a spirit (daimona) that personified reliability and trustworthiness, making agreements honestly and acting according to those agreements in good faith. She is explicitly contrasted with the personifications of deception and lies.

Meanwhile, the Romans had a god Semo Sancus Dius Fidus (probably borrowed from the earlier Sabine religion, and rationalised as being yet another son of Jupiter), who was in charge of oaths, both private ones such as marriage, hospitality, loyalty or commercial contracts, and public ones such as treaties between nations. His temple had no roof because the Romans believed oaths should be sworn under an open sky (where Jupiter, a sky deity, could keep an eye on things), and this practice continued after the Romans conquered Greece, and imported Pistis into their pantheon as being a female version of Sanctus named "Fides". Fides is depicted on their coins as a young matron, clad in white, crowned with a wreath of olive leaves and carrying a cup or basked filled with fruit or corn. The treaties Rome made with other countries were signed and kept in a temple near the Senate under her protection.

In particular, fides came to mean the terms of a treaty of surrender, offered to a weaker enemy who, if they accepted them, would then have to trust that the victor would stick to. This caused some problems in translation, because unlike the Greek word "pistis", the Roman "fides" didn't necessarily imply that the victor had an obligation to protect the lives and freedoms of the surrendering people.

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=XRR ... A237&hl=en
PISTIS - Greek Goddess or Spirit of Trust & Honesty (Roman Fides)

This, then, is what the authors of the New Testament (Paul, in particular, who was a Roman citizen) would have understood the meaning to be of the word "pistis". And pistis is mentioned quite a bit in the New Testament.

In Galatians 5, Paul lists it as one of the "fruits of the spirit".

In Romans 5, Paul talks about being "justified" by it

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul lists it as one of the three theological virtues.

And in Hebrews 11, Paul defines pistis as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen", and spends the entire letter talking about it.

But how should pistis be translated into modern English? This is a question that significantly divides the Christian denominations.

Catholics and traditional Protestants favour the interpretation that emphasizes the trusting acceptance aspects of "pistis", like the trust required by an enemy of Rome deciding to surrender rather than be slaughtered in battle. They usually translate "pistis" as "faith", and often consider the ability to believe 100%, prior to receiving full evidence, as being a supernatural gift from God, to be treasured and nurtured.

'new perspective' Protestants favour the interpretation that emphasizes the more Greek influenced meaning of "pistis" as steadfast loyalty and commitment. They usually translate "pistis" as "faithfulness".

Strong's Greek: 4102. ?????? (pistis) -- faith, faithfulness
SUMMA THEOLOGIAE: The virtue itself of faith (Secunda Secundae Partis, Q. 4)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Perspe ... ithfulness

4.5 Is faith a virtue?

According to Christianity it is a vital requirement. Paul writes "Without faith, it is impossible to please God" and even Jesus says "Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed". And John 11 & 12 make it even clearer: "Jesus shouted to the crowds, "If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me." and "Jesus told her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.' "

And one can see why it would be useful to an organisation, based around an authoritarian hierarchy, to promote the virtue of child-like faith. Without questioning, there are no reality-checks to balance the power to use (or abuse) that the obedience of the followers gives to those in charge. When curiosity is seen as a sin (or even as an attack by Satan), people are ashamed of it, and don't like to mention it when they do think of questions they don't know the answer to. Certainly becomes more valued than correctness.

We've spoken a bit about the problems having that unchecked power causes on an organisational level. The power-hungry violence, the fossilised bigotry, the support of superstition over science. And we could talk about how those systematically contribute to sex abuse scandals (like the one where a Minister Seduced Girls with Promise that Sex Would 'Heal' STDs)

But I think there's a deeper problem. Have you ever noticed a young child treating a parent as a god, having total trust that the parent can do anything, fix anything? It is a natural stage for developing humans to go through, that has survival advantages at that age, but it is only a stage and children ought to grow out of it, if they are to become mature and self-reliant adults.

We can see what happens if a creature doesn't grow out of it by looking at cats. A cat, in its natural feral state, goes through a playful trusting kitten stage, but then they grow up to be come self-supporting. However in domestication, the relationship that a kitten has with the parent cat it taken over by the relationship the kitten has to their owner, and it persists even after the cat grows up physically. The cat's emotional development is stunted, and remains kitten-like, in the areas where the owner continues to supply the parental role.

Taken to extremes, religion can have the same effect on humans. It isn't children who treat parents as gods. It is some worshippers who treat gods as parents. They see their god as an all powerful father who loves and cares for them, and they take emotional comfort from that - it makes the world appear to be a safer place, like the sort of child who will only explore the garden because they have the security of knowing their parent is watching from the porch and will rescue them if there is trouble.

That may sound harmless, or even a positive form of support, but it has a downside too. When life is cruel to them, they want to carry on believing the parent figure is loves them, so they take them blame upon themselves, thinking they must have deserved it, and and they try harder to please big daddy. And when life is pleasant to them but cruel to others, they see that as the natural order of things, a sign of daddy's favour, and the dirty sinfulness of others.

An English Priest, Charles Kingsley, who was a professor of history at Cambridge University, wrote:

" We have used the Bible as if it were a mere special constable's hand book, an opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they were being overloaded, a mere book to keep the poor in order. "

If your followers have faith in an afterlife full of love and justice, without demanding evidence, then you can get away with doing nearly anything to them in this life, that you can persuade them is endorsed by God.

Why would a good deity consider it a virtue for you to trust absolutely in absence of evidence, then give you a brain and a universe where that type of thinking isn't a virtue in any other situation?

4.6 Critical Thinking

So what sort of thinking is a virtue in everyday life? Mathematicians have studied the problem of how best to evaluate pieces of evidence and weigh them against each other in order to decide whether a particular conclusion is justified. The answer they found is called Bayes' Theorem:

and one implication of it is that the more extraordinary a claim is, the more extraordinary should be the evidence that you demand before believing it. Or, as David Hume put it:

"no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish."

So, for example, if a friend claims to have tossed a fair coin twice, and have gotten 'heads' both times, the odds against that happening are only 1 in 4, and if you'd generally say that you could rely on your friend's word 9 times out of 10, then just your friend making that claim should be enough to persuade you.

If your friend claims to have tossed it 5 times and have gotten 'heads' each time (odds of 1 in 32), and you'd bet him $10 that he couldn't do it, then you should probably ask for additional evidence, such as a video of the event or the testimony of an additional friend, in order to bring the chances of the evidence being incorrect below the chances of the event having happened.

If there were 20 tosses (odds of 1 in 1,048,576) then you'd want to be there in person to watch the attempt to win the bet, and you'd want to have the coin examined to see it wasn't weighted or double headed. If the bet was for $1,000,000 (such as the prize offered by James Randi for evidence of the paranormal), then you'd also want to eliminate the possibility of electronic devices hiding magnets by keeping such things away, and sleight of hand by requiring a t-shirt and close camera monitoring from multiple angles.

If the God hypothesis is highly complex. If when we unpack the black boxes, it turns out to require multiple leaps of faith, not just one. Then critical thinking, of the sort we praise in all other areas of life, requires that we demand the very highest calibre of evidence, not just in quantity (eg the personal testimony of a billion believers), but in quality. It has to be the sort of evidence that admits no other possible explanation, or for which any alternative explanation for the evidence is so improbable that the God hypothesis seems likely by comparison.

4.7 How simple is the God hypothesis? (Part II)

Ok, so let's unpack the black boxes within the hypothesis "The supernatural universe-creating deity described in the Bible exists" and list some of the unlikely assumptions we find hidden within them. I'll put in brackets which part of the FAQ goes into more detail on the issue, where relevant.

If there's a supernatural creator who designed humankind, then He deliberately created some individuals to be, right from birth, less likely to believe in Him (part 10)

History and archaeology do support the naturalistic explanation of how the Christian and Jewish religious beliefs evolved from the stories and beliefs of earlier religions in the region. History and archaeology flatly contradict the non-naturalistic explanation of how the Christian and Jewish beliefs appears (for example, the Exodus didn't happen, nor did a global flood of the type described by Noah, nor is the age of the Earth and the history and geography of many civilisations compatible with the scattering described after the fall of the Tower of Babel). (part 10 and 11)

The way the tenets of belief have changed over time and spread geographically are predicted by the naturalistic explanation, but contradict what would be predicted by the non-naturalistic explanation. (part 11)

The naturalistic explanation of the psychology and subjective experience of belief and a personal relationship with God, and why such a capacity in humans developed, is backed up by studies of the brain and correctly predicts which sort of tenets are more likely to be held and emphasised in practice by religions that are successful at surviving and growing. (part 12)

If there is one true religion in the world, supported by objective evidence, then just from straight statistics we can say that less than 5% of the followers of that religion are following it because of that evidence. And that if there is convincing subjective evidence supporting it of a supernatural origin, the God of that religion is not being even handed in which nations He gives that evidence out to. (part 12)

The Bible appears to contradict itself. (part 13)

Some prophecies in the Bible appear to have failed. (part 13)

The Bible appears to contradict the evidence we have from various sciences (biology, geology, physics, and astronomy). (part 13)

The miracles God has chosen to use to exhibit his power just happen to be the sort that can be explained by other factors, and they vary in power through the ages in a way that religion doesn't predict, but that naturalistic forces do predict would happen if other factors were the cause of exaggerated stories and civilisation with greater awareness of science and closer scrutiny of claims that contradict science were keeping down the amount of exaggeration to what would still be plausible for that day and age. Thus the lack of claims of flying or amputees regrowing entire limbs in societies where such claims would be checked and exposed if false. (part 14)

God appears to be inert, doing less than he might to reveal his existence. Why choose to reveal his teachings so ambiguously that there many different religions in the world (no single religion has even a third of the world's population) holding mutually incompatible positions on important issues (such as whether there is an afterlife, and what someone has to do in order to end up in the 'nice' part of the afterlife)? Why keep himself so hidden that Atheism exists and is spreading as we learn more about how the universe works? Why are the gaps left unexplained by science continually shrinking, including area after area that previous religious followers claimed would forever remain unexplainable? (part 14)

Why does prayer produce no objectively detectable results? The absence of evidence is evidence of absence. (part 14)

Either God isn't worthy of being worshipped, or God has done such a poor job of teaching us the difference between good and evil that have no clue from His actions which one He is, or he is less powerful than NASA (let alone such constrained beings as the Odin of Norse theology), or he is more evil than Donald Trump, or it is ok to gratuitously torture animals, or God is a bigger confidence trickster than P.T.Barnum, or... well, the excuses get even worse from there. But to summarise (part 15 - 18), that gratuitous evil appears to exist is a problem for Christianity, that neither justice or freewill can adequately explain, but that naturalistic explanations do cover.

In direct contradiction to promises in the Bible in Jesus' own words, over the last 2000 years organised religion as a whole, and Christianity in particular, has caused more harm than good. Religion has divided people more than it has united them, causing and enflaming wars; it has supported conservative hierarchical authoritarianism, delaying the introduction of democracy and delaying equality for many groups of people (such as women); and it has also, for that and for other causes (such as a belief in the decline of man, and the superiority of theory over experiment) been chiefly responsible for delaying the progress of science by many hundreds of years. (part 19)

On average, religion and religiosity have also had no net positive effect upon the lives of those who believe. They don't live longer, healthier or happier lives on average, nor are they more charitable, nicer, more law abiding or better at avoiding sins (eg divorce) than their non-religious peers. (part 20)

In short, no matter where you look; at society or at individual marriages, at history or at the human brain, at the stars or at bones in the ground; in all the places where we'd expect to find evidence, given the God hypothesis, we instead find none. Not a single shred of reliable evidence, let alone something that would count as 'proof', that would be so fantastically persuasive that it equals the evidence that should be demanded by a hypothesis containing so many many flaws requiring ad-hoc miracles and contorted mysterious Godly motives to explain away.
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June 1st, 2018, 04:37 AM
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 22

The flaws of modern Christianity, from an Atheist perspective, continued

4. Failures of complexity, continued

4.8 Story Logic

Think, for a moment, as a script writer, or as a non-Christian follower of some other religion who, for the first time, is having the story explained to them. How plausible would they find it?

The naturalistic explanation of how religions come about predicts a God created in the image of the human - one who shares our flaws, and the assumptions of the society in which the story evolved from previous versions of the story. It predicts a story centered around our planet, and probably around the nation who wrote the story. It predicts the interesting events will have happened within recorded history, or just a bit before, not billions of years ago. It predicts distances and times on a human scale, or rather the scale that humans thought the universe was when the story was written, not the scale of the universe as known to modern science.

The naturalistic explanation predicts that the story is good as a story - it has the right storytelling structure to be memorable and motivate human minds. It will be tailored to our psychology, not that of an alien from Alpha Centauri, or even a dolphin. It predicts it will share motifs and ideas from previous stories in the area. It should contain death, sacrifice, blood and drama, love, forgiveness, big battles and small heart-warming moments - everything that you'd expect to find in popular epic plays, films and national sagas. The naturalistic explanation predicts flaws in the underlying logic that don't bear close examination, but a generally compelling surface narrative, littered occasionally with trivial petty bits and inconsistencies.

What is the story logic behind the sacrifice of Jesus? One man being dead for 3 days, before returning to heaven, as a sufficient exchange to stop billions of people burning in hell for all eternity? Why is the character of God portrayed in the old testament so different from the portrayal in the new testaments? Isn't a better explanation that the new testament was written by people exposed to Greek philosophy, a thousand years or more after the old testament was composed in a very different more primitive tribal society?

Gene Roddenberry, himself a prolific author of stories, arrived at the verdict: "We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes."

When you start to question the mechanics of the sacrifice, and why God decided to make it necessary, there's something that doesn't make sense outside of the context of a tribal society where the magic of sacrificing animals and children to great powers in order to appease them was an accepted thing.

http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text ... of-reason/

Nor does the concept of an all powerful benevolent creator deity, when you ask yourself what He could have done instead, at various points in history. The concepts of sin, and evil, and a fallen angel being a sort of 'loyal opposition' are story elements. They make motivational sense on a human scale, but they don't fit the actions of an ethical being with a free hand to design things however he wanted - to constrain Him that way demonstrates a vast lack of imagination.

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ ... l#universe

Noah parading all the animals onto his Ark, two by two, is an image that children love. It is a brilliant story. Suspiciously so. A rainbow as a promise? A dove carrying word, when God already directly communicated to Noah to tell him to make the Ark? Did God run out of txt minutes? It is big. It is dramatic. It is fun to tell. It is a story that is useful, that we tell to children for a purpose, that survives right back to an actual small local flood event which spawned it because it has the right story elements to keep getting passed down the generations.

But it is just a story.

And one that is far better explained by natural events, than by a supernatural creator actually existing.

If you've accepted the basic premise of an intelligent individual creator of the entire universe who personally intervenes on the planet Earth, then all you're doing is arguing about which precise miracles He chose to use. Was it a miracle of providence that all the species of animal on the planet happened to be available in one small area (including those which would die because that area is too hot or too cold for them)? Or was it a miracle of creation, where He effectively waved a magic wand and with a *BAMF* sound effect all their pairs just teleported from around the world to be available, rather than walking there? Was there another *BAMF* as he teleported them into a Dr. Who TARDIS like Ark that was bigger on the inside than the outside, or did they pack into the arc like sardines in a miracle of providence that none of them needed to eat each other during the 40 days and 40 nights?

I think, for me, the implausibility is not the question of whether each aspect was a miracle of providence or a miracle of creation.

For me the question is, given infinite power, WHY DID HE DO IT THAT WAY? What need does an infinite God have for a human to build a wooden ship in order to save all his creatures. Why not just say *BAMF* and make them all able to breathe water for 40 days? Or teleport to Mars for a holiday while he wipes out those troublesome humans? Or just let them drown then re-create them ab-initio, in the new post-Deluge habitat where He wanted each to live? Was He bored? Was creating animals tricky for Him to remember how many legs spiders have, that He had to keep one spider alive as a template in order to re-create the species from?

The Bible says the flood covered the tallest mountains on the entire planet: "all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.". The person who exaggerated the story didn't know that Mount Everest is 29,029 feet or that there are over 100 mountains over 20,000 feet. The writer didn't anticipate that modern geology and archeology would have a way of detecting whether there had actually been such a flood.

Waters higher than this.

So, in praise of the deity of his tribe, he took an existing story, changed the name of the God being prayed to, and altered the details. Here's what actually hapened...

A Sumerian king named Ziusudra who was chief executive of the city-state Shuruppak at the end of the Jemdet Nasr period about 2900 BC. A six-day thunderstorm caused the Euphrates River to rise 15 cubits, overflow the levees, and flood Shuruppak and a few other cities in Sumer. A few feet of yellow sediment deposited by this river flood is archaeologically attested and artifacts at about this sediment level have been radiocarbon dated.

When the levees overflowed, Ziusudra boarded a commercial river barge that had been hauling grain, beer, and other cargo on the Euphrates River. The barge floated down the river into the Persian (Arabian) Gulf where it grounded in an estuary at the mouth of the river. Ziusudra then offered a sacrifice on an altar at the top of a nearby hill which storytellers mistranslated as mountain. This led them to falsely assume that the nearby barge had grounded on top of a mountain. Actually it never came close to a mountain.

Here's what the grain barges of the time roughly looked like:

Here's a link to a map of the area
http://www.bing.com/maps/?v=2&cp=31.770 ... orm=LMLTCC

Here's more about Shuruppak http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuruppak

You can trace the story onwards from that starting point in history, through at least two versions:

(source) http://www.livius.org/fa-fn/flood/flood ... hasis.html
(source) http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mes ... /tab11.htm
and see how each element in the story gets exaggerated as we go forwards in time. For example, the first version just talks about sheep and cattle. The second says "all the beasts and animals of the field". And, finally, the Bible version, written after the other two, claims "of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark" and "Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive."

It is just a story. No supernatural intervention required to explain it.

4.9 The Burden of Proof

"But what about science?" I hear believers cry. "Isn't that just as complex, with just as many ad-hoc explanations required to cover things like the Oort Cloud, abiogenesis, complex life forms, and the initial creation of the universe?".

"Ok, so we believers do rely on faith rather than objective evidence, but you also have things you can't prove. You cannot prove that God doesn't exist; therefore, atheism is based on faith too."

There are several points here, some of which I've already covered, but which will be useful to recap.

Most atheists don't claim that it is certain that God doesn't exist. Their claim is a far weaker one - merely that they have not yet come across any reliable evidence that God does exist. Note, they are not demanding 100% proof that He does exist, just evidence of sufficient reliability to match the extraordinariness of the claim being made by the theists.

There are indeed things that science has multiple possible explanations for, but that it can't yet say reliably which of those explanations is the one that actually took place. The question is whether, by adding religious terminology to the explanation, the situation is in any way improved.

For example, scientists don't yet know whether the energy behind the big bang came from the collapse of some previous universe, from a quantum event balanced out by the creation of an equal amount of negative energy, or from some different reason. But does saying "God did it, but we don't know how" provide any additional explanatory power over saying "we don't know how"? It is turtles all the way down. http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php? ... e_way_down

The nice thing about science is that it doesn't indulge in ad-hoc explanations. If the explanation can't pay rent in terms of the predictive power it adds to the situation, then it is discarded. For example, the Oort Cloud explanation of where the asteroids get restocked from is something that makes testable predictions about the possible density and location of the belt, where the asteroids should enter from and how that frequency should change over time.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/i3/making_belie ... periences/

Scientific theories are sometimes overturned by new evidence. This doesn't mean accepting a scientific theory is an act of faith, because "accepting" in this context doesn't mean "have faith that it is 100% certain tha t the theory is true". In the context of science, when one accepts a theory, what one is accepting is that the theory is compatible with all the evidence discovered so far, and is at least as good as any of the competing theories at explaining that evidence, and making successful predictions.

Certainty isn't required before a person acts, even a rational person. All that is required is sufficient evidence that taking the action is a good bet. And in most of science, where science makes a claim at all, the leading theory is leagues ahead of any contenders, leaving it a very good bet indeed. It is only in a few areas, the fast moving cutting edges of science on the rim, rather than the massive rarely changing solid centre, that there are competing theories at all. There's only one theory used to predict what happens when you bounce a torch beam off a mirror. There's only one theory used to predict how much force you need to apply to a beach ball to push it under water. There's only one theory needed to say whether plants generally thrive without water.

Compare that situation to religion, where there are thousands of competing hypothesised deities

The burden of proof lies with the theist, to say why their particular deity is the one you should believe in; not with the atheist who makes no positive claim, but merely points out that the theist has not yet produced reliable evidence that supports their claim, let alone shown that the balance of evidence supports their particular deity hypothesis as being a better explanation of observed reality than all the other deity hypothesis or better than the default null hypothesis that there are no supernatural deities.

In absence of such evidence, the correct action is to not believe, just as when a politician claims that giving money to his campaign will lead to national prosperity, your correct action is to keep your money in your pocket UNTIL the politician presents sufficient evidence to rationally convince you. If the politician says "Listen to my story, doesn't it stir your emotions. And you better dang well pay up just on faith, or when I get elected things will go badly for you." does that really make it more likely that his initial claim to herald national prosperity is true? Shouldn't you weigh the alternative explanation that the politician is just human, prone to wanting to manipulate and gain money, because it benefits him?

There's little reason to suppose that a follower having faith in God would benefit God. Or the follower.

There's great reason to suppose that a follower having faith in God would benefit a church and help that church spread EVEN IF there is no actual supernatural deity behind it.

It is the simpler explanation.

And the burden of proof lies upon the priest making the additional claim (that his church does actually have the backing of a supernatural diety) to provide evidence to outweigh the additional complexity due to that claim.

What he can't fairly do is turn around and say "No, you prove my deity doesn't exist".

If Bertrand Russell were to claim that a china teapot orbits the sun in an elliptical orbit between Earth and Mars, nobody could disprove his assertion, especially if he added that the teapot is too small to show up even in a telescope. But, as Russell notes,

" If I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. " (source) http://www.positiveatheism.org/mail/eml9202.htm#BURDEN

Answers in Geneis has a Statement of Faith that says "By definition, no apparent, perceived, or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.", and this is not an uncommon position among Christian fundamentalists, based upon Isaiah 55:8-9.

But, though they don't see it that way, in doing so they have surrendered the argument. You can't show that the preponderance of evidence supports your side by choosing to ignore or deny the parts you find inconvenient.

And nothing less than such support should make a rational person accept the God hypothesis.

Even if, for some bizarre reason, you meet someone who actually is a were-unicorn despite refusing to demonstrate it, the rational thing to have done would still have been to not believe until shown evidence. Especially if they also claim that they want all their followers to go forth to persuade others that were-unicorns exist.

Why would a deity who gave humans brains with the ability to be rational, then penalize them for being rational?

Especially as we see about us harm happening in this world from people not being rational, and harm happening from people being religious. Kind hearts are good, but you do more good with a kind heart and good decisions, than just from a kind heart alone.

4.10 The Final Drawback

There's one special drawback of supporting a supernatural religion that I've been saving for last. I might have put it in the section on practical evils, but it fitted better here, along with the discussion about faith.

And it is a very important drawback, that's intrinsic to every supernatural religion, no matter how moderate.

Because by supporting one supernatural religion, you also support the idea that supernatural religions are, in general, the sort of thing that causes good and should be accepted, tolerated or even supported.

And, by doing so, you provide a camouflage of respectability that helps all supernatural religions survive and spread, no matter how extreme.

By promoting faith over rationality, you bear partial responsibility for contributing to the negative effects of religion as a whole, not only your own.

If you want to claim that your unsupported beliefs about the afterlife and the requirements to enter it, unlike the unsupported beliefs about the afterlife and the requirements to enter it of other supernatural religions, should be respected by society, then the onus is upon you to earn that respect.

Promoting religion causes real measurable harm. It isn't something to be indulged in upon a whim, like choice of wallpaper colour, because it makes you feel good. It requires justification. Sufficient justification to counter balance this:

So please, think. Do you really have sufficiently good reasons to believe in and promote belief in a supernatural deity? If you have any doubts, any questions raised by the FAQ that you can't yet answer, you owe it to society to take those doubts seriously and investigate further until you can answer them to your own satisfaction.

But watch yourself. Look at each answer you propose to accept, and ask whether it meets the standards that it ought to. Is it a good answer, or just an excuse?
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June 1st, 2018, 04:42 AM
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To expand on an earlier answer about coming out as atheist (especially when young), taken from reddit:

Should I come out to my parents as being an atheist?
(Taken From the FAQ entry)

The short answer is No.

The slightly longer answer is that if you are not in a position where that is likely to end well for you, you should probably wait until you're more self-sufficient. However, you know your own parents better than we do. You could try breaking the ice on the subject of atheism to get a feel for their reaction to it in general, if you're not sure. Always keep in mind that for many people religion is a highly emotive subject, and for many parents who have been raised to believe in the "moral superiority" of religious belief, a child who comes out as an atheist can be interpreted as a betrayal of them or as a failure of their own.

In some religions, it can actually be dangerous to "out" yourself. If your father is a hardline Muslim, for example, getting kicked out of the house is the least of your worries. You risk being beheaded or set on fire. If you're coming from one of those, keep that in mind as well.

/r/atheism will almost invariably respond that you should wait. A common proverb here is "The best place to come out to your parents is at a home you own, over a dinner that you paid for yourself".

If you do decide to "come out," then consider that "atheist" has many evil, hateful connotations to religious people. It's right up there with "Satanist." You might be able to reduce the amount of flak you get by choosing a label for yourself that has a similar meaning but is less controversial. Please consider using an alternative such as "agnostic" or "humanist" or "non-religious", which does not carry quite as much baggage.

There's also another approach: You could say "I've lost my belief" or "I don't know what to believe any more" or even "God doesn't speak to me any more." Asked if you are an atheist, you could say "I don't know."

This makes you look less like a monster and more like a victim. You'll be subject to sympathy rather than anger. You won't be kicked out. But you run the risk of having folks work really hard to bring you back to God. Expect (more) frequent church visits, and maybe a talk with the priest/pastor/counselor.

If you get kicked out of your home, these guys may be able to provide you with a place to stay:


An earlier link in the FAQ points to a list of definitions that no longer exists, so here is a copy:

Atheist (Strong) :== "I believe that no supernatural deities exist."

Atheist (Weak) :== "I do not hold a belief in the existance of any supernatural deities."

Agnostic (Strong) :== "I believe that it is not possible for anyone to know whether supernatural deities exist or not."

Agnostic (Weak) :== "I personally don't know whether supernatural deities exist or not. I don't hold a belief 100% in either direction."

Apatheist (Type 1) :== "Whether or not a supernatural deity exists should not affect our perceptions of Good and Evil."

Apatheist (Type 2) :== "I don't care whether or not a supernatural deity exists. I'm not interested. It is not an important question."

Ignostic (Type 1) :== "The question 'Does God Exist' is meaningless, because the concept of 'God' is meaningless." (also known as Theological Noncognitivism)

Ignostic (Type 2) :== "The question 'Does God Exist' is meaningless, because the term 'God' is meaningless or insufficiently defined."

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June 1st, 2018, 04:48 AM
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A reply by RaverLady to GloBug, in another group, reposted here with her permission:
You don't agree with what I believe, therefore my beliefs must be wrong.
That is not the reason.

Actually, it is a direct examination of reality which suggests that your beliefs are wrong. Here is why:

1. There are no apparent gods. Every single idea or argument humans have ever put forth concerning gods are all just words. There is no actual substance or observation or part of reality which can be examined which is a god. There is no effect that can be examined which shows a god. As far as can be determined, gods are no more a part of this reality than unicorns or Santa. Upon examination, every human suggestion of or about gods is comprised entirely of conjecture.

2. There are no suggestions of gods in nature. Everything that can be observed, from the motions of galaxies to the behavior of insects to the dreams of humans, can be seen to be arising from natural systems with mechanisms that can be examined and apprehended. Nothing that can be observed suggests any kind of supernatural agency in its creation or maintenance, and nothing has been examined which is inexplicable enough to admit a supernatural component. There is nothing in the universe which a god would have had to interact with for it to be like it is now.

3. Everything supernatural has been debunked. It is easy to understand why ancient humans believed in gods, fairies, ghosts, magic, etc. It was because they had not yet learned to apply observation and reason to understanding what is the case. Almost as soon as the system of reason and observation was put into use, the old supernatural claims began to fall apart. All of the magical things people used to believe in were found to be superstitions and just-so stories with no basis beyond confirmation bias and wishful thinking.

Almost all of the previous claims about gods have been debunked as well - that gods magically created the earth, that gods designed life, that gods cause plagues/cure illness, that gods caused a world-wide flood, etc.

Only claims completely outside the ability to be examined (like "afterlife justice") can continue to be associated with gods because any and all things which could be examined showed no gods and no supernatural agency.

4. People are known to invent gods to explain what they don't understand. Even in recent times, people invented a whole belief system - the "cargo cults" - to explain a sudden inexplicable interaction with strangers. Given this human propensity for invention, it is easy to see where the old god stories come from and why they are not a basis for understanding what is really happening.

5. There is no apparent moral order outside of humans. Morality was invented by humans as a social evolution strategy. Proto-moral behavior can be observed in our closest relatives and many species, so it is clear to observation that morality was devised as a means for creating social cohesion. However proto-immoral behavior can be observed as well, serving different purposes. The origins of both are rooted in the biological.

So, there is no reason to think that there is a supernatural component to "good" and "evil." These are judgements our species learned to make, among many, based on trial and error and how things worked out. It is an ongoing process and still underway. This is also why our moral arc slowly bends toward justice - it is a form of error correction.

6. There is nothing in nature which suggests any kind of afterlife. There is no observable mechanism by which an afterlife could occur. A very close examination of the foundation of being and personality show that they arise from physicality, from the mechanism of a functioning biosystem with a complex neurology. Everything that can be observed about these systems suggest that they are only temporary emergent properties of complex patterns which are not maintainable beyond the dissolution of the pattern.

There is no suggestion at all that humans could encounter a fate different from anything else that lives and dies, and certainly no suggestion that some humans meet different fates "after" death.

7. Given the utter lack of examination, evidence and plausibility, there is no reason that any one utterly arbitrary projection - for example, single god, binary afterlife - makes more sense to believe than any other projection - like binary god, single afterlife, or multi-god multi-life, or leprechauns, or what have you. With no suggestions of gods and no need for gods and nothing to go on, fixing on one and investing it with the property of "truth" is nonsensical.

As you can see, simply looking at the reality that we find ourselves in very strongly suggests that we are naturally occurring biological organisms who rely on finite biological systems. Looking at our biology and our history it is clear that we are learning creatures who have only very recently learned to distinguish reality from fantasy and apply reason to our understanding.

So I hope you will see that for some, challenging your unfounded beliefs is not about disageement. It is about the fact that they do actually appear to be incorrect.

As far as where the ideas came from, that would be all the sources of information I have come across since I was old enough to understand them.
In other words, it came from other people. However, other people do not know any more about "the afterlife" than you do. If you can't tell anything about it, they couldn't either. So you know what they said about it means nothing.

I kind of feel like that is all religion. For the most part it was made up by someone at some point and accepted by many as a belief system.
Yes. But we know better now.

It might seem odd to you for a person to believe in something that is made up, but I can't give you a reason that you would find acceptable. I like the idea of believing in God. I like the faith I have.
I understand, but I was wondering if you might consider thinking of something beyond what you personally like.

I can see now that you do understand the truth. So, as people who understand truth, I feel we have a moral obligation to promote the truth, and the system of truth - reason - because understanding what is really going on is the only way to deal with reality well.

Perpetuating unreason is a really big problem for the human race right now. Being a voice for reason, and for accepting the truth, in a world where so few do, would be a much greater contribution than simply doing something that you happen to like.

I have only stated my beilefs. I understand that there are loonies out there who use their beliefs to justify wars and genocides, but I am not those people.
Of course not. But unreason - believing things which don't seem to be true for no acceptable reason - is a problem everywhere, in every system. Part of why it is so hard for people to use reason is because religious beliefs systematically dismantle reason by dismissing it and degrading it. That's a big problem.

I truly beileve in doing onto others as you would have done onto yourself.
You are a beautiful person. But you don't need gods for that.

I only believe religious beliefs are dangerous when they are used as an excuse for hate.
This is where I disagree. Unreason and refusing to understand the truth creates a lot of error. The greater the distance between what is claimed and what the reality is, the bigger the error. For most religious beliefs, this distance is a chasm.

And right now, refusing to look at the truth isn't just happening in religion. It is happening in economics and business and politics. As a result, we're blowing it.

Generous estimates give the biosphere maybe twenty years before it starts to become completely unhinged from runaway warming. Whether lifekind can even be maintained beyond that point is not a guarantee.

Do we really need more delusion and believing nice things that aren't true and refusing to face reality? Or do we need truth?

My logical brain says you are right. The spiritual side of me disagrees. You perceive faith in the unseen as wishful thinking. I do not. Faith is a state of being. It's a force inside you.
Again, I understand. What I would like you to understand is that you don't have to ignore the truth about reality to have those feelings. The most spiritual people I know are all non-theists, because at the heart of their spiritual quest was a desire to find out what is really going on, and be true to that spiritual quest, and this is where the truth in that quest inevitably leads. You have arrived there already yourself.

I am neither atheist nor theist, but I can tell you I have a vibrant spiritual life, and I feel a magnificent creative force inside me which animates every moment of my awareness. I feel a deep connection to all of reality knowing that the particles that make up my being are the stuff of stars. I feel a great reverence knowing the incredible age of the universe, and the unlikeliness of evolution to sentience. I feel wondrous awe at each sunrise knowing that matter and energy can become shaped into patterns that come alive and rejoice. And I feel profound respect for the greatest things of life - humans, who have made beauty and discovered truth and, despite our differences, have created great oceans of love for each other.

Understanding all of that, based on the truth about what is happening, does not detract from spirituality. My spiritual side and my logical brain are both in perfect agreement, because they are both telling me the same thing. That is what appreciating the truth does.

If you don't believe me, ask a buddhist. Buddhism does not even posit a god, or a soul , or an afterlife, or a supernatural. But this reality-based system is giving people spiritual awareness and experience and skill enough to measurably increase their well-being. Studies have shown that Buddhists really are happier than people in other religious categories.

Describing faith in God to someone who doesn't believe in it, is like trying to describe the sky to a person who was born blind. It's just not possible.
This is where I very strongly disagree. Comparing people who use reason and observation for understanding reality to the "born blind" is getting it exactly backwards.

A short but excellent FAQ:

9 Questions That Atheists Might Find Insulting (And the Answers), by Greta Christina

http://www.alternet.org/belief/9-questi ... paging=off

Two more books people have suggested:

"Losing my Religion?", by William Lobdell

"William Lobdell", by Julia Sweeney

Have you ever been the victim of a confidence trick? Someone fooling you, betraying your trust and walking off with increasing amounts of your money, with a promised payoff somehow being put futher into the future each time?

Was there a voice in your head that gave you increasing warnings, as time went on that, at first, you tried to ignore?

Sometimes the right decision is to listen to the voice that tells you that perhaps your faith has been misplaced.

Read about the Sunk Cost Fallacy
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_costs ... st_fallacy

Then, if you feel duped, the next step to take is precisely the same one that you'd take, if you started to suspect that you might be the victim of a confidence trick. Stop hankering after an emotion the belief causes or some promised reward. Instead take a step back and look for objective evidence on either side. Decide, not what you most want to believe, but what the evidence suggests is most likely to be true.
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