Wednesday, December 22, 2010

If I had been born in Saudi Arabia, would I have been a Muslim? Hell, no!

From a comment by Chris on the Secular Outpost:

A naturalist/atheist views all of the above in an entirely consistent manner: none of it is believable. Theists do not view it consistently. They view one set of beliefs as true; the others are not. Yet there's no difference in the nature of the evidence - none whatsoever. If Victor, with his same mindset, had been born and raised in Saudi Arabia, he would almost certainly be a Muslim, and he would dismiss all accounts of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, while maintaining that he was still a prophet and a divine being who would return to judge the world. Assuming I also maintained my mindset when I was 'reborn' in Saudi Arabia, then I would still be a naturalist/atheist (albeit a very circumspect one), and I would still dismiss the miracle-evidentiary value of the Koran, Bible, Diamond Sutra, etc., just as I do today. So a theist would accept a similar 'type' of evidence, but a completely different 'set,' whereas a naturalist would maintain a consistent view of both type and set no matter what culture he/she was born into. That seems like a more defensible position.


This is an assertion, typical of the outsider test rhetoric, that I would, if I had the same intellectual dispositions, be  a Muslim if I were born in the Islamic world. The person saying this, of course, doesn't know me at all.  First, this simply denigrates all of the efforts that I made since I grew up to evaluate the reasons for and against being a Christian.  The evidence bases for the two religions are different, and I think someone of my education and scholarship would have noticed the difference. In fact, when I looked at comparison of the evidence bases for these religions a few weeks back I commented that if the evidence bases were reversed between the two religions I would have some serious doubts. (That particular site probably overstates the case for Christianity, but there does seem to me to be a real difference). 


Second, the Islamic community seems to have actively discouraged philosophy since the Middle Ages. You have figures like Avicenna, Averroes, and al-Ghazali, but after that I don't see much contribution to philosophy. So the likelihood of the Islamic community producing a philosopher like myself doesn't seem as likely as the Christian community producing a philosopher like myself. 


Third, in thinking about my intellectual development, I was always a pretty severe questioner. I can imagine Christian settings that would have severely tempted me to leave the fold, particularly those who suppressed questions. I experienced some of that (I remember attending a conference by Bill Gothard where he told people that if they wanted to take a philosophy course that would be OK, but don't major in it), but I was able to find Christians of considerable intellect, equal to anything I saw in the atheists I knew, who were not afraid of questions. C. S. Lewis helped a lot, my friends Bob Prokop (a commentator here) and the late Joe Sheffer were helpful when I was an undergraduate, my seminary professor Don Saliers, who helped me find my own voice in dealing with the issue of Catholicism (Don is most famous for being the father of Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls), Christian grad students at Illinois, and the philosophers at the Society of Christian Philosophers' conference all helped to provide an the intellectual community that allowed me to become a Christian philosopher. I think a more question-suppressive intellectual atmosphere might have induced me to leave the fold. I find it funny that Loftus uses the word "brainwashed" about me, because the ABSENCE of brainwashing tactics amongst these people made it much easier to sustain my faith. I think of it as God taking care of my intellectual needs throughout my life, but if you don't think there is a God, you probably are going to have to describe it differently. 


If I had grown up in a Christian community that preached a lot of hell-fire, if I had asked a lot of questions and been told to stop asking them, and if looking in a more liberal direction I had found nothing but a lot of Bultmannian existentializing, I think there is a good chance that I would have left the fold. 


But the main thing I want to note is that in order to have a real equivalent of me in some other religion, you have to have a question-friendly atmosphere. There are Christian groups don't even provide that. I don't think I would have found that in Saudi Arabia, since the predominant form of Islam there is reactionary. When Salman Rushdie wrote Satanic Verses, which as I understand it is a novelized account of the giving of the Qur'an to Muhammad which diverges from orthodox Islam, the mullahs in Iran put out a contract on him. I don't recall a hit being ordered by the Vatican on Dan Brown after the Da Vinci Code. I'm not saying that an Islamic equivalent of myself is impossible, but I think if I had been a Muslim I either would have become a Muslim fideist and probably never gone into philosophy, or I would have left the fold. 

72 comments:

SteveK said...

If Victor, with his same mindset, had been born and raised in Saudi Arabia, he would almost certainly be a Muslim, and he would dismiss all accounts of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, while maintaining that he was still a prophet and a divine being who would return to judge the world.

This can't be correct. Victor, with his same mindset would, by definition, have the same mind - or reasons for - accepting one religion over the other.

What this person apparently means to say is that Victor, with a different mindset, would have different reasons for being a Muslim if born in Saudi. Maybe, but how is that supposed to be an argument for atheism?

Dave said...

It sounds like the writer is suggesting that Victor has some inherent need for God. That being his "mindset," Victor would reach out for God in whatever form or provision was presented to him. The writer, on the other hand, has no such inherent need and would not reach out for God in either culture. This is a subtle form of ad hominem argument, a "negative judgment" against Victor that allows the writer to set up his comparison in a way that is favorable to his (the writer's) thinking.

steve said...

Another problem with this appeal to cultural conditioning is that many Muslims are nominal Muslims or closet unbelievers. Since there's no freedom of dissent in Saudi Arabia, you go through the motions to keep up appearances. You say and do what's expected of you.

Anonymous said...

Yet another problem with this form of reasoning is that, if we imagine for a moment that it's immune to the criticisms laid out in Victor's post and in the above comments, the atheist/naturalist himself is not exempted from it, seeing as how if he (the naturalist) were born in Saudi Arabia, he would most likely not be a naturalist.

This form of reasoning is just plain worthless.

Bob Prokop said...

I agree that the premise is fatally flawed, and I think it was doomed right from the choice of hypothetical birthplaces. Saudi Arabia might as well be a totalitarian state as regards religion, so dissent is not only hazardous - it is heroic. You won't find that many (declared) atheists in that country.

A more interesting thought experiment would have been setting Victor (or any of us) in a different family within the U.S.

If I were born into a Baptist household, would I today be a Catholic? If Victor grew up in mine, would he still be a Protestant? if John Loftus had been raised in a Unitarian home, would he still be as intellectually intolerant as he appears to be?

Victor Reppert said...

Bob: I think choices within Christianity are often made, not simply with regard to what propositions are true, but also have to do with how best to achieve one's spiritual goals. I suspect that the truth about these matters is far more complex than we realize. I suspect that had I grown up a Catholic I might well have found the things I found troubling about Catholicism troubling still, but I may well not have thought them sufficient grounds for leaving the fold. I think that, within orthodox Christianity, people are probably justified in staying the in the traditions that nourished them, unless they find good reasons to change that arise, not just from abstract doctrinal issues, but from spiritual needs. I am a big believer in searching for the truth, but I also think that we have other things to do on earth besides search for the truth.

Bob Prokop said...

Well said, Victor!

You undoubtedly remember my Protestant fling from our college days. You might also recall that my return to Catholicism had absolutely nothing to do with doctrine, but was entirely because I wasn't COMFORTABLE as a Protestant. There was way too much cultural baggage that had to be daily overcome, and I finally decided the effort wasn't worth it. Never regretted my decision, so I 100% respect people who made different choices for the same reasons.

David said...

My guess is Chris would have given in to what is taught at the university (Islam) rather than take his lickings as we Christians do in trying to work our way through a degree in a secular university in California. Character, in my experience, trumps philosophical disposition.

Other than that, the what ifs are nothing more than the speculation of a young man before facing the real trials of life and death.

Shackleman said...

If Chris, with his same mindset, had been born and raised in Flatland, he would almost certainly believe all of reality was two dimensional, and he would dismiss all accounts of a three dimensional world.

There, see how easy that was? The OP's premise is completely bankrupt. The truth is not contingent on culture or borders. The truth is the truth. That holds for all subjects. Whether or not Flatlanders believe the world is three dimensional has precisely zero influence on the truth that the world is indeed three dimensional.

Brenda said...

Well.... you know.... if you were born a different person you'd be a different person.

It is a fashion of our times to believe that we are perfectly self contained monads existing entirely within our selves. But I don't think so. I think we are determined a great deal by the people around us, our social environment. The same person in a different environment becomes a different person.

This is most true when we are young. After all, we are all born with the same capacity for learning language. If I were born in a Japanese family I would speak Japanese and likely not even comprehend English. I cannot imagine that person. I would have nothing in common with the Japanese me. She would not be me.

If things were different then I would be different. This is because I am only who I am as a result of my experience and if I had different experiences in my life then I'd be a different person. We are who we are because the world beyond our ego causes us to be who we are. To believe that you would be the same person under different circumstances (speaking of children here, not as adults) is to deny casualty.

You have the thoughts, feelings and beliefs you do because the world caused you to have them. How can you have uncaused thoughts or beliefs?

unkleE said...

Brenda said: "Well.... you know.... if you were born a different person you'd be a different person."

This is surely the only thing one can really say about this. None of us know what it would be like to have grown up in different circumstances.

Further, I have seen figures that show that a certain percentage (I think greater than 50%) of science faculties are not christians, ditto philosophy faculties, etc. Isn't it then possible that a person could grow up in so-called christian America, go to a university with a predominantly non-christian faculty and thus be influenced to give up their faith?

Does this mean that these non-believers have not after all pass the OTU (Outsider test for Unbelief) or that one could dismiss their non-belief in that way?

I think we are all saying the same thing. There is no magic test here. People are people and come to beliefs for all sorts of reasons, and using some simplistic test or understanding creates more problems than it might apparently solve.

I'm not sure you need to spend so much time on it Vic, but, as I've said before, you certainly demonstrate your integrity by so doing.

Thrasymachus said...

I don't think this line of response works.

It seems likely that if we put a 'proto-Victor' into differing intellectual climates, we would get a different Victor out the other end. Given that bright inquiring people are brought up in Muslim homes and (by and large) stay Muslim, then perhaps that would have happened to someone like Victor - or maybe he'd have been scared into intellectual submission. Regardless, it seems hard to argue with the demographics here.

I think people resist these sorts of conclusions because they dislike the idea of their beliefs being dependent on factors outside their intellectual control. They want to believe they believe on merit. If you spend your time carefully weighing up Christianity versus Islam, or Theism versus Atheism, you take offense at the suggestion that were your upbringing different you'd conclude opposite to what you did. After all, your took your deliberations to be better than just working out your prior prejudice.

But I think we are flattering ourselves if we suppose that - no matter where we started, we'd be able to navigate our way to our properly held beliefs by the light of reason alone. Doubtless I could be racist, sexist or homophobic were my environment different, and doubtless I would be. Insofar as the OTF riffs off these concerns, I think it is on the money.

However, there are two problems. The first is that this isn't a peculiarly religious difficulty. If I or John Loftus was brought up in Saudi Arabia, I suspect we'd be Muslims too. Atheist convictions are just as plastic to cultural and social influence as all the others. So it isn't a very good stick to beat religious people with.

The second is that not all epistemic environments are created equal. Were I raised by abusive neo-nazi monsters, no doubt I'd believe all manner of awful things - yet these beliefs aren't on a level pegging with the beliefs I have formed being raised by my wonderful parents. Working out the normative 'ranking' of these environments is hard, but surely truth will be a major factor: a Christian upbringing is bad epistemic news if Christianity is false, and good news if it is true.

So, once again, the OTF-esque complaints are a sideshow to the epistemic main event. If we can provide persuasive reasons to believe as we do, then we have reason to infer that, likely, our epistemic environment is privileged (consider arguing with a Conquistador about the humanity of the natives). So it is the truth of Christianity, not its epistemiological genetics, that should be the main exercise.

Rasmus Møller said...

Brenda said:

You have the thoughts, feelings and beliefs you do because the world caused you to have them. How can you have uncaused thoughts or beliefs?

Answer: your naturalism seems to require that all thoughts and beliefs are mechanically caused.

But it is conceivable that our thoughts can act like primary causes, feeding events into space-time - like images of God. Free will and all that, you know.

Kriss Djinn said...

From a comment by Kriss at the Islamic Outpost:
A Muslim views all of the above in an entirely consistent manner: none of it is believable. Atheists do not view it consistently. They view one set of beliefs as true; the others are not. Yet there's no difference in the nature of the evidence - none whatsoever. If Chris (at the Secular Outpost), with his same mindset, had been born and raised in the Europe of the Middle Ages, he would almost certainly be a Christian, and he would dismiss all attacks on Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, while maintaining that Issa (Jesus) was still a teacher and good man who died for what he saw as the truth. Assuming I, Muslim Kriss, also maintained my mindset when I was 'reborn' in the Europe of the Middle Ages, then I would still be a Muslim (albeit a very circumspect one), and I would still dismiss the miracle-evidentiary value of the Bible compared to the Holy Koran, just as I do today. So an atheist would accept a similar 'type' of evidence, but a completely different 'set,' whereas a Muslim would maintain a consistent view of both type and set no matter what culture he was born into. That seems like a more defensible position.

Brenda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brenda said...

Rasmus Møller said...
"But it is conceivable that our thoughts can act like primary causes, feeding events into space-time - like images of God. Free will and all that, you know."

Actually John Searle, with whom I most agree philosophically, talks about intentional causation as a way around the strict determinism of eliminative materialism. So, according to him it is possible for my intent to raise my arm to cause me to raise my arm. Something that I believe an eliminative materialist would deny.

Also, in my previous reply I did not take into account studies of twins. They can be eerily like each other even when separated at birth. I wonder if there is any data from twin studies on religious affiliation? That would be interesting to know.

(Haha! My captcha word was "frogroni"! I do not think I want that!)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Come on, there is a simple and trivially true point. If you (by "you" I just mean someone with your genetic code) were born and raised in a standard Saudi household, you would be much more likely to be Muslim. The truth is you have no idea, of course, but statistically speaking it is undeniable. One of the main points is that in such a different culture, you would not be you.

In Midevil Rome there may have been many closet atheists because of the death that tended to result from straying from orthodoxy, but the majority were likely Christian. The general point doesn't change.

PS Good to see Ilion back in a previous post still pushing the same bumper sticker 'Everyone that disagrees with me is intellectually dishonest' LOL good stuff.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Brenda since we are on the topic of Searle, you never answered my question about your view on consciousness here.

Let me repeat it:
So above you said it is just another biological process like digestion, but now you say it has a special first person ontology, a special mode of existence. What does that mean in your own words? I've never liked that part of Searle it doesn't make sense. If it's like digestion, we don't need a special ontology. I'd pick the Churchlands over Searle on this one any day of the week.

On the question of what an eliminativist would say, it depends what they are eliminativists about, and how you would cash out the phrase 'intend to raise my arm' psychologically. I have yet to meet someone who is eliminativist about everything mental, usually they go after specific psychological theories such as propositional attitude psychology.

Tony Hoffman said...

Yeah, I think it misses the point for a theist to say "Well, I wouldn't conform to the statistics involving the geography of religious beliefs because of some innate property of my mind."

I think the theist in this position would like to argue that their mind tends toward truth-seeking. The atheist, of course, believes that the theist is fooling herself, and that the theist mind tends toward credulity, and post-hoc rationalizations. This conforms with what we observe among different religions adherents across the globe.

The atheist has the advantage here, because atheists are atheists the world round, whereas theists are who knows what depending on what Zip Code you're visiting. So claims to having a uniquely truth-seeking mind among theists is a losing argument, what with all the disagreement about what that truth actually is.

SteveK said...

The atheist has the advantage here, because atheists are atheists the world round, whereas theists are who knows what depending on what Zip Code you're visiting.

Where's the advantage, Tony? Lack of belief comes in many flavors: strong atheism, spiritual or mystical / new-age atheism (Harris is one example), weak atheism, nihilistic atheism, etc.

Comparing atheism in general terms to theism in specific terms doesn't tell me anything about advantages or disadvantages. An example using colors will illustrate.

Blue has the advantage because Blue is Blue the world round, whereas Orange is Yellow Orange, Redish Orange, etc depending on the specific kind of Orange.

PatrickH said...

Atheists who claim that they wouldn't lose their mindset if raised, say, as Muslims, are funny. There's no reason to think that their "mindset" is some individually arrived at rationally derived position. It's the same old same old, inextricably bound up with the cultures of the post-Christian societies they were raised in. Since their own atheism isn't evidentially based, they'd be just as likely to drink the Muslim koolaid as they have the secular humanist.

If anything, it's a Christian today who arrives at his position more intentionally and deliberately. Atheism is sorta hip these days, and atheists don't demonstrate any more independence of mind than anybody else who conforms to the zeitgeist.

It's the preposterous arrogation to himself of an independence of mind and will he shows no evidence of possessing beyond his own self-description (at least compared to the religious) that makes the "argument" of Chris so laughably weak.

Boz said...

If I was born in Saudi, I'd almost certainly be a muslim.

Under a different environment, I would have no idea how I would turn out, due to the strong effect that the environment has on a child's development. We can only go on the census data.

Furthermore, being charitable to the intent of the question, my ancestry and genes would be different as well. I would have brown skin and not pale white, for example. I might be fatter or less disease-prone, or more kind, or less passionate.

So, I think it is wishful thinking to say: "I have xxx trait, so that would lead me towards XXXXX religion". Under this scenario, you would almost certainly not have that trait.

David said...

The cool thing about living is having your philosophical disposition challenged. Join the military and let the politicans send you to places to see if your patriotism remains (mine does, although I'm a conservative political cynic). Go to a secular University as a fundamentalist and see if it holds up (mine didn't but I remain a Christian). Spend some time in Saudi Arabia and get arrested by Arab thugs for just being Western and see if what you believe in carries you through the day (I was, and the beliefs wavered). Go to the alter and vow to love, honor, and cherish for your whole damn life and see how much your word means (I think I've held up).

Not being very smart, I guess I lean on experience.

Victor Reppert said...

First of all, let's get something clear. There can be truth-favoring accidents of birth. I have a much better chance of knowing the truths of higher mathematics if I was born into a country that would permit me to get a college-level education that I would have if I were born to a poor family in Africa who has no access to education.

Second, had my parents not encouraged my inquisitive mind I would probably have never gone into philosophy, and would not have had the sort of mental life I have now. Could I say to an atheist "Look, you have to abandon your beliefs and take an outsider test. Your family could have made you more of a intellectual sheep than you are now, in which case you'd be blindly following some cult leader instead of rejecting religion altogether." Of course not. He would just say, "Well, thank evolution I have a passion for asking questions, and am not a sheeple."

I would think that if careful intellectual inquiry is supposed to play a role in coming to know whatever is true about God, then an open and pluralistic intellectual atmosphere makes it more likely that you will discover what is true than an atmosphere where people are brainwashed and inhibited from questioning whatever their parents or the state tells them. If that is so, then I have had some advantages over someone who grew up in Saudi Arabia, who would have had Islam shoved down my throat, or in Russia, where I would have had atheism shoved down my throat, than I have had in the atmosphere in which I have lived. So if someone says "If you had been born in Saudi Arabia you would have been a Muslim," one response is to say "Thank God I wasn't," but the other response is to say that I find it hard to believe that my Saudi counterpart would have had the opportunity to scrutinize his religious beliefs the way that I have had. So, I consider myself to have been the recipient of some good epistemic luck, for which I am grateful.

I'm not even sure a meaningful counterpart to me can exist in Saudi Arabia. But if any sense can be made of that statement, then it really doesn't give me much cause for epistemic anxiety. Whoever this epistemic counterpart might be, I am epistemically privileged compared to him, in much the way that we Americans are economically priviliged in comparison to the Third World.

Tony Hoffman said...

"Where's the advantage, Tony? Lack of belief comes in many flavors: strong atheism, spiritual or mystical / new-age atheism (Harris is one example), weak atheism, nihilistic atheism, etc."

An atheist is an atheist, no matter what extraneous label you care to apply. Atheists the world round suspend belief in a personal, creator god who does not show up in real life. There is a unanimity of opinion among atheists of every locale that ia not shared by theists in various locales. This should be uncontroversial.

If you are an atheist, it appears that skeptical, free-thinking people across the globe agree that there is no god. If you are a theist who would like to consider your belief justified, you must explain how it is that you have come to a different conclusion than those who do not share your social environment.

Rasmus Møller said...

Tony,

A christian is a follower of Christ, wherever he is placed geographically.

Does this count as evidence for Christianity?

Al Moritz said...

If you are an atheist, it appears that skeptical, free-thinking people across the globe agree that there is no god.

As a skeptical, free-thinking person I decided, after pondering the evidence, not to fall for the superficial lure of atheism and remain a Catholic.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Tony Hoffman said...

“A christian is a follower of Christ, wherever he is placed geographically.

Does this count as evidence for Christianity?”

I’m not saying that one always conforms to the religion of one’s locale. I’m saying that most religious people conform to the religion in which they were raised. If you believe that evidence for the truth of Christianity can be found in Christians living in different locales you should also count as evidence those who are not Christian in all other locales, and those who are not Christian in Christian locales. Unless you want to be biased by only looking at some of the data.

“As a skeptical, free-thinking person I decided, after pondering the evidence, not to fall for the superficial lure of atheism and remain a Catholic.”

Personal attestations of not being biased are meaningless. Those who are clearly biased are just as often sure that they are not; you cannot declare, “Well, I have looked independently at my belief-making and determined that I am not biased” and expect to be found credible.

No, the problem for theists is that their belief is most often unique to their locale, whereas atheists are consistent across all locales. This difference needs an explanation. So far, it appears that the theist is merely asserting, “Uh uh, I’m not biased.” A better argument is required, as all other theists and atheists alike can easily dismiss this personal assertion based on our understanding of personal bias and the data.

That being said, Merry Christmas to theists and atheists alike.

Al Moritz said...

Those who are clearly biased are just as often sure that they are not; you cannot declare, “Well, I have looked independently at my belief-making and determined that I am not biased” and expect to be found credible.

I agree in the sense that bias is unavoidable to some extent. An absolutely neutral, blank-slate, state of thinking does not exist. Yet this holds for atheists just as much as for theists -- regardless of the fact that atheists often like to think of themselves as looking at the evidence in an unbiased, skeptical and 'free-thinking' way.

Rasmus Møller said...

Tony,

if atheists around the world differ except for agreeing that there is no God, and christians around the world differ, except for agreeing to follow Christ...

- why then should atheists have an epistemic/bias advantage compared to christians?

If you say that it's because you are living in a culture dominated by Christianity; I share a similar problem: in Denmark, where I live, religious people are looked down upon by the majority.

This is the professed goal of Sam Harris et. al.: that religion become something everyone is embarrassed about. Perhaps we should be thankful; not only would it nurture our feeling of martyrdom, but it might even bring us epistemic advantages :)

Tony Hoffman said...

“I agree in the sense that bias is unavoidable to some extent. An absolutely neutral, blank-slate, state of thinking does not exist. Yet this holds for atheists just as much as for theists -- regardless of the fact that atheists often like to think of themselves as looking at the evidence in an unbiased, skeptical and 'free-thinking' way.”

And hence my point, and why I have not declared that I am not biased because I am an atheist, etc.

But theists have a problem that atheists do not have in this regard. If one looks not at one’s own beliefs, but the beliefs of people in all samples (all locales and times), the data points to the simple fact that the one belief point consistent across all samples is atheism. This remains true even were one to somehow isolate the data to include only those who self-attest to having done their best to eliminate personal bias, etc. This appears to me to be the correct way to evaluate the outsider test – to look outward, not inward. To look inward (I have looked at the evidence and I conclude that I am not biased) is to not engage with the outsider test.

“- why then should atheists have an epistemic/bias advantage compared to christians?”

I believe my answer above responds to this question as well.

“Perhaps we should be thankful; not only would it nurture our feeling of martyrdom, but it might even bring us epistemic advantages :)”

Feel free to name a meaningful epistemic advantage that Christian belief brings you. I find that most Christian beliefs is a huge hindrance to knowledge, what with all the denial of knowledge brought to us through the process of science, etc.

And I am sorry that you are a Christian in Denmark. Living here in the U.S., I think I know how you feel.:)

Al Moritz said...

I find that most Christian beliefs is a huge hindrance to knowledge, what with all the denial of knowledge brought to us through the process of science, etc.

Really? What fantasy world are you living in?

First of all, science was born from a Christian background -- all the first scientists were believers who wanted to study how the regularities of nature worked that God had given (the term "laws of nature" is no coincidence, it actually implies a lawgiver -- the term would hardly be understandable from an atheistic background). Also, there is denial of knowledge among some Christians, but not all of them, and most do go to the doctor and not to the miracle healer. The largest Christian demonination, Catholicism, is certainly pro-science in its core, appreciating science as a way to advance knowledge of God's creation and human progress (I know atheists typically will counter with the usual Galileo blahblah, but that was an exception to the rule). And the Catholic chuch has never embraced a YEC literal reading of Genesis.

Second, it is exceedingly naive to believe that once people are non-believers, they will all embrace the rationality of science. Certainly, some will do, but others will exchange religion for new age and other superstitions, and believe in UFOs and such pseudo-scientific stuff like penta-water:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penta_Water

Tony Hoffman said...

“Really? What fantasy world are you living in?”

I don’t want this post to be hijacked, so I’ll respond once to these issues.

I live in a fantasy world where religious advocates challenge the teaching of Evolution in schools. I live in a fantasy world where religious advocates try to circumvent the scientific process and have Intelligent Design taught as a scientific theory. I live in a fantasy world where school boards routinely try to insert pet religious theories into the curriculum. I live in a fantasy world where the majority of professional scientists describe themselves as atheists, not because they have come to find Christianity to be superfluous to science, but contrary to it. So, you know, that fantasy world.

“First of all, science was born from a Christian background -- all the first scientists were believers who wanted to study how the regularities of nature worked that God had given (the term "laws of nature" is no coincidence, it actually implies a lawgiver -- the term would hardly be understandable from an atheistic background).”

Wow. Terrible understanding of the history of science, combined with a disregard of common sense. Have you heard Carrier’s list of ancient Greek contributions to science? It’s awesome what those polytheists figured out, and was lost subsequently lost and devalued by a subsequent Christian culture that preferred the copying of dogmatic tracts over practical, natural knowledge. (Have you ever heard of the Middle Ages? Of religious opposition to smallpox vaccinations? The Scopes Monkey Trial? Dover? And my favorite fact: 33 AD.: Christianity Established. ~1500 short years later: Science is born. Yup, must have been the Christianity.)

http://www.nobeliefs.com/comments10.htm

“Second, it is exceedingly naive to believe that once people are non-believers, they will all embrace the rationality of science.”

Did I say or imply otherwise? I already said above that being an atheist does not mean that I am not biased.

But like I said, not looking to divert from the topic of the OP here.

Do you have an argument for why the Christian is on the same footing as the atheist regarding epistemological consistency? Because it appears all you’ve offered so far is a personal attestation (meaningless), and canards about Christianity and science.

Boz said...

Al Moritz, that is Florence Nightingale's famous Lawgiver Argument.

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=596aLHMtAMIC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA67#v=onepage&q&f=false

Unfortunately, it commits the fallacy of equivocation.

SteveK said...

Tony,
I posted a response days ago but I now see that it isn't here. Not sure what happened. Anyway...

>> An atheist is an atheist, no matter what extraneous label you care to apply.

In the same broad sense that you use it here, it can be said that a theist is a theist. There are different theistic beliefs that go beyond the broad definition of the term, just as there are different atheistic beliefs that go beyond the broad definition of atheism.

You're equivocating, trying to make a point where there is none to be made. Theism and atheism in the broadest sense of their individual meanings are the same everywhere you go. The particular beliefs of theists and atheists differ considerably everywhere you go.

>> There is a unanimity of opinion among atheists of every locale that ia not shared by theists in various locales.

The unanimity of belief among theists is that there exists a personal, creator god. How's that?

>> If you are an atheist, it appears that skeptical, free-thinking people across the globe agree that there is no god.

Hold that thought...21% of atheists believe in God. Too much free-thinking appears to be hazardous to the mind. :)

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK,

I think that the point that atheists can be reduced to those who do not believe in Gods and theists can be reduced to those who believe in a personal, creator God is correct. And if that were all that is at issue then I would have no quibble.

But the problem as I see it, and as the OP addressed, is that a theist is not a theist the world round – that’s where our host here indicated that he would probably either be a fideist (a non-rational theist) or he would not be a theist.

The problem appears to be this: a Christian today thinks it is highly unlikely that, born in another non-Christian culture, she would adopt that culture’s non-christian theism. Whereas an atheist can say that if he were born in another culture, there is no discomfort in declaring that he would most likely adopt that culture’s atheism. The atheist can say, yeah, whatever form of atheism you guys are serving up in some other local and some other time, as far as I can see that’s completely what I agree with, knowing what I know now. Christians today do not have that epistemic shelter for their position, and the uniqueness of their situational beliefs demands explanation.

To repeat: atheists gladly accept the compliment that we would adopt the atheism of other cultures and times, because we feel that our position is justified. Theists must claim that only the theism of their time and culture is the true and correct one, and this is a much harder position to defend.

“You're equivocating, trying to make a point where there is none to be made.”

To equivocate means to purposely use a word or words in order to deceive. Can you please show me how it is that I purposely used a word or words in a deceptive way?

“Hold that thought...21% of atheists believe in God. Too much free-thinking appears to be hazardous to the mind. :)”
Not sure what you mean. I do think that it’s funny, though, that either some atheists are too stupid to know that they’re theists, or some theists are too stupid to know that they’re not atheists. Either way, I think we both should make them their own separate group.:)

SteveK said...

Tony,
I thought the 21% was funny, too.

>> a Christian today thinks it is highly unlikely that, born in another non-Christian culture, she would adopt that culture’s non-christian theism. Whereas an atheist can say that if he were born in another culture, there is no discomfort in declaring that he would most likely adopt that culture’s atheism.

Speculation at best. It's easy to come up with plausible, yet speculative, reasons why this would or would not be the case.

>> To repeat: atheists gladly accept the compliment that we would adopt the atheism of other cultures and times, because we feel that our position is justified. Theists must claim that only the theism of their time and culture is the true and correct one, and this is a much harder position to defend.

The fact that you would gladly accept the cultural atheism of Stalinist Russia tells me you are using a very broad definition of atheism so that they are viewed the same.

So, with that in mind, I too would gladly adopt the theism of all times and cultures if you define it as broadly as you do for atheism. I would adopt their belief in a personal, creator God. Or, if you want to define it this way, I would adopt their lack of belief in atheism.

I made a mistake when I said you were equivocating. Sorry about that. I do think you are comparing apples to oranges.

As to defending theism: Each particular version of theism has to defend its particular beliefs. Some are hard to defend, some not so hard. I think Christianity is one of the easier faiths to defend when you compare it to most others.

Tony Hoffman said...

“Speculation [ that theists assert they would not adopt a different culture’s theism, while atheists are comfortable with atheism wherever it sprouts ] at best. It's easy to come up with plausible, yet speculative, reasons why this would or would not be the case.
”

No, this not speculation. This is the data. The data is that theists overwhelmingly adopt the religion of their culture. The writer of the OP attests that he would not be comfortable as a muslim (the religion of another culture) above. Myself and other atheists are asserting that we, unlike theists, are comfortable with the conclusions of atheism no matter what culture we would find ourselves in. This is the opposite of speculation. This is the data.

“The fact that you would gladly accept the cultural atheism of Stalinist Russia tells me you are using a very broad definition of atheism so that they are viewed the same.”

Yeah, I think this is a category error. Atheism is the lack of belief in gods. Any other cultural, social, moral, etc. values are separate from atheism because atheism offers no direction for values – values must be found outside atheism. (This would be like asking what the rules of non-basketball are.) You can see that this is the case by examining the types of values that atheists hold – Warren Buffett and Peter Singer and Stalin all have very different values, but they all agree that there are no gods. None of them are compelled to accept the others values to agree that there are no gods. This is not the case with Catholics and ancient Greek polytheists, who not only have different values (irrelevant to this discussion) but also have very different views on gods. And it is not the values of the people in other cultures that we are discussing, but their views on the issue of gods.

cont'd

Tony Hoffman said...

“So, with that in mind, I too would gladly adopt the theism of all times and cultures if you define it as broadly as you do for atheism. I would adopt their belief in a personal, creator God. Or, if you want to define it this way, I would adopt their lack of belief in atheism.”

If your first sentence above is true, then you would gladly accept the gods of the Greek Pantheon, the Norse Gods, the god of Mohhammed and Joseph Smith and every other god or gods of every other religion. But I don’t believe that you agree to that. As I said before, whatever values these theists have are irrelevant – the only issue is the type of gods that they believe in.

So the problem remains the same. Atheists, from Buffett to Singer to Dawkins to Russell and, yes, Stalin and Mao and whoever else, all agree that there are no gods. There is no further explication required to gain agreement on this issue – no kind of, what sort of “non-gods” do you not believe in question. Theists may all agree that there is a god or gods, and if that is all that theists believed was required for their belief to be justified, then the theist and the atheist would be on equal epistemological ground. But, as you know, belief in a god or gods is not sufficient (among theists) for a theists views to be deemed correct. And it is the very wide difference of opinion among theists that puts any individual theists views on such incredibly weak epistemic ground.

SteveK said...

Tony,
If, as you say, atheism's only requirement is "a lack of belief in gods", then it follows that it's possible for an atheist to believe everything that Christianity teaches - creation, purpose of mankind, resurrection, virgin birth, fall of man, redemption of man, heaven, hell, etc - and still be an atheist IF only they deny that Yahweh or Jesus is a god. That's the only modification necessary.

Angels and demons - no problem.
Omnipotent beings - no problem.
Miracles - no problem.
Souls - no problem.
Supernatural reality - no problem.

To me, this makes absolutely no sense at all, but that is what you are left with if all it takes to be an atheist is "lack of belief in gods", and nothing more.

Tony Hoffman said...

“If, as you say, atheism's only requirement is "a lack of belief in gods", then it follows that it's possible for an atheist to believe everything that Christianity teaches - creation, purpose of mankind, resurrection, virgin birth, fall of man, redemption of man, heaven, hell, etc - and still be an atheist IF only they deny that Yahweh or Jesus is a go”

Um, Christianity teaches that “A GOD created the universe, that A GOD gives mankind his purpose, that A GOD resurrected himself in the form of Jesus, that A GOD impregnated a virgin, that A GOD cast man out of Eden for reasons I don’t understand, that a GOD lives in heaven, that A GOD… actually, I’m not sure at all what the current Christian teaching is on Hell.” You are seriously confused about atheism and your theism if you think that God is somehow extraneous to the beliefs of Christianity.

You are correct, though, that an atheist could believe in supernaturalism. I think that there are probably plenty of people who are atheists but believe in psychics, for instance. I find the evidence uncompelling for both gods and supernatural events (a term I think is probably incoherent to begin with), but there is no requirement that a belief in, for instance, a mind’s ability to bend spoons entails a belief in gods; there could, for that person, just be a plane of reality that allows minds to bend spoons. I don’t see why this would then mean that there must be a god or gods.

“To me, this makes absolutely no sense at all, but that is what you are left with if all it takes to be an atheist is "lack of belief in gods", and nothing more.”

How does it not make sense to you? How does not believing that gods exist be the only requirement for atheism not make sense? Your objection, to me, makes no sense. (That seems to me like saying “naked” is incoherent because the definition is “To not be wearing any clothes.”)

SteveK said...

Tony,
>> You are seriously confused about atheism and your theism if you think that God is somehow extraneous to the beliefs of Christianity.

Your reminder of what Christianity teaches isn't necessary. I said the atheist only has to modify Christian teaching such that he denies that Yahweh and Jesus are actually God, and that's all it takes to be an atheist. Every thing else about Christianity can remain intact.

The reason this makes no sense to me is that it doesn't play out that way anywhere that I've seen. The atheist complaints about Christianity - or religion in general - that I've seen, rarely, if ever, focus on the one, and only, differentiator - which is, belief in God.

What you're telling me is that 99% of all the blog posts, blog comments and books by atheist's have little to do with atheism proper.

Tony Hoffman said...

"Your reminder of what Christianity teaches isn't necessary. I said the atheist only has to modify Christian teaching such that he denies that Yahweh and Jesus are actually God, and that's all it takes to be an atheist. Every thing else about Christianity can remain intact."

The atheist need only deny that there is sufficient reason to believe in any God to call herself an atheist. I don't know how you would go about modifying Christian teaching so that it doesn't involve any gods, so I am curious what you think remains  intact  from your original  list when God is removed from the equation.

"The reason this makes no sense to me is that it doesn't play out that way anywhere that I've seen. The atheist complaints about Christianity - or religion in general - that I've seen, rarely, if ever, focus on the one, and only, differentiator - which is, belief in God."

Now you seem even more confused. I've heard theists complain that  Dawkins is smug, and that he is a poor philosopher. By your logic above, it should then make no sense to me  that theists actually believe a god.

"What you're telling me is that 99% of all the blog posts, blog comments and books by atheist's have little to do with atheism proper."

You are an atheist when it  comes to the Greek gods, among others. Should everything you write about concern itself with the inability of the Greek gods to show up in real life? In other words, why should atheists confine ourselves to a topic that we think is inherently misguided?

Tony Hoffman said...

Let me say this another way, because it seems to me like you haven't really understood what the Outside Test for Faith means.

I imagine that you like to feel that you've come to your Christianity rationally, that you've  found the one true religion. Now, imagine yourself having been born and raise in ancient Greece. Around you are temples to various gods, monuments, and the constant involvement of the gods is a regular topic in homes and in public. Everyone  knows, for instance, that great events, the careers of people, etc. are affected by godly intervention.

But because you would only come to believe in the one true God (the Christian God), you would  not believe in these Greek gods of your culture. You would see that the stories are unbelievable, and, most importantly, you would see that the gods do not intervene in the ways that they are supposed to have done in the stories from the past. You would understand  that these myths help define your culture, that they communicate certain truths, but you also come to  know that these gods are not real.

That is where we atheists are. We see a commonality across all the religions -- that people across all times and places look for agency, for answers, for explanations -- but we also see that the same reasons you would dismiss the existence of the Greek gods to be the same ones we find the Christian God to be unbelievable. People make stuff up, pass along stores,  and find comfort in stories about gods. But when you apply the same scrutiny to your God, we believe that you will find that he fails under the same criteria that would lead you to dismiss all those other gods you deem false.

SteveK said...

Tony,
>> I don't know how you would go about modifying Christian teaching so that it doesn't involve any gods, so I am curious what you think remains intact from your original list when God is removed from the equation.

- The atheist accepts the creation event as told in Genesis except they think the beings responsible weren't Gods, but merely some mysterious, powerful forces or spirit beings that came before us and still exist today in the spiritual realm.

- The atheist accepts that the above mysterious, powerful force/spirit being somehow caused a new mysterious, powerful spirit being named Jesus to be born of a virgin. This Jesus was fully human and fully spirit, but was not a God.

- The atheist accepts that Jesus somehow performed miracles, was crucified and was bodily resurrected by other spirit beings who are not Gods.

Kooky, yeah. It's full of spirituality and mystery -- but it's 100% atheistic.

It's an extreme hypothetical, I admit. I don't think anyone could justify modifying Christian teaching like this without a valid reason, however there is nothing that is objectionable to atheism proper.

Tony Hoffman said...

"The atheist accepts the creation event as told in Genesis except they think the beings responsible weren't Gods, but merely some mysterious, powerful forces or spirit beings that came before us and still exist today in the spiritual realm."

Well, I can't speak for other atheists, but I think that either of the accounts of creation told in Genesis are obviously made up by primitive men who didn’t know much about cosmology. There’s no reason for me to accept either of them as true.

As for “some mysterious, powerful forces or spirit beings that came before us and still exist today in the spiritual realm,” that is just longhand for “gods,” neither of which are credible. Whether you say “tooth faeries” or “mysterious, mischievous forces or spirit beings that came before us and still exist today in the spiritual realm in order to replace teeth with quarters,” they are both the same kind of gobbledygook.

“The atheist accepts that the above mysterious, powerful force/spirit being somehow caused a new mysterious, powerful spirit being named Jesus to be born of a virgin. This Jesus was fully human and fully spirit, but was not a God.”

I think maybe you are just thinking that atheists don’t like the term “gods,” and that if you replace the term with new ones then we’ll find them acceptable? I think at this point it’s safe for you work with the idea that atheists don’t accept gods as explanations for events, and by gods we mean unexplained, immaterial things for which there is no evidence.

Regarding the virgin birth, etc., these are miraculous events, and miraculous events are, I believe, caused by supernatural beings. Supernatural beings are equivalent to gods for me, so of course I don’t believe in it. As the question goes, “What is more likely? That a God would impregnate a virgin so as to sacrifice himself to himself in order to make himself forgive the creation that he created to make choices that would not please him, or that Jewish vixen would tell a lie?”

“The atheist accepts that Jesus somehow performed miracles, was crucified and was bodily resurrected by other spirit beings who are not Gods.”

Maybe some atheists do. I can’t think of any, but I suppose it’s possible. If by “the atheist” you mean the type of person who doesn’t believe in gods, then I think it’s safe to say that that type of person would find none of your quote above at all plausible.

“It's an extreme hypothetical, I admit. I don't think anyone could justify modifying Christian teaching like this without a valid reason, however there is nothing that is objectionable to atheism proper.”

If you mean that atheists might accept a world where kooky things happen because of supernatural forces, then, no, I don’t believe that person is an atheist, because the cause is the equivalent of gods.

I think it would be handy at this point if I defined what I mean by gods. By gods, I mean beings that exist immaterially, timeless, are personal, and can interact with the material world. As an atheist, I see no good reason to believe that this category of things, no matter what you call it, exists, and I think as defined their existence is impossible. (If you took out timeless or personal I think such a being might be able to exist without contradiction.)

SteveK said...

Tony,
>> By gods, I mean beings that exist immaterially, timeless, are personal, and can interact with the material world.

I hope you can see why I appear to be confused about atheism. It's not as simple as you described before.

According to you, atheism does not object to gods, per se, but to immaterial beings interacting with the material world. It's very misleading to say that atheism is merely lack of belief in god of gods -- and nothing more than that. There obviously is more to it than that. The god can't be a certain kind of god.

But what about gods or spiritual beings that physically exist elsewhere in the universe or in another universe?

According to Wiki, Mormons believes that god is a physical being of flesh and bones.

Can an atheist believe these physical gods exist if they think they have good reasons for believing - and still be considered an atheist?

Tony Hoffman said...

"I hope you can see why I appear to be confused about atheism. It's not as simple as you described before.

According to you, atheism does not object to gods, per se, but to immaterial beings interacting with the material world. It's very misleading to say that atheism is merely lack of belief in god of gods -- and nothing more than that. There obviously is more to it than that. The god can't be a certain kind of god.'

Um, no. You are the one who proposed supernatural beings who live timelessly,etc., in a way that appeared indistinguishable from gods. To try and help you out, I offered a definition of what I thought was comprised in the term "gods," because you seem to think the term is what atheists find objectionable.

"But what about gods or spiritual beings that physically exist elsewhere in the universe or in another universe?"

Right. What about them, exactly? I see no reason to think they exist. What more don't you understand?

"According to Wiki, Mormons believes that god is a physical being of flesh and bones."

I don't care if they think he's made out of cheese. If they can't show any  evidence that he exists I suspend belief in him.

"Can an atheist believe these physical gods exist if they think they have good reasons for believing - and still be considered an atheist?"

I think it depends on all the attributes of what you call a god. Saying a god has hair doesn't make him any more believable when his other attributes are incredible. How is this not obvious to you?

Tony Hoffman said...

Also, any time you want to answer my question about what the real differences are between the greek gods you wouldn't accept and the one you do, I'm curious.

SteveK said...

Tony,
It's confusing because you are making it confusing by definition atheism one way and then constantly revising the definition. I don't care what you believe or don't believe, just give it to me straight.

Looking at the religious landscape, we can see there are supernatural beings / gods that take on many forms and abilities. There are physical beings/gods- some are eternal, some are not eternal. Then there are the non-physical equivalents.

At the end of the day I'm trying to understand if atheism entails lack of belief in all of these beings, or just some of them.

If the answer is all of them, then now I understand that atheism is not just "lack of belief in god or gods". It's also includes non-gods and any non-physical being. I also understand that someone needs to tell Infidels.org to update their website.

Q: Can an atheist believe in unproven, or unscientific realities that don't involve personal beings, and still be an atheist?

Tony Hoffman said...

"It's confusing because you are making it confusing by definition atheism one way and then constantly revising the definition. I don't care what you believe or don't believe, just give it to me straight."

Please show me where I redefined the definition of atheism.

"Looking at the religious landscape, we can see there are supernatural beings / gods that take on many forms and abilities. There are physical beings/gods- some are eternal, some are not eternal. Then there are the non-physical equivalents."

Right, and as someone who believes that none of this is real, it is all meaningless to me.

"At the end of the day I'm trying to understand if atheism entails lack of belief in all of these beings, or just some of them."

At the end of the day, I am trying to understand why you think atheists set out  to not  believe in a category of things and stick to their guns no  matter what, rather than the obvious conclusion that atheist is a term used to describe a group of people who don't believe in any of the gods offered by any theists. It's like me asking you if you don't believe in all tooth faeiries, or just those with dark hair.

"If the answer is all of them, then now I understand that atheism is not just "lack of belief in god or gods". It's also includes non-gods and any non-physical being. I also understand that someone needs to tell Infidels.org to update their website."

?

"Q: Can an atheist believe in unproven, or unscientific realities that don't involve personal beings, and still be an atheist?"

You see, I offered a definition of  gods so that you could better understand my  position. At this point, I think you need to describe or define the unproven, unscientific reality that you believe in. Please, no references -- in your own words, what is the unproven, unscientific reality that you think atheists deny.

Chris said...

Victor,

I used you in my argument about ECREE merely as a placeholder for 'your average theist,' or, if you prefer, 'your average theist who for the sake of argument...' etc. – precisely because I don't know you. (And I was assuming the role of 'average atheist,' not starring as 'myself.') It's obvious that either you or I could in principle be different had we been born in Saudi Arabia - you could've been the atheist and I the devout Muslim, or we both could have ended up as kickboxing homosexual anarchists. And?

My point was not about Victor Reppert, who, from the evidence on his blog, seems like fair-minded and serious fellow, but a general point that there are no non-subjective means for discriminating between supernatural elements of different religions, key word being 'non-subjective.' I don't see any indication of such means in your post.

Tony Hoffman said...

"If the answer is all of them, then now I understand that atheism is not just "lack of belief in god or gods". It's also includes non-gods and any non-physical being. I also understand that someone needs to tell Infidels.org to update their website."

Okay,  so I went on the infidels.org  website. There, they write this:

"It was the original English meaning of "infidels" that we adopted, not the meaning that subsequently became dominant. According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, for example, "infidel" not only means "An unbeliever with respect to a particular religion," but more relevantly to us, "One who has no religious beliefs." In addition, some people undoubtedly find the term "infidels" offensive because they don't understand the correct meaning of the term, erroneously identifying it with something like "adulterers."

Alternative meanings aside, a case could be made that the vast majority of people who find fault with us do not find fault with our choice of words, but with the positions to which those words refer. One might argue that the "humanist" euphemism for the term "atheist," for instance, only eliminates the negative connotations of the word "atheist" at the expense of clarity—by making the position that one advocates murky to believers. For instance, it's doubtful that bus advertisements adorned with the message "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake" would have been more "offensive" simply for having been noticeably sponsored by Atheist Alliance International instead of the American Humanist Association."

Aside from the fact that the word atheist seldom appears, this seems fully in accordance with what I have been writing. Please, tell me, what should  infidels.org update specifically?

SteveK said...

Tony,
>> I am trying to understand why you think atheists set out to not believe in a category of things and stick to their guns no matter what, rather than the obvious conclusion that atheist is a term used to describe a group of people who don't believe in any of the gods offered by any theists.

I get the part that atheists don't believe in any gods offered by theists. I really do, Tony.

You later added non-gods to the list while at the same time reminding me over and over again that "atheists don't believe in any of the gods offered by any theists". Anyone who knows a little about religion will find that confusing.

Why? Because gods are not non-gods, Tony. I expect the atheist community to be careful enough to communicate that effectively. Angles are not gods. They may SEEM like gods to atheists, but they clearly aren't.

So when you keep saying "atheists don't believe in any of the gods offered by any theists", be prepared to get into this discussion over and over again.

SteveK said...

Tony,
>> At this point, I think you need to describe or define the unproven, unscientific reality that you believe in. Please, no references -- in your own words, what is the unproven, unscientific reality that you think atheists deny.

I'm not accusing anyone. I was asking a question so I could understand how far the definition of atheism went.

Some examples:

- can an atheist believe that the number 7 is lucky for them personally and that they can tap into this 'power'?

- can an atheist believe in a non-religious version of the afterlife or non-religious reincarnation?

- can an atheist believe in the non-subjective, non-religious concepts of good/evil?

- can an atheist believe that their life has a non-subjective, non-religious purpose and meaning?

- can an atheist deny solid medical/scientific findings (pick any that you want) and believe contrary to those findings?

Tony Hoffman said...

"You later added non-gods to the list while at the same time reminding me over and over again that "atheists don't believe in any of the gods offered by any theists". Anyone who knows a little about religion will find that confusing. 

Why? Because gods are not non-gods, Tony. I expect the atheist community to be careful enough to communicate that effectively. Angles are not gods. They may SEEM like gods to atheists, but they clearly aren't."

How should  I have any idea what imaginary thing you classify as a god or a non-god? I have asked you for your definition of god, and you have given me nothing. I have no idea  what your point even is. Do you have a point?

"So when you keep saying "atheists don't believe in any of the gods offered by any theists", be prepared to get into this discussion over and over again."

Right, I get it that you're dense then, and that you won't answer basic questions required to move a discussion forward. Sadly, I am familiar with this routine.

"- can an atheist believe that the number 7 is lucky for them personally and that they can tap into this 'power'?

- can an atheist believe in a non-religious version of the afterlife or non-religious reincarnation?

- can an atheist believe in the non-subjective, non-religious concepts of good/evil?

- can an atheist believe that their life has a non-subjective, non-religious purpose and meaning?

- can an atheist deny solid medical/scientific findings (pick any that you want) and believe contrary to those findings?"

My goodness, you're an idiot. Atheism means not believing in any gods. If the questions above  necessarily entail belief in a god (as you define your terms and your definition of a god), then there would be a contradiction in the definition of the word atheist and the terms of your questions. This is no different than asking if a married man can still be a bachelor. If we define the terms the way I understand them, then there is a contradiction. If we define the  terms differently, then maybe not.

Do you have a point? Because this has devolved, yet again, into a waste of time.

SteveK said...

Tony,
>> How should I have any idea what imaginary thing you classify as a god or a non-god?

So you're telling me you know little about the religious notions that you disbelieve and argue so fervently about? I find that very ironic. How about doing some homework on the subject, Tony?

>> If the questions above necessarily entail belief in a god (as you define your terms and your definition of a god), then there would be a contradiction in the definition of the word atheist and the terms of your questions.

They do not entail belief in a god of any kind.

>> Do you have a point? Because this has devolved, yet again, into a waste of time.

I was investigating so to clarify for my own benefit. That is my point.

Q: Knowing that atheism is true (that the god or non-gods of theism don't exist), does any other truth necessary follow from that? If no, then what is the point of arguing that atheism is true?

Tony Hoffman said...

"Tony,
>> How should I have any idea what imaginary thing you classify as a god or a non-god?

So you're telling me you know little about the religious notions that you disbelieve and argue so fervently about? I find that very ironic. How about doing some homework on the subject, Tony?"

You want me to  do some homework on the subject of what you classify as a god or a non-god? That's asinine. Not only can I not  read  your mind, but were I to try and guess at this point I'd have to choose from, among others: the god of classical theology, the God of the Bible,  the countless gods of the polytheists (who seem a lot like demons  and angels to me, and I have no idea why someone would  classify them  as one and not the  other), of the mystical religions, and the amorphous "god" of Spinoza, among so many others. I have no idea which ones you're talking about, and you have,  yet again,  not asked  my most basic questions. (Hint: They usually end with a question mark.) 

Please ask yourself, are you actually asking questions, or are you trying somehow to score points?

">>[Me] If the questions above necessarily entail belief in a god (as you define your terms and your definition of a god), then there would be a contradiction in the definition of the word atheist and the terms of your questions.

They do not entail belief in a god of any kind."

WTF? Then why would you even need to ask if they are  compatible with atheism?!?!?  

">> Do you have a point? Because this has devolved, yet again, into a waste of time.

I was investigating so to clarify for my own benefit. That is my point."

Well, your question above contained its  own  answer, as defined and stated by you. Atheist  = doesn't  believe in any gods. As you subsequently explained, your  questions did not entail belief in a god  of any kind. You appear  to be carrying on a wholly uninteresting conversation  with yourself.

"Q: Knowing that atheism is true (that the god or non-gods of theism don't exist), does any other truth necessary follow from that? If no, then what is the point of arguing that atheism is true?"

One never "knows" that atheism is true. Only only  finds the  evidence for the gods offered thus far to be less plausible (and extraneous) than natural explanations. 

Why do you insist on putting forth the canard that atheism is a truth claim? Do you think that any other  truth necessarily follows from  your claim that the tooth  fairy does not  exist?

SteveK said...

Tony,
>> You want me to do some homework on the subject of what you classify as a god or a non-god?

Seems reasonable enough. Sounds like you'd rather criticize something you know little about.

You're on a Christian blog for heaven's sake, Tony, criticizing Christianity. Is it too much to ask that you get familiar with some of the basics, or, at the very least, ask questions rather than hurl insults because I forgot to brief you on Christianity 101?

>> Please ask yourself, are you actually asking questions, or are you trying somehow to score points?

I'm choosing to ask questions rather than hurl insults and blame you for not telling me what atheism is all about.

>> WTF? Then why would you even need to ask if they are compatible with atheism?!?!?

Crap!! You got me there, Tony. I misread your comment and replied to something you didn't even say or ask. Sorry about that, Tony.

>> One never "knows" that atheism is true. Only only finds the evidence for the gods offered thus far to be less plausible (and extraneous) than natural explanations.

Why do you insist on putting forth the canard that atheism is a truth claim?


I didn't say it was a truth claim, Tony. I was ASSUMING it to be true so I could ask if any other truths followed from that.

Given your tooth fairy comment, I see the answer is, no, there are no other truths that follow from atheism being true.

Why all the fuss about atheism then, Tony? If no other truths follow from atheism being true, then the only thing wrong with me being a theist is that I've probably gotten one fact wrong about reality. I believe my house is green, when it is really blue. Okay, fine. Seems like an awful lot of time and energy is wasted on the atheism campaign.

Tony Hoffman said...

“Me: You want me to do some homework on the subject of what you classify as a god or a non-god?

Seems reasonable enough. Sounds like you'd rather criticize something you know little about.

You're on a Christian blog for heaven's sake, Tony, criticizing Christianity. Is it too much to ask that you get familiar with some of the basics, or, at the very least, ask questions rather than hurl insults because I forgot to brief you on Christianity 101?”

The basics of Christianity depends on who you ask. More so what would constitute a god. I didn’t ask you a question about Christianity, I asked you about a question of definition.

It appears that I know reams more about Christianity than you do about atheism, and knowing about atheism should be very, very simple.

You also say that, at the very least, I should “ask questions rather than hurl insults.” This is a preposterous thing to say, as you have not answered the questions that I have been urging you to ask. Again, what is your point? Do you have a point?

I didn't say it was a truth claim, Tony. I was ASSUMING it to be true so I could ask if any other truths followed from that.”

Do you think that other truths follow from the fact that you believe the tooth fairy does not exist? If so, what are those truths? If not, why would you ask the question of me about atheism?

“Why all the fuss about atheism then, Tony? If no other truths follow from atheism being true, then the only thing wrong with me being a theist is that I've probably gotten one fact wrong about reality. I believe my house is green, when it is really blue. Okay, fine. Seems like an awful lot of time and energy is wasted on the atheism campaign.”

If your beliefs were kept to yourself, and didn’t result in interference in things like science education, etc., then I would agree with you. Your beliefs are your own, and no one can insist that it be otherwise.

Do you think that Christian belief entails nothing? If so, I think atheism becomes a non-issue as well.

Steve said...
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Steve said...

Tony,
>> I didn’t ask you a question about Christianity, I asked you about a question of definition.

A definition of God, right? In Christianity, the Godhead is defined as the trinity - Father, Son, Holy Spirit. One God, three persons. There are no other Gods. All the other spiritual beings are created beings - and there are numerous beings. Satan is a fallen angel, not a God. Is that a good start?

>> This is a preposterous thing to say, as you have not answered the questions that I have been urging you to ask. Again, what is your point? Do you have a point?

Yes. We got sidetracked into this discussion because it became obvious to me that I didn't have a correct understanding of what atheism was. I needed to know this before I could comment further on your point about atheists adopting the atheism of any culture and any time. That is the point of all of this.

You obviously think I'm an idiot, but in my defense, atheists say a lot of the same things and after a while it's difficult to separate the atheism proper from the common rhetoric of atheists. They tend to get lumped together.

>> If not, why would you ask the question of me about atheism?

Because I didn't know and I didn't want to assume an answer. I wanted to ask. Sheesh!!

>> If your beliefs were kept to yourself, and didn’t result in interference in things like science education, etc., then I would agree with you. Your beliefs are your own, and no one can insist that it be otherwise.

Indulge me for a minute as I say something obvious... your commentary is not something that follows from atheism. I know you know that, but my former (incorrect) understanding of atheism proper was not so sure. Why? Because so many atheists say this kind of thing over and over in the context of atheist vs. theist discussions.

Now I know that Dawkins 2-part TV show about religion being the root of all evil was 2 hours of rhetoric that had nothing to do with atheism.

You all seem to have similar opinions of what Theists ought to do with their beliefs -- although I have no idea where you get these opinions.

As I said, now I know that none of this commentary stems from atheism proper, and I thank you, Tony, for helping me correct my understanding of atheism. I mean that sincerely.

Keep this in mind as you traverse the internet. I think you will find other Theists getting confused for the same reason despite your repeated definition of what atheism proper means.

>> Do you think that Christian belief entails nothing? If so, I think atheism becomes a non-issue as well.

Christian belief entails a lot, and the important aspects impact the lives of every individual. That's why it's important to spread the word.

Anonymous said...

The technology is being fussy, Tony. That previous comment was from me, SteveK.

Tony Hoffman said...

"A definition of God, right? In Christianity, the Godhead is defined as the trinity - Father, Son, Holy Spirit. One God, three persons. There are no other Gods. All the other spiritual beings are created beings - and there are numerous beings. Satan is a fallen angel, not a God. Is that a good start?"

Right, I was mostly curious what you would define as gods in general, because this definition is the thing against which I suppose you would subsequently form your definition of atheism. If you think the only correct definition of a god is the Christian one, then it sounds like you would define atheism as being only a disbelief in the Christian god. So I would imagine that you, like believers in all other religions, feel that atheism singles out your god for non-belief. This is probably the crux  of the problem with the word atheist, as believers seem to feel that their brand of gobbledygook is the only one  that atheists disbelieve, whereas atheists (rightly, in my opinion) feel that these gods, spirits, demons, angels, sprites, pixies, faeries, etc., all share more in common than they do in difference -- namely, they are puted to have agency, but they fail testing and prediction, and their existence is extraneous to what we experience. For me, as an atheist, the Godhead and a pixie are identical to my disbelief, in that they fail testing and prediction, and they are extraneous (have no effect which cannot be accounted for by material existence.)

"Because I didn't know and I didn't want to assume an answer. I wanted to ask. Sheesh!!"

This was in response to my question if you thought that other truths came from your disbelief in the tooth fairy. This is not a question I have the answer to -- only you know if you think that other truths come from  your  disbelief in the tooth fairy. Please answer that question.

"Indulge me for a minute as I say something obvious... your commentary is not something that follows from atheism. I know you know that, but my former (incorrect) understanding of atheism proper was not so sure. Why? Because so many atheists say this kind of thing over and over in the context of atheist vs. theist discussions."

I am curious; what "kind of thing" do atheists say over and  over in these discussions. I sincerely  don't know what you mean.

SteveK said...
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SteveK said...
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SteveK said...

Tony,
>> I was mostly curious what you would define as gods in general, because this definition is the thing against which I suppose you would subsequently form your definition of atheism.

Prior to knowing the finer details of Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, I would have said God is a unmoved mover, first cause, creator, supreme being with a different nature (essence) than all other beings. That general description likely fits several forms of theism.

>> For me, as an atheist, the Godhead and a pixie are identical to my disbelief, in that they fail testing and prediction, and they are extraneous (have no effect which cannot be accounted for by material existence.)

Such is the faith of an atheist. I can go on and on about why I disagree with this, but I won't do that here. Your "religion" is materialism. I lack belief in the nature of matter/energy to produce some of what we see today.

>> This is not a question I have the answer to -- only you know if you think that other truths come from your disbelief in the tooth fairy. Please answer that question.

I'll skip the tooth fairy example. In my mind, disbelief is the conclusion one reaches after going through a process of investigation. That process is governed by the worldview you have - your understanding of how reality is.

The truth that comes as a result of your disbelief is this: answers to some questions must be found in something or someone else.

I disbelieve materialism so the truth that follows is that answers to some questions must be found in something other than materialism.

>> I am curious; what "kind of thing" do atheists say over and over in these discussions. I sincerely don't know what you mean.

I'm generalizing here, so not every atheist says stuff like this, but it's very common to hear. Things like:
a) nature is all there is.
b) all of nature is predictable and testable by empirical means. God and the supernatural are not either, so we can't know if they exist.
c) morals are the expression of personal desire. There are no moral absolutes.
d) all life is fully explained by the "stuff" found in our universe - usually matter and energy (from a and b).
e) miracles are not possible (from a and b).
f) religious beliefs are the result of culture and upbringing (from a and b).

I think these comments stem from a common materialistic worldview that ultimately leads people to accept atheism.

Tony Hoffman said...

“Prior to knowing the finer details of Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, I would have said God is a unmoved mover, first cause, creator, supreme being with a different nature (essence) than all other beings. That general description likely fits several forms of theism.”
 
The question was, "What would you define as 'gods'?" not what is the approximate definition  of the god of classical (Christian) theology. 
 
“Your "religion" is materialism. I lack belief in the nature of matter/energy to produce some of what we see today.”
 
You seem unwilling to accept the notion that an absence of belief in things religious could simply make one irreligious. (I am not a materialist, btw --I believe that materialism rules out the possibility of existence of anything outside the material world, and I am not sure about that.) I consider the labeling of atheism as a form of religion to be a kind of bigotry.
 
For instance, you do not believe in the tooth fairy. By the comment of your logic above, I could state that ‘Your superstition is parental mischief.’ Labels, like religion and superstition mean something, and applying them to those beliefs that expressly disavow them is silly.
 
“I'll skip the tooth fairy example…. The truth that comes as a result of your disbelief is this: answers to some questions must be found in something or someone else.”
 
That's not a truth that follows from a lack of belief in something, that's the result of not having an answer to a question. You are exhibiting a kind of muddled thinking that confuses the inability to provide an explanation with the existence of a certain type of answer. This is the good old fashioned argument from  ignorance, and it's probably the most common Christian fallacy.




 

Anonymous said...

test

SteveK said...
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SteveK said...

i can't get my comment to stick, except this one it seems. frustrating!!!

SteveK said...

After 20+ attempts, I'm giving up. Sorry, Tony. Why does THIS comment post, but not the one I want?? Blogger is crap!