What to do with this information? Christians and atheists really aren’t all that different. But is a list an argument? Perhaps this is just a variant on the Flying Spaghetti Monster approach. But just because we might agree that Angus Og doesn’t exist as a god doesn’t mean that “our” God doesn’t exist. Why have I just capitalized God? Is that a tacit acknowledgement that “God” deserves as much respect as all of these other gods? Is the Christian god as provable as all of the other gods?
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48 Replies to “Christian Beliefs vs. Atheist Beliefs”
Welll, the arguements for gods existance all boil down to faith- which is the same thing believers in those gods used.
…is a list an argument?
No. No argument is necessary. This list is just a statement of fact.
…just because we might agree that Angus Og doesnâ€™t exist as a god doesnâ€™t mean that â€œourâ€ God doesnâ€™t exist.
HAHAHAHAHA. Wait. You ARE being ironic. Right?
@Mike – No, wasn’t being ironic. Why do you ask?
Um… Cuz it is?
It’s egregious special pleading, no?
I honestly could not tell if you were making a joke, or if you were being serious. Actually I’m still not sure.
Egregious special pleading? No, just using reverse reasoning to raise questions. But yes, completely serious questions. The premise is that the Christian God isn’t epistemologically different from the rest of the gods on that list. Do you disagree with the premise?
We need sound effects for the word “special”. I’m thinking ghostly noises.
Ignoring the fact that I don’t really know the definition of the word epistemologically, and the fact that I’m not familiar with the specific properties of all the gods on the list, I do not disagree. In general, I see no difference among gods, that would cause one to be more believable than another.
Oh, nice hat BTW. ;-)
Ah, sorry – epistemology is the philosophical study of how we know we know,trying to determine what is knowledge and how we decide what’s meaningful.
Anyway, glad we agree :)
I should wear the hat more often.
Atheism and Deism both require faith – one that there is no deity, and the other that there is. Neither position can be proven, using tools humans have.
But human beings spend a remarkable amount of time in conflict with other human beings, and use religion as an excuse. Usually it’s not the concept of ‘god’ that’s at stake. Rather, it’s a culture clash and religious difference is the casus belli. Look, for example, at the middle east. As a Canadian of western European descent, Judaism and Islam don’t look too different to me. Monotheistic, “personal” God, expectation that the whole community will share the religion, similar moral structures … what’s the difference between the two, really?
Teugif – I reject the idea that atheism is a form of faith, or that it is the “other side of the coin” from theism.
Atheists, like scientists, are committed to the process of discovery and self-questioning. Science changes its paradigm when evidence points in another direction. This is the opposite of faith and religion, which hold fast to things that can’t be proven no matter what facts indicate. Science and reason are in a constant process of re-invention on the approach toward truth. They are non-dogmatic by definition.
I can agree with you, in a detached intellectual sort of way, Scot, that atheism doesn’t require “faith that God doesn’t exist.” But I have to be true to what I perceive, and what I experience belies the intellectual acrobatics.
All the atheists I have ever met are just as dogmatic and evangelical, while they *plead* reason and scientific inquiry, as the Christians, Muslims, Jews, Eckankar and Baha’i followers of my acquaintance. That is to say, somewhere on the continuum from not-so-bad to very-annoying. They’ve even given themselves a Name now: Bright. They sell books to spread their religion of godlessness, and do interviews on the television and radio. They associate and meet together.
[www.atheists.org] That looks like a faith group to me.
To suspend judgement pending evidence is science. To declare the non-existence of things unsought (worse: things honestly experienced by others) is not science.
All the atheists I have ever met are just as dogmatic and evangelical…as the Christians… …That is to say, somewhere on the continuum from not-so-bad to very-annoying.
Well I for one, do consider myself evangelical in the sense that in some areas, I feel my views represent truth, and I wish to persuade others to see this truth. Yes, religious people do this too, and yes, to some (especially those who disagree), it can be annoying. But this is simply not synonymous with dogma or faith. Just because in-your-face evangelism often accompanies dogma, doesn’t mean the two are necessarily linked. You’re confusing passion and strong conviction with truthfulness.
Those lists remind of something I’ve read by Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins or someone similar who asks a Christian if they believe in gods like Zeus and argues that said Christian is an atheist to the vast majority of gods, and they are simply an atheist with regard to one more god or pantheon of gods, i.e. Jehovah/Jesus.
I’m an atheist and I don’t have faith in my position. I perform no rituals and perform no acts of worship, and am glad indeed to not have to devote any time to such activities. I don’t need to have faith in atheism, as in my day-to-day life, I see nothing and experience nothing that remotely suggests the existence of a supernatural plane of existence or of supernatural entities such as gods– I say this as someone who, when younger, had and pursued spiritual experiences, and eventually came to the conclusion eventually that such experiences are of natural origin and can be induced in many ways — for instance, when participating in a group experience (church, etc.) where the group is having their individual “R-spots” artfully stimulated by an adept religious or spiritual conductor (“R-spot” is my metaphor for the part of a person’s psyche that, when stimulated in the right way, produces a religious or spiritual experience).
It’s an uncommon atheist who actually calls themselves a Bright, a term invented a few years ago that has not proved to be very popular. AFAIK, atheists calling themselves skeptics are much more readily found.
“They sell books to spread their religion of godlessness, and do interviews on the television and radio.” That’s called marketing, advocacy, activism and earning a living.
Do atheists associate and meet together? That’s quite a categorical statement. My guess is that most don’t and are probably isolated in their position, but sure, people like to hang out with others who see the world in a similar way if the opportunity is there. I personally never pursued the company of other atheists until very recently. I’ve seen many references in the media to polls concluding that atheists are a disliked and distrusted group, and that there is a snowball’s chance in hell of an atheist becoming President of the USA. Some atheists report needing to “come out” as an atheist to religious family members, friends and business associates, an experience as fraught with anxiety and the risk of rejection as the “coming out” experiences of countless gay and lesbian people.
Scot, here’s a link you might get some amusement from:
I’m dropping in to acknowledge that I’m still reading the thread, but I have nothing more to add. I’m not sure what “truthfulness” is, and I can’t discuss an issue as broad as this one without collapsing into generalization, hence the “categorical statement.”
Good posts, from all.
Some atheists have problems with the word “Bright” because, they think it means that we are saying we are smarter than theists, and they do not want to come off as condescending. I understand that, but I think that deference is misplaced. Theists have no problem being condescending, and use many similar words such as “enlightened”. I don’t think that atheists are smarter than theists, in fact, the necessity of the complexity of some apologetics requires some impressive mental gymnastics!
My personal reason for referring to myself as a Bright, is twofold. First, I had an Atheist friend who told me he adjusted auras. I immediately felt I needed a more encompassing term, than simply “atheist”. For me it’s not about god belief, it’s about reason andf truth. Second, I think that those of us who don’t believe in woo woo, need to step up and provide the kinds of social safty nets from the poor, that religions are so good at providing. That way, religion is not only no longer necessary, but the poor no longer have to endure the preaching to get the help they need.
So yes, Brights are less common than atheists, but I’d like to see more atheists who also reject other woo woo, not just the god one, and I’d like to see more atheists involved in volunteer work to help the less fortunate.
Iâ€™m not sure what â€œtruthfulnessâ€ is, and I canâ€™t discuss an issue as broad as this one without collapsing into generalization.
Just “that which is true” Teugif. You already collapsed into generalization when you said that “All the atheists I have ever met are just as dogmatic…”. I’m simply trying to show why that isn’t true.
Dogma consists of things that are believed without regard to truth. Truth is just “that which is representative of our objective reality” I was simply pointing out that this is separate and distinct from evangelism, to which I pleaded guilty. The problem Teugif, is Dogma. Atheists, as a group, are not dogmatic. Not to say there aren’t some, but the vast majority of us follow the evidence wherever it leads. This is how truth is found, and dogma is dumped.
“First, I had an Atheist friend who told me he adjusted auras. I immediately felt I needed a more encompassing term, than simply â€œatheistâ€.” and “Brights are less common than atheists, but Iâ€™d like to see more atheists who also reject other woo woo, not just the god one…”
If you want to discover hordes of atheists who reject auras and other woo-woo, start reading publications like the Skeptical Inquirer or Skeptic magazine, listen to some skeptic-oriented podcasts such as http://www.theskepticsguide.org/ or http://www.skepticality.com/index.php, visit James Randi’s JREF web forum: http://forums.randi.org/forumindex.php , or visit the Skeptic’s Guide forum: http://skepchick.org/skepticsguide/
I understand that most atheists are also pretty good at figuring out other B.S., and I’m familiar with all those groups. My point is just that for me, the word “atheist” just wasn’t enough. It’s a word to say what I’m not, not what I am. I do consider myself a skeptic of course, but not dogmatically so. Some people are skeptical without regard to evidence, and may dismiss things that are in fact true. I realize this is not the standard way “skeptic” is used, but the “man-on-the-street”, who is unfamiliar with “skeptics” doesn’t know that, and might think “skeptics” dogmatically don’t accept anything. Do you see what I mean?
I’m sorry that looks like faith to you. It’s not faith, though. It’s the absence of.
So you believe that fairies are real since you can’t prove they don’t exist? Science doesn’t say “We know fairies aren’t real.” It says “There is no evidence of fairies whatsoever, so it’s nonsense to behave as if they may be real.” Huge difference.
@Larry – Amusing link, thanks :)
@Mike – Interesting anecdote about your atheist friend who adjusts auras. I take care to emphasize that atheism does not exclude spirituality. But that spirituality shouldn’t be diluted (polluted?) by claims about metaphysical “realities” that can’t be proven. You have to take care here – we can’t discount the possibility that your friend really does see auras and can adjust them. I have no problem with someone saying they have any particular subjective experience. My only issue is in generalizing from personal subjective truths to Truth Claims about “what is.” If your friend didn’t do that, I could still feel comfortable calling him a spirtual atheist, without that being a contradiction in terms.
“You have to take care here – we canâ€™t discount the possibility that your friend really does see auras and can adjust them. I have no problem with someone saying they have any particular subjective experience. ”
I have no problem with saying that this particular person is deluded. :-)
Searching for gods? Sounds like a blind man in dark room searching for a black cat which is not there?
(Someone, long time ago)
“…we canâ€™t discount the possibility that your friend really does see auras and can adjust them….”
I couldn’t agree more. In fact, because this is a person that I trust and know well, it caused cognitive dissonance for me. I do believe he was being honest and candid, BUT he bristled a bit at my probing for explanation. He seemed oddly unwilling to entertain any explanations. Perhaps due to being ridiculed for it out of hand, and I must admit to being shocked and incredulous to this revelation myself. So my explanation for referring to myself as a Bright has to do with the dismissing of scientific exploration, not the statment of having the experience. As I said, this is why I don’t want to primarily identify as a “skeptic”. Sorry I wasn’t clear.
So I’ve thought about my friend’s assertion about auras with fascination over the years, and I now, after hearing R.S. Ramachandran’s talk about synesthesia, I started to wonder if it was possible that a person could “see” an aura around someone, and if that aura would change appaerance based on that person’s perception of the other person’s mood. Thoughts anyone?
Someone mentioned Atheists being more aggressive in conversion than Atheists, I have to agree.
I myself am an Atheist, but I’m respectful or religion and I don’t go around telling people I am an atheist. Over the years, I’ve had a number of people forcefully argue with me in favor of atheism. I find such people quite annoying. On the other hand, I’ve never run into anyone who personally tried to convert me to a religion. Evangelical Atheists need to get a hold on themselves because they risk making the rest of us Atheists look like jerks.
Bruce, I’d say that would put you in a fairly tiny minority. Almost everyone has at some point encountered someone who tried to convert them to a religion. You never had Mormons knock on your door? And what about the entire history of Missionaries… ostensibly there to help but really there to convert entire civilizations to a new religion.
Well, this thread is two years old, but what the heck, I’ll bite.
It always makes me smile when people get so offended at simple discussion. The word you use “conversion” doesn’t describe this kind of discussion. The point is, that we all have beliefs, but they aren’t all true. For people who CARE about if what they believe is true, these discussions often expose misconceptions, and help to increase the truthfulness of all our beliefs.
You say you have never run into [a theist] who tried to convert you to a religion. You must either live in a cave, or you are a sock puppet Atheist.
BTW, you’ve never heard of an Atheist fly a plane into a building for a belief either have you. We have to talk some sense into those who would do evil for a fantasy. If the fight against evil makes me a jerk, I wear your ad-hominem badge proudly.
Wow. The thread returns!
Reading back through the various comments, there’s a higher degree of civility in this conversation than in many.
“All the atheists I have ever met are just as dogmatic” was NOT a generalization. It was a true statement of my experience.
And … about the fairies … I would continue to suspend judgement pending evidence, especially if someone worthy of high respect for other accomplishments genuinely held the opinion based on their personal experience that they do indeed exist.
Looks like sock-puppet Bruce was just a drive by ;-)
From the definition of dogma (feel free to look it up):
“Dogma… is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from. ”
Atheism is, by definition, NOT dogmatic. Atheists subscribe to the scientific method, which is all about questioning reality. Scientists will re-evaluate their world view based on new evidence. “Oh, the Earth is not at the center of the universe? So be it.” Scientists can look at evidence and change their world view. This is the opposite of the religious world view, which adheres to a position regardless how much evidence contradicts it.
Ipso facto, atheists are not dogmatists. They may argue forcefully, but they argue from reason, not from dogma. Critical difference.
Scot, I think it’s pushing it a bit to state absolutely that atheists subscribe to the scientific method. I’m sure there are many people who are atheists for much more emotional or instinctive reasons than that.
Interesting thought Larry. I can only say that all the atheists I know feel compelled toward atheism by reason, not emotion. But I’m sure you’re right, that for some atheists it’s an emotional thing. But even they wouldn’t count as dogmatists!
If I wanted to split hairs, I could also assert that reason and the scientific method are not synonymous. The key is in how much credence people give to overwhelming, difficult-to-deny evidence, which can have little to do with science. It can just be plain old day-to-day reality testing or perception trusting. It can take a lot of effort to embrace that which is counter-intuitive or contradictory to one’s upbringing or community’s assumptions about reality.
I think Larry is right though. theism is a particular belief. Not having that belief requires no particular method, or “anti-belief”
To emphacize my previous point, consider that you do not have a belief in a god you’ve never heard of. This require no effort or thought on your part.
shacker said: “This is the opposite of the religious world view, which adheres to a position regardless how much evidence contradicts it.”
Is that indeed the “religious worldview”? There are many people of faith who apply rigorous standards to the search for truth. A few who come immediately to mind: Julius Wellhausen, Rudolph Bultmann, Westcott and Hort, Erasmus, and Bruce Metzger. These are all men who considered themselves faithful christians, but who took the application of new learning to their studies of the scriptures, and pushed the boundaries outward, because the evidence demanded intellectual honesty. You’ve created a caricatured religious worldview and then set it up against yours.
Reason and evidence are two very different things which is why the scientific method and reason aren’t similar. Also day to day testing is simply a less rigorous form of the scientific method. Think of it as the difference betweens Newton’s Laws and Einstein’s. They both work for situation we generally experience, but Newton’s breaks down for more extreme conditions.
But did they apply the standards consistently? The answer is no- they didn’t apply it to their belief in the existance of God, merely the doctrine of their religion.
Whoa. Great discussions (at least from the recent comments that I read. There are a lot so I skipped to the bottom!). I can’t resist contributing. It has my mind cranking.
In this discussion I keep coming back to C.S. Lewis whom, as an Atheist who became a Christian, did so because he eventually found something profound in the Anglican Church that was missing from his life: Truth. He found Truths in the stories contained within Scriptures and the traditions of the Church that were profound and did not exist elsewhere. These Truths led him to Faith. And, his Faith led him to write profoundly about the Truths that he saw within these old stories, and shared them within the creation of his own stories. Dare I say it? Yes. He found Truth in Fiction, and human beings have found Truths in Fiction, Lore, Legends, Parables, et al. since the dawn of time. The fallacy of Christians, as a people of Faith, is to declare their Truths as Facts. They are not Facts, but Principles.
Gilbert, I understand what you are saying. I’ve found much truth in fiction, mythology, parables, etc., which express in story form observations about human nature and the world we live on. What I personally find as the key reason I am an atheist is that I’ve seen nothing that suggests there is any actual thing as real magic or a supernatural, paranormal or divine aspect to reality; those qualities are purely manifestations of human hopes, emotion, cognition and consciousness, the product of our brains and bodies. In the past, I’ve fervently wished there was magic, and I came to this conclusion reluctantly, but once I embraced this idea and did sufficient research (reading, etc.) to satisfy my need to understand, so many things about my life and the human condition became clear, or de-mystified.
Gilbert, I also understand what you are saying, but there is a fundamental problem with your thesis. Saying “He found truth in scripture”, is an ambiguous statement. It is ambiguous because we must agree on the particular definition of the word truth in this context. We all know that words have multiple meanings, and this property of language is commonly used state one thing, while implying another. As Larry says, there are “truths” to be found in fiction. Clearly stated, there can be “truth” found in things which are non-factual. But these “truths” are not “true”, as in “factual”. These “truths”, are general principals in which we find emotionally satisfiing. That is not the primary definition of “truth”, which is that which is factually accurate.
This makes sense in light of CS Lewis’ view. Although he did call himself an atheist, if you read his thoughts, it is clear that his reason for being and atheist was because he couldn’t understand why god made the world which is so seemingly cold and uncaring. Belief itself is implicit in these thoughts.
So in spite of what he called himself, he believed in god, but “could not believe that god would do things in the way he did”. More accurately stated, “he could not understand why god would do things in the way he did”. His conversion from atheism came at the same time it does for most of us. When we are young and we are taught about the beliefs of our local culture. He struggled with squaring reality with those beliefs, and ultimately succumbed to the culture.
I agree with Mike on the difference between little-t truth and big-T Truth, where the former is truth in the sense of an unprovable conviction (true for me) and provable facts (true for all of us). And I agree that religion can provide little-t truth to anyone who wants it. Where it breaks down is that, in my view, all religions provide little-t truths, but few of them admit it – most insist that they’re dealing with big-T Truths, which implies that they’re Right and everyone else is Wrong. Next thing you know, we’ve got the Crusades and 9-11.
I wonder why this distinction is so hard for religious people to make. It seems that if every religious person could see their religion as merely “true to them”, most problems that come with religion would simply vanish.
Tangentially related (and connected to Lewis), I also wonder why most religions insist that their god is perfect, which leads automatically to questioning why the world is how it is. Why is it so hard to imagine an imperfect creator? Then you wouldn’t have to spend millenia wondering why god allows suffering in the world. In fact, the notion of an imperfect creator would explain so much.
However, I personally still find it silly that we feel compelled to imagine a creator at all. Seems like nothing but anthropomorphic projection to me.
Sorry Shacker, thanks for the kind words, but I reject the term “little -t Truth” specifically because of this ambiguity. I don’t think it’s enough to try not to confuse the two. If we really want to understand each other, and avoid Crusades and 9-11s, we should use language more precisely. Using the word “truth” to refer to things that have messages that we find culturally or morally comfortable is NOT truth. It is opinion. Lets not call it truth anymore, because it isn’t what truth really is.
What C.S. Lewis found, was NOT truth. What he found was comfort and the ability to accept what he was told IN SPITE of the truth of reality that had previously caused the cognitive dissonance that would have led a more rational man to actually accept the non-existance of the deity from the stories he already believed.
Larry, Scot, and Mike – I can understand all of the points made, but one. I have never understood the logic of Atheists that violence and war would largely (even completely) disappear if religion did not exist; if we all just stop pretending that God existed. I also strongly disagree with it. I think a strong thesis is that humanbeings, under the right conditions, will naturally turn to violent acts. While religion has and will facilitated violence, it does not do so exclusively within human history. Furthermore, chimpanzees have been observed at war with one another, even engaging in what would amount to what we consider genocide. Last I checked, chimpanzees don’t wear funny pope hats or bear St. George’s Cross. The same observations can be made throughout the animal kingdom, which would suggest something much darker within our species than mere religion.
Why has this statement of logic, the connection between religion and war, been so commonly brought up by Atheists? It appears with such frequency that it appears to be the most popular Atheist conviction, and not at all inline with Atheism’s principle of applying the scientific method as the litmus test for everything. Can you help me understand this conviction more clearly?
Mike: Is this a true statement or not: “Scot is in love with his wife.”
I would venture that it is absolutely true. But we cannot prove it, nor can we define love. That doesn’t stop it from being true. In fact, the most important things in life don’t fit into fact buckets. Maybe our language needs another way to distinguish little-t truth (love) from big-T truth (the cup is on the table), but I don’t think that’s going to happen, so for now we get by by distinguishing between types of truth.
Gilbert: While it is true that some wars are not fought over religion, it is certainly true that most wars are. Of course the presence or absence of religion wouldn’t stop all war, robbery, rape, etc. But it would certainly eliminate the root cause of much human disagreement.
But I prefer to look at it another way: If religious people were able to see their own religion as little-t truth, it would lead to a live and let live philosophy instead of one of missionary postures or the attempt to eradicate cultures. Religion can’t be eliminated, nor should it be. But the mistaken belief that one’s own religion is True can be accomplished, and would have tremendous benefit to civilizations around the world.
I’ve never subscribed to the idea that religions are the primary impetus behind warfare and violence in human history, and that if humans abandoned belief in deities, all would be hunky dory. I think human aggression is just part of our biology, and can be manipulated by ruthless leaders with grandiose visions who somehow have the authority, charisma, tactical intelligence or rhetorical skill to command a following. Such people can costume themselves as politicians, religious leaders, business people, prominent intellectuals, military leaders, monarchs, celebrities, dictators, nationalist figures or whatever else you can think of in the modern world or further back in human history. Like villagers running with torches ablaze after an alleged Frankenstein’s monster (or Ground Zero “mosque”), whoever can successfully ignite passions in credulous people and point their finger at a threat to be annihilated can leave big bloody, ugly marks on the world. The relationship between religious people and the leaders they embrace is a particularly potent connection to exploit–if you worship your local form of sacred and your local religious professionals are representatives and interpreters of the sacred, doubting and disobeying can have awful consequences. I think the value of skeptics and atheists questioning out loud the cores of religious beliefs is to sow the seeds of healthy doubt, irreverence and critical thinking, which I feel the human race can only benefit from. Being able to see bullshit of any kind for what it is and not get suckered by it or propogate it is something I’ve embraced as an ideal. If that means not being religious or spiritual, not applauding religious people as having a moral advantage over me, and being considered a weirdo or dangerous person by a large percentage of Americans, I can live with that. :-)
It actually turns out to be pretty difficult to measure whether a war is fought over religion or not. Many war leaders cloak themselves in religion to sow hatred of “the other” and to give their followers a feeling of righteousness (for having “god on their side”) when in fact the actual war is about something else entirely. The cause of a war can be in the eye of the beholder.
Good BBC article on this topic.
Thanks for the link to the BBC article, Scot. It looks like our views on things are in tune. :-)
Religion is pretty unlikely to cause many wars- mostly because in the past when it was most likely killing people to take their stuff was much higher on the motivation list. Bad things caused by religion tend more to be internal social issues.
Actually we can. Love simply means that you value another individuals feelings and desires to a very high degree and derive enjoyment from being around them. We can see if you love another person by how much you are willing to give up in order to be with them and/or insure their happiness. We generally don’t put it this way because it sounds so… clinical.
Except for 9/11. And the Crusades. And missionaries wiping native religions around the world. And the Gaza Strip. And so on.
You’ve given us your definition of love. That is different from fact. We’re talking about the difference between the world of facts and the world of thoughts/feelings. I’m not diminishing the importance of thoughts and feelings – they may be the most important thing after all. But we cannot agree on them. We cannot prove them. They are not facts. Just as gods are not facts.