Category Archives: Debating and Discussions

Conversations with Friends: Possibly the Saddest Thing I’ve Read in a While

This friend is someone I haven’t known very long, but he is a seminary student, and I was drawn to his facebook page by the open discussion he has with theists and atheists alike about various topics.

I’ll call him CW.

His status updates often entailed provocative statements.  He never deleted or moderated dissenting opinions and seemed to welcome open debate.  This seemed like a good outlet for my desire to discuss religion with others so I joined in a few discussions.

They were good.  The first few were about hell and the Bible and God, and many of his friends were skilled at apologetics.  One quick thing I noticed about CW is that he was quick to ignore large statements I had made detailing an error in thought he had, and simply asserting that I had it wrong, or didn’t understand at all.

This puzzled me.

If I had it wrong, that’s unfortunate, but please point out specifically where I am wrong.  He never could.  One of the worst such occasions was “read your Bible”.  That’s it.  Implying that I had never read the bible or didn’t understand it, and this his understanding was superior, all without demonstrating it.

I felt that things we going well when CW was taking historical bible classes from seminary.  He was learning a lot of things that I had already studied that were quite damaging to Christianity. The fact that the bible was likely not a literal transcribing of events.  That the Torah was likely not written by Moses, nor was it likely that Moses ever existed in the first place.

Things were getting interesting on his facebook page as he espoused some of his professor’s teachings.  It made some of the bible literalists on his page squirm.  My friend was smart and I assumed that he was taking this knowledge in with the thirst for understanding that I knew he possessed.

But then something truly depressing happened.

I was distraught for almost a day over this.  In one fell swoop, in one facebook status, he basically denounced everything his seminary professors had taught him in deference to “the God he knew to exist”.  “How can anyone believe in a God that is weak like this” he said.  As profound as that statement was, he failed to reach the natural conclusion of that statement.  Oh, he denied belief in that God, but he embraced his own version of God, completely unsupported by anything other than what he believed to be true about his God.

“Blind faith at it’s worst”  I commented shortly after.  I was upset, and I didn’t feel like hiding my distain for what had just happened.  This is the faith that is so damaging.

When reality sharply presses against your faith, you can either let it be squashed, or you can pull it away and protect it, ignoring reality completely.   

When this happened with my friend, we had heated words.  We both apologized, but he concluded that “I have just finally come to the conclusion that faith is not something someone comes to by an ascent of the mind.”

And that was that.  The conversation is over.

To learn that there are people, smart people, in this world that will decide that furthering their understanding of a subject is not worth it if it threatens what they believe.  That knowledge is somehow evil, stemming from the Garden of Eden perhaps.

This is the true power of faith.  The true evil of it.  Convincing you that your own mind, and the minds of other rational people are the true enemy.

This was a wake up call for me.  Through my studies, I assumed that everyone would accept my position if I presented it in the way that I had learned it.  If we carved away all but true statements.  If we followed those true statements to their logical conclusions.  My reasoning is sound so this should be a simple matter of explanation.

Boy, was my bubble burst.  I was depressed about CW, who had lost something very valuable.  His mental vigor.  But I was more depressed about something else.

I had failed.

I did something wrong.  I didn’t explain something correctly, or maybe I derailed a part of the conversation.

But, in a few days after reading the conversation again and again I realized that I hadn’t failed.  There is nothing you can do against certain mindsets.  The mindset that “I can’t be wrong about this one thing” is something you can’t win.  I couldn’t have failed because there was no way to succeed in the first place.

This is something CW will have to come to without my prodding.  That faith isn’t a path to truth.  Believing something really hard, so hard that it’s above any criticism is irrational, and often leads to false conclusions.

I set my sights on the horizon though.  Maybe this wasn’t a loss, but a push.  And even if it is a loss, it’s not a reflection on my poor arguing skills or faulty logic.

And even if it were my fault, even if I drove this man into stubbornness, skepticism is growing worldwide.  I side with the Beatles:

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The Marketplace of Ideas: Show Me Yours and I’ll Show You Mine

The post I wrote earlier tonight originally started as a big giant rant, but in writing it, I found that my ideas would be better communicated by splitting them up by subject.  Here is the second subject I had in mind.

I am a big fan of the marketplace of ideas.  You show me your ideas.  I’ll show you mine.  Let’s see whose sound the best.

To use a poker analogy.  You have your hand.  I have mine.  We can bet all we want, but if we really believe in our hand, I mean really believe in it enough to not get bullied out of the hand by overenthusiastic betting, then at the end of the day, we’ve gotta lay our cards down and see who has the winning hand.

In my conversations believers aren’t willing to do this.  They are either completely unwilling to showdown their entire hand (“I just believe I have the winning hand and you can’t convince me otherwise.  It’s just a matter of faith”), or they will show most of their cards, but claim to hold tight to the cards that actually “make” their hand.  They’ll show you the 7, 3, and J while claiming they still have two aces left that they aren’t going to show.  They will claim with absolute certainty to have the winning hand.

Maybe they actually do, maybe they don’t.  Who’s to say?

But there’s a lot to be said for why they wouldn’t be willing to show their cards in the first place.  If they actually do have the winning hand, what’s the harm of showing?  If their faith will actually stand up to the fire, why protect it?

I would say there are three distinct possible answers:

1.  They know that they aren’t the best cards.  This is possible, but unlikely.  I don’t think people typically hold strongly to ideas they know are wrong.

2.  They honestly have no idea what they actually hold and are embarrassed to be proven wrong.

3.  They are unwilling to risk the possibility they are wrong due to an emotional investment in their ideas.

I think the last two are especially probable, but this is a bad thing.  This keeps bad ideas alive.  This is what I seek to avoid.

We must get over our emotional ties to bad ideas.

We must not be embarrassed to admit defeat if that admission promotes better ideas.

Conversations with Friends: JN #1

Being new at being an atheist, I studied and studied every idea I could find on the matter of apologetics and counter apologetics.  I feel sufficiently caught up in order to talk to most believers and confront some of the popular sayings and mantras.  One thing I was not prepared for was the invincibility of faith.  It’s not, of course.  After all, there have been many converts, myself included.  But faith is a powerful foe.

I’ve been speaking on and off with two friends specifically about God.  One of them is a former youth pastor of my wife.  I will call him JN for anonymity.  He reached out to me in a very pastor-ly way.  Very nice, very friendly.

The stated purpose for him reaching out was just to ask some questions and see where my head was at.  I’m not sure what the end game actually is, but I figured this would be a good time to show that I was educated on the matters of God and stretch some of my brain muscles.  This should also go without saying, but a great bi-product of this type of discussion is that if there is a flaw pointed out in my thinking, I can correct it.  It’s a win-win for me.

At this point, this conversation has reached a few crucial nodes of discourse.

-JN thinks that faith in and of itself is beneficial.  I’ve pointed out it’s flaws, but the benefits haven’t been stated.

-JN believes that there’s no evidence that he could present to convince me.  While I agree with him in this particular moment, the evidence could be discovered one day that would convince me, or any other skeptic.

One important piece of agreement is the ways in which we can answer the argument from nonbelief:

Either

1.  God does not exist and believers are mistaken.

2.  Nonbelievers aren’t looking for evidence.

3.  Nonbelievers haven’t found the evidence for God’s existence, but believers have.

4.  God has not revealed himself to nonbelievers.

We can immediately rule out #2.  I would say that a lot of nonbelievers are looking for evidence of God, myself included.  If a theists questions this, we can merely ask for the evidence, and that should put that theory to rest.

#4 isn’t consistent with most God concepts.  Most theists would reject this one, while I am still open to the possibility that this could be the case.

#3 is where JN has landed.  Nonbelievers are looking, but looking in the wrong places, or in the wrong ways.  In this case, a simple matter of instruction should clear this up.  Ask the theists, show me God, or show me how to find the evidence for God.  They will say, “just open your heart” or “just believe”, but this isn’t evidence for God’s existence.  If it is, then this can be evidence for just about anything you wanted to believe.  Unicorns exist.  All you have to do to know that is to open your heart and believe that they exist.

I’ll use an analogy that my friend, JN, in this discussion actually gave me.  He said atheists are scanning the FM stations for God, and believers have found him on the AM band.

This is a great analogy.  Let’s expand.  The FM band in this analogy is the natural world, while God resides in the supernatural realm, the AM band.  Never mind, for the moment that God apparently manifests himself into the FM band from time to time which would be detectable by those of us scanning it.

So if the theist is claiming to see God on the AM band, wouldn’t the easiest way to reconcile this be for him to show me how to scan the AM frequencies.  Show me where the button on my radio is to change bands.

Instead, in this analogy, JN is basically saying “you just have to believe that the AM band is there, I can’t prove it to you.  You just have to have faith.”  This wouldn’t make sense at all if the AM band actually existed and if the theists actually had access to it.  He would just show me.  Or demonstrate that he could access it somehow.

In addition, there are millions of other people convincing me of other bands that exist.  There are muslims telling me to tune into the CM band.  Alien abductees telling me that their aliens speak to them on the ZM band.  And none of them can tell me how to tune my radio other than to just “believe”.

How can I reconcile this?

My only course of action is to deny that any of these other bands exist until someone has the ability to demonstrate to me how I can change my bandwidth.  Or at the very least that it is obvious that they are listening to another bandwidth.

But none can.

This defeats option #3 from above.  I am left with the fact that either #1, God doesn’t exist, or #4, he has not revealed himself.  In the case of #4, my life would be exactly the same as if he didn’t exist.

How to Apologetics: Godisimaginary.com

(Before you read this or decide not to, I would like to point out that at the end of writing this blog, I came to a very different conclusion that the one that I hoped to point out.  I will address it at the end of the post, and if you’re not interested in the subject matter, you may find my conclusion interesting.)

http://www.godisimaginary.com is one of my favorite sites.  It’s written for the layman, and while some of it’s arguments are admittedly bad, they are laid out in a clear concise and plain way.  The few fallacies and errors are easy to spot.

Whenever a Christian or Atheist puts together a popular well-thought out argument, there are always people on the opposing side who decide to undertake the challenge of debunking the entire argument, usually due to confirmation bias.  I want what I believe to be true so the things you state that contradict that CAN’T be true!

For today, I am going to be examining The Rational Choice’s attempt to debunk the “proofs” from http://www.godisimaginary.com.  So yeah, this is going to get really complicated.  Before reading this I would go read two things:

The first ten proofs presented by www.godisimaginary.com 

The Rational Choice’s first 10 rebuttals on this page.  It’s pretty short and I will be quoting from it quite a bit.

Proof 1

The Rational Choice accuses God Is Imaginary of a non sequitur.  The Rational Choice straw mans the argument into “Prayers aren’t answered therefore God doesn’t exist.”

The actual argument here is:  The Christian says he answers prayers God.  The Christian Biblical God cannot lie because he is perfectly moral.  Prayers are not answered therefore The Christian Biblical God does not exist.

God Is Imaginary is specifically arguing against the Biblical God and even says this in the first paragraph, “One way would be to find a contradiction between the definition of God and the God we experience in the real world.”

He’s showing a logical contradiction.  God cannot fail to answer prayers, tell us he’s going to answer prayers, AND be incapable of telling a lie.  Therefore if we show that God is not answering prayers either God is a liar (in which case he’s not the Biblical God), he hasn’t told us he’s going to answer prayers (in which case the Bible is untrue and the Biblical idea of God is false.

The Rational Choice then states that “He did not promise that He would give us whatever we desire.”

I was going to link to all the verses that explicitly say this, but I realize the God Is Imaginary already listed all the ones I was thinking of.  The Rational Choice dismisses all of these by stating that these verses are “taken out of context”, and don’t actually mean what they say they mean.  Jesus was just making a point about how God can use a tiny amount of faith to do impossible things.

Okay, sure.

It’s just a coincidence that in EVERY one of those verse, Jesus is illustrating this point by telling people that WHATEVER THEY ASK FOR THEY WILL GET.  He wasn’t telling people that what they ask for is what they get, only that if they have faith then God can do great things……such as getting them whatever they ask for.  Sorry, the context card is not going to work.

Proof 2

This was dismissed by The Rational Choice except to clarify “Also worthy to note here is that the writer seems to think that God must answer yes to every prayer…but where in the Bible does it ever say that? No where.”

But wait, a prayer is a request for God to do or give something, and Jesus in Matthew 21:21 “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

This is about as clear as saying a “God will answer yes to all your requests” so The Rational Choice is demonstrably wrong here once again.

Proof 3

The Rational Choice makes the point here about a non sequitur and this time he’s actually right.  God is Imaginary’s point that other God stories and similar mythic tales to the Bible’s invalidate it does not follow, but it does point out a possible explanation for the Bible being a myth.

Proof 4

Okay maybe The Rational Choice’s charge of non sequiturs was more on the money that I originally was willing to admit.  This proof from God is Imaginary did not show that God doesn’t exist because “science”, but like the previous one, it makes a point. Science has never been debunked or negated by anything remotely resembling a supernatural phenomenon, whereas the inverse is almost always true.  Supernatural explanations get replaced with natural ones all the time.

Proof 5

The Rational Choice gives up here and screams “CONTEXT!” then moves on.  Here’s the problem with this context argument, or any argument regarding the Bible.  The Bible is not a coherent monolithic document.  It is easily taken out of context and can be used in almost any fashion to justify any action or belief.  So when someone gets it “wrong” it’s difficult not to see both sides of it, but to me that shows that this book is not divinely inspired also.  The fact that it’s such a confusing collaboration of documents containing justifications for all sorts of actions.  I think God Is Imaginary’s point that such a book doesn’t have the qualities of a divine document is accurate.

Proof 6

The Rational Choice is really good at dismissing or completely ignoring the point, and shoving it aside with a…rationalization.  Here he quarrels with God is Imaginary’s use of Rick Warren’s particular theology.  And again, he’s right that not every Christian agree with Rick Warren, but he missed the point.

The point is this.  God has free will in choosing what type of universe to create, what type of people to create.  He also has perfect knowledge.  Knowing exactly what consequences his actions will cause.  This illustrates that God knowingly created evil.  Not just “the capacity for evil”.  God directly, knowingly created evil.  This is far from a perfect plan.

Proof 7

Here, God is Imaginary compares the extraordinary nature of the biblical claims to similar extraordinary claims to equate how we should approach these types of claims.  The Rational Choice disregards this with “Just because the preceding stories are true/false, however, they have no bearing on the truth value of the succeeding story. He ends with another little rant against prayer.”

And while he’s right, he’s missed the point.  One being false doesn’t make the other false, but the manor in which we dismiss one as false is the same manner in which we can safely dismiss Christianity as false.

We have equal amounts of evidence (none) to support the equally extraordinary claims, so we should dismiss them all equally.

Proof 8

To be honest here, I side with The Rational Choice on this one.  God is Imaginary didn’t put forth a proof so much as he tried to debunk NDE as proof of God.  I don’t really have much to say about this except that I don’t know much about NDE’s except what comes from hearsay evidence.  I don’t think there is a scientific consensus about whether or not these actually occur.

Proofs 8 and 9

Nothing specifically addressed with these points because they are a reiteration of prayer.

Conclusion

I admit, I have come to a very different conclusion that I had hoped to on the onset of this quest.  My hope was to show how erroneous apologetics can be, but I came to a different conclusion.  Apologetics AND counter apologetics can both be erroneous.  I knew this of course, but the theist pointed out some very good problems with the atheist’s arguments.

To me, this is important.  We should seek to find flaws in arguments that we accept as valid.  This is the heart of skepticism and why I will be focusing my efforts less on being anti-God, and more on being a rational skeptic.  The two go together quite well because being skeptical naturally leads one to reject the claims of God that lack evidence, but my focus will be slightly more on promoting how to think better, rather than “how not to believe in that stupid God of yours.”

Standards of Evidence Part 2: Risk and Stake

In my first post on the Standards of Evidence, I pointed out how it is rational to adjust our standards of evidence depending on how outlandish or unlikely to occur the claim is.  I concluded that with “believable” claims that our brain works quickly to take into account the small amount of evidence we are given to make a somewhat rational stand on the merits of the claim, and with extraordinary claims, we require more evidence to accept them.

This post will examine another aspect of a claim that we can rationally use to help us determine the level of evidence we should require before accepting a claim:

risk1

Risk is one of my favorite board games even though I have never played it in real life with anyone.  I’ve played it online a lot.  The idea behind the game is that you have to constantly decide what actions to take based on what your opponents are likely to do and what you will lose if you make a misstep.  If you over extend or make a bad map move, you could be easily over run.  A popular strategy (especially early on) is called “turtling”, where you basically conserve your army, and build up numbers until the very end when you overpower the remaining players.  This is a minimal risk strategy.

In the arena of truth claims, minimal risk strategies should be considered.  Consider the following scenarios:

The first scenario is that your close friend tells you that he bought a big dog.  This friend wouldn’t have to try hard convince you of this fact because it’s a common thing for people to buy dogs, but ALSO because if he’s lying to you, it makes no difference to you.  Finding out that you’re wrong about your friend owning a dog will be virtually harmless to you.  It may damage your trust in your friend, but the risk involved with not believing him may be even greater.  If you tell your friend you don’t believe him and ask him to prove it, and are continually incredulous of every claim he makes, he might think it’s not worth his time to be around you.  Constantly having to prove every minor claim he makes would get old, and you would likely lose friends like that.

In another scenario, you’re told by a close friend that your wife and daughter are being held hostage in a nearby building.  He hands you a shotgun, gives you the location, and tells you that you have 5 minutes to bust into the building and take all the guys out before they kill your family.  Well, not only is this an unlikely scenario, but it’s also extremely risky to accept your friend’s claims here.  If he’s wrong, and you believe him you could endanger many innocent lives, go to prison, etc.

On the other hand, if he’s right and you do nothing, you could lose your wife and daughter.  So the claim is at least worth examining.  Merely by alerting you that something valuable to you is at risk, your friend has forced you to examine his claim at least somewhat seriously.  This is why it’s illegal to scream “fire” in a crowded theater.

So here we have two scenarios where, in the first, there’s not much at stake if you’re wrong either way, and, in the second, there’s much at stake if you’re wrong either way.

The risk of losing something valuable is a highly motivating factor when examining claims, and forces us to put at least some standard of evidence on those claims where is much to lose if we’re wrong.

In a later post, I will examine how these two criteria for raising our standards of evidence can help us sort through various God claims.  This will definitely include a discussion about Pascal’s Wager.  For now, thanks for reading! 

Part 2 of my Analysis of “Letters from a Skeptic” by Greg and Edward Boyd – Correspondence 1

In my first post on this book, I covered the introduction and opening letter.  Today, I’ll be examining the first correspondence back and forth between Greg and his father.

Part 1 of this book is titled “Questions About God” but the first few questions don’t really deal with God’s existence.  Instead, Edward asks questions about the consistency of reality with attributes of God given to him by theists.  Correspondence 1 is titled “Why has Christianity done so much harm?”

A few things to point out about this before we even get into the question.

1.  This to me points out that Edward is not the “master skeptic” that Greg painted him to be in his introduction.  If your first objection to the existence of God is “Christians are sometimes big meanies” then that shows to me that this is not something you have been thinking or discussing with others a great deal about.  And for a book written in 1994 about events that took places probably not too long before, I understand completely why this is the case.  I believe that in the late 80’s and early 90’s it was probably extremely difficult to have discussions about being a non-believer.  Apologetics, and thus counter apologetics didn’t start getting popular until the age of the internet where people could anonymously discuss their honest opinions about God and religion without being chastised or preached too.

So I am not putting down Greg’s father, or trying to paint him in a negative light.  I’m simply trying to make the point that his skepticism is based on a more personal, common sense approach rather than a rigorous study of the ideas presented.  I completely understand that approach, but Greg is wanting to have a rigorous intelligent rational discussion with his unstudied father, and Greg comes to the table more prepared.

2.  Even people who are well-educated in apologetics take this approach, and I honestly don’t like it.  The idea behind questions like this and more prominently “The Problem of Evil” is to take observable facts in reality, such as “evil exists” and try to contrast them with qualities of God, such as “God would not allow evil to exist.”  The problem with this type of argument is that the nature of reality is not in dispute, and theists won’t likely argue the point about evil existing, but they will change the qualities of God to squeeze their way out of the apparent contradiction, and honestly, there is nothing that a skeptic can do to disprove them on this.

Here’s a quote from a discussion I was having with someone on facebook about these types of claims.

“Let’s use an analogy. My friend Bob believers perfectly moral unicorns exist and also eat babies. The conversation might go something like this:

Me: How can unicorns be moral and eat babies.
Bob: Well unicorns get a special moral juice from the blood of babies, that allows them to be on a higher plane of moral existence.
Me: How could you possibly know that?

As extreme as that may seem, it highlights the ease in which someone can spout off utter bullshit to reconcile an internal inconsistency.

I think that last contention, “how could you possibly know that?” is a question better aimed at the overarching claims of theism concerning the origin of the universe and the supernatural realm than talking about some very specific, non-integral doctrine.”

I just don’t think it’s useful to question the qualities of a being that hasn’t been shown to exist yet.  Show me he exists first, then we can talk about his qualities.  “How could you possibly know that?” is the first question that should be asked of anyone making a claim.

Okay, after that somewhat long introduction, let’s examine the actual correspondence.

Edward shows my first point when he replies to Greg’s invitation with this:

“My belief (or lack of it) is not based too much on any positive position I hold, but rather, on a host of negative ones.  I can find plenty wrong with most religious and political views, but I am not at all firm on what I personally believe — as least not on religious mattes.  I really don’t have a “faith” or “worldview’ of any sort.  I only know for sure what I don’t believe.  Also, unlike you, I’m not a trained philosopher, so if you write to me like you wrote in your dissertation, forget it!  I won’t be able to follow you.  So you’ll have to keep it simple.”

Edward admits that he’s outmatched in philosophy, but also that his lack of belief isn’t really based on positively applying skepticism, but more of a common sense understanding of bad claims.

Edward makes his first two objections to Christianity.  The first is

“…how could an all-powerful and all-loving God allow the church to do so much harm for so long?  Isn’t this supposed to be His true church?  His representation on Earth?”

While this may be a valid question, I admit that it’s a weak objection.  After all, if God exists, the idea of how he feels about the church can be justified in an almost infinite number of ways that I can think of.  The church being bad isn’t a really good reason to not believe a God exists.

His second objection is:

“And it was the church, was it not, that decided which books were ‘divine’ and should constitute the ‘Holy Bible.’ As far as I am concerned , this is itself enough to reject the Bible as a joke.”

I was actually glad this objection came up.  I wish it were his main objection because Biblical inerrancy and divinity is a central tenant to, specifically Christian-based, God belief.  Let’s see how Greg handles these objections.  Bear in mind I am wading through all the pleasantries and such to get to the meat of the argument.

Greg applauds his father’s willingness to interact in this discussion.  He spells out his intentions:

“these beliefs, I argue, are more substantiated, and far more fulfilling, than any other worldview one could hold.  And my goal, quite frankly, is to convince you of the truth of these beliefs and bring you into a relationship with Christ.  I know firsthand the fullness of life, the peace, and the joy that this relationship gives, and I want to share it with you.”

Theists really don’t get how insulting this mindset is.  It boils down to “my life is better than yours, and I want your life to be as good as mine!”

Also, you’ll notice here that Greg has stated his intentions are to convert his father, not to have his beliefs questioned and possibly proven wrong, but only to prove to his dad that he’s been right all along.

Greg’s answer to his father’s first objection is the exactly the type of response I saw coming.

“I don’t think God can be held responsible for what the Catholic Church — or any church, or any religion whatsoever — has done or shall do.”

You know what, I actually agree with him here.  I think his father’s question was weak and unfounded.  If God exists, there’s no reason to believe that he is the God that controls Christians in any way.  But again, I would much rather be arguing about God’s existence in the first place than what qualities he might or might not have.

Greg continues…

“From my perspective, the God whom the Bible talks about, and whom Jesus Christ incarnates, is a God of love, and this entails that He is a God of freedom, for you cannot have love without freedom. We were created with the ability to choose love, and thus with the potential to choose its opposite — evil.”

Again, I see his point.  This might be a plausible view of God, but notice that he qualifies it by saying “from my perspective.”  I could make a strong case against his perspective of the Bible, using the Bible as well.  Yahweh was arguably a violent war-loving God.  But again, who cares?  Why argue about the attributes of God given to us from the Bible, let’s substantiate the Bible as good evidence of God’s attributes first.

Next he addresses the problem of evil:

“To assume that God is responsible for our evil –even the evil committed “in His name” –is, I suspect, to assume that humans are robots who simply act out of divine preplanned program.”

No it’s not.  If the Christian God exists, He ultimately is responsible for our actions.  He created us with his omniscience.  He understood what was going to happen upon our creation.  If God created us, then he is either fully aware of what we were capable of doing, thus ultimately responsible for it, or he created us without knowing of our actions, and thus not omniscient.

Imagine that you and your spouse are going to conceive a child.  Before you do though, you are given absolute knowledge that your child will be a serial killer.  If you go ahead and create that child, you are not just a willing accomplice, you are responsible.

The obvious objection is that “God doesn’t know what we are going to decide to do because he gave us free will.”  Well if God didn’t know something, he’s off the hook, but that also means God isn’t all-knowing.  The two qualities of God, not responsible for our actions and all-knowing, are mutually exclusive.  Theists have to lose one of those beliefs to have a consistent God concept.

The rest of the chapter deals with Greg defining “Christian” and how a church can’t be “Christian”.  This blog is already too long, so I’ll grant him that.  I will point out that he didn’t address his father’s concerns over the formation of Biblical canon, a much more important question in my opinion.  I wonder if his response was edited out.

Thanks for reading!

Skepticism: “I don’t believe in 2870 gods, and they don’t believe in 2869 gods.”

The quote is from Ricky Gervais.  He’s referring to his reply to theists who question his atheism.

“…they are nearly as atheistic as me.”

I have been having more and more conversations with believers now.  I am in the business of trying to challenge ideas.  My ideas, their ideas, all ideas.  Put them on the table and let’s talk about them.  Recently, a pastor friend of mine asked me this question.

“I would ask you the why is disbelief a virtue? What do we benefit from it?”

My response was probably not very convincing, and I am very critical of myself.  I always second guess the way I convey ideas because my goal is to convey them concisely, directly, and clearly.  I don’t think I did a very good job of that.

“Oh we benefit so much from skepticism. Even you, the faithful Christian! Haha. How much trouble have you saved yourself from being skeptical of all God claims. You benefit from being skeptical about Zeus, Buddha, Allah. You benefit by not believing in Santa and fairies and all sorts of things.

The way in which you benefit is that beliefs inform how we behave, so by you not behaving as if these things all exist, you behave more sanely. You act in a way that is more consistent with reality. You behave more rationally. You buy your kids presents because of your skepticism of Santa. Without that, your kids would be pretty upset.”

But I think that this point is a valid one.  We are all skeptical.  We all live in the realm of skepticism to a degree.  It’s because skepticism works, whether we have admitted it or not.  It worms it’s way into our decision making by the very virtue of it’s use.

The default position of non-belief is virtuous because it keeps us from believing every claim that is presented.  There are more ways to be wrong, and therefore more wrong claims that can be made, than there are more ways to be right.  So we should measure claims with a very accurate ruler.

And we see this in reality.  We see that there are many many many contradictory claims, specifically between the different religions, but even within them.  The different sects, and different theologies.  This doesn’t mean that none of them are right, but it does show that a whole lot of them are wrong just on the nature of the claims and the amount of them that contradict.

Theists would have to agree too.  Maybe even more strongly than I feel about it.  They believe so strongly that their God is the one true God that they disbelieve all other God claims on the basis of contradiction alone.

Skepticism makes two basic assumptions that I think are valid:

1.  We exist in a reality with properties.

2.  Our perceptions about this reality are sometimes right, and sometimes wrong.

But there are those that would claim absolute certainty of an idea.  Ideas that don’t have good enough reason to believe in, let alone claim certainty over.  Those that claim certainty of an idea are incorrect.  Not in the idea they believe in, but in the way in which they believe it.  Absolute certainty doesn’t exist, and even the Pope can be wrong about things.

It’s this acceptance that allows us to examine ALL ideas for truth, and consistency within the reality we inhabit.  In my 2nd blogpost I spoke about the nature of truth.

The second point I brought up in my response was that beliefs inform our actions.  What we believe has huge impact on how we behave.  For example, if I believed that Link for the Legend of Zelda was a true story, I might be inclined to take up my sword, go into the woods and try to help him out!  But this is nonsense, and my actions won’t do anything good or useful.

In the same way, religious beliefs that are false have consequences.  Religious beliefs are also extremely influential.  It’s important that we are skeptical of religious claims until they’re proven themselves correct.

This is why I encourage anyone that believes in a God to seriously question your beliefs.  When I was a Christian I believed in doing this to bolster my faith.  It turned me into a stronger skeptic, and someone with a firmer grip on reality, in my opinion.

Be skeptical.