The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

Anything Goes

August 30, 2005 | 129 Comments

There are plenty of purely philosophical, a priori proofs purporting (how’s that for alliteration) to demonstrate the existence of God. But not even the shrewdest Christian theologian has attempted to demonstrate that his son Jesus is a metaphysical necessity. So once the nebulous God of the Philosophers has been established, apologists frequently resort to the “historicity” of events surrounding Christ’s life and death. The theories usually rely heavily on psychology and sociology, explaining how the alleged facts supporting His divinity are made more probable by the motives and reactions of witnesses and other participants. In God: A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist, Christian advocate William Lane Craig explains why certain events relevant to the resurrection have the ring of historical truth:

After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.

Given the understandable hostility in the early Christian movement toward the Jewish leaders, Joseph of Arimathea, as a member of the Jewish high court that condemned Jesus, is unlikely to be a Christian invention.

On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.

Given that the testimony of women was regarded as so unreliable that they were not even permitted to serve as witnesses in a Jewish court of law, the fact that it is women, rather than men, who are the chief witnesses to the empty tomb is best explained by the historical facticity of the narrative in this regard.

The earliest know Jewish response to the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection, namely, “The disciples came and stole away his body” (Matt. 28: 13-15), was itself an attempt to explain why the body was missing and thus presupposes the empty tomb.

The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.

Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection of the dead at the end of world.

Notice the convoluted theme here: the Bible’s authors would be unlikely to include improbable facts injurious to their case, unless they were in fact true. Putting that odd logic aside, atheist debater Walter Sinnott-Armstrong offers a number of plausible countervailing psychological theories and concludes that there is “no reason to give up well-established physics on the basis of decades old reports by self-interested parties who faced social pressures and promptings with predispositions to believe.” I have a couple of broader philosophical objections.

First, if the hard sciences of physics and biology went so far awry that dead men were rising, the softer sciences of psychology and sociology should have gone out the window as well. There’s no reason to engage in a tedious exposition of societal attitudes towards women and Jews once everybody’s been transported to the Land of Oz. In that context, it’s inconsistent hold the laws of human nature constant. Perhaps when dead men rise, only women who juggle turnips and turn purple are considered unreliable by men, men who in turn respond by blowing horns. But the Gospels don’t mention turnip juggling by purple women or horn-blowing, so there’s nothing surprising about the witnesses being identified as female. Which is evidence that the authors concocted accounts of reliable, non-juggling women as witnesses to bolster their case (you know there’s something wrong with an argument when its refutation also makes almost no sense).

Second, even if human nature is held constant, the reported reactions don’t resemble anything you’d expect in the face of miracles. If the Starship Enterprise swept down and whisked everyone out of Jerusalem, they’d probably start shrieking. And you wouldn’t expect craven observance of gender roles on board from people terrified out of their minds. But nobody’s all that freaked out by Jesus’ zombie routine.

This, of course, is consistent with the blas

Comments

129 Responses to “Anything Goes”

  1. Seth
    August 30th, 2005 @ 11:52 am

    It bugs me incredibly when theists try to use science and logic to support the Bible. It’s stupid stuff like “logically, women saw the empty tomb, so Jesus must have risen from the dead!” that makes me want to stab something.

  2. ocmpoma
    August 30th, 2005 @ 11:58 am

    The biggest problem I see with the whole “but why would they make it up?” line of theistic attack is that they didn’t ‘make it up’, just as more modern Kool-aid drinkers don’t ‘make up’ stories of salvation via UFO, etc. Those early Kool-aid drinkers actually believed this story that they were telling, in one way or another (that is, more or less literally than theists usually give them credit for). And, if human nature does hold when people start coming back to life only to disapparate somewhere heavenly (purple turnip jugglers be damned), then the motives of someone who is about to drink Kool-aid but sincerely believes that the UFO is coming soon are drastically different from those of someone who is lying about it.

  3. Frank
    August 30th, 2005 @ 12:03 pm

    Seth — the argument is not “logically, women saw the empty tomb, so Jesus must have risen from the dead!”, as you have stated. The argument is this: if the disciples were going to make up a story about a resurrection they would not have written women in as the witnesses to the empty tomb because people would be less likely to believe their testimony.

    You statement is an obvious leap in logic but you are putting words in the mouths of Christians when you attribute that to them. Christians are merely saying that the narrative is strengthened (not proven) as historically accurate because of this fact.

  4. AK
    August 30th, 2005 @ 12:14 pm

    LOL so according to Frank, claiming that a three day dead-and-decomposed body rose up a-la “night of the living dead” is more likely to be believed if it is claimed to be witnessed by women, who at the time were not trusted as witneses?

    Actually Frank, all it does is cast more doubt on the WHOLE DAMN STORY! These people back then were obviously SEXIST, and didnt trust women simply because they were women (not exactly a sign of cultural intelligence). So is it so suprising that these tribal idiots were gullible enough to believe in a zombie story?

    Frank, are you aware that virgin-birth and resurrection stories were actually VERY COMMON back in those days? Brian Flemmings documentary “The God Who Wasnt There” (Why do I get the feeling you havent seen it?) lists numerous virgin-birth and resurrected characters whose stories are almost identical to Jesus’ story. It was a popular trendy type of superstition back then.

    Finally, you said “Christians are merely saying that the narrative is strengthened (not proven) as historically accurate because of this fact.”

    But of course you are WRONG. The gender of the witnesses objectively has no bearing on the truth claims of said witnesses. Only an ignorant tribe of boogeymen-believers would think that gender would affect the truth of a witnesses testimony.

    But considering the prevalence of believing bullshit stories back then, I would say the cultural mindset at the time makes the narrative LESS RELIABLE.

    And the fact that because back then women were considered less reliable, but the people believed the story anyway, only counts AGAINST the intellectual integrity and ctirical thinking skills of the people at the time. It seems that, in reality, all you had to do back then was frantically hold fast to some incredible claim, and the people would believe you because of their propensity for believing fantastic stories. Like the way any modern day adult can tell a 4 year old child a tale about Santa Claus, or the Tooth Fairy, or a parting ocean, or a talking snake, and the child will believe it.

    Give up your silly superstition Frank. You steadfastly believe in one particular superstitious tale of magical silliness out of a literal OCEAN of very similar, even almost identical, stories.

  5. jahrta
    August 30th, 2005 @ 12:23 pm

    leave frank alone and let him believe whatever he wants. as long as he’s not hurting anyone or trying to impose his beliefs on us, we shouldn’t rally against him to think as we do. that’s not the atheist way. it’s the cowboy way :P

  6. Frank
    August 30th, 2005 @ 12:39 pm

    AK — My gosh did YOU ever miss the whole point of my post. All that rambling about things that had, really, nothing to do with my point.

    Go back and re-read it, AK. See if you can “get it” this time. I’ll give you a hint: My point really had nothing to do with the witnesses at all (psst, it had to do with the theory of disciples making up a story about a resurrection and how one might go about doing that).

    Try again. Good luck this time.

  7. Oliver
    August 30th, 2005 @ 12:57 pm

    I guess we’ll never know what really happened. The gospels were all written long after the events they are supposed to be about and not by eye-witnesses. They can’ t even agree on key details of these supposedly extraordinary happenings – read the different crucifixion/resurrection/post-death Jesus appearances/ascension accounts in the gospels and Acts to see just how incoherant it all is. IF Jesus existed and was not just a myth (not proven) it is hard to know what become of the body – did the disciples steal it? Was it cremated? Did Jospeph of A steal it? Who knows. I think it’s possible the disciples believed in some sense that Jesus had survived death, perhaps they had some kind of visions (like Paul, who compares his own visions of Jesus to the sightings by the apostles)? Again, who knows? Or WAS it all a con trick by them?? If you believe in the literal resurrection then what on Earth is that ascension to Heaven stuff all about?? Did Jesus really just fly into the air and disapear into a cloud as recounted by Acts?

    Oliver

  8. Kafkaesquí
    August 30th, 2005 @ 12:59 pm

    Frank, the problem with logic and the Bible is that when looking past the hazy generalizations and into the actual details of the writing, one sees it was only Mary Magdalene who came upon the empty and open tomb where there was apparently no one about (John), or it was Mary Magdalene and “the other” Mary who came to the tomb where the angel of the Lord opened it and revealed it empty (Matthew), or it was Mary Magdalene and also Mary and possibly Salome (or perhaps a whole a group – “the women”) who came to the open and empty tomb where they were accosted by either one (or two men) in shining (or just white) garments who told them what was up (Mark, Luke). So, which story is the correct one? They all cannot be, right?

    Once it’s figured out which story is the *true* and accurate one, I expect the intellectual honesty of the various Christian hierarchies will give them no option but to edit the other gospels for the next print run. Or perhaps they’ll just expunge them to avoid any stain on the accuracy of the Work as a whole. I look forward to those corrections.

    Alas, let’s keep in mind that God is (was?) omnipotent, which means He would have already known at some time in the future the concern over using a woman (or women, depending on which gospel gets it right) as witness would not hold the same difficulties in regards to accepting their testimony. Then again, perhaps you still hold to that view?

  9. Seth
    August 30th, 2005 @ 1:20 pm

    Yeah, I was generalizing. I’m too lazy to actually go into detail today….such a dreary day.

    The gist of what I meant is that I dlislike Christians using science to support their religious claims.

  10. Tom
    August 30th, 2005 @ 1:24 pm

    ocmpoma: are you willing to respect Occam’s razor or not? Please be consistent.

    As to the original post’s reference to “self-interested parties,” I heard Chuck Colson once speak of what it takes to hold a conspiracy together. His summary, in a nutshell, is that if someone’s head is on the block it’s going to fall apart. Every single follower of Christ had his/her head on the block for claiming he rose from the dead, yet the story held together. People don’t maintain conspiracies unto death when they know the whole thing is a farce. It leads me to conclude it was not a farce but reality.

    As to the reports being written “decades later,” how long does it take to forget that someone rose from the dead? The “decades,” according to the best scholarship, are no more than about 20 years for the earliest reports.

    And as to the women’s testimony, Frank (following W. L. Craig) did a good job of explaining its significance if you would just read it for what they said. The point is not whether women were trustworthy witnesses. In the end, there were five hundred witnesses. The point is that if the story were made up after the fact, it’s extremely unlikely to the point of unbelievability that the legend would have arisen that way; it would have taken a different form, with the men in the lead, for it was a sexist society as was so colorfully pointed out above.

    C. S. Lewis came (reluctantly, he says) to a firm faith in Christ on the basis of the evidence. He was a scholar extraordinaire in the field of legend and myth. One of the things that convinced him of the veracity of the New Testament is that it quite simply has none of the characteristics of legend or myth. He and G. K. Chesterton both quite handily dismantled the theory that Jesus was one of many virgin birth/death/resurrection stories: none of the other purported incidents has much at all in common with this one, especially its strictly monotheistic Jewish milieu.

    And if you find any reputable historians who put any stock at all in the belief that Jesus never existed (a la the film, “The God Who Wasn’t There”), you’ve done an amazing thing.

  11. Kafkaesquí
    August 30th, 2005 @ 1:58 pm

    Tom, making a leap from “Jesus existed” to “Jesus is Lord” based strictly on what a book tells you is accomplishing a far, far more amazing thing when compared with the concern that what evidence there is of his existence is ephemeral, at best.

    Anyone who claims there are no precedents for any elements of the Christ in preceding religious myths does not know his religious mythology and history very well. Look at the Egyptians and Ankhenaton, who was king (aren’t there allusion to Christ as king in Christianity?), accepted faith only in the “one god,” and was (metaphorically) crucified for his beliefs by his own people and the priesthood who feared him. Any of this sounding familiar? And it’s not even a myth! Egyptians also believed their king became a god after death. Ahem.

    I will give you this: the New Testament does not *read* like myth. Instead, it reads like the testimony of numerous (and far too often contradictory) witnesses who we’ve discovered were no where near the scene of the crime.

  12. AK
    August 30th, 2005 @ 2:03 pm

    Frank,

    Sure… I missed the point of your post. Actually, I think I got it just fine. You think that the fact that women were cited as witnesses strengthens the resurrection story because if the storytellers were liars, citing women wouldnt have helped their cause. Your point was about the logic of storytellers and whether or not they were liars.

    Actually, you missed the point of MY post. Now that Ive re-read your post, go re-read mine. One of the things I did was attack your faulty logic. My post wasnt about witnesses anymore than yours was. My post was about your logic and the trustworthiness of the storytellers (which you claim is also the point of your post), as well as the ridiculousness of your superstitious beliefs.

    Look at what you wrote Frank: “if the disciples were going to make up a story about a resurrection they would not have written women in as the witnesses to the empty tomb because people would be less likely to believe their testimony.”

    I got a fun idea: what if the storytellers deliberately included women as witnessess because they saw the same logic that you saw: where YOU think that including women as witnessess makes the story more believable, maybe the storytellers thought the same thing you did? Like in a bit of clever reverse psychology?

  13. Adam
    August 30th, 2005 @ 2:03 pm

    Who says the disciples made it up? Why couldn’t it have been the Greeks adopting the tales of a Jewish cult with their own mythology?

  14. AK
    August 30th, 2005 @ 2:07 pm

    jahrta,

    I disagree completely with you. Ideas and beliefs should be able to stand on their own two feet, and should be evaluated for their merits. No believe should be exempt from analysis or criticism, regardless of how nice the person holding the said belief is.

    If you care about your fellow humans, and want to see them all prosper and progress, then you should do what you can in terms of dialogue and debate and analysis in order to find as much truth as you can in reality, because the more your fellow man is grounded in reality, the better off they will be and the better decisions they will make for themselves. And we all DO depend on eachother to make good decisions for ourselves, because every persons prosperity in life is linked to everyone elses in some way.

    A society that politely believes in stupid fairy tales and never pushes their beliefs on others is still a society in need of help, and is still a society that will make poor decisions for themselves because they dont understand truths of reality.

  15. AK
    August 30th, 2005 @ 2:09 pm

    Adam, good point.

    Thats exactly what I was alluding to when I mentioned Brian Flemmings documentary earlier. The Jesus virgin birth and resurrection story is NOT the first story of its kind to surface. It is most likely adapted from NUMEROUS very-similar stories that predate the Jesus events by quite a long time.

  16. jahrta
    August 30th, 2005 @ 2:16 pm

    I know, AK, but you have to know how to pick your battles. for example, the only place i would really risk meeting a religious zealot (not that i group frank amongst the zealous, per se – he has displayed a modicum of reasoning abilities, if sometimes flawed) would be at work or through my wife’s family. I’m not about to get ensnared in an awkward and potentially inflammatory debate with my coworkers, and i’ve reached the limitations of what i can say to my wife’s relatives without risking a fist fight. At the end of the day, no one ever switched the paradigm by which they live their lives based upon something someone said if that “someone” is pre-judged as belonging to a group of individuals who hold beliefs that are in either in direct contrast to your own or somehow “scandalous.” If religious people make the shift to thinking for themselves and abandoning their comforting bedtime stories of religion (or stop living in fear of eternal damnation) it will only be because they made a decision to do so for themselves. You won’t get anywhere by shouting your viewpoints at people, unless you’re dealing with children. it doesn’t make a difference that you’re right.

  17. Naked Writing Dot Com
    August 30th, 2005 @ 2:24 pm

    Best Line of the Day

    There’s no reason to engage in a tedious exposition of societal attitudes towards women and Jews once everybody’s been transported to the Land of Oz….

  18. jb
    August 30th, 2005 @ 2:27 pm

    The problem that arises when a Christian begins to dialogue with an atheist is that the Christian’s only concern is to show that their faith does not violate reason while the atheist’s only concern is to show how improbable the Christian’s faith is. No Christian has ever denied that God becoming man isn’t the most improbable of all ideas. It is the MOST improbable of ideas. What could be more unexpected? It is therefore not the business of Christians to go around proving scientifically that Christ has risen from the dead or Moses spoke to a burning bush. That is a matter of faith. Mock it or not, it is faith.
    The business of the Christian is simply to defend the faith from people who argue not that it is not understood by reason, but even worse, that it is against reason. If an atheist asks a Christian how it is possible that God became man, the Christian can only reply that it is a mystery. The event is beyond reason. Should someone argue that God becoming man violates reason, on the other hand, then the Christian can make an argument.
    If this distinction seems strange to you, I’m not surprised, but it is the distinction that Christians have been forced to repeat since the beginning. It is the most basic of logical distinctions, moreover, and is not limited to Christian thought. Something may in fact be impossible and yet not violate reason. Is it impossible that pigs should fly on their own? Yes. Does it violate reason to imagine pigs flying? No. On the other side, is it impossible that a circle should be a square? Yes. Does it violate reason to imagine a square circle? Yes, because it cannot be a circle and square at the same time.

  19. Frank
    August 30th, 2005 @ 2:39 pm

    AK — actually, in considering the possibility that the disciples made up the story, I have mulled over the notion that, perhaps, they would have utilized the same logic that we do (using women instead of men as a means of lending credibility to the story). However, this falls apart on some key points. 1. As you’ve pointed out, theirs was a very sexist world. Having a woman as a witness was pretty much the same as having no witness at all. If they were making up the story they were doing so in order to influence their contemporaries, right? Using women as witnesses would not accomplish that. 2. They would have no way of knowing that their writings would be canonized by future generations of Christians, nor that women would ever be held in a higher regard than they were used to. So writing the accounts would serve no future purpose. 3. If they were making it all up why in the world would they even care what future generations thought, they’d be long gone.

    No, the “make-up-the-story” theory just doesn’t hold water. And THAT is the only point I was trying to make. With regard to what really happened to the body of Jesus there are a number of theories. We can reasonable eliminate the “made-up-a-story” theory. When we do that all remaining possibilities are strengthened. Since one of those remaining possibilities is that Jesus really did raise from the dead (according to the biblical account) it, too, is strengthened.

    I do not maintain that the elimination of any possiblity PROVES the authenticity of the biblical claim. Each possibility needs to be examined on it’s own merits. When they have each been eliminated (based on their merits) any remaining possibility looks pretty good.

  20. Steve G.
    August 30th, 2005 @ 2:57 pm

    >>If religious people make the shift to thinking for themselves and abandoning their comforting bedtime stories of religion (or stop living in fear of eternal damnation) it will only be because they made a decision to do so for themselves.

    What if the religion in question places great demands and calls for serious sacrifice and selflessness on the part of the believer? What I there is little

  21. ocmpoma
    August 30th, 2005 @ 2:59 pm

    Okay, Tom, where exactly do I reveal an inconsistency? And I most certainly do use the razor.

  22. jahrta
    August 30th, 2005 @ 3:02 pm

    do you use the razor on your pits and legs? nothing is worse than occam’s razor burn.

  23. jahrta
    August 30th, 2005 @ 3:13 pm

    “What if the religion in question places great demands and calls for serious sacrifice and selflessness on the part of the believer? What I there is little

  24. Steve G.
    August 30th, 2005 @ 3:36 pm

    >>As an atheist I take umbrage to the notion that one has to have religion in one’s life to feel or act like this.

    You are importing that onto my comments. I never claimed religious exclusivity in this. I was only trying to counter the notion that it

  25. Frank
    August 30th, 2005 @ 3:41 pm

    Nice argument, Steve G. … perfect sense.

  26. jahrta
    August 30th, 2005 @ 4:05 pm

    “If I make a mistake at the beginning of a math problem, my answer will certainly be wrong, but it doesn

  27. Steve G.
    August 30th, 2005 @ 4:19 pm

    “Religion is myth and superstition. It has been at odds with science at every step, seeking to destroy or pervert its findings in order to force it to confirm the ridiculous claims it makes. If science is a candle in the darkness, religion IS the darkness.”
    -Does this also make sense?

    It makes sense if I look at it from your perspective, of course. It

  28. sternwallow
    August 30th, 2005 @ 4:24 pm

    Tom: “As to the reports being written “decades later,” how long does it take to forget that someone rose from the dead? The “decades,” according to the best scholarship, are no more than about 20 years for the earliest reports.”

    It takes less time to create a myth than it does to forget an event. The time gets even shorter of a group actively works for the acceptance of the story. It also doesn’t matter much how long it takes to forget because, whether it happened or not, everyone but the eye-witnesses are getting only hearsay evidence (and soaking it up as holy testimony).

    I notice that no-one on this particular topic mentioned the resurrecction of Lazarus and others. It wasn’t that unusual thanks to Jesus himself. Sample ancient dialog across a stone fence:”Did you hear, Jesus got himself resurrected sometime over the weekend? No, really? Another dead guy coming back to life. What did he do, then, go back to carpentry or is he still on that itinerant guru schtick?”

  29. sternwallow
    August 30th, 2005 @ 4:25 pm

    Tom: “As to the reports being written “decades later,” how long does it take to forget that someone rose from the dead? The “decades,” according to the best scholarship, are no more than about 20 years for the earliest reports.”

    It takes less time to create a myth than it does to forget an event. The time gets even shorter of a group actively works for the acceptance of the story. It also doesn’t matter much how long it takes to forget because, whether it happened or not, everyone but the eye-witnesses are getting only hearsay evidence (and soaking it up as holy testimony).

    I notice that no-one on this particular topic mentioned the resurrecction of Lazarus and others. It wasn’t that unusual thanks to Jesus himself. Sample ancient dialog across a stone fence:”Did you hear, Jesus got himself resurrected sometime over the weekend? No, really? Another dead guy coming back to life. What did he do, then, go back to carpentry or is he still on that itinerant guru schtick?”

  30. jahrta
    August 30th, 2005 @ 4:26 pm

    I never meant to imply you weren’t welcome here. I can’t speak for anyone else but i think they’d be with me in saying we would welcome anyone who is capable of examining these questions of faith (from all angles) with an open mind. Atheists here, by and large, aren’t trying to indoctrinate anyone into the fold, and you don’t seem to be doing that either, which is why we can coexist on this blog without yelling at each other.

    The only people here that i wish would leave would be trolls like LucyMuff who continue to post even after it becomes abundantly clear that they’re not what they claim to be.

    My point in asking why you come here to blog was not a plee for you to leave. It was meant to draw out your true motives for coming to a site that you have every reason to view as being hostile to your belief system – or at the very least contradictory. I’m sorry if you thought I was being overtly hostile to you.

  31. jahrta
    August 30th, 2005 @ 4:32 pm

    Steve G. – Don’t take it too hard if people on here make you feel unwelcome from time to time. Several bloggers here have made me feel unwelcome, and I’m an atheist. I’m still here because i enjoy the posts and the topics raised. for me it’s like a clearinghouse of atheist news – stuff I wouldn’t get elsewhere, or stuff that would get to me after being filtered through a religious seive. I NEVER would have heard about “The God Who Wasn’t There” if not for this site.

    If you derive pleasure from visiting the site, and continue to post intelligent comments while respecting the subject material and other bloggers’ rights to disagree, i see no reason you should consider leaving.

  32. Frank
    August 30th, 2005 @ 4:51 pm

    Steve G. — I’ve been coming here for some time now and have found this blog to be an excellent place for a mental workout. As a Christian I knew coming in my views would be challenged (it’s why I came). For the most part the atheists with whom I’ve debated have been quite cordial (I don’t let the few exceptions bother me). Many of them seem like the kind of folks I would enjoy having coffee with. On occasion our debates have become spirited but that’s to be expected. However, I don’t recall ever being invited to leave. In fact, despite my clear differences with most here, I’ve been made to feel quite welcome. I would imagine a different view makes for a more interesting blog. As a clear minority on this blog I hope you hang around. As jahrta pointed out, you do engage in a more reasoned debate than most religious people who post here. It’s quite refreshing.

  33. hermesten
    August 30th, 2005 @ 5:40 pm

    Jahrta: “Several bloggers here have made me feel unwelcome, and I’m an atheist.”

    No matter what I’ve said to you, you shouldn’t take it as a message that I consider you “unwelcome.” In the first place, it’s not my business to decide who is, or is not, welcome here. In the second place, RA, to his great credit, does not censor this blog, and he welcomes everybody. And finally, no matter what kind of disagreements we have had, I still have the impression that you are fundamentally a decent guy, who sometimes just gets carried away with the rhetoric.

  34. Oliver
    August 30th, 2005 @ 5:40 pm

    The earliest full account of the resurrection story (ie Mark), according to reputable scholars, was NOT about ’20 years’ after the alleged death of Jesus (c.50ad) but about 70ad. The earliest reference to Jesus being risen however is in Paul, probably written about 60ad or so. Paul refers to his experience of hearing Jesus’ voice in a mystical experience and compares it, like-to-like with appearances he says he has heard of to the disciples and to an unnamed ‘500 people at once’ that he claims Jesus appeared to (and which is always mentioned by Christians). We have only his word for any of this. Also he seems most probably to be referring to visions, akin to his own, not that a physically resurrected Jesus was walking around chatting to all these people (although even this would be surprising for ‘500’ at once, though I believe there are examples of – ‘mass hysteria?’ – where a crowd is said to have experienced a similar hallucination at the same time).

    The gospel accounts themselves were written down by people among the gentile Christians of Paul’s nascent Christian church (rejecting Jewish rules and regulations and having faith in jesus as a saviour), most likely following the near demolition of Jewish Christianity in the Roman/Jewish war. They were getting down in writing various hearsay legends about the founding of their religion. How can we rely on them? Especially as they are so contradictory? For example-

    In the original early ending of Mark the gospel finishes with the women told to relay to the disciples the message jesus is risen and is going ahead of them to Galilee (remember Jesus and his follwers were from galillee and had gone to Jerusalem for Passover), where they are to meet him. In the longer version we are told Jesus appeared to Mary M, then two disciples on a country walk, then to all 11 while they were having a meal (presumably in Jerusalem). The same day he was taken up to Heaven.

    In Matthew the women are told J is risen and is going ahead of them to Gallilee. Then J appears to them and gives the same mnessage – the disciples are to go to galillee to meet him. The disciples go to a mountain in Galillee where J meets them and he tells them to go and convert people of all nations.

    In luke – It is Mary M and some other women who are told by the angel J has risen. They relay it to the disciples and then Peter goes and checks for himself. Then J appears to 2 disciples in the countryside. These two are looking depressed and explain to Jesus (who they don;t recognise) their master, Jesus , has been executed and they had hoped he would be the one to liberate the Jews from the Romans. Even so they add some women found his tomb was empty and had an angelic visitation (but still they are depressed!?). Eventually when he accompanies them home and breaks bread at a meal, they see who he is?? and he vanishes. They go and tell the other apostles. Immediately J appears among them again. He then takes them to the outskirts of Jerusalem and ascends to Heaven.

    In John (which purports, unconvincingly, according to scholars, to be written by the apostle of that name) Mary M finds the empty tomb – no angels and runs to find Peter and John himself (‘the disciple Jesus loved’) the men rush to the tomb but John gets there first. After they leave Mary is met by 2 angels and by jesus himself, who she first think sis the gardener. Jesus says she should go and tell the others he is ascending to God. Later that day J appears through a locked door to meet the disciples at their lodgings. On a later day we are told J helps them make a good catch of fish and eats breakfast with them by the lakeside.

    In Acts (traditionally by the author of Luke) we are told Jesus contunied to make appearances for 40 days. The disciples are still in Jerusalem (not Galillee). jesus explains they must stay in Jeusalem where they will get the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then as they are standing on the Mt of Olives he flies into the air and is hidden by a cloud.

    Where in all this do we find the historical facts????

  35. Steve G.
    August 30th, 2005 @ 9:42 pm

    >>My point in asking why you come here to blog was not a plee for you to leave. It was meant to draw out your true motives for coming to a site that you have every reason to view as being hostile to your belief system – or at the very least contradictory.

    No nefarious motive other than an interest in honest, thoughtful discussion wherever I encounter it or stumble upon it. I certainly have no motive of evangelization. I

  36. sternwallow
    August 30th, 2005 @ 11:07 pm

    Steve G. : “Fundamentally, we are coming from such different starting points that down the chain each of us might no longer be able to see the reason behind the others view, but that doesn

  37. Frank
    August 31st, 2005 @ 9:40 am

    sternwallow — If, as you say, atheism is the “default position” because “all babies are born without a belief in God (or anything),” and “concepts like God must be inculcated in them by those around them” because a “child does not spontaneously acquire a notion or belief in God and so remains an atheist” then my question is this: Where did the notion of God come from in the first place? Why are not all people atheists?

    I mean, if all people had to have someone “brainwash” them into believing in God, then who was the first person to do the brainwashing? It couldn’t be a human, because all humans are, by default, atheists and remain so unless influenced by some outside force (that is your point, right?).

    Since the idea of God could not have come from people, where did the original concept of God come from?

  38. Vernichten
    August 31st, 2005 @ 9:49 am

    Frank’s question:
    “Since the idea of God could not have come from people, where did the original concept of God come from?”

    Quick answer Frank: God and all concepts of one person’s righteousness over another’s stem from the former’s desire to control the latter. What could be more natural than that?
    That brings us to a rational rebuttal of your argument:
    No individual would come up with religion. Only a group could inspire an individual to create a way to control the group. The default position is atheism, but people learn quickly how to take advantage of new indiviuals and their lack of knowledge by feeding them lies that control them.
    That’s how they got you.

  39. Vernichten
    August 31st, 2005 @ 9:57 am

    As to welcomeness, if Lucy Muff is welcome then everyone must be welcome. I reason that only RA really has the authority to tell anyone to leave his web site. I’ve never seen it happen and I doubt I ever will.

  40. Steve G.
    August 31st, 2005 @ 10:14 am

    God and all concepts of one person’s righteousness over another’s stem from the former’s desire to control the latter. What could be more natural than that?

    You are begging the question. You are assuming that religious belief necessarily involves asserting one person’s righteousness over another. If that is not true of any or all religious systems, then the rebuttal fails in regards to at least those religious systems for which it’s untrue.

    In addition, even for those systems that do espouse rightesousness of one person over another, you’ve offered no evidence that indeed it stems from a desire to control the other as oppossed to some other motivation?

    P.S. who the heck is this Lucy Muff I keep hearing about and what’s the deal with her? Just curioius.

  41. Vernichten
    August 31st, 2005 @ 10:53 am

    A religious belief almost always contains prescribed behaviors and, more importantly for my argument, proscribed behaviors. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. If you believe that your behavior is more in line with your god’s wishes than my behavior, you already consider yourself better than me, no? This is especially true when you throw in an eternal afterlife, because the price for my lack of belief becomes whatever eternal punishment your god threatens us with. You believe your adherence makes you privy to an elite group and conversely, I am not as good.
    Name some religious systems that don’t require righteous (from the believer’s perspective) behavior of some kind from their adherents.
    What “other motivation” could there possibly be for telling someone that you already know how god wants them to behave?
    Regarding Lucy Muff, he/she seems to be what’s called a troll, someone who haunts discussion boards with one goal in mind which is to incite some reactionary posts, whether they use low-grade sophistry or simply rant incoherently and/or copy and paste repeatedly. It’s similar to an infant crying or a child acting up. It’s a funny insight into the workings of an inferior mind.

  42. Frank
    August 31st, 2005 @ 11:10 am

    Vernichten said, “If you believe that your behavior is more in line with your god’s wishes than my behavior, you already consider yourself better than me, no?” … No.

    This is the fundamental difference between Christianity and all other religions. The Bible teaches that we haven’t the ability to behave good enough to earn God’s favor. We may engage in varying degrees of sinful behavior but we are all guilty before God and none of us please Him on our own.

    The Bible is clear, the righteousness of any Christian is an imputed righteousness. It is God’s righteousness imputed to us. I can no more take credit for any righteous behavior than I can for creation. The righteous behavior of a Christian is owed to God and God alone.

    So, no, Vernichten, while I may exhibit behavior that God would deem “righteous” it is not of my own volition. It is God’s doing. I am a Christian and I make no claim, whatsoever, of being “better than you” by virtue of my actions.

  43. Vernichten
    August 31st, 2005 @ 11:37 am

    So there’s a problem. Either everyone is favored by god or you and others like you are chosen based on some factor. If you accept that the selection is arbitrary then you must accept that your god is not forgiving or even rational. If you accept that there is some knowable reason, then what exactly is the reason? If it’s acceptance of the good news then I have some more news for you: acceptance is an act. If you are chosen by god and I am not, then you are claiming superiority by virtue of either being chosen arbitrarily or through an act or virtue of your own doing.
    By the way, I am going to use some of our discourse for a paper regarding argument and dialog. I hope no one minds.

  44. ebonmuse
    August 31st, 2005 @ 12:38 pm

    Frank and others:

    As far as the “make-up-the-story” hypothesis goes, I agree with you that it is absurd and should be rejected. Then again, I’ve never found an atheist who argued that the story of Jesus’ resurrection was a contrived, cynical ploy by his first followers. It seems obvious to me that the first Christians genuinely did believe that Jesus had been resurrected – in one way or another. Whether we can make an inference from that belief to the conclusion that such an event happened in reality is far less certain.

    Regarding the women at the tomb, there’s an interesting point that hasn’t yet been mentioned. As Earl Doherty has pointed out, the women in Mark’s gospel, the earliest, do not recount their experience to anyone. They flee in terror without saying a word, despite the angel’s instructions. They behave just as women were expected to behave in first-century Palestine. However, they do witness to Jesus’ resurrection within the context of the story; that is, they serve as witnesses to the reader. Jumping from that point to the conclusion that these events must be historical hinges on certain precarious assumptions about why Mark’s gospel was originally written. If it was never intended as anything more than parable or allegory, this supposed proof simply evaporates. Furthermore, if the women truly were the first witnesses to the resurrection, then why are they completely omitted from the actual creed given in 1 Corinthians 15? Does not this omission there suggest that their presence at the tomb was an invention by Mark?

    Finally, as far as C.S. Lewis, I’m amazed that anyone would think he could furnish a convincing argument for Christianity. The most charitable way to characterize his thinking would be “shallow”. Here, in full, is his account of the factors that led him to convert:

    “When we set out [for the zoo] I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion.” (http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/docs/2004/11/29/)

    Lewis’ sole argument, as far as I know, for the Bible’s historical reliability is that there is one scene in the Gospel of John where Jesus stoops down and scribbles in the dust with a finger, and that since no writer of fiction would have included such a meaningless detail, therefore the entire story must be true from start to finish. This argument would be ridiculous even if we did not know that the section of text in which it appears is a later interpolation. This has been commonly known among New Testament scholars for centuries, in fact, which makes it even less excusable that Lewis himself was apparently ignorant of it. Lewis may have been a good writer of children’s books, but to call him a “scholar extraordinaire” is absurd.

  45. Steve G.
    August 31st, 2005 @ 12:49 pm

    >>A religious belief almost always contains prescribed behaviors and, more importantly for my argument, proscribed behaviors. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. If you believe that your behavior is more in line with your god’s wishes than my behavior, you already consider yourself better than me, no?

    I don

  46. Steve G.
    August 31st, 2005 @ 1:16 pm

    Finally, as far as C.S. Lewis, I’m amazed that anyone would think he could furnish a convincing argument for Christianity. The most charitable way to characterize his thinking would be “shallow”.

    And I just used a C.S. Lewis explanation. How embarrassing! Seriously though, whether or not Lewis

  47. hermesten
    August 31st, 2005 @ 3:24 pm

    “In addition, even for those systems that do espouse rightesousness of one person over another, you’ve offered no evidence that indeed it stems from a desire to control the other as oppossed to some other motivation?”

    It’s self-evident. The way human beings are constructed, it requires real effort to be sincerely humble. Self-righteousness is an assertion of superiority. The general notion that the “superior” person is more “valuable” than the “inferior” person, and should have superior rights and privileges, is ingrained. Everyone wants to feel superior to someone. People who can’t feel superior by being smarter, better “bred,” or better looking find other ways to feel superior, and the primary way they do this is by assuming a posture of “moral” superiority –self-righteousness. It’s the rare individual indeed who doesn’t use their superiority to affect the behavior of their “inferiors.” One obvious example is the “shame” attached to pregnancy out of wedlock. The mothers are shamed as an example to other females in order to coerce marriage and discourage pre-marital sex. Sometimes the “shaming” process is extreme, intended to break the will of the “offender,” and ensure complete obdience to parental desires that go far beyond preventing pre-marital sex or unwanted pregnancies –such as preventing a child from marrying someone of another race, or of undesired socio-economic status. The self-righteous even inflict punishment on the innocent children produced by referring to them as “bastards” or “illegitimate,” and discriminating against them socially. The obivious objective in this attitude is control.

  48. hermesten
    August 31st, 2005 @ 3:49 pm

    “Since the idea of God could not have come from people, where did the original concept of God come from?”

    Come on Frank, ALL ideas come from people. Babies aren’t born knowing how to perform calculus either. It took people a long time to figure it out. Is it your contention that Newton didn’t figure out how to do calculus, God just put the idea into his head? Or that Einstein didn’t develop the theory of general relativity because the default physics for babies is Newtonian?

    “The Bible is clear, the righteousness of any Christian is an imputed righteousness. It is God’s righteousness imputed to us. I can no more take credit for any righteous behavior than I can for creation. The righteous behavior of a Christian is owed to God and God alone.”

    Most Christians have this dogma memorized. You may believe it and even practice it, but it’s also clear to me that you’re intellectually, and probably morally, superior to the vast majority of human beings who inhabit this planet. Most people don’t really grasp this concept Frank. Many that do understand the concept, probably most, are incapable of consistently putting it into practice. In my experience, most people naturally conflate being “Christian” or being “religious” with being morally superior and it makes them self-righteous. They can’t apply your fine theological distinction.

    Vernichten nails it when he says that Christians feel “favored” or “chosen” by God. When you say: “So, no, Vernichten, while I may exhibit behavior that God would deem “righteous” it is not of my own volition. It is God’s doing.” you’ve already singled yourself out for exceptional treatment. God, the Creator of the universe, cared enough about you to make YOU righteous and not me. If you can believe this and not feel special, then you’re an exceptional human being. Unfortunately, most everybody else isn’t.

    Of course, when I hear people talking like this I wonder why people are rewarded or punished for their behavior. What’s the justification for punishing someone who “misbehaves” if the people who are “behaving” aren’t doing so of their own volition?

  49. Steve G.
    August 31st, 2005 @ 3:50 pm

    It’s self-evident. The way human beings are constructed, it requires real effort to be sincerely humble. Self-righteousness is an assertion of superiority. The general notion that the “superior” person is more “valuable” than the “inferior” person, and should have superior rights and privileges, is ingrained.
    The term under discussion was righteousness, not self-righteousness. I read that to mean that the system promoted certain behaviors as being righteous or good in the view of that system, not that the behavior should used as a marker of superiority. Righteousness and self-righteousness are not the same things and the latter is to be condemned.

  50. Steve G.
    August 31st, 2005 @ 3:54 pm

    As I reread your comments, and my own and I realize that you were responding to the second part of my original comment which did indeed grant that self-righteousness was being discussed. I stand corrected, and I think you make some valid points. As I said, I agree that self-righteousness should be condemned.

  51. Frank
    August 31st, 2005 @ 4:26 pm

    hermesten — “All ideas come from people.” If I were an atheist I would certainly have to think this true. However, it was sternwallow who said, “Concepts like God must be inculcated in them by those around them. Unless such education (many here call it brainwashing) occurs, the child does not spontaneously acquire a notion or belief in God and so remains an atheist.”

    I just want to know: if we are predisposed to atheism then when, where, or how did any person, anywhere ever conceive of such a notion as God (given that concepts like God must be inculcated into us).

    It is not my contention that God put calculus into Newton’s head but we also know that calculus is something that actually exists. Why would any person anywhere fabricate something so foreign to their own experience (like God) without some evidence to support the notion? Please, don’t bring up easter bunnies and unicorns, those are imaginative variations of things that actually exist. But the concept of God (if He does not exist) is so completely contrary to human experience as to beg the question why anyone would even be capable of imagining such a being. (Again, given that we are all predisposed to an atheistic point of view barring any external influences).

  52. hermesten
    August 31st, 2005 @ 5:01 pm

    Steve, it’s true though, that I was a little sloppy in my reply, and didn’t address the difference between righteousness and self-righteousness.

    Since you’re Catholic, I feel inclined to make a few observations about my experience with Catholicism. From my teen years until about 15 years ago, when I got transferred to Oklahoma, I lived in an area that was about 95% Hispanic, and hence, about 95% Catholic. I was inclined to be anti-religious but considered myself to be something of a deist. The Catholics at school and at work didn’t lecture me on Jesus or creationism. No Catholic strangers approached me in the mall to “share” the “good word.” Catholics didn’t knock on my door to share the “good word” on weekends. I was part of a small group from our high school band that occassionally played in the local Catholic church, and I enjoyed listening to articulate Catholic theologians on Buckley’s “Firing Line.” I enjoyed reading the apostate Catholics like Joyce and Graham Greene (you know, the “Bonanza” guy, for Donnie Darko fans). I didn’t feel imposed upon by religion and I was largely indifferent to it.

    Then I got transferred to Oklahoma, where, for the most part, Catholics are considered to be cult members, and in nearly every venture outside the home fundamentalist religious attitudes are forced down your throat until you choke on them. More and more undesired contact with Christians led me to greater and greater contempt for Christianity, and religion in general. I went from indifferent deist to interested agnostic to active atheist. It’s funny, but to a lot of people I know, being a Catholic isn’t much different than being an atheist as far as they’re concerned. In fact, some of them have have more respect for atheists. You guys should be just as concerned about these wacky protestant fundamentalists as we atheists are.

  53. hermesten
    August 31st, 2005 @ 5:25 pm

    “Why would any person anywhere fabricate something so foreign to their own experience (like God) without some evidence to support the notion?”

    Should I construe this question as evidence for your support of evolution theory? And Frank, when Einstein proposed general relativity, it was said that there were only about three other people in the world capable of evaluating his theory. The evidence for his theory came after he proposed it. In many cases, there was no possiblity of even gathering evidence with the technology available at the time.

    “But the concept of God (if He does not exist) is so completely contrary to human experience as to beg the question why anyone would even be capable of imagining such a being. (Again, given that we are all predisposed to an atheistic point of view barring any external influences).”

    This statement blows me away. The supposition of supernatural agency accords very well with the history of human experience. It’s the first recourse of a scientifically illiterate individual attempting to understand why his crops failed, how his woman got pregnant, why it rains, where daylight comes from, or why he got sick. Of course, strictly speaking, man didn’t imagine “God” he imagined “gods.” I mean really Frank, early man was confronted by a hostile world he didn’t understand and supernatural agency, or god, was the explanation for everything.

  54. Frank
    August 31st, 2005 @ 5:46 pm

    hermesten — you are rejecting the original premise of the question. IF people are predisposed toward atheism and only consider the supernatural when “brainwashed” by some external influence, how could they come up with the notion? This was the assertion of sternwallow’s post. IF they are predisposed to atheism then why would they not seek some physical, natural explanation for their experiences, regardless of how scientifically illiterate they are?

    I understand how history is filled with people who imagined gods. But doesn’t that indicate that man is predisposed toward the supernatural rather than atheism? Does not this tendency in human history refute sternwallow’s argument?

  55. Vernichten
    August 31st, 2005 @ 10:19 pm

    So much has been said, I wish I could take the time to expose all the wonderful fallacious arguments and leaps of illogic. I’ll cherry-pick and if I don’t address a particular argument that you want me refute let me know:
    I asked Steve G. to name religious institutions that don’t require adherence to their beliefs. I’ll hopefully clear up any confusion by restructuring the question. What religious group(s) don’t require any act or behavior on behalf of its members? I’m talking about any act, eating godflesh, paying dough, thinking good thoughts, attending services. Of course, most of the religion’s members don’t completely adopt and adhere to every rule, but the very idea that you have some special knowledge about what god wants, not just for you, but for everyone, is insulting, condescending, suspicious, very much wrong-headed, and ultimately dangerous. Where do you get this special info? Tell me you’re not just buying what someone else told you was true without any evidence, let alone proof.
    I then asked this:
    “What “other motivation” could there possibly be for telling someone that you already know how god wants them to behave?”
    And this was Steve G.’s response:
    “Could it be a simple as genuine belief? Why am I educating (brainwashing) my children in my faith? Is it purely out of a desire to control them? No. It

  56. Steve G.
    September 1st, 2005 @ 12:26 am

    I asked Steve G. to name religious institutions that don’t require adherence to their beliefs.

    Actually, this is not what you asked at all. Let me paste your own question here

  57. Steve G.
    September 1st, 2005 @ 12:53 am

    hermesten said:
    Since you’re Catholic, I feel inclined to make a few observations about my experience with Catholicism

  58. Vernichten
    September 1st, 2005 @ 8:44 am

    Actually Steve, here is the relevant question that I asked:
    “Name some religious systems that don’t require righteous (from the believer’s perspective) behavior of some kind from their adherents.”
    I guess I’m still waiting for a real answer.

    You say you are not trying to control your child’s behavior, but rather you’re trying to “effect and mold” it? You know what it means when someone accuses someone else of semantics? You are limiting the word control to not include “mold” or “effect”. This is an awesome example of definition high-jacking.
    If you are stopped at a red light, that light has some measure of control over you. Are you telling me that you don’t control your child with religion? Isn’t the point of teaching him these wild tales to get him to act a certain way, now or in the future? Would you say that your stories of superheroes (saints) and magical powers, told with credulity, won’t have more of an impact on your child’s future behavior than a traffic light? That’s control, friend.
    Atheists can be as guilty as believers in almost all things. There’s really just the one fault we don’t share, but it’s a goddamn hell of a fault.
    As for me, my children will learn critical thinking and logic first, and that’s all they’ll need to dispel the boogey man. If they share no beliefs with me that’s fine. I realize that forcing my children to learn anything is a form of control, but I’m not the one trying to argue that religious beliefs aren’t a form of control, too.

    “When they ask me questions related to the meaning and purpose of life, would you have me lie to them and tell them something I don

  59. Steve G.
    September 1st, 2005 @ 9:38 am

    Actually Steve, here is the relevant question that I asked:
    “Name some religious systems that don’t require righteous (from the believer’s perspective) behavior of some kind from their adherents.”
    I guess I’m still waiting for a real answer.

    I have answered that. I have granted that such doesn

  60. Frank
    September 1st, 2005 @ 9:59 am

    Vernichten — you said, “Come on Frank. I explained why, to control gullible and/or ignorant newbies. What you’re really asking is: “how could ignorant sinners come up with such a great idea as superma – er – god?”

    That’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking if all people are predisposed toward atheism (again, this was sternwallows argument) why would they not instinctively seek physical, natural explanations to explain their experiences and fears?

    Then you said, “Your argument is basically that, since ancient ignorant people seem to have developed a novel idea long ago, it must have come from an external source.”

    Again, no. “Ancient, ignorant” people came up with Baal and Zeus, but I don’t put any stock in those ideas. Heck, the very “ancient, ignorant” people group from which Christianity came (the Jews) also worshipped a golden calf at one point. But I don’t worship a golden calf, either. Christianity is based on a LOT more than that.

    Finally you said, “The idea that man is predisposed to god beliefs is not very important here.”

    Now, THIS, is really where I was going. Can I gather from your statement that you reject sternwallow’s assertion about the default mode of all humans as atheistic? If not, then I’d still like an answer to my original question.

  61. hermesten
    September 1st, 2005 @ 10:04 am

    Steve, when I was speaking to the attitude about Catholics among many fundamentalists I know, I didn’t mean they constrasted Catholilcism and atheism from a philosophical perspective, but something far more basic. They look at things like saints, emphasis on the Virgin Mary, the Pope, and Catholic doctrine as evidence of idolatry and heresy. They consider Catholics to be polytheists; and they object to the imposition of the Church’s interpretation of the Bible. But primarily, they foucs on “idolatry” and what they interpret as polytheism (saint worship), to define Catholicism as a cult.

    Joyce constrasted Protestantism and Catholicism by having Stephen Daedelus reply something like this (don’t remember the exact words), when his apostasy provoked his friend to ask if he was converting to Protestantism: why would I trade a religion of logical absurdities for one of illogical absurdities?

  62. Vernichten
    September 1st, 2005 @ 10:16 am

    Not identical. I will demonstrate my points again, as they have become lost in the debate.
    The very fact that you believe that god’s will is important, and that you have insight into god’s will, is enough to make you believe you have some advantage over non-believers. You believe you are superior by virtue of this fact alone, without requiring any further attempt at superiority. This belief puts you automatically at odds with non-believers who otherwise would probably not care about you one way or another. Athiests can be scumbags, but they’re not usually trying to be righteous when they perform their scumbaggery.
    You came to these beliefs by learning about them from other humans. These humans have a vested interest in controlling your will. You perpetuate that control by training your children to bend their neck to the yoke. You claim you are not trying to control them, only show them how to behave for god’s favor so they don’t incur his benevolent eternal punishment. It’s a fair call to say that you are playing fast and loose with definitions.

    The motives of atheists do not stem from their atheism. The motives of real believers stem from their unprovable beliefs. If you want to say your motives are as good or useful or righteous as an atheist’s, you’ll have to say why. I am ready to back up my beliefs with rational arguments that don’t rely on premises that require blind faith. Are you?

    The fault that athiests don’t share with believers is a belief in an unprovable god and all the nonsense and paradoxes that it brings.

  63. hermesten
    September 1st, 2005 @ 10:29 am

    “I understand how history is filled with people who imagined gods. But doesn’t that indicate that man is predisposed toward the supernatural rather than atheism? Does not this tendency in human history refute sternwallow’s argument?”

    I guess this depends on how you interpret what Sternwallow meant by “default” and “child.” He said: “All babies are born without a belief in God (or anything). Concepts like God must be inculcated in them by those around them. Unless such education (many here call it brainwashing) occurs, the child does not spontaneously acquire a notion or belief in God and so remains an atheist.”

    I think the first part of his statement is irrefutable. I also think it’s true that a “child” is indoctrinated in religious belief before he has developed the intellectual capacity to come to such a belief on his own –so maybe all we’re arguing about is timing. Would people spontaneously acquire a belief in God on their own? –I don’t know. People don’t spontaneously develop the theory for general relativity on their own. Most lack the intellectual capacity to understand it even if they are instructed in it. Most people don’t even develop simple mathematical concepts on their own, but these concepts can be taught to them.

    However, the concept of God is a very useful concept to those who want to control other people or just make an excuse for their own failures or behavior. Once someone comes up with with this idea, the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. Most Americans also grow up believing that they are better than people in other countries, and that their government is better, purer, and that America is the “freest” country on earth and favored by God. They believe this because they were indoctrinated to believe this, and this belief is a product of ignorance, not reality.

  64. Steve G.
    September 1st, 2005 @ 10:30 am

    Steve, when I was speaking to the attitude about Catholics among many fundamentalists I know, I didn’t mean they constrasted Catholilcism and atheism from a philosophical perspective, but something far more basic. They look at things like saints

  65. Vernichten
    September 1st, 2005 @ 10:32 am

    The default mode is atheist because a human, born into a world with no other humans, will not, before he dies alone, come up with the god that most believers worship. He will invent boogeymen, monsters and other simple controlling factors for his limited universe, which he rightly fears. Would you say these superstitions are god? His default position, before becoming self-aware and inventing these things, is atheism.
    Now, enter other people. Some people will be here already when most people arrive. These people will have seen the world, come to their conclusions about its underlying causes, and communicated this information to one another. In time, the explanations become more grandiose as humans themselves become more thoughtful and communicative, and more info is gathered. Eventually, if not immediately, it will occur to one of the group that it would benefit him if he could control the others. How to do this? One excellent way is to take advantage of the fear the others have regarding the unknown. Enter John Edward, TV psychic. Some relatively clever mind realized that people miss their loved ones when they stop talking and breathing, and they wonder where the animating force went. This clever mind also realized that, since no one seemed to know the answer, the man who did would be well-fed and happy. And to this day they are.
    I could get a little more philosophical if you like. My purpose is not to deride but to make my point clear.

    I have to take issue with this comment:
    “Christianity is based on a LOT more than that”

    Please explain exactly what Christianity is based on if not the myths of ancient, ignorant, fallible people originally, followed by 2000 years of perversion, spin, corruption, villainy and lies.

  66. Steve G.
    September 1st, 2005 @ 11:12 am

    Not identical. I will demonstrate my points again, as they have become lost in the debate.
    The very fact that you believe that god’s will is important, and that you have insight into god’s will, is enough to make you believe you have some advantage over non-believers. You believe you are superior by virtue of this fact alone, without requiring any further attempt at superiority. This belief puts you automatically at odds with non-believers who otherwise would probably not care about you one way or another. Athiests can be scumbags, but they’re not usually trying to be righteous when they perform their scumbaggery.

    OK, that clarifies things. My answer is still the same. You are imputing in me feelings of superiority that simply do not exist. If anything, I hold myself to a far greater standard than I hold anyone else. I clearly see my own weaknesses and faults, and continue to focus on them, rather than on

  67. Vernichten
    September 1st, 2005 @ 11:51 am

    Morality is relative. It would not exist with self-aware entities, unlike absolutes, which don’t require believers to exist.
    I guess my question was a little broad for you, so I’ll specify what I’m asking.

    Do you have an argument, any argument at all, regarding your beliefs that doesn’t require faith to accept it?

    If that’s too polemic for you then I’m afraid I can only point you to the dictionary.

    I have never said that the universe came from nothing. You probably missed the debate regarding that (it was a while ago), but my current belief is in the oscillating universe, which was never created, always existing. No god required, unless you’re Pantheistic and believe god IS the universe and physics is his Word. However, unlike most believers I’m willing to change my beliefs when I learn more, and unlike most believers I consider that a strength, not a weakness.

    Any “faith” is blind faith by definition, really. Since the one virtue that defines faith is unprovability to the faithful, it’s blind, since it doesn’t require visual documentation to be believed.

    I’ll explain why I could be considered a hostile witness. I don’t like believers. I don’t like people who consider my behavior to be damning, while excusing their own bad behavior with a vague application of the “virtues” of their chosen, unverifiable beliefs. I don’t like it when people I don’t know damn me by default. I especially don’t like it when people who believe they’re acting on behalf of god stop progress that could aid me greatly. I don’t care what you do with your life, just so long as it doesn’t cause me suffering and death. Get it? You have aligned yourself against me, not the other way around. Your unverifiable beliefs are in MY way. Is that too polemic for you? I do not think that polemic means what you think it means. It’s a refutation, and if you think my comments are polemic, then you are admitting that they are at least a refution of your argument, if not one you believe.
    As far as kicking the paradox down the road, do you believe we know all there is to know? If I can’t answer a question that doesn’t mean it can’t be answered. “Down the road” we’ll probably know a lot more, and I have “blind faith” that we, or something with self-awareness, will figure out why the seeming paradoxes are not really paradoxes. And even if they don’t, reality doesn’t need thoughts or beliefs (or you) to exist.
    As far as holding yourself to a higher standard, that goes a long way to making my point. You have a line on god which others don’t have. Is there no punishment in your belief system for non-believers?

  68. Vernichten
    September 1st, 2005 @ 11:52 am

    Sorry, my first lines should read:
    “Morality is relative. It would not exist withOUT self-aware entities, unlike absolutes, which don’t require believers to exist.”

  69. hermsten
    September 1st, 2005 @ 11:57 am

    “You may vehemently disagree with the fundamental premise regarding a discussion about God altogether, but I don

  70. Steve G.
    September 1st, 2005 @ 12:45 pm

    You are throwing out so much to address that I simply can

  71. ebonmuse
    September 1st, 2005 @ 1:41 pm

    “I suggest you first read up on the details of his life, and even possibly read some of his works before impugning him as a buffoon (which he may be after all, but certainly not on the misrepresentations you’ve presented here).”

    I’ve read quite a few of Lewis’ works, thanks. You can read my reviews of The Great Divorce and Mere Christianity here:

    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/books/greatdivorce.html
    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/books/merechristianity.html

    I’ve recently completed The Screwtape Letters and intend to write a review of that in due time. I maintain my position: Whatever Lewis’ achievements in other areas, his arguments for the truth of Christianity are, without exception, shallow and poorly-thought-out.

  72. Steve G.
    September 1st, 2005 @ 1:46 pm

    hermsten said:

  73. jahrta
    September 1st, 2005 @ 2:07 pm

    Steve G. :

    “As a bit of a natural optimist, I have the hope that people by nature have a great capacity for good if they are called too it (along with that obvious capacity for terrible evil). I know that

  74. Vernichten
    September 1st, 2005 @ 2:30 pm

    “Yes, and no. I believe to the extent that it

  75. hermesten
    September 1st, 2005 @ 3:47 pm

    “The only thing that makes me hesitate in embracing the attitude is that is would make me fear I was being elitist to view the mass of humanity that way.”

    I’m an elitist where it makes sense to be an elitist. For instance, I don’t think you’d knowingly pick a mediocre doctor to treat you if you could have the best. Where I’m not an elitist is in the application of the law. All people should be equal before the law. And though this country may have gotten closer to this ideal than all, or most other countries, we seem to be moving backwards now.

    “I have the hope that people by nature have a great capacity for good if they are called too it ”

    I don’t disagree with this sentiment. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of work to create and sustain a human system that can make this possible. And there are always people who are trying to undermine and exploit such a system for their own ends. Entropy always wins. Just look at the difference between the people “leading” this country 200 years ago and the completely venal, corrupt, self-serving second and third rate politicians we have today. We’ve gone from Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, and FDR, to Clinton and Bush. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice? And the most incurious, most ignorant, most self-centered of the bunch is the guy at the top. I don’t know whether to puke or laugh.

    “do you think that the removal of religiosity will make things better or worse?”

    The simple answer is “better.” Don’t you think the world would be a better place without Muslim fundamentlists? Without the religious caste system of India? Without Christian zealots carrying signs that say “God Hates Fags” and bombing abortion clinics? The real answer is more complicated. Maybe a world full of Buddists would be better? Maybe a world full of Unitarians would be better? But maybe a world full of Muslims or Hindus would be worse? The limiting element is the fact that most people only go where they’re led. The irony is that many of these systems would work well enough, and produce a better world, if the leadership was intelligent, honest, and decent. I think that this country has already deteriorated to the point where corruption, dishonesty, and self-interest has been institutionalized. Any change that doesn’t depose our current corrupt set of elites is just polishing brass on the Titanic.

    Religion certainly has a history of slowing and limiting progress in just about every human activity from science to the slave trade. Like Vernichten, I think religion has slowed progress, and I also think that religion has done a lot of damage, most of it incalculable. However, other dogma’s have also done a lot of damage.

    At this point in my life, I tend to think that much of religion serves the purpose of control. It’s a tool. If there was no religion, the people seeking control would use other tools. Religion might not be missed, but by the same token, eliminating religion, though it might be a step in the right direction, would not fix anything by itself. But, perhaps, if there are 20 or 100 divisive or damaging influences in our lives, it would leave us with 9, or 99.

  76. Steve G.
    September 1st, 2005 @ 3:49 pm

    Now who’s morally equivocating? Is it bad to disbelieve or not? Yes and no in this case seems to mean yes. I am damned if I don’t get saved somehow, through my righteous works or the grace of god.

    Objectively, there is (or will be) an answer to the question of whether you or I are going to be

  77. Steve G.
    September 1st, 2005 @ 4:04 pm

    The simple answer is “better.” Don’t you think the world would be a better place without Muslim fundamentlists? Without the religious caste system of India? Without Christian zealots carrying signs that say “God Hates Fags” and bombing abortion clinics

    I honestly just don

  78. Frank
    September 1st, 2005 @ 4:20 pm

    hermesten — Entropy always wins? Really? Is this only true in the social sense (like your example of America’s leadership through the years) or does it count in other areas, too? Say, for example, evolution?

  79. Frank
    September 1st, 2005 @ 4:22 pm

    hermesten — I’ll admit upfront I’m not looking for an answer to my previous post. It’s been a while but we’ve been down that road before. I’m just yankin’ your chain.

  80. hermesten
    September 1st, 2005 @ 4:29 pm

    “Has there been any system on earth any worse that communist Russia or China? ”

    We’ve had this discussion on here before, but Nazi Germany was a “Christian” nation, even though Hitler was not a Christian. It was arguably worse than communist Russia or China.

    Also, in both cases, it’s not just a simple question of religion and no religion. Russian communism, for instance, was at least partially a product of the reaction against the alliance between the Christian Church and the Russian aristocracy, and their centuries of brutal oppression. If the Christian Church hadn’t been in bed with the Russian aristocracy, and had instead been part of the oppostition to the rule of the czars, Russian communism might have had a Christian face. The Christian Church helped perpetuate the conditions that made Stalinism possible, even perhaps inevitable, so it is not exempt from responsiblity.

  81. hermesten
    September 1st, 2005 @ 4:36 pm

    Frank, that question actually poses no problem to answer. Although I was speaking metaphorically, the thermodynamic fact is that entropy wins in a closed system where there is no added energy. In the social system this energy represents the work required to achieve and sustain “excellence” and “justice.” The earth is not a closed system, energy is applied from an external source.

  82. Steve G.
    September 1st, 2005 @ 9:44 pm

    I

  83. Vernichten
    September 1st, 2005 @ 9:55 pm

    “It is simply a fundamental of Catholic thinking that we can not judge the state of anyone

  84. Steve G.
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 9:23 am

    I know many Catholics, I was baptized Catholic, I went to Catholic School. Your comment, while perhaps sincere, does not reflect the view of most Catholics I’ve ever met.

    I can not deny that. But at least this statement (given that some other of my statements are a good bit more speculative) accurately represents the teachings of the Church as formulated in its dogma. I

  85. Vernichten
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 10:08 am

    Regarding hardwiring, people are hardwired for fear. It’s probably the first emotion, and an argument can be made that all other emotions stem from it. As the bible says “fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom”. You are hardwired for fear, and when someone puts a name to that which you fear, in this case god, then you will try to conquer that fear. One good way is to supplicate god’s bleesing by crawling on your belly. Another, better way is to explore that which you fear before labelling it and assigning it magical powers.

    Regarding love, I personally believe that love is a successful mechanical process that persuades fathers to stay with mothers since two parents are better than one. This isn’t to say that love is good or bad, it’s just useful for more successful reproduction. Loving god is useful for obeisance, and little else.

    Regarding your personal morality: I am taking from your post that you are in fact a moral relativist. In your world virtually nothing will separate me from god’s love and salvation except a desire to be away from god. My sins can be mitigated or dissolved no matter how heinous. How is that moral?

    Regarding dogma: If I only had to deal with just Catholic dogma! I could defuse it with one simple equation: 1 does not equal 3. Unfortunately dogma means nothing to the average ass in the pew. As I stated before, Catholic dogma is just a way to ritualize “god’s will” into a trite, hour and half long ceremony that has little true meaning for most Catholics. The fact that you take it seriously (except for the hell and punishment part, apparently), does not absolve your ignorant cronies from their trespasses against me, and the fact that you endorse their harmful organization makes you complicit.

  86. Steve G.
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 11:08 am

    ..since two parents are better than one.

    Why are two parents better than one?

    Regarding your personal morality: I am taking from your post that you are in fact a moral relativist.

    We are talking about two distinct things. The standards we set up of what is right and wrong vs. the application of those standards as they apply to real life and individuals. I am unequivocally an absolutist in the first area, and quite sensibly a relativist in the second.

    In your world virtually nothing will separate me from god’s love and salvation except a desire to be away from god. My sins can be mitigated or dissolved no matter how heinous

  87. Vernichten
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 11:45 am

    “Beyond that, I actually don

  88. hermesten
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 11:46 am

    “Why are two parents better than one?”

    It isn’t obvious? Think back to primitive man Steve. This is an evolutionary process –a process that the Catholic Church accepts as God’s method of creation. Pregnant women are vulnerable. Once they have a child, the child must be taken care of if it is to survive long enough to pass on its genes. It’s rather difficult to gather food and take care of a child, so having a partner is very beneficial to survival. It may not be significant today, but it was originally adaptive from an evolutionary perspective.

  89. Vernichten
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 12:12 pm

    I was wondering if anyone else was reading this, herm.

  90. Steve G.
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 12:15 pm

    >>Don’t be ridiculous, it colors your every thought and action.

    You can continue to believe that if you like. I can with 100% honestly tell you that when I first became Catholic (after most of my life as a non-believer), I did so PURELY because I believed it to be true and actually didn

  91. Steve G.
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 12:21 pm

    >>It’s rather difficult to gather food and take care of a child, so having a partner is very beneficial to survival.
    And here was my point. Why is survival a good thing? You drove back to exactly what I thought would be the answer. You are making a value judgement (two parents are better than one), based on something that you appear to believe is objectively true (that survival is a good thing). In a random universe, survival is can be no better than non-survival.

  92. hermesten
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 12:37 pm

    “In a random universe, survival is can be no better than non-survival. ”

    This is absurd. Maybe I don’t know what you mean by a “random universe” –a much overused term by the scientifically illiterate– but you leave me with the impression that you think we live in a uinverse without order. If this is what you mean, you simply don’t understand the terminology you are using. This is sort of like the fundamentalist canard about evolution and entropy, and coming from you, it surprises me, because the Catholic Church has accepted evolution science. As far as I know, the Catholic Church also accepts cosmological theory.

    In any case, survival instinct has nothing to do with randomness. You apparently believe you are making some profound point about purpose based on whether or not order comes about through physical processesses or is designed and intended to be ordered in a particular way. You’re not. The only point you’re making is that you don’t understand the science or the meaning of the scientific terms you are using.

  93. Steve G.
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 1:07 pm

    This is absurd. Maybe I don’t know what you mean by a “random universe”

  94. Debbie
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 1:16 pm

    Hermesten,

    Yes, the Catholic Church is pretty mainstream regarding cosmology, and currently funds two astronomy facilities, one of which is on Mount Graham in Arizona. George Coyne, a Jesuit priest, is director of the Vatican Observatory and has a doctorate in astronomy from Georgetown University. He was a co-chair on the commission on Galileo in the early 90’s that led to Pope John Paul II stating that the Catholic Church erred in their treatment of Galileo.

    Coyne has stated that the bible is part poetry and part history but has no science. This may not be the official position, but it is very widely held among the ‘liberal intellectual’ wing of the Church. He also holds the view that scientific study of the physical world gets the faithful closer to understanding god.

  95. Jennifer
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 1:40 pm

    Debbie, I had heard that Pope Benedict was planning on rolling back the Church position on evolution. It seems there is no shortage of Political Squires eager to gain favors of the Baptists.

  96. a different tim
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 1:45 pm

    Going back a little here. To post 81.
    The claim that atheism is a default position is not based on human nature, as with babies, language etc (and one could quote Chomsky’s view on innate grammar….but I won’t. Especially since it seems to be a bit doubtful these days). It is based on logic. We assume that stuff isn’t there unless we see evidence that it is. For example, I assume that there are no invisible rhinocerosososes in my house because there is no evidence for them. Since theists are proposing stuff, they have to provide the evidence, not us.
    Now it may be that human nature in fact predisposes us to see patterns that aren’t there (it being far better to sometimes think there is a sabre tooth tiger when there isn’t than vice versa – so this pattern seeing ability should be selected for). In which case the tendency of human beings and societies to see constellations, patterns in entrails, and the hand of a divine being is to be expected. But the logical default position is still that they don’t exist until we see some evidence. All the comparison with babies and languages proves is that humans have not evolved to be totally logical. This may also be why science is difficult and it took thousands of years to invent it.

    I hereby confess to stealing the bulk of this argument from Richard Dawkins. Go Dr D!
    The rhinoceros argument is from Bertrand Russell. “Wittgenstein thinks nothing empirical is knowable. I tried to convince him that there was not a rhinoceros in the room. I looked under all the tables and chairs without finding one, but he remained unconvinced”.

  97. Steve G.
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 2:06 pm

    I assume that there are no invisible rhinocerosososes in my house because there is no evidence for them….But the logical default position is still that they don’t exist until we see some evidence.

    The discussion was not around whether they actually exists or not. The discussion was whether a human being ‘by default’ is predisposed to belief or non-belief. I even anticipated your argument that this is an evolutionary development (which also wasn’t the discussion) and said that regardless of it’s source, the ‘default’ position is to believe things our parents tell us, and not some rationalist, evidence requiring position. Don’t believe me? Go tell a 3 year old there’s an invisible Rhino in you house and see what their response is. ;-)

    But you seem to grant my point that we are predisposed towards accepting these things (whatever the cause), correct?

  98. Steve G.
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 2:10 pm

    >>Debbie, I had heard that Pope Benedict was planning on rolling back the Church position on evolution. It seems there is no shortage of Political Squires eager to gain favors of the Baptists.

    He’s not ‘rolling it back’. He’s only indicated that a PURELY evolutionary theory to the extent it tries to deny that foundational role of God in the creation of the universe is incompatable with Catholic teaching. To the extent that an evolutionary theory doesn’t attempt to exclude that creative role, it’s compatible.

  99. Jennifer
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 2:28 pm

    Evolutionary theory is not a political entity, it is a theory and Natural Selection by definition excludes the conept of conscious invervention. Otherwise its called Artificial Selection. God as the Dog Breeder.

  100. hermesten
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 2:39 pm

    “if the first cause is a random, purposeless event, it seems to me that logically, regardless of the apparent subsequent order, everything stemming from that purposeless foundation is by extension purposeless and without any

  101. Steve G.
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 2:58 pm

    This still seems incoherent to me in that I see atheist using moral language as if it’s objective all the time. It’s possible that I am misunderstanding the intent, but I don’t think so. I think that most folks including atheist hold certain behaviors to be objectively immoral in a very similar way to that which I do. The way that most speak and act betrays this fact. To the extent that they speak and behave this way, it ‘appears’ no more coherent to me than anything that beleivers are charged with.

    You may think I am stretching things here, but I’ve browsed through some very interesting discussion in the forums on this very sight, where atheist are discussing this very topic. That there simply is no such thing as morality or ethics, and anybody claiming such is not being rational (not my claim by the way). Frankly, I think this a more honest position (though frightening) then one where atheism is claimed, and then the person in question proceeds to lecture me (figurative) about how to behave on any number of things from the environment, to politics, etc. The position and behavior of the latter type of person has never made any sense to me and still doesn’t.

  102. Jennifer
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 3:01 pm

    Steve G. I need your definitiong of morality.

  103. hermesten
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 3:12 pm

    It seems to me that you’re looking for some kind of moral prescription that simply doesn’t exist, whether or not there is a God. The Bible, for instance, says: thou shalt not kill (or thou shalt not murder –depending on who is quoting what). What does this mean? It’s not explained. It clearly doesn’t mean thou shalt not kill because Christians kill for many reasons and at least some of these reasons are legitimate.

    What does murder mean? The Bible doesn’t define murder with the specificity required for our society to justly regulate killing under the law.

    So is it always “immoral” to kill, or not? If not, then when is killing morally permissible? Quakers have one view, Baptists have another. But basically, it’s permissible when men, ecoding historically evolved societal norms into law by consensus, say it is, and impermisslble when they say it isn’t. This problem isn’t solved by the supposition that there is a God. It is negotiated socially between human beings with competing interests.

    Different societies have dfferent views on what consitutes theft, and what punishment is just. Is it moral to kill a thief? What is the “just” or “moral” punishment for “adultery?” None of these questions are answered by the supposition that there is a God.

  104. Jennifer
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 3:22 pm

    Lets pick something that isn’t mentioned in the Bible. Cannibalism isn’t mentioned in the commandments.

  105. Steve G.
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 3:25 pm

    So Jennifer, is cannibalism objectively a bad thing?

  106. Jennifer
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 3:33 pm

    I’m still waiting for your definition of morality

  107. Steve G.
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 3:37 pm

    That there is a ‘good’ or even ‘better’ way to behave without recourse to reference to some other good or value judgement. It can’t be turtles all the way down, can it?

  108. Steve G.
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 3:41 pm

    btw, I think we are starting to go in circles. I’ll play this out a bit further, but I don’t think any of us can add much new here.

  109. Jennifer
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 3:46 pm

    OK – agreed

  110. Jennifer
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 4:00 pm

    We accept our victory.

  111. Steve G.
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 4:19 pm

    I’ll just assume that was in jest.

  112. hermesten
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 4:25 pm

    “That there is a ‘good’ or even ‘better’ way to behave without recourse to reference to some other good or value judgement.”

    If I understand what you’re saying in this statement I probably agree. “Good” or “better” is a comparative judgement –something is “good” or “better” in comparison to what? What I’m saying, and I think what Jennifer is saying by her question about the morality of cannablism, is that these questions aren’t answered by the existence of God, because He remains silent on all these questions.

    If you suppose that God exists, and that life has a purpose, you also have not answered any questions about morality, because if there is a purpose we don’t know what it is, and if there is a God we don’t know anything about Him. Everything you think you know about God comes from the Bible and men attributing certain characteristics to God.

    I think you’re position has an addtional problem in that you’re a Catholic, and Catholics don’t interpret the Bible literally. Forget about the question of whether the Bible was written by God or man, even if it was written by God we still have to rely on man to interpret it. In any case, just the belief in God answers no moral questions. Quakers, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Unitarians, and Hindus, all believe in a supreme being, or God, and all make different calls on specific moral questions. We would live in a vastly different world if the moral universe was determined by Quakers instead of Catholics.

    It isn’t sufficient for you merely to assert the existence of God to answer moral questions, you must also assert that the Bible is God’s rulebook, and that the religion derived from this assertion is the only true religion. And then, even if we accept that your book of myths is true and everyone else’s book of myths is false, your myths must still be interpreted and we’re back to relying on man’s capacity for reason in determining what is and what is not “moral.”

  113. Vernichten
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 4:27 pm

    Actually Steve G., in me you have encountered what I consider to be an “extreme Atheist” or predeterminist, so much of what you seem to be accusing me of is actually correct, but some is not.
    To say that one thing is more important than another is definitely a judgment call. I am forced to make judgment calls which are not random and I’ll explain the underlying reason why.
    My true belief is that everything happens because of what happened before it. The logical extension of this is that there is no free will. Every time you seem to be exercising your will, you are doing so for a reason, or cause. You make your decision for ice cream flavor based on your preference which is also based on previous factors that are based on other factors. It keeps going back to the point where everything, including space and time is compacted. It eventually returns to this, and then it blows up again. As a different tim pointed out on a recent thread, it probably doesn’t matter if it happens once or a million billion times.
    I believe that everything we do is preprogrammed from the very beginning of our current universe. I don’t choose to call the universe god, and I consider even the ability to dimly understand the process that is occurring a cool gift, even if I can’t actually participate to really change it.
    To me, this point of view seems as obvious as the sun, and nobody explained it to me at an early age. They certainly tried to fill my head with nonsense, though.
    This is not to say that my actions should reflect my lack of values. My apparent judgment calls are predetermined by the factors that occurred before me that finally culminated in me, just as yours are decided by factors that preceded your existence.
    It’s stark, but it’s not random at all.
    That’s my stomach-churning nihilistic belief, that we’re all just puppets. I am learning more every day, though, so it’s possible it could change (I hope it will).

  114. Debbie
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 4:32 pm

    It’s a bit off this topic, but it’s important to clarify between evolution and abiogenesis. While there is some pressure within the Catholic Church to take a more US Fundie Protestant/Baptist view, the CC seems to accept evolution as accurate while giving god the credit for actual creation of life. An atheist would of course require a natural origin to abiogenesis. Now, there is still the problem for the CC that if man descended from apes, at some point god must have intervened in evolution and given ‘man’ a soul, becuase his or her parents, being apes, did not have one.

  115. Steve G.
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 4:50 pm

    Vernichten said:
    First, I want to say that to the extent I accused you of anything, I apologize. It was never my intent to do so. I try in these discussions to keep to the figurative ‘you’, but if I slipped I apologize. I am simply enjoying the hell out of a great discussion (at least from my perspective, though you guys probably think me an utter fool for believing so I suppose that might curtail the enjoyment a bit.) ;-)

    That’s my stomach-churning nihilistic belief, that we’re all just puppets. I am learning more every day, though, so it’s possible it could change (I hope it will).

    I want to thank you for your honesty and candor. This is exactly what I have been trying to distill from the conversation over the last few posts. I think this is an utterly logical and reasonable view starting from the premise you do, and I respect you for that. Indeed, the last few posts I was trying to point out that this has always seemed to me the logical extension of atheism, and anything else seems self-contradicting.

    I obviously do not share this (though I did to a large extent at one point), but as I said, I can respect it. You will likely lose all respect for me at this point, but on this very issue is what my acceptance of belief began. It may be illogical, paradoxical, a sign of weakness, whatever you want to call it, so be it. But I simply can not accept that things are ultimately meaningless. I can not accept that the nearly universal search for meaning found in humanity (and myself) is illusory. That’s MY fundamental premise, and to the extent that that

  116. hermesten
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 5:51 pm

    “I simply can not accept that things are ultimately meaningless.”

    I think this is true for most people and is one of the primary human traits that keeps religion alive. I had a similar discussion with my wife the other night. She desperately needs to believe that there is something more to life than what we can know or observe –I don’t. I’d like for there to be something more, but to me, the evidence is against it, and I think believing that there is something beyond what we can experience makes us ripe for expolitation. I’d rather deal with the consequences of the harshest truth than choose to live a comforting fiction.

    I’m not as bleakly predeterminist as Vern. I guess I’m more of a partial-determinist. It seems self-evident to me that we don’t have “free will.” None of us can disconnect ourselves and our choices from the past. Also, our choices are severely constrained. Every choice we make now constrains the choices we have available to us in the future. We must also make choices without complete knowledge, and sometimes without any knowledge, or the wrong knowledge. And choices we make before we even have the intellectual capacity to make reasonable predictions about their consequences constrain our future choices too.

    On the other hand, we clearly can make some choices in our lives that will alter our current trajectories. If I chose to come into work with a gun and start shooting coworkers my life would definitely diverge from the path it is on now. I suppose Vern would say that such a decision would be a product of everything that preceeded it, and thought I don’t really disagree, I would say that my choice not to shoot up the office is both the product of my past, and of my present intelligence, by which I reject committing an action that will destroy myself and others.

  117. St. Teabag
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 6:15 pm

    Hermesten, why don’t you think you have free will? Free will doesn’t mean you can choose to do anything anything. Some things are impossible, others impractical, but you are certainly free to choose within boundaries. You may choose not to shoot up in your office, but it is still a choice is it not? I always think of free will as simply the lack of another will imposing itself on mine, so I don’t have free will only to the extent that I live in a society with other people and laws and so on, so that my choices regarding some things I might want to do are indeed supressed (I can’t take a nice car etc etc, because I fear the consequences, and I don’t know how).

  118. hermesten
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 6:31 pm

    American Heritage Dictionary definition of “free will.”

    free will n. 1. The ability or discretion to choose; free choice: chose to remain behind of my own free will. 2. The power, attributed especially to human beings, of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will. [Middle English fre wil, translation of Late Latin liberum arbitrium : Latin liberum, free + Latin arbitrium, will.]

  119. Vernichten
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 6:57 pm

    St. Teabag, in my opinion, once we get past the horror of the universe’s uselessness and try to create purpose, your definition of free will is the best next step. Every will (seemingly, at least) operating as independently as possible creates the freest possible world for me to exert my freedom (even though I know behind it all I’m not really making the choices anyway, but I am the master of willful cognitive dissonance).
    When someone willingly submits their will to god they are making the world, my world, less free.

  120. Vernichten
    September 2nd, 2005 @ 7:09 pm

    Steve G., I meant accuse as in “attempting to label me with a negative connotation”. It seemed as if you were attempting to show that I make moral arguments, even though I have no real right to make a moral call, and the truth is that as an amoralist I agree with you that no one does.
    Also, don’t be so hard on yourself, you’re not an utter fool

  121. russ said
    September 3rd, 2005 @ 8:03 am

    suprising how many of you are searching, personally i think anyone prays to whatever under fire…get a grip twenty fat bibles wont stop an RPG

  122. russ said
    September 3rd, 2005 @ 8:03 am

    suprising how many of you are searching, personally i think anyone prays to whatever under fire…get a grip twenty fat bibles wont stop an RPG

  123. a different tim
    September 3rd, 2005 @ 1:41 pm

    Uh…back to Steve G. Sorry this is late (again) but I can’t post as often as before these days…hopefully this is still relevant to something.
    Looking back, yes, you did mention most of the stuff I mentioned. I should really have directed most of it at Frank’s post (37?) where he made an argument along the lines of “where does this belief in God come from if there is no God?” (sorry for simplifying and paraphrasing your post, Frank, but I think it’s a fair summary).
    You did, on the other hand, ask whether we are correct in asserting that the default position is atheism, based on the fact that people are prone to believe stuff. I was trying to answer this and my point involving the rhinocerosososes, which I think is still valid, is that it may not be a default position of human nature, but that it should still be the default logical position.
    This fact goes to the heart of RA’s “weak atheism” which is more or less the position I hold (with the codicil that “weak” atheism is based on sound epistemology and therefore a lot stronger than RA thinks it is).
    Regarding the god of the philosophers, I distrust a priori proofs in either direction because they are so often wrong. I’m an empiricist. Empirically, I see no evidence of God (and if I did, I would become a theist – though probably not a Christian). Aristotle was a master of a priori logic but it didn’t stop him from being wrong about almost everything.
    Incidentally – there used to be a good empirical argument for God – the argument from design. However this is only a valid inference if there is no alternative. Since the publication of “the origin of species” there has been such an alternative. This is why many Christians hate Darwinism – it knocks away one of the major props to their belief.
    Now, on the free will stuff……..that one I am truly prepared to suspend. atheists and Christians both have subgroups that believe either way. It certainly feels as if we have free will but then subjective evidence is often unreliable.
    If it bothers anyone, many physicists (for what I am assured are good scientific reasons and definitely not because they all watched too much star trek when they were teenagers) are coming round to the many worlds interpretation of quantum theory, which says that in effect all alternatives play out in every decision, thus rendering free will and determinism redundant. It’s enormously comforting to think that in another universe I made the right decisions and am now rich, famous and respected by all.

  124. Vernichten
    September 3rd, 2005 @ 1:48 pm

    And in countless more universes you are a homeless derelict, or worse.

  125. St. Teabag
    September 3rd, 2005 @ 7:06 pm

    Vernichten, I don’t see the pointlessnes of the universe as being horrific. After all, what point could it have that would make any difference to insignificant specks like us? In some ways it might be worse if the universe was a multidimensional system designed to create life on a higher plane and increase the well being of some majestic superadvanced life forms, but us humans were simply an unintended by product and still confined to a trivial life before an inevitable oblivion. I prefer that it is all meaningless. Some people find this hard to accept, but that reaction is no different than the man who wanders around a parking lot for an hour, refusing to believe that his brand new car has been ripped off.

  126. a different tim
    September 4th, 2005 @ 6:03 am

    It’s true that in countless universes I’m a homeless derelict, or worse.
    You’ve made me all depressed now. Damn you for robbing me of my based-on-dubious-logic metaphysical comfort zone!

  127. simbol
    September 4th, 2005 @ 9:48 pm

    “but that reaction is no different than the man who wanders around a parking lot for an hour, refusing to believe that his brand new car has been ripped off.” and one hour later this same man became aware he hadn’t bought any new car.

  128. Steve G.
    September 15th, 2005 @ 2:58 pm

    (I don’t know how old you or your children are – has that day already dawned?)

    Me 35
    Son#1 5
    Son#2 2
    Daughter#1 19 weeks in utero

    will you simply tell them what you believe about the world around you, inferring by connotation and by proxy borne of your relationship with them that they should believe as you do?

    My general philosophy on parenting in this area is that what I do, and to the extent that I walk the walk which I talk, will be more compelling than anything I can say to them. If I explain to them that the purpose of life is to selflessly love those in our lives whom we encounter; to the extent I model that behavior (or fail to), I will

  129. jahrta
    September 15th, 2005 @ 3:25 pm

    Steve G

    overall I’d have to say you gave some good answers. As a person of faith, you set some good examples for others who are of a similar inclination to worship a god of some sort. I will always be an atheist, but I think that if more religious people adopted your viewpoints as espoused in your posts above, the world in general would be a better place.

    Hopefully those positions will remain the same even if your children decide to embrace atheism or agnosticism. As a former agnostic yourself I think that would be a likely outcome.

    cheers

    -jahrta

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