We Need to Hear More Atheist Voices November 27, 2010

We Need to Hear More Atheist Voices

Every now and then, an email comes along that I’m compelled to share with all of you. With the writer’s permission, I’m posting this one. She mentions this site, but I really do believe any thank-yous must be shared with all of you who blog, who run atheist groups, and who are just open about your atheism.

You’re making it easier for other people to come out of the closet:

I grew up forced to attend a conservative Southern Baptist church, although I have been atheist since I was fifteen. I was turned off to Christianity by my own church, where women could not become ministers, our preacher regularly urged us to send letters to our congressmen proclaiming that gay marriage is an attack on marriage, two church staff members were arrested for embezzlement, and a minister once said in my Sunday School class that he would not allow his white daughter to marry a black man. These things slowly chipped away at my faith.

I was constantly told that heaven would basically be one eternally long worship service, which made me really not want to end up there, and the answer to the question “Why does God allow suffering?” was usually something along the lines of “to allow you to have empathy for other suffering people;” this answer only made me question why God allowed the other people to suffer. Another common answer to the question was “God never causes suffering; Satan does.” I wondered why I was told God was omnipotent when he clearly had no power to stop Satan.

While most Christians I know, including my mother, found Christianity comforting, I only found a judgmental group of people and an unmerciful God, provided he fit their descriptions. I got told often that we should be thinking of God constantly, all day, every day, and that our lives are one constant prayer. I asked how we are supposed to get any enjoyment out of life or be productive people if we were to pray all day instead of doing important things like our jobs and our math homework, and I got no satisfactory answers, except for one girl my age who said that she didn’t subscribe to that particular belief because she didn’t want God there while she was peeing (this is the only reasonable thing I remember anybody ever saying at church).

I was willing to accept these empty explanations as an adolescent because I wanted to, but I started struggling with them at around fourteen or fifteen. Even when I started having doubts, I tried very hard to find faith again for about a year before I realized there were no good reasons for me to have any. I looked to other faiths as well, and having always been attracted to ritualistic traditions, tried on the Jewish and Catholic faiths but found the same problems. After becoming an atheist, I was constantly put in the position of having to lie about my faith, when my parents forced me to attend a church that, while considered very liberal for a Baptist church, still persisted discrimination against women, certain races, and sexual orientations. I also remember one of the worst parts about my father’s funeral as having to listen to people say they were praying for me, telling me that my father was in a better place, or generally telling me to turn to my faith.

My sister is the only family member who knows my views, although others probably suspect when they see me avoiding church at all costs. My mother is a Sunday School teacher and runs her own weekly Bible study at church as well. Even having been an atheist for many years now, I have not often met others who admit to being atheists, and I have found your site incredibly helpful in pointing me toward humanist organizations and in providing a community of people who, like me, do not find religion rational or comforting.

Perhaps you get emails like mine all day long, and perhaps you get sick of reading them (especially when the writers go on and on like I do), but you and your website make me hate people a little less every day, as I find people who do not think atheists are hateful people, people who are as horrified as I am by the sexism and violence promoted in religious texts, and people who are reasonable. So once again, thank you.

For what it’s worth, I never get sick of reading letters like this. It validates a couple of the biggest reasons I choose to keep this blog: I want to reach other atheists and let them know they’re not alone, and I want to convince religious people that they’re following the wrong path to the truth.


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  • Claudia

    That was awesome, thanks for posting it Hemant. To the letter writer herself, my very best wishes. I assume you are still young, seeing as how you’re still in the closet and still apparently at home (since you have to “avoid church”). Hopefully you can go off to college soon (and remember, better grades means better college and more atheists) and freely meet real-live nonbelievers just like you. Eventually I hope you can free yourself from the closet and live fully as what you really are. Good luck!

  • Letter writer, view your future optimistically. You will soon move beyond your conscribed Baptist world. There is a big world out there. Look forward to it and embrace it with a rational mind.

  • Francesca

    This is exactly why atheist groups’ posters and ads must be out for the public to see. This is also why certain religious groups object to them: they want atheists to feel alone, they want them to feel that they are anomalies, freaks, that no one else has those thoughts, that they ought to be ashamed of themselves. Thanks, o Friendly Atheist, for all your good work. To the letter writer, I say: chances are you are not alone in your area. I live in a very conservative TX town, and there is an atheist Meetup group that keeps growing. Find out if there is one in your area. Good luck!

  • Hope

    I find it sad that this person based her faith and knowledge of God on what a bunch of close-minded people at her church told her. I hope she can see one day that rejecting her church’s (and humanity’s) imperfect practice of Christianity does not have to be the same thing as rejecting Christ.

  • BEX

    <3 Thank you for sharing.

  • This is why we need to wear our hearts on our sleeves if we’re in a position to do so. Because not everyone is.

  • The Southern Baptist churches we went to when I was a kid did a lot in helping me lose religion, too.

    Thanks for sharing that email Hemant. You’re right, it is encouraging to know that we make a difference when we’re open about who we are.

  • Claudia

    I hope she can see one day that rejecting her church’s (and humanity’s) imperfect practice of Christianity does not have to be the same thing as rejecting Christ.

    No, the blatant hypocrisy, cherry-picking and bigotry practiced by many Christians does not, in itself constitute an argument against the truth of Christianity, but it sure helps viscerally. After all, one of the central arguments of religion (especially the more conservative brands) is that having it makes you an inherently better person. Nasty Christians are the best argument against that. So are nice atheists, which I’m guessing is why we are so vilified in religious circles as being “empty” and “without morals”.

    Now, the general nastiness of some (though by no means all) religious communities can get you to question your religion. The thing is once you look at it with the same critical eye you use for everything else in your life, religion falls apart very quickly indeed, and you are left astonished that such weak arguments held sway over you for so long. If someone rejects their faith merely because they don’t like their religious community, they are quite vulnerable to returning to faith if some Christians are nice to them, or switching religions altogether (what if the next people to be nice to her are devout Muslims?). No, strong skeptics are built through arguments, not emotional appeals.

  • NotYou007

    Coming out is not always easy. When my mother was dying from cancer and she told me God spoke to her and said he was curing her cancer it was very hard to not say anything. It was very hard to listen to it when I knew no God spoke to her and she would soon be dead. I never told my mom I was an atheist because she never asked. It is the same way with my sisters. They have never asked but one of them has to know because of what I post on Facebook.

    If any family member was to ask I would not hide it. They might not like it but I’m fine with that. So to the letter writer stay strong, don’t be afraid to come out and remember there are a lot more atheist out there than most people know.

  • LeAnne

    wow, i can really relate to the writer. her story and mine are almost the same.

    i’m glad that others benefit from this site, because i know i definitely do.

  • Joshua Pearson

    @ Hope

    That sentiment is exactly the problem. You excuse those that follow the religion as it is written (the old testament still counts, it’s the same god), and the condescension of your statement:

    “I hope she can see one day that rejecting her church’s (and humanity’s) imperfect practice of Christianity does not have to be the same thing as rejecting Christ.”

    is precisely the problem. Who else are we to gauge the value of your religion? Your “savior” hasn’t been seen, nor heard, in a minimum of 2000 years, since he chooses to remain absent the only way to view a religion is by its adherents. Where is the Christian majority fighting sexual prejudice? What about the fact that your religion actively supports slavery(and don’t give me a “context” line, slavery is never okay, regardless of the era it was in)? Your bible says it’s okay, it even gives rules on how to treat slaves.

    Let’s say a murderer suddenly claims that all the people they killed don’t matter simply because they had a kid and that changed them. Would you believe Charles Manson if he said he didn’t want to kill people anymore? What about Ted Bundy? Ed Gein? Hitler? Would you give these people a second chance simply because they had a child? So why then do so many Christians excuse the genocide, rape and murder condoned by Yahweh? Oh, that’s right, because he sacrificed his only son, born through parthenogenesis, to save us from the same sin he created. Yeah, cause that makes more sense then a god not even existing.

  • Heidi

    Personally, I would hope everyone eventually rejects religion in all its forms.

  • KPatterson

    Hermant, thank you for sharing this. For the letter writer – to borrow a phrase from the gay supporters: it gets better. Claudia is right, go to college in a more secular state (northeast, west coast), get some good degrees and get a job somewhere where you can live and be yourself. It’s a big world out there, bigger than the myopic baptist enclave you’re trapped in now. Best of luck.

  • Allecher

    Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one. (C.S. Lewis)

  • gwen

    That was a very moving letter. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. It sounds like you will be in college soon, with more options and a wider variety of people, including many who think as you do. Hang in there! 🙂

  • Kamaka

    Francesca Says:

    This is exactly why atheist groups’ posters and ads must be out for the public to see. This is also why certain religious groups object to them: they want atheists to feel alone, they want them to feel that they are anomalies, freaks, that no one else has those thoughts, that they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

    QFT

    Hope says:

    I find it sad that this person based her faith and knowledge of God on what a bunch of close-minded people at her church told her.

    Close-minded? That’s what religion does, closes minds to knowledge and learning and replaces it with dogma and certainty.
    Just like this:

    I hope she can see one day that rejecting her church’s (and humanity’s) imperfect practice of Christianity does not have to be the same thing as rejecting Christ.

    Email writer says:

    Even having been an atheist for many years now, I have not often met others who admit to being atheists

    Of course you don’t meet many people who admit to being atheists, it’s the short walk to being stigmatised. If you think it’s tough today, 40 years ago you were liable to destroy your life being open about being an atheist. Perhaps things are not that much better today. I only lately became an outspoken atheist (in real life, not just on the internet), because I got sick to death of the religionists using their dogma as a bludgeon to abuse the GLBT community and deny them their civil rights.

    Here’s a line you might want to use to deflect unwanted inquiry:

    I’m sorry, my views on religion and spirituality are very personal, I don’t discuss them.

    Or some variation thereof. It has worked very well for me.

    I wish the best for you. Be well.
    Kamaka

    PS If you want to snap someone who claims the bible says homosexuality is “a sin”, ask them if they have actually read Leviticus, really READ IT. That book is off the charts crazy.

  • Rieux

    Good for you, e-mail writer—and good for you, Hemant.

  • That letter pretty much describes my experiences with the church as well. I love how when christians hear a story like this they just say that the church in question was doing it wrong. Funny how many churches out there are doing it wrong.

    Great post.

  • Tim

    As a Christian I would actually agree with much of this letter. The churches have absolutely failed in many ways to communicate what Christianity is all about. They get so caught up in telling people how they should not live and what they shouldn’t do, and they fail to tell them how they should live and what they should do. That is, they completely leave out the Gospel. The Gospel does not just effect one area of life, it a effects every are of life; and if a church is not able to explain how this is the case, then they are not a true biblical church. The public faces of Christianity, men like Joel Osteen, completely miss the point of what the Gospel is all about. Their only desire is to get the money that people have in their pockets into the offering plate as it passes by them. They do not care about the spiritual or physical well-being of their members. They only care about material possessions. But this is in no way an accurate portrayal of true Christianity. Sadly, however, this is how many people view the Christian faith.

    Kamaka says:

    Close-minded? That’s what religion does, closes minds to knowledge and learning and replaces it with dogma and certainty.

    First of all, this sounds rather dogmatic doesn’t it? And secondly, I would say that this is not the case at all. In fact I would argue that a philosophy of naturalism is much more close minded then any religious faith. Naturalism says that the only thing that exists is nature and the physical world. The naturalist is completely constricted to what he or she can observe with the senses. If they can’t observe it, then it must not exist. Christianity, and other religious faiths, however believe in the supernatural world. There is a world that we cannot completely understand. How much more open-minded do you want someone to be?

  • Alessa

    Group hug 🙂

  • gwen

    Tim, religion postulates “we don’t understand..goddidit. period. Science says, we don’t understand, let’s try to find the answer. No science has ever been advanced through the bible. No scientific answer has ever been found in the bible. The use of a 2000 year old tome, written by a bronze age civilization, is just astonishing in its irrationality.

  • Tim said

    The churches have absolutely failed in many ways to communicate what Christianity is all about.

    Yes, IMO Christianity should do the following:
    1. Decouple completely from the Old Testament
    2. Drop the whole after-life business with heaven and hell
    3. Remember that Jesus is not Paul. Stop worshipping every word of Paul.
    4. View everything in the New Testament as metaphoric
    5. View Christianity as a moral lesson on being humble, not selfish, and caring about others
    6. Stop viewing Christianity as a list of things you should and should not do.
    7. Christianity should not be about beliefs

    Tim, is that kind-of what you wanted to say? I thought not.

  • Tim

    Gwen, I would actually have to disagree with you. Christian theism has been very influential in the realm of scientific discovery. It led many scientists to observe the world for a purpose; that purpose being to learn more about the Creator of the universe. When an Atheist makes scientific discoveries, there is no deeper purpose for his doing so. Yes, he is gaining knowledge, and some might say this will bring some sort of fulfillment, but pragmatically it does nothing for him. He lives, he dies, and it doesn’t matter what scientific discoveries he has made.

  • Tim

    Jeff, you’re right, that’s not what I think Christianity should do.

  • Tim:

    I would argue that a philosophy of naturalism is much more close minded then any religious faith. Naturalism says that the only thing that exists is nature and the physical world. The naturalist is completely constricted to what he or she can observe with the senses. If they can’t observe it, then it must not exist. Christianity, and other religious faiths, however believe in the supernatural world. There is a world that we cannot completely understand. How much more open-minded do you want someone to be?

    I’m open to anything, provided that there’s evidence. There is no evidence of this world you speak of. Naturalism doesn’t reject the possibility of anything that can’t be observed – it just doesn’t bother considering it without any evidence.

    Oh, and Hope?

    I hope she can see one day that rejecting her church’s (and humanity’s) imperfect practice of Christianity does not have to be the same thing as rejecting Christ.

    You’re just playing the “those Christians are bad Christians, but the faith itself really is good.” Never mind, of course, the fact that what the faith teaches is demonstrably false. Despite what the Bible says about God’s guarantees for answers to prayer, not everything you ask for in his name is given to you. More important than the fact that your beliefs are a kinder, gentler Christianity is the fact that they’re still not true.

  • Tim

    Mike, is there empirical evidence that 1 + 1 = 2? Can you scientifically prove this fact? No, you can’t, yet mathematics is foundational for many of the sciences. Thus you are trusting in something that cannot be proven. And what about your senses? Can you empirically prove to me that your cognitive faculties function properly? How do you know that your eyes or your hands are providing you with correct information? You can’t prove that, yet naturalists base their entire worldview on something they can’t even observe with their senses. And if they attempted to empirically prove it, such evidence would be the result of circular reasoning.

  • Craig

    For 1+1=2, that’s just language describing an observed fact. One thing and another thing are two things, that’s just a simple definition. And if you want to say that the way we see things aren’t the way things are, then we have no way of saying that anything is true, which brings me to my next point:

    “What about your senses? Can you empirically prove to me that your cognitive faculties function properly?”

    If our senses can’t at all be trusted, you can’t trust your view of the world any more than any other view, and we’re back to the start where there is no good reason to believe in a God, because there is no good reason to believe in anything whatsoever. Nuking the argument doesn’t give you a victory, and attempting to demonstrate that you can’t with 100% certainty rule out some kind of supernatural being doesn’t validate belief in a God. That you have to resort to an argument that essentially says “neither of us knows if we’re right” just proves that you have no sufficient argument to support your belief.

  • Richard Wade

    Tim, you said,

    Gwen, I would actually have to disagree with you. Christian theism has been very influential in the realm of scientific discovery. It led many scientists to observe the world for a purpose; that purpose being to learn more about the Creator of the universe. When an Atheist makes scientific discoveries, there is no deeper purpose for his doing so. Yes, he is gaining knowledge, and some might say this will bring some sort of fulfillment, but pragmatically it does nothing for him. He lives, he dies, and it doesn’t matter what scientific discoveries he has made.

    The second half of this is a naive and childish statement. It is the “life has no meaning without God” canard applied to scientists. You are not basing this on having observed any real, actual atheist scientists. It suggests that you have no close personal experience with any atheists or any scientists, and that you have not been paying any attention to the writings or remarks of any scientists at all.

    I know many atheists very closely. I know several scientists closely. Most of the scientists I know are also atheists. I grew up surrounded by scientists. I have read and heard the words of many scientists, especially when they talk about why they do what they do.

    Far more often than not, the root motivation for scientists to do the difficult work they do is compassion. They see a problem that is causing other people suffering, whether it is a disease, a natural force, or a man-made thing that does not function very well. They are deeply moved by that suffering, and they become determined to alleviate it if they can. They consciously choose a career that will not give them nearly the monetary reward they’d enjoy in other fields such as business or finance. Often, years pass before any result offers even the hint that they’re on the right track. They are among the most selfless and patient people I know.

    Tim, please do not characterize the motivations of others based solely on your own personal motivations. Get to know people closely and personally before you make blanket statements about their character or their motivations. If you want to learn more about what you think is the creator of the universe, fine, but in the meantime, atheist scientists will be busy working on the medicine, the physics, the chemistry and the engineering that will be used to save your life and the lives of your loved ones. They don’t need your thanks, or the approval of a deity. The fact that your suffering is alleviated is sufficient.

    Do not dismiss as futile and empty the very deep and admirable meaning and purpose that they have created for their own lives.

  • Letter Writer

    I normally post comments under my first name on this site, but I feel like being anonymous here since this is my letter to Hemant above. I wanted to answer a couple of things from the comments:

    First of all, I am a bit older than some of you think. I actually do not still live at home, but I do live in the same town I grew up in. I graduated from college relatively recently (from a college that technically has a Methodist affiliation but a majority of Jewish students), and I did find that things got better in college. To students like me who had a hard time growing up in religious families, I agree that it does get better, so hang in there. About avoiding church, I still see my mother often and she pressures me to attend church, especially for Christmas Eve services. I will be moving soon and I think that will help me a lot in feeling better about coming out to my mother. I will be looking for some kind of atheist group to join after I move.

    For the person who said that I should not have turned against Christ just because I turned against my church, I didn’t; that was just the starting point for me. For over a year after I began to reject my church, I examined other sects of Christianity and found the basis of the religion to be illogical to me. I also researched other religions and none of those made sense to me either. I definitely gave religion a fair chance and was quite reluctant to give it up. I had to discreetly do research online because I never would have been allowed to have an atheist book in the house, but I did do a lot of research before giving up on my faith. It took me a long time to overcome the fear of going to hell (a result of religious indoctrination) before I concluded that hell is an invention, not an actual place. That was probably the hardest part of it for me, a sad reflection on the preaching of the church I attended as a child.

  • Claudia

    @Tim, please first read Richard’s comment above. Done? Good, go read it again. Now then, to this:

    When an Atheist makes scientific discoveries, there is no deeper purpose for his doing so. Yes, he is gaining knowledge, and some might say this will bring some sort of fulfillment, but pragmatically it does nothing for him. He lives, he dies, and it doesn’t matter what scientific discoveries he has made.

    I’m going to make a wild out-there guess and assume you are not a scientist. You’ve already said you are not an atheist. So you have absolutely no personal knowledge of the motivations and satisfactions of an atheist scientist. Perhaps you’re interested in hearing from one instead of putting thoughts in our heads? Admittedly, I’m not male, as your theoretical atheist scientist is, but allow me to help.

    In general, the scientists I speak to (mostly from the biological sciences) are motivated by two things. One is the sheer joy of discovery and unravelling the mysteries of nature. The other is the desire to make life better for our fellow human beings; through pest-resistent crops, new medical treatments, improved infrastructure, better security, expanded communications etc. I can’t tell you how deeply appreciative I feel that I can contribute, in some small way, to the advancement of civilization while studying nature.
    One of the accusations we atheists get a lot is that we are selfish, wanting to live our lives only for our own enjoyment. Besides this being blatantly false, it’s also pretty ironic. Guess what Tim? I don’t need my life to be the concern of a universe-creating god for my life to be significant. I don’t need there to be some eternal, forever and ever consequence to my life for it to have meaning for me. I am a bit of the Universe that combined into the extremely rare configuration that is life. Further I am sentient life. Further still, I belong to the vanishingly small minority throughout history that has been able to dedicate itself to adquiring knowledge and improving people’s lives. How awesome is that? It seems laughable to say that it’s enough for me. Enough? It’s so much it would be unforgivably ungrateful for me to do anything but live the best life I could.

  • @Tim,
    You wrote:

    “The naturalist is completely constricted to what he or she can observe with the senses. If they can’t observe it, then it must not exist. Christianity, and other religious faiths, however believe in the supernatural world. There is a world that we cannot completely understand. How much more open-minded do you want someone to be?”

    Simply put, you’ve confused empty-headed with open-minded.

    @Hope,
    You wrote:

    “I hope she can see one day that rejecting her church’s (and humanity’s) imperfect practice of Christianity does not have to be the same thing as rejecting Christ.”

    What a bold and presumptuous statement to make! Of course, you will share with us your definition of a perfect practice of Christianity…right?

  • Steve

    Naturalism says that the only thing that exists is nature and the physical world. The naturalist is completely constricted to what he or she can observe with the senses.

    Nature and the physical world are damn huge. If you had several lifetimes to experience everything that the universe has to offer, you couldn’t do it. Let alone really understand it.

    There is plenty of cool and incredible stuff in the here and now. Dismissing the supernatural makes some people appreciate that even more.

  • Sunil

    Letter writer, my best wishes to you! And for what it’s worth – it’s fantastic that you’ve become an atheist at a young age. My deconversion only happened at the age of 30, leaving me with many regrets and what-ifs.

    Hemant, keep doing what you’re doing and know that there are even folks in Bangalore, India who appreciate it.

  • Don Rose

    “If you could reason with religious people, there wouldn’t be any more religious people”.

    Anyone who believes that there’s a magic ghost in the clouds, who grants wishes that are sent to it…… telepathically…. already has no credibility with me. Their opinions are of no consequence, other than mild amusement value.

    I’m not a scientist, and do NOT have 100% faith in science. It’s hilarious how religious people react when you doubt the existance of their imaginary friend. They automatically shift the discussion, and attack science. Why not try to prove their own claims…….? because they can’t.

    Religion is all myths and superstions, mixed with morality fables. The morality lessons are fine, as long as you’re not brain-damaged enough to think that the fables are factual accounts…. LMAO!

    I’ve said it before…. christians who troll atheist groups are like that guy who sits next to you on a park bench, and “explains” how his aluminum foil hat blocks the government and aliens from reading his thoughts. *facepalm*

  • Don Rose

    To the person who sent the original email: You rock!

    Whether you decide to speak out, or silently enjoy your freedom from insanity, you are not alone.

    There are lots of us. More than most people probably think. Lots of us are like you, and aren’t very vocal. Others even go with the flow, and pretend to believe. Lot’s of “believers” are very unsure of their beliefs. Others (like myself), think that religion is a plague on mankind, and takes advantage of week-minded, gullible people….. or crams nonsense into the minds of children, in order to keep the virus going.

    Congrats on your atheism! Like you, I went to church and sunday school as a young child. From day one, I knew there was something wrong with those people…..lol, and they’ve only proven me right over the years.

  • JoeBuddha

    I’d like to add my congratulations as well. I hope you can approach life with an open, questioning mind and seek understanding rather than truth. In my experience, understanding almost always leads to deeper insights, while Truth is always a dead end. Good luck!

  • Kerrie

    Any person who is able to break free from a religious upbringing is a hero. I can’t imagine what it’s like to live that lie for years because of the fear of backlash from friends and family if you “come out.” I wasn’t brought up religious or atheist and luckily grew up in Vermont, which has the highest amount of “nonbelievers” in the country! (Is it a coincidence that we also top the list in terms of literacy and education?) Sometime during middle school I came to the conclusion myself that the evidence for God was nonexistent. Even now in New Mexico with a hefty Catholic population (and a scarily increasing number of megachurches), I’m very open about being an atheist. I agree with the other posters here who say, “You’re almost to college age, go to college in an area where atheists don’t have to hide.” It will be scary at first to be away from the comfort zone of home, but at the same time very liberating, because you can be yourself!

    What saddens me is the number of my cousins who grew up nonreligious but in their 40s (after having moved to the midwest or south) they convert TO religion. And they’re not doing it to “blend in” – they actually BELIEVE it. I’ve asked the one I’m “closest” to why she believes, but like every religious person I’ve asked (with sincerity but without belligerence), they deflect the question and refuse to answer. Do they even know?

  • i hope you can move soon, letter writer. move to a big northern or coastal city. there are jobs & lots of sane people up here.

  • Thanks for sharing. This is exactly why I’ve felt it important to be an out Atheist since I first got to there is no god.

    Letterwriter, hang in there. It does get better. You will find your own way in this world as you grow and that will include your own way to be you and to find those who you connect with.

    i’m glad that others benefit from this site, because i know i definitely do.

    Me too. And I’ve been an out Atheist for 26 years from NY with a family I rejected for their abuse with plenty of friends, both skeptical and believing, who accept my disbelief. I can only imagine how invaluable it must be for someone in a religious family in a very religious, rural area. I don’t think I can fully comprehend how alone one must feel not believing in those circumstances.

    Personally, I would hope everyone eventually rejects religion in all its forms.

    Me too even though I’m damned if I’ll be as obnoxious as they are and go about trying to deconvert people. Frankly, there’s no need. The more we know about the world; the more religion dies. I think we’ll reach a point in time when its absurdity is too apparent to be denied. Heck, we’re probably really there but not strong enough to make the ostriches pull their heads out of the sand.

    Very beautifully and well said yet again, Richard!

    One of the accusations we atheists get a lot is that we are selfish, wanting to live our lives only for our own enjoyment. Besides this being blatantly false, it’s also pretty ironic. Guess what Tim? I don’t need my life to be the concern of a universe-creating god for my life to be significant. I don’t need there to be some eternal, forever and ever consequence to my life for it to have meaning for me. I am a bit of the Universe that combined into the extremely rare configuration that is life. Further I am sentient life. Further still, I belong to the vanishingly small minority throughout history that has been able to dedicate itself to adquiring knowledge and improving people’s lives. How awesome is that? It seems laughable to say that it’s enough for me. Enough? It’s so much it would be unforgivably ungrateful for me to do anything but live the best life I could.

    Give this woman a standing ovation! Absolutley loved that.

    Nature and the physical world are damn huge. If you had several lifetimes to experience everything that the universe has to offer, you couldn’t do it. Let alone really understand it.

    There is plenty of cool and incredible stuff in the here and now. Dismissing the supernatural makes some people appreciate that even more.

    Damned straight!!!

  • The letter writer could have been me except that it took me about twice as long to figure out that religion had no evidence to back it up and, therefore, was not a solid basis for my life. There are some good Southern Baptists in the world but the SBC itself is poison.

    My mom pulled that old stunt about not looking to people but looking to Jesus. Well, I looked at Jesus and, even though I like some of the stuff he supposedly said, I found no evidence of his existence or his deity. That seals the deal for me. Until new evidence arises, no amount of feel-good phrases or eternal threats will change that.

    It’s such a good feeling to know that I have the power to change my mind if I’m wrong. Skepticism taught me that – not religion.

  • Zhuge

    “Mike, is there empirical evidence that 1 + 1 = 2? Can you scientifically prove this fact? No, you can’t, yet mathematics is foundational for many of the sciences.”

    This is a problem that I just want to talk about for a moment because it is(I think) really fundamental to some of the mystical side of philosophy. This question is, to my estimation, the most important (disclosed) reason behind Kant’s refusal to accept empiricism. But it also obviously motivated Plato and the neo-Platonists(and thus early Christian philosophy). Much of our idea of some “non-scientific” knowledge, I think, derives from our mathematical knowledge, and I think the idea of “proving” god is a direct consequence of this. (We note that none of the classical arguments for God are really empirical. Indeed, with the exception of the argument from design which is pseudo-empirical, most arguments are an attempt to prove God a priori.) So I think your use of this example is (perhaps intentionally) interesting.

    But I must urge that you consider the point of view espoused by Ayer in Language, Truth and Logic or by Carl Hempel. Basically, at the middle to end of the 19th century, it was found that a central axiom of euclidean geometry was not necessary and seemed not even to be universally true. This led to a method of thinking that, in essence, there could be multiple forms of mathematics. For example, mathematics could assume the axiom of choice or the axiom of “unchoice”(the negation of the former.) “Mathematics” thus ceased to be considered a universal truth but became only one among many possible systems.

    It was Ayer’s and Hempel’s contention that mathematics were thus nothing more than another tool of science(or a game of logic perhaps if handled on its own.) That is, in so far as mathematics applies to the world it is nothing more than a calculational tool for anticipating sense experience. We anticipate that if I put one apple and another apple into a basket there will be two apples, or that the area of a waveform will be related to its slope. But there is no reason to think that mathematics has any greater truth than this. Rather than existing truly in a platonic heaven, mathematics is another tool of the sciences, as useful as the idea of “charge” or the electron for “doing” science but not indicitive of some mystical truths. Mathematics is just a tool, empirically found to be useful but not something that is guaranteed to be true.

    I think the desire to see science(and so mathematics) as indicative of “something deeper” is powerful(and perhaps based on our intuition about causality), but it is only open minded to consider the possibility and not to simply accept it. I might consider that there is some divine force behind the world, or some inert material- in so far as I can even understand these terms. But I am wrong to assert the truth of any of these things when I cannot in principle have evidence of it.

  • I am so glad you posted this letter. I too have learned a lot from your site, mostly how to be less angsty. Now, when the Gideons attack me at my school, demanding I take a bible and read it, I simply smile and ease my way through, where as before I would start an argument that was futile. Your blog does so much good, and I am so happy that I found you all! <3

  • Great letter! Every time I read something like this, I reflect on how lucky I was to have been raised without religion. If I had grown up in a Christian family, I wonder how long it would have taken for me to become an atheist, or if I would have ended up an atheist at all. It seems like it must be so hard to deal with relatives and friends who expect you to share their religious and political beliefs and pressure you to conform. It takes a strong person to go against the grain.

  • Robert W.

    Mike,

    Never mind, of course, the fact that what the faith teaches is demonstrably false.

    Prove that

  • Robert W.

    Don,

    Anyone who believes that there’s a magic ghost in the clouds, who grants wishes that are sent to it…… telepathically…. already has no credibility with me. Their opinions are of no consequence, other than mild amusement value.

    I’m not a scientist, and do NOT have 100% faith in science. It’s hilarious how religious people react when you doubt the existance of their imaginary friend. They automatically shift the discussion, and attack science. Why not try to prove their own claims…….? because they can’t.

    Religion is all myths and superstions, mixed with morality fables. The morality lessons are fine, as long as you’re not brain-damaged enough to think that the fables are factual accounts…. LMAO!

    I’ve said it before…. christians who troll atheist groups are like that guy who sits next to you on a park bench, and “explains” how his aluminum foil hat blocks the government and aliens from reading his thoughts. *facepalm*

    If you wonder why atheists have a reputation of being arrogant, intolerant jerks just read this post.

  • Tim,

    Mike, is there empirical evidence that 1 + 1 = 2? Can you scientifically prove this fact? No, you can’t, yet mathematics is foundational for many of the sciences. Thus you are trusting in something that cannot be proven.

    2 is defined as 1+1. There’s nothing to prove.

    And what about your senses? Can you empirically prove to me that your cognitive faculties function properly? How do you know that your eyes or your hands are providing you with correct information?

    I know for a fact that they’re not perfect.

    You can’t prove that, yet naturalists base their entire worldview on something they can’t even observe with their senses. And if they attempted to empirically prove it, such evidence would be the result of circular reasoning.

    Utter rubbish. We know that our senses are not reliable, so we attempt to invent devices and methods that reduce the flaws, and we come up with ways of comparing our observations to those of other people. We don’t assert that we reach a perfect understanding of reality, only as approximate a representation of it as we can get to. You don’t even have that much; you insist that your superatural experiences are reliable, despite the fact that you’re receiving them through exactly the same senses that we have. You’re asserting not only that your senses are reliable, but that they’re so reliable that we can assume that things which are immune to any actual observation can still somehow be perceived through them. You think that you’re capable of objectively perceiving something that we can’t even demonstrate actually exists. Your attack on philosophical and methodological naturalism is actually a stronger attack against your own perspective, and you don’t even notice.

    As for circular reasoning… circular how? As circular as beginning with the presupposition that your beliefs are true and working from there?

  • Robert W,

    Prove that

    I can, but I know already what your response will be. “We’re told not to put God to the test.” It’s a nice little ridiculous escape route.

    Matthew 18:19
    “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.”

    John 14:12-14
    “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

    Get together with another true Christian and pray in Jesus’s name that something visible happens, so that God can be glorified. For example… ask him to cure polio worldwide. If it doesn’t happen, you have no excuse, other than that God doesn’t keep his promises (or he doesn’t exist).

  • Robert W.

    Mike,

    Nice try but I thought anecdotal stories were not evidence. If two people pray and what they pray for didn’t happen the way they thought, that can’t be evidence if we use the atheist test for evidence because i can tell you similar stories where I and other people prayed and those prayers were answered. I am sure you would not count that as evidence would you?

  • Tim

    Craig, I actually wasn’t giving an argument for the existence of God. I was only showing how even the foundational aspects of an Atheistic worldview is based upon faith in that the senses are functioning properly. Now I will say that the Christian position does allow one to believe that the senses are working properly, which an Atheistic position can never do.

    Richard, my question to you would be this: how can a naturalistic worldview explain the idea of goodness? You said that finding medical cures and other discoveries are good things, and I would completely agree with you. But by what or whose standard are you defining goodness? An Atheist has no explanation for such concepts because within their worldview, metaphysical concepts such as goodness don’t exist. You can’t prove goodness with a scientific experiment. So I would say, that yes, Atheistic scientists do make excellent and good discoveries, and I hope that they continue to do so. But I would argue that they don’t have an explanation for their discoveries being good, because they don’t have an explanation for goodness itself.

    You said:

    Do not dismiss as futile and empty the very deep and admirable meaning and purpose that they have created for their own lives.

    So does everybody create their own purpose in life? And if so, then does the purpose that Stalin created for his life ok? Or what about Mao Tse Tung or any other Atheistic dictator. There are grave consequences when you start to say that people create meaning for their own lives.

  • Robert W.

    Mike,

    Also you know that Matthew 18:19 is talking about Church discipline, not pray in general. That is evident from reading the surrounding verses in context

  • Robert,

    Nice try but I thought anecdotal stories were not evidence. If two people pray and what they pray for didn’t happen the way they thought, that can’t be evidence if we use the atheist test for evidence because i can tell you similar stories where I and other people prayed and those prayers were answered. I am sure you would not count that as evidence would you?

    Nice try yourself!

    I told you to pray for something visible – like for polio to be cured worldwide. This would be empirical evidence, not anecdotal, and you bet your ass that I’d count it as evidence!

    Your call to read the text in context is ridiculous and irrelevant. Jesus made no ifs, ands, or buts about the promise. Either he can be held to it, or he can’t.

    (And if you attempt to get out of this by using my predicted response… remember that when Jesus said that, he was quoting Moses. Moses said the bit about not testing God immediately after performing a miracle before the entire nation of Israel. So… yeah. Not really an excuse.)

  • ACN

    Mike,

    Nice try but I thought anecdotal stories were not evidence. If two people pray and what they pray for didn’t happen the way they thought, that can’t be evidence if we use the atheist test for evidence because i can tell you similar stories where I and other people prayed and those prayers were answered. I am sure you would not count that as evidence would you?

    Didn’t the Templeton Study Already Pwn This Discussion?

  • Steve

    Goodness isn’t a metaphysical concept. What is good and bad wasn’t handed down to us by some deity (how the frak is that supposed to work anyways?). That’s more nonsense right at the start. You start with a false premise and it all goes downhill from there.

    Humans are social animals. We naturally create groups like families, tribes and nations. Being alone isn’t very common and very few people can exist by being alone. So of course we need to get along. People have a natural self-interest to treat others reasonably well, because they depend on them for their own survival. Of course there are people who don’t do that. We call them sociopaths.

    But by and large, mankind found strategies that enabled living together in ever larger communities and societies. That’s the basis of all our ethics, morals and laws. It’s not just individuals who define what’s good and bad. It’s society.

    Btw, there are attempts to explains concepts such as morality from a neuro-biological, physical angle. Not really a fan of that – as I think it’s sociological – but it may be possible to do so.

  • Robert W.

    Mike,

    Matthew 18:15-20 are talking about church discipline where the verse you cited comes from. the quote from Moses is in a following section on forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35)

    As for your example, isn’t it possible that God can answer that prayer in a different way than the two praying for it think it should be answered? For example curing polio worldwide at a time and in a manner that He knows will glorify Himself more then the way that these two people think it would? And God being all knowing and eternal, He would know better.

    And before you call that an easy out, if you are going to test God, then you must allow the answers to be able to use all the attributes given to God.

    Steve,

    But by and large, mankind found strategies that enabled living together in ever larger communities and societies. That’s the basis of all our ethics, morals and laws. It’s not just individuals who define what’s good and bad. It’s society.

    Then that is not objective morality at all. It is dependent upon the society a person lives in. But there is objective morality that all societies would say is wrong. That must come from outside society itself.

  • Joost

    As a life-long atheist, I think the most disturbing aspect of this text is the insinuation that the writer has to hide her irreligious view points.

    Personally, I’ve never felt any fear or prejudice that might have prevented me from stating what I did not believe – aside from common politeness to not provoke unwelcome and unproductive arguments amongst friends and family. Then again, I’m living in one of the more secular countries of Europe. The US seems to me to be quite different socially.

    For me, a religious position – and I think atheism is a religious position when it’s not pure ignorance or lack of interest – is no more free from debate than a political position, and we should be free to consider our positions openly.

  • Kamaka

    @ Tim

    But by what or whose standard are you defining goodness?

    @ Robert W

    Then that is not objective morality at all.

    Translations:

    Whose standard? God’s standard.

    “Objective morality”? God’s mandated morality. (Which is a long way from objective!)

    You two insult humanity with these unsubstantiated assertions. Every human being knows the difference between being good to people and treating people badly (certain sociopaths excepted).

    Morality is very simple:

    Conduct yourself in such a manner as to help make the world a decent place to live.

    And I might add: Be kind to children.

    Humanity has no need for a supernatural supervisor with an exceptional talent for mind-reading.

    Humanity does not need the threat of eternal torment to understand kindness and compassion.

  • Kamaka

    @ Robert W

    If you wonder why atheists have a reputation of being arrogant, intolerant jerks just read this post.

    Try looking at things from an outsider’s view. The universe is huge. We can see some 100 billion galaxies. It’s a really big place that we apes are only beginning to perceive. Understand the universe? Not even a little bit.

    Yet the religionists not only claim to “know” how all this came about, but they also claim to “know” the purpose behind it all.

    If that isn’t arrogant enough, they claim to “know” how people should behave based upon their claims to “know” the purpose of the universe and humanity’s place in it.

    From an atheists vantage point, that makes the religionists the arrogant, intolerant jerks, a bunch of know-nothings who are absolutely certain they have some special insight into the nature of reality.

  • Robert W.

    Kamaka,

    You two insult humanity with these unsubstantiated assertions. Every human being knows the difference between being good to people and treating people badly (certain sociopaths excepted).

    Morality is very simple:

    Conduct yourself in such a manner as to help make the world a decent place to live.

    And I might add: Be kind to children.

    Objective morality is morality that is true whether anyone believes it or not.

    your definition of morality is no definition at all. it would vary from person to person.

    For example, the Nazis believed that in order for the world to be a decent place to live there should be no Jewish people. Does that make their actions moral?

  • Kamaka

    @ Robert W

    Objective morality is morality that is true whether anyone believes it or not.

    You forgot the part about telling us what that “objective morality” might be.

    your definition of morality is no definition at all. it would vary from person to person.

    Which part of “help make the world a decent place to live” do you find lacking in substance or subtilty? How might you improve upon the concept?

    Nazism was the height of indecency, so you’ll have to do better than that spurious, ugly, hateful claim.

  • Robert,

    If there is an objective (one true) morality, how do we know that what is written in the bible captures it? The bible might be way off.

    Likewise, if there is a most powerful, loving, and all knowing God, how do we know that the “fag hating” god of the old and new testaments is this God?

    I dare say that as an atheist, I have more respect for the God concept than any Christian I have met. Quite frankly, the Christian notion of God doesn’t measure up. It leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t think the entire universe was created for the purpose of testing the willingness of one hairless ape species to accept a certain special proposition.

  • Robert W.

    Kamaka,

    You forgot the part about telling us what that “objective morality” might be.

    I was giving you the definition of objective morality.

    Which part of “help make the world a decent place to live” do you find lacking in substance or subtilty? How might you improve upon the concept?

    By whose standards would you be making the world a decent place to live? That is an entirely subjective standard towards morality. By that standard, anything goes as long as the world is a decent place to live by someone’s standards.

    The objective morality based upon a standard that is not based upon an individual or even a society’s notion of what is moral is a much better standard.

    That kind of standard cannot come from society itself, it must come from outside of society and it exists outside of the individual society standards.

    Nazism was the height of indecency, so you’ll have to do better than that spurious, ugly, hateful claim.

    You know that because there are objective standards of morality that tell us that this was wrong and would be wrong even if the Nazi’s had won the war and told us that it was right.

  • Jeff P.

    If there is an objective (one true) morality, how do we know that what is written in the bible captures it? The bible might be way off.

    The idea that objective morality exists, is not based upon the Bible. It is the idea that there are objective standards that are true regardless of what anyone believes.

    It is a philosophical argument of the existence of God, as opposed to the atheist argument that no God exists.

  • Steve

    That kind of objective morality is entirely man-made as well. It would just be morals that the whole species can agree on. Not just a certain subset of it. There is no point at all to bring god(s) into that discussion. A point which you conceded yourself. So the whole thing is irrevelant as far as theism is concerned. No proof either way can follow from it.

    Morality can’t come from god, because there is no means for god to impart that morality on his/her/its supposed creation. The morals that people claim are from god are written down in books – i.e. entirely man-made.

    The god of the OT would have been perfectly fine with Nazism by the way. There is really no difference between what he did and what they did. And yes, you did bring the Bible into it. Holy books of any kind can be the only source of so-called divine morality. If god somehow magically gave all of us morals, we couldn’t distinguish that from what we came up with ourselves.

  • Steve,

    That kind of objective morality is entirely man-made as well. It would just be morals that the whole species can agree on. Not just a certain subset of it. There is no point at all to bring god(s) into that discussion. A point which you conceded yourself. So the whole thing is irrevelant as far as theism is concerned. No proof either way can follow from it.

    Actually, no that isn’t so. Even if everyone agreed that raping children is okay, would that make it moral?

  • Bryn

    My deepest empathy goes out to the author of this letter. I remember going to church as a child and feeling as if these stories of prophets and saviors and a god were all fairytales, like the bedtime stories my parents would read to me about magical lands and fairy godmothers and such. I didn’t really realize what this lingering, ever- present feeling was until I realized first that not everybody was a Christian… Then, through blogs like yours, that not everybody believed in a god. Learning that other people didn’t believe in these pathetic fairytales comforted me. They made me feel less alone, less strange, less of an abnormal freak for not believing as everyone else that I know in real life does. But in real life, I remain a closeted atheist. With nobody else to share my beliefs in my small town, I am pretty much on my own. I do not speak openly about my religious beliefs for fear of how my friends and family will react… If I remain silent, then in the spring, I shall be confirmed. I don’t want this to happen to me. But I also don’t want to have to tell anybody, though I know I must soon.
    Thanks, everyone. Although none of you knew who I was until just now, you have made me feel so relieved that, even though I may be the only one to think as I do in my town, that I am not the only one to think this way on this planet, in this country, in this state. Thank you all… At least I know for sure what I believe in and what I don’t. That in itself is a wonderful thing, something that I fear some people take for granted.

  • As for your example, isn’t it possible that God can answer that prayer in a different way than the two praying for it think it should be answered? For example curing polio worldwide at a time and in a manner that He knows will glorify Himself more then the way that these two people think it would? And God being all knowing and eternal, He would know better.

    Then he isn’t answering the prayer, is he? Pray that polio be cured worldwide in an instant. You can keep tossing caveats onto it if you want, but they’re nothing but weaksauce excuses.

  • Tim

    Mike says:

    2 is defined as 1+1. There’s nothing to prove.

    It’s also defined as 2 x 1, 4 – 2, 2 + 0, but such definitions still don’t provide concrete evidence for the existence of the number 2. Numbers are abstract concepts, and a naturalistic worldview cannot account for abstracts.

    Steve says:

    Goodness isn’t a metaphysical concept. What is good and bad wasn’t handed down to us by some deity (how the frak is that supposed to work anyways?). That’s more nonsense right at the start. You start with a false premise and it all goes downhill from there.

    An Atheist position does not even allow for the concepts of good and evil. If one is going to claim a naturalistic worldview, then the only thing that exists is nature. Thus, there is no such thing as evil, it is just nature running its evolutionary path. In fact a naturalistic worldview doesn’t even allow for free will: the ability to choose right from wrong (several Atheists have admitted to this). If there is no free will then people cannot be responsible for their actions, and in fact, their actions are guided by natural processes. Thus, an Atheist doesn’t have the ability to say that an action is evil or good, and to claim such a thing would be inconsistent with the naturalistic worldview.

    Mike says:

    Then he isn’t answering the prayer, is he? Pray that polio be cured worldwide in an instant. You can keep tossing caveats onto it if you want, but they’re nothing but weaksauce excuses.

    If someone was to request something of you and for whatever reason you said no, are you not giving an answer to that request? For God, answering requests doesn’t mean that he has to say yes.

  • Robert W.

    Mike,

    In my explanation of course the prayer would still be answered. Nowhere in this verse (knowingly taken out of context) or any other does the Bible say that prayers will be answered against God’s will. In fact, the Lord’s prayer specifically calls on us to pray for his will be done. You may not get what you want, but you will get what you need in the time and manner that you need it and as Tim says, sometimes what you need is a no.

    I agree with Tim when he says that the naturalist view doesn’t allow for good or evil. In fact, if all thought is a biological chemical reaction, then there is nothing inherently good or evil in anything humans do and any more thought or meaning into it is illusory.

  • Steve

    @Tim
    Your whole world view is completely distorted. You cling to the word “naturalism” like a drowning man, which you see as something bad that needs to be opposed, but then you read all kinds of things into it that make no sense. Even objectively, the term isn’t clearly defined at all.

    Atheism doesn’t necessarily imply evolution or Darwinism. Christians always try to claim that, but it’s false. There is more to nature and human existence than just evolution. Few people apply evolution to our cognitive process – those who do aren’t sure about it either.

    Good and evil have some religious connotations. I’ll give you that. But it’s possible to argue about it in purely philosophical and logical terms. There are several philosophical concepts that establish such systems and provide solutions for how can arrive at a moral standpoint. Yes, we can define what are good actions and what are bad actions and we can define how a society might work the best. Philosophers (some of whom were atheists and skeptics) have been doing it for about 2500 years.

  • Tim:

    It’s also defined as 2 x 1, 4 – 2, 2 + 0, but such definitions still don’t provide concrete evidence for the existence of the number 2. Numbers are abstract concepts, and a naturalistic worldview cannot account for abstracts.

    Are you serious? If two objects exist, the two objects exist whether a mind is aware of them or not. The abstract concept of “two” only exists within a mind. And as far as we know, minds only exist as a result of biology. Human intelligence defines the concept of “two”. It isn’t a thing floating out there somewhere in the ether. “Two” doesn’t have any kind of existence apart from the purely conceptual. There is no such thing as the “existence of the number 2.” “Two” doesn’t exist – only the concept does. And it requires a mind.

    Your assertion is just bizarre. It’s like saying that a rock can’t exist unless something exists to call it a rock.

    Thus, an Atheist doesn’t have the ability to say that an action is evil or good, and to claim such a thing would be inconsistent with the naturalistic worldview.

    Like the number two, good and evil are concepts invented by human beings. They don’t have a separate existence from the minds of those conceiving them. Only people are capable of declaring whether actions are good or evil, since we have no evidence of another source for the concepts.

    If someone was to request something of you and for whatever reason you said no, are you not giving an answer to that request? For God, answering requests doesn’t mean that he has to say yes.

    The verses specifically say you will be given whatever you ask for. No qualifications at all; no ifs, ands, or buts. “No” is not even a valid response. “No” would be God breaking his promise.

  • Robert:

    You may not get what you want, but you will get what you need in the time and manner that you need it and as Tim says, sometimes what you need is a no.

    You can keep saying this all you like, but the verses quote Jesus himself as specifically saying you’ll get what you ask for, not what God thinks you need. You’re arguing with Jesus, not with me.

    I agree with Tim when he says that the naturalist view doesn’t allow for good or evil. In fact, if all thought is a biological chemical reaction, then there is nothing inherently good or evil in anything humans do and any more thought or meaning into it is illusory.

    You’re acting as if the fact that something is purely biological robs it of even the potential for meaning. Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine there is no God, and all of our thoughts and feelings derive from our biology. Do you think you’d still be able to love, and that the love would still have meaning to you?

  • Tim

    Steve says:

    Your whole world view is completely distorted. You cling to the word “naturalism” like a drowning man, which you see as something bad that needs to be opposed, but then you read all kinds of things into it that make no sense. Even objectively, the term isn’t clearly defined at all.

    I’m not sure that I follow your reasoning. You’re saying that I have a distorted worldview based upon the fact that you believe I have misdefined a term that I don’t even hold to be true? I’m not quite sure how that follows.

    I haven’t said anything about naturalism being inherently evil. I believe that a naturalistic position can have drastic consequences, and I’m sure you feel the same about the concept of religion. But I know there are people holding to a philosophy of naturalism that desire great things for humanity; and I’ll be the first one to applaud them. But do I disagree with the philosophy? Yes I do. So obviously my arguments will oppose the philosophy, as your arguments will oppose religion. So I’m not sure what the problem is.

    As to a definition of “naturalism” in regards to philosophy, here is what dictionary.com defines it as:

    nat·u·ral·ism? ?
    [nach-er-uh-liz-uhm, nach-ruh-] Show IPA
    –noun

    Philosophy .
    a.
    the view of the world that takes account only of natural elements and forces, excluding the supernatural or spiritual.
    b.
    the belief that all phenomena are covered by laws of science and that all teleological explanations are therefore without value.

    If you would care to add to this definition please do so. Defining terms is always helpful when discussing such issues. But if we are to agree with this definition, then I stand by everything I previously said in regards to philosophical naturalism. The only things that exist are things that have developed by natural processes; the only thing that exists are concrete particulars. Good and evil, which are universal concepts, are not natural processes. You can’t look out your window and say: “Oh, look! There’s goodness, in and of itself.” To hold to such ideas as good and evil is being inconsistent with your worldview.

    Atheism doesn’t necessarily imply evolution or Darwinism. Christians always try to claim that, but it’s false. There is more to nature and human existence than just evolution. Few people apply evolution to our cognitive process – those who do aren’t sure about it either.

    Could you please provide the name of an Atheist who does not adhere to Darwinian evolution, as well as what naturalistic process to which he or she does adhere? And I never said that evolution was the sum of human existence, I said nature is just running its evolutionary (or maybe I should qualify it as “some naturalistic process”) path. Do you disagree?

    Good and evil have some religious connotations. I’ll give you that. But it’s possible to argue about it in purely philosophical and logical terms. There are several philosophical concepts that establish such systems and provide solutions for how can arrive at a moral standpoint. Yes, we can define what are good actions and what are bad actions and we can define how a society might work the best. Philosophers (some of whom were atheists and skeptics) have been doing it for about 2500 years.

    I would agree. But those philosophers could not argue for objective morality, but only for subjective morality: what is right for you may not be what is right for me. Thus, I come to the same conclusion, that a naturalistic worldview cannot account for the objective concepts of good and evil.

  • You can’t look out your window and say: “Oh, look! There’s goodness, in and of itself.” To hold to such ideas as good and evil is being inconsistent with your worldview.

    This is simply wrong. Again, you seem to be implying that concepts can’t exist unless they have some sort of objective physical representation. I believe that the natural world is all there is. I also believe that there are behaviors we define as good and evil. They require no source apart from our own minds.

    a naturalistic worldview cannot account for the objective concepts of good and evil.

    And now you’ve added the word “objective” – but you’re still wrong. If we subjectively determine a basis upon which to make moral decisions, there will be objectively better and worse actions to take in any given situation. Among the set of all possible actions to take will be those we can call good and those we can call evil. These will be objectively good and evil, given the presupposition of our subjective moral goals.

    Objective measurements and categorizations can and are made on the basis of subjective presuppositions. Our ability to perceive a specific frequency of light as the color red is an objective classification, based on the subjective basis by which we define “color”. Basing our moral classifications on, say, an action’s overall contribution to human well-being is no more arbitrary than basing our color classifications on specific wavelengths of light. Color is a concept invented by a mind, as are good and evil. They require no external, transcendent classification.

    Could you please provide the name of an Atheist who does not adhere to Darwinian evolution, as well as what naturalistic process to which he or she does adhere?

    The Raelians. They’re neither naturalists nor Darwinists. They believe in supernatural creator aliens, but not gods.

    Also, Buddhists. They’re not all naturalists, but they have no gods.

    Not all atheists are Darwinists or naturalists. Your assumptions are remarkably faulty.

  • @Bryn,

    Hang in there. There are probably some others even in your small town that feel the same way you do but remain silent for the same reasons.

    One option for you if you stay in that town is to let people know that you are basically agnostic. That term doesn’t have all the negative connotations that “atheist” has. Some mistakenly view “agnostic” as meaning that you aren’t sure what you believe. Technically it means that you don’t think religious revelation is possible (there can be no actual knowledge of gods) and all holy books are human inventions. In a small town, though, you might be better off having people think you just aren’t sure what you believe. 🙂

  • Kamaka

    Robert W says

    I was giving you the definition of objective morality.

    Objective morality is morality that is true whether anyone believes it or not.

    This is a definition of objective morality? You’ve got to be kidding. This is no definition, it’s word salad.

    The idea that objective morality exists, is not based upon the Bible. It is the idea that there are objective standards that are true regardless of what anyone believes.

    It is a philosophical argument of the existence of God.

    What does the existence of god have to do with this “objective morality” that you speak of?

    Tim says

    And if so, then does the purpose that Stalin created for his life ok? Or what about Mao Tse Tung

    Robert says

    the Nazis believed that in order for the world to be a decent place to live there should be no Jewish people. Does that make their actions moral?

    Even if everyone agreed that raping children is okay, would that make it moral?

    When you drag out the Nazis and evil dictators as some kind of argument to prove your point, you are casting nasty, child-raping aspersions upon atheists, all to deflect notice from your lack of substantive argument.

    Enough word games here. What the hell do you mean by “objective morality?” What’s objective about it? Exactly what moral rules or guidelines do you find so superior to other’s people’s views? Please, enlighten me as to “what’s true whether anyone believes it or not”. What is that truth?

    After all, you are being arrogant and insulting playing the Hitler and child-rapist cards. Share your profound wisdom with us, and tell us the rules that you think are so superior to any naturalistic views. Spell it out, what are the laws of “objective morality” and from whence do they arise?

  • @Kamaka,

    The supposed answer to the questions “what are the laws of “objective morality” and from whence do they arise?” are the following:

    The laws are from God and are inscribed within the text of the holy bible as interpreted and deciphered by a properly credentialed person of the faith.

    You may ask: “Well, how does the credentialed person of the faith do the interpretation and deciphering?”

    Well, it goes kind-of like this (using homosexuality as an example):

    Modern theologian X doesn’t like the idea of homosexuality. X notices that ancient theologian Y (who authored part of the bible) also didn’t like the idea of homosexuality). Therefore, it must also be the opinion of God that homosexuality is bad. Then since God doesn’t like homosexuality, it isn’t merely the opinions of theologians X and Y. It is objective morality. QED

    Religion stands and falls with this logic.

  • Kamaka

    @ Halo Guy

    The laws are from God and are inscribed within the text of the holy bible as interpreted and deciphered by a properly credentialed person of the faith.

    You know this, and I know this, but Robert W and Tim have (less than) artfully dodged giving such a clear answer.

    The Halo Guy and I are both anxiously awaiting a detailed account of “objective morality”.

  • Kamaka,

    Objective morality is just what I said it is. It is something that is right or wrong independent of whether anybody believes it to be so. For example, somebody giving their life for someone else is morally good regardless of whether anybody thinks it isn’t. On the flip side, the action of raping child is immoral regardless if there are people who may claim that it is moral. In other words, actions that are moral or immoral despite others subjective views.

    For a much more detailed explanation here is a link to an essay from Dr. William Lane Craig:

    http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/meta-eth.html

    I hope that explains it.

  • Mike,

    You can keep saying this all you like, but the verses quote Jesus himself as specifically saying you’ll get what you ask for, not what God thinks you need. You’re arguing with Jesus, not with me.

    Actually you are taking this passage out of context. And my answer is really correct. All prayers must be in accordance with God’s will. I John 5:14-15. See also Matt. 6: 9-13

    And now you’ve added the word “objective” – but you’re still wrong. If we subjectively determine a basis upon which to make moral decisions, there will be objectively better and worse actions to take in any given situation. Among the set of all possible actions to take will be those we can call good and those we can call evil. These will be objectively good and evil, given the presupposition of our subjective moral goals.

    So, morality is objective because we subjectively say it is good or evil? Its objective because subjectively we say it is?

    Yea, i don’t follow that.

  • Kamaka

    @ Robert W

    Objective morality is just what I said it is. It is something that is right or wrong independent of whether anybody believes it to be so.

    Robert, all you have here is an assertion without substance.

    Please, tell us more about your “objective morality”. I have no idea whether I should believe it to be so or not, since you have failed to define “objective morality” despite multiple requests.

    In other words, answer the question.

  • Kamaka,

    I can’t answer the question anymore then I already have.

    I also referred you to a wonderful essay that talks about it in great detail

  • Kamaka

    @ Robert W

    I just checked out your link, and now I understand why you are so obtuse, rude and obnoxious. You are not actually espousing your own thoughts, but are parroting some holier-than-thou crap that you read somewhere on the internet and barely understand.

    Get back to me when you learn to think for yourself.

  • Kamaka,

    I understand the concept just fine. I sent you to the link because the essay from Dr. Craig is a great explanation and you were having a hard time understanding it. I will gladly give Dr. Craig credit for the depth of his arguments on the subject. Another person you can read on the subject is Timothy Keller. He has a great book called the Reason for God that goes into it in great detail.

    Now regardless of your rude response (and I assume you have never learned something from someone else), do you understand it better after reading the essay?

  • Robert:

    Actually you are taking this passage out of context. And my answer is really correct. All prayers must be in accordance with God’s will. I John 5:14-15. See also Matt. 6: 9-13

    Thank you for proving for me that the Bible is nothing more than a big book of multiple choice. I point out something where Jesus explicitly says that anything you ask for in his name will be given to you – no qualifications. You point out something that contradicts this, adding qualifications. It’s all a matter of what parts you want to give precedence to. You’re the type of believer who thinks God will never do anything to prove his own existence? You’re in luck! We’ve got verses that support you. You’re the type of believer who thinks God will always prove himself? Hey presto! We’ve got verses that support you, too!

    Honestly, I can’t imagine why there would be so many denominations…

    Objective morality is just what I said it is. It is something that is right or wrong independent of whether anybody believes it to be so.

    Which must, of course, be interpreted through a subjective human filter, as no human being has objective access to a source of objective morality. So… we don’t really have any means of verifying that your supposedly objective moral standards are actually objective; we’ve just got to take your word for it.

  • I’m an atheist from Türkiye. I’m sixteen. So hard to be atheist here. Exhausting, unsafe. Most people are Muslim and they fright evolution theory in Türkiye. Even the best universities evolution theory is not taught. Case of country is very depressing. A country of bigots, and here is secular nation only on paper. We usually keep our ideas secret, especially about religion. Only, same minded people may discuss freely. I hope that our country may become conscious in future. Türkiye has Atheists who are had to camouflage themselves!!

    Last, it’s an important; do you heard Aziz Nesin? Or, Turan Dursun? One by one great men. Explore and read them.

  • Robert W.

    Mike,

    Thank you for proving for me that the Bible is nothing more than a big book of multiple choice. I point out something where Jesus explicitly says that anything you ask for in his name will be given to you – no qualifications. You point out something that contradicts this, adding qualifications. It’s all a matter of what parts you want to give precedence to. You’re the type of believer who thinks God will never do anything to prove his own existence? You’re in luck! We’ve got verses that support you. You’re the type of believer who thinks God will always prove himself? Hey presto! We’ve got verses that support you, too!

    That is one way to look at the Bible, but I would argue that it is an incorrect way. I would argue that it is a matter of taking the Bible as a whole and attempting to interpret in a manner that puts passages in their proper context as written and and in historic context, to try and find the overall meaning. You are correct that there are alot of different denominations but if you look behind the surface differences, they are remarkably similar in their core teachings.

    Which must, of course, be interpreted through a subjective human filter, as no human being has objective access to a source of objective morality. So… we don’t really have any means of verifying that your supposedly objective moral standards are actually objective; we’ve just got to take your word for it.

    Actually, the concept of objective moral standards transcends what any subjective interpretation would be. That is why we know that things such as starving the innocent, or killing the elderly are inherently wrong, regardless of whether some would try to argue that it isn’t. We all know it and recognize it.

  • Robert,

    I read with interest the Craig essay you linked. Although I see that it would be “music to the ears” for a believer, I found a number of problems within it from a more skeptical viewpoint.

    First of all it should be stated that it does not address at all any kind of list as for what is objectively moral or how we are to go about developing such a list. Thus, it doesn’t address the questions Kamaka has been asking.

    The essay never adequately developed the relationship between an objective morality and God. Is God subordinate to objective morality or is the objective morality subordinate to God? What comes first or are they inseparable (one and the same). I would presume that the Craig views them as one and the same since the other two positions proves problematic for the Christian notion of God.

    If objective morality comes first, then we don’t really need God. (This seems to be the position of Sam Harris whom I understand believes in a god-less objective morality). We could strive to discover the objective morality independent of any god. It would also mean that there could be a God who did not choose to follow or adhere to the objective morality Himself. For many, the god of the bible seems to be such a god.

    If God comes first and then decides what is moral, then it really isn’t objective morality if God made the choices. The God-given morality would be at His whim. It would be arbitrary. It could even be evil. This seems to be the position of Nathan who sometimes posts here. He has said that since God is all powerful and can send us to hell, we just have to suck it up and accept what-ever morality God comes up with and call it good.

    To say they (objective morality and God) came into existence simultaneously where they are one and the same, would be like saying that objective morality came first and then God was constrained by that objective morality and could do nothing else. If this were the case, God would have no choice but to “be” (or behave) morally perfect… no free will for God. This seems to be a popular notion within Christianity. It kind of gets God off the hook for sending so many unrepentant sinners to hell. God has no choice but to send them to hell since he can’t do otherwise. God is like a computer program. This “one and the same” position also lends itself to all sorts of mischief by people adding stuff to the supposed program. Simply refer to the details of any particular denomination’s conception of god, heaven, and hell.

    Personally, I view the larger problem is in how we determine what is moral. This question transcends the question of whether morality is objective. In either case (whether morality is objective or not) society needs to come up with what is right or wrong.

    Craig did kind-of say that society discovers the laws of nature and likewise we need to discover the laws of objective morality. We have the scientific method to discover the laws of nature. Craig never suggested what we do to discover the laws of objective morality.

    I also felt Craig made a bit of a straw man out of the naturalist position.

  • Robert W.

    Jeff P,

    Very interesting comments. For a more direct answer to what you raise I would direct you to Dr. Craig’s website, http://www.reasonablefaith.org.

    There are several essays and answers to questions similar to what you raise.

  • Actually, the concept of objective moral standards transcends what any subjective interpretation would be. That is why we know that things such as starving the innocent, or killing the elderly are inherently wrong, regardless of whether some would try to argue that it isn’t. We all know it and recognize it.

    That’s precisely the point: WE know it. HUMAN BEINGS. We DON’T have any evidence that this comes from anything more than simple human nature. Give me evidence that it’s transcendent and not instinctual and you may have a case.

  • Mike,

    I would argue that the very fact that they are objective in the sense that they are not dependent on the individual, culture or society standards, then they are transcendent by their very nature.

    If they were not transcendent then they would be of human construct and therefore by definition not objective at all.

    To say that there can be objective morality that is itself simple human nature is to defeat the objective nature of the morality. Not everyone’s instincts are the same, at even the most basic level there are differences. For example, we all have the instinct to eat, but how often, how much, what is instinctively appetizing is different.

    If you are to say that they come from nature, then it would follow that you are saying that they evolved over time such that every human being now living has that innate instinct that is exactly the same. Other aspects of human evolution did not work that way, just look at the physical differences between us depending upon where we were born and raised.

    Additionally, evolution implies that we adapted and changed in order to survive. That doesn’t necessarily lead to adapting to what is true or even good or evil. To use an example from Alvin Plantinga, a person may think that it would be healthy for him to pet a tiger, but everytime he sees a tiger he runs away from it wanting to find a bigger or prettier one. The survival instinct would be intact but for the wrong true reason.

    For a more detailed explanation of this idea look at this link: It is the same essay from William Graig noted earlier but from a different source

    http://www.lewissociety.org/god.php

  • Rachid

    hi i am Rachid from Morocco and i would like to share my exprience with you as an atheist and ex muslim. Ok, i am 28 years old , male . i have got to say that during all those years i abode by the teachings of Islam. i considered Islam as the only right religion and any other religion apart from it a mere delusion. I can dare and say that i was very remligious too. i committed “sins” but regret and repentance were always my natural reactions after that.
    §I never committed wht islma cnsiders as “big sins”.
    anyway,all those years for me as a muslim weren’t happy for me .i was all the time anxious.A strange and tortoreous anxiety that came and went all the time . Someimes i would keep on praying and reading the koran just to feel better… sometimes that worked but most of the time it didn’t.
    i was kinda afraid of something . maybe i was afraid of doing something god wouldn’t like. i couldn’t even look at a beautiful girl crossing the street and if the impulse was stronger than me and decided to look at her, i would directly repent and feel saaaaaad because the iwas not strong enough to fight the desire .
    To sum up, i didn’t have control over my life ; islam was limiting my thoughts , actions and even my feelings.
    islma didn’t ask my inner questions which i was afraid to ask.
    my questions were “sins”. it was a religion full of contradictions but i have to admit though that it was better and closer to perfection than the other religions .

    what made me more miserable is that i had to realate all my achievments and failures to the will of allah. i felt that i wasn’ free and without a life.. add to this the fact that no god answered my prayers.

    i noticed that muslims are not happy , they look sad , ugly,unhealthy , poor and most of them are hypocrites who would do anythin for money even if that meant commiting the ” big sins”.

    In islam nobody goes to heaven except for good muslims. the rest suffers in life by having a disturbed soul and by obstacles sent from god to make their lives not sweet and hard. they suffer also after death in hell for not being good muslims.

    those like me , always according to islam, who were once muslims and chose to vonvert to a different religion or become atheist ( my case) have a more sever punishment because they already what islam is all about.

    To get all this out of my mind required me too much energy , time courage and thinking ; real free-thinking .

    believe me , the moment i discvered the truth and became atheist i felt free and happy.
    i am free and happy .
    i no longer have that anxiety problem . i try to enjoy my life , i live in peace and try to take control of life.
    i had never thought i would become an atheist but here i am ..
    i wish so many would do like me . i have never told anyone about this change . i don’t tink i will because it is consuderd a crime n my cpountryand i don’t wannna ave enemies or problemss … maybe i am the only one here…. i don’t know anyone else in my place who is atheist…. i would to say more … i will

    call me Collapse