A question of faith
by “Tim the Teacher” (full name withheld at author’s request)

Do not question your faith!+ Right?+ Is this not what all religious leaders preach to their followers?+ Have you ever considered why this is so?+ Today I am asking you, for just a few minutes, to examine the fundamental tenets of religious faith.

A religious friend recently told me that there must be a God because otherwise how did life on Earth begin?+ Consider this from a non-religious point of view.+ There is no scientific debate that the accurate answer to that question is that we do not know how life on Earth began.+ The fundamental difference between him and me, however, is that when I reach a point where I encounter a question whose answer I do not know, I say “I don’t know.+ Let’s use the scientific method to further explore that question because the scientific method has proven itself to be a valuable tool in discovering the answers to myriad questions.”+ He posits “God.”+ But does positing God answer the question regarding the beginning of life?+ Of course not.+ It simply adds an additional and unnecessary layer of causation (without any supporting evidence), and then begs the question, “who or what created God?”+If the response to that is that God has just always existed, then why not simply say that the Universe has just always existed?+ Does not the principle of Occam’s Razor advise us to cut off unnecessary assumptions?+ I should add that scientists are working on creating life in laboratories.+ What an extraordinary and fascinating scientific discovery this would be to lay out the chemical processes that change an environment with no life to one with life.+ The criticism that these scientists are “playing God” is nonsensical unless you start with the assumption that God started life.+ But the whole point of the scientific method is that you do not start with certainties.+ You start with doubt.+ In the words of Francis Bacon, “If a man will begin with certainty, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”

But, my friend protested, how could we have become so beautifully complex?+ Surely, we have a designer who is intelligent.+ Again, consider this question from a non-religious point of view.+ Is it possible that there is another explanation for our wonderful, almost inconceivable complexity?+ Absolutely.+ Natural selection and evolution.+ Organisms with more adaptive traits (that stem from genetic variation resulting from genetic drift and mutation) survive and evolve.+ Evolution is no more a “theory” than gravity.+ It is accepted fact that has been corroborated by the scientific method.+ To deny it is to either not understand or not accept that the scientific method distinguishes true hypotheses from false ones.

Fine, my friend says, but what about the Koran (he is Muslim)?+ Let us look at this from a non-religious point of view.+ Well, I say, what about the Bible or any other religious text?+ Why should I choose one of these over any other?+ Or a better question yet is, why should I choose any one at all?+ What independent scientific evidence exists to support my decision?+ As John Allen Paulos said in Irreligion, A Mathematician Explains why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up,+ “What if you’re not persuaded by the argument that God exists because His assertion that He exists and discussion of His various exploits appear in this book about Him that believers say He inspired?”+ Perhaps the most difficult truth for many religious followers to accept is that there simply is no evidence to support that any religious text is the word of a supernatural being who created the Universe.+ But on some level, many religious followers acknowledge that to interpret a religious text literally is indefensible.+ Why not take this gut instinct to its logical conclusion and admit that no text “proves” that God exists?+ The Bible, for instance, does contain historically accurate facts, but is also full of metaphors that most Christians accept are not historical fact.+ Is it that hard to believe, then, that the existence of God is not historical fact?+ Or, at the very least, why not subject that factual question to the same level of intellectual scrutiny with which one would examine any other factual question?+ Is the best answer that it makes one uncomfortable or angry to do so?+ Is this good enough for you?

Well, my friend tells me, you are going to Hell (Islam, like Christianity, teaches that those who do not believe in God go to Hell).+ My initial comment here is that how life or the Universe began is a totally different question from a practical point of view from what happens to us after we die.+ I can conceive of scientific answers to these questions that would be completely unrelated.+ Let us look at what we do know about the latter question.+ When we die, we are unable to communicate, our brain and body cease to function, and we decompose.+ I admit, it’s not as glamorous as the post-death stories outlined by various religions, but there is no debate that it is all we know as a scientific matter of fact about what happens to us after we die (there are a few people who die for a few minutes and are then revived and claim to have seen a light or themselves floating, but it is not clear to me how this proves that any specific religion is correct or that this is anything other the result of brain function, which continues for a short time after death).+ Why would we then hypothesize that we have a consciousness when we die, and furthermore that we meet a supernatural being (who happens to also be the supernatural being that created the Universe), and furthermore that this supernatural being judges us on our actions and thoughts (including whether or not we believe in Him, It or Her), and either sends us to eternal torment or Heaven?+ Is this not wishful thinking?+ If not, what evidence supports it?

On the other hand, from a gambling standpoint, I suppose it does make sense to believe in God.+ After all, if I believe then I go to Heaven, and at worst (if there is no God), then nothing happens.+ If I don’t believe, then at worst I experience eternal torment, and at best (if there is no God) nothing happens.+ Of course, if I believe in the wrong religion (e.g., if I believe in Allah and it turns out that there is some other God waiting to judge me after I die), then I might experience eternal torment, too.+ And of course, there is also the issue that I simply cannot choose to believe anything.+ The fact is that I do not believe in a God, no matter how hard I try or how nice I think it would be.+ If I lie and say I believe, does that get me into Heaven?+ More to the point, if there is a God, would he really ask us to choose our belief system (to the extent that we able) based on this post-mortem gambling?

I invite readers of this editorial to write and read comments.+ I suspect that some of the comments will set forth arguments for the existence of a God.+ Please keep in mind when reading them that if we truly evaluate these arguments as we would any other factual argument, then the burden of proof rests of those arguing for the existence of something, not on those arguing for the nonexistence of something.+ Evaluate the arguments, make an honest assessment, and please do not be afraid to question your faith.

37 COMMENTS

  1. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1.

    Teacher Tim, I see your wheels spinning and spinning. You’ll never be able to figure out God. God is God and we are not. God warns us not to be wise in our own eyes. Wise pastors and Bible teachers know we will question our faith and they encourage us to dig into the Bible for the answers.

    “Faith comes by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17 He does promise that is you seek Him you will find him. He does not say if you figure me out with your logic you will find me.

    So, Teacher Tim, perhaps the Holy Spirit is starting to stir your soul. Your best “bet” would be to go with it. Read the Bible, read the Koran, then be still and see if you sense the Holy Spirit of God calling you, as you are, not with it all figured out.

    Blessings!!

  2. I thank Tim the Teacher for sharing his ideas, but I find his opening assumption to be false. The religious leaders in my life, and those I have discovered in my study, have always ENCOURAGED me to question my faith in a responsible, thoughtful manner. And each of the issues and questions and arguments that Tim presents can be found in the writings of Christian leaders over the ages. They did not cower from these questions, but explored their strengths and weaknesses openly. These are ancient questions. And in the face of these questions, some have found reason to believe, and some have found reason to reject belief.

    For me, the critical issue is the historicity of the empty tomb. If that tomb was empty, and the circumstances are as reported – the posted Roman guard, the reliability of the extra-biblical historical documents – then I can only find a plausible explanation in the resurrection of Jesus. And upon that foundation, the rest of my faith is built.

  3. I agree with the pp regarding the first assumption of this editorial. “Do not question your faith” has not recently been dominant in Christianity as far as I know.

    Tim, I appreciate your thoughtful discourse—you seem like an intellectual type of guy who honestly wants to discuss these issues. You mention that the “evidence” for God seems to come from a book (the Bible) which God himself is supposed to have inspired (circular logic is what you are implying). You might find the book “The Case for Christ” an interesting read. It was written by an atheist journalist who set out to prove that Christ may have existed but that certainly He was not God. He goes to all sorts of sources outside of the Bible to prove his points and argues skeptically throughout the book. I will not reveal his conclusions. He also wrote a book called “The Case for Faith.”

    Keep questioning and thinking, Tim. God bless!

  4. Hi Tim,

    First of all, the “scientific method” clearly shows us that the universe has not always existed, but that isn’t the approach I wish to take.

    I need to ask on what basis does an atheist account for the use of the “scientific method”. This is a method that relies on inductive reasoning, which cannot be accounted for in an atheistic worldview. You see, we both have assumptions. We both have worldviews that are solely built on faith. The problem that atheism has is that it cannot account for the very tools it uses to debate. In order to even begin to do science, one must make certain assumptions that an atheist has no right to make. How do you account for the uniformity of nature, universal, invariant laws, moral absolutes, human knowledge, etc. Remember, in your worldview, human knowledge is nothing more than a bunch of electrons firing off in the human brain, which is itself a cosmic accident. To suggest that such an approach to knowledge is meaningful and significant requires a tremendous amount of faith.

    You see, you have your own set of unproven metaphysical presuppositions. You may deny this (most atheists do), but you do have them. They are inescapable. This is quite obvious in your approach to God. You asked, “what about the Bible or any other religious text? Why should I choose one of these over any other? Or a better question yet is, why should I choose any one at all? What “independent scientific evidence” exists to support my decision?” In short, you argument is that Christians are “begging the question” (if I’m wrong, then feel free to correct me here.) What you fail to see is that your approach is just as much begging the question. You haven’t justified your naturalistic worldview at all. You have merely assumed it to be true, and then want to frame the debate on that groundwork (ie. “independent scientific evidence”). Are you willing to question your own faith in materialism? You may start by providing an answer to David Hume’s Skepticism of Induction.

    So how do we approach this question, seeing as we both have differing metaphysical presuppositions? I would propose that God’s existence can be proven by the absurdity of His non-existence. Since non-material things like logic, knowledge, and ethics do exist, and since God is the precondition of those things, than God exists.

  5. Thank you so much all the thoughtful responses. I know religious debate can be touchy, and I appreciate your respectful tone and will attempt to keep my own the same…

    Mama Fluco- Thank you for your kind words. I have dug into much of the Bible, and while I find many of the stories to be interesting and agree with many of the underlying messages, I also find many of the stories to describe (and I truly do not mean this disrespectfully) in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “a being of terrific character – cruel, vindictive, capricious, and unjust.” For instance, “I will smash them one against the other, fathers and sons alike, declares the Lord. I will allow no pity or mercy or compassion to keep me from destroying them.” (JER 13:14). I’m certain one could find a Biblical quote describing a nicer God, but to me that simply suggests that sometimes He’s nice and sometimes He’s mean. I find calm and peace in the natural beauty of our universe and in the reason and logic of books like The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, which I encourage you to read to help you understand me as I read the Bible to try to understand you. Again, thank you for taking the time to write a thoughtful response. I wish you well.

    Hillsboro Rev- Good point about my opening! I wish I had not made that generalization about not questioning faith. I commend those religious leaders who encourage a thoughtful questioning of faith. At the same time, the Second Commandment does state that we are not supposed to have any Gods before Him, which says to me that while religious leaders might encourage questioning of faith, the God that you believe in demands that you ultimately decide on believing in Him. And that strikes me as not allowing for a truly rigorous questioning. As far as the empty tomb, I would argue that 1) there are many ways for a tomb to become empty that do not have anything to do with miracles (for example, someone stole his body, or perhaps Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross), 2) Paul emphasizes that he and the other apostles believed in the resurrection not because of an empty tomb, but because they had visions of Christ, 3) all we have is ancient testimony that someone with a vested interest in validating Jesus’ resurrection saw an empty tomb with no other corroborating evidence that Jesus was resurrected not to mention that he was the son of the God described in the Bible, and 4) assuming Jesus did get up out of his tomb, it does not follow as a matter of logic that the rest of the Bible is true. All that said, I thank you for your thoughtful response and also mean no disrespect to you and wish you well.

    Chiefcookan- See my response to Hillsboro Rev about my opening. Thanks for referring me to those books. I will definitely check them out.

    Puritan Lad- Thanks for your response from the philosophical angle. You are correct that I make an assumption as an atheist. My assumption is that what I can sense (hear, see, smell, taste, feel) and (most importantly), what all other humans can independently verify, is real. But that is the only required assumption, and it is the assumption upon which we based all of our other perceptions. Religion, on the other hand, does not require that everyone else is able to independently verify the claim. You believe that God exists and that Jesus Christ is the son of that God. But folks all over the world, including me, do not because we cannot independently verify that claim. One key difference between logic and religion is that logic demands constant questioning, and therefore includes the possibility of religion, but religion requires dispensing with logic. In other words, if God revealed Himself in a way that everyone could independently verify, logic would dictate that I and everyone else in the world believe in Him. But believing him as a first principle requires no independent verification from anyone that He exists. I would argue that for no other claim would this be acceptable to you because you use logic to evaluate all other claims. For instance, if I claim that there is a purple unicorn that lives behind my house, I would fully expect that you would be skeptical of the claim and would demand that others be able to independently verify its existence. I would further argue that you would the logic faulty that the purple unicorn exists because its non-existence would be absurd to me. So yes, logic relies on an assumption, but it is an assumption that is in line with every other perception of reality we have, whereas fundamental religious belief is not. I see no reason to abandon the demand that everyone else be able to independently verify our claims simply because those claims are religious in nature. Finally, I would simply argue to your last few sentences that I dispute that God is a precondition for anything until someone proves it in a way that everyone can independently verify. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Puritan Lad. I also wish you well and mean no disrespect.

  6. Tim,

    No disrespect taken. In fact, you are one of the nicer atheists I’ve dealt with. (Both Christians and atheists can let their passions make them rude.)

    In your opening statement, you claimed that “…the most difficult truth for many religious followers to accept is that there simply is no evidence to support that any religious text is the word of a supernatural being who created the Universe.” I must ask how you know this. How can a finite person make such a universal claim? How do you know that there absolutely is no evidence?

    You may backtrack and claim that you haven’t found any evidence that suits you, but that is quite a bit different than making the absolute claim that there is no evidence.

    I see much evidence for God’s existence (which we will address later), but I must ask you. What kind of evidence would convince you of God’s existence? I really want you to think this through. I don’t believe that your rejection of God is due to a lack of evidence, but I’ll need you to answer that question in order to illustrate this.

    You wrote that “My assumption is that what I can sense (hear, see, smell, taste, feel) and (most importantly), what all other humans can independently verify, is real.” But you don’t assume that “all” other humans can independently verify is real, because you reject a priori the experiences of Moses, Abraham, and the Apostles? You only assume what naturalists can sense, but that would be a selective and arbitrary application of your standard (as well as begging the question). You added, “But that is the only required assumption, and it is the assumption upon which we based all of our other perceptions.” Again, how can an atheist make such an assumption? How are you privy to what “all humans” sense? You have no basis for assuming what I experience, because my brain is different from your brain. Such a standard for truth would be subjective at best.

    Furthermore, this assumption undermines all scientific inquiry, because there would be no way to justify any universal invariant law, as I suggested in my first comment. Doing so would require universal experience, which no one except God has.

    Finally, there is no reason to expect sense experience to have any meaning in an atheist worldview, because they are simply neurons being triggered by certain stimuli, and we all have different neurons.

    It is interesting that you would bring up logic (you did use the logical argument of “begging the question” in your opening piece, but I didn’t include this in my first comment, planning to address it later). Do you believe in the laws of logic? What are they exactly? Are they universal or are they conventional? Of what material are they made, and how are they justified in an atheist worldview? You wrote, “One key difference between logic and religion is that logic demands constant questioning, and therefore includes the possibility of religion, but religion requires dispensing with logic.” How would you prove this statement? I hold that God is the precondition of logic, so you’ll have to defend the use of logic in an atheist worldview before we can go much further. If you suggest that logic is based on sense experience, the you may as well throw out any sort of universal approach to logic, unless you can answer Hume’s Induction problem again.

    Tim, there are no philosophical freebies. Only in a Christian worldview can universal laws, logic, intelligible experience, and induction make sense. In this case, atheism leads to irrationality, because it must borrow capital from the Christian worldview in order to argue against it.

    Your reference to purple unicorns is a logical fallacy known as a Red Herring, since purple unicorns are irrelevant to both of our worldviews (I assume).

    Finally, I would attempt to answer your final statement, that you “dispute that God is a precondition for anything until someone proves it in a way that everyone can independently verify”. How about a little logic, borrowing a reductio ad absurdum from a friend?

    Prove A: God is the precondition of meaningful sense experience.

    Step 1 ~A: (Assume the opposite of what we are trying to prove): God is NOT the precondition of meaningful sense experience.

    Step 2 (~A–> B): If God is NOT the precondition of meaningful sense experience, then atheism can account for meaningful sense experience.

    Step 3 (~B): Atheism cannot account for meaningful sense experience (Contradiction!)

    Step 4 (~ ~A): It is not the case that God is not the precondition of meaningful sense experience. (Modus Tollens on 2 and 3)

    Step 5 (A): –> God is the precondition of meaningful sense experience. (Law of negation.)

    Q.E.A.

    You will, I assume, accept that my logic is sound, so therefore you will find a flaw in my premises in Step 2 or Step 3. I have been unable to do so.

    Finally, is seems as if you want only religious people to question their faith. But your faith in materialism is found wanting.

  7. Tim, I’ll give you an “easy” one because it’s hard to follow Puritan Lad, LOL.

    I just have three questions for you as your claim to have an “atheist” worldview is intriguing to me. In your belief system: 1) How did humans come to be/ how were they made? 2) What is the true nature of human beings? 3) What do human beings require/need/have as their ultimate goal in life?

  8. Puritan Lad- Thanks for your response and for keeping things respectful. I will address your questions, but I have one for you, as well: Why could you not substitute “Islamic” or “Hindu” or “Greek” for “Christian” when you say that only a “Christian worldview” makes sense? In other words, why are these people, who after all believe in a God or Gods, wrong and you’re right?

    Now for your questions:

    What kind of evidence would convince me of that a God exists? If evidence that all (not some) humans could independently verify using their senses existed, I would change my mind. The Empire State Building exists because all people could go and verify that it’s there using their senses. The same is simply not true of God. If I get to the pearly gates and there’s a Christian (or other) God waiting for me, and I’m asked why I didn’t believe in God, I’ll simply say, “Sorry, God. Not enough evidence.”

    Some people, like Moses, Abraham and the Apostles, claim that a Christian God exists. I understand that apparently enough evidence exists for them (or that they do not require evidence) to believe what they believe. But I would also argue that none of their existence claims can be independently verified by all humans as can, for instance, the claim that the Empire State Building exists. And this is the crucial difference.

    I do not claim to be privy to the senses of others. I simply claim that all people can go and to the Empire State building and agree on its existence using their senses. The fact that your neurons are different from mine does not preclude our ability to each verify subjectively that it’s there and then agree to say that objectively it’s there.

    I would argue that religious folks, too, generally believe that the things they sense and that everyone else can verify are real. This is not an assumption particular to atheists nor scientists. It’s merely how we all make sense of the world.

    I do not claim that anything is universally invariant. I believe we can predict that gravity, for example will act in a certain way here on Earth, but I also concede that gravity might act differently in different parts of the universe in ways we don’t yet know. And even if it turned out that gravity acted the same everywhere, it does not follow that a God exists.

    As far as your questions about logic, I argue that it really boils down to this: Atheists simply apply the way that all of us (Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, etc…) evaluate a) the existence of buildings, apples, or turtles, and b) the nonexistence of purple unicorns, to the question of whether God exists. Religious folks do not.

    I do disagree with steps 2 and 3 of your proof, but as a teacher I admit that I enjoyed reading it!

    Thanks again, Puritan Lad. I am enjoying this discussion.

  9. Chief cookan-

    1) How did humans come to be? I believe what science tell us: We don’t know yet how life on Earth began, but we do know that we evolved from the most primitive forms of life. I am comfortable with not knowing things, and believe that the logic and the scientific method are the most valuable tools humans have devised to learn about those things in our universe that we do not know.

    2) What is the true nature of human beings? I believe again in what science tells us: We are complex arrangements of molecules. I should note that I find a great deal of beauty and am in awe of our natual complexity and of the evolutionary process that caused it.

    3) What do human beings require/need/have as their ultimate goal in life? I believe a goal is something that each human being can create (as a teacher one of my goals in life, for instance, is to provide the highest quality education to all children). I do not believe in the existence of an entity who has a goal for all human beings.

    I hope this answers your questions, Chief cookan. If you’d like me to expand, please let me know. Cheers.

  10. Thanks Tim,

    For the sake of space and readability, I will answer your post in different parts, since this can become long as we expand the scope of this discussion. As for why I defend Christian theism as opposed to the others that you mentioned (or for just general theism) is because I do not find the non-Christian religions to be philosophically defensible. Of the three religions that you mentioned, Islam is the only one who claims to have a transcendent God (which is necessary for the points I have argued). Yet the Koran is self-contradictory, claiming on one hand to be based upon the Bible, yet denying what the Bible says about Christ, the crucifixion, etc. The sanskrit holy books of Hinduism claim that the physical world is merely an illusion, which begs the question whether or not the books themselves actually exist, obviously a self-defeating argument. The Greek gods were nothing more than superpowerful humans, part of the created order, not able to rule over it or provide the transcendent necessities that I have offered up.

    As far as what kind of evidence that you would except for God’s existence, I’ll need you to be more specific. What evidence would convince you of God’s existence right now?

    I’ll deal with the rest of your comment by Monday, or sooner if time allows.

  11. Tim,

    It seems that you, like most atheists, have adopted a worldview of radical empiricism (i.e. “If I can’t observe it, it doesn’t exist”). You may correct me if I’m wrong here, but this seems obvious based on how you demand that truth claims be “independently verified by all humans”. While you didn’t actually specify how this is to take place, you gave us a clue as to your standard. You wrote, “I do not claim to be privy to the senses of others. I simply claim that all people can go and to the Empire State building and agree on its existence using their senses.” Here is where radical empiricism becomes self-defeating, as it is built upon a groundless epistemology.

    I must first ask how you can possibly know this. How do you know that “all people can go and to the Empire State building and agree on its existence using their senses”? If you claim that you can “sense” this fact, that you are involved in “begging the question”, the very thing that you warned religious folks to avoid. If, on the other hand, you come to this conclusion by any other method, then you have defied your own standard of independently verify truth claims by sense experience.

    Secondly, the idea that all truth claims can be independently verified by senses is not only self-defeating, it is simply false. Sense experience doesn’t even come close to verifying every type of truth claim, and your worldview is no exception. One example, as I pointed out earlier, is the laws of logic. You still haven’t justified logic in a materialist worldview, but merely assumed as a basis for your worldview. So I need to ask you yet again, what are the laws of logic? Are they universal or are they conventional? Of what material are they made, and how are they justified in an atheist worldview (especially since you deny universal invariants)? Where can I walk up and see the laws of logic, like I can the empire state building? (BTW: Can you prove that the Empire State Building exists right now? Radical Empiricism cannot, unless you are right there.)

    Another example is the verification of historical facts. In verifying these types of claims, we do nothing like walk up to the Empire State Building and sense its presence. I would ask you, for example, who was the first president of the United States? If you agree that it was “George Washington”, why would you accept this type of claim that cannot be verified by all humans through sense experience? How would you prove this in a way that “can be independently verified by all humans”? If you refer to “historical texts” for your evidence, then I would have to ask why you would accept the past claims of Washington’s contemporaries and not accept the visions that Isaiah had or the miracles that the Apostle’s experienced? This is why I would like you to provide the specific evidence that would convince you of God’s existence, in order to illustrate that evidence isn’t really your issue, but rather your blind precommitment to materialism. The problem that you run into, however, is that you cannot consistently practice what you say you believe.

    This problem is also illustrated in this statement of yours. “The fact that your neurons are different from mine does not preclude our ability to each verify subjectively that it’s there and then agree to say that objectively it’s there.” Sorry, but that is not an acceptable answer. There are no philosophical freebies, so you are going to have to justify “objective” intelligible experiences as an atheist. One cannot simply jump from subjective to objective without assuming universal invariants, which you deny later in your comment.

    You wrote, “I would argue that religious folks, too, generally believe that the things they sense and that everyone else can verify are real. This is not an assumption particular to atheists nor scientists. It’s merely how we all make sense of the world.” Exactly Tim. This is proof that you know God. You live in His universe, and cannot even function without acknowledging Him in some way. I never suggested that we both don’t make these assumptions. It’s just that only the Christian worldview can justify making these assumptions. The fact that you assume the uniformity of nature (Hebrews 1:3) and universal standards of knowledge (Colossians 2:3) shows that you are aware of God’s Providence. In fact, God’s Providence “upholding all things” is a necessary precondition of science. The problem that you face is that you cannot prove any of these things the way you would prove the existence of the Empire State Building. In short, you are caught up in the Kantian paradox. You want to assume that the natural sciences report to be objectively true (that only the material world is real), but you live as if you believe in the objective reality of the immaterial world which contains laws of morality, laws of logic, laws of science, human knowledge, human will, human consciousness, human dignity, justice, beauty, rights, etc. In doing so, you are borrowing from the Christian worldview, because it is the only worldview that can consistently provide the preconditions of Kant’s “transcendentals”. Certainly radical empiricism cannot justify them, yet you still believe in them.

    You suggested that you “…do not claim that anything is universally invariant.” Have you really examined the ramifications of that statement? Without universal invariants, we could not even have a discussion. We could not form sentences unless there were universal laws of logic. Science has no meaning without universal invariants, yet atheism builds their entire worldview on universal invariants, without the ability to justify them in an impersonal and chaotic universe.

    As you think over your claim about universal invariants, I hope that you are starting to see the logical conclusion of atheism. Even David Hume refused to relinquish his belief in natural laws, even though he admitted that his radical empiricism had no way to justify such laws. The idea that “that gravity might act differently in different parts of the universe” is the least of your worries. As an atheist, you cannot prove that gravity will act the same tomorrow.

    Furthermore, without universal invariants, there can be no objectivity or absolute truth claims. Everything is subjective. In fact, we could just as well end this debate by saying that we are both right, because our subject truth claims match our sense experiences. But, of course, that would satisfy no one.

    When you run across the top notch academic atheists, they will concede that there are no universal invariants. The problem, however, is that they will find it impossible to live that way. When you drive your car, you don’t wonder if the laws of friction that enable your brakes to work will still be in affect. You live as though there are universal invariants, though your own worldview cannot justify them. Again, this is because you live in God’s universe, and cannot function apart from acknowledging Him in some way.

    It seems as if you only want religious folks to question there faith, but questioning materialism is off limits. You have asked us to question our faith. It is only fair that you would be willing to question your faith in materialism Tim? So far, you haven’t justified the atheist worldview, but you want to assume it as the default position. In doing so, you have a lot of questions to answer.

    Tomorrow, I’m out for worship. Hope to interact more on Monday during breaks.

    Blessings,

    PL

  12. After all, if I believe then I go to Heaven,

    One little problem: you don’t choose your beliefs, they choose you. Beliefs stand in the face of logic and evidence. This is the foundation for the First Amendment, why you have freedom of conscience. The problem with science is it doesn’t deal with the supernatural, so it has no explanation for beliefs and faith or what the scientists are thinking and feeling, which exist in the mind, or soul. Every book is proof of the supernatural but the ink and paper are of nature. No physical law can create life. But once created, the physics apply.

    What do human beings require/need/have as their ultimate goal in life?

    Life. To live and not become extinct. To live after death in a spiritual world. To live on in the minds of others through books, monuments, memories. The ultimate moral, ethical guide is to preserve life.

  13. Hello to all following along…

    PuritanLad’s argument amounts to this:
    Me: The Empire State Building is a building in New York.
    PuritanLad: That depends upon what your definition of “is” is.

    It’s an argument that not even I bought from Bill Clinton! Nor should be buy it from PuritanLad today. I fully concede that it’s possible we don’t exist, that we are figments of someone else’s imagination, or that we live in a virtual world but are actually plugged into a computer Matrix. But we all make the assumption that “is” means is. For those interested in learning more about atheism, including a more detailed discussion of why it is unproblematic philosophically to assume “is” means is, check out Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. He addresses PuritanLad’s argument head on. I’ll quote pieces, and leave it to those who want to delve further to delve:

    Some “may raise a tiresome red herring at this point: a scientist’s belief in evidence is itself a matter of fundamentalist faith… All of us believe in evidence of our own lives, whatever we may profess with our amateur philosophical hats on. If I am accused of murder, and prosecuting counsel sternly asks me whether it is true that I was in Chicago on the night of the crime, I cannot get away with a philosophical evasion [that] it depends what mean by ‘true’… Maybe scientists are fundamentalist when it comes to defining in some abstract way what is meant by truth. But so is everybody else. I am no more fundamentalist when I say evolution is true than when I say it is true that New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere. We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it. No real fundamentalist would ever say anything like that.”

    For those interested in further questioning Christianity on the same basis that PuritanLad does not believe in Hinduism, check out http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html.

    As always, please know that it is only your arguments I find flawed, PuritanLad, and not you, and that I do not mean to offend.

  14. Blair- Greetings, and welcome to the discussion.

    I argue that abstractions, like beliefs, can no more “choose” to attach themselves to me than they could choose to eat a bowl of cereal. Humans have free will, and we use it to choose our beliefs based on the best available evidence. For instance, at some point you either chose to adopt or reject the belief that the Earth revolves around the sun. Religious followers, unfortunately in my view, sometimes reject solid evidence that runs counter to their beliefs. This is why, for instance, Galileo was excommunicated for choosing to believe that Copernicus was right about us and the Sun.

    The First Amendment I would argue directly repudiates two of the Christian Ten Commandments: that we should have no other Gods before Him and that we shall not make idols. It protects the exact opposite of those things. It says that we can all have whatever Gods (or lack of gods) we want, and that we are free to express ourselves.

    I don’t really have an argument with the goal you stated, I would simply argue that it is just that: a goal that you, a person, formed and stated.

    Thank you for participating in our discussion, Blair. Please know that I mean no personal offense and wish you well.

  15. Puritan Lad- Sorry. I forgot to address your question about logic.

    I do not believe in universal laws of logic. I believe it is a system of reasoning that we all experience to make sense of the world that we experience. I would argue that it is real (so long as we agree on the what the definition of “is”
    is) because every human being can independently verify that they experience it.

    Cheers.

  16. Tim,

    I am sorry to see your arguments degenerate to this level. You have created an strawman argument here that I did not use. I am not using a “philosophical evasion”, nor tried to redefine the word “true”. The fact of the matter is that you have provided nothing here but stock atheistic arguments that Greg Bahnsen thoroughly destroyed 25 years ago.

    You claim that you find my arguments flawed. That’s OK, but you have yet to identify those flaws. Feel free to do so, other than just stating that you don’t accept them. I have pointed out the specific flaws in your arguments, using sound logic. I would hope that you could return the favor without making things up that I did not say.

    I have read Dawkin’s book. Not only does he not address my arguments “head on”, he doesn’t address them at all. His book is an embarrassment to even intelligent atheists, and amounts to nothing more than an ad hominem attack on the Christian God. Like you, he doesn’t want to defend materialism, but rather assume it in advance. It is hardly worth the read.

    You have repeatedly tried to establish materialism as the default worldview, but you are none too pleased that I refuse to accept this. Not once have you even attempted to defend the atheistic worldview. Instead, you want to assume it to be true, and argue everything from that stand point. How would you accept such an argument from me? What if I would say that “the Bible is true by definition, and therefore, based on the Bible evidence, evolution is false”. You would not accept such reasoning, so why should I?

    You know full well that science is a poor starting point for metaphysical questions. That is why questioning a materialist worldview is off limits according to your rules. You want to keep the Christian on defense, all while minimizing your own task of defending atheism, such as this quote: “the burden of proof rests of those arguing for the existence of something, not on those arguing for the nonexistence of something.” But even in that, you didn’t do your job. I offered you the proof of God’s existence at the end of my first comment, and you haven’t yet refuted it. Your precommitment to materialism is illogical, but that doesn’t seem to matter to you.

    But even in your strict materialism, you are not consistent. You will occasionally borrow from the immaterial world whenever it suits you, while all along claiming not to believe in something unless it can be observed like the Empire State Building. You do so out of necessity, in your own words, because “It’s merely how we all make sense of the world”. And that is precisely the problem with radical empiricism. It cannot make sense out of the world.

    I have asked repeated for a defense of transcendentals from an atheistic worldview. What are the laws of logic, Tim? How do you account for intelligible experience, moral absolutes, of the uniformity of nature? How do you arrive an any objective truth in a materialist worldview? How do you account for and justify any universal invariant? I have yet to hear an answer from you on any of these, and I doubt that there will be any forthcoming.

    BTW: I am not impressed with your “Bible Contradictions” link. These are old, and have been answered many times by ancient as well as modern scholars. What exegetical method have you applied to these text in order to find answers? What scholars have you consulted? Methinks that you don’t want answers, just an excuse to hold on to materialism.

    It is a difficult thing to question ones faith Tim. Why do you want Christians to do so, yet you refuse to do so yourself?

  17. Tim,

    In post #15, you are simply repeating the argument that I destroyed in #11. Argumentum ad nauseum.

    However, since you don’t believe in universal laws of logic, on what basis will you say that “every human being can independently verify that they experience it”? Are the laws of logic conventional, residing in individual brains?

  18. Tim,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’d just like to encourage you with your own advice–don’t be afraid to question *your* faith! Because, unfortunately, too many evolutionary atheists are, regardless of what evidence might be brought against their views. Two examples:
    “Even if there were no actual evidence in favor of the Darwinian theory…we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories.”–Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker.
    “Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic.”–Kansas State professor S.C. Todd in the journal Nature

  19. Greetings, Puritan Lad. Logic exists, my friend. Embrace it. I think we can all sense your anger starting to boil over in that last post, so I am going to make a few remarks to conclude our strand of this discussion and invite you to do the same.

    Atheism at its core is a willingness to change one’s mind. We invite everyone to the table and simply ask that they justify their claims. We assume only what we can all independently verify, which includes logic. Fundamental religious thought, on the other hand, is at its core certainty. No one is invited to the table because everyone but the fundamentalist is wrong as a starting premise. If evidence contradicts the certianty, that evidence is ignored.

    Religion at its best is the certainty that God wants us to be charitable and forgive. Atheists recognize this and applaud it. Religion at its worst is the certainty that God wants us to be destructive or violent. For instance, “…ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves. For thou shalt worship no other god…”? (Exodus 34: 13-17). The problem with embracing the certainty that God demands charity and forgiveness, however, is that it provides safe haven and legitimacy to those who believe in the certainty that God demands violence and destruction. This is why I ask you to question your faith, or at the very least, to use logic when applying your faith (for instance, reject Exodus 34).

    Logical thought, in contrast to fundamental religious thought, embraces charity and forgiveness and rejects destruction and violence because evidence tells us that the former improve the human experience and the latter damage it. Logic always forces us to explain ourselves. I believe this is the path to a peaceful, prosperous future for all the world’s children. Thank you for an enlightening discussion Puritan Lad. I continue to wish you well.

    If anyone else has any further questions for me, I am happy to answer them, or feel free to check out http://www.atheists.org.

  20. Tim,

    Nice try, but I have embraced logic throughout this entire discussion. You still (yet again) have failed to answer my questions. Since you do not believe in universal laws of logic, then you need to explain to us what they are. Are they conventions?

    And I am not angry, only dismayed that you would compare me to Bill Clinton and accuse me of “philosophical evasion” because of your own failure to justify the atheist worldview.

    Friends, It is apparent that Tim and I have totally different worldviews. I hold to a Christian Theistic worldview where God created all things, upholds all things by His Providence, and gives the human mind the ability to obtain knowledge. Tim, on the other hand, holds to an atheistic materialist worldview, one where everything, including the human mind, was a cosmic accident in an impersonal and chaotic universe.

    Tim has challenged us to “Evaluate the arguments, make an honest assessment, and please do not be afraid to question your faith”. Unfortunately, he fails to take his own advice. Like most atheists, questioning the materialist worldview is off limits to Tim. From the very outset, he has placed the burden of proof on the theist, while hoping that his atheism gets a free ride. He tells us, “the burden of proof rests of those arguing for the existence of something, not on those arguing for the nonexistence of something”. In other words, don’t question the atheistic materialistic worldview. It is only the religious people that need to be questioned. Let it be shown that, time and again, I have challenged Tim to justify the atheistic worldview, and he has refused to do so. He merely states, without any justification, that “all people experience it”. That just doesn’t cut it Tim. There are no philosophical freebies. You cannot, for example, tell someone that logic exists and to embrace it, while at the same time denying the existence of universal invariants.

    So what kind of proof would Tim require? I have repeated asked him this question. While he has yet to give any specific answer, he paints himself in an epistemological corner by suggesting that all factual statements are proven the same way. He writes, “we truly evaluate these arguments as we would any other factual argument”. As I have pointed out, this premise in not only self-defeating, it is flat out false. There is a vast richness of methods to prove factual claims, yet Tim denies this and demands that we prove everything by radical empiricism. He writes, “The Empire State Building exists because all people could go and verify that it’s there using their senses. The same is simply not true of God.” But this is also not true of a vast number of factual claims that Tim himself would take for granted. One example (of many), which he still has not adequately addressed, are the laws of logic. Tim has a real dilemma on his hands, because he wants to use the laws of logic, though he cannot justify or account for them in his materialist worldview. While demanding that the Christian use radical empiricism to prove any truth claim, he takes the liberty of using the non-material world to argue his point, while at the same time denying its existence. At the same time, Tim denies the existence of universal invariants such as universal laws of logic. In his world, there is no reason to debate, because the laws of logic are apparently conventions. Both of us could just as easily invent our own laws of logic, and we would both be right. But this is clearly not acceptable, even to Tim.

    Cornelius Van Til once compared an atheist who kept denying God’s existence to a toddler sitting on her father’s knee and repeatedly slapping his face. Yet she would be totally unable to do so without the basic foundation that her father gives her. Tim exhibits this to a tee. He does believe in universal invariant (and immaterial) laws of logic, even though his radical empiricism fails to account for them. In his own words, he is forced to do this in order to make sense of the world. In short, he must assume basic truths of the Christian worldview in order to argue against it.

    Based on the conflict of our worldviews, I will offer up, yet again, the proof of God’s existence. I would propose that God’s existence can be proven by the absurdity of His non-existence. Since non-material things like logic, knowledge, and ethics do exist, and since God is the precondition of those things, than God exists.

    Tim, I would love to have a conversation with you, but it’s very hard to do if you continue ignore my questions (or else pretend that they are invalid). You say you find my arguments flawed, but have yet to address any of those flaws. Here are the questions, yet again…

    What are the laws of logic Tim? Since you suggest that they are not universal, then are they conventional? Of what material are they made of, and how can we prove them like we do the Empire State Building?

    How does a materialistic worldview account for meaningful knowledge considering its fundamental theory about the origin of the human brain? What is the foundation of your epistemology (theory of knowledge)?

    How does a worldview of radical empiricism answer historical questions? How does it account for uniformity in nature?

    What specific evidence would you accept for the existence of God?

    I have asked these questions repeatedly, but have yet to get even a hint of an answer. If you want to have a “logical” conversation, you will need to have some interaction and answer these questions. Until you do so, my original premise stands, and so my proof for God’s existence. These are not evasions Tim. They are legitimate questions that you have repeatedly dodged. Let’s see if you can do better than accuse me of emulating Bill Clinton.

    Tim, I think that you are a sincere guy, so don’t take this next statement personally. As far as your attempt to extol the “peaceful” virtues of atheism, I think that we have plenty of empirical evidence to the contrary in the 20th Century alone. That, however, is another debate, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the existence of God.

    As far as your rejection of Exodus 34, I noticed that you are making a moral judgment. Once we deal with logic, uniformity, and intelligible experience, we can examine what authority an atheist uses to make moral judgments. I don’t want to give you too much at once. (“Survival of the fittest” isn’t exactly a good foundation for “charity” either.)

    So how about it Tim? Are you going to try to defend your worldview? We need some answers.

  21. I myself prefer the argument of C. S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity” and would recommend that you read it. Besides this line debate is getting a little stale. :-)
    I am probably butchering this but he argues on the premise of who defines right and wrong. In our society our laws were originally founded on Christian ideals. In fact those of us that still live in a commonwealth have laws that directly pulled from the Bible. They have the moral perspective of a higher being, in this case the God of the Bible. What would happen to our definition of right and wrong if all ideals from the morality of the Bible were removed. If the definition of right and wrong was left up to the human race where would we be? What is right for one would be wrong for another. There would be no standard. 9-11 was an example of a group of people that thought that an attack on our country was justified because of a different set of morals, principles and definition of right and wrong, keep in mind that the attack was not aimed at a military installation but a workplace.

  22. Your question is a good one, Lumberjacks, and deserves a good answer.

    I believe that you and I have more in common that you might at first think. We both think, for instance, there are some positive messages to be gleaned from the Bible. And when we read the Bible, each of us uses independent reason in deciding to reject certain moral messages (stone your kids to death for disobedience) or to accept certain messages (be charitable). This means that each of us can also explain our reasons for choosing certain moral messages independent of any reference to the Bible. So when a Muslim reads the Koran and gleans the message that child abuse is not good, and you read the Bible and glean that same message (from perhaps other passages), and I read both books and the novel The Color Purple and glean the same message, I argue that the common link is not Christianity or even belief in God, but rather our independent reasoning that child abuse is harmful to humanity. We can all articulate that without referring to our religions.

    Certainly differences of opinion will exist when use our independent reasons to justify our moral beliefs. But relying on the Bible or Koran does not cure this. Christians are divided on many moral issues (the death penalty, for example). I believe that acknowledging that both sides of the death penalty debate, for instance, have reasonable points is more productive than claiming that one side of the debate is backed by divine authority. When one or both sides of a moral debate claims the backing of God, they tend to dig in their heels and there is no discussion to be had. Think of the Middle East.

    You mention the 9/11 hijackers as a group of people who had different morals. Yet, for every 9/11 hijacker you bring up, I could bring up 10 IRA henchmen who committed horrific acts in the name of Christianity. For every allegation that Hitler was atheist (there is actually evidence that he wasn’t), I could point out that most of his army was Christian. For every Mother Teresa, I could find a Ghandi. However, I do not think this listing is productive or proves anything on either side of our discussion. What is productive is to recognize that being non-religious or non-Christian is not systematically related to being violent or destructive or immoral. What is productive is to recognize that we all ultimately use reasons independent of any religious text to make moral decisions.

    Our Founding Fathers knew this. One of the many ingenious moves they made was to mention religion in our Constitution only to explicity exclude it from our system of laws and governance. They knew we were not a Christian nation, Buddhist nation or Muslim nation. We were a nation of many faiths. And the people of all these faiths were going to have to find their common morality to govern themselves. This meant that our government, in turn, was forced to explain all of its laws and decisions without reference to any particular religion. Thus, we have a law making murder a crime not because the Bible or Koran says that we shouldn’t kill, but because American Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, atheists, etc… can all articulate why we think murder is harmful to humanity without referring to our religions (if you’re interested in reading more about our Founding Fathers’ views on religion, I suggest the book Moral Minority by Brooke Allen).

    So, lumberjacks, join John Lennon and I in imagining a world with no religion. It’s easy if you try!

  23. I feel like the understanding of our founding father’s intentions is often over stated. Our country was first populated by those that were suffering religious persecution. They were not looking for freedom from Christianity but rather to practice Christianity in their own way. The Church was integrated into the legal system and the religious leaders of the day had lost site of what was important.

    The founding fathers were not seeking to remove the church/religion from our government but rather to prevent the church from controlling the government or vice versa.
    The Mayflower Compact (authored by William Bradford) 1620 | Signing of the Mayflower painting | Picture of Compact
    “Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together…”

    George Washington said, “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.”

    John Adams said, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

    Ben Franklin Said, “God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel”

    James Madison Said, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

    And finally the author of “separation of church and state” (not found in the constitution) Thomas Jefferson said, “ The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend to all the happiness of man.”
    and “Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern which have come under my observation, none appears to me so pure as that of Jesus.”
    and “I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”
    and “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

    When the words of the founding father’s is such I cannot see how you can say that religion was to be excluded from the government. There intentions were clear. They did not one institution controlling the other but rather working together to govern the country.

    In reference to John Lennon, Thomas Jefferson also said, “The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.” and that “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.” and we forget that he also said, ” I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

    It doesn’t look to me that after reading the above quotes that our founding fathers would have supported the John Lennon. Our Country is heading on a fast track away from what its founding fathers stood for and recommended. It too much to quote but Washington warned in his farewell address to avoid political parties because they would split the nation. Again we have not honored his suggestion and a large separation if forming between the parties.

    To go back to my previous train of thought.
    Under the context of evolution:
    we evolved from animals,
    there is nothing after we die,
    we are only accountable to the laws of the land,
    our life has no real significance.

    Under the context of creation:
    We were created by God,
    we have the promise of eternal life in Heaven after we die,
    we are accountable to God,
    our life is valued by our creator and we are loved for eternity.

    Results:
    If we raise our children and teach them that they are animals how can we expect them to behave any different?
    If all we have is now we will do what ever it takes to get what we want (selfish) no matter who we crush along the way (survival of the fittest).
    If we are not accountable to a God that knows and sees all, we will ultimately get away with anything that the legal system doesn’t catch.
    If life is not valuable it can be taken on a whim, whether you are talking homicide or suicide.

    This promotes a primitive society that really only cares about themselves. They will do whatever they want to reach their goal including murder (I include abortions here as well, the soon and coming baby will get in the way of their plans). They will never be sorry for what they have done until they are caught. When thing go wrong and too bad they will simply commit suicide. After all their life is worthless.

    Do you think these graphs (urls below) are coincidental?
    http://www.cluonline.com/images/SAT-Scores.gif
    http://www.cluonline.com/images/Gonorrhea.gif
    http://www.cluonline.com/images/Violent-Crime.gif

    Our Capitalist system functions on Greed but it was designed to a Greed with moral and ethical restriction(once again this used to be provided by faith). Without those restriction cheats and scandals with destroy the entire foundation. Sound familiar.

  24. Lumberjacks – I thank you sincerely for taking the time to share your thoughts. I address each of the points you raise in this post. Please know that while I attempt to do so vigorously, I also attempt to do so respectfully, and even with a little humor, and I mean no personal offense to you.

    First, the Church was most definitely not integrated into our legal system. Our founding legal document is explicit on this point. And I argue that its words outweigh both the quotes that you and I present.

    U.S. Constitution: “No religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

    First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    Second, for each of the quotes you presented for each man, I present a quote by the same man. I argue that it is not remarkable for these politicians to have occasionally made comments favorable to religion because that would have been the politically and socially acceptable thing to do. I ague that it is far more remarkable that they expressed skepticism towards religion in their time, and explicitly excluded it from our system of governance.

    George Washington, a famously quiet man, spoke loudly with his actions: he refused to take communion, and cut out every reference to Jesus Christ in his presidential address. At the time he was aware that he was on his deathbed, he refused to have any sort of priest present or any Christian ritual performed. Also, in all of his thousands of letters used in the Greely autobiography, “the name of Jesus Christ never appears, and is notably absent from his will.”

    John Adams: “ I mix religion with politics as little as possible,” and, as an old man “I cannot classify myself under that denomination [Calvinist].”

    Ben Franklin: “Revelations [including the Ten Commandments] had indeed no weight with me…”

    James Madison: “Religion itself may become a motive to persecution and oppression…” and “[r]eligious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise every expanded project.”

    Thomas Jefferson and I both think Jesus was a good man, but Jefferson was clear on his thoughts on a Christian God as “a being of terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious, and unjust.” Jefferson also noted that Christianity is “our particular superstition,” and famously said that the First Amendment built “a wall of separation between church and state.” This quote is all over our caselaw.

    Third, as to your summary of atheism: Yes, we have conclusive evidence that we evolved from animals, and I am happy to see that many Christians are beginning to come around on this one. If you haven’t read it, I do highly recommend checking out the original Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” Yes, there is no evidence that anything happens to us after we die other than that we decompose (as much as I wish that weren’t so). To the extent that when you say “we are only accountable to the laws of the land” you mean that “we won’t be judge by a God”, I agree that there is no evidence that we will be judged by a God. I don’t know what you mean by “our life has no real significance.” I find significance in my life in the ways that I affect other people’s lives, in human reason, and in the magnificent complexity of our Universe.

    I also agree with you summary of religious beliefs, and agree that you find them to be cheerier. I simply argue that there is not independently verifiable evidence in support of the them.

    I might summarize things differently:
    Atheism: 1) Willingness to change one’s mind based on evidence, 2) respect and awe for science, reason, and logic, 3) glean moral lessons from a wide variety of sources, including the Bible.

    Religion (not just Christianity) 1) Certainty without independently verifiable evidence, 2) Rejection of science, reason and logic when they conflict with religious beliefs, 3) glean morals from one source that, in the case of Christianity, simultaneously advises us to be loving and to occasionally beat our children with a rod.

    Fourth, we are perfectly capable of acting in ways different from other animals even though we evolved from them. I agree that if someone does something that you and I find repugnant, Lumberjacks, and that person is not caught by our legal system, then they do indeed “get away with it.” While I wish this weren’t so, I find no evidence to contradict it. They may or may not feel guilt. I’m not sure what you mean by “life is worthless.” I find great worth in my own life and the lives of those I love. I think my disbelief in an afterlife only serves to highlight how valuable I think this life is. Aftera all, I believe it is my only one and it is fleeting.

    Fifth, correlation is not causation. All of the trends on the graphs you show are statistically correlated with the following (keep a sense of humor, here, Lumberjacks): the increase in the number of NFL teams, the number of computers produced, and the number of Robert DeNiro films made. None of this has anything to do with causation, though. But since you brought up correlational data, here is some other data to consider: according to the 2005 UN Human Development Report, the least religious societies on the planet have the highest life expectancies, highest rates of adult literacy, highest per capita income, highest educational attainment, most gender equality, lowest homicide rates, and lowest infant mortality rates. Of the 25 most dangerous cities in the United States, 76% are in “red” states, which are strongly Christian conservative. Of the 25 least dangerous cities, 63% are in “blue” states.” The 12 states with the highest burglary rates are red. Of the 22 states with the highest murder rates, 17 are red. While I agree that none of this proves causality, the data do show that believing in a Christian God does not ensure societal health, while being atheist is compatible with societal health.

    I agree that a capitalist system functions more efficiently with ethical restrictions. I argue, thought, that the reason and logic of the Enlightenment embraced by our Founers ought to be the source of those restrictions, rather than a single religion.

    I’ll conclude this post on what I intend to be a light note of humor, not disrespect:
    “Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!” – George Carlin

  25. Whoops… forgot to include the last line of the George Carlin quote: “… But He loves you! He loves you, and He needs money!”

  26. Tim,

    I’m still here, though you keep ignoring me while continuing to open up epistemological doors that you can’t justify.

    Atheism gets their values from the Bible? Interesting. Why? What is the basis for those values?

    Free Will? What is that? How does an atheist justify free will when his own worldview logically leads to materialistic and genetic determinism?

    It’s sad too see a nice guy like yourself base your worldview upon the questionable authority of John Lennon and George Carlin. Carlin may make light of the seriousness of sin, but he and Lennon are currently all to aware of the rality of Hell.

    BTW: I have given you logical and reasonable proof for God’s existence. I have yet to see a good answer from you.

  27. Lumberjacks, Blair, Chiefcookan, Hillsboro Rev, Mama Fluco, Rob Schilling- Are you all in agreement with PuritanLad’s claim that a Christian God has sentenced John Lennon and George Carlin to suffer an eternal torment? This strikes me as extraordinarily cruel and hateful, not kind and forgiving. Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

  28. Tim
    Although I am not mentioned above, I would like to add that I am sure we all would appreciate a report on that as soon as you arrive.
    Roy

  29. Tim,

    I have to admit that I’m a little perplexed, not so much by the fact that you would object to my statement, but rather that you should be surprised by it. Surely you are aware of the Christian doctrine of eternal Hell. I realize that many churches (unfortunately) avoid this doctrine today, but I have to wonder if you have familiarized yourself enough with Christianity to even reject it. Christians don’t adopt the doctrine of Hell because it is pleasant, but because we see it as objectively true.

    This will bring me to my motive for being here Tim. I did not come aboard this discussion to win a debate, or to sharpen my debate skills (though the more I practice, the better I get at it.) I must confess to a more sinister motive. I came here for the good of your soul, as well as anyone who may be reading and wondering about the things of God. Let me ask you this. In theory, if you were to stand before a just and holy God, and He were to ask you why you should be allowed into His heaven, what answer would you give to Him. The idea that Lennon and Carlin are in hell grates against your sensitivities. This is because you have too high of a view of man, and too low of a view of God. God is holy, and He cannot but hate sin. His standard is perfection, and we have failed miserably to meet it. To suggest that anyone can enter the kingdom of God sans Christ is to hold man in too high of a regard, defame the Holiness of God, and insult the work of Christ. Christ came to save sinners from this wrath, but only those whom He has endowed with faith in Him.

    My apologetic would be incomplete if I were not to share these truths with you. I can argue with you, but only God can reveal these truths to you, and He mostly does so by the gospel that I have just shared.

    Before you comment too much in this area, I would like for you to watch this 4 minute video.

    A True Christian

    Please watch it until the very end and give me your reaction.

  30. RoyUcker- You’re comment strikes me as simply mean spirited. It is one thing to believe in Hell. It is quite another to take apparent delight in the thought that others will suffer there. I wonder whether your fellow Christians are proud of your delight, or ashamed by it.

  31. Image a burning house. Two parents, with charred and worried faces, stand outside. They have a child trapped inside. A fireman runs into the house, knowing it could collapse at any moment. He finds the child, scoops her up in his arms, and delivers her safely to her parents. He is a volunteer fireman who selflessly puts himself in harms way to rescue others. During the day, he’s a bus driver. Or perhaps a bank clerk or a plumber. It doesn’t matter. He’s a devoted husband and a loyal father. He takes his children to volunteer at the local soup kitchen every other Saturday. He is kind to animals, always keeping at least two dogs from the local shelter in his home. He is not a Christian. When this man dies, some believe he has an afterlife, and in this afterlife he encounters a God who sentences him to suffer in eternal agony.

    What would I say to this God if asked why I should be allowed into Heaven? I would tell Him that I don’t want to be a part of a Heaven that excludes the fireman. I’d rather go to Hell, find the fireman, give him a hug, and thank him for a life that reason tells me is worthy of a standing ovation, but which fundamental religious doctrine deems worthy of a place in Hell.

    For anyone who is yearning to free yourself from the shackles of religious fear, please know that there are hundreds of millions of atheists waiting for you with open arms. We accept that human consciousness almost certainly ceases to exist when our brains die. And if there is an afterlife, we’re here to tell that you are equally likely to meet a vindictive god who needs you to believe in Him as you are a giant purple unicorn who will lick you on the face and tell you he loves you, which is to say not very likely at all. If atheism is the willingness to change one’s mind at its intellectual core, it is freedom from fear at its emotional core. We simply believe that you don’t have to be afraid to be a kind, loving person.

    This is my final post on this blog. I want to sincerely thank those who followed and for all the thoughtful, respectful dialogue, and particularly Rob for posting an editorial with which I think he probably vehemently disagrees. I hope that I have given those who question faith a reasonable starting point for doing so. I won’t be checking this blog anymore, but I invite you to use it as a forum for such questioning. I wish you all well in your lives.

  32. Tim,
    Sorry, if I upset you with my comment. I will admit, I did so to tweak you a bit. However, I find it hard to believe that you would see it as mean, as your insistence that hell does not exist would render arriving there no more or less dire than arriving at Candy land.

    I know you said in your last post that you would no longer check or respond to post on this blog. I hope that is as untruthful as many of the other things you said here.

    The problem with you fireman story is that you are judging the fireman using your standards not Gods. The whole premise of religion is that there is a higher being. Your determination that fireman is a “good man” because he rescues children and adopts puppies etc is based on your definition of what a good man should do or be.

    I will admit that many religious people fall into the same trap. Regardless of the religion, there are many that are a bit too eager to judge others based on their particular notions. If you are a Christian, for example, you have been admonished by Jesus to “judge not, lest ye be judged” Of course, those that believe in god also believe that he requires us as people, and as a society, to try to live our lives in a way that is adherent to his commands. Where to draw the line is and has always been a dilemma for people of faith.

    I am not sure what else to say to you regarding the existence of God. I fear you have hardened your heart, closed your mind and wrapped yourself in what you believe to be reason. It is sad that you have come to such a place, I will hold out hope that you find happiness one day.

  33. Oh brother!
    I can hardly believe such obviously learned thinkers are continuing to waste time on this subject. The person that told me of this was right in saying, “its wild!”
    I will not waste any effort in being kind or respectful of this nonsense.
    Instead I will share the simple unvarnished truth about this subject and if feelings are bruised by this my advice is to harden your heart to the facts of life as the bulk of man-kind has done all through recorded time.
    First, a bit of exposure on how this sort of thinking gets started at all. Atheists are an interesting bunch only because they try so hard to seem reasonable. They go to great lengths to sound knowledgeable in an effort to make their folly a little more acceptable. The reader is cautioned not to fall for the psychological trick of assigning them [atheists] credibility by engaging in argument over their senseless ideology. Flowery language, long explanations, and name dropping, (sometimes with quotations,) does not make the nonsense any more acceptable. It is little more than a grown-up game of make-believe.
    The atheist “view point” is arrived at by the same flawed thinking of most bad ideas. Just like socialism, communism and even “true democracy“, atheism shares the same flawed conception. In all these cases the proponent first decides what it is that he or she wants the answer to be. Causes and effects are only superficially examined. He then modifies his thinking in order to reach the chosen answer by any means that can be made to sound reasonable. This is called “rationalization.” It is the psychological method by which we convince ourselves to accept anything untrue or undesirable. All these forms of thinking are guilty of the same “sin”, Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness! “Lying.“ These people are lying to themselves. By stirring up as much controversy as possible these self-deluded souls can continue to convince themselves that their “viewpoints” have some value. They desperately attempt to wage a continuing argument so they can feel like their deranged thinking has merit. Atheistic thinking has no merit. Here is why.
    The “theory” of evolution is the tool of the trade for atheists. They don’t care that it has been proven to have no relevance in scientific discussion. It is little more than a tool for exercising the mind. Darwin himself rejected it after many years of careful and continued examination. He realized it couldn’t explain what we see in the world because of simple clear-headed reasoning. There was no actual proof of it. Fossils? They are proof of strange creatures long vanished from the earth. They are not proof of anything else. The various different human-like fossils, bones, etc. that are found all over the world only show proof of yet more strange creatures that once roamed the earth. Darwin finally grasped the magnitude of the term “missing link”. It wasn’t a missing link at all. It was an incalculable number of missing links. The one thing missing to validate the evolution theory was proof that it is going on now. Darwin realized that if it were going on now, the progression is so slow that there is no way to measure it and therefore no way to quantify it in any useful way.
    Scientists successfully created life in the laboratory in the early ‘70s. It didn’t take long for them decide to spend their time more productively. There was lots of outcry about playing God but that’s not why they gave up those projects. The scientific research quickly discovered what they already suspected. The process of evolution, if real, is so slow as to be immeasurable and therefore utterly useless from a scientific standpoint.
    Scientists are all fairly well acquainted with mathematics. It is the backbone of every type of science. Mathematics is the most accepted standard that man has been able to devise. The rule of mathematics is what eliminates any “scientific” explanation for our appearance on planet earth. There simply hasn’t been enough time for us, (or anything else on earth,) to have evolved to our present condition. The planet has not existed long enough for math to work out the question of how we got here so quickly. It is that simple. There just hasn’t been enough time. Even if there were a genetic mutation each and every day there hasn’t been enough time. That is why we don’t see living examples of evolution, ( if indeed it is going on at all.) Evolution, if real, is too slow to be observable. There goes any argument against the existence of God, or whatever “intelligent design” idea you prefer. There is only one explanation [for our presence here] that can mathematically be real. That we were “put” here by someone or something is the only concept that can explain our presence here. It would be easy to go on at great length without even getting into religion. Mathematics make the existence of God plausible because it rules out any other explanation. God is the only answer that fits all the conditions for truth because God is the only answer that is left when you remove the impossible. Because of the math anything else is impossible. Ockham’s principle for logical examination, (often called Ockham’s razor,) tells us to shed excessive and useless assumptions and works well here. The useless assumption being removed is the idea that God is not. The useless assumption the atheist fails to remove is that God and nature should conform to the script of his make-believe ideology or, spoken differently, should be what he wants them to be.
    If not a deluded simpleton the atheist must be a man of great faith. With a whole world full of evidence of God, he maintains that it cannot be. His only means of validating his mindless devotion to this absurdity is to promote debate. Debate requires all participants to acknowledge that there is something of merit to discuss. As with other similarly petty annoyances, they will go away on their own if ignored. That is my advise to all regarding the atheistic “viewpoint”. Acknowledging the existence of God is easy. Refusing to believe that God exists takes constant reassurance and a lot of very blind faith. The idea loses any relevance once the math is examined.
    Further discussion is not productive.
    Finis!

  34. Lumberjacks, Blair, Chiefcookan, Hillsboro Rev, Mama Fluco, Rob Schilling- Are you all in agreement with PuritanLad’s claim that a Christian God has sentenced John Lennon and George Carlin to suffer an eternal torment?

    No I don’t think so. “The wages of sin is death” – not damnation. I’m not a Bible scholar. Years ago I saw a TV preacher explain how hell was invented to scare people and is not rooted in the Bible. Losing your after-life (the supernatural spirit writing and and your spirit reading this post) was thought to be sufficient deterrence.

    The atheistic viewpoint does not recognize God because he is supernatural. In so doing, it doesn’t recognize things that can’t be observed, counted and quantified. It says thoughts are simply electrons passing through your brain, following the laws of physics and elecromagnetism, without meaning or will-power able to defy the laws of physics.

    Tim, I’m not sure there’s a God. You feel it or you don’t. The older I get, the more I feel like I’ve been blessed rather than lucky. But will you concede that the supernatural exists, able to defy the laws of gravity every time I lift my arm, unpredictable and arbitrary? Or does your faith require that nature must account for life and we simply aren’t yet smart enough to know the mathematic equation to create life and emotion and meaning?

  35. blair :No I don’t think so. “The wages of sin is death” – not damnation. I’m not a Bible scholar. Years ago I saw a TV preacher explain how hell was invented to scare people and is not rooted in the Bible.

    Lesson Learned. TV Preachers are bad for your spiritual health.

    For the Biblical truth on this doctrine, see The Lost Doctrine of Eternal Hell. Be forewarned, this is not a very “uplifting” post.

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