November 2007

Thanks for the response. I think maybe we’ll get to the point where we are arguing semantics on the atheism definition, so we’ll agree to disagree. I do notice that you are certainly strong in your stance as to what you believe and don’t. I’d like to dig deeper.

Author Phillip Johnson says that “one who claims to be a skeptic of one set of beliefs, is usually a true believer in another set of beliefs.” Have you ever been skeptical about your skepticism? What evidence don’t you have that you would need in order to change your world view?

It’s been my experience that those people who support the idea of this universe not having been caused by a creator, choose not to believe in him b/c of their own personal world view. They want to be able to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. They do not like the implications of a sovereign God. If there is real purpose to our lives, which I believe there is, then there is a real right and wrong way to live it. I notice most “atheists” and “agnostics” I have spoken with would like nothing more than to run their lives unquestioned without submitting to a higher authority (the outcome of this in cultures without a judeo-christian value system has often been unfortunate, e.g. Nazi Germany). You being an Atheist, I’d love to hear how you arrived at your conclusions. What studies, premises, proofs, empirical scientific evidence you can share with me that has lead you to where you are in belief that a god does not exist?

Perhaps it would be helpful if we start here: (I’d like to point out that you seem like an educated guy, so any elementary explanation is more for other readers benefit than yours…so I don’t come across as condescending).

Arguments such as the law of general relativity which states that the universe had a beginning (Einstein’s calculations revealed a definite beginning, which he found irritating, seeing that he originally believed in a static universe that was always here, leading him to say “God doesn’t play dice”). Many scientists have confirmed Einsteins discovery. Fundamental to all of science is that when something has a beginning, it has a cause. Law of causality. What caused the world to begin? Being that this is the starting point for both our beliefs, we each have answers. I think you know mine. What is yours? By what evidence can you support your view? I personally believe it was intelligently designed, but I am curious how you would answer. I can certainly add more, but I will wait.

BTW…the mere point of the Hawking and Polkinghorn comment was to illustrate that two very bright men can see the same evidence and still be diametrically opposed in belief. Maybe you are brighter than the two…I do not know. Do you have some evidence that both Hawking and Bertrand Russel would have benefited from seeing so as to change their minds and convince them that an Atheist position is more appropriate? I am anxious to see

And additional e-mail from the same author

hought you might appreciate this:
It says in a more articulate way what I was trying to relay regarding the definition of “atheist”. Your use of English dictionaries was the confusion…we need to get to the Greek root. The following is by a Rev., but it is his break down of language that is essential.

It’s okay if we disagree on the definition of “atheist,” so long as we understand that we disagree. We’ll just have to choose our words carefully.

You ask if I have ever been skeptical of my own skepticism. Ironically, I just finished writing the first draft of a book — 2Q — that is about the importance of examining your own beliefs. So yes, I am skeptical of my own skepticism. In fact, I read and listen to a pretty fair amount of material on the subject of religion, and I rarely seek out material I think I am likely to agree with, so I am, in effect, constantly testing my own beliefs.

What evidence don’t I have that would change my world view? I can think of a lot of things that would change my world view. If we’re talking about atheism only, then proof that some kind of deity exists would do it.

You talk about people not believing in a creator because of their personal world view — wanting to be able to decide right and wrong for themselves, etc. I am not one of those people for a number of reasons, including, for example:

1) I would love for there to be a God, watching over me and giving me a chance for eternal life. So far as I can tell, though, this isn’t the case, so my wishing it was true doesn’t make it true. Whatever reality is, I’m stuck with it.

2) I don’t think people can decide for themselves what is right and wrong, whether or not they are theists. Again, my new book is largely about how you can make moral decisions, and it definitely implies that some things are wrong whether or not there is a deity.

3) It’s tangential to your point, but I don’t see evidence that religion makes the average person more moral in any meaningful way. Neither atheism nor theism guarantees morality, and — sadly — saying that you are moral does not guarantee it either.

As an aside, I believe Nazi Germany thought it had a Judeo-Christian value system. So did the fighters of the Crusades.

You ask how I arrive at my conclusion that god does not exist. I’m not going to answer that, because I haven’t concluded that god does not exist. Rather, I have not been convinced that any deities do exist. This is an extremely important distinction. But to answer your question with my revision, I have read hundreds of books and articles on religion (most of it concerning Judeo-Christian religions, as that is what I am most interested in), I have had conversations regarding religion with hundreds of people with a great variety of religious backgrounds, and I have spent decades developing what I feel is a rigorous personal philosophy. In all of this, I have found all arguments for the existence of a deity less than compelling. I am still actively looking for a compelling argument. For what it’s worth, I was raised Catholic and became less and less religious the more I investigated religion.

Regarding Einstien, I think we need to check some facts here. As I understand it, he was annoyed that his calculations implied an expanding universe, since at that time the universe was thought to be static. Further evidence showed that not to be the case. His statement about God not playing dice was, if I recall correctly, in response to quantum mechanics, not to the expanding universe. Of course, none of this is really relevant to the conversation since we agree that our universe had a beginning.

But before we continue, an important distinction has to be made. We agree that our universe has a beginning (at the Big Bang), but that does not mean that the universe — meaning all things that exist, whether we have access to them or not — had a beginning. It is possible that our universe is one of many, or one in a series. So that leaves us (if we want to simplify things) with two possibilities: whatever caused the universe is either a natural event that occurred outside our universe, or a supernatural event that created the universe. Since the supernatural event requires the assumption of the existence of something outside of nature with the power to create a universe, I prefer (by Occam’s Razor) the natural explanation. To do otherwise would be inviting the supernatural as an explanation for all sorts of things that have natural but unknown causes. I can’t prove that a deity wasn’t the first cause. I also can’t prove that Allah didn’t write his name on the side of a fish, or that Jesus didn’t put his face in a stain on a window. But I find other explanations more compelling, in that they don’t require supernatural assumptions.

Regarding Hawking and Russel: I’m not sure why I would want to convince Russel of anything, in that he was an atheist (unless I’m missing something — let me know). I don’t know enough about Hawking’s reasons for calling himself an agnostic to know what might change his mind. It’s possible that he’s just not comfortable with the word atheist, or that he is not defining his terms well because religion isn’t his field of study. In any case, I don’t have to be brighter than either of these people to disagree with them. Similarly, I’m guessing that you wouldn’t say that not believing in reincarnation (assuming you don’t) makes you brighter than Pythagoras.

I read the essay you linked to, and although I understand the author’s argument, I continue to disagree with it. You say that I am being confused by using an English dictionary and that we need to look at the word’s Greek root. Since we are not speaking Greek here, I don’t understand why the word’s root should take precedence over current usage. For example, when someone uses the word “Bible,” do you insist that they are speaking of something written on papyrus since that is what the word’s root implies? This is the same sort of argument that some theists use against Christianity — they say that if it can be shown that there is evidence for Christianity having grown from a pagan religion, then we know that Christianity isn’t true. I disagree with that argument (and I guess you do as well), because I believe Christianity has to be taken on its current merits and not judged by its origins.

Posted on November 11, 2007 at 4:33 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: About atheism, Evidence

Leave a Reply