From the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form:
I would like to know how to not believe in GOD, you people that claim to athiests are living proof of GOD. If there is no GOD there would be no devil, without a devil, you would not care what anyone did. If you just said, I do not believe there is a GOD, and let everybody else believe what they want, I might agree. But all of you are prodded by satan. You are much more religius than any church.
I found your message difficult to understand, but I’ll try to address your points.
1) I can’t tell you how to not believe in God. In fact, some people are not capable of not believing in God (for one reason or another), even if God does not in truth exist. At most I could demonstrate that God is not a necessary being, that arguments for the existence of God are flawed, that some religious belief systems are not logically valid, or that even the best reasons for belief in deities are not compelling to everyone.
2) I agree that the devil also does not exist. I don’t see how this has anything to do with whether or not I care what anyone else does.
3) I can’t say “let everyone else believe what they want” for a number of reasons. First, I feel compelled to respond to those who are not content to let me believe what I believe. Second, I think that some people have beliefs based on false assumptions or reasoning, and I feel I have a responsibility to point that out. And third, some of those people with beliefs different than mine want to use them to pass laws or make other significant decisions that could impact my life.
4) Your statement that atheists such as myself are more religious than any church makes no sense to me whatsoever.
I hesitate to write to you because of your message regarding ownership of e-mail sent to you and the revealing of names and ISP information.* Unfortunately, although I assume you didn’t intend it to, that sounded like a threat, since the publishing of ISP information could be used to launch a hacking attack against a person. Even so, I am going to proceed under the assumption that you intended this as a warning against people who want to harass you as opposed to an attempt to silence honest conversation.
Your old post about the atheist registry recently came to my attention, and I’d like to comment on it. Even though I am very much an atheist, I can’t say that this post bothered me in the way that it seems to have bothered many other atheists. You clearly stated that you would only list “out” atheists, you would not be listing addresses, this would not be a government list, etc., so the list couldn’t easily be used to attack or harass individuals. (I’m assuming you would remove people from the list who became religious, and that you would somehow handle situations in which an atheist and a theists in the same area had the same name). I’m not seeing a significant problem with that, any more than I see a problem with Wikipedia having a “list of atheists” page.
I can see some people being upset by your blog post seeming to make an association between atheists and child molesters, etc., but that is a disagreement with your personal beliefs, not a disagreement about whether or not a list of atheists can be ethically compiled. Atheists themselves might find such a list useful, as it would allow them to find — and perhaps network with — other atheists. They might also use it as a tool to convince “closeted” atheists to become more public with their beliefs, or take some measure of pride as the list of names grew. Atheists should also understand that the moral justification for creating this list can also be used to justify similar lists — for example, a list of scientists who disbelieve in evolution.
By the way, I read a few of your other posts and found a number of places where we are in agreement. For example, I completely agree that it makes no rational sense for an atheist to be angry with God.
I, for one, am always happy to have an intelligent conversation about truth and religion, and I don’t use my lack of belief in God as an irrational defense against discussion.
Anyway, if you do end up making your list of atheists, feel free to include my name.
I know that this e-mail won’t make me popular with some, but I’m interested to see if I get a response from the blogger.
*From a post on Pastor Mike’s blog (bold, color, italics, and underlining removed), “PUBLIC NOTICE: And , one more thing , any e-mails I receive , I will consider them MY property , and WILL , from this point forward , take it that any e-mails and/or electronic transmissions you send me are MY property , and that by sending them you are giving me permission to PUBLICLY post any and all info in them in any forum , written or otherwise that I so choose , as well as distributing the info to anyone and in any way I so choose – up to and including the e-mail and / or your ISP info!”
In the most recent Stand to Reason radio broadcast (and podcast), Greg Koukl claims that someone whose relatives had been in Hitler’s army told him that Nazi soldiers were all issued two books, Goethe’s Faust and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
I find this highly unlikely, if only because the list doesn’t include Mein Kampf — the only book that I’ve heard was regularly issued to Nazi soldiers (and newlyweds). I’m not sure why Hitler would want all of his soldiers to read Faust (I’m not familiar enough with it to say), but I somehow doubt that he thought the writings of Goethe and Darwin were more important to the cause of National Socialism than his own rantings.
In addition, by searching a bit with Google, I found a Nazi-era document instructing German librarians how to build their collections, and it seems to say that pro-Darwin books are to be removed.
Assuming that I am correct and Koukl is misinformed, here’s where I need some assistance. Koukl broadcasts his show every Sunday from 2 to 5 Pacific time, and invites listeners to call in (714 754-4150); the show is posted as a podcast a few days later. I am unable to call in, but am hoping someone knowledgeable person out there can give him a call this Sunday and set him straight on the subject. I would really appreciate it!
In: Evolution · Tagged with: Darwin, Hitler
The below conversation began as a message to the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form. After that, the correspondent (“Guest”) appeared to be replying from a smartphone, so her responses are perhaps more terse than they might be otherwise.
Guest: Parents discipline children with time-out, spanking, whatever so that they will learn to be have. God uses Hell in the same way. If it was not for Hell, then there would be no punishment for many sins and people would try to get away with everything. Can you tell me why an atheist would be moral, other than accidentally or just feeling like it, without fear of Hell?
Me: I’d like to respond to your question on my blog, but first I need some context. It sounds to me like you are a Christian. If so, can you tell me what type of Christian you are (Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, etc.)?
Guest: I’m evangelical.
Me: Thanks. Now, I’d like to get an idea of how good a deterrent Hell is to sin. This may sound silly, but can you give me an example of a time when someone might choose not to sin because of the danger of going to Hell?
Guest: I’d like to steal some money from my friend’s purse but then I’d go to hell, so I don’t.
Me: As an Evangelical, you have accepted Jesus and been born again, correct? After accepting Jesus, how big a sin would you have to perform to go to Hell?
Guest: It’s just an example. Jesus is infinitely forgiving. I can’t go to help.
Me: Then let’s look at it from the other side. Say a non-Christian is tempted to steal from her friend’s purse. If she resists, will she go to Heaven?
Guest: All fall short of God’s grace.
Me: Could I avoid Hell by always living a moral life or doing good deeds?
Guest: No. All humans are sinful. You have to accept Jesus.
Me: So the only way to avoid Hell is to accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior?
Me: In that case, it seems that Hell has no value as a deterrent to sin. If I’ve accepted Jesus, I’m going to Heaven whether or not I’m a sinner; if I haven’t accepted Jesus, I’m going to hell whether or not I try to be moral. Fear of Hell can’t possibly have anything to do with my moral decision making, because my moral decisions have no impact on whether or not I’m going to Hell. So, to repeat an earlier question, can you give me an example of a time when someone might choose not to sin because of the danger of going to Hell?
It’s been a week, and I haven’t received a ply to my most recent message.
From the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form:
1. the concept of atheism is a religious concept in itself.
2. atheism and morals.
You bring moral as something outside of yourself. Moral is related to the type of animal you are. You happen to be a human being, so you have the human being morals. A lion should kill to eat and maybe a human being has to lie an cheat whenever he/she can.
3. I’m not a buddhist, but this doesn’t turn me into an atheist. I’m a mortal being. This is what I am: a mortal being.
In a way religion is about life an death: I didn’t create myself and neither I like to die
As we have brains but we understand nothing about life and death we are religious.
So religion is not releated to a Superiour Being, but to our ignorance and or inabilituy to cope with life.
The simple fact that God doesn’t exist doesn’t turn us into atheists.
Responding to your points:
1. Atheism isn’t a religion. It isn’t an organized system of belief, it doesn’t include the supernatural, it isn’t based on faith, and it has no rituals. So far as I’m concerned, that discounts it from all definitions of religion that are useful in our discussion.
2. I agree that morals are to some extent dependent on biology. For example, if human women had millions of children instead of one or two at a time, it might be immoral not to kill some of your children. However, your example of lions is erroneous, in that lions are incapable of making moral decisions, and humans having a tendency to lie or cheat (so far as they do) does not make lying and cheating moral goods.
3. You are right that not being a Buddhist does not imply that you are an atheist. I also agree that you are mortal. These do not seem like controversial statements.
You say we understand nothing about life and death. I disagree. There is a vast amount of scientific knowledge on this subject. If you do not equate understanding with science, then I assume you are assigning attributes to life and death that cannot be investigated scientifically, and that sounds a lot like assumption of the supernatural to me.
I agree that religion isn’t related to God but to humanity’s reaction to being unable to cope with certain truths (such as the finality of death). You’re also right that God not existing doesn’t turn people into atheists — if it did, then the fact that not everyone is an atheist would be evidence that God exists.
On the other hand, not believing in God (or any other deities) does make one an atheist. If you say it doesn’t, then I want to hear your definition of atheism.
From the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form:
I am also an atheist, yet I frequently feel compelled to scream the words “POOP” and “NIPPLE” and “MEOW”. Previously, I thought this was God’s doing, but now I fear I’m insane.
Actually, I think you can go with God on this one.
A reader sent me an interesting message that, in essence, said there’s nothing wrong with God being a “God of the gaps” (GoG). I’d love to reprint the message here, but unfortunately I appears to have been copied from another site (Google found it on this page, in the August 10, 2011, comment by Udaybhanu Chitrakar, but its origin might be elsewhere).
Essentially, the argument is that God most likely created a universe in which he occasionally intervenes, and that “these interventions were a bare minimum, that is, He intervened only when these were absolutely necessary.” In such a universe, so the argument goes, some things will be inexplicable by the laws of nature since they are the actions of God, and these GoG moments are not problematic, but to be expected.
I have a number of problems with the argument. One relatively minor disagreement is that I don’t see why God — assuming that God has the usual properties of omnipotence, omniscience, etc. — would ever have to intervene in the universe. Since every possible scenario would be known to God, and assuming that God is going to intervene at “a bare minimum,” then God would never have to intervene because there is no possible scenario that God could not have prepared for during the universe’s creation. The minimum intervention is none.
But much more importantly, this article at best argues that if God exists and created the universe that there will be some things science can’t explain because they are beyond human inquiry. Nowhere does it explain why a rational, thinking person should make the leap from “I can’t explain this” to “therefore God did it.”
Sure, if there are things that appear to be inexplicable, it’s possible that they are God-worked miracles. It’s also possible that they are the work of super-intelligent aliens or time travelers, or that they are flaws in the Matrix, or that — banish the thought — they’re just a puzzle that humanity hasn’t worked out the solution to but may in the future. Obviously I think that last possibility is the most likely (of a great many).
From a practical standpoint, there are two big dangers with GoG thinking. First, there are no guidelines regarding where you can use it. It must be God that makes magnets work. Without God, how would the tide come in and go out? If I can’t find my keys, maybe God stole them. If I come down with a cold for no apparent reason, maybe God wants me sick. We haven’t got a clear solution to the Jack the Ripper murders, so perhaps God disemboweled a bunch of prostitutes in 1888. We can’t directly investigate the Big Bang, so God must have started it.
The other danger is that GoG is a show stopper. To someone a couple hundred years ago, lightning was enormous, destructive, powerful, frightening, and inexplicable, so he thinks it must be something God does. Someone comes up with a theory that lightning is an electrical phenomena, but the GoG-user dismisses it. Why waste time checking what causes lightning when the cause is already known — God!
Now, you could say that it’s okay to use God as an explanation, but that you might change your mind if additional evidence comes to light. In that case, you are just using God as a synonym for “I don’t know,” and that doesn’t seem very respectful of God, now does it?
From the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form:
It is possiable to have a mind, and believe that God is real or not or vica-versa. It is impossible to have knowladge of God and for God not to exist, because He was, is and will always be part of your life; if you choose to believe in God or not; (this is because others believe in the truth of God). If however it is proved that God exist, it is impossible for an unbeliver to believe the proffer, because of the unbelievers unbelief. Hence the only way for you to know that God exists, is for you to change your mind. In simpler terms if a man could answer all your questions then you wouldn’t need God. Try ignoring what people say about God incuding me if you like, and ask yourself how did you learn your basic math, english, walking and talking. Then ask yourself who tought you to dream and think. As you might be able to tell I believe in God, but I stopped listen to what others said. I stopped looking for God and God came looking for me, the only reason people know I now believe in God is because I told them things before they happened. They still don’t believe what I do, but the accecpt that’s what I believe. P.s I know it can be annoying having people coming up to you telling you about Jesus, but alot of them are just doing what they believe to be true. well I hope this helps you in some way even if its to get people off your back so you can come to your own understanding of choice. God bless if you like.
You make quite a few points, so in the interest of trying to strike a balance between length and thoroughness, I’ll try to touch on each in brief.
- I agree that some intelligent people believe in God and some do not.
- If we define knowledge (as Plato did) as justified true belief, then I agree that it is impossible to have knowledge of God if God does not exist (because even a justified belief wouldn’t be true).
- I agree that, in a sense, “God” is part of my life because others believe in Him — at least in the same sense that ghosts are part of my life because I encounter people who believe in ghosts.
- I disagree that an “unbeliever” can necessarily not be convinced God exists by valid proof that God exists. I agree that some people have unjustified opinions about whether or not God exists, and that these people are frequently immune to evidence. However, if an unbeliever counters an argument for the existence of God with an equally valid disproof (as opposed to dismissing the argument out of hand), then I suspect that the problem is with the argument, not with the unbeliever.
- Humanity cannot answer all my questions, but I still don’t need God because I am comfortable with the fact that there are some questions I will never find answers to. I’d rather not have an answer to a question than to prefer an answer simply because it is convenient, pleasant, traditionally treated as true, or something I “have a strong feeling about.”
- So far as I can tell, I learned math, English, walking, and talking from my parents. Dreaming and thinking are functions of my body, just like the beating of my heart, and I didn’t have to learn them from anyone. They are part of my biology. However, I had to learn how to think (and, to some extent, dream) well largely on my own.
- I’d be interested in hearing more about things that came to pass after you said they would happen. I’m rather skeptical on that topic.
- I am not annoyed by people who speak to me about Jesus, and I agree that many of them are doing it out of kindness. What I am annoyed by is the subset of those people who are a loathsome combination of misinformed and smug — they drive me up the wall.
An unemployed biology professor heard that there was a position available at ACME University. He sent in a resume, but it was rejected. Hoping to get a second chance, he arranged to meet with the Dean and the following conversation took place.
Professor: Thank you, Dean, for agreeing to see me.
Dean: Certainly! What can I do for you?
Professor: Well, I applied for the open position as professor of biology, but my application was rejected without even a chance to interview. I know my degree isn’t in biology, but otherwise my credentials are top-notch and I’d only be instructing first-year students, so I couldn’t imagine what the problem might be. I thought I should speak to you to make sure that there was no misunderstanding.
Dean: I reviewed your resume myself, and I don’t think there is any misunderstanding. You certainly have significant experience as a professor and you have a number of degrees from impressive accredited universities, but unfortunately you have some views that are not compatible with the function of this institution.
Professor: What views? What are you referring to?
Dean: Well, frankly, from what I can tell of your published papers, you are a creationist. We have no room in our biology department for conclusions that are based on religion instead of science.
Professor: But I am not basing my views on religion! I’m not a young-earth creationist, and I don’t deny that evolution occurs, at least within a species. I don’t even insist that the existence of the Christian God is supported by science. But after years and years of research, I have reached the reasoned conclusion that the possibility of life arising from non-life or of complex creatures evolving once life began is so small that it is actually more reasonable to believe that an intelligent creator is behind it all. I do not assume religion to be true — rather, I have concluded that a creator exists through a rational process of elimination.
Dean: I’m sorry, but you are, at best, fooling yourself. You know in your heart that you are drawing conclusions from an assumption that God exists. All the rest is just hand waving and blather.
Professor: Not at all! I am willing to be convinced that I’m wrong. Since my degrees are in earth science, perhaps there is some aspect of this that I’ve overlooked. Give me compelling evidence that I am wrong and I swear to you I’ll consider it honestly.
Dean: That really won’t be necessary. You have already decided that science is wrong and will simply deny any argument I bring up. I don’t see why I should waste my time. Any child can see that, for example, an infinite God couldn’t exist because he would have to be able to make a rock so heavy he couldn’t move it, and that would prove he isn’t infinite.
Professor: But that’s a terrible argument. It’s not only a straw man, but it doesn’t correctly define –
Dean: See what I mean? You’ve already reached your conclusion. Reason is pointless. Here, let me show you something.
Professor: What a huge book! What is it? An illuminated manuscript?
Dean: No, this is The Master List. About half of it is blank, but if I turn to — let’s see here — ah, yes, just past the middle, the most recent page with writing on it. See? Here is where I’ve added your name to the list of those blinded by theism.
Professor: What? What does that mean?
Dean: It means that we will never hire you, not for this position, not for any position. In fact, no reputable university anywhere in the world will hire you now that your name is in this book.
Professor: How can you do that? How will I get a job?
Dean: You won’t. You will have to spend the rest of your life poor and miserable because you threw away your education when you decided to believe in God.
Professor: But I didn’t decide to believe in God! It was a conclusion I reached.
Dean: And you reached it by willfully ignoring the obvious truth. You have to understand, I don’t like putting people’s names in this book, but you’ve left me no choice. You’ve practically begged to be thrown out of academia.
Professor: This makes no sense! Is there any way for me to get my name erased?
Dean: Certainly. Believe in evolution.
Professor: I can’t just choose to believe in evolution, I need evidence.
Dean: And that resistance is why your name is in the book. You are lost to science. I think we are done here. Good day.
Professor: No! I will not let this end here! What you are doing is monstrous! How can you take away someone’s livelihood, condemn him to an existence of misery, just because he has reached a different conclusion than you? Is being wrong really deserving of such punishment?
Dean: Frankly, yes. Your views are so reprehensible that the university can’t even tolerate being in their presence.
Professor: But at worst, all I am is mistaken!
Dean: You are willfully mistaken. You choose to deny science so that you can be comforted by the dream of a creator overseeing your life, relieving you from responsibility and guaranteeing justice.
Professor: But I’m not! I just haven’t heard any argument that –
Dean: It doesn’t matter. Unless you open your mind and accept determinism as your personal philosophy, you are doomed.
Professor: But determinism makes no sense to me!
Dean: Then you’re lost and deserve to be eternally indigent.
Professor: This is an outrage! It is the most egregious miscarriage of academic freedom I have ever heard! It borders on pure, vindictive evil! How can you sleep at night? You’d better pray that –
Dean: I do not pray, sir.
Professor: Wait, what?
Dean: I am an atheist. I do not pray.
Professor: Well, that explains a lot, doesn’t it! No wonder you’re so immoral!
Dean: Actually, one of my degrees is in moral and religious philosophy. I believe I’m quite moral and well grounded.
Professor: Ridiculous! There is no morality without God. And after all this blathering about my religious beliefs, you come right out and deny that God even exists? The audacity!
Dean: There is no reason to believe God exists. I wrote a doctoral thesis surveying arguments for the existence of the Christian God and found them all sorely lacking.
Professor: That’s baloney and you know it! You’re spitting in God’s eye! Your name will be erased from the book of life and you’ll have plenty of time to scream for forgiveness you won’t get while you spend an eternity in Hell!
Dean: You’re saying God will punish me forever because I’m not convinced he exists?
Professor: Don’t twist my words! You refuse to believe in God, and if dishonoring a person is a sin, then dishonoring an infinite being is an infinite sin and deserves nothing less than eternal punishment!
Dean: And it’s moral of God to punish someone that way?
Professor: It would be immoral for God not to! Eternal punishment for an infinite sin the only option for a good, loving, all-powerful, all-just, infinitely compassionate being!
Dean: Even though my only “sin” is, at worst, ignorance!
Professor: Willful ignorance! You could believe in God if you wanted to!
Dean: No I couldn’t — not without compelling evidence, and I’ve reviewed all the evidence and found it wanting. On the other hand, you could read the literature and understand that a creator isn’t necessary for life and speciation.
Professor: I don’t need to! The arguments for creation are enough for me.
Dean: And that’s why your name is in this book.
Professor: And that’s why you’re going to Hell!
From the IAmAnAtheist feedback form:
Thank you for an enjoyable site. I particularly like the atheist rights and responsibilities page. I think being moral means living by the ten commandments or equivalently the items on you list for exactly the reason you say: Because you believe that is simply how everyone should live and not because you are worried about some angry deity setting you on fire. Excellent.
Thank you for the very nice words! I agree that a set of basic moral rules is helpful, and that one’s set of moral rules need not include either a deity or guaranteed justice/punishment for wrongdoers. Unfortunately, not everyone would agree with us.
I’d say that the “Rights and Responsibilities” page — even though it’s written with tongue in cheek — is actually superior to the Ten Commandments from an atheist perspective. There are, as you imply, some good moral rules in the 10C, but there are also some (particularly right at the beginning) that are completely unnecessary if you’re not religious.
There are plenty of people who, sadly, think that you have to be religious to be moral. I’ve more than once heard politicians and others in the public eye say that a moral person must “at least” obey the 10C — and I’m sure they didn’t mean that you could skip the ones that require belief in a deity.