My Story

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 30, 2008 in Inspirational

A true fanatic.

A true fanatic.

Ah, the life of a pastor’s kid!

I grew up in Cambridge, Minnesota – a town of 5,000 people and 22 Christian churches. My father was (and still is) pastor of a small church. My mother volunteered to support Christian missionaries around the world.

I went to church, Bible study, and other church functions every week. I prayed often and earnestly. For 12 years I attended a Christian school that taught Bible classes and creation science. I played in worship bands. As a teenager I made trips to China and England to tell the atheists over there about Jesus.

I felt the presence of God. Sometimes I would tingle and sweat with the Holy Spirit. Other times I felt led by Him to give money to a certain cause, or to pay someone a specific compliment, or to walk to the cross at the front of my church and bow before it during a worship service.

Around age 19 I got depressed, probably because I did nothing but work at Wal-Mart, download music, and watch internet porn. But one day I saw a leaf twirling in the wind and it was so beautiful – like the twirling plastic bag in the movie American Beauty. I had an epiphany. I realized that everything in nature was a gift from God to me. Grass, lakes, trees, sunsets – all these were gifts of beauty from my Savior to me. I thought of this every time I saw something beautiful, and God delivered me from my depression (and my porn addiction).

I read Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, a manual for how to fall in love with God so that following his ways is not a burden, but a natural and painless product of loving God. My dad and I read lots of this Christian self-help stuff. We shared our latest discoveries with each other and debated theology.

I moved to Minneapolis for college and was attracted to a Christian group led by Mark van Steenwyk. Mark’s small group of well-educated Jesus-followers were postmodern, “missional” Christians: they thought loving and serving others in the way of Jesus was more important than doctrinal truth. That resonated with me, and we lived it out with the poor immigrants of Minneapolis.

The seeds of doubt

By this time I had little interest in church structure or petty doctrinal disputes. I just wanted to be like Jesus. So I decided I should try to find out who Jesus actually was. I began to study the Historical Jesus.

What I learned, even when reading Christian scholars, shocked me. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death, by non-eyewitnesses. They are riddled with contradictions, legends, and known lies. Jesus and Paul disagreed on many core issues. And how could I accept the miracle claims about Jesus when I outright rejected other ancient miracle claims as superstitious nonsense?

These discoveries scared me. It was not what I had wanted to learn. But now I had to know the truth. I studied the Historical Jesus, the history of Christianity, the Bible, theology, and the philosophy of religion. Almost everything I read – even the books written by conservative Christians – gave me more reason to doubt, not less.

I started to panic. I felt like my best friend – my source of purpose and happiness and comfort – was dying. And worse, I was killing him. If only I could have faith! If only I could unlearn all these things and just believe. I cried out with the words from Mark 9:24, “Lord, help my unbelief!”

I tried. For every atheist book I read, I read five books by the very best Christian philosophers. The atheists made plain, simple sense, and the Christian philosophers were lost in fog of big words that tried to hide the weakness of their arguments.

I did everything I could to keep my faith. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t force myself to believe what I knew wasn’t true. On January 11, 2007, I whispered to myself: “There is no God.”

The next day I emailed my buddy Mark:

I didn’t want to bother you, but I’m lost and despairing and I could really use your help, if you can give it.

I made a historical study of Jesus, which led me to a study of the Bible, historical and philosophical arguments for and against God, atheist arguments, etc. It has destroyed my faith. I think there is almost certainly not a God…

I’m fucking miserable… I told my parents and they sobbed for 30 minutes. Can you help me?

As always, Mark responded with love and honesty. But he didn’t give me any reasons to believe. He said he believed mostly for the “aesthetics of belief” and his “somewhat mystical experiences of Christ.” He wrote, “In a way, I am a Christian because I want to be one, and the logic flows from there.”

I also wrote a defiant email to an atheist radio show host to whom I’d been listening, Matt Dillahunty:

I was coming from a lifetime high of surrendering… my life to Jesus, releasing myself from all cares and worries, and filling myself and others with love. Then I began an investigation of the historical Jesus… and since then I’ve been absolutely miserable. I do not think I am strong enough to be an atheist. Or brave enough. I have a broken leg, and my life is much better with a crutch… I’m going to seek genuine experience with God, to commune with God, and to reinforce my faith. I am going to avoid solid atheist arguments, because they are too compelling and cause for despair. I do not WANT to live in an empty, cold, ultimately purposeless universe in which I am worthless and inherently alone.

I hope that I find a real, true God in my journey of blind faith. I do not need to convince you of that God, since you seem satisfied as an atheist. But I need to convince myself of that God.

Matt responded to my every sentence with care, understanding, and reason. But I still tried to hang onto my faith. For a while I read nothing but Christian authors. Even the smartest ones just made lots of noise about “the mystery of God.” They used big words so that it sounded like they were saying something precise and convincing.

My dad told me I had been led astray because I was arrogant to think I could get to truth by studying. Humbled and encouraged, I started a new quest to find God. I wrote on my blog:

I’ve been humbled. I was “doing discipleship” in my own strength, because I thought I was smart enough and disciplined enough. [Now] having surrendered my prideful and independent ways to him, I can see how my weakness is God’s strength.

I’ve repented. I was deceived because I did not let the Spirit lead me into truth. Now I ask for God’s guidance in all quests for knowledge and wisdom.

I feel like I’ve been born again, again.

It didn’t last. Every time I reached out for some reason – any reason – to believe, God simply wasn’t there. I tried to believe despite the evidence, but I couldn’t believe a lie. Not anymore.

No matter how much I missed him, I couldn’t bring Jesus back to life.

Later…

I don’t recall how it happened, but eventually I found out that I could be more happy and moral without God than I ever was with him. I “came out” as an atheist to my family, friends, and church. They were surprised, but they still loved me. They were much more concerned when two elders of my church decided they were Catholic. I bonded with them briefly because the three of us were suddenly outcasts.

I had stubbornly resisted my deconversion, but these days I am excited to accept reality, no matter what it is. I remember when I finally realized the problems inherent to my precious Libertarianism. I was not dismayed or resistant; I was thrilled.

This comfort with truth unleashed my curiosity about Christianity and religion in full force. In my studies I uncovered lots of false facts and dishonest arguments from Christians and atheists. Each discovery only deepened my hunger for knowledge, but also my realization that humans know very little, and with little certainty.

Looking back

In many ways I regret my Christian upbringing. So much time and energy wasted on an invisible friend. So many bad lessons about morality, thinking, and sex. So much needless guilt.

But mostly I’m glad this is my story. Now I know what it’s like to be a true believer. I know what it’s like to fall in love with God and serve him with all my heart. I know what’s it like to experience his presence.

I know what it’s like to isolate one part of my life from reason or evidence, and I know what it’s like to think that is a virtue. I know what it’s like to earnestly seek the truth but still be totally deluded.

I know what it’s like to think that what I believe, or what my loving pastor says, or what my ancient book says, is more true than what reason and evidence say. I know what it’s like to think faith is a strength, not a gullible weakness.

I know what it’s like to be confused by the Trinity, the failure of prayers, or Biblical contradictions but to genuinely embrace them as the mystery of God. I know what it’s like to believe God is so far beyond human reason that we can’t understand him, but at the same time to fiercely believe I know the details of how he wants us to behave.

That was my experience for 22 years, and I am grateful for it. Now I can approach believers with true understanding.

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{ 757 comments… read them below or add one }

matt December 18, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Hey, I had been waiting awhile now for your new site, looks good so far. Just wanted to say hey, and to tell you to keep up the good thought provoking work.

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lukeprog December 18, 2008 at 8:15 pm

Great. Thanks for sayin’ “hey.”

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Mark Van Steenwyk December 31, 2008 at 6:40 am

Just to clarify, while I indeed do believe that “I am a Christian because I want to be one, and the logic flows from there” I believe that everyone’s logic flows from desire. Aesthetics conditions everyone’s belief. We encounter truth because we long for truth (longing being a category of theological aesthetics, it seems to me), and that longing conditions our encounter of truth. I believe in Christ because, in my longing for truth, I haven encountered his glory and presence in ways that I believe are every bit as valid as other sensory perceptions. So, when I speak of the aesthetics of belief, I am saying that just as many materialists only believe in what can be experienced by the senses, I believe that my aesthetic encounters with God condition and shape my perception of reality.

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lukeprog December 31, 2008 at 8:20 am

Thanks for clarifying, Mark.

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Michelle January 5, 2009 at 3:48 am

Hi, I came across your site while trying to find good audiobooks I can download. I am sad that you have to turn from God. I can see that you are such a brilliant man, an intelligent one, and I believe God will speak to you (or have already been speaking), I jsut pray you will find it in you to listen to Him. I am not going to start a discussion, or any debate, as I know I will never win, but I will be praying for you, Luke.

You are loved.

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kenneth Omoding January 8, 2009 at 4:53 am

Hey Luke
What an interesting piece. Man you real deep. Well i guess i can share a few of your thoughts coz we lived together through some of these times and im sure we all had our moments where we faced a crossroad and we had to make a choice based on belief or anyother reason. Personally im still a christian who is trying to fight the good fight. I stumble, i fall, i complain, i wonder, i despair, i almost quit, i quit sometimes, i have problems believing somethings (eg like whether the sabbath is really on saturday or sunday try and figure that one and let me know what you find out)and so many other things bro. But i get up cry before God almighty, deal with my guilty conscious coz of what i believe God has done for me and whether im anywhere near deserving of how he continues to love me, and i move on live to fight another day. There is so much out in the world that has us thinking and i know it can get to a point where you just fill like doing your own thing coz its so mixed up but thats where faith comes in. Chrisitans like me and others have put in our fare share of not living our lives like christ did (for example by not loving those gay people you where with in the movie but continously rideculiong them)and this has done more harm than good, but one thing im sure of is that we know our hearts and God is the other being who knows them. We know our convictions and God is the other being who knows them and sooner or later God and those two areas of our live will seat down and have a meeting just the three of them, no aethism, no new age stuff, no nothing and we shall be still and know that God is God. I still love you bro always have and always will no matter what. You guys really left an imprint on my life. Let me leave you with two things to think about:
“if you dont believe in something you will fall for anything”
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”

Later
YOur bro and a believer who is struggling to live like christ and never wants to be seperated from the love of God. Hell aint got nothing on that kind of seperation.

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lukeprog January 8, 2009 at 8:37 am

Kenneth,

If you live like Jesus you will do the world a favor. Don’t let me dissuade you from that!

“if you dont believe in something you will fall for anything”

I disagree. I try not to “believe” things in general unless they are well-evidenced. That is exactly what keeps me from falling for everything.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”

Yes, and that is exactly the problem with faith. It is wishful thinking and invisible (non-)”evidence.”

Kenneth, you’re a great guy and becoming greater. So was Gandhi. But he was wrong about the Hindu gods existing. And you are wrong about the Christian gods (Yahweh and Yeshua).

P.S. I’m pretty sure the Sabbath is Saturday. That’s what it was for hundreds of years before Christians moved their Sabbath to Sunday sometime in the 3rd century C.E. :)

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Kenneth Omoding January 9, 2009 at 2:54 am

Wasup Luke
Thanks for the reply well im not really trying to do the world a favour by trying to live like jesus. That would end in utter misery!I think its more about a relationship. about faith thats the reason that has been given a lot, tangibility and evidence hard facts for the eye to see etc well then it wouldnt be faith at allthen right, i think feeling insecure is one of the hardest things to accept or live with and the we try to feel that hole with evidence, facts etc not to feel vulnerable unyet the idea behind a relationship with christ is to yield ones life to him. Once you do that you begin to experience change. Well personally i dont think im much of a great anything, i just have a great God who continues to love me and show me grace when im down, tired and weak. Well evidence will not prove whether i am wrong about God. Im right about one thing, the christian faith has taken a lot of heat (like no other) about a lot of things whether they are factual, spiritual, traditional and all. Something has to be right for it to be such a threat. about the sabbath i think i agree with you. Tradition (not necessarily christians)changed a lot of things that we may be following sheepishly. God help us. I’ll approach a friend of mine with that could you direct me to some resources (bible related) that touches on that topic?
I remain your bro
Ken
P.S. i like the pics man what are you eating you are growing taller unless im dwarfing lol!!!!!!!

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lukeprog January 10, 2009 at 12:02 am
dlw February 3, 2009 at 7:09 pm

I believe the distinctives of Christianity, as described by Paul in Athens as recorded in the book of Acts, are well characterized as hypotheses that cannot be verified in their truth value in this life-time.

I don’t believe there would be any cause to remember them if Jesus had not died and rose again and that the concrete referents of this stem from the witness of followers of Christ. I believe once we control for the impact of the Constantinization of Christianity that the effects are pretty impressive. It is mainly when monotheism is coupled with imperialism that tragedy strikes, this has been exacerbated by virtue of how our progress in understanding of the physical world has not been matched by progress in loving our neighbors. I also think the Bible’s aesthetics are absolutely wonderful and under gird much that is good in our world. I love how it is the only religious book that requires people to understand the geography of a place. I think it contains the roots of our understanding of History and much else…

Here’s where I describe my views at Recovering Evangelical.
http://www.recoveringevangelical.com/profile/dlw

peace out.

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rashid February 12, 2009 at 9:48 am

Hey i just read your story…actually religion need not be so mysterious..
God has given us the ability to reason and understand…
I have gone through some of the same situations in life as you have gone through and I returned back to my religion (islam) the same way you returned back to christianity.
But i didn’t find anything mysterious in my religion, everything was clear and i had better understanding of other religions and it had been corrupted over time. so why don’t you try out researching on this religion, islam which i believe to be the true religion of God, which was preached by noah, moses, abraham,solomon, jonah, other prophets and finally by muhammad.
This religion is based on reasoning and wisdom and not on blind faith

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Matt M February 19, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Thanks for making this incredible resource. From your story it sounds as if we have very similar upbringings. I feel as if I was raised in a bubble of insular Christian thinking, and all bubbles pop. Because I was raised with so much theology, now that I’m on the other side of the fence I thirst to balance all the arguments and knowledge. 80% of my reading in the past year has been books about atheism and the origins of religion. I feel like I’ve stumbled upon an incredible secret, but nobody seems to care about it.

Thanks for the resources, good luck with your book,
Matt

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rsmartin February 20, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Luke, I read your story and also your link about your studies of Jesus. Lots of information there. In your story you seem to be curious about the experience of others who leave fervent Christian religion. You might be interested in exChristian.net. I’m not sure how this software works so I’ll type out the address and hope it posts:

http://www.ex-christian.net

There’s a Testimonies section where people who used to be Christians can post their life stories if they want to. Many people find that section helpful when they first arrive. The purpose of the website/forums is to support exChristians and provide resources for people who have deconverted. Anyone is welcome to read but certain sections are not open for Christians to post.

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lukeprog February 21, 2009 at 5:37 am

rsmartin,

Thanks, I did post this story verbatim to ex-christian.net as well. There are many good testimonies there.

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jared February 25, 2009 at 1:09 am

hi luke. just read your story. just a question, on your quest for truth about the historical jesus, what’s the strongest evidence you’ve met that caused your ‘deconversion’?

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lukeprog February 25, 2009 at 10:56 pm

jared,

It certainly wasn’t one single fact, but hundreds and hundreds. Basically, Christianity looks very much like just another religion invented by ancient, ignorant, superstitious people. Its claims about the universe are numerously false – until they are reluctantly rewritten to keep up with science, which has only made God smaller, less active, and more hidden.

In regards to the historical Jesus, one of the most disturbing things for me AT THE TIME were the contradictions between the mission of Jesus and the mission of Paul. Christianity should be called Paulinism. Paul and his followers killed the Jesus movement in the 1st century.

Another major problem is that the gospels are the only evidence for the resurrection claim, and yet they are hearsay upon hearsay – literally, a double hearsay. It wouldn’t even be admitted in court, and yet it is not just supposed to be the “strong” evidence for something that happens all the time (theft, murder, whatever), but instead it’s supposed to be the “strong” evidence for something that NEVER happens, contradicts everything we DO know, and postulates all kinds of unnecessary and unknown assumptions: the magical resurrection of Jesus into a new magical body that can walk through walls, appear and disappear, and fly off into the sky!

(Where the heck was Jesus going, anyway? The people at the time thought heaven was just above the clouds, but we’ve checked now and it’s not there. Did Jesus fly off into the sky for a good show, and then when he got into the stratosphere he said, “Okay, now is far enough,” and then he vanished into that magical other-realm called heaven?)

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jared February 26, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Luke thanks for the response.

On paragraph 1, you say Christianity was an invention. What made you think so? If you can recommend me a good reading about it, that would be fine. With regards to Christianity keeping up with science, what about the consensus among the philosophers of science that “modern” science is built on the Christian framework and that “mostly” if not all of the pioneer for modern science are Christians?

On paragraph two, i would like to share with you this link http://www.christian-thinktank.com/muslix.html by glen miller. Maybe you’re already familiar with him.

And the third, supposed miracles are possible, how do you find the “evidences” and conclusion being presented by Habermas, Licona and that of Craig?

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lukeprog February 27, 2009 at 10:19 pm

What do I recommend? Hmmm. Perhaps “Deconstructing Jesus” by Robert Price.

I love Miller’s site. Of course I’ll have to write some posts about Paul vs. Jesus, when I have time.

Habermas, Licona, Craig. I’m sure I’ll eventually write hundreds of posts responding to their claims. For now, I’d point you to:
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/resurrection/

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Jeffrey Mark March 14, 2009 at 7:26 am

Hi Luke, welcome to the club. Congrats on making it through it. It’s a tough journey; I know, because I went through so much of the same thing you did. And since letting go of my blind faith, I’m a much happier person.

Jeff
p.s. There’s a huge community on Facebook of people like us. You’re welcome to add me at tinyurl.com/FormerXianFB.

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Jeffrey Mark March 14, 2009 at 7:27 am

By the way, to respond to Jared’s question, I devoted about 70 pages of my book about why Christianity was an invention. It’s called Christian No More and you can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981631304

Jeff

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Bob March 21, 2009 at 8:39 pm

I thought you might enjoy the William Lane Craig/Richard Carrier Debate.

http://www.brianauten.com/Apologetics/Craig-Car…

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lukeprog March 22, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Yeah, it was alright. I am subscribed to Brian's “Apologetics 315″ blog, of course.

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Joe Allen March 24, 2009 at 5:59 am

Do you believe in love?

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Rhology March 24, 2009 at 7:14 am

Wow lukeprog. Your story makes me very sad, I'm not gonna lie. But the Atheist Experience is not what I'd call deep-thinking atheism (given the numerous interactions I've had with them in their own comboxes), to be perfectly honest, but I guess it's better (by “better” I mean more thought-provoking) than listening to Dan Barker, though he's closer to you, up in Wisconsin. If I may ask, when have you subjected your new faith to the same scrutiny (selective though it was) to which you subjected Christianity? How did you go about doing so?

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MountainKing March 25, 2009 at 2:42 am

Interesting story, I can relate to most of it. Born into a nearly 100% evangelical family, I grew up in a communist country, so there was always a tension between the “official” life and the closest friends and family but I´m thankful for the experience of living in a smaller group that´s convinced of having a certain truth and is under pressure from people who think differently and are just as well convinced of having discovered fundamental truths everybody should believe in.

I always thought that my faith should be logical and backed up with evidence, so, even during the long time I was a very sincere christian, I usually hesitated to use the backdoor provided by gods almighty powers and our limited knowledge of his ways to explain things in the bible or in theology that seemed contradicting or strange to me, but since I didnt question the foundations of my believes I could cover everything up in the end.

Still, research on different religions, churches and sects brought me step by step to a more liberal view on faith. I still was absolutely sure that the christian god existed and Jesus was his son who died for our sins, but since there were so many different faith systems dealing differently with what to think and belief beyond that, all relying on the same sources I kind of created my own interpretation. One reason for that: as I said before, in contrast to probably most amercan readers of the blog, I was “surrounded” by atheists or at least nonbelievers, knew several of them very well and the were childhood friends. I found them to be basically just as “normal” and “good” or “bad” as the christians I knew and I had problems believing that an just god would sent them to hell for all eternity just for nor believing.

I liked the talmudic concept of the seven laws of noah http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Laws_of_Noah because it provided the possibility for everybody to get into heaven whether or not he was the member of a certain religion. I just tried to be a good person and selected the bible quotes that seemed to encourage that and the rest of my views, just like everybody else did.

More research especially during my time at the university led me to read and write about different “quacks” and pseudoscientific systems. Thats when I learned to use the tools of science, logic and reason more systematically than before, to be able to tell good evidenve from bad evidence logical reasoning from unsubstantial claims and so on. There are basic problems with close to all that systems inculding religions (you described it here yourself) but I still somehow tried not to use that tools on MY beliefs, probably because I got told (like most christians) through most of my life that christianity is NOT a religion lik others even if it seems to be. But I got to a point where I couldn´t justify that special treatment anymore and had to question even the foundations and I found them to be the same as in any other system, coming to the conclusions that they are most likely all incorrent and that so far theres no real evidence for the existence of any of the gods.

Long story short: I share your basically positive experiences with my faith (there are a lot of different stories of course), and I didn´t “let god go” because I didn´t want to be controlled anymore or hated him because he didnt help me in a bad situation or because he was in my way to self-fulfillment. I just had to be honest to myself.

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lukeprog March 25, 2009 at 6:21 am

Great story!

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MountainKing March 26, 2009 at 2:56 am

Thank you. And congratz to your blog, I really like that you are trying to be fair to everyone and willing to kick bad arguing and easily self-satisfied atheists in the b… if necessary. We need to check and recheck our arguments and sources and the way we present them just as good as everyone else.

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John Mark April 3, 2009 at 5:51 am

Sounds kinda like me, except I wasn't a PK and I didn't read quite as much as you until after I deconverted.

Your blog is my new favorite.

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Jake Tasser April 4, 2009 at 5:06 am

I was wondering if you are a homosexual?

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lukeprog April 4, 2009 at 6:31 am

Nope!

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muddle April 5, 2009 at 12:56 pm

I lived in Minnesota for 6 years and nearly stopped believing in God as a result. That is a Godawful, God-forsaken climate.

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lukeprog April 5, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Ha!

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cato April 5, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Lukeprog, 
Thanks for your informative website.  I love atheist/theist debates and found your website a couple of months ago.  In your review of the Craig/Hitchens debate, you wrote a question that you would like to have asked Dr. Craig and I’d like to take a crack at it.  Your question concerned whether objective moral values exist apart from God (here you point to Craig’s answer to question 61 on his website regarding abortion) or whether they are grounded in God.  In answering question 61, Craig writes that abortion is wrong because human life has intrinsic moral value.  As you point out, Craig seems to imply that we know that human life has intrinsic value apart from knowing anything about God.  But if this is the case, then in what sense are objective moral values grounded in God? 
I think what Craig would say is that we do have knowledge of objective moral values independent of any knowledge of God.  This knowledge includes the proposition that human life has intrinsic value.  However, there is no foundation for this knowledge outside of God.  In other words, while we know that human life has intrinsic value, we can’t explain why human life has intrinsic value outside of God.  (Whereas, under Christianity, human life has intrinsic value because God has created humanity in His image in order that we might spend eternity with God in the hereafter).  Thus objective moral values are grounded in God’s nature, although we have knowledge of these values independent of any knowledge of God.  As a result, I don’t think there is any contradiction between Craig’s statement that we know human life has intrinsic value and his argument that objective morality has to be grounded in God’s nature.  What do you think?

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lukeprog April 5, 2009 at 10:16 pm

“Intrinsic value” is not about epistemology, but ontology. If something has intrinsic value, it’s value does not depend on anything outside it – like the opinion or nature of God.

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mark almlie April 7, 2009 at 11:06 am

this is an excellent website Luke.  Truth is everything, and your aching to find and only believe and drink from its fountain is admirable.  i have gone through very similar doubts and have come to other conclusions, but i resonate completely with your refusal to believe in something that doesn’t correspond to reality.  You are a critical thinker to be sure…i would think you might want to consider a masters or PHD in philosophy or philosophy of religion.

May the truth continue to run wild in your life!
-mark

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lukeprog April 7, 2009 at 5:36 pm

mark almlie, thanks for the encouragement!

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Keri April 8, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so glad you found happiness in atheism!

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Eneasz April 10, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Hiya Luke.  I just now read your deconversion story (can’t believe it took me this long) and it’s very touching. Thank you for sharing. :)  I also listen to the Atheist Experience and Non-Prophets religiously. If I can use the term. :)

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Bobby April 11, 2009 at 8:30 am

Luke, let me share something with you. I am a police detective in a major city in our nation. Yesterday I appeared in court. An assistant state attorney looked at me, as I was leaving and said, “Have a good holiday detective.” I had NO idea what she was talking about. I asked her what holiday she was talking about. She told me, “Easter.” I was curious. I asked her what exactly Easter meant to celebrate. She told me it is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I told her thank you and that I always wanted to ask someone that question. She then asked me if I am Muslim and if not, how I could not have known the purpose of Easter. I told her I have never been religious. She became very annoyed. She pressed the issue. She then asked  me why I do not believe. I told her for the same reason I do not believe in Frodo the Hobbit, alien abductions, werewolves, vampires, or the Blair Witch. She looked at me like I was insane. I then realized something. This woman had never met an out of the closet atheist. I want the religious people out there to know something. There are those of us in the world, who are atheist, who have no problem admitting it. I have no problem with laughing out loud when someone makes a bold claim to KNOW the existence of something supernatural. I have no problem completely disregarding emotional unfounded beliefs in things for which there is NO evidence. I find it fascinating that religious people get a pass. If you say something is true, demonstrate that it is. I am glad you shed your christianity. I am sorry for the pain of the transformation. I am happy for you.

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lukeprog April 11, 2009 at 11:21 am

Bobby, that is wonderful. Thank you.

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Avdi April 12, 2009 at 5:31 am

Great article.  I’m curious, as someone who went through a similar journey: do you still find a place for ecstatic experiences in your life?  Something I’ve observed about a lot of the people making a transition to atheism is that even when they avoid the pitfalls of reactionary anger, they carry it to the point of rejecting every part of their lives that smacks of mysticism or superstition.  And in the process, they miss out on the intensely human experience of spiritual ecstasy, even though ecstasy is orthogonal to dogmatic belief.  I’d be curious to read your take on this topic.

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lukeprog April 12, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Avdi,

I’m quite fond of ecstasy. :)

Though, I don’t get it from delusions of magical realities, nor even through drugs. But that’s just my choice.

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Avdi April 12, 2009 at 8:04 pm

lukeprog: Avdi,I’m quite fond of ecstasy. Though, I don’t get it from delusions of magical realities, nor even through drugs. But that’s just my choice.

So what’s your chosen avenue?  Mountain climbing?  Meditation?  Live music shows?  Just curious.

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lukeprog April 12, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Oh, goodness. The right music can definitely move into a kind of “transcendent” experience. Good sex can, too. Arriving at previously unseen wonders of natural beauty can also do the trick, though I haven’t had much time for travel recently.

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mstott25 April 16, 2009 at 10:48 pm

lukeprog,
you’re a kid.  kid’s are supposed to run around and question reality and life and god.  everybody knows this.  you’re asking god to give you questions to answers that didn’t even exist 50 years ago.  
if you ask me it’s about trust.  right now you’re young and strong and invincible and there’s no reason not to trust yourself.  but like most things in this short miserable life, you’ll learn you can’t even trust yourself.  every whim, ache and desire coming from your body is a clear signpost but to what I’m afraid only you can discover yourself.  You’re questioning things, great but you’re no intellectual giant.  neither am i – no big deal. you have a lot of life ahead of you.  I came to the same exact conclusions when I was your age.  let me know how your quest for morality without god works out. 

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lukeprog April 17, 2009 at 8:05 am

mstott25,

Why should I trust in Yahweh? Why not science? Or Vahiguru? Or nothing? Or Allah?

It doesn’t take an intellectual giant to realize that Zeus does not exist.

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mstott25 April 17, 2009 at 6:04 pm

lukeprog,
well uh…that’s kind of my point.  You are going to trust in something, that much is obvious.  Whether it’s science, or Allah or your own ability to reason and interpret life.  No matter what path you decide to take you’ll never be certain about anything.  No matter how you try to explain reality or your personal experiences you will always have to draw the answers from sort of backdrop or meta-narrative.  There’s a reason you wake up and get on the computer and talk about why you aren’t a Christian anymore.  There’s a reason why you, me and everybody else performs certain habits every single day of our lives.  You can try to explain it with science, or music, or art or any other medium you please. Science can tell you many things  but it can’t tell you how to stay in love.  Survival of the fittest explains many things but it cannot explain why humans retained an obvious penchant for wasting time and energy by attributing certain acts of worship to a non-existent god.  You will have just as many questions about reality and life as a materialist than you ever did as a Christian.  Furthermore what really makes me sad is seeing you fall into this same crowd of dreamers who sit around and fantasize about stumping William Lane Craig!  C’mon man, you have a lot more potential than that.  Everybody writes these articles and makes these claims and when they finally get a chance to encounter Craig they get annihilated.  If you’re not a Christian anymore then get away from this stuff; go study architecture or economics but don’t be delusional like all of these other internet warriors who dream about being the long awaited atheist messiah that finally stumps William Lane Craig.  
I’ll quit now because you remind me of myself and I know how useless all of this is.  I wish we could hang out for a while, I wish I could show you some things about life and things away from the classroom and the library but you have your own journey.  I promise you one day you will realize that your days of doing “nothing but work at Wal-Mart, download music, and watch internet porn” were hardly the definition of a healthy Christian life. 
Sorry this was so long and I wish we could have had this conversation at Starbucks since I’m aware it sounds much more abrasive in this format.  I wish you luck and I’m glad you’re going through this whole thing while you’re still at a young age and able to come out with a lot of life left on the other end.  take care man.  

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lukeprog April 17, 2009 at 8:08 pm

“Science can tell you many things  but it can’t tell you how to stay in love.”

Are you kidding? Yes it can! It can do so much better than any other method!

“Survival of the fittest explains many things but it cannot explain why humans retained an obvious penchant for wasting time and energy by attributing certain acts of worship to a non-existent god.”

Um, well… no, that’s because survival of the fittest isn’t all that’s going on.

“You will have just as many questions about reality and life as a materialist than you ever did as a Christian.”

Yup!

“Furthermore what really makes me sad is seeing you fall into this same crowd of dreamers who sit around and fantasize about stumping William Lane Craig!  C’mon man, you have a lot more potential than that.”

Um, really I don’t. I just engage with him because unlike many philosophers – Christian or otherwise – he make coherent arguments. I do have more potential then that, and I think it might be in the realm of meta-ethics, but I have a lot of studying to do…

“don’t be delusional like all of these other internet warriors who dream about being the long awaited atheist messiah that finally stumps William Lane Craig.”

Lol, indeed! It’s like the theists who post excited YouTube videos about stumping Dawkins, which is much easier than stumping Craig anyway…

“you will realize that your days of doing “nothing but work at Wal-Mart, download music, and watch internet porn” were hardly the definition of a healthy Christian life. ”

Oh, I realized that at the time, trust me. Those were my dark days, before my re-awakening, before I fell in love with God and did my best to shed sin.

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unkleE April 20, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Luke

I just came across your website and story, and found it very interesting. I was interested that the key factor for your conversion to atheism was questioning the historical basis for belief in Jesus, for I went through a similar process but with different result. I hope you’ll be interested in my story.

I was not brought up in a christian home, but I was sent to Sunday School and by 17 I had committed myself to following Jesus. Like you, I was troubled by the apparent discrepancy between evangelical christian teaching and what I found in the gospels. So, like you, I started reading what historians and theologians were saying.

But, unlike you, I found satisfactory and indeed inspiring answers. I read theologians like AM Hunter, and for the first time understood Jesus in his Jewish context, and it excited me. And I later read historians like Michael Grant, an expert in the Roman Empire, and found that secular historians (even unbelieving ones like Grant) took the gospels etc quite seriously as historical sources, even though they didn’t regard the Bible as inerrant or inspired.

I will comment on this in more detail elsewhere, but the result was that I was confirmed in my understanding that Biblical inerrancy was not itself claimed by the Bible writers, but also confirmed in my understanding that it is historically sensible to believe that Jesus existed and did and said much of what the gospels say about him. Whether one believes he did miracles, rose from the dead, or was the Son of God are, of course, matters which the historical method cannot address, but historians can confirm that christians believed in these things from the very first, and so they are not later legends.

So I stayed a believer, with a strong interest in history and philosophy. I guess the interesting question (which I don’t have an answer for) is why you and I, faced with similar evidence, came to such different conclusions? Any thoughts?

Best wishes.

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lukeprog April 20, 2009 at 7:17 pm

unkleE,

Thanks for sharing your story, but obviously I have no idea why we’ve come to different conclusions. :)

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unkleE April 21, 2009 at 1:47 am

Yes, I guess I was asking a bit much, but I thought you might have a feeling about some key factors. Here’s my first guess …..

Changing a belief or a strongly held opinion generally requires a significant shock to that belief. Perhaps there may have been two differences between you and I that might have made a difference.

1. Although I was taught as a teen that the Bible was inerrant, it wasn’t strongly taught, and I knew it wasn’t a Biblical teaching. So I never really believed it, and thus had no problems treating the Bible as a human document, albeit divinely inspired. I’m guessing you had a much stronger belief in inerrancy that made your choice much more black and white.

2. The first scholars I came across were not highly sceptical, but were more middle-of-the-road, so I gained positive knowledge from them which enhanced my belief. You mention Ehrman (highly sceptical), Wright (moderately believing) and Thiessen & Merz (not sure, but I think reasonably middle-of-the-road), but I guess there were others, and they seem to have had a negative effect overall. So perhaps overall you were reading more sceptical scholars than I was.

Thus more sceptical scholars and a more black and white view of the Bible led to a greater shock to your worldview than I experienced. Do you think those factors made a difference?

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lukeprog April 21, 2009 at 5:43 am

Quite possibly, but my deconversion was still gradual. By the time I started studying the historical Jesus, I already believed in evolution, and certainly didn’t hold to Biblical inerrancy.

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FrodoSaves April 27, 2009 at 5:02 am

Luke,

Thanks for sharing your story. I was raised in a tepidly religious family, and when I came to the conclusion that what I’d been taught probably wasn’t true, it wasn’t difficult to drop it. As an extra bonus, my family dropped it all around the same time. Consequently I’m a little in awe of people like who, whose deconversions were the hardest decisions of their lives. You, sir, are a brave man.

FrodoSaves

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Mark May 2, 2009 at 4:48 pm

“When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” – Stephen Roberts

I’ve seen this quoted by many atheists but don’t see any power in it.  When determining the sum of 2+2, I reject 5, 6, and 7.  That doesn’t mean I should also reject 4.  Just because every answer is not valid does not mean there is no valid answer.

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lukeprog May 2, 2009 at 5:02 pm

No, Mark, the quote means that I reject the existence of Yahweh for the same reasons you reject the existence of Zeus, Vahiguru, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Santa Claus. It’s just that you apply different standards to your own religious beliefs than you do to everybody else’s.

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Mark May 2, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Luke, I am applying the same standard to all beliefs, as much as is reasonably possible.  I don’t believe HillaryC or JohnM is president of the United States, must I also disbelieve Mr. Obama too?  Objective consideration can yield a true positive answer, don’t you agree?  And a question such as what is god will reasonably yield a single answer.  Multiple answers would be unreasonable when considering “what force or being is behind all of reality”.
For more along these lines, check out the article on my site in the associated link.
Thanks, Mark

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Adiel Corchado May 3, 2009 at 10:59 am

Hi,

I’m intrigued. OK, knowing that Jesus said that not everyone who says to Him “Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of His Father who is in heaven… please tell me your story on why you ever became a Christian in the first place and on what basis did you believe that you were a true convert as opposed to a false self-deceived convert like the one mentioned above or in the parable of the sower.  Thanks.

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lukeprog May 3, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Adiel, I was raised Christian.

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Adiel Corchado May 3, 2009 at 2:06 pm

I hear you Luke, but so was I, and though I had been baptized, and went to church and youth group etc, I was as lost and anti-God and hell-bound as anyone. And what is scary is that I didn’t know it. Why didn’t I know it? Because I had been fed a false Gospel, one that assuaged my conscience, while I committed and was in bondage to all manner of sin. In other words I was deceived into thinking I was Christian when in reality I wasn’t. So I guess, that is why I’m interested in hearing about your conversion and on what basis you considered yourself a true follower of Christ as opposed to a false convert which the Bible continually warns us about.

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Lorkas May 4, 2009 at 10:15 am

Adiel, how do you know that you were deceived then, and not now? After all, you were definitely convinced back then that you were a Christian, right? You could just as well be fooled now, and just not know it yet.

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Lorkas May 4, 2009 at 10:18 am

I, for one, really did believe it all, when I was a Christian. I don’t really care if you believe that or not (after all, you think that I am a deranged liar who hates God now, despite my assertion that I form beliefs through evidence rather than wishful thinking).

I’m sure glad that I decided to stop letting myself be fooled by others, and begin thinking about things on my own.

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Adiel Corchado May 4, 2009 at 11:47 am

Good question Lorkas.

The reason is because I know Him, He revealed Himself to me through His Word,  and because my assurance is based on the Word of God and not Pop Christianity or man’s ideas.

I’m interested, on what basis did you ever believe that you were actually saved? How do you know you were not a false convert all along? I mean, the Scripture clearly says that many of the people who ‘believe’ are not actually saved, for example:

“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. 24 But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, 25 and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”

So how do you know you were not one of these types of ‘believers’? On what did you base your assurance of knowing Jesus?

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Lorkas May 4, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Adiel Corchado: The reason is because I know Him, He revealed Himself to me through His Word, and because my assurance is based on the Word of God and not Pop Christianity or man’s ideas.

Shorter: “I know because I know”

This is really no justification at all, as I hope you can see. I stopped being a Christian because I lost patience with myself and my conreligionists for rationalizing away beliefs that are irrational.

Adiel Corchado: I’m interested, on what basis did you ever believe that you were actually saved? How do you know you were not a false convert all along?

On distinguishing true believers from false, the Bible says “You will know them by their fruits.”

I spent 10 years of my life active in a church, community service, mission trips, and travelled all over Central America living among those in poverty to better understand the Gospel. I gave thousands of hours in volunteer work to various causes that I felt that Jesus would have had me spend my time on.

I professed the gospel, made a habit of praying constantly, attended a four-year Evangelical university, and practiced apologetics, as you are on this website. If you have a good reason to think yourself a Christian now, then there is no basis for anyone to claim that I was not a Christian.

However, as I began to critically examine my worldview (another story), I found that I could not justify belief in Christianity if I applied the same logic to Christianity that I used to reject other religions. It was hard to give up my Christianity (for one thing, my wife was a Christian, and I wasn’t sure if she would stay with me if I no longer believed. Turns out, I told her all of the questions that I was asking about my own faith, and she found that she could not answer those questions, either, without assuming Christianity to be false).

Using the standard of the Bible that I cited above, it is clear that I was a Christian in the past. If you can’t trust my testimony, then you can’t trust the testimony of anyone who claims to be a Christian.

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Lorkas May 4, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Whoa, that got pretty long. Sorry for the textwall.

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Adiel Corchado May 4, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Lorkas,

While I sincerely appreciate you taking your time out to respond and explain why you believed yourself to be a true Christian I must point out that your reasons are not based on sufficient biblical grounds. For example, lets compare your works to the works of some of those whom Jesus said were self-deceived:

Lorkas:  active church attendance, community service, mission trips, and travelled to better understand the Gospel, thousands of hours in volunteer work, professed the Gospel, constant prayer, religious instruction, apologetics.

VS

Deceived Followers of God:  prophesy in the name of Jesus, perform exorcisms in the name of Jesus, perform miraculous works in the name of Jesus (all these from Matthew 7:21-23),  live a ‘moral’ life,  fast twice a week or three or four times, have great knowledge of the truths of Scripture, be known for heavy religious involvement like the Pharisees and even be called “Apostle”, be included in Jesus’ inner circle to the point where you are the treasurer, and go from town to town telling people people to repent like Judas

Again I ask you, what difference was there between you and all the false believers the Bible describes?

On what basis did you ever believe yourself to be a true Christian?

Adiel

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Richard Berry May 9, 2009 at 8:11 am

Lorkas:

I like your blog and I enjoyed reading your heartfelt deconversion story. It is similar in some ways to my own although I didn’t lose my faith completely until I was in my early forties.

I have explored a lot of the same topics you write about and I started blogging late last year — http://richardstheoryofeverything.blogspot.com/

Best of luck to you.

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Lorkas May 9, 2009 at 9:42 am

Richard,
I’m flattered at the mistake, but this blog actually belongs to lukeprog. I just frequent the blog and post comments here.

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tyson koska May 20, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Luke,

Been following your blog for a couple months now. You’re doing a great job—thanks for that. I am listening to your audiobook at the moment, and so far, it’s wonderful too!

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Yos May 27, 2009 at 12:18 am

Interesting read. In addition,

<—-Is waiting on a continuation of the Lorkas-Adiel Corchado showdown.

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OS May 27, 2009 at 12:34 am

I’ve really been interested in how people should respond to those who say “You were never a Christian”, either directly or indirectly. Such talk has made me uncertain of my own belief as it at least gives the impression that no one knows what they’re talking about or only some of the devout are chosen. How else could someone who as sincere fall away?

On a nearly separate note, I’m curious as to if the people from Heartcry/I’llbehonest  are well versed on the problems that a scholar like  Ehrman has brought to the table when they say speak of or imply that people weren’t Christian.

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Mark June 1, 2009 at 11:55 am

He describes his early days as an atheist as exhilarating: “For months, I walked on air.”

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Osmar Neves June 10, 2009 at 7:02 am

Hi!

Please, read the writings of Vincent Cheung. Cheers!

Osmar Neves, Brazil.

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Yos June 10, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Osmar Neves: Hi! Please, read the writings of Vincent Cheung. Cheers!Osmar Neves, Brazil.

From his site:
“ABOUT VINCENT CHEUNG
Vincent Cheung is the author of over thirty books as well as hundreds of lectures and sermons on a wide range of topics. Among his publications are foundational texts in Christian theology, philosophy, apologetics, spirituality, and a number of biblical commentaries. He is committed to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, and thus all the doctrines that it affirms — that God is sovereign over all things and all minds, that the non-Christian man is unrighteous and unintelligent, that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, that the believer possesses eternal life and would be received into heaven, and that the unbeliever is condemned to everlasting suffering in hellfire. Through his outreaches and publications, he is training Christians to understand, implement, and advance the biblical worldview as a comprehensive and coherent system of thought revealed by God in Scripture. He and his wife, Denise, reside in Boston, Massachusetts.”
http://www.vincentcheung.com/about/
Concentrate on the part about non-Christians supposedly being unintellliegent.

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Yos June 10, 2009 at 3:38 pm

Mark: He describes his early days as an atheist as exhilarating: “For months, I walked on air.”

I wanted to read on,but it seems that the article has to be paid for in order to view it. Do you happen to have another source for it?

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jonc June 11, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Hey Luke,
      My story is very similar to yours, Also being a preacher’s son.  I too, felt the feelings you write about and set out to do my own study, which only strengthened my faith in God…….I guess one can find what one is looking for……gotta have faith in something…..I hope for you to live your life as you choose and be happy…I appreciated your critique of Craig and Mooreland’s new book. It was very helpful to me………I believe the day will come that you will embrace spiritual discernment again…..either way…Best of luck and thanks for the debate section.  It’s awesome

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lukeprog June 11, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Thanks, jonc.

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William June 12, 2009 at 10:38 am

Hi Luke,
 
I stumbled across your blog while I was searching for links about the Craig-Hitchens debate and of course I had to read your “My Story” link.  Anyway, I just wanted to comment on a couple of things.
 

When you said, “I know what it’s like to fall in love with God and serve him with all my heart.” Obviously what you meant to say is that you know what it’s like to fall in love with the idea of God.  Right?  Because now, since you know that there is no God, you must realize that what you thought was God, what you thought that you fell in love with, was just a fantasy.
And when you said, “I know what it’s like to experience his presence.”  No, you don’t.  If God doesn’t exist, then obviously you can’t experience His presence because there’s nothing there to experience.  So, whatever you experienced was just more of that fantastic imagination of yours.  However, if God does exist and you did experience His presence… well, I will let you finish this sentence.
You said, “Now I know what it’s like to be a true believer.”  What do you mean by “true believer?”  Is that what you are now?  Or is that what you thought you were when you believed in a God that you now believe doesn’t exist?
You said, “I know what it’s like to earnestly seek the truth but still be totally deluded.”  Ok. Earlier in your life you were completely convinced that God did exist.  But you claim that by acquiring more knowledge you have freed yourself from that delusion.  Now you are completely convinced that there is no God.  Is that because you now possess a perfect understanding of all things?  If not, then how can you be so certain that you are not still deluded?

Luke, I must say that you are one of the few professing atheists that I have enjoyed reading.  You remain polite with those that disagree with you and on occasion you have even encouraged those who disagree to continue with their faith.  Wow!  Also, from what little I have read so far you don’t come across as an arrogant know-it-all.  I haven’t read it anywhere on you blog, but you seem to realize that we all are doing the same thing; we cherry pick the best arguments for our position and then articulate it as best we can.
 
I would expect that we have read many of the same books.  With the exception of some new facts thrown in from modern science, all of the arguments for and against the existence of God are the same as they were in the first century.  It’s just a different crowd arguing about the same things.  I am sure that you know this quote: “There is nothing new under the sun.” 
 
It surprises me how similar your story is to my own; however, I started out as a complete atheist and now I am a Christian.  Like yours, my journey started as a quest for knowledge, but we started and ended on opposite ends of the road.  I will cherry pick this as one more confirming fact of my faith.  More specifically, that man by his own pursuits can not bridge the gap that sin has created; we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ through grace and that is an act of God least any man should boast.  Peace!
 
Solo Dei Gloria!!!
 

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deb June 13, 2009 at 6:08 am

amen … you articulated a male version of my life minus the pastor father …

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lukeprog June 14, 2009 at 12:24 pm

William,

What I meant by the “I know what it’s like” sentences is that I had the exact same experiences with “God” that people who are still believers have had. I experienced God as God, just as current believers continue to do so. Our subjective experiences were the same.

Thanks for your compliments.

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Ajay July 1, 2009 at 3:32 am

Hi
Great website.
I am a 34 year old born in a Hindu family in India. I have been an atheist by default ever since i remember and have only recently since a couple of years after reading books and blogs like yours that i appreciate it more. I think i was an atheist for all the simple reasons before like superstitions, rituals, suffering etc. and it was only recently that i have gone thru this whole thing of the cosmological arguments, evolution etc etc.
However, what i dont understand is this. I have a younger brother by 2 years and we have both grown up pretty much the same. But he seems to have a completely different mind and though doesnt believe in any superstitions or actual religions but does believe that there is a god and there is a purpose to life which we need to find.
No matter how many times we argue, i am not able to get to make him get into my thinking.
It of course could be due to my lack of articulation or debate skills  but i was also just wondering whether this kind of atheist thinking is also born within and not all are born to realize this. Maybe you and me are the kind who was born with this atheistic kind of thinking and perhaps it was just chance that you got back to that after years of christianity.
Are you aware of anyone who has been on the side of the Craigs classic 5 arguments initially and have since then gone over to the other side after listenig to debates etc.? I am thinking that there will not be any such.
What do you think?
 
 
 

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lukeprog July 1, 2009 at 6:26 am

Ajay,

Thanks for sharing your story.

I also have a brother who is younger than I by two years. We had the same upbringing but he still believes in God.

Also, I was on the side of Craig’s 5 arguments, and I was a big fan of Craig, but have since converted to atheism after reading some work from the other side.

I don’t think there is a ‘theist’ or ‘atheist’ gene, but genes surely play a role. For example, someone who is more predisposed to independence will be more likely to adopt atheism. Someone for whom relationships and family are very important will be LESS likely to abandon the religion of their friends and family. Etc.

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William July 1, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Luke,
I stumbled across this website, http://www.wordle.net, and entered the text from your “My Story” post.  You can see it here:
http://www.wordle.net/gallery/wrdl/979360/My_Story_by_Luke_Muehlhauser
Its a neat little site.

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lukeprog July 1, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Huh. Fun!

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Ajay July 3, 2009 at 1:59 am

Hi Luke,
Do you believe the world is a better place if everyone is an atheist or do you believe it is better off today.
I personally feel condescending about a majority of the humans and feel that religion is indeed useful to deter many humans from committing murders, rapes, stealing, other crimes. I am sure most of them are doing anyway even if they are religious but they may do such things much more if they know for sure that there is no judgment coming.
 
What do u think?
 
- Ajay
 

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lukeprog July 3, 2009 at 5:09 am

Ajay,

I don’t know, but I suspect the world is better off without gods in general in the same way that the world is better off without widespread belief in Marduk or astrology.

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Michael July 3, 2009 at 6:26 am

You write: “I bet most atheists today have lost their faith for irrational, emotional reasons – or else they were raised as atheists.”

(1) What could be irrational about losing an irrational faith?
(2) I’ve never had religious faith.
(3) I wasn’t raised atheist either. I was sent to Sunday School for 8 years (from age 4 to age 12) and never believed a single word they told me. On the first Sunday I argued with the teacher about angels. She said they existed and I said they probably didn’t – otherwise we’d occasionally see one or two of them. Not a great argument, but not bad for a four year old.

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lukeprog July 3, 2009 at 11:46 pm

Michael,

You can disbelieve in silly things for silly reasons. For example, you might reject the truth of Christianity not for lack of evidence, but because the Christians you know are not nice.

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Marius July 25, 2009 at 12:42 am

Hey Mark,
I’m so glad I found this site, and got goose-bums several times when I read your story, simply because it reminded me so much of my own. I think for most ex-believers, there is that defining moment when it all changed, the realization epiphany – after which everything changes, and no matter how much you try to  convince yourself after that that you are simply “straying”, the truth has revealed itself.  I too was greatly conflicted and tormented and devoured vast amounts of literature to try and understand what was happening to me, when in the end I realized my reason had simply overcome my need to believe in something that doesn’t exist
[I also had a run in with the church round about the same timem which shocked me deeply, and probably excellerated the process for me]
I think it was luther who said:  ”the greatest enenemy of christianity(religion) is reason”
I will defintely be camping here and contributing to your blog, especially since I feel a lot of  reciprocity going around.
 

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lukeprog July 25, 2009 at 7:31 am

Marius,

Thanks. But, my name is “Luke.” :)

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Marius July 26, 2009 at 1:49 am

Sorry Luke! my bad

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Tim July 26, 2009 at 8:30 am

Hi Luke,
Just found your website and read your story–almost the mirror image of my story.  It’s funny how you mention that most people “deconvert” for emotional rather than logical reasons.  I agree.  In fact, whenever someone learns that I don’t believe in God they always ask me “who hurt you?”, or “what happened in your life to make you reject God?”  It seems incomprehensible to most people that I would actually be lead away from a belief in God while pursuing the truth.  Anyways, thanks for taking the time to create this website.  I really enjoy the content and the attitude expressed throughout.  I’ll be a frequent visitor.
 
Tim

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lukeprog July 27, 2009 at 7:25 am

Tim, it’s good to hear from you.

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jamie Seales July 29, 2009 at 11:25 am

Hey man.
The very basis of the Chrisitan faith is based upon the rejected one…thus, gays should be the very core of the Christian faith.

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Ferguson August 1, 2009 at 3:02 am

Hi Luke,
Great story, great journey.  I know that thousands of young people around the world are making the same journey in life.  With the information age we ‘re in their numbers will only grow.  I am also a son of Christian parents.  My father is a minister.   My story is the same, except I was never engulfed so  much in Christian life as you, most likely because I live in the Netherlands, and faith and church are nowhere as much incorporated into daily life over here as in rural America.  From a young age I was sceptical, but only in recent years I totally broke with faith.  The thing I recognize most in your story is the bit about the reading..   The clear arguments from atheist writers and the woolly thinking of the christian philosophers.
The thing I find the hardest is the relation with my parents. We still love each other as much as before, but we just don’t seem to be able to discuss religion.  I am afraid that they agree with me inside, but are caught in their livelong tradition and professional career in the Christian world.  They can’t give up faith just the same as I cannot believe it any more.  I don’t talk about in fear of hurting them.  This feels like a limitation in my live, as I cannot discuss some things with the people closest to me, but fortunately I live in a day and age where contact with people all over the world has become the norm.   And psychologically becoming 100% atheist has been very good for me. I get more joy out the marvels of the universe and have no fears.
I wish you all the best in the rest of your life
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Matt Oxley August 14, 2009 at 11:55 am

Wow man, you said something that is almost a direct quote from my own deconversion story.  (click my name to get to my site and It is listed there under about me) .

You say, “I started to panic. I felt like my best friend – my source of purpose and happiness and comfort – was dying. And worse, I was killing him.”

 
I totally get that, it is exactly how I felt and I didn’t think i had anyone at all to turn to.
Thanks for posting this, glad you were able to come out of it much like I did. We are both better for having done it.

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lukeprog August 15, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Matt,

Yes, I’m glad you made it out, too. :)

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Beau September 20, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Luke,

So, in your My Story words I just wanted to be like Jesus. So I decided I should try to find out who Jesus actually was. I began to study the Historical Jesus.

What I learned, even when reading Christian scholars, shocked me.

Two thoughts:

1) Your stated desire echoes the oldest temptation offered, “You will be like the Most High.” Right down to the methodology – via wisdom. There is a world of difference between, “I want to be like Jesus” versus “I want to please Jesus.” The first is intellectual auto-eroticism and the second is discipleship.

2) Having set your feet on the path of pursuing Godlikedness through Reason, you picked a sorry guide.
Resorting to Bart Ehrman to find Jesus? That was a mistake. Little wonder you threw away your faith. As educated as he is, Ehrman’s voice isn’t the only one to handle the text, impressed with his arguments, it appears you surrendered too easily. You would have been better served following the scholarship of F.F.Bruce, Gordon Fee, Douglas Moo, or D.A. Carson. It wasn’t without reason Luther observed, “Reason is a whore.” Looks like you’ve been bagged by some fine-sounding impressive arguments.

Are Christians ever tempted to stop believing? Just ask Hymenaues and Alexander – or Ehrman. Temptation and doubt are not shameful – its the giving up that accrues the approbation of heaven. Enjoy a few decades of unbridled pleasures (just like Jesus, huh?).

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lukeprog September 20, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Beau,

The New Testament frequently calls disciples of Jesus to “be Christlike.” That’s what I wanted.

It just turned out that Christianity is false, just like Hinduism and Zoroastrianism.

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K-Bo September 21, 2009 at 10:19 pm

“I know what it’s like to fall in love with God and serve him with all my heart.”

Well, maybe not ALL your heart, as there was a space He didn’t fill for you, and you kicked Him out :)

Yes, we all struggle with the question, why should I believe in God? I guess for you, you need to have logical consistency, and that’s what’s most important for you right now. Good luck. I’m glad you’re happy. I wonder why you weren’t as happy with God as you say you are now?

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Stone September 22, 2009 at 10:18 pm

This is a very interesting story. However I have a couple things to say. I was born in china. Religion is highly discouraged. My parents are not believers. I am highly confused. I was Christian but I believe it is because I needed that support. My life sucked when I was not Christian. After I embraced Christianity my life became so much better. However now I am unsure about God.

1)There are a couple things which make your statement, “there is no god” inconsistent.

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Stone September 22, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Firstly, I would like to know if you have studied Philosophy.
Secondly, If you have studied philosophy then you must have realized the four undeniable laws of logic/reason.
Thirdly, Ironically there is a reason that your reasoning cannot be trusted.

1)People either believe in a supernatural beginning or a natural beginning. So creation was either Personal or Impersonal.

2)People who believe in a supernatural beginning can claim that their logic and reasoning come from God.

3)People who believe in a Natural beginning have no way of trusting their own reason or logic.

Why?

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Stone September 22, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Simple.

People Who Believe in a naturalism must believe in natural selection. Natural selection is not at all concerned with what philosophers think about all the time. Truth. All natural selection is concerned with is survival. Therefore senses cannot be trusted. Even Richard Dawkins a very well known atheist albeit not an atheist well versed in philosophy, realizes that he cannot trust his senses. He states that he cannot disprove that the world we are living in is something like the matrix. Plus in a world set on survival our brain will trick us into believing whatever that will help our chance of survival. For example, a sick person will believe a pill will help his fever. However what the patient does not know is that the pill is a placebo. He or she takes the pill and the pain is reduced.

Simply our senses cannot be trusted in naturalism. Therefore you cannot trust your logic or reasoning.

The alternative is to say you cannot believe in anything but yourself. However not many people live that out internally consistently. If we do not believe in anything the there is no purpose to life. If there is no purpose to life then there is no purpose to live. Yet we still want to survive.

However after this entire arugment from reason (this argument is from C.S. Lewis and is agreed upon by Alvin Plantinga a very renown philosopher)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_Reason

still does not prove that there is a God. It just proves that you cannot believe in naturalism because that world view has a defeater.

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Stone September 22, 2009 at 10:37 pm

Essentially here i am stumped. I believe that this is my personal journey. and i will hope for an answer even though many people have not found one and those that have are not very convincing.

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drj September 23, 2009 at 4:15 am

Stone: still does not prove that there is a God. It just proves that you cannot believe in naturalism because that world view has a defeater.

I think its wrong to say this old argument is any kind of defeater for naturalism. It isnt. At best, it simply requires us to look upon all our beliefs with some skepticism…. but there’s nothing in the argument thats problematic for naturalism, specifically. It “undermines” any and all belief. There’s nothing compelling about the argument that would make us believe that all our beliefs are false. Its quite reasonable to believe natural selection might favor more accurate beliefs in some circumstances and less accurate beliefs in others – Plantinga or Lewis hardly have a solid case in that respect.

We just shouldn’t trust everything we think we know – I think thats a good thing. If there’s one position most naturalists and atheists don’t mind, its that of a skeptic.

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drj September 23, 2009 at 5:01 am

Additionally, any time an argument skirts so close to saying “If X is true, then X is false” as the evolutionary argument against naturalism does, one should be suspicious.

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Stone September 23, 2009 at 6:57 pm

drj, I understand where you are coming from. However, I believe that you are thinking illogically. If we can just say that everything has “some skepticism” then we are not looking for the truth. Essentially naturalism is then a half-assed conclusion.

This is not an argument that says all your beliefs are false. This is an argument questioning how can naturalists logically believe in anything without any basis?

I do understand that this argument does not prove God. I am just bringing this up to say that naturalism has no backing. Also most atheists are also naturalists.

When a person claims to be atheist there is something wrong with his or her reasoning. (well all atheists I have met so far)

How?

Well in order to believe in atheism the atheist must either know everything or

the atheist is illogical and has an incomplete theory that defies reason.

Give me a reason that shows me God does not exist. If an atheist can do that without saying something like, my experiences show me or god does not do anything ect ect it is just the same as a christian that say, i believe in god because of my experiences or god works in my life.

God is the author and we are in the book. we cannot prove that the author exists unless the author chooses to write himself and reveal himself to us. whether or not he has revealed himself is a huge question.

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lukeprog September 23, 2009 at 7:56 pm

Stone,

You may be interested to read Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism. He makes roughly the same argument you do, except in a philosophically rigorous way, and there has been a huge debate over his argument in the literature.

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drj September 23, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Stone: drj, I understand where you are coming from. However, I believe that you are thinking illogically. If we can just say that everything has “some skepticism” then we are not looking for the truth. Essentially naturalism is then a half-assed conclusion.

If one is not skeptical about something, it would mean they have come to a conclusion… and hence, don’t have to “look for the truth” any longer, so I don’t see what you mean.

This is not an argument that says all your beliefs are false. This is an argument questioning how can naturalists logically believe in anything without any basis?I do understand that this argument does not prove God. I am just bringing this up to say that naturalism has no backing. Also most atheists are also naturalists.

Well no, what the argument does is undermine all belief, not just naturalism. Plantinga does try to keep the blinders on so that you only focus on naturalism… but it touches everything. If one accepts the argument, it must inevitably lead to a deep pervasive skepticism.

As the addendum, Plantinga basically says “Does that lack of trust you must now have for your cognitive faculties SCARE you? Well, believe in Jesus and you can just pretend your beliefs are mostly true and sweep that skepticism under the rug where you can’t see it!”. But following along in that charade is really just an exercise in wishful thinking. Our beliefs might actually be mostly false! Simply indulging yourself to just throw that skepticism to the wind, in exchange for some unjustifiable, unwarranted certainty, is to – as you put it – “stop looking for the truth”.

But as I said earlier… I don’t think theres any good reason to accept that the truth of beliefs is so entirely disconnected with their utility – If you don’t accept that, then the argument amounts to little. Many true beliefs (but not necessarily all) should also provide optimum utility over false beliefs, hence be selected for by natural selection.

Not to mention, the theist must provide a compelling explanation for the tremendous amounts of false belief that exists – there sure is a hell of a lot of it. I think the job is far too big for weak and tired appeals to “a fallen creation”.

When a person claims to be atheist there is something wrong with his or her reasoning. (well all atheists I have met so far)How?Well in order to believe in atheism the atheist must either know everything orthe atheist is illogical and has an incomplete theory that defies reason.

You should see the atheism FAQ on this site; it sounds like your arguing as if atheism requires that one assert that definitely NO god exists – which is inaccurate.

Give me a reason that shows me God does not exist. If an atheist can do that without saying something like, my experiences show me or god does not do anything ect ect it is just the same as a christian that say, i believe in god because of my experiences or god works in my life.God is the author and we are in the book. we cannot prove that the author exists unless the author chooses to write himself and reveal himself to us. whether or not he has revealed himself is a huge question.

I don’t have too… I don’t claim gods do not exist… but if you tell me about your most compelling evidences for belief – I can explain why those probably don’t meet my standards for belief.

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Abdur Rafay Zafar October 19, 2009 at 2:54 am

Hi Luke!

Nice blog mate. i read about your story and i fully understand where you are coming from. I mean no disrespect to anyone but the bible and the christian belief in god defies logic. Obviously you believe that any idea of god defies logic and i can understand why.

But i feel you haven’t given islam a fair chance. I must say that the islam section of your blog is full of propaganda videos and contains very little regarding the actual theological beliefs of islam. For example did you know that islam believes in evolution (as well as creation).

Admittedly there are bad muslims (just as there are bad atheists, christians, jews). But have you actually studied the quran? If you haven’t done so yet, i would like to recommend it. you can read it as a comic book or whatever but please make an effort to read it sincerely, at least once.

In case you have read it and believe that it was written by Muhammad and is not the word of God, then i have a huge concern. In the quran, there are some very accurate descriptions of scientific facts which couldnt have come from an illiterate shepherd/merchant 1400 years ago. These facts were discovered only very recently. How would you explain their occurrence in the quran.

For reference please visit
http://www.scienceislam.com/quran_miracles.php
or a translation (with commentary if necessary) of the quran (transaltion by Yusuf Ali is recommended)

For comments of athiest scientists (mainly doctors) on the quran please watch the video ‘This is the Truth’ on youtube.

regards

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lukeprog October 19, 2009 at 7:50 am

Abdur Rafay Zafar,

It is true I have not yet taken any time to seriously engage Islam. I would really like to find one book that mounts a serious case for the truth of Islam from the perspective of contemporary analytic philosophy and scientific inquiry, I just haven’t found it yet. Can your recommend such a book?

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JRL October 29, 2009 at 7:28 pm

I believe that everyone’s logic flows from desire.

-Mark Van Steenwyk

Boom. Mark is right.

Consider the finitude of your potential for mastering knowledge. The category of “mystery” is nearly infinite to you as an individual.

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lukeprog October 29, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Oh, I am quite aware of my finitude!

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lukeprog November 9, 2009 at 4:06 am

Random thought; I was just thinking about this.

Here’s the order in which I realized certain things do not exist:

1. God and the supernatural.
2. Intrinsic value.
3. Free will.
4. The flow of time.

Scary! What next? The external world? Myself? Somebody let me off this train! :)

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Jonathan November 9, 2009 at 9:48 am

Hey, Luke, I noticed your comment about Christianity being contaminated by Paul (“Christianity should be called Paulinism”). Have you seen the Witherington/Pagels piece below?

http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2004/04/Scholarly-Smackdowndid-Paul-Distort-Christianity.aspx?p=1

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Zentu November 12, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Hey Luke!

This may sound strange to you but I could really relate to your old Self. Why do you let an outdated “version of you” out there to fool people? I guess God hasn’t been teaching you for a while now…

Who am I kidding, I can perfectly understand your quest for a greater truth. I’ve been in one myself for 8 years now. I don’t consider myself christian anymore (not to mention catholic, which used to be my religion). However, unlike you, I turned to a sort of New Age belief system. It sounds terrible, I know. :D But I think I know exactly what is good and what isn’t in the New Age Movement. It’s common sense there’s a lot of bullshit involved in those beliefs, but I’m sure I can find what makes true sense for me.

Have you ever heard of a book called A Course in Miracles? What are your thoughts on that? I feel this is the best truth I could find so far.

I guess my path was somewhat opposite to yours. When I was around 10 I simply told my mom I couldn’t believe in God, because I didn’t feel Him, didn’t see Him, couldn’t hear Him, not to mention understand Him. But one day, I don’t know exactly when or why, a switch was turned on inside my head (I wonder if it was that certain biological predisposition) and God became everything to me, the foundation of my existence. When I say God, I don’t mean that biblical nut and specially not Jesus. I was never able to accept the biblical Jesus, not even when I was being brainwashed in Sunday school with “Jesus is your best friend” over and over again. I remember thinking to myself – “I never even met the guy, how can I say he’s my friend?!” – and I rejected the idea that only he was the son of God, he the all-mighty Jesus who took all the power and left the rest of us feeling like 3rd class creations.

My belief was in a good God and not some two-faced freak, more like a sort of super human, with super flaws. This book, A Course in Miracles, was what finally helped me find a Jesus that is probably a lot like “your imaginary friend”, but free from the Bible contradictions and, lets be frank, cruelty. I think the historical Jesus can’t really be found in ancient records, those aren’t reliable. This might sound stupid, but I think the most reliable way to find the historical Jesus is through… some particularly gifted people, also known as psychics. xD Either that or information you get from somebody’s past-life, as in Brian Weiss’ past-lives therapy. Doesn’t it sound reliable? lol That’s the closest thing to time-travel!

Now I think of God as something very similar to air. It’s always there, and without it reality would simply shut down. Well, not the best comparison ever. I feel I can communicate with Him, even if not in a Neale Donald Walsch sort of way. I believe Jesus and the Holy Spirit share the same purpose, taking us back to God.

Well this is quite enough, I better wrap it up. I’ll be sure to bookmark your blog and pay you more visits. Thanks for sharing.

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Zentu November 20, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Oh great, I just saw your review for Brian Weiss. LOL Oh well… xD I still wonder what you think of ACIM, but I don’t expect much.

All the best.

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Zentu November 21, 2009 at 12:28 am

Interesting… I wonder why you even bother making reviews about books on spirituality, motivation and success. I’ve seen almost half your list and found 2 good and 2 meh (which I never heard of) and those were about very practical down-to-earth issues.

I have a feeling that you’re a “go with the flow” sort of guy, and you’re my age so you’ll probably be reconsidering your beliefs (or your lack of beliefs) in the near future. I usually don’t make accurate prophecies, but this time, I might be onto something. I sincerely hope I’m right. :p

Oh, and where can the visitors take a decent look at your face?

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lukeprog November 21, 2009 at 7:25 am

Zentu,

Click ‘About’ at the top of the page.

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Mark November 23, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Hi Luke. I just happened on your website today. I was actually referred here by someone from another atheist website where atheists struggle to communicate without vitriol, profanity, and/or vulgarity. I was told I might find more of an intelligent conversation here. So far I’m not disappointed. Thanks for hosting a civil site for people to debate these all important matters of life.

I have some things I’d like to add to this already great conversation thread. But first I’d like to say KUDOS to you for your courage. It must have been very hard to tell your Christian family that you were disembarking from the spiritual journey you had been on presumably since birth. Honesty is always the hardest thing, isn’t it? I’m sure you know firsthand what Billy Joel meant when he wrote, “Honesty, it’s such a lonely word..”

You are obviously honest. I have nothing but love for that. You’re true to yourself and you’re true to your family and friends. Not only do you have the courage to stand up and renounce your religion to them, you have the ‘nads to do the same in front of the whole world.. with your real name.. and crystal clear image of yourself plastered for all to see. That takes guts. Many of your atheist comrades aren’t so courageous.

That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say kudos to your mother and father for raising such an incredibly honest and courageous person. Your Christian parents and mentors apparently succeeded in teaching you one of the most important attributes of Christ’s character: his courage to walk the talk. What a great paradox it is that you so closely mirror the character traits of the messiah you claim to no longer believe in.

A bit about me: I’m a lifelong Catholic. I never stopped believing, but I definitely fell away from my faith for a good 10 years. During that time I came up with all sorts of crazy ideas, did a lot of drugs, drank a lot of alcohol, abandoned my church (save for the occasional holiday mass) and avoided anything remotely associated with organized religion. I rebelled and I rebelled hard. I may not have verbally renounced God, but my actions sure did. Hence, I can’t stand in judgment of you, because I have walked in your shoes.

I think I rebelled for the same reason I THINK you have rebelled: I didn’t know love, and therefore I didn’t know God. I knew sex, I knew emotions, I knew giving and receiving, but I didn’t know love. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think it’s your fault. How can a child (even a teen) truly be in communion with the God of LOVE without experiencing the seasons of life as a grown adult? There is a very good reason most devout believers are generally those who have, e.g., survived catastrophes, or suffered immense loss, or survived near death experiences. Those ol’ “wretched sinners.” They are people who reached the end of their rope and had no choice but to cry out to God to help them. When these people say they were saved, they mean it.

I am not ashamed to say I am one such person. Many atheists of the Nietzsche ilk would say I’m weak, but they confuse weakness with humility. This is because they don’t know the difference between the two. How could they? If they’re always looking DOWN on everyone and everything, how can they see (let alone worship) what’s above them? I have come to believe humility is indeed the stuff love is made of. It is certainly the the character of Jesus. If you wanted to be more like Jesus, you should have simply went and mowed an elderly neighbor’s yard. Instead you hit the books. Sorry, but thaqt makes no sense. Jesus came to SERVE, not to be served. Didn’t you learn that from someone along the way?

I submit this is likely why God wasn’t anywhere to be found after you had turned your back on him: Scripture tells us God hides his face from the proud. Judging from your spirited story above, your quest to break away from God was one rooted in pride, and the outcome of that quest doesn’t surprise me at all. Pride? Yes, only a person overflowing with self righteous arrogance could ever possess the audacity to think they could command the almighty God, Creator of the universe, to reveal himself on command. You don’t order divine revelation like you would a happy meal. God isn’t part of the fast-food-serve-yourself-Google-it-world we live in.. in fact he is the antithesis of it. You’re supposed to rever the Creator of the universe. His earliest followers wouldn’t even say his name out loud. To love God is to fear him. You didn’t fear God, Lukje, you put yourself on his level.

God reveals himself over time. It took him 30 years to reveal himself to Jesus, yet you had the ‘nads–your nads are your best and worst friend, Luke–to want it all at 18 years old. But nope. Rejected. God’s only interested in the humble and the patient. He not only turns away from the proud and impatient, he abases them. What does that do? That only infuriates them all the more. Took me a long time to get my stubborn mind around that one. I kept asking myself who the %$@& God thought he was to tell me what to do and how to do it. And the more I asked that question, the further he pulled away from me.. until I was without him completely.. on my back in the cold, dark wilderness. Loveless, and nearly lifeless.

I still didn’t get it even then. I literally screamed at him one night: “What?? What did I do wrong?? Where are you???!!” His answer? The most soul-crushing answer of all to the lonely: SILENCE. Dead silence. I searched for answers, too. I wanted to know what gave him the right to kick me around? After enough misery I finally came to realize God did not exist and I would NEVER encounter him ….. as long I was determined to puff my chest out at him and demand he serve me. It was then that I suddenly came to terms with how alone I was. Wandering. Destitute. Lonely. Cold. Confused. Endlessly. I found out to be in hell is to be outside of the realm of love. Once you cross that threshold, you have no choice but to plead to Him for forgiveness. I wish you luck if that day comes for you. It is a scary one as millions of Christians can attest. It will take you within an inch of your life.. if it happens for you.

I believe you’ll probably find God for the first time when you come to terms with the fact that he is not in material things, nor good works, nor in the cross you paraded around with, nor in your flight to Europe to save the world, nor in the historical books you combed through in search of Him. God is in HUMANITY. He is in the human heart. The Conscience. The soul. God is the LOVE and the LIGHT of this world. He is in everything that is GOOD. To touch Him we need only touch another human being who is carrying his fire. Once you encounter His true love, his word will make perfect sense.

Luke, you seem like a wonderful person with a huge heart.There is nothing new about your story. Jesus already told it thousands of years ago in the parable of the Prodigal Son. I will pray he sends an angel to intercede to get you back on track where you family and friends, the people who love you so much, most likely are pining for you to be. Luke, all there is in this life is love. I’m twenty years older than you and I’m here to tell you NOTHING else matters. Step away from your site for a week or two and clear your head. Stop searching and just go serve everyone in your life selflessly without pause. That should get you on track to find the historical and eternal Jesus.

“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and traded the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man.”

Peace and love,

Mark

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lukeprog November 24, 2009 at 7:27 am

Mark,

You are psychologizing my deconversion with very little information. I have tried to explain that while deconversion is usually a psychological matter and not an evidential one, in my case it was almost entirely evidential, because everything in my psychology was pulling me the other way. But I know that is very hard for believers to accept.

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Mark November 24, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Hi Luke

There is nothing psychological about pride and humility. We’re all prideful, some more than others. With all due respect, everything I have read in your story(and I just re-read it for good measure) smacks of pride–which has been mankind’s greatest stumbling block on the path to faith from day one, ground zero.

Rather than freely speak my mind and draw another label, I would like to address a random sampling of your testimony to demonstrate how I came to my conclusions about your “deconversion” (I have never heard that word).

You said: “What I learned, even when reading Christian scholars, shocked me. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death, by non-eyewitnesses. They are riddled with contradictions, legends, and known lies. Jesus and Paul disagreed on many core issues. And how could I accept the miracle claims about Jesus when I outright rejected other ancient miracle claims as superstitious nonsense?…..These discoveries scared me.”

Here are a few observations off the top of my head..

1) You were SHOCKED to find out the gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death. Shocked or sheltered? One could argue it’s shocking you grew up in a preacher’s home and never learned the Bible’s timeline. Were you also shocked to find out if taken literally the Bible is only some 6,000 years old?

2) You sought the counsel of “Christian Scholars” to understand Jesus. Why? What do they know about Jesus? If you truly had the faith you claim you had at the time, why didn’t you patiently await the Comforter? He promised He would reveal everything to you in due time. Was that a promise you were aware of it? Or was it another one you never bought into to begin with?

I read how you turned here, and turned there, and called people, and emailed people, and prayed, and tore through books in search of the answers you were seeking, (and even humbly vowed to allow the Spirit to “lead [you] into truth”), but nowhere do I read anything about a vow to simply WAIT on the Lord. To be PATIENT. To LONG SUFFER. Patience is one of the main fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22).

Seems to me you weren’t in the mood to wait on the Lord. Seems more plausible that you were much more interested in getting out in the world and loving and living freely, in opposition to how you [presumably?] lived throughout your childhood. This leads me to believe “long suffering” was either a character trait of Christ’s you either didn’t know about, didn’t want to practice because you had more interesting things to do, or flat out rejected. Why? Because the next thing you state is: “It didn’t last.”

But WHAT didn’t last? I humbly submit YOU, Luke, didn’t LAST. This once again leads me to believe your faith was probably present, but not strong. In fact I submit it was young and weak and still forming when you decided to take it upon yourself to increase it (and “become more like Jesus”).

Perhaps you didn’t LAST because you didn’t have the patience to last. I would not be surprised to learn if you were a very impatient person by nature. (Takes one to know one :)

In any event, LASTING is the essence of long suffering. What you did was impose finite limits on long suffering. You may have had patience, but your patience had a limit, and when its limit was reached, when God failed to show up to your courtroom to defend himself, you announced him GUILTY AS CHARGED by all your scholars and mountains of evidence, and officially declared Him DEAD.

[You know Nietzsche famously declared God is Dead too, yes? And you know that he too was once a devout YOUNG Christian too, right? And you also know that absolute reasoning led Nietzsche precisely where Dr. Lane says it will lead one (to spiritual death), yes? In fact Nietzsche didn't just die, he first went absolutely insane. He died in the care of his mother and sister and is said to have been MISERABLE. All for what? Aspiration. Ambition. Pride. He aspired to be a "famous philosopher."]

I realize long-suffering is not a popular idea in our fast-food culture. Sadly we have to turn to beasts for great examples of it now. I saw one such superlative example recently when I watched “March of the Penguins.” How about them long-sufferin’ apples? The suffering starts when the sun stops coming out and every day is dark.. and the temperature drops below -80 degrees.. and winds reach 100+ MPH. They go 125 days without food before migration back to their food source. Watch these beasts huddle together to stay alive. Watch them lean NOT on themselves, but on each other. Survival of the fittest? Sure. But what does “the fittest” REALLY denote Mr. Spencer? In the case of the penguins it denotes ABIDANCE. Interesting how abidance is also the key requirement for the formation and survival of one’s faith, too.

3) You said “Every time I reached out for some reason – any reason – to believe, God simply wasn’t there. I tried to believe despite the evidence, but I couldn’t believe a lie. Not anymore.”

Can we just cut to the chase here? Why use euphemisms like “deconverted”? Can we just call a spade a spade and say you rejected God? And instead of punitively dismissing an argument on the basis that it doesn’t strictly adhere to this or that discipline, can we just say your rationale for dismissing God is due to the fact that he didn’t show up to defend himself at the trial you scheduled for him?

Let’s go over this step by step. By your own admission you had faith in God, yes? You believed in him and prayed to him and served him, right? But then you stumbled upon some information you deemed as potentially damning to his credibility. By your own admission this damning evidence “scared” and “shocked” you. Your conundrum only intensified when the evidence kept streaming in .. deposition after deposition.. fingerprints.. documents.. exhibit after exhibit. “Where are you God? Show yourself! Disprove this lot! I command you!”

You held a trial, and God didn’t show up for it. Hence you didn’t get the answers you demanded. You got stood up. All you got was silence. You roamed the halls looking for him but he was nowhere to be found. At this point it seems you were angry. You felt defrauded. Bamboozled. You had no other choice but to reject God.

I find it very unfortunate you took God’s silence to mean he didn’t exist, or that he was rejecting you, when in fact silence is a very real response from God. It means he wants you to THINK. To REST. To mediate. Or maybe to go another direction. Perhaps of all the responses you had come to know from him, you never learned about that one. I know I had to learn it the hard way, too. I thank God I had a good teacher to help me make sense of it when it happened.

As for your faith, I submit that if you stopped believing because God SIMPLY didn’t APPEAR, then that means your belief in him was never truly rooted in strong faith….. because had it been, you wouldn’t have demanded God defend or reveal himself in a form your eyes would find satisfactory. You literally demanded a faith-based God to be a sight-based one.. for you. And when he rejected your request you rejected him. Right? You don’t see the prideful arrogance in that?

I truly wish you would have WAITED on God instead of put finite limits on his response time. He would have refuted your body of evidence with a wave of his hand had you allowed him to. He would have deleted every ounce of “shock” and “fright” you were experiencing.. if you had only waited on him.

I hope you will reconsider. You still have so much to learn about God’s character. It would be tragic to see you completely abandon your faith before you even understood a fraction of it.

Peace and love,

Mark

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Zentu November 27, 2009 at 8:02 am

Luke,

What do you mean? Click on “about me”? Well it’s the same picture… Or is it about the other things I said?

BTW, are you an aquarian? xD

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lukeprog November 27, 2009 at 8:26 am

Zentu,

Oh, you mean you don’t think my picture here and at About Me is a decent look at my face?

I don’t know what an aquarian is.

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Zentu November 27, 2009 at 9:57 am

Yes, exactly. When I make faces sometimes I remind people of Mr. Bean and I’m nothing like him (I think… or hope). Aquarian as in zodiacal sign. “A person born under the sign of Aquarius”. You know… were you born between January 20 and February 18? I’m sure you’re sure that astrology is BS, but I’d like to check if your zodiacal sign has a set of characteristics that matches what I’ve been reading about you. Bottom line, I’m just curious.

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lukeprog November 27, 2009 at 11:00 am

I was born on June 22.

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Zentu November 27, 2009 at 11:44 am

Ok. If you had been born a day earlier I could make some sense out of all this (Gemini) but you’re Cancer. It really sounds bad in English, maybe that’s why here in Portugal we call it “crab”. Then again, I’m no expert. Some say Cancer natives are emotional, intuitive, unable to let go, etc. I don’t see any of it. Maybe I’m wrong. But one thing is for sure. It doesn’t matter. lol

Sorry for wasting your time. xD

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Andre J Smith December 7, 2009 at 4:07 am

Hi, I stumbled upon your site while looking for some stuff on infinite regression theory. I was blown away! All this stuff that so many people seem to be so excited about. Who is this Jesus guy? Where can I meet him/her? And please give me more information about what exactly a God is? Do they have a website where I can read more? Am I correct in thinking that this is like some kind of new wave alternative to the quantum ‘everything popped out of nothing’ origin theory? Wow! I have read about these things. In particular there was one fun one about how the world was born from the rear end of a very big snake. I do hope this new version doesn’t take away my right to disappear totally once I die.

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Andre J Smith December 7, 2009 at 4:23 am

Nice thoughts here…I quote you….

“Here’s the order in which I realized certain things do not exist:

1. God and the supernatural.
2. Intrinsic value.
3. Free will.
4. The flow of time.

Scary! What next? The external world? Myself? Somebody let me off this train! :) ”

The first 2 are reasonably obvious and easy to get a picture of. (4) re Time, takes a while, you have got to read a lot around it before you start to feel that Time does not actually exist in the normal construct as in ‘the arrow of time’.
(3) or Free Will is more elusive. Whilst the deterministic argument is easy to apply, once you get your head around basic quantum physics concepts and contradictions it becomes clear that Free Will (and consciousness) may well be products of the fundamental nondeterministic and parallel potentialities of the quantum realm…..I am still getting my head around this one. Have fun! (ps…it’s always far more exciting to try to understand what we don’t know rather than to just accept some arb explanation.)….Wait….there’s a glistening leaf tumbling past my window….wow! what a moment of sheer joy. Isn’t nature wonderful!

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lukeprog December 7, 2009 at 5:18 am

I don’t understand your first comment on this post, Andre.

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J Nernoff III M.D. December 8, 2009 at 10:51 am

When I was 15 or 20 I cut off the church although I did get married at age 21 in the church to please my mother. Even earlier than that I wondered why Jesus appeared in a small mid-east area 2000 years ago and not now in NYC. Odd. A good reason for leaving is I didn’t want any sanctimonious authority figure telling me what to do with my penis. Subsequently I found 1001 more reasons why I was correct. Hallelujah, PTL.

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Elizabeth December 8, 2009 at 3:02 pm

Hey! I should be in part of your story…. I don’t see my name anywhere

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lukeprog December 8, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Lol, Elizabeth! Well now you know where much of my time has gone…

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Gordon Freeman December 15, 2009 at 6:38 am

Hi from Croatia.

I must admit that I didn’t read the whole story, and I didn’t read all the comments, but it’s great that you wrote about your personal struggle, and I am very thankful for that. I don’t know if it was hard for you to write about personal details, but you proved once again that you were a true believer and that you didn’t want to stop to believe, like some apologets love to claim for those who stopped believing (“He wasn’t a true believer!” “He didn’t have Jesus in his heart!” and so forth…)
Thank you man, your link deserved to be placed on my web site.

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Jon December 16, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Compelling deconversion story, Luke. Thanks for sharing it with the world.

I’ve never commented here, but I visit your site several times a week. You set the standard for atheist blogs, my friend. I maintain a blog for a secular student group at Utah State University, so I can appreciate all the time you put into your site. You’re incredibly prolific and always thoughtful.

As an ex-Mormon in Utah, I write primarily about Mormonism. Should you ever be interested to grace my site, here’s the link: http://usu-shaft.com/

Take care and keep up the great work, Luke!

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lukeprog December 17, 2009 at 12:55 am

Thanks, Jon!

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Angelo December 18, 2009 at 4:42 pm

I notice this a lot. I think this is just one of many reasons why churches should strive to be as honest as possible, if they really want to keep people. If you had grown up with the doubts already added into the story, it probably wouldn’t have hit you so hard. It doesn’t mean you would have made a different decision, but it might have made it a lot easier.

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Richard January 3, 2010 at 6:31 pm

The first thing i love to tell u that u are the first atheism i know that love to speak about god and Jesus (even if for their non existence) and now i really feel that they exist because of u.

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Kellina January 4, 2010 at 10:01 am

I love your blog! Welcome to the big ‘A’ club! I do understand that it is not always easy to throw away the indoctrination of our religious childhoods. I was raised by my Assembly of God family (grandfather = pastor, father=unordained minister) and was sent to a private Baptist school. Trust me, if there is a hell; I’ve done my time!! I’ve always been a nonbeliever, however, due to the teachings of my childhood I was stunted in growth by thinking that I couldn’t be a ‘truly’ good person unless I believed. It was tortureous to say the least. There was a lot of self inflicted doubt of my goodness and ability to be a productive citizen. That is all far behind me now, and I’m free, godless, productive, and a good person!

It can be a long journey for some, and while I don’t wish anyone the pain of self confliction; I am glad that you have pulled through it.

Welcome to the otherside,
Kelli

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Jen January 7, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Wow, your background and journey out of Christianity sound almost identical to mine. I was a true believer (Church of Christ) until I realized at around age 14 that although I “prayed without ceasing,” God wasn’t communicating with me at all. I heard nothing but silence. I thought I must be doing something wrong. I struggled with depression and guilt for the next 5 or 6 years. At around age 20, I decided to find out as much as I could about the historical Jesus. I read everything I could get my hands on. You’re absolutely right; the Christian books were nothing but weak arguments and handwaving. The arguments given by non-believers were clear and made perfect sense to me. When my questions were met with responses like, “His ways are mysterious,” I knew that my pastor, teachers, and parents had no more answers to give. That just wasn’t good enough for me.

I’m now a happy, well-adjusted, 33-year-old atheist. I love life. I realize how precious it is. I still love reading, writing, and talking about religion and am waiting for Christians to come up with some new arguments.

Thanks for sharing your story. You have an excellent blog here.

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lukeprog January 7, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Jen,

So glad to hear you left that depression and guilt behind!

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AbyssGazer January 9, 2010 at 2:33 am

It is admirable of you to have become an atheist on legitimate merits. Too often one hears stories of authoritarian religious upbringings which lead to atheism, my first thought was always “what if their negative experiences had been from atheism?”. As little as i think of religion i have more respect for a person who is a christian because their thought lead them to believing in god, than an atheist who wound up there because of thuggish or insensitive behavior on the part of the religious towards them. I myself went to a catholic private school for most of my pre university years and it made atheists out of a good deal of it’s student body. I have always been an atheist in the sense that i never could really believe, deep down, that there was a god. It took me considerably longer to fully realize that i had only been religious in the social sense, more like i was part of an organization of whose standards i had to meet in order to belong. I even attacked atheists and non christians, but always there was the gnawing internal skepticism.

Your story is especially impressive in the sense that you made a true conversion, it wasn’t merely a “coming out” experience as it is for many. I’ve often lampooned christians for being mawkish and seemingly “in love” with their idea of god. Atheist friends of mine who have had similar experiences to yours have told me that i can’t understand because i’ve never been a true blue believer. But they did use almost the exact same wording, it was like a close friend or family member was dying. I’ve since stopped mocking christians for this since apparently they really do feel this way.

Best wishes, i found your story refreshing.

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lukeprog January 9, 2010 at 8:35 am

Thanks, AbyssGazer.

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Septarchon January 11, 2010 at 1:23 pm

In a hideous world only the blind are blessed. Welcome to the world of the sighted Luke.

I have no conversion story similar to your own so perforce I shan’t be sharing that with you. I have read through the comments on this thread and I continue to be amazed that people point you to their book of choice as a source for ‘Truth’. Just because someone wrote something down doesn’t make it true and the longer ago they wrote it down doesn’t mean that it accumulates truth with age like a fine wine or cheese.

Granted my senses are not 100% reliable, but I want to see one of these ‘can’t trust your senses’ folks step in front of a bus that their sight and hearing says is there. I suspect they’ll suddenly start trusting their senses.

None of my senses have ever detected a god, demon, devil, faerie, unicorn etc and to my knowledge no machine has been constructed that can detect them so their existence can be described as theoretical at best. But hey, if the ten-headed dragons start coming up out of the sea I’ll readjust my world view.

I’d like to say that my realistic world view has led to greater happiness, but alas it hasn’t. No fault of atheism I think. I hope that your own nature is more capable of joy and at the very least you don’t need to fret that a majority of our species is hellbound.

Peace.

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chthoniid January 13, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Interesting story thanks Luke. I was led here via an atheist twitter link.

I dabbled briefly with conservative Christianity and had a longer period as a liberal Christian. I’m quite happy to be an atheist now. There’s a lot less guilt :)

More importantly, I think atheism gives you a chance to define what your goals are and to aim for them. You’re not tied down to fulfilling someone else’s goals. Plus, while reason and rationality aren’t perfect, they’re the best tools you’ve got to navigate life.

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lukeprog January 14, 2010 at 7:38 am

Wow, those are some awesome photos on your site, chthoniid.

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tremorfan January 14, 2010 at 3:44 pm

while i can relate rather well to your upbringing (I was raised Baptist in rural Alabama), I think it’s mildly offensive that you assume all gay people “lost their faith for irrational, emotional reasons.” I do have to admit that being gay probably led me to question my faith sooner than I otherwise might have, but I, like you, found myself still grasping for some reconciliation between reality and religion long after I pretty much knew it was impossible.

you shouldn’t assume you know the motivations of an entire segment of the population. and besides, most gay people I know are still at least vaguely religious.

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lukeprog January 14, 2010 at 9:57 pm

tremorfan,

I don’t particularly believe that or defend it. I was just telling the story of what popped into my head at the time.

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chthoniid January 16, 2010 at 10:30 am

Thanks for the comment re: photos Luke.

As a biologist, it was very difficult to be a conservative Christian when that meant having to join “Team Creationist”. Anybody who believe that dinosaurs were contemporaneous with humans, loses all credibility as an adherent to the truth.

The biology helps with the photos, as the first step to taking wildlife photos is being able to find the wildlife :)

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Setiferum January 16, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Hi Lukeprog,

I noticed that you spend a lot of time deconstructing William Lane Craig’s arguments. I am a fan of this site for that reason. I find trying to identify the holes in his “deceptively simple” arguments to be intellectually stimulating.

His well crafted arguments do nothing to convince me to become a christian however. There are too many absurdities inherent in the bible and christian doctrine for me to accept.

I doubt that Craig has converted many atheists. I imagine that his appologetics are mainly geared at “stop-loss” of believers. At reassuring them that atheism is not the more intellectual position (he has said this in so many words in one of his interviews). So I think that he has probably dedicated most of his career to people who are in your former position.

So my question is, during your deconversion, what effect did Craig’s books have on you? Did you read any of them during that period of your life?

You say:

“the Christian philosophers were lost in a fog of big words that tried to hide the weakness of their arguments.”

If you did read Craig, I would love to hear what your take on him was as someone who was desperately trying to cling to belief

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lukeprog January 16, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Yeah, I read lots of Craig during my deconversion. I suppose I’ll write about the details sometime on this blog. Thanks for your question.

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Nullifidian January 17, 2010 at 10:34 am

I can’t believe the number of Christians who are crawling out of the woodwork to try to win you back to Christianity. It’s as if none of them can conceive of anyone else living a happy and fulfilling life without being devoted to their enthusiasms. And that’s probably the case. If they could conceive of being happy and fulfilled outside the strictures of revealed religion, then their dogmatism would be more difficult to sustain.

I happen to like the novels of Paul Bowles but I’m not running around pushing The Sheltering Sky on everyone or leaving copies in hotel and hospital rooms. Perhaps it’s just an effect of being raised without religion, but I cannot conceive of bothering people who don’t need it with unsolicited advice. That is the height of rudeness.

It makes me wonder which group is more annoying: Christians or Objectivists. Granted, not every Christian is an enthusiast, but neither is every Objectivist.

Anyway, kudos for you making up your own mind, even when that was wrenching, and even more for remaining polite to dozens of proselytizers hovering over here like vultures.

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Doubting Thomasina January 25, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Hi Luke,
I really appreciate your openness. I’m at the other end of life, in my 60s, and have in recent years stepped outside of my faith and taken a long hard look at it. This faith had been very strong and was uppermost in all my life choices. I even served as a missionary for some time in third world countries. I have drawn similar conclusions to yours, but haven’t told anyone else, except for my husband (of 5 years) who is not a believer.
Some of the kindest, nicest most beautiful people I know are believers (Christians and Muslims). It grieves me to think they will not understand that I have left it all behind. My younger son and his girlfriend are devout Christians (thanks to my upbringing in the case of my son).
I just don’t find any of the reasons/evidence Christians give to be believable or often, even rational.
The major turning point for me was a video, 99 Balloons. It sent me looking at babies born to suffer and I just can’t see that a god who loved and cared would dream of allowing or even doing such things to innocent babies and their families. There’s much more to my decision than that, but this was the emotional part of it.
I’d better stop there for now. I don’t want to write a novel!
I feel more free and more at peace with myself these days than I ever did as a Christian. I’m just distraught about telling my Christian friends and relatives.
Thanks for the encouragement your site provides me with.

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lukeprog January 25, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Doubting Thomasina,

Thanks for sharing.

Is the 99 balloons video you speak of available online anywhere?

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Doubting Thomasina January 26, 2010 at 12:05 am

99 balloons is on YouTube – just type in the search box:
“99 balloons eliot”
I looked at several of the Related Videos from the 99 Balloons page and it really upset me to see so many babies born to suffer. I had no idea about some of the horrendous conditions that exist!
A Christian’s response: “suffering in the world does not prove there is no god. Everything else in the world shouts out that God made everything in this world, including people. The suffering is the result of sin and satan’s wreaking havoc. That is why God allowed his Son to die for us- to allow us a way out of this sin-ridden world if we will trust in Him alone!”
I would have said – actually, I did say – the same thing as a Christian, but now I’m not buying it!

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lukeprog January 26, 2010 at 12:24 am

Thanks. That was sad and frustrating.

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DoAtheistsExist February 9, 2010 at 9:49 am

You may have already written this somewhere, apologies if I’ve missed it, but what did you study at college/university? What are you doing now? Any plans for post-grad education in the future?

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lukeprog February 9, 2010 at 10:22 am

DoAtheistsExist,

I studied psychology and dropped out for boredom.

I work in IT now.

Yeah, maybe one day I’ll go back and study philosophy.

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DoAtheistsExist? February 9, 2010 at 11:33 am

I apologize for my name losing its question mark for a whole 2 posts there, my mistake :P

Interesting. I think tbh you should definitely prioritize getting a post-grad qualification, or at least working to remove future obstacles to it, such as finance.

You’ve got so much potential, it would be such a waste if you didn’t. Not that you can’t achieve anything without a post-grad, but imo it would really open your options up, give you greater exposure and of course studying a subject you love in a lot of depth is an end in itself, right? :D

Take whatever I say with 17 pinches of salt though, my inexperience in “life” leads to the utterance of many foolish words unfortunately! ;)

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Mathew Wilder February 14, 2010 at 10:14 am

Cool to know there’s at least one other atheist out their from MN, land of Bachmann (even if you don’t live here any more). I’m from St. Cloud. Still live in the area, though.

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lukeprog February 14, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Mathew,

Yup, I made many a trip to St. Cloud on 95 from Cambridge, where I grew up. The only atheist I knew to be an atheist there was my Tae-Kwan-Do instructor at Cambridge Community College. :)

Bachmann. So incredibly awful.

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jj February 16, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Luke, Do not allow these shallow humans that call themselves “christians” to dissuade you from what you feel in your heart. What you feel in your heart is whats going to guide you, God and Allah be damned to hell. You are a strong person, and although you may doubt and question, you are a very brave person for choosing this path and following your own heart.

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lukeprog February 17, 2010 at 12:06 am

jj,

I do not trust my heart at all. To understand with the heart is to not understand.

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Dale701 February 17, 2010 at 7:43 am

William: When you said, “I know what it’s like to fall in love with God and serve him with all my heart.” Obviously what you meant to say is that you know what it’s like to fall in love with the idea of God. Right? Because now, since you know that there is no God, you must realize that what you thought was God, what you thought that you fell in love with, was just a fantasy.

William, I do not even know where to start with you, are so far off. Obviously, you have met god, person to person, otherwise, how do you know god is not a fantasy but an idea? I hope you know the bible says, you cannot meet god face to face without being killed!
So, you tried to nit pic Luke’s ideas apart to make a point, well you might as well called him a lier, because that is what you did, I for one believe he truly felt that way at that time. And what he said was stated in the correct way.
You sir, are the one with a fantasy.
I almost wish there were a god at times, just so I could watch you god thumpers tell god what he can and cannot do, since you all seem to know whatever god that you believe in so well.

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JaredHamilton February 17, 2010 at 8:36 am

I’m just curious, what atheist philosophers did you read that made, “Plain, simple sense?” Thanks!

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lukeprog February 17, 2010 at 10:06 am

Jared,

For the most part they weren’t even atheist philosophers. I remember Dan Barker’s ‘Losing Faith in Faith’ was influential. It’s very simple, but Christian philosophers must do intellectual backflips to get around the points Dan makes in that book.

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Vlad February 17, 2010 at 3:29 pm

lukeprog: Thanks for clarifying, Mark.  

You call that clarification? It’s just another pathetic and convoluted attempt to justify one’s own delusion. “Aesthetics of faith”? More like “anesthetics of faith”, LOL.

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Rico February 17, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Word, dawg.

Like so many others who have commented on this site, I was a rigorous Christian (a pretty hardcore Catholic, actually) until my search to understand the nature of God made me realize that there never was a God in the first place – only a myth invented by ignorant sheep-herders thousands of years ago. The greatest “just-so” story ever told! Fortunately, an ever-mounting body of scientific literature on evolution, cosmology, microbiology, psychology, etc. from the past 300 years has laid it out clear for us – there is no job left for “God” with our current understanding of the Universe.

Furthermore – ooh, I just hate to piss off you creationists – the Christian God is just… a big ole bully. He is seriously conflicted and antagonistic if you think about it, even if that thinking is done with your heart.

To quote Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

ATHEISM – For The Win.

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Laugh February 18, 2010 at 1:46 am

Luke, I am amazed that you are still responding to comments. When I read them the end result is a slap on the forehead and losing faith in humanity.

Isn’t it amazing though? Six billion people on the Earth, and every Thor Damned one has its own opinion.
Makes me laugh.

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Marc February 18, 2010 at 8:35 am

It fills me with hope to see more and more people be brave enough to publicly speak about their non-beliefs.
I grew up as a non-believer in an ex-catholic home.
But living in South Africa, it is still career-limiting to express one’s atheist beliefs.

Keep up the good work. One does not have to be religious to do good in the world. God knows, (pun intended) I do enough for my fellow man.

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winelips February 18, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Glad to see you’ve come to your senses. We can all live moral lives without the fear of eternal damnation and irrational belief in a ghost in the sky.

I only wish more people would use their brains like you have. I do understand some people’s need for the crutches of religion and if that is what they require to refrain from evil, then I guess I’m glad they’ve got some sort of moral compass they can rely on. Me? I don’t need an invisible deity watching over me to know that we should treat everyone with respect and that if Love is the basis of every decision we make, the world would be a better place.
In fact it would be heavenly. ;-)

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Peanut February 18, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Morality comes from innate human qualities…not commandments!

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Kyle Britto February 18, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Luke,
This entry is a source of hope for me. I’ve butted heads with theists since I was about ten years old, when I admitted to myself that I didn’t believe in God. A recent experience of mine had nearly convinced me that some people are just plain beyond the reach of the powers of logical thought. Your writings helped alleviate some of the pain of that revelation.
On a side note, I’d avoid taking shots at gay people for not having a logical reason to be atheists. If the very God who created you, also considered an aspect of your self-hood abominable (Leviticus 18:22), I think you would have a logical enough reason not to believe in his existence. Besides, who’s to say how many gay people do or do not have what you consider a rational argument for the inexistence of the Christian God.

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Jeff February 18, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Luke….great job. Very inspiring story for all of us atheists just trying to fit in. You are awesome.

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Adrian February 19, 2010 at 12:54 am

Luke, I think my favorite thing about your blog is its title: Common Sense Atheism. That’s really all it takes to free yourself from the BS of religion, common sense. I appreciate you sharing your story as mine is pretty similar, although unfortunately I was raised as a Mormon. It was the fake people (and there are a LOT of them) that opened my eyes. You know, the people that would go and drink and have sex and then come to church on sunday and pretend they were good little children. Oh and btw if you didn’t know sex before marriage and alcohol are like the worst thing to Mormons. It’s a pretty messed up religion…but people will believe what they’re told as children, and Mormons are probably the best at corrupting young minds, it’s tragic. I think if Mormons knew half of the stuff that the church was founded on, there would be a lot less Mormons. I mean a polygamist god that lives by the star Kolob? Come on! It’s a joke, a sad joke. And sadly, around here if you leave the church you automatically get labeled and you’re forever an outcast from your own family. But I don’t mind, I’m free and happy! And they’re disillusioned! Anyways, sorry to rant. It’s just nice to hear a fellow critical thinker who got past the greatest lie ever told. :)

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lukeprog February 19, 2010 at 5:32 am

Kyle,

So many people have misinterpreted that line about gays, I really should edit it now…

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lukeprog February 19, 2010 at 5:36 am

Thanks, Jeff.

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lukeprog February 19, 2010 at 5:38 am

Adrian,

So glad to hear you made it out! :)

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Annalise February 19, 2010 at 6:44 am

Dear Luke,
Thanks for the story. Very inspirational.
I had a similar experience and I understand the struggle.
I remember being alone in my dorm room and really wrestling with the concept that God was omnipotent. I decided I would take 5 minutes to truly believe He was there. It was the most terrifying time of my life. That such a wrathful and vengeful God could see my every move and infiltrate my thoughts was no comfort at all. I was 26 and I was ready to give up faith. But I wasn’t afraid, and I didn’t feel lost or destitute. I felt empowered and in control of my own destiny. Despite all, I still opted for the term Agnostic, all that guilt really sticks.
Now when I look at leaves blowing in the wind, I do not thank God for his majestic power. I appreciate the struggle the tree had to endure to survive, to spread it’s seed. As we do. I feel pride for all my ancestors who lived long enough to bare children and finally produce me. In a world where struggle is a constant I am enriched by the prospect that I was not chosen for this earth, but strong enough to survive it on my own.
Good luck with your struggle and pass on those genes.
Ax

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lukeprog February 19, 2010 at 7:19 am

Thanks, Annalise.

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maggie February 19, 2010 at 8:50 am

that was a beautiful story, devoid of the bitterness i usually run into. I am in the middle stage, needing a crutch but knowing there is none. i hope i can eventually write something as hopeful as you have :)

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lukeprog February 19, 2010 at 9:08 am

Maggie,

I’m sure you will. I recommend getting some nonreligious friends who are filled with purpose and happiness, and you’ll see it’s only natural. You’ve got a lot of religious lies about what atheism entails, lies that are bogging you down.

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Lauren February 19, 2010 at 9:48 am

It is interesting. I am an agnostic at a christain school. I’d say that its harder to look at facts here than anywhere else. I have to constantly remind myself of the truths that I have observed throughout my life. Thank you for reminding me for another day.

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Arianna February 19, 2010 at 11:05 am

I was not raised with a religion but I always craved that faith. All my life I have been searching for God but every structured religion I came across felt wrong, false. It was difficult, but I have reached a point where I am content with myself, and the universe. I don’t know what I believe, but it doesn’t matter as long as I live my life to the best of my ability.

I am about to get married to a wonderful person. I couldn’t imagine someone better suited to me. But there is so much I feel that I can’t understand about him. He was raised in the Mormon church. He was very devout, he truly believed. About 2 weeks after we met he told me that he was Mormon but that he’d been struggling with it. Then he “came out” as an Atheist and his friends and family were shocked.

I guess it never really registered until a few nights ago for me, but it was very recent for him. We’ve been together for 8 months and all that time he has been against religion. For 19 years he believed, or he tried to. Now he doesn’t and he says he’s finally happy. We are happy.

I was wondering if you had any advice for me about how to deal with any problems that may arise for him. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to have been a part of something your whole life and then suddenly leave it because you realize it couldn’t be true. Sometimes we’ll talk about it and I can feel that he’s hurt by all of it. I just want to support him, no matter what. Thank you.

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lukeprog February 19, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Arianna,

I’m glad to hear you and he are happy, and that he escaped Mormonism! Everyone’s experience is so different that I don’t have much advice to give, except to encourage him to explain his feelings as much as possible to you. But it can be hard to get guys to do that, I know! Obviously, the more you understand him, the more you’ll be able to maintain a successful relationship with him.

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Yobaba February 19, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Beautiful. I have walked that walk. Brainwashed from infancy, fantasies inculcated like truth, cautioned against searching for any “truth” other than that which was distilled and dispensed by the Clergy. I, too, swam upstream against the current, and every truth I discovered thrilled me like nothing I’d ever felt during any ‘religions experience’. It was a rocky road, and excommunication was not pleasant, but I saw it for what it was. Now, if someone – anyone – says they are praying for me I can only shake my head in pity for their pathetic delusion. Like you, I am happy. I am fulfilled. And – I am free.

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Phil E. Drifter February 19, 2010 at 5:29 pm

People believe in that rubbish because they don’t want to face the truth: they are finite. They live and they die. They’d rather believe that after they die their ‘soul’ goes to some great place where all the women have beautiful D-cups that dispense their favorite alcoholic beverage. Never mind that the same god they prey pray to also created cancer, and e.coli and AIDS, etc.

There is no god and it is an insult to the millions of years your brain spent evolving to think there is.

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Georgeds February 19, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Luke,

I read this entire damn thread and almost lost my mind.
Yes, you should turn this thread into a book, it is that good.

With that thought, I had a brilliant post to put here, but it got lost in my mind.

So. Good luck.

I think you are on the right track and whether you embrace religion or atheism doesn’t matter. The important thing is you have embraced critical thinking. And that, my friend, is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING (if I am able to give my caps-lock opinion :)

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lukeprog February 19, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Thanks, Georgeds.

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Renee February 19, 2010 at 8:53 pm

I related to every word of this. My grandparents are/were of strong Christian faith.. my dad, their son, converted to Judaism about 15 years ago, breaking their hearts. I think I’m still in the phase of feeling like I’ve really lost something by being “faithless”. So many times I’ve wished I could blindly follow along, and find comfort. I just can’t. When I ask “why?” I want an answer, not “just because”. It’s not good enough for me. Thanks for this piece. It’s nice to feel like I’m not the only one who has felt or is feeling a bit lost.

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Renee February 19, 2010 at 9:08 pm

I also wanted to clarify, that by “lost”, I don’t mean I’m still questioning what I believe or don’t believe. I also think it’s “funny”, not meaning to offend anyone, that I love stories or movies etc. that are completely fantastical. My cat’s name is Frodo. Interesting that I love things that couldn’t possibly be real. But, I guess that might be because nobody is trying to tell me that they actually exist.

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Renee February 19, 2010 at 9:19 pm

I’m sorry to keep posting.. but I ran across this site immediately after yours. Totally random so I felt I had to share it. Ha.
http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_08/b4167070046047.htm?chan=rss_topStories_ssi_5

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thegoatisonapole February 20, 2010 at 8:45 am

Thanks for the story, very inspiring :)

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Rosita February 20, 2010 at 9:38 am

In spite of what your sociological studies say there are a lot of us who were dragged kicking and screaming into atheism by doing what you did: researching the basis of our emotionally held belief system.

As you found, while the process of losing one’s beliefs in this fashion is heart-wrenching, terrifying and emotionally disturbing, the end result is peace and relief beyond anything we could have imagined possible when standing in our previous position.

May your curiosity and intellectual integrity remain with you forever, and may you continue to thrive and be happily at peace with yourself and with the world. Enjoy the trees, the flowers and the snowflakes anew. Their beauty has not changed one iota.

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lukeprog February 20, 2010 at 10:08 am

Rosita,

Yes, the beauty of the trees and flowers and snowflakes has not changed a bit. As Douglas Adams says: “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

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Natalie R. February 20, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Hi. I’m a seventeen-year-old atheist from another small town I like to call Bigfuck, Nowhere. I mean…here, the most cultured place to eat is the Taco Bell down the street.
Most people here, despite this being a blue state, are conservative Christians who hate godless commie bastards like me. At four, I was enrolled in a Catholic school and proceeded to make my teachers crazy with my constant question of god’s word. I, unlike many of my classmates and their parents, took the Bible stories as clever fiction aimed at keeping us little children in line…sort of like the Boy Who Cried Wolf; they were good *stories* but they weren’t true. When I found out I was supposed to believe them, I was a bit incredulous, but I tried.
In seventh grade, I was into the new-age-y stuff, mostly because my mom was into it. But I never really believed any of that stuff either.
To relatives, I say I’m “in between religions” as if I haven’t found the right one yet. This saves them the discomfort of knowing that I’m going to burn in Hell.
Anyway, great article. It just shows that, the more you learn about religion, the more holes you find.

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lukeprog February 20, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Great story, Natalie R.!

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Cara February 20, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I left Christianity for the emotional reasons you were talking about. I personally never felt comfortable with Christianity…I only held onto it because I didn’t want to disappoint my parents, and the idea of burning for eternity scared me. I have struggled with self-esteem and suicidal issues for a few years, and I always asked, “If I’m praying and believing in God, why isn’t he keeping these thoughts away?” My religion taught me that Satan caused the evil thoughts that told me I wasn’t worth anything.

It took a huge low point in my life for me to realize that I was blaming my own self-struggle on a diabolical figure who lived in a fiery hole somewhere below the Earth. I realized that it was my OWN thoughts that were telling me this, and I had to conquer it myself. And eventually, I did. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my friends and family though. They were a huge help too. Soon after, I left religion and declared myself an atheist. I have been slowly recovering since, and I can honestly say that I feel more empowered and happy. This is my story though, and I’m not saying that everyone should realize this. But this is just my story…

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digby February 20, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Thanks for writing that. My story is very similar. I’m the son of two ministers. Oddly though, both my parents, after decades of study, also became atheists. My de-conversion came while I was studying the sociology of religion at a christian college. Have to admit, I miss church and the comfort of belief sometimes. I’ve also tried dating christians and it has not gone well. Do you ever feel cut off from people you might have connected with otherwise? I feel like some dear friends of mine will never fully trust me knowing that I’m an atheist. Thanks again. It nice to know other people have had experiences similar to mine.

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lukeprog February 20, 2010 at 6:09 pm

digby,

Yup, atheism tends to cut you off somewhat from people who have been trained to distrust all atheists.

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Wayne Adkins February 20, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Enjoyed reading your story. It could be worse, you could have been in your second year of Bible College as a pastoral theology major before you figured it out…..like I was. I’m glad you had the courage to come out. Some people never do.

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MaryLynne February 20, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Thanks for blogging – this is great.

I can really relate to the part about desperately trying to keep something to have faith in. I forget when I first started questioning the parts that didn’t make sense, but each answer made it harder to reconcile the rest of it. But I tried! I went to a Billy Graham revival and my sister’s fundamental Bible church, and ended up with Unity and Unitarian. I have an interest in physics and theory doees say that there is an energy and connectedness for all, so for a while I hung onto that as God – pretty useless for deity to make a difference in my life, but at least it was something. One day I thought, “But there is no reason to think that that energy has an opinion or personality or cares about us!” and POP! God disappeared.

It’s been years since then – I went through an angry defensive stage, but now I’m happier and at peace. I consider myself a skeptic now – I believe in things I have convincing evidence for. Interestingly, all the woo I picked up and fervently believed in – crystals, energy healing, acupressure, homeopathy, etc – is gone for me now too.

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cdo February 20, 2010 at 11:26 pm

I have never met an atheist who pointed at any kind of traumatic event or emotional upheaval as the source of their de-conversion. I believe most atheists who were raised in religious homes have had similar experiences to yours, they started losing faith when they started really looking at it.
I hope you are finding as I did, that when gods are taken out of the equation, life is so much more precious. My feeling of connection to the rest of humanity is richer. I definitely feel atheism made me a better parent, as well as a more grounded and understanding spouse. My life is not a dress-rehearsal, it is the only time I will ever have.

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lukeprog February 21, 2010 at 1:50 am

It’s lovely to read everyone’s responses…

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Len February 21, 2010 at 6:06 am

Good stuff – well done for seeking truth and finding a way out of the maze.

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Infinity February 21, 2010 at 8:09 am

God is in our imaginations. Yours is the closest thing you have to 8. Harbor it and grow it and then use it to create.

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Shae February 21, 2010 at 10:55 am

Wow- I was in a way quite moved. I came upon your epiphany in almost the reverse. I was raised atheist myself, my parents claiming that if I wanted to go to church- I could walk. They said they would be supportive, but were not going to join me. My best friends have somehow all been religious in some way, and I felt that I was missing some crucial part in my life. I had a best friend who started to take me to his church- not to convert me- but because he loves Christ so much that he wanted to share his love with me.

I am a very open-minded person, and I discovered that after going to his church quite a few times that I didn’t need religion to be happy or fulfilled. Instead I came to the epiphany that I would be happy without religion. So I guess what I learned is that I am really agnostic, I am not indecisive, but rather indifferent- I prefer however to say that I am not religiously affiliated, as opposed to atheist. I don’t know if there is or isn’t a God, and I am going to leave people to believe what they wish, and instead live my life as a good person- which I can do without going to confessional or church every Sunday morning for the rest of my life.

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Cat February 21, 2010 at 11:49 am

atheist from reason, raised Christian. there’s more than you’d think.

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Wyatt February 21, 2010 at 11:53 am

Stumbled upon this.
I must say, that is one inspiring story my friend. You were absolutely right in saying that this is far from the norm when it comes to conversion. I too grew up in a small town of many churches, and my doubts(which came at a pretty young age) were received with less than enthusiastic responses from my peers. But I just couldn’t bring myself to believe. That’s probably not the best way to put it, but I did try to force myself into having faith for a time, and it just doesn’t work like that. I value logic and proof, scientific study and tested facts. To have faith in God is something else entirely, and I don’t know if it’s something I lack or something I possess that just makes it impossible. But, although that maybe be true, I did not go through nearly as much in my journey to disbelief. I found friends with similar minds and just smile when my Christian friends make comments about my Atheism, but otherwise my lack of faith stays backseat as I continue on. It’s just not important enough to argue or try to rationalize anymore, it’s life, and you live it to the best of your abilities.
Anyways, I’m rambling, your story was thought provoking and very inspirational. I’m glad to hear you made the decision based on logic and knowledge, instead of allowing your emotions to sweep you away. Blind faith and ignorant disbelief are far too common in this day and age. And that it made you happy, that is the most important thing of all.
Keep up the good work and the best of luck in all your endeavors.

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Sam February 21, 2010 at 12:38 pm

hey great article. i had an almost identical experience, and you did a great job of articulating everything that a person goes through.

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BSG February 21, 2010 at 1:02 pm

It’s kind of a shame that there are so many Christians denouncing your logical rebuke of religion in these comments without actually providing any concrete arguments.

“God will eventually talk to you like he does me, you are just being a know it all kid. See you in heaven!”

It’s refreshing to know that deep emotional faith like that can be overcome, as evidence by your wonderful article. From a fellow atheist from Duluth Minnesotan, I appreciate you sharing your story with the cruelty of the internet.

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Tony February 21, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Luke,
I, like others, just “Stumbled” upon your site…Thankfully. I always find it fascinating when someone of faith, has a complete turn around. To be so deeply saturated in a religion, and then go the opposite way, is quite an accomplishment…and going the other way is as well. As for me, I like to think that I believe in common sense. So, when someone says to me, “just look around, doesnt all this beauty tell you that there is a god?”I have to say no…because that just doesnt make sense. How easy is it to say, when you cant really explain something, that it was done by God. That is way too easy.

I work in the film business, and there are many Born Again Christians in it…many of whom are my friends. As such, so many of them have blinders on, when it comes to certain religious conversations. They just dont want to hear it, if it doesnt jive with their beliefs.
I was born Jewish…and I am Jewish as a “person”…but I do not follow the religious aspects…other than trying to live the way a “good Jew” should live. lol (whatever that is) When I say I am Jewish as a person…usually, only another Jew understands the meaning of that. I wont bore you with it.
To me, there is always a bottom line to everything. Its either yes or no. You like it or you dont.
The bottom line to me, in the conversation about believing or not believing is…”who the F cares?” How does my belief effect you in any way, shape of form? It doesnt.
While I would never take away the faith of another…and I would never say that there is no god…to me, nothing has proven to me that there is.
If I were about to fall off a cliff, I could not put my faith in a gods hands, to keep me safe. However, I could put my faith in my friends hands, because he/she has proven to me that they will be there for me. It would not be blind faith that I was relying on.

I work in a field that requires exact actions and timing, to not get injured.I can not allow “faith” in anything, to keep me safe…other than what has been proven to work, by practiced abilities.

Anyway, thanks for the space to write!

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Caleb February 21, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Hey, I had the same sort of thing happen to me after I read the bible with an open mind. It was only until after I read it did I renounce my Christianity. I think more Christians should take a good hard look at what they believe and think about it.

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alex February 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm

The “I’m here to save your soul” comments from religious folk are pretty entertaining. I think what’s weird is that they treat you like you’re some strange alien who needs to be “re-herded”…but people, gotta tell ya, there are a LOT of non-believers out here. You just don’t realize it because most of us are pretty non-confrontational folks, quietly and pleasantly going about with our lives. In fact, you might be shocked to discover that some of the kindest and most moral people you know are, in fact, non-believers. Who woulda thunk it.

Good luck in your journey Luke. I appreciate that you’re not foaming at the mouth with extremism like a lot of atheists seem to be. Myself, I was raised Christian, became a fervent atheist at 11 when they forced me to be “confirmed” in the church, rolled back to Buddhism and “spirituality” as an older teen, and eventually settled back into apatheism. I’m glad to see that non-believers are finally starting to get more outspoken, if only because one day, I’d love it if I didn’t have to listen to those nasty cloying christmas songs for two months out of every year.

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lukeprog February 21, 2010 at 2:25 pm

alex,

Yeah, it’s weird, as if Christians don’t get it that I already know the gospel, and repeating it to me ain’t gonna do anything.

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alex February 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Pre-cise-ley. Haha.

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Stina February 21, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Luke, I wasn’t brought up in the home of a pastor or by anyone really religious, but I was brought up to believe in god. When I got older and learned about evolution and biology, science just made more sense to me and I started questioning those beliefs, for a long time I just said I didn’t know what I believed. Later on I went to college and learned more philosophy and science and religion just didn’t make any sense anymore. I’m happy to be an atheist because I truly believe that now I can live my life as fully as possible because it’s the only chance I believe I have, so I’m not going to waste it. Becoming an atheist, I think, is a liberating thing. I enjoyed reading your story and I hope all is well for you and good luck.

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caseywollberg February 21, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Luke, there are a lot of us formerly religious atheists who used reason and study to figure out that atheism is the correct position. (I imagine that emotionally-driven de-conversion is rather tenuous.) Not all of us, however, can boast the Internet savvy and/or writing skills and/or interest in writing about our experience on a blog. That said, I enjoyed reading yours, and am glad to hear you got your head straightened out.

All of us who have had similar experiences are victims of indoctrination, which I hope someday will be recognized as the crime against humanity that it is. It is good to realize, as you do, that having suffered under false beliefs steels your powers of reason, but some are buried under such a mountain of delusion that by the time they sort it all out half their lives have passed, their youth wasted away on useless pursuits and superstitious restrictions, their life’s potential severely curtailed. Enjoy your youth, my friend, and take full advantage of the years you have ransomed.

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Billontherock February 21, 2010 at 7:27 pm

I come from hillfolk bible thumpers. The worst kind, excepting pedophiles. I understand and remember that feeling of awakening you write so articulately about.
I acheived that freedom many years ago, I’m an old fart.

On the lighter side check this site,

http://www.lowchensaustralia.com/names/gods.htm

many of these have better documentaion and more interesting stories than the one we both heard as children. Just disbelieve one more than the list.

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Louie February 21, 2010 at 7:35 pm

“… we can’t explain why human life has intrinsic value outside of God.” Why can’t we? How about survival? The more that survive in your group, the better chances you have for survival.
Even dogs (who have no soul and therefore are outside the knowledge of god) will try to save a life. I submit this amusing example: http://13.rs/media/171/znog-ovoga-cete-se-osecati-200-bolje.html

cato: Lukeprog, 
Thanks for your informative website.  I love atheist/theist debates and found your website a couple of months ago.  In your review of the Craig/Hitchens debate, you wrote a question that you would like to have asked Dr. Craig and I’d like to take a crack at it.  Your question concerned whether objective moral values exist apart from God (here you point to Craig’s answer to question 61 on his website regarding abortion) or whether they are grounded in God.  In answering question 61, Craig writes that abortion is wrong because human life has intrinsic moral value.  As you point out, Craig seems to imply that we know that human life has intrinsic value apart from knowing anything about God.  But if this is the case, then in what sense are objective moral values grounded in God? 
I think what Craig would say is that we do have knowledge of objective moral values independent of any knowledge of God.  This knowledge includes the proposition that human life has intrinsic value.  However, there is no foundation for this knowledge outside of God.  In other words, while we know that human life has intrinsic value, we can’t explain why human life has intrinsic value outside of God.  (Whereas, under Christianity, human life has intrinsic value because God has created humanity in His image in order that we might spend eternity with God in the hereafter).  Thus objective moral values are grounded in God’s nature, although we have knowledge of these values independent of any knowledge of God.  As a result, I don’t think there is any contradiction between Craig’s statement that we know human life has intrinsic value and his argument that objective morality has to be grounded in God’s nature.  What do you think?  

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Louie February 21, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Luke,
Great site! I found it tonight thanks to “Stumble!”

Allow me to introduce myself:

I’m 52 years old and living in Alabama. I’m trying to live the life of the “Ferryman” in Siddhartha (Hermann Hesse). Like the character, I too was a “seeker” of truth.
I’ve been a Sandwich Maker, a Mental Health worker, a Journeyman Carpenter, a professional Scuba Diver, a Potter, in the US Navy, a Forklift Driver, a Student, and a Professor (In that order).
My genesis went like this.
1. Belief in God.
2. Belief in a higher power.
3. Belief that it sometimes take decades to overcome a cultural immersion in a belief structure.
Like you, my conversion came at the hands of seeking Biblical knowledge. The more I learned, the more my eyes opened. This ends my introduction. I’ll give you a “thumbs up” on Stumble, and tell a few friends about your site. Discretely, I do live in Alabama, after all.

hmmm… maybe we need a symbol to scratch in the dirt to avoid persecution?

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lukeprog February 21, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Thanks, Louie.

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Billie February 21, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Amazing story. I’m an open-minded, well educated, woman who doesn’t like titles, but my beliefs follow no god. I admire anyone who can share there story. My children aren’t going to be raised as atheists or to believe what I do, rather I want to teach them to explore the beliefs and history of the world and find themselves. A lot of my life was wasted in bible studies and church groups and I even taught in a summer bible camp with friends. Now I’ve studied almost every religion I could find, looked extensively into the way our world works, and collaborated with many different types of people in order to find myself. I fell in love with an open-minded atheist and we have started our family with a beautiful baby girl who is now 2 1/2 and because of our life style I already see her being smart and feel she will be such a well rounded person. Once we get through school years I’ll be able to breathe freely. People need to understand that it’s the uniqueness of a person and the way they live their life that matters. To each his own.
Thanks again for sharing. You’ve had quite a journey and I commend you for all you’ve gone through. Best wishes.

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Lloyd February 22, 2010 at 1:01 am
Bill Dunlap February 22, 2010 at 1:58 am

Hate to break this too you, Pal, but you’re not the only one around who left religion due to intellectual reasons. Most of us left religion for intellectual reasons. It’s going to take you a while before you see this, because you are still looking at atheism as a theist would.

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Slugsie February 22, 2010 at 5:30 am

Welcome to rationalism. :)

I’m a life long atheist. I wasn’t raised to be an atheist, I was raised to think for myself. When I was old enough to begin to understand religion/theism it just didn’t make sense, so I rejected it. It was only at that point that you could really call me an atheist.

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DoAtheistsExist? February 22, 2010 at 8:47 am

What would you say was the single book that made you lose your faith/become an atheist?
All the best =)

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lukeprog February 22, 2010 at 9:21 am

DoAtheistsExist?

It’s grossly misrepresentative to my deconversion to boil it down to one book, but if I had to choose one I would say Dan Barker’s Losing Faith in Faith. The brief, simple reasoning in that book is better than the convoluted, twisty, double-standard apologetic responses I read from the most sophisticated Christian philosophers.

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DoAtheistsExist? February 22, 2010 at 10:43 am

OK thanks :)

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Max February 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Luke, what an amazing discussion you’ve inspired… I like the overall architecture of your argument. It has an integrity that is often lacking on both sides, as you’ve alluded to.

I was inspired to reply when I read your comments…

quote
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”

Yes, and that is exactly the problem with faith. It is wishful thinking and invisible (non-)”evidence”.
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I’ve been thinking about faith and how it might relate to the quantum world. I was wondering what you (& others) thought about the notions of faith and quantum probability? From my perspective the more we understand the fundamental nature of our universe, through exploring the world of the tiny, the more I think faith and spirituality play a critical role.

That’s not to say I have any truck for the the way we’ve institutionalized faith and sometimes used lies and manipulation to spawn so called ‘good behavior’.

The human capacity to fuck things up is indeed immense,(yea I am looking in the mirror as I type..) but in our quest for deeper, evidence based truth, understanding the role of faith in the symmetry of the universe will represent amazing progress.

Max(UK)

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lukeprog February 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Max,

I’m not sure what you mean by faith having something to do with quantum indeterminacy. In any case, the indeterminacy averages out such that large-scale events (say, involving chemistry or anything bigger) are still fully determined. But for some interesting thoughts on faith, listen to this podcast.

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Jade Margery February 22, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Hi! I just stumbled onto your blog and really enjoyed reading your story. I wasn’t going to say anything but you remind me a bit of a youtube user called Qualiasoup, here’s his channel, thought you might enjoy his uploads.

http://www.youtube.com/user/qualiasoup?blend=1&ob=4

Good luck on your… everything, I guess. Seems like you’re concentrating a lot on logic right now, which is good, but don’t neglect or disdain emotion–even if it can lead you down the wrong path sometimes, it can also make the right path better.

Thanks for sharing yourself with the world.

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VP February 22, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Hi!

I just wanted to leave a short comment to this story of yours, because it reminded so much of my own.

I am a 22-year old university student. My parents are simple farmers with low education, but with fierce religious faith. I lived the first 19 years of my life in this small farming community where a lot of activity for younger folk revolved around the Church(es). I believed because I wanted to believe, oh did I want it so bad! But I just gradually lost my faith. My ‘awakening’ must’ve been when I was around 15 or 16 years old. God, with all his evil and injustice, just no longer made sense.

For a long time I was afraid to leave the church. I finally did it when I turned 18 (and became ‘an adult’), and at first I was treated like an outcast – even by my own parents. Now, as time has passed, we’re closer to status quo… with the exception that my dad still keeps asking me if I’m done with this ‘thing’ and ready to convert back.

My story doesn’t take place in Utah or Wisconsin. I come from the other side of the world, a small Nordic country at the edge of Europe called Finland. I’m telling you this because I want to remind you that a lot of people, all around the world, are facing the same troubling questions of our religious upbringing from that very same intellectual standpoint.

I wish you plenty of strength in the future. I’d type ‘godspeed’ if it wasn’t so awkward in this context.

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Christa February 24, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I stumbled upon your work and I just wanted to take the time to say that you are really brave. I commend you on your strength to search for the knowledge you were lacking and to decide for yourself how to live your life.

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SpaceWranglerrr February 24, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Hi there! I found this with StumbleUpon. I really enjoyed it. My boyfriend has a similar story with growing up. My parents never really talked about it or had me in church until my mom got sick when I was 12. By then I pretty much didn’t believe already, though I tried for awhile! My entire LIFE is dogs! And when I was a kid I was watching “All Dogs Go to Heaven”. My dad, trying to joke around I guess, said, “Dogs don’t REALLY go to heaven because they have no souls!” Well that REALLY made me mad as a kid! LOL! That AND my love for dinosaurs. :) Atheist can be happy and successful, too! Keep up the good thinking.

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Ric February 26, 2010 at 11:19 am

Great post. You’re a critical thinker. Keep it up, no matter where it leads you.

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Rosita February 27, 2010 at 4:59 am

cdo: I have never met an atheist who pointed at any kind of traumatic event or emotional upheaval as the source of their de-conversion.

It does happen. Brother Richard from Atheist Nexus is one of them. His epiphany started when there was a scandal in the church where he was an assistant pastor.
Another person I know began his serious doubting after he accidentally backed his car over his toddler and killed her.

However, most of the atheists I know got there by a long process of systematic study and the relentless exercise of critically examining the basis for their faith.

It takes a certain type of personality to be able to operate in this way. You have to be able to overcome the fear of tentatively operating from the assumption that your indoctrinated belief might be false. It definitely helps if you have a good education in the sciences or in logic and critical thinking. Both of these disciplines teach you to suspend judgement and consider things impartially. This, however, is not a sufficient condition.

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Cyn M February 27, 2010 at 6:24 pm

I just wanted to say that I was glad to read your story. I was raised in a more or less religious home, but never felt happy in any of the churches we went to. I could never truly believe, no matter how much I tried or wanted to– and I did want to.

As the years went by I tried out different forms of religion, studying paganism, wicca, buddhism, etc, but even though these offered the acceptance I was looking for, I still didn’t really believe them.

Over time, I became a more logical person, and more and more the idea of faith (the intentional lack of logic in favor of hope) bothered me, and religious arguments (and discrimination of any idea that wasn’t based in religions- read Christianity) made me more and more sure of the fact that I couldn’t believe.

When people ask me why I’m no longer religious, my response now is that I don’t need a god to justify my existence, nor the threat of hell to be a good person.

I am a good person. I believe in ethics and compassion, but do not think a set of religious morals are applicable to the whole world. It makes me sad that so many people in the world are so clouded by this “faith” that they judge and hate and otherwise feel that no one else can be right if they disagree with them. Even the ones who claim to be “tolerant” are still rarely accepting.

I’m not against the idea of a higher power, but I don’t think it has anything to do with us, and we couldn’t possibly know anything about it.

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Mattias March 7, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I stumbled onto this site and I read through your story and some of the comments.

I too lost my faith several years ago. I had a very tough time, although I didn’t have even half the pressure you appeared to have on you.
You’re a strong man.

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Kyle March 14, 2010 at 11:01 pm

I liked your story. Very well written.

I thought I’d post to let you know that I also became an Atheist through an intellectual search and not for emotions or how I was raised (I was raised by very serious, but understanding Christians). I didn’t search as thoroughly into Jesus as you did, however–but maybe I will when I’m bored some day.

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Kai March 17, 2010 at 2:34 am

Loosing your faith in Christianity does not mean you have to loose your faith in a god.
Mahatma Gandhi said “I’m a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu and a Jew”. It doesn’t have to contradict itself if one considers a divine spark in the foundation of all religions. Maybe just 99 % of all religions is man made.
And I believe it was the Dalai Lahma who said “You don’t need to be religious to be following god’s path”.
In other words, there might be a god or a supreme being out there. Whether it interferes with our daily lives or not.
It can help at times to think something is out there.
But then again: Who knows ?!
As long as some day everyone can choose to believe what they want, the world will be a better place.

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Michael Dickens March 23, 2010 at 6:02 pm

I know it’s kind of off topic, but could you elaborate on what you mean about Libertarianism?

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lukeprog March 23, 2010 at 6:35 pm

All I meant is that I was once a Libertarian (politically), until someone finally made it clear to me why Libertarianism is evil. :)

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Cat March 30, 2010 at 5:43 am

Wow, our stories are very similar. Thanks for sharing.

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gabriel sheridan March 30, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Hi Luke,

I have been looking at your site for awhile now. I gave up, lost my faith over 6 months ago. My story is similar to yours. I became a believer in 04 after a lifetime of religious studying on my own. I was convinced i had found the truth. I will not go into the whole story but some scriptures got me looking deeper and I kept prodding, until ultimately i decided their was no evidence. Belief is by faith. Anyways, I really like your site because it is honest and calls bullshit when it is, even if it on the atheistic side. Anyways keep up the good work and any suggestive readings would be appreciated.

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Robin April 3, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Great blog! I too came by atheism via a rational process, but my conversion came much earlier in life. During confirmation at my church (in sixth grade — way too young in my opinion) I had so much trouble accepting the idea of the trinity and the many contradictions in the Bible. Furthermore, my dad is a scientist so I was raised accepting the theory of evolution. I reasoned that the creation story was just a metaphor and that the “days” actually represented long periods of time. But the more I became familiar with the Bible, the more often I had to make those sorts of exceptions and allowances. Eventually I realized that if I believed that certain parts of the Bible were metaphors or stories told to prove a point, why should I accept any part of it as the true word of God? How did I know the story of Jesus rising from the dead wasn’t also a metaphor?

I still faked it, though. I really wanted to believe. It made life so much simpler, and it meant that I would spend eternity in Heaven. At the end of confirmation we were supposed to pray until we heard the voice of God telling us to move forward and fully join the church. I tried so hard to hear God’s voice, but it never came. Looking back, I realize that was the turning point in my life. I still tried to believe, but by age 16 or so I was pretty confident in my disbelief. I’m now 27, but I still struggle with the fact that I’m not fully “out” to my family. My friends and coworkers all know, but I know my mom will struggle with my atheism (I’m 99% sure my dad’s also a closeted atheist). I did have the honor of unintentionally converting someone to atheism. In high school I was debating a Christian about evolution, and one of my friends was listening from the sidelines. A few years later he told me that he was an atheist, and that my arguments led him to begin to question and research his own beliefs. He hadn’t even considered that there might not be a God! Once I planted that seed of doubt, it was all his own research and reasoning that led him to atheism.

Just wanted to share my story. Keep up the good work!

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Carrie April 9, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Wow – this was so good to read…. I feel like we’ve had very similar experiences! I recently have de-converted… but I have not told anyone but my husband and brother. It’s so encouraging to read others’ stories, especially yours. I was a hard core Christian… Jesus was definitely my best friend and the reason behind everything I did. After tragedy hit my life I began searching to deepen my faith, and found the Paul/Jesus issue. From there my questions could only be answered by non-believers. I never wanted the knowledge I had gained. I wanted to be a Christian, but just couldn’t be because of what I had learned. Thank you for sharing your story.

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lukeprog April 9, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Thanks for sharing, Carrie.

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bruce brinker April 19, 2010 at 3:08 pm

WOW! I found out about this site through a friend. Very impressive indeed as was the word of mouth hype through the grapevine. Personally I find you to be very inspiring, especially as a fellow dude. So confident and cool at the same time, yeah that’s a compliment. Sooo many intellectuals seem to have the consistency of biscotti, smell of the softening coffee. You are more like the clouds in the background, both fresh and expansive at the same time. Is not the whole earth our church and the cosmos our reason for wonder and awe? Do we need an old whiskery mystery blowing like the wind, unseen and uncomprehended? Is humankind not the measure of all things indeed, completely sufficient in and of itself? I look forward to perhaps thumbing through some of your book suggestions, specifically the vs. christian types (more fuel for the fire,eh). Cheers, looking forward to more arguments! These christians seem immune to evidence, shall even the truth set them free???

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Emma April 28, 2010 at 1:40 pm

So fantastic to see people using their brains (and I don’t mean deciding there is no God. I mean making the effort to find out)

It’s not really mine to give out, but I think you might just be a credit to the human race.

Oof, too strong.

Still, it was fascinating to read.

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lukeprog April 28, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Heh. Thanks, Emma.

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Dan April 29, 2010 at 1:48 am

thanks for sharing. It’s almost frightening how similar our stories are. And I would assume that ours is a common story as well.

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ramanathan May 25, 2010 at 10:31 am

The atheists made plain, simple sense, and the Christian philosophers were lost in fog of big words that tried to hide the weakness of their arguments.

yes,you are right

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Travis June 1, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Great story, Luke! I had a ‘mildly’ Christian upbringing but not as intense as yours, however your deconversion process sounded similar to mine, what with the hunger for knowledge and realization that life as an atheist just feels more ‘real’.
I was not very active with church, though now I wish I was because I am having to make up a lot of information and memorized passages that would be adventageous to me now, since I am a Religious Studies major at my University! lol Funny how things work out, but I think de-converted atheists have a stronger passion for learning and understanding religion than most theists!

Keep on rocking!

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Deus June 21, 2010 at 1:10 pm

You are the first atheist that i find intelligent. There must be a gradient from Peter Atkins’ talks, passing through Richard Dawkins’ books and rushing straight to this blog.
From an theist reader from Brazil: Repent NOW! ;D

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mandy June 21, 2010 at 11:13 pm

nice to know that there are other people in the world who have gone through similar things as me. I have yet to tell my family i’m an atheist. they already know i’m a vegan and they hate that ha ha. i guess it’s just that i look up to my father in so many ways, i don’t want to disappoint him with telling him i’m an atheist which, he being the fundamentalist christian that he is, would shit a brick over.

but i really enjoyed this.

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lukeprog June 22, 2010 at 12:56 am

Fascinating, Mandy. Good luck.

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Brian June 22, 2010 at 11:52 pm

“So many bad lessons about morality, thinking, and sex. So much needless guilt.”

And there it is. I have no idea how I wandered onto this blog. I just turned 21 years-old two weeks ago and have had a similar journey as you but arrived at a totally different destination. I am now a rather devout Catholic that knows that God exists. Anyway, I was reading your “story” and had to comment on the above. There it is. I know it’s probably not your intention to convince “believers” with this post, but if it was, you could not have raised more of a devilish flag with the above words.

Uh, anyway, it seems everyone else in this comments section is pretty cool, so I won’t spoil the cordiality. windfish@sbcglobal.net if you ever want to hit me up, maybe to play some games.

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Rosita June 23, 2010 at 7:26 am

@Brian

May I suggest that you have not arrived yet? I think you are merely resting at a stop along the way, much like Luke did on many occasions. It will be interesting to see where you have got to by the time you are 40.

Meanwhile, you might consider why your version of god has been so neglectful of children under the care of the Catholic church and why this god led his representatives to engage in a massive worldwide coverup.

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Brian June 23, 2010 at 9:32 am

Well, that sure is a suggestion, but I think you might want to hold off on imposing on me whatever ambiguities you may or may not have went through. I think if you knew where I’m at, you’d see how I arrived at a simple matter of fact that can’t be “debated” or “questioned” away, even if I wanted to! Uh, about the abuse scandal… that’s one way to to frame it, yes.

Anyway, not really interested in a back and forth, so it’s probably my mistake for posting. Just wanted to comment on how that “freedom” he felt is clearly devilish. It’d be a moral failure on my part not to tell you that, so here I am!’

E-mail is is up there if you *really* want bust my chops.

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Morgan June 26, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Just an opinion here…
Maybe Jesus was a great man, maybe he did great things for people. Unfortunately his image has been used to create a ‘religion’ which essentially is just a way to have power and influence over society, whether that be through scaremongering by insinuating that those who dont behave as those in power (church leaders) want them to, are going to hell etc. however i think that while religion is essentially just a form of control over people it does incite them to do many positive things, and people will always find something to believe in because in our vanity we want to believe we are important in some way. so god knows what we should do about it! if he exists that is.

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Rosita June 26, 2010 at 4:53 pm

@Morgan.

Every religion, the Abrahamic ones included, has been a vehicle for art, culture and in-group cohesion. Unfortunately, every religion has also been the vehicle or excuse for most of the worst atrocities in the history of the world.

I think aspects of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, or the composite which was called by that name, were ahead of the general wisdom of the day. Unfortunately this first century wisdom is not the best that is on offer these days. Modern civilization will not tolerate the many barbarisms condoned, taught and commanded in the Christian Bible. Modern medicine condemns the methods for healing the sick prescribed by this Book. Modern science prevents many of the evils that this Book neglects to address. If Jesus had been all-wise then teaching people to wash their hands before preparing and eating food would have saved trillions of lives instead of the paltry handful which the Biblical stories attribute to him.

The more literally people take the stories and lessons taught in the ancient writings of their religion the more excuses they have for behaving in ways which range from monstrous to morally immature. “Sunday school morality”, the kind that teaches that you should obey the religious authorities, interpret the holy writings or listen to the imagined “voice of the Lord” for advice on how to behave, is stuck at the moral level of the average 12 year old: follow the external rules and obey the authorities. When religious people behave in a morally mature fashion, they most often do so in spite of, and not because of, their religion.

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C.S. McKinney July 11, 2010 at 8:26 am

To Luke,

I just read your testimony and am encouraged. It is similiar to mine and am glad to have you on our side. Also, I’m glad to know that you are on the side of our Christian friends though disagreeing with them. Your testimony suggests that you desire to be compassionate and understanding towards Christians which is a winning attitude. Unfortunately, this is lacking amongst most atheists which is why many are doing much more harm than good.

Whether you realize it or not, you are an Apostle for another Gospel and that is the Gospel of Reason. Hopefully, you continue preaching that Gospel for years to come and never forget that helping others is its own reward.

Regards!

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Jess July 21, 2010 at 4:05 am

Hi Luke,

I just wanted to let you know your deconversion story was an interesting read. I appreciate your honesty about the long and difficult process that discarding faith usually is. My background was never quite as steeped in strong Christian theology, my parents were never adamant about pushing their own beliefs on me. I’m grateful for that, because it allowed to me to think about things and eventually come to my own conclusions.

Nevertheless, as relaxed as I always was about my own faith – God was sort of “there” as a security blanket, nothing more – I still faced the same horrifying anxiety and sense of loss when I realized I had come to a crossroads. I could choose to keep on believing in something for which I had no justification merely for the sake of comfort, or I could embrace the uncertainty that comes with discarding beliefs held for many years. But belief isn’t really something one can choose. You either believe something or you don’t. For many of the same reasons you mentioned, I could no longer “choose” to believe. In its place though, I felt something new. A sense of relief when I realized there was no impending doom after death, no invisible man in the sky watching and judging my every movement. That things just happen, good and bad, and not every little bad thing that happens is my fault for being an inherently bad person or not praying enough. It made me appreciate life in new ways.

Thanks for sharing your story, it’s good to know the strong fears and doubts I experienced at one time weren’t unique to me. Better still to know you got through those fears through rational thinking rather than emotional arguments. It sounds as if you are happier now because of it.

Wishing you all the best.

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lukeprog July 21, 2010 at 6:48 am

Thanks, Jess!

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Alan Clarke July 30, 2010 at 9:04 pm

> The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death

I wrote my testimony when I was 23. I made a few changes to the last sentences when I got married, and tweaked the middle of it once. I printed it various times for others to read. If someone claimed that my conversion wasn’t real because the most recent printout didn’t match the date of my conversion, I would think they were screwy.

> by non-eyewitnesses

This man has something to tell you:
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness… That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life”

> They are riddled with contradictions

“Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the lack of contradiction a sign of truth.” – Blaise Pascal

Since I have two wedding dates and have been married only once, I can identify with seeming contradictions like this:

II Ki.24:8 Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign

II Chr.36:9 Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign

When the answer to this brain-numbing puzzle was finally revealed to me, I decided from that point forward to first assume the “contradiction” exists because of my lack of knowledge.

See http://atechworld.com/files/BIBLE/jehoiachin.htm

> legends

If you don’t like legends, why don’t you study the originator of the legend?

“Saint Nicholas had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus.” – Wiki

Annie Oakley became a legend in America & Europe through the medium of comic books & novels. The Biblical world-wide flood spawned flood legends throughout the ENTIRE WORLD. Search “Flood Traditions”

The gospel writers provide so much detail about Jesus directly without the cloak of “legend” hung over him, that I see little need to approach him from this muddled position.

> and known lies

The first time I read the Bible, I was immediately impressed with Jesus’ character when contrasted against the Sadducees, Pharisees, lawyers, doctors, etc. Their nature was capable of lying whereas Jesus was incapable. Nothing has changed: man’s testimony vs. God’s. We already know man’s state: atheism, pantheism, agnosticism, Darwinism, Marxism, communism, etc. I think there should be one big “ism” that encompasses all of the separate “ism’s” which contradict, deny, or disregard God. How about Satanism?

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Rosita July 31, 2010 at 8:43 am

@Alan Clarke

Alan, you clearly don’t get it. There serious differences between your “explanatory” parallels.

Your testimony was written by you, first hand. You are still alive and can be questioned about what you meant by it, if it is unclear. You are human and not eternal and unchanging so it is expected that you will change your mind and make modifications to things.

Consider what would happen if your conversion story was relayed like the New Testament stories. It would go something like this.

You have a moving experience which is witnessed by a group of your friends. You believe that you have been in communion with a god and your friends think so, too. This explanation makes sense in the world in which they live where this kind of interpretation of unusual events is common place.

Unfortunately both you and your friends are illiterate so neither you nor they write up your experience. As is normal with human memory, the actual events and their interpretation warp over time and each verbal recounting modifies the story slightly. Eventually you die and the story lives on in the minds of your friends and in the minds of the people they have told about it. Eventually your friends die and the story is only continued in the minds of friends of your friends, and in the minds of the friends of your friends friends. Finally, forty years after your death someone who has never met you in person writes letters to others claiming that he knows how you were thinking on the basis of several paranormal experiences he had during seizure activity. Because he speaks a different language from yours much is lost in the translation and he attributes sayings to you which do not make sense in your language, although they make sense in his.

Another fifty years later several people write a more detailed analysis of what your were thinking and experiencing on the basis of stories handed down through many generations of verbal repetition. Since the dominant version of what your were thinking is now the version given by the man who had seizures the manuscripts which are most like his take on things are preserved while others are modified to fit. Over the next couple of centuries your original story is embroidered with tales of your life, work and death. People transcribing the early written reports add stories which support these new additions or modify the text to make it a better fit.

Finally, a few centuries after your death, the official version of your transcendental experience differs very considerably from the scientifically niave verbal explanation which you gave to your best friend the day after the original event. The stories told about your life would have astounded your mother, or anyone else who knew you well, unless – - – and it’s an important “unless”, these people had been involved in the verbal drift over the years, repeating the story with the usual mind warp of memory contaminated by time, subsequent experience, wishful thinking, social influence and just plain imperfect biology.

Your original experience would have been better served if you could have dictated it directly to someone who wrote it down immediately after it happened. It would still be contaminated by your ignorance of the psycho-social phenomena at work in conversion experiences but it would at least by reasonably faithful to you original niave explanation of what had happened to you at the time. This is much more like what happened with the Koran, than the Bible. The text of the Koran was written down by a scribe as it was dictated by Mohammed. As in the example just given, the truth value of what was written is directly dependent on whether the person making the statement was infallibly correct in the interpretation they gave to their experience. Sincerity has nothing to do with it. Mohammed sincerely believed that he was speaking words directly dictated to him by the arch-angel Michael. That is not something which is open to scientific disproof. Neither is your interpretation of what happened to you.

In the end, both the Koran and the Bible require that readers accept the infallibility of the writers, the omnisicience of those who had the original experience, and finally, the infallability of any person who tries to interpret the meaning of these books.

The Bible has the added problem of requiring that the reader believe in the unfailing memory of those who passed along the stories before they were written down and the absolute integrity and tactile perfection of those who transcribed them.

There is also the serious semantic problem of trying to capture the original meaning of text which was first written in a foreign language. No two languages have perfect socio-linguistic accord. Islam tries to avoid this problem by teaching its adherents to read the Koran in the original Arabic. Translation is frowned upon.

On the other hand, there are a whole heap of language based interpretation problems with the Christian Bible. Some have even resulted in the development of doctrines which were clearly not intended by the original writers. For example, the semantic difference between the Hebrew and Greek words for “young woman” led to the doctrine of the virgin birth. The spurious nature of the story of Jesus preventing the stoning of a woman caught in adultery is apparent from the fact that the Greek does not translate into Aramaic, so Jesus could not have said what he is supposed to have said unless he spoke it in Greek!

Imagine the problems that would accrue if your testament were translated into a language which had no words to describe the difference between sense of self and sense of other.

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MagickMonkey August 11, 2010 at 8:41 am

My story is quite similar to yours. I was raised as a Christian. I preached once when I was 15. While my dad wasn’t a pastor, two of my uncles are. I didn’t investigate the history of jesus or christianity, like you, but I had a growing sense of doubt. I remember in my early teens thinking, “I know evolution isn’t true, but it sure makes a lot of sense”.

I, too, felt a BIG BIG BIG sense of loss when I came to the conclusion that there is no god. Those atheists who never have been theists probably think we are silly, but I know what a wonderful imaginary friend jesus can be. And I really wanted to spend eternity with all my loved ones. When my dad died, I sure looked forward to seeing him again. The eternal life in paradise pipe-dream is pretty wonderful. Unfortunately, it’s bs. We, of course, can’t wish god into existence. Those who have never believed cannot appreciate having such hopes dashed to pieces.

But, also like you, I am happier now. I no longer feel guilt over things for which I should have never felt guilty. I’m glad I’m not making sacrifices in my current life for an eternal life that will never happen. I’m glad I can raise my children to think rationally rather than teaching them a fairy tail. (btw, my wife and I refused to teach our daughter about Santa Claus, too.)

However, unlike you, I am still a closet atheist, at least in regards to my extended family. While I do not participate in any kind of worship with them during visits, I have never told them about my loss of faith. It is hard to imagine that I can have any kind of meaningful relationship with many of them if they know I am an atheist. I know my mother would literally be very miserable thinking her son is going to hell. However, I am also sick of hiding my lack of faith. I want to use my real name rather than an alias when I post on blogs like these. But I wonder if I would be selfish to “come out of the closet”. I would be sacrificing my mother’s happiness and psychological well being for my own happiness. I’d like to hear from others about the pros and cons of sharing one’s lack of faith with their family and friends. Forgive me if there is already a post on this site dealing with this issue.

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LoPan August 19, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I await the completion of your mapping of the Kalam project with great anticipation.

I was also raised a Christian. I had doubts from when I was very young child. I used to wonder how all those other people with all those other religions also used to think their God and their religion was the right one. Then one day, I was about 18 or 19, and I realized that the Bible was supposed to be taken literally…. that was a major turning point for me. Although I still had not let go of “God”. When I did, there was a sense of loss, but it was a long time coming.

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magx01 August 30, 2010 at 3:08 pm

@ Rhology:

“If I may ask, when have you subjected your new faith to the same scrutiny (selective though it was) to which you subjected Christianity? How did you go about doing so? Rhology”

You do not understand atheism if you just likened to to Christianity and qualified it as being a faith based position.

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bossmanham August 31, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Luke,

I’ve read through this several times, trying to find something that is different from other atheist deconversion stories I’ve read, but it just seems par for the course to me. You bring up some of the same old canards that have been dealt with for 2000 years. I just don’t see any rational reason for you to have stopped believing in Christ. You say it wasn’t emotional, but then you say, “I don’t recall how it happened, but eventually I found out that I could be more happy and moral without God than I ever was with him.” Seems to me there was an emotional component in there.

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Chip September 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm

bossmanham:

Pre hoc, ergo propter hoc?

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Rosita September 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm

@bossmanham

Belief changes based on emotion tend to be fast; belief changes based on reason are generally slow, and often bitterly faught against. Luke’s belief change is typical of a reasoned belief change, not an emotional one. I wonder why you cannot see that.

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kaka September 7, 2010 at 7:00 pm

i’d like to say thanks for having the guts to write a testimony and for the refreshing candour in which you wrote it.

my experience seems to be the opposite! – i find atheism intellectually bankrupt but emotionally appealing.

after spending more than 10 years enjoying a personally autonomous, agnostic/atheist life, i had to admit that my reasons for shunning christianity were not reasonable but based on a desire to craft a lifestyle i found aesthetically pleasing and fashionable; and to distance myself from the social stigma of being religious.

but atheism didn’t provide answers that were convincing, consistent or wide enough in explanatory scope. i tried to stop thinking about deep questions, grit my teeth and ‘get through life’ but then life itself, on an atheist materialist position seemed pointless.

i decided to settle it once and for all and began researching. again, my experience seems to be the opposite of yours – the more research i did, the more respect i had for theism. at the same time, my despair at the intellectual poverty of, say the atheist argument for morals, seemed to grow. when i look at posts by some of the atheists on your blog, well, my despair just grows even more.

i think deep down i would really like atheism to be true! it would be so much more convenient…

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caseywollberg September 7, 2010 at 7:14 pm

“intellectual poverty of, say the atheist argument for morals…”

You can’t be serious. Clarify please, and then give us an argument for morals under theism that isn’t rife with intellectual *and* moral poverty.

“deep questions”

Right. Like what?

It’s easy to speak in generalities and pretend you’ve made an argument, but all you’re doing is overloading my sophistry detector.

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kaka September 7, 2010 at 9:15 pm

@caseywollberg:

if you’re looking for arguments, well you’ve come to the right place!

scroll up and click on “debates”.

find, download and listen to any with william lane craig on the topic of moral values. i’d recommend craig v dacey, craig v kurtz or craig v morgentaler.

craig articulates the theist position far more eloquently than i ever could. maybe you’ll be convinced by what he says. maybe you won’t. i certainly didn’t buy into what he was saying at first.

but then i listened to what the atheists/humanists had to say and it was clear to me which side was more convincing.

on the other hand, luke had roughly the opposite experience!

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caseywollberg September 7, 2010 at 9:48 pm

@kaka

“on the other hand, luke had roughly the opposite experience!”

And unlike you, Luke is able to articulate his position. Bewildering!

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Rosita September 7, 2010 at 10:11 pm

@kaka

I do not identify with your version of “atheism” at all. It seems to me that you are mistaking apa-theism (apathy+theism) and hedonism (the selfish pursuit of pleasure) for a-theism (no belief in the existence of gods, usually for lack of valid evidence).

Unlike most atheists, your choice of belief system seems to be based on emotion and the desire to feel good, rather than an unbiased and thorough search for the truth based on the evidence.

If you chose “atheism” for materialistic, selfish, emotional or hedonistic reasons rather than logical ones then it not surprising that you abandoned it when offered an enticing alternative which makes you feel comfortable, secure, special, wise and morally superior.

For most atheists, believing what is valid and verifiable is what is important. Any “lifestyle” that results from the logical conclusions is entirely irrelevant. In hyper-Christian or hyper-Muslim countries, living openly as a non-theist is very hard. Living openly as a member of the prevailing theist group is easy, unless you annoy people by irritating “witnessing” behavior.

To describe the atheist “lifestyle” as “pleasing” and “fashionable” and to compare it favorably with a “stigmatized” American Christian lifestyle is outright laughable. Some form of Christian belief is the acceptable norm in the U.S.A. It is those who do not conform to this norm who are given a hard time, not the ones who toe the party line. There is nothing “pleasing” about losing their job, being forbidden to hold public office, being unable to win a political election, being bullied by school children, discriminated against by school teachers and being labeled as “evil”, “angry”, or “immoral”‘, simply because one admits to not believing in the prevailing community beliefs in the supernatural.

I have no idea what you think to be the “atheist argument for morals”. Behavioural scientists have long known that moral development is a natural process that parallels cognitive development unless the person lacks the appropriate brain structures. The most evil person in the community is the sociopath, not the atheist – and sociopathy has a genetic base coupled with poor nurturing in early childhood. Normal children develop morality as a function of being able to empathize with others, regardless of their religious or non-religious upbringing. A shared morality and cooperative spirit is essential for social group cohesion.

Religion, however, can be used to support every kind of horrific behaviour. The Christian Old Testament is rife with enough divine examples of murder, genocide, torture, malicious, petty and unjust behavior to legitimize just about any selfish or evil act which Christians can think up. As George Carlin once said, for a good man to do evil things you need religion.

National and international studies have repeatedly found that lack of a belief in the supernatural is associated with social and societal health, low crime, low abortion rates and marital stability while religious belief is associated with the polar opposites. The most socially healthy nations are Sweden and Denmark who have very high degrees of atheism. The most socially backward of the first world countries is the U.S.A. which has the highest degree of religiosity. The most dangerous place to be in the U.S.A. is in the middle of the Bible Belt.

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kaka September 8, 2010 at 1:54 am

@Rosita:

thanks for replying rosita. i feel the issues you brought up have already been rebutted by theists.

generally i feel your definition of morality has no objective grounding. in other words, had humans evolved slightly differently and evolved a different set of brain chemistry which said, for example, that rape is morally justified, neither group could say they were more right.

“Behavioural scientists have long known that moral development is a natural process that parallels cognitive development unless the person lacks the appropriate brain structures.”

i’d suggest looking up one of alvin plantinga’s interviews where he offers what i believe is a convincing argument against morality as a result of evolutionary psychology.

in a nutshell, it’s how, through natural selection, the preservation of certain genes through which produce tendencies towards certain behaviours, for example self-sacrifice, have no bearing on the moral truth of those behaviours. basically, evolution to quote dawkins, is a blind watchmaker – it doesn’t care about morality.

“The most evil person in the community is the sociopath, not the atheist – and sociopathy has a genetic base coupled with poor nurturing in early childhood.”

how many sociopaths does it take to make deviant behaviour a moral truth? i’d suggest looking up craig v dacey or craig v kurtz to see the issue of ‘herd morality’ tackled.

“For most atheists, believing what is valid and verifiable is what is important.”

this is where atheism-humanism gave the biggest disappointment for me.

humanism cannot justify its own existence.

for example – you describe morality as these codes embedded in our brain structures. can you give me an argument as to why we should follow it? how do you know that rape is morally wrong? because many people think that way and it becomes the ‘norm’? that doesn’t mean it’s true then does it?

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stu September 8, 2010 at 7:37 am

Hey. You said you left Christianity for purely rational reasons. Do you believe there is rationality then? If so, what basis is there for rationality in a world where there is no all knowing, soverign, personal God?

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Rosita September 8, 2010 at 9:52 am

@Koka:

You’ve created a “definition of morality” that is not shared by behavioral or neuro-scientists. As a neuro-psychologist I can tell you that there are no moral “codes embedded in brain structures” or morality resulting from “evolutionary psychology”, whatever that is. Unless the participants in Alvin Planting’s interviews, Craig versus Dacey and Craig versus Kurtz are accredited experts in the psychology of moral developmental these debates are irrelevant. If the participants don’t understand the science behind what they are talking about then their arguments are specious.

The development of morality is part of normal socialization. Children learn how to get along in the community in which they are raised. The underlying meta principle is to avoid causing unnecessary pain or harm to others in line with the community consensus of what this means and implies. This becomes increasingly sophisticated as the child matures and increasingly complex as societies develop.

The Christian Bible states that Jesus of Nazareth echoed the ancient and nearly universal “golden rule” : Do to others what you would like them to do to you. The morally mature rule is greater than this: Do to others what they would like you to do to them.

Morality is a consensual social construct which changes from decade to decade and community to community. Many of the putatively god-given commandments that Moses gave to the people of Israel are not considered moral in modern Western societies. “Thus saith the Lord” is no longer a valid reason for carrying out these injunctions. We no longer consider it moral to make a rapist marry the person they raped. We do not believe that someone who owns a slave is blameless if they beat this person so badly that they die, but only after they have lived for at least three days following the beating. We do not consider it moral to sell our daughters into slavery or to punch holes in men’s ears as a sign that we permanently own them. On the contrary, we consider these acts to be extremely immoral. On the other hand, we do not consider it immoral to wear a polyblend shirt, eat lobster or touch pigskin.

Others supposedly god-given laws are simply redefined or interpreted. “Thou shalt not kill” is a good example. The minute Moses came down the mountain with the first version of the Top Ten Commandments he directed his henchmen to viciously hack up the members of his tribe whom he found worshipping one of the rival gods. In this society we consider this to be a highly unacceptable form of killing. As a civilized society we condemn those who kill people simply because they worship a different god or gods and we also condemn the horrific nature of the killing which Moses oversaw. This change in moral values has little if anything to do with genetic evolution and everything to do with increased communication, education and advancements in objective knowledge.

There are, however, some genetically evolved factors at work in the natural development of human morality. These factors are just more advanced versions of the ones which result in social and altruistic behaviour in the higher mammals: dolphins, apes, monkeys and even African impalas. Among other things, they require functioning “mirror neurons” in the brain that allow the recipient to imagine how others feel.

There is ample objective grounding for the notion that morality develops in discrete stages which are mirrored by discrete stages in brain development and cognitive ability. The major changes occur at around 4, 8 and 12 – ages when there is a spurt in the maturation of neurons in specific areas of the brain. Kohlberg’s investigations led to a paradigm containing six discrete stages of moral development.
At Stage 1 children see rules as fixed and absolute. Obeying the rules is important because it is a means to avoid punishment. At Stage 2 children account for individual points of view and judge actions based on how they serve individual needs. Stage 3 is focused on living up to social expectations and roles. There is an emphasis on conformity, being “nice,” and consideration of how choices influence relationships. At Stage 4 people begin to consider society as a whole when making judgments. The focus is on maintaining law and order by following the rules, doing one’s duty and respecting authority. At Stage 5 people begin to account for the differing values, opinions and beliefs of other people. Rules of law are important for maintaining a society, but members of the society should agree upon these standards. Stage 6, Kohlberg’s final level of moral reasoning, is based upon universal ethical principles and abstract reasoning. At this stage, people follow these internalized principles of justice, even if they conflict with laws and rules. (From http://psychology.about.com/od/developmentalpsychology/a/kohlberg.htm )

Your comments mark you as someone who has reached Stage 4 but has great difficulty with the reasoning typical of Stage 5. If you take your morality from your concept of Christianity then you have done well. The contents of the Christian Bible rarely get beyond the first few levels. Even the New Testament rarely operates at Level 6.

This scale should help explain to you why sociopaths are unlikely to influence society’s moral code to any great degree, unless they are charismatic leaders of the society. An example of this is the Catholic Hitler whose soldiers all wore belt buckles inscribed with the words: Got mit uns (God with us). It is not even necessary to be a sociopath if you represent a religion. The intensely racist writings of Martin Luther whipped up hatred for the Jews long before the development of the Third Reich.. A personal interpretation of the Bible plus arrested Stage 1 thinking leads to witch burnings, gay bashing and the killing of one’s children by substituting prayer for medical attention.

“For most atheists, believing what is valid and verifiable is what is important.”

=this is where atheism-humanism gave the biggest disappointment for me. Humanism cannot justify its own existence. =

Your comments do not follow from the preceding statement: a very basic logical fallacy. Atheism is not the equivalent of humanism. Atheism is the absence of a belief in any god; humanism is a positive belief in the ultimate power and necessity of humans to control their destiny and care for themselves and others. Preferring to believe only what is valid and verifiable is independent of any belief in humanism. Believing in the ethics and power of humanity is orthogonal to this. Not all atheists are humanists and not all humanists are atheists. In any case, whether humanism can justify its existence has absolutely no bearing on whether theism is verifiably true. You have nothing to be “disappointed” about.

We are ultimately talking at cross purposes because your conception of “atheism” does not match the conceptions held by those who actively identify with that term and your view of morality and moral development seems to be centered in sectarian theological philosophy and poorly informed by modern science.

It seems clear that you have never walked in a de-convert’s shoes because you are not addressing the issues which de-converts have struggled with. We understand how you think because we once thought like you, but you have no idea how we think because you have never been there. Your variant of former “atheism” in nothing like what we have experienced as de-converts. It reads like the distorted picture that we were once fed about “what atheists think” when we were sincere followers of a religion. You have a lot to learn about atheism, de-conversion, developmental psychology and neuro-science before you make any sense to us.

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Rosita September 8, 2010 at 10:28 am

@stu:
“what basis is there for rationality in a world where there is no all knowing, soverign, personal God?”

The same basis that we use to determine that 2+2 and 2×2 both always equals 4, regardless of whether or not there are supernatural beings, and regardless of whether or not these beings match your conceptions.

Unlike the god hypothesis, mathematical concepts are capable of objective proof and disproof.

Unlike religious faith, the principles of logic and rationality have been proved, over and over again, to be the best way to determine the truth of something.

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kaka September 8, 2010 at 7:29 pm

@Rosita

while i appreciate the time you took to write that detailed response, i don’t feel it addresses any of the points i raised.

in fact, you seem to agree with me that if moral values are the result of genetics and socialisation and if they are subject to change from society to society according to what is widely accepted at the time, no society could say their morality was any more correct than another’s.

so it seems to me what you are describing as morality is social custom – or what is socially acceptable at the time. hence, on your view, it is not morally ‘wrong’ to kill babies, it’s just socially frowned upon.

on your view, you could not condemn the things you mentioned – witch burnings, gay bashing, killing of one’s children – as being morally ‘wrong’ – the most you do is observe how definition of moral good seem to change throughout history and where those things were once widely practised (and thus morally acceptable?) now they are not.

nor could you say we have progressed beyond past societies where people’s sense of morality was underdeveloped. this is because on your view, morality is simply the behaviour observed within a society at that time. without an objective definition of morality which transcends the society of the day, there is no standard or reference point to measure society against. without an objective reference point, there cannot be moral progress on your view, only moral change.

to put it another way, if 100 years from now, society evolved to add a seventh level to the kohlberg stages which permitted infanticide, it seems to me on your view, someone living in 2010 could not say killing babies is always wrong – it is just wrong in this society at this time. do you agree?

i’d also suggest looking up the difference between moral epistemology (how we discover morals) and moral ontology (their basis in reality) as i think you may be confusing the two. those debates you mentioned will delve into this.

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Rosita September 8, 2010 at 11:54 pm

@ koka:

=“If moral values are the result of genetics and socialisation and if they are subject to change from society to society according to what is widely accepted at the time, no society could say their morality was any more correct than another’s”=.

A society can be shown to be more morally mature than another. Like cognitive development, moral development proceeds in one direction, with progression to the next stage requiring mastery of the one before it. The order of these stages of moral reasoning appears to be just as universal as the stages of mental reasoning – and just as dependent on education and the environment for their development.

=”there is no standard or reference point to measure society against. without an objective reference point”=

The only culturally transcendent factor is the principal of benign reciprocity. This is expressed in various forms in every culture, starting well before the development of the Jewish and Christian religions.

Kohlberg’s ladder of moral development is based on thousands of carefully controlled observations across and between cultures and is thus about as objective as you can get with biologically based data.

History shows that societies, like individuals, develop their moral codes along the same continuum. History also shows that moral content changes with increasing knowledge and education.

All of the Christian Bibles (Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox) contain very good examples of this. Take attitudes towards sexuality. The Jewish/Christian god’s views on sexuality progressed from tolerance of incest (if the story of Adam and Eve is taken literally), through collusion with polygamy, concubines and slave rape (Abraham, Moses, David), on to punishment for failing to engage in serial filial polygamy (brother-in-law impregnation of widows (Onan) to approval of relative monogamy, divine rape (Mary) followed by the prescription of a sex-free marriages (the Catholic version of the Holy Family). The final Biblical word comes from St Paul who insisted that lifelong celibacy was the highest pinnacle or sexual morality. In spite of this moral progression, the Christian gods never get beyond the approval of women as the sexual property of men. The Abrahamic gods (Yahweh, Jesus, and Allah) are all quite sexist. Sexual equality is a recent secular phenomenon which is restricted to advanced Western societies.

For people who have progressed beyond Kohlberg’s first stage of moral reasoning (belief in fixed and absolute rules which are to be obeyed in order to avoid punishment), belief in a set of reference point moral rules can only be maintained if they remain ignorant of the historical development of morality within cultures and are equally oblivious of comparative studies of the moral codes of various cultures. Sadly, many religionists never progress beyond this first stage.

=“if 100 years from now, society evolved to add a seventh level to the kohlberg stages which permitted infanticide, it seems to me on your view, someone living in 2010 could not say killing babies is always wrong – it is just wrong in this society at this time. do you agree?” =

With reservations, I agree.

It is theoretically possible that circumstances could change and knowledge progress to the point where infanticide becomes as widely culturally acceptable in civilized societies as it was in primitive cultures. This practice would, however, only be a common feature of Kohlberg’s Stage 6 thinking if this action was found to be consistent with the criteria for this stage of moral reasoning: namely, the universal application of the principles of compassion and justice coupled with complex multi-variate thinking.

There is, in fact, no need for a theoretical seventh level. Selective infanticide is already a component of Stage 6 thinking in complex medical triage situations where the competing needs, rights and potentials of more than one individual must be weighed and considered. This is the same level of complex reasoning which determines that artificially induced fetal abortion may be the most ethical behavior in a given circumstance. It is the same level of thinking that reasons that quality of life is more important than life itself. And the same level of thinking that determines that telling the truth is immoral if it results in unjust, needless or preventable suffering or death.

As for your final suggestion, I believe that discussions of moral epistemology and moral ontology are useless if the premises are grounded in scientific ignorance. Now matter what the intellectual prowess of the participants they will ask and answer irrelevant questions and draw false conclusions on relevant ones.

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kaka September 9, 2010 at 5:28 am

@rosita:

with respect, i don’t think you understand or are unwilling to grapple with the point i’m making about moral ontology v epistemology which goes to the heart of any attempt to construct a moral system, including the one based on the kohlberg stages you have described above.

the method by which so-called moral values are discovered by a group of individuals – be it through increasing knowledge/education or cognitive development as you suggest – has no bearing on their moral *truth*. the best you can say is that these values are socially acceptable at the time. but those values have no meaning outside that group and perhaps more crucially, cannot be refuted from within. had the nazis won WWII and their moral code spread throughout the world, killing jews would be universally acceptable and there could be no way to escape that moral truth, on your view.

i’m amazed that rather than engage the issue i brought up about moral ontology/epistemology, perhaps using the logic and rationality which you insist to stu is the best way of determining the truth of something, you’ve dismissed it outright as “useless”. this is even more ironic because science has little, if anything, to say about objective moral truths. for example, how does one scientifically observe a moral truth in the brain?

until you’re willing to tackle this issue, perhaps by temporarily putting aside your kohlberg system, i do not respectfully think your understanding on moral values will be “up-to-date” on where the debate currently is.

by way of conclusion, i’d like to repeat that nothing i’ve said here is original or groundbreaking. craig has been making these points for years. i’ve also read many arguments like yours which fail for the reasons i’ve mentioned. but the intellectual poverty and helplessness of the responses – even from distinguished scholars and professors like wolpert, kurtz and dacey – leave little doubt in my mind which is the more convincing view.

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former fundamentalist September 9, 2010 at 7:26 am

@ Koka and Rosita

As I’ve followed this little debate, it seems the main difference is that Rosita is suggesting that moral truth is defined by society and Koka is suggesting that moral truth exists beyond society. (and i am far less learned than either of you so forgive me if this is an oversimplification)

I would say that even Koka is right, and that moral truth exists beyond society, how could we possibly know? All we have to observe the world is our physical senses and our intellect–and possibly our “intuition”. All three of these can be wrong and have given us bad information before. So EVEN if there is an “absolute” it is rendered irrelevant because of our inability to decipher “true” truth from “untrue” truth. So we are left with our opinions and ideas–which is what we, as a society, use to construct our ideas of morality. And just as Rosita says, those opinions and ideas change with time and evolve as we and as society evolves.

so to argue what is “true” truth “absolute” truth is “useless” to quote Rosita because it’s an unknowable thing. at any given time, any action may be the most moral action depending on the situation. we can only make the “is this moral” call after the event and after having considered every single detail building up to the situation. and even then, it may be “moral” for one person and “immoral” for another based on their personal point of view. this is why moral absolutes do not exist.

we use our morals as guidelines to stay on the road, but sometimes you have to veer off road to avoid the oncoming mack truck.

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Rosita September 9, 2010 at 7:50 am

@kaka/koka/kako:

With respect, I don’t think you understand the implications of the Kohlberg scale.

You can’t “put aside” the Kohlberg Scale because it is a description of reality. This is how moral reasoning develops everywhere. What it demonstrates is that individuals, and communities, determine moral “truth” in different ways depending on their developmental level of moral reasoning.

Since the scale is maturational it implies that people who have not progressed beyond a particular level cannot, by definition, understand the moral reasoning of those who have progressed to a higher level while the those at higher levels of development are frustrated by the insistent of moral superiority by those at lower levels of development. The cognitive equivalent is the child who insists that the moon is following him or that tall thin cups contain more water than short fat cups if the level in the thin cup is higher. Unless the child is at the cusp of progressing to the next stage of cognitive development you will not be able to persuade them that their reasoning is incorrect. For both cognition and moral thinking, not all individuals progress to the highest levels of reasoning.

The Kohlberg scale is like a moral IQ. Since it synthesizes what is observed to be a natural maturational hierarchy the implication is that Stage 6 reasoning is the best way of determining moral truth and Stage 1 reasoning is the worst way of doing so.

=“had the nazis won WWII and their moral code spread throughout the world, killing jews would be universally acceptable”=

The racist morality of the Nazis, Martin Luther and the Catholic Church of that time is demonstrably immature and therefore inferior to more mature ways of determining moral truths. Stage 6 reasoning transcends this authoritative type of system and applies complex rules of benevolent reciprocity – the greatest good for all, regardless of societal rules. That is the reason for the existence of Resitance Movements.

In other words, the external definition of what is morally best is that which is determined by the application of the most mature form or moral reasoning. That definition precludes the application of immutably correct laws, except for one: benevolent reciprocity. Applying this meta rule involves recognizing that rules which may be generally moral are not necessarily moral in all circumstances. For example, when it leads to the greatest good and the dignity of humankind killing is moral and telling the truth is immoral. It is moral to kill a Nazi torturer if this is the best or only way to save a victim from sadistically iinflicted pain and it is immoral to truthfully tell the SS where a fugitive Jew can be found.

At this level of thinking it is never moral to inflict the horrendous punishments which the Christian Bible insists are to be metered out to the hapless individuals who are found to have broken any of the Top Ten Commandments. According to the Bible the Yahwey god demands that failure to follow all but one of these commandments is to be punished by particularly gruesome death at the hands of members of the religious community: generally being stoned or hacked to death. This results in serious cognitive dissonance for a Jew or Christian who has reached this level of moral reasoning because it implies that their god is considerably less moral than they are.

Before you bring in the story of who is fit to cast the first stone, be aware that reputable biblical scholars are nearly unanimous in asserting that this story did not originate from Jesus. It was added into the margins by a scribe some considerable time after the host gospel was written. Later copies of that gospel inserted it into the general text.

Before you suggest that the Yahweh god be given a free pass because he “knows better than mere humans” consider whether you would accept this excuse from a Mafia boss and whether the Biblical injunction to assess the goodness of an individual by their “fruits” should be applied to all.

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kaka September 9, 2010 at 2:54 pm

@J.A. Kraulis:

it’s easy to get caught up in in the passion of intellectual debates isn’t it? makes you lose sight of the bigger picture and i think i’m guilty of that here.

i’ve avoided talking about god so far in the interests of keeping on topic…and i don’t intend to start a lecture now!

but i can’t help but observe, j.a. kraulis, that the tenor of your responses, particularly your repeated references to christian atrocities, suggests to me that your rejection of anything that has a whiff of religion may be because you find it emotionally offensive or that you’ve been put off by christians who do not practice what they preach, rather than any intellectual difficulties. in other words – it’s a heart issue, not a head issue.

as i said in my own mini-testimony above, this was also the case with me. in my case, i rejected christianity for emotional reasons but made up excuses which had a veneer of intellectual truth so i could pretend i was being rational about it all. looking back, i have realised that the heart is cunning and often works with the head to conceal the root of spiritual problems.

i’m not accusing you or other atheists of the same. at the same time, i want to avoid my last response to you to be a sort of intellectual last word, an ‘ah ha, so i’m right!’ kind of thing. rather, i would like to suggest to you and others who have followed this discussion, to consider taking a hard, honestly look at your own hearts and asking yourself whether it is truly for intellectual reasons that you reject theism or whether it is because of issues of the heart.

if by some process of self-examination you’re willing to give christianity another shot, i’d suggest taking one of the gospels – i’d recommend mark as it’s the shortest! – and just reading it with an open mind. approach it as a biography of a person called jesus rather than a document telling you how to run your life and just try to give it an honest chance.

if it means anything at all, i’d like to assure you that christians all around the world constantly pray that non-christians will have peace in their lives.

take care :)

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Former fundamentalist September 9, 2010 at 3:52 pm

@kaka

I’ve actually done what you’re suggesting. When I was still a believer I decided to go through the gospels focussing on “the red letters”. I wanted to find a deeper understanding of Jesus. As I read what he said and the verses surrounding what he said, I wrote down responses. That process of reading, reflection and writing led me to question and eventually to my current atheism.

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Rosita September 9, 2010 at 4:14 pm

@kaka

Who is J.A. Kraulis? A Google search turned up a nature photographer of that name, but there is no-one with name writing on this page.

The subject matter looked like the continuation of the discussion we were having. Did you mean to address me?

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kaka September 9, 2010 at 8:41 pm

@rosita: sorry rosita, yes i meant you! i got my wires crossed there.

@Former fundamentalist:

thanks for sharing your story. while i commend your desire to deepen your biblical knowledge and i respect your eventual choice for atheism, i’m wondering if you shared what you uncovered in your studies with other christians?

in particular, i’m thinking of senior ministers who are used to responding to doubts and wrestling with difficult concepts (the compatability of god’s love with the wholescale slaughter in the old testament for example). we all have our blind spots. sometimes we leap to conclusions which are not based on a complete understanding. sometimes we need others to help us see the bigger picture.

i remember when i first took the advice i just gave rosita and attempted to read the bible. i think i got halfway down the first page before i gave up. let’s face it – a 2000 year old document is pretty boring and hard to digest if you’re doing it on your own.

so i think it’s important, when reading the bible, to be mentored by a friend who is strong in faith and can serve as encouragement and a sounding board for doubts. i think this is equally true for non-believers and believers as you once were, Former fundamentalist.

the best place to find such people is in a church with a culture of welcoming hostile, doubting non-believers. you’ll know you’re in the right place if the head pastor has this attitude. generally, if the head of a church welcomes doubters, the congregation will too.

if you feel yourself being persecuted or judged for asking questions in a genuine spirit of seeking after truth, find another church would be my advice.

in my experience, catholic churches or ones based on the propserity doctrine (ie, hillsong), tend to be the least welcome to questions.

but ultimately it all starts with being open to god’s word. that’s really the first step.

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Rosita September 9, 2010 at 10:27 pm

@kaka.

You are making the usual religionist’s mistake of assuming that atheists are not Christians because they have not read the Bible and do not know enough about the religion.

I trained for the Methodist ministry. Reading all of the Bible, books at a time, played a large part in causing me to reject the Christian religion as nonsense. I remember that the first book that I read in this fashion was one attributed to St. Paul. At the end of the overview I came to the horrifying conclusion that I would not have liked this man, had I met him. I found his views to be morally repugnant. It was the first major crack in my belief system.

I became an atheist over the course of several years, during which time I read widely, refused to avoid material which challenged my comfort zone and forced myself to go where the evidence led me. I had a strong commitment to intellectual integrity which later served me well in my professional career in psychology.

I held my religion for emotional reasons but I did not abandon it for these reasons. Like Luke, I experienced gut wrenching emotions while trying to hold on to my beliefs in the face of overwhelming challenges to them. I could not, however, suppress the knowledge that I had obtained or quell the discomfit that I felt on exploring the Biblical personality of the divinity that I had been taught was only loving and kind.

So, no, I don’t fit your wishful stereotype. Unlike you I did chose to be an atheist: logic compelled it.

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Rosita September 9, 2010 at 10:29 pm

@kaka.

Typo correction:

I did not chose to be an atheist: logic compelled it.

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kaka September 10, 2010 at 1:26 am

@rosita:

that’s a really a powerful story and i appreciate you sharing it.

i also get the feeling there’s more to that story and i’m finding it hard to know what to say. i’m also not sure i can offer much helpful comment on your ministry experience.

the best response i can give at this point is probably to repeat what i said in my post to Former fundamentalist – that openly discussing doubts and frustrations with a christian mentor can mend cracks in faith. it’s worth asking “am i the only person in history who has found st paul to be unlikeable?” “am i the only person who finds divine commands to stone people to death to be morally wrong?” as a previous poster bossmanham said, churches have been tackling the “same old canards” for 2000 years.

you may have discussed these issues already and found the explanations unconvincing. if that’s the case, all i can say is – at the risk of sounding patronising or arrogant – i honestly believe there are consistent, considered answers to difficult biblical concepts and people will find them if they search with an open heart and are willing to understand.

i think it’s admirable that you are willing to be challenged intellectually and to follow the evidence where it leads. in that spirit, i’d like to challenge you to consider listening to those debates i mentioned earlier, even if it means stepping outside your comfort zone.

i’d also invite you to consider the many christian scientists around the world who use logic everyday and see no conflict with logic and their religious belief. what does this evidence suggest? mass delusion? the vulnerability of scientists to religious brainwashing? it’s worth asking whether they have all been deceived or whether there might be some point to it all, apart from free coffee and biscuits on a sunday morning.

thanks for the most interesting conversation! :)

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former fundamentalist September 10, 2010 at 6:10 am

@kaka

a couple things. First, i was a christian for about 23 years, an active evangelist four about 6 of those. becoming a bit disenfranchised with the church, is what caused the desire to seek out Jesus in the bible ultimately leading to my atheism.

you said “churches have been tackling the “same old canards” for 2000 years.”

i think that’s our point. it’s not so much that the church is trying to find an answer to these moral problems, but more they are trying to defend the faith despite the problems. God said it was ok to kill women and children in the Old Testament. What is there to wrestle with? It’s morally wrong. done. The fact that the church NEEDS to “wrestle” with these sorts of problems speaks to the notion of how morally confused the church really is.

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kaka September 10, 2010 at 3:56 pm

@former fundamentalist:

your post made me smile – i actually discussed this with a christian friend on thursday! we agreed the answer lay in a correct understanding of god’s nature.

god is the source of moral commands but he is not bound by them. as craig says, god does not issue commands to himself.

if i had killed women and childen, god would judge my actions to be murder. god’s actions however, are not in a position to be judged by us.

it’s not even correct to say that he bent the rules to allow mass slaughter – he wasn’t bound by them in the first place.

furthermore, as craig contends, god may have morally sufficient reasons to permit evil, reasons which we are not privy to and may never understand. nor is god under any obligation to share these reasons with us.

as craig puts it – god is the author and giver of life and is therefore entitled to give and take life as he sees fit. if he chose to end my life right now, he would not be committing a moral wrong – he has every ‘right’ to do so because it is only by his authority that i remain alive.

i had difficulty understanding this at first. i later realised what was holding me back was that i had created an idea in my head of what i thought a loving god would look like.

when the god of the bible didn’t measure up, instead of accepting that my understanding was flawed, i demanded that the god of the bible conform to my expectations.

with further reflection, i realised this ‘god in my head’ was simply an idealised version of what i imagined a very nice human person to be like – a kind of cosmic grandfather figure, handing out treats to his obedient human children.

in other words, i had made god in my own image – a pathetic shadow of the real thing. it was like drawing a picture of a teddy bear and then seeing a grizzly bear in the wild!

only by realising this, could i empty my mind of preconceptions and, with the help of my christian friend, begin to work towards a more mature appreciation of god’s nature.

in my experience of overcoming doubts, i have found that christianity always provides an answer. the answers are not always easy to understand, pleasant to listen to, socially acceptable, or politically correct, but they are answers which are, at least in the context of christianity, internally consistent.

sometimes when you read a passage which shocks you, it’s worth giving it the benefit of the doubt and saying – “well why don’t i make a note of this and follow it up later. there were answers to the last 10 issues i brought up, i’m sure there will be an answer to this one” – rather than just closing the book and giving up.

@lukeprog: hi luke, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably noticed the discussion has snowballed from me giving a mini-testimony above to this theological discussion that former fundamentalist and me are now having.

i’m mindful of your bandwidth costs so if you’d prefer we conduct these exchanges via email instead of through this comments section, please let me know and i will set something up.

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Rosita September 10, 2010 at 4:06 pm

@kaka.

Thank you for your kind reply.

I realize that you are trying to be helpful and compassionate and I appreciate that. The problem seems to be that you are constrained by ideas about how it must be for me and I keep surprising you by failing to fit these preconceptions. I don’t fit your definition of what an “atheist” is, I did not arrive at this lack of belief by the paths you think that I should have taken, I was not positively influenced by the kinds of things which you think should have resulted in me keeping the faith and I do not evaluate theological and moral arguments in the same way that you do. I see you struggling in bewilderment over what to make of this picture. I applaud you for hanging in there with such good humor.

=”openly discussing doubts and frustrations with a christian mentor can mend cracks in faith”=

Naturally I discussed my doubts with those who seemed to be secure in their Christian faith. I would have been silly if I had not. I also read a lot of Christian apologetics. It would have been intellectually dishonest not to do so. Remember that I said that I did not want to lose my faith, only that I did not want to hold it in blind ignorance of alternative points of view.

In the light of my new knowledge, the simple evangelical arguments that I had found so compelling in the past (writers like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias) all failed miserably. I now found that I could drive a truck through the holes in their logic. I could see that confirmation bias and ad holmium attacks were rampant. I was surprised to discover that the authors mostly completely avoided the difficult questions. Of the topics that they did discuss the salient points of the argument were often misunderstood or misrepresented. In cases where contrary arguments were well publicized the authors tended to dismiss them by attacking the integrity or character of the authors on the basis of their (inconvenient) conclusions, while steadfastly avoiding outlining and dealing with their actual arguments. Arguments which had made me feel comfortable and superior when I first read the books stood out like a sore thumb when I returned to them. When difficult points were dealt with head on many of the explanations featured semantic gymnastics that were so contorted that it would have been easier to copy the Red Queen’s practice of believing six impossible things before breakfast.

When I brought these issues up with evangelicals I was irritated with the desperate cop out defense that (the Christian) god was so mysterious that humans could not hope to really understand why he did the things he did. The obvious rejoinder was: “If it is so difficult to understand your version of god why should I believe that what you claim to understand about him has any validity?”

Fortunately I had access to more sophisticated resources during my theological studies. The more educated the faculty member, the more complex the argument – and the more remote it was from my original fundamentalist background. However, even the best of these explanations failed in comparison with alternative viewpoints. Cognitively derived constructs (ephemeral ideas) were equated with things which can be demonstrated to occur in reality (material things), and things which could be felt, seen and measured with those which could not. In the end all the best arguments relied on assumptions (sometimes quite well hidden) that could not be proved, measured, tested or, most importantly, at least theoretically disproved.

For example, in the Kalam argument for the existence of god it is first assumed that everything has a cause. (This appears to be true of things in time and space, but we have no proof that it can be assumed for things outside these vectors.) It is argued that the universe must therefore have been caused. (That has been challenged). Then it is assumed that the universe could not come from nothing. (This has been challenged and so has the assumed definition of “nothing”.) Then the argument gets a lot weaker.

First it is assumed that the creation of the universe must have been a complex event. (Why? An explosion can be quite simple.) Then is it argued that the cause must have been more complex. (Why not a simple physical cause, like the energy inherent in a vacuum or the ubiquitous effects of gravity? Why not a physical cause similar to the “big bangs” which are observed to give birth to new stars in the stellar nurseries of the cosmos? Why not a chemical cause such as that which forms hexagonally ordered snowflakes? A god concept is not required to explain any of these creations.)

It is assumed that this complex entity was uncaused. (Why should it be the only exception to the “complexity demands a creator” rule?) It is assumed that this uncaused entity is a highly complex mind. (In this world complex creating minds only exist in highly developed biological bodies and they work by electro-chemical means. Why should this mind be an exception?).

The last question is: Where is the proof that this philosopher-generated god concept exists in reality? (Just because something is conceivable is no reason why it must exist and no proof that it does.)

The last question makes this argument entirely circular because you have to prove the existence of a creator god before you can begin to prove the existence of a creator god. In the final analysis the “creating mind” is described by fiat and deemed to exist purely by definition.

Even if you get beyond this point there is a final question: Whose version of god would this creating entity resemble? How many attributes does it have? What are they and where is the proof of that?

All adherents to a religion which posits a creating god (or gods) automatically assume that the creating entity of the Kalam argument is equivalent to their own personal version of the supernatural. This usually includes all or most of the trappings that their particular community of the faithful attaches to it, and excludes all or most of the attributes of rival groups and religions. Christians, Jews and Muslims assume that there is a singular mind. (What prevents their being a committee of entities like the Elohim in the first creation story told in the book of Genesis?) Not only is the entity assumed to be single but it is assumed that it cannot reproduce. (Why not? We know of no other life form which cannot.)

Deists add very little to the creating aspect of this concept but their notion is sometimes so vague that it would be more economic to skip the supernatural attribution and refer to it as “pre-cosmic energy” or some other name used to define a physical entity or state.

I think that’s more than enough to get the point across. Elsewhere on this site, Luke does a good job of summing up this argument and most of the others of note.

=”i’d like to challenge you to consider listening to those debates i mentioned earlier, even if it means stepping outside your comfort zone”=

Kaka, those debates are unlikely to be “outside my comfort zone”. My academic training has included complex philosophy and I taught logic for a while. I am sure that I would find the debates stimulating and I will probably make the time to listen to them at some point. I am surprised, however, that you think that I would find the Christian viewpoints more compelling than the alternative viewpoints when you have already noted that you appear to be the only one on this forum who found it so. Why do you imagine that my conclusions would be significantly different from the rest of the de-converts on this site?

=” i’d also invite you to consider the many christian scientists around the world who use logic everyday and see no conflict with logic and their religious belief. what does this evidence suggest? mass delusion? the vulnerability of scientists to religious brainwashing? it’s worth asking whether they have all been deceived or whether there might be some point to it all”=

You might be able to see the glaring logical flaw in this argument if you substitute the word “Muslim” for “Christian”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Muslim_scientists. Are you willing to conclude that Muslim scientists are susceptible to “religious brainwashing”, “mass delusion” and gullibility while Christian scientists are not?

The ability to encapsulate one’s religious beliefs from the type of thinking used in every day life is associated with a particular upbringing and a personality type that occurs even in people of high intelligence. This separation of religion from normal critical analysis becomes less common the more a person’s work involves the use of skeptical reasoning and the scientific method. At the top of the rung, an overwhelming number of the most eminent scientists are atheists. While the truth of something can never be determined by a popularity vote the high correlation of this particular position with superior ability in scientific research needs to be explained. It does considerable harm to your argument regardless of whether the heavy use of high level scientific research skills causes atheism (possible), atheism causes high level research skills (improbable) or people with a talent for high level scientific research tend to develop atheism as well as the ability to win Nobel Prizes when exposed to the rigors of higher education (probable). It’s not just scientists. The association of atheism with higher level academic performance occurs in the humanities as well. http://www.freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Scientists_and_atheism

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Rosita September 10, 2010 at 4:42 pm

@kaka
= = = = = = = =
god is the source of moral commands but he is not bound by them. —-
if i had killed women and childen, god would judge my actions to be murder. god’s actions however, are not in a position to be judged by us.—-
it’s not even correct to say that he bent the rules to allow mass slaughter – he wasn’t bound by them in the first place.—
furthermore, —, god may have morally sufficient reasons to permit evil, reasons which we are not privy to and may never understand. nor is god under any obligation to share these reasons with us.- – - (and so on).

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

I’m afraid this is exactly the kind of semantic contortionism that I was referring to in my previous post.

I think you really have to want to believe in Judaism or Christianity very badly in order to swallow that kind of argument and feel comfortable with it.

You have no basis for distinguishing between the works of “god” and the works of the “devil”.

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Mel September 10, 2010 at 6:47 pm

You’re an inspiration to me.

Thank you.

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kaka September 10, 2010 at 7:02 pm

@rosita:

well i’m starting to get the idea that you have made up your mind based on your own understanding and i respect that.

so i’ll just say thanks once again for taking the time to have this discussion. take care :)

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alex September 10, 2010 at 7:17 pm

@kaka

I like that when Rosita points out that, according to your explanation, there is little difference between God and the Devil (since God is apparently a grizzly bear who can get away with allowing and creating evil, and is so powerful that we dare not ask why)…instead of addressing that very pertinent association, you again try to bow out from the discussion.

That seems to be the theme for most of this debate–you dismiss atheism as intellectually impoverished, and when others attempt to explain their reasoning, you go on to dismiss their very sound and reasonable clarifications out of hand. Not only that, instead of taking the time to explain your own assertions, you refer again and again to others who have apparently answered alllll the questions any atheist could ever presume to ask. THAT strikes me as an intellectually impoverished approach–demanding explanation from others, rejecting it in a passive aggressive or patronizing way, refusing to clearly illustrate your own points, then trotting off when the conversation gets too difficult. Whatever works, I guess, but you aren’t fooling anyone here.

Rosita, you have far more patience than I, but I’ve appreciated reading your commentary as this discussion has continued, regardless of whether your replies were given the consideration they deserved.

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Rosita September 10, 2010 at 8:58 pm

@alex:

Thank you :-):-)

I think Luke sets a high standard here.

I enjoyed my discussions with kaka even although we proved to have very different ways of processing information. Don’t be too hard on him for backing off. People need to retreat when they feel confused or threatened. We’ve all done it. The brain needs time to process new information and none of us do that well when we feel uncomfortable. If there is one thing I learned in my teaching career (yes, I’ve had several careers in my life)is that the fruits of one’s teaching may take years to flower. What any one person contributes to someone’s learning process may be only a small part of the final construct, and the learner may not even be remember you for it. It’s humbling.

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Rosita September 11, 2010 at 12:09 am

Over the last few hours I’ve been continuing to process the enormity of kaka’s summary of Craig’s “explanation” for why the Bible god appears to do evil and appears to command others to do evil.

It is the worst example of the dangers of Kohlberg’s Stage 1 thinking that I have ever come across.

Not only does this explanation provide the Believer with no way to differentiate acts of god from acts of the devil, it also fails to provide the Believer with any way of telling the difference between

1. a command from the Yahweh god to commit evil for a greater good that the Believer is too dumb to understand,

2. a test of the Believer’s loyalty to Yahweh as measured by their willingness to carry out a command that appears to be evil, or

3. a temptation from the Christian devil to do evil to spite the Yahweh god.

I wouldn’t want to be around such a Christian when they felt an inexplicable urge to kill me because I am a non-believer. It would be impossible to predict whether the Believer would take the thought to indicate that
1. I should be killed in accordance with Biblical injunctions to kill infidels and non-believers,

2. I should be left with a post traumatic stress disorder as the result of the psychological torture of being prepared as a human sacrifice (Isaac and Abraham style) – until the Believer decided that they were merely being tested and that they should stop short of actual murder,

or

3. I should not be harmed on the grounds that the Believer was being tempted to do evil by the devil.

It gives me nightmares just thinking about it. Does it give anyone else the shudders, too?

Such a person has no internal moral compass apart from their unique interpretations of Biblical texts and their unreliable interpretations of religious feelings and delusions. I wonder if it could be argued that this person is free of original sin on the grounds that they have clearly failed to benefit from the knowledge of good and evil imparted to the human race when their distant ancestors ate Eden’s forbidden fruit?

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alex September 11, 2010 at 9:24 am

The impression I got from kaka’s early comments was that he “wishes atheism were true” so he could continue living a hedonistic and materialistic lifestyle, free from the burden of morals. Apparently, without the presence of religion in his life, he sees no way to distinguish moral vs. immoral behavior–including rape, gay bashing and infanticide. It also appears that he believes all atheists are similarly deficient in this way…except in my experience, most non-believers have worked hard to craft their own philosophy of morality, and are more than capable of implementing it.

Even more perplexing, after insisting at length that religion is the only logical way to be a moral person, he goes on to explain that God is a grizzly bear who is beyond our rules or understanding of moral behavior–that evil done at his hand follows a “different” code of morality, and as puny mortals we shouldn’t question it. Which certainly leads me to wonder what exactly kaka’s morality looks like, since it seems reliant on a God figure whose own behavior is so morally ambiguous, it’s difficult to differentiate from the “Devil”.

I’ve had other conversations with believers about the nature of evil and its relationship with God, and they always seem to come to this conclusion: “We need to be good people because God says so. But, God can be horrible and cruel because he’s God, and it’s not my place to doubt his intentions.” At which point I always point out: even if that idea of God WERE unequivocally real, I STILL wouldn’t worship him….because I’m a moral person, and it would contradict my own code of morality to worship an all-powerful being that willfully does cruel things.

So yes, the ideas presented by kaka certainly give me the heebie jeebies. I’d hate to see what kind of person he would be without the presence of religion to provide him with a moral construct, but at the same time, it’s a bit baffling to think what his current code must look like.

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kaka September 11, 2010 at 3:55 pm

@alex:

i said there are no *objective* moral values without god.

like rosita, you are confusing moral ontology with moral epistemology. i’d recommend checking out those debates i mentioned, especially craig v kurtz and craig v dacey.

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alex September 11, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Sigh. Way to stay consistent, kaka. I’d recommend avoiding debates if you can’t participate on your own merit.

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caseywollberg September 11, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Morals aren’t things that exist, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be objective about them. As far as ontology goes, there are things that exist (biological and social imperatives, empathy, etc.) that lead to behaviors that we judge, epistemologically, to be moral. Even that judgment can be based objectively on things that do exist, like the effects of behaviors (or on, again, things like empathy). In other words, morality can be (is) objective without gods, along with being partly subjective at the same time.

If morals were absolute, ontological things themselves, handed down to us from the gods, then there would be no such thing as a moral dilemma–and yet they abound. Then again, if everything was subjective, there wouldn’t be so much moral consistency across cultures.

Reality doesn’t conform, kaka, to the philosophically contrived zero-sum game you keep referring us to. The false dilemma is convenient to your belief, though, isn’t it? To those who have some understanding of the subject, on the other hand, it amounts to a big “so what?” I suggest you stop dropping names and start picking up books. And read with a view to learn, not to fortify your faith.

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Rosita September 12, 2010 at 1:52 am

@kaka
@casey
@alex

Kaka said: = =“you are confusing moral ontology with moral epistemology.”= =

I prefer to use simple terms when my audience includes those who may not be familiar with academic jargon. I prefer to use simple terms even with experts. I have found that it is generally the best way to ensure that ideas are clearly expressed and their merit or worthlessness not muddied by an obfuscating shower of academic bluster. When I used simple terms, kaka, you failed to understand me and you kept insisting that I was confused. Perhaps it will help if I translate my argument into more complex discourse, including language which incorporates your favorite philosophical terms.

As I have argued, philosophical approaches to moral beliefs are useless if they are not predicated on a foundation which includes the socio-psychology of moral development.

Paradigms of moral development, such as the Kolberg scale, imply that people use different methods of moral epistemology at different developmental stages and by these means arrive at different decisions regarding moral ontology at each stage. What is considered to be moral at one developmental stage may not be considered to be moral at another stage. Children and adults who are reasoning at basic levels cannot understand the epistemology of more advanced stages. This includes philosophers like William Lane Craig who has a developmentally delayed grasp of moral reasoning and a smug and unjustifiably high opinion of his scholarly excellence vis a vis those people that he debates. (http://www.pangeaprogress.com/1/post/2010/06/william-lane-craig-human-pride-will-to-power-the-christian-orientalist.html)

In other words, philosophical discussions which do not distinguish between the differing moral ontology and epistemology at each stage of moral reasoning are unable to order these distinct methods and outcomes in terms of maturity of thinking. Nor do they have any way of explaining why moral reasoning which makes sense to one section of the community makes no sense to other sections of the community.

Let me provide an example, this time in simple terms.

Kolhberg’s Stage 4 is concerned with law and order. People at this Stage respect rules, laws and properly constituted authority. “Justice” requires that rule breakers be punished and law abiders be rewarded. “Injustice” is failing to reward work or to punish demerit. Good behavior consists of maintaining consistency, precedent and social order. Authority figures are seldom questioned. Typical reasoning includes statements such as: “He must be right because he’s the Pope/President/Judge/God”.

On the other hand, Kolhberg’s Stage 5 is concerned with social contracts. Moral action in a specific situation is not defined by reference to a checklist of rules, but from the application of rules and principles which have been agreed upon by the whole society. The individual acts out of mutual obligation and a sense of public good.

Retributive punishment is now viewed as neither rational nor just because it fails to promote the rights and welfare of the individual within the society. Punishment is deemed appropriate if it protects future victims, acts as a deterrent or helps to rehabilitate the perpetrator. The statement, “Justice demands punishment,” which is a self-evident truism to the Stage 4 mind, is just as self-evidently nonsense at Stage 5

Now do you understand?

Rachel Cory-Kuehl is a nurse counselor who has attempted to explain the cruelties and contradictions of the Yahweh-Jesus god in terms of Kohlberg’s hierarchy of moral reasoning. http://www.aggelia.com/htdocs/kohlberg.shtml

Kuehl argues that the Old Testament god’s behavior was matched with the prevailing developmental level of the Jewish society of the time. When the nation was at Stage 1 (Might is Right) Yahweh stooped to that level so that the people would understand him.

= =“At stage one a ruler establishes his right to rule by displays of power and vengeance upon his enemies. He rules by threat of punishment and hope of reward. Mercy, or failure to punish, is seen as evidence of weakness, not morality by stage one standards. – - – - God first established His credentials to rule Israel by acts of vengeance upon the Egyptians, and by mighty, spectacular miracles. “I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.” (Deut. 29:6 NIV)” = =

According to Kuehl, the Yahweh god’s moral behavior matured as the Jews and their neighbors developed.

= =“In many instances this situation of God vs the other “gods” (Dagon for example, the god of the Philistines), was involved when God acted in seemingly destructive ways. When we realize that these civilizations were for the most part functioning at level two, or at best level three, the picture becomes clear. If God had done nothing when directly challenged to prove Himself, He would have lost hope of any further influence over those peoples. To initiate a connection with Himself, a point of contact, from which to begin a reeducation He had to use forceful means. It is evident that sometimes these means involved the death of many people (the 185,000 Assyrians for example). If God had done nothing. Or worse If God had tried to use level 5-6 reasoning, the people would have judged Him weak and unworthy of worship. His word would fall upon no receptive ear. The story of Israel is the story of a Father guiding, not one child, but a whole nation of moral children (a whole world of moral children) from childhood to maturity.”= =

The problem with Kuehl’s argument is that it does not work in reality. Parents who match their child’s stage of moral behavior do not earn the respect of their child and will do them considerable emotional, physical and social harm. Imagine the psychological, emotional and physical harm caused by a father who beat his toddler in order to teach him respect. Imagine the consequences if a mother directed her young son to go out and brutally attack and kill any kids at this school whom he did not like, felt threatened by or had property that he wanted to have for himself. Today’s civilized societies would treat both parents as criminals and remove their children from them.

Behaving like a four year old is not appropriate behavior for a parental figure at any time. A god who behaved like this would be grossly immature, emotionally insecure, neurotic, stupid, insane or all of the above. On the other hand, such an entity could be merely a construct of an individual or society who thought or behaved at such a level. In the first case the entity would be feared but not worthy of worship; in the second case there is nothing there to fear, worship or reject but the followers who believe it exists and is worthy or their devotion.

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kaka September 12, 2010 at 3:32 am

@caseywollberg:

“1. As far as ontology goes, there are things that exist (biological and social imperatives, empathy, etc.) that lead to behaviors that we judge, epistemologically, to be moral
2. Even that judgment can be based objectively on things that do exist, like the effects of behaviors (or on, again, things like empathy).”

i don’t agree with 2.

you’ve stated in 1. that behaviours can be ‘judged’ epistemologically to have moral value. i agree.

but then in 2. you repeat 1. but replace the word ‘subjective’ for ‘objective’. i don’t see how that makes any logical sense.

“If morals were:
1.absolute, ontological things themselves
2.handed down to us from the gods,
3. then there would be no such thing as a moral dilemma”

i’m not sure that your conclusion 3. follows logically from your premises 1. and 2. there may be some extra premises that are needed.

“morality can be (is) objective without gods, along with being partly subjective at the same time. ”

this sounds like dacey’s system of “proximate values” or louise antony’s “meta ethics”. i found those moral systems, despite use of the word “objective”, to be ultimately subjective and unconvincing.

“if everything was subjective, there wouldn’t be so much moral consistency across cultures.”

then what do the moral differences and inconsistencies suggest?

just to be clear, i’m not here to offer an apologetic for theism. i take the view that we are all mature seekers of truth and are capable of doing our own research and making our own decisions based on the evidence. i’m more interested in sharing my experiences, exchanging ideas and asking questions.

for those who want to hear the detailed arguments, i’d suggest looking up christian philosophers like alvin de plantiga, jp moreland, jp holding, alister mcgrath or william lane craig and getting them straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

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kaka September 12, 2010 at 5:49 am

sorry i meant:

@caseywollberg:
“1. As far as ontology goes, there are things that exist (biological and social imperatives, empathy, etc.) that lead to behaviors that we judge, epistemologically, to be moral
2. Even that judgment can be based objectively on things that do exist, like the effects of behaviors (or on, again, things like empathy).”
i don’t agree with 2.
you’ve stated in 1. that behaviours can be ‘judged’ epistemologically to have moral value. i agree.
but then in 2. you repeat 1. but replace the word ‘epistemelogically’ for ‘objective’. i don’t see how that makes any logical sense.

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caseywollberg September 12, 2010 at 9:02 am

“i don’t see how that makes any logical sense.”

Why would you? It would violate your cognitive bias.

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caseywollberg September 12, 2010 at 9:26 am

“but then in 2. you repeat 1. but replace the word ‘epistemelogically’ for ‘objective’.”

You’re sophistry is showing. You are misrepresenting what I was doing. I wasn’t replacing one word for another that means something else.

The whole point of my comment (which you don’t address, except to declare that you don’t agree with it) was that morals don’t have to be ontological things for us to be objective about them, and that the moral ontology/epistemology paradigm you present is a false dilemma.

To reiterate, our behaviors derive both from biological and social imperatives *and* from our ethical reasoning, but even this ethical reasoning is just such a behavior that has its source in biological and social imperatives (e.g., empathy). This is not controversial, except to those who wish that morals were handed down from on high. Sadly, though, they only have arguments that fail to account for what we know. Your false dilemma is one such argument.

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caseywollberg September 12, 2010 at 9:39 am

‘“if everything was subjective, there wouldn’t be so much moral consistency across cultures.”

then what do the moral differences and inconsistencies suggest?’

Probably in this order of significance: differing levels of ethical development across cultures, inconsistent ability with apprehending and analyzing objective facts and building ethical systems accordingly, perhaps differences in legacy social dynamics, and to a small degree subjective taste. Read Rosita’s comment for more information.

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kaka September 12, 2010 at 8:16 pm

@caseywollberg:

“our behaviors derive both from biological and social imperatives *and* from our ethical reasoning, but even this ethical reasoning is just such a behavior that has its source in biological and social imperatives (e.g., empathy).“

if you’re suggesting that we cannot escape our socio-biological conditioning, then the very discussion we are having is no more than an elaborate charade – you are an atheist because your biological and cultural conditioning compels you towards atheism and i would be a theist for the same reason.

neither of us would have really chosen our positions because we believed them to be ‘true’ – they would be the inevitable result of our socio-biological makeup. neither one of us could lay any greater claim to truth than the other, on your view.

———————————–

“morals don’t have to be ontological things for us to be objective about them”

on an objective view of morality, you don’t ‘be objective’ about the wrongness of rape any more than you ‘be objective’ that 1 + 1 = 2.

objective moral truths don’t need any ‘doing’ on our part – their truth emerges necessarily from their existence, just as the hypotenuse rule emerges necessarily from a right-angled triangle.

i don’t think anyone has been able to show objective moral truths are possible on an atheist view.

thus the atheist cannot objectively say rape is wrong, only that he thinks it is wrong. many people might think it is wrong but that would only make it popular, not objectively true.

———————————–

“the moral ontology/epistemology paradigm you present is a false dilemma”

moral ontology and moral epistemology are not choices and i haven’t presented them as such.

if you wanted to prove a false dilemma, you would probably be attempting to show that morals are not necessarily objective OR subjective. is that what you were getting at?

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caseywollberg September 12, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Kaka (Is that what your brains are made of or what?),

“is that what you were getting at?”

You know exactly what I was getting at, but you refuse to acknowledge it or address my points because you are a goddamn sophist.

Listen, jackass, if I have one apple and I get another one, then I have two apples, making 1 + 1 = 2 an objective fact, because I will then have two individual apples in my hands to prove it. “Being objective” simply means (amazing that I have to explain this) that I am exclusively applying what I objectively know to my conclusions, rather than being swayed by subjective forces. We can be objective about morality without having to claim that morals themselves are things like apples. That is because (as I said before) the causes of morals *are* things like apples: we can isolate and measure and consider them objectively. We can also be objective about morals because the outcomes of behaviors are things like apples: we can isolate and measure and consider them objectively. We can also be objective about morals because the behaviors we judge as moral or not are things like apples: we can isolate and measure and consider them objectively. An atheist knows rape is wrong because an atheist is an empathic biological creature living in an interconnected social structure with similarly empathic biological creatures, but also because an atheist can observe objectively in the experiences of rape victims that rape causes suffering. This observation triggers the empathic response and the brain says, “NO! Don’t rape!” If we could isolate the parts of the brain responsible for this response (stay tuned) then we would have yet another morally relevant objective fact to *be* objective about.

“i don’t think anyone has been able to show objective moral truths are possible on an atheist view.”

No kidding, Einstein. Now address my points instead of avoiding them.

“if you’re suggesting that we cannot escape our socio-biological conditioning, then…neither one of us could lay any greater claim to truth than the other, on your view.”

This whole passage is a non sequitur. Try again, moron.

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caseywollberg September 12, 2010 at 10:48 pm

“on an objective view of morality, you don’t ‘be objective’ about the wrongness of rape any more than you ‘be objective’ that 1 + 1 = 2.”

Bullshit. If I was conditioned to believe that 1 + 1 = 4, then I would be subjective in my attitude toward the proposition 1 + 1 = 2. It follows then that one *can* be objective with regard to the proposition 1 + 1 = 2. And one can be objective with regard to the moral status of rape.

Morals, being the emotional responses that they are, are notoriously susceptible to subjectivity (one’s moral feeling can be skewed by biblical statutes, for example). Thus, it is alternatively possible to be objective with regard to those emotional responses by looking at the objective facts bearing upon them and deriving from them, as I have been saying.

It does not follow from this that morals are objective truths, obviously. Moral dilemmas show that certain circumstances are, in general, morally ambiguous. That is because the objective agents operating in response to morally relevant stimuli are various and in conflict within the brain. The ones shouting “NO!” the loudest win out. But even with moral dilemmas, the resolutions are often similar across cultures (no Bible required).

And for those moral dilemmas that are far less ambiguous, like rape, there are good evolutionary psych reasons for them being so (ontologically), just as there are good ethical reasons for the same (epistemologically).

Now, a relevant question for you, Christian. How do you feel about homosexuality?

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Rosita September 13, 2010 at 12:01 am

Kaka wrote: “i don’t think anyone has been able to show objective moral truths are possible on an atheist view.”

The testable prediction from this contention is that the more religious a nation or community within a nation, the more moral it can be shown to be on objective measures which reflect the moral values generally accepted by Christians who live in modern civilized societies. The corollary is that the more atheistic the nation or community the less moral it can be shown to be on such objective measures.

The following URL links to an article which reports the results of a meta-analysis of several studies which examined the relationship between a nation’s religiosity and its “moral health”. The included nations, listed in the order of their rank on measures of religious belief and practice, are the USA, Portugal, Ireland, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Austria, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Japan,

http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html

The results do not support the conclusion that non-religious people are less moral than religious believers. In fact, the reverse is shown to be the case Religious societies tend to have significantly higher rates of homicides, abortion, suicide, teen pregnancies and STDs than secular societies and the relationship is relatively linear: the more religious the community, the less moral it is. The USA is the most religious of the nations and has by far the highest incidence of moral and societal ill-health overall. In fact, the United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.

Commentary on this article concludes:
Whether religion leads directly to dysfunctionality, or religions merely flourish in dysfunctional societies, neither conclusion from this study flatters religion. The first tells us that religion is a hindrance to the development of moral character, and the second that religion hinders progress by distracting us from our troubles (with imaginary solutions to real problems).’ http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/v12n03_are_religious_societies_healthier.html

Not only is there no valid basis for Kaka’s assertion (that no-one has been able to show that objective moral truths are possible for non-believers), it would be hard for any rational person to deny that the assertion is overwhelmingly wrong.

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Rosita September 13, 2010 at 12:30 am

@kaka

You have not yet provided a convincing case for the existence of objective Christian morals.

There is a great deal of moral inconsistency in the Christian Bible. There has been a great deal of inconsistency among Christians over time and within time between nations, communities, denominations, sects and groups. Since there is no universal Christian agreement on what is moral and what is immoral, the argument for objective god-given morals is shot out of the water.

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kaka September 13, 2010 at 1:39 am

@caseywollberg:

well despite your use of the word ‘objective’, it seems you agree with me that on the atheist view, morality is ultimately subjective and a blend of socio-biological evolution and personal taste.

“How do you feel about homosexuality?”

i’m indifferent as to whether you are a homosexual or not.

@rosita:

my view on morality in the bible is that its teachings have remained unchanged but their interpretation by christians throughout history has been inconsistent. this does not mean the teachings are not true, only that christians have not always applied them properly.

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caseywollberg September 13, 2010 at 4:58 am

“well despite your use of the word ‘objective’, it seems you agree with me that on the atheist view, morality is ultimately subjective and a blend of socio-biological evolution and personal taste.”

“It seems,” does it? It seems to me you are an incompetent moron who doesn’t know how to read.

But I know better. You are just continuing your pattern of sophistry. And I really hate sophistry. Go fuck yourself.

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caseywollberg September 13, 2010 at 5:02 am

By the way, kaka, Rosita has you nailed to the wall. That’s why you are hiding from her arguments too. Fucking sophist coward. Theists are always reduced to sophistry. Always. So goddamn predictable, and so disappointing.

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caseywollberg September 13, 2010 at 5:05 am

‘“How do you feel about homosexuality?”

i’m indifferent as to whether you are a homosexual or not.’

Dodge (of course!). This question terrifies you, doesn’t it?

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Rosita September 13, 2010 at 9:30 am

@Casey:

Casey, thanks for the support but I’d be a lot happier if you kept your cool and censored your writing. Swearing and name calling is not appropriate on Luke’s site. He goes to great lengths to keep it civil and we should respect that.

(begin preaching) Besides, a display of angry crudity brings you down to the same level as the Christian who assigns his opponents to hell. I don’t believe there’s anything intrinsically wrong with swearing but, as I tell my son, there’s a time and a place for everything and part of growing up successfully is to figure out when and where that is and then apply it accordingly. He’s learning to find a place to swear in private when he needs to let off steam but the present company would be offended or react in a way that harms him in some way. You might want to try the same technique. (end preaching)

@Kaka:

=“my view on morality in the bible is that its teachings have remained unchanged but their interpretation by christians throughout history has been inconsistent. this does not mean the teachings are not true, only that christians have not always applied them properly.”=

The problem with this argument is that there is no objective and immutable standard for determining which Christians are applying the Biblical teachings correctly and which ones are not. Nor does it provide an objective standard for determining which of the contradictory Bible rules, commandments and divine examples are to be followed and emulated in this society and which are not.

It seems to me that your criterion for determining the “truth” is whatever matches your personal and subjective point of view. Since that seems to be the criteria that are used by every other person who claims that they are a Christian, whether they agree with you or not, the criteria is useless. It can only result in a slanging match where each Christian accuses most other Christians of being “not really a Christian” – all on the basis of ephemeral subjective criteria. This would mean that even if the teachings of the Bible were really consistent, unchanging and objectively moral there is no way for any person to determine what the immutable truth is.

Your version of god has a serious communication problem. The message was unclear right from the point where the Bible reports two conflicting creation stories, with the first universe being created in one order by the Babylonian El god and his Elohim committee of gods (one of which was the troublesome Yahweh) and the second universe being created in a different order by the Yahweh god without any assistance from the El god and the other Elohim. Both are incompatible with modern science.

In the beginning was a massively dense singularity. When there was enough gravitational force it exploded and formed huge stars. Some of these stars exploded and formed the next generation of stars as well as small black holes with singularities at their center.

The next generation of stars exploded and formed stellar nurseries for a different type of star. Black holes merged to form super massive black holes and galaxies formed around these. Another generation of stars exploded and formed solar systems.

The black holes in the universe continue to suck up the surrounding star matter, returning it to a “nothingness” with a gravitational field that is no intense that the normal laws of physics cease to apply beyond their rims and space and time do not exist.

It seems that these black holes will all eventually merge, suck up the remaining matter in the universe and build up such a huge gravitational force that the final megalithic singularity explodes in another Big Bang – and starts another universe. No god is required.

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Rosita September 13, 2010 at 9:50 am

@ all

Sorry for the confusion over “criteria” (plural) and “criterion” (singular). I tried to correct the problem during a spelling check but somehow it did not “take”. I have a dying laptop (cracked motherboard) and I am constantly being alerted that my text documents contain errors. Unfortunately the system will not tell me what these errors are and I usually miss them on read back.

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caseywollberg September 13, 2010 at 12:02 pm

“Casey, thanks for the support but I’d be a lot happier if you kept your cool and censored your writing. Swearing and name calling is not appropriate on Luke’s site. He goes to great lengths to keep it civil and we should respect that.”

Thanks for the advice, but if Luke wants to censor me he can. As for me, I don’t respect sophists in any way and I won’t be civil to them. It’s the only way I will deal with them. Sophistry is uncivil and an act of disrespect. Being nice to sophists just encourages them to continue their bad behavior. The returned disrespect is not a lack of self-control on my part, just the opposite: it is policy. Sorry to disappoint you.

By the way, this…

“a display of angry crudity brings you down to the same level as the Christian who assigns his opponents to hell.”

…doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

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kaka September 13, 2010 at 3:51 pm

@caseywollberg:

see…when you say you will ‘be objective’ about the wrongness of rape, what you are really saying is – you know that the wrongness of rape is ultimately a subjective judgment but for the sake of social cohesion, you are going to pretend rape is objectively wrong. that is, that it is wrong for all people and all time.

but you can’t appeal to behaviours, brain signals or psychology because if we are the product of evolution, all these things developed by random, blind chance. evolution didn’t evolve brains which abhorred rape because rape is wrong, it did it because it was good for survival.

that is the bind that people who appeal to biology or evolutionary psychology find themselves in – evolution doesn’t care about moral truths, it only cares about survival. any deeper meaning, as the agnostic biologist michael ruse says, is “illusory”.

i made this point to rosita earlier and she responded by posting more psychology stuff which doesn’t address the issue – which is why i’ve stopped responding to those. i see you’ve dodged the issue too.

lastly, i have great faith that the intelligent people following this discussion won’t be fooled by name-calling or aggressive posturing. rather, they will ignore posters who rely on false bravado and only read contributions which say something useful.

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kaka September 13, 2010 at 4:07 pm

@rosita:

i’ve only been a christian for about a month (i was atheist for 10 years before that), so my bible literacy is a bit shaky.

but my understanding is – throughout history, christians have distorted the truth of the gospel to enrich themselves or gain political power.

the meaning of jesus’ new covenant is clear but people have just chosen to ignore it so they can go back to the barbaric punishments from the old testament.

but as craig says, our gradual comprehension of biblical morality no more undermines the truth of those morals any more than our gradual comprehension of science undermines the truth of the natural world. the root of the problem is flawed, incomplete human understanding.

i haven’t seen two creation stories in the bible – can you provide a reference?

i see you’ve referred to the big bang…well according to the hawking-penrose singularity model, there can’t have been any gravitational force to act on the singularity because all matter, space and time itself were enclosed in the singularity.

the singularity wasn’t just a ball of matter hanging in space – there was literally no space or anything outside of it.

this is the widely-accepted cosmological model at the moment.

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caseywollberg September 13, 2010 at 5:02 pm

“lastly, i have great faith that the intelligent people following this discussion won’t be fooled by name-calling or aggressive posturing. rather, they will ignore posters who rely on false bravado and only read contributions which say something useful.”

Spoken like a true sophist.

“you are going to pretend rape is objectively wrong. that is, that it is wrong for all people and all time.”

Your first sentence does not equate with your second. Objectivity is not the same thing as universality plus eternity. Further, you mean something different from what I mean when you say “objectively wrong.”

See, what you mean is that some god somewhere said “Rape is wrong.” This claim is exceedingly problematic. For one thing, the god you claim to worship, the bible god, never did say such a thing. In fact, the bible endorses rape in some places. For another thing, there is no evidence such a god even exists to make such a proclamation.

You’ve got absolutely nothing to go on except your subjective beliefs, whereas what I mean by “objectively wrong” is what I’ve been saying all along. I can judge from the effects of rape that it causes suffering and, yes, that it damages social cohesion. It also is wrong in the context of empathy. Empathy is a psychological fact, derived from biology, evolved to be what it is. These are all objective facts bearing upon present morality.

I can be objective when I say “rape is wrong,” whereas you can only be subjective, as your claim is based on nothing but naked superstition. To you rape is only wrong if teh god says it is. And, uh-oh, he doesn’t. (Or, at least, he’s apparently conflicted about it, which doesn’t bode well for your position.)

Now, would you like to answer my very useful question, “How do you feel about homosexuality?” or will you continue your (how did you put it?) “aggressive posturing” and “false bravado”–in a word, sophistry?

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caseywollberg September 13, 2010 at 5:23 pm

“i’ve only been a christian for about a month (i was atheist for 10 years before that), so my bible literacy is a bit shaky.”

That’s okay, it’s typical of Christians not to know anything about what they claim to believe. You’re in good company there. But, tell me again why anyone here should take you seriously.

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Rosita September 13, 2010 at 7:22 pm

@kaka

I don’t believe for a minute that you have stopped discussing things with me because I did not address the issue. I believe that you stopped responding because I inconveniently refused to accept your assertions about what I really thought…

I repeat, I do not believe that “evolutionary psychology” has anything to do with the development of moral reasoning or the practice of ethics. I do not believe it has much to do with survival, other than its role in supporting in-group cohesion. I do not believe that specific moral rules are hard-wired into the brain. I do not believe that environmental socialization is the only factor at work in moral development. The belief set that you keep trying to demolish is so rare in my profession that I have never met an academic or licensed psychologist who thinks like that.

[On another topic entirely, evolution of biological entities did not occur by “random, blind chance”. According to biologists, chance played a minor role in the process and was largely restricted to random mutations (mostly due to the earth’s background radiation) and the relatively common occurrence of DNA copying errors during cell reproduction. The major player in the shaping of life was the environment.]

Stephen Pinker’s “evolutionary psychology” is a highly controversial theory which he has applied to the development of vision and language acquisition, but not to moral development (as far as I am aware). The mainstream psychological theory of the acquisition of morals, as I have outlined several times, is tied to the biological development of mirror neurons and the consequent development of empathy. It is also tied to the maturation of the neurons in the frontal and association areas of the brain. These biological factors are combined with the type of nurturing the person gets during infancy and childhood and the socialization they obtain from their parents and the wider community, including religious groups. The highest stages of moral development are heavily influenced by education, especially exposure to the skills of critical thinking.

In other words, you are arguing against a “strawman” position that is accepted by few, if any, experts on the psychology of moral development. Worse, you keep repeating your condemnation of the false position and show no sign of understanding the actual position, in spite of it being outlined on multiple occasions. If you were gullible enough to believe whoever told you that all atheists believe that rubbish then you should be enlightened by now.

You keep attempting to cover up your lack of understanding, or your failure to learn from experience, by insisting that I am failing to comprehend or address philosophical constructs that have little or nothing to do with the issues that I have been trying to explain or which were implicit in the material but missed because I did not use philosophical terms to describe them. That kind of misdirection may impress people who are awed by those who sprinkle their conversation with academic jargon that they do not understand, but it won’t impress those who know what they mean and recognize the sophism for what it is. (I’ve listened to some of Craig’s work and note that this is a dishonest tactic that he uses often. He then reinforces it by telling his supporters that he is generally disappointed and bored with debates with atheists because his opponents just aren’t up to his philosophical standard. What arrogance! How rude! Of course, this also redirects his audience away from the fact that he is not up to the scientific standard of those he debates.)

When you have been stumped you have changed the subject or gone back to repeating what you said in the beginning, as if it had never been challenged. This seems designed to hide the fact that you have not answered the objections. (Another of Craig’s dirty tricks.)

When this tactic didn’t work you suggested that the conversation be continued by personal email to “save bandwidth”. That way your continued failure to offer an adequate response would be hidden from the public. Finally you suggest that my mind is made up and I will never see the truth. (sigh) I think I’d call that projection (imputing your own motives to your protagonist). There was a fair bit of that going on at other points along the way (for example, accusing me of becoming an atheist for emotional reasons.)

As I said before, you have a lot of reading to do before de-converts will take you seriously. Inform your philosophy with science (astrophysics, evolution, the psychology of moral development, neuro-psychology, neurology and the soul, the neuroscience of religious experience, conversion, and glossolalia). Go read some fact sheets about what atheists do and don’t believe. Find out why de-converts really leave the faith.

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kaka September 13, 2010 at 7:45 pm

@caseywollberg:

ok once again…’objective morality’ means moral values whose truths exist independently of the person perceiving them.

that is the commonly accepted definition. you can employ all the sophistry you want to twist this definition to suit your own ends but you will then be going against a tide of scholarly thought which even atheist philosophers and ethicists are a part of.

if you believe in a transcendent god, you have an objective foundation for your moral beliefs.

without god, you are just appealing to the randomly mutated, socio-biological traits you inherited from the genes of your primate ancestors.

these genes were passed to you not because the behaviours they promoted were ‘true’ in a moral sense but because they gave you a better chance of survival ie, they promoted stable, cohesive herd behaviour and aligned with emphatic interests. as atheist richard dawkins says: “there is…no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference. we are machines for propagating DNA”.

to then claim anything is morally ‘true’ on the socio-biological level is an exercise in self-delusion. you can call it morality or ‘be objective’ about it as much as you like but that doesn’t change things.

now i completely agree with you that rape is morally wrong. it is not necessary to believe in god to know that rape is wrong. but without god, there is no foundation for it. the atheist philosopher richard taylor agrees: “the concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of god”.

if my beliefs are, as you say, subjective, well why should i not hold that your beliefs are also subjective, including your belief that my beliefs are subjective?

but all that leaves us with is socio-cultural relativism where all values are equal and thus meaningless. this entire discussion, and all of human history descends into absurdity. there is no meaning except what we create for ourselves.

in our journey through life, given the limits of information and our limited time on earth, i feel we must choose the worldview that we feel is the more plausible. i have chosen theism not because it can be proven beyond a doubt but because it is more probable than not and better than the alternatives. belief in god for me is more plausible than non-belief.

in my discussions with atheists such as yourself, i have seen a lot of personal attacks and chest-puffing but little in the way of convincing argument. hence, i’m perfectly rational in saying i have chosen theism because it is more rational than the alternatives. judging by your most recent comments, i’m getting the feeling you’ve run out of things to say and the discussion is slowly fizzing out…psssscccchhhh…. :)

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kaka September 13, 2010 at 7:48 pm

@rosita:
well there you go – on your view, morals came from our biological development and the environment. and to what do we owe our biological makeup and environment? evolution and the big bang. read my post to caseywollberg to see what are the problems with affirming moral values on the back of that. or maybe just re-read what i said to you already.

i don’t think i can break it down any further than that.

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Rosita September 13, 2010 at 11:46 pm

@kaka

You wrote: “- – - ‘objective morality’ means moral values whose truths exist independently of the person perceiving them.”

What are these objective morals?
Who says they are objective and why do you believe that person?
What objective proof do you have that these moral beliefs are transcendent and universal?
How do you account for the fact that there have been disagreements over moral values from the very beginning of Christianity, starting with the first century Jewish Church that believed that it was immoral to eat “unclean” food or fail to circumcise males and the Gentile Church who believed that these acts were moral?. When the Jewish Christian church died out the Gentile moral code was adopted.

=”appealing to the randomly mutated, socio-biological traits you inherited from the genes of your primate ancestors – - – - these genes were passed to you not because the behaviours they promoted were ‘true’ in a moral sense but because they gave you a better chance of survival i.e., they promoted stable, cohesive herd behaviour and aligned with emphatic interests.”=

This makes no psychological or neurological sense. It isn’t how these disciplines have learned that morals develop. You have confused this position with biological evolution and the selective survival of the best adapted creatures.

=”to then claim anything is morally ‘true’ on the socio-biological level is an exercise in self-delusion”=

I’m not claiming this. There is no evidence that morals are developed in this way. If you think that I believe this, after being repeatedly told that I do not, then it is you who is deluded.

=”. but without god, there is no foundation for (the belief that rape is wrong)”=

Of course there is. Children and adults can reason that out at each Stage of moral reasoning, but the foundation for this belief differs depending on the Stage reached. It is Stage 1 reasoning which thinks that there are external absolute rules made by external authorities who will punish you if you don’t obey.

You would be justified in arguing that my moral beliefs are subjective but you would not be justified in arguing that all moral beliefs are equal. It all depends on the maturity of the moral reasoning that you use to arrive at the belief. If you are still stuck at the moral absolute stage then you could find an 8 year old who can do better. The Kohlberg description of the stages of moral development is compatible with meta-ethical and descriptive moral relativism but not with normative moral relativism. If you understand this system then hierarchical moral relativism makes perfect sense.

The two creation stories are contained in Genesis 1: 1-27 and in Genesis 2: 4-25
The order of creation is different and the names of the gods who did the creating are also different. One version came from the tribes of North Israel and one from the tribes of South Israel. The first creator god is named El and the second creator god is named Yahweh. If you don’t read Hebrew you will miss that.
http://www.skepticfiles.org/atheist/bible3do.htm
http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/accounts.html
http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/gen/1.html

I am starting to repeat myself because you keep insisting that I believe what I do not believe and because I have not been able to get you show an understanding of what I am talking about.

I find it very hard to accept that you are a freshly minted Christian who had been an “atheist” for ten years. Judging by what you have said in this forum, you had no logical basis for your lack of belief and you have repeatedly demonstrated that you have no idea how atheists usually think.

The logical underpinning of your current belief is also poor. You seem to have no clue about the straw man nature and the logical objections to the arguments you believe are compelling. What little you have fleshed out was absurd and even frightening. If you sincerely think that what you have recently been persuaded to believe is plausible, then you must still be in the grip of the irrational conversion syndrome.

In other words, I just can’t take you seriously. Your story just doesn’t ring true.

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kaka September 14, 2010 at 1:58 am

@rosita:

yes but you understand the basic point i’m making right? that we got out brains through blind evolution? you do know what evolution is right?

i think you’re taking the piss if you can’t grasp something as simple as that or at least read between the lines, given your apparent training in complex philosophy and logic. if you’re waiting to be spoonfed answers you won’t get that from me, i’m afraid.

as for your claims about two creation stories – give me a break! surely you must have learned in your methodist training that genesis is metaphorical and not a literal, science-textbook account on how the universe was created? even if genesis is be found to be completely false what does that prove? is this really what led you away from christianity or are you just copying and pasting random crap from the internet? my goodness, stop wasting your time.

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kaka September 14, 2010 at 5:03 am

@rosita:

as for your claim that moral beliefs would not all be equal because some would be more ‘mature’ than others, well how do you know that? without an objective reference point, how do you know if our morals are moving forward or backward?

your only response is to regurgitate large tracts of information on the kohlberg system. but this doesn’t refute the point because it is interpretative frameworks like kohlberg’s which are undermined by the lack of an objective reference point.

you then appeal to ‘empathy’ – well why should empathy, which dawkins describes as a Darwinian mistake, be the basis of a moral system? because kohlberg says so? what reasons do i have to believe kohlberg is right over other psychologists? your response then is to regurgitate large tracts of information on the kohlberg system.

what i’m asking for is a reasoned argument. for someone who claims to have taught logic classes, i’m baffled as to how you have managed to stay in this discussion for so long without providing one. don’t bother replying if you’re going to cut and paste from your psychology textbook – you’ll only embarrass yourself further.

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alex September 14, 2010 at 8:07 am

AGAIN avoiding very basic, reasonable, DIRECT questions:

>>What are these objective morals?
Who says they are objective and why do you believe that person?
What objective proof do you have that these moral beliefs are transcendent and universal?
How do you account for the fact that there have been disagreements over moral values from the very beginning of Christianity, starting with the first century Jewish Church that believed that it was immoral to eat “unclean” food or fail to circumcise males and the Gentile Church who believed that these acts were moral?. When the Jewish Christian church died out the Gentile moral code was adopted.

Kaka, you are an unbelievable twit. But at least you’ve stopped pretending that you’re calm, rational and non-patronizing.

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Rosita September 14, 2010 at 11:00 am

@kaka

The evolution of the brain is irrelevant to the development of specific moral values.

Sure we got our brains through evolution, but the rest of your argument does not follow because it is ignorant of both neurology and behavioral science. Moreover, your conclusion is inconsistent with the facts. That alone, should tell you that there is something wrong with your logic.

There is no evidence that there are immutable moral laws or values that everyone “knows” are right or that can be reliably “discovered” by those who describe themselves as Christians. When asked to list immutable universal moral laws you could not do so.

The authoritarian mindset.

When asked to explain how “do not kill” and “do not rape” is consistent with divine injunctions to slaughter whole nations of people and rape all the young girls, you had to seek out an “authority” in order to find a way to square up your socialized beliefs about what was moral with what you found written in the Bible. The extrapolation of that person’s reasoning led to absurdity and moral uncertainty. You ended up with no reliable way to determine what is good and what is evil.

In other words, you are relying on the leaders of your current world view to make moral judgments for you, in spite of the fact that the decisions which these people make are not universally accepted by other Christians, or even by intelligent and compassionate members of this society. You have shown yourself to be easily led by specious arguments, especially those which are wrapped in the semantic trappings of erudition.

You have not proved your case.

Moral decisions change as the brain develops.

No matter which model is used to describe the data, there is a mountain of objective evidence which support the fact that humans make different moral decisions given the same moral conundrum at different stages of their lives, and that all humans make moral decisions that follow a one-way ladder up a maturational hierarchy. Sometimes the moral reasoning causes the person to arrive at the same decision but often it does not. The contents of the Top Ten Commandments are a good case in point.

THE TOP TEN COMMANDMENTS (Protestant Version)

1. Don’t worship anyone but the Yahweh god.

2. Don’t make an idol or an image of a god, and then bow down and worship it.

3. Don’t use the Yahweh god’s name as a swear word.

4. Do not work on the 7th day of the week.

5. Respect your parents and do what they tell you.

6. Don’t murder

7. Don’t have sex with someone who is married to someone else.

8. Don’t steal.

9. Don’t tell lies about someone else.

10. Don’t wish you had someone else’s property.

Lying, killing, stealing and doing what your parents tell you to do are not seen as absolutes in the higher stages of moral development.

Moral decisions are relative to the environment.

Cultural and community mores play a big part in how things are interpreted.

Prior to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity in the 3rd Century CE, worshipping Jesus broke the first commandment. Jews still believe this.
Catholics don’t believe that they are breaking the 2nd commandment when they bow down and worship or pray to pictures and models of Jesus and the saints.
Few modern Christians consider that substituting Sunday for Saturday is breaking the 4th commandment. Few Christians and only Orthodox Jews believe that working or picking up sticks to make a fire on Saturday (or Sunday) is breaking the 4th commandment.
Breaking the 10th commandment is essential to the practice of American-style capitalism.
Hardly anyone now believes that people should be viciously killed by members of the religious community if they break any of these commandments, as ordered in the Bible. Christians use the apocryphal story of Jesus and his suggestion about casting the first stone is used to avoid this ancient practice. Modern Jews avoid it for other reasons.

The hierarchy of stages of moral reasoning exists independently of the Kohlberg model.

Behavioral scientists other than Kohlberg have worked in the field of moral development. It makes no difference whether you use the Kohlberg model to describe this progression or you use someone else’s description, the hierarchical ladder is indisputably there and the results are still objectively obvious. Unlike your contentions, this is an observable and reliably repeatable fact. You could repeat the experiments and prove it for yourself.

The assignment of superiority to the top stage of the moral maturational hierarchy is based on objective reference points.

We assume that the reasoning at the top of the scale is the best because we have no reason to suppose that the moral maturational progression is any different in quality from the cognitive maturational progression which it parallels. Both sets of observable cognitive-behavioral changes parallel objectively observable maturational changes in the brain. There are thus two independent and objective reference points: one cognitive-behavioral and one neuro-biological.

The human brain has fully matured by around 16 and is at its peak at around 19. Humans normally reach the top of the cognitive reasoning scale somewhere between 16 and 19. Moral maturation generally takes a little longer. In both cases, not everybody reaches the top of the scale.

The importance of empathy.

The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is crucial to the development of morals. Parents will often unconsciously use that knowledge to ask their developing children something like: “How would you fell if someone pulled your hair?” The fact that it is crucial is confirmed by what we know about those who fail to develop appropriate moral codes. Sociopaths have been shown to have abnormal cell development in areas that we know are related to the development of empathy. People with motor vehicle head injuries to the tips of the frontal and parietal lobes become anti-social because they are unable to monitor and control their behavior or imagine how others might feel. Neuropsychologists spend their professional life testing these functions in brain impaired individuals. Philosophers generally have little or no knowledge of this area.

Empathy is at the base of the meta-ethic: do not unnecessarily harm another human being. This rule underpins the higher stages of moral reasoning but is interpreted differently depending on the level reached and the person’s ability to deal with complexity.

The implications of a commitment to a belief in moral absolutes.

Believing in absolute moral values is a feature of moral reasoning in the early stages of moral maturation. What this says is that the people who are currently influencing your moral reasoning you have not yet reached the peak of moral reasoning themselves, although they may be quite cognitively mature. Since the arguments which these people make seem to make sense to you whereas what the behavioral research has found does not, the inescapable conclusion is that you either haven’t got far up the scale yourself or you are suffering from selective cognitive blindness as the result of an emotional attachment to a conflicting doctrine. I’m sorry if this sounds insulting, but that’s where the evidence leads.

It is becoming really frustrating trying to explain to you, over and over again, where and why your reasoning fails. You simply repeat what you have already said without acknowledging that its relevance and efficacy has been thoroughly disproved by the evidence. It’s not that I don’t understand what you are trying to say, it is that you don’t seem to understand the implications for your argument of what I am saying.

The bottom line is that you have no objective proof of the existence of absolute moral values and their existence is contrary to the evidence of moral progression, both within the lifetime of person and between nations and generations.

And, by the way, complaining about the increasing frustration evident in others reactions to you is a smokescreen to cover up the fact that you started the abuse in your very first post. We have been amazingly tolerant up to now.

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kaka September 14, 2010 at 3:29 pm

i was frustrated, forgive me.

but…yes, we evolved our brains…so any neural activity you observe in a brain in 2010 is the result of millions of years of that brain adapting to survive better right?

so what you observe and call ‘moral development’ are simply adaptations selected to promote better herd behaviour. maybe one of your colleagues can better explain the connection between evolution and neuroscience.

you’re simply missing the point if you’re asking me to produce ‘the objective morals of the church’. as i’ve been saying – objective morals are not even possible unless you believe in a god who transcends society, biology, culture, psychology etc.

now i could point you to jesus’ sermon on the mount but what’s to stop you discounting it as just another option in the moral/spiritual buffet? but if that’s true for my view, it’s also true for yours. why should we turn to psychology for moral guidance? it’s just another option isn’t it?

what allows us to break through cultural relativism, i contend, is belief in a transcendent god.

ah you say, but which god, there are hundreds. that’s a whole other discussion.

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Rosita September 15, 2010 at 7:16 am

@kaka

I can see no useful connection for your argument between the fact that the brain evolved to its present form and the fact that the brain matures over about 20 years, along with cognition, language and moral reasoning, and not everyone matures to the same level.

You have stated that objective morals are possible if you believe in a god who transcends the society, culture and the sciences. I presume you mean at least one of the Christian versions of god, and I presume you mean versions that believe that whatever they read in some version of the Christian Bible trumps anything that science reports as reality and any moral rules they learn from their parents, friends, culture or nation.

You have referred me to the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew, chapters 5 to 7) If you are using this as an example of clear, objective, unchanging moral values then it is a very bad choice. Almost every Christian group has ways of softening this sermon and interpreting it in a non-literal manner. Here is a sample of the huge variety of interpretations by Christians through the ages.

The Absolutist View (held by St Francis of Assisi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oriental Orthodox Churches) believes that all the instructions in the sermon must be taken literally and applied universally. If obeying them costs the welfare of the believer then that is a reasonable sacrifice for salvation.

Text Modification is common. Early copyists changed Matthew 5:22 from “whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment” to a watered-down “Whosoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be in danger of the judgment”. “Love your enemies” was changed to “Pray for your enemies”. The exception to divorce may be a Matthean addition as it is not present in Luke 16:18, Mark 10:11 or I Cor 7; 10-11. Paul gives his own exceptions to Jesus’ teaching in 1 Cor 7:12-16. Additions were made to the Lord’s Prayer to support other doctrines. The most common accommodation in recent times is to paraphrase the Sermon and make it far less radical. A search through the writings of just about every major Christian writer finds that they have done this at some point.

The Hyperbole View, another common view, argues that portions of the Sermon are exaggerations and need to be toned to in order to apply to the real world. There is disagreement over which sections should be taken literally.

The General Principles View argues that Jesus was not giving specific instructions but general principles. It is proposed that the specific instructions of the Sermon are merely examples of the general principles and not to be taken literally.

The Double Standards View is the official version of the Catholic Church. It divides the instructions into precepts and specific counsels. Obedience to the general precepts is essential for salvation but obedience to the others is only necessary for perfection.
The Two Realms View (Martin Luther) divides the world into spiritual and secular realms and argues that the Sermon should only be applied in the spiritual world. Thus a judge should sentence a criminal in the secular world but privately mourn for his fate in the spiritual world.

The Analogy of Scripture View notes that several of the precepts are modified by other parts of the New Testament and should therefore not be taken literally. For instance Jesus seems to forbid all oaths but Paul is shown using them at least twice.

The notion of Attitudes, not Acts (Wilhelm Hermann, St Augustine) holds that Jesus is not saying how someone should act; only what his attitude should be.

The Interim Ethic View (Albert Schweitzer) argues that Jesus was convinced that the world was about to end so survival in the real world was unimportant. Since he was mistaken about this the Sermon should not be taken literally until the commencement of the End Times.

The Unconditional Divine Will View (Martin Dibelius, Dostoevsky) argues that the ethics behind the sermon are absolute and unbending but the current fallen state of the world makes them impossible to live up to them. Failure is inevitable until the Kingdom of Heaven is proclaimed at which point we will all be able to fulfill them.

The Repentance View) states that Jesus meant the precepts in the Sermon to be unattainable so that our failure to live up to them will result in repentance and drive us to faith in the gospels.

Another eschatological view is that of modern Dispensationalism (Plymouth Brethren) divides human history into ages of dispensations. Today we live in a period of grace where living up the to Sermon is impossible, but in the future Millennium there will be a period where it is possible to do so, and living up to them in this period will be essential for salvation.

The Eschatological Invitation View (E.Earle Ellis, Prof.theol. at Southwestern Baptist Seminary) says that Jesus is inviting people to live according to an ethic which will be standard in the future kingdom of God. We should adjust our thoughts and lives to this ethic in this age.

In other words, there is no agreement among Christians on whether the instructions given in the Sermon on the Mount are literal, universal moral values or not. This is a mirror of what goes on in the case of all moral values listed or implicit in the Christian Bible. Take your pick on interpretations. One view might be right or they could all be wrong.

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SkypixieZero September 15, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Rosita,
I’ve enjoyed reading this very long post and the comments following it. However it does nothing to encourage me that religionists can engage in reasoned debate. Ultimately we are talking two different languages. We speak “reason” and they speak “belief”.

While these two languages may have many words in common, the full meaning of those words, including nuances and implications, are different for religionists and for reasoners.

The individual who is self-named kaka (a children’s name for faeces – Freudian slip?). Simply cannot conceive of being wrong. His purpose in this discussion has never been to “learn” from it except that he hopes to learn how to persuade atheists to adopt his beliefs.

His repeated admonitions to you and others to, “open your mind” is an amateurish attempt to induce you to “allow him a foothold” of belief in your mind. At no point did I ever see him take his own advice and open his own mind.

I seldom get into this sort of thing any more. I cannot speak “belief” and I do not expect religionists to learn any more of the language of “reason” than they deem necessary in order to try to convert us to their sad, inhuman, inhumane, otherworldly, inane, philosophy.

Heck, most of them cannot even speak “belief” very well. When did you last encounter any two or more of them who describes their god or their beliefs in the same way? I have come to the inescapable conclusion that “Every believer creates his own god”.

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kaka September 15, 2010 at 10:52 pm

rosita, these are questions of how morals are applied. i’m talking about their objective basis in reality.

‘god’ need not refer to the christian god. i’m speaking generically of a transcendant god here.

but if you don’t believe in god then there are no objective morals at all. there is no point discussing what is the proper interpretation of the sermon on the mount as there is no objective reference point (what jesus/god really intended) to aim for. they’re just opinions.

but in such a world why should we turn to psychology for moral guidance?

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kaka September 15, 2010 at 10:59 pm

sorry should be:

THOSE are questions of how morals are applied.

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Rosita September 15, 2010 at 11:55 pm

@kaka

You confuse research psychology (which aims to find out more about how people work) and professional clinical psychology (which helps to heal people with mental health or daily living problems. Psychologists are not trained to givve moral advice and, in fact, are trained to avoid doing so. So the answer to your question is that people should not moral advice from psychologists because only bad ones will provide it.

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Rosita September 16, 2010 at 12:01 am

@kaka

In the final analysis, all contentions that the Bible provides objective morals is just opinion. Even if it were not, there is no way to determine what these hidden “objective reference points” are, even if you are Christian. The point of the example was that even those Christians who believed that the Sermon on the mount contained “obective morals” none of them could agree on what they were.

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kaka September 16, 2010 at 5:33 am

well then why should we look to the system of moral development you have described for moral guidance, as opposed to others?

the objective reference point was jesus! the arguing between church denomintions today is about ‘what was jesus trying to tell us?’ ‘what did he intend?’ they are all trying to get closer to the truth.

now even if all the views were found to be false, it wouldn’t undermine the existence of objective morals, just our ability to perceive them ie, jesus gave us the truth, but we are still trying to figure out what he said.

but if there is no god or jesus, there would be no objective truth to discover. those views would be nothing but opinions and the bible would be just another book.

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Rosita September 16, 2010 at 7:07 am

@kaka

You cannot obtain moral guidance from a description of the different ways in which people process information and make moral decisions as they mature. It makes no sense.

The neuro-cognitive description includes information about the things that people look to for moral guidance at each stage, as well as information which helps explain why they do that. It explains why things which appear to be moral to people at one stage of development appear to be immoral to those who have reached a different level of maturity.

I repeat: the model is a description of reality based on tests of moral reasoning given to many thousands of people from lots of different nations. You cannot obtain moral guidance from a description of what people use for moral guidance.

If that is not clear to you by now then you still do not understand the implications of this research for your argument that moral absolutes exist, but only for people who believe that Jesus is a god.

Let me try to explain it once more. The belief that moral absolutes exist is a feature of immature forms of moral reasoning but not a feature of the mature forms. If you believe in moral absolutes you demonstrate that you have not yet progressed to the mature stages of moral reasoning and cannot understand how people think at those levels or why they do not accept moral reasoning that seems obvious to you. This does not say that you are not capable of reaching these levels. It may simply mean that have not been sufficiently challenged to bump you up to the next levels. Perhaps this discussion will help.

Look, kaka, it’s human nature to believe everything we hear and read until it is challenged by our environment, or until we deliberately challenge it ourselves. It is essential that small children believe authorities and act on them without question. If they did not do so they would not survive in a hostile world. But this form of thinking is dysfunctional in adults. As we mature we learn how to challenge our thinking and our conclusions. This is how new knowledge is obtained, how we find better ways of doing things and how we adapt to new situations. Education in the investigative sciences and humanities develops this ability to its highest form.

Not only is the concept of objective universal unchanging morals a feature of the early stages of moral reasoning, it is also a theoretical concept which has no valid evidence to support it.

As you admit, there is no agreement on what “objective morals” are and a lot of disagreement over how the sayings of Jesus and other biblical passages should be interpreted and practiced in real life. People can, and do, reach contrary moral conclusions on the basis of the same data and the same degree of pious desire to “follow Jesus”. That is, the Christian Bible provides no basis for consistent or clear moral guidance.

If there is no reliable way of determining moral precepts and no consistent and unambiguous source of moral guidance then you are no better off than anyone else, including those who do not believe in the existence of your version of god, or of any god at all.

In the end we all rely on whatever sources and methods of moral reasoning are consistent with our level of moral maturity and combine it with whatever we have learned during our socialization to the community mores, values and traditions.

That’s why there is such a range of beliefs over the centuries about what is moral, and why there is still a range within any one community, even within the same church group.

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kaka September 16, 2010 at 5:29 pm

ah but without god, your research is as much a description of moral guidance from a person than christians describing the ten commandments or moral claims for any religion.

you call it a description of reality but that’s just a label. what it’s really describing is people’s reactions to tests. but why should i believe moral guidance can be derived from such tests?

in fact, the tests are circular. they assume on faith that we can discover morals this way. then the scientists administer the tests, produce the results and say ‘ah ha – this is moral, that is immoral’. the premises have justified the conclusion.

and what about the moral development of the scientists? why is their moral development at a sufficient level to allow them to design tests which can produce moral behaviour and having done that, to recognise it in the results?

only people with a bias against religion and for science can say this method is any more valid than, say, sitting under a tree and receiving enlightenment.

i think it’s too strong a statement to say the disagreements are about what the morals ARE. i’m not sure churches have contradicted each other to that extent. rather, people quarrel about the significance, application and the proper context of the moral commands.

but so long as one believes that an objective, transcendent god handed these morals down, there is something to argue about – there is an objective morality out there to be discovered. without god, it’s all just subjective chatter and jesus was just another prophet. one might as well be a nihilist.

you seem to think i’m arguing that things are moral because the bible says so or because the church says so.

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Rosita September 16, 2010 at 8:21 pm

@kaka

You are making no sense.

Please read what I wrote carefully and properly.

In the very first sentence I specifically said that these scales could provide no moral guidance because they are merely a description of what “is”, not a recipe for what “ought to be”.

How could you possibly have missed that?

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kaka September 16, 2010 at 11:34 pm

and that’s EXACTLY what i’ve been questioning all along – what IS objective morality (without god)! can objective morality EXIST in a godless universe.

you’re saying yes and it’s what we can observe in all these tests.

i’m saying what you observe and call objective morality are two different things.

what you observe is herd behaviour. what you call a description of morality is an interpretation of the results, filtered through the subjective worldviews of the scientists.
the presuppositions of the scientists (like whatever maximises pleasure is morally good) lead them to assign values to the observed behaviours.

they then say ‘this is a description of morality’ but it it’s really just a reflection of their own prejudices superimposed onto the test data.

that this is all done scientifically doesn’t automatically make it ‘objective’ in the sense that i’m talking about.

i think this is why we’re butting heads – you’re equating ‘objective’ with ‘measurable’, ‘scientifically-derived’ or ‘experimentally-based’. you’re also equating morality with observed rules of behaviour, proper conduct – am i right?

that’s caseywollberg’s position too. but that just lowers the bar for what passes for objective morality and isn’t the working definition used by philosophers and ethicists.

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Rosita September 17, 2010 at 9:16 am

@kaka

No. I am not saying that objective morality exists anywhere – except in the minds and imaginations of people who illogically argue that such a thing must exist, therefore it does.

I am saying that belief in the existence of objective morality is based on moral reasoning which is characteristic of childish thinking. (Stage 1 of the Kohlberg scale)

I am saying that the scientific evidence does not support the existence of objective morality and that it does support the existence of subjective morality.

I am saying that philosophers can argue until they are blue in the face but if the evidence does not support either their assumptions or their conclusions then they are simply indulging in a showy but hollow display of specious academic balderdash. Copious use of jargon can make the philosopher sound impressive but it can effectively disguise pure navel inspection. The general public are taken in by this because they do not have sufficient understanding of the terms or wide enough general knowledge to detect the fallacies. That is why I like to use simple language rather than technical terms to make and dissect arguments. The strengths and flaws are more obvious that way.

I am saying that even if objective morality exists, the evidence shows that it is effectively unknowable and therefore useless as a moral guide. This means that Christians have no advantage in this area. They are still reliant on their community socialization and their stage of moral reasoning.

I am saying that measures of behavior that modern Christians generally agree is “immoral” are shown to increase in proportion to the theism of the community and decrease in proportion to the proportion of atheism in the community. This suggests that whatever moral guidance Christians have it results in worse behavior in comparison with those who do not have it. That is, what you would call the “guided” behavior of Christians is observably inferior to what you would call the “herd” behavior of non-theists.

Scientists are there to observe behavior, not to make moral judgments about what they see. It is philosophers you make arguments that “whatever maximizes pleasure is morally good”. Scientists merely observe that this kind of moral reasoning is consistent with a childish form of moral reasoning (Stage 2 in Kohlberg’s scale). The moral reasoning scales (Piaget, Kohlberg, and others) simply describe the form of moral reasoning that is characteristic of children at certain ages. They note that the sequence of intellectual and moral development is always the same but the age of the transition from one stage to another differs a little from culture to culture. Some cultures mature faster than others.

Some of those who study the progress of intellectual and moral reasoning do assign values but they are not the ones you imagine. They argue (and you are free to disagree) that the more mature the brain and the more mature the dependent logic and reasoning, the better that logic and reasoning is. Conversely, the more immature the form of reasoning the less value it has for adult functioning. The “pure science” response would simply note that x percent of the adult population continues to behave or reason in ways that are generally outgrown by the age of 9, and make no judgment about that fact. The judicial system tends to take a dim view of such people, however. So does the academic system and the mental health system. Each of these systems base their judgments on “herd” values, of course. 

On the other hand, religious people, both groups and individuals, are notorious for superimposing their own prejudices on biblical interpretations. Thus we have witch burnings in Africa, and gay hatred and proposed Koran burnings in the USA.

The most mature form of moral reasoning aims to uphold human dignity and avoid unnecessary harm to others as well as the self, taking into account the complexities of the situation. That is not an objective value but it is arguably the best principal that humans have developed so far. It is a secular value which has some reflection in the better parts of most world religions but can be easily undermined by the insidious parts of these religions, Christianity included.

In conclusion, whether objective morality exists for Christians or anyone else, it is irrelevant to a person’s ability to behave in a way you would probably call moral, regardless of how you determine this. Whatever methods Christian theists use to decide what is moral their actual measurable observable behavior is, in general, inferior to the actual observable measurable behavior of those who have no theistic beliefs. At the very least, this suggests that there is something wrong with the “guidance system” used by Christians to shape their behavior.

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Rosita September 17, 2010 at 9:28 am

@kaka

And, of course, it also implies that there is something wrong with the reasoning that some Christians use to insist that non-theists are immoral hedonist nihilists.

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Rosita September 17, 2010 at 9:44 am

@all

This is one of the moral dilemmas which Kohlberg uses to determine the level of someone’s moral reasoning ability. The stage of reasoning is dependent on the person’s age, brain development and intellect. The way in which they reason and the conclusions they come to, change as they mature.

How would you answer the questions?

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. the drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to make. He paid $400 for the radium and charged $4,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money and tried every legal means, but he could only get together about $2,000, which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying, and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said, “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from if.” So, having tried every legal means, Heinz gets desperate and considers breaking into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife.
1. Should Heinz steal the drug?
1a. Why or why not?
2. Is it actually right or wrong for him to steal the drug?
2a. Why is it right or wrong?
3. Does Heinz have a duty or obligation to steal the drug?
3a. Why or why not?
4. If Heinz doesn’t love his wife, should he steal the drug for her? Does it make a difference in what Heinz should do whether or not he loves his wife?
4a. Why or why not?
5. Suppose the person dying is not his wife but a stranger. Should Heinz steal the drug for the stranger?
5a. Why or why not?
6. Suppose it’s a pet animal he loves. should Heinz steal to save the pet animal?
6a. Why or why not?
7. Is it important for people to do everything they can to save another’s life?
7a. Why or why not?
8. It is against the law for Heinz to steal. Does that make it morally wrong?
8a. Why or why not?
9. In general, should people try to do everything they can to obey the law?
9a. Why or why not?
9b. How does this apply to what Heinz should do?
10. In thinking back over the dilemma, what would you say is the most responsible thing for Heinz to do?
10a. Why?
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

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Rosita September 17, 2010 at 11:48 am

@all

Sample responses to the moral dilemma.

Level 1, Stage 1: Persons in this stage obey rules to avoid punishment. A good or bad action is determined by its physical consequences. Whatever powerful authorities / my pastor/ god / my parents say will be punished is wrong.
Level 1, Stage 2: In this stage, personal needs determine right or wrong. Favors are returned along the lines of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”. Whatever makes you and me feel good is right.
** At level one, a person’s answer to the Heinz dilemma might be,”it is wrong to steal the drug to save your wife because you might get caught.” “It is wrong because god will punish you or send you to hell if you do it.”
This reasoning is based on the consequences of his actions. This person’s primary concern is avoiding punishment. On the reverse side, the reasoning for stealing the drug would be to avoid punishment by your wife and the law, assuming an investigation came after the wife’s’ death. The inquiry may blame the man for not coming up with a way to get the money to save his wife’s life.
Level 2, Stage 3: To a person in this stage, good means “nice”. One’s behavior is determined by what pleases and is approved by others. Whatever my community approves is right. Whatever my church group approves is right.
Level 2, Stage 4: When deciding the punishment for a given wrongdoing, laws are absolute. In all cases, authority must be respected and the social order maintained. Whatever the law disallows is wrong.
** At level two, one takes into account society’s norms and laws, saying , “It’s wrong for Mr. Heinz to steal because it’s against the law. Mr. Heinz wants society to approve of his actions, so he doesn’t steal the drug.” “It is wrong because god says it is wrong and he will be unhappy if I do it.”
On the flip side, the subject may believe: “it’s right to steal because Mr. Heinz means well by trying to help his dying wife. He’ll pay the druggist the money when he is able, or accept the consequences for stealing the drug.” In this case, the subject still respects the law, but places an even higher value on loyalty to his loved ones. This shows a desire to be a good person but still conform to the law.
Level 3, Stage 5: Good is determined by socially agreed upon standard of individual rights. The United States Constitution is based on this type of morality. Persons operating in this moral stage believe that different societies have different views of what is right and wrong.

“Stealing others property might have been wrong for the Jewish nation in its infancy but it is not wrong in this society in this context.” Note that the thinking here is more abstract than the previous levels. Laws to a person at this level can be considered somewhat arbitrary, depending on the situation. This person realizes that laws are important to keep society running relatively smoothly, but also knows that they can be too rigid to apply in some cases. This person justifies that saving a life is more important than an abstract symbol of power: money.

** At this stage, a person’s response might be, “It’s not wrong for Mr. Heinz to steal because human life must be preserved and life is worth more than personal property. ”

Level 3, Stage 6: What is “good” and “right” are matters of individual conscience and involve abstract concepts of justice, human dignity, and equality. In this stage, persons believe there are universal points of view on which all societies should agree. They are not, however, absolute immutable moral standards.
“What is right for everyone, is that which is most conducive to uphold human dignity, fairness and the avoidance of unhelpful pain, taking into account all of the relevant factors and circumstances. All laws and commandments are subject to these rules and may be broken if they do not comply.”
“Religious commands and examples are subject to the same principles as other laws and examples and should not be followed, emulated or respected if they do not comply.”

** At this stage, a person’s response might be: “My wife’s right to live is of greater value than Mr.Heinz’s right to a very high profit from his discovery, but Mr, Heinz has the right to be paid for at least the cost of the materials, provided that I am able to pay for this after having done everything I reasonably can to procure the money.” This is a complex response.

A this level the person applies complex humanitarian principles to each individual situation. There are no absolute immutable standards, only a meta principle which is informed by the totality of a person’s current knowledge and whatever additional knowledge it is practical and reasonable to discover in the time frame allowed to make a decision.

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kaka September 17, 2010 at 5:14 pm

you say scientists don’t make judgments – oh my goodness…to say one stage of moral reasoning is more ‘mature’ than the ones below it is a judgment. that you say theists have ‘inferior morals’ to atheists is a judgment. there are moral judgments all over that sample question! the respondent even gets bumped to a higher ‘level’ if they give a ‘better’ answer!

your scientists know logic/reasoning development mirrors brain/age/intellect development. they then ASSUME progress in logic/reasoning = progress in moral awareness. am i right?

now that’s an unprovable assumption. and secondly, ‘progress with respect to what?’ as far as i can tell, with respect to the scientist! it sounds to me like the scientist is taking himself to be a mature moral agent and seeing how the test participants stack up. that’s a circular argument.

a purely observational, neutral conclusion to those tests would say morals CHANGE as the brain develops. to say they show moral maturation or progress is to draw a line in the sand and say people on one side are more mature than the other.

moreover, if your system isn’t to be used for moral guidance and simply reflects morality in the community, you can’t use it to make ‘ought to’ statements. you couldn’t say ‘you ought to not murder people’. the best you can say is ‘murderous tendencies are a feature of people in stage x which shows such people are immature’. you couldn’t condemn murder could you? and you couldn’t tell me that ‘i ought to abandon theism’ and seek a higher level of moral maturity – why should i?

these tests don’t show objective morality is ‘unknowable’ – at best it shows it can’t be known through scientific tests.

as for belief in theism increasing immoral behaviour – that’s a result of how objective morals are applied in society and you can’t assess the truth of a view by it’s social effects. that’s a logical fallacy. that’s like saying medicine should be abandoned because of evidence of negligent doctors.

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Rosita September 18, 2010 at 1:32 pm

@ kaka

You are correct. You could say that the Kohlberg moral dilemmas show that morals change as the brain develops, although that is not all that is going on.

A more neutral stance would be to ask whether and how human moral reasoning changes over time. If we detect changes then we want to know whether they always occur in the same order and whether the pattern, if there is one, is identical across cultures.

So we give children and adults from various cultures a series of moral dilemmas for which there is no obvious right answer and see what they say and how they reason. Some of these individuals are followed for 20 years to see how their thinking changes over time; others are tested in discrete age groups.

We find that as people mature there are distinct differences in the way they approach and solve questions of morality, including the sources which they use for moral guidance. We find that these stages always follow the same order although people vary a little in the speed with which they travel through these stages and in the point at which they stop.

We analyze the distinct stages, describe their characteristics and name them in a way which provides an overview of the type of thinking used in that stage.

You are incorrect in assuming that respondents in moral reasoning research are “bumped up” to a higher level if they give a “better” answer. Their answers are simply placed together with those which use a similar type of logic and underlying world view. Categorization, sequential placing and correlation with age comes later. Building a scale to determine someone’s place along the continuum comes at the end of the research process. That is, there are no assumptions of goodness, badness or level built into the investigatory phase. These kinds of “judgments” are made on the basis of the final overview of results.

To continue with the research methodology, we note the age at which the distinctly different stages are most commonly seen. We find that Stage 1 moral reasoning is typical of the average 9 year old’s thinking, Stage 2 is typical of the average 11 year old’s thinking, Stage 3 is typical of the average 13 year old’s thinking, stage 4 is usually achieved at around age 16 and stages 5 and 6 are not usually reached until somewhere between the ages of 20 and 30, and for the majority of people, never.

We find that people who have reached a particular stage of moral thinking are able to understand the thinking of the stages they have abandoned but unable to understand the thinking of the stages still to come.

We discover that the stage of moral reasoning at which a person stalls appears to depend on the mental challenge and stimulation which they have experienced. We note that the average rural dweller reaches and stays at Stage 3, while the average city dweller reaches and remains at Stage 4. We note that Stages 5 and 6 require the practice of critical analysis, multi-level thinking and a tolerance for uncertainty and we note that these factors are most commonly acquired during higher level education.

Considering that these progressive uni-directional changes are heavily dependent on environmental mental stimulation, do we call these linear changes “maturational” or do we call them “hierarchical”? Do we have reason to suppose that these distinct stages of reasoning are equivalent in value and utility or have we reason to believe that the application of thinking that is typical of the average 9, 11 or 13 year old is not the most appropriate or functional way of thinking for the average 30 year old? Is the type of moral guidance used by the average 9 year old the best resource for an adult? Is this a “value judgment” or a judgment of utilitarianism? Is this “drawing a line in the sand” or a valid conclusion given the evidence?

If you think that it is justified to argue that typical 9-year-old thinking is as good as typical 20 year old thinking for a 20 year old person then you must make a logical case for this point of view and support it with valid evidence

You are correct. Descriptive scales of the development of moral reasoning cannot be used as “moral guidance” to determine what one “ought” to do. They can only describe the differing forms of moral guidance which people use at each stage along the spectrum. It is up to the reader to infer the appropriateness or value of these for an adult population.

At Stage 1 people consult parents, sacred religious books or authoritative views of “god” for moral guidance on what is right or wrong. This is the stage that appeals to “moral absolutes”. At Stage 2 people refer to their own and others personal needs. At Stage 3 people refer to set rules and laws, including those contained in sacred religious texts. Most justice systems are stuck at this level. At Stage 4 people refer to community discussion and written essays. At Stages 5 and 6 people make moral decision by referring to internalized ideas of justice, freedom, human dignity and the reduction of human misery. These differ from moral absolutes because they include the belief that multiple factors must be considered for each particular situation. If extant rules, laws, doctrines and attitudes fail to meet the requirements of the meta logic and the particular circumstances they are discarded.

Now consider this.

According to research conducted by Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, Colby, Reimer and many others, the average 9 year old regards rules as fixed and absolute and believes that they are handed down by adults or by God. Somewhere about the age of 10 or 11, the average child’s thinking changes. Now the child believes that is it possible to change rules if everyone agrees. Rules are not sacred and absolute but are devices which humans use to get along cooperatively. There are further changes in moral thinking and decision making at around the ages of 13, 16 and 25.

Since you appear to hold the position taken by the average 9 year old is it reasonable to suppose that this is not the most rational or effective way of thinking for an adult? Is it also logical to suppose that the reason why you have a great deal of trouble understanding how people on this forum think is because you have yet to travel beyond this elementary form of moral reasoning? Is it also rational to suppose that your thinking might progress up the scale as the result of challenges to your current way of thinking, such as the discussion we are having right now? Would this be a bad thing of a good thing?

Has it occurred to you that millions of people who consider themselves to be pious Christians do not believe in moral absolutes? My divinity professors did not.

You are correct. You cannot assess the truth of a view by its social effects – unless the view implicitly or explicitly includes the idea that the system in which it is placed improves the specific social effects being observed. Christians frequently assert that high instances of divorce, suicide, teen pregnancy, unwed mothers, sexually transmitted disease, abortion, homicide and other criminal activity are indications of moral depravity and godlessness and that belief in the Christian god prevents such things.

On the basis of a whole range of reputable studies, including the Pew Report, I have shown that the higher the proportion of Christians living in a community the higher the level of these indications of societal ill-health (or “moral depravity and godlessness”, if you prefer.) I have given you references for several of these studies so you can look them up. If you don’t think the findings support this conclusion then you are free to provide another explanation for the data in order to arrive at a different “value judgment”.

One person argued that the reason why communities with the highest number of Christians do so poorly on items which Christians themselves frequently assert are indications of immorality, is because the Christian devil god works harder in such communities and leaves the more secular communities alone because he already owns them. Personally, I think that is another example of desperate semantic gymnastics, but it might convince you.

You are correct. Tests of moral reasoning do not show that moral absolutes are unknowable. We established that fact in earlier posts by other means. In summary,

1. The existence of moral absolutes is a philosophical construct that is simply asserted. It is not amenable to either proof or disproof.

2. There is absolutely no consensus in the theist community about what constitutes a “moral absolute”. There is no mutually acceptable list and there is no reason to suppose that there ever will be.

3. What theist communities consider to be moral is remarkably inconsistent across place and time.

4. There is no moral consistency in the Bible.

If there are moral absolutes your version of god does not consistently follow them and you have no way of knowing whether or not you should emulate a specific example or obey a particular command in a particular circumstance. The Yahweh god is shown to be capricious. In the case of King David this god commanded that he take a census of the people, and then later punished him severely for doing so. In another instance he consorted with the devil god to unreasonably punish the righteous Job, just so he could brag to the devil about how loyal this chap was in spite of multiple indications that the Yahweh god was failing to protect him. So, like David and Job, you could be punished if you get it wrong, and punished if you get it right.

When you applied special logic to excuse the Yahweh god from behavior that you would consider to be deeply immoral in others we ended up with a scenario where it was impossible to differentiate between the voice and actions of the Yahweh god, the Jesus god, and the devil god. In other words, you proved that you had no basis for consistent and unambiguous moral guidance at all.

That is the coup de grace for your argument.

I think we should stop here. I find myself repeating things, over and over again. You then repeat what you think I said but you get it wrong, over and over again. What seems logical to you seems flawed to me. What seems logical to me makes no sense to you. I think it is time we accepted that we have reached different stages of moral reasoning and are unable to communicate because of it

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kaka September 18, 2010 at 9:11 pm

more and more i see strident atheism going hand in hand with a warped sense of theism.

it’s incorrect that christianity PREVENTS social ills. in fact it insists we should expect them, even in the christian life as our minds are willing but our flesh is weak.

were those studies done on american people by any chance? i take such studies with a grain of salt as americans have this cultural trait where most of them say they believe in god but do not actually follow him in their lives. as such i don’t take them as representative of genuine christians at large (not that there aren’t any in america).

you didn’t fully address my points questioning the presuppositions and judgments of the scientists, crucially the assumption that logic/reasoning development = moral development. it is NOT for me to disprove!

your last paragraph made my jaw drop. so we’re at different stages…you’re higher than me so i can’t grasp the things you grasp…i think like a 9-year-old and you’re an adult…therefore communication is pointless.

now the validity of an argument isn’t restricted by the psychological state of the person making it, rosita. you should be able to respond to the logic of the arguments i have been putting forth. but you haven’t – instead you’ve mostly just cited research which says my moral development is immature because i hold these views – this is mere ad hominem.

if you’re going to simply reduce my statements to plot points on your chart of moral development instead of responding to what they are saying, then it is you who is obstructing communication. don’t blame it on poor mr kohlberg!

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Rosita September 19, 2010 at 7:47 am

@kaka

I rest my case.

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graham veale October 10, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Here’s the problem Luke.

That sounds like a narrative. You’ve found meaning in those experiences. And you gain comfort and a purpose from those experiences.

You haven’t moved on from the leaf twirling in the wind. The whole world is a gift to you.

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graham veale October 10, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Having listened to your interviews with Trigg and Ganssle
I have to say that you’ve an excellent, light handed approach in the interviews.

And having listened to your interview with Dr McGrew, I have to say that you’re certainly much more polite than I expected
(…although the level of sceptcism that you display seems to be grounded in convenience, rather than the literature.But I’m a rank amateur, so what do I know?)

GV

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lukeprog October 10, 2010 at 6:46 pm

What’s the problem, then, graham?

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graham veale October 11, 2010 at 11:32 am

Luke

I don’t doubt that you had religious experiences analogous to my own, and genuine religious belief. [whether or not you had "fiducia" is a debate we can have on judgement day:-)]

And two sane, rational people can look at the same evidence and come to radically different conclusions. I find atheism wildly implausible! But that fact shouldn’t give you sleepless nights!

I also think that my first post sounds condescending. Sorry about that.

I just find accounts of “de-conversions” interesting reading. They’re presented like an old-fashioned Evangelical testimony. You seem to discern a purpose to your life, a theme or even a message. You have had evangelical experiences and epiphanies. Therefore you are in a position to refute Reformed Epistemologists. You have studied the Historical Jesus and Philosophy of Religion. Therefore you are ideally placed to refute Christian Evidentialists.
You write as if there is a God, but he doesn’t want you to believe in him. You seem to have found a meaning in life – but this is not a meaning that you’ve imposed on your experience. The circumstances of your life seem to have conspired to take away your faith. And now, like a good evangelical, you pass on the message of your life’s experiences.
You don’t sound like Russell or Dawkins, who would never seek to find significance in the vagaries of life’s events. There is no sense of a life “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” This is not what a man writes when he changes his mind having coolly assessed the evidence. In this “testimony” you are still staring at the leaf twisting in the wind, and finding a message that is just for you.
I’m not suggesting that you have a subconscious faith, or anything like that! Just a sort of hangover from the evangelical subculture.

And I love the interviews. It’s so nice to hear someone let an expert EXPLAIN!

Graham

PS That was typed in a rush. If it sounds rude or patronising or preachy, please forgive me. Old habits die hard!

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caseywollberg October 11, 2010 at 4:55 pm

“In this “testimony” you are still staring at the leaf twisting in the wind, and finding a message that is just for you.
I’m not suggesting that you have a subconscious faith, or anything like that! Just a sort of hangover from the evangelical subculture.”

Right. Because only evangelicals find significance in life. You’re a twit.

“You don’t sound like Russell or Dawkins, who would never seek to find significance in the vagaries of life’s events.”

Wrong again, Einstein.

“This is not what a man writes when he changes his mind having coolly assessed the evidence.”

What would you know about assessing evidence, and why would that act be mutually exclusive of assigning personal significance to the events of one’s life? Like I said, you’re a twit, and the condescension you are exhibiting is not justified by the quality of your arguments. You have to condescend from above, moron.

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graham October 12, 2010 at 2:01 am

Ah, THAT’S what I’ve come to expect from McAtheists.

I suppose I could descend to this level. Make fun of your name, or call you “smelly”…this is all very childish and not worth bothering with.

Oh well, easy come, easy go.

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Rosita October 12, 2010 at 2:02 am

@Graham Veale

- – - “You’ve found meaning in those experiences. And you gain comfort and a purpose from those experiences.

You haven’t moved on from the leaf twirling in the wind. The whole world is a gift to you.” – - -

Your comments fall into the psychoanalytic fallacy: interpreting things on the basis of paradigms which can never be tested in a way that could ever falsify them. Philosophy defines that as an “ideology” or “religion” as opposed to a “science”.

Another example would be saying:

Graham, it is clear that you find comfort and purpose in dismissing Luke’s experiences as unjustifiable and sadly inferior to your own.

You have not moved from the point where your subjective world is viewed as more real than the empirically testable world outside your head. No matter how much you look out the windows of your comfortable and familiar self-imposed prison you continue to interpret what you see as pixels on film with no basis in reality.

You’d be justified in telling me that I have no idea how you really feel or what you really believe, but the irony is that you would never be able to prove it. I could simply reply by telling you that your unconscious mind is repressing your real feelings or that you are suffering from delusions and mental distortions which prevent you from seeing reality. Which, of course, is exactly what I am saying. :-)

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graham October 12, 2010 at 3:25 am

Rosita

That’s a really thoughtful and robust reply, and a good conversation starter. And it raises a lot of the issues that I’d like to discuss.
For the record, I don’t think that *my* experience *proves* I’m right, and that Luke’s wrong. (I’m just pointing out that it’s difficult to escape the evangelical subculture. Even Atheism doesn’t seem to work!) That doesn’t say anything at all about the truth or falsity of atheism or Christianity. It might say something about the role of predispositions in assessing beliefs.
I’m convinced that we need to assess our experiences (moral and religious) against the evidence!
That’s the sort of issue that I’d love to discuss. And your reply indicates that you see the issues and want to discuss them from a more evidentialist perspective. And that would be profitable.
I also wonder if we don’t have a “default” belief in something like providence…not that this would prove much. But it would be interesting to explore.
But in all honesty, you can’t have discussions like that while people are calling you a ‘twit’ (or a ‘willfully ignorant sinner’ or whatever) from the sidelines.
In fairness to this blog, Christians behaved in an analogous manner to Casey on Bill Craig’s forum. (Calling Muhammad a demon possessed paedophile was one comment I remember). So I won’t post there either.

It seems to be a real problem…how do you have frank, robust disagreement without the playground trolls ( be they Christian or Atheist) getting involved?

So no harm to you, or to Luke. I’ve always found conversations with interested and informed atheists worthwhile. I don’t think anyone minds provocative statements, to stir up a bit of debate. But why queue up to be (needlessly) insulted?

Graham

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graham October 12, 2010 at 3:31 am

I also thought that I was fairy clear that I wasn’t dismissing Luke’s experiences—or his loss of faith. But I did type in a hurry! So sorry Luke, if I seemed dismissive.

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caseywollberg October 12, 2010 at 4:44 am

“I also thought that I was fairy clear that I wasn’t dismissing Luke’s experiences—or his loss of faith. But I did type in a hurry! So sorry Luke, if I seemed dismissive.”

Just who are you trying to convince? Listen, you might get more traction with your attempts at starting a conversation with “McAtheists” if you didn’t begin as a condescending tone troll. That’s why I insulted you. You are a sophist, a tone troll, and you were being condescending to someone who is obviously smarter than you. And you didn’t address my arguments, of course. Twit. Just because you didn’t come on here calling people names doesn’t mean you aren’t being an asshole. In fact you’re hiding your prick nature behind smooth-sounding words. Nobody’s fooled by it, so fuck off.

“(I’m just pointing out that it’s difficult to escape the evangelical subculture. Even Atheism doesn’t seem to work!)”

And I’m saying the reasoning you used to get to that conclusion is bullshit. Your only response was to whine about being called out as a condescending twit. Well, I don’t feel sorry for you; you asked for it.

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caseywollberg October 12, 2010 at 4:48 am

“I suppose I could descend to this level. Make fun of your name, or call you “smelly”…this is all very childish and not worth bothering with.”

And you could also address my arguments, like I did yours. Why did you leave that out? Oh, right. You aren’t honest. By insulting you I stooped to your level. I just did it the honest way.

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graham October 12, 2010 at 5:24 am

“paradigms which can never be tested in a way that could ever falsify them.”

C’mon guys!

The Problem of Horrendous Evils? The Hiddenness of God? The possibility of a complete scientific account of nature without reference to God?

All are likelier on atheism than theism!And if there’s evidence against there can be evidence for…

And any theory can be rendered unfalsifiable by rendering more and more auxiliary hypotheses…we’re looking for something like an IBE, or a Bayesian justification in the case of Theism.

GV

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graham October 12, 2010 at 5:26 am

Casey

I spotted the swearing, so I’m not even reading the posts. You may want to stop wasting time here.

Or counselling or SSRI’s might help with the tantrums. Whatever works for you mate.

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graham October 12, 2010 at 5:28 am

Sheesh. I don’t think this is worth bothering with – here at least.

Hope I spot some of you guys on other blogs.

So long.

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Rosita October 12, 2010 at 8:05 am

@caseywoberg

Down boy!

[start next casey-directed sermon]

I’m not sure whether I should accuse you of behaving like the stereotypical “angry atheist” or the stereotypical “offensive Christian”. Either way the behavior is likely to cause a defensive reaction in the reader which is counterproductive to reasoned discussions about anything. It also gives the moral victory to the person you are attacking. Graham wins that one, hands down.

[end next casey-directed sermon]

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caseywollberg October 12, 2010 at 10:54 am

@ Graham:

Good riddance, sophist.

@ Rosita:

Who cares? He’s not worth our time. Oh, and moral victory I think not. He comes on here insulting Luke and atheists in general (which, as you assert, is “likely to cause a defensive reaction in the reader” and is “counterproductive to reasoned discussions about anything”) with his non-arguments and when he gets flack for it (along with refutations) he does some more sophistic maneuvers, completely ignoring the substance of the refutations, and you just eat it up? He’s a bullshit artist and a tone troll, and that ain’t moral. Bring on someone who actually exhibits some moral rigor and you’ll see how I treat them. “McAtheists,” for fuck’s sake.

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Matt October 14, 2010 at 1:42 pm

I’m looking forward to your visit at Colorado State in a few weeks :)

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kaka October 21, 2010 at 5:50 pm

i’m so glad you’re committed to non-trolling and genuine reasoned arguments, caseywollberg.

by the way, i would still welcome a reply from you from our discussion last month on objective morality. i think it ended with you telling me to go fuck myself. but…anytime you’re ready we can talk mate :)

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caseywollberg October 21, 2010 at 8:35 pm

No, it was this:

“i’ve only been a christian for about a month (i was atheist for 10 years before that), so my bible literacy is a bit shaky.”

That’s okay, it’s typical of Christians not to know anything about what they claim to believe. You’re in good company there. But, tell me again why anyone here should take you seriously.

I still don’t take you seriously.

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kaka October 22, 2010 at 4:44 am

my friend…there are those who hear the truth…and yet choose to harden their hearts. they close their hearts to the truth. they close their hearts to god.

the last thing i will say to you is – repent. what you have said here, what anyone has ever said on this discussion means nothing when we are dead. when you are on your deathbed, that you felt morally superior to anyone in this discussion will not count for anything. i don’t care about winning these arguments anymore. but i care about you. and all i can say is – repent.

you know what i’m talking about. so does rosita. so don’t bother replying. don’t bother swearing, don’t bother with your ridicule or trying to raise yourself above everyone else by putting everyone else down. it’s a charade and it’s not fooling anyone. you need to put your ego and worldly passions aside. you need to seek truth and you need to repent.

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caseywollberg October 22, 2010 at 7:47 am

Bahhahahaha! Thank you, kaka, for entertaining me this morning! Seriously, I’m not ridiculing you, that made me laugh and it felt good. So, thank you. I guess Christianity is good for something.

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Rosita October 22, 2010 at 8:34 am

Nearly ROFL.

“there are those who hear the truth…and yet choose to harden their hearts.”

And there are those who keep wear mental ear plugs so that they do not recognize sense when they hear it.
And there are those who tell whatever lies they believe will win converts for their version of “god”.

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caseywollberg October 22, 2010 at 8:51 am

@ Rosita

I know, right? First, he pretends to be conciliatory and open to honest debate, and when I don’t take the bait, BAM!, he reveals his true motives. It doesn’t get any more obvious than that.

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caseywollberg October 22, 2010 at 9:02 am

Now wait, wait, wait. Now that I’ve recovered from my laughing fit (breathe, woo, okay), I’m wondering, what if he’s right? I mean, he makes a pretty good case. “Repent!” That’s reasonable, really, when you think about it. I mean, it’s true, none of these superior arguments will matter when I’m dead. Holy donkeys! I’ll die without the love of Jayzusss in my hearrrt! And then I’ll be condemned to the fiery pits of Hell forever! Condemned for eternity to be separate from the light of Gawduh! I’ve seen the error of my ways, kaka! Thank you thank you thank you for saving me from all of this damnable logic and faith-corrupting evidence! From this day forward, I am bound for glory! I have been set free from reason and made whole in The Truth (TM)! Oh, praise the Lord! Praise sweet Jayzussssssss-ah!

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Rosita October 22, 2010 at 9:31 am

And there are those who are so ignorant of their religious text books that they do not know that the god they believe exists has a long Biblical history of hardening people’s hearts so they can’t believe in him. Kaka should be honest and consistent enough to put the blame where it really belongs: on his imaginary god.

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Saleh October 23, 2010 at 11:04 am

I can’t assume that you didn’t do enough research about God’s existence.

I think the following reasons are what makes a person abandon a religion to become an atheist or agnostic:
1. Religion’s followers’ Attitudes/behaviors that contradicts religion’s teachings. Example, when a religion says don’t lie but the majority of the follower’s are liers.

2. Following a false religion (not everything in a false religion is necessarily wrong) .
There are different religions and some are newly invented. In each religion, mostly there are several sects or divisions. And under each division there can be subdivisions.
Let’s assume the following which is my belief. There is a God. He created us. He provided the rules to live in the right way through religion. Now, all we have to do is to follow these rules. But, as humans, we are unpredictable:
A) Some of us followed the religion teachings.
B) Some, didn’t believe in God and his existence and denied the religion teachings because following religion meant he has to give up some of his desires / powers like giving money to the poor or to abandon adultery … etc. Therefore, he created his own rules.
C) The rest, didn’t deny religion and God’s existence. However, religion is a great way to achieve one’s goals. So, they started distorting religion to fit their goals.

Back to the point “following a false religion”.We ended up with many religions. In each religion we have many sects and subdivisions. This means that only one subdivision of the many sects and religions is still the right religion. Which also means, that the majority of us are born to be taught the wrong religion or at least parts of its teachings. We’re also taught that other religions are wrong.
Therefore, when we grow up we start discovering the inconsistent, irrational and the crazy parts of our religion. So, we take the good parts of the religion but we also reject the other parts. Then we either will start searching for a different religion or we reject the whole idea of religion and mainly God’s existence.

3) “Why all this headache” attitude. Let me live happily without any guilt or restrictions.
This point is related to the previous point. The only difference is that the person’s intentions are not bad.
If a person believes that God doesn’t exist (atheism) or simply doesn’t care if God exist or not then he doesn’t have to follow many rules dictated by religion. This absolutely will make a person live a less restrictive life. In other words, the person becomes the creator of his life’s rules.
I think what you wrote is a good example,
“In many ways I regret my Christian upbringing. So much time and energy wasted on an invisible friend. So many bad lessons about morality, thinking, and sex. So much needless guilt.”

Giving up searching for the right religion is a tempting one. The reason is that it’s not a simple task. There are many, many beliefs to sift. language barrier (even though there are translations but you can’t always be sure you are reading a good translation).It can be a life-time endeavor. You also need to go to work to live.
Even though, I believe the main purpose of religion (not a false one) is one thing: To tell us that God exists. Therefore, the first thing a person should think about is not if a religion is false or not. It’s whether God exists or not?

I asked myself this many times and had my doubts. However, when I saw a video for a Kangaroo’s new born crawling to its mother’s pouch, I have no doubts anymore about God’s existence. How does this creature know that it has to crawl to the pouch and then starts sucking.
Actually, every creature including ourselves is a sign of God’s existence. The fact a new born knows that it has to suck a nipple to feed is a clear sign that some power gave it this instinct.
End.
PS: Are you giving up your other site lukeprog.com? I believe I will learn a lot from that site and this one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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caseywollberg October 23, 2010 at 12:44 pm

“Actually, every creature including ourselves is a sign of God’s existence. The fact a new born knows that it has to suck a nipple to feed is a clear sign that some power gave it this instinct.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake, what pure idiocy.

End.

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Rosita October 23, 2010 at 3:17 pm

@ Saleh.

I presume that you haven’t done much research on the basis for your belief in God’s existence and the logic that is supposed to support it.

There is nothing logical about suggesting that people choose not to believe in a particular god because you don’t like the restrictions that its followers believe it imposes.

How many gods, religions or christian traditions have you rejected for this reason? Have you rejected the Allah version of god because you don’t like the idea of being subject to Islamic law or wearing a burka? Have you rejected the Jewish Yahweh version of god because you want to be able to eat pork, bacon and shellfish and keep your pensis (or your son’s penis) intact? Have you rejected the Mormon version of the Yahweh god because you prefer non-submissive monogramy? Have you rejected the Hindu gods because you don’t want to spend time preparing and making sacrifices to them every day? Have you rejected the Yehovah’s Witnesses version of the Yahweh god because you don’t want yourself or a member of your family dying for want of a transfusion of whole blood? Have you rejected the Catholic version of the Yahweh god because you don’t want to avoid using reliable forms of birth control?

The implications of what you have acknowledged about the thousands of differing and conflicting ideas about what “god” wants his or her followers to do is that no-one can realistically claim that they have any valid idea about “following god” entails. Your guess is as good as theirs and, should a god really exist, you are just as likely to be horribly punished by a sadistic god as they are.

Your safest bet would be to worship the most sadistic god you can find, and make sure you don’t offend it by similtaneoulsy worshiping its rivals in order to hedge your bets. You should probably investigate Islam, as its treatment of unbelievers and its hell are worse than the Christian counterparts. You don’t feel comfortable with this type of expedient thinking?

So, have we established that you haven’t chosen to reject the existence of a particular god because doing so would cause you pain by preventing you from doing something you would prefer to do? Have we also established that you have not chosen to accept the existence of a particular god because doing so seems to be the best option for protecting yourself from pain?

Good. Then you should be able to extrapolate this thinking to those who find themselves unable to believe, or to continue to believe, in the existence of a god. That will make you a lot wiser than those people who led you to believe that atheists “reject” god because it allows them to live “sinful” lives and Christians distort their religion for similar reasons.

“when I saw a video for a Kangaroo’s new born crawling to its mother’s pouch, I have no doubts anymore about God’s existence. How does this creature know that it has to crawl to the pouch and then starts sucking.? – - – - -“

This is an argument from ignorance. It’s not a magical process, but a natural one. A biologist could probably explain it to you in language that doesn’t require you to have more than a very basic knowledge of biochemistry. (Hint: it’s chemical smell).

You could make the same kind og argument about snowflakes. How does water “know” how to make hexagonal patterns when it freezes? Do you seriously imagine that this “instinct” for making hexagonal patterns, every one of which is unique, requires that the water be “given” this “instinct” by an invisible “mind” that doesn’t seem to have a great deal of importance left to do with the rest of its boring eternal life?

The argument is appalling naïve because it confines its vision to a narrow band of “beauty and magic” and avoids acknowledging the vicious and ugly realities of nature. It does not explain why “god” created creatures that must destroy life, frequently quite horrifically, in order to survive themselves: carnivores, parasites, bacteria, viruses). These life forms horribly kill and maim other earth life-forms because they have been “designed” to do so. A humane creator would have provided all animals and plants with a means of surviving without the need to hurt and destroy sentient things. They cannot survive in any other way unless humans intervene and feed them by some more humane means. Humans, therefore, do better than the “god” who is supposed to have “created” them.

Your argument does not explain the existence of natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, storms, cyclones, tsunamis, mud-slides, hurricanes, lightening strikes, sinkholes, landslides, quick sands) which kill and main life forms which have not been “created” with the means of protecting themselves against such things. A powerful creator would have created beings that could protect themselves from planetary disasters, or created a planet that did not have such such life-destroying events.

In fact, there is little difference between a world where a god does not exist and a world where an incompetent, uncaring, stupid god exists. Take your pick..

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caseywollberg October 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm

@Rosita:

I saw that there was a response in my inbox…so glad it was this pearl from you. I’m a bit burnt out on the swine and their swill at the moment.

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caseywollberg October 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm

By the way, Saleh sounds like a Muslim (and not because of his name) on the verge of a proselytizing fit.

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Rosita October 23, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Correction: There is no perceivable difference between a world where no god exists and a world where an incompetent, sadistic, lazy and stupid god exists. Ironically, the less religious the citizens of a nation are, the more “moral” they are shown to be are in many areas that the christian religion considers to be “christian” values. There is less murder, less abortion, less teen pregnancy, less divorce, more pure charity and so on.

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lukeprog October 23, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Yes, I don’t update lukeprog.com anymore.

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Saleh October 24, 2010 at 10:28 am

@caseywollberg
you said, “Oh, for fuck’s sake, what pure idiocy.”
I think pure idiocy is in saying “fuck’s sake”. What the hell does that mean!?

@caseywollberg
you said, “Saleh sounds like a Muslim.”
You are right, I’m a Muslim. But don’t link my comments to a particular religion. I’ll try my best that whatever I write is not to be linked with a particular religion. What I write should be linked to the question, “Does God exist?” only. Of course, saying that God exists coincides with many religions.

@Rosita
you said, “There is nothing logical about suggesting that people choose not to believe in a particular god because you don’t like the restrictions that its followers believe it imposes.”
Example: In Islam, it says, “Don’t give a loan with interest”. Say that X is a Muslim. He has a lot of money and can make more if he can give loans with interest. Therefore and since X is a greedy person. He denies the existence of God and he starts lending people with interest. Whether he really denies God or not is another issue. So, becoming atheist gives him an advantage.

Note: I’m not saying an atheist doesn’t believe in God’s existence just to gain something. Also, note that the gain sometimes can be on the subconscious level. Like I mentioned before, by disbelieving God’s existence you gain the relief from guilt associated with taboos in religions.

Thanks to your comment, it made me think about the points I mentioned related to ” why an atheist doesn’t believe in God “, so I must add the following point:
4) All arguments or evidences provided are not convincing at least to him.
This applies to any belief. Being an atheist, Muslim, Hindu … etc is a belief. Some beliefs are based on evidences and some are based on nothing. Yet, if a person doesn’t want to change his belief even if you provide enough evidence, you simply can’t convince him.

Evidences of God’s existence are in the reply to this comment.
You said, “This is an argument from ignorance. It’s not a magical process, but a natural one. ”
Actually, it is not out of ignorance. I already knew it’s following a chemical smell. But you missed the point. My point is not about the process/mechanism a creature does or knows something. It’s about the existence of these mechanisms in the first place. In the case of the kangaroo it comes out already equipped with what it needs to reach the mother’s pouch. It already knows that it has to follow the smell to survive. Neither the mother, nor the new born are involved consciously in the creation of this process.
If we take it to the cells level, a fertilized cell doesn’t have a thinking tool. Yet it will start dividing and form different groups of cells which will form different organs. The cells don’t need to evolve into a full creature to continue surviving. They could’ve stayed in the womb or form another shape. However, they are always following specific patterns or instructions.
Consider also the heart. It is beating whether you are awake or asleep. Even though you know it’s there and you have a brain but you can’t stop it.
The same applies to the snowflake example you gave, certain rules are being applied. The whole universe is following certain accurate rules.

Now, the hardest part is in believing that these rules are provided by someone. Why I believe it’s provided by someone? Because such a universe with all its complexities and diversities can’t come to existence as a result of randomness. By randomness I mean, “it can’t be found by itself”. This can be proven mathematically by the use of probabilities.
Quoted from:
http://www.science20.com/news_releases/the_mathematical_probability_of_life_on_other_earth_like_planets
“so the chances of intelligent life emerging is low – less than 0.01 per cent over four billion years”
Of course, the article is not talking about life on Earth, but it is talking about one single intelligent life, so let aside the probability of having all the life forms on Earth, and the inanimate objects in the whole universe including planets.

Also check, http://www.cosmicfingerprints.com

I believe 100% that everything in this universe is explainable by science except God’s being (I mean, how it looks or how it thinks … etc). But because we can explain something with science, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist. To the contrary, science shows us that there are uniform, accurate laws governing existence. Which means these laws are designed by someone. This someone is God to me.

You said, “In fact, there is little difference between a world where a god does not exist and a world where an incompetent, uncaring, stupid god exists”
It does make a difference. If he exists, then you should obey him. You obey him by doing what he says is OK and abandon what he tells you is bad. Therefore, this shapes how you live your life from what you eat, to how you run a country.

I can understand your anger for if God exists and he is capable then why he made a lion kill to survive. Why he allowed someone to kill an innocent person. Why he allowed a country invades another and kill thousands or millions. However, this is another subject. Short answers, regarding animals, I really don’t know. Regarding human beings, because he allowed us to choose our actions. But then you’ll have to believe in after-life to accept such answer.

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Rosita October 24, 2010 at 1:17 pm

@Saleh.

1. My point was that people rarely, if ever, choose not to believe in a god. They simply find that they cannot.

While that state may have some advantages, compared with the fear- and obligation-based states experienced by believers, that state also has disadvantages. In areas where belief in the supernatural is the norm, non-believers are often seriously disadvantaged: socially, economically, emotionally and career-wise. They, or members of their family, may be bullied, discriminated against, even tortured and killed. In such situations it would be foolish to “choose” not to believe and even sillier to openly admit it. The safe thing to do is to pretend to believe what the majority does, or at least what those in positions of power believe.

As an experiment, try to spend a week as an open atheist. Tell your family and all your friends that you no longer believe that Allah actually exists. Keep notes of the reactions you get and how it affects your life. If you live long enough to explain, at the end of the week, that you were merely acting a part for a sociological experiment, you will have learned a valuable lesson that no text book could teach you. At the very least, you will never again believe that people sincerely choose not to believe in a god simply to avoid pain and discomfort.

2. All religions believe that they are based on “evidence”. The standard of that evidence is, however, extremely poor in comparison to the type of evidence required by scientists, courts, lawyers and other investigators that aim to determine the truth about something. Secular truth-gathering protocols aim to minimize or avoid the many cognitive biases which contaminate searches conducted in the realms of religion, ideology and marketing. In contrast, religious adherents are actively discouraged from investigating material which challenges the in-group or power-group consensus and are cognitively inoculated against such material in case they are inadvertently exposed to it. Ironically, the strongest form of inoculation against the idiocies of a particular religion is to be indoctrinated during the pre-logical years of childhood with the beliefs of another idiotic religion.

3. The existence of physical laws and biological mechanisms is not a valid argument that these things were “created”, that creatures or things “follow” the rules or that some complex “mind” is directing all this.

Scientific “laws”, “theories” and “mechanisms” are merely precise and predictive descriptions of properties, states and processes that simply “are”. The state of green is green because it emits certain wavelengths of light while not emitting others. Our brains perceive this as a color we label as “green” in English. The green thing is not following any rules, it simply has green properties. Neither do our brains follow rules that turn these wavelengths into a green perception: they simply react to the property of these wave lengths in line with the physical, chemical and morphological properties of the cells which have developed in response to the patterns contained on strands of DNA..

There is no good reason to imbue these processes with some kind of “intent” to follow instructions. There is no good reason to suppose that the “rules” which scientists investigate and describe were “formed”.

For the last few decades, scientists have been creating elements that fit into gaps on the Periodic Table. They can generally predict what their properties and “rules” will be on the basis of the known properties of their chemical neighbors. Sometimes there are surprises and the new element does something unexpected. The point is, although scientists are creating these elements from “nothing”, they are not creating the properties of these elements: these properties simply “are”. Just like “green”.

4. Part of your statistical randomness argument is based on the Puddle Fallacy. It’s like assuming that the walls of a puddle fit it so perfectly because they were specifically made for it. The reverse is true: the puddle could only develop in such a way that it fitted the available conditions perfectly. Life and the universe have developed to fit the existing environment; the conditions were not made to fit the consequential stars or the eventuating life forms.

The other part is based on the Bird Poop Fallacy. If a bird flies across your lawn at 3pm on a particular day in summer and randomly poops on a particular blade of grass on that lawn what is the statistical probability of that particular piece of grass being pooped on by that bird, on that day, at that time, in that season of the year, in that hemisphere – - and so on, infinitum?

The answer is 100 percent. Once something has already happened, it is absolutely certain, no matter how rare it might be. On the other hand, the chances of that happening at any other time are about as close to zero as you can get and, for all practical purposes, next to impossible. That’s the thing about random events: you cannot predict them with any degree of certainty. If, on the other hand, it were a created or non-random event then there would be a mathematical formulae which would allow us to predict when, where and how the poop would fall.

You live your life in a world where you are only aware of the things which conform to Newtonian physics: things which exist and have causes, which in turn have causes. In the realm of quantum physics the “laws” are different. In this microcosm “potential particles” flit in and out of existence from “nothing”. Quantum physicists have mathematical models that predict that the universe began as the result of one or more “quantum fluctuations” in an eternal energy field. Calling such a state or property “god” is semantically stupid. First, we already have perfectly good scientific terms for the state and the process. Second , the term “god” comes with a whole lot of baggage which has nothing whatever to do with the mechanism. 3. The term ‘god’ is hopelessly ambiguous. Everyone assumes that it conforms to the attributes that they are their significant others want it to have.

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Rosita October 24, 2010 at 2:13 pm

@Saleh

I wrote:
“In fact, there is little difference between a world where a god does not exist and a world where an incompetent, uncaring, stupid god exists”
You replied:
“It does make a difference. If he exists, then you should obey him. You obey him by doing what he says is OK and abandon what he tells you is bad. Therefore, this shapes how you live your life from what you eat, to how you run a country.”

Are you kidding me? Do you seriously believe that is it moral to obey a god that appears to be incompetent, uncaring and stupid?

How can you possibly obey this god and do what he wants if you cannot be sure what it is that this god actually wants you to dos? Islam is no more consistent in its view about what these things are than Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism. What one group of Muslims think is “god’s will”, other think is devil’s work, and vice versa. Divinities are very inconsistent in what they apparently tell their adherrents to do. In fact, the Old Testament states that the Yahweh god told King David to take a census of his people. He later punished David for doing what he told him to. A later writer tried to correct this problem by insisting that the Devil told David to take the census, without explaining why it was so evil that the Yahweh god killed David’s daughter in a fit of “righteous” rage. What on earth do you see in this ficticious god that makes you want to do what you think it says?

You wrote: “I can understand your anger for if God exists and he is capable then why he made a lion kill to survive. Why he allowed someone to kill an innocent person.”

Please tell me what I said that made you believe that I felt “angry”? There doesn’t seem to be anything for me to be angry about. There’s no-one to blame for the imperfections of the world and the universe and its indifference to the needs of humans.

In order to be angry about this state of affairs I would need to be a theist. On the other hand, you would have justification for being angry with the god you say you believe exists. It seems that you are protecting your anger and disgust on to me, where it does not fit and cannot belong. Be careful what you accidently say about yourself when you impute emotions to others that do not fit.

On the other hand, one of the salient features of the Abrahamic god is that he is full of anger. This is usually described by religious writers as “righteous” anger, with the implication that this somehow exonerates it without further consideration or investigation. The descriptions, however, would get such a being labeled as a monstor in this morally developed age. They read like the things engaged in by something which is a cross between a Mafia Boss and Hitler. Why should I, or anyone else, respect someone who thinks this kind of anger is justified? Even more to the point, why should I, or anyone else, respect someone who believes that the actions attributed to this exceedingly angry god are so wonderful that the perpetrator is worthy of worship? What does this say about your willingness to commit atrocotries in the name of this angry and vengeful god? Why should be not question whether you can be relied on to always act in a socially benevolent fashion?

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Saleh October 26, 2010 at 7:16 am

@Rosita
Most probably this is going to be my last post since it will be going on and on. As I said before, if a person is convinced of something and doesn’t want to change his belief then nobody can.
————-
No way would I do such experiment. The consequences are absolutely not worth it. I agree with you in this. However, like you mentioned, being an atheist doesn’t mean you have to declare it out loud. Still you can have double the benefits from being atheist and pretending to follow a religion. After all, being an atheist means there are no rules or guidelines to follow except your own rules.

However, is an atheist a selfish immoral person who thinks only about self-gain? The answer to this is the same answer to, “Is a believer (in a religion/God) a selfish immoral person?
My answer:
It depends on the person’s conscience. A believer believes conscience comes from God. How about an atheist? Why he has conscience? Don’t tell me it’s a survival mechanism resulting from evolution. If it is a survival mechanism then it means we can’t neglect it. For example, you can’t stop your heart beating because it’s essential for your survival. Yet, any person can neglect conscience and able to survive.

Also, not in every society an atheist is rejected or discriminated or the impact is very low. So, being an atheist doesn’t really involve strong disadvantages.

——————
You said,
“… The green thing is not following any rules, it simply has green properties. Neither do our brains follow rules that turn these wavelengths into a green perception: they simply react to the property of these wave lengths in line with the physical, chemical and morphological properties of the cells which have developed in response to the patterns contained on strands of DNA.”

From Wikipedia:
The term “law” is often used to refer to universal principles that describe the fundamental nature of something, to universal properties and relationships between things, or to descriptions that purport to explain these principles and relationships.

What you call reactions to properties, I call results of applied laws/rules. What you call properties/laws simply “are” I call gained or created. Why?

If you passed by an empty area and after 1 billion or infinity years someone told you that a building erected by itself in that area. Would you believe him? I think not. Simply you’ll assume someone erected it. Why? 1) Because it can’t erect itself since it’s an inanimate object that is composed of many parts. 2) Even if it happens and the building is erected, this will occur with many imperfections since the probability for a perfect building is very small, which means other things (destruction of the building, creating something other than the building …etc) will happen are very high and they will occur since the period is very long.

You said,
“Once something has already happened, it is absolutely certain, no matter how rare it might be.”
I agree. But you also have to agree that if the probability of creating an intelligent life form is so tiny, then we’ll have many chaotic happenings like having creatures with 1 leg, 10-legs creatures, upside-down mountains and all kind of crazy stuff.

What I mean, is the universe is in order and not in chaos. How come? Scientifically, it can’t be by itself.

You said:
“If, on the other hand, it were a created or non-random event then there would be a mathematical formula which would allow us to predict when, where and how the poop would fall.”

Actually, it is a non-random event. And we can mathematically predict when where and how the poop would fall. The only requirement is that we must have all the variables affecting the event. This applies to any event. However, because we don’t have the knowledge about the event and the factors affecting it, doesn’t mean the event is not non-random.

You also said,
” The point is, although scientists are creating these elements from “nothing”, they are not creating the properties of these elements: these properties simply “are”. Just like “green”.”

Nobody can claim that they can create something from nothing except a God. Therefore, it is evident that those scientists didn’t create these elements, so to them these properties “are”, Again because they are not creators. Yet, they can change these properties according to established laws which they didn’t put.

The same thing is about the universe. To us, it “is” because it was created from nothing by God. But this universe can’t recreate itself, nor can we create it from nothing.

Otherwise, how do you explain the existence of the universe. If you say, “Big Bang”, then you should think twice. Big bang means randomness is involved. If randomness is involved then the universe wouldn’t be a perfect place. It would be chaotic.
—————–

A God being incompetent is your view only if you believed that he exists. The problem is that you are saying:
“God doesn’t exist.
If we assumed he exists then he’s incompetent.”
You should agree this is not logical. That’s an assumption you make to explain what you can’t understand. We as human beings can’t understand some facts when we lack the knowledge.
Example: if there is a God why he makes us need food to survive. If we didn’t need food, millions of Africans would still be alive.
Because we don’t know why doesn’t mean he’s incompetent or he doesn’t exist. And so you don’t have wrong interpretations, yes we have the capabilities to understand the reasons behind everything in this world but it’s a matter of gaining the knowledge.


You wrote:
“Divinities are very inconsistent in what they apparently tell their adherents to do.”
The discrepancies are not related to the divinity’s instructions and prohibitions but to 3 factors:
1) Creation of false religions by humans themselves.
2) Distortions occurred and still occurring in religions (including misinterpretations).
3) The multitude of religions.


The anger I’m talking about is toward the idea of his existence and that people believe in this idea. And relating that these misfortunes are linked to the idea of God like the wars in the name of God.
—-

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Rosita October 26, 2010 at 11:41 am

@Saleh

Your posting contains a whole truck load of errors of logic and scientific understanding as well as indications that you do not understand what you read. If I tried to deal with all of this I would have to take over this site by writing a small book.

Most of it is so blatant that other readers will see through it quickly and easily. For brevity’s sake I will deal with a very small sample and then leave you to wallow in your delusions.

As you keep pointing out: if a person is convinced of something and doesn’t want to change his belief then nobody can change it.

You seem to be a master (or mistress) or psychological projection – imputing motives to others which are actually yours, and not theirs, as a way of avoiding accepting that they exist in you. You are not deliberately lying about your motives, of course. It’s a psychological defense mechanism that you use to avoid mental pain and discomfit. It’s a trait that is by no means confined to religious fanatics but it is very common among them. It’s a sign that you are secretly quite insecure and cannot entertain doubts, even as “hypotheticals”. Many people do manage to get over this (writers on this site are examples) but it takes a long time and lots of deliberate and painful mental effort. I doubt that you have the inclination or mental stamina for such an endeavor. You have a lot of company there. Do not, however, expect those who have gone on this journey to treat you with intellectual respect.

Your quote from Wikipedia about “laws” supports my contention, not yours. Read it again and try to understand it this time.

“Is an atheist a selfish immoral person who thinks only about self-gain? “
Morality is socially-derived. A person who is well-socialized will fit in well with the society in which they live; a brain-impaired sociopath will not learn to apply social rules and will not fit in. It’s that simple. Societal justice systems are not interested in whether someone engages in moral behavior for selfish or for unselfish reasons, simply that they engage in moral behavior. If we look at the society’s as a whole we find that the more atheistic the society the better its observed rates of societaly approved moral behavior, and the more religious the society the higher the crime rate and the lower the level the indications of societal health. (If you do a Google search you will find a number of scientific studies which support this assertion but no valid studies that support the opposite.)

Atheists are ethical because they are well socialized and it is the right thing to do. On the other hand, religious people claim that they live good lives because some invisible person will punish them if they do not (forced good behaviour, not an unforced choice) or they behave well because they believe this will prevent them from being cast into hell after they die (a selfish reason) or because it will result in them being accepted into a religious heaven after their death (another selfish reason). In other words, it is much more logical to argue that religious people behave as they do for selfish reasons, than to argue that atheists do so.

“The anger I’m talking about is toward the idea of his existence and that people believe in this idea. “
Where is the logic in that? I don’t care what people choose to believe, just so long as it does not cause them to act in ways which harm me, others or the world in which we all live. That is justifiable anger. You would feel exactly the same if a member of some other religion acted this way.

“Actually, it is a non-random event. – - – The only requirement is that we must have all the variables affecting the event. This applies to any event. However, because we don’t have the knowledge about the event and the factors affecting it, doesn’t mean the event is not non-random.”

Behavioral and biological scientists agree that the behavior of biological entities contains a degree of randomness. Formulae used to describe such behavior are necessarily probabilistic. Life began in this realm.
In the quantum realm all behavior is probabilistic. The universe commenced in this realm.

“Big bang means randomness is involved. If randomness is involved then the universe wouldn’t be a perfect place. It would be chaotic.”

The universe is chaotic and imperfect. Most of the universe is extremely unfriendly to human life. It will eventually kill us all. Gamma rays from exploding stars would kill us in seconds if one such ray crosses earth’s path. One just missed us quite recently. Asteroids have a habit of crashing into earth. Some have nearly destroyed all life on earth already. Another is due to just miss us in a few years, and may not miss us the next time around. Untethered black holes roam the universe. If one wanders into our solar system if will swallow up the earth into the infinite nothingness at its center.

“But you also have to agree that if the probability of creating an intelligent life form is so tiny, then we’ll have many chaotic happenings like having creatures with 1 leg, 10-legs creatures, upside-down mountains and all kind of crazy stuff.”

This is an argument from scientific ignorance. Neither biological nor geological evolution works like that. Your contention is absurd. If you are at all interested in “truth” rather than religions fiction (which, I doubt), then you can educate yourself by reading the amateur-friendly scientific articles at http://www.talkorigins.org/

“If you passed by an empty area and after 1 billion or infinity years someone told you that a building erected by itself in that area. Would you believe him? I think not.”

This is the “watchmaker fallacy”. Talkorigins deals with this, too. In essence, we recognize man-made objects because we are familiar with the things that man can make. We make errors of judgment about this when we assume that something that is regular is man-made when in fact it is a product of nature.

And so on, and on.

The bottom line, Saleh, is that you lack the education and intent to understand why the case you mount for your preferred religious viewpoint is not credible.

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Rosita October 26, 2010 at 3:38 pm
Saleh October 27, 2010 at 11:28 am

@Rosita
Most of your comments don’t make sense.

Example,
“Atheists are ethical because they are well socialized and it is the right thing to do”
That’s absolutely biased. This is what you want to believe.

you said,
“If you are at all interested in “truth” rather than religions fiction (which, I doubt), then you can educate yourself by reading the amateur-friendly scientific articles at http://www.talkorigins.org/
I don’t mind visiting that site even if it is “amateur-friendly”. But your comment shows one thing common I noticed in Atheists (can’t generalize) I interacted with. “Arrogance”. Whether intentional or not, but you think you have better knowledge / IQ / Wisdom / Personality (I’m not really sure which aspect is it). And this is a devastating criterion bcoz it makes you refute anything not to your liking.

Anyways, wish you the best. And thanks for all your comments. At least I learned something.

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Rosita October 27, 2010 at 1:08 pm

@Saleh
I’m glad you’ve learned something. Keep reading. One day perhaps it will all make sense. Then you might review your estimate of the locus of “arrogance”. I hope so.

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Dave.keeps October 28, 2010 at 7:37 am

My journey is pretty much opposite to yours – and surprisingly for very similar reasons. Thanks for your candor and generous spirit!
One book I found hard to argue with – even though I tried, was Richard Bauckhams book – Jesus and the eye witnesses. If you want to find a cohesive argument that refutes some of what you now believe then give it a go.

Thanks again – Dave

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Frustratedfairy October 28, 2010 at 10:47 am

Fascinating read, what a story :D

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RLWemm October 28, 2010 at 4:15 pm

@Dave.keepss

The Bauckham hypotheses have been soundly criticized. For example:

http://vridar.wordpress.com/tag/book-reviews/bauckham-jesus-and-the-eyewitnesses/

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lukeprog October 28, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Dave.keeps,

On Bauckham, see here

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RLWemm October 28, 2010 at 4:29 pm
Saleh November 4, 2010 at 9:16 am

I read “16 Techniques of Critical Thinking” from your other site at:
http://lukeprog.com/science/16_techniques_of_critical_thinking.html

The problem is applying what you mentioned. The real obstacle is our emotions. My question, Do you know of any book / site that can help in making a person less sensitive / emotional to criticism especially when debating with others. (sometimes debaters insult the counterpart indirectly to affect their rationality).
Thanks.

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Saleh November 4, 2010 at 9:19 am

Rosita, I advice you to read the article linked above.

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Rosita November 4, 2010 at 9:41 am

@Saleh.
I’m very familiar with this material. How about you?

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Luke Muehlhauser November 4, 2010 at 9:43 am

Saleh,

That’s a really good and important question! I’ll have to think about that…

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Saleh November 6, 2010 at 8:22 am

@Rosita
I’m now.
But being familiar is not enough.
Would you mind sending me an email @
s_alabbas0
@yahoo
Note: That’s a zero at the end of my user name.
I want to communicate with you through email instead of luke’s blog bcoz it will be annoying to him since he’ll receive any comment in his blog.

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Rosita November 6, 2010 at 10:02 am

@Saleh
I’m in the middle of moving house. Bad, bad time. Maybe in a coupe of months.

If you want to learn why people believe illogical things search for the Psychology of Persuasion.
In a nut shell, people are more likely to believe crazy things when they are physically, bodily, emotionally and mentally distressed or, alternatively, if they are the beliefs of people who are nice to them, on whom they are dependent emotionally or whom they respect.

The default position is to believe everything that your parents and teachers tell you. That is necessary for survival during the childhood years. The brain’s capacity for critical thought develops during adolscence and young adulthod. It needs environmental challenge and nurturing in order to develop properly. When these things do not occur we end up with an adult with impaired critical thinking ability. Unfortunately, there are a lot of them, especially in countries with at least one of the following: authoritarian regime, powerful authoritarian religion, uncritical sensationalized media, poor general education system which emphasizes fact learning rather than the application of critical thinking and the methodology of the investigative sciences.

For a little light reading you could try Michael Schermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things”. Here is an illustrated talk he gave on this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8T_jwq9ph8k

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Rosita November 6, 2010 at 10:49 am

@Saleh

I think you were also asking about how to deal with defensive behavior.

There are several reasons why someone may be resistant to the ideas you put out.

1. The ideas may make them threaten them or make them feel insecure in some way. They may be too unfamiliar. They may threaten a well-entrenched and well-learned world-view. They may oppose a belief which is strongly held by someone with whom the person has an emotional attachment.
The response to this is to make the person feel comfortable or, at least, to minimize their discomfort. [Not easy.]

2. Your ideas don’t make logical or rational sense. In this case the problem lies within you, not with the other person.

The techniques used by marriage counselors and psychotherapists to increase positive communication are helpful. Unfortunately, many of them rely on face-to-face interaction and are not easily applied to internet conversations. I notice, however, that you have already learned some of them. The most important one is not to insult your partner. But this does not mean that you avoid calling them out on something which they say that is absurd or grossly rude.

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Jorda C. November 16, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Hey Luke!

Just wanted to introduce myself and maybe give you some insight as to where I’m at with religion, science, and overall atheism. Like you, I grew up in a primarily christian home. My mother has been a part of the church since she was 18 years old and not turned back from her faith. My father on the other hand is atheist and has openly mocked my mothers beliefs since i was a child. When i was four years old, my mother and father divorced, leaving me and my three brothers with a single mom only equipped with the salary of an elementary school teacher. Yet she still continued to raise my brothers and I in the Christian faith and never wavered. At this point in time I believed that there was a God, but didn’t believe in a relationship with him or Jesus.

Then when i was thirteen years old I was hit with a triple tragedy. My best friend, my Godfather/ Uncle, and my mentor all died within two months of each other. I then thought, “Surely God cant exist if these types of things happen everyday.” So from there on out i considered myself an atheist. Having sex, doing ridiculous amounts of drugs, and drinking till i became numb both in mind and body. I was lost, wadding in self pity.

I was lost and hopeless. Then, seemingly out of the blue, I met a man named Tom McChesney whom was a Young Life leader in Fort Collins and i began to do young life every week, at first in order to meet the abundance of lovely girls who attended, but soon after for the soul purpose of discovering who i was. After Senior year in high school, i volunteered for a month long en-devour at a Young Life camp in Canada were i rediscovered my relationship with Christ and began to trust God as my father.

Since then My life style as made a complete 180. I now lead young life at Fort Collins high school and teach kids about Christ without forcing it down there throats like I had spent most of my childhood having done to me. I now fully believe that God is the one and only reason that I am still alive today, and each day i have the chance to live in his presence and attempt to teach of his amazing love by living as Christ had.

Yet i am not naive to the fact that this world is not peaches and plum trees and that sometimes i stand alone in my faith and am often criticized for my beliefs. That is why i think your blog is a great thing to have. It gives people a chance to logically see both sides and discuss their knowledge of this content.

But now to my question, sorry if you mentioned this in your life story at the top but i am confused as to where you are at with belief and atheism. It seems to me like you are stuck in between, yet leaning more towards atheistic point of view. Is this correct or am I missing the mark?

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Jordan C. November 16, 2010 at 4:53 pm

PS, my name is Jordan, haha not Jorda. My bad.

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Luke Muehlhauser November 16, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Jordan,

My story on this page ends long before the present day. I’m now an evangelical naturalist. (Also, naturalism entails atheism.)

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Rosita November 16, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Hi Jordon.

I understand now why so many Christians think that atheists are “angry with god” and mistake the destructive signs of adolescent grief and depression for “hating god” . It has always puzzled me why this picture of atheism is so popular.

Did you actually fail to believe in the existence of any god during this period, or were you just too distressed to think about it much?

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Jordan C. November 17, 2010 at 11:02 am

Rosita,

The part of the story i didn’t tell happened soon after the deaths of those people in my life, I was extremely depressed and began to seriously question the existence of a God, yet i still believed there was one. But then, at the worst time for someone to make me question my faith even further, my friend Amanda, who was at the time was studying Wicca and had been raised in an atheist home (no connection to the two) approached me and began to fill my head with thoughts that, yes for a time, did make me 100% deny the existence of a God. I was at a very unfortunate time in my life were i was quite weak minded and indecisive.

But, sorry if i offended you at all. I have quite a few friends who are atheist yet i still love them the same as those of my friends who study any branch of religion. If one is to truly live like Jesus, which I am trying to model my life after, they must first accept people even though their beliefs don’t resemble that of our own. I just like to understand and know what people see as truth. I also don’t believe that atheists are, per-say, angry with God. I think that sometimes an event in ones life, large or minuscule, can trigger intense questioning of God, but that shouldn’t make someone an atheist. It is those who question God and experience what most Christians would call a “Lack of Faith,” and usually decided paths of scientific discovery and base forms of Logic, such as Luke with Naturalism. Or they just never experience or believe in a God in the first place. Either way, people are bound to have different beliefs than us no matter were we go. But i can honestly tell you as a devoted follower of Jesus that i would be overjoyed if everyone followed Christ’s teachings because i think that by following Christ, and trusting in his love, you gain eternal life, and i would want EVERYONE to experience that love as i have. Just the same, I would imagine you would like those that don’t quite see your beliefs to just understand and believe what you believe, am i right? But pressing my beliefs and forcing things down peoples throats is not the way to go about that, as i am sure you know, hence why i live my life like Christ did in order to evangelize by my actions, not by my words.

Sorry that was a long explanation… does that answer your question though? Haha i have the tenancy to ramble.

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Rosita November 17, 2010 at 11:58 am

@Jordon.
No need for apology. I didn’t feel insulted. I was just curious to hear how you got to where you are now. As you have noted, times of great emotional need and disequilibrium are the most usual fuel for an emotion-based conversions to a belief set: whether Wiccan nor Christian. (There are many atheists who deny that Wiccans, who believe in the supernatural, are atheists, at least not the kind of atheists who do not believe in anything supernatural, no matter what label you give it.)

I am curious because the many traumas in life did not cause me to lose my faith, although losing my faith caused trauma. I was trainining for the Methodist ministry but found that the more I learned of the basis of the faith, and the more of the Bible I read, whole books at a time, instead of cherry-picked piecemeal, the more I was appalled at how different the Biblical god was from the laundered loving god that I had been taught to believe existed and how fractured and poorly behaved were this god’s followers compared with those who did not profess to believe. Then I studied other religions and found that they defended their beliefs sets with the same kind of logical distortions, emotional appeals, unreliable “personal testimony”, claims of “miracles”, changed lives, ecstatic states and other weak “evidence”.

At no time did I see any point, or feel any need, to indulge in the kind of self-destructive and selfish behavior that you listed. As a mental health professional I have never seen any evidence that these symptoms are any more prevalent in atheists then religious people. Regardless of religious beliefs or lack of them, these symptoms are best treated by appropriate counseling, emotional support and medication. I have noticed, however, that when people receive this type of therapy from people with a religious agenda that they tend to take up the same belief set as their carers. It’s emotional basis is obvious when they fail to be able to defend these beliefs with valid reason and logic. They resort to appeals to falllible authority (My friend/pastor/ religious books tells me this is true), appeals to personal experience and subjective feelings without any external proof or circular logic {I know that what I read in the Bible is true because the Bible says it is true and it also says that I will be led by the Spirit into all truth so my interpretation, and that of my religious friends, must be true. }

I lost my beliefs before I studied psychology, but that cemented things. The whole of that subject is built on the well-founded belief that the human brain is an extremely unreliable tool for determining reality without objective external aids.

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Jordan C November 17, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Rosita,

I’m glad we understand each other. The self destructive behaviors that i spoke of were not so much to mask my faith (or lack thereof), but to mask other personal issues in my life. But the only reason i resorted to them in the first place was because i had open access to them at all ports in life. I was a freshman in high school playing Varsity level in three different sports which made getting alcohol all the easier, so therefor, i drank. Drugs came easy due to the fact that one of my brothers was a drug dealer who unfortunetly would hook his little brother up for free, therefor, i did drugs. And as for sex and girls, they came with popularity. But the point is, you dont indulge in these things if they are offered to you as a christian, or at least you shouldnt. So more power to you for not getting tangled in that mess.

My time i college has shown me and perhaps given me a false outlook on atheists, but it would seem that most atheists believe in science and theories correct? Well science, namely anthropology, would say that we are a coincidence and have happened purely by chance. From the prospective of a psychologist, do the ideals presented by science saying that we have no intrinsic value or overall meaning on earth seem as bit rash to you? From my time in psychology i have found that when one has nothing to live for, they usually simply give up while undergoing periods of troughs and valleys and either end up resorting to suicide or experiencing severe depression or sometimes even resort to frivolous living such as being a drunkard, participating in the usage of narcotics, or even something seemingly harmless like premarital sex with another. But again these are views that i have seen an heard on my campus for the past couple years so it is just something on the for front of my mind. But i will agree with you on one thing. There defineitly are christians who live this life style and then put there sunday best on at church and then on monday go right back to doing it agian, i would know cause i did that at a point in my life. That is also why i dont lump myslef into the Christian catagory persay, I refer to myself as a follower of Jesus because thats exactly what i do. I attempt to live as Christ lived.

But as for your feelings on God being different than what you expected or had been taught, i cannot relate because my faith holds me to know that God is loving but he is Just, and the actions taken in the bible were all because of his unfathomable love for us. But i truly am interested to know more of your story. I am a sophmore in College with a double major in Political Science and Communication with a minor in History, so I’ll jump at any offer of a conversation with any type of professional as yourself. Thank you for being civil about this whole converstion by the way. My time as a follower of Jesus has been riddled with countless religious debates with one side just trying to prove the other wrong, so its nice to just have a bit of deliberation rather than debate.

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Rosita November 18, 2010 at 9:39 am

Jordon,
There are many kinds of atheists. The only unifying feature is that we don’t believe in the existence of gods or (for the most part) supernatural powers. Most of us reach that conclusion on the basis of logic and the lack of valid evidence for the existence of divinities but some, like yourself, lose a prior religious faith (usually temporarily) for emotional reasons. The vast majority of atheists are so-called “soft” atheists: they think it is highly improbable that there are gods, but would believe in them if they were presented with valid and convincing evidence. This group includes those who are “strong” atheists [100 percent certain that a god does not exist] about particular gods, including the Jewish/Christian Yahweh and Jesus gods, usually on the grounds that the attributes of these gods are mutually exclusive an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowledgeable being is incompatible with one who also created both evil and the devil and has only limited control over them) or inconsistent with reality (a creator god in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary).

Athiests come from all walks of life and all levels of education, although they tend to be more prevalent the higher the level of education and less common the lower the level of education. People with a good science education, regardless of whether they have religious beliefs of not, are confident that the scientific method leads to a valid understanding of how the things in the universe work and understand the difference between scientific theories (descriptions of how scientific facts work) and the common use of the word “theory” to mean an unverified conjecture. People without this level and type of education do not understand these matters and can be manipulated by religious leaders (who also do not understand them) to subjectively believe that things are true that can often be clearly demonstrated to be objectively “not true”. These people are mis-educated, ill-educated and poorly informed rather than stupid. The brain’s default position is to believe whatever it is told by people with authority. It takes brain maturity, education and emotional security before people feel confident and competent enough to question what they are told by those they trust, like, admire and feel warm towards. There is nothing shameful about the fact that you may not have reached this stage in all areas of your life. I doubt is anyone could honestly claim that. It is all a matter of degree. The extent of one’s lack of credulity unquestioning credulity has a lot to do with one’s environment and the variety of one’s life experience. These are largely (although not entirely) beyond a person’s ability to choose. If those on whom you depend for your emotional well-being discourage you from questioning what they tell you, then you do not realistically have much freedom to do otherwise. The cost of defying them or disagreeing with them is just too great a loss for a person’s short-term well-being.

Take your belief that the god of the Bible is a loving and just divinity, for example. In order to continue to belief that the actions promoted, commanded or done by the Yahweh or Jesus gods described in the Bible are because of this multiple personality’s “unfathomable love” for humans, you must place extraordinary emphasize the “unfathomable” part. Why would a god who wants his imperfectly formed creations to behave morally provide such profoundly confusing examples of what “moral” is supposed to be. On the basis of the writings in the Bible and the huge variety of interpretations that sincere followers give to them, what grade do you think this divinity would get in your Communication’s courses? What does this divinity fail to demonstrate that it knows about how people obtain knowledge, interpret text and are persuaded?

You must also place extraordinary trust in the logic of someone who is probably merely uncritically repeating what someone else told them. Why not ask yourself why the Bible god gets a free pass and special exemption from the rules we apply to ourselves and others in our society?

There are actually a variety of gods that appear in the Old Testament writings. The two main gods are El and Yahweh. Both are translated as “god” or “lord god” so the difference is not obvious. In the book of Genesis both are reported to have created the world and the universe, two chapters apart, and in a different order. El was a Babylonian god who presided over the Elohim or council of gods. Yahweh was one of the Elohim, but a rather flawed and pugnacious one who was upbraided by El in a manner reminiscent of the story of the dismissal of Lucifer (the god of light) from “heaven”. The Babylonian Yahweh was married to a goddess, but this attribute is not mentioned in the Jewish writings. Ironically, it was the bellicose Yahweh god that the Jews adopted as their national god, although they wrote the story to suggest that this god chose them. The first five books of the Old Testament have stories about the kinder El god mixed up with stories of the fearsome Yahweh god, something which is entirely lost in the English translation. By the time we get to the later books, the Yahweh god has triumphed and the El god has been forgotten. Then we get to hear about a whole lot of “bad” gods who are given roles similar to the one taken by the original Yahweh god. The Bible writers are now so confused over which god is “good” and which is “bad” that the story of King David and the census can’t decide whether David is being punished by the Yahweh god for carrying out the census that the Yahweh god ordered (the original story) or whether he is being punished by the Yahweh because he followed advice from one of the devil gods, collectively known as Satan (the follow up story in a later book). In either case, there is no explanation for why taking a census of the people was so heinous a crime that David’s daughter needed to be struck dead by the Yahweh god as a punishment.

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Jordan C November 18, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Rosita,

We obviously don’t understand each other and i would prefer to end this discussion because it is now drifting into a debate rather than a deliberation. I am very experienced with the Bible , not to be cocky, but I am far beyond my years in theological thought (which i study and experience for myself, not forming my beliefs off others) and I believe that perhaps you should have another close look at the God you are speaking of, because you cannot find such things in the bible.

I would ask that you please not respond with more argumentation, or bible verses to attempt to further this discussion down a path of negativity. Thank you for your time and thoughts.

Jordan

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caseywollberg November 19, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Oh, look. Another theist proves to be an intellectual coward (not to mention an entertaining case of the Dunning-Kruger effect as applied to “theological thought”). How surprising.

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Rosita November 19, 2010 at 9:07 pm

@Casey
The fear in Jordon’s last response came over loud and clear. When I was at his stage of thinking I probably would have freaked as well. It may be the first time he has been faced with the reality of rational atheism, rather than the emotional atheism and apatheism that his social group believes to be what defines every, or at least, most atheists.

I found his sophomore ignorance of science, psychology, anthropology and the locus of meaning in life and to be sadly funny, but understandable in someone who appears to have been quite intellectually sheltered. He’s got a few more years of basic education to complete during which he may learn enough to correct these mis-perceptions.

It’s hard not to smile at his self-evaluated level of biblical and theological competence when he is so obviously ignorant of biblical background, early middle eastern mythology, textual criticism and some of the basic theological conundrums that have been discussed among theologians for centuries. I had to laugh over being told not to quote any biblical verses. [aka Don't confuse me with facts, my mind is made up.] Isn’t that what atheists generally say to Christian evangelizers?

If I were to re-read some of the stuff I was confidently sprouting at his age I would probably be painfully embarrassed. The religious stuff I wrote at age 16 is even worse. It made good sense to me at the time but now I can see all the large gaping holes, the logical leaps and the fallacious reasoning. I kept thinking and reading widely from a variety of angles. Gradually my thinking and my writing matured. Who is to say that Jordon will not do likewise.

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Jordan C November 20, 2010 at 1:51 am

Rosita and Casey,

The real reason i ended that conversation is because I fully respect your beliefs, not because I am a coward or unintelligent. In my life i have experience being put down and called names by those who are not decent enough to understand that you cannot sway everyone’s beliefs in this world. Like i said above in my life story, my father is in fact an atheist, who has his doctorate in bio chemistry from the University of California and is in the works of receiving his second degree from the University in Political Science. He has offered the same amount of information on atheism as my mother has offered on Christianity, yet i have chosen to live a life as a Christian and my father still supports and respects that even though we still discuss my beliefs on a daily basis. Furthermore, I am not, and have not ever been sheltered from alternative belief systems or religions for that matter, I am just not naive enough to not see when someone has their mindset on something, such as Rosita who has her own opinions formed and unchanging.

Yet it is hard when common courtesy flies out the window and pride and ageism takes over. The type of libel being used against me has shown me a intense amount of lack of humility to ones beliefs and has me hoping that not all atheists will respond to me like this in simple conversations. If i want to debate then I will debate, but if i just want to discuss in order to understand then that is exactly what I will do. A discussion does not in-tale one giving reasons why the other is wrong or should not believe the way that they have decided to live their lives. That is what i was hoping for when i posted on this page, yet i have found myself being attacked and ridiculed by those whom i wish to further understand, not helping the overarching poor stereotypes of atheists.

Yet I refuse to let a few bad experiances like this one be the deciding factor on my outlook of people who share your beliefs. I understand that we all can get a bit fired up, but is it really enough to prod at my level of intelligence or insult me as a person? I would truly hope not. If you really wish to think Logically, then be logical about this discussion and attempt to understand my reason for being on this blog in the first place, not to be told where i am wrong or why you think my beliefs are hog wash, but rather to gain more understanding for when i am conversing with other atheists or even my own friends, who unfortunately always want to debate the matter, not be civil about it.

Jordan

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caseywollberg November 20, 2010 at 6:09 am

@Rosita

“Who is to say that Jordon will not do likewise.”

This, I think, says it all…

“A discussion does not in-tale one giving reasons why the other is wrong or should not believe the way that they have decided to live their lives.”

In other words, “I can’t be wrong, because I ignore any arguments that show me to be wrong, and besides, the way I’ve decided to live my life can’t be wrong, because it’s a personal decision.” An efficient way to deal with cognitive dissonance, to be sure, but hardly a model of rationality.

That said, it seems as though his dad’s a decent guy and has planted some seeds. So, you never know, I guess. Maybe he’ll take some courses in logic. That could help.

@Jordan

“If i want to debate then I will debate”

I wouldn’t if I were you; you seem like the type of person who doesn’t take too well to losing.

“…not helping the overarching poor stereotypes of atheists…Yet I refuse to let a few bad experiances like this one be the deciding factor on my outlook of people who share your beliefs.”

1) Atheism is not a set of beliefs. It is the lack of belief in gods.
2) It seems you are saying that your purpose is to get a feel for how atheists really are as a category of people. That’s like trying to get a feel for what non-believers in Santa Claus are like. We’re just like you, bud, and just like everyone else–except we’re a bit smarter on average and we don’t believe in gods (a bit of a correlation there, I’m afraid).
3) Don’t you think you should instead try and understand the arguments atheists provide as reasons for their unbelief? Wait, that would mean you would have to endure hearing arguments against your beliefs. Well, that really can’t be helped, can it? By insisting atheists not criticize your beliefs on pain of being rejected by you as needlessly contentious, you’ve set yourself up for a skewed view of atheists as people. The only way you will allow discussion with atheists is if they don’t bring up atheism. This is the lengths to which the faithful will go in order to protect their delusions. And besides, you’d no more learn about atheists in this manner than if you went into a bar and talked to a random stranger about anything but atheism. It’s absurd and pretentious to claim your purpose is understanding when you’ve revealed such a scheme to protect yourself from it.

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caseywollberg November 20, 2010 at 7:11 am

“If I were to re-read some of the stuff I was confidently sprouting at his age I would probably be painfully embarrassed. The religious stuff I wrote at age 16 is even worse. It made good sense to me at the time but now I can see all the large gaping holes, the logical leaps and the fallacious reasoning.”

LOL, yeah. Same here. Jesus, I don’t even want to talk about it. It was bad. I thank the gods of reason every day that some belligerent assholes like the Four Horsemen came along to rescue me with bellicose, strident, polemical, dare I say offensive…truth. I was just smart enough to realize these superior arguments for what they are: not abuse, but disabuse. Besides, I was always more of the attitude of wanting to believe what is true rather than wanting what I believed to be true (and, ironically, I have my peculiar religious upbringing to thank for that). I suppose that is what really saved me. The tough love of the Gnu Atheists was pushing at a door begging to be opened, in an insular culture of locked doors. And that’s why I always dispute the notion that theists will never be persuaded by argumentation. Those who take that position must necessarily perform a grossly inaccurate generalization regarding theists, namely, that all their doors are locked, their minds securely closed around an unreachable intellectual abscess. It just ain’t true in all cases, as you and I and the preponderance of former seriously believing atheists can attest.

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Rosita November 20, 2010 at 9:48 am

@Casey

[wry grin] Yes, we probably sounded much like poor Jordon does now. We naively believed that we had all the knowledge that we needed to interpret the Christian Bible correctly and that our conclusions were superior to those whom we could not, for reasons of shaky self-esteem, believe had greater knowledge of these books, their mythical and political under-pinings and the surrounding history, culture and world view. We did not see that as gross disrespect for those others or see anything wrong with believing that our restricted thinking was superior to theirs. Yes, the Dunning-Kruger effect very much in operation there: the less you know the more confident you are of your level of expertise in the area, the less aware you are of your deficits and the greater offense you take when someone with greater knowledge points them out.
Its all about protecting one’s self image as a competent, worthwhile person. The need to perceive oneself as a worthwhile person is a very strong human instinct. The more doubt a person has about their positive self-worth the more they need to bolster this insecurity with false beliefs in their superiority in various areas. Religion offers a very attractive package in this regard: the promise of being absolutely right by simply uncritically accepting the prevalent group-think views. Bingo! Instant superior self-worth. Unfotunately this does not stand up under challenge from those who have examined the faulty premises behind these schemas. If the Believer who is personally insecure does not protect themselves from such challenges their comfort level is shattered and they feel personally attacked, even when they are not.

If you are unable or unwilling to build intellectual walls around the belief system that is protecting a fragile ego, the only way out of the endless loop of being humiliated by being shown up as less competent than you want to appear, is to read widely enough to gain a knowledge of the complexities of the area and thus gain the confidence that comes from the wider knowledge and the comfortable humility that comes with the understanding that no-one can be a complete expert in anything. Knowledge is strength.

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caseywollberg November 20, 2010 at 11:12 am

@Rosita:

Compelling explanation from the world of psychology. Thanks for posting it.

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caseywollberg November 20, 2010 at 12:10 pm

“It’s hard not to smile at his self-evaluated level of biblical and theological competence when he is so obviously ignorant of biblical background, early middle eastern mythology, textual criticism and some of the basic theological conundrums that have been discussed among theologians for centuries.”

You mean this:

“I am very experienced with the Bible , not to be cocky, but I am far beyond my years in theological thought (which i study and experience for myself, not forming my beliefs off others) and I believe that perhaps you should have another close look at the God you are speaking of, because you cannot find such things in the bible.”

Yeah, I know, that was my favorite part. So rich in ironic arrogance.

Jordan, if you’re still reading, a reality check couldn’t hurt, could it?

You think people like me say “mean” things and “ridicule” your beliefs for cynical reasons, but you’re as wrong about that as you are about anything else you’ve commented on. We’re trying to help you and others (brutal as that help may seem), as we ourselves have been helped.

We know your kind because we were there once. We know the “smooth things” you like to hear, the things that “tickle your ears,” and we know they will never reach the core of deceit within you. It and your ego are mutual sucklings, feeding upon each other, protected by various intellectual buffers and drawing their sustenance ultimately from the unwarranted respect and privilege you and society demand for your beliefs.

Tearing down the walls of this placid nursery of delusions exposes you to the searing cold light of reason, and that is painful at first. Eventually, though, it feels good to be free, born again, as it were, into reality, ready at last to embrace the responsibility of intellectual adulthood and its myriad uncertainties and finitudes with true honor and courage. Then you will know what it feels like to be awake. You will recognize your former views for what they are: monsters dreamt up while reason sleeps.

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Saleh November 21, 2010 at 4:38 am

@Casey
@Rosita
@any person who is seeking the truth
Not everything you read in a religion is REALLY from that religion.
This is especially true for religions that divided over time into sub-religions or sects.
Christianity and Islam are 2 examples of such religions.

For example, in Qur’an there is a part of a verse that says (my interpretation is not impeccable but simple), “Kill them whenever you get hold of them …… this is the penalty for the infidels”. Again, I just put a simple translation and it’s not a good one but it serves my purpose for explanation.

This verse was used out of context by many so-called religious figures to make some Muslims have this thought: “Non-Muslim –> Infidel —> must die, If I’m the one to do it then I’ll go to heaven because this is what God wants me to do.”

If you read the whole chapter (Sourah), you’ll see it has a totally different meaning, and circumstances.

My point, if you read some info or hear from a religious person a teaching or whatever, then it’s not necessarily coming from the religion itself.

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Rosita November 21, 2010 at 5:55 am

@saleh

My point, if you read some info or hear from a religious person a teaching or whatever, then it’s not necessarily coming from the religion itself

Of course it’s coming from the religion!

The problem is that religions have such hopeless communication systems that Believers cannot agree what the religion is about. If the communication systems were invented or written by the gods in question then they are incompetent, helpless, ignorant or just plain stupid. That doesn’t make them worthy of worship, does it?

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caseywollberg November 21, 2010 at 6:08 am

@Saleh

“If you read the whole chapter (Sourah), you’ll see it has a totally different meaning, and circumstances.”

Elaborate, please. I don’t know how you can get a clear injunction to murder unbelievers to appear civilized or respectable. But the attempt should be entertaining.

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Saleh November 21, 2010 at 6:19 am

@Casey
If the unbeliever, a believer or even an animal was trying to annihilate you then it is justified to kill it in self defense.

@Rosita
The problem is not with the communication systems, rather than what is being communicated and whether the recipient is using his brain.

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caseywollberg November 21, 2010 at 6:50 am

“If the unbeliever, a believer or even an animal was trying to annihilate you then it is justified to kill it in self defense.”

So why does it specify “infidel?”

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Rosita November 21, 2010 at 8:25 am

@saleh

The problem is not with the communication systems, rather than what is being communicated and whether the recipient is using his brain.  

The problem is that recipients who use their brains come to very different conclusions. It is not equally clear to everyone. Nor are people equally gifted in their ability to use their brain.
In Iraq we see two different factions of Islam killing themselves in fine style over differing interpretations of Islamic sacred writings and traditions. In Ireland the same thing is happening over interpretations of Christian sacred writings and traditions. It seems that the gods of these religions could not provide a system of knowledge transmission that was equally clear to everyone, regardless of their brain power or lack of it. If these gods had the power to make the message equally clear to all then they practise discriminatory behavior based on attributes most of the faithful believe they have been responsible for creating in the individual.

So you end up with gods who aren’t powerful enough, or knowlegable enough or responsible enough or caring enough to communicate equally clearly to everybody, regardless of their “god given” level of brain function and personality. Why would you want to worship gods like that?

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Saleh November 21, 2010 at 9:52 am

@Casey
To make sure we have the same understanding of the word “infidel”
The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 2009:
Infidel (literally “one without faith”) is an English word meaning “a person who does not believe in religion or who adheres to a religion other than one’s own”.

In Qur’an the word “infidel” usually refers to (according to my understanding) someone who disbelieves God’s existence even though he was shown absolute evidence of God’s existence. Inside himself he knows that God exists but he still denies it.
This is one kin of an “infidel”.
The other extremist “infidel” will force (if has the power) others to deny God’s existence against their will.

Back to the verse and your question. The “infidels” were those who killed, tortured “believers” – known as “Muslims”. The first Muslims had to leave “Mecca” (we call it Makkah in Arabic). These infidels wanted to annihilate Muslims so there were battles between them.

The verse came to Muslims when they were in a state of war with Infidels. Among the infidels’ side, there were brothers, fathers and relatives to Muslims. Therefore, a Muslim had to decide either to kill the infidel even if he is a relative to protect himself or other Muslims, or to avoid killing the relative infidel and by this jeopardize the other Muslims.
And this is why it specifies killing the infidels in the verse. And to clarify one thing. The prophet or Muslims’ leader at that time, was known for releasing prisoners who were infidels. So, when I said the verse says “when you get hold of them”, it’s not referring to them when they surrender or ask for peace. It’s talking about a state of war going on and specifically, when a Muslim was fighting an infidel and one must kill the other. (This is my interpretation).

@Rosita
I agree with what you said but not with your conclusion:
“If these gods had the power to make the message equally clear to all then they practise discriminatory behavior based on attributes most …. ”

I have to admit that interpreting Qur’an is not easy. And many differences between sects in Islam, I can attribute them to the interpretation of Qur’an. I don’t know about other religions like Christianity, Hinduism and whether misinterpretation of teachings can occur. However, what I know about the Abrahamic Religions (Judism, Christianity and Islam) is that the prophet of that religion is the person responsible for conveying the message of the religion, its teachings and interpreting the Holy book of that religion. The prophet also appoints who will take his place after he dies. He also appoints those eligible for transmitting the religion and the interpretations he taught them. After the prophet dies, the appointee will take his place and do the same. And so on until judgement day. The followers of the religion must not make their own interpretations or accept ones from non-eligible persons.
Note, what I just said is the belief of the sect I’m from and not all Muslim sects, and I don’t think it is of Christians or Jews.

So, according to my belief, this system of communicating religion teachings and interpretations of God’s words is sufficient IF AND ONLY IF the followers choose to follow such system.
Unfortunately, not all people have good will.

So, why would God allow people to distort religion, change interpretations?
It’s all about “Choice”. He allowed us to choose our actions. Among us are those who want to distort religion. Among us are also those who kill, steal … etc.

So, it’s not about discrimination or a God who’s not powerful enough … etc. It’s about God being “Just” or “fair”. But you have to believe that there is an after life and heaven and hell to accept that he is just. Which also raises all kinds of questions which I can’t answer (at least for now).

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Rosita November 21, 2010 at 10:35 am

So, why would God allow people to distort religion, change interpretations?
It’s all about “Choice”. He allowed us to choose our actions. Among us are those who want to distort religion. Among us are also those who kill, steal … etc

This is a very poor answer. Who are you to say that person “A” has “chosen” the right answer and person “B” has not? Are you infallible?

What is just and fair and just about restricting people’s access to those who speak the “truth”, whatever that is. If interpretation “A” is correct and person “C” only hears interpretation “B” then they will naturally pass on interpretation “B” to others. That puts them at a disadvantage, doesn’t it? That’s blatant discrimination if you have the power to do something about it but don’t. Person “C” and those they teach cannot be blamed. If your appointed “prophet” gets it wrong then are you blameworthy for believing him? Are you to be blamed for uncritically accepting that your sect’s prophet is the only one with the “true” answers? What obejctive proof do you have that you (and he) are right? What if either you or he have chosen badly? Is this bad choice your fault, your prophet’s fault or the fault of the god who provided the circumstances that led the sincere follower’s brain to make such a faulty decision?

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caseywollberg November 21, 2010 at 12:22 pm

@ Saleh

That’s an intriguing ad hoc interpretation. One question comes to mind. If you really are convinced it is true, then what the hell are you doing on here playing apologist for Islam? Why are you not instead focusing your energy on proselytizing this interpretation to your fanatical counterparts who are, as we speak, taking this verse at face value to mean it is their Islamic duty to murder non-believers? Atheists like me are no threat to innocent people who don’t subscribe to your fairy tales; I don’t need to hear this elaborate exegesis. Tell it to the self-described Islamic murderers!

Isn’t the answer, Saleh, that you don’t give a shit about the innocent victims of Islamic extremists? Isn’t it that you are more interested in protecting your beliefs from falsification than protecting people from ignorant barbarians who slaughter people in the name of your god? Here you are, blissfully arguing with peace-loving infidels that Islam doesn’t demand they be murdered, while your savage co-religionists are out there in the real world showing they (unlike you) have the courage of their convictions by doing just that–murdering unbelievers. Go tell it to them! Go!

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caseywollberg November 21, 2010 at 12:25 pm

@Saleh

“(This is my interpretation).” Exactly, and this implies you could very easily be wrong. See the problem?

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Saleh November 22, 2010 at 9:14 am

@Rosita
This leads to another issue, which is on what bases God will punish or reward us.
However, there is common sense and conscience. Whether you believe in God or not, you still know that killing, stealing, talking bad about someone, … etc. In holy books including Qur’an these are made clear and no need for interpretations.
When I said,
“I have to admit that interpreting Qur’an is not easy. And many differences between sects in Islam, I can attribute them to the interpretation of Qur’an.”
These parts of the Qur’an that needs interpretation are not what makes the main message of the religion. For example, how to pray, the story of Jesus, how a human being is created, signs of judgment day and prophecies.

Therefore, the main message is clear and readily available to everyone. However, still people will try to interpret the teachings and encounter situations where disagreements in applying the teachings arise. In such situations people have to go back to the religion messenger (prophet) or who are appointed by him. To us, a prophet is infallible which you will not accept since he is a human being after all.

@Casey
First of all, I’m not being an apologist for Islam but for religion (one from a true God). Unfortunately, I don’t know much about other religions but I think I know enough which makes me avoid delving more in a particular religion and of course the lack of time. I mention examples from Islam just to make my points clearer.

Now regarding Islamic murderers. Most of us were raised in front of the mainstream media / news and TV. Unfortunately, most educational systems teaches you to receive and store information. Critical thinking is not an option. We simply accepted that news from CNN, BBC and others 100% true.

Now, if CNN tells you that Muslims conducted 9/11 attacks then you’ll accept it. Please, read the following page:
http://www.truthandliberty.com/False-Flag_Attacks.html

If you don’t like what’s written there, then watch any of the following documentaries:
9-11 Ripple Effect: Lies, Propaganda and A Call for Justice
PRESS FOR TRUTH,
PAINFUL DECEPTIONS, and
9/11 Mysteries part 1: Demotions

I strongly suggest that you watch videos in (even though it’s not related to this topic) http://www.thezeitgeistmovement.com
by the way, they are atheists.

Finally give “The Arrivals” on youtube.com a chance. The creators (Muslims) made it longer than it should but they reveal intriguing information.

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caseywollberg November 22, 2010 at 11:25 am

@Saleh:

You’re a slimy little sophist, aren’t you? Those conspiracy theories, even if they had a shred of truth to them, are not sufficient to wash the innocent blood off your co-religionists’ hands. You are offering nothing but red-herrings here. I was asking why you are not doing something about this or its inevitable outcomes, like this or this or this or this or this. The association between Islam and the murder of unbelievers is not some wild conspiracy theory, it is established fact. And you have a lot of work to do convincing your fellow prophet-worshipers to stop it. Making excuses for Islam to peace-loving non-believers is wasting time and risking more victims. Go out and preach the word to those who need to hear it.

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Saleh November 23, 2010 at 4:38 am

@Casey
links 1 and 5 are not working but I get your point.

I’m not a sophist and I’m not slimy.
Why I’m not doing something about these acts is simple. It’s beyond my capability and add to that the many restrictions in my country. These acts are seeded by countries and not individuals.

Second, I’m not saying religionists are all good and the same applies to atheists.
Examples of horrible atheists include Lenin,Stalin and Mao Zedong.

If a person uses free-speech as a pretext to insult others then he’s not a peace-loving person. He surely wants to ignite fire. This person knows that there are maniacs who need a reason to kill.

If I put faked pictures (or drawings) that insult you like depicting you in sexual acts then I have to be trialed and stopped. Let aside if this person is a religious figure.

All genocide, Holocaust, wars and killings claimed to be in the name of religion are all about power and resources.

Since we started drifting away from the main topic, let me summarize:
- God doesn’t tell us to wreck havoc on Earth.
- God gave us power of choice.
- This privilege is misused by humans
- Religion communicates God’s dos and donts to us.
- Whether it’s religion or not, ideology (usually with distortion) will always be used to make its followers serve some entity (king, organization, cleric).

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Rositar November 23, 2010 at 7:17 am

@Saleh

I’m still in the process of moving, with several physical disablities, so its really tough. So I’ll be brief.

I don’t share Casey’s opinion of you as a “slimy little sophist”. I think he was unreasonably rude. {Casey, you know my opinion of this behavior and I wish you wouldn’t do it, mate.}

I accept your point that preventing, or even protesting about Islamic-based terrorism is unrealistic in a country where you could be killed for attempting it. I am also aware that some moderate Islamic authorities have, indeed, come out and condemned these acts – and got very little press about it.

The problem, however, is that other Islamic leaders approve and incite this type of violence. Christianity has the same problem. There are those who believe that the sacred writings or traditions or their implications, demand or support acts which other, equally devote people, condemn as immoral.

There is no consistent, unchanging, unambiguous, and indisputable religion-based moral standard by which to measure behavior.

You make five points.
1. “God doesn’t tell us to wreck havoc on Earth”.
That is your opinion, and/or that of your favorite religious authority. Other Muslims, citing the same sacred writings, arrive at different conclusions. I prefer your conclusion, but I don’t need your Mullah to hand it to me.

2. “God gave us power of choice”.
First you have to prove that there _is_ a god before that statement even begins to make sense. Second, choices can only be made on the basis of available knowledge and are strongly influenced by one’s bodily state at the time, chance environmental characteristics, memories, brain health, cognitive capacity and education. The playing field is most definitely not level. People do not have an equal chance of deciding or acting in the same way, whether “god” gave them the ability to “choose” or this ability is simply part of every complex biological entity. Even the lowly snail has a “choice” about where it slides.

In other words, many so-called choices in life are polemical rather than real. You can choose to keep your hand under a tap which you discover is pouring out boiling water, but your body’s automatic reaction is to withdraw your hand before your conscious brain even gets to consider the situation. Many more actions than you would like to think are actually automatic events which are rationalized by the conscious brain after the event in such a way that the person believes that they had a realistic choice.

3. “This privilege is misused by humans.”
I agree that it is misused by humans but I believe I don’t believe “choice” is a “privilige”. The ability to choose between more than one possible behavior is simply the consequence of one’s evolved and matured biology.

4. “Religion communicates God’s do’s and don’t's to us.”

I agree that religions communicate do’s and don’t's to people, but I see no valid reason to suppose that these demands and restrictions are of divine origin. Like all humans, the dogmas are very inconsistent. What is touted as “right” or “wrong” varies by time, place, era, country, sect or denomination, tradition, the level of education of the preacher or the practitioner and the values and practices of the surrounding neighborhood.

5. “Whether it’s religion or not, ideology will always be used to make its followers serve some entity.”

I have no problem with that one. In your case, you are serving your cleric or yourself and your prefered version of reality. Karl Popper’s definition of a religion or ideology is a system of beliefs which cannot be, or does not allow itself to be falsified. That makes your version of Islam and “ideology”, whether you like to think of it that way or not.

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caseywollberg November 23, 2010 at 11:27 am

@ Saleh

“links 1 and 5 are not working but I get your point.”

Link five works fine (read it) and here is link one. It’s important. And no, you don’t get my p0int. My point is that you should stop trying to convince me that Islam is peaceful until you feel free to preach such an interpretation to your co-religionists, who you admit have you by the balls. If Islam was peaceful, you would have nothing to fear. Unfortunately you have Islamic theocracies who don’t share your interpretation, and therein lies the problem.

“Examples of horrible atheists include Lenin,Stalin and Mao Zedong.”

Popular canard used by stupid people. Totalitarian mass murderers like these did not commit atrocities on the basis of a non-belief in gods. They were acting on their misanthropic ideologies, just like the “jihadists.” Atheism has nothing to do with it.

“If a person uses free-speech as a pretext to insult others then he’s not a peace-loving person. He surely wants to ignite fire. This person knows that there are maniacs who need a reason to kill.”

Fuck you. This is the kind of backwards reasoning that enables terrorists, and it’s why I harbor a special disdain for so-called “moderates.” This is also why you are slimy and a sophist. We reasonable people call this blaming the victim, and it won’t work with me.

Free-speech is not a pretext, it is a human right, no matter who it offends. Get that. Learn it. Get fucking used to it. You and those maniacs you’re defending don’t have the right not to be offended–and they sure as hell don’t have the right to murder people if they are offended. Free-speech, if it is to be free, positively guarantees offenses (especially among people who are easily offended by people who don’t agree with them–like the religious). It is precisely those ideas and that speech which would be considered by some to be offensive (e.g., “blasphemy”) that needs protecting. And if you want free speech yourself, you have to be mature enough to endure offenses. That’s how it works.

It’s time for Muslims like you to grow the fuck up and stop acting like petulant two-year-olds who lash out when they get their feelings hurt by reality. And if you want to be considered mature, then you need to condemn the immature behavior of your co-religionists. Speech does not maim, torture, or murder people–offended Muslims do. Try to get the proper perspective here, and don’t mistake the perpetrator for the victim, and vice versa.

“If I put faked pictures (or drawings) that insult you like depicting you in sexual acts then I have to be trialed and stopped. Let aside if this person is a religious figure.”

False equivalence. The former is (or may be) a matter of libel, a legal concern. The latter (blaspheming “the prophet”) is a victimless “crime,” a matter of free speech. Do you think Theo Van Gogh, for example, should have been “trialed and stopped” for criticizing Islam? Of course you do. Well, he was murdered by those your reasoning encourages and enables. And that’s why I don’t have a shred of respect for you.

“All genocide, Holocaust, wars and killings claimed to be in the name of religion are all about power and resources.”

Bullshit. Total fucking bullshit. A convenient fantasy, just like your religion.

I guess you’ve figured out that Muslims aren’t the only ones who can be offended. But, don’t worry, I won’t issue a fatwa against you or anything. That’s because I’m a grownup living in the real world instead of a dark religious fantasy.

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caseywollberg November 23, 2010 at 11:30 am

I said “ideas” need protecting. Scratch that; I just meant speech. Period. Sorry for the brief confusion.

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caseywollberg November 23, 2010 at 11:35 am

“I don’t share Casey’s opinion of you as a “slimy little sophist”. I think he was unreasonably rude. {Casey, you know my opinion of this behavior and I wish you wouldn’t do it, mate.}”

Wish away, Rosemary. I know that tolerance can sometimes be a vice, just as you know the same thing about intolerance.

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kaka November 23, 2010 at 7:57 pm

@rosita:

here’s something jordon might have given you in response:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7110

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Rosita November 23, 2010 at 10:46 pm

@kaka

Thanks, kaka. That was an interesting article. It’s the first time I’ve seen all the pre-Biblical mythology and its intra-Biblical influence summed up so neatly and succintly.

It is interesting to note that William Lane Craig admits that he is unfamiliar with this background. When I was training for the ministry we got this information in the very first semester. It freaked the fundamentalists who commonly had religious crises and rushed off to the less academic Bible Schools which dismissed all Textual Criticism as “work of the devil” which gave them an excuse to exclude it from the syllabus.

Hess’s response is somewhat weak. In the end, it fails to effectively dismiss the effects of ancient religions on the growing Jewish religion. Anyone with any solid background in textual criticism can tell you that the E (north Israel El god tradition) and J (south Israel Yahweh god tradition) passages in the Bible are distinct in many ways, including stylistic elements. Then there are the P (priestly) passages with all the “commandments” and divine rules, and the R (revisionist) passages that attempt to tie the different traditions together.

The Creation and Flood stories are lifted from the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh written some considerable time before the Jewish scriptures.

Then there is the Zoastrian influence in the later books of the Old Testament and the influence of Greek and Roman mystery religions on the theology of the Christian New Testament and the early church before many elements were grafted into the Roman State religion of Christianity which amalgamated the regions most influential religious traditions in one new religion.

I’ve no doubt that Craig and his cronies will go on pretending that none of this is material is reliably supported. If you want to believe something badly enough then logic and facts are immaterial.

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kaka November 25, 2010 at 4:04 pm

rosita, there are claims and there are counter-claims. who am i supposed to believe? we’ve left the realm of common sense here. this is all pretty hardcore theology. who is right?

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caseywollberg November 25, 2010 at 4:12 pm

@kaka: Rosita wasn’t discussing theology, but textual criticism, which is not outside the realm of common sense. But, to answer your question regarding contradictory theological assertions, they’re all equal in not even being wrong.

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kaka November 25, 2010 at 4:32 pm

here’s a response to your mention of mystery religions:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6813

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kaka November 25, 2010 at 4:38 pm

casey, textual criticism isn’t just about using common sense to join the dots when you’re dealing with complex topics like the origin of a religion. there is a responsible way to do it and there is an irresponsible way. that’s why i’m more inclined to believe, for example, claims made by scholars like dr hess over internet bloggers.

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kaka November 25, 2010 at 4:45 pm

casey:

on textual criticism, quoted from article above:

“The ancient world was a virtual cornucopia of myths of gods and heroes. Comparative studies in religion and literature require sensitivity to their similarities and differences, or distortion and confusion inevitably result. Unfortunately, those who adduced parallels to Christian beliefs failed to exercise such sensitivity. Take, for example, the story of the Virgin Birth, or, more accurately, Jesus’ virginal conception. The alleged pagan parallels to this story concern tales of gods’ assuming bodily form and having sexual intercourse with human females to sire divine-human progeny (like Hercules). As such these stories are exactly the opposite of the Gospel story of Mary’s conceiving Jesus apart from any sexual relations. The Gospel stories of Jesus’ virginal conception are, in fact, without parallel in the ancient Near East. ”

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caseywollberg November 25, 2010 at 4:55 pm

“textual criticism isn’t just about using common sense”

I said it was not outside the realm of common sense, as you claimed. It isn’t.

“there is a responsible way to do it and there is an irresponsible way. that’s why i’m more inclined to believe, for example, claims made by scholars like dr hess over internet bloggers.”

You pay lip service to the concept of responsibility, but you sure are good at talking out of your ass. Your prejudice against Internet bloggers noted, there are plenty of experts in this field who take a view that is skeptical to an unearthly origin for the Judeo-Christian mythology.

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caseywollberg November 25, 2010 at 5:17 pm

@kaka

“The Gospel stories of Jesus’ virginal conception are, in fact, without parallel in the ancient Near East.”

I guess the good doctor never heard of Zoroaster then, born of a virgin impregnated by a shaft of light. Or does that count as sexual intercourse where you’re from?

It sounds to me like you give preference to those “experts” who confirm your (and, obviously, their) beliefs, while dismissing the rest as “Internet bloggers.” Wow, that’s surprising.

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kaka November 25, 2010 at 5:58 pm

that’s interesting you cited ehrman, casey. i don’t think he holds rosita’s view does he?

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kaka November 25, 2010 at 6:03 pm

casey, do you seriously believe a scholar like craig has never heard of zoroaster?

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caseywollberg November 25, 2010 at 6:16 pm

@kaka: I don’t know what you mean by “rosita’s view.” He certainly doesn’t believe Christianity fell from the sky. My reading of what little I’ve heard from him was that he takes the evolution of Christianity to be an accretion of myths, hearsay, mistakes in the scriptorium and outright pious fraud. He does, I should add (with apologies on his behalf to Huxley), call himself an “agnostic.”

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caseywollberg November 25, 2010 at 6:18 pm

“casey, do you seriously believe a scholar like craig has never heard of zoroaster?”

Oh, no. I think he’s just dishonest and a sophist for Jesus. What’s your theory?

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Rosita November 25, 2010 at 6:34 pm

@kaka

The trouble with the average evangelical fundie seminary is that their academic standard and level is extremely poor compared with mainstream schools of divinity, especially in the U.S.A. As a general rule, someone with a doctorate from one of these schools would have difficulty passing the first year of a Bachelor of Theology program in Australia. American-style Bible Colleges actively teach students _not_ to think. If the writer does not come to the “right” conclusion (that is, the theological viewpoint of the college director) then that person’s manuscript is omitted from study. In contrast, Australian university standards require that the student read authors who hold a variety of viewpoints and then write a paper comparing and contrasting. The student is expected to be able to summarize the opposing viewpoints accurately.

A good theological professor is expected to be able to present students with a well rounded understanding of the current field of biblical studies. If s/he is doing the job properly then their particular preference should not be obvious. The best scholars can present material in such a way that it is not even possible to tell if they are even theists, let alone what kind.

An example of such a relatively unbiased introduction to the current scholarly knowledge of biblical background and textual criticism is a series of lectures given to Stanford religious studies students by Thomas Sheehan. Luckily, it is available free of charge via ITunes. I defy anyone who does not personally know the teacher (or read the bio on the downpage page I have provided) to figure out what his own beliefs are until the very last lecture (and even then, they are fairly veiled, as is appropriate practice for respected scholars. ) You can download the series here: http://french-italian.stanford.edu/opinions/sheehan.html

That is _not_ the way U.S. Fundie schools teach.

The reason why I have little regard for most U.S.-style Fundie Apologists is that they base their arguments on profound ignorance of both relevant and up-to-date scientific knowledge as well as really basic knowledge of so-called “biblical textual criticism” . Hess, for example, is quite unconvincing to anyone who _has_ studied the details and background of the Christian Bible at this academic level.

Likewise, William Lane Craig is still using philosophical arguments “proving” the existence of “god” that were soundly defeated at least decades ago (and usually centuries ago). What is appalling is that U.S. fundie theology graduates are not even aware of this.
In my country or origin (Australia), Philosophy 101 (generally taken by first year students of Bachelor of Arts or Law or Theology) introduces the process of philosophy by presenting classic arguments for the existence of god (the same ones that Craig uses with very little modification) and also teaches the objections to them. In other words, Craig still hasn’t passed first year Australian Bachelor level. That most Americans find him convincing is disturbing.

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Rosita November 25, 2010 at 7:26 pm

I think this link is the one to the 10 lecture series, not the one I gave earlier.

http://www.learnoutloud.com/Free-Audio-Video/Religion-and-Spirituality/Religious-Figures/Historical-Jesus/23023

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Rosita November 25, 2010 at 7:55 pm

@kaka

that’s interesting you cited ehrman, casey. i don’t think he holds rosita’s view does he? kaka(Quo

I’d be interested to know what you think my “view” is. I find Ehrman fascinating.

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kaka November 25, 2010 at 9:25 pm

rosita, i haven’t read sheehan’s work but i’m aware of the current, mainstream historical view of jesus’ death.

what i was really responding to was your theory that christianity was influenced by israelite polytheism and the mystery religions.

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kaka November 25, 2010 at 9:30 pm

casey, i’m going to stop responding to you. not because i have nothing to say but because i am tired of you turning every one of our discussions into a war of ideas. there is no war mate – you’re only fighting yourself. when you’re ready you can put down the bbq fork, take the saucepan off your head, climb out of the sandpit and join the adults in the living room.

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caseywollberg November 26, 2010 at 4:20 am

@kaka:

I’ve already encountered you, sophist. I already know it isn’t a war of ideas–it’s a war of intellectual integrity vs. sloppy, haphazard thinking and glaring sophistry. I note which of us surrendered. It always happens this way with sophists. Never respond to the substance of your opponents’ arguments. Make it personal, watch out for “gotcha” opportunities, toss out red herrings and, failing that, run away. The modus operandi of an intellectual coward is on display in every instance of your posting, especially this last ditch ad hominem.

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caseywollberg November 26, 2010 at 4:26 am

“I’d be interested to know what you think my “view” is.”

Your glowing endorsements of Craig (the appeal to authority is woefully misplaced, by the way, as Rosita has pointed out) pretty much say it all. But, really, this is beside the point. I don’t need to make guesses about your view for you to respond to the substance of my arguments. If you want your view to be known, the onus is on you to describe it. This is just more red herring.

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caseywollberg November 26, 2010 at 4:29 am

“I find Ehrman fascinating.”

No kidding. Now tell us how you feel about the price of tea in China.

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Rosita November 26, 2010 at 7:42 am

@casey

You’ve got your wires crossed, mate. You are responding to the wrong people about the wrong things. Read the headings :-)

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Rosita November 26, 2010 at 7:58 am

@casey

You’ve got your wires crossed, mate. You are responding to the wrong people about the wrong things.

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Rosita November 26, 2010 at 9:16 am

@kaka

casey, i’m going to stop responding to you. not because i have nothing to say but because i am tired of you turning every one of our discussions into a war of ideas.

I think that’s wise :-) Casey’s social skills leave a lot to be desired. I suspect he’s wired that way. He reminds me of the problems my son had before he got specific help for his Aspberger’s condition.

@casey

Attacking people and calling them names is only going to put them on the defensive and invite a war. Sophism requires conscious intent to deceive. When I was coming from the religious position I was not intending to deceive, I was just ill-informed and emotionally dependent on my faith. You could at least give these people the benefit of the doubt.

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Saleh November 26, 2010 at 10:04 am

@Casey
You are always assuming what a follower does represents the teachings of his religion. Big Mistake. Like you explained that Lenin’s crimes don’t portrait atheism, The same can be said about those who claim to be religionists /Muslims and kill innocents.
Also, put in mind that Islam divided into many sects and everyone claims to be the original Islam. That is, there are distortions in the teachings. I can’t deny that there are extremists in Islam or any other religion, but at the end this has nothing to do with religion. Religion (after distorting it’s teachings) is used to make people kill or harm, but even “no religion” can be used to. For example, if an atheist was brain-washed that any person who believes in God is going to kill him bcoz he doesn’t believe in God and that he should kill them before they do. Assuming this atheist is low in IQ, mostly he’ll start killing the believers.
The keyword here is brainwashing. I think Religion is the easiest way to brainwash people but it’s not the only way. Examples include how US Government manage to make Americans go for war.
You said,
“Popular canard used by stupid people. Totalitarian mass murderers like these did not commit atrocities on the basis of a non-belief in gods. They were acting on their misanthropic ideologies, just like the “jihadists.” Atheism has nothing to do with it.”
I tried not to say it but … “you are really stupid”. This is your logic summarized:
Atheist kills –> Atheism is not the reason
Muslim kills –> Islam told him so
What kind of logic is that? Besides, I can say that an atheist killer based his decision on atheism bcoz there are no formal teachings under atheism opposed to religion. It is manmade and he made his decision to kill.
You said, “We reasonable people call this blaming the victim, and it won’t work with me.” I’m not blaming him, I just said he’s not peace loving person. Besides, you can practice free speech right and disagree with others without having to insult them.
You said, ” The former is (or may be) a matter of libel, a legal concern. The latter (blaspheming “the prophet”) is a victimless “crime,” a matter of free speech”. What you see as victimless crime, others saw it as telling lies about a religious figure.
@Rosita
I decided to make this my last or before last comment (depending on your answer to my coming question) since it seems that there is too much to do and too little time.

First let me clarify that the reasons why I wouldn’t start protesting about Islamic-based terrorism here is bcoz of the laws of the country and not that some extremist will kill me. In the same time, the country laws prohibit anybody to preach extreme Islamic acts.

Anyways, I had a question and I wanted to read your opinion about it. Assuming nobody was able to prove God’s existence or non-existence, Wouldn’t undisputed historical records be a good source to prove God’s existence?
We have the history that tell us that the prophets were honest people who never lie. They were trusted by people. They told people that God sent them to show them the right path. Some believed them and some didn‎’t. The prophets, even though they could’ve lived wealthy and use people for their purposes but they didn’t.
Every prophet brought a miracle to prove he is true. The Muslim prophet recited (from memory) the Qurán “604” pages even though he was illiterate. He also wasn’t a poet but Qur’an is not formed of poems.

So, what should we say about this? People are making it up bcoz we weren’t their?

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caseywollberg November 26, 2010 at 4:46 pm

@ Rosita:

“You’ve got your wires crossed, mate. You are responding to the wrong people about the wrong things. Read the headings :-)”

Ah, yes. I see that now. Sorry. So, kaka, you don’t find Ehrman fascinating?

“Casey’s social skills leave a lot to be desired. I suspect he’s wired that way. He reminds me of the problems my son had before he got specific help for his Aspberger’s condition.”

Oh, Rosemary, give it a rest. This ain’t a cocktail party, it’s the goddamn Internet. I’m sure kaka would be less forthcoming with his stupid ideas if he had to spout them in a real life situation. So it is with me and my fiery rhetoric.

“Attacking people and calling them names is only going to put them on the defensive and invite a war.”

Cry me a frickin’ river. Debate. That’s what this is. Rhetorical war. And when people start violating the rules of war, that demands a reckoning. I don’t call people names until they show themselves to be worthy of them. Next you’ll be telling me I can’t swear. Jesus fucking Christ, mom!

“Sophism requires conscious intent to deceive.”

1) If this were true you would never be able to recognize it.
2) Since you believe this, then how do you know kaka was not engaging in sophistry?
3) Sophistry is evident when a participant in a debate consistently dodges the strongest arguments of his opponents, employs red herrings, etc. (I already listed all of kaka’s readily observed sins above).

“You could at least give these people the benefit of the doubt.”

I do, as can be verified by reading through this entire exchange. But people need to be called out for falling into sophistry, so they can avoid it in the future. That’s how I learned the skill of intellectual honesty, by being raked over the coals for failing to display it in those debates where I was trying desperately (like kaka) to protect my beliefs from falsification. Contrary to your opinion, sophistry as a style of debate is most often practiced without its practitioner being conscious of it, usually in response to the cognitive dissonance arising from her opponent’s strongest arguments (the urge to “win,” after all, is emotional, universal, and unconscious). Logical argumentation, you should be aware, is not something we are born knowing how to do, nor are the intellectual honesty and emotional control it absolutely requires.

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caseywollberg November 26, 2010 at 5:49 pm

“You are always assuming what a follower does represents the teachings of his religion.”

“A” follower? Did you click on any of the links I provided? No. Well, don’t do it. You don’t want to learn that you are wrong.

“Like you explained that Lenin’s crimes don’t portrait atheism, The same can be said about those who claim to be religionists /Muslims and kill innocents.”

Stop the idiocy. Atheism doesn’t promote a holy book with commandments in it that say things like, “kill the believers.” You aren’t retarded, so stop acting that way. It won’t win you any points with your dead prophet.

“I can’t deny that there are extremists in Islam or any other religion, but at the end this has nothing to do with religion.”

Okay, maybe you are retarded.

“For example, if an atheist was brain-washed that any person who believes in God is going to kill him bcoz he doesn’t believe in God and that he should kill them before they do.”

Right. This example is irrelevant to the subject of atheism, which is, get this, LACK OF BELIEF IN GODS PERIOD FULL STOP! Atheism has no teachings, no holy book, no priests or imams or even beliefs! It certainly cannot even possibly promote the dogma you just dreamed up. For that, one would need an ideology, like Christianity, Fascism, or Islam, etc. And that’s the whole damn point! You must have a brick for a brain not to understand the difference between a belief system, complete with holy books, symbolic traditions and ostensibly divinely appointed leaders, and the total absence of beliefs, holy books, traditions, and divinely appointed leaders. And that brick must be vanishingly small and overwhelmingly dense not to appreciate what range of behaviors the former can inspire compared to the latter.

“I tried not to say it but … “you are really stupid”. This is your logic summarized:
Atheist kills –> Atheism is not the reason
Muslim kills –> Islam told him so”

Okay, I’m stupid. Sure. But you missed a few obvious facts in your summary of my logic. Let me give you the revised summary, since apparently it wasn’t clear enough when I spelled it out for you originally:

Atheist kills –> Atheism is not the reason because atheism is the lack of belief in gods and that says nothing about killing people.
Muslim kills, citing Koranic verses as his inspiration –> Islam is the reason because (his form of) Islam endorses the murder of innocents (verified in the verses he himself provided) in the circumstances under consideration, and because he proclaimed Islam as the motivation for his murderous acts.

Now, tell me why perfectly logical constructs are “stupid” to you.

“I’m not blaming him, I just said he’s not peace loving person.

Bullshit. You say, “They got what they were asking for.” That is the definition of blaming the victim. And you can take it and shove it up your ass. And what the hell would a terrorist enabler know about “peace?”

“Besides, you can practice free speech right and disagree with others without having to insult them.”

What do you mean by “insult?” That’s the trouble. One man’s criticism is another worm’s “insult.” And some religiously motivated, insane people kill and destroy in response to being “insulted.” To wit…

“What you see as victimless crime, others saw it as telling lies about a religious figure.”

Too fucking bad! Suck it up. “The West” is a constellation of free societies. We have the right (even the responsibility) to criticize, refute, expose, ridicule, or parody anything or anyone. It’s an important, hard-won right, and we aren’t going to be bullied into letting it go by a bunch of Medieval savages who got their poor wittle feewings hurt by a goddamn cartoon! By contrast, Muslims don’t have the right (outside of a certain popular interpretation of Koranic teachings) to commit murder and mayhem in response to being “insulted.” Human freedom is far more important than your petulant toddler of a religion, as any intelligent Muslim will discover as soon as they begin to oppose a theocratic regime.

And your fucking anti-blasphemy laws? Mohammed sucked goat balls. How do you like that? If you can’t take it, stay off the Internet and out of the free world. Insulate yourself from opposing views in some dirty cave where you and your myths can be safe. But don’t think you can bully the rest of the world into taking them seriously, or even “respecting” them. We don’t fucking have to. Got that? Good.

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caseywollberg November 26, 2010 at 6:33 pm

“We have the history that tell us that the prophets were honest people who never lie.”

The sentence above this sentence is false–and I never lie. Furthermore, Allah doesn’t exist. QED.

“They told people that God sent them to show them the right path. Some believed them and some didn‎’t.”

Gasp! Some didn’t believe them? Didn’t they hear that they never lie?

“The prophets, even though they could’ve lived wealthy and use people for their purposes but they didn’t.”

Oh, well, since you say so, I guess it must be true. You never lie either, do you? That makes three of us, not including the prophets! How many people never lie, do you suppose? I’ll bet Stalin never lied either! So many people who never lie. What an interesting world you must live in!

“Every prophet brought a miracle to prove he is true. The Muslim prophet recited (from memory) the Qurán “604” pages even though he was illiterate. He also wasn’t a poet but Qur’an is not formed of poems.

So, what should we say about this? People are making it up bcoz we weren’t their?”

Of course not, sugar. Everything you believe is true. It couldn’t possibly be made up! The wonderful men who taught it never lie, remember? Conversely, everything I say is true too, since I never lie. Allah doesn’t exist. Do you believe that? If not, why not? I told you I never lie. You should trust me!

Seriously, I love free speech! Even intellectual toddlers get a place at the adults’ table.

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Saleh November 27, 2010 at 3:47 am

@Casey
That was a funny response. I bet you always try to make those around you (If they didn’t run away already) feel inferior intellectually.
However, you did make good points but not in the right place. The main problem with your comments is that you respond to a sentence or a whole comment without relating it to the previous ones. This means I’ll have to remind you of my earlier comments which is time consuming and makes the discussion pointless.
But maybe you are doing it on purpose and in this case you should be in a boxing ring.

for example
You said,”Gasp! Some didn’t believe them? Didn’t they hear that they never lie?”
Even if you know somebody is telling the truth, it doesn’t mean you’ll not deny they are telling the truth especially if it results in loss of power or money.

Back to Linen and atheism. Assuming no laws or teachings. We have a group of 10 people and one of them is the leader. He enjoys the benefits of being a leader whatever they are. One starts protesting for equal rights. The leader not wanting to lose his benefits, kills the protester. He is following his own teachings. Isn’t that being an atheist?
Another example, An atheist scientist if has the chance to conduct experiments on poor people or say autistic children who in his opinion doesn’t serve the community. Do you think he will not do it? After all they will be serving the greater good of human kind. Like you said, atheism is the “lack of belief in gods” and hence it promotes that a person is to make his own rules.

you said, “Of course not, sugar. Everything you believe is true. ”
You didn’t mention anything regarding whether to believe in historical accounts or not. Of course, you must believe in some parts of the history, at least our history of comments. So, on what basis are you denying the rest!! Simply bcoz you don’t like it?

Regarding my earlier comment I mentioned that the prophet recited Qur’an from memory. Of course, this is not what is considered the miracle. The miracle is in the wordings and formulation of the verses of the Qur’an which is impossible for a human to invent. However, you need to be a linguistic in Arabic to appreciate that.

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caseywollberg November 27, 2010 at 6:00 am

“That was a funny response. I bet you always try to make those around you (If they didn’t run away already) feel inferior intellectually.”

You should feel that way because it is true, and this is obvious from your arguments.

“The main problem with your comments is that you respond to a sentence or a whole comment without relating it to the previous ones.”

No, the problem is your lack of comprehension skills.

“You said,”Gasp! Some didn’t believe them? Didn’t they hear that they never lie?”
Even if you know somebody is telling the truth, it doesn’t mean you’ll not deny they are telling the truth especially if it results in loss of power or money.”

The point of my ridicule here is that you actually believe, and want us to believe, the circular argument that because a claim contains within it an assertion that the claim is true then it must be true. I’m supposed to take this seriously?

“The leader not wanting to lose his benefits, kills the protester. He is following his own teachings. Isn’t that being an atheist?”

Listen, you fucking idiot. Atheism has no teachings. It is the lack of belief in gods; that’s it! The lack of belief in gods. The lack of belief in gods. Nothing more. No holy books, no scriptures, no beliefs, no commandments, no tenets, no teachings, no ideology, nothing. Get that through your thick skull. Nothing about atheism has anything to do with killing people. Islam on the other hand is tied heavily to a religious text that does talk about killing unbelievers, and endorses it. Concede this point or prove that you are a dishonest clod with shit for brains.

“An atheist scientist if has the chance to conduct experiments on poor people or say autistic children who in his opinion doesn’t serve the community.”

His atheism is a lack of belief in gods. His opinion about what to do with autistic children is just that: an opinion about what to do with autistic children. You don’t get from a lack of belief in gods to an opinion about what to do with autistic children. Something else must come in between, for example, an ideology or, more likely in this case, a psychological problem. Nothing about atheism addresses autism, science, experiments, children, poor people, or communities. On the other hand Islam is tied heavily to a religious text that endorses the killing of unbelievers.

“Do you think he will not do it?…Like you said, atheism is the “lack of belief in gods” and hence it promotes that a person is to make his own rules.”

As it happens, oh paragon of worldly knowledge, most atheist scientists are secular humanists. So, no, not only do I think he will not do it, I would go so far as to say atheism correlates strongly with high intelligence, ethics and humanistic values, and that you are blind to the facts to even suggest such a thing. But that doesn’t surprise me.

“Of course, you must believe in some parts of the history, at least our history of comments. So, on what basis are you denying the rest!! Simply bcoz you don’t like it?”

What you call history I call pseudo-history. The burden of proof is on you, son. If you want me to believe the religious “history” you’ve presented, then you have to show that it is supported by rigorous historical research. Otherwise I have no good reason to take it seriously, especially, it should be said, the claim that your prophets never lie (absurd!).

“The miracle is in the wordings and formulation of the verses of the Qur’an which is impossible for a human to invent. However, you need to be a linguistic in Arabic to appreciate that.”

LOL, total bullshit! Go on, though, let’s hear your elaboration. This should be entertaining…

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Rosita November 27, 2010 at 7:48 am

@saleh

If you address Casey you open yourself up to abuse. I am afraid that is how Casey operates. Like theists, atheists have a wide range of personalities. You are showing remarkable calm under pressure. Congratulations!

You are correct. In among all the personal abuse Casey makes some valid points. It’s just a little hard to extract them from all the defense-inviting invective. Please allow me to make some of them again, with a little more compassion attached.

Saleh, you’ve been sold a story which has been drummed into you since childhood. That allows things which are absurd to creep in under the radar because humans do not normally develop good critical skills until late adolescence or early adulthood. By that time whatever ideology or religion they have been taught to accept without question has filled them with a fear of inspecting it critically. You, and everyone else who has been indoctrinated as a child, are at a cognitive disadvantage in evaluating the claims and assumptions of your culture, religion and environment. The problems come when you rub up against a different religion, culture or environment which does not view the world though the distorting lenses you have worn all your life. What seems sensible to you seems obviously absurd to those looking in from outside. That’s what’s happening here.

The main difference between you and us are that we have worked through our early cognitive condition and come out the other side. You are just beginning to dabble your feet in this kind if external evaluation. The first response is always defensive because you are being faced with something that threatens a worldview which is familiar and therefore relatively comfortable. How far you go depends a lot on how much ideational discomfit you can stand, and that depends on how emotionally mature and secure you are.

While the ideas you espouse may be absurd to anyone who is not part of your self-reinforcing ideological group, I see no reason to trash you for being a victim of a restricted and cognitively stultifying environmental and educational. That is a misfortune, not a crime.

In other words, I will address the ideas which you have been fed and which your culture persuades you not to evaluate critically for fear of some fearsome real and imaginary consequences, including social isolation and ridicule from those who are emotionally important to you.

When you say that the wording and formulation of the versus of the Qur’an are impossible for a human to invent it sounds blatantly absurd to someone not brought up to believe this without question. As a psycho-linguist, it sounds particularly absurd, and I can see no reason why knowing Arabic would make the slightest bit of difference.
People of other religions make similar claims about the Bible (which Christian Fundamentalists believe is the literal dictation of their version of god), the Book of Mormon and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science). Spiritualists make the same claim about people who are supposedly channeling the writing of “spirits”. The Islamic claim is no more compelling than any of these conflicting ones, all of which will seem absurd to you from your standpoint.

You have been taught that the words of prophets and Islamic clerics are truthful because they have to reason to lie. Christians use the same argument about Jesus, Paul and all the writers of the books of the Bible. The problem with the argument on all sides is that the human brain is very easily fooled, confused and deluded. Just because someone is firmly convinced that they are telling the absolute truth does not mean that what they say is true. The history of Western legal systems is full of examples of people being hanged on the basis of human testimony which was not intentionally fraudulent, but nevertheless, wrong. The history of empirical research in psychology is all about inventing methods to remove and partial out the limitations, illusions and delusions and unconscious biases of human thinking.
Just because someone believes themselves to be telling the truth does _not_ mean that what they say will stand up to objective scientific investigation as “true”. There are lots of wonderfully warm and friendly human beings who are, never the less, genuinely mistaken in what they consider to be “true”.

You have been led to believe that people who do not believe in the existence of any god have no basis for a humane moral code. This is incorrect.

Basic morality is a social skill that is taught to all children by parents, teachers and other authorities. Aspects of it are enforced in adulthood by regional laws and statues.

Children learn morality as the result of their interactions with adults and also with other children. Moral thinking matures with age, much like intelligence and other cognitive skills. Mature morality is based on the principles of reciprocity but the earlier stages are more rule based.

Ironically, religions that claim to be the bastion of morality are based on immature forms of moral development. This leads to horrendous acts being performed as the result of interpreting a “rule” in an immature and morally repugnant fashion. As someone once said: Regardless of their religion, good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things, but it takes religion to make a good person do bad things.

International comparisons of nations and regions with varying degrees of belief in the existence of a god show that the more religious that nation the more signs of “societal ill-health” there is: murder, abortion, infant death, teen pregnancies and so on. Conversely, the higher the lack of belief in a god, the less instances there are of what the religious would call “moral failure”. In other words, believing in a god, or living in a society with a high number of people who believe in god, leads to greater immorality than not believing in a god, or living in a society where few people believe in the existence of a god.

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caseywollberg November 27, 2010 at 9:15 am

“In among all the personal abuse Casey makes some valid points.”

Interesting framing. I would be a little more generous, you know, since you are compassionate and all: “In among all of his valid points, Casey includes some invective, for emphasis and because he’s frustrated by your obstinance.” I know, I know, atheists aren’t allowed to be frustrated with those poor disadvantaged theists. They’re not quite on our level, after all. Right, “compassionate” Rose?

“Please allow me to make some of them again, with a little more compassion attached.”

More like pretentious condescension. But we’ll see if your faux-coddling approach has the desired effect. Saleh, the ball is in your court. This should be instructive, maybe even to me! I’ve been surprised before.

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caseywollberg November 27, 2010 at 9:19 am

“If you address Casey you open yourself up to abuse.”

Oh, and this is bullshit too, by the way. Sorry if you find that “abusive.”

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Saleh November 27, 2010 at 10:52 am

@Casey

“you have to show that it is supported by rigorous historical research.”
There is. I’m not sure if there are translations. If I’ll have the time (research, discuss … etc) in the future and still there is a way to contact you, I’ll present them to you. Otherwise, you can do the search yourself.

@Casey
@Rosita
I’m not saying an atheist has no moral values. And Casey, I already understand that being an atheist means no belief in Gods. But your bias is you are saying if an atheist kills then this has nothing to do with atheism, it has to do with his own psychological state, ethics or whatever. While if a religionist kills then it’s bcoz of his religion.

Of course, I’m not saying religionists don’t kill bcoz of their religion (not fault of religion) or how they interpret it.

But I can say if an atheist doesn’t have teachings to follow (from a divine entity) then he is more likely to kill than a theist given they are both influenced by the same identical factors from psychological ones to health, education … etc. except religion. Of course, and back to our earliest discussions, I’m saying that religion promotes peace and bcoz someone kills in the name of religion or he misinterpret/misused a religion’s teachings then you shouldn’t blame religion.

This is my last comment, and Rosita I really admire the way you present your arguments. Casey, I wonder what you would if you had the power? Maybe you’ll kill all religionists to vent your anger, then you’ll say it’s not bcoz you’re an atheist; you were simply angry.

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Rosita November 27, 2010 at 11:41 am

@Saleh
Thank you for your compliments.

But I can say if an atheist doesn’t have teachings to follow (from a divine entity) then he is more likely to kill than a theist given they are both influenced by the same identical factors from psychological ones to health, education … etc. except religion.

Actually, cross-national research supports exactly the opposite point of view. The more religious you are, the more likely you are to kill. The more atheist the community, the lower the murder rate.

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caseywollberg November 27, 2010 at 4:14 pm

@ Saleh: Rosita’s right. The truth is I have nothing against you as a person. It’s your religion I don’t like. As such, I have no interest in killing people. I love people. I love you, and Rosita. I’m a bit drunk right now. But I love everybody. Especially a certain woman who just left my apartment.

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kaka November 29, 2010 at 4:22 am

hey rosita, if you like ehrman, check out this debate: http://www.philvaz.com/EhrmanEvansDebate.mp3

try skipping to 1:27:00 where there is a postmortem of the debate where a panel of biblical scholars dissect ehrman’s arguments – i’d be interested in knowing your thoughts on what they say

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Rosita November 29, 2010 at 7:05 am

@kaka
Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.

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kaka November 29, 2010 at 3:50 pm

no problem rosita :)

as for casey – i’d be intersted in hearing about your journey into and out of armstrongism, if you’re willing to share.

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caseywollberg November 29, 2010 at 6:05 pm

@kaka:

Sure, I’ll give you the brief version. Into: I was indoctrinated from about the age of five. Out of: I grew up and learned how to think properly, which didn’t happen until the age of 30 (indoctrination in a cult will do that). Don’t bother hypothesizing about whether my experience in a cult skewed my perception of theism in general: I came to atheism honestly, through a careful and deliberate consideration of the relevant arguments.

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Kait November 29, 2010 at 6:20 pm

This story certainly resonated with me. My parents have come to a difficult understanding of my views and there is uncertain but real love and acceptance there. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s always nice to hear from other x-Christians out there. Keep on keeping on.

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kaka November 29, 2010 at 7:49 pm

casey, thanks for sharing. my heart goes out to you man. i’ve met people who have come out of cults and their experiences were pretty horrible ie, being enslaved to the cult leader, hate-based doctrines, being excommunicated for disagreeing with beliefs.

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Rosita November 29, 2010 at 8:51 pm

@kaka

I managed to find the time to listen to the Ehrmann-Evans debate today, and the subsequent discussion. Interesting. I’ll provide comments later. Tomorrow, perhaps. I am moving house, so things are quite chaotic.

BTW, I thought your recent response to Casey was compassionate and insightful.

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kaka November 29, 2010 at 11:57 pm

good luck with the move, rosita :)

where are you from by the way? i ask because you sound like an australian – i live in sydney.

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Rosita November 30, 2010 at 5:18 am

Good spotting! I’m an Aussie living in the San Francisco East Bay area. Born in Melbourne. Lived in Shepparton, Darwin and Perth before “relocating”. I miss Ausland.

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Rosita November 30, 2010 at 10:34 am

@kaka
I apologize for the messy nature of these comments. I just don’t have the time to tidy them up and make them less like an unedited stream of consciousness at the moment. I hope you will understand. As I said, life is pretty chaotic right now. My access to the internet will very likely be cut off for a while at some point soon.

COMMENTS ON THE EHRMAN-EVANS DEBATE.

OVERVIEW:

A very interesting debate. Well conducted. Both participants were civil and both clearly erudite.

In general, Ehrman is far more credible than his opponent. He is at a disadvantage because the debate is set up to deny him the chance to comment on his opponents’ point of view. He manages to do so anyway.

As with all formal debates, there is no easy way to challenge a participant at every point where they present a logical fallacy or argue from unproven conjectures.

1. The original NT manuscripts were ALL written in Greek. It is a very poor argument to suggest that they are reliable because some were written at a time when it is presumed (but not proved) that original eye-witnesses were alive (and could presumably correct the manuscripts if they were wrong.) The original eye witnesses wrote no reports of their own. They spoke Aramaic and were probably illiterate in that language. They did not speak, read or write Greek. They were poor people who were extremely unlikely to have travelled more than twenty miles or so from their home town. They would not be roaming around the lands were these manuscripts were written or circulating and even if they were, they would not have been able to read, understand and comment upon them. There was no Google Translate or Babelfish available to them.

2. The argument that textual discrepancies in the various manuscripts do not interfere with the “basic Christian message” fails to acknowledge that the result is so vague that the message is very far from identical across thousands of Christian denominations, sects and offshoots (including Islam), not to mention the Christians who consider themselves to be independent Followers of a spirit whom they believe is guiding them to correctly understand what is meant in the Bible. . Some of these sects and individuals base important parts of their theological beliefs on verses and passages of biblical text which are disputed or even universally acknowledged among scholars as spurious or later additions.

The best that a biblical scholar could argue is that they see no challenge to their particular version of god. They do not, however, spell out exactly what that is or explain how they manage to gloss over or twist passages which do not support whatever it is that they actually believe. In other words, it is an unsupported argument that relies on their (humanly faulty) memory.

3. As Ehrmann concludes, his view of biblical errancy is shared by every major biblical scholar other than those whose theology is based on the belief that the bible _must_ be inerrant. When you start from a conclusion you wish to support instead of the evidence that should lead to a conclusion then what you see, hear, understand and recall will inevitably be distorted and unreliable. It is a fundamental psychological axiom which is extremely well supported. This is exactly what I heard happening during this debate.

4. Evans is very keen on quoting others. (Appeal to authority.)
COMMENTS ON THE DISCUSSION

(Comments are only answered by one faction. There is no input from the other side. That is dishonest. There is no attempt to allow Ehrmann to comment on the fallacies that Evans made – and there were many. They sound good provided that you do not have a wide background in the area.)

The session began with the admission that Ehrmann had asked questions and said things that the debate had been structured to prevent – things that could upset the audience. He had not kept strictly within the boundaries of the questions asked. That’s an admission that the debate was “engineered” to prevent the “wrong” things from being aired. There was no acknowledgement that their own side had “not kept to the questions” either.

The resurrection incompatibilities. They just cannot be reconciled by putting them all together or assuming that they are cases of “multiple attestation” – an incomplete collection of many stories. It also ignores that Mark omits the story of the resurrection entirely. There is no good reason to suppose that the “original ending” was lost.

What follows is a wonderful example of “spin” and semantic somersaults.

“Ehrmann doesn’t come at it from the eyes of faith.” He did. He just lost it as the result of his study. (False)

One gospel says there was one angel. Another says there were two angels. Both could be correct because there might have been three angels and just one or two of them were mentioned. (!!!!!!)

“Would you go through these things (stoning, shipwrecking) if you knew you had perverted the gospel’? This shows ignorance of social and neuropsychology. People are easily deluded, their memories are faulty and they do know that they are repeating something that is not true, or they justify changing written material to suit their personal beliefs. They feel no guilt.
This is not confined to Christianity. Joseph Smith was lynched; the Wacko people killed themselves and their children, etc. Muslims, Catholic saints, etc.
The example of remembering a sermon and getting the “elements” of it down while not being entirely compatible with the video. Not a good example. The problem would become much more apparent if six people heard that sermon and each wrote down what they heard, especially if they came to the situation with completely different world views to begin with. Their stories would clash considerably because people do not recall what fails to support their views and distort others to make them fit. “:not willful perverters of the message” Sure. Not necessary to distort it.

Ignorance-based comments.

Does not address the problem of the very poor validity of eye-witnesses.

“Ehmann was meant to be responding to 7 questions, not to ask other questions.” ‘They weren’t supposed to be answered with 15 other questions.” In other words, the debate was set up in an attempt to “trap” Ehrmann and prevent him from responding in ways they did not want their audience to hear. This is appalling behavior from the standpoint of academic integrity. What is notable is that none of these evangelicals see their behavior as dishonest or anti-intellectual. They have clearly rationalized it in their own minds and redefined it as “good”. They have unwittingly provided a good example of how the original message of Jesus of Nazareth could be unwittingly distorted and changed by people who were convinced that they had done nothing wrong and were on the side of the angels.

It is argued that the discrepancies between biblical manuscripts and books are “not faith issues”. The examples given to support this were petty. Few of the really difficult problems were mentioned. When they were, the explanations given were more conjectural and fantastical than the reasoning which leads to the general scholarly conclusion that they are real incompatibilities.

Special pleading. The non-canonical Gospel of Peter was mentioned. It was reported to include a resurrection account that many scholars believe was based on the original (but missing) account of this event. This was cause for concern among the discussants because the Peter account was rather bizarre. In this account two men come out of the tomb of Jesus then their heads extend into the clouds and while the head of Jesus extends even higher. A voice is heard asking whether Jesus preached repentance to those who were asleep and the wooden cross replies “Yes”. While this is certainly bizarre it is no more so than the story in one of the other gospels about dead bodies rising from graves all over Jerusalem at the time of the death of Jesus.

Ehmann’s contention that their was no mention of Jesus or his message from non-Christian sources until 80 years after his death was described as “reckless”. The examples of authors who supposedly did so are all highly contentious, except in evangelical circles.

It was contended that Homer’s Iliad and the history of the Roman Empire would not be believed if this kind of standard were used for them. This ignores the fact that the truth of these things is not a matter which affects how people live their lives. It makes no difference to anyone’s belief about the truth of the stories in the Iliad whether it was written by Homer or not. It makes no difference to anyone’s day to day life whether Constantine was an emperor of Rome or not.

Ehrmann’s telephone whispering game analogy of how the gospels came to be written was dismissed as untenable. This failed to acknowledge that it was, in fact, just an analogy (and therefore not meant to be completely comparable). There was no acknowledgment that there is ample scientific evidence of the distorting mechanisms operating in aural history. A quick check of the empirical studies conducted by psychologists would confirm this. In other words, while the analogy is not perfect (and few are) it not at all absurd. It’s a reasonably good illustration of a fact that can be supported by legitimate means.

Someone described Ehrmann’s statements as “more twisting of the facts than misfacts”. Ironically, this is how much of what I heard these people saying seemed to me: somatic distortions, redefinitions and “spin” in the service of their faith mixed in with misinformation based on comprehension difficulties and gaps in education plus some unwitting “misfacts” as well.

Biblical mismatches and errors of fact were re-labeled as “variances, not mistakes”. That is a very convenient reframing that does not hold up under close scrutiny of the whole array of problematic biblical passages.

There were attempts to have things both ways. Someone suggested that the biblical scribes had no reason to transcribe the bible incorrectly while someone else described incidences of scribal miscopying, such as the deletion of lines of text, as normal lapses of concentration that could be “corrected” by later scribes. It was mentioned that a scribe had written something in a margin that was not part of the text, but failed to mention that this is how scholars believe the story of the woman caught in adultery.

In other words, there are a variety of ways in which text could be altered, intentionally or unintentionally, without the scribes indulging in anything that they would recognize as deliberately distorting the text. The whole Ehrmann-style point is that humans are not computers and, because of their imperfections, are prone to making all manners of errors of memory, copying, transcription, interpretation, attribution and translation.

If an all-knowing, all-caring and all-knowledgeable god had been involved in the process he/she/it or they would have found some far more reliable method of disseminating the information. At the very least, the Jesus god, or at least one of his chosen followers, would have written down the important points and made sure that they were preserved and disseminated in such a manner that the meaning was clear in any language into which they could be translated. Of course, even that would have unreasonably disadvantaged most of the people in the world, since not everyone is literate, has the same access to written material or the same ability to comprehend what they read. The Bible is an extremely poor method of communicating messages that are supposed to be crucial to every person’s level of comfort after they die. It’s divinely incompetent.

In summary, the most alarming thing about this debate, and its aftermath, is the deliberate, but apparently unconcious, attempts by the dominant group to manipulate the information and channel it in a direction that supported their pre-conceived conclusions. It is a remarkable example of how evangelicals (and every other person with an ideological agenda) can decieve themselves and their followers into believing that they have a unique understanding of The Truth.

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kaka November 30, 2010 at 4:03 pm

ok rosita, well i’ve posted a response which you can contemplate in your quieter moments after the move :)

1. how do we know the eyewitnesses didn’t have the manuscripts read out to them for checking? how do we know some of them did not speak greek?

2. i think you’re overstating the case when you say the christian message is ‘vague’. i can’t name any cults apart from mormons and i know little of their doctrine, if they even have any. yet i can walk into any church in sydney and get a clear, confident response when i ask what they believe. moreover, the proliferation of christian cults doesn’t cast doubt on the basic christian message in john 3:16 and 1 corinthians 15. it just casts doubt on the cults.

3. i also believe the bible has errors. but that’s normal for ancient historical documents. if the bible didn’t have errors, that would probably lead historians to suspect it was a forgery. so the presence of errors and discrepancies actually convince me that the bible is authentic history.

4. a) rosita, you can’t psychoanalyse historical characters. to conclude someone is psychologically deluded requires a psychological assessment. you can’t do that with dead people.

b) i’m interested in hearing about the biblical discrepancies which affect core faith issues (like 1 cor 15 for example) you mentioned.

c) i don’t think the historical truth of a document is affected by the impact it would have on someone’s life is it? i don’t think historians consider that.

d) rosita, do you really believe these scholars are a bunch of deluded, narrow-minded cultists who are out to brainwash everyone? i didn’t get that impression from listening to the podcast. they seemed fairly reasonable and well-read.

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Rosita November 30, 2010 at 5:30 pm

@kaka

rosita, do you really believe these scholars are a bunch of deluded, narrow-minded cultists who are out to brainwash everyone? i didn’t get that impression from listening to the podcast. they seemed fairly reasonable and well-read.

I thought I’d made it very clear that I don’t. They have simply rationalized their beliefs and their behavior. That’s what humans do if they have an emotional investment in something. Sure, they are reasonable and well-read, but they demonstrate large blind spots and blinkers almost every time they open their mouth on religious matters. Of course, they accuse Ehrmann of doing the same thing :-)

a) rosita, you can’t psychoanalyse historical characters. to conclude someone is psychologically deluded requires a psychological assessment. you can’t do that with dead people.

What you can do is note that the history and written behavior of an historical character is consistent with the history and written behavior of people of patient’s with particular conditions. In Paul/Saul’s case I made a tentative neuropsychological assessment on the basis of a case history. The diagnosis was neurological, not psychological. I am a neuropsychologist. I recognize TLE syndromes when I come across them. Paul’s descriptions of his “visions” is a very good fit. There was no “psychoanalysis” involved.

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Rosita November 30, 2010 at 5:57 pm

@kaka
BTW, I’m not the only person who has diagnosed Paul/Saul as suffering from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. I have, however, correctly diagnosed someone with that condition purely on the basis of similar reported history. The difference in those cases was that I was able to support it on the basis of cognitive and behavioral test results and confirm the condition with the ultimate in “hard” evidence: eleptiform spikes in the temporal lobe on EEG readings during “normal” phases and seizure spikes while the person was in the middle of an ecstatic “vision”. Obviously I cannot do that with Paul/Saul so the diagnosis has to remain tentative. OTOH, I prefer the physical explanation to the supernatural one. I also don’t subscribe to the biblical “filled with devils” diagnosis that Jesus gave to someone demonstrating symptoms of generalized grand mal seizures, nor would I consider sending such patients to someone who could exorcize these demons and ruin someone’s pig farm in the process. Do you count that as error or ignorance on the part of Jesus or an instance of an apocryphal biblical story that was mistakenly included in the biblical canon?

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kaka December 1, 2010 at 1:14 am

well yes it’s really just a fringe theory isn’t it? it’s not based on any hard clinical evidence. i don’t think appealing to popularity by counting the papers written on it makes it any more credible.

i’d appreciate any thoughts you have on my other points by the way, when you’re less busy, espeically 4b) :)

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kaka December 1, 2010 at 1:18 am

the scholars’ objection to ehrman is different from yours – they have a problem with the way he does history.

but you’re attacking the scholars by saying their thinking is neuropsychologically impaired right?

well i don’t think you can validly conclude that without a clinical assessment can you?

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Rosita December 1, 2010 at 7:37 am

well yes it’s really just a fringe theory isn’t it? it’s not based on any hard clinical evidence. i don’t think appealing to popularity by counting the papers written on it makes it any more credible.

No. It’s a professional theory. The number of papers written about is irrelevant.
You are correct in that it lacks the certainty of an examination with modern electronic equipment but you are wrong to assume that a diagnosis cannot be correctly made without ever seeing the patient. It’s done much more often than you might think.

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Rosita December 1, 2010 at 7:58 am

the scholars’ objection to ehrman is different from yours – they have a problem with the way he does history.

Only evangelical scholars have trouble with the way Ehrman does history. As he points out, every other major school agrees with him. That is a fairly good indication that the evangelical scholars are rationalizing to suit their preconceived assumptions.

but you’re attacking the scholars by saying their thinking is neuropsychologically impaired right?

No. The evangelical scholars are using the same kind of distorted thinking that other neuro-typical people use to defend en emotionally held belief. It comes under social and cognitive psychology (normal behavior), not neuro-psychology (abnormal behavior). These people aren’t nuts; they aren’t stupid and they aren’t cognitively impaired. They are simply operating from social, emotional and cognitive biases – the very things which the scientific method was developed to counter.

The group we are discussing was using methods aimed to protect their ideas (defensive tactics), not search for the truth regardless of what it was (scientific method). The dominant motivators were fear and the desire to fit in with their emotional support group, not open-minded curiosity.

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kaka December 1, 2010 at 12:59 pm

you seem to be writing off everything these guys say because you’ve formed the notion that their scholarly work is all done to rationalise their apparent biases. how do you know that? you couldn’t make any firm conclusions without properly assessing them individually could you? i like to take people’s comments at face value and just focus on that. if i focus on the person, it gets in the way of what they are saying.

my feeling is most historians take a less pessimistic view of the historical reliability of the gospels than ehrman. ep sanders is mentioned at 1:41:28. there’s also bruce metzger, marcus borg and some others on the jesus seminar. i think it’s exaggerating to say every ‘major school’ agrees with ehrman. who are these schools?

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kaka December 1, 2010 at 1:00 pm

rosita, if the gospels are, as you say, life changing, wouldn’t you be wanting a more firmer basis from which to dismiss what these scholars are saying than a diagnosis of a podcast?

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Rosita December 1, 2010 at 6:18 pm

you seem to be writing off everything these guys say because you’ve formed the notion that their scholarly work is all done to rationalise their apparent biases. how do you know that? you couldn’t make any firm conclusions without properly assessing them individually could you?

1.Their behavior on tape is sufficient to form a professional opinion about their biases and blind spots.
2. I dismiss their arguments on rational grounds. They are uninspiring. Not likely to appeal to anyone who does not have an emotional interest in their conclusions.

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Rosita December 1, 2010 at 6:31 pm

rosita, if the gospels are, as you say, life changing, wouldn’t you be wanting a more firmer basis from which to dismiss what these scholars are saying than a diagnosis of a podcast?

1. I didn’t say they were life-changing. That is your claim.
2. If you think that I dismiss what these scholars are saying on the basis of one podcast then you have not been attending to what I have been writing these past months. They, on the other hand, are happy to dismiss Ehrman and other main stream biblical scholars, on the basis of one debate that was engineered to prevent him from answering their objections. The frightening thing is that these men (and they are ALL men) appear to be completely oblivious to the enormity of the intellectual dishonesty they are practising. It is sick. If you were not emotionally invested in having these men’s ideas supported then it would hit you in the eye, too. The fact that you cannot see this is why you persistently fail to comprehend why the arguments you present on this forum are quite unconvincing to de-converts of any kind of religion.

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kaka December 2, 2010 at 4:27 am

rosita, suppose there IS a god who exists and that he did reveal himself to people 2000 years ago. what kind of evidence would convince you of that fact today?

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Rosita December 2, 2010 at 10:40 am

suppose there IS a god who exists and that he did reveal himself to people 2000 years ago. what kind of evidence would convince you of that fact today?

This is an impossible question to answer as it is written. It is full of assumptions and unexplained terms.

1. Suppose there is a god.

There is no universal definition that fits all supernatural beings dreamed up my humans. There is not a universal definition that fits all those who believe in the god of Abraham. There is not a universal definition that fits all those who claim to believe in the existence of a Christian god. There is not even a universal definition of god that is common to all those who claim to be evangelical style Christians. How do you define “god”. What reason do you have for excluding supernatural bad boys (devils) and supernatural helpers (angels) from the definition?

2. Who exists.

This assumes that the supernatural entity is a personality, not a mindless force.

It also assumes, I think, that the entity continues to exist now (although this is not clear.)

3. And that he did reveal himself

This assumes that the supernatural entity has a personality, a mind, a will and is male.
It does not assume that it/he was Jewish or prejudiced in favor of a particular race of people.

4. to people 2000 years ago

This comes closer to assuming that the god in question is the Jesus person who was reportedly born around that time. Jews would argue that their (El or Yahweh) god revealed himself to them far earlier than this. According to ancient Jewish and Christian texts, the character of the god revealed to the Jews, and the nature and characteristics of the promised warrior King (Messiah) is very different from the one painted by the Gentile Christians of their fellow countryman from Galilee.

Why would I exclude gods who revealed themselves to people who were not Jews or members of the Middle Eastern Roman Empire, or who revealed themselves in some other time or place?

5. what kind of evidence would convince of that fact today?

We are not talking about one “fact” here, we are talking about a whole range of vague imperfectly defined assumptions and convictions.

The whole thing assumes that any “god” who had revealed itself to humans is worth worrying about (if it’s a tyrant and capable of harming people), thanking (if it is an entity that does more good for the human race than humans do themselves ) or worshipping (if it demands more respect than humans would give to another human.) If it doesn’t meet any of these criteria then it can be of no more than an interesting phenomena that satisfies curiosity and the wish for knowledge.

If I take the broadest view then I suppose I could rephrase your question to ask: What would convince that a supernatural being revealed itself to some humans at some time.

The answer would be: the presence of something of importance (otherwise why would I care?) which is reliably and validly evidenced that cannot be explained by natural means (or could conceivably be scientifically or mathematically explained at some time in the future) and which satisfies the rules of legal or scientific evidence, the rules of logic and cannot be dismissed by what psychology knows of the imperfections and limitations of the human mind.

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Rosita December 2, 2010 at 10:49 am

@kaka
In other words, what you are really requesting is: “Assume that my particular version of “god” is correct and tell me how I could convince you of this. It is not permissible to entertain the idea that anyone else me could be correct.”

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caseywollberg December 2, 2010 at 11:21 am

@Rosita: All that “civility” and “compassion” and yet, still no improvement in quality of arguments or intellectual integrity on the part of your interlocutor. Sophists will always be sophists, even if–maybe especially if–you are nice to them. Will the sophist concede the perfectly valid, almost obviously valid, points you have made, or will he continue his sordid dance, ignoring them and moving on to his next line of attack, as though you have said nothing? You vilify my disregard for sophists like kaka on the basis that it does nothing to advance the level of discourse. Yet it has been demonstrated once again (as it always is) that your accomodationist style is no more successful in this area. When will you accomodationists learn that it is not possible to have a meaningful dialogue with sophists, whose very purpose in a “debate” is to talk past your arguments?

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kaka December 2, 2010 at 12:58 pm

rosita, i don’t have your vast knowledge of theology so please forgive me if my question is poorly worded :)

i’m asking the hypothetical that IF the god of the bible is true and he DID gradually reveal himself to people over thousands of years, what would convince you of that fact today?

you said: “the presence of something of importance (otherwise why would I care?) which is reliably and validly evidenced that cannot be explained by natural means (or could conceivably be scientifically or mathematically explained at some time in the future) and which satisfies the rules of legal or scientific evidence, the rules of logic and cannot be dismissed by what psychology knows of the imperfections and limitations of the human mind.”

…now that’s quite a long answer! but what is this ‘something of importance’? can you give me an example?

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Rosita December 2, 2010 at 1:02 pm

@casey
Casey, kaka and I are not only participants in this interchange. There are unknown readers, either now or in the future, who will notice all the things that you are noticing: the things that kaka avoids, rationalizes, is ignorant of or fails to understand. The more he engages me, the more he reveals the shortcomings and blindspots of his ideological group’s mode of interchange and line of argument. He may never be able to acknowledge, identify or remember these things (human memory and attention is selective and strongly influenced by emotion and prejudice), but they will be obvious to others.
As I have said on a number of occasions, I see no reason to be uncivil to someone who stands where I once was and may, just like me, be standing there because of ignorance and emotional investment in a line of thinking.

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caseywollberg December 2, 2010 at 1:56 pm

“As I have said on a number of occasions, I see no reason to be uncivil to someone who stands where I once was and may, just like me, be standing there because of ignorance and emotional investment in a line of thinking.”

I wasn’t talking about kaka’s position, but her/his tactics. That is what inspires my hostility.

“The more he engages me, the more he reveals the shortcomings and blindspots of his ideological group’s mode of interchange and line of argument.”

Ah, there it is. The pretentious condescension I was talking about, revealing that you are willing to use “civility” as a tactic. So much for your smug, moral superiority. At any rate, you get the same benefit from engaging worthy opponents, without the frustration, and without the dishonesty. I figure if someone is going to annoy me with sophistry, they’re damn sure going to hear about it, regardless of others’ hypocritical protestations concerning tone. Like I said, this is an online debate, not Care Bears Academy; all that matters are the arguments. If you want “civility,” come to St. Louis and buy me a drink.

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Pescador December 2, 2010 at 4:18 pm

@ casey and rosita

I thought you made a great good cop / bad cop routine. For a while, I thought you were working together. maybe not, but still good stuff.

I enjoyed reading you both very much. ;)

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kaka December 2, 2010 at 4:35 pm

casey, not everyone takes your view that ‘because it’s the internet’ we should leave our manners at the door and behave like pigs. you’re free to do as you like but don’t ask that we stoop down to your level please.

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kaka December 2, 2010 at 5:52 pm

but what is this ‘something of importance’? can you give me an example? kaka(

No. What is important to me changes with circumstances and the available knowledge.

NOW. How about you answer MY questions to you. The list of questions you have been avoiding is getting longer and longer and longer and longer and ……
Anyone reading this would get the impression that you are completely stumped by them.

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caseywollberg December 2, 2010 at 6:38 pm

@kaka: ” but what is this ‘something of importance’? can you give me an example? kaka(

No. What is important to me changes with circumstances and the available knowledge. ”

Sorry, but this is hilarious. I don’t know how you did it, but you just quoted and answered your own question.

“NOW. How about you answer MY questions to you.”

Why don’t you just answer them yourself? Stupid questions deserve stupid answers.

“The list of questions you have been avoiding is getting longer and longer and longer and longer and ……
Anyone reading this would get the impression that you are completely stumped by them.”

Orly? Rosita… This piece of kaka is lying again! Not exactly “civil” of him, is it?

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caseywollberg December 2, 2010 at 6:43 pm

@ Pescador:

I noticed that too and thought about commenting on it; amusing. Of course the good cop, bad cop routine won’t work on kaka or his brothers-in-sophistry unless we get them in a dark room with an overhead light, in RL. Rosita can bring the cups of coffee and cigarettes and I’ll bring the phone book.

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kaka December 2, 2010 at 6:51 pm

well…then can you give an example of what you’d accept as convincing evidence, given your current circumstances and available knowledge? i know you’re a highly intelligent person so surely you have some idea?

rosita, i’d welcome a response to the points in my post above at 1, 3, 4b) and 4c) if you don’t mind :)

if i’ve missed any questions, please post them – i can’t see any :)

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caseywollberg December 2, 2010 at 7:03 pm

“casey, not everyone takes your view that ‘because it’s the internet’ we should leave our manners at the door and behave like pigs. you’re free to do as you like but don’t ask that we stoop down to your level please.”

Do you use sophistry for everything? Even when your mum tries to coax you out of your basement lair with promises of dinner? I never argued anyone should “behave like pigs” or “leave our manners at the door.” I was talking about responding with disdain to sophistry. And what I said about it was that it is useless and inappropriate to the medium and the purpose of debate to be overly concerned about tone, it often turns out to be hypocritical anyway, and in the case of responding to sophists, it is akin to being “civil” to pigs.

Being nice to sophists won’t cure their appalling behavior, so any “civility” you show them is pearls to swine. Do you get it yet that it is you who are behaving in an unseemly manner when you ignore your opponents’ strongest arguments, refuse to concede when it is warranted, dispense red herrings, engage in ad hominem and generally wreak rhetorical havoc instead of debating properly? That it is you who are behaving like a pig and leaving your manners at the door?

I’m under no obligation, whether on the Internet or on the street, to treat you with respect while you’re being obtuse and annoying the fuck out of me, pretending to be interested in honest debate when you are really only interested in getting that winning feeling, to say nothing of your complete disregard for the truth. I don’t check my manners at the door to the Intertubes. But I damn sure reserve the right to put them back in my pocket when I see they aren’t being reciprocated by slobs like you.

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kaka December 3, 2010 at 1:47 am

casey, you’re asking that i stop using ‘sophistry’, but in the same breath you defend your right to swear and curse others. do you see the hypocrisy?

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caseywollberg December 3, 2010 at 3:55 am

@kaka:

Oh, for fuck’s sake! Here, get a grip.

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Rosita December 3, 2010 at 8:51 am

@kaka

i’d welcome a response to the points in my post above at 1, 3, 4b) and 4c) if you don’t mind :)

I’m in the middle of a horrendously difficult house move. You are lucky I get time to answer anything right now. I started with the ones I thought to be the most salient.

You can very easily figure out what question I have asked by doing a search for question marks in my comments to you. Please do that and then count the ones that you have actually answered at some point. I hope that you are humbly horrified.

I asked you for your definition of “god”. I can’t answer what would make me believe in your version of this entity until I know what you actually believe. I can only guess that it is along the lines of the standard evangelical doctrines, but even then, I cannot be sure. No two people have the same idea about how or what god is so if I came up with something that might make me believe in “the god of the Chrisitian Bible” it would very probably not be the “god” you think is described in there.

As I said, without your answer it is an impossible question that cannot be answered.

If I developed partial seizures in the left temporal lobe then it is probable that I would start believing in the existence of something supernatural, in line with my personal background and experience. Most victims do. It is unlikely, however, that whatever my brain came up with would match your particular religious beliefs. I might become obsessed with the supposed words of Jesus that “the kingdom of god is within you”, and imagine myself to be a god or a sister of god or a buddhist christian at one with the universe.

So, answer the question: What are the characteristics that you give to “god”, and, just as importantly, what characteristics does this god _not_ have. Explain why you think this god is the only one portrayed in the christian bible and not one that your religious group has made up as a kind of wish-fulfillment by ignoring all biblical material that does not fit the description (is he a god of love and non-conditional positive regard or of anger , hate and tryrannical “forgiveness” ?) and ignoring the absence of material that supports it (the trinity, for example).

In other words, I want to how you define god and why.

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kaka December 3, 2010 at 1:35 pm

i didn’t mean to pressure you rosita, i just didn’t want my questions to get lost in the deluge :)

let’s just say a generic monotheistic transcendent god who creates the universe and wants you to know that. what does he have to do to make you believe in him?

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kaka December 3, 2010 at 1:41 pm

rosita, i am happy to tackle any questions you have. but i don’t have the time or energy to chase down every objection so please repost the ones you feel are the most important.

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caseywollberg December 3, 2010 at 2:23 pm

“let’s just say a generic monotheistic transcendent god who creates the universe and wants you to know that. what does he have to do to make you believe in him?”

Stop asking the question that way. It makes it meaningless. You’re speaking to people who don’t believe in any gods. If you want to get anywhere, ask it like this: “What would count as evidence for the existence of Yahweh?”

Here is what you would need to start building a case for Yahweh.

1) The non-existence of a historical account that tracks the invention and evolution of this deity among henotheistic groups throughout the Ancient Near East. X
2) Evidence of design in biology. XX
3) Traces of supernatural meddling in the early universe. XXX
4) Evidence that the earth stood still at one point in its history. XXXX
5) All “prophecies” made by him fulfilled, instead of all of them being utter failures. XXXXX

Five strikes and counting. There are lots of ways to falsify this particular deity and, guess what–you only need one. Any claim like this resembles a multi-legged stool, with each leg representing a sub-claim, upon which the larger claim rests. Knock out one leg and the stool falls, since the name “Yahweh” necessarily means all of these things–all the claims made for him (ostensibly by him) must necessarily be true (since he also claims never to lie) in order for this particular “god” to exist. So much for Yahweh, the “god” of the Bible. Who’s next?

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Rosita December 3, 2010 at 6:35 pm

@kaka

a generic monotheistic transcendent god who creates the universe and wants you to know that. what does he have to do to make you believe in him?

There is no such thing as a “generic monotheistic transcendent god”. That is your first mistake. There are thousands of different ones. Which one do YOU believe exists?

You have given me a few clues. Obviously the one you believe exists has a mind, a will, a personality, is male, created the universe, continues to exist, doesn’t like being ignored and is therefore capable of interacting and manifesting in the real world. Is that all?

If there is any kind of supernatural being that exists then it has yet to manifest itself to me in any way that is distinguishable from the effects of imagination, wishful thinking, social conformity, mass hypnosis, temporary temporal lobe malfunction, hallucination, cognitive bias and the effects of normal brain delusions and illusions. I have not experienced anything so far that differs from what could be expected if such a hypothetical being did not.
I cannot think of anything that would ever lead me to believe in the existence of a supernatural being who cannot interact in any way with the natural world with the one exception of causing this particular universe to get started.
It is extremely difficult to think of anything that would cause me to believe in a supernatural being that used to interact with the natural world but no longer does so. If there were some credible and unambiguous sign of such a prior interaction then it is nothing that I have ever come across in my 63 years. I could not speculate on what it could be but it would certainly not be anything contained in any of the differing books accepted as canonical by the Catholics, the Orthodox, the Armenians, the Coptics or the Protestants. These collections do not provide any valid proof of the past existence of the gods they discuss, and many of the characteristics they detail indicate that these “gods” were deeply flawed by today’s moral standards and in the light of modern behavioral and neurological science.
I also have no idea what could cause me to believe in a supernatural being that continues to exist in the supernatural realm and is also currently able to manifest in the natural realm. That’s like asking me what would convince me that there is life on other planets. I don’t know, but I will recognize when it is presented to me.

The odds of their being life somewhere else in the universe just took a flying leap up today, with the news of the discovery of an arsenic based bacteria. This adds another type of life form to the carbon based ones that make up 99.99 percent of life on this planet, and the rare sulphur based life forms recently discovered next to deep sea volcanic rifts. But until a scientist comes up with verifiable, repeatable and unambiguous evidence of life on another planet then it remains merely an increasingly likely possibility.
Likewise, the chances of their being a supernatural “personality” with a mind that is not dependent on a biological base is extremely remote, but not impossible. Like today’s newly discovered arsenic life forms, something might turn up that proves that such a thing exists, but I have no idea what it would be. However, the chances of such a life-form being anything like the ones dreamed up by humankind so far, is astronomically remote. It chances of it being anything like the supernatural being you believe exists are so close to zero that it might as well be treated as zero.

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Rosita December 3, 2010 at 6:44 pm

@casey
Good post!
You described the problem exactly.

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caseywollberg December 3, 2010 at 8:40 pm

@ Rosita: What did you expect, an expletive-laced diatribe?

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Rosita December 3, 2010 at 10:37 pm

@casey
LOL

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Kaka December 4, 2010 at 5:46 am

What about historical documents like the biblical gospels?

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Rosita December 4, 2010 at 7:08 am

What about historical documents like the biblical gospels?  

Hearsay evidence. Absolutely no first indisputable first hand accounts. Very weak. So weak it is not admissible in any modern court of law that is concerned with getting to the truth of a matter because the information cannot be cross-examined or scientifically examined to investigate the extent of inevitable cognitive and perceptual bias. Many passages are incompatable, contradictory or historically wrong. It’s a very flawed document AS YOU WOULD KNOW IF YOU HAD BEEN ATTENDING TO THE ERHMAN-EVANS DEBATE. Your attentional mechanism and memory processor are failing to attend to and store huge amounts of data; your mind filters seem to be so effective that they would stand up under an A-bomb attack, even if you didn’t.

You remind me of the patients I see with half-visual field neglect. It can be proved that they “see” information in that field but that the brain does not attend to it and denies it exists. Information in the other field takes up all the processing room. Patients have a better chance of attending to the information in the faulty field if the correctly functioning side is covered. Victims draw half clocks, half houses and daisies with petals on only one side. Whole half bodies can be neglected as well. These patients walk around the hospital with only one leg in their pajamas or ring the nursing staff to ask that the strange arm in their bed be removed. They do not recognize this part of their body as their own, nor do they recognize that they are not perceiving correctly. They will come up with ingenious rationalizations to account for the odd phenomena. These people are not insane, they have simply lost the function of part of their brain.
While I am not assuming that you have lost part of your brain through stroke or head injury, I am suggesting that you have cognitive and emotional biases that effectively screen out part of reality so that you simply cannot see it as others do. We keep pointing out things, you keep “forgetting” the answers and continue to ask the same questions or make the same flawed point, as if you have never heard or attended to anything that you did not want to hear. When challenged, all you can do is say that you “don’t have time” to answer the questions or that you “don’t have much biblical knowledge”. How long is it that you have been Christian now?

See if you can overcome your filtering and recall system long enough to actually ANSWER SOME QUESTIONS that have already been asked. Let’s see how many more times your brain finds ways to avoid them.

(Modified from the original for greater clarity)
1. What are the characteristics that you give to “god”? Why?
2. What characteristics does this god _not_ have? Why?
3. Why do you think this god is the only one portrayed in the christian bible and not one that your religious group has made up as a kind of wish-fulfillment
4. What biblical material are you aware of that does not fit part of all of the description (for example, is he a god of love and non-conditional positive regard or of anger , hate and tyrannical “forgiveness” ?)
5. Are you aware of parts of your description that are not supported by biblical material or only by disputed or apocryphal passages (for example, the doctrine of the trinity, Jesus’ attitude to adultery and stoning)?

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Rosita December 4, 2010 at 7:20 am

@kaka
BTW, do you accept the historical record that the Roman emperors were gods? Or do you accept that extraordinary claims, like godhood, require extraordinary proof? Are you engaging in “special pleading” in relation to the claims made the godhood of Jesus?

NOTICE: These are QUESTIONS that you have been asked and they require an ANSWER FROM YOU.

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caseywollberg December 4, 2010 at 7:25 am

“What about historical documents like the biblical gospels?”

Are you kidding me? One word: Ehrman. You aren’t even trying. Have you been reduced to tears yet?

At any rate, this is the divine Jesus “god” you’re whining about now, a “god” that wholly depends on the Yahweh “god.” You haven’t addressed the disproof of Yahweh, so you don’t get to ignore that and move on to divine Jesus, since divine Jesus is moot without Yahweh. Disproof of Yahweh is sufficient to disprove divine Jesus, while proof of Yahweh is necessary but not sufficient to prove divine Jesus. Get it?

So, since I have shown how Yahweh is impossible, Ehrman’s findings are redundant with regard to divine Jesus, but damningly so. By contrast, you have offered nothing by way of defense for either Yahweh or divine Jesus. How much evidence will it take to convince you?

Now, faith is another thing. Would you like to claim faith? Fine. Then don’t claim knowledge, or even evidence. You can’t have it both ways. Faith or evidence. Which is it? Note (again) that you have no evidence. None. And the evidence is in fact stacked against you, as has been demonstrated again and again.

Therefore, I suggest you retreat to faith. Or invent a new god that is harder to falsify. But remember that a claim which is non-falsifiable also cannot be supported by evidence. So, you’re stuck with faith, I’m afraid–unless you can come up with a falsifiable claim that 1) is supported by evidence and 2) resists falsification. Yahweh and divine Jesus are falsifiable claims that fail to be supported by evidence and fail to resist falsification. The claims are total failures. I don’t know how many ways I can say it before you’ll understand.

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Kaka December 4, 2010 at 5:09 pm

You say it’s weak and yet scholars say historical truth can be found. Who do I believe? Who is more credible?

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kaka December 4, 2010 at 8:38 pm

rosita, would your diagnosis of a man’s voice on a podcast be admissable in a modern court of law? who’s using special pleading now?

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kaka December 4, 2010 at 8:39 pm

you might find this site tektonics interesting:

did jesus exist – http://www.tektonics.org/jesusexisthub.html
was jesus based on pagan myths – http://www.tektonics.org/copycathub.html

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kaka December 4, 2010 at 8:45 pm

(Modified from the original for greater clarity)
1. What are the characteristics that you give to “god”? Why?
2. What characteristics does this god _not_ have? Why?
perfect love, justice, grace, all-knowing, all-powerful. see bible

3. Why do you think this god is the only one portrayed in the christian bible and not one that your religious group has made up as a kind of wish-fulfillment
?

4. What biblical material are you aware of that does not fit part of all of the description (for example, is he a god of love and non-conditional positive regard or of anger , hate and tyrannical “forgiveness” ?)
?

5. Are you aware of parts of your description that are not supported by biblical material or only by disputed or apocryphal passages (for example, the doctrine of the trinity, Jesus’ attitude to adultery and stoning)?
?

could you clarify your questions please? the last 3 don’t make sense.

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kaka December 4, 2010 at 8:56 pm

oh you might also find these podcasts with gary habermas interesting – he studies the historicity of the resurrection:

http://www.garyhabermas.com/audio/audio.htm

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caseywollberg December 4, 2010 at 11:13 pm

@ Rosita:

So, you still think kaka is not a sophist? Hey, kaka: FUCK OFF.

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kaka December 5, 2010 at 2:52 am

just going over your post again rosita, i’m not sure we’re on the same page about how historians do history and how they sort fact from myth, who said what, etc.

so i’d recommend this podcast from new testament historian gary habermas where he gives an overview. would be great to hear what you think.

http://takethestand.typepad.com/take_the_stand/2010/08/the-veracity-of-the-new-testament.html

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kaka December 5, 2010 at 2:59 am

“BTW, do you accept the historical record that the Roman emperors were gods? Or do you accept that extraordinary claims, like godhood, require extraordinary proof? Are you engaging in “special pleading” in relation to the claims made the godhood of Jesus?”

well i accept what historians themselves say about roman emperors. what do they say? do they say they were gods? what ‘historical record’ says this? can you provide a link?

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kaka December 5, 2010 at 3:08 am

“Many passages are incompatable, contradictory or historically wrong. It’s a very flawed document”

i’m not sure historians would agree. the ones on the podcast for example. also:

from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Testament_in_the_Original_Greek#cite_note-0: “our belief that even among the numerous unquestionably spurious readings of the New Testament there are no signs of deliberate falsification of the text for dogmatic purposes.” – westcott and hort

from: http://takethestand.typepad.com/take_the_stand/2010/08/the-veracity-of-the-new-testament.html, atheist antony flew said (paraphrase) the new testament is the best document from the ancient world

from: from: http://takethestand.typepad.com/take_the_stand/2010/08/the-veracity-of-the-new-testament.html, westcott and hort say the textual variances in the new testament do not prevent the text from being 99% accurate

from: http://takethestand.typepad.com/take_the_stand/2009/09/a-debate-on-the-resurrection-of-jesus-christ.html, gary habermas quotes ehrman who said seven of paul’s letters are authentic and can be relied upon, including chapter 15 in 1 corinithians which contains paul’s gospel message that jesus died, was buried, rose from the dead and appeared to christians and non-believers. the jesus seminar, a group of skeptical historians, also place a high degree of trust on paul’s writings

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kaka December 5, 2010 at 4:07 am

” Or do you accept that extraordinary claims, like godhood, require extraordinary proof?”

if the god of the universe revealed himself in history then i want to check what the historians say. if they say there was once a man called jesus who made radical personal claims to be the son of man then i say, as cs lewis did ‘ok so was this man a lunatic, a liar or the lord?’

i hope the move is going well :) i eagerly await your answers to my questions above :)

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caseywollberg December 5, 2010 at 8:00 am

“if they say there was once a man called jesus who made radical personal claims to be the son of man then i say, as cs lewis did ‘ok so was this man a lunatic, a liar or the lord?’”

LOL, C.S. Lewis! He wrote superficial religious propaganda for children! Grow up already.

His so-called “trilemma” is a false choice, which is obvious to anyone with a brain or who is honest (which deficiency do you claim for yourself?). Other possibilities not offered are, of course, that Jesus was a myth, that “his” claims were words put in his mouth by the authors of the passages ascribed to him, that he was deluded, that he was drunk or high when he said those things, that he was joking, etc.

All of these possibilities are far more plausible than the “lord” hypothesis, and there’s absolutely no good reason to believe the latter. It doesn’t make any sense. As has already been demonstrated (without challenge from you), Jesus as “lord” is a failed hypothesis, in no small part because Yahweh is a failed hypothesis. You have no evidence for either of these beings and the former depends on the latter. All you’ve got is a spurious and moot claim that the gospels are reliable as historical documents with regard to accounts of supernatural events. And the only way you can “support” it is by appealing to the presumed and biased “authority” of evangelical pseudo-historians. You can’t even make your own arguments! Show me a mainstream historian who will put her career on the line by endorsing such nonsense, and I’ll show you an individual who has solved her cognitive dissonance by running away from the truth, or whose reasoning powers have deteriorated with senility–like Antony Flew, since you brought him up. You theists are demented little ghouls, preying on the weak to prop up your own faith. It makes me sick.

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caseywollberg December 5, 2010 at 8:07 am

“gary habermas quotes ehrman who said seven of paul’s letters are authentic and can be relied upon, including chapter 15 in 1 corinithians which contains paul’s gospel message that jesus died, was buried, rose from the dead and appeared to christians and non-believers. the jesus seminar, a group of skeptical historians, also place a high degree of trust on paul’s writings”

Are you honestly trying to argue to intelligent people that this agnostic and these skeptics endorse the supernatural claims in Paul’s writings? Of