Why I Write This Blog

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 11, 2009 in General Atheism

A reader recently asked me:

What drives you to study and spend so much time analyzing and critiquing religion and religious philosophy? Why do you think it is important to write the kind of stuff you write?

Why do I write this blog? I don’t make any money from it, and don’t plan to. It costs me a few hundred dollars a year to host this blog, and about 15 hours a week to research and write it. That’s quite a commitment. Why do I do it?

Several reasons.

In the order they occur to me…

I write this blog because losing my religion was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I want to share that with people. When I finally got critical thinking, and really allowed myself to challenge everything I believed and loved, and hold it all to the same standards of reason and evidence – that’s when I really came alive as a person. I was finally willing to accept the universe, however it was, and live the best life I could here and now, in reality. That’s a wonderful thing, and when you encounter something wonderful you want to share it with people.

I write this blog because I want to know the truth. I’m not somebody who has all the answers and wants to share them with you. I’m 23 years old, for Pete’s sake! No, I’m doing this more for me than for you. This blog gives me the opportunity to share some neat stuff I’ve learned, sure, but even more, it give you the opportunity to share some neat stuff with me. I get to research these topics, present my best reasoning on a topic, and then give you all the chance to correct me or rebut me so that I can keep learning.

I write this blog because I because I really enjoy this stuff. I enjoy the search for truth. I enjoy finding out where I’m wrong, or where I’m ignorant, or where I’m right. And I enjoy these topics, too. The questions of God and meaning and morality are some of the biggest questions one could ask, and it’s pretty epic to make some progress in finding the answers.

I write this blog because I think maybe I can contribute. Maybe I can bring the power of argument mapping to philosophy of religion, where it is perhaps most apt in philosophy. Maybe I can make some contributions to meta-ethics. And maybe I can translate some philosophical issues into plain talk that have never been properly clarified before.

Finally, I write this blog because religion damages the world. I hate it most of all when religion damages, holds back, and handicaps children. I don’t spend much time with kids but for some reason it really bothers me when I see kids get so much of their potential taken away by the phantoms and ravages of religion. And I don’t just mean “extreme” forms of religion. I’m talking about moderate forms of religion, and the damage they do to kids.

That’s why I write this blog.

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{ 68 comments… read them below or add one }

Danny May 11, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Wow, that’s a major U-Turn from your old blog, when you were still a Christian.

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Taranu May 12, 2009 at 3:36 am

Wow!  I always thought there was something in for you from this blog… financially speaking.  This is a great thing you are doing and I look forward to seeing your next posts on the Kalam argument.

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TinaFCD May 12, 2009 at 3:54 am

Makes sense to me. :)

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Chris W May 12, 2009 at 6:18 am

losing my religion was the best thing that ever happened to me

Man I wish I felt that. But that ol’ fear of hell…

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Lorkas May 12, 2009 at 7:19 am

Chris W: Man I wish I felt that. But that ol’ fear of hell…

If you believe in hell, I’m going to shoot you with this invisible gun.

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Chris W May 12, 2009 at 7:25 am

Lorkas:
If you believe in hell, I’m going to shoot you with this invisible gun.

lol. Seriously though, the psychological damage that indoctrinated fear can inflict on someone is pretty intense.

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Jeff H May 12, 2009 at 7:26 am

Would you mind perhaps clarifying (either here or in a future post) what you see as the danger of moderate forms of religion on children? I’d like to hear more about your thoughts on that.

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Matt May 12, 2009 at 8:09 am

Luke, do you really believe that only the non-religious can “get critical thinking”? I’m not sure that your presentation of critical thought and religion as an either/or choice is very helpful, though it is a common trope among atheists these days.

Second, I might suggest that religion as such doesn’t damage the world, just as atheism as such doesn’t damage the world–neither religion nor atheism possesses any agency of its own. Rather, people damage the world, and they employ their beliefs, whether religious or non-religious, to do so. Like Jeff H, I think some clarification would be helpful–what, exactly, are “moderate forms of religion”? And how are they employed by their adherents to damage children? This seems absurd, but of course I’d like to hear more lest I create a straw man.

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TX CHL Instructor May 12, 2009 at 8:11 am

“I don’t make any money from it, and don’t plan to.”

Why not? Do you think that your readers would think less of you if you made some money from your blogging? I doubt that anyone would hold it against you if you set up an Amazon affiliate account, and added links to your favorite books.

Dedication to a cause is nice, but it helps if it at least pays its own way — increases the staying power.

http://www.chl-tx.com (Yes, I also have a blog, but you probably can’t find it; and yes, one of these days, I’ll start linking to my Amazon affiliate account on that blog, and make it easier to find…)

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Reginald Selkirk May 12, 2009 at 8:22 am

Be honest with your readers, lukeprog. You write this blog for the girls and the money and the shame of life.

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Reginald Selkirk May 12, 2009 at 8:30 am

Matt: Luke, do you really believe that only the non-religious can “get critical thinking”? I’m not sure that your presentation of critical thought and religion as an either/or choice

How can pre-designating your conclusion be compatible with true critical thinking?

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Lorkas May 12, 2009 at 8:44 am

Matt: Luke, do you really believe that only the non-religious can “get critical thinking”?

Luke has said in the past that there are plenty of religious people who have good critical thinking skills–they just don’t apply the same standards of evidence to their religious beliefs that they apply to other questions, like the religious beliefs of others.

A perfect example of this is the claim that Alexander the Great was born of a virgin. How do you know that Alexander the Great wasn’t born of a virgin? Because virgins don’t give birth to children (and even if parthenogenesis does occur in a human, it is chromosomally impossible in mammals for a female to give birth to a male child by this means). Yet over a billion people accept that Jesus of Nazareth was born in that way and reject Alexander the Great’s claim.

It’s not as though the Christian investigates both claims and determined that Jesus was more likely to be born of a virgin than Alexander the Great was. The evidence is identical–the assertion of biased individuals. Why accept one and not the other? Simply because it fits into the right mythology? Really?

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Lorkas May 12, 2009 at 8:46 am

Jeez… I didn’t realize that I was switching verb tenses so much (even within the same sentence!). Hopefully you can see past the atrocious grammar to the content behind it.

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exrelayman May 12, 2009 at 11:55 am

Unfortunately those lacking critical thinking skills are of course least likely to discern this lack and most likely to be offended when criticized.

If your thinking credits the existence of the undetectable, whether sky daddy, leprechaun, soul, heaven, or hell, it is not very critical. Particularly if you are 100% positive of your belief and nothing could change your mind, you are not using critical thinking.

Hopefully further discourses here on logic and critical thinking may have some beneficial effect. It wouldn’t hurt me any to learn some more also.

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Matt May 12, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Reginald Selkirk: How can pre-designating your conclusion be compatible with true critical thinking?

That’s a fair question. But I don’t pre-designate any conclusions in my own thinking–I’m willing to question my assumptions, and to question the conclusions to which these assumptions lead, and most of the religious believers I know are the same way. I just consistently arrive at very different conclusions than you.

Lorkas: Luke has said in the past that there are plenty of religious people who have good critical thinking skills–they just don’t apply the same standards of evidence to their religious beliefs that they apply to other questions, like the religious beliefs of others.

Maybe this is true, though I don’t think it’s always the case. Rather, I think the crucial issue is that the beliefs of atheists and believers simply lead to different assumptions about what constitutes critical thinking in the first place. For instance, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have very specific “predesignated conclusions” about theology; even though they write entire books on Christianity and other religions they feel they don’t need to read the fundamental texts that constitute these traditions. This seems to me obvious foolishness, but to them they’re “thinking critically,” and can therefore ignore what such “critical thinking” has led them to conclude to be unreasonable. In other words, we all start somewhere, from some set of presuppositions about the way the world is; without these presuppositions thinking could never get started in the first place. These presuppositions color the way we see the world around, and define what we see as “evidence” in the first place.

exrelayman: Unfortunately those lacking critical thinking skills are of course least likely to discern this lack and most likely to be offended when criticized.If your thinking credits the existence of the undetectable, whether sky daddy, leprechaun, soul, heaven, or hell, it is not very critical. Particularly if you are 100% positive of your belief and nothing could change your mind, you are not using critical thinking.

Well, I’m not 100% positive of my beliefs–no one ever is, if they’re honest with themselves. And my thinking doesn’t “credit the existence of the undetectable, whether sky daddy, leprechaun, soul, heaven, or hell.” So I guess I’m OK. However, people who think the God in whom Christians believe belongs in that same list, as if God was another “thing” that “existed” rather than the very condition of being– of “existing”–itself, may benefit from some remedial work in critical thought. I’m teasing, of course, but it’s disheartening to constantly see the same misconceptions and false premises bandied about in the service of such colossal arrogance (in the works of Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, etc).

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Reginald Selkirk May 12, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Matt: That’s a fair question. But I don’t pre-designate any conclusions in my own thinking–I’m willing to question my assumptions, and to question the conclusions to which these assumptions lead, and most of the religious believers I know are the same way. I just consistently arrive at very different conclusions than y

Uh right. And most of these people not only consistently arrive at the conclusion that, not only is there a supernatural world, but that it is the same supernatural version which was popular in their household and/or neighborhood when they were growing up. What a very remarkable coincidence.

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Lorkas May 12, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Matt: For instance, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have very specific “predesignated conclusions” about theology; even though they write entire books on Christianity and other religions they feel they don’t need to read the fundamental texts that constitute these traditions.

This is a dead horse argument, Matt. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are familiar with the claims of Christianity, the Bible, and the best arguments advanced for them. They aren’t writing deep theological treatises, they are writing about whether or not any of it is valid at all.

Do you believe in elves and trolls? People in Iceland take their belief in Hidden People very seriously (there are 5 different kinds of hidden people to learn about, all with different characteristics!). They even have a school dedicated to teaching about the different types of hidden people, and they regularly consult experts in huldufólk before engaging in construction projects, to make sure that the location of a building or road won’t disturb the elves.

My point is: it’s not necessary to learn every detail of the huldufólk mythology before dismissing it as folklore. We can evaluate the basic evidence about whether or not there are hidden people before we ask the questions about how tall they are, what foods they prefer, and how they’ll react if we build a road in such-and-such a place. You don’t have to know the color of a fairy’s wings before you determine whether or not it is reasonable to believe in fairies.

In the same way, there is a requisite knowledge that one must have before discussing whether or not a god exists, but you don’t need to know every little intricacy about the mythology surrounding him before you decide whether or not it is reasonable to believe that he exists.

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Matt May 12, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Lorkas: This is a dead horse argument, Matt. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are familiar with the claims of Christianity, the Bible, and the best arguments advanced for them. They aren’t writing deep theological treatises, they are writing about whether or not any of it is valid at all.Do you believe in elves and trolls? People in Iceland take their belief in Hidden People very seriously (there are 5 different kinds of hidden people to learn about, all with different characteristics!). They even have a school dedicated to teaching about the different types of hidden people, and they regularly consult experts in huldufólk before engaging in construction projects, to make sure that the location of a building or road won’t disturb the elves.My point is: it’s not necessary to learn every detail of the huldufólk mythology before dismissing it as folklore. We can evaluate the basic evidence about whether or not there are hidden people before we ask the questions about how tall they are, what foods they prefer, and how they’ll react if we build a road in such-and-such a place. You don’t have to know the color of a fairy’s wings before you determine whether or not it is reasonable to believe in fairies.In the same way, there is a requisite knowledge that one must have before discussing whether or not a god exists, but you don’t need to know every little intricacy about the mythology surrounding him before you decide whether or not it is reasonable to believe that he exists.

But I’m saying that Dawkins et al. are not at all familiar with the claims of Christianity, the Bible, or the best arguments advanced for them. In fact, they’re utterly unfamiliar with such claims and arguments, apparently, since they make the same arguments over and over: “The flying spaghetti monster blah blah blah . . .”

My point is that no, of course I don’t believe in trolls, elves, sky daddies, or leprechauns. But I don’t believe in God in this sense, either. God, according to 2000 years of Christian thought, doctrine, and theology, is not a “thing” that “exists” just like trolls or elves or sky daddies exist. God, according to Christians, is precisely the condition for all things that exist in this sense–God is the condition of being, and doesn’t possess such being as such. So I guess if Dawkins, Harris, et al find it necessary to argue against the god they’re arguing against, that’s fine. But they’re the ones beating the dead horse, not me. I’m just assuming they want to argue against Christian belief, and they aren’t, because they don’t understand it well enough to do so.

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Matt May 12, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Reginald Selkirk: Uh right. And most of these people not only consistently arrive at the conclusion that, not only is there a supernatural world, but that it is the same supernatural version which was popular in their household and/or neighborhood when they were growing up. What a very remarkable coincidence.

And what an even more remarkable coincidence that the vast majority of the people I know who grew up in atheist households are still atheists! Wow! So I guess our presuppositions do influence the way we see the world, huh?

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Lorkas May 12, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Do you seriously believe that this is how the typical Christian would describe God? I accept that this may be your view of God, but it is not the view that is most usually espoused (and not, by the way, the view that Dawkins and Harris are necessarily arguing against).

One thing to remember is that there is an extremely large gap between the beliefs of the Christian theologians and the beliefs of the everyday Christian. What you are describing is pantheism, not the typical Christian theism, which envisions God as three persons in one being, which are emphatically things in a quite different sense that the one you are espousing here.

If you think of God as both a person and as the “ground of being” (whatever that means to you), then I would suggest that you are trying to have it both ways. Either God exists or he doesn’t. You can’t weasel your way out of an argument stating that he doesn’t exist by simply stating that God is everything that exists. If God=everything, then it is most certainly true that God exists, but the meaning of the word “God” is diluted so much that it is practically devoid of meaning. We might as well say “nature exists” and be done with it.

I would suggest that it is you, and not Dawkins and Harris, who have a distorted view of the beliefs of the everyday Christian. Sure, there are some theologians and liberal Christians who may believe as you say, but, as a former Christian who attended a Christian university and studied Christian theology extensively, I must say that it is not the typical belief, as I have experienced it. You can hardly blame D&H for addressing the belief as it is commonly expressed rather than in your particular interpretation of it.

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Lorkas May 12, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Matt: And what an even more remarkable coincidence that the vast majority of the people I know who grew up in atheist households are still atheists!

And yet there are nonbelievers in every culture, while it is extremely rare for any individual to be raised in one religion and reason their way to another without missionaries.

Atheism doesn’t need missionaries to tell people that the gods are fake–reasonable people in any society can reach that conclusion on their own. A person doesn’t even have to know that atheism exists in order to reason their way to it. No one comes to Christianity by reason alone, however–they have to be preached to first, and then choose to accept it. That seems to me like an important distinction.

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Matt May 12, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Lorkas: Do you seriously believe that this is how the typical Christian would describe God? I accept that this may be your view of God, but it is not the view that is most usually espoused (and not, by the way, the view that Dawkins and Harris are necessarily arguing against).

Yes, I seriously believe that most Christians would describe God in this way. Apparently there are some fundamentalist Christians who describe God in the manner of which you speak (and this is perhaps especially true of our present day), but I highly doubt that this has in any sense been the majority view, or even a very widely held view, up until the late C19.

And I’m a bit insulted that you’re accusing me of “weaseling” my way out of anything! :) God does not exist, if we’re using the term “existence” in the common sense of “pork chops exist” or “elves and trolls and sky daddies do not exist,” so I’m really really not trying to “have it both ways.”  And no, this is absolutely not pantheism, but precisely the inverse: God does NOT equal everything, and God is not everything that exists. God is the source of existence itself–God generates being through love.

I’m not sure either one of us is going to get very far by arguing about the “everyday Christian,” since we clearly have very different ideas of what constitutes this hapless everyman. And yes, I do think I can and should fault Dawkins and his acolytes for setting up the lowest common denominator version of Christian belief (which then they very cleverly label as the belief of the “everyday Christian–how convenient!) and then knocking it down like a 6th-grade bully. Surely it would be more becoming of a distinguished Oxford don to take the very best and most intelligent version of his opponents’ argument and argue against that. It’s way too easy, crude, and sophomoric. For me, this is simply a matter of intellectual honesty.

I’m interested in the fact that you attended a Christian college and studied theology extensively, Lorkas. I’d be interested to know which college–or what sort of college. Any theologians you particularly enjoyed reading or found interesting?

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Matt May 12, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Lorkas: And yet there are nonbelievers in every culture, while it is extremely rare for any individual to be raised in one religion and reason their way to another without missionaries.Atheism doesn’t need missionaries to tell people that the gods are fake–reasonable people in any society can reach that conclusion on their own. A person doesn’t even have to know that atheism exists in order to reason their way to it. No one comes to Christianity by reason alone, however–they have to be preached to first, and then choose to accept it. That seems to me like an important distinction.

You’re right. To become a believing Christian one would have to be preached to. I don’t have any problems with this–it’s as it should be.

But surely to become an atheist in the sense that you’re an atheist, one would also have to be preached to. A person who disbelieves in Hinduism is not simply an atheist in the same sense that a person who disbelieves in Christianity is an atheist, or in the same sense that a person who knows and disbelieves in both is an atheist. All people who reject the faith of their childhood might equally be “rebellious,” but they’re not equally “atheists,” if they don’t know about anything other than the gods of their particular faith. I’m not at all interested in defending “theism” (as perhaps is obvious by now). If people reject the shamanistic spiritualism of their parents, I’d probably say that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t at all mean that, presented with another faith, that they’d be any less likely to embrace that.

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Dace May 12, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Lukeprog, what program are you using for the argument mapping? I’d be interested in playing around with this stuff myself.

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Lorkas May 12, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Matt: I’m interested in the fact that you attended a Christian college and studied theology extensively, Lorkas. I’d be interested to know which college–or what sort of college. Any theologians you particularly enjoyed reading or found interesting?

John Brown University–a small, evangelical university in northwest Arkansas. It’s a liberal arts university which, I’m proud to say, has an excellent science program, where I majored in biology. Fortunately, many of my professors had a strong emphasis on critical thinking and on seeking the truth (my favorite maxim of the university was “All truth is God’s truth”) which led me eventually to reevaluate my reasons for thinking that God exists, and conclude that there is no good reason to believe he does.

I should say, when I read you repeating my claim to have studied Christian theology extensively, I feel the need to do a bit of hedging. I did not really study theology extensively when compared to those who major in the field. I took the standard gen. ed. requirement in theology at JBU, which is slightly more coursework than a minor in the field (I wish that I hadn’t said the word “extensively,” since I’m now required to back off of the claim–one argument, I suppose, for rereading your statements before you post them).

Before my apostasy, however, I became incredibly intrigued by Gustavo Gutierrez (I identified strongly with Latin American liberation theology, and that identification affects my political stance to this day). I also liked Augustine, Calvin (though I diverged from him on several points, I think he is on the right side of the predestination argument within Christianity), and the accomplishments and values of Erasmus affected me a lot, despite the fact that I read little of his writing. My favorite saint is Francis of Assisi.

Now I find the 2nd-Century heretic Marcion to be particularly interesting, and I often wonder what the world would be like today if his side had won the argument.

I really just threw out a bunch of stuff–I’m not really sure what you were looking for in particular when you asked me about my theological preferences. If there’s a specific question you want me to answer, I’d be glad to do so.

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Matt May 12, 2009 at 6:23 pm

No, no specific questions, I really was simply interested.

I hadn’t heard of John Brown University, but it sounds like a good school, with a sound motto! I have a lot of sympathy for the liberation theologians myself, having lived in Argentina for a semester. I depart from them on some basic issues, but like yours, my politics are heavily influenced by their important work.

I’m with you on Augustine, though I tend to think Calvin was completely and utterly misguided on fundamental issues, and especially on the predestination question!

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lukeprog May 12, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Matt: Luke, do you really believe that only the non-religious can “get critical thinking”?

No, I never said that! I’ve said a lot on this blog about certain theists who are very good critical thinkers. They’re just wrong.

Matt: what, exactly, are “moderate forms of religion”? And how are they employed by their adherents to damage children?

I’ll write a post on this.

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lukeprog May 12, 2009 at 6:31 pm

Dace: Lukeprog, what program are you using for the argument mapping? I’d be interested in playing around with this stuff myself.

I’ve tried a few but I may go with Visio in the end because it is the most compatible and flexible, even if it takes a bit of extra care to make it do exactly what I want.

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lukeprog May 12, 2009 at 6:35 pm

TX CHL Instructor: “I don’t make any money from it, and don’t plan to.” Why not? Do you think that your readers would think less of you if you made some money from your blogging? I doubt that anyone would hold it against you if you set up an Amazon affiliate account, and added links to your favorite books.

I’m not against making money at all, I just don’t think I’ll be able to make much money with this blog, and I don’t want to put up any ads. I already use Amazon affiliate links, but that income is only a trickle, certainly not enough to pay my web host each month.

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Lorkas May 12, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Matt: I tend to think Calvin was completely and utterly misguided on fundamental issues, and especially on the predestination question!

Many do. I don’t presume to claim this is why you think so, but most that I’ve conversed with about it are just uncomfortable with the idea that God chooses people to go to hell. Of course, personal comfort with an idea is an absurd reason to believe (or disbelieve) anything.

I’m not really interesting in arguing predestination, though. It’s an exhausting enough topic even for a person who actually believes it to have anything to do with the real universe (which I don’t, as a naturalist).

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Matt May 12, 2009 at 7:57 pm

Lorkas: Many do. I don’t presume to claim this is why you think so, but most that I’ve conversed with about it are just uncomfortable with the idea that God chooses people to go to hell. Of course, personal comfort with an idea is an absurd reason to believe (or disbelieve) anything.I’m not really interesting in arguing predestination, though. It’s an exhausting enough topic even for a person who actually believes it to have anything to do with the real universe (which I don’t, as a naturalist).

Good. I’m in complete agreement, having exhausted myself arguing the topic all too frequently in the past. And, of course, you’re entirely correct that personal comfort is an absurd reason to believe or disbelieve anything; let me assure you (since you brought it up) that this is not why I find Calvin mistaken.

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Rycharde May 12, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Anybody who wishes to look at what Christian rationalism looks like can do no better than read Thomas Aquinas – the Summa is a huge book but mercifully divided into bite-size Q and As. Christianity (well, catholicism anyway) rejected pure fideism because they knew how weak it was philosophically as a foundation for anything – belief is not knowledge. However, faith has always been the best way to capture an audience (for Christianity) so that much of the contorted theology is about the legitimacy of faith but not its primacy. Contrast this to Buddhism where faith is accepted as a human state of mind but considered to be a very low level of understanding. For Buddhism faith is a delusion, the only hope being that it will one day become more active, either through discourse or meditation.

Thanks for the post, Luke. You may well have rekindled by own blog at Asylum Joy. My agent didn’t like my recent book proposal, which seeks to expand on Harris’s last chapter of the End of Faith. :-( I might just go ahead and write the thing in blog format and see what happens.

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Haukur May 13, 2009 at 1:10 am

Could you guys please stop using Icelandic elves as some sort of <i>reductio ad absurdum</i> without having the first idea what it’s even about? Yes, you do have to actually read something serious about the phenomenon before you can comment intelligibly on it. <a href=’http://gegnir.is/F/I1K5N3BMP39V55MMSLGYVH12VQ6Y6TLRPNC794TMJXVST9CKR2-15925?func=full-set-set&set_number=024229&set_entry=000001&format=999′>This dissertation</a> is not a bad place to start. If getting a copy is too hard and you think Icelandic pagans are not as capable of vague theological statements as the next person then try <a href=’http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81satr%C3%BAarf%C3%A9lagi%C3%B0#Beliefs_and_theology’>this section</a> of an article I’m writing.

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 5:23 am

Haukur,

I can’t get to any of the links that you tried to post there, but my point was simply that it isn’t necessary to study every aspect of a postulated  ”supernatural” phenomenon before you answer the question of whether or not the phenomenon actually exists in the real world (i.e. you don’t necessarily have to ask a person what color he believes fairy wings are before you assess his claim that fairies exist). I don’t claim expertise in Icelandic hidden people, but expertise is not necessary to make the simple point that I made (and, frankly, it seems that you missed the point, since your reply makes the same basic error that I was pointing out with the comparison).

If I’m mistaken, please point out how my apparent ignorance invalidates the point that I made.

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Little Bill May 13, 2009 at 6:24 am

I although I disagree with many of your conclusions I passionately agree with your quest. I believe everyone must be willing to lay everything on the table and accept only what the evidence demands.

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Mark May 13, 2009 at 6:30 am

Luke and Lorkas,
An honest question about your former days as believing Chrisitians – do you think these happened to you – that you meaningfully experienced the goodness of God?  Not that you believed, practiced, confessed, prayed, etc.  But “tasted” or experienced an actual, present, goodness in God and His words?

Psalm 34:8  Taste and see that the LORD is good
Hebrews 6:5  …who have tasted the goodness of the word of God…
1 Peter 2:3  …now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

A simple yes/no is fine or more discussion, as you wish.  This is not a trick or set-up.  I’m not going anywhere with this, just curious about your experiences.  Thanks.

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 7:17 am

Yes. I felt the “Holy Spirit” all the time, too. I still do, actually–I just realize now that these experiences of awe, wonder, and connectedness are part of the common human experience, and don’t require that we postulate any spirit(s) or god(s) to explain them.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t stop feeling when you become an atheist.

It’s funny to me that so many Christians find it so difficult to accept that a “true Christian” would stop believing.

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 7:30 am

I want to clarify the second sentence–I don’t mean “all the time” as in “constantly”–I mean it in the sense of “frequently”. What I mean is that I had (and have) many experience that Christians would probably attribute to the Holy Spirit or the presence of God.

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Haukur May 13, 2009 at 7:40 am

You still have to know what people are actually talking about when they say ‘elf’ and I’m not convinced that you do. I’m just not happy with Icelandic paganism becoming some sort of handy example of an absurdity which American theists and atheists can unite in dismissing without any attempt at familiarizing themselves with it. It’s something which is just as capable of an intellectual defense as Christianity.

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Reginald Selkirk May 13, 2009 at 7:49 am

Haukur: It’s something which is just as capable of an intellectual defense as Christianity.

Right. But the question is, which way do you cut with that knife?

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Haukur May 13, 2009 at 8:03 am

Reginald Selkirk: Right. But the question is, which way do you cut with that knife?

Well, atheists are trying to use it to cut Christianity down but that’s not going to convince the Christians – it just ends up with both sides agreeing that Icelandic paganism is silly. The conversation is not advanced and my home country is ridiculed for no good reason. Christianity and atheism can pick on someone their own size.

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 8:25 am

Haukur: It’s something which is just as capable of an intellectual defense as Christianity.

This was my only point. I agree with you that belief in elves and belief in gods are equally intellectually defensible.

If you don’t like it when people point out that your beliefs are silly, then maybe you shouldn’t have such silly beliefs. Or you could, you know, show evidence.

I’m sorry, but I’m not going to stop using what I deem to be a valid comparison simply because it hurts your feelings. Perhaps a better strategy would be to elucidate exactly why the comparison is not valid, and then I will gladly stop using it (you won’t even have to ask me to, then–I’ll do it because I care what is true).

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Haukur May 13, 2009 at 8:35 am

Lorkas: If you don’t like it when people point out that your beliefs are silly, then maybe you shouldn’t have such silly beliefs. Or you could, you know, show evidence.

I haven’t said anything at all about my personal beliefs. And Icelandic pagans only need to show evidence for their claims if they’re actually trying to convince someone of something. Historically, Christians were committed to the goal of making every person on the planet a Christian. Many Christians are still committed to this goal. Pagans are generally happy to acknowledge that “experiences of awe, wonder, and connectedness are part of the common human experience” and that their local cultural manifestations of these do not have a privileged status. The day a missionary knocks on your door and wants to talk about the elves in your garden is the day you need to be concerned with Icelandic paganism. Until then, much better examples of beliefs-that-are-just-as-defensible-as-Christianity are available to you – examples which you can much more easily read up on in some detail.

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 8:36 am

By the way, I would be interested in reading the articles you linked, but I can’t find them. Could you try linking again? (I won’t be able to read the dissertation, unfortunately, unless there is an English translation :( )

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 8:39 am

Haukur, there is no way that you will convince me to stop using the comparison just because it hurts someone’s feelings. If you want me to stop making the comparison, I would be convinced by a demonstration of why the comparison is invalid.

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 8:43 am

You sound as if this is a comparison that you hear a lot. Is it? I have never really heard it before, but I wouldn’t be a surprise to me that others have used it, because it is an apt example. It is preferable to other folklore as an example, because there is a large body of people who still believe it to be true. Unicorns and dragons don’t work as well, because most people don’t believe in such things anymore.

I guess the Bigfoot following would be equally apt, but I’ve used it before and was looking for a little variety in the beliefs that I denigrate.

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Haukur May 13, 2009 at 9:01 am

The links I posted still seem valid to me, but here they are in naked form:

http://gegnir.is/F/I1K5N3BMP39V55MMSLGYVH12VQ6Y6TLRPNC794TMJXVST9CKR2-15925?func=full-set-set&set_number=024229&set_entry=000001&format=999

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81satr%C3%BAarf%C3%A9lagi%C3%B0#Beliefs_and_theology

The dissertation is in English, but may be hard for you to obtain. I should clarify that the number of people who identify as pagans is significantly lower than those who believe in elves, in some sense. Both phenomena are handled together in that dissertation, while my Wikipedia article is only about a particular neopagan organization (and it’s a bit messy, I haven’t completed it yet).

For the record, I do identify as a pagan. I am (for the most part anyway) a naturalistic pantheist. I disagree with those that think this ‘collapses into atheism’  but that idea doesn’t offend me or greatly bother me. I have a long-standing interest in religion and religious philosophy, including atheistic thinking, but I have no academic degree in those fields.

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 9:10 am

Groovy, thanks. I’ll check them both out. I, like you, have a great interest in folklore, aside from any evaluation I might make about whether or not it’s true.

I just found the “English” button on the top right of the dissertation page, though. I now have hope that I’ll be able to find it.

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Haukur May 13, 2009 at 9:19 am

Sorry, looks like the link I gave you wasn’t any good after all (what I thought was a deep link in the library system appears not to have been). Here’s the information I meant to convey:

“Pagan beliefs in modern Iceland” by María Erlendsdóttir (born 1974).

A dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of MSc in Social anthropology, The University of Edinburgh

Edinburgh : University of Edinburgh, 2001

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 9:29 am

Found it, but I have to have a logon to get it. I think I can get it on ILL through my current university, though.

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Haukur May 13, 2009 at 10:39 am

Excellent. If you read through that (it’s not very long) I pronounce you qualified to say whatever the hell you want about pagan beliefs in Iceland. I don’t mind informed commentary or criticism, just uninformed ridicule.

If the ILL doesn’t come through I may be able to get you a digital copy, let me know.

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 11:37 am

I decided to email Dr. Erlendsdóttir to see if she had a digital copy, because my university library is pretty busy right now, and there would be a 2-3 week wait for it.

I even tried to read the Ásatrúarfélagið website, but, since I can’t read Iceelandic, it didn’t go very well. I look forward to your approval to say whatever I want about Icelandic paganism :).

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Haukur May 13, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Excellent, nice quest for knowledge there. But of course people go to great length for the coveted Haukur-seal-of-approval ;-) I hope the anthropologist comes through. If all else fails, send me an e-mail.

And for some counterbalance to the “haha, those Icelanders sure are wacky” chuckles this topic is sure to provoke, try this podcast on “Religion-Free Iceland” with Dan Barker as host:

http://www.podcastdirectory.com/podshows/1712299

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Mark May 13, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Lorkas: Yes. I felt the “Holy Spirit” all the time, too. I still do, actually–I just realize now that these experiences of awe, wonder, and connectedness are part of the common human experience, and don’t require that we postulate any spirit(s) or god(s) to explain them. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t stop feeling when you become an atheist.It’s funny to me that so many Christians find it so difficult to accept that a “true Christian” would stop believing.

Lorkas, if I may ask for further clarification.  You say you continue to have these experiences.  However, I asked if you had experienced “the goodness of God” and “the goodness of God’s word”.  I assume you are not experiencing this now, since you say there is no God.  So did your past experiences come from contemplating the goodness of Jesus/God and being in awe at the Bible or were they general religious sentiment?  And if your past experiences were directly of God and the Bible (as these scriptures mention),  how do your current experiences of awe, wonder, etc. differ?  I know it’s subjective and may be hard to put into words.  Again, this is not a trick or set-up.  Thanks for your consideration.

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Lorkas May 13, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Mark,
I was referring to the feeling of the “Holy Spirit”–the numinous experiences that we all have when we are faced with things that inspire awe and wonder–not the “goodness of God” or the “goodness of God’s word.”
I think that I might classify these as a type of numinous experience, though, so you might say that I feel something similar still. I’m more likely to be inspired so by Homer or Shakespeare or Kurt Vonnegut than the “word of God,” though.

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lukeprog May 13, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Mark,

Yes for me. Many, many times. I even had a “rebirth” at age 19 where I experienced the goodness of God and my life really turned out of a rut because I started seeing all the beauty in the world as a gift from God to me, because he loved me.

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Rycharde May 13, 2009 at 11:16 pm

Hi

are comments moderated? can’t find any rules for commenting. I made a comment yesterday and hasn’t appeared. Was long-ish… and haven’t saved it…never mind.

I am increasingly convinced that ‘belief’ is an emotional state more akin to love than any metaphysical construct. Many arguments thus boil down to whether my wife is better than your wife!

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Lorkas May 14, 2009 at 5:23 am

My wife is better than all of your wives. HA!

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exrelayman May 14, 2009 at 7:03 am

“My wife is better than all of your wives. HA!”

This probably goes back to vaudeville:

“Its a good thing we don’t all think alike, or every man would be chasing my wife.”

“Its a good thing we don’t all think alike, or no one would want your wife.”

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Mark May 14, 2009 at 8:41 am

Luke/Lorkas, thanks for your replies.

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Reginald Selkirk May 15, 2009 at 9:21 am

Rycharde: Many arguments thus boil down to whether my wife is better than your wife!

That depends on how we value my as-yet-unrealized transcendental wife.

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Grant Alcorn May 19, 2009 at 2:51 am

Thanks for giving me the real reasons you write the blog.  And I see reasons that have little to do with a search for truth.  I hate …  the damage it does …. words that leave little room for a reasonable debate.

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Grant Alcorn May 19, 2009 at 2:53 am

Please understand.  You are entitle to have this perspective.  But don’ t clothe it in a search for the truth.

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Grant Alcorn May 19, 2009 at 2:56 am

Sorry for the spelling mistakes.

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Grant Alcorn May 19, 2009 at 2:58 am

//I was finally willing to accept the universe, however it was,//

Find that comment fascinating.  How come a however it was automatically excludes the theistic argument now?

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Lorkas May 19, 2009 at 5:20 am

Why should he call a search for the truth what it is? He doesn’t claim that he is certain that he has found the truth. He might very well discover evidence that will lead him to accept some form of theism.

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Lorkas May 19, 2009 at 5:20 am

shouldn’t
*sigh*

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lukeprog May 19, 2009 at 6:14 am

Grant,

In my subjective experience, the search for truth is primary. But perhaps unconscious drives motivated me towards atheism more than argument. I can’t know that. In any case, your psychologizing my deconversion does nothing to increase the probability of God.

“willing to accept the universe, however it is” does NOT automatically exclude theistic argument. I’d be willing to accept God if he existed in this universe. It just so happens that he probably doesn’t.

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