A Religious Person Defends Atheism

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 15, 2010 in General Atheism

Be Scofield writes:

Being an atheist in America means being less than human. I know from personal experience, not from being an atheist but from being raised Christian in a conservative Christian town and holding negative biases about atheists. Like many others I thought that a belief in God was the foundation of morality, that Christians were superior to others and that atheists were a threat to believers. I didn’t, however, reach this conclusion consciously after weighing the facts and examining the issue independently. But rather it was something so ingrained within the culture that it permeated the social conscience… for several years now there have been movements both religious and secular that have championed the rights of other marginalized groups such as gays, people of color and women. Now it’s time for religious and spiritual people to take a stand for non-believers of all varieties.

…While [the New Atheists] certainly don’t represent all atheists… they have provided an important voice of resistance and identity for a group that has remained painfully silent for to long. And atheism is one of the fastest growing identities in America. It’s now the third largest group behind Catholics and Baptists. People are fed up with the abuse scandals, hypocrisy, violence and rejection of scientific progress that is associated with so many religions and their teachings. Now that atheism has a renewed interest in the public sphere it is an excellent opportunity for religious people of all sorts to show kindness, compassion and understanding to atheists-all things which are central to their traditions.

As a religious leader in training… I am committed to working to end the culture of prejudice against atheists. Dehumanization of atheists like any other group of people is a spiritual issue and I would like to encourage my religious and spiritual friends to join me in this cause.

Discuss.

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 119 comments… read them below or add one }

David June 15, 2010 at 11:46 am

Being both gay and an atheist…I have to confess I can’t settle in my mind which I’m more open about due to social stigmas. It connects with this topic in that many Christians tend to view gay men and women with the similar disregard they show atheists (amoral, shouldn’t be around children or in public office, etc). Frankly, on both “identities,” the situation is improving in this country more and more every year, and part of it is due to the brash examples of any movement, such as the New Atheists for atheism abroad and the ostentatious examples you’d find at a gay pride parade for gay men and women.

As much as everyone wants to rag on either example, I think they’ve proven to be somewhat useful for at least elevating the conversation to allow consideration of less brash examples (if, however, creating stereotypes at the same time). The silence before them created a perception of non-existence and no way to form a cohesive group.

  (Quote)

cl June 15, 2010 at 11:51 am

What’s to discuss? Scofield’s is an apt concession, one reasonable believers have always been willing to grant, in my experience.

  (Quote)

NFQ June 15, 2010 at 11:59 am

I suppose I like this perspective better than the alternative. Still, I think I’ll always wonder what it means to reject “dehumanization” of atheists, what it means to “show kindness, compassion and understanding to atheists,” as long as one still believes that we’re condemned to eternal damnation for holding the beliefs that we do. I know some people think they’re able to walk that fine line, and maybe they are, but I’m never sure exactly where the line is. Does loving an atheist mean spending all your time trying to convert them and save them from hell? Or does it mean modifying your beliefs so that well-intentioned people might go to heaven even if they were atheists?

  (Quote)

Ajay June 15, 2010 at 12:31 pm

An admirable stance.

However, I am always deeply troubled by one paradox: while religious traditions (take Christianity, for example) do certainly preach kindness and compassion, as Scofield notes, they also preach the eternal damnation of those outside the faith. So I feel as though the real message is: “We’ll be kind to you, but know you’re going to Hell.”

I don’t think this paradox is something Christians can explain away easily.

  (Quote)

cl June 15, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Ajay,

So I feel as though the real message is: “We’ll be kind to you, but know you’re going to Hell.” I don’t think this paradox is something Christians can explain away easily.

Where is there a paradox to explain away? All such Christians are saying is some variant of, “I’ll be nice even though I believe you’re wrong.” This is the same thing any courteous debater does, is it not?

  (Quote)

The Reality Poet June 15, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Bravo I say. Effort made by anyone to improve relations between the atheist community and the believing public is a step in the right direction.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 15, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Good to know, cl.

  (Quote)

NFQ June 15, 2010 at 1:47 pm

cl: Since Ajay and I made basically the same point, I’ll hazard a response. I think there’s a difference between “I think you’re wrong” and “I think that an almighty and perfect being has deemed you evil.” When I respect a debate opponent, I am respecting someone who I believe is earnestly seeking the truth just as I am, but who has reached a different conclusion. Perhaps they will turn out to be right in the end, and we’ll argue it out and see. … That is not really how Christians tend to characterize atheists.

  (Quote)

cl June 15, 2010 at 3:01 pm

NFQ,

I think there’s a difference between “I think you’re wrong” and “I think that an almighty and perfect being has deemed you evil.”

Why?

When I respect a debate opponent, I am respecting someone who I believe is earnestly seeking the truth just as I am, but who has reached a different conclusion.

When a reasonable believer politely states that an earnest unbeliever is in danger of Hell, is that believer not similarly respecting an earnest seeker of truth who they believe has arrived at a different conclusion?

That is not really how Christians tend to characterize atheists.

Agreed, but I’m looking for support for Ajay’s claim of a paradox.

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig June 15, 2010 at 4:28 pm

The “Doctrine of Universal Salvation” has been orthodox in the Catholic church for quite a while now so we atheists are fine :)

I don’t know of a serious theologian who holds the view that infidels will get eternal punishment, its a pretty disgusting doctrine that belongs now mostly to evangelical Protestantism.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 15, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Thanks atheist.pig, that awareness is too often missing from these discussions. There is a fine line between presenting Hell as the necessary consequence of personal choices vs the righteous will of a loving and just God. The first can be discussed openly between equals like smoking or global warming; the second deserves universal derision.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 15, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Be Scofield: And atheism is one of the fastest growing identities in America. It’s now the third largest group behind Catholics and Baptists. People are fed up with the abuse scandals, hypocrisy, violence and rejection of scientific progress that is associated with so many religions and their teachings.

While abuses by religious organizations of various sorts may get people to think, it is important to keep a few things in mind when tallying up demographic totals.

* Religions, while they tend to be strongly associated with theisms, are not theisms. Some of the new atheists were atheists before, but were religious. The abuses may have only lead them to dropping the religious aspects of their identity not gaining an atheistic one.

* A trend in younger people in not identifying with specific theism-linked religions. This accounts for the rise in unaffiliated but theistic as well as (noting the above comment) a more visible unaffiliated and atheistic group.

Taking these two together, atheists probably have always been there in similar numbers to what is being reported now. The difference is that the religious link is no longer strong, their lack of theistic belief comes out. It should be noted that this also works the other way. Just as we see scandal after scandal where Christian who spend effort persecuting homosexuals are often enough homosexuals, I suspect that some of those who speak against atheism or for a specific religious or theistic idea protest too much.

There are also other combinations, but I wanted to point out that the atheists who are religious are seldom addressed. What we see is probably largely a drop in religious practice that was obscuring existing atheism.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 15, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Atheist.pig:
I don’t know of a serious theologian who holds the view that infidels will get eternal punishment, its a pretty disgusting doctrine that belongs now mostly to evangelical Protestantism.

Beyond the courtiers, the evangelicals are quick to cite John 3:16. If so, they have probably read John 3:17-21 as well and take that as true as well.

  (Quote)

Sarah June 15, 2010 at 7:29 pm

A Christian has nothing to offer to an atheist in the way of friendship. The situation would be pretty ludicrous. This person is either your friend with the intention of converting you or is your friend and doesn’t mind the “fact” that you’re going to spend an eternity in hell suffering unimaginable pain forever and ever and ever. Neither option is palatable or acceptable.

Christianity and atheism do not mix in the arena of friendship. Period. End of story.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 15, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Sarah,

Really? Christian-atheist friendships are very common. Almost every atheist I know has some friends who are Christian.

  (Quote)

Mark June 15, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Atheists can definitely be friends with Christians. But I don’t think that I personally could be very close friends with anyone who thinks that I and my entire family deserves to, and will, suffer eternally. That’s a little much.

  (Quote)

ayer June 15, 2010 at 8:17 pm

“Atheists can definitely be friends with Christians. But I don’t think that I personally could be very close friends with anyone who thinks that I and my entire family deserves to, and will, suffer eternally. That’s a little much. ”

If Christians can be friends with atheists who consider them totally deluded and irrational, and with Muslims who think Christians are going to hell (and I know from personal experience that such friendships are possible), then atheists should not have a problem with befriending Christians

  (Quote)

al friedlander June 15, 2010 at 8:25 pm

“This person is either your friend with the intention of converting you or is your friend and doesn’t mind the “fact” that you’re going to spend an eternity in hell suffering unimaginable pain forever and ever and ever. Neither option is palatable or acceptable. ”

“Really? Christian-atheist friendships are very common. Almost every atheist I know has some friends who are Christian. ”

I definitely see where you’re coming from, but I’m going to have to agree with Luke here. An example I can think of right off the bat is the relationship between me and my family. They most definitely, truly care about me, and also believe in the gospels. They never really force the idea of re-conversion back onto me. I can tell, however, that they really do wish I did. Not due to arrogance, but rather, in the hope that ‘I attain salvation’.

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig June 15, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Hermes:
Beyond the courtiers, the evangelicals are quick to cite John 3:16. If so, they have probably read John 3:17-21 as well and take that as true as well.

I could roll off 5 interpretations of that passage in a few minutes Hermes. Generations of American Christians have gotten their moral code and interpretations from people like Falwell and Robertson and by all accounts its getting worse. But people like Robertson have to ignore the central teachings of Jesus who would be seen as a radical liberal in Robertsons church today.

  (Quote)

Mark June 15, 2010 at 8:29 pm

If Christians can be friends with atheists who consider them totally deluded and irrational, and with Muslims who think Christians are going to hell (and I know from personal experience that such friendships are possible), then atheists should not have a problem with befriending Christians

Yeah, I think there’s a pretty huge gulf between “deluded” and “deserving of eternal torment.” And I don’t doubt that such friendships are possible, just that I could bring myself to enter into a close one.

  (Quote)

ayer June 15, 2010 at 9:46 pm

“Yeah, I think there’s a pretty huge gulf between “deluded” and “deserving of eternal torment.” And I don’t doubt that such friendships are possible, just that I could bring myself to enter into a close one. ”

Under Christian theology everyone is “deserving” of eternal torment because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”–including Christians. Salvation is by grace, a free gift of God that just needs to be accepted.

  (Quote)

Justin June 15, 2010 at 9:55 pm

This person isn’t defending atheism… She is trying to foster better relations between believers and non believers; that is not a trivial difference in my view.

This might sound cynical but I find it hard to believe she is sincere. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a religious person talk about creating better relations between atheists and theists yet when the time comes (that is when they are in a position to do something positive for that cause) do absolutely nothing to achieve it.

If she is indeed sincere, she has stiff competition from her fellow believers. I suppose we shouldn’t dismiss or ignore her outstretched hand but I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high we can achieve what she is suggesting.

(On a different note: Can we stop using the term “New Atheism”? It really is, in my view, a term used pejoratively. It implies atheism in some novelty or a phase/fad that will soon be gone. Does anyone else feel this way about this term?)

-Justin

  (Quote)

Mark June 16, 2010 at 12:26 am

Under Christian theology everyone is “deserving” of eternal torment because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”–including Christians.

So what? I don’t see how that makes the doctrine (much) less disturbing. Presumably you couldn’t be close friends with a Nazi who thought all Jews should be murdered. Are you saying you could be friends with a psychopath who thought everyone (including himself) should be murdered?

  (Quote)

ayer June 16, 2010 at 4:37 am

@Mark,

I can be friends with the Muslim who thinks I am going to eternal damnation because I am confident he is mistaken about that, as long as he does not use force to impose his religion on me in this life–so his belief about the afterlife does not bother me (if he wants to use violence to “convert” me, well then that’s another matter). I’m not sure why an atheist could not take the same attitude toward the Christian.

If an insane person believes he himself should be murdered, it will be difficult to be friends with that because presumably they will commit suicide and not be around.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 16, 2010 at 5:10 am

Even if it seems (to some) that Christians and atheists can’t be friends in theory, the empirical facts say otherwise.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 16, 2010 at 5:27 am

Ayer: Under Christian theology everyone is “deserving” of eternal torment because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”–including Christians. Salvation is by grace, a free gift of God that just needs to be accepted.

Does this apply to all Christians, or only a subset?

  (Quote)

Hermes June 16, 2010 at 5:31 am

Even if it seems (to some) that Christians and atheists can’t be friends in theory, the empirical facts say otherwise.

Agreed.

This lightens my heart, actually, since it is one indication that even Christians don’t believe everything they are told or they follow a greater moral standard intuitively. In the later case, ignorance of dogma, at least, can indeed lead to bliss.

  (Quote)

Walter June 16, 2010 at 6:39 am

I have many friends who are believers. We tend to share interests and hobbies. I stay friends with the ones who do not obsess about their beliefs and constantly try to proselytize me. Of course, if one truly believes in an eternal hell–and they believe that all can potentially escape that fate–then you would think that they would be doing all they could to rescue me. Maybe a lot of ‘em don’t believe as much as they pretend to on Sunday.

Predestinarian types believe that only a few are selected for grace, and it is up to God to save you–it’s not their problem.

  (Quote)

ayer June 16, 2010 at 7:12 am

“Does this apply to all Christians, or only a subset? ”

Do you mean the belief that “all have sinned” and therefore need eternal salvation? Well, that would be the official view of Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, etc. Of course, there could be individual theologians or believers within those traditions who dissent.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 16, 2010 at 7:18 am

Thanks Ayer. Do you think that John 3:16-21 also applies in the same general way?

  (Quote)

Hermes June 16, 2010 at 7:22 am

(Note to Ayer: I agree with your current assessment and expect you to basically answer “yes” to my follow up question. I would agree with that as well.)

  (Quote)

ayer June 16, 2010 at 7:57 am

@Hermes,

Yes, I believe all of those traditions accept John 3:16-21 as consistent with their official doctrine.

  (Quote)

Eneasz June 16, 2010 at 8:13 am

Fundamentalist christians and atheists can (and often are) friends because most fundies don’t believe their own religion. They say they do, and they generally think that they do, but their actions speak to the contrary. If they really believed what they claim to, they wouldn’t stop praying for someone to be healed just because the person died. They wouldn’t hesitate to torture/burn heretics in order to save their immortal souls. They would celebrate at funerals and look forward to their own death.

Obviously it is a GOOD thing that they are hypocritical about what they believe, so I tend not to point these things out to them. I have no desire to return to the dark ages.

So even though your friend may say he believes you’re going to hell, and even though he may think that he believes you’re going to hell, he really doesn’t.

  (Quote)

Matt June 16, 2010 at 8:25 am

Quick Hypothetical…
You and your brother are stranded on an island. You both instinctually go in search of food for survival. You both find food and eat. Turns out that you remain healthy and thrive on your food, while your brother looks sickly and seems to be losing weight. Do you tell your brother about the food you have been eating and the results you have had? Your brother doesn’t listen and thinks he is fine as he is… but you just know that he could have so much more if had what you had.

Is it judgmental for you to tell someone else in the same predicament as you where you found a greater abundance of life, fulfillment, peace, and joy than anywhere else you have found? I feel evil for not telling. The common sense response to good news is to listen, even if you believe that all is good in your life. Dear atheist brothers and sisters…

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man/woman who takes refuge in him.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 16, 2010 at 8:44 am

Atheist.pig, I agree with Ayer. Do you consider what Ayer and I have just talked about to be a ‘central teaching of Jesus Christ’ as held by Christians in general?

  (Quote)

Hermes June 16, 2010 at 8:56 am

Eneasz, good summary.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 16, 2010 at 8:58 am

Matt, the analogy isn’t accurate.

  (Quote)

Lorkas June 16, 2010 at 9:13 am

I’ve already tasted that food, and it’s rotten.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 16, 2010 at 9:19 am

Ayer is incorrect about the teaching of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. They teaches that all are in need of salvation because man’s fallen nature. Even Mary (the mother of Jesus) who was not guilty of sin (even original sin) needed salvation. I can provide references later when not working from my phone if requested.

  (Quote)

Jeff H June 16, 2010 at 11:17 am

It’s more like there are a hundred people on the island, and they all seem to have independently found food on different beaches, yet when the last person goes to check, he finds them huddled over spreading imaginary icing onto the sand and eating it.

Taste and see that the sand is good.

  (Quote)

cl June 16, 2010 at 11:36 am

Justin,

[New Atheism] implies atheism is some novelty or a phase/fad that will soon be gone. Does anyone else feel this way about this term?

There’s a reason the term has a pejorative connotation, IMO: the New Atheists are part of a phase or fad, and I hope it will soon be gone. How did it get that way? It’s like rave culture, punk rock, skateboarding or anything else that begins as a grass-roots movement with some degree of cross-culture integrity: the bigger and “more popular” it gets, the more watered down. New Atheists are to atheism what Fundies are to theism.

Mark,

Presumably you couldn’t be close friends with a Nazi who thought all Jews should be murdered. Are you saying you could be friends with a psychopath who thought everyone (including himself) should be murdered?

Sorry, but somebody needs to call you out for this horrid argument. For one, the God most Christians believe in doesn’t believe all people should be murdered. Second, the God most Christians believe in wants as many as possible to be saved.

You can jeer at that all you want, but at least get your comparison straight.

Eneasz,

If they really believed what they claim to, they wouldn’t stop praying for someone to be healed just because the person died. They wouldn’t hesitate to torture/burn heretics in order to save their immortal souls.

That’s a terribly vague argument, utterly devoid of citations or support. Who does “they” refer to? Actual people? Hypothetical people? What beliefs do “they” claim to believe? On what grounds do you make prescriptions regarding what Christians should believe?

Can you explain any of this?

Matt,

I think your analogy works, and so far, all we have in response is a flat-out dismissal from one commenter, and a red herring from another.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 16, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Ayer, do you agree with Zeb’s comments?

  (Quote)

Hermes June 16, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Cl: New Atheists are to atheism what Fundies are to theism.

Now now … shame on you.

‘New atheists’ are people who are annoyed enough to ask a simple question publicly;

You believe what?

If theistic religious people didn’t make such a fuss, you’d not even notice that atheists — pejoratively ‘new’ or not — have always been here, from your silent neighbors through to speaking from Christian pulpits, dressed in priestly vestments.

  (Quote)

ayer June 16, 2010 at 2:25 pm

“Ayer, do you agree with Zeb’s comments? ”

I’m not sure why he is saying I am incorrect, since I agree with his description of Catholic and Orthodox doctrine.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 16, 2010 at 3:00 pm

That’s what I thought, but I wanted to verify it with you. Thank you.

  (Quote)

Mark June 16, 2010 at 3:43 pm

ayer:

I’m not sure why an atheist could not take the same attitude toward the Christian.

I guess some atheists could. But I couldn’t, for the same reason I couldn’t be friends with a Nazi who’s civilized enough not to try to murder me (but would merrily cheer on a Hitler for doing so).

cl:

Sorry, but somebody needs to call you out for this horrid argument. For one, the God most Christians believe in doesn’t believe all people should be murdered. Second, the God most Christians believe in wants as many as possible to be saved.

Wow, you’re really confused. First, I wasn’t saying that Christians want non-Christians murdered. I was only using the example to illustrate the absurdity of ayer’s defense, which basically amounts to saying that a doctrine cannot be morally depraved if it applies to everyone indiscriminately. “Everyone deserves to suffer eternally” isn’t more palatable than “Non-Christians deserve to suffer eternally,” just as “Everyone deserves to be murdered” isn’t more palatable than “Jews deserve to be murdered.”

Second, if I wanted I actually could argue that many if not most orthodox Christians are worse than those who believe everyone should be murdered: for they believe that everyone deserves and therefore should receive eternal suffering. Of course, they still regret this fact and hope everyone reaches salvation, but strictly speaking they believe that it’s only just that the hellbound should reap their rewards. To analogize once more, this is hardly better than a Nazi who thinks it ever so tragic that the Jews must be exterminated rather than peacefully assimilated, but ultimately necessary and just because they refuse to give up their identity and evil ways.

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig June 16, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Hermes:Atheist.pig, I agree with Ayer. Do you consider what Ayer and I have just talked about to be a ‘central teaching of Jesus Christ’ as held by Christians in general?

In fundamentalist churches, yes. There’s many versions of Jesus. We see some people on this thread believe in the vindictive Jesus. I take it Zeb doesn’t, as an atheist I’d consider Zeb a more spiritually mature Christian.
Just to give some idea of what I’m talking about here’s a different view* that many outside evangelical churches hold. This seems like a more mature and sensible view of God, I’m playing Gods advocate here of course.

* Here’s the link: http://splicd.com/eR7K7nkad0U/325/420

  (Quote)

ayer June 16, 2010 at 5:33 pm

“There’s many versions of Jesus. We see some people on this thread believe in the vindictive Jesus.”

My view is not “fundamentalist” and it is certainly not “vindictive”. I agree with Greg Boyd when he says:

“As I put aspects of the biblical narrative together, I am led to the conclusion that God wants everyone saved and the Holy Spirit is working in every person’s heart to bring them into salvation. (The issue of whether people need to be brought to the point where they consciously choose Christ to be saved is a separate matter). But the Holy Spirit will not work coercively, for coerced love is not genuine love. So it is that through the Bible we have warnings to not resist the Holy Spirit (e.g. Acts 7:51; Eph 4:30; Heb 3:7-8). The Holy Spirit will bring us to the point where we can believe, but never to a point where we must believe. So, if we do believe, it is all credited to God’s grace, working through the Spirit. If we refuse, however, it’s our own fault.”
http://www.gregboyd.org/qa/holy-spirit/if-salvation-depends-on-our-free-choice-how-are-we-saved-totally-by-grace/

Boyd also believes hell to be annihilation of those who reject God, not “eternal torture”, which I also agree with. See http://www.gregboyd.org/qa/end-times/are-you-an-annihilationist-and-if-so-why/
This view is entirely (small “o”) orthodox and evangelical. Universalism is more of a stretch, but I know one small “o” orthodox theologian, Han Urs Balthasar, defended it well. See http://www.medaille.com/hope.htm

  (Quote)

ildi June 16, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Don’t forget purgatory. Jesus died to cleanse us of original sin but you get punished for your personal sins in purgatory. Saints (including Mary) get a “get out of jail free” card and get to go straight to heaven. Mary was also spared the stain of original sin (ergo ‘immaculate conception’). Even Judas potentially avoided hell if he asked for forgiveness right before he died, but you betcha in that case he’s spending a long, long time in purgatory. Your guardian angel keeps an accounting of your good and bad deeds which is used to determine how long you have to stay in purgatory. People can pray to reduce your time. Used to be unbaptized babies and virtuous pagans went to limbo, but I guess limbo is no longer kosher.

There you go; Cliffs notes to Catholicism!

  (Quote)

Hermes June 16, 2010 at 5:49 pm

In fundamentalist churches, yes.

That’s not what Ayer wrote, nor is that what I’m commenting on. He specifically noted a wide range of Christian sects that seems to cover the vast majority of Christians. Are you saying that Ayer is incorrect, and I’m incorrect for agreeing with him?

For reference, not counting the “etc.”, here’s the breakout from just the ones he mentioned;

Total Christians: 2,100 million (100%)

Catholic – 1,050 million
Eastern Orthodox – 240 million
Pentecostal – 105 million
Baptist – 70 million
Methodist – 70 million
Anglican – 73 million

Total: 1608 million (76.6%)

Sources: http://www.adherents.com/adh_branches.html#Christianity http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html plus some minor calculations.

The reason why I’m bringing this up is that it’s best to keep to facts when they are available.

That said, it is true that specific denominations and subgroups of Christians are more vocal about specific beliefs/dogmas. Yet, this doesn’t mean it’s not in there with the less vocal groups or individuals.

Case in point, I was talking with a relative of mine about his religious beliefs, and his description of what he believed was very close to what a deist would say. That was quite encouraging, yet when I asked questions specific to Christianity (both his sect and in general) he talked as strongly about those beliefs as he did on what I took to be his deistic ones.

While I could say that he’s either deceiving himself and he really follows a deist-like belief system or he is not consistent with his beliefs, the bottom line is that he told me directly what his beliefs were. To ignore what he said would be unfair to him regardless of what I think about his answer.

Besides, I find it annoying when theists — Christians or not — feel justified in telling me what I believe. It would be hypocritical to dismiss what they say about themselves without a very very good reason even if my intentions were to be generous towards them.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 16, 2010 at 8:43 pm

ayer, I’m not trying to pick a fight, but when you said, “Do you mean the belief that “all have sinned” and therefore need eternal salvation?,” and I said, “Even Mary (the mother of Jesus) who was not guilty of sin (even original sin) needed salvation.,” you don’t see a disagreement?

You did not specifically attribute this

Under Christian theology everyone is “deserving” of eternal torment because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”–including Christians.

to Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, but I wanted to underline the distance between those churches and that statement, in contrast to the universal implication of your “under Christian theology.” The Eastern churches especially have de-emphasized the juridical metaphors for salvation. In fact they reject “original sin” as an actual transgression that needs to be forgiven (much less atoned for), instead casting the issue as a fallen nature that needs to be rectified. These are my own words, but it seems to me more like a physician healing an injury or illness than a judge pardoning or punishing for a transgression. The Catholic Church did buy more into the juridical metaphor, and though I don’t know a lot about Protestant theology, what I have heard suggests they really took that metaphor to extremes.

But from your Greg Boyd quote (which I agree with entirely, putting me perhaps a little outside the standard interpretations of my Catholic tradition), it sounds like your are disagree with your own earlier statement: “everyone is “deserving” of eternal torment” vs. “Boyd also believes hell to be annihilation of those who reject God, not “eternal torture”, which I also agree with.”

Am I interpreting your words to literalistically?

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig June 16, 2010 at 9:05 pm

HermesThat’s not what Ayer wrote, nor is that what I’m commenting on. He specifically noted a wide range of Christian sects that seems to cover the vast majority of Christians. Are you saying that Ayer is incorrect, and I’m incorrect for agreeing with him?

Well pardon me all over the place, I guess I should have been more anal. Let me be more precise.

ayerDo you mean the belief that “all have sinned” and therefore need eternal salvation? Well, that would be the official view of Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, etc. Of course, there could be individual theologians or believers within those traditions who dissent.

(Zeb seems to disagree with this so maybe maybe he will comment later but for now I’ll proceed)

Eternal punishment or hell isn’t mentioned in this quote, the Doctrine that “all have sinned and therefore need eternal salvation” is different from “all have sinned and therefore need eternal salvation but people can only get salvation by believing in Christ and if they choose not to then they will be annihilated or suffer eternal punishment in hell

So my claim was that the “Doctrine of Universal Salvation or General Grace” in the Catholic church is supported by all the major denominations. Bill Hurlbut states this in the video link I provided where he also quotes Father Benedict Groeschel who is the director of the Office for Spiritual Development for the Catholic Archdiocese of New York who said:

“there’s good religion and there’s bad religion,Bad religion increases fear but good religion increases love.”

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig June 16, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Posted that the same time as Zeb, after reading Zeb’s comment I guess he also thinks we atheists will be annihilated. It seems Gods love is conditional on where your born, how your raised, and such a petty thing as what you believe.

  (Quote)

noen June 16, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Am I interpreting your words to literalistically?

People here, atheist and theist alike, interpret everything too literally. Literalism is the absolutist demand of Fundamentalism, atheist or religious, that life be reduced to a set of rigid binary decisions, Either/Or.

Both atheistic and religious fundamentalism is a reactionary response to the incompleteness of life. It is the response of the Zombie, of the living dead, of the nihilist seeking release in non-being. Atheistic and religious absolutism is death.

Life is not found in yourself, it is not found in the law, nor in rigid legalistic readings of sacred texts. The Atheist Pharisees and the religious unbelievers here deserve each other.

“I am the life”

Religion isn’t about right belief, that’s what science is about. Religion is about choosing a path in life. Some seem like a good idea, it feels good so do it, but they end badly. Religion at it’s best then asks that you be more than an animal that feeds, fucks and sleeps. So there is a lot of claptrap that surrounds it but if you strip all that out that’s what you end up with.

Pulling a single quote from the Bible and then engaging in endless debate over what it means is theological onanism.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 16, 2010 at 10:02 pm

No atheist.pig, I was agreeing with a very strict interpretation of Blue’s words as related by Ayer. On the issue of Christian belief (or “the gift of faith” if you will) I agree that it is offered but not forced by the working of the Holy Spirit in a person. That was precisely my experience. On the issue of Hell I find annihilation to be the only acceptable interpretation. I believe it results from rejection of God, not rejection of belief in God. Rejection of God himself ought to necessarily include willfull rejection of all of his aspects, works, and gifts, including his sustenance of your existence. Merely rejecting all known concepts of God is not enough. And while I do believe that some sort of Hell must be an available fate for all humans, I also believe with the Catholic Church that it is possible that no human will end up “there.”

  (Quote)

Zeb June 16, 2010 at 11:15 pm

A minor correction to ildi’s comment, if anyone cares. A saint is any person who is in heaven. The canonized saints are the ones the Church claims to know are in heaven. That does not necessarily mean they avoided purgatory. However, any person can avoid purgatory through sufficient penitence for all their sins while on earth. God only knows how much penitence is needed for what state of sinfulness (medieval indulgences notwithstanding). I realize this is at best interesting trivia if you don’t believe in it.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 17, 2010 at 2:39 am

Atheist.pig: Well pardon me all over the place, I guess I should have been more anal. Let me be more precise.

Atheist.pig: Eternal punishment or hell isn’t mentioned in this quote

That’s why I took the extra step to ask Ayer specifically about John 3:16-21 but not just the oft quoted by evangelicals John 3:16.

Note that while the evangelicals do make a big deal about that one sentence that does not mean they and other Christians in general do not agree with the rest. Their leaders surely do as a point of dogma. I’ve encountered a similar sentiment from moderately religious family and friends who were or are Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists, and felt early in my life a similar sense of privilege tied to specific sectarian religious ideas.

So my claim was that the “Doctrine of Universal Salvation or General Grace” in the Catholic church is supported by all the major denominations.

The game token of theistic Christianity is stamped with more than one side, and neither is divided from the other.

  (Quote)

ayer June 17, 2010 at 6:40 am

“Am I interpreting your words to literalistically?”

Zeb,

You are right, thank you for the corrections. I agree that Mary is considered not to have “original sin” by Catholic and Orthodox tradition (although still in need of salvation). And I should have modified “eternal torment” to “eternal separation from God” which likely involves ultimate annihilation. I also agree that Eastern Orthodox take a less juridical view of the Fall, but Catholic, Orthodox and almost all protestants would agree that sin is the reason for the need for salvation, which is why God “gave his only Son” (John 3:16). Sorry for my poor expression of what I was trying to say.

  (Quote)

ayer June 17, 2010 at 6:48 am

ZEB: “No atheist.pig, I was agreeing with a very strict interpretation of Blue’s words as related by Ayer. On the issue of Christian belief (or “the gift of faith” if you will) I agree that it is offered but not forced by the working of the Holy Spirit in a person. That was precisely my experience. On the issue of Hell I find annihilation to be the only acceptable interpretation. I believe it results from rejection of God, not rejection of belief in God. Rejection of God himself ought to necessarily include willfull rejection of all of his aspects, works, and gifts, including his sustenance of your existence. Merely rejecting all known concepts of God is not enough. And while I do believe that some sort of Hell must be an available fate for all humans, I also believe with the Catholic Church that it is possible that no human will end up “there.””

Zeb,

I don’t see anything in your statement above that I disagree with. Universal salvation remains a possibility, but only if it is consistent with free will (since no one can be “forced” to accept salvation); but Urs Balthasar was certainly an (small “o”) orthodox Christian who held out this hope. Thus annihilationism is the more likely outcome.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 17, 2010 at 7:14 am

Thanks for clarifying ayer, we’re on the same page. Interestingly, some eastern theologians have taught that God would have become man even without the fall, so as to unite human and divine natures. That doesn’t contradict anything you’ve written, but emphasizes the positive side of salvation, compared to the western focus on the negative (salvation from sinfulness or damnation).

  (Quote)

Lee A.P. June 17, 2010 at 9:33 am

“Under Christian theology everyone is “deserving” of eternal torment because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”–including Christians. Salvation is by grace, a free gift of God that just needs to be accepted.”

Thats GREAT design! All his creatures deserve hell and through any action of their own, they are evil and suck at life. All good goes to God and all evil is their own fault! Smells like bull$hit ayer.

Can anyone explain how anything imperfect can come from a perfect being?

We are offered one of two answers.

1. This is the way he wants it (Predestination, Calvinism ect.)
2. Free will, which, I see as “magic” sense no one can really agree what this means.

  (Quote)

al friedlander June 17, 2010 at 2:38 pm

“We are offered one of two answers.

1. This is the way he wants it (Predestination, Calvinism ect.)”

This is why Christianity (or to be specific for people on this site, I suppose, ‘fundamentalist’ Christianity) is so frightening to me. For what it’s worth, it’s the only version of Christianity I’m familiar with, because of where I live. It was also the church where most of my friends and I were raised in.

I’ll be frank, annihilation-ism and universal salvation sound fantastic. God would seem infinitely less terrible if these notions could be -confirmed- for certain…

Problem is, who is right? For example, in my area, almost no one within miles is even familiar with these terms. I myself had to educate myself through the Internet.

And assuming the ‘fundy-Jesus’ is true, the -only- explanation that I can come up with (assuming God exists) is Predestination to ‘justify’ His actions. And man, that’s just -so- depressing…

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig June 17, 2010 at 3:53 pm

The only point I was trying to make on this thread is that the vile doctrine of “annihilation-ism and hell” has a profound and negative effect on a lot of young children. I doubt if a young child would feel any better if they thought they were going to be “annihilated” instead of “going to hell”. Although by no means does this only effect young children as I know adults who are also deluded into fearing hell.

Fortunately for me none of this nonsense or dogma ever infected my brain even as a child, but I knew other kids that were profoundly disturbed by this wicked doctrine.

I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished.

And this is a damnable doctrine.

~Charles Darwin

  (Quote)

ayer June 17, 2010 at 5:26 pm

“I doubt if a young child would feel any better if they thought they were going to be “annihilated” instead of “going to hell”.”

Then atheism would be just as disturbing to these children because if it is true we all face annihilation after death.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 17, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Then atheism would be just as disturbing to these children because if it is true we all face annihilation after death.

That’s the case, though, regardless of theisms or lack of theisms involved. The only difference is that one has humans tending to humans and the other adds to that an unknowable agent watching and not interfering though supposedly it is capable.

  (Quote)

cl June 17, 2010 at 5:54 pm

RE: Darwin – would that be the argument from personal distaste?

I could just as easily say, “I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish materialist atheism to be true; for if so the plain language of the claim(s) seem to show that every single living person will be eternally annihilated.”

I guess the damn-ability of that doctrine vs. the former is a matter of personal taste, eh? Personally, I prefer a doctrine where at least somebody makes it out alive, but that’s just me – I’m a “half-full” kind of guy.

Mark,

Wow, you’re really confused.

You’re right. Since your subsequent reply simply obfuscated thing further, I’m more than willing to drop the matter.

  (Quote)

cl June 17, 2010 at 5:56 pm

ayer,

Then atheism would be just as disturbing to these children because if it is true we all face annihilation after death.

That’s incorrect: atheism should be more disturbing to these children, because nobody makes it out alive. At least God gives us a chance.

  (Quote)

Mark June 17, 2010 at 6:11 pm

You’re right. Since your subsequent reply simply obfuscated thing further, I’m more than willing to drop the matter.

Eyeroll.

  (Quote)

cl June 17, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Mark,

Eyeroll.

Well then, maybe you can clarify. You said,

“Everyone deserves to suffer eternally” isn’t more palatable than “Non-Christians deserve to suffer eternally,” just as “Everyone deserves to be murdered” isn’t more palatable than “Jews deserve to be murdered.”

To say that everyone deserves to suffer eternally seems impartial, whereas to say that non-Christians deserve to suffer eternally seems bigoted. Similarly, to say that everyone deserves to be murdered seems impartial, whereas to say that Jews deserve to be murdered seems racist. You appear to be saying that impartiality “isn’t more palatable” than racism and bigotry. Frankly, you’re damn right I’m confused.

I’m more than willing to reconsider if you want to clarify what you’re saying.

  (Quote)

Mark June 17, 2010 at 6:48 pm

To say that everyone deserves to suffer eternally seems impartial, whereas to say that non-Christians deserve to suffer eternally seems bigoted. To say that everyone deserves to suffer eternally seems impartial, whereas to say that non-Christians deserve to suffer eternally seems bigoted. Similarly, to say that everyone deserves to be murdered seems impartial, whereas to say that Jews deserve to be murdered seems racist. You appear to be saying that impartiality “isn’t more palatable” than racism and bigotry.

“Everyone should be murdered” is less bigoted than “Jews should be murdered,” but it’s also much more psychopathic (since it prescribes the murder of billions more people). I think that aspect far outweighs the “impartiality.” Similarly “Everyone should suffer eternally” is at least as bad as “Non-Christians should suffer eternally.”

  (Quote)

Mark June 17, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Put another way, “I think we should kill ten Jews” is a bit worse than “I think we should kill ten people at random,” but few would say that it’s worse than “I think we should kill ten million people at random.”

  (Quote)

cl June 17, 2010 at 7:22 pm

What does any of that have to do with why you can’t be “very close friends” with a Christian?

  (Quote)

Mark June 17, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Because I find their beliefs unbelievably morally repulsive.

  (Quote)

cl June 17, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Then that’s a problem with you, not them.

  (Quote)

Mark June 17, 2010 at 7:49 pm

It’s a feature of me that I can’t be close friends with people who have sufficiently repulsive moral beliefs. (In fact, I think it’s a feature of pretty much everyone.) I don’t see how that’s a problem, however.

  (Quote)

JS Allen June 17, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Seems like he’s trying to score brownie points by being “not like those other Christians”. If I were atheist, I’d trust this guys just about as much as the whitebread Minnesotan coming into the ghetto saying, “I have plenty of black friends”.

Virtually all of my friends, acquaintances, and co-workers are atheists. I suppose it’s the same for anyone engaged in academia, biological science, economics, etc. There simply aren’t that many Christians around. The “coastal elite” are mostly atheist. In this sort of environment, Christians are regularly mocked, scorned, and discriminated against. The stuff that people have said to me and my family when they learn that I’m Christian is pretty hilarious; it’s as if they think that Christianity can rub off like cooties.

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig June 18, 2010 at 1:25 am

@ayerWho said anything about telling children atheism is true? (whatever that means). We’re talking about telling kids if they don’t believe in a certain God they will either be annihilated or burn in hell. This is fundamentalism and literalism at its worst. I take it you don’t take the Genesis account of creation literally. I know this is a fantastic fear tactic to use on children, but its emotional abuse. Let them make their own religious or secular journey when their old enough.

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig June 18, 2010 at 1:44 am

Personally, I prefer a doctrine where at least somebody makes it out alive,
atheism should be more disturbing to these children, because nobody makes it out alive. At least God gives us a chance.

Sounds like Nightmare on Elm Street or The Evil Dead, you sound like a child waiting for his reward from Freddy. Don’t worry kid, Freddy can only get you when your dreaming, but when our time comes, we won’t be doing any dreaming, we’ll be in a deep..deep..sleep.

  (Quote)

ildi June 18, 2010 at 3:39 am

Virtually all of my friends, acquaintances, and co-workers are atheists. I suppose it’s the same for anyone engaged in academia, biological science, economics, etc. There simply aren’t that many Christians around. The “coastal elite” are mostly atheist. In this sort of environment, Christians are regularly mocked, scorned, and discriminated against.

I would guess they heap the same mockery and scorn on, say, Scientologists, astrologers, homeopaths and other purveyors of woo.

  (Quote)

ayer June 18, 2010 at 6:03 am

“We’re talking about telling kids if they don’t believe in a certain God they will either be annihilated or burn in hell. This is fundamentalism and literalism at its worst.”

No, we’re talking about telling kids that if they reject God they will meet the same fate as if God didn’t exist at all–so if that’s frightening, it’s no more frightening than atheism.

As a side note, I find it hard to believe that most atheists, if they found out Christianity was true after death, would want to spend eternity worshiping God in a Christian heaven–would they choose annihilation?

  (Quote)

ayer June 18, 2010 at 6:23 am

“I would guess they heap the same mockery and scorn on, say, Scientologists, astrologers, homeopaths and other purveyors of woo. ”

I notice you left out “discriminated against.” That’s comforting.

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 18, 2010 at 6:39 am

Virtually all of my friends, acquaintances, and co-workers are atheists. I suppose it’s the same for anyone engaged in academia, biological science, economics, etc. There simply aren’t that many Christians around. The “coastal elite” are mostly atheist. In this sort of environment, Christians are regularly mocked, scorned, and discriminated against. The stuff that people have said to me and my family when they learn that I’m Christian is pretty hilarious; it’s as if they think that Christianity can rub off like cooties.

I am actually surprised how many of my co-workers at a biotech company at the East coast turned out to be believers, even church-going ones.

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig June 18, 2010 at 7:32 am

@ayer

No, we’re talking about telling kids that if they reject God they will meet the same fate as if God didn’t exist at all–so if that’s frightening, it’s no more frightening than atheism.

Ok ayer, keep peddling the doctrine. I give up.

  (Quote)

JS Allen June 18, 2010 at 8:12 am

I would guess they heap the same mockery and scorn on, say, Scientologists, astrologers, homeopaths and other purveyors of woo.

As a matter of fact, no. People don’t become less superstitious just because they abandon Christianity. It’s socially unacceptable to be a Christian, so the folks who would normally be speaking in tongues or catching “feelings” from Jesus now find their outlet in homeopathy, acupuncture, qigong, Oprah, and open lines of credit at the vitamin store.

  (Quote)

JS Allen June 18, 2010 at 8:24 am

I am actually surprised how many of my co-workers at a biotech company at the East coast turned out to be believers, even church-going ones.

The East coast may be somewhat behind West coast in this regard. And I doubt that the senior scientists and Ph.Ds will be very Christian. If someone is a young-earth creationist, nobody will give him a biology Ph.D, period. (And I can understand why; YEC is a sign of mental defect) But the vast, vast majority of people handing out the Ph.D’s in biology are committed materialists, so it’s hard to get a Ph.D without being a materialist. The few Christians who get through are normally professed materialists, and are ignorant enough about both materialism and Christianity that they don’t realize that they are professing two contradictory beliefs.

  (Quote)

Eneasz June 18, 2010 at 8:52 am

ayer

As a side note, I find it hard to believe that most atheists, if they found out Christianity was true after death, would want to spend eternity worshiping God in a Christian heaven–would they choose annihilation?

You know, this is an interesting question, I’ve thought about it a lot myself. I honestly don’t know. Some fates are worse than death, and I can’t decide if this is one of them. I suppose it would depend on which Christian God turns out to be up there. If it’s Fred Phelps’s, I’m gone. If it’s Fred Clark’s*, I’d be pretty darn happy!

ayer & atheist.pig

Re annihilation, I viscerally agree with ayer. I detest the fact that I will die, and the horror of the fact of death isn’t made any less horrendous just because it happens necessarily to everyone.

But upon consideration, I think atheist.pig is correct. Of the atheists I know, those that fear & despise death like I do were all raised in very religious families. Those who were raised in atheist families don’t have any fear of death like this. More of a buddhism-esque acceptance. I suspect that it may be religion that injects this fear of annihilation and therefore a person raised without any religion would be better off.

*http://slacktivist.typepad.com/ (I wish hyperlinks still worked in the comments)

  (Quote)

ildi June 18, 2010 at 8:59 am

I notice you left out “discriminated against.” That’s comforting.

My point being that they’re no more discriminated against than other peddlers of woo.

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 18, 2010 at 9:11 am

If someone is a young-earth creationist, nobody will give him a biology Ph.D, period. (And I can understand why; YEC is a sign of mental defect)

Why would anyone still seriously think that YEC is representative of the beliefs of any half-way informed Christian? Constantly bringing this up does not shed a favorable light on the atheistic cause.

But the vast, vast majority of people handing out the Ph.D’s in biology are committed materialists

Perhaps, perhaps not.

so it’s hard to get a Ph.D without being a materialist.

So you would have to profess materialism in order to be able to obtain your degree? Never heard of that one!

  (Quote)

JS Allen June 18, 2010 at 9:44 am

Why would anyone still seriously think that YEC is representative of the beliefs of any half-way informed Christian? Constantly bringing this up does not shed a favorable light on the atheistic cause.

There are still tons of them around. SBC is still the largest Christian denomination, and a large proportion of them are YEC. And intelligent design is only slightly less offensive to biologists.

But the vast, vast majority of people handing out the Ph.D’s in biology are committed materialists

Perhaps, perhaps not.

I’ve seen surveys showing that more than 90% of biologists are atheists, and evolutionary biology depends deeply on naturalistic reductionism. Every Ph.D. biologist I know would agree with Dawkins, although none have really thought through the implications of materialism.

So you would have to profess materialism in order to be able to obtain your degree? Never heard of that one!

If you assert a strong belief that there are things in this world (and particularly, biology) which are incapable of being reduced to the physical, you’ll be considered a superstitious freak. Biology departments are very cautious to not produce alumni who might start talking about magic extra-scientific forces, since that would discredit the school.

I personally know of at least two cases where someone was flat-out rejected from a Ph.D program for professing belief in intelligent design. Anyone who talks about an “immaterial” sphere which is outside of physics and science is considered to be a nutjob. Materialism is such a deep assumption in most sciences, that to reject it would seem to the scientists as if you’re saying the sky is green.

I don’t know of a single proponent of intelligent design who is doing Ph.D level work at a strong university. Not saying it’s impossible, but it’s pretty rare.

  (Quote)

ildi June 18, 2010 at 9:57 am

Why would anyone still seriously think that YEC is representative of the beliefs of any half-way informed Christian? Constantly bringing this up does not shed a favorable light on the atheistic cause.

Because 44 percent of U.S. adults fall into the uninformed category of believing that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so” (I will note that one could argue that the 2004 Gallup poll respondents don’t correspondingly believe that the earth was also created within the last 10,000 years.)

For the “informed” Christian, YEC organizations like the Institute for Creation Research offer

Professional Certificate Program

The Creationist Worldview is an innovative program of study designed to equip current and future Christian leaders with practical tools to effectively influence their world with the truths of Scripture. A formal science degree is not required, and those who can benefit from the Creationist Worldview program includes, but is not limited to, Christian men and women who hold various positions of influence within the community, educators, ministers and church leaders, business and industry experts, professionals in medicine and law, government officials, leaders in the fine arts, and high school and college students.

and Answers in Genesis:

Now earn college credit with Answers Education Online!

Students can now take APO 101 and earn 3 college credits from God’s Bible School & College, a regionally accredited Bible college located in Cincinnati, Ohio. To earn college credit in Creation Apologetics, simply contact God’s Bible School & College Distance Education Department and enroll in PH 235 Creation Apologetics. This course involves taking our Fall or Spring Foundations in Creation Apologetics Course (APO 101), as well as doing some additional outside reading and coursework.

Let’s not forget the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky:

This walk through history is the centerpiece of the Creation Museum and features amazing scientific and biblical answers for the world we live in today. Witness the true time line of the universe unfold through the 7 C’s of History—illuminating God’s redemptive plan throughout history.

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 18, 2010 at 10:03 am

If you assert a strong belief that there are things in this world (and particularly, biology) which are incapable of being reduced to the physical, you’ll be considered a superstitious freak. Biology departments are very cautious to not produce alumni who might start talking about magic extra-scientific forces, since that would discredit the school.

I happen to have a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and I was never ridiculed for my religious beliefs. The only thing that mattered was that I was good in science, and on that I have built my career.

  (Quote)

ayer June 18, 2010 at 10:30 am

“Every Ph.D. biologist I know would agree with Dawkins, although none have really thought through the implications of materialism.”

I would agree that methodological naturalism is required in biology, but Francis Collins’ career and accomplishments have not been hindered by his failure to embrace metaphysical materialism.

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 18, 2010 at 11:42 am

I would agree that methodological naturalism is required in biology, but Francis Collins’ career and accomplishments have not been hindered by his failure to embrace metaphysical materialism.

Exactly. Anyone within the field of science only cares about methodological naturalism; nobody cares what you think about metaphysical naturalism, because this is philosophy, not science.

Whoever asserts differently, doesn’t know from the inside how the scientific community really works.

  (Quote)

JS Allen June 18, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Isn’t Collins the exception that proves the rule? And he represents a brand of Christianity which is certainly not mainstream. 94% of biologists are atheists; which is way skewed relative to the general population.

That Wikipedia link quote Atkins as saying, “You clearly can be a scientist and have religious beliefs. But I don’t think you can be a real scientist in the deepest sense of the word because they are such alien categories of knowledge.” To me, that’s not a lot different from saying that a black person “can’t be a real person, in the deepest sense of the word”. The article excerpts some other common attitudes; and I’ve heard much worse from colleagues. If you haven’t encountered anything like that, then you and I must have different experiences. And you can’t really argue that Dawkins, Atkins, or Leuba are not “on the inside” of the scientific community.

Al, I’m curious if you espouse intelligent design; and if so, was your dissertation committee aware of this fact?

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 18, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Isn’t Collins the exception that proves the rule? And he represents a brand of Christianity which is certainly not mainstream.

Actually, it is mainstream. Most informed believers are science-friendly. The Catholic Church, the largest Christian demonination, embraces evolution. The fact that you think that Collins’ opinions are not mainstream, shows how removed from the real world your thinking is.

That Wikipedia link quote Atkins as saying, “You clearly can be a scientist and have religious beliefs. But I don’t think you can be a real scientist in the deepest sense of the word because they are such alien categories of knowledge.”

Nonsense. Atkins has not understood the difference between methodological naturalism (fundamental to science) and metaphysical naturalism (philosophy, not science).

In a 1998 statement,

http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309063647&page=58

titled Teaching about Evolution and Science, the American National Academy of Sciences (NAS) said:

Can a person believe in God and still accept evolution?

“Many do. Most religions of the world do not have any direct conflict with the idea of evolution. Within the Judeo-Christian religions, many people believe that God works through the process of evolution. That is, God has created both a world that is ever-changing and a mechanism through which creatures can adapt to environmental change over time.

“At the root of the apparent conflict between some religions and evolution is a misunderstanding of the critical difference between religious and scientific ways of knowing. Religions and science answer different questions about the world. Whether there is a purpose to the universe or a purpose for human existence are not questions for science. Religious and scientific ways of knowing have played, and will continue to play, significant roles in human history.

“No one way of knowing can provide all of the answers to the questions that humans ask. Consequently, many people, including many scientists, hold strong religious beliefs and simultaneously accept the occurrence of evolution.”

(This is not ‘accomodationism’, an accusation leveled lately against the NAS, but correct philosophy of science.)

If you haven’t encountered anything like that, then you and I must have different experiences. And you can’t really argue that Dawkins, Atkins, or Leuba are not “on the inside” of the scientific community.

Dawkins and Atkins are ‘scientific’ ideologues, which is different from the common practice of science. I repeat what I said above:

“Anyone within the field of science only cares about methodological naturalism; nobody cares what you think about metaphysical naturalism, because this is philosophy, not science.

“Whoever asserts differently, doesn’t know from the inside how the scientific community really works. ”

Al, I’m curious if you espouse intelligent design; and if so, was your dissertation committee aware of this fact?

I did espouse ID (without knowing the name of the ID movement; I lived in Europe until 1997), but not anymore; now I am a ‘die-hard’ evolutionist, after having informed myself better. It took me just a few weeks to switch once I really studied the issues, since due to my scientific background I grasped the issues quickly, and I had an open mind like I usually have (I also have an open mind towards atheism, but it has miserably failed to convince me). The realization that the origin of life most likely had natural causes, on the other hand, took me 2 and a half months to get at, because I had to dig deeply into the primary scientific listerature to convince myself.

No, nobody questioned me about ID during my dissertation because it was irrelevant to my scientific studies, which did not touch this issue.

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 18, 2010 at 1:59 pm

I overlooked to post that last, essential sentence from the statement of the National Academy of Sciences:

“Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. It is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes. Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.”

  (Quote)

dgsinclair June 18, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I agree with this sentiment entirely – dehumanizing our ideological enemies is not Christian or helpful. However, attacking their ideology by exposing logical flaws, or showing how the application of their ideas leads to suffering, should be done with candor and clarity.

However, I think that the approach to atheism and homosexuality, while similar in that we should not dehumanize, is different because sexual sin and unbelief are qualitatively different, and handled differently in scripture.

For example, while we could commend (command?) repentance for sexual sin, I’m not so sure we could do that for unbelief, since you can’t just start believing by an act of will, where you COULD stop at least the outward action of sexual sin.

But perhaps in both cases, this approach is faulty in that it does not address the deeper psychological or intellectual reasons for homosexuality or unbelief.

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 18, 2010 at 2:12 pm

JS Allen,

you quoted the Wikipedia link,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism#Among_the_Sciences

However, the link is wrong (talking about ‘objective’ quoting by atheists, hehe). The Nature survey specifically asked for “belief in a personal God who answers prayers”. It did not at all about a more distant God or a deistic God. The numbers of acceptance of such a God would undoubtedly be higher than the 6 % cited.

Also, you have overlooked that the 6 % acceptance refers to NAS scientists, not to scientists in general which were covered in a study cited earlier in that link. Belief in God is higher among scientists in general.

Thus, your assertion that “94 % of all biologists are atheists” is doubly flawed.

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 18, 2010 at 3:38 pm

talking about ‘objective’ quoting by atheists, hehe

I just realized that this might be misunderstood. I did not mean you, JS Allen, but the ones who quoted the two Nature studies in the Wikipedia link and ‘forgot’ to mention that a belief in a very specific personal God was asked for.

And, BTW, the “lesser” scientists (to my knowledge not a word the studies used) were already selected on merit above average.

  (Quote)

drj June 18, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Actually, it is mainstream. Most informed believers are science-friendly. The Catholic Church, the largest Christian demonination, embraces evolution. The fact that you think that Collins’ opinions are not mainstream, shows how removed from the real world your thinking is.

Nonsense. Atkins has not understood the difference between methodological naturalism (fundamental to science) and metaphysical naturalism (philosophy, not science).

I think it might depend on the axiomatic beliefs a religion requires one to believe, and the discipline of science in question. Certain religious axioms are simply incompatible with certain sciences (and even methodical naturalism).

For example, you simply cannot practice decent geology, while axiomatically believing that the world was created in 6 days, 10,000 years ago. But you can probably do lots of stuff with chemistry, or information science, etc.

Catholics generally believe that the natural world is also revealed truth, like scripture – and the facts of both, can shape one’s beliefs about the other. They can look at facts about the natural world, and use those facts to conclude that genesis is not literal history, and so forth. So they *can* make good scientists, in nearly any discipline.

  (Quote)

JS Allen June 18, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Actually, it is mainstream. Most informed believers are science-friendly. The Catholic Church, the largest Christian demonination, embraces evolution. The fact that you think that Collins’ opinions are not mainstream, shows how removed from the real world your thinking is.

No offense, but you’re being a pompous d-bag. You’re making broad statements with no substantiation, and then using ad hominem to make yourself seem more correct. Close to half of people in America think that evolution is entirely false. If you want to claim that Collins version of “theistic evolution” is mainstream Christianity, you need to back it up.

Thanks for confirming that your dissertation committee was unaware of your position on ID. And thanks for confirming that you had to drop ID to have a clean conscience as a scientist.

  (Quote)

drj June 18, 2010 at 4:16 pm

No offense, but you’re being a pompous d-bag. You’re making broad statements with no substantiation, and then using ad hominem to make yourself seem more correct. Close to half of people in America think that evolution is entirely false. If you want to claim that Collins version of “theistic evolution” is mainstream Christianity, you need to back it up.

The Catholic hierarchy has publicly endorsed evolution as the best explanation for the variety of life – but they still leave it to individual to accept or reject as a matter of conscience.

From my personal experience growing up as a Catholic, I perceived a lot of discomfort in the congregation about truly accepting TTOE. Now with the ID movement is in full swing, doing its best to market evolution as an atheist conspiracy, I think many Catholics are feeling a lot comfortable with ID, which is a pity.

Woe to Kenneth Miller.

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 18, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Thanks, drj, for correctly explaining the Catholic position on these issues. I am a Catholic myself.

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 18, 2010 at 4:58 pm

And thanks for confirming that you had to drop ID to have a clean conscience as a scientist.

That was not a matter of clean conscience. It was simply a matter of following the evidence, once I sufficiently confronted myself with it.

I would also have followed the evidence to atheism, had there been any. I am still open to possible evidence. Currently I am reading Gary Drescher’s Good and Real, upon Luke’s recommendation. Let’s see how that works out.

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 18, 2010 at 6:15 pm

I would also have followed the evidence to atheism, had there been any.

Correction: of course there is evidence in favor of an atheistic worldview, which explains why there are some rational people that embrace it. However, I do not find it sufficiently outweigh the evidence in favor of theism. And I don’t consider my judgment any less rational.

It is all a matter of weighing pro and con, which is a matter of judgment. For some people the balance tilts one way, for others the other way.

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig June 18, 2010 at 9:14 pm

@Al Moritz

Currently I am reading Gary Drescher’s Good and Real, upon Luke’s recommendation. Let’s see how that works out.

I’ll be ordering The Last Word by Thomas Nagel at your request when I get the chance Al. Let’s see how that works out. I might discover some more problems as you called them with naturalism, but I suspect we just approach these issues differently. Maybe what you call problems I’d call mysteries, mysteries that may or may not be knowable.

I personally wouldn’t have any issues with religious people (beyond friendly debates of course) if it wasn’t for the real world effects some of these beliefs have on people. As we see on this thread in the responses you’ve gotten because of your stance on evolution, plus a rather distressing view on homosexuality. Is this dis-heartening for you as a Christian?

  (Quote)

JS Allen June 18, 2010 at 9:47 pm

From my personal experience growing up as a Catholic, I perceived a lot of discomfort in the congregation about truly accepting TTOE. Now with the ID movement is in full swing, doing its best to market evolution as an atheist conspiracy, I think many Catholics are feeling a lot comfortable with ID, which is a pity.

I used to think that widespread anti-scientific hostility toward evolution was a relatively recent phenomenon. But then I did some research. It turns out that anti-evolution was a fundamental plank of American Christianity since the founding of the country.

Note that Catholicism was historically a very small fraction of American Christianity, and Christianity was historically a much larger fraction of the American population. And Christians today are more tolerant of evolutionary theory than ever before. So things are certainly better now than 50+ years ago — yet 50% of Americans say that evolution is “totally false”.

  (Quote)

JS Allen June 18, 2010 at 9:53 pm

And thanks for confirming that you had to drop ID to have a clean conscience as a scientist.

That was not a matter of clean conscience. It was simply a matter of following the evidence, once I sufficiently confronted myself with it.

I think we’re saying the same thing.

Like you, I believe that evolution is scientific fact. But the truth is, we both believe that proponents of ID or YEC have not followed the evidence, or have not made good judgments about the evidence. This is going to color our interactions with them.

When faced with two candidates for a single Ph.D position, you’re going to choose the candidate who “follows the evidence”. That’s pretty fundamental to science, and if someone refuses to follow the evidence, can they really be called a scientist, “in the truest sense of the word”?

  (Quote)

Zeb June 19, 2010 at 4:34 am

JS Allen, you often demonstrate a very rational and fair balance in your criticism, and I especially look forward to reading your comments. But in this thread you are completely talking out your ass.

It turns out that anti-evolution was a fundamental plank of American Christianity since the founding of the country.

How did the Puritans know to be anti-evolution 200 years before Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species?

SBC is still the largest Christian denomination.

Roman Catholicism is the largest denomination in America, in the world, and throughout history. If there is a “mainstream Christianity,” RC is it.

Note that Catholicism was historically a very small fraction of American Christianity, and Christianity was historically a much larger fraction of the American population.

How about some facts – In 1850 Catholics made up only five percent of the total U.S. population. By 1906, they made up seventeen percent of the total population (14 million out of 82 million people)—and constituted the single largest religious denomination in the country.
So right around the time that evolution had become widely accepted among scientists and was being introduced to the masses, Catholicism was the largest denomination in America. And “Since the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, the attitude of the Catholic Church on the theory of evolution has slowly been refined. For about 100 years, there was no authoritative pronouncement on the subject. By 1950, Pope Pius XII agreed to the academic freedom to study the scientific implications of evolution, so long as Catholic dogma is not violated[1]; since the late 20th century, its attitude has been one of great tolerance.”

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 19, 2010 at 5:11 am

Zeb,

Yeah, protestant groups often like to think they are ‘mainstream Christianity.’ I suppose every sect likes to think they are the ‘true’ believers. :)

  (Quote)

Zeb June 19, 2010 at 5:25 am

I suppose every sect likes to think they are the ‘true’ believers. :)

Yeah, witness the tendency of some Evangelicals to refer to “Christian” and “Catholic” like those are mutually exclusive terms. It’s understandable that an atheist coming from that sort of Christian tradition would bring those biases with him. But it’s not understandable why someone would make factual assertions without at least a quick google/wiki check.

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 19, 2010 at 6:09 am

When faced with two candidates for a single Ph.D position, you’re going to choose the candidate who “follows the evidence”. That’s pretty fundamental to science, and if someone refuses to follow the evidence, can they really be called a scientist, “in the truest sense of the word”?

In prinicipal terms I agree with you. In practical terms it is not that simple (please bear with me for the lengthy post).

1) Issues like Intelligent Design vs. evolution do not usually come up in job interviews, unless perhaps it is a position specifically in evolutionary biology. Just like issues like the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature never come up, except perhaps for a position in theoretical physics, and also there only in certain areas.

Fact is, I don’t know the stances of most of my scientist colleagues on Intelligent Design vs. evolution, or on the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature. Those things only come up in discussions about worldviews, which are more likely to occur on the web or among friends, rather than among colleagues.

2) What matters is that the candidate has a good track record in terms of achievements. If these are good, adherence to methodological naturalism is implied. In fact, I have never experienced myself a scientist who would not adhere to methodological naturalism in his/her daily work, it is simply a given. It is an essential part of the teaching of science as a craft, even though it is also an issue of the philosophy of science (science is in general only taught as a craft, the philosophy of science rarely comes up as an explicit teaching subject, even though it should).

What a scientist thinks outside the small area of expertise required for a position is pretty irrelevant in most cases.

Due to circumstances, my Ph.D. supervisor knew even before I started that I was a practicing Catholic.

3) There are many scientists out there who have screwy views on science, and they are accepted nonetheless. Case in point: many theoretical physicists believe that the multiverse is science, even though in principle it lies outside of access to observation and experiment *), the cornerstones of the natural sciences. And their opinions influence other scientists as well, in the vein of sometimes theoretical explanations being sufficient. In a discussion between an atheist friend of mine, another friend and myself, all three of us scientists, my atheist friend and I (who both like to label ourselves die-hard experimentalists) strongly agreed that parallel universes are not science for the reason cited, whereas my other friend, a very good experimental scientist in my company, was not so sure.

Fact is, many of the scientists that espouse the multiverse being science have impeccable scientific credentials or are even famous with an enormously strong record of achievement (witness Martin Rees). So it is hard to claim that these are not ‘real’ scientists, even though in my view they have screwed-up opinions about the philosophy of science, about what science really is and what its self-imposed limits are. Is it their fault? Perhaps they should have thought about these issues more clearly, but then, as I said, science is mostly just taught as a craft, and not as a philosophy, and that rather deficient formation in their young years continues to influence scientists as they get older and make significant contributions to the field.

*) due to the particle horizon: the maximum distance from which particles (i.e. also particles carrying information) could have traveled to the observer in the age of the universe. It represents the portion of the universe which we could have conceivably observed at the present day. Any other universe would lie outside this particle horizon.

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 19, 2010 at 7:10 am

@ Atheist.pig

I’ll be ordering The Last Word by Thomas Nagel at your request when I get the chance Al.

I am glad to hear that.

Let’s see how that works out. I might discover some more problems as you called them with naturalism, but I suspect we just approach these issues differently.

Probably so.

Maybe what you call problems I’d call mysteries, mysteries that may or may not be knowable.

I understand and respect that. However, I think you will appreciate from my perspective as a believer that, in order for me to switch to atheism, it is not a particularly burning intellectual incentive to have to trade explanations for ‘mysteries’. Especially since, unlike many believers who have become atheists, I have never (o.k., extremely rarely, and certainly not at this point) felt a serious conflict between religion and science.

I personally wouldn’t have any issues with religious people (beyond friendly debates of course) if it wasn’t for the real world effects some of these beliefs have on people. As we see on this thread in the responses you’ve gotten because of your stance on evolution, plus a rather distressing view on homosexuality. Is this dis-heartening for you as a Christian?

I am not sure I follow your argument.

  (Quote)

JS Allen June 19, 2010 at 9:59 am

Roman Catholicism is the largest denomination in America, in the world, and throughout history.

How did the Puritans know to be anti-evolution 200 years before Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species?

Doh! You’re right about both points, of course. Very sloppy about the timing of Darwin, since I just read an entire book about religious response to Darwinism. I was baptized Catholic, so didn’t mean to deliberately misrepresent. I was confused for exactly the reason Luke suggests — I recently read some SBC literature where they bragged about being the largest Christian demographic in the U.S. and showed some stats. Apparently they don’t consider Catholics to be Christian. (FWIW, I’m not associated with SBC; I am just following their politics as they freak out about dwindling membership). Protestants still outnumber Catholics in the U.S., though.

Regardless, I was simply making a point that hostility toward evolution is not a new or growing thing, as @drj suggested. The statistics show that it is an old and shrinking thing — but despite that, still formidable. Apparently more than half of Christians consider evolution to be “totally false”, which would make it hard to get jobs in biology.

The book I recently read was “Fundamentalism in American Culture”, and it traces the history of Christian attempts to influence the culture; with the war on Darwinism being the biggest focus. I was quite shocked at how early and complete the hostility to Darwinism was. It’s been a slow motion trainwreck from the time they took a hard stance. Completely effed up.

  (Quote)

JS Allen June 19, 2010 at 10:11 am

Issues like Intelligent Design vs. evolution do not usually come up in job interviews, unless perhaps it is a position specifically in evolutionary biology.

Come on. The advisor relationship with doctoral candidates and postdocs tends to be very personal; far more personal than the typical employee/employer relationship in my experience. It’s more like a complimentarian marriage; or like a master/slave relationship. And citations in peer-reviewed journals have a whole lot to do with how we feel about the people submitting the papers.

I know you’re trying to act like there is no problem, but the idea that this doctoral/postdoc environment is a purely objective meritocracy, is just not credible. Even corporate America doesn’t behave as a pure meritocracy, and it’s way better than academia.

So it is hard to claim that these are not ‘real’ scientists, even though in my view they have screwed-up opinions about the philosophy of science

This is a good point. In my experience, most scientists sweep the “philosophy of science” under the rug. That’s stuff that the crazies talk about.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 19, 2010 at 10:47 am

Ayer: No, we’re talking about telling kids that if they reject God they will meet the same fate as if God didn’t exist at all–so if that’s frightening, it’s no more frightening than atheism.

Well, that’s actually not an issue, because there is no life after death regardless of the existence of any deity.

Details: No souls, no way to get to an afterlife

  (Quote)

Hermes June 19, 2010 at 10:51 am

Ayer: As a side note, I find it hard to believe that most atheists, if they found out Christianity was true after death, would want to spend eternity worshiping God in a Christian heaven–would they choose annihilation?

See the above.

  (Quote)

Al Moritz June 19, 2010 at 11:23 am

Come on. The advisor relationship with doctoral candidates and postdocs tends to be very personal; far more personal than the typical employee/employer relationship in my experience. It’s more like a complimentarian marriage; or like a master/slave relationship. And citations in peer-reviewed journals have a whole lot to do with how we feel about the people submitting the papers.

You have a point here, but you are now talking about the relationship during the doctoral/postdoc process, I was talking about job interviews, before that relationship begins. And your original question/observation was about choosing a candidate, and my answer was addressing that.

And no, questions like ID vs. evolution do not usually come up even during that advisor/candidate relationship once it is established — at the most, in a joking atmosphere.

I know you’re trying to act like there is no problem, but the idea that this doctoral/postdoc environment is a purely objective meritocracy, is just not credible.

Again, correct, but that was not the point that I had addressed.

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig June 19, 2010 at 2:06 pm

@Al Moritz

I am not sure I follow your argument.

Never mind, not important.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment