Atheism II: A Strong Argument

(Atheism I is here)

What brought all of this to mind, made it begin taking shape, was my friend Aric’s recent post in which he talks about a need for a radical return to the doctrine of Total Depravity. It links, in my mind, to a very common argument that atheists put forward against the existence of God, and it goes something like this:

The world is exactly what we would expect it to be if religion were not true.

That is, there are thousands of religions which all contradict each other. People within a religion disagree with each other constantly. Religions make unverifiable claims as to miracles, revelation, and so on. Religious people, on the whole, are not demonstrably more morally good than non-religious people. Religion seems to support peacemakers as well as warlords, compassionate saints as well as hideous monsters, and everything in between.

In the case of Total Depravity, what the doctrine describes is a world in which one is often hard-pressed to identify where God is active. For an atheist, it is easier to just say that there is no God or gods, and instances where there might appear to be are rare and can be accounted for by other means.

You can see threads of this problem, actually, all throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, particularly in Exodus and the Kings cycle, God is depicted as regularly performing spectacular miracles. Yet there is always a problem with belief in false Gods, idolatry and the like. Why would this be the case if God was so regularly demonstrating God’s power and authority by divine fiat?

Let’s take the example of the Exodus. You’re a Hebrew, and God has just liberated you from slavery by doing things like turning the rivers to blood and killing all of the firstborn in Egypt, including the animals. These are acts of incomprehensible power over the natural world. You have been wandering through the desert, being fed every day miraculously so that you can keep traveling. You arrive at Mount Sinai, and your leader, Moses, goes up it to receive God’s law. You can clearly see a could of fire and lightening and smoke perched at the top of the mountain – God is right there.

So what do you do? You make some golden calves to worship.

Now, this would indicate that the Hebrews of the Exodus were possibly the stupidest people ever to live, if taken literally. There is no way they could be doubting that God exists, that God is going to care for them, and that God is in charge of their destinies.

What I think is going on here is something more mundane. It is a reflection of the fact of our existence that we do not have access to evidence like that depicted in the miracles of the Bible. The fact is, we have reason to doubt. People turn to idolatries and other gods because there is no divine fiat to which we can all refer for certainty. It is easy to reflect on one’s experience and wonder “where was God?” because God is hidden (or, of course, doesn’t exist).

Now, theology deals with this in a multitude of ways. Barth declares that God is revealed as hidden, and he talks about the hidden-ness of God. Apophatic mysticism and theology talks about what God is not in order to provoke an understanding of what God is that transcends words and concepts. Process theology finds ways to talk about God as limited in some way to explain why God’s activity is not readily apparent. Panentheism might claim that God is active in everything, so that pinning God down is as hard as pinpointing where the mind resides in the brain. Deism, the religion of many of our Founding Fathers, postulates that God is a divine watchmaker who sets the conditions for the cosmos and then provides a first cause and steps back to watch, but not intervene.

But the fact remains – God’s activity in the world is not readily apparent. The stamp of God on creation is not clearly visible. The test of this is whether the stamp is seen by people who are not raised to look for it. Certainly, some could come to faith in God through ‘general revelation’ in the world, but I think that number is probably in the minority. There are also a significant number of people who are raised to look for that God-stamp, and never see it, and so give up on faith entirely. In an increasingly secular world, and through philosophy going back as far as Aristotle or Confucious, we are able to account for the world without reference to a deity. Beauty does not seem to necessitate God. Morality does not seem to necessitate God. And so on.

So, the atheist argument needs to be dealt with seriously by everyone who wants to engage with the secular world around them, including the secular people around them:

The world is exactly what we would expect it to be if religion were not true.

I think that if your primary concern is certainty, iron-clad assurance that your own views about God are true, the above argument is a threat – I would say a very serious one. Everyone agrees with statements we make today about gravity because anyone can observe gravity, test the claims being made, and compare the claims to the results.

There is pervasive religious disagreement in the world because for religion, none of these things are true. Religion makes claims about a lot of things which are essentially unobservable. When attempts are made to test the observable claims of religion, the results tend to be indeterminate. When you attempt to compare the claims to the results, you get things like Total Depravity because the results are so far from what one would expect in a world where God was present, powerful, and good.

Coming next: Further Reflection, wherein answers are not provided.

37 thoughts on “Atheism II: A Strong Argument

  1. Doug,A lot to digest but a couple of observations.First: I’m not sure why you are so convinced that this type of philosophical discussion is threatening. You certainly raise some interesting points. Second: It is difficult to refer to the majority of the founders as deists after reading what they said and wrote. They may not have been what we consider as “Evangelical” today, but a significant number of them were Christians. Also, those that would be considered deists, obviously had a different view od deisism that we do today.Craig

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  2. Craig: welcome back!Its just been my experience that when I bring things like this up, I tend to be jumped upon now and again, so it seems that these discussions can be threatening to at least some. There is also a lot of rhetoric that equates “atheist” with “evil” or “without values”, etc.I though the founding fathers comment would spark some discussion. I call them deists because I don’t think they, for the most part, had an interventionist view of divinity. For them, I think that the majority probably did lodge things like the foundation of morality or human rights or logic or order in the universe with God, but did not expect God to dramatically intervene in human affairs.Of course these are all generalizations, maybe of little real value, but I think that the common conservative rhetoric that America’s founding values are identical to conservative evangelical values is pretty baseless, and I wanted to throw my hat in a bit.

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  3. Doug,I’ve been around, just haven’t been moved to comment much.A quick response. I agree that to equate 21st century Evangelical Christian values with the founders values is pointless. However, Franklin(who most would consider one of the most deist of the bunch) was the one who halted the constitutional convention to pray for God to intervene and to give the delagates wisdom in their task. That doesn’t sound like someone who did not believe that God was active in the world. Again after reading some of their writings It is a stretch to say that the mojority were deists. Especially considering the number of clergy.I am formulating some responses/questions to your thoughts that it’s too late to try to finish now. I do find this helpful because I had a volunteer on site this summer who was an atheist. Hostile to the point that she would not have volunteered to build houses for the poor, if the ministry/nonprofit that I work for would have articulated the basis on which it was founded during her orientation. WHile this is only one person, the fact that she was unwilling to do what by any standard would be considered benificial to the community with an explicitly Christian orginization, is troubling to me. I do agree that it is important to engage with people of different religions as well as the non/anti religious. I think that you are probably broad brushing a little bit as far as the “evil” or “no values” part. I’ll be anxious to see if/where this thread goes, and hopefully ad my two cents when I’m more coherent.

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  4. The Founding Fathers issue would be an interesting post or discussion, maybe in the future when I have time to look into it more. I’ve definitely observed that theists and secularists want to claim them as “our guys”, and I actually think you could probably make an argument either way as a whole, with various personalities leaning this way or that. Its hard to know what is sort of general civic religion and what is heartfelt faith. Actually, probably impossible to know.But anyway. I’ll be interested to see where this goes too. I don’t have time at the moment to plan very far ahead – I just write until I feel done and then leave things to stew. This is more about me than about any overriding Issues of Our Time, but that’s what blogging is for.

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  5. I like your presentation of this issue. You come at things from a totally different direction than me, but you raise good questions and I know there are a lot of people who wouldn’t hear what I have to say just because of how I say it. I suppose the same is true here, but it’s a different group of people.If pressed I would say that all people are either agnostic about the existence of God or deluded. The difference between a Christian agnostic and a secular agnostic is whether we choose to act on faith.

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  6. I know that is how it is for me, but I’ve also encountered plenty of people who don’t say they feel that way at all. Deep down, maybe I’m jealous of others’ apparent certainty. Agnosticism is certainly harder. What aggravates me is when, because I’m not certain, the claim is made that something is wrong with me, like I’m an idiot missing something obvious, or I lack some kind of super-faith, or I’m a “false teacher” or something. That drives me crazy. In this kind of agnosticism, we’re in some really good company.I’m also not sure how certainty = faith.

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  7. Doug,I would not want to generalize about all of the founders, but I think you would be suprised at how many of them were incredibly devout. I also, think you would be suprised to read that the founding documents were created to govern a people grounded in the “Judeo-Christian” worldview. It’s an interesting study, especiall what has been left out of the history texts (just look at the first part of the Mayflower Compact). Given the fact that we are in possesion of “the autographs” of many of the documents of the founders, and the fact that they were very clear about what they were saying I think we can get pretty close to what they believed. I won’t bore you with any more, but check it out when you ahve time.Hopefully I can add something that is actually in line with the topic.

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  8. “The world is exactly what we would expect it to be if religion were not true.”The problem with this sort of statement is that it carries with it an assumption that is more or less unfounded. That is to say, it is an exercise in begging the question. What sort of world would we expect to find if “religion were true?” What sort of world would we expect to find if “religion were not true?” We don’t have the luxury of viewing both a world in which religion is true and a world in which it is not. To look at the world and say, “This is what I would expect to find in a world where religion is not true” is an incomplete statement, just as is the opposite. Not spoken (but implied) is the preceding statement, “I take as a first principle that religion is untrue, therefore…”

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  9. @ PaulHmm. I think I disagree here. What I take to be the implied preceding statement to the claim is “If something is true, it will be possible to find evidence that it is so.” So in saying “The world is exactly what we would expect it to be if religion were not true”, what is being said is ‘the evidence to support religious claims is lacking, and it is possible to account for most (if not all) of the phenomina in the world using means outside of religious claims’.What the question becomes is what you demand in the area of “evidence” I think, and for a religious claim, those demands seemingly have to be minor.

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  10. ‘the evidence to support religious claims is lacking, and it is possible to account for most (if not all) of the phenomina in the world using means outside of religious claims’.It is equally possible to account for most (if not all) phenomena in the world using means outside of scientific claims, though. And most people aren’t looking for suppositions that match the evidence. They’re looking for evidence that matches their suppositions. The evidence has a distressing habit of not speaking for itself.

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  11. Doug,A few thoughts.“The world is exactly what we would expect it to be if religion were not true.”How can we even postulate what the world would be like without religion?The statement itself is meaningless because ones expectations would be based in totality on their view of religion. “That is, there are thousands of religions which all contradict each other.” Where do we put atheistic religions like Buddhism on your spectrum. The fallacy is the assumption that all religions are equally true. When 2 or more religions contradict each other only one can be true. So we must evaluate each against the real world in which we live. Then we can decide which one or no one to believe.“In the case of Total Depravity, what the doctrine describes is a world in which one is often hard-pressed to identify where God is active.” Pet peeve alert: To take the doctrine of total depravity (or any other) out of the context of the other four points of Calvin distorts the meaning of the doctrine. I will grant that total depravity on its own could lead to the above reaction. Where you see God’s activity is in the doctrines of unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. I am not arguing whether Calvin’s doctrinal interpretations are right or wrong I am simply saying that they all stand together. “For an atheist, it is easier to just say that there is no God or gods, and instances where there might appear to be are rare and can be accounted for by other means.”I think you are right; it is easier to say there is no God. If you believe Julian Huxley a large part of the attraction also has to do with freedom from biblical morality.“Now, this would indicate that the Hebrews of the Exodus were possibly the stupidest people ever to live, if taken literally. There is no way they could be doubting that God exists, that God is going to care for them, and that God is in charge of their destinies.” No argument here, the OT Hebrews had a pretty good deal going and they blew it. Unfortunately it’s that whole free will thing. God gave them the option to believe Him or not and they chose not to. I can’t explain it, but if we can take the scriptures at face value that would seem to be the case. “Now, theology deals with this in a multitude of ways.” Interesting that in all of the theological options you lay out Barth is the closest to historic orthodox Christian Teaching. Which of course does attempt to explain exactly the kind of things we are talking about.“Certainly, some could come to faith in God through ‘general revelation’ in the world, but I think that number is probably in the minority.” I think it is reasonable to surmise that indeed some have, just because we don’t know how many, there is no reason to dismiss them out of hand. “Morality does not seem to necessitate God. And so on.” We disagree on these so I’ll move on. But if you are setting the standard for proof at the level you seem to be (i.e. ironclad visible testable proof) then we are a long way from the above being anything more than an opinion.“The world is exactly what we would expect it to be if religion were not true.”This is not an argument, you can’t prove a negative. It is just as reasonable to posit the following: Were it not for religion, the condition of the world would be much worse. The problem is we have no way to evaluate either of these statements. So what you have is an interesting philosophical discussion, but nothing that can explain why things are the way they are.“Religion makes claims about a lot of things which are essentially unobservable. As well as about things which are observable. When attempts are made to test the observable claims of religion, the results tend to be indeterminate.” And yet archeology has been remarkably supportive of the Bible, less so of the Quran or The Book of Mormon.“When you attempt to compare the claims to the results, you get things like Total Depravity because the results are so far from what one would expect in a world where God was present, powerful, and good.” This is a huge leap of logic. Who gets to define what this mythological world looks like? Would a world where we are all a bunch of “shiny happy people laughing” better fit your/some atheists image of what this world would look like. “So, the atheist argument needs to be dealt with seriously” (of course it does, but seriously we’re probably talking about a pretty small segment of the US population. Maybe more so in Europe.) “by everyone who wants to engage with the secular world around them, including the secular people around them:” True enough as far as it goes. The only actual claim that atheists make is that there is no God, a claim that is according to your standard, not provable. Therefore it is equally likely to be true. Yes we do have to engage with people of all different “faiths” and be ready to give an answer for the hope within us with gentleness and respect. The two biggest problems with this “strong argument” are: 1. it makes no even remotely verifiable claims to argue against. 2. it’s hard to argue meaningfully when there is absolutely no middle ground. Not saying we shouldn’t engage, just that it presents some unique challenges.Enjoy

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  12. @ Craig (to be brief, I’m just responding to your statements, not recopying mine)“How can we even postulate what the world would be like without religion?”–> Its easy to *postulate*, actually. Also easy to extrapolate from sub-societal groups which are atheist. It just takes some imagination, a’la John Lennon. Whether those postulations or extrapolations are convincing is another thing.“The statement itself is meaningless because ones expectations would be based in totality on their view of religion.”–> Nope, not meaningless. Try again 🙂 OR, every statement is a meaningless reiteration of expectations.“Where do we put atheistic religions like Buddhism on your spectrum?”–> Some kinds of Buddhism are theist. But you’re right, not all religions are the same. Atheists would probably have no problem with atheistic religions 🙂“The fallacy is the assumption that all religions are equally true…”–>Exactly. And the evidence for *any* religion is sparse aside from anecdote. That’s the strength of the argument. From the outside, many of theisms claims seem to be equally false.“Pet peeve alert: To take the doctrine of total depravity (or any other) out of the context of the other four points of Calvin distorts the meaning of the doctrine…”–>This is of course true, but the activity of God that you mentioned is still indemonstrable. “I think you are right; it is easier to say there is no God. If you believe Julian Huxley a large part of the attraction also has to do with freedom from biblical morality.”–>This is an absurd generalization. *Maybe* true of Julian Huxley – I don’t know what you’re referring to. And its simpler, not easier. In giving up belief in God, you give up a lot of security blankets, and almost no atheists feel they have fewer moral restrictions than theists. If anything, they tend to think they have *more* because they have to figure it out for themselves.“Interesting that in all of the theological options you lay out Barth is the closest to historic orthodox Christian Teaching…”–> Barth is pretty darn orthodox. Also, I think that orthodox theologians have a *lot* more work cut out for them in a post-Darwin, post-Freud and post-Hubble world. The sovereignty of God just *can’t* mean the same thing it did in the ancient or Medieval world.“I think it is reasonable to surmise that indeed some have, just because we don’t know how many, there is no reason to dismiss them out of hand.”–>That’s not what I was trying to do, and it sidesteps my point – that God is much less apparent to those who are not taught to look for a god.“…if you are setting the standard for proof at the level you seem to be (i.e. ironclad visible testable proof) then we are a long way from the above being anything more than an opinion.”–> False. Every sociological study I’ve heard of that compares the ethical standards of theists and atheists finds that they are either very similar, or those of atheists are slightly more demanding. So that’s visible, testable proof, insofar as social science is proof. More than merely an opinion, certainly.“The world is exactly what we would expect it to be if religion were not true.”“This is not an argument, you can’t prove a negative. It is just as reasonable to posit the following: Were it not for religion, the condition of the world would be much worse. The problem is we have no way to evaluate either of these statements. So what you have is an interesting philosophical discussion, but nothing that can explain why things are the way they are.”–>I disagree here. Its an argument, just not a provable one. An argument like “it is wrong to kill a baby seal” is an argument, or “God exists” is an argument. ‘Unprovable’ by any standard, but it might be taken to be *persuasive*. An unprovable argument can also be more or less reasonable. See http://www.venganza.org/ Not all unprovable arguments are of equal value.“And yet archeology has been remarkably supportive of the Bible, less so of the Quran or The Book of Mormon.”–>This is another example of our sources of information being, apparently, mutually exclusive. Granted, the Book of Mormon is a hard sell. But what are you talking about here, specifically? Supportive of what?“This is a huge leap of logic. Who gets to define what this mythological world looks like?…”–>Here’s a start – a world where there was concrete evidence that God intervenes in human affairs. Miracles on videotape. Medical studies showing healing powers. Or where there was evidence that religion made people more moral on the whole.“So, the atheist argument needs to be dealt with seriously” (of course it does, but seriously we’re probably talking about a pretty small segment of the US population. Maybe more so in Europe.)–>About 14% of Americans are atheist. So that’s about…40 million people.“True enough as far as it goes. The only actual claim that atheists make is that there is no God, a claim that is according to your standard, not provable. Therefore it is equally likely to be true.” –>Again, two unprovable arguments are not necessarily of equal value.“The two biggest problems with this “strong argument” are: 1. it makes no even remotely verifiable claims to argue against. 2. it’s hard to argue meaningfully when there is absolutely no middle ground. Not saying we shouldn’t engage, just that it presents some unique challenges.”–>1. I of course disagree, as I’ve mentioned above. Many religious claims are testable (to varying degrees of course) and not all unprovable/unproven claims are equivalent. –>2. I agree here, but middle ground probably requires a redefinition of God from classical orthodox categories, IMO.

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  13. @ Mark. Thanks for the heads-up. Of course, whether I mind depends on what you say…I’d say, with trepidation, that its up to you whether you link or not, but thank you for giving me the chance to have input.

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  14. Doug,Not much time, but, what is the point of engaging with Athiests? What do you hope to accomplish? If their arguments are so strong why not just accede that they are correct?Craig

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  15. @ CraigBecause, obviously, I don’t think they are ultimately correct. However, I do think that many of the critiques of religion that atheists bring up are correct in and of themselves. I also think that the challenge of any religion right now is remaining meaningful in an increasingly secularized world. So secularism is what you have to deal with if you want to do that.Lastly, because a lot of my friends are atheists, and I still want to talk about this stuff with them.

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  16. Doug,I was just curious as to what your reasons were, I personally don’t engage with athiests at this point as much as muslims, and vodoo practicianors. It’s an interesten discussion though. It seems like you are approaching this from the “pro-athiest” point of view. To that end I believe that just as athiests(and others)try to hang the crusades and inquisition on modern Christianity, there are some things that athiests need to account for as well. A list follows.If we are measuring badness by number of deaths, athiests need to answer for:Hitler @ 20,000,000Pol Pot @ 5,000,000Stailn @20,000,000French Revolution ???Milosovic- Ethnic CleansingThe concept of the untermensch, which was the excuse Hitler used, comes straight from Darwin and Neitsche.Where are the athiest (as opposed to non theist, government) relief orginizations?Who is the athiest equivalant of Mother Theresa?Where are the athiest charity hospitals? Where is the athiest version of Habitat for Humanity or similar orginizations. (again not non theist)What is the athiest solution to poverty?Finally, related to your post, where are these athiestic utopias that you are talking about? I’m not saying they don’t exist, but historically athiest states tend to be totalitarian, and to kill their opponents?

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  17. “…I believe that just as athiests(and others)try to hang the crusades and inquisition on modern Christianity, there are some things that athiests need to account for as well…”–>I actually think this requirement is absurd on both sides. At best, these are perhaps useful as cautionary tales.“If we are measuring badness by number of deaths, athiests need to answer for:Hitler @ 20,000,000Pol Pot @ 5,000,000Stailn @20,000,000French Revolution ???Milosovic- Ethnic Cleansing”–>As I said, I think this is an absurd requirement. Obviously, these are bad, but I don’t see a strong connection between these historical events and modern atheism or secularism. I would say the danger is when absolutism of any kind is wedded to political/military power.“The concept of the untermensch, which was the excuse Hitler used, comes straight from Darwin and Neitsche.”–>I’d say that is thoroughly answered for, in that most have since abandoned the idea of social Darwinism as evil, theist and atheist alike.“Where are the athiest (as opposed to non theist, government) relief orginizations?”–>I think separating atheist from non-theist and secular makes no sense. I think you could include any secular aid organization, since they lack any theistic association. But, here are some: Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Effort, Doctors Without Borders, AID INDIA, HIVOS…just Google a bit, really. They’re easy to find.“Who is the athiest equivalant of Mother Theresa?”–>I don’t really believe in saints. There are many remarkable theists and atheists throughout history, all of whom are/were also very flawed.“Where are the athiest charity hospitals?”–>There are thousands of secular charity hospitals. Atheists aren’t usually primarily motivated by their atheism per se, but rather by their morality or ethical convictions. So you won’t really see a Godless Charity Hospital, but you’ll see loads of secular aid organizations of all kinds all over the world.“Where is the athiest version of Habitat for Humanity or similar orginizations. (again not non theist)”–>See above.“What is the atheist solution to poverty?”–>?? What is anyone’s solution to poverty? What is the Christian solution to poverty? This q doesn’t make sense to me. I guess I would say – anything but praying for divine intervention might count, by definition.“Finally, related to your post, where are these athiestic utopias that you are talking about? I’m not saying they don’t exist, but historically athiest states tend to be totalitarian, and to kill their opponents?”–>Any state can be totalitarian, and *all* states kill their opponents. I don’t think a state will ever be a utopia, or really ever better than *maybe* morally neutral on balance. I’d say that any state which isn’t a theocracy is a victory for secularism.

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  18. Doug,I’m going to try for short and sweet.Athiesm has been responsible for more deaths, torture, oppression, and carnage in the 20th century than any other single worldview.You may not like that but your unwillingness to apply the same standards of proof to athiest philosophy as Christianity makes reasoned discussion.One example: You say that we can “Also easy to extrapolate from sub-societal groups which are atheist” Yet you don’t identify these sub groups. You offer no social science that “proves” they are “better” than any other sub group. You simply state, that we can extrapolate from them. And yet you fail to acknowledge the concrete, videotaped, uncontrovertable, proof of what a scociety built on atheism actually looks like. Dismiss it all you want, but tell me where I can find this set in concrete, videotaped, beyond a shadow of a doubt proof of atheism’s superiority. If you want to have a serious discussion you must start with a level playing field.

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  19. @ CraigI don’t know how many times I need to answer your questions before my responses actually get dealt with. I also sometimes feel like I’m talking to someone who lives on a planet without Google. I don’t have the time or inclination to barrage you with links to more atheist/humanist/secular humanitarian organizations than I already have mentioned. If you want to blame atheism for horrible things, that’s your prerogative I guess. I think that’s just as reasonable as blaming religion for horrible things, as Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins always do. I’ve put as much energy into making this point to you as I’m willing to at this juncture. If you really wanted to find evidence to contradict your belief that atheism is the source of every horrible thing in history, it would be boggling easy to find it. Whether you want to is up to you my friend.

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  20. Craig,Hey. I hope things are going well for you and your building projects.It seems like you’re really misconstruing what Doug is saying.You said:<>“It seems like you are approaching this from the “pro-atheist” point of view.”<>But Doug isn’t taking a Pro-Atheism side at all. He is saying that he finds some arguments of atheists compelling and that he personally has atheist friends which he finds it meaningful to engage with. He specifically said regarding their arguments that:<>“obviously, I don’t think they are ultimately correct.”<>So lets stop first of all treating this like it is an apologia for atheism. If you want that go < HREF="http://ravingatheist.com/" REL="nofollow">here<>.Now. Having set aside the idea that anyone here is arguing FOR atheism, what Doug IS saying, which I take as very reasonable, is that it is worth examining their arguments and viewpoints and that when we do that we find much of value, even if we disagree with their ultimate conclusions.Starting any investigation of viewpoints different from your own with overwhelming biases that prevent any reasonable engagement is unproductive. For example it is not productive to say things like:<>“Athiesm has been responsible for more deaths, torture, oppression, and carnage in the 20th century than any other single worldview.”<>This statement is so far from being provable, or even related to things which are observable it is just not helpful at all. How do you measure the responsibility of something as abstract as a “worldview”. I’m with Doug, I just don’t buy arguments that lay the responsibility for crimes at generic things like “Islam” or “Atheism” or “Christianity”. Many Christians, Atheists and Muslims have done horrible things, but we can’t just simplistically lay it at the feet of their beliefs.Furthermore, I don’t think the charge could stick even if we could measure and track “worldviews”. Yes Hitler was an atheist, but the German Churches which rallied the people to him were not. The Roman Catholic Church also gave tacit support to the Holocaust. You’d have to go and show me that the vast majority of the soldiers and officers and civilians and people who supported these atrocities were atheists as well. Since the majority of the world’s population is still quite religious I think this would be a hard thing to show.The fact is we can easily trace atrocities to people of every possible ideology, worldview or religion. There is no one innocent and no ideology that can claim to provide a buffer against horrible evil. To sit and try and decide whether the holocaust was worse than the crusades or the inquisition was worse than Pol Pot’s killing fields is really twisted.

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  21. Doug,I’m not asking you to defend atheism, I’m simply asking that you treat the atheistic claims with as much skepticism as you do Christianity. Of course I can link to any number of sitse about atheism etc. But I thought I was engaging with you, not a random web site. Aric, see above

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  22. @ CraigRight, I understand. From my point of view, I have done a good job of approaching these topics with even-handed skepticism and have laid out a decent argument. If you don’t think so, that’s cool, but I don’t think I’ve given particular arguments a free ride.Also, you are engaging with me, but you keep demanding that I provide videotaped records of rebuttals to your unsupported claim that atheism is responsible for every horrible thing in history, or that it is an evil force that corrupts every group that espouses it. I maintain that this is an absurd request, and I refer you to Google and other resources because I don’t have the time or inclination to provide “concrete, videotaped, beyond a shadow of a doubt proof”. Particularly when you’re just claiming that this proof exists to support your view but providing none of it yourself. Why is the threshold of evidence much higher for me than it is for you? Why do you provide none of the kind of evidence you demand of me? This is what I’m finding frustrating.There is no beyond a shadow of a doubt proof.“Atheism has been responsible for more deaths, torture, oppression, and carnage in the 20th century than any other single worldview.”As Aric said, this is an unsupportable claim, and is basically of no value. I could say the *exact* same thing about capitalism, socialism, neo-conservatism, Christianity, Islam, totalitarianism, national govnerments, white males, etc. and provide loads of evidence to back it up and I’d still be saying something of no value. And even if these kinds of arguments had value, they would still have no bearing *whatsoever* on whether atheism has important things to say about the existence of God, which is my actual point.The threshold of evidence for laying the terrors and sorrows of the modern world at the feet of a *single* worldview is very, very high. Good luck with that.

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  23. Doug,I think that we are on different tracks here so I would like to try and reset for a minute.First of all I believe that we need to engage with people of all types ob belief systems, atheists incuded. I don’t think that engaging with people who have different belief systems mean that we must allow claims to be made and go unchallenged. Second, when we do engage with others, we engage with individuals, not belief systems.That brings me, I think, to the disconnect. Doug, you have taken me to task for wanting video taped ironcald proof from you. I have never asked you for this. You have stated that this is the standard that you would hold Christianlity to. You then present the athiest claims without challenge. While you certainly free to do this, you must realize that this will generate discussion, some of which will be critical of the positions you are presenting. I have raised some questions that I believe are begged by your original post. I do not expect you to provide exhaustive, or any, answers to these questions. Many of them could be considered retorical. However, these are questions that come to my mind.To take the example I have been using you stated in regard to how we can postulate a world without religion. It is “also easy to extrapolate from sub-scocietal groups that are athiest” I responded to this claim (which is obviously something you personally believe rather that an arguement from an athiest) by noting that 1. There is no way to deal with this claim because you failed to identify these “sub-scocietal groups”. This could be two athiet roommates down the hall, or a lost tribe in Borneo. No clue. I further responded, why would we take as evidence an extrapolation from an unidentified “sub-scocietal group” when we have actual evidence of what a scociety built on atheism looks like. Your assumption that I have not googled these things boggles my mind. It is possible that this is not the only forum where I seek information. Again, I am attempting to engage with you and what you have said. You have taken me to task for not responding to your answers to my questions. I have, as have you, chosen to respond to some and not to others. If you would like me to respond to something specific that I have failed to respond to just let me know what.Here are some of your “questions/responses”It just takes some imagination, a’la John Lennon. Whether those postulations or extrapolations are convincing is another thing.So your answer is we make it up?From the outside, many of theisms claims seem to be equally false.The key word is SEEM. I would argue that there is a significant liklehhod that one is correct (atheism could be the one) but perception is not reality.every statement is a meaningless reiteration of expectations.Great, so what is the point of even discussing any of this? This is a self refuting argument, by making the claim you are saying that that statement is not a meaningless repetition of expectations. Also, this doesn’t answer the question asked.*Maybe* true of Julian Huxley – I don’t know what you’re referring to. And its simpler, not easier.Google what Huxley said about morality, he was speaking for more than himself. Easier was your word not mine. I think you are right, it is easier. I think that orthodox theologians have a *lot* more work cut out for them in a post-Darwin, post-Freud and post-Hubble world. The sovereignty of God just *can’t* mean the same thing it did in the ancient or Medieval world.First, I think Darwin, Freud et al have plenty to answer for. Second, It depends on who decides, if God is who he appears to be in the Bible, then Darwin, Freud, Hubbel can’t change who he is. If God is sovereign, then no men can change that.False. Every sociological study I’ve heard of that compares the ethical standards of theists and atheists finds that they are either very similar, or those of atheists are slightly more demandingWhere to start. First(as someone who has had some experience in social science research are surveys)to claim that my comment is fasle. Second, you set the bar not me. Third, “every sociological study I’ve heard of” is simply an attempt to establish credibility without evidence. How many socialiological studies have you actually read, as opposed to a media summary? Do you know what the questions were and how they were phrased in these studies? How many people were surveyed? Who sponsored the studies? All in all a nice piece of rhetorical strong arm, but no actual evidence.Religion makes claims about a lot of things which are essentially unobservable. As well as about things which are observable. When attempts are made to test the observable claims of religion, the results tend to be indeterminate.”If this is true then the same response applies to your original position (that a world without religion would be better). What is observable about the absence of God?I disagree here. Its an argument, just not a provable one. An argument like “it is wrong to kill a baby seal” is an argument, or “God exists” is an argument. ‘Unprovable’ by any standard, but it might be taken to be *persuasive*. An unprovable argument can also be more or less reasonable. See http://www.venganza.org/ Not all unprovable arguments are of equal value.If it truly is an argument, then it is a bad argument. In reality what is the point of making and arguement. “Thats not arguement, thats just contradiction” It may be pursuasive, but that just shows how low some people standards of persuasion are.This is another example of our sources of information being, apparently, mutually exclusive. Granted, the Book of Mormon is a hard sell. But what are you talking about here, specifically? Supportive of what?Doug, I could put together a list of instances where archeology supports the biblical record, but instead I suggest you Google it. Here’s a start – a world where there was concrete evidence that God intervenes in human affairs. Miracles on videotape. Medical studies showing healing powers. Or where there was evidence that religion made people more moral on the whole.Interesting statement, but it doesn’t respond to my point. The biblical evidence was recorded with the best means available at the time. You are free to accept or reject it, but you can’t hold it to an impossible to meet standard. Again, you have set the bar as to what you consider acceptable evidence that you can exclude almost everything you don’t agree with. Again, two unprovable arguments are not necessarily of equal value.Except appearantly in your original post.1. I of course disagree, as I’ve mentioned above. Many religious claims are testable (to varying degrees of course) and not all unprovable/unproven claims are equivalent. Again, this cuts both ways, so it’s a wash from a pursuasive stand point. Your right, about two claims not being equivelant. That is ultimately what all of this is about.2. I agree here, but middle ground probably requires a redefinition of God from classical orthodox categories, IMO.Any god who can be redifined by man is not a god worthy of our time. If God is the God who called himself “I AM” then it follows that he is quite capable of defining himself.I hope this will work for you. I wanted to be clear about what of your comments I was responding to.Aric,You said:“It seems like you are approaching this from the “pro-atheist” point of view.”But Doug isn’t taking a Pro-Atheism side at all. He is saying that he finds some arguments of atheists compelling and that he personally has atheist friends which he finds it meaningful to engage with. He specifically said regarding their arguments that:First, the key word again is SEEMS. Second, if you read Dougs resonses and how they are worded, it gives the impression that the concerns are his and not those of his atheist freinds. I agree, and have said so repeatedly, that it is meaningfull to engage with people in our world. However when it goes beyond that to making statements that purport to express the views of “atheists” I have chalenged them. I appearantly have not done a good enoght job of indicating which questions of mine were directed at Doug and which were more retorical. Sorry.what Doug IS saying, which I take as very reasonable, is that it is worth examining their arguments and viewpoints and that when we do that we find much of value, even if we disagree with their ultimate conclusions.I have affirmed that this premise is valuable. What I disagree with is what seems like an uncritical acceptance of some of these arguments. For example it is not productive to say things like:Athiesm has been responsible for more deaths, torture, oppression, and carnage in the 20th century than any other single worldview.”You may be right, and I probably have engaged in some hyperbole. However, if we look at what the actual results in the real world are, there is no reasonable ground to conclude that a world without religion would be better than what we have now, warts and all.However it’s really not that different from this.…then see where you sit on the Global Rich List, and remember that every person below you on the list is someone you are failing to be just toward. If your government participated in the coalition to go to war in Iraq then remember that you’ve paid for this. If you’re American you’re paying for this. If you drive a car you contribute to this. If you eat meat you’re guilty of this. The whole world should be ashamed of this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and countless other instances of genocide. If you’re male then you’ve benefited unjustly from patriarchy. Approximately 1/3 of you reading this have been involved in domestic violence, if not more. Regardless of where you are from and who you are you are bound up in unjust social and economic systems, which you help perpetuate to the detriment of others. Worse, in your heart you have committed sins of lust, and anger which is tantamount to murder.Conclusion: We are all collectively guilty of every murder, every theft, every injustice that has ever been committed or dreamed of, because everywhere a sin is committed there were hundreds of people who could have stepped in to intervene, or hundreds of people before the fact who could have been a positive influence. Nor does this collective guilt make the sin diffuse as if we all bore only a small portion of guilt, rather it multiplies the sin, so that we are all guilty of such grievous crimes we can’t possibly expect redemption.If everyone is guilty of every bad act, then yes the athiests need to have a response to the acts committed by those who subscribe to their philosophy.The fact is we can easily trace atrocities to people of every possible ideology, worldview or religion. There is no one innocent and no ideology that can claim to provide a buffer against horrible evil. To sit and try and decide whether the holocaust was worse than the crusades or the inquisition was worse than Pol Pot’s killing fields is really twistedThe fact that you respond in this way shows that you either did not read what I wrote or allowed your preconcieved notions of who I am dictate your interpretation of what I wrote. I was simply making an “if…then” proposition. The fact is that if you listen for spokespeple for athiests (Hitchens is du jour) they are making exactly the arguements that you criticise me for. My response is if they want to saddle the modern church for things done in past(as you seem to as well) history then they need to take their fair share of the baggage. That’s it.Starting any investigation of viewpoints different from your own with overwhelming biases that prevent any reasonable engagement is unproductive.For you to claim to have factual knowledge of my “overwhelming biases” is in itself a grossly unsupportable claim. Further, since you and Doug also have significant biases I would say that we are both coming into the discussion on a reasonably even footing. I have not, however, asked for an unreasonable level of proof. I have asked questions, some good, some not so good. I have challenged statements made by Doug, his reply often has been some version of “I reject that”, I have by and large respected that and moved on into areas where he is more comfortable. Ultimately I have little interest in convincing you to agree with my positions, as you probably have in convincing me. I do find the dialog interesting and valuable. It has affected my thinking in ways that may not be appearant. Ultimately I agree with Doug’s contention, that this type of discussion is has much more impact face to face with people who we are in relationships with. Doug and Aric,I won’t repeat my self except to say that I have not asked for the “proof” that you say I asked for. Read your own words Doug, you introduced the concept of “unasaillable” evidence, not I. Topic BreakFinally, I had a conversation tonight that really affected my thoughts about this conversation and blogging/responding in general. The person who I had dinner with made the comment, that he is becoming much more concerned about associating with people who actually do things, that to engage in theoretical theological discussions. Not that theology is unimportant, and not that he has not wrestled with many of the same things that we are discussing. But, that we have a limited amount of time in this life, and shouldn’t we spend it doing rather than talking. I’m not being critical of what you are doing here, as I said I have found it valuable, and interesting. I think that this is actually a good way to clarify your beliefs. This is something that challenged me, because although I often don’t agree with you, I do think that we could work side by side to build the Kingdom in a cool way. I hope this isn’t too much of a left turn, just something that hit me in a new way. Have a good Sunday.

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  24. @ CraigI won’t pretend that your responses aren’t still driving me insane, but I think that this particular thread has thoroughly stalled. It seems that we’ve both reiterated our main points at least twice now, so I’m happy to let this comment thread come to a rest. I think it is fast approaching Quagmire status.Rather, I much preferred your topic break. I do actually think that in writing these things, I am in fact ‘doing something’, but I do also do other things, as it were. Mostly because of time constraints, what I ‘do’ outside of my internship at the church is writing letters and signing petitions on environmental and social justice issues. I can’t say that the Bush administration is interested in either, but sometimes there’s a little movement.

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  25. “–>I don’t really believe in saints. There are many remarkable theists and atheists throughout history, all of whom are/were also very flawed.”Mother Teresa isn’t a saint yet. Also, aww… Saint Francis of Assisi is my favorite.

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  26. Craig,Is it really necessary to quote the entirety of the posts you are responding to, and to do it without bothering to differentiate between the quoted text and your response to it? Reading both your novel length response to Doug and Aric AND seeing their own posts quoted almost in their entirety before said response is almost as much fun as having a fountain pen repeatedly stabbed into my knees. Also, in regards to your assertion of Nazi Germany as typical example of atheist society – in fact, Hitler’s own religious views are a matter of significant debate, and Nazism certainly had no shortage of wrongheaded mysticism contained within it. In any case, I can only shake my head in bemusement as Godwin’s law proves itself yet again. http://i19.photobucket.com/albums/b155/Marsyas01/I_detect_fail.jpgFail.

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  27. As far as the founding fathers having created their founding documents in order to run this nation from an exclusively Christian worldview, I submit for your consideration Article 11 of the Treaty of Algiers (written by American diplomat Joel Barlow in 1796, and unanimously approved by the senate on June 7, 1797):“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

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  28. –> “Atheist relief organizations”Atheist Alliance International has done relief work in the past, particularly for hurricane victims. Ditto for the Council for Secular Humanism.–> “Atheist equivalent of Mother Theresa.”The idealized Mother Theresa? James Randi. The non-idealized Mother Theresa? Penn and Teller.—> “Where are the atheist charity hospitals?”To quote the American Atheist, Of the 13% of religious hospitals, all of them are maintained by public funds. Those public funds are not paid for exclusively by the religious, they certainly aren’t supported by American churches. If the religious hospitals were to be truly religious and separated from secular governmental subsidies they would collapse. The question that the Christian apologist should be asked is, “Where are all the truly religious hospitals?” Slapping a Catholic or Methodist label upon a hospital wall isn’t sufficient enough to create a truly independent, private religious hospital free from Atheist support.—> “What is the atheist solution to poverty?”Education, more education, knowledge, more knowledge, critical thinking, reason, a stripping away of our dependence on flim-flammery and superstition (as long as people are looking to illusory things as solutions, they will never find a real one) and equal opportunities for success for all people.

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  29. Doug,I agree, that this particular thread has probably run its course. I’m thrilled Paul decided to ass his unigue view and personal shots to the mix. I apologize to the extent that I didnlt communicate some things as clearly as I would like. I do reccomend that you take some time with the writings of the founders it is pretty interesting.While, signing petitions etc. is doing something, I prefer something a little more hands on. To each his own.

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