Archive for the ‘belief’ tag
I can, of course, present a full argument against Pascal’s wager — and have in previous posts that I haven’t time to look up right now — but it will suffice to reference Richard Dawkins’ answer to this question:
I found this little anecdote on Reddit and thought it pretty aptly answers the questions that is often posed to nonbelievers: If you believe that death is really the end, what is the point of life? Here is the way yoyoslender explained it to his religious friend:
He asked what i thought would happen when we die. I told him that we would cease to exist, no thoughts or movement or anything of the sort. He then asks me what the point would be if that were true. He said, “if we dont have anything to live for, why live?” I thought for a bit, and remembered how much he loves minecraft. So i said that it is like hardcore mode in minecraft. He seemed confused. I said, “if everything is lost when you die, then why play hardcore mode?” He responded, “to see how far you can go before dying.” “That’s atheism.”
One day, Yahweh will be added to the list.
This clip with Matt Dillahunty details nearly my precise experience with deconversion (forward to about 3:45 through 8:00):
When all the evidence from the Bible, early Christian writings, theology, Jewish historians and philosophy falls, the only thing believers have left is the case from faith, which, as Dillahunty notes, can be applied to the belief in anything, from Christ to Shiva to Xenu to Isis to Horus to Osiris to the great and benevolent FSM.
What people like Dillahunty find is that because they care enough to try to figure out whether their beliefs are actually true or not, they are met with the following choice: to continue the ruse of belief just to make themselves and other people happy, in other words, to be a hypocrite, or the only other option, to be genuine about how they really think and feel. I realize some nonbelievers must continue the ruse out of fear of reprisal, threats, etc. (and that is unfortunate in and of itself), but extenuating circumstances aside, people, like Dillahunty and myself who find themselves in that chasm between faith and nonbelief usually decide to give up the ruse because it is the only ethical position to take.
Scott McKnight over at the Jesus Creed blog on patheos.com has posted a piece titled, “They Don’t Believe Because Your God Isn’t Desirable” by Jeff Cook, who makes the case that the reason more people are becoming unbelievers these days is not because atheists are carrying arguments with logic but because believers are not touting the desirability of belief in God.
Cook said that during a debate between that stalwart of all things rational, William Lane Craig, and neuroscientist, Sam Harris, he said that for part of the debate, he thought Craig was winning, but Harris began getting off topic and addressing other things like “the problem of religious diversity, the problem of pain, reflections on the character of God in the Bible,” and Cook then thought Harris was winning. He said Craig didn’t really identify reasons that someone might want to believe in God. Presumably, since the topic of the debate was about morality, had Craig spoken on the desirability of faith, that too would have been off topic.
In any case, Cook then calls the new atheists “hopelessly naïve about ethics and epistemology” (Epistemology? Really?!?) and says that non-believers are winning the argument because people like Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, etc., specialize in ridicule:
And that means the new atheists excel on the only evangelistically – effective playing field that matters — that of human emotion and desire. Most Christian apologists conversely seem content to surrender that ground in their preference for mere rationality.
Not to mention the fact that Christians have been taking advantage of human emotion (fear of hell) and desire (hope of heaven) for 2,000 years, did Cook just really suggest that believers have been previously “content” to use arguments based in rationality? So let me get this straight: a fantastically complex being existing in some other realm with a host of angels and human souls, a god who is nonetheless able to crash through our atmosphere and interact with millions of people simultaneously, is an argument that believers can make on rational grounds?
But Cook goes further:
We have not established that Christianity should be revered, nor that it is attractive, nor that it is worthy of affection. We prefer to pull out our five proofs for its “truth” and argue our misguided interlocutors into the Kingdom cold.
I do agree that believers have not showed that Christianity should be revered, but I think many non-believers will agree that there’s not much worth revering in a god who is obsessed with blood sacrifice and who is so uncreative that he couldn’t have thought of a more humane way to satiate his thirst for red blood cells than by slaughtering innocent animals, and later, an innocent human.
If Cook had actually read Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, John Loftus, former pastor Dan Barker, John Dominic Crossan and many others, he would know that these writers do present concrete, reasoned arguments for why there is almost certainly no god and why Jesus most likely did not utter all of the things attributed to him in the New Testament. In fact, in Dawkins case, the evidence against a god was so clear to him that between 1 (100 percent sure that there was a god) to 10 (100 percent sure that there isn’t), he was solidly at 9.5. Loftus, a former pastor, makes about as exhaustive a case against God as I have ever read in “Why I Became An Atheists,” and in parts, even addresses some of Craig’s tired arguments, while Crossan in “The Historical Jesus” dissects the gospels verse-by-verse to uncover which parts are probably original and which were embellishments or later additions.
To my knowledge, Hitchens is the only one of the “new atheists” who was an active and vocal anti-theist. Most of the rest, at one time or another, wanted the biblical stories, God, Christ, etc., to all be true but when faced with the evidence, or the lack thereof, simply could not believe.
There is one final part in Cook’s essay that needs addressing. Near the conclusion, he had this to say:
One must want God to exist in order to become a follower of Jesus, and as such, it is time for a radical rethinking of apologetics that begins where nearly all of Jesus’ pitches for the Kingdom began—with human longing (consider, for example, the Beatitudes).
I think that is exactly the other way around. Assuming that Christ is real, the advantages of belief are clear: the hope of heaven and a new “spiritual” life, less fear in this life and strength in times of need. People want a reason to believe; for many, the desire is already there. However, praying every night for decades without hearing or feeling any sense of a god and then objectively investigating the claims of the Bible and finding that your faith was built out of sand might be powerful reasons to give up belief. This is the path so many people, like Loftus and Barker have taken. I would imagine that it might, indeed, be time for a “radical rethinking of apologetics” here in the year 2012. Because all the arguments that apologetics has put forward thus far have failed. (I addressed many of them in this series: Response to Apologetics I: faith, reason, the purpose driven life.)
The desirability of faith, strong as it is, might be all that religion has left.
Thanks to Reasonable Doubts and Jeremy Beahan for providing this. The following is a description of a sermon delivered by Beahan on Dec. 11, 2011 at All Souls Unitarian Church:
Those who reject religion go by many names; atheist, agnostic, skeptic, freethinker, secular humanist–but please do not call us “unbelievers.” If you ask you will find there are many things we believe in. We believe that the natural world, as revealed through science, is more beautiful and inspiring than any mythology. But a world without the supernatural also confronts us with disturbing possibilities. If there is no God then the human story comes with no guarantee of a happy ending. Humanity must solve it’s [sic] own problems but it’s not at all clear we are up to the task. If there is hope, it will be found in those who reject the hollow consolations of faith and choose to press on instead of hoping for a miracle. By living with courage and integrity, pursuing truth for truth’s sake, we can make our lives and our world significant.
Here is the actual text in PDF form and the audio:
Both American believer and nonbeliever alike can be very thankful that we live in the land of the free.
I was heartened recently to read the story of a Saudi Arabia native who was attempting to maintain a position of disbelief in a nation in which said disbelief just may well get one killed. Here in the United States, we are lucky to be able to believe, or not, without the threat of any sort of consequences from the establishment. Unfortunately, many, or most, portions of the Middle East are still shrouded by dark intolerance. Thus, this particular Saudi bravely has stepped forward, at least in one forum, to announce his disbelief, although, in his native land, he’s forced, with his life at stake, to keep his lack of belief on the down-low. Here is part of his story:
Since I was kid I’ve been asking “inappropriate questions” about the all-mighty Allah. I was very curious about this invisible god who everyone fears, and the answer was always the same: “You shouldn’t ask these questions, you don’t question his judgment.. you just do as he says and you’ll be rewarded”. Fair enough, can I at least see him? BTW that wasn’t me asking these questions.. it was Satan trying to shake my believe and turn me to his side.. And I should never ask anyone else these questions (so I don’t embarrass my parents), I should just come to them and get the exact same answer every fucking time
For some reason I wasn’t convinced that god existed, but I’m only a child and my parents know better. If everyone believes in him then I’m sure they’re right and there’s something wrong with me, I kept telling myself that until I actually believed it
I was a very devout Muslim in my early teens.. Never dared to even look at a girl even though all my friends had girlfriends, hated infidels (but loved Newcastle United ) and was brainwashed by my religion teacher to love and even look up to Osama bin-Laden! I was on my way to become a world-class terrorist until my father saved me.. Even though the geezer’s a very traditional guy he was quite open minded (for a Saudi). He studied abroad and still is in contact with some of his foreign friends, loathes bin-Laden and the religious police, he was the one pushing me to learn about the world and force-fed me books about, well.. everything, he insisted that I go to English schools in the summer so I can improve my language (money will wasted obviously)
He kept saying to me “Think for yourself, think for yourself, think for yourself.. Take the knowledge anywhere you can get it from, but never take opinions, form your own. You have a brain so use it.. and for god’s sake eat a damn orange! you’re so skinny you can pass from under the damn door!”. He was a master in pointing out my faults in the harshest way possible, but I still love that frightening bastard
The utter oppression in those lands nearly have led this person to attempt suicide because of the intolerance to those who might dare shun the idea of Allah.
Thus, the writer has appealed to a forum for support, and here is his conclusion:
… I tried telling myself that it’s Satan messing with my head again, but the voice of reason kept getting stronger and stronger. The struggle was hard, and the fact that I will get KILLED if people knew didn’t help either
I got so depressed I lost 20 pounds in 3 months and became my old walking skeleton self again.. cut all my friends off because I was worried about what might happen if the (they) found out.
I went to the UK for a couple of months to study English and LIVE, and I have to say that those few months were the best times of my life. But unfortunately the good times had to stop and I came back to a place where I’ll be killed just for having a different opinion.
Depression hit me harder that time, and I started to loose weight again. Now after a year and half I realized something: I’m alone
at first it was because the fear for my life like I mentioned, after that and when I finally got over it I realized I forgot how to be around people! After all it’s not easy living between doors for half a year all by yourself
I have seriously considered suicide and tried to attempt it 3 times, but every time I do I hear a voice in my head telling me tomorrow will be better.. But no matter how I tried it all seems hopeless.
For former believers who have found enlightenment values far more satisfying than the alternative, the reaction of others to this news can, indeed, can seem oppressively hopeless and renders one susceptible to the thought that one isn’t really free to think for oneself within their social strata. And if one isn’t really free to think for oneself, then life itself can seem equally hopeless. Such is the power of religion to dull the mind and blunt individuality, but, of course, for the faithful, this life is quite like the preface to a book, isn’t it? I don’t know if this Saudi fellow ever will be able to get out of his native land of intolerance, but I advised him that, if he has the means, hop the nearest plane out of there.
I didn’t really intend this to be a separate post, as the following is commentary I made on a reply to this post, but I think it’s important enough, and interesting enough, to make it a separate post, and perhaps, I will add to it a bit. That said, read this, then read this:
While John Loftus’ argument against God appears is convincing when read at first, you should take a closer look at his logic. Suffering does NOT exist in the world because of the doctrine of so-called “original sin.”
Alexandre Dumas, in the Count of Monte Cristo, wrote the famous line, “A man is not capable of feeling ultimate bliss until he has felt ultimate despair.” Happiness cannot exist without unhappinesss. God knows that as well as Dumas. He wants us to be happy, so he allowed us to experience something that will help us learn and grow and have something to compare our happiness too. — Ian, poster
This is my unexpectedly lenghty reply:
Thanks for your comments, Ian. This is going to take a few graphs, so bear with me.
Have you read the entirety of Loftus’ book? Loftus may have brought up the original sin argument by Christians to account for the suffering in the world, but his predominant argument, to the best of my understanding, was about intense suffering in the face of an omnibenevolent god. The point about original sin was mine.
According to Roman 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
Ok, perhaps, according to your statement, “suffering does NOT exist in the world” because of original sin, but death certainly does. But which is worse? Is suffering included in “death?” The traditional doctrine goes thusly (I am speaking from one who was raised in a Wesleyan, and later, Baptist church):
Adam and Eve were created by God in a sinless state in the garden, where the very concept of sin was absent, at least as far as Adam and Eve knew. Satan tempted Eve with the knowledge of good and evil, thus leading to the fall.
After the fall of man, God cursed man, handing down the curse of birth pangs, imminent death by old age, etc. So, without Satan’s influence and without the introduction of sin, we can only assume Adam and Eve would have continued in their nearly perfect or perfect world free of sin and free from Satan’s influence, thus free of the knowledge of good and evil and free from birth pangs and free from certain death (But, they obviously had free will, so their fall may have been forthcoming eventually anyway). Regardless, if man hadn’t fallen, it’s conceivable, though unlikely given free will, that we would continue to this day to live in a perfect world, free of Satan’s influence, walking only in God’s light. But man did fall, thus casting us out of Eden, as John Milton’s imagery portrayed it in “Paradise Lost.” With this fall came not only sin, but death, given Paul’s quote above.
Now, death cannot exist without suffering on our part. Who on the planet has not suffered when a beloved son or daughter or mother or father has died? Death, in itself, includes some level of suffering inherently, and this is precisely what Paul was referring to. According to traditional doctrine, we live in an imperfect, fallen world, and as a result, death and suffering are inevitable.
I don’t necessarily agree on Dumas’ premise that bliss can’t exist without despair. (The very idea of happiness and suffering assumes we have a level of intelligence capable of such feelings). But it’s not necessary that we have both. We could have come into consciousness as a less evolved form of human, say 200,000 years ago. Say we are examining the first generation of species capable of the level of consciousness or intelligence to be able to be feel something called happiness or suffering. Say we are at the very birthplace of the being capable of experiencing such things. Then, imagine, as the being opened its eyes, looked up, and saw a comet heading for the earth. It’s mother was there looking down at its young frame. It then looked up at its mother, and in a matter of minutes, the mother was thrown backward by the force and killed, and the baby species watched the death, and then in the next moment, was killed as well. In the milliseconds before the mother and child were killed, did the child, freshly aware of its place in the world, suffer or feel despair? What did it think about, and what did it feel? Did it experience any point of happiness in its short existence? Perhaps something like comfort occurred, but to say it felt happiness or bliss seems to be a stretch. In those brief moments, it must have felt tragedy and nothing else in seeing its mother perish in the seconds before its own demise.
Do children in Africa dying from AIDS or starving from hunger feel despair? Certainly. Do they ever, ever feel what we call bliss? What about stillborn children? According to the evangelical crowd, they were humans with souls. Do they feel happiness or suffering? What about embryonic stem cells?
Dumas’ point, of course, is that one can not appreciate bliss without experiencing suffering, thus having a frame of reference for what happiness feels like. But one doesn’t need a frame of reference or a comparison. The ability to experience happiness and suffering are hard-wired. We don’t need one to recognize the other; we just feel them as the experiences come.
So, finally, back to the topic of intense suffering in the face of an omnibenevolent god, three scenarios seem possible to me. First, God is either concerned about the atrocities taking place on his watch, but is not interested in intervening. He is either concerned and incapable of intervening or either unconcerned, thus irrelevant to us. To say that God is concerned and wants us to be happy but allows intense suffering anyway circumvents his omnibenevolence. To say that God could sit back and watch his creation be raped, starved, mutilated, lynched and burned though generation after generation and do nothing, nothing whatsoever, for at least 2,000-plus years gives a disastrous testimony to his omnibenevolence.
To end, if he exists and is also omnibenevolent, he must be the saddest (to see his creation suffer so), powerless (to be unable to do anything about) being in the universe.