Ridiculous Atheistic Posturing

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I’ve just spent weeks immersed in Sam Harris’s rants against “religion” and against “faith,” as I’ve been preparing to do some writing on him. I’ve been working with others who are writing on Dawkins’ diatribes against “religion” and “faith.” The late Christopher Hitchens has been on my mind recently; he says “religion” poisons everything.

These authors and others treat “religion” and “faith” as if it were the same thing everywhere, a homogeneous global agreement to reject reason and good sense.

So with that as recent background, it was with great amazement that I read this in a comment on this blog today.

I’m wondering if you can expand on this statement. How exactly do you connect “millions of bodies” to atheism? Atheism is simply the lack of belief in God. Being an Atheist does not mean that you are a murderer, thief, rapist, devil worshiper, or anything else. It simply means that you don’t believe in God.

Look, if “atheism” is just the lack of belief in God, then “religion” is the lack of non-belief in God. Being “religious” doesn’t mean you are poisonous or against reason or anything else. It simply means that you don’t non-believe in God.

Ridiculous? Of course. But if the New Atheists can lump all “religion” into one blobulous category and treat it all as if it were one thing, why can’t we do that with atheism?

Still ridiculous? Of course. At least partially so. The tu quoque form of argument is fallacious in most circumstances, except when it’s used to show the absurdity of the other’s position. I could use it that way to show how absurd it is to treat “religion” as the same thing in all its manifestations everywhere, but there’s no need for that. It’s idiotic enough on the face of it, without needing arguments in Latin and with italic font.

So why bring it up if it’s all so ridiculous? Because it’s so ridiculous. Specifically, it’s ridiculous for atheists to claim that atheism is nothing but a lack of belief in God. It’s also (in its most common naturalist/materialist form) a lack of belief in:

  • Transcendent moral values and duties
  • Ultimate accountability
  • Knowledge of what is really good and really evil
  • An explanation for the real, ontological worth and dignity of human beings

Or, atheism in that form entails the belief that

  • There are no transcendent moral values or duties
  • There is no ultimate accountability
  • There is no knowing what is really good and really evil
  • There is no explanation for the real, ontological worth and dignity of human beings, so it’s quite possible that human beings don’t have any special worth or dignity

These beliefs have consequences.

So I say to you who would try to posture your atheistic ways out of all this, forget it. Why make yourself look ridiculous?

(There’s more here.)

67 Responses

  1. SteveK says:

    Well said, Tom.

    By contrast, when a Christian acts as if humans have no worth then they are not acting out their Christian belief (Christianity) that humans DO have value and worth. The action is animated by our sin nature, which is in direct opposition to Christianity.

    In other words, a Christian can commit to carrying out evil deeds, but Christianity cannot be the reason the person holds such a commitment.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Thanks, Steve.

    I should note that the author of that comment added a later clarifying note, and apparently does not take the position it appeared he was taking when I wrote this. I don’t want to attribute that position to him falsely. I will let what I have written stand, however, because others besides him have said these things often enough.

  3. Brian says:

    Why do you continue to engage an intellectual movement so disenfranchized from honest debate? Somehow, the new atheists managed to turn christian intellectuals into an anti-new-atheist movement.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    Brian, I don’t know if you meant that as one-dimensional as it came across. If so, then I would refer you here, please. There are other examples currently on the home page, but that’s the most prominent one.

    The reason to engage such a dishonest movement is in the phrase, “good philosophy must exist because bad philosophy does.”

  5. Philip says:

    I observed a post recently from an atheist who said, smirkingly, no doubt, that “I was born an atheist, like everyone else.”

    I commented, “You were no more born an atheist because you lacked a belief in God than you were born a nudist because you lacked clothes.”

    This attempt to redefine atheism really bugs me. I’m glad you are not fooled by it. Keep up the good work!

    @g0thamite (twitter)

  6. Hausdorff says:

    Philip (comment 5):

    “You were no more born an atheist because you lacked a belief in God than you were born a nudist because you lacked clothes.”

    Gotta admit, this cracked me up 🙂

    From the post:

    Knowledge of what is really good and really evil

    I guess I agree here, I don’t know what is really good and evil. I wonder if you do. If so, how do you get that information? How do you know you are not tricked or mistaken?
    (btw, reading this over, I can imagine it looks like I am trying to be snarky, but it is really just an honest question)

  7. Kevin says:

    I’ve been amazed at the number of atheists who reject the inescapable conclusion of atheism – that nothing ultimately matters at all. Nihilism seems to be the logical truth if there is no god.

  8. Kevin says:

    Hausdorff, you asked how one acquires the knowledge of good and evil. In a debate on moral relativity, I presented an atheist with two challenges in an attempt to prove to him that there are objective moral absolutes. I asked him if it was right for the Nazis to carry out the Holocaust since they deemed it moral to do so, and I asked him if it was ever right to commit rape. He refused to answer. Moral relativism is a scary thing.

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    Hausdorff,

    You know some things are really good, and that some things are really evil. All of us do. We know that torturing babies for fun is evil. We know that nurturing our own children for their health and growth is good.

    Naturalistic atheism unfortunately makes the real existence of good and evil problematic (impossible, in my opinion). The conclusion I draw from that is (a) naturalism makes real knowledge of good and evil philosophically incoherent; (b) real knowledge of good evil is nevertheless impossible; therefore (c) naturalism is shown to be absurd.

    Christian Theism does two good things for us: it provides a coherent space for grounding the realities we know about moral values and duties, and the Bible adds a lot more to our knowledge, beyond what we naturally understand.

    It doesn’t mean we know good and evil exhaustively or that we know it correctly in all cases. But we do have a real basis for really knowing what we know–unlike the case for naturalistic atheism.

  10. Hausdorff says:

    Kevin (#7):
    while I agree that this is a possible conclusion one could reach, I don’t see why it is inescapable. The fact that there is no afterlife does not diminish this life (for me anyway).

    If you are happy now and sad later, is the happiness now irrelevant because it won’t last forever? I would argue that I can enjoy the happiness while it lasts. I know I will probably be sad later on at some point, it won’t stop me from enjoying myself now.

  11. Hausdorff says:

    I guess I take forever to answer these things 🙂

    Kevin (#8):
    so you are saying you were in a debate with a guy, his position was there are no moral absolutes. You asked him if it was ever right to commit rape, and he refused to answer. (this seems like a fair summary yes?)

    Seems fairly silly to me for him to not answer. Did he have a way to justify it? Did he say something like “it is possible that there could be a situation where rape is moral” or something? Granted I don’t have the full context here, but it doesn’t seem like the biggest ledge to go out on to say “rape is always immoral”.

    Tom (#9):
    Oh I see, I think I misunderstood you. You are not saying you know good and evil necessarily, but just that it does in principle exist?

    I just realized there was one thing in your comment that particularly interested me

    You know some things are really good, and that some things are really evil. All of us do.

    I would agree with this. A solid definition for good and evil seems to be a bit fuzzy, but there are certain things we can all agree on. Your example of torturing babies for fun illustrates this well. Do I need God for that? Does God need to tell me that it is evil, or can I know that as an atheist?

  12. SteveK says:

    Hausdorff,

    I don’t know what is really good and evil. I wonder if you do. If so, how do you get that information? How do you know you are not tricked or mistaken?

    This same line of questioning can be applied to any area of knowledge – even scientific knowledge. How do scientists know they aren’t being tricked or mistaken? You’ve got to start somewhere, and that somewhere is the reliability of your rational senses.

    You have no rational reason to think you are being tricked or mistaken so you hold the position that your senses are reliable. Your senses tell you that good is virtuous and evil is not. There is no reason to think evil is virtuous or that you are mistaken in that conclusion.

    That you persistently perceive good and evil – no matter how hard you try to push the perception away or ignore it – ought to give you a clue that what you are perceiving is real.

    How did you get this perception, this information, to begin with? In the beginning, God…. 🙂

  13. Melissa says:

    Hausdorff,

    Do I need God for that? Does God need to tell me that it is evil, or can I know that as an atheist?

    You do not need to believe in God to know in some measure good and evil. The problem is that naturalistic atheism entails that there is no value or meaning inherent in the world. Essentially good and bad arise in your mind; they reflect your interests rather than an objective reality that you are comprehending.

  14. Tom Gilson says:

    In other words there are three different questions in your question: “Do I need God for that?” and “Does God need to tell me that it is evil?” and “Can I know that as an atheist?”

    Taking them in reverse order: yes, you can know good and evil as an atheist. Romans 2 affirms that from the biblical perspective, but we all know it anyway.

    Does God need to tell you that it is evil? Well, yes, in a very broad sense of “tell.” You don’t need to hear it as some sort of word from the LORD. You don’t need to read it in the Bible. You don’t need to be aware that it’s coming from God. Rather, God has so structured reality, and has created us in such a way, that we can know what is evil in the world. In that sense we need God to “tell” us; for if he had not done it, we wouldn’t know. But as I said, it’s a very broad sense of “tell,” and nothing like the normal usage of the word.

    Do you need God for that? Yes. I do not mean you need a conscious, assent-giving awareness of God for it; if that’s what you mean by “need” the answer would be no. But I would argue that’s an incomplete and truncated sense in which to take the word “need.” God is needed (therefore we all need God) for morality; for without God there is no explanation for morality, no grounding for morality, nothing to make moral truths true, nothing to make moral knowledge real knowledge as opposed to feeling or fuzzy opinion. His reality is what makes our world the way it is, with moral realities as part of it. We need him for that, whether we recognize it or not.

  15. Hausdorff says:

    Tom Gilson (#14)

    You don’t need to be aware that it’s coming from God. Rather, God has so structured reality, and has created us in such a way, that we can know what is evil in the world.

    So by this logic, there is some structure of the universe that we live in that allows me to identify good and evil. If we assume for the moment that this structure does in fact exist, I return to my previous question, how do you know it is there because God put it there. How do you know it is not there as a giant cosmic accident (or coincidence if you prefer). If you insist it must be put there by a god, how do you know it is your God and not a different one from a different religion? Is the answer faith?

  16. SteveK says:

    Hausdorff

    How do you know it is not there as a giant cosmic accident

    I’ll try to explain using something Tom wrote above. At the same time I hope not to overstep my bounds and say something that is clearly wrong.

    Nature has so structured reality, and has created us in such a way, that we can know

    As you can see, I took a portion of Tom’s comment about God and reworded it so that it refers to nature and knowledge in general. Now, ask yourself this question: what would the essence (or structure, as you called it) of nature (the naturalisic kind) have to be like in order for it to create such a reality?

    It seems obvious to me that it’s essence would have to include purpose. Why? Humans purposely seek to obtain knowledge and humans are part of naturalisic nature, not separate from it. Therefore, “purposeful” must be at the essences of nature.

    Again, why? Something cannot be purposely sought out by accident. You can’t accidentally, step by step, seek to know – that’s a contradiction of terms. But that’s what naturalism says. It says that nature is accidentally, step by step, seeking to know the universe we live in.

    The only way to get around this problem (I think) is to say humans are not part of nature. But that makes no sense under naturalism. Nature is all there is.

    Under Christian Theism this makes coherent sense. God is separate (in essence) from his creation and our purposeful seeking is the result of God’s purposeful creation.

  17. Hausdorff says:

    I think I have gotten a little confused, so if what I say here makes no sense that’s ok, but I’m going to try anyway.

    In (#14), Tom Gilson said that God put a structure on reality in such a way so that we can know good and evil. When I read that I see 2 separate claims.
    1. There is a structure on reality
    2. God put that structure there.

    I was saying that even if we agree that 1 is true (that such a structure exists) it doesn’t necessarily imply 2. In fact, one of the possibilities should be that it is just there, not put there by anyway or anything.

    In (#16), SteveK was addressing this point (I think). He changed God to nature, as the thing which put the structure on reality. My issue there, is it feels like nature is being personified here. It is not so much “Nature has structured reality like…” As much as it is “Reality is structured like…”. There is nothing doing the structuring, it is just there. (I can’t tell if I am making a point or just being overly pedantic, sorry)

    SteveK, you said something else in (#16) that I thought was interesting

    You can’t accidentally, step by step, seek to know – that’s a contradiction of terms.

    While I agree this is true, it is possible for me to accidentally stumble into a position where I would then seek to know something. For instance, suppose I am channel surfing, and I come across some show that piques my interest, and from that point I seek to know more about it.

    In a similar fashion, I would argue that evolution is blundering forward without any particular purpose, and out popped humans. We have purpose, evolution did not have purpose to get to us. We can seek to know things, but evolution didn’t seek us out, we just happened.

    Put another way, we seek to know, but we are the product of an accident. I don’t think I see the contradiction there anymore.

  18. Tom Gilson says:

    I agree, Hausdorff, that 1 does not necessarily (or entirely) imply 2, but it does imply something. It is impossible for me to imagine anything other than a personal transcendent Creator structuring reality such that we could know good and evil. The reasons I think that are quite lengthy, so I will not go into them here, but they seem solid to me and to many others. It seems to me you agree already, anyway: for I think the reason Steve’s personifying of nature seemed wrong to you is because you already know that impersonal nature could not do that job. That was his point, too.

    You seem comfortable with the idea that we came to be by accident and without purpose. Did good and evil come to be the same way? Is it just accidental that torturing babies for fun is wrong? Is there any point or purpose in its being wrong?

  19. Victoria says:

    @Hausdorf

    Welcome, and nice to meet you 🙂

    Well, the site is called Thinking Christian, after all. Tom, like myself, and others, are convinced (on evidential and experiential grounds) that Christian Theism is in fact, objectively and eternally true.

    So, when Tom wrote ‘God put that structure there’, he is obliquely referring to Genesis 1:1, and all that follows (as expressed in the complete Biblical doctrine of Creation).

    You might find Edgar Andrews’ book Who Made God? rather instructive, if you want to get a perspective on what one gets when one starts with ‘In the beginning God….’

  20. SteveK says:

    Hausdorff,
    I hope to clear some things up and further strengthen my point.

    It is not so much “Nature has structured reality like…” As much as it is “Reality is structured like…”. There is nothing doing the structuring, it is just there.

    I agree. This is a more accurate way of stating it. The question goes back to the same one I asked before: what IS the essence, or structure, of this reality? I’m going to look at only naturalistic reality.

    Naturalism claims that naturalistic reality, in essence, is without purpose or intentionality.

    In a similar fashion, I would argue that evolution is blundering forward without any particular purpose, and out popped humans.

    Those emerging humans are part of the same naturalistic reality. There is only one reality, right? Yes they are unique and they have a unique functionality, but they are nonetheless part of it.

    If it helps, think in terms of the human body. Over time things “emerge” as the body changes and grows. Things like a heart and a stomach form and those things have a unique function so in a sense they are unique compared to the body itself. However, those things are forever part of the human body and always will be. They are not separate from it.

    Likewise, humans are part of naturalistic reality just as stars, planets, basic elements, molecules, and oceans are.

    Put another way, we seek to know, but we are the product of an accident.

    I hope you will see that this is an impossibility. Keep in mind the analogy of the human body growing, changing over time and forming a functional heart and stomach.

    Here is what you are saying: Through a series of random, unintentional steps, naturalistic reality created intentionality.

    To me that is like saying, through a connecting series of curved lines, I created a straight line.

  21. dan says:

    I am an atheist. Or rather I am an ex Christian. My journey to my current position has more to do with a knowledge that there just is not any evidence to suggest god exist. I believe we al must live moral lives. I am moral because I choose to be rather then the belief some sky bully will punish me.

    I have found I have no use for a god.

  22. Brap Gronk says:

    SteveK (replying to Hausdorff),

    Here is what you are saying: Through a series of random, unintentional steps, naturalistic reality created intentionality.

    What “intentionality” are you referring to? You touched a bit on human embryonic development, but I’m not seeing how intentionality follows from that.

  23. SteveK says:

    I’m speaking of the intentionality that we have as humans, Brap Gronk.

  24. warhoop says:

    “While I agree this is true, it is possible for me to accidentally stumble into a position where I would then seek to know something. For instance, suppose I am channel surfing, and I come across some show that piques my interest, and from that point I seek to know more about it.”

    Why would that channel pique your interest? Your analogy implies intention through choice, which is incompatible with a naturalistice worldview. You would be no more capable of choosing a channel to watch than discerning right from wrong.

  25. Victoria says:

    @dan
    Oh my, how sad, for you, especially given the fact that there are countless Christians (a few of whom you will find here) who have a robust faith grounded in knowledge that there is in fact, solid objective evidence for Christianity, and a real experience of God, having been redeemed by Jesus Christ, adopted into God’s eternal kingdom, and sealed with the indwelling of His Spirit. Walking with God is not always the easy path, and it is a life-long Work In Progress – some of us have even strayed, but by God’s grace, have been brought back.

    When we stray, the reasons are most always much more serious than a mistaken belief that there is no evidence for Christianity – sometimes, like Demas, one of Paul’s companions, we love this present world too much (2 Timothy 4:10), or we think we have so crossed the line with God that we are afraid of Him (Genesis 3:8-13), or that we think He let us down. The Psalms are replete with people who struggled with their faith for various reasons – just look at David, and all that he went through.

    ‘Lack of evidence’ is a rationalization because we don’t want to face the real reasons.

    You might find this link useful

    http://bible.org/article/down-not-out-discouragement-ministry

    I think I speak for the other believers here when I say that you will be in our prayers.

  26. Atheism is not just non-belief in God; Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are actually hostile to belief in God and are attacking Christians all the time. They are threatened by believers. Second, faith in God is more than mere belief in the existence of God; it is trust in his guiding hand. It is a relationship and that faith confirms itself in the experience of that guidance. So it simply isn’t the case that there is no evidence for the existence of God – faith provides evidence all the time.

  27. Tom Mavelikara says:

    @ dan… that comment referring to God as “Sky Bully” really cracked me up.

    I was, and to a large extent still am, in the belief system that I haven’t found evidence for the Christian belief system of God / redemption through cross.. et al.

    I was a regular church + Bible Study + Small group attendee till about ~ 5 years back when we just realized that a lot of this belief system doesn’t hold up. we stopped attending church.

    Now, I am back attending church. Not because I believe in all the theology. I actually to a large extent don’t believe in many of the fundamental things most christians believe in.

    The reason I go to church is I realized that I need some place to challenge (push me higher) me on moral / ethical / character thoughts. I have noticed that if I don’t have an ongoing structured session where I can get this, I slip away into becoming someone that I don’t like.

    So the question I asked myself is ” will I become a better or a worse person if I attend this gathering?”. The answer for me was that in my current stage in life, I will become a better person if I associate with other Christian folks. Hence I attend a local church.. …

  28. Victoria says:

    @Tom M:
    So what are you saying, that you are adopting the outward form of godliness, but not its content? Are you pretending at Christianity? Have you discussed this with people at the church you are attending? It is one thing to have doubts and struggle with belief issues, quite another to pretend that core Christian truth does not matter.

    Do you not realize that you are in danger of ending up like those people in Matthew 7:21-23?

    I’d suggest that you take the time to learn about the foundations of Christian belief – the evidence that supports our faith…you can start with http://www.apologetics315.com and follow some of the links there. There is a wealth of resource material for Christians to explore, so there is no excuse these days for someone to not know what the evidential basis for Christianity is.

    I’d suggest that you carefully read the New Testament again, and pay attention to what it says about what you are doing.

  29. Victoria says:

    @Tom M
    I’d also recommend three very well written books for your reading list:

    N. T. Wright, Simply Christian
    Edgar Andrews, Who Made God?
    Dallas Willard Knowing Christ Today

  30. Victoria says:

    @Tom M

    I was a regular church + Bible Study + Small group attendee till about ~ 5 years back when we just realized that a lot of this belief system doesn’t hold up. we stopped attending church

    Ok, to get a dialogue going, just how did you come to realize that a lot of this belief system doesn’t hold up? Exactly what did you think the beliefs are?

  31. Tom Mavelikara says:

    @ Victoria.. .

    Actually doesn’t it say that Jesus will deny knowing a lot of the so called religious leaders and preachers. That just implies no one can be sure.

    I never said that I am adopting outward godliness. I am learning how to live a better life. In my current state in life, I am getting that from a church I am exploring and a bible discussion setting.

    In honesty, it has little or nothing to do with God. It is about improving my inner life….

    The discussions that i have in my church and bible studies are about how to learn from the anecdotes in the bible and make my self better.

    if that leads me to an enlightenment towards God, so be it. If not, I am open to the possibilities.

  32. Victoria says:

    @Tom M
    Well, then, if that’s your goal, then I suggest you also add N T Wright’s After You Believe – Why Christian Character Matters to that reading list I mentioned.

  33. Victoria says:

    @Tom M

    In honesty, it has little or nothing to do with God. It is about improving my inner life….

    The discussions that i have in my church and bible studies are about how to learn from the anecdotes in the bible and make my self better

    So how does this fit in with, say, 2 Peter 1:1-11, where Peter describes the progression of Christian virtues, or what Pauls says in Galatians 5:16-26, where he describes the power to develop those Christian virtues, namely the indwelling Spirit of God Himself, given to believers as the seal of our inheritance in God’s eternal kingdom when we trusted in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross for our sins and His resurrection from the dead as the proof of God’s acceptance of that sacrifice on our behalf and the proof that He(Jesus) really is the Son of God (See Romans 5:1-11, Colossians 1:9-20, and Romans 1:4 for rather straightforward explanations).

    If the first greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and all your strength” (Luke 10:27) and Micah says in Micah 6:8 “to do justice, to love mercy, and walk humbly with your God”, how can you possibly say that “it has little or nothing to do with God”? If you simply ignore these commands, then what makes you think your attempts to ‘live a better life’ will be good enough when you find yourself standing before the throne of God and have to give an account? Christianity is about God reaching down to do for us what we could never do for ourselves, namely making ourselves righteous in His sight and earning our way into His kingdom ( see Ephesians 2:1-10 for example). Jesus did not come to show us how to live a better life, He came to redeem us and give us a new life ( Galatians 2:20 and 2 Corinthians 5:17)

  34. Tom Mavelikara says:

    @ victoria…

    “Jesus did not come to show us how to live a better life, He came to redeem us and give us a new life”

    I cannot disagree more with your view of Jesus. I believe his mission was to help people…

    “…..namely making ourselves righteous in His sight and earning our way into His kingdom”

    Here is one of the many area I just cannot understand Christianese. If God sees that everyone in HIS eyes are not righteous, then either his so called creation is flawed or his eyes are flawed. Either way, it points to him / her being flawed.

    In fact, none of us asked God to die for us.. did we?… He Choose to do that for bringing his own creation to his eternal praise center (heaven).

    Christian Theology, I believe is flawed. Just like all the other religions. This is no different other than the fact that 1000s of years of Catholic thinking has made the Christian theology more sophisticated sounding than say some of the other religions that are not so much in vogue.

    Having said that I have to admit that religiosity (in all its religious variations of God) has produced good people with good intentions.

    Peter, Paul and other that you quote are all the different shades of the organized religion that most Christians love to condemn. Most dogmas in Christian theology were thrown in by these folks and subsequent expedient interpretations of the bible by the Catholics initially and then every other form of organized Christianity.

  35. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Mavelikara:

    Victoria offered you a sound Biblical exegesis of why your position is untenable. I will attempt a summary (with a couple of twists) of what Victoria said, but instead of appealing to the Bible I will appeal to reason and the common experience of all humanity to make it more palatable to any non-Christians that may be eavesdropping.

    1. As you have already perceived, there is a chasm between what we are and what we judge that we ought to be: to put it bluntly, we are ill and gravely so.

    note: As Jesus Christ famously said addressing the pharisees, He came to call the ill not the healthy ones. The conclusion is not that the pharisees were not ill — Jesus was speaking ironically — but that we are *all* ill, morally, emotionally and spiritually speaking.

    2. But the existence of this chasm is in itself deeply puzzling; for it can only mean that our efforts in becoming what we ought to be are ultimately futile, for otherwise the chasm *would* have been bridged. But it is the common experience of every human being that ever lived with even a smidge of moral sensibility, that this chasm was never bridged, by anyone.

    3. It follows from the fact that the chasm is not bridged and was never bridged, that the chasm cannot in principle be bridged; for if the chasm could in principle be bridged then it is inexplicable why it was not bridged not even once.

    note: well, actually it was bridged… but by Jesus Christ, so it does not count as a counter-example — but it *is* relevant for my line of reasoning. See below.

    4. It also follows that if we cannot bridge the chasm for ourselves, we can neither help others in bridging the chasm for themselves, and likewise, we cannot expect purely human hands to suffice in helping us in bridging the chasm.

    So we are not only ill, but it follows from 3. and 4. that we cannot get (much) better with purely human help. Sure, we can get “better”, but in a purely local, circumstantial sense, but as I said above, our efforts prove again and again to be ultimately futile. From this it follows that:

    5. We need non-human (read super-natural, transcendental) help to bridge the chasm.

    And thus we arrive at Christianity. In order to bridge the chasm we need God’s help and on His *own* terms; we cannot do it alone or in our way (as in Sinatra’s song). And we also have Jesus Christ living example as noted above in 3., but what I said is enough for now.

  36. Tom Mavelikara says:

    @ victoria..

    “…what makes you think your attempts to ‘live a better life’ will be good enough when you find yourself standing before the throne of God and have to give an account? ”

    I am not trying to live up to someone else’s standard of better life. I am trying to become better today than what I was yesterday. that’s all i am trying to do.

    If I can look back on my life and say that I consistently improved myself, then I have lived a good life.

    Other people or non people judging me is really beyond my control.

  37. Tom Gilson says:

    Oops: false dichotomy alert:

    “Jesus did not come to show us how to live a better life, He came to redeem us and give us a new life”

    I cannot disagree more with your view of Jesus. I believe his mission was to help people…

    He certainly came to help people, partly by showing us how to live better lives, but not better in degree only, also better in kind. He came to redeem us and give us new life, a different quality of life, one that provides for us a new basis for living better lives. He came to provide the forgiveness whereby we can become reconciled to God, from whom we may draw supernatural resources, not just education and will-power, for living better lives.

    Here is one of the many area I just cannot understand Christianese. If God sees that everyone in HIS eyes are not righteous, then either his so called creation is flawed or his eyes are flawed. Either way, it points to him / her being flawed.

    I think parts 1A through 3B here should help with that.

    Peter, Paul and other that you quote are all the different shades of the organized religion that most Christians love to condemn. Most dogmas in Christian theology were thrown in by these folks and subsequent expedient interpretations of the bible by the Catholics initially and then every other form of organized Christianity.

    What do you mean “thrown in”? The central teachings of Christianity are central, not “thrown in.” They fit. They were there from the beginning. (I could also ask you about most Christians’ loving to condemn organized religion. My own perspective probably comes through in parts 4A through 4C here. I think we’ve made a lot of mistakes, but God is guiding us nevertheless.)

  38. Victoria says:

    @Tom M
    you can disagree all you want

    It’s not just my view of Jesus – this is core Biblical Christianity, and it is clear that you do not understand it. Please take the time to read those books that I recommended. You might also take the time to look at Tom Gilson’s ebook on this site
    (look here: https://www.thinkingchristian.net/ebooks/) for a very straightforward and clear explanation of what Biblical Christianity is. You might also want to get a book on Biblical Hermeneutics (how to interpret it): I’d suggest two: “How To Read the Bible for all its Worth”, by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart and “Scripture Twisting..” by James W. Sire.

    In the meantime, stay on the site, read and learn.

    I wish you the best in your quest to better your life, and I pray that you find out sooner rather than later that what I’ve pointed you towards is what you need.

  39. Victoria says:

    @Tom Gilson
    Thanks for catching the false dichotomy – I realized afterwards that I stated it as though the two were mutually exclusive, but it was getting late and I didn’t have the presence of mind to rephrase it

  40. Hausdorff says:

    Tom Gilson (#18)

    1 does not necessarily (or entirely) imply 2, but it does imply something.

    hmm, interesting. Maybe you are right. Perhaps if such a structure does exist it would require a God being to have put it there. I guess the next question would be, how do you know it is the God you believe in and not a different one. Or put another way, how do you get from A God, to your God?

    I’m still not completely sure I understand what this structure is that we are talking about anyway though. It seems like the ability to tell good from evil is inherent in us, rather than being inherent in reality. The fact that there are people who do things that the majority of people who say is evil (serial killers and such) seems to demonstrate that part of their brain is broken. They can’t tell they are being evil. That seems to make more sense to me in a universe without God than one with him. Perhaps you would say they know they are doing wrong but they do it anyway? Seems like they are still broken, but just in a different way. I guess then you might reply that we are all broken. (Sorry this got a little stream of conciousness, hopefully other people reading find the topic as interesting as I clearly do)

    Tom Gilson(#18)

    I think the reason Steve’s personifying of nature seemed wrong to you is because you already know that impersonal nature could not do that job.

    It is actually almost the exact opposite of that. The personification of nature seemed to imply that a personification was necessary. That there needed to be some conciousness at the helm. I was trying to highlight the possibility that this is not the case.

    Victoria (#19)
    Thanks for the warm welcome. Perhaps this is as good a time as any to explain why I am here. There are 2 reasons really.
    1. When I was in grad school, my roommate was catholic. We talked about religion all the time and it was fun. I miss it.
    2. I was spending time on a lot of atheist blogs, I got bored. Living in an echo chamber is boring, and if I say something stupid here people will be more likely to call me on it. Should keep my dumb ideas from spinning out of control too much.

    SteveK(#20)
    I’m not the biggest fan of your analogy. The heart has a specific function, to pump blood through our body. If the heart is gone, we die. We are part of reality, sure, but if we were gone reality would go on just fine. In fact, there is an argument that if we disappeared the rest of nature on our planet would be better off 🙂
    Perhaps I’m not understanding what you mean when you say “created intentionality”. I see that you answered this in (#23), but I still don’t really understand what you are saying. Can you please elaborate?

    warhoop(#24)

    Your analogy implies intention through choice, which is incompatible with a naturalistice worldview.

    I’m also not sure I understand this. Are you getting at a free will/determinism thing? In a completely deterministic world, does the illusion of choice solve the problem? In my mind, my goal is simply to relax with some mindless TV. I then ‘randomly’ flip channels, and I see something that interests me and that causes me to go read up on the topic. From randomness comes intention. Is what I’m saying making sense? Am I just misunderstanding your objection?

    (sorry for the long post)

  41. Brap Gronk says:

    there is a chasm between what we are and what we judge that we ought to be: to put it bluntly, we are ill and gravely so.

    How do we know we’re correctly judging what we ought to be? How do we know we’re “ill and gravely so” without appealing to the Bible?

  42. Tom Gilson says:

    Is there a problem with appealing to the Bible?

    And is it not obvious that there is a problem, anyway?

  43. SteveK says:

    Hausdorff

    I’m not the biggest fan of your analogy.

    Me neither. 😉

    The only reason for the analogy was to draw your attention to the fact that we are a part of naturalistic reality, not separate from it.

    So, while there may be functional differences within that reality, there can be no differences in essence. If nature’s structural essence lacks intentionality, then all things that flow from that essence also must lack intentionality.

    We know that human beings have intentions – they intentionally seek to gain knowledge. How did naturalistic reality create this ability in us? The only means to get to where we are today is through a series of unintended steps because that is all there is to work with.

    But that end result is impossible to reach, therefore the essence of reality must not be as naturalism claims it to be. Reality must be, at its core essence, purposeful.

    Another way to look at this is through the idea of potentiality. Naturalistic reality, at all times, had the potential to create intentionality in humans. This must have been the case *at all times* because if there ever was a time that it was NOT possible, humans would not have come to exist as they to today.

    But lack of intentionality does not have the potential to create intentionality. Therefore naturalism is false.

    FYI – I asked G. Rodrigues a question about potency because you and I were on this same subject. Take a look at what he said here

  44. Brap Gronk says:

    Is there a problem with appealing to the Bible?

    No, but I asked the question because G. Rogrigues prefaced his points in (35) with, “. . . instead of appealing to the Bible I will appeal to reason and the common experience of all humanity . . .”

    And is it not obvious that there is a problem, anyway?

    It’s obvious to me that no humans are perfect (IMHO), but I don’t see that as a problem.

  45. SteveK says:

    Brap Gronk,
    Do you judge yourself, saying that you ought to seek truth and do away with falsehoods? That you are not perfect in obtaining that goal is noted so let’s just look at where you are today.

    Would taking a few steps backwards by embracing a few more falsehoods be problematic to you? I think it would be. So, lack of perfection really is a problem for you when you think of perfection as where you are today.

  46. Hausdorff says:

    SteveK(#43)

    If nature’s structural essence lacks intentionality, then all things that flow from that essence also must lack intentionality.

    I just don’t see why. Seems to me that, in principle, intentionality could be emergent just like consciousness. (let me just open this can here, oh no! worms everywhere!!)

    In all seriousness though, I feel like your statement needs justification. It probably seems obvious to you, but I just don’t see why it must be true. It is possible you addressed it in the link above, but I must admit I got lost reading it. You might have to dumb it down for me a touch.

  47. SteveK says:

    From nothing comes nothing – and if you think I have to justify that statement, think again. From lack of intentionality comes lack of intentionality. You’ve got to start with something – some real existence – that is capable of getting you there. What does naturalism have to offer?

    Perhaps G. Rodrigues or someone else can help me out here. The answer, if I recall correctly, is in the idea of “being” or essence.

  48. Melissa says:

    Hausdorff,

    I just don’t see why. Seems to me that, in principle, intentionality could be emergent just like consciousness. (let me just open this can here, oh no! worms everywhere!!)

    Nice try, but that is not going to fly around here. Firstly it hasn’t been shown that consciousness can emerge as a product of brain chemistry. Secondly intentionality is a much more difficult problem than consciousness. I think you don’t see a problem because you don’t understand the problem.

    In my mind, my goal is simply to relax with some mindless TV. I then ‘randomly’ flip channels, and I see something that interests me and that causes me to go read up on the topic. From randomness comes intention. Is what I’m saying making sense?

    You have not shown how intention arises from randomness. It is not the randomness that produces your intention it is your thoughts about the random channels that produce the intention. ie intention arises from intention.

  49. Brap Gronk says:

    Would taking a few steps backwards by embracing a few more falsehoods be problematic to you? I think it would be.

    It might initially seem problematic to my current self (which would be my old self after embracing a few more falsehoods). But my new self (more falsehoods) wouldn’t think it’s problematic at all, since that new self wouldn’t think the falsehoods are falsehoods. In fact, right now I can think of some falsehoods I used to embrace, and I don’t see it as being problematic that I used to embrace them. It’s all part of learning and growing.

    With any luck and perseverance, some day I’ll look back on today and realize I was holding a falsehood or two in 2012. I don’t see that as problematic, either. I embrace the truth that I may be embracing falsehoods as I sit here today. Otherwise, my learning is done.

    So, lack of perfection really is a problem for you when you think of perfection as where you are today.

    Quite the contrary, achieving perfection would be problematic because I wouldn’t have any goals or unfulfilled desires if I were perfect.

  50. Melissa says:

    Hausdorff,

    The fact that there are people who do things that the majority of people who say is evil (serial killers and such) seems to demonstrate that part of their brain is broken.

    Given naturalism in what sense can you say they are broken? They are just a natural variation in the population. You calling them broken is just a reflection of your own interests rather than any objective measure of reality.

  51. Hausdorff says:

    Melissa (#48)

    I think you don’t see a problem because you don’t understand the problem.

    I totally agree! In fact, maybe I don’t even know what intentionality means. I have just been thinking of it “acting with intention”, but maybe that is wrong. Let me go over to wikipedia, I’ll be right back.

    Well now I’m more confused. I apologize for just assuming I knew what a word meant. I’ll still try to respond as best I can, if what I say highlights where my understand of intentionality is wrong all the better. Maybe someone can focus in on that and help me better understand the word.

    Melissa(#48)

    It is not the randomness that produces your intention it is your thoughts about the random channels that produce the intention.

    but where does my thought come from? Isn’t it in part due to the input from the random show I am watching? Can we perhaps make a weaker statement such as “randomness played a role in the decision”?

    Melissa (#50)

    in what sense can you say they are broken?

    This is a good question, and honestly I am not really sure. On the other hand, I’m not really sure what good and evil are either, but I think that whatever sensible definitions we decide on there are certain things that should come up as evil (such as torturing babies as mentioned above). By the same token, I’m not exactly sure what it means to be broken, but in a similar fashion it feels like a safe thing to say a serial killer is broken.

  52. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Brap Gronk:

    there is a chasm between what we are and what we judge that we ought to be: to put it bluntly, we are ill and gravely so.

    How do we know we’re correctly judging what we ought to be? How do we know we’re “ill and gravely so” without appealing to the Bible?

    I am somewhat mystified by your question.

    First it was clear from the post — and if it was not, I reiterate it — that I was starting from the experience of Tom Mavelikara, and indeed from the common of experience of all humanity, that there is a difference between what we are and what we judge we should be. Do you dispute that there is a difference? In post #44 you concede that,

    It’s obvious to me that no humans are perfect (IMHO), but I don’t see that as a problem.

    so what you are you objecting to *exactly*? It is a fact that is staring right at you in the face; explanation is warranted. Do you dislike the formulation “gravely ill”? Shrug shoulders.

    And since I am not in the mood for answering self-exempting skeptical questions, I will answer your question “How do we know we’re correctly judging what we ought to be?” if you answer me how we can know anything at all and if, and how, we can answer any moral question at all (warning: in the above quoted sentence you say that humans are not perfect…).

    Quite the contrary, achieving perfection would be problematic because I wouldn’t have any goals or unfulfilled desires if I were perfect.

    Fortunately then, that that is not how traditional Christian theology understands human perfection.

  53. SteveK says:

    Brap Gronk

    But my new self (more falsehoods) wouldn’t think it’s problematic at all, since that new self wouldn’t think the falsehoods are falsehoods.

    If I understand your comment here irrationality isn’t a real problem? It’s only a problem for our former selves and for others that have a mistaken notion about there actually being a problem. Is that what you are saying?

  54. Melissa says:

    Hausdorff,

    but where does my thought come from? Isn’t it in part due to the input from the random show I am watching? Can we perhaps make a weaker statement such as “randomness played a role in the decision”?

    I think “play a role” is a bit too strong, it implies agency on the part of the randomness. Of course the thought is about a particular circumstance that is random but the problem is that you were, with this example, attempting to show how entirely random processes lead to intentionality.

    This is a good question, and honestly I am not really sure. On the other hand, I’m not really sure what good and evil are either, but I think that whatever sensible definitions we decide on there are certain things that should come up as evil (such as torturing babies as mentioned above). By the same token, I’m not exactly sure what it means to be broken, but in a similar fashion it feels like a safe thing to say a serial killer is broken.

    A couple of things for you to think about in this paragraph. When you talk of deciding on definitions I’m not sure exactly where you are coming from. Do you mean we decide that torturing babies is bad in a similar way to the way we decide that a green traffic light means go? The other option is that our definition reflects reality. Atheistic naturalism is unable to offer a definition of good and bad that is independent of our own individually decided purposes, classical theism on the other hand readily supports moral realism. Atheistic naturalism offers no rational reasons to declare a person broken which is probably why you have referred to feelings in your last sentence. I’m sure it’s safe to say that the serial killer doesn’t feel he is broken. Why should your feelings on the matter trump theirs?

  55. Brap Gronk says:

    @G. Rodrigues,

    I was starting from the experience of Tom Mavelikara, and indeed from the common of experience of all humanity, that there is a difference between what we are and what we judge we should be. Do you dispute that there is a difference?

    No, I’m just wondering if we can know we’re judging ourselves properly without appealing to the Bible. Maybe we’re being a little too hard on ourselves. Maybe we have unreasonable expectations. Maybe some people are (in someone else’s opinion) OK just the way they are.

    so what you are you objecting to *exactly*?

    I’m not objecting to anything. I’m simply asking if what you wrote in point 1 of (35) can be supported without appealing to the Bible, since you said you weren’t appealing to the Bible at the beginning of (35).

    To me, this chasm between what we are and what we judge we ought to be is simply our desire for self-improvement (all too often with an unhealthy dose of materialism thrown in), much of it the result of observing others. I’ll grant the existence of a gap between this “is” and “ought”, but I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to assume the “ought” for the average person living in an isolated tribe in South America is different for the “ought” of the average person living in Manhattan. Whose “ought” is the right one? If someone claimed to have finally reached the point where they are what they judged they ought to be, could they be proven wrong?

    @SteveK,

    If I understand your comment here irrationality isn’t a real problem? It’s only a problem for our former selves and for others that have a mistaken notion about there actually being a problem. Is that what you are saying?

    No, embracing falsehoods you don’t know are false can be rational if you aren’t ignoring evidence that conflicts with the truthiness of those falsehoods. Many people who lived in ancient times and thought the world was flat were not irrational. People who think it’s flat now (instead of roughly spherical), if presented with evidence to the contrary, are being irrational. Ditto for young earth creationists then vs. now.

  56. SteveK says:

    Thank you, Brap Gronk. Returning to my previous comment:

    Would taking a few steps backwards by embracing a few more falsehoods be problematic to you? I think it would be.

    Whether you had knowledge of the truth or not, the fact remains that this is a problem for you *in principle.* It is for all of us.

    As a matter of principle, each of us says that embracing a falsehood is not something our minds ought to settle upon whereas we ought to settle upon the truth and hold onto that.

    Now apply that same line of thinking to our current condition as humans. As you said, none of us are perfect. Is that a problem? In principle, we know that it is. We know that in principle we ought NOT settle on imperfection and we judge this imperfection as a problem in need of a solution.

  57. Brap Gronk says:

    SteveK,

    As you said, none of us are perfect. Is that a problem? In principle, we know that it is.

    No, I still don’t think it’s a problem, in principal or otherwise. (I may be glossing over what you mean by “in principle.” Feel free to elaborate.) Our imperfection is just the way things are, and as far as I can tell, it’s the way things have to be realistically. Would I prefer not to embrace more falsehoods than I currently do? Yes.

    Let’s call my current state “A.” My state when I embrace more falsehoods would be A-, and my state when I embrace fewer falsehoods would be A+. Chances are that my state will change from state A to either A+ or A- at some point before I die. Although I do have a preference as to my future state, I don’t see any of the three as a problem.

    We know that in principle we ought NOT settle on imperfection and we judge this imperfection as a problem in need of a solution.

    I’d say being a perfectionist can be a problem.

    I’m just not buying this argument that humans have this huge problem, therefore we need God. It’s too similar to “we’re all sinners, therefore we need God’s salvation.” God appears to be a solution in need of a problem, and I find these fabricated problems unconvincing.

  58. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Brap Gronk:

    I’m simply asking if what you wrote in point 1 of (35) can be supported without appealing to the Bible, since you said you weren’t appealing to the Bible at the beginning of (35).

    Actually, I have already responded, although only obliquely. To quote myself from post #52 (a shameful thing, but I am lazy):

    And since I am not in the mood for answering self-exempting skeptical questions, I will answer your question “How do we know we’re correctly judging what we ought to be?” if you answer me how we can know anything at all and if, and how, we can answer any moral question at all (warning: in the above quoted sentence you say that humans are not perfect…).

    To answer your question directly, yes, I think a rational case, without an appeal to the Bible, can be made that justifies the existence of this observed difference, but I would have to think about it, hit the books and most probably it would not fit a combox discussion.

    To me, this chasm between what we are and what we judge we ought to be is simply our desire for self-improvement (all too often with an unhealthy dose of materialism thrown in), much of it the result of observing others. I’ll grant the existence of a gap between this “is” and “ought”, but I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to assume the “ought” for the average person living in an isolated tribe in South America is different for the “ought” of the average person living in Manhattan. Whose “ought” is the right one? If someone claimed to have finally reached the point where they are what they judged they ought to be, could they be proven wrong?

    To say that the difference between what we are and what we judge we ought to be is “simply our desire for self-improvement” is to explain nothing; it simply reformulates the difference in a different jargon and invites the obvious retort whence the desire for self-improvement? Especially one that the common opinion of humanity has held to inevitably lead to frustration.

    The question at the end of the paragraph is a *different* question altogether; it asks whether we can answer moral questions, that is, it is an epistemological question, and as I said above, I have little patience for self-exempting skeptical questions. Although once again, yes, such normative moral questions can be answered rationally without an appeal to the Bible (as the Bible itself, St. Paul more specifically, admits) — or at least *some* of the questions can be so answered.

  59. SteveK says:

    Brap Gronk,

    Would I prefer not to embrace more falsehoods than I currently do? Yes.

    You are affirming the principle that I spoke of, however, I think this innate desire goes much deeper than mere subjective preference.

    We weren’t made to embrace more falsehoods and that fact animates our inner desire to rid ourselves of falsehoods and seek the truth. It’s why you are here on this blog. It’s why we, generally speaking, conclude that we ought not rest where we are today. We know that we ought to be different than we are today.

  60. Brap Gronk says:

    SteveK,

    We weren’t made to embrace more falsehoods . . .

    If we weren’t made to embrace more falsehoods, what is the explanation for all the cognitive biases humans are prone to? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases)
    If there is a problem, I’d say it’s this kluge of a brain (my opinion) our Designer gave us, hence my reluctance to seek that Designer’s assistance to get me where I think I ought to be. In fact, aren’t these cognitive biases most likely there for a reason and just another example of one of the mysterious ways in which He works, that we simply do not or cannot understand? Why not embrace our God-given cognitive biases and the potential falsehoods that result from some of them?

  61. SteveK says:

    Brap Gronk,

    If there is a problem, I’d say it’s this kluge of a brain…

    Christianity says the problem is (metaphorically) the millstone tied around your neck. Literally, the problem is your sin nature.

    …hence my reluctance to seek that Designer’s assistance to get me where I think I ought to be.

    How are you going to rid yourself of your sin nature so that you can be what you ought to be? Tell me your plan, please.

    Why not embrace our God-given cognitive biases and the potential falsehoods that result from some of them?

    We ought to embrace them, but I think you have misunderstood. Not all biases are the same. Our God-given biases are not sinful biases. We were made for something, so yes, there is an inherent bias within us. At the same time, we are free agents so we can resist our biases or go along with them.

    Anything that leads to sin is not from God. Resist those biases. Embrace the God-given biases – the ones that move you to worship him, love him, follow him, know him, etc.

  62. Brap Gronk says:

    SteveK,

    I had a reply written yesterday but I scrapped it after I realized we would likely continue going in circles because I wasn’t getting your point about humans having a problem “in principle.” I may be coming around a little, hence the delay in replying. I’m not going to try to state what I think “in principle” means in this context, but I think I now realize that just because our desired state (the “ought”) is impractical or impossible to reach, or seems not-very-well-defined to some, or may present other problems if it were to be achieved, that doesn’t mean our current state (the “is”) isn’t problematic in principle.

    I was perhaps too hung up on looking for the obviousness of the problem Tom mentioned in (42), and since our sin nature is just the way we are (even if Adam and Eve are to blame), then that’s not an obvious problem to me (in a practical sense). Although I’m ok with calling it a problem in principle, I’m a long way from getting from there to “we need God” or “God exists,” but there’s no sense in trying to go down that path any further in this thread.

    Thanks for the dialog.
    Brap

  63. SteveK says:

    Thank you, Brap Gronk.

  64. SteveK says:

    Because atheism only means a lack of belief in God or gods, this rally in Washington DC has nothing to do with atheism. Nothing.

  65. Hausdorff says:

    I’m not exactly sure what your point is SteveK. Atheists are getting together for a rally, so what?

    The reason for the rally is the same as the reason for the various atheist meetups that there are around the country. It’s because we are hated.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-matousek/why-we-hate-atheists-fear_b_1157939.html

    The more people know we are there the harder it will be to vilify us. Getting noticed is a step forward, I think it is great. If we weren’t in such a situation I would think the rally is a bit silly.

    It’s not being atheists that made the rally happen. it’s being atheists in a country hostile to atheists.

  66. SteveK says:

    The point is the same as the OP – that beliefs animate how a person lives. You cannot detach “lack of belief in God or gods” from the way you live because of that belief.

    I am not bothered that atheists gather together like this BTW. Hope they all have a good time.

  1. February 20, 2012

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