The Summary Case For Atheism

This page contains my short summary of why I am an atheist. I think it is important to be able to convey in a straightforward manner what I believe and why. Obviously, this summary isn’t a complete argument in and of itself; that’s why in each section you’ll find hyperlinks that will take you to a page or pages that examine the subject matter in more detail, like an FAQ. Those pages are part of the ongoing project that is Evaluating Christianity.

What Does It Mean To Be An Atheist?

When I say I am an atheist, I mean it in the same sense that I believe any proposition; that is, I assert it tentatively and subject to the best knowledge that I have know. For example: I also believe that there are no magic pixies on the surface of planet Pluto. If at some point in the future NASA sends a spacecraft to Pluto that photographs sprite-like figures waving magic wands, well, I would revisit that belief. But until I see those photos, I am justified in believing that there are no magic pixies on Pluto. In the same vein, I am currently justified in believing that there is no God.

Think about what it means to claim that something ‘exists.’ That claim generally indicates that something manifests to one or more of our senses; we can see, touch, hear, smell, and/or feel it. Puppies exist. So too, do the wind and the warming infrared rays from the sun – even though they’re invisible, we can nevertheless feel them. Indeed, even things that are too small for us to observe directly (such as molecules) or too far away (such as black holes) are nevertheless detectable by equipment that amplifies our senses. With a powerful telescope, I can tell you if a black hole is in a particular region of space; with a powerful microscope, I can tell you how many molecules of carbon are in a particular sample. Because we have direct evidence for all of those things, we’re justified in claiming that they all “exist.”

On the other hand, we have no such direct evidence of God. He does not make himself manifest to us; we cannot see, touch, hear, smell, or feel him. We cannot amplify our senses to detect God in any way. Thus, if you’re asking whether God is more like (a) puppies, the wind, and black holes on the one hand, or (b) magic pixies, we have to conclude at this stage that God does not “exist” in the same way that puppies, the wind, and black holes all exist. On face, God is more like magic pixies than he is like puppies. This is the prima facie case for atheism.

Against this prima facie case, Christians generally offer five different types of arguments:

1. First, Christians often argue that God does manifest himself to us in the form of visions, inspiration, personal feelings — what evangelicals call “the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit.” These arguments aren’t sufficient justification for those who don’t share in the underlying belief, and even Christians admit this to be so.

2. Second, some Christians argue that we have secondary, hearsay evidence for God as recorded in the Bible. Thus, even if God does not deign to manifest himself to us (for whatever reason), he has manifested to other people in the past – Abraham, David, the Apostles, Saul of Tarsus, and so on – and that evidence is preserved in the Bible. But the Bible isn’t a reliable source of secondary evidence, even on its own terms.

3. Third, many Christians claim that even without the hearsay evidence of the Bible, we have indirect manifestational evidence for God by examining the world around us. Because only a God could create living things, the Earth, the Universe, and so on, the fact that those things exist is in and of itself an argument that God also exists necessarily. This argument is embodied in Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”). I contend that the exact opposite is the case — the Heavens declare that the God of the Bible probably doesn’t exist and certainly did not create this Universe with humans in mind.

4. Fourth, Christians argue that other non-material things exist, such as love, mathematics, morality, and the like, and that therefore it is reasonable to place God in the same category of “existing, non-material things.” In many cases, this argument is phrased as a clash of “worldviews” with the argument that the atheist has an inherent bias against the supernatural. I show that atheism isn’t a worldview, and that my arguments survive the shared worldview both of the atheist and the theist. I also address presuppositionalist arguments and find them wanting.

5. Fifth and finally, Christians often argue that God is necessary for absolute morality to exist. I show that this argument is packed with untenable assertions that do not provide an independent argument for Christian theism.

On the pages linked above (and at the right), I argue that each of these counter-arguments is insufficient to refute the prima facie case for atheism. Therefore, belief in God is not warranted.

36 Comments »

  1. […] post summarizes the second set of answers to potential objections to my Summary Case for Atheism, in which some Christians have contended that the Bible provides sufficient secondary evidence for […]

  2. […] post summarizes the first set of answers to potential objections to my Summary Case for Atheism, in which some Christians have contended that personal revelatory experiences provide sufficient […]

  3. […] post summarizes the third set of answers to potential objections to my Summary Case for Atheism, in which some Christians argue that God is a necessary explanation for the world (and by […]

  4. […] post summarizes the fourth set of answers to potential objections to my Summary Case for Atheism, in which some Christians argue that it is reasonable to believe that non-material things exist. In […]

  5. […] think I answer this directly on my Subjective Experiences page. I do not assert that we necessarily live in a “purely material world” and I think many […]

  6. […] you an atheist?” often gets a variety of different answers, and Andrew presents his personal Summary Case For Atheism.Over at State of Protest, Procrustes asks the ethical question Would You Lie About Your Faith To […]

  7. micahgibson12 said,

    With regard to your post about the Bible not being a reputable source for a defense for Christianity I would like to challenge you to find any book that is better substantiated by manuscripts. The Bible is the best supported of all ancient works and it is strange that there is still a debate to its validity given these facts and others such as the substantiation by the Dead Sea Scrolls (http://www.carm.org/questions/about-bible/manuscript-evidence-superior-new-testament-reliability). In fact the Bible is better supported by its more that 5,000 separate manuscripts than even the works of William Shakespeare (http://www.allaboutthejourney.org/bible-manuscripts.htm). John Warwick Montgomery, Ph.D. summarizes this point by saying, “To be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.”
    Also another pillar for the Bible is its archeological support. Multiple archeological finds have validated Biblical claims which led Nelson Glueck Ph.D. to say, “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.”

    I would very much like to discuss these issues in greater depth, but to save your blog from a comment that could be as long as the original post I will stop here for now. I would like to discuss our respective worldviews in greater detail if your interested and would also appreciate your opinion on a post I just recently wrote about evolution if you care to take a look.

  8. Andrew said,

    Micah,

    It seems to me that you’re confusing the authenticity of the text with the reliability of its contents. The number of extant manuscripts can tell us how much the books of the Bible of today resemble the books of the Bible circulated in antiquity. That’s not really part of my argument, but from a skeptical perspective obviously the seminal work on this issue has been done by Bart Ehrman, as you probably know.

    My argument is not directed to the authenticity of the Bible; I’m happy to concede that much of what we describe as written in it now was written in it back then. My argument is that the contents themselves are not trustworthy, and the number of manuscripts simply doesn’t speak to that.

    As for archaeology, I would direct you to this post by a Christian, Dr. James F. McGrath, here. The bottom line is that much of what is described in the Bible is actively contradicted by archaeology; this is actually a much stronger point for atheism than for Christianity.

  9. micahgibson12 said,

    Sorry it has taken me this long to reply, but a Political Science exam had to take precedent over the weekend.

    Anyway, disputing the Bible as a source of truth while allowing the authenticity of the Scripture to stand requires one to look at the world view it prepossess and decide whether or not it lines up with reality.

    I would argue that the Bible presents a world view that agrees with reality better than any other religion or philosophical persuasion as it is the only world view that exposes the true natures of God (perfect and holy) and Man (sinful and lost). It shows the source for absolute truth in our world, as well as the moral standards humans are to live by.

  10. Siamang said,

    “It shows the source for absolute truth in our world, as well as the moral standards humans are to live by.”

    Do you have evidence for this claim?

    Also, what evidence would it take to convince you that this claim was false?

    “the Bible presents a world view that agrees with reality better than any other religion or philosophical persuasion”

    And every other member of every other religion would disagree with you. By what method can we determine which one is right and which ones are wrong?

    The burden of proof of an extraordinary claim is on the claimant. So if I’m walking down the street and a person hands me a book and says “this book expresses the thoughts and desires of the creator of the universe”, I have to ask for evidence. Because that person might be a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Scientologist, a Mormon, a Zoroastrian, a Hare Krishna, etc…

    I’m still at step one: what evidence do we have that this book is the absolute one, end-all-and-be-all books, the complete and utter guide to the infinite? By what criteria can I decide how to know which religious traditions’ holy book is right, and which are wrong?

    For example, if God didn’t like what was in the Bible, how would we know?

    I often ask the question, by which method can I tell a true theological idea from a false one, such that anyone, from any background or tradition can follow this method and come to the same conclusion? You will have noticed I have asked this question multiple times in this post. It’s because from years and years of asking this question of theists, *I have yet to get an answer*. I would like you to attempt to answer it.

    For example:
    If I read a map wrong, I wind up in Des Moines instead of Chicago: falsehood discovered!
    If I do my taxes wrong, the IRS knocks on my door. Falsehood discovered.
    If I take the wrong medicine, I wind up sick or dead. Falsehood discovered.
    If I cook meat improperly, I get sick. Falsehood discovered.
    If I drive my car improperly, I crash or get arrested. Falsehood discovered.

    What happens if I pick the wrong religion? Really… how can anyone know? Big deal, you live your entire life as a Sikh or a Zoroastrian or a Jain or any of hundreds and hundreds of competing “one true worldviews”.

    Is it that I die and God tells me “sorry, it’s the Scientologists who were right. Sorry, bad guess dude, it’s ScientologyHell for you.”

    If religion is a source for truth, what is the method for determining truth so that anyone from any religious background can tell a true theological belief from a false one, just as surely as a bad map lands you in Des Moines rather than Chicago?

    When I look at believers, I can’t figure out WHY they believe the stuff they believe. It seems to me that they always think what they believe is amazing, awesome, important… okay… but also the ONLY WAY, and GET RIGHT or BE DAMNED, and ‘God told me He doesn’t like what you’re doing with your penis, now cut off the tip and come with me to temple.’

    You said that you believe Man is sinful and lost. Is he also capable of being honestly mistaken about what God commands? If humans were honestly mistaken in their ideas of God, how would they know, or would most even think to ask that question?

    And I can’t figure out, one, why they’re so all-fired sure of themselves, and two, how they would possibly know if they were wrong about all this stuff they claim they know. I mean, I call faith the magic 8 ball with only one answer: “You’re RIGHT, God agrees with you, KEEP BELIEVING!”

    So I’d ask you, really, by what method can I tell a true theological idea from a false one, such that anyone, from any background or tradition can follow this method and come to the same conclusion?

    In my ignorance of a way to cull true supernatural beliefs from false ones, I prefer making no supernatural claims at all. I’d like to think it’s humility that keeps me from claiming that this book or that, or this preacher or that speaks for the Creator of the Universe. But truth be told, it’s just plain befuddlement. I can’t, and have no desire to put my opinions above anything other than “this is an opinion of one human being.” I don’t claim to speak for God, or Zeus or Thor when speaking my opinion. (I have noticed that God always seems to agree with the politics and social views of whoever’s preaching.)

    But also, I found that there’s a crispness to the world once I shed my supernatural beliefs. It was like I was breathing uncluttered air. My life simplified. My fears and superstitions subsided. There is a simplicity, a humility and an austerity to this view of the world. I live an unadorned spiritual existence. There is an ascetic quality to my life, vacated by ghosts and angels and demons, and kings and slaveholders… and the mythology invented by superstitious folk of civilizations and peoples long passed into memory.

    Gone are the nightmares of an invisible world. Here and now, I live. Not forever, but at least not in the past, and not in the imagination.

    My heart beats. My mind explores. My family is fortified with my love. And that is so much more than enough for a small organism on a forgotten speck of dust on an insignificant and temporary bubble of spacetime.

    Enjoy your journey, Micah, as I enjoy mine. Do not forget for a moment that you are made of starstuff.

  11. micahgibson12 said,

    How we understand which world view is correct and which is incorrect is by showing which lines up closest to reality. To use your map illustration, if you are in the middle of the two cities, Des Moines is always west of Chicago. The question is finding a map that tells you that Des Moines is west and how to get there, and this is the difference between Christianity and all other world views. Humanity is shown as depraved beings incapable of repairing their fallen natures. All other world views portray man as either good or somehow able to redeem himself by his works. The Bible also gives the source for the morality that all humanity is aware of, yet unable to reach.

    “For example, if God didn’t like what was in the Bible, how would we know?” – What was in it would not line up with reality. This is also the answer to the question no theist has been able to answer for you. To decipher a “theological idea” implies the existence of God and an absolute standard of truth that permeates all areas of existence. The theory should then be compared to that truth to see if the theory holds water. If the theory is compatible with reality then one can reason that it is an accurate reflection of the Creator of that reality.

    By the way, religion is not the source of truth, it is a method of learning and practicing truth.

    • Andrew said,

      Micah,

      I will move on to your new arguments if you will concede that you were wrong in your first comment on this post; namely:

      1) admit that your ‘manuscript evidence’ is not responsive; and
      2) admit that the archaeological evidence is evidence against Christianity rather than evidence for it.

      Otherwise, you just seem to be scattershotting arguments here, and I don’t think that’s productive to engage.

    • Siamang said,

      Sorry, but I think I’m no less confused than before about your beliefs.

      Is this an attempt at answering my question: ‘by which method can I tell a true theological idea from a false one, such that anyone, from any background or tradition can follow this method and come to the same conclusion? ‘

      If I have understood your post, this method is “look at reality, and see if the Bible depicts it correctly”. Is that what you are asserting?

      I’m sorry, but I don’t think that is sufficient, as the world is full of people who have the same opinion of their differing religion. The Muslim believes that his holy book is most compatible with reality, as does the Sikh, the Hindu and the Jew. Now you may contend that they are mistaken, when you are not. But notice that I asked my question that this must be a method that works regardless of background or tradition.

      Since this world is full of sincerely believing people who contend that their religion is the best view of reality and humankind’s relationship with God, your method has already shown not to work. Indeed your method *itself* conflicts with clearly observable reality!

      Yet it is clearly observable reality I am looking for. How does one assess whether your religion is right or wrong?

      If I am a poor locksmith, my failure is plain to anyone who cannot get into their front door. If I am a poor tailor, buttons pop off your suit.

      What happens if I am a poor theologian? What happens if I am one of the millions of sincerely believing members of a religion that you do not belong to? By what measure can any person, from any background or tradition tell a true theological belief from a false theological belief?

      If religion is a method for learning truth, it must be able to tell truth from falsehood. We know that method for locksmiths and tailors. What is the measure for theology?

      • micahgibson12 said,

        In response to Siamang, I would like to express my sincerest appreciation for the two of you discussing these issues with me, especially Andrew as this is his blog and space. I also appreciate the fact that the two of you are making me think and articulate my position, skills that one cannot hone sharp enough. I also appreciate that this conversation has remained civil and reasonable; issues such as these naturally incite great emotion, but I appreciate how we have not lowered ourselves to anger and name-calling.

        I will try to articulate my argument on reality better. Siamang, you brought up the fact that every world view believes it is correct and that its views line up with reality best. The fact that there is only one reality implies that with all these different world views claiming that they are correct, at least some are incorrect. Each and every world view can test its validity by comparing itself to reality to see if there are any discrepancies. The comparison of every world view to reality creates the ability to determine which world views and persuasions are true and which ones are false.

        In response to your 5th paragraph, sincerity does not necessarily imply correctness. A person strung out on drugs may sincerely believe that they can fly. A paranoid person may truly believe they are being stalked. A religious zealot may truly believe that they are justified in sacrificing their children to their god. None of these are true despite sincerity.

  12. Siamang said,

    “The comparison of every world view to reality creates the ability to determine which world views and persuasions are true and which ones are false.”

    And how does one test if one’s comparison skills are working correctly, or if they are sincerely mistaken? Or if one has been merely brought up to view reality through the lens of their religion, and uncritically mistake their tinted view of reality FOR reality?

    What does failure look like? See my examples of the locksmith and the tailor.

    My great-grandmother had a sincere religious belief that I will not name. Let us stipulate for example that this religious belief was sincerely in err. She has since passed from this life. What did her failure look like? How can I know now that she was wrong? To all who knew her, she was a generous, kind, hardworking loving mother who raised three sons by herself.

    Where can all who look upon her see where she so clearly erred?

    What does her error look like? If she were a poor seamstress, it would show in the quality of her garments.

    If she was a poor cook, the proof as they say would be in the eating.

    What does erring in religion look like to the outside, such that anyone from any background or religious belief could look upon her life and see honestly that she followed an incorrect religion?

    If, as you say, religion is a method for learning truth, HOW can the measure of it be for the individual to look at their own holy book, look at reality and then go “yep!”? Is that not a recipe for *everyone* to always answer affirmatively about their own holy book?

    I call that the magic 8 ball that always gives the same answer: “You’re right! God agrees with you! Keep believing!”

    For a method to actually be useful for learning truth, it must *reliably* be able to let you know about a falsehood in spite of your own ability to self-deceive.

    How does your method protect you from self-deception? If you were being self-deceived about the efficacy of your method, how would you know it?

    • micahgibson12 said,

      “And how does one test if one’s comparison skills are working correctly, or if they are sincerely mistaken? Or if one has been merely brought up to view reality through the lens of their religion, and uncritically mistake their tinted view of reality FOR reality?”

      Allow me to answer the second question first. It is the responsibility of every individual to examine their world view for themselves in an honest search for truth. If you simple accept everything that you are told as true, you can be led to believe anything. This search for truth is also very possibly biased as you pointed out, and that is why it is important to frame our study as a search for truth not an attempt to force reality to fit our world view.
      As far as proper comparative skills are concerned we can compare adequately by asking questions such as: what is the nature of man, what is the nature of God, why is there evil in the world, where did we come from and numerous other questions that force us to examine our world view against reality.

  13. Andrew said,

    Micah,

    1. I am not certain about what you mean by “not responsive.” I misunderstood your argument at the beginning, but believed that we had come to an understanding that you are not attacking the textual concistency of the Bible.

    Correct. But you initially argued that the manuscript evidence was evidence for the validity of the Bible. It isn’t, any more than the fact that there are 50 million copies of Dianetics out there proves that the Galactic Overlord Xenu flew trillions of souls into volcanoes using 747s.

    2. I feel no need to concede the archaeological evidence to your argument.
    [links deleted]

    Well, see, this is why I wanted to go back to your arguments rather than just scattershot them. 🙂

    A work is historical fiction if it gets some percentage of the history correct and some facts wrong. That’s the category into which we should place the Bible, as I set forth in this page, at part D. Yes, the Bible records some actual history — which is all your links show. But it also garbles real history, which is convincing disproof of its inerrancy (and more analytical support for the notion that the Bible was written by ordinary men of their time).

    • micahgibson12 said,

      We test the validity of the texts by comparing what they say to reality and history. As far as reality is concerned, we establish whether or not the Bible is true by comparing it to the reality we have using the questions I expressed in response to Siamang’s comment, among others that can prove beneficial.
      We also establish credibility by showing that the Bibles historical claims line up with the archeological evidence we can find as well as by comparing the statements made to other works of the same period.
      To say that a work is historical fiction by the criteria you established is to through the entire record of human history into the realm of the uncertain. Every historical record we have and every archeological discovery we find is a second hand source. We were not present to see these events take place and we have to trust that the records we have are not corrupted by extreme bias or outright lies. This is the reason that our courts do not require a jury to have 100% certainty on the ruling of a case, rather they have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. The rest of the picture we have to take on faith, and then the question becomes is the faith reasonable.
      Another source of credibility for Scripture is the accuracy of the prophesies it makes. To show this I would like to give the example of Isaiah’s prophecy about the nation of Israel. Not only did Isaiah prophecy the destruction of Judah about one hundred years before the event, but he also prophesied there eventual return to Palestine and the recreation of a Jewish state (66:7-10). This is astounding considering that the history of the Jew’s is one of constant attack and hate. The prophecies about Jesus are also very striking when one considers mathematical probability (http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/radio034.htm).

      • Andrew said,

        1. I still think you don’t get the argument about the Bible’s blatantly wrong historical references. If you offered me a history textbook that said the American Revolution took place in 1405, or that Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters was the first man to walk on the Moon, we’d both understand that the textbook is not reliable as history. It wouldn’t save the argument to point out that the textbook correctly identified that North Dakota was admitted to the Union in 1889; the mistakes are enough to disqualify that textbook as good history.

        The Bible is that textbook. Not only is it not the inspired and inerrant word of God, it isn’t a reliable guide to the ancient world, and even other Christians (like James McGrath) concede this to be so. If the Bible is wrong about one of its central claims — which it is, in that the Exodus never happened — it follows that we can’t look to the Bible even as a record of history. I stand by my original argument, that archaeology strongly refutes the veracity of the Bible.

        2. I think even most Christians would disagree with your overly creative reading of Isaiah 66 as a prophecy concerning the destruction of Israel and creation of a Jewish state. Also, I would be concerned about the potentially anti-semitic character of your remarks regarding the supposed “history of the Jews [sp].”

        Here’s my challenge to you: give me a criterion for fulfilled prophecy that includes your Isaiah 66 argument but excludes, say, Nostradamus. I reject both.

  14. Nathaniel said,

    Andrew,

    Judging only from what you’ve posted on this site, it seems to me that you’re a long way from establishing either of the two points you are asking Micah to concede. The link to McGrath’s post regarding Joshua and the conquest of Canaan didn’t produce much; a few people who posted there have read Finkelstein, but that’s hardly the only (or even the best) recent work on the subject. As for the manuscript evidence Micah mentioned, it forces you into a narrower set of choices for the explanation of how these texts got to us than would be available if they had been subject to massive alteration. That’s all, but it’s certainly more than nothing and does have some (albeit indirect) bearing on their historicity.

    • Andrew said,

      Nathaniel,

      1. If your argument is that the Exodus did happen, I’d kind of like to see the evidence for that. The consensus view seems to be that it isn’t, a view that is even shared by Christians. That seems to be a prima facie refutation of Micah’s assertion.

      2. I assume you agree with me that Isaiah 66 doesn’t say what Micah claims it does?

  15. Nathaniel said,

    Andrew,

    1. Depends on what you mean by “the Exodus.” If you mean a migration of three million Semitic people all at one point in time, at present the evidence that I’m aware of doesn’t seem to underwrite that.

    But it is doubtful that this is even what the text says. Part of the difficulty may simply be due to a misreading of ‘eleph as “thousand” rathern than “clan,” “family,” or “military squad,” a meaning that it clearly has elsewhere in the Old Testament, arguably even in Joshua, e.g. 22:14. (A very similar word (root ‘lp) means “officer,” and that seems clearly to be the meaning intended, e.g., in 1 Kings 20:30, where a falling wall is not likely to have killed 27,000 people but might well have killed 27 officers.) The difference between 600,000 people and 600 clans is pretty significant, and the adjustment in scale makes a difference to the archaeological footprint we would expect the Exodus to leave.

    There is nothing improbable about the exit of the a group of west Semitic clans from Egypt prefatory to their settling in Canaan. Such migrations were hardly unprecedented: The Lower Nubian population in the Nile valley, oppressed by high taxation under Ramesside rule starting in the Late Bronze age, simply moved southward to areas out of Egyptian control. Israel as a people group is mentioned in Egyptian sources before 1200; they were unquestionably on the map at that point.

    That doesn’t prove that the biblical Exodus happened. It seems doubtful that archaeological evidence even could provide proof (or disproof!) of a migration of nomads into the desert, and the event was not likely to be memorialized in Egyptian records, particularly if it was accompanied by acute embarrassment for the Egyptians. So we come back to the texts we have. Do they show signs of having been written by people in situ in the thirteenth century rather than by someone composing a historical romance in Babylon more than half a millenium later, as Finkelstein and Devers assume? In a number of distinctive ways, they do. If you want details, just ask. There are, believe it or not, things that Wikipedia doesn’t cover thoroughly.

    It’s my position (Micah may disagree) that Christianity doesn’t stand or fall with the correctness of the details of the Old Testament history, so from my point of view this is a relatively low-stakes issue. But I’m not overwhelmed by the evidence for the “centrist” position of Finkelstein and Devers. And I think the minimalists are demonstrably nuts.

    Let me just pause to take issue with this comment of yours:

    A work is historical fiction if it gets some percentage of the history correct and some facts wrong.

    This definition, if followed consistently in secular studies, would force us to the conclusion that there is scarcely any work of history anywhere. Josephus is gone. Tacitus is gone. Suetonius is gone. Herodotus is gone. Thucydides is gone.

    The word “fiction” should be reserved for work that is not written with historical intent — work where the author is not even trying to retell something as he believes it actually happened.

    2. I haven’t looked it up lately. All I can say is that it’s an interpretation I’d never heard before.

    • micahgibson12 said,

      Nathaniel,

      I would agree that my (our I assume) faith is not best supported by, nor dependent on Old Testament references. While these certainly give credence to our opinion, they are not the linchpin of the Christian faith. That honor is reserved for the Resurrection of Christ.

    • Andrew said,

      Nathaniel,

      Other than as hagiography, how does one divine the intent of the Gospels?

  16. micahgibson12 said,

    Hear the word of the LORD, you who (N)tremble at His word:
    “Your brothers who (O)hate you, who (P)exclude you for My name’s sake,
    Have said, ‘Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy ‘
    But (Q)they will be put to shame.
    6″A voice of uproar from the city, a voice from the temple,
    The voice of the LORD who is (R)rendering recompense to His enemies.
    7″Before she travailed, (S)she brought forth;
    Before her pain came, (T)she gave birth to a boy.
    8″(U)Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things?
    Can a land be born in one day?
    Can a nation be brought forth all at once?
    As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons.
    9″Shall I bring to the point of birth and (V)not give delivery?” says the LORD.
    “Or shall I who gives delivery shut the womb?” says your God.

    Andrew, I am curious to how you would interpret these verse other than a prophecy about Israel’s rebirth given the context that most of Isaiah pertains to the coming destruction of Israel for their sin.

    Also understand the I am in no way anti-Semitic. Reviewing the statement in question I can understand how you could possibly be confused by my wording, but what I was trying to say is that it is amazing that the Jews have survived as a people since throughout their history they have been the target of innumerable assaults and threats.

  17. Andrew said,

    Micah,

    I’m not really sure what you’re asking. To me, Isaiah 66:8 (under the NASB heading “Hypocrisy Rebuked” reads like the aphorism, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” rather than a specific prophecy of future performance. I honestly can’t find any other mainstream Christian sources listing this passage as a ‘prophecy’ — which is why I asked Nathaniel if he’d heard of it (and he hadn’t).

    But even if it can be read that way, remember my second response: this sort of vague prophecy is indistinguishable from lots of other prophets (like Nostradamus), whom I imagine you reject. What criteria do you have to distinguish between prophecies that count and ones that don’t?

  18. Devin DeMoure said,

    Hope this is not put directly on your public site. (I prefer a regular person to person conversation).

    RE:”The Summary Case For Atheism”

    You might consider one more argument (thought) to tackle. Why have you dedicated so much time and effort to destroying “pixies in space?”

    I encounter oodles of crazy people who have strange beliefs. It usually does not cause me to change my schedule. But, if I believe that it matters (i.e. if a person believes that he or she may walk down the center of a 4 lain hwy at night in all black), I take action to try to keep this belief from continuing. This is harmful behavior.

    My conclusion is that you must see a danger in Christianity. Is it Dangerous for me to believe that God created you and therefore I ought to respect you and love you as my own brother. What are you saving me from?

    Most Christians that I know are decent normal everyday people who don’t protest, or file lawsuits. They believe in two basic rules 1. Love God and 2. Love your neighbor. I think that a lot of them find it difficult to believe that others can take such huge offense to this way of life.

    They want their kids to enjoy this life too and get miffed (typical lack of faith) when others try to destroy this belief system with unsubstantiated conjecture on what is wrong with believing in God.

    Your arguments must elevate your feeling of “knowing” the truth. You seem to have such a good handle on the here and now, but what about death. How do you explain away the resurrection of Christ? Takes a lot of historic ‘hoops’ to jump through to deny this. Please don’t think me naive, I know that a man of your intelligence would have no problem coming up with explanations, but have you ever wondered why it is so necessary to your existence to do so?

    I don’t think it is a big deal that you are wanting to convince the world that there is no God. But I do find it curious that many who do this don’t seem to have direction. It is popular to say that reality does not have a point, but why have we started buying that?

    It occurs to me that there might be a denial of the fact that belief in God is, indeed, an intelligent alternative to atheism, and that it stands as the antithesis of what it is you are arguing. My problem is that you don’t seem to know, in the end, where your argument leads you.

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  21. lece said,

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  22. musaindustrial said,

    Hi! Congratulations, and please continue with your great blog! I’ve found peace and happiness in Reason and Logic, and don’t plan to ever go back! Xianity and other religions exits still because they feed on people’s ignorance and primal fears, specially to the unknown (death, misfortunes, etc.) That’s why all they can do is to appeal to emotions with an oversentimental speech. Reason and faith are like water and oil; they can’t mix.

  23. Jesse said,

    You guys rally in circles big time. Forgive me for not reading everything, but the simple fact is we all have faith. Faith their is no God, and faith their is. You guys spend little time debating evidence, instead you debate semantics or theories and fling double negatives at each other. Let me simplify. The evidence for Christ’s existence is overwhelming and generally excepted by reputable scholars. Wikipedia Jesus and it will say he existed! You either believe what he said and the Bible or not. Regardless, We are all subject to the Creator’s authority, like it or not. None of us has the evidence that would prove otherwise. I can produce evidence and theories supported by evidence that support the case for God. No one can provide any evidence he does not exist. Only speculate or theorize that he can’t exist. I am sorry, but who the heck are you to state anything CAN”T happen. More importantly, what is your motivation to say it can’t? It is, of course the fact that You can’t or wont believe. Simple as that, you are narrow minded and not open to ideas that are not your own. There is Faith on both sides, just the Atheist side lacks evidence to support their convictions. It is written in the Bible that God put Eternity on Man’s Heart while shrouding answers in mystery so that faith would be the only option, one way or another. Their must be a reason they have to stipulate what an Atheist is several times in the first paragraph on Wiki. A belief in the non-belief is still a belief, even if ridiculous. Atheism is a religion, albeit a lame one which only serves to muddy an important theological question. Do you believe in that Jesus guy and his Bible they still talk about now in 2012-AD? Or do you adhere to a different faith?
    to summarize
    Atheist= Faith in nothing, because I have searched for nothing and therefor I have no evidence of anything, except my own ignorance, which I happen to believe in
    Theist=Truth seeker who follows his search wherever it might lead. Why anyone follows a belief system that actively promotes ignorance astounds me.
    The only thing I can say for certain is, Neither an atheist or theist can prove God’s existence, or non existence, definitively. There is however a mountain of Historical and scientific Evidence to support the existence of Jesus and the Authenticity of the Bible. An Atheist can can not provide one single historical or scientific piece of evidence to refute it, or back it’s own claim of, “God Can’t exist”. Nor would they, as theirs is a pledge of ignorance, it is up to you to dissuade them with knowledge. Luckily I have some since it is my Religion’s mandate to seek it. Get at me if you want some, or keep your head buried in the sand like a good Atheist. nutty113@yahoo.com

  24. Greg G said,

    I personally like this quote from Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon:
    For instance, looking back at Earth, I saw only a distant blue-and-white star. There were oceans down there, deep and wide, but I could see completely across them now and they seemed so small. However deep, however wide, the sea has a shore and a bottom. Out where I was dashing through space, I was wrapped in infinity. Even the word “infinity” lost meaning, because I couldn’t measure function at a specific point in the mission. Beyond that star over there, Alpheratz, is another and another. And over there, beyond Nunki, the same thing. Behind Fomalhaut, even more stars, stretching beyond my imagination. Stars and eternal distant blackness everywhere. There is no end. I’m not an overly religious person, but I certainly am a believer, and when I looked around, I saw beauty, not emptiness. No one in their right mind can see such a sight and deny the spirituality of the experience, nor the existence of a Supreme Being, whether their God be Buddha or Jesus Christ or Whoever. The name is less important than the acceptance of a Creator. Someone, some being, some power placed our little world, our Sun and our Moon where they are in the dark void, and the scheme defies any attempt at logic. It is just too perfect and beautiful to have happened by accident. I can’t tell you how or why it exists in this special way, only that it does, and I know that for certain because I have been out there and I have seen the endlessness of space and time with my own eyes.
    From The Last Man on the Moon by Eugene Cernan

    That is a simple faith, uncluttered by theology, multiple religions, historical debate, etc. It is a faith that I share.

  25. O_Oviedo said,

    I see that there hasn’t been any activity on this thread for a few years, but I recently read these comments and wanted to chime in, in the hope that someone is still listening and still cares about this debate.

    Andrew, I can certainly appreciate the effort you have put into crafting and researching your perspective. As I clicked the various links in which you expound upon and elaborate your ideas, I realized that you are a student of philosophy. As such, I sensed a focus upon winning arguments and defeating opposing views. And this is just fine, mind you. I think that any time you delve into the real of apologetics (either your own or those of another), this is what it becomes, a sport of who is right and who is wrong, all couched in intricate and nuanced forms of symbolic ideas and semantic maneuverings.

    Without studying philosophy to the degree you have, a person is not going to be able to coherently engage with you, regardless of cognitive ability or life experience.

    This aspect of your efforts is not exactly what I found compelling. Rather what was interesting to me was in part how people responded to you, in particular the theists. In particular the exchange between you, Micah and Siamang. Just as you point out that not all atheists are exactly alike , I would like to point out that theists are not exactly alike. Micah’s conviction that the Bible is an infallible, literal truth is very much a product of the “sola scriptura” philosophy of the reformation, and a view that I frequently see as the target of atheist abuse. But it is not really representative of theism per se, nor of Christianity in the larger sense of the word.

    Indeed, Siamang’s point is well made, in that it is asked “if each of these viewpoints of faith are all claiming to be exclusively correct, and all the others are wrong and doomed, how can one discern which one is correct”. Sadly, I think Micah’s reply was a rather immature one, that did not seriously consider the problem due to the fact that Micah was so convinced that his particular view was so infallible that he felt that objective reality would hold it up.

    In my opinion, as humans we are axiomatically imbued with a perspective. Each one of us is. And at the same time, the perspectives are rather diverse. Simply put, a person living on a mountain sees the world differently than a person living on a beach. Religious conviction and the heterogenious nature of faith and concept of God happens in very much the same way. Therefore it should not be shocking to see a Christian asserting that their spiritual practice is best, and also seeing a Muslim doing exactly the same. Think of it as a dog believing dogs are best and a cat declaring that they wouldn’t want to be anything but a cat. Where things get dysfunctional is when the dog can no longer tolerate the cat wanting to be a cat, and demanding it convert to being a dog, if you follow my meaning. In other words, the issue with the debate between Micah and Siamang is that they put far too much stock in the notion of there being errors with regard to personal belief or theology.

    Personally, I find it makes perfect sense for an individual to have deep conviction with regard to their personal perspective, while at the same time accepting the fact that other people have other perspectives, and that this situation is not a threat to nor denial of any one perspective.

    And I say this as a molecular geneticist, computational biologist, and Roman Catholic. Imagine that the existing reality, such that it is, can be sensed directly to some degree by every single organism on earth. Each organism has evolved its own particular sensory capabilities according to the need to adapt to the environment – lets call these distinct capabilities “Perspectives”. In this way, a bee might see colors that are impossible for a human to comprehend, and a platypus might sense electromagnetic emanations that are impossible for the bee, the human, or a snake to fathom. Now imagine that all these organisms can speak to each other, and can argue about which Perspective is correct, which is bunk, which is pure genius, and which is laughably moronic. And try to understand that this is very much how I see the theist/athiest/Christianity debate.

    And I am not trying to be dismissive. To the contrary, I am trying to point out a deeper phenomena in human cognition and consciousness, of which I believe God is a fundamental force. My point being that the dualistic mind, in which we want to bin everything we encounter as being either good or bad, and then feel very self satisfied at how right we are and how wrong they are, is a broken perspective. It is broken in that by fragmenting reality into simplistic bits, we loose any sense of the whole, and we loose touch with how to connect with the whole. Instead, we multiply the brokeness and failure of reality in our own minds and hearts. That is to say we force the dog to say that “doggishness” is good, and “cattishness” is bad, thereby preventing him from being one with the world and forcing him to take sides. In my opinion, it is this dualistic mindset that is symbolized by the tree of “knowledge of good and evil”, which by eating the fruit, Adam and Eve are thrown out of paradise.

    I really like how Andrew uses the idea of mathematics (does “five” really exist?) to illustrate some of his points. I think this is a very good metaphor for exploring the concept of God, or trying to develop a useful image of the unseeable. Again, I will connect this back to the idea of evolving senses leading to evolving perspectives by asserting that mathematics is in a lot of ways like a sense. We can no more prove with evidence from the natural world that the number “five” exists than we can prove that the color “red” exists, and on some level must be satisfied with the notion that as humans we can in our own way experience both, and this experience can be validated by consensus with other humans. And I say this not so much from a perspective of erudition in the study of philosophy in the formal sense, but as a biologist thinking of other species that cannot see in color. My point is that even though the objective existence of “five” is debatable, we can say that the ability to sense or perceive “five” is adaptive in that doing so allows humans to make calculations and predictions, in effect expanding our experience of the universe via physics, calculus, trigonometry and statistics & probability. Indeed, my ability to type my ideas onto this computer is thanks to the human ability to sense the objectively unreal abstraction of numbers.

    From this viewpoint, let me ask you if math spontaneously came into being the moment humans thought of it, or whether it is simply the byproduct of some biochemical process in the physical brain? I don’t thin people spend much time pondering this, nor debating the literal objective reality of math, and whether it exists or not. Why? I think it has to do with the fact that the utility of math is beyond question. Without math we could not have science, and it is evident that science and math are central to human success as we see it. In other words, the adaptive value of being able to “sense math” is beyond question. And in this way we can see that as humans (atheist and theist alike) we have no problem embracing a set of abstract symbolism that allows us to have an adaptive advantage.

    And so please try to understand that I personally see a belief in God as the very same sort of thing – a method of connecting my limited human sensory and cognition to a largely unknowable and infinite universe in a way that gives me an adaptive advantage. And yes, I have a particular way in which I have mapped or identified with this awareness, in particular as a Christian. And yes, as an atheist you can certainly delve into these particulars (like the idea that the Divine became incarnated in the flesh and is Christ) and frame them as absurdities with regard to what the infinite and unknowable “actually is or isn’t”. As if being an atheist or a theist entitles anyone to exclusive rights with regard to defining this. But from my view, this is akin to asking a mathematician to describe the number five, and then scoffing as he explains “well, it is flat on top, goes over to the left, comes down for a bit and forms a belly – like a semi-square S shape. But the Romans drew it with a V…”.

    There are many, many ways to symbolize and conceive of the number five, and many many ways to debate its literal existence in the same way that a computer, pretzel or rock exist. And yes, these debates can be entertaining and even gratifying when we win. But the point is that utilizing a symbolic image of something that cannot be sensed directly is a very human, and very adaptive thing.

    So with regard to God, it isn’t so much that I believe that humans are inventing God and elaborating on what God is or isn’t as they evolve. What I believe is that our human ability to perceive or sense God is evolving in a way that perfects how we relate to the unknowable and infinite universal processes and forces that create reality. And why can’t there be an aspect of consciousness (or personality) to these processes and forces? The fact that humans are possessed with these faculties points to the reality of consciousness being an intrinsic aspect of the universe, otherwise how could it have evolved out of the stardust, primordial goop, bacteria, protists and fish? How can we be so certain that given the immensity of eternity and infinity, we are a fluke? Enigmatically cast aside in an inanimate, unfeeling, thoughtless universe? As a geneticist and bioinformatician, it is evident to me that there is an code, a method of preserving, replicating and modifying information, of computing, adapting and evolving that is written into our genes. It is not a difficult leap for me to see a symbolic system, like a computer code or advanced Turing machine that is not a product of human artifice.

    It is easy to take cheap shots at the Bible, because from a modern point of view, the patriarchs of the Pentauch were often barbaric, backward, incestuous superstitious and petty. But try to see it through the lens of human evolution, and the evolution of the ability to sense and relate to something beyond human understanding (God). And try to see how this whole narrative evolves and culminates with Christ commanding us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love God (the unknown, infinite source of all that is) above all. I

    f you can fathom the meaning of this, in the same way as you fathom the meaning and implications for the number “five”, you might catch a glimpse at why these beliefs, perspectives and values are adaptive. Let me explain: we all know how to love and look after ourselves, in fact all organisms have mechanisms for self-preservation hard wired into them. Now imagine turning that instinct into a drive to preserve your whole community, nation, or all of humanity? Or to preserve all of life on the planet (Pope Francis has declared that preserving our mutual home by way of protecting the environment, is a work of mercy). And now you begin to see the adaptive value of this belief. And what about loving God above all other things? To me this means devotedly spending a substantial portion of my time and effort relating to and connecting to the unknown, the unknowable, and the infinite through the lens of all that is good and holy. In other words, prayer. My perspective is that this activity is adaptive in that it opens my mind to possibilities and ideals that are good, and truly beyond my limited experience of self. It is humbling and it drives me to become more than I am – in other words to evolve, to adapt, to overcome adversity and participate in creation, thereby achieving my highest potential. It is no less than every plant, animal and bacteria strives to do. But because of the human ability to regulate environmental variables through technology, and because of our ability for symbolic thinking and abstraction, I believe it is necessary to understand our selves as entities and free agents, and also to have a concept of what is outside of ourselves, as well as having a grasp of how to relate to the whole, in order to evolve.

    Indeed, our ability to impact our environment, along with the fact that thoughts come before and direct actions, frames the human mind as an aspect of the environment in which all species on this planet live. What we thing and believe really matters, insomuch as we act on those beliefs, or act upon the beliefs of others, who in turn might take physical action.

    I think that the real point of the theism/atheism debate is that we could be facing a speciation event in humanity, with one group evolving an ability to better “sense God”, and another group evolving the ability to “ignore God”. Make no mistake, the notion of deity has been with us from the beginning – a quick survey of Joseph Campbell will quickly demonstrate the role of mythology in the human mind, regardless of time or place. The interesting question for me at this point is whether theism or atheism is more adaptive, or rather, what particular nuances of either is adaptive. And I say this while fully acknowledging that particular theists and even Christians have a maladaptive way of practicing their faith – radical fundamentalism, or literal and rigid ways of thinking, or the unselfaware wholesale embracing of dualistic thinking are all examples of religion which I feel are problematic, and not truly in line with Christian values per Christian scripture and tradition.

    I would dearly love to converse with an atheist who can illuminate the adaptive value of ignoring God, and who isn’t too hung up on semantics and parsing definitions. Who isn’t too hung up on being right or wrong, and who is versed enough in his atheist perspective to articulate a speculative view of what the atheist species might look like in 500,000 years compared to its theist cousins.


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