Monday, January 27, 2014

The Atheist Dilemma

For the last four years, I've made it a goal of mine to try to understand atheists.  I stress that word - understand ­- because no amount of logical thinking leads me to a resolution wherein I might agree with them.  I mean, I know God exists from my own personal interaction with him, so that won't change.  But I had hoped to at least be able to understand their point of view - to be able to follow their line of reasoning to a point where I could say "You know what? I get it.  I see why you believe there is no God."

I mean, I can understand why some might ask "How do you know your God is the right one?" or "How can you claim to know God's intentions?" or the ever common question of "If God is so good, why does he allow bad things to happen to innocent people?"  I understand these questions.  I have answers of my own, but again, they come from my personal interaction with God - something that the non-believer wouldn't have had without first taking a step of faith.  So I can see why someone who does not have a relationship with God might ask these things.

What I can't fathom is why people claim the absence of God to be an absolute fact.  Not one specific God, mind you, but any God.  The statement "There is no God" to me is akin to being handed a sealed box and told "There's no cookie in this box."  If you haven't opened the box to find out, how can you know for sure?  We've explored such a small fragment of a fragment of a fragment of the entire universe.  How can humans presume to know so much from that small fragment that we can actually say "There is no God."?  We haven't explored the entire universe - the entire cookie box, so to speak - so how can we say for sure?

I've talked with a lot of atheists over the past four years.  I've tried to engage them in debate.  I've tried to get them to explain to me what it is that makes them so certain that God does not exist.  Most of them sidestepped my questions.  I'd get responses like, "I'm not here to teach you.  Go look it up yourself," or the ever common "I can't help you if you're too stupid to see common sense."  It's hard to get any real answers from them.  And if they did afford me the opportunity to ask deeper questions, most stopped replying at that point.

Part of the problem, I've noticed, is that atheists state you cannot use religious texts to support your claims, nor can you use the idea that "God did it" to explain things that science claims to be impossible.  So trying to get them to acknowledge the possibilities of a divine being would mean trying to do so through human means - scientific means.  Of course, we have no scientific evidence that directly links our universe to a God, so atheists conclude there is no God.  The most confusing circle of logic for me is when you ask them how science proved there is no God.  They state it is not up to science to prove it - it is up the religious community.  Then why do they cite science when trying to support their claims that there is no God?  "You can't prove a negative," they say, meaning you can't prove it if you say something doesn't exist.  But you can - I can open the box and see whether or not there is a cookie inside.  If it isn't, I've proven there is no cookie.  With God, the universe is the box.  We have yet to explore the entire thing, so how can we say if the cookie is there or not?

The argument of Russell's Teapot has been brought up on more than one occasion.  If you are unfamiliar with it, the concept came from a philosopher named Bertrand Russell.  He stated that if one claimed a teapot was out in space orbiting the sun, it would make no sense for people to believe him just because they can't prove him wrong.  My problem with this notion is that technically, there are circumstances in which his claims could be verified.  If we had spacecraft traveling longer distances, or if we used a satellite or unmanned craft, we could verify or disprove the claim.  But for the sake of argument, let's just say we couldn't verify his claim.  Does that mean that it is a fact that there's no teapot out there?  Or would it be more reasonable to say  "There could be a teapot, but we have no way of proving it."?  Because regardless of whether or not it could be proven, if the teapot is out there beyond the reach of human observation, then the claim is correct.  How, then, can we say for a fact that there is no teapot based solely on a lack of observation?

Science is often quoted by the atheists I've spoke with.  The concept that science has learned how the various systems and mechanics of the universe work - systems that were once attributed a God or Gods - seems to make some atheists believe that the only reason early man believed in God was because we couldn't explain things like eclipses or the rising/falling of the sun.  Once science learned how they worked, atheists say the need for God disappeared.  Again, this seems illogical to me.

This argument could be compared to a man who discovers a car for the first time.  He disassembles it, studies it, reassembles it, and figures out how to use it.  That's what we've done with science - we've learned how the various systems of the universe work, how the human body works, how the earth has changed over the years, and invented ways of managing all of it in our day to day lives.  None of this explains how the car (universe) came to be or who assembled it in the first place.  If matter can neither be created nor destroyed, then we all must have come from some unknown piece of original matter.  OK, so where did that come from?  And whatever the answer is, how then did that come into existence?  How did the space in which this matter resides come into existence?  How did the very laws of the universe come to be formed, and what holds them in place?

I don't say these things to somehow "prove" God did it all.  I say them to illustrate just how little we know - too little to be able to say for sure that he didn't.

One person encouraged me to watch a Discovery Channel special where Stephen Hawking explains his theories about how life in the universe began.  I watched the entire special online so that I could learn what this well-known and highly-respected scientific mind had to say about the origins of the universe.  Unfortunately, zero questions were answered.  If anything, it gave me even more questions to ask.  Hawking postulates that the beginnings of the universe itself spontaneously popped into existence from nothing.  Comparing to a certain type of particle (I watched this a while ago, so I don't remember the name) that has been observed to pop in and out of existence randomly and spontaneously, Hawking says it's very possible that the same could be said of the initial makings of our universe.  How this argument disproves God in his mind is beyond me - if anything, it supports the Christian Genesis story.

When faced with these questions, most atheists reply with "Well, we are still learning and experimenting every day, so the questions we don't know the answers to will one day be answered."  But for me, the important questions will not be answered.  You can tell me how something works, but if you cannot tell me how it came to be and why it happened that way, it will not disprove the existence of God.  You can describe how each of the processes of the universe function together and why they are necessary, but if you can't tell me what makes them go, why they work that way, what fuels the engine of this plane of existence, then you cannot rule out the possibility of a God as the driving force behind it all.

Contradictions in religious texts are another hot button topic for atheists - if there are apparent contradictions in the text, then it must not be true.  First off, most of what seem to be contradictions can be explained by differing points of view.  Think of it this way: You're walking down a crowded New York City street minding your own business.  You hear a commotion behind you and turn around to see a car smash into another car.  The two of them then hit a bus while fleeing pedestrians run in all directions.  Some are knocked over and trampled, others escape just fine, and still others stand still watching the chaos.  The police arrive and start interviewing people.  Do you think each person's account of the accident is going to be identical?  It's unlikely.  Does that mean the event didn't occur?

Other contradictions arise from scientific discoveries that seem to counter the Bible's claims.  The great flood, for example, is often cited as being scientifically impossible because the atmosphere can only hold just so much moisture.  This is where the "God did it" argument gets so much flak. But is it impossible that God did it?  Well, to disprove the idea, one would first have to disprove the existence of God.  We already know we can't do that, so how can we rule out the "God did it" possibility?  Yes, it seems like yet another easy answer to explain something that, at the time, couldn't be otherwise explained.  But again, without disproving God, we can't know that for sure.

And why is the existence of such a divine being so impossible to begin with?  We see differing levels of intelligence in our own world.  A dog can't perform complex mathematical calculations.  A monkey can't draw up designs for a suspension bridge.  We are the most intellectually superior beings on this planet.  But what about the universe?  Are we really so pompous as to think that there is nothing out there that might possess a higher level of intelligence than we do?  And if there is something out there with an intelligence beyond our own, why is it so unfathomable that this level of intelligence might allow it to manipulate the laws of time and space in ways we cannot? 

One atheist recently argued with me that the ability to imagine something doesn't make it exist.  "I could tell you that there are sixteen magic unicorns living in the core of Mars, but that wouldn't make it true.  Without empirical evidence to support that claim, one would have to conclude that it is false."  Just because you can think of an absurd concept doesn't automatically mean that ANYTHING we cannot observe ourselves is automatically untrue or nonexistent. How can we presume we are so intelligent that we know whether or not there is a divine being? How can we presume that the fact that this being has never physically shown itself to us means it isn't there? How can we presume that our understanding of scientific principals is the highest understanding there can ever be? For that matter, how can we presume that this is the only universe? How can we presume there are no other planes of existence - alternate dimensions or universes where God may reside? Humans can't even make it back to their own moon, yet they presume to know enough to declare no sort of divine being could have ever existed.  It boggles my mind.

During these conversations, I've been accused of being unable to think objectively, rationally, or logically. How is it objective, rational, and logical to assume that there is no God when we have not discovered each and every place intelligent life may exist? How could humans possibly have observed the presence or absence of a God if we've not yet explored every inch of the universe (or other universes, if there are any)?  I've yet to have an atheist provide any real answers to any of these questions.

Another argument often posed is that a loving God would not allow the injustices of the world to happen.  People seem to think that God's purpose is to heed to every request/demand we have and solve the problems of society. We still have world hunger? Blame God. Men raping women? Blame God. Children dying of disease? Blame God. The problem is that they are placing God on the same level as humanity and judging his actions accordingly. But as the creator, he is above any other being and therefore above judgment. How arrogant are we to expect to tell a divine being what he should or should not do?  He possesses a higher level of intelligence and understanding than human beings are capable of, and to expect to understand everything he does is unreasonable.

In reality, man has been given free reign over the Earth. These things don't get fixed by God because they're not God's responsibility to fix. They are our problems, our trials, and our responsibilities.  If our children are starving, it's because we aren't taking care of them.  Not God, but us.

The final, and possibly the most common, argument against the existence of God is the actions of people who claim to follow him.  Religious zealots wage war on unbelievers.  Homosexuals are shunned by churches.  Priests are molesting children.  It's easy to highlight the belief systems of these types of people because their actions are quite the opposite.  Religion is an easy front - in the eyes of the offender, saying "God told me to do it" provides a way of shirking moral responsibility for their crimes.  But man is responsible for man's crimes, no matter who they try to blame.  If someone walked into a mall with a gun and started shooting everyone in the name of atheism, it wouldn't mean that all atheists are evil.  Further, this entire argument holds no water because the shameful acts of an evil man have no bearing on whether or not God exists - regardless of what the crime was. 

So, sadly, after all of this I find myself no closer to understanding atheists than I was four years ago.  I just don't see how it is logical to state "There is no God" without proof.  The atheist will respond to that statement by saying "I don't see how it is logical to state "There is a God" without proof.  I can understand that, but it makes far more sense to me to at least acknowledge the possibility rather than write it off entirely.

I'm sorry, guys.  I really do want to understand.  It just doesn't seem rational to me.

God bless,

Kevin

17 comments:

  1. As an atheist myself, I've never said, nor have I ever heard another atheist say there is no god. All I've said or heard is I don't believe in god.That's a very different thing from what you've described above. No reason to believe in something for which there is no proof, much less worship and devote my life to it.

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    1. Well-known scientist Richard Dawkins has said flat out many times that there is no God. Additionally, a visit to just about any atheist forum or webpage will yield a large number of people who think it's somehow proven fact that there is no God. (www.reddit.com/r/atheism is a good example)

      I am, however, confused by your statement that you don't believe in God yet will not say there is no God. Are the two not the same? Unless you are trying to say that you believe we do not have enough evidence/knowledge to know one way or the other, but that sounds more like agnosticism, not atheism.

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  2. Enjoyed your books, by the way.

    Anyway, agnosticism and atheism aren’t mutually exclusive—you can be both. An agnostic doesn’t believe we have enough knowledge to definitively state whether or not a god exists. An atheist doesn’t believe in god. But many atheists will change their beliefs in the light of new evidence. At this time, there isn’t a bit of evidence in favor of the existence of a god, so, I don’t believe in one. As to the question of whether believing in a god and saying there is no god are the same thing, one is a statement of personal belief, while the other is a statement of definitive fact. Facts are only facts based on empirical evidence. Most people consider gravity a fact, while it’s only a theory. But the overwhelming evidence supporting the theory is enough for it to be considered a fact. No one says, “I believe gravity exists”—they say, “Gravity exists.” So many atheists will say “there is no god”, rather than saying, “I believe there is no god because there is no reason to.”

    It seems that because you believe a god may exist, you feel everyone should operate under such a notion. But think of it this way:

    A man is rushed to the hospital in need of a kidney transplant. No kidney is available, but one may be in a few months. The wife says to the doctor, “Freeze him until the kidney is available!” The doctor says, “We can’t freeze him because it will cause irreparable harm—he can’t be unfrozen.” He doesn’t say, “We believe we can’t freeze him, but we might be able to because we don’t know everything, so let’s give it a shot.” Current evidence says he will die, so we operate based on current evidence. That’s how I operate. Current evidence does not support the existence of God, so it doesn’t factor into any of my decisions, opinions, or actions.

    There is a popular misconception among believers that Richard Dawkins is a sort of atheist messiah, but he’s not. He’s just an exceedingly intelligent and logical biologist, who has gained the respect of a lot of like-minded individuals. In addition, he has never made the claim that God does not exist.

    http://www.examiner.com/article/richard-dawkins-not-certain-that-god-does-not-exist

    There are rotten people all over this planet, from all races, beliefs, genders and sexual orientations, and internet forums seem to attract a disproportionate lot of them. It’s probably not the best place to form an opinion of a group.

    Let me ask you something: are you open to the idea that there might not be a god?

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  3. Gonna need to reply in multiple parts due to Blogger's character limit. I really need to just get my own domain.

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    Enjoyed your books, by the way.
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    Thank you! I have plans/ideas for more, but right now I'm in a bit of a creative rut. I'll get back to it, though.
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    Anyway, agnosticism and atheism aren’t mutually exclusive—you can be both. An agnostic doesn’t believe we have enough knowledge to definitively state whether or not a god exists. An atheist doesn’t believe in god. But many atheists will change their beliefs in the light of new evidence. At this time, there isn’t a bit of evidence in favor of the existence of a god, so, I don’t believe in one. As to the question of whether believing in a god and saying there is no god are the same thing, one is a statement of personal belief, while the other is a statement of definitive fact. Facts are only facts based on empirical evidence. Most people consider gravity a fact, while it’s only a theory. But the overwhelming evidence supporting the theory is enough for it to be considered a fact. No one says, “I believe gravity exists”—they say, “Gravity exists.” So many atheists will say “there is no god”, rather than saying, “I believe there is no god because there is no reason to.”
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    But by your own reference, you are suggesting that while atheists say "there is no God" they are really meaning "I believe there is no God." Above that, you indicate that a statement such as "there is no God" is a person stating definitive fact and that facts are only facts based on empirical evidence. How, then, can they say that "there is no God" when there is no empirical evidence to support the claim? Shouldn't they then acknowledge it to be personal opinion rather than fact? Shouldn't they just say "I believe there is no God."?

    Don't get me wrong - I understand the point you are making. You're saying that you don't believe in God now because there is no evidence, but if evidence were presented, you might. I can understand that to a degree, but that still sounds more like overall agnosticism to me because you are open to the possibility of a God existing.

    In my experience and interaction with many (not all) atheists, that tends to not be the case. It isn't a case of "I believe one way and you believe another", it's a case of "You're not capable of rational thought if you don't agree with me." In one conversation, I was told "Religion will survive solely because there will always be people unwilling to think objectively, rationally and logically. In short, if there will be mentally lazy people, there will be religion." That doesn't suggest much willingness to change beliefs in light of new evidence.

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    1. ----
      It seems that because you believe a god may exist, you feel everyone should operate under such a notion.
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      Not quite. I respect a person's right to believe there is no God - everyone has the right to believe whatever they want and I don't want to take away from that. My problem comes from those who ridicule/belittle others for not feeling the same way. There is an overall condescending attitude that I receive from many atheists (offline as well as on) that I don't understand. I don't look down on people who don't agree with my beliefs, so why should they look down on me?

      Please understand - I realize that the things I've written here don't apply to the entirety of the atheist community. I have a number of friends who are atheists and we get along just fine. A former manager of mine is an atheist, and during the conversation in which I learned that, we both kinda shrugged and said "To each his own" and moved on. I don't look down on him, he doesn't look down on me. We're still friends today.

      But I've also lost people who were and still are very important to me over this same subject. They felt I looked down on them, I felt they looked down on me. Truth is - I never thought less of them for their choices. I simply didn't want to continue to have it rubbed in my face how stupid they thought religion and its followers were.

      In the end, they chose to walk away rather than work through it.
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      But think of it this way:

      A man is rushed to the hospital in need of a kidney transplant. No kidney is available, but one may be in a few months. The wife says to the doctor, “Freeze him until the kidney is available!” The doctor says, “We can’t freeze him because it will cause irreparable harm—he can’t be unfrozen.” He doesn’t say, “We believe we can’t freeze him, but we might be able to because we don’t know everything, so let’s give it a shot.” Current evidence says he will die, so we operate based on current evidence. That’s how I operate. Current evidence does not support the existence of God, so it doesn’t factor into any of my decisions, opinions, or actions.
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      And I completely understand that. No disagreement there. My issue is with the growing number of atheists who say there is no God, it's "proven" fact (yes, I've been told this), and that religion and its followers are, in essence, a blight upon the world.

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      There is a popular misconception among believers that Richard Dawkins is a sort of atheist messiah, but he’s not. He’s just an exceedingly intelligent and logical biologist, who has gained the respect of a lot of like-minded individuals. In addition, he has never made the claim that God does not exist.

      http://www.examiner.com/article/richard-dawkins-not-certain-that-god-does-not-exist
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      I don't think atheists see him as some sort of messiah, but he's certainly one of the loudest voices.

      The article you've posted seems to indicate a shift in his stance. Here's an article he wrote in 2006 with the title "Why there is no God."
      http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/258-why-there-is-no-god

      A search on Google for "Richard Dawkins Atheist" will yield many results in which he is identified as a well-known atheist, and it seems that the article you provided to me was the first event in which he identified as agnostic.

      And Dawkins is just an example I picked out because he's one of the most reputable names. There are plenty of others to choose from.
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      There are rotten people all over this planet, from all races, beliefs, genders and sexual orientations, and internet forums seem to attract a disproportionate lot of them. It’s probably not the best place to form an opinion of a group.
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      Yet those rotten groups ARE real people, and their numbers are growing. I don't suggest that they represent all atheists - there are plenty of people who do things in the name of religion that do not represent the religious community as a whole (I'm looking at you, Westboro Baptist Church). But the number of atheists who respond to people who identify as believers with arrogance, contempt, malice, anger, and ridicule is astounding to me. The reddit atheism group is just one place where I've attempted to communicate with them - I've reached out in many places numerous times over the past few years. And out of all of them, you're one of only a handful that has been able to respond to me without treating me as though I'm a stupid and uneducated fool simply because I believe in God. I appreciate the handful - but I wish I understood the rest.
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      Let me ask you something: are you open to the idea that there might not be a god?
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      I am not open the idea only because I have interacted with him, seen his work in my life, and know with every fiber of my being that he is there. I know that doesn't satisfy the atheist need for evidence and I don't expect it to. What I can say is that the Christian life is not lived 100% on faith. A person must take that initial step of faith, and once they do that, God reveals himself in many ways throughout their lives. We don't believe on faith alone - if we did, I'd completely understand why people think we're nuts, and the flying spaghetti monster comparison would hold more water. Faith is a key factor of course, but it is not all we have to support us.

      Thank you for your reply.

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    3. Thank you! I have plans/ideas for more, but right now I'm in a bit of a creative rut. I'll get back to it, though.
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      Creative ruts suck. Hope you come out of it soon. You have a real gift, so it would be a shame to see it wasted.

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      But by your own reference, you are suggesting that while atheists say "there is no God" they are really meaning "I believe there is no God." Above that, you indicate that a statement such as "there is no God" is a person stating definitive fact and that facts are only facts based on empirical evidence. How, then, can they say that "there is no God" when there is no empirical evidence to support the claim? Shouldn't they then acknowledge it to be personal opinion rather than fact? Shouldn't they just say "I believe there is no God."?
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      What I was trying to say is that people don’t always qualify their beliefs as such when making statements. If we look outside and it’s a nice sunny day, we might say, “It’s not raining out”, rather than “I believe it’s not raining out,” when it really might be raining, but so lightly that it’s not perceptible by looking out the window.

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      Not quite. I respect a person's right to believe there is no God - everyone has the right to believe whatever they want and I don't want to take away from that. My problem comes from those who ridicule/belittle others for not feeling the same way. There is an overall condescending attitude that I receive from many atheists (offline as well as on) that I don't understand. I don't look down on people who don't agree with my beliefs, so why should they look down on me?
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      A question for you: what concrete results are you looking to see in your quest to understand atheists? There’s really not that much to understand except the fact that they simply don’t believe in gods. Some of them have attitude issues, and some of them are complete idiots. But atheism is not a religion or even an organized group—it is simply a label for a viewpoint. I’m not even sure why the term exists. We don’t have similar labels for other things like “A-SaintNicolism,” for people that don’t believe in Santa. Lol What would you consider a positive and final outcome in your search for understanding?

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      But I've also lost people who were and still are very important to me over this same subject. They felt I looked down on them, I felt they looked down on me. Truth is - I never thought less of them for their choices. I simply didn't want to continue to have it rubbed in my face how stupid they thought religion and its followers were.

      In the end, they chose to walk away rather than work through it.
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      Similar situation here, except I guess they might have interpreted what I did as walking away. Truth be told, I was just tired of discussing the matter with a group of closed-minded individuals. In my situation, I never considered any of them stupid, but this was a case where I felt they were looking down on me. The idea that they were praying for me seemed like condescension.

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    4. My issue is with the growing number of atheists who say there is no God, it's "proven" fact (yes, I've been told this)
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      You may be told many things by many people. The Army of the Ignorant is legion, and I would consider anyone that says “there is no God, it’s “proven” fact” to be as ignorant as one that says, “there is a God—it’s a proven fact.” Ignorance is ignorance, and bad people are bad people, no matter what you believe or disbelieve.

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      I've reached out in many places numerous times over the past few years. And out of all of them, you're one of only a handful that has been able to respond to me without treating me as though I'm a stupid and uneducated fool simply because I believe in God. I appreciate the handful - but I wish I understood the rest.
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      Often times when I experience the same behavior from people or have the same results from things I try to do, I look at the common denominator—myself. Maybe I’m the one with the problem. Is it possible that your approach is flawed? Maybe the fact that you’re approaching the conversation from a close-minded viewpoint plays into it. You say you’re not open to the idea that there might not be a god, so you’re already going into the discussion with no wiggle room for understanding.

      Again, what are you hoping to gain out of your discussions with atheists? If one of them said, “You’re valid. You’re entitled to your beliefs. You’re not an idiot,” would that satisfy you? I can’t imagine from our brief discussion and what I’ve ready from your books, twitter, and blog posts that you’re under the delusion that you’ll be able to convert anyone, so what would ultimately make you happy?

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      I am not open the idea only because I have interacted with him, seen his work in my life, and know with every fiber of my being that he is there.
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      This statement in and of itself is very telling, and likely the reason for many of your troubles in trying to understand atheists. You are closed minded when it comes to any possibility other than the God of the Hebrew bible. Therefore, there’s really no reason for an atheist to discuss anything on this topic with you. You believe what you believe, regardless of the lack of evidence, and this is why many atheists will say you’re incapable of rational, objective thought. To be objective, you have to be open to all possibilities.

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      What I can say is that the Christian life is not lived 100% on faith. A person must take that initial step of faith, and once they do that, God reveals himself in many ways throughout their lives.
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      I used to lead a very active, devout, Christian life. I know all about faith, but something happened in my life that allowed me to have the courage to really question my own beliefs and open my mind to the potential for something else. What I’d been interpreting as God working in my life I soon realized was a combination of my own actions, coincidence, and wishful thinking.

      Thank you for your reply.
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      No problem. Glad to represent the handful.  Regardless of what happens after we die, we’re all on this earth together for the time being, as brief as it is, so it’s in all of our best interests to keep talking.

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    5. I'm not sure what would help me understand the atheist viewpoint, but that's exactly why I've been trying. I can understand why an agnostic might say "We have no idea whether or not a God exists, or if he does, which one he might be." I can understand the questions that arise with so many possibilities out there. So I was hoping to be able to come to a similar understanding regarding atheism. I can't give you an example of what would help me because if I had that example, I'd have what I'm looking for. :)

      And just to reiterate, I don't think I'd even care so much if my personal interaction with atheists hadn't been such negative experiences. Perhaps they've had negative experiences with religious people in the past and that's why they behave that way, but I don't like being lumped in with the nutjobs just because I believe in God. If I was the one to initiate/approach each of them first, then I might consider the possibility that I am the common denominator and therefore the problem. And I'm not going to lie, there are times when I've gotten snarky with people because I'm human and I don't like being treated like a little child simply because I believe in God. I'm not defending it, but there it is.

      You make a good point about my unwillingness to consider that there may not be a God. I see it as a fact just as atheists see a Godless universe as fact, so why should I expect them to budge? But truth be told, I've not really been trying to get anyone to budge - I just been trying to follow the train of logic that leads them to say with such fervor that there is no God. The response is always "We've seen no evidence a God exists", and that just leaves way too many doors open for me. If it was like you mentioned earlier (how you believe no God exists but you're open to changing your mind with evidence), even that would make more sense because it acknowledges that we don't know the definitive answer. The ones who say "There's no God - period" are the ones that perplex me. But I guess like you said, I suppose it's just ignorance.

      You ask what I'm hoping to gain - what would make me happy by all of this. Two things. One: If I can come to understand the atheist thought process, maybe I can repair some of the relationships that have been lost over the subject. I've never looked down on them for their choices, but if they think I do, then maybe showing them I at least understand their point of view would help. If they're willing to listen.

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    6. Two: I admit, this is highly unlikely, but I don't want to be treated/viewed as a mental patient for believing in God. I want religion/atheism to be able to coexist with neither side looking down their noses at the other. There's definitely a lack of understanding between the two, but if we could learn to just agree to disagree and love each other regardless, maybe some of the animosity that is there can be dissipated. Granted, I'm just one person and it's very unlikely I can change the world. But I'm not one to sit back and say "Meh, I'm never gonna make a difference." I'd rather die trying than live in apathy.

      I do want to say one thing before I go. You mentioned that you felt that the people you disagreed with were coming across as condescending in their statements that they would pray for you. I want you to know that's not the case.

      Penn Jillette once put it this way: Suppose the world really is governed by an all-powerful being that judges the souls of the world. And suppose that all-powerful being proclaimed that those who did not believe would be thrown into an eternal fire. Your friend knows this. Wouldn't it be his duty as a friend to let you know? What kind of friend would he be if he didn't?

      The same goes for prayer. Suppose the world really is governed by an all-powerful being that judges the souls of the world. And suppose praying to that being had the power to affect lives in a positive way. Wouldn't it be the duty of your friends to pray for you? What kind of friends would they be if they didn't?

      I don't know the details of your situation nor am I suggesting you disclose them to me. I also know that there are plenty of religious folk who ARE condescending and demeaning in their ways. But typically, when a person says they'll pray for you, they aren't saying "Cause you're gonna be so screwed on your own." They're saying "If my prayer can bring any amount of blessings to your life, I'm going to do it."

      Just something to think about.

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  4. I really do wish you luck in your search, but honestly, I’m not confident that you’ll find what you’re looking for, because even you don’t know what it is. Maybe think about more clearly envisioning a successful outcome before embarking on a quest of understanding, so you’ll know when you’ve found it. It may also help you guide your discussions with atheists because you’ll have a clear agenda, and can avoid some of the all-too-frequent ad hominem that tends to overshadow and sometimes dominate discussions between believers and non-believers.

    All communication is a two-way street. You choose how you approach or react to someone, and if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, these kinds of discussions inevitably end up as exercises in futility as each party recounts quotes, cites sources, and eventually hurls insults at each other with the intent of … what? Converting the other? It hardly seems like a search for understanding on either side. I’ve found that sometimes it’s best to recognize a person for what they are—good or bad—and then decide if you want to continue the discussion with them. But at least know why you’re continuing the discussion. Like I said, bad people are bad people—regardless of what they believe. Even if you understood their atheism, it wouldn’t help you understand why they are nasty, condescending jerks. As you don’t like being lumped in with nutjobs, I don’t like being lumped in with your view of atheists, according to this blog entry. If I grouped believers based on the actions of some, then I’d assume you look down on me because some believers think you can’t have morals without God.

    You are of course free to believe what you want. But part of the reason many atheists consider believers to be irrational is because believers are able to think of something as a fact without any evidence. That is illogical by definition. Atheists see a godless universe as fact (I use lowercase ‘g’ not to offend, but because I am referring to plural gods) because the lack of evidence gives us absolutely no reason to believe in it. It’s true that scientists don’t generally set out to disprove, but in their quest to prove, certain things are often disproven. For instance, in the study of the perceived link between vaccinations and autism, Scientists sought to find evidence to support the hypothesis, and they found none. Thus, the link between them has been effectively disproven. Might there still be a link that no one has found? Certainly. And when someone can show that link, have their study results peer-reviewed, and the majority of experts in the field agree that the link is valid, then the idea will hold water. But for the time being, avoiding vaccinations because there might be something we still haven’t discovered is socially irresponsible.

    I understand your point with the proselytizing, but I don’t put any stock in prayer, again due to the lack of evidence. So when someone says they’ll pray for me, they’re basically telling me they’re going to do nothing. There are a whole lot of people talking in their heads to something they believe exists, but very few of them are doing anything other than that. When I see people praying for victims of a disaster, it really upsets me. By all means, pray if it makes you feel good. But do something that will actually make a difference too. Donate time or money. Do something that actually accomplishes something. Mind you, I’m not referring to you in the above statement—I know you reached out to help victims of the typhoon in the Philippines. But you’re an enigma in that regard.

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  5. If you find that your ultimate goal is to have atheists and believers coexist with the same level of respect, then understand that there is a vast difference between one who accepts facts and theories supported by evidence, and one who feels that stories that appear to fill the gaps with no supporting evidence are somehow just as valid. It's fine if someone wants to believe those stories on a personal level, but those beliefs don't deserve to be treated with equal respect when it comes to legislation, education, and human rights. We should not be governing our behavior based on something that might be—we should do so based on what we currently know definitely is.

    My opinion on the subject, for what it’s worth, is that atheists won’t really be able to live in peace with believers until the believers acknowledge that their beliefs are just that, and stop trying to control human rights, scientific exploration, medical research, and the educational direction of children. There’s a big difference between trying to save someone’s soul through words or prayers and trying to enforce it by influencing the government.

    Again, just my opinion.

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    1. I'll be the first to agree that religious organizations should not be trying to influence legislature, and stop trying to control human rights, scientific exploration, medical research, and the educational direction of children. Jesus was never recorded standing in the way of lawmaker's decisions or telling his followers to force the world to comply with his teachings. The only thing I demand is my right to live and believe my own way, and as long as I have that, I will not stand in anyone else's right to do the same.

      I hope you don't feel I lump you in with the atheists I've described above. I tried to make it clear that I know that these things don't apply to all of atheism, just a large portion. You've engaged me in peaceful conversation far longer than most I've interacted with, and I really do appreciate and respect that.

      You say that when someone tells you they'll pray, you feel like they're telling you they'll do nothing. But you have to remember their intentions - that's not how they see it. To the people praying, they really believe this will have a positive effect on you. In their hearts, they aren't saying "I'll do nothing." They really are doing something they believe will benefit you. It's all in the intentions - they are just doing something that they believe will help you.

      I'd like to ask you a question. You've mentioned how believers have no evidence and follow a belief unsupported by evidence. But believers have personal evidence. It's based on our individual experiences with God - experiences that no one on the outside believes happen. We have our proof, but we didn't receive that proof until taking the leap of faith.

      You said that you're open to the possibility of God with the proper evidence. What would count as evidence? What would serve as proof to you that God exists? If Jesus appeared to you when you were alone in your home, would you write it off as hallucination? If he appeared to you as a man in the flesh, would you write him off as a lunatic? Would there not be the natural reaction of "Well, science just hasn't explained that yet" regardless of what it is?

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  6. 3 parts due to the crummy character limitations :S

    GREAT questions, and I’ll get to them in a minute.

    First, I’m glad to hear you feel that way about religious organizational influence, but when (if) you vote, do you vote for someone that represents your ideals based on your beliefs? Most people do, so you wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. However, that is where individual beliefs can influence and control human rights, research, etc. And that’s another reason why many atheists exhibit contempt for believers. They see the believers as working to force their beliefs on everyone else. And that’s a problem because there’s nothing to back up those beliefs other than what they perceive to be personal evidence, rather than concrete, repeatable, observable, and testable evidence. And many of those beliefs that we consider baseless are unjustifiably stifling and detract from our quality of life. If I want to marry the same sex, no one has the right to tell me I’m immoral or wrong for wanting to do so, unless they can prove I’m directly causing some harm to an individual or society by doing so. Same goes for eating shellfish, cutting my hair, or wearing clothes made of two different fabrics.

    I don’t feel you’re lumping me in with the atheists you’ve described above… now. But without knowing anything about me, I would suspect your initial impulse would be to lump me in with them. You don’t want to be stereotyped or lumped into a negative group of “nutjob” Christians, but labeling the majority of people that share one common belief—we don’t believe in gods—is even worse. Even if they differ on specifics, Christians share many common beliefs (God is real, the god of the Hebrew bible is the “right” God, Heaven exists, Hell exists, the Devil exists, angels exist, demons exist, miracles happen, etc.) Expecting certain behavior based on those beliefs isn’t far-fetched, but expecting that everyone that doesn’t believe in god will be condescending, arrogant, nasty, or flippant is not. You can’t even assume that an atheist is a liberal or that they don’t believe in other supernatural or far-fetched things such as UFOs or ghosts. Some actually do.

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  7. Now to the question of proof and evidence:

    I don’t want to resort to dictionary definitions and the like because it can come off as condescending, but in this case, I think just very basic definitions of proof and evidence are necessary to explain my view. Evidence is something that is used to prove the truth or validity of a belief. Proof is something that compels the mind to believe something is true or correct. In short, evidence helps to prove (or disprove) a belief. However, what is considered proof to some is not considered proof to others. The mind is naturally compelled to believe what we want to believe, so we instinctively look for (and usually find) proof in natural, everyday occurrences. We see a situation that appears to be too amazing to be by chance as support of our belief in miracles. We see a lost loved one in a dream and, due to overwhelming grief, interpret it as their appearing as a ghost. We want so desperately for there to be an ultimate reason for everything so that our own pain and struggles are somehow worthwhile, that we attribute everything (both good and bad) to the divine plan of a loving father-figure.

    However, many people are too easily convinced. Proof can always be questioned. It all depends on how much one wants to dig. This is something skeptics, scientists, and atheists are accustomed to doing to an extraordinary degree. It’s called critical thinking. Many times, what’s being accepted as proof is coincidence, pareidolia, or attaching meaning to a series of events that are in reality completely unrelated. Unless you’re open to the possibility of changing your belief based on new evidence, you’ll always dismiss evidence that doesn’t support your belief, and accept evidence that supports your belief. What you call taking a leap of faith, I consider closing your mind to other possibilities.

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  8. So to the questions at hand:
    ----

    “What would serve as proof to you that God exists?”

    Assumption:
    - When you say “God”, you’re referring to the god of the Hebrew bible.

    Answer:
    1) He would need to appear in some obvious, visual form that could not be explained as anything else (clouds, nebula, toast, etc.) This is to help eliminate the possibility of pareidolia.
    2) He would need to communicate clearly in a form that could not be explained as anything else (thunder, wind, backward messages, etc.) This too is to help eliminate the possibility of pareidolia.
    3) He would need to create a man and a woman as described in Genesis (from dust on the ground, breath into his nostrils, woman from the man’s rib, etc.) under controlled, laboratory conditions. This is to prove that he can defy the laws of physics, create life, and by definition, perform miracles.
    4) Multiple objective people would need to witness his appearance and creation of man and woman. This is to remove the possibility that I’ve lost my mind and am experiencing things in my own head.
    5) He would need to adequately explain one biblical inconsistency/contradiction of my choosing in a way that left no uncertainty or room for questions. This is to show me that there actually may be explanations for all of the inconsistencies/contradictions.
    6) The entire experience would need to be peer-reviewed so that numerous skeptics have a chance to poke holes in it. All would need to agree he was God.

    ----

    “If Jesus appeared to you when you were alone in your home, would you write it off as hallucination?”

    Assumption:
    - By “appear”, you mean non-corporeal, since your next question explicitly states “in the flesh.”

    Answer:
    I would think it was a hallucination, or I would investigate the possibility of a projection or reflection from an outside or hidden source. Because hallucinations and image projections are proven realities, and since I’m alone, I wouldn’t have anyone to validate or provide me any other evidence to support the authenticity of the visit.

    ----

    “If he appeared to you as a man in the flesh, would you write him off as a lunatic?”

    Initially, unless he was willing to submit to and meet the success criteria described in my answer to your first question. But, since he’s not only God but also Jesus in this case, then there’d be additional criteria:
    1) He’d need to look like Jesus—no southern rock stars with blue eyes and brown, straight hair. He would have looked more like Osama Bin Laden than a member of Lynard Skynard.
    2) He would need to show me the crucifixion wounds as described in the bible.
    3) He would need to bring a dead body that’s been confirmed dead for no less than 48 hours back to healthy, normal functioning life, under controlled, laboratory conditions.
    4) He would need to turn water (H2O) into wine (Pinot Noir is fine) under controlled, laboratory conditions
    5) He would need to walk on water of a depth no less than 24 inches under controlled, laboratory conditions
    Again, all would need to be witnessed and peer-reviewed and agreed upon as the first question.

    My mind can be changed, given enough evidence to leave no room for doubt. This was actually a very fun exercise for me. I’ve never asked myself what it would take to change my mind on this subject, but it was fun thinking about it.

    Oh, if God/Jesus did prove to me they were real, I wouldn’t worship either or both of them. I’ve read the bible, and I don’t like either of those characters at all.

    Hope this helps provide some insight.

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  9. First off, I appreciate the time you took to provide that well thought-out response!

    The answers you've provided above do not leave any room for faith. While I have stated that belief in God does not rely on faith alone, it is indeed an integral factor. I know that the concept of faith is something atheists do not embrace, so I suppose the entire debate boils down to that very piece of the puzzle. Atheists reject faith-based thinking while believers embrace it.

    Maybe you're right - maybe there is no answer to be found in my search to understand atheists. But I thank you for taking the time to hash it out with me. You're the first person to run with a conversation like this with me for this long, and I admire and respect that.

    We'll have to do it again sometime!

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