First of all, I don't think religious belief is extremely destructive.  I agree that intrinsically divisive, irrational and unfalsifiable beliefs about the nature of reality are frightening in the 21st century.  You don't need to look far in this age of terrorism for evidence of this.

Yes, religion has committed atrocities.  Yes, nonbelievers have less reason to act so destructively.  And yes, religion is not necessary for a good life.  Most of us agree there.

BUT, religion is not always or even often destructive.  Although most Christians (I have no experience with members of other religions, sorry) would be fine without their religion-I'm not claiming they can't- it's a characteristic of religion's circular logic to convince people that God is the only source of meaning and morality. It is extremely sad when a delusion is all a person relies on for self-worth, but, there are people who DO rely on it to get along.  For example, I know a couple Marines who can only cope with the guilt of having taken human life by believing that God forgives them. 

I may be preaching to the choir here, but I hope you all realize that being religious also does not make a person stupid.  Neither does it make a person immoral, or crazy, or particularly different from you!

If I've learned anything from losing my faith, it's that there is always a chance I'm wrong in holding a particular belief.  We all are equally succeptible to confirmation bias and logical inconsistency.  Waving around the banner of "intellectual" "skeptic" and "freethinker" as a way to exalt yourself is betraying the very values we are representing. 

Now on to my main point.  Nonbelievers are in the minority, de facto atheists even smaller.  Are we hindering our own progress by being so strident?  Not all people who label themselves with a particular religion subscribe to all its ideas.  Are antitheists like thunderf00t and Hitchens for example isolating moderates and liberals?  Please tell me what you think.

Thanks guys, and this is an awesome forum :)

Tags: antitheism, isolating, labels, liberals, moderates, religious

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My opinion is that you just completely contradicted your own point with your last statement. I completely agree that "otherwise educated and intelligent people say and do irrational and immoral things where religion is concerned." The implication of knowing that is it is not logical to judge a person based on the exception to the rule. 

Then you're wrong, Renee. I posted an assessment of Bob's words in this thread, not a judgement of Bob's personal religious beliefs as a Catholic.

Bob without question made a number of irrational statements-- most of which amounted to baseless, content-free attacks on atheists-- where religion is concerned.

There is no contradiction between my point (which says religious often do exactly that) and then correctly pointing out that someone has done it.

Religious moderates/liberals tend to compartmentalize their religious beliefs; they remain untouched by the critical thinking they employ in other areas of their lives (science, politics, even parts of their own religion that they reject).

This resembles: "otherwise educated and intelligent people say and do irrational and immoral things where religion is concerned."

That is, unless you feel Bob was being reasonable and rational in his response, or was not addressing religion in what he wrote about 'new' atheists and my words.

I can't classify Dr. Bob as an example of this because I don't know his position, though if his beliefs are illogical, then sure, he is. I can't judge right now, I don't know what parts of Catholicism he embraces and what parts he rejects.

I was asking your judgement of what Bob actually said here in this thread (regarding what I wrote, and on atheists in general), not a judgement of anything Bob did not say (regarding his religious beliefs or anything else). I think you know his position on that, Renee.

@ReNee:

"Dr. Bob, I'm not interested in changing/challenging you, but I'm honestly curious. Could you please message me with what you believe, and why? I'm open to anything, if it's presented logically. Thank you in advance."

Best of luck, ReNee.

"Dr. Bob, I'm not interested in changing/challenging you, but I'm honestly curious. Could you please message me with what you believe, and why? I'm open to anything, if it's presented logically. Thank you in advance."

Gregg: Best of luck, ReNee.

Yes, please do let us all know how that project turns out, Renee.

Could you please message me with what you believe, and why?

What I believe about what?  I'm not sure I know how to send a personal message in these forums.

What I believe about what?  I'm not sure I know how to send a personal message in these forums.

Thus, it begins.
Renee: Hey Bob, where'd you get those shoes you're wearing?
Bob: What shoes?

There's really no need for Bob to explain what he believes in private, Renee. Bob has already stated it publicly: God is a postulate. According to Bob, no religion says God exists in empirical reality.

But that's as far as it goes. Nobody has been able to get Bob to explain how his imaginary God is able to accomplish anything in empirical reality.

Bob has been asked ad nauseam: how does your imaginary God originate the universe, dictate the Bible to the prophets, answer prayers, father Jesus, head his church, bring Mary up to heaven, perform miracles, forgive sins, define morality, reign in heaven, or accomplish anything non-imaginary? How did an imaginary God exist before a human mind existed to imagine him up?

Bob simply ignores the question, again and again and again and again and again. No answer. A variation of #2.

Maybe you'll have better luck with him, Renee. But I doubt it.

Re the stridency (and only the stridency) of some non-believers: People change dogmas more readily than they lose their need for dogma.

My evidence?

My most detailed evidence came during the 1988 hearing in the US Senate Judiciary Committee when it considered President Reagan's nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.

The testimony regarding the number of minor political organizations that Judge Bork one after the other joined and to which he briefly remained loyal left me amazed.

I have for four years been dealing with a man who has enthusiastically tried to recruit me into the several courses he has taken one after the other. The best known of them are the old EST, a course about miracles, and a course in meditation. I tease him about his inability to leave the Catholic "plantation", which I left almost sixty years ago.

Yep, people change dogmas more readily than they lose their need for dogma.

"People change dogmas more readily than they lose their need for dogma"- that was put really well, thank you. 

I tend to think that is why so many agnostics, even if they technically don't believe in the existence of gods, hesitate to check out atheist arguments.  I respect their rejection of dogma, and it seems sometimes atheists have a reputation for absolute conviction that gods don't exists. 

I tend to think that is why so many agnostics, even if they technically don't believe in the existence of gods, hesitate to check out atheist arguments. 

Since we're getting technical: agnosticism is not exclusive of atheism. One can be an agnostic atheist, an agnostic theist, or an undecided agnostic. That is, you can believe in God, not believe in God, or have no clear belief either way, while still considering it unknown or unknowable that God exists one way or the other.

Also, what exactly do you mean by "atheist arguments"? Do you mean arguments (i.e. positive claims) that God does not exist?

I presume you mean that and not the same meaning as "atheist marathons", referencing something that is done by atheists but doesn't necessarily predicate atheism.

I respect their rejection of dogma, and it seems sometimes atheists have a reputation for absolute conviction that gods don't exists.

This might be true, but I think the reputation is undeserved and more a product of the "atheism is a religion" fallacy than a reflection of the actual views of atheists (among whom agnosticism is common).

Even Richard Dawkins, the world's most famous atheist, is technically an agnostic, being a 6.9 on his own scale. Other public figures noted for atheism-- including Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Nye, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, and Neil deGrass Tyson-- have all either declared themselves to be agnostics or have publicly referenced a lack of evidence that makes the answer unknowable (which is agnosticism).

A conviction is not absolute if evidence can change your mind. Absolutism applies to those who will never change their minds.

I've never asked the folks who frequent these boards, but whenever TA people are asked to clearly explain where they stand, agnostic (or de facto) atheism-- atheism which falls short of a 7-- is the most common response that I see. That includes me. I've rarely seen an atheist say nothing could ever change his or her mind. Instead, I see atheists who say evidence can change their minds. But there is none, so they don't.

        You're right, it does make sense when getting technical. When atheism is defined simply as a lack of belief, and agnosticism as a lack of knowledge, I'm inclined to call myself an agnostic atheist.  However, I'm hesitant to accept this because I don't see a clear boundary between "belief" and "knowledge."  It seems more like a continuum than two different camps to me.  I would appreciate an elaboration on what separates belief from knowledge, philosophically rather than etymologically. 

        "I see atheists who say evidence can change their minds. But there is none, so they don't."

As thoroughly as I've investigated the philosophical/historical/scientific reasons people give for believing in a god, I haven't found anything convincing.  The reason I prefer to call myself an atheist rather than agnostic is based on a "hunch" that no matter how hard I look, I won't find anything.  Is that what a belief is, a hunch you can't back up? If so, having beliefs seems dangerous, but inevitable. I don't know.

        I realize that I'll never be able to investigate all the different religions, and their apologetics because there are so many.  Because I can't look at all the "evidence" offered, and there is so much disagreement between theists as to what a god is in the first place, I can't agree that "there is none." How do we know for sure? We can't rule out the possibility that evidence would look different from anything we're expecting.  Damn, maybe I am agnostic.  Haha, I'm agnostic about being agnostic. :D   

But, I tend to think that if there was clear evidence of any religion's veracity, everyone would belong to that religion. Beyond that, religions wouldn't rely so heavily on indoctrination, circular reasoning and appeal to emotion if they could be backed up with evidence. 

That was all over the place, but that's my internal conflict.  I want to hold a conviction, a valid belief, but I can't out of acknowledgement of my own ignorance.  Maybe it's a waste of time to have an opinion at all.

You're right, it does make sense when getting technical. When atheism is defined simply as a lack of belief, and agnosticism as a lack of knowledge, I'm inclined to call myself an agnostic atheist.  However, I'm hesitant to accept this because I don't see a clear boundary between "belief" and "knowledge."  It seems more like a continuum than two different camps to me.  I would appreciate an elaboration on what separates belief from knowledge, philosophically rather than etymologically.

I don't have much use for the philosophy of classical antiquity, but I do find science to be especially useful. The scientific method isn't perfect, but it's by far the most successful method we have for discovering what is really true and what really works. It's in that context that I'll elaborate (for whatever that's worth to you).

Imagine a respected NASA engineer claimed that the Curiosity rover on Mars had found a million-year-old city buried a mile beneath the regolith. Regrettably, the engineer was working alone and (due to a technical malfunction) all of the telemetry was lost and the instruments are irreparably disabled.

Maybe you trust the judgement of the engineer enough to believe him, or maybe he's suffered some kind of mental breakdown. You could believe there is indeed an alien city buried on Mars. Or not. But without the ability to test the claim, how do you know?

This is agnosticism regarding Mars City. It's not currently knowable if Mars City exists or not. But with subsequent investigation, it could become knowable. Send a new robot or a human expedition to check it out. You can test the claim. You can reevaluate as you go along.

You don't even have to be firmly in one camp or the other. For instance, as more evidence rolls in, you can say you're 50% sure, or 90% sure there's a city down there. Or if years of exhaustive investigation turn up no evidence at all, you can say you're 99% or even 100% sure there's no city: now you know.

But what if the claim is much more outlandish? "There's an alien civilization at the heart of the galaxy," quoth the NASA engineer, "and they pee gasoline and crap gold nuggets!" You can believe it or not believe it, depending on how incredible it sounds, but you can't ever test the claim, so you can't ever know: it's unknowable.

Belief is only necessary when you don't know: when you're ignorant. What is knowable depends on your ability to collect evidence and test a claim. What is known depends on how much evidence you've got, how good that evidence is, and how well a claim withstands testing. All of that is relative to Sagan's adage that the more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinary the evidence must be.

As thoroughly as I've investigated the philosophical/historical/scientific reasons people give for believing in a god, I haven't found anything convincing.  The reason I prefer to call myself an atheist rather than agnostic is based on a "hunch" that no matter how hard I look, I won't find anything.  Is that what a belief is, a hunch you can't back up? If so, having beliefs seems dangerous, but inevitable. I don't know.

I agree with that: belief is a hunch you can't back up. But not all belief is on equal footing or equally dangerous. In the absence of evidence one way or another, I think the rest depends on the claim.

Shake my hand and say hi my name is Renee: my hunch is that's really your name. But without checking your ID-- sorry, GM I left it at home-- I can't know. But the risk in believing you is low, so what does it matter?

But give me your hand, your name, and tell me you're a millionaire and want to write a $300,000 check for my house? That changes how much I'm willing to go on my hunch versus sending you home to get your credentials.

I realize that I'll never be able to investigate all the different religions, and their apologetics because there are so many.  Because I can't look at all the "evidence" offered, and there is so much disagreement between theists as to what a god is in the first place, I can't agree that "there is none." How do we know for sure?

I cannot know for sure about God, but given the enormity of the claim and its implications, the claimant best have some strong evidence to back it up.

Absent that evidence, I don't believe there is a God (so I'm an atheist) and I don't see any way we can ever test the God claim to know for sure (so I'm an agnostic in that I don't think the God claim is testable or knowable).

We can't rule out the possibility that evidence would look different from anything we're expecting.

I'm not sure what that means. Can you explain?

Damn, maybe I am agnostic.  Haha, I'm agnostic about being agnostic. :D   But, I tend to think that if there was clear evidence of any religion's veracity, everyone would belong to that religion. Beyond that, religions wouldn't rely so heavily on indoctrination, circular reasoning and appeal to emotion if they could be backed up with evidence.

Exactly. There's no need to "believe in" medicine that cures illnesses, or in planes that fly, or in computers that process data at incredible speed. No belief is required if it's true and it works.

That cleared a lot up, thank you.

What I meant by "We can't rule out the possibility that evidence would look different from anything we're expecting" was referring to a nontheistic god.  Given that the attributes most theists ascribe to their god (benevolence, omnipotence, omniscience, being supernatural) are paradoxical, I've tossed the idea.  But, is it possible that theists are partially right, maybe in what all religions share?

Example: let's say there actually is one God, and theists are correct in saying that those who believe go to Heaven, and everyone else to Hell. So, he's not benevolent.  They've got that wrong.  Let's say that this God is completely supernatural, so the theists have it wrong in saying that he sometimes intervenes in the natural realm. This God isn't paradoxical, and the paradoxes are a result of people fabricating and evolving His ideas for millennia.  No one, neither theist nor atheist, would be anticipating this God's existence; evidence could be parts of a Holy Book that weren't fabricated, if that was how that God chose to reveal himself.  Evidence could be a fantastic life of a person who happened to believe in that particular version of God.  We couldn't look for evidence. We wouldn't know what evidence would look like, because we wouldn't have any idea of what we were looking for evidence of.

That was just one example, the thing is, there could be a billion different versions of that.  Furthermore, most Christians I know roll their eyes at the mention of "evidence."  They say either, "But of course God doesn't have evidence! You find evidence for yourself in what you feel." OR "There is loads of evidence for my God! Have you read so-or-so apologetic book?"  Needless to say, both cases are maddening- subjective reality in the first, confirmation bias in the second.  What I can't dismiss is the infinite amount of versions of Gods there could be, and as a result of that, the infinite amounts of kinds of evidence there could be. 

At the end of the day, though, I agree with you.  There is no reason to believe in the existence of something in the natural realm if you can't find evidence for it.   In my or your position of not finding anything convincing, it's most honest to be an atheist. 

What I meant by "We can't rule out the possibility that evidence would look different from anything we're expecting" was referring to a nontheistic god.  Given that the attributes most theists ascribe to their god (benevolence, omnipotence, omniscience, being supernatural) are paradoxical, I've tossed the idea.  

I don't know of any theistic religions that fail to ascribe all or most of these qualities-- benevolence, omnipotence, omniscience, being supernatural-- to their gods. Do you? Certainly this is not the Yahweh of Judaism and Christianity or the Allah of Islam.

It seems to me that tossing these qualities is tossing gods. For instance, tossing wings, feathers, hollow bones, beaks, egg-laying and the ability to fly seems like tossing the concept of birds (by taking the long way around).

But, okay. You've scratched personal, supernatural gods (Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, Krishna, Shiva, Zeus, etc.) off the list. That pretty much leaves naturalistic pantheism or naturalistic deism, yes? A god that is the universe, or a god that created the universe (a 'big bang' god) and nothing more.

But, is it possible that theists are partially right, maybe in what all religions share?

It depends on the specific claim.

If you're a naturalistic pantheist (claim: god is the universe) I can accept the existence of this kind of god for the same reason I can accept the god of pizza-theists (god is pizza): there is plenty of evidence that the universe exists. Likewise for pizza.

It's tougher to accept deism (a naturalistic god set off the big bang then stepped aside indifferently) because there's no evidence for it and there's no way to test it.

But how many of "all religions" actually share the claim of naturalistic pantheism, pizza-theism, or deism, but nothing more? These are not remotely the kinds of gods they're selling.

Example: let's say there actually is one God, and theists are correct in saying that those who believe go to Heaven, and everyone else to Hell. So, he's not benevolent.  They've got that wrong.  Let's say that this God is completely supernatural, so the theists have it wrong in saying that he sometimes intervenes in the natural realm. This God isn't paradoxical, and the paradoxes are a result of people fabricating and evolving His ideas for millennia. 

That's an awful lot of supposition that I'm not prepared to let anyone just assume and then proceed. Here I stop the claimant and insist on an explanation. What does any of that actually mean?

Consider the 'supernatural' aspect for example. How does one assume that something exists outside of nature? What does that word actually describe in a way that can be clearly articulated?

For instance, let's say we're looking at a square circle. Huh? What?

I don't think it has an actual meaning, but it does have a purpose: the claimant who asks me to assume it is asking me to free him from responsibility for clarity of reason and explanation.

I'm not going to yield that much ground. If this is required simply to present the claim, then the claim has fallen apart already. If you can't tell me how the premise works, and you're asking me to overlook that, then you're really telling me it doesn't work at all.

No one, neither theist nor atheist, would be anticipating this God's existence; evidence could be parts of a Holy Book that weren't fabricated, if that was how that God chose to reveal himself. 

Isn't that simply defining the claim as correct? Parts of the holy book weren't fabricated, so that's our evidence that God exists. Not granted. Not assumed. The claimant has to prove what the holy book says is true (or put another way, that it wasn't fabricated).

Evidence could be a fantastic life of a person who happened to believe in that particular version of God.  We couldn't look for evidence. We wouldn't know what evidence would look like, because we wouldn't have any idea of what we were looking for evidence of.

I'm not prepared to gloss that over. If the claimant says we have no idea what we're looking for and no idea what the evidence will look like, I'm going to stifle a laugh. If he can't even clearly explain what he's talking about, is he even referring to anything meaningful at all?

That was just one example, the thing is, there could be a billion different versions of that.  Furthermore, most Christians I know roll their eyes at the mention of "evidence."  They say either, "But of course God doesn't have evidence! You find evidence for yourself in what you feel." OR "There is loads of evidence for my God! Have you read so-or-so apologetic book?"  Needless to say, both cases are maddening- subjective reality in the first, confirmation bias in the second.  What I can't dismiss is the infinite amount of versions of Gods there could be, and as a result of that, the infinite amounts of kinds of evidence there could be. 

Sure, they say that stuff all the time. I say, give me one clear articulation and one shred of scientific evidence to support it. Do that and maybe I won't laugh the next time someone claims to have infinite amounts of either one. You cannot argue with a mindset like that. All you can do is dismiss it.

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