Christians Deep Down

Christians say that all we need to believe is faith. We need to have faith that God is there, that he loves us. If we let him into our hearts, he will enter and it will be glorious.

But this isn’t what Christians really believe. They aren’t motivated by their so-called love or belief in their particular, cultural god. No. What motivates them is a hatred for science and rationality and reason. They refuse to let any of these things into their minds.

Deep down Christians know there is no God. They know that science has shown the world, for all intents and purposes, to be an atheistic one. They really do know that the Universe is 13.7 billion years old, that it is governed by understandable laws, that because of quantum mechanics and a law like gravity, there must be a Universe. They really do know that life is 3.9 billion years old, that it came from a simple replicator, that the why behind life is that genes will necessarily replicate as a population so long as they are able to do so. They really do know that humans are incidental, that natural selection does not demand we ever exist, and in fact, that it says our odds of being here would virtually disappear if the tape of life were to be re-run. They really do know that all that matters is what we do with the lives we have now because these are the only lives we will ever have. They really do know that things like love and sympathy and empathy and values and morality and all those special connections so many of us have with one another are what drive our goodwill. They really do know all these things and more.

But Christians will deny. They will deny it until the very end. The idea that science and reason and rationality have prevailed – not may prevail or will prevail, but *have* prevailed – hits at their very core. It destroys them to know that what they fundamentally hate is king of all. As H. L. Mencken once said, “The truth that survives is simply the lie that is pleasantest to believe.”

Okay. So are you offended? Does this all seem horribly polemic, horribly hateful, inaccurate, and unfair? Even if you aren’t a Christian, do you find the preceding paragraphs to be wildly stupid?

I hope so.

Now maybe we can stop hearing about how atheists really deep down just hate themselves, happiness, love, God, and everything else under the sun, hm?

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Field of Dreams

By Michael Hawkins

When in discussions and/or debates with the religious, I cringe before I bring up the point that, yes, of course atheism does lack a certain sort of comfort. Afterall, do people really have no fear of death? But this does not mean that fear ought to motivate one to believe in any sort of god or afterlife. An emotion, no matter how strong, does not make something true. And, frankly, it’s bizarre that anyone would ever try to make that sort of argument. But alas, I’ve encountered it a number of times.

The reason, however, I cringe is that as soon as a lack of a certain comfort is admitted, the theist jumps up and proclaims, “Aha! So you do desire a god/an afterlife!” But this isn’t so. I certainly do not desire to live with the redneck described in the Bible. But what’s really perplexing is how illogical the theist’s whole point is. “You desire X, thus X is true.” Or sometimes with some condescension, “You desire X, so maybe you ought to reflect on that a little more.” The assumptions there are that 1) I haven’t reflected on these sort of issues and 2) all it takes is reflection on a desire to come to believe in a god. The first assumption is obviously wrong and the second shows the theist’s ignorance: I want evidence, not a belief motivated by fear.

Honestly. The logical argument is that people have fear and seek to soothe that feeling; religion makes sense in light of this fact (though it needs far more than that to explain it). The theist, however, then tries to turn logic on its head and say that fear is somehow a sensation put in place by some religion’s god and that’s why we feel it. Such shenanigans completely circumvent the whole giving-evidence-for-one’s-beliefs thing – it is such a nuisance for believers, after all.

The whole crazy argument is a Field of Dreams sort of fantasy: If you desire it, truth will come.

The Absolute Reasonableness of Absolute Uncertainty

By Michael Hawkins

One of the common complaints raised by theists comes from the phrase “There’s probably no God” as one way to describe atheistic thought. This runs counter to the caricatures of atheists out there that says atheism automatically equals absolute certainty that no gods exist. To many it sounds more like agnosticism and doesn’t quite fit into their notion of what an atheism actually believes (or, rather, doesn’t believe).

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins actually spends more time than should be necessary on the point of how to define atheism. He creates a 7 point scale where a “1” is an absolute believer, someone with no doubt in the existence of God, and a “7” is the polar opposite, an absolutely certain atheist. In the middle are varying levels of belief or disbelief. Dawkins places himself as a “6”, describing himself as nearly certain there are no gods, but allowing for their possibility, however slim that may be. This is how a huge swath of atheists also describe themselves. (It’s at the root of some of the messages being put out on the atheist bus campaigns around the world, in fact.)

The complaint to this is the belief that atheism means absolute certainty. What requires this? The word means “without theism”. That does not imply certainty of what is true, but rather a degree of certainty of what is not true. In modern connotations, the term includes a rejection of deism and usually anything supernatural. But, still, how does this rise to become certainty?

Many people, for whatever reason, insist that any lack of certainty thus equals agnosticism. There are two issues with this. First, no, it doesn’t. Atheism, again, does not require certainty. Second, the only way one can arrive at this conclusion is to use the modern connotations of atheism. The problem comes when the connotations of agnosticism are then ignored, ever so conveniently. That is, the fact that atheism is usually taken to mean a complete rejection of all things supernatural is employed, but then the fact that agnosticism is usually taken to mean a 50/50 uncertainty is ignored. This is why Dawkins needed his scale. Few people are right in the middle (“4”). Most people lean one way or the other. In fact, it has to be hoped a majority of people do not categorize themselves as “1”, pretending as if they’re absolutely certain of their God’s existence. Everyone should have doubt; the lack of it is a mark of fundamentalism.

In essence, the argument that atheism is absolute certainty is a blatantly dishonest one. If the term means absolute certainty, then it cannot be ignored that agnosticism usually means a perfect middle ground. It is bad form to ground an argument in cherry-picked connotations; in this case, demanding a self-proclaimed atheist call himself “agnostic” due to a lack of 100% certainty is weak because the common notion of a 50/50 split for agnostics is being ignored – clearly the self-proclaimed atheist is not 50/50 on the existence of gods, no matter what label one wishes to use. This would be like demanding that anyone who says unicorns are possible must also believe the mythical beasts have a 50/50 shot of existing. Of course unicorns are possible – and everyone should acknowledge that fact – but they are exceedingly unlikely and for that reason no one believes in them. And more importantly, there is not a shred of evidence for their existence. This does not make anyone agnostic towards unicorns except in the strictest, most semantic, most useless sense.

Importantly, this goes beyond a mere game of semantics. Anyone who has bothered to debate religion with an atheist present knows full well that any show of uncertainty will gladden the heart of any nearby theist. This should not be so. The ability to say “Yes, I might be wrong” and “No, I cannot be positive” is an admirable one. (And, in fact, more theists recognize this than are likely being given credit here.)

But more germane to the issue is that any scientifically inclined atheist is an atheist based upon the availability of evidence – and there is no evidence for any god. Anywhere. Ever. There’s faith – the very antithesis of evidence – and there are (very) vaguely internally consistent texts written by the few elite, literate farmers mulling around thousands of years ago, but there is no evidence. It is on that point that the atheist mind turns. Of course (!) there is the possibility of evidence for gods. No reasonable atheist is going to deny that. The problem is just that no one has been able to produce any of it yet. Without evidence, it is unreasonable to declare knowledge on a subject; equally, it is unreasonable to declare certainty even with evidence. (And that needs some parsing.)

There are two sorts of certainty: there’s the philosophical and then there’s the practical. The philosophical is where the atheist (and hopefully the more reasonable theist) allows for a lack of certainty. There’s just no way to know some things, is there? But the practical is where the term atheism, even with a number of its modern connotations, comes in. There is as much evidence for gods as there is for celestial teapots, but no one is about to declare themselves uncertain about the non-existence of floating cookware in space. It would be impractical and nonsensical.

Let’s do away with these old canards and caricatures and move forward with a mutual and honest understanding.

Claiming Objective Morality Sans An Objective Source

By Michael Hawkins

Is it possible for a believer in objective evil to determine what actually is evil without either invoking his god (or claimed objective standard) or undermining his entire position? Here is an examination of that question.

For the sake of expediency, “God”, here, can refer to any deity of a belief structure which is viewed as creating some ultimate standard for evil. This includes polytheistic belief structures in many cases. “Evil” can usually be read to include both good and evil.

Here’s the common stance: In order to determine what is ultimately right or wrong, one must make an appeal to a source which has final standing. Without such an appeal, right or wrong has no universal meaning, only local meaning, and that is ultimately meaningless. (On an aside, that only addresses the value of local meaning on a universal scale – something obviously addressed simply in terminology. It says nothing of the local value of local meaning.)

With this stance comes some questions. If that ultimate source is necessary for ultimate right or wrong (and exists), how can one know what he/she/it has to say on any given human moral affair? Is it possible for one to have access to all this source has to say? Are humans limited in access?

The common answer to the first question comes in the form of holy texts. The Torah, Bible, and Koran are “the big three”. They give specific decrees on things that are right and wrong while claiming to be from God. In them murder is universally wrong. Theft, sex before marriage, dishonoring one’s parents. All, and many more, are described throughout these books. They and other holy texts act as the most direct source to knowing what is right or wrong as declared by an ultimate source.

The second question is where moral claims by believers run into trouble. Is it possible to have access to all an ultimate source has to say by virtue of holy texts? Obviously not. It isn’t possible for all moral situations and conundrums to be addressed via individual books. More directly, not all such instances are actually addressed.

So does this limit human access to this ultimate information? If holy texts account for the only manner by which one can attain such knowledge, then yes. If there are alternative routes, then those must by explored. Meditation, inference, and prayer offer the most promising paths. But first it is necessary to tie everything together.

The accuracy of any declaration on right or wrong is called into question in any holy text since they are all written by fallible human beings. This must be acknowledged for the sake of truth-seeking. However, for the sake of argumentation, it will be necessary to side-step the issue. Instead, the focus must go on to the second question. The possibility of having access to everything God has to say is nil if holy texts are the only source. What this importantly means is that if a moral issue arises which is not addressed within any holy text, then it is not possible for a believer to make an objective stance. One topical issue can be grabbed from the headlines to make the point.

Abortion is not addressed in any of the big three holy texts. Vague passages can be interpreted as such (much like Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who” has been abused), but nothing is ever really said. This means that if a believer is to make a claim that abortion is objectively evil (remember, or good) here, he has no ground on which to stand. At least he has no ground by his own position that objective evil must come from an objective source. By chance he may be right that his objective source believes abortion is evil (he has a 50/50 shot, afterall), but his determination is based upon some other source. What that source may be or is bears no importance here. It is enough to say that it is emphatically not God.

For the further sake of expediency, it should be readily pointed out that even should abortion prove to be the wrong example for this exercise (though it isn’t), then others abound. Is capitalism evil? Communism? Social security? Even wearing mismatched socks? No holy text says anything of these issues or a number of others.

Back to the third question, human access may not be limited to just holy texts if meditation, inference, and prayer are options. These all fail, however. Should meditation and prayer reveal any information on a moral question, they are not valid beyond the targeted person. While it is possible that God revealed that something is objectively evil to a particular person, that largely argues for a local meaning. That is, Susie may know that it is objectively evil to spin in circles after sunset because God told her, but that information is entirely reliant upon Susie – the standard can only be determined to be subjective (even if it really is objective). As for inference, that can only be done using holy texts or prayer in the first place. So let us not forget the very first question: is it possible to determine what is objectively evil without invoking God. Susie may have an alternative source, but it is still God. She may be able to infer from what God has revealed, but she still must invoke his existence.

So what if a believer says “X is objectively evil” but has no holy text or revelation to back up such a claim? That is, there is no source which says “This is what God says about this issue” and there is no source which could directly indicate what God says. How can the believer then say something is objectively evil? This necessarily undermines his entire premise. If something can be determined to be objectively evil without first invoking God, then there is some other method by which the believer is making his statement. He obviously cannot logically maintain saying he knows objective standards exist because God exists and God exists because objective standards exist.

In short, no, a believer cannot “determine what actually is evil without either invoking his god (or claimed objective standard) or undermining his entire position”. He must invoke his god or undermine his whole argument. As has been demonstrated, he must cite his god (or objective standard). He often cannot do that. In those situations if he then says he has determined that something is objectively evil anyway, he is either wrong or he has admitted that his objective standard is not actually necessary for purposes here.

On a final note (one for clarification), this argument can be applied to any declaration on evil by a believer in objective standards. If it is necessary for objectiveness to exist in order for evil to exist, then the position is still undermined whenever a believer declares something evil without any sort of source beyond himself. The argument is precisely the same, but the terms are clarified: “evil” always means “objective evil” in the given context.