On Atheism

Another post hidden in the bowels of the draft folder. I’m not sure why WordPress makes it so difficult to find these; it didn’t use to…

I have been following some bloggers who profess to atheism, and commenting on their blogs.  It is interesting how they sometimes respond to me.

As a Christian, I am definitely a “theist”; that is, someone who believes there is a God.  I find that there are two types of people who are not theists; those that believe there is no God, and those who have no beliefs about God.  I was brought up to consider that the first group were “atheists” and the second group were “Agnostics” (don’t know whether or not there is a God).  What is a bit disconcerting to me is that both people with belief there is no God and some of those who do not have any belief about God both claim to be atheist.  And when you ask them for clarification, they insist that it is a binary condition.  Either you believe in God, or you don’t.  Why is this?  I don’t know.  Perhaps they prefer the “bigger group” resulting from the combination of everybody who does not believe in God.  Perhaps the term “agnostic”, with its implication from translation of “lack of knowledge”, is disturbing to them.  Perhaps they are just so tired of some of the theists that they want to draw as far from them as is possible.  I’ve experienced some of the more obnoxious theists, so I could understand that, except I’ve also met a few believing atheists who were also obnoxious.

If you check out the current definition of “atheist”, it has indeed been broadened to cover both believers in no God and those who don’t hold any God belief.  Then the definitions note that there are qualifiers such as “strong” or “explicit” to cover those who believe there is no God and “weak” or “implicit” to cover those who have no beliefs about God.  And I would be fine with that, if the people used the qualifiers.  They seem not to.  There is also the concept of adding “Gnostic” and “Agnostic” to the terms “atheist” and “theist”, indicating where you “know” (believe) it or not.  Again, that would be satisfactory, but seldom happens.  So, I’m afraid I fall back on the original concept of the term, and assume anyone who claims to be “atheist” believes that God does not exist until I get some indication otherwise.  Note that some atheists jump on this assumption or even this definition of the term, and claim it is a “ploy” of “the Christians” to “marginalize” atheists by “turning them into just another religion”.  I’m going to inch out on a thin branch here and claim that ANY belief about God is qualification for being considered “religious”.

Another area of discussion is the relationship between “belief” and “knowledge”.  I’m often told, “belief is not the same as knowledge” and that is a true statement.  However, I claim that belief is a SUBSET of knowledge.  When you come right down to it, many of the things we “know” are actually beliefs.  If you got a “fact” from a book or a teacher or other expert, you certainly think you “know” it.  But unless that “fact” can be proven to anyone else, it remains a belief.  In order to be a “fact”, it must be undeniable.  Since “everyone” agrees that many beliefs are knowledge, I claim that beliefs about God are also knowledge.  Just not as reliable as many other beliefs.

Anyone who gives a belief, particularly one as nebulous as anything about God, the status of “fact” is at risk of being obnoxious.  In my opinion, a person is welcome to believe anything they want which cannot be disproved.  However, they must understand that if they cannot prove it, they should not be presenting it as “truth”, and especially not expending great energy trying to get others to join in the belief.  Discussing with those who have any interest, or presenting it as theory or belief, fine.  But browbeating people would seem to be a losing proposition.

How theists browbeat nontheists is fairly obvious.  There is the ever popular “I know the truth and you don’t, so quit being so stupid and listen to me”.  And of course, faulty logic, either starting with untrue or at least unprovable assumptions, or using invalid logical arguments.  Then there are the threats and insults.  “If you don’t believe ‘x’, God’ll whack you”.  “Since God doesn’t like ‘x’, we’ll pass a law so Man will whack you.”  “If you don’t know God, you can’t be moral”.  “You do something God does not like, so you are a bad person”.  Interesting approach from those who claim they are directed to “love their neighbor”.  Doesn’t love have an implicit assumption of overlooking “faults”?

How can atheists browbeat people?  Or more accurately, theists?  Aha, another possible reason that nontheists may prefer being known as atheists, to only get grief from one direction.  There is the “Christianism” mindset; lumping all Christians or even all believers in God into one group, with all the negative aspects of some imputed to all.  Sorry, this is just as invalid as racism or sexism.  Plus, the same people may also claim that “all Christians disagree with each other”, which seems contradictory.  The “I know the truth and you don’t…”  and invalid logic methodologies are used by some atheists as well.  Then there is the “science can’t measure it, so it does not exist”, and “any God must follow the same need structure as does Man” outlooks.  These views have proven to be wrong in the past, so it is not impossible they could be proven wrong in the future.

Techniques include:  questioning any evidence presented while holding their own evidence inviolate, attacking the words rather than the ideas, taking things out of context, misreading what was said (which we all do) and holding onto that misinterpretation even after being assured that meaning was not intended, and even descending into insults and name calling.  Come to think of it, theists have been known to use similar techniques.  I guess what it boils down to is ANY belief tends to make us defensive if it is attacked. It is just that beliefs about God do not have any proof, and so are bigger targets than beliefs with more support.

What is interesting is that some atheists attempt to convince theists that they are wrong with an intensity which is, well, as intense as that of some theists.  Even if it were not the case that the very (or at least original) definition of the word “atheist” implied a religious outlook, the behavior of some atheists sure do seem like the behavior of some theists.

 

Degree of Belief

Anything related to the concept of “God” is a belief, since there is no definitive proof either for or against.  And the degree of belief varies from absolute certainty in God to absolute certainty in no god.  In the middle part of this range are those who do not hold any belief about God.

Those who believe that God or gods exist are generally referred to as “theists” (or occasionally less polite terms).  Those who do not believe that any gods exist are generally referred to as “atheists”.  This latter group is sometimes further separated into those who believe there are no gods (sometimes called “strong atheists” or “gnostic atheists’) and those who do not have any beliefs about God (sometimes called “weak atheists” or “agnostic atheists” or even just “agnostics”).

It seems like it might be human nature for “all” beliefs, but certainly, when it comes to God beliefs, the stronger the belief, the more the inclination to “preach” that belief.  Many who are absolutely or fairly certain that their God exists, seem driven (at the insistence of that God, of course) to convince everybody else that they are right.  Some who have the belief that no god exists also seem driven (for the good of humanity, of course) to convince everybody else that THEY are right.  The problem is, that neither side has yet validly (or at least universally) been able to do so.  Any gods which exist have been very good at not leaving any concrete evidence.  This could mean either of there are no gods, or that gods have a reason they find adequate to hide concrete evidence of their existence.

What sort of “soft” evidence does the atheist present in support of their belief?  Several points which are certainly indicative, but so far none which are irrefutable.

– Science has a theory for “everything” and cannot detect anything in support of God.

The problem is, a “theory” is not “fact”, it is merely an explanation which has not yet been proven or disproved.  Just because something could have happened one way does not mean it did.  Also, it can be postulated that Science has the capability to detect everything in this “natural” world (that which COULD have happened without external influence) but this actually meshes with the concept that a “supernatural” world might exist, which may have at least some different laws than this world cannot be perceived by Science, which is grounded in the laws of this world.  Does this supernatural world exist?  It is likely that those living in the natural world will never know for sure.

– God is not as described.  He is claimed to be omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and can be shown to not be one or more of those.  He is claimed to be all loving and can be shown to be the opposite; supporting slavery, genocide, human sacrifice, murder, rape, anger, jealousy and numerous other acts of non-love.

No, I don’t think any lack of “omni” anything can be shown.  I have yet to see any presentation of this which has any merit; all have merely shown a remarkable lack of understanding of the powers which it is theorized that God possesses.  If you look at the Old Testament of the Bible, a case can be made that God allows or even encourages under circumstances, activities which at this point in time we find utterly reprehensible.  If someone wanted to argue that God was a really crappy excuse for a human being, then a case for that might be made.  But I doubt anyone seriously thinks God is just another human being.  Things which He does or commands or supports may seem “bad” to us, but allegedly He knows more than we do, and these things might serve a greater good elsewhere or have desirable results at the time in which they are alleged to have happened..

– The Bible is provably “wrong”.

In order to successfully prove this, one would have to show an internal contradiction in the Bible, that someone involved in writing it deliberately falsified something or was incontrovertibly unreliable, a contradiction with another (validated) source, or find something in it which could be shown to be contrary to known facts.  There are a number of apparent internal inconsistencies, but all I’ve heard of can be explained.  There is very little in the way of contemporary other sources, and what there is actually seems to support the Bible, although the validity of these sources is not guaranteed.  Archeology has verified some of the things in the Bible, but not everything and particularly not some of the things which are hardest to accept.  Some archeologists claim to have “disproved” things in the Bible, such as the whole Exodus story.  Those that I have seen use “lack of proof” as proof, and this is not valid.  There are a number of theories of how things “were” or “came to be” which contradict the Bible, but unless one of these is proven, they also do not disprove the Bible.  Some geologists claim that they can show that the “Flood” never occurred.  If there is no supernatural world, then this might actually be valid.  Of course, the whole basis for the Bible is that the supernatural world DOES exist.

– People who believe in God are silly, stupid, delusional, weak willed, unrealistic, unreasonable and/or pains in the rear.

Some are, some aren’t, and this has nothing to do with whether God exists or not.

– People who believe in God don’t behave like they claim they are directed to behave.

This sometimes is completely valid, but it only has implication about human beings, not about God.

– People who believe in God want to impose their morality on everyone.

This is also often valid, but again, it only has implication about human beings, not about God.  Oh, and some people who don’t believe in God seem eager to impose THEIR morality on everyone.

Now, what soft evidence do those who believe in God present?

– Logical argument

This would be good, if valid.  I’ve never heard a valid argument for God, though.  Every single one either has invalid assumptions or uses invalid logical structure

– The authority of the Bible

The difficulty of proving the Bible true is even more difficult than proving it false.

– Personal experience

Now this is very powerful evidence – to those who experience it.  It is of little or no validity to anyone who did not share in the experience.

Because each side really seems unable to make a compelling case, the typical methodology is to state beliefs as facts.  And perhaps make derogatory comments about the person who disagrees with them.  This tends to be quite distressing to those who believe differently.  Perhaps the antagonism could be minimized if everybody did not do these.  Instead, imagine if instead of “X is so”, each person said “I believe X is so”.  Moving from something which may or may not be so, to something which is undeniably so, leaving the forum open to discussion of differences rather than personal invective.  Even better would be “I believe X is so, because of investigateable evidence Y”.  But most people won’t, and the snarling back and forth will continue….

Finding God, Part 7

There are many ways to find God, and each person will respond to different ones.  Here is what I like to call the “Incremental Evaluation Approach”.

All journeys start with a first step, and this one has a doozy.

1) Change the way you think about what you “know”.

You probably know a lot of things, and the tendency of Man is to consider that if you “know” something, it must be true.  But consider that most, if not everything, you know came about via some “process”.  Some processes are quite reliable and some are quite unreliable.  Thus it is helpful to make the decision that it is possible that some of what you know may not be correct.  In general, it is good to consider how you came to know something, and how risky it is if it turns out you are wrong.  Why bother?  Because this gives you some guidance on how strongly to “hold on” to each thing you know.  Not only will this make it easier to find God, but it will likely make you rather more pleasant to be around (because no one likes someone who takes a position and refuses to even listen to a different one), and reduce the overall risk level in your life (by alerting you to risky areas which would benefit from some further investigation).

For instance, you probably “know” your birth date.  How do you know this?  Likely, you were told this by your parents, and being told is a low to medium reliable way to know something.  How reliable  were your parents?  How often did something they tell you turn out not to be so (besides “normal” untruths like Santa Clause)?  Were any untruths deliberate or accidental?  Perhaps you saw a certified copy your birth certificate.  Government documentation can be a fairly reliable source (unless they have been “fiddled with”).  Do you know anyone who could corroborate your birth; a family friend, relative or attending medical personnel?  This can raise the reliability of what you were told.  How does what you know relate to what you can experience?  Do you “appear” to be the age you think you are?

In general, most people can be fairly sure that the birth date they know is correct.  And what is the risk if it is not correct?  Fairly low in most cases.  There are some things which are legally based on exact age, but as long as you appear to be the age you claim, the odds of it being a problem for you is minimal if you turn out to be wrong about your age.  The risk goes up if you get involved in something which invites serious scrutiny (such as a run for president) and there is significant penalty if your age is not as claimed.

Obviously, following this line of thought for everything you know, all at once, would be paralyzing.  Just be prepared to apply it to any piece of knowledge which comes into question as you live your life or which the risk for being wrong is intolerably high.

There is one thing you should apply this process to “now”, and that is what you know about God.  This is because most of the sources of of knowledge about God are inherently unreliable (with the obvious exception of personal experiences), and the risk for being wrong could possibly be quite high.

2) Come to grips with the concept of “belief”.

By definition, this is deciding or growing to “know” that something is so without conclusive proof, as long as there is no conclusive proof showing it is not so.  Why?  Because there are just some things which you have to take on faith.  This does not require you to “believe” everything or even anything (new) now; it just means that you are able to  allow in an appropriate new belief when you find it.  Conversely, it means that you can give up a held belief if it ever is adequately proven to be incorrect.

3) No matter what you “know”, accept the possibility that a Supernatural World exists.

“Acceptance” does not require that you believe a “possibility” to be so; just that you do not believe it cannot be so.

4) Accept the possibility that if a Supernatural World exists, that one or more Gods exist in that world.

Again, this does not require belief now, just acceptance of the possibility.   Once you get past this point, the next step does require a belief, but fortunately a conditional one.

5) Believe that IF a Supernatural World exists AND is inhabited by God, THEN you do not have the capability to comprehend most of God’s environment, needs, desires and goals.

This is not because there is anything wrong with you; just that you (and all other Humans) don’t have the necessary frame of reference.  Note that acquiring a new belief is usually non-trivial because enough support for it has to be assembled in order to make up for the lack of actual proof.  In this case, though, if the conditionals are so, then the conclusion is fairly self evident based on the definitions and very concepts of the Supernatural World and Gods.

Necessary?  Yes, since from Man’s point of view, God is “weird”.  Some of the things which God is reputed to have said or requires of us, or seems to do, are “bad” or “silly” or “inefficient” or “ineffectual” from Man’s point of reference.  In order for us to take Him seriously, we must discard our judgement of His sayings and requirements, and the best way to do this is to realize that they are, at least mostly,  beyond our comprehension.  An obvious example of this is, why, if God wants us to interact with Him or at least obey Him, has He made it impossible to prove His existence?  He is alleged to have the capability to do “anything”, but has not done this, or at least has done so only to certain individuals.  Thus, us not being able to prove His existence would seem to indicate that He does not want us to prove his existence, which seems to us to be ridiculous but might be important to Him.

6) Accept the possibility that God, for reasons of his own, created or guided the creation of the Natural world and everything in it.

7) Accept the possibility that God has some degree of interest in and control over, that Natural world, today.

8) Accept the possibility that God had some degree of interest in and control over, your existence.

9) Accept the possibility that God included some amount of the Supernatural in your existence.

10) Accept the possibility that any Supernatural part(s) of you does, or at least can, continue on after the death of your body.

Sadly, the steps so far have been the “easy” part, since all we really had to do was accept possibilities of things which have not been (and probably cannot be) proven or disproved.  Aside from preparing ourselves to meet God, the biggest accomplishment so far is to alert us to the possibility that we are living in a way which might cause us extreme grief.

Following this path is very wise; we might find God and become saved from disaster.  We tend to know how to “get along” in the Natural World, but if a person finds themself in the Supernatural world, and their condition there is at all dependent on how they lived in the Natural World, they could find themself royally screwed.  Thus it behooves us to do everything we can to figure out the most advantageous way to live in the Natural world so that both our existence in the Natural World and any possible existence in the Supernatural World is optimized.

11) Research the common viewpoints about God.  Pay particular attention to the Western religions and any Eastern religions which are culturally relevant to you.

This is not where you dive into one view of God; the goal here is to get an overview of each.  Note what each says about God, what they base their claims on (their scriptures), what the view of God requires from you, and what you are claimed to receive in return.  Because there is no proof that any of these are correct, be wary of any which say that you cannot leave that faith except through death or other serious damage.  Not to say that such a religion is definitely incorrect, but you don’t want to be “forced” to stay in a religion which when experienced, shows itself to be a serious problem to either of your Natural or Supernatural lives.  Focus on the “documentation” behind each viewpoint, not on one particular group of people who claim that viewpoint.  Although, if a viewpoint has majority of the people who behave in ways different than they claim they believe, this could be a warning sign.

12) Once you have prepared yourself to accept God, and “loaded” yourself with knowledge about possible Hims, pray.

Ask God to show Himself to you and illuminate which Human view of Him is closest to his heart.

It is hard to imagine that if you follow these steps thoroughly, that you will not (eventually) find God if He exists.  But be aware that many people and most other religions (particularly atheists) will do all they can to throw roadblocks into the way of any viewpoint which varies from their own.  Once you find God, then it will be helpful to find a group of people who have found the same view of God and who behave in a manner which is compatible with you.  You will need to figure out what God wants from you in the Natural World to best position yourself in the Supernatural world, and this can be helped by like-minded people with the same view of God.

 

 

Finding God, Part 2

As described in Part 1, God cannot be proven.  Thus, we have to decide on a “belief”.  This is something we accept as being true which cannot be proven to be true, but also cannot be proven to be false.  And by “prove”, I mean by way of a valid proof, either using the Scientific method, or valid logical arguments against provable assumptions.  Anything less is not real proof, no matter how good it sounds.

Very often, a person who holds to a particular belief will go to any length to “force” that belief on other people.  Often, this can lead to violence.  This is very sad and actually pretty silly, since for a belief to be “real” to a person, they must come to that belief on their own.  They can be guided, but not forced.  If you cannot prove something, then you have no business trying to force someone else to believe it.  For that matter, even if you COULD prove it, you still have no business FORCING it on someone else.  If a person wants to believe that the world is flat and has no interest in finding out they are wrong, then that is THEIR problem, not yours.

Any way, there are two main beliefs about God.  One is that God or Gods exist; a person who believes this would be a “theist”.  The opposing belief is that no God exists; a believer of this would be an “atheist”.  Absent proof, either belief system is equally valid, by definition.  And if you have heard of a “proof” that God does or does not exist, I can practically guarantee that “proof” was not valid, since all proofs available to us are rooted in the Natural, and God is not.

Note that a person does not have to be either a theist or atheist.  Either one requires belief and it is quite possible and even likely that people start out without either belief.  A person who has not reached either a belief in God or a belief in no God, is referred to as an “agnostic”.  Such a person does not “know” if God does or does not exist; the wise ones attempt to find out because if He DOES exist, a person’s relationship with him might be beneficial or detrimental to them.

In part 3 we will consider some of the beliefs of theists.  There is nothing further to be investigated about atheists; once it is believed that God does not exist, there is no further path to follow.

 

 

Proof

Most people would really like to ‘prove’ that their version of God exists.  So far, no one has managed it.

There are 4 types of proof which can be attempted.  First is ‘scientific proof’, where a repeatable ‘experiment’ has reliable results which proves the premise.  God(s) are supernatural, by definition, so do not follow the laws of science we are constrained by.  This type of proof has never been successfully used.  Will it ever be?  I doubt it.

Next is ‘logical proof’.  This is where you start with provable assumptions and use valid logical arguments to prove your viewpoint.  This has been used a lot – invalidly.  In every single case I’ve run into, either one or more assumptions were not provable or even valid, or at least one step of the logical argument was invalid.  Perhaps the most obvious (and annoying) instance of this is the ever popular “The Bible is the Word of God, because it says so in the Bible”.  Sorry, the rules of logic do not permit the premise to prove itself.  Another is the attempt to just prove that God exists.  “Every design has a designer,  The Earth has a design.  Thus the Earth has a designer”.  In this case, the logic is valid, but let’s look at the assumptions.  “Every design has a designer” is inherently true, so no problem there.  “The Earth has a design”; now this one is problematical.  It sure does seem like it has a design, the way everything fits together in just the right way, but ‘seem’ does not guarantee ‘is’.

Then there is ‘personal experience’.  This is where you know something to be true because you personally experienced it.  This is a very powerful proof to the person with the experience, but much less so to everyone else.  Some may accept it as true because they trust the person claiming the experience; others likely will not if they don’t know or trust the person.

Finally, there is ‘legal proof’, where something is so ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.  As you can tell by a brief glance at the history of our legal system, this is just an indication, not proof.

What it comes down to, is ‘faith’; ‘belief’.  And this may very well be by design.  In the Bible, it is made very clear that belief is very important to God.  Why?  I have no idea, but it does seem that God set things up so that it would be impossible to ‘prove’ Him; you would HAVE to have belief to interact with him.

Before I was saved, I was amused or annoyed at the attempts made to ‘prove’ anything to do with God, but I’ll tell you, once they used invalid logic, unproven assumptions or just stated things as facts which they could not back up, I tended to discount everything they said.

How then can you share God with others?  Forget scientific or logical ‘proof’, it can just make you look silly.  Don’t state your beliefs or theories as facts; state them as YOUR beliefs or theories.  If the people know you well, personal experience may be accepted, but don’t rely on this alone.  Showing that your view of God COULD be true or even better, is LIKELY to be true, is a first step on the path to showing someone the light.  Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to show, by your everyday actions, your relationship to God.  Nothing will ruin your attempts to share God faster or more completely than having your actions be at odds with your words.