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.

 

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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….

Prayer

Prayer is the way you communicate to God.  Some people claim that God does not answer prayer, but this is not correct.  God answers every single prayer, just not always in the way the person wanted the prayer answered.  The answer can be “yes”, but often it is “no” or “not now”.

How does He choose which answer?  God only knows.  Literally.  If your prayer is in tune with his wishes, and it would be good for Him and/or good for you without being harmful to Him, then the odds of “yes” can be fairly good.  Otherwise, the chances of “yes” would be pretty slim.

Prayer can be efficient in times of need; “Help!” might be a very good prayer as your car crashes through the guardrail hundreds of feet in the air.  However, usually you will want to approach your communication with a fair degree of formality, particularly if you are asking for something.

First of all, “address” your prayer.  Who are you talking to?  Use the name or title or relationship you most admire, or which the entity you are talking to is claimed to prefer.  “Hey, you” probably would usually not be one of the better choices.

Next, don’t just list your wants.  This is COMMUNICATION, not a spiritual Home Shopping Network.  Comment on the good stuff you have experienced.  If you are asking for something, be polite about it and try to keep it aligned with the views which it is claimed the one you are praying to holds.

And if you get a “no” or “not now” answer, don’t freak out.  Expect it, so the “yes” answers are special.

Again, you are conversing, as part of a relationship.  How often?  As often as your relationship expects, plus any time you just need to chat.  How long?  As long as it takes and no longer.

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.

 

 

Finding God, Part 1

Look around you.  What can you see, feel, touch, hear, smell, taste?  What can be proven by the scientific method?  This is the “Natural” world in which you exist.  It’s existence is as real as your own existence.  Possibly there are elements of it which we cannot currently detect or prove, but these elements still adhere to the limitations of the Natural and someday we may be advanced enough to detect or prove them.

Consider a realm outside of this world.  An environment which cannot be sensed and which cannot be proven.  A place where the “laws of Nature and physics” do not apply or at least do not always apply.  A place of, dare I say it, magic.  This realm would be beyond the Natural, and might or might not intersect with the Natural to some degree.  We shall call this the “Super natural” world.

Can you conceive of it’s existence?  Not in the sense of “Science Fiction” or “Fantasy” or other form of entertainment, but as an actual, real existence?  Something which MIGHT exist but cannot be verified?  If so, then it would be wise to consider the possibility that “God” exists in that realm, and might possibly interact with you.

If you believe such an environment does not and can not exist, then in order to be consistent, you must also believe that “God” does not and can not exist.  Any sane concept of God’s existence requires the Supernatural realm for Him to exist in, since by definition, any God is Supernatural.  That is, a “God” exceeds the limits of the current and potentially future Natural, which not least of which, involves being able to violate the laws of nature, physics and even time.

Note that God with a capital G refers to a Supernatural being, while “god” is a term which might be attached to a person who is revered, with no (serious) implication that he or she is actually possesses and of the Supernatural.

In part two, we will look a bit closer at this concept of “God”.

 

Morality and Survival

I’ve been having a discussion with a fellow prepper, and the question arose about whether it was acceptable to raid other people (depriving them of what they need to survive and/or killing them in the process) in order to enhance the chances of your own survival and that of your family.

He is of the opinion that it is, morally at least, a gray area.  He ‘will do anything’ to ensure the survival of him and his family.  The difficulty is that there is not a one to one correspondence between the morality and the effectiveness of an action.  If the primary goal is survival of the family, then that action seems the most effective decision to make, and it is hard to fault him for making it.  However, that decision should be made with the full understanding that no matter how effective that plan may be, the actions required are morally wrong.

Be sure to note that a plan can be highly effective, but morally wrong.  In fact, this is very often the case.  Conversely, just because something is morally right does not guarantee it to be effective.  And in this case, the moral course of action may very well be less effective for the goal of survival.

Why do I claim that the course of action which gives an appearance of effectiveness is morally wrong?  Well, we can go to the Bible to see that stealing and murdering is frowned on by God.  Assuming that you put any stock in the Bible, of course.  Perhaps a more general support for the position would be a form of the ‘Golden Rule’ which just makes sense.  ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ and more specifically, ‘do not do unto others what you do not want them to do unto you’.

Consider that you have what you need for you and your family to survive.  Would you want someone else to come and take it, either killing you or some family member(s) and/or leaving you without the means to survive?  I suspect not.  Well then, I contend that this shows that the action is not ‘moral’.

I have lived by that version of the Golden Rule for thirty five years, and intend to continue doing so, even in a survival situation.  Does this mean my chances of survival are reduced?  Probably.  I can tell you, from my years of experience, just because I do something for someone that I would like someone to do for me, often it is not done for me.  And similarly, things I don’t do because I would not want them done to me, sometimes are done to me.

Here is the thing.  You don’t follow the Golden Rule for others; you follow it for yourself.  And perhaps for God.  I can always (well most of the time) look in the mirror and be pleased with who I see.  Those times when I say to myself, ‘you know, I really wish I had not done that’ are greatly reduced.  I believe that God is moderately happy with me (of course, I still have many areas which need work).  If I fail to survive because I do not perform an action which I believe to be immoral, well, I think survival is more than just staying alive.  In my opinion, survival includes not only the body, but the soul.

By the way, note that while I believe that ‘murder’ is wrong, I have absolutely no problem with self defense.  It appears to me that God detests taking the life of innocents, but can accept taking the life of someone who is attacking you without cause.  ‘Turn the other cheek’ does not say that you cannot defend yourself against deadly violence; it specifically refers to a slap on the cheek, or more generally, an insult.  THAT you are not to respond to.

 

 

 

 

Where are you going?

Oh, oh.  I’ve got bad news for you – you are going to die.  I don’t know when, but it is going to happen.

This will have severe impact on those who are emotionally bonded to you and those who depend on you, either because you have assumed the obligation for their care, or have become indebted to them.  You owe it to all of these people to live in such a way that death is delayed as long as practical, and that when you do die, all dependents are taken care of.  But what about you?

There is little contention that when you die, your joys AND problems on this earth are over.  That tendency towards killer migraine headaches or knee which keeps giving out or deteriorating eyesight?  Not a problem any more.  Your daughter’s horrid choice of boyfriend, the project at the office which is going so badly, the leak in the roof or the ‘check engine’ light which just came on?  Such issues probably will be someone’s problem, but not yours.  Neither Bush or Obama will have any further impact on you.  This world is done as far as you are concerned.  But is there a next ‘world’, and if so, how will you be situated in it?  There are widely differing theories about this, and it would be incredibly unwise not to investigate the possibilities and do what you can to optimize your situation in any such existence.

There is little doubt that ‘you’ consist of at least two parts.  There is the body, which is apparent to all of your five senses, and the senses of anyone around you.  A really good surgeon and/or makeup artist can duplicate that fairly well for someone else, or change it significantly for you.  It is only packaging.  Then there is the part (or parts) which makes that body YOU; your thoughts, your emotions, your memories, your beliefs, your morals and so on.  This is REALLY you; that which makes you absolutely unique in all of time and space.   There are many words to label this part or parts, including soul, spirit, ghost and essence.  Let us use the least emotionally laden term, essence, for now.

When you die, the body (packaging) deteriorates and is eventually gone.  Bits and pieces can be saved and live on in other people, but it is obvious that these bits and pieces are no longer ‘you’.  But what about your ‘essence’?  Man does not have the technology (yet) to separate body from essence, but that does not mean that it cannot be done.  Someday, man may be able to remove the essence of a person from the body and put it in another body or other ‘container’.  Or maybe not.  In either case, there IS a form of separation done, when you die. There is the body and the essence is not there.  Where is it?

That, my friend, is the question.  Let us be clear; there are exactly two possibilities; either the essence continues on in some form or place, or it ceases to exist, completely and utterly.  If the latter, then death truly is the end of you and you need not concern yourself with anything past your death.  But there is no proof that this is the case.  There is the hope and the POSSIBILITY that the essence continues on in some fashion, and if this is the case, a sane and sensible person would want to do whatever they could to achieve the best conditions for this new form of existence.

What are the details of this existence?  Nobody really knows, but there sure are a variety of beliefs.  These tend to ‘clump’ into four possibilities which may or may not be permanent or able to be ‘improved on’ after death.  Most propose ways to improve on the after-death situation before death occurs.

1) Reincarnation – the essence returns to Earth in another person or if ‘reward/punishment’ is involved, sometimes in an animal, insect or even plant.  This seems kind of pointless since there is no evidence that the new entity has memory of it’s previous tenancy, so ‘improvement’ seems unlikely.  What then is the purpose or benefit of this system?  For that matter, this kind of seems like a ‘closed system’, so where do all the ‘new’ essences come from to support the increasing population?

2) Haunting – the essence remains or returns to Earth in a non-corporeal form, a ‘ghost’ which may or may not be able to interact with people or the physical environment.  This theory often includes the concept that the essence can ‘move on’ if it, or someone on Earth, does something to cause or allow the move.

3) Reward/Punishment – the essence moves on to an environment of reward for living a ‘good’ life or pleasing a God entity, or punishment for living a ‘bad’ life or displeasing a God entity.  In some theories, this state is permanent; in others the ‘punishment’ can eventually be ‘worked off’.

4) Evolution – the essence is transformed into a different, usually superior, entity.

Generally, it is assumed that the pleasantness of any of these options can be swayed by your actions while still alive.  Unfortunately, there is no proven or universally stated path you can follow to guarantee the optimal outcome.  Your best choice is to live in such a way as to be optimally situated no matter what the actual situation turns out to be when you die.  You should have two guiding goals in life.

First, to live a life which is fulfilling to you AND of value to those around you.  This is of obvious benefit irregardless of whether your essence continues on after death or ceases to exist.  Most theories of life after death have a component of reward/punishment for how your life on Earth was lived, so a ‘good’ life may improve your ‘after-life’.  And if death is the end of you, isn’t it better that your life was enjoyable and of  general benefit; that it meant something in the grand scheme of things?

Second, to please God.  Some theories about God have Him influencing your quality of life based on your  behavior in life.  Most theories of life after death have a superior being deciding your fate, so getting on His ‘good side’ is of great importance to your quality of ‘after-life’.  Unfortunately, knowing which of the many gods postulated, exists, and has influence on your existence after death, is not clear cut.  This needs study on your part to identify God, and then see what actions on your part will be pleasing to Him.

Let me suggest that best documented and least contradictory postulated God is the God of the Bible.  This God wants people to be ‘holy’ in order to be able to be with him (seems he is ‘allergic’ to sin), and if you have any scent of sin about you, your essence has nowhere else to go but to a place which at best is not pleasant, and at worst, is horrible beyond imagining.  And EVERYONE has sinned.  You can live a life which minimizes sin, and you should try to, but when you die, you WILL be tainted by at least some sin.  Unless you can pay the punishment for it somehow or remove the stains, you are doomed to be excluded from His presence.

Going through the entire Bible, it is clear that the goal is to avoid any sin, but the practicality is that each sin committed must be atoned for by sacrifice.  That is, taking something of value and giving it to God.  In the distant past, this often involved killing an animal and using it’s blood to ‘cover’ the sin.  Even if PETA, the EPA and other groups of letters would let you get away with that today, there are specified requirements which are no longer available.  These are, the temple of God which was destroyed in 73 A.D. and a trained priest from the tribe of Levi, as specified in the Old Testament of the Bible.  This seems to indicate that Judaism, although dedicated to the correct God, is no longer is capable of providing remission of sin.  Fortunately, the New Testament defines an alternative which is available to everyone today.

God sent part of Himself to Earth to live as a man, experiencing all the temptations which we are subject to, but never sinning.  Then, being without any blemish, he was eligible to be the sacrifice for every sin ever committed or to be committed, by every person who has existed, exists now, or will exist.  In case you have not recognized this description, his name was and is Jesus.  It is clear from the Bible that in order to avail yourself of this payment for YOUR sins, you must accept this gift.

Very easy in concept, but life changing (and possibly death changing) in practice.