On The Alleged Atheist Assumptions

There are Christians who claim that atheism assumes there is no god (https://lyleduell.me/2017/02/02/the-assumptions-of-atheism/). This is typical of theists who are self-styled atheist experts. Apparently this assumption (which hasn’t actually been established, merely claimed and assumed to be true) is false because

No one can prove that there is no God

If it’s not possible to prove there is no god, then equally it’s also not possible to prove that there is a god, which leaves the theist in the uncomfortable position of assuming there is a god, with no proof, while pointing a finger that the atheist saying you can’t assume there is no god because you can’t prove there is no god.

I participate in regular conversations with theists and atheists and the claims of atheists vary a lot. There are those who confidently claim there is no god and there are those who take the softer road that belief in god is not reasonable if said god cannot be demonstrated. The majority take the latter. It’s not clear from the blog post I linked to if all atheists are lumped into the assumption claim or if it’s only the former. What’s also not clear is how the author thinks atheists come to these assumptions. If the assumption if merely because the lack of a god can’t be proven, that that is an entirely reasonable position to take. Given that you can prove neither the existence nor the non-existence of a thing, assuming it exists is the least reasonable position to take.

Next we get to

The second assumption, which I have found in most atheists, is the belief that they are smarter than those who believe in a God.

Yes, there are many atheists who will comment along the lines of “only a stupid idiot would believe in a god”, or other less salubrious phrases. These are equally matched by those theists who quote Psalm 14:1 or other bible verses which justify looking down their noses at non-believers. I am pretty sure I’ve been called all sorts of variations of stupid by theists far more times that I’ve seen atheists bat it back. The numbers aren’t actually important though because the insult isn’t useful regardless of the direction it flows. It is a tad dishonest to accuse the atheist of assuming higher intelligence while not acknowledging the reverse is an equal problem.

The blog post then makes a reference to poll that claims that 51% of scientists believe in god. The link associated with the claim didn’t work for me but it seems to be this:

http://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/

Note that it’s 33% believe in god and 18 believe is some form of higher power that’s not god. 10 of those 33% are religions other than Christian. Those stats don’t looks so great compared to the 41% with no belief. But I’m not sure what that has to do with intelligence and belief. Intelligent people sometimes believe dumb things. That happens the world over. Trying to point score on an intelligence comparison achieves nothing other than making it look like you are trying to justify an assumption you have.

A Response to Answering The Skeptics

My last post (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/answering-the-sceptics/) received a very long reply, so rather than accept a single huge comment, I decided to replicate the whole thing here and respond. At close to 3000 words, the reply is considerably longer than the post it addresses, a tad unreasonable and I suspect the sort of essay I should expect from the poster. (Note to poster, try to keep your comments shorter and to a minimal number of topics in future, it makes maintaining a conversation a whole lot easier.

The reply I received is repeated verbatim below, with outdented commentary from yours truly.

“Presuppositions are fatal. One should never presuppose anything before an argument because that makes the whole point of the argument moot.”

Presuppositions are necessary. You are falsely identifying the fallacy of begging the question with an axiom or an apparent or necessary truth. You must presuppose several things to even make your claim intelligible. One thing you are presupposing is that the fallacy of begging the question is fallacious. And even before that you assume logic…and some sort of concept of truth. But worst of all you have also claimed in multiple places that you do presuppose atheism because you falsely believe that atheism requires no evidence and illogically you presuppose the epistemology of evidentialism & scientism, both of which are demonstrably false yet they are necessary for your worldview to function.

Missed the point that presupposing the conclusion before making the argument makes the whole point of the argument pointless. The writer thinks he can tell me what I believe too, experience tells me that christians who take that attitude tend to be insufferably rude and prone to not listening. Instead of asserting what I believe based on questionable theology, I recommend actually finding out.

“You’ve already decided the result so why bother at all. Unless by argument AiG means those things where spouses shout at each other and throw things. What has happened here is that the non believer has been framed to be just as bad as the believer because ‘they believe we’re wrong’. The correct way to this to have no presupposition and to weigh each option on the evidence available and then test the claims that are produced. AiG can’t do this though because as christians they have to assume and assert their god and in their attempt to balance the scales they project onto those who are sceptical of their claims the opposite presuppositions. That’s deceitful and dishonest.”

Much of this is simply arguing against yourself since you presuppose at least as much as AiG. I’m not a fan of AiG since their misuse of the doctrine of innerancy has led to much confusion amongst both evangelicals (creationists in general) and Darwinists (and anti creationists in general). But as you’ve shown AiG is essentially right unless you’re saying you don’t assume that the universe must have arose from purely naturalistic mechanisms? You can say that your “testable” models are successful and provide evidence for their truth but Darwinism is totally dependent on the presupposition of naturalism/materialism/physicalism.

Christians don’t have to “assume and assert” their God…I’m not sure what that even means. Loads of Christians aren’t YECs. And claiming that the scales are imbalanced is just more presumption on your part. Your sort of atheist is essentially the left wing equivalent of a YEC…which means that the scales are relatively balanced between you. People like Dick Dawkins are essentially left wing versions of Kent Hovind (except Dawkins & co will probably never go to jail…). Its pretty obvious that you’re actually being more deceitful and dishonest because they at least are willing to grant their presuppositions.

Doesn’t know what sort of atheist I am. In the desire to regurgitate AiGs’s ‘atheists presuppose’ trope what I was saying has been missed, again. Is this going to be a theme? I hope not.

“when a Christian is debating with a skeptic, the skeptic will want the Christian to give up their presuppositions and approach the debate “neutrally.” For example, the skeptic may ask the Christian to “prove” that there is a Creator without using the Bible.

That is a very fair thing to do, you want to assert that something exists, demonstrate it. Opening a book and saying ‘it says so here’ isn’t good enough. You need to show your workings and then demonstrate why the conclusion is valid. Don’t do it and you won’t be taken seriously.”

I’ll admit there are problematic things about this sort of approach. But Atheists constantly try to exclude the evidence of history. The apostolic witness contains excellent evidence of God’s activity in the world. But yes if God exists we should be able to provide arguments for his existence and that’s why there are many apologists & philosophers that do exactly that. But to be fair if you have come to the conclusion that the scriptures & apostolic witness are true then you are perfectly justified to use them as evidence for God’s existence. That’s not illogical, it actually follows perfectly. What is illogical is reading a statement in scripture that says scripture is authoritative and that claiming that is why scripture is true. There are Christians that do that…and AiG may be doing that here, I don’t know.

There are claims that apostolic accounts are accurate witness statements of a god. I am sure many believe it, however it can’t be known for certain and certainly can’t be demonstrated. Many historical records contain accounts of events which are rightly doubted. The gospels and other bible books are no better.

“But Christians cannot give up their presuppositions because this results in adopting the skeptic’s presuppositions

If you can’t give up your presuppositions, then you are not being honest with yourself. Claiming that the opposite view has their own does not get you out of that.”

You presuppose the scriptures & apostolic witness don’t give good evidence for the basic facts about Jesus’ life…you can’t argue for that…it’s clearly a presumption… based mostly on your presumption of the impossibility of miracles. In other words “claiming that the opposite view has their own (presuppositions) does not get you out of anything.”

I believe what can be demonstrated. What can’t be demonstrated doesn’t get believed until that changes. Presupposing it’s impossible is as bad as claiming it’s happened but being unable to show it. I take the middle ground, if it’s not been shown, there is no reason to accept it. It will be believed to be impossible when it’s impossibility is demonstrated. Until either happens, neither is presupposed. Want to promote one over the other? Show it.

“There is no such thing as achieving “neutrality” in an argument. Jesus makes this clear when He says, “He who is not with Me is against Me”

I think by “neutrality”, AiG means something akin to the Null Hypothesis (http://psc.dss.ucdavis.edu/faculty_sites//sommerb/sommerdemo/stat_inf/null.htm) in experiments. In an argument context this will mean to take no position and weigh each argument. If the Christian can’t, won’t, or is incapable of doing that, then they have already decided their answer and the argument is pointless. If the only correct conclusion to an argument is to conclude your starting position then you are not being honest with yourself or to your sceptic. This why a Christian should be challenged to prove their god claims using something other than the circular activity of opening the self referencing bible.”

No I don’t think they mean the null hypothesis. They mean that all questions have a right answer and a wrong answer, and since they believe God exists that “neutrality” over whether he exists is not virtuous or desirous. To be fair if God exists the “objective” position will always be Theism. Neutrality is only virtuous in a situation where a null hypothesis is helpful. But because of the implications of Theism & atheism neutrality on either isn’t going to benefit us.

Cool, so until god is shown to either exist or not exist, the correct position to take is the one I hold. No belief either way.

The correct conclusion is the correct conclusion to an argument. Everything you’ve argued for presumes loads of things and you keep arguing for the same position…so I guess you aren’t be honest.

Do at least try to accurately represent what I’m saying. I think this is deliberate.

And as I’ve already demonstrated referencing the Bible isn’t a viciously circular argument (it’s really not circular at all) unless you are making an argument that it is truthful because it is truthful.

“Don’t Accept Atheist Presuppositions

But christian presuppositions are all fine and dandy! Really? The correct sub heading should be don’t accept ANY presuppositions.”

Incorrect. You should assume a lot of things…and you clearly do assume loads of things.

More telling me what position I take, are we all bored yet?

“The skeptic knows that God exists because God has made it plain to everyone through the general revelation of creation.

If that was true they wouldn’t be sceptical.”

That’s a very poor argument because self deception is extremely common and well understood. I think it’s quite clear that many atheists are willfully atheists because their arguments & reasons are of such low quality that it’s hard to believe they think these are good reasons…the same can probably be said for many Christians. The claim that everyone knows God exists but that some suppress that knowledge makes a lot of sense. Humans suppress beliefs all the time.

If that’s what is really thought I think then I don’t see much change of a rational or engaging conversation. Take some time to understand what it is that atheists are saying.

“If there was any doubting as to just how dishonestly AiG wants the christian to argue, there it is, decide you’re right and then tell them you’re right because they are already wrong because they have presupposed the wrong presupposition. Awesome!

Never Assume

Errr!

Most atheists assume several things to be true.

Okay ….

they assume the existence of morality, logic, and the consistency of the laws of nature

Odd choice of assumptions to list and it depends how existence is defined. I’m pretty sure this is wrong about morality and logic, while the laws are nature are demonstrated facts so assume is a redundant option.”

It’s not odd, thats basically the same argument I made earlier.

What definition of reality are you working with?

You really don’t assume logic or morality? That’s pretty hard to believe since almost everything you write presupposes both.

Point missed, again.

“Most skeptics believe in the existence of morality

Blatant assertion with no reference to source. Also still missing key definitions to determine context and meanings.”

Well…it’s true. I mean I guess we could find a poll about whether or not skeptics/atheists are all moral relativists. I haven’t met anyone who was willing to say that the holocaust wasn’t evil…Sam Harris claims to believe in morality even though he really doesn’t. If you really don’t believe there is such a thing as right and wrong then I think you’re right that this argument doesn’t work against you but that doesn’t give good evidence for your beliefs, it makes them seem prima facie absurd.

And again.

“they will often argue against the biblical God by claiming that God is an immoral monster for acts of judgment like the global Flood

True, they do, and for good reason.”

That’s a complete contradiction of what you just said. You can’t argue that something is immoral for “good reason” if you don’t believe in right or wrong.

And again.

“But what standard do they have to claim that God is immoral

Any standard that says it’s wrong to eliminate those whom you don’t like. People who take that view normally get their moral values from themselves, or they conform to the value as a socially accepted norm. I think that the bible also holds that not killing those you don’t like is a good value. How come god gets a pass on that? Isn’t it supposed to be his perfect rules of conduct or something?”

This moral reasoning is arbitrary.

Christians, always giving god a free pass.

The flood is a recreation event within the broader context of the Torah narrative. The people being eliminated have demonstrate their lack of repentance so it has nothing to do with God not liking them. This is childish straw manning and represents your consistent anti intellectual bias. God disciplines those he loves within the narrative of the scriptures. The writer of Genesis clearly views the timing of the flood as merciful because Methuselah lives longer than the other long lived patriarchs and his name means something like “my death brings judgement.” In other words God gives humanity loads of time to repent. Before you lose your mind remember I’m presenting the text as it should be understood in contrast to your straw man and inaccurate understanding. God isn’t being flippant with his judgement, the writer of the Torah always portrays God as being slow to judge. But additionally the univocal teaching of the scriptures and the New Testament is not that taking a human life is always wrong. Killing someone you “don’t like” could be moral. Capital punishment is moral from the perspective of this tradition and humans tend not to like the sort of people that usually suffer capital punishment. Of course not liking someone isn’t relevant to a just cause for taking life. In any case murder is wrongful joking and the Torah and Jesus are clear that wrongful killing is of course wrong. God’s righteous judgement upon wicked people would of course not be wrong.

“If life just evolved naturalistically from matter and energy, then where do immaterial laws of morality come from? And who establishes these laws? Government? Society? The individual?

One wonders if these are genuine and serious questions or if they are being used as rhetoric to shore up the aforementioned christian presuppositions. Giving AiG the benefit of the doubt, the answers are: natural selection, ourselves and societal norms, all three.”

I wonder if you’re being serious here because this makes your worldview evil. This means you deny human rights because you deny natural rights since rights are socially constructed by humans and governments. They just legal fiction. In other words you believe that nothing is wrong…or right. So the Nazis weren’t evil. Slavery wasn’t evil…nothing is evil. And nothing is right or good. If all their is is matter in motion then there simply is no meaning or value to life.

The meaning our lives have is the meaning that we assign to ourselves. It comes from what motivates us, which in turn is driven by what we like, which comes from the chemicals in our brains. It’s a very well understood process, there is no need for any god at any stage.

“If this is the case, and murdering and stealing are right for me, then why shouldn’t I murder and steal from you?

So not serious question then. Is the only thing keeping them from doing bad stuff the belief that god said you can’t? How come so many people who don’t accept the christian god do not do this? Could it possibly be that natural selection has already dealt a dealth blow to the DNA encoding that brings about those characteristics? I wager that a society that finds those actions acceptable is one that would not last very long.”

Right you don’t believe in good and evil. More murder, rape, etc occurred in the 20th century then the previous centuries combined. We clearly haven’t evolved past these things and societies that make peace with evils like infanticide are doing quite well. Doing evil does lead to disaster and the western obsession with infanticide has hurt us badly but natural selection doesn’t select based on any criteria so natural selection cannot be the basis of determining right and wrong. You may as well roll a die. But the bigger problem is that you don’t think evil things are evil you think they are impractical. That is quite evil.

The critical difference between absolute numbers and per capita numbers is not very well understood is it!

“They can’t tell me it’s wrong! It’s just wrong for you.

And wrong for pretty much everybody else, thanks to our evolutionary heritage.”

That makes no sense. You don’t think it’s actually wrong. Explain it’s wrongness. Because you don’t like it? How does evolutionary history connect to morality? It’s a purely physical process. Right and wrong don’t ever come into it. Is it wrong when gorillas rape other gorillas? Is it wrong when wolves eat humans? Give me an example of something that is wrong, universally wrong and why it is wrong base purely on scientism. Unless you think humans are more than matter in motion then we aren’t capable of free will and rightness/wrongness isn’t even relevant to our “actions” since we couldn’t be responsible anyway. This point of view is totally absurd. These are the metaphysics of evil.

I’m skipping some of the remarks you made. Mostly irrelevant.

I’m beginning to wonder if my esteemed responder understands much about evolution and natural selection and how they affect human behaiviour.

“And yet, despite morality being immaterial and not absolute, we manage.”

The claim is that since morality isn’t material it can’t be a part of a materialist worldview…so do you think morality is immaterial as you stated above? And it’s relative? That means there’s no morality.

If it’s relative then it doesn’t exist, what an odd argument.

Yes, we managed to kill a million infants a year for the last 30 years in America alone. Atheist regimes managed to cause the deaths of over a hundred million humans in the 20th century. Your argument isn’t coherent to begin with but empirically it’s completely false anyway.

“Because individual survival depends on the group and if the individual acts against the needs of the group, they don’t survive very well.”

That’s not a reason to not murder, steal etc. That’s just a “theory” of survival. Why survive? Just because? Your worldview is dark and meaningless. Nothing is actually wrong for you.

I was right, doesn’t understand evolution.

It’s also just false. Dictators survive fine. Loads of people have done horrible things and survived just fine. The social contract theory of ethics was exploded over 2,000 years ago by Plato’s myth: the ring of Gyges. And we see that same story inverted constantly through our contemporary myths about superheroes. We consider it morally virtuous to act against our best interests (sometimes to clearly emotionally unhealthy places) and even give up personal survival for the sake of others. You can’t make sense of altruism. Social contract theory is a description not an impetus of morality. It means there is no morality.

And didn’t get my point either, sadly, it was a theme.

“in a random, naturalistic universe, why should immaterial laws of logic exist?

Another faux question I fear.

In a naturalistic universe there is no explanation for laws of logic

As I suspected. The laws of logic are man made by the way (https://www.britannica.com/topic/laws-of-thought)”

This is idiotic. You think that human minds (something you claimed not to believe in elsewhere) came up with the laws that make rationality possibility? Like the law of identity? Or the law of non contradiction? You really don’t know enough about these issues to discuss them. Citing a britannica article as evidence for your faulty claim is an embarrassingly weak argument. Especially since that article doesn’t even agree with you. Laws of logic are necessary truths. Humans didn’t make them, we abide by them.

I’m still being patient with you because I hope you will see some of the numerous errors you’re making and hopefully change.

‘Patient with me’, how about presumptuous and patronising instead.

“you have to assume that the laws of nature won’t change tomorrow.

That’ll explain why I have trouble walking straight when I stay a bit late after work. Those damnable laws of nature always changing when I need them most.”

They don’t change that’s the point. Terrible argument. Why is nature uniform?

“They are immaterial and constant throughout the universe.

That’ll be because they are dependent on the properties of the matter that makes up the universe. Take away the matter and you lose the lawful nature.”

That makes no sense. The immaterial laws depend on matter? That’s absurd. Taking away the matter just takes away the matter. It does nothing to an immaterial law.

Physics class required.

Ignoring more irrelevance.

“I’ll write my own new version, ‘answer with folly and be treated like a fool’.”

That’s exactly why I tell you when you don’t know enough and you certainly do not know enough to intelligently discuss these things. It’s hard to take you seriously. But I’m still being patient.

And relax.

I’ll repeat my suggestion from the top of this missive, if you want to comment here and have a productive conversation, keep your comments concise and to a minimal number of points and do reign in the assumptions of stupidity.

Not Enough Evidence – A Response

The second of the Saints and Sceptics short series addressing what it calls popular atheist arguments is Not Enough Evidence (http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/three-popular-atheist-arguments-part-2/)

My response to the first post is here: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2016/12/05/the-presumption-of-atheism-a-response/ . There is a third post in the series but I’m unlikely to make a response to that one.

This second post makes reference to Bertrand Russell and his apparent refrain of ‘Not enough evidence God! Not enough evidence!’ The source of this attribution would appear to be in this article, http://www.unz.org/Pub/SaturdayRev-1974feb23-00025, where in response to the question of what he’d say if faced with God, Mr Russell replied “I probably would ask, ‘Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?’ ”

Personally, I prefer Stephen Fry’s response, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-suvkwNYSQo.

That’s not the point of this post though, the question at hand is on the evidence while we’re alive, not the hypothetical.

The Saints and Sceptics item opens by setting the scene that the atheist case is that in the absence of evidence the default position is non-acceptance, in other words, no evidence for god means atheism is the starting point and the case must be made for a god in order for that position to become considered. Okay so far. Saints and Sceptics calls this the presumption of atheism. Reference is made to the first item in the series with the conclusion that:

So, even if the insufficient evidence objection is accepted, it doesn’t provide a good reason to accept atheism

And if you read my response to the first item you’ll see that there is a mismatch in the understanding of atheism. Atheism is the non adherence of theism. That is no belief in god. Like in the first item, Saints and Sceptics has gone for the far end of atheism and used that to define all atheism. I won’t repeat my response to that.

Moving on, we get to:

For example, if the only kind of evidence that can be considered for the existence of an entity is direct detection with the five senses, then there would be no evidence for God.

Good, this is why I have no belief in any god.

However, this is completely inadequate as an account of evidence, even within science.

Uh oh!

If evidence is understood more plausibly in terms of facts that are better explained by one hypothesis than its rivals, then there could well be evidence for God.

Bet you didn’t see that coming!

Hypotheses need testing before they get accepted.

A reference is made to a previous post called The Evidence For God (http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/the-evidence-for-god/), oddly, it contains no evidence, only assertions. Ho hum.

Even if it is granted that there might be some evidence for God, it might still be objected that it is insufficient, but how are we to decide? How much evidence is needed and how convincing does it need to be?

Two very good questions.

In answer we get an index link titled Evidence Of God (http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/articles/existence-of-god/) featuring links to a few arguments that are very familiar, Fine Tuning, Maths, Big Bang; you know, the usual fair. The links are all well known reasons, or arguments, that Christians will use to justify their belief. However, arguments are not evidence so the title is misleading. Arguments should have supporting evidence, which these ones are lacking. There’s a theme emerging here.

We wouldn’t claim that the evidence logically proves God’s existence

Thank goodness for that! Odd use of the word logically though. No one says that gravity is logically proven.

Interestingly, since Russell’s death in 1970, powerful new scientific evidence concerning the fine-tuning of a range of physical constants that are necessary for intelligent life has provided an interesting twist on the design argument. Is this evidence sufficient? If not, why not? And perhaps more importantly, what kind of evidence would be needed?

Suddenly it’s the penultimate paragraph and no actuall evidence has been discussed, what is this post about then?

Is this evidence sufficient? The author asks. What evidence? I wonder.

If not, why not? The Author asks. Because there isn’t any is the best I can muster.

And perhaps more importantly, what kind of evidence would be needed?

A great question, and pertinent too. I’ll answer it.

Evidence that can be used to create a testable hypothesis. That way a set of repeatable and reliable tests for god can be performed and the case for god properly examined. That is the standard and if the theist wants their god idea to be taken seriously, that is what they must submit to.

Regrettably, for some atheists it has become little more than a slogan, a way of avoiding the need to consider the evidence seriously. And it would be an unfortunate irony if a statement which at face value emphasizes the importance of evidence is actually used as a strategy for avoiding it.

Great pithy ending, such a shame that in their decrying of the atheist’s frustratingly consistent demand for evidence, Saints and Sceptics has forgotten to include any. Now that’s irony!

Interview an Atheist at Church

Recently I became aware of a thing called ‘Interview an Atheist at church’ (http://interviewatheists.wordpress.com/about/). I hesitate to call it a campaign because I don’t see the kind of support and momentum that I would expect from a campaign. It is an interesting idea though, one that I think warrants support and wider publicity.

From I can tell it was originally hoped that it should be a specific day in the year. Though comments seem to imply that when it’s happened it’s been on whatever day is convenient for the parties involved.

This is something I would support. I’ve been in enough churches over the years to know that very few Christians actually understand what drives and motivates atheists. Hearing one speak in Church under these conditions would help with that and may even prompt further questions which would mean having a dialog with an atheist. Something precious few Christians have done in any meaningful way.

I don’t think a specific day is necessarily the best way to go about this, due to personal commitments or Church calendars. Though it is, in all probability, the best way to get it publicised wider. Personally, I would accept any invitation to take part in something like this.

Would I have been so supportive in my Christian years? That is highly unlikely. The objection that I see is that the front of the church is for teaching and for the work of the church. This sort of activity would bend the church to the will of atheists and that would be seen as a bad thing. Also, increased dialog with atheists means that wavering Christians are more likely to take on board what they say and could turn away from faith. An outcome that my old Christian self would have seen as unacceptable this reason on its own would be enough to kill the idea.

Now I’m on the other side of the fence, I think it is important for the Christians who see atheists as morally deficient, illogical brutes, to actually have a positive engagement because it is when those Christians get vocal that the most damage is done. If something like this can stop that sort of lie, then that’s a result and that would be my motivation for supporting this.

But what about conversion?

This I think is the big underlying issue. The Christians would likely think that the atheist wants to convert someone. This comes from the basic idea that all Christians constantly receive in sermons and bible studies; basically all conversations with the unsaved should be seen as a stepping stone and opportunity for that person to get a glimpse of God and eventually lead to their conversion and salvation. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that the Christian will think that the visiting atheist is thinking the same thing. The honest atheist will admit that to see someone shed their faith would be an exciting bonus. It’s this clash, or potential clash, of belief that seems to be the biggest challenge here. An undercurrent of mistrust is highly possible.

For something like this to work, any mistrust should be addressed first and the focus should be on conversation and acceptance. That would require more than just a one off event where a church pastor gets an interesting atheist for a brief chin wag. To properly dispel myths and establish greater respect and dialog requires more commitment than that.

In the back of my mind I still can’t shake the feeling that most Christians would see this as an opportunity to convert another sinner and the atheist would become a project. Maybe it’s because I know how Christians think and I’m jaded by that and its stopping me from seeing the wider opportunity.

Maybe it’s me who needs to have some myths exploded! 🙂

 

The Geocentric Argument

 

This head shaking story appeared in my news feed recently (http://phys.org/news/2014-02-americans-unaware-earth-circles-sun.html). Like some of the commentators, I would like to know more detail about the nature of the questions and who was asked. Given the small numbers involved (only 2,200) it is possible to create such a set of questions and pick a demographic that skews the result to create whatever headline you wish. I’m not saying that is what happened, just that there is far too little information and the sample size far too small for this to be truly something that can be extrapolated out to cover the whole population of the USA.

However, if you do decide to do a search on geocentrism (the belief that the earth is the centre of our solar system) then some properly head scratching pages do come up; http://www.genesis-creation-proof.com/geocentricity.html being a good example. The beauty of this one is that it shows you precisely why biblical literalism is a bad idea (even dangerous?). The site rings all the same alarms for me that many conspiracy sites ring, that is the lone enthuse with little or no backing from a wider organisation. In other words, a fringe whacko who does not represent the wider majority who are biblical literalists. Another such site is http://www.evidencechart.com/charts/10.

The point that these sites help to make is that for those who wish to base their scientific claims on bible verses is that there will always be problem verses that simply cannot be taken as scientific fact but, equally so, there will also be some enthusiastic individuals who wish to make that claim and fly in the face of hard proof. Thus the blurry line between interpretation and literalism will always exist.

Geocentrism did seem obvious for a while. There was always a problem though; the retrograde motion of the visible planets (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retrograde_and_prograde_motion) throws a hefty spanner into the mix and to stick with a geocentric model of the solar system means one has to come up with some impressive adjustments and gymnastics to account. Seasons also cause a problem because it requires the path of the sun around the earth have a significant wobble; this needs an explanation. These two pieces of evidence are what I would have replied to this blog post had I known about it at the time (http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/we-live-in-a-geocentric-world/).

The kicker for geocentrism, of course, was the telescope. This earth changing invention allowed man to gaze at the stars and see so much more. The planets were shown to have moons of their own, something that clearly didn’t revolve around the earth. Even more amazing, Venus and Mercury showed changing crescents while Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were always full. That needed a very good explanation and really should be the last nail in the geocentric coffin for anyone who would stop and think and just five minutes.

Geocentrism Therefore Creationism.

Anyway, the news at the top of this post prompted me to dig a blog post out of my saved archives, http://thenewcreationism.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/well-evidenced-theories-can-be-wrong-poorly-evidenced-theories-can-be-right/. It is one I saved specifically because I consider it nonsense and wanted to keep it for when I felt the need to comment, that need is now.

The post above is short so won’t take much time to read, but makes an intriguing claim. Essentially it says that geocentrism was logical because that what the available evidence implied at the time. No matter how much the people believed it and wanted it to be true, it was always wrong and later, better evidence revealed that. The author then makes an analogy with evolution and attempts to put evolution in the place of geocentrism by admitting that it looks obvious. That doesn’t make it true aparently. He then goes a step too further and implies that the heroes of creationism are the Galileos of today. What an insult!

He’s wrong of course, very wrong.

Geocentrism wasn’t easy to overturn; there was an established worldview that required the earth to be the centre of everything and that philosophy would not be challenged. It was evidential weight that forced it into a minority view, one that really should be history by now. No one would ever seriously suggest that there is a controversy between geocentrism and heliocentrism and certainly no one would want both ideas to be taught in the classroom for students to make up their mind which one they want to adopt.

The true analogy with geocentrism is creationism; they are both idea born out religion and appear to make logical sense when looked at superficially. However, go deeper and the there is greater complexity that a simplistic worldview simply cannot explain and both idea crumble under evidence that is crushing.

No, the creationists of today are not Galilean heroes bravely fighting an established order trying to tell the world the truth; they are religious literalists cornered into a philosophy that has an ever shrinking platform and their worldview is so narrow they simply won’t accept what the evidence says because the consequences and cost are potentially enormous.

What is the effect of a church leader with an Atheist Spouse?

 

If any reader has an practical experience on this subject, or even if you have an opinion on this, I would very much welcome your comments.

Since the great coming out a couple of years ago (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/the-coming-out-begins/) my wife has continued her involvement with the local church and we’ve had many conversations on the matter. Things have changed slightly from the initial desires discussed. I don’t attend church any more, though I do attend some of the more social aspects and we continue to be good friends with the Pastor and his family and one other family in the church. These are friendships that are important to us both. I am, however, the sole atheist and there is no one outside the church whom we socialise with.

My wife has gradually increased her involvement in the church and regularly leads worship (along with the other couple mentioned above). She has even supported another local Baptist church by preaching there a couple of times. She is liked by that congregation and has been invited back to preach again. I’m not at all surprised by that. My wife preaches and leads sensitively and makes her points concisely and clearly. She is humble in her presentation and when I was a believer I enjoyed hearing her preach.

Since the big breakup of last year (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/its-all-gone-to-shit/) church life has become much calmer and happier. Those who left are doing their own thing and the church that remains has attracted new people and by all accounts and a much better place to be. So much so that I understand there is a very good chance that the women in leadership rule (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/on-women-in-the-church/) will be put to a vote and removed. This is a bit speculative on my part and I am very likely jumping the gun, but I am also very confident that this is the current state of the church membership.

This will have a significant effect on my wife because she would be given the chance to preach on occasion and she’ll be doing so with the explicit support of the Pastor and other in the leadership.

 

But what about the Atheist Spouse?

This does have an effect on me too and I swing constantly in my attitude on the subject (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/and-so-the-pendulum-swings/). Should I challenge my wife on things that I consider untrue about Christianity? I do the same with friends and family when faux medical benefits such and acupuncture or homeopathy, why should religion be treated differently?

Or do I leave her to it and treat it like a hobby, much like my photography? Except I can’t do that because they are not comparable as hobbies; plus it also involves my daughter and she is important to me and I should have a say. So I continue to struggle on the subject.

 

Interesting chats

Over the past year or more my wife and I have had multiple conversations on Christianity, mostly they have been amicable with only a very few ending badly. It is a constant learning and challenging experience for us both. If only all people of our respective views could have this many conversations with someone of the opposite position.

 

But what about the subject of this post?

This isn’t specific about my situation. It is more of a general thought process, however I think it does need considering for my wife and what she does.

In my Christian days I would have considered a church leader who has an atheist spouse as compromised. Compromised because their home life clearly isn’t always focused on the church and a spouse of a church leader is expected to be there is presence, a visible support and someone to go to when the leader themselves is not available. As a couple they are expected to be a united team. If the spouse is an atheist then they are clearly in opposition to the leader and so the leader is not fully effective as a Christian and they could even compromise their message so as to accommodate the position of their spouse.

I am fairly sure that there are many Christians about the world who would feel similar now. Some people in our church (yes I still refer to it as our church even if it really isn’t my church) know of my atheism, even if it is not publically announced. It is one thing for my wife to preach at another local church, which knows nothing of our situation. Having her preach at the church where we are known so much better raises a new set of questions which we’ve not fully addressed.

There is no doubt that when the time comes for her to preach there, it will be with the full support of the pastor and others in the leadership, but as recent events have shown, that is not a guarantee of the full support of the wider church family.

The Validity of Debating Creationists

I’m very intrigued about tonight’s debate between Ham and Nye. The news and publicity that I am seeing about it is has been almost non-stop for the last couple of weeks. Though the mainstream media here in limeyland doesn’t appear to have picked up on it. I’m keen to see if it is reported at all tomorrow. I expect to see something in the morning news and later in the papers, I guess I’ll find out tomorrow. I’ll not be watching it live though, since it’ll be midnight here when it starts and goodness knows what time when it’s over. I expect I’ll check YouTube for videos tomorrow to see how it went. No doubt my feedly stream will be full of comment in the morning as well.

One of the hottest questions on the subject of the debate seems to be the validity of the debate rather than what the content is likely to be. The opinions here are almost as polarised as the subject itself.

I fully get the objections that vocal naysayers are raising. Debating Creationists does give undue validity to their opinions and making it this public, especially so. The Ham publicity machine has clearly been working very hard. The important point is, scientific truth is not decided by debate; it is dictated through evidence. Debating the validity of Creationism gives a platform to ideas which should have died out a long time ago and the debate format simply gives them life through the method of slippery rhetoric. Clever words do not truth make, regardless of how much the speaker believes it.

However, this does also give an opportunity for those creationists who are prepared to pay attention to the science to actually hear a science description from someone who is not trying to peddle religion off the back of it. When I look back at the science I read about in my creationist days, I can see how it was always shaped in a way that led to god. Creationists talking about science invariably frame the discussion to guide a god agenda and this is dishonest. When I read creationist comment on science now, I can see that clearly and it alarms me. Creationists who have relied on the likes of Ham and AiG to feed them these twisted versions of science now have a chance to hear it more clearly, if only they will have ears to hear.

I hope that Nye will rise to the challenge and give many creationists something serious and honest to think about and investigate. I hope he has good advisors and has had enough time to prepare because getting through to a creationist is not the same as explaining science to the secular layperson. If a scientific argument is seen as threatening to a Creationist, then it’ll be rejected. The science needs to be phrased in a way that invites (temps?) them to look deeper.

This event always springs to mind when thinking about discussions such as this: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/when-friends-are-unkind/

 

Mis-quoting others, atheists being dicks

One of the joys of the internet is the ability to check out and spread humorous quotes of famous people that backup your philosophical position.

Which probably explains why the following quote, supposedly of Mark Twain, has been doing the rounds for some time.

Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.

When the above quote appeared on my Facebook feed some weeks ago I decided to check it out. I don’t like to just take pithy quotes on face value and in today’s age of easily assimilated and faked images it is so easy to attribute anything to anyone.

There are many places that repeat the quote, but only a few that show a history of the quote, among them is this one: http://www.zebrafactcheck.com/neer-the-twain-did-speak-it/

As can be seen, the quote is of dubious attribution.

One of the reasons I wanted to check the quote out is that I don’t consider it particularly accurate. The history of religion is very complex and no one who studies it long enough will actually claim the quote as being an accurate representation of that history.

The quote is the sort of thing that I would laugh at with friends over a beer if repeated down the pub, but would never take seriously. However, sticking it on Facebook makes it open to challenge. So having found that it wasn’t a valid attribution I commented to that effect and corrected the poster.

Now this particular individual is rather outspoken and like to say things that shock and will argue them until the other party gives up. Some of his posts and comments are so abrasive that my wife has blocked his comments from showing on her feed. He certainly isn’t the type to admit a mistake easily, so I wasn’t particularly surprised when his response to my correction was to reply that whoever said it, it was effing funny.

It is this kind of atheist that, sadly, gives the rest of us a bad name and it is this kind of mentality that, also sadly, many people of a religious persuasion imagine when they think of atheists. I know that is the sort of person I thought most atheists were because that is what I had been warned about many times growing up.

The truth of course, is that this is not characteristic of most atheists, it is simply that this is the kind of atheist that gets noticed the most.

 

The Atheist Prayer Experiment

I listen to an large number of podcasts. In fact I’d go so far as to say that when I’m working from home or out and about with my iPod, my listening is 99% podcasts. They vary from music podcasts to comedy and audio stories right the way to science based. There are some atheist podcasts and there is a sole Christian podcast in the list.

That Christian podcast is Unbelievable? (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/unbelievable/id267142101) From UK Christian radio station Premier. The basic format is that the Christian host takes a subject each week and generally chairs a discussion between a theist and a non-theist. Usually the theist is a Christian. I find the show is generally well balanced and I appreciate the honest discussion that follows. I think Justin (the host) does a very good job.

Now that the plug is out of the way; last year they ran An Atheist Prayer Experiment (http://www.premier.org.uk/atheistprayerexperiment). I’m so far behind on listening to the podcast that I’m only just catching up with the results shows. The basic idea was to challenge Atheists to pray daily for 40 days asking God to reveal Himself to them.

My Thoughts

When I first heard about the challenge, I did consider if I would have taken part. The experiment was already over by the time I heard the first podcast advertising it. My conclusion was that no I would not take part because I would more than likely be guilty of not being open enough to pray the prayer and mean it. Surely that would disqualify me as I could not be objective.

The conclusion from that was that if the only people would be able to take part where those who were considered open to their being a god, then surely they can’t call themselves atheists can they? While I applaud the sentiment behind the experiment I do see it as being a bit valueless.

Testing God?

Having ruled myself out of taking part, my next thought was that surely this would come under the banner of testing god and the Bible specifically warns against this doesn’t it. I had a brief conversation with my pastor (since I no longer attend the church is he still my paster? Who cares, he’s a good chap and a good friend so for clarity I’ll refer to him as my pastor) on this and we both seemed to agree that it did get close to falling foul of that.

Rather naughtily I asked the question “In that case, isn’t all prayer testing god?” Hmmm, I think the answer to that is a whole blog post on its own. Anyway, we agreed that the boundary was more a fat grey line than an absolute boundary.

Later I would discuss this with my wife and while we too agreed it was a largely valueless experiment, her answer to the testing god question was that the warning to not test god was more about seeking a bargain than it was about praying this sort of prayer. I asked her if Jacob and the Fleece was a test, she said yes. We agreed that since the command came much later than Jacob’s bargain that we’d let him off on this occasion.

Praying on Video

In order to protect himself from accusations of not being sincere, one participant recorded a video of himself praying. Christians commented that the prayer was genuine and complimented him on his prayer. The participant reported that he felt humiliated by it. I wondered why they were complimenting him on the words he used, surely it’s the state of his heart and mind towards god that is of greater importance!

It’s a Christian Win-Win

Regardless of the results, Christians can claim a win here. If there were many converts, well the answer is obvious. For each of those who don’t convert, well they were clearly not open to god’s message or the time wasn’t right for them, or any other apologetic reasoning.

As it happens, there was a tiny number of converts out of the 70-odd participants.

 

Swearing on the Bible

 

A few weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I found myself swearing an oath with my hand on a bible.

In my Christian days I this practice bugged me somewhat. I always considered the verse in James which talks about not swearing on the book of the law and letting your word be reliable. In my more arrogant moments I would say that if I were ever in that situation I’d open the Bible to the relevant passage, read it, and then refuse the request.

These days, I’m not quite so hot headed about the issue, but I do wonder why it is done and why people still accept it. There is good argument for both Christians and atheists to object to the practice. The way I squared with it was that I took the view that it was better to have a bible there on display and seen as a symbol of trustworthiness. The issue now, is that it is only Christians who have that option.

I get the reasons; there is solemnity in putting your hand on the bible and making a promise. As a child, the challenge from people doubting ones word was to “swear on your mother’s life”. People who really wanted to be believed would do this in an effort to show their reliability. My mother’s life is more valuable to me than a bible; can’t that be used as a sign of my reliability? Of course the legal process would consider that a flippant offer, so why should the bible be seen as less flippant?

As it happens, the oath swearing was a requirement of my being an executor of my late mother’s will and in order for my brothers and I to get our inheritance, I had to make a visit to a solicitor and swear that I am me.

It is interesting that for items such as passports it is sufficient for me to get a photo signed by someone who knows me or that for me to go and get a benefits payment I just need to produce a document with my name and address on it, along with something with a signature. However, this process required something more, and that something more is for me to visit the office of someone who has never met me before, put my hand on a bible, promise I am me and sign a form. My neighbour could have done it in my place and no one would have been any wiser. Well technically, the signature could eventually be checked and found to be wrong, assuming it was checked downstream of the swearing.

The actually event took me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting it. The first alert came when I was introduced by the secretary as being there for a swearing oath, she then informed the duty solicitor that there was a bible in the meeting room. Because of the background detailed above I was immediately on alert for what was about to happen.

After a brief chat with myself I decided it wasn’t worth kicking a fuss over and that I would go with it.

The moment itself was me with my hand on the bible repeating a phrase that was being read out to me. The only other times I have repeated stock phrase was at the dedication of my daughter, when I was a god-father and when I got married. All those seemed more solemn than the moment I was having in that average meeting room with my hand on a slightly battered bible.

I took it seriously, but it didn’t feel as wholly solemn as it should have. I dare say that if I was still a believer I may have felt differently.

Afterwards I asked the solicitor if there had ever been anyone object to the process. She said not, but that there was an alternative phrase for the occasion should someone prefer to forgo the bible option. I was both impressed and pleased there is that option but I don’t think I missed out on anything by choosing not to object; after all, in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that important. My promise would still mean the same and any falsities would still hold the same punishment.

I couldn’t help wonder though, if this practice should be consigned to history and what value it really has. Those that will intend to lie their way will do so, bible or not, and those that wish to be honest will do so, bible or not. I don’t believe the presence of the bible in situations like this makes a difference. It’s the solemnity of the moment that is important; in which case it probably is time that something was found that will be equally acceptable to Christians, atheists and other faiths alike.

Though, honestly speaking, it is not something I’d consider important enough to campaign for. There are far bigger issues in the world than the need to worry about the technicalities of convincing people to tell the truth.