Twenty Arguments for God – Three – The Argument from Time and Contingency

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 3:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#3

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

3. The Argument from Time and Contingency

We notice around us things that come into being and go out of being. A tree, for example, grows from a tiny shoot, flowers brilliantly, then withers and dies.
Whatever comes into being or goes out of being does not have to be; nonbeing is a real possibility.
Suppose that nothing has to be; that is, that nonbeing is a real possibility for everything.
Then right now nothing would exist. For
If the universe began to exist, then all being must trace its origin to some past moment before which there existed—literally—nothing at all. But
From nothing nothing comes. So
The universe could not have begun.
But suppose the universe never began. Then, for the infinitely long duration of cosmic history, all being had the built-in possibility not to be. But
If in an infinite time that possibility was never realized, then it could not have been a real possibility at all. So
There must exist something which has to exist, which cannot not exist. This sort of being is called necessary.
Either this necessity belongs to the thing in itself or it is derived from another. If derived from another there must ultimately exist a being whose necessity is not derived, that is, an absolutely necessary being.
This absolutely necessary being is God.
Question1: Even though you may never in fact step outside your house all day, it was possible for you to do so. Why is it impossible that the universe still happens to exist, even though it was possible for it to go out of existence?
Reply: The two cases are not really parallel. To step outside your house on a given day is something that you may or may not choose to do. But if nonbeing is a real possibility for you, then you are the kind of being that cannot last forever. In other words, the possibility of nonbeing must be built-in, “programmed,” part of your very constitution, a necessary property. And if all being is like that, then how could anything still exist after the passage of an infinite time? For an infinite time is every bit as long as forever. So being must have what it takes to last forever, that is, to stay in existence for an infinite time. Therefore there must exist within the realm of being something that does not tend to go out of existence. And this sort of being, as Aquinas says, is called “necessary.”

Did you notice the bait and switch in this one?

Before I address that though, I am noticing a pattern in these first three items. They all focus on the fact that the universe exists and because we (as in our current state of human knowledge) can’t explain why, therefore there must be a god that put it in place. At its most basic it is an argument from ignorance in that a god is inserted where there is no currently accepted explanation. The language has evolved into something more sophisticated and of course I would expect adherents to deny this assertion. They have to.

The issue that this item tried to answer is that of infinite regress, a subject that will be revisited by later items I am sure. Whatever exists must have something that existed before it. A tree came from a seed which came from a previously existing tree and so on. The universe exists and so must come from something that existed before it. Therefore god. But wait, what about before god? Where is the super god that created the universe god? Why stop at the first god that is assumed from the existence of the universe? How can the author of this argument be sure of anything regarding the god that supposedly caused this universe? They can’t be sure, that’s the problem. They’ve presupposed a god then created an argument to support it, but as with all arguments for god, they can’t step beyond imagining, the imagined god can never be tested or confirmed. We are supposed to just accept it.

This brings me to the bait and switch. See this bit.

There must exist something which has to exist, which cannot not exist. This sort of being is called necessary.
Either this necessity belongs to the thing in itself or it is derived from another. If derived from another there must ultimately exist a being whose necessity is not derived, that is, an absolutely necessary being.
This absolutely necessary being is God.

To paraphrase: before the universe, there must be something that caused it (not entirely unreasonable, but is it true? We should really test that before building arguments based on it.), that something must exist (so no test, just assume it’s true and carry on), that thing must be a being (oh?), and that being is god (boof, there it is!)

The bait and switch fallacy is explained more here: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Bait-and-switch

There is another issue with the argument that is presented in this item, which is the whole issue of before the universe. See this bit.

If the universe began to exist, then all being must trace its origin to some past moment before which there existed—literally—nothing at all. But
From nothing nothing comes. So
The universe could not have begun.
But suppose the universe never began. Then, for the infinitely long duration of cosmic history, all being had the built-in possibility not to be. But
If in an infinite time that possibility was never realized,

The author has forgotten (or maybe ignored) the very important detail that time is a feature of matter. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this already but I’ll do it again. How we experience time is directly related to our proximity to matter. The same is also true of how we experience gravity. This time experience is a calculatable and measurable phenomenon. It has to be accounted for in GPS satellites and it is the reason why your head is not the same age as your feet (https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2010/09/nist-clock-experiment-demonstrates-your-head-older-your-feet).

The ultimate conclusion from this is that time, as we understand and experience it, started with the universe. Thus the universe has existed for all of time and the question of what was before needs to first answer the difficulty of how you can have a before time. The author of this item has skipped a very important step in his rush to justify the god that he’s predetermined must exist.

Twenty Arguments for God – Two – The Argument from Efficient Causality

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 2:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#2

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

2. The Argument from Efficient Causality

We notice that some things cause other things to be (to begin to be, to continue to be, or both). For example, a man playing the piano is causing the music that we hear. If he stops, so does the music.
Now ask yourself: Are all things caused to exist by other things right now? Suppose they are. That is, suppose there is no Uncaused Being, no God. Then nothing could exist right now. For remember, on the no-God hypothesis, all things need a present cause outside of themselves in order to exist. So right now, all things, including all those things which are causing things to be, need a cause. They can give being only so long as they are given being. Everything that exists, therefore, on this hypothesis, stands in need of being caused to exist.
But caused by what? Beyond everything that is, there can only be nothing. But that is absurd: all of reality dependent—but dependent on nothing! The hypothesis that all being is caused, that there is no Uncaused Being, is absurd. So there must be something uncaused, something on which all things that need an efficient cause of being are dependent.
Existence is like a gift given from cause to effect. If there is no one who has the gift, the gift cannot be passed down the chain of receivers, however long or short the chain may be. If everyone has to borrow a certain book, but no one actually has it, then no one will ever get it. If there is no God who has existence by his own eternal nature, then the gift of existence cannot be passed down the chain of creatures and we can never get it. But we do get it; we exist. Therefore there must exist a God: an Uncaused Being who does not have to receive existence like us—and like every other link in the chain of receivers.
Question 1: Why do we need an uncaused cause? Why could there not simply be an endless series of things mutually keeping each other in being?
Reply: This is an attractive hypothesis. Think of a single drunk. He could probably not stand up alone. But a group of drunks, all of them mutually supporting each other, might stand. They might even make their way along the street. But notice: Given so many drunks, and given the steady ground beneath them, we can understand how their stumblings might cancel each other out, and how the group of them could remain (relatively) upright. We could not understand their remaining upright if the ground did not support them—if, for example, they were all suspended several feet above it. And of course, if there were no actual drunks, there would be nothing to understand.
This brings us to our argument. Things have got to exist in order to be mutually dependent; they cannot depend upon each other for their entire being, for then they would have to be, simultaneously, cause and effect of each other. A causes B, B causes C, and C causes A. That is absurd. The argument is trying to show why a world of caused causes can be given—or can be there—at all. And it simply points out: If this thing can exist only because something else is giving it existence, then there must exist something whose being is not a gift. Otherwise everything would need at the same time to be given being, but nothing (in addition to “everything”) could exist to give it. And that means nothing would actually be.
Question 2: Why not have an endless series of caused causes stretching backward into the past? Then everything would be made actual and would actually be—even though their causes might no longer exist.
Reply: First, if the kalam argument (argument 6) is right, there could not exist an endless series of causes stretching backward into the past. But suppose that such a series could exist. The argument is not concerned about the past, and would work whether the past is finite or infinite. It is concerned with what exists right now.
Even as you read this, you are dependent on other things; you could not, right now, exist without them. Suppose there are seven such things. If these seven things did not exist, neither would you. Now suppose that all seven of them depend for their existence right now on still other things. Without these, the seven you now depend on would not exist—and neither would you. Imagine that the entire universe consists of you and the seven sustaining you. If there is nothing besides that universe of changing, dependent things, then the universe—and you as part of it—could not be. For everything that is would right now need to be given being but there would be nothing capable of giving it. And yet you are and it is. So there must in that case exist something besides the universe of dependent things—something not dependent as they are.
And if it must exist in that case, it must exist in this one. In our world there are surely more than seven things that need, right now, to be given being. But that need is not diminished by there being more than seven. As we imagine more and more of them—even an infinite number, if that were possible—we are simply expanding the set of beings that stand in need. And this need—for being, for existence—cannot be met from within the imagined set. But obviously it has been met, since contingent beings exist. Therefore there is a source of being on which our material universe right now depends.

I hope I’m not the only person who read that and thought ‘This is just a rephrasing of no1 with the focus on existing rather than changing.’. I can see this series getting tedious and boring very quickly. Especially now that I know that no6 (Kalam) is coming and this seemed like a basic version of that.

This argument makes sense on a superficial level, in that things don’t suddenly pop into existence before our eyes. Stuff is generally created from other stuff. Offspring come from parents and the chain never loops back to the start. The argument extrapolates from that to the point that everything within the universe must ultimately be caused by the universe at the start of the chain and therefore the universe has a cause that must be outside the universe. The logic makes sense at face value, but philosophy runs into difficulty when it addresses these questions. This is because the physicists who have spent time working on the very problem of how the universe came into existence say that the laws of physics break down when we rewind to a point very soon after the universe came into being. We currently have no way of explaining beyond that point, but it is being worked on. The argument presented above ignores the hard facts of science and jumps to it’s conclusion with no method of demonstrating its workings. One of the biggest issues with trying to find a cause to the universe is that matter and time are intrinsically related, how we experience time is related to the matter around us (and our velocity with respect to the speed of light, but that’s not relevant to this specific item so I’ll not mention it again in this post). This means that time, as we know and experience it, started at the point that the universe started, which means that it is possible to have a universe that has existed since the dawn of time. It also means that trying to find something that caused the universe, and therefore existed before time began, is pretty much an impossible task. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a go and thankfully scientists are giving it a go, bit by bit we’re gathering new information to try and make some sense of this conundrum. As such, the suggestion that there is a cause of the universe is somewhat presumptuous, especially when there is no current way of confirming that. The premise of the argument works within the confines of our known universe; stuff comes from other stuff, we know this because we can scientifically explain the parent ‘stuff’. Unfortunately, like the laws of physics, this argument falls apart when you get to that critical point close to the big bang. The argument tries to resolve that challenge by claiming there must be a god but posits no way to of detecting that god, we should just accept that it must exist.

We have in this item, the same mistakes and presuppositions as in item one, that there must exist the Christian god who created everything. The argument is worded simplistically and skips over the challenges of reality and ignores what is known to science in a desperate bit to make the desired god be the only available conclusion.

 

Looking back at Christmas

As a Christian I loved the Christmas story. With its singing angels and divine guidance; it’s a child-friendly story with an almost magical captivation.

I still enjoy Christmas, but in a very different way, I like the decoration filled house, and the cards from friends and seeing family and the extended days off work. But the Christmas story? Well it’s nonsense isn’t it?

I don’t think I ever critically analysed the Christmas story as a Christian. I accepted it as literally true because it was in the bible and I was a Christian so I had to believe it. Why should I ever question it? My exit from Christianity didn’t really involve that part of the bible so in my questioning of what I believed, those chapters and verses didn’t play a significant role.

What has intrigued me about the story in later years is that every Christmas, at least it seems that way, there is a fresh barrage of proposals for what might be the Christmas star, as if that’s the most serious objection to the narrative. Over the years I’m sure I’ve heard every single variation of celestial event being credited as a possibility. Nova, comet, conjunction, you name it, it’s been suggested. However, no one has ever answered how some travellers arriving at a town would be able to identify a specific property from a ‘star’ that is in the sky. If I step outside my house on a clear night and look up and pick a star that looks like it’s above my house and then go to the other end of town, that same ‘star’ will be above whichever house I choose to stand outside. I would also not be able to navigate back to my house using that star as my navigation aide. How on earth did those wise men manage it?

This is fatal to believing the guiding star element of the Christmas story. Well it should be. Yet every year a new swathe of Christian commentary proposes some natural event that could have been the ‘star’ and each one forgets to explain that last point. Is that bit not important? Of course it is, but it can only happen if there is some supernatural assistance of some description, in which case why even bother with the pretence of invoking a natural event? Just say God guided them using a supernatural light that only they could see. of course that doesn’t help the narrative because for something like God being born on earth, something big needs to accompany it, and you don’t get bigger or more glorious than a guiding star! So the modern day Christian is caught in a trap created by an ancient myth.

The problems don’t stop there either. The reported census doesn’t match the required time slot, it happened ten years after King Herod died, and there never was a requirement to travel to an ancestors’ town anyway. The narrative needs to get Jesus born in Bethlehem and so this is made up in order to get him there, nothing more. King Herod didn’t kill all those baby boys. Mary and Joseph didn’t travel to Egypt. One account says Jesus was presented at the temple in Jerusalem after Mary’s 40 days of uncleanliness, another says Jesus was a young child still in Bethlehem for the wise men to visit, what happened to the home they travelled from? The gaps and inconsistencies are more blatant than a Hollywood action flick.

Back to the wise men, does anyone else find it odd that the wise men came from an entirely different land? Why could it not be fellow Jews? No doubt there’s an apologetic that says it’s to show just that Jesus was King of the World not just King of the Jews, or something. This is what’s called retrospective interpretation, probably the least honest of the apologetics strategies.

The Christmas story makes no sense and it should not be believed as an historical event. It’s a myth, let’s keep it that way.

I love Christmas, and I love it even more without the unbelievable mishmash of nonsense that Christianity tries to turn it into.

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!

Religion Should Encourage Satire

Satire is not insult, satire is not hate.

Satire is comedy; satire is making a serious point through humour.

For as long as I can remember, the best serious points have been made by comedians with a microphone and cartoonists with a pen.

Every weekend people in public houses drink beer and make light of serious situations, just because one tells a joke and another laughs it doesn’t mean the dark situation that is the source of the joke isn’t taken seriously.

The ability to laugh at yourself is arguably one of the most important and attractive characteristics any human being can posses.

The murders in Paris this week are tragic on many levels. One of them is that once again extremist Muslims have shown that Islam has difficulty with self reflection, criticism and humour. For too many members of this religion, often called a religion of peace, offence is a default position for anything that they do not understand. Might is right and to hell with everyone else, sometimes literally.

Now of course not all Muslims carry guns and shoot everyone that upsets them and of course the majority don’t wish that. However, many of those non aggressive Muslims still get offended by fair criticism and comedy. This default to insult attitude is not unique to Islam either, Christians do it too. I have seen it on internet forums and social media, not just in the past week but after the September 11 attacks and even before that. This is not a new thing and it’s not going to go away quickly.

Religion has a problem with not being the dominant voice and it can’t cope with anything being wrong. Religion must be authoritative and always the master. Watching the religious try to answer criticism in the form of humour is like a parent not coping with a brattish child in a supermarket. They flail and threat and call foul in effort to remain on their self made throne of authority. Some will resort to the worst form of violence; the worst of these is the Muslim extremist but they are tacitly supported by the passive majority who can’t take a joke.

What the religious need to do is actively encourage satire. They should learn to laugh at themselves and see the funny side of their own quirks and foibles.

Comedy is the great uniter and it is a big loss to religion to not take advantage of this.

Today there are people who are sickly pointing the finger at the victims saying it’s their fault for disrespecting religion. Bullshit! The problem is squarely on religion for not having the backbone to stand and face criticism, for not having the ability to laugh at itself. For realising that it is losing ground continuously and is now violently oppressing dissenting views is an effort to keep control of dwindling adherents.

Islam is by no means the only one at fault here. Christianity has its own share of agitated humourless defenders who make a career out of being offended at everything.

The saddening irony here is that by simply learning to laugh, the religious will hurt less they face satire and they will in return become much more relevant.

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.

Is it deconversion or just another conversion?

Since the great admission to my wife, almost two years ago, that I had rejected my Christianity and considered myself an atheist, we’ve had a number of discussions on the subject of faith and our opposing attitudes to it. On the whole these have been positive discussions, in the sense that we’ve mostly been able to have them without unhelpful emotional extras. This is how I had always hoped we’d be able to converse about faith, it’s a source of sadness that I spent several years alone in my journey afraid that we’d discuss my loss of faith in a negative or hurtful way, only for that fear to turn out to be unfounded.

It has not always been a smooth ride, we have had difficult discussions and there have been moments when one or other of us has got angry or upset. Those times have been the minority though and it is to my shame that I must admit I did not give her enough credit, having known her for all those years, I should have been able to predict her reaction better.

We’ve discussed many aspects of faith, getting braver with the depth of subject as time has moved on. We’ve probably discussed faith in greater detail in the past eighteen months than we had in the previous ten years of marriage, maybe even our whole marriage, though I’m less certain to place a bet on the latter. We’ve challenged each other and answered deep questions. We clearly disagree on the value of faith but we’ve been able to display to each other that it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker and that disagreeing with dignity is possible.

One of the lighter discussions we’ve had is over the semantics of how to describe my loss of faith. I refer to it as a deconversion, and all across the internet, where people of former faith hang out, the same word comes up. It makes sense to use conversion with the ‘de’ prefix because it signifies a step away from and in the opposite direction to the original conversion.

My wife does not like the deconversion word and prefers to describe it as another conversion, because it is a second conversion from one form of faith position or worldview to another. I have a bit of a problem with her logic, which is that I associate conversion directly with religion. I had a conversion to religion and now I have deconverted away from it. Her definition is not as narrow as mine, she takes the broader definition that conversion does not have to mean a religious conversion, it could mean a significant change in world view. In this case, my world view was one of a religious bent and now I have converted to an atheistic world view. Using that logic deconverted doesn’t make any sense and my experience is in fact, just another conversion. That makes sense semantically, to change world view is to convert from one to another, you don’t deconvert or unconvert, it’s a nonsense word to use.

Further complication arises when I see Microsoft Word underlining deconversion with a squiggly red line, clearly my computer thinks that no such words exists. If the word does not exist in Her Majesty’s beautiful language, then clearly it is not a word I can use to describe my position. So what is the best word to use? Does it matter?

Like many former Christians on the internet, I embrace deconverted as a description of my current faith state. The word has a great benefit because it immediately gets across the fact that the person to whom the word is being applied has not just moved away from religion but moved towards atheism. No further explanation is required. Try to get across the same meaning using ‘conversion’ instead and suddenly a whole sentence of supporting explanation is required. ‘Deconversion’ gets the meaning across far more efficiently; that it may not be a real word is irrelevant. However, I do accept that there is a negative connotation associated with the ‘de’ prefix and I do not consider my atheism as being negative at all.

Does that mean I should call myself an atheist convert?

I need to think about that one. I don’t like that description because saying convert tends to imply a position of faith and I absolutely reject any notion that that is where I am. I want it to be clear that I do not subscribe to a faith position. For now I’ll settle for no I would not call myself an atheist convert, maybe this is just a side effect of my rejection of faith and I’ll soften in my attitude to this word we’ll see. It is an interesting thought and I am sure we’ll return to it again at some point in the future, after all it does help to unpackage the thought processes of the past few years.

I’m now wondering what other semantic discussion are possible within this situation.

Answers on a postcard ….

 

And So The Pendulum Swings

When I first realised that my questioning of my Christianity meant that I was on the road towards atheism I made myself a promise. I promised myself that I would always be sympathetic towards Christianity.

Having slid slowly out of Christianity, I knew that there was much to admire about many Christians that I knew. I also knew that there was much that the churches behind organised religion do in their locality. I wasn’t leaving Christianity because I hated anything or anyone; I was leaving because the basis of the belief system isn’t true. People who I know are good people don’t suddenly become bad and meaningless just because I no longer believe what they believe.

I knew some atheists who were vocally anti religion and their comments would bug me because I viewed the comments as either ignorant or hateful and certainly without compassion. I wanted no part of that mentality so I promised myself that I would never become that sort of atheist and that I would always have that sympathetic attitude towards Christianity. It seemed like a sensible thing to do.

Unfortunately I now find myself in a place where I consider that promise naive and I can’t keep it anymore.

I Don’t Hate Religion

Let me be clear on that, I don’t have the hateful and mocking attitude towards religion that I so often see on various places on the internet. I find that deeply unhelpful.

However, I do find myself being less tolerant that I expected to be. It started with little things, like hearing or seeing comments about praying for situations but not seeing any evidence of actual practical effort to achieve the desired result. Or seeing that there are different ways to interpret bible passages with no clear guidance on what is being determined. If the message of Christianity is correct, then why are there so many arguments about what various passages mean? Surely if there is one God, it would be more obvious what was being said to his created beings in the bible. Such widespread ambiguity must surely be strong evidence for falsity.

I was starting to find myself agreeing with sentiment that I would have once discarded as atheistic nastiness. The fact is these were legitimate questions that I had never seriously considered.

There is a difference between honest criticism and religion bashing for sport. I am all for the former but want no part of the latter.

More than that, I do find myself wanting less and less Christian influence in my life. I’ve rejected the theology; I’ve rejected the lifestyle and now I found myself wanting to purge the influence of Christianity from other parts of my life. This is more serious because it has a direct impact on those close to me and has led to some difficult conversations and analysis of what stage my life is at.

Sitting back and analysing my atheist journey over the past, there has been a clear move further and further away from tolerating Christianity. I’ve moved further away from that point than I expected I would and it has been a bit of a surprise.

For the moment I am assuming that this is just a part of my deconversion experience and that at some point I’ll soften my attitude and the pendulum will swing a little back again. Until that happens, assuming it does, I’m going to have a fun ride while I wait to achieve a balanced viewpoint.

 

Conversing with atheists and former christians

To follow up on a previous guest post I have had (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/how-does-the-online-ex-christian-community-affect-those-who-have-questions-of-faith-or-doubt/) I asked unkleE of http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/ to answer a similar question from a Christian perspective and to touch on what its like to converse with ex-Christians. UnkleE has impressed me on other blogs with his calm and considered responses to questions where others have become defensive and aggressive.

The below is his post for me on the subject of conversing with atheists and former Christians.


 

Human beings are tribal

Most people seem to like to be part of a group and to take sides against other groups. Football fans cheer, argue and sometimes even fight on behalf of their teams.

It seems that atheists and Christians are often tribal too. Each group has its own heroes and gurus, its own predictable arguments, and, too often, a penchant for scorning those they disagree with.

 

Justifying nastiness

Both sides can find ways to justify nasty behaviour towards their opponents. Some Christians argue that atheists are dishonest and rebellious, and need to be forcibly reminded of their perilous position. Some atheists, finding their arguments bouncing off, conclude that Christians are delusional, and since rational argument isn’t working, ridicule just might.

It rarely works of course, but who needs truth to justify tribal behaviour?

 

The web is a different ballgame to real life

Often we use pseudonyms. It is easy to feel anonymous or separated from others, and easy to press the ‘Post Comment’ button too quickly.

When I first ventured onto the web about 7 years back, I found myself in an argumentative and polarising environment. At first I argued back, but I now feel there is a better way.

 

The world doesn’t need any more aggro

I don’t think many of us think the world needs more aggro. Yet somehow, we can convince ourselves that our little nasty comment is OK.

But as a Christian, I believe humans are made by God to have worth, gifts, feelings and logical minds. We are made for relationship and we need some affirmation. People should be treated with sensitivity and respect, something the New Testament emphasises.

So I try very hard now, without always succeeding, to respect each person, and only make comments that add to the discussion, not attack them. I try to ignore barbs that come my way and not respond in kind, even if it means I miss an opportunity to ram a point home.

 

Responses

I find many atheists I talk with appreciate this. But unfortunately many atheists on the web still seem to follow the inhumane model of ridicule a lot of the time. To my chagrin, a fair number of christians are just the same.

Consequently, I avoid some forums and blogs, and I avoid or ignore some who comment. It’s just not worth the aggro. Fortunately, there are plenty of atheists and agnostics who are happy to play by rules of common courtesy, and I gravitate towards them.

 

Talking with ex-Christians

Talking with ex-Christians is a special challenge. I naturally feel sad that they have given up what I believe is the truth. But often they have been hurt by the church, sometimes leading to their change of mind, sometimes as they went through the process of leaving. I think they need special sensitivity and patience from Christians – fierce argument is likely to be specially harmful here.

It is easy to feel they have betrayed the team, and to wonder whether they were ever personally convinced or their ‘faith’ was just cultural. But I cannot know what has happened in their lives, so I should respect what they tell me.

Perhaps the hardest thing is when I feel they have rejected a form of Christianity I would reject too. I want to explain this to them, but sometimes they are not ready for anything except friendship, the wounds are still tender. Sometimes I think they are better off out of there – as long as they come around eventually to a more thoughtful form!

Ex-Christians often assume they have made a permanent and final change in their worldview, but statistics show that people who change once are quite likely to change again. So patience and courtesy are needed.

 

Ways forward

We all need to learn not to take offence easily, to have limited expectations of changing people’s minds and not to take it personally when others don’t agree with our arguments. We should enjoy getting to know and understand people who are different to us, and be willing to be in conversations for the long haul.

At the very least, we may help remove some misunderstandings, and who knows, we may even be part of a process of someone changing their mind. I still hope and pray for the people I talk with, for I do indeed want what is best for them.

Book Review – Creation or Evolution: Do We Have To Choose?

Cover of "Creation or Evolution: Do We Ha...

Cover via Amazon

More than a year ago I was lent this book by the pastor and I have eventually finished it (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Creation-Evolution-Do-Have-Choose/dp/1854247468). The book is held up by some as a refreshing view on the relationship between Christianity and Evolution.

I found the book mixed and ultimately disappointing, but there are some good bits in it.

On first handling the book it is clear that the intent is going to be to show how acceptance of evolution does not have to be at the expense of religious belief, specifically Christianity. This aspect interested me, given my journey, so I started the book specifically looking for how it would answer that specific challenge.

Evolution

Most of the book is devoted to explanations of various bits of evolution. By necessity they have to contain a certain amount of technical language. However, I found on the whole that the passages on evolution are lay friendly and do a good job of explaining why evolution is not only a valid theory, but an accurate description of observed fact as best we know it.

The book explains well how evolution is a naturalised process and our knowledge of it has no pre-requisite of any god. The processes we understand are fully explained and there are no missing bits that require the invocation of the supernatural.

Creationism and ID

Creationism and ID are also dealt with effectively, albeit with far fewer pages. They are accurately shown to be scientifically deficient and their need to have a god directly be involved to ‘push the process along’ is shown to be a limiting factor for which there is nothing to show.

One good point that is made in the book is the argument for beauty. Many creationists will look at the world we see now and argue that the beauty there can only have been put there directly by god. I once made precisely those arguments. The book counters by saying that the processes that made us and all we see around us are no less beautiful and they too came from god. When a creationist views the world and sees beauty and says it must come from god, they are by implication saying that the long processes that made the beauty they see can not be beautiful because they don’t believe god did it that way.

This is a dangerous way of thinking because it creates a closed mind and stops that believer from fully appreciating the glory of their god’s creation.

The book explains well why creationism and ID are not valid.

Tying Evolution and Christianity

So the big question I wanted to book to answer was, given the above, how does the author, who professes his faith at several points throughout the book, demonstrate that belief in god is consistent with evolution and, more specifically, show that there is a logical reason to hold that view. Sadly, the answer just doesn’t come.

No matter how much I wanted to see an argument for god, it just didn’t happen.

Conclusion

The book successfully argues for the science of evolution and against the god of creationism. As a result it has confirmed my position as an atheist and done nothing at all to tempt me back to faith. I suspect the author would be disappointed, but he should not be surprised.