• Reformed Nihilist
    Is god real? Like lint? No. Is god real like Apollo? Sure.Bitter Crank

    There. Not so mysterious after all. A simple answer to a simple question.

    Should believers in possession of a "hollow faith" be dismissed as fools?Bitter Crank

    I'm not sure where this comes from. Was anyone suggesting dismissing believers as fools?

    Faith is real. But in the matter of the gods and their natures, they need not be taken as reliable sources of information about gods.Bitter Crank

    This is where you are mistaken. We can either approach god as imaginary (personal) or mythological (cultural). In either case, we can ascribe authority to sources of information. For the individual believer, there is no greater authority on what they conceive god to be but themselves. These beliefs are derived from a larger cultural body of information, which does resist absolute statements (like the field of literary studies does), but that still can be studied with some rigor (which is what theolologists do, if I rightly understand their field). In this case, I am primarily concerned with the personal beliefs, to which the individual believer is without a doubt the authority in.

    They will claim to know ("God wants us to...") but they can't. No one can know about the gods, so we need not argue about it.Bitter Crank

    So people can make religious claims and only because they are religious claims they are exempt from having those claims criticized? That seems like a bad idea to have a special group of claims that are deeply emotionally held, but are immune from rational criticism. It seems like it might be an ideal environment for emotionally disturbed people to work themselves into a state where they commit irrational antisocial acts, because as long as their emotional fervor and irrationality is about that particular subject, no one criticizes it. But that's just a theory. I'm sure nothing like that would happen in real life.

    You might find this intellectually lazy and slovenly too. so be it. I try to take religion and the gods as a serious cultural achievement of our species rather than a ridiculous hoax. i don't think god revealed himself to us, and then many believed. Man made god and then many believed. I used to believe in god, quite ardently. Getting from believer to dis-believer required a lot of effort--lots of long-standing beliefs had to be pitched overboard.Bitter Crank

    I do find it intellectually lazy, and I hope that as a part of a community that values intellectual rigor, that it matters to you. Don't take it personally. We're all intellectually lazy at times, and getting busted on it is what keeps us on our toes. I am also formally religious, and I didn't just wake up one day and say "this is bullshit!". I had a process where I moved from still having an emotional attachment to religion, then just the notion of spirituality, then to a more vague metaphysical conception of something absolute and mysterious, to where I am now, where I have shed those things. That process took decades, and I am not unsympathetic to the unpleasant cognitive dissonances that occur along the way, but I'm glad people pushed me at each step toward that dissonance, and I am happier today because of it.

    I don't take religion to be either a cultural achievement, as that implies that it is a net positive,which I think it is not, nor to be a ridiculous hoax, which I think in only rare circumstances is this the case. I believe religion is a cultural extension of some of the intellectual and social limitations that are inherent in the human species, just as I believe that science is a cultural reaction to some of these same limitations.
  • Reformed Nihilist
    I believe you are on a fool's errand here.mcdoodle

    I don't understand why attempting to disabuse someone of what I believe to be a false and personally and socially unhealthy belief would be any more of a fool's errand than you trying to disabuse me of taking that course, as you are doing here. What's the difference?

    In short, I think God or gods are a stand-in for a different underlying problem, and an atheist yelling emotively at religious people isn't going to help what matters to me.mcdoodle

    I dislike that characterization. I don't believe I am "yelling emotively" in the argument I presented. I think I am emotively appealing to people's senses of fairness and empathy. Their "better angels", if you will. If you want to be fatalistic, and think that no believer ever changes their minds (that's what I'm hearing here), that's a sort of sad way to go, but that's up to you. I don't understand why you would want to try to impose that bleak view on anyone else though.
  • mcdoodle
    I dislike that characterization. I don't believe I am "yelling emotively" in the argument I presented. I think I am emotively appealing to people's senses of fairness and empathy. Their "better angels", if you will. If you want to be fatalistic, and think that no believer ever changes their minds (that's what I'm hearing here), that's a sort of sad way to go, but that's up to you. I don't understand why you would want to try to impose that bleak view on anyone else though.Reformed Nihilist

    Sorry, RN, there is a failure of tone, which must be mine. I wasn't meaning to be accusatory, but to be friendly but wry, hence the randy Newman song. I didn't think you were 'yelling emotively', though your own self-characterisation came close to that :) Nor do I think that 'no believer ever changes their minds'.

    I don't however regard religious faith as 'personally and socially unhealthy belief'. I am a convinced atheist, but I don't draw lines as you are doing between the religious/non-religious. That was what the serious part of my remarks were meant to say. I fear the atheist Stalinist and the dictatorial Pope, and I tend to feel close to the meditative religious person and the atheist with an aesthetic or spiritual sense.
  • Reformed Nihilist
    That was what the serious part of my remarks were meant to say. I fear the atheist Stalinist and the dictatorial Pope, and I tend to feel close to the meditative religious person and the atheist with an aesthetic or spiritual sense.mcdoodle

    I don't really see that as the particular dichotomy. The reason I personally identify (or not, as the case may be) with people are vast, and religious views are only one aspect of a person, which doesn't even come close to defining them for the good or ill. I just believe that in any given case, it is better for anyone to believe what it true rather than what is false, and I believe that those claims made by religion are largely false. I think that there's plenty more complexity if one wants to dig down, but no more complexity than that is needed. Truth is better than falsehood. Moreover, I believe that I am morally obliged to, within reason and where is appropriate, speak the truth as I know it, including regarding religion.
  • taomath
    This topic of discussion has piqued my interest and so I humbly attempt a contribution:
    I understand an 'emotional appeal' not to be an outburst of irrational emotion on behalf of the orator, but rather an oration intended to appeal to the audience's emotions - that is, intended to arouse specific emotions within the listener. The manner in which this is done can vary, but a well-reasoned and logical argument, if successfully 'appealing to the emotions' has the benefit of being sound and able to withstand attempts to de-construct it.

    In that light, one of the reasons which compels me to remain conscientiously atheistic (while admitting my unavoidable agnosticism of never being able to definitively know one way or the other), and which appeals to a hazy mix of my own emotions is the following:

    For far too many centuries, Mankind (humans-as-a-species; forgive the linguistic gender bias) has appealed to a higher power to save it from its miseries - more often than not, miseries it caused on its own. Mankind has prayed and pleaded, committed sacrifices to 'please' that (or those) higher power(s), and invented strict rules of behaviour which were meant to appease it (them). For many of those early centuries, when Mankind was in its 'infancy', our invented divinities played the parental role well - consoling, 'punishing', and establishing limits for this infant collective.

    But Mankind has had ample time in which to mature and assume responsibility for its own existence. Mankind fears many things, but prominent among them are The Unknown (such as the question of whether there is anything beyond death) and Being Alone. It is most certainly understandable then, if Mankind is Alone in the Unknown, that it has shied away from acknowledging this. It has desperately clung to this notion of a higher power, even though the collective knowledge of the species (Science and Philosophy) has diminished The Unknown considerably. This is like the 'adult adolescent' - the grown-up person who still lives at home, and though physically it is adult and thus is expected to assume adult responsibilities (taxes, employment, an occupation, marriage, and starting a family of its own), mentally and emotionally, the individual is stunted and immature. It would be incapable of doing (or simply would not think to do) many things, were it not for their overly-patient parents who do these things for their overgrown child. (This is not to say that 'just as an immature adult nevertheless lives with an actual parent, so too does mankind have an actual god' - the actual existence or not of a higher power is not the topic of discussion here.) There is also a notion of this prolonged dependence as being 'unhealthy': just as a 'people-pleaser' can never really please all people, nor can they be fulfilled or develop their own well-defined identity so long as they continue to conform to other people's expectations and desires; so too Mankind as a whole cannot expect to please an imagined higher power nor can it fulfil its potential while it continues to defer to the power of an imaginary being over its own capacity to effect change.

    So I am of the opinion that it behoves the species to finally recognize and accept that it is Alone in the Unknown. It may help, however, to recognize a crucial difference between the Individual and the Species as a whole: While the majority of individuals may feel this fear, and thus the species as a whole may be seen to suffer from this fear, the primary element of fear - that of being Alone - does not apply to the species - precisely because it is a species (i.e. a collectivity of individuals). The individual can find consolation for this fear of Being Alone in the recognition of the fact that it is not 'alone' - but that there are many many individuals which form our unique species. That is to say we're not alone - we have each other. As such then, we realize that we do not need a higher power - because we have each other.
    There are many benefits as a reward for such a realization:
    - Mankind as a whole will find new freedom and will no longer be held back by two crippling fears - damnation (fear of displeasing a god) and solitude (see above).
    - It will necessarily (though admittedly slowly, like growing pains) bring about 'world peace' - because if we all recognize we are 'alone' but that 'we have each other' - or that we are 'alone together', then we will immediately have a very deep common truth. We will all have recognized the common plight and thus we will at long last acknowledge the value every individual has in their similar plight.
    - Mankind will awaken to its new responsibility as being the 'leading' sentient beings (sentient, with opposable thumbs, able to affect its environment and manipulate the world on a large scale) on this one planet and will thus have to adapt its collective impact upon the delicate ecology of this, our only home. The species becomes the Curator and Caretaker for Life on Earth (no longer the purvey of a fictional supreme being)
    - If there is no god, then there is no 'people preferred by god', so there is no 'people not preferred by god' either.
    So this is an appeal to us as a species, that we see ourselves as mature and at last capable of advancing without an imagined god - for all the moral responsibility that such a conscientious decision entails. It's time to grow up and leave home, step-out on our own and become responsible and independent. For that, we must make the conscientious decision to let go of our fears, let go of our dependence and let go of our imagined gods. We must, like all adults, face reality as it is, not how we wish it to be. It's far more beautiful and far more empowering to actually be a part of this reality - with all of its remaining Unknowns.

    I have only lightly edited the above, so I am prepared to recognize any and all weaknesses in the logic and reasoning. But as an emotional appeal, what emotions does it stir in you?
  • Soylent

    Emotion is better suited to compel towards a particular belief rather than away from a particular belief. Atheists are emotionally committed to a position insofar as they hold a position, but using emotion to rebut a claim without offering anything in place of the claim is going to fall flat in the emotion department. If atheism is manifested as a negative reaction to particular theistic claims on which the atheist has placed no stakes, then atheism has no recourse to emotion. It would be like trying to get emotionally worked up over Russell's teapot.
  • taomath
    has this topic died?
  • Bitter Crank
    Whether "this topic" has died -- don't know. Didn't see a coroner's report.

    Sorry, this got rather long.

    Mental operations are so inextricable tied into emotion that it seems unlikely that atheists and theists would not be motivated in their movements towards and away from. At least, that is the way I see minds at work.

    The religious beliefs imparted to me (and the religious beliefs imparted to anyone--whatever they are) are generally a source of conflict as well as being a source of secure comfort. Most religions have a plan for proper behavior which involves curbing one's carnal enthusiasms, for instance, and that is a constant conflict for many people. Most faiths also provide assurance and validation, which we like.

    Religion has been for me a source of intense frustration, disappointment, anger, irritation, peace of mind, blesséd assurance, and all that. Religion has best served me as a social vehicle, when I participated in that way. But it also provided my first world view and if it gets baked in (mine was) it is very hard to get rid of it, if not impossible. There is nothing particularly problematic about the spiritual enterprise of doing good for other people, having a strong sense of right and wrong (especially if it isn't all that different from a civic view of right and wrong), and so on. But the Abrahamic religions posit an activist God who intervenes in the world. I have always found that a severe problem. (If it was once in ever 10 blue moons, that might be tolerable, but intervention is invoked more like once a minute by some religious positions.

    The activist god is constantly called into action to account for events, good and bad, that do and do not have obvious explanations: a cancer that doesn't respond to treatment, an unusual flood that causes 20 billion dollars of damage, a nice day for a picnic, the timely or untimely death of a parent, the unexpected (or even entirely planned on) loss or gain of a bundle of cash, good or bad sex, and so on.

    God also gets called in for ultimate explanations, like, "How did the cosmos come into being?" Well, God did it--obviously. The conservative version god did it in 6 days, the liberal version god does it through long term natural processes which, apparently, were a divine tool. Either way, micro-manager or vague life force, God is in charge.

    I wanted to get away from all that (this was a fairly mature change, occurring in my 40s). I actively desired and wanted a world that was entirely explainable on its own terms and never needed a deus ex machina to solve problems. I wanted to uninstall the ROM religious training of my youth (mainline Protestant) and replace it with an a-theistic system. Maybe one can pull out old ROM on a computer, I couldn't pull it out of my brain. It's still there, in the middle of everything. I count myself as an a-theist, but have to do periodic overrides on the still functioning ROM.

    There is plenty for this a-theist to actively like about atheism. It isn't all about what I am against.

    I am for science, secular civic governance, socialism (as distant a hope on these shores as King Arthur's Avalon), gay liberation, an 'open' society, end so forth. I like, value, am attracted to, believe in, these ideas. Of course I miss the idea of heaven -- but then no heaven, no hell either.

    Science, secular civic governance, gay liberation, and a single-payer health system doesn't require a-theism of course. There are lots of Christians who believe in these things too. But human beings being entirely responsible for themselves and to themselves does, it seems to me, require no higher authority.
  • Hanover
    Mental operations are so inextricable tied into emotion that it seems unlikely that atheists and theists would not be motivated in their movements towards and away from. At least, that is the way I see minds at work.Bitter Crank

    The word emotion itself is derived from the same root as "motion." We are "moved" by passion. Without emotion, we'd have no motivation to do anything, mental or physical. I therefore have no problem accepting the illogic of emotion if it serves to motivate to a higher good.

    I have a close friend who is devoutly Mormon, who actually claims to believe the ancient Israelites found their way to the Americas and are ancestors of the current day Native Americans. That belief is tame when compared to many of his other beliefs (like of an actual corporeal God who lives on an actual planet, pre-life, post-life, the permanent binding of families for all of eternity, etc.). Utter bat shit crazy by all objective standards, but I must admit, what a neighbor he would make. He and his 5 kids would cut your lawn, repair your fence, bring you food if sick, have a group of missionaries out at your house at the crack of dawn to help you move, and they'd never drink, smoke, or tell you to fuck off.

    As I get older (not more mature, just more resigned), I tend to shrug off the objections I once had regarding the preposterousness of religion. It used to really bother me how people could shut off their minds to absurdity and actually follow these religions like sheep. Pragmatism seems to be an overriding concern of mine, and if believing in nonsense makes you a better person than you would otherwise be, then I'll help you down a big tall glass of nonsense.

    The challenge then is for those of us who do not believe and are of little faith. Do we actually have the motivation of our religious brethren to do the good acts they do? I certainly try, but I can't say that I have their sense of urgency and absolute commitment.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    I suspect there's an emotional argument for not discussing whether there is a God. I'm sure it would be at least as persuasive as those arguments we keep making that God is or is not.

    I forgot what kind of fallacy it is that relies on the complete refutation of an unrelated topic and then goes on to assume your own proposition is therefore somehow valid. Argument from ignorance? I don't feel like poring over the fallacy list to find it.


    The obvious fallacy in the O/P (original post) of this thread is that there was no justification for atheism given. There was also no definition for atheism given. So let me start by providing the missing definitions and then we can go from there.

    Theism is the belief in gods and angels and evil spirits. It is a specific form of metaphysics that is loaded with doctrine, dogma, and presumably revelation. Christian revelation has been transmitted by the apostles and evangelists of Jesus in the Greek New Testament, in Greek.

    Muslim revelation has been transmitted by the scribes of Muhammad in the Quran.

    Hindu revelation comes from several books notably the Gita's. And so forth. There are about a dozen major world religions.

    In addition to these major religions, Philosophy contains the notion of the Philosophy God, an indistinct Being presumed to be all knowing, all powerful, all seeing, all present, immortal and infinite. Those are the characteristics that the various philosophers from Socrates to Leibniz have given for Him/Her/It. The notion of the Philosophy God is monotheist because there is no logical reason to assume there is more than one such God, even though in reality in the Universe outside of the study of metaphysics there very well may be a plurality of Gods, such as in Hinduism. The primary argument in favor of the existence of a Philosophy God are the various proofs of God from the Romantics (those who love God): First Cause, Prime Mover, Purposeful Designer, Artistic Artificer, etc.

    Atheism assumes there is no God. This is a negative and as such cannot be proven. To prove a negative you would need to search every square inch of the entire Universe in order to be able to report there is no God or that God is dead. There are billions of galaxies in the Universe, and we have only send a few quick manned probes to our own Moon and unmanned probes to a few of our own relatively close planets. Ergo it is impossible to prove anything about atheism. Thus lurching onto the belief of atheism is no more rational than doing so with theism. Q.E.D.

    Agnosticism on the other hand is perfectly valid as a viewpoint. Agnostics simply say "show me a sign and I will believe in a God." And in the meantime they suspend judgment one way or the other. Naturally theist religion condemns this viewpoint as lacking faith. I'm not sure that faith is a requirement for being rewarded in any of the various religions' Heavenly Kingdoms. Good works is normally the criterion for any reward, whether you have faith or not. Therefore whether you are an agnostic or a theist, you should strive for good works, such as those described in Matthew Chapter 25: to feed the hungry, to quench the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to heal the sick, and to visit the imprisoned. Then you can expect a reward, even though your faith is weak or nonexistent.


    Young does the best job of literally translating the Bible in his YLT version so I normally quote that one when I quote anything.

    Atheism is a lie. Atheists are liars. Hell has a special place for liars in every religion. People view atheists with disdain for good reason. Q.E.D.

    Now work within those specific definitions and refute my philosophy if you can.
  • anonymous66
    To put it bluntly, what kind of an asshole god would punish someone for believing and expressing what the brain they were "given" concludes? If such a god did exist, would it be moral to worship it? I don't think it would be.
    It's like you believe that either there is no God, or that any God who does exist will punish people for not believing. Aren't there other possibilities? I believe it's possible there could exist a deist God who either doesn't want us to believe, or doesn't care if we believe.

    In fact, I came up with my own version of Pascal's wager in which I argue that there is evidence that suggests, if God, then He doesn't want us to believe.... If God doesn't want us to believe, then we better not believe, else negative consequences. So, it's better to err on the side of caution and not believe.
  • m-theory

    I have argued the same thing. If god exists and is reasonable then pascal's wager fails. That is to say god will understand that you had no reasonable obligation to believe in him and he will forgive you.

    If god is unreasonable then pascal's wager also fails. For there is no guarantee that god will do the reasonable thing and reward people that did believe in him.
  • andrewk
    I mostly avoid pro or anti god-belief arguments these days, as I find the m pointless.

    But this one was refreshingly different, on account of taking an emotional approach rather than claiming to prove with cold logic the (non-)existence of god - something I am convinced is impossible either way.

    @Reformed Nihilist, your argument is very similar to the one I have settled on, after having been through all the attempts at purely logical arguments pro and con that are touted about in the market. I find it viscerally compelling, as opposed to merely without obvious logical flaw, which is the best that can be said for the logical attempts.

    Where I differ from you is only in my conclusion. I no longer feel the need to conclude that God doesn't exist. All I need to conclude is that, if there is any immense, powerful, intelligence such as might be called a God, it is absolutely nothing like what is described by the Abrahamic religions, and all the positive claims made by those religions are pure nonsense.

    I say, partially in jest, when discussing philosophy, that there are days of the week that I'm atheist and others when I'm theist,deist, pantheist, panentheist or polytheist. It's only partly jest, because I do sometimes find God to be a useful myth or metaphor (using myth in the positive, non-pejorative sense advocated by Alan Watts) that helps in coming to terms with a universe that is, in the final analysis, fundamentally incomprehensible.

    There may be a God but, per the OP argument, if there is one, it's a nice, helpful one - not the one described in the Bible, Tanakh or Koran.
  • andrewk
    Good works is normally the criterion for any reward, whether you have faith or not.YIOSTHEOY
    Not at all. The Calvinist view is that good works play no role whatsoever in salvation. Luther also argued vehemently that only faith mattered - his doctrine of 'sola fides'. That is particularly ironic given that Lutheranism these days is one of the most open, tolerant and good-works-focused of the Christian denominations. In contrast to Martin Luther and John Calvin, Roman Catholicism officially places a strong emphasis on good works - one of the nicest things about an otherwise often harmful religion. But even RC stops short of saying that only good works matter.

    The topic of whether good works matter, or whether only faith matters, has been one of the most hotly contested issues in Christianity since the middle ages. Views on either side have been considered heresies by the other, and occasioned purges and horrible punishments.
  • Thorongil
    Atheism assumes there is no God. This is a negative and as such cannot be proven. To prove a negative you would need to search every square inch of the entire Universe in order to be able to report there is no God or that God is dead.YIOSTHEOY

    God in classical theism is separate from the universe, so this makes little sense.
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