Do Atheists Have Faith?

tumblr_m81iz6Artd1qdbcn8If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that atheists have faith, too, I could quit my day job.  Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration but I probably could at least afford a pretty decent steak dinner.  It’s very frustrating to hear and it’s not for the reason the person saying it thinks it is.  This assertion doesn’t irritate me because it’s clever or insightful; it irritates me because it’s nowhere near as clever or as insightful as it sounds.  In fact, it’s a logical fallacy called equivocation.  I’ll explain what I mean by that in a second, but ultimately I’m not interested in talking about argumentation (well, maybe I am a little bit…this is my second post in a row about the subject).  I’m more interested in explaining how faith and reason represent two very different approaches to perceiving the world, and how they operate on very different principles.

Equivocation happens when one’s argument hinges on a single word that has different meanings in different contexts, but one uses the word as if it has only one meaning for all situations.  Remember in third grade when you would say “I love pizza” and your friends would reply with “Well then why don’t you marry it?”  They knew good and well what you meant.  The word “love” means different things in different contexts, and they were capitalizing on the ambivalence of the meaning in order to make a joke.  The words “faith” and “belief” work the same way.  If I say that I believe that the Earth revolves around the Sun, it doesn’t mean exactly the same thing as what you mean when you say you believe an invisible spirit made them.  They are both beliefs, technically speaking, but they are not both faith—not, at least, in the usual sense of the word.  One of those beliefs is based on empirical observation and science while the other is based on, well, something else.

Some people love to insist that those of us who seek natural explanations for our experiences and for the world around us are exhibiting our own kind of “faith,” a faith that such explanations exist.  For example, if a naturalist like myself cannot explain how living things arose from the original stuff of the universe, I am told the appropriate answer is “God did it.”  If I suggest there may be a natural explanation for it, I am told that means I have “faith” in something.  But is that really true?  You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.  At least not in this case. When you form a hypothesis based on a series of observations, it’s an educated guess about how or why something works the way it does.  To whatever extent this educated guess is based on empirical observation it can be called science, broadly conceived.  If a further investigation into the hypothesis turns up contrary data, the hypothesis should and will be either modified to account for the new data or else it will be abandoned for a new hypothesis.  But is that the way that faith works?  In the sense that Christians use it?  Let us be careful not to swap definitions halfway through this process.

Faith, as the Bible describes it, is not a matter of empirical observation, even though some like to present it as if it were.  In fact, the Bible praises a man’s faith to whatever extent he ignores the empirical data.  The more contrary to the observable facts a man’s belief is, the greater faith he is said to have.  It praised Noah for building a boat before there was even any rain.  It praised Abraham for expecting children even though he was (as the story goes) over 100 years old and was apparently infertile.  It praised Gideon for expecting a military victory despite what appeared to be the worst tactical plan in history.  On and on it goes, celebrating those whose beliefs flew directly in the face of their observable circumstances.  This is not a mode of perception or decision-making which follows empirical data.  It is not a matter of forming hypotheses based on what you see and experience.  In fact, it is explicitly and expressly the opposite idea.  To have faith, in the biblical sense, is hold onto a belief which is unsupported by what you see or experience.  The more at odds the former is with the latter, the greater faith you have.

Christians know this, just as my third grade friends knew that I didn’t want to marry my pizza.  But that doesn’t stop some from telling me that naturalism is a kind of faith.  They should know better than to swap definitions on me halfway through a conversation.  It’s at best irresponsible, and at worst dishonest.  When I suppose that there are natural explanations for things that happen, it’s because so far the majority of things we’ve looked into support that idea.  Each time we begin not understanding how something works, we find that years of study and experimentation usually provide us with some useful answers.  Just because we aren’t finished answering all our questions about life and the universe doesn’t mean it’s a fool’s errand.  We have good reason to expect that enough time, thought, and experimentation will eventually yield the results we are seeking.  That’s not faith.  That’s just good scientific curiosity, and each of us benefits from the fruits of that endeavor on a daily basis.  You’re reading this on an electric screen, for example.  And many if not most of us are still alive today because of modern medicines, inoculations, and antibiotics.  Before you become one of those who loves to say “You can’t trust science!” you should consider the many ways you depend on its discoveries every day. Some are far too quick to denigrate a discipline on which their lives depend.

Faith in Action

These two different modes of perceiving the world impact more things than you may at first realize.  One way takes the world as it is and bases its responses and methodology on what we find there and on what works—what produces results.  The other way looks first at an authority-based model for how the world should be and works to make the world fit that model regardless of the outcome.  Please note that last phrase:  regardless of outcome. The best way I know to illustrate this difference is to look at one of the basic premises of a highly-acclaimed book on church ministry by Mark Dever entitled Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. In that book, Dever disparages many numerically successful churches for doing what “works”—what produces results—rather than doing what his tradition dictates is “biblical.”  Making his basic premise clear in the introduction, Dever says: “we must re-hear the Bible and re-imagine the concept of successful ministry not as necessarily immediately fruitful but as demonstrably faithful to God’s word” (Nine Marks, p.9, emphasis mine).  Do you see the difference of orientation there?  The emphasis is on faithfulness (to an ideal) rather than effectiveness (results).  Granted, Dever and the rest would argue that results will come later, but a commitment to this methodology will force them to redefine results along qualitative lines rather than quantitative ones.  In other words, in order to declare this approach successful, the measuring stick will have to be crafted strictly according to the pre-determined ideals of the measurer.  They will have to shoot their arrow first and then draw a circle around wherever it hits.

This mentality doesn’t just stay sequestered inside churches; it impacts everything its adherents do.  In defending their faith toward outsiders, it compels some to choose an apologetic method (along with a typically abrasive tone) which turns people away more than it brings them in.  Faithfulness over effectiveness. Many who share this ideology seek to influence public policy in government, grasping for social control amidst a culture they feel is beginning to turn on them.  They push for legislation which dictates that all public schools must teach “abstinence only” rather than comprehensive sex ed classes despite the fact that states which choose the former (generally the most conservative states) tend to have higher pregnancy rates (chief of all my state) than those which choose the latter.  Faithfulness over effectiveness.  At present, one major political party is internally hemorrhaging because of division between its pragmatists, who are willing to compromise on some issues in order to regain the White House, and its idealists, who will not bend on anything, and who see compromise as a dirty word.  When the latter are informed that their inflexible approach will make them even less popular than they already are, they double down and use the same language of faithfulness to principles which the preachers use in their pulpits (Incidentally, since politics is all about compromise and popularity you would think this kind of politician would be eliminated by the natural selection of the election process.  But they are not. They are circumnavigating the democratic process through district gerrymandering, through rolling back decades-old voting rights regulations, and through sneaking controversial legislation into completely unrelated bills).

It is the culture of faith that produces this odd disconnect between reality and perception because results and empirical observation bear little relevance to the mind of faith.  You are to believe what you’re supposed to believe, results be damned.  If you have to go to the grave having never seen the promised fruits of your faith, you are praised all the more.  “What great faith he had!” they say, “for he never gave up and stayed true to his calling, come what may!” Perhaps he will be rewarded in the afterlife.  This is not the attitude of someone following the evidence wherever it leads.  It’s precisely the opposite.

So my answer is No.  When an atheist says he believes there are natural explanations for the world around us, it is because experience thus far has upheld that notion with significant, objectively measurable benefits to our daily lives.  Such belief is not of the same sort which bases itself on the word of a religious authority.  Those who insist otherwise are only demonstrating their lack of awareness of what exactly goes into the rigorous development of modern scientific discovery.  Doesn’t matter to them, though.  They have faith.  Until they learn to genuinely question that mode of perception, disagreement is basically futile.  That’s why I don’t like debates with such people.  We’re not even using the same rules.

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102 Responses to Do Atheists Have Faith?

  1. Eric Morris says:

    Neil, I can not tell you how many times I have been accused of having faith; every time I say to myself I am going to write an essay on why believing that the Sun will indeed rise in the morning in the East is not based on faith, but I am glad to say that now I do not have to.

    Very very well put, sir and I applaud you for it. I am going to be sharing this immediately.

  2. Here is a logical proof that atheism is a faith-based belief.

    1. Atheism cannot be proven.

    2. Faith is the belief in that which cannot be proven.

    3. Therefore, atheism is a faith-based belief.

    Therefore, also you are playing the usual word games atheists use to hide the fact that atheism is completely absurd.

    • You’ll have to define “atheism” for me because the first statement can only be true for someone making a positive assertion about the non-existence of gods. If by “I am an atheist” a person simply means she lacks a belief in gods, there is no claim to prove or disprove, and your first statement sorta falls flat.

      • By asking me to define the obvious you are inviting me to play another one of your word games.

        Word games are a technique sophists use to deviate the discussion away from the truth and drive it directly into the endless weed patch of trivial pursuit.

        • Another game used to deviate is refusing to answer a simple question. You cannot make an assertion like you have made and then refuse to explain what you even mean by the word. You have improperly generalized about atheism in your first statement, so there’s nowhere to go with it.

      • Refusing to be led down the Primrose path of absurdity is the duty of any thinker bound by reason.

    • Brita says:

      What do you mean by “Atheism cannot be proven”?

      • “Atheism cannot be proven,” is about as simple a statement as it gets.

        It is the opposite of the statement, “The existence of God can be proven.”

        Since the existence of God can be proven, belief in God is a matter of reason. Since atheism cannot be proven, it is a faith-based, and therefore irrational belief.

        • This is an example of the insulting tone I am warning you about, silence.

          “‘Atheism cannot be proven,’ is about as simple a statement as it gets.”

          Clearly it doesn’t appear to this commenter that you have said enough in that sentence. It serves no constructive purpose for you to respond like you did. Do you not perceive the implicit insult in that statement?

        • Atheist Evo says:

          Atheism isn’t a thing. It is the state of not being convinced by a god claim. So yes… atheism can be proven as far as that goes. Just like “Not liking football-ism”. Prove that I don’t buy the god claim? ummmm, just ask me. Your statement is a nonsensical one… and hopefully POE.

    • nude0007 says:

      so anything that cannot be proven is a religion? Even knowing your false definition of atheism (which you refuse to share, likely because you now it is wrong and thus can be proven so) this line of logic is seriously and simply flawed. It is YOU who are playing word games. It is essential to define terms so that we all KNOW we are on the same page. If you refuse, then you are obviously afraid of being corrected. Even IF atheism was a religion, and it was absurd, that doesn’t distract from the fact that religion is also. So at best you have proven nothing. At worst you have proven your denial of the truth.

    • Ron Murphy says:

      Atheism does not need to be proven. Proof is problematic for humans. Deductive arguments may be valid, but ensure the truth of their conclusions, that is they are sound arguments, ONLY if their premises are true. And at the edge of human knowledge, where we are all speculating, performing metaphysical speculation, we do not have access to known true premises.

      Atheism is a working conclusion, a contingent one, that is it based on all known information humans have acquired. In all that, there is nothing to lead us to suppose there is any supernatural magic going on. So, the most that can be said of atheism is that it is a position of contingent trust in what we have learned so far.

      A faith, on the other hand, is a commitment to a belief no matter what. This is how it works:

      I believe X.
      If X is proven true, then X is true, so I believe X
      If I have evidence for X, then I believe X is true.
      If there is no proof or evidence for X then I believe X anyway, by having faith that X is true.

      Now, X could be Christianity, Islam, Fairies, Astrology, 2+2=4, 2+2=5 … No matter that X is true or false, you will believe it. If it happens to be proved true or has supportive evidence, all the better, but that isn’t necessary, and it can actually be false and I will believe it.ron

  3. SsurebreC says:

    silenceofmind – you’re well-named! Atheism is the null hypothesis – it’s what we all believe by default. What do I mean by that? I mean when Pope Francis was born, he didn’t believe in Jesus. He didn’t have any beliefs in any religion. Had he grown up without religion, he would not have been Christian. Mind you, I mean what I say – he’d grow up without religion vs. being raised to specifically not believe in religion. So atheism is two things:

    1) the null hypothesis – we’re all atheists (including you) when it comes to every single God ever created by man. Religious people simply stick with one they were typically exposed to as children and atheists don’t make that geography-based special case.
    2) rejection of evidence for any Gods

    That’s it. Also to continue the wrongness, I checked out your blog and since it doesn’t allow posts, I’ll reply to it here (hope you don’t mind, godlessindixie)
    1) Argument against abortion because human life begins at conception and its termination is murder. Please come up with a way to file charges for any woman in a relationship who has a period with a fertilized egg. Most women would be mass murderers. You’d also file charges against a dead woman whose baby killed her (ectopic pregnancy)? Where does that square with your next point about self defense? Should women be allowed to defend themselves against their babies who are killing them? Would abortion be OK for you if a woman used a gun instead?

    2) Argument against gun control, because we’re allowed to defend liberty with deadly force. You must approve fo using tactical nuclear weapons, machine guns, RPG’s, neurotoxins, and tanks for self defense. No? Then you’re for gun control since all those are weapons. I loved your logic in that humans are born in a state of liberty and how you’d square that with people like you a few centuries ago that defended slavery using similar beliefs as you

    3) Argument against gay marriage because gay marriage denies human nature. Being gay is a part of human nature, actually even a part of nature itself since we have plenty of evidence of homosexuality in other species. Funny thing though, other animal species with gay members don’t get treated differently, so treating them differently is going against nature.

    • What you say about atheism being the null hypothesis is obviously false.

      Mankind is religious by nature. All the civilizations in human history grew up around religion.

      In fact, the greatest mass murders in human history were committed by atheists regimes who worked diligently to destroy religion.

      • SsurebreC says:

        Anytime someone says “obviously”, they’re typically wrong. It’s clearly not “obviously” false. Mankind isn’t religious by nature. They’re social by nature and they’re supersticious‎. We look for patterns to explain our world. When we didn’t know any better, we created super beings that did things to us. Thunder? Must be the Thunder God. Lightning? Lightning God. If it rains, the Gods must be happy with us. This was important to us – anything that would make sure we don’t die tomorrow.

        The greatest mass muders in human history were committed by people who were atheists (I’m assuming you’re talking about Stalin and Pol Pot). But they also had hair and one had a moustache. Does that mean people with hair and moustaches are bad? Hitler had a moustache too. Look at their behaviors – they wanted to be worshipped by the population (and were). Stalin had “miracles”. Look at North Korea where the country is still ruled by a dead man. “Dear Leader” and worship is abound. People who were religious for other reasons were forced to pick a new God – their leader.

        Atheism itself says nothing about killing others. It is a rejection of evidence for Gods and nothing else. Anything else attributed to it – murder, destruction, evolution, liberalism, feminism, etc – is not part of atheism. It might be a trait shared by a vocal group who happens to be atheist but it’s not part of atheism since atheism is a single answer to a single question: do you believe in Gods? If you say no, you’re an atheist. Period.

        • All philosophies deal with worldview. Atheism is no exception. Ethics is part of any worldview.

          Without God as Supreme Author of ethics, it is left to each individual person to make up his own moral code or follow whatever is floating around in the culture.

          That means under any atheist worldview, ethics is just a matter of opinion. That means ethics mean absolutely nothing.

          And that is why the greatest mass murders in human history have been committed by atheist regimes.

          • Atheist Evo says:

            Atheism is not a worldview. It makes no statement on the world around us. It only says “I am not buying the claim of a god”. That is it. Everything else is undefined by the term “atheism”. As for your nonsensical “atheist regimes” trope, no crime was ever committed in the name of not believing. However most of the world’s wars and large scale crimes against humanity were motivated by religion. Example- Hitler… Catholic. But his catholicism had nothing to do with his crimes. They were not religiously motivated. Stalin- Atheist. But his crimes were not motivated by not believing in a god. They were motivated in part by the belief that religions took too much power from the real dogma of Stalin…. nationalism and control.

            As far as ethics meaning nothing if you are atheist, you have confused the word “morality” with “ethics”. Nonetheless, morality is not borne from religion or secularism. They are born from the need to get along together as a social animal. They mean quite a lot regardless of where you get them. If they are religious, however, they are not morals, they are merely orders and obedience will never equal morality.

      • SsurebreC says:

        I hope this reply works – couldn’t reply directly under your last post..

        Atheism isn’t a philosophy. There are no tenets, no ethics, no morals. It’s not about that at all. Atheism is only one thing – an answer to a question: do you believe in Gods. If you say no, you’re an atheist. Nothing else is part of atheism. It’s not that atheism claims no morals, it’s that atheism is only one thing – that answer – and nothing else. It doesn’t include these discussions. That said, atheists have other traits, typically skepticism, possibly humanism. Humanism is a philosophy and maybe that’s what you’re referring to. But atheism isn’t a philosophy. It’s just rejection of dieties and nothing more. You can argue about humanism if you like but that’s not my point and I’m not going to defend humanism since I’m not familiar enough with it to reply.

        Hitler was also a mass murderer but he was Catholic, along with all of his top lieutenants. If religious belief implies superior morals, then how does this get explained – No True Scotsman? What about slavery, justified in the Bible which was used by religious people to continue slavery. Picking on the Christian religion (which I think you are), how about working on Saturday? Being rude to your parents? Wearing two different sets of clothes? Eating shellfish? All death penalties. Do these still apply because based on what you wrote, they should. Otherwise Biblical “ethics” change over time as we become less barbaric – even though the word of the Bible doesn’t change. Heck, the Pope doesn’t deny evolution – I’m sure he’d be burned at the stake for this a few centuries ago, just like you would be if you claimed the Earth revolves around the Sun not to mention that it’s round.

      • nude0007 says:

        Atheism is not a proposition that can move people to take any action, good or bad. It is not a dogma stating we have to do or believe this or that, positively or negatively, so even though some people who did mass genocide were atheist, it does not follow that the atheism was the cause of their evil.

    • The Silence of Mind is where God speaks and the Universe listens.

      • nude0007 says:

        The silence of mind is where no thought occurs. You can make up your own meanings, but that doesn’t make them true. lol

      • Atheists are they who make up their own meanings.

        In the Silence of Mind, one gains insight. Insight is understanding softly whispered by God himself. It can be about the simplest things or about the most earth shaking.

        The intellectually stunted atheist is left imagining alternate realities in the echo chamber of his own brainwashed mind.

    • 1. Your argument in support of abortion is based on not knowing the definition of murder and proceeding from that point of ignorance to confuse death by murder with death by natural causes.

      Murder is the intentional, premeditated killing of another human being. A fertilized egg that bleeds out of the womb due to natural causes is not murder.

      2. Your claim is the usual leftist argument from ignorance and absurdity.

      Individuals who live in civil societies do not need WMD to secure their liberty. Individuals gather together to form civil societies whose governments handle the WMD.

      3. Your claim that gay is part of human nature is obviously false. If everyone were gay the human race would go extinct.

      That simple, obvious fact proves that homosexuality is a disorder.

      Heterosexuality is human nature and marriage, the union between one man and one woman, conforms with human nature.

      Consequently the very idea of gay marriage is ridiculous.

      • SsurebreC says:

        1) So, again, what is your stance on ectopic pregnancies, especially relating to your second point about self-defence. You should be OK with abortion then. Secondly, legally, you’d have to prove intent, since I’m assuming you want to charge women with murder if they have an abortion (if we live in your world, where abortion would be illegal). How would you be able to prove intent of murder with someone who has “natural causes” for abortion vs. someone who deliberately caused it?

        2) When people say “leftist” (or “rightist”), it means “You don’t think like me, so I can disregard your entire point because you’re not like me”. If you want to close yourself from someone who has a different point of view, that’s fine with me. It doesn’t make you right though and I’ll assume you conceded the argument.

        I didn’t know RPG was a WMD. How about machine guns – like a gattling gun. Cannons? Howitzer! Uzi? How many people can you really kill with a tank? I mean, it’s slow, fires slow, has a very limited range due to fuel. Want to reply to those – they’re more plausible than nuclear weapons and people would say that owning an RPG and machine guns should be allowed for self-defense. Why can’t we have tanks? Parking would be so much more fun!

        3) There’s that “obvious” again. Yes, if everyone were gay, the human race would go extinct. Same if people stopped procreating. Do we force procreation in all marriages or not allow marriages if it doesn’t lead to procreation? No, we don’t do that. Straight couples aren’t required to have children and plenty of couples don’t want any. Infertile couples are allowed to marry. Same with people who are too old to have children. Nobody is talking about restricting their rights or having a procreation requirement for all these people. They’re not even asked. So your procreation point is moot – there isn’t even a potential for an infertile (or elderly) couple to procreate. Any comment on this?

        Homosexuality is not a disorder if by “disorder” you mean what [secular] psychology calls it vs. your particular religious sect. But you know what is a disorder? Hearing voices and talking to invisible people. Using your logic, I can easily claim religious people to be mentally imbalanced and I’m sure I can find some evidence of it.

        Human nature actually is more polygamy rather than monogamy. It’s even in the Bible! Are you for polygamy at least and if not, why not?

      • It was you who claimed that gay marriage was valid because homosexuality conformed with human nature.

        I proved by stating an obvious fact that homosexuality is in fact a disorder and therefore contrary to human nature.

        Your response was to ignore your argument being blown to smithereens and move the goal post by making yet another completely false statement.

        Before you move the goal post, take stalk in the fact that your arguments are all figments of your imagination.

        You ignore facts. You redefine your opponents position and then argue with yourself. And you employ one logical fallacy after the next.

        You suffer from the very same intellectual maladies that you complain about in religious people.

      • SsurebreC says:

        I said homosexuality is part of human nature just like it’s part of nature – we see examples of homosexuality in humans and other animals. You can’t prove something by saying it’s “obvious” because there are millions of people that disagree with you – people who also happen to be on in the medical community and the Supreme Court. My point there is that it’s exactly not obvious that it is a disorder because we don’t lock people up for being gay (anymore) and it’s not recognized as a disorder in DSM5 which is the guide on what is and is not considered a disorder – hasn’t been for almost 40 years due to additional research. Reason why it was added was not because of sexual reasons or “human nature”, it was because of a perceived hidden fear of the opposite sex, possibly related to traumatic parent-child relationships. As opposed to sexual relations and “human nature”.

        You’re not making any statement other than it’s not human nature and when I show you that it is, you just say no it’s not and apparently my argument is blown to smithereens. Is this how you argue with people? I’m not moving the goal post at all. You said it’s not human nature, I say it is because we have examples and I even say it’s part of nature. That’s not moving the goal posts unless you don’t know what that term is. What facts am I ignoring? Homosexuality isn’t a part of human nature? We have homosexuals, so this means it actually is. For example, having a heart as part of your right foot isn’t a part of human nature. You also haven’t responded at all to the infertile heretosexual couples – procreation is not a requirement for marriage.

      • Clearly you have never studied philosophy. Otherwise you would not be initiating yet another argument from ignorance.

        The nature of a thing a la Aristotle is demonstrated by the healthy specimen of whatever kind of thing is being considered.

        Heterosexuality is human nature because sexuality was developed by nature for the purposes of robust reproduction.

        As stated earlier, it is obvious that homosexuality is a disorder and therefore not human nature because if everyone were homosexual the human race would go extinct.

        Why is that so hard to understand? Let me tell you why. Because it is categorical proof that your claim is false.

      • SsurebreC says:

        Human nature is the distinguishing characteristics, including ways of thinking, feeling and acting, that humans tend to have naturally, independently of the influence of culture. How is homosexuality not this – it’s not influenced by culture since there are homosexuals everywhere (not just in San Francisco). We’re not talking about hair grooming rituals here that differ from culture to culture.

        I agree that heretosexuality is needed for procreation (though IVF doesn’t mean the owner of the sperm needs to be there with the owner of the egg) but you’re not answering my question – we allow heretosexual couples to marry who won’t procreate and we don’t have procreation as a requirement of marriage. Why do we let those people marry and not homosexuals if you say marriage is for procreation. Clearly it’s not a defining characteristic, otherwise we would have procreation as requirement of marriage. Do you have a response or should I assume you don’t have a response and you decided to talk about something else. You’re also not answering my question about self defense in your second point about bearing arms vs. ectopic pregnancy where the child is killing the mother by developing. You also didn’t read my point about human race extinction – people could also stop procreating (or, I suppose, use birth control). You keep repeating your points as if you think if you repeat it enough, it’ll be true. But you’re also not replying to my points to yours including the items I rehashed above. You make a statement, I reply to it, you say no it’s not and repeat the statement. That’s not an argument.

      • nude0007 says:

        and NOWHERE has it ever been proven that a fetus is a human being, so your argument fails.
        you continue to make the unfounded claim that atheism is ignorant and absurd. when you offer any evidence of this we will be ready to refute it, otherwise you are making a claim that is unfounded and therefore can be taken as false until evidence is provided.

        Gay is PART of human nature, not ALL of it. We know being gay is just a genetic variation. Many species have gay individuals or tendencies. Gay appears in so many species it is absurd (to use your favorite term) to claim it is not natural. Gay doesn’t have to be a dominant trait to be a natural one. blue eyes are not dominant, but still occur.

        marriage has nothing at all to do with heterosexuality. Marriage is not even natural. It is human nature to have as many sexual partners as they can, for pleasure and survival. Marriage is a falsely imposed, rather irrational proposition imposed on us by society. It is not some divine edict either, as marriage existed long before your god or any god. Long before THAT man got along rather well raising children in an extended family which is far more healthy, relying on many different points of view instead of two. It teaches a child to evaluate everything they are told critically

      • I’m sorry but what you are saying about human nature is impoverished.

        For example, it is through leisure time that human nature develops fully.

        Primitive man experienced leisure time in those paltry few minutes when he wasn’t starving to death, dying of disease or injury, or being slaughtered by predators, human or otherwise.

        Existing in the wild is detrimental to human nature. In fact, man develops to the maximum of his human nature in civilized society.

        That isn’t what I say. That’s what Plato, Aristotle, Saints Augustine and Aquinas, John Locke, the Founding Fathers and even Karl Marx, say.

        But sexuality is about procreation whether plant or animal. Homosexuality is closed to procreation so it can be nothing other than a sexual disorder.

      • SsurebreC says:

        I didn’t know that human nature develops fully though doing nothing. I though it was social interactions, working together, making choices, etc. Did you mean the classical definition of leisure because leisure now vs. 100 years ago vs. 1000 years ago are very different things.

        Your entire sentence about man developing their human nature in civilized societies goes against the very definition of human nature, which explicitly states that it’s natural and not based on culture, which includes where you’re raised. Using a phone isn’t human nature but communicating with others is.

        Thanks for name-dropping but I’m not going to hide behind other people, assuming you got their message right. Since you’re having trouble with basic definitions, I can’t trust you got their intentions correct either.

        You’re still not saying anything about my points that procreation isn’t required for marriage. I gave specific examples of this. Procreation as a physical act doesn’t require marriage either. You need to reply to this point otherwise I’ll just assume that since you’re ignoring it – I devote paragraphs to this point – that you’re conceding your point and now reduced to repeating yourself instead of replying.

      • Atheist Evo says:

        Your nonsensical and hateful opinions about the nature of homosexuality are illogical. Just because something occurs naturally, doesn’t mean that EVERYONE will exhibit that trait. Homosexuality is exhibited all over the animal kingdom, and observed in nature all of the time. Not that it matters in the least. If you don’t “like” gay marriage, then don’t marry a gay. Otherwise stay out of everyone elses business. If you are concerned about ruining the institution of marriage, why not start in your own backyard and deal with high divorce and infidelity rates? They pose a FAR greater risk to marriage than two people who WANT to be faithful and enjoy marriage rights do. Come on now. Try not to be so hateful.

    • Anytime someone generalizes they are usually wrong. My correct use of an obvious, easily understood fact is proof of that.

      I use the obvious when discussing issues with atheists because it provides common ground for argument.

      Simply claiming the opposite of a fact is no argument. It’s being ridiculous. It’s well known that even Neanderthals were religious.

      Redefining religion as superstition is just you putting your deep, personal bias on display. It isn’t an argument.

      All civilizations grew up around religion. That’s a fact. Religion causes the cultural and moral order that is necessary for a civilization to take hold and stabilize.

      The problem with atheism is that it is faith-based and very dogmatic. Facts mean nothing if they contradict the dogma.

      • nude0007 says:

        claiming something is obvious is inherently false. what may seem obvious to you may not even be a consideration for another. It shows bias and ignorance. We must define terms in order to communicate accurately. We all see things differently, so this is a necessity.

        no, all civilizations did NOT grow up around religion. Many had religion imposed on them by the ruler for better control. Morality is an inherent attribute of many species, including man. No other ape has religion, so your claim that religion provides morality and ethics is easily demonstrated to be false. Religion actually destabilizes a country. Why do you think Muslim countries are all poor and uneducated? They are prevented by religion from growing and progressing.

        Now I think you are a troll. It is clear that atheism is not faith based, relying on facts and evidence, and lacks dogma completely. It is one position on one question. Is there a god? Atheists find no evidence to support the idea that a god exists. That’s all. It is religion that has the dogma and rejects facts, as you well know.

  4. Anthony Magnabosco says:

    Wow. I came for some Dixie (great, btw), and left with some kick-ass SsurebreC!
    @magnabosco

  5. mikespeir says:

    One of the best dealing with this problem that I’ve read.

  6. Reading through the debate on here, I’m seeing a good illustration of what I said about adopting an abrasive tone. I wonder if this ever actually helps anyone?

    • Assigning your own malady to the opposition is something atheists do habitually.

      Why can’t you just approach an argument in a straight forward fashion? Why the word games?

      Why do you redefine the opposition, refuse to see the obvious, argue from ignorance and absurdity and then blame your opponent for being abrasive?

      • You’re not following me so let me restate what I’m saying differently. Your first statement assumes that a person lacking belief in a god (which one? All of them?) is making a positive claim about the nonexistence of that/those god(s). But that is an incorrect assumption. Your very premise assumes too much. Does that clear things up?

      • There is only one God, the Creator. He is the one arrived at through reason and has been known by mankind for thousands of years.

        The more we converse, the more evident it becomes that you are philosophically illiterate. I don’t say that to be insulting. But it is clear that you have no idea what you are talking about. You just make everything up as you go along.

        And you use cheap, illogical, irrational rhetorical devices in place of systematic thinking.

        Since the meaning of atheism, according to atheists, is the belief that there is no God, atheism is also the denial of reason.

        People who believe in God, the Creator, also reject superstition. So you trying to redefine the belief in God as a superstition is based on falsehood like every other one of your other claims.

        • SsurebreC says:

          You say there is one God. How do you know? I mean, if you go back 6,000 years, there were very few people who practiced monotheism – most people practiced polytheism. Just because you believe this now, it doesn’t mean it’s been this way forever. Besides, how do you know your version of that God is the real one? If you’re a Christian, there are many flavors of Christianity including Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons. Do they all believe in exactly the same God with the same rules and view of life and afterlife? How do you know your particular view is the real.

          You should look up the meaning of atheism. You keep thinking it’s a philosophy. You also say it’s a belief that there is no God. That’s called gnostic atheism. Atheism itself doesn’t make any knowledge claims, it’s a belief claim and there are very, very few gnostic atheists (since they’d have to prove their claim). Even people like Dawkins aren’t gnostic atheists. I am, like vast majority of atheists, an agnostic atheist. It means I don’t know if there is a God or not but I don’t believe there is one. There’s knowledge and there’s belief. I don’t believe but I don’t know either way since I don’t have evidence to say there definitely isn’t a God and I don’t have evidence to say there definitely is one. Atheism isn’t a denial of reason but faith could be denial of reason because faith is a belief of something without evidence. Stronger faith actually leads to more denial of reason since you have “faith” rather than evidence that things will go a certain way. People who believe in Gods most certainly don’t reject superstition. It is the definition of the term – belief in supernatural causality (Gods).

        • Atheist Evo says:

          Wrong. First you decry the OP for illogical posts and then you commit the ad hominem logical fallacy as though it adds to the validity of your argument. Second you make a lot of accusations without giving examples and explaining what fallacies the OP is committing. You merely claim it to be so and we are to believe it. Nonsense. Third, atheism literally means the lack of belief in a god. While you are an atheist if you claim positively that there is no god, that is not required. All that is required is for you to not accept the god claim as true. Follow?

          You claim that God is not superstition, but provide no reason for anyone to see that as true. You forget the target audience. We don’t see any evidence to see god as anything more than superstition. So merely claiming that he isn’t, is not enough. You have to provide evidence as to why we should think as you do.

          Now please start adding some value to this conversation and provide some evidence instead of just lowbrow insults and pretense to “philosophical knowledge” (which is not needed by the way, as god is a scientific claim, not a philosophical one)

      • nude0007 says:

        refusing to provide any evidence for your claims is a malady of the theist. Seems fatal too.
        Asking for a common definition of terms IS a straightforward approach to argument. This AVOIDS word games and confusion. It seems confusion is what you want, or you would agree to this basic request.

      • nude0007 says:

        refusing to provide any evidence for your claims is a malady of the theist. Seems fatal too.
        Asking for a common definition of terms IS a straightforward approach to argument. This AVOIDS word games and confusion. It seems confusion is what you want, or you would agree to this basic request.

  7. Just a warning: People who cannot refrain from insulting another person’s intelligence will not remain long on my blog. For example:

    “The more we converse, the more evident it becomes that you are philosophically illiterate. I don’t say that to be insulting. But it is clear that you have no idea what you are talking about…”

    Keep it up and you will have to take your superiority somewhere else.

  8. JustMy2Cents says:

    Great article with a lot of truths, however it must be noted that typically atheists do not fight fair either. Telling someone they don’t have faith, or that they are ignorant to believe in what cannot be seen or scientifically proven is no different than me telling you that your atheism is ludicrous.

    Your statement of all are born as atheists has a lot of merit to it. The bible even teaches us something similar. (all are born short of the glory of God), this is the reason that Jesus instructed his followers to go into the world and teach the good news. Most Christians will argue that as not being true, but ultimately this is something we can agree on.

    The homosexual fight always amazes me. How does one’s sexual preference determine the validity of God? Well I guess in a sense it does, because the fight that is going on right now is more than just a sexual freedom fight, it has become a fight for or against God. (Gay = no god, straight = Christian) (yes those are generalizations, but realize they are common generalizations). Ironic also that the bible tells us these things would happen in the final days. Being gay is normal, for some. For those that it is not normal for it makes absolutely no sense. For those that believe it is sinful it goes beyond making no sense. Truth is, scientists have shown that being gay is normal for some, same as being a pedophile is, or enjoying sex with animals, or inanimate objects, these ideas and actions come from within the human brain. The difference for now is that homosexuality used to be considered immoral. While it is no longer consider immoral by the doctors of the world, being a pedophile, or a bestiality person is still considered immoral. But the argument of “natural” is one that Christians like to argue against, what Christians forget is that it is “natural” for men to sin. It’s very natural, and if being gay is a sin, that does NOT mean it is not natural. Same as sex with inanimate objects, that’s considered pretty normal (dildo’s etc) but it used to be thought of as being just as risqué as being gay once was. My point is that your sexual preference does not prove or disprove God at all. It’s your choice. The fact that you have that choice should be enough to show you that there is a loving God. He lets you choose, he didn’t have to do that. It’s not a fair fight by either side these days, but I understand the Christian point of view, they allowed a lot of wrongs over the years, they have to stand up for this one because it’s just “soooo” wrong. Most religious folks don’t get the part that we have ALL sinned, and that sin is sin to God. The gay guy is no more a sinner than the guy that talks about his next door neighbor behind their back. If it wasn’t for grace we’d all be doomed.

    A fair fight is a fun fight. But the fight should never be the point. I enjoy the fight because it is rather strange to me how atheists look to science for answers, even though science changes it’s mind every year or so. I’m sure I feel about science the way atheist feel about believing in a god that they can’t see. At least God stays the same over the years, scientists can’t even agree on why men walk upright. When you really break it down, science explains the “how”, God explains the “who” and sometimes the “why”. Science and God can co-exist, and when they do it’s a beautiful thing.

    I hope that when one fights the fight for or against atheism, that we try to remember Jesus loves us all. He died for both sides of the argument, and without love none of it really matters anyways, for either side.

    The abortion idea is rather silly. A human rejection of something is NOT the same as a human decision to reject something. That’s like saying if I have a heart attack that I’ve commited suicide. This argument is senseless. Choosing to kill is choosing to kill no matter how you try to defend it. When does life begin? Who can answer that? Science may say one thing and as technology advances they change their mind. The bible doesn’t really speak of it, they didn’t do abortions in those days. But the bible does tell us to love, and to not kill, so I choose to follow those guidelines. I was a baby out of wedlock, and I thank God that Mom did not decide to “take care of the problem”. We are in such an advanced society today that abortion should be obsolete, but it isn’t. That’s the tragedy of the modern world. If we all believed in a loving God, had faith that he will provide we wouldn’t need abortions. Someone is now going to go to the argument of “Mother at risk”. Then I say it’s the mothers choice. My wife was once faced with that choice and chose the baby, today he is an amazing young man and my wife is enjoying every day with him, others may not make that choice, we shouldn’t judge those people, we should be with them and love them and comfort them. Maybe then they’d see this mysterious God that we talk about.

    My final statement is this: atheists don’t believe in God because they cannot see god, so I say let’s SHOW them God and stop the fighting.

    • “science changes it’s mind every year or so.”

      A bit of an exaggeration, don’t you think? Do you closely follow scientific research? My main response is this: When scientific consensus changes, it is changed by MORE SCIENCE. In other words, it’s improving itself by its own methods. It’s getting more and more accurate every generation. How do we know this? Because it allows for testable hypotheses which can be falsified. Science continues to yield tangible results.

      Now, if there were disagreements between science and religion in which religion disproved an assertion of science (e.g. if the geocentric universe turned out to be right), that would be different. But science is proving itself wrong and replacing its less correct ideas with more correct ideas (see aforementioned testable hypotheses).

      “I’m sure I feel about science the way atheist feel about believing in a god that they can’t see.”

      Oh boy, I hope not. You mean that you see science as a primarily subjective endeavor? Really? You feel there is NO WAY to verify or falsify the discoveries of science? Surely you don’t mean that.

      “At least God stays the same over the years, scientists can’t even agree on why men walk upright.”

      By my count there are thousands of denominations of Christianity alone, besides the dozens of other competing religions with varying concepts of deities. This doesn’t pass the test of “staying the same.”

    • SsurebreC says:

      To JustMy2Cents,

      Yes, a lot of atheists are jerks for saying religious people are ignorant. I totally agree. Religious people say the same thing though (with their self-imposed higher morality). Let’s call being jerks to people with different beliefs human nature.

      A quick note on being gay vs. pedophile or bestiality. One is consentual, the other two are not (as far as being mature enough to have consent). I’m as opposed to pedophile gay sex as pedophile straight sex.

      Science doesn’t change its mind all that much. For example, instead of changing its mind, what it does is refine accepted theories. For example, science doesn’t say that evolution is false and that some God did it. It says that instead of gradual change before, sometimes an explosion of change happens. It doesn’t change the theory of gravity but it now says that gravity might be stronger or weaker depending on other forces. See how it changes – it refines the theories as we do more research. But the basic, core, concepts remain the same. Still, even if something were to come along to completely stand some concepts on its head, it would only mean we found a better way to analyze and measure something. I can guarantee that even if science does find God one day, living a few trillion miles away in a pretty awesome spaceship, it would certainly make a deist argument and definitely never prove any one religion correct due to the translations, copies, mistranslations, and misinterpretations of random people with personal agenda’s. There is a chasm of evidence between deism and theism not to mention your personal flavor of that religion. The one problem with unchanging beliefs is that you have to bend yourself into a pretzel anytime contradicting evidence is found and accepted. That’s where faith comes in. God might not change but he used to love slavery and now he doesn’t. Religion used to believe the Earth was flat and the sun revolved around it – Biblical passages were used. So maybe peoples interpretation of God have changed, which makes it worse. Science has evidence to back up the changes, religion has a few people with funny hats voting on what will make people not laugh at their beliefs.

      Also, last I checked, there is no definitive science as far as how people should treat each other. Science as far as the “exacting” kind is typically math or similar concepts. It can explain the PSI and neurochemical levels during a hug but not how or when you should give one.

      I’m really not going to debate someone who truly believes that Jesus did all that. I wrote a topic on reddit about how Jesus suffering and death are nothing remarkable – I’m sure we could all spend hours talking about it. I will say that there are at least 2800 other Gods you don’t believe in, so it’s OK that you believe Jesus did this but it doesn’t make it true. I am interested in what’s true.

      As far as abortion, I’ll mention something that both sides rarely say – both sides have a shared interest in reducing abortions. One side wants to deny human sexuality and restrict access to birth control and make abortions illegal. The other seems to only push for more access for abortions and some hints of birth control. I think both sides can come together and reduce unintended pregnancies, the core reason why people get abortions in the first place.

      As an atheist, it’s not so much that I can’t see God, it’s that I can’t believe in any religion. Inconsistencies, fantastic (and unoriginal) stories, logical inconsistencies, and no proof. Those are my problems with believing in any religion. Thank you for the wonderful post though!

  9. Scott says:

    Guys. Stop. slienceofmind is a troll. Look at his posts. They are intended to get a rise out of us. He wants us to keep taking time to respond seriously and get angry at him.

    No one, not even himself, buys his wafer-thin arguments. They are so flimsy that we can’t help but want to refute them. However, they are well written enough to make us think they are serious. Please don’t respond to him in seriousness anymore. That’s what he wants.

    In a way, this is a nice milestone for the blog. Godless in Dixie now has enough traffic that someone knows they can piss people off by posting silly comments here.

    Current debate non-withstanding, great post Neil. Keep it up.

    One suggestion if I may. If you are trying to reach a younger audience, you might want to use smaller words, or at least explain what some of the bigger ones mean. Many middle and high school kids will not immediately understand concepts such as empirical observation. While not essential to understanding the larger thrust of this essay, it doesn’t help you main point when certain concepts are not well known by the audience.

  10. redhed14 says:

    It’s kind of funny that someone who states:
    “There is only one God, the Creator. He is the one arrived at through reason and has been known by mankind for thousands of years.

    The more we converse, the more evident it becomes that you are philosophically illiterate. I don’t say that to be insulting. But it is clear that you have no idea what you are talking about. You just make everything up as you go along.”

    Is calling others philosophically illiterate. Apparently, you are unaware of the thousands of other “gods” that have been known throughout history. I’d love to see the “proof” you have for this god… Actually, so would everyone else. It would end a lot of debate. Get back to us once you have that proof. The world will thank you for finally showing us all the light.

  11. Bonnie says:

    I really enjoy your blog godlessindixie! I am an agnostic atheist (as is my husband). We are ex-mormons and live in mormon central. It is a trial every day dealing with these ‘silenceofthemind’ types. I was amazed how ‘personal’ people took it when I left and it is refreshing to hear reason occasionally (even if only online).

    You reference politics in this article. I think the reason the republican party is struggling now is because of it’s inability to separate it’s ‘anti big government’ points with it’s religious agenda. So many of this new generation of voters are agnostic or at least non-religious and most of this generation would like the government to have less power to abuse. But then, infuriatingly, this same party that spouts less government always bring up gay marriage/adoption and abortion etc.

    As for sex ed. I personally feel it is the parents’ responsibility to educate their children about sexual values. It makes me uncomfortable thinking about some health teacher having that talk with my own children as that seems like my parental area. Unfortunately, in very conservative states like ours, parents treat talking about sex as taboo and the level of ignorance in many teenagers is tragic.

    I am fine with abortion in the first trimester. It is something a woman’s body does at least 1/4 of the time anyway. However, I think women who get abortions should be educated as to what the doctor is going to be doing and be given the adoption option as a real possibility. I have known women who have gotten abortions. It is something they have to live with all their lives. This religious debate about whether the embryo/fetus is ‘alive’ and whether it’s murder or a woman’s right totally misses the emotional and psychological tragedy of abortions.

    Anyway, my 2 cents. Keep doing the good work.

    Bonnie

    • SsurebreC says:

      Hi Bonnie, although I feel like I’m taking over the blog, I just wanted to write a good quote I heard somewhere. I’m not a Republican or a Democrat but the quote applies to what you wrote above: “I like you [Republican] guys who want to reduce the size of government… make it just small enough so it can fit in our bedrooms.” It’s from a show called West Wing.

    • ffauth says:

      I enjoy reading just about everything Neil writes, even though we see the world differently at this point. I do hope he will write an article on abortion from a scientific perspective.

      I subscribe to the notion that the unborn are children, at least and especially at the point where they demonstrate brainwave activity. It is at that point that at a minimum their life deserves protection. That does not mean we disregard ethical quandaries surrounding pregnancy (i.e., what if the life of the mother is in jeopardy?) I think in those cases, every effort should be made to save both lives, but if that is not possible, I would leave that decision to the mother and her doctor. In difficult cases of rape and incest, I would apply similar protections for the unborn based on their developmental level – including looking to brainwave activity for the determination of whether life should be protected.

      I would also support extremely stiff penalties on rapists (up to and including life w/o parole, especially when an offender impregnates a victim). And I would support adoption assistance and social support for mothers bearing “unwanted” children. I would also support sex education in schools and, perhaps even more-so, some type of education on what it’s like to bear the responsibility of parenting.

      Without casting judgment on others, I find 3rd trimester elective abortions to be among the most brutal things one human can do to another.

      • Bonnie says:

        I would agree about third trimester abortions and I think even second trimester elective abortions are tragic. I knew a girl who had one at five months and since Alaska (the state we were in at the time) would not allow it, her state funded health care paid for her to have one in Washington (travel, food and lodging included!). At the conclusion the girl had no idea what had been done while she was put under to her body or her ‘fetus’ and had no desire to know. To me that is awful. That you can get an elective procedure without being fully informed should be some kind of medical malpractice.

      • fojap says:

        In the U.S., 41 states prohibit abortions starting at viability or after a particular point in the pregnancy, mostly after twenty or twenty-four weeks or the third trimester, except in cases of the health or life of the mother.

        http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_OAL.pdf

        1.5% of abortions occur after 21 weeks. I don’t know what percentage of those are medically necessary.

        http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html

        • bonnie says:

          Thanks for the statistics fojap I really appreciate it :-) It would be interesting to know what percentage of those are elective.

  12. Ian Date says:

    Great article. Thanks for not equivocating

  13. Fred says:

    Good article. I am a theist and a Christian, and I think it’s more accurate to characterize atheism as a lack of belief or religion than a belief or religion for most purposes. There might be exceptions to such a classification in order to create a certain degree of fairness with regards to the First Amendment. For example, should an atheist “church” emerge (I’ve driven by one before!), I would want to give that group of people the same treatment under the law as I give other religious organizations. That’s primary because atheism deals with an expressed skepticism about the existence of God(s), which for my thinking, counts well-enough for constitutional purposes to merit religious protection. This would be especially true if there were curriculum developed to support the rejection of theism and a “pastor” or “teacher” who led meetings for atheists — that person would be eligible for the parsonage exemption.

    I think it would be more fair for theists to say that when you adopt an atheistic/skeptical point of view on the existence of God(s), you generally reject universal ethics, or at least, you must be skeptical of their existence. Most atheists I’ve met adopt a form of “do the least harm” ethics. They essentially value all (or at least, most) human life and believe generally in protecting the pursuit of happiness. But those same atheists, when pressed, can’t really answer why you “shouldn’t” do something that maximizes your happiness when it infringes on someone else’s. Atheists might say that there is a longer-term harm caused to your happiness (or your offspring’s happiness) that is not foreseeable in the moment. They might also say that evolved social behavior essentially causes the perpetrator psychological harm even as he harms the victim. But at the end of the day, such arguments leave a bit of a dry taste in my mouth, because they claim that if such evolved characteristics can be overcome, then all is fair game.

    For an extreme example: let’s assume a technology allowed us to eliminate 10% of the “dead weight” in our society with minimal social repercussions for the rest of the group. For my experiment, let’s assume that the 10% have virtually no social connections to the rest of us, and that we can overcome the “vestiges” of social guilt that our evolutionary heritage has ingrained in us. Let’s also assume that the ultimate outcome for those who remain is greater happiness / longevity / productivity / etc. Would it be wrong to kill the 10%?

    For the skeptic, there seems to me to be no way of answering such a question.

    Really enjoy your articles and insight, Neil.

    • Scott says:

      I think that when it comes to non-theistic (desist and atheist) ethics, a lot more work has to be done on the foundations of your moral code. And I think that most of us ascribe to a certain degree of moral relativism. It is a question that I know I have been mulling over quite a bit.

      I’m not going to bore you with my ramblings, but my response boils down to the social contract. Killing innocent people for the benefit of the majority undermines the entire point of a society in the first place. You submit to a society’s customs for order, and assuming that you do not break the law of the land, then there is no basis for your persecution. If people could arbitrarily be killed within their own country, no one would have any incentive to stay because there would be no guarantee of safety and order that justifies the government’s authority.

      That is a very simplified explanation because it’s late and I don’t want to hog this blog. But you bring up a good point. And it’s pretty neat to see that religious people are reading this blog too.

      • Fred says:

        Thanks for being welcome of we theists, Scott!

        I wanted to add one more thing to my thoughts above.

        I think that when a theist argues to a skeptic, “you too have faith”, it may be better for the theist to say, “you too subscribe to a system of ethics/behavior that governs your behavior that cannot be fully explained.”

        For most theists (including me), our faith gives us definition around what “ought to be” or “what is right”. For atheists, especially those who subscribe to abiogenesis and natural selection as the most likely source and method of progression for life on earth, it seems to me that they are forced to answer the question more along the lines of “there probably is no absolute right or wrong” – at least not in a transcendent sense. And such a viewpoint would be easily supported by simply looking at other species in nature. There are a not insignificant number of animals where one sex kills the other immediately after mating. Clearly, simply killing some member of your own species, from an evolutionary perspective, does not necessarily constitute “wrongdoing”.

        That may not present such a big problem for atheism, though, because I suspect most atheists would be content to simply look at where we are today and accept that our evolutionary biology has brought us to a system of laws and society. But I also think that honesty would dictate that if we “evolve” to become a more brutal species, there wouldn’t really by anything “wrong” with that.

        Sorry for the excessive use of quotations. I would really like to have italics available to me :-)

        • Scott says:

          I think that’s a fair statement about a large part of atheist ethics. It is actually fairly scary when you first realize that there might not be an objective right or wrong. Almost everyone has been brought up in a society with rules and expectations, and people will generally not have a rational reason for why those rules are so dear to them. However, the origin of that irrational adherence to rules can be explained rationally, as we have discussed.

          That discomfort of having your own moral compass called into question is one of the scary moments of thinking about atheism. It is similar to realizing that when you die you will cease to exist or that there really isn’t a inherent meaning to life. However, these questions are even asked within the Bible, although many Christians don’t pay much attention.

          One of my favorite books of the Tanach, Qohelet (Ecclesiastes if you prefer) is the perfect example. Qohelet effectively says there is no afterlife, no purpose to life, and much of morality is a waste. Many religious people I know don’t like the book for those reasons and find it depressing. However, I find it a beautifully poetic piece of prose that examines life during the Biblical period. I also love the turns of phrase, even if I disagree with them.

          • ffauth says:

            I have read Ecclesiastes numerous times and also enjoy it. I also enjoy meeting cool-headed atheist friends. I hope to stick around and chat with you more as Neil gives us more food for thought.

    • Bonnie says:

      I guess I would subscribe to morals under the how we ‘evolved’ category.

      If we had evolved like wolves, who will kill whenever possible (reguardless of hunger) to keep their ‘game sharp’ then it would be MORAL for us to live like that. It is moral for wolves to live that way and they would be unhappy living any other way.

      If we had evolved like Hawks to steal food from each other, live in isolation, and possibly eat each other should we get the chance it would be MORAL for us to live like that. Hawks are happy and moral living that way.

      We did not evolve to kill the ‘dead weight’ in our society. Whether, it’s a tribe or a family unit, we evolved to care for our old and young, weak and ill and this is what we do (as a social emotional animal). We feel empathy for the weak and it strengthens us as a species.

      We also evolved to kill when hungry or threatened in order to survive. I consider this moral.

      BTW as an agnostic atheist I don’t discount altogether that there may be some kind of creator involved in this ‘evolution’ of mankind. Either way this is the way our species is meant to live and therefore it is the moral way for us to live. Nothing to do with a man in the clouds or ten ‘commandments’. It’s just common sense.

      • Scott says:

        “We did not evolve to kill the ‘dead weight’ in our society. Whether, it’s a tribe or a family unit, we evolved to care for our old and young, weak and ill and this is what we do (as a social emotional animal). We feel empathy for the weak and it strengthens us as a species.”

        Not to be nit-picky here, but this is not true. In certain cultures, disabled babies were left to die because of the strain they would put on a hunter-gatherer community. And if someone became too weak/ injured to function, they were often killed or driven out of the community of the same reason (although sometimes they volunteered to leave).

        These practices are still in effect in some remote areas of the world. And from a utilitarian view, it makes sense. If the life of every member of a tribe will be at risk to try to preserve the life of a child that will in all likelihood be too weak to ever contribute to the group or enjoy their life, one could almost call it a form of mercy killing.

        While I think it is gross and completely unfair to the child, it makes sense that an isolated tribe that could be wiped out in a year by bad weather would make such a decision. We are lucky enough to have communities that can support the weak and disabled, but not every community has that capability.

        I’m not suggesting we should start killing the weak and begin a eugenics project, I just wanted to show that there can be grey area in this subject. A very icky grey area that I think atheists must at least consider.

        • SsurebreC says:

          You’re right in we used to think like that – primitive cultures. But over the centuries, people have been living longer and as a result, life has become more important. So it’s not normal anymore to do that anymore.

        • Bonnie says:

          I actually edited that comment to delete ‘in prosperous times’ when I originally wrote it cause it does sound icky. But in answer to your question .. in prosperous times humans do not kill the weak. All animals will abandon the weak to survive in difficult times. It is one of the reasons why humans are still here and not extinct. And as I said before has nothing to do with God or ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ simply common sense for how we are designed to exist.

          • Bonnie says:

            also some of that ‘driving out the injured’ can be connected to primitive mysticism or a belief that the injured would bring bad luck ….. religion anyone?

  14. Thinker1121 says:

    Hi all. Great blog Neil! I enjoy reading your posts. I’m also a non-believer living in a southern state who grew up as a Christian.

    I think that the people here suggesting that moral relativism is a problem for Christians (or religious people in general) are really on to something. My perspective is that religious people tend to be very uncomfortable partaking in harmful actions or calling something wrong unless they KNOW it is TOTALLY and COMPLETELY wrong. There can be no margin for error here.

    For example, I’ve had an argument with one of my very religious family members multiple times about the ethics of killing people. My opinion is that killing people is neither inherently right nor wrong since we have no objective standard by which to judge such an act. However, I personally do not want to live in a society where I am not free to walk around, live my life as I see fit, and express my ideas without fear of being killed. Thus, I engage in a social contract with others who feel the same way, and I am perfectly willing to kill people (or support those who will do so on my behalf) who try to take away that liberty for me and my like-minded friends. Thus the phrase “Give me liberty or give me death!” I want to live free or die trying. But I am perfectly comfortable with the notion that my willingness to kill someone to “live free” is not in any way objectively moral or right. It is simply a preference. I think that for many people (including my relative), agreeing to kill someone in certain circumstances (i.e., in a war to defend your way of life) while simultaneously acknowledging that you can’t know whether it’s objectively the “right thing to do” is inherently evil. After all, why would you kill if you had any doubt whether it was the right thing to do?

    I think the religious tend to see the world as an ongoing battle of good versus evil. Secular people are more likely to see it in terms of ongoing cost/benefit analyses…though this is certainly not always true. You can be non-religious and still have a good versus evil mentality about ideas. Neil eloquently expressed this idea in his church video forum: if you assume that someone is broken (i.e., evil, corrupt, greedy, stupid, naive, drinking the kool-aid, etc…) simply because they disagree with you, you are likely in a good versus evil mentality. Because after all, if you’re right, and they disagree, then there’s obviously something wrong with them.

    • Moral relativism is indeed a problem for Christianity in more ways than one. According to “Divine Command Theory,” which is ultimately the prevailing ethical system among evangelicals, a thing is right or wrong based on whether or not God says it is. Leaving aside the obvious problem of how one can truly know whether or not we can accurately perceive communication from an invisible, inaudible spirit, this is moral relativism of a different kind. It says that nothing can be wrong in itself. If it can be persuasively asserted that God commands it, anything can be moral.

      Should you kill your son? Depends.

      Should you wipe out a race of people? Depends.

      Should you drown every living soul in a geographical area? Sometimes, under the right circumstances.

      Should you torture someone with a slow burning fire day in and day out for years? Depends.

      Under the evangelical system of ethics, no matter how horrendous the action, there can be a justification. All you have to establish is that your God commands it.

      No ethical society can be built on such a foundation.

      • SsurebreC says:

        Isn’t it something simple like if God is the embodiment morality then all the bad things he commands like ones you mentioned below are moral too. Which makes you a pretty awful person. But if God follows morality as an outside force then God isn’t required for morality.

      • ffauth says:

        “No ethical society can be built on such a foundation.”

        This is a pretty broad statement and I’m not sure it’s testable. I think it would depend on what the preponderance of the society thought God commanded. But more than that, it’s a very difficult statement to tease apart because the term “ethical society” ends up leading in a somewhat circular path in the argument.

        But let me look a little deeper:

        I think that Thinker1121 above is on to something when he rightly admits that there is no “right” or “wrong” in an absolute sense within much of atheist thinking, but rather those are words we really use to describe self-interested preference. They only exist within the context of social contracts we have established. For a murdered to kill an innocent is only wrong in the sense that it violates the collective social contract humans have formed with one another. In fact, I think Thinker1121 would say that “wrong” really has no transcendent definition other than in the context of preference and the social contract. (I don’t want to put words in his/her mouth, though, just conjecturing. Please take no offense.)

        I think to be fair, Neil, you would have to admit that Atheism doesn’t provide much of an ultimate answer to the question, “Should you kill your son?” either. Its answer would be full of qualifications, but it would ultimately come down to “Do you want to kill your son?” and “Are you willing to accept the consequences of that decision?” If the answer to those two questions is indeed, “Yes”, then the answer to “Should you kill your son?” is equally “Yes.” On the other hand, if either answer is “no” then the answer is “no”. It depends, very similarly, on what the perpetrator wants and is willing to accept.

        On the contrary, most theists have faith in a divinely inspired record (i.e., scriptures) or teaching authority (i.e., magisterium) from which right actions can be determined. Those actions may have complicated if-then-else gates, but they are defined in terms of something other than preference (or at least theists believe they are.)

        One thing seems to me to be mostly true: theists often believe there is objective right and wrong. Atheists believe that right and wrong are subjectively defined based on the predominant preferences of the group at any given time.

        • SsurebreC says:

          “This is a pretty broad statement and I’m not sure it’s testable.”

          It’s testable in every remote village populated by natives. They formed together as a community first as a tribe grew or merged with another tribe. They didn’t form because a bunch of people asked each other if they believed in the same Gods.

          Atheism to me is just the answer to a question: Do Gods exist? If you say no, you’re an atheist. There’s nothing else to it. Atheism isn’t a philosophy, a set of moral instructions, or anything else. Humanism though is a philosophy and a lot of atheists are humanists. So it’s not so much that atheism doesn’t provide an answer to the question on morals – it’s that it can’t because that’s not its scope.

          However, it’s interesting how you mention the question about killing your son. Christians have a ready answer: no, unless God tells you. It’s hard for me to accept the “ultimate” answer to that question to be dependant on the will of someone else. Christians, if not most theists, abdicate their responsibility for moral behavior in lieu of what someone else thinks of that morality without checking their own moral compass first. This is what happens if they’re a true zealot. Thankfully, religious people do check their own moral compass so they pick and chose which parts of their religious books they would like to follow, which has led to a dramatic drop in death sentences for all sorts of behavior that demands such a punishment. You know, like working on Saturday, wearing multiple types of fabrics, being rude to your parents, eating shellfish, etc, etc.

          • Fred says:

            SsurebreC, I’m not really understanding your reply, “It’s testable in every remote village populated by natives.”

            Neil’s original assertion was, “No ethical society can be built on such a foundation.” If you look at what he was saying, it was essentially that no ethical society can be built on Divine Command Theory. My assertion was that I’m not sure that such a claim is testable, because the definition of the word “ethical” is subjective based on the claimed source of ethics. Divine Command Theory is a basis for ethics (or right/wrong judgments). Ergo, the statement isn’t really testable. If you accept Divine Command Theory as a basis for ethics, then it necessarily produces an “ethical” society. I think what Neil may have been saying was that Divine Command Theory cannot produce an “ethical society” insomuch as he defines an ethical society in another way (perhaps using the “golden rule” standard you cited above, or Thinker1121’s social contract paradigm). Even comparing Divine Command Theory to one of these, though, I think it depends on which Divine Command Theory one subscribes to. They are not all created equal.

            Also, I fully understand your definition of atheism, humanism, etc. If you read most of my comments you’ll find that I say, “Most atheists” or something like that. My goal is to be polite and respectful to folks who don’t share my beliefs. Sometimes, just for the sake of brevity, I do use the term atheist/skeptic to also imply humanist but it is not because I am attempting a sleight of hand–it’s only because the label seems easier to work with and most atheists I’ve met are either secular humanist or an acceptable derivative of it. I think generally this is fair because atheists also frequently use the term “Christian” to describe a whole set of beliefs and behaviors that not everyone claiming the label holds to. They don’t necessarily do it out of malice; it’s just more convenient.

            With regards to the “Should you kill your son?” question: You are right that Christians have the answer, “No, unless God tells you to.” And likewise, Atheists have the answer, “No…. unless you want to kill your son and you are willing to bear the social and legal repercussions of the action.” As far as your allusion to an “ultimate” answer: atheism offers no such answer. Atheism leaves each individual to make that decision for themselves, forming social contracts to try to protect their own life/liberty/happiness etc. But in an “ultimate” sense, species come and go. One rises as another goes extinct.

            In terms of your reference to Old Testament laws, I am neither ignorant of their content nor context, and likely have a different understanding of their purpose. But I will admit that I have found them challenging in many respects. And, being from Maryland, I love shellfish :-)

          • SsurebreC says:

            Hi Fred, my point is this: if the assertion is that you cannot have an ethical society built on Divine Command Theory (DCT), then to prove that, you need to show an ethical society that isn’t based on that. I said remote villages in Africa are those and aren’t based on it. I also showed how societies allegedly based on DCT aren’t always ethical either. That’s different than saying a DCT society can’t be ethical – just depends on how intrusive that particular God is.

            No worries about the terminology. I’m more sensitive to it because I posted a topic on reddit’s DebateAnAtheist about that specifically.

            As long as we agree that Christians believe they have higher morals because they come from God which include murdering your own children because God commanded you to… then I’m OK with that. Thankfully our legal system disagrees. You’re right in that atheists don’t have that answer because that’s not the scope of atheism. However, we don’t have any commandments to murder our children either, so anyone doing so have chosen to do it for their own reasons rather than having their own personal morality being overridden by a book and a voice in their heads. If an atheist kills their child, it’s the problem with that atheist. If a Christian kills their child and says God told them to do it, the problem isn’t just with that Christian – it’s with the particular Christian system that washes them of their responsibilities and allows – commands – these atrocities with blind obedience. Yes, OT is pretty brutal but, as Jesus said, old ways are here to stay, especially since the 10 Commandments are in the OT.

          • Fred says:

            SsurebreC,

            You have mischaracterized my statement. I wrote that Neil’s statement (““No ethical society can be built on [Divine Command Theory]).” was not testable for reasons previously stated. You have twisted my words and are essentially arguing that I asserted “No ethical society could be built without Divine Command Theory” which is not at all what I wrote. If you don’t get it this time, I will not reply again. It is clear what I wrote.

            Moving on.

            You said, “As long as we agree that Christians believe they have higher morals because they come from God which include murdering your own children because God commanded you to… then I’m OK with that.”

            Everyone believes they have “higher” morals, if what you mean by “higher” is that you want to impose your system of rules on others. That’s what democracy is really about. I don’t want you to steal from me, so I (along with my band of like minded buddies) impose that rule on you.

            To my knowledge, the Christian God never demanded the murder of a person’s son, other than his own. The story of Abraham and Isaac (likely to which you are referring) is believed by Christians to foreshadow the Christ.

            But if you are bent on trying to make a point, how about I make this one for you. Christianity does assert the requirement of blood sacrifice for penance, which by modern standards is pretty hard to stomach.

            In any event, this statement of yours, “If a Christian kills their child and says God told them to do it, the problem isn’t just with that Christian – it’s with the particular Christian system that washes them of their responsibilities and allows – commands – these atrocities with blind obedience.”

            I can’t do much more than chuckle. For one, you’ve picked a negative example. If a Christian (or in fact, lots of Christians) do things right in your mind, is the credit attributed to the Christian system, or just that individual? But further, who is to say that any particular “Christian” isn’t just going rogue under the banner of “Christianty” — that’s what most Christians would claim.

          • SsurebreC says:

            I don’t claim to have the highest morals. From what I’ve seen, religious people do that and some atheists respond with “no, because of X and Y, therefore I have higher morals”. Yes, yes, you’re both pretty. One thing I am definitely against is imposing my systems of rules onto others. As I said way before, I don’t believe in absolute morality, except for maybe the Golden rule. You can swing your hands as much as you want, as long as they stop at my face.

            The Christian God is the same as the Old Testament God, so that God indeed asked Abraham to murder his son. You can believe it foreshadows Jesus but does it say it in the Bible? No, there’s a story… Abraham, take your son and sacrifice him. There’s no asterisk in the actual Biblical text saying, “Just kidding, this is about Jesus”. Not written in the Bible – BS interpretations of copied mistranslations, especially considering the Bible is supposed to be the flawless word of God.

            Yes, I can pick a negative example but does that negate the point somehow? Christians claim superiority and are following Gods will. **Any** negative action immediately undermines the entire system – unless the copout is no “No True Scotsman”, as you said. You can pretend like the Old Testament isn’t part of Christianity but it is, even Jesus said so, so you have to examine every dead man, woman, and child, and every genocide, and say, yep, that’s my good God either asking his followers to do this or doing it himself. Yes, Christians have done lots of good things over the centuries and you can even say they’ve done it because of the Bible or their faith. But look at the Christian claim – they are supposed to be following God’s commands, blindly obeying his always-morally-good orders to slaughter people. You can’t in the same breath claim superior morals coming from God and say such atrocities are also just as good because they came from God. I don’t claim that my morals are perfect and I don’t think atheists do either. I do think Christians have problems with their morals because of the fact above – the abdication of responsibily for atrocities because God said to do it. I guess I’m just knocking down Christian morals. I don’t elevate my own and it’s not a zero sum game.

      • Bonnie says:

        Godlessindixie – Applause!

    • SsurebreC says:

      As far as I know, this is my own original quote: relative morality is relatively wrong and absolute morality is absolutely wrong.

      I think your opinion that killing people is neither inherently right or wrong is… wrong. The closest thing we have to an objective morality is the golden rule. If I saw a person on the street, killing them would be bad. If I saw a person on the street randomly shooting people, killing them would be good (self-defense). If I saw a person trapped in a car and they were slowly burning to death, killing them would also be good (mercy killing). Note: I’m assuming I have no other options in these cases.

      Killing other people (or harming them in general) does not create a stable society (see: Ethiopia). Getting along with others does create a stable society. If we as a species believed that senseless murder is normal, we wouldn’t be where we’re at today. Mutual cooperation, interdependency, and the social contract you mention all lead to stable and growing societies.

      The problem with religous people is what they believe makes them stronger – the unchanging beliefs they think they hold. Unfortunately for them, they have to continue to modify and adapt these views to fit reality. The world isn’t flat. The Sun doesn’t orbit the Earth. Slavery is bad. If their religion says that anyone who doesn’t have their faith is evil and must be put to death, how do you live with a group who believes this (religious or not)? You can’t because they’re breaking the social contract by harming you. Worst of all, they believe that killing you is a mercy killing and in the same breath claim high ground on morality.

  15. Thinker1121 says:

    I certainly would never endorse a society that allowed people to randomly shoot each other! I don’t want you to think that. I simply meant that if someone WERE to endorse such a society, I wouldn’t call them wrong. I would just think that they had societal preferences that were different and incompatible to mine and then take appropriate measures to remove them from my society. And that’s really all you need. It makes no sense to argue which societal preference is right and which is wrong because there is no way to know. I don’t need to believe that it is morally wrong to kill someone in order to attempt to stop a murder. I just need to know that living in a society that condones such an action is incompatible with my preferences.

    I don’t understand how it’s possible to make any claim that a value judgment is factually correct. You seem to disagree with that, and I’d definitely be interested in hearing more about that view. It may be a matter of semantics though. “Relative morality” to you might just mean the same thing as “preferences” do for me.

    • ffauth says:

      This is a very internally consistent position with regard to atheistic ethics. I think there is much building upon this basis that can be done, but ultimately, if you subscribe to atheism, I think this is your starting point. One could further argue that “right” and “wrong” are simply labels we’ve applied to social preferences, and therefore can change over time as social preferences change.

  16. Thinker1121 says:

    For argument’s sake, I’d also like to push back a bit against Neil’s post where he states: “Under the evangelical system of ethics, no matter how horrendous the action, there can be a justification. All you have to establish is that your God commands it. No ethical society can be built on such a foundation.”

    I think that, from the perspective of compassion for individuals, this is correct. But these stories are also illustrations to teach us about powerful ethical systems that have aided society that come from non-compassion based perspectives. For example, take the story in which Abraham is ordered by God to kill his son. From the perspective of Isaac/compassion, God is evil for doing this. But if you take the perspective of loyalty to your group and your leader as being virtuous, then the story takes on a totally different meaning. Abraham loved and trusted God (his leader) so much that he was willing to sacrifice that which meant more to him than anything else because he trusted that his leader wouldn’t lead him astray. It’s a story that has value when you’re teaching members of a team to trust their leader and each other. Sometimes what the leader asks you to do may seem wrong at the time, but you do it anyway because the leader has earned your trust and respect. Most social groups (religious, the military, sports teams, etc.) engage in activities and tell stories that support loyalty as a virtue. It binds them together. Without it, you couldn’t get massive cooperation, or a “one for all, all for one” mentality.

    From the perspective of compassion for individuals, of course, concerns about loyalty often seem oppressive and cruel. But loyalty is a fundamental human characteristic that is crucial for a successful society. So while the story may be a myth and the most extreme example of loyalty, I think it nevertheless can teach us about loyalty’s virtues.

    The virtues of loyalty and compassion will inevitably oppose one another at times, but both are important and you have to examine on a case by case basis which one is more important.

    • Thinker1121 says:

      By the way, I’ve just noticed that I can reply to individual messages to keep my responses more organized on this forum. I’m sorry I haven’t discovered this before…

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  18. iteachbiologymath says:

    The problem for Theists is that atheists are moral at all. If God is required for morality – if there can be zero morality without God, then atheists *must* be completely immoral. We *must* go on killing sprees until moral Theists put us in the ground: We have no choice.

    The Theists would say that we really do believe in God, nudge-nudge, wink-wink, but it’s just our egotism that makes us claim we are moral without such belief. But if we are so egotistical to reject God in public, even though we may still believe in our hearts, then we are abjectly immoral, by the Theists own standards. What moral person would lie about their belief in God? Their lie would infect every part of their life, leading, eventually to a killing spree, since abjectly immoral people have no reason to value anyone else’s life – they have no choice.

    “Oh, but God gave us all free will!” the Theist protests. That was His big mistake. By giving us free will, He gave us the power to choose, all by ourselves, to do good or evil, without any need to refer to the Bible or God’s will. By creating free will, God created an environment where every person could use their minds to look at the world and judge for themselves how they were going to treat others. By creating free will, God not only made atheism possible, He made it the most rational choice.

    • ffauth says:

      As a theist and Christian, I’m not sure this is a big problem. I always thought that the crux of Christianity’s claim, at least, is that if you aren’t living your life in every aspect to honor God, then any act is still tinged with sin even though it appears good. That doesn’t mean there’s no good in anything people do, it just means that if they are actively rejecting God, there is no truly “good” act. Paul deals with this concept in Romans (even our good works are as filthy rags). I don’t want to get into this too deeply here, though because it strays a bit off topic.

      Nice to meet you!

      • SsurebreC says:

        So what about Luke 10:29-37? That was not a “truly good” act?
        Also, if you truly believe that if you “aren’t living your life in every aspect to honor God”, then how many Christians do any “good” acts at all? Seems like a small minority. If I assume that by “God” you mean your personal flavor of your particular God, then I’ll say that vast majority of the population of this planet doesn’t do any “truly” good acts at all and haven’t done them for at least two millenia if not six.

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  20. Mrs. Fly says:

    I think I would ask you — why can’t atheists have faith?

    This is very interesting to me and here’s why – I understand that those who claim that atheists have faith like other religious theists are wrong. That’s committing the act of fallacy of equivocation and it’s why those who are atheist heatedly and consistently deny that. I think however, that everyone believes in something even for many its nothing. I also think that everyone believes (for lack of a better word) on measly or minute evidence of something. But atheists don’t typically disbelieve in god(s) just based on faith because they don’t have any or there is no evidence that god exists. The sort of faith that “believers” (if you will) have is typically a belief that falls short of absolute certainty – this isn’t based on something they hope for or evidence of things that are not seen.
    For me – faith is a trust. Why is it that only those who believe in god can have that trust. I believe all human beings have some sort of trust – we have trust in personal relationships, in each other, etc.. I mean think about it our society as a whole wouldn’t, or couldn’t work or function for that matter without it. So I am sorry – the believers out there don’t own the street on faith.
    Faith as trust, however, is something that atheists have — as do all other human beings. Personal relationships, money and banking – (hello? The banks depend entirely upon the good faith you will pay your loan back)
    Yeah yeah, we can argue for the sake of argument that this kind of faith is based on human relationships because it what – creates moral and social obligations that connect or bring people together yes? And really at the end of the day its not often that we possess a complete lack of faith in a person even those who are douche bags and are untrustworthy.
    On the other hand this kind of faith can only happen between conscious living breathing humans who are capable of understanding and agreeing to obligations set before them. Right? We don’t have faith in inanimate objects – you know like your computer, your car, systems or gosh even your bird. You can assume about how something like that may behave based on prior behaviors or future outcomes.
    So the faith that the Christian faith depends upon is based on God existing for them. It’s different than the faith that Atheists possess. In the world of an atheist – atheism isn’t a bad thing because there are no gods to who (whom ) an atheist owes any sort of alliance, or trust.
    So why can’t atheists have faith – their own kind of faith. Why is it that Christians own the street and hold all the marbles in the faith basket? In my world they don’t.

    • I think I see what you’re saying, Mrs. Fly, but I also see that you’re wanting to equate two words that aren’t used the same way. Do atheists trust things and people? Yes, based on their experiences, they do. Do atheists have “faith”? That’s a word that has a different usage, and it’s not related so closely to experience. Often it even contradicts experience. I tried to explain in this post that the biblical usage of that word is very different from what you have just explained. You have suggested faith=trust, but that’s an oversimplification of the term as it’s used by evangelicals and others who are trying to relate this issue to the Bible. Because my environment is ruled by that culture, that’s the one I’m addressing.

      Sure, we trust things and people. And to whatever extent that trust is based on reliable empirical evidence, that’s a logical way to live. To whatever extent that trust denies or contradicts empirical evidence, I believe that trust is misplaced.

      • Fred says:

        I hear often from atheists that theists believe things without evidence. I think it might be better for atheists to characterize their position as “theists have faith based on false/poor evidence.” Everything everyone believes is based on some type of evidence, whether the evidence is a trust chain (how religion is primarily passed down), or experiment, or something else.

        When we’re kids, just about everything we learn is trust-chain oriented. We lack the ability to do complex experiments, so as we learn to trust our parents in small things (i.e. don’t touch the stove), we also trust them in bigger things (i.e. Going to college will give you an opportunity at getting a better job). We can’t test the bigger things until we’re older, so we trust them because they have been reliable on the small things, and they’ve demonstrated they care about us. This suits children quite well when they have parents that aren’t abusive or neglectful.

        Faith based on divinely inspired ancient texts passed down through trust chains are tough to empirically test for a wide variety of reasons. The texts and events described are old and the people who wrote them long dead. The subject matter isn’t formulaic and must be interpreted (both in language and meaning). The texts often deal with supernatural events that by their very definition are not scientifically repeatable. The cultures into which the texts were written is very different from our own. And what most people get from the texts is not the same thing they get from traditionally scientific fields. (Although in some cases, such as the flood story in Genesis, there might be considerable overlapping concerns between science and religion).

        • mdenquist says:

          Good point, Fred (one “f”).

          The argument between theists and atheists, then, is one about degrees of certainty. In law and science, there are specific rules about what counts as evidence and what does not. In people’s personal lives, however, the tolerances are much, much wider. Completely outside of the realm of religious belief/non-belief, there are some things one will accept with little proof, and some things one will reject regardless of the stacks and stacks of evidence.

          Many atheists like to treat skepticism as if it were a magic wand that they can wave at all the “bad” ideas out there and make them disappear. But it doesn’t take much time to discover that atheists are just as likely as anyone else to cherish BS ideas. The biggest BS idea that atheists hold is that just because they are right about the fact there is no god, then they are right about everything else that they believe.

    • SsurebreC says:

      I think it’s more correct to say that faith is belief without evidence. You have faith in other people because you were probably treated kindly by them. If you grew up in an area where strangers hurt you, you would not have the same faith in strangers. Why not? Because you have evidence – strangers=bad. That’s not faith, that’s expected outcome based on previous experience. Anytime you walk outside, you’re not mugged, so you feel safe walking around. Let’s say you get mugged. Would you walk outside the next day with the same outlook you had the previous day? Probably not. Why not? You have evidence – you’re not that safe. Over time, you’ll realize that a rare occurence is just that and you’ll again feel safer – but possibly more cautious. Is any of that faith? No, it’s your evaluation of reality based on past experiences.

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