ReasonCon One, in Hickory, NC


This weekend I was a guest speaker at ReasonCon One. This was the first ReasonCon, held in Hickory, NC.

I was invited to come and talk about “Analogies.” The main Keynote was Dr. Richard Carrier, who spoke on the historicity of Jesus and the origins of Christianity. The speaker sessions were free and open to the public. Only the social events had fees. The lecture room held 250, and was packed, with overflow guests standing in the doorway of the adjoining room. The turnout was stunning.

After a long day of traveling and connecting flights, I arrived in Hickory, and found the volunteers who were good enough to get me to the hotel, an hour away. Thanks to Gene and Rachael, we all made it to the hotel just a few minutes after the dinner had started. I checked in, sprinted upstairs, and changed into evening clothes. The dinner was buffet style, and amazing, with loads of options, along with a full bar. The hosts, Cash and Love (two of the most hospitable people you could ever want to meet) from Atheists on Air, talked about the event and also presented some speeches and awards—which seemed to be well earned. One in particular went to a woman, Eve, who is in college and has three children, all under age 4, who seems to also be a person who is a tireless volunteer in her local atheist community. I took the opportunity later to find her and shake her hand, to thank her in person for her efforts.

I met so many people who were repeating the same thing: “There really aren’t many events like this in this part of the country.” I met many who drove several hours to attend. One person drove 8 hours, from Jacksonville, FL. It was beyond anything I would have imagined for such a small town. To see what these groups pulled together—created for themselves—was an inspiration. In fact, every time I turned around, I felt inspired this weekend. The people, the event, the attitudes and dedication—were all inspiring.

Among the groups that supported this amazing effort were Forsyth Area Critical Thinkers (FACT), Upstate Atheists, Hickory Humanist Alliance, WNC Atheists, WNC Humanists, and Atheists on Air.

The next morning was Saturday—the day the talks were scheduled.

Cash opened it himself with an amusing and abbreviated summary of The Bible based on his own deconversion perspectives at the time he was questioning.

Ryan Bell was up first. I didn’t recognize his name until “A Year Without God” was mentioned. Then, I recognized who he was immediately. I remember the first time I heard about Bell. My initial knee-jerk reaction was to think that some Christian preacher was planning to pretend to be an atheist for a year, and then use that at the end of the stint to say he’d tried atheism and it was a fail. Theists who believe they can put themselves in atheists’ shoes, but who honestly aren’t able to consider the world from a secular starting point, are common. Normally they consider, “What if there really was a god, but I didn’t believe in it?” They don’t understand this isn’t how an atheist views it.

I recall reading a little more about Bell later, and rethinking my position to at least the point where I thought “Oh, maybe this isn’t what I thought initially?” Now, after listening to Bell, and getting some brief opportunity to talk with him, I have a much more sympathetic view.

Many atheists have deconverted from theistic religion. Most of them talk about a “journey” they required to move from theism to atheism—where doubts continued to mount until they finally recognized they were atheists. A great number of those people describe situations where they didn’t feel comfortable or safe talking to anyone about their doubts. Their insecurity kept them closeted about their questions, until that final moment when they were sitting on their laptop penning a note to TAE to say “I’ve had doubts for about a year now, but I’ve finally realized I’m an atheist…nobody knows this…how do I break it to friends and family?”

From what Bell describes, it sounds to me as though he recognized some doubts, and decided that instead of studying in secret, he was going to just be out about it, and track his journey. As a pastor, he was in a unique position to do this. But he finally lost his position at the church, simply for saying that he wanted to openly explore his doubts. And this, right here, is why so many Christians hide to ask questions. Just asking questions or expressing doubts is all it takes to land you on the outside, looking in—even if you’re a pastor.

So, welcome to the secular community, Ryan Bell. May you find what you’re looking for and gain some resolution at the end of your journey. And if you don’t—may you at least enjoy the capacity to search and question openly among people who won’t reject you for just saying “I’m not sure what to think.”

Next up was Yours Truly. I talked about analogies. If you watch TAE, you have probably seen them all. The presentations will be available in the future, I’m told, so I can post again when there is a link.

Next in line was a young woman named Nedevah Phoebe Shallar Cahours. Phoebe is a teenager, but has been dragged through countless cultish religions (Amish, Mennonite, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness) by her family. Her story was wild and sometimes confusing—but not due to a lack of presentation skills. Her presentation was clear, interesting, and even humorous. But her life has been anything but clear or simple, throughout this whole mess. At such a young age, she seems to have a good head on her shoulders, and I’m glad she was willing to talk about her past to such a large group of strangers. It’s always an inspiration to see young atheists speaking out.

The keynote was delivered by Dr. Richard Carrier, author and historian (who likely needs no introduction here) who spoke about the history of Jesus and Christianity. The talk was informative and the people were packed in to hear it, including a group of maybe a dozen Christians who were ready to engage. After my own presentation, and after Dr. Carrier’s, they were ready for the Q&A sessions. I was asked about the difference between atheism and agnosticism, and later pulled aside by one of them to have a bizarre confrontation about an extremely off-hand comment I’d made about Solipsism—which had nothing to do with anything. Dr. Carrier was asked to explain why historic records of people like Tacitus, Pliny and Josephus are not counted as evidence for a historic Jesus. Unfortunately, at least one of the visiting theists seemed to have a great deal of difficulty understanding why simply repeating stories others have told you does not count as evidence. Dr. Carrier was actually tied up in Q&A for quite a long session after his talk, and was very generous about allowing additional time to the crowd.

Also on Saturday, I was able to convince Gene Elliot (from Hickory Humanists) to take a group of us out for North Carolina styled BBQ at his family’s restaurant nearby. I had seen some North Carolina cooks competing on the television program, Pit Masters, and couldn’t miss the chance to try it for myself. If you’re ever in Hannah’s Bar-B-Que, be sure to get the baked beans as a side. Baked beans are not even a favorite side of mine, but these were unbelievable.

Saturday night was a full on blast. Both nights we had a live DJ, Alex, who volunteered to keep the tunes going while the rest of us drank and talked—and danced. Oh, how we danced—at least it appears that way from some of the photos I’ve been tagged in online from the event! Then later—as in much later—I was called down to participate in a collective podcast event that had been improvised on the large stairwell of one of the hotel’s empty lobbies. I remember most of the conversations—much of it surrounding morality. And I know someone has those recordings. I believe they will be released sometime in the near future. Just bear in mind as you judge the content, that some of us were operating on a good many straight up double Scotches. A few of the podcasters I believe were there representing included Scathing Atheist, Bar Room Atheist, No Religion Required, and Atheists on Air.

I felt a little bad about one discussion I had where someone interjected “I’m sorry” several times and even noted something like “I didn’t mean to offend you.” Sometimes I can seem, let’s just say, intense, in personal conversations. However, my intensity really isn’t offense. A lot of people are only familiar with my work on TAE, and have no insight into my personality outside of those public presentations. I hope I didn’t put anyone off, and if I did, let me say here, it was not intentional. I honestly enjoyed the conversations overall, even the ones that frustrated me somewhat. I do not take anything like that personally, and I hope others had a similar perspective on the conversations. But I might benefit, on some occasions, from remembering that people have different comfort levels with confrontation.

By the time I got to bed Saturday night, it was 3:45 a.m. and I was being picked up for the airport at 6:45 a.m. I was a zombie on the way home—but that didn’t stop me from continuing the morality discussion with Gene on the way to the airport.

I have nothing but positive memories of the event. Everyone was exceptional. Everyone was friendly. It was sometimes a bit bawdy and rowdy. But a positive, sincere, and fun group—all the way around.

I’ve been asked if I would be willing to do it again next year—and the answer to that is “Bring it!”

Comments

  1. Narf says

    Meh, wish I could have made it. It’s only about 2 1/2 hours from me. I’ve been working weekends a lot, lately, so it wasn’t easily doable.

  2. Narf says

    Well, stop off in the Triangle, next time. :P We have a reasonably large atheism group. Hell, Todd Stiefel is here.

    I’d have taken off, but I’m contract. No PTO, and I have student loans and stuff, still. I’m putting in for a permanent position at the place I’m contracted to, which would involve over a 50% pay increase, benefits, PTO …

    Just a little too late for ReasonCon, this year. I should be able to make the next one, though.

  3. xscd says

    It’s so nice to hear about this kind of activity in North Carolina. I recently drove from my home in New Mexico to hear Matt Dillahunty, Aron Ra and Seth Andrews in the first event of the Unholy Trinity Tour near Amarillo, Texas, and immensely enjoyed the event, even moreso because it was hosted by two local humanist/skeptic groups right in the middle of a portion of the Texas/Oklahoma Bible Belt that has seem so unassailable for so many years.

    It is so refreshing to see these humanist/skeptic/atheist groups spring up and attract more and more people away from religion toward a more rational exploration of the reality we share.

    Thank you Tracie for this and others of your blog posts, and for your wonderful hosting of The Atheist Experience, when you do that. I am working my way through the large body of TAE episodes on YouTube and have already used some of the knowledge and arguments gained to interact with religious people whose arguments I now see as flawed.

    One of the common phrases I use when at conservative Christian websites is to say that I’m against “socialized religion” in our schools and government, which appears to rankle them. I like being a little thorn in their sides, partially as payback for my intensive indoctrination as a boy by Christian missionaries which filled me with conflicting ideas, ideals and doctrines that made my life, like so many others’, unnecessarily difficult, destructive and unhealthy.

    I’m grateful that more and more people are turning away from institutionalized, “socialized” religion.

  4. says

    Tracie’s presentation was spot-on. I’ve used my own analogies in the past, in my dialogues with theists, but I really like hers.

    I guess we can count on her presence at next year’s ReAsonCon? ;-)

  5. Narf says

    Hey, that’s a pretty good phrasing. Just as the ultra-conservatives don’t want Obama between them and their doctors (as if the Affordable Care Act did anything of the sort), you would think they wouldn’t want the government between them and God. Weird that.

  6. azhael says

    What you describe in your last paragraphs is so familiar to me xD Whenever i have a discussion with my father about topics we disagree on it always ends up turning into something that if seen from the outside, seems like somebody is about to get slapped across the face. My mother always panics and urges us to calm down xD
    From our perspective, though, we are thoroughly enjoying the discussion, frustration included, and there is no aggression nor hurt feelings once the conversation is over.
    It looks terrible from the outside, but it’s fun from the inside :P

  7. carbonfox says

    Wish I’d known about this, too! I used to go to Lake Hickory quite a bit and wouldn’t have mind dropping by again to attend this.

    Narf, what is this atheism group of which you speak? (Another Triangle resident here, although admittedly I’m moving about an hour east of Raleigh soon.)

  8. roythesnake says

    I would highly recommend it. This was my first conference of any store and it was like i had hundreds of new friends, and most were people that lived close enough to find at future group meetings. It seemed like everyone i talked to had something interesting to say. I brought my wife, who is a soft theist and doesn’t really get my stance, and i think it helped her understand where I’m coming from. Since you’re local, you should listen to Atheists On Air; they do a live call in show every Monday at 7 pm. They said last night that they will be organizing next year’s conference ASAP, and launching the ticket site soon. Where is the Triangle anyway?

  9. roythesnake says

    I’m definitely going to used the socialized religion line. To whom should i credit the phrase?

  10. xscd says

    I’m sure I’m not the first to think of the phrase “socialized religion.” No credit necessary. Use freely. :-)

  11. says

    Yeah, I know it’s something I need to try to be more aware of, or else I cross lines from assertive to aggressive. And I know it can put people off. It’s interesting that I don’t realize I’m doing it until I either see the horrified reaction on the face of the person I’m addressing (a look I saw from at least one other person that night), or hear something like I described (someone thinking they’ve offended me). Then I realize “Oh, they’re not used to this.” It’s not like I’m hurling insults and swearing (I mean, I swear as a matte of course, so it’s not an aggression thing for me). But I sometimes need to be reminded my voice is raising, or that my demeanor seems too aggressive. I can (and do) calm it down quickly if someone alerts me that I’m doing it and/or making anyone uncomfortable. Russell has seen it, and once had to check me on it in a restaurant setting. But it isn’t something I’m really aware of as it’s happening most often. To me it’s so not personal, but I forget that different people have different personalities and histories–and with some people it can be very uncomfortable for them.

  12. xscd says

    In my mind, “socialized religion” is directly contrasted with the perfectly acceptable “private spirituality.” It’s when private spirituality, shared as a social institution, insinuates itself into our schools and government and socialized religion that I take personal offense.

    I would no more want Christianity to dictate any aspect of our public education, government and law than I would want Islam or any other religion to do so. Aggressive socialization of religion is evil, unhealthy and detrimental to society in my view.

    Plus, I just love how the word “socialized,” worked up into a shock-value word by far-right conservatives and religious conservatives, offends those same people when the word is applied to religion itself. :-)

  13. says

    Scathing atheist represent! TAE helped me figure out my position, and Noah, Heath and Lucinda helped me feel comfortable with my lack of belief.

  14. movablebooklady says

    I’m in Asheville, about an hour away, and really wanted to go but “life” intervened. Glad it was a rousing success. I hope to make the next one.

    The Triangle is in central NC and comprises Raleigh, Durham, and Winston-Salem. It’s full of tech and research companies.

  15. Monocle Smile says

    Pretty sure it’s Chapel Hill and not Winston-Salem, but yeah. I visited Duke among my college previews, and it’s wild how many PhDs exist in that little area. My company’s headquarters exist there, though I’m in Connecticut.

  16. Narf says

    The Triangle is Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill (and the attached other cities and towns). The Triad is Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point.

    No, that isn’t at all confusing. No one ever accused North Carolinians of creativity, which is one of the reasons I hold onto my identity as a native of the Chicago area.

  17. Narf says

    Heh, you and I are going to cause a roomful of silence, if we ever have a conversation in person. I do the same thing.

  18. Narf says

    RTP has an insane concentration of PhDs, yes. There’s a lot of research science going on there. It also helps that we have UNC Chapel Hill, Duke, and NC State within about a 15 mile radius.

  19. says

    It sounds as if you had a blast and like most atheists I too wish I could have gone, unfortunately one has to make a living, but it still is good knowing that being an atheist doesn’t mean we’re not human, and that we do want to voice our opinion as well without being judged. I have a dream that one day most people if not all, will realize what they believe in as something that is just too ridiculous, and learn to be a little more objective and reasonable about life itself. Life is too precious to be wasting it on nonsense.

  20. says

    Yes. In addition to having a number of different video tapings happening during the lectures, the late-night podcast was being recorded in audio–with someone moving the recorder around from conversation to conversation. I think the plan for that is to splice it together for a post-edit release.

  21. says

    One of the things I loved about ReasonCon was that only the social events were “paid.” All of the speakers were free to come and hear. They only asked that people pre-register, since the room had a capacity limit. But I loved the fact it was free and open to the public for the informational segment.

  22. azhael says

    Now , see, that just makes me want to find something we disagree on.

    To your credit, you are the kind of person that is capable of recognizing that your attitude during a discussion may not necessarily be the same as the people you are engaging with and you are willing to make adjustments for their benefit. What more could possibly be asked of anyone?

    I mean, I swear as a matte of course, so it’s not an aggression thing for me

    Hehe. Where i come from swearing is an art form and you meassure how close you are to someone by how vile and vicious the insults you fling at them are. Generally, when in a coloquial setting someone makes a point of not swearing or treats you in an overly-polite way it’s either a sign that this person is terribly uncomfortable because of lack of familiarity and they have no idea how to behave or that they fucking hate you.
    When i moved away to college i was stunned to find that some people took offense and thought that the colourful language was an act of aggression rather than an act of endearment and familiarity :P They soon learned, though, that the ways of the swearsmith are pure.

  23. DavePerez says

    At the end of the day, I always remind myself that atheism is truly NOT a matter of life or death, but a matter of trying to prevent theists from wasting a lot of their time, energy, and resources (assuming they’re not trying to insert their theology into public policy, etc).

    Speaking of analogies, I was raised as a musician, and obviously placed great importance on music in my life. Then I read an interview with Jeff Berlin (a great bassist) where he said something along the lines of, “At the end of the day, it IS only music, playing tones in sequences to entertain the listener. It’s not like us musicians are saving lives, like ER doctors.”

    That floored me, as he is obviously right. Lives are not at stake.

    Same goes for atheism/theism, although obviously waste of anything offends some people’s sensibilities more than others.

  24. Monocle Smile says

    Yeah, I’ll have to back corwyn on this. Maybe it’s only a small percentage of the time, but lives may very well be at stake.

    whatstheharm.net

  25. adamah says

    Touché, but until we’re willing to remove freedom of thought (the principle underlying the Constitutionally-protected freedom of religion), that’s the price we pay. The alternative of the State telling individuals what to believe is far uglier, IMO.

    Everyone here should understand that sound public policy is not based on the rare actions of the minority, the ‘few bad actors’ who abuse their rights (and there are laws in MOST States designed to protect children from the odd religious beliefs of their parents), but requires education of the general public. As someone who understands principles of natural (and artificial) selection, I tend to look at that kind of thing as “selection in action”, with the extremist believers self-selecting against their own offspring (like the Xian snake-handler who recently died after being bitten).

    It’s frustrating, yes, but you can only lead horses to water, and you can’t force them to drink (or think).

    Adam

  26. says

    And beyond life vs. death, we hear from people nearly daily at TAE’s e-mail outlet telling us stories about how their families were ruined or at the very least how they were rejected from their families or peers upon saying “I don’t believe in god anymore.” It may not be a life lost, but those are lives ruined–short or long term (depending on the nature of the bond at the time it was broken).

  27. says

    Adamah:

    Is your point directed to a particular post or comment? I don’t think anyone here is advocating for removing freedom of speech or religion, or implementing thought crime tactics? In my OP, I actually note that the comment posted about me was laughable. I certainly wouldn’t ask anyone to be arrested over it…?

  28. corwyn says

    I get the impression from:

    I tend to look at that kind of thing as “selection in action”, with the extremist believers self-selecting against their own offspring

    that Adamah is claiming no objections to parents killing their children by ‘faith healing’, as that reduces *their* evolutionary fitness.

  29. adamah says

    No, just pointing out the obvious, that it’s hardly worth getting worked up, since religions are obviously deeply-entrenched in society and for many reasons (some good, and some, of more questionable benefit).

    In other words, there is no “magical” solution to the problem of “magical thinking”, other than what we’re currently doing: trying to compel people to THINK (which includes education, eg learning the history of where their ancient religious beliefs come from, and not simply accepting the sanitized faux history their pastors spoon-feed them).

    No one knows the costs of religious beliefs more than I: as an ex-JW, I’ve lost relatives who’ve shunned me in the name of service to YHWH. (I know people who’ve died as a result of refusing blood, etc). If I had a “magic” answer to deconversion, I’d have shared it with the World. However, it’s a slog: trying to win people over to accept logical arguments when they’ve lived on a starvation diet of emotionally-driven thinking is quite a long-term endeavor….

    Along those lines, you’re defo on the right track by keeping that winning (disarming) smile of yours on display; you understand that you win more hearts with a smile, rather than by approaching the discussion with an agro, “my brain is bigger than yours” ‘attitude, or by calling them idiots, etc (which only succeeds in summoning the believers’ persecution complexes and cult persona; the defensive barriers immediately go up). Pointless to insult, unless we really are trying to drive them deeper into their religion…

    Adam

  30. adamah says

    Corwyn said-

    I get the impression that Adamah is claiming no objections to parents killing their children by ‘faith healing’, as that reduces *their* evolutionary fitness.

    Well, that would be a foolish conclusion to reach, since it requires putting words into my mouth.

    That would fall under the disclaimer of “trying to influence public policy, etc”, since we currently have LAWS in place to limit parents from imposing their religious beliefs onto their children so they can’t jeopardize their welfare. Most States would place the children under temporary custodianship, such that parental rights to make healthcare decisions are temporarily removed and granted to another party (eg a judge, the hospital, etc).

    Obviously some children fall thru the cracks: when I wrote, I was thinking of the case a few years ago of Dennis Lindberg, a 14 yo baptized JW who was allowed to refuse blood and die after a judge declared him a “mature minor”. DL had a 70% chance of survival for leukemia with a blood transfusion, but died within a few hours after the judge ruled (ie it was probably for the best, since he was too far gone at that point from refusing blood, and went into a coma,likely suffering brain damage from prolonged hypoxia from a month of refusal).

    Problem is, it’s highly questionable for the judge to grant a 14 yo the right to die, since people (and their values) are likely to change in the teen years: I might’ve done the same thing, as a 14 yo JW. Along with the principle of informed consent and pt autonomy, nmerous court rulings have found that adult JWs refusal of blood is a protected activity, an expression of their religious beliefs. Adult JWs hence have a constitutionally-protected right to die by refusing blood.

    The broader point (and only cold comfort) is that as an atheist, one could see it as someone eligible for the Darwin Award who’s voluntarily removed himself from the gene pool (unfortunately the selective pressure from refusing life-saving blood products is far too weak to exert any meaningful effect on the incidence of such whacky religious beliefs).

    BTW, DLs natural parents weren’t JWs, but were in rehab for their meth addictions. DL was living with his aunt who was a JW, and DL was love-bombed and baptized, finding a warm family environment for the first time in his life (his parents left him for days as a child, off seeking their next high).

    There are no easy answers, folks…

    Adam

  31. Adi says

    Hi, I have a question, and sorry for my possible bad english – as I’m not native speaking -. So it goes like this, stealing is wrong, as in to steal something from someone that worked for that thing, but is stealing wrong in any case? Let’s say you steal a thing from a person, but that thing is stollen by the person who you are stealing it from. Is stealing still wrong? and why, as In the 1st case, it’s clear why steal is wrong, since someone worked for that thing. And what if, you steal a stollen good, in order to give it back to the original owner. What if, you steal goods that are not necesary stollen, to give them to people that need them – something like robin hood :) – as If you steal not stollen goods for a person that is not that reach also, it’s most likely wrong also. So, this are my questions, Is stealing stollen goods wrong and Is stealling stollen goods with the intent of giving them to the original owner or to people who need them, wrong?.

  32. xscd says

    We have to make our own decisions about what is “wrong” or “right.” There is no external authority, such as a god, to make that decision for us.

    Our decision about what might be right or wrong, good or bad, must rest with our own insight into the particular details of any circumstance or set of conditions. The more we know, the better judgement we can make.

    We must live with the consequences of the decision we make. We may do something, ignorant of some negative side effects or ramifications, and then realize that what we did was not right or good, that it did some harm we wish it and we would not have done.

    Each of us, individually, makes the value judgements about our own behavior and actions, regarding whether each thing we do is “bad,” “good” or neither (neutral, like eating eggs instead of oatmeal for breakfast), and sometimes we make that moral judgement before we do an action, and sometimes we make that judgement after we do an action, as a result of observing the effects of the action, which informs our similar decisions in the future and makes us better people whether we do right or wrong, good or bad, because we learn more from our mistakes than from our unintentional successes.

    Just one view–

  33. says

    There is a difference between “necessary” and “moral.” It is not morally correct to kill someone, but sometimes necessary, and so society considers that “justified” even though killing people isn’t “good.” It is always unfortunate, even if it’s needed or justified.

    In the same way–stealing is not “good,” even if someone can justify it.

    I subscribe to a form of Social Contract thinking. That is, society has certain obligations to individual citizens, and there is a reciprocal obligation on the individual citizens toward the society. As these obligations begin to erode on either side, the other side becomes less required to fulfill their obligations. So, if I subscribe to rule of law and do not subscribe to the idea of vigilante action, and my society provides law enforcement for my protection, then we have a “contract.” I don’t go vigilante and start acting as judge, jury, executioner toward my fellows, and the state will do its reasonable best to identify and deal with predators in our society’s midst to protect the individual citizens so that we don’t need to go vigilante.

    But what happens if the law enforcement breaks down? What if police corruption becomes rampant where I live, and they accept pay offs and allow thugs to operate dangerous and harmful business in my neighborhood–where crime and violence begin to spread? At what point do individuals in such a community have to hold up their end of that bargain to say “we have law enforcement, so we don’t go vigilante”? If you’re not being protected, if that law enforcement that is supplied isn’t functional–do you have to adhere to the rule of law–or can you do what is necessary to defend yourself or your community?

    If I go vigilante in that situation, that does not mean that vigilante action is morally correct. It only means that my options are limited, and I am in a situation where, in order to defend myself and my family, I might have to take matters into my own hands, because the state is failing me by not providing reasonable security in the tribe. Things breaking down into chaos is not “good”–but if that occurs, people do what is necessary, and we generally see that as “justified” but unfortunate–a “worst of two evils” scenario rather than a “good vs. evil” scenario.

    Stealing if I am starving is not “good”–but may be necessary and people might tend to see it as justified–especially if I am living in a state where “allowing individual members to starve” is tolerated. By the state allowing desperate situations to fester, desperate actions on the part of the most marginalized individuals should be considered pretty much predictable. And the state has to accept some responsibility for not protecting individual citizens. As the state fails to seek my best interests, my loyalty to the state begins to wane. Why should any individual remain loyal to a state that allows them to starve or be victimized by other predatory citizens? I prefer working to change things using the system when possible, but I understand that imminent need may require imminent action, and there may not be time or capacity (depending on the nature of the state) to work within that system to correct it. In such cases, the state actually risks responses up to, and including, open revolt and overthrow.

    I hope this helps.

  34. John Kruger says

    You seem to be running into moral ideas of consequentialism and proceduralism. Hopefully you can find discussions of these things in your native language, but I will try to give you the basics.

    Proceduralism holds that morality is a set of laws to be obeyed. A proceduralist would say that stealing is in fact always wrong, regardless of the situation or consequences. Much of Roman Catholic theology is proceduralist, essentially putting forward that the rules are externally set and following the rules is the most important part of morality.

    Consequentialism holds that the results of actions are the important part of moral decisions. This is not the crass “the ends justify the means”, which picks and chooses results. A good consequentialist will attempt to consider as many results as possible when deciding on moral actions and use those results to help make a decision. Your Robin Hood example is a consequentialist argument.

    I personally am a consequentialist and a value pluralist, meaning that the results of actions are important but there are many moral values that can conflict with each other. I would consider it moral to steal a gun from someone and lie about it if I knew they were off antipsychotic medication and temporarily delusional, for example. I would be violating their trust and right to property in order to uphold the safety of that person and likely others. I might well be damaging future relations with such a person at the cost of people’s well being. Knowingly and thoughtfully making that type of choice is what I think morality is all about.

  35. says

    That’s one of the best things about life is having the freedom to choose, which certainly is better then having some book or an evil over-lord dictating on how one should live their life. I guess I’ll have to be content by listening to some Porcupine Tree instead.

  36. Adi says

    Thank you for the replies, as I might not write very good, I do understand well enough to follow the reasoning behind you’re words. I liked and agree with you’re examples, however, my initial ideea was not that extreme, as in “steal beacause you’re hungry” or “steal a gun from a person that is not mentally stable”, or “overthrow a goverment for not securing my well beeing”, those situattions I fully understand. I would like, If you don’t mind, to rephrase my question, so to steal stollen goods, but not beacause you need them in order to survive, but beacause you can, and since they are stollen in the first place, you don’t consider the owner the rightfull owner, and the rightfull owner you do not know. So, let’s say, someone steals money from people, and I steal from him, am I wrong in justifying that since he stollen them in the 1st place, it’s not really stealing, as in stealing from a person that worked for that/those things. (Exclude the normal action, that would be to go to the police, for the sake of argument let’s assume it’s a state were police knows about the sittuation and they won’t do anything, so it would be pointless). So It’s not a steal out of necessity, but beacause I could think, there is nothing wrong with the action. Would I be right, or wrong, in you’re view. (P.S – I’m not stealing from anyone, but I just can’t figgure it out)

  37. xscd says

    In my view, the idea of stealing from people who steal hinges upon what happens in the longer term. When one lives in a group, environment or society in which stealing is commonplace, even one’s friends and family might include more thieves than one is comfortable with, a situation which might have spawned the old saying, “there is no honor among thieves.”

    In poor countries or inner-city ghettos of larger metropolitan areas, there often exists a community in which everyone must be very diligent in guarding whatever few nice possessions they have, because so many of them are willing to steal from anyone who has something nicer than what they have. I would personally rather live in a different kind of community, so I would rather be a sheep in a community of sheep than a wolf in a community of wolves that prey upon each other.

    In that respect, I think that stealing, while perhaps not absolutely wrong in every sense or in every set of circumstances, is not ideal.

    Morals are just value judgements, about various aspects of human behavior, that’s all. Those value judgements can be made based on many different criteria, including the effect of one’s actions upon oneself, or upon another person, or upon society as a whole, or all of those, or upon whether one thinks that certain actions or behaviors violate the wishes of one’s god (which of course is not a good way to form moral judgements), or upon any number of other criteria.

  38. adamah says

    xcsd said:

    Morals are just value judgements, about various aspects of human behavior, that’s all.

    And to add to that idea, most believers don’t understand the difference between principles and laws, the latter which attempt to codify (ie flesh out or embody) general principles.

    Jesus was great at spouting truisms (and he was quoting rabbinical thought and common sayings of the day: he didn’t come up with the ideas frequently attributed to him), since he was a dreamer, an “idea guy”.

    However, the problem is that general principles are vague, eg what does it mean to “love ones neighbor as yourself”, or to “do unto others as you’d have done to you”? Some people don’t respect their own bodies, eg they have no problem shooting heroine, smoking, eating fatty diets and getting overweight, etc.

    Hence such trite glib sayings are useless, since they rely on the questionable assumption that all individuals possess and share the same concept of respect for themselves: simply not the case. Amongst other fallacies, such sayings are relying on logical fallacies (questionable assumptions, ‘begging the question’, etc).

    As I said above (but in another context), there are no easy trite answers: defining laws requires getting down into the pesky and boring details of addressing all possible situations and contingencies, and if failing to anticipate all those (which is likely), legislators who passed the laws should at least give judges enough direction in their legislative records and debate transcripts to allow courts to later determine original legislative intent. That’s why Supreme Court exists: to rule on ‘gray areas’ within the law.

    That’s why Exodus and Leviticus quickly devolves into discussing seemingly trivial rules (eg don’t make garments that mix linen and wool, reflecting the odd ancient Jewish concept of distinct boundaries existing between ‘types’, where Jews are told to have a respect for boundaries, etc), since fleshing out specific details is actually the hard part, largely dependent on cultural shared values where YMMV (“your culture’s mileage may vary”).

    Adam

  39. John Kruger says

    There is a natural tendency to withhold moral courtesy from those who are violating the general social contract. There is no real hypocrisy in withholding someones rights by imprisoning them if there is good reason to think they do not respect moral principles and have demonstrated a willingness to violate them. The same idea is applied to killing someone intent on killing you or others. This is not totally cut and dry, since even among your enemies there can be advantages in following some codes of conduct, such as an agreement not to use chemical or nuclear weapons, for example. Even so, I expect this aspect of your scenario is giving you pause.

    So, no doubt there is less hesitation to steal something from someone who has already stolen it from someone else. No real injury has been done to the original thief since they are only losing something they gained illegitimately, but injury has indeed been done to the original victim that remains should their property not be returned to them. I would say that stealing from the thief and keeping it would indeed be immoral, much the same way as finding a wallet on the street and emptying it out before returning it might be. Disregarding someone else’s right to property, even indirectly, remains immoral. It is not as bad as directly stealing, of course, but still in no way free and clear of judgement.

    Imagine a society where there is a lot of theft going on, and only the first order thieves were being punished. Wild loopholes like that would make property essentially meaningless in such a society, and nobody would want to remain part of it as long as that was going on.

  40. says

    >I would like, If you don’t mind, to rephrase my question, so to steal stollen goods, but not beacause you need them in order to survive, but beacause you can, and since they are stollen in the first place, you don’t consider the owner the rightfull owner, and the rightfull owner you do not know.

    The point is not about them–it’s about you. We are judging YOUR action, not THEIR action. It doesn’t matter how they came to have the property–how did it magically become YOUR property? By what right do you claim it’s yours and that you have some rightful claim to this property? It is not yours. If you steal it, you are a thief. How someone else came to possess it would be an irrelevancy. We aren’t assessing THEIR morality, but YOURS.

  41. Ryan Scarbel says

    Tracie,

    If Solipsism had “nothing to do with anything” then why would you take the time to mention it in your talk? That isn’t an irrelevant topic anyway. If you can’t know anything other than your own existence (which is self-defeating, because that statement in itself is something you have knowledge of that is other than your own existence), then you cannot come to the conclusion that God exists. I have debated the existence of God many times and if I fail to address this epistemological mess then my arguments for the existence of God don’t matter. I talked to you about it (yes, I am the one in the red shirt who talked to you in the room with the water) because I was going to present an argument for the existence of God that you did not address and probably haven’t heard. All of the arguments in the presentation were silly. I know of absolutely no serious apologists who would ever defend those straw man arguments. Attacking the arguments in your presentation for the existence of God is equivalent to someone attacking evolution by saying humans were not born from chimpanzees. If you want to hear a real argument for the existence of God, read “The Last Superstition” by Edward Feser.

    Cheers,
    Ryan

  42. adamah says

    Ryan said:

    If you want to hear a real argument for the existence of God, read “The Last Superstition” by Edward Feser.

    Yawn: how about you provide us the Cliff Notes version?

    NOTE: if you cannot condense Feser’s argument down into a concise summary, then it’s not likely logically-compelling, but simply a whole lotta word-puffery (AKA hot air jaw flapping) that appeals to emotions. Believers are highly-susceptible to empty emotionally-driven arguments, but we’re not vapid believers…

    Adam

  43. corwyn says

    All of the arguments in the presentation were silly. I know of absolutely no serious apologists who would ever defend those straw man arguments. Attacking the arguments in your presentation for the existence of God is equivalent to someone attacking evolution by saying humans were not born from chimpanzees.

    because I was going to present an argument for the existence of God that you did not address and probably haven’t heard.

    Well, she can hardly refute them is she hasn’t heard them, now can she?

    So, wow us. Present this amazing argument that is so obscure that someone who deals with apologetics every day hasn’t heard it.

    [Regulars: Any bets that there is a page on the iron chariots that addresses it?]

  44. Ryan Scarbel says

    Adamah,

    I was an atheist before I was a believer and didn’t become a Christian until my freshman year of college. I developed a well-grounded faith because read about good arguments for the existence of God (faith as I am defining it is trusting in something you have good reasons to believe to be true). I don’t think that comment reflects the action of a “freethinker” or an adherent to “reason” when the reply to my comment was simply asserting that a book that you have never read is “a whole lotta word-puffery…that appeals to emotions.” You have read nothing from the book, yet you have judged it to be worthless. I doubt that it was your intention, but your comment came off to me as very close-minded. I do not blindly believe based off emotions, and it bothers me that the majority of Christians just blindly believe because their parents told them so. That is the reason Christianity has a reputation for being a superstitious belief that requires just ‘taking a leap of faith’. The Last Superstition is written in layman’s terms, specifically so that it doesn’t come off as just a lot of word-puffery. The concepts can get deep, but the arguments are sound and understandable. I never ask for a cliff note version of books written by atheists, but rather I read them because I don’t want to risk just learning a straw man or miss important elements that may be left out in a summary. I am not close minded, I care about what I believe and so my beliefs are subject to change. If the arguments for the existence of God are shown to be fallacious, then I will give up Christianity and follow whatever the evidence then points to. I am sure you are an intelligent person, the fact that you are even reading this shows that you care about what you believe and you are open to listening to what people have to say. I would encourage you to instead of simply dismissing my comment by grouping me with every other theist who thinks they know everything, consider that there might be more to theological philosophy than the garbage that has become mainstream arguments.

    Cheers,
    Ryan

  45. adamah says

    Corwyn said-

    [Regulars: Any bets that there is a page on the iron chariots that addresses it?]

    It’s almost no thrill anymore, like having seen a movie before you see it with others, and knowing how it’ll end.

    The one thing the Bible gets partly-correct is when it says there are no new things under the Sun: that definitely applies to Xian apologetics and proof of God’s existence (and in my book I’d say nuclear energy, internal combustion engines, computers, radio communications, medical breakthroughs, etc ALL constitute “new things under the Sun”).

    It’d almost be humorous if it weren’t so tragically sad: I mean, the ONE being who could conclusively prove His own existence beyond any reasonable doubt yesterday apparently isn’t willing to do it? Any sharp 12 yo can see thru that nonsense, where inductive reasoning alone should suffice to solve this question on probability analysis, alone…

    Adam

  46. corwyn says

    Lovely, the “I was an atheist until I was convinced by arguments I won’t tell you” argument. We’ve never seen that one before…

    Just to remove your current excuse, no need to paraphrase the book if you would rather not. Tell us what convinced *you*.

  47. adamah says

    So we can surmise its a whole lot of feel-good puffery then, since you cannot concisely deliver the argument?

    That’s a fail then, Ryan, and don’t try to distract us from your inability to deliver by playing the legendary Xian persecution complex card (I was a fellow persecuted Xian before I went to college and earned a doctorate in biology).

    It’s simple, really: cash (or evidence) talks, and BS walks. Don’t let your soft-brained delusions confuse others: a rational mind is a terrible thing to waste.

  48. Ryan Scarbel says

    Corwyn,

    I am sorry if I came off wrong, I wasn’t trying to criticize her for misrepresenting Christian arguments, but rather I was making the point that there is more to theistic philosophy than what the mainstream arguments portray. The analogy I provided was analogous in the sense that the mainstream arguments against evolution do not accurately depict what evolution teaches. The general public misunderstands evolution; they don’t realize that the evolution demonstrates that chimpanzees and humans evolved from a common ancestor.
    “So, wow us. Present this amazing argument that is so obscure that someone who deals with apologetics every day hasn’t heard it.”
    That was exactly my point. If you hear apologetics every day, you are likely to be hearing what people take from random google searches, not the well-grounded arguments made from theist philosophers. That is why I recommended the book The Last Superstition; it lays out actual arguments in a way far better than I ever could in a shortened version.

    Cheers,
    Ryan

  49. xscd says

    Ryan says: “That is why I recommended the book The Last Superstition; it lays out actual arguments in a way far better than I ever could in a shortened version.”

    Are you saying that you cannot, or will not, try to summarize a few of the arguments in that book that you find compelling? You already know that nearly everyone here, myself included though I’m a deist, will probably be antagonistic, but if the arguments really are compelling, then perhaps you would be doing everyone a favor by trying to state a few of them concisely, so that we all don’t have to buy this book by one of your favorite authors, and for all we know, your friend in need of money for a Christian apologetics lecture tour.

  50. Ryan Scarbel says

    If you insist, I will give you guys what you ask for. I will give you a brief summary of how the argument goes. Reading the book will give you a far more comprehensive version of the argument and detail the metaphysics behind it, so I would encourage you to read it anyway to fully understand it. Give me a few minutes and I will reply again with the argument laid out in an easy-to-read manner.

  51. Ryan Scarbel says

    1)Something exists (e.g., I exist).
    a)This must be true, for in the very attempt to deny my existence I affirm that I exist, otherwise I could not make the denial.

    2)This existence is possible but not necessary (its non-existence is possible).
    a) Necessary being does not have the possibility not to be.
    b) It is of the essence of necessary being to exist, i.e., its essence and existence would be identical, for everything a necessary being “has” it is necessarily, i.e., everything about necessary being is essential to its existence, since its existence is identical to its essence.
    c)Necessary existence would be one in which non-existence, change, temporal succession, limitation and composition are not possible:
    1)No change can occur in what a necessary being is essentially and necessarily.
    2)Whatever passes through states of temporal succession changes. But necessary existence cannot change. Therefore, necessary existence cannot be temporal in its existence.
    3)Limited existence is existence with potentiality or can-be-ness; what limits existence is the ability, capacity or possibility to be a certain kind of existence.
    4)But necessary existence has no possibilities or potentialities whatsoever; it “has” only actuality and necessity, i.e. the necessity of its own actuality. Therefore, necessary existence would not be limited existence.
    5)And if unlimited then it must be non-spatial (i.e. immense).
    d)But all existence is either necessary existence or possible existence
    1)A possible being has being accidentally, not essentially
    2)A possible being has being (in contrast to a necessary being which is being)
    3)It is not of the essence of a possible being to exist (as it would be for a necessary being) – e.g., a unicorn can be defined without reference to its existence, thus existence is not part of a unicorn’s existence. The same can be said for all possible beings.

    3)Whatever has the possibility not to exist is currently caused to exist by another.
    a) Some beings exist whose essence is not to exist (i.e., whose essence and existence are distinct). Proof of this is:
    1)The non-existence of these beings is possible.
    2)These beings change and a necessary being cannot change. If a necessary being did change in its existence it would go out of existence, which a necessary being cannot do.
    b)But every being whose essence and existence are distinct must be caused to exist by another, since:
    1)It must be caused to exist by either the principles within itself or else by some agent outside itself.
    2)But it cannot be caused to exist by the principles within itself, because:
    i)Existence cannot cause itself (this is impossible), and
    ii)Essence cannot cause existence; the potential cannot cause the actual.
    c)Hence, it must be caused to exist by something beyond itself.
    d)Now every being cannot be a caused being, for then no being would be causing and some being must be causing for some beings are being caused.
    e)Therefore, there must be a being which causes the actual existence of beings whose existence is possible.

    4)The cause of the existence of every composed being must be an uncaused cause.
    a)First, a self-caused existence is impossible.
    b)Second, the cause cannot both be beyond itself and within itself, because otherwise it would be causing its own existence which is impossible.
    c)Third, the cause of all composed being is uncaused because an infinite regress of causes of present (here-and-now) existence is impossible.
    1)For in this kind of infinite series every cause is being caused, since if one cause is found that is not being caused then we have arrived at the uncaused cause the infinite series attempts to avoid.
    2)It is not necessary to deny the existence of an actual number of things (ala the Kalam Cosmological Argument), but even in an infinite series at least one causemust be the efficient cause of the existence of every composed being that exists.
    3)However, all causality of present existence is vertical and simultaneous (as in the gears of a watch).
    d)It follows then that there is a first cause of any alleged series of causes of being.
    e)Thus, this first cause must be uncaused.

    5)This uncomposed and uncaused cause of all composed being must be necessary, changeless, eternal, unlimited, pure actuality, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and personal.
    a)An uncomposed being would have to be unlimited because it lacks all potentiality.
    b)The infinite cause and its finite effects cannot be totally different or totally the same, and being or existence must be similar (analogous) between the effect and the cause.
    1)The cause cannot give any actuality it does not have to give.
    2)The effect has being by participation but the cause is being essentially.
    3)But whatever the effect has by participating in what the cause is, the cause must be.
    c)If “personal” means an intelligent being that can love and is worthy of being loved, then this infinite cause is personal.
    1)For this infinite cause is intelligent.
    2)And this infinite cause is infinitely good and does (promotes) good.

    6)Now whatever is all of this is appropriately called “God” since:
    a)He is the creator of all that exists.
    b)He is unique or one of a kind.
    c)He is the ultimate and absolute basis of all good.
    d)Hence, as ultimate Worth He is worthy of or worth-ship (i.e., worship).
    1)But the ultimate object of our worship is what we mean by the term “God”.
    2)Hence, this being is appropriately called “God”.

    7)This God is identical with the one described in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.
    a)Both have the same infinite characteristics.
    b)But there cannot be two such infinite beings.
    c)Therefore, the God shown to exist by this argument and the God described in the Bible are identical, i.e., they are one and the same God.

    I don’t expect anyone here to suddenly get on your knees and repent after reading my reply on a blogpost, but I would encourage you guys to investigate further and see whether or not there are good reasons for at least believing theism is true. If you want to reach me, my email is rmscarbe@uncg.edu. If you want to reach someone smarter than me, who can answer your questions far better than I can, you can reach him at adamt@triad.rr.com.

  52. Ryan Scarbel says

    That would have been far more legible if the post included the spaces I had in there in the edit view

  53. xscd says

    Thank you Ryan for presenting some arguments. My first impression of them is that they consist primarily of elaborate sophistry drawn backward from a conclusion in an attempt to prove the conclusion, like building an increasingly heavy pyramid, point-down on a bed of sand.

    Some of the arguments seem immediately to be flawed to me. “(God) is the ultimate and absolute basis of all good.” Well, that’s just an assertion, and why you use “basis” instead of “source” or some other word might need to be clarified, and what “good” means is highly variable. If you say, “well, God is good! Good is God! They’re identical,” others would probably argue with you not only about the nature of “good,” but about the existence of this imagined thing that “good” is supposedly the same as.

    “But there cannot be two such infinite beings.” Why not? Why can’t two or more infinite beings occupy exactly the same space? And if both time and space are creations of the physical universe itself, as they are considered to be by cosmologists, what does “infinity” mean in the first place to an “infinite being.” If infinity is something we can’t conceive of in anything but an abstract way, perhaps it does not really exist. Perhaps the “infinite being” does not exist either.

    Many of the arguments in your succession of them seem to contain assertions that are not supported by previous arguments. Some of the initial arguments would need much more examination before piling on the subsequent “therefore God” arguments.

    I’m sure that quite a few others will chime in, so I’ll bow out and just enjoy reading others’ thoughts for a while, unless I think of something brilliant (which of course is notlikely). Thanks again. I think there’s plenty of flaws in your arguments for others to point out or question, but it was nice of you to post the summary.

  54. corwyn says

    Wow, someone managed to convince you that they were smarter than you, so you should believe that word salad. My sympathies.

    Choosing a premise at random:

    No change can occur in what a necessary being is essentially and necessarily.

    So when did this necessary being decide to create the universe? And how did they do it without changing?

    And to tie it in to the god of the bible, that being does change his mind. cites available upon request.

    I am sure I (or better yet Tracie) could do that with almost any of the premises.

    [Regulars – It appears that I can’t find the argument from necessity on iron chariots with a casual look around, and google is blowing up for me, so I concede the bet]

  55. adamah says

    xscd said-

    Thank you Ryan for presenting some arguments. My first impression of them is that they consist primarily of elaborate sophistry drawn backward from a conclusion in an attempt to prove the conclusion, like building an increasingly heavy pyramid, point-down on a bed of sand.

    So you’re saying, in so many words, ‘puffery’, then? ;)

    What a load of rephrased pseudo-intellectual clap-trap, made obvious by asking, “so who made the determination that the ‘necessary being’ WAS in fact ‘necessary’?

    Let’s see how many ways people can come up with to kick that ol’ infinite regression question down the road without recognizing it’s still the form of an infinite regression?

    Just goes to show ‘common sense’ is a misnomer, as apparently it’s NOT so common, after all….

  56. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Ryan

    Let me make a general summary instead of going point by point.

    The general form of most of your argument is:

    Things in our shared reality are necessary or contingent. Necessary things are outside of time. Necessary things are outside of space. All contingent things have a cause. There is a contingent thing. Thus there is a necessary thing, which is outside of time and space.

    That argument is formally valid. I also happen to reject almost all of its premises. I find it eminently plausible that the universe itself had a beginning and that it was uncaused.

    If you complain that I didn’t go far enough into the details of your argument, all I’ll do is go line by line, point out that almost every line is an unsubstantiated assertion which I happen to reject, aka not accept as true.

    The last part of your argument:

    7)This God is identical with the one described in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.
    a)Both have the same infinite characteristics.
    b)But there cannot be two such infinite beings.
    c)Therefore, the God shown to exist by this argument and the God described in the Bible are identical, i.e., they are one and the same God.

    I can invent a religion right now that also has all of those properties, like an appropriately modified Flying Spaghetti Monster. Does that mean that the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists and has those properties? (/snark) Your argument #7 is laughably stupid.

  57. xscd says

    Ryan’s arguments for the existence of God (his own Christian God, of course) build a case upon an idea that a “being” that has existed forever (for which there is no possibility of nonexistence) is “necessary” (and of course, the Christian God is that “necessary being”).

    I wonder why something that has existed “forever” should necessarily be “a being,” or why it should be “necessary.” The universe has existed forever, for all of time, because the universe created and continues to create time itself, even though in a larger sense everything is happening in the same large, single “moment,” regardless of which succession of apparent moments we are perceiving, just like the entire universe exists regardless of which little part of it we may be aware of at any particular time.

    I find myself objecting to the use of “necessary” in the context of these religious arguments masquerading as nonreligious arguments. A “necessary being,” according to the arguments, is one for which there is no possibility of nonexistence, although how one would know there is “no possibility of nonexistence” remains a mystery. For all we know, even if a deity exists (and even if it happens to be the Christian God), it may itself have sprung into existence at the moment that it became self-aware, for example, despite existing previously as un-selfconscious awareness for who knows how long, possibly “forever.”

    Even us lowly “unnecessary beings,” which the arguments assert or imply have the possibility of nonexistence, might actually not have that possibility. If something exists, it cannot not exist at the same time; there is no possibility of that. Therefore, even we must be “necessary” according to the (rather convenient) rules of the arguments for God. Even if we sprang into physical existence at conception, many Christians believe we existed as “souls” even before conception, perhaps forever, and that we will continue to exist forever, even after physical death. So each one of us, following the rules of these arguments and beliefs of many Christians, could be considered as “necessary beings,” existing forever.

    Positing something that exists outside of time and space is problematic, since the universe of time and space does not really demand it. The universe has always existed within the context of its self-created time and space, and has just changed form, like all of its substance according to the laws of conservation. For all we know, the cosmos exists simultaneously in the form of time and space and the elements that fill those characteristics, and in a timeless, spaceless state that Einstein’s theories and current cosmological thought suggest, no religion and no god necessary.

  58. xscd says

    If there exists, as Christians often say, a being outside of time and space, and this being happened to do something at some point (like create the universe), then is there a “time” in that eternal forever before which and after which that event happened? Would that indicate that time (and change) does indeed exist even in the “infinite, timeless, eternal and unchanging” realm of God? Can people actually _do_ anything in Heaven, or is everything frozen into a permanent, static, “perfect” state?

  59. adamah says

    And to tie it in to the god of the bible, that being does change his mind. cites available upon request.

    Bible God flip-flops constantly, deciding to create the Earth and humans by Divine expression of His will (“Let there be ____”); God even declared His handicrafts as “very good”.

    Fast-forward four chapters in Genesis, and Jehovah is recorded as admitting regret for making the Earth and mankind, so deciding to wipe it all clean. THEN, shocked by the sight of seeing all the bloated corpses, God flip-flops AGAIN, and promises never to wipe out life with a flood (and THAT, folks, is how ancient Hebrews explained to their kids where rainbows come from).

    And some people alive in 2014 still take that nonsense seriously, and have the audacity to INSIST they’re “rational” people who are to be taken seriously?

    Seriously, where’s Alan Fundt and the hidden candid camera (dating myself? Ok, where’s Aston Kutcher and the Punk’d krewe)?

  60. adamah says

    PS isn’t working against Gods prior expressed will considered a “sin”?

    So God destroying what God created 4 chapters earlier (“let us make man in our image”, etc): wouldn’t God be violating His own prior expressed Divine Will?

    But the Bible says God cannot sin. It also says God is not a man, such that He can change His mind or repent.

    The Bible says pretty much whatever translators want it to say to satisfy their desired theological doctrines, with absolutely NO regard for internal logical consistency; one might get the distinct impression the Bible is the work of fallible men over a long period of time, and is NOT “Divinely inspired” ie originating from a single source.

  61. xscd says

    In addition, most Christians say that the Bible is “absolute truth,” yet that single absolute truth has spawned so many Christian denominations, sects and major divisions that it often seems that no two Christians believe alike.

  62. Ryan Scarbel says

    I simply don’t have the time to address every single response here. It is easy to just reject the premises when all you have is just the basic outline; that is why I was so opposed to posting the argument in the first place. This post was never meant to be an unbreakable argument, of course it is going to be easy to dismiss many premises and therefore reject the conclusion here on this blog post, but rather this post was meant to just simply explain what the argument is since it seemed you guys doubted I actually had an argument. If you read the book like I asked, it goes into far more depth, defending each premise. All your refutations that I have seen are all addressed in the book and do not adequately combat the argument. If you want to know what you are trying to refute, read “The Last Superstition” by Edward Feser, it walks you through this in an easy to understand way, explaining each premise in a concise way that will better explain why each premise is true and how the conclusion follows.

  63. xscd says

    (Ryan) — “I simply don’t have the time to address every single response here. It is easy to just reject the premises when all you have is just the basic outline; that is why I was so opposed to posting the argument in the first place.”

    Right. Completely understandable. Many people including myself have felt the same way expressing certain ideas or arguments in certain venues that are by nature antagonistic to them. Thank you for expressing an interesting summary of arguments.

    It seems to me (and evidently to others) that there are some real problems with the series of arguments you nicely summarized. For one thing, I don’t see why it’s necessary to categorize existence into the two categories of “necessary” and “unnecessary,” unless you are intentionally trying to set the stage for later arguments claiming the existence of God.

    The whole idea of infinity as a real thing instead of just an abstract idea or mental comparison and contrast to the world of time and space with which we are familiar, seems problematic to me. If in a larger sense time and space are just an illusion (however reliably we can base our practical experience upon them), then that timelessness and spacelessness does not necessarily indicate “an intelligent being outside the context of time and space.” Instead, we may all be a part of the same timelessness and spacelessness, and the universe itself could exist as a basically timeless and spaceless thing, or exist concurrently as both the universe of its own self-created time and space, and the universe from which that time and space emerged (during the Big Bang, for example).

    I believe in God myself. I’m a deist. But I don’t believe anyone should feel compelled to prove a nonphysical entity of consciousness exists. It’s like trying to prove that a rock is alive (which I actually happen to believe in a sense, since a rock, like everything else that exists, is composed at its deepest level of some form of consciousness). But I don’t expect to get a welcome reception for those ideas. Nor do I believe that anyone will suffer for not sharing my ideas about a conscious universe. I don’t see any compelling reason why anyone else should believe as I do, or I should believe as they do. I’m not evangelical and I don’t believe anyone is going to suffer forever if they don’t believe. I don’t feel any need to explain or justify my belief in a god of sorts, and am fully aware that such a belief is automatically on very weak ground in the context of discussion and arguments centering around what we can agree we do know or can know, or can perceive in some way as physical beings. If someone asks me why I believe in God, one answer I could give is “for reasons that shouldn’t matter to you, if I don’t seek to impose my beliefs upon you or anyone else, which I don’t.” While that may seem evasive and defensive in a way, I’m fine with that, because I know that many people, atheists included, aren’t necessarily open to the idea that, “hey, a rock is alive!” and that we and everything are all part of and contained within a primary conscious being. That could easily sound ridiculous to a lot of people, for good reasons.

    So I’d like to ask why you bother? Why is it important to you that others believe there’s a god, and moreover that this god is your Christian God? Even if a god exists, there may be no Heaven nor Hell, the Bible was written by us humans, not some god, and religion and its doctrines and its gods are as flawed and imperfect as we are, because we created religion and we created god in our own image, not the other way around.

  64. adamah says

    Xscd raises some interesting points, as usual:

    (Ryan) — “I simply don’t have the time to address every single response here. It is easy to just reject the premises when all you have is just the basic outline; that is why I was so opposed to posting the argument in the first place.”

    Sounds like pointless excusiology, since an accurate summary of a theory is just as true as another, ie Newton’s theory of gravity can be expressed multiple ways to convey the same basic concept, which equally holds as verifiably true.

    In fact, that’s the power of theories: they explain observations. So if the veracity hinges on semantics, the predictive value of a given theory (explanation) is dubious.

    Xscd said-

    It seems to me (and evidently to others) that there are some real problems with the series of arguments you nicely summarized. For one thing, I don’t see why it’s necessary to categorize existence into the two categories of “necessary” and “unnecessary,” unless you are intentionally trying to set the stage for later arguments claiming the existence of God.

    Yeah, it’s loaded terms like that (and infinity, essential, etc) that most need to be questioned, and are often stated without even bothering to think of their implications.

    Eg ‘infinity': it’s easy to say the word glibly, but exactly what personal experience has anyone had with it (must less TWO infinite quantities?!?!)? It’s hypothetical deepity, which sounds my alarm bells on my personal BS meter, no less than saying ‘Loch Ness monster’ does. Prove it, I say! Until you DO, it’s merely an unproven assertion THAT infinity of anything exists, so it’s a questionable premise (as is terms like ‘timeless’ and ‘spaceless’, etc).

    Xscd said-

    I believe in God myself. I’m a deist. But I don’t believe anyone should feel compelled to prove a nonphysical entity of consciousness exists. It’s like trying to prove that a rock is alive (which I actually happen to believe in a sense, since a rock, like everything else that exists, is composed at its deepest level of some form of consciousness). But I don’t expect to get a welcome reception for those ideas. Nor do I believe that anyone will suffer for not sharing my ideas about a conscious universe.

    A sponge is a living collection of conscious organisms, but we humans don’t exactly worry about it, let alone the rights of “higher” conscious life forms to exist: we drive even many mammals extinct before cataloging their existence! Humans have a very biased system of values which awards bonus points for hominid species-consciousness, and even there, no one is overly-concerned about human death since we tend to deny the existence of events which we don’t personally witness (and paradoxically want to believe in beings which no one HAS witnessed, esp this Gods thing).

    So I’d like to ask why you bother? Why is it important to you that others believe?

    Of course, here’s where knowing the canned sales pitch of Xianity ruins the suspense: Xianity is much like a self-replicating virus that seeks only to propagate, and no one can coherently explain to you why that end-goal would be beneficial or desirable.

    Adam

  65. xscd says

    (Adamah) “Humans have a very biased system of values which awards bonus points for hominid species

    I agree. Humans seem to have a propensity for putting themselves at the top of the list, which I think is just a self-flattering conceit. We have a different type of consciousness, but why is it “better” than the conscious life of a dolphin or a bird? I think that the ranking of life on a value scale is questionable to begin with, and highly influenced by whomever is doing the ranking.

    And despite apparent differences of conscious point of view of life between species, humans are physically, structurally and genetically _so_ similar to so many other animals that it seems very difficult and inappropriate to set ourselves apart from and “above” those other animals.

    As far as we know, no other species even acknowledges our man-made religious beliefs, and those religious beliefs are an artificial, imaginary concept of reality, not reality itself. It’s like religious people are walking around in a dream world of their own creation. In psychological terms, that might be considered mild psychosis, viewing and reacting to experience based on things that are not really there.

    In my view, one of the main problems with religious beliefs is that the beliefs we hold as fact, even the ones that are obviously or likely contrary to fact, program and determine both how we perceive reality and which of innumerable data we regard as significant (while discarding or ignoring the rest) and how we interpret that data. Our beliefs are a filter through which we experience life, so it seems important to identify and examine our beliefs from time to time.

  66. says

    >If Solipsism had “nothing to do with anything” then why would you take the time to mention it in your talk?

    My talk had to do with clarifying issues that seem to confuse a number of people. Solipsism is one of those issues. Many people underestimate the challenge. And my point was to note that it should not be underestimated. The challenge is valid. However, in the grand scheme it’s also irrelevant. Even if I could confirm in some way that nothing exists but my own mind, if I can’t escape the existence I perceive, it wouldn’t matter.

    >That isn’t an irrelevant topic anyway. If you can’t know anything other than your own existence (which is self-defeating,

    It doesn’t matter if it’s self-defeating if it’s true. I don’t actually see it as self-defeatist. But if it were, that wouldn’t be relevant to whether it’s correct or not.

    >because that statement in itself is something you have knowledge of that is other than your own existence),

    No, it’s not. It’s a statement that says “I can know my own mind exists, because that is what is thinking these thoughts.” Things that exist within that mind can be known, because “mind” is merely that label for the experiences. Whether those experiences are what they appear to be, cannot be known (and if you have some method to get around this, feel free to explain it), but we are justified in assuming this, because we cannot escape it. In other words, there is no cause to treat it like it isn’t what it appears, because we can’t really experience something other.

    > then you cannot come to the conclusion that God exists.

    No, what it means is that we must level down our justifications from “known” (with certainty) to believed with justification. In other words, I can’t know what this reality REALLY is. But I can still make assessments about it. That is, what if I am the only mind in this “reality” and it actually is Matrix like? I still have to function and operate within this reality, and all of my negotiation is going to be subject to it. This means I can make assessments about it. “It burns when I touch what appears to be a hot iron” is no less true whether the “iron” is what it seems or not. So, it’s not relevant if the iron is or isn’t what it seems—the fact that it burns is what I must accept as “reality” since I can’t control it or stop it from acting that way.

    >I have debated the existence of God many times and if I fail to address this epistemological mess then my arguments for the existence of God don’t matter.

    That really isn’t my problem, is it?

    > I talked to you about it (yes, I am the one in the red shirt who talked to you in the room with the water) because I was going to present an argument for the existence of God that you did not address and probably haven’t heard.

    OK. Frankly—your insistence that “you” are self-evident to a Solipsist, to me in NC, demonstrated you might not be sufficiently grounded in the philosophy to be addressing it.

    > All of the arguments in the presentation were silly.

    I agree. Bear in mind that the arguments I was addressing were arguments I have addressed LIVE on the air with theists—mostly Christians. These analogies were not invented for this talk, but were actually pulled from The Atheist Experience interactions, where I address what Christians really, really say to defend their faith.

    > I know of absolutely no serious apologists who would ever defend those straw man arguments.

    Then most mainstream Christians aren’t “serious” about their apologetics. Again, not my problem. My problem is helping people to address what Christians actually put forward in defense of their faith. And that is what my talk addressed.

    > Attacking the arguments in your presentation for the existence of God is equivalent to someone attacking evolution by saying humans were not born from chimpanzees.

    Uh…something people DO say. And so, it’s fair to offer a rebuttal to it. If Christians will promote silly arguments, it’s fair to point out to people why these arguments are silly. Every one of my slides addressed not only arguments we have gotten on the show before, but the MOST COMMON arguments we get—repeatedly—from theists (mainly Christians).

    > If you want to hear a real argument for the existence of God, read “The Last Superstition” by Edward Feser.

    He is welcome to call our show, as are you, if you feel your fellow Christians are offering up silly arguments. But please don’t accuse me of strawmanning people who have said exactly what I presented.

  67. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Ryan

    Hey, I have to at least give you props for making a nice, readable argument. Better than most that we get around here.

  68. AtheistSteve says

    Word puffery for sure. Ryan your entire post boils down to the ‘first cause’ or Kalam Cosmological Argument. W. L. Craig simply adores using this to support his claim of a necessary and contingent creator god. Even if we allow for the premises of Kalam (I don’t) there’s nothing in it that links directly to the God of the Bible. It works equally well for every god ever proposed by man…plus an infinite number of them that we haven’t yet imagined. This supposed best argument for the existence of god is so non-specific that it’s practically useless.
    Plus any discussions about metaphysics and the supernatural always reminds me of the double speak that inevitably spews from the mouths of believers.
    “God is beyond comprehension. Let me tell you all about Him.”

  69. Narf says

    Yeah, there are so many points of failure in the construction, either completely unjustified assertions or complete contradictions. I barely know where to begin. You’re not going to get a chance to discuss it here, from what you’ve said in followup messages, so it doesn’t seem worth it to go into it in detail.

    Many of the main points also demonstrate post-hoc rationalization of your (or whoever wrote this) previously-indoctrinated beliefs, inserted because you think they demonstrate your god. WLC is utterly guilty of this is his formulation of the Kalam, as well. Hindus will come up with a list of crap that leads to their god-concept. Muslims have a list of their own.

    Oh, and your point #7 is flat-out false, as demonstrated by reading the Bible.

    I appreciate the attempt, but that isn’t it. Too many equivocations. Too many unjustified slides from one entity to a more specific one. Too little work shown.

    Where is Adam? Winston-Salem? I think we crank out a lot of theology students over there. I’m in Durham.

  70. corwyn says

    Well, that would be a foolish conclusion to reach, since it requires putting words into my mouth.

    Which might be a valid criticism if I had made any conclusions, or put any words in your mouth. I was merely relating the impression your words gave me. I am glad that impression was not what you were trying to say. You might want to rethink that particular turn of phrase, as it appears to be conveying something you don’t wish to convey.

  71. corwyn says

    One is left wondering why you came here. You didn’t want to make an argument, just boldly assert that there *were* good arguments. The argument you did try to summarize is unconvincing (which even you concede). And when rebutted you claim not to have time to defend it (other than again boldly asserting that it can be). So why *did* you come here?

    One is left with the opinion that you are just peddling a book.

  72. Ryan Scarbel says

    Corwyn,
    Sorry if there are errors in this post, I am typing on an iPhone in a moving car and it is really difficult to read the screen. I came here because a friend read this and sent me a text saying: “Question. At ReasonCon, did you talk to the speaker named Tracie about solipsism?” And I said yes and so she sent me the link to this forum on Facebook and the rest took off from there. I did not come just to cause trouble, but rather I came because I was mentioned in the post.

  73. adamah says

    Xscd said:

    In my view, one of the main problems with religious beliefs is that the beliefs we hold as fact, even the ones that are obviously or likely contrary to fact, program and determine both how we perceive reality and which of innumerable data we regard as significant (while discarding or ignoring the rest) and how we interpret that data. Our beliefs are a filter through which we experience life, so it seems important to identify and examine our beliefs from time to time.

    That willingness to consider things from the viewpoint of other species (eg the way a canine experiences the World, based on its set of sensory organs) is something you’d expect believers should be willing to do: after all, what better way to learn of the Creator than by studying the interesting details of the designed organisms? Isn’t religion designed to increase empathy?

    Uh, no: the bias against other life forms is readily-apparent, when you encounter Abel’s animal sacrifice in Genesis 5, and Noah’s sacrificing animals after the Flood! (I read an interesting book written by.a Unitarian pastor with the provocative title, “the Book of Noah: the Bible, as if animals actually mattered”).

    Oddly though, I find curiosity about the natural world to be inversely proportional to belief in a god, almost as if believers are afraid to study life as if it’s encroaching on God’s territory, or that the undeniable overwhelming evidence soul challenge their faith by pointing to evolution?

    So, when someone like Eric Hovind asks a question like, “could you be wrong on everything you know?”, I strongly suspect these types are engaging in classic Freudian projectionism, where THEY’RE secretly harboring doubts as fears, but have to overcompensate to squelch the anxiety by claiming an irrationally unwarranted overconfidence in THEIR belief in God.

    Sorry Eric, but projecting your doubts onto others is attempting to create (yet another) “false equivalency” between your faith and my quite-variable confidence in various types of evidence, comparing your beliefs unsupported by anything but your hopes and dreams to MY beliefs, based on evidence (which at times is open to interpretation and subject to debate, and requires learning to be comfortable with inescapable uncertainty).

    Adam

  74. corwyn says

    Ok.

    And what was the reason you wanted to claim that there was this convincing argument for theism? Or for that matter why did you go to ReasonCon?

    I will try to show why we find your argument less than convincing:

    7) This God is identical with Ea, the one described in the Redbook of Westermarch (later translated by J.R.R. Tolkien into The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings).
    a) Both have the same infinite characteristics.
    b) But there cannot be two such infinite beings.
    c) Therefore, the God shown to exist by this argument and the God described in the Hobbit are identical, i.e., they are one and the same God.

  75. says

    This is the argument from “It just makes sense to me,” which I address at the blog here:
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp/2013/01/21/the-argument-from-it-just-makes-sense-to-me/

    It is actually a hypothesis in the form of an argument. And there is no sense for anyone to dispute it, because all that matters is that YOU accept it is a reason to accept it is possible that a god exists. It doesn’t matter to me if your reason here is valid or invalid, because the question is not “is this good reasoning?” The question is only “Is the conclusion true?”

    And the truth of your conclusion is not determined by popular approval. That would be an argument from popularity fallacy, correct? So, the way to determine whether the conclusion is true is not to try and convince as many people as possible to agree, but to test the conclusion in some way to see if we can *demonstrate* the conclusion is true. How you got to that conclusion is not really relevant to me. You’re not asking people to say you’re reasonable, you’re asking them to accept your conclusion as true–that is not the same thing. Let’s say there is a fatal flaw in your reasoning? Does that mean your conclusion is false? No. The fact someone concludes something for invalid reasons does not mean they are wrong about the conclusion, only that they got there by luck, not by logic.

    So, you can state/restate the argument in any way you like, but the only way to know if the conclusion is true is to find a way to demonstrate it—not to keep honing and arguing over your hypothesis. And a hypothesis only points to “this is plausible”—if we want to say “this is true”—we must verify by demonstration. Do you have any demonstration of this god? Or is it only a hypothesis at this time?

    For a clearer example, I am unable to see the flaw in the part of Xeno’s paradox where we should not be able to travel through infinite points—because it should take infinite time. I know it’s wrong, NOT because I am able to see the flaw in the premise, but because a number of demonstrations show that the idea does not align with reality. But if “true” were gauged by “can we convince Tracie this makes sense,” I would say “It’s true, because it makes sense to me that it would take infinite time to travel through infinite points.” But we can plainly see, when tested that I’m wrong, and that something is wrong with the paradox assertion, whether I can see what the problem is OR NOT. And even if nobody was able to identify the flaw in the concept in the paradox—it would still be demonstrably wrong by simply walking from point-A to point-B.

    You’ve put forward your reason for positing a god is possible (or why you accept it’s necessary). And I am now asking—how have you tested this to see if the conclusion, in fact, aligns with reality? If not, I’m still not at a place where I can assess your claim’s truth value, because “true” is about whether or not something conforms to reality, not whether or not I think it’s reasonable to think it would, if tested, align with reality.

  76. John Kruger says

    Heck, premise 2 contradicted premise 1a, unless the author is using a truly bizarre meaning of “possible”. You need only one mistake for the conclusion to be unreliable, so all the rest of it is irrelevant. Definitely not worth the effort to deconstruct the whole thing.

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