Why Did God Create Atheists?


This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

God does not believe in atheists Why did God create atheists?

This is a question I always want to ask religious believers. (One of many questions, actually. “What evidence do you have that God is real?” and “Why are religious beliefs so different and so contradictory?” are also high on the list.)

If God is real, and religious believers are perceiving a real entity… why is anyone an atheist? Why don’t we all perceive him? If God is powerful enough to reach out to believers just by sending out his thoughts or love or whatever… why isn’t he powerful enough to reach all of us? Why is there anyone who doesn’t believe in him?

It seems to be a question that troubles many believers as well. At least, it troubles them enough that they feel compelled to respond. And as atheism becomes more common and more vocal, this compulsion to respond seems to be getting more common and more vocal as well.

I’ve seen a couple of religious responses to this question. Neither of which is very satisfactory. But they keep coming up… so today, I want to take them on.

Open Your Heart To Me, Baby

Key_to_my_heart For more traditional believers, the answer to why atheists exist is simple: Atheists have closed our hearts to God. God has reached out to atheists — but we don’t want to believe. We want to pursue a selfish and sybaritic life, and don’t want to obey God’s laws (so say the real hard-liners)… or we’ve been hurt by life or by religion, and we’re rejecting God out of anger (so say the marginally more compassionate believers). But it’s important that we have free will — so we have to be free to reject God as well as to accept him. God can’t force us to believe. That would be cheating.

Uh huh.

See, here’s the problem with that.

Or rather, here’s a whole set of problems.

For starters: This idea is totally unfalsifiable. There’s no way to prove that you honestly gave religion a chance. Until we develop the technology to accurately record the inside of somebody’s head and play it back in somebody else’s, there’s no way to prove that atheists are sincerely open-minded and willing to consider religion.

Atheists can say a hundred times, “Really, I’m telling you, I’ve looked at this carefully, I’ve meditated on it, I’ve examined the evidence, I’ve studied lots of different religions… and I just don’t find any of it convincing.” We can ask believers to give us good evidence or arguments for God. We can point out the pain and distress many of us went through when we let go of our beliefs — pain and distress that this “You’ve just closed your heart to God” trope seriously trivializes. We can even go out on a limb and point to the kinds of evidence that would convince us we were mistaken (something just about no religious believers are willing to do). But since we can’t demonstrate the state of our minds and hearts, believers can always say, “You aren’t sincere. Your mind and heart are closed.”

There’s no way to prove that they’re wrong. It’s an unfalsifiable hypothesis.

Which makes it an entirely useless one. If there’s no possible way to show that your hypothesis is false, there’s no way to know whether it’s true.

Goalposts What’s more, the “You’ve hardened your heart against God” trope is a perfect example of moving the goalposts. No matter how many times we gave God the old college try… we clearly haven’t tried hard enough. I mean — we don’t believe! If we’d tried hard enough, then obviously we’d believe! The fact that we don’t believe is proof that we haven’t tried hard enough. Q.E.D. (It’s a fairly entertaining logical fallacy, actually: a unique blend of moving goalposts and circular reasoning. I’m kind of impressed.)

And then, of course, we have the niggling little problem of self-deception and rationalization.

Mistakes_were_made The human mind is very prone to believing what it already believes. It’s very prone to believing what it’s been prompted to believe. And it’s very prone to believing what it wants to believe. Rationalization is a deeply hard-wired part of how the human mind works, and while it’s a surprisingly important part — among other things, it enables us to get on with our lives without being totally paralyzed — it’s something we always need to keep in mind when we’re deciding if the things we believe are really true.

So if the only way to believe something is to try really, really hard? If what it takes to believe something is to “open your heart” — i.e., to put yourself in a state of suggestibility and wishful thinking?

That’s not a very good sign that this something is true.

Quite the contrary.

If we care about whether the things we believe are true — if we want to be sure that we’re not just fooling ourselves into believing what we already believe or what we want to believe — then the times we’re trying really hard to convince ourselves of something? Those are exactly the times we should be most skeptical. That’s not when we should be opening our hearts. That’s when we should be on our guard.

The reality for me, and the reality for a whole lot of atheists? I am open to my mind being changed. Heck, I used to be a believer. I used to be more than just open to the idea of God — I used to believe in God. (Or something that I was willing to call God.) In fact, it was my willingness to change my mind, my openness to reconsidering new possibilities, that led me to let go of my religious beliefs in the first place. And if someone can give me some really good reasons to change my mind back again, I will.

But “You just have to open your heart” is not a good reason. It’s an unfalsifiable argument — nothing I do can prove that I’m sincerely open to the God hypothesis. Its goalposts can be moved forever — no matter how carefully I’ve considered religion, people can argue that I need to consider it just a little more. And it’s basically a defense of wishful thinking as some sort of positive virtue. (Besides, nobody’s ever given me a good reason why I should open my heart to their particular god: why I should open my heart to Jesus instead of to Allah, or Ganesh, or the Goddess, or that blue peacock god some people worship in northern Iraq.)

“You just haven’t opened your heart” is clearly a terrible explanation for why God would allow atheists to exist.

Are there any better ones?

I Love You Just The Way You Are

Circle holding hands There is another religious response to the puzzling question of why there are atheists. And unlike the unfalsifiable, goalpost-moving, “let’s treat people like pariahs for wanting to be careful that the things they believe are true” hostility of “You haven’t opened your hearts,” it’s a response that typically comes from more progressive, tolerant, pluralistic believers.

It’s this: “God doesn’t care if you’re an atheist.”

Buddy_jesus “As long as you’re a good person,” this idea goes, “as long as you love other people and try to do right by them, God’s fine with you. God doesn’t need your worship or your praise, or even your faith. God loves atheists, too. He doesn’t care whether you believe in him.”

Yeah. See, here’s the problem with that.

God may not care whether I believe in him.

But I do.

I want to understand the world. I care about reality, more than I care about just about anything. If there really is a God who created everything, who guided the universe and the process of evolution so conscious life could come into being, who animates all life with his spirit — I bloody well want to know about it. I don’t want to be flatly wrong about one of the hugest questions humanity is faced with. In my years as an atheist writer, I keep asking believers again and again, “Do you have some evidence for your belief? If you do, please tell me about it. I want to see it.” And I’m not being snarky, or baiting them into a debate I know they can’t win. (Well… not mostly.) If I’m wrong about this, I sincerely want to know.

Why does God deny me that knowledge? Why does he give it to some people, and not others?

And maybe more to the point:

If there really were a loving creator of the universe who animates all life including my own, and from whom all that is good and valuable about the world emanates?

Handshake I wouldn’t want to be alienated from him. I’d want to be connected with him. (Her. It. Them. Whatever.) Especially the touchy-feely God that the progressive, tolerant, pluralistic believers believe in. There are certainly plenty of gods I wouldn’t worship even if I thought they were real — the God of fundamentalist Christianity is a sadistic nutjob, and even if he existed I wouldn’t give him the time of day. But the warm, gentle, “source of all life/ force of goodness and love in the universe” God that progressive believers believe in? Sure, I’d want to know him. I’d have some serious questions for him — why is there suffering, why is there evil, why can’t the Cubs win a goddamn pennant to save their lives — but I’d happily have a beer with the guy. We could be friends. I mean, he’s the source of all life, the force of goodness and love in the universe. Of course I’d want that in my life. Why on earth wouldn’t I?

If God exists… then why isn’t he reaching out to me? Isn’t it cruel of him to reach out to some people but not to others? (Not to mention the manipulative game-playing he seems to be doing, where he reveals himself in wildly different and even contradictory ways to different people, and then sits back while they duke it out over which one is right.) Why does he manifest in some people’s hearts, but not in others? Why is he being such a passive-aggressive jerk?

Happy_face Let me be very clear about this: I am entirely happy to be an atheist. I’m not one of these whiny, moody, “I wish I could believe” atheists that so many believers think is the only valid kind of atheism. I am tickled pink to be an atheist. I won’t pretend that I didn’t lose a form of comfort when I left my beliefs — but I gained so much in return that the loss is a clear bargain. And the comforts I have now are far more comforting… since they’re built on a foundation of reality. I don’t have the constant nagging feeling in the back of my head that my beliefs are just wishful thinking, and that I’ve built my philosophy on a foundation of sand. I’m persuaded that God does not exist, and that’s just ducky with me.

But I’m happy with my atheism because I’m persuaded that it’s correct. I’m happy not feeling God in my life because I’m persuaded that God doesn’t exist.

If God really existed, I sure as heck would want to know about it.

So why don’t I?

If God really exists — why don’t I know about it?

How we believe As an atheist, I have some really good answers for why people believe in God even though he doesn’t exist. The human mind is prone to numerous cognitive errors — and many of those cognitive errors make people susceptible to religion. We tend to see intention, even where no intention exists. We tend to see patterns, even where no pattern exists. We give excessive weight to personal emotional experience, and aren’t good at applying critical thought to those experiences. We don’t have a good intuitive understanding of probability, and tend to think events are more improbable than they really are. We tend to believe what authority figures tell us. We tend to believe what we’re taught as children. We tend to believe what people we know and trust tell us. We’re reluctant to question the things that everyone else in our social group believes. Etc., etc., etc. People believe all sort of things that aren’t true… and from an atheist/ materialist viewpoint, that makes perfect sense. Atheism is not even a little inconsistent with the belief in gods who don’t exist.

But the belief in God is very much inconsistent with the existence of atheists. I have yet to see a religious believer give a good answer for why God exists — but not everyone experiences him or believes in him. I have yet to see a good answer for why God bestows the experience of his existence (however inconsistently and contradictorily) onto some people — but not onto others. I have yet to see a good answer for why God is all-powerful and all-knowing and all-good — or even anything close to all-powerful and all-knowing and all-good — and still isn’t perceived by everybody.

Does anybody have one?

(And if you say “Mysterious ways,” I’m going to scream.)

Comments

  1. says

    I don’t have the time to look it up right now, but there is biblical support for the idea that the God Yahweh has already determined whom shall be saved and whom shall be doomed. He only reveals himself to people that he wants to, and in so doing, reveals himself to be a capricious prick. I guess that’s why I eventually stopped worshiping that douchebag of a deity. But he keeps sending his human friends around to bug me – I wonder if I can get a restraining order..?

  2. DSimon says

    That “moving the goalposts” picture has the potential for epic memeage. I think it’s only one clever subtitle away from being the new “bunny with a pancake on his head”.

  3. Sastra says

    The problem is that theists have multiple explanations for why there are atheists — but they can really only give those explanations to each other. The explanations usually assume that there is something wrong, dishonest, or missing, with the atheists. You know — those people.
    But when theists and atheists are in honest dialogue with each other, there is often an automatic assumption of common ground and good will. That’s what dialogue entails. Suddenly, neither one of you can be the mysterious, unaccountable, lamentable “Other” in the next room, or off somewhere else, and you can talk about them all you want with impunity.
    Telling the other person that there is something seriously wrong with their sensitivity, or ability to love, is very hard when you’re looking at an otherwise perfectly ordinary person who seems just like you, and has done nothing colder and crueler than ventured to disagree with your views on religion. At best, it seems a bit rude. At worst, it makes you sound like an intractably arrogant snot.
    That makes it hard to take the high ground of enlightened compassion caused by spirituality.

  4. says

    Sinned34 there are a few places in the Old and New Testaments that speak of things being “predestined” or following some kind of divine plan. A good example might be Ephesians 1:3-5 that mentions God choosing believers before the foundation of the world. Other verses like Mark 4:12 that speak of God deliberately blinding people to the truth in case they realise, repent and be saved. This probably explains why a lot of Christians come across as having a smug superiority when they meet an atheist. Also adds to the “Chosen few” mentality we also see.
    If we are to believe this is correct, then using Pharaoh as an example, his heart was hardened by God so God could show off demonstrating power over each of the main Egyptian deities. Foreign kinds were also ‘used’ as part of a divine plan to punish Israel (northern Kingdom) and Judah (Southern Kingdom).
    There are other verses that contradict this implying that humans have free will.
    Why did God create Atheists? Warped sense of humour perhaps to show Christians how they really ought to be living, acting and thinking, just like He sent gay people to show straight men how to treat a woman properly.

  5. Bruce Gorton says

    Well, hypothetically (Because I am an atheist) there is another answer…
    What if God isn’t omniscient, omnipotent or omnibenevolent, but instead knows a lot, is quite powerful and the sort of being you wouldn’t mind bumping into in a pub?
    Take the omni out of it, take out the highly flawed and problematic concept of perfection (which more often entails the said being agreeing with all of your prejudices anyway) and suddenly you have a being which isn’t inconsistent with the existence of atheists.
    This is one of the things that always left me with the idea that polytheism was more tenable than monotheism – the gods aren’t all powerful and frequently disagree with each other.

  6. says

    Bruce I like it! You might have something there as even the Old Testament mentions other gods. The Commandment YOu shall have no other gods before me” Seem s to imply that other gods existed, or else why use the name “Most High God”.
    Another idea is that the Christian God is only a lackey, having to cow tow to another more supreme god or council of gods. Could we also be over using relative comparisons, so that the Xn God might appear to be “Omni” compared to us yet in reality is finite.
    Others suggest that maybe God is in a tug of war with an equally powerful devil or god of chaos for want of a description.
    Also consider Elohim has a pluralness about it, even the Genesis account uses the phrase “Let ‘us’ make man in our own image”, sorting also implying a plurality.
    Some OT Theologians have suggested that all the various names for God are names of other gods that got amalgamated into one person. Rather like a fictional character being made up of characteristics of several real living persons.

  7. says

    FYI I’m agnostic, neither atheist nor theist, but I can argue either side. I’ll take a crack at answering the questions posed here.
    “Why did God create atheists?”
    God didn’t create anybody. God set the universe in motion with all it’s characteristics in place. Evolution is a natural process no more inconsistent with a deity than gravity.
    “If God is real, and religious believers are perceiving a real entity…”
    God isn’t real. God is not a part of the natural order and therefore is not “real”, sensible or perceivable. Nevertheless god exists.
    “why is anyone an atheist?”
    Free will, duhhh…
    Objection: “This idea is totally unfalsifiable.”
    So are climate change and evolution. Falsifiability was a dogma of the now discredited philosophy of Logical Positivism. Though it is understandable why arrogant and dogmatic atheists might wish to pretend it is still a viable position. The principle of falsifiability has been replaced by that of testability. Which makes it much harder to bully ignorant creationists with.
    “We can point out the pain and distress many of us went through when we let go of our beliefs — pain and distress that this “You’ve just closed your heart to God” trope seriously trivializes.”
    Religion isn’t really about belief, that is what science is about. Religion is about faith. Which refers to the willingness to act in spite of or in the absence of any evidence that the choice one is making is the right choice.
    Thus, “opening one’s heart to god” means that one acts, takes a leap of faith, without any assurance that act will payoff. To make such a leap requires that one be open to the infinity of possible worlds that you are “leaping into”. By closing their hearts and demanding all action by rigidly and rationally justified atheists actually narrow and limit their horizon to only that which can be known. The theists horizon of experience is infinite and therefore superior.
    (cont)

  8. says

    (cont)
    “If there’s no possible way to show that your hypothesis is false, there’s no way to know whether it’s true.”
    This is false. Complex non-falsifiable systems such as evolutionary theory or climate change can be subject to scientific analysis. Scientism is a common error of the New Atheists of today.
    “No matter how many times we gave God the old college try… we clearly haven’t tried hard enough. I mean — we don’t believe!”
    Au contraire. Today, it is the atheist who truly believes! Theists are today’s unbelievers. That is why they are so reviled.
    “Rationalization is a deeply hard-wired part of how the human mind works”
    Yes, I know that is one of the dogmas of your faith but humans are not machines Sebastian, we’re organic. We are not “hard wired” to do anything because we are not wired at all. We can choose, we can act freely. If you truly believe in determinism… well, that is a very bleak outlook indeed. If all your actions are hard wired then how do you explain this blog? Why even attempt any kind of rational discussion at all?
    “I am open to my mind being changed.”
    How is this even possible? If, as you claim, beliefs are hard wired then it is impossible for you to change your mind at all. You might think you are in charge but that is an illusion. You no more run things than the froth on a wave brings in the tide. You are an epiphenomenon and have no material effect on the world whatsoever. You’re just going along for the ride but it isn’t like you actually matter.
    “If God exists… then why isn’t he reaching out to me?”
    Because it isn’t all about you.
    “I have yet to see a good answer for why God is all-powerful and all-knowing and all-good […] and still isn’t perceived by everybody.”
    So that you may have faith.

  9. says

    Free will, duhhh…

    Brenda: How does denying me pertinent information make me more free to make an informed decision? That’s like saying that a jury has to be denied crucial evidence, so they can be free to reach the correct verdict. And besides, it evades the central question: Why does God deprive some people of this supposed direct experience of him, but not others? Why do some people have religious experiences (albeit wildly contradictory with one another), while some people don’t?

    Complex non-falsifiable systems such as evolutionary theory or climate change can be subject to scientific analysis.

    Both evolutionary theory and global climate change are falsifiable hypotheses. The classic line about what would falsify evolutionary theory: A fossilized rabbit in the pre-Cambrian layer. And the theory of global climate change would falsifiable by simple evidence that temperature averages are not rising.

    We are not “hard wired” to do anything because we are not wired at all.

    With all due respect, you can’t be serious. There is a massive body of evidence pointing to the theory that, at the very least, a significant amount of human behavior is wired into us from birth. We are wired to learn language; we are wired to be social animals; we are not wired to swim upstream to spawn; etc. etc. etc. And we are wired with certain types of cognitive processing — including cognitive errors that have assisted in our survival.
    That doesn’t mean every aspect of our behavior is predetermined, or that we can’t make choices. It simply means that much of our behavior is strongly shaped by the biological wiring of our brains. You’re making this into a false either/or dichotomy, when it’s much more nuanced than that.

    Religion is about faith. Which refers to the willingness to act in spite of or in the absence of any evidence that the choice one is making is the right choice.

    I think you’re conflating two different meanings of the word “faith”: the secular meaning, which is the willingness to take chances and have hope and trust people in spite of having incomplete certainty or evidence that this is the right choice… and the religious meaning, which is believing in God (or the soul, or whatever) no matter what, regardless of whether the evidence actually contradicts that belief. The willingness to take a secular leap of faith is indeed crucial to human life. But I fail to see how a refusal to let go of a belief regardless of the evidence is a positive good we should strive for.
    More on this distinction:
    What Would Convince You That You Were Wrong? The Difference Between Secular and Religious Faith

    By closing their hearts and demanding all action by rigidly and rationally justified atheists actually narrow and limit their horizon to only that which can be known. The theists horizon of experience is infinite and therefore superior.

    Atheists have just as much capacity to imagine the infinite as theists. We simply care about whether the things we imagine are true. We’re happy to imagine the infinite all day long — but when it comes to deciding what probably is or is not really true about the universe, we want our understanding to be compatible with the best available evidence. Why is that a bad thing?
    Theists are the ones (generally) saying, “No matter what evidence you show me, I will still believe in God — that’s what it means to have faith.” Atheists are the ones (generally) saying, “Show me the evidence that I’m mistaken, and I’ll change my mind.” So how is it that theists’ horizons are broader? A willingness to understand what isn’t true about the universe is central to understanding what is true about it.
    More on this concept:
    Atheism, Openness, and Caring About Reality: Or, Why What We Don’t Believe Matters
    And we don’t demand that all action be rigidly and rationally justified. That’s just flat-out wrong. We love the irrational, emotional, subjective, passionate side of life: the side of life that falls in love, that devotes one’s life to art, that dresses up like a traffic cone for Halloween. We just don’t think that’s the right angle to take when attempting to answer questions about what is and is not true in the real, external, non-subjective world.
    More on this:
    “A Different Way of Knowing”: The Uses of Irrationality… and its Limitations

    Because it isn’t all about you.

    You’re missing the point. The question isn’t, “Why isn’t God reaching out to me?” The question is, “Why isn’t God reaching out to everybody? Why does he reach out to some people and not to others? And why do his revelations to different believers contradict one another so radically? Why is he so inconsistent? Why doesn’t he make his existence clear? Why does he play hide and seek?” And again — faith and free will are terrible answers. See above, with my example of the jury. Having accurate information makes us more free to make the right choices, not less.

  10. says

    “How does denying me pertinent information make me more free to make an informed decision?”
    If you are making an informed decision then you are not acting on faith.
    “Why does God deprive some people of this supposed direct experience of him, but not others?”
    People who believe they have direct experience of god are delusional.
    “Both evolutionary theory and global climate change are falsifiable hypotheses.”
    No, they are not. If it were true that falling global mean temps refute climate change then it would have been refuted long ago. Global temps have not gone up steadily every year. The fact that global temps go up and down is why it was renamed to climate change from global warming.
    Misplaced fossils have been found and, just as cool years do not refute climate change, they do not refute evolution either. I am not arguing against evolution or climate change but please notice the form of the argument:
    Evolution and climate change are not non-falsifiable because discovery X would falsify them.
    X has been discovered.
    Nonetheless, Evolution and climate change have not been falsified.
    Therefore Evolution and climate change are non-falsifiable.

  11. says

    (cont)
    “With all due respect, you can’t be serious. There is a massive body of evidence pointing to the theory that, at the very least, a significant amount of human behavior is wired into us from birth.”
    I don’t accept Cognitivism and I don’t accept that any human behaviors are “hard wired”. The latter is an unscientific term that has no real meaning.
    “We are wired to learn language”
    I have no idea what “wired” is supposed to mean. Should I look for wires in my head? We are not wired to learn languages, we have a capacity to learn but if a narrow window of opportunity for learning a language is missed that the child will never learn.
    “We’re using and adapting the machinery we already have in our brains,” said study coauthor Aaron Newman, from the University of Rochester. “Obviously we’re doing something different [from other animals], because we’re able to learn language unlike any other species. But it’s not because some little black box evolved specially in our brain that does only language, and nothing else.”
    “That doesn’t mean every aspect of our behavior is predetermined, or that we can’t make choices.”
    Well that’s exactly what “hard wired” means. It means that the behavior is predetermined. Animal mating rituals are “hard wired”. They are fixed behaviors that cannot be changed by the individual animal’s free will.
    “But I fail to see how a refusal to let go of a belief regardless of the evidence is a positive good we should strive for.”
    I don’t either, so why do you do that? Fundamentalists and Atheists think that faith has something to do with belief. Again, having faith means acting in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Fundamentalists and Atheists think it means believing contrary to all evidence.
    “when it comes to deciding what probably is or is not really true about the universe, we want our understanding to be compatible with the best available evidence. Why is that a bad thing?”
    No, it’s not a bad thing. But religion is not about determining true facts about the world, that’s what science does. Religion attempts to answer the question of how we should live. If current theologies are insufficient then we need better ones.
    “You’re missing the point. The question isn’t, “Why isn’t God reaching out to me?” The question is, “Why isn’t God reaching out to everybody?”
    For the same reason, because it isn’t about you (plural). Religious institutions are examples of collective intentionality. They demand that we set aside our ego, our Will to Power, and submit to something greater than ourselves. You know a little about submission don’t you? But, you don’t really submit, you top from the bottom. Hence your “frustration” in other posts.
    “Having accurate information makes us more free to make the right choices, not less.”
    Living ones life to the fullest means NOT making the right choices.

  12. Eclectic says

    Objection: “This idea is totally unfalsifiable.”
    So are climate change and evolution.

    Utter rubbish! Climate change is trivial to verify: do nothing and wait 20 years, or until the effects are sufficiently un-subtle that even a blind man notices he’s up to his knees in melted ice cap.
    The problem is with the need for drastic action before things become that obvious.
    Likewise, evolution: I’m rather a fan of the E. coli long-term evolution experiment, but there are plenty of falsifiable predictions. The commonality of various evolutionary trees derived using different genetic markers shows both common descent and gradual change. A significant disagreement would falsify evolution.

  13. Eclectic says

    This is false. Complex non-falsifiable systems such as evolutionary theory or climate change can be subject to scientific analysis.

    Brenda, can you explain what you mean by “falsifiable”, please? I don’t think it’s the same thing that Karl Popper meant.
    As far as I know, falsifiability is a prerequisite for discussing the truth of a statement. The statement must predict future observations, and those predictions must be sufficiently specific that they can be judged to be wrong. I.e. there must be some set of potential future observations that are excluded by the prediction.
    If anything at all can happen “because God moves in mysterious ways” and no outcome is precluded, even statistically, then you have a statement which is vacuous, meaningless, and unfalsifiable. I consider those three terms to be synonymous in this case.
    Do you use a different definition of falsifiability?

  14. says

    “As far as I know, falsifiability is a prerequisite for discussing the truth of a statement.”
    Yes, you are indeed very confused. Falsifiability has nothing to do with the truth of propositions. The question of what is it that makes any proposition true is pretty involved but here is the condensed version:
    ‘Snow is white’ is true if and only if snow is white.
    Simple!

  15. says

    “Do you use a different definition of falsifiability?”
    Let’s not lose sight here. I object to your use of falsifiability because that is scientism or naïve falsificationism. Logical Positivism has been roundly discredited yet New Atheists continue to use it as a club to beat their opponents with? Why? I believe that most of today’s New Atheists are just lost Fundamentalists who have replaced God with Science. The dogmatic assertion of the failed philosophy of Logical Positivism only strengthens my case.
    “If anything at all can happen “because God moves in mysterious ways” and no outcome is precluded, even statistically, then you have a statement which is vacuous, meaningless, and unfalsifiable.”
    Or a good working definition of quantum mechanics. Wherein “no outcome is precluded, even statistically”. You see, I think you want things both ways. I think you want absolute certainty only when it suits you. And that, of course, is against the rules.

  16. Eclectic says

    ‘Snow is white’ is true if and only if snow is white.
    And how does this contradict what I said? This is an example of a falsifiable statement: I can go out in winter, look at the snow around the fire hydrant, see that it’s yellow, and conclude that the statement is not universally true.
    I’m just giving a more precise definition of what it means to be true. And a more useful one, because it can be applied in awkward cases when the answer is non-obvious.
    It’s a lot like how early intuitive concepts of calculus have awkward corner cases that were resolved with the formal epsilon-delta definition of limits.
    If you have a definition of truth that actually contradicts my idea of falsification rather than just being a subset of it, please give an example.
    That’s how conflicting theories are resolved: find a point of clear conflict and test it to see which is right.
    As for “no outcome is precluded, even statistically”, I’m afraid that I have to disagree strongly with you. I was thinking of quantum mechanics when I wrote that! Yes, quantum mechanics allows damn near anything to happen infrequently enough, but through statistics, it does preclude certain outcomes.
    If you think otherwise, then I think your understanding of quantum mechanics is neither “good” nor “working”. Your computer contains billions of transistors, and none of them would work if electron tunneling (a random unpredictable event) didn’t obey statistical laws!
    I don’t have absolute certainty in anything and will never get it. I want practical certainty: sufficient evidence that I can stop worrying about a mistake.
    If I don’t consider certain facts as “decided”, then making any decision becomes impossibly difficult. I’m open to re-examining those decisions in light of strong evidence, but “what if” imaginings are just re-covering groud I’ve already left.

  17. Eclectic says

    I don’t mean to snip or quote-mine, but this is an extensive discussion and I don’t have time to put together a response of the scope it deserves, so my responses are fragmentary.

    If you are making an informed decision then you are not acting on faith.

    Now that’s a false dichotomy if ever I’ve heard one. I suppose there is no faith in a fully informed decision, but is anyone ever fully informed about anything?
    There is a vast terrain of incomplete knowledge between “blind leap” and omniscience. That’s where most people spend their lives. Figure out what you can, and then hope.
    It’s a superficially plausible statement that doesn’t stand up to a moment’s actual thought.

    But religion is not about determining true facts about the world, that’s what science does. Religion attempts to answer the question of how we should live. If current theologies are insufficient then we need better ones.

    This “non-overlapping magisteria” suggestion has numerous problems:Vast numbers of religious practitioners and leaders adamantly insist that their religion has determined true facts about the world.”How we should live”, if it is to appeal to consequences at all, needs to make use of known facts about the world.This ends up reducing to the “god of the gaps” argument. Science has a persistent habit of expanding the range of subjects over which it can make useful statements. If your religion comfortable being squeezed into the ever-smaller gaps between what is known empirically?
    I’m sorry, but I don’t think your characterization of religion here is widely shared.

  18. DSimon says

    Also, “how we should live” is itself a factual claim; it’s saying “If we want to achieve our goals, it’s effective to do X”, and that’s falsifiable.

  19. Martin says

    “If God really exists — why don’t I know about it?”
    How about… God just doesn’t give a f*ck? I mean, this isn’t an answer any theist has ever given me, but I have foudn one way to make theism make sense, of sorts. Just not a very nice sense. It not only allows me to answer this one question, but also those about the existance of suffering and evil.
    If you define God as a supreme being that has created the universe unchecked by any outside laws, powers or influences, as it is and has the power to control everything in it (be it through predestination and setting things in motion just so that everything goes according to the divine plan, or be it through active interference), then I think the only deduction you can make about that being is that it doesn’t give a f*ck about suffering, about good or evil, about fairness, or whether you believe in it or not. Because clearly none of these things amount to amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
    I’m not saying God has to be a total monster. He created sunsets, and the sea, summer meadows, He created humanity, and for all its flaws there is a lot to love about that, He created life, and the possibility happiness. Of course He also created earthquakes and murder, pancreatic cancer and scorpions and slugs and the vast emptiness of space. He also created an exit, if you don’t like what He did with the world. I mean, nobody is stopping you from checking out early if you think it isn’t worth the while (and eventually you are even forcibly thrown out, after, well, about 90 years at the latest). That is the only complaints department He seems to have come up with.
    But it IS an answer to all your questions. It is the answer He seems to haven given Job in the OT when he had similar issues. If you stop expecting God to be logical, friendly, easygoing, consistant, or even strictly speaking sane, you can easily fit him into the world as it exists around you.
    Of course, it’s up to you if you want to. He sure doesn’t seem to care one way or another.
    ;)

  20. Maria says

    But the whole point of asking the sort of questions that Greta asks in this article is that almost all theists do claim that god cares. And their claims of an all-loving, caring god, that is also intensely interested in us and what we feel about him, is not consistent with what we see.
    I see these questions as a critique of these claims (to make the people who make those claims think them over) not a way to come up with still more human-made god-concepts that would fit with the world we see.
    Creating god concepts is easy, to make some people think about what their beliefs actually mean is harder.

  21. Will Rubin says

    I’ll try to answer this from an atheist point of view to keep it short and to the point. Because, to an atheist, God is a Bastard. He gives us free will to decide weather to accept Him into our lives or not. He allows us to take whatever path we want and we make up our own mind. In the end, those of us who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as our savior will find a place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who choose not to accept him will find the Gates of Heaven closed to them. Really, it’s that simple.

  22. says

    This kind of discussion, while lots of fun, really has no point. Logic and logical questioning just won’t get us anywhere, and “Why doesn’t God _______ (fill in the blank) doesn’t lead to any answers.
    My girlfriend asked me what it would take to convince me that God exists. I thought about it, and the answer is…nothing. Nothing I can imagine would convince me. I’d have to weigh the probability that my perception was real and accurate against the probability that my brain was malfunctioning. Obviously a brain malfunction is much more likely. Or maybe religion is hard wired into most humans, and it is I, and other atheists, who have the brain malfunction that allows us to get closer to reality.

  23. says

    Will: “I’ll try to answer this from an atheist point of view to keep it short and to the point.”
    And wrong. Given that you’re not an atheist, I’d advise you against answering from our point of view.

  24. DSimon says

    Darwin Harmless, except that brain malfunctions don’t cause totally unpredictable stuff to happen; the brain has some failure modes that are more common than others, and that can often be recognized from the inside.
    If you were having a hallucination, there’s a good chance you’d be able to tell, particularly if you know a lot about hallucinations. Suppose you see that every person of a particular faith is instantly granted the powers of flight and laser vision.
    Maybe it’s just a hallucination? Well, that’s a possibility worth considering… but if the Mormons or whatever are still clearly and consistently flying around and cooking hot dogs with their eyes a month later, and all attempts to falsify their powers as magic tricks or a strangely specific hallucination-causing contagious brain disease or hidden jetpacks or whatever have turned up empty-handed, then the hallucination hypothesis starts getting a lot less worthy, and the deity hypothesis starts gaining serious points.

  25. says

    Will: As I have already explained in this thread: Free will is a terrible answer to this question.
    First of all: How does denying me pertinent information make me more free to make an informed decision? That’s like saying that a jury has to be denied crucial evidence, so they can be free to reach the correct verdict. Denying me pertinent information about God makes me less free… not more.
    And second, the “free will” answer evades the central question: Why does God deprive some people of this supposed direct experience of him, but not others? Why do some people have religious experiences (albeit wildly contradictory with one another), while some people don’t? If denying information about God is so important to our free will, why does God let himself be known to anyone at all?
    And no, it’s not “that simple.” How do you know that you’ve made the right choice? How do you know that Jesus is the correct path to Heaven, as opposed to Allah or Ganesh or Zeus? How do you know that your understanding of what Jesus wants is the correct one? What evidence do you have that you’ve got it right, and everyone who disagrees with you has got it wrong? You can say that you have faith — but those other believers have faith, too. What makes you so sure that your faith is right, and the faiths of the billions of believers who disagree with you are wrong?

  26. DSimon says

    “Because, to an atheist, God is a Bastard.”
    No, I think you’re thinking of some other group. To an atheist, God is a fictional character with an extremely devoted fanbase.

  27. Frank Incense says

    Greta: If only those religionists practiced their faith at home and a place of worship without insisting on shoving it down the throats of everybody who doesn’t happen to share their belief. In other words, why not leave the public space religion free and behave according to the golden rule etc.? And also keep children away from faith matters until they are able to decide rationally for themselves which direction they want to go. My gut feeling is that in this way, after a while a dogma based outlook would become passé in society’s collective consciousness.

  28. Maxx says

    Good evening;
    Just a quick comment to F. Incense if I may? “Behave according to the Golden Rule.” ??
    On one hand you want to leave the public space free of religion and then advocate the public practice of a tenet of religious origin – The Golden Rule?
    A moral standard – based on your, “gut feeling?”
    What if my gut feeling is that the Golden Rule is absurd. What if my ‘Golden Rule’ is to do unto others whatever I wish to meet my own needs – whatever/however?
    “Keep children away from faith matters until they are able to decide…”
    Whose standard of rationality? Yours; mine.
    I’m sorry, but your postmodern subjective relativism is truly astounding.

  29. says

    I have been surfing on-line more than three hours these days, but I by no means found any interesting article like yours. It is beautiful worth sufficient for me. In my view, if all website owners and bloggers made just right content material as you probably did, the internet can be a lot more helpful than ever before.

Leave a Reply