10 Scariest States to Be an Atheist


US_map_-_states Let’s be clear. It’s not like it’s easy to be an atheist anywhere in the U.S. Atheists are the most distrusted and disliked of all minority groups — more than Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, and gays and lesbians — and polls show that Americans are less likely to vote for an atheist than they are for a person in any other minority or marginalized category. And this hostility can have serious consequences, in the form of harassment, bullying, ostracism, vandalism, alienation from family, loss of jobs, and more.

But to be honest, there are parts of the country where being an atheist really isn’t all that awful. Heck, I live in one of them. There’s some bigotry, some discrimination, a fair amount of misunderstanding and even hostility… but all things considered, it’s pretty okay. And then, there are some parts of the country where being an atheist sucks.

Let’s talk about a few of those, shall we?

Gastner_map_purple_byarea_bycounty Now, to a great extent, how badly it sucks to be an atheist may not depend on the state you live in. It’s sort of like the red-state/ blue state myth: cultural differences in the United States break down more along urban/ rural lines than they do along state lines. Is it easier to be an atheist in New York than in Texas? Maybe… but it may also be easier if you’re in Austin, Texas than if you’re in rural upstate New York.

Many atheist and secularist leaders I spoke to stressed this point. According to Fred Edwords, National Director of the United Coalition of Reason (the organization responsible for many of the atheist billboard campaigns), “As for the worst states to be an atheist, it doesn’t generally work that way. It depends on what part of a state you are in.” In fact, he’s not even sure that this difference always breaks down along urban/ rural lines. “Is the key idea that the more rural areas give us the most trouble?” he asked. “Maybe. But we had bus ads vandalized in Detroit, too.” And he added that in Kentucky, “we had no problem in Louisville, but I still can’t get a billboard company to run our ads in supposedly more liberal Lexington.” And according to the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State “No state is really safe for non-believers. You find creationist ideas in schools from Louisiana to New Jersey. You find efforts to send secular tax dollars to religious schools in Indiana and Florida. And, finally, you find polls done of all Americans demonstrating that plenty of families don’t want their sons or daughters marrying atheists. There are many sad states of affairs.”

So the point here isn’t to show that some states suck for atheists worse than others. The point is to show that anti-atheist bigotry is real. The point is to show that it has real-world consequences. And the point is to let you know what some of those consequences are.

So with all that being said — let’s get on with the list! If you’re finishing your degree in secular studies and are trying to decide where in the country you want to plant your godless stakes… here are some places you might want to avoid.

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 10 Scariest States to Be an Atheist. To find out… well, which are the ten scariest states to be an atheist — and no, they’re not all in the deep South — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Andrew T. says

    I know “scariness” isn’t a criteria that can easily be separated along state borders or distilled to a neat quantitative scale, but great job putting together this piece.

  2. Elizabeth says

    After reading this compilation of the most recent goings-on, it makes me really despair that anything can ever change.
    I’m normally a very optimistic person, but sometimes I feel hopeless that things can change…then I think of other groups that have made progress, and I know it can happen, someday.

  3. Andrew T. says

    Oddly enough, this piece doesn’t depress me. It gives me encouragement how atheists are banding together, making themselves visible, and refusing to submit to injustice and slink into the background…even in the scariest of places…like never before. Every other social justice movement has been at this stage at some point.

  4. says

    Things may eventually change, but it is a very slow process. It seems like kids today are more receptive to people who are “different” from them and a lot more tolerant. I have hope that the kids will make much faster progress, but I’m afraid that if the people currently pushing for a theocracy wind up taking control of our government, then progress will come to a screeching halt. Like it’s been said, see “Christian Reconstruction.”

  5. Stonyground says

    I am from the UK so I am curious about something that was mentioned in the article. Some states still have laws that forbid atheists from holding political office. I’m guessing that even more states probably had such laws but some have since been repealed. I have a basic knowledge of US history so I am wondering if the states passed their anti atheist laws before the constitution was drawn up, or at least before it took its current form. The alternative possibility is that the constitution existed but the states in question simply ignored it, but to be honest I find that a little hard to believe.
    I sometimes wonder whether this whole Church-State seperation thing is such a good idea. It is brilliant in theory but in practice it just seems to cause trouble. In England we have a government sponsored Church, the Church of England or CofE. Religious freedom from the CofE has been gained for each religious minority, one by one, over about four hundred years. We now have a society that is mostly indifferent to religion, people who take religion seriously are considered to be mentally subnormal and the head of the CofE is a figure of fun. Maybe what you need is a CofUS, The Christians would think that it was totally brilliant when it was first set up but within a decade would find themselves being laughed at. Well maybe.

  6. Stonyground says

    Just realised that I need to clarify something. The Head of the CofE is acually the Queen. She is mostly regarded by the English people with a certain amount of affection. The figure of fun is the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury, the CofE’s top Bish.

  7. says

    Stonyground, in answer to your question: In 1961, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to bar atheists from holding public office, testifying in court, serving on juries, etc. Before then, many states not only had laws like this on the books — they were regularly enforced. Since then, these laws have not had any legal standing, and as far as I know they have not been enforced — but in many states, they’re still on the books. And in North Carolina, some jackasses actually tried to enforce it. They got shot down — the 1961 Supreme Court decision was pointed out to them — but still.

  8. says

    I have to disagree with your characterization of Rhode Island as a “state specifically founded as a place of religious freedom, as a response to religious persecution,” Greta. The fact is that the Puritan colonies of New England were founded as places of religious freedom for Puritans, not for anybody else. In fact, people deemed heretics by the Puritans, such as Quakers, were liable to be tortured and banished (which is a major factor in William Penn’s founding of the “holy experiment” of what would become Pennsylvania; everybody had it in for the Quakers back in the 17th & 18th centuries). The Establishment Clause is based in no small part on the fact that the thirteen colonies contained adherents of several religious sects, each of which regarded the others as heretics, and none of which trusted the others with worldly power.

  9. says

    Kind of hard to see how you would get reliable data without going door to door and asking, but I am thinking a giant map, with every town and city on it, which shows how nasty the place tends to be, by people’s own statements. A system that asked your state and town, then had a poll, would semi-work, but it would only show what people that use the internet think, and… not sure how skewed that would be, never mind the near impossibility of verifying that each vote was actually unique. Still, its would, unlike a lot of other polls, which just try to track trends, be harder to muck with. You would need some clown to keep entering Blah, TX, random age, and checking, “We don’t mind them.”, or what ever, over and over, to really screw with the result as badly as you would otherwise get with the straight one, which didn’t track location. Also, one solution is to not give a “see the results”, sort of thing, unless you figured out some general metric to show, but kept the specific data on state, and individual city levels, closed until you finalized the result.
    Door to door would work better for the “adult” trend, the net version, better for those under 30, probably, but, like I said, its hard to keep people from messing with the numbers, even if just “grossly”, by voting random cities, and claiming they like atheists, or hate them. But, and “poll”, run RL is going to skew to the people least likely to reflect future trends (i.e., those already set in their opinions). And, you are never going to get an honest answer from anyone under 18, if the parents have to be there “watching”, or they are in a crowd of others, who push them to the “correct” answer.
    Closest you could get is track IP, but that wouldn’t work either, since you end up with only a single result, from each house, if you end end up with that. :(
    All of which doesn’t even answer, “What questions?” I don’t think its as simple as yes or no, since that ends up landing in the “perception” category. I.e., they might be willing to accept “quiet” ones, but not, “pushy ones”. That this is a stupid distinction, doesn’t change the fact that the perception that they are pushy, by some, is likely to skew the answer in a way that demands they answer, “I don’t like them.”, to all atheists, when a wider range of options would show that there is a, “I don’t mind them”, category they do accept (entirely based on their own biased view of how pushy atheists are being, and nothing else).
    Still, would be interesting if a real effort on the matter could be made. As an example of the sort of problem you run into with this stuff though, it is sort of like how it would be nice to see someone do a rational examination of who is “Republican Tea Party”, “Libertarian Tea Party”, “I am too stupid to even be a Libertarian Tea Party”, and the “I am concerned about government spending, because: list of clear abuses, problems, defects in systems, and need to reform them Tea Party”.
    The last one I would even join. But, as things stand, you can’t even *get* most people into the last one, when its the one they would actually prefer, because there are too many people in the other 3 categories. People that either, in order of above, a) don’t believe in the existence of the problem being discussed, except that it helps them hide the very problems that need to be fixed, while not fixing them, and chasing nonsense as a distraction, b) those who help come up with the moon beams, magical unicorns, and damned government leprechauns they all babble their concern about, and the first group pretends to pick up nets and go hunt, and c) people that class *everything* as bad, if its government, because they, literally, don’t know enough to balance their own check book, so can’t understand what the government actually *does* need to do to balance theirs, other than, “spend less money”, which btw, they can’t manage themselves.
    Point being, there are a lot of questions that can only be answered with, “What the hell is really going on?”, and instead get, invariably, answered with, “What do you think is going on, without us bothering to make the slightest attempt at clear, precise examples, instead of vague, useless statistics.” And, something like the “atheist” question is bound to, if you let them know what the trend in their own town is, in the process of collection, leave some morons with the need to ignore the real results (healthcare and social security anyone?), and/or skew, the result in favor of what they *want to be true* (as in, “our town hates them atheists, even if 90% of the people say they don’t”).
    Still, some attempt is better than letting the village idiot collect nearly useless information, which is what we are *currently* dealing with.

  10. Robert B says

    I sometimes wonder whether this whole Church-State seperation thing is such a good idea. It is brilliant in theory but in practice it just seems to cause trouble.
    Stonyground, that’s like saying that sexual harassment laws seem like a good idea, but in practice they just lead to lawsuits. The alternative to “causing trouble” here is for the victims (atheists, in this case, but the principle applies to many minorities) to quietly accept their fate. If we do that, the more privileged groups don’t have any trouble at all – everything’s fine for them. Which means nothing will ever change for us. In other words, the real trouble is the social injustice that already exists, and the “trouble” caused by invoking separation of church and state is just the process of making everyone else acknowledge the problems.
    I don’t know much about your country, but I would guess that if you do have fewer problems with this sort of thing than we do, it might be because you have a more secular culture than the US, despite technically being a religious state.

  11. says

    I have to disagree with your characterization of Rhode Island as a “state specifically founded as a place of religious freedom, as a response to religious persecution,” Greta. The fact is that the Puritan colonies of New England were founded as places of religious freedom for Puritans, not for anybody else.

    Ah, but Rhode Island is the great exception. It was founded by Roger Williams specifically for religious freedom.

  12. says

    Recent events in my neighborhood I think merit another addition–perhaps #11? I live in Giles County, VA, where a display of the Ten Commandments in a public school has caused an outcry among this homogenous Christian community and some pretty nasty retribution against those of us who don’t “Defend the 10.”
    As you aptly note, it’s not about state lines but about a general fear of and hatred for non-believers. When I “came out” as an atheist to my local bridge club, it was one of the scarier and more tension-filled moments of my adulthood. Thanks for the great post!

  13. says

    Wow… that’s all very enlightening and somewhat disturbing. I grew up in an atheist household back in the 1970’s and it was always something we were supposed to keep secret. I never really understood why, but perhaps it’s starting to sink in…

  14. Stonyground says

    @Robert B
    I agree that it is absolutely right that governments should be completely neutral towards all of its citizens with no favours for religion, race etc. The point that I was making, and I admit that I have to make assumptions about causes, is that it seems to have the opposite effect to the one intended.
    I also realise that I contradicted myself when speculating about how quickly the problem might go away. It took us hundreds of years and religious freedom was won in tiny increments.

  15. says

    My hero’s are Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein. Both renowned gentlemen are atheist’s, and so am I. The world came about because of EVOLUTION, and will continue to do so, now and forever more. Religion to me is ‘mumbo jumbo’. For any person can be a ‘good’ person without being religious.

  16. malta says

    Dear Six of the best,
    If you wish to impersonate atheists on atheist websites, I would suggest the following tips:
    1. Learn what the greengrocer’s apostrophe is. Shun it. Atheism is all about the good grammar. Example: my heroes are atheists who know how to use apostrophes properly.
    2. Learn what evolution is. Hint: it did not create the world.
    3. Religion is mumbo jumbo and any person can be good without religion. There’s no need for scare quotes.
    4. (Optional) Picking a screen name that’s an allusion to Christian mythology (the number of the beast) is a bit strange.
    With these tips, perhaps you will be able to engineer a reverse-Poe.

  17. says

    Stonyground: just to expand on what Greta said, above, one additional complicating factor is that when the US constitution was ratified, the federal government had less influence and the individual states had more autonomy. It was only after the Civil War in the 1860s that the 14th amendment was passed, which guaranteed every citizen the rights given in the national constitution, trumping any lower laws and constitutions.
    So the Texas and other constitutions may have been legal when they were ratified, but that changed.

  18. Stonyground says

    Many thanks to all for filling me in on US history. It is no surprise that there are some who ignore the law if they think that they can get away with it. It happens in the UK to this day.

  19. Stonyground says

    @malta
    Six of the best has nothing at all to do with 666 the number of the beast. It is in fact a reference to physical punishment as practiced up until the nineteen eighties in British schools. Six of the best meant six strokes of the cane applied to the buttocks.
    All the rest of your observations on SOTB’s post were right on the mark.

  20. says

    I just finished Ibn Warraq’s “Why I Am Not a Muslim.” The title says it all: Warraq invokes the spirit of Bertrand Russell, whose “Why I Am Not a Christian” became a sensation. I wonder if, truly, there is any difference between one rigidly dogmatic monotheism and another. Both Muslims and Christians use scriptural presentism to bring natural insecurities and desert warlord law to bear on women and homosexuals. Is there really any difference between the Rev. John Hagee (right wing televangelist who blamed Katrina on gays) on the one hand, and any Taliban tribal leader on the other? Not really. Worse, Judeo-Christians and Muslims are on a collision course that is fueled by Booblical prophecy on the one hand and the ravings of a mad Arab on the other. One side believes we must hurry up the Rapture; the other, in agreement, long for the 72 Virgins of Paradise. Both see world annihilation as desirable. Let me off that train!

  21. malta says

    @Stonyground
    Thanks for the correction. That’s… actually kinda horrifying to learn. I just assumed SOTB had misspelt “beast”.
    And to add something on-topic, I think a dis-honorary mention should go to those states that have recently tried to stop funding for Planned Parenthood (Indiana and Tennessee, I’m glaring at you), even though Federal law already prevents funds from going to provide abortion services. I find few things quite as scary as the religious right imposing the dictates of their stone age holy book to block my access to reproductive health care.

  22. says

    But, that is the whole point. Its purpose is to block reproductive health care, abortion is simply employed as the “wedge” to end all of it. They, the ones pushing the thing, want women back in separate tents during menstruation, and denied the right to be anything other than baby factories (and some of the women that follow these lunatics have said that they agree with this, and see the whole, “freedom to be anything but a silent house wife”, thing as a horrible mistake, which they will take advantage of, to spread word about how horrible a mistake it was).
    Imho, we really, badly, need to be able to declare at least some of these damn people clinically insane, but as PZ recently posted, the nutcases say something stupid, the “progressives” retreat from the field, on the grounds that we all need to try to get along, and everyone else gets told to shut up, for how dare we point out that the emperor isn’t just nude, but painted himself green, and claims to be a duck. Its so much better to just pat them on the head, and say, “How nice”, rather than try to fix the damn problem, by admitting it *is* one, getting them frakking help. Oddly, to me, that would qualify as “progress”.

  23. Eric_RoM says

    “Danger”? Call the frickin’ wahmbulance. Is there any state where one may escape the histrionics of the atheists?

  24. says

    Sure, Eric, just pick any one of the ones where they have been chased out of town, lynched, etc. Moron… And, yes, this shit does happen.

  25. Anonymous says

    I’ve been making it a point to work my atheism into as many casual conversations as possible. Have a crucifix in your workplace? I’ll consider it a conversation starter. Have pride in your Islamic country of origin? Let’s talk about it. I continue to believe that being “out” is the most effective method of supporting my (friends? comrades?) who suffer under oppression.

  26. Margo K. says

    @James Martin
    Judeo-Christians? Say what? Who are Judeo-Christians? How are they different from non-Judeo-Christians?
    If you want to refer to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and maybe Mormonism, collectively, I suggest saying “Abrahamic religions”.
    If you want to talk about Jews and Christians, then say Jews and Christians, or Christians and Jews, not Judeo-Christians.
    “Judeo-Christian” implies that Christianity is the natural next phase of Judaism, of which Judaism is the inferior form. It also puts Jews in the same category the people who have been persecuting them for over a thousand years, usually in contexts where Jews are not very relevant (“Abrahamic” on the other hand tends to be used when Jewishness is at least somewhat relevant).
    Note: I am an atheist, but I identify as Jewish in the ethnic sense, and I don’t like being casually lumped with the people (Christians – Catholics to be specific) who threatened to kill my grandparents and forced them to become refugees. And the way James Martin used the term does not seem very relevant to Jewishness (maybe if he were referring to events in Israel, but since Jews don’t believe in the rapture, they aren’t trying to speed it up, are they?)

  27. vel says

    I do love when TrueChristians, like Eric_ROM come on to atheist blogs and proceed to show how their beliefs are simple false. The only thing they can do is spread more lies and make personal attacks. I live close to Annville in Pennsylvania. And no it doesn’t suprise me. This *is* the state of the Dover case, donchaknow? :) One bright spot is that Mickey Weinstein of MRFF did come to our state to speak at the Army War College, down in Carlisle. Unfortunately, it was only for military types.

  28. says

    Re Eric_RoM: It’s so entertaining when people accuse atheists of being “histrionic”… without bothering to even try to contradict the accusations they’re making. As if calling someone “histrionic” somehow magically makes the things we’re saying not true.

  29. Bruce Gorton says

    Posted by: malta | June 11, 2011 at 06:53 AM
    What about stellar evolution?
    :p

  30. nel says

    @ vel,
    Without Christianity there would be no civilisation as we know it. Atheist’s are just posers.

  31. Orlando says

    No civilization without Christianity??? Tell that to China.
    To Best of 6, why do christians (and christians posing as atheists) think that atheists believe evolution explains the Big Bang, the origin of life on earth, and pretty much everything else? Are you that clueless? (rhetorical question; no response required).

  32. Indigo says

    @ Nel – you are aware that Chinese civilisation existed in one form or another for thousands of years before the Communists turned up, right? India, Japan and the pre-Christian West also had enduring agrarian societies, and that’s if we only take a very narrow view of what constitutes “civilisation”.

  33. Bruce Gorton says

    Posted by: nel | July 26, 2011 at 08:23 AM
    Your American provincialism is showing. Along with your vast ignorance of history.

  34. nel. says

    ‘Indigo and Bruce Gorton combo’
    I have a degree in History, Brucie baby. You find Christianity distasteful, right ?

  35. says

    A reminder to everyone: Please keep comments civil. I encourage lively debate in blog comments, but I expect commenters to treat one another with a basic level of courtesy and respect. Personal insults are not acceptable, and I expect snark and sarcasm to be kept to a bare minimum. Thank you.

  36. Robert B says

    @ nel
    Well, as atheists, we do find Christianity distasteful or at least incorrect. But it’s more that it seems strange to credit Christianity with “civilization as we know it.” With a degree in history, I’m sure you’re aware that agriculture, stonemasonry, pottery, poetry, algebra, geometry, philosophy, writing, currency, law, steel, trans-oceanic travel, surgery, democracy, theater, and manned spaceflight were all first invented in non-Christian societies. And meanwhile, several of history’s great abuses of civilization have been specifically Christian – the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades (including the Fourth, which essentially did nothing but sack Christian Constantinople) the Thirty Years War. The intercontinental slave trade was run by Christians and its victims were non-Christian.
    Of course, Christians and Christian countries have made their own great advances to civilization, and non-Christians have their own record of horrors. My point is, Christians have been no better and no worse than any other group of similar population. The claim that Christianity deserves some kind of special credit for civilization is a notion bankrupt of historical evidence. It would be more accurate to claim the reverse – that without an already large and successful Roman civilization to convert, Christianity would never have been more than a small Jewish splinter sect.

  37. Bruce Gorton says

    by: nel. | July 27, 2011 at 03:58 AM
    Your degree in history evidently didn’t cover the existance of India, Japan or pre-Christian civilisations.
    In fact it is pretty clear you haven’t even read your own Bible, given that the events within it include a fair bit about various civilisations pre-Christianity.
    Your claims are transparently laughable.

  38. nel. says

    That last bit of your inaccurate proganda is particularly amusing.
    -that without an already large and sucessful Roman civilization to convert …etc
    Just like that heh? Just another small Jewish (splinter) sect, maybe like a virus…it JUST converts a civilizaton without anything to recommend it or any merit. Nothing happened out of the ordinary, no resurrection. No Saul to Paul conversion. Ignore the parables which are the work of a great genius, all for nothing, just another little Jewish sect.
    Such blase rubbish.
    Christ spoke with authority and got himself nailed to a cross to back up his teaching. You sound to me like one of the new breed of atheists with an atitude, maybe a product of the popular cynical cool, no one tells me what I should or shouldn’t do.
    Take your chance with atheism, you might be right, Robert but If I was you I would cover your arse by at least ‘doing as you would be done by.’ Now there’s a cliche.

  39. Robert B says

    nel,
    Setting aside the fact that you’re derailing wildly from my point – on a topic you brought up – basically, yes. Christianity is unexceptional. The original writings are obviously politicized, biased, and contradictory. Independent evidence for its supernatural claims is laughably thin or absent. The ethical philosophy of the New Testament ranges from poor to fair – it has some interesting and useful ideas, and it veers into horrifying error more often than Plato but less often than Ayn Rand. All of this is pretty normal for a religion, and indeed Christianity’s effect on history and civilization has been roughly similar to that of other major world faiths such as Buddhism and Islam. And if you want me to believe otherwise you need to provide evidence, not vaguely odious personal comments.

  40. Bruce Gorton says

    Posted by: Robert B | July 28, 2011 at 05:18 AM
    I’d say Christianity veers into horrifying error more than objectivism.
    Not because the latter is good – but because of examples like this little gem:
    “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5.27
    Thus if you think of committing a sin – you may as well go through with it. And you may as well do some more sinning while you are at it because James 2.10
    “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
    Which is consistent John 3:4, and Matthew 5:19.
    The upshot being:
    You are already pretty much damned for thinking naughty thoughts, so its not like murdering your neighbour after boinking his wife and using his donkey as a get-away vehicle is going to get you into any bigger trouble with God. Even after you lied to the cops about it.

  41. Well, says

    I don’t remember Buddha suffering an agonizing death because he refused to say he wasn’t the Son of God. Nor Mohammed. Christianity is not un-exceptional it is very exceptional. Turn the other cheek is about as original and revolutionary as you could get at the time in that place with that civilization.
    Brucy, you are quite a funny guy, quite Monty Pythonesque. Like it. Clearly though your understanding of the gospel is rather naive.
    Those were ideals, you know, the bar set high so that when we fail, as fail we must, we can still be pretty good. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

  42. Bruce Gorton says

    Posted by: Well, | July 28, 2011 at 09:24 AM
    Turn the other cheek? Revolutionary?
    Socrates expressed it better about 400 years earlier.
    “One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him”
    And similar concepts can be found in the Jewish Book of Lamentations.
    As to Jesus’ death and resurrection: Osiris adapted to the need for a martyr.
    As to my understanding of the Bible – no they are not ideals, they are laws. With sentences.
    That is the point to salvation, and the reason the adultress was going to get stoned in the first place.

  43. Robert B says

    Actually, the Buddha myth uses most of the same archetypes as the Jesus myth. Buddha leaves the world behind, gives up his family and his rank and all his possessions and every other part of his ordinary life. As he meditates, supernatural tempters and antagonists try to beg, bribe, and bully him into giving up, but Buddha overcomes them, and passes into a state of perfect enlightenment, corresponding to the Christian notion of heaven. Then he chooses to give up that perfect, heavenly state in order to come back and teach mankind, even though he knows that mankind is flawed and unlikely to understand. Even the cross is an archetypal element in this kind of story – Buddha sat beneath the limbs of the Bodhi tree, Wotan was hung from Yggdrasil the world-Ash – he was even pierced with a spear. You could even say that Osiris had a “tree” in the form of the Nile, since in unforested Egypt the river, not the tree, symbolizes the cycle of the seasons and thus of life and death. The Greeks had the same basic story in Prometheus, hung from the rocks and tortured eternally for giving mankind the fire of the gods. His symbolic connection to the life-death cycle was not a tree or a river but his own liver, eternally eaten and eternally regrown. I won’t say the Jesus myth isn’t a powerful story, because it is. But we’ve heard it before, many times.
    And “turn the other cheek” is, frankly, terrible ethics. Refusing to defend yourself against harm invites oppression of every sort, from abusive spouses to dictatorial states to slavery. (I doubt it’s a coincidence that Christianity has been invoked to defend and excuse each of these institutions.) It’s also hypocritical, since Jesus says more than once in the Gospels that crimes against God or the Holy Spirit are not forgiven – apparently God is the only one who doesn’t have to turn the other cheek.

  44. nel (not- well) (no puns please;-)) says

    Bruce, the point about Socrates is irrelevant. We are talking about Jerusalem and Palestine and NO…. turn the other cheek writ large is NOT found in Jewish text as a must. This was an extraordinary piece of teaching as an eye for an eye is still the benchmark for Jews. Extraordinary also was Jesus’s inclusion of Gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes and every low life under the sun, all welcome to hear the good news and participate. The Jews regarded these people as worse than dogs.
    Robert B.
    Blasphemy,( not crimes) will not be forgiven. If you can’t see the fairness of that then don’t complain when your son or daughter calls you a piece of sh#t ( for example not meant to be rude)

  45. Indigo says

    @ nel – I have no kids, but my youngest cousin, whom I love dearly, once called me a poopyhead. As you might guess, he was four at the time. I forgave him for uttering the worst insult he knew because, dude, he was four. I would hope that the loving mercy of Almighty God would exceed the ability of a then-teenager to shrug off a childish insult – which is all the imprecations of humanity could ever really be to an all-powerful being. Wouldn’t you agree?

  46. nel says

    Totally, but a four year old is not responsible and ‘poopy head’ is not as insulting as ‘piece of sh#it’ delivered with malice by adults…. if it wasn’t meant to offend, they wouldn’t say it.
    If language is all relative and nothing matters, why do minority groups get offended by what they consider to be inappropriate language directed at them ?
    Should the almighty be any less entitled to be addressed pleasantly ?

  47. Bruce Gorton says

    Posted by: nel (not- well) (no puns please;-)) | July 29, 2011 at 03:45 AM

    turn the other cheek writ large is NOT found in Jewish text as a must.

    You evidently haven’t read the book of Lamentations:
    http://bible.logos.com/passage/NLT/La%203.30#ref=La%203%3A30%2Chi%3DLa%203%3A30-La%203%3A30&ver=NLT

    28 Let them sit alone in silence
    beneath the Lord’s demands.
    29 Let them lie face down in the dust,
    for there may be hope at last.
    30 Let them turn the other cheek to those who strike them
    and accept the insults of their enemies.

    Lamentations is recited on the fast day of Tisha B’av
    And we are talking about a Jerusalem and Palestine that were conquered by… a Roman Empire that had a lot of Greek leanings.
    Greek philosophy would have an impact in that situation.

  48. Orlando says

    Nel,
    Which “almighty” should be addressed pleasantly – allah, Zeus? That is like saying Santa Claus should be addressed pleasantly in conversation.
    The fact is, you are a believer because that is how yo were raised. You were indoctrinated into religion as a child, and now are not intellectually strong enough to break away and think for yourself.
    You parrot long-discredited christian talking points. Good luck with that.

  49. nel says

    Orlando,
    Which almighty ? The one almighty, of course. The fact is I am indeed a believer but not because of what I was taught, my father was a lapsed catholic become atheist who would scoff at such notions of there being any divine power.
    What are the long discredited christian talking points you refer to ? I don’t have a parrot.
    Bruce, the prophet Jeremiah, right? I am not an expert on old Jewish text but that line is open to interpretation and obviously was not lived by… or do you know better ? The full text of Jesus’s statement is much more than just turn the other cheek and was given as …I say ( from a position of authority ) do this etc…
    It’s so easy to poke fun at christian softies. Be fair and have a go at at the prophet Mohammed, if you dare.

  50. Orlando says

    Nel,
    were you raised to believe in god? Don’t lie, or your almighty will know?
    The overwhelming majority of this country was raised to believe in god: you are saying you are the exception?

  51. nel says

    No, I was raised to believe in God, Orlando. And then I stopped believing, because I used to say the same things that you and Bruce are saying. I used to say them with gusto, a real loud mouth and I said them and said them for years… and then I realised the pointless nature of that position. No one can prove or disprove the existence of God. What were my arguments against him/her/it
    Mainly that if he did exist why does he allow such ‘sh#t’ to happen, why is there any suffering at all, why doesn’t he intervene and stop it all, how could he allow the holocaust etc why is sex for pure enjoyment wrong etc.
    What I found after looking again at all these objections to there being a God was that everything is pretty much as it must be or will be.
    No one, not even God, can stop human beings from doing exactly as they want to, no matter if that be the unimaginable horror of Auschwitz or the perverted desire to have sex with an animal. We can choose to do whatever we want to do or we can try to stick to some basic guidelines that will make the world better, if we all follow them.
    That’s where I am now. Apologies for the sermon (not from the mount)

  52. Bruce Gorton says

    Posted by: nel | July 30, 2011 at 11:51 AM
    Where have I said the existance of evil informs my disbelief in God?
    No, my disbelief in God is due to a lack of satisfactory evidence for God, and the outright lousiness as the arguments for God turn out to be.

  53. nel says

    They’re only lousy arguments in your opinion. You should have added that end bit before making such a sweeping statement, Bruce.
    No evidence ? How would you have him appear ? In what guise ? Whatever or however he presented himself you would never believe it.

  54. Robert B says

    nel,
    So to sum up your sermon… There is no evidence regarding the existence or nonexistence of God. (“No one can prove or disprove…”) Everything happens according to a necessity that supernatural beings either cannot or do not change. (“everything is pretty much as it must be…”) Moral actions by human beings can change the world for the better. (“We can try to stick to some basic guidelines…”)
    How is this different from atheism, again?
    Also, regarding the earlier point about blasphemy… Yeah, if someone cussed me out I’d be mad and it would be wrong (unless I really deserved it.) I wouldn’t torture them in a lake of fire for twenty billion years, though. Nor should a Christian, according to the Bible. A Christian shouldn’t even get mad, they should turn the other cheek.
    But God will do that. God will forgive absolutely everything else under the right circumstances – theft, rape, murder, oppression, genocide, his mercy is supposedly limitless. But if a human insults him personally he responds with stunningly disproportionate – indeed, infinite – punishment with no recourse. This is, A, a double standard, an example of “do as I say and not as I do,” and B, viciously vengeful and evil.

  55. nel says

    There are many inconsistencies in the new testament, it would be surprising if there weren’t. A teacher often uses colourful powerful language to get the gist of the message across.
    Do you believe that a loving God would burn someone in fire for eternity. It doesn’t make sense. Therefore, I personally don’t believe it. I do believe there is a place for downright nasty horrible people who will not reform. Absolutely, I do. I have met many persons that I would not want to spend a second more with and I’m sure you have.

  56. Robert B says

    Huh. Okay. Well, that’s admirable.
    Enough of this Bible stuff, then.
    Why does the world suck? I’m not talking about evil – I’ve heard lots of arguments for why God might allow human evil and some of them I even like. I mean purely unnecessary natural suckiness.
    If humans don’t go out in the sun, they end up deficient in vitamin D. If they do go out in the sun they get cancer. Why is that?
    If conditions on Earth were slightly different, there would be no tectonic plates – the crust would be one solid piece, as it is on Venus and Mars. Earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes would be extremely rare. This is not the case, to the recent detriment of Japan and Haiti. Why not?
    Whose idea was entropy? Why is the universe constructed so that we, as thinking beings, are locked into a perspective of the universe that has us hurtling unerringly in the direction of maximum disorder and decay? Things fall apart, misters Yeats and Boltzmann tell us. What sort of moral agency would have caused this to be so?
    Why do you assume there’s a loving God in the first place? The universe doesn’t seem to be set up that way. Physics and chemistry haven’t managed to model everything yet, but they’ve modeled a great many things, and every one of those models that has proven accurate has done so without ever having to include the possibility that a supernatural being makes a decision. As you aptly put it, “it doesn’t make sense.” There’s no more reason to assume a loving God than there is to assume a hateful God, or an indifferent God, or an incomprehensible God with plans we don’t understand, or any God at all except for one that behaves exactly like a set of immutable natural laws that we gradually learn more about by observation and study. And at that point, why bother calling it God?

  57. Robert B says

    Er, actually, Greta, if you make the assumption that God exists and is good, the notion of hell implies a logical contradiction, if you’ve got any kind of decent definition of “good.” I gathered that was the essence of Nel’s argument here. I can appreciate that, both for its logic and for the assumption that humans have the right to “check God’s work,” ethically speaking. It’s also interesting as an example of a true conclusion drawn by valid logic from a false premise.

  58. Eclectic says

    Nel: rubbish. Make the moon disappear (with the resultant reduction of the tides and reduced slowing of the Earth’s rate of rotation) and you have my full attention.
    There are plenty of less-dramatic things I’d pay attention to as well, but anything that depends on a single observation would make me suspect that the observer was mistaken before assuming that I was mistaken about such a fundamental thing.
    Basically, the world with God has to make more sense than the world without it.
    Chapter 1 of the famous fanfic Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality shows how to set up a convincing demonstration.
    If, additionally, you want to claim to be not just a god, but the Yahweh of the Bible, I’d like some explanation of where you’ve been all these years.
    For example, the online novel (and militarist masturbation fantasy) “The Salvation War” (volume 1: Humans vs. Satan with artillery and tanks; volume 2: Humans vs. Michael and Yahweh with all of the above plus nuclear weapons) proposes a plausible explanation:
    Yahweh really is the petty and petulant figure of the Old Testament, and He became bored with humans around the time they started the Renaissance and found better things to do than suffering for His amusement.
    But now He’s decided to give up and wipe the slate clean, send everyone to hell, and try again.

  59. nel says

    Sorry, I will be back to try and cover the points addressed to me.
    Just a quick point to Greta. I don’t believe in a lake of fire where ‘souls’ burn for ever. I do believe in Hell.

  60. nel says

    Firstly, Robert B.
    I don’t accept that the world is faulty and could have been made better. It contains all that is necessary for humans to experience dangerous/safe- good bad- light/and dark. Bad things must happen otherwise we wouldn’t know what good things are, obviously. The plates in the earth move because everything is moving and evolving. What kind of a ridiculous monster world would it be if everything was ‘fair’ ?
    Greta, I don’t believe you would accept any evidence for God’s existence whatever it was. You say you would… but nagging doubts would come back after a while and you would request more evidence.
    Eclectic.
    The world with God does make more sense to me. That is my choice after a lot of consideration. You presumably think we are all just the result of a big chemical accident even though that itself is so improbable.

  61. DSimon says

    @nel:
    “Bad things must happen otherwise we wouldn’t know what good things are, obviously.”
    Do you then support the idea that it would be even better if more bad things happened, because then the good things would stand out more?
    Or, if you support reducing the number of bad things that happen (i.e. via philanthropic or charity work), how do you decide where to stop so that you don’t go beyond the point where good things start becoming non-noticeable?
    “What kind of a ridiculous monster world would it be if everything was ‘fair’ ?”
    Can you go into more detail about why everything being fair would be a problem?
    “Greta, I don’t believe you would accept any evidence for God’s existence whatever it was. You say you would…”
    The path of psychoanalyzing people you’ve never met over the Internet leads nowhere, so let’s try this a different way. Do you think people ought to accept evidence for God’s existence if it is found? If so, do you also think that people ought to accept evidence against God’s existence if it were found?
    “You presumably think we are all just the result of a big chemical accident even though that itself is so improbable.”
    Very significantly less improbable than God. Plus, the anthropic principle messes with calculations about how likely our own existence is.
    Also, it only has to be a small chemical accident, enough to start a very tiny very simple self-reproducing pseudo-biological organism (like a prion, or something even smaller). From there, provided you have energy input and non-perfect copying, evolution adds more complexity as time passes.

  62. Robert B says

    nel,
    You don’t think humans could generate enough dark and dangerous things on our own? We need the environment to pitch in, to make enough bad things happen for the human experience to be complete?
    Your claim seems to imply that God picked this particular rate of cancer on purpose. 1,600,000 Americans per year get cancer, because if it was only 1,500,000, then we wouldn’t really know what evil was, but 1,700,000 would just be unnecessarily mean. What?
    Furthermore, cancer isn’t distributed evenly, to give everyone the same chance to observe it and become wiser about death. Rather, cancer is distributed randomly, so that some people live their whole lives without being unlucky enough to know anyone who gets cancer, and other people have five dearly beloved friends and family members diagnosed in the same year.
    Is it really believable that this is the best, optimum system for teaching us lessons?
    Here’s another one. You claim that (one of) the purposes for which the universe was optimized was so that we could learn. Why, then, is the human brain such a flawed instrument? I don’t mean imperfect, or finite – the brain is actively, overtly biased toward certain types of wrong answers. We make decisions as though very large numbers were the same as not-so-large ones, even when we know they’re not – a one in a million chance and a one in a thousand chance are, to our brains, basically the same. Evidence for things we already believe is many times more obvious than evidence for things we disbelieve, making it very hard to change a wrong opinion.
    If a human is in a group with two others, and disagrees with both, she tends to suppress her unpopular opinion, assuming she must have gotten it wrong. But if she is in a group of six total, and four people disagree with her – the exact same 2:1 ratio – she sticks to her guns and exults in the camaraderie of non-conformity with the other dissenter.
    This is the one that really got to me, though it may just be because it’s relevant to my specialty. The human brain comes pre-programmed with incorrect physics. In the real world, when something is no longer held up against gravity, it falls down – but it also keeps moving left or right at whatever speed it was going before it started to fall. This is how throwing a baseball works. The thrown baseball is falling all the way from the mound to the plate, but it makes it without hitting the ground because it’s also moving sideways very fast.
    Experiments show that young babies, before they go to school or even learn to talk, expect unsupported objects to fall straight down, however they were moving before they dropped. This is innate, inborn knowledge about the fundamental way the world works – and it’s wrong.
    If God created the world around us so that we could learn something, he also designed our brains so as to deliberately cripple our learning. In dozens of different ways. Couldn’t we have just gotten a brain without all these active handicaps? Even if it had to be lower-powered overall, as a tradeoff, it would still be worth it.
    Try using your theory – God designed the universe perfectly to fit some purpose – to make a prediction. Think of a testable question about the world that you don’t know the answer to, but: if the universe was designed by God, you would expect the answer to most likely turn out one way. If, hypothetically, there were no God and the universe works solely by natural laws, you would expect the answer to turn out a different way. Can you think of any question like that? (Give it some time – it takes thought.)

  63. nel says

    Robert B.
    It’s not so much our brains learning but our minds. Mind came before brain, I believe. God didn’t design our brains so much as set up the factory that produced them. I think they work extremely well even though experimental psychology can always be used to reveal flaws. Cancer exists because cells mutate but they mutate for a reason don’t they (therefore find and stop the reason) and can’t that reason be genetically passed on? We cannot know how every piece of the tapestry of life fits together.
    DS Simon,
    Chimpanzees are infinitely more complex than amoebas and they are not showing signs of turning into humans anytime soon. As for bad things happening and their frequency a lot depends on one’s perspective of what is bad, I guess.

  64. Robert B says

    “Mind came before brain, I believe.”
    What evidence makes you believe that? In fact, how do you know that mind and brain are different things at all? It’s very well established that brain damage can cripple the mind, which suggests that they’re actually the same.
    “I think they work extremely well even though experimental psychology can always be used to reveal flaws.”
    The human brain is a pretty successful organ, yes. Not the point. The fact that any flaws exist proves that if the brain was intelligently designed, its designer was either finite in competence or finite in benevolence – specifically, either dumber or meaner than me personally, because I’d never have hardwired ass-wrong Aristotelian physics into helpless babies. Remember, the flaws in question aren’t just inefficiencies or lack of capacity, they are actively bad and wrong things.
    “Cancer exists because cells mutate but they mutate for a reason don’t they”
    I assume you don’t mean a divine reason, here, because if you did mean that then you’re saying that cancer is God’s fault which doesn’t seem to be your point. (Correct me if I’m wrong!) If you mean a physical reason, then fine, but if God created the universe he invented physics, and if he’s omniscient he set the initial conditions knowing exactly what would happen. So it’s God’s fault again.
    “We cannot know how every piece of the tapestry of life fits together.”
    Not every piece. But we can definitely spot bits of the tapestry that are blatantly inconsistent with benevolent design.
    And you ignored the prediction thing, which is very very important. Let’s look at it another way: Imagine you were suddenly transported to a world where God doesn’t exist. What might that be like? What would be different? How sure are you that the differences really would be different – could the things you assume are because of God have another explanation, hypothetically speaking?

  65. DSimon says

    Chimpanzees are infinitely more complex than amoebas and they are not showing signs of turning into humans anytime soon.

    Not relevant to the question at hand. What’s a more likely origin of life: naturalistic chemical processes or a god? My point was that you don’t need a very complex and unlikely entity like an intelligent super-powerful deity to explain life, because to the best of our current knowledge the first pseudo-lifeforms were quite simple, and life only later became as complex as it is today.
    If your point is that you think chimpanzees are unchanging, then that’s just factually incorrect. We know this by looking backwards into the fossil and genetic record, and seeing all the pseudo-chimps that existed before chimps did.

    As for bad things happening and their frequency a lot depends on one’s perspective of what is bad, I guess.

    Okay, assume we’re talking about a perspective where war, plague, and famine are wrong. How do you determine how much of these things are necessary in order for us to properly comprehend peace, comfort, and good food?
    Furthermore, if these bad things are what make good things good, then perhaps we need even more of those bad things to make the good things even better.

  66. nel says

    Look, this is getting a bit tedious now. (and for you guys too, I suspect)
    If you God haters prefer to think that nothing made the universe then I can’t help you. If you can’t see any evidence anywhere for God or the human soul then all I can come back with is , I can. You would agree wouldn’t you that you have no proof of your theories just as I don’t. There comes a time in everybody’s life when the cynic retreats and one is more open to traditional explanations that although not proven, do satisfy a basic need.
    I ‘know’ (personally) without any doubt whatsoever that God exists because I have had personal experiences which have convinced me. In the end you make your choice and that is how it should be. I can be a Christian (or behave in a christian manner ) without having to accept every piece of dogma that the catholic church stands for. Some of it, such as it’s ideas on contraception are clearly wrong. Some of the others…for instance it’s opposition to marriage of same sex couples….I do accept.
    Sorry, that will cause you a problem, I know but just because it is a trendy new lifestyle choice doesn’t make it right. I don’t have a problem with men and women living together but marriage should be between a man and a woman. What an outdated old cow that makes me, What a small minded bigot !!
    I’m sure that will cause a little rumpus, but there it is.

  67. Robert B says

    There’s no such thing as “proof” for matters of fact about the world – anything we know about the world could be wrong, conceivably, even if it’s just the bazillion-to-one chance that we’re brains in a jar or something. But DSimon and I have been explaining why your theories just flat out don’t make sense, or giving evidence that fits our theory better than yours. If you think “but you have no proof” is going to be at all convincing, or if it means anything to derail the conversation onto marriage rights, I’m afraid you’re misunderstanding something very basic about how we roll here.
    Paying attention to evidence is so important. Anything a human thinks might be wrong – in fact, if you pick a random belief from a random human it probably is wrong. Our only hope is to constantly compare our expectations to actual things that happen. If we’re surprised, then we find out that something we believed was true might not be. Enough of that over time, and beliefs change. And if your beliefs don’t change, if there’s nothing you’d ever consider to be counter-evidence, then there’s no reason for your beliefs to have anything to do with what’s actually true. Beliefs without evidence are basically random.
    It’s as though a bowl of alphabet soup had told me I wasn’t allowed to get married.

  68. nel says

    My theories are no more proved than your theories of a non-divine big bang and Darwinian evolution, some parts of which I accept. What part of my understanding doesn’t make sense ?
    You just keep turning logic on it’s head and trying to trap me by making obscure, irrelevant points in convoluted cynicism.
    Actually you are wrong about the brain. It is not proven that brain damage ‘breaks’ the mind. Have you not understood the analogy of the broken TV set ? What about Lorber ? What about dementia sufferers recovering just before death ?
    Marriage is for procreation, at least that should be the ideal. How can a man and a man have children ?

  69. Doug Kirk says

    “How can a man and a man have children ?”

    Adoption? That was really easy…. Wonder if there’s anything else?

    “My theories are no more proved than your theories of a non-divine big bang and Darwinian evolution”

    So divine mystical zombie jews without a shred of evidence or artefacts are a MORE likely explanation for life than the combined evidence of hundreds of years of scientific inquiry? Or is it just that they are EQUALLY likely? If you think either, you should realize that you are arguing that reality is subjective.
    And if you are arguing that reality is subjective… why the hell are you arguing at all? Couldn’t you just will away our objections? Oh, I guess you did.

    “It is not proven that brain damage ‘breaks’ the mind”

    Yep, ignoring mountains of evidence collected throughout years and years for the benefit of your own conclusion. You are trying to will reality into something else… Why?

  70. DSimon says

    I ‘know’ (personally) without any doubt whatsoever that God exists because I have had personal experiences which have convinced me.

    Personal experiences can sometimes be wrong, just like any other kind of evidence.

    There comes a time in everybody’s life when the cynic retreats and one is more open to traditional explanations that although not proven, do satisfy a basic need.

    Are you saying that it’s a better idea to go with an explanation that feels good than an explanation that’s true?

    If you God haters prefer to think that nothing made the universe then I can’t help you.

    I don’t hate God any more than I hate Darth Vader. They’re both fictional characters.
    Anyways, nel, I certainly don’t have any objection to you being here and arguing for your beliefs. However, I’m pretty much done responding unless some new point gets brought up.

  71. Robert B says

    nel,
    Since you ask for relevancy, I will repeat my one most important point:
    What evidence would suggest that there is no God? What would you expect to be different in a world where God didn’t exist?
    If you can’t answer questions like these, it means you can’t tell the difference between God existing and God not existing.

  72. nel says

    Robert B,
    ….Duh, no longing for God, no such thing as love, no blue sky, humans as ugly reptiles…no christ…..no visions of heaven…how many do you want ?
    Doug Kirk,
    I don’t believe that two men should be allowed to adopt children. There…you have my opinion, sorry if it’s not up to date.

  73. nel says

    DSimon,
    What exactly has been proved true? Can you tell me some things that I may not know because since Quantum reared it’s head, it’s hard to know what to make of the universe. Why can’t there be a God ? Why are you so certain there isn’t when I’m certain there is. Am I a fool ? I don’t know anyone that thinks I am. I may be of course. Was Isaac Newton a fool for believing in God ?
    Doug Kirk,
    I don’t think you are quite up to date on consciousness/brain research. The best bet now is that the brain operates like a two way reciever transmitter.

  74. Robert B says

    Those are fine. Setting aside Christ and visions, which I don’t agree are observed in this world, we have some agreed-upon evidence that is consistent with your theory. In other words, we both agree that love exists, the sky is blue, humans are not reptiles, and (at least some) people long for God, and that these things match your theory.
    In the other direction, I can list evidence I might expect to see if God did exist: choirs of angels, provably effective prayer, provably accurate revelation, or a holy text that is always self-consistent and always correct, even when a human author could be expected to have gotten it wrong. None of these would be totally conclusive on their own, but it wouldn’t take too much evidence like this to make me a believer.
    But notice: we both made our lists out of things that we’re pretty sure don’t actually happen in this universe. This means we both played it pretty safe. We listed things that would make us change our minds – but unless something suddenly changes in the world, neither of us are in much danger of having to do that. We could be changing our theories to match what we already know happens.
    In fact, I say that my theory can also explain your whole list – love, blue sky, humans are mammals, etc. I’d say that I already knew about that stuff and had reasons for it that didn’t require a God. I bet you’d say that your theory can explain my whole list, too, that you already knew about that stuff and why it didn’t happen. So, unless something changes, neither of us can tell the difference between “God exists” and “God doesn’t exist” based on this evidence, either.
    What we need now is some evidence that neither of us know in advance, so that we can’t twist our own theories to match how we know it turns out.
    So: what’s something you don’t know about one way or the other, but you would expect to turn out differently if there was a God than if there wasn’t? If we can both agree in advance that a certain piece of evidence (that neither of us know the facts of yet) will match the idea “God exists” if it turns out one way, and will match the idea “God doesn’t exist” if it turns out the other way, we can use that to help tell the difference.
    Note that I am not, at any point, saying the word “proof.” Proof is for mathematicians. No amount of evidence about the real world can ever make you infinitely certain. As you say, I can’t prove that God doesn’t exist – I can’t even prove that humans aren’t reptiles or that the sky is blue. I just have enough evidence that I’m pretty damn sure.
    So if we agree that something would be evidence, and that it might go either way, and we find out which way it actually does go, that’s one step. Then we can take another step. Assuming one of us is right, most of the steps will go in the same direction, and after enough evidence piles up, we’ll come to agree.
    So, I’m going to brainstorm some things that might be this kind of evidence, things I don’t know about that seem likely to be different depending on whether God exists.
    Our models disagree about whether non-heterosexual marriage is moral. I would expect gay married couples, and their adopted children, to do other immoral things (cheating, child abuse, etc.) no more or less often than straight married couples. But I don’t know if that’s actually true. If you would make a different prediction, on account of God’s existence, we could go look for data on that.
    My theory says that there’s nothing special about humans, except for our specific adaptations like powerful brains and good hands. That means I expect all the other living things to be doing their own thing, not to be optimized or tweaked for humanity’s sake. But I don’t actually know, I don’t know all that much about biology. If you don’t know either, but you think God would have set life up to deliberately support us somehow, we could figure out how to test that.
    These are just examples, of course, and they don’t even work unless you don’t know the answer either but you expect it to turn out differently than I expect. Could either of these tests work, by those rules? If not, can you propose a different one that might?

  75. Eclectic says

    Robert: You’ve got it exactly. First you set the question: in what way does a universe with a God differ from one without? Then you go looking for that difference, and see what you find.
    One thing we need to establish is what kind of God we’re looking for. An interventionist God who actively participates in the universe, or a deist one who set the machine in motion 13.72 Gyears ago and has been quietly watching it run ever since? A last thursdayist who is actively trying to hide evidence of His existence, or just a subtle one? A personal God with something we’d recognize as preferences and desires, or something more abstract and inscrutable?
    Divine revelation would be a lot more credible if people thereby learned things they couldn’t possibly know otherwise, like a Mersenne prime exponent greater than 50 million.
    There are lots of morally neutral questions with answers which are hard to compute but easy to verify. Any “higher intelligence” wishing to prove their existence could easily provide such answers.

  76. Robert B says

    @ Eclectic
    That’s a good point about “what kind of God” – it’s not like every theist describes God with identical properties even within the same denomination. I’m pretty sure that’s part of where the arguments in this thread have come from – other people (including me, I bet) assuming things about nel’s definition of God that she didn’t necessarily believe. Hypothetically, someone could even deliberately fail to state any properties of God, and then say that anything that got refuted was unessential or a strawman – though I’m sure nel in particular wouldn’t do that; they strike me as a forthright and sincere sort.

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