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Discussion (118)¬

  1. Caliban27 says:

    … and reciprocity for the apostate from christianity or hinduism coming to islam?

  2. MarkyWarky says:

    Interesting. I’m currently reading Strobel’s “The case for a creator”, because according to the Christian I’m debating at the moment, it pretty well summarises the evidence that makes him a believer (and I’m losing respect for my acquaintance page by age).

    In the book, Strobel claims to have been an atheist (wasn’t everyone?), who became a believer following “detailed investigation of the evidence”. His description of what it’s like to be an atheist though just doesn’t ring true; he claims he was an atheist because that let him lead an immoral life! Sounds more like a Christian’s description of what they’d like atheists to be like, than what we actually are like.

    The point is, I’ve been tempted to say that I don’t believe Strobel ever was a “proper”, conscious atheist, rather he was intuitively a believer, who didn’t want to submit to the rules. All of the evidence from his writing points to that, but aren’t I just doing the reverse of what this strip depicts?

  3. MarkyWarky says:

    Thinking about this more (good thought provoking one Author), I think maybe the Christians are right; we don’t really know what it’s like to experience what they do. The kind of atheist I think Strobel was is the exact mirror of the kind of Christian I used to be. I went to church and Sunday school, was confirmed (early, at my own request), attended bible study and even prayed – not just out loud, but in my head.

    But I now know I never actually believed. I may even have wanted to believe, but I never actually did.

    That said, while the Christians are right that atheists can never know what it’s like to truly believe, we can know WHY people do, and that the evidence they rely on, from creation through the bible to personal experience, is flawed. I think it’s a bit like a psychologist patient relationship; the doctor may not know what it’s like to believe yourself to be a bollard, but that doesn’t mean he can’t see the belief is false, and can’t treat it.

    So, do we atheists really have the high ground here, or is it possible that we just don’t get it?

  4. Jobrag says:

    If the desire to believe, or even the ability to believe, isn’t available to every human then God is reducing some / many/ most of us to a sort of sub-species, could the “elect” be right after all?

  5. Peter says:

    Isn’t Stobel hellbound for daring to test god?

  6. Alastair says:

    I’m prepared to accept that believers can occupy some elevated mental state by the strong presence of their imaginary friend and that a confirmed atheist finds it hard to visualise that state. The trouble is that we’re using intellectual arguments against addicts of this legal high.

  7. MarkyWarky says:

    But the “elect” would say that we DO all have the ability to “come to Christ”, and if we don’t we are choosing not to – it’s free will. I’m not sure how that fits with omniscience etc, but regardless, I’ve never seen any instructions for creating the invitation!

    Has anyone here genuinely tried to “let christ into their lives”, and not had a reply? We’re told that’s all we have to do in order to see the truth, so I guess it’s worth a punt isn’t it? After all, it should be dead easy to do!

    If instead you have to be a certain kind of person in order to let him in, then that doesn’t prove that he doesn’t exist, just that if he does, he doesn’t love us all as is claimed.

  8. MarkyWarky says:

    @Peter, no, he’s not. I don’t know whether you’ve read any of his nonsense, but if you have you’ll realise that there’s no test of god involved. All it does is pay lip service to the idea of investigation, sufficient to satisfy a believer’s need to think they’ve held on to some semblance of rationality.

  9. MarkyWarky says:

    By the way Peter, even if Strobel had truly tested god, he’d not be bound for hell. All he needs to do, in fact may already have done, is cash in his “Eternal Grace” get out of jail free card, and he’s good to go.

  10. I may have posted this before, and if so I hope somebody new connects to it. This is from 50 simple proofs that God is imaginary, and this particular one is my favourite because it really lays it out nicely. http://godisimaginary.com/i7.htm How any believer could read this and still insist that they believe is totally beyond me. If they weren’t in the majority I’d have to declare the lot barking mad.

    The three defences I hear over and over again are 1. that’s not the god I believe in 2. mysterious ways and we simply can’t understand him 3. human reason is limited and can only go so far usually coupled with you think you know all the answers but you don’t. Time to walk away from the discussion. Again.

    The very vocabulary goes right over my head. What the fuck does it mean to “come to Christ”? What does “he died for your sins” mean? They might as well be speaking ancient reformed Egyptian for all the sense I can make of such words.

    Great conversation starter as usual, Author. You da man.

  11. W. Corvi says:

    @Darwin H: I was about to write that, when I was young, I believed in both Santa Clause and God. They have a LOT in common – can work miracles, know and see everything you do, want you to be good and act a certain way, etc. “If you DON’T act the way I want you to, THAT GUY will punish you, not me. Fear him, not me.” Most everyone I know rather early-on realized Santa isn’t real, but many cling to the God story their whole lives. Why IS that?

    The thing I’ve noticed is, those who cling aren’t very bright, for the most part. They seem to have a very naive view of the world, nothing like the world really is. They often think the bible (and the constitution) say things that just aren’t in them – things that they THINK they should say, but they just don’t. These people also believe in a lot of other ‘magic thinking’, such as astrology, UFO’s, homeopathy, ouija boards, etc. It seems to me a contradiction that god controls what happens to me, and also the position of the planets in the sky control what happens to me. Thus, I conclude that it is THEY that are missing something, not me.

  12. MarkyWarky says:

    @W. Corvi, I agree with what you say, other than the “not very bright” bit. I think it takes a huge amount of intelligence to rationalise the things they do. In fact I think one of the reasons we have religion at all is because as a species we have a surplus of intelligence, and need to find something to do with it!

    I think your other word is more accurate; these people do tend to be naive, which is not the same thing as unintelligent. They rely too much on intuition and cherry picked evidence, which is in my mind a symptom of naivety, not of stupidity.

    I’d accept that their behaviour is stupid, but not that the individuals necessarily are.

  13. Rob says:

    Congratulations on using green as an example of color. When philosophers use color as an example of inaccessible qualia they usually use red as that example. Red wavelengths stimulate brain activity at a higher rate than others in the spectrum and so using the experience of red as an example of nonphysicality (and therefore duality) inadvertently makes the case for physicallity.

  14. MarkyWarky, yes, they are not stupid. They just use their intelligence incorrectly, using it to confirm the stupid while ignoring contradictory evidence.

    I met a man recently who is a former Olympic level cyclist, a guy who knows how to calculate calories burned and maximum efficiency and ideal power to weight ratios. He runs a large company in the orient, and is highly respected. I was talking to him about an argument I’d had with a young earth creationist, fully expecting him to be nodding his head at how incredibly ignorant that whole crowd is. Then I saw a look in his eye, stopped, and asked him his opinion. Turns out he “used to teach creation science” at a “university”and is totally sold on the whole creation story, denies evolution ever happened, and quoted a string of sound bites from Answers in Genesis to support his arguments. I was floored. I asked him if he had read “The Greatest show on Earth” and his answer was “some of it”. Same for “Why Evolution is True”, “The Blind Watchmaker”, “The Beak of the Finch”. He claims to have read “excerpts”, which means he’s read the cherry picked parts some idiot thinks shoot down the theory. But not stupid. Not at all. Severely delusional would be a better description.

    A fascinating conversation. I learned, for example, that Christianity “isn’t a religion”. The reason turns out to be that it is true, whereas religions are just what people believe. Yikes. Talking to him was a quick trip down the rabbit hole into a world where you have to run as fast as you can just to stay where you are.

    The most frustrating part of the conversation was that for anything I said he would claim that he believed exactly the same thing when he was younger, before he investigated and changed his mind. Like he was the scientist and I was simply confused by the propaganda from the…uh, from the scientists.

  15. WalterWalcarpit says:

    If Christianity is true why are the answers in Genesis?

  16. truthspeaker says:

    MarkyMark, in Calvinist theology, the non-elect do NOT have the ability to come to Christ. They’re damned no matter what they do.

  17. Brother Daniel says:

    It seems to me that I was an absolutely sincere believer. In order for me to try to take seriously the “never really believed” idea, I’d have to question whether anyone at all is a believer, because I can’t imagine what qualitative difference might exist between a true believer and whatever I used to be.

    To MarkyWarky’s question in the first comment: I think there’s plenty of room to question Strobel’s claim (to have been an atheist) without doing the reverse of what the Christians are doing. After all, you didn’t generalize about all alleged ex-atheists.

    And for what it’s worth, I happen to agree that Strobel’s claim is not very credible.

    In the market of contemporary Christian writing, claims to be a former atheist are a positive selling point, so you can expect such claims to be (sometimes) false, from economic forces alone.

    I don’t think there’s anything comparable that encourages atheists to pretend to be former believers. My former Christianity is not something I use to gain credibility; it’s more a matter of embarrassment.

  18. Brother Daniel says:

    For that matter, claims to be an atheist while saying things that Christians want to hear are good marketing as well. I keep running into this quote by Thomas Nagel (theists love it and keep quoting it):

    “I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I am right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

    Cheeses Priced! But that’ll increase his book sales.

  19. Bob Knisely says:

    I think I’ll remain a happy agnostic — in the company of Iris DeMent, “I choose to let the mystery be.” See and hear her here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlaoR5m4L80

  20. fenchurch says:

    If true believers are at risk of invalidation by being held as never-believers at some point in our long yet limited lives, then why bother believe?

    You might believe that you’re a believer, but later non-belief can undo your personal experiences of ever having believed. Kind of Orwellian!

    Do you get your tithes back, with interest, at the end of belief?

    Do you get back the years spent on your knees, added to your finite life?

    Do you get free counseling from all the psychological scars of living in fear– likely from childhood– when you sincerely believed you were stained with sin and deserving of eternal torture?

    Those who can look to their fellow– if former– believers and take away all of the experiences and deny them that identification provide one of the *best* reasons for turning people away from bothering to believe in gods in the first place. They support the idea of the atheist in the pulpit. All believers are now under suspicion!

    (Although, IMHO, I think that still-believers are just trying to distance themselves from once-believers, pretending there was something about those people’s faiths that was unlike their own, just so they can carry on without having to face facts that the same outcome could happen to them some day.)

  21. Nassar Ben Houdja says:

    Apostasy expression
    The unbeliever makes
    The discussion is cut short.

  22. Peter says:

    @MarkyWarky
    Thanks, I mustard mitt I’ve never read his stuff. But it sounds like it’s made up as the author goes along :)

  23. I have a friend that goes to church every week. He daydreams through all the sermons, knows nearly nothing about his religion and has never cracked open a bible. He is extremely intelligent. I consider his behavior a bit silly, but I also consider it to be rational. He knows he would be kicked out of his family and portions of his community if he dumped his religion. So why sit there and think about it? To him religion is like taxes. It is unpleasant but you have to do it. It doesn’t matter if religion is true any more than it matters if taxes are fair or spent wisely once collected.

  24. P.S.
    I am still posting to that last thread and would welcome continuing the conversation if anybody is interested.

  25. Scary last panel.

    [shiver]

  26. E.A. Blair says:

    Catholic doctrine holds that you cannot quit the church but that you can be expelled. If you’re excommunicated, you are condemned to damnation (although reinstatement is possible – always given that you aren’t executed for heresy* as well). If you stop practicing and attending mass, you still fall under the category of mortal sinner and are, again, condemned. Either way you are going to hell unless you come crawling back to the church for forgiveness.

    So I guess that means that, by one interpretation, there is no such thing as an apostate Catholic, although formally joining another cult…er…denomination and, especially, accepting a non-Catholic ministry is enough to qualify for that status.

    *Apostasy and heresy are two different, but often confused, things. The former is the abandoning of the faith; the latter is actively opposing it. The traditional Catholic punishment for heresy was burning alive (c.f. Giordano Bruno). Although popular lore also holds that witches were also burned alive, their prescribed manner of execution was hanging followed by cremation of the corpse to prevent resurrection.

  27. omg says:

    OMG (it look like I’m talking to myself) where did I begin…
    1)
    First, MarkyWarky your comment about the psycholtic patient and his relationship with his doctor remind me of an article I read a while ago. The article explain that the Catholic Church has begin to give course about exorcism. It make me think what we could compare the exorcism at. I reach the conclusion that the exorcism is like going to a psychiatric hospital and asking the more deluded person to provide treatment for the other patients.
    2)
    Darwin Harmless: Your link to the proofs that God didn’t exist remind me the movie “A Beautiful Mind”. It tell the true story of John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics. This guy was very bright but he was also a schizophren and he saw thinks that don’t exist. Now imagine that a guy, 6000 years ago, saw God. Nobody else saw his God, but the guy was well respected and and very powerfull or a good leader. How would you distinguish between an Abraham that saw and hear God and an Abraham that was very bright but schizophren?

  28. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Blimey! So many good points to get stuck into, but they’ll have to wait; familial duties call. But before I go, has anybody else noticed that, for what is essentially just a comic – albeit the best comic one could wish for – J&M has possibly the most civil, intelligent, interesting, educational, and humourous comments sections on the entire interweb? John Lloyd and the QI team are rumoured to be jealous ;-)
    And Author deserves no less in return for his genius.

  29. DocAtheist says:

    I, too, have recognized that many intelligent people insist on believing in a personal deity, a la Jesus and/or God. Creationists are some of the worst among them. If they can’t believe that their God gave them a brain to think with, and instead use their brains to work around reality and continue living in fantasy land, then what moral right have they to the results of the very scientific and technological advances which fairly disprove their beliefs?

    I distinguish between unintelligent and stupid such that the former cannot grasp knowledge while the latter refuse to learn. For the religious extremists in the latter group, I add the special qualification: st00pid, i.e., double-O stupid, licensed to die.

    If they will not accept science and technology as legitimate, they should not avail themselves of its advances, without which, they would likely die sooner rather than later, in the world as it exists today.

  30. Maggs says:

    Started reading this thread as an anodyne to the emotions raised by the importance the BBC News gave to the electing of one person who believes in magic, by a lot of others. Am now feeling much better. Thank you

  31. Maggs says:

    Must have upset someone, my avatar isn’t there in my last post.

  32. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    An early piss-take of the Papal election.

  33. Mary2 says:

    AoS, I totally agree. As much as I love the J&M comics themselves, I read the comments section with almost as much eager anticipation. Sometimes, when trawling through other websites, I make the mistake of checking out the comments only to be stunned by the number of stupid or hateful people who live in the interwebs. Although I usually come too late to the party to join in much of the conversation myself, I love the level of intellectualism (both in philosophy/politics and wit) which shines through from some of the regulars here. You folks often leave me feeling a little slow and plodding which is, no doubt, very good for my oversized ego.

  34. Maggs says:

    Not early enough really! It’s a great piss take though.

  35. I echo what Acolyte and Mary2 said. This site is quite unique in that respect! Why I wonder? Is their an all-knowing gate-keeper who filters out the hatefull, the boring and…oh hang on..I’m here aren’t I? Well however you manage it, well done. Great strip again Mr Author. I Always spread the word on Facebook and Twitty.

    PS. Thanks Mr Acolyte for the plug!

  36. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    omg, I love your line ” I reach the conclusion that the exorcism is like going to a psychiatric hospital and asking the more deluded person to provide treatment for the other patients.” Absolutely brilliant.
    Regarding your point about Abraham, you were closer to the truth than you think. Did you know that it is a very real possibility that Mohammed’s ‘visits’ from Jibrial were most likely hallucinations brought on by temporal lobe epilepsy?

    Now for my main point (for this post, anyway). I’ll try to keep it short, my book won’t write itself ;-)

    MarkyWarky, in your second post you said ” I think maybe the Christians are right; we don’t really know what it’s like to experience what they do”
    I think we do, or at least most of us, we just don’t interpret the experiences in the same way they do, which I’ll try to explain in my answer to this later question of yours, “Has anyone here genuinely tried to “let christ into their lives”, and not had a reply?

    I’ve never believed in the whole god story, but when I was still a child it seemed that everybody else did, and naturally I assumed that I was missing something that was blindingly obvious to the rest of the population. I wasn’t a stupid kid by any stretch of the imagination, so thinking that everybody else understood something that I didn’t bothered me. I’d heard all the same Bible stories as everybody else, sat through the same church services and Sunday school sessions (albeit very briefly; I was kicked out after a couple of weeks or so for asking too many questions. The idiot in charge thought I was taking the piss rather than seriously searching for answers); by the time I was in my teens I’d read just about every book on religion in the school library, struggled through a lot more in the town library, visited several different churches around the town and in the nearest city – so a lot of fecking churches, and prayed a hell of a lot for some kind of sign, anything to tell me what it was I was missing.
    Ironically, the tipping point, the one event that made me realise that I wasn’t missing anything after all, came in a church. My elder brother (always a gullible fool and still is; he converted to Catholicism a few years ago) had been going to a Pentecostal set-up and always came home in a state of elation, so one Sunday I went with him.
    They did this ‘thing’ where members (no euphamism, honest) stood in circles of about 20 people per ring and held hands, meanwhile, the preacher started a-preaching, telling them to open their hearts to Christ and assorted other nonsense. I didn’t join in, I just sat and watched and very quickly realised what was going on.
    The preacher had started off soft, but as he went on his voice got steadily louder, faster, and more emotional, and he was describing how they would feel ‘when Christ entered their hearts’. He told them they would start to feel warm and dizzy, that their hearts would pound in their chests and they’d feel a tingle like an electric current passing through their entire bodies. I also noticed that the crafty bastard was holding his microphone in one hand and tapping out a heartbeat rythm on it with the other, steadily increasing speed and volume to match his voice. It came as no surprise to me when, as he was reaching a crescendo, first one, then two or three, and eventually most of those playing the game were crying out that they could feel ‘him’, some were weeping, others seemed dumbstruck and just stared upwards with awe-struck faces; a full-on, but entirely engineered religious experience for all.

    It was the preacher’s description of what they would feel that made me realise that I had been having the same experiences all my life, only not about stories in the Bible.
    It was the feeling I got every time I looked to the stars on dark, clear nights; there was very little light-pollution back then, the only streetlights in town were around the market place and the nearest city was 15 miles away, and the ‘backbone’ of the Milky Way was visible. It’s a sight that still evokes the same emotional response on the very rare occasions I get to see it, and I still get a feeling of awe – though not as powerful – when using my telescope (yes, to look at the stars, you mucky minded lot).
    It was the same feeling I’d had when my Uncle took me to London to visit the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.
    Since my teenage ‘revelation’, I’ve had the same emotional response many times; at the births of my children, for example, or holding my grandchildren for the first time; watching the Space Station speed across the heavens, or a meteor shower. I’m certain I’d feel it if ever I got the chance to watch an aurora (Borealis or Australis, I’m not fussy), because watching that light-show on TV or even seeing photographs in a book is enough to send shivers down my spine.

    So there you go, Marky. I believe we do have those experiences, we just interpret them for what they really are; perfectly natural, yet awe-inspiring events.

    As for the ‘intelligent-but-naive’ idea, I’ve oft noticed that some of the most intelligent people have absolutely no commom sense whatsoever. Is this the difference between us and believers. Both sets can be intelligent or not-so, but our bunch has the common sense to check that we’re not letting our emotions fool us into believing in something that flies in the face of…well….common sense (as does quantum physics, but that’s a whole different type of twisted).

    G’night al.

  37. MarkyWarky says:

    AoS, thanks for that. I’m not sure though that the type of experience you’re describing, which I agree we all have in response to different things (in my case, most strongly in response to music), is the experience I’m referring to. What I’ve never experienced, along with a lot of atheists if I’m right, is an absolute belief, strong enough to be called knowledge, that something is true based on faith. I know several Christians who freely admit that there are huge questions they want to ask god when they meet him, such as why does he allow suffering, and why doesn’t he answer prayer, yet still have absolute faith that he both exists AND loves us. I’ve never come close to experiencing that kind of (IMHO, missplaced) faith.

    My Christian Sister-in-Law, who I have to admit I’m struggling to love, quoted the following once, which I think sums up what I’m saying here:

    “Faith – if you don’t have it, no explanation will do. If you do have it, no explanation is necessary”.

    My question is, what’s it like/how is it possible, to have that kind of faith?

    If you think about it, that quote says exactly the same thing as a familiar atheist one:

    “If you could reason with a Christian, there would be no Christians”.

    What’s it like/how is it possible, to hold a belief so strongly that you’re impervious to reason? I don’t think most atheists know.

    I have to be honest, I’m struggling here. The ability of human beings to believe guff like this despite the evidence is making me angrier and more depressed than it probably should, and it’s not a comfortable feeling at all. I wish I could just let them get on with it, but I can’t. I keep hoping that understanding them will help, but I’m no nearer to that than I’ve ever been. How do people come to terms with this, which I regard as the only downside to realising that I’ve always been an atheist, which happened about 4 years ago?

  38. MarkyWarky says:

    I should clarify, having read hat back, that when I say “My question is, what’s it like/how is it possible, to have that kind of faith?”, I don’t WANT to have that kind of faith, I just want to know how people can do.

  39. botanist says:

    Mary2/AoS – yes, I agree. I get your ‘awe’ feeling when I read all the comments here.
    Is it possible that we all all low(ish) on the scale in the Authoritarians book DH gave us a link for? That we just cannot accept what we are told and want to make our own minds up?
    DH – some posters here are male and some female – does it really matter?
    EinsteinsGhost – thanks – lovely new site to investigate and AGAIN it’s thanks to AoS that we’ve found you.

  40. Suffolk Blue says:

    MarkyWarky – I have a kenyan friend who claimed to have become an atheist “just like me” after her sister died and she turned away from god. Now, of course, she has rediscovered god and is more fervent than ever before.

    Now, the thing is, I don’t believe her. I don’t believe she ever became an atheist “just like me”. I think she just hated her god for what he “did” to her, but that she never ceased believing in him.

    Does this make me the same as J&M? :-)

  41. SAWells says:

    Remember the counterargument from tinnitus. Atheists have a perfectly functional sensus divinitatis which accurately tells us that there are no gods. Theists have theological tinnitus; they keep hearing a god which isn’t really there.

  42. UncoBob says:

    Nice sting in the tail in this strip. Almost too true to be funny.

    And to MarkyWarky: my working hypothesis is that there are ‘believers’ and skeptics. Believers don’t appear to feel doubt once they’ve accepted something. This seems to apply to beliefs about almost anything. My best example (apart from my wife) is a former colleague – born-again Christian, fundamentalist, applies his belief to things he reads about diet, exercise etc. Whether there’s evidence or not doesn’t matter, and nor does it matter if there is evidence that the belief is harmful. Critical analysis isn’t part of the repertoire.

    It probably makes life simpler – you don’t have to think for yourself, and can just parrot off slogans.

    I guess we know the skeptic side, so I won’t elaborate.

  43. WalterWalcarpit says:

    Phew! Great post there.
    It is a good thing your naturally inquisitive mind had you sit and watch the Pentecost at his magic tricks or we might not be enjoying your company in the Cock and Bull. (Have you ever brought your brother along for a taste?.)
    Reminded me a bit of voodoo, dervishes and other trance inducing ceremonies from what we tend to call primitive cultures – always awe inspiring and almost incredible to an onlooker. The thing is few have ever witnessed one in its entirety, I have only had them mediated to me by means such as film or television and thus necessarily in snippets. Thus we rarely get a chance to see how the shaman/showman confounds hes captives.
    A very good observation made there, Acolyte. Thanks again.

  44. MarkyWarky says:

    I think this discussion has lead me to realise something.

    Nearly all Christians claim to have doubts, and it’s difficult to understand how those doubts don’t develop into fully fledged disbelief.

    But, looking back at email discussions with my Sister-in-Law and other acquaintance (both of which I might put up on my blog once I’ve fixed it!!), they don’t seem to have ANY doubt that he exists, just about why he does certain things.

    In a way that makes them easier to understand; if you KNOW something is fact, then you won’t ever question that fact, you’ll just question why some things don’t happen quite the way you think they do, and will have no choice but to rationalise those things. If you KNOW the earth is flat, yet see that no-one ever sails off the edge of it even when they end up back where they started, you HAVE to rationalise that the tides and winds act to steer you away from the edge no matter how hard you try to resist them.

    If you KNOW that god exists, then you have no choice but to conclude that the bible was written by him yet has been corrupted. You MUST conclude that if we see no relief of suffering, god must have a plan in mind.

    How the hell you come to the absolute conviction that he’s there in the first place is beyond me. Maybe an ex-believer here can shed some light on that?

  45. Botanist, “DH – some posters here are male and some female – does it really matter?” No, I suppose it doesn’t. I’d just like a slightly stronger gender balance. I suspect that the women are more of the lurkers, and don’t jump in as much as the men do.
    MarkyWarky, “The ability of human beings to believe guff like this despite the evidence is making me angrier and more depressed than it probably should, and it’s not a comfortable feeling at all.” There’s something going on here for you that maybe you should examine. Are you taking things personally? Most people believe weird shit of one kind or another. It’s nothing to get angry and depressed about. If everybody shared my beliefs, and abandoned their nonsense, the world would be a lot less interesting and fun for me. I’d have nobody to laugh at, or feel superior to, Author would be out of business and the Cock and Bull would have to shut down for lack of conversation. (Mind you, it would be nice to solve some of the problems of this world that religion isn’t helping to solve.) Look on the bright side: You’re not one of them. That should be cause for rejoicing. :-)

  46. Suffolk Blue says:

    Let me get this straight, DH, you mean God created believers merely for your entertainment? :-)

  47. WalterWalcarpit says:

    Yes. And mine too.

  48. DiamondStorm says:

    I consider myself to be culturally Catholic. As a child, I received religious classes and school and was baptized, communiated and confirmed. Once that was done, my parents told me that they had made me do this so that I could be married in church when I was older if I wanted to, but now that all my sacrements were done I was free to chose whether I wanted to continue to go to religious classes or not. I choses not to and my parents were perfectly okay with that, as my family wasn’t particularly religious anyway, only attending church at Christmas (sometimes.)

    I had a friend though in high school who came from a very, very seriously Catholic family, the Church-every-Sunday and goes-to-Catholic-camp-in-the-summer kind. They even had a book called “God explained to kids” or something, that hanged out in the bathroom and explained how according to the Bible dinosaurs didn’t actually exist. (insert facepalm here.) Anyway, in college my friend decided to come out to her parents… as an apostate. Her parents freaked, threatened to disown her and throw her out of the house, finally settling for begging her not to tell her younger siblings about her rejecting religion, as her little brother was only 12 and that could corrupt him (insert other facepalm here). She ended up going to university fer from home and now spends very little time with her parents.

    It can be though to be an apostate…

  49. omg says:

    DiamondStorm
    When a teacher tell the kids that Santa don’t exist, some parents want here to be fire. So I can imagine that when the same parents learn that they child don’t believe in god, they just freak out.

    So yes, it could be hard (also dangerous) to be apostate.

    http://thestir.cafemom.com/big_kid/147697/teacher_who_told_kids_santa

  50. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    MarkyWarky, could it be that just as we ask for evidence before accepting something to be true, the believers need proof that their beliefs are false?
    As we grow up, we get to learn that there’s no Santa; we might catch our parents sneaking in to leave presents; we might spot one of them hiding presents in a cupboard (as I did one Christmas Eve) or stumble across the stash by accident, thus laying waste to our parents’ claims that all toys are made at Santa HQ. The same goes for the Tooth Fairy; we catch our parents exchanging tooth for cash, or suddenly get told that we’re too old to believe in that nonsense anymore – the latter ofen coinciding with a sudden drop in the household fiscal fortunes, I suspect.
    But in either respect, as we enter parenthood, the falsity of Santa and the Tooth Fairy is confirmed when we find ourselves playing the parts.
    The difference with religion is that nobody gets to play the roles of the gods, only to perpetuate their stories, there are no sudden events that occur to prove they don’t exist, just those that can cast doubt on their existence. But as we all know one cannot prove a negative, a trick which the believers will need to happen before they lose their faith. Because of this, they can be secure in their faith, because they can never be proven scientifically wrong.
    “Yes, but what about all the science that shows no need of gods to make things work?”, I hear you cry.
    Well, that doesn’t hold water with the faithful. The really dishonest ones will dismiss science out of hand, the rest simply see science as a way of telling us how their gods made things work. In their minds, god breathing life into man is now clearly understood to be a metaphor for ‘god made DNA’.

    I suppose what I’m saying is, don’t get angry or take it personally, but instead try to put yourself in their shoes. You are confused as to why they still believe in gods when we have so much scientific evidence proving them to be an unneccessary complication that have no place in our model of how things came to be; they can’t understand why somebody who looks at life rationally and logically cannot believe in gods whose existence has yet to be disproven (rather than merely proven to be undetectable) scientifically.
    We know that the believers standpoint I’ve just posited is a logical fallicy, but they don’t.

    By the way, as a child I did believe absolutely in UFOs after seeing, late one night, a massive triangular structure sail through the sky with a deafening roar, not more that 1000ft over my head.
    I stopped believing about two weeks later when I saw a Vulcan bomber fly in the daytime sky.

    But it was an exciting two weeks ;-)

  51. OMG, thanks for that disturbing link. I made the comment there that I’d fire the teacher for telling kids that Santa IS real. Parents who expect the school system to maintain their lies have the wrong idea about what education should be about.

    I do hate to be such a fan boy, but PZ has done it again. The guy is just so damn prolific and eloquent. Defending a book by AC Grayling from an apologist, he makes a great distinction between the “crunchy” and the “squishy” believer. Most of my relatives are of the squishy type, with a couple of exceptions. But as PZ says, both are talking nonsense. http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/03/14/squishies-and-crunchies/

    I think our dear friend FreeFox has taken squishiness to a whole new level.

    We could probably make the same distinction for atheists. I’m definitely a crunchy atheist. Most people I know who admit to being atheists are a bit more squishy, a little bit more on the agnostic end of the scale.

  52. AofS you make an interesting point. But I question the common idea that you can’t prove a negative. Let’s take prayer as an example. I say it doesn’t work. What would it take to prove that. We could do study after study trying to see a statistically valid effect from prayer. After enough tests, surely we could decide that prayer doesn’t work.
    Similarly, I think people can’t fly. We could throw people off a building all day long and I’m pretty sure we’d prove that they can’t fly.
    I think we have proven that God doesn’t exists, over an over through history. Not only is god logically impossible, in that if every complicated being needs a creator and god does exist then something must have created god, because god must be far more complicated than anything we have seen or know about, there is no evidence at all that the logically impossible god exists. So I don’t think it’s just that the believers need proof. They are like the delusional mental patient. Show them proof that they are delusional, and they might be confused for a moment, but they will find a way to ignore or discount your proof.

  53. Mary2 says:

    DH, I agree. I know we cannot capital ‘p’ Prove there is no god just as we cannot Prove Russell’s teapot does not exist but I think that, in the real world, to demand such absolute proof before dis/believing something would cause the whole planet to grind to a halt. We act everyday on proof of the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ or ‘on the balance of probabilities’ type and to claim absolute dis/proof of a god is just as absurd. Show me any REASONABLE evidence and I would be forced to rethink my opinion but, until that time, I feel perfectly justified in saying that I not only believe but I know that there is no god.

    AoS and MarkyWarky, I am interested in your reasoning for belief on faith and the unshakeability of same but I am not sure that it is as black and white as naivety or can be generalised to ‘we demand proof before believing whereas they demand proof against’. I think even the most rational people can easily hold onto a ridiculous belief – I know atheists who still wear those rubber ‘power bands’ thinking their sports performance will improve – even after the company was made to give everyone their money back. I’m not even sure they actually believe in the efficacy of the bands but hang on to it ‘just in case’. Is it that most of us still have a superstitious dread about some little thing that we know is not true but find it really hard to let go off? I know I do.

    I think there is probably a lot of truth in the ‘investment’ theory – wherein if one’s whole world-view and sense of meaning is entwined in the truth of a particular claim, then pulling out one or two threads of that world-view (even if they are foundational) will not cause the whole lot to unravel. Maybe there are some truths that are so fundamental to who/what we are that it is inconceivable that they are wrong. I don’t know, but I can image an instance where somebody questions something I know, and have always known, to be true where I would think their suggestion so stupid and outlandish that I would not even both to really think about it. I would defend my position without even truly considering theirs without scorn.

  54. Mary2 says:

    DH, re your comment about more female responses in the comments section: What makes you think you really know which among us are male or female? I could be a handsome 25 year old gigolo or a 65 year old media mogul with a 23 year old trophy wife pretending to be a frumpy, middle-aged, suburban lesbian!

  55. Mary2 Yes you could be. But I’m fairly sure you are not, just as I’m fairly sure that FreeFox is a gay male, AoS and Haggis for Brains are mature gentlemen, NBH is a male of some species, MarkyWarky and Mahatmacoat are males who have read some books, etc… Nothing is certain, but in my experience, liars reveal themselves quite quickly. Are you suggesting that there are more women taking part in conversations, and not just lurking, than I am aware of? If so, that would be wonderful and I hope it is true.

  56. WalterWalcarpit says:

    My ‘Yes!’ to a whole lot of the above.
    Especially the threads of superstition. Scrunchey ones.

    But on meanderthal genders, I like to think that many of the androgynous monikers even the balance.

  57. Mary2 says:

    DH, “Are you suggesting that there are more women taking part in conversations, and not just lurking, than I am aware of?” – only facetiously.

    I just like the idea that if half of the teenage girls on web chat sites are sad-case middle-aged men living in their mother’s basements, then half of the educated, mature gentlemen on this site may be 14 year old girls giggling over comment threads about the meaning of truth and belief instead of doing their first year French homework. Jean Paul est dan le jarden?

  58. MarkyWarky says:

    @DH, I think you just did what the psychics do; “male who’s read some books” is so general that its almost bound to apply!

    Yep, male, white, straight, bald, nearly 50, three kids and a lovely wife. Read a few books, but like to think I don’t take them at face value, even if they support what I believe.

    Shit; classic atheist then eh? :(

  59. Suffolk Blue says:

    DH – your throwing people off buildings experiment. May I provide a list?

  60. Mary2 that’s a hilarious idea. I just watched a TEDx by a 15 year old who independently developed a great new test for cancer. Kids are capable of anything.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VehHPwAVL9g

  61. unruly simian says:

    @Marky Am I missing something here. You believe(have faith) that there is no God, therefor you do know what it is like for people who believe(have faith) that there is a God.

  62. MarkyWarky says:

    @ unruly simian, no, I have evidence based faith (similar to having faith that my parachute will save me if I jump out of a plane), whereas believers have faith based faith which ignores the hard evidence (similar to having faith that god will save me if I jump out of a plane without my parachute).

    I do not know what it’s like to have the second type of faith.

  63. MarkyWarky says:

    BTW unruly simian, your post sounds very much like the oft touted “it takes as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a Christian”. The reality is that the only faith required for atheism is faith in the validity of evidence, and of course that validity is verifiable. Never does an atheist need to respond to “I can’t show you, but just trust me anyway”.

    Studying the evidence can give you faith in other things, such as our ability to prosper without an imaginary friend, but that’s not actually required for atheism; it’s a favourable result of it :)

  64. hotrats says:

    It seems to me that when it comes to belief in god, it is hard to find a point in our personal development at which we have a real choice to make. If one is brought up by even moderately religious parents, threats of hellfire and worries about the immortal soul conspire to make it difficult for a child ever to entirely reject the concept of an omniscient god. Likewise, if brought up by even mildly atheistic parents, the concept is equally slippery to embrace, because of its sheer implausibility and the huge number of religions and sects.

    Our sense of ourselves and the nature of our reality is laid down in neural pathways in our brains while we are still acquiring language, and we are naturally reluctant to abandon anything that has embodied meaning to us and contributed to our self-image, even when it can be shown empirically to be a meaningless word-game. Factor in social pressure to conform to cultural norms, and a reluctance to entirely reject parental authority, and of course people believe – or at least say they do.

    We miscreants are lucky in that we can articulate our existential and theological discontents without risk to our sense of self. Believers, constitutionally unable to blame god for anything, can only blame themselves and twitch in guilt and shame at their own lack of faith. No wonder they would rather not discuss it, when the only entirely truthful response to reasoned argument would be, “Yes, OK, I was raised to be a credulous idiot, and it worked.” No-one, squishy or crunchy, wants to be put on that particular spot.

  65. MarkyWarky says:

    I get what you’re saying Hotrats, but if that’s so, why am I an atheist having been brought up on an essentially Christian environment (one which just accepted it as fact, not a born again evangelical one), and why is my Sister-on-Law, brought up by non-believers who worry about her delusion now, and worry even more about their Grandsaughters, such a committed believer in fairy tales?

    I suspect the fact is that ALL of the reasons for belief given in this thread are true, and all contribute to every believer’s fall to varying degrees.

  66. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    MarkyWarky says:
    March 15, 2013 at 6:38 pm
    “I suspect the fact is that ALL of the reasons for belief given in this thread are true, and all contribute to every believer’s fall to varying degrees”

    And there, I think, is the nub of it all. There are probably as many reasons for people to be religious as there are religious people.
    I wonder, though, how many religious people are, probably without ever having heard the phrase, staking their lot on Pascal’s wager? I’d lay an AoS’s wager that it’s one Hell of a lot of them.

    Darwin Harmless says:
    March 15, 2013 at 6:16 am
    […….], AoS and Haggis for Brains are mature gentlemen…

    Only physically, old friend; in my head I’m still a rebellious youth – if an increasingly forgetful one :-(

  67. WalterWalcarpit says:

    I have not read that book The Authoritarians yet, but I seem to remember its premise was not so much about dictators but about the masses that are inclined to be dictated. Perhaps there is a none too dissimilar proclivity in people that inclines them towards religious belief or disbelief depending on their particular mould.
    If so it would be yet another adhesive layer that would need to be dissolved.

  68. MarkyWarky says:

    WalterWalcarpit, if that’s true (I suspect it is), it’s yet another piece of evidence against god. What kind of loving father would create people who are pre-disposed to not believing in him, hide himself from view to make it look as if he’s not there, then make belief the criteria for avoiding eternal torment?!

    Of course that doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist, just that if he does he’s an abusive father, not a loving one.

  69. JohnM says:

    @Nasser b H

    Stick to limericks,
    old fruit.
    Existential, free poetry just ain’t
    your bag,
    man.

  70. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Marky, I suspect the kind of god that pulled legs off spiders and stuffed bangers (US. firecrackers / cherry bombs) up cats arses as a godling, and never lost the taste for sadism.

  71. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    I apologise for yet another essay-length post, but I’m bored!

    Darwin Harmless says:
    March 15, 2013 at 3:01 am
    AofS you make an interesting point. But I question the common idea that you can’t prove a negative. Let’s take prayer as an example. I say it doesn’t work. What would it take to prove that. We could do study after study trying to see a statistically valid effect from prayer. After enough tests, surely we could decide that prayer doesn’t work…

    And those studies have been done, and shown prayer to be ineffective at best, less than useless at worst. But what do the religious have to say about that? God* won’t be tested? If God’s existence could be proven through efficacy of prayer there’d be no need for faith, and God demands faith?
    And then we have to take into account the amazing credulity of the religious rank and file. All it takes is one cancer patient to go into remission after medical science has written off their chances; just one child pulled alive from a wrecked building or aeroplane crash; even one person winning a lottery or a football team winning a vital game; as long as it was the result that somebody prayed for, then in their minds prayer works. Never mind those prayers that didn’t get the ‘right’ result because “Hey, God moves in mysterious ways, right?”
    And what gets the press coverage? The prayers that ‘worked’, of course, because everybody loves a good miracle story.

    The standard of required proof is far higher for us sceptics than for believers of nonsense – self evidently, otherwise homeopathy wouldn’t be the multi-billion pounds / dollars business it’s become – so as far as they’re concerned if just one prayer in a million gets the desired result, then prayer works.

    Similarly, I think people can’t fly. We could throw people off a building all day long and I’m pretty sure we’d prove that they can’t fly.

    Not self-powered flight, maybe, but millions of us fly every day. Besides, millions of believers will point you to a multitude of flying saints and tell you that we can indeed fly; all it takes is absolute faith.

    I think we have proven that God doesn’t exist, over and over through history. Not only is god logically impossible[….] there is no evidence at all that the logically impossible god exists.

    Proven to our satisfaction, yes, but it would seem that the believers have shifting standards of proof.
    The slightest hint of a successful prayer is enough for them to ‘know’ that God hears and answers those prayers that it pleases Him to answer (and let’s not get into the omniscient God knowing in advance who’s going to pray and who’s worthy of His help, therefore ‘to pray or not to pray?’ is an irrelevance; that way madness lies), so they will seize on the tiniest thing if it bolsters their belief, whereas the only proof they will accept that shows their gods to be non-existent has to be absolute. We cannot offer that absolute proof (as well they know) so they are in a win-win situation.

    Show them proof that they are delusional, and they might be confused for a moment, but they will find a way to ignore or discount your proof.

    Again, by the simple expedient of ‘mysterious ways’ or ‘God will not be tested by humans, humans are tested by God, and if we stop having faith, we have failed the test’.
    By positing deities that are beyond our comprehension, that operate outside of the laws of physics, outside of time and space as we know them, outside of all logic, they have created gods that are untouchable, forever beyond investigation, and that’s just how they’d prefer their gods to stay – until they get to meet them in the next life – and that, I believe, is the crux of the matter. All (or at least most)animals have a strong survival instinct; our intelligence has led to the invention of a way of hopefully surviving even death; can the religious really be criticised for clinging to that hope, even in the face of so much evidence – or lack of – to the contrary?

    *I know I said a few months ago that I would no longer capitalise God, but not following the rules of grammar offend my sensibilities more than making a silly stand makes me feel better; it’s only make belief after all, just like Rupert the Bear or the FSM.

  72. JohnnieCanuck says:

    AoS,

    I recommend capitalising God only as a last resort, when you need to use it as a proper noun. Referring instead to ‘a god’ or ‘gods’ whenever possible is my preferred stratagem. YHWH aka God or even Allah, get the capitalisation, albeit, grudgingly.

    Also, good one, Author.

  73. mary2 says:

    AoS, Good points on why people believe in a god (no need for a capital ‘g’) even though he only answers one prayer in a million. What I still can’t understand is why you would worship him – deity or not – when that prayer is to help one praying person’s football team win rather than another’s child beat cancer. Even the lowliest human would surely believe that a being with that sort of power would be immoral not to choose the kid over the football team.

    What do you mean that Rupert the Bear is only make believe? Surely not?

  74. WalterWalcarpit says:

    Rupert the Bear for Pope!

  75. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Mary, that’s where the twisted logic of religion comes in. This almighty deity could, according to their definition, cure humanity of all its ills and make life a bed of roses for all, but that’s what Heaven’s for: pain now, gain later – as long as you continue to tell said deity that you love it; that of course you don’t mind having your body eaten away from the insides if it’s the deity’s will; that maybe it would be nice to have the pain taken down a notch or two if it’s not too much trouble but if not then that’s fine too if it’s part of its plan; that if its plan involves curing you altogether and giving you a full and healthy life, well that would be wonderful too, of course, but you fully understand if it sees you as being so special that it wants you to be an angel asap (and yes, I have heard a vicar telling this to some very sick kids in hospital when I was visiting a friends’ son; I bit my tongue on the ward but loitered long enough to catch him in the corridor and chew him a new arsehole).
    It’s the same whether you want a new heart (a minefield in itself. You’d be asking the deity to kill somebody else on your behalf, making it a contract killer), a lottery win, or a World Cup win for your country; you profess your love, admit you’re unworthy, big up the master plan, be ever so ‘umble, and leave the matter in its hands.
    And every now and then a heart becomes available or your numbers come up. But not for everybody, of course; if it answered all prayers (an impossibility in itself, only one team can win the cup, so let’s just stick to effecting cures) that would be tantamount to proof of existence so negating the need for the one thing all the deities seem to value above all else -faith.
    So the occasional bit of divine intervention is just good PR; the sole aeroplane crash survivor and the cured cancer patient are its most effective media.
    So they keep praying because it might be their turn for the miracle cure next time, or the time after that, and because even if their turn doesn’t come, they still want to secure a place in the promised hereafter.
    They pray because, one way or another, their god will keep its side of the bargain, and they know it will because their god has given them faith that it will.
    I’ve heard all of this spoken – though expressed rather less cynically – from believers all my life, as I’m sure we all have.
    For such an intelligent species, we can be so incredibly dumb!

  76. Slowdjinn says:

    @Darwin Harmless: the classic demonstration that no amount of negative results can actually prove a negative is that prior to 1697 black swans were proverbially non-existent because despite hundreds of thousands of swans having been observed, nobody had ever seen a Black one. Then Willem de Vlamingh went to Western Australia.

    While nobody Europe had any good reason to believe in black swans before that, It turned out that they just hadn’t been looking in the right place.

    There is no amount of negative data that cannot be overturned by a new, repeatable positive result, so negative conclusions must always be provisional.

    Not that I’m about to start praying for a miraculous cure for my brain tumour – there are so many One True Gods (TM) that I’d probably pray to the wrong one & piss the rest off. 8-)

  77. Slowdjinn says:

    And for my next trick, I shall remember to use punctuation!

  78. Who says an entire population–a religion, nation, planet full of persons — can’t be insane? Of course we can, as history keeps on proving.

    Poor Richard still awaits an explanation of the difference between a religion — yes, including Christianity — and superstition.

    We don’t always kill the unbelievers (though surely we have, from time to time). We settle for mockery and banishment– for clarity, ask any resident of a small town in, say, Indiana, or that most radiant of Xian pulsars, Southwest
    Michigan.

  79. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    There were loads of black swans living on the canal near to where I lived as a kid. Mind you, it was a large, coal-fired, industrial city so everything was the same colour, even the mid-day sky in summer. I could never quite figure out why snow was shown as white in pictures, because all the evidence I had pointed to it being black. I always knew where the sun was though: it was that part of the sky that was battleship-grey rather than charcoal, but until we moved to a small market town when I was seven the moon was just something I saw on TV: the stars just blurry black and white plates in books.
    But then again, it was lovely being woken in the mornings by the melodic sound of the birds coughing in the trees…….

  80. Slowdjinn, thanks for that. I had forgotten about the black swans and it’s the best rebuttal of my argument. Still not holing my breath that god will reveal herself to me.

  81. Slowdjinn, also while black swans were unknown, they were not impossible or even unlikely. It was reasonable to assume they didn’t exist until one showed up. It was not reasonable to insist that they did exist, despite a lack of evidence. That teapot in orbit around Jupiter is unlikely at a whole different level, and so is god.

  82. JohnM says:

    @ DH, @Slowdjinn

    Part of the “no black swan” dilemma was caused through a fail for the applied Natural History in the expression. The term “swan” is generic, and if one had specified Mute Swan or Bewick’s Swan or Trumpeter Swan, then this truism would still be extant (though not proved, of course)

  83. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Black, white, mute or trumpeter; they’re all delicious.
    And before anybody cries out that ‘the Queen owns all the swans, you’re not allowed to eat them’, this is actually a misnomer. The Queen owns all the mute swans only; I thought the one I ate was jus shy rather than mute. I’m sure a court will accept that :-)

  84. JohnM says:

    @AoS

    The best eating are birds in their first autumn, which in the UK are brown/grey rather than white. Hunting of Mute Swan is permitted outside of the UK and real hunters will presumably target the edible individuals in a group. On the European continent one frequently encounters a white morph among first autumn individuals (termed ‘polish’ by UK ornithologists). Negative selection by hunters could mean less chance of them getting a Darwin award, perhaps :-)

  85. Slowdjinn says:

    @DH – that’s why I prefer to argue against gods on grounds of logical inconsistency/incoherence, rather than just lack of positive evidence.

    @AoS – Ownership is a bit more complicated than that. The Crown only owns unmarked Mute Swans on open water, and since the 15th century has shared ownership with the the Dyers & Vintners companies of London. These rights are only exercised on certain stretches of the Thames and its tributaries – see: http://www.royal.gov.uk/RoyalEventsandCeremonies/SwanUpping/SwanUpping.aspx

  86. MarkyWarky says:

    You can’t PROVE a negative, but depending on what the negative is, you CAN demonstrate one beyond reasonable doubt.

    Of course you can prove a positive, and if there were a god anything like any of the religions describe it, that would undoubtedly have been done by now.

  87. MarkyWarky says:

    I’ve driven about 500 miles today, so have had a lot of time to think about this!

    DH, you are right that I take these things personally, and I’ve been wondering why. The simple answer is because I have three daughters, and don’t want them to grow up in a world that is this delusional. But that can’t be all of it; I grew up in such a world, with far more unquestioned religion in it than my daughters see, and I’ve turned out OK (I think!).

    I started thinking back to Greta Christina’s “Why are you atheists so angry?” To see if that gave me any clues why I am. The fact is that a lot of the things she describes do make me mad, but no more so than any other injustice or stupidity does. Female circumcision, non-concensual arranged marriages, and honour killings all make my blood boil, but only to the extent that they should. It’s un-pragmatic, sheep like behaviour, even when it results in pretty benign things, that really makes my blood boil, and can even keep me awake at night.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that I see this kind of behaviour as a limit to what our species can achieve. I believe we can get rid of all the other things in time, IF we can start to teach our young to think pragmatically, to STOP taking things on faith, and even to regard faith as a sin rather than a virtue.

    All the time that we teach kids to believe stuff without and even contrary to the evidence, we are supporting prejudice and a “Daily Mail” attitude. All the time that it’s OK to describe non-believers as without morals (a friend of a friend accused me, personally, of specifically this recently, then went on to explain how Eternal Grace gives him the right to behave just as he wants to!), and anyone as hell-bound, we give support to those who want to use those false differences to justify evil acts, which wouldn’t be justifiable if we looked at those “other people” pragmatically.

    So I look at nice, white, flower arranging and tea making British C of E believers, and wonder whether I’m giving them a hard time unfairly. Then I remember that they’re underpinning a way of thinking that’s dangerous and massively limiting, and think maybe I’m not?

    Just my tuppenny bit :)

  88. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    That’s some day’s driving, Marky. And you didn’t break any speed limits, of course?
    I think many of us share your frustrations, I certainly do, and a lot of it stems directly from the ‘jam and Jeruselum’ brigade and the quintessential country parson image of the CofE. Yes, it’s all quaintly old-fashioned and seemingly harmless enough but it does, as you say, underpin a lot worse.
    I don’t recall if it was Dawkins (1st time again, hotrats!) or Hitchens – or maybe neither – but somebody made the observation that the moderate and wishy-washy types legitimise the fundamentalists and fanatics; after all, they all profess to worship the same gods, it’s only their individual interpretations of their holy books stories that differentiate between them.

    I have a cunning plan. We need to lobby for a new law – let’s call it a ‘Faith Test’, which anybody who wishes to discuss, teach, or in any way promote their beliefs has to take before being allowed to.
    It will be a simple test: all that will be required is for the testee to stand atop a suitably high precipice – 100ft.minimum should suffice – with solid ground below. The testee then has to demonstrate their faith is genuine by stepping off said precipice, thereby proving they trust their god to do the right thing (and if their god really wanted the testee to spread the word it would do the right thing).
    Any that refuse to jump has to shut the fuck up about religion..forever.

    A bit extreme?

  89. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Or a ducking stool. 20 minutes under water, no SCUBA or other breathing apparatus. If they die, it proves they were wrong and a little bit of idiocy is removed from the gene pool. If they live…preach away, I’ll be all ears ;-)

  90. Procrastigator says:

    Of course, there is no free-will involved in being color-blind. So coming from the believer, this argument amounts to admitting that belief in god is preordained, not a personal choice, which of course makes it very puzzling that god would willfully create unbelievers which he will then punish for not believing. And once more the only possible recourse of the religious is : god works in mysterious ways.

  91. hotrats says:

    AoS:
    Very good, a clear round.

    While Dawkins and Hitchens do allude to it, it was mainly Sam Harris in his ‘Letter to a Christian Nation’ who first pointed out the dangers of religious moderation:

    ‘Competing religious doctrines have shattered our world into separate moral communities, and these divisions have become a continual source of human conflict. In response to this situation, many sensible people advocate something called religious tolerance. While religious tolerance is surely better than religious war, tolerance is not without its problems.

    ‘Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us unwilling to criticize ideas that are increasingly maladaptive and patently ridiculous. It has also obliged us to lie to ourselves—repeatedly and at the highest levels of discourse—about the compatibility between religious faith and scientific rationality.

    ‘The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don’t like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us.’

    Harris points out that religious moderation is not a renewed form of faith, but simply an agreement to ignore the excesses of scripture, and take advantage of the better life we can enjoy when religion is not held to the fore in public discourse.

    ‘Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance—and it has no bona fides, in religious terms, to put it on a par with fundamentalism.’

    In other words, moderates deny themselves any frame of reference for criticizing fundamentalists; leaving them as mute enablers of atrocities they could not themselves countenance.

    My own Faith Test is also simple. Each candidate is led into a soundproofed room, and asked, ‘Do you believe it can be justified to kill in the name of God?”. If they say, ‘Yes’, you agree, and shoot them on principle. The bodies may well pile up, but none of them will be innocent bystanders.

  92. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Thanks for the full reference, hotrats. I haven’t yet got around to reading Letter to a Christian Nation, something I really should rectify . The bit about moderates cherry-picking the best bits and avoiding the more inconvenient parts is something I’ve banged on about for decades (no, I’m not accusing Harris of plegiarism. Great minds, and all that), and not one believer has had the honesty to admit I’m right. It’s just coincidental that all the bits they don’t follow are only metaphor for something altogether fluffier.
    And speaking of books, I found a treasure in a charity shop yesterday, a pristine copy of Vanne Goodall’s The Quest For Man, 1975 1st edition, h/b with dust jacket, 25p. Yeah, touch me!
    But I digress. Something I’m increasingly doing of late (see what I did there?). So, to the point:
    A few weeks ago I was getting set to take the dog for his evening constitutional and Mrs o’Sagan suggested I took a torch as it was dark. I looked out of the door, the night was clear and there was a bright moon – just waxing from full, if memory serves – so I joked “If you think that’s dark, you really don’t want to see inside my mind”.
    Which brings me to:-

    “My own Faith Test is also simple. Each candidate is led into a soundproofed room, and asked, ‘Do you believe it can be justified to kill in the name of God?”. If they say, ‘Yes’, you agree, and shoot them on principle. The bodies may well pile up, but none of them will be innocent bystanders.”

    That’s deliciously dark, but I would also ask them to swear on their holy book. They can be devious bastards, and we don’t want any liars for Jesus slipping the net.
    But do you think we’re really helping to dispel the believers’ atheist-Hitler-genocide stereotype?
    Sod ‘em; if they complain, administer the Faith Test ;-)

  93. MarkyWarky says:

    I can’t advocate killing anyone, though AoS’s precipice idea feels like its right (but misses the point; god won’t be tested, remember?).

    But why don’t we apply their own Faith Test? Why don’t we get them to sell all their belongings as instructed by Jesus, give the proceeds to the poor, and then have faith that Matthew 6:25-34 will apply to them? We could call it a Faith Tax, then it wouldn’t be a test (of god), it’d just be doing his bidding.

    I wonder how many people would declare themselves Christian on their tax returns?

  94. MarkyWarky says:

    By the way, it’d be worth noting that the Faith Tax is based on New Testament teaching, so it can’t be side stepped with the handy “new covenant, new rules” tax evasion loophole.

    And let’s not set the tax at 10% of worldly goods either; that’s one of the OT rules that the new covenant the moderates love so much overruled. Jesus set the level at 100%, so who are we to argue with him?

    Bugger, I forgot the Eternal Grace clause :(. We’ll have to close that loophole too somehow. Hmm.

  95. MarkyWarky says:

    And another thing!

    AoS mentioned Pascals wager earlier. One of the things that makes me mad (not wibble wobble mad, grrrrr mad), is that believers will never know if they’re wrong, but I will. If they’re wrong they’ll just pass into oblivion and not even know they’re dead, let alone dead and not in heaven, whereas I’ll be stuck in hell asking myself why I didn’t take that bet :(

    It’s just soooooo unfair!

    If atheists were allowed to revert to wishful thinking, I’d believe there was a brief moment after death, long enough for believers to realise they were drifting into oblivion with no afterlife, and that they’d not only wasted their own lives, but had caused others to do the same. A brief moment of “Oh god (not that you’re there), what the hell have I done?” would be nice. I wonder if some of their smugness comes from the knowledge that that’ll never happen?

  96. Sam Huff says:

    Isn’t it core to Western Christianity that grace or faith is a gift from God and there is nothing you can do to earn it or reject it? Therefore it’s totally God’s decision wether one is saved or not.

  97. MarkyWarky says:

    Sam, I’ve just been reading up on this, and that is the Calvinist view yes. However, (like everything this perfect god has revealed), it appears to be open to debate! A more typical view is that Grace is a gift available to everyone, and all you have to do to receive it is come to Christ, whatever that means.

    Of course the Calvinist view is more logical and more honest; We all deserve damnation so it’s impossible for us to redeem ourselves>god is merciful so gives the gift of his grace entirely at his own discretion; it’s nothing to do with how you behave or how much you beg, rather to fit his unknown plan>if you are one of the elect, you’ve been chosen by god to receive his mercy even though you don’t deserve it>the elect have no choice either; they WILL be redeemed like lit or not!!!

    How the hell all that fits with a loving god/freewill etc is completely beyond me, but then I’m just a simple atheist; I wasn’t designed to understand this stuff.

    Anyone know how they know all this stuff about god BTW?

  98. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    MarkyWarky says:
    March 19, 2013 at 7:29 am
    I can’t advocate killing anyone, though AoS’s precipice idea feels like its right (but misses the point; god won’t be tested, remember?).

    Ah, but it’s not a test of God, it’s a test of the believers’ faith.

    “Anyone know how they know all this stuff about god BTW?”
    Divinely inspired guesswork?

  99. MarkyWarky says:

    AoS said “Ah, but it’s not a test of God, it’s a test of the believers’ faith”.

    No no no, numpty. The believer is testing god, not you, by jumping off the precipice, expecting god to save him as long as it fits with “Da Plan”. The only reason the believer is jumping is to see if god will save him, therefore it’s a test, therefore god won’t save him.

    We could push the believer when he’s not expecting it, but that’d be US testing god.

    For goodness sake AoS, keep up!

  100. JohnM says:

    I have to disagree, Mark. The believer leaping off the cliff is 100% certain his god will save him, always provided it is in the divine plan so to do. No testing of god involved as far as I can see.

  101. MarkyWarky says:

    Ummmm, not so sure John. In order for the believer to be saved, god would have to reveal himself, and given that this is a human created situation, that would be a test.

    Basically any occasion where we would know it was god if x or y happened, is a test. If god weren’t paranoid about being discovered, the “god won’t be tested” argument would still allow us to see his presence in answers to prayer; we’d see positive results when the prayers were genuine, just not when they were contrived, whereas in fact he can’t be seen to have an effect even when we’re not studying him!

    It’s kind of like “I’m not doing it if you’re looking!”

  102. MarkyWarky says:

    Let me put that more simply :)

    In order for the believer to be saved, god would have to reveal himself. If he did, we’d have evidence for his existence, which is what a lot of us keep asking for, and so he’d have succumbed to testing :)

  103. Dalai Llama says:

    I still don’t get why God can’t prove his existence to us (beyond the obvious handicap of non-existence). The answer I am usually given is something waffly about free will and faith, but I don’t see how God making his existence clear and unambiguous counters free will – it just gives us a full picture of the situation before we make up our minds. It’s like he’s setting us an exam and only letting us see half of each question. I hardly see how he can blame us for not acknowledging his existence when he has left room for reasonable doubt about it in the first place! Doesn’t seem terribly just OR loving, really…

  104. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Marky, we’re not testing the gods in the faith test because we know there are no gods to test; all we’re doing is testing the strength of the believers’ faith. All we ask is they prove they have the courage of their convictions and trust in their gods to clear a space (actually, to have the space already prepared, what with omniscience and all that) by their golden thrones for the sudden influx.

    And why are the gods so shy all of a sudden? The books are full of revelations*: those tablets Moses got didn’t carve themselves (actually, I have a tentative theory about the Moses / 10 Commandments story, but it can wait for a more pertinent discussion), and wasn’t JC supposed to be his dad personified? If that’s not revealing Himself then I’ve no idea what is.
    Mo’s Jibriel wasn’t Allah himself, of course, but a heavenly angel is a heavenly angel, there could be little ambiguity over its origin.

    So, we say there are no gods; they say there are, but they got a sudden bout of chronic shyness (2000 years ago for the Christians, a little later for the Muslims). Not a very godly condition, I have to say.

    *I was going to include the burning bush, but I’ve a feeling that was a metaphor for a severe yeast infection. Well, arid desert conditions, water too scarce to waste on washing sweaty ‘nads; what did he expect? Althernatively, there is a type of plant from the region that exudes a sticky, tar-like substance which can, given the right conditions, combust with no visible source of ignition, so not something the desert-ramblers would have understood.
    But I’m digressing….again.

  105. MarkyWarky says:

    “Marky, we’re not testing the gods in the faith test because we know there are no gods to test; all we’re doing is testing the strength of the believers’ faith.”

    Ah yes, I get that (which is why I suggested an alternative), but the point s we need a test they can’t wriggle out of. If they can say “I’m not doing that, not because I don’t have faith, but because I do and so know that god won’t be tested, we can’t make the test stick :) :(

  106. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Marky, that’s exactly the result I was hoping for from the start , hence the final clause in my original;

    anybody who wishes to discuss, teach, or in any way promote their beliefs has to take before being allowed to.
    [….]The testee then has to demonstrate their faith is genuine by stepping off said precipice, thereby proving they trust their god to do the right thing [….]Any that refuse to jump has to shut the fuck up about religion..forever.

    It’s win-win for us. If they jump – great: if they don’t – still great.
    Though on reflection I should have added one further clause: any that refuse to jump and refuse to shut the fuck up get exiled to the Isle of Wight. And that is extreme, some may say a fate worse than death, as I’m sure EinsteinsGhost will verify.

  107. MarkyWarky says:

    On please no, the Isle of Wight is only a short hovercraft ride from here. What if one of them escaped?

  108. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Do you know how to use a sniper’s rifle? Tranquiliser dart only, of course; I know you’re a little squeamish about killing vermin ;-)

  109. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Of course, were one of them to make the crossing on foot…..

  110. JohnM says:

    @Mark”In order for the believer to be saved, god would have to reveal himself.”

    Would he, though? Isn’t the story of the man on the rooftop in a flood a believer’s rationalisation of how Dog frequently intervenes without giving himself away? The scene where Brian is “rescued” by aliens during the eponymous ‘Life of’ story is in the same vein, isn’t it?

  111. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    It might seem a little suspicious though, John, if a whole lot of people survive a 100ft fall onto concrete.
    But on reflection, maybe we shouldn’t be allowing them to die after all. I think it might be more humane if, when one of them jumped, a net deployed below them; they have now proven their faith by virtue of mental instability and can be carted off to the Isle of Wight* with the equally-delusional but non-suicidal non-jumpers.

    *Yes, I know that sounds like a lot of people for the Isle to hold, but I recall reading that the entire population of the world could all fit in, with enough space left over for a Dachshund called Colin.
    OK, the bit about the dog comes courtesy of Blackadder, but the first bit is true.

  112. JohnM says:

    @AoS
    Thanks for reminding me I need to get back my boxed set of Blackadder from a mate of mine, and watch them all again. Meanwhile I will steer clear of the IoW as a precaution. I don’t like crowds.

  113. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Every one a classic. To me, Balckadder trying to explain the concept of a ‘rotten borough’ to the Prince Regent (“Got that, Your Highness?” “Yeees….and a rubber button is what, again?” is the perfect analogy of trying to explain the concept of ‘no gods’ to believers.

  114. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    OK folks, as if by divine providence it’s time for a whip-round.

  115. AofS I’m not of your culture. What, pray tell, is a whip-round? I couldn’t get your link to open. Probably the fault of the repressive regime that is my current country of residence.
    Thanks, mate.

  116. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    DH, a whip-round is simply a collection of cash to save towards a common goal; the link is to a satirical piece on EinsteinsGhost’s blog about the Conservative party putting the Isle of Wight up for sale.
    I though we could buy the place and put my plans (see the last few posts above) into action.

  117. Mary2 says:

    DH, Perhaps they ‘pass the hat’ in your neck of the woods?

  118. That they do, Mary2, and that I would have understood, but I’m always happy to acquire new vernacular.

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