278 thoughts on “Open Conversation Part 4”

  1. Nate, Thanks so much for offering us this open conversation platform. I feel a connection with this community and have learned a lot since I became active here. You are most generous.

    I’d like to make a suggestion. You can assign a number of comments per post page, Go to your Settings, then Discussion. Under “other comment settings” check the box that says “Break comments into pages with (add number) top level comments per page.”

    This way you don’t have to keep adding Parts 1,2, 3, 4, etc., when the comment count gets lengthy and loads slowly. Thanks again. Hope all is well with you and yours.

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  2. It’s gorgeous outside today. Blue skies, ambers, reds and golds dancing in the cool breezes. Ahhh, Fall. ❤ Also, I've been giving Arch a hard time over on Violetwisps' latest post. He's already threatened to zap me with a lightening bolt in the name of God. 😀

    http://violetwisp.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/the-snarling-and-fanged-beast/

    Have also been active on Charles' latest post today. As you know, he's a fairly new deconvert going through some challenging times.

    http://skepticjourney.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/the-other-side-of-the-brick-wall-moving-on/

    Hope you're having a nice Sunday, Zoe.

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  3. Hi everybody! My son, who is 11, just asked me what I thought about a video called The Thaw. I said, “It is sad.” It features teenage Christians making statements about how they are tired of Christianity being frozen out of public schools in the U.S. He said, “Ok, but what do you think about the points they made? There are churches everywhere. How is it not a Christian nation?” I briefly explained the difference between a democratic and theocratic government, and the provision for separation of church and state in our Constitution. I told him that just because many people believe in a certain religion, that doesn’t mean they get to base the government, at least overtly, on it.

    This was all a little heavy, given that I am going on little sleep. He is an atheist, and I have made it a point to empower him to think critically and not default to atheism because his parents are non-believers. I wish I could say the same for Christian parents. There must be some out there who try to not indoctrinate their kids, but I am sure they are in the minority.

    I told my son that those kids believe what they have been told, but they don’t have all the information. He said, “Aren’t atheists indoctrinated too?” I know some Christians see it that way. In spite of what Kathy said, truth is relative. Without the solid, grounding presence of science and reason, what would separate us atheists from the other brainwashed folks out there? I know science does not prove or disprove the existence of a deity, but it does provide a stark contrast to nonsensical stories in religious texts. When Christians have tried to convert me, I might have crossed the line into folly were it not for common sense anchoring me to reality. Those rocks in my back yard? I bet they’re over 6000 years old, not because I’ve had them tested, but because I understand the basics of geology and dating methods.

    I am so grateful for other atheists speaking out and speaking up, and for access to scientific information. Even when we know better, it is difficult to resist the pressure Christians put on us. I am grateful that I have answers for my son. Without other atheists, and sites like this one, I would not have the wisdom to know I have to teach him how to figure it out for himself. That does not seem like indoctrination to me.

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  4. Gliese, would you add this comment (or a variation thereof) to the latest posting on my blog? I think it would add much to the topic. Once you read it, I think you’ll understand. Thx.

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  5. Hope everyone had a nice weekend. Just read a good article on the topic of polytheistic origins: link

    The author of the article, Carolyn Hyppolite, also has a book which looks very good: link – I am thinking about buying it.

    Reading her Amazon bio, here are a few quotes worth repeating:

    [Quotes Psalms 135] I had read this psalm about once a month for several years. But that morning, I read it as if I had never read it before. I saw it for what it was–the ethnocentric war chant of a tribal people cloaking their mythic imperialist history with the robe of divine sanction. God was not good; just the God of Israel. That was not the day I walked away. It would take me many such moments of cognitive dissonance to realize that the silent wall that I prayed before was nothing but a cold, silent wall.

    I live a fairly decent life. However, it did dawn on me one day that I had been both foolish and arrogant to imagine that there is a God who would listen to my relatively minor supplications when he clearly has and continues to ignore the much more dire pleas of so many billions.

    But if God does not answer prayer, if he not did inspire the Bible, if this was the only life I had to live, what had I been doing with myself? I had tragically spent some of the best years of my life chasing an illusion.

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  6. Don’t Panic!

    Just because I believe in God (not the deist kind nor am I an agnostic), doesn’t mean I believe in the trappings of Christianity, Judaism or organized religion (and it isn’t as organized as people thing — just observe the schisms and splinters). I might even be mistaken as an atheist in some circles.

    Here’s my problem: Though I would like to believe in Christianity and redemption, the provenance of the New Testament has not been established. In fact, it seems to have been created from a whole cloth by ‘theologians’ of the Roman Catholic Church in the Fourth Century by the direction of Emperor Constantine (who had some sort of ‘vision’ of victory as an incentive) by taking word-of-mouth tales from superstitious illiterates as ‘tradition’ and writing up a bunch of books and letters based on… well… nothing much at all. Now I see that there are some here who reference those in the late first century as having seen some of the original writings, but I really don’t think that’s good enough. Among many of the disturbing features of the belief system is that there doesn’t seem to be much viable history that supports that Jesus even existed. Maybe he’s just Mythra. How can we really know? It doesn’t help that we’re pretty certain that some of those books and epistles are forgeries. And it also doesn’t help that some spurious phrases have been inserted, changing the original meaning (if there were any).

    Now some people talk about faith, but faith is a filler: It is the evidence of the things (not yet) seen, and not support for some delusion which has no basis in fact. There must be some supporting evidence that there’s any sort of consistency of faith in the real world. Are people truly healed by the laying on of hands? Fine. Show us a quadriplegic whose limbs have spontaneously reappeared. People raised from the dead? We’d like to have direct evidence of that from the coroner. You can’t just pass things off in a vacuum as being products of ‘faith’. We’ve had far too many false prophets for that. Is it religion or rip-off. The predominance of evidence suggests rip-off.

    So here’s the challenge: Will someone give me something to work with here? I’d like science, history, linguistics, archeology — you know — something solid so the faith can be built. You have a willing but skeptical participant here.

    Having said that, I think most of the arguments have already been lost to the atheists: They more often than not have the ‘right’ of it. I’m not certain that’s the whole picture, but the raving foaming at the mouth ‘Christians’ just don’t have what it takes to overcome the bulk of evidence that refutes their belief system. And for heaven’s sake, as if that’s enough, the ‘Christians’ have such silly obviously pagan practices as Christmas and Easter. And who says the ‘Sabbath’ is on Sunday? Did they really get that out of the Bible? Really? Unfortunately, those who reject Christmas and Easter to keep the Sabbath (and also keep ‘the Feasts of the Lord’) fall into terribly obvious cult territory.

    So you atheists out there who are on the defensive are taking the wrong approach: The Scripture says ‘Prove all things’. You make the Christians do that. Why should the burden of proof fall on you to prove them wrong? What is this? Table top fusion? (That was a bust.) The burden of proof is on the Christians, and so far, all we seem to have is opinion. Where are the facts? (Not just lining up facts for proof texting and ignoring the devastating facts that puncture and deflate your whole theory.)

    This is not benign.

    There’s money involved. People’s lives are involved. People’s welfare is involved. This isn’t trivial. The whole of society is engaged. It’s really quite an important question.

    And after that, there’s another question: Who’s in charge? (Or the corollary question: Who died and left you as God?) That’s right: Who has the authority to lead everyone into redemption? I’m not seeing a lot of qualifications here: Just a lot of posturing and narcissistic sociopathic egos making claim to being ‘God’s Apostle’ and / or ‘God’s Prophet’ and / or ‘God’s Evangelist’. Apostle means ‘one sent forth’ and, like the Azazel goat, some of these old goats should be sent out and tossed over a cliff to be sure they don’t come back, as according to Jewish tradition.

    Of course I’m ticked. I’ve been in a series of cults (by no fault or reason of my own — but that’s a story which can wait for later, if ever). I’ve seen what the religious psychopaths do to people first hand, and it’s not pretty. Some of them should be executed, others should be on meds (potassium cyanide springs to mind). The damage they do….

    So if you’re up to it, why don’t we all engage in ‘finding truth’.

    If there is any.

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  7. @Black Ops Mikey:

    Speaking just for myself, I think you’ve posted a very thoughtful … and challenging … comment. I totally agree that the “proofs” of Christianity are most definitely lacking.

    It will be interesting to read the answers/reactions of those who contribute to this blog.

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  8. Mikey, this is just my observation, but I think most of the Christians that comment here are not the fundamentalist type ( I am thinking of Brandon, UnkleE and Ryan ) and would not necessarily share your concerns about proof. They share our views about the humanness of the bible, but feel it is inspired in a vague sense. They admit that the problem of evil is troubling. I think they also accept the theory of evolution, but perhaps in a guided sense.

    So here’s the challenge: Will someone give me something to work with here? I’d like science, history, linguistics, archeology — you know — something solid so the faith can be built. You have a willing but skeptical participant here. ~ Black Ops Mikey

    Most everyone here is willing to look at any available evidence that Christians want to bring forward. I think the best theists can do at this point is god-of-the-gaps. They are focusing on the unknowns and applying agenticity to them. Such as human consciousness, fine-tuning for life and first cause arguments.

    Here’s my question to theists who use these god-of-the-gaps arguments: Why stop there? Why not apply agenticity to ALL unknown mysteries?

    Dreams come from the Sandman.
    UFOs come from Aliens.
    Apparitions come from Ghosts.
    Black holes come from Warlocks.
    Love comes from Cupid.
    Good luck comes from Leprechauns.
    etc…

    These might sound silly, but all they are lacking is 2000 years of apologetics and a strong following.

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  9. “I live a fairly decent life. However, it did dawn on me one day that I had been both foolish and arrogant to imagine that there is a God who would listen to my relatively minor supplications when he clearly has and continues to ignore the much more dire pleas of so many billions.”

    These “arguments” are so common among unbelievers, and they are actually good points to consider.. the problem is that assumptions are made, based on bias and then.. “voila”.. THE question is “answered”! And no one thinks twice about the bias/ lack of objectivity that is present.

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  10. These “arguments” are so common among unbelievers, and they are actually good points to consider.. the problem is that assumptions are made, based on bias and then.. “voila”.. THE question is “answered”! And no one thinks twice about the bias/ lack of objectivity that is present.

    what kind of psycho babble is that?
    makes no sense.
    jeezzzuuusss you are stoooppiiiid!

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  11. I agree, Paul. As usual, her comment is just a bunch of words thrown together in an effort to say something “profound.” She should quit trying … it’s never going to happen!

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  12. @Black Ops Mikey

    Your comment made me smile for some reason. A few considerations are worth mentioning.

    1) Fine tuning is still a huge problem for naturalism and seems to favor theism. The multiverse is the contrived solution of the fine tuning problem which lacks hard evidence and falsifiability (of course God leaves no hard evidence either, but God is not a scientific idea). Additionally, I think naturalism is incompatible with an infinite multiverse because if we have doppelgangers “out there” our conscious experience could not be of a single spacetime universe. That’s a problem for naturalism because if a finite multiverse exists, I don’t think it gets rid of the fine tuning problem and the vast majority of universes are uninhabitable. Fine tuning is consistent with teleology (goal-directedness).

    2) Physicists have proved that inflationary spacetime is noneternal which means there was a beginning. You basically have two major gods to choose from. 1) an eternal self-existing natural law seeding the universe by a quantum fluctuation (which by chance has only happened one time in 15 billion years), 2) an eternal self-existing personal being that creates with purpose, i.e., theism.

    3) Conciousness. The Hard Problem of Consciousness. Enough to make any honest naturalist waffle.

    4) The Naturalness of Religion Thesis I think tilts in favor of theism over atheism. It doesn’t matter how evolution produced religion (i.e., by adaptation or spandrel), it’s amazing that it was there so early and ubiquitous in the history of humanity. Even now the majority of humanity is religious somehow, but on naturalism’s account it didn’t have to be that way.

    5) The origin of and particular shape that Christianity took is well explained by Jesus having actually resurrected. (This could be expanded at length).

    6) Paul seemed to genuinely believe his testimony of Jesus’ resurrection and does not use religion for personal gain unlike Muhammad and Joseph Smith.

    7) The pre-Pauline creed is good evidence that belief in Jesus’ resurrection did not develop as a legend and was part of the earliest testimony.

    8) Jesus predicted and warned of the downfall of Jerusalem and the razing of the temple in 70 AD.

    9) Love, joy, peace, longing for justice, longing for perfection, hate of evil, these are all signs pointing towards theism. Not proof, but pointers that don’t need to exist in and of themselves.

    -Brandon

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  13. Hi Brandon,

    1) I’ve never found fine-tuning to be all that persuasive. Until we have other universes to compare against, we simply have no idea how likely or unlikely any of the parameters of our particular universe might be.

    2) Yes, there seems to have been a beginning for our particular “era” of space time, but what data exists that could suggest what may have caused it or preceded it?

    3) This point, as well as the first two, seem to boil down to “god of the gaps” to me.

    4) I don’t think the natural development of religion is amazing at all. We are pattern-seekers, and we tend to see agency in all kinds of natural phenomena. We are also intelligent enough to know that we’re going to die, and most of us really don’t want to. Nor do we want to have to say “good-bye” to our loved ones forever. Seems like a perfect storm for generating religious/supernatural belief to me.

    5) Yes, and a red-suited man who lives in the North Pole with flying reindeer easily explains the stories about Santa Claus too.

    6) I agree that Paul genuinely seemed to believe, but he also never knew Jesus personally. This means there’s little difference between Paul and guys like Billy Graham or Pope Francis.

    7) I think you might need to back that up a bit more. To say the resurrection didn’t develop as a legend is a pretty big claim that would be hard to prove, considering the dates for NT documents, including Paul’s epistles.

    8) Did he? Hard to make this claim considering the dates of the gospels.

    9) I think these are just human qualities. Other mammals, especially primates, seem to possess many of the same attributes.

    Beyond this, we could add all the numerous problems with Christianity: the problem of evil, the discrepancies in the Bible, the hiddenness of God, the horrifying morality in the OT, failed and misused prophecies, etc.

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  14. @Neuro —

    Thanks for the pagination suggestion. I’ve actually tried it before, but it didn’t work out right for some reason. Perhaps whoever built this particular theme didn’t integrate it properly… I’m not sure. But that’s why I finally went to just creating new posts.

    There are some chatroom plugins available, but I’d have to go to self-hosting, and I’m not ready for that yet. I hope to figure out a better solution at some point, though. For now I just appreciate everyone’s continued interest! 🙂

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  15. Nate what are you doing up so late?!

    Well, I thought I would offer a quick response because I foresee this post getting ravaged tomorrow while I’m at work, but I’m hoping for some engaging discussions.

    1) As I understand it, the fine tuning problem in physics is not based on probabilities. Maybe it is with apologists, but not physics. It’s the fact that arbitrary physical constants exist in the first place that just happen to allow for life to have evolve (Anthropic Principle). This combined with a beginning of all things is a concern for naturalism. The universe looks designed at least in part for a span of human existence until the earth is destroyed and there’s basically no way around this without invoking a Platonic godlike natural law or an appeal to mystery. Naturalism, like all worldviews, has weaknesses and this is one of them. That’s why physicists are scrambling to make the multiverse happen.

    2) You are right there is no data, so the naturalist options are to make an appeal to mystery or develop some philosophical belief about it like eternal self-existing godlike natural laws.

    3) The Hard Problem states that science will never fill in the gap, so an unnatural explanation may actually be appropriate here.

    4) It seems to me, and maybe I just haven’t thought this out or I’m biased, that the ubiquity of religion is a problem for naturalism. Mainly because it just didn’t have to be this way. IDK, it’s a weaker point on this list.

    5) Well, this is a serious scholarly argument which I’ll have to lay out in more detail some other time. No serious scholar is arguing for Santa Claus, that’s dismissive.

    6) The point of this argument is to say that it’s far more difficult to argue that Paul evangelized for personal gain than the cases of Islam and Mormonism. We could argue that the latter two originated for worldly gains, whereas Paul seemed genuine. It’s not proof positive of Christianity, but it separates it out from these other religions as part of a cumulative case.

    7) Legend has a specific meaning in terms of historical development. The pre-Pauline creed dates too early for resurrection to be legend. In fact, NT scholars trace this creed back to the Jerusalem apostles which means skeptical accounts of the origin of Christianity have more difficulty. Take for example skeptical NT scholar Bart Ehrman who thinks that the disciples hallucinated. That is a compromise from skeptics a century ago claiming the resurrection was a legend. A compromise is a compromise, again, not proof positive of Christianity though.

    8) The gospels are dated this late because of Jesus’ prediction! This is methodological naturalism.

    9) True maybe some of these qualities are to some extent expressed in nonhuman primates, but my point is really just a weak point, the idea that these are signs of a Creator. They can easily be interpreted as such, but they don’t have to be.

    Beyond this, we could add all the numerous problems with Christianity. . .

    I agree with you, these are legitimate problems that deserve serious thought and discussion. Because this conversation is already so long, I’ll just acknowledge this and leave it for now!

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  16. 3) The Hard Problem states that science will never fill in the gap, so an unnatural explanation may actually be appropriate here.

    lol… Really, Brandon? Never?

    What a silly thing to say.

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  17. Arch, you left an article in Part 3 about a guy who destroyed the 10 Commandments monument in Oklahoma and he said (basically) the devil made him do it. Turns out he was a devout Christian.

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/10/man-who-destroyed-oklahoma-10-commandments-monument-was-devout-christian/

    Sadly,

    “Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin promised to rebuild the monument, saying that “the people of Oklahoma will not stand for acts of violence against the Capitol or its monuments. This monument was built to memorialize the historical significance of the Ten Commandments in guiding our own laws and lives.”

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/10/man-who-destroyed-oklahoma-10-commandments-monument-was-devout-christian/

    What Governor Mary Fallin fails to realize is that women are listed as property of men in the 10th Commandment, and that the “ethical” parts of the 10 Commandments were only intended to be practiced within Yahweh’s tribes. Murder, stealing, raping little girls was OK to do to tribes outside of Yahweh’s tribes if he commanded it. Not to mention that the Pentateuch is fictional. Disturbing that people who promote “historical significance” know little about it.

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  18. Hi Brandon,

    I share your interest in having engaging discussions and I realize it is difficult to engage too many comments at once so I will try to keep mine short. About a month ago we discussed divine inspiration and I found your views to be unique and intriguing.

    I would be very interested in discovering whether a creator deity exists or not (regardless of whether it still exists or what characteristics it may have). You’ve brought up several mysteries of science, but I hesitate to go as far as you have and say that an invisible agent is responsible. Yes, we happen to be very fortunate to be on a planet that is in a good location from it’s host star and the center of the galaxy. But, doesn’t it seem odd that a creator deity would create upwards of 100 billion galaxies just to create one that was suitable for life?

    Or if the creator deity had set out to create human consciousness, doesn’t it seem odd to go about it by evolving myriads of organisms with ultimately more and more complex brains while having many offshoot versions go extinct? Also, if consciousness is not physical, how do you explain people going unconscious for physical reasons?

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  19. Thanks for the reply, Brandon. And thanks even more for not being offended by anything I wrote, since my tone was probably a little more brusque than usual. Yep, I was up late and just typed something out quickly. 🙂

    Since your points cover so much ground, I’ll just focus on the first two for now. I think Dave’s comment about your first point is very good, and you’re right to mention that our existence is actually just a tiny blip in the history of the universe so far. Those are some of my main problems with it.

    For instance, what level of organism is required for us to think that the universe must have been designed? Would Neanderthals have been advanced enough? And do you suppose Jesus’ sacrifice would apply to them as well, or are they too similar to mere animals? What about Homo erectus or Homo habilis? Does their existence also suggest a creator? What about even more primitive species like cats? If a universe existed where the highest form of life was a cat, does it still suggest a creator?

    It’s very possible that we are not the most evolved species to ever live in this universe. Or even if we are, it’s very possible that another more advanced species could one day evolve. Perhaps some “alien” god created the universe for an alien species, and we’re just the “cosmic accidents” — the house cats — sitting in our own little forgotten corner of the universe. I suppose that would explain the problem of evil quite well…

    Plus, even if we don’t know why the universal constants have the values they do, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re arbitrary. Granted, I’m no physicist, so I could easily be wrong about all of this. But it seems to me that these issues do still boil down to a problem of probabilities. We don’t really know what values are possible for each parameter, and I think that causes big problems for fine-tuning.

    To your second point, about what preceded the Big Bang, I think it’s really hard to make any assumptions. The real driving force behind all of these questions is “why is there something rather than nothing?” And sure, that’s really puzzling. But maybe it’s an assumption for us to even think that “nothing” is the default position. Conceptually, we all know what “nothing” is, but it’s impossible to demonstrate it. In a very real way, “nothing” doesn’t actually exist.

    Anyway, it’s definitely interesting stuff.

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