Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What's Theology Got to do with Religion?

There's a great discussion over at Mixing Memory about the common claim that critics of religion are bashing a strawman rather than the sophisticated theology that intelligent theists believe in. Mixing Memory's Chris takes issue with PZ Myers, who wrote elsewhere:

"Nuance"? Sweet jebus, where is the nuance in religion and superstition and piety that we're supposed to defend?

I keep hearing these claims that religion is really far more nuanced and sophisticated and clever than we give it credit for, but seriously, every time I turn around and look at the actual practice of the silly business, I'm gobsmacked.


Chris argues that it would just take some reading of this list to learn about religious nuance. And then the comments arrive. Some excerpts:

coturnix: What is there to understand about theology except that it is a great excercise in twisted logic wrapped in a taco-shell of pretty rhetorics? Trying to save face by using big words. If that is nuance...


Richard: Well, I checked out the list that you linked to above, hoping that I would see something new, some writer that was unknown to the average university graduate. Are you trying to suggest that Dawkins, and Myers, et.al. are unfamiliar with those philosophers? Come on. You just revealed that there's nothing that they're missing.


Adam Huan: While I don't like Myers' attitude, his statement is fair -- religious practice is often shallow and overly fervent. How many American Christians have read Thomas Aquinas? I'd wager not many. Myers' crime isn't in calling out the believers, it's in feeling as strongly about their beliefs as they do.


Joshua: Honestly, you'd be hard-pressed to find a believer who's had exposure to the apologia on that "Top Twenty" list. Most Christians don't even known about Pascal's Wager (though they probably at some point came to it independently anyway), much less St. Anselm's ontological argument or the works of Augustine or Aquinas. Most of them haven't even read C.S. Lewis' apologia, though they might be familiar with his fiction. Hell, most Christians haven't even read the Bible, aside from maybe hearing a few selected quotations in church.

The fact is, apologia has absolutely no connection with the real practice of religion and belief. It exists in its own world, disconnected from the real world -- both the world of science and logic as well as the lives of the believers. I've never heard a good argument for why anybody should take it seriously. If somebody has one, I'd love to hear it.

And lest you think I don't have experience, I was raised a fundamentalist Baptist. Later in life, I attended a Foursquare church with my dad. I went to Baptist grade school and an Episcopal high school. In high school, I took a required class on Biblical scholarship.

In short, I was surrounded by theists for most of my life. None of them ever mentioned Aquinas.


PZ Myers again: So I think we're still all waiting...where is the nuanced and sophisticated religion?

Whenever I ask this question, all I get is indignation, and maybe some handwaving at some convoluted bit of sophistry, like Anselm's ontological argument, but nothing at all persuasive, and nothing that deals with the reality. Theology has nothing to do with religion, near as I can tell -- it's a collection of post hoc rationalizations for the superstitions that people are brought up with.
Reality is the assembly of ancient, ossified rituals and traditions (the Catholic church) or the codification and celebration of ignorance (just about every evangelical church in the country) or sheer soul-purging emotionalism (charismatics of various stripes)...

There are great theists out there, but I think what happens when you look at them closely is that you discover that their religion is the framework through which they express humanist ideals...and it's the humanism, not the religion, that makes them appealing.


MarkP: One can also point out just how horrible the bulk of apologetics are. If you think Pascal's wager and the assertion-laden babbling of CS Lewis are challenging arguments, you need to find another hobby. That these otherwise very intelligent men had to twist themselves into irrational pretzels trying to defend religion is one of the strongest points against it...

The most honest comment about religion I ever heard from a believer came from Martin Gardner, who said something along the lines of, and I paraphase from memory, "I, by a completely illogical leap of faith, believe there is a supreme being with whom my consciousness will spend eternity." To that I cannot argue, believe what you will, and hell, you might just be right. Frankly, I hope you are. Just don't try to tell me you got there logically, and for the sake of all the gods, large and small, keep it out of the science classes.


Mark: I would venture a guess that the more people read of and about religion, the more likely they are to question the validity and reasonableness of religious belief - any religious belief. I suspect that in this case, familiarity will breed contempt. That's one reason I would wholeheartedly endorse the teaching of an unbiased comparative religion course in all public schools. You can bet the fundamentalist christians would blow their fuses at that one.


It's been my experience as well that for all the talk of sophisticated theology, most religious people in practice have simple, ritualistic religions and fall back on pat answers to difficult questions. Joshua's comment is worth repeating: The fact is, apologia has absolutely no connection with the real practice of religion and belief.

Theologians, from what I can tell, fall into two camps: those who dress up tired old arguments with big words and loose analogies (C.S. Lewis or worse) and those who are deists, agnostics, or atheists in Christian or Jewish clothing (Spong.)

How cool is the internet, by the way? In real life I've only once been in a room with as many smart atheists as were commenting in that thread, and that was at a Dawkins speech. I wonder how long religion can last once everybody's online and the rabbis, priests, and imams no longer get to keep their followers from seeing the competition's arguments.

41 comments:

Chris said...

By the way, I don't think going to theology is the only thing they should do (though if you criticize religion in general, you've got to deal with serious theology; I don't think anyone's done anything to argue against that). But I tried arguing for psychological and epistemological reasons that it's silly to dismiss religion as irrational idiocy, and that got me nowhere, so I tried this tactic. Judging by the fact that the vast majority of the commenters still disagree with me, I was unsuccessful with this attempt too.

Joshua said...

I honestly can't imagine why you quoted so much of my statement, but thanks anyway!

XGH said...

> I wonder how long religion can last once everybody's online and the rabbis, priests, and imams no longer get to keep their followers from seeing the competition's arguments.

It's no contest. People want meaning, morality and an afterlife. Religion delivers, atheism doesn't.

Ezzie said...

Most atheists also don't have nuance. Both sides consistently use strawmen or average schmos on the street, ask them a few Q's, show how stupid they sound, and present that as proof that the other side doesn't know what they're talking about. When it comes down to it, most people really don't care - they trust that their beliefs are right, even if they don't fully understand all the factors themselves.

I don't think most atheists can spout off all of Dawkins' proofs and arguments... yet they'll tell you how he's debunked aspects of religion. That people don't necessarily know exactly what they're talking about doesn't make them wrong - it makes them human.

Random said...

Ezzie's beaten me to it - the atheists on that thread are perfectly happy to indulge in the same sort of behaviour as they are attributing to the religious (if Myer's post and many of the quoted comments are not a "shallow and emotionally fervent" statement of atheism then what are they?), yet I suspect they would be the first to cry foul if we were to use this as a means of claiming that atheism is not true. Forgive me, but I'm not terribly impressed by hypocrisy as a debating tactic.

For an example,the argument that says that because the vast majority of Christians have not read Thomas Aquinas or St Augustine that that therefore proves that theology and by extension religion is wrong and worthless. The obvious analogy here would be to say that because the vast majority of atheists have never read Marx or Nietzsche (I actually have read "Thus Spake Zarathustra" - which I suspect puts me ahead of 99.99% of declared atheists...) this therefore proves that atheism is wrong and worthless. Somehow I suspect that JA and the contributors to "Mixing Memory" would have no problems disagreeing with that argument.

One final thought, varying somewhat in a different direction but not totally off topic - "Beauty is truth, truth is beauty, -that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know" (John Keats) - a message that was brought home to me once when I attended an Orthodox church service in Moscow in the dying days of the Soviet Union and was able at first hand to compare the true beauty within to the grey ugliness that atheism had made of the world outside - beauty is truth, indeed.

CyberKitten said...

Great post JA.

I liked Mark P's comment:

If you think Pascal's wager and the assertion-laden babbling of CS Lewis are challenging arguments, you need to find another hobby.

I tried to read Lewis after it was leant to me by a Christian @ work. He said that it had convinced him of the truth of the Christian faith. I struggled with it for a week or more & had to give it back unfinished as basically unreadable. I just couldn't cope with the vast number of unfounded assumptions piled on top of each other...

jewish philosopher said...

The Internet is a two edged sword. Once the atheistic competition sees the arguments on my blog, they're toast!

r10b said...

Joshua's comment is worth repeating: The fact is, apologia has absolutely no connection with the real practice of religion and belief.

I think Joshua's statement is somewhat, but not completely true. He is correct that most people don't become Christians via apologetics (or even have an interest in apologetics after conversion), but certainly many have.

I wonder how long religion can last once everybody's online and the rabbis, priests, and imams no longer get to keep their followers from seeing the competition's arguments.

I think you'll be unpleasantly surprised. Christianity was strongest when there was little else but competing philosophies and those who believed risked their lives by doing so. The lack of adversity has lead to a soft and undefined Christianity in much of the West. History will attest that when Christianity meets adversity it will shake out the pretenders and wake up the "true vine" making the Church lean and mean instead of fat and flabby.

Jewish Atheist said...

Random:

For an example,the argument that says that because the vast majority of Christians have not read Thomas Aquinas or St Augustine that that therefore proves that theology and by extension religion is wrong and worthless.

It doesn't prove theology or religion is wrong and it wasn't meant to. It just proves that theology has little to do with religion in practice.

The obvious analogy here would be to say that because the vast majority of atheists have never read Marx or Nietzsche (I actually have read "Thus Spake Zarathustra" - which I suspect puts me ahead of 99.99% of declared atheists...) this therefore proves that atheism is wrong and worthless.

The big difference is that atheism doesn't need Nietzsche or Marx to be a rational belief. Christianity needs apologists and theologians or it makes no rational sense whatsoever. This itself is evidence in atheism's favor to my mind, a la Occam's razor.

a message that was brought home to me once when I attended an Orthodox church service in Moscow in the dying days of the Soviet Union and was able at first hand to compare the true beauty within to the grey ugliness that atheism had made of the world outside - beauty is truth, indeed.

Okay, everybody. For the last time, a communist dictatorship which happens to be atheistic is not synonymous with atheism itself. Things weren't gray or ugly because of atheism.

Jewish Atheist said...

r10b et al:


I think you'll be unpleasantly surprised. Christianity was strongest when there was little else but competing philosophies and those who believed risked their lives by doing so. The lack of adversity has lead to a soft and undefined Christianity in much of the West. History will attest that when Christianity meets adversity it will shake out the pretenders and wake up the "true vine" making the Church lean and mean instead of fat and flabby.


Yeah, I'm not actually too optimistic. But if it significantly reduces the number of believers, it might be a good thing. What will be left are the hardcore "lean and mean" fundamentalists, to be sure, but at least they won't be able to hide amongst all the reasonable folks who just didn't know any better.

r10b said...

I don't think it will be only the hard-core fundamentalists that remain. Were those writers on the list hard-core fundamentalists? Aquinas, Augustine were unreasonable folks that didn't know any better? Newton, Pascal were your intellectual inferior's? Einstein believed in a beginning and a Beginner because he was blinded by religious dogma?

Those who would remain after this hypothetical (and unlikely) purging would comprise quite a formitable front against what is already a feeble assault from atheism.

Mark said...

JA,

Theologians, from what I can tell, fall into two camps: those who dress up tired old arguments with big words and loose analogies (C.S. Lewis or worse) and those who are deists, agnostics, or atheists in Christian or Jewish clothing (Spong.)


Soooo, how much Moltmann, Dunn, or Wright to name a few prominent theologians (there are many more) from the end of the 20^th century (and tot he present) have you read to make such a claim. Not to speak of the fact that the "tired old arguments" argument misses the fact everything from the East, Late Antiquity -> 14^th century Orthodox theology, is being ignored.

Jewish Atheist said...

r10b:

Aquinas, Augustine were unreasonable folks that didn't know any better? Newton, Pascal were your intellectual inferior's?

Those are people who were astronomically smarter than I. They were also people who didn't know about evolution, the age of the universe, the mind-brain connection, etc. I've often wondered what such minds raised in our times would believe. It certainly seems that our own geniuses are disproportionately atheists/agnostics/deists.

Einstein believed in a beginning and a Beginner because he was blinded by religious dogma?

Source? Einstein was at most a Deist ("I don't believe in a personal God") and it's clear that he was in fact dogmatic and wrong about quantum physics, for example.

Soooo, how much Moltmann, Dunn, or Wright to name a few prominent theologians (there are many more) from the end of the 20^th century (and tot he present) have you read to make such a claim.

I haven't read any of them, but then again, I've never heard anyone but you mention them. Do they attempt to prove God's existence or do they simply work from that assumption and build castles in the sky?

If all arguments for God rest on arguments as silly as the ontological and watchmaker arguments, I see no point in wasting my time reading about whatever is built on top of those arguments.

Ariel said...

The fact is, apologia has absolutely no connection with the real practice of religion and belief.

Maybe I'm missing something, but this type of sweeping statement seems inimical to the kind of reasoned, intelligent debate we're all supposed to want. I may as well point to an assortment of nutjobs with doctorates and say, "Empirical data has absolutely no connection with the real practice of science and technology."

Mark said...

JA,
I haven't read Moltmann on God's existence, but in the book I did read carefully on eschatology (and I've a few of his books in the queue) he does a thorough survey of the general situation, atheist included, before launching into his own material. The point is, he does come to terms with modern ideas.

Wright and Dunn are part of the New Perspectives movement. Wright is a historian as well as theologian. Wearing his historian hat, he's an expert on the 1^st century Middle East. He uses modern historical means and methods when examining what occurred in the founding of Christianity. He also has an apologetic work Simply Christian.

The question is though, when you "diss" modern theology and theologians, who are your examples? Citing Spong is a lot like citing Roberts, he's (as far as I know) very much out on the fringe.

I wonder as well (given my current reading) if Edith Stein wrote any apologia. I'd doubt that her philosophical premises would be "silly."

Half Sigma said...

"I wonder how long religion can last once everybody's online and the rabbis, priests, and imams no longer get to keep their followers from seeing the competition's arguments."

Easy. People just read what confirms what they already believe so they can feel good about their beliefs. They ignore the rest.

This includes, politics, religion, global warming, and everything else where people believe in stuff without any rational basis.

Jewish Atheist said...

Mark:

I've come across many intelligent and educated theists. I guess I just assumed that if they had an argument better than the ontological or watchmaker one, they would have brought it up by now. I've only really seen those two, plus Pascal's Wager as arguments for God's existence. Additionally, some say that they simply believe without evidence. So where are the good apologists who aren't trotting out tired old arguments? I have little interest in theology as I don't even agree with it's premises.

r10b said...

Einstein believed in a beginning and a Beginner because he was blinded by religious dogma?

Sources:


Einstein admitted the necessity of a beginning in an article by A. Vilbert Douglas called, "Forty Minutes with Einstein" published in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 50 (1956) page 100.

He acknowledged his theory, along with Hubble's further discoveries, were evidence of "the presence of a superior reasoning power," in Lincoln Barnett's The Universe and Dr. Einstein (1948) on page 106.

I guess I just assumed that if they had an argument better than the ontological or watchmaker one, they would have brought it up by now.

First, nobody becomes a Christian through argument since Christianity is not merely a philosophical position. And since one can't be argued into it, one can't be argued out of it. (Although, by argument, one can be forced to reconsider certain religious dogmas.)

Second, there are other arguments for the existence of God in addition to Anselm's ontological argument and Paley's Watchmaker Argument.

For instance:

The Arguments from Change, Effecient Causality, Time and Contingency, Degrees of Perfection, Consciousness, and the Origin of the Idea of God.

Additionally there are the arguments from Desire, Aesthetic Experience, Religious Experience, and Common Consent.

Then there are the Kalam and Moral arguments.

And others.

Pascal's Wager, though it can be useful, is not really an argument.

r10b said...

And can anyone who's read Confessions or City of God honestly say that if Augustine had known of Darwinism he'd have had a change of heart.

"In his work De Genesi ad litteram (The Literal Meaning of Genesis), St. Augustine provides an extensive commentary on the first three chapters of Genesis. His goal is to demonstrate a one-to-one correspondence between the text of these chapters and what actually took place in the creative work of God; in fact, this is precisely how he defines the term "literal" in this endeavor. In contrast to modern biblical literalism, however, Augustine shows no disdain for interpreting certain words and phrases in early Genesis in a figurative sense, but even these figurative readings are firmly bounded by the controlling assumption that Genesis 1-3 is "a faithful record of what happened."

"In constructing his literal reading, Augustine makes extensive use of the analogy of Scripture; the meanings of words or phrases in Genesis are often decided by comparison with other relevant texts. But Augustine is equally insistent that the literal meaning thereby derived may never stand in contradiction to one's competently derived knowledge about the "earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world," knowledge that one rightfully "holds to as being certain from reason and experience." In a tone that leaves no doubt concerning his attitude, Augustine soundly reprimands those Christians who defend interpretations of Scripture that any scientifically knowledgeable non-Christian would recognize as nonsense. "Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books."

From God and Evolution: An Exchange

Jewish Atheist said...

r10b:

Interesting about Einstein. From his various quotes, I can't figure out what exactly he believed. Maybe he changed his beliefs. Certainly he didn't believe in traditional Christianity or Judaism, though.

First, nobody becomes a Christian through argument since Christianity is not merely a philosophical position. And since one can't be argued into it, one can't be argued out of it.

Your second sentence not only doesn't follow from the first, it's demonstrably untrue. Plenty of people have been argued out of it.

Second, there are other arguments for the existence of God in addition to Anselm's ontological argument and Paley's Watchmaker Argument.

Fair enough. They all seem to beg the question at some point, though. (e.g., "All things with beginnings have causes." "All changes require something external.") At best, they are arguments from analogy.

Jewish Atheist said...

r10b:

That passage makes it seem somewhat more likely, actually. It implies he's open to the scientific evidence. Martin Luther is an example of someone who would probably not have been swayed.

CyberKitten said...

r10b said: Pascal's Wager, though it can be useful, is not really an argument.

You certainly got that right. It's not an argument at all!

r10b also said: First, nobody becomes a Christian through argument since Christianity is not merely a philosophical position.

So... Are you saying that Christianity is not arrived at by reason? That its... unreasonable???

Mark said...

CyberK,
Of course Christianity isn't arrived at by reason, it's a scandal for the Jew and folly for the Greek (if I remember rightly). I've just completed some arguments that show, by a somewhat philosophical hermeneutic, that Genesis 1 teaches that the observable Universe is amenable to reason, which leaves us with the unobservable phenomena such as revelation. Atheism, I'm becoming more and more convinced, keys on a rejection of revelation as being admitted as any sort of valid (non-insane/non-delusional) experience.

JA,
I've written something of a response (perhaps a bit tangential) to this essay here.

r10b said...

JA:

Plenty of people have been argued out of it.

You have a much broader definition of Christian faith than do I. And by "it" I do not mean merely Theism.

That passage makes it seem somewhat more likely, actually. It implies [Augustine is] open to the scientific evidence.

Your POV is that one who is open to scientific evidence will inevitably discard his idea of God. I think you'd have a harder time proving that than I would disproving it. Anyway, Augustine is saying he is willing to deal with "competently derived knowledge" as it regards literal interpretation of Scripture; not that every controversial bit of knowledge forces him to jettison his faith. Such a tenuous hold on one's core convictions would lead to acute and chronic instability. In my personal experience, never has a new bit of knowledge threatened my faith; yet many times I've had to reconsider my interpretations. I think if you talk to so-called "ex-Christians" you will find that that when they say they lost their faith you'll see that what was really shattered was their erroneous interpretations, and they had no faith at their core to allow for reconsideration. It was what their Sunday School teacher told them or it was nothing.

Justin Martyr wrote that a man seeks the truth by the unaided effort of reason, and is disappointed. It is offered to him by faith and he accepts. And, having accepted, he finds that it satisfies his reason.

I am pretty confident that you, cyberkitten, et al, think that that the "reason" at the end there is some sub-standard form of reason that's build of hopes, wishes and happy thoughts; it's not. If it were Augustine, Aquinas and I would look elsewhere for truth. I don't care if my soul is just a bit of matter in my brain—ultimately just worm food—I have no interest in self delusion. (There would even be a benefit: no hell.)

CK:

Are you saying that Christianity is not arrived at by reason? That its... unreasonable???

Christian faith is not arrived at by reason alone, nor is it arrived at unaccompanied by reason or else reasonable people such as myself (or Augustine, Aquinas, Lincoln, Dante, Solzhenitsyn, Tolstoy, Tolkien, Dostoyevsky, da Vinci, T.S. Eliot, or J.S. Bach...) could never have faith.

It's more than reasonable, it's true.

Anonymous said...

I'd offer some basics... first: Atheism is a religion. If it weren't for human ability to believe, you wouldn't know what to believe. If you don't believe in God, you are still believing!! And we both constantly exercise faith. The difference is just what you put your faith in. You are placing an eternal bet, that there is nothing out there. Nothing? That seems more of a stretch. Second, the question is not just "how" did it begin, but more importantly "why"?. I have yet to hear a good atheistic explanation (honestly). Third. science and God are not mutually exclusive. Science requires God, because science is essentially only a measurement. The unexplainable in Science can be answered by the existance of God, but not vice versa. Fourth. Disraeli said that the proof for God is the existance of a single Jew. There... have at it. Fifth. Can we compare top ten contributions by atheists vs Judeo/Christians? Curious what you all think those are. I'll bet the "proof" is in there somewhere.

CyberKitten said...

r10b said: Christian faith is not arrived at by reason alone, nor is it arrived at unaccompanied by reason or else reasonable people such as myself could never have faith.

It's more than reasonable, it's true.

To be honest Theism continues to confound me. I have yet to hear a reasonable argument for it or a reasonable explanation of why reasonable & intelligent people believe in it or come to that conclusion. I expect to remain confounded for some considerable time yet.

Random said...

"It doesn't prove theology or religion is wrong and it wasn't meant to. It just proves that theology has little to do with religion in practice."

Not the impression I got from quotes like "I would venture a guess that the more people read of and about religion, the more likely they are to question the validity and reasonableness of religious belief", but I'm prepared to accept that that's not the point you specifically were trying to make.

I would further add that demonstrating that theology has little connection with the way people practice religion in their everyday lives does nothing to prove that theology is useless or irrelevant. To use an analogy - I strongly suspect that the vast majority of people who happily drive a car every day would not have the faintest idea how to go about the task of designing and building an internal combustion engine from scratch. Does this prove that those people who can do this are engaging in an activity that is "useless or irrelevant" to the practice of driving as it is performed in everyday life? Similarly, theology is an essential part of religion, even if the vast majority of people who claim to be religious do not seek to develop expertise in it in their everyday lives.

"The big difference is that atheism doesn't need Nietzsche or Marx to be a rational belief."

It doesn't need them to be a belief - but it does need them (or at least some sort of logical structure) to be a *rational* belief. If you cannot articulate why you believe in something then it is merely a prejudice and you are no better off than the evangelicals in the coffee shop who so annoyed the author you originally linked to. (Note I am not saying this applies to you - I wouldn't keep coming back here if it did, frankly - but I get the distinct impression it does apply to a lot of the commenters who cheered the original article.)

"Okay, everybody. For the last time, a communist dictatorship which happens to be atheistic is not synonymous with atheism itself. Things weren't gray or ugly because of atheism."

With the greatest respect but this is a belief on your part, not the statement of objective fact you seem to think it is. The historical evidence is against you - the vast majority of countries where atheism has been part of the governing philosophy of the state (as distinct, to be fair, from secular countries where atheists have been elected to government office) have ended up like this. You may choose to believe this is merely a coincidence, but the correlation is so strong that you really do need to address it if you are going to convince us that you are not merely showing the same sort of irrational belief that religious people are accused of holding.

And to be fair again, all that this seems to demonstrate is that a state governed according to atheist principles would not be a nice place to live - it says nothing as to whether or not atheism is objectively true (unless you accept the "truth is beauty" line, anyway). I suspect one point that both you and I would agree on is that we would prefer to live in a secular country where the state takes no formal position whatsoever on these issues and leaves them entirely to freedom of conscience.

And finally - let me add my voice to those pounding on Pascal's wager as a proof for the existence of God. I've always understood that as doing nothing more than proving religious belief is rational, it says nothing at all about whether or not God exists.

CyberKitten said...

random said: And finally - let me add my voice to those pounding on Pascal's wager as a proof for the existence of God. I've always understood that as doing nothing more than proving religious belief is rational, it says nothing at all about whether or not God exists.

I’m sorry but Pascal’s Wager does not show that belief in God is rational or anything close. The Wager states that we should believe in God because if He does indeed exist then the cost of disbelief far outweighs the cost of believing in Him if He doesn’t exist.

Using this ‘logic’ surely we should believe in *every* God postulated by humans throughout our entire history – just in case we end up offending them and pay the unpleasant consequences of disbelief. Do theists sacrifice to the Greco-Roman gods ‘just in case’? If not, why not?

Believing in God based on fear is not reasonable in my book but an act of cowardice.

littlefoxling said...

There’s no need to read his list or debate the arguments in it. If religion was really a nuanced rational worldview, you’d expect religious people to pick their religions based on which they thought was more true and you’d arrive at a situation where people would not necessarily end up in the religion of their parents, society etc. The fact that the overwhelming number of religious people follow the faith that is pushed on them in a sociological vein proves that it is not a nuanced philosophical view but rather an experiential, cultural, experience. I don’t see why the religious people have to deny that and why they can’t just find meaning in religion as an experiential, cultural, not philosophical, interest.

littlefoxling said...

>I wonder how long religion can last once everybody's online and the rabbis, priests, and imams no longer get to keep their followers from seeing the competition's arguments.

What does the internet have to do with it? There have been kefirah books for centuries, but the rabbis, priests, and imams just tell their flowerers not to read them and they listen. They will, are, doing the same to the internet, just read what the agudah has to say.

Heck, you don’t even need a book. The problems with religion are self evident. But, the majority of my religious friends tell me that even when they think of some problem with religion themselves, they just sensor the thought out of their minds and they tell themselves, it’s ussur to think this way. With people censoring their own thoughts, what chance does the internet stand?

beepbeepitsme said...

I am yet to be convinced that belief in an anthropormophic supernatural being is anything but wishful thinking.

CyberKitten said...

beepbeep said: I am yet to be convinced that belief in an anthropormophic supernatural being is anything but wishful thinking.

Personally I am yet to be convinced that belief in *any* supernatural being/event is anything but wishful thinking.

Jewish Atheist said...

r10b:

Plenty of people have been argued out of it.

You have a much broader definition of Christian faith than do I. And by "it" I do not mean merely Theism.


I'm talking about Christianity as it's practiced, not some idea of True Christianity (tm) about which nobody can agree.


Your POV is that one who is open to scientific evidence will inevitably discard his idea of God.

I think one who is open to scientific evidence will likely discard at least his traditional view of God. I'm sure you'd agree with me that post-Darwin, a somewhat smaller subset of the very intelligent believe in traditional religions than used to. I see no reason why Augustine wouldn't be among the secular.

In my personal experience, never has a new bit of knowledge threatened my faith; yet many times I've had to reconsider my interpretations.

Do you hold your faith in such a way that no knowledge could conceivably threaten it? If so, it's not so impressive that it's withstood your education.

I think if you talk to so-called "ex-Christians" you will find that that when they say they lost their faith you'll see that what was really shattered was their erroneous interpretations, and they had no faith at their core to allow for reconsideration. It was what their Sunday School teacher told them or it was nothing.

I don't think that's true, at least from what I've read on the internet. (LOL - sounds funny.) Many ex-Christians are former pastors or theologians. A famous one is Dan Barker.

Justin Martyr wrote that a man seeks the truth by the unaided effort of reason, and is disappointed. It is offered to him by faith and he accepts. And, having accepted, he finds that it satisfies his reason.

There is almost always a way to come up with post hoc reasoning. I'm not sure that's something to be proud of.

I don't care if my soul is just a bit of matter in my brain—ultimately just worm food—I have no interest in self delusion. (There would even be a benefit: no hell.)

Join us! The water's great! :-)


Anonymous:

I'd offer some basics... first: Atheism is a religion. If it weren't for human ability to believe, you wouldn't know what to believe. If you don't believe in God, you are still believing!! And we both constantly exercise faith

Oy. These arguments have been hashed and rehashed over and over again. Suffice it to say, they're utterly unconvincing. I'm done with them.


Random:

Not the impression I got from quotes like...

Different quotes were arguing different things.

I would further add that demonstrating that theology has little connection with the way people practice religion in their everyday lives does nothing to prove that theology is useless or irrelevant.

It's not just that it has little to do with their practice; it has little to do with their faith. The analogy to cars would hold only if people were convinced cars work literally by magic and organized their entire lives around the "magic" under their hoods.

It doesn't need [Nietzsche or Marx] to be a belief - but it does need them (or at least some sort of logical structure) to be a *rational* belief.

I disagree. Atheism is such a simple stance it needs no complicated apologetics. Perhaps theism is equally simple; but Christianity and Judaism are surely not.

the vast majority of countries where atheism has been part of the governing philosophy of the state (as distinct, to be fair, from secular countries where atheists have been elected to government office) have ended up like this.

Have there been any which weren't also communist? Communism has been clearly debunked, so I don't see how you can prove anything about atheism from the fact that the communist regimes sucked.

I suspect one point that both you and I would agree on is that we would prefer to live in a secular country where the state takes no formal position whatsoever on these issues and leaves them entirely to freedom of conscience.

You suspect correctly. :-)


littlefoxling:

What does the internet have to do with it? There have been kefirah books for centuries, but the rabbis, priests, and imams just tell their flowerers not to read them and they listen.

Ah, but there's the issue. They are telling their followers not to read the 'net as they told them not to read the books, but the followers aren't listening. The internet is simply too pervasive. Many followers would be scared to bring home Why I am Not a Christian or The Blind Watchmaker, but who's going to know what websites they go to when no-one's looking? Humans are curious creatures and opportunity matters.

littlefoxling said...

It’s not about being caught. If you think these websites will lead you to an eternity of Hell, you’d probably stay away for your own good.

Jewish Atheist said...

It’s not about being caught.

You clearly haven't known a lot of religious people. :-) Peer pressure plays an enormous role in religion as it's actually practiced.

littlefoxling said...

Not know religious people? I am religious. I speak from personal experience.

Jewish Atheist said...

Sorry. I was speaking from experience, too. I guess we knew different religious people. :-)

BTA said...

I think they gave that reading list just to bog down the atheists for a year and keep them from blogging.

Stephen said...

JA:
I regret that I didn't stop by when this post was fresh. (Work has been very demanding lately, which cuts into my blogging time!)

I am inclined to accept your premises but reject your conclusion.

Your premise is correct: most Christians have not read theology; they practise "popular" religion. I speak as a former insider, who was often appalled at the profound ignorance of the typical believer. It was a main reason why I never did fit in.

However, your conclusion is false: this does not make Christianity less rational than atheism. The average atheist practises a popular form of atheism. Many haven't read Dawkins; few have read Nietzsche or Marx.

And your comment, atheism doesn't need Nietzsche or Marx to be rational, is just your opinion. Explain to me rationally why anything exists. I am persuaded by the evidence for evolution; but you have to have something to start with. Where did it come from? Is the atheist explanation genuinely rational, or is it just an inference from the prior conviction that there is no god? I think it boils down to, "It must be so!" — which is not worthy of the label, rational.

People tend to believe what they are brought up to believe, as you yourself acknowledge. What makes you think atheism is any different — the path of least resistance for people growing up in modern, Western society? Atheism has become the default position for many people, and they hold to it just as superficially as others hold to Christianity.

Jewish Atheist said...

Stephen:

Presupposing there is a "why" is begging the question. Atheists don't necessarily disbelieve in a cause for our universe, just that the cause is God.

People tend to believe what they are brought up to believe, as you yourself acknowledge. What makes you think atheism is any different — the path of least resistance for people growing up in modern, Western society?

Most Americans are raised religious. This includes many, many atheists. It certainly wasn't the path of least resistance for me or many others I've found online. Check out IIDB.org for a whole, huge community of mostly ex-theists.

Rafael said...

THE MEANING OF LIFE

1. THE PURPOSE OF MAN’S EXISTENCE
Who we are? Why are we in this world? Where are we going?
Have you ever asked yourself why this questions and what the meaning of the human life is? No matter what type of person you are or what your profession is, there are a few things which you, like most people, would agree with, that is:
Money cannot satisfy man; neither can education satisfies man, nor can
Pleasure do not satisfy man, Nor can success satisfy man.
WHY?
Because you have not yet realized:
2. GOD’S PLAN

God has a plan. Which is to deposit his life into man his plan has everything to do with man? In the bible there are tree different words in Greek to designated the word “life”
1. Bios referring to the biological life our body
2. Psycho referring to the soul logical means study. The word Psychology means the study of the soul, emotions, mind and will.
3. There is another word for life that is Zoe the highest life. Whenever the bible speaks of eternal life speak of Zoe. In a Greek dictionary you will find the distinction.
This is the reason why, Gods plan with the man he created, in first place is not to bring him to heaven, neither to save Him from hell. But to receive the life that was not created. God’s life.
His plan with man is complete, from creation, while living in earth, and the future.
This is the reason why God created man different than the rest of his creation
1. MAN HAS GOD’S IMAGE
Please read the following verse:
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness....”Genesis 1:26a
God’s creation of man is different from His creation of all other things. He created man in His own image. A glove is created according to the likeness of a hand with the purpose of containing the hand.Likewise, man was created in the image of God with the purpose of containing God.
2. MAN IS A VESSEL
Now read the next verse:
God “should make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy...even us.”Romans 9:23-24
We are vessels of God. God wants to be our content. As bottles are made to contain water, we are made to contain God.
It is no wonder that knowledge, wealth, pleasure, and accomplishment can never satisfy you, for you were created to contain God!
3. THE PARTS OF MAN
Please continue by reading the next verse:
“May your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete?”1 Thessalonians 5:23
Man is God’s vessel. The Bible divides this vessel into three parts—the spirit, the soul, and the body. See diagram below:

The BODY is simply the physical body, belonging to the physiological level, contacting the things of the material realm, and is the most superficial part.
The SOUL is the mental faculty, belonging to the psychological level, contacting the things of the mental realm, and is a deeper part.
The SPIRIT is the deepest part of man, belonging to the spiritual level, and contacts the things of God.
For problems of the body one may see a doctor. For problems of the mind one may visit a psychiatrist. Yet only God can solve the problems of the spirit.
4. THE MEANING OF LIFE
God wants to enter into man’s spirit, to become his content and his satisfaction.
This is the purpose of human existence! You are not merely created to contain food in your stomach, or to contain knowledge in your mind, but you are created to contain God in your spirit.
1. THE TWO NATURES OF MAN
Since man was made in the image of God, he possesses a good nature that matches God’s nature, with virtues such as truthfulness, goodness, loveliness, wisdom, kindness, and valor.
However, there is also an evil nature in man which wars against his good nature. The Chinese met physicists refer to this war as a battle between reason and lust. Throughout history, both in the East and West, those who understand human nature acknowledge the existence of this evil nature which the Bible calls:
2. SIN
Because sin is in man, he is unable to carry out his good intentions.No one likes to be greedy, jealous, or murderous. No one likes to be boastful, arrogant, or deceitful. No one likes to be irritable, licentious, or lustful. No one likes to murmur, complain, or curse.
Nevertheless, man cannot escape his evil nature. Please read the following verses:
“For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but to do the good is not.”Romans 7:18
“But if what I do not will, this I do, it is no longer I that do it but sin that dwells in me.”Romans 7:20
This is a portrait of man.
3. THE FALL OF MAN
Sin entered into man and caused him to fall. See diagram below:
(1) Sin caused man’s spirit to be deadened:
“And you, being dead in your offenses and sins.”Ephesians 2:1
(2) Sin caused man’s mind to rebel:
“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by evil works.”Colossians 1:21
(3) Sin caused man’s body to sin:
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body to obey its lusts.”Romans 6:12
The fallen man is like: A damaged and untunable radio which cannot receive and play music, but rather meaningless noise. He is also like:A cup that has fallen into the gutter still having its original fine form but now covered with mud.
4. MAN CANNOT SAVE HIMSELF
Throughout history, man has tried every possible way to escape sin, but he has found that:
Good works cannot save him from sin. Education cannot save him from sin. Ethics cannot save him from sin. Chanting cannot save him from sin.Religion cannot save him from sin.
This picture of man simply depicts the battle between his good nature and his evil nature.
1. WHO IS CHRIST?
Christ is the Savior sent from God to the world to solve the problems of human life.
He is the embodiment of the Triune God.
“For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”Colossians 2:9
He is also God incarnated:
“The Word was God...the Word became flesh and tabernacle among us...full of grace and reality.”John 1:1, 14
Therefore, He is both the complete God and the perfect man. See the following diagram:

He is more than a good man! He is more than a great man! He is more than moral man! He is more than a holy man! He is the God-man!
2. THE DEATH OF THE GOD-MAN
This God-man was nailed to the cross to accomplish the work of redemption. He died with three statuses:
(1) As the Lamb of God, He died to take away man’s sin.
“...the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”John 1:29
(2) As the brass serpent that had been lifted up, He died to crush the old serpent, Satan, and to deal with the serpent’s poison within man—his sinful nature.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”John 3:14
(3) As a grain of wheat, He died to release the divine life.
“...a grain of wheat...dies, it bears much fruit.”John 12:24
NOW:
His death has taken away the sin which man has but should not have!His death imparts into man the life which he needs but does not have!
1. THE TWO BECOMINGS OF CHRIST
God became flesh, born as a man called Jesus. Please read the following verse:
“The Word became flesh and tabernacle among us.”John 1:14
The Lord became the Spirit called the life-giving Spirit by His resurrection from the dead. Read the following verse:
“The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.”1 Corinthians 15:45
Since this Spirit is the life-giving Spirit, He dispenses God with His life into His believers.
Hence, the Bible says:
“He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”1 John 5:12
2. REGENERATING MAN
In his first birth, man obtains a physical life.
When man receives God’s life through Christ, he experiences a second birth, which the Bible calls regeneration.
“God...has regenerated us...through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead.”1 Peter 1:3
Jesus said, “Unless a man is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”John 3:3
A pig cannot participate in the sheep’s kingdom and live a sheep’s life by education, improvement, or regulation; it must possess the life of a sheep.
Similarly, man cannot participate in God’s kingdom and live a divine life by education, improvement, or regulation; he must receive the life of God!
3. THE MEANING OF BEING A CHRISTIAN
A Christian is one who receives God’s dispensing. God first dispenses Himself into our spirit and then spreads from our spirit into our soul. Finally, He fills and saturates our spirit, soul, and body with Himself. The Bible calls this final stage glorification.
“And whom He predestinated, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”Romans 8:30
Through this, we can be transformed and conformed to the image of Christ.
“Because whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son.”Romans 8:29
This is the purpose of human life! This is the meaning of being a Christian!This is what God has planned for you!
WHAT MUST YOU DO NOW?
Now that you have realized God’s plan, you should do four things:
1. TURN YOUR HEART TO GOD—REPENT
Repentance is not to be remorseful. Repentance is neither to turn over anew leaf. Repentance is to have a change in mind.
Previously you had your back towards God. Whether you were doing good or evil, you were turned away from God. Your mind was turned away from God. Now listen to what the Lord Jesus said:
“Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.”Matt. 4:17
2. BELIEVE—RECEIVE
To believe is not to nod your head, nor to agree, nor merely to be appreciative.
If someone gives you a watch, it is not enough for you just to nod your head in agreement and admire the watch. You need to receive it. Believing is just receiving. Read the following verse:
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave authority to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”John 1:12
3. CONFESS—CALL
Being a Christian is an open matter. God requires that your heart believe and that your mouth confess.
If your heart does not believe, you cannot be saved.
If your mouth does not confess, neither can you be saved. But:
“...if you confess with your mouth, Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from among the dead, you shall be saved.”Romans 10:9
4. BE BAPTIZED—TESTIFY
Baptism is a testimony before men. All believers should be baptized in order to be saved not only before God, but also before men.
The Lord Jesus said:
“He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned.”Mark 16:16
Through baptism, God transfers us from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God. For this reason, the Lord Jesus said:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”John 3:5
NOW PLEASE PRAY:
"Lord Jesus! I am a sinner. I need You. Come into my spirit. Take away my sin. Fill me that I may have the life of God. I receive You right now as my Savior and life. I give myself to You. I ask this in Your name, Amen!"
Now you are clear about the meaning of human life! May the Lord bless you and cause you to continue living in God’s plan!
Now, pray often, read the bible, you are the church, the church is not a physical building, neither an organization is the body of Christ Ephesians 1:22, we are the house of God Hebrews 3;6 we are Gods temple I Corinthians 6:19 and in eternity we will be the bride of Christ Revelations 21:2 . But after Eternity we will return to the source and origin of all things God the Father, Colossians 3: “a renewal in which is not distinction between Greek and Jews, circumcise or uncircumcised, barbarian or Scythian, slaves or free man but Christ” Galatians 3:25 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave or free man, neither male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” This Christ Jesus is the new man Ephesians: 2:15 “ By abolishing in his flesh the enmity, which is the law of commandments contain in ordinances , the in Himself He might make of the two one new man” This new man said in John 20:17 “I ascend to my Father and your Father” By him we became the many brothers of Christ and He is not ashamed to call us his brothers Hebrews: “ for this reason He is not ashamed to call us brothers” He is our older brother Romans 8:“ That He might be the first born among many brothers” Our older bother Christ is our Wisdom, He is Our Physician , our Light, and the one whom together with us his young brothers He will give all the infinite universe even us to the Father so that God the Father ICo 15:29 “ God maybe all and in all” this means the in the infinite universe that we finite man will never reach, God the Father will be all everywhere and He will be in us therefore we will be with our Father everywhere we never get bored, we will never get tired in a universe that has not end, furthermore we will enjoy His love forever. This is the meaning of life. God the Father since has place in us the desire of have Him. Regardless you are a believer or unbeliever, moral or immoral, wise or fool, with Him or against Him. He is waiting for you and He will run to you as soon you come for Him.