literature

Religious Tolerance

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zharth's avatar
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Literature Text

Religious tolerance doesn't mean respecting all doctrines of all faiths, especially when they contradict humanitarian principles - e.g., when people use religion to justify bigotry, abuse, and discrimination. It means accepting the fact that not everyone needs God, and that among those who do, not all of them will reach God by the same path. And that's okay.
As an atheist, I have a lot of gripes with religion. But I acknowledge that there are good reasons for spiritual belief. Yet there are pitfalls, too. I understand that, from a certain perspective, religion involves subscribing to a cosmology that is universal, and thus applies even to those whose beliefs differ from your own. But this is problematic. It demands conformity on an issue that, by its very nature, human beings can never achieve total understanding of.

When we're dealing with issues that involve the entire human race, can we agree to allow for a diversity of viewpoints on the subjective elements, and defer to empirical science on the objective ones? I know people with religious beliefs who are tolerant of others who find and worship God in disparate ways, and even those who do not acknowledge God but still carry themselves with dignity and grace because it just makes good sense.

These are belief systems that are deserving of respect. Not ones whose holy books urge the faithful to put "your own brother, son, or daughter, the wife you love, or your best friend...to death" (Deuteronomy 13:6-9) for the heinous crime of considering the potential merits of other belief systems. I'm serious, it says "have no pity on them. Don't feel sorry for them or protect them. You must put them to death." It's not intolerance on my part to point out the intolerant aspects of others' faiths.
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© 2017 - 2021 zharth
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Sketchian's avatar
I definitely agree that there are horrible things that have been justified using religious teachings, but as far as your comment about subjective and objective elements in certain viewpoints, I think it's hard to find agreement among people on what is objective and what is subjective.  For example, many would say that it is objectively true that God exists.  I'm glad people are talking about this stuff though!
zharth's avatar
And I'm glad there are people who think this stuff should be talked about, and not just taken for granted!

"many would say that it is objectively true that God exists"

But this statement is objectively false, whatever anyone says. The existence of God is not a matter of evidence, it is a matter of faith, which makes it intrinsically subjective. If we can't agree on the definition of the words "objective" and "subjective" to start with, then it's no wonder there is so much confusion. That confusion is what I'd like to eliminate.

I'm a scientist, and I know there are religious people who believe that science and religion are not incompatible, but I believe that religion should refrain from making claims about our material world that we can study and verify using the scientific method. Religion is the domain of the things we can't reach out and touch, or put under a microscope.

But the more important side of that coin is that, when it comes to things that we just have to take on faith, we can't expect everyone to come to the same conclusion. For example, if one person thinks Jesus Christ was the son of God, but we have no scientific evidence that such a person ever really existed, then we can't expect everyone who is "right" about religion to acknowledge the role of Christ. It's not an empirical claim, and it shouldn't be treated like one (i.e., that it is either true or false, as opposed to what that belief does for a person).

What's important in religion isn't the material details - but the purpose and the effect it has on your life. And there's room for discussion about what the role of religion should be, but in my opinion, if it comforts you and provides assurance on the questions we can't answer, and inspires you to lead a kind and generous life (basically, all the good things that religion is supposed to do), then why split hairs over whether your God's name is Christ or Yahweh or Allah, or if you worship in a church or a synagogue or a mosque, or the woods for that matter? Or even if you can find comfort and guidance without need of hypothesizing the existence of a God?

That's what I mean by religious tolerance, and it galls me that more religious people aren't this way.
Sketchian's avatar
I'm very grateful for your kind reply, dialogue is essential to understanding.  However I have to disagree with a few points.  As far as my statement about the existence of God you say, "But this statement is objectively false, whatever anyone says."  I guess I would say that, since this is just your opinion (your subjective viewpoint) you've basically proven my point that it's hard to nail down what is objective and subjective.  I guess you should know at this point that I'm a theist, and so I'm honestly persuaded by the Moral, Cosmological, Teleological, and Contingency arguments for God's existence (some are persuaded by the Ontological argument as well, but I'm not convinced it's a good argument).  I don't think these arguments can just be brushed aside as subjective curiosities about the universe, I think they have to be seriously addressed.  I think it's entirely possible that the proposition "God exists" is objectively true based on what we can investigate today.  And You are exactly right that definitions are crucial to understanding! 

I also agree with you that a great portion of religion is subjective experience, but don't you think that certain claims that religions make are indeed testable under a microscope?  If some religion says that there are aliens on Mars, that is a testable claim, it has nothing to do with subjective experience.  Or if another religion says that Jesus of Nazareth physically rose from the dead, that is a testable claim as well.

You are also correct in saying that, in terms of religious belief, "we can't expect everyone to come to the same conclusion." But I think most people are more interested in the question, "Does God actually exist?"  If God really does exist, then it makes a huge difference whether it's Christ or Yahweh or Allah.  I'm interested in the objective truth, as you are, so I really appreciate this discussion.  Again, thank you for your kind response!
zharth's avatar
Just because something is subjective, does not mean that it is inconsequential. That your religious beliefs are important to you (which is great!) doesn't imply that they must be objective in order to hold any value. The problem with considering religious beliefs as empirical claims is that once you do so, you have to acknowledge that there is an overwhelming dearth of evidence to back up any such claims. If God exists, it might be possible to prove this scientifically (though not with the tools we currently possess), but currently, we cannot do so. Until such time as we can (and I don't think the material claims really matter, because that's not the point of religion), pinning down the nature of God is a fruitless exercise. It can have deep personal meaning, but whatever conclusions you come to, they are not objective, and no more or less right or accurate than somebody else's conclusions.

"If some religion says that there are aliens on Mars, that is a testable claim, it has nothing to do with subjective experience."

Absolutely, and I really don't think it's religion's business to make these claims. What's the point? Religion has emotional utility, not practical utility. And it's really not fair to compare a claim like this one to the many claims religions make that are absolutely utterly unfalsifiable. Like Jesus raising from the dead. If he did it again today, we could test it. But as it stands, the question is a historical curiosity - and one with an overwhelming majority of evidence against it. If God was interested in empirical reality, he could easily give us evidence of his existence. That he does not demonstrates that either he really doesn't exist, or if he does, empiricism is inconsequential to our belief in him. That's another objective fact, arrived at by a process of reasoning. It's not proof that he does or does not exist, or that where you fall on that issue determines whether you are "right" or "wrong". It doesn't invalidate anyone's beliefs, it just makes a statement as to in what context they are actually valuable.
Sketchian's avatar
I definitely agree with much of what you say, subjective claims can absolutely be important and relevant.  And you are also right that religious beliefs do not have to be objective in order to hold value.  But again I don't think that those who believe in God must rely on subjective reasoning in order to demonstrate that it is highly possible that God exists (I'm referring now to the classical arguments for God's existence that I mentioned earlier).  It simply isn't true that there is a scarcity of evidence for God's existence.  Let me suggest that it's not about proving anything, it's about "is atheism or theism more reasonable given the knowledge that we currently have?"  And the claim that Jesus rose from the dead is falsifiable, someone simply needs to find his body.  If someone were to find Jesus' tomb or his bones, then we could know that Jesus did not actually rise from the dead. 

And I just briefly wanted to mention that I don't think religion is simply emotional utility.  I think that religion (as I believe you mentioned earlier) works as a moral code of behavior as well.  It's also definitely true that God could easily give us evidence of his existence, as you said, but you're assuming that he wants to prove to you that he exists.  Maybe God doesn't want to do that.  Perhaps he has provided enough evidence for those who are interested in the matter to reasonably conclude that he exists, and yet made it sufficiently vague enough so that those who are not interested in God can go about their lives as they please.  I really appreciate your replies, you are clearly very thoughtful and kind, and I commend you for discussing these topics with others.  We need more people like you, people who are willing to talk to the other side.
zharth's avatar
Well I definitely appreciate your willingness to talk about this civilly. I've encountered religious people who seem incapable of suffering a nonbeliever to exist.

"It simply isn't true that there is a scarcity of evidence for God's existence."

I suppose that if you believe in a God, you'll see his hand in everything. But that's not the same thing as evidence. I refer you to Occam's Razor. Can you prove that it was God, indeed, who was responsible, and not a flying spaghetti monster? If a phenomenon can equally be explained by science, then there is no reason to posit the existence of a God. Unless that existence leaves some kind of mark that cannot be explained any better than other means. God is a magician. He doesn't deal in evidence. He deals in sleight of hand. And let me tell you, magicians do not have super powers. They just know how to perform tricks exceptionally well.

Does the existence and knowledge of God allow us to predict the way the universe works, in a way that science does not? The movement of the planets was ultimately described, in detail, by math and physics, not by any vague belief in a heaven.

"
Let me suggest that it's not about proving anything, it's about 'is atheism or theism more reasonable given the knowledge that we currently have?'"

I agree 100%. And atheism is, by far, the more reasonable conclusion. Only for superstitious - subjective, or emotional - reasons should anyone believe in a God. He's not talking to us. He's not doing television interviews. And he's not out there on the front lines distributing emergency supplies to refugees. That's all people. God is a hypothetical construct. And simply one that is not required to explain the things we experience in life.

"
And the claim that Jesus rose from the dead is falsifiable, someone simply needs to find his body.  If someone were to find Jesus' tomb or his bones, then we could know that Jesus did not actually rise from the dead."

Do you realize that you're saying that the lack of evidence is proof of a supernatural occurrence? Finding Jesus' bones might prove that he existed (and was not supernaturally resurrected) - although how could you possibly identify this one person out of so many, who lived thousands of years ago? Our bones aren't stamped with our names. Not finding them doesn't lend evidence to your claim, when the more likely explanation is that he never existed in the first place. (Or that he did, and he was just human, and his bones look the same as anyone else's). This is not a falsifiable claim.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Resurrection would be an extraordinary phenomenon. The burden of proof is on those who believe in it to prove that it's real, not on those who doubt it to disprove that it's possible. All the evidence points overwhelmingly to the impossibility of resurrection (except in a medical context - i.e., resuscitation - but that's not a divine miracle proving the existence of God, it's just a demonstration of the ingenuity of the human mind), which is the reasonable conclusion to make. You can't prove the nonexistence of something. The burden is on the believer to prove its existence. I'll believe in your God the moment you convince me that everybody else's Gods are false, and that the same argument doesn't apply to yours.

"
I think that religion (as I believe you mentioned earlier) works as a moral code of behavior as well."

Of course, this is true. But here's my counter position: 1) people have done truly atrocious things in the name of religion, and 2) people can have moral codes of behavior without religion - see secular humanism, the idea that we should be good to each other because it makes sense, not because some all-powerful deity is holding a gun to our heads (that gun's name being Hell), and saying "or else". How does this square with religion being a moral code of behavior? Sure, you can blame people for interpreting it wrong, but if religious people can be immoral, and nonreligious people can be moral, then why should religion be the deciding factor?

"
It's also definitely true that God could easily give us evidence of his existence, as you said, but you're assuming that he wants to prove to you that he exists.  Maybe God doesn't want to do that."

Again, this goes back to Occam's Razor. I can't rule out the possibility that there's some kind of "God-like" being out there. But if he doesn't actually interact with our world in ways that can be seen and actually changes and affects our world - that is, demonstrable evidence of his influence that can't be equally explained by other (e.g., scientific) means - then what's the point in worshiping him? Even if he's real and exists, if he's completely detached from our existence, then he might as well not exist. I'd just as soon believe in some fantasy creature from another universe who has just as little impact on the world we live in. But I'd consider that a waste of time.

"
Perhaps he has provided enough evidence for those who are interested in the matter to reasonably conclude that he exists, and yet made it sufficiently vague enough so that those who are not interested in God can go about their lives as they please."

This is not how it actually works. Belief comes before evidence. True believers don't need evidence to back up their claims. They're already convinced. It's the people who doubt who scrutinize the evidence. And they're the ones who tend to conclude that the evidence is lacking. I'm as interested in God as any believer. I've probably studied religious philosophy more than most. And I would love to see some of this evidence. It would turn me around. But it just isn't there.

Still, if what you've said were the case, that would be great. I think that if there were a God, he would be pretty level-headed about the whole believing thing, and respect nonbelievers who can still conduct themselves with grace and empathy without praying to somebody they don't believe in every night. The problem is that this is not how a lot of believers behave. What God is like is a hypothetical debate - it doesn't change anything. What his followers are like has real world implications - whether it's people in foxholes, giving aid to refugees, or killing a bunch of strangers.

And the Bible itself - God's alleged holy book - instructs believers to kill their own friends and family members for believing in other gods. That's atrocious. How can people follow religions like this? And I know a lot of people interpret the Bible loosely, but it's amazing to me how far people will bend backward to justify their holy text, instead of coming out and admitting that it's a poorly written and hobbled together piece of pulp fiction. If God truly existed, he wouldn't allow us to go on thinking that a horrible book like the Bible is the best representation of his beliefs and practices. And if it is, then even if he exists, he's a genocidal son of a bitch that doesn't deserve to be worshiped.

The strongest evidence against a belief in God that exists is, ironically, the conduct of his believers themselves. If I were God, I'd be stepping in by now, because there's no mercy in letting mankind carry on the way it's been doing, without any kind of divine guidance. Yet, God's continued silence is pretty damning.
Sketchian's avatar
Thank you for your detailed reply zharth, I will do my best to answer you point by point.  Wow, what a thrilling conversation this has been thus far, I must confess it has excited me to no end!  What a joy this has been!  I hope it has been as fulfilling for you as it has been for me!  I'm sorry if my response is a little long.

"Well I definitely appreciate your willingness to talk about this civilly. I've encountered religious people who seem incapable of suffering a nonbeliever to exist."

-   It really is my pleasure zharth.  I have enjoyed this so very much!  Like I said before, you are really very thoughtful and respectful, and it has been a joy talking to you about these crucial issues.  Let me apologize on behalf of the theistic community for how so many of us have behaved in a disrespectful manner.  It's not okay how those religious people treated you, and I am saddened to hear it.  I must say I have had similar negative experiences with many atheists, I suppose there are bad apples in every community.  You are truly a bright spot in the atheistic community, this is a real delight!

"
I suppose that if you believe in a God, you'll see his hand in everything. But that's not the same thing as evidence. I refer you to Occam's Razor. Can you prove that it was God, indeed, who was responsible, and not a flying spaghetti monster?"

-    I totally agree with you!  I must say I never suggested that I "see his hand in everything" because I agree that this is not compelling.  I'm so glad you are familiar with Occam's Razor zharth, as you know Occam's Razor states that, "plurality should not be posited without necessity."  So basically Occam's Razor prefers simplicity.  I must say I am confused by your next point however, when you say, "Can you prove that it was God, indeed, who was responsible, and not a flying spaghetti monster?"  This statement doesn't follow from Occam's Razor of course, but to answer you I think I need to define what God is.  God is "the greatest conceivable being" so it doesn't matter what name you give to him.  If it makes you comfortable calling God the "flying spaghetti monster" that's just fine, I have no problem with that.  However, it isn't exactly a good refutation of any of the classical theistic arguments which I have briefly mentioned in my previous comments.  You also say "Can you prove..." but we've already discussed the fact that it's not about proving anything zharth, it's about "which view is more reasonable, atheism or theism?"

"
If a phenomenon can equally be explained by science, then there is no reason to posit the existence of a God. Unless that existence leaves some kind of mark that cannot be explained any better than other means."

-    That's quite right, which is why I haven't used any God of the Gaps arguments.  If you are interested in evidence, I would suggest to you the Cosmological, Moral, Teleological, and Contingency arguments for God's existence!

"
God is a magician. He doesn't deal in evidence. He deals in sleight of hand. And let me tell you, magicians do not have super powers. They just know how to perform tricks exceptionally well."

-    I guess I would just disagree here, since I believe there is evidence for God's existence (again, the classical arguments I have mentioned) but you're quite right that magicians do not have super powers (though I must say they are very entertaining to watch, I just love watching magicians) :) 

"
Does the existence and knowledge of God allow us to predict the way the universe works, in a way that science does not? The movement of the planets was ultimately described, in detail, by math and physics, not by any vague belief in a heaven."

-    Yes, the physical world has indeed been described entirely by math and physics, I never claimed otherwise.  I never actually claimed God as a scientific hypothesis for anything actually.  I do however think that God is the explanation for the origin of the universe, morality, the fine-tuning of the initial constants of the universe, and so on.  Of course you and I both know that God cannot be used as a scientific hypothesis, since God is not a testable entity.  However I do think that arguments exist that can lead us to think that there is a God that exists (I refer you again to the Cosmological, Moral, Teleological, and Contingency arguments.)

"
I agree 100%. And atheism is, by far, the more reasonable conclusion. Only for superstitious - subjective, or emotional - reasons should anyone believe in a God. He's not talking to us. He's not doing television interviews. And he's not out there on the front lines distributing emergency supplies to refugees. That's all people. God is a hypothetical construct."

-    Yes well, again, I hear you saying that, but I guess I just don't see how you saying it again is somehow more persuasive than before.  There are good reasons, aside from subjective ones, to believe in God.  Let me just suggest that the Cosmological, Teleological, Moral, and Contingency arguments are a good place to start if you're after evidence.

"
Do you realize that you're saying that the lack of evidence is proof of a supernatural occurrence? Finding Jesus' bones might prove that he existed (and was not supernaturally resurrected) - although how could you possibly identify this one person out of so many, who lived thousands of years ago? Our bones aren't stamped with our names. Not finding them doesn't lend evidence to your claim, when the more likely explanation is that he never existed in the first place."

-    I don't know of any credible historians who would say that Jesus never existed. Even Bart Ehrman (Atheistic Jesus scholar) would laugh at those who think that Jesus never existed, it just isn't a supportable position.  And of course I'm not suggesting that the lack of evidence is proof of a supernatural occurrence, I was simply answering your claim that his resurrection is not falsifiable.  But these aren't the reasons that I believe that Jesus was resurrected, I think there is historical evidence as well.  However, let's assume that Jesus resurrection isn't falsifiable for one moment, all you have demonstrated is that Christianity is false, you haven't shown that God doesn't exist.

"
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Resurrection would be an extraordinary phenomenon. The burden of proof is on those who believe in it to prove that it's real, not on those who doubt it to disprove that it's possible."

-    That's exactly right.  We agree.

"
 All the evidence points overwhelmingly to the impossibility of resurrection (except in a medical context - i.e., resuscitation - but that's not a divine miracle proving the existence of God, it's just a demonstration of the ingenuity of the human mind), which is the reasonable conclusion to make."

-    I do hope you know that I'm not advocating the idea that resurrections just happen naturalistically!  Resurrections would only be impossible if there is no God!  Here, in order to refute the idea of miracles, you seem to assume that atheism is true!  Unless you are talking about some really extraordinary evidence, here you seem to be committing the fallacy of begging the question. 

"Of course, this is true. But here's my counter position: 1) people have done truly atrocious things in the name of religion, and 2) people can have moral codes of behavior without religion - see secular humanism, the idea that we should be good to each other because it makes sense, not because some all-powerful deity is holding a gun to our heads"

-    Your point number one is, interestingly enough, more support for the idea that objective morality exists (which is a problem for atheism, since objective morality cannot exist within atheism, more on that in a second).  Now don't misunderstand me, atheists can be the most moral people on Earth, they can be even more moral than theists!  This has nothing to do with how atheists behave.  What I mean when I say that atheists cannot have objective morality is that their code of ethics is not objective and binding to all humans on Earth, past, present and future.  My morality is no better or different than your morality, since there is no Lawgiver.  This is because, on atheism, good and evil do not really exist.  They are just illusions that evolution has programmed into us so that we could pass on our genetic information and continue the species.  On atheism (when taken to its logical conclusion), a murderer killing an innocent civilian is no different that a bear killing a deer, for we are all equally valuable after all, since we are all just animals.  Being intelligent animals does not suddenly make us special.  Again, virtually all atheists are extremely good and moral people, it's just that they can't deduce ethics from logic or reason.

"How does this square with religion being a moral code of behavior? Sure, you can blame people for interpreting it wrong, but if religious people can be immoral, and nonreligious people can be moral, then why should religion be the deciding factor?"

-    At first you seem to agree with me, saying, "of course, this is true."  But then you seem to do a complete turn around and suggest that religion cannot be a good source of moral behavior, saying, "How does this square with religion being a moral code of behavior?"!  Which is it?  I hope I wasn't suggesting that immoral religious people are just interpreting it wrong, I sincerely believe that religious people can be sinful in the highest degree!  The difference is theists can be moral and intellectually consistent, but atheists cannot be both moral and intellectually consistent, they can only be moral, since objective morals cannot exists on atheism (as explained in my previous point above).

"Again, this goes back to Occam's Razor. I can't rule out the possibility that there's some kind of 'God-like' being out there. But if he doesn't actually interact with our world in ways that can be seen and actually changes and affects our world - that is, demonstrable evidence of his influence that can't be equally explained by other (e.g., scientific) means - then what's the point in worshiping him?"

-    I really don't mean to sound rude, but I don't think you totally understand Occam's Razor.  Again, Occam's Razor suggests that simplicity is preferable, or "plurality should not be posited without necessity."  This actually rules out polytheism, interestingly enough, since monotheism is the simplest explanation (assuming some form of theism is true).  Again, if you are really interested in evidence for God's existence, I refer you to the Cosmological, Teleological, Moral, and Contingency arguments for God's existence.

"This is not how it actually works. Belief comes before evidence. True believers don't need evidence to back up their claims. They're already convinced. It's the people who doubt who scrutinize the evidence. And they're the ones who tend to conclude that the evidence is lacking. I'm as interested in God as any believer. I've probably studied religious philosophy more than most. And I would love to see some of this evidence. It would turn me around. But it just isn't there."

-    You are right, there are many theists who do not think they need evidence, they are already convinced.  Of course belief comes before evidence for any atheist who was raised in an atheistic household, so your argument cuts both ways.  Now you might say that atheists are not raised with "belief" in anything, and so they only work with evidence and that's it.  The only problem is that many of them are just not familiar with arguments for God's existence, because they encounter an ignorant theist here and an ignorant theist there and they just assume there are no good reasons to think that God exists.  But there are good reasons!  I think you'll be interested in the classical arguments for God's existence (the Cosmological, Teleological, Moral, and Contingency arguments).  This is the evidence you are looking for, and once you're done with those you have only scratched the surface!  I'm so glad you are interested in God's existence, this truly is a thrilling conversation if I do say so myself.  I think you are a sincere seeker of truth, in fact I know it!

"What God is like is a hypothetical debate - it doesn't change anything. What his followers are like has real world implications - whether it's people in foxholes, giving aid to refugees, or killing a bunch of strangers."

-    Well what God is like isn't a hypothetical debate if God exists of course.  And you are absolutely right, how religious people act does indeed have real world implications.  We agree again, it's remarkable how much common ground we have!

"And the Bible itself - God's alleged holy book - instructs believers to kill their own friends and family members for believing in other gods. That's atrocious. How can people follow religions like this? And I know a lot of people interpret the Bible loosely, but it's amazing to me how far people will bend backward to justify their holy text, instead of coming out and admitting that it's a poorly written and hobbled together piece of pulp fiction."

-    Again you attack Christianity as if to say "once I have falsified Christianity, I can be happy in my atheism!"  I do wonder, were you raised in a Christian household and then turned to atheism?  This is a common though pattern of those who have been raised in Christianity and then abandon it.  There are a host of other religions that you have not falsified, and even if you falsified every single religion on Earth there could still easily be a God.  But let me defend Christianity anyway.  Here I think it's important to note that not everyone thinks that all of the Old Testament narratives are from God.  Nobody has to bend over backwards to justify anything if they simply don't believe the text you cited is from God.  There's a doctrine in Christianity known as the Doctrine of Inerrancy, which would say that everything in the Bible is absolutely correct, which some Christians do not accept.  Since this is all subjective (how people interpret various texts in the Bible) I think I should get to something a bit more concrete.  Even if I grant you that this passage is incompatible with an all-loving God, and that we should reject it, think of what the worst-case scenario for the Christian is now.  All you have demonstrated is that some Old Testament narratives are not inspired by God.  That's it!  So Christianity still stands, but let's go even further.  Even if I grant you that Christianity has officially been defeated, the final nail has been hit into the coffin, you still haven't shown that there is no God.  You have merely shown that Christianity is false.  There could still be a God that exists.

"If God truly existed, he wouldn't allow us to go on thinking that a horrible book like the Bible is the best representation of his beliefs and practices. And if it is, then even if he exists, he's a genocidal son of a bitch that doesn't deserve to be worshiped."

-    I think you are attacking the Christian god again.  It is of course totally possible that God exists and he is evil!  I do not believe that, but I just wanted to mention the possibility.  I must say that I find it interesting that you accuse God of being evil, even though evil doesn't really exist on your view.  

"The strongest evidence against a belief in God that exists is, ironically, the conduct of his believers themselves. If I were God, I'd be stepping in by now, because there's no mercy in letting mankind carry on the way it's been doing, without any kind of divine guidance. Yet, God's continued silence is pretty damning."

-    Here I think you have gotten to something very important, namely the problem of evil.  Now there are two versions of this objection, and you're probably referring to the "probabilistic problem of evil," as opposed to the "logical problem of evil." I say this because there is no logical contradiction between the propositions 1) God exists and 2) Evil exists.  So the logical problem of evil cannot be correct.  Since there is no logical contradiction here, I would assume you mean "it's extremely unlikely that God and all of this evil and suffering can exist together."  Here I just want to say two things, though this surely is not going to say enough about the problem of evil, books have been written about this for thousands of years, but I offer these two things.  First of all, God preferred a world in which humans have free will (only in world where free will exists can true love exist).  But of course you know the problems that free will brings, some people like being evil!  Some people are just atrocious, and it's honestly so unbelievable sometimes, but theists also believe in ultimate justice, so Pol Pot and the like will receive what they deserve!  The second thing I want to say is that, given the full scope of the evidence, I think we can still conclude that God exists, even with all of this suffering.  We theists (specifically Christian theists) believe that it will all be made right one day.  I hope this helps just a little bit.

Thank you for this truly intoxicating discussion, I am just so thrilled that we are discussing such important issues!   You are very smart, it's an honor discussing these matters with you.  I hope you have a truly wonderful day and I look forward to your response! :)




zharth's avatar
Here's my concluding statement:

If you want to debate religion more convincingly in the future, might I make a suggestion? Use the KISS method ("Keep It Simple, Stupid"). Disguising the weakness of your central premise by flooding it with complexity, and regurgitated intellectualism, is like a Jedi trick - it only works on the weak-minded. My premise is simple: God is an implausible hypothesis, devoid of evidence. You've made a claim (God exists). I've argued that this claim is extraordinary, and thus requires extraordinary evidence. You've failed to present this evidence. You've offered some philosophical arguments as evidence, but I've argued that philosophy does not constitute evidence. We've quibbled about the difference between subjectivity and objectivity. Let's put those words away. Does God exist in the mind, or outside of it? Philosophy cannot prove the existence of what is outside the mind. Only empirical evidence can. I do not refute the existence of God as a concept inside people's minds. But that is, intrinsically, subjective. Different people can have different conceptions of God, or even no conception at all (and still be moral agents), and neither of those conclusions are "right" or "wrong" in and of themselves, because they do not correspond to any material entity that exists and can be verified. Is there any point in continuing this discussion further?
zharth's avatar
"I must say I have had similar negative experiences with many atheists, I suppose there are bad apples in every community."

Absolutely. I wish more theists were, like you, confident enough to defend their beliefs and not insist upon them simply not being questioned.

Not to condone anyone's poor behavior, but in atheists' defense, I don't think theists understand where they're really coming from. I've feared becoming the "angry/asshole" stereotype myself, even though it's the last thing I want to be seen as. But atheism is a rejection of a very popular and mainstream way of thinking, and one that necessarily implies some level of "I'm right and you're wrong" that is unavoidable.

Now, this sort of thing can be approached gracefully, but what I think a lot of theists don't understand is the treatment atheists have been exposed to on the count of theists and theism. Sometimes we get bitter and impatient, and tired of hearing all the time about how great God is (in their opinion - personally, I think that if God is responsible for what we see around us, then he has a lot of explaining to do).

I made a post on Facebook to all my family about religious tolerance. I went out of my way to point out that I was not criticizing anyone's beliefs (namely Christians, who made up the majority of my audience), but that I just felt that there deserved to be space for other beliefs outside of mainstream Christianity, and people who are supposed to love and support me instead drilled me and criticized me, and told me I was going to hell, and that I need to get a life. Essentially, they were fulfilling Christianity's mandate to, as the Bible says, "have no pity on them. Don't feel sorry for them or protect them. You must put them to death." Awesome belief system, there. </sarcasm>

My point being, that if atheists get a little fed up now and then with the way that religion absolutely dominates our culture (and every conversation), they have every reason to. I don't think you have to agree with an atheist's position to have sympathy for their concerns regarding the adequacy of God. It's human nature to doubt and to have moments of weakness (if that's what a theist wants to describe this as). By lashing out against atheists, theists are only guaranteeing that those atheists will never again come back under the fold of religion. And theists are supposed to be typified by compassion! (But that's another one of those myths).

"I'm so glad you are familiar with Occam's Razor"

I'm a scientist. I have a degree in physics. I also minored in philosophy. Logic and reason are my bread and butter. And that's the one thing most religious arguments lack. Unfortunately, its supporters also tend to be illogical (although to be fair, this is a human failing), but that makes it hard to explain to them why they're wrong.

"it doesn't matter what name you give to him."

I think you are missing the point. This isn't about names. You said it matters whether God is Christ or Yahweh or Allah. I take that to mean that we're talking about different entities, who are going to manifest in different ways (which is why these religions have different mandates), and that it matters which is real and which is not. If that supernatural being pulling the strings is your God, or a flying spaghetti monster, then its puppet dance is going to look a little different, and that's something we can observe and prove.

You're right, however, that no matter which God we choose, they all fail the test of Occam's Razor. My point was that if you can't even prove that it was one God and not another, then that means you're not actually dealing with any concrete evidence. And if there's no concrete evidence, you're positing an explanation that is not required by Occam's Razor. The only influence God has on this world is in people's minds, and Occam's Razor instructs us to disregard the reality of what amounts to a collective delusion.

"God of the Gaps"

Notice how I'm not name-dropping arguments that other people have had.

"If you are interested in evidence, I would suggest to you the Cosmological, Moral, Teleological, and Contingency arguments for God's existence!"

Nor am I outsourcing my argument to other people. Every argument you can name has a convincing rebuttal by an atheist. Anyway, the things you are mentioning are philosophical points. This does not amount to empirical evidence. Stuff that only exists inside the human mind is the product of electrical synapses in the brain. Are we talking about a collective unconscious here, or an actual being that exists in reality? If the latter, the evidence is just not there. If the former, then "real" is not an applicable label, because we're talking about ideas. Sure, ideas are real in the sense that they can influence people. But I'm not saying that the idea of God isn't real. I'm just saying that there's not an actual God that corresponds to it. Just like there are not actual unicorns existing in nature.

"I must say they are very entertaining to watch, I just love watching magicians"

That's interesting. I agree, but it seems like how some theists describe the devil - that he likes to dazzle people with tricks. I would say the same thing about God. It's seductive, wanting to believe that there's an all-powerful being that loves you and protects you and guides the world, and is waiting to comfort you for eternity when you die. It's no surprise to me that people go along with it. But from a logical standpoint, it just doesn't hold water. It's a comforting delusion. I don't disparage people for seeking that comfort - but it shouldn't affect the way we view reality. That's why I said we should keep the subjective parts subjective, and the objective parts objective. Theists are free to go on believing in their God, but they really need to stop arguing with science on empirical matters - like evolution, climate change, and things of that matter. I say again, the Bible didn't provide formulas for the movement of the planets. Math did. Without positing a God.

"I never actually claimed God as a scientific hypothesis for anything actually."

I was hoping that this discussion would hinge on something more substantial than semantics. (Then again, when you scrutinize God - or a theist's arguments - you often end up with an empty scaffold). We were talking about empirical evidence. I will assume, then, that you are agreeing with me that God has no material influence on reality. Occam's Razor, then, instructs us to disregard that belief. Why are you violating Occam's Razor?

"There are good reasons, aside from subjective ones, to believe in God."

I don't think you understand the difference between subjectivity and objectivity, the difference between mind and matter, fantasy and reality. But then again, you believe in God, so at least that's consistent.

"I don't know of any credible historians who would say that Jesus never existed."

Then you need to get out more. And stop plugging your ears. I don't know of any credible historians who would say that Jesus's existence is plausible. Have you actually studied the rise of Christianity? It's a lot different than what modern priests and pastors want you to believe.

"I think there is historical evidence as well."

I'm sorry, but "thinking" doesn't constitute actual evidence.

"Here, in order to refute the idea of miracles, you seem to assume that atheism is true!  Unless you are talking about some really extraordinary evidence, here you seem to be committing the fallacy of begging the question."

What are you talking about? Have you even studied logic? I can't even make sense of your arguments anymore. You're pulling tricks now, you're not actually debating the points. This isn't going to convince anyone, least of all me. I'm quickly losing confidence in your position.

"On atheism (when taken to its logical conclusion), a murderer killing an innocent civilian is no different that a bear killing a deer"

You're wrong. So, utterly wrong. I could instruct you, if you were so inclined, and had the patience to learn. But I'm not sure you'd be willing to. Because you're just taking kernels of atheist thought, and then drawing your own, theistically-oriented conclusions from it (a self-serving behavior). Look, the best thing I can tell you is that if you're really interested in reason, take a lot of time, and study this stuff some more - from a less biased perspective - before you make any conclusions. For God's sake, there is more in this life condemning cold-blooded murder than your belief in a higher consciousness. Whatever God's reasons for condemning murder (despite simultaneously - and hypocritically - delighting in it), it is not above mankind to grasp. We do not need a God to tell us it's wrong.

"At first you seem to agree with me, saying, 'of course, this is true.'  But then you seem to do a complete turn around"

Really? I expected better reading comprehension from you. Try that passage again.

"atheists cannot be both moral and intellectually consistent, they can only be moral"

Wow. Just, wow. Where did you learn this stuff?

"monotheism is the simplest explanation"

No, it's not. Atheism is the simplest explanation.

"Again, if you are really interested in evidence for God's existence, I refer you to..."

Again, none of this constitutes evidence.

"belief comes before evidence for any atheist who was raised in an atheistic household"

What? What world are you living in? There are no "atheistic households". Atheism is not a belief system. It's a logical conclusion about the state of the world. It's the rejection of a highly implausible hypothesis that makes extraordinary claims with absolutely no evidence to back it up!

"many of them are just not familiar with arguments for God's existence, because they encounter an ignorant theist here and an ignorant theist there and they just assume there are no good reasons to think that God exists."

You're describing theists, not atheists! What kind of biased experience have you had? I really expected a more nuanced position from you. I feel like I've been the victim of a cruel bait-and-switch. Atheists know more about religion than most theists. They scrutinize the arguments better than theists do, because most theists are willing to just go along with whatever they've been told. It takes a commitment to reason to sniff out bullshit and demand better explanations for things. Theists, in general, don't have this.

"I think you'll be interested in the classical arguments for God's existence"

No! How many times do I have to explain that this does not constitute evidence? Bandying about intellectual terms as you've been doing for this whole, long comment, does not constitute an intellectual argument.

"This is the evidence you are looking for"

No! It's not!

"Again you attack Christianity"

I understand how you can see it that way, but I'm not "attacking" Christianity so much as taking it to task for the many injustices it has committed on the world. If you want to defend your precious belief system, at least have the courtesy to acknowledge the terrible wrongs it has committed, so that we can all move forward into a better future. That's what I ask of Christians. That's the least they must do to earn any kind of respect in society. The way that the Pope sometimes apologizes for atrocities committed in the past, that we now see were wrong. I can't even take a Christian seriously until they acknowledge how poorly the Bible was written.

"There are a host of other religions that you have not falsified"

Are you serious? Do you even know what the word "falsify" means? Why are you even telling me this? There are a host of other religions that you have not falsified, either. I thought we agreed that the burden of proof was on you, not me. Prove to me that Thor doesn't exist, and then I'll begin to consider your argument for your own God.

"you still haven't shown that there is no God."

You're still wildly missing the point. Every "nail" I hammer into the coffin of this or that religion is entirely independent of the foundational premise that God is an illogical hypothesis devoid of evidence. I can talk all day about how inconsistent Christianity is, and you can refute every one of my points (if weakly), but you still have not provided any evidence whatsoever that makes God any more plausible than Santa Claus.

"I must say that I find it interesting that you accuse God of being evil, even though evil doesn't really exist on your view."

Read your own sentence again. Come on, I didn't think you were this daft. God is evil. According to you, I don't believe that evil really exists (in truth, that's a more complicated discussion). Therefore God doesn't exist. Huh, that's funny, that's completely consistent with the fact that I am an atheist! ::shakes head::

"First of all, God preferred a world in which humans have free will"

Do you really think I haven't encountered this argument before? That I haven't studied it, in depth? It's bullshit. Worse than that, it's insulting. You're telling me that the notion of "free will" is more important to a presumably benevolent God than stopping the rape and torture of infants? There is only one explanation for the problem of evil, and that's an evil God. And if God is evil, than all you believers and followers who worship him are evil too.

I think we've reached the point where this has become tedious.
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Rebel-O-Conner's avatar
Unlike people usually think, Tolerance and respect are opposite.
Tolerance, in its real meaning, is "to accept other people can have views you dislike" and respect means "to accept and agree to other people views"
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