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Why atheists are just plain right

“Religion comes from the period of human history where nobody, not even the mighty Democritus, who concluded that all matter was made from atoms, had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our own inescapable demand for knowledge, as well as for comfort, reassurance and other infantile needs.” – Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great

Once you get past the pomposity of Christopher Hitchens and the mockingly condescending tone and flattering of science of Richard Dawkins, what you find in the determined and powerful writings of the “new atheism” is that they are, well, right. “New atheism” is stupid nomenclature. There is nothing new about it, except that for reasons one could debate at length, it’s suddenly on the best seller lists.

Perhaps their only misstep is to characterise atheists as cultured, fey intellectuals who despite their rejection of god and his various incarnations, are nonetheless still up for a good cognac before a majestic production of Handel’s Messiah. Appreciating, of course, the majesty of the music and not the message. This, I think, is damaging to those atheists who have no particular interest in high European art forms, but just simply don’t buy the bullshit.

Following on from this, is the apparent assertion that we atheists are all peace-loving democrats who have no problem with people practising their own brand of religious devotion as long as they leave us well alone (which, of course, they rarely do). That too is disingenuous I think, particularly since both these writers (and others) hold little back in solidly attacking god and all the various religions, often in amusing and scathing passages (such as the one quoted above).

The truth is that we atheists hold religion, and its gods, in some contempt. We are contemptuous of its tendency to cause suffering and conflict. Of its arrogant claim to know truths which not even the greatest geniuses alive would ever claim. Of the paltry and insulting body of evidence it wields in its own defence. And of the, to paraphrase Hitchens, childish stories it offers as moral guides, ethical tools and metaphysical insights.

And we are contemptuous with or without a taste for fine wine and Degas.

Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” and Hitchens’s “God is not Great” have both succeeded as very popular books in Europe and, crucially, in the US. The Hitchens got to number two on Amazon.com, just behind Harry Potter. This is no small achievement in a country still so obsessed with god and Christianity — arguably, as close to being governed presently by the church as it ever has. Not the Catholic variety, of course, which would no doubt simply be angling to pinch some of the state treasures.

These kinds of sales and readerships imply that these authors are right in another sense too: atheism is growing. Perhaps for the first time, people are willing, at least, to understand the case properly. And I think a lot of people are realising, as they read Dawkins in particular on evolutionary biology, that the explanations offered by atheism to compete with some of the simple-minded myths of Christianity or Islam or Hinduism, are satisfyingly right. There is a certain kind of note that is struck when these theories sink in that sounds a hell of a lot like the truth. Or, at least, a lot closer to it than anything the bible or similar have to offer.

Madeleine Bunting wrote in the Guardian, in a piece that was syndicated in the Mail & Guardian some months back, that “The danger is that hostility to religion in all its forms deters engagement with the really interesting questions that have emerged in the science/faith debate. The durability and near-universality of religion is one of the most enduring conundrums of evolutionary thinking”. This in an apparent attack on Dawkins’s and similar stances.

However this seems like more an attack on method than on conclusion. Bunting never tries to defend religion per se, simply to argue that the phenomenon is worth understanding more before dismissing it. And on this she may be right, although all of these writers, Hitchens in particular, come across as extremely well-read and educated on religion in all its many forms. Just because they are hostile does not mean they have not done their homework.

I too think that it’s past time for niceties. The horrors in which religion has a hand are too countless to list. From paedophilia in the confessional to female circumcision; from religious war to fanatical terrorism; and from banning contraception (and thereby encouraging unwanted children and the spread of HIV/Aids) to raging against homosexuality. Organised religion has done enough damage. Perhaps at some point in the past it may have held to argue that it played an important role in making sense of an unfathomable world. Or instilled hope where there was little to be had. But in the first we no longer need it. And in the second, we should all be ashamed of allowing poverty and misery to be comforted in this way.

And the attack isn’t just on religion, though that is the prime evil. God himself, itself, herself, is also equally to be renounced and shed. This idea, that the universe was designed and created. Or that there is some figure lurking behind each moment, listening to our prayers and directing us this way and that according to his will. Even in the most abstract sense, even decoupled from the Bible or the Qur’an, even simply relegated to a force of nature, even this must be stamped out, because it encumbers us. It prevents the generations that succeed us from thinking as big as they need to; from facing and feeling the true enormity of the life and the universe; and from sitting with the bewildering mysteries in which, I believe at any rate, true wisdom lies.

These fairy stories and fairy characters belong in the past. And it’s time we stopped worrying about offending people by saying so.

Author

  • Jarred Cinman is software director at Cambrient, South Africa's leading developer of web applications. He co-founded Johannesburg's first professional web development company and was one of the founders of VWV Interactive, for many years the premier creative web business in the country, winning numerous Loeries and various international awards. In 2001, Jarred co-founded Cambrient, which has, in its six-year history, built the leading local content management system and serviced an impressive list of corporate customers. Cambrient Contentsuite is also the engine behind Moneyweb.

96 Comments

  1. Ariel Ariel 2 October 2007

    Let’s just keep it respectful please… as soon as people stop listening to one another – the debate becomes worthless because it becomes more about winning than seekign out the truth… :-)

  2. Marthinus Marthinus 2 October 2007

    mmhhh.. sorry Billy. Not working for me. Maybe some other gullible guy will fall for it. Just as a matter of interest I have read most of the books and find them lacking in any substance.

    As you said, your faith is based on the fact that Jesus died on the cross etc etc. Just because the tomb is empty and because the body is missing that does not prove that he existed at all.

    As for the creation being proof that there is a creator, I agree. That does not mean that the so called creator is god! They could be little green men from Mars. Point is Billy, that deep inside you.. you really don’t know. Just like me.

  3. Ariel Ariel 2 October 2007

    Now…

    Marthinus: i don’t think Billy sauid anywhere that we know for sure that God exists… i think we all agreed that this is essentially unknowlable… or that at least at this stage we do not KNOW it…

    NO – at this point i would just like to point out that what you are reacting to is quite clearly all teh religion in the past that people have tried to shove down your throat… it has happened to each of us… there are crazy people out there.. who think they are right and they don’t listen to anybody or to anything except themselves and they try to tell everybody else that they are wrong if they don’t believe their particular theology… their crazy – and wuite honestly i understand why you and many other people (richard dawkins the most prominent of all) react so drastically toward religion

    but step back for a second and ask yourself – isn’t richard dawkins diong exactly the same thing – but just the other side of the coin?

    if you simply go and read through the posts above – i think you will find time and time again either jarred or someone else making a sweeping statement about “how there is no evidence for God” or the “idea that god exists is totally made up and irrelevant”

    now – all i am saying as a believer in god is “there may very well be no god – noone knows for sure… i look at the evidence and i choose to believe there is a god. i believe there is evidence for a god”

    What a religious person would say is: “i look at the world and one possible explanation for the world is that it was created by a God… the bible is one possible account of how what that God is like… i think this makes sense… therefore i choose to believe it”

    we are all in agreement that this is a matter of choice so i don’t know where your question:

    HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT GOD EXISTS? (and please no bull**** about the heavens and the earth and flowers and there can be no other explanation.)

    comes from – because noone here said they can prove that to you. we also said that no athiest can prove it the other way either… TRUE?

  4. Ariel Ariel 2 October 2007

    when billy uses the expression “i know” it is an expression of faith?

    do we really have to start getting tied up in semantics here?

    billy – do you agree that the question of whether god exists can never be KNOWN – but has to have an element of faith in it?

  5. Billy Billy 2 October 2007

    Yeah, you’re right on one point – it’s not working for you. ;)
    See, if you’re still raising “did Jesus really exist at all” I must honestly question the extent to which you looked into things. And brushing things off with “i’ve read most of the books”.. What books have you read exactly? What was weak about their points?

    And deep inside I just don’t know? What on earth is that based on?
    Thats about as logical as me going “deep inside you really believe passionately, just like me” – it doesn’t make sense.

    I’m withdrawing from this discussion for a bit – it’s taking too much of my time. Thanks for an engaging discussion Martinus… Hope you doing well that side. Let me know when you hungry to read more books again. :)

  6. Ariel Ariel 2 October 2007

    marthinus – with regard to what you said about whether god is responsible for evil or not…

    my friend – one of the most important principles you will ever come accross in your life is that of responsibility?

    you are responsibile for who you are? no matter what happens to you – you choose how to react to it… read seven habits of highly effective people. read most modern day psycology – one of the most powerful principles we have today is that we are responsible for our own selves…

    this idea is completely in line with the ideas that i presented on god giving us free will – he gave us free will – thus making us responsible for ourselves – and gave us 2 possibilities.

    to do good and to do bad.

    just because he made the option of diong bad available for us – doesn’t mean that he did bad.

    you can understand this right? i also explained why he made the option to do bad available – because if we didn’t have a choice what would be the value of believing in him anyways… remember – clean your room withouth your mother moaning?

    what do you think about the rest of the answers to your questions?

    i am not asking you to believe them – but they do make sense and they form a consistent answer with everything else i have said – if you have the time to actually read through everything i wrote :-)

  7. Ndumiso Ngcobo Ndumiso Ngcobo 2 October 2007

    Jarred, I’m not discouraging the debate at all. I’m merely providing commentary from a safe distance to avoid getting splattered with blood because I honestly do not believe that the debate is moving forward – or that it has the potential to do so. I say let the debate go on only for the entertainment value. I’m all for entertainment.

    To begin with; between atheists and the religious faithful, you wouldn’t even be able to agree on what constitutes a ‘FACT’, which you’ve highlighted. I bet you your definition of a fact will be scientific.

    Problem right there. The ‘truths’ in the Bible cannot, by definition, stand up to the rigours of scientific scrutiny. These truths existed long before modern science. Because I have studied and internalized scientific principles, stories about a bearded dude who had ‘conversations’ with burning bushes and parted the Red Sea armed only with a stick seem like hocus pocus.

    By age 18 I could not make sense of it and wandered the wilderness of atheism looking for answers until I realized that scientific reasoning is full of holes as well. Placing proof as the sole criterion for promoting theory to fact is problematic on many different – and I know I don’t have to tell you all about it. Unless you are one of those people who actually believe this;

    Scientific fact = truth.

    In which case; good luck.

    My point? Unless both sides agree to use the same definition for the word ‘fact’, no one will ever provide you with satisfactory evidence for the existence of God. They will inevitably have to bring in the spiritual dimension that you cannot, by definition, accept. They’ll start asking you questions such as ‘can you show me proof of the emotions that rage inside you such as anger, love and pity?’ and you’ll start accusing them of hallucinations, deism and all manner of other isms.

    It’s a no-win situation.

  8. Johan Swarts Johan Swarts 2 October 2007

    I’m really enjoying this discussion, but do us all a favour and stop quoting “The God Delusion”. It’s unscientific at best. Do read Platinga’s analysis of it here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2007/002/1.21.html

    (Don’t let the website’s name fool you. Platinga isn’t your run of the mill Christian ignoramus. Just read the damn review.)

  9. Billy Billy 2 October 2007

    ok, i’m almost out of it… one last post (darn this is addictive)…

    Ariel –

    I believe that God is real, and I know this too. Let me try illustrate. A small kid sitting in the lounge gets told not to touch the red element because it is very hot. At this point, with this information, the kid can choose whether or not to believe his parent.
    If the kid decides to grab onto the heater to see if this is true, and he burns his fingers, he no longer just believes the heater is hot – he now knows this. I believe an encounter with Christ is similar. After that, it’s not mere theory, speculation, philosophy – it’s an encounter that leaves you knowing.

    Yes, there is faith – that’s based on my trust that God in His character is true to what He says about Himself and willing to follow through with what He says… but there’s knowing, where you know for certain. There is a level of faith in this, but there’s also an experiential element, which I tried to describe in a previous post (and think I failed at dismally – based on Martinus concluding that deep down I doubted just like him).

    I believe that Jesus KNOWS that God exists, just as the other apostles, just as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – just as many people today know.

    I hope I’ve cleared up my stance on this.

    Over and out. (seriously – I have deadlines people! ;) )

  10. Ndumiso Ngcobo Ndumiso Ngcobo 2 October 2007

    Jarred, Billy’s comment at 5.13 pm is exhibit A of what I’m talking about. That kind of response can only serve to infuriate an atheist and send him into an orbit of frothing-at-the-mouth fustration.

    You can respond to that in only one as an atheist, “are you smoking pot?” I know, I’ve been on the other side. You guys are exactly where you were at the beginning.

    The Swahili guys are just shouting harder in Swahili to make the Russians understand.

  11. Jarred Cinman Jarred Cinman Post author | 2 October 2007

    To be able to meaningfully respond to the enormous amount of material published here today is a big job, one that I will need to put some serious time into.

    However I do want to try and unravel things a little.

    There are two basic things up for debate here:
    1. Does god exist?
    2. Is the bible true?

    A lot of confusion has come from either treating these as one argument, or trying to insist that these aren’t one.

    Ndumiso, I have no idea why you think I could never agree with Billy, say, on what a “fact” is. A fact is a statement about the world that is true. True means: true for everyone.

    “Does god exist?” means, therefore, is he out there, finished. There is no meaning in a “personal god”. And that means arguments from personal belief, no matter how powerful or moving, are inadmissible in establishing the FACT of the matter.

    “Is the bible true” means are the claims made in it historical facts, things that actually happened in the way described in there. Did Jesus live, did he raise the dead, did Jonah get eaten by a fish, did god create the world?

    Billy, I challenge you to put together a proper summary of the arguments FOR both god and the truth of the bible, excluding your personal life experiences which I am not diminishing, but which do not add up to anything more than autobiographical information.

    You have supplied some website addresses, but that’s almost cheating. Go away till you’ve spent 6 months reading up on the subject. Do the right thing here, and write up a neat summary so we can at least understand the arguments, as I have done with the atheist’s arguments.

    Yes, you have deadlines, but this is the biggest question of them all. Surely you can spare an hour to write up some bullet points?

    My contention, and Marthinus’, is that there is just not enough evidence (if any) for the FACT of god’s existence or the bible’s truth. Plenty of people with moving personal stories. No real proof.

    Maybe you can get away with that on a deistic argument for god, but the bible is making actual historical claims. So let’s see some archaeology, some ancient Roman texts.

    Let’s see it.

  12. Billy Billy 2 October 2007

    Ndumiso

    – I know what you are saying and I agree that there is a level of futility to this. But when people try and explain what I mean by something and they miss it (not maliciously, just misinterpreted), surely I should be able to make my view clear, even if it means I’m thought of as smoking pot?

    I agree with your Russian/ Swahili analogy in terms of language used and understanding, but not on the level of truth. Then it’s more a case of flat earthers screaming at round earthers and earth-on-a-turtle-back’ers chirping some sarcastic remarks for good measure… ie. there is some ultimate reality and not all views are equally viable.

    ps. if all views are equally valid, then my view of not all views being equally valid, is, by definition, also valid… ;)

  13. Billy Billy 2 October 2007

    Jarred

    I will submit to you the stuff that convinced me, specifically regarding the two points you mentioned. It will by no means be exhaustive, and I’m convinced now more than before that it will not sway anyone here from their current stand. Even so, it would be an exciting and interesting exercise for me also to do this.

    Any Christians reading this please pray that I do this properly. I will post it on my blog first for general comment and refinement.. ;)

    Thanks guys – check back soon.

  14. Marthinus Marthinus 2 October 2007

    Everyone has a right to an opinion and making use of the soap box provided by M&G is everyone’s right. I am not knocking any opinions. I am trying to understand the psyche of a person that believes in something without proof of it’s existence.

    So far I have learnt the following:

    Most religious people here agree that there is no real evidence that god exists and that no-one can be absolutely certain.

    The rest (Jarred and I) agree that neither god’s existence or his non-existence can be proven.

    So.. fundamentally we all agree.

    “An Agnostic [1] [noun] [OW] embraces a worldview in which the existence of deity is unknown or unknowable”

    So we are all Agnostics! Problem solved. :-)

  15. Ariel Ariel 2 October 2007

    hey Billy

    i liked the way you answered my question… i really really do.

    i am personally convinced of that argument… i mean – i inderstand what you mean when you say you know…

    but on another level – we can also understand why jarred and marthinus are getting frustrated by that “knowledge”

    i would like to ask jarred and marthinus a question regarding this:
    if picked up a stone and held it arms length in front of you and let go – do you know it will fall, or do you believe it will fall…

    the only answer you have is that you believe it will – granted – with much evidence and reason – everytime you ahve done it before it has worked that way – but mathematically and scientifically you don’t KNOW… einsteins general theory of relaitivity doesn’t even explain why… it just describes it a little more detailed than newtons very basic laws of gravity

    do we know anything… well 1+1=2… but much more than that on the level of the existence of god or whether or not you even exist… not really?

    just one more thing… to quote jarred

    “Maybe you can get away with that on a deistic argument for god”

    i am glad we have established this point. thank you for your willingness to listen and actually debate this thing without being torn off into all teh emotional and hectic baggage that accompanies this debate. I really have appreciated that ;-)

    i personally, arguing about religion and the existence of god are 2 very distinct things (although related) and i look forward to the following posts

    good luck billy! i don’t know much about christian theology – but i look forward to learning a little…

    oh – and ndumiso – dude – science and religion need to work together… they are 2 systems of knowledge aiming to accomplish the same thing… to answer the questions that linger in the hearts and minds of men. keep taming the beast cause as you expressed earlier – it has all the potential in the world to get messy!

    asalam-i-layhkum!

    tricked – i’m not muslim either ;-)

  16. Nic Nic 3 October 2007

    I am an atheist myself and find this to be one of my favourite debates. Strangely this is a debate that I have been having a lot recently.

    I find that when I talk to religious people about religion or “god” as it may be, the ultimate answer for them to anything and everything is “Just have faith”. That is really not answer or solution or rebuttle in my opinion.

    My point however is this:

    I read an interesting blog post – no idea where – that made one of the clearest summations of this debate for me.

    It goes something like this:

    You believe that god exists. I do not. I can never, ever, ever, at all, ever see the your reality as you see. Thus your reality is entirely real to you and so is mine. This is fantastic and ultimately says what I try to.

    You have your views and I have mine. Why must one be right and one be wrong?

    As an atheist I firmly believe that religion and god work for some people. It does not work for me, the concepts do not work in MY REALITY. Thus I choose not to believe. Simple. I am not saying all christians are wrong, I am not saying all jews are right or the muslims and hindu’s are messed in the head. But I know of many other “faiths” that condemn or “faiths” to eternal damnation simply for not believing the same thing. At the end of the day everyone is pointing fingers at everyone and everyone thinks they are entirely correct in their assumptions and beliefs.

    This argument is a massive one that I could write an essay on here, but I wont. I’m done.

  17. Jarred Cinman Jarred Cinman Post author | 3 October 2007

    “if picked up a stone and held it arms length in front of you and let go – do you know it will fall, or do you believe it will fall…”

    This sets us wading into deep epistemological waters, and turns on the discussion of internalism vs. externalism. I could try and recall all of my honours Philosophy course to try and debate it, but I don’t think that’ll take us anywhere.

    Maybe nothing is absolutely certain, and maybe everything demands faith, including the everyday stuff we all take for granted. Even if that’s true, though, that doesn’t propell the kind of god you’re looking for into the picture. It really only deepens the mystery of life, and confirms (in my opinion) how deep and unsolvable that mystery is.

    Lack of an explanation does not make a readily available, easy-to-grasp but highly questionable one preferable does it? There is no gun to our heads, we don’t HAVE to decide. We have the option to say “we don’t know”.

    Let’s also just remove this idea of “my reality” and “your reality” from this discussion. This new age, hippy attempt at tolerance really just reduces the concept of truth and reality to dust. Maybe in literary criticism or political studies you can apply put this kind of stuff to good use, but if there is no one, single REALITY out there, then we have much bigger problems.

    Nic, I’m sure we can all appreciate your desire to have a nice, friendly environment in which both atheists and Christians can get on. And indeed we can. But they cannot, under any circumstances, both be right.

  18. Jarred Cinman Jarred Cinman Post author | 3 October 2007

    PS: I took some time last night to read some of the literature Billy linked us to on sites such as “Stand To Reason” and so forth, as well as the article critiquing Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”.

    I have to say that it’s refreshing to read solid, strong material from the other point of view, based on logic and not a simple appeal to faith. I await Billy’s summation with great interest. I hope you’ll post the link here when it’s done.

  19. Jaxon Rice Jaxon Rice 3 October 2007

    Jarred – its great to see a fellow atheist indulging in quality debate here, and to see that this conversation hasn’t (yet) descended into the fundamentalist quagmire that normally results from posts like this.

    I have just finished reading a brilliant book called “How to Read the Bible” that you might enjoy. You can read a New York Times review here:
    http://tinyurl.com/ysbmpa

    I don’t agree with the author’s conclusions, but I found it a thought provoking, entertaining book that should be required reading for anyone who actually believes that there was a woman called Eve who was given an apple by a snake.

  20. Ariel Ariel 3 October 2007

    here an interesting thought i had…

    i don’t know if it will be at all productive for the purposes of our conversation… but what if i said:

    “i don’t believe in atheists”

    prove to me that they exist…

  21. Marthinus Marthinus 3 October 2007

    Billy

    “See, if you’re still raising “did Jesus really exist at all” I must honestly question the extent to which you looked into things. ”

    What the hell are you talking about? There is no proof that Jesus existed at all. Why should I not be asking this question? Has it been answered in your opinion? Do you know something we don’t then please share it. The rest of the world is waiting in anticipation. Oh.. I get it.. It must be the Turin Shroud that convinced you. How stupid of me.

    “And brushing things off with “i’ve read most of the books”.. What books have you read exactly? What was weak about their points?”

    Billy, you don’t know me so please don’t make assumptions about what I have read or have not.

    “Martinus… Hope you doing well that side. Let me know when you hungry to read more books again. :)”

    Do you have any value to add to this debate or are you just going to be sanctimonious.

  22. Marthinus Marthinus 3 October 2007

    Oh, yes. If you want to address me then please have the decency to spell my name right, Billy.

  23. Jaxon Rice Jaxon Rice 3 October 2007

    Ariel – at the risk of sounding flippant, Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am) would be answer enough for me.

  24. Billy Billy 3 October 2007

    Marthinus (not Martinus)

    I apologise for getting your name wrong, it’s not a name I type a lot and my thoughts were more on my discussion than on your name. It irks me just as much when people call me Billie so I mean this apology! :)

    Ok, let’s start in the middle. I don’t know you, you’re right, (I think we picked that up when I spelt your name wrong) and I don’t know what books you’ve read – which is why I was asking you.. Which books have you read that you found weak arguments, and what was weak about them? If you’d rather not say, that’s ok – but I was just wanting to know. I wasn’t making any assumptions.

    Also, I wasn’t trying to be sanctimonious, you had implied that you’ve read all the books on the subject and they weren’t up to much. I was wondering if you were done with reading up on the topic. Sounds like you are.

    Now to the first bit. Did Jesus really exist.. Not a lot of digging on the topic will reveal there is ample evidence of his existance as a real person, in the place and time that the bible describes. This is actually generally accepted amongst secular and biblical historians, biblical scholars, and other lofty learned folks.

    But that aside, there are a few questions one can raise on this:

    – Can the biographies of Jesus (in the New Testament of the Bible) be trusted?
    – Do these biographies stand up to scrutiny?
    – Were they reliably preserved for us?
    – Is there credible evidence outside these biographies?
    – Does Archaeology confirm or contradict these biographies?

    I think I’ll delve into this a little when I form my response to Jarred’s challenge.

    To put it plainly, let me quote FF Bruce, Rylands professor of biblical criticism and exegenesis at the University of Manchester: “Some writers may toy with the fancy of a ‘Christ-myth’, but they do not do so on the grounds of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historacity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians which propogate the ‘Christ-myth’ theories”.

    This was the reason I asked if you’d looked into it. I wasn’t trying to be flippant. I was just shocked that as someone who has read loads of books on this, you would raise something like this.

    Ok, that being said – I don’t want this to turn into another thread of debate (PLEASE) – else I’ll never get done with my other assignment :)

    So for now, Marthinus, agree to disagree?

  25. matt matt 3 October 2007

    For me its pretty obvious God doesn’t exist. Empirically — look at all the suffering, inequality and mass murder that has been committed in God’s name now and throughout history. Forget whether its committed in God’s name or not, the fact that these atrocities happen at all on such a grand scale is indicative. I don’t buy the fact that this is all part of a plan.

    Also what about a non-christian brought up in deep rural Russia… someone who has never been exposed to christianity, but who is a kind, generous soul. Is that person condemned to hell? Maybe God will make a plan for him/her? But his/her future in heaven is less certain than a mass murderer who has had a turnaround in the last years of his or her life and then repents and is “reborn”. Doesn’t add up for me.

    On a deeper level — personally, I think things like “the soul” and “god” are unsophisticated and ancient ways of expressing things we know more about now (and still discovering) thanks to modern science — such as energy waves. Roughly equivalent to a “soul”, when you die energy passes from one form to another. Energy never dies, but just converts into a different form. Nothing religious, mystic or even ethereal here, just science.

  26. Ariel Ariel 4 October 2007

    hey jaxon…

    that might be proof enough for you… but we have already established in this debate that a personal testimony of something is not sufficient proof for it to be real…

    how are you going to prove it to me?

    show me the evidence that athiests exist…?

    oh, and lots of book sales is not a proof because again that is just people’s own personal beliefs. in fact – the bible is the best selling book of all time so it clearly never will be a proof.

    i think the closest you will ever get to objectively proving the existence of athiests is when you show me someone who dies and doesn’t have an belief or hope whatsoever in anything beyond… nothing… but how are you going to show me that convincingly anyway – because again – the matter of how they feel will again be a personal testimony.

  27. Ariel Ariel 4 October 2007

    so – just to explain what i meant to say cause it wasn’t clear

    define an athiest to be someone who doesn’t believe in god…

    jaxon says – i don’t believe in god. well that is jaxon’s own personal statement… how do i know what he is saying is true. where is the external evidence that you don’t believe in god?

    a believer in god says… god is real… well, that’s their own personal testimony? where is the external evidence

  28. Marthinus Marthinus 4 October 2007

    Ariel, I don’t agree. A believer in god does not say god is real. “believer n 1: a supporter who accepts something as true”. The emphasis on “accepts”. That does not imply proof. Conversely, someone who does not believe does not have to have proof that god does not exist. Someone that believes in god is using the same faith that someone uses when not believing.

  29. Jaxon Rice Jaxon Rice 4 October 2007

    Ariel, you obviously missed non-sequitur class at school, and I hate getting sucked into these things but here goes:

    Lets rather define an atheist as someone who rejects theism. It’s a small point, but it matters.

    Absolute proof is difficult, but there is a preponderance of evidence that atheists do exist. We could assemble interviews with professed atheists and perform polygraph tests to ensure the veracity of the information. Based on the evidence in favor of the existence of atheists, and the lack of any evidence to the contrary we could state with some certainty that they do indeed exist.

    Similarly we could state that theists also exist.

    When you say that you believe that god is real, it doesn’t make it suddenly real. All it makes you is a theist.

    I hope that makes sense.

  30. Jaxon Rice Jaxon Rice 4 October 2007

    Ariel – damn, I just realised that that non-sequitur comment may have come across as patronising and a bit spiteful.

    I apologise for that. It has no place in a healthy debate.

    Respectfully yours

    Jaxon

  31. Marthinus Marthinus 4 October 2007

    I found this particular article very interesting.

    Aristotle is usually totted around the most by some ignorant or misinformed person as having no contemporary evidence of his existence – as a standard if you will to suggest that Jesus should be considered to be on the same level of accepted historicity as Aristotle. However when comparing the list of evidences between the two, there is no compatibility. Here’s a brief list of the differences between Aristotle and Jesus:

    ARISTOTLE

    * 1. Facts about Aristotle’s life are not in question. We know when he was born, when he died (384-322 B.C.E), who his parents were, (Nicomachus – father – who was a physician to King Amyntas III, and Phaestis his mother) who his friends were and who his teacher was (Plato).

    * 2. Most importantly, over 45 works are attributed TO him, although some of those are said to be dictated by some of his students in one of his many schools which he taught at.

    * 3. Aristotle never claimed to be perfect, or a God, or even a son of a God. Nobody has a dogmatic philosophy on the life of Aristotle. If Aristotle didn’t exist, nobody’s world view would change.

    * 4. Aristotle changed the course of time, coming up with several new schools of thought, including new ways to look at math, science, philosophy, politics, and ethics. His original thoughts and views helped form and shape the politics of a world.

    * 5. Alexander the Great was taught by Aristotle.

    * 6. Every Greek philosopher and scientist throughout the ages has used Aristotle as a base for their works. Including Harpalus, Hephaestion, Nicomachus and Theophrastus. Even Aquinas used Aristotle.

    * 7. All of the information we have about Aristotle does not conflict with history.

    * 8. There is no reason to doubt the existence of Aristotle, because there is such a large amount of evidence for his existence, as well as nothing that conflicts with history and historical accounts of Aristotle and his life.

    JESUS

    * 1. Jesus’ early life is obscure. We do not know his birth date, or even the year. We don’t have the year of his death. If you are claiming Jesus was just a man, of course nothing exists to prove a natural birth so this evidence is non-existent. We know nothing of his childhood, save at 12, and then he vanishes again. And we know his parents first names.

    * 2. Jesus never wrote one book, one sentence, not even as much as a letter.

    * 3. Jesus claimed to be all three of these attributes, and more. And over 33 million people around the world follow the idea that Jesus was these attributes and more. If Jesus was shown not to exist, his message would be lost and people would no longer be Christian (Because the definition of a Christian is to believe in Christ as the Messiah, that he died for our sins).

    * 4. None of Jesus’ supposed teachings are original. Justin Martyr also admits to Trypho that Jesus’ teachings and that of the Christians were documented earlier in the Greek philosophies of Aristotle (ironically), Socrates, and Plato. All of the teachings of Jesus can be found in religions that existed hundreds if not thousands of years earlier. In John 1:1, a similar passage can be found in Heraclitus.

    * 5. No major figure in History ever had direct contact with Jesus. No historical commentary about any major figure in history ever places them near or around Jesus in any fashion. In all the volumes of Josephus, never once does it state that Herod murdered a great multitude of infants at the birth of some savior figure. Nor does it state anywhere that Pilate killed Jesus in any Roman record.

    * 6. No great work of science or philosophy ever came from Jesus, or one of Jesus’ followers. All are void of intelligent thought, and contain evidence of following in the footsteps of servitude.

    * 7. In the trial alone of Jesus, there contains anywhere from 14-27 infractions of Sanhedrin and Roman law. This does not include a large sum of historical contradictions outside of the trial, which traverse into the hundreds.

    * 8. In every aspect of Christ’s supposed life, there is reason to question his existence because of the errors, contradictions and fallacies not only within the Bible, but concerning the utter lack of evidence concerning the events of his life.

    And this is not the half of it. Aristotle not only wrote tomes of prose in his time, by his own hand, but also contemporary accounts exist of Aristotle. As Richard Carrier states on Aristotles contemporary accounts, “There is one fragmentary inscription dedicated to Aristotle still extant at Delphi that I believe was erected in his lifetime. We have substantial portions of the Elements of Harmonics by Aristoxenus, a contemporary of Aristotle, which mentions him briefly. Anaximenes of Lampsacus (not the presocratic of the same name), also a contemporary, wrote an Art of Rhetoric that survives, and it addresses Aristotle. Theophrastus was his pupil and contemporary and we have some few of his writings, but I don’t know off hand if they mention Aristotle by name. Isocrates was his contemporary and sometimes opponent and he may have mentioned him, too, but again I can’t say for sure if he ever actually names him in extant works. There was certainly a great deal of contemporary writing about Aristotle, but as far as I know little to none was preserved, except in later sources. TLG shows a few hundred contemporary, named references to Aristotle, which are cited or quoted by later authors.” Carrier also suggested a book, “Lloyd’s book “Aristotle” would probably say what else there is.”

    This is vital because we have NO accounts of contemporary evidence for Jesus. None. The earliest extant manuscripts for Jesus date to Paul, thirty years after Jesus supposedly died, written by a man who never met Jesus, knows nothing about him, or about any of his deeds, or miracles or speeches. Paul doesn’t attribute any words to Jesus nor does he seem to – in any fashion – refer to Jesus in a physical, literal sense.

    After Paul, we have a forty year gap of nothingness. At the very end of the first century CE, we have rumors (just rumors) of hearsay about a being Jesus. The earliest Gospel fragment we possess is the P52 fragment, and it’s barely a scrap of parchment from what appears to be John. But it’s too weak a source to use to compare. That is it. And when is this P52 fragment from? 130 CE and no earlier. That’s a hundred years after the supposed death of Christ. Now here’s the funny part, we have works from Aristotle that survived from 500 years before THAT, and yet we can’t find one contemporary account of a man who is said to have walked on water, and preformed all these miracles, or even rose from the dead?

  32. Simunza Simunza 4 October 2007

    @ Jared – Hi, looks like you really started something here!

    @Marthinus (is this correct?) – following your latest submission would equally mean that most African history did not happen simply because we didn’t write it down at the time like greek did in the time that Aristotle did. Freak!!! Maybe my great grandfather didn’t exist either…

  33. Ariel Ariel 4 October 2007

    hey Jaxon

    hmmmm… i agree :-)

    i was hoping you would carry on down the “i think therefore i am” line of things :-)

    i think the evidence that athiests exist is probably most convincing in their actions… if you can see the proof in someone’s life that they don’t believe in God.

    A good example was actually in “touching the void”. The guy had fallen down a glacier thing or something – i don’t know – but he was like about to die… and he said that looking back on it he didn’t once think about God and about maybe saying a prayer or something… he just tried to stay alive.

    I was just trying to mess with you guys a little bit :-)

    Oh, and no offense taken about the non-sequitur comment. To be honest – i don’t know what the hell that means anyways :-)

  34. Marthinus Marthinus 4 October 2007

    Simunza, I was responding to Billy’s comment:

    “Now to the first bit. Did Jesus really exist.. Not a lot of digging on the topic will reveal there is ample evidence of his existance as a real person, in the place and time that the bible describes. This is actually generally accepted amongst secular and biblical historians, biblical scholars, and other lofty learned folks.”

    The fact is there is no evidence to emphatically prove that Jesus did exist.

  35. Jarred Cinman Jarred Cinman Post author | 4 October 2007

    I think Marthinus’ point stands Simunza: there is actually NO evidence for the existence of Jesus. African history stands up to archaeological scrutiny, personal testimony from people still alive and is consistent with the geographical and cultural history of the continent. He is not arguing that writing things down is the tipping point.

    Ariel, I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone here that you’ve never heard of a non sequitur (that’s mean, I know, sorry, couldn’t resist).

  36. Ariel Ariel 4 October 2007

    why would you say that jarred?

  37. Andrew Andrew 4 October 2007

    ;-)

    Finally … a bit of humour

  38. Jarred Cinman Jarred Cinman Post author | 4 October 2007

    Ariel, relax dude. Philosopher’s joke, don’t take me so seriously.

  39. Ariel Ariel 5 October 2007

    :-)

  40. Ariel Ariel 5 October 2007

    An atheist was taking a walk through the woods one day and thought “What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!”.

    As he continued walking alongside the river he heard a rustling in the bushes. Turning to look, he saw a 7 foot grizzly charging towards him. He ran as fast as he could up the path. Looking over his shoulder he saw that the bear was closing in on him. His heart was pumping frantically as he tried to run even faster.

    Alas, he tripped and fell to the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up only to see the bear raising it’s paw to strike him dead. At that instant the atheist cried out: “Oh my God…”

    Time stopped.

    The bear froze.

    The forest fell silent.

    It was then that a bright light shone down upon the man and a voice came out of the sky saying: “You deny my existence for all of these years, teach others that I don’t exist, and even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer? The atheist looked directly into the light and spoke “It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps, could you make the BEAR a Christian?”

    “Very well,” said the voice.

    The light went out.

    And the sounds of the forest resumed.

    Then the bear lowered his paw, bowed his head and spoke: “Lord, bless this food which I am about to receive and for which I am truly thankful. Amen.”

  41. Jarred Cinman Jarred Cinman Post author | 5 October 2007

    That’s funny :) Somehow, the right tone to end this week’s intense discussion on.

    Have a good weekend all and sundry in whichever churches, synagogues, mosques — or free from such things — you plan to spend it.

  42. Jarred Cinman Jarred Cinman Post author | 9 October 2007

    I have a new piece on TL which starts to summarise my part of the argument.

  43. Noux Noux 13 November 2007

    Hi all

    Having read the interesting deviations that all of you have taken this thread along, it fills me with trepidation to enter at such a late stage when so much has been said, so I will try not to repeat what others have overdone.

    The two questions that led to this all, namely ‘Does GOD exist?, and is the Bible true?, lead this whole argument down the road from a distinctly Atheistic point of view.

    It seems to me that it is almost impossible for a religious person to fight the first question because as soon as you enter the fray you are immediately taking the opposing view to something that in your view does not exist! The definition of a person who is religious, is someone who BELIEVES that GOD exists. NOT a person who knows that GOD exists! By entering this argument it is like the well known saying ‘by arguing with a fool, you become one’.

    So I am not going to try and enter into the foolishness of arguing the point of whether GOD exists, because my own personal view is simply that. It is not your view and I don’t want to make my view yours! No one person can convince another that GOD exists, because by using standard HUMAN terms of reference you can only prove what you know, not what you believe.

    Entering into an argument over whether the bible is true is another thing entirely, and THAT can take you down many paths of foolishness. Many secular divisions exist within each and every religious sect which already shows the deep and divisive BELIEFS that show how many people have a view on whether the bible is true AND how much of it is simply a story.

    Does the view that the bible IS true add any value to the argument at all? I don’t think so, because the bibles value comes in it’s moral direction (enter the fray to attack it’s inconsistencies here!) Nevertheless looking at the opposing view, does the view that the bible is not true add any value? I don’t think so, because if you didn’t think it was true does this then mean that the people who use it reduce the value? no – effectively for the same reasons!

    During this whole discourse everyone except Jarred have confused religion and THE CHURCH. Do you suddenly become a bad Christian / Muslim / Jew if you don’t go to Church / Mosque / Shul? The answer lies in the point of view of the priest /Imam/Rabbi who will be secretly disappointed that you haven’t added to the coffers but does *GOD* care if you don’t go to church? If he exists in the form and benevolency that THE CHURCH says he does then surely not. Surely someone has noted that through the thousands of years that People in the name of GOD (through the church certainly in the Christian scheme of things) have committed atrocities. It was not following GOD’s WAY that made them do this. It was rather their interpretation or their (church).

    The next burning question that was not covered, is the statement that atheists are just plain right. Why? How can you ever prove that with logic when you are mixing belief with fact? An atheist says ‘GOD does not exist, prove to me that GOD exists’. A religious person says ‘I believe GOD exists’

    Please dear DOG (sic) how can you BOTH argue and not tell me at least one of you is confused? You are not on the same subject guys?!!

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