Answering Christian Mail

Maybe Zeus will remind you that you didn't believe in him when you die

Maybe Zeus will remind you that you didn’t believe in him when you die

Today I received an interesting email. I thought I’d share it with you (the reader) and attempt to answer the questions posed.

Let’s rock.

The e-mailer starts off with:

Your title: Godless cranium says a great deal about you and your decision to delete God from your life.  However, just willing God not to exist does not do so.  Look at creation.  It speaks volumes as to His existence.

I can’t really delete something I don’t believe exists. Just like you probably don’t feel that you deleted dragons and Santa from your life.

I find it ironic that you say wishing something to be true doesn’t make it true. I agree wholeheartedly with you. The same can be said for belief in God. Willing it (or wishing it) to be true doesn’t make it so.

If you have any evidence for your Gods existence, I’m all ears. Please share.

Oh, and thanks for noticing my blog title. I admit that I spent considerable time brainstorming. I wanted something easily remembered but suggestive of the material you’d likely find here if you decided to visit. I think Godless Cranium does the trick.

Man wants to be free of restrictions.  God’s Ten Commandments are not restrictions but protective injunctions that keep our relationships correct.  You have a right to your property, your good name, etc…

I think the Ten Commandments are bunk and I think they’re ethically questionable, since the punishment for some of them is death. If you live in a free country, the Ten Commandments would likely violate your constitution, since it demands you worship your God and no others. I think it’s telling that the Commandments address worshiping your God, but leave out slavery and rape.

In loving your wife and being faithful you are living according to His laws.  What is it about the existence of God that bothers you?  Is he detraining you?  Are you your own god?

I’m faithful and love my wife anyways, and I don’t need a supernatural deity for that.

I find your question interesting, since nothing about the existence of God bothers me because I don’t think it exists. I find the belief system (or at least large parts of it) troublesome because I think it teaches some unethical things. To me, the teachings of Christianity or any other religion have nothing to do with God and everything to do with the religions adherents and what their particular scriptures claim is true.

And no. I’m not my own God. I find the idea that I would worship myself as a God silly, to say the least.

A friend recently wrote this that you might well consider:

I am always amazed and amused by those who claim to be atheists. Everyone believes in some being more powerful than they. Some worship money, or power, or alcohol or sex etc. etc.

The “atheist” merely substitutes the real God for another god that he sees in the mirror. His rejection of God becomes his cause celebrate rejecting thousands of years of human religious history for his own concept of reality. Another “atheist” wrote and said that she did not need God. The problem with that it that God does not need her, and at the time of death may so inform her….and you.

I am always amazed and amused that people try to twist the word ‘worship’ and ‘religion’ until they’re basically meaningless.

I’d have to find out exactly what your friend meant. If they meant something more powerful, such as the universe itself or the sun or a black hole, then I agree there are many, many things more powerful than me. If he simply meant (as I suspect) a God of some type, they’d first have to define that God and its particular attributes, and then show evidence that it exists.

I don’t reject humanities religious history. I think it has some redeeming qualities and it filled a need – and in some ways it still does.

However, I think it’s time we moved past such mythologies and stop pretending they’re literally true.

The last part is a Pascal’s Wager.

Maybe your friend will die and find Odin staring back at them or one of the other thousands of Gods we’ve invented. I’m really not all that worried that a deity who supposedly knows everything or that has infinite power would concern himself enough with my non-belief to burn me for eternity. I find the notion absurd, especially if it’s also a benevolent deity.

Trying to bully me with threats isn’t what will convince me your God exists.

Evidence will.

 

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52 Comments

  1. Greetings,

    It has been a few days since we interacted. Hope all is well with you. I am curious would you say that W.K. Clifford was correct when he said that it is always wrong for everyone, everywhere, to accept a belief without sufficient evidence? I don’t want to assume this would be your view but suspect it nonetheless. Are there any examples of beliefs that you have that do not have sufficient evidences?

    Regards,

    BBG

    • Hi BBG. I am doing well and I hope you’re doing well also.

      Yes, I can think of an example.

      Say you told me you woke up this morning and had yogurt for breakfast. I would believe you because it’s a normal thing for many people to do. It also doesn’t affect me in any real manner.

      The next day you told me that you’d woken up, and eaten a yogurt for breakfast while doing a handstand one-handed.

      This would seem unusual, but also unnecessary and hard to do. I probably would need evidence to really believe it.I would probably ask for an explanation as well.

      But again, it’s possible. Just not likely in my book.

      The next day you told me that you woke up and ate your yogurt while walking on water. When you were finished, you raised a few dead pirates for company.

      I wouldn’t believe you. It would be unlikely to happen and you would need to break the laws of physics to do it. You would have to provide evidence for me to believe you.

      Some things require evidence. The more extrordinary the claim, the more evidence is required.

      Your religion would fall under the ‘needs extraordinary evidence’ banner quite easily.

      I hope that answers your question.

      • Thanks for the reply. So, in order to establish the veracity of a miracle you would need extraordinary evidence, fair enough. However, if I assert that there is a world that exists outside of your perception (or mine for that matter) wouldn’t that fall into the same category?

        Can you know for sure that the world exists outside of your perception? Would you take into account the testimony of those who have experienced the world as having sufficient warrant to accept this on the basis of the claim? In other words, this belief (x) is a properly basic belief that does not need empirical verification to accept this as a perfectly rational belief. I am not talking about God per se, just about the continued existence of the non-perceivable world. What evidence do you evaluate to conclude the rationality of this belief?

        • “Can you know for sure that the world exists outside of your perception? ”

          No.

          “Would you take into account the testimony of those who have experienced the world as having sufficient warrant to accept this on the basis of the claim?”

          I would believe they thought they had experienced another world.

          “In other words, this belief (x) is a properly basic belief that does not need empirical verification to accept this as a perfectly rational belief.”

          They might believe it, but eyewitness testimony is notoriously untrustworthy. I would have to examine each claim.

            • Oh, I misunderstood. I thought you were referring to another dimension or plane of existence.

              “You perceive the world, how do you know that the world continues to exist when you have no perception of it?”

              I’m not sure I understand your question. How do I know the Earth continues to exist?

              The same way you do, I suppose. Are you meaning that perhaps we’re dreaming or live in a computer program etc? How can we not know this is true and our current perception is flawed?

              Something like that?

              • “The same way you do, I suppose. Are you meaning that perhaps we’re dreaming or live in a computer program etc? How can we not know this is true and our current perception is flawed?”

                Yes, I suppose that is close enough. What evidence is there to establish that the world continues to exist outside of our perception of it? Could this be a basic belief that most of us share that requires no evidence?

                  • This is not a *word* salad, whatever that means. It is a significant philosophical problem and a genuine line of inquiry. If you do not have an answer very well, but dismissing it as a word salad does not answer the fundamental question. Not all beliefs have to have empirical evidence. In other words, some beliefs are perfectly reasonable even in the absence of evidence.

                    • Your philosophical question is only good for intellectual masturbation, since it doesn’t matter regardless, since the only reality we know is the one we’re experiencing. I’ve already said that not all beliefs need empirical evidence. The first line in my hypothetical example showed that. However, if you make large claims about reality, then yes, you’re going to have to provide evidence.

                      If we are indeed in a computer program, you’d have to demonstrate that as well before I’d believe it because you or anyone else ‘says so’.

  2. “Everyone believes in some being more powerful than they.” That little snippet from your email interlocutor’s friend is a regurgitated argument I heard all the time when I went to church. What is assumed is that everyone believes in an idea more powerful than they, and that idea is treated as a being. Christians in particular “know” that being is supposed to be God, so it somehow follows that anyone who does not share in that knowledge is in error.

    Not surprisingly, it’s used mainly with children young enough to believe in invisible sky wizards without needing evidence, so they don’t catch the missing piece of the puzzle. Here’s the worst part of it: it’s reasoning that is used to keep the faithful in line. Like a bad joke it keeps getting repeated to bolster belief and reject reason.

    I think you did a great job of responding to the points raised in the email.

    • Very true. It is an often repeated argument, which is why it needs to be challenged, in my opinion.

      I think for many theists, God is their default position. They can’t imagine anyone not believing in God. So if someone doesn’t believe in God, they reason that the hole that belief should reside in has to be filled by another belief.

      You can often hear theists say they don’t even believe atheists exist.

      Thank you for your comment and for taking the time to read my post.

    • “The first line in my hypothetical example showed that. However, if you make large claims about reality, then yes, you’re going to have to provide evidence.”

      Precisely, one “large” claim about reality is the continued existence of the non-perceptible world. One that Hume thought was insurmountable based on experience. He believed in the existence of the external world, as do I but he there is _no_evidence that can establish this as a matter of fact. Your example and the subsequent dialogue has demonstrated at least to my satisfaction that you either 1) reject the existence of the external world 2) you accept this without recourse to evidence. You can call this a mental menage a’ trios for all I care, this does nothing to change the fact that there are rather large claims about reality that will always remain rational without evidential confirmation.

      • I do agree that some concepts are made and accepted without full logical, philosophical, or other argumentative proof. However, there is a fundamental difference between the concept that the world exists outside my perception and the concept that a supernatural deity exists and intervenes in its creation.

        The first concept has circumstantial physical, non-testimonial evidence that is testable by other scientific theory to support it. For example, if I drink half of a bottle of water and leave it on my desk overnight, when I wake up the next day I can examine the bottle and conclude it has been unmolested. If I’m feeling particularly skeptical, I can have the water and bottle tested for sameness to ensure it is healthy and unchanged from when I opened it the previous night. While not ultimately determinative of the world existing outside my perception, it can support a proposition that the world still happens without me having to witness it.

        By contrast the second concept relies on testimonial evidence that is untestable. While some people claim to have prayed about small matters and had those prayers answered, it is just as reasonable to conclude natural forces affected the outcome as supernatural ones. An example here is when someone prays for a job interview. God might have had His hand in it, but it is also reasonable to conclude that the people in charge of hiring made a reasoned decision in asking that person to interview.

        I am an Atheist. While I do not have definitive evidence that no supernatural beings, gods, or God exists, I do have enough circumstantial evidence of the world around me to support the proposition that no deity interferes in the natural world.

        • Surely you see that this example does not obtain. First, you are appealing to a criteria of verifiability that does not bear upon 1) the continued existence of the non-perceptible world and 2) This entails only the existence of the bottle and the contents *when they are being perceived*. You cannot *test* nor appeal to any particular evidence to establish the continued existence of the world, only something that is peripheral to that existence. Assuming that your cognitive abilities are not impaired you take the existence of the non-perceptible world as a properly basic belief. It is irrational to say that this belief rests upon some other criteria. You and I assume the continued existence of the world as a basic belief given the proper function of our noetic structure.

          • I would disagree that it is irrational to base a belief on circumstantial evidence. Of course, my original reply to you did assume that my perception was unimpaired, but I did not assume that it was the product of a third party Matrix or brain-in-a-vat. I used the water bottle as “peripheral” evidence because that is the best evidence I can provide that is not testimonial in nature and that other people can perceive and test. And it does test whether the non-perceived world exists because it is a physical object that goes from a state of being perceived, to not being perceived, and then I have to make a prediction relying on its continued existence to bring it back into my perception. More importantly, I rely on this evidence every time I look for anything that is outside my perception(like my car keys, a cup to put a drink in, the TV, or even the computer I’m typing this on).

            This evidence is circumstantial because it does not rule out all other causes of the water bottle’s existence. Therefore, you are correct in stating I cannot ultimately with 100% certainty prove we’re not in the Matrix. But just because I cannot rule out every cause does not mean it is unreasonable to rely on the evidence at hand. All it means is that I am making a decision based on what reliable evidence I have available, and that is more reasonable to me than holding a position that none of this is real without any evidence other than the idea itself to support it.

            • I think perhaps there is a misunderstanding as to what is being argued. I am arguing that the non-perceptible world is a properly basic belief. It neither requires evidences nor can it be established by an appeal to evidence. This was Hume’s gap; there is no reason to say that the world ceases to exist when it is no longer being perceived. This would be utterly irrational and most people with normal cognition do not so assert.

              Any evidence proffered is merely tertiary and therefore does not bear upon the original premise that 1) it is perfectly reasonable on our parts to assume the world continues to exist and 2) Some beliefs require/have no evidential support.

              You can offer any number of evidences you like, none of these provide the sufficient condition upon which the belief can rest. If appealing to a bottle of Dasani makes someone feel better, good for them. It cannot be proved demonstrably that the water bottle exists. I take your experience in responding to my comments in much the same way, a properly basic belief that you are 1)human 2) have a mind 3) are typing this from a computer located on earth and are living in the year 2014, even though I have little or no evidential support for these beliefs.

              • I apologize if I have raised any misconception as to what the point under discussion is. Your assertion that some beliefs require or have no evidential support is well taken. However, I am asserting that there is evidence that the non-perceived world continues to exist. I understand that there can be an objection to my assertion on the grounds that my perception could be unknowably false, and that is why I referred to a brain-in-a-vat and the Matrix. Ultimately the point I am raising is that beliefs require some sort of evidence(even if the evidence is contested or not preferred). To use Godless Cranium’s example, even in the scenario supposedly requiring no evidential support, that determination is made based on other evidence previously taken in–that is, to make the determination that you are making a reasonable claim.

                There is a great room for misconception here because both of our positions are well-made, and truly the major point of discord is in the second conclusion(that some beliefs require/have no evidence) rather than the first conclusion(that it is reasonable to believe the world continues to exist). I understand that the support I offer does not defeat the ultimate test of knowing that the so-called water bottle truly exists, but I do refer to it nonetheless because it is symbolic of the greater idea that I can make predictions about the non-perceived world and act upon them reliably. Or, to put it differently, my evidence can support a conclusion but does not require a conclusion to be reached.

                That being said, I wish to take this opportunity to thank Godless Cranium for having this thread on his blog. It was not my wish to take up so much space on another’s blog, and I am grateful for having the chance to make my point. Also, thank you Blogginbaldguy for a good discussion. Regardless of whether people agree or disagree with the points made, I hope they feel they have benefitted from the discussion itself.

                • “However, I am asserting that there is evidence that the non-perceived world continues to exist. I understand that there can be an objection to my assertion on the grounds that my perception could be unknowably false, and that is why I referred to a brain-in-a-vat and the Matrix. Ultimately the point I am raising is that beliefs require some sort of evidence(even if the evidence is contested or not preferred).”

                  1) Belief in the continued non-perceptible world is perfectly rational. I have never argued that it is not. 2) Provide the evidence [empirically] that does not lead to an infinite regress.

                  The Major Premise is being conflated with the Minor Premise. The major premise is 1) Not all beliefs have to be justified [this is a philosophical term that refers to warrant and justification of beliefs] This is in contradistinction to what atheist philosophers such as W.K. Clifford, J.L. Mackie et al. have written about “everything, everywhere, for anyone needing sufficient evidence to be believed”

                  This is a categorical statement that cannot bear the weight of epistemic justification needed to universalize such a notion.

                  The minor premise is that certain beliefs i.e. the continued existence of the non-perceptible world prove the major premise and thus negate the categorical assertion of Clifford. It is philosophically untenable to appeal to evidence in this case. When an atheist tries to argue that all beliefs, everywhere, about everything have to have evidential justification it demonstrates a dogmatic unwillingness to admit that all “knowledge” does not have to be empirically verified. This is a textbook case of cognitive dissonance.

  3. What an interesting article and the comments equally so. I think what you wrote in your last comment to Sirius fits my beliefs, that people ‘need a God’ they have been brought up believing, or have come to that opinion of their own volition. As I said, I’m not religious, (hopefully I won’t be shot down in flames) for even saying that. A God or no God, religion will remain for those who are believers, as much as Atheists will continue to believe otherwise. Glad to see that your readers for the most part have replied to your post intellectually (albeit the email you received) and with rational responses.

  4. I studied this stuff in college. It IS meaningless but I suppose some of us have to work our way through it to discover that. We all believe what we believe for whatever reasons we believe it. No one can make anyone believe anything unless they choose to do so. I try to keep an open mind … but ain’t easy. So many mean-spirited people trying to tell me about God.

  5. All of this discussion seems kinda pointless in a way, unless i can show up at your doorstep with God and he brings the dead back to life by just speaking it nothing else is gonna make you believe. The simple fact is if you dont wanna believe something you wont. And no amount of talking or eye witness accounts or miracles will ever change your mind. But if i was going to compare God to something else invisible to prove a point it would be love, you can not see love, touch it, or prove it, but you know that its there.

    • Hi Diana. I disagree. Free discussions are never pointless in my opinion.

      You’re also assuming people don’t want to believe, relegating the non-belief to a sort of stubbornness, rather than a reasoned position we’ve arrived at. Maybe even partially from having or seeing discussions like this one.

      I think it would take considerably less than a raising from the dead to change my mind. An all powerful deity would know though, and be able to convince me easily.

      I’ve never witnessed a miracle.

      If eye witness accounts were sufficient evidence, alien abduction would be a shoe in.

  6. RE the Hume discussion: I find sufficient tangible evidence to personally believe the world as I perceive it continues to exist outside my perception. Seems like an omniscient god could provide sufficient tangible evidence to the afterlife but hasn’t.

    Word salad – I love it.

  7. Pingback: What’s Love Got To Do With It? | Godless Cranium

  8. I appreciate your honesty and transparency. Thank you for honoring believers in God by holding them to higher standard.
    “Trying to bully me with threats isn’t what will convince me your God exists.
    Evidence will.”
    Ay, that’s a good challenge right there. I like it.

  9. Pingback: Imaginary Constructs | Amusing Nonsense

  10. Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:
    “I find the notion absurd, especially if it’s also a benevolent deity.”

    My deity isn’t so benevolent, at least to human understanding. If God isn’t made up to keep people nice, it is likely God doesn’t care about human notions of niceness. But yes, the Ten Commandments are contradictory. Not committing fornication and not committing abortion require early marriage, which requires taking stuff from others, be it with taxes, be it with invading someone else’s territory.

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