The Atheism FAQ

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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 1

What do Atheists believe?


Everyone believes in something. What do Atheists believe in?

Actually, some people do try to avoid having beliefs of any sort. Such people are called "rationalists" or "skeptics". Holding a "belief", in this sense of the word, means "attributing more certainty to a statement than you can justify using objective evidence". Skeptics tend not to hold beliefs in UFOs, ghosts, Elvis sightings, and many other things.
But you're right. Not all atheists are skeptics about everything. What the group of people referred to as "atheists" have in common is that they don't hold a belief in existence of supernatural deities.

Why is there even a name for that?

Because theologans came up with one. If academics started studying Elvis sightings, one of them would probably come up with a specific name for people who didn't hold a belief in Elvis still being alive.

So, Atheists believe that the God doesn't exist?

No, that would also be a belief. There is no absolute objective proof that a supernatural deity of some form doesn't exist, just as there is no conclusive proof that nowhere in the Universe does there exist a thousand mile high statue of Mickey Mouse - nobody has searched every planet around every star to check for the absence of such a statue so, until they have, there is always a very very small remote possibility.

Does that mean Atheists are the same as Agnostics?

Technically an Agnostic might think there is some evidence suggesting the existence of a supernatural deity, just not be 100% convinced. Though in practice, many think it is unknowable. It is quite possible to be both atheist and agnostic, and some use the phrase "toothy-fairy agnostic" to indicate which end of the agnostic spectrum they are.

But what is the point of life, if you don't believe in God?

Religion is not the only source of morality or purpose. Philosophers have advocated various ideas on how one should live, ever since Plato and the Ancient Greeks. Without one authorative source telling you what to do, you have to make up your own mind about which sources make sense, just like in the rest of life. That doesn't mean the truth is not out there and everything is relative - in fact there is a lot of agreement over basic morality.

Atheists think religion is useless, then?

Not necessarily. Not all religions or branches within a religion require a belief in supernatural deities. Some Atheists identify as being Secular Humanists, Unitarians or certain types of Buddhist, for example; and go along to meetings of their religion as a practical way to organise communal effort to do good in the world.

But if Atheists are not against religion, why do all Atheists attack religion?

They don't. Some Atheists support particular (non theistic) religions, and most don't care one way or the other about their neighbour's religious beliefs. It is just that you're more likely to notice the few who do.

Ok, but why do some Atheists attack believers?

They don't. When was the last time you read about an Atheist strapping explosives to their chest, stepping into a Church, and shouting "Die in the name of Atheism" ? Physical attacks are incredibly rare, and it is important to distinguish between physically attacking someone, and just mocking or disagreeing with their views verbally. It is important to make this distinction because it is NOT rare for believers to commit acts of violence in the name of their religion. Such acts fill the newspapers every day, and it is unfair to tar Atheists with that brush.

*sigh* Why do some Atheists verbally attack the religious beliefs of some believers? We don't do any harm. Why won't they just leave us alone?

Of the small number of Atheists who do care about the issue enough to question the beliefs of others, different Atheists have different approaches and reasons.

Some Atheists used to be believers, before they wised up. They have the zeal of the convert, and are convinced that their previous faith was manipulative and harmful to those who supported it. They are out to free their bretheren from the chains of oppression, and see the pain of having a belief questioned as something the victims need to go through for their own good, like foul tasting medicine. (Most commonly seen in ex-Catholics, ex-Fundamentalists and ex-Scientologists.)

Some Atheists see supernatural Religion, as a whole, as being one of humanity's biggest mis-steps. They perceive the net effect of supernatural belief as having had a harmful effect upon history and society. They don't deny that some good comes out of it, but when they look at the past and the effect of religion in other countries, they think the good is outweighed by evils like priests torturing small children in Africa because they think the children might be witches. They want to get rid of such supernatural nonsense; lock, stock and barrel.

And some Atheists oppose specific actions by specific believers or types of believer, that have caused harm to themselves or those they care about. Examples include physical attacks by homophobes, early morning weekend door to door preaching, calling all Atheists pedophiles and satanists (of the rumoured 'eat your baby' sort), organising campaigns to alter the science curriculum in local schools, scaring children at Halloween with pamphlets threatening hellfire, and general rudeness.

Yes, but I didn't do any of that. I don't torture children or even be rude to Atheists online so it is well out of order to question things that I hold sacred - that have as deep an emotional connection to me as my children. Why can't Atheists just be polite?

Most of them are. However, this is a discussion forum. Why should your religious beliefs get a free pass, when no other sort of belief does? If you really can't stand your beliefs being questioned, don't post here.
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 2

Do Atheists worship Satan?

No, Atheists don't worship any supernatural being.

There is a form of Satanism created by Anton La Vey that is another one of those religions that doesn't actually hold that the supernatural exists, and some Atheists belong to that, but they're a tiny minority. Atheists do not, as a general rule, go around dressing up in robes at midnight to sacrifice babies any more than Christians, Jews or Muslims do.

Are Atheists evil witches?

No, Atheists do not have supernatural demon granted powers to cast evil spells that affect reality.

There are some wiccans and pagans who call themselves witches, and some of them think of their mother nature Goddess as more of a metaphor than a supernatural deity, which would allow them to count as Atheists, but they're a tiny minority of Atheists. And those sort of witches are no more evil, on average, than the general run of Christians, Jews or Muslims.

Are Atheists Nazis?

Despite the claim by the pope, there is a very real difference between wishing people would voluntarily stop holding a belief in the existence of supernatural deities, and shooting people in order to suppress a particular church that is an inconvenient obstacle on your path to world domination. Being an Atheist does NOT automatically make you want to dress up in black leather and march around shooting people.

Were Nazis Atheists?

Some religious people like to claim that their holy text preaches being nice and that therefore anyone who isn't nice is not following the holy text and therefore should not be counted as a member of their religion which, by definition, would leave all the nasty people in the world counting as Atheists. This is a named logical fallacy: No True Scotsman.

In fact people are quite capable of being irrational and believing one thing, while carrying out actions that are incompatible with those beliefs. Indeed if they weren't then churches would not have the concepts of "sin" and "forgiveness", because all their followers would behave perfectly.

Hitlers actions were indeed evil (if not totally insane) and absolutely incompatible with the moral teachings of all known sacred texts. However, none the less, that doesn't mean he didn't hold a belief in the existence of supernatural higher powers.

As for the general run of his followers, the individual members of the Nazi party were not executed after Germany surrendered. They mostly quietly went back to living lives as ordinary citizens, and it is notable that Germany is a Christian country, not an Atheist one.

Were Communists Atheists?

Theoretically. Certainly Stalin was. As has been demonstrated by the dissolution of the USSR, though, banning churches had no effect on whether the individual people in the country remained believers, so one has to conclude that most of the members of the Russian communist party were actually members of the Russian Orthodox christian faith.

Stalin himself was an egomaniac, whose main strategy was to crush any opposition to his hold on absolute power by any means available. Since organised religion was focus for people's allegiance that competed with his communist party, he saw it as a threat to his power, and did indeed target religion, destroying churches and killing priests. But it seems likely that his motivation for doing this was not the cause of Atheism since, the moment it looked like having a religion around would be actually useful and support his power, he immediately reinstated the Russian Orthodox church as the official state supported religion.

Do Atheists have no morals?

Some Christians define "having morals" as meaning being against masturbation, S*x before marriage, homosexuality and abortion under any circumstances. In that sense of the word, most Atheists have no morals.

Reasonable people define "having morals" as meaning that the person hold various types of action (such as lying, cheating, breaking promises, theft and murder) to be not just unwise or illegal but actually wrong. In that sense of the word, Atheists are on average at least as moral as any other group in society.

Where do Atheists get their morals from, without a God to define good and evil for them?

The same way humans always have. By looking at the evidence and making up their own minds. For example the Golden Rule was around long before the Bible was written, and appears in the works of most Atheist greek philosophers.

Would your average Christian immediately cheat on their spouse or go on a murder spree if they stopped believing that they might go to hell for doing so?

Are Atheists nicer than average?

They are less likely to end up in prison, and more likely to donate to charity than people who hold a belief in the existence of a supernatural deity.

However this could be just because people who don't care about things are less likely to go to the trouble of thinking through their beliefs and actually coming out as Atheist, rather than remaining fuzzy.

Are Atheists smarter or better educated than average?

The longer someone spends studying science, the more likely they are to be an Atheist. Less than 10% of the members of the US National Academy of Sciences believe in a personal god.

There is a negative correlation between the average religiosity of the people in a country, and their average IQ.

However correlation is not the same thing as causation, so this could be caused by a third factor such as poverty.

Why did the Atheists turn Universities into godless indoctrination centres?

Because they win a free microwave oven for every god-fearing Christian they manage to delude onto the path of Satan.

Or, just possibly, because the aim of a University is to expose a person's mind to new ideas, and teach them to think clearly; so a person going to University is more likely than average to discard irrational ideas they were indoctrinated into as a child.

Why are the Atheist Illuminati plotting a New World Order?

*shh* that's meant to be a secret.

Remember, Atheism is not a religion. There are no organised places that Atheists all go to in order to meet each other. They have no way to all conspire together in secret. While no doubt there are organisations in this world that work towards various ends, you can't assume that said organisations are doing things in the name of Atheism just because they are not explicitly Christian in nature, any more than a garden gnome fanciers club plays with plastic lawn ornaments to further the cause of Atheism.

How do I come out as an Atheist to my parents?

This is a hard question. For a devout believer, being told their child doesn't accept Jesus Christ as their personal saviour is equivalent to hearing "Hey Dad, I've just decided to chop both my legs off then set myself on fire.". And, if they don't understand what Atheism is, they may understand it to mean "I have no morals, worship Satan, hate God and hate you."

So telling their parents that they are not just going through a phase of doubting, and they are actually Atheist, can be a nerve-wracking experience for a child, since they love their parents and don't want to spoil the relationship.

There is no one good way to do this, or any way that is guaranteed to have a happy result. I would suggest trying to correct beforehand as many misconceptions about Atheism as possible. If you like, leave a copy of this FAQ around somewhere they can find it.

What do I do if my child comes out to me as an Atheist?

If you have just found a copy of this FAQ in your child's bedroom, DON'T PANIC. They might just be interested in the subject and trying to find out more.

But would it really be so bad if they had become an Atheist? They are still the same lovely person that you raised and shaped. They haven't changed their opinion about whether people should be nice to each other, just about the reason for doing so. Indeed there Christian Atheists who don't believe in the supernatural, but who do believe in following the moral teachings of Jesus and who still count themselves as Christians. Would God really reject such people, when he didn't condemn Thomas for doubting?

Saint Francis of Assisi said a good Christian should preach the Gospel at all times, but use words to do so only when necessary. What example do you wish to set your child of how a loving Christian behaves towards their child?

Was everybody born an Atheist?

Yes. Children are not born believing in Christianity or Islam, any more than they are born believing in the virtues of sound economic policy or in the skill of a particular football team.

Atheism is not a belief. It is a lack of one, and so therefore the default state.

Where can I find out more? ... intro.html ... m/atheism/ ... econverted ... _index.htm
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 3

What do others say about Atheism?

"I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots."
-- George W. Bush

"just as ATHEISTS do not see fit to acknowledge God, God has given them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful"
-- Robert T. Lee

"outright rejection of God and institutionalizing of atheism actually does produce evil on incredible levels. We're talking about tens of millions of people as a result of the rejection of God"
--Gregory Koukl

(talking about a highway sign saying "ADOPT-A-HIGHWAY : ATHEISTS UNITED ")
"A physical sign. It could have easily said 'You will now be attacked by Satan.' 'Entering this industry, you are now on the highway to darkness...'"
--Billy Ray Cyrus

“On one front, you have a secular, atheist, elitism. And on the other front, you have radical Islamists. And both groups would like to eliminate our civilization if they could. For different reasons, but with equal passion.”
--Newt Gingrich

"atheism is evil"
--Statement subscribed to and agreed with by thousands of people liking the facebook I-hate-Atheism page

"It’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!"
--Rep. Monique Davis

What do other Atheists say?

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

"The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church."
--Ferdinand Magellan

"Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer."

“Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear”
--Thomas Jefferson

"I belive in God, only I spell it Nature"
--Frank Lloyd Wright

"Which is it, is man one of God's blunders or is God one of man's?"
--Friedrich Nietzsche

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
--Douglas Adams

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
--Stephen Roberts

"We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes."
--Gene Roddenberry

"Science adjusts its views
Based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observation,
So that belief can be preserved."
--Tim Minchin

"Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, S*x, Jell-o, and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have."
--Penn Jillette

"Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man -- living in the sky -- who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do.. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! ..But He loves you."
--George Carlin

"The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so."
--Robert G. Ingersoll

What are some good books on the subject?

"The God Delusion", by Richard Dawkins
"God is Not Great", by Christopher Hitchens
"Why I am not a Christian", by Bertrand Russell.
"Letter To A Christian Nation", by Sam Harris
"Breaking the Spell", by Daniel Dennett
"Your Inner Fish", by Neil Shubin
"Letters from Earth", by Mark Twain.
"Small Gods", by Terry Pratchett.
"Critiques of God: Making the Case Against Belief in God", by Peter Adam Angeles
"In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion", by Scott Atran

What are some good videos on the subject?, by Richard Dawkins, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, by Penn Jillette, by Mr Deity
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 4

Why did you write this FAQ?

Over the last 2 years I've participated in many threads in different CafeMom groups, on topics related to Atheism. I noticed that I was spending a lot of time writing long careful replies to questions I'd already answered two or three times before in previous threads. Often questions that take only a second or two to ask, and that the questioner never even bothers to read the answers to. Rather than give poor short answers or leave these questions unanswered, because sometimes they are asked sincerely, a while back I went over past threads and collected together all my answers to repeated questions and put them into one document.

You said "wised up". Why are you being so mean and sarcastic?

In a desperate attempt not to bore the socks off everyone, I have written this FAQ in the form of a Socratic Dialog. The persona of the character taking the part of the Atheist answer the questions is sometimes a little sarcastic, but their replies are intended to resonate - to be recognisable as the authentic voice of the Atheists they are speaking on behalf of. And in that particular question "wised up" is how an ex-scientologist would see it.

Ok, but why did you post this FAQ? I asked a simple short question, and I was sincerely hoping for personal responses. You've blasted out this long impersonal FAQ. You're boring me!

This FAQ is my personal hand-written response. Because it is in the form of a dialog, it is a bit hard to extract small portions without losing context and previously defined terms. I figure that if it answers additional questions you didn't ask as well as the one you did, no harm done; and where one person is asking a question, there are probably others who considered asking it and who might appreciate a full answer. Sorry if I bored you. If I have confused you, however, or failed to answer your precise question fully, please do expand on your question and ask for more detail.

But hang on, didn't you just claim to be speaking on behalf of all Atheists?

No, of course not. There is no Atheist leader or pope. And if there were, I wouldn't want the post. Too much danger of assassination. I speak for myself, except where I have explicitly attributed a statement otherwise. However it is notable that this FAQ has been circulating for over a year, in atheist groups and others here on CafeMom, with little objection from other Atheists.

For that matter, why do Atheists post at all?

I post because I enjoy doing so. I'm a teacher, and enjoy educating people. I mentioned in an earlier answer some of the reasons other Atheists have for speaking against religion, but another reason to post about Atheism is to combat the artificial sense of isolation which can be created even in a room full of Atheists if none of them speak up and identify as being Atheist.

I have a theory that so-called "Atheists" still at least partially believe in God. If they were secure in their Atheism, they wouldn't feel a need to defend it. Isn't all this anger and hatred just a sign that your real motivation for wanting to reject God is because you fear his wrath and want an excuse to be selfishly disobedient to his will without having to burn in hell?

You have, perhaps, been confused by Epicurus' riddle, which examines the problem of evil by considering the hypothetical nature a God would have to have if he existed. Atheists neither hate nor fear "God" in the sense of the purported supernatural deity worshipped by the Abrahamic religions, because they don't hold a belief in His existence. It would be like being afraid of Sauron, Lord Voldemort or Daleks. They may make the hypothetical statement that they would hate Him (or consider him unworthy of fealty) if he existed. They may hate the concept, or still have superstitious fears in the same way a child will hide behind the couch when Daleks appear, even though they know Daleks are fictional, just through cultural indoctrination. But that's different from actually believing He is real, rather than a creation of the human mind.

Yes, but I've heard Atheists say "Oh, God!", "Damn it to hell", "Bless you" and such like. Don't they say there are no atheists in foxholes, and that everyone fears damnation when they are on their death bed?

If you do a bit of research on minced oaths, you'll find that several of the things you say (like "drat") have derivations that date back to pagan times. Does that mean you believe in Odin? There are, in fact, plenty of Atheists in foxholes. They even have their own website ( I refer you to Christoper Hitchens' answer about deathbeds:

So you're 100% totally utterly convinced that God doesn't exist?

Some Atheists will give an unadorned "yes" in response to that question. I'm a philosopher and a scientist. I'm happy dealing with small numbers. Not just 1 in 100, or 1 in a million, but numbers like 1 in 10^1080 (the estimated number of atoms in the observable universe), which is a 1 followed by 1080 zeros. So I prefer the more pedantic answer, which is that while I'm not 100% convinced of anything outside the realms of pure mathematics and logic, I'm at least as convinced that God doesn't exist as I am that the Earth is not resting on the back of a giant turtle or that my standing in front of a speeding car is generally a bad idea. So my reply is "yes, for all practical purposes".

Ah ha! So there is some doubt in your mind. In that case, I have this amazingly convincing argument you simply must hear. If you accept Christ into your life and He turns out not to exist, you've not lost anything. Whereas if you don't and He does exist, then you've lost an infinite amount. Surely as a mathematician you must acknowledge that if you have any doubt at all, however small, as long as it is finite, then a finite times an infinite is an infinite, so it is therefore in your best interests to believe?

This argument was first stated by Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician who pioneered much of probability theory, including expected values. What you need to understand is that, while you might find a particular argument convincing, that doesn't mean other people will. And it isn't because they are stupid or pig headed. If you go into a discussion convinced that you have a crushing argument and that they can't have come across it before (otherwise they'd already have been persuaded) you are in for a disappointment. There are a small number of 'set piece' arguments beloved of evangelical Christians, that most Atheists have heard many times before. "Pascal's Wager" is one of these, and you are very unlikely to be the first person presenting it. So please, have a little humility, and possibly even do a bit of research to find out the most common objections to your argument, before presenting it.

Yes, but I have to present every argument I can, even those that are likely flawed or doomed to failure, because I have to try my hardest to convert you. Christ gave Christians a Great Commission to spread the Good News.

Did he tell you that you have to go about it in a stupid way? I won't try to persuade you here that you are incorrect in your interpretation of what Matthew 28:19 requires you to do. You are responsible for your own actions, and the consequences to the reputation of Christianity as a whole. Many Atheists will respond "Stop trying to convert me!", because they are bored with the whole thing and find it pointless. Personally I say "Go ahead, if that's what you enjoy, but if you want to engage my attention try to go about it intelligently, and please stick to the netiquette of the particular group you are in, or you're going to annoy everyone.". In fact I even coordinated members of several groups, both Christian and non-Christian, to assemble a separate FAQ giving advice to Christians on ways of carrying out the Great Commission that have proven to be most effective on CafeMom at actually converting people.

I believe! That's why I do things. Why do you bother trying to convert me? You don't believe in anything. You said so.

Yes, you believe. I get it. But that's not the only motivation people have for their actions. Please note the definition of "believe" that I gave at the start of the first part of this FAQ. Your beliefs affect your actions, and your actions affect other people. I care about what happens to people, therefore I care about your beliefs.

Is that why you're so negative? Why can't you make this FAQ be about the positive aspects of Atheism, or at least keep it general? Why do you have to keep singling out Christianity? And those books and videos you linked to were even worse.

More CafeMom posters belong to Christianity than another other religion. An FAQ document, by its nature, is shaped by the questions that get asked, and a majority of the questions asked of Atheists on CafeMom are asked from a Christian perspective. It is usually not possible to answer a question about why you are not convinced by someone's argument without being negative in some way.

If you wanted to be positive, couldn't you just present your story of how humans and the world came about? I look at the world and I see so much that science has not explained. That's why I believe in God. If you want to persuade me to stop believing, the onus is on you to provide a complete alternative explanation for everything The Bible explains to me.

I might well address specific questions about the positive story that science tells, which Atheists frequently get asked about, in a future part of this FAQ. But I'd like to start by referring you to Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about The God of The Gaps:

You have not convinced me. What about the atheist bus campaign? You say Atheists are only negative about Christianity in response to Christians doing stuff first, but how is saying "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake." a comparable response to "There definitely is a God."? Atheists have to spend real money to put these slogans on buses, and they can't be doing it because they enjoy discussion. So why do it? Do they have a "bible" to go by?

Yes, they do have to spend real money. More, in fact, than the Christians do, because the bus company's insurer says Christians are more likely to vandalise Atheists buses than Atheists are to vandalise Christian buses.

No, Atheists do not have a single authoritative holy text upon which they all agree upon and defer to.

Humans have evolved a variety of instincts. In various situations some of these are generally altruistic on an individual level (such as a mother's instinct to sacrifice to protect her children), and some of these tend to be more selfish or, in some circumstances, even destructive or self-destructive.

So no, people in general just don't need a holy book to cause them to do things, even altruistic things. It's just human nature to be that way.

Yes, but what specifically motivated the particular Atheists who contributed money to that campaign?

Some were hoping to speak to those who are culturally Christian; those who don't actually believe, but hadn't thought of admitting it to themselves or others. Those Atheists feel that religion is on par with Communism or smoking. Something irrational that, on average, blights lives and harms society.

But mostly people gave money for that very human reason: feeling isolated. The original journalist who sparked the idea, Ariane Sherine ( ... t.religion) did it from frustration at the inequality whereby she was surrounded by Christian messages on buses, but felt lonely walking down the street, not knowing if anyone around her was an Atheist, or if she was the sole Atheist in a city of a million people, not daring to stand on a soap box and shout to the world "I don't believe! Who's with me?" because that sort of thing is generally frowned upon. Atheists know that when they meet a fellow mind and actually are lucky enough to learn from them that they are far from alone, it makes them feel less lonely, less isolated, less like a lone voice of rationality screaming into the dark of night against teeming gibbering hoards. So they want to share that positive feeling, help other Atheists feel it by letting those others know that they too are not alone.

What's the point of arguing? You have your story and I have mine. They are both theories, and so are just as likely as each other. I find mine more persuasive. You can't prove anything, so it is all just opinion. Why can't you be open minded? Why do I have to accept your truth? Why can't you let me have my truth and be done with it?

There's a wonderful quote, generally attributed to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts."

The problem here is one of definitions. It is far more interesting to discuss substance than definitions, but if we can't at least make clear which definitions each of us are using, we'll never reach the substance. Here's a link to the definitions Clairwil uses on CafeMom.

Lewis Carroll wrote: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.", so I won't try to argue that my definitions are 'right' and yours are 'wrong'. I will ask that we stick to a precisely defined and self-consistent set, and that if you wish to use a different set of definitions from the ones I am using, you make clear what yours mean.

Ok, I'll try asking the above question again, this time using your definitions:

My hypothesis is that our universe was intentionally created by an intelligent benevolent supernatural deity, whom I know by the name of " יהוה " (pronounced "Yahweh", and addressed or titled as "Lord", "Adonai", "Allah" or "God") and who has personally intervened in the running of the universe (through miracles) within the last 10,000 years. I find the evidence, both objective (historic records, fulfilled prophecies, physics of the universe, etc) and subjective (my personal internal experiences and instincts) to be at least as persuasively supportive of my hypothesis as it is of the alternative that you present (that there is no need of your hypothesis to explain our observed universe and history)

Just because science can't evaluate subjective evidence, that doesn't make it any less real. And it is not just me who has this subjective evidence. A majority of the 7 billion people living on Earth believe in some form of supernatural deity or deities. Scientists are in the minority and, even then many scientists are also believers. So if you were truly open minded, wouldn't you acknowledge the possibility that the majority are correct? Isn't it a bit arrogant to insist that, just because you have not experienced direct revelation, it doesn't exist? If we're wrong, how do you explain why so many people have these experiences and are persuaded by them? We can't all be mad or stupid.

Nicely phrased. I suppose I better answer. :-)

If you look at a demographic map you'll notice that a person's religion is highly correlated with that of their parents and the society they are raised within. We can therefore discard any claim that there is persuasive objective evidence of the tenets of any one specific religion, and focus on the more general claim that there is an intelligent benevolent supernatural deity who created the universe and intervenes within it, and that subjective human mental experiences should be counted as evidence towards this, and that the existence of said deity is the best or only explanation of the nature and uniformity of such experiences.

Sociologists use the term "religiosity" to describe the propensity towards religious belief (depth of belief, level of religious activity, how important religion is to the person). From twin studies we know that, in adults, roughly 50% of a person's religiosity depends on the genes they inherit from their parents. It is an active area of scientific research, identifying which genes are involved, which parts of the brain they effect, and what the evolutionary advantages were to a tribe of having those genes.

What we do know, so far, is that an experience indistinguishable from religious revelation can be artificially induced by activating certain parts of the brain, either directly with electrodes or indirectly via specific chemicals.

Occam's razor tells us that if hypothesising a supernatural creator deity to explain the experiences people have been taking as subjective evidence doesn't add any predictive power (ie it makes no predictions that can be confirmed by objective evidence before dying and discovering whether or not there is an afterlife) then we should go with the simpler explanation that is it a purely naturalistic phenomena.

It doesn't require stupidity or madness to explain why so many people accept such experiences as supernatural. Just an understanding of the workings of the physical brain and evolutionary forces that we've only gained in the last 50 years or so.

You rather blithely dismissed the possibility of objective evidence back there. Even if we disallow subjective evidence, how do you explain why so many people also believe the objective evidence also supports their beliefs? What about the fine-structure constant, the Goldilocks Zone, that matter exists at all? What about irreducible complexity, eyewitness accounts of miracles and all the rest?

Rather than talk here about the specifics of each case, I'd like instead to address a generality about the nature of evidence and how we evaluate it. Baysian probability tells us that our estimates of probability depends not only on the evidence, but also upon our prior estimate. In other words, when we receive new data, we don't re-evaluate everything from scratch. We use the new data to modify the probability we calculated previously. This results in a number of psychological features: Confirmation Bias, and The Backfire Effect.

This means that if someone is already pre-disposed to believe in a supernatural deity (through being raised in a religious environment, for example) then they will tend to evaluate evidence which supports that conclusion as being more reliable than is justified by the objective data. Its just human nature to behave that way, because we have limited memory and computational ability. You see the same thing happening in all areas, not just to do with religion. Part of the reason why the scientific method is so powerful is that it is a systematic attempt to overcome our propensity to fool ourselves.

So is that it? Are Atheists always going to persecute us Christians, with their demands to remove God from money, schools and holidays?

The same psychological effect that affects people's estimation of the reliability of evidence also acts to heighten their feelings of persecution. This amplified feedback causes a vicious spiral where even a mild defensive response by a minority of the other side will in turn cause an escalation. While no doubt there is some blame on both sides, a useful concept to bear in mind is Christian Privilege.

It sounds like you're saying that there is no hope for communication. That the two world-views are entirely incommensurable. I've noticed that Atheists often over-simplify or entirely fail to understand the true subtleties of the religious position on things like hermeneutics, theodicy and apologetics. The Bible tells us that you have to ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit in order to correctly understand. Have you tried casting aside all doubt and just believing? Then it will all make sense to you. Otherwise you're just attacking straw-men.

One side's straw man is another side's moving target. There is usually not just one religious position on things like theodicy (explaining the problem of evil) but several, and many posters seem not to care about the validity of the arguments they use, switching position to suit the particular aspect they want to address. As P. Z. Myers says in "The Courtier's Reply", sometimes the details are irrelevant when the whole foundation is rotten. One fundamental problem is that once you allow miracles and ineffability, anything may be explained in terms of them. It is circular reasoning to require someone to believe before evaluating the evidence to justify the belief, because belief affects the evaluation process.

The other problem is that religion is a meme, honed by generations of evolution to precisely target weaknesses in the human ability to think rationally. Is religion appealing? Does it feel instinctively 'right' to many many people? Yes, because those religions that most effectively elicit that mental response have been those most likely to spread.

The only defense, the only mental vaccination, is to explore reality according to a process designed to shore up our mental failings and reduce our ability to fool ourselves: science.
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 5

Why don't you believe in the Norse Thor?

It is a great myth, with lots of morality, but not only is there not a shred of objective evidence, there are bits that seem to have been made up to explain life that would seem reasonable thousands of years ago, but which now contradict the common understanding of reality in ways that not only require one-off miracles but a wholesale rejection of history, physics, human nature and/or ethical behaviour. And, further more, there are rational explanations for how the belief came about, including evidence tracing many elements of the mythology back to earlier myths from other tribes.

Why don't you believe in the Pagan Gaia?

It is a great myth, with lots of morality, but not only is there not a shred of objective evidence, there are bits that seem to have been made up to explain life that would seem reasonable thousands of years ago, but which now contradict the common understanding of reality in ways that not only require one-off miracles but a wholesale rejection of history, physics, human nature and/or ethical behaviour. And, further more, there are rational explanations for how the belief came about, including evidence tracing many elements of the mythology back to earlier myths from other tribes.

Why don't you believe in the Islamic Allah‎?

It is a great myth, with lots of morality, but not only is there not a shred of objective evidence, there are bits that seem to have been made up to explain life that would seem reasonable thousands of years ago, but which now contradict the common understanding of reality in ways that not only require one-off miracles but a wholesale rejection of history, physics, human nature and/or ethical behaviour. And, further more, there are rational explanations for how the belief came about, including evidence tracing many elements of the mythology back to earlier myths from other tribes.

Why don't you believe in the Christian Yahweh?

It is a great myth, with lots of morality, but not only is there not a shred of objective evidence, there are bits that seem to have been made up to explain life that would seem reasonable thousands of years ago, but which now contradict the common understanding of reality in ways that not only require one-off miracles but a wholesale rejection of history, physics, human nature and/or ethical behaviour. And, further more, there are rational explanations for how the belief came about, including evidence tracing many elements of the mythology back to earlier myths from other tribes.‎

But, but, but I'm a Christian. And you called my beloved baby Jesus a "myth". That's insulting! I just knew you were a Satan-inspired hateful anti-Christian.

You didn't object when I called Thor a "myth".

Yes, but he is one. And nobody believes in that stuff, anyway.

They used to. And, indeed, there are some sincere worshippers of Him still living in Iceland. Also, you didn't object when I called the Pagan mother goddess a "myth", and there are lots of pagans still around.

My point is that you're anti-Christian, and you can't even answer 10 simple little questions that I have.

Sometimes the correct answer to a short question isn't the shortest answer. "Why do elastic bands pull back when stretched?" for example. However, since this is an FAQ and your "simple little questions" are ones that get asked of Atheists a lot, I'll give it a go, if you really insist. But remember, you're the one who raised the Christian-specific questions, not me.

Will it make you happy?


Ok, go ahead and ask them...

1. Argument from sacred writ

Despite the words being written down and translated by multiple hands in different countries, during different ages and even in different languages, the Holy Bible is a uniquely consistent document, both with itself and with reality, unequaled in style, poetry and wisdom. Not only is this perfection clear evidence of a single guiding authorship behind those hands, but it contains scientific knowledge and makes predictions (that have turned out to be correct) that it is highly unlikely even an educated person of those times could have made unaided by foreknowledge.

Most early Jewish and Christian writings were passed on orally long before being written down, which gave each generation in the chain a chance to edit out bits they felt were clunky, foolish or no longer relevant. These writings were then further scrutinised by theologians who, in a series of Church councils, selected a sub-set they felt were self-consistent to become the Bible, and this was further altered by translators who added glosses to various passages. However, despite 2 Timothy 3:16, the claims by some Christians that the Bible is inerrant is severely tested by, and leaves them looking like pretzels, their intellectual integrity in tatters.

2. Argument from historical evidence

Ok, but even if for the sake of argument I grant that God only authored the events, and the words used to describe those events were authored by fallible humans, those events were still amazing! Burning bushes, falling city walls, water into wine and, above all, Jesus returning to life after being crucified. These events were witnessed, accounts were written by contemporary historians, and archaeological evidence backs it up - these things did happen. The apostle, Saint Paul, was executed, and he stayed faithful right to the very end. If he wasn't stupid, evil or insane, how do you account for him and many other eyewitnesses giving their lives for a lie?

None of the archeological evidence, or evidence from contemporary historians, supports the miraculous nature of any event mentioned in the Bible. The only accounts which do are those from believers, and most of them were not written down by first-hand eyewitnesses. Paul, for example, never met Jesus - he appointed himself an apostle on the basis of a vision he had. We actually have little better data on the life of Jesus than we do on the life of King Arthur or Robin Hood. If you read the accounts of people who have survived being members of a cult you find that otherwise quite sane and well intentioned people do sometimes give their lives for strange reasons.

And, when it comes to things like Noah and the age of the Earth, if a world-wide flood of anything like the magnitude described had happened during the last 6,000 years, the evidence really ought to be there unless God used additional miracles to intentionally hide the evidence.

3. Argument from modern evidence

Ok, but what the miracles that have happened since then? Prayer works. Every day requests for healing are answered and Christians gain in prosperity through the power of prayer. If it wasn't, why is Christianity the most powerful religion, and Christian nations the most powerful in the world? What about the Shroud of Turin, stigmata and miraculous events and appearances witnessed by thousands?

Miracles similar to those claimed by Christians have also been made by other religions and, indeed, by believers in aliens and ghosts. The same standard of evidence should be used in evaluating all these claims, whatever their nature or originating organisation - proper scientific investigation.

And, despite the claims of spiritualists, faith healers and prosperity theologians, science has never been able to verify any effect of prayer stronger than the placebo effect, and certainly nothing like amputated human limb entirely re-growing. Nor have claims like the shroud, stigmata and self-lighting candles panned out, when examined in detail by science's impartial eye.

The symbiotic relationship between the spread of Christianity and the spread of Europeans across the globe is hardly to Christianity's credit.

4. Argument from design: humans and the world

I look around me and I see signs of a loving Intelligent Designer everywhere. In my baby's smile. In the beauty of the flowers. In the warmth of the Sun on my face. Despite the misery caused by human wars and sin, this is a bountiful planet and humans are amazingly designed to enjoy it. For it to be chance would be a coincidence beyond belief. I believe that everything is as it is for a purpose, even if the reasoning is hidden from us sometimes, and to be other than it is would to be less than perfect. Is something vital missing from you, that you're so cold you don't instinctively feel this too?

Atheists generally accept the scientific view that the human species evolved from ancestral species which they share with the other forms of life on Earth, and that via this process we adapted to the Earth, rather than vice versa. There are evolutionary reasons why flowers look beautiful, why we appreciate the Sun's warmth and why happy babies please us.

Atheists are not inhuman. They have the same evolved capacity for wonder, to experience the numinous, as theists do. They just have a different interpretation of what it means and where it comes from.

We do find the Earth to be bountiful, but geocentrism went out with Copernicus, and spread through the universe are many many planets that fall within the Goldilocks Zone, and which would be equally bountiful towards aquatic-evolved carbon-based life forms.

And, though the human body is indeed wonderfully well adapted for passing on copies of DNA, when looked at in detail it is obviously a 'bottom up' rather than a 'top down' design, a bazaar rather than a cathedral, locked into an historic body plan that, in some particulars, better suited a fish or a mammal that moved on all fours.

5. Argument from design: the laws of nature and the existence of the universe

But, even if I accept evolution, the very basis of the laws of nature, the fundamental constants of physics, the speed of light and the relative strength of the various forces, are finely tuned to values that permit stable suns and planetary orbits. How do you explain that or, for that matter, why the universe exists at all? How can matter, or even information, be created without a Creator?

By definition we cannot know what lies outside our own universe so, if our universe were created by some event in a 'higher' universe, we cannot know what laws prevail in that other 'higher' universe. This means we have no basis to predict how many other universes at our level exist or have existed, in series or in parallel with our own, under different laws of nature, and what percentage of them will have achieved sentient life. To state that the values of the fundamental constants are improbably requires us to assume that the universe we can know about through the natural processes of physics is the only one that exists or has ever existed. M-Theory and various other theories suggest otherwise.

Likewise everything we known about causality is based upon our observations of this universe, and may be inapplicable to a higher universe operating under different laws. This applies also to the laws of thermodynamics, but even given the current laws of thermodynamics, it is quite possible to have increases in order in local areas - only closed systems must never decrease their entropy.

6. Argument from reason: Descartes

One should doubt all that one can, but there are three things that cannot rightfully be doubted, and these are mutually supporting. I cannot doubt my own existence, because in order to doubt there must exist that which does the doubting (cogito ergo sum). I cannot doubt reason itself, because this method of doubt is itself based upon reason. And I cannot doubt God, who reason tells me exists and who is the guarantor that my reason is not leading me astray, for God is another word for perfection, and it is more perfect for something to exist than for it to not exist, therefore God exists.

Just because you can conceive of a thing, that doesn't make the thing possible, let alone probable. I can conceive of colorless green dreams that sleep furiously.

7. Argument from reason: C. S. Lewis

One absolutely central inconsistency ruins the popular scientific philosophy. The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears... unless Reason is an absolute, all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based.

Lewis wrote this argument before the advent of digital computers which, despite being based clearly based upon purely physical mechanics, can be rather efficient at logical processing; far more so than "the random movement of wind through the trees".

8. Argument from authority

Your above replies don't make sense to me. I'm sure Descartes and Lewis were far more intelligent than you are. Why can't you just accept that the greatest thinkers of all time, such as Newton and Leonardo da Vinci, were Christians, and bow to their authority? And not just them. A majority of humans who've ever lived believe in God, as do a majority of women in America and on CafeMom. What makes you so special? Why should I trust your authorities over mine? Why should I trust science? Scientists weren't there at the creation of the Earth, but God was. And God speaks directly into the hearts of the authorities I trust, and into my heart so I know which authorities to trust. Can you say the same?

Science doesn't require that you trust scientists not to lie. It only requires trust that at least some out of the millions of scientists on the planet Earth be greedy and selfish enough to wish to gain wealth and career advancement from the reputation they can gain if they manage to point out errors in the papers published by other scientists.

No doubt Descartes, Newton et al were fantastically intelligent men. But intelligence alone is not enough. They were prisoners of their environment and the amazing thing is that anyone in the Dark Ages broke out initially at all, to then open chinks of light through the wall by which to guide out others.

9. Argument from morality

Moral obligations are real, not illusory. But in the Atheist worldview there is no way to proceed from descriptive statements (about what is) to prescriptive statements (about what ought to be). Therefore Atheism is wrong. To argue otherwise is to support rape, genocide, pedophilia and the torture of cute fluffy kittens. You're not a kitten rapist, are you?

How would God existing make the is-ought problem any easier? Epistemology is an active area within Philosophy but, just because there are open questions within it, that doesn't mean there are no answers, or that an Atheist society would leave people to act any way they desired in absense of having found 100% convincing justification for the Golden Rule. In life one has to learn to handle degrees of uncertainty, and to take action upon provisional conclusions based off imperfect data. To jump for an answer because it promises certainty, even if the answer is not necessarily the correct one, is an infantile act. It is a false dichotomy to assume that the only alternative to jumping for such an answer is to do nothing.

10. Argument to self-interest

Look, you don't have to really believe initially. Just pretend, obey the rules, and maybe real belief will creep up on you once you've opened your heart to it and immersed yourself in the lifestyle and rituals. You can't be certain you're right, and what if you're wrong? If you go alone with the crowd, you'll be popular, accepted, helped through life and given comfort, moral support and much more. If you're down, our 12-step programs and charities are ace at getting you back on your feet. Talking of which, look at all the good works we Christians do which you could help with if you joined us. Wouldn't that make you feel good about yourself? You're not afraid or selfish are you? And think of the reward, an infinitely long afterlife of perfect infinite happness! Or you could remain a no-friend grumpy guts, piss off all your nice respectable neighbours and end up burning in hell for all eternity. Choice is yours, pal.

Sounds like the Mafia to me. Pascal and Dante have much to answer for. And what kind of twisted deity would put people in that position anyway?

Many, many, many reams have been written about this Wager. I shall not even attempt to summarise them all here. My favourite is the one which points out it isn't a binary choice, because there are other deities competing for your fear, and if you're going on pure probability then Ikadz (the god of \aleph_\omega torture) is a scarier prospect.

There you go, that's your 10, all asked and answered. Happy now?


*sigh* Why not?

You didn't go very deep in your answers. They raised lots more questions. I want to task you on each particular miracle in history and have you disprove it. And I only got to present the arguments of Descartes and Lewis. There are hundreds more!

No doubt there are. Christianity enslaved the minds of Europe, both dull and brilliant, for more than 1000 years. Of course they came up with many many arguments, more than any single person could have time to refute in a single lifetime. Not all arguments are equally strong or valid, though. I'm presuming you chose your best 10 to present. By induction, every time you present an argument that turns out to have flaws, the probability decreases that your next argument will be any better.

You're going to have to try harder than that, if you want to shake my faith. I'm strong, I still believe!

I wasn't trying to shake your faith. You were trying to convert me, remember? Matthew 7:18 " A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. "

Why do you keep referring to the Bible if you don't believe in it? " The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. "

Actually, Shakespear wrote that. But, even if true, it doesn't mean all non-Christians who cite scripture are inspired to do so by Satan. There's a lot of good advice in the Bible (among other stuff), and quoting it when relevant is one way to reach towards common ground and understanding.

Look this confrontation rehetoric is all very well but, as you say, we've only scratched the surface here. If we discuss this in depth, we're going to be at this a long long time. Can't you accept that I'm basically a well intentioned person, and that not accepting your religion doesn't make me evil?

If you think in terms of "weak" and "strong", with people entering Christianity from outside having previously been weak lost sheep, and people leaving Christianity being weak doubters, that's going to colour how you percieve Atheists. But in the verse I quoted Jesus is talking about how to judge whether a tree is good or not. If you take a clear look at those who leave Christianity you'll notice that generally they don't immediately run out to have adulterous orgies or indulge in murderous bank-robbing sprees.

So if you were not trying to convert me, what was the point of this FAQ again?

Think of it as a conversational starting point. If you want to actually engage and discuss evidence with me, rather than preach at me to gain brownie points, then you need to understand where I'm coming from and what I'm already familiar with. By all means present one of the above arguments, but please at least do me the courtesy of finding out in advance what the common objections are to the argument and adress those objections, so we can get to the meat of the discussion, rather than waste our time addressing straw-men.

And, in particular, if you raise an argument, then finish the discussion. Don't just copy'n'paste a list of 20 arguments from your favourite evangelical website and, when Atheists spend hours writing well thought out replies to those 20, say you don't understand the scientific details but authorities you trust do and the onus is upon the Atheist to find out more, then posting a new 20 in another thread (or even the same 20, a month later). (See also: this journal and this one.)
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(The journal linked to above:
How to Annoy an Atheist
Mar 10, 2008 at 9:31 PM
By onezenmom)

1. Ask her why she is bitter against God.

2. Tell her that if there’s no God, she might as well go out and kill people.

3. At every available opportunity refer to Atheism as "a religion".

4. Be utterly adamant that creation/intelligent design is a "science" while pointing out that evolution is "just a theory".

5. Prove that god exists by pointing out where in the bible it says so.

6. Use multiple versions of Pascal’s Wager as though you thought them up yourself.

7. Explain that any biblical passages you agree with are "the word of god" while at the same time dismissing any you disagree with as being "metaphorical" or "out-of-context".

8. Refer to Atheists as illogical, faith-based and fundamentalist. Or any other term that has previously been used to accurately describe you.

9. Cite Kent Hovind as a legitimate source of information.

10. …and call him “Dr. Hovind.”

11. Tell them that the universe is too complex to “just exist,” and must have been created by a God who “just exists.

12. Use the fact that the Atheist can't fully explain to you how the universe was formed as evidence that god done it.

13. Don't worry about details such as the logistics involved with Noah's ark, how the human race came from two people without incest or why the bible contradicts itself so often.

14. Say you will pray for her; And make sure she knows you said it out of spite.

15. No matter how many times you are corrected and how much evidence you see to the contrary ... Always claim that America is a Christian nation founded by Christians on Christian principles.

16. Say that separation of church and state isn’t in the Constitution; insist that the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments.

17. Accuse them of persecuting you.

18. Point out that we all take things on faith.

19. Use the Second Law of Thermodynamics to disprove evolution.

20. Before starting an argument, say “You’re an atheist? That means you’re going to hell!”

21. After losing the argument say, “I pity you.”

22. End a discussion with “Well, I know you’re smarter than I am, but I know I’m right.”

23. Repeat something over and over, as if that made it true.

24. Repeat something over and over, as if that made it true.

25. Repeat something over and over, as if that made it true.

26. Accuse them of willfully ignoring the “obvious truth.”

27. Use bad math to back up your claims.

28. Tell her that she acknowledges Christ every time she uses “A.D.” - which, of course, stands for “After Death.”

29. Insist that the Bible is meant to be taken literally — all except that verse she just showed you.

30. Insist that Noah’s Ark and the Shroud of Turin are real.

31. …and tell him about the special on FOX where you saw it.

32. Tell him you must study the Bible for many years to reject Christianity.

33. …and when he points out that you reject Islam despite never having studied the Qu’ran, say that you have faith, and faith is all you need.

34. Ask him how he knows God isn’t real if he can’t see the air.

35. Talk about how you used to be a miserable, sinning, drug-abusing, alcoholic, S*x-addicted, spouse-beating criminal until you found God.

36. When shown that the Bible says that Pi=3, say that the Hebrews didn’t know anything about science, so it’s not their fault.

37. When shown the creation account in Genesis, insist that the Hebrews had all kinds of scientific savvy, being inspired by God.

38. Smile smugly and tell him that there are no atheists in foxholes.

39. Equivocate scientific faith with religious faith, and conclude that, metaphysically, you are both in the same boat.

40. Claim that archaeology is proof of the Bible’s truth.

41. Misconstrue logical terms in order to prove that logic does not work.

42. Claim that logic is the atheist’s god.

43. Use only circular reasoning.

44. Claim that the atheist only uses circular reasoning.

45. Claim that circular reasoning is legitimate due to circular reasoning being legitimate.

46. Use the phrase “Hate the sin, love the sinner” as a blanket response to the notion that Christianity is at fault for something.

47. State that Christianity has done a lot of good along with all the mass murder.

48. When he takes the time and trouble to explain where your analogy or interpretation is at fault, begin your response with a *sigh*, so he’ll know how patient you’re being.

49. Offer inane apologetics books in the hopes that he hasn’t heard the arguments in them a thousand times already.

50. When asked if they would sacrifice their own child for God, respond with “God would never ask me to do that.”

51. Carefully explain that Lot’s daughters were never in danger of gang rape, and that Lot knew this all along.

52. Tell him that Christians aren’t perfect — just forgiven.

53. Claim that Einstein was a Christian.

54. Claim that Darwin recanted evolution on his deathbed.

55. …and when he tells you about the Lady Hope myth, cry.

56. Vehemently claim that the theory of evolution is incompatible with theism, then turn around and blame the theory for promoting atheism.

57. Say that evolution is not proven — therefore the Bible is correct.

58. Tell him it’s his responsibility to prove that God doesn’t exist.

59. Ask what he believes in, if not God.

60. Explain that Buddha’s last words were “Jesus, forgive me.”

61. …and tell him that you were “saved” when you heard that story.

62. …and when he explains that Buddha died 500 years before Jesus was born, give him a blank look.

63. Say that God can’t reveal himself with any real proof, because that would remove the need for faith.

64. When something awful happens, tell him not to blame God — he doesn’t interfere.

65. When something wonderful happens, tell him to credit God — he made it happen.

66. Explain that it doesn’t matter whether or not he thinks he’s sinned – all humans were imbued with original sin at the moment of their birth.

67. …then tell him that babies automatically go to heaven.

68. …and mentally retarded people.

69. …and those with Down’s Syndrome.

70. Treat nothing he says as credible, because he is possessed by Satan.

71. Show that the Bible must be true because when you take the original Hebrew letters, spread them out and twist them around, you can spell words.

72. …and when he points out that that will work with literally any work in any alphabet, accuse him of closed-mindedness and blasphemy.

73. Spell it “athiest.”

74. Spell it “evilution.”

75. Tell him that Hitler was an atheist.

76. Tell him that he’s playing right into Satan’s hands, because Satan’s greatest ploy is convincing people that God doesn’t exist.

77. Claim that Jesus is the God based on the Old Testament, then turn around and say that the Old Testament has nothing to do with the New Covenant.

78. Use the word “presupposition” incorrectly, repeatedly.

79. Say that God believes in him, whether or not he believes in God.

80. Call the Branch Davidians a “cult,” but insist that your particular faction is a “religion.”

81. …and argue that a practical distinction actually exists.

82. Tell him that he can’t use absolute logic because God is the only absolute.

83. Tell him the signs are there — he’s just not looking.

84. Say that you know in your heart that belief in God is perfectly logical and rational.

85. Insist that homosexuality is a choice.

86. Insist that Thomas Jefferson was a Christian.

87. Tell his that it’s not a religion — it’s a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

88. When asked what’s wrong with evolution, tell them that it doesn’t account for the origin of matter.

89. Tell him that fossils in the earth are the Devil’s work.

90. Grossly misunderstand the word “theory.”

91. Ask how she can possibly raise children in a godless environment.

92. When the subject of homosexuality comes up, say “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

93. …and expect it to be taken as an intelligent remark.

94. Post something inflammatory about him, wait for him to respond, then go back and delete or edit your post so that it appears that the atheist is attacking you for no reason.95. Point to something in nature that’s really cool, and call it proof of God’s existence.

96. Take advantage of a horrible national tragedy, caused in large part by religious fanaticism, by pushing your own religious fanaticism as the only thing that will save us all.

97. …and announce that the tragedy only happened because of those who ignore your religious fanaticism.

98. Insist on deathbed conversions.

99. When ending your conversation with the atheist, promise to read whatever book the atheist may have mentioned, knowing darned well that you yourself never made it through Leviticus.
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 6

You mentioned "world-view" earlier. What does that mean?

The ancient Greeks split the study of knowledge into two parts: technê (the application of knowledge) and epistêmê (the understanding of knowledge). In modern philosophy we call the study of knowledge in the abstract "epistemology", and one of the most active areas within epistemology is coming up with a "theory of justification" that explains when someone is or is not warranted in holding a statement to be likely to be true. An example of a proposed theory of justification is Susan Haack's foundherentism which, like most candidates, looks at how coherently the beliefs within a particular world-view support each other.

The sociology of knowledge is the study of the relationship between human thought (approximately what Michel Foucault terms a "discourse") and the social context within which that thought arises (approximately what Foucault terms the "épisteme"). Foucault, in his "The Archeology of Knowledge", written in 1969, expands on the work of Thomas Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", written 1962, expanding Kuhn's idea of scientific paradigms to fields outside science.

For Kuhn, in the context of sciences like physics, a paradigm is a theoretical framework (a fundamental model or perception of events) shared by the members of a (scientific) community - a global thing, like a zetigeist or genius seculi; and once an individual scientist has shifted from their original paradigm to one with better explanatory or predictive power, they can't shift back. Nobody rejects the germ theory of disease to posit the possibility that miasma causes disease. Nobody posits that ether carries light, once they understand modern physics and optics, and how the new paradigm predicts everything that can be successfully predicted using the old paradigm plus some new stuff that the old paradigm gets wrong or just doesn't predict.

In short, a world-view is more than just what someone sees when they view the world. It is the assumptions, values and mental tools that shape the method by which the person views the world and interprets what they see into their internal model of reality.

And "incommensurable" ?

If there are two castaways stranded on a desert island with no books, one who speaks only English and one who speaks only French, the two languages share sufficient vocabulary and sentence structure that if they go back to small simple basic things they can find a common understanding from which they can work up to a full translation from. If instead the languages spoken had been English and Chinese, they'd have had no recourse except to learn each other's language from scratch, pointing at objects and naming them.

Commensurability is a measure of how far back you have to go before you arrive at common translation or standard of measurement. Two world-views are incommensurable if, when you try to compare them, you find that on the attribute you're trying to compare, they either (from within the world-view) disagree on the answer (because they use different definitions or methods of measuring it) or disagree on whether that is the important attribute to use for comparison.

Kuhn holds that, within hard science, no two world-views are ever entirely incommensurable, because they share a common scientific methodology that scientists can use to agree whether a prediction failed or not - it is tested against objective reality. Foucault holds that, when it comes to things like literary criticism or economics, there are no universally agreed objective standards about whether a particular book is important, or whether employment is more or less important than inflation, but agrees it is still possible to shift from one world-view to another.

There's a useful metaphor for this process, from a computing technique mathematicians sometimes use to find approximate solutions to numeric problems called "simulated annealing". Consider a graph with high points (called "maxima") and low points (called "minima") like this one:


Sometimes you know the equation, and can just solve it. But, at other times, the situation is like having a black box with some dials to twiddle, and a single output (which you want to be as big as possible). One way to search for the dial setting that produce the biggest output would be to set the dials all to zero then start systematically searching through all the possible settings, but that might take years. If the graph is simple, you can usually find the answer much faster by noting how large the output is for ten different random settings, then concentrating your search near the random setting that had the largest output and making some smaller random changes, narrowing down on the best of those, and then making some last very small changes to fine-tune your solution. This process is known as "simulated annealing" and the amount of random noise you use to vary the solution at each stage is known as the 'temperature'. You start off at a high 'temperature', making big random jumps, then slowly cool things down, making smaller and smaller changes:


If you lower the 'temperature' too fast, you can get stuck at a local maxima. To make the shift to a different maxima (perhaps a higher one), you'd have to increase the 'temperature' again. This is a nice parallel with commensurability. You can think of a stable world-view as being a local maxima. To shift to a different maxima requires increasing the 'temperature' of your search process - in other words, how far back to basics you go, how many of the assumptions of the world-view you need to question or put on hold at the same time before you can take a look at the world-view from 'outside' (a different world-view) to decide whether or not you've been trapped by circular logic and indoctrination, blinded by a hardness of heart and a will not to see.

What is the Atheist world-view? How does it differ from the Christian world-view?

There is no single Christian world-view, nor single Atheist one. There are multiple variants of each. However to a large extent they fit neatly on a single spectrum which starts at one end with a purely naturalistic world-view, in line with the current scientific consensus, in which there is no compelling evidence for (or need to hypothesise) any supernatural souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, daemons or Intelligent Designers. At the other end of the spectrum is the highly non-naturalistic world-view in which everything is fundamentally miraculous, and the only apparent regularities in the part of the universe that living beings are usually allowed to directly perceive with their worldly senses are those regularities temporarily allowed by God (an individual intelligent being, creator of the Universe and prime directing force of all that happens within in).

By looking at the path connecting these two extreme ends, we should manage to touch upon many of the variants that lie between. But, before we look at them in detail, it would be useful to step back a moment to answer a few other questions first...

How incommensurable are they? Can we really compare them and say one is strictly superior to the other?

It is possible to compare world-views on many different criteria. One can look at statistics to say which world-view leads, on average, to less depression, greater financial success, longer life, less time in prison, stronger friendships, etc. But averages don't necessarily apply to individual people, and there is no agreed standard outside both world-views which we can use to decide which criteria are the important ones to use for comparison. So we can't say that any world-view is strictly superior to another one, because we'd have to specific for which purpose it is superior.

So if there are no good grounds to shift world-views, isn't looking at them a waste of time?

What we can do is ask ourselves whether a world-view is stable (self-consistent in the light of the evidence it admits), and whether it is superior on the criteria that are claimed by that world-view to be the important criteria. These things can (in principle) be true of multiple world-views, however, so nobody can be convinced away from a world-view against their will, as long at it is a stable maxima. In order for shifting to be possible, there must first be doubt (the 'temperature' must be raised) - an openness to questioning basic assumptions within one's world-view and asking oneself "What if these assumptions are wrong? Would that alter the criteria I've been using to decide whether they are correct or not?"

Doubt is bad! You're evil and selfish to want me to doubt. Why should I entertain doubts if I'm perfectly happy with my current world-view and want to hold onto it?

There are two traditions within Christianity, with respect to doubt.

The first stance is that one should strive to have as little doubt as possible (Jude 1:3) and that those who believe without seeing are blessed (John 20:29). Some go so far as to see all doubt as being the work of Satan, a malicious attack on precious faith that is best defended against by clinging to certainty.

The second stance distinguishes between short term and long term, and holds that one path to arrive at greater long term certainty is to start off by entertaining short term doubts (to better examine and deal with them). This matches well with what we observe in simulated annealing - the greater the range of possibilities checked, the greater the confidence one can have that the maxima you return to is a global maxima rather than just a local maxima.

Here are some quotes on the subject:

" True wisdom is less presuming than folly. The wise man doubteth often, and changeth his mind; the fool is obstinate, and doubteth not; he knoweth all things but his own ignorance. "

" Who never doubted, never half believed. Where doubt is, there truth is her shadow. "

" Great doubts...deep wisdom. Small doubts... little wisdom. "
--Chinese Proverb

" Doubt is the vestibule through which all must pass before they can enter into the temple of wisdom. "

" If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. "

" If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties. "
--Francis Bacon

" If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger. It knows God more certainly and it can enjoy God more deeply. "
--C. S. Lewis

That's not a good enough reason. You've already mentioned in earlier parts of this FAQ that you think religion causes harm, so your self interest is clear - you just want me to doubt because you want me to shift world-views from Christianity to Atheism. Why should I listen to you? What's in it for me?

If the prospects of gaining wisdom and greater certainty and understanding of your own faith isn't enough, consider that by gaining a deeper understanding of both world-views (and how they see each other) you'll also be improving your own ability to persuade people to shift away from Atheism and towards Christianity. Understanding is a two-edged sword. That's the drawback of truth and honest open enquiry - you don't know, in advance, where it will lead you. But wisdom is a prize worth the risk:

" O wad some Power the gift tae gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us! "
--Robert Burns

" Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. "
--Proverbs 4:7

" Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men "
--Ecclesiastes 7:19

Here are two longer pieces, from a Christian point of view, on doubt and wisdom:

Great Faith and Great Doubt ( ... lewis.html)
The Epistemology of Religion ( ... stemology/)

You mentioned "predictive power" earlier. What does that mean?

Suppose we are looking at the relationship between two variables, x and y. If we were told the value of y for 5 different values of x, we could plot them on a graph:


If we thought we spotted a trend in how these points were arranged, we could draw a line through the points, then extrapolate it onwards, in order to make a prediction of what value y would have when x was 5.

However, what if the relationship wasn't a straight line? If we're allowed a curved line (a polynomial) then, given enough flexibility in the equation, there are an infinite number of possible curves we could have fitted to our 5 data points. This is why testing is important. If you make up an explanation using all the available data, with no way of acquiring more, then it is too easy to fool yourself, because no mater what the data, it is always possible to come up with an explanation if you know in advance the data the explanation needs to fit. We can use occam's razor to pick the simplest explanation that fits (the least flexible one), however that's not guaranteed to always be correct.

This is why, when a good scientist does factor analysis, they perform exploratory factor analysis on a random subset of the available data, then use confirmatory factor analysis on the balance to test whether the predicted relationship actually holds.

Here's how America's National Academy of Science defines some basic terms, as used in science:

Fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed.
Law: A descriptive generalization about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under stated circumstances.
Hypothesis: A testable statement about the natural world that can be used to build more complex inferences and explanations.
Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

Hypotheses can be tested either using predictions OR by using postdictions, however in the case of postdictions great care has to be taken that the person making it has not already had access to data they are extrapolating towards. How strongly and accurately an hypothesis can make testable falsifiable predictions is known as its predictive power. A classic example would be Mendeleev's prediction of the chemical element: germanium

Beyond predictive power, there is a further attribute that scientists like hypotheses to have: explanatory power. This doesn't mean just coming up with an explanation for something because, as we've seen, it is always possible to come up with an explanation. For a hypothesis to have explanatory power means that it provides explanations of additional phenomena, outside the scope of the original thing being predicted. An example would be plate tectonics, which not only makes predictions about the location of rocks of various ages but, in addition, also links in explanations of the ring of fire and the mid-atlantic ridge. The greater the scope of the things being explained, the greater the explanatory power; however the type of explanation matters - it is perhaps better to say it is the ratio of the scope to the flexibility of the explanation. It is the opposite of 'rescuing devices' and 'ad hoc hypotheses'. Here's how David Deutsch words it:

Why do predictive and explanatory power matter?

It is easy to make up a set of assertions that are coherent with themselves. For example:

STATEMENT (1) = "Statement (2) is correct."
STATEMENT (2) = "Statement (1) is correct."

That's an obvious example of circular reasoning; it doesn't reference reality. But it is quite possible to to come up with a set of statements that cohere with reality as well as with themselves. Imagine some poor person trapped in a cult that believed:

STATEMENT (1) = "All these statements were given directly by me, cult leader Andrews."
STATEMENT (2) = "Everything I, cult leader Andrews, say is true."
STATEMENT (3) = "The moon is made of green cheese."
STATEMENT (4) = "Any evidence you come across that seems to contradict one of these statements is an illusion magically placed there by the evil Hamburglar in order to test your faith in me."

What advice could you give the person?

You could point out the lack of supporting evidence outside the statements themselves. You could point out their lack of predictive power (none of the things hold that one could deduce onwards from the moon being made of green cheese, such as the effect upon tides of the moon weighing less than it would if made of rock). You could point out their lack of explanatory power (statement 4 is 'ad hoc', it keeps getting used and doesn't allow us to predict onwards to anything, nor does it have any context outside the flaws in the other statements it is trying to explain away. It makes the power of the theory increasingly poor, rather than increasingly rich. And you could change "Hamburglar" to "invisible fairy", or the suggested motivation, without altering anything.). You could point out alternative explanations for how these statements might have ended up being issued by Andrews.

Imagine the trap the poor person would find themselves in if cult leader Andrews added:

STATEMENT (5) = "Doubt is bad. Trust without evidence, because that is a virtue. Shun disbelievers, because they are minions of the Hamburglar."

Consider how useful that statement is to Andrews and in what sort of organisation such statements would need to be given high importance. Wouldn't you hope that the person could find it within themselves to doubt, just for 1 hour, just long enough to find out for themselves whether or not they are trapped within a net of self-supporting lies? Whether the trust that they have placed in the source of statements is well founded, or whether that trust has been abused?

So, as we now go onto look at the actual world-views, that's what I invite you to do. Step back and consider impartially the explanations given in each world-view. Ask yourself whether they are rich explanations (full of predictive power), or poor explanations (ones that might make for a great story, but that don't lead anywhere and could have many details altered without altering their visible impact). Ask yourself whether they are the quality of explanation you'd accept in any other area of your life, if they came from someone you didn't yet trust.

Ask yourself, if you had been trapped in a cult, would you have managed to escape it?

Of course real cults are not that obvious about it. They dress it up in a good story. Here, for example, are the 'exit videos' of the Heaven's Gate cult members who suicided:

That's why predictive and explanatory power matter. Once caught in a net, it is your only hope for even realising that the net exists and is a net.
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 7

What is the Christian world-view?

As mentioned previously, for the moment I'm using the phrase "Christian world-view" to refer to the most non-naturalistic version; I'll come onto the other variants later. So, here it is....

Traditionally a world-view can be split into 6 components:

Etiology ("What happened in the past?")
Cosmology ("What is life, the universe and everything? How does it work? What is human nature?")
Eschatology ("What is going to happen in the future?")
Epistemology ("How do we know this?")
Philosophy ("What should our goals be?")
Praxeology ("How should we try to attain those goals?")

What is the Christian Etiology?

For convenience I've used the dates from the Ussher chronology, where available. The precise dates are not central to the Christian world-view, but do provide a useful framework within which to organise the claimed events.


infinity - God the creator, God the Logos and God the holy spirit exist, ab initio
???? - At some point God creates the non-physical universe and all the angels
4004 - Over a 6 day period, God creates the physical universe and everything in it
3950 - Satan, the mightiest of the angels, rebels, and is cast out from heaven
3900 - Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden
3500 - Sumerians build the City of Ur: cuneiform writing, pottery, the wheel
3100 - Pharaoh Menes founds the 1st Egyptian Dynasty (the Palermo Stone)
3000 - The stone circle at Stonehenge is used for cremations and as a cemetery
2667 - Vizier Imhotep builds a pyramid for Pharaoh Djoser, near Memphis in Egypt
2494 - 5th Dynasty - worship of Osiris common in Egypt: resurrection
2349 - Noah's Flood
2250 - The Tower of Babel
2150 - Sumerian text, The Epic of Gilgamesh
2100 - Sumerian text, Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta
1921 - God's call to Abraham
1800 - The 12 tribes of Israel are captive in Egypt
1772 - The Code of Hammurabi
1491 - The Exodus from Egypt, leg by Moses
1400 - Hindu text from India, The Rigveda
1200 - Earliest surviving Chinese writings, detailing 500 years of Shang Dynasty history
1050 - King David makes Jerusalem his capital
1012 - Founding of the first Temple in Jerusalem, by David's son, King Solomon the Wise
1000 - Zarathustra invents monotheism: magi, omniscience
900 - Old Testament starts to be composed
800 - The Indian epic, The Mahabharata, is composed
753 - Foundation of Rome
625 - Earliest surviving fragments of the Old Testament
588 - Babylon captures Jerusalem and destroys the first Temple
512 - The second Temple is built
450 - Old Testament edited into a final stable form
420 - Mozi, in China, publishes writings: universal love and the Golden Rule
344 - Aristotle publishes De Caelo
330 - Israel conquered by Alexander the Great
250 - Earliest copes of the Old Testament written in Greek
67 - Worship of Mithras spread by the slaver pirates conquered then spared by Pompey
63 - Israel conquered by Romans
30 - Hillel the Elder, and the Pharisee/Sadducee/Essene split.
4 - Birth of Jesus


27 - Jesus baptised by John the Baptist
32 - John the Baptist executed. Jesus leads at the feeding of the 5000.
33 - Jesus is executed on the cross. Pentecost.

What is the Christian Cosmology?

There are two aspects of the universe - the physical, and the non-physical.

Or, as Bishop Berkeley suggests with the doctrine of subjective idealism, we misunderstand the nature of what human minds perceive as the physical universe, and that in fact it is God who implants ideas (the thoughts we interpret as sensations of an objective external reality) directly into our minds in an orderly manner. The only things that fundamentally exist are the Mind of God, our Minds, and the ideas communicated between them. All else (trees falling in forests when no human is around to see them) exists only as an idea in the Mind of God.

Either way, God is the supreme creator. Everything exists and happens by His sovereign will (either at His instigation, or with His permission). He chose and set in motion the cosmos, with perfect foreknowledge of how the results would play out and all is as He intends, except where He has created beings with permission to choose to withdraw themselves and their surroundings from the sheltering perfection of unity with His guiding spirit.

God is omnipotent, in that His absolute power can effect whatever is not intrinsically impossible. He cannot create a square circle; He cannot create an object that both exists and does not exist; He cannot take an action that is both in harmony with His nature and attributes, and that is at war with them. For this reason, he cannot sin, he cannot change the past, and he cannot reverse his own decrees. We talk about his potentia ordinaria (regulated power) which is the things he can do limited by the decrees he has already announced.

It follows from this that he is omniscient and omnipresent, since both those are powers that are neither intrinsically impossible, nor things he has forbidden Himself by decree.

The species Homo sapiens sapiens, the descendants of one man (Israel, son of Abraham), the planet Earth, and the recent milennia (2000 bce to 2000 ce) are the focus of this physical universe, in the sense that the rest of it is just backdrop scenery for this central play.

The events marking changes of act in the play are: the Creation, the Fall, the Redemption and the Consummation

God created humankind in His own image [Genesis 1:27], in that they have both a physical aspect (the body) and a non-physical aspect (the soul) [Ecclesiastes 12:7], however the nature of man changes in each act [Romans 8:18-25]:

During the first act (while living in the Garden of Eden), humankind was in a state of innocence - human nature is entirely good, humans have a relationship with God, humans are immortal in body and soul, humans have bodily appetites but these are not excessive - rather they are perfectly constrained by rationality and consideration of higher needs.

During the second act (Old Testament), humankind was in a state of sin - human nature is corrupted, humans have chosen to separate themselves from God, humans are mortal in body and soul, and suffer from concupiscence.

During the third act (after the first coming of Jesus), humankind is in a state of grace - through the atonement of Jesus (by some combination of incarnation, living as human, teaching the Good News, then suffering and death on the cross) a link was offered by which the separation from God could be bridged, and those humans who choose to accept that link, that thrown life-line, by going through the salvation process, are 'born again' (regain their divine-likeness of having an immortal non-physical aspect), and though their physical body remains short-lived and dies, they become part of the Body of Christ (the one universal church of Jesus' righteous followers) and through indwelling (unction or anointment) of the Holy Spirit they regain a way to resist concupiscence.

During the last act (after the second coming of Jesus), humankind will be in a state of glory - of those who are saved, their bodies will be physically resurrected, their minds and souls will be healed, then thier bodies will be transformed into the glorious state they would have had before the fall, the beauty of the soul manifest in physical form, immune from pain or decay, unrestrained by matter and perfectly obediant to the will. Of those who fail to find favour in God's eyes at this last judgement, opinions differ, the main camps being:
a) eternal conscious suffering (possibly including fire and torment by Satan's devils)
b) final irreversible separation from the mind of God, causing the person to cease to exist
c) a millennia long period of suffering and learning, followed by reconciliation
either way, not nice and something worth any effort, action or choice in order to avoid.
(some denominations disagree - see section on Eschatology)

The very nature of physical reality (including time and causality) is fluid, and changes between acts, like the scenery in a play. In the beginning God did indeed create the world in six days, and everything in it including Adam and Eve. After the Fall and again after the Flood, He reshaped the universe and the laws of nature (or gave permission for it to be reshaped by humankind's decision to separate from Him) resulting in a more predictable mechanistic appearance compatible with a naturalistic creation and evolution.

Those within whom the Holy Spirit dwells have, through it, the chance to request that pieces of reality return to being 'more in tune with'/'under the protection of being better connected to' the Mind of God, and God will always respond to such requests, though the response may be "no, that piece isn't ready or has not consented" and the person making the request may not be sufficiently in tune to hear or recognise the response.

People are under the illusion that the predictability of the laws of physics is the natural state of things, and that miracles are exceptions to this. The more fundamental truth is that the universe is and always was intended to be miraculous, a warm and comforting place that responds to will, and the cold mechanistic appearance we perceive is damage caused by our separation from God, like a leg with the circulation cut off that goes cold and numb, and can be physically moved but no longer generates its own motive force.

The reason why miracles seem abundant at some points in history, and scarce at other times, is a combination of how widely the ripples from a miracle would spread and how ready the people that would be affected by the ripples are to consent to the possibility of being closer to God.

What is the Christian Eschatology?

A great leader will arise, who will make a peace treaty with Israel. This marks the start of the Apocalypse and the end times and, in particular, a 7 year period termed the Tribulation. Half way through, the leader will break the peace treaty, leading the forces of Gog and Magog in an attack upon Israel. He will set up some worldwide political or economic system. At the end of the Tribulation there will be a battle at Armageddon (a flat area just north of Megiddo, in Israel) at which time Jesus will return to earth for a second time, this time in power and in glory, to rid the Earth of the leader and his armies, and to herald 1000 years of peace. At His name, every knee shall bow. At the end of the 1000 years comes the Last Judgement, where God passes judgement and evil is finally and permanently banished from the world. The world as we know it ends, to be replaced by a new Jerusalem (a new heaven and earth).

There may or may not be a Rapture at some point in this process. Denominations differ.

What is the Christian Epistemology?

We know the Christian worldview to be true through the personal witness of the holy spirit.

What is the Christian Philosophy?

God is perfect, and had no need to create humankind and a physical universe to contain them. The reason He chose to create humankind (other beings in His own image, with rationality and free will) was not for their benefit, nor because he needed anything they could supply Him with (such as praise and worship), but because it pleased Him to create a theatre in which all of His primary aspects could be manifested.

A thing is good for the purpose of obtaining a desired result, if it is an efficient means of increasing the chances of that result happening. Often the result is implicit in the function of the thing, so when we say that a thing is "a good hammer" it is understood that we mean the thing is efficient at knocking nails into walls because that purpose is implied by our identifying the thing as a hammer.

The purpose of humankind is to exercise their rational free will in a way that pleases God.

Conscience is a human's consciousness of what will please God. Humans are fallible, but as a human grows up it is a faculty that can be improved in accuracy through knowledge, reason and a strengthened personal relationship with God. (Alternatively some see conscience as being part of the Holy Spirit and inerrant, and the fallible thing being our ability to listen accurately to it.)

Good, for a human, is to will action in accordance with the human's conscience.

Evil, for a human, is to will action against the human's conscience.

Moral, for a human, is to attempt or desire actions (for any reason) that are pleasing to God .

Immoral, for a human, is to attempt or desire actions (for any reason) that are displeasing to God .

Acts of supererogation are actions that please God, above and beyond the call of duty, such as the three counsels of perfection (Chastity, Poverty and Obedience).

Sins are actions (externally or internally, intentionally or unintentionally) that displease God.

Virtues are habits that incline a human away from sin such as the Dianoetic virtues (Nous, Episteme and Sophia), the cardinal virtues (Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude), the three graces (Faith, Hope and Agape - for translation of "Agape", see here and here) and various other heavenly virtues (Patience, Kindness and Humility).

Vices are habits that incline a human towards sin such as Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride.

What is the Christian Praxeology?

The way to please God is to seek Salvation (an acceptance of the life-line to connection with God, offered through a relationship with Jesus), but interpretations differ on precisely how this is achieved.

The process of Salvation can be divided into steps (traditionally 12 of them: Foreknowledge, Predestination, Calling, Regeneration, Faith, Repentance, Justification, Adoption, Sanctification, Mortification, Perseverance, Glorification)

One view translates the Greek word pistis as "faith" (meaning "belief, trust and reliance") and charis as "grace". In this view:

Sola gratia - Salvation can not be earned on merit. It is not something we deserve. It is available to us only as a gift, by grace alone.
Soli Deo gloria - the gift comes from God alone, and to God alone is praise and glory due.
Sola fide - the gift can be received only by our having faith, and by faith alone.
Solus Christus - and that faith must be in Christ, because it is through Christ alone the gift may be received.
Sola scriptura - the holy Bible is the Word of God because every word in it is divinely inspired and carries God's full authority. It is clear and sufficient; it presents everything a person needs to known in order to obtain salvation and live a Christian life, with no requirement for additions from pronouncements or revelations, and with no requirement for interpretation by scholars or clergical authorities.
In this view, Christ is a redeemer, 'buying back' humanity from Satan's power by offering himself up as a substitute sacrifice, to take in their place the legal penalty for breaking God's law. This legalistic view of honour is similar to the feudal one in medieval times when this interpretation of Salvation started to become common, and was based upon the German tribal concept of wergild.

The feudal idea of submission to a Lord fits in with this view that Christianity is about accepting Jesus as your Savior (God has a plan for you, and you need to invite Him back into your life as the leader, get in harmony with Him by changing how you live to let Him use your talents for His purpose).

The other, older, view translates pistis as "faithfulness" (loyalty to Jesus and commitment to his teachings) and charis as "favour" (which implies an obligation to expend effort in response).

In this view, Christ is a martyr, whose atonement was to set an example that would bring about a positive moral change to humankind. In the words of the joint declaration on justification signed by the Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists: "They place their trust in God's gracious promise by justifying faith, which includes hope in God and love for him. Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it. ". This contrasts to both Legalism and Antinomianism, and fits the 'New Perspective on Paul' theological shift.

So what is this life plan, these works, that God lets us know, through the words of the Bible, that He finds pleasing? The Bible contains many prescriptions, which can roughly be divided into:

Noahide law (prohibition of Idolatry, Murder, Theft, Arayot, Blasphemy, Injustice, and cruelty to animals)
Mosaic law (613 laws given to the Jewish people - lists here and here, including dietary and ceremonial requirements)
The Decalogue
The Threefold Duties (to God, to Others and to Self, listed in the New Testament)
The Sermon on the Plains (Luke 6 - "Give to everyone who asks you", "Love your enemies", "Do to others as you would have them do to you", "Forgive", "Do not judge", "Do not condemn")
The Great Commandments (Mark 12:28-24 - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart", "Love your neighbor as yourself")
The Great Commission ("Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you")
Opinions differ about which of these 'Covenants' apply to Christians, based mainly on varying interpretations of Matthew 5:17-20. Opinions also differ on how to go about interpreting the Bible (an area of theology called hermeneutics):

Some translations (eg KJV) are also inspired, inerrant, and can be take literally
The original Greek and Hebrew texts are inerrant, but need to be interpreted in context
Scripture must be interpreted in the context of the teachings of the Church
Scripture was written by errant men, but the sum weight of these witness reports is reliable
The Bible is not God's only scripture - Joseph Smith, and others, also received revelations
However Christians are near unanimous in accepting the Catholic hermeneutic principle of Reverence ("study must be begun and prosecuted with a spirit of reverence and prayer" - ie with the guidance of the Holy Spirit)

Also there's the example of how Jesus Himself interpreted scripture, who appeared to take entirely literally the accounts of Adam and Eve, Noah, Johan and Lot. (eg Matthew 12; Luke 17; Mark 10).

With that in mind, what of fallen angels, Satan and Hell? We have Jesus' own words on the matter [Matthew 25:31-46] that He accepted the literal existence of the devil, and eternal punishment in eternal fire. (And that it is the fate of anyone who ever meets a hungry person but then does not feed them despite being able.)

If Satan is pure evil, does that mean God is pure good? No, because it is meaningless to ask whether God is good. Good for whose purpose? His own? A better question is whether He is omnibenevolent - is He as kind to everyone as it is possible to be? Again, the answer is no, because kindness can contradict justice, and justice is also one of God's fundamental attributes. What He is is perfect, with infinite justice and infinite mercy in perfect proportions, and He can act in no other way but in perfect harmony with His own nature. It is by contemplating His works that we improve our understanding of what perfection is.

Does God's omniscience extend to the future? Are our choices predestined or do we have free will? God has decreed that humankind in general have free will, so for the general run of humankind, our choices are ours. None the less, God is able to predict many things, though His knowledge of our likely choices and His own plan and actions; and He reserves the ability to steer history by intervening in individual cases by hardening hearts or by revelation. (eg Romans 9:14-18). (Opinions differ: some believe in single or double predestination.)

One final point on Praxeology, and that is Orthopraxy (blood, sacrifices and sacraments - the external traditions of how one lives, such as attending Church services, being baptised, taking communion, wedding vows, paying tithes). Some Churches place a stronger emphasis upon this than others, but few consider participation in these to be a prerequisite for salvation, or the practices to be immutable.
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Answer to Questions about Atheism asked Frequently on CafeMom, by Clairwil - part 8

What is an Atheist world-view?

As mentioned previously, for the moment I'm using the phrase "Atheist world-view" to refer to the most naturalistic version; I'll come onto the other variants later. So, here is an example...

Traditionally a world-view can be split into 6 components:

Etiology ("What happened in the past?")
Cosmology ("What is life, the universe and everything? How does it work? What is human nature?")
Eschatology ("What is going to happen in the future?")
Epistemology ("How do we know this?")
Philosophy ("What should our goals be?")
Praxeology ("How should we try to attain those goals?")

What is the Atheist Etiology?

Code: Select all

Maximum         Minimum           Event

13,830,000,000  13,570,000,000    Start of this universe
 4,590,000,000   4,490,000,000    Start of the Earth
 4,100,000,000                    Surface of Earth cools enough for RNA to form
 3,800,000,000   3,400,000,000    Start of life on Earth
 2,800,000,000   2,400,000,000    Simple multicellular organisms
 2,100,000,000   1,600,000,000    Eukaryotic cells and sexual reproduction
   600,000,000     580,000,000    Complex multicellular life with Hox genes
   550,000,000     500,000,000    Cambrian 'explosion' and ozone layer
   500,000,000                    Fish
   300,000,000                    Reptiles
                   260,000,000    End of the Karoo Ice Age
   230,000,000                    First Dinosaurs
   200,000,000                    Mammals & break up of Pangaea supercontinent
   150,000,000                    Birds
   130,000,000                    Flowers
                    65,000,000    Last Dinosaurs
    55,000,000      50,000,000    Rats, Whales, Bats, Camels & Primates
    40,000,000                    Split between New World and Old World monkeys
    35,000,000      30,000,000    Grass, Pigs, Cats, Dogs
    25,000,000                    Split between Old World monkeys and apes
                    10,000,000    Savanna ecosystem : herbivores & carnivores
     7,000,000                    Split between Gorilla and Chimpanzee ancestors
     6,500,000                    Split between Chimps and first hominids
     5,000,000       3,000,000    Mammoths, Saber-toothed cats & modern horses
     2,580,000                    Start of the Quaternary Ice Age
     2,000,000                    First members of the genus: Homo - stone tools
     1,200,000                    Last common ancestor with Homo erectus
       500,000                    Last direct common ancestor with Neanderthals
       530,000         400,000    Language, Fire, Wooden Spears
       300,000         150,000    Last Homo erectus dies
       200,000                    Homo sapiens sapiens
       170,000                    First wave of migration out of Africa
       160,000                    Genetic Eve
       120,000                    Start of most recent glacial period
        60,000                    Genetic Adam
        35,000          32,000    Earliest cave paintings
                        28,000    Last Neanderthal dies
        24,000          22,000    Venus of Willendorf religious sculpture
        15,000          12,000    Bering land bridge, arrows, pottery
        11,850                    Oldest timber datable using dendrochronology
                        11,400    End of most recent glacial period
        11,000           9,000    Agriculture, Animal domestication, metals
        11,000                    Oldest building found by archeologists
         9,500                    Oldest living tree (a spruce tree, in Sweden)
         5,500                    Oldest bulding that is still standing
         5,500           5,000    Bronze, Writing, the Wheel 

Changes in biodiversity over time (extinction events marked with triangles)


(vertical axis in thousands of genera)
(horizontal axis in millions of years)

Human migration patterns (waves dated by time in thousands of years)


What is the Atheist Cosmology?

" All things are made of atoms - little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. "
--Richard Feynman

All atoms and collections of atoms (such as bricks, apples and people) so far observed behave in a way that is consistent with there being certain regularities that are absolute (they have not changed since these regularities were first discovered) and universal (they apply everywhere we've seen, to everything we've seen). These regularities generally reflect symmetries of time and space, and conservation of quantities; and can often be expressed as surprisingly simple and elegant mathematical equations that are valid (accurate, on a probabilistic level, within statable limits) within well defined constraints. The study of this is called "physics".

Examples include motion:




and electromagnetism:


Looked at more closely, we find the atoms themselves are made up of collections of smaller charged and uncharged particles, which let the atoms be categorised into distinct categories called "elements" and sub-categories called "isotopes" and "ions", and which also allow the atoms to link together and unlink, under certain conditions, in a predictable fashion, forming compounds with distinctive properties. The study of this is called "chemistry".



One particular element, Carbon, has valences suitable for forming a wide variety of complex compounds, and the study of these is called "organic chemistry", because these compounds form the basic for the sorts of interactive system that have the property of being able to decrease their internal entropy at the expense of the entropy of their surrounding environment (by, for example, sensing and moving about that environment in order to consume parts of it and convert those parts into growth, self-repair/self-preservation and self-replication). We call this property "life" and the study of these living systems "biology".

Biologists notice that there are also observable regularities among living organisms, especially the large ones with calcium bones. Each individual organism is made up out of a mainly cooperative ecosystem of tiny cells, each of which contain strands of a chemical known as DNA. The cells in the body reproduce and die many times during the individual's lifespan, but stored in regions of the DNA molecule (known as "genes") is information, encoded as patterns of amino acids (known as "alleles"); this information contains instructions on how to construct cells, adapt them to specialised functions and alter the chemicals they process (which in turn, via something similar to 3D origami, dictates the shape of the resulting creature). The information gets replicated and passed on each time, very very accurately (fewer than 1 mutation in every billion amino acid pairs copied). And, if the individual is lucky, on a few occasions during their lifetime they may meet up with another individual whose DNA is compatible, and combine the information from the two individuals in a fashion that results in the creation of a new smaller third individual who (with aid) may become self-sufficient and head off to consume parts of the environment and, in turn, create more small individuals. This process is known as "sexual reproduction".

The group of individuals whose DNA is compatible enough to result in fertile offspring is known as a "species", but this isn't a concept with absolute fixed boundaries, because it is quite possible to have a chain of individuals where A is compatible with B, B is compatible with C, C is compatible with D, but (if you continue the chain) you reach the stage where A is not compatible with Z. When these individuals are all alive at the same time, this is known as a "ring species".

When these individuals are spread out over time there's a different name for the process. If you have A who is the parent of B and Z (who get blown by a hurricane to a different island). Over the generations B gives birth to C, who gives birth to D, etc; while Z on the other island gives birth to Y, who gives birth to X, etc. Eventually if, when two distant descendants meet: K (descendant of B) and T (descendant of Z) and they are not compatible, we say that "speciation" has occurred. They are two new species.

One biologist, Charles Darwin, pointed out that all species of life on Earth seem to fit neatly into a single forking ancestral tree and that the direction in which successive generations of individuals in a species change over time is explainable by the selective pressure from the environment which is more likely to kill off individuals before they have reproduced if those individuals do not fit into the environment as well as their peers do.

A later biologist, Richard Dawkins, pointed out that, seen from the point of view of the alleles in an individual's DNA, the large sacks of bones walking around are just the alleles way of spreading copies of itself, and that each allele is in a symbiotic relationship with the other alleles in the genome of its species. He additionally pointed out that ideas also face mutation, selection, adaptive pressures and hereditary, and that the patterns by which ideas spread and change over time obey the same underlying mathematical model as the biological evolution of species (this is known as "meme" theory).

One of the things explained by the current scientific consensus theory of how biological evolution happens (hereafter referred to as "evolution") is why there has been specialisation among individuals in species that sexually reproduce into two genders, "male" and "female". Different species have chosen different strategies when it comes to offspring. Some have lots of offspring, but invest as little time an energy on producing each one as possible. Other species have fewer offspring, but invest more in improving the chances that each individual offspring will survive until adulthood. Where there is an unequal burden in which gender parent provides the direct investment (generally the female provides more), sexual dimorphism springs up, with the male taking on a different role (sometimes acting as a provider or protector to the female, and sometimes acting as a risk-taker, with fewer males breeding, but those males which do breed then acting as mate to more than one female).

Among the types of specialised cell in the bodies of vertebrates are ones that pass on messages via secreting chemicals (the endocrine system) and via electrical signals (the nervous system). These systems permit living creatures to model reality and make decisions ("thought"), experience positive and negative feedback ("feeling"), store these thoughts and feelings and input from their senses as data for later retreival ("memory"), change their decisions depending upon that stored data ("learning") and project their model forwards to consider possible futures ("anticipation"). These abilities give creatures a capacity for adapting to their environment on a much faster timescale than would be allowed by just waiting to see which individuals survive long enough to pass their alleles on to the next generation. The lessons learned this way are not passed on in the genes, but they can still be passed on via teaching and example, from one generation to the next.

The study of how animals behave, as influenced by nature (genes) and nurture (memes), is called "ethology". The reward and aversion systems of animals have evolved intrinsic motivational drives that are adapted to working in the interests of the animal's DNA. These drives include

survival (not dying from starvation, cold, heat, thirst, being eaten, disease or injury)
reproduction (having S*x and raising children)
safety (gaining, holding and organising a safe predictable territory, then saving up resources)
grouping (gaining acceptance into a group who can share defence of territory and resources, staying in contact with them and being loyal to them)
respect (increasing status within the group, leading to preferential access to resources and reproduction, influence over decisions, and power to strike down defectors, betrayers and competitors).
fun (improved health, reduced stress, seeking novelty, mastery of skills - improving your quality of life improves your survival and reproductive success)
The more complex the animal's brain, the more likely the animal is to have the more complex drives that depend upon grouping, learning and anticipation. Humans (and some of the other higher primates) have brains capable of abstract thought, and in addition to the above can also experience drives that are abstractions of the more basic ones, such as Autonomy (a need to express individuality, to achieve cognitive independence from the social group) and Idealism (a need for social justice - an ethical system generalised beyond fairness and loyalty to just one social group).

It is notable that these drives are not, from the perspective of the individual creature (as opposed to the creature's DNA) entirely selfish, and can lead to altruistic actions (such as a mother fighting off a predator to defend her cubs, rather than running away; or a member of a tribe taking wounds in the process of defending the tribe from outsiders or from insiders not obeying the social mores and expectations of the tribe - its rules). The abstraction of the altruistic drives and positive emotions that are seen in both humans and other animals (the love of a mother or mate, loyalty to the pack and a desire for fairness) can lead, in humans, to actions we'd consider truely heroic or altruistic and, when we use a brain scanner to look at which parts of the brain are active, we can trace down the physiological mechanism behind it. It turns out that the way brains are wired is to, by default, see all people as 'us'. There is a mechanism layered on top of this which keep track of favours, fear, 'trustworthiness' and group membership. However when this mechanism is inhibited by certains chemicals (such as Oxytocin or MDMA) the brain reverts to the ego-less state of a newborn baby.

The study of how humans think and behave (and how that depends upon the brain) is called "psychology" (and "neurology").

What is the Atheist Eschatology?

Atheist world-views tend to predict very little about the future (except that the regularities of nature are likely to continue to hold, by Occams Rasor) and, even then, only in terms of probability.

The Sun (the star the planet Earth orbits) is due to expand as it gets older, destroying the Earth completely in about 7,600,000,000 years time, however the Earth will become unpleasant to inhabit (no seas or atmosphere) in just less than 1,000,000,000 years' time, as the increasing heat boils everything off.

What is the Atheist Epistemology?

The source of the reliance we can place upon the findings of science is our knowledge of human nature.

The 'best practices' of the scientific community (sometimes known as the 'scientific method') is the community's collective wisdom on how not to fool itself, accumulated over generations by exerience of the flaws that can be introduced if any element of the method is left out. The basic cycle, that can be carried out by one person in isolation is:

STEP 0 : Start with an initial null hypothesis and make that your current hypothesis
STEP 1 : Via thought and observation, generate a variant hypothesis that explains everything observed so far at least as well as your current hypothesis
STEP 2 : Design an experiment for which your two hypothesis predict different outcomes
STEP 3 : Carry out the experiment
STEP 4 : If the variant won, make your variant the current champion. Return to step 1 and keep challenging it until it either falls over and you have to replace it, or until you've tested it so strongly that you've gained lots of confidence in it.

However the wider method, and the one from which we gain confidence, stems from:

STEP 5 : When you have confidence, publish your hypothesis, your data, and the experiements you carried out in sufficient detail that others can attempt to replicate your findings

Any individual researcher or even an entire research lab could be involved in fraud. However the more people involved in a conspiracy, the lower the chances that it will be kept, especially if people have a strong incentive to defect. Academics generally read all new papers, as they get published in the relevant reputable peer-reviewed academic journals in their specific area of research. And academics get status from publishing responses to papers, especially if the paper is making an important claim and the academic can refute what it is saying. So, if you see a claim made in a paper published in a relevant reputable peer-reviewed academic journal and, checking the citations, you find that several high-impact papers cite it without denouncing it, this tells you that for it to be obviously fraudulent would require thousands of scientists living in different countries to simultaneously decide to selflessly sacrifice the money and status they'd achieve by pointing out the fraud. Human nature tells us this is amazingly unlikely to happen.

What about non-obvious frauds or just flawed experiments that can't be replicated?

If a paper has been around for 10 years, and is making a major claim, yet nobody has published a follow up or tried to replicate it, that would be seen as suspicious and lead to people ceasing to cite it and either investigate or turn towards alternative hypothesis. Academic is a ferocious jungle and the only ideas which survive to trigger new generations of science built on top of them tend to be those that are actively fought for and survive hostile testing from groups backing other candidates. People point at medicine and say "Doctors change their minds all the time about what the best treatment for a particular disease is" and point at Galileo and say "Everything could be wrong, anything in science could change completely at any moment", but that's not so. The vast majority of the body of scientific findings is very stable. The cutting edge that changes at a faster rate is more publically visible precisely because changes generate publicity. Doctors face two difficulties, in that there are restrictions on what sort of experiments you can carry out on human patients, and they don't have the luxury of saying "we don't know yet", because sick people want a best guess they can try right now, not certainty in 10 years time.

If you're going to bet on whether a scientific prediction, drawn randomly from a textbook in a library's science section, is true or not, you'd be a fool to accept 50:50 odds. The predictions of science are far far more likely to be right than they are to be wrong. That's not 100% certainty, but it is a source of reliability. It is a bet you take every time you put your life at the mercy of a car, a plane, an electrical appliance or a building constructed according to Newton's principles of mechanics. It is base hypocracy to take that bet every time, when it comes to immediate danger to the life of yourself or your child, but then throw up your hands and say "Science isn't reliable" when it comes to scientific questions that don't put you in danger.

What is the Atheist Philosophy?

There is no agreement on a theoretical level between Atheists on the purpose of life because, as Hume famously declared, you can't logically deduce an 'ought' statement from an 'is' statement.

This doesn't mean that there is no absolute morality and that morality is all relative. It just means we can't prove which answer is correct.

On a pragmatic level, though, consensus can be reached. There are multiple atheistic religions, such as Secular Humanism, that have codified answers:

" The basic components of effective morality are universally recognized. Paul Kurtz has written of the “common moral decencies”—qualities including integrity, trustworthiness, benevolence, and fairness. These qualities are celebrated by almost every human religion, not because God ordained them, but because human beings cannot thrive in communities where these values are ignored. " (source)
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