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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Oh no, those dogmatic atheists

Over at Blag Hag, Jen McCreight blogs about a panel at the recent conference Evolution 2010. One panel, which was devoted to the subject of communicating science, apparently turned into a fest of accommodationism, with warnings to the audience not to offend the religious by suggesting any tension between religion and evolutionary theory.

Now, of course, there are religious positions - such as a strict deism, but also some liberal positions - that do not conflict with science, at least not in any direct way. While I would argue for more subtle forms of incompatibility even between some of these positions and science, it really depends on just what positions we're talking about.

But that's not the big problem in the US if you want to defend science. The big problem is that a very large proportion of the American population buys into fundamentalist positions that are plainly incompatible with science (i.e. the incompatibility does not go by way of any kind of contestable philosophical-scientific argument). E.g., these people believe in a literal creation about 6000 years ago, in the tower of Babel and Noah's flood as historical events, and so on. No matter how hard we try, we can't cover up that at least those positions are rendered untenable by science.

Anyway, Jerry Coyne and Ophelia Benson are already blogging about the issue, in response to Jen's post. Good for all of them. I just want to home in on one point, elaborating something I said in a comment at Ophelia's place. Even my Christian friends should be able to agree with this.

It arises from Jen's report that:

The reason why people feel compelled to do this [back away from critiques of religion] is because religion holds a special status in our society where it can't be criticized, even when it's blatantly wrong. This really came out in the second part of the symposium, which was by a woman from AAAS (I unfortunately missed her name). She said there's no use in including creationists or atheists in the discussion because we're extremists who won't change our minds.

This is sheer stupidity. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that there is some kind of spectrum of belief that runs from atheism to Christian (given the context) fundamentalism by way of various moderate and liberal religious positions. This is slightly odd because it's not at all clear what parameter is increasing or decreasing along the spectrum in the way that wavelength decreases as we go from red to violet. But let that pass - maybe we could think of it as a spectrum of decreasing trust in holy books or some such.

Granting that, then, occupying a position at the end of a spectrum of beliefs is completely orthogonal to occupying a position of greatest dogmatism about one's beliefs. In principle, the person in the middle of such a spectrum may turn out to be the most resistant to revising her position. I.e., a person who believes in God but denies biblical inerrancy may be every bit as dogmatically committed to her position as the person who believes in both and the person who denies both. She might be more so. After all, how many people who occupy such a position are really likely to become atheists when they hear the arguments for atheism? How many of them are really likely to embrace a position that the Bible is inerrant when they hear the arguments for that position?

Furthermore, even if this person is not dogmatically committed to her position but the other two (the atheist and the fundamentalist) are … so what? If I am open to changing my mind on some position that I hold, why does that make it less a good idea for me to talk to people with different but more strongly-held views? If I'm open to changing my mind, then presumably I am open to the idea that these other people have strong arguments that I ought to listen to. So why not hear the arguments? Why avoid dialogue?

As it happens, fundies do tend to be dogmatic. It's hard to get them to change their minds on anything. They'll perform extraordinary mental gymnastics to preserve their basic position, even though it is so plainly opposed to the core findings of modern science. But that degree of dogmatism has little or nothing to do with where they fall on the supposed spectrum of views. The dogmatism comes about partly because they have an integrated system of thought, and they are very resistant to giving up one part of it – the rest may then collapse! They tend to see themselves taking part in a narrative of history with more-or-less determinate dates for key events in humanity's relationship with God: the special creation of each individual kind of plant and animal; the fall of humanity from grace; the establishment of God's covenant with Abraham; the presentation of the Law to Moses; the sacrificial atonement for our sins when Jesus was crucified and resurrected; and an end time still to come, when Jesus will return in glory, leading up to a final apocalyptic war between good (God) and evil (Satan) in which good will prevail. If you remove any element from this, the whole structure is threatened.

By contrast, atheists, qua atheists, don’t commit to any integrated system of thought. Some atheists might, of course. Some may be committed to, say, a version of Marxism, and they may cling to this as dogmatically as any Christian fundamentalist clings to the Bible and the form of theology that I just sketched. But most atheists involved in the current religion/science debates are not like that: they have views that allow a lot of room for disagreements about the specifics. If they change their mind on one aspect, there's not likely to be a whole structure of thought that starts to totter. Thus, these sorts of atheists may be open to changing their minds on many things - including on just how pernicious or otherwise they think religion (or a certain kind of religion) is. They are most unlikely to resist well-established conclusions from the physical and biological sciences.

What about religious moderates and liberals? Some may not have closely-integrated thought systems, and so they may not feel that they must hang on to every point or else see their whole worldview come crashing down. But some may have such integrated systems of thought. There might well be some whose reason for maintaining religious belief at all depends on certain key ideas, and they might therefore be reluctant to give these up or even examine them critically.

Whether someone is locked in to an integrated system of thought that has little flexibility in its joints really does depend on what she actually thinks, rather than where she is on some spectrum of bible acceptance or scepticism. Yes, some atheists could have an emotional commitment to some total system of thought, and this might make them dogmatic, but that is not because they are (for example) less inclined than moderate or liberal Christians to take the Bible as authoritative.

I’m not suggesting that it’s only a matter of how integrated your system of thought might be. There may be other issues, such as just how emotionally invested you are in your system of thought and how much seems to be at stake. If you think that changing anything will put your spiritual salvation at risk, you may be more resistant to changing your thinking than if you merely fear discovering that you're wrong. Again, some atheists may be very heavily invested, emotionally, but so may some moderate and liberal believers. There's no reason to think that the latter are going to find it more easy to give up cherished ideas than anyone else. (Conversely, some atheists may not cherish atheism at all, but merely feel driven to it by logic and experience.)

There are many possibilities, but the idea that the people at the ends of the assumed spectrum must be more dogmatic than those in the middle is just wrong. If Christian fundamentalists are especially dogmatic it may be evidenced by their maintenance of a position in flagrant contradiction to science, and it may be caused by commitment to an integrated system of thought with little give, by their sense that the stakes are very high, and maybe by other factors (e.g. if they reached their position through childhood indoctrination). These factors may not apply so much to liberal and moderate Christians, but nor need they apply to atheists. Again, there is just no reason to think that the degree of someone's dogmatism will correlate directly with her distance from the centre of some alleged spectrum of viewpoints.

I feel that I'm labouring a point here. I'm spelling out something that should be obvious. But it looks like the above has to be said, coz someone has been around the corridors of the AAAS bopping people with the stupidity stick.


Richard Wein said...

What about the extremism and dogmatism of round-Earthers? You'll never change their minds. How much more moderate and open-minded it would be take a position intermediate between a round Earth and a flat one.

GTChristie said...

LOL RichardW. The earth is oblate. That is my position and I'm sticking to it.

Russell Blackford said...

Definitely an oblate spheroid.

K said...

How can you say oblate spheroid when there are mountains and valleys? Answer that dogmatists!

Hal said...

For me the keystone in the arch that fell was the doctrine of the "fall of man." Evolution provides a picture of gradual hominisation, where a fall from original innocence makes no sense. Take away original sin, there is no need for redemption; no need for incarnation, no basis for the need for trinitarian nonsense; no need for church as channel of salvation, etc., etc.

Blake Stacey said...

She said there's no use in including creationists or atheists in the discussion because we're extremists who won't change our minds.

"I refuse to let other people talk, because I'm the open-minded one and they're not!"

Uh, OK . . .

Two points:

1. A substantial number of prominent scientists have been saying pretty much what the "new" atheists have been saying, and for a bloody long time. Do you really want to say that some of the top-notch scientists of the past century had as little to contribute to our understanding as does the young-earth creationist trying to sell you a numbered piece of Noah's Ark?

2. Maybe it's true that one person on the stage will never change the mind of the other. But we don't put them on stage together just for their benefit. By accommodation-logic, the Kennedy/Nixon debate should never have happened.

DM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DM said...


you are going to learn about CONSEQUENCES...

Jessica said...

Is DM real or is that a virus?

DM said...

Russell will learn that BLASPHEMY will cost him his life...

tildeb said...

The problem is accepting the ongoing religious/atheist debate as one that frames what's probably true as nothing more than a simple choice of specific beliefs.

If I believe a christian god is true, that equals your belief that the earth is an oblate spheroid. But when atheists shake up the ideal notion by framing that all beliefs are worthy of equal respect, we get something disrespectful, meaning that atheists who respect what can be shown to be probably true are almost impossible to challenge with what is not probably not true, whereas it is quite easy to challenge those who respect what is probably not true to prove it with what is.

If the difference can be kept to one of different kinds of similar beliefs, then we can have a loose kind of belief-based relativistic accommodation. Oh joyful day! If the difference is respect for what is probably true, then we have those nasty, strident, militant, arrogant atheists speaking up in such clear and concise and convincing language.

And we can't respect that, now can we?

Russell Blackford said...

DM is a popular internet troll. Note that he doesn't need feeding.

Wowbagger said...

Well, we shouldn't be speaking to those awful dogmaticians who insist that all people are equal, no matter to which ethnic groups they belong; similarly, we need to ignore the wretched, inconsiderate people who won't bend on condemning rape; exclude the close-minded bunch who believe GLBTQ folk are entitled to the same rights as the heterosexuals and so forth.

And don't even get me started on those rigid, unflinching, inflexible fundamentalists who insist that, in base 10, that 2+2=4!

There's no getting through to closed minds like theirs. Why even bother?

Robert N Stephenson said...

Fundamentalists are a problem regardless of what they are discussing. The Fundamentalist Christian or as I see them the doctrinal-strict literalists who have decided to shelve logic altogether. We already know what fundamentalists in other religions do to those who do not agree with them.

Is there room for debate between Religions and Atheists -- maybe being specific on the religion might be helpful. Christianity and moderate Islam are certainly open to scientific ideas and development and in a lot of cases are involved with the sciences. But I have to wonder why Atheists do take a stance that says 'I am right, you are foolish'

In that there can be perceived a passive form of Fundementalism. Surely, in this day and age, people are permitted to believe in what they want and not be called foolish and stupid because of it. Then maybe not - despite at least Christianity growing and changing from its strict literal base I cannot see atheism becoming accepting of a believer have those beliefs.

But Fundamentalist Christians aren't the only ones who take the bible literally. Even in this thread someone one has used the literal depiction of the bible to make their point. Something many modern Christians don't do, yet Atheists continue to do. This literal idea does rub both ways. I, like many Christians follow evolutionary and even Darwinistic understanding of life on the planet, so in a way it is a bit insulting to say we don't. This isn't really problematic, but it can be clarified more if when making such statements you be accurate with who you are talking about - be specific about the source of the view.

Now, there is no right or wrong only difference. Of course you disagree with the differences but as soon as you start belittling people based on belief you become just a fanatical as those you oppose, or disagree with.

Modern Christian beliefs and Science work together quite well when they have their areas defined. Fundamentalists of any persuasion, atheists included don't work with anyone other then themselves.

I am quite ashamed to say I was a dogmatic and somewhat fanatical Atheist and I still get a shudder when I think of some of the things I abused people with. Truth or not, abuse is abuse.

Though today the Atheist might see me as a moderate or even liberal, the Mainstream Churches see my branch of Christianity and too radical. In terms of truth or historical honesty we understand social history and how religions developed just as well as any one. We don't tell the Atheist to run away because they will be damned - it is up to them to believe what they want, we won't turn them away, but we won't hound them either.

You see, the biggest problem is in the blanketting of everyone in the same camp. It happens too easily these days and we all have a tendency to do it - especially if we get angry or annoyed with an argument.

If you cannot remain respectful, or show respect for another then in my mind and in any reasonable persons mind you have already exited the argument with the same answers you entered into it with.

J.J. Emerson said...

"I, like many Christians follow evolutionary and even Darwinistic understanding of life on the planet, so in a way it is a bit insulting to say we don't. This isn't really problematic, but it can be clarified more if when making such statements you be accurate with who you are talking about - be specific about the source of the view."

Hmmm, let's be specific shall we? But first:

1) "But I have to wonder why Atheists do take a stance that says 'I am right, you are foolish'";
2) "But Fundamentalist Christians aren't the only ones who take the bible literally. Even in this thread someone one has used the literal depiction of the bible to make their point. Something many modern Christians don't do, yet Atheists continue to do."

No specificity there. It is hard to take you seriously when your prose exhorts a certain delicate sensibility for your side and you neglect to apply that delicate sensibility to your criticisms of your interlocutors.

And more to the point, the criticism of religion that I find most damning isn't its acceptance or rejection of particular bits of science as you imply above. And it really isn't even the crazy stuff religious people believe (like the flood, tower of Babel, Jesus' resurrection, etc.). No the most damning criticism is that religious people come to beliefs through authority and revelation instead of evidence. I wouldn't care that a dishearteningly large proportion of Southern Baptists accept 6 day creation and reject evolution if these beliefs were subject to evidence. Then they could be corrected. But all too often beliefs aren't subject to evidence. If religious people subjected their own beliefs to the same provisional status that scientists aspire to subject their professional beliefs to then the problems could be fixed. Heck, if most religions allowed their followers to subject their own beliefs to the same level of skepticism that they apply to competing religious beliefs, there might be hope.

That's the real problem. Our current scientific understanding of the world privileges no religion and refutes many. At the very least, there is no exclusively religous belief that science supports. Of course I would admit being wrong if sufficient evidence were presented...

Robert N Stephenson said...

I see the evidential reasoning quite often. is not just an Atheist or agnostic standpoint, it often how science in general presents itself.

I will still state that people are permitted to believe in what they want. You have chosen how you want to see the world and I can appreciate that J. J. E, as I can also appreciate the position of the Fundamentalist believer.

Agreeing with it is another thing entirely. There is absolutely no scientific evidence as to why life is what it is. The why it is and what it is along with how are unanswered, and yet science, without evidence to prove how it all works, does accept it does. Evidence is in the seeing of people who walk, talk and interact with each other.

Now religion is a belief system and science is a method of discovery. So forgive me when I don't accept science being the arbiter of religion as I don't accept science as being the arbiter of political positions.

You simply do not believe in a God, nor do you see the need for religion. Explanations of why are not required - yet you qualify the position as if your facts are unquestionable.

You are faced with a dilemma - do you believe you are right and people with a religious faith are wrong?

This posses an interesting question because either way you have a belief system that supports your position. It is just your belief system is based in something else. It is no better and no worse than any other belief system that benefits society in a positive way.

Scientists also must have faith, though the faith is in their abilities and their assumptions rather than a religious stand point. You can of course use different word to describe the positions but in the end they follow the exact same pathways in the brain.

While I easily accept your point of view and the reasoning behind it, I do not have to accept the position you take - I don't give anyone that right.

Also, it is true science has found no proof to support the idea of a 'God' it has also failed to prove without doubt there is 'No God'

The idea or concept is unlikely to be sure, but it was also said that a binary system could not support two planets either - but that was changed last year.

Robert N Stephenson said...


I don't generally disagree with the standpoint of Atheism at all. I just think Atheists need to learn how to coexist with multiple schools of thought better.

A big ask I know, but someone has to have hope that it might happen one day.

Rupert said...

Robert N Stephenson, lovely words. And I'm sure that you and I could happily discourse on many things either online or face to face.

In the end though, the final question is, god or not. So while we, and scientists, can dance around, agree on many things and accept many things equally; there is still the elephant in the room.

The separation is intrinsically insurmountable and anything else is window dressing. That is why I have no time for accommodationists or apologists. Like YNH :-)

Robert N Stephenson said...

Yes Rupert, I do hold out hope and it will take stronger people than us to come to agreeance on anything - an agreement that serves the people rather than just ideals themselves. Whatever those ideals may be.

It is funny how the term apologist is used. If a Christian agrees with an Atheist on some principles they are called an apologist. Why the negative from a positive.

I can't and probably will never subscribe to creating negatives from positive steps - we need to move forward, not sideways and in some instances backwards because of stubbornness or perceived rightness.

Having been an Atheist I really can't see myself ever being that again. Today, despite life issues, I feel more complete and comfortable with the world at large - or my life at large actually. I have learned there is much to learn through patience and calmness, through ever increasing degrees of respect.

That is of course only my position and it works for me

J.J. Emerson said...

"You simply do not believe in a God, nor do you see the need for religion. Explanations of why are not required - yet you qualify the position as if your facts are unquestionable."

Wrong. I think that explanations are very much required. New observations are always welcome and beliefs are always provisional to me. Always. If someone wants to see my observations, I'll show them. I expect the same of others.

You see, I don't see "reality" as a series of propositions that are either right or wrong. I see myself as a pattern recognition machine that takes input and evaluates it and tries the best it can to construct a useful model of the world. For the purposes of making a map of my house's floor plan, the flat earth model is indistinguishable from the spherical model or the oblate spheroid model. The question is, how useful is it? For boating across a resevoir, a flat earth perspective is very useful. For boating from Spain to San Francisco via India, very much less useful.

And it is my contention that most people do some version of this in their daily lives. Do they trust the local used car salesman more or less than their local priest? In general do they trust car salesmen more than priests? There may no real answer that is particularly general (on the one hand many priests feed the hungry and tend to the sick; on the other, some rape children and threaten them with eternal hellfire for tattling). But one thing is usually true, the beliefs that people come to regarding their day to day opinions are contantly confronting observation. Do you go to that restaurant you went to last week? No! It made you vomit and it was expensive. Do you call that psychic again? Yes! I felt better after the call (despite the fact I spent $83 and her predictions were all wrong or very vague). Whether right or wrong, people's beliefs do interact with observation. (Whether they are changed is a different issue. See cognitive dissonance theory.)

"You are faced with a dilemma - do you believe you are right and people with a religious faith are wrong?"

How is that a dilemma? I can explain how my model of the way the world works does not improve if god is added. Religious people are welcome to explain how their beliefs are warranted by observations. My contention is that (subject to revision) god is not a useful addition to a model of understanding the world. This could change. I would also say that quantum mechanics is an unnecessary addition to a model description of the world if I only had the knowledge of the 10th century. I wouldn't even be wrong. At that time, there would be no observations that could justify QM.

Similarly, some religious people may in principle posit a model that explains observations about the world we have yet to make. But to claim that such a model is warranted is different than claiming that such a model is right or wrong. As I said previously, I object to claims by people who aren't willing to describe how those claims are supported by their observations. It is patently ludicrous for a Scientologist to proclaim with any level of certainty that a model of understanding morality invovling intergalactic Boeings sent by Xenu into the earth's volcanoes is useful. It isn't whether the model itself that is good or bad that I focus my attention on. It is that the model itself isn't warranted, regardless of whether it could be useful.

"This posses an interesting question because either way you have a belief system that supports your position. It is just your belief system is based in something else. It is no better and no worse than any other belief system that benefits society in a positive way."

J.J. Emerson said...

You are dangerously close to saying "all beliefs are equivalent". And no, I don't have a circular belief system or whatever you are implying by the odd phrase "either way you have a belief system that supports your position". My beliefs are constantly subject to revision. I could be a theist tomorrow with the proper evidence. I could be disuaded of virtually any belief I currently hold in light of proper evidence. And in fact, I have. I grew up and evolved from fundamentalist evangelical through liberal touchy feely Christianity, through agnosticism and now I'm at ignosticism.

"Scientists also must have faith, though the faith is in their abilities and their assumptions rather than a religious stand point. You can of course use different word to describe the positions but in the end they follow the exact same pathways in the brain."

We're not discussing cognition. No I don't claim religious believers are mutants or that they have fundamentally different brains. And the "faith" you are talking about isn't the same kind of "faith" that believers have. The faith that I had when I was growing up was either based on faulty evidence (especially when I was a creationist), unexamined biases (that god is an assumption), or explicit avowal of evidence free belief. My current "faith" in scientific evidence is provisional and intentionally weak. If I were to find convincing evidence to refute any of the most fundamental models in science, I'd be thrilled! Hello Nobel Prize! Hello history books!

Science thrives on provisional belief ajudicated by evidence. Most people thrive on provisional belief ajudicated by evidence (for day-to-day decisions). However, religion does not generally construct models based on evidence nor do they easily allow evidence to change those models at a later date. This is the crux of the difference.

Wowbagger said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote: 'That is of course only my position and it works for me'

Which, in and of itself, is something most atheists - and all the prominent vocal ones - have stated don't have a problem with. But the sad reality is that the majority of people of faith do not share this approach, not one iota.

We live in a world where the religious determine public policy and cultural norms: GLBTQ people in many modern democracies (including Australia and the USA) are treated as second-class citizens solely because of religious advocacy; millions in Africa and South America are infected with AIDS because the Catholic Church lies about contraception - the list of atrocities goes on and on and on.

If all the religious treated their religion as a solely personal thing there'd be a whole lot less conflict; yes, atheists would still shake their heads at those who believe in delusional nonsense, but they'd have no reason to criticise them openly, any more than they would any other odd hobbyists.

DM said...

you're a perfect example of when PHILOSOPHY becomes an ENEMY OF LIFE...


not quite samantha with her *supernatural spit*, eh?

this isn't one of your little WORD GAMES...

blasphemy is a DEATH SENTENCE

you people actually BELIEVE the BS you preach!

GOD 1 - atheists 0



Repent and turn to God or be destroyed...


my interpretation of the STATUE FIRE... it symbolizes the SPIRITUAL DEATH of atheism...







we do like your music Lady Gaga, but...

The B**BQUAKE - 911

Let me show you the FATE OF TRAITORS...


they are incapable of telling the difference between SCIENTIFIC *FACT* AND

they also preach a *VALUE FREE SCIENCE* called *POSITIVISM* that ignores the
inequalities of wealth and power in capitalist civilization...

for a sample taste of PZ Myers' GARBAGE...





what happens when you LOSE Pascal's Wager...


the blood and bodies of the atheist movement...

you mofos killed MICKEY MOUSE!!!!

this has more TRUTH then what Dawkins, Randi, Harris, Myers, and Shermer
combined have said in their entire lives...


they tried to BULLDOZE the entire METAPHYSICAL DIMENSION...
they LOST THE WAR......

you have FORFEIT YOUR SOUL, shermer... you have become an object in the material world, as you WISHED...



we're gonna smash that TV...


you pushed too much and *CROSSED THE LINE*

degenerates (PZ) or children (HEMANT) - ATHEISTS!


do you have anything to say, you STUPID LITTLE F*CKER?

how about I tell you, Mr. Shermer, EVERYTHING YOU THINK ABOUT THE WORLD is




the 9th and FINAL RING of Dante's Inferno is designed for little blaspheming traitors like you...

but at least FREE AIR CONDITIONING is included!

Robert N Stephenson said...

J.J.E I don't think I was suggesting circular belief here, but sorry if that was experienced.

You see we do have an interesting vision here. Where you were a Christian and are now Agnostic ( in a way), I was Atheist and am now Christian.

We both had the same evidence on offer and I have now doubts in scientific evidence of our world. So to have Faith does not automatically say you are opposed to science - there is always this black and white argument going on, when the reality, despite how much people want to argue points back and forth, is that there is a hell of a lot of grey space - where you just can't say 'This is how it is - full stop"

While I see the Christians blamed for world atrocities I also see non religious governments in poor countries starving their people for profit and gain. The time for old adages is over. The arguments I used 20 years ago to state my points as an atheist are today just some excuses I made so I could be mean and nasty to others.

The funny thing was, I didn't really know much about Christianity until after I became a Christian. So, I didn't learn my way into it like some do. Maybe I just grow tired of people thinking the disrespectful nature they treat people is justifiable because they disagree with beliefs. Though this has been a commonality in discussions of late, I think I will still avoid it, if you don't mind.

Rupert said...

Robert, 'If a Christian agrees with an Atheist on some principles they are called an apologist. Why the negative from a positive.' - because a christian is 'supposed' to believe in creation, that is what the bible and faith is predicated on after all. Science will ultimately disprove it (unless god sticks his hand up), so the situation is irreconcilable and the christian must be compromising their position to some degree.
'While I see the Christians blamed for world atrocities I also see non religious governments in poor countries starving their people for profit and gain' - generally wars are based on faith or political dogma. Non-belief or atheism as such is not a 'cause' of wars; that is, they are not conducted in it's name.

Wowbagger said...

Robert M Stephenson wrote: 'While I see the Christians blamed for world atrocities I also see non religious governments in poor countries starving their people for profit and gain.'

No-one's saying there aren't problems in the world that aren't caused by religion - but there are problems in the world directly caused by religion, and the reason why religion is not changing its position on it is because its adherents have faith that what they're doing is correct.

Feeding starving people is a complicated issue. The Catholic Church lying to Africans about how condoms can prevent AIDS? Very, very simple to fix: the Catholic Church stops lying and fewer people die.

Robert N Stephenson said...

The concept of Christianity is not to take the bible literally. nor was it to follow the old laws stringently. It actually suggests and sometimes even states this in the actual book.

Fundamentalism is of course different, so you cannot simply apply fundamental values to Christianity in order to make an argument.

There are really only a few stringent Christian principles that are required in order to be a Christian. One is to believe Jesus is the saviour (Jesus is held in a number of different regards ranging from son of God to teacher. I am of the teacher variety). The other is to love your neighbour as you love yourself. (easier said than done) and a few more simple things.

Some Christians follow the idea you have put forward Rupert, but not all. Roma Catholic enforced some beliefs because, well, they were Romans, they liked to enforce things.

Christianity is not simply summed up as a religion, or dismissed based on a pre-set rule of thumb. If it were so, then there would not have been the great scientists we have had over the centuries.

Christian faith is not quite like anti- people deliver. And to make an argument work many pundits take the extremist view and portray it as the general view.

Unfortunate, but it happens very easily

Rupert said...

Are you saying that some don't believe in Genesis? Why believe any of it then?

Between the poor translations, misinterpretations and selective gathering of 'books' and texts, not to mention the selective '...not to take the bible literally. nor was it to follow the old laws stringently...'; how do christians know where they stand?

This is what sticks in my craw. The vast majority of christians claim that homosexuality is a sin and that gay people must resist. Yet there is evidence that the original texts may have not actually said this. And why choose to support that part of scripture and not sections such as killing cheeky children or people who work on sundays?

Robert N Stephenson said...

Wowbagger - while the Catholic Church holds its position in Africa, and even in some South American countries, many, many other Christian and associated NGOs are distributing condoms and even medications for the treatment of HIV. The Catholics Hold only one view and it is not a view shared by everyone.

It is like our government isn't doing a huge amount to help people in Tibet, because it doesn't want to upset the Chinese - yet it is small Christian organizations that are getting medicines and new to the people at great risk to their lives.

Things aren't easily defined any more - not like it was in the 1940s and 50s. Not even like the wild awakening of the late 60s and 70s.

We can find supportive arguments for any position we want to take, and naturally we do. But I still have to be fair.

Mental illness has been associated with crime - so, do we lock up all the people who suffer a mental illness? Or, do atheists now consider people who may have a faith also suffer from a mental illness? I have heard it said more than once in general discussion in other places.

I am hoping to illustrate the grounds we so easily stamp across, with little regard for others. Even in my discussion with fundamentalist Christians (that is tough, trust me) I always remain respectful and even mannered, well mostly. I can no more change their beliefs than I can hold back the tide. So why try.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Rupert, much of the bible in the old testament comes from other writings or is shared with other stories. Historical research into the origins of stories has shown this - so Christians are encouraged to do studies that educate them as to what has been borrowed and what it is referencing historically and what can be questionable. The whole books of Mark and Luke are a case in point. It has become clear that neither of these people existed, but the stories are included because they are consistent with other accounts.

Smart Christians study up on what they believe, the not so smart just meander along doing whatever.

What do Christians base their faith on? Ah, it is obvious in the name of the religion. Jesus Christ.

As for how people choose to treat each other - even the Atheist practiced black/white segregation at one time

Wowbagger said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote: 'The Catholics Hold only one view and it is not a view shared by everyone.'

What they hold isn't as important as why they hold it - which is faith. Not evidence, not ethical anaylsis - faith. If faith is allowed special privilege to remain immune to challenge, why would we expect this to ever change?

'Or, do atheists now consider people who may have a faith also suffer from a mental illness?'

I don't know that many atheists feel that. I tend to consider it a combination of ignorance and intellectual dishonesty - either they don't know why religion is a lie, or they do know but continue to believe in spite of what reality, reason and critical thought tells them.

However, I also accept the reasons for this are complex and not remedied easily. But I don't believe that's a good enough reason not to try.

'I can no more change their beliefs than I can hold back the tide. So why try.'

This follows on from the previous point, and you yourself are evidence that views on such things can be changed - albeit in the opposite direction from how it should be - as are the millions of deconverted former religionists around the world who have cast off the shackles of delusion.

I agree that there are people whose minds can't be changed, but also that they are a minority; if we can change the minds of those whose can be changed, we can ensure that those whose can't become a tiny minority with no power to poison the world with their deluded nonsense.

Rupert said...

You may be a 'nice or 'civil' christian Robert, but you would be one of the few.

Look at the pressures applied here from Steve (junkies might get pregnant then abort for the parenting payment) Fielding, Fred Nile, Tony RU486 Abbott, John exclusive brethren Howard. The number of 'family' association applying pressure.

In america, George no money for contraception programs Bush, the fight over the constitution, a national day of prayer controversy.

The majority of christians are homophobic, anti-abortion, anti gay marriage (or even legal and financial equality) and believe that god is the creator.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Though I will always differ in some ways, it is the sameness that will be ignored. Perhaps I simply resist the totalitarian nature of the arguments, or maybe it is the dismissive approach.

I can also, and quite comfortably state that their is quite a lot of ignorance about, and much of this is because people get their set ideas and adhere to them like glue. I use to be quite like that, and now I feel it was wrongly so.

Being fluid in thought was my goal after converting - learning, challenging and understanding why things are so. In a way I used much reason, logic and rational thought to develop the person I am today. The same reason, logic and rational the Atheist seems to claim is not part of Christianity or Faith somehow.

I am a hard rational thinker and I am also a Christian.

When confronted with someone who doesn't fit the stereo type (and there are a lot of us) for some reason the arguments only increase not decrease. It isn't logical, nor is it reasonable, but I cannot change that, only the people behind the arguments have that power; so I leave it to them to work out. I already know who I am and what I believe...

Anonymous said...

Taking science to be just another worldview is understandable: it has its limits. Other ways of looking at the world reveal things that describe the world that science does not easily in theory or in practice at all. But it's also mistaken. Science is qualitatively different. It discards the incorrect on the basis of evidence. Nothing else does that, otherwise it would be conducting science by definition (obviously other activities would not be science-- even scientific institutions do a fair amount of not-science; administration, eating sandwiches and such).

It is a lot easier to not be of a particular religion.

Religious heresy is trivial, and can only be countered by doctrine. Scientific heresy can also be trivial, but heresy can be correct and later accepted. This does not happen in religion: heresy creates a new religion if it survives persecution. Science survives heresy and is advanced by it. Heresy only advances religion in that it creates more viable sets of ideas.

Anonymous said...

> When confronted with someone who doesn't fit the stereo type (and there are a lot of us) for some reason the arguments only increase not decrease.

Well that's simply explained:
1) you seem to be reasonable, so you can be reasoned with. Thus reason is presented, and an argument made.
2) a person who presents a lot of stereotypical ideas and behaves in a stereotyped way is sadly often close to an accurate stereotype. Such things do exist. Prejudice is useful when it predicts accurately.

Anonymous said...

> but heresy can be correct and later accepted.
I meant to say that when that has been the case, it has never been trivial to my knowledge.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Interesting by not very open conversation. Now to do cooking and writerly stuff. Even some parenting. There is a life as well you know.

386sx said...

Now religion is a belief system and science is a method of discovery.

Religion is a method of discovery too, albeit a discredited and lame method of discovery. Hence the reason why you are reticent to acknowledge that it is a method of discovery, I presume.

Nowadays if one discovers stuff by the religion method, one is generally though of as not having all of their marbles. (Unless they are half of the population of the U.S., or if they are Mormons or Republicans, or if they are Soccer fans.)

Dan L. said...

Interesting by not very open conversation. Now to do cooking and writerly stuff. Even some parenting. There is a life as well you know.

Doesn't seem terribly respectful.

One has to wonder what would make it an open conversation. Everyone admitting Robert has a good point, nodding sagely, and failing to offer a rebuttal?

And then one has to feel bad for all the disembodied electric atheists unable to manifest outside of blog comment sections.

Robert, if you want an open, honest dialogue with atheists:
1) Don't do the passive aggressive nonsense I pointed out here
2) Understand that an open dialogue involves a lot of disagreement -- you seem to think the opposite
3) Don't assume what atheists believe (such as that we don't care "why")
4) Don't assume why they believe it (everyone got there a different way).

Yes, each of these can be turned against many atheist commenters out there. We can hold ourselves to higher standards.

Robert N Stephenson said...


The point I am making is that I don't have to act in a way you want me to, but the Atheist does often, not always, act in the exact same fashion. I suppose I could write a half reasonable paper on Atheist problem solving. I'm part way there with knowledge, once being a card waving Atheist after all.

It is interesting you call me passive aggressive. I am just an ordinary man who has his beliefs and who is quite happy (not always but some days I am)

What would you prefer me to do? Lower myself to the level of abusive behaviour? Perhaps suggest something wrong with the Atheist mindset? Yes, there is something wrong with it for sure, but Christians and other religions - this includes governments have learned over centuries of dealing with the Atheist view there is no point even discussing it. The Atheist Religion is beyond reproach and always has presented itself as such.

Perhaps, if you are so well up on things, perhaps you could explain why Atheism is not the voice piece for science and why science is not solely owned by Atheists?

Often Atheist talk about science as if it is theirs and theirs alone. If this is so, then why are their leading world scientists who are Christians, Muslims, Hindus. If Science was the sole property of the Atheist how could this happen.

Also, the other consideration here. If science is the anti to religion why are there so many religious people working in science today?

Perhaps there is a debate here somewhere but when I do discuss issues of important I also have to examine the benefit to me of those discussions. Sometimes I do think of the others benefit but in this instance it is not much of a consideration.

The Athiest by it own definitions does not believe in God. At one time neither did I, so I can understand, accept and respect this position. The Atheist uses science for its examinations of the world - science does not requite Atheist in order for it to work.

A questions come to mind. If you do not believe in God and do not hold to any religion why are many of you focused on it? I would hazard a guess that some may even obsess about religion, and going by the open hostility, the expressed or even suppressed anger, it is also an unhealthy obsession. I don't obsess about Atheists, it is no skin of my nose if they want to believe in something else.

There is the concept that accompanies Freedom of Speech and that is the freedom of belief, which comes well before the former. On sites like this, which are dedicated the Atheism some discussion do suggest it is the right of all Atheists to tell others what to believe - it is just an observed suggestion, this may be incorrect so I stand corrected if I have misread this.

If you were to meet me personally the discussion would be different for sure, and I would still discuss in what some may see as a passive aggressive manner. But this is a warning. Abuse me or disrespect me this little Christian will indeed break both your arms without question. The difference between me and the Atheist in this regard is that I will call an ambulance after the incident, the Atheist usually just walks away.

In terms of reason and logic the Atheist, just like some religious zealots, shelf it for self gain and self appreciation.

The Atheist has much to offer the world, but first it has to actually mature - in many instances that I have seen atheists in discussion they are still showing hostility and shouting abuse as if they were still in kindergarden. Surely, after a thousand years, you have risen higher than that.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Something that crossed my mind last night while thinking on accomadationists --

The discussion is actually between science and religion.

The discussion is 'Not' between Atheists and Religion

The Atheist in fact has no role to play here as they are not the owners of science, and they are not being permitted to use science as a stepping stone into the discussion.

In consideration it does a pear the anti-group in this regard is made of of Atheists who are upset at not actually being a part of the science and religion discussion.

Logically, why would it be. It has nothing to do with Atheists whatsoever, that is why they were not invited to a discussion in the first place. This is not accommodation of Atheist and Religion.

It is SCience and REligion = Atheists do no own science

Russell Blackford said...

Rob, I don't think it helps to talk about breaking people's arms. This isn't a discussion of how physically tough we are. And the bit about how an atheist would walk away is silly.

I'm quite strong, too. Maybe I could break some people's arms (just as some people could break mine) - but I assure you if I ever did such a thing in a moment of anger or in self-defence I'd immediately be distraught about it just as much as you would be. The fact that I'm an atheist doesn't make me a monster.

Let's just not go there with some of these things, eh?

Robert N Stephenson said...

I made the point Russell - the fact I am a Christian does automatically make me a puppy.

The reaction here is a desired effect actually. When considering responses to people it is wise to consider those responses as if you were sitting opposite the person while making the comments. This is the humanist in me.

To believe you can insult people at whim, either through anonymity or because you can not be located is in itself quite an act of cowardice.

I didn't threaten anyone here and to even think so is incorrect. But do note the reaction... that is what is important here

Russell Blackford said...

Well, I'm not sure I understand all of that - e.g. how does it respond to my complaint about your claim that an atheist would physically hurt you and then walk away? I for one would never do the former, and even if I did in some extraordinary situation I wouldn't do the latter.

But at least we agree that there is something wrong with the kind of abuse of anonymity that we saw at YNH.

Havok said...

Robert, you're right that "atheists don't own science".
What is being objected to is both claims of science supporting religion (when it doesn't) and also claims that science can say nothing about religions (which it can).
It also seems that many object to claims of "other ways of knowing" when those other ways are either unjustified or worse, discredited (revelation would seem to fit into the latter category).

Robert N Stephenson said...

At the moment I am trying to edit someone's crime novel. Talk about smacking your head against a wall -- just lucky it pays better than blogging

Rupert said...

Apparently atheists pretty much do own science:


Robert N Stephenson said...

If Atheists own science then why do Christians also work in science, in fact can hold high positions in their fields.

But if Science and scientists are a collective body adhering to a collective school of thought, principles, actions and even a sub set of rules to do with correct investigative process, submission of data and data interpretation, do this not then constitute a religious stand point if the Atheist lays claim to science.

In order for Atheists to own science it would first need to eject all religious folk from the field, and then, naturally rewrite quite a lot of scientific history in order to make the claim stick.

Robert N Stephenson said...

please note that I am also being a bit cheeky here

Rupert said...

Cheeky is good Robert :-)

People of faith can work in science but they cannot 'own' it like atheists can. This is because eventually, ultimately a point will be reached where it comes down to 'god' or 'not god'.

If it is 'god' then people of faith win and science becomes nothing more than a playful investigation of god's work.

If 'not god' wins then faith is dead and science is the pure and unadulterated winner.

Therefore, only atheists can truly 'own' science.

386sx said...

It's not a matter of atheists owning science, it's a matter of science having no need of the religion hypothesis so far. Any time the religion gets in there, then they just end up getting embarrassed. (Not really because religion never gets embarrassed, but atheists do feel embarrassed for them though. We feel your pain. You are not alone. You got a friend in atheism. Everybody sing along...)

Robert N Stephenson said...

Hmm, interesting Rupert. I will naturally disagree and any person of reason will not concede its science to a group so easily.

Science is not about disproving or proving God

Some scientists treat it as such but that isn't its purpose. Science is the answering questions as to why, how things work and what could be expected to work.

To assume science is there to disprove God is perhaps drawing a long bow...

At this stage science has neither proved or disproved the concept. So while it is still at this impasse I may hold onto my science if you don't mind.

Robert N Stephenson said...

386 -- it only some aspects of religion, not all.

Rupert said...

I pretty much agree Robert, science was not entered into with the goal of proving or disproving 'god' or 'no god'.

But the further science goes, the closer it gets to answering that as the ultimate question.

We may be a very long way away from that but then again, if you told someone even 100 years ago that we would land a man on the moon, they would have treated you with extreme derision.

So maybe in about 20 years time we'll either bump into god or bump into the wall of the universe and find some sort of equation explaining it all.

Robert N Stephenson said...

I think the idea of God is sometimes over expressed. God as in the concept, can be little more than a defining answer.

Even if the 'God' was found, would the Atheist even see it as that, and if so would they even accept it? I seriously doubt either. This is because the concept of belief itself is so filtered, so strained of its possibilities there isn't a great deal left. Philosophically speaking that is - just a personal view.

I even doubt is the 'God' concept ever revealed itself that even most Christians or Islamists would accept it. That is the whole idea behind Jesus - even if we did get the answer would we destroy it through fear.

Martin Luther King went the same way. Though no one claims he was a god or anything like that. It was just that he brought forward an answers to something the world was looking for - and he was killed for it.

So, science, atheist or religion, would we even know what it was if it did appear? I think history says the likelihood of that is pretty much a no.

What do I think 'God' is? Well let me say it isn't anything like what the fundos think, or what some atheists think Christians think. I think Stephen Hawking came close when he did his work with the big bang.

It is there Jim, but not as we know it...

Rupert said...

Struth Robert, what I am 'hearing' is that god could be any manifestation. Where does that leave the directors of faith?

And the bible can be interpreted in various ways, so where does that leave those who live by scripture.

It really sounds as if you are 'softening' and 'blurring' religion and the whole 'god' gambit to the point where it makes no claims and so anything could ultimately be expressed as 'that is god'.

Science doesn't work like that.

Wowbagger said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote: 'Science is not about disproving or proving God'

It used to be; the religious were sure that they'd find evidence for got eventually - and plenty still do, though they are in the minority.

But, after a while, the religious got sick of never finding any gods no matter where they looked, so they started insisting that gods were 'outside of' science and using nebulous weasel-expressions like 'other ways of knowing' to justify belief in something unobservable.

The intellectually honest call that 'shifting the goalposts'.

tildeb said...

Re: Rupert's Science doesn't work like that.

Thankfully. Solving problems doesn't work like that. Gaining knowledge doesn't work like that. And that is why science and religion are incompatible ways of knowing.

One can bifurcate the mind and stick religious belief into one part while freeing up the other to do real science, solve real problems, gain real knowledge, but the belief in supernatural agency in no way informs the methods and conclusions of scientific inquiry. It must be kept separate.

But something funny happens when one bifurcates the mind and sticks science into one part while attempting to use the mind to do religion: science does indeed powerfully inform some specific religious truth claims on occasion (or in the minds of the religious) and the most interesting thing happens: should some scientific conclusion support in any way some part specific religious truth claim, believers come out of the woodwork to shout this victory from the rooftops as if it added legitimacy. Why might this be?

Yet when scientific conclusions directly conflict with religious truth claims, the religious scurry under the cover of NOMA proclaiming that the two cannot possibly overlap or, like Robert, keep changing and redefining the goalposts of that which apparently represents god in nature.

Imagine for a moment if chemical compositions were described using the same kind of malleable an gooey thinking as that which underlies religion: water's chemical composition may indeed have some hydrogen, but sometimes it behaves more like high temperature potassium unless one professes faith in the need for lead in water's liquid form but willing to grant leniency about the possibility for helium in its vapour form... it's all a matter of belief, you see. And oxygen? Can you set water on fire? Obviously those who 'believe' in water's oxygen content are just another kind of believer like those who hold some vague notion about what chemicals actually define the substance we call water, but hey, we're all chemists, right? We all have the right to believe in whatever chemical compositions that best comfort us.

If we see how silly this notion is in gaining practical and consistent knowledge about chemical compositions, then why make allowances for the same kind of woolly and inaccurate thinking for any other area of inquiry (unless religion has nothing whatsoever to do with honest inquiry and everything to do with untouchable pseudo-answers)?

Robert N Stephenson said...

One thing I note quite strongly in Atheists is that they are Literalists -- I no longer have to be literal to my children because they have grown in their intelligent thinking.

Now, I don't define God and if you were actually reading you would see that. I simply posed a question. Would we know either way.

Christians are often called literalists when it comes to the bible - not all are, so this avenue of argument is inconsistent. But when claiming this the atheist is also acting as a literalist within discussions.

I pose a question, you send it back as some kind of quotable fact. I create a suggestion, it again comes back as some quotable fact. Interesting debating style - one often seen in politics when one side has nothing really to say but makes facts out of nothing anyway.

For the Atheist religions is simply bad. So, with that in mind, is there any need for the Christian, religious and scientists who are not atheists to even consider them in discussions. No, there is no beneficial point for anyone. The A position has been decided in advance...

At present the argument being put forth are only to support what you want, rather than what is needed. Two very different and unique points of view.

Can the Atheist say each and every scientific field operates in exactly the same way, come to form the same conclusion, has the same rock solid answers as everyone else?

It can't because every field uses different methods of investigation, some use strong unknowables to reach their conclusions and in statistics answers can be manipulated to give you any outcome you want.

So, science isn't exactly homogeneous.

Then why do you thing religion is?

And why, does this family of scientists and science based people (my family) also have a faith in God... Are we stupid? If so, would that then make my wife's DNA work stupid?

The more and more I hear from the Atheist camp, the less and less it is showing cohesion. The common investigative fall back position, the cries of show me the evidence (very much akin to a criminal being caught out I must say)just isn't as convincing to me as it was two weeks ago.

There are huge flaws in argument - not in the science - but in what the science means and who it actually supports.

For everything in the Atheist view to actually work, to hold together to form the consistent argument several things need to be in perfect alignment.

All scientists must denounce God or be Atheists (which isn't so)

All Christians or religions must believe in the same manner and follow the exact same rule (which they don't)

After a thousand years of this, isn't it time refinement of argument actually did come into play.ore reasonable and make more sense if it did.

The Crystal Tower Baptists believe the world was created in 7 days and that man was created in God's image.

The Church of Christ in Blackwood believes evolutionary science and has studied the ancient history of how religions came to be. It member believe God's image is simply what we chose to see.

Now, this is just 2 of millions of churches in just the Christian faith. If you are not specific in your anti-argument you show just as much ignorance as those you call ignorant.

I said to some other Atheists, that humility is a good place from which to learn - without it...? You already have that.

Wowbagger said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote: 'I said to some other Atheists, that humility is a good place from which to learn - without it...? You already have that.'

Atheists have humility; it's illustrated by the fact that we admit we are prepared to be proved wrong about the existence of gods - all the gods need to do is demonstrate that they exist.

Christians, on the other hand, profess humility but do not posess it - by insisting there is no means to investigate their god, they are in effect saying they are unable to be proven wrong; that their faith is unassailable by reason.

How is that humility?

Robert N Stephenson said...

I think you might need to research humility a bit more... a bit lacking me thinks

Havok said...

Robert: Now, I don't define God and if you were actually reading you would see that.
Why call it "God" then?
The term "God" has a fairly accepted definition - either the wispy near deistic being of theology, or the more concrete figure of your "man on the street".
If you don't hold to either of those, then you're using the term inconsistently.

Robert: I simply posed a question. Would we know either way.
Without knowing what on earth you're talking about (given you don't define "God"), then your question seems to be nonsensical.

Perhaps in the future, you could substitute "unknown/unknowable something or other" in place of God?

Wowbagger said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote: 'I think you might need to research humility a bit more... a bit lacking me thinks'

How about you post a definition and we'll see.

I put it to you that to be humble about what one believes is illogical - and ridiculous. Put it this way: if I accept that 2+2=4, should I be humble about that? If so, why?

As for humility regarding my place in the universe, I acknoweldge that quite happily - I, like everyone else, am a insignificant speck of dust in the greater scheme of things; a brief, flickering light which will one day be extinguished beyond the memory of those whose lives I have had impact on.

What's more humble than that?

On the other hand, believing that you are the chosen creation of a superpowerful being who will eventually grant you eternal life in paradise while sentencing millions of others to eternal torment while you watch and enjoy their suffering doesn't meet any definition of humility that I've ever read.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Wowbagger-If you do not understand humility you cannot be taught it. Sorry, I don't make the rule here. You have the shovel and the ground and he are quite adept at digging I see.

Havok - for me the definition isn't quite what the atheist wants to support their own argument.

The growing number of Christians who support a point of view like mine is quite significant and this in itself has caused concern amongst Atheists.

I think you might need to learn just what Christianity is actually about because from the post, you don't. You certainly know about fundamentalism, but even I know those types and I don't brand everyone based on the fundamentalist.

This is where the atheist brings even me great humour. They stand high and proclaim the great truth and slam those who the wish - only, they don't actually know who they are slamming, do they. It is all a bit of a guess really.

in 99.9% of Christians the Atheist doesn't even rate a mention, let alone any considered thought. Those who have had dealing with them do shrug and say things like. 'They don't know much' or 'The arguments aren't any better than 50 years ago'

If you ever want to argue with Christians who are not part of your fundamentalist ideal, it might actually pay to learn about them first. Nothing said on this site to date effects my faith. Why? because you have absolutely no idea what it is. You guess, so rationally and scientifically a guess is a good as being silent, isn't it.

Havok said...

Robert: for me the definition isn't quite what the atheist wants to support their own argument.
Well, above you did say you didn't "define God". As for what you do claim, you're being all mysterious.
As for "what the atheist wants to support their own argument", again, I have no idea what you're talking about. Personally, I don't "want" anything to support my own argument.

Robert: The growing number of Christians who support a point of view like mine is quite significant and this in itself has caused concern amongst Atheists.
Haven't noticed myself. Do you mean people who call themselves Christians but whose concept of God doesn't seem to resemble that presented in the Christian holy book, not through Christian tradition? Why do they call themselves Christians?

Robert: I think you might need to learn just what Christianity is actually about because from the post, you don't.
You were talking about humilty before? You know nothing about me, and yet you're happy to write me off.

Robert: This is where the atheist brings even me great humour. They stand high and proclaim the great truth and slam those who the wish - only, they don't actually know who they are slamming, do they. It is all a bit of a guess really.
Thus far the only one on this thread who seems to be provlaiming "the great truth" is you, with your claims of God. Everyone else seems to be happy with "don't know". Did I miss something?

Robert: Nothing said on this site to date effects my faith. Why? because you have absolutely no idea what it is.
Well, you being all coy about it doesn't help with my claimed ignorance, does it?

Robert N Stephenson said...

Havok -

I have not been coy, just don't see the need to explain my faith in a blog of atheists. There isn't much point it that; it will change nothing, do nothing.

To date you have mentioned a couple of Christian cliches - perhaps you are being too literal in the view of Christianity.

If you don't know why Christians are called Christians then I will not be the one to explain it. I am sure there are plenty to give the answer as applicable to their beliefs.

True, you may be in the 'don't know' category and I don't write you off, it is just to know you will need to search - anything I say is biased in what I believe and may not in anyway be helpful in what you are looking for, or already know. You mentioned the bible - even this book, with its history, can be taken is so many ways that my taking of it may not come close to your view of the book.

While the Artheist has no compunction in telling you what to believe, or perhaps what to trust, I can be hesitant as it isn't my place to tell you this. You want to know, then you go find out.

What God is is questionable across belief systems. It is not consistent and nor is it always reliable. So for the Atheist to state 'God is this' it is incorrect and even the idle research would show great difference no only in opinion, but in religious undertakings.

Now my definition, or lack of definition is indeed my own (yet I am not alone in the idea) but essentially it is my own. As I said, for many of the anti-arguments to actually work, God must be tightly defined as either/or

This approach is identical to fundamentalism - a literalization of things to suit your purpose. The very thing Atheist tend to say Christians do. If you are an atheist why would you take the bible or religion literally yourself? If only to further your own argument to your pre-set conclusion.

If you are searching, then good luck

Wowbagger said...

Havok, there's a great expression for what you and I are doing with Robert's idea of faith - 'trying to nail jello to a wall'.

He's deliberately avoiding definitions or descriptions - see how he brushed aside my request for his definition of humility - so that he can keep us from pointing out the logical flaws and/or demonstrable invalidity of his claims.

He says we should learn about 'his' kind of Christian before we criticise him, but then tries to change the subject the very instant he's asked to quantify what that he means by Christian.

It's more than a little disingenuous - and that's putting it politely.

So I don't know if there's much chance asking him too many more questions - all we'll get in return is more content-free handwaving, evasive tapdancing and waffling non-sequiturs.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Got this today, well several minutes ago:

We agree, we stand on opposite sides of the divide. I have nothing to prove and the other side nothing to disprove.

These questions arise:

How much of the world's knowledge can you literally hold in your head. How much of all the combined research, p speculation and discovery can you physically take ownership of in your mind?

How much knowledge when compared to the entirety of the universe and the spaces either beyond or between, can you truly call definite - for lack of a better word, could you call, truth?

How much of the future knowledge can you say you already know and predict will know when compared the the speculated depth of the future?

How much of the past can you say you know, without a doubt, happened the exact way you think it did? How much of many thousands of years of history can you bring forward to offer without question as to its accuracy?

How much do you really know, without hesitation or doubt, about yourself and what you will do not only now, or in the next few seconds, but in the years remaining to you.

There are answers to these questions and they will vary greatly between individuals. What those answers mean to you is another things entirely

Robert N Stephenson said...

Wowbagger and of course Havok - in all you chatter, which is minor you haven't even been able to see answers. They are there but you have to want to find them.

Why would I make life easy for you anyway. I don't see any great life rules that say that.

Humility Wowbagger is something you don't even get. How deep is your hole now, boy.

Havok said...

I don't know Wowbagger, I quite enjoy the smug superiority he seems full of, not to mention the accusation of a lack of humility on your part.

Robert, God tends to refer to the god of classical theism OR to what the Christian/Muslim/Jew on the street believes of their deity.
Your use of it probably needs to be qualified. You said "I think Stephen Hawking came close when he did his work with the big bang." It's my understanding that Hawking's "God" is similar to Spinoza's God, which as I understand it comes under "pantheism". If that's the case, I don't understand how you claim to be a Christian and then have this concept of deity which doesn't mesh - I find it confusing to say the least.

Wowbagger said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote: 'Why would I make life easy for you anyway. I don't see any great life rules that say that.'

Because you keep insisting we're mischaracterising Christians, that's why. If you genuinely wanted a discussion on the topic you'd be forthcoming on your position and be prepared to elaborate on and justify it.

That you won't - or can't - paints you in a very poor light indeed.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Havok - A Christian is the follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ -, it says so in the title.

Though much of the early work was done by Paul - a Roman.

For my part I simply ignore the Atheist version of Christianity - well I do tend to ignore Atheistic views in general. They are usually discussions between like mined people who make grand propositions, claims and stances while at the same time not actually doing anything.

I have learned over many years, and from the fact I was once an atheist, that there is no logical or even rational point in explaining my faith to an Atheist.

Wowbagger wants humility explained. You do realize that is like asking me to explain wisedom to someone who will never be wise.

Do I show humility? Sometimes but not always, though I do try to be more often than not. But like all humans, I am far from perfect and failures are inevitable.

Many Christian adopt the traditional God image, not simply because that is what they hold fast to but more because the representation is easier to visualize than unkowable concept they may believe. Only the fool says they know God, the bigger fool say they know God's mind.

Robert N Stephenson said...

wowbagger - are you an Atheist? I think you are. You have a pre-set determination of religion in general. A position that cannot actually be questioned at all. You are by definition locked into a mindset.

Explain why, when I only do things for my own benefit, would I even bother discussing this with you. It is simply no logical, even irrational to think anything would come from it.

Yes, you misrepresent Christians greatly - but you will continue to do so regardless of what I say. Now, this is a free world, so from memory I can state whatever I like, with in reason and within the rules of Russell's site. But, I don't actually have to create a position for the Atheist - I can question and doubt and state misrepresentation. But it is up to them do do what they like.

As I am quite secure in what I believe, and I am happy that belief covers a broader spectrum that even the widest thinking artheist I have encounter thus far. I am happy.

Wowbagger said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote: 'wowbagger - are you an Atheist?'

Yes, I'm an atheist. But what would differ if I wasn't? What if I was a Hindu - how would you answer the same questions I've asked you in this thread and others if that were the case? If you would answer them differently, why would that be?

'You have a pre-set determination of religion in general.'

Religion should be subject to investigation, just like any other concept. That you are afraid of what this investigation will demonstrate about you and your faith is what's keeping you from being open and honest about it.

Why so deceptive? What have you to hide?

'A position that cannot actually be questioned at all.'

On the contrary, I'm questioning my position all the time - why else do you think I'm here asking you questions?

'You are by definition locked into a mindset.'

If by 'locked into a mindset' you mean 'I require a combination of evidence and compelling argument rather than dogma and tradition in order to hold a position', then yes - a mindset of analysis, critical thought and intellectual honesty; something all rational people would consider a sensible position.

And as I've noted before, if you can provide me with evidence/compelling argument for the existence of a god - yours or anyone else's - then I'll change my mind.

Can you make that claim? How would you know if you were wrong? What would you do if that happened?

'Yes, you misrepresent Christians greatly'

And as soon as you provide me with an accurate representation of Christians then I'll stop. But you are avoiding that for reasons I've already noted.

'but you will continue to do so regardless of what I say.'

Ah, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Are you working your way through some kind of evasiveness checklist?

'But, I don't actually have to create a position for the Atheist - I can question and doubt and state misrepresentation. But it is up to them do do what they like.'

True, you don't have to do that - but you do have to live with the fact that reveals you're intellectually dishonest and arguing in bad faith.

No skin off my nose, as they say.

As I am quite secure in what I believe, and I am happy that belief covers a broader spectrum that even the widest thinking artheist I have encounter thus far. I am happy.

Yes, be happy with your ever-shifting goalposts. Never mind that your continued avoidance illustrates just how weak your position must be.

Robert N Stephenson said...

wowbagger - you are an interesting fish. I know I placed the shovel in good hands.

The Hindu, or Islamist, or even Bhudist and I would discuss faith issues very nicely, and of course have, and always in a good humoured way.

I simply don't often afford this to Atheists - my choice.

You have given no compelling reason or evidence that God does not exist in some form. I believe this may put us on equal footing.

Lets me put it this way. I have a black car, you have a white car. I don't particularly like white care and you have shown you don't care much for black. So, in all reason, why would we even bother to talk about them. I might adhere to some, or well most, Atheist principles and even apply them quite liberally to my faith - and my Atheist friends (which is actually most of my friends) accept this position I have.

I am only avoiding you wowbagger. If Russell asked me a specific question I might actually answer it the best I can, and I know Russell is a staunch Atheist. My position in belief wouldn't change, in fact I would wonder why Russell would actually ask a religious question of me - we are world apart here.

What you don't understand, and probably never will, is that I don't owe you anything wowbagger, so why do you think I do? Call it evasive all you like... I just happen to know the value of what I say and when it is beneficial to say it. I just don't think saying it to you is beneficial - that's all

Wowbagger said...

'You have given no compelling reason or evidence that God does not exist in some form. I believe this may put us on equal footing.'

Do you believe that unicorns exist? If not, why not? What compelling reason or evidence is there to say that don't exist?

How about fairies? Goblins? Minotaurs? Alien abductions? Yetis? The Boogleman? There's no evidence they don't exist - do you believe in them, too?

Another example: I say you owe me a million dollars. Should I have to prove you that do or should you have to prove you don't?

Or, in other words, you are making the positive claim that god exists; the onus is upon you to demonstrate that.

The footing could not be more unequal.

'My position in belief wouldn't change, in fact I would wonder why Russell would actually ask a religious question of me - we are world apart here.'

Thank you for finally admitting the truth - that your aherence to your religion is not based on reason and that there is nothing that could change your mind about what you believe. There's a word for that - dogmatic.

Now, look up to the top of the page to remind yourself what the title of this post is.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Wowbagger - dogmatic atheists -

yep, I read it right the first time

anything else you like me to ignore you on? You create no reason for me to even accept you exist. Wowbagger would be quite an unfortunate name to have, if it were real - I have no reason to believe you actually are anything more than a troll. Now I also know Russell would be quick to stop that kind of behaviour, so logically and within reason, I would then think, maybe you aren't a troll.

The only things I confirm is that I believe in God and that I am a Christian. I have never hid from that - not ever coming here 6 weeks ago (how time flies)

So, what is your problem with me being a Christian? Oh, it is only you don't believe. Well, sorry to say there are a lot of people who don't believe and there are even more who do.

Who still have proven nothing to me, in any personal way. Only to suggest you fit the title of the blog neatly.

So, if I were impolite I might say you have no humility and are quite possibly also stupid. But that would be rude and something I would actually expect from you. Oh, you did suggest this - sorry, I might have been confusing you with some other pointless person in my life.

When you work out what faith means maybe come back to me. We could talk, share a joke... even laugh about 'remember the day'

As I said, I don't owe you anything and the only person being flummoxed here is you. I am glad I could help you with that.

Good luck with your Atheism by the way - hope it works out.

Havok said...

Robert, you seem quite keen on tarring all atheists with being dogmatic, and yet you insist on chastising those who you claim don't understand Christianity.

Why do you hold such different positions when it comes to those of (something you think is like your) faith and those without?

Wowbagger said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote:

'Who still have proven nothing to me, in any personal way.'

But you've already admitted you wouldn't change your mind no matter what - that you're the very definition of dogmatic. So this statement says everything about you and nothing about me or my arguments.

'I am glad I could help you with that.'

Oh, not as glad as I am. Every time a Christian posts such a logic-free and evasive 'defence' (using the term in the loosest possible way) of their religious beliefs I'm reminded of exactly why atheism is the honest, rational position to hold.

And it's entirely possible that, in doing so, you've helped some fence-sitters over to the godless side.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Just using the same discussion methods of the Atheist Havok - then only using them here. I talk with a group of atheist friends at least one a week, good and enjoyable times.

People of course have to take their own journeys through life, some become religious for a multitude of reasons, some become agnostic, again for a multitude of reasons and likewise Atheists.

Now, if I knew that anything I said would be of benefit to someone, perhaps I would take more care - then in some cases I do. I had a good conversation here with Zachary yesterday. I think we agreed with stood on two sides and once we understood it wasn't about proving anything the discussion was good.

I can be dogmatic for sure, and dogmatic on all sorts of issues in life. I have no time for the media, big business or fundamentalist religions of any kind.

Where I am general on atheists here, I am not so in person. Why? Well my atheist friend clearly know the difference between religions, the many differences in understanding of Christians - they have learned which ones are good to talk to and which ones just make jibber jabber noises.

On this site, the general consensus is that all religions are the same. I know they aren't, but what does that matter. I might as well say all atheists are the same. That way we are on even footing I guess.

I really try not to be disrespectful, but naturally we all slip up here and say things that, in hindsight, might best not have been said at all. There is no edit button here, you just have to hope you hit it right first time.

The important thing to note with me is that I do not have to justify myself or my beliefs to anyone. That is what freedom means.

To me there is much to learn about people on the site - not much to learn on much else because well, I spent 20 years expounding the logic and reason of atheism, there isn't too much different now that back then - not fundmentally anyway

Robert N Stephenson said...

a 3/4 hole now. at least I am not anonymous. Honesty wise that means a little

Wowbagger said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote: 'a 3/4 hole now. at least I am not anonymous. Honesty wise that means a little'

Wrong again; that's called an ad hominem.

If you think the honesty of using your real name overcomes the dishonesty of your arguments - sorry, lack of arguments - then you shouldn't be communicating using the internet.

Real honesty is demonstrated by a willingness to engage in good-faith arguments, not a lack of anonymity.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Funny man, funny indeed. You see, when you didn't know what humility was, I gave up on you. It went down hill after what you delivered as an explanation.

Please dwell and search and dwell some more. Answers are things you find; it seems you need to be told. Sorry to disappoint you on that score. Are you a unicorn by the way? Do you need to be told you have a horn on your head?

Now, when you can actually answer the question of humility to yourself, call again. At the moment I am just enjoying being an arse; if you don't mind of course

Robert N Stephenson said...

85 comments - maybe it could be easily said the subject was at least dogmatic...

cool... I like seeing number going up. Though probably 40 comments are mine it does mean 40 are others. That's good. True the discussion is all wavery and loopy but at least the blog post might be being read a little wider...

Wowbagger said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote: 'You see, when you didn't know what humility was, I gave up on you. It went down hill after what you delivered as an explanation.'

At least I gave one. You were too cowardly to even do that in case you were shown to be wrong. That's not humility - that's fear and lack of character.

'Please dwell and search and dwell some more.'

More assumptions and ad hominem attacks. I've presented evidence that I've 'dwelled' on the topic and can elucidate the results of such contemplation; you've dodged, waffled and presented nothing but hot air.

'Sorry to disappoint you on that score.'

Maybe you should try actually reading the whole way through my posts. I'm glad you're so ineffectual, not disappointed.

'Are you a unicorn by the way? Do you need to be told you have a horn on your head?'

Your attempts at humour are worse than your lame 'arguments'.

'Now, when you can actually answer the question of humility to yourself, call again.'

You first. Agaain, at least I had the character to have a go. You can't even muster the gumption to do that.

'At the moment I am just enjoying being an arse; if you don't mind of course '

Oh, I don't mind - but you're yet to demonstrate you even have a choice in the matter, that could could manage not being an arse.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Interesting... well to me anyway.

To others it might be just a bit of a bore between people with less than an idea. What do I make of it - well nothing really, I was mainly boosting numbers. Stating I hold probably a passive aggressive position in some regard to faith and religion, and generally could be arsed arguing something not worth the effort.

I had discussion a couple of hours ago with a church minister and how he has been invited to head the gay rights campaign. We touched on atheism briefly - and I think it might have been back at the start - too lazy to check the times.

His question was 'Why bother' there are more important issues to deal with at the moment. He was right of course - there is some productive activism to get involved in.

So, why would I even consider offering anything to wowbagger? Cowardice? Quite doubtful, but lets not go there. No argument to make? Not at all, but I choose the benefits of such exchanges, you don't and I don't even think it would be beneficial to other readers either.

I say this about God, you say that. I explain the issues of faith, you throw a few well trained cliches in. I again ask why we are bothering. Done,. argument over, no ground gained or lost. Just me wasting mental power on a non issue for me.

Yep it is easy to ramble along like this, because I am actually writing other texts and these rambles just help me think. Thinking aloud it use to be. Do I actually even care what others think of me? Well Russell might even know some of my history on that score.

In short. 'I don't' You can abuse me all the way to the sun explodes and it won't bother me. Annoy me, yes, but get to me - rarely. I do shoot first sometimes...

You know I might even be a self righteous fool, but that is who I am today. Tomorrow, well, who knows. I haven't got there yet

Oh, just like others, I can be quite arrogant - my wife tells me often

Robert N Stephenson said...

In my close for the day: (Have a story to finish)

I cannot claim to know the truth about anything, nor can I wrongly lead anyone based on my lack on knowledge. I do what I can when the time comes, it may not be perfect and it may not be even be timely but it truly what I can offer. I require no gratitude, no prize or even recognition for my life in general. I support what I can and pray for what I am ill equipped to help with. If I can manage though each day causing harm to as few people as possible, then perhaps I can call that a good day.

Wowbagger said...

Robert, as I have already noted, you have given me exactly what I was looking for: an admission that your ideas are indefensible because they aren't based on reason, and that - similarly - you reject the possibility that reason could turn you from your faith.

It's all I ask from any religious person. The problem is that so very few are as honest as you about their impermeable, closed-minded dogmatism and insist there is a rational defence of religion when it's clear no such thing exists.

However, it worries me that you are so blind to the impact your co-religionists have on the world - oppressing and leading to the deaths and suffering of millions and denying the rights of so many more - solely because of the same intractable, irrational faith that renders your beliefs immune to reason.

And it's impossible to challenge those dangerous beliefs without also applying to the same logic to yours. You might not be swayed, but it's my sincere hope that others can be - even if it's only to turn them into you.

Robert N Stephenson said...

number 90 - woo hoo -

I think maybe something got missed. No bother...

When presented with opportunities I would be the last to accept them, but I would quietly and with reservation.

2 years ago I was presented with the runner up medal in the Pride of Australia Awards for my work in developing new writers in Australia. To many who received awards it was an opportunity to state their case before the media present. I respectfully accepted the award, not sure I even deserved such recognition and quite reluctant to speak about what I do. Though the recognition was a proud moment, it was not why I do what I do. The award does hang in my office, but it is well hidden by a book case. Sometimes I see it wonder.

I am the same way when it comes to actually expressing why I believe in the Christian faith. Yes it is real and present in me, but I also consider myself quite fortunate in the way I moved from Atheism to Christianity. Was I deserving - I still wonder.

When confronted with explicit questions about the nature of God or even Christianity my resistance is based on the fact it is not my place to speak for a world of people. I can speak for myself and I do so in very loose terms. My faith allows me to do certain things, be a part of certain people's lives and that is not something to be blathered about to prove any kind of argument. To be is some of the positions I am in is a privileged, not a given and not something to be abused in order to make someone's day.

I will take abuse and name calling any day, that is part and parcel of my life. I wish things could be easier but they aren't and I can live with that.

Some want to believe science is the answer to the world's problems and even some Atheists believe science is the mouth piece of their beliefs; if this were true many things that actually confront us today would have been solved in the 70s and 80s. I am honest enough to think religion does not hold the answer either but it can help.

As I have said. I play my part and I can screw things up just a badly as the next guy. But, and this is the major one for me. Winning is only ever suitable for a few lucky ones - the rest of us have to make do with what is left.

Russell Blackford said...

Sorry, Rob - you're now 89 after a spray of Troll-Begone was supplied.