Here's something I've been kicking around. I'd love to hear what you folks think, especially the theists. I think the best, perhaps only way to have an honest discussion about a topic is with a shared understanding of the context of the discussion and a healthy appetite to learn about another viewpoint. My example: many of the atheists on this forum, myself included, used to be christians, and therefore have a very good knowledge base from which to debate the merits of christianity (I'm sorry if I'm excluding other religions, I just haven't heard much from you). The christians here appear to have been christians for quite some time and know virtually nothing about atheism, and I don't mean the apathetic atheism that is born out of teenage angst. That statement is derived from two observations. One, my own thought processes when I was a christian, and two, reading the posts made by christians in this fourm.
So, can we really have productive conversations when one side has no concept of the other side's position? I know I'm making broad generalizations here, but I really want to know if the christians out there have ever stopped to honestly consider the atheist position.
Based on my experience as a "stock" Christian, and dealing with "stock" Christians, there is a perfectly good reason they can't take a peek through an atheist's reality tunnel: they believe atheists are going to Hell. If a perfectly just God is going to condemn atheists to eternal torture in Hell, then obviously the atheist cannot be sincerely and honestly mistaken. They have
to be atheists for some immoral reason, such as an unjustified grudge against God, or because they want to be able to have extramarital sex without feeling guilty. Otherwise, a perfectly just God wouldn't punish
them for it. To consider atheism (or any other religion) as something someone could honestly believe is really true is to reject the belief that God is just in punishing people for being atheist or belieiving in another religion.
Now, regarding James and UnkleE...
an atheist--sometimes. While he's telling us he doesn't believe in God as an entity, but considers "him" an abstract concept like "truth and righteousness" or "cooperation," he is an atheist. For the last 40-70,000 years or so, humans have understood "gods" to be disembodied consciousnesses of some sort. So, when James is denying this, he's an atheist, even if he redefines "god" to mean "truth and righteousness" or "pizza." When he switches positions, and tells us about a "God" that talks
to him, controls the weather, arranges cab rides, and so forth, then he's a theist again. Someday James, Erwin Schrodinger will let you out of that box he's got you in.
UnkleE has a more nuanced position than "stock" Christianity, in which (as I understand him) God does not punish unbelief, he merely withholds reward, on the premise that the unbeliever doesn't want the reward (eternity in Heaven with God) anyway. This does contradict all the stuff about weeping and gnashing of teeth, "their worm dieth not," etc., but I like UnkleE's position better.
Since UnkleE's Biblegod 2.0 is not as vicious and vindictive as the Biblegod 1.0 of historic Christianity, he is able to engage atheism in a much more thoughtful way than someone who has to believe it "must" be based on evil ulterior motives.
In answer to UnkleE's question about why atheists do not acknowledge the force of Christian arguments, I don't think it's because we're obscurantists. It's because the best arugments Christians use don't necessarily substantiate belief in the Christian
God. For example, take the sense of awe and wonder that any sensitive person feels when looking at the night sky. "The heavens declare the glory of God," the Bible tells us, "so that they [unbelievers] are without excuse." But they don't
declare the glory of the Christian, and only the Christian, god. If anything, the self-obsessed, jealous, tyrannical megalomaniac portrayed as "God" in the Bible isn't glorious enough
to serve as an explanation for the wonders of Universe. Surely a Being or Beings capable of creating hundreds of millions of galaxies, with hundreds of millions of stars and planets apiece, could come up with something better to do than extorting the servile worship and praise of tiny, helpless little creatures.
Until Darwin's discovery of natural selection, Paley's "watchmaker" argument was an incredibly strong argument for some form of Divine Intelligence. What else could it be? Even now, we could still look at the grand sweep of cosmic history, of "hydrogen----->human" evolution as something incredibly majestic, Divine even. Not necessarily the work of some big King in the Sky with a pair of drafter's calipers in his hand, perhaps something more like a bottom-up
"Divine Intelligence" instead of top-down. The "God" of Spinoza, Einstein, and Buckminster Fuller arising to Self-awareness in us and whatever other intelligences look skyward to see different suns ("we are the Cosmos becoming aware of itself"). It wouldn't be too hard to say that evolution is
"Intelligent Design," running in slow motion.
This conception of "God" fits what we know of Universe far better than the Biblegod, who described Earth as stationary with the sun and other "heavenly" bodies going around it, classified bats as birds, and didn't know about the stars, galaxies, etc. that don't "give light upon the Earth" "for times and seasons." In other words, even if we accept the Design Argument, the First Cause Argument, the Argument from Necessity, and so on, none of these necessarily validate the existence of the Biblegod.
While it is impossible to prove a universal negative ("there is no god or goddess of any sort anywhere in all existence") it is possible to falsify positive claims. The Bible contains a clearly-stated model of cosmic origins, with literally-stated geneologies starting with Adam that place the Beginning within recent times, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue. This claim has been falsified
The Bible declares that "For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). But the heavens aren't
higher than the Earth! Earth is in
the heavens, and there is just as much "heaven" beneath your feet as there is "up above." "Thus saith the LORD, The heaven [is] my throne, and the earth [is] my footstool: where [is] the house that ye build unto me? and where [is] the place of my rest?" (Isaiah 66:1). But Earth makes a peculiar foostool, being round
, and hurtling through space with three distinct kinds of motion (rotation, precession, orbital revolution). Nor have see seen any reason to equate "the heavens" with any sort of throne. Or to consider monarchy
as a cosmological principle. In the Book of Joshua, the villain--er, hero of that work prologs a day by commanding the Sun--not the Earth--to 'stand still' so he can finish a slaughter. The Bible's descriptions of cosmology have been falsified
"Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing
that goeth upon [all] four
, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth" (Leviticus 11:21).
Surely, if Biblegod had created several hundred thousand species of insects, he'd know how many legs
they have! Many of the Bible's statements relating to biology have been falsified
. Yes, there are some that are correct. Bronze-age pastoralists weren't complete idiots. Stopped clock. Twice a day.
Regarding the veracity of the Gospels, the very best
that Christian scholars can hope to establish is that the canonical Gospels represent an accurate record of the oral tradition that existed several decades after the events they purport to describe. That's it. Decades-old hearsay
evidence, for the single most important "fact" upon which Christianity is supposed to be founded--the life works, and resurrection of Jesus. Not one single scrap of evidence, from the many thousands of literate people who would have been able to witness the literally earth-shaking events the Gospels describe. No contemporary Jewish or Roman attempts to "spin" the events to bolster their own religious and/or political claims, no contemporary evidence at all that anyone noticed Jesus feeding over ten thousand people with miraculously-produced loaves and fishes (including the people themselves, who don't seem to notice even in the Gospels!), and all of the other miracles, so many that "the world could not contain the books" needed to record them. Nobody noticed
! Nobody reacted!
That's like saying that a flying saucer landed in Central Park, and an alien ambassador spent three years traveling New England giving speaking engagements, demonstrating alien super-technology, then held a week-long teach-in at the United Nations before a huge crowd, and it never made the news. If the Raelians were to come out and say that all this happened in 1948-1951, based on accounts they gathered from a handful of anonymous, alleged eyewitnesses, would you believe them? Do you believe the "eyewitnesses" who claim to have seen spaceship wreckage and alien bodies from the flying saucer crash at Roswell? Why not? Several of those "eyewitnesses" are still alive
In the Book of Exodus, the Biblegod lays waste to Egypt and kills her Pharaoh with his army while depriving them of their slave workforce. Except that the Egyptians themselves never noticed! No mass graves of firstborn children, no accounts of the great magicians' duel, no evidence of plagues or famine, of a terrified, leaderless nation, of written pleas to the gods or spells (the Egyptians did these things as part of their religious practice, and we have found non-Exodus-related examples) made in desperate hopes of repulsing the Plagues. Not one written lament over the destruction, or the death of the children, or the collapse of the economy, or the loss of Pharaoh and his army. This is self-evident in the numerous Evangelical/Fundamentalist theories as to when the Exodus was supposed to take place. It is as if historians had several different theories as to when Alexander conquered the Persian Empire, while all the evidence shows the Persian Empire surviving unaffected for another 2,000 years after "Alexander's conquest."
The historical claims of the Bible have been falsified
Then there are the various claims in the New Testament, regarding the power of faith and prayer, the ability and willingness of Jesus to appear to people, and so on, all of which can be falsified at will (ref. the videos on the "Godisimaginary.com" website). So, yes, maybe there is a "god" out there somewhere, especially if you get to re-define the word at will. But claims of the existence of the Biblegod
have been falsified
So, the reason we don't acknowledge "strong arguments" for the Biblegod isn't because we're bullheaded. It's because, as far as we can tell, there aren't any
. UnkleE, if you or anyone else has a "strong argument" for the Biblegod, please present it. If it is as strong as you suggest, I will acknowledge that. However, to count as an argument for the Biblegod, it has to be an argument for the Biblegod
. Philosophical arguments about a "Necessary Being" or "Prime Mover" raised by non-Biblical folk such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle don't count because they were Pagans, and clearly weren't arguing for the existence of the Biblegod. Even if accurate, these arguments can at best only establish the existence of some sort of God. To say that they validate the Biblegod (or Odin, or Quetzelcoatl, or...) is a non-sequitor. The fact that the Biblegod's "inspired" prophets and revelators did not discover or receive these arguments is, in my opinion, a good argument that they should not
be employed to support belief in the Biblegod.