This is a response I just posted on someone’s blog in a discussion about the above topics. It is long and gets into some deep things so I thought I’d post it:
“agnophilo, I appreciate the conversion. I agree with your initial argument, as you state that “where something originated has nothing to do with its potential.” However, this is not what I was arguing in the post. I agree with you that human beings, and mankind as a whole, have immense potential. And that is true because we are magnificent creatures. Our potential is limited to some degree, as you must admit.”
Our potential is borrowed from the universe itself, which is all things in infinite combinations.
“But it is quite immense. I also would agree that something which originated in immorality can be used for much good. That is what you were arguing with your Hitler situation.”
More that where something came from doesn’t change what it is. If hitler invented a cure for cancer it would still be a good thing. If jesus said 1 + 1 = 7 it would still be wrong.
“The issue with your logic is that potentiality does not equal purpose. I was arguing ontologically, not morally. Meaning, the nature of a human being from the view that there is no God and that we are all products of chance leads to the conclusion of an ultimately meaningless purpose—that all is chaos and fleeting.”
The universe and life is what it is regardless of where it came from. And it is annoying how evangelists use cynicism as an argument. They simply try to paint a secular worldview in the most grim light they can in order to scare others (or perhaps themselves) away from it. When one need not be a cynic to be an atheist, and most atheists are not cynics. Is life fleeting? In what other context would we call 60 years fleeting? If we have to wait in line for an hour we complain that it takes too long, and you expect me to say that decades take too little time to pass? This is all a matter of perspective and personal philosophy, not objective fact.
“This worldview makes us the center of it all, as we are the most magnificent creatures, but being the center we therefore are simply creatures that live on average 60-90 years and then cease to exist. So why? I realize from reading a few of your blogs that you are scientific and philosophical. However, I urge you not to be so scientific and searching for facts that you do not stop to think,
Why implies it was someone’s decision. I do not make that assumption. If the universe had a cause and that cause was a conscious being I’ve never met that being, and am no more able to say what it is like, what it likes, wants, cares about, or thinks about humanity than you are to speak at length about the character and likes and dislikes of aliens from another galaxy. Revelation is another issue, I will discuss it below where you talk about it.
“It is true you try to answer the “what?” question over and over. And you come to some good answers. But why everything? Again, this is where you would have to answer either a) it is all just random and ultimately in a thousand years I will be totally forgotten and I’m just living to survive and try to be as happy as possible, however that may come about (the atheistic view) or b) there may be a higher purpose, but we simply don’t know (the more agnostic view).”
Atheism does not entail any particular belief about the universe. I don’t believe the universe came from nothing or is just random chaos. When I don’t know the answer to a question (like how did the universe begin) I simply say “I don’t know”. I don’t then decide it must be this, that or the other random thing that pops into my head or is suggested by my culture. I don’t know. Neither do you.
I am an existentialist, my starting point is “Apparently I exist, now what?” What is meaningful? Well a stick in the eye seems like a bad thing and friendship, love, kindness, art, humor etc, etc seem like good things so lets not to x, and do y, z etc instead… And so on and so forth. And being an atheist does not mean that you think the main goal in life is your own pleasure or happiness. There is nothing about not believing in a god that prevents one from caring about things outside of themselves as much or more than they do themselves, whether that be other people, one’s children, a cause, a principle etc. Most skeptics for instance, including myself, place pursuit of truth much higher than their own personal comfort. Spirituality, if we put it in universal human terms and not sectarian terms, is simply feeling connected to or caring about something outside of yourself as much as or more than yourself. Placing your own happiness or safety as something other than your top priority. This is true whether it be someone abstaining from sex in service to god or a scientist setting aside their hopes or fears and following the evidence wherever it leads, or in someone changing diapers day after day instead of going to the movies or whatever. It is a universal part of being human like fear or happiness that religions often claim is unique to them and their adherents alone. This is what this whole point of view you are espousing is born out of – I don’t have your worldview therefore my life must be empty and without purpose. That is like someone saying people in china don’t eat pizza and french fries so their food must taste bad. It is an expression of ignorance and ethnocentrism. I am sorry to put it like that, and I’m not trying to be rude, but it is the truth.
“The issue is purpose. If one is an atheist, there is no ultimate purpose except to live in the moment and do good, if that.”
Our purpose stems from our values, an atheist can and does value many things, not just happiness and being nice. I value truth very highly for instance. So discussing and debating and trying to figure out what is true and test ideas etc is a purpose. I may have kids one day, that opens up entire new dimensions of purpose. If I were a doctor my purpose would be to heal and alleviate suffering, etc. Purpose to an atheist is a vast table of meaning to pick from as we choose. And we are not limited to one purpose, we can have dozens. Do only christian musicians derive a sense of purpose from their craft? Do only christian architects have a sense of accomplishment? Etc.
“Furthermore, there is no ultimate identity, besides being a product of chance.”
As I said what I am isn’t changed by where I came from. If the universe we live in was the result of “chance” or chaotic forces or whatever you want to call it, and god came along one day and noticed it and said “that’s interesting, I think I’ll make another one” and made a universe exactly like ours to the tiniest detail – would the created, deliberate universe be meaningful and the original not be meaningful? They are identical. Or to use another example, if your child were hit by a car would it only be tragic if it was deliberate? Would you, upon being told the news on the phone ask “was it a random accident?” and then, upon being told it was, say “whew, I thought it was meaningful there for a second, ::click::”?
“If one is an agnostic, there may be more purpose than what we can know and our identity may be greater than simple products of change, but we don’t know.”
There is no shortage of purpose and meaning in a naturalistic universe. I can’t swing a dead cat without hitting something that is meaningful to someone.
“My appeal to the conscience earlier in the blog is directed to the mind which I do believe testifies that all our affections, emotions, longings do not find fulfillment in this world. I know people who have tried to find the answer to their longings in much sex. Sure, it works for a time but it fades and they feel broken. Or, many people find it in food, which also is not really fulfilling. Or money, which all know truly does not bring happiness.”
There is a simple reason for this – any animal that ate one meal and never felt hungry again would starve to death. Any species whose members had sex once and never got horny again would suffer a population decline and go extinct. All of our instincts are for things we biologically have to do repeatedly, not just once. I am glad that there isn’t one thing that makes me ultimately and permanently happy, because if there were I would just be a mindless drug addict and spend every moment getting off to that one thing, and society would fall apart. There are two ways to be happy in life – one is to convince yourself that your deepest desires will one day be fulfilled, ie you will one day go to heaven and live forever and see your loved ones so don’t worry about death etc. Another way, which I think is much more practical in how we treat each other in a world which does not conform to our desires or fantasies, is to simply find the positive in everything, and examine the things that make us feel bad and see if they really should. Is death a bad thing? Well imagine we all lived forever, what would that be like? Imagine living ten thousand yeas and seeing every movie redone a million times, falling in love a thousand times, eating the same food millions of times, at some point it would become tiresome and miserable. It would be like a day that never ends where you just stay awake forever and ever. Not to mention we’d be stacked on top of each other like sardines and there’d be nothing to eat. Death is the necessary opposite of birth. New people being born into the world is what makes something like love new and exciting and beautiful. It also ensures that every generation will look at things differently and invent new forms of humor, art, language etc, instead of just stagnating.
I don’t want to die, but I don’t think I’d want to live forever either. Wanting immortality is like a kid wanting to eat candy all day. It is shortsighted.
“People now, due to the Christian influence, do enjoy doing good to others.”
Christians did not invent kindness and morality. The golden rule was written down a thousand years before the oldest texts of the old testament. And not only did it not originate with your religion or any particular culture, behavioral studies of other species show us that moral behavior is not even remotely exclusive to our own species, which means that the instinct to help others and not harm them, to be selfless etc, originated long before our species even walked the earth. To suggest that people were all about rape and murder and then jesus invented the notion of kindness is just more ethnocentrism.
“But let’s be honest, in our deep hearts we are extremely selfish and out for our own good, not only but mainly. Basically, by doing this, we are seeking fulfillment in being esteemed and recognized because we think that fulfills us.”
This, like death, falls under the heading of things that we should examine to see if they’re as bad as we think. Yes we have strong selfish instincts. But imagine if we didn’t. Imagine if you had no instinct to look our for number one, and had instincts to help others, what would be the result? You would die, naked and penniless in the streets after giving everything you own to other people. Like hunger, the selfish instinct is actually an extremely necessary and good thing, but as I’m sure you would agree, only when balanced with a healthy amount of altruism. But one without the other would be a nightmare. I remember seeing an episode of House M.D. where a patient was unusually altruistic, he was a multimillionaire who was giving away all of his money. They weren’t sure if his sudden altruism was a symptom of what was wrong with him, and he had offered to donate a kidney to another patient in the hospital who would die without it. But they couldn’t take the kidney if he only offered it because he was mentally compromised. So to find out if he was, they told him that another patient needed part of a liver, but if he gave both he might die, or something like that. And the guy smiled and told them to take all of his organs and give them to half a dozen people so he could help as many people as possible, at which point they knew he was insane. The part of his brain telling him to protect and take care of himself wasn’t working.
“In the end, I appeal to you agnophilo and say I think you are clouded by all your information you know. I am not saying throw it all away or forget it. I am not saying that it is unhelpful or that it is all false. Much of it is fact. What I am saying is watch out that you aren’t such a product of the Enlightenment that you don’t stop and listen to your conscience which deep down desires more than to argue for facts and for atheism or agnosticism.”
I do listen to them, and ponder these questions, as you no doubt can tell by now if you’ve read this far. I do not examine science to the exclusion of philosophy, or theology for that matter. I look at all of it. A lot.
“You were created to be loved by someone who can love more than a human being can.”
I don’t believe you. And if such a being wanted to love me why wouldn’t it just a) love me, and if it wanted me to love it back why not simply make it’s presence known? I probably know what you will say, and if you are going to say what I think you are going to say, it’s absurd.
“Furthermore, you are not merely one out of 7 billion walking around this earth with no greater purpose or identity.”
I know, I’m awesome : )
“Without a belief in God, and a revealing God, then we are lost in confusing and despair.”
Confusion and despair are a part of life, but they are not all there is to life, nor are they entirely bad things. You cannot learn without confusion and you can’t become strong without hardship. Your argument amounts to “if there were no santa clause that would be depressing, therefore there is a santa clause”. When of course people who don’t believe in santa clause, while the realization might be upsetting, once they become used to the idea barely give it a second thought. I no more walk around thinking “oh woe is me, there is no god” than you walk around depressed about the non-existence of santa clause or zeus or allah.
“The consistent philosophers arrived at this truth.”
They arrived at other truths too though.
“If you are agnostic, which I think you are, I encourage you to realize that you believe there may be a god, but he for some reason did not reveal himself sufficiently. That is what it means to be agnostic. That honestly is despairing and there is no reason for you to believe that except that you do not, in your mind, think that God would reveal himself. Or, you, in your mind, weigh the evidence of the God of the Bible, namely, Jesus, as not being sufficient enough. Yet I encourage you to really look at the God of the Bible and Jesus.”
I have, at great length. I have found nothing in the bible that, to me, implies that it was produced by a superior intelligence to that of other ancient philosophers, and much of scripture appears to be produced by barbaric, unenlightened, ignorant people embodying to some degree every human flaw I can think of. The best morality of the bible merely mirrors the morality of thinkers like confucius, lao tsu, socrates etc, who by the way said it all before jesus ever walked the earth. The miracle accounts and prophecies etc I cannot accept as valid evidence because christianity is not the only religion that has them – how can I ignore one religion’s miracle and eye witness accounts and embrace that of another? Only by dishonesty and hypocrisy, and as I stated earlier truth matters more to me than comfort.
“I know you probably have a lot of bad presumptions concerning Christianity—that it has no historical grounding or that it was created for power.”
It may have been, but I think it was more likely just an attempt to reform and civilize an ancient and barbaric religion. Which is not to say that jesus or the apostles were not genuine – they may have believed god was really communicating with them the same way most christians look inside themselves at all their complex inner workings and easily find something to call god or the holy spirit.
“Furthermore, I have seen that you have gotten much about it from other people critiquing it—secondary sources.”
I’ve also read a great deal of scripture, which is more damaging than any criticism I have ever read. This view is held very commonly by skeptics of the bible and many famous proponents of atheism actively encourage people to read the bible.
“However, true Christianity is not about political power. It did become that in church history to a heavy degree, but one is simply ignoring the first 300 years of the faith if one argues that it why it blossomed.”
I don’t know if I would call it a blossoming, but either way there are 14 million mormons in just 130 years. There are people calling themselves the messiah right now who have over a million followers in their own lifetime. Ideas and beliefs become popular for many more reasons than that they’re true.
“Also, you are also ignoring the immense benefits the Christian worldview brought to mankind.”
I don’t think it is fair to credit christianity for everything done by a christian than it is to blame it for everything done by a christian, so this is a murky idea at best. However it’s worth noting that christianity ruled the world for nearly 2,000 years, a period we now call the dark ages. Once it’s influence began to wane and it lost the power of the law we went, in less than a century, from horse drawn carriages to landing on the moon. As an institution I think it has held us back far more than it has propelled us forward.
“The reality is, to be blunt, people do not accept Christianity mainly because they want to continue to act as if they are autonomous. Human nature, especially post-Enlightenment, hates being told that we have to answer to someone, that we are not completely independent, that there is a being greater than us. Furthermore, when that being has revealed that we truly are now (because of the fall into sin) evil and sinful, it only gives us more reason to despise it. We hate having God in our knowledge. We hate being called sinful when we all think, “I’m a pretty good guy.” I understand that, I really do.”
While there is an element of truth to this, I don’t think that it describes the motivations of virtually all non-believers. It is like saying that people who don’t like christians are all just jealous – while it may be true of some, it is probably not true of all or even most, and it smacks of something we tell ourselves to feel better/superior. When I was a child I had people who had authority over me, who were stronger than me, more influential. I didn’t mind this, except where they were mean people. The good teachers I liked and didn’t mind, the cruel ones I did mind. But at no point did I dislike either of them so much that I felt the need to delude myself into thinking they did not even exist. The same is true today, I don’t like or dislike police officers – I like ones that are nice and I dislike ones that are power-hungry jerks. But at no point do I, out of pathological fear of being subordinate to someone, pretend they do not exist.
If there was a god and that being objectively existed and acted in the world I would accept it’s existence regardless of whether it annoyed me. If china invaded america and put us all in slave labor camps I would accept that reality no matter how unpleasant, not space out and pretend it wasn’t happening.
“Yet, the truth that there is a god is evident.”
It really isn’t.
“There are many arguments, but I believe the fact that the world exists is enough.”
The world existing no more points to jehovah than lightning points to zeus, or love proves the existence of cupid. That something comes from a god has never been demonstrated once in all of human history.
“Even scientists like Krauss really do not have an answer, they only push the beginning back a step. There must be a theos.”
You just said it right there – they don’t have an answer. Not knowing the answer when you’re taking the test does not make whatever you scribble in the blank space the truth.
“Furthermore, if there is a god, he is supreme over us. No doubt. He must be. Therefore, we must admit that.”
IF. If there is an all-powerful genie named Janet that made neptune then she is supreme over all of us. The problem with if-then statements is you have to demonstrate the if part or the then part is just science fiction.
“The question you have to answer is, Is this God deistic? Has he revealed himself? The core of Christianity is a message that many philosophers have rejected because it is “too good to be true.”
We’re all going to burn in hell for things we had no part in or control over is too good to be true? Human and animal sacrifice is too good to be true? God, who can create humans out of nothing spending centuries instructing people to murder each other to keep one blood line pure so his son could be born, only to be brutally murdered for no reason whatsoever is too good to be true? Not in my opinion.
“The message is we are immensely evil and sinners in our core, meaning, we are against God and do not want him in our knowledge and want to be autonomous. God is perfect and deserves our praise, but we do not give it. Furthermore, God is loving in making us so that we find most fulfillment in praising him, yet we still do not do it.”
I don’t accept any of these premises.
“But instead of leaving us to despair, God communicates himself through his Bible,”
Yes, the bible. It’s so helpful at answering these questions. Love your neighbor. Oh and kill your neighbor. No wait, set your neighbor on fire. No wait, turn the other cheek. But if your neighbor is a foreigner you can enslave him, but don’t beat him to death. But no wait if you beat him so badly that he dies after a few days you shall not be punished for he is your property. Oh, and women are property owned by their fathers to be sold to their husband, and if a man rapes a woman he has committed an offense not against her, but against her father, to whom he must pay a fine and marry his daughter. That the woman might not want to marry her rapist is irrelevant. Oh and if that wasn’t horrible enough if she was in the city when he raped her and didn’t manage to be found or heard by anyone, put her to death because she’s a slut and has it coming.
I could go on for hours describing horrifying instructions in scripture, absurdities, contradictions and more. If the bible is a gift, I say thanks but no thanks.
“and most importantly he comes to earth to not only communicate himself, but to provide a way for us to have that reconciled communion with him that we were made to have from the beginning.”
Yeah, god made a huge mistake and decided to fix it (but not really) a few thousand years later. And how? By sending random anonymous writers to convey his word to us in one language in one culture in the bronze age. I guess god doesn’t love chinese people who had to wait about a thousand years to get the memo, and apparently he really doesn’t like native americans, they heard about jesus practically last month.
“Jesus dies for our sins so that we may have a reconciled relationship with God. God is angry at sin, he honestly is angry at you and was at me, but he sends his Son to die in the place of those who trust him. Therefore, Jesus bore God’s anger for me, but you honestly are still under his anger.”
So let me get this straight, if I created some people and put them in a garden ten feet away from fruit I didn’t want them to eat and they ate it (and I didn’t stop them) the only way for me to forgive their very, very, very distant descendants (who did nothing wrong) is to have them murder my son? So god cares more about fruit than he does his son? If it were me then I’d be more upset about the brutal murder of my child than about a simple case of childish disobedience. Not to mention imagine you’re on a jury and the defendant is on trial for murder because their kid disobeyed them and they told the kid they deserved to be murdered but they wouldn’t be murdered if they shot their brother in the head. The parent then put a gun in their hand and they shot their brother dead. What would you think of that parent?
“But he urges you to turn to him for you were created for him. I am still a sinner, very much so, meaning, I at times push God out of my mind.”
I think about god as much and to the same degree that I think about fictional characters. If this is a sin then let god strike me dead. Or whatever he has in mind.
“But very personally, as all true Christians have known throughout the years, I know that I am made to commune with and praise this God, as all human beings were and are. He has provided me a way and I totally accept. Honestly, I realize your hindrances logically, but I urge you to think this all over. Thanks for the comment. Ryan”
I have, and will continue to do so. I ask that you do likewise. And I’m sorry if I offended you, I was not trying to. I just honestly find the god of scripture to be monstrous.