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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Theists Questions to Atheists

My Notes precede the article:

The common approach we take for living our daily life is the existence. Theist and atheist are bent on proving each other wrong or prove that one’s fact is superior to the other. What is the need for it? Better yet, what is the gain?

We exist with our differences and cannot be annihilated because we think differently, we have a choice to co-exist as peacefully as we can or live with varying degrees of peace or misery. Humans crave to co-exist and insecurities in us want to divide us. It is a continuous battle and in the interest of every one, we need to focus on co-existence; it protects every one’s interest.

The difference between theists and atheist is fairly simple, one set believe that God drives our day to day life where as the other does not see the role of God in living our daily life.

First of all, the morality does not hinge on religion, and the internalized values of the societies determine one’s moral conduct – in terms of being truthful, honest and fair in one’s dealings in personal and business matters.

Both have a certain time between the first and the last breath, how is it spent is their choice. The theists look to religious conformity to a given set of guidelines, where as the atheist don’t see it that way.

The author shot in the foot when he said “Jewish, Islamic and even Christian scriptures actively promote violence.” As Atheists are not immoral beings because they don’t believe in God, we cannot conclude that religions promote violence, it is not true. Mistakes are made by individuals and not religions and individuals should be held responsible and not their religion.

There is another question that I am frequently asked to explain, what is the difference between interfaith and Pluralism. Interfaith is about theists coming together, whereas Pluralism is about co-existence of all.

Mike Ghouse

# # #

Most Common Theist Questions Answered in a Nutshell
by Neil Marr

When a theist of any religious persuasion enters into debate with an atheist, it is often with misconceptions. So it’s maybe a good idea get a few basic points cleared up from the start rather than go over old ground in the atheists.com forums themselves.

Below are examples of the kind of questions frequently asked by theists in their first encounter with atheists. Provided are only the bare bones of likely atheist answers in the interest of brevity: even so, I’m afraid this introduction necessarily runs to a good ten minutes of reading – so save it for a coffee break.

Bear in mind that atheists are individuals with no spokesperson qualified to represent them as a group and many fellow atheists might not fully agree with the selection of questions or with the wording of my replies.

Please don’t feel that this simple and hypothetical Q&A session is meant as any more than a very, very basic introduction. Theists are more than welcome to develop the anecdotal questions in forum debate, ask new questions of their own, put forward their own views, and solicit more detailed and profound answers from other members. Just remember the rules of netiquette and everything will be friendly, civil and constructive.

(I use he/him in its neutral sense below for convenience only and it implies no sexist insult).

Q: Is atheism a religion in itself?

A: Atheism is not a religion. Atheism is merely the non-acceptance of the existence of any divine entities and other supernatural influences. It has been said that atheism is to religion what not playing golf is to sport. That pretty well sums it up.

Q: What is the difference between an atheist and an agnostic?

A: An atheist absolutely rejects the notion of deities and supernatural intervention, an agnostic isn’t quite sure of the existence of gods, though empirical evidence suggests non-existence, but will not deny the possibility. There are several schools of atheist philosophy: positive atheist, secular humanist, bright, free-thinker, non-theist. They’re pretty well interchangeable, but fine differences will be explained in the forums during the course of debate.

Q: What does an atheist believe?

A: You would have to ask him, and we hope you will. Each and every atheist, like each and every theist, believes many things. The only thought atheists share in common is an absolute non-belief in gods, afterlife (in the form of heaven, hell or reincarnation) and supernatural intervention in the cosmos and the affairs of man.

Q: What's to stop an atheist running riot if he has no God-given moral code?

A: An atheist is bound by the same moral codes of human decency and social responsibility as a theist. But he does not believe these codes are heaven-sent. In fact, many atheists feel that the theist idea of actions being rewarded or punished by a divine entity casts doubt on inherent morality. An atheist’s motivation is conscience-driven rather than imposed and influenced by ideas of divine reward and punishment. Evolutionary theory, by the way, posits strong reasons for ethically behaviour as a matter of what has become ‘human nature’. And, of course, we follow even the lesser laws of our lands and don’t double-park.

Q: An atheist can't prove there is no God, can he?

A: He does not feel obliged to. The burden of proof is on the claimant. And extraordinary claims require extraordinary support. There is no empirical evidence suggesting the existence of deities. What evidence is offered is ‘circular’ in that it relies upon partisan literature and/or is faith based. Faith is not admissible evidence. Earnestly believing something to be true does not make it so.

Q: Surely religion is about love and peace. What's so wrong with that?

A: Religion has, though the ages, proven to be divisive and destructive and has given rise to many a bloody conflict. Jewish, Islamic and even Christian scriptures actively promote violence. As for love, the concept of eternal torment for temporal human sin seems to contradict the ideals of love and forgiveness. This is such a broad subject that, again, it is wide open for much broader discussion in the forums.

Q: Are atheists so arrogant that they think they're above God?

A: As there are arrogant theists, there are arrogant atheists. However, an atheist does not feel he is above God; because no god exists. He knows mankind to be the pinnacle of currently known earthly evolution and most feel great humility in the face of the majesty of time and space and the richness of all that is a natural part of the world in which he plays his tiny, temporary, but privileged part. Some atheists feel that theists are ultimately arrogant in their belief that a godhead takes a personal interest in their petty affairs.

Q: Why can’t religious people and atheists get along together?

A: We can. And we hope these forums will provide ample evidence that we often do. We do not necessarily accept that religion per se should command respect, any more than non-belief commands respect. But people can command respect. Hopefully atheism or theism doesn’t actually define us. There are many more points on which the atheist and theist would agree than there are those upon which they would disagree. Bearing this in mind, we have a platform here for open discussion of differences and for showing that we all share human decency and love of our fellows, irrespective of gender, race, nationality, colour, social standing … and creed.

Q: Do I risk conversion to atheism by visiting these forums?

A: Atheism is a non-belief, a non-establishment, a non-institution; it is not a club where we head-count membership. The purpose of these boards is not to evangelize but to openly discuss matters of mutual interest. A knowledge-questing theist might well question some of his beliefs after careful consideration of other ideas, or he might – as many admirable theist friends do – stick to his guns and give the atheists food for thought. We’re not on a conversion kick … but we do try to promote common sense and education.

Q: Is the material universe the atheist’s God?

A: The atheist is, like any thinking person, in awe of the cosmos – what is known and what is yet to be discovered. But the universe is not his god. He has no god. The universe is innocent of its own existence, let alone of ours. Such acceptance is the basis of atheistic humility and the reason most atheists support scientific and scholarly quest for answers that will enrich humankind.

Q: Why are atheists so hung up about a dividing line between church and state?

A: All past and present incarnations of theocracy have resulted in untold misery, warfare, poverty of spirit and ignorance. What atheists feel is that – especially in the USA – the west is seeing the thin edge of a worryingly broad wedge that threatens educational, scientific and scholarly progress and discriminates against the non-theist (in some cases even non-Christian) through governmental, commercial and social interference. This is another point that will be discussed more fully in forum.

Q: Science can't account for everything; ergo there must be a God, no?

A: No. Already the disciplines of science and scholarship have answered many complex questions and solved many hitherto insurmountable problems, opening up a magnificent vista of possibility. Science and Scholarship is ever-questing and self-critical. Where there might currently be a gap in scientific knowledge (and they’re working on it), to suggest that the gap be automatically filled by supernatural means is hardly realistic. We feel that, whereas science and scholarship strives to offer answers to questions, religions merely offer answers that must not be questioned.

Q: God created everything; the universe and all that's in it is part of His plan. It says so in the scriptures, doesn't it?

A: This is an example of ‘circular’ argument, where support for a supposition comes from a source that is itself part of that very supposition. The scriptures of all religions are fatally flawed. They are riddled with inaccuracy and contradiction. Creation stories, from the sublime to the ridiculous, abound. None match and none offer the satisfaction and staggering beauty of scientific evidence in support of the beginning and development of the universe and evolution of life on earth.

Q: But evolution, for example, is just a theory, isn’t it?

A: It is important to understand clearly the definition of scientific theory. In this formal usage, the word theory has little in common with its casual everyday use to describe an unproven supposition. Evolution is a tried-and-tested scientific theory just like gravity is a tried-and-tested theory. Please don’t jump out of a window to prove that the theory of gravity is the figment of scientific imagination. Do not French kiss Typhoid Mary to test the germ theory. Much, much more will be available to you on such subjects when you start to take part in the forums. There are scientists and scholars among atheists.com membership with the generosity and patience to share their knowledge.Q: So atheism is based upon the findings of science, evolution and the revelations of scholarly scriptural criticism?A: Not at all. Science and scholarship lend support to the atheist viewpoint, and doubtless, some who held faith have lost it in the face of overwhelming evidence; but an atheist may well know nothing at all about scientific and scholarly matters. Most atheists are natural non-believers because they discover – at whatever stage of life – that belief in deities is irrational and irrelevant.

Q: If there is no afterlife, where does an atheist turn to for purpose?

A: Ask him. Each of us has his own justification for living life as he does. Most atheists – more than content with their tiny spec of existence – try to make the very most of their time on earth and to make their lives productive and useful to those around them. An atheist must fulfil his perceived purpose in the here-and-now, or fail. He yearns for no heaven and fears no hell. There are no second chances through reincarnation. Death and birth bracket an atheist’s existence. He faces this fact and is comfortable with it.

Q: Why do so many atheists research religion when they are so sure there are no gods?

A: Firstly, religion and history are fascinating subjects for academic research to anyone with an enquiring mind. Secondly, even though there is no divine basis to religion, one true reality of religion is its influence upon the world in which we live. We have a vested interest in knowing as much about it as we can. And it often surprises us that so very few of those professing a faith have actually read and study the literature upon which it’s based and know anything about their particular religion’s history and structure. But please don’t think that most atheists are avid students of religion; the vast majority are merely apathetic toward it (apatheists?) and dismiss the entire subject as having no relevance to their lives. Those you will meet here are the exception rather than the rule.

Q: What about Pascal's Wager?

A: The French philosopher Blaise Pascal is popularly quoted by Christian theists when they argue against atheism. In a nutshell, Pascal said: Believe in God and you stand to gain everything. If you’re wrong in that belief, you lose nothing. Heads you win, tails you don’t lose.

There are two problems with this gambit. Firstly, you cannot with honesty choose to believe. You either do or you don’t. Secondly, which god is Pascal talking about? Who’s to say the theist (insert a religion here) has chosen to believe in the real one?

Think on this: If you are a monotheist (say a Jew, a Christian, a Moslem), you believe in one god. You disbelieve in the hundreds and thousands of other gods worshipped in the world today and in the past. The atheist merely believes in one god less.

Another philosopher, Epicurus, writing 300 years before the alleged birth of the Christian's Jesus Christ, composed what is known as the ‘Epicurean Paradox’. It is more likely to be quoted by atheists than the flawed Pascal’s Wager:

Is God all-powerful but unable to stop evil?
Then God is not omnipotent.
Is God all-powerful but not willing to stop evil?
Then God is malevolent.
Is God all-powerful and all-good?
Then whence enter evil?
Is God weak and unable to stop evil?
Then why call him God?

I hope you’ve found this simple Q&A helpful and that you’ll join us here to exchange thoughtful and friendly debate on a subject of mutual and heartfelt interest.
Neil Marr

- Consider the following statements; The Christians, Muslims and Jews believe that there is one God. The Hindus, Shinto’s and pagans believe that there are many gods. Some religions believe that we are all God. The bible says that we are all descended from Adam and Eve. Every other religion has a creation myth that is just as silly as Adam‘s rib, including the story where the Japanese islands were formed from the brine dripping off of a god’s spear. If one of the above viewpoints is true then the others are false. These various beliefs are not compatible. Even if the Christian says to the pagan, “I accept that God may have come to other people in other forms and therefore you are worshiping my God in a different form.” he is really just patronizing him. If one god presents himself in multiple forms, why bother with religion at all? If one ritual is interchangeable with another then why not make up your own? If the pagan says to the Christian, “I accept that the divine has many aspects and therefore you are worshiping my goddess in a different form” then why not just go to church? If every religion contains a seed of divinity then why not just stay at home and be content knowing that the divine exists? If all belief systems are valid then why not an arbitrary one you created by yourself? Consider that scientology is based on the off-hand thoughts of a science fiction writer.

It works like this, if someone tells you he just had a conversation with God, he’s a lunatic. If someone convinces a dozen people that he talks to God then he’s a cult leader. If someone convinces a million people that he talks to God then he’s a prophet. Religions are founded by lunatics who become cult leaders who become prophets. If someone attempts to answer the question of which religion is right by saying that his religion will eventually convert all others and essentially cover the world, we start getting into scary territory. If you believe that those who do not worship as you do are wrong, how can you be sure that you have really chosen the correct religion?

Do you pick your religion solely by what others have told you and then insist that you have exclusive access of divine truth? If a Hindu knows in his heart that his beliefs are true, and a Christian feels the same, how do you judge which experience is more valid? If one religious viewpoint is right and all others are wrong, then how do you distinguish between them? Heaven, Reincarnation and Nirvana are very different concepts. If Heaven is real then the other two concepts are mere bunk. How could anyone in good conscience watch as hundreds of millions of people devote their lives, energy and finances to a religion that is wholly false? On the other hand, what kind of arrogance motivates someone to travel to another country to “save” the ignorant and superstitious of the world? What justification can you have for telling someone that your superstition is superior to his or her own?

1 comment:

  1. I invite the authors of this website who I seem to understand are atheists to work with me on concurrence of concepts and principles on the issue of God's existence or non-existence.

    First concept to come to work toward concurrence is the concept of God in the Christian faith in His fundamental relation to the universe.

    Do you atheists have the correct concept of God in the Christian faith in His fundamental relation to the universe?