Arguments Against God: Is Theism Rational?

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    Feb 26, 2014 2:15 AM GMT
    The following is my paraphrase of an article linked below: Atheists say that theism is false, rather than just unproven? Because the question has been settled to atheists' satisfaction: “There is no God” is said with the same confidence one say “there are no ghosts” or “there is no magic.” The main issue is supernaturalism — Atheists deny that there are beings or phenomena outside the scope of natural law.

    That’s not to say that atheists think everything is within the scope of human knowledge. Surely there are things not dreamt of in our philosophy, not to mention in our science – but that fact is not a reason to believe in supernatural beings. atheists think many arguments for the existence of a God depend on the insufficiencies of human cognition. Atheists readily grant that we have cognitive limitations. But when we bump up against them, when we find we cannot explain something — like why the fundamental physical parameters happen to have the values that they have — the right conclusion to draw is that we just can’t explain the thing. That’s the proper place for agnosticism and humility.

    The question is why rational people such as though on RJ could disagree about the existence of God. Why not ask about disagreements among theists? Jews and Muslims disagree with Christians about the divinity of Jesus; Protestants disagree with Catholics about the virginity of Mary; Protestants disagree with Protestants about predestination, infant baptism and the inerrancy of the Bible. Hindus think there are many gods while Unitarians think there is at most one. Don’t all these disagreements demand explanation too? Must a Christian Scientist say that Episcopalians are just not thinking clearly? Are you going to ask a Catholic if she thinks there are no good reasons for believing in the angel Moroni?

    Discuss.

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/25/arguments-against-god/?hp&rref=opinion
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    Feb 26, 2014 2:18 AM GMT
    The way you keep framing the issue continually begs the question.

    Of course it's "settled" for me.
    Gravity is also settled.
    The color spectrum is not controversial.
    Arithmetic is not open to question (higher math may be).
    I don't need pointless debates over these things.
  • MikeW

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    Feb 26, 2014 4:35 AM GMT
    First of all, it bothers me that you're paraphrasing the article you link to without indicating clearly in your post that you are doing so. IOW, it looks as if the OP are your words. They're not. They're heavily borrowed from atheist philosopher Louise Antony's reply to questions; and not always quoted precisely either. First sentence of your OP: "Atheists say that theism is false, rather than just unproven?" The exact quote is: "So the question is, why do I say that theism is false, rather than just unproven?"

    In your third paragraph you put it: "The question is why rational people such as though [sic?] on RJ could disagree about the existence of God. Why not ask about disagreements among theists?" In the original: "But getting back to your question: I’m puzzled why you are puzzled how rational people could disagree about the existence of God. Why not ask about disagreements among theists?"

    I would much prefer that you either express your thinking in your own words or at the very least use proper punctuation to indicate when you're quoting words from someone else to make a point.

    Second, I basically agree with Sharka; what really is the point of this? I'll come back to this in a minute.

    Third, I think the article you've linked to is a pretty good one. Mr Antony states, "I don’t think that when two people take opposing stands on any issue that one of them has to be irrational or ignorant." I appreciate that intellectual attitude and it sums up much of what I was trying to say in the "IAR" thread.

    I also think it is interesting and relevant that the article concludes with the questioner noting, "It sounds like you don’t think it much matters whether we believe in God or not." Mr. Antony concurs:

    Well, I do wonder about that. Why do theists care so much about belief in God? Disagreement over that question is really no more than a difference in philosophical opinion. Specifically, it’s just a disagreement about ontology — about what kinds of things exist. Why should a disagreement like that bear any moral significance? Why shouldn’t theists just look for allies among us atheists in the battles that matter — the ones concerned with justice, civil rights, peace, etc. — and forget about our differences with respect to such arcane matters as the origins of the universe?

    Returning to my second point: What I'm not clear on woodsmen, is why this subject--this atheism/theism dichotomy and whether either position is "rational"--is so important to YOU personally. What is this really all about for you?
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    Feb 26, 2014 4:48 AM GMT
    MikeW said "Returning to my second point: What I'm not clear on woodsmen, is why this subject--this atheism/theism dichotomy and whether either position is "rational"--is so important to YOU personally. What is this really all about for you?"

    With respect to your first point, I will indicate the attribution upfront but am glad you found the link I provided explicitly. My thinking is influenced by reading other people's writing including yours.

    With respect to your musing "Second, I basically agree with Sharka; what really is the point of this? " The point is to talk about a subject to clarify a subject matter that is important to people. At least, I think so since the thread on atheism garnered 9000 views and 800 posts, which people have indicated it was one of the best threads on RJ ever.

    With respect to your second point, what is important to me is the process--not the end result of belief or disbelief. The process is a thinking process that illuminates the path to which you arrive be it atheism or theism.

    For example, in the initial companion thread "Is Atheism Rational?", I discovered that many so called atheists are not atheist since they have non-beliefs instead of a disbelief in the existence of God. My sense was that people are attracted to the brand of "atheism" instead of finding out what atheism is about. This creates a problem where people are taking on an ideology under an unthinking assumption that is incorrect.
  • MikeW

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    Feb 26, 2014 5:10 AM GMT
    woodsmen saidMy sense is people are attracted to the brand instead of the identification premise of atheism. This creates a problem where people are taking on an ideology under an unthinking assumption that is wrong.

    Well, it doesn't come as any surprise to me that most people don't think very clearly or deeply about much of anything, even things they claim are important to them. Or, put another way, that people adopt intellectual attitudes that are actually expressions of their emotions.

    I'm not excusing myself from any of the above, either. I confess to being emotionally prejudiced *against* religious people in general and especially many who identify as "Christian."

    I posted this in the IAR thread but will repeat it here because, to me, this is the real heart of the matter. This is a quote from Jacob Needleman in his preface to an anthology of Gnostic writings entitled, "The Sword of Gnosis."

    I take all true skepticism
    to be the search
    for a quiet center
    within the mind
    that can resist the pull
    of subjective opinion,
    mechanical logic
    and authoritarian belief.

    Nearer to that center of the mind,
    it seems that a double certainty appears
    the certainty that it is humanly possible
    to know reality directly
    and the certainty
    that there are
    infinitely higher levels
    to be served beyond and within
    the human frame.

    Thus does a form of faith
    arise alongside the rejection of belief.

    By faith I mean a miraculous quality of certainty.
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    Feb 26, 2014 5:17 AM GMT
    Another thing that concerns me is people take on a superior air under the assumed brand of atheism and asserted that atheism has a clean history compared to the atrocities of religions. It saddens me that people forgot about the notorious atheists of history including Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, as well as Mao Zedong who committed the largest democide in the history of mankind by killing 40 to 70 million Chinese with no moral constrains.

    Unexamined ideology without thinking based on distortion of personal emotions and prejudices is deeply troubling.
  • MikeW

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    Feb 26, 2014 5:24 AM GMT
    Psychopaths are psychopaths; makes no difference if they present themselves as theists, atheists, agnostics or wtf ever.

    What is truly troubling is how the majority of us *allow* a minority of people like this into positions of power where they *can* commit such atrocities.
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    Feb 26, 2014 5:33 AM GMT
    There has been some scientific research into the notion of "God," recently. As reported by Jesse Bering, Ph.D. (who is gay):

    There is a theoretical supposition that believers behave better because they feel that God is watching them, and presumably communicates His displeasure about their sinful deeds in the shape of various misfortunes, is one of the most compelling scientific arguments for the sheer stickiness of religion in society today. God just won’t go away, and much of the reason He won’t, goes this purely mechanistic evolutionary logic, is that the cognitive illusion of a punitive God functions to stem the selfish behaviors of individuals and helps to sustain social harmony.

    A number of studies have offered empirical support for this supernatural monitoring hypothesis. This is a term coined by Ara Norenzayan, who in multiple studies has found that when participants are implicitly primed with God-related words (“spirit,” “divine,” “sacred,” and so on), they become both more “prosocial” and less antisocial. By contrast with nonreligious or neutral words, people who see such religious words, for example, donate more money to a charity after completing a word-scramble task in which they cobble the words together some coherent sentence. Although he and his collaborator Azim Shariff favored the interpretation that participants behaved more altruistically in the religious condition because the religious words reminded them that God was watching and therefore judging them, Norenzayan had always been cautious not to conclude prematurely that this was caused simply by concerns about heavenly spying. It’s also possible, of course, that these religious words simply activated related social concepts such as “benevolence” and “good deeds,” priming altruistic decision making independent of worrying about God’s fretful.
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    Feb 26, 2014 5:37 AM GMT
    lol another identical post so woodsman can bump his own threads again
  • HottJoe

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    Feb 26, 2014 5:44 AM GMT
    Everyone is so excited about the afterlife that they're willing to believe in just about anything. My plan for when I die is to go back in time to when I was ten and do my life over knowing the things I know now.... By this time next 2014 I'll be the one who wrote Harry Potter!icon_lol.gif
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    Feb 26, 2014 5:50 AM GMT
    Jesse Bering, Ph.D. also reported:

    “For believers, in fact, additional evidence shows that God-related cues not only influence their desire to have others see them in a positive way but actually motivate them to do good deeds. Some of the best support for this is the so-called Sunday Effect, first identified by Deepak Malhotra of the Harvard Business School. Malhotra’s research has also revealed how it’s the context of the situation—particularly the presence or absence of ostensibly holy cues—that flushes out any actual differences in altruism between believers and nonbelievers. “This approach helps to shift away from seeking a simple answer to the question of whether religious people are nicer,” reasons Malhotra in Judgment and Decision Making, “and towards assessing when, if ever, religious people may be nicer.” Malhotra hypothesized that religious individuals would be more responsive to appeals from charities than would nonreligious people, but only on days when they had earlier attended church.”
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    Feb 26, 2014 5:50 AM GMT
    woodsmen saidAnother thing that concerns me is people take on a superior air under the assumed brand of atheism and asserted that atheism has a clean history compared to the atrocities of religions. It saddens me that people forgot about the notorious atheists of history including Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, as well as Mao Zedong who committed the largest democide in the history of mankind by killing 40 to 70 million Chinese with no moral constrains.

    This is logical nonsense. You're committing the fallacy of correlation = causation. Because they were atheists, you are asserting that their atheism caused their barbarity.
    You would be wearing the dunce cap in any logic course.
    All you've shown is correlation. And that's meaningless.
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    Feb 26, 2014 5:51 AM GMT
    ^ I am stating facts not stating that atheism causes murders. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Zedong killed people is a fact. That they were atheists is a fact. Point out to me where I state plainly that atheism causes democide.

    Shark said "You would be wearing the dunce cap in any logic course." Why would you say something like that to me? I thought we are friends. That's is unfair and since I aced all of my logic courses, untrue.

    If you dispute that Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao Zedong did not murder people, that would be illogical.
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    Feb 26, 2014 5:59 AM GMT
    woodsmen said^ I am stating facts not stating that atheism causes murders. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Zedong killed people is a fact. That they were atheists is a fact.

    Shark said "You would be wearing the dunce cap in any logic course." Why would you say something like that to me? That's is unfair and since I aced all of my logic courses, untrue.

    If you dispute that Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao Zedong did not murder people, that would be illogical.

    I have to seriously ask what you were doing in logic class, then. Looking out the window? Daydreaming? You committed a fallacy that's one of the very first things covered in the textbook. You made NO connection between atheism and the murders of those dictators, but you did assert that "atheism doesn't have a clean history". You proved nothing of the sort. You assert causation when all you showed is correlation. And that's a Logic 101 fail.
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    Feb 26, 2014 6:01 AM GMT
    ^ Shark said "You made NO connection between atheism and the murders of those dictators, but you did assert that "atheism doesn't have a clean history"."

    Do you deny Hitler committed democide to the tune of 10 million people? That he was an atheist? That Stalin killed million of Russians? That Pol Pot killed 1 million people? That Mao Zedong killed 40-70 million people. Those are facts. Facts require no causation analysis. But it is also a fact that they were atheists. The connection is the association, not a causation.

    The discomfort you feel which you turned to attacking me based on causality is ludicrous. You do not want to be in company of those murderous atheists, I understand. But let me repeat I do not propose that atheism causes murder intent.

    (But you are right that I didn't learn causality analysis in my logic classes. When I was at the university, causality analysis is primarily taught in my statistics courses and secondarily in philosophy courses.)
  • SuntoryTime

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    Feb 26, 2014 9:12 AM GMT
    woodsmen saidAnother thing that concerns me is people take on a superior air under the assumed brand of atheism and asserted that atheism has a clean history compared to the atrocities of religions. It saddens me that people forgot about the notorious atheists of history including Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, as well as Mao Zedong who committed the largest democide in the history of mankind by killing 40 to 70 million Chinese with no moral constrains.

    Unexamined ideology without thinking based on distortion of personal emotions and prejudices is deeply troubling.


    Except they didn't commit atrocities in the name of atheism. There was no word of Atheist God that commanded Stalin or Mao (I'm not even sure Hitler or Pol Pot were atheists) to starve their citizens to death. They didn't go - "there's no god, so I'm gonna kill millions of people!" Their regimes were based on a pipe dream about creating a classless society where everyone has a say in their government and their employment. Too bad it's really hard to commit to that when you also believe one party should make the decisions for everyone about EVERYTHING for a supposed small period of time before transitioning into that perfect society. Doing away with religion was just an opportunity to deify themselves.

    Do you want atheists to admit that atheists can be bad people too? I doubt there's one who'd argue. Still, the victims of Nazism and Marxism-Leninism didn't die because these men did not believe in god.
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    Feb 26, 2014 2:26 PM GMT
    ^ I don't wish for atheists to admit to whether they are bad people or not. The facts are recited to recite a history in which atheists did violence in response to a post in the "Is Atheism Rational?" thread that indicated that atheists have a clean history. I am trying to say that everyone comes to the table with unclean hands.

    Let's get back to the subject of the thread. Is theism rational?
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    Feb 26, 2014 2:43 PM GMT
    *wades into the mess*

    I'm Christian.

    My faith in God and in the man called the Christ is entirely irrational.

    It's the voice in my heart speaking to me. The eyes of my heart seeing, the ears of my heart hearing.
    A book tries to explain it. It falls short as I believe god can't be contained in a mere book, any more than you can catch the wind in a bottle.
    Is it madness? If it is, I'll take it, because it's a wonderful kind of madness. icon_wink.gif

    Each Christian is as individual and unique as each grain of sand on a beach. Some are smooth, some are sharp edged, some broken pieces, some semi precious, and some plain old granite. Some are glass, some plastic, some metal, some bone, and some shell. From a distance we all look the same, but that's just an illusion.

    To judge one of us by some of us is a mistake, just as to judge all of us by some of us is a mistake, too.

    What wonderful irrationality!
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    Feb 26, 2014 2:57 PM GMT
    Coincidentally, I saw several programs yesterday with Morgan Freeman on the SCI channel where scientists were interviewed saying that the only rational explanation for the things that happen in the universe is that it's all an illusion inside the mind of some other Creator. I have no idea what the actual truth is but if scientific geniuses can consider a higher power, then it is perfectly rational.
    It all comes down to what you *want* to believe.
  • MikeW

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    Feb 26, 2014 3:05 PM GMT
    meninlove said *wades into the mess*

    I'm Christian.

    My faith in God and in the man called the Christ is entirely irrational. ...

    Very well said. You're one of the good ones, MIL.
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    Feb 26, 2014 3:54 PM GMT
    "Except they didn't commit atrocities in the name of atheism. There was no word of Atheist God that commanded Stalinor Mao (I'm not even sure Hitler or Pol Pot were atheists) to starve their citizens to death. They didn't go - "there's no god, so I'm gonna kill millions of people!"

    Actually, that's pretty close to what Jeffrey Dahmer said.
    Religious motivations have two sides but atheists only look at the one.
    While atheists have no misguided religious motivation to do evil, neither do they have religious motivation to do good.
    This surprised me:
    "Alice Cooper. This name may surprise many, especially those familiar with Cooper's early career as a shock rocker. But Cooper was brought up in a Christian home, as a pastor's son. And he has returned to his spiritual roots in later life. He has already built a Christian teen center in Phoenix for at-risk youths."
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    Feb 26, 2014 4:04 PM GMT
    Here is a final excerpt from a book by Jesse Bering, Ph.D. (who is gay):

    “The fact that salient religious cues prompt neighborly decisions and curb social transgressions because they focus the believers’ attention on God’s hawkeyed view of their behaviors is tremendously important for understanding the adaptive function of religion. And such effects play out all around us. In many courtrooms across the Western world, for instance, defendants and witnesses must place their hand on the Bible and volunteer to respond to the religious oath “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

    And in the ancient Hebrew world, there was the similar “oath by the thigh”—where “thigh” was the polite term for one’s dangling bits—since touching the sex organs before giving testimony was said to invoke one’s family spirits (who had a vested interest in the seeds sprung from these particular loins) and ensured that the witness wouldn’t perjure himself. I rather like this older ritual, in fact, as it’s more in keeping with evolutionary biology. But in general, swearing to God, in whatever way it’s done, is usually effective in persuading others that you’re telling the truth. We know from controlled studies with mock juries that if a“controlled studies with mock juries that if a person swears on—or, better yet, kisses—the Bible before testifying, the jury’s perception of that person’s believability is significantly enhanced.

    After all, who in their right mind would lie before God? Well, as these findings suggest, atheists are more likely to do so."

  • HottJoe

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    Feb 26, 2014 4:26 PM GMT
    JohnSpotter said"Except they didn't commit atrocities in the name of atheism. There was no word of Atheist God that commanded Stalinor Mao (I'm not even sure Hitler or Pol Pot were atheists) to starve their citizens to death. They didn't go - "there's no god, so I'm gonna kill millions of people!"

    Actually, that's pretty close to what Jeffrey Dahmer said.
    Religious motivations have two sides but atheists only look at the one.
    While atheists have no misguided religious motivation to do evil, neither do they have religious motivation to do good.
    This surprised me:
    "Alice Cooper. This name may surprise many, especially those familiar with Cooper's early career as a shock rocker. But Cooper was brought up in a Christian home, as a pastor's son. And he has returned to his spiritual roots in later life. He has already built a Christian teen center in Phoenix for at-risk youths."

    What on earth makes you think atheists have no motivation to do good? Do you base all of your decisions on the rewards of the afterlife??? Because an atheist can draw those same conclusions based on this life.

    Furthermore, many Christians persecute gays because they believe that if they please God it will ensure their ticket to heaven. They literally want to put us in chains and electric fences, in the hopes that their own sins will be forgiven and God will love them again. They'd rejoice knowing the devil was peeling off our skin over an open flame.
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    Feb 26, 2014 4:29 PM GMT
    ^You've misquoted my post as usual. I can't be bothered.
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    Feb 26, 2014 5:15 PM GMT
    woodsmen said
    The question is why rational people such as though on RJ could disagree about the existence of God. Why not ask about disagreements among theists? Jews and Muslims disagree with Christians about the divinity of Jesus; Protestants disagree with Catholics about the virginity of Mary; Protestants disagree with Protestants about predestination, infant baptism and the inerrancy of the Bible. Hindus think there are many gods while Unitarians think there is at most one. Don’t all these disagreements demand explanation too? Must a Christian Scientist say that Episcopalians are just not thinking clearly? Are you going to ask a Catholic if she thinks there are no good reasons for believing in the angel Moroni?

    Discuss.

    I will not comment on your primary concern, but I'll give some info about Hinduism which MAY help you a bit in what you're looking for.

    What appears on the outside doesn't reflect what's on the inside..Though you may have heard that Hinduism/Hindus have 330Million gods, I certainly do not agree on that because No one can name all of those...perhaps that idea came from sometime in the past where the population of India is 330Million, who knows? Anyways as I said in the other thread, each person understands god in their own way, even if their holy/science books dictates them about something natural/supernatural phenomenons, even if everyone reads the same passage, each person understands according to their own imagination. This is why, we say 'There are as many religions/gods as there are people' because no two people think alike.

    And coming to Hinduism, as each person/community is different in their thoughts, culture and lifestyle from the other...We believe that god(the omnipresent) manifests himself to them according to their own needs. And this is why Hinduism accepts everyone and every religion including atheists and agnostics. Though god manifests himself into different appearances, he's different only in external features...but from the inside, he's unique and one and the same in all.

    Hinduism, in its core belief/principle/idea is actually monotheistic. Which is not as many people think otherwise.