Conversations with a Christian

The following is my summary of a long and frequently frustrating debate on Facebook between myself, another atheist, and a Christian. I changed the names for some degree of privacy.

"The evolution of morality is a pretty well researched question with solid evolutionary answers. A better argument for the existence of something along the lines of God is awareness itself. To the best of my knowledge, science has so far been unable to offer an explanation of why anyone's aware of anything. Nor does it offer a satisfactory explanation of why I happen to be aware of only me - and not any of the other billions of creatures in existence.

In my mind, questions about the origin of awareness beg an answer that must point somewhere outside of what we currently know as nature, or at the very least requires augmentation of our knowledge of nature.

However, jumping briskly from these questions to "God exists as depicted in the Bible, and he sent Jesus to atone for our sins" is a gross violation of rationality, and it is only possible if you first assume that the Bible contains truth, and THEN proceed from that point onward, rather than considering the truth of the Bible on its own. It must be clear to any imaginative mind that IF a spiritual world exist, it might take any number of forms, and that a book originated by an organization that is obviously in the business of power and influence is NOT a source to be trusted at all.

Now, as far as Evelyn's faith goes, I think it is fairly clear at this point, and has been shown numerous times, that:

(1) Evelyn's faith is irrational, and she's proud of that. She has exclaimed several times that her world is not limited to probabilities between 0 and 1, and that it isn't limited by cold logic. She might as well have said directly that her world involves fairy tales. These were clear admissions that rationality is not important to her. And not just when it comes to religion: she actually went further and stated that even knowledge about the world is not important to her, preferring the bliss of ignorance to scientific pursuit of knowledge. (This, while at another point referring to her credentials as a scientist.)

(2) The purpose of Evelyn's faith is to give her comfort. She has stated several times that the reason she believes is because it makes her feel good, and she would like others to believe because it would make others feel good. At no time nor at any point did she use any argument that would assert that her faith is "true". When asked to evaluate the probability that her faith is true, she flatly declined. This indicates she might not even actually believe her faith is true, she just enjoys a thought process that assumes it is true, and she wishes to preserve that thought process for the comfort it provides.

(3) Evelyn believes that atheists live in mental anguish where they suffer from not having a comfortable answer about the nature of the universe. Evelyn fails to understand that it isn't necessary to believe in a detailed story of a God in order to be comfortably at ease with the Universe.

If any progress is to be made in helping Evelyn understand where Isaac and others like him are coming from, it would be in clearing up the misconception in paragraph (3) above. The reason Evelyn chooses her faith is emotional. The emotions involved are a sense of bliss if the faith is retained, and fear of uncertainty and emptiness if it isn't. Because her reasons are emotional, she will actively evade any attempts to apply reason that could threaten her faith.

I do not think that reason and logic alone can put even a chink in her armor. The armor is auto-deflecting and self-repairing, and she has been practicing those self-repairs her entire life.

If you want her to understand where you are coming from, the first order of business would be to explain, in EMOTIONAL terms, what helps you, as an atheist, to sleep peacefully at night. What makes you not perceive the world as cold and empty. What gives you the same emotional assurance as the bliss she gets from "knowing" that God is there to love her and guide her.

For atheists, who are used to thinking logically, this is a pretty tall order. Not every atheist might even have these emotional issues resolved. This is because atheists are ascetic thinkers, driven by principle, not comfort. We are willing to endure mental discomfort in order to pursue Truth.

Most people who are religious, however, are not ascetic thinkers. They don't find refuge in religion because they're driven by a noble principle. Instead, such people put more stock in mental comfort. They may in fact have given up on understanding the world in the first place, and so could not care less if their world view is further distorted. They may not even be able to tell the difference between a distortion and truth. And they don't care - as long as what they believe makes them comfortable."


Anonymous said…
Isn't it funny that you declare yourself as an "atheist"?

That says nothing about who you are, what you believe in. Do you believe in immortality of the soul? What do you think about the nature of the universe? Does human kind have a creator? Since no one can prove a thing, what's your hypothesis? Why did Einstein, man of science, often talk about "God" (not in a religious way, but certainly in a "pan-creator" way)?

"Atheist" says what you're not. Pretty lousy way of defining your philosophy! Stop arguing with Christians and try to grasp who we are and where we are going in your own way.
denis bider said…
Hey, I have an idea too. How about you stop being an anonymous dick?

The word "atheist" has at least two similar but differently nuanced meanings. In a narrow meaning, it's a person who believes there is no "god". In a broader meaning, it's a person who doesn't believe in a god. Whether you consult an online dictionary or Wikipedia, you will find both meanings.

Now bugger off.
verbatim said…
Since no one can prove a thing, what's your hypothesis?

Scientifically one could never reach a conclusion that there is god because in science you make a conclucion AFTER you can prove something based on data and observations. In religions, they make a story first and then let others to prove it. Nonsense. If religious people think their reasoning is correct why don't they provide a proof like does every scientist?

If I make a statement that after we die we are reborn as grasshoppers you would demand a proof from me. If I couldn't provide it you you would say it isn't true and laugh at me. Why don't you apply the same reasoning to Christianity? Why wouldn't you just believe my words and say they must be true because no one can't prove otherwise?
denis bider said…
I wouldn't like this to become a topic for conversing with religious people.

I would prefer it to remain a topic about conversing with religious people.

It is probably a common experience that conversing with religious people is frustrating and leads nowhere. I posted this to share some insights of mine, and possibly to hear insights from others.

I wouldn't want this to become the same kind of frustrating conversation that leads nowhere, however.
tim said…
I am a christian, a believer if you will. Yes, my faith does make me feel at peace and that is a strong bond to keeping the faith. In church awhile back we were asked why we were believers in Christ as opposed to other religions, or no religion at all. After thinking about it for awhile, I concluded that the primary reason was not because it made me "feel", but because it was the best explanation as to why humanity operates as it does. Admittedly, Christianity does a poor job of explaining the workings of the universe, the human body, etc. However, it does address behavior and self-awareness. since it doesn't go very far in explaining the universe, it also doesn't run afoul of the scientific understanding of the universe. science however does a very poor job in explaining behavior and why humanity operates as it does. While there has been much study on the matter, from my view, "science" is only starting to scratch the surface, and "pop-science" seems to constantly contradict itself.
IN addition, from a historical perspective, the bible is quite an accurate and in depth document. Historians seem to find more and more evidence supporting the accuracy of the text as a purely historical document. This also plays a role in my belief.
To summarize, the good book does the best job of describing and explaining what I observe day in and day out. Much better than other religions, and certainly better than science in regards to human interactions.

I'd say "just my two cents", but I probably gave you closer to a nickel there ;)

take care denis, I enjoy reading your blog even if i don't agree with you on a semi-regular basis
denis bider said…
Hello Tim,

good points. I agree that science is not nearly doing an adequate job, yet, explaining awareness. I don't think the Bible is doing an adequate job either, though.

I do believe that science, especially through subjects such as game theory and evolutionary psychology, is doing a much better job than religion at explaining (and predicting!) human behavior. True, evolutionary psychology is easy to abuse, and is perhaps not as rigorous as, say, physics. But the explanations offered by religion are much worse.

I think religion engenders a few major misconceptions that spoil the way people see the world.

One misconception is the false distinction between humans and animals. I have found little evidence to support what most religious people think - that animals are in some way qualitatively inferior, less aware, less deserving of consideration than humans. Animals differ in their degree of development, but I don't see that they differ much differently than the various ages and states of sanity for a human.

Another misconception is that humans, since they're considered qualitatively distinct from animals, are in a special category where special rules apply. Again, the evidence is contrary. Humans are subject to the same kinds of genetic influence and variability as animals. Just like an animal's physical and character traits are, to a large extent, due to genes inherited from ancestors, so a human's character traits are, to a large extent, due to inherited from ancestors.

I see religion as intellectually harmful to the extent that it requires pleading a special case where there isn't, in fact, anything special. This distorts our view of the world and negatively influences our policies. As a result, our policies are counter-productive, and this is harmful.
Anonymous said…
Just a note. The Bible may have been the product of an institution but the works of which is consists were not.
denis bider said…
Perhaps. But how do you know?

To what extent did the organization edit the components of the Bible, so they serve the organization's purposes better?

How much truth was there to the originals in the first place?

Were there originals to begin with, or were there multiple competing copies of a story, each at odds with each other?

The people who compiled the Bible exercised some major free will in selecting which stories to include, which versions of them to include, and how to edit them.

The result would have been completely different if the editors were not the particular people with the particular preferences that happened to have the influence to be there.
Zar said…
An odd criticism, really, to say that they first assume the Bible to be True then build from it. Even more odd that this is applied to Religious People as a whole, and not to Atheists.

I say this because, what really makes your own beliefs not a Religion in and of themselves? Religion is no the same as Theism, its simply a set of beliefs about our existence.

The way I see it, you simply advocate your own alternative Religion, and worse, commit the same fallacies that others do.

EG, you start with the premise that the Bible can’t be Trusted, all based upon the assertion that it began with an Organisation with an interest in Power and Control.

Well, actually it didn’t. The Bible is not a Single Book written by th Christian Church, for starters, but several books written in diverse places and times by several Authors, not all of whom were particularly popular a the time of their witting, such as Jeremiah.

Worse still is the automatic assumption that the Church should not be Trusted because its an origination who wants Power and Control. Who says? You? Why ought this be believed? it’s a pretty standard Atheist or Anti-Christian claim, but as someone who use to believe many of these sorts of claims till I actually sat down and read History, I find it hilarious that you’d try to champion Rationality whilst using something that is this horrendously inaccurate. Christianity didn’t get its start to control the masses or to seek Power, and even today the Plethora of Churches (Plural) really don’t’ seek to dominate everyone’s lives in the same manner the Militant Secularists do.

It seems to me that you begin form the outset insisting the bible is not True and nothing in Christianity can be Trusted.

How exactly is that any different from starting with the opposite premise that the Bible is True and working form there?

Aren’t you still first creating a story, about the bible being created by the Church to support its claims, and he Church being something that is unreliable because it exists for control, and then acting as if this story of yours is unchallenged Truth? And isn’t this simply an example of you ignoring the possibility that may be the things in the Bible are True?

That’s what it seems to me at any rate.

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