Atheism as a lack of belief (and reason)

Vocal Atheists more often than not seem to be desperate to latch on to the [false] idea that atheism is best defined as a lack of belief (See: Not At All Lacking, Who Did You Say You Were Again?, I Don’t Not Believe It).  It seems that they will relentlessly argue for that loose definition to no end, just see the comment section of THIS POST for evidence of that.  Moreover, these same Atheists will rarely if ever offer reasons why they are Atheists.  Sure they will say not enough evidence or some other vague repudiation of religious texts.  But those aren’t reasons to not believe in God, those are reasons to be neutral (which is what a lack of belief in something implies, neutrality).  When I don’t have enough evidence for a claim, I don’t reject it, I remain neutral until I have investigated it, then I form an opinion based on some reasons.

From reading the discussion from the post Atheists: George Carlin’s Ironic Punchline, I have a few thoughts I’d like to discuss.

First, the commenter Marshall Art asked a poignant question: if the preferred definition of atheism/Atheist is a lack of belief, what do you call the view which asserts “there is no God(s)”?  Is there a term for this position, if not atheism?

Second, and more interestingly, what are the reasons you lack your belief?  Let me expand that a bit more.  Do you have a reason, or reasons why you don’t believe in God?  I assume there are reasons that you aren’t believers, right?  I suppose you could say you haven’t been presented with enough evidence, but that means your opinion of whether God exists is dependant on some theist and his reasons, that they, and not you, are responsible for your belief in God or lack thereof.  I would hope belief-lackers have their own reasons as to their own views, and that they aren’t relying on someone to help them form their beliefs, and if you do, why are they such a secret?  How much credence would you give a Christian who claimed their belief in Christianity is based on Atheist’s lack of compelling reasons to not believe?

But if there are reasons, why is there such an aversion to discuss them?  Everyone who has a view on a particular subject ought to have their own reasons (and not simply pass the responsibility for your opinions onto someone else).  At this point, the Atheists reading this are preparing to comment with: But…but…you have the burden!  Having already addressed the issue of who bears the burden of proof HERE and HERE, I will simply respond with: ok, fine, we theists have a burden to show God exists, but for the sake of discourse, let’s hear your reasons for your own position.

If atheism is the voice of reason, why are Atheists so reluctant to offer reason for their “lack of belief”?  Why so hesitant to discuss your own view if it is based on actual reasons, and not just some theist’s failure to convince you?  Why is your belief or lack thereof my responsibility, and does that responsibility fall on you at some point?  Can I make it your job to convince me I’m wrong?

Comments

  1. Regarding this…

    When I don’t have enough evidence for a claim, I don’t reject it, I remain neutral until I have investigated it, then I form an opinion based on some reasons.

    and this…
    Do you have a reason, or reasons why you don’t believe in God? I assume there are reasons that you aren’t believers, right?

    You know, don’t you, that the answer will be, “Because I simply see no evidence to support that belief…”? They may even respond, “How much time and effort have you put into ‘deciding’ not to believe in leprechauns and unicorns…”?

    While I certainly disagree with those who lack a belief in God (the actual literal definition of “a – theism”) and I find plenty of reasons to believe in God, I understand that they are saying there is no more evidence for a god (be it Thor, or Zeus or Jehovah or the Spaghetti Noodle monster) than there is for leprechauns. “There is just no evidence,” they will say, and “why would I spend too much time trying to ponder something for which I see no evidence?”

    These are reasonable questions and until/unless we offer some good reasons (as opposed to telling them what they believe and denigrating their answers/comments) as to “Why believe?” I don’t think we can blame their skepticism.

    I’ll be interested to see any answers they may provide, but I suspect it will be just as I’ve suggested.

    • Dan

      Those are reasons to remain neutral, not reject. That’s my point. The “reasons” generally given for rejection warrant agnosticism not denial. I have found over the years that more often than not, God is rejected emotionally not rationally. Refer back to my post “Emotional Problems” under the atheism tab.

  2. Personally, I tend to encounter two types of atheists. There are the cultural atheists; they grew up in a non-theist household and, just as many children who grew up with religious beliefs grow up feeling no need to examine their beliefs any further, these atheists simply haven’t felt any need to examine the atheist culture they grew up in. What they seem incapable of recognising, however, is that their pocket of atheist culture was just a bubble within a much larger culture founded on religious beliefs, and they cannon accept that their notions of morality are actually grounded on religioun. For example, they will try to tell me that stealing is considered wrong because everyone decided it was wrong and made laws about it. This is closely connected to the “atheists are good/moral people, even without religion” argument. They reject any argument that points out that their cultural notions of right or wrong are still based in religion.

    The other is the converted atheist. These are people who grew up within a faith culture that they rejected later in life. They call this rejection of the existance of God as a lack of belief in God. It is frequently rooted in some highly emotional, sometimes traumatic, occurance that they either blame on religion, or feel that religion justified/excused/etc. There is no separation between “how could [insert religious community] allow this to happen” and “how coud God allow this to happen.”

    I’ve dabbled with atheism myself in my younger days, and I would have been among the converted atheists. In the end, however, I simply could not outright reject the existence of God; it was too illogical a position to hold. At best, I became an agnostic. I still reject the hypocricy I see within religious communities, and still am not a regular church goer, but I can separate the actions of people from the debate on whether or not God exists. The more I searched and questioned, the greater my conviction on the existence of God and for Christianity in particular.

    Having gone through that, I find the reactions I see from self-described atheists (who, oddly, are often still “spiritual” on some New Agey way) very curious. When they make some blanket statement against religion, it’s usually extremely mocking. They fully expect everyone around them to be impressed by their wittiness, so when they are challenged, they don’t know how to handle it. They become *extremely* angry and defensive, then lash out in anger. Some will go into long “logical” explainations about how all religions are false, etc., but these are typically word salads filled with catch phrases, pop-psychology, and every ridiculous misinterpretation out there. Interestingly, I’ve seen the exact same phrases used by so many atheists, I found myself wondering where they all got their script from (turned out to be Dawkins, most of the time).

    Talk to them long enough, and they resort to circular logic, name calling, emotional outbursts and every failure in arguementation there is, while at the same time completely convinced of their own rationality and logic. One thing always comes clear. Their adherence to atheism is firmly grounded in emotionalism.

  3. John, without a doubt, there are some atheists (and some theists) who hold their beliefs based on rather emotional, rather than logical, reasons.

    But I still seriously wonder: How much effort have you put into determining the non-reality of leprechauns? Do you/have you even given it a second thought? Or is it just what seems to be a reasonable starting point for you (as it is for me) and one which you would object to if someone were insisting that you “defend” your reasons for NOT believing in leprechauns?

    • Leprechauns are known intentional folklore. Like Santa Claus, and his flying reindeer the stories are purposefully fictional and intended to be so. That’s the difference between God and leprechauns. People assert God’s existence as a fact of reality, not an existence of fiction.

  4. Marshall Art says:

    Really. There are no tomes of the level of the Bible that suggest leprechauns actually exist.

    But to answer a question such as “Have you investigated all the other gods to see if they are true?”, I don’t see how that is necessary if the evidence and arguments supporting the Christian beliefs are sound, which they are. It speaks of One God and thus, it cancels out the possibility of another. At the same time, the atheist who asks such a question is likely to have spent no time of his own investigating ANY claim about any other belief, be it Zeus or leprechauns. And THAT is a reasonable expectation for the believer to have of the atheist.

  5. As someone who yet sees sufficient evidence to accept the claims of your religious beliefs, this post and the replies so far offer some insight as to the confusion and inability to successfully communicate.

    We are all born as a blank slate. We are not born as believers in any particular faith. Many people are raised within a religious house and adopt the same or very similar views. I would propose that anyone who adopts a religious view later in their life do so more on emotion rather than reason. In that case, logic is replaced by faith. Faith is literally “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”, as defined by the Mirriam-Webster dictionary.

    I think that the main difference in positions here is the default position.
    Does something exist until proven otherwise or do we assume nothing exists until it has been proven to exist?

    I get the distinct feeling that you, John, simply assert that god exists by default and anyone who thinks otherwise just rejects god.

    @ Kunoichi
    You have illustrated a perfect example of what psychologists call “projection”. You state that atheists are motivated by emotional outbursts and circular logic. I have found that religious thinking is deeply rooted in emotion blackmail and evidence to support the bible eventually results in “because it says so.”

    @ Marshall
    It’s quite difficult to discuss any critical analysis of Christian beliefs when you already think they are all sound. Folks like you and Eugene have already dismissed the possibility that you could be wrong.

    That doesn’t really leave anywhere for us to go now, does it?

    • Z

      I have a few questions. Why do you presume non existence to be the default rather than the neutral “I don’t know”?

      What evidence – and I mean EVIDENCE – is there of your blank slate theory?

      And finally, as I said in the post, it seems you are putting the responsibility for whether you believe on someone else, rather than on yourself. Why don’t you form your beliefs based on your own reasons, rather than my (insufficient) reasons?

      It seems you have no reasons of your own for your beliefs. That is not reasonable.

  6. “We are all born as a blank slate.”

    Hardly. http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/the-blank-slate-by-steven-pinker/

    “You have illustrated a perfect example of what psychologists call “projection”.” As I stated from the very beginning, I was describing my personal observations of the two types of atheists I tend to encounter. If you think this is “projection,” I suspect you either don’t understand the concept as well as you think, or you’re doing some projection of your own.

  7. Marshall Art says:

    @Z,

    If Eugene and I have come to dismiss the possibility that we could be wrong, it could be because we have done the work to investigate our religion and have found it to be reasonable and rational to have the faith that we do. In addition, we are not taught to accept anything blindly, but to use reason to come to our conclusions. The more seriously and objectively one investigates the claims of Christianity, the harder it is to dismiss it.

    However, this does not prevent us from discussing ANY critical analysis of our beliefs. We’ve probably gone deeper into any of those you might want to discuss already and thus we have a “heard it all before” attitude that might make our responses more curt than we intend.

    @Eugene,

    Pardon me for speaking for you. Feel free to correct anything I’ve said which conflicts with any of your personal points of view.

  8. Let me try to describe the replies I just got here:

    From Kunoichi – “I know you are, but what am I”

    From Marshall – “I have rationalized my way into believing something I feel is true based on faith and I think that’s reasonable.”

    From John – “You must be asserting something. Please defend it.”

    Please look again at the first 20 seconds of the video I referenced in the Carlin post. Would you have the same attitude about were-walruses on Pluto? Would you really just say “I don’t know” and continue to entertain all the ideas proposed under the assertion that were-walruses exist? No, I would assume you would challenge the initial premise.

    John, by presuming non-existence I am essentially taking the “I don’t know” position, but I’m also demanding anyone making the claim of existence to explain why. It’s not a given.

    As for my statement regarding the blank slate, here’s a simple reply: You were not born with Christian beliefs.

    My belief is that I find your conclusions unreasonable. I find it odd that people can be so certain about something they cannot possibly be certain of. It’s not that I’m saying I’m right, but that you’re probably wrong.

    • Z

      I can reject the idea of a walrus on Pluto for reasons. For example, a walrus is a very specific animal found on earth with biological properties conducive only to living on earth. Pluto cannot support life such as a walrus because of its atmosphere, planetary temperature, and planetary geology. Furthermore, it would have been needed to be transported to Pluto. Since no astronomical endeavor has been attempted, nor is it engineerically possible to fly a person, let alone a walrus to Pluto, I reject the notion there is a walrus on Pluto.

      See how that’s done? Those are reasons. Do you have any for your belief?

  9. You apparently didn’t watch the video.

    The tiny ware-walrus lives beneath the surface of Pluto and it sends psychic messages every midnight.

    My reply to you is that you are trying to apply your knowledge of biology on earth to a different place and you assume the were-walrus originated on this planet. You simply reject the premise, even though it is understood that it is true. The reason it is true is that it just is, especially since you cannot prove me wrong.

    See how that’s done?

    • See Z, there isn’t the correlation you think there is. Even though individual Christians may not offer professional debater arguments, they have been offered. God’s existence isn’t a blind assertion like the were walrus. Theists have accepted the burden to argue for God and have done so for millennia. Reasons have been given for the belief God exists. No reasons have been given for the walrus.

      See the difference? If not, then I conclude you are too emotionally invested in your “lack of belief”.

    • I also would point to readers you still don’t offer reasons for your beliefs. None. Do you see why I question the idea that atheism is not the position of reason?

  10. You seem to miss the point of the exercise, John.

    You say that reasons have been given for the belief god exists, and all of those reasons have been successfully refuted. The only thing the believer is left with is faith.

    The reason for my doubt is that I do not accept claims made exclusively on faith.

    You keep begging for me to take a position for you to attack, John. My belief is that I just don’t know, but I’m quite sure a stand cannot be taken with the absolute certainty that theists claim. That’s why I find it sometimes pointless to converse with anyone who can’t even admit that they might be wrong.

    • Z

      I have just two quick points. The first is where can i find these successful refutations?

      And if all the arguments for God have been so successfully refuted, then I find it strange that you say you “don’t know”. It would seem to be you believe God’s existence has been disproved, yet you aren’t sure? This is why i find you dishonest in this discussion. Because you DO know that you believe God does not exist, but won’t say that. That’s my problem here.

  11. To address your first question, a good starting point is here.

    No, John, your problem is that you want me to assert that god does not exist in order to try and shift the burden of proof.

    It’s a shame you think of me as dishonest.

    I say ‘I don’t know’ because I have yet to hear any valid argument to support the claim a god exists, but I will admit that because of this, I’m leaning to the conclusion that one probably doesn’t exist. I know you’ll probably twist that to mean that I have some kind of confirmation bias, but I can assure you I do not. I’m still willing to hear any new reason from you that may give me a reason to believe a god exists.

  12. “From Kunoichi – “I know you are, but what am I””
    Thank you for illustrating my point better then I possibly could have.

    “regarding the blank slate, here’s a simple reply: You were not born with Christian beliefs.”
    And now you demonstrate that, not only do you not understand what projection is, you don’t understand blank slate theory, either.

    • I have to say that as disappointing and frustrating as this discussion has been with Z, at least he jumped in. The other two who were so vocal on the last post are nowhere to be found, nor is any other self proclaimed free thinker.

  13. @ Kunoichi

    There are way too many issues here to try to help you understand my discussion with you. I’ll just leave you alone and let you feel like you’ve won something. Well done.

    @ John

    I guess we’re done here as well. Please feel free to present any reason to believe your deity exists at any time instead of insisting that I take a position that you can attack. You still seem to ignore the fact that your god does not exist by default.

    Take care.

    • You can pretend I believe God exists by default, but its simply false. The point of this post was to see if any atheists had reasons of their own (and not just blaming theists and THEIR reasons) for why they are atheists. Its unfortunate that those who claim the intellectual high ground are so unwilling to present it.

  14. “I have to say that as disappointing and frustrating as this discussion has been with Z, at least he jumped in.”

    True, that. Right up until he decided to take his ball and go home. *L*

    Another illustration of what I was talking about here…
    “Talk to them long enough, and they resort to circular logic, name calling, emotional outbursts and every failure in arguementation there is, while at the same time completely convinced of their own rationality and logic.”

    Demonstrated in “There are way too many issues here to try to help you understand my discussion with you. I’ll just leave you alone and let you feel like you’ve won something. Well done.”

    I see this sort of juvenile emotionalism so often – not just in discussions about religion, but so many other areas, such as education, parenting, health, climate science, vaccinations, etc. There’s no point in giving them facts or hard evidence; they have such a strong emotional attatchment to their position, they are incapable of viewing the topic dispassionately. I am all for debating opposing positions, and I don’t even condemn emotional attachment to positions. It’s when, confronted with opposing views, people resort to emotions to defend their position, while pretending it’s logic. I long ago came to the conclusion that logic is what people use to defend their emotional responses. This does not have to be a bad thing; it becomes a problem when people allow their emotions to override evidence contrary to their position, or use emotional rhetoric to shut down debate. It’s not “I’m right and here’s why,” it’s “I’m right and you’re stupid/evil/cruel for disagreeing with me.”

  15. @ z

    Thanks for the vote of confidence :)

    You said, “Folks like you and Eugene have already dismissed the possibility that you could be wrong.

    You keep talking about “valid evidence” that has not been given to you. You may deny it, but I am fairly confident (as John and others like Marshall have said) that the only evidence that you would consider “valid” is a face to face conversation with God. It sure seems as if that any other “evidence” just simply will not suffice your supposed unbiased objections.

    @ Marshall

    I would say that is a fairly close description…at least that’s how “the tiny ware-walrus lives beneath the surface of Pluto and it sends psychic messages every midnight” explained it to me.

    @ John

    How much credence would you give a Christian who claimed their belief in Christianity is based on Atheist’s lack of compelling reasons to not believe?

    Classic!

  16. Marshall Art says:

    @Z,

    ““I have rationalized my way into believing something I feel is true based on faith and I think that’s reasonable.””

    If this is your analysis of my commentary, it is no wonder you find the arguments and evidence for God so unpersuasive. Nothing I’ve said suggests mere rationalization on my part. I clearly spoke of investigation and due diligence. You know…gathering as much data as I could and making an informed decision. But I am keen on reviewing your last offered link in hopes that it is as hole-free as your previous.

  17. To answer your first question, John, could we not just use the term “positive atheist”? As in, the atheist is making a positive claim about the deity’s existence.

    As to your second question, aside from there being no evidence – to my knowledge – nor there being any philosophical argument that would make me reconsider my position, I have two main reasons why I don’t believe in the God of the Bible: The Problem of Evil (I don’t know if there is a “standard” definition of this argument, but there are certainly many variations most of which have merit in their own right) and the Argument from Non-belief. In general, however, I remain agnostic.

    Having answered these questions (at least, I hope I have…), I find this frequent argumentation over labels and terms to be distracting and really annoying. Even if one self-identifies with a certain label, or group, it is very often the case that you find little variations in the person’s belief-set from another person who would adhere to the same label. It should be the point of religious and philosophical discussion to get a firm grasp of your interlocutor’s position and not their perceived position. As an example, I would disagree with Z over the “blank slate” notion, but would tend to agree with him over the “God” question. I find this urge to try and peg a person to a certain label to be wanting to attack a straw-man. I’m not saying this is the case here, John, but from the experiences I’ve had from those who would want to me to identify myself with a group (and, admittedly, I used to do this also), the person only asks to either distract from the discussion at hand (i.e. say the discussion is on the cosmogony: “Oh you’re an atheist? So you believe we came from apes, then?” “Wait, what?”) or to assume that I adhere to a certain position and attack that perceived position when, in actuality, we could’ve saved a lot of time and expended energy if that person would’ve just taken the time to understand my position.

    • Oscar

      I also find it annoying to quibble over definitions. However, I have learned over the past two years that it is predominantly Atheists who use nuanced definitions of terms in order to avoid ever having to answer for their claims. It is Atheists broadly speaking who use the cover of labels and words to seat themselves in an intellectual easy chair and hurl objections and skepticism without ever having to justify their objections.

      I just find it a shame for people (generally) to claim such intellectual superiority and at the same time refuse dialogue which travels in two directions.

      That is why I suffer through definitional quibblery.

    • I never understood why the problem of evil is an argument against God, nor do I understand why anyone would believe that God wouldn’t “allow” “evil” to happen. Why not?

      Let me describe it this way. When my babies were born, for the first while, they needed me to do everything for them; constant attention and care to their most basic needs. As they grew older, they wanted to do more for themselves. If I had tried to force them to behave like babies, and insist on doing everything for them, whether they wanted me to or not, how would they learn? They learn to walk, even if they fall and sometimes hurt themselves. They learn not to touch flame by feeling the heat, and perhaps burning themselves. When my toddler couldn’t understand why she shouldn’t run into the street, I physically stopped her. She had no concept of the danger; to her, an otherwise loving authority figure was suddenly preventing her from doing what she wanted.

      As my children got older, they were given more and more freedom to make their own mistakes, and learn from them. Some parents can’t – or won’t – do that, trying to keep their children enveloped in a parenting bubble of safety. This is unhealthy for both the child and the parent, but for the child it can also result in severe developmental delays, an inability to make correct choices on their own, and a distorted world view.

      As adults, we parents need to step back entirely and allow our children to be adults. Some children become adults who almost never talk to their parents, some talk to them only when they need something. Some children ignore all advice and role modelling and live lives that cause themselves and others harm. As parents, there is only so much we can do to help them, but we must allow them to be their own person.

      God is the ultimate parent. He’s nursed us through infancy, agonized through our toddlerhood, stepped back for our adolescence, etc. Unlike human parents, God is able to see the consequences of our actions, far into the future. We make our choices, and God allows us to be adults and live with the consequences. Can you imagine a world where, anytime something bad was about to happen, a magical fairy-type god would swoop in and fix everything for us? We’d become the equivalent of the adult-child, living in Mommy and Daddy’s basement, letting them take care of all our needs and wants and wishes, never learning to care for ourselves or become independant.

      Then there’s the other side of the equation; we are not living in the world God intended for us. We are living in a fallen world; one that is under the dominion of the Evil One/Satan. When something “evil” happens (and I find people’s definitions of evil can be pretty loose, hence the quotes), does it make sense to blame God for it? The gift of God is that we can turn the evil done to us into good. When Father Max Kolbe offered his life in place of another during the Holocaust, he saved not just one man, but uplifted countless others.

      I will stop now, simply because this is already really long and I’m short on time, but there is much more that can be said.

  18. @John,

    Fair enough.

    @Kunoichi,

    I’m not exactly sure what your position is regarding the historicity of the Bible so, before I explicate my position, I don’t want to waste my time proffering an aspect of an argument that doesn’t adhere to what you believe. Would you mind stating your position with respect to the literal truth of the Bible?

    As this is an expansive topic and will inevitably delve into the issue of morality, I don’t want to side-track the thread too much from John’s intentions. So I think it’d be best if we continue this discussion only if John allows for the topic at hand to be diverted.

    • Oscar

      Atheism posts always get side tracked. Feel free to take the discussion where it leads. I would be a little more hesitant with someone who was intentionally diverting from the topic at hand, but I know that’s not you. Thanks for respecting my intentions.

  19. “Would you mind stating your position with respect to the literal truth of the Bible? ”

    Not sure how it’s relevant to the topic, and I always find this to be one of those “trick” questions. It’s been my experience that the most severe Bible literalists are self-proclaimed atheists (who also proclaim that they know the Bible better then Christians). Basically, their position is that Christians *must* be Bible literalists, typically while dredging up out of context quotes from the Old Testament about things like wearing clothes of mixed fibres, just as one example, and demanding that if Christians wear mixed fibres, then they are hypocrites because they don’t take the Bible literally.

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you mean the question in an honest attempt to understand.

    The Bible is a mix of history, laws, codes of conduct, metaphor, parable, poetry, song, prophecy and more. I think it’s impossible to take the Bible “literally,” the way many demand we must (and I aim this as much on some Christians as well). What we can do is try to understand it, whether from an historical perspective (which is where things like archeological evidence is important in establishing the historicity of Jesus, for example), or from a metaphorical perspective, etc. To understand it, it’s important to understand the context and culture various passages are written in.

    One of the challenges of this is our language. One has to take into account that our modern languages change, so a translation that may have been accurate at the time it was translated, is no longer accurate decades later. So if one is English speaking, one has to understand the etymology of the language to better understand the English translations, and I’m sure it’s similar with other languages.

    Another challenge is one for the translators. They have to not only understand the original language well, they have to understand the context and connotations of the original use. This is difficult enough with modern languages (my MIL is one of the best French/English translators in Canada, so I’ve seen first hand just how difficult it can be). Some words simply do not exist in other languages, so the translators have to come up some way to explain the concept accurately.

    And then there’s culture. It’s become very common for people to look to history and judge things from a modern perspective. An example of this is how Christopher Columbus has been morphed from an exploration hero and founder of the New World to an evil conqueror, bent on exploiting anything and anyone he found for his own glory and personal gain. We can only properly understand the actions of the time by understanding the culture of the time. So it is with understanding the books of the Bible.

    Does that answer your question?

    • I take the “literal bible” question this way, I do my best to understand it the way it was intended to be understood. As Kunoichi said, it is a mixture of genres and cannot be read through as a text book. A similar question might be do you take the sports page of the newspaper literally? Do you really think the Giants trampled the Cowboys? Did the Bears really devour the Packers? Or do we do our best to understand the literal truth being conveyed with sometimes less than literal language.

  20. I ask merely to see if you believed the events of the OT to have actually occurred – as they are books that are meant to be historical, I trust that you both take the OT literally in the sense you believe that God freed the Israelites from the Egyptians, the Israelites roamed the desert, etc.

    The ‘free will’ rejoinder as it speaks to the problem of ‘human evil’ is solid to my mind. My contention is more with the evil that was committed by God in the OT and how there is a disconnect between the God portrayed in the OT and one that is at once omnibenevolent. In other words, my contention is that an omnibenevolent being is logically contradictory with the God of the OT and, as such, there are two possiblities: 1) either God is not omnibenevolent or 2) God does not exist

    • 1) at what point has it ever been stated that God is omnibenevolent? What does that even mean? What would that look like? (I ask, because the term seems to mean different things, depending on who’s using it.) God is described as loving and forgiving, but also wrathful and judgemental. These are not mutually exclusive traits.

      2) what “evil” was committed by God in the OT, and why do you define it as evil?

      It seems to me that the foundation of the “argument of evil” comes down to “this is what I think God should be like; the God of the Bible does not fit this image, nor behave in a way I approve of, therefore God is either evil, or there is no God.”

  21. As to the first: the ontology of the God of the Bible would dictate Him being omnibenevolent as He is described as perfect, thus omnibenevolence, being defined as a perfectly benevolent, would fall under the purview of the general notion of ‘perfection’. The notion of ‘perfectly benevolent’ and its meaning can certainly be debated, but I don’t think that’s at all necessary as “wrathful”, to use your term, would be an attribution that controverts the notion of perfectly benevolent. While a person can certainly have the capacity to be both wrathful and benevolent, for a being that is ‘perfectly benevolent’ there seems to be a logical contradiction.

    I won’t give a laundry-list, but let’s just use the slaughter of the Canaanites found somewhere in the Pentateuch (I want to say Deut., but I’m not sure at the moment). The order of God was not to merely kill the warriors – which, I suppose, might be justifiable – but to kill the women and children, as well. Such stories offend our moral sensibilities, moral sensibilities that apparently reflect the moral nature of God. If indeed our morality is reflexive of God’s, then it stands to reason that God’s morality would be such that He would consider the unnecessary killing of women and children to be morally wrong, thus standing in opposition with His omnibenevolent nature. How then can one reconcile the ostensibly immoral acts of the OT with an omnibenevolent nature?

  22. “the ontology of the God of the Bible would dictate Him being omnibenevolent as He is described as perfect”

    How? Why? How does God being “perfect” dictate him being “omnibenevolent?” I see no reason to make that leap.

    “…let’s just use the slaughter of the Canaanites…”

    Ah, or course. *tired eyeroll* That one is always brought up.

    If the description of the Canaanites is even mildly accurate, these were a people that could truly be described as evil. Yes, even the women and children. The Isrealites were told to wipe them out entirely, or the Canaanites *would* destroy them. The Isrealites didn’t – and the surviving Canaanites did indeed destroy them (though it took something like 400 years). Obviously, the Isrealites were not killed off, but the evil that infected Canaan infected them as well.

    Disease is a good metaphor. When a malignant cancer is found, it needs to be cut out before it spreads and destroys the entire body. Not only the diseased flesh is removed, but even the healthy-appearing surrounding flesh, as it often has tendrils of the disease not yet visible in it. The Canaanites were like a cancer, and when they were not completely destroyed, they grew again and spread their disease.

    “but to kill the women and children, as well. Such stories offend our moral sensibilities, moral sensibilities..”

    Our modern sensibilties, you mean. This is where the context of the times becomes important. If you want to play that game, then aim it at the Canaanites as well, with their child sacrifices and murderous, destructive culture. And why do you assume that the women and children would be at all innocent of this evil? They were as much a part of it as any warrior.

    And before you try to suggest that at least the babies should have been spared, you might want to look more into epigenetics, studies about fetal learning, etc. The very brains of infants born into such a culture would be permanently warped and damaged by it before they were even born.

    “…He would consider the unnecessary killing of women and children to be morally wrong,…”

    Key word; “unnecessary.” What if it is necessary?

    “…thus standing in opposition with His omnibenevolent nature.”

    A nature that is a human fabrication, as discussed above.

    As a disclaimer, this can only be an intellectual exercise. We can only guess what life was really like at the time, based on what descriptions we have. Considering the Isrealites needed to be repeatedly told to stop sacrificing their children to, and worshiping, pagan gods, as well as admonitions against having sex with animals, having sex with dead people, etc., imagining such a world is difficult, indeed.

  23. It has been my observation that unless the Earth becomes and remains one big giant utopia, atheists will never be satisfied with God’s “supposed lack of benevolence” here on Earth. In doing so they completely miss the message of the Bible and what really constitutes the agape love that God has displayed towards our sinfulness.

    When someone says God doesn’t love us enough (or at least doesn’t show it the right way according to them) they are confusing a temporary and imperfect Earth with their own desired utopia.

    The fact that they cannot put God in a box obviously frustrates them – ““For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

  24. First, let me address this:

    “Ah, or course. *tired eyeroll* That one is always brought up.”

    I hardly think I’ve said/written anything that prompted this. If we’re gonna have this discussion, don’t be pedantic about it.

    Anyway…

    “How? Why? How does God being “perfect” dictate him being “omnibenevolent?” I see no reason to make that leap.”

    Traditional theistic thought regarding the ontology of God is such that the nature of God is one that no greater conceivable being can exist, lest the possibility would be allowed for a ‘greater’ existent being. Philosophers like Aquinas, Descartes, and Anselm have used the nature of God to prove his existence; common attributions which are almost universally agreed upon are omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Following the same line of thought, being the “most good” being would hold as the converse would allow for the possibility of an existent being that is “more good”. If you don’t hold that God is the “most good” being, or at least ought to be, then I’ll quickly retract my argument.

    “Our modern sensibilties, you mean.”

    This assertion is nothing more than historical relativism. In the same way that cultural relativism is criticized today, thus can we levy the same criticisms towards historical relativism. I shall assume (though, please correct me if I’m mistaken) that you believe in an objective morality. If so, the same standard of morality is applicable now as it was “then”: morality is either objective or it isn’t. You can’t predicate a belief on an objective morality while simultaneously dismissing the OT as something that should be taken in with its historical context. If we can do this, then why can’t we simply say, “Yeah, but, you can’t judge priests who molest young boys because you don’t understand the context!”?

    While epigenetics is a valid science, I fear you may be putting too much stock into it, at least when it comes to condemning the moral character of a person merely from what he observed as an infant. That seems a bit rash to me. Does social upbringing count towards nothing?

    Moreover, I have a hard time believing that you would justify the slaughter of infants who are the sons of Islamic terrorists simply because of what they’ve already been exposed to.

    “Obviously, the Isrealites were not killed off, but the evil that infected Canaan infected them as well.”

    How exactly?

    Though I hate to draw such a distinction, I can’t help it: your description of the Canaanites as a cancer, as a malignant tumor that ought be excised, screams of social Darwinism. I’m not exactly sure this is your best defense considering your religious beliefs.

    In any case, your description of the Canaanites as a truly evil people seems to be unfounded. Are we really to believe that, out of a whole population, not one person was at least semi-decent? This is comparable to saying that all Muslim males living in Afghanistan are/will be terrorists. Though a certain act may be prevalent within a society/community (i.e. the insane crime rate on the southside of Chicago), this does not mean that these descriptions are attributable to all of its inhabitants (i.e. I live on the southside and, to this day, I have yet to kill anyone).

    @Eugene

    I fear you may have missed the argument I am trying to make.

  25. See? This is what happens when you take a few weeks of to focus on other projects.
    You miss discussions like this. For future refeence John, feel free to send me an e-mail or Facebook message when you have a discussion like this one.

    Alright, we are in the thick of things here. A few points that stand out for me:
    1. Kunoichi gives an almost perfect description of the Bible in an earlier comment. I don’t think that most atheists would disagree with everything but the last three words:

    The Bible is a mix of history, laws, codes of conduct, metaphor, parable, poetry, song, prophecy and more.

    2. Given this definition that I agree with, I consider the Bible to be a work of “historical fiction”, a really good way to understand a Bronze Age culture and their beliefs. This is, I think, part of what Oscar is getting at.

    3. Most atheists are atheists for emotional reasons. Most Christians are Christians for emotional reasons. Making an argument to the contrary is fruitless. Labouring the point implies that one epistemology is inherently logical while the other is inherently emotional. This is far from the case. I can make the average Christian get emotional, angry, confused, trip over their own logic, resort to circular reasoning etc. That doesn’t make Christianity “not true”- it makes it clear that people form and hold onto beliefs- both true AND false- without sufficient reasoning.

    4. Kunoichi claiming the presuppositionalist argument from morality is a robust argument against atheism is classified as what I like to call “circle-jerk apologetics”- it’s only an argument to other Christians- it is so wrong on the face of it that the only people buying what you’re selling is fellow Christians.

    As far as why I don’t believe in God- I see a dearth of good and rigorously thought out evidence for His exitance. Virtually every Christian- to a one- will give you different answers to simple questions like “What observable phenomena should I expect to be true if the God of the bible exists that I should not if He didn’t?” Not one of them (and I stress, yet)has given me an example that I cannot explain using non-religious thought. Of course, this inevitably solicits “Everything!” as an answer from some Christians- and I take that as a really good indication that we have little worth talking about. That answer tells me that you think “If the bible is false then nothing exists” and that strikes me as indefensible.
    The shortest explaination I can give you is that something as grand and complex as God requires evidence that seems wholly lacking. Things that are far less grand and complex have far more evidence to explain their existance than He. The God hypothesis seems far from elegant and gives no real answers to the questions we have.

    I’m of the opinion that God is far from likely, but I’m willing to accept that I might be wrong. Just because you feel you can’t be wrong doesn’t make you right.

    • So George,

      Would it be fair to say your opinion could be summed up like this: the absence of evidence is evidence of absence?

      If so do you take into consideration my post: not a shred of evidence, and never quite enough and how they apply to that objection?

      I personally don’t consider “not enough evidence” to be a reason to reject, as I stated. That kind of answer in my opinion justifies agnosticism not atheism, its not a reason FOR a position in any direction.

      In my opinion, even though I believe it has been successfully countered, the problem of evil is the only argument against the existence of God.

      On a side note, George did you notice the lack of response from atheists here?

  26. “When I don’t have enough evidence for a claim, I don’t reject it, I remain neutral until I have investigated it, then I form an opinion based on some reasons.”

    1) This side-steps the prospect that one could end up without enough evidence after having investigated an issue.

    2) It ignores the fact that some questions must be answered in the absence of sufficient warrant for a conclusive judgement. People must often make a decision in the absence of compelling proof and the question of what are you doing to do when you don’t know the answer is a damned difficult one to answer. In your account, that question never arises at all.

    • Daniel

      1) I agree, but what you describe is agnosticism, not atheism. I have no problem with someone e who says “there’s not enough evidence so I’m not sure”. But what some people say is “there’s not enough evidence therefore God doesn’t exist”.

      2) I also agree that sometimes a decision must be made in the absence of certainty. Like say an atheist on his death bed, in which case Pascals wager is relevant and worthy of consideration.

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