RIP Philo

How not to convert an atheist

http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/theistguide.html

This guy makes the strongest case yet for atheism that I've yet read.  Among the conditions that WOULD convince the writer of the existence of a god:


"A religion whose followers have never committed or taken part in atrocities.

If a given religion's sacred text consistently promotes peace, compassion and nonviolence, and if that religion's history reflects that fact, that religion would look much more attractive to me. Historically, almost every religion that has ever had the power to do so has persecuted those who believed differently, and I do not think it likely that a morally good deity would allow his chosen faith's good name to be smeared by evil and fallible humans."


Gotta love that.
Permalink AMerrickanGirl 
March 25th, 2007 10:45am
> A religion whose followers have never committed or
> taken part in atrocities

That's not a useful standard. Religion at its best is a force for reshaping human nature. It's in the nature of humans to commit atrocities. The reason can be religion or one of many other justifications. Relgiion can also be a reason to stop it. But for the test for god to be based on the perfection of followers is clearly not serious.
Permalink son of parnas 
March 25th, 2007 11:25am
SoP,

he is not denying that religion can inspire people to do good things - this, by the way, is not the same as saying religion is a *reason* for people to do good things (it's not). He is only saying that the fact that is also used to do bad things, and contains justifications for doing those things, should make us reconsider the special, immune-to-rational-scrutiny status religion has in our society. If God's supposedly perfect word is not followed by his children, then his word is not so perfect, is it?

The author's points are perfectly reasonable. If a religion really promotes peace, love, etc., is it totally reasonable to expect this religion to show a history of practice of peace or love. If that history is not there, then it is totally reasonable to dismiss the religion. This is nothing but sane rules of conversation that we use in every other subject. If someone told you that communism is the perfect system, surely the fact communism does not have a history of success will make you skeptical.

Think of it not as a test of God in the general sense, but a test of the particular Gods promoted by our religions.
Permalink ... 
March 25th, 2007 11:53am
These are arbitrary distinctions. Religion based on love doesn't match the evidence of the nature of the world around us. A more realistic, and thus believable, religion will focus on atrocities and the justification for them. This is one reason that some people are finding the older Greek/Roman/Egyptian/Norse religions to bring them some comfort and explanations for the state of the world. It is because the gods are capricious, self-centered and arbitrary. Once you adopt one of these religions, the world actually starts to make sense. Insisting on a religion of peace and love is a strawman argument. It's trivial to debunk these beliefs. But fortunately, most religions are not this way, and are more realistic.
Permalink Practical Economist 
March 25th, 2007 12:01pm
"A more realistic, and thus believable, religion will focus on atrocities and the justification for them.[...]Insisting on a religion of peace and love is a strawman argument."

It is not a straw man argument when:

1. the religion is said to promote peace or love;
2. the atrocities you speak of are used to inspire the believers to eradicate them.
Permalink ... 
March 25th, 2007 12:10pm
> If a religion really promotes peace, love, etc.,
> is it totally reasonable to expect this religion
> to show a history of practice of peace or love.

What constitutes practice? What constitutes sufficient history? Is it one person doing one thing better one day in their life? Or is it a 1000 well scrubbed shining faces beaming forth in the multitude? The latter is what it seems you require. The former is real life.


> If God's supposedly perfect word is not followed
> by his children, then his word is not so perfect, is it?

Assuming no free will. With free will we call an imperfect world--human.
Permalink son of parnas 
March 25th, 2007 12:46pm
Converting is so dirty, why waste time?
Permalink what are you reading for? 
March 25th, 2007 1:05pm
The love & peace religions obviously don't conform with reality. And they are just a small minority of religions. Why bring them up? They are irrelevant. But this does not mean religion or spiritual practices are irrelevant. Spiritual practices in conformity with universal realities are valid. This is why we promote the religions that practice true homage to the gods of power and might. Sometimes these gods have capricious and arbitrary needs. It is our destiny and purpose to satisfy these needs, lest their wrath be awakened.
Permalink Practical Economist 
March 25th, 2007 1:19pm
which relgions are those?
Permalink  
March 25th, 2007 1:22pm
> It is our destiny and purpose to satisfy these needs

What is the expected value of that?
Permalink son of parnas 
March 25th, 2007 1:32pm
"What constitutes practice? What constitutes sufficient history? Is it one person doing one thing better one day in their life? Or is it a 1000 well scrubbed shining faces beaming forth in the multitude? The latter is what it seems you require. The former is real life."

Most mainstream religions have been around for hundreds of years, and their evolution is largely documented; I consider that to be a sufficient body of history. I should not have to give Christianity another 2,000 years, or Islam another 1,400 years, to form a negative opinion about them. I'm not asking for perfection. I don't expect any theist, or any atheist for that matter, to be perfect. But if religion really is what the religious authorities claim it to be, then I should see at the very least a positive correlation between religiosity and "goodness", and a negative correlation between religiosity and "evil". But the pattern does not exist. So why does religion deserve our respect?


"Assuming no free will. With free will we call an imperfect world--human."

I was talking about the logical justifications for evil that are found in the holy books. In another thread on this board I pointed out how most people don't know what it means to really believe in the scriptures. In his "Summa Theologica", Aquinas argued that heretics should be totured, and killed outright if they don't "repent", and he had the biblical verses to back that up. The terrorist who screams "Allahu Akbar" before blowing himself up along with dozens of people is not being disingeneous, *given what he believes*; he really believes that what he's doing is good and that he and the other "martyrs" that die with him will get the 72 virgins in paradise, and he has the coranic verses to back that up. The typical moderate objection to this argument is that these lunatics misinterpreted the scriptures. My point is that if the perfect word of the perfect creator of the universe is subject to misinterpretation, then neither the word nor the creator should be considered perfect in the first place.
Permalink ... 
March 25th, 2007 3:11pm
OK, so which of you who replied to this post actually went and read the entire text referred to by the link?

Just wondering.
Permalink AMerrickanGirl 
March 25th, 2007 7:51pm
I did. But I did not read the subsidiary articles.
Permalink son of parnas 
March 25th, 2007 11:31pm
Dana, fascinating link.  Thanks for that.

One problem I have with it is that I don't think you can 'logically' argue somebody into 'faith'.  All you can do is provide an example, in your own life and behavior, of your own faith.

And I agree with some of his points -- especially "a non-equivocal example of the Divine".  I'm still looking for that wall which says "I am here.  Signed, God".

It took me a long time to come to an acceptance that Christianity allows its followers a LOT of free will.  And that part of that free will allows them to do horrific things in the name of God.  That comes from their own misunderstanding, but it IS a condemntation of the Religion that SO MANY Christians could follow such a destructive misunderstanding, without knowing from their reading of the Scriptures that they had gone wrong.
Permalink SaveTheHubble 
March 26th, 2007 10:12am
My skepticism lights went flashing when I read "Many theists, by their own admission, structure their beliefs so that no evidence could possibly disprove them." in the first paragraph. This obviously was a contradiction to the "Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists" title of the article.  And it's not a well-founded statement on its own either (not every theist -- most non-theological ones I'd guess -- goes around every day saying "I believe the non-disprovable"). If the author can't get out of the first paragraph without stumbling so badly, what hope is there?

I think the issue is that people believe that God (or gods, or 'the Divine' as Plato had it, as singularity of the divine is a secondary characteristic) exists or they don't. The rest of this is just back-rationalization. The atheist who provides a list of items that will make him convert to theism is assuming a default position of atheism -- they want a positive proof. The theist meanwhile wants an equally positive proof -- of its negation. Is it surprising there's no mutual agreement?

What both arguers miss is that the two don't line up: lack of a positive proof for God's existence doesn't, by itself, imply a positive proof of non-existence. Likewise, vice versa.

That's why this question keeps coming round and round, year after year. If it was as easy as calculus, it would have been nailed down by now. But it's not that easy, and people have been working on it for far longer.

It's prolly an intractable issue anyways. We get that from Godel's Theorem (mentioned a few days ago in a thread here). It's prolly a psychological shortcut to believe that truth = union the set of positively provable statements with set of opposites of negatively provable ones. The shortcut is true most of the time, just like our intuition about velocity (to go faster, push harder) is true for all cases but the boundary ones (speed of light is a limit, no matter how hard you push). Psychological shortcuts don't always align with reality. They're just good enough (Kant + Microsoft + evolutionary psychology). God/non-God is a boundary case (by definition).


< perhaps later some thoughts about the segregation of faith and practice. how the late Judaic Bible brought the separate idea of faith to a Greek world which lacked them -- internal, personal beliefs were less relevant to the Greeks/Romans/Persian than whether one followed the customs, the 'ethos', of the place. >
Permalink Send private email strawberry snowflake 
March 26th, 2007 11:09am
I just noticed the site has these pages ... 'how to convert a theist' and 'how NOT to convert an atheist'. I imagine theists have the same pages somewhere in reverse.

As I said, there's an assumption that these two statements add up to the whole truth.
Permalink Send private email strawberry snowflake 
March 26th, 2007 11:13am
"What both arguers miss is that the two don't line up: lack of a positive proof for God's existence doesn't, by itself, imply a positive proof of non-existence."

This is correct, but irrelevant: a unproven claim doesn't need to be disproven to be dismissed.
Permalink ... 
March 26th, 2007 3:00pm
"is not the same as saying religion is a *reason* for people to do good things (it's not)."

It's not? Sure it is. Maybe not for you?

The same as you cannot prove the existence of God, you cannot indict a faith-based system of belief based on the actions of its followers.

You can be critical of hypocrisy, but a criticism of a system of belief it does not make.

For one, there can be no proof the that actions are based on beliefs held rather than beliefs twisted and used for justifying of actions.

Second, interpretation of anything faith-based is, by definition, ambiguous and uncertain. You can't say with any certainty that it is true to you faith for you to take whatever horrific action you justify with your belief system, nor any other action for that matter.

Since there is no empirical evidence for any faith-based belief system, there can be no certainty in action. The very application of the belief system to actions is self-justifying.

You do as you believe and you believe as you do. You can try to say that falling short of what you think is 'righteous' is going against your beliefs, but actions are ultimately what dictates your beliefs. The rest are lies. Lies you tell yourself, or lies you tell others.
Permalink JoC 
March 26th, 2007 3:48pm

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