Five things that would make atheists seem nicer

I am trying really hard to cut down on generalising and bagging out “atheists” rather than specific people and streams of atheism.

They’re not all the same – and they aren’t all out to eat your babies. But atheists (general) keep giving me reason to think bad thoughts about them. Like the two who hijack this thread on Communicate Jesus.

Here are five tips for my atheist friends to help them seem nicer and more reasonable.

  1. Stop being so smug.
  2. Don’t assume every piece of Christian evangelism is directed at you – we want the undecideds, not the decided-uns.
  3. Admit that the debate about God’s existence is complex – and that it can, depending on your presuppositions, be quite possible for intelligent and rational people to intelligently believe in an intervening deity who communicates through a book.
  4. Admit that the scientific method – which by its nature relies on induction rather than deduction (starting with a hypothesis and testing it rather than observing facts and forming a hypothesis) – is as open to abuse as any religious belief, and is neither objective nor infallible.
  5. Try to deal with the actual notions of God seriously believed in by millions of people rather than inventing strawmen (or spaghetti monsters) to dismiss the concepts of God – and deal with the Bible paying attention to context and the broader Christological narrative rather than quoting obscure Old Testament laws. By all means quote the laws when they are applied incorrectly by “Christians” – but understand how they’re meant to work before dealing with the Christians described in point 3.

239 Comments Five things that would make atheists seem nicer

  1. Dean

    Hi Nathan,

    I couldn’t resist the temptation to reply to your opinion piece. I am one of those pesky atheists I am sure you are referring to in your post. I can’t say that I would define myself as smug, but I am sure any christian that were to interact in dialogue with me would probably do so. Not because I come across with gross confidence but only because my opinion would challenge and differ from their existing beliefs (that usually seems to be enough for the stereotype to kick in). So to address your points on what you think would make a “nicer” atheists I will list them one by one as you did.

    1) The smug issue- I can only assume you are referring to the part of the definition of smug that states “highly self satisfied”-not the part of the definition that addresses being spruce or tidy (in dress mainly). If that were the case I would give it too you, I have seen some pretty dreadful outfits on atheists…whooa! With that said and not knowing what country you are from (religious perspective in the U.S. is a very unfortunate battle), I can only say that if an atheist comes across “angry” as often times one will describe us, it is actually frustration resulting from the overbearing uber confident christian capitalist approach that bombards our culture. Whole media channels (radio and TV) dedicated to the “truth” as if they created the concept. Door to door, neighborhood church billboards, hotel nightstand bibles, bumper stickers, window stickers, school board battles over creationism and nativity scenes on state property. It hardly seems fair to call atheists smug “highly self satisfied” considering the barrage of over confidence advertised daily for Christianity.

    2) The evangelical message…don’t worry I know it is not directed at me…any of it. That is exactly why I am an atheist, the christian philosophy does not apply. I understand you want the undecideds…like the borg wanted the captain.

    3) Admit that the debate about God’s existence is complex…I won’t give you this one but I will say that the debate over proof of gods existence is complex. The debate about gods existence only takes faith, which is relatively easy if you just require that you stop thinking. The second part of the statement I can agree with. I can accept that smart people can believe in holy books, taking snakes, burning bushes and any type of supernatural action you wish to list…I just don’t think that smart people can show evidence those things are part of reality. I hope I am not coming off to smug.

    4) The scientific method…I don’t know that putting induction as a preference over deduction matters so much. Most importantly is the the understanding of the basics of the methods; using reason to gather observable, empirical and measurable evidence. I disagree with the statement that science can be open to abuse on the same level as religion. I can agree that the results of the scientific method can be used poorly or for actions one may call immoral, but you can not apply the misuse to the method of science or it is not science.

    5) Point five sounds like nothing but a way to strengthen your religious position without taking responsibility for its context when used to show its contradictions and or endorsement of violence (or any other negative someone may use in debate). In addition, by agreeing to the fifth point, one would have to give creditability to the fallacy that because a majority of people believe something it makes it true or is fact. To use the context of the bible in any serious discussion about the existence of a god goes way beyond what the topic is about. One can not use the bible as evidence for the existence of god. The importance to an atheist is not the Christological context…that is philosophy and outside the words of the context mainly a personal opinion, you can have that. The atheist position is…no god exists. Not just the Abrahamic god but any of the documented thousands that have occupied past cultures.

    Peace, from a member of the fast growing, most distrusted and hated minority in America!

  2. D. B.

    I am not going to respond to every point because some of them are below the belt and because some don’t matter at all and/or are impossible to assail.

    First I will say that most atheists try and bring an open mind to any argument. It is because we know that what is a truth today may become a half-truth or outright lie tomorrow, for example, your religion claimed the world was flat, killed some people over it, were proven wrong and then hundreds of years after the fact admitted it.
    Atheist were the ones who adjusted their beliefs of how this world works in order to admit these new and relevant facts and enhance their understanding of their own existence, and therefor maybe be able to live a little better by those new understandings. We reach epiphanies in different ways, and use those new understandings in different ways.
    Another example of this is when your religion claimed that the Earth was the center of the universe, which you confused with our own galaxy, and were subsequently proven wrong, killed some people over it, then admitted you were wrong hundreds of years later. It seems like Christians are people who don’t like to admit they are wrong, ever, no matter what any evidence to the contrary might reveal.
    Now here is my second most important point and really why I am bringing up science. The general Christian idea that science is dangerous or evil or flawed in some fundamental ways because it contends with what your all-knowing book seems to dictate is logical to me. The reason is because religion, in every form, is a pre-science. It tries to answer many of the questions we have had about our surroundings and our basic reasons for even existing in the universe.
    For example, every religion has a origin story. Science contends with these stories by saying there was a Big Bang in the beginning of everything and that it may have occurred over and over and over again into infinity, so religion must refute this in some way in order to keep it’s membership in tact so that the membership dues will continue to roll in.
    Another example is how all religions have a story or reason for the sun. The Greeks and Romans thought a God in a chariot pulled it across the sky, a pre-scientific reason for it to happen. Christians think God said lights on one day and that is the reason the sun exists and acts as it does, a pre-scientific and truly unverifiable notion (except in your little book of all-trumping power). It was something we could rationalize so we could close the gap of dissonance in our minds so that we quite literally wouldn’t lose ourselves in insanity.

    Basically what I am trying to say is that your religion is no different then the science I believe in, but I know my science can be dis-proven and I may have to change my beliefs in order to react to the new facts that have come to light. You have taken an easier path and can study one book to tell you the answers to everything and those beliefs and that knowledge will never have to be expanded or changed because nothing else could ever possibly be correct. I know I must study an almost infinite amount of information in order to understand even a fraction of the amazing universe we live in.
    How much sense does it make to try and understand an infinite being in the pages of a single book that has had parts thrown out, added, and changed by the hands of man over the course of thousands of years anyway? You will only ever understand a fraction of God using that method, as I will only understand a fraction of the universe using mine. But which vision is more true, the immutable or ever changing? Time changes everything, everything is constantly moving and shifting, rearranging and transforming, and nothing is ever exactly the same again. Every second past is proof of this fact. How can it be true that something so unable to react flexibly reflects the truths that surrounds us.

    Oh, and one last thing… I have heard all of these arguments before. Mimicry doesn’t get us anywhere, how about you try and think for yourself like an atheist might try. Give me your own real arguments and not those you regurgitate like your mother did before you yourself began doing so, she had these beliefs beaten into her, you don’t have an excuse.

  3. Patrick Salomon

    Guess it’s my turn to do a point-by-point refutation of your post. It seems like everybody else has done a good job already, but I thought I’d through my voice into the discourse.

    1. Shut up. As a self-professed agent of Christianity, you have no room to say this. Even if you aren’t smug, the institution with which you are associated produces the most amount of smug in the world. “I’m going to heaven and you’re going to hell because I believe in Jesus and you’re a heathen.” Sound familiar? Sound smug?

    2. I do not assume that every piece of evangelism is directed at me. I do, however, feel that every piece of evangelism is a ploy to draw the ignorant into your close minded and stagnant institution. Being that Christianity is ultimately detrimental to progress, and progress being what all mankind should strive for, evangelism is a direct assault on the nature of man and I don’t want to hear any of it.

    3. If “complex” means “doesn’t make a lick of sense outside of Imagination Land” then yes, I will admit this. I don’t know how else to interpret “complex” when debating the existence of any god. By nature of the definitions of “intelligent” and “rational” it is inherently impossible for those possessing such qualities to “believe in an intervening deity who communicates through a book.” If they claim to possess these qualities, and believe in such a deity, they are lying about one or the other.

    4. Admit that the “just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there” method is far superior in fallibility to the scientific method.

    5. The Christians in point 3, much like your God, do not actually exist, so this point is rendered moot.

    Guess I’m going a little over the top here, but whatever. I would call centuries of persecution, slavery, imperialism, ethnocentrism, intolerance, greed, and hypocrisy in the name of some magical skyman a little over the top too.

  4. Alec

    Nathan, I really liked your post and appreciated everything you had to say. I found it extremely refreshing.

    I would call myself an atheist, but one that would love to believe in God. More and more I have been disgusted by “internet atheism” and its logical fallacies, hatred, and general jackassery.

    So thank you for your post, and I hope that people drop the attitude of absolute knowledge and realize that, as atheists, maybe we cannot know the truth, and should be open to other beliefs and ideas. After all, for a group of people (atheists) who seem to always beg for freedom of belief, they rarely grant the same privilege to religious people.

  5. PhysicistDave

    Nathan wrote to anti-Christians:
    >3. Admit that the debate about God’s existence is complex – and that it can, depending on your presuppositions, be quite possible for intelligent and rational people to intelligently believe in an intervening deity who communicates through a book.

    Uh, Nathan, I know that using the English language is not one of your strong points (not your native language, right? — “Aussie” is sort of different from English!), but we can only “admit” something if we actually think it is true!

    And, I most certainly do not think that the “the debate about God’s existence is complex” (I take it your capital G on “God” does mean you are talking about that crazy, psychopathic old Yahweh dude who murdered so many innocent women and children in the Hebrew Bible).

    No, the debate about Yahweh is not complex at all – a bunch of ancient psychopaths invented a murderous God in their own image. Not “complex” at all.

    Anyone doubt that Yahweh is a murderous thug? Read about the Golden Calf incident where Yahweh supposedly had Moses kill three thousand of the children of Israel indiscriminately because they had chosen to exercise a bit of freedom of religion:

    Exodus 32:
    26] Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’s side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.
    [27] And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.
    [28] And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.

    This was brought to my attention not long ago by a “liberal” minister who brought it up as an example of *noble* behavior in the Old Testament!

    Yeah, it is a myth, but it is a myth that is supposed to illustrate the character of Moses and Yahweh.

    Nathan, you complained in an earlier post that atheists are shy about using the word “evil.”

    I’m not.

    This is evil, deeply and profoundly evil.

    And, anyone who knowingly worships a God whose character is exhibited in this manner is also deeply and profoundly evil.

    Christianity is evil.

    And, Nathan, if you cannot bring yourself to denounce the behavior described in Exodus 32 and the God who supposedly ordered that behavior, then you too are deeply evil.

    Dave

  6. Marcel Kincaid

    What sort of “friend” would tolerate such pompous garbage? I have no desire to be friends with, to be nice to, or to “seem” nice to, such hypocritical asses as yourself.

    “starting with a hypothesis and testing it rather than observing facts and forming a hypothesis”

    Comments such as this identify you as a stupid and ignorant person. If the scientific method involved the former irrational process rather than the latter rational process, why wouldn’t scientists simply adopt the latter? In fact, as anyone with enough intelligence to look it up knows, the scientific method consists of observation -> hypothesis -> prediction -> test -> observation.

    “is as open to abuse as any religious belief”

    Uh, you think our problem with religious belief is that it’s “open to abuse”??? The scientific method is a reliable way to find out about the world. “religious belief” isn’t a method or way or means at all, it’s just belief. Your comparison here is incoherent, nonsensical, ignorant, foolish, smug, and arrogant. Intelligent people are not about to “admit” to your stupid misunderstandings.

    You should develop a bit of humility, and recognize that the fact that you are uneducated in science and do poorly on IQ tests puts you in a poor position to give any advice to your superiors.

  7. Richard

    I disagree PhysicistDave, MAN is evil, Christianity is just another of the endless tools (ie. Politics, Economics, marketing, knives, guns, hacksaws) he uses to manifest the horrors he inflicts on his fellow man.

  8. Marcel Kincaid

    ” PZ Meyers of the world”

    His name is Myers, moron.

    “I know personable atheists who are happy to discuss the basis of their folly”

    What a hypocritical smug asshole you are.

    “and today I’ve met many atheists (virtually) who are happy to hijack a post on a blog and turn it into something just a little bit crazy”

    Do you even know what the word “hijack” means? Your post wasn’t “hijacked”, it was RESPONDED TO. You’re an ignorant arrogant smug anus who called out atheists, and you’re being schooled by them — not that you’re capable of comprehending the lessons.

  9. wunksta

    1. Like wise, or is it called being righteous?

    2. So they should not be exposed to the criticisms that have been shown to your religion? That’s called being deceptive.

    3. Intelligent people can believe in a deity. I have yet to meet any intelligent people that think it talks to them through an ancient text though.

    4. The first part of the scientific method IS observation. We don’t dismiss any subsequent observations either. Deductive reasoning is also used.
    http://skepticstoolbox.org/hall/m50baa4bf.gif
    http://miscellanea.wellingtongrey.net/comics/2007-01-15-science-vs-faith.png

    Science isn’t infaliable, but we ADMIT THAT. its self correcting, religion seldom is.

    5. What a load of special pleading. “Please don’t use parts of our bible against us that we can’t explain!!” Furthermore, using alternative or fictitious examples of gods/fantastical creatures illustrates how ridiculous a belief without evidence can be. The fact that one can dismiss other peoples deities because they lack evidence yet cling to their own DESPITE the lack of evidence is dumb founding.

  10. Marcel Kincaid

    “If God chooses a standard that we find unacceptable or hard to bear it’s not really our place to say so”

    How do you know what standards God chooses, oh smug one? Are you really saying that you abdicate moral responsibility to some words written by nomads millenia ago as interpreted by deeply neurotic preachers? It is certainly MY place to say that that YOUR sick “standards” that you dishonestly justify by claiming they were chosen by God are WRONG.

    This seems to be your position: “What if everything I believe, no matter how wrongheaded and fallacious it appears, turns out to really be right? In that case I’m the rational one and you’re the irrational one.” Uh, no, you have no understanding of what it even means to be rational, and with such a deep failure of logic you have no hope of ever being rational, and can only be right by sheer luck.

  11. Marcel Kincaid

    “I think, if the boot were on the other foot, and you believed my family were going to burn in fire, I’d want you to be telling me…”

    I think you’re an ignorant imbecile and a hypocrite and that you’re a danger to everyone around you. Do you really want me to be telling you this? And why would I want someone stupid and deluded to tell me what they believe when I already am quite aware of what they believe and that it is based on stupidity, ignorance, and superstition?

  12. Marcel Kincaid

    “The fact that science can be harnessed by people with agendas (the tobacco lobby, answers in genesis etc) means that it’s just as likely that a peer reviewed paper is dodgy as it is that it’s plausible.”

    In addition to not understanding science, you don’t understand probability or inferential logic — these are not “just a likely”, and the antecedent does not imply (“means that”) the consequent.

  13. Antony L

    Hi all,

    I have tried to read a lot of the above but i would like to modify some things.

    Firstly, so everyone knows, i am a Christian.

    Next, i think both Christians and Atheists can be nicer about what people believe…because, in my humble opinion, you can neither prove God nor disprove God scientifically. Therefore, it would seem to me that both sides have an element of trust or “faith” attached to their beliefs.

    I would possibly put this thread this way…

    5 ways Christians and Atheists can be nicer to each other…

    1. Respect each other’s beliefs…there are plenty of intelligent people on both sides of the fence

    2. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they are a bad person…personally, i believe that there is a God, you may not but we both agree that murder, paedophilia, rape etc are wrong and you would be a bad person if you did this.

    3. Mistakes have been made by the church in the past. Scientists have also made mistakes in their beliefs (like the atom being the smallest particle, etc). Both sides need to acknowledge these mistakes and move on and live better.

    4. We all have secrets in the closet that we don’t want to see the light of day – in other words, no one is perfect. I think it would be fair to say that “love one another as you love yourself” is not just a quote from Jesus but reflected in other religions as well agreed to by many atheists i know.

    5. Forgive me when i make mistakes because if you ever make a mistake, i would forgive you too…

    God bless you (whether you believe in Him or not).

    Thanks

  14. Deepak Shetty

    PhysicistDave @104

    C’mon dave , you aren’t paying attention to context and the broader Christological narrative. You are quoting obscure Old Testament stuff. Nathan has already pointed this out to you in pt 5.

  15. Marcel Kincaid

    “You are quoting obscure Old Testament stuff.”

    Yeah, unlike Christians, especially Christian preachers, who never quote the old testament.

  16. PhysicistDave

    Richard wrote to me:
    > I disagree PhysicistDave, MAN is evil, Christianity is just another of the endless tools (ie. Politics, Economics, marketing, knives, guns, hacksaws) he uses to manifest the horrors he inflicts on his fellow man.

    Yeah, Richard, I take your point.

    Note that I did not say that Christianity was “uniquely” evil: of course, Christianity belongs in the same class as Communism, Nazism, etc. – all evil means to justify man’s inhumanity to man.

    However, people do have a choice – I’ve never killed anyone nor do I justify killing of innocents, even when carried out for a “noble” cause (e.g., defeating so-called “Islamofascism”).

    And, knives and hacksaws can be used for good purposes: they do not come with a manual instructing you to use them for evil purposes.

    However, the passage I quoted from Exodus (and there are many others like it in the Bible) show that the manual for Christianity – i.e., the Bible – does openly and clearly endorse horrifyingly nauseating forms of evil.

    Yes, of course, ultimately this evil is due to human beings – after all, no God created Christianity; humans did.

    But we need to recognize, as the quote from Exodus shows, that the human invention known as Christianity was evil from birth, that the operating manual on which it is based openly advocates evil.

    Dave

  17. Stephen

    1) I find it interesting that the majority of responses to this point amount to “yeah, well, you do it to”. As your logic teacher probably told you, that does not eliminate the truth of the original point. So what if Christians are smug? The question is whether Atheists are smug.

    2) I think Nathan was originally pointing out that there are atheists who take every expression of religion anywhere as an attempt to subjugate and isolate atheists. I remember reading my own book on an airplane, and having some person flip over the fact.

    3) Okay, so maybe we can start doing verbal gymnastics here and start saying “the debates about the arguments for the existence of God” are complex. The practical point stands. smart people can disagree with you, as even Dr. Myers pointed out in a backhanded way. Sure you can see yourself as “cutting through it” as he did, but that means that your opponent may be confused. Impatience at this point only makes your hearers think you have nothing to add but bombast.

    4) Dr. Myers and many others put high value on testability as something science has that “religion” does not, even noting that science relies also on deductive reasoning. Unfortunately, that does not actually deal with the original point Nathan stated, that induction is where science gains its expansion of ideas, and thus the basis for it. The deduction in science is a check on its basis of induction.

    5) I find it funny how people throw texts out here and pretend that that somehow deals with this point. The idea is that you should probably see what the theist actually believes before throwing your (probably incorrect) understanding of those beliefs in their face. Maybe you could ask what they think about these passages? I dunno, that sounds a little more civil. It also makes you sound a little less like the anti-evolutionists most atheists coming from Dr. Myers’ site would oppose.

    Finally, I am a little curious as to how someone could answer physicistDave’s concerns about the question of evil in Exodus 32:26-28, since there are a great many different definitions of what evil is, and I have no way of knowing which one he refers to. Perhaps He could enlighten us as to what he means be evil here, and why that particular passage fits into that meaning?

  18. PhysicistDave

    Patrick Solomon wrote:
    >Also, Nathan, please. I invite you to respond to my and PhysicistDave’s comments. I’m curious.

    Oh, I think our young laddie Nathan will “answer” me – his job is to be a PR flack, you know. He knows how to spin these things.

    I think we’ll get an “answer,” but I very much doubt we will get a real answer.

    I’ve been around this subject many times with Christians – the fellow who first raised it with me that I mentioned was in fact also an Aussie. Christians have a slew of canned answers:

    “The Old Testament was a regime of justice and laws; the New Testament is based on mercy and love.”

    “You atheists don’t believe in the Old Testament anyway; why are you bothered?”

    “Who are we to pass judgment on God?”

    Etc.

    None of those canned answers addresses the specific issue: “Assuming for the sake of discussion that the narrative in Exodus is historically accurate, do you or do you not think that the men who carried out the mass murder ordered by Moses and Yahweh did the right thing or a horrifyingly evil thing?”

    It took weeks to get the Aussie minister I mentioned to give an honest answer to that question (even though he himself had brought the subject up!). He finally admitted that, yes, he did approve of the mass murders.

    I doubt we will ever get a clear-cut answer like that from Nathan, even if we spend weeks trying.

    Nathan does not seem to be a very standup kind of guy; I suppose few PR flacks are.

    Dave

  19. PhysicistDave

    Stephen, apparently in reference to my question about Exodus 32 wrote:
    >I find it funny how people throw texts out here and pretend that that somehow deals with this point. The idea is that you should probably see what the theist actually believes before throwing your (probably incorrect) understanding of those beliefs in their face. Maybe you could ask what they think about these passages?

    But, Stephen, I *did* ask him (and, implicitly, any other true believers here) “what they think about these passages?”

    That was exactly my point!

    I made very clear that I want to know whether Nathan can “bring yourself to denounce the behavior described in Exodus 32.” I will be a bit surprised if even a single Christian here gives an upfront answer to this – either “Yes, that was truly evil to carry out murder at Yahweh’s command” or “No, the murderers did the right thing.”

    I see the weaseling beginning already: you criticize me for not asking what you believe as an excuse for not saying what you believe, even though I was clearly trying to ask what you believe!

    Weird.

    Stephen also wrote:
    > Finally, I am a little curious as to how someone could answer physicistDave’s concerns about the question of evil in Exodus 32:26-28, since there are a great many different definitions of what evil is, and I have no way of knowing which one he refers to. Perhaps He could enlighten us as to what he means be evil here, and why that particular passage fits into that meaning?

    Ah, the weaseling blossoms.

    If I had asked whether you think the Holocaust was evil, would you be similarly tongue-tied?

    When I posted my previous post, your post had not yet shown up. Thank you for so rapidly demonstrating my point about Christians’ unwillingness to be honest and upfront about their views.

    Use your own definition of “evil”: by your own definition of evil, did the mass murderers do the right thing in murdering thousands at the command of Yahweh and Moses, or do you think their actions were horrifyingly evil?

    Such a simple question, and so hard to get an honest answer – from Christians.

    I bet we will never get a honest answer from you or Nathan.

    Dave

  20. PhysicistDave

    Stephen,

    By the way, your little ploy (“I am a little curious as to how someone could answer physicistDave’s concerns about the question of evil in Exodus 32:26-28, since there are a great many different definitions of what evil is, and I have no way of knowing which one he refers to. Perhaps He could enlighten us as to what he means be evil…”) is one of the most common of the evasive ploys used by Christians on such issues.

    In America, we call it the “That depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” ploy, in honor of one of our former Presidents (who was himself, of course, a Christian).

    Of course, no matter what definition I should offer up for the word “evil,” Christians can then explain at interminable length why my definition is inappropriate, complain that I am trying to impose my definition on them, etc. (A related ploy is to claim that atheists cannot possibly have any concept of evil: that too is irrelevant to the question, but it does give further delay.)

    I’ve been down that road many, many times before.

    Delay, delay, delay – all to avoid answering such a simple little question: by your own definition of evil, assuming for the sake of discussion that the narrative in Exodus 32 is historically accurate, did the mass murderers do the right thing in murdering thousands at the command of Yahweh and Moses, or do you think their actions were horrifyingly evil? Can you bring yourself forthrightly to condemn their actions?

    Are there are any Christians at all here who have enough guts to answer that question straight up?

    Or is there no one left any longer in the Christian churches but weasellers?

    Dave

  21. Pingback: Like a Red Rag to a Bull « City on a Hill

  22. Stephen

    So, I ask a question, and thus I am showing my unwillingness to face a straight question? In point of fact, I usually do ask the same question when someone makes such a claim about the Holocaust, especially if I suspect their understanding of “evil” may differ from my own. It’s taking my own advice and being sure that I understand your position before trashing it. You want to accuse me of bad faith, okay, whatever. Can you tell me what you mean by evil and why Exodus 32:26-28 fits that?

    Unfortunately, I have also talked with atheists on points like this before, and I think the question includes a few premises (like the definition of evil) that need to be clarified. I am asking about your claim that such is evil, I am unclear what you mean, can you explain?

    Honesty demands that we all understand roughly the same thing by the answer. At this point, I suspect that not all of us do. Please explain the claim you wish the Christians to reply to.

    The assumption of mala fides in a person you have never met, who you know only by the statements he has made in the comments section of a blog may be what Nathan meant by “smug”. I would use another word: “prejudiced” (namely, pre-judging the motives and beliefs of another with scant or even non-sequential evidence). After all, I’ve not claimed here to be a theist, much less a Christian. Why would I support here a claim I have not made here?

    You say in another comment that the Christians should answer “by their own definition of evil”. By that token, you are asking them for what may be a dishonest answer, since we are not sure that we are talking about the same thing. If they answer “no”, atheists are left with the impression that Christians are evil, because they will actually be interpreting the answer based on their definition of evil, not the Christian’s. If they say yes, you will say that they are then not believing their holy book. I would like to be sure that the answer actually is falling on the horns of a dilemma.

    Your question, as it stands, seems misleading since it has buried within it an implicit claim which is left vague (there is evil, and here is a possible example of it, don’t you agree?). I’d like clarification. If you think I’m delaying, then okay, whatever. I guess then you win.

  23. Steve

    Five things that would make xians seem less smug:

    1) Stop quoting “the fool has said in his heart, there is no god.”

    2) Stop using Pascal’s refuted-to-hell-and-back wager.

    3) Stop claiming the believing six impossible things before breakfast makes you a moral person. It only makes you a gullible one.

    4) Stop claiming that atheists really believe in your god and are just rebelling against him. Why are you rebelling against Thor, Zeus, Quetzlcoatl etc?

    5) STOP TRYING TO FORCE YOUR SUPERSTITION DOWN OUR THROATS AND INTO OUR LAWS!!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. Stephen

    Sorry, missed a point.

    physicistDave:
    No, I don’t think you actually asked the believers what they thought about the passage. That would be an open-ended question allowing for explanation. Instead you instead pointed out in comment 104 that Christianity is evil, and used the example of Exodus 32:26-28 to attempt to back it up. Then demanded that Christians join you in the condemnation.

    That is hardly asking to understand.

  25. E

    Nathan,

    A couple of thousand years ago some guys realised they could improve their lot in life by offering up God who torments you forever if you don’t believe in him and do as he says.

    If you buy it, he killed thousands of human babies in the flood. OMG! He is serious!

    It’s all a scam and I would argue the bible is a form of spam.

    The people promoting it want your money. Over the centuries they got really good at it. It is that simple.

    -E

  26. PhysicistDave

    Ah, delay, delay, delay, Stephen – try to get me to play procedural games to avoid letting anyone know where you yourself stand.

    Thank you for proving my point that this is all Christians nowadays can do.

    You still lack the guts to tell us where you yourself stand: by your own definition of evil, assuming for the sake of discussion that the narrative in Exodus 32 is historically accurate, did the mass murderers do the right thing in murdering thousands at the command of Yahweh and Moses, or do you think their actions were horrifyingly evil? Can you bring yourself forthrightly to condemn their actions?

    Of course, we all know the problem: if you condemn the obvious evil presented in Exodus 32, you denounce your own God.

    And, if you approve it, you will stand condemned by the common conscience of all decent human beings.

    Not my fault, Stephen, m’lad: blame the folks who told you that the Bible was the “Good Book” when it is really a cesspool of evil.

    I’ll bet you’ll never show the guts to tell us whether you approve or disapprove of the behavior described in Exodus 32, now will you? You’ll just keep playing word games – forever – about exactly how I word my posts.

    Right?

    How precious.

    Dave

  27. Will

    “1. Stop being so smug”
    Heh. Well, Nathan, to this I can only supply the words of one Nathan:
    “My point there is that I think it’s unhelpful to bag out atheists generally as though they all suffer from the same particular strain of foolishness.

    I think they’re all wrongheaded, misguided and foolish – but they’re not all the Richard Dawkins or the PZ Meyers of the world.

    I know personable atheists who are happy to discuss the basis of their folly…”

    I’m asking you this honestly: how do you reconcile your statements? I’m seriously curious. I really want to know why you think atheist “smugness” has to be done away with, but your post is acceptable. Please, tell me.

    Oh, and by the way:

    Matthew 5:22
    But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca,” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

    Pity he didn’t tell Paul that.

  28. TheBigCheese

    Stephen:
    I’m normally pretty open-minded, but I’m pretty sure he’s just looking for a straight answer, not arguing whether or not he asked the question.

  29. Patrick Salomon

    Stephen: I believe Dave was using “evil” to signify “detrimental to society” or, “that which afflicts the progress and well being of man”. This all boils down to semantics, but I also believe that you darn well understood the point he was trying to get across, and that your “define evil” argument is you skirting around the issue.

    We could spend all day arguing over the meaning of “evil”, and we would never reach a conclusion. Rationally, there is really no “good” or “evil”. These are nebulous terms created by man trying to construct a foundation for its morals and ethics.

    In reality, it all boils down to “action” and “consequence”. Hence, and I believe Dave will back me on this one, the discussion here is about how the consequences of God’s (Christianity’s, religion’s, etc…) actions had/have impacted mankind.

    As you are so keen on questioning the meaning of words which have no concrete philosophical definitions, yet can still function as useful tools to convey meaning (ie. “good”, “evil”, etc..), I’m afraid I must take a different route to reach my conclusion.

    On the impact the consequences of (God, Christendom, Religion)’s actions have had on mankind, I have to, in pandering to your vain attempt at using ration, employ the more mathematical (even a good Christian cannot refute math) logic of “positive” and “negative”. Let us define “positive” as “that which benefits mankind as a whole” and “negative” as “that which afflicts”.

    In these parameters, one perceiving this debate with a purely rational mind would see a God advocating the slaughter of 3,000 souls over something so trivial as a false idol as “negative”. They would also perceive the overall consequences of Christendom’s actions (divided society, retardation of our understanding of the natural world through the persecution of scientific thought, and multiple counts of genocide, etc…) as “negative”.

    Being that that these examples provide evidence of (God, Christianity)’s “negative” impact on mankind, and being that “evil” was being used as a term to signify (God, Christianity)’s existence and ideologies as “detrimental to the greater good”, you will find that Dave was, in fact, positing a sound theory in calling Christianity “evil”.

    I hope this satisfies your query, but I’m sure that it will not.

    – Patrick

  30. Stephen

    physicistDave:

    This is not about “guts”, this is about accuracy. I have a high value for truth over rhetorical games. I wanted to assume that you were not playing such games, and instead wanted to further understanding.

    Answering your question as it stands is, as I’ve said, dishonest in my opinion. Any answer will effectively lead to a misunderstanding, especially since it (to this point) rests on the unsubstantiated claim that (and I am putting this forward as what I understand to be the way you’d formulate it) “God is evil because of what is reported in Exodus 32:26-28”.

    There will be no straight answers, because at this point, there is no straight question.

  31. Stephen

    Patrick, based on both definitions given, then no. The actions of the levites in Exodus 32:26-28 are not evil, if we assume the truthfulness of the narrative.

    Definition 1: detrimental to society

    If we take it as true that God punishes idolatry by death, and that He fully intended to eliminate the entire people of God to prove it (Genesis 32:9-14), then it is perfectly alright to take a small segment of that group as sacrificed for the greater good of the society. This is added to the fact that, if the narrative is taken to be factual, there were no innocent Israelites, because by the text, they had acted in opposition to their own covenant with God to a man.

    Definition 2:
    that which afflicts the progress and well being of man

    Again, assuming the integrity of the text, and thus that humanity is best functioning in submission to God, the punishment of a segment of the (guilty) people of God to facilitate greater fidelity to God is again a good and not an evil.

    You seem to have actually broken the terms of physicistDave’s question by first of all calling the idolatry of the Israelites “trivial”, which the text goes out of its way to state it is not….. repeatedly. If I assume that there is no God, of course the actions there are immoral. If there is a God, which I assume Christians believe, it is not immoral.

    The remaining claims you make (divided society, retardation of our understanding of the natural world through the persecution of scientific thought, and multiple counts of genocide, etc…) will also have to be supported, but then that expands this far beyond what can be done in the comments section of a blog.

  32. AudreyR

    I will not respond to the first one as it’s not in my nature to respond to ad hominem arguments.

    2)I assume no such thing and only respond to the ones that are.

    3)The reasons people do or do not believe in god is only as complex as they make it. I am very much aware that there are many intelligent believers. Never have I claimed otherwise.

    4) Scientific method is a process and your definition of hypothesis indicates a lack of understanding regarding it. I agree that data gained through the process can, is, and has been used by lots of people in many different ways for many different reasons. This does not negate the process itself.

    5) When people engage me in conversation, I respond to what is said and try not to assume their belief or the reasons for their belief. I’m very well aware I can’t read minds.

    Just like not all Christians are the same, all atheists are not the same. I have no problem with people believing. I try to deal with people on what they say and how they act. I abhor the idea of thought police.

  33. Patrick Salomon

    Divided society: America. Fundamentalist Christianity became a tool of neo-conservatives which they utilized to polarize voters in socio-political discourse for the sake of advancing party politics. This was a bastardization of democracy.

    Retardation of scientific thought: Dark Ages. Stem-cell research. “Intelligent design”. Enough said.

    Genocide: Open up the nearest American/World/Ancient history textbook to a random page. You have a 60-75% chance of finding support for my position.

    You also must have missed the foundation of my argument, a foundation I built because you demanded it: logic.

    Logically prove to me that I can assume the “truthfulness of the narrative”.

    Atheists don’t have to be nicer. You mistake our adherence to rational discourse for meanness. It’s not that we’re mean, it’s just that most incarnations of logic simply cannot bend in a way that allows for the existence of a god, or justify the actions of the Christian God, should he exist.

  34. BeHereNw

    I love this list. The whole Atheist Battling Christian, and reversal of that, is just so contrived and stupid. It’s always such a bummer reading something that an Atheist wrote. They usually have the hugest egos and are just so long winded and always push their points with how rational and logical they are when all they are doing is reacting to something emotionally. I too once upon a time used to find anger and hostility welling up inside of me and finding need for expression towards Christians but I evolved. Atheism need not be a hostile movement. Just have your belief and go about your business. These battles are usually pointless. Self-Righteous flying off the handle is so primitive.

  35. Stephen

    Divided Society: That is actually a highly debated sociological position. But arguing it is again, beyond the bounds of a blog comment section.

    Retardation of Scientific thought: No, not “enough said”, that there is retardation of scientific thought (and each of the examples you give is again debatable) is not the same as saying that it is caused by religion, that it is greater than the retardation caused by other possible worldviews, or that such “retardation” is actually bad for society.

    Genocide: I must have picked up the wrong textbook. Of course, considering the legal debates concerning what constitutes genocide (see the pograms of the Soviet Union, the Acadian resettlement and the Armenian “genocide”) I may also be running with a different definition here.

    You must logically assume the validity of the narrative in the case of this question, because it was stated in the question that I was answering:

    “assuming for the sake of discussion that the narrative in Exodus 32 is historically accurate”

  36. Patrick Salomon

    Failure of observation on my part has me pinned on what I said about how to view the text. To this I concede.

    As to your other points… you’re right again. There’s not enough space here to hash out the whole debate. Although, even you cannot argue that Christianity has stood in the way of numerous scientific pursuits, which, had these pursuits been allowed to progress unopposed, may have placed humanity farther ahead technologically than we are now.

    To BehereNw: You are correct. This long winded discourse between Atheist and Christian is largely pointless. Doesn’t mean it can’t be fun though.

    Being long winded is also inherent in, and necessary to, crafting the debate. Atheists must set the terms of their argument within a rational framework, as logic is the only weapon we have with which to refute blind faith. Christians must respond in kind, because the Atheist will hear nothing of blind faith and listen only to reason.

    In short, we’re both fools, and I’m just a philosophy minor exercising my, currently inadequate, ability to dialog on such matters.

  37. Evan

    Why can’t we all just coexist without force feeding our opinions down each others throats?

    It is very un-Christian to assume that the “general Atheist” is bad. All followers of God and/or Jesus have been taught to “love your neighbor as yourself”. The “general Christian” does abysmally, if you’re basing it off of stereotypes. I’m Atheist and one of my favorite people on the plant is an avid Christian. She doesn’t rub it in, though. She is kind, caring, non-judging and funny. She should represent all Christians, because I haven’t met a single person who has one bad word against her.

    She is one of most passionate people about faith. Her faith is unlike anything in this world.

    Atheist aren’t any better than Christians, though. Especially when it comes to loving the people around them. No one group can claim that they are better than the other. Both have major flaws.

    The one universal law that should be agreed upon is to live the best life you can. Every person should be kind, caring, non-judging, and funny. Know when to be serious and when to laugh out loud. Know when to smile with joy and when to bow your head with grief. Know when you are being cruel and improve. Live the best way possible. If your religion helps you to be kinder, then you are on a good path. If it doesn’t, then a reconsideration should be taken. Anything that makes YOU a better person is how you should live your life.

    Be kind.
    Be courteous.
    Love with a passion.

  38. Pingback: Do Atheists Need to be Nicer? « No God Here

  39. PhysicistDave

    Stephen wrote to me:
    > There will be no straight answers, because at this point, there is no straight question.

    Ah, now you are simply prevaricating, Stephen.

    The question is very clear and very simple: where do you stand on the mass murders described in Exodus 32 –do you condone them or condemn them?

    You know good and well that I am not trying to pin you into the exact words of my question. You are quite obviously free to frame your answer however you wish. All I am asking (and I am sure we will not get this from you, because you are clearly not an honest person) is that you actually tell us where *you* stand on this matter instead of weaseling out with some more of your verbal nonsense.

    You will not answer that simple question because you lack moral courage.

    But to claim that you find the question unclear?

    You are simply prevaricating.

    I wonder if Nathan will lie in a similar way or find some other way to evade the question?

    Dave

  40. Stephen

    Actually Dave, I think I did answer the question. In all definitions of justice I can think of (though admittedly I haven’t thought that much about it), save possibly ones where I must assume that the freedom to believe in other Gods is a fundamental right that trumps even God (either because God does not exist, or because the freedom of conscience in religion is more basic than God), I think the actions in Genesis 32, assuming the historical validity of the narrative, are moral.

    I wonder why you’d believe differently, now, come to think of it.

  41. PhysicistDave

    The Big Cheese wrote with regard to my question to Stephen and Nathan about Exodus 32:
    > I’m normally pretty open-minded, but I’m pretty sure [Dave]’s just looking for a straight answer, not arguing whether or not he asked the question.

    Yeah, of course.

    I’m not trying to play any game with words here. The Biblical narrative is rather transparent. There is no semantic subtlety involved. I honestly want to know whether Nathan and Stephen approve of or condemn the horrific actions related in Exodus 32. I have a suspicion (a horrific suspicion) as to what they really think, but I am open to hear their real views.

    I couldn’t force Stephen to repeat the exact words I posted if I wanted to.

    But, it would be nice to know where he actually stands on this – does he approve of what the mass murderers did or does he disapprove of it?

    His little ploy is shown by his reply to Patrick: he makes various comments about history, etc., but we are still not sure whether Stephen condones or condemns mass murder when he believes it is ordered by God. He is willing to discuss Exodus 32 ad infintium, but he will not tell us whether he is for or against those mass murders.

    Weaseling and weaseling and weaseling.

    I used to think Christianity would still be a living movement fifty years from now, but if Christians are truly this cowardly, maybe the Christian movement is finally in its death throes.

    Personally, I’m really glad I do not live near Stephen: if he ever hears a secret voice telling him to do as the sons of Levi did, any non-Christians nearby just might end up dead.

    Of course, he could allay that concern a bit by declaring that he condemns the mass murders described in Exodus 32.

    But he won’t.

    Dave

  42. Stephen

    Uh huh, precisely as I expected.

    “Personally, I’m really glad I do not live near Stephen: if he ever hears a secret voice telling him to do as the sons of Levi did, any non-Christians nearby just might end up dead.
    Of course, he could allay that concern a bit by declaring that he condemns the mass murders described in Exodus 32.
    But he won’t.”

    Now, logically, what in the world makes that a logical conclusion from what I’ve said?

  43. PhysicistDave

    Ah, Stephen! Perhaps I misjudged you, after all! (We cross-posted, so my previous post went out before I saw yours.)

    You are indeed willing to openly endorse evil!

    You wrote:
    >I think the actions in Genesis 32, assuming the historical validity of the narrative, are moral.
    >I wonder why you’d believe differently, now, come to think of it.

    And, now that you have finally confirmed my worst suspicions about you, I will indeed return the courtesy and answer your question as to why I think differently.

    But not this minute – the real world beckons.

    Now, let’s see if Nathan will be similarly upfront in presenting his views.

    Dave

  44. Stephen

    No, I do not openly endorse evil. The levites were not being evil based on your own framing of the question.

    I would appreciate you not putting words in my mouth. After all, I still haven’t even copped to being a theist yet.

  45. Deepak Shetty

    BeHereNw @134
    >. Atheism need not be a hostile movement. Just have your belief and go about your business
    In an ideal world this would be true, but it’s religion that isn’t satisfied with you go about your business and I, mine.
    Exhibit A Gay marriage
    The religious should marry whomever they want and the non religious should also be able to do the same. Who exactly is lobbying to ban gay marriage?
    Exhibit B Evolution
    The religious should be able to believe whatever they want , and let the rest of us who want to understand science do so. Who exactly wants creationism/id taught in schools to our children?
    Exhibit C Religious Terrorists
    Everyone should be able to live in peace. Who exactly threatens us when we don’t live by their rules?
    Do you really want me to go on?
    You can live your life like an ostrich , thats your prerogative.

  46. Stephen

    physicistDave
    You are now appealing, quite openly, to emotion not logic. (You believe the worst about me, and worry that I’ll be massacring people because of a secret voice in my head).

    I have not stated my beliefs save to say that Genesis 32 expresses an internally consistent moral structure. I assumed the validity of the narrative, as asked in the question, I have not claimed to subscribe to that structure.

    1. Nathan

      Right, so PhysicistDave wants an answer to his particular question as to whether I endorse the actions of God in Exodus 32…

      Of course I do. He’s the creator, I’m the subject. Would I have killed them? That would have been a struggle between giving up my autonomy and desire not to kill people, and obeying the direct commands of the Lord.

      This is logical. If God is God then he sets the standards – not us.

      I’d be interested to know PhysicistDave how you would respond to disagreement with things you ask your children to do (if you have them)? Or, if you were a military officer how you would respond to an order you disagreed with?

      It’s the judge who gets to decide what’s just – not the criminal.

      I hope this answers your specific question.

      Now, to the rest of you – I have completely lost track of every question I’ve been asked – but if you, collectively, want to frame ten questions for me to answer then I’ll do that in a subsequent post.

      I’m going to stop reading the meta of the post on PZ’s blog. It’s not particularly nice. And it’s clear that both parties (myself and the angry mob) have agreed that the other side is devoid of new ideas. And clearly we’re not going to have a meeting of the minds on my suggestions (from my post).

      I’m happy to continue this dialogue – and I’m happy to answer questions – but I can’t dig through paragraphs of disagreement to find specific questions. Please post them in a nice list or bullet point form.

  47. Deepak Shetty

    Stephen @146
    One question from me. If God(however you want to verify this being) asked you to do something which is immoral (by your definition) , would you still do it? Or would you change your definition of morality?

Comments are closed.