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.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

239 thoughts on “Five things that would make atheists seem nicer”

  1. Stephen asked me:
    >[Dave] “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.
    >[Dave]Of course, he could allay that concern a bit by declaring that he condemns the mass murders described in Exodus 32.
    >Dave]But he won’t.”

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

    I’m afraid that is pretty obvious.

    An awful lot of religious believers are constantly saying that they believe God has told them something – this is not a rare event.

    Unfortunately, fairly often what God tells the religious believers to do is to kill someone: this happened, so the Bible says, in the Golden Calf incident (and many other OT passages). Of course, the 9/11 terrorists also believed they were carrying out God’s will. And, here in the USA, it is depressingly often that God tells US military or government leaders to kill someone – periodically, we have a quasi-scandal when some US leader announces that the killing is God’s will.

    So… if you believe that it is right to kill when God orders it, given the propensity of religious believers to hear such orders from God, I am kind of glad you are not my next-door neighbor!

    Buddhists or Jains, for example, would seem a bit safer.

    Dave

  2. Nathan wrote to me:
    >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?

    If I tell my kids to do something that is morally wrong, I expect them to disobey.

    I did this with my own parents, Nathan.

    From time to time, well before I started school, they ordered me to lie, what they called “little white lies.”

    I refused.

    By the time I was in grade school, they stopped, since they knew I would refuse to lie.

    If I were a military officer and given an order that I thought was morally wrong, I would disobey it.

    Incidentally, the United States “Uniform Code of Military Justice” *requires* US servicemen to disobey an “unlawful order.”

    I do not think that power or authority trumps morality, and as I indicated, I have thought this since long before I started kindergarten – as my parents will ruefully attest.

    I am, frankly, always stunned, even at my advanced age, to find that there are people who do not recognize this elementary fact of morality – it honestly seems to me that all of you who do not recognize this are basically psychopaths.

    Are you not aware that this is a basic issue in philosophy that goes back over two thousand years? It is referred to as the “Euthyphro dilemma” from Plato.

    Many Christian philosophers (e.g., Aquinas) were on my side of the Euthyphro issue.

    Many more Christians today seem to be moral relativists, such as yourself and Stephen, who lack any sense that there are standards of morality higher than any human or divine authority.

    I trust you can see why this is extremely worrisome.

    In the end, it makes a war of all against all inevitable, for we know that what God tells you, what Allah tells bin Laden, etc. are certain to lead to violent conflict.

    If there is no standard of morality higher than God, and if humans keep believing in God(s), then the future for humanity is very bleak indeed.

    Dave

    1. Dave,

      For the Christian there is no higher morality than divine morality – and I’m not sure why “love your neighbour as yourself” is troubling…

      This doesn’t mean we’re relativists – it means the arbiter of morality is the divine ruler of the world, and not the collective mind of its creators.

      Are you a vegetarian? Is it moral to do to animals what you object to having done to humans?

  3. Hey Nathan,

    Telling a group of people they aren’t nice isn’t nice. Then referring to them as an “angry mob” when they call foul isn’t nice, either.

    Please stop being a jerk. :)

    – Mejdrich

    1. Mejdrich,

      Have you read the comments here? Or at pharyngula?

      I would suggest the label “angry mob” is more than appropriate.

  4. No offense intended Deepak, but from what I understand of most Christian conceptions of God, your question is a little like asking “If you discovered a square triangle, would you believe it, or just change your understanding of geometry to account for it?”.

    The hypothetical is nonsense. If I heard a voice in my head telling me to kill people, I’d find a shrink PDQ and get myself committed. That is a consistent reaction for Christians, since they generally believe that any revelation that is contrary to the Bible is not a revelation of God. Demanding that I express the wrath of God goes against the admonition that God says “vengeance is mine, I will repay”.

    And physicistDave, if it’s so obvious, maybe you could respond to what I actually say instead of what you wanted me to say.

    I did not say “if you believe God tells you to do something, it must be right”, I said that in the context of Genesis 32, assuming the truth of the narrative, what the levites did is not immoral.

    Those are simply different statements. This may be why Nathan had point 5 above. Stop using strawmen.

    You asked me to assume 1) That God exists 2) That the existent God did IN FACT tell the levites to do this 3) that there were real consequences to the disobedience that the Israelites had done (which amounted to reneging on an agreement that got them out of Egypt) and 4) there were no innocent Israelites.

    based on those points as facts, I am bound to the conclusion I made. Where is my mistake?

    You seem to be trying to find a method of attacking my morality directly rather than dealing with the concept of morality, or the morality of the text in question, something I’ve been trying very hard to do. I had assumed you wanted to do that.

    And I am not a moral relativist.

    But I have another question, considering that you seem to place your morality above all forms of authority. If you came to believe that it was moral to murder someone, would you do it, even in the face of all the people and authorities who would oppose you? To be blunt, I find privately held morality far more problematic, and decidedly more relativist, than even postmodern Christians.

  5. BTW, I would have to check some, but from what I remember of Aquinas, he would not say that morality is higher than God, but rather that God and morality are coextensive. God would not order the morally incorrect, because God is moral. That you see Genesis 32 as immoral is not a moral failing in God.

  6. I would go with mob-ish. And not angry. Just opinionated. But I would say most of the mob lacks the passion one needs to be angry.

    Dave… I dunno, man. Props to being an Atheist but, I think you have to check your logic on your last post. I’m with you on God being dangerous for society; don’t get me wrong.

    Unfortunately, I fear you fell out side of the parameters in your dialog with Stephen. You can’t truly criticize somebody’s moral compass by that road. Not if the opposing person has a firm grasp on the real theology of the thing.

    Stephen, hats off to you. I’m not converted, but this was fun.

  7. Nathan,

    If I could first state that I think it’s amazing how disrespectful some people are, while your initial message was a little accusatory you were not at all obscene, and there is no reason to be obscene in response to said post.

    I have only one question for you, which is related to the divine morality you have been discussing, yet a more intimate perspective.

    Suppose you are risen into heaven after your death, and are allowed to know the fate of all of those who were in your life. How would you deal with knowing completely moral people, perhaps even a fireman who saved your life once, were burning in hell for all of eternity only because they didn’t believe in God the way you did?

    I hope this question does not seem to inflammatory, but it has been my key struggle with Christianity for quite some time.

    Thanks for taking time to continue to rationally respond to these posts. Continue ignoring those who are being outrageous, for there is nothing to benefit from their bigotry than their own selfish amusement.

    -James

  8. Nathan,

    Of course they’re angry. You called them all smug. What did you expect?

    As an Atheist, I’m pretty well used to bigotry thrown my way. Sometimes I let it roll of my back. Sometimes I call Christians out on it. Let me put it this way- how would you react if someone said, “The problem with all black people is they are lazy.” Or substitute in “jews” and “frugal”. This kind of bigotry is old news.

    But on the point, if you really think we’re smug, it’s probably because we tend to know our bible better than Christians. Every atheist ends up being an expert on god issues just as a survival mechanism. And, to be honest, it gets old.

    I wish y’all were leaving us alone, but the overwhelming majority of Christians aren’t. They want creationism to replace science. They want their religious values to be the law of the land. There is no debating with them, because the majority also think that a god personally approves of their opinions.

    And then, after all of that, they call US smug. Sometimes it’s just more than we can take.

    – Mejdrich

  9. Nathan wrote to me:
    >For the Christian there is no higher morality than divine morality – and I’m not sure why “love your neighbour as yourself” is troubling…

    Unfortunately, Nathan, as you yourself have testified, and as history has abundantly illustrated, that is not the whole of Christian morality.

    You yourself, earlier this evening, endorsed mass murder when supposedly ordered by God.

    And, quite frankly, not only in history but even today, I see enormously more of that morality among Christians than “love thy neighbour.”

    Dave

  10. Patrick,

    I did not expect you to agree with me: morally, you are a moral relativist, just like Stephen and Nathan.

    Earlier, you posted various comments about morality assuring everyone that I probably agreed with them.

    I didn’t.

    Dave

  11. Stephen wrote to me:
    > And physicistDave, if it’s so obvious, maybe you could respond to what I actually say instead of what you wanted me to say.
    >I did not say “if you believe God tells you to do something, it must be right”, I said that in the context of Genesis 32, assuming the truth of the narrative, what the levites did is not immoral.

    Unfortunately, Stephen, in practice, it is logically impossible for a particular person to distinguish between the case of his believing that God is telling him to do something and God really telling him to do something.

    If he truly believes God is telling him something, then, from his perspective, God really is telling him.

    So, “murder people if God really tells you to” ends up being, in practice, logically equivalent to “murder if you truly believe God is telling you to.”

    And, this is not academic: exactly this has happened again and again over the centuries and is happening still today.

    If you cannot see that, you know very little about either history or current events.

    Dave

  12. At first, I was going to respond in the spirit of good debate, but that isn’t going to happen here.

    It was tough to sift through all the fighting in these comments, but I will say that if you look at the logic here, Nathan, you are getting owned.

    To embellish a bit:

    unless it’s completely measurable – repeatedly – which doesn’t really stand with questions of origins
    Patently false.

    I’m providing a list of tips that will make your disagreement more agreeable.

    What the heck does that mean?

    and I will bring up Hitler in an argument with an atheist every time you argue with an extreme position that is demonstrably not consistent with Christianity.

    That is not the proper application of Godwin’s law at all. It is not a retort for what you don’t agree with; it is a retort to the logical fallacy “Reductio ad hitlerum”.

    When you say “there is no evidence” what you’re really saying is that you have found the evidence put forward by believers unconvincing.

    Because their claims are not backed by any evidence. Every single claim of evidence has always been debunked by rigorous study of history or science.

    and when it comes to the question of Jesus – who Christians believe to be God – there are plenty of first hand witnesses and documentation.

    This has all been debunked by modern Theologians, many of whom, by the way, are Christians.

  13. PhysicistDave:

    Honestly the immorality and baptizing violence is (I think) the greatest sin of the Western Church.

    I think you may oversimplify Christian epistemology though. Christians do not believe that the individual has the ability to discern the will of God independent of external authorities. That is why they assert the authority of scripture, and demand that interpretation be done amongst the community of believers. There are checks in historic Christian doctrine against what you’re saying, because for a Christian morality is not relative to individual perception. Morality is absolute and grounded in the nature and being of God. God is not fallible, but we are.

    Again, Christians are not limited to a simple me-God duality. being “convinced that God told me” is a lot more than getting a voice from the great beyond in Christian thinking.

    Finally, if you do not agree with Patrick’s definition of evil, what is yours? I might not have actually answered your question then.

  14. Stephen wrote,
    > You asked me to assume 1) That God exists 2) That the existent God did IN FACT tell the levites to do this 3) that there were real consequences to the disobedience that the Israelites had done (which amounted to reneging on an agreement that got them out of Egypt) and 4) there were no innocent Israelites. based on those points as facts, I am bound to the conclusion I made. Where is my mistake?

    I don’t think it is possible to explain this to you.

    In all honesty, I don’t think you are very bright intellectually, and so I think you lack the intellectual ability to see that the conclusion that you say you are “bound to” does not follow at all from the premises. Again, this is a standard point, the Euthyphro dilemma, made in any good first-year philosophy class, and it has been known for thousands of years.

    I also think your Christian background (whether or not you are now a practicing Christian) has so deranged your moral sense that you cannot even conceive the idea that there are many people who think that there are moral standards independent of, and higher than, any human or divine authority.

    I don’t expect you to agree with me, but can you even understand that I myself (and many other people, going back to Socrates and Plato) do think this?

    I don’t think you can.

    Dave

  15. PhysicistDave,

    I’m well aware of the Euthyphro dilemma, my undergrad concentration was in ancient Greek thought. Where do you fall on it? I am assuming that by saying “there is morality above divine and human”, you are saying that a divine being would state something because it is moral (meaning the morality binds God and everyone else to act morally).

    The problem with this is twofold. Since, at basis you seem to want to say that God is evil in Genesis 32 because he does not meet that ultimate standard of morality, we will need some way to know what this ultimate standard is (thus knowing that God does not meet it). That was the question I asked near the beginning. Since one of your atheist brethern has already mischaracterized your opinion, I think it’s clear my question is fair. Secondly, what grounds such a morality, if not God (which you clearly believe it does not).

    That said, my answer is actually non-sequential to the Euthyphro dilemma (at least in its classical formulation “is it good because the gods will it, or do the gods will it because it is good”). My answer simply assumed the Biblical belief that God is good and thus the effect (that God’s command is good, whether because he adheres to higher morality, or because things are good when God commands them, his command must be moral) is that the command given is moral on either answer. The dilemma simply does not enter the mix, because we have already assumed it to the point that the dilemma is immaterial.

    Though my understanding could be because I’m deranged and intellectually incapable. :-)

    And I can understand that you believe such, I’m just at a loss to understand what that has to do with the discussion at hand.

  16. Stephen wrote to me:
    >No, I do not openly endorse evil. The levites were not being evil based on your own framing of the question.

    Yes, you did openly endorse evil.

    I did not frame the question so as to state that they were not evil.

    I merely framed the question so as to assume, for the sake of discussion, that they were doing what God ordered them to do.

    The mere fact that God ordered something does not logically imply that it is not evil.

    You chose to endorse the action of mass murder based on the stipulation that God ordered it.

    In my book, that makes you the very mudoel of evil, the poster-boy for evil.

    I truly believe that you are a profoundly evil person, and I am glad you do not live in my neighborhood.

    Dave

  17. Nathan,

    You seem truly bemused by the flak tossed your way over on Pharyngula.

    Let me try one last time to explain that.

    There are a lot of very highly educated people at Pharyngula: many of us have Ph.D.s in natural science.

    You made a very large number of statements about atheists, science, etc. that indicated that you were a very poorly educated person who knew very little about atheists, science, or even the Bible itself (as when you said something about the Bible being internally consistent – laughable to anyone who reads the Bible carefully, much less to anyone who knows anything about the last two centuries of Biblical scholarship).

    And, yet, when anyone tried to point out your logical and factual errors to you, you were the very model of a loutish, ignorant student, simply arrogantly restating your errors and unwilling to learn from those who are much better educated than you.

    This behavior on your part was extremely boorish, especially since you were a guest on Pharyngula, and people understandably reacted angrily.

    I myself refrained from hurling any obscenities your way, but I certainly understood the urge!

    For me, the crowning absurdity was your claim:
    > I’m quite an intelligent guy (apparently)…

    Do you really believe that?

    Have you never noticed that, intellectually speaking, you are not exactly one of the brighter stars in the firmament?

    I have known four Nobel laureates in physics. They were bright.

    You are not.

    You have a lousy dead-end government job. Your supposed expertise is in PR, an area not exactly known for being intellectually demanding.

    Doesn’t this tell you something?

    I am pretty sure you are completely ineducable – just as a drunk cannot cure himself of his alcoholism until he admits he is an alcoholic, so also you cannot cure yourself of your ignorance until you admit the extraordinary depth of that ignorance.

    And, you clearly will not do that.

    Morally, you are also a truly despicable human being, as shown by your willing endorsement of mass murder if ordered by God.

    I sincerely urge you to think about not having children.

    You may wonder why I went to the trouble to participate in this thread. I am homeschooling my kids and we are covering the Bronze Age and early Iron Age, including the history of the ancient Israelites. I wanted to illustrate to them that the horrible evil of ancient Judaism – things such as the mass murder in Exodus 32, the praise of Abraham for his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, etc. – are not just distant echoes from the ancient past but that they live on today as moral blights in the lives of real contemporary human beings.

    You showed my kids that this is true.

    I am leaving this thread, since the main participants now seem to be you and Stephen, and I cannot have any personal respect for either of you.

    In closing, if you ever do decide to honestly plumb the depths of your profound ignorance, let me suggest three books you might find useful:

    Alan Donagan’s “The Theory of Morality” – he specifically addresses your question about obeying military superiors.

    Finkelstein’s and Silberman’s “The Bible Unearthed” – the Old Testament is now known to be largely false.

    Bart Ehrman’s “Jesus Interrupted” – the New Testament is also known to be a pack of lies.

    These are all serious scholarly books by serious academics – footnotes and all the rest.

    I will not help you any more. It is up to you.

    Reply to this post as you wish, but do not expect a reply in return from me – I do not plan on checking this thread again.

    Dave

    1. PhysicistDave,

      Time for me to respond to one little part of your last comment… without suggesting that historical or scientific studies conducted and peer reviewed by atheists aren’t really likely to get me excited, or have me changing my mind…

      But it was this one:

      “This behavior on your part was extremely boorish, especially since you were a guest on Pharyngula, and people understandably reacted angrily.”

      That I think deserves a response…

      I was a “guest” on Pharyngula the same way that the victim of defamation is when they either stand up in court or seek to have the record set straight.

      Or a “guest” in the sense that someone who has their photographs stolen from a house and displayed at an art gallery is a guest when they go along and cop criticism from visitors to the art gallery for the lack of creativity expressed in their work.

      I was not a guest – had I not gone along to join the discussion I would have been the unwitting victim of almost 200 comments filled with vitriol. Put the boot on the other foot, what would you have had me do?

  18. (sigh) You stated that the narrative (I assumed the bible) was to be assumed valid for the sake of argument. The Bible states that God is good. ergo, I drew the conclusion Aquinas (whom you claimed agreed with you) does concerning the commands of God.

    Now if you want to limit the narrative, that’s fine. Then from the two differing definitions of Evil I was given (admittedly not by you) I again pointed out why such would be moral both from a purely utilitarian and a progressivist morality for the Levites to perform as they did, whether God was himself moral to give the command or not.

    You have (to this point) given no other definition of evil (save to say that both I and God are such), and so I still cannot (and apparently have not) answered.

  19. Nathan, more than anything this list reminds me of an upper-middle class white man beaming about how color blind he is, while anyone with any education in group dynamics or race relations is cringing because his being color blind, like your not being smug (although I find that a dubious notion to begin with) is a privilege only held by those in the majority. At no point in your lifetime or mine are you ever likely to be taken advantage of or denied rights because you failed to be assertive enough or smug enough, or willing to call someone on their profoundly unreasonable behavior or demands. It’s convenient that you brought up the flying spaghetti monster, because that is a perfect example. The flying spaghetti monster isn’t a strawman, or smug, it was a satirical response to the outrageous demands by Christians to corrupt the scientific curriculum with their categorically unscientific beliefs, it’s making a point that had someone come in with any other unsubstantiated belief and made such demands they would be laughed out of the room.
    You further display your privilege in suggestions 3 and 5, in which you advise that we should be more respectful of your beliefs, not because they are true, or well founded in any rational or empirical sense, but because they are popular, and over the course of your responses on this thread you have, through various feats of logical gymnastics suggested to the people who maintain that your beliefs are irrational that they are in fact being the irrational ones to run the risk of eternal hellfire without any rationale as to why your hellfire is any more of a risk than the Muslim, or Nordic, or Mormon hellfire, other than the popularity of your beliefs.
    You then proceed to feel assailed by those mob-like atheists when they voice their issues with your condescending diatribe posted in the public domain.
    I don’t expect to change your mind about any of this, I just felt obligated to point out that “seeming nicer” without being abused isn’t a privilege that’s extended to everyone.

  20. ‘God speaks to me through a book’.

    What a sham. Life’s more complex then commandments. The world has moved beyond this primitive jabber. These days Christianity can be a pin hole, something that leaves you weak and STUPID.

  21. I notice that when people are losing in a debate, they either resort to insults OR they try to imply that the other person is wrong because they were insulting. This smacks of the latter.

    Basically this just looks like a desperate plea of “Please be nice to me and my beliefs. Sure, they’re silly and completely insupportable by any real evidence, but if you mock them, you risk toppling my shaky mental house of cards! Oh, and *ahem* also, we’re both right, and um, we both have evidence, if you, y’know, completely change the meaning of the word evidence. There! Everyone’s happy now!”

    Basically, you’re just smart enough to realize that you’re getting your ass handed to you on an intellectual level, and so the best you can do is whine and say “Well, you’re mean, so there!”

    And then, cynically, you add in a few really stupid phrases that you know people will call you on, and when they do, you can triumphantly crow “See! Mean! So mean!” and disregard it.

    Pathetic.

  22. PhysicistDave & Patrick Salomon, I appreciate your opinion and thanks, but just out of curiosity I’d like to be clear re: which of my posts you were agreeing with, the one at number 84 or at 107?

  23. Dave,

    Then I do not understand your positions, or what you were even trying to argue. I’m a “moral relativist”? If your name didn’t link to some blog lauding your Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics, I would have assumed that you were just some dumb atheist who, while well intentioned in engaging in this debate, lacked some of the background necessary to craft a solid argument.

    Stephen asked you to define evil and I, based off of some of you previous posts, sought to try and define it for you. You informed me that I was wrong, (in your world, it seems that a lot of people other than yourself are wrong) but still failed to present Stephen with a definition.

    It was this failure, along with further disregard for parameters that you set, that is making you come off as… well.. an uninformed Christian attempting to make a morals argument on a foundation of matchsticks.

    The best that you can come up with is “I truly believe that you are a profoundly evil person, and I am glad you do not live in my neighborhood”?. Really?

    And, you are willing to allow for the assumption that the “narrative” of the Christian God, not just any god, ordered the mass murder… but you refuse to allow for the assumption that any other part of that narrative is false, including the supposedly “just” justificications which Stephen has been defending?

    Gee… that sounds like how the Christians pick and choose which parts of the Bible are actually “important” and which aren’t.

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too. As a theoretical physicist, I assume you have some sort of skill in balancing equations; although, this discussion could suggest otherwise. Think of your responses to Stephen and Nathan as equations, where every point must be justified and balanced out by some associated piece of logic.

    Also, you say “moral relativist” like its a bad thing. I had to take on that role in this discussion because of mistakes you made in the discourse.

    Honestly, I’m an atheist too. And, if I were ever a debate club member and had to argue with Christians… I probably wouldn’t pick you for my team.

    Stephen would be cool though.

  24. Richard: 107. You did a better job clarifying the “evil” thing than Mr. “I’m a BAMF Theoretical Physicist” over there.

    One of the few times I’ve seen the guy on the Christian team come out on top in a discussion like this one.

  25. Gee golly whizz! You really think we could seem nicer? I mean I know we could never BE nicer what with us not being religious and all but the idea that people won’t notice well that just butters my crumpets!

    You’re a real class act pinhead!

  26. I think you may oversimplify Christian epistemology though. Christians do not believe that the individual has the ability to discern the will of God independent of external authorities. That is why they assert the authority of scripture, and demand that interpretation be done amongst the community of believers.

    This really isn’t any less troubling than an individual listening directly to a voice in his head and obeying. Assigning authority to a book written and edited by men means you are letting other people tell you what God wants. Interpreting it among a community of believers does the same.

    Why not just decide for yourself what kind of person you want to be and what kind of world you want to live in? Epicurus came up with the concept of “love your neighbor as yourself” without appealing to any gods or scriptures.

  27. Stephen@154
    No offense taken. Your analogy of the square triangle only applies if you define morality as whatever God says(via a book normally) is moral, is indeed moral. Is that your stand?
    I’d argue that there are many cases (e.g. Jesus doesn’t explicitly mention anything about gay marriage nor about contraception ) where the existing book doesn’t cover what the moral approach is. However you will still have used your experience/intelligence to pick what you consider is moral. Or in some cases there is a clear commandment – Thou shalt not murder. I assume you believe this is moral. What if God (not some voice in your head), but someone you could verify as God (i leave this as an exercise to you, what would someone have to do to prove to you that he/she/it is God) told you to do something that contradicts that definition of morality you have (e.g. in the example put forth to you , Go and kill the people I currently dislike)

  28. Antony L: “Next, i think both Christians and Atheists can be nicer about what people believe…”

    No, because what Christians believe is wrong. If you mean we can be nicer to each other as people, you’re welcome to argue that, but you cannot ask me to pretend your beliefs deserve respect or are rational, intelligent or have any bearing on reality when they very clearly do not. What you are saying here is tantamount to me telling you to simply admit the Christian god doesn’t exist.

    “because, in my humble opinion, you can neither prove God nor disprove God scientifically.”

    Your humble opinion is misinformed. While perhaps we can never absolutely disprove god’s existence, but we can certainly disprove certain claims and certain gods. Interventionist gods are quite easy to tear down. If you say “my god has X effect in the world” we can test for X effect. If it’s not there, your claim is false. If all your claims are false, then your god doesn’t exist. A god might, but not yours. If your god doesn’t exist and there’s no evidence for any other god existing, it’s foolish to believe in any particular one actually existing.

    “Therefore, it would seem to me that both sides have an element of trust or “faith” attached to their beliefs.”

    Ah, yes, the favored accusation of theists. Maybe you should “respect” the beliefs of atheists by learning what it is we actually believe, eh? I don’t have faith of the irrational religious sort. My beliefs will change with evidence. The majority already have. Yes, some atheists believe there absolutely is no god, but most do not. Some who absolutely disbelieve even do so via sound reasoning: god cannot be defined in any meaningful, non-contradictory way that cannot also be disproven. Some–a very slim minority–dismiss god because they simply believe, without reason, that god does not exist. These you might say have “faith” like a Christian has faith, but the rest of us do not.

    “there are plenty of intelligent people on both sides of the fence”

    Indeed. But it takes suppression of that intelligence to believe in god.

    “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.”

    Yet religion can make good people do or think horrible things. For instance, a lot of people (perhaps not you) support the RCC’s attempts to cover up the child rapes perpetrated by their clergy. While they would be against child rape normally, if it’s something the church did, they become irrational about it and either deny it happened or try to excuse it somehow. They might not support murder, but they would be willing to demand a nine year old girl try to carry twins to term when her body isn’t able and being refused an abortion is a death sentence. A religious terrorist (of any faith, not just Islam) might believe murder is wrong, but his religion will allow him to rationalize killing enemies in the service of god. So what we atheists and religious folk agree on, morally, is only ever superficially similar, and one cannot use non-belief in god to rationalize immorality like one can with belief in god.

    “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.”

    Science is a system with mistake-detection built in and it is not a system that instructs people how to behave. In science, reality has the final say. Religion is a system of instruction and “mistakes” are just your interpretation against another fellow’s interpretation. In religion, someone who nobody can prove exists supposedly has the final say.

    “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.”

    So why cloak it in religion at all? A huge part of your imperfection is your irrational acceptance of religious beliefs. No, I’m not perfect either, but that doesn’t mean that I’m equally mistaken about what I accept is true. Why wouldn’t I try to show you how you’re wrong if I love you as I love myself?

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

    And if you’re making a mistake, I will tell you that because if I ever made a mistake, I would want to be told as well. I know you really, really want atheists and theists to be on equal footing in the ring, but we can’t both be right and we’re just so much better grounded. It sounds arrogant to say that, but it’s true. And if, to even things up, we scrap the concepts of fact and truth, then what are we arguing over?

  29. Evan: “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.”

    Atheists are not saying we’re less flawed as human beings, but our thinking is. It’s not perfect, no, but it’s more critical, more rational, more consistent and more courageous. Christian thinking on religion requires embracing flaws. Atheist thinking invites exposing and rejecting flaws. Why should we have to be humble in acknowledging this, especially when religion has such a pernicious effect on society?

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Nathan: “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.”

    And this is why religion is disgusting.

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

    Bad analogy. You’re not the criminal in the story, you’re the executioner. Also, at least these days, judges decide what’s just according to laws they did not write themselves whereas you think god writes the laws.

    “For the Christian there is no higher morality than divine morality – and I’m not sure why “love your neighbour as yourself” is troubling…”

    Wow, you are so dishonest. I’m sure PhysicistDave believes in loving one’s neighbor just as I’m sure he doesn’t need a god to tell him to do so. He’s very clearly asking about your stance on mass murder.

    “Are you a vegetarian? Is it moral to do to animals what you object to having done to humans?”

    Does it upset you to admit that you would perform mass murder if you think god (for whom there is no evidence!) told you that you should?

    “I would suggest the label “angry mob” is more than appropriate.”

    I would suggest that you’re rather full of yourself and don’t know when you’re being laughed at. Your stupidity was used as an example of the sort of hypocritical, backwards thinking that we atheists put up with on a daily basis. It makes us frustrated and sad.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    Stephen: “And I am not a moral relativist.”

    Hahaha, yes you are. If your answer to “is X moral?” changes depending on whether condition Y (say, god exists) is true, then you are a moral relativist. Deal with it. Me, I wouldn’t care if god did exist. If he told me I should believe mass murder is moral, I’d tell him to go spin on his own knob and that threatening me with eternal torture for disobedience was a total dick move for an oh-so-omnipotent and “loving” fellow.

  30. A Noyd:

    I’m just going to reply to what you said to me, as the sheer mass of claims you made in your comments would be far more than I care to take the time to check.

    I did not claim that my morality changes based on a condition such as the existence of God, I did not make any statement about my own moral standpoint whatsoever (save stating that I was not a moral relativist). Traditionally though, an appeal to God is not morally relativistic. Moral Relativism is usually used to refer to the belief that morality is determined by the individual’s context (including historical, cultural and sociological context) not by appeal to a transcendent existent ground for morality as is true for Christian theists.

    As I pointed out to physicistDave, the example I was given, and answered to, had already skipped the basis of the Euthyphro dilemma (as to whether the grounding was in God or in a supramorality), as effectively it would matter little whether God was simply adhering to morality in his command, or the command was moral because He had made it. The command was a moral one on either answer to the dilemma in the example.

    I would like to know what the basis for your morality is. Why would you tell an existent God to “spin on his own knob”, and why would that be a moral thing to do?

  31. Stephen,

    “I would like to know what the basis for your morality is. Why would you tell an existent God to “spin on his own knob”, and why would that be a moral thing to do?”

    Hope you don’t mind if I jump in.

    Asking for the basis of morality is like asking the basis of your legs. You have it because it’s helpful. People with functional ethical systems are more likely to succeed and have successful children. Pretty much end of story.

    So if you have a god who tells you to stone your children to death if they disobey, are gay, or work on Sunday, how COULD it be a moral thing to go along with him?

    The only way is if your love for your children is less potent to you than your blind faith in your deity. *shrug*

  32. Nathan – wow….just, wow…its like a hideous mix of the pot calling the kettle black and just outright misrepresentations of science and atheism.

    1) Stop being smug? Which is the more smug view do you suppose: the unshakable, unsupported by evidence belief that you know the will of a cosmic super intelligence that created everything and who, by the by, speaks to you through the pages of a 1,500 year old book (a proposition no less crazy than claiming god speaks to someone in his head.) or a world view based on evidence that is modified by new data? Sorry, but it is the atheist, generally, who says “I don’t know” when there is no evidence and who follows the evidence where it takes him. It’s your religious belief, which pre-determines your conclusions (which are often supremely arrogant – ie, knowing the will of a god).

    2) going to have call BS on this one, mate. Are you SERIOUSLY going to try and have us believe that evangelicals only want to preach to “non-decideds” Are you really, with a straight face, going to say there are not legions of evangelicals who believe it their moral duty to “save” non-believers – be their atheists, or Jews, or Muslism or whatever non-Christian thing they happen to be? I must have missed the passage in the bible where Jesus his followers to out to and spread the “good news” but only to those with no religion who are not atheists….

    3) Yes very smart people believe in a god or gods. This true. Thanks. However, very smart people also once believed the sun went around the earth. They have very good, and eventually, very complex reasons for believing they were right. But they weren’t. They were as wrong as too left shoes. The fact is that once you get past arcane theological clap trap, it all boils down to evidence. Either your specific chosen god exists as you believe he does, or he doesn’t. Saying some smart people also believe what you do is not, in any sense, evidence you are right.

    4) Sorry dude, but here you are just wronger than the two left shoes. Science uses both inductive and deductive logic. Its just a bloody fact. And, because science is also testing and challenging its own conclusions, attempting to prove its own conclusions WRONG (this is how science works!) the process has a self correcting system built into it. NOthing is above being challenged or proven wrong, even theories that have stood for a long time. Religion on the other hand, particularly the Abrahamic ones, says “this is the way the universe it and that is that. No questions please.” It is easy to see how religion can cause a guy to walk into a school room and shoot up a bunch of students he figures are not godly enough. Harder to see how the scientific method provides that kind of justifications. You’re just daft on this point.

    5) Yeah, so what you are here is that you’ve got YOUR interpretation of the bible which you think is correct and are rejecting the just as valid interpretation of other Christians who view the OT differently than you do. (see your first point about being so smug.) Also the FSM and Russell’s tea pot are not strawmen, but rather illustrate a very serious point.

  33. Stephen: “I did not claim that my morality changes based on a condition such as the existence of God, I did not make any statement about my own moral standpoint whatsoever…”

    Then you did not answer PhysicistDave’s question. As he said in 120: “I was clearly trying to ask what you believe!”
    121: “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?”
    126: “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?”
    139: “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?”
    141: “I honestly want to know whether Nathan and Stephen approve of or condemn the horrific actions related in Exodus 32.”

    Now, you might be able to argue that before 120 he didn’t make it clear the question was about whether you, personally, believe the people in the Exodus story behaved morally, but after he explained what he was after, you can’t say you answered his question if you did not make any statement about your own moral standpoint. You made only a waffling, relativistic statement.

    “Moral Relativism is usually used to refer to the belief that morality is determined by the individual’s context (including historical, cultural and sociological context) not by appeal to a transcendent existent ground for morality as is true for Christian theists.”

    So what? If you believe that Christian theists are moral for doing what they believe even if it conflicts with whatever you believe is moral, then you are embracing that relativism and are a relativist.

    “I would like to know what the basis for your morality is. Why would you tell an existent God to “spin on his own knob”, and why would that be a moral thing to do?”

    How about you come clean on your own moral standpoint first? And while you’re at it, why don’t you explain what you do believe in, since you’ve been so coy about whether or not you’re a Christian. If you can’t do that, then I don’t owe you any sort of explanation. Your little game of “don’t assume my beliefs, even though I won’t let you see any of them” is really infantile.

  34. Nathan, you are a Catholic, right? The inquisition alone makes any claim as reasonability, even centuries later, ludicrous. Just dwindle away into obscurity over the next few hundred years…oh never mind, it’s already happening…

    1. No Wade, I’m not a Catholic.

      I can understand that the “Saint” part of my name may give that impression.

      I’m decidedly protestant, and the name is meant to be humourous.

      I understand that some of your atheist brethren aren’t great with nuance when it comes to the written word so I’m happy to clear that up.

  35. “I understand that some of your atheist brethren aren’t great with nuance when it comes to the written word so I’m happy to clear that up.”

    Excuse me, Nathan, but that comment just removed any scrap of righteous ground you had to stand on, both in making your initial post and in all ensuing comments.

    What a compelling generalization of atheists. I’d be inclined to respond with “I understand most of your christian brethren are hypocrites when it comes to living by the beliefs they preach”, or “I understand most of your christian brethren are ignorant, southern American red neck hillbillies who like burning crosses on people’s lawns.”

    What happened to don’t be smug? Anything you say after that statement will be unjustified, as far as I’m concerned. You filthy hypocrite.

    1. Patrick,

      I’m sorry that you feel that way – but I’m at the point where I’m finding this whole thread pretty risible and dismissing any atheist who bothers to comment on it as a particularly foolish brand of atheist.

      Seriously – what are you all trying to achieve other than trying to demonstrate the truth of my original post to anybody reading this?

      My comment about nuance was based on the fact that my every word has been pieced apart, stripped of the benefit of any form of context and pilloried by an angry mob. It’s just possible, just slightly possible, that us theists are smarter than you believe, and that at times we are capable of humour, sarcasm or brevity.

      Lighten up. Have a look at the general tone of this blog. Read the comments on pharyngula and ask yourself what any non-atheist might think when reading through them.

      Some of the things I’ve been accused of, or the assumptions that have been made about me on the basis of one post are just crazy.

  36. Caitgirl, what’s really funny is the blog post chides us for taking on a simplistic caricature of Christianity with parodies such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but in these comments the author has revealed that he believes in a miracle-working, resurrected Christ based on what he’s read in the Bible and Biblical scholarship. That’s pretty much the same class of supernatural being as a flying spaghetti monster. I really don’t understand why we are supposed to treat them differently.

  37. I am personally offended by the main post, and I don’t even consider myself an atheist. I am more of an apathetic. I could care less if there is or isn’t a god. I personally don’t need the doctrine of ANY religion to tell me how to act, or to dictate how and where my life came into existence. If other people need that to function in daily life, that is their choice. It’s just sad to see dialog like this. We can all get along if we try. Talk like this is entirely counterproductive to mankind.

    …but for the record, I don’t find many Christians to be “nicer” when people attack their way of life. So Nathan, stop attacking the athiests. If you want a “nicer” dialog, then start one, but posting something like this is a direct attack. Not very welcoming in my opinion. If it was a verbal boxing match you were looking for, then I guess your post was perfect.

  38. Medjrich:

    I apologize if I’m not clear. What makes it more moral to tell a deity to “spin on his own knob” than to obey him? Why is one of those more moral than the other. (and, which one)?

    I’m not asking “why do you stand on your legs”, I’m asking him to please point to what he thinks his legs are.

    A. Noyd:

    I actually also pointed out to physicistDave that I may not have answered his question. I then asked him to properly clarify his question so I could answer him, to which he stated I was too stupid and evil to understand.

    To be honest though, I think that he was not actually trying to further rational discussion, but to dismiss me by making me the issue rather than his claim. It would be like me saying that because a group of atheists descended on a blog that had the tiniest of implied criticisms of atheism in masses, and used his (believed) character as the reason to disparage anything he said to mean that atheism itself is a morally bankrupt system. You see the problem. The character of people are generally not the issue when determining whether ideas are correct.

    I see no reason at all to “come clean” about my own moral standpoint when it’s you and your atheist fellows that are making the claims as to the morality of the God of the Bible. I’m not willing to make my beliefs the issue before we’ve clarified what claim it is you’re making. I don’t think you owe me anything, but I’m pretty sure I owe you nothing either.

    Wade, you say that the inquisition makes the reasonability of a Catholic laughable centuries later. Am I understanding you?

    So why would the actions of another group of people who had the same label as someone else, make that someone else less reasonable? I think you’re missing a few steps in your argument.

    Patrick, please read Nathan’s actual statement (though I’ll agree it may have been angry, we are all guests on his website right now… I get touchy when guests call me stupid and evil then march out). Some atheists, as we have probably all seen firsthand at some point actually are very bad at nuance, and while I will agree that some Christians really are “ignorant, southern American red neck hillbillies who like burning crosses on people’s lawns”, to say that most are is not equivalent to Nathan’s statement. In the first place, because it is not true, and laughable when writing on a Christian blog hosted (I think) in Australia, when neither of the people who are being lumped into the Christian camp are actually American (I’m a Canadian living in Korea).

    The first inclined response is, BTW, true. Most Christians actually are “hypocrites when it comes to living by the beliefs they preach”. Though considering their religion claims that all humans are evil, and that they are no less evil, only redeemed by grace through faith, that isn’t actually a point against the belief system.

    Truthspeaker, I am sorry, I don’t see how the flying spaghetti monster is equivalent to the resurrection of Christ as evidenced in the Bible and Bible scholarship. It doesn’t matter really though, as Nathan’s character and beliefs have no bearing whatsoever on whether or not his original post is true.

  39. Truthspeaker, I am sorry, I don’t see how the flying spaghetti monster is equivalent to the resurrection of Christ as evidenced in the Bible and Bible scholarship.

    They are both supernatural entities that defy the known laws of nature, who take an interest in the affairs of humankind.

  40. I apologize if I’m not clear. What makes it more moral to tell a deity to “spin on his own knob” than to obey him? Why is one of those more moral than the other.

    Many people define immoral behavior as behavior that harms others. If the deity is telling you to harm other people, he is telling you to engage in behavior that can be described as immoral. To obey him would be immoral. To disobey him would be moral.

  41. Truthseeker: So the basis of that morality is harm to other humans? So, assuming that the existent God is actually who the Christians claim He is (the loving creator of humanity, who is omniscient and good), and that a human is kinda like most humans (fallible, unknowing and often quite selfish) I don’t see why obeying a human (you) would be more moral than obeying God, considering both have human good in mind.

    That is, unless harm to another human is always in all circumstances. Is that what you want to say?

    And on the equivalence of a resurrected Jesus Christ (for which we have some evidence of having existed in history) and the flying spaghetti monster (who was made up to make fun of theists), I can see why those would be similarities, but don’t you see a few rather pertinent differences between the two? I can see a similarity (much like you and I are similar, we are both commenters, on Nathan’s blog, that care about issues of religion, and both seem able to use English well, but I’m guessing there are a few pertinent details if we were dealing with say, the presidency of a local secular humanist group). How are the spaghetti monster and Jesus Christ equivalent for the discussions at hand?

  42. Truthseeker: So the basis of that morality is harm to other humans? So, assuming that the existent God is actually who the Christians claim He is (the loving creator of humanity, who is omniscient and good), and that a human is kinda like most humans (fallible, unknowing and often quite selfish) I don’t see why obeying a human (you) would be more moral than obeying God, considering both have human good in mind.

    Your assumption that the existent God is who Christians claim he is is what I’m taking issue with. If you use harm to others as the sole basis of morality, then you can judge whether God is moral or not just as you can judge humans. Just because a god exists it does not necessarily follow that that god is moral – indeed the gods of my ancestors, or of the ancient Greeks, most definitely were not. Just because a god speaks to humans and claims to be the source of morality, it does not follow that that god is telling the truth.

    And on the equivalence of a resurrected Jesus Christ (for which we have some evidence of having existed in history) and the flying spaghetti monster (who was made up to make fun of theists), I can see why those would be similarities, but don’t you see a few rather pertinent differences between the two? … How are the spaghetti monster and Jesus Christ equivalent for the discussions at hand?

    There are differences between the two, but none of those differences have any bearing on the plausibility of their existence. I’m not talking about the man Jesus – there is evidence to suggest he existed. I’m talking about a person who can perform miracles and can come back from death. A man performing miracles is no more plausible than a monster made of pasta who can fly.

    That’s the similarity that is pertinent to this discussion. A miracle-performing, resurrecting Jesus is exactly as implausible as a flying spaghetti monster, or an angel who tells Joseph Smith where to find golden tablets, or a flying creature that transports Mohammed to Jerusalem, or a fat sleigh-driving man who delivers gifts on Christmas Eve.

  43. One minor nitpick: the Flying Spaghetti Monster was not invented to make fun of Christians, it was invented to make fun of creationists who were trying to get 6-day young earth creationism taught in science classes in Florida public schools.

    The Invisible Pink Unicorn was invented to make fun of Christians, but also to make a point about the plausibility of supernatural entities.

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