Friday, April 13, 2012

Discussion with a Believer - Part 1

I had an interesting development on Facebook lately! A gentlemen I was having a religious disagreement with actually confessed to not knowing much about the atheist position and expressed interest in learning! Amazing, no? We have been continuing our chat in a private message window. Here is our first discussion, posted with his permission. I hope to have more to share with you soon!


BW: I was impressed with our discussion! Very few religious people that I've had these kind of debates with stay polite, and even less are actually interested or willing to learn about things like atheist morality.

Buccaneer: To start with, if I'm wrong I want to know it. I've come to faith through a long, studious path and I found it to be the most logical so embraced it. It sounds weird I know but there it is. It would be absurd to think I exhausted all the knowledge there is so I need to constantly learn. Either I will strengthen my own faith or find myself to have been mistaken and change those views. Both good outcomes.

I've studied religions at college, but atheism isn't one that gets a lot of academic attention so I can't say I've really heard an insiders perspective so to speak.

On top of that I believe the bible teaches something that people labeled "Salvation before Sanctification" It is the height of arrogance to assume people will believe what I want them too without accepting what I have accepted as authority.

BW: That's very refreshing to hear from a believer. Atheists in general feel the same way...that atheism is the most logical conclusion, and if there was sufficient evidence for the existence of a God, then they would change their minds. The 'burden of proof', so to speak, lies with the individuals making the claims. Since the existence of God is a pretty huge claim, it requires appropriately huge evidence to support it before I would change my mind about God.

In terms of morality, it is a common perspective that morality comes from faith. I've run into it several times, honestly. "You're an atheist? But you're such a nice person!" The concepts of morality described in the Bible are not unique to religion. Frankly, I strongly disagree with several Biblical attitudes on the basis of morality. There's a lot of messed up stuff that happens in that book.

I'm sure there's a lot to argue about in what I've said so far, so I should probably cut it off here and see where you would like to take the discussion from here.

Buccaneer: The existence of any God is really an absurd claim on the surface. But the break point for scientifically minded Christians is the Start of the Universe. Science (to me) has no plausible answers and is in fact, contradictory in any of its conclusions. From that point it takes a while to "pick a God" per se. In morality terms, ironically enough it was the Problem of Evil and it's nature that points to Naturalistic Atheism as having no moral grounds or basis the way I can see it.

I can agree that some of things people have used the Bible to justify is appalling. As far as in the Bile itself, I would hesitate to say there are things I oppose on moral grounds believing as I do in Justice.

BW: On the contrary, I am quite satisfied with the scientific conclusions on the origin of the universe. Granted I'm no physicist so my knowledge mostly comes from watching documentaries and reading Stephen Hawking, but the theories and ideas are reasonable and seem far more likely than requiring the existence of a God and all that implies. I can recommend 'Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking', which is available to watch instantly on Netflix, if you want to learn more about this. I'm honestly not an expert so it would be best to hear what the expert has to say and then draw your own conclusions.

Yes, Science is sometimes wrong and the experts sometimes disagree. But it is constantly changing and developing and moving closer to the truth as we gain greater understanding. That is precisely why I trust science over religion in this regard. As a hypothesis for how the Universe came to be, the God Hypothesis is inconsistent between cultures, impossible to be proven or disproven, incapable of being used to make predictions that apply to how the Universe works and it has never been revised or modified to fit new evidence. It's basically a useless, and unnecessary, hypothesis.

You raised several points in your last post. Would you prefer I address those, or do you want to continue discussing the Origin of the Universe for now?

Buccaneer: I am familiar with Hawkings work, but I think we have established a good base to work from. I think also that most discussions between Atheists and Theists ultimately end up back at the Origin of he Universe. So I am more than willing to let it go for now. I would propose though that ANY ideas concerning the origins are ultimately Based on faith of some kind since none of the Hypotheses can be tested to any satisfactory level.

BW: I will agree to leave the 'Origins' discussion alone for now, but I would like to clarify a bit more. While Hawking's theories cannot be truly tested, they do provide a reasonable explanation for how the Universe came to be that does not require the intervention of a supernatural being. Given that, I would argue that it is rational to believe the simpler explanation until more evidence is presented. That decision doesn't require faith.

Buccaneer: I say faith only in the sense of believing something without definitive proof.

BW: Is that the definition we should work with when discussing faith? I have seen many debates devolve into quibbling over definitions and connotations of words. I've always given 'faith' a broader definition, more along the lines of strong belief or trust in a supernatural force.

Returning to your second point, on atheism and morality, I'm not sure I understand your conclusion. I'm familiar with the Problem of Evil, which speculates that the existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving God. Why does that lead you to conclude that not believing in any supernatural beings leaves you with no moral grounds?

Buccaneer: I tend towards the most basic definitions. Makes things easier. In this case I use it mainly to point out that neither side has definitive scientific proof. It shows that we both come to the tables as intellectual equals and neither has the high ground to talk down to the other so to speak. In most peoples' vocabulary, Faith is understood to be a belief system. The broadest definition however does literally mean believing without definitive proof, which is why I say that both Theists and Atheists start by making a claim based on faith about the existence or non-existence of god(s).

As for the problem of evil, I do not see where the Atheist view can even acknowledge that evil exists. (Please correct me if I am wrong at any point here) It is my understanding that a practicing Atheist ( as strange as that sounds) fully believes in Darwinian Evolution as outlined in the Origin of Species and furthered by many scientists since. Given this understanding it would make sense that humans are just the most highly evolved life on this planet. Now, I cannot recall seeing any animal kill another of it's own species or another species described as "Evil" or "Bad", instead it is seen as the natural order of things. Acknowledging humans as just another form of life, I fail to see how the Atheist can say any action is "Evil" or "Bad". It seems to me to be an untenable position from a personal morals standpoint and as viewed when creating laws.

BW: First I have to disagree with your conclusion that theists and atheists are both making faith-based claims when it comes to the existence of the supernatural. As I mentioned before, the existence of God is a fantastic claim, with no supporting evidence. It does not require faith for me to believe that unicorns and dragons and Santa Claus don't exist, I am simply drawing a conclusion based on the available information. The idea of God or the supernatural is no different. I am not bringing this up to establish my perspective as superior or to talk down to you, as your comments seem to imply, but because I run into this problem a lot when talking to religious people. Greta Christina, one of my favorite atheist writers, has a good article on this exact subject if you are interested:
Is Atheism a Belief?

This also brings me to your next point, which seems to be based on a significant misunderstanding. Atheists do not have 'practices' or unifying beliefs. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods and the supernatural. Everything else, including morality and ethics, are entirely personal and individual. It's true that a huge majority of atheists accept evolution as fact, but that is because it makes sense and is supported by an incredibly huge pile of evidence...not because we follow Darwin as some kind of godless prophet.

You also seem to be drawing a false equivalency between thinking of humans as just another life form and losing the ability to distinguish between good and evil. Humans killing each other is NOT the natural order of things, and it is certainly not comparable to animals hunting other animals. Even when animals compete with each other for mates or territory they very rarely kill each other. Humans are a social species. We rely on each other to survive. It is in our best interests to treat people well and make the world a better place for everyone. And we are not special in that sense. Social animals often look out for each other and share resources.

Your argument seems to boil down to 'atheists follow Darwin and think all behavior is natural and therefore can't distinguish between right and wrong'...which is absurd, considering the existence of happy, moral atheists like myself. As intelligent, social animals we develop a system of values and ethics based on our culture, our interactions with others and our own human sense of empathy. Sure, if you are raised in a particular faith then the values of that faith will influence you...but they are neither dependent on nor inherent to that faith. Here is another good article that discusses this subject:
Where Do Atheists Get Their Morality From?

Think of it this way...if through the course of our conversation you lose your faith and become an atheist, would you start murdering anyone who pissed you off or stealing whatever you wanted? Of course not, because your morality wont change just because your belief in the supernatural does. Allow me to steal a page from your book:

It seems like religious people have no basis for morality. Without the fear of divine retribution after death, what would stop them from committing atrocities in life? They base all of their decisions around pleasing some supernatural being and obeying an anachronistic set of rules.

See what I mean? Of course I don't really think you're only a good person because God tells you to be one, or because you're afraid of going to Hell. Your morality does not depend on your faith. Religious people aren't any more or less moral than anyone else just because they believe certain things.

I hope that clears up some of your misconceptions. You did ask me to let you know if you were wrong. : )
Here's another article by Greta Christina you may be interested in:
The Ten Main Reasons I Don't Believe in God

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