Should I tell my fiance I’m an atheist?

Nicholas gives us a relationship question (haven’t had one for a while)…

I recently have become an atheist, I was formally a Christian. During my time as a Christian I became engaged to a woman from the Philippines who is a very devout Christian (pastors daughter). I love her very much and regardless of our differences about religion still want to marry her and spend our lives together. I have not told her that I am now an atheist, and am just curious if you have ever seen a similar situation that worked out? I feel that maybe after she has moved here and we have lived together for awhile I can slowly reveal this to her, or if not just keep it hidden inside me forever. To me it is just not worth killing our relationship over our different views. If I may ask your opinion on this situation, and any advice will be appreciated. Thank you.

I can only give you my personal advice here Nicholas and it’s not going to be pretty. You need to be honest with her. A committed relationship is a union where each party agrees to be their complete selves with someone else. By holding back the truth from her, you are holding back who you are, and that isn’t fair to either of you.  Don’t compromise who you are for another person. That only leads to even bigger problems down the line. Tell her your thoughts and feelings and hope that she can be accepting of who you are as a person, not just who she wants you to be.

I’ve known couples who have opposing views on things. Politics, philosophy, science, and even religion. They make it work because although their perspectives may be different, they still share the same respect for each other. I know it’s hard to do the right thing when faced with our fears, but that’s usually when it’s the most important time to do it. So be strong, trust in your relationship with her, and tell her.

Hope that helps.

31 thoughts on “Should I tell my fiance I’m an atheist?”

  1. Nick,

    I had the same problem. My wife is still religious, and I am not. No decision on something like this is easy, but just remember you need to live with whatever you decide. Good luck.

    1. Tom, if you don’t mind me asking, did you tell your wife? And did she handle it badly? If that is too personal please do not answer and I apologize hehehe. Thank you for your help.

  2. Relationship questions aren’t new here. This site isn’t just about asking questions about atheism. It’s also about giving a perspective from those who aren’t bogged down by faith.

  3. Oh, boy – I can’t second what Erick says strongly enough here. This is going to sound harsh, and I hope not too harsh, but there are things that really need to be said here.

    I feel for you. I know what it’s like to be facing the prospect of a relationship ending and be scrabbling around desperately for someone, anyone, to reassure you that actually it’s all going to be just fine and the two of you will find a way to live happily ever after. But I simply don’t think you’re going to find anyone who’ll tell you “Yes, I totally misled my partner about something of crucial importance to her and it worked out great and here we still are after twenty years of blissfully happy marriage!” And even if you do, there are a heck of a lot more people out there who can tell you what a disaster it was.

    “Hey, I just won’t ever tell her and then everything will be OK!” is the kind of plan that sounds good when you’re looking at the pain of a prospective breakup and trying to figure out a way to avoid it. How’s it going to feel over the years if you try to keep this from her? What will happen if she asks you to say grace at dinnertime or pray together with her over an important issue or give her your opinion on the knotty theological question that came up at this morning’s Bible club? If the two of you have any children, how will it feel to participate in teaching them to believe things you don’t believe any more? Just how long and how thoroughly do you think you can really keep it up?

    Or, as you say, there’s the option of slowly revealing it to her after she’s already moved in with you. How do you see that one working out? If atheism is a deal-breaker for her in a relationship (and, sadly, I think you’d better face the fact that it may well be) then it won’t be any less a deal-breaker after moving in with her on false pretences and spending a while lying to her. In fact, you may find yourself in the ironic position of being told that she could have lived with the atheism but can’t live with the deception.

    By the way, when you mention her moving to where you live… are you talking about her moving from the Philippines to your country, and, if so, is that something she’s doing solely in order to be with you? Because if she’s leaving home and family and spending thousands on relocating just so that she can marry the man she thinks she’s going to be marrying, I suspect she’s not going to be a very happy bunny to find out that you’ve let her do all this based on a false belief because you didn’t want to be honest with her. And this business about this devout Christian living with you… is sex going to be involved there? Is marriage? Both of those are really awful things to be tricking someone into doing by not being honest with them.

    But, most of all, you are not the only one involved in this. If you don’t see your differences in views as being enough to end the relationship over, that’s fine. But she gets a say in this as well, and, if *she* sees it as something important enough to end the relationship over, that’s also a choice *she* should get to make. Letting someone make an important decision based on false information… that’s a lousy thing to do to anyone, but even worse to do to someone you love.

    I get it. I get that it’s a horrible dilemma and that words like ‘trick’ and ‘deception’ and ‘didn’t want to be honest’ probably sound really harsh when, after all, all you’re really trying to do is keep this one thing that isn’t a biggie to *you* from destroying this wonderful love you’ve got. But that is what it comes down to, and, as well as being a much bigger and more difficult lie for you over the years than I think you’re really taking into account here, what you’re proposing is horribly unfair to *her.* If you love her, and if you want to be the kind of person who does the fair and decent thing, tell her the truth, and give her some time and space to decide for herself how she feels and whether she can still accept this marriage.

    Good luck. I hope things work out for you.

    1. I completely understand what you mean, I feel guilt and I do realize this will become a bigger problem as time passes. I honestly feel that if I do tell her, she will still want to be with me. What I fear is that it will cause a constant debate or rift in our relationship. The way she talks about our relationship it is obvious to me that she loves me more than she loves the Christian God or Jesus. That is understandable to me because I am a real person who has been there for her and comforted her, people realize what things are tangible even when they believe in fairy tales. I have heard other people say they have kept this type of thing hidden from the wives or girlfriends, and morally I am against lying in most situations. In this situation, I believe the only thing that will happen by me telling her is a lot of problems with her family and her becoming very distraught by thinking I will be going to hell. It is very difficult and I still have not made my decision on how I will handle this, thank you for your advice it is much appreciated and I do see where you are coming from about being fair to her. The one thing I think I worry about more is her parents, sometimes I just think I will be a pretend Christian just to appease her, as of now the thought of that doesn’t bother me that much, i can give up an hour of Sunday to keep her happy. When we were together in the Philippines we really never even talked about God, and on Sunday we didn’t even go to church. I sound like I am just rambling, but I figure I needed to be more specific about the situation.

    2. I missed one of your questions, yes she will be moving from the Philippines to the US. What she says to me more than anything in regards to religion is simply that she doesn’t want me to get left behind, she wants us to be together in heaven. I will often reason with her and tell her if God really is a good God not to worry and that comforts her. In a way I would eventually like to help free her from religion as well because she lives in fear. We have been together over a year before I realized that slowly I no longer believed anymore. I also lived in fear, I often felt bad because I loved her more than I loved God and Jesus and I knew it was against the bible. She will often tell me she loves me more than anything in the world, and while I was Christian I would tell her that she should put God first. Now of coarse I see things completely different, I no longer live in fear of upsetting God and I can love her the way I really want to. I want that also for her, but I understand it has to be her own choice, I can’t trick her or manipulate her to come to my understanding.

      1. Not rambling at all – helpful information here.

        Lots of Christians don’t believe that everyone non-Christian is going to hell, and it may help her on that point if she has more contact with denominations that don’t hold to that belief. Here’s a good (and quite funny) post from a Christian about why he doesn’t believe that unbelievers automatically go to hell: http://zackhunt.net/2014/01/13/are-non-christians-really-going-to-hell/

        Do you think that her family and/or her church would put pressure on her to call off the marriage if they know you’re an atheist? If so, how much do you think this would influence her?

        1. If they knew that I was no longer Christian they would not want us to be married. That is basically the only thing that mattered to them. I believe that if her family knew it would tear at her heart. If I did tell her, and I also asked her to keep it hidden from her parents, she may do that. Because we did some things that they did not approve of during our time together, and she seemed ok keeping that between us. I honestly don’t think anything will keep us apart, I just want to avoid the destructive effect this can have on the harmony we have with her family.

          1. There may well be something to be said for keeping it secret from her parents, but, again, I think that’s a decision she’s going to have to make for herself. I would be wary of telling her not to tell them, simply because it’s not good practice to be *telling* your partner what to do about important decisions that are ultimately up to them. Why not try asking her whether she thinks it would be worth not telling them, and let her decide that one?

            Thinking about it, I think there’s something to be said for your idea of breaking it to her slowly (just not for the idea of only starting this after she’s already moved countries to be with you!) So maybe the first time you raise it, rather than come out with “I’m now an atheist” you could say something along the lines of how you’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and have had doubts about how much you believe in Christianity. (Maybe put in a couple of specific examples of points that have given you difficulty – the whole issue of whether non-believers really go to hell is the perfect one to raise here, since it’s not only something that has bothered her as well, it’s the one point she most needs to start questioning for her own peace of mind over this whole situation.) And then say that you realise this will be difficult but you really hope the two of you will be able to talk about it. That then lets you test the waters before you break it to her that you just don’t believe any more.

            1. I have been slowly talking to her more and more about religion, I mentioned to her how the bible was first created. I also told her how many books are not included in the bible, and how many Christians at the time of its creation differed in their core beliefs. I am slowly gonna reveal this to her, and hopefully everything works out well. Thank you so much for your help.

            2. I just wanted to follow up and let you know that I have begun breaking it to my fiance. I told her that I have many doubts and tho I will still accompany her to church or any events that she needs me at that I really don’t have any faith god exists. She took it pretty hard, but thanked me for being honest with her, and she seems to be realizing that nothing has really changed. She says she still wants to be with me, but she wants me to try and work on my faith. I told her I will continue to keep my mind open for the proof of god’s existence but regardless where my thoughts lead me my love and promises to her will never change. I just wanted to thank all of you so much, especially Dr. Sarah and Tim, you helped me tremendously. – Nicholas

              1. Thanks for keeping us posted, Nicholas – I was wondering how it was going. It sounds as though things are working out, and I hope they continue to do so. Best of luck!

                1. Thanks Nick for sharing your journey. You will help others simply by allowing them the opportunity to read what you have experienced. Kudos to your lady too for accepting you for who you are. Let’s hope all couples can find the strength and honesty you both have shown during this.

  4. Nick – She was upset. She asked me why, and we spent a lot of time talking about it. I explained my reasoning to her, how illogical it all seemed to me. I’m not sure she has ever completely understood it, she is not a “science and math” person if you will. I admit I was worried about it, because my change was a pretty substantial one. Fortunately it never affected our relationship. In fact I’d say our relationship has never been better. Most of that is because we are older (mid-40s) and settling in, but I’d like to think that my being honest with her about my lack of belief in deities showed her how committed I am to being honest with her and willing to share everything in my life with her. I wish I could promise you the same result with your fiance, but I can’t. But she is supposed to love you for who you are, and this is who you are. She deserves to know or else it is unfair to her, and you deserve to let her know because you deserve to be married to someone who loves who you are.

    Life isn’t always easy, and it is a risk. But you will be better in the long run no matter what happens.

  5. Though I come from the school of thought that there are some things one should not tell one’s spouse (I know … its a bit twisted, but I think its practical – and my list of things not to tell is very, very short), religious belief (or a lack of it) is not one of them.

    I put religion on an equal footing with any other idea / ideology. It’s just a web of ideas and beliefs that tries to answer some basic and natural questions that man has always had – nothing more.
    People tend to be emotionally attached to this or that religion (mainly because religion is drilled into us from childhood I guess) but at the end of the day it is nothing but a belief system based on a set of ideas and must be open to questioning/ debate.
    Atheists have simply rejected this particular system and rely on other systems (mainly science, from what I have seen of fellow atheists) for answers about broader questions. There’s nothing here to make a big deal of.

    You should tell. At the least, based on her reaction will tell you more about your future with her.
    I told my (now) wife too when we were seeing each other. I did tell her I would not change her mind about the existence of god and that I hoped she would change mine (corny again, I know).
    She hasn’t succeeded … and I haven’t kept my word (I keep trying to change her mind whenever I get the opportunity) but we are both pretty happy with each other.

  6. Sometimes it works out. My son has always been an atheist, some times I think, from birth. He met and married a girl who was a christian.
    In the course of about 5 years, through many discussions with her, she
    came to the conclussion that he was right, that God, does not exist. Needless to say, she is now, also an atheist, and they are raising thier four children to know the difference in what is real and what is not. It can be done. A person can be awakened from the dream, the mythology and superstition that is god, But only if they really want to know the truth, only if they have a mind that is logical and willing enough to know and accept truth over fiction.

  7. Nicholas, it might help to use the term “agnostic” rather than “atheist,” especially if you end up sharing this with her family. What we call things matters– a lot. It really shouldn’t, but it does. A rose by any other name might be a liverwort.

    Most likely, you ARE an agnostic with regard to the broad, general question of the existence of a higher order or intelligence behind the universe we know. With regard to sophisticated, subtle, non-anthropomorphic concepts of God, one can only be an agnostic. Strong disbelief in the Christian God, as the Christian God is popularly conceived, is reasonable, even unavoidable. However, strong, confident disbelief in ANY concept of God, even God as Einstein spoke of God– what he called “Spinoza’s God” is objectively unjustified. There ARE non-anthropomorphic, non-magical, non-superstitious concepts of God. It’s just that they lack the widespread popularity of simplistic magical anthropomorphic gods.

    Calling yourself an “agnostic” rather than an “atheist” is justifiable, I think, and easy enough, but what if you ARE an atheist with regard to your fiance’s concept of God? Maybe that;’s a moot question. Or rather, maybe it’s a different question altogether.

    Before Darwin and modern astrophysics, there were people who questioned religious dogma and challenged literal interpretation of the bible. There were no “atheists” as we use the term today, however, because there was no way to explain “creation” without a Creator. Consequently, the smartest and most educated people in the world were theists, and highly intelligent theists tended to have relatively more sophisticated concepts of God. Many Catholics today– not the majority, but still many– have sophisticated non-anthropomorphic, non-dogmatic concepts of the Christian God. You just don’t hear much about that sort of Christian theology these days. Note, I’m not saying that they have VALID concepts of God. I’m only saying that they don’t have absurd, stupid concepts of God.

    So the question is, does your wife and her family require that you conceptualize God in the same way that they do– or is it enough that you embrace SOME Christian concept of “God”? Embracing a concept of God– a theological cosmology– doesn’t mean that you believe. You can engage with Christian theology at a more sophisticated, non-dogmatic, non-anthropomorphic level, and still be truthful with your wife that you have doubts and consider yourself to be agnostic. That’s a whole lot less threatening, I think, than wearing a big scarlet A on your chest. And it avoids completely the question of whether or not you think your fiance/wife’s religious beliefs are absurd/silly.

    Einstein stated very clearly and explicitly on several occasions that he did not believe in a personal God. Yet he often used the term “God” in a figurative sense to refer to a higher order or organizing principle in the universe. Of all the atheists I know of, Einstein and Neil Degrasse Tyson (who calls himself an “agnostic,” but is clearly as atheistic as you or I) get the least flak from theists. Few Christians even think of Einstein as having been an atheist, because he so often referred to “God” in that figurative manner. Unsophisticated thinkers tend to interpret language in unsophisticated ways. Most wouldn’t know a metaphor if it jumped up and bit them on the nose.

    1. Hi Alfredo

      I’d just like to say that that was one of the most thoughtful, cogent and reasoned contributions not only to this thread (which, to be fair, sets a high standard) but certainly to the many other threads I’ve read and contributed to here. A very succinct and wise first paragraph.

      One of my closest friends is one of those non-anthropomorphic, non-dogmatic Catholics you mentioned. I learnt something else from you – I thought she was the only one!

  8. I apologize if I was unclear. The purpose of my reference to “sophisticated, subtle, non-anthropomorphic Christian (Catholic) concepts of God” was this: If you define “Christian belief” in terms of your fiance’s and your fiance’s family’s concept of the Christian God, you may have no choice but to call yourself an “atheist.” If, instead, you frame Christian theology in more sophisticated, non-anthropomorphic terms, (and interpret the “truth” of the bible metaphorically), you can reasonably call yourself an “agnostic.”

  9. Alfredo, interesting posts. I have to comment on a couple things.

    You wrote: [If you define “Christian belief” in terms of your fiance’s and your fiance’s family’s concept of the Christian God, you may have no choice but to call yourself an “atheist.” If, instead, you frame Christian theology in more sophisticated, non-anthropomorphic terms, (and interpret the “truth” of the bible metaphorically), you can reasonably call yourself an “agnostic.”]

    I can’t say I agree with this. No matter what detail you give to your theology, from literal Christian to generic pantheism, either you believe it or you don’t. So you are either a theist or an atheist, a believer or not a believer. Gnostic deals with knowledge, and is different from belief. To be “agnostic” about one and “atheist” about another is comparing apples to oranges. You can reasonably call yourself agnostic about both situations if you don’t feel that there is any information that supports any of it. But that stance doesn’t comment on your belief of it, only your knowledge supporting it.

    Personally I don’t see the difference at any level. There is no empirical evidence for anything supernatural. A more generic, non-specific concept is just as empty a promise as a more defined type like Christianity.

    [With regard to sophisticated, subtle, non-anthropomorphic concepts of God, one can only be an agnostic.]
    [However, strong, confident disbelief in ANY concept of God, even God as Einstein spoke of God– what he called “Spinoza’s God” is objectively unjustified.]

    I totally disagree. At some point you are accepting a supernatural reason to explain the existence of the universe, despite there being exactly zero evidence for it. It’s just a pig with different colored lipstick. And without evidence I can’t see why being an atheist about all of it is un-objective or illogical…

    [I’m only saying that they don’t have absurd, stupid concepts of God.]

    Sounds like a contradiction to me…

    1. I should clarify that I too agree with what Tim has written. My comment to Alfredo was primarily regarding the advice he offered to Nicholas to find some way through his predicament – as the majority of atheists are indeed agnostics (so I am assuming Nicholas is too) it might well be better for everyone if he steered the conversation around to this corresponding aspect of his lack of religious belief than perhaps sounding too anti-religion. I saw Alfredo’s further comments as maybe providing some sort of basis for any defence that Nicholas might have to make about his atheism to his new family.

      Of course complete honesty would be the ideal, but this might place too much at stake.

    2. Tim, you make some very good points, and you’ve expressed them clearly and eloquently so I think that I understand exactly what you’re saying. In order to understand the point that I was attempting to make, it might be helpful to know that I am neither a theist nor an atheist. I am an ignostic/igtheist. We can come back to that later.

      Let’s start with the point that you’re making that atheism concerns belief and agnosticism concerns knowledge. If we go back ten or twenty years, this is how “theists,” “agnostics,” and “atheists” oriented themselves, in my personal experience:

      Theist: “I believe in God.”
      Atheist: “I don’t believe in God.”
      Agnostic: “I don’t know.”

      This caused some muddlement because, by “I don’t know” some “agnostics” meant that they don’t know if there is a God, and some meant that they don’t know whether or not they believe in God. The new two-dimensional system, to which you are referring, is much better because the belief continuum and the knowledge continuum are each given their own Cartesian coordinate axis.

      I mention the old manner of using the term “agnostic” because it implies a problem with this newer two-axis method of defining one’s position on the existence or non-existence of God. Can a rational-minded person REALLY embrace a belief when they don’t know? When they seriously don’t have any idea at all?

      Hear me out here. Of course, if the god in question is a giant turtle which laid the Earth 5,000 years ago, and upon which the Earth currently rests, my atheism and agnosticism are in perfect harmony. I KNOW that this god doesn’t exist, so I don’t believe that it exists. My belief is a function of my knowledge.

      What if the god in question is Zeus? Again, I KNOW that the whole idea is bogus. In purist philosophical terms, I can’t know with 100% certainty that Zeus doesn’t exist, any more than I can say with 100% certainty that unicorns and fairies don’t exist— but in practical, functional terms I KNOW that none of these ideas are worth wasting my time on.

      What if the god in question is Jehovah. Quite frankly, I tend to get this guy mixed up with Zeus, if we’re talking about POPULAR theological concepts. For me, personally, though I can’t know with purist philosophical certainty that this God doesn’t exist, I KNOW that this isn’t something that I personally feel deserves being taken seriously. My practical, functional knowledge and my belief are in harmony.

      That changes when we start to talk about a non-anthropomorphic, non-magical higher power or intelligence or Source of everything. Now I honestly don’t know. I may have a belief, but what is that belief based upon? I consider myself to be a rational-minded person. Can I honestly embrace a belief when I honestly don’t have any idea, or any way of having an idea? If I really and truly DO NOT KNOW, it’s silly for me, as a rational-minded person, to treat any beliefs that I may happen to feel as though they meant anything at all.

      Belief in the absence of knowledge may have meaning to a theist, but I don’t think it should have any significance whatsoever to a scientific-minded person. When you honestly do not know, belief is moot.

      This is the old-style agnostic who claims, “I don’t know.” “I don’t know what I believe, because I simply do not know.” “I just don’t know.”

      1. Tim, in this post I’m going to address the point that you made that there is no empirical evidence for anything supernatural.

        I agree with you, completely, but I think that you’re defining the term “God” in a different way than Einstein did, and a different way that I do. Forget the popular dictionaries. They only tell you how language is usually or popularly used. (The language exists first, then linguists and grammarians attempt to arrange it all into neat boxes, ranked hierarchically by popularity of use. People had been thinking and talking about gods and God for millennia before Noah Webster was born. The terms have been used just about every way imaginable.)

        Most popular concepts of God are anthropomorphic. Most also involve belief in the supernatural—that which is “supernatural by definition.” I REALLY hate that word— “supernatural.” Actually, what I hate is that people can get away with using it. It’s scary that people can actually get away with using this term in polite company.

        Here’s how I understand the whole “supernatural” thing: Any god that CAN actually exist (meaning that its existence isn’t incompatible with reason, logic, and the empirical laws of nature), isn’t “supernatural,” therefore it isn’t a god. Gods that CAN exist don’t qualify as gods.

        Only gods that CAN’T actually exist (meaning that their existence defies reason, logic, and the empirical laws of nature) can actually exist— by definition. The only gods that can exist are those that can’t exist. (Excuse me, what century is this?!!)

        The sort of sophisticated, subtle, non-anthropomorphic concepts of God I was referring to don’t involve anything “supernatural-by-definition.” They may, however, be “supernatural” in a practical sense. (“Supernatural” in the sense, and only in the sense, of something that can’t be explained by our current understanding of natural law.) This definition of “supernatural” isn’t bat sh*t crazy, so it’s the only definition of “supernatural” that I feel comfortable using.

        I described Einstein’s “God” as “a higher order or organizing principle in the universe.” That is neither anthropomorphic nor supernatural-by-definition, though it does transcend our current understanding of the Cosmos. It may or may not exist. The more that I study mathematics and physics, the more I suspect that it does.

        “But that’s not the Christian God!” you might insist, “The Christian God is a supernatural-by-definition Being, not an “organizing force or principle.” Yes, you’re right. The current-day, mainstream, popular concept of the Christian God is, indeed, a “supernatural-by-definition” Person. He also has a long, flowing white beard and, given the fact that He is unequivocally male in gender, he presumably has a penis– a very big penis, I’d expect. The infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Prime Mover– Who exists outside of time and space in perfect, infinite transcendence– has a penis. And a son. He also has mammalian emotions, including love, anger, and disappointment. [Facepalm]

        Einstein’s God was neither a Person nor supernatural-by-definition because Einstein wasn’t an idiot. In practical terms, it would make sense to call Einstein an “atheist” with regard to simple-minded, magical, anthropomorphic popular notions of God. However, Einstein’s cosmology always transcended that of the man in the street. He could afford to ignore Webster’s popular definitions. He could afford to imagine SOMETHING – not a person, not something magical, not something defined by dogmatic scripture– but SOMETHING behind and above everything we see. That SOMETHING was Einstein’s God. It wasn’t a person, but neither was it ONLY or SIMPLY a “principle,” an “order,” or a “force.” It was an undefined and undefinable SOMETHING.

        Most people would challenge that definition of “God.” Then again, most people would challenge the equivalence of matter and energy or time and space, and the idea that gravity is the curvature of nothing. Most people don’t operate at Einstein’s level. Should Einstein let other people tell him how to think?

        1. To any theists reading this page, I would like to apologize for the clumsy, poorly phrased clause, “because Einstein wasn’t an idiot” in my last post. My intent was to defend reasonable theistic belief, not to mock it. I should have worded that better.

  10. Alfredo – Thanks for the replies. I should point out that I tend to look at things scientifically, which will probably be obvious as I comment.

    This post will be in regards to your first answer, which contained: [That changes when we start to talk about a non-anthropomorphic, non-magical higher power or intelligence or Source of everything. Now I honestly don’t know. I may have a belief, but what is that belief based upon? I consider myself to be a rational-minded person. Can I honestly embrace a belief when I honestly don’t have any idea, or any way of having an idea? If I really and truly DO NOT KNOW, it’s silly for me, as a rational-minded person, to treat any beliefs that I may happen to feel as though they meant anything at all.]

    I basically agree with a lot that you wrote. My only comment would be that I don’t see the difference between a more detailed divine being like the turtle and Odin compared to a generic undefined one, for a couple of reasons. First off, there is the problem of proving a negative. You can never, with 100% certainty, say that any divine creature does not exist. It’s a logical fallacy. The reason for this is pretty straight forward – there is no data to examine. Something that does not exist obviously does not interact with anything and does not leave any evidence behind. Without data there is no way to reach a scientific conclusion. You can’t prove something does not exist. You can only prove something does exist. If you cannot prove something exists, the only rational conclusion to reach is that it does not exist. Leprechauns, gods, spaghetti monsters, easter bunnies….they all can never be denied existence with absolute certainty. Statistically we can probably say that a more specific one (say the turtle) is even less likely to exist than a generic thing, but in the end all of them will always have a sliver of possibility that remains. I don’t think it is possible to say we KNOW any of them do not exist.

    Secondly, I see all divine creatures and supernatural explanations as the same basic thing – an unscientific explanation for the universe, devoid of data and baseless. Sure, Odin and the like are more detailed, and easier to analyze because of that. But when you boil all of them down to the nub, you get a supernatural claim of the start of the universe. And there isn’t any proof for that. Since they are all variations of a common theme, I find it completely acceptable to lump them together and point out the nonsense of it all. While I can never be absolute in my certainty, I can dismiss each version equally since they are all the same thing.

  11. I should have read your second post before commenting on the first I guess, but I will clarify something that came to my attention after reading your second post. You had written: [I described Einstein’s “God” as “a higher order or organizing principle in the universe.” That is neither anthropomorphic nor supernatural-by-definition, though it does transcend our current understanding of the Cosmos. It may or may not exist. The more that I study mathematics and physics, the more I suspect that it does.]

    When I use “supernatural” I think I can accurately say that I am referencing a purposeful, directed effort to make things a particular way. For lack of a more nuanced explanation, that would be a consciously or intelligently produced result. To me (which I hopefully explained sufficiently in my first reply) that is the essence of any supernatural claim.

    If Einstein’s SOMETHING is not that, then I wouldn’t call it supernatural. I admit that I have a hard time thinking of any “organizing principle” that would not fall under my definition of supernatural however, since organization in my mind implies directed effort. As you state there is plenty we don’t know, and I’m sure you would agree that our understanding of the cosmos is going to change a lot, even radically, as time progresses and we flesh out the details of the things that QM and physicists are currently working on. So there may be the SOMETHING that Einstein envisioned.

    Having said that though….Einstein’s SOMETHING still seems to me to be an unnatural reasoning, which ultimately places it in the same category as Odin et al in my eyes.

    Thanks for that link by the way, I will be reading that soon when I have the time.

  12. I read it. Interesting read as you said.

    I know someone who is an agnostic theist actually, which doesn’t fit what the writer said. This person does not know of any evidence for the existence of a god (agnostic), but believes in one anyway because they think there must be one in order for all this to exist (theist). So being agnostic does not mean that one has to be an atheist.

    I am one of those people that use “atheist” as lacking a belief, as opposed to saying divine beings don’t exist. I don’t believe in them because I don’t see any information that supports the claim that they do exist. To some that is the same thing as saying they don’t exist, but there is a nuance there that not all readily accepted by all. I guess it is the scientist in me that leaves the door open for future information to present itself that will alter the conclusion presently reached. absolutes are a hard thing to accept given that we don’t know everything…

    1. [There was a typo in my last post. I wrote, “in scientific terms, it’s less than true.” I meant, “it’s less than wrong.”]

      Tim, you said:
      “I am one of those people that use “atheist” as lacking a belief, as opposed to saying divine beings don’t exist. I don’t believe in them because I don’t see any information that supports the claim that they do exist. To some that is the same thing as saying they don’t exist, but there is a nuance there that not all readily accepted by all.”

      I agree completely. I should have read this before posting my last reply. There’s a fuzzy line between being agnostic and “not believing” (as opposed to DIS-believing).

      This next comment isn’t intended for you but rather for those individuals who embrace the agnostic-atheist position, dismiss the agnostic-agnostic position, and define anyone who isn’t an active, card-caring, flag-waving theist as being an “atheist” by default— claiming that “atheism” is nothing more or less than a lack of belief.

      In the U.S. atheists comprise at most 10% of the population. Worldwide the percentage is probably even smaller. Theists, being the majority of the population, define the English language and how it is used. They’ve also been engaged in this whole “God” thing far longer than atheists, who have only be around for a couple of centuries. The standard Christian word for a person who simply doesn’t embrace a belief in God— who simply isn’t a believer— is a “heathen.”

      An “atheist” is a different animal altogether. To the typical theist, an “atheist” is a person who has engaged with the question of the existence of God, thought about it, considered it and, in one way or another, has rejected the idea. Perhaps her response is, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Perhaps she just doesn’t consider it an idea worth taking seriously. In any event, she’s considered and rejected the idea. If, on the other hand, she was never exposed to Christianity because she’s Chinese or Inuit, or she was exposed to it but never really got into it, she’s a “heathen.” Heathens are tragic souls, but they don’t typically eat babies.

  13. Tim, thank you for your intelligent and well-reasoned replies.

    You commented that you don’t see the difference between a more detailed divine being like the turtle and Odin and a generic, undefined one like Einstein’s. You also pointed out the problems involved in proving that something does not exist, and suggested that, if you cannot prove something exists, the only rational conclusion to reach is that it doesn’t exist.

    There’s no objective way to know to what extent Einstein’s references to “God” were purely figurative and to what extent he was actually referring to some higher/deeper organizing force or intelligence. If Einstein WAS being literal when he used the term “God,” and WAS expressing his own personal God concept, I feel pretty confident that he was referring to a concept, not a belief. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Einstein had a personal concept of God which worked for him, but that’s a completely different thing from suggesting that he actively BELIEVED in that concept.

    The point of my original post was to suggest to Nicholas the idea that– if instead of defining “God” in simplistic, silly terms which virtually necessitated his defining himself as an “atheist,” he might engage with a more sophisticated, non-magical, non-anthropomorphic CONCEPT of God. That would allow him to sincerely and honestly define himself as an “agnostic” rather than as an “atheist.” I wasn’t suggesting that he believe in any concept of god. The discussion was about the relative sophistication of God-concepts and how choosing the right concept could help one avoid the infamous, Satan-worshiping, baby-eating ATHEIST image.

    Moving from holding a subtle, sophisticated, rational-minded concept of God to BELIEVING in that concept is a big jump. For the same reasons that a rational-minded, scientific-minded skeptic has no choice but to be agnostic with regard to this particular concept of “God,” believers ought to be agnostic, too! If agnosticism is required of self-defined atheists, it must also be required of self-defined theists. When the concept of God in questioned is an undefined “SOMETHING,” rational, honest people are almost forced into a position of agnosticism.

    There was only one point in your reply with which I find myself disagreeing, or at least feeling doubtful. You suggested that, if you cannot prove something exists, the only rational conclusion to reach is that it does not exist. I understand the rationale here, and I believe that in many cases this is a valid position to take, at least tentatively. I not only don’t believe in Leprechauns, fairies, and fire-breathing dragons — my default position is to actively DIS-believe in them until I see some real evidence.

    On the other hand, I am an agnostic with regard to the Loch Ness monster and the Yeti. I am a rather doubtful agnostic, but an agnostic just the same. These claims are reasonable. I would require some significant evidence to have a belief either way– for or against. Similarly, I don’t think it would be reasonable for me to disbelieve my friend when he tells me that he just bought a new car simply because I hadn’t seen it yet. If he told me that he had just bought a gold-plated Lamborghini which came with standard heat-seating guided missiles mounted under the hood, my default position would be disbelief.

    One other thing occurred to me while reading your reply. We appear to agree that an undefined SOMETHING would seem to be more likely to exist than a very specifically-defined deity (such as the turtle or Oden). That may be true, but a belief in the existence of an undefined SOMETHING is impossible to falsify. In scientific terms, it’s less than true. Again, it’s a big jump from embracing or engaging with a sophisticated CONCEPT of God and actively believing.

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