Question from Rodermac:
I was at some site immediately prior to this. Some questionnaire for atheists – no help at all really. Nice to be somewhere I don’t have to be afraid. Tried to believe in something, seemed to be a somewhat key ingredient in a fellowship i’d joined. Started reading the Bible that had been placed in my room by the Gideons. I guess I never recovered from that exposure. How can it be that so many people, oodles of them smarter than me, conceive that a faith based on this concept of a deity could be a good one?
Answer by SmartLX:
If that deity is real, then faith in it isn’t just good, it’s essential. It’s the only thing which just might save your soul. The fact that this strikes many as a horrible state of affairs is irrelevant if it’s the truth.
If you truly believe it, you are emotionally and often socially driven to use the full force of your intellect to do several things, consciously and subconsciously. You regularly reassure yourself that it’s true in all kinds of ways, which protects you from losing your precious faith and staves off some of the inevitable nagging doubt. You look for opportunities to share your faith with others, either by reinforcing their existing faith or by converting them outright, which you believe is a gift to them and reflects well on you. You try to have God’s will be done on earth, living by (and possibly holding others to) the commands you believe He has given. And through it all you convince yourself that it’s a good thing, for the sake of your own happiness.
When you’ve been doing all of this for years, deliberately examining your beliefs to see whether they hold up sounds like a very dangerous proposition. You risk invalidating all the work you’ve done for the Lord, you’re disobeying direct orders not to question Him, and even if you’re right then you have to accept that you’ve spent all that time before on a fool’s errand and your worldview crumbles around you. It might actually be harder for some very intelligent people to do this as they’ve built better defenses in terms of apologetics, that is, they have more to unlearn. It’s all very well to say you want to know the truth, but sometimes it can seem like if the truth is a certain thing then it’s not worth knowing.
I’m not saying the process is hard in order to congratulate myself for going through it and coming out the other side as an atheist. My journey was very easy compared to most, because I simply let it all lie for more than a decade while I worked on other things. When I eventually came back to reconsider it, my emotional and social connections to Christianity were all but severed; my love of God and fear of Hell had been neglected, and I only went to church with the family at Christmas and occasionally Easter, so the congregation barely knew me. The New Atheist books by the “Four Horsemen” were just coming out, and I was able to consider arguments from both sides quite coldly (this site is one of the places I went looking for where the “fight” was happening). One side won.
Question from Aaron:
Hello! Have you considered if Hell is real?
The Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself warned people of a literal Hell, the lake of fire ultimately, where all those who rejected Him and His shed blood payment on the cross for their sins alone (His death burial and Resurrection), will spend eternal conscious torment, forever. He created Hell as the final eternal torment for the Satan and his fellow fallen angels who rebelled against God. But, human beings are given a free will choice to either trust in Jesus/believe on Him and be forever saved (once saved always saved) or to reject Him and end up burning forever in Hell.
As an atheist have you ever considered the idea that eternal Hell is for real? If the atheist is right, then we all die at the moment of physical death and that is the end of our conscious thought. Nothing wasted nothing gained. But if the Bible is right, and indeed Jesus IS, then the atheist ends up burning in Hell forever. Ignoring the various religions (which are all false and easy to prove false anyhow) and sticking to either atheism or Biblical Christianity, which is the stronger position?
I do not want you to end up in Hell. I want you to be saved and end up in Heaven. And the only way to be saved is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. All you must do is trust in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life. Faith alone in the shed blood atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ alone period. It is not a life long process like all these religions and cults teach but it is a once for all event in your life. The moment you trust in Jesus you receive Him forever and are forever sealed to Him. “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:30.
But to him that worketh not but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly his faith is counted for righteousness.” Romans 4:5.
Much more then being now justified by His blood we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” Romans 5:9
What do you think? I believe in freedom of the individual to believe whatever they want, even if you totally disagree with me. It is your choice my friend.
Answer by SmartLX:
Yes, I have considered the possibility that I’m wrong about Hell, mainly because I’m often asked to. My reaction to that possibility is covered in my piece on Pascal’s Wager. In short, it does not make me want to accept Jesus.
To apply what I wrote directly to what you’ve written:
– You cannot simply ignore the “various religions”. They’re not so easy to prove false if you don’t just rely on the premise that Christianity is true and reason that they contradict Christianity. Even if you could, the gods of the other established religions aren’t the only possible alternatives as there’s an infinite number of gods people haven’t yet described.
– If Christianity has evidence of a kind the other religions don’t, present that evidence as part of a proper argument and don’t bother fearmongering with “what if hell is real?”
Finally, I’m an atheist so you can probably tell which of atheism and “Biblical Christianity” I think is the stronger position. Of the two, Christianity merely makes the greater threats, but the trouble with a boogeyman is that you need to believe in it to be afraid that it’ll get you.
Question from Jake:
I would like to get out of the way I’m a Christian. I would like to know if there’s a code or something saying atheists need to ridicule religious people? I’m just fine that you’re an atheist because I believe God gave us free will so we should let everybody do what they want. I try not to be ignorant like a lot of Christians (I know you probably think I’m already because I beleive there’s a god but I try to know all the facts and things like that). I don’t condemn evolution as something the devil made up and in my opinion it might’ve been the way god made all the animals.
Answer by SmartLX:
There is no atheist code, period. Not believing in gods does not automatically mean you have to try and stop others from believing, or make fun of the religious, or do anything else for that matter. People who ridicule believers do so for their own reasons.
That said, many atheists do believe the religious would be better off if they no longer believed (and the non-religious would be better off if they were more numerous). It’s that idea that drives them to challenge religious beliefs. Ridiculing religious people directly is usually misguided and ultimately ineffective, but the beliefs themselves are fair game like any other idea. If they are well supported, believers should be able to defend them from attacks. If not, perhaps the beliefs are not worth holding.
You’re a Christian, so I realise that you think everyone needs to “get right with God” so they can go to Heaven. This may drive you to proselytise when you can, or discuss your faith with outsiders, or at least pray for souls to be saved and minds to be changed. You ultimately think atheists would be better off as Christians, regardless of how pro-active you are in that area. You likely also realise that some Christians go about converting people in dubious ways, such as violating constitutional separation of church and state or physically attacking those of other religions. I don’t assume that you condone these actions unless you say you do.
Likewise, some atheists can be dicks about it. Not everything done or said by every atheist is condoned by all atheists. If you want to know my opinion on a particular action or statement, whether actual or hypothetical, comment and ask or just look through what I’ve already written.
Question from Tyler:
Do you get upset over other people arguing about God or their gods? Do you get mad and tell them to shut up about God, or do you just walk away?
Answer by SmartLX:
If it happens to me in person, I try to do exactly what I do on this site: consider what they say to try and determine their actual position, evaluate it, then carefully respond. It helps avoid anger, even if it reaches the level of a confrontation.
To be honest it hardly ever happens to me in everyday life. I live in Australia, where religion isn’t nearly as prevalent or prominent as it is in America for instance. While many people are still religious they’re more likely to keep it to themselves, and nobody listens to the few street preachers we do have. I’d happily engage with evangelists if there were more of them out chasing converts, because I like to talk about this stuff with people who are already interested. That’s what’s nice about this site: anyone who writes in with a question genuinely wants to discuss, learn or proclaim something. I’m not bothering anyone who’d rather ignore it at the time.
Incidentally, I find that a lot of the aggression in arguments over religion isn’t directly linked to religion itself, but to socio-political issues on which certain religions have taken a conservative stance: abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, birth control, stem cell research, sex education, evolution and so forth. It’s a lot easier to get emotional when an issue is somehow “brought home” and can directly affect you, your friends or especially your children.
Question from Tomas:
What is your take on Irreducible Complexity? From what I have read, it appears to be Intelligent Design in a new wrapper but it does have some new arguments to it.
Also, it seems like any new religious “hypothesis” on the existence of God (or any god) is an old one that is simply retold to account for any existing argument against it. Isn’t that proof that their “hypotheses” are just efforts to grasp at straws since none of them have held up against any scrutiny?
Why can’t people who claim to believe in God (or supernatural entity) just simply have faith? Why must they try to prove it with facts which ultimately disprove their God?
Answer by SmartLX:
For those who came in late, irreducible complexity is the idea that certain biological mechanisms such as the eye and the bacterial flagellum cannot have evolved gradually, because if they were one step less complex or if they were missing one component then they wouldn’t work at all, which is not beneficial and therefore would not be naturally selected. It’s a specific type of the general creationist argument that evolution can’t have produced something or other.
If something were actually established as genuinely irreducibly complex, then by definition it really couldn’t have evolved. Where it falls over is that nothing has ever been established as such. The mechanisms and physical features which are presented as irreducibly complex invariably have very good explanations of how they likely evolved. These explanations usually (always?) pre-date the idea of irreducible complexity, sometimes by over a century, which means those using the argument haven’t even checked to see if it’s valid for their chosen biological object.
To give you a general idea of the explanations that exist, before we move on, there are a few possible sources of the kind of complexity that can appear irreducible.
– Multiple components can evolve in tandem.
– A slightly less complex version of something might have served an entirely different purpose until one last mutation turned it to its current function.
– A delicate structure might have formed in the presence of other supporting structures which were later dismantled and discarded, like scaffolding.
My series on the Great Big Arguments covers almost every kind of argument for God that it’s possible to make. Even the latest apologetics are heavily based on what has come before, to the extent that after 9 pieces I really don’t know what further Great Big Arguments I can write about. Even the last one was only on a variation. (Folks, let me know if I’ve missed something.)
An apologist would say that just because an argument has not been universally acknowledged as sound doesn’t mean it isn’t dead right, and the fact that people reject the arguments for God doesn’t mean He’s not real (and it’ll be their own problem when they face judgement). I say that just because an argument has been regularly refuted for years, decades or even centuries doesn’t mean it can’t still convince people who don’t know the refutations, and therefore pretty much all of the existing arguments are still useful when proselytising. Some organisations (such as dedicated apologetics ministry CARM) have actually advised against using certain convoluted arguments, but even these archaic rejects still crop up everywhere.
Some believers do keep their faith to themselves; it’s just that since we always hear from the bible-bashers instead, it’s easy to forget about the quiet ones. Those who do try to spread the faith, apart from simply wanting those around them to agree with them, are often commanded to do so by their religious leaders at all levels. It’s certainly easy to interpret most holy texts as demanding followers to recruit. Religions themselves would not have survived so long or become so popular if conversion and assimilation wasn’t an intrinsic part of their lifestyle. It’s a part that some believers reject, but those who embrace the call of the missionary are motivated to do the work for everyone.
Question from Ethan:
Hi, I recently came out to my family and friends about my atheism about May this year, my family is just starting to accept my lack of religion, but I have this friend who is also my roommate in at college who can’t stand the fact that I don’t believe, and is pulling every cheap shot and tugging at as many emotional strings as he can to get me to come running back, it’s gotten to the point where he dragged my recently deceased grandmother into an argument. Every time I see him it’s some irrefutable proof of god videos and verses (which predictably are loaded with poor arguing points) I need some advice on how to deal with this, it’s gone from simple conversion attempts to malicious tearing down. If you find the time to get back, thanks.
Answer by SmartLX:
There are ways to make yourself an unappealing target for conversion, chief among which is to make proselytisers fear for their own faith. The best defence is a good offence. That’s not to say tit for tat, because doing what your friend does would make you as bad as him, but you can carefully paint yourself as a source of doubt in others, and therefore not someone a devout Christian should talk to about faith.
First you should cut through all the guff. All the videos and quoted arguments he’s thrown at you have something in common: they’re not the reason he believes. He went and looked them up because he believes, and is using them as apologetic without any evidence that they can actually convince anyone who isn’t already devout. They might seem sound to him, but if they didn’t convince him or anyone he knows, why does he bother bringing them to you? Point out that it’s pointless.
If he really wants to make a Christian out of you, he needs to risk himself and tell you exactly why he believes. If you can get him that far, the focus will be off you and his own rationale will be up for criticism. You sound fairly confident with these things, so you probably have a hunch already; he was brought up to believe, for example, or he had a one-off religious experience. (Incidentally, a great many of those can be put down to sleep paralysis.) The question you should put to him is, is that a good reason to believe? If his parents believed it, does that make it true? Is there no earthly way he could have generated the same experience in his own brain? Adapt the question to the reason. If you can make him feel even slightly insecure about his own faith, and especially if you can do this regularly, it will become clear to him that witnessing to you is more trouble than it’s worth.
There is the possibility that he’ll go the other way and redouble his efforts, if only to reassure himself. If he changes the subject to some other YouTube apologetic, stop him. “Did this convince you? Has this convinced anyone? Where are all the ex-atheists on YouTube responding to this particular video with remorse, contrition and fervour? Is there any indication that apologetics have any effect at all on atheists? Not really, so let’s get back to your real belief and see whether that’s justified.”
Few believers are willing to risk their own souls (or their own egos) to Save(tm) the souls of others. It negates the rewards promised to them. That’s why most believers who distribute propaganda do not create their own unique pamphlets and videos: they’re not comfortable exposing their own heartfelt reasons for believing. The necessity of doing so to continue a discussion is a powerful deterrent. It’ll be easier for your friend to pray to God to show you the light than to stick his own neck out.
Whether you take my advice or not, do please let us know how you go. You’re in a very common situation and others may learn from you, whatever happens.
“It’s caught on because it lends immediacy and even more confrontation to the process of witnessing and proselytising.”
Question du jour:
“What are you going to do with Jesus?”
“Not much. If he ever lived then he died a long time ago and there’s no indication that he has any stake in what I do today.”
The question probably got its start in the video The Jesus Rant. It’s now popular enough to populate many pages of Google results.
It’s caught on because it lends immediacy and even more confrontation to the process of witnessing and proselytising. Jesus, it implies, is right in front of you, waiting for your answer. No passive response is available because action is required of you; inaction is point-blank rejection.
Importantly, there’s no really polite way to engage and then dismiss it. This is a technique learned long ago by aggressive salespeople and beggars: force the customer to stifle prompted responses, be rude and/or feel uncomfortable and guilty in order to escape signing up or handing it over. Since the question assumes the continued importance (and existence) of Jesus, the only way for a non-believer to answer honestly is to go “off script” and challenge the question itself. That means being more forward than you might like, especially when you’re responding to a friend, family member or apparently nice person. That’s the point.
Another important aspect of the question is what it doesn’t mention. Those who ask it are hardly going to follow up with, “Okay, now what are you going to do with the Buddha?…Mohammed?” To accept Jesus is to reject all other potential objects of worship just as strongly. Considering this goes against the purpose of the question; you’re supposed to accept Jesus and be relieved of guilt. Any mention of other religions, and suddenly it’s like you’re giving a pony ride to only one child out of a group.
I can’t make responding to this question easy, even by supplying an answer as I did first off, because its impact is primarily emotional. Once you understand that, however, you can see it for what it is: simple but effective propaganda.
“So when you criticise religion these days, you encounter people who 1. are on some level shocked that you would do so, 2. may not think they can argue effectively with you and 3. have passed judgement on you because of your criticism and may not think you’re worth arguing with.”
Question from Brian:
Hi, it’s me again. Why is religion given such an untouchable status in the minds of so many? They think they can say whatever they want, but if we respond it’s a “personal attack”.
The following is a gross over-generalisation, but that doesn’t stop it from being essentially true.
2 or 3 generations ago, Christianity in Western countries was happily assumed to be the religion of everyone you were likely to meet. Arguments over religion either happened between Christian denominations, very occasionally between Christians and Jews or in universities where nobody was listening. In this situation, not only was there no reason for anyone to criticise religion as a whole, anyone who did was attacking beliefs apparently held by society as a whole, beliefs which were there for the good of all. Atheism had little or no public presence and those who knew its position on such things didn’t sympathise with it.
There are a great many people who think we still live in that world, and judge recent public criticism of relligion in that light. Religion is Good, and attacking something Good is Bad. Also, religion hasn’t had to seriously defend itself in public for some time, which means many believers haven’t learned how. There are a lot of crash courses going on now, after the advent of “new atheism” (which is really just ordinary atheism after a few authors made everyone take notice), but it’s still not a universal skill.
So when you criticise religion these days, you encounter people who 1. are on some level shocked that you would do so, 2. may not think they can argue effectively with you and 3. have passed judgement on you because of your criticism and may not think you’re worth arguing with.
On top of all this, there’s another line of reasoning which shows no empathy with anti-religionists at all. Basically, some people don’t understand why anyone would criticise or attack something given to us by God, who is all-powerful and loves us. This doesn’t take into account the fact that other people don’t think there is one, or think there’s a different one. It’s roughly the same logic that causes people to threaten atheists with Hell. This thinking does exist despite the obvious flaw.
As for criticising the non-religious, whether it’s honest or not there’s a catch-all rationale for it: it’s good for us, we need it, they’re doing us a favour.