The Atheist’s Dilemma: Live Right or Live Large?

We atheists don’t believe in a divine being. We don’t believe in a soul that perdures beyond the mortal body. … Continued

We atheists don’t believe in a divine being. We don’t believe in a soul that perdures beyond the mortal body. We don’t believe that anything in particular “happens” when one passes away. As far as we’re concerned, when one dies, one is dead. Bye bye. Move along.

All atheist ethical speculation, therefore, begins with the following question: “Insofar as human existence is incontrovertibly and brutally finite, how should I live?” The history of nonbelief features two classic responses. The first — “Live Right!” — is practiced by those who aspire to “leave the earth in better shape than they found it,” or some such thing.

The second response to human finitude — “Live Large!” — is the prerogative, mostly, of fictional characters. Some of the most memorable personages in literature, theater, opera and cinema are hellbent on enjoying their limited engagement to the fullest. After all, if there is no moral accounting in the world to come (and if there is no world to come) then why not overspend one’s passions in the present one?

Now it can’t be denied that some real, nonfictional people occasionally live large as well. Debauchery, excessive consumption of martinis, unforgivable speeches, inexcusable passes made at colleagues—such behaviors may result from an iron clad belief in human mortality. Admittedly, the same belief may spawn behaviors far worse than that. As monotheists are quick to point out, the consequence of living as if there is no God (or Satan) is a diabolical nihilism. (Of course, a glance at the history of organized religion teaches us that godlessness is neither the only, nor the most well-traveled, route to that end.)

Among contemporary atheists, I regret to say, living right has vanquished living large. Too many nonbelievers seem intent on teaching the faithful a lesson. Namely, that they too can lead virtuous lives and that they can do so without recourse to God or religion. Political action, more often than not, is the medium through which they try to actualize their moral and ethical yearnings. (The irony being that American atheists are presently in a state of complete political disrepair).

All of this do-gooding twittery, I humbly submit, has done great damage to the indomitable atheist spirit. The most interesting irreligious (and, come to think of it, religious) people I know lead lives in which they attempt, somehow, to balance the conflicting demands of living right and living large. To exist in such a manner is to experience the most irreconcilable inner tensions, the most profound contradictions—the atheist becomes a living, breathing and, ineluctably, dying work of art.

Although I rarely encounter such free spirits in the real world, I converse with them all the time in fiction. Saul Bellow’s novel, Ravelstein, features precisely such a character. Professor Ravelstein–who was modeled on the political philosopher Allan Bloom–lives for pleasure and the appreciation of aesthetic beauty. He does so, however, while immersing himself in the Western canon’s exploration of how to live a good and moral life.

The professor and his interlocutor were fond of discussing death. Our narrator reports:

He [Ravelstein] had, however, asked me what I imagined death would be like—and when I said the pictures would stop he reflected seriously on my answer, came to a full stop, and considered what I might mean by this. No one can give up on the pictures-the pictures might, yes, they might continue. I wonder if anyone believes that the grave is all there is. No one can give up on the pictures. The pictures must and will continue. If Ravelstein the atheist-materialist has implicitly told me that he would see me sooner or later, he meant that he did not accept the grave to be the end. Nobody can and nobody does accept this.

I have pondered this passage for years. The older I grow, predictably, the more I hope that the pictures must and will continue. Let it be noted that Ravelstein–without any recourse to traditional religious doctrines–challenged the notion that life was incontrovertibly and brutally finite. It remains to be seen whether his demurral marks a new direction in atheist ethical speculation.

By Jacques Berlinerblau | 
October 30, 2007; 6:43 AM ET


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  • John Griffith (Bright)

    Some punctuation would have been nice in that passage, Jacques.You didn’t say which category you fall into.Myself, I am in neither of those categories.

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Jacques -I started reading your column under the assumption that it would be another of your sarcasm-laden diversions. Having read it twice, you appear to be serious about it. And that gives me a bone to pick with you.You write that atheists have lost the ability to “live large,” as you put it. You describe living large as, “Debauchery, excessive consumption of martinis, unforgivable speeches, inexcusable passes made at colleagues—such behaviors may result from an iron clad belief in human mortality.”In other words, it all boils down to SEX! Illicit or “abnormal” sex coupled with excessive drinking and the loose lips they inspire is what living large is all about. Not!Yep, just like the theists, you buy into the idea of sex being an evil, rather than an natural and necessary aspect of human existence. Worse, your description of living large seems more appropriate to the self-proclaimed Xian RW-ers in our government whose unforgivable speeches (“Bring ‘em on; Childrens can learn; Mushroom clouds) inexcusable passes made a colleagues (Mark Foley) and debauchery (Larry Craig, Newt Gingrich) could easily lead persons of ALL persuasions to imbibe in a few too many martinis.No, I believe that many atheists are living quite large these days, but that their idea of what is large doesn’t comport with your sex-driven image. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are living the large life in spades. For them, living “large” means doing what they want when they want. For them, living large means giving back to society, even calling for higher taxes on the rich to better uphold the social contract. Compare their atheistic actions to the typical “I’ve got mine, you don’t take mine and you don’t get yours either” Republic and tell me who is living large.One need not parade their genitals in latex underwear nor shack up with anonymous partners to live large, Jacques. It’s only the religiously indoctrinated who view life through such a narrow prism. Sad to see that you’ve fallen into the same trap.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Professor Berlinerblau,I marvel at how you, a thoughtful, educated person, can proclaim that you’re an atheist.I would marvel equally if you proclaimed yourself to be a born-again Christian, at the other end of the bell-curve religious spectrum.There is a complete dearth of evidence for either position.Agnosticism is the only rational response to the raising of these issues and questions, including the after-death questions.I believe that virtually all individuals who are not professionally involved in religion (and some who are), whatever their religious affiliations or professions, are aware in their inner being that they really know nothing at all about the answers to these ultimate questions.Almost everybody, regardless of what they may say, is a de facto agnostic.I await your forthcoming proclamation of your conversion to agnosticism.After all, it’s the only sane position to take.

  • Chris Everett

    Mr. Berlinerblau seems not to quite understand either morality or atheism. As evidenced by his statement that “As monotheists are quick to point out, the consequence of living as if there is no God (or Satan) is a diabolical nihilism,” he presumes that religion is the creator of morality. This is wrong. Morality and ethical behavior are natural attributes not only of humans but apes, monkeys, and other animals, at least including dogs and cats. Religion is tyrrany over the moral nature of man. It’s really no different from Communism’s relationship to free will. In order to be “properly free,” the individual must submit to the state (i.e. the thugs running the state). In return, the individual receives a bunch of propaganda about how right the state is and how priveliged he is to live in it. Same with religion. It forces submission through childhood indoctrination and fear mongering about hell (and, in most of the world, through brute force), and in return it tells the believer how priveliged they are to be obeying the church. Hogwash! Religion stifles real moral development by insinuating a childish, brutal template of behavior from a single era in the history of a single culture, which, due to its antiquity, is usually the most brutal period known.Mr. Berlinerblau also seems to relish the idea that atheists will somehow betray their principles by embracing life after death due to some kind of emotional desperation. Unseemly, to say the least. As an atheist, and in light of the demonstrated link between the brain and consciousness, it appears clearly preposterous to believe that our individual awarenesses survive physical death and decomposition. But that isn’t to say that a good atheist wouldn’t be open to new evidence, should it arise, that indicates otherwise. Since there is nothing in the physical sciences that requires consciousness in its explanation of material existence or behavior (Copenhagen Interpretation notwithstanding), I submit that the “essence” of consciousness is unknown, and if humans should ever learn anything substantative about it, it is bound to be a surprise. Personally, I think the universe may have a “consciousness essence” that is equally fundamental to its spacetime or mass-energy essence, and that it somehow manages to coalesce into individual awareness in tandem with localized, dynamic material complexity, as seen in the brain. In this view, physical death would end the individual awareness, but consciousness itself would be immutable, although I must admit to not having a clear idea about what the conserved quantity would be.

  • E favorite

    It’s not about teaching believers a lesson, it’s about dispelling the notion that atheists are immoral because they don’t have a supernatural God watching and guiding them through life.I’m no more moral or immoral as an atheist than I was as a believer. And I’m living just as right and just as large as before.

  • numi

    What dilemma?Are “Live Good” and “Live Large” mutually exclusive propositions. Not in my life they’re not.When you die, you’re worm food. Get over it.The life we live is the only one that really counts. Make the most of it and quit whining.

  • Gaby

    Mr. Berlinerblau,Although I do not consider myself religious in any way, shape or form, I don’t not consider myslef atheistic either. It’s somewhere in between. Since we do not know one way or the other what, if anything, happens after death we should make concessions. Both sides need to concede that they don’t KNOW, they BELIEVE. That would certainly relieve some of the tensions between the two factions.

  • John Griffith (Bright)

    @ GabySo you would place the probability of life after death in some form or other at 50%?

  • BGone

    You’re making a “connect” that doesn’t exist. There is no real/natural connection between belief in supernatural beings and hope that this life isn’t the end. And souls are records of one’s sins that by the very nature of information, (records are information) must be made of matter. In case you didn’t know, “information cannot exist without a body.”It’s not that difficult. Atheists are just as likely and maybe more so than religious to anticipate a next life in a next world – common sense dictating that there is no permanent, forever world. And, they are worlds more likely to behave themselves on that basis alone. The murderer must face the murdered in that next world, advantage murder victim.Religion is born of the reliance on gods/Gods to intercept murder victims between this world and the next and hold them in a penal colony known as hell thus making it possible to kill and get away with it. That’s not likely to make one moral. It does give the ones in touch with the gods/Gods a lot of political power, “the God vote.”You’re thinking way too complicated.Picture of soul at

  • Jack

    Profound – you have gotten back to Aquinas’s point that the human spirit desires immortality and why would nature put a desire in an entity that wouldn’t be fulfilled – therefore the human spirit probably is immortal – but if immortal then what was it created for – itself? – The mind and the body as we know it are one. What happens when the body dies? – If the body is dead then so must the mind be dead unless the mind has another way of knowing apart from the body. Aquinas – God gives the soul a new species, a new way of knowing after death. So the mind or the soul exists after death apart from the brain – an agent unto itself – sounds like natural theology to me.

  • yoyo

    Norrie Hoyt;I’m inclined to disagree that “agnosticism is the only rational response”

  • Ray Ingles

    What if living right is the best way of living large? Only in fiction is it possible to engage in actions like “[d]ebauchery, excessive consumption of martinis, unforgivable speeches, inexcusable passes made at colleagues” without consequences.Saddam Hussein had all the personal, material goods he could ever want. But he spent a sleepless night because a malfunctioning thermostat in one of his ultra-secure palaces sounded like a pistol cocking, startling him badly. He literally could never, ever afford to relax.Most sane humans greatly enjoy and benefit from the company of others. I certainly wouldn’t trade my wife and children for any number of martinis. I think this goes much further to explain why even those who don’t believe in a God still behave ‘virtuously’ – they believe in other people, and that has certain inevitable consequences for how one can and should behave.

  • To Chris Everett

    You say: “Morality and ethical behavior are natural attributes not only of humans but apes, monkeys, and other animals, at least including dogs and cats.”Typical atheistic statement…however if you claim to be of scientific mind, at least get your facts right. A recent study using primates actually shows that morality is a very human attribute not found in primates, our closest living ancestors in the evolutionary chain, not to mention anything about dogs and cats!

  • Mavaddat

    Norrie,Between agnosticism and atheism, the right response depends on what description of God is under investigation. And sometimes it is atheism that is the only rational response, not agnosticism.Consider.If a small child presents to you a contradictory tale about lions and witches and magic not with the least evidence in support, the correct response is not agnosticism. Likewise, if every path we have trodden at the direction of true believers to find or know of their particular conception of God (e.g., Yahweh) results in naught but failure, then we may conclude that the believers have merely invented the story they think to be true.An invented story is not merely to be doubted, but to be thought of as fiction. That is atheism.

  • Chris Everett

    To: To Chris EverettActually, the research is going in the opposite direction from your post. In particular, studies of Bonobos show very complex moral behaviors. Here’s an off-the-cuff link that I haven’t read but should at least appease your desire for evidence: Not to pick a nit, but by “primates” I assume you are referring to either monkeys or apes, neither of which is an ancestor of humans. They are our cousins – we all share ancestors at some point, but apes and monkeys are every bit as contemporary as we are. And by the way, we are primates, too!

  • Ray Ingles

    “Why would nature put a desire for immortality in an entity when that would not be fulfilled” is the wrong question to ask.It’s pretty obvious why nature (in this context, evolution) would put a “desire to live” into an entity: so that it would work to survive. Now, the question to ask is, “Is there any reason to expect nature to put an expiration date on that desire? Of what possible benefit would it be, evolutionarily, for an entity to just give up and stop struggling?”We already have examples of desires people have that were ‘unintended’ by evolution. We evolved to like sweet things, like ripe fruit. This worked great before we lived in an environment with refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Or just consider alcohol. Why is the desire for immortality any different?

  • JoeT

    I think the Professor has it wrong. Living right is not merely the behavior of atheists who haven’t fully embraced their atheism and realized that living large is the inevitable imperative of same. As noted by some, there is no limit to the moral behavior that can be engaged in by an atheist. Indeed, I rather prefer moral behavior that has it’s root in the capabilities of the species as it evolves. Of course, as an atheist, I must believe that the morality born of religion is artificial, a shortcut accepted for the fringe benefits (you get to believe in immortality) but at a price. Someone who believes that the challenge of life is to become immortal while on earth is far more likely to accomplish great and good things. In a weird way, I believe that it is the faithful who are selling their souls, rather than face the real challenge of living the truth. And yes, an agnostic is one who hasn’t decided what to believe. In the end, however it is difficult to live life without ever having to decide which premise is supporting your chosen behavior, at least implicitly and unconciously. It’s hard to go through life as if you are entertaining the religious premise but can neither accept nor reject it, for example.

  • Jim Guinnessey

    Does atheism espouse its own theology or maybe a non-theology? Can a person live an upright and happy life without God or religion? Are there no atheists in the trenches? Lots of questions abound. I think many persons in our current world are agnostics even those who publicly profess, at least culturally, to be Christians, Moslems, Hindus or Jews. Of course many people may live wonderful and happy lives -even happier- without the various theologies of God(s) or religion to hound or ground them. Most of us, however, share some environmental connection with our original ethnic and religious identities. It is difficult for any one of us to completely shake off his/her past and the influences-good or bad-which shaped us. The sub-conscious mind is always at work even if we don’t realize it.

  • Chris Everett

    Mavaddat:You are right on! There is no reason for atheists to linguistically accommodate the preposterous simply because knowledge is not absolute! If one took the agnostic approach all the way, one would have to hem and haw about everything, simply on the basis that this all could be a dream, an illusion! Plant your feet with conviction, people!I think part of the problem is that the “certainty” of faith, however delusional, is the standard in our culture, and agnostics wish to refrain from that kind of absolutism. But what that does is allow the language to be hijacked by an extreme, thereby “normalizing” that extreme. Let’s let “knowing” and “believing” refer to scientifically established truths, and “having delusions” or “being hysterical” refer to religious conviction.

  • BGone

    Jack:Some caution is necessary to avoid being God yourself. As God is the best job there is being God is the loneliest of jobs.You think therefore you are. How about all else? Is it really here or are you God and have created it, just images in your mind? It may be necessary to bring trouble and strife into your life to maintain the illusion that your are not alone in a vast emptiness.Think about it. You’ve probably heard people say, “If I were God…” Little do they know how devastating actually being God is, all alone in nothingness. You don’t need that.

  • Gaby

    TO: John Griffith (Bright),I would say that neither side KNOWS. If that makes the chance of some sort of existence 50/50 then I would agree.”Life after death” is one of those statement that make me uneasy. How do you define that? Does it mean that we keep our distinct personalities and dwell in some heaven with all of our dead relatives and a God? Now that is very hard to fathom for me, nor is it something I would wish for.

  • steve

    When it comes to God,

  • Fate

    Hmmm, living right versus living large. You write about these as though they are absolutes. Is the martini drinking playboy/girl living larger than a writer of great novels, a CIA spy saving the world, a scientists about to discover the cure for malaria, the physist who is about to prove the existance of the Higgs boson, a doctor who just reached into a patient’s chest to massage a limp heart into beating again and thus saving a life, the fireman who just brought a child out of a burning building? It seems your definition of living large is making oneself known in a big way and doing nothing in the process. I know many people who live large and do it quietly and do it for selfish reasons even if the result is a great boon for mankind or just a quiet moment, like catching the largest fish in the lake with no one around to see it. As for you delimma, what delimma? Atheists cry just as hard and go through just as much trauma when a loved one dies as does a true believer. We are all animals, unable to escape our mortality or instincts. We tend to live according to rules our friends and aquaintences set, not wanting to make enemies, wanting to conform and be accepted. Religion is really outside and not connected to the way we live, large or small. The only real difference is the way guilt is handled. Believers not only have natural guilt but have to worry about fatherly punishments. Atheists just have the natural guilt, the worry that we are less than we think we are, the worry our friends or family may think less of us, the internal conflict over what is right and wrong based on our own moral teachings, derived from religious teachings or not. We have all seen the atheist and believer live large and small. It is unconnected as is our handling of death. And no atheist needs to prove anything to believers. One only has to look at the prison population to see believers are the clear majority. One only has to see the great minds and those who join voluntary organizations such as peace corps to see that atheists are just as driven to altruism as believers. It is worth noting that believers are the ones who cannot understand atheists. Atheists understand believers just fine, just as we all understand the child who believes in Santa Claus and what drives the child’s actions and staunch defense of Santa’s existance. So atheists simarily smile at the believer knowing they live a fantasy and that it just might make the believer a better person, so no harm and thus no need to dispell the belief. If telling yourself that an afterlife exists and it allows you to more easily accept death, more power to you, just try to understand that there are many people who live a reality based existance where death has happened to billions before us and will happen to billions after us.

  • John Griffith (Bright)

    @ GabyTo not know the accuracy of a proposition is not the same as to find said proposition highly dubious.Representing agnosticism as a 50/50 split gives too much credit to the incredulity of the flip side of oblivion.

  • Chris Everett

    It is a common mistake to confuse non-impossibility with equal-probability. The survival of the soul after death is NOT a 50/50 proposition! ALL the physical evidence is against it. ALL the evidentiary claims in favor of it (cold reading, tarot, etc.) are hoaxes practiced by known frauds. Of course, the evidence isn’t conclusive since there are so many unknowns, but on claim-by-claim basis, when it comes to specifics, those who believe in the immortal soul continually make scientifically disprovable, and DISPROVEN, assertions.My wish is that everyone silently chants this mantra when receiving new information:”If I’m willing to believe that, what AREN’T I willing to believe?”

  • BGone

    We don’t need to go back in time any distance at all to find that the world was originally populated by nothing but atheists. Then it’s a matter of looking at how they buried their dead, eventually all of them died and had to be buried. There are some real easy conclusions to draw based upon what they did with/to the dead body.1. There was an expectation of a continuation of lifeThere’s more but this should be enough.This applied to absolutely everyone. The first deviation came with the notion there were evil spirits between here and there. That has evolved to a demanding God that controls entry into the next world that is a “spirit” world. Hell happened when that God needed a place to get rid of those who failed to meet His demands.Atheism is the oldest of the “old time” religions. Because ever atheist goes on to the next life there is no possibility of charging people for a ticket. Atheism is an economic failure and, as usual, tickets to heaven are only good on the bus to hell. Evil spirits, gods/Gods, are lies that do not rule out the possibility of both actually existing.

  • Chris Everett

    Jacob Jozevz:What’s up with you? It’s impossible to take you seriously, yet there tends to be some kernel of something to your bizarre ramblings. I hope you’re saving them to disk; generate a thick enough stack and you might just be the next Je(S)Us!

  • MSS

    There is no argument about whether theism or atheism is more reasonable or rational. The definition of faith is the leap from reason. If anyone could prove that there was a god or gods, it wouldn’t be faith, but fact.

  • MSS

    There is no argument about whether theism or atheism is more reasonable or rational. The definition of faith is the leap from reason. If anyone could prove that there was a god or gods, it wouldn’t be faith, but fact

  • Chris Everett

    Jacob Jozevz:Thanks for the clarification!Respectfully,Chris

  • K

    Living large or right, these are perceptions you have of how you are doing, and perhaps towards the end of your life perception of how you have done. These perceptions can be based on any number of things, but they are in fact just perceptions.Picture two scenes, the moments before death and the moments after: one person worries that he wasted his life, didn’t live right enough or large enough and suffers from that perception; another person feels the opposite way.Both of them die. During those seconds after death they are both just as dead. Their troubles are over.So quit whining about it. If you feel you aren’t living right enough or large enough then do something about it. By the time you’re dead it won’t matter to you anymore.Personally I don’t care. When my body dies there will be an afterlife or there won’t. I’ll find out or I won’t. And just think about it this way – if you die and there is no afterlife, are you going to be sitting there with your head in your hands saying “damn, I’m dead.” … I don’t think so. You won’t know that you don’t know.So quit worrying about it.

  • Lee

    OK, so atheists don’t believe in God, and don’t believe that at death, your soul goes to meet with your maker, etc.Well, what if you’re wrong? What if, when you die, you find that your mind/soul/spirit DO live on and that you DO have to answer for the way you lived?

  • Chris Everett

    Lee:Is that a threat?

  • K

    Why is it when you have a stroke or similar brain damage, lose some of your faculties … does this brain damage also harm this soul you believers claim to exist?Get over it. Grow up.

  • JoeT

    Lee: If there is an afterlife, I will have no trouble defending myself whatever. If God didn’t give me the gift of faith, he is fully aware of that fact. I didn’t reject it with malice aforethought. I just don’t accept it, and if that’s blameworthy, and God wants to punish me, then I’ll just tell God he’s an a–, and accept the consequences. Actually, I rather doubt that if there is a God, he’s any where near as judgmental as he is made out to be.

  • Tonio

    I don’t quite understand what Berlinerblau means by “living large.” Can any of you elaborate?

  • Gaby

    Hi Jacob,Thanks for coming to the rescue! How’ve you been? How’s the book coming?John Griffith (Bright): “To not know the accuracy of a proposition is not the same as to find said proposition highly dubious.”That is by your standards. I say, if I do NOT KNOW something, then I give the opposition the benefits of the doubt and that FOR ME makes it 50/50. If I KNOW something, I am 100% right and the opposition is 100% wrong, even if that is all in my mind.If I BELIEVE something and you BELIEVE something else, then there is a 50% chance that I am right and you are wrong or vice versa and there is also a 50% chance that we both are wrong and things are entirely different than we both BELIEVED.By the way, I am much closer to what Jacob Jozevz believes than what is taught by either religionists or athesists.

  • Henry James

    Norrie and Agnostic AtheismNorrie I take your point about agnosticismA-theism meansthat’s me.I don’t “know” that there is no God.Science would tell us we can’t be SURE of ANYTHING.But I have exactly the same “disbelief” in the existence of GodI do believe in Bertrand Russell however, who wrote articles on the possibility of even uttering “Pegasus does not exist”, an article we studied at Amherst.

  • Russell D.

    Lee:The same questions can be put towards believers my frined. Think about that.

  • E favorite

    Lee: “Well, what if you’re wrong? What if, when you die, you find that your mind/soul/spirit DO live on and that you DO have to answer for the way you lived?”Can’t you see that that’s just a scare tactic?

  • HJ

    Mr MarkI must confess I usually find him non-sensical, and his attempts at sarcasm and ironly extremely lame, bordering on tawdry.as usual from you, great post.Henry

  • Chris Everett

    To whom might I have to answer? Allah? Zeus? Hera? (she can get mighty angry!) Thor? Isis? ECLATi-ON? Ra?How should I choose whom to submit to? What evidence favors one over another? I cannot appease them all, particularly since their most common trait is the anger that arises when they see someone submitting to a different god.”Well, what if you’re wrong? What if, when you die, you find that your mind/soul/spirit DO live on and that you DO have to answer for the way you lived?”That’s a threat. An empty threat for sure, but a threat nontheless.

  • jay I

    Hello, Jacob… I’m a fan of sorts and me thinks that Chris is right about a kernel of something in thine execution of thy discours(eSS).

  • Will

    To Lee:What if Atheists are wrong? What kind of argument is that? What if you’ve picked the wrong god or gods? At least we never worshipped some other god to invite the wrath of the real god. You really think believing in Yahweh is going to count for much when it comes time to be judged before Baal?To Gaby:Let’s say I believe in the invisible flying Spaghetti Monster and I presume that you don’t. Thus, according to your logic, he has a 50/50 chance of existing. All hail the flying spaghetti monster!

  • Dan Good

    How can you call yourself Jewish and not believe in God?

  • Kurt Engelhart

    Jacques Berlinerblau: There are no non-believers. Everyone believes something. The term is used to describe someone who does not believe what I believe. All belief requires faith in the assumptions founding the belief. These statements for me are beyond question; they are my faith. These statements direct my life: any action of mine involving other people requires my understanding what they believe. In particular I need to understand their purpose. I believe this is what you are expressing in the distinction between ‘large’ and ‘right’. I commend you. This is a much more valuable discussion than whether someone believes or doesn’t believe.You might be interested in:

  • jay I

    Will—please send the spaghetti monster over here I’m hungry.

  • Henry James

    Lee Exhibits Moral Reasoning of the Lowest OrderMoral behavior based on promise of reward or threat of punishment is the lowest form of moral decision making. CF Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages, and many other ethical thinkers.And Lee’s articulation of the threat is at least implicit sadism.An article on the sado-masochism of the Christian allegience to the Crucifixion Story would be interesting, wouldn’t it?

  • gberke

    incontrovertibly brutal and short? nonsense. and a foolish place from which to start unless one… ah yes! want the answer to be what was already concluded.

  • Jim

    Happiness and right living is a false dichotomy. Objectivism is the philosophy for life on earth, derived from objective reality in an effort to discover the means of human beings qua human beings to achieve happiness. In Ayn Rand’s words: ”My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

  • Mary Cunningham

    It’s called Pascal’s wager, but it didn’t work for Pascal. The man himself said only by going to Mass surrounded by other believers could he keep his doubts at bay. John Griffin (Bright): Gaby’s position is the sound one. The atheist is denying without knowledge–that God could be is certainly a possibility–and offering no proof for his position. This is really the mirror image their scorn for the faith of believers: faith defined as believing without knowledge. The latter was Pascal’s definition, the Church demurs but we won’t go into that. Prof. BerlinerblauI like Nietszche too, but trying to unite his atheism with his Christian upbringing drove him mad in the end…that plus the syphilis.But when he was sane he lived a larger-than-life life. What an ego! What great writing! What a mustache! On another note, do you honestly think that atheists *need* any more ego? You seem like a nice man, but you’re outshouted by Richard Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all the rest of the proselytizing atheist elite. And they certainly seem pretty proud to me…cf John Griffin (Bright) above.

  • Ken

    “The definition of faith is the leap from reason. “No, but if it helps you to believe you’re smart and rational by avoiding doing any real thinking, keep up with the bogus definitions.”We don’t need to go back in time any distance at all to find that the world was originally populated by nothing but atheists.”Who needs actual historical research and rigorous analysis when we can concoct and believe any silly theory that fits our preconception? Despite such blatant idiocy, atheists continue to pat themselves on the back in their infinite self-regard as supremely rational beings.”It’s not about teaching believers a lesson, it’s about dispelling the notion that atheists are immoral because they don’t have a supernatural God watching and guiding them through life.”Is this a classical strawman argument or are atheists simply unable to follow the argument? The assertion is not that atheists are immoral or believers are moral because they fear and obey God. The assertion is that without a transendent moral order any talk of morality is impossible. A reductive materialism renders morality meaningless. You cannot infer “should” from what merely “is.” Atheists, whose material reductionism is implicit in their atheism, unwittingly acknowledge atheism’s fatal self contradiction when they recognize the transcendent realities reflected in our universally human moral sense.

  • Chris Everett

    Kurt Engelhart:I scanned your link and it’s interesting. I agree that, as conscious beings, we live our lives with reference to a model of existence which, like formal logic, must rest on unverifiable but at least apparrently self-evident axioms. The divergence between science and religion is that the scientist knows that his model is just that, a model. He knows that he can’t have direct access to reality, so he strives to develop his model to best reflect the indirect and limited exposure he has to reality, knowing all along that that his model is just an approximation that can be overturned on the basis of new experiences. He knows the importance of keeping axioms to a minimum, and therefore has the highest possible threshold of evidence. Folk stories are not enough. Heartfelt assertions are not enough. He also knows that internal consistency is key, and he strives to develop the implications, to the entire model, of every new addition. Religion is different. The religious model is not recognized as a model, it is believed to be absolutely true. It is not the responsibility of the individual user of the model, it has a preistly class that keeps it and interprets it. It has no standard of evidence since it accepts no evidence. It simply is as it was created, by primitive peoples long ago.The “religious” assumptions underlying scientific theory are constantly under attack – by scientist themselves. It is a fruitful strategy, since the imagination can often create experiments to test one assumption or another. In contrast, the “religious” assumptions underlying religion are heavily defended by the religious. They even strive to cultivate an incuriosity towards them, and consider this to be the highest form of faith. Likewise for any check on internal consistency.

  • Mary Cunningham

    Henry James and Mr Mark,He’s not talking about sex, he’s talking about Nietszche, “Man and Superman” “Thus Spake [spoke?] Zarasthrustra”, law of eternal return and all that. Remember the professor is perpetually surrounded by college students, so one must make allowances. Come to think of it, maybe our differing responses tell us more about *us* than about the professor’s piece. You thought about sex, I thought about Nietszche! Don’t know what to make of that insight so I’ll just say bye for now…MC

  • ‘enry James

    Mary C!!You wrote:Mary, your usual Jesuitical logical precision eludes you here.If you mean by “mirror image”, “opposite”, then you might have a point here.Atheist scientists believe something IFF they have sufficient verifiable evidence.Atheists don’t not not not not believe negatives can be proved (get the problem here?).Do you suggest that atheist scientists make a habit of believing things without any evidence? If so, what basis should they use for deciding what to believe.? The Old testament (no Jesus).? the New Testament? the Quran? no Jesus God. Scientology? Astrology? The Bush Administration?love

  • Monacute

    Bellow was right–nobody wholly accepts their death as The End. This biological trait is probably in all living things, as it aids survival. That is still not an evidence for a post-life existence, nor is it necessarily “a new direction in atheist ethical speculation”. Just because Jacques Berlinerblau is growing more afraid of his death, and hence “ponders” such clap-trap, does not mean that things go Bump in the night.

  • Chris Everett

    Ken:I disagree that atheism => reductive materialism => meaningless morality. I am an atheist in the a-theist sense of the term, i.e. there is no god in my model of reality. Nevertheless, I am aware of my own hopes, dreams, feelings, etc, and I believe that the same experiences exist in others (in fact, in all sentient beings to one degree or another). That is the basis for my morality. That is transendence enough for me. Stories about god have always rung false for me, and other than the stories, I’ve never experienced anything that even remotely suggests its plausibility.

  • John Griffth (Bright)

    @ Mary Cunningham & GabyWhat you are describing is a fallacy of reasoning. I cannot recall the specific name given to it but I shall endeavor to hunt it down for you.The argument that for any proposition, let us call it X, for which we do not know truth has a 50% probability of being true is fallacious reasoning. If A then BClearly this is illogical.Following this reasoning, for any unknown proposition — for example, Allah is real; Yahweh is real; I am actually God; you are actually God; there is a celestial teapot; there is intelligent life living at the heart of the Sun; the Fungi from Yuggoth are real — the probability of it being true is 50%.Let me warn you know, the Fungi from Yuggoth are a nasty bunch and from your perspective if I were you I would avoid Massachusetts like the plague.

  • Tonio

    Ken,Would you explain some of the terms in your post? What exactly is a “transcendent moral order” and why does it render talk of morality as impossible? And what do you mean by the “transcendent realities reflected in our universally human moral sense”? Are you assuming that the human brain is not hard-wired with a moral sense?

  • Luther E. Franklin

    Watch the retinal glow fade in a dying person or other mammal. The “pictures” fade . . . and stop.Impossible to proove either way of course, but for me, the “closed” end is natural and expected.

  • Mr Mark

    Dear M Cunningham -Funny you would mention Nietzsche’s “Thus spake Zarathustra.” I just finished reading the thing a couple of weeks ago, and Jacques column rang no Nietzsche-ian bells for me.I guess you’re right – perception is in the eye of the individual.

  • John-Michael

    “As monotheists are quick to point out, the consequence of living as if there is no God (or Satan) is a diabolical nihilism.”I have never understood this assumption and have come across it quite frequently from the more evangelical set. Have these people ever heard of empathy? It is hard to be a nihilist when you care about people. They might respond with “why have empathy if there is no God or Satan?” Well who says we have a choice whether or not we experience empathy anymore then we choose to fall in love or get angry with some one? We are social by nature and nurture and a “rational” belief will seldom override our instincts and learned behavior. I put quotations around rational because it is a faulty assumption to think that emphasizing immediate gratification is the rational response to a lack of divinity. People also derive satisfaction from denieing impulse in favor of longer term goals and in my experience no instance of immediate gratification has ever provided anywhere near the profound and lasting satisfaction of realizing longer term goals. There are plenty of earthly rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad behavior.There is also a common perception (again among the more evangelically disposed) that people do not believe in God because they want to be bad. I can only speak for myself and relate the behavior of those I know, but I have never thought that any non-believer was so out of a desire to be naughty without the worry of divine retribution. Even when I was a believer the threat of much more immediate social and/or civil retribution kept my more destructive impulses in check far more than worry about what God would think or do.I find no particular reason to believe that there is no divine presence and ample reason to believe that there is. I just think our current beliefs are almost certainly of mortal origin and consequently mistaken and that we have no reason to believe anything in particular about any divine presence(s). I don’t see anything in there that leads to nihilism or debauchery. Perhaps someone can point out where sexual promiscuity and the pursuit of power are the logical ends of those beliefs.

  • Ray Ingles

    Ken: actually, you can indeed derive ‘should’ from ‘is’ (too bad Hume lived before the study of game theory). Consider chess – if you want to win the game, you should not sacrifice your queen early on. That’s a “should” that arises from two “is’s”; the first is the set of rules of chess, and the second is your desire to win the game. It’s a *strategic* rule.We have rules of the game in life, too – the laws of nature, for example. We also, being human, have desires. How could there not be ‘shoulds’ that follow from those ‘is’ facts? If you want details, see here:

  • Gaby

    Will,You: “Let’s say I believe in the invisible flying Spaghetti Monster and I presume that you don’t. Thus, according to your logic, he has a 50/50 chance of existing. All hail the flying spaghetti monster!”Me: It has as much chance of existing as any other unproven “deity”. I realize for many it’s a stretch of the imgination, but so is any believe without evidence.

  • Tonio

    “I can only speak for myself and relate the behavior of those I know, but I have never thought that any non-believer was so out of a desire to be naughty without the worry of divine retribution.”I agree. Morality is about human happiness and suffering and the effects of our actions on these. It is not about obeying an authority, and this includes an alleged authority such as a deity. Hypothetically, authority may not care about others’ happiness or suffering.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Tonio,You wrote:’I don’t quite understand what Berlinerblau means by “living large.” Can any of you elaborate?’The last time I heard the phrase “living large” was in a commercial for a nostrum that promised “male enhancement”.Regards.

  • Henry James

    The Ignorance of Equating Morality with Religion…and of asserting that Religion is necessary for morality, either in an individual or in a state.All the evidence in the “reality-based” world contradicts this self-serving assertion by religionists like Ken.True Buddhists don’t believe in God, and are the most moral, spiritually developed, transcendent people on the planet.Test after test shows atheists are at least as moral as believers.”Godless” countries have lower homicide, abortion, and rape rates than the believing US of A, let alone other highly believing countries.Morality predated religion by millenia, is virtually the same in almost all societies regardless of particular brand of belief they hold (Zeus, Krishna, Jesus, the Moon).Open your eyes and heart Ken. you are no better than others because you believe, and neither is your group.

  • E favorite

    Ken: “A reductive materialism renders morality meaningless. You cannot infer “should” from what merely “is.” Atheists, whose material reductionism is implicit in their atheism, unwittingly acknowledge atheism’s fatal self contradiction when they recognize the transcendent realities reflected in our universally human moral sense.”??? Could you restate this in plain English?

  • Anonymous

    This essay is as bad as a religious text ! Loose logic applied to vague definitions. What is living “right” ? Define it first before you start drawing conclusions about it ! And exactly how many atheists choose living “right” over living “large” ? The vague “too many” indicates that the author is simply concocting a situation in order to present a theory.What a mess.Let’s stop discussing atheism and focus on the damage that theism does, including brainwashing millions of children into thinking that non-existent supernatural beings actually exist.

  • Andrea

    E Fav,Then he’d sound less S-M-R-T smart. *DOH*

  • Anonymous

    One of the best quotes I’ve read is “If atheism were a religion, then not collecting stamps would be a hobby”.How this applies here … atheists need not discuss atheism. Atheism is the lack of belief, period. Nothing to discuss. We don’t see people who don’t collect stamps getting together and talking about stamps, do we ?And forget the moral bait, we already know that people are kind to each other or not regardless of their beliefs in supernatural beings. There is NO need to discuss morals of atheists OR theists. Morals are clearly personal.

  • mizbinkley

    I don’t personally know any people (atheist or theist) who chooses to only “live right” or “live large.” Most people choose some of both.In fact, many of us think that “living large” is PART OF “living right.” Part of doing good in the world is to do right by yourself.Ah, gotta love those false dichotomies.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Henry James, my friend and fellow alumnus,You wrote:”Norrie I take your point about agnosticism”A-theism means”that’s me.”Actually Henry, there seem to be two rather different meanings of the word “atheist”:[1] “Without a belief in a theistic god” [that's you], and[2] “Positively denying the existence of a God or gods.”In American popular culture today, I think most people who use the word “atheist” have meaning [2] in mind. In fact they think of an atheist as one who militantly and loudly denies the existence of the Abrahamic/Christian God.What do you mean Pegasus doesn’t exist? He may not be around now, but when we were in college, he kept turning up at gas stations all over the place.Regards as always.

  • John Griffith (Bright)

    “Gaby:Me: It has as much chance of existing as any other unproven ‘deity’. I realize for many it’s a stretch of the im[a]gination, but so is any belie[f]ve without evidence.October 30, 2007 2:38 PM | Report Offensive CommentsGaby, that is a true statement — hooray. What you must not do is then go on to claim that that chance of existence is 50 percent.

  • Tonio

    “And forget the moral bait, we already know that people are kind to each other or not regardless of their beliefs in supernatural beings.”That’s partially true. The moral issue is not necessarily the belief in supernatural beings. The moral issue is the belief that pleasing those beings is more important that helping other people or avoiding harming other people. That explains why religious fundamentalists deem homosexuality and masturbation as sinful even though these cause no harm to others.I acknowledge that religious moderation values reason and experience as well as scripture and tradition. Although I’m an agnostic pantheist, I admire the deist approach to god-belief where the god is not involved in the universe at all.

  • Pam

    Gaby,I can only hope that if you’re ever called for jury duty, you find some way to get out of it.One can apply rationality and criticality, and use one’s reason to weigh the evidence and come to a conclusion that, while perhaps not 100% certain, is still a long way from 50/50.I don’t think it’s necessary to simply throw up one’s hands and say “it’s all an unknowable mystery!” Get busy and solve it!

  • Kurt Engelhart

    Chris Everett: ‘The religious model is not recognized as a model, it is believed to be absolutely true.’ It sounds to me like you do not believe this and, regardless of how many people now believe it, this belief will not withstand the emergence of a new perspective in time. Most people’s intuition is telling them this already. That is why obsolete views are so reactionary against changes they know must come. I believe this attitude is behind Jacques’ very real distinction between living ‘right’ and ‘large.’ No one knows what ‘right’ is today, and the reaction is to live ‘large.’

  • Will

    To Gaby:”It has as much chance of existing as any other unproven ‘deity’.”That was my point. The fact that something cannot be disproven is not evidence that it exists. Nor is it any reason to assume that the probability of it’s existence is equal to probability of it’s non-existence.To Professor Berlinerblau:It is important to recognize that all of us struggle in reconciling the world as we want it to be with the world as it is. When Shaw heard about evolution, he agreed that it was an interesting way to explain bio-diversity but thought natural selection was too brutish to be true. So he decided to subscribe to Lamarckian theories of evolution because they more easily comported with the world as he wanted it to be, in spite of the fact that no evidence supports it. When I began to comprehend the immensity of geological time, I certainly felt short-changed to think that I would only be here to see such an infinitesimally small part of it. However, that emotional reaction doesn’t change the fact that I have absolutely no reason to believe that the pictures will continue after I die. It only makes it harder to swallow. For many who’ve been brought up to believe that some part of them will live after death, reality is often too much to swallow.

  • Chris Everett

    There is no god: 50%I get it.

  • Kurt Engelhart

    Will: ‘all of us struggle in reconciling the world as we want it to be with the world as it is’The struggle is to reconcile the world as we want it with the world as others want it.

  • Chris Everett

    Kurt,I must admit I don’t understand your last post.I’ve reread Jacques’ article and I think part of what he’s trying to say is simply that, unlike religious people for whom, say, “imitation of Christ” is the moral recipe, atheists have to DECIDE what is moral before they can act morally. This is a burden that the religious don’t have since they recuse themselves from the burden of actually BEING moral (as opposed to simply following rules that they declare are moral). Living right and living large are two ends of one moral dimension, although of course there are many other dimensions that could be considered (e.g. immediate vs delayed gratification).His focus on immortality is strange, though, and I really don’t see its relevance. Kind of creepy, actually.

  • Gaby

    Pam,Jury duty is a far cry from deciding whether some unproved deity exists or not. Be are talking about “believe” versus “knowledge.You said: “One can apply rationality and criticality, and use one’s reason to weigh the evidence and come to a conclusion that, while perhaps not 100% certain, is still a long way from 50/50.”In the case of jury duty or any other reality based decision I must make, I take that approach. Simply because I will be provided with facts, eyewitness testimony, and scientifically proven methods (i.e. DNA, fingetprints, etc.) to come to a conclusion.In my mind, the same does not hold true for any religious belief or lack thereof. This is a realm that not have “rationality,criticality, reason, or evidence.” It is simply belief.

  • Gaby

    Chris Everett:”Math is only for mathematiians: 50%”No, Chris, you didn’t get it. :>)Math is only for mathmeticians: 100%.I have always hated math, it eludes me so to speak. How I produced a daughter who has degrees in astrophysics and math stuns me.

  • Tonio

    “It is important to recognize that all of us struggle in reconciling the world as we want it to be with the world as it is.”Exactly. I oppose anything that interferes with our ability to see the world as it is. That’s my objection to extremist forms of religion – these demand that people trust scriptures instead of their own senses for data about the universe. It’s also my objection to secular ideologies such as communism and fascism, and my objection to mind-altering chemicals.

  • Chris Everett

    Gaby,You wrote:”In my mind, the same does not hold true for any religious belief or lack thereof. This is a realm that not have “rationality,criticality, reason, or evidence.” It is simply belief.”I disagree. I think speculation can be informed by evidence. Let’s take the case of the immortal soul. We know from evolution (a TONS of evidence, and that’s just the fossils!) that if you could trace your lineage backwards in time (let’s keep to your maternal lineage), you would eventually meet up with one of my ancestors, as well as an ancestor to everyone on this blog (is this a blog?). Go back farther and we find ourselves related to apes, horses, dogs and cats, weasels, platypuses (platypi?), crocodiles, frogs, fish, octopi, worms, sea slugs, insects, jellyfish, plankton, trees, ferns, moss, algae and slime molds. Additionally, the scientific consensus is that life itself originated as simply a self replicating chemical reacton (a perspective that is an equally valid way of looking at life now!).Now, into this evidence based model of life, let’s introduce the notion of the immortal soul, and start asking questions (this “start asking questions” part is critical – an inchoherent model of reality is untenable). Did your immortal soul exist at the beginning of evolution? If so, were all human souls in some form of weigh station? Was there some kind of foreknowledge of human existence, down to the existence of each individual, dispite the apparant chaos and randomness (e.g. asteroid extinction events) of the invervening millions (billions!) of years?Did the slime mold have a soul? If so, was the soul associated with the whole mold colony, or did each cell have its own soul? What about bacteria? Did the bacterium that symbiotically invaded another bacterium to eventually become the eucaryotic mitochondrion have a soul? Did their souls merge? What about plants? Do they have souls? They are our ancestors. On the animal line, what about jellyfish? Newts? Lions? Dinosours? If they all has souls, what does Heaven look like? Is it full of dinosaurs? Are they friendly? If not, when was the soul introduced into the animal? Do you have a great, great,…, great grandmother that had a soul, but whose own mother had NO soul, since the soul hadn’t been introduced yet?I could go on and on, but the point is that beliefs, even unfounded ones, can usually be evaluated by their implications in light of real evidence, and I personally think it’s a responsbility to do so. The vast majority of religious assertions crumble at the first touch of integration. They can’t be disproven in some absolute way, but there is a great word for them:PREPOSTEROUS!!!

  • Ivan Groznii

    I fail to see how “living large” and “living right” are mutually exclusive ideas. We all need stuff and consume the earth’s resources. That doesn’t, however, mean that we have to consume or horde all of the earth’s resources for ourselves.Anyone who has worked with retarded or developmentally disabled children understands that sociability is the behavioral expression of an innate desire. Community is an extension of this, or perhaps its own innate drive. And so is preservation of the species. Sex is not just about orgasm (“living large”); it’s largely about reproduction.So, we must balance our own “selfish” needs and want, i.e. “living large” with the needs and wants of community, to include family and friends, i.e. “living right”.

  • DuaneBidoux

    I have been reading a philosopher, Ken

  • Norrie Hoyt

    YOYO,You wrote:”I’m inclined to disagree that “agnosticism is the only rational response”"Yes,of course we cannot know whether or not gods exist.”But knowing how folks dread death,and knowing the power of the imagination,”Are you,for instance,agnostic about the Tooth Fairy?”We cannot know that the Tooth Fairy does not exist.”"I’m inclined to think that neither the Tooth Fairy nor gods exist,No, YOYO, I’m not agnostic as to the Tooth Fairy’s existence – I’m an atheist.Why, because the existence of the tooth fairy is impossible in the universe we know and love. More importantly, perhaps, if I did the research, I could probably find the origin of the T.F. story in popular culture and a desire to please children.On the other hand, on the question, “Does a God exist?”:The two biggest questions are: “How can anything possibly exist?” and “How did what we experience as a universe/world come into existence?”Interest in these questions is not prompted by fear of death, but by a very primordial curiosity.The possibility of a God Being’s being responsible is a reasonable hypothesis to investigate.Whether the hypothesis can actually be investigated in a rational way is another question. Probably it can’t. But it still might be the case.Hence I conclude that in in respect to these basic questions, agnosticism is preferable and more rational than atheism, which forecloses consideration of the questions.

  • Kevin4567

    The argument posed by the author is so flawed and full of holes that it resembles swiss cheese. The author is essentially creating a straw man to expound his own views on athiesm and religion. I am an athiest and I never think of in terms as described the author. What guides my behavior is not that I want to leave this place better for the next generation which is non-sensical since it cannot be measured as to what is means to be better. I basically believe in the golden rule….DON’T DO UNTO OTHERS WHAT YOU DON’T WANT OTHERS TO DO UNTO YOU…or something like. You can derive all of the 10 commandments from this basic principle. It is my view that athiests are better in following this principle than those who consider themselves religious.

  • Mr Mark

    Dear Norrie -I liked your last post.I consider myself an anti-theist, though atheist will do in a pinch. I don’t apply the term agnostic to myself.I guess it comes down to whether one thinks the idea of god has more gravitas to it than the idea of the Tooth Fairy. The proof for both is at roughly the same level. If you’re an atheist in matters of the Tooth Fairy, then why be agnostic when it comes to god? The only reasonable answer is that you consider the question of god to be somehow more legitimate than that of the Tooth Fairy, so you leave the agnostic’s door slightly cracked.I, on the other hand, don’t find the question of god to carry any more weight than the Tooth Fairy, so it’s easy for me to take an atheistic view and – as you say – foreclose consideration of the question.That said, there are a great many things that I have not closed off to consideration. I consider that being a realist. God just doesn’t enter into my realistic equation.

  • Chris Everett

    Kevin4567: The golden rule does not imply that You shall have no other gods before me, or You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth, or You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, or You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name, or But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.The ten commandments are a nightmare!

  • Pam

    Duanebidoux wrote:What, exactly, is a “spiritual being”? I can’t begin to tell you what a turn-off this kind of language is to me. Not that you should care.Neither myths nor science will “save” us? From what??? Death? Right you are, then – nothing will. Nor should it. Eternity would be a long, boring time to hang around, no matter how cushy the digs.At some point in the evolution that eventually resulted in humanity, someone grew enough of a neocortex to observe that all living things die eventually, and that in all likelihood the same fate awaited himself. On that day was religion born. Probably on the next day, it began to be used to control others.

  • BGone

    Chris Everett:The ten commandments are a nightmare!That may be so but If you disagree then name a sin greater than worshiping, honoring, adoring, glorifying and making sacrifices to Devil. I mean, put yourself in God’s place, hypothetically. Now you have Joe who’s fornicating and George praying to Devil. Which one makes you maddest, Joe or George.

  • Tonio

    Norrie Hoyt,I admit to being conflicted over whether to identify myself as an agnostic or an atheist. I do not reject the possibility of the supernatural. However, I see no reason to treat its existence as factual or even probable since there is no evidence for it. I’ve been told that my position equates to “soft” atheism. Chris Everett,”If you’re talking about some kind of uber-consciousness or meta-conscious that we all partake of, if you’re calling that ‘god’, then I’m with you.”You’re the only person I’ve encountered who discusses God in those terms. I personally know no one who talks about God as anything but a supernatural being.

  • Waldo

    We religious people believe in a divine being.All religious ethical speculation therefore,begins with the following question; “Insofar as human existence is incontrovertibly and magically infinite,how should I live?”The first response,living right,involves believing every word that clerics tell us about reality and the supernatural world,and never doubting the TRUTH of the Holy Books.The second response,living wrong,involves questioning the TRUTH of religion,the Holy Books,and the existence of gods,devils,demons,imps,fairies,angels,cherubs,pixies,

  • Chris Everett

    Cool.

  • tjallen

    The argument form:We don’t know anything about A, therefore_________is called “The argument from ignorance” and it is a logical fallacy.As for the agnostic who claims we cannot disprove the existence of god, there are plenty of good arguments against the existence of god, which are generally completely ignored in these discussions, for example the argument from evil (a benevolent all powerful god cannot coexist with evil).

  • ThishowIseeit

    There is so much scientific evidence that our universe started with the Big Bang and life started in a pool of soupy water by way of some some chemical reactions. We have evolved from a living one cell organism. Once that cell organism is death, there is no after life left for it . We are no different.

  • Henry James

    Tonio Says “You’re the only person I’ve encountered who discusses God in those terms. I personally know no one who talks about God as anything but a supernatural being.”Tonio: please come to Cambridge for the Godsearch.I did a course here last year that tried to nail down my students’ conceptions of “God”, and they were all over the map. Chris’s conception would have fit in just fine.for instance only 2 of 8 thought God heard their prayers.only 6 out of 11 believed that “God is capable of making reasoned, intelligent decisions that have a motive.”

  • Henry James

    Say it Ain’t So, Norrie!N, you writeI truly don’t see why you couldn’t substitute “God” for “Tooth Fairy” here and be quite comfortable. let’s try it.”Why, because the existence of *God* is as impossible (as the existence of the tooth fairy) in the universe we know and love. More importantly, perhaps, if I did the research, I could probably find the origin of the *God* story in popular culture and a desire to please children.”Looks fine to me.I think your distinction is really that the Tooth Fairy story deals with a small problem, losing a tooth, and the God story deals with a Big Question, Who’s in charge and responsible for this mess.Love

  • Mariano Patalinjug

    A person who believes in religion and in a god, or God, may be good or may be bad, judged by some standard or criterion which by consensus is common to all if not to most religions.A person who is an atheist, may also be good or may be bad, likewise judged by the same standard or criterion as above.Why is this so?The empirical evidence shows that all human beings are “preprogrammed” genetically, and that this genetic preprogramming involves the physical and well as the nonphysical, the psychological as well as the nonpsychological, side of human beings.This genetic preprogramming antedates both religion and atheism, which are man-made.All human beings are capable of both good and bad. No human being, whether a believer in religion, or an atheist, is absolutely good or bad.Mariano [email protected]

  • elviejo

    Gaby: “As Jacob says we are born in zero sin and death pays all debts.”You have the right to this, a personal opinion, as do I. My take on the above statement: the lack of logic and compassion in that statement, as it is, is stunning. Doesn’t make any more sense than Jesus dying on the cross to supposedly pay for everyone else’s sins.Reincarnation, not such a farfetched idea, is more logical and compassionate.

  • BGone

    Henry James:You wrote “Who’s in charge and responsible for this mess”That brings to mind the story of secretary of state Hague when Regan was shot and his fate unknown. He said, “everyone stay calm, I’m in charge here” several times and on camera. I think he overlooked the fact that the one is charge will be tagged with being responsible for the mess. He got fired.There’s just one thing left to do. Fire the one “in charge and responsible for this mess.” It’s the conservative thing to do.

  • paul taylor

    Every reason to live morally is here, in this world, in this life. Human ethics are not born from religion. The human creature has three relevant, natural social endowments. They are love, nurturing and protection. It all begins with the genetic material we are made of, and develops as we develop in the womb. In birth our emotional and physical needs are met with the suckling and care of the baby by its loving mother and family. The family, and the extended family or community, must continue to nurture, educate and protect the child into puberty, when it can become a partner in the many needs and activities of the community. This is all common sense. Why a religion may choose to believe that humans must account for their bad actions in an afterlife is all part of its need as an institution to survive and prosper. Religion arose for other reasons. It helped in our loneliness; it gave us a sense of protection against dangers; it gave us a sense of control over our lives; and it assuaged our fears of death. In reality we must account for our misbehavior here and now, in this life, with or without religion. That is why our families, our friends, our communities have means of punishment and censure for us when we do not abide by socially acceptable and productive behavior. Morality preceded religion. It was born out of our social development, as a species.

  • Patrick

    Jacques,Action alone determines your future not your words or thoughts.As Nichiren would say, “Only Shijo Kingo matches his desires with his actions.”Consistency with thought, word, and action is essential, no matter what you believe or where you place your faith, whether you are Christian, catholoic, atheist, or buddhist, it does not matter. All equal in understanding cause and effect.Patrick

  • daniel

    Dear Mr. Berlinerblau, I enjoyed your piece very much. I have not read Ravelstein but I did read Mr. Sammler’s planet and Herzog years ago. I understand the point of your piece. Unfortunately I would say that all the responses from the atheists above have demonstrated something of singular importance: that the modern atheist movement is really not about atheism at all–no real penetration into religion, philosophy, literature, science, etc. but merely a rather crude, more leftwing than not, response to “God”, which is to say the rightwing party.–As if the left in its response to the right tries to get an intellectual upperhand by reaching for atheism in response to the religious aspect of the right, but of course is still far more leftwing than atheistic (really never plumbs the depths of the problem) and just makes itself look silly to people really deep into problems of religion, science, etc. I have no idea which is worse, the right being confused with religion or the left being atheistic–or perhaps I should say atheism reduced to the left. The most telling thing of all though is the typical argumentation by the atheists above, the lack of any grasp of your direction of thought, etc. And these people are supposed to be the answer to a religious world! A sick comedy. Truly sick. Modern atheism: Certainly with no belief in God, but just as certainly clinging to the bosom of the big city. Modern atheism as just not having to expect much of oneself….

  • elviejo

    Jozevz:I can’t speak for the “et al,” but I am not jealous of religion. Messages of love, tolerance and compassion are not solely from nor solely belong to the domain of religion.My focus is on the nanosecond or more that I get before I might blink into roach food or my “soul” blinks into another form of existence while the body becomes roach food. I don’t care if I’m right about religion, and if I happen to piss off a god who condemns me for not picking the right god, I don’t want to be in the “kingdom” of an idiot who would fail as an earthly parent.If God (should he/she/they exist) is so petty as to demand correct worship and concoct schemes so that their children kill each other with justification, leave me out.I’ll take my chances with The Golden Rule (found pretty much everywhere) and see what happens, if anything, when I “blink.”

  • ThishowIseeit

    Dear Mr. J. Berlinerblau,

  • pegleg

    I would argue that may Xtians live like hellions on the hope that they will land in Heaven with a holy parachute woven from threads of “grace”. Since I believe that this is it…I want to leave a “legend” that my kids can be proud of.

  • elviejo

    Jvzcoxy Bad Scrabble Rack et al:Yes, the “blink” I refer to is indeed fatal, for it is the moment of ending this life, such as it is. Cowardly? Who cares? When it’s over, it’s over, and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.Locke should be locked up. Who has the truth, anyway? Don’t we all, collectively?

  • Anonymous

    E*C*L*A*T* + “i” Together forever with Source-One! The Holy Non-Jealous thus fearless Creator!

  • dkm

    I have no problem with anything said in this article except to point out that “Too many nonbelievers seem intent on teaching the faithful a lesson. Namely, that they too can lead virtuous lives and that they can do so without recourse to God or religion.” kind of misses the point. It isn’t that nonbelievers are “intent on teaching the faithful a lesson.” It’s that living that way happens to be extremely satisfying and makes a person feel good. It’s effect on the faithful is of no concern whatever. We would live that way no matter what the effect on the unwashed faithful was.

  • Tonio

    Henry James,Your course sounds like a fascinating one. By “Cambridge,” do you mean the Boston suburb that is home to Harvard University? Or do you mean the alma mater of John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Eric Idle? If it’s the latter, America must seem like a strange place to you in terms of religion.

  • THANK YOU PAUL TAYLOR

    2nd tryAP JB, you are out of your depth (again).Had not Mr. Taylor schooled us all, your article would have been just another silly-little article by another silly-little AP. Perhaps you would be more credible if you wrote with a grounding in this area.Please write Mr Taylor a note of thanks for making you interesting.

  • Henry James

    sorry…while not as congenial as Cambridge England would probably be, it is a long way from the Bible Belt. (not that i don’t love everyone in the bible belt. and they love me. sell lots of books out there. esp Wings of a Dove).The course was called “Searching for God in Classical Music,” taught by me, an atheist buddhist pagan. The Moon is my Goddess, of course.

  • Kevin4567

    “Political action, more often than not, is the medium through which they try to actualize their moral and ethical yearnings. (The irony being that American atheists are presently in a state of complete political disrepair).”This is utter garbage bordering on propaganda that distorts the entire discourse on athiesim and religion. The perceptions and ruminations of this authors are shallow worthy of only 5 yr old.

  • Kris Jackson

    Way to use those big words! Makes reading it an insult to us regular types. I don’t want to look up a word every sentence. This kind of writing is exclusionary.

  • yoyo

    Norrie Hoyt;”The two biggest questions are: “How can anything possibly exist?” And we will never know the answer to those two big questions.

  • yoyo

    Jihadist.Your comment “Yes, great Enlightenment champion, Voltaire, but he did regard Jews as a reprobate and inferior race.”Well yes.I am always disappointed to learn that my heroes are sometimes flawed one way or another.He was a man of his time and had the prejudices of his time. But apparently…”Voltaire’s anti-semitism was of a special kind.So you see Jihadist,he wasn’t all bad.

  • Jihadist

    Yoyo:The two biggest questions are: “How can anything possibly exist?” and “How did what we experience as a universe/world come into existence?”Multiple choice:(a) Cause and effect.(b) I exist, therefore I am. Nothing else matter. Everything matters. (c) God created everything.(d) Pinch oneself to see one is not dreaming and all is real. (e) None of the aboveHenry James:As for your research or survey on God in Cambridge, Massachusetts – 8 or 11 students? Two groups or one? We never have a course call “Searching for God in Classical Music” at Cambridge by the Cam River. I suppose Harvard is more progressive and interesting on religion. Your course would include the music of Handel, Bach and gospel I suppose. Regards”J”Regards

  • Jihadist

    Yoyo!I’m happy you remember my mother tongue. Selamat malam to you too. You’re right about Voltaire of course, but I sometimes can’t resist teasing you and Mr. Mark about small things. Voltaire is one of the required readings for me in university. But have to play my role here as a “foaming at the mouth” believer. You did remind me, very gently, in another post, that a certain rabid evangelical is still alive and well. Thanks for that. Best regards as ever.”J”

  • Wiggy

    Norrie Hoyt,Agnosticism is the only rational position? Agnosticism with respect to which god? I think you might be misunderstanding the rational atheist’s position. It’s subtle and a lot of people miss it so here it is again:1. I believe that god does not exist (irrational)Now think about the agnostic’s position:1. God may or may not exist. (rational?) Sounds rational right? What about this:2. Aphrodite may or may not exist. (rational?)I think rational atheism is the only rational position to take.

  • Gerry

    The human brain is such a “natural miracle” with most of it still waiting to be explained, even defined, that I think to demand a “soul” outside this wonder is rather contemptuous, silly, misinformed, frivolous against nature.The main reason for hoping for an afterlife is the lack of insight that we are not autonomous monads, but integral parts of a huge, infinite evolving whole. The religious crowd forgets that everyone “evolved” through the unfathomable “laws” of nature, from two tiny cells, endowed on the molecular level with miraculous amounts of information to become what each of us has become.It is the PRINCIPLE of nature, of humanity, not the INDIVIDUAL that prevails after my death. I will always have been an integral part of this principle! Therefore I do not have any feeling of loss after the end of my life, just as I don’t have a feeling of loss for the billions of years which I have not lived before my birth or conception.

  • Lancelot

    I consider myself a fairly reasonable human being in most aspects (Hey, who doesn’t?) but am I the only person who hopes that the pictures do stop?

  • Anonymous

    “I guess my point is that it figures that people would make up a God.Why? I usually say that if I had grown up on a desert island, or in some other way completely isolated from religion, the idea of a god would never even have occurred to me. The “two biggest questions” that Norrie mentioned must be addressed by science. When religion attempts to answer those questions, it violates not only the principle of empiricism but also the principle of NOMA as defined by Gould. Religion must instead focus on the individual’s relationship with the universe and the rest of the human race. The origin of the universe is completely irrelevant to that topic.

  • Tonio

    I did it again…that was me with the anonymous post at 6:39 a.m.

  • Caesar

    The atheist challanged,put to shame many whom used as abuse scripture’s for personal, fame wealth,power,such works credit the atheist.Yet it ends not spiritual debate.The unquenchable thirst to know thyself but only grows. As the atheist challanged, they in turn be challanged. It be an ongoing development,as the chapters in an book.At times unwilling,to move,the example of christianity, jesus put on an pedestal,far removed from reality,born of virgin,son of god. Turning to another,then threatened with eternal suffering,etc, etc,.Such folly was to handicap the brain,equaling chinese custom in binding of feet at birth,thus growing deformed,restricting the ability of movement.The origial intent,the confinment of women,peace between clans,be made in marrige.Hence,not a surprise that many women did not favour such authority,thurst upon them. The binding of feet gave no oppertunity to flee, as the lesson to learn in spiritual sense,power of creation be not restricted its manifestation, being at any time,through any form,as pleasing.

  • GordonHide

    Jacques Berlinerblau is right. Atheists do seem to be adopting the live right rather than live large option. The statistics back this up. Atheists are under-represented in the prison system, they have fewer divorces and their marriages last longer. Many of them seem to be working very hard too. They are heavily over-represented in the national academy of sciences.(And in every equivalent organisation across the world).

  • Rozmarija Grauds

    Adults in my child’s world were too busy to indoctrinate me with religion, so ‘growing like Topsy’,I am a lifelong atheist.Such a circumstance provides an ideal example of people having an innate leaning towards orderliness, recognizing responsibility and accountability which reveals itself,as one matures, like the proverbial onion.I absolutely agree that a rich mind cannot conceive of giving up ‘the pictures’, but some of us are content to imagine our decaying substance providing nourishment to continuing life in the form of worms,grass, bugs, birds and creatures of prey.That in itself is a form of immortality.Matter cannot be created or destroyed within this biosphere.As a high-school dropout, if I can see this, it must be a simple equation.

  • Henry James

    Esteemed Jihadistthe reason for the discrepancy of 8 and 11 is that some of the group answered “don’t know” each time, and three more said don’t know one time than another.and, the course was in Cambridge but NOT at Harvard. they are not that progressive yet.the students were typical Cambridge/Boston Adults, not Harvard Students.love and peace to you

  • Rationalist

    Atheist’s “Death dilemma”?

  • probashi

    Rationalist:Not sure about “practicing” atheism. I’m an atheist. I don’t give a hoot about what the believers do as long as they don’t lean on me. I don’t go about trying to convince the faithful that they are wrong. But then proselytizing is part of the Christian faith and Rationalist’s comments illustrate the arrogance that is so common among the followers of Christ.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Henry, Mr. Mark, Chris Everett, Yoyo, Tonio, Wiggy, et al.,I unaccustomedly had to tend to something in the real world last evening, so I had to break away from this interesting discussion.I’ll try to pick up some of the pieces:Chris Everett,In response to your post of 4:51 p.m., I regard the Abrahamic God, and all other gods I ever heard of, to be in the same category as the Tooth Fairy. I’m atheistic as to them.What I’m agnostic about is the possibility that there might exist a Something: a Being, a Mind, an Energy Form, or a Something Else that we can’t even conceive of, that brought about the existence(s) of the universe(s). Most people would call this Something a God.Wiggy,What I wrote in the previous paragraph also applies to what you wrote at 2:31 a.m. I’m atheistic as to Aphrodite for the same reasons I am as to the Tooth Fairy.Tonio,At 6:39 a.m. you wrote:”The “two biggest questions” that Norrie mentioned must be addressed by science.”I qustion whether science will ever be able to answer the biggest question: “How can anything possibly exist?”I’m not speaking of the Big Bang, or even of anything antecedent to the BB that science might be able to hypothesize or prove, such as the collision of two branes sparking the Big Bang. {How could the branes possibly have come into existence?]Unless you accept the Buddhist idea of an infinite number of universes existing eternally, or something similar, you’ll probably try to conceive that there was a state where absolutely nothing existed [I'm not sure humans can conceive such a state.].Then the queation is, “How could anything possibly have come into existence?” is in front of us.It’s at that point that people start considering the possibility of there being a “God Being.”I doubt that science will ever be able to answer question “how can anything exist?”Best to all.

  • Tonio

    Norrie,It’s certainly possible that science will never be able to answer the question “How can anything possibly exist?” If we cannot answer a question about the universe, the only responsible course of action is to admit that we don’t know the answer. It’s scientifically irresponsible to suggest a “God of the gaps” solution for anything we don’t understand. Saying “Oh, God must have done it” is like getting Rambo or Jack Ryan out of a tight spot by giving him a magic wand.I emphasize that the mechanics of the physical universe is the realm of science. Religion should leave the universe alone and focus on the intangibles – meaning, purpose, love, beauty, and so forth. None of those require supernaturalistic notions.

  • Henry James

    So Norrie, it seems you aretonio and norriethey thought the questionthey were agnostic as to whether science would ever be able to answer it, as i remember.

  • JoeT

    Rationalist: All attempts at defending (let alone proving) religion by pointing out what its supposed fruits are are bogus. It’s either true or it’s not, and the implications (good or bad) cannot be used to bootstrap either way. If there were a god and he had created a perverse universe in which evil were rewarded instead of good, we would just have to deal with it, wouldn’t we? I simply marvel at the fact that people can accept as in any way reasonable the proposition that they hold and preach the true faith because they just happened to have been fortunate enough to have been born to parents who did as well. There should logically be no correlation between the religious faith of children and that of their parents. Belief in the right god isn’t an inherited genetic trait. So if we all believe simply because we accept what our parents raise us to believe, shouldn’t it dawn on us all that my next door neighbor childhood friend and I could have been switched at birth and accidently have the wrong faith? If our religious beliefs are so obviously capricious, how do we hold them so strongly, to the point of condemning the children of other parents?

  • GAD

    “I doubt that science will ever be able to answer question “how can anything exist?”"This presupposes that “nothing” is the default state, while counter-intuitive there is no reason in science, that I know of, that prevents “something” from being the default state.

  • Gerry

    I am a convinced atheist. Nobody except the so-called Rationalist has ever accused me in my already long life of having a “mental vacuum” (I am European). I enjoy, however, having a mental vacuum where the “Rationalists” of this thread and their ilk cultivate their religious arrogance. Annoying that the “Rationalists” (perverting reason to faith by their alias) maintain the thoroughly debunked lie that believers are more moral than atheists – it is the other way around, as stated by every serious statistics.In reality, it is the ignorance vacuum, which doubtlessly exists both for believers and skeptics, that is filled with the god proxy. Nobody has ever come up with anything resembling a halfway plausible definition of god. The more enlightened religionists admit this philosophical deficiency by the prophylactic statement that their god is undescribable. Why not leave it at that and stop positing a positive, where the only honest possibility is positing a negative?

  • Henry James

    GADstipulating the mind boggling nature of this question,we can rephrase it to get rid of defaults:”There is something. In fact, many things.”So, why IS there something rather than nothing? Nothing would seem to be a possible state.”

  • Tonio

    Henry James,The question “why is there something rather than nothing” was originally offered by Norrie, so I can’t take credit for asking it. “they were agnostic as to whether science would ever be able to answer it, as i remember.”Yes, and their position was the responsible one. That was the point I was making earlier. We learn new things about the universe all the time, so I wouldn’t reject the possibility that we may someday have an answer. And if we never have an answer, is that so wrong? Saying “God did it” suggests a desperate desire to avoid having no answer at all.

  • GAD

    Henry James:”Nothing would seem to be a possible state.”Only from the reference of something. Since we have no other reference then “something” we do not, maybe even can not, know if “nothing” is even a valid or possible state.”So, why IS there something rather than nothing? ” Here’s a repost of my view of this question from another discussion .My view (other views vary) is this, if you follow any chain of questions back far enough you will come to the root of all questions, “why is there something instead of nothing”.My broad definition of god(s) is any answer that explicitly or implicitly posits willful reason and purpose or higher meaning to the question of “why is there something instead of nothing”. This is easy to see with the Abrahamic god since he states that he is the reason and purpose of “why is there something instead of nothing”. An interesting side note here is that while the bible says god is the reason and purpose of “why is there something instead of nothing” it doesn’t state the reason and purpose for him making that something…Now following from the above, my answer to “why is there something instead of nothing” is “no (or ever knowable) reason”. You have to understand the implicit context of “reason” here as inclusive of natural explanations and exclusive of supernatural ones i.e. willful reason and purpose or higher meaning.So what does all that mean. In my view it means that anyone stating that there is, or must be, a reason and purpose or higher meaning for “why is there something instead of nothing” (which at the next level up (which is where most people operate) becomes “why are we here”) is making a god claim. When I say “no (or ever knowable) reason” of “why is there something instead of nothing” I am stating that “I believe” the default is “something” not “nothing”, think “it just is” or “no boundary cosmology” i.e. “no reason” or “no ever knowable reason” think “outside of space and time” or “quantum vacuum fluctuations” and “no ever knowable reason” for all practical purposes is the same as “no reason” in my view. Any atheist that has used the argument, “if god can just be then the universe can just be” has used the “no reason” argument.Now, the issue that some atheists have with me is that he claims that I am claiming to know things that I can’t know or have beliefs in things I have no evidence for, and that is what theists do. Therefore Timmy views my beliefs as just another form or theism and that when I state my beliefs and call myself an atheist that it undermines atheism as a whole because theists will view it as a counter religious atheistic claim. Perhaps they have a point, I don’t see it that way, and others can take it as they like, but it is what I believe and I don’t see it as un-atheistic………..Finally, I think that “no (or ever knowable) reason” is a good logical deduction, based on the best information and theories that we have to today. While it is true that that information could change in the future, in which case our views would change, I have no reason to supposed that it will. The same holds true for god, if Jesus does finally return we will all be changing our views, but based on the best information we have today we say that there are no god or god(s) and have no reason to suppos that that will change in the future. Which is no different then the belief I have of “no (or ever knowable) reason” as to “why is there something instead of nothing”. The above is also why I say agnostic is a cop out in this regard, if there is “no (or ever knowable) reason” then we will always be sitting around waiting, yet we use the same criteria “best information available” to make a choice on everything else, so why not this. To paraphrase the atheist argument “the only difference is we’ve gone one god further” I’ve gone one choose further…I hope that was intelligible, I’m not good at putting my thoughts into words. I also hope it is interesting and not just a waste of peoples times to read.

  • M.M.

    A star, a visual aberration, a lamp, an illusion, dew, a bubble, a dream, lightening, and a cloud — view all the compounded like that.The point made here in Buddhism is that yes things exist (subatomic particles, energy, whatever makes up physical form, and mental awareness) but they do not exist in any fixed way. So what, you might say… We already know that, right? We can intellectually say that we get it. Yes, we’re made of molecules and they’re constantly moving and morphing, and our mental state is constantly in flux. Everything changes, etc. But we don’t get it at the core of our being, and that’s what counts. At our core, we are much more oriented toward self-preservation. We want the notion of “me” to exist in some findable, safe, permanent way. I don’t care what you call yourself, or if you believe in God or you don’t, you have this at your core. Why? Because the idea of this notion you have of yourself not existing is really incredibly scary! It is.For me, I am starting to see that letting go of the fixed idea of myself and phenomena is okay. It might be scary at first, but it is freedom. In fact, if things were fixed or permanent, then they would, absurdly, be unable to change. If you were angry, you’d be angry forever, etc. Things don’t seem to work that way.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Henry,You wrote:”tonio and norrie”they thought the question”they were agnostic as to whether science would ever be able to answer it, as i remember.”***********************Dershowitz is obnoxious in person, a flaming nutcake in his views, and an advocate of torturing those we don’t particularly care for, so I’d be careful before listening seriously to him.If you want to enjoy the rather tawdry spectacle he makes of himself, that’s another matter.

  • Tonio

    GAD,”based on the best information we have today we say that there are no god or god(s) and have no reason to suppose that that will change in the future…we use the same criteria “best information available” to make a choice on everything else, so why not this…”That’s exactly what I’ve been saying.

  • Henry james

    Hello Norrieyes, we are well acquainted with the charms of Messr Dershowitz here in Cambridge.Cox is a humane smart fellow however, as was Gould I think. And Dershowitz IS brilliant.And finally, those who took the course had laudatory reports of it.and they ended up with “your question.” So they must have been brilliant.henry

  • Chris Everett

    Norrie Hoyt: I too accept the possibility of a “something else we can’t conceive of” that is the antecedent of what is; in fact I have faith that it is so. I too am wont to speculate on its nature, and I even seriously entertain the notion, prevalent in Eastern religions, that consciousness is somehow the ground of being, with the physical world existing within it, rather than the physical world being the ground of being, with consciousness existing within it.Nevertheless, I realize that these sorts of ruminations are just that – ruminations. I also consider it absurdly premature to staple the word “god” to the class of possibilities. My only experience with the non-material is my conscous awareness, which seems clearly tied to my physical brain. Moreover, as has been said, science has demonstrated a strong correlation between physical evidence of the quality of consciousness and the physical state of the brain, so I would have to lay odds that either the physical preceeds the material or that they necessarily exist in some kind of tandem.As for the idea that a god is needed to explain origins, that idea has been thoroughly refuted, most commonly by the question: Who created the creator?I am an atheist not because I believe there is no god, but because I believe that the scientific method is the proper means of discovering what is true about the world, and that anything discovered via the scientific method is, by definition, natural. If compelling evidence of some god’s existence is ever found, then I’ll believe that god exists, in nature. Other means of knowing the world are incoherent in principle and utterly unreliable in experience. The universe is complex and novel enough that wild guesses about what’s true have a vanishingly small chance of being correct. That’s what we see in religion – wild guesses from before rational thought, enshrined as superstition. Even my idle speculations above, were I to consider them more than speculations, would make me superstitious.

  • M.M.

    Norrie writes:”If you accept “something” as your default state, you’ll still probably wonder how/why that “something” was there in the first place.Buddhism says to look at how things are NOW, and look at how the next moment of existence arises. What are its causes? The answer is the previous moment of existence (awareness, physical form). If you accept that, then there can’t be a point at which there wasn’t anything at all.Buddhism sees time as something that ultimately falls apart. It is just another abstract concept. Science, for all of the cold hard logic we ascribe to it, is really explaining things with abstractions. Numbers are concepts. They’re relative. “One” only works relative to “many” and vice versa.So, we’re putting forth questions and arguments here about the ultimate, about how things ultimately exist, but we’re using abstract concepts and language of our own creation. Buddhism aims to go beyond that with meditation where you eventually, after a lot of work, arrive at a point where you are no longer using a conceptual framework to interface with reality — you are just experiencing it directly.In these forums, agnostics and atheists often say if we don’t know yet for sure, then there’s no basis for believing it yet. And I certainly respect that view, and relate to it. Buddhism says, you CAN know… or, more precisely, you can experience it directly.

  • Drew

    What I find encouraging is the great number of atheists commenting here,all articulate and and sensible.

  • daniel

    Jacques Berlinerblau has made an honest attempt at speculating with this recent piece of his–which is far from the typical modern atheist thinking. I confess to being totally puzzled by modern atheism. It seems not to have been informed by much reading–no foundation in classical literature, etc.I conclude that modern atheists have been formed by modern conversation more than anything else. How else to explain a group composed of individuals that reason in similar fashion but bear no real relationship to the history of atheism and religion?Jacques Berlinerblau is correct in this questioning between living large or simply well. Supposing modern atheists have at all well understood the concept “God” which they dismiss–and there is much evidence they have not understood the concept very well (read Maimonides guide for the perplexed, that will help)–it is quite obvious that merely living well is not enough for man in an atheistic world.Eliminating God naturally turns into a suspicion of all forms of determinism and if one accepts regular patterns in nature they are somewhat analogous to the waves a surfer catches, which can be of great benefit, but ultimately one is left indeterminate, with only oneself to determine direction in life. This means that what morality is must constantly be reflected upon and never taken for granted.But our modern atheists seem to believe that man can just be moral without God–and even point to morality in animals as if man without God should just–or rather will–live like an animal just going down through the years being moral (an animal moral determinism without God). Or we have atheists pointing to evil in the world as evidence of the impossibility of a benevolent creator and then turning right around and saying we can be moral without God. In general there is very little honesty to these modern atheists. More left wing nonsense than any real speculation on problems in a world without God.Quite evidently in a world without God–and with only determinisms which are temporary and do not trace back to a creator–man is fundamentally a creature in a world of chance. Regular patterns may crop up here and there in nature, but they are never to be relied upon. One must be as a navigator. And in such a world one must live large rather than well. One must alter thought AND behavior constantly–never take for granted one knows correct actions. One has no real choice but to constantly attempt to become something of the very God one dismisses–religion comes back in that very concentrated form. One dismisses the supernatural but that of course does not keep one from divining the secrets of nature to become as supernatural as possible. Berlinerblau is correct: what exactly is an atheism which does not live large except a misunderstanding of God, atheism, and probably everything else?I strongly recommend to modern atheists to actually read some books–but I suppose that would require honesty, determination and intelligence to begin with, and as we know, modern atheists are merely of greater morality than the rest of us…To conclude, Jacque’s last reflections on Ravelstein are of a piece with his previous reflections on living large or merely well.If for the atheist the pictures end at his death (no life after death) he must make every effort to make sure the pictures continue by making the very species of which he is a part the divine painter (God) in the absence of the painter–or atheism is nothing but nihilism. But atheists these days merely wish to live well…Modern atheists have not taken a step toward becoming God in the absence of God, they have merely reduced man to being an animal, an animal that will just graze and die and be moral in the absence of God. Expect such an atheism to be rejected–by both religion and true atheism.For that is the nature of man.

  • JoeT

    Daniel: how exactly would a foundation in classical literature (instead of my degree in Philosophy from Yale) make me a more interesting atheist? Or make my atheism more interesting, let alone undermine it altogether, as you seem to imply? Nothing I have ever read inspires me to believe, period. I take my beliefs from my own critical thinking. I cannot deduce that only religion would explain moral behavior, I deduce the opposite. You cannot argue from conclusions that the premises are wrong just because you don’t like the conclusions. And if you want to use logic at all, you will have a huge problem explaining how it is remotely logical that everyone happens to agree that their parents have true faith in the true god for any reason other than that their parents did, and that that is the dumbest possible source of belief.

  • Henry James

    Joey (and Daniel)I showed your post to my brother William,(though don’t tell anyone that William has any respect for Yale).

  • Anonymous

    MM writei don’t think this is *exactly* what most of us say.I think we sayI believe lots of things that i don’t know for sure, and i think many atheists do.and i often think i have good reason for believing these things.I just try to not say I KNOW something that i don’t know.

  • Anonymous

    Taken from the ON FAITH homepage upper righthand corner:THE GOD VOTEPlease correct the spelling of this poor man’s name. First the humiliation of posting his sourpuss picture and now you’re not even sure of his name..

  • Drew

    Joet;

  • Jihadist

    Henry James,It is such a relief for me that you are not one of those posters who write posts as if they are making a presentation at a conference or seminar. If I want those, I will go to the conference/seminars or get the papers. Very interesting indeed, your breakdown. It seem quite close to the percentage of people who don’t belief in God/gods in the US actually. About 60% don’t according to a survey. I don’t know for sure actually how many “don’t knows” were included in that percentage of that survey. My friend, you do remember that Cambridge by the Cam River was where Bertrand Russell was, and was stripped of his post due to his then “controversial” views on this and that. And lots of irreverent atheists too in Cambridge, including the Monty Python gang quoted in name by Tonio in one of his posts here. There’s a cliche – an Oxford man walks as if he owns the world. A Cambridge man walks as if he didn’t care who did. So, now you know where the Monty Python gang are coming from. The Cambridge irreverence rubs on everyone there. After all, Cambridge was founded by “rebels” from Oxford. I still think Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian” is the best and a classic on why one is an atheist. Dawkins and Dennett are excellent for their scientific approach. But Harris, and, especially Hitchens, really do make my eyes roll up sometimes. Both are populists and polemicists. But we have to have them too. Best regards as always and good night.”J”

  • Waldo

    Norrie HoytHey didn`t you just win the academy award for best atheist on these threads,or something.

  • NAB:

    Daniel, regarding your comment: “Quite evidently in a world without God–and with only determinisms which are temporary and do not trace back to a creator–man is fundamentally a creature in a world of chance. Regular patterns may crop up here and there in nature, but they are never to be relied upon. One must be as a navigator. And in such a world one must live large rather than well. One must alter thought AND behavior constantly–never take for granted one knows correct actions.”The same would seem to be true even for people who subscribe to a god-given code of morality. The Commandment, “Thou shall not kill” seems like a nice, sturdy, immutable proscription until it’s amended, by nearly all Christian sects at least, to exclude cases of self-defense, defense of innocent others, “just wars”, capital punishment, and other situations. Wearing cotton and wool together were, at one time, grounds for consequences of Biblical proportions. Where I’m from, wearing makeup, playing cards and dancing are still considered by some to be e-tickets straight to hell. And, if you want to see true navigation, ask a Catholic priest sometime why merely “assisting” in an abortion results in automatic excommunication while deliberately murdering a 2 year old doesn’t. If you want your head to explode, have him frame his answer for both pre-Limbo and post-Limbo contingencies. If a-theistic moral codes are so shakey how did we ever survive long enough, as a species, to see the day when we were forbidden to covet our neighbor’s ox?

  • GAD

    Tonio said:”GAD,”based on the best information we have today we say that there are no god or god(s) and have no reason to suppose that that will change in the future…we use the same criteria “best information available” to make a choice on everything else, so why not this…”I think I may take it one step further then you do, in an earlier post you said”If we cannot answer a question about the universe, the only responsible course of action is to admit that we don’t know the answer.”I chose an answer to “why is there something instead of nothing”, “no (or ever knowable) reason” based on the reasons I gave in my past post. There are many people who believe that the only reasonable position is the agnostic one and that no belief is superior to belief on the question of “why is there something instead of nothing”. I say why should I live and die (since an answer, if there is an answer, which I don’t believe there is, will not likely come in my life time) and consider never taking a position on such things (based on the best possible information available) as either reasonable or superior……

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Hi, Waldo,No, no Academy award for me – I don’t deal in foolishness unless it’s intentional.However, among the two dozen awards that Jihadist bestowed recently on posters here, she did name me “Best Wit”.I’m very happy and proud of that. I’d much rather be known as funny than as learned, philosophical, or religious.I am disappointed that you thought I was an atheist. I’ve posted ad nauseam that I’m an agnostic with Buddhist sympathies. Agnosticism is the most rational approach to these questions.I hadn’t noticed that I’d been drubbed on this thread. I thought we had an interesting discussion where some disagreed with my approach. Disagreement makes these discussions interesting. There’s no fun if everyone’s of one mind.As I said in an earlier post, I thought that Pope Lucius III and his Inquisition had eliminated you Waldensians* in the 1200′s and, as with the Cavemen in the Geico commercial, I had thought you guys were no longer around.* Founded by your namesake, Peter Waldo.Congratulations on escaping, and best wishes to you.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Hi, Jihadist and Henry J.,Sorry I didn’t see your latest posts when they appeared last evening. You cosmopolitans stay up too late for me (though heaven knows what time it is where Jihadist is posting from).Up here where I live, “the folks” (as Bill O’Reilly would say) are in bed by 8:30 (including me).It’s nice to live in a place where “the folks” think it’s a couple of centuries ago.Billo pretends to love “the folks”, but his actual, obvious, sneering contempt for them rolls off him like sweat.All the best to you.

  • Tonio

    Chris Everett,”Nevertheless, I realize that these sorts of ruminations are just that – ruminations. I also consider it absurdly premature to staple the word “god” to the class of possibilities…I believe that the scientific method is the proper means of discovering what is true about the world, and that anything discovered via the scientific method is, by definition, natural.”I absolutely agree.GAD,”There are many people who believe that the only reasonable position is the agnostic one and that no belief is superior to belief on the question of ‘why is there something instead of nothing’. I say why should I live and die…and consider never taking a position on such things (based on the best possible information available) as either reasonable or superior…”Your position is not much different from mine. I don’t count myself as among the agnostics you criticize in the beginning of the paragraph. My “best information available” position is somewhere between agnosticism and atheism. I don’t consider my position a “belief” since it’s grounded in information instead of rumination. Like Chris Everett, I acknowledge the possibility of finding compelling evidence for the existence of deity. But like you and Chris, I see no reason to treat that possibility as a probability. Part of the issue is that our language doesn’t seem to have a word for the “best information available” approach to answering such questions.

  • yoyo

    Jihadist;Selamat Pagi.(it’s 7;15am here on the west coast)OK you win. Voltaire’s racism is unforgivable.Goethe thought highly of him,”Depth,genius,imagination,taste,reason,sensibility,philosophy,Like I said,he wasn’t all bad.

  • M.M.

    WALDO: Someone who thought the world was flat back in the day would have said “bullsh1t” to anyone who said it was round. That idea would have “totally collided with reality as [they] knew it.”Science is like someone showing you a photo of a house, so you know it exists. Most religions are like someone just saying, I don’t have a photo, just take my word on it, it’s a great house. And Buddhism is like someone saying, I don’t have a photo, but here’s a map, if you follow the path shown on the map, you’ll find the house. (Please note that to a Buddhist, the Buddhist path is superior even to science in the long run, because you aren’t just seeing a photo–a metaphor for understanding reality via a conceptual framework–you are arriving, eventually, at the actual house, and you can walk thru it and experience it.)

  • Tonio

    “Quite evidently in a world without God–and with only determinisms which are temporary and do not trace back to a creator–man is fundamentally a creature in a world of chance. Regular patterns may crop up here and there in nature, but they are never to be relied upon.”Daniel, the universe is not a place of randomness. If that were true, we couldn’t count on gravity or magnetism. Nothing happens by chance. That doesn’t mean that each event is caused by a deity who makes a conscious choice to make that event happen. Instead, it means that each event is caused by a specific series of preceding events, and if one of those events did not happen then the outcome event would be different.”One must alter thought AND behavior constantly–never take for granted one knows correct actions.”Your word “correct” suggests that you believe morality is about following rules. Is that the case? Humans have a moral sense, and while it is certainly not perfect, it does help shape our judgments. And socialization plays a role in morality as well, although this isn’t perfect either. Your scenario sounds like an airliner disaster movie where the flight attendant is searching desperately among hundreds of buttons and switches and dials, trying to figure out which one will safely land the plane.

  • Chris Everett

    The incredible contributions to humanity made by “great” people are not diminished by thier flaws. Some of my heros are:Albert Einstein – womanizerMartin Luther King – dittoBenjamin Franklin – absentee husbandThomas Jefferson – preening slaveowning spendthriftIsaac Newton – neurotic, obsessive-compulsive, petty, paranoid bastardVoltaire – enough said

  • GAD

    Norrie Hoyt said:”‘Unless you accept the Buddhist idea of an infinite number of universes existing eternally, or something similar, you’ll probably try to conceive that there was a state where absolutely nothing existed [I'm not sure humans can conceive such a state.].’Then the question is, “How could anything possibly have come into existence?” is in front of us.’”Well I’m not Buddhist, nor do I find anything inspiring or compelling within Buddhism that would lead me to believe that it knows anything about anything. Even within science I don’t see much that would compel one to entertain the idea of an infinite number of universes existing eternally, or something similar. I have tried to conceive that there was a state where absolutely nothing existed, but could not reconcile that with causation. A creator can not be the answer because it fails for the same reason. That leads me, through logical deduction, to believe that “something” is the natural state of things and that “nothing” is probably not even possible.Is anyone aware of any scientific theory that starts from the state of “absolutely nothing” or even suggest that that is even possible?So on the question of “How could anything possibly have come into existence? the only reasonable answer (to me) would seem to be that it didn’t.

  • yoyo

    Chris Everett;I’ve read and enjoyed all your comments,above,and hope you continue to post your outstanding observations on these threads,for our edification and enjoyment.

  • GAD

    M.M.said:”So, we’re putting forth questions and arguments here about the ultimate, about how things ultimately exist, but we’re using abstract concepts and language of our own creation. Buddhism aims to go beyond that with meditation where you eventually, after a lot of work, arrive at a point where you are no longer using a conceptual framework to interface with reality — you are just experiencing it directly.”So, once you are “just experiencing reality directly” what great insighst come from that? Can you see what tomorrows lotto numbers will be, does the cure for cancer lay there etc. etc. Or like Christianity, does it just provide a systematic method of self delusion that give ones life in this world meaning and purpose by way of preparation for the next world where all things will be reveled. Just once I’d like see someone who has claimed to have found the meaning of life provide something of real value in this life and not just a promise of something better in the next.

  • JoeT

    Henry and Drew: thanks!Daniel: the proposition that God is required for the universe to be orderly is absurd. in fact, an activist god performing miracles brings disorder to what otherwise would always follow the laws as we discover them.I was once not only Catholic, but in Opus Dei. I consider myself at least as, if not more, moral now that I have jettisoned my faith as illegitimate, as I now believe it is rooted in the truth, that the human species is quite capable of living right, and defining same, without religious notions. as for agnosticism being superior, I don’t quarrel with anyone who can’t decide not to believe, but it is not logical to claim that not taking a position is in any way the superior path. Either god exists or he does not. Not deciding what you believe because you can’t is just fine, but it poses a problem if you ever face an issue where you just have to decide. fortunately, there aren’t many of those, if any (which is another point, but enough for now).

  • Michael Bindner

    The dichotomy, as you say, applies to religious and non-religious people alike.It goes to a key question: “who is the beneficiary of moral behavior?”Unless one’s God is codependent, the beneficiary is not God. God is perfectly happy, if He/She/They exists and is perfect, so misbehaviour by humans cannot dimish Him/Her/Them.This means that morality (like the Sabbath) is for man/woman to live happily in this life. Belief in the next life implies that this life simply continues. The standard for morality thus becomes workability, both for the individual and the species.

  • M.M.

    GAD said:”So, once you are “just experiencing reality directly” what great insighst come from that? Can you see what tomorrows lotto numbers will be, does the cure for cancer lay there etc. etc. Or like Christianity, does it just provide a systematic method of self delusion that give ones life in this world meaning and purpose by way of preparation for the next world where all things will be reveled.”I hear you. I felt the same way that you do, and still do about most religions. So why do I have an interest in Buddhism? Because it is different, in my opinion.Buddhism says that if you are here in a body you are already deluded, by default. You are deluded because your mind (your awareness) mistakenly sees itself as the body, or tied to it, and it sees itself as real. Which is to say that it sees some “me-ness” there. Something existing from its own side. We all operate that way, right? If someone hits you, who gets upset and feels pain? Me, that’s who. We all see things this way. And an enemy, they’re very real, right? From their own side. They are inherently existent. So are things: my car, my mug, my girlfriend, etc. These things are real.Buddhism says this entire view of existence is mistaken. And there’s not really any magic involved, not much mysticism at all. It’s just simple logic that you can do with your own mind–you don’t even need a microscope. It goes like this: everything changes. We’re made up of atoms/energy, and it’s changing. Our current body will continue to change and then cease to function. Our awareness changes every millisecond. So where is the solid, real “me” that we cherish and protect? Look for it and you won’t find it. It is merely a designation, a concept imputed on a collection of parts. You get more and more insight into this as you move along your way to enlightenment, and then enlightenment is said to be when you have totally removed all mistaken consciousnesses, and even the predispositions for them. So, it’s removing the inability to see the world we are in now, not arriving at some new magical place.And, an enlightened being might be able to see tomorrow’s lotto numbers, but if they could, I don’t think they would care.

  • daniel

    To all atheists that responded to me (Tonio, Joet, the rest). A very big misconception atheists seem to have revolves around the problem of determinism versus indeterminism, whether the world is fundamentally a world of chance or ordered to the point of God.We will now examine the problem. A truly atheistic viewpoint would be one which is suspicious of all determinisms–would be a viewpoint that although recognizes order all around us still resists seeing such order traced back to a creator. In other words a true atheist will live in a world of partial determinisms and resist total determinisms precisely because total determinism smacks (in today’s language) of intelligent design or God.But of course atheists throughout history have not been capable of removing themselves from determinism as much as the position “atheist” demands. A sterling example–and I submit the example which is probably the reason for modern atheists constantly speaking of an ordered, moral universe without God–is the example descended from Hegel through Marx which is an atheism which however believes in the inevitability of a particular type of economic order, etc.This in my opinion is a false atheism. It is a piece of bad reasoning in other words to dismiss God but then turn right around and insist on order, causation, determinism without God. That piece of tricky reasoning is of a piece with Christian fudgings as to whether Christ is all human or half human or fully God. A true atheist position in dismissing God must–if to be philosophically honest–be suspicious of all determinism and the logical consequence of dismissing religion and arriving at atheism is not modern liberalism (Democratic party) as so many atheists seem to assume. Honestly modern atheists, do you really believe that dismissing God is a simple affair of arriving at your groupthink (you all certainly seem on the same page) and nothing more?A true atheist politics would be something a bit different I can assure you–probably something of the federal reserve and monetary policy taken to new heights (capacity to inflate and deflate) in the sense that through genetics we will breed individuals that assure economic plenty (that all are equal monetarily as in communism–thus the triumph of the left) but the mistakes of communism will not be made because breeding quality individuals will take precedence over methods of redistribution (thus the triumph of a type of rightwing, libertarian, individualistic outlook).But modern atheists evidently prefer their little philosophy tricks of being against religion, God, that atheism is not a world of chance, that we have a happy little group which is evidently liberal (democratic party). And this modern atheists call critical thinking, being moral, being more intelligent than the religious…Much more can be said, but perhaps the best that can be said for now is how really does anyone expect me to take modern atheists for being moral when really there is no examination of their own position? Every day we get the same arguments, the same cocksure nonsense displayed by the modern atheists which leads me to believe that what we have here is really liberalism just modifying itself to take on a particular aspect of the Republican party–its dominance by religion. Politics and nothing more. No real philosophy discussion. No real willingness to examine the problem of atheism.

  • daniel

    To all atheists that responded to me (Tonio, Joet, the rest). A very big misconception atheists seem to have revolves around the problem of determinism versus indeterminism, whether the world is fundamentally a world of chance or ordered to the point of God.We will now examine the problem. A truly atheistic viewpoint would be one which is suspicious of all determinisms–would be a viewpoint that although recognizes order all around us still resists seeing such order traced back to a creator. In other words a true atheist will live in a world of partial determinisms and resist total determinisms precisely because total determinisms smack (in today’s language) of intelligent design or God.But of course atheists throughout history have not been capable of removing themselves from determinism as much as the position “atheist” demands. A sterling example–and I submit the example which is probably the reason for modern atheists constantly speaking of an ordered, moral universe without God–is the example descended from Hegel through Marx which is an atheism which however believes in the inevitability of a particular type of economic order, etc.This in my opinion is a false atheism. It is a piece of bad reasoning in other words to dismiss God but then turn right around and insist on order, causation, determinism without God. That piece of tricky reasoning is of a piece with Christian fudgings as to whether Christ is all human or half human or fully God. A true atheist position in dismissing God must–if to be philosophically honest–be suspicious of all determinism and the logical consequence of dismissing religion and arriving at atheism is not modern liberalism (Democratic party) as so many atheists seem to assume. Honestly modern atheists, do you really believe that dismissing God is a simple affair of arriving at your groupthink (you all certainly seem on the same page) and nothing more?A true atheist politics would be something a bit different I can assure you–probably something of the federal reserve and monetary policy taken to new heights (capacity to inflate and deflate) in the sense that through genetics we will breed individuals that assure economic plenty (that all are equal monetarily as in communism–thus the triumph of the left) but the mistakes of communism will not be made because breeding quality individuals will take precedence over methods of redistribution (thus the triumph of a type of rightwing, libertarian, individualistic outlook).But modern atheists evidently prefer their little philosophy tricks of being against religion, God, that atheism is not a world of chance, that we have a happy little group which is evidently liberal (democratic party). And this modern atheists call critical thinking, being moral, being more intelligent than the religious…Much more can be said, but perhaps the best that can be said for now is how really does anyone expect me to take modern atheists for being moral when really there is no examination of their own position? Every day we get the same arguments, the same cocksure nonsense displayed by the modern atheists which leads me to believe that what we have here is really liberalism just modifying itself to take on a particular aspect of the Republican party–its dominance by religion. Politics and nothing more. No real philosophy discussion. No real willingness to examine the problem of atheism.

  • Tonio

    Daniel,Can you explain what you mean when you talk about determinism? I’ve been talking about the basic principle of cause and effect. In an indirect way, I’ve been arguing against the hateful belief that acts of nature are punishments or rewards from deities.

  • Chris Everett

    YOYO:Thanks, for the kind words, I appreciate your posts too.GAD:The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics is non-causal. Specifically, it posits that the unobserved world exists in a “superposition” of possible states. Schrodinger’s equation gives the ODDS on what state will be observed if an observation is made. When an observation IS made, the “state vector” collapses, totally at random, from its superposition of many possibilities to just one particular observed value. Under this interpretation, the collapse creates information that didn’t exist before, namely the particular observed value. This is kind of getting something that wasn’t there before, although you can’t say it was nothing.Additionally, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which is a consequence of Schrodinger’s equation, says that there are pairs of observables (such as momentum and position) that are mutually exclusive such that by observing one quantity (i.e. by collapsing the state vector to a definite value) you NECESSARILY UNCOLLAPSE the state vector from a definite value for the other quantity, if it happened to be in one (i.e. you put it back into a superposition of the other quantity’s possible values). A strange consequence of this is that you CAN’T HAVE NOTHING, since it would require simultaneously knowing something definite about BOTH quantities! Instead, we have “quantum foam” – particles coming into and out of existence for tiny amounts of time. Their existence has been verified by the tiny pressure they exert during their breif stay (c.f. the Casmir effect).I’m sure a cosmologist would have something more specific to say about the big bang. I know it’s considered to be a quantum phenomenon.

  • Chris Everett

    DANIEL:I’d like to respond, but I have to go. However, I feel I can confidently agree in advance with the barrage of posts you are about to receive.

  • daniel

    Good grief Tonio! The most preposterous thing about modern atheists is that you always end up defining God in some fashion which suits you–which means you end up dismissing God but then are left with much which people would call God and then turn around and say such is not God. How complex is it to say, to acknowledge, to read, to understand, that for centuries now people have recognized that if God is dismissed this means there is no determinism–that all is chance, that for all order in the universe fundamentally this rests on a backdrop of chance because there is no God? How complex is that Tonio? Why is it modern atheists cannot recognize what has been a basic part of man’s intellectual history?You modern atheists seem to want to dismiss God but then preserve determinism which of course is of a piece with Hegel and Marx. But this is intellectual jibber jabber. Anyone with basic honesty can see that a dismissal of God leads to indeterminism–which is why we have the concept of indeterminism in the first place. Or are you now going to blame the concept of indeterminism, its origin, on believers in God? Honestly, I feel like I am talking to children or something. Read Maimonides or Aron on the philosophy of history to gain some clarity. At the least ask yourself why it is every single day every post by modern atheists is the same set of reasonings…Try an experiment and criticize your own positions, modern atheists,–for that is true scientific reasoning. But no, this is not about science at all–mere political uproar in a different guise….

  • M.M.

    Daniel,Buddhism has had a system that explains how there can be an “ordered, moral universe without God” for nearly 2,600 years. Hindu thinkers have done some work in this area as well, I believe. These systems are the product of some of the greatest minds from the oldest civilizations on Earth. They deal directly and quite thoroughly with the issue of determinism (we all know ‘karma’ … though we usually misunderstand it in the West).I’m not saying you have to learn about Eastern thought if you don’t want to, just like an atheist doesn’t have to learn about Christianity if they don’t want to. But you seem to be accusing atheists of selectively focusing on what they want to, avoiding what they don’t want, in order to maintain their view. But if you avoid how Eastern philosophy deals with determinism, are you not doing the same thing?

  • GAD

    M.M. said:”And, an enlightened being might be able to see tomorrow’s lotto numbers, but if they could, I don’t think they would care.”Well that’s terribly convenient isn’t it, I could cure AIDS but I am far to happy to care about doing so. :)So the mind is real and the body is an illusion, correct? The mind sounds a lot like the soul. Some questions, 1) Is the mind material? 2) What do you think causes so many minds to find/need/create/image the bodies that it sees itself as, or tied to? 3) Where did the first mind(s) come from? 4)When we have children, is a new mind created or does an existing mind (from somewhere) attach itself to the illusion of the baby body that the mommy and daddy minds imagined?

  • JoeT

    Daniel: I could start by saying you don’t understand Marx or Hegel, but why bother. I can’t deduce any political position from my atheism. Nor do I need God for order, nor do I have to invent any substitute quasi god to get the order I need. I have no idea why the universe is as ordered as it is. it’s marvelous. god seems to be the most ridiculous explanation for that. and your whole endeavor of logically supporting the existence of god from such arguments is necessarily bogus. god may exist, but if he does, it’s a matter of faith. if his existence could be proven, it would not be faith. arguments from logic cannot, as a matter of metaphysics, ever be legitimate with respect to the presence or absence of god. get over it, and believe what you will. I am cool with that.

  • daniel

    To M.M. from Daniel. Thank you M.M. for demonstrating with sterling clarity modern atheist nonsense. I really must congratulate you.One of the most confounded lowdown tricks of modern atheism is the claim the Buddhists are atheists and vice-versa. An atheist believe in buddhism–consider it atheistic–when there is as little evidence of reincarnation or the end state of nirvana as there is for God (according to atheists)? Atheists dismiss God at the origin but accept as perfectly acceptable the ultimate end state called Nirvana? What a lowdown trick. What a perfect example of not really atheism but lowdown leftwing upraising of anything not associated with monotheism–especially anything associated with the republican party. No M.M. I am not avoiding how Eastern religions deal with determinism–for they deal with it in as logical a manner as Westerners: they recognize the world is indeterminate if they cannot reach the end state of Nirvana–that is the hope. And that hope is strictly analogous to a God belief. Certainly it has more in common with monotheism than atheism–which is why buddhism is called a type of religion and not atheism.The question for modern atheists is rather how they can dismiss God but then prattle on about Buddhism–that is the question. But once again, that would require the very honesty and morality that atheists are so damn sure exists without God.But this is all political nonsense and not really about atheism.

  • M.M.

    GAD said: “Well that’s terribly convenient isn’t it, I could cure AIDS but I am far to happy to care about doing so.”In Buddhism, enlightened beings are thought to be omniscient but not omnipotent. They do care very much about the suffering of beings, and they do whatever they can. But they can’t come down and cure everyone. If they were able to do that, they would have already. Disease and the like happen due to karma. There’s lots written on the subject.GAD said: “So the mind is real and the body is an illusion, correct? The mind sounds a lot like the soul.”The mind is real and form is real, the parts that make up the body. But the “I” the “you” and things (car, house) are not inherently real, meaning they are constantly in flux, can’t be pinned down, we just see them as inherently real, mistakenly. The mind is not like the soul at all in the sense that it is also not inherently real, nothing you can pin down. Just a continuum of awarenesses strung together, each successive one giving rise to the next.GAD: “Some questions 1) Is the mind material?”No, it is said to be not physical. Different flavor of existence. I don’t really understand this very well.GAD: “2) What do you think causes so many minds to find/need/create/image the bodies that it sees itself as, or tied to? 3) Where did the first mind(s) come from?”These are questions I struggle with. The answer I’ve been given is, basically, it’s just always been this way, for infinite past lives. So there’s no ‘original cause’ in a chronological sense, just a mind mistakenly grasping onto phenomena forever until now.GAD: “4)When we have children, is a new mind created or does an existing mind (from somewhere) attach itself to the illusion of the baby body that the mommy and daddy minds imagined?”A new mind from somewhere attaches itself to the sperm and egg once they’ve joined, but the mommy and daddy minds don’t really play a role, except that to some degree the mind that is wandering is attracted to the mom and or dad–that’s part of what that mind is attracted to.

  • daniel

    To Joet from Daniel. Thank you for making some sense. I am not defending a belief in God (it tells a lot about modern atheists that they would automatically think so). I agree with you there is order and it takes faith to trace such as determined back to God. But if it takes faith to trace such back to God then there is no certainty to determinism–that in fact the universe is “oh, so wonderfully and marvellously ordered”.–Which is why the atheist view is one of fundamentally a world of chance, and therefore man in such a world…(Now please meditate moderns atheists on what it would be like for man to really meditate on such a problem–the problem with respect to politics, economics, etc.). Thank you.

  • M.M.

    Daniel said:According to Buddhism as I understand it, the world is determinate via karma whether or not someone has reached enlightenment, or hopes to reach it. The act of beings hoping for something doesn’t change how existence operates.I agree that there are some similarities between Buddhism and theistic religions; but most Buddhists consider themselves atheists, because a buddha is a regular being, just like you or me, who has merely removed the inability to experience reality directly. We all have this ability.In short, Buddhism is atheism with determinism. That’s what Buddhists think of their own religion, in any case. And they didn’t do it as a “lowdown dirty trick,” at least I don’t think that was their motivation.

  • yoyo

    Daniel;If you want to know the atheist position,ask an atheist.Or read a book on the subject.You could get a bad case of cognitive dissonance trying to put your head in atheists shoes,so to speak.Look,it’s no big deal.You don’t have to be a philosopher to doubt the existence of god.Anybody can do it.Atheists don’t believe there’s a god;that’s all. Everything comes from that. There is no reason for an atheist,or anyone else,to believe in god.God is made up;just like Adonis was made up.Just like Isis was made up.

  • Henry james

    No No Yo Yoiadmit all those other gods are made up, but mine is real!!!His name is Rev Ted Haggart. Ever see the body on that guy!Adonis, move over in the bed.

  • Betty

    DanielYou keep making a fool of yourself here,Keep up the entertaining work. Eventually, you will get at least one thing right.Betty

  • yoyo

    Henry James;Of course Henry,of course I’m not including Big Ted.(PBUH) He really does exist.I’m sure he went out Haloweening dressed as himself last night,enough to scare the bejeesus out of anybody.

  • Drew

    I seem to remember a porno film called Living Large.

  • Tonio

    Daniel,I’ve said many times I don’t consider myself an atheist because I acknowledge the possibility of a god. I just see no reason to treat a god’s existence as probable since there is no evidence for it.I’m not schooled in different philosophies, so I can’t say for certain what determinism is and how it’s related to Hegel and Marx. (And if your reference to those men is intended to suggest that I’m a communist, them’s fightin’ words.) I’m not trying to argue for determinism or even against it. In fact, I’m not taking any philosophical stance other than for naturalism over supernaturalism, because there is no empirical evidence for the latter. The question of a god must be addressed empirically and not philosophically, unless one defines one’s god as a concept or metaphor instead of as an actual being.Your references to “chance” remind me of the creationist claim that natural selection results in life having no meaning. What is your stance on the concept of natural laws? The deist attributes these to a god, which is a position that I can appreciate. But for the scientist, it’s enought that these laws exist and that they allow for the prediction of certain natural events.

  • Chris Everett

    Daniel:Instead of your arrogant incoherence, why not at least define your terms and present your point of view in an understandable? What do you mean by “God”? Why do you relate God with determinism, especially when the god of the Bible is so arbitrary? By determinism, are you suggesting that everything that happens does so because it was intended to happen, thus requiring God as the source of the intention?

  • NAB:

    I don’t know how I’m going to break it to Moms that the real reason she’s voted with the Democrats for the past 60-some years is because she’s probably some kind of bogus atheist.

  • GAD

    Chris Everett:You are probably far more well versed in this then I, but bare with me here, doesn’t want you stated support the idea that there isn’t a “nothingness” state?”The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics is non-causal. Specifically, it posits that the unobserved world exists in a “superposition” of possible states.”By “superposition” you can not mean that it exists and does not exist at the same time, correct. Therefore for there to a “superposition” there has to be “something” that is in “superposition”. As for non-causal I’m OK with that as the natural state of “something”, causation starts at the point where some “natural state” quantum event hits a probability that results in, for example, the big bang, leading to the completely causal and therefore deterministic universe that we find ourself in. “the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which is a consequence of Schrodinger’s equation, says that there are pairs of observables (such as momentum and position)”Again to observe something means there has to be “something” to observe.A strange consequence of this is that you CAN’T HAVE NOTHING, since it would require simultaneously knowing something definite about BOTH quantities! Instead, we have “quantum foam” – particles coming into and out of existence for tiny amounts of time.This I don’t get, to know something about anything (simultaneously or otherwise) means there has to be “something” to know about. The only strange consequence I can see would be “simultaneously knowing something definite about two quantities” of “nothing”, which you state you can’t have, so what’s the “strange consequence” here?

  • GAD

    M.M.:Thanks for the reply! I have one more question. So the mind is immaterial, but the body is material “Different flavor of existence”, correct? So does the mind create the body and the world that the body operates in? If not how could bodies come into existence on their own, since they couldn’t survive without a mind to drive them.

  • M.M.

    GAD said:”So does the mind create the body and the world that the body operates in? If not how could bodies come into existence on their own, since they couldn’t survive without a mind to drive them.”I think you’re asking: how did a body first come to be so that an awareness could then attach to it? In the Buddhist view, there is no beginning. The way things are (awareness and form, and awareness attaching itself to form) is beginningless.You might ask, how can you prove that it’s beginningless? Buddhists look at how things exist right now, physical and mental, and they look very carefully and scrutinize how things exist and function. This is the purpose of meditation. They would argue that begninningless existence is far more consistent with how things can be observed to behave right now, right here, than an explanation that posits a beginning. When you have a beginning and no end, it doesn’t make sense. How could that be? Clearly there can’t be an infinite forwards in time without an infinite backwards in time. And then, logically, if something is here now, then something must have always been. Then some say there is a God or divine force that was always there determining how things are. But where is the proof of that?To those who say Buddhism can’t prove nirvana or future/past lives, just as other religions can’t prove heaven/creation, I would say this: By logic, you can see that each moment of matter/form and each moment of awareness are effects of causes, namely the immediately preceding moment of form or awareness. Logically, we could say this is more likely to have gone back forever and will go forward forever, than we are able to logically say otherwise. This is how past/future lives are proven: the awareness, just because the body is no longer there, doesn’t just stop. As for nirvana, given that we can see that “Me” or “cup of coffee” only exist as concepts, and that our clinging to a body and therefore suffering out of ignorance (thinking our body will last forever, thinking we can ‘own’ things, have things, accumulate things), and then seeing that it might be possible to get to a point where you are no longer seeing via this illusory, conceptual model, then you see it is possible to reach nirvana. Nirvana is not some state you get to by worshiping a divine being, or by a divine being’s power. It is simply getting to a point where you see this very reality for what it really is (free of concepts).

  • M.M.

    Sorry, I’m feeling verbose today. I’ll stop after this.GAD: I didn’t answer part of your question, really. There is one Buddhist ‘school’ called the Mind Only school, and they do believe that the mind essentially creates the whole of existence. I study Tibetan Buddhism which is the Middle Way school (middle between nihilism and eternalism … meaning, yes things exist, but nothing lasts forever in some fixed way, nothing has a permanent self).So, no, the mind does not create the body and the world of form. The mind and the world of form have always existed, and exist in an interdependent way.

  • GAD

    Chris Everett:”in standard quantum mechanics the SYSTEM exists (e.g. we have an electron, a photon, a baseball, whatever), but its PROPERTIES (e.g. position, velocity, color) DON’T exist in a DETERMINATE manner until the system is observed. Instead, they exist as a set of possibilities.”I’m OK with the above and I read the link. What I don’t see is a definition of “nothing” nor anything that precludes the universe that we live it from being causal and deterministic, at least at the level we operate at within it. Would you agree with that?”I should have said space can’t be empty. Everything I know about physics presumes the existence of a universe in which physics plays out.”If space-time (and our universe) started at the BB, there had to be “something” before space-time and the universe, physics or no physics, so it seems to me that “something” would have to be the natural state and that “nothing” probably isn’t even a possibility.So on the question of “why is there something instead of nothing” my answer is “no (or ever knowable) reason” because if “something” came from “nothing” then we can never know, and if “something” is the natural state then we can’t go beyond it i.e. “no reason”, that’s the way it “is”.I’m looking to see if my beliefs hold up scientifically, so if anyone knows something that scientifically proves my beliefs wrong (and can explain it so I can understand it) I would very much like to hear it.

  • GAD

    M.M.:Thanks for replying to my questions. I learned a lot and have refined my opinions about the beliefs of Buddhism. Sorry to say they are not positive. If your interested, I’ll try and state them in a post, but that could get ugly…….

  • M.M.

    GAD:

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