Marian Times

Focus on the Medjugorje apparitions and the Catholic Church in the Bosnia Herzegovina region. Other Catholic items of general interest.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Why Atheists Don't Believe

A reply to Austin Cline's Article at:
In this article, Austin Cline reels off a few of the main reasons he thinks atheists would respond to the question "Why don't you believe?"

Multiple Gods and Religious Traditions: It is difficult to credit any one religion as being True or any one god as being True when there have been so many throughout human history. None appears to have any greater claim to being more credible or reliable than any other. Why Christianity and not Judaism? Why Islam and not Hinduism? Why monotheism and not polytheism? Every position has had its defenders, all as ardent as those in other traditions. They can't all be right, but they can all be wrong.

[Marian Times]
Forget about religion, which is purely man's forum for worship. Look at the bigger picture. The issue is whether God exists in the first place. Pretend we're in the Garden of Eden. From the perspective of Christian religions, confusion even existed so soon after Christ's ascension into Heaven, when Peter and Paul couldn't agree on whether gentiles should be allowed to have access to God. What chance do WE have to get it 100% right these days?

Contradictory Characteristics in Gods: Theists often claim that their gods are perfect beings; they describe gods, however, in contradictory and incoherent ways. Numerous characteristics are attributed to their gods, some of which are impossible and some combinations of which are impossible. As described, it's unlikely or impossible for these gods to exist. This doesn't mean that no god could possibly exist, just that the ones theists claim to believe in don't.

[Marian Times]
See above. The ways we describe God cannot be perfect until we see and know God perfectly. This is not enough reason by anybody's standards to not believe in a god.

Religion in Self-Contradictory: No religion is perfectly consistent when it comes to doctrines, ideas, and history. Every ideology, philosophy, and cultural tradition has inconsistencies and contradictions, so this shouldn't be surprising — but other ideologies and traditions aren't alleged to be divinely created or divinely sanctioned systems for following the wishes of a god. The state of religion in the world today is more consistent with the premise that they are man-made institutions.

[Marian Times]
See above. Confusion between religions and ideologies have existed since the beginning. As with all the above arguments, this objection is similar to an argument which posits throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Gods Are Too Similar to Believers: A few cultures, like ancient Greece, have postulated gods which appear to be as natural as human beings, but in general gods are supernatural. This means that they are fundamentally different from human beings or anything on earth. Despite this, however, theists consistently describe their gods in ways that make the supernatural appear almost mundane. Gods share so many characteristics with humans that it has been argued that gods were made in the image of man.

[Marian Times]
See all of the above!

Gods Just Don't Matter: Theism means believing in the existence of at least one god, not that one necessarily cares much about any gods. In practice, though, theists typically place a great deal of importance on their god and insist that it and what it wants are the most important things a person can be concerned with. Depending upon the nature of a god, however, this isn't necessarily true. It's not obvious that the existence or desires of gods should matter to us.

[Marian Times]
This is probably closer to the truth as a reason for unbelief. It would be interesting to get a demographic on atheists, but I dare to suggest that most atheists are feeling comfortable with the idea of material life being sufficient as the means to achieving all their innermost needs and desires, feeling no need for anything deeper than the basic human functions and goals - work, sex, money, lifestyle, power, peer recognition, etc. Driven by this energy to extract from the material life what they feel will give them the most satisfaction, they likely wouldn't feel any need (or have the time) to explore any possible spiritual side to their existence. How many comfortable atheists have felt the need, for example, to learn about the events at Fatima or Medjugorje, where miracles seem to attest to there actually being a God. That's just one example. There's a lot out there to explore in the way of the supernatural. But atheists just don't manage to find the time....until something happens in their lives, or until their list of things they thought would provide genuine lasting satisfaction gets shorter and shorter as they get older and wiser.

Gods and Believers Behave Immorally: In most religions, gods are supposed to be the source of all morality. For most believers, their religion represents an institution for promoting perfect morality. In reality, though, religions are responsible for widespread immorality and gods have characteristics or histories which make them worse than the most vile human serial killer. No one would tolerate such behavior on the part of a person, but when with a god it all becomes laudable — even an example to follow.

[Marian Times]
I can't understand the logic here. We need backup for these statements that God or believers are not moral. We have to allow for some human weakness within organisations, so I hope the writer isn't feeling tempted to get the tar brush out.

Evil in the World: Closely associated with taking action that should be considered immoral is the fact that there is so much evil in the world today. If there are any gods, why don't they act to eliminate it? The absence of substantive action against evil would be consistent with the existence of evil or at least indifferent gods, which is not impossible, but few people believe in such gods. Most claim that their gods are loving and powerful; the suffering on Earth, makes their existence implausible.

[Marian Times]
Evil in the world is the result of man's actions, not God's. God imbued man with a basic sense of right and wrong. Atheists like to point out, in their defence against needing a set of rules provided by a deity, that they basically know what is right and wrong. The evil is as a result of man's disobedience to his own conscience. Furthermore, the situation may be more complicated than the simplification that God should automatically create a heaven-on-earth scenario. Many believers take the view that we are here for the short-term compared to our eternal afterlife. How we react to the evil in the world, whether we help cause it, what type of an influence we are in the midst of it, all contribute to how we spend eternity. Thus, evil, though undesirable in itself (though we should note that certain people thrive on chaos and evil), can be a mode for good. Take the "evil" of famine. How many people contribute to charities that help alleviate famine? If every well-off person contributed something, if governments ceased corruption and self-serving, famine could be alleviated if not eliminated.

Faith is Unreliable: A common characteristic of both theism and religion is their reliance on faith: belief in the existence of god and in the truth of religious doctrines is neither founded upon nor defended by logic, reason, evidence, or science. Instead, people are supposed to have faith — a position they wouldn’t consciously adopt with just about any other issue. Faith, though, is an unreliable guide to reality or means for acquiring knowledge.

[Marian Times]
Faith in God takes account of a possible afterlife. We have very good reason to suspect that we will still exist in spirit after we physically die. Most believers have this possibility foremost in their minds. It is isn't a matter of whether faith helps us gain more knowledge. There are already enough day-to-day things to learn, such as how to love our neighbours and be better citizens, not to mention our educational and professional learning requirements. Faith simply takes account of a perceived likehood that when we die we will face a supreme being who will demand an account of our earthly existence. This has been borne out, for example, by the many high-profile near-death experiences. And there are other pointers to an eternal afterlife. At its worst, faith is an insurance policy. At its best, faith is a way to come close to our creator and become better human beings in the process. Faith is for people who question life's purpose, who doubt that we can just "exist" and then become plant fertilizer. I would go so far as to say that Faith is for the true free-thinkers, those who allow themselves to believe they will live on in spirit, those who see science in its place - a discoverer of the greatness of the Creator, and whose level of thought is not limited to the progress science may have made thus far in this discovery.

Life is Material, not Supernatural: Most religions say that life is much more than the flesh and matter we see around us. In addition, there is supposed to be some sort of spiritual or supernatural realm behind it all and that our "true selves" is spiritual, not material. All evidence, though, points to life being a purely natural phenomenon. All evidence indicates that who we really our — our selves — is material and dependent upon the workings of the brain. If this is so, religious and theistic doctrines are wrong.

[Marian Times]
What we see with our eyes is certainly material but not the less incredible for this physical aspect, as science is discovering and, in the process, beginning to show more tendency to believe could not be as a result of the chance nature of evolution. Besides, as stated above, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence pointing to there being a spiritual realm. The writer perhaps has not felt the need to study, for example, the phenomenon of Marian apparitions, so prevalent in these times. There are plenty of areas of study the writer can delve into. Why not take a closer look at paranormal phenomenon if this is a more desirable starting point than religious phenomenon per se. This presupposes, however, that he doesn't fall into the category of the "comfortable, can't be bothered, don't see the need" atheist.

There is No Good Reason to Bother Believing: Perhaps the most important and common reason for not believing in any gods and for not following any religions is the absence of any good reason for doing so. All of the above are decent reasons for not believing and are common reasons for questioning — and eventually leaving — whatever theistic and religious beliefs a person might have had in the past. Once a person gets beyond the bias in favor of belief, though, they can realize something critical: the burden of support lies with those claiming that belief is rational and/or necessary. Believers fail to meet this burden, however, and as a consequence fail to provide any really good reasons to accept their claims. As a consequence, those who don't already believe and/or who are not biased in favor of belief aren't given a reason to start.
Given the fact that the burden of support lies first and foremost with those making the positive the claim — the theistic, religious believers — then non-believers don't necessarily need reasons not to believe. They are helpful, to be sure, but they aren't particularly necessary. Instead, what is required are reasons to believe.
The question "Why don't you believe?" is a request for justification from the nonbeliever; the response "I haven't seen any good reason to bother believing" returns the need for justification back to the believer where it belongs. Too often, believers fail to realize that their position is the one which needs defending and perhaps this can help them begin to understand that.

[Marian Times]
As stated above, there is quite compelling anecdotal evidence, for example through near death experiences, for an afterlife where it is suggested that we will undergo some form of "life review". Believers are sober and thoughtful enough to realise the difference between 70 years of earthly life and a possible ETERNITY of spiritual life.
I'm not saying necessarily that atheists are shallow, but I feel that atheists who see no reason to believe simply haven''t stretched their minds, studies and observations far enough in the spiritual direction to find and analyse quite good possible reasons (and by analyse, I mean by themselves with their own minds, not just leap on the first excuse to not believe that they might find in a detraction article on Possible reasons to look further into include a huge number of testimonies, theories and events. There are plenty that are apparently credible enough to demand a closer look, at least in order to rule them out once and for all.
Blindness and ignorance to what is out there, coupled with a comfortable conviction that the physical realm will satisfy all needs and desires are the reason why the comfortable atheists say that they find no reason to believe in God.
I'm not saying that atheists are slovenly in their studies as it is true that many excel in the field of science. However, if many had studied enough, they would note the more than distinct possibility that the universe was indeed created by a supreme being; at least it is a strong argument that it is more credible that the universe had a creator than the universe did NOT.
So, the question "Why don't you believe?" presupposes that the atheist is open enough and has least enough energy to study what evidence IS ACTUALLY OUT THERE to support the existence of God. Anyone who refuses to do this and who instead prefers to embrace the first opportunity to shift the burden of proof isn't even worth asking "Why don't you believe?". These types of people just need to be left alone to get older and wiser. Right now, they don't care and they feel they don't need to care.


  • At 4:42 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    The issue is whether God exists in the first place.

    No, the issue is wether it's reasonable to believe in any gods. The multiple religious traditions means that not all can be true. This is a reason to suspect that none are. Same is true with the contradictory characteristics ascribed to gods. It's invalid to insist that there really is something out there that is rational to believe in, even though you are unable to provide a coherent and consistent description of it.

    Your entire "response" is based on the assumption that you're responding to an argument for why gods don't exist when, in fact, you're responding to an explanation for why it's reasonable to not bother believing in any gods. There's a difference between the two and if you cannot understand that, then you simply aren't prepared to respond to either kind of document.

    Evil in the world is the result of man's actions, not God's.

    Is there evil in heaven? Is there free will in heaven? If there is evil without free will, then one does not require the other. If there is no evil and no free will, then the latter isn't all that important. Either way, it would be possible for there to be no evil here if that's what God wanted. Ergo, the explanation stands as a reasonable basis for not thinking it reasonable to believe in gods.

    Faith in God takes account of a possible afterlife.

    You do a good job of completely ignoring this reason. Anyone can say "I believe in X because of faith," where X is anything. Once "faith" is used as a reason, how can anyone else with faith in some other X reject them? People who rely on faith don't allow for any independent standards for evaluating one X against another. Christian faith, Muslim faith, and Nazi faith are all on the same epistemological level. That makes them all worthless.

    there is plenty of anecdotal evidence pointing to there being a spiritual realm.

    There is "anecdotal evidence" of absolutely anything you want to name. As soon as you accept that as a standard for reasonable belief, you're in the same position as those who rely on faith: no way to demonstrate that one is superior to another.

    there is quite compelling anecdotal evidence, for example through near death experiences, for an afterlife

    The burden of proof is yours to demonstrate that these are supernatural and not natural experiences, especially given how these experiences can be induced at will with chemicals and machines.

  • At 1:29 PM , Anonymous PAUL BAYLIS said...

    "The issue is whether it is reasonable to believe in any gods"

    Well, that's perhaps even easier to answer. It is certainly reasonable if you have followed, for example, the debates between Lane Craig and Quentin Smith in which it is clearly proven that it is more likely that a God exists than that a God does not exist. Visit Lane Craig's website for complete transcripts of these debates.

    "The multiple religious traditions means that not all can be true. This is a reason to suspect that none are."

    Again I say, forget about the FORUM for worship, which is what a "religion" amounts to. Culture and tradition are what forms most religious worship forums.

    What reason do you have to suspect that none are true? Possibly the main reason and only reason is that you have not SEEN God. But that doesn't mean that others have not seen God or had God revealed to them in some way or another. At Medjugorje, for example, it has been proven that the visionaries are definitely experiencing an external vision that cannot be explained naturally. There have been several scientific teams who have been simply dumbfounded. The Vatican always exercises extreme caution when pronouncing that a vision is truly from God and in 25 years it has kept saying "Wait and see". However, there is a new commission forming right now in Medjugorje and many are expecting that the Vatican will finally pronounce that this is indeed from God himself. For those of us who are knowledgable about religious events aroud the world, there is CERTAINLY much more reason to believe that there is a deity than there is NOT one. Much, much, much more. It doesn't matter whether the visionaries are Hindu or Muslim or Catholic, there is too much happening - even if you want to include milk-drinking cows, these are all pointers to there being a God. On the other hand, the only pointer you have to there NOT being a God is that you have not seen God. If you are going to reply that science is gradually becoming more able to explain the universe without a God, then again, I refer you to the Lane Craig debates and I remind you that there are a very large number of Christian scientists. Sorry, but science being able to describe more of the universe does not take away from God's existence ONE IOTA. Science is merely on a pricess of discovering the greatness of God.

    More in my next post....

  • At 1:52 PM , Anonymous PAUL BAYLIS said...

    Backtracking a little...I have re-read your comment
    "The multiple religious traditions means that not all can be true. This is a reason to suspect that none are."

    I see that you are saying that because not all religions traditions can be true, that therefore it is possible that NO religious traditions are true.

    You're like someone looking for loopholes in tax law in order to avoid paying tax. Sure it's a reason, but it's only a reason to not have faith in any one religious TRADITION. i.e. you are talking about FORUMS for worshipping God - however it may be that a religion wants to name their God or however they imagine that their God looks like.

    But, if you want to somehow extrapolate this weird logic to the probable absence of GOD, then your logic collapses because you are essentially saying that because there are many different designs of bicycle frame, there are probably not any bicycles.

  • At 2:22 PM , Anonymous PAUL BAYLIS said...

    "Either way, it would be possible for there to be no evil here if that's what God wanted. Ergo, the explanation stands as a reasonable basis for not thinking it reasonable to believe in gods."

    Yes, but again, why go to such lengths to form a piece of shaky logic to get you out of believing in a God, when it is more reasonable to believe that a God exists than a God does not exist?

    "Anyone can say "I believe in X because of faith," where X is anything."

    Indeed, that is what atheists are best at doing, i.e. "I believe in the non-existence of God because I have complete faith that what I see is completely natural and does not need a God to explain it", despite the fact that there is far more evidence that a God exists than a God does not exist.

    Christian faith, Muslim faith, and Nazi faith are all on the same epistemological level. That makes them all worthless.

    Let's go crazy and add "Atheist Faith" in there too. I'm hearing about evangelist atheists these days.

    "There is "anecdotal evidence" of absolutely anything you want to name."

    Smoke is more likely to be an indication of fire than of the non-existence of fire.

    "The burden of proof is yours to demonstrate that these are supernatural and not natural experiences, especially given how these experiences can be induced at will with chemicals and machines."

    Yes, that's the standard atheist response (and I'm assuming you're an atheist) when something too difficult to deal with. And you're very cheeky for trying to say that every near-death experience on could be induced at will with chemicals and machines. It simply isn't so.

  • At 2:50 PM , Blogger Paul Baylis said...

    To summarise: You are essentially saying that atheists can avoid having to believe in a God because they have managed to find enough pseudo-loopholes and shaky logic to satisfy themselves that they are not reasonably obliged to believe in a God, when all the while it remains much more resonable than unreasonable to believe that a god exists. I have to ask WHY atheists go to such lengths. Now that you've worked so hard to find your reasons to not need to believe in God, for the sake of balance why not follow the other reasonable posibility that God exists and see where it takes you. Many atheists have indeed done this. I think it's the lure of the world's pleasures that makes some atheists dig their heals in at all costs. As one famous atheists said: I'm afraid that God might exist.


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