Faith Before Experience:
Placing Cart Before Horse?
Ben Sawyer

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "ben sawyer"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: May 12, 2002 10:10 PM

Atheism is the absence, in one's outlook, of any assent to the claims that gods exist; atheism is the absence of theism, not necessarily "the belief in no God or gods."

A better way to say what you were trying to say would have been "the belief that no gods exist" or positively, "the belief that all gods are make-believe," which can translate to "the belief that both of the statements, 'a god exists' and 'gods exist' are false statements." The stronger, "the belief that no gods exist" is included within the range of atheism, but the weaker "absence of theism" is more inclusive, and thus includes the stronger, "belief that no gods exist."

In short: if one grants assent to any of the god-claims of theism, that person is a theist; if not, she or he remains an atheist.
 

Atheism does not have any of "its own beliefs." Atheism is not a comprehensive outlook, and is not even a belief. Atheism, more than anything, is the way we distinguish ourselves from those people who believe the claims of theism.

Thus, an atheist would never question the authenticity of the Christian religion unless a representative of the Christian religion first interrupted the atheist's day and said, "Hey! Look up there!" and then proceeded to utter god-claims. Until that happens, the Christian religion is really none of the atheist's business (unless the atheist in question feels the need to engage in self-therapy of some sort, perhaps to overcome emotional damage from a past affiliation with the Christian religion, in which case it might be best to admit simply being in a different class when it comes to conceptualizing fun and frolic).
 

We'd sure like to encounter some!

We are constantly looking for reasons to respect theists on their own terms. However, the experiences that we keep having with Christians who write to us makes doing this exceedingly difficult. So, to discover "a significant amount of logical and valid principles" that are uniquely Christian would help to overcome the manifest arrogance and incessant lack of candor on the part of Christendom's adherents.

Nevertheless, the only good that I've found in the body of Christian philosophy and thinking can readily be found in any number religious tenets!
 

This is stupid. You're not even thinking, here, but are simply repeating things that you have heard from others. I'm going to go do something else when I'm done addressing this one, because it's is no fun trying to hold a dialogue with a Sunday morning sermon full of pat analogies that nobody is allowed to question.

We can detect the wind; you can feel it on your face. We can even measure it several different ways, including velocity and direction, static temperature versus wind-chill factor, and even smog levels before and after a big wind. We can actually see it, visually, by merely introducing smoke or some other solid substance that's been dissolved into the air.

Nobody claims to be able to detect the Christian deity.

However, according to the tenets of the Christian faith, the Christian deity is so busy meddling in the affairs of humans that you'd think we ought not be able but to detect Him! Such is not the case, though; this deity Who is said to play such an important role in history could never escape detection -- if He existed. Thus, there is no reason to think that the claims for the existence of the Christian deity are truthful.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six-and-a-half years of service
    to people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "ben sawyer"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: May 16, 2002 2:16 PM
 

This one is so utterly common that I bet you just don't remember hearing it. Perhaps you dozed off at that point in the sermon. It's hard to believe someone could be talked into becoming a Christian without having heard this one.

But did you get what I said about a deity Who plays such an important role in history that it would be impossible for Him to escape detection -- if He existed? The follow-up is to ask, Precisely what have we, collectively, as a species, detected?
 

To put faith in the existence of something first, and only afterward decide whether or not that thing exists is the inverse of how I've always asked this question.

I feel it is morally wrong for me to say that something is or is not, when the truth is that I don't really know. Abraham Lincoln, chiding an Illinois newspaper editor, agreed with this sentiment:

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It is an established maxim and moral that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false is guilty of falsehood, and the accidental truth of the assertion does not justify or excuse him.

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So, unless and until I can come up with convincing reasons to believe that a thing exists, I have no business telling others that it does, indeed, exist. The same holds if somebody tells me that a thing exists, and if that thing's existence is not obvious or self-evident or readily proved by anybody who tries (such as the Sun or the Moon). If a thing exists which does not meet this criteria, but a person nevertheless maintains that the thing exists, then the person making the claim is responsible for proving his or her case. The person listening to the claim need merely asses the clam to see if the claim holds water on its own merit. We deal only with the claim unless they can prove the truthfulness of their claim, and we do this because that's the only thing upon which both sides can agree: we both agree that the theist is making a claim!

Thus, we may freely examine and discuss the claim itself, and this I will proceed to do.
 

You ask for my "main reasons for not believing in a God." According to the above, it is not a "god" that I don't believe in. Rather, the only question I can address is that people claim that gods exist! In this sense, many have approached me and claimed that various gods exist. Each time, without exception, the individual making the claim asked me to assent to her or his claim even though she or he would not provide me sufficient reasons for me to assent to that claim. That is all!

The existence of a god is not self-evident to me. The Sun's existence is self-evident, so if someone were to be so absurd as to claim to me that the Sun exists, I would readily agree with that claim. But I cannot say the same regarding claims that gods exist.

What about molecules? Their existence is not self-evident! I could simply take this question on the authority of scientists and agree with their assessment. But since I studied chemistry in high school and also played with chemistry sets as a child. One kid, David, wanted to take drugs but was too afraid of injuring himself. But he loved to make wildly explosives with his chemistry set! Go figure! So we'd get high and go over to his house and watch him create these three-and four-meter-tall flames that shot skyward from his rooftop! (Before this, David and I were bona fide computer nerds back in 1969!)

David was more than lots of fun after a good toke on a springtime eve. For he was the one who could make it so that we could understand what the teachers only wanted us to memorize! While I do not remember his argument today, I do clearly remember when David showed us that matter boils down to molecules. He proved to our satisfaction that it could be no other way! By argument and experiment David was able to prove what we could not see or feel directly with our bodies' senses.

Later still, an electron microscope-like set-up, using an extremely sharp needle (only a few molecules in diameter at its tip), forced electrons to escape from the needle's tip and onto a photographic screen. When enough of these had hit the screen to develop an image, we could see photographs of the molecules on the needle's tip and how they were arranged. (We could not see inside the molecules, but we could see down to the molecules and show where each one was on the needle's tip!) This report was in some mainstream magazine such as Time or Newsweek; it is not information that is available only to a select few, nor is it so hard that only a handful of humans could grasp it: I was still a boy when this experiment was completed!

In short, I do not need to simply take the scientists' word on this question which evades my body's senses.

I have heard a great many different god-claims, enough different claims during my lifetime to say with confidence that I've been told about all the different kinds of deities that humans have endorsed; I doubt very seriously that I have missed any crucial claims for the existence of gods. In fact, regarding the personal, omnipotent deity whose existence is alleged by the traditions incorporating Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, a deity such as these traditions describe would play such an important role in affairs of humans and the events of the world that He could not escape being detected even by those of us who do not seek Him! Like that of the Sun, the existence of such a deity would be necessarily be self-evident! I can honestly say most of my doubt in the claims of that particular trinity of religious traditions is based solely upon the fact that only a handful of humans agrees with any specific detail regarding this Deity about whom we must know in order to avoid damnation by that God!

In other words, if there really is a God, and if that God desires that I be aware of His existence, and if that God depends solely upon the agency of human evangelists (with or without bad hair) to inform me of His existence, then that God has no excuse for my ignorance, if it be that I am yet ignorant of that God's existence! If it is unreasonable to think that I have missed the very god-claim that happens to be true, then the only reasonable alternative to remain is that all the claims for His existence have failed to convince me that a God exists (including the claim that was made on behalf of The One True God). In any event, I am justified in refusing to assent to the god-claims I have heard.

(You Evangelicals may quit, now! Shake the dust off your feet or whatever that ritual is, because I have heard more than enough god-claims for one lifetime!)

One interesting observation remains: the fact that I am in no way even remotely interested in the subject of gods and religion shows only how pushy some religionists can be, if I have fielded this many god-claims!

That is the answer to your question, technically. I assume, though, that what you intended to ask was, "What are the weak points of the Christian god-claim?"

People claim the historicity of a man named Jesus, who thought he was the Hebrew Messiah predicted by Zechariah (whether he was Messiah comes later, logically). They identify this Jesus as the son of a Joseph and Mary, and cousin of one John, son of a barren woman named Elizabeth, the wife of a priest named Zechariah. Apart from the New Testament, they cannot verify this claim. The New Testament documents which names his parentage are widely said not to have circulated until about 80 C.E., a good 50 years after Jesus is said to have died. The two documents alleged by some to provide independent verification of this tale are dubious at best (Tacitus be said to have referred to Christ or Christians) and transparent fabrication at worst (most Christian and virtually all non-Christian historians denounce the so-called Testimonium of Josephus).

The Bible itself is a collection of biased political tracts. It is not reliable as a historical document because it says things happened that could never have happened. It says things were where, geographically, they could not have been. It contradicts what we know, and if we were forced into a situation where all we knew was the Bible, we could still see that it contradicts itself, and wildly so, I might add!

The Bible's claim that Christianity makes people moral is a laugher! The morality advocated and celebrated in the Bible is barbarism at best and sheer brutality for the most part. Of course there's the Golden Rule, but first, every culture has a variant of this most obvious pieces of wisdom. It would be a key part of our culture even if there were no Christ myth; it would prevail even if there were a Christ and he had said something else!

Secondly, the Christ of the Bible couldn't leave it alone! They wanted to have him issue the Golden Rule. Of course! He was Christ! Anybody who was anybody did three things back then: He was born of a virgin, he was raised from the dead and ascended into the Heavens, and he said, "Do not unto others what ye would not like others to do unto you." Without these three marks of distinction, your hero was anything but a hero during that era. But because this was Christ and not merely some extremely wise man, they needed for him to have improved even the Golden Rule! So rather than its normal state, "Do not unto others what you would not have others do unto you" they stated it positively: "Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you." What they didn't see when they put this into his mouth was that this renders the greatest universal moral into an intrusion! With the so-called silver rule, "Do not what ye would not like done unto you," I am minding my own business, for the most part, and the rule prompts me only to refrain from certain behavior, whereas, the so-called Golden Rule of Jesus has me doing things to others that they just might not want done!

Let's say some clown gets a real kick when men make cat-calls and wolf-whistles at his wife. Of course! He thinks she's the prettiest thing since sliced bread, and when other men acknowledge this, he feels as if he has just one-upped his fellows in a "keeping-up-with-the-Joneses" kind of way. Therefore, following Christ's "Do as ye would have done," he'll be perfectly justified in treating the wives of other men that way! However, with the traditional pre-Jesus version, "Do not what ye would not have done," there is no room for a blunder such as this!
 

I will briefly recap what I said about litmus test beliefs: a group that seeks membership and to have control over that membership will often create a teaching that it calls a confession of faith or simply a confession. In mainstream Christianity, one of those litmus test doctrines is that of the Trinity. Say what you like about the saving grace of Christ and salvation through his blood, in mainstream Christianity, you won't get anywhere unless you accept the doctrine of the Trinity. But of all the teachings and tenets handed down by the Christian religion, this has just got to be the most patently absurd teaching I've ever seen one individual intimidate another individual into telling people he believes!

But that's the one you must believe if you want to be accepted as a loyal member! Why? Simple! They want to have control over the members and they want to be sure of this. So they require that you confess a proposition as fact if you wish to be a member. Now, if they picked just any proposition, say, "the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west," this is no test at all. I could have come up with that, and for me to say it proves nothing in regards to their having authority over me. But, if I say that I believe in the Trinity, and that Jesus died for my sins and a dozen other patently absurd statements that nobody in their right mind would state as fact, then I can be sure that whoever would dare to say this at all has done so as the direct result of my having ordered them to say it!

That's why the core teachings of almost all religious groups are patently absurd to any outsider -- even to other theists! The Trinity is absurd to Americans, Muslims, and just about anybody who is not under the thumb of the Christian authority figures. If you examine just about any group with an exclusive membership (an "us-versus-them" or an "us and not-us"), you will find that the key to identifying members is not something that anybody would naturally stumble upon while sitting under an apple tree on a summer afternoon, wondering if "Which way is up?" is really a valid question after all. The only way you could come across the key is to have been told the key by the authorities. And the only person in their right mind who would do the key (such as asserting that the key tenet is literal truth) is because the authority told you to do it and you choose to obey rather than to disobey and assert what you actually think is true. For this reason, I don't think very many Christians believe the doctrine of the Trinity! I don't think very many believe that Jesus Christ was 100 percent God and 100 percent man (whatever that means)! I doubt many believe that infants who die without Christ and must roast in the Christian Hell, or the modern alternate, that infants who die get a special exemption of some sort, about which the Bible is entirely silent.

All this is just the beginning: how about the thousands and thousands of problems with the Bible, or the fact that the modern translations have taken these into consideration and are "smoothing out" what at one time used to be genuine puzzlers -- not just in the English translation but in the manuscripts themselves: they're altering the very Word of their God because they think that even though He is the Creator of the Universe, He still cannot withstand our scrutiny without their help! I have no need for a religion that's that weak, thank you! If I were to bother joining a religion at all, you can bet I'd want it to be unassailable! absolutely unassailable! You can see a little of why I am not a Christian and why whoever wants to see me become a Christian has their work cut out for them.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six-and-a-half years of service
    to people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

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