Can't Force Faith
-- But You'll Know
Jennifer Kinkade-Smith

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <>
To: "Jennifer Kinkade-Smith"
Subject: Re: You will know....
Date: September 20, 2001 6:57 PM

No wonder you were not very happy with yourself. This goes far beyond simple atheism. An atheist is simply someone who lacks a god belief, atheism being the absence of theism. While most atheists do bring additional elements into their belief system (atheism is never a big part of anybody's viewpoint), none of these other things are atheism.

Thus I would caution against telling people that condemning Christians as stupid constitutes atheism. No. This was something entirely different and in addition to your atheism.

Not all proof is physical.

Most atheists, however, do not demand proof from theists. We merely encounter claims from religious people (all kinds of claims, actually) and not a one of them has cut it for us. So we politely listen, consider the arguments, and when they don't meet our tough standard for assent we shrug our shoulders and get on with whatever we had been doing. For most of us, atheism, theism, proof, or argument don't mean diddly to us -- we have much more important things to think about.

I agree with both parts, but use only the first as a reason for advocating the brand of atheism that I advocate: the philosophy of Positive Atheism, as I have slowly been trying to modernize and Westernize it on this web site and in this magazine.

I believe everybody has the right to their opinion, so I leave people alone about their religion. I do not try to deconvert theists, but rather presuppose that every theist has (or thinks they have) valid reasons for believing the way they do. Thus I reserve my vitriol for those expressions of religion which are intrusive, exploitative, or dangerous.

I do not pretend that this is atheism, either. It isn't. It, like your former attitude toward Christians, is in addition to my atheism, my absence of religious faith. However, since I have yet to encounter a valid reason for believing the claims of theists, I've gotta do something with it.

I'm not one who can just leave it alone; I cannot keep a straight face when somebody walks up to me and starts telling me stories about gods and angels and the like. I become particularly upset when people hold me accountable to their religious laws and tenets, calling me evil simply because I'm not religious -- or worse, lying about what I believe in order to more easily discredit me before their friends and mine.

Even the claim "it is not for us to know" assumes that the person knows at least this much! How do they know that?

But things like this only mean anything to me when they just got through claiming that faith is a special method for obtaining knowledge or information (such as about the existence of God or the meaning of the Christian cross). If they tell me faith is superior to reason, I will expect them to be able to use faith to come up with answers to the tough questions of life -- particularly the tough moral questions, such as, "How can we reconcile the claim that a good, all-powerful God exists against what happened to us on September 11th?" Any attempt to explain this doesn't make God look very good. But to simply say, "We must get through this the best we can and try to rebuild what is left of our lives," or even "Let's see what we can do to reduce the chances of this happening again," is entirely indistinguishable from atheism.

This is one of the main reasons why I don't engage with theists over the god question very often: we are using two entirely different thinking styles. The theist tells me that my human reason is not enough and that I need more, I need this thing called "faith." But then the theist cannot explain to me how this extra thinking style called "faith" even works; that is, how I can get some of this "faith"! I am completely lost in this respect. From what people have told me, it appears that I already have to believe before I can believe, but that's what I want in the first place: a reason to believe!

For my time, I'd just as soon let the theist be, because I really have nothing to say. I am not a theist and I hope the theist at least respects that no theist has ever given me a reason to believe their claims that gods exist.

Why do you need to explain it at all? Why not just enjoy it and leave it alone?

Again, how do you know even this much?

In other words, how could I independently verify your claim that this is true?

This is where you and the science of physics part company. Physics says that some things just happen and are completely random. This is on a very small scale, of course, but the Big Bang started out on this small of a scale -- the particle level or below (if such a level exists), within Planck space and during Planck time. At this level things happen that you would never see at the molecular level or larger.

If "quantum fluctuation" is an answer at all, it's really all we have to go on at this point in our understanding of physics: it looks as if a quantum fluctuation occurred, needing zero energy to occur, and this fluctuation escaped into a vacuum -- and the result, thus far, has been the Universe that we know and love. Interestingly, the universe still contains zero energy, so no energy was needed to get it started and no energy has been added to the universe from "outside" since the beginning. Any more, there is no need to even posit a creator, and the questions they raise to try to lead you to conclude that it just had to be magic turn out more and more to contain false premises.

But to ask, "What was the motive for creating the universe?" is to set a trap for yourself. This is because you must presuppose the answer -- the existence of a Creative deity before you can even ask about His motives for creating us. Again, you've turned what should have been a fair discussion into a statement in behalf of one of the two positions.

Also, the last time someone insisted that "everything happens for a reason," I asked him to "name the function of the pulsar PSR 1919+21." In other words, to be able to say that everything happens for a reason, then I would hope you could identify the purpose of this star which plays a very unique role in the field of astronomy. If that is too much to ask, then I'd settle for an explanation of how we can independently verify (or falsify) your claim that "everything in this universe happens for a reason."

As a Christian, you naturally presuppose this to be a valid question. As an atheist, I consider it a question that can only be posed once we have already established the validity of the Christian god-claim. Since we have not established the validity of the Christian god-claim (that is the very matter we are disputing), then this question can only be seen as a trick question, designed to put the atheist in the position of admitting the validity of the Christian god-claim without having shown it to be valid. In other words, because that happens to be the topic of our dispute, it is unreasonable (and unfair) for you to pose a question which presupposes that your side of the dispute is correct: that's the very question we're trying to decide, here.

To address the question specifically, the Universe cannot have been created for a reason unless it was, in fact, created. If there was no creator, if the physicists are right in saying that a quantum fluctuation is what happened, then the Universe did not come to be for any reason at all except that the fluctuation in question acted according to their characteristics and that of their environment. That would be like asking, "Why did the lion kill Baba's little brother?" We only know that lions have a history of attacking humans. We can also ascertain that the circumstances were such that Baba's brother happened to be within the lion's field of vision and range of attack when the lion's instincts and desires prompted it to attack a human. To go much further than that would be pure speculation.

Now, I often hear the charge that since I do not recognize the Universe as a whole as having any intrinsic purpose, that I must therefore lead a purposeless life. In the long haul, nobody will be around to remember my life; however, right now I am alive and lead a wonderfully purposeful life. Today I stand a greater chance of going down in history than I did ten years ago, and probably stand a greater chance of being remembered by certain people long after my life is through than most. I could not say this if my life did not have purpose, but the purpose that my life now has is ascribed primarily by me and secondarily by those who know me or know of me.

Your purpose as a human is entirely up to you. You may choose to describe your purpose as an individual in terms of the Christian god-claim. But for you to carry this much further and to say that the purpose of the whole Universe can be reconciled to the Christian god-claim, you would first need to show that the Christian god-claim is valid. Until you do this, your most honest answer to this question would be, "I don't know" or, more specifically, "I don't see any intrinsic purpose for the Universe as a whole" (which leaves both ends wide open an reserves for you the possibility that the Christian god-claim might some day be vindicated or that we might discover something along those lines that we had not previously known.

This is a completely valid premise, but you choose not to leave it at this: Here's where you take it:

For you to explain your faith as being the result of a private, personal religious experience is one thing, but for you to then imply that I can (or even ought to) share that experience takes it way too far for my comfort. You here imply that I am missing something, that I'm either blind to something that you see or that my facilities for discovering truth from falsehood have not done a good enough job.

This is because you here presuppose that your current interpretation of your experience is the only valid interpretation and that no other interpretation can possibly be valid -- and some day I will realize this. However, you cannot show your interpretation of this experience to be valid outside of your own personal religious experience, so to make this claim is unfair, bordering on the degrading.

Had you simply described your personal experience and then offered up a speculation as to what it means, you would have done fine and would not have offended anybody because you would have confined your interpretations to your own experience. But you take a personal experience and your unique interpretation of that experience and apply them to me. You do this even though you cannot demonstrate to me how I might independently verify the truthfulness of your claim.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule
Added: September 21, 2001

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Jennifer Kinkade-Smith"
Subject: Re: You will know....
Date: September 21, 2001 5:13 AM

The difficult and complex stresses of logic and stretches of reason often required to maintain religious faith in the face of plain evidence to the contrary usually require more than a bumper sticker slogan to unravel. In other words, it takes more than a simple hand gesture to respond in both truth and dignity.

Carefully sorting out a particularly troublesome mess opens you up to the accusation that you're just being "long-winded," especially when you have strong reason to suspect that your opponent does not think very highly of you as a person. A lot of what passes for religious training and indoctrination utilizes methods of isolation, solidification, and polarization, resulting in a strong "us-versus-them" attitude. This is only natural, considering what we're dealing with.

The downside to this is that this usually signals the end of the dialogue, as who can speak reasonably with someone who would do that? But the upside is that people who do resort to such tactics have discredited themselves and, for all intents and purposes, anything anecdotal that they may have entered into the argument (since you cannot trust a dishonest person to be telling the truth about anything).

"Long-winded"? "Very troubled person"? Do I smell a personal attack coming on? an ad hominem, perhaps?

Or is this attack being launched to cover for something else?

Aha! I was right! This is a personal attack because here you lie about me, not once, but doubly!

You ask me why I "claimed" that you were "degrading" me (your language), when, in fact, I said no such thing! Read the sentence again and see: I tactfully fell short of saying that you were degrading me. Instead I called what you did "unfair" and suggested that it bordered on the degrading, not that it actually was degrading me. I cautiously and deliberately left it at "unfair" but you respond by saying that I went all the way -- even after I so carefully fell short of doing that.

Yes, you did offer your opinion -- you offered your opinion about me! With this opinion of yours you presupposed something that is not true about me. Then you went on to make the speculation -- rather, the confident prediction that I would eventually engage in behavior which I currently find reprehensible. Specifically, you predicted (with confidence) that I would some day have faith -- not just have faith, mind you, but that I would know.

Yes, I suspected that you were trying to degrade me when you did that, but I refrained from coming right out and saying that you had. Instead, I simply described what you did and what it means and feels like to be treated this way. I called your claim "unfair, bordering on the degrading," which I admit was an understatement, Cliff Walker acting with restraint. But I did not call it flat-out degrading and I certainly didn't say that you were degrading me (because I doubt you're capable of doing that; I think only I can actually degrade myself, even though others can try).

But now my initial fears have panned out to become full-blown reality: you have responded in a patently degrading manner by lying both to me and about me, and engaging in two acts of name-calling in your very first sentence. And you appear to be responding with a personal attack specifically for the purpose of covering for the mistake of yours that I pointed out (instead of saying, "Oh, I'm sorry! I see, now, what doing this might feel like from the other side!"). I won't call this a deliberate action on your part but you do have a copy of what I said and you write quite well so I assume you can read and that you know what I said. In all that, I will still fall short of saying that this behavior on your part is deliberate.

Have a nice life. As far as I can tell, it's the only one we get.

As an analytical person, I have yet to see a reason to think of faith as anything other than a mirage. How could the delusions of others drive anybody insane, unless those others happen to occupy the White House or otherwise be in control of the political situation?

Aha! I knew you'd do this!

I was talking about equations and other abstractions, and you twist my words around to make it appear as if I was talking about faith and other mumbo-jumbo!

Do you see to what depths of desperation the act of trying to defend a religion will take a person? Again, why don't you just relax and enjoy it and leave the rest of us alone with it? You were fine when you kept it at the personal level; it's only when you try to foist this drivel on other people that you find yourself getting into trouble! Just leave us alone and stick to private expressions of faith and you will be fine: you won't get caught lying to or about anybody, and you won't get caught twisting someone's words to mean something the speaker didn't intend or get caught doing this solely for the purpose of defending a viewpoint (one that is not even your own viewpoint but is someone else's viewpoint altogether).

The world is unfair and cruel.

If there were any such thing as a god, especially the one that most Christians describe as "loving and benevolent," we could reasonably expect the world to be quite different from the way it is. But the world is how it is, and thus we can safely conclude that the god which the Christians describe is just make-believe.

So what's the problem with that?

Besides, the Bible describes God as an Oriental despot, only bigger, and invisible. As Thomas Jefferson said, "The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him."

But I don't see a universe that could have been created by a cruel and capricious god, either. I see a universe of monumental waste, one that was most likely the result of natural conditions having undergone a considerable upheaval during the first moments of its existence and having since settled down to two or three degrees above absolute equilibrium.

If you have to ask that, why are you even trying to communicate? Just wiggle your little finger and we'll bring you some food, and we'll do our best not to let anybody know.

This is a serious charge (considering that I've never read a Stephen Hawking book), but you offer no examples. You simply assert that I did not back what I said (and I don't quite get the point the Stephen Hawking reference).

Please give us specific examples if you're going to try to discredit somebody as viciously as you have tried to discredit me here.

And to think you castigated me for saying you degraded me!

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Jennifer Kinkade-Smith"
Subject: Re: You will know....
Date: September 22, 2001 2:04 AM

Why would anybody spend any amount of time disproving a claim that is unconvincing to the point of silliness? Would you try to disprove the Tooth Fairy canard? No. It's a childish story and nobody in their right mind would believe it. So, then, why would I even want to disprove the tales of Jesus or Allah or Krsna or Moses or Quetzalcoatl, stories which are all equally childish?

The only difference is that nobody was ever persecuted for saying, "Balderdash!" when somebody approached them in all seriousness and insisted that the Tooth Fairy is really real. In fact, nobody ever approached another in all seriousness and attempted to convince them that the Tooth Fairy story is true. This only happened with the Jesus story (and the Moses story, and Allah and Krsna and Quetzalcoatl).

You are acting like a bigot. Please do not write to any of our domains again -- for any reason.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

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