Why you don’t need God

Jan 11, 2015

Ryan Bell is a writer and speaker on the topic of religion and irreligion in America. In January 2014, Ryan began a yearlong journey to explore the limits of theism and the atheist landscape in the United States. He blogs about his experience on www.YearWithoutGod.com


By Ryan Bell

It was January 2014 and I was sitting on the beach in Malibu looking out at the seemingly endless Pacific Ocean, ebbing and flowing. I had just begun a personal project of challenging my lifelong assumption that God exists.

You see, I had been a Seventh-day Adventist pastor for 19 years. I resigned from my pastoral position the year before, but now I stepped away from my faith altogether. It was a gut-wrenching decision but I couldn’t see any other way to find peace and clarity. I encountered major theological differences with my denomination and evangelical Christianity in general, including the way it marginalizes women and LGBT people.

I questioned the problem of evils and God’s general silence and inactivity. I sought out more liberal theologies and found them to be the slow death of God. Now I had to face the very real possibility that God does not exist.

Would I discover that God was present and involved, or would I discover that the whole web of theological claims I had embraced and helped develop were false?

I was feeling small against the beautiful and terrifyingly indifferent sea before me. Then I started to feel grateful. “What are the chances that I would be sitting on this beach right now, looking at this remarkable scene of beauty?” I thought. I was struck again by how unlikely my existence is.


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47 comments on “Why you don’t need God

  • “What are the chances that I would be sitting on this beach right now, looking at this remarkable scene of beauty?” I thought. I was struck again by how unlikely my existence is.

    Once you come out from the introspective, mentally cramping “universal god-did-it” non-explanation of everything, the wonders and complexity of the science of reality are quite amazing!



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  • Hi Ryan
    When the theist world is getting too heavy around me, I often return to the lines below… It’s highly enjoyable while looking at the Ocean 😉 I have loosely translated this Hungarian traditional folk song to English. The original is much more poetic and saturated of course… (and it rhymes)

    GENESIS
    Out of clay man molds a God,
    who in turn creates the world,
    where he can fold a paper boat,
    to survive his own great flood

    Endlessly trying to find new shores
    where he can get dry in the sun

    Endlessly trying to find new shores
    till he is gone with the final flush

    You can hear the song on youtube: http://youtu.be/CM8A7Sc86PY
    Greetings Thomas



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  • I just have to rant here and vent my spleen over the designation “Pastor”. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it gut-wrenchingly patronising – that adults need a representative of some sort of “master species” to protect them. Protect them from what? From the scare stories their childhood was poisoned with!
    And as Christopher Hitchens (peace be upon him 🙂 ) pointed out; what sort of person wants to be treated as a sheep? Protection from wolves so that they are saved so the shepherd can eat his pie and wear the wool. What an exploitative relationship. A human sheep is lacking in all dignity. What a pathetic condition to aspire to.
    Rant over, I feel better for that.



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  • I must own up, the cynic in me had my doubt about his experiment and his sincerity, but he understands perfectly the absurdities of religion, and particularly the big three. I would have expected him to become more agnostic and dip his toes into Deism first, but there you go.



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  • I sometimes wonder if there is a fundamental ‘difference’ in the way some people’s brains process information and devoutly religious people genuinely have an inescapable need for there to be a God?
    Perhaps it is linked to child/parent brain pathways??



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  • Free from false expectations we are free to create purpose, share
    love, and enjoy the endless beauty of our world. We are the fortunate
    ones.

    There IS much beauty in the world Ryan and this chap was the last time I felt it all around me (I discovered him last year)(If anyone has time, there is a version of the whole concert on YouTube. Some amazing musicians and of course Mr. Gregory Porter)..Enjoy

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdAP60m6zZ0



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  • We are the fortunate ones.

    We are, Ryan. Great piece. Welcome indeed.

    You might say we are the most fortunate of the lucky ones, to be born at all and then set maximally free by the cultural efforts of earlier others
    Acquiring meaning from God is like acquiring meaning by being given a job.

    Professionals often come to hate their job, but we amateurs…well, the word says it.



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  • I agree that non-theists can find meaning in this world. What I do question is whether this “meaning” is anything other than idiosyncratic. For example, a Schweitzer finds meaning through helping others. In contrast, tyrants like Stalin do so by murdering millions of people. I’ve also noticed that those best able to find meaning in this life without God are also those who are well off. Otherwise, the realization that your life is pretty bad and there’s not much chance of it ever improving while you are alive does not seem to make for very much of a meaningful life.



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  • If atheism is the result of different cognitive processing in the non-believer, is that a good thing or not? Don’t laugh. Considering that the overwhelming majority of people have been believers, that would indicate that evolution favors brains which are “wired to believe”. Could non-theists then be considered cognitively disadvantaged? If so, could they recognize that? I’m not trying to be funny or act as a troll. If there is a difference in the way that theists and non-theists process in their brains, that’s something important.



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  • The cognitive errors possible in agency detection (is that a stick or a snake?) are differentially favoured by evolution. The positive error maker (its a snake) more often gets to live and reproduce another day. The negative error maker (its a stick) more often doesn’t. Evil spirits and wrathful gods are best respected and carefully stepped around.

    We know we often suffer from illusions. We discover this by detailed corroboration with others’ cognitions (not opinions!).

    We can understand our illusions if we live in a society geared up for such honest comparing of notes. We can say, “Oo, thats a bit odd. Could be dangerous. Lets ask some others…”

    We can have our cautious cognitive cake and eat it.



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  • I see your point and agree, the choice of ‘meaning’ for the non-theist is necessarily individualistic, and some ‘meanings’ are vicious. Stalin is as good an example as any. But that’s the name of the game. Not all things in the universe are warm and cozy. Indifferent nature has kittens and sunsets but also parasitic worms and forest fires. And for someone whose life is already miserable, say a child bride, sweatshop worker, paraplegic, it’s a toss-up. If there really is zero hope of getting out (e.g.terminal disease), then illusion can comfort, but all too often, the illusion of a protective deity or a blissful afterlife prevents us from taking action that could alleviate that misery. I am thinking now of American slaves, whose Christianity taught them to accept their fate because a better world awaited them. In contrast, Stephen Hawking, as potentially miserable a man as one can imagine, didn’t accept God’s work in anticipation of heaven and has made a wonderful meaning for his life.



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  • 17
    aquilacane says:

    Forget meaning. Do you look for meaning on a roller coaster? You’re on a damn roller coaster. You don’t control a thing but what a ride.



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  • I’m afraid you don’t know much about ancient polytheism. You are reading later conceptions, such as supernaturalism, into beings who were regarded as purely natural, albeit more powerful than humans. Check out Hesiod, for instance. The gods are born from chaos and while they help to mold natural processes, they do not create them. Creation in the ancient sense is an ordering, even a re-ordering, of a world that has become ruined. It is not ex nihilo, and the cosmos so re-ordered is a topocosmos, a local ordered habitat for men and gods. Cycles of reconstruction and destruction go on endlessly through time. That is the general ancient view. It is the view presented in the beginning of Genesis, which is deliberately mistranslated in order to conceal it in favor of religious doctrines which arose much later. Thus the gods are not at all the same sort of beings as the transcendent God of later belief systems. You are free to disbelieve in them as well, of course.



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  • So you obviously don’t understand what a pastor is. Richard Dawkins is your ‘pastor’ because you look to him for enlightenment, encouragement and knowledge (and your presence here is proof of that), and if you received an invitation to spend a day with him, learning, enjoying his vast wealth of knowledge and insight, I guess you wouldn’t turn down such an opportunity. You’re a member of RD’s ‘flock’.



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  • Double Baaaa! No, I would not turn down an opportunity to spend some time with RD. Actually, I would enjoy spending some time with Stafford Gordon, Mr. Darcy, yourself, as well as RD, and quite a few other people who write here.

    But not because any of the aforementioned are my “pastor,” in any way. Just interesting people with a point of view.

    “Pastor,” implies authority, something RD, nor anyone else has to me. Nor, in fact, superior knowledge. I suspect in my own field I could tell RD much. Does that make me his “pastor?”



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  • Pastor

    noun

    a minister or priest in charge of a church.
    a person having spiritual care of a number of persons.
    Ornithology. any of various starlings, especially Sturnus roseus (rosy pastor) of Europe and Asia.

    synonyms

    cleric, minister, preacher, priest

    Thesaurus

    I doubt Richard Dawkins would get the job. Although I suppose you could argue that there are a number of members of RDFRS, such as yourself, who would definitely call themselves spiritual. I’m sure he would not object to you seeing him as your temporary pastor whilst visiting the site.



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  • I’m afraid you don’t know much about ancient polytheism.

    I cannot speak to the Greeks or Romans, but many years ago I sent time in Northern New Guinea, and I spoke reasonably well two languages, apart from the “lingua franca,” Melenasian pidgin. I was in the Navy at the time, and we had a large base on Manus Island. It was, interestingly, an area where Margaret Meade had done much of her research, and some of the older people I worked with could remember her from their childhood.

    So much for background. The understanding of the Cosmic order (if you will) of these people was very different to ours. In our system, one is supposed to pray to a god, who will evaluate the request, and may or may not comply. If he/she/it does comply, it will not be in a manner recognisable, and the rules also say that you can only pray for transcendental things, like forgiveness, (from what ?) or goodness, or similiar.

    To the New Guinea tribesman, this makes no sense. He prays for what he wants. A pig, a radio, a crack at his next door neighbours wife, and if he gets the prayer right, or sings the song right, or dances the dance right, the gods have no option but to grant the request. If it does not happen, he had the prayer wrong, and must he must try again.

    The gods to whom he is praying are not really gods, in our sense, but are the multiple, and unrestricted in number, and everywhere, consciousnesses that he believes frame his existence. To him, the whole world, streams, hills, land, pigs, everything, is alive. “Life” to him is a fundamental force in everything, in much the same way that gravity is to us. There is a question of degree, as to just how alive they are, but all are involved in the granting of the request.

    Personally, I find it less silly than the vindictive old bastard from the OT, and the diminishing “aliveness” of rocks compared to pigs is somehow less contradictory to the 2nd law.

    To some extent, all prophesies are self fulfilling, and if one obsesses about ones next door neighbour long enough, who knows what might happen. So, when it happens, he puts it down to the correctness of a particular prayer, and files it away for future reference. When it does not work a second time, or it does not work for his friend, to whom he has revealed his success, it is not wrong, it just needs more work. He is now a prophet, and can make a claim to be followed.

    Nascent religions may be a bit like evolution at the very start. You only have to get it right once, and it will have, literally in the case of evolution, a life of it’s own. When Europeans first came, the locals watched in head shaking amazement as they toiled massively to cut down trees and stick them into the water in a straight line along the shore. When a ship then appeared full of good things for the white man, all of a sudden it did not look so silly a ritual. The Europeans later cleared huge strips of inoffensive jungle only to attract huge birds full, again, of good things.

    When a village in New Guinea was bombed during WW II, not with bombs, but with supplies, food, medical equipment and so forth due to a navigational error by the American pilot, it was just after an individual named Yali had claimed, utterly coincidentally, that if you gave him your pigs and wives etc, he would make food fall from the sky. The damage that this did, crops burnt, riots, and the elevation of this individual to a status reminiscent of Mohammed, was vast.

    The creation and growth of the Cargo Cult in New Guinea may provide insight into the manner in which theistic religions develop from tribal “myths of convenience.”

    I have rambled too long on this. It is well documented, and really worth reading in Peter Lawrence’s “Rot Bilong Kako,” (The Road of the Cargo.)



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  • Fascinating, RC. We put the Cargo Cult down as an example of primitive religion, but didn’t we have the Heaven’s Gate cult emerging at the time of the appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet? The cult emerged very quickly and in a country with universal education and modern science. I think that in all cultures, there will be people predisposed to see a transcendent power (whether in rocks or in the sky or in another realm) that determines things. In a way, it is a bit of an intellectual strain — at least to the scientifically illiterate — to accept that no willful entity is out there and watching us. How many times have you heard someone say (or write on Facebook) “Everything happens for a reason,” from thoroughly modern people?



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  • They say hindsight is 20-20. In a way, that’s what religion is — looking at the world the way it was and wishing that the world was still that way. In many ways, I think we need a new “prophet” — not in the religious sense, but rather just a clear voice on where we should be going now that all people could accept and move toward. My belief is that you should ask yourself (and those around you) where you see the human race (in fact, the earth race) going in the next 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000, 10000, etc. years? Are we truly the end of evolution on this planet or might something come after the homo sapiens? If the future has something else in store for us, should we embrace it, fight against it, or simply ignore it (whatever happens happens). The talk has been started about the Singularity, but little has been said about what the post-Singularity world will be like or what we want it to be like. It’s time for the world to grow up, stop looking at the world thru millennia old idealism, and really begin plotting what the world of the future should be.



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  • David Jan 13, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    Are we truly the end of evolution on this planet or might something come after the homo sapiens?

    The concept of humans as something special in evolution, the Earth or the universe, is simply an egotistical or theistic one.

    If humans exterminate themselves tomorrow, bacteria and other organisms will continue to evolve.



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  • What stupidity, I was an Atheist long before I even heard of Dawkins. I do not look to him for my ideology either. Atheists are free thinkers, they do not need anyone to tell them what reality is or what to think about either. They are fully capable of understanding science and reading research papers. Their entire ideology is based on the truth and strong and healthy relationship with reality.

    Dawkins does not have a flock, the only flock are the blind sheep in religions who are too lazy to think for themselves and are willing to follow the words of superstitious ancient sheep herders that have never been identified. Those same sheep herders also believed that the earth was flat and the an eclipse heralded the end of this planet. They created gods to pacify their fears and terror of death.



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  • Stalin was not an Atheist, he was raised devout in the Greek Orthodox Church. I suggest you read some history before you make idiot remarks. The same as Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Both had plans to become priests.



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  • True, but you’re looking at the wrong side of the equation. Saying that, if we are exterminated, the bacteria will just start everything all over again is too simple an answer. We are at the stage in evolution where we are beginning to be able to control our evolution. With the advent of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and biological engineering, the future of the human race will be quite dramatically changed in a relatively short time then all the changes that have taken place in the last few million years. The question is will we be wise enough to ensure that those changes will be for the better? This is what I think an organization like RDFRS should be addressing.



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  • For me there is no ‘controlling’ evolution, just meddling/tampering. If we are stupid enough to destroy ourselves, along with whatever isn’t able to get out of our way, then evolution has not got the capacity to cry for us. Whatever survives has the means to do so. We know what to do. Feed 10 billion people by 2050 and make sure we have enough clean air to breath.



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  • There is a massive difference between admiring a man for his knowledge, courage, dedication and humanity and worshiping an unknown, unseen, entity through blind faith and indoctrination.



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  • Saying that we cannot control our evolutionary path is like saying that we cannot fix a broken bone. We learned how to do the latter and we will learn how to do the former. The question is will we be wise enough to choose the proper path?



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  • I don’t think it’s just a matter of knowing. We need to pass the moral issues and the inviromental issues and a multitude of other issues, by which time evolution has moved on. I don’t think mending broken bones comes anywhere near. Mending a lot of human ailments have resulted in overpopulation and a huge impact on the world and all we can do is try to keep just ahead of it. It will overtake us soon and then……



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  • 35
    Jonn Mero says:

    Yes, but he is not revered regardless, and he will definitely accept and encourage educated and well considered disagreement. I am not all wrapped up in his discussions with religious troglodytes, because they have very little of interest to contribute. But RD is very much on the right hand side on the Dunning Kruger effect scale, and maybbe overestimating the cretins.
    Don’t forget that it is very easy to be a sheep. And also a pastor if all you have to deal with is sheep who take anything regardless how stupid, unlikely or contradictory for gospel if it is written in certain books.



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  • 38
    inoma_ilala says:

    From the article: “Atheists are often accused of being nihilists or absurdists. Absurdism is a school of thought arguing that humanity’s effort to find inherent meaning in life is futile.”

    There is a difference between claiming that atheists are absurdists and that atheISM is absurdist. I am completely convinced that atheism is untrue, and I have not seen one single coherent argument to convince me otherwise (although I have seen plenty of straw man arguments and caricatures of theism). But just because atheists espouse an incoherent worldview does not mean that, in practice, atheists are absurdists. Most, I assume, live as though life is not absurd, precisely because they are not the products of mere nature, but of a higher reality, even though they fail to acknowledge this.

    Here is an example from Richard Dawkins. Just today I received a circular email from him entitled “Reason and Freedom will Prevail”. I find this comment very interesting, coming from an atheist…

    The problem is that neither of these concepts – ‘reason’ and ‘freedom’ – have any validity within the philosophy on which atheism depends, namely, the philosophy of naturalism.

    Firstly, ‘reason’ is, so we are led to believe, simply an emergent property of natural selection, and functions as nothing more than an aid to survival. In other words, its entire “raison d’être” is utilitarian. If a metaphysical idea, such as the idea of ‘God’, is simply a human construct to help our ancestors to survive and cope, then the same is also true of all other metaphysical ideas, including the presupposition that the physical world is all that exists (an idea completely unverifiable by the empirical scientific method). Utility does not equate to truth, and, indeed, if it did, then the idea of God has as much merit as the idea of naturalism. Thus the philosophy of naturalism does not provide a coherent explanation for the objective validity of reason. But a view of reality based on an uncreated ultimate intelligence certainly does, because within that paradigm reason takes precedence over matter, and matter obeys the authority of reason. Matter does not produce reason (which, if you think about it, would be a miracle that would make the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ mere child’s play).

    Secondly, ‘freedom’ is an outworking of a fundamental component of the human soul, namely, “free will”. Soulless machines do not possess this component, and, of course, within the philosophy of naturalism, that is what we all are. However, within a worldview based on the reality of a personal creator, the existence of such a component makes perfect sense.

    Reason and freedom are effects of whatever brought us into being. Within naturalism, non-intelligence or mindlessness produced reason, and deterministic mechanics produced freedom (can an effect really be so much more complex and sophisticated than its cause?). Within the theistic worldview, intelligence produced reason and personality produced freedom.

    Now which is the more coherent and rational worldview?

    A complete no-brainer.

    And that is why I confidently predict that atheism has no future, because it simply does not fit reality, even those aspects of reality which atheists celebrate and promote!



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  • inoma_ilala Jan 15, 2015 at 11:41 am

    The problem is that neither of these concepts – ‘reason’ and ‘freedom’ – have any validity within the philosophy on which atheism depends, namely, the philosophy of naturalism.

    Ah! The semantic redefinition of “reason” to accommodate wishful faith-thinking, while denying the evidenced basis of naturalism.

    Within the theistic worldview, [supernatural] intelligence produced reason and personality produced freedom.

    Within the scientific atheist world-view, evolved intelligence produced reason, and some cultures produced laws giving freedom!

    Now which is the more coherent and rational worldview?

    Historical evidence makes this clear.

    And that is why I confidently predict that atheism has no future, because it simply does not fit reality, even those aspects of reality which atheists celebrate and promote!

    Oh dear! Oh dear! That god-delusion image of reality, really does conflict with naturalistic scientific observations!

    because within that paradigm reason takes precedence over matter, and matter obeys the authority of reason.

    No it doesn’t! Reason merely provides self-consistency. While evidence based reason describes the properties of physical matter consistently with objective observations.
    Reason which conflicts with the physics of reality is simply flawed and in error, or self-consistent “castles-in-the-air”, detached from reality.

    Matter does not produce reason

    . . .. And I thought reason arose from processes of physical atoms, molecules, and electricity, operating neurons in the brain! – http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html
    All those neuroscientists must be wrong (according to your claim)!

    Of course if you have evidence of reasoning functioning in ways detached from brains (or their computer proxies), we can consider it!



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  • inoma_ ilala :

    But just because atheists espouse an incoherent worldview does not mean that, in practice, atheists are absurdists.

    Just what is “incoherent” about not believing in deities ?



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  • The first thing that I take from your post is that you have disassociated religion, in the sense of the organised and, in the main sense, politically motivated entities such as Islam and the RCC, from the concept of a universally creative and “above the observable universe,” god.

    Good for you, that is half the battle, as it avoids having to argue about the obvious calumnies of religions, particularly the Abrahamic ones that worship Yahweh. I think it is possible to believe that this god exists, although I for one do not, without adhering to or accepting the structure and controlling dogma of the worlds churches.

    So this brings the discussion to the old “Does God exist? I will leave alone to avoid repetition the many well covered points like “Which god?” and “Absence of proof is not proof of absence,” and try to keep to some points in your post.

    Atheists are often accused of being nihilists or absurdists. Absurdism
    is a school of thought arguing that humanity’s effort to find inherent
    meaning in life is futile.”

    I to be honest have never heard of this particular “ism,” and if that is what it is all about, it is a school of thought without redeeming feature, it is a straw man, and I see no connection to atheism, anyway. Which by the way is not really an “ism” either, the “ism” is a tag added mainly by theists in a possibly unconscious attempt to define atheists as people who subscribe to a religion, albeit different.

    An atheist, as had been stated often here is simply someone who sees no reason to believe that a god, any god, exists, now or ever.

    You are completely convinced that atheism is untrue. So am I. Atheism as far as I am concerned does not exist, so it can be neither true, or untrue. Atheists on the other hand do exist, and they are definitely true, right or wrong perhaps, but not untrue.

    Assuming then that your argument is we are all wrong, where is your proof? It is, after all, in your court to do so, and all I see so far is your statement that you have seen straw men populating arguments against theism. This is of course its’ own straw man. And, that we espouse an “incoherent worldview.” What, please, actually is an “incoherent worldview? Anyway, this is simply wrong, and turns much of the rest into an argument from a false premise. Believe me, my world view is highly coherent. Stating that I am the end result of a god’s “higher reality” is the ever unsupported “god of the gaps” theory. It does need something more concrete than your belief to make it so.

    The very bright red and smelly herring of the newly minted philosophy of “absurdism,” which sounds more like Monty Python than anything else, is just that, a red herring.

    If I may paraphrase you comments re. RD and reason, freedom, and naturalism. There is behind this somehow the assumption that we, Homo sapiens, are special, and apart from the world in which we evolved, with or without the intervention of a god. We are not. Our baseline development is now well documented, and god is finding less and less places to hide.

    We are no more complex or special an animal than, say, Tyrannosauras Rex, less so considering the enormously long endurance of his time on the rock compared to our piddly million years or so. T.Rex’s world gave advantage to size, power, teeth, claws, and a few other hunting mechanisms that more modern meat eaters have also adopted. Our world gave an advantage for us in upright stance, and the ability to run down pretty much anything. We can even outrun horses and wolves, over long distances. This is a remarkable adaption, and comes from our huge, compared to that of our relatives, Gluteus Maximus, or “big bum.”

    The problem there is that this ability has to be trained, and that needs the other major adaption, the big brain. It came with its own problems, such as getting it through the birth canal, enlarged in our females to the point that the wonderful running ability is compromised, and we give birth at nine months, instead of the eleven months that it would take for our offspring to be as precocious at birth as our closest relative, putting even more pressure on the providing male to run even further and faster.

    Where does god fit into all this? There really is no need for him/her/it anywhere.

    You quote Dawkins: “Reason and Freedom will Prevail.” Well, reason has prevailed, which is how my profession works, and that of many others. It has, I concede, also prevailed demonstrably erroneously on many fronts, particularly as interpreted by the strongest believers in God that we have seen, including the Spanish Inquisition, and the current unspeakable god botherers in the middle East.

    They believe that their “reasons” are correct. I do not, and neither does Dawkins. You may notice the conjunctive argument that links “Freedom” to “Reason.” His appeal is that reason without god will be the driving force behind freedom, nothing whatever to do with your long and torturously circular arguement about metaphysical human constructs, which of course must include the beliefs of Inuit shamans, New Guinea cargo cult, and a raft of others that I am sure you dismiss, while hanging on to the understandable, for their time, beliefs of bronze age early herding and agrarian cultures.

    Finally, please read up on naturalism, before you bandy it about, with particular reference to pantheism, the concept the nature and god are one and the same. It then boils down, assuming that this your fundamental point of view, to a difference of vocabulary. I prefer naturalism to “God,” because it avoids all the rubbish about pointy hats and talking snakes, and turns into a far less acrimonious “You say tomato, I say tamato” discussion.



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  • 43
    inoma_ilala says:

    Alan4discussion Jan 15, 2015 at 12:39 am

    Ah! The semantic redefinition of “reason” to accommodate wishful faith-thinking, while denying the evidenced basis of naturalism.

    I’m afraid I cannot find any evidence in my original comment that could indicate that I am seeking to accommodate “wishful faith-thinking”. This is the original comment: “The problem is that neither of these concepts – ‘reason’ and ‘freedom’ – have any validity within the philosophy on which atheism depends, namely, the philosophy of naturalism.”

    Could you please provide me with the evidence to support your assertion? I thought atheists were the kind of people who champion evidence (if their persistent claims are to be believed). And yet you have pulled an idea (“wishful faith-thinking”) straight out of your imagination, set it up as a straw man and then decided to attack it thinking that this is some kind of refutation or coherent response to my comment. Not a very rational approach, is it?

    “The evidence basis of naturalism”. Well, given that naturalism relies on the claims of strong empiricism, which is itself self-refuting (given that its fundamental claim cannot be validated by its own rule – i.e. the concept of empiricism is not itself empirically perceived), then I fail to see quite what genuine evidence could possibly support this philosophy. The philosophy of naturalism is an assumption about the nature of reality, which, dare I suggest, is accepted “by faith” (i.e. the kind of definition of ‘faith’ which is independent of evidence. In fact, given the self-refuting basis of naturalism, belief in this philosophy requires the most extreme anti-rational form of ‘faith’, namely, the concept of believing something in spite of the evidence of logic).

    Within the scientific atheist world-view, evolved intelligence produced reason, and some cultures produced laws giving freedom!

    I am sure that that is an accurate summary of the origin and development of ‘reason’ and ‘freedom’ within the atheist world-view. I will omit the adjective ‘scientific’ however, because such a world-view is not proven by science, because it lies well outside the limits of the remit of the empirical scientific method. Such a paradigm is merely an interpretation of empirical data, and this interpretation should be subject to careful logical analysis, as should any metaphysical claim. Logic tells me that this world-view is self-contradictory. In fact, even logic itself becomes entirely subjective within such a world-view, being part of this merely “evolved intelligence”.

    (My original comment): Now which is the more coherent and rational worldview?

    (Your reply): Historical evidence makes this clear.

    Indeed.

    But do please elaborate.

    (My original comment): And that is why I confidently predict that atheism has no future, because it simply does not fit reality, even those aspects of reality which atheists celebrate and promote!
    (Your reply): Oh dear! Oh dear! That god-delusion image of reality, really does conflict with naturalistic scientific observations!

    How curious that you should express such dismay. You seem not to understand the logical implications of your own world-view, my friend.

    If indeed your “scientific atheist world-view” is true (whatever ‘true’ means within a purely physical universe), then we all believe what we do, because that is the way (mindless) nature made us. There is no such thing as ‘delusion’, because ideas within the human mind (oops, brain) have no greater epistemic status than the bile our livers secrete. That is how matter works. Matter does not produce things like ‘truth’ and ‘reason’, and conversely ‘delusion’ and ‘foolishness’. We just have neural events in our brains to enable us to survive. Your particular ‘delusion’ (if I may use that word) is no more or no less ‘deluded’ than my ‘delusion’. But, of course, if the philosophy of naturalism is true, then we would never even know it was so, because the idea of this philosophy is just another neural event.

    Clearly the philosophy of naturalism is completely irrational, or, at best, non-rational.

    Reason merely provides self-consistency. While evidence based reason describes the properties of physical matter consistently with objective observations.

    Reason which conflicts with the physics of reality is simply flawed and in error, or self-consistent “castles-in-the-air”, detached from reality.

    Now I will say “Oh dear! Oh dear!”

    You downgrade the role of reason, and yet make the following statement: “Reason which conflicts with the physics of reality is simply flawed and in error”, demonstrating that you have a belief in a methodology which delivers objective truth or a knowledge of reality. Of course, you have already defined ‘reality’ in naturalistic terms, and you have done this either with recourse to reason, or you have made a leap of faith without reference to reason. If the former, then it reveals that you consider reason to be rather more than merely a method of describing what you term “objective observations”. In fact, it is not possible to make any so called “objective observations” without first assuming the objective validity of reason. A whole raft of a priori ideas are necessary in order to make sense of empirical perception anyway, such as, for example, the concepts of identity, causation, quantity, space etc. Furthermore, no scientific experiment can deliver any insight into the nature of reality unless we make inferences from that experiment to the universe as a whole. Such inferences can only be made on the assumption that certain presuppositions are true, such as the uniformity of nature (i.e. the consistency of the laws of physics). This idea has to be assumed to be true, in order for science to work. Science could never ‘prove’ it to be true, because it first has to be believed to be true before science can prove anything. Such an idea can never be a candidate for empirical proof, because if it were, there would no means by which it could be proven, given that proof is impossible without it first being true!

    You give the impression that you assume that physics give us a direct insight into objective reality, with reason merely performing a tidying up exercise. But the discipline of physics itself relies on reason being rather more than what you suggest.

    (My original comment): Matter does not produce reason

    (Your reply): . . .. And I thought reason arose from processes of physical atoms, molecules, and electricity, operating neurons in the brain! – http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html
    All those neuroscientists must be wrong (according to your claim)!

    Of course if you have evidence of reasoning functioning in ways detached from brains (or their computer proxies), we can consider it!

    I am afraid you are guilty of a serious category error here. I am looking at the fundamental nature of reason, and asking whether it could have arisen by purely natural means. Given the nature of reason, then if it has, your claims to truth have no more merit than mine, if reason is merely an emergent property of natural selection. But you counter this with an assumption that because we use our physical brains to process ideas, that reason itself must arise from the mechanics of the machine used to process it!! That is clearly absurd. You talk about ‘reality’, but in reality we never think like this. We never assume that a thing which is processed by a machine must have originated in the workings of that machine.

    As for “all those neuroscientists”: well, you are assuming they are all disciples of the philosophy of naturalism (rather than practitioners of the methodology of naturalism, which is a completely different thing, and certainly not inimical to non-naturalistic / spiritual ideas). A neuroscientist studies the workings of the brain, but he is not an epistemologist. Don’t confuse the two disciplines.

    As for your parting shot about evidence of reasoning functioning in ways detached from brains (or their computer proxies): well, what kind of evidence are you actually asking for? You use the word ‘evidence’, but don’t expect me to try to prove something by your limited definition of the word. There are many different types of evidence, and, it would seem from the content of your post that you only consider one type of evidence, namely, empirical evidence, which is, of course, the evidence of one’s senses. Now given that our senses are the means we relate epistemically to the material world, then, of course, that kind of evidence a priori rules out an explanation which does not conform to the philosophy of naturalism. Thus if you are asking for that kind of evidence, then you would be guilty of the logical fallacy of question begging (i.e. arguing for the truth of a position – in this case, the philosophy of naturalism – while only accepting arguments from the opponents of that position, which already assume its truth!). It is also called “a circular argument”.

    There is also the evidence of inference, which, by the way, science uses all the time. I have already presented this kind of evidence to support my view of the origin of reason. Therefore kindly reread what I have written.



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  • So why are you shy about revealing your non-sense evidence? Tell us about your feelings. How you know whereof you speak…? Evidence is evident… and shareable, or its only a personal feeling and can never achieve the status of corroboration.



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  • Firstly, ‘reason’ is, so we are led to believe, simply an emergent
    property of natural selection, and functions as nothing more than an
    aid to survival.

    The error that is made here is the assumption that humans are somehow special and are the only creatures that reason, leading to “god made us special.” I am sorry, but all animals reason to an observable extent, with dogs, chimps, pigs, cows and bears etc etc pretty much obviously, and recent research has shown this ability all the way down to at least Great White sharks. (I do not have a link for this, but it comes from the Farralones, and Orca incursion into what was previously a “shark only” feeding ground, as well as data from the New Zealand abalone fishery.)

    Yes, there is a question of degree in the ability to reason, but it is certainly an evolved capacity, and not one granted by a “god.”

    “simply a human construct to help our ancestors to survive and cope,
    then the same is also true of all other metaphysical ideas.”

    Simply, (again) this is a non sequiter. It does not follow, it is also an argument from an erroneous first principle.

    If you believe that it gives you comfort in assigning the wonder and mystery of the universe within which we exist, to a god, who made us in his own image, as defined by people like Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, an absurdity of epic proportions, so be it, and I wish you well. However, believing in something may make you feel at peace, and good, but it does not make it factually correct, and until some decent evidence, not circular personal reasoning, can be produced, I am afraid the whole thing is a bit like another pseudo science, astrology, where we see a rather lovely philosophical and complex edifice, that even inspired a lot of real science in early astronomy, based on an entire rely bogus first principle, that our lives are affected by the relative juxtaposition of the planets when we are born.

    Finally, private beliefs are just that, the problem really arises when they are used to justify harm, as we see in the RCC’s and other xtian churches inglorious past, (mostly past) and in the present barbarism perpetrated in the name of Islam, or to indoctrinate others, particularly children.



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  • inoma_ilala Jan 17, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Alan4discussion Jan 15, 2015 at 12:39 am
    Ah! The semantic redefinition of “reason” to accommodate wishful faith-thinking, while denying the evidenced basis of naturalism.

    I’m afraid I cannot find any evidence in my original comment that could indicate that I am seeking to accommodate “wishful faith-thinking”.

    After a denial of empirical methodology, your use of the irrational alternative of subjective wish-thinking, is self evident, and would explain your inability to recognise evidence.

    Reason merely provides self-consistency. While evidence based reason describes the properties of physical matter consistently with objective observations.

    Reason which conflicts with the physics of reality is simply flawed and in error, or self-consistent “castles-in-the-air”, detached from reality.

    Now I will say “Oh dear! Oh dear!” You downgrade the role of reason,

    Not at all, but reason requires and evidenced basis in order to relate to physical reality, rather than self-consistent whimsical fiction.

    and yet make the following statement: “Reason which conflicts with the physics of reality is simply flawed and in error”, demonstrating that you have a belief in a methodology which delivers objective truth or a knowledge of reality.

    That is what science does, mapping as closely as it can its models to the underlying physical reality of nature. If reasoned predictions are not confirmed by later objective observations, the calculations and reasoning are wrong.

    Of course, you have already defined ‘reality’ in naturalistic terms, and you have done this either with recourse to reason, or you have made a leap of faith without reference to reason.

    This is nonsense! Objective observations are not dreamed up by introspective thought processes. They are sensory mapping of the real world.

    If the former, then it reveals that you consider reason to be rather more than merely a method of describing what you term “objective observations”.

    Reason is a process for making predictions and calculations, based on objective observations and measurements.

    In fact, it is not possible to make any so called “objective observations” without first assuming the objective validity of reason.

    This is backwards! It is not possible to reason about reality without making objective observations on which to base the reasoning.

    (My original comment): Matter does not produce reason

    (Your reply): . . .. And I thought reason arose from processes of physical atoms, molecules, and electricity, operating neurons in the brain! – http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html
    All those neuroscientists must be wrong (according to your claim)!

    .Of course if you have evidence of reasoning functioning in ways detached from brains (or their computer proxies), we can consider it!

    I am afraid you are guilty of a serious category error here.

    Nope! This looks like side-tracking and dodging to avoid offering an example.

    I am looking at the fundamental nature of reason,

    **Do tell any details **which are in addition to the deductive calculations I mentioned above.

    and asking whether it could have arisen by purely natural means.

    I thought I had explained it developed in the evolution of brains and the development of computers. Do you have any evidence of other sources or mechanisms?

    Given the nature of reason, then if it has, your claims to truth have no more merit than mine,

    This is unsupported assertion and a false equivalence – The wish thinking I mentioned earlier.

    if reason is merely an emergent property of natural selection.

    Clearly evolved brains are the physical processing system behind reasoning and they have developed from simpler organisms.

    Do you have evidence of some other mechanism?

    But you counter this with an assumption that because we use our physical brains to process ideas, that reason itself must arise from the mechanics of the machine used to process it!!

    That the mechanism would evolve in response to the benefits to the individual of the process is pretty obvious.
    Animals unable to think or anticipate, do not live very long!

    That is clearly absurd. You talk about ‘reality’, but in reality we never think like this.

    It seems your thinking is absurd and you never think (logically) from the underlying reality objective evidence views, – but that is a feature of thinking by faith-wish-thinking.

    We never assume that a thing which is processed by a machine must have originated in the workings of that machine.

    Your assumed thinking is only about a single individual, instead of multiple evolving generations.
    I would have thought it was obvious that in the development of any mechanism or machine, the structure and mechanism is modified to improve performance where there is an advantage to be gained by doing so.
    Natural Selection is a performance based mechanism, so adaptations are to be expected, and are indeed, historically recorded in thousands of species.

    As for your parting shot about evidence of reasoning functioning in ways detached from brains (or their computer proxies): well, what kind of evidence are you actually asking for? You use the word ‘evidence’, but don’t expect me to try to prove something by your limited definition of the word.

    So no empirical evidence! Just an attempt to re-define the word “evidence” to mean “wish-thinking fantasies”!

    There are many different types of evidence,

    So it is alleged, but the only form which does not consistently fail the reality test is empirical evidence.

    and, it would seem from the content of your post that you only consider one type of evidence, namely, empirical evidence, which is, of course, the evidence of one’s senses.

    Or . . . . in science the multiple independently checked senses of many independent scientists augmented by experimental testing and by measurements from instrumentation.

    Your whole post seems to be based on a denial that scientific knowledge exists, and that some whimsical wish-thinking – re-branded as “reason”, can be substituted for it.



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  • Sorry Dianne, Stalin was an atheist. Whether he was raised in a Greek Orthodox Church or not has nothing to do with his religious commitments later in life. He presided over a country in which the dissemination of atheism, and the persecution of the church was government policy. As to Hitler, he may never have been excommunicated from the Catholic Church, but to suggest he was a Catholic is a little bit of an exaggeration. Hitler had nothing but contempt for the church, though he was quite prepared to use religious language to attract a following. But you must also remember that Hitler was not exactly trustworthy. He was an opportunist, and would use anything for political purposes. It seems clear that, having rid the world of Jews, he had every intention of eradicating Christianity. As an autodidact who clearly read Nietzsche, it would be surprising if he did not adopt Nietzsche’s opposition to Christianity, since in so many other respects his Weltanshauung aped Nietzsche’s, his social Darwinism and glorification of power. To my knowledge, Hitler never wanted to be a priest, though Stalin spent at least one year in a seminary preparing for the Orthodox priesthood.



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