Dealing with antitheist and “new atheist” rhetoric

If you go to the first page of the thread for discussing the Penner book there is a link to a free online copy.

This place is so welcoming even I feel like I belong. I do think apologetics should be more about helping and sharing with each other without regard to branding. In a book Merv shared that I liked a lot called Holy Envy a Muslim cleric tried to put a mostly Christian group of college students on a field trip to a mosque at ease. He told them he did not want anyone to give up the path they were on to adopt their way. Better that a Jew should become a better Jew and so for every other group. I liked that.


So far so good.

Indeed. Atheism is not a lack of belief or lack of ideology.

No. That is incorrect and inconsistent with the majority use of the word. It may not be a decision or belief that God or deities do not exist. But atheism is a decision on the question of the existence of God/deities, and not something people are by default. Atheism is a belief - a belief regarding the question of the existence of God or deities. Most likely it is a belief that there is insufficient reason to believe God or deities exist – not according to most definitions of the words “God” or “deity” anyway.

Clearly people do not identify as atheist simply because they lack a belief in a deity. When I was young and determined to get to bottom of all this “god” stuff, I lacked belief in a deity. but I was not an atheist. People who have not even considered the question of whether God or deities exist are not atheists. People unfamiliar with the idea are not atheists. Infants are not atheists. It not an infrequent judgement by people who come to a decision that God exists that they always believed even when they were unfamiliar with the concept. It ties to the meaning the find in the word “God.”

Some atheists find the idea of God and the existence of the supernatural odious. I think that is subjective and intellectually dishonest.

I would say over and beyond the question of deity existence there is a bigger question concerning what we are, what the world is to us and what we are or should be here to do. We absolutely must adopt a belief regarding those matters and what those are will go a long way toward shaping who we are and what meaning and fulfillment we find in our lives. It isn’t really possible to defer those questions or hope science will eventually illuminate them. We are all already thrown into a life and have absorbed operational assumptions/hypotheses which we are running on whether we are aware of them or not.

But of course imagining that there is a powerful but kindly God who created everything and has a plan for us need not play a part in the assumptions we are running on, but such a belief does not require objective evidence as justification. The real justification is the quality of self it enables you to be and the quality of relationships and community they support. The assumption/hypothesis that there is no meaning or purpose and anything we do is essentially arbitrary is no more or less objectively justified than God belief but there is little support in it for good self development, relationships or community. So subjectively the nihilist POV is less justified on that basis. Of course God belief is neither a guarantor of a good outcome nor the exclusive pathway to one. But it is the Western way that has evolved to serve those purposes and of course continues to evolve theologically and/or philosophically. Of course a godless point of view need not be nihilist but then it needs some other way to account for and promote a life that allows for a full expression of our humanity.

I think God belief is a good match for what is needed. But I don’t think the effectiveness of God belief requires the literal existence of a being apart from ourselves which matches any particular culture’s formulation. Then again it might be that a traditional approach with a fairly well articulated and shared formulation is more effective still - but who could ever be in position to make that determination?

What is required does not equal what serves the purpose best. And if the belief in an actual God serves best, then what purpose is served by the suggestion that we only need to believe in an actual God not that there be an actual God? I would guess that it serves purpose of hypocrisy for those who would cheat – like a sociopath/psychopath pretending to human caring simply to trick and manipulate. One can sit on the sidelines with observations and pronouncements of wisdom, but what about actually taking your own advice and living accordingly yourself?

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A pity that we won’t see that the enemy is social injustice.


That was a concession I conceded could be true.

Your empathy is weak. I don’t think you have the first clue what the requirements of “an actual God” may be any more than anyone else. I’m only interested in what it is that supports the experience that makes that belief compelling. I don’t think there is a correct conceptualization but if it mattered to what interacts with us I think we’d know. I’m not getting that. But I’m not trying to coerce your agreement. I’m just vehemently rejecting your authority in the matter.

…or climate change. (which I guess is a subset of social justice any way.)

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I certainly have no empathy for or comprehension of this response. I have no idea what requirements you are talking about. I only spoke of your own reference to what the effectiveness of God belief requires. Nor can I imagine what authority you think I am claiming when I spoke only of living according to ones own words.

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But what exactly is that supposed to mean and how would we know it. I simply reject the idea of it being something apart from us but something like us. Do you find the category of deity so obviously requires it to be a person like being? I don’t see why.

Belief in an actual God certainly means belief in a person something like us.

I have frequently stated that I do not think objective knowledge of God is possible.

Is that a subjective or objective judgement?


The question you raised was regarding what is required to make God belief effective. I suggested a shift from what is required to what best serves purpose of making God belief effective. Can you really say with certainty that the belief in an actual God doesn’t best serve the purpose of making God belief effective? To me it seems only logical that this would be the case. It comes from comparing a pet rock to a pet animal and then to having a relationship with a person. The nature of the relationship certainly does depend on the capabilities of the object of that relationship being able to respond to your interactions with it.

I have already said that atheism is an answer to the question of whether someone believes in deities. I think it is implied that people make decisions on how they will answer that question. I have never said that atheism is an autonomic reflex.

Just as most people decide if they are convinced by any claim.

I think you are making mountains out of molehills.

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Wow. I am tempted to run a poll here on this very question. I’d be very surprised to learn that every Christian holds that belief so explicitly.

Subjective of course. It is based on my own subjective assessment.

Definitely not. But then can you be certain that my experience of what I think gives rise to God belief is so inadequate? I’m content but why then am I here? It is because it is rare to find the fount of insight and inspiration really taken seriously outside religion. The problem for me is the tendency to reify that so explicitly that no further ‘founting ’ is required or even expected. I find that disappointing and nothing I want.

I think a person happy in their faith tradition would be better served to hold these notions in a less restrictive manner. It isn’t any God I hanker for. I just appreciate and wonder at the fount, at all that is given without my assistance. For that I’m grateful but I don’t want to trade it in on a body of settled theology.

I didn’t even see a consideration of this question as part of this discussion. Are you identifying what gives rise to God belief with what makes it effective?

??? Science is far more concrete and explicit and I think it is our experience that this leads more questions to explore rather than less. Does the example of science show that looking at the big picture requires keeping to vague generalities?

Not everyone happy in their faith tradition holds these notions in an equally restrictive manner.

You want to remain observer only.

I was not actually suggesting you do otherwise.

Exactly. We inflict it on the poor.


And then there is actual evidence. Oh wait – y’all have seen it before.

Thanks for your thoughts, Paulm. And yes, much anti-theist rhetoric (not all but most of it) is based on straw men — and sometimes little understood biblical texts. When I was an atheist, it was because I was (for the most part) angry about something. No one who is angry is angry for entirely “no good reason.” But they may not remember the original source of their anger (in some cases). Anger itself is a river that happily and angrily runs over its banks … it just is that way. As for staying calm and rational when talking with someone on things like this— if someone is trying to provoke you to that degree, it is time to call the conversation off…return to it some other day. Anger can be a defense against what someone does not want to hear, as much as about “whatever” the person is angry about.

You and I cannot be made to hear what we do not want to hear either…so neither can the other person.

The other person also has a vested interest in their opinion. And the only response from you or me in that case is just to be polite, answer as well as we can, and then go on with our day.


I agree with your whole post but was surprised you had your fallen period. May I ask which came first, faith or atheism?

I was raised to be indifferent to religion and was an atheist by a very young age-- say 7 or 8…yup “fallen period” – like that phrase!!! I have had my ups and downs…probably like most.

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