Unpleasant conversations between atheists and theists


But what makes you think that the idea of the existence of God is incoherent (still talking about a general/deistic God, not about the claims of a specific religion)?

(George Brooks) #22


Athiests think that evidence is required for every decision …and usually think that only a certain class of evidence can be allowed for any decision.

We have friends of BioLogos here that even continue to define “evidence” as only those things which “prove” a point.

There really is no way to convince a so-called “New Atheist” that there are many categories of Evidence that are sufficient for decisions or conclusions - - even if they don’t think the categories are valid. This is, perhaps, the very essence of the problem.

Atheists and Theists of all stripes use very idiosyncratic methods to arrive at their conclusions. This has always been true. And it must be acknowledged as fact.

Otherwise, the matter of faith and logic would have decided all these matters long ago.

[It is important that you leave the discussion immediately after this, because New Atheists are also armed with Beam Weapons controlled by means of mental emanations directed by tin foil hats, and they will use them with all due prejudice when given the time to focus them!]

(David Murphy) #23

Fair question. First: definitions of God are vague. That’s a bug, not a feature. A good argument is specific to the point where you can say “if it’s true x, must follow”. Not so with God, anything can follow. God exists, should the universe be small or big? Etc, etc. But you asked about incoherent.

So what do we have. God is what? Physical? OK, so where is he then? Immaterial? OK, then how does he affect the physical? And let’s just forget the conservation of energy, mass and momentum in that case. These concepts are dead.

If he’s omnipotent, then he doesn’t exist. He’s logically impossible. Can God make a rock that’s so heavy god himself cannot lift it? If he can, he’s not omnipotent, if he can’t, he’s not omnipotent.

Worse still, what if he’s omnibenevolent? Then he is a prisoner who can only choose one course of action - the maximally kind. Completely predictable with no self control, might as well be a calculator. He has no power at all over his actions.

Is he omniscient? What about Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns”? How can god know there isn’t a god which created him and will judge him. If you think you know everything, do you know that? No, you only think that, you don’t know. And the god which made god could have a god which could have a god and we’d have turtles all the way down.

The whole notion of omniscient is not logically coherent. The idea of omnipotence makes no sense. Omnibenevolence is servitude.

So what is God? What else is there?

EDIT: something I didn’t consider a swear word but your system did was removed!

(Mervin Bitikofer) #24

Amen to this! I’ve remarked before that I most value thoughtful debate that isn’t a match of wits or preparation or intelligence or who is most able to get the other backed into a corner. Instead of bringing truth into clearer focus it may only tell us who the better debater was which is about the most useless information truth-lovers could have. If Christians really are wrong about who God is or whether God even exists, then (as the apostle Paul might say): we would be the most pathetic lot of all. What is interesting to me is that, to the extent that Christianity has become a social club of privilege (at least in some settings), we could no longer say that. I.e. Privileged people suddenly have motivation for wanting to preserve the status quo and even if their belief turned out to be false, they may not be interested in switching beliefs because they see it as a pretty good gig. But Paul, enduring beatings, imprisonments, and nearly anything but privilege shows us the perspective of a true believer: “I’m giving my all to you … and if so you don’t come through for me, then my very life will have been a tragic waste!”. I think that dynamic of belief has been turned on its head between 1st century Palestinian culture and the contemporary affluent west.

Ramble concluded.

(David Murphy) #25

Hehe. Rambles are intrinsically cool but yours was too notch.

One more argument, this one’s my own.

God decides who goes to heaven and hell, right? Everyone dies eventually, so thought experiment: let’s line up the world. What are we? Seven billion or so. Now, let’s say God puts at the left the most evil living person, a truly terrible soul. And on the right the most saintly in his perfect view. And then everyone in between in order.

So where does he draw the line? Wherever it is, what was the difference between the two people on either side of a divide seven billion strong? A coffee stain once on a desk? Forgetting to say please once as a child? What could be one seven billionth of a sin that allows eternal torment, quintillions, octillions of years, for one and not his neighbour? And if he allows the neighbour into heaven then what about his neighbour, and his…

Heaven and hell are incoherent.

(George Brooks) #26


Not everyone defines “omnipotent” the way you do.

The difference in definitions is at the heart of inevitably diverse ways in which Atheists and Theists view the universe. It is always interesting to have an Athiest who appears to support the BioLogos process.

I am not a formal or official representative of BioLogos; I am an interested participant, just like you are. But please remember the whole point of BioLogos for many of us here is that there is a God, and he (or it?) does interact with humanity.

I continue to think that many Athiests and many Christian supporters of Evolution have a mutual interest in explaining to Young Earth Creationists how Evolution can be compatible with a Christian world view. Attempts (within these pages) to wrestle Christians to the ground over Atheism seems almost certainly counter-productive to the BioLogos mission.

(David Murphy) #27

Correct, I’d need a working definition of omniscient and god in general to assess the claim. That one doesn’t work.

Absolutely, I’m very grateful to you all for your kind reception. You’re a breath of fresh air from my previous exchanges with creationists. They twist facts, quote mine, invent evidence and deny established science. Well, it’s depressing as well as intellectually bankrupt. There’s been nothing of the sort here. Obviously we disagree but I get the feeling we’re each interested in each other’s stance and everything from your side has been intelligent and informed. Been a real pleasure, I must say.

I hope, while I’ve made my case as clearly as I can, you appreciate were not all arrogant monsters looking down our noses at you. We’re all just people.

(Wayne Dawson) #28

Welcome to the list

I am a devout Christian. I am also a professional scientist focused on structure prediction; mainly RNA, but additionally protein structure and more recently chromatin studies. In fact, I use statistical mechanics a lot in my work; hence, Boltzmann is also a major hero in my book, even though he was largely an atheist. My structure prediction methods strongly support the “why?” question in neutral mutation theory – though perhaps you never considered why neutral mutation might actually work at the physical level.

I would consider myself a reluctant evolutionist. I was never much of an antievolution type; certainly, the 6000-year-old earth was just a ridiculous notion to my mind. However, I originally transitioned to biology from solid state physics (semiconductors, superconductors, and insulators). As a result, some notions like abiogenesis were a little difficult for me to accept, as a physicist who had worked on far more predictable systems. I don’t really have a fully satisfactory answer on the matter, but I am thinking deeply about such matters as best I can and keeping my eyes open. At any rate, I realize that my faith in God does not depend on whether abiogenesis is true or not. If that is how God did things (or made things come about), well, so it is. Does the pot argue with the pot-thrower why it was made in some way for some use and not in another way?

I usually try to make the distinction that “I accept evolution” rather than “I believe in evolution”. I believe in God, I believe Christ died for my sins, but evolution is a concept that we either accept or reject.

Perhaps you are baffled by a supposedly advanced nation having people who are shouting for a 6000-year-old earth, etc. At the church level, attitudes about creationism generally seem to depend on the education and background of the pastor(s). I think some of this is confusion about the cause. To them, they see that educated people do not come to church, they speak ill of the church, and especially, they always talk about that evolution. They conclude that the reason why the people are not in church is that they have been corrupted by the ideas of evolution. They cannot see that intellectuals balk at the absurdity of accepting a 6000-year-old earth.

– by Grace we proceed

(George Brooks) #29

@David_Murphy, Well, I’m certainly willing to believe most of ya are ! :smiley:

(Wayne Dawson) #30

I am acquainted with gangs. However, try to remember that without the Grace of God, we can all behave in a most repugnantly tribal manner. Even as Christians, we can get lost in groupthink and use our violence to bring shame on the gospel we preach. We showed an enormously convoluted thinking during the reformation. It is more complex that some people like to portray it, for example, in Europe, church affiliation often was equated with one’s submission to a particular lord, prince, or king. So having a different view could get you killed. Nevertheless, we look at that period and shudder. [Addendum: Also a case in point: I notice @david_murphy mentions that he had a lot of trouble with creationist lists …]

It is always very important to remember that it is not about us, it is about what Jesus has done. Without God’s wisdom, our mouths are but clanging cymbals and noisy harps. Only by depending on God’s Grace, we can refrain from speaking and doing evil. By God’s Grace, we hear and do the right way through the earthquakes, the raging fires, and the raging storms. Like Paul says, my righteousness is but filthy rags. It is a lifelong learning process, but I think we have to accept that we have no real intrinsic goodness within us, and only then can we begin to really bring about salvation through the work of his mighty hand.

– by Grace we proceed,

(Wayne Dawson) #31

So you suggest drive-by postings? :wink:

I do remember a skeptic list I was on for a while. Even a mild hint of the G-word was not welcome and you could expect a mob to descend on you with pipes and chains.

… but that can also happen on religious lists for similar and different reasons. This is why I hammer on the point that without God’s wisdom and grace, we can all do a heck of a lot of evil. We (collectively) rarely seem to learn from those pipe beatings how wrong it is, and so we pick up a pipe or a chain when it is “our turn” to exact vengeance.

– by Grace we proceed,

(Wayne Dawson) #32

“Know” seems like a very strong word. It cannot be “know” as in the sense of some verifiable claim like whether the earth goes around the sun or the sun goes around the earth.

Frankly, even with scientific truth, it isn’t always so easy to know the answer.

It seems indisputable now – except for some people – that the earth goes around the sun, even though “He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved” (Ps 104:5). Yet it was not so trivial a thing when Aristarchus (3rd century BC) claimed that the sun was at the center; it was “proved” wrong by Plato (of all people). When Copernicus first proposed the idea, not everything instantly worked correctly either. For one thing, reconfiguring things to the sun-centered model did not improve the predictions immediately. Perhaps the most damning case against the idea was produced by Tycho Brahe, who pointed out that an argument based on parallax (with the measuring techniques of the time – 1 arch minute) would mean the stars were more than 1/1000 of a parsec away. In fact, the nearest star is more than 3 parsecs away. A fire on a mountain might be visible 10 km away, but those numbers would have seemed absurd to a mind of the middle ages. So, actually, it wasn’t the church that initially resisted and scoffed at the Copernican model, it was actually the scientists! … (though they were called at the time “natural philosophers”.)

Dark matter? it’s on maybe a better standing than God as far as irrefutable evidence, but it has its problems and it certainly has not been directly measured (as of the moment I’m written this at least).

I live in Japan, where the main religions are Buddhism and Shinto. Most people here don’t really believe that deeply, but traditions drive at least a Buddhist funeral and a Shinto birth/land ceremony, etc. Whereas the model of ultimate reality is very different from the Judeo-Christian view, my discussion with Buddhists tells me that they are striving for some of the same things. I sense that there is something that all religious people are searching for. I don’t know how it works out at the end of the age, but I would expect that God is just and maybe even we don’t have it all correct ourselves.

At the end of the day, I don’t think we can tell you more than the parochial preacher would say – you need to have faith. Who gives faith? Well, from God. Because it is faith, we don’t “know” the truth, but we have come to trust that there is enough truth in this that we can go on with it. We also see some wisdom in the ages. Survival of that wisdom through thousands of years means there is something in it that still has wisdom – despite its many apparent flaws. Perhaps we look to the ages because it is a rock. As the famous hymn says, Twas Grace hast brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead me home.

– by Grace we proceed,

(Vlad K. I'm an Agnostic Atheist) #33

I’m not the one you asked the question of, but I will provide my feedback, if you don’t mind. I think “God” is not properly defined in Christianity (which is a religion I’m most familiar with).

For one, the idea of a Christain God is a contradiction. Because this God is defined as Love, and ultimate Good on the one hand, but then, he is also a God who will torture people for all eternity in Hell. I’m aware there are Universalists, Anihilationists, etc… however, I’m speaking about a mainstream position.

I remember a youtuber put it like this. Imagine there is a ‘yellow quantum whisperer’. Taken these three parts separately, you can imagine yellow (a color we are familiar with), quantum meaning a thing operates at some quantum level, and whispering. But combining the three makes the concept incoherent. We don’t know and can’t even begin to imagine what the thing does or is. God can be defined similarly. Love, Justice, Creation powers, etc… but taken as a whole, the concept becomes incoherent.

(Luca) #34

These objections remind me of that classic reply we sometimes get.

"Can God make a stone so big he cant carry?"
Or even “Can God make square circles?”

Sorry if they arent alike but they do remind me of them.

And about me getting angry or annoyed just because you are an atheist would be arrogant. And is alot like the people i described in my OP. I think everyone is equal. You have your reasons and i have mine. And we have to respect that! :slight_smile:

(Luca) #35

Not everyone accepts that hell you know.
I feel like the Bible doesnt say that.

(Vlad K. I'm an Agnostic Atheist) #36

Maybe due to my childhood anxiety, I had a bad feeling about Hell. I always thought that a loving God should not torture people. However, the Bible clearly has passages that can be interpreted (and are interpreted) to mean that an eternal torture awaits everyone who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

here is a summary from a devout Christian apologist. Look, I’m not sure if he is right, but, in my mind, it creates a picture of a possibility. It is similar to the fear of pitpulls. You may be assured it won’t bite, but there is always that chance that assurances can be wrong.


(Luca) #37

Oh no carm. That is one if the places i never liked to visit for any kind of biblical or scientific things. I never really enjoyed listening to the founder even as a YEC( i think his name is matt slick not sure) because he came over very arrogantly. I know what you mean though. But i know that those passages could and maybe should be interpreted differently. But we can never be sure about that i agree.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #38

Quick response before I need to get into the full swing of my work day…

Great thought experiment! That was a provoking way to look at it. Here is what I think a Christian view of the same situation would look like. All 7 billion of us are lined up according to moral merit, and as you picture it, we have very saintly, deserving folks on one end, and quite despicable people on the other. But the Christian learns something very different from the gospels. In this view that line of all 7 billion of us (even the most saintly) is all pretty much down on the despicable end. Nobody – not even mother Teresa would make the cut! That’s where strict, consistent legalism eventually must lead. That’s what attention to “the law” shows us. You object (along with most of us I imagine) that it seems ludicrous to suggest that Mother Teresa and Hitler should get lumped together in the same group! I hear you. And yet who among us can know that if we hadn’t been born in Hitler’s circumstances that we would not have done the same despicable things? This isn’t to justify Hitler’s evil. Far from it! It is to point out that you and I are almost certainly not so righteous as we may often imagine. And when compared with the perfection that the Christian believes God demands … well … here is another parallel thought experiment to make my point:

On the question of who is scientifically literate or not, let’s line up our 7 billion continuum from the most ignorant idiot to the most brilliant genius. But then I share with you my criteria for who gets to be considered “scientifically literate”, and it is this: They must be experts in every field of science, must know how string theory will work, how quantum mechanics, relativity, and all other scientific principals work together in a unified whole, and must be informed on the latest findings of every field. By the time I get done here, not even our genius Boltzmann will have been close to making the cut! Our entire continuum just got all scrunched down far into the illiterate realm. Well, that’s pretty useless you say! I just made the concept of scientific literacy useless by defining it so far up that now we can’t differentiate anybody with it!

Yes. And that is exactly the point. Jesus takes our scrabbling around with all these legalisms and self-righteous comparisons (where we can have a pecking order where I imagine I’m better than a whole lot of others downstream the continuum from me …) he takes that and blows the whole thing right out of the water. You want to play the righteousness game on your merits? You aren’t gonna like where that goes. But on the Christian view, even the despicable thief on the cross now gets a free pass just for knowing his own need and responding in desperation to Christ . That is what I would propose is a Christian response to such a thought experiment.

[more edits have happened for correction and clarity]

(Vlad K. I'm an Agnostic Atheist) #39

Ok, imagine you visit a family where a parent beats a good kid in order to spare the misbehaving child from any beatings.

Would you think…“Oh, what a kind and a loving and graceful parent!”, or would you think…“This parent is probably insane”?

According the Christian view, God is the one who makes all the rules. Something is evil, because God decreed that it was evil and good, because God said it was good. So, why must a sin be punished by death and even Hell, if Hell is real? Sure, God of Christianity, provided for a way to escape the punishment, but how does his way out make his ultimate morality any less crazy (for the lack of a better word)?

(Luca) #40

Sin is an act against God. God is just. God is good. An act against good is bad. An act against God is bad. Is someone who acts against God who wants to give you eternal life good? I don’t think so.
And we all act against God. Albeit we can’t help it.