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Quote of the Week: "A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled." - Barnett Cocks, British political writer (1907-)

Why it's important to be anti-religion....

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Tyshalle
PostPosted: 2008-07-06 12:33am 

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The title isn't quite accurate, and point in fact I'm actually looking for advice and pointers rather than making a statement, but I was debating a guy today who is pretty extremely well informed on most subjects (mostly pertaining to world history and world government, but an all around educated fellow if there ever was one), and is a pretty adamant agnostic. The trouble is, this guy is an agnostic that oftentimes sounds like an atheist, but he also frequently sounds like a fence-sitter, and will say things like "Well I just don't know, that's my stance, it is what it is."

He'll also insist that an atheist requires, maybe not as much, but requires nonetheless a leap of faith to get at his "belief," and insists that an Atheist believes that God does not exist, and is 100% certain of this fact in the same manner that your hardcore Christian is 100% certain that God does exist. I've explained to him my point of view, which is a point of view I know a lot of people share, that most atheists don't actually assert that there is no supreme being, but we simply choose not to believe in one as there's not sufficient evidence to support the claim, and that while we may choose to disbelieve the existence of specific Gods, not believing in something is not necessarily the same thing as believing something does not exist. To this he insists that anyone who thinks that way is an agnostic, and not an atheist.

The trouble with convincing this guy is when you pull out a dictionary, it point blank states that an atheist is someone who believes that there is no God, not someone who doesn't believe in God.

So my first question is, am I completely wrong about this? My concept is, essentially, that I choose not to believe in any God or supreme being or anything that isn't supported by some kind of testable evidence with predictable outcomes, but just because I choose not to believe in it doesn't mean that I necessarily have to believe it doesn't exist 100% to still be considered an atheist.

The other issue comes as a result of this guy's stance that Religion really isn't that bad and isn't something that people should be steered away from. He in fact believes that the world would be a better and happier place if everyone were religious. When I pointed out that he was essentially saying it's better to believe a useful lie than seek out the truth, he basically owned up to it, but seemed more than okay with this mindset. Now, just on a fundamental level I completely disagree with this mindset, but as a result of this mindset of his I'm just not going to be able to convince him otherwise. He's a very practical guy, and when I've pointed out the few instances where religion clearly does harm, such as when it tries to push creationism on our public schools, he responds that nobody really takes any of that seriously, and that the very few isolated cases where that's happened are far outweighed by all the good that religion's brought to society, from the charity work churches have done to just the general happiness level he believes it's created amongst people. So in his mindset, Religion is relatively harmless, and any harm it has done is just dwarfed by the amount of good it's done. Therefore, to his perspective, the world would be a much better place if everyone were religious.

I don't think I'm going to be able to convince him on a personal level by telling him anecdotal stories or by making broad sweeping generalizations. But all this said, I've just recently begun to make atheism my fight and therefore I'll admit that I'm ill-equipped with knowledge to beat him. Ultimately he's very smart and even more educated than me, but he's also very snarky and will dominate conversations by arguing one point with me and the second I bring up a point that defeats his he'll sidetrack it with a sarcastic comment, and it's very difficult to keep conversations on track.

Now sure, why bother continuing to argue with this guy, right? Well, he's a good guy and I think he's more than capable of being convinced, but my problem is I just don't have enough knowledge queued up in my brain to unleash on him at a moment's notice. At any rate, I think what will help me defeat him in this argument is if I can give him a nice big list of semi-recent events in which Religion, especially American Christianity, has had a negative effect on Western society. And not wishy-washy things that can't be measured necessarily, but by hard-core things like where Intelligent Design has been instituted in public schools or where evolution has been banned or the controversy in stem-cell research.

Can anyone provide me with examples or links from the past 5 years or less of Religion having clearly bad effects on our culture?
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Junghalli
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PostPosted: 2008-07-06 08:32pm 

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Well, the atheist agnostic thing can be resolved relatively easily.

An atheist doesn't believe in God in the same way I don't believe that my head is actually a pineapple and my brain is kept in a jar in a safe under my bed. It's impossible to be 100% certain this is not the case but it's so massively unlikely that for all practical purposes we can simply say it's not true. It is perhaps "a leap of faith" in a sense, but one well backed up by real evidence.
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Tyshalle
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PostPosted: 2008-07-06 08:36pm 

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Well, not to play devil's advocate, but there's more proof that your head isn't a pineapple than there is proof that God does not exist. And I'm on board with the idea that you can't prove a negative, but the two aren't that closely related.

Would you say that he's accurate then? That an atheist is someone who believes God does not exist, and someone who doesn't believe in God (not the same thing) is an agnostic, not an atheist?
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Surlethe
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PostPosted: 2008-07-06 08:48pm 

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Tyshalle wrote:
Well, not to play devil's advocate, but there's more proof that your head isn't a pineapple than there is proof that God does not exist. And I'm on board with the idea that you can't prove a negative, but the two aren't that closely related.

Actually, both arguments rely upon Occam's Razor when it gets down to it. In both cases, for God/pineapple to remain viable options, they must evade empirical disproof, which brings the principle of parsimony into play. In the case of God, because he is inscrutable one cannot ultimately use the lack of observed miracles, the falsehoods in the Bible, the lack of large-scale correlations one would expect if he existed, etc. against him. Similarly, in the case of the pineapple, one cannot use the fact his head is not pineapple-shaped, does not have a pineapple texture, etc., against it.

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Would you say that he's accurate then? That an atheist is someone who believes God does not exist, and someone who doesn't believe in God (not the same thing) is an agnostic, not an atheist?

What is "not believing in God" if not the assertion that God does not exist?
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Darth Wong
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PostPosted: 2008-07-06 08:48pm 

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Anyone who demands proof that God does not exist is a liar. He does not demand similar proof for Zeus, or Thor. Why not?

I'll tell you why not. He thinks the idea of God makes more sense than those other ideas. But he won't admit it, so he doesn't have to defend this completely absurd valuation. The fact is that it is completely reasonable to say that something does not exist if there is no reason to believe it does exist.
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Tyshalle
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PostPosted: 2008-07-06 09:19pm 

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Surlethe wrote:
Actually, both arguments rely upon Occam's Razor when it gets down to it. In both cases, for God/pineapple to remain viable options, they must evade empirical disproof, which brings the principle of parsimony into play.


These are good points.

Quote:
What is "not believing in God" if not the assertion that God does not exist?


At least how I see it right now, not believing in God is not having proof or disproof of his existence so I don't feel 100% confident in proclaiming "He does not exist!" but at the same time, not having a shred of proof for his existence, I in no way intend to live or act as if though he does exist.

Now, I'll admit right off the bat, the line between not believing in God and believing there is no God is a very short one, and I rank it no higher or lower than the concept that there's an invisible dragon in my basement. I'm not going to take any measures "just in case" there's a dragon in my basement, and likewise I'm not going to take any measures to insure I get into Heaven in case God does exist.

I think where I have trouble crossing over is that if I were to say "God, nor any supreme being exists," I'd be making a claim I can't back up. I can make various arguments for why various named gods don't exist, and why people would have made them up over the course of time, but I don't think that's the same thing (I am however willing to be convinced that I'm wrong about this). Saying, however, that I simply don't believe in a supernatural being or God, at least to me, creates the distinction whereby I don't need to have evidence for my belief, as it's the lack of evidence that's created my belief.

Does that make any kind of sense?


Darth Wong wrote:
Anyone who demands proof that God does not exist is a liar. He does not demand similar proof for Zeus, or Thor. Why not?


Well, the thing about this guy is that he sort of does. He's a self-proclaimed agnostic, and in the truest sense of the word (at least how he defines it) the Christian God is no more viable than Zeus or any other god, which is why he's completely neutral on the topic. And while he does argue with me in such a way that makes him sound pro-Christian, he'll also argue with his Christian friends in such a way that makes him sound pro-atheist. So he's definitely somewhat of a fence sitter.

It's because of this that I don't think I'm going to be able to convince him -- or at least defeat him in an argument -- on the belief front. But one thing that he said that I do think is wrong is that religion does far more good than harm, especially right now, and that he'd be more than willing to take all the bad stuff religion does as a result of all the good it does.

He also says he wishes he were religious, because he thinks he'd be a lot happier than he is if he were.

It's because of this that I think the best way to go about destroying him is to compile a list of ways in which religion is currently causing harm to the world, in such a way that it should be painfully obvious to any sane person that the pros do not overshadow the cons.
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Darth Wong
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PostPosted: 2008-07-06 09:29pm 

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Tyshalle wrote:
Darth Wong wrote:
Anyone who demands proof that God does not exist is a liar. He does not demand similar proof for Zeus, or Thor. Why not?

Well, the thing about this guy is that he sort of does. He's a self-proclaimed agnostic, and in the truest sense of the word (at least how he defines it) the Christian God is no more viable than Zeus or any other god, which is why he's completely neutral on the topic. And while he does argue with me in such a way that makes him sound pro-Christian, he'll also argue with his Christian friends in such a way that makes him sound pro-atheist. So he's definitely somewhat of a fence sitter.

Does he believe that it is impossible to ever know that any random idea does not exist? Because there is no such thing as a universal proof of non-existence, so his demand for it is either stupidity or a trick. For that matter, how does he know anything? All of our knowledge comes from observation and reason; he does not require observation and he rejects reason (specifically, Occam's Razor). So where does he get knowledge from?
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It's because of this that I don't think I'm going to be able to convince him -- or at least defeat him in an argument -- on the belief front.

Have you ever tried pointing out that God doesn't even exist as a fully formed idea? What is God? Where can he be found? What are his attributes? How do you know these attributes? The Bible? As a factual source, that document is a joke; if he is half as smart as you seem to think he is, he will acknowledge that.
Quote:
But one thing that he said that I do think is wrong is that religion does far more good than harm, especially right now, and that he'd be more than willing to take all the bad stuff religion does as a result of all the good it does.

Ask him for scientifically valid evidence of the good done by religion. Not just propaganda claims, but real evidence. The only thing he'll be able to find is charity work, of the same sort that is also done by secular organizations such as the United Way or the UN relief agencies. If religious charities dried up, people would simply go to secular ones instead. The idea that religion prompts people to behave more ethically is completely without factual evidence.
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He also says he wishes he were religious, because he thinks he'd be a lot happier than he is if he were.

And does he have evidence of the magical happiness-generating power of religion?
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It's because of this that I think the best way to go about destroying him is to compile a list of ways in which religion is currently causing harm to the world, in such a way that it should be painfully obvious to any sane person that the pros do not overshadow the cons.

That's actually an appeal to consequence fallacy. Nevertheless, the most terrible destructive power of religion has always been its ability to take away peoples' self-doubt before they do terrible things to others. From the crusaders killing infidels to the Hindus burning untouchables to the American settlers killing natives and enslaving blacks, religion has always been there, and has always been a powerful tool for granting divine assent to whatever actions a person may see fit to commit, no matter how horrible they may be. And since the Bible can be interpreted to support almost anything, it is infinitely flexible in this regard.
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Surlethe
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PostPosted: 2008-07-06 09:50pm 

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Tyshalle wrote:
Quote:
What is "not believing in God" if not the assertion that God does not exist?


At least how I see it right now, not believing in God is not having proof or disproof of his existence so I don't feel 100% confident in proclaiming "He does not exist!" but at the same time, not having a shred of proof for his existence, I in no way intend to live or act as if though he does exist.

There is no 100% confidence of anything beyond your own existence. Just how confident are you in proclaiming that he does not exist?

Quote:
Now, I'll admit right off the bat, the line between not believing in God and believing there is no God is a very short one, and I rank it no higher or lower than the concept that there's an invisible dragon in my basement. I'm not going to take any measures "just in case" there's a dragon in my basement, and likewise I'm not going to take any measures to insure I get into Heaven in case God does exist.

In other words, you are acting precisely as though God does not exist. Why not make your words commensurate with your actions?

Quote:
I think where I have trouble crossing over is that if I were to say "God, nor any supreme being exists," I'd be making a claim I can't back up.

Not really. The basic argument against God's existence is that God is a useless hypothesis. You can phrase it many different ways -- no need to believe in God, no evidence for God's existence, and so on -- but at its heart is the recognition that what we understand to be truth is simply a model of objective reality. Since an inscrutable God is not useful to any model, it is not true that he exists.

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I can make various arguments for why various named gods don't exist, and why people would have made them up over the course of time, but I don't think that's the same thing (I am however willing to be convinced that I'm wrong about this).

Why isn't that the same thing?

Quote:
Saying, however, that I simply don't believe in a supernatural being or God, at least to me, creates the distinction whereby I don't need to have evidence for my belief, as it's the lack of evidence that's created my belief.

Does that make any kind of sense?

Some. I think you're missing the epistemological underpinning of atheism, though, which I described above.
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Tyshalle
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PostPosted: 2008-07-06 11:02pm 

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Darth Wong wrote:
Does he believe that it is impossible to ever know that any random idea does not exist? Because there is no such thing as a universal proof of non-existence, so his demand for it is either stupidity or a trick. For that matter, how does he know anything? All of our knowledge comes from observation and reason; he does not require observation and he rejects reason (specifically, Occam's Razor). So where does he get knowledge from?


I brought up things like an invisible dragon underneath the table we were sitting at while we were talking, and how despite not having absolute disproof he doesn't pull his legs out from under it in fear of getting eaten, and I talked about things like God being ultimately useless as it provides no basis for testability or accurate predictability, and he seemed to mostly agree with all of this. I think he even used it as reasoning for his agnosticism. I repeatedly pointed out to him that based on the things he was saying he was an atheist and not an agnostic, but I think his issue with this is ultimately one of definition.

According to the dictionary, atheism is the doctrine or belief that there is no God. He has a specific problem with that definition, as he thinks that, based purely on that definition, an atheist requires just as much of a leap of faith to arrive at his conclusion as a theist does.

However, I should note that based on his definition, I'm agnostic. But I don't think that's the case at all, and even if by the strictest definition of the word I fall into that category, I still don't think that makes him and me more alike in beliefs than it makes me and you. In fact, I'd be willing to wager that I'm near identical if not completely identical on my position of belief in God or absence thereof with you, though currently less learned on the issues surrounding it.

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Have you ever tried pointing out that God doesn't even exist as a fully formed idea? What is God? Where can he be found? What are his attributes? How do you know these attributes? The Bible? As a factual source, that document is a joke; if he is half as smart as you seem to think he is, he will acknowledge that.


And he does acknowledge that, at least mostly. Which is why he doesn't believe in God either. But his answer seems universally "I don't know."

The example he gave to support his stance as valid (and more valid than an atheist stance) is that if somebody told him there was a Border's Book Store in a city he's never been to, but then somebody else told him that the first guy was full of shit, and neither of them could provide any evidence, that in the end he just doesn't know.

The other example he gave is that if all existence was just a room, and there was a revolving door at one end and nobody who's ever gone through that revolving door ever came back out of it, then nobody in that room would ever know what's beyond it. And then one guy comes up to him and says "Hey, when you go through that door, if you've been good then it's all blowjobs from beautiful women, but if you've been bad you're castrated for all of eternity" and then another guy says "If you go through the door and you've been good then you'll be able to listen to the best music ever, but if you've been bad then you have to watch the series finale of Seinfeld forever," and another guy comes along and says "Hey, those first two guys are full of shit. I'm telling you, there's nothing beyond the door."

His stance is basically that's what the atheist is. The atheist is making a positive (or maybe neutral) determination based on a lack of evidence, while he (the agnostic) is simply saying "Well fuck, I don't know what's beyond the door."

The way I tried to explain it to him, the atheist isn't saying there's nothing beyond the door, but simply that because of a lack of evidence there's no reason to come to any life-altering conclusion about what's beyond that door. We act as if though nothing is beyond that door, and we might even talk as if though nothing's beyond that door, but that doesn't actually mean that we really believe that nothing is beyond that door.


Quote:
Ask him for scientifically valid evidence of the good done by religion. Not just propaganda claims, but real evidence. The only thing he'll be able to find is charity work, of the same sort that is also done by secular organizations such as the United Way or the UN relief agencies. If religious charities dried up, people would simply go to secular ones instead. The idea that religion prompts people to behave more ethically is completely without factual evidence.


I brought up that there's nothing good done by religion that couldn't be done without it, and to this he --sort of-- disagrees, though the only evidence he brought up was from personal experience (though, I'd wager he'd be capable of bringing up evidence from sources as well). When I say sort of, it's that he believes that while you can certainly do charity work without religion (we're all on the board of directors of a local [and secular] non-profit organization), religion winds up promoting more volunteerism than there would be without religion, as people's superstitious beliefs give them incentive they wouldn't have (fear of burning in hell) to do good things.

Mind you, I'm aware that this actually makes these people less moral (or at least altruistic) than secular volunteers, but he doesn't care about that. He's very much a results-oriented guy (probably in part due to the fact that he's a Captain in a special operations branch of the Army), and because of this he doesn't care why people do good things just so long as they are doing them.

Beyond charity, he claims that fundamentalist Christians and other hardcore religious-types have the lowest divorce rates in America (he may have said in the world too), and they're much lower than atheist divorce rates. Other studies done (he claims) doesn't take into account how hardcore the religious people are about their faith, and that light-weight Christians don't really count to his assertion that the world would be better off if everyone was Religious.

He also brought up, though this was from his personal experience, that being religious makes people happier and helps people through personal issues easier than the non-religious. When I replied that these people were delusional, he basically reiterated that that doesn't matter to him, because it doesn't change the fact that they are still happier.

He wasn't making the claim that no atheists are happy, or even that some atheists can't be as happy as religious people. Just that, on the whole, that isn't the case (at least in America).

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And does he have evidence of the magical happiness-generating power of religion?


The examples he cited were from personal experience, but I'll ask him about it tomorrow. I'd be willing to bet he'd be able to come up with some that aren't, but we'll see.

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That's actually an appeal to consequence fallacy.


I don't think so. I'm not trying to make the point to him that religion is false because it does bad things. I'm just responding to his assertion that it doesn't matter if religion is a lie because it's a useful lie that does a lot of good that outweighs the bad, by (hopefully) showing him that the bad does in fact outweigh the good.

Like I said, the biggest problem with trying to defeat him in this argument is that he's basically closed off all the doors except the "useful lie is better than the truth" assertion.

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Nevertheless, the most terrible destructive power of religion has always been its ability to take away peoples' self-doubt before they do terrible things to others. From the crusaders killing infidels to the Hindus burning untouchables to the American settlers killing natives and enslaving blacks, religion has always been there, and has always been a powerful tool for granting divine assent to whatever actions a person may see fit to commit, no matter how horrible they may be. And since the Bible can be interpreted to support almost anything, it is infinitely flexible in this regard.


Unfortunately these things don't work for this argument. He's basically chalked that stuff up to "harsher times," and is basically of the mind that religion, or at least Christianity, has mellowed out to the point that it's now doing a lot more good than harm. He doesn't believe that brainwashing children through religion is a form of child abuse, and he doesn't believe (and so far I haven't been able to convince him) that indoctrinating children with Christianity is dangerous or harmful to them.

I brought up your last point, that the bible can be interpreted to support anything, but me saying that alone isn't good enough for him. He wants examples and evidence, and I don't think things from 20+ years ago is going to do anything for him. He's also of the mind that it's not actually Religion that's the problem for a lot of these bad things of the past, that Religion might have been used to justify actions, but in most of those cases they were going to do those things anyway, Religion didn't make them, it just made it easier for them.

I've brought up science. I brought up how evolution is being pushed out of some schools while creationism is trying to push its way in. He says these are very small instances and nobody takes them seriously anywhere, and therefore aren't a big deal. I brought up stem-cell research and he actually defends it, saying that since we don't know for sure what constitutes for a life we ought to err on the side of caution. I brought up abortion and he basically said the same thing.

The problem is, he doesn't readily come across as particularly ill-informed. And while I can spot out flaws in his argument, frequently it winds up coming down to a matter of values and opinion, whereby I think Truth in of itself is a worthy endeavor that almost always should override everything and he feels that Truth is a worthy endeavor but results are far more important, and if people want to delude themselves and their children there's no harm in it.
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Darth Wong
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PostPosted: 2008-07-06 11:24pm 

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Tyshalle wrote:
According to the dictionary, atheism is the doctrine or belief that there is no God. He has a specific problem with that definition, as he thinks that, based purely on that definition, an atheist requires just as much of a leap of faith to arrive at his conclusion as a theist does.

You said previously that he accepts the reasoning of Occam's Razor. If he does, then he should not think that "no God" requires a leap of faith. Those statements are mutually incompatible.

If he's just keying on the word "doctrine", then he's not as smart as you think he is. Even logic can be considered a doctrine.
Quote:
And he does acknowledge that, at least mostly. Which is why he doesn't believe in God either. But his answer seems universally "I don't know."

It seems to me that he's quite frankly a smart-ass, who picks positions not because they are necessarily logical, but because he can easily defend them. "I don't know" is a handy answer to everything, and this is where solipsists come from. But it's also useless, which is the great criticism of all absolutist philosophies.
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The example he gave to support his stance as valid (and more valid than an atheist stance) is that if somebody told him there was a Border's Book Store in a city he's never been to, but then somebody else told him that the first guy was full of shit, and neither of them could provide any evidence, that in the end he just doesn't know.

Apples and oranges. We're not talking about whether something has certain attributes in a certain location (really, a "Border's book store" is just a building and business with certain attributes); we're talking about the existence of a totally unique and unobserved entity.
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The other example he gave is that if all existence was just a room, and there was a revolving door at one end and nobody who's ever gone through that revolving door ever came back out of it, then nobody in that room would ever know what's beyond it.

He has no evidence of this door. No doubt he thinks that door is death, but the idea that death is a doorway to another existence is a religious belief, with no conceivable basis in fact.
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And then one guy comes up to him and says "Hey, when you go through that door, if you've been good then it's all blowjobs from beautiful women, but if you've been bad you're castrated for all of eternity" and then another guy says "If you go through the door and you've been good then you'll be able to listen to the best music ever, but if you've been bad then you have to watch the series finale of Seinfeld forever," and another guy comes along and says "Hey, those first two guys are full of shit. I'm telling you, there's nothing beyond the door."

His stance is basically that's what the atheist is. The atheist is making a positive (or maybe neutral) determination based on a lack of evidence, while he (the agnostic) is simply saying "Well fuck, I don't know what's beyond the door."

The way I tried to explain it to him, the atheist isn't saying there's nothing beyond the door, but simply that because of a lack of evidence there's no reason to come to any life-altering conclusion about what's beyond that door. We act as if though nothing is beyond that door, and we might even talk as if though nothing's beyond that door, but that doesn't actually mean that we really believe that nothing is beyond that door.

I think he's a clever liar. He has religious beliefs, but he doesn't cop to them because he knows they're indefensible in debate, so he hides behind a cloak of agnosticism. This argument betrays the mindset of a religious person: the entire premise of the argument is based on a religious assumption.
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I brought up that there's nothing good done by religion that couldn't be done without it, and to this he --sort of-- disagrees, though the only evidence he brought up was from personal experience (though, I'd wager he'd be capable of bringing up evidence from sources as well). When I say sort of, it's that he believes that while you can certainly do charity work without religion (we're all on the board of directors of a local [and secular] non-profit organization), religion winds up promoting more volunteerism than there would be without religion, as people's superstitious beliefs give them incentive they wouldn't have (fear of burning in hell) to do good things.

No evidence that this mechanism actually works. Especially when we're talking about a religion based on forgiveness of your sins.
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Mind you, I'm aware that this actually makes these people less moral (or at least altruistic) than secular volunteers, but he doesn't care about that. He's very much a results-oriented guy (probably in part due to the fact that he's a Captain in a special operations branch of the Army), and because of this he doesn't care why people do good things just so long as they are doing them.

Beyond charity, he claims that fundamentalist Christians and other hardcore religious-types have the lowest divorce rates in America (he may have said in the world too), and they're much lower than atheist divorce rates. Other studies done (he claims) doesn't take into account how hardcore the religious people are about their faith, and that light-weight Christians don't really count to his assertion that the world would be better off if everyone was Religious.

He's simply wrong. Fundie Christians actually have the highest divorce rates in America, not the lowest. The Christian Barna Research Group discovered that, to its chagrin.
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He also brought up, though this was from his personal experience, that being religious makes people happier and helps people through personal issues easier than the non-religious. When I replied that these people were delusional, he basically reiterated that that doesn't matter to him, because it doesn't change the fact that they are still happier.

He wasn't making the claim that no atheists are happy, or even that some atheists can't be as happy as religious people. Just that, on the whole, that isn't the case (at least in America).

If fundies are so happy, why are they so obsessed with other peoples' sex lives? Why do they have the highest divorce rate?
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And does he have evidence of the magical happiness-generating power of religion?

The examples he cited were from personal experience, but I'll ask him about it tomorrow. I'd be willing to bet he'd be able to come up with some that aren't, but we'll see.
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That's actually an appeal to consequence fallacy.

I don't think so. I'm not trying to make the point to him that religion is false because it does bad things. I'm just responding to his assertion that it doesn't matter if religion is a lie because it's a useful lie that does a lot of good that outweighs the bad, by (hopefully) showing him that the bad does in fact outweigh the good.

Like I said, the biggest problem with trying to defeat him in this argument is that he's basically closed off all the doors except the "useful lie is better than the truth" assertion.

During the Civil War, Southerners used the Bible to justify slavery, and for that matter, the entire war. See the Texas Declaration of Independence among others. Yes, it's a useful lie. But not in the way he thinks.
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Unfortunately these things don't work for this argument. He's basically chalked that stuff up to "harsher times," and is basically of the mind that religion, or at least Christianity, has mellowed out to the point that it's now doing a lot more good than harm.

Like the War in Iraq? Witch hunts in Africa? Lebanese Christian militants massacring entire refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila? Lethal exorcisms in South America and Eastern Europe? A massive population explosion in the poorest parts of the world, egged on by Muslim and Catholic religious leaders? Stupid "abstinence only" sex education programs which actually increase teen pregnancy rates? Catholic campaigns against condom use, even in Africa where AIDS is epidemic?
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He doesn't believe that brainwashing children through religion is a form of child abuse, and he doesn't believe (and so far I haven't been able to convince him) that indoctrinating children with Christianity is dangerous or harmful to them.

America is the most Christian nation among the affluent first-world industrialized nations. According to his thesis, America should also have the lowest crime rate, be the most generous to the poor and downtrodden, and be the least warlike. That is the exact opposite of the truth. He's full of shit.
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I brought up your last point, that the bible can be interpreted to support anything, but me saying that alone isn't good enough for him. He wants examples and evidence, and I don't think things from 20+ years ago is going to do anything for him.

Why not? The Bible hasn't changed in that time.
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He's also of the mind that it's not actually Religion that's the problem for a lot of these bad things of the past, that Religion might have been used to justify actions, but in most of those cases they were going to do those things anyway, Religion didn't make them, it just made it easier for them.

That's exactly the same thing I said. It helps people do terrible things. That's the point where you say "concession accepted".
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I've brought up science. I brought up how evolution is being pushed out of some schools while creationism is trying to push its way in. He says these are very small instances and nobody takes them seriously anywhere, and therefore aren't a big deal. I brought up stem-cell research and he actually defends it, saying that since we don't know for sure what constitutes for a life we ought to err on the side of caution. I brought up abortion and he basically said the same thing.

As I said, he sounds like a liar. He sounds like a religious person who is just smart enough to figure out that it's really hard to defend any particular religious beliefs.
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The problem is, he doesn't readily come across as particularly ill-informed. And while I can spot out flaws in his argument, frequently it winds up coming down to a matter of values and opinion, whereby I think Truth in of itself is a worthy endeavor that almost always should override everything and he feels that Truth is a worthy endeavor but results are far more important, and if people want to delude themselves and their children there's no harm in it.

Frankly, he sounds like a smart-ass debate sniper: the kind of guy who hides his real position and takes potshots at any weaknesses he sees in others.
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Tyshalle
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PostPosted: 2008-07-06 11:48pm 

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Joined: 2008-06-16 04:22pm
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Surlethe wrote:
There is no 100% confidence of anything beyond your own existence. Just how confident are you in proclaiming that he does not exist?


Well, that's just it, I guess. I'm not especially confident at all that there's no superior being that created the universe. But in that sense it's almost like I have no opinion on it at all. I also don't think it's particularly useful at all, even in debate against religious types as they're almost always promoting a specific god. I can see myself being down with the idea that maybe there's an entity out there that created the universe. But that's not even a hypothesis, nor do I give anymore credibility to that idea than I do to the idea that the universe just came out of nothing, or that it's always been here, or any other unprovable idea.

When it comes to any specific God though, especially the Christian God (and all related forms of him), I'd go as far as to say that I believe he doesn't exist, and that's he's purely a figment of their imaginations.


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In other words, you are acting precisely as though God does not exist. Why not make your words commensurate with your actions?


Is it the same thing? I think my trouble with this stuff is that it's a lot easier to assert myself on matters of the material world. But the concept of God, if, for the sake of discussion, he were to exist, exists beyond the material... uh... universe. If you point to your head and say: "Do you think my head is a pineapple" I can say with the utmost confidence that it isn't. But there's a line between that, which is something that I can actually test and provide evidence to help back up my claim, whereas there's nothing so concrete I can do to disprove God. And while I'm still down with the concept that you can't disprove a negative, I'm still finding it difficult to feel with the same confidence that there is no God as I am that your head is, in fact, not a pineapple.

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Not really. The basic argument against God's existence is that God is a useless hypothesis. You can phrase it many different ways -- no need to believe in God, no evidence for God's existence, and so on -- but at its heart is the recognition that what we understand to be truth is simply a model of objective reality. Since an inscrutable God is not useful to any model, it is not true that he exists.


I'm basically 100% onboard with everything you said until "it is not true that he exists." And even then I'm onboard with it, but I think you meant to say "it is true that he does not exist." (Though, correct me if I'm wrong.)

I feel like I'm coming across a bit as if though there's some small smidgen of me that believes he exists, or like I think he might exist to a degree that could be considered significant. That's not the case, I'm just finding it difficult to assert myself with the same confidence I have in pretty much anything else.

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Why isn't that the same thing?


Well, that's the question then, isn't it? Is an atheist, by definition, someone who believes there is no God in the sense that he believes that none of these named gods religions are wrapped around exist? Or is he someone who believes there is no superior universe-creating being or beings or force of any kind? If it's the first, then yeah, I can pretty much say with the utmost confidence that I don't believe there is a God. But if it's the second kind, then I feel good about my decision to not live or think in terms that take into account any superior beings or force or whatever, but I just feel unjustifiably arrogant to say: "They don't exist." I feel totally justifiable in saying "There's no evidence that they exist," or "There's no reason to believe they exist," but again, I'm not terribly convinced those are all the same things.

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Some. I think you're missing the epistemological underpinning of atheism, though, which I described above.


I think you're somewhat right. I'm pretty much onboard with everything you've said, but I still feel like there's something of a leap (albeit a very small one) for me to take to fully arrive where you are.
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Surlethe
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PostPosted: 2008-07-07 12:13am 

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Tyshalle wrote:
Surlethe wrote:
There is no 100% confidence of anything beyond your own existence. Just how confident are you in proclaiming that he does not exist?


Well, that's just it, I guess. I'm not especially confident at all that there's no superior being that created the universe. But in that sense it's almost like I have no opinion on it at all. I also don't think it's particularly useful at all, even in debate against religious types as they're almost always promoting a specific god. I can see myself being down with the idea that maybe there's an entity out there that created the universe. But that's not even a hypothesis, nor do I give anymore credibility to that idea than I do to the idea that the universe just came out of nothing, or that it's always been here, or any other unprovable idea.

With respect to the origin of the universe, consider that perhaps the universe has been here for all time (but not forever), and remember that time is a property of the universe, rather than vice-versa. This is a material matter upon which you can assert yourself, with some study.

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When it comes to any specific God though, especially the Christian God (and all related forms of him), I'd go as far as to say that I believe he doesn't exist, and that's he's purely a figment of their imaginations.

That is probably good enough to make you effectively an atheist, at least when it comes to the US and popular Christian opinion.

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In other words, you are acting precisely as though God does not exist. Why not make your words commensurate with your actions?


Is it the same thing? I think my trouble with this stuff is that it's a lot easier to assert myself on matters of the material world. But the concept of God, if, for the sake of discussion, he were to exist, exists beyond the material... uh... universe. If you point to your head and say: "Do you think my head is a pineapple" I can say with the utmost confidence that it isn't. But there's a line between that, which is something that I can actually test and provide evidence to help back up my claim, whereas there's nothing so concrete I can do to disprove God. And while I'm still down with the concept that you can't disprove a negative, I'm still finding it difficult to feel with the same confidence that there is no God as I am that your head is, in fact, not a pineapple.

If I claim that my head is a pineapple with the special property that, under testing, it is indistinguishable from human flesh and bone, can you still use tests and provide evidence? God is in the same category, although under testing, all spiritual affairs are indistinguishable from nothing. The problem here is that you're drawing a distinction between the material universe and the spiritual universe. If a spiritual universe is absolutely undetectable, then there's really no significant difference between that spiritual universe and nothing.

And that is just how you act: as though nothing spiritual exists. On this point, you assert more strongly with your actions than you do with your words.

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Not really. The basic argument against God's existence is that God is a useless hypothesis. You can phrase it many different ways -- no need to believe in God, no evidence for God's existence, and so on -- but at its heart is the recognition that what we understand to be truth is simply a model of objective reality. Since an inscrutable God is not useful to any model, it is not true that he exists.


I'm basically 100% onboard with everything you said until "it is not true that he exists." And even then I'm onboard with it, but I think you meant to say "it is true that he does not exist." (Though, correct me if I'm wrong.)

Logically, the two are equivalent.

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I feel like I'm coming across a bit as if though there's some small smidgen of me that believes he exists, or like I think he might exist to a degree that could be considered significant. That's not the case, I'm just finding it difficult to assert myself with the same confidence I have in pretty much anything else.

Just take a step back and look at how you conduct yourself regarding God, and then ask yourself why you act so confident if you're not.

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Why isn't that the same thing?


Well, that's the question then, isn't it? Is an atheist, by definition, someone who believes there is no God in the sense that he believes that none of these named gods religions are wrapped around exist? Or is he someone who believes there is no superior universe-creating being or beings or force of any kind? If it's the first, then yeah, I can pretty much say with the utmost confidence that I don't believe there is a God.

Technically, one can be a deist while being an atheist. However, colloquially, atheism refers to the denial of the existence of every sort of "higher being"; especially recently, it has come to refer to secular rationalism of the sort that Dawkins, Harris, et al promote. This colloquial atheism is of the second kind.

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But if it's the second kind, then I feel good about my decision to not live or think in terms that take into account any superior beings or force or whatever, but I just feel unjustifiably arrogant to say: "They don't exist." I feel totally justifiable in saying "There's no evidence that they exist," or "There's no reason to believe they exist," but again, I'm not terribly convinced those are all the same things.

Again, I point out that your words are not backed up by your actions. It's sort of like you're walking confidently over a bridge while all the while voicing your doubts about its structural integrity. And "they don't exist" is not the same as "there's no reason to believe they exist", but it is implied by the conjuction of lack of evidence and parsimony.

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Some. I think you're missing the epistemological underpinning of atheism, though, which I described above.


I think you're somewhat right. I'm pretty much onboard with everything you've said, but I still feel like there's something of a leap (albeit a very small one) for me to take to fully arrive where you are.

I would be interested in knowing where the leap is, if it's one of logic. If it's one of emotion, I'm afraid I can't help you.
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Tyshalle
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PostPosted: 2008-07-07 10:32am 

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Joined: 2008-06-16 04:22pm
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Location: Raleigh, NC
Wong --

You bring up a lot of very good points that I think will be pretty useful both in my arguments with him and just in the general way I view him during these arguments. So thank you for that. Though I do think I'm going to have to build up a larger arsenal of knowledge on the subject before I'll be able to soundly defeat him in a debate, if not from his perspective, than at least to the perspective of other people listening in.

Though after thinking about a lot of the points you brought up about him being a liar and a "smart-ass debate sniper" put some things into perspective I hadn't really thought of. I mean, I knew he was being a smart ass, and I did feel like he was manipulating the conversation, but at the time I had chalked that up to superior debating skills and a more forceful personality than I have, I hadn't looked at it in terms of him being overtly deceptive. Though now that you've put it in perspective I think you're probably right about him.



Surlethe --

Thank you, as well. You've put a lot of things into perspective for me that I'm going to have to do a lot of thinking about. I still don't think I'm comfortable with losing the distinction between "I don't believe" and "I believe there is not," but your points make a lot of sense, and now I don't know that I'm nearly as comfortable with that distinction as I was, oh, say two days ago.
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