What Christians believe about evolution and the supposed naivety of atheists

It is understandable that Christian commentators want to denigrate atheists. A common tactic is to claim that atheists think that most Christians are Biblical literalists and thus only criticise fundamentalist and literalist religion. The atheist is thus painted as naive, not very thoughtful and a bit ignorant. The tactic also implies that atheists have not managed to produce significant critiques of liberal religious theology.

This is mostly wrong; atheists are well aware of liberal theology, and nowadays most New Atheistic critiques address liberal theology (literalist theology is simply not a worthwhile target any more; I can’t think of anyone bothering since Tom Paine’s Age of Reason, as long ago as 1807).

But, Christians like to think otherwise, as exemplified by an article this Sunday in The Observer by “leading Catholic commentator” Catherine Pepinster.

The article is summarised by her Tweet:

The article itself states that:

According to the research, nearly two-thirds of Britons — as well as nearly three-quarters of atheists — think Christians have to accept the assertion in Genesis that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.

This sounded highly dubious to me. Do British atheists really think that most Christians are Biblical literalists and that they have to be literalists to count as Christian? On digging further I find that the poll shows no such thing. Ms Pepinster has misrepresented it in order to malign atheists.

The survey in question was by YouGov. A press release by “Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum”, led by a team from Newman University who commissioned the survey, is here, while a 34-page summary report can be downloaded here. The press release also contains links to the actual data (note that part of the data on which Ms Pepinster based her article was not in the original press release, but was added later after I Tweeted to ask about it).

The survey, of British and Canadian adults, asks people whether or not they are “spiritual or religious” (48% of Brits say yes, 52% don’t), and then asks them about their attitudes to evolution.

Of the “UK Religious/Spiritual”, 16% were creationists (Humans were created by God and have always existed in current form), 39% held to theistic evolution (Humans evolved “in a process guided by God”), and 24% went for evolution “in which God played no part”).

The theistic-evolution stance is the most common among British Christians, it largely accepts the scientific account of evolution except that it sees it as “guided by God”, and often sees evolution as stopping short of fully explaining humans. For example, the official Catholic Church teaching is that, yes, human bodies evolved, but our souls did not, they are God’s direct creations.

Theistic evolution is thus a half-way house between the scientific account of human origins (in which there is no role for any gods) and Biblical-literalist creationism. It is no surprise that it was the most common choice of British adults who regard themselves as religious, and most British atheists would be fully aware of that.

The survey then asked whether people agreed that “evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness”. Of British Religious/Spiritual adults, 54% agreed that it can’t (darker blue in the image). Of such adults, 37% said that evolution cannot explain the origin of human beings.

Thus, overall, only a minority of British adults who are religious accept a scientific account of evolution. The majority accept some role for evolution, but see it as being guided by God, or as unable to account for humans, or unable to account for the human mind.

The article quotes former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord (Rowan) Williams, saying that the YouGov survey shows that:

The number of mainstream Christians – certainly in this country – who have qualms about evolutionary theory is very small indeed.

But no it doesn’t. The survey shows that the number who are Biblical-literalist creationists might be small, but the number who “have qualms”, thinking that evolutionary theory cannot account for humans, or that evolution needs guiding by God, is quite sizeable.

The additional question (the data that were added later) asked people how much difficulty they thought various categories of people would have in “accepting information about evolutionary science” in reference to their beliefs.

In total, 60% of British people (and 72% of British atheists) thought that “a member of the public who is religious” would have some degree of difficulty accepting evolutionary science. Note that a majority of those who were themselves religious also thought that.

In addition, 33% of British people (and 35% of British atheists) thought that a “scientist who is religious” would have some degree of difficulty reconciling evolutionary science with their faith.

Let’s now turn to how Catherine Pepinster presents the results of the survey in The Observer, a leading, quality Sunday newspaper.

A YouGov poll, commissioned by Newman University in Birmingham, has found that 72% of atheists polled believe that someone who is religious would not accept evolutionary science.

But not so, “… would not accept evolutionary science” is too stark, the question was whether they would have some degree of difficulty in accepting it! And the survey’s own data shows that that is indeed the case! Because the majority of religious people do not go for a fully scientific account of evolution, they go for evolution that is guided by God, or that can account for animals but not for humans, or that cannot account for human minds, consciousnesses or souls.

This is the “theistic evolution” fudge that reveals that religious people do indeed often have difficulty reconciling evolution with their faith. But Catherine Pepinster’s article overlooks this fudged compromise. As she reports it there are only two options, fully accept evolutionary science or be a Biblical literalist creationist:

According to the research, nearly two-thirds of Britons — as well as nearly three-quarters of atheists — think Christians have to accept the assertion in Genesis that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.

That is not what people said: they didn’t say that to be a Christian one would have to accept Genesis literally; they merely said that Christians would have some level of difficulty in fully accepting evolution. And that’s true, that’s what religious people say about themselves!

Yes, only 16% are full-blown creationists, but many more religious people are distinctly reluctant to accept the full findings of evolutionary science. Thus Catherine Pepinster completely misrepresents what atheists believe about religious people, because she totally ignores all the middle ground between fully accepting science and Biblical literalism.

The article then quotes Guy Hayward, research fellow at the Scientific and Medical Network, saying:

It is clear from this survey by Newman University that non-believers have very little idea about what believers believe.

Well no, not at all. The non-believers seem to be pretty accurate in assessing what religious people believe. When interpreted properly the survey results reveal a great deal of fudge and hesitancy in what religious people believe about evolution, and also show that non-believers are fairly perceptive in recognising that. Far from the atheists being naive, Catherine Pepinster is the naive one for not realising that there is a whole spectrum of possibilities between fully accepting evolutionary science and believing in a literal interpretation of Genesis.

One motive for painting atheists as naive is shown by the article’s sub-heading: “Major survey reveals that it’s atheists who perpetuate the conflict between religious belief and science”. Liberal Christians would like nothing more than a general acceptance that their religious beliefs are entirely compatible with science. Thus they want to believe that the “war” between science and faith is caused purely by ignorant atheists misunderstanding religion. They want it accepted that (quoting Rowan Williams from the article) the “supposed war is just fiction”.

It’s not that simple. First, there is tension between evolutionary science and theistic belief. The fudge of “theistic evolution” is a half-baked compromise that rejects quite a bit of science and that would fall apart if properly examined. If you don’t accept that human minds, psychology, moral attitudes and social feelings are also products of Darwinian evolution (along with large environmental and social influences) then you are denying science.

Secondly, the tension between science and faith goes much deeper than acceptance of particular scientific findings, and is best illustrated by the words that Jesus supposedly said to Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

In religion, believing is considered virtuous, especially so when the evidence is inadequate, whereas doubt is something to be fought against and overcome. In science it’s the opposite: doubt and scepticism are virtuous, and it is believing things when the evidence is inadequate that is a human bias and foible that we should strive to overcome. These attitudes are incompatible; there will always be difficulty for any believer seeking to reconcile them.

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102 thoughts on “What Christians believe about evolution and the supposed naivety of atheists

  1. alexanderfhall

    Interesting response to Catherine Pepinster’s article and our survey.

    What are your thoughts on our finding:

    “Of those who identified as atheists (as a sub-set of non-religious people) we found that nearly 1 in 5 UK atheists (19%) and over 1 in 3 of Canadian atheists (38%), somewhat agree, agree or strongly agree with the statement: “Evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness”. (This compares to 34% in the UK and 37% in Canada across the whole non-religious sample and 54% in the UK and 55% in Canada of religious or spiritual people).”

    Full disclosure, I am one of the researchers, and an atheist.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Hi Alexander, thanks for commenting. I think that many of the general population will be intuitive dualists, and so think of human consciousness and mind as distinct from physics and biology. This will still be true for many non-religious people and atheists. All that means is that they find religion unconvincing and do not believe in gods. It doesn’t necessarily mean that have a fully scientific outlook as a materalistic and atheistic scientist would understand it. Indeed, I think your survey reveals exactly that, with the numbers of non-religious people having doubts about evolution, the origin of humans and of the human mind, being significantly high. This was an interesting survey, by the way, in revealing things like that. Cheers, Coel.

    2. richardwein

      I suspect the word “explain” may be causing problems here. It seems to me it can refer either to causal sufficiency or to providing an explanation that enables us to understand something. I can imagine some people accepting that evolutionary processes were causally sufficient for the origin of human consciousness, while still feeling that consciousness remains in need of an explanation, and so balking at the idea that evolutionary processes explain human consciousness.

    3. Coel Post author

      Yes, good point. There’s a big difference between accepting that an evolutionary account is sufficient to account for all aspects of humans, and being able to produce a detailed explanation of all aspects of humans. This can be regarded as a defect in the survey design.

    4. richardwein

      “This can be regarded as a defect in the survey design.”

      I have reservations about the wording of many of the questions, though I appreciate the difficulty of finding wordings that won’t cause any problems at all. Take what is perhaps the central question of the survey:

      “In your daily life, how difficult or easy do you find it to accept evolutionary science in reference to your own personal beliefs?”

      Why “In your daily life”? What does that add to the question? That clause might bias some people towards an “easy” answer, on the basis that they simply don’t think about the subject in their daily lives. But surely what we’re interested in is how they feel when they do think about the subject, whether that’s in “daily life” or not.

      And why “in reference to your own personal beliefs”? That seems almost meaningless to me, and certainly not plain English. If they meant to ask about the difficult of reconciling evolutionary science with one’s “personal” beliefs (whatever that means), why not ask that question directly?

    5. A

      I also had a problem with the wording of this statement, i.e. “Evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness.”. What would a mainstream evolutionary biologist answer? Some of them might “agree” in the sense that there isn’t a fully accepted evolutionary model of consciousness at this date (as far as I know).

  2. Galactor

    Evolution concludes “first human” meaningless and vacuous, means no Adam & Eve, means no first sin, means no reason for redemption, means no Jesus necessary for sin-forgiving, means no need for religion. Moderate “evolution believing Christians” really DO NOT accept the conclusions of evolution.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Yes, good point, that maybe I should have made more of. Catholic theology requires a literal two-people Adam-and-Eve origin of humans (being the first animals to receive God-created souls). Pope Pius XII explicitly said (in the Papal Encyclical Humanis Generis, 37) that faithful Catholics cannot interpret Adam and Eve as figurative and as standing for a larger number of humans, but must regard them as a literal two people from whom all present humans are descended. This is just wrong scientifically; from analysis of genetic diversity we know that the population of early humans never fell below about 10,000 people.

      So a Catholic is faced with either accepting science and declaring that Pope Pius X11’s Encyclical is wrong, or alternatively rejecting science. It is not as easy to reconcile Catholicism with science as Catherine Pepinster suggests. I would be interested to know which of these options she would go for.

      Having said all that, plenty of liberal Christians would readily regard Adam and Eve, “original sin”, and the need for “redemption” and the death of Jesus as all figurative. So plenty of Christians would accept the evolutionary account that human evolution always was a population of more than 10,000.

    2. mkgjones

      Catholics work very hard to reconcile their arcane faith with whatever the real world throws at them; they’ve had millenia to work on the issues. See Catholic philosopher Ed Feser on Adam and Eve here, for example:

      https://strangenotions.com/monogenism-or-polygenism-the-question-of-human-origins/

      The general MO is to embrace what science says, show how it’s not really in conflict with Catholic teaching via some mental gymnastics, give a nod to the fact that they’ve elided over one or two of the more inconvenient facts (like no contemporaneous A & E), and then caution against scientism, because science does not equal Truth. They all seem to find it surprisingly untroubling!

    3. Galactor

      If ” plenty of liberal Christians would readily regard Adam and Eve, … as all figurative” then they are all “readily” going to church for a metaphor.

  3. Phil

    It seems to me that any comparison between theists as a group vs. atheists as a group is essentially meaningless. Within both groups, each of which number in the billions, there is a very broad spectrum of unique individuals ranging from very thoughtful intelligent serious people to mindless hyperventilating childlike dogma chanters, with a near infinite range of diversity in between those extremes.

    The useful meaningful comparison is not between theists and atheists, but between the extremists on both sides, and the calm reasonable people on both sides.

    The supposed huge conflict between theists and atheists is fueled overwhelmingly by that small minority of passionate partisans at the extreme ends of both groups, those with a passionate need for conflict and a fantasy superiority over somebody else. The great irony is that the extremists on both sides who are proposing some great divide are actually united in dependence upon each other to keep the controversy raging. The extremists claim to be battling, but really they are dancing, each feeding off the energies of the other.

    The simple easily observed fact is that the vast majority of both theists and atheists have no interest in such a holy war, content as they are to quietly pursue their own personal inquiries by whatever means work best for them.

    What can be learned from the theist vs. atheist holy war is that those most involved in ideology of any flavor also tend to be the most divided, both from their chosen enemies, and even more telling, internally within their own camps.

    What this tells us is that this social division and conflict arises from a source deeper than the content of this or that ideology. The division arises from the inherently divisive nature of thought itself. As evidence, we can observe that every ideology ever created inevitably sub-divides in to competing internal factions which typically wind up in conflict with each other.

    If either the theist or atheist extremists were ever to achieve the ultimate final victory they so passionately seek, it would only be a matter of time before the victors began to divide internally, create new enemies, and the same old conflicts would continue eternally, the only change being the color of the flags being waved.

    As examples, once Christianity totally dominated western culture it divided in to Catholic and Protestant camps which began killing each other. Same thing in Muslim culture. Same thing in atheist culture. Who here got to witness Richard Dawkins having to basically close the largest atheist forum on the net when some of the atheist extremist holy wars he was serving began turning their swords on him?

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Who here got to witness Richard Dawkins having to basically close the largest atheist forum on the net when some of the atheist extremist holy wars he was serving began turning their swords on him?

      Well that’s not really what happened. By the way, I’m not sure what you mean by “atheist extremists”. The atheists in the West (even the “extreme” ones) almost all favour secular, pluralistic liberal democracies, which is about the most moderate way of organising society.

    2. Galactor

      Phil would just love everyone to have an irenic, calm, civilized discussion about how many angels can be found on a pinhead. None of that “extremism” please!

  4. richardwein

    Hi Coel,

    You wrote: “Just over half of self-described religious people in the survey said that they themselves had difficulty accepting that humans had evolved and that human and apes had a common ancestor.”

    I think you may have misinterpreted that figure. The questions in that category appear to have been put only to people who described themselves as having some difficulty accepting evolutionary science. Out of the 196 religious people who reported some difficulty accepting evolutionary science, 54% included “That humans evolved” as one of things they found difficult to accept, and 50% included “That humans and apes share a common ancestor”.

    Reply
    1. richardwein

      This is strange… In the same section of the spreadsheet there’s a column for Atheists, with 2 (weighted) or 3 (unweighted) atheists who had some difficulty accepting evolutionary science. Of these, 33%, 26% and 41% are shown as finding it difficult to accept various statements. Even allowing for the fact that the actual weighted figure may not be an integer, I don’t see how you can possibly get this collection of percentages. Surely, it must have been exactly 1 person responding positively to these questions. Why is that 1 response reported as 3 different percentages? Perhaps Alexander can explain. Is there some weighting of the individual categories going on here, in addition to the weighting of the total number?

  5. Phil

    Coel, sorry for being bombastic, clear proof that even agnostics can be carpet chewing fundamentalists. Which illustrates my point using my own frailties as example. And that point is, it’s not the content of a philosophy which matters so much as one’s relationship to that philosophy.

    Your posts clearly demonstrate that you are a very intelligent, educated and articulate person. But like Richard Dawkins and many other atheist ideologue scientist types, you are (apologies!) exploring these kind of topics on a sophomoric level.

    Blog software just isn’t suitable for in depth conversations, so if you’d like to challenge my assertion above, here’s a friendly invitation.

    Pick any forum you prefer and tell me where it is. Take a break from debating religious fundamentalists (aren’t you bored by that already??) and debate an agnostic fundamentalist for awhile. Try something different. We don’t have to go back and forth every day. It could be once a week, once a month, whatever works in your schedule.

    You’ve become too comfortable debating in one direction. I doubt you are learning anything at this point from aiming the same arguments at theism in post after post, year after year. Given your obvious intelligence and sincere interest in these topics I think you might enjoy being challenged from a perspective that is neither theist or atheist.

    There is rich territory to explore beyond the theist vs. atheist head butting contest. Hope to see you there.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Hi Phil,

      Pick any forum you prefer and tell me where it is. Take a break from debating religious fundamentalists (aren’t you bored by that already??) and debate an agnostic fundamentalist for awhile. Try something different. We don’t have to go back and forth every day. It could be once a week, once a month, whatever works in your schedule.

      I’m game. Where do you suggest would be suitable? Could do it here if you want.

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  7. Phil

    The Adam and Eve story can serve as a great example of the cultural disconnect between the theist and atheist communities. This can be easy to see if one is not a member of either community, and thus has no dog in the fight.

    The Adam and Eve story is a remarkable bit of writing from 3,000 years ago which illustrates deep insight in to the human condition, and predicts the fundamental predicament faced by the modern world to an astonishing degree. But it’s not science, and probably was never intended to be a literal description of human creation.

    Instead of comparing such stories to science, it’s more useful to think of them as a form of art. They are art that was attempting to share very sophisticated topics with a quite simple people. The power of these stories is proven by their survival for 3,000 years. I ask you, which articles written by today’s self declared logic masters will survive for 3,000 years. Remember evolution, survival of the fittest? Apply that here.

    Yes, it’s certainly true that there are many simple people among us even today that insist on taking these stories literally. So what? What is logical about burdening yourself with their limited situation? Isn’t that about as rational as arguing politics with six year olds? Such debates are beneath the talent of those assembled here.

    Reply
    1. Galactor

      The essential doctrine, certainly of Catholicism, is for Jesus to have sorted out Adam’s & Eve’s sins – which humanity, somehow through familial association, inherited – by having himself crucified. (Art or not, the story is utterly ghastly; I fail to see any redeeming features in it. It’s not even a noble story). Without the original sin, the whole doctrine just collapses.

      Now the author of the article is Catholic and the point she attempts to make is that there is wholesale misrepresentation by atheists of what theists supposedly think. But I bet a pound to a penny that pretty much every believing Catholic believes that Adam & Eve are not metaphors.

      But metaphors they are if evolution is to be accepted.

    2. Phil

      Coel, I’m not desperate to pin anything on anybody, I’m just trying to see the situation as clearly as I can in an unbiased manner, from the perspective of having no stake in the theist vs. atheist food fight.

      If all the holy books are declared unqualified, that’s the end of theism. If human reason is declared unqualified, that’s the end of atheism. Neither side wins, because there’s nobody left standing.

    3. Coel Post author

      … having no stake in the theist vs. atheist food fight.

      That particular “food fight” really is a rather small part of being an atheist.

      If all the holy books are declared unqualified, that’s the end of theism. If human reason is declared unqualified, that’s the end of atheism.

      No, wrong again! If human reason were unqualified regarding gods, then all theist claims instantly fall, since all of them come from humans! Thus atheism (= not accepting theist claims) survives just fine!

      As ever, you can’t rid yourself of the notion that atheism is a dogmatic faith-assertion of non-existence. It isn’t!

  8. Phil

    Hi Galactor, thanks for your engagement.

    I would certainly agree that many Catholics (and other Christians) take such stories literally. And of course many others do not. Thus, attempting to address our challenges to a single entity such as “Catholics”, or “Christians” or worse yet, “theists” seems fairly labeled as sloppiness.

    As example of the substantial diversity within just the Catholic community alone, check out the Pew Research findings regarding American Catholic opinion on social issues of the day. Should you do that, you will quickly find that the Catholic community is anything but a monolith that can be painted with a single brush. There are over a billion Catholics, and like people everywhere they vary greatly in their ability to investigate the human condition.

    It seems to me that simplistic formulas such as Catholicism=Bad, or Theists=Wrong are hardly impressive displays of the power of reason. Instead, such one sided formulas and mindsets seem more like a process of replicating some of the worst aspects of religious culture.

    What interests me is better understanding the human condition. I’m willing to accept assistance in that from any party. As example, some interpretations of the Adam and Eve story seem to offer very relevant commentary on the modern world, during this era when the knowledge explosion is threatening to expel us from our earthly “garden of eden”.

    If the word “God” freaks some of us out, ok, no problem. Just discard that word and replace it with “Nature”. Maybe Nature is trying to tell us that if we get too lost in the symbolic, and too impressed by our own powers, and thus lose track of our relationship with her final say on everything, things are gonna get weird for us. No God, no religion, same story, same message.

    Reply
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  10. Jovita

    You want to deny that atheists “only criticise fundamentalist and literalist religion”.

    Yet you undermine that case by your own comments, including the following ludicrous caricature: “In religion, believing is considered virtuous, especially so when the evidence is inadequate, whereas doubt is something to be fought against and overcome.” Then there is your errant literalist interpretation of John 20:29, and the risible claim that this famous verse somehow “illustrates” what you see as a “tension between science and faith”. The gist of your argument has more to do with a philosophical or ideological stance than with the validity of scientific findings as such.

    Is the “tension” myth perpetuated for the mutual benefit of ax-grinding creationists and ax-grinding atheists? It would seem so (or at least we’re still waiting to be disabused of the notion).

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      including the following ludicrous caricature: “In religion, believing is considered virtuous, …

      That’s a ludicrous caricature is it? And yet half the New Testament revolves around the idea that salvation comes from faith (“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”) — though yes I do know that there’s also a large strand saying that salvation is from works, not from faith.

      Then there is your errant literalist interpretation of John 20:29, …

      Then how would you interpret the intent of that verse?

    2. Jovita

      The intent of John 20:29 is the intent of John’s Gospel as a whole — as explicitly stated two verses later: That all of us who come after Jesus’s first followers will be blessed by hearing the Gospel, and moved to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

      We can confidently rule out the possibility that it is meant as commentary on 21st Century scientific methodology.

      But the more important point, as I said above, is that if you don’t want to be faulted for giving everything a naive fundamentalist/literalist spin, then don’t give everything a naive fundamentalist/literalist spin.

    3. Coel Post author

      Your interpretation more or less ignores the whole story of Thomas here. He is widely called “Doubting Thomas” as a result and his doubt is widely regarded as a weakness among Christians — not just literalist ones. Can you point to mainstream Christians praising Thomas for his insistence on evidence?

    4. Phil

      Insistence on evidence, in regards to God claims, is just another form of faith which often competes with religious faith.

      The atheist faith is that human reason is qualified to meaningfully analyze statements about the most fundamental nature of all reality, the scope of God claims.

      When we consider how incredibly small and insane human beings are (only recently living in caves), and how incredibly large and unknown reality is, it’s surely faith to assume that human beings can come to credible theories and conclusions regarding what is or isn’t the most fundamental nature of all reality, an arena we can’t yet define in even the most basic manner.

      And assume without questioning is what most atheists do, as they typically take the qualifications of human reason to analyze questions of the very largest scale to be an obvious given. Their logic flaw is to make an unwarranted, and typically unexamined, leap from the established fact that reason is very useful on a human scale, to the assumption that it is therefore useful on any and all scales.

      Every species on Earth is capable within it’s limited niche, or it wouldn’t be there. And, every species on Earth is largely blind beyond it’s limited niche. The niche of human beings surely encompasses more of reality than other Earthly creatures, but that in no way proves that our ability is unlimited. The most reasonable assumption for now would be that our ability extends to a certain point and then stops, leaving much of reality beyond our grasp.

      The debate between theists and atheists is about what to have faith in, not whether to have faith. Theists have one chosen authority, atheists have another chosen authority. Neither chosen authority has been proven qualified for the issue at hand. Theists and atheists are united in their use of faith, and the debate between them assumes a huge difference which is largely a fantasy.

      Seeing this brings the theist methodology in to sharper focus. What is the rational response to the reality of our not being able to meaningfully settle the very largest issues, or perhaps even ask useful questions? It’s not unreasonable in such a situation to invest in stories with the potential to facilitate social order and personal peace.

      As example, if I had a child dying of cancer I would tell them the truth about death if I had it. But not having the truth, or any way to find it, I’d tell them whatever story made their passing as easy as possible. When it comes to many of the enormous existential issues which religion typically attempts to address, we are all children poised on the edge of death.

    5. Coel Post author

      Hi Phil,

      The atheist faith is that human reason is qualified to meaningfully analyze statements about the most fundamental nature of all reality, the scope of God claims.

      No it isn’t; atheists have no such faith. Sure, the human mind — for all we know — might be totally incapable of arriving at sensible opinions on such matters.

      Atheism is not a faith position, it is a *reaction* *to* the faith claims of theists. It is the theists who make claims about God, and thus claim that he is knowable. We simply find their claims unconvincing and so don’t accept them.

      You are doing what agnostics typically do, trying to pin dogmatic faith-claims on to atheists.

    6. Phil

      Good day to you Coel,

      What is the atheist rejection of theist claims based on, if not human reason? We can’t separate the rejection from the faith in the chosen authority. Without a faith in some chosen authority there could be no rejection, or acceptance either. Rejection or acceptance doesn’t just arise magically out of nowhere, it has a source, and that is what I’m addressing.

      Atheists typically sincerely believe they are making no claim, but it would be more accurate to say that _they don’t know_ they are making a claim, because they take the qualifications of human reason to address such questions to be an obvious given.

      This might be compared to the theist who assumes without questioning that a holy book is qualified, and then places all their focus on trying to interpret the holy book. The atheist typically assumes without questioning that human reason is qualified, and then places all their focus on doing the logic calculations.

      What’s very instructive about observing the atheist’s faith is that it shows the deep human need for some rule book. That is, even a person who explicitly rejects faith will often willingly use faith if doing so provides them with some system they feel they can count on.

      The atheist who is sincerely trying to understand theism can best do so by closely examining their own faith. If they choose to keep their faith, their reward is to become more mature in their atheism. If upon seeing their own faith they choose to reject that faith too, their reward is open the door to agnostic adventures. 🙂

    7. Coel Post author

      What is the atheist rejection of theist claims based on, if not human reason?

      Not really. If the human mind is incompetent to discern any of this stuff then the theist claim falls right there. So we needn’t presume anything in withholding assent from the theist claim.

    8. Phil

      Hi Coel,

      As you know (but other readers may not) I’m not asking atheists to agree to the theist claim.

      I’m suggesting that atheists might first identify, and then challenge, their own claim in the very same way they challenge the theist claim. That is, be loyal to their own chosen methodology and apply it in an even handed unbiased manner to all claims by all parties. I’m suggesting they do reason, not religion.

      I’m proposing that when reason is applied to all claims by all parties it will soon be discovered that none of the chosen authorities the competing claims are based on can be proven qualified for the job at hand, and thus all claims by all parties must be dismissed.

      That will be the end of the inquiry for many, while others will decide to explore the ignorance they have discovered, both reasonable choices.

      Theists and atheists are united in the assumption that the point of the inquiry should be to create a “knowing”, a symbolic representation of reality. The debate they have engaged in based on that assumption has gone nowhere, in spite of being earnestly pursued by some of the best minds among us on all sides. Thus it seems reasonable to question whether the assumption is true.

      A truly reasoned inquiry reveals our ignorance. Maybe we should accept the answer the inquiry has delivered, and look for ways to put this discovery to good use?

    9. Coel Post author

      Hi Phil,

      I’m suggesting that atheists might first identify, and then challenge, their own claim …

      But atheists are not making any claim, they are reacting to theists’ claims! Let’s start by NOT assuming that gods are things that the human mind can know about. If they aren’t then the theist claims falls immediately; if they are then we can proceed to evaluate the claim. The atheist has not assumed anything either way.

      Yes, there might indeed be things way beyond human comprehension (indeed there almost certainly are). For example, the hjhyoojjedd. We can’t know about that, indeed we cannot even define it or say anything about it. So that’s the end of the discussion about it.

      Of course the usual theist trick is to say that “God is unknowable, undescribeable and ineffable, and now we want to tell you all about God and his nature and what you need to do as a consequence”.

      And by the way, you are *still* trying to pin faith positions on atheists! And you’re still wrong!

    10. Phil

      Good morning Coel!

      It’s technically true that atheists typically are not explicitly stating a claim. They are not for example saying, “Human reason is qualified to evaluate issues of this scale”. They are not making that claim because they don’t realize they have to. They just assume that it is so, an obvious given which everyone agrees on, so it doesn’t need to be discussed.

      But, the inconvenient reality is that there is no proof that this essential foundational assumption of atheism is true. And without that core assumption being proven, all the clever logical arguments collapse in a pile on the ground. In the same way, the theist gets exactly no mileage out of saying, “But it’s in the Bible!” until they can prove the Bible is qualified to speak to the issues at hand.

      This is VERY simple, once one is outside the battle lines of the theist vs. atheist contest.

      1) The theist has no proof their chosen authority is qualified to speak to the largest of questions, thus their position is faith based.

      2) The atheist has no proof their chosen authority is qualified to speak to the largest of questions, thus their position is faith based.

      Exactly the same thing.

      What typically obstructs atheist ideologues from getting this is that they’ve created a self flattering fantasy superiority personal identity out of atheism. This is a mirror of what happens when theist ideoloques use religion as a vehicle to declare themselves saved, the unique special people who have God’s ear etc. Once we become attached to these pleasing self congratulatory stories, it can be very hard to give them up.

      These fantasy stories aren’t a function of theism or atheism, but of that which all ideologies are made of, thought.

      The divisive nature of thought creates an experience of reality as being divided between “me” and “everything else”. “Me” is very small, “everything else” is very big. This perspective generates fear, and gives rise to a need for authorities, and for stories which make us feel bigger.

      Consider the wild animal who when confronted with danger stands up and extends their arms and legs to make themselves look bigger. Humans are doing the same thing in our fearful situation, but of course in the much more symbolic abstract manner which characterizes us.

      Oh dear, way too many words as usual. Beware of fundie agnosticism Coel, it just might turn you in to a typoholic honking blowhard! Don’t ask how I know that! 🙂

    11. Coel Post author

      But, the inconvenient reality is that there is no proof that this essential foundational assumption of atheism is true.

      It is not an “essential foundational assumption of atheism”. The atheist can readily accept the possibility that human minds cannot know anything at all about any gods. But, if that is the case, then all theist claims fall at the first hurdle.

      Atheists have tried explaining this point multiple times, using everything from Russell’s Teapot to Invisible Pink Unicorns. I know that you, as an agnostic, are utterly desperate to pin faith positions on atheists, but you’re still wrong!

    12. Jovita

      @Coel: The question at hand is your assertion that the supposed tension between science and faith “is best illustrated by the words that Jesus supposedly said to Thomas,” which you interpret as meaning that “believing is considered virtuous, especially so when the evidence is inadequate, whereas doubt is something to be fought against and overcome.”

      What credible, authoritative, non-fundamentalist/literalist sources support your exegesis (viz., that Jesus is talking about the tension between science and faith)? In what way does your interpretation reflect Christian doctrine held in common by all major branches? Why do the other Gospels omit this episode, if it means what you think it means? Isn’t your implicit premise that faith is mere credulity? That’s a naive position indeed.

    13. Coel Post author

      What credible, authoritative, non-fundamentalist/literalist sources support your exegesis (viz., that Jesus is talking about the tension between science and faith)?

      I didn’t suggest that Jesus was talking about the tension between science and faith (if Jesus lived at all it was long before anything we now recognize as modern science).

      My exegesis is that the passage suggests that demanding hard evidence was a weakness on Thomas’s part and that he would have been more virtuous to believe without first asking for hard evidence. This is part of the widely picture that salvation comes from faith/belief in Jesus, and thus that the act of believing in Jesus is a virtuous act that is rewarded.

      The comparison with today’s science was then added by me.

      In what way does your interpretation reflect Christian doctrine held in common by all major branches?

      In just about very way, really! “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”. (Though some Christians do emphasize salvation through “works” not just “faith”.)

    14. Jovita

      @Coel: Again, you’re simply (naively) confusing faith with credulity. Much less have you come close to demonstrating your claim that acknowledging Jesus means rejecting science.

    15. Coel Post author

      Much less have you come close to demonstrating your claim that acknowledging Jesus means rejecting science.

      I didn’t claim that.

    16. Jovita

      “I didn’t claim that.”

      No? Interesting, because your original post (last two paragraphs in particular) seem to say exactly that. So what exactly IS your claim, then?

    17. Coel Post author

      My claim is that Christianity lauds faith when there is absence of evidence, whereas science deplores belief in the absence of evidence. That’s rather different from: “acknowledging Jesus means rejecting science”.

    18. Jovita

      “My claim is that Christianity lauds faith when there is absence of evidence”

      Well, now we’re back to square one, and this silly (or willful) mischaracterization. For a Christian, faith means acknowledging Jesus as Messiah, on the testimony of his disciples and the generations that came after them. It has nothing to do with making a virtue of mere credulity or gullibility.

      If atheists don’t want people to dismiss their objections as “naive, not very thoughtful and a bit ignorant” — if they really want people to buy into their belief that science and faith conflict — they have their work cut out for them.

    19. Coel Post author

      For a Christian, faith means acknowledging Jesus as Messiah, on the testimony of his disciples …

      Exactly. In Christianity faith (or “acknowledging Jesus”) is a virtuous act that gets a big reward (salvation).

    20. Jovita

      And an athelete’s or entrepreneur’s faith in themselves also is greatly rewarded. What has any of this to do with your phony “tension” between science and faith? Rt Revd Williams is right, it is fiction. And the preponderance of the evidence is that it is a fiction rooted in stubborn ignorance.

    21. Coel Post author

      In science, that sort of “belief” is a bias that we strive to overcome. The proper attitude is scepticism and a demand for good evidence, and not believing anything beyond the evidence.

    22. Jovita

      “not believing anything beyond the evidence”

      Infants and children don’t live that way, thank goodness, nor do artists and poets, nor dreamers and lovers. A life circumscribed by extreme scrupulosity with regard to “evidence” would be a dismal existence indeed.

      That being said, why don’t atheists practice what they preach? If the proper attitude is skepticism and a demand for good evidence, why shouldn’t an atheist first examine their own blind spots — that is, their biased and wildly mistaken opinions about theology, religion and personal faith? Why shouldn’t skepticism begin at home? Why not put more energy into proving one’s own atheistic prejudices wrong rather than clinging to the untenable notion that they’re correct?

    23. Coel Post author

      You are overlooking that the only thing theists have is faith; that is, believing it because they want to believe it, because they think it is virtuous to believe it. They have no evidence on their side, no reason, only faith.

  11. Phil

    Not claiming to be anything close to a New Testament expert, but here’s my sermon. Let’s take Coel’s interpretation of the Christian message, which seems accurate enough…

    Coel said, “Salvation comes from faith.”

    So what is faith? It’s an act of surrender. I suggest we might shift our focus from what someone has faith in, to the act of surrender, the essence of faith.

    Surrender is what we’re all going to have to do in the end, so disciplines that involve surrender help us make peace with what is coming, and align us with the incredibly puny reality of the human situation.

    Surrender in the form of love helps break down divisions between people, between humans and their environment, and between conflicting thoughts within one’s mind, the chief source of human suffering.

    Surrender helps heal the sense of alienation from reality which is generated by the inherently divisive nature of what we’re all made of, thought.

    What we surrender to is less important than the degree to which we surrender. One can surrender to a handful of dirt if one is serious enough.

    Surrender is not a religious thing, it’s a human thing.

    Atheists surrender to the processes of reason, and do so without any real evidence that something as small as human reason is qualified to comprehend the very largest questions about the most fundamental nature of all reality, the scope of God claims.

    As example, human beings have used their reason to aim thousands of nuclear weapons down our own throats, an ever impending self extinction event we rarely find interesting enough to discuss. That is the state of human reason as it attempts to grasp the largest questions, insanity.

    The difference between religious faith and atheist faith is very much a surface affair. Just underneath the surface both parties, most humans, have a profound need to place their trust in some system or method which brings order to their experience and provides hope of better days to come.

    A key thing to understand about religion is that it concerns itself with our _relationship_ with reality. Proposed “facts” about reality generated by religion serve that bottom line goal. Religion is remarkably successful at serving it’s bottom line goal, as evidenced by the fact that the stories it has created are still deeply meaningful to billions of people thousands of years after those stories were written.

    Religion clearly does not work for everybody. That’s not a problem we need worry about. The bottom line goal of religion, enhancing our relationship with reality, can be well served in ways that have nothing to do with religious techniques. Instead of wasting time on rejecting methods that work for others, the person of reason invests their time in finding methods of enhancing their relationship with reality that work for them.

    In the end, it’s an emotional journey, and surrender of one flavor or another is a key which can open the door to such adventures.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Hi Phil,

      I suggest we might shift our focus from what someone has faith in, to the act of surrender, the essence of faith.

      Were I to ask 100 mainstream Christians to explain what “faith” is in “salvation comes from faith”, I wonder what fraction would explain it in terms of “surrender” as you have done?

  12. Phil

    Hi Coel,

    Well, there are a couple billion Christians. Using a bell curve analysis it seems safe to say that most Christians are probably somewhere around the center of a mediocrity middle, while a minority are above average wise, or above average insane.

    Most Christians are not philosophers, just as most humans are not philosophers. But the surrender of love still works for ordinary people in their daily lives, whether or not they are insightful and articulate enough to craft some larger vision of what the process entails. That’s part of the genius of Christianity, imho.

    Religion is the largest cultural event in human history, containing within itself all that is the best and worst about human beings, and everything in between. The same is true of any large group of people. I’m not interested in trying to slap a simplistic label on the whole thing, but in sorting through the pile to learn from the good stuff, while side stepping the asteroid belt of junk which orbits around it.

    An email is on it’s way to you regarding format ideas for our upcoming one on one conversation. Thanks for being open to considering that idea.

    Reply
  13. GoodVibesNation.

    Everyone needs to quit talking about other groups and accept them for who they are as a person. Out of the billions and billions of thoughts we have don’t we all want acceptance for our thoughts? Reduce talking negative, this is what the government wants. Everyone wonders why the US can no longer improve, it’s because everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else like children deciding who’s it. Immaturity leads to hate. Be positive, at least used your belief and talk positive. No group is more of a victim then the group next to them.

    Reply
  14. Phil

    I think there are groups that merit our negative thoughts, words and angry pointed fingers of blame and shame. For me, a personal favorite enemy is the tobacco industry, which routinely kills 400,000 Americans each and every year, and millions more around the globe. For reasons I can’t fathom, it seems not to be fashionable to rant against these ruthless corporate mass murderers. I suppose that’s just another example of the limits of human reason.

    Reply
  15. Pingback: Science vs Belief: Is this conflict a myth? - Skeptical Science

  16. Phil

    Coel, even more honking from here…

    You state that if humans aren’t qualified to address the very largest of questions that’s the end of the discussion. I would agree that it could be the end of the discussion, and that it would be reasonable for a person to turn their attention to other subjects where human knowing is possible. To each their own.

    But it’s not automatically the end of the inquiry. From the agnostic perspective, the inquiry we’ve worked so hard on for so long has revealed that we are ignorant (on issues of the largest scale). Why throw this important discovery away? Why not accept the results of the experiment and keep right on going?

    Going where?

    Let’s make an important distinction between religion’s core mission, and it’s methodology. It’s core mission is helping people manage their RELATIONSHIP with reality. It’s methodology involves claims, authority, stories, characters, rituals etc.

    What I’m suggesting is that committed atheists discard religious methodology, for it’s clearly not going to work for them. They don’t need to fight religious methodology, it’s more sensible and efficient to just discard it and walk away.

    However, the job is not done, as the need for us to craft a deeper more positive relationship with reality remains.

    As example, if we focus only on developing facts about reality, and don’t pay adequate attention to our relationship with reality, we will find ourselves in situations like this…

    Some brilliant fellows learn how to split the atom. And then we use that information to stick a huge loaded gun in our mouth. And then we stick our heads up our butts so we can pretend there is no loaded gun. Starts off brilliant, ends up insane.

    Knowledge without relationship is a recipe for cultural suicide.

    There’s an old story about this somewhere. Oh yes, I remember now, Adam and Eve in the garden of eden. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      … the inquiry we’ve worked so hard on for so long has revealed that we are ignorant (on issues of the largest scale). Why throw this important discovery away?

      Who is throwing that away? Not atheists. Many atheists have a scientific attitude of continually wanting to learn more about the world around us.

      However, the job is not done, as the need for us to craft a deeper more positive relationship with reality remains.

      But that’s a pretty vague think to say. What do you have in mind? If you mean things like global politics, climate change, et cetera, then yes of course those things are important to us. Nothing about atheism says otherwise.

  17. Phil

    Coel,

    The discovery I’m referring to is the realization that no party to the debate has a proven methodology for developing a credible analysis of the largest of questions. Thus, a long passionate debate between these two unproven methodologies has yielded nothing but entertaining noise.

    The documented record of longstanding failure of the debate suggests that we more closely examine and question the widely agreed upon assumption the debate is built upon, that is, the notion that the goal of the inquiry should be to establish a “knowing”, a symbolic representation of reality. What if that assumption is wrong?

    As example, say you are trying to repair your car and you have a theory of what is wrong. So you proceed to apply your theory to the problem, but the repair fails, again, and again, and again, and again. At some point you’re going to push back from the job, and take a closer look at the assumptions you’ve been operating on, right? You won’t just keep repeating the same failed procedure for centuries, right?

    You say that atheists wish to learn more about the world around us. Ok, that’s useful of course. But that’s science, facts about reality, not crafting our RELATIONSHIP with reality.

    To address your reasonable question, what I have in mind is making a clear distinction between symbols that point to reality, and reality itself. As example, the word “Coel” is just a symbol that points to you, it’s not you. When I refer to relationship with reality, I mean reality itself, not facts, ideas, symbols, abstractions etc that point to reality.

    In this context the human ignorance the theist vs. atheist debate has discovered becomes relevant and useful, because acknowledged ignorance clears the mind of facts, ideas, symbols, theories, arguments etc, and thus opens the door to relationship with the reality these abstractions point to.

    Here’s the bottom line. The only way theism will ever end is if there is some other more effective method of meeting religion’s bottom line goal, helping human beings craft a positive relationship with reality. That is a very tall order that atheists have no chance of ever achieving if they don’t understand what the challenge actually is.

    Imho, there is exactly no chance you will ever defeat theism merely by arguing against it, because the need that theism serves will remain unmet. You’re essentially in the position of endlessly telling theists, “your food is bad, your food is bad, your food is bad etc” without ever offering them better food. And so they stick with the food they already have, a quite logical decision.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      The discovery I’m referring to is the realization that no party to the debate has a proven methodology for developing a credible analysis of the largest of questions.

      So? Atheists don’t claim that human brains are entirely adequate to deal with the matter of gods! Generally atheists accept that there may well be lots of limitations to our intellects.

  18. Phil

    Coel said… “As ever, you can’t rid yourself of the notion that atheism is a dogmatic faith-assertion of non-existence. It isn’t!”

    I never said that. Please read more carefully. What I did say was…

    Atheism is the faith based belief that human reason is qualified to meaningfully analyze statements about the most fundamental nature of all reality, ie. the scope of God claims.

    Coel said, “No, wrong again! If human reason were unqualified regarding gods, then all theist claims instantly fall, since all of them come from humans! Thus atheism (= not accepting theist claims) survives just fine! ”

    Ah, so if human reason is unqualified, then all claims instantly fail, except for your own. See? You refuse to apply your own chosen methodology to your own position. That’s not reason Coel, but ideology, something else entirely.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Ah, so if human reason is unqualified, then all claims instantly fail, except for your own.

      Nooo! Atheism is not making claims about gods, it is refusing to accept theist claims about gods. Therefore, in the event that human reason is unqualified to deal with gods, atheistic claims do not fail because there are no such atheistic claims to fail!

    2. A

      Phil, I’ve been reading your comments (and enjoyed it immensely) but I am confused.

      On my way to work there are a group of people that sometimes stop me and try to convert me to their religion. If I follow their rules I will end up in Heaven and otherwise in Hell. So there’s a lot at stake here.

      How should I appropriately respond? Are you saying that I shouldn’t ask for evidence? (Since then I’m making an unfounded assumption regarding the strength of the evidence-based approach?) How do you suggest I make up my mind?

  19. Phil

    Coel, we may be hitting an impasse. We can’t discuss the claims atheism depends upon if you aren’t aware of those claims, and/or refuse to acknowledge their existence.

    Imagine the theist whose argument for God is “It’s in the Bible!”, but who then goes on to deny that they are making any claim about the Bible’s qualifications to address the topic. That’s the kind of box you are backing yourself in to.

    Again, the atheist claim is very simple to see, assuming one wishes to see it. It is a claim that human reason is qualified to meaningfully analyze questions about the most fundamental nature of reality. The fact that atheists typically _don’t realize_ that their entire position depends upon this unproven claim does not make it any less an unproven claim.

    All that said, attempting to unravel atheism is probably as irrational a procedure as attempting to unravel theism. I find myself guilt of the same thing I’m accusing you of, so we are partners there. This process we are both engaged in is a strange compulsion which never leads anywhere, yet we keep on doing it with great enthusiasm. Smells like an emotional source.

    I also plead guilty to being as stuck in my position as you are in yours. What could possibly be more self contradictory than a fundamentalist agnostic?? I declare victory on that basis! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Coel, we may be hitting an impasse.

      Indeed so. As an agnostic you are clinging to your faith-based assertion that atheists make dogmatic faith claims.

      We can’t discuss the claims atheism depends upon if you aren’t aware of those claims, and/or refuse to acknowledge their existence.

      I refuse to accept that atheism depends on faith claims, as you keep claiming.

      Again, the atheist claim is very simple to see, assuming one wishes to see it. It is a claim that human reason is qualified to meaningfully analyze questions about the most fundamental nature of reality.

      No, atheism does not make that claim. Atheists are open to the possibility that our brains might be quite incapable on such questions.

  20. Phil

    Hi A,

    Well, I suggest that you might ignore the theist vs. atheist debate, given that there is no evidence that’s it ever going anywhere except to more of the same. As I see it, this is step one, sweeping that with a longstanding record of failure off the table, getting it out of the way so that we can refocus on more promising approaches.

    That’s a good start, but only a beginning. The fundamental issue which gave rise to theism in the first place remains to be addressed, enhancing our relationship with reality, that is, embracing and making peace with where we find ourselves when we are born in to this existence.

    We are a deeply troubled civilization, as evidenced by the thousands of nuclear bombs we have aimed down our own throats. If I walked around all day every day with a loaded gun in my mouth, and rarely found that interesting enough to discuss, wouldn’t you label me insane?

    I’m entirely agreeable that anyone who doesn’t relate to theism should let it go. There’s no point in trying to pound square pegs in to round holes.

    But what we shouldn’t let go of is a focus on the fundamental human condition which theism was invented to address. In my view, the fundamental human condition arises directly out of the properties of that which all humans are made of psychologically, thought. Seeing this can revolutionize one’s relationship with philosophy in general, and any one ideology in particular.

    Reply
  21. Dan Steeves

    If evolution was a true scientific process we would be observing it in today’s world. Just as we observe the laws of physics, chemistry, genetics etc. We would observe transitional life forms changing into other life forms such as reptiles evolving into birds and birds into mammals. We would observe life forms that link primates and modern man. But we do not observe transitional life forms. Period. The desperate grasping of straws by evolutionary atheists is based on bad interpretation of the data and pure conjecture. Like the great french biologist Pierre de Grasse once said “evolution is a fairy tale for adults.”

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      If evolution was a true scientific process we would be observing it in today’s world.

      We do observe it in the world today! Evolution in action is routinely studied in the laboratory and in the wild. Note, though, that evolution is a slow process, so any changes over short time-scales are minor.

      We would observe transitional life forms changing into other life forms such as reptiles evolving into birds and birds into mammals.

      Such processes take hundreds of millions of years! Are you asking to see them happening in front of you in ten years flat? *That* would be inconsistent with evolution! We only expect major evolutionary change over long, geological timescales (and very minor evolutionary change over very short, human timescales). And that’s exactly what we see; we do indeed see these transitions in the fossil record.

      We would observe life forms that link primates and modern man.

      There are plenty of such of the fossil record! Why aren’t they alive today? Well, the fate of most species is to go extinct. Competition between species is greatest when they are very similar. Competition between humans and nearly-humans would have ensured that most intermediate forms went extinct. And that’s what we see in the fossil record.

      But we do not observe transitional life forms. Period.

      Wrong. The transitions are amply demonstrated in the fossil record.

  22. Phil

    Coel,

    If it should be true that human reason is not qualified to address the largest of questions, upon what basis could an atheist challenge theism? In such a case, what proven authority would the atheist reference in making their challenge?

    Suppose I tried to challenge theism or atheism using the output from my ouija board? Wouldn’t it be reasonable for you to ask for proof that ouija boards are qualified to address the largest of questions? If I couldn’t provide such proof, wouldn’t you then dismiss all my data and assertions?

    This is of course just what the atheist does in regards to theism. The theist can not provide proof their holy book is qualified, so the atheist dismisses the theist theories and conclusions.

    All I’m doing is embracing the methodology of requiring proof that a proposed authority is qualified, and then applying that methodology to the chosen authorities of ALL parties, including atheists. This process is called intellectual honesty. The opposite of that process is called ideology.

    Your position seems to be that you agree that reason may or may not be qualified, but theists are definitely still wrong anyway.

    If you don’t know whether or not reason is qualified to address questions the scale of god claims, what is your adamant stance in regards to theism based on???

    It seems to me that if you wish to be adamant about theists being wrong, you are then required to also be adamant that reason (or some other authority) is qualified to analyze such questions.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      If it should be true that human reason is not qualified to address the largest of questions, upon what basis could an atheist challenge theism?

      If that were the case then there cannot be any basis for the theist’s claims. The theist simply cannot know. There is thus no basis for accepting the theist claims. The theist’s claims fall at the first hurdle. That, right there, is atheism (= declining to assent to theist claims).

      In such a case, what proven authority would the atheist reference in making their challenge?

      They would not “reference a proven authority”, they would give the answer that I’ve just given you, and indeed have now given you several times.

      Your position seems to be that you agree that reason may or may not be qualified, but theists are definitely still wrong anyway.

      Owing to the argument I have given you several times! If human brains are incapable of addressing gods, then there is no way that a theist claim has any backing or substance to it! It falls at the first hurdle. Why do you keep ignoring my replies?

    2. winewithcats

      Human reason is not a “proven authority”, nor does it need to be. It’s merely a tool with which we generate propositions and counter-propositions. Whether or not it is a sufficient tool to discuss the “largest of questions” is irrelevant, on account of the fact that it’s the only tool which is available to us. It isn’t even possible to question its validity, nor to dismiss it as “unqualified”, without simultaneously employing it in one’s own thinking. It isn’t possible to communicate a theistic claim, or an atheistic claim, or an agnostic claim, or a ouija claim, or any sort of claim at all, without employing reason in framing the argument.

      To pretend otherwise is to engage both in sophistry, and hypocrisy.

  23. Phil

    I’m not ignoring your replies Coel. Your reply seems to be…

    1) if reason is unqualified,
    2) then atheists automatically win,
    3) even though atheism is based on reason.

    OR:

    1) if reason IS qualified,
    2) then atheists automatically win here too.

    SUMMARY: Atheists automatically win no matter what, in any circumstance.

    COMPARISON: The theist claims they automatically win whether or not their holy book is found to be qualified.

    CONCLUSION: Given that it no longer matters whether someone’s chosen authority can be proven qualified for the task at hand, all authorities are now judged to be acceptable. So, my ouji board is the real winner here, as it now stands toe to toe with both theism and atheism. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Hi Phil,

      Your reply seems to be…

      1) if reason is unqualified,
      2) then atheists automatically win,
      3) even though atheism is based on reason.

      Nope, that is not my reply. Why don’t you address what my reply actually was, which (hint) was in my previous reply to you and several before that?

  24. Phil

    Coel, your exact words were…

    “If that (reason unqualified) were the case then there cannot be any basis for the theist’s claims. The theist simply cannot know.”

    Except, um, by your own very often repeated description, theists are not using reason as their method. Thus, reason’s disqualification would have no impact upon theist proposals, just as the defeat of ouji boards would have no impact. The defeat of reason does not create a problem for the theist, because their chosen method is faith.

    A defeat of reason would only pose a problem for those who declare reason to be their methodology.

    My post above stands. You’re going to declare victory in any and every circumstance, no matter what. As is your right.

    Which brings us to the irrationality we seem to share. You write hundreds of posts against theism, which have no impact upon theism. I write hundreds of posts about theism and atheism, which have no impact upon either.

    And we are not alone, millions of posts all over the net are written for and against both theism and atheism, and it’s rare indeed that anybody is converted to another position as a result. So much effort, so little to show for it.

    This is where I find myself. I’m addicted to such conversations, and feel I have some ability at them, but really have little idea of what use such an ability might be.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      You write hundreds of posts against theism, which have no impact upon theism.

      That’s not really true. Only a minority of my posts are about theism or attacking theism. Many more are about society and secularism and defending those of us who are atheists (and other things, such as science and scientism).

      … and it’s rare indeed that anybody is converted to another position as a result.

      Hmm, I’m not so sure. It is true that virtually no-one ever changes their mind in a short period of time after reading a particular blog post, but the cumulative affect of such reading often leads to people changing their opinions over years.

  25. Phil

    Well, let’s see… Perhaps we’ve gone as far as we can go in regards to atheism and agnosticism? There’s more to the conversation from my perspective, but I don’t want to wander in to evangelism. I think I’ll follow your lead on that. I don’t want to beat the atheist challenge to death, especially given that I’m always ranting on about how the theist/atheist debate is a waste of time. And we’re starting to exceed the abilities of blog software here, as it’s getting pretty difficult to maintain order.

    To show you that I’m an equal opportunity annoyance, 🙂 I could some day present a challenge to Christianity that you might find interesting.

    And/or, I have a pretty good challenge to science up my sleeve, or more precisely our relationship with science, should you ever wish to be annoyed in that direction.

    More soon from both of us I’m sure.

    Reply
  26. Phil

    winewithcats…

    Can you use reason to fall in love? Or is something more needed?

    Case closed. Reason is not automatically useful for EVERYTHING.

    Reply
  27. Phil

    Apologies, I can no longer keep up with the threading system on the blog, it’s getting too complicated for us goofy geezers. 🙂 So here’s a reply…

    Coel said, “You are overlooking that the only thing theists have is faith; that is, believing it because they want to believe it, because they think it is virtuous to believe it. They have no evidence on their side, no reason, only faith.”

    You may be overlooking that as a scientist, you have a very simplistic view of theism. It’s true in almost all atheist ideologist writings, this impression that theism is nothing but god claims, god claims, god claims, as if that was all there is to it.

    You seem to essentially be saying, “Religion is bad science!” Which is of course true. But you forget to add, “Science is bad religion!” which is also true. Which writings of any scientist will be embraced and cherished by millions to billions of people hundreds or thousands of years from now. Answer = Exactly None.

    Religion has it’s own logic, which seems to escape you entirely. As example, in those cases when it’s impossible to deliver the answers humans crave, which is more logical…

    1) Stories which can help facilitate social harmony and personal peace, giving hope, comfort and community to billions of people over thousands of years?

    OR:

    2) A story which says that we are a hunk of meat which will soon be rotting in the ground and everything you care about will be lost forever.

    You will probably say something like, “We should stick to the facts!” except that neither you nor anybody else has the slightest idea what the facts are when it comes to the largest and most personal existential questions. Not a clue.

    And how about love Coel? What is life without love? Christianity has spent 2,000 years trying to pound the concept of love in to the hearts of western civilization, and to at least some degree they’ve succeeded. What can science offer us on this all important topic? Very little, as they are only barely interested, inventing new kinds of plastics is judged more important.

    You trying to debunk theism would be a lot like me jumping in to a physics conversation to challenge the leading theories, based on my physics education from Netflix University. 🙂 You’re a very intelligent highly educated person, and I sense your intentions are basically good, but on this particular topic, you are in waaaaay over your head.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Hi Phil,

      Well my comment was a reply to Jovita, but:

      You may be overlooking that as a scientist, you have a very simplistic view of theism.

      You are continually trying to denigrate scientists and atheists!

      … this impression that theism is nothing but god claims, god claims, god claims, as if that was all there is to it.

      Oxford English Dictionary: “Theism”: belief in the existence of a god or gods, specifically of a creator who intervenes in the universe.

      Theism is indeed about gods. Note that the term “theism” is distinct from the term “religion”.

      You seem to essentially be saying, “Religion is bad science!”

      I was talking specifically about theism and theistic claims (which, by definition, are claims about gods).

      You will probably say something like, “We should stick to the facts!” …

      Wrong.

      … on this particular topic, you are in waaaaay over your head.

      And of course agnostics are so much more insightful?

  28. Phil

    Coel,

    It’s not “denigrating” to point out that you are in over your head on the subject of religion, just as I am in over my head on the subject of science. You’re fully within your rights of course to share your enthusiastic opinions on the topic, no quarrel there, but when you do you are basically advertising your lack of understanding, and more telling, your lack of interest in understanding.

    Religion is very clearly not for everybody, me included. I walked out of the Catholic Church fifty years ago as a teen, never been back since. I have no argument with anybody who makes the same decision.

    But whether one is personally religious or not, religion is still a very interesting subject. It’s the largest cultural event in human history with profound implications for where we are as a society today. Simplistic formulas like religion=bad or theism=bad (or vice versa) are not worthy of someone of your obvious intelligence.

    I’m suggesting only that you might refer to the highest ideals of your own chosen methodology, reason and science. If you’re going to spend lots of time on this topic, seek to understand religion in an unbiased objective matter, not just debunk it.

    Debunking is basically pointless, especially given that you’re essentially preaching to the choir on this blog. And to be fair, my debunking of your debunking is also essentially pointless. If we were real people of reason we’d both be conducting an investigation in to why we are compelled to invest so much time in things we can do nothing about.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Hi Phil,

      It’s not “denigrating” to point out that you are in over your head on the subject of religion, …

      But this is merely your claim. Sorry, but I don’t accept that I am “in over my head” on the topic of religion, or that you are more knowledgeable and insightful on the topic.

      Nearly all your comments consist of attempts to paint atheists as naive and lacking in understanding and as adopting faith positions that they are unaware of. Yes I know you think that. I don’t agree.

  29. Phil

    Not all atheists Coel, most of whom have no interest at all in discussing any of this. I’m not aiming anything at the vast majority of atheists. However, atheist ideologists are a different matter. As are religious ideologists. And agnostic ideologists, uggh, they are the worst! 🙂 Your lack of depth on these topics prevents you from seeing that it’s not the content of a philosophy which is the issue, but one’s relationship with philosophy.

    It’s not the content of thought which is the source of the problems which concern you, but the nature of thought itself. As example, every ideology ever invented has inevitably sub-divided in to competing, often warring, internal factions. That’s clear evidence that the source of division arises from what all ideologies have in common, that which they’re all made of, the inherently divisive nature of thought.

    When every ideology goes to war not only with it’s enemies, but within itself, that’s a BIG CLUE that changing the content of ideology from X to Y is not a solution. Thus, philosophical battles are pointless, given that they are fought on the content level. As example, if everyone on Earth were to take your advice and reject religion and theism, that wouldn’t solve anything. All the same old conflicts would continue, the only difference being the color of the flags being waved over the battle field.

    You have good intentions, but you’re conducting your investigation in to these matters on the surface, at the level of the content of thought, this idea vs. that idea.

    The deeper level, the source of the problems, the nature of thought, is far more interesting, which I’m sure you’ll someday see if you can emerge from the holy war which is currently so distracting you.

    That’s why I fight my holy war against the theist vs. atheist carnival merry-go-round to nowhere. It’s a pointless distraction from far more interesting and important topics. As an intelligent person, I think you’d enjoy them.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Hi Phil,

      Your lack of depth on these topics prevents you …

      Again, the incessant need to paint people as naive and less insightful than you. It’s tedious. Why don’t you say something interesting?

      I’m sure you’ll someday see if you can emerge from the holy war which is currently so distracting you.

      You don’t seem to have noticed that only a small fraction of the posts here attack theism and religion (more pertain to religion, but are really about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or secularism, etc). And the posts here are a small part of my daily life.

      You seem to cling with desperate dogmatism to your articles of faith: (1) atheists are naive, (2) atheism is based on faith, (3) atheists spend all their time attacking religion. Wrong, wrong and wrong.

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