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20 arguments for the existence of God

February 20th, 2014

Milky way

Peter Kreeft is a Professor of Philosophy and a Catholic. He is one of the almost three dozen writers at Strange Notions, a blog devoted to discussion between atheists and Catholics.

Recently he blogged outlining 20 arguments that support the existence of God.

20 arguments?

The main theistic arguments (Cosmological, Design, Moral, Religious experience, Ontological) are all there, of course. But in addition there are slightly different versions of these main arguments, plus less well known and generally weaker arguments (e.g. the Argument from desire, the Common consent argument and the Argument from truth). Pascal’s Wager, not really an argument for the existence of God at all, also appears.

People have also developed arguments against the existence of God, but these aren’t outlined, or answered, here.

How good are these arguments?

None of these arguments are “proofs”, and don’t claim to be. But Kreeft suggests that the cumulative effect of all the arguments, including the relatively weaker ones, “demonstrate the existence of a being that has some of the properties only God can have (no argument proves all the divine attributes); but all twenty taken together, like twined rope, make a very strong case.”

It will be no surprise that some of them, taken together, convince me – my next post will give an assessment of which arguments, both for and against God’s existence, convince me the most, and will ask for readers’ own views.

But they don’t convince others

It is sometimes said that a good argument is one that will convince an open-minded person who knows the facts. But theistic and anti-theistic arguments don’t seem to work that way – people generally seem to find the arguments for their point of view convincing, but those opposing their viewpoint are not at all convincing.

So it is that the most recent comment includes this: “i don’t understand why these ‘arguments’ are still being trotted out as though they may have some, yet unforeseen, validity”

Technically, all these arguments have validity (i.e. the conclusions logically follow from the premises), the real problem this commenter is alluding to is that he (I am assuming) doesn’t agree with the conclusions, and presumably don’t agree with some of the premises. But assessment of the reasonableness of premises is not a cut and dried matter – different people will legitimately disagree about them – so it is hard to see how any of these arguments could be unquestionably proved or disproved.

What about you?

How do you respond to the cumulative ‘force’ of these 20 arguments?

Read more

I have just completed my summary, over 5 pages, of the best half dozen theistic arguments and the best 3 anti-theistic arguments. You can read them, plus an introductory and conclusion page, at Is there a God?

Photo Credit: PhoTones_TAKUMA via Compfight cc

72 Comments

  1. Excellent- I’ll enjoy reading through these arguments. So far none of the arguments that I have read have been ones that resonate closely with me and my belief stems from other experiences, but maybe I’ll find one of them especially elucidating!

    ( seeing your new posts, I think it might be time for you to put together an ebook. Seriously. )

  2. Thanks Eva. I’d be interested to hear if you find any arguments strong. I think the most common arguments are popular for a reason, they are the best, so my guess is that if you don’t find them convincing, you may not find the others either. But personal experience, and the experience of others also, are strong arguments.

    Thanks for the comment about the ebook. I originally started this website as a booklet, but then decided that on the web might be a better place to ‘publish’ it. It has changed a lot since then, but I will definitely consider that suggestion. Thanks.

  3. Firstly, what I find most frustrating with such discussions is the automatic assumption, even if it is presented tacitly, that there is a god and this begins with the use of the term God as a pronoun.
    I realise this has a lot to do with tradition, but surely the correct term would be Yahweh or Jesus.
    Especially as these days where much of the world’s population live in such pluralist communities.
    After all, Christianity is based on the divinity of Jesus and of Him being the Creator.
    As the Christian creator is considered different from the Jewish and Islamic version of Yahweh, why not simply use the name Jesus?

    If there is no doubt from a religious person’s viewpoint, and I am assuming this applies to you also, then why the continual ( apparent ) need to justify/defend this belief?

    In your estimation what ultimate goal do the various religious communities have in mind?
    Baring in mind that no multi-religious society will likely survive outside of a secular environment.

    Do you think the continual need, especially it seems from Christians, to justify the existence of a god is due to the fact religions are beginning to lose ground to secularism?

    I recall as a youngster there was never any question of doubt concerning Jesus. I don’t recall the issue ever being raised on any sort of forum. and if it was there is was pretty much nothing but white noise far off in the background.

    Yet it seems that over the last decade or so Christianity in particular has had its back pushed up against the wall; especially in Europe and the trend is spreading ( albeit slower ) across the globe.

    If there is a dire need to affirm Jesus, Yahweh etcetera is it maybe because doubt is beginning to creep in?
    (I have read about the Clergy project where Christian ministers who have lost faith can go)
    If the clergy are having doubts and renouncing their faith ( and this trend is also growing) how is this supposed to make the rest of the flock feel about faith?

    Do you think that the truth of the once immutable beliefs as laid out in the bible are being questioned because people are doubting such doctrine more and more and perhaps with the advancements in archaeology and a greater understanding of ancients languages such beliefs are not as set in stone as we have all been brought up to believe?

  4. Hi One Sceptic, that’s a lot of good questions. I’ll do my best …..

    what I find most frustrating with such discussions is the automatic assumption, even if it is presented tacitly, that there is a god and this begins with the use of the term God as a pronoun.

    Well, there are two different questions. (1) Is there a supreme being who created the universe and takes an interest in it? (2) What is that supreme being like?

    The major monotheistic religions agree on Q1, but disagree to some degree on Q2, while also agreeing on some aspects.

    The arguments Kreeft presents, most of the arguments I referenced, and most of the opposing arguments atheists present, all address Q1. If we wanted to address Q2, we’d discuss Bible vs Koran, Jesus vs Mohammed vs Baha’u’llah, etc.

    If there is no doubt from a religious person’s viewpoint, and I am assuming this applies to you also, then why the continual ( apparent ) need to justify/defend this belief?

    I have never said I have no doubts. I am a normal human being, I have doubts. I don’t believe religious truths are certain or proven – I believe they are the most reasonable explanation.

    I seek to justify this belief because I want to help people discover what I have found to be good and true, and atheists are attacking that belief. I suppose you could just as well ask why atheists are continually justifying their (non)belief – and I guess you’d get a similar answer to mine.

    In your estimation what ultimate goal do the various religious communities have in mind?

    I think they all have slightly different goals. Muslims (I understand) see a strong connection between their faith, their families and government, so many Muslims would want to see totally Islamic societies. I think christians once thought the same, and some still do. But I think these days there is a growing group of christians who would be wary of trying to create a christian society with christian law.

    My aim is that people exercise their free will to seek and find the truth, which I believe is found in Jesus.

    Do you think the continual need, especially it seems from Christians, to justify the existence of a god is due to the fact religions are beginning to lose ground to secularism?

    Of course, if I think it is true, I will be sorry of more people miss out. But it isn’t secularism, which I think is good, but disbelief, which I think is sad.

    Yet it seems that over the last decade or so Christianity in particular has had its back pushed up against the wall; especially in Europe and the trend is spreading ( albeit slower ) across the globe.

    That’s the propaganda you’ll read on the web, but I don’t think it is true. Christianity is losing ground in the western world, but gaining ground most other places. Somewhere between a quarter and a half of christians today are converts out of non-christian belief systems – see How many christians are converts?

    Many commentators see it the opposite to you. Religious belief is gaining ground everywhere but the west, and atheism/secularism has not made nearly as much progress in the west as people once expected and hoped (many expected religious belief to be all but gone in the west by now).

    If the clergy are having doubts and renouncing their faith ( and this trend is also growing) how is this supposed to make the rest of the flock feel about faith?

    A lot of that is burnout, because of a silly church system most ministers and churches adhere to. And some more is in the US where it is hard to distinguish personal belief from religious culture. I think overall it is probably for the best that those pastors left the ministry, though often very difficult for them.

    Do you think that the truth of the once immutable beliefs as laid out in the bible are being questioned because people are doubting such doctrine more and more and perhaps with the advancements in archaeology and a greater understanding of ancients languages such beliefs are not as set in stone as we have all been brought up to believe?

    Yes I do believe that. I also think God is waking christians up to new ideas.

    Thanks for your questions. I’d be interested to hear your views on all those questions.

  5. Hi “Mert ERYAZICI”,

    Thanks for visiting my blog. Would you be interested in telling us any more about how or why those videos helped you believe in God?

  6. 1.

    The arguments Kreeft presents, most of the arguments I referenced, and most of the opposing arguments atheists present, all address Q1. If we wanted to address Q2, we’d discuss Bible vs Koran, Jesus vs Mohammed vs Baha’u’llah, etc.

    I have no great desire to discuss differences between various religious texts; I am more interested in why Christians specifically do not refer to their god simply as Jesus? It seems the common sense thing to do as they are the only one of the three major monotheistic religions that considers ”God” manifested in human form. When Christians say, ‘‘God” they mean Jesus, plain and simple and in any discussion with either of the other two monotheists no agreement will ever be reached because of this, so why not use the term Jesus all the time?

    2.

    I have never said I have no doubts. I am a normal human being, I have doubts. I don’t believe religious truths are certain or proven – I believe they are the most reasonable explanation.

    Surely Christian belief begins from a biblical foundation?
    Yet much of the text is at odds and open to interpretation. The Pentateuch is widely considered fiction by most recognized scholars, and biblical scholars know other parts of the text have been tampered with ( albeit unintentionally in many cases) but also there are parts that are blatantly fraudulent: pseudepigraphical.
    Would it not therefore, be more accurate to state that, in light of the scientific advancements already mentioned regarding greater understanding of religious texts, that faith, based on our cultural upbringing, plays a much greater part and will increasingly become even more so in such acceptance, rather than “the most reasonable explanation’’?

    3.

    I seek to justify this belief because I want to help people discover what I have found to be good and true, and atheists are attacking that belief. I suppose you could just as well ask why atheists are continually justifying their (non)belief – and I guess you’d get a similar answer to mine.

    Could this be because in the past, non-believers had almost no (real) opportunity to voice their (un)beliefs, simply because they would have been ignored and/or completely ostracized by their communities. Or worse,in many cases, and for probably the first time in human history such widespread dissent based on critical thought (rather than merely another repressive regime like communism) has caught the religious community on the back foot?

    4.

    I think they all have slightly different goals. Muslims (I understand) see a strong connection between their faith, their families and government, so many Muslims would want to see totally Islamic societies. I think Christians once thought the same, and some still do. But I think these days there is a growing group of Christians who would be wary of trying to create a christian society with christian law. My aim is that people exercise their free will to seek and find the truth, which I believe is found in Jesus.

    I always thought the goal of every ( most?) religion is ultimately one world under one god, ( theirs) surely?
    As proselytizing and indoctrination are crucial aspects of Christianity, in fact the bible commands it if I’m not mistaken, do you think there will be an eventual clash of heads between Islam and Christianity, (it already happens at regional level) or will common sense prevail and an uneasy religious détente reached?
    Do you see an eventually escalation of open hostilities? Perhaps even an increase in the number of theocracies?

    5. ”Do you think the continual need, especially it seems from Christians, to justify the existence of a god is due to the fact religions are beginning to lose ground to secularism?”

    ‘’…..it isn’t secularism, which I think is good, but disbelief, which I think is sad.’’

    As secularism is in essence complete separateness from religion how are Christianity and Islam ( in particular) expected to grow if society becomes ever more secular?
    Is it not true to say that a multi-religious society can only thrive under secularism, which flies in the face of proselytization of both Islam and Christianity.
    How do you come to terms with the fact that without serious proselytizing Christianity will continue to lose its influence in Western Society, even in the States, which is traditionally seen as a ‘’Christian country” ? (while acknowledging it is still growing in underdeveloped countries and those that were formerly communist)

    5.”Yet it seems that over the last decade or so Christianity in particular has had its back pushed up against the wall….”

    That’s the propaganda you’ll read on the web, but I don’t think it is true. Christianity is losing ground in the western world, but gaining ground most other places. Somewhere between a quarter and a half of christians today are converts out of non-christian belief systems – see How many christians are converts?

    But are these not in countries that are still viewed as ”underdeveloped” or formerly under severely repressive regimes?
    Traditionally Christian counties like the UK and Australia appear to be under an ever growing threat of Islamic fundamentalism (Sharia Law etc) so in essence this trend will eventually effect those countries currently experiencing what appears to be a Christian revival. Would this not be a fair assessment?

    6.”If the clergy are having doubts and renouncing their faith…..”

    A lot of that is burnout, because of a silly church system most ministers and churches adhere to. And some more is in the US where it is hard to distinguish personal belief from religious culture. I think overall it is probably for the best that those pastors left the ministry, though often very difficult for them.

    Those that have left seem very intelligent and have travelled a very difficult path before deciding to walk away from god belief.
    Burn out is not the reason cited by those that have relinquished their faith. Far from it in fact. All (that I have read) cite a growing realisation that the bible is untenable and they were unable to continue living a lie.
    Are you stating that all are wrong (in effect lying) in this regard?

    7.

    I also think God is waking christians up to new ideas.

    In what way?

    Thanks for taking the time.

  7. Hi One Sceptic. I’ll take your comments and questions by number.

    1. When we use the word Jesus, we mostly refer to the historical person who christians believe was the 2nd person of the trinitarian God. I feel it is less confusing to use the different words. There is much in common between, say, Muslim and Christian belief about God, so using the same word in each case makes sense to me.

    2. I don’t think so. What would be the sense of having faith in something for which there was no evidence? Such a decision would be totally arbitrary. But no-one believe on faith alone, everyone has reasons, even if others may assess those reasons as inadequate.

    My belief in christianity is based on the historical ‘facts” about the New Testament, reasonable arguments and personal experience (mine and others). The doubts about aspects of the Old Testament are not really relevant to those reasons.

    3. I suppose all you say could be true, or not. I don’t really know, but I don’t think it makes much difference to me. People believed all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons in the past, but I really have to be concerned with what I believe now on the evidence available to me.

    4. I believe God has given us all freedom to choose him, or not, and I don’t think we should take that away from people. So while I would want to see everyone believe, that would only be if that is their free choice. So any goal of converting the world is unrealistic.

    I think Islam and Christianity already are clashing. But true Christianity should be non-violent. (I’m sure there could be hypothetical exceptions to this, but it is generally true. Unfortunately many christians have ignored this teaching of Jesus.) So the clash should only be one way, with christians loving their enemies, even if they are killed. And that is already happening, with thousands of christians killed for their faith every year. Who can say whether it will get worse?

    It has to be said that there are many killings by people who are culturally Muslim or Christian, but the reasons are more about land and power than religion – see Does religion cause wars? and Does religion cause terrorism?

    5. Secular means (to me) that no religion is favoured by government and law. That is what I think should be the case.

    I feel sad that christianity is losing ground in the west, but in many places the church has become so slack that it has to go down before things get better. I think “serious proselytizing “ is needed, but that doesn’t mean intrusive and insensitive gospelling, but rather better living as christians – actions speak louder than words!

    6. No I’m not at all saying that those who say they left because of difficulties with the Bible are lying. But we need to be careful about statistics. I have seen figures suggesting that many, many pastors leave because of burnout. So we cannot equate those that leave because of loss of belief with the total number who leave. That’s all I meant.

    7. The church in the west is changing, slowly, inconsistently, but surely. Christians are far less likely than they once were to oppose evolution, believe the Bible is without error, evangelise insensitively, etc, and far more likely to be doing community service of various kinds. Other christians oppose these trends, but I believe they are mistaken, and are in decline. Depending where you live and what you read, you may not see this. I believe God is behind these changes, and more to come!

    Where do you sit on all this? Do your questions indicate your own beliefs, or just questions you are pondering?

    Thanks and best wishes.

  8. Where do you sit on all this? Do your questions indicate your own beliefs, or just questions you are pondering?

    I am pretty ambivalent about it all to tell the truth.
    I was unaware of such things as Christian Fundamentalism for example – or at least much of it – until I began blogging and am quite surprised at the level of what I consider outright ignorance expressed by many of these dyed in the wool hardliners.
    I tagged a few religious related words just to see what came up
    and just randomly worked through the list.

    I was flabbergasted to discover such things as ”chariot wheels on the floor of the red sea” and similar oddities and that some Christians truly believe these things are real.

    My overall impression is that Islam is becoming more militant, especially since 9/11 and having watched a number of Youtube videos of what’s going in in the UK and France etc it doesn’t look too healthy.

    I think that because of such aggression from fanatics is why many people are moving away from religion altogether, especially in parts of Europe.
    I mean, how does a country like England cope with people demanding Sharia Law? These are British citizens, for goodness sake!
    The days of the Church of England being the be all and end all of British life are long gone.
    I imagine the easy going Brits are struggling to cope.
    France is having similar problems from the looks of it but they are pushing back. This is why I believe that non religious secular societies will be inevitable, if only to prevent the demands of radial religious fanatics. I can’t honestly say this would be a bad thing either.
    The States has yet to face similar problems, but it is only a matter of time.
    Personally , I believe the world would be a better place if we were shot of the whole lot.
    Religion has caused little but trouble. Yes, I realise there’s a lot of politics involved, but it’s about time we all exercised a bit of old fashioned common sense and started to behave like ‘grown ups’.
    How long are they going to fight over Israel and Palestine fr example, and who has the right to the land the right god, the right belief? Honestly, its a lot of nonsense. Just sort the darn thing out.
    I realise you are religious and all that probably sounds silly, but really, how much worse off would we all be without religion?

    Faith just divides people and then they end up killing each other.
    And for what?

    They need to find proof of God, Jesus, Mohammed or whatever, once and for all and be done with it.

    Otherwise, chuck it overboard and lets move on. Life is too short.

  9. Hi One Sceptic, thanks for sharing where you’re at. I can understand what you’re thinking, I’ll just comment on a few points.

    My overall impression is that Islam is becoming more militant, especially since 9/11

    I think that is true. But I also think Islam is 600 years younger than christianity and so is still growing to become what it one day will be. The Arabic peoples were colonised or ripped off by the British and others for years – in my youth, Aden, in Yemen, was a major British outpost. They have some good reasons to be resentful to the west, and studies show most terrorism comes from those types of motives, not religion. I think we’ll have to give them a few more generations before we can know how it will all turn out.

    I think that because of such aggression from fanatics is why many people are moving away from religion altogether, especially in parts of Europe.

    I think Europe was moving away from christianity and Christendom long before militant Islam.

    I realise you are religious and all that probably sounds silly, but really, how much worse off would we all be without religion?

    I think we’d be better off without religion, if religion is the stuff people make up to make themselves feel good or support excluding others. But if God exists and Jesus was his agent on earth, then following him is good. I think the problem is too much religion and not enough following Jesus. I would be very worse off without Jesus, both in this life and in the age to come.

  10. “But if God exists and Jesus was his agent on earth, then following him is good. I think the problem is too much religion and not enough following Jesus. I would be very worse off without Jesus, both in this life and in the age to come.”

    If we all followed the teachings of a Jesus then the world would be a far more peaceful, equal and loving place. I love the phrase ‘Red-letter Christians’.

  11. I think we’d be better off without religion, if religion is the stuff people make up to make themselves feel good or support excluding others. But if God exists and Jesus was his agent on earth, then following him is good. I think the problem is too much religion and not enough following Jesus. I would be very worse off without Jesus, both in this life and in the age to come.

    Sorry and all that but it is this type of comment that I am can’t seem to get my head around.

    If we got rid of religion and all followed Jesus what are the Muslims supposed to do? Or the Hindus or Buddhists or any of the other weird and wonderful beliefs?

    How is someone such as yourself ever going to convince a Muslim or Hindu that what you believe is right and what they believe is wrong?

    And we already had a look at the Jesus/God issue and none of the others believe Jesus is god so how would you even begin to tackle this issue?
    And there are a lot of people these days who aren’t even Muslims or whatever who don’t even believe Jesus was a real person never mind God.
    So if you agree that getting rid of religion might be a good thing overall how would you handle the issues surrounding the Muslims etc and their beliefs?

    I mean, why wouldn’t you ditch your religion and follow theirs?

  12. I would be very worse off without Jesus, both in this life and in the age to come

    Sorry, this sentence has been nagging me. I had to come back.
    Just exactly how would you be worse off in this life and especially in the next one? ( how can you be sure there is a next one?)

  13. Hi, I’m sorry if I confused you. My comment was based around my definition of religion as “the stuff people make up to make themselves feel good or support excluding others”. Now that was a pretty rough and ready definition, but I think it is one most atheists could agree with.

    To clarify, I think people are naturally religious (studies appear to show that) but there is no guarantee that the religions they develop are based on truth. That is true, I believe, for christian religion and for all others.

    But I happen to believe the evidence points to God actually existing and revealing himself through Jesus. And I also believe that some of what Jesus taught is quite different to how the christian religion has developed, and how other religions have developed. So I’d be happy to see all the human-made religions disappear or reform, and people just try to follow Jesus. Of course I don’t expect everyone to do that, but that is still what I believe would be best and truthful.

    If I wasn’t following Jesus, there are things I couldn’t have improved about myself and my life, either because I would have believed them or known them, or I wouldn’t have been motivated to do them, or I wouldn’t have had the inner strength to do them. So I am a better person because of Jesus and my life is better.

    I am not sure there is a next life, but I believe in Jesus and he seemed to say there was, so I believe there is. So if I ditched my faith in Jesus, my life in the next world is in jeopardy too.

    Does that explain things?

  14. But I happen to believe the evidence points to God actually existing and revealing himself through Jesus.

    Does this mean you believe Jesus isn’t actually God, but was just a human with a spirit inside of him?
    I thought Christians believed Jesus was the creator of the universe not simply a human.

    Surely, every other religious person firmly believes the same about their own religion? ( but without Jesus of course) and the evidence points to this. Well, as far as they are concerned, I suppose.

    To suggest otherwise would imply followers of Islam or Hindi for example were mentally unbalanced. And that means there are a LOT of unstable, ‘mad’ people out there. An awful lot!
    And while we are on the subject….there are a fair amount of Christians who sound like they are a few sandwiches short of a picnic, also. Those lot that think the chariot wheels story is true for one, and they believe in Jesus, yes?
    What about that creationist bunch who want all that stuff about tame dinosaurs taught in schools?
    And they believe in Jesus. Crikey, do you want those nutters on your team ”following Jesus?”

    And if the situation were so clear then would not Muslims and everyone be following Jesus already?
    And closer to home, why don’t proper Christians, or the hierarchy, tell these other Christian nutters what’s what?

    In the end though, isn’t this just about how you and others see things rather than anything factual? When all said and done it seems to be about interpretation or who has the loudest voice and the biggest stick.

    If this evidence you go on about is the same for everyone why all the fighting and dissent? And how do you know you are right?

  15. Does this mean you believe Jesus isn’t actually God, but was just a human with a spirit inside of him?

    No, I think it isn’t critically important to get our theology “right”, but I accept the standard christian doctrine of the Trinity. It says that Jesus was divine, one of three persons in the “Godhead”, but different to God the Father.

    Surely, every other religious person firmly believes the same about their own religion?

    Most people believe they are right, otherwise I guess they’d change. So the question is, of all the people who think they are right, which belief actually is right. I have made my choice, for what I think are good reasons.

    To suggest otherwise would imply followers of Islam or Hindi for example were mentally unbalanced.

    I wouldn’t suggest that at all.

    And if the situation were so clear then would not Muslims and everyone be following Jesus already? ….. In the end though, isn’t this just about how you and others see things rather than anything factual? ….. If this evidence you go on about is the same for everyone why all the fighting and dissent? And how do you know you are right?

    Like I said, none of us know for absolute certain that we are right about God. We all make our choice. I think I have good reason, so do others. Some of us are mistaken, hopefully some of us are not.

    I think this is just what people are like.

  16. Hi John,

    In Jesus’ day, religious teachers (rabbis) would gather a following of disciples – people who accepted the authority of the teacher and accompanied him and learnt from him. Jesus was a teacher (among other things) and had disciples, so they were “following” him, learning from him and accepting the discipline of that.

    I think it means the same today, except it isn’t physical. I learn from him, I try to understand and follow his teachings and apply them to my life in the 21st century.

    I think there are some differences between this and being part of a christian church. I do that too, but it is the following Jesus that matters to me most.

  17. It says that Jesus was divine, one of three persons in the “Godhead”, but different to God the Father.

    I never understood the Trinity thing. So are you saying that Jesus is not the creator of the universe but his father is?

    Like I said, none of us know for absolute certain that we are right about God. We all make our choice. I think I have good reason, so do others. Some of us are mistaken, hopefully some of us are not.

    If you admit that no one is certain how come you believe you are right?
    What is this evidence you say that makes you think your religion better than Islam and how come so many christians believe differently to you? As I said before, why don’t those in charge put the more odd christian believers right and explain the christian doctrine properly or is this too all about everyone interpreting as they see fit?
    If so, how can this be right? How can anyone know if they are right?
    I mean, they might be genuine in their belief yet they are all wrong.
    Why cant this be sorted out, especially among christians. You all worship Jesus, yes?

  18. I think we’d be better off without religion, if religion is the stuff people make up to make themselves feel good or support excluding others. But if God exists and Jesus was his agent on earth, then following him is good. I think the problem is too much religion and not enough following Jesus. I would be very worse off without Jesus, both in this life and in the age to come.

    What does it mean to follow Jesus? I know there exists these pockets of people who no longer identify as Christian – but instead, Christ Followers – because of the negative connotation of Christianity these days. Does that mean just following the Red-Letters and forgetting the rest of the book that is wrapped around those letters? There would be no red letters were it not for the rest of that book. I don’t have my Red-Letter Bible right here in front of me, but don’t the red letters suggest plucking out offending eyes and chopping off offending hands? Don’t the red letters tell us about heaven and hell? Don’t the red letters include and exclude?

  19. Let me grant for arguments sake there is a creator and that the 20 arguments make a case for such a being. What reason have you to reject that the creator is supremely malevolent, omniscient and all powerful?

  20. @Ruth

    This was precisely my question. I’m completely baffled by the statement, “following Jesus.” What does that mean? What is one actually “following”? It’s doubly confusing because Jesus didn’t say or do anything new or original; nothing that hadn’t been said by numerous people/sages/philosophers before, and in many cases, said much better.

  21. Old Skeptic, I overall agree with you on, but I thought some more perspective is needed on these points. I also believe it will provide you a slightly less dismal view of these affairs.

    My overall impression is that Islam is becoming more militant, especially since 9/11 and having watched a number of Youtube videos of what’s going in in the UK and France etc it doesn’t look too healthy.

    Militancy is difficult to measure, but I doubt the rise has been particular since 9/11 and that it has mostly been a wake-up call for the US (with not so awesome policy resulting) but it was a not inevitable outcome of earlier events and a moral lapse by the perpetrators.

    But the situation in Britain and France is what is particularly underwhelming.

    I think that because of such aggression from fanatics is why many people are moving away from religion altogether, especially in parts of Europe.
    I mean, how does a country like England cope with people demanding Sharia Law? These are British citizens, for goodness sake!
    The days of the Church of England being the be all and end all of British life are long gone.
    I imagine the easy going Brits are struggling to cope.

    Demanding Sharia law may sound very threatening, but the British government isn’t going to permit the lurid pictures of zealous chopping off hands, stoning adulterers and imposing dhimma on kafirs that are painted by xenophobes to turn into reality any time soon. What was the intention to implement was a sort of voluntary religious court for faith communities that was based on Sharia but was strictly limited in the types of punishment it could impose, with any corporal punishment definitely off bounds. Its functioning would be akin to Jewish religious courts. I disagree vehemently with such a system, but there is no doubt that religious law must be allowed to operate in its own sphere to a degree (any organisation has internal rules subject to external checks).

    The Muslim population of the United Kingdom is quite small by the way. It is a under 5% of the total population. There are of course always extremist voices calling for more, but it is difficult to estimate whether the BNP and the EDL pose a more serious problem or Salafists.

    France is having similar problems from the looks of it but they are pushing back. This is why I believe that non religious secular societies will be inevitable, if only to prevent the demands of radial religious fanatics. I can’t honestly say this would be a bad thing either.

    France’s Muslim population is larger at 8% but the majority too is accommodated and non-violent, though anti-Semitic extremists pose a serious problem to France’s large Jewish community. Crime is also an issue, but with a variety of causes.

    Nonetheless, France has no shortage of its indigenous anti-Semites, for example the Front National has a very anti-Semitic pedigree, going back to Action Française. It is hard to see Islam as a bigger problem than the racist Front National.

    Anyway, I think the policy of banning hijab in public spaces is an ill-guided and unethical decision, intruding too much on personal religious freedom. It is in line with prevailing French opinions on the separation of state and church, of course. But it is questionable if it is a good “push-back”.

    Religion has caused little but trouble. Yes, I realise there’s a lot of politics involved, but it’s about time we all exercised a bit of old fashioned common sense and started to behave like ‘grown ups’.

    I think this is too manichaean, religion has also produced valuable cultural frames that allowed philosophy to move on and ultimately spawn science and has provided meaning to billions. Something like that should be appreciable regardless of religion.

    So I hope this deignites some of your concerns.

  22. What reason have you to reject that the creator is supremely malevolent, omniscient and all powerful?

    The evolution of ethics and the contents of our ethics. The group selection of altruism is rather plausible for the evolution of ethics and it is difficult to see how some altruism couldn’t arise with the possibility of the group as a selection unit, unless it was ridiculously disadvantageous compared to egoism. Altruism if cast wide enough is difficult to combine with malevolence, so if there is a malevolent god, why did he allow altruism to evolve? It is a severe setback for the maximalisation of evil, which could be a reason for an evil god to allow human free will. A good god would of course have a good reason to allow altruism to evolve.

    Another reason is that innate human ethics tends to repulse from wantonly evil acts while such a response is absent to apparently good acts. This would be a serious moral lapse for an evil god. The fray of the actual moral complexities lies elsewhere (authoritarianism vs. liberty, for instance).

  23. Hi One Sceptic

    So are you saying that Jesus is not the creator of the universe but his father is?

    The normal christian belief is that (1) the being God is composed of 3 persons – a solid cube being composed of 6 plain figures may be an analogy, and (2) all three of the persons, Father, Son & Spirit were involved in creation. But I think we are talking here about things that are not crucial to my understanding of christianity, and are to a fair degree beyond our comprehension.

    If you admit that no one is certain how come you believe you are right?

    It’s not so much that I believe I am right, but rather that I have looked at the evidence and chosen to believe what seems most likely to be true. My reasons are all over this website, but summarised in Is there a God?, or if you don’t want to read 7 pages, try Why believe?

    why don’t those in charge put the more odd christian believers right and explain the christian doctrine properly or is this too all about everyone interpreting as they see fit? ….. Why cant this be sorted out, especially among christians.

    I’m not sure how you propose to get everyone to agree – people just aren’t like that.

  24. What messages/directives are you following? What I mean here is, what in Jesus’ message/example was unique?

    G’day John. The directives are presented as generalisations or principles in the New Testament – love your enemies, forgive (if you want to be forgiven), care for the poor, love God wholeheartedly, don’t let rules run your life, etc.

    I’m not sure if anyone I know claims that Jesus’ ethical teachings were unique, although he did sharpen some existing ethical principles. But the main point of his mission was elsewhere – beginning the kingdom of God on earth and inviting us to join in. The unique thing (I believe) was in being able to speak with authority about what God was on about, and promise that one day wrongs would be put to right and justice and mercy would win out.

  25. What does it mean to follow Jesus?

    G’day Ruth, thanks for visiting my blog and commenting.

    As I said to John, in Jesus’ day a rabbi or teacher had disciples who learned from him and accepted his teachings and authority, so they were said to be following him. So for me, following Jesus means the same – I accept him as my teacher (and more), I learn from him and I try to follow his teachings. I think this is less like a “religion” than much of christianity has become today.

    Does that mean just following the Red-Letters and forgetting the rest of the book that is wrapped around those letters?

    I believe the New Testament fulfils and replaces the Old. But I believe the whole NT teaches us. Our task as believers is to allow the Spirit of God to show us what is important and how to understand it all. But the teachings and actions of Jesus are the primary source.

    don’t the red letters suggest plucking out offending eyes and chopping off offending hands? Don’t the red letters tell us about heaven and hell? Don’t the red letters include and exclude?

    Yes, they do, but I’m not sure what you are getting at here, I’m sorry. We must understand Jesus in his first century context. The eye and hands things were clearly (I think) figures of speech, Jesus’ teaching on hell wasn’t (I believe) what some christians make it out to be, and exclusion is our choice, not God’s.

    I realise that is brief and simplistic but I need to better understand what you are getting at before I reply further. Thanks.

  26. What reason have you to reject that the creator is supremely malevolent, omniscient and all powerful?

    Hi Makagutu, thanks to you too for visiting and commenting. I always appreciate it.

    IgnorantiaNescia has already given some excellent reasons to reject that idea. I will suggest one other. I am a christian theist, so I think that one of the reasons Jesus came to earth was to reassure us that God is good, even when we may be tempted to think otherwise, and to show how that goodness operated in human life. Once I believe in Jesus, I cannot believe God is evil.

  27. Hi unkleE

    Are you Australian? Which pocket?

    Just so I get this straight: there was nothing original in Jesus’ message, nothing new or revolutionary, nothing to actually rally around as truly innovative, rather simply a call for a new religion focused on a Yhwh who’d undergone a personality change and was no-longer the barbarous killer of the Pentateuch? So, what you mean by “following Jesus” then is simply worshiping this new version of Yhwh?

  28. I think this is too manichaean, religion has also produced valuable cultural frames that allowed philosophy to move on and ultimately spawn science and has provided meaning to billions. Something like that should be appreciable regardless of religion.
    So I hope this deignites some of your concerns.

    Based on what’s happening around the globe you’d have to say that religion is little more than a tool of division.
    No two religions agree, their ultimate goals are not for cooperation but rather to establish a singular religious framework, be that under theocracy or secular democracy.
    Philosophy thrives without religion as does science but your tacit implication that without religion these two fields would not have flourished is really reaching.

    Whereas racial tolerance is increasing religious tolerance is struggling, simply because the dogma cannot be harmonized, no matter how accommodating the various factions appear to be.

    Militancy is difficult to measure, but I doubt the rise has been particular since 9/11 and that it has mostly been a wake-up call for the US (with not so awesome policy resulting) but it was a not inevitable outcome of earlier events and a moral lapse by the perpetrators.

    So the war on terror is what?

    And the war in Afghanistan is …..a weekend bash?

    Er…moral lapse by the perpetrators? Are you serious?

    I’ve said that there is a load of politics involved but at the root religion is still hauled out and waved as the cause.
    Bush did it…Bin Laden did it and every religious militant still does it, whether they are flourishing a holy book, an AK47 or a surface to air missile.

    Do you downplay the religious aspect because you are religious?

  29. It’s not so much that I believe I am right, but rather that I have looked at the evidence and chosen to believe what seems most likely to be true. My reasons are all over this website, but summarised in Is there a God?, or if you don’t want to read 7 pages, try Why believe?

    But this is exactly what every person who follows a different religion believes.
    And a lot of this belief is really what we are all brought up in.
    If your mum and dad were Muslim then chances are you would be, it goes without saying. This is culture.
    Even more so if you were living in a Middle Eastern country or somewhere like Pakistan.
    I was brought up C. of E. and I suppose if I was pushed and had to answer I guess I would say I am still C of E.
    But I wouldn’t say the evidence for my religion is any stronger than
    the Pakistani bloke that owns the shop up the street.
    If you actually aren’t saying that you are definitely right then it’s all about interpretation of what evidence there is.
    And this goes back to what I said somewhere here or on another post.
    If you can’t prove that you’reright ( the same applies to the others too of course) and you all can’t be right, obviously, then you might just all be wrong, and all you are left with is faith.
    I browsed some of your links, thanks, but there’s nothing that convincing for someone who might not know anything about Christianity.

    In truth then, without proper proof, all this religious evidence means pretty much nothing, because if it was good enough then it seems to me that everyone would be a christian.
    Or Muslim or Hindu or whatever religion you can think of and I’d say that without the cultural aspect of bringing kids up in whatever faith their Mums and Dads are then it would soon fade away.
    It was never pushed in our house and I now very much take it or leave it.
    I just look at the news and see all these people going at it hammer and tongs and wonder what for?
    We really would be better off without it.
    I mean, what good does it do, really that you can’t find in a non religious environment.
    I’m not religious and I’m not a bad bloke.
    Really, let’s be honest, no offence meant, but what good is it for?

  30. “Jesus’ teaching on hell wasn’t (I believe) what some christians make it out to be…”

    Are you saying you don’t believe there to be a literal hell, the lake of fire, mentioned in Matt. 25:41?

    “The eye and hands things were clearly (I think) figures of speech…”

    Figures of speech that underlined the importance of following the law which you now believe is null and void. The consequences of not following are being thrown into “hell fire”, are they not? What is hell fire, if not hell fire?

  31. Hi John, I live in Sydney. Where are you from?

    there was nothing original in Jesus’ message, nothing new or revolutionary, nothing to actually rally around as truly innovative

    I think in your attempt to summarise and simplify you have misunderstood what I said. I didn’t say there was nothing original in Jesus’ message, I said I didn’t think his ethics were unique, though he brought some new perspectives. And that’s pretty much what the NT scholars tell us.

    But his teaching was certainly unique, and I pointed to this when I said the main point of his mission was elsewhere – the kingdom of God, the incarnation, speaking with authority about God, inviting us to join in, etc. These things are pretty much unique in world religions as far as I am aware.

    That’s what we rally around.

    So, what you mean by “following Jesus” then is simply worshiping this new version of Yhwh?

    No, not really. It’s what I’ve said before. Accepting his invitation to join the kingdom of God, accepting his role as teacher, healer, suffering servant, Messiah, learning from him (he’s still alive today to teach us!), etc. It’s actually pretty exciting – much more exciting than going to church, sitting in rows and listening to some dude spruiking on – but I understand that if you don’t believe it, it may not seem that way to you.

  32. Hi Ruth

    Are you saying you don’t believe there to be a literal hell, the lake of fire, mentioned in Matt. 25:41?

    I guess it depends on what you mean by “literal”. Matt 25:41 doesn’t mention a lake, that comes in the book of Revelation. Since death is thrown into the lake of fire, the lake clearly isn’t a physical thing, but something else.

    I suggest “fire” is not physical either. The Greek word used by the gospel writers refers to the Hinnom valley outside Jerusalem, where rubbish was burnt up. It seems clear that Jesus was using strong picturesque language, as he often did, to get across an important point. We can forfeit our opportunity for life in the age to come if we’re not careful.

    Figures of speech that underlined the importance of following the law which you now believe is null and void.

    Why do you associate the statements about eye and hand with the OT law? I don’t think it says that in Matthew 5. Rather, it seems to me Jesus is using these (again, exaggerated and picturesque) statements to point out that he expects us to leave the law behind, and move on to living by the spirit, not the letter.

    If you want to know what I believe the NT teaches about hell, check out Hell – what does the Bible say?

  33. That’s a pretty big jump. What did you study, and what do you work at in Brazil? Have you been there long? Whereabouts? How do you like it?

    My brother lives in Brisbane, and two brothers used to live in Canberra, so we move in similar areas – until Brazil!

  34. Bouncing up and down the halls of the Arts, Society and Culture faculty, then into political science. Publishing in Syd. News media here. We’re now between Sao Paulo and Rio which is a relief after 6 years in the ghastly megatropolis SP.

    You? What did you study/where? And how did a good Australian lad fall into Christian apologetics? I’m guessing you get some terribly peculiar looks from people if/when you take this rather fervent belief of yours into public.

  35. You have interesting views on hell. And a million pardons, Matt. 25:41 doesn’t mention a lake of fire, it says “eternal fire that has been prepared for the Devil and his angels,” though I’m not certain there’s much difference. But I guess if you don’t believe in a literal hell, “literal” meaning what “literal” means – without metaphor or allegory, that would soften the blow a bit.

    The sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 is written one whole passage. It wasn’t broken up into little bits like it is in our Bibles. In the context of the entire passage he says that it’s better to go to heaven with only one eye than to go to hell with two just before he says he didn’t come to destroy the law or the prophets. So, yeah, I think they’re related.

  36. Based on what’s happening around the globe you’d have to say that religion is little more than a tool of division.
    No two religions agree, their ultimate goals are not for cooperation but rather to establish a singular religious framework, be that under theocracy or secular democracy.

    Again this is a little too unnuanced in my view. Not all religions forward exclusive truth claims nor is the problem with forwarding exclusive truth claims as such. It matters only if rejection of the truth is regarded as a justification for violence. Plenty of religious believers are quite okay with secular order and few are the fanatics needed for your scenario to be likely.

    Overall I think there is a tad too much assertion in what you write. Not to be rude, but it reminds me of the audacious claims made by the authoritarian xenophobes in Europe.

    Philosophy thrives without religion as does science but your tacit implication that without religion these two fields would not have flourished is really reaching.

    Let’s just say that historians of science agree (see Efron’s essay in Galileo goes to jail) that various religions have played a vital rule in fostering natural philosophy, notably Christianity and Islam aside Greek philosophical traditions.

    Whereas racial tolerance is increasing religious tolerance is struggling, simply because the dogma cannot be harmonized, no matter how accommodating the various factions appear to be.

    The “dogma” of atheism is quite unharmonisable with religious dogma. Are there any particular reasons why this wouldn’t be a problem for atheism?

    It seems dogma is something of a bad word for you, but is there honestly that much wrong with religiously sanctioned opinions?

    So the war on terror is what?

    And the war in Afghanistan is …..a weekend bash?

    Er…moral lapse by the perpetrators? Are you serious?

    I’ve said that there is a load of politics involved but at the root religion is still hauled out and waved as the cause.
    Bush did it…Bin Laden did it and every religious militant still does it, whether they are flourishing a holy book, an AK47 or a surface to air missile.

    Note that I didn’t call it a moral lapse alone, the crucial bit was actually conditioned by earlier events but that those earlier events didn’t absolve the perpetrators of moral responsibility. That is what I wanted to make sure with calling it immoral – I don’t think the context vindicated their attack. I think you may have misread me severely here.

    9/11 was a terrorist attack motivated by religious beliefs, but it took place within the context of earlier neoconservative policies, like supporting the Mujahideen against the Soviets and American presence on the Arabian peninsula, to which some Islamists decided to react perniciously and the attack was preceeded by other terrorist attacks. The neoconservative American reaction to 9/11 was equally not inevitable and really unwise. Religious fundamentalism definitely also plays a role in it.

    But if anything, the Iranian Revolution was the turning point after which Islamism gained credibility. With this I am just pointing out that I am unsure there is any particular evidence for 9/11 being a turning point. 1979 seems more like one.

    Do you downplay the religious aspect because you are religious?

    No, I am Christian but I haven’t downplayed anything aside some claims that took some things out of context (your comments about Sharia and about France). I am merely bringing some necessary nuance based on an actual European’s engagement with Islam in situ. The claim I have downplayed it is a miscontrual.

  37. If we all followed the teachings of a Jesus then the world would be a far more peaceful, equal and loving place.

    Hi Eva, thanks for that endorsement. The problem is, down through history too many people have named the name but not followed.

  38. What did you study/where?

    I studied (well, realistically, I avoided study and just scraped through) Civil Engineering at UNSW, then worked in water engineering, environmental management and policy, mainly rivers and catchments. I also studied theology in my own time and completed a BD degree.

    And how did a good Australian lad fall into Christian apologetics?

    “Good” is pushing things a little! 🙂 I didn’t grow up in a christian family, but I decided I believed in christianity when I was in my mid to late teens, and believing for a reason was important for me, as it still is. So I used to read a bit of philosophy, history, science, etc, and still do.

    I find some people find it useful to have the opportunity to read what I write here, so I keep going.

    I’m guessing you get some terribly peculiar looks from people if/when you take this rather fervent belief of yours into public.

    I smiled at this. Have you read any of this website? If so you will notice I try to carefully distinguish between what are facts or evidence, and what are my opinions. And when I express my opinions, I make it clear I recognise there are other legitimate opinions, which I respect. I don’t browbeat people or disrespect them because they conclude differently to me, though I sometimes express myself more strongly when people distort the facts. This website is freely available to people to visit, but no-one is forced to read anything.

    I worked all my life in secular environments with few christians, and I talked about my beliefs when the subject came up, but not when it didn’t, and my colleagues seemed to respect me. I’m not offended, but curious, what made you think otherwise?

  39. Hi Ruth,

    But I guess if you don’t believe in a literal hell, “literal” meaning what “literal” means – without metaphor or allegory, that would soften the blow a bit.

    This is why I questioned the meaning of “literal”. I believe the fire is a metaphor, but I still believe we all face God’s judgment (albeit it is a gracious judgment).

    The sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 is written one whole passage. It wasn’t broken up into little bits like it is in our Bibles. In the context of the entire passage he says that it’s better to go to heaven with only one eye than to go to hell with two just before he says he didn’t come to destroy the law or the prophets. So, yeah, I think they’re related.

    I don’t think it is one sermon. (1) Matthew’s gospel is structured with several collections of sayings interspersed with narrative. The so-called “sermon” is one of those sections, and I don’t think any of these should be seen as spoken in one sitting or context. (2) When Luke records the same sayings, they are spread out much more.

    Further, when Luke quotes the saying about the law and the prophets (Luke 16:16-17) he makes it clear that while the law & prophets remain, for those who want to stay under them, the more inviting prospect is to leave them behind and join in the good news of the kingdom of God.

  40. @IgnorantiaNescia

    What you seem to be doing here is to try and whitewash religious motives and place it on at least an equal footing alongside politics, greed and self-interest.
    This comes across as disingenuous for without the religious aspect so much of these conflicts would be/ have been non-events.
    Northern Ireland, Palestine, Middle East, Crusades. Even though it is often about land grabs etc, it is the religious foundation that has been the springboard to justify so much of these conflicts.
    Whether you acknowledge it or not, or however you wish to present your view, the two major world religions, Christianity and Islam are proselytizing faiths with one goal. Thus, the more militant aspects will eventually cause confrontation, either through action or reaction.
    The religious world from a demographic perspective is vastly different than even 50 years ago. What will it be like in a 100 years?
    How you perceive this scenario is probably tinged with bias because of your faith, the reality clearly shows a different scenario unfolding. Maybe you are unwilling to acknowledge this as it will bring into question certain motivations of your own faith.
    While I could really not care less if the religious go at it hammer and tongs over their silly religions the collateral damage and the hurt it causes, is what concerns me most.
    Why should I or any non-believer have to put up with this nonsense because the religious are unable to grow up and behave like decent human beings?
    As I mentioned before, we would all be a lot better off without religion.

  41. Hey One Sceptic did you know that the evidence is on IgnorantiaNescia’s side and not on yours?

    People have actually researched the historical evidence and found that no more than about 10% of wars have a significant religious origin. Check out Does religion cause wars?.

    Anti-religious people like to say otherwise but it is always best to get the facts or the best evidence we can.

  42. So? Those 1o% are still religious. I am not arguing the stats but stating that religion is still a major component of the conflict and in many cases is at the foundation of many of these hostilities.

    The examples I listed are such.
    Bush was at least partially motivated by religious considerations. This is fact.

    And religion is most definitely at the root of the Middle East conflict.
    It is in the bible.
    And on that topic are you going to suggest the Canaanite conflict was not solely based on religious considerations; instigated at your god’s command?

    In no way does the survey exonerate the wholly substantiated claims of wars motivated solely by religion or the atrocities perpetrated by various religious factions against each other.

    Do you feel such historical revelation makes religion ”smell sweeter” somehow?

    Remember, you are the ones who believe religion (or at least your own religion) is vital and has a meaningful role to play.

    Why are you not rather looking at solutions instead of merely trying to rubbish ( possibly) exaggerated claims?
    Why, for instance do you not push for a world initiative to solve the Palestine problem?

    Surely this would be the better course of action, rather than meaningless point scoring?

  43. Hey, Unklee.
    This excerpt on Amazon is fascinating and looks at the more subtle yet insidious nature of religious sponsored violence . Even references your study.
    Worth a look even if you will probably disagree.

    http://books.google.co.za/books?id=MF2Oxz3a0XwC&pg=PT171&lpg=PT171&dq=Greg+Austin,+Todd+Kranock+and+Thom+Oommen&source=bl&ots=1y8WczZyM1&sig=iyGhkTWYotutrVLeS_LIKPLYbok&hl=en&sa=X&ei=mewRU-OpGMOQhQf5_oHQBw&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Greg%20Austin%2C%20Todd%20Kranock%20and%20Thom%20Oommen&f=false

  44. And maybe this will cause pause for thought for both you and IgnorantiaNescia?
    I hope so.

    http://religiousatrocities.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/nigeria-islamists-kill-59-pupils-at-boarding-school/#more-9008

    http://religiousatrocities.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/pakistani-couple-stoned-to-death-for-adultery-six-arrested/#more-8975

    Maybe you can find something good about religion in this…I can’t.

    In fact, the whole site might open your eyes a little wider.
    I could not take it for more than a few minutes. Maybe you have a stronger constitution. that I?

    http://religiousatrocities.wordpress.com/page/2/

  45. Surely this would be the better course of action, rather than meaningless point scoring?

    I was surprised at this comment One Sceptic. You raised the matter of the causes of violence when you said: “Based on what’s happening around the globe you’d have to say that religion is little more than a tool of division.” and “without the religious aspect so much of these conflicts would be/ have been non-events”. But when I point out that your accusations are not well based on the evidence, I am supposed to be point-scoring?

    And maybe this will cause pause for thought for both you and IgnorantiaNescia?

    Let’s be very clear here. I strongly oppose religious, or any other, violence. I recognise that many horrible things have been done in the name of religion.

    But to make accusations and draw conclusions requires considering all the evidence, not just a small part. And I have shown you that the experts say that only about 10% of wars have a significant religious cause. That leaves 90% that do not. Similar conclusions have been found regarding terrorism – see Does religion cause terrorism?.

    So you are making a strong case out of the minority of cases and ignoring the majority. Let me illustrate further by two further comments.

    1. You said:

    religion is most definitely at the root of the Middle East conflict.

    That’s what we all might think, but the “War Audit” by Bradford University Peace Studies Department (referenced in Does religion cause wars?) assessed the Arab-Israeli wars as only 2 out of 5 for religious causes. They said these wars were primarily about “nationalism and liberation of territory”.

    2. If you consider the role of atheism in suffering you may find it has a worse record in 100 years than religion does in 2000.

    (i) The Bradford Uni report concluded: “Atheistic totalitarian states (Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China) have perpetrated more mass murder than any state dominated by a religious faith.”

    (ii) Atheist David Ramsay Steele, in his book “Atheism Explained” cautions against the sort of argument you are making, saying:

    “The history of the past one hundred years shows us that atheistic ideologies can sanctify more and bigger atrocities than Christianity or Islam ever did. The casualties inflicted by Communism and National Socialism vastly exceed – many hundredfold – the casualties inflicted by theocracies. In some cases (Mexico in the 1930s, Soviet Russia, and the People’s Republic of China) there has been appalling persecution of theistic belief by politically empowered atheists, exceeding any historical atrocities against unbelievers and heretics.”

    Ultimately, arguments like you are making prove little. We know people of all or no beliefs can do dreadful things, and we should all feel deep shame and concern about this. The War audit found that both atheistic/secular and religious cultures are more likely to go to war if the ideology is subverted by the state, and less likely otherwise.

    We should choose our beliefs based on what we think is the truth. But if you choose to use these arguments, I think you should at least be aware of the evidence. Best wishes.

  46. Once more you have tended to gloss over the issue with quite generalized statements.

    I have read the report and if you take it at face value then there is nothing to dispute.
    Religion as a First Cause as the primary catalyst for war is rare.

    But religion is in there and in so many conflicts is impossible to separate from the politics.
    And this doesn’t address blatant religious violence perpetrated at local level.
    I would be interested in knowing the motivation of the BBC or whoever asked them to commission the study.

    The Middle East conflict has its roots in religion. The Divine Command by your god to liquidate the Canaanites. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous.

    I totally agree that politics is heavily involved but the combatants, be they ”terrorists” or regular soldiers are so often divided along religious lines.

    I doubt there were/are any Protestants on the IRA unklee or any Jews fighting as Mujaheddin.

    It is plain to any who really wish to see that region is divisive and not unifying.
    Its demise will remove at last one barrier to genuine integration and
    further restoration of human dignity.

    I cannot in all honesty understand how you or any religious person can justify it.

  47. I apologize. This seems to have wandered way off topic.
    Feel free to delete anything you consider not relevant.

  48. Hi One Sceptic. I’m not at all worried about wandering off topic.

    But you have made certain statements, I have offered expert conclusions on the topic that contradict your statements, you accept those conclusions, but then continue to make the same argument. I can’t see how that works.

    I’m not really interested in arguing I think the facts speak for themselves. So I will applaud this statement of yours – “Religion as a First Cause as the primary catalyst for war is rare” – and point out that the report actually says it is rare as a significant cause.

    And if you think that religion being a lesser cause of killing than atheism in the last century nevertheless makes it an unacceptable way of life, then I will be surprised at the “logic” of that, but I don’t think I will comment further on that matter.

    But please feel free to continue to comment, on this post or elsewhere, as you wish. Thanks.

  49. Thank you.

    In that case…..

    The bottom line is that religion is ultimately divisive. And those religions that demand proselytizing have never been a force for genuine good as they have always relied on a large measure of force to implement ”their” religion; and in the main are intolerant of other faiths.

    Every religion cannot be right, but they sure can all be wrong.

    Secular humanism is the better alternative all round and has a far greater respect for human life and dignity than religion ever has or will.

    So I ask, once again,

    I cannot in all honesty understand how you or any religious person can justify it?

  50. Hi One Sceptic I wonder if we could clarify your logic here please.

    1. Religion is a significant cause of about 10% 0f wars and terrorism.
    2. Therefore you cannot in all honesty understand how I or any religious person can justify it
    3. Atheistic countries have killed more people than religious countries.
    4. Therefore you cannot in all honesty understand how any atheist person can justify it.

    Is that right?

  51. Atheistic countries have killed more people than religious countries.

    Still playing the numbers game, unklee.
    The ideology behind atheism is not bad.
    Stalin for example was a monster. His atheism was largely incidental to his reign of terror.
    I am an atheist but I have no totalitarian despotic intentions, and neither do you, I’m sure.

    I ask you to read the comment again…carefully.

    The bottom line is that religion is ultimately divisive. And those religions that demand proselytizing have never been a force for genuine good as they have always relied on a large measure of force to implement ”their” religion; and in the main are intolerant of other faiths.

    Every religion cannot be right, but they sure can all be wrong.

    So I ask once more, how can you justify religion as a worldview?
    What is the point of it?
    How can the basic premise of Islam for example be better than secular humanism?

  52. Still playing the numbers game, unklee.

    Hi One Sceptic. Does this comment imply that you have dropped your argument that religion is bad because it was responsible for wars?

    The ideology behind atheism is not bad.

    The ideology behind christianity is not bad.

    The bottom line is that religion is ultimately divisive.

    Studies show that religious believers contribute more to society than do non-believers which is the opposite of being divisive. What studies do you have to show that religion is more divisive than atheism, politics or football teams?

    Every religion cannot be right, but they sure can all be wrong.

    Every non-christian worldview (including atheism) cannot be right, but they sure can all be wrong.

    So I ask once more, how can you justify religion as a worldview?

    So you haven’t offered a single argument that cannot be turned the other way. And the evidence is against you. So let us return to my previous question:

    1. Religion is a significant cause of about 10% 0f wars and terrorism.
    2. Therefore you cannot in all honesty understand how I or any religious person can justify it
    3. Atheistic countries have killed more people than religious countries.
    4. Therefore you cannot in all honesty understand how any atheist person can justify it.

    You have argued for 1 & 2 we have seen that 3 is true according to the evidence. So do you support #4 or do you not?

  53. Your interpretation is somewhat skew, and your bias is inevitably toward Christianity, as you keep including ‘Christian’ in your rebuttal, whereas I am looking at this from a broader religious point of view.

    Much of Europe is moving toward a non religious worldview, irrespective of any other contention, and we do not see genocidal maniacs like Stalin arising.
    Stalin and his ilk were communists first and foremost.
    This you should be prepared to acknowledge.

    The ideology behind Christianity is not bad.

    Wrong! It is bad, as it is based on unverifiable, supernatural phenomena and its history is one of largely enforced compliance.

    Every non-christian worldview (including atheism) cannot be right, but they sure can all be wrong.

    Wrong! A non-religious worldview can be right, especially one such as secular humanism, as its aims are inclusive while respecting individual human rights and does not contain supernatural elements, such as damnation, the need for salvation based on various man-made interpretation of religious texts that are falsely claimed to be divinely inspired.

    Let’s consider:
    The lines do tend to get smudged these days because of so many other factors involved. Politics especially.
    But in days of Yore, atheism was not really a recognized position at all.
    At some point, Medieval Europe was effectively a theocracy and the only dissent came about with the rise of Islam. By then, Judaism was pretty much a non-event in a global sense ( but they were often caught in the middle of the Islam – Christian conflicts) and most of the other fighting was over heresies and pogroms within Christianity itself.

    Even after the reformation it didn’t stop: and this in part was the reason so many fled Europe to the New World where it started again.
    Ostensibly every settler was a Christian or to a lessor extent,Jew.
    The genocidal campaigns against North American Indians, who were regarded as little more than savages, in a similar vein as European settlers in Australia regarded Aborigines as sub human and hunted them for sport, were perpetrated by Christians, exercising supposed Christian values in their Land Grabs with complete disregard for human rights.
    The colonization of North America is a litany of violence and broken promises, mostly by people who regarded themselves as “God fearing, Christians.’
    This is undeniable fact.
    Of course, with most of the world now being settled and in a large part colonialists were Christian and later Muslim, the world as we know it is often ”divided” with religion in mind. The ‘Traditional West” has always been considered Christian.
    Much of Africa and its borders were decided by ‘Christian’ European men using little more than a map and a pencil, with very little thought for the indigenous peoples.
    All done for King and Country…and ‘God’

    So, to conclude: I have acknowledged that religion as a direct cause is an exaggeration, but to merely dismiss the very real negative effects caused by religion, past and present, and how it effects normal society is grossly irresponsible, to say the least.

    Rampant widespread violence perpetrated in the name of religion., physical as well as psychological, is very, very real indeed, especially in the more radical Islamic countries and the fundamentalist Christian areas.

    Secular Humanism is a much better alternative.

  54. Sorry guys, I didn’t see any notification when you guys responded to my comment. I see IgnorantiaNescia has critiqued the thesis of a malevolent god because there is some good going on. I accept the critic as valid but in response to it that leads us to the problem of good and the defence for allowing some good to happen is to create men with free will.

    UnkleE, you make an extravagant claim. There are no gods, yours included- whatever you define god to be- and there is no evidence for the Jesus fellow. To say that once you believe in Jesus you can no longer see god as evil flies even in the face of scripture. There are enough instances in that book where god is recorded to as saying he is the author of both good and evil. Besides it is generally said that god created everything. Why would s/h/it be excused from being evil. And if we are going to excuse such a god from evil, a man who commits evil must be seen separate from the act he has committed.

  55. UnkleE, you make an extravagant claim. There are no gods, yours included- whatever you define god to be- and there is no evidence for the Jesus fellow.

    Hi Makagutu. What criteria would you use to define an “extravagent” claim? After all, there is plenty of evidence and more than 50% of people in the world believe it. Just saying “There are no gods” doesn’t make it so, any more than my saying “There is a God” makes it so. It all depends on the evidence.

    Are you saying you know something about Jesus that almost all of the world’s historical scholars don’t know?

    To say that once you believe in Jesus you can no longer see god as evil flies even in the face of scripture. There are enough instances in that book where god is recorded to as saying he is the author of both good and evil.

    Jesus claimed to be bring a new, and better, understanding of God, in which he is affirmed as being “good”. That is the belief I hold.

    Do you find it somehow shocking that someone can believe in God and in Jesus and in the goodness of God?

  56. So, to conclude: I have acknowledged that religion as a direct cause is an exaggeration, but to merely dismiss the very real negative effects caused by religion, past and present, and how it effects normal society is grossly irresponsible, to say the least.

    Rampant widespread violence perpetrated in the name of religion., physical as well as psychological, is very, very real indeed, especially in the more radical Islamic countries and the fundamentalist Christian areas.

    Hi One Sceptic. You seem to have missed my main point. Let’s see if we can wrap this up shall we? Here is what I am saying.

    1. I don’t “dismiss” the negative actions of religious believers or followers. I agree with everything else you say in this quote and have said so before.

    2. But everything you say about religion can be said about atheism. Atheists have also done evil things – in fact probably worse things and in a shorter time if we believe the experts.

    3. Therefore any argument you make against religion works equally well (or badly) against atheism. You seem unwilling to accept this point, but unable to counter it.

    4. The truth seems to be that people of all beliefs and none can do evil things especially when motivated by personal greed or nationalism.

    5. Therefore using such arguments is pointless and it would be better to move on and talk about what is true.

    What do you say?

  57. Hi Big Picture dudes thanks for visiting and for sharing your website with us. Do you think that this “omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and benevolent” Nature is conscious and purposeful? Do you believe it has a brain? Can it choose freely?

  58. 1. I don’t “dismiss” the negative actions of religious believers or followers. I agree with everything else you say in this quote and have said so before.

    It is important to recognise the distinction between an action committed because of a belief or an action by an individual who merely happens to hold such beliefs but doesn’t act negatively because of them.

    Institutionalized racism, such as Apartheid had the backing of the NKG church in South Africa who cited religious text as justification.
    While a great many people died, christians and other religious adherents included, the government invoked your god as justification for its actions.
    And they truly believed they were right for many many years.

    There are a number of similar examples throughout history and also current.

    A character like Jeffery Dharmer was a monster, but also an atheist ( until he became Christian after conviction)
    He didn’t cite atheism as a reason for the heinous crimes he committed.
    Do you see the difference?

    To cite atheism in his case is to construct a logical fallacy, which would be irresponsible for either religious or non religious.

    His atheism cannot be directly attributed to his crimes but religion can be directly attributed as a contributing factor in the case of Apartheid.

    I hope I am making myself understood because this point is always contentious.

    One cannot get rid of atheism as it is a non-belief – it is like banning non stamp collecting – but one can work towards an environment that does not hold with religious belief, rather moving toward a society that has secular humanist values which are far and above superior to anything religion has to offer.
    And for everyone’s sake, this is a good thing, don’t you think?

  59. It is important to recognise the distinction between an action committed because of a belief or an action by an individual who merely happens to hold such beliefs but doesn’t act negatively because of them.

    Yes this is true but again it works both ways. Some of the worst atrocities committed by communists (e.g. Stalin, Lenin, Hoxha) were done specifically in the name of atheism – I have seen this documented.

    You seem to want to recognise the evil christians have done and the good atheists have done but not the other way round. You are being very selective.

    The studies are clear – religion is a cause of much good in society, and very little of the wars and terrorism it is sometimes accused of. This is well documented, but is a surprise to anyone who simply believes what is written on the internet. Your argument only has credibility if you ignore a lot of documented facts. Why not give it up?

  60. You seem to want to recognise the evil christians have done and the good atheists have done but not the other way round. You are being very selective.

    Once again you seem to think I am only targeting Christians.
    Let me make this perfectly clear. My arguments are against religion, and not even necessarily religious people.
    You must try not to interpret this as an attack on you personally or solely your religion.

    There have been monsters on both sides of the fence, religious and non religious, and I wholly recognise this fact.
    But the non-religious you list have not used non-belief as a reason for the atrocities they have perpetrated. They are/were/ by and large simply tyrants, who were likely insane. Whereas, it can be clearly shown in many cases that religion has, and still is, invoked as a reason for such action.
    I have already identified Apartheid and to a lessor extent slavery. And also the Jihad of certain Muslim groups.

    Even down to sad individuals who claim god spoke to them prior to a murder.
    Even George Bush claimed he was in communication with your god.

    Religion can be a force for good. This is not the issue. But secular humanism is just as powerful a medium without the superstition and nonsense of associated doctrine, which divides family friends and nations.
    And this applies to all religion, so please, once again, I remind you ,don’t take it personally,okay?

    Even if you feel we have reached an impasse regarding definition of the fine print it should be clear of the benefits of a secular humanist society over a religious one even to the point of using a colloquialism, “No contest”

    What possible benefits can religion offer that secular humanism cannot?

    Can you think of any? If so, I will be very interested to hear what they are. Honestly.

  61. I see IgnorantiaNescia has critiqued the thesis of a malevolent god because there is some good going on. I accept the critic as valid but in response to it that leads us to the problem of good and the defence for allowing some good to happen is to create men with free will.

    Hi makagutu,

    I agree with your rebuttal of the argument that “there is some good going on”, but my point was different. It depended on the evolution of altruism causing humans to have a moral intuition that tends towards having meaningful relations with other people and allowing them to have good occur to them, which seems contrary to the agenda of an evil god. My point is not that altruism always has good outcomes (so good cannot be equated with altruism), but that good effects are often likely.

  62. But the non-religious you list have not used non-belief as a reason for the atrocities they have perpetrated.

    One Sceptic, you keep make totally unsupported statement as if they are true. This statement is flat out wrong for the cases I quoted.

    If I dig up the references for you will you finally admit you are wrong about this, or will you still keep arguing? I don’t want to go to the trouble unless it will actually make a difference.

  63. As I stated, interpretation of the fine print is bound to be selective.

    So rather than point score can we agree then, that Secular Humanism as an alternative to all religion is the best alternative?
    If you disagree with this statement please state you reasons.

  64. “Hi Big Picture dudes thanks for visiting and for sharing your website with us. Do you think that this “omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and benevolent” Nature is conscious and purposeful? Do you believe it has a brain? Can it choose freely?”

    Hi unkleE,

    I do not claim to have more knowledge about Nature than science allows. Is Nature “conscious”? It is certainly NOT conscious in the sense that we are, or in any other “magical” or “mystical” sense. Is it “aware” of its own Laws? Well, it is, in the sense that it does not allow anything to break or circumvent these Laws, but I don’t know if you can call that consciousness.

    Is Nature purposeful? Again, not in the sense that we are purposeful. Can science detect any purpose to the world we live in? That’s a question to science.

    Does Nature have a “brain”? Of course not. That’s just ridiculous.

    “Can it choose freely?” Between what and what? If you mean, does Nature have “free-will” – well, I don’t think humans have free-will, or that the concept of free-will has any meaning outside the realm of religious dogma (unless you care to explain how it might). In any case, the answer is no.

  65. Hi, thanks for coming back and replying.

    It seems you have used a few words differently to how I understand them, and I think differently to how they are mostly used.

    For example, I’m not sure how a being can be omniscient if it doesn’t have a brain. Like a computer, it might have information stored in it, but that doesn’t mean it ‘knows’ that information. Knowing what chocolate tastes like is not the same as knowing its chemical composition.

    Likewise I don’t think a non-purposive being could be called benevolent. A rock might be just the right shape to fit in a dry stone wall, but we’d hardly ascribe that convenience to any benevolence on behalf of the stone.

    I’d be happy to define free will (for the purpose of our discussion here) as being able to take a course of action different from that would have occurred if only physical/chemical forces were operating. If a being cannot actually choose in that sense, it is hard to see how it could be benevolent, and even harder to see how it could be said to be omnipotent. I would say it is quite impotent!

    It therefore seems to me that the being you call ‘God’ (= nature) is far, far less able than the God I am talking about. The God I believe in (and the God of most definitions) is powerful not impotent, benevolent not unable to choose, omniscient not simply the unconscious storehouse of information, and truly living and personal.

    You presumably don’t believe in a God of that sort which I’m not going to argue about, but I certainly wouldn’t call your ‘God’ by that name.

    But I certainly appreciate your commenting, as it is interesting to interact with your views, both here and on your website.

  66. “It seems you have used a few words differently to how I understand them, and I think differently to how they are mostly used.

    For example, I’m not sure how a being can be omniscient if it doesn’t have a brain. Like a computer, it might have information stored in it, but that doesn’t mean it ‘knows’ that information. Knowing what chocolate tastes like is not the same as knowing its chemical composition”

    Well, you are presuming that having knowledge (and more importantly, acting on that knowledge) necessitates a brain. But that is demonstrably false. Think of plants. Plants don’t have a brain but they certainly “know” how to react to certain stimuli in their environment (much like we know how to react to stimuli that are relevant to us). For example, they know when the sun is up and how to orient themselves in the direction of the sun. In fact, biologists are constantly discovering some incredible feats plants are capable of that are virtually imperceptible to the naked eye (plants can release chemicals that attract certain insects who can then ward off pests from them, for example). All this is done 100% naturally – without a brain, a nervous system, or even consciousness. Plants simply “store” this knowledge in their DNA, and act upon it. This is all perfectly explicable through evolution and there is nothing supernatural here.

    So to us, “knowing” what chocolate tastes like would be analogous to plants “knowing” what undergoing photosynthesis feels like. Neither of these experiences is more “real” or “true” than the other.

    So there are many different ways one can “know” something and act on it. If you only define knowing something as having a brain that consciously perceives something in a certain manner, the way we do, for example, then you’re just ignoring the reality of how biological beings can “know” something. Just because you “know” what chocolate tastes like doesn’t mean you “know” the essence of chocolate. On the other hand once you expand your understanding of what “knowing” means, I don’t see why the argument we’ve made would be inconceivable.

    “Likewise I don’t think a non-purposive being could be called benevolent.”

    What do you mean a “purposive” being? Is your god purposive? What is his purpose then? You have to define these terms more clearly. A rock may not be benevolent or “good” but a law most certainly can be. Does that mean that laws are purposive beings?

    “I’d be happy to define free will (for the purpose of our discussion here) as being able to take a course of action different from that would have occurred if only physical/chemical forces were operating.”

    Are you saying then that human actions defy the laws of physics and chemistry? If you could demonstrate that you’d win a few Nobel prizes…

    “If a being cannot actually choose in that sense, it is hard to see how it could be benevolent, and even harder to see how it could be said to be omnipotent. I would say it is quite impotent! … It therefore seems to me that the being you call ‘God’ (= nature) is far, far less able than the God I am talking about.”

    What defines omnipotence for you then is defying the laws of physics and chemistry? Anything short of that would be impotence? That’s simply not a very convincing definition. So is a god who can defy the laws of physics but cannot lie more powerful or less powerful then a god who can both defy the laws of physics AND lie? Now you may say that not lying is god’s law and therefore god cannot break it… but that’s exactly what the laws of nature are! If God = Nature then the Laws of Nature are God’s Laws, and therefore God does not break them.

    ” The God I believe in (and the God of most definitions) is powerful not impotent, benevolent not unable to choose, omniscient not simply the unconscious storehouse of information, and truly living and personal.

    You presumably don’t believe in a God of that sort which I’m not going to argue about, but I certainly wouldn’t call your ‘God’ by that name.”

    Well, there are countless things I can imagine and dream up, but very few of these confirm to reality. I can imagine a building that floats on air, but if I were to try and build it I’m pretty sure it would collapse. Why? Because that building simply does not confirm to reality – to the laws that govern our world. The question then is does the god you believe in confirm to reality? Is he real or imaginary? I prefer to focus on those things that confirm to reality, and therefore I define God in those terms.

    Thanks for responding!

  67. Hi BigPictureX, I’m thinking you’re using words differently to I understand them – still and again. A few examples:

    Well, you are presuming that having knowledge (and more importantly, acting on that knowledge) necessitates a brain. But that is demonstrably false. Think of plants. Plants don’t have a brain but they certainly “know” how to react to certain stimuli in their environment (much like we know how to react to stimuli that are relevant to us).

    I don’t think what I said was false, but you certainly haven’t shown it to be ‘demonstrably’ false! And I feel you have distorted the use of the word ‘know’. But I notice you put “know” in inverted commas, so I guess you know your own argument is weak. The plant doesn’t know on any normal sense of the word, it just does it without thinking. If you want to call what a plant does as “knowing” then I guess you should feel free, but it is still a long way short of what humans do when we know, and a longer way short of what I believe God does. And that is the point I was making, and which you haven’t addressed.

    What do you mean a “purposive” being? …. You have to define these terms more clearly.

    I feel you are playing games here. Do you really not know what purposive means? The dictionary definition of purpose (‘an intended or desired result’) seems clear enough to me. A rock can’t think or have an intention or desire, but a human and (I believe) God can because they have brains in which to form an intention.

    Are you saying then that human actions defy the laws of physics and chemistry? If you could demonstrate that you’d win a few Nobel prizes…

    Whether I can demonstrate it or not is avoiding the point. The point was that the being you called God has no ability to form its own intention whereas the being I define as God does.

    I really don’t think we are likely to get anywhere much here. You have defined your God. I haven’t tried to disprove that is the true God. That is why I haven’t responded to your comments about whether the God I believe in conforms to reality. This whole website presents reasons to believe that. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

    I have simply pointed out, on your own statements, that is a feeble God compared even to human beings let alone the God I believe in. (Feeble is not a derogatory term, but a descriptive one. A being that cannot think, cannot form intentions and therefore cannot form benevolent intentions, and doesn’t have free will, cannot be considered very powerful at all – in fact, as I said before, it is impotent, it can do nothing other than be subject to the laws of physics.)

    So I’m not sure why you are disagreeing with me. You provided your definitions, I am just commenting on them. Thanks for the opportunity.

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