The primary reason we each believe what we do

October 14th, 2014 in clues. Tags: , , , , , , ,

I couldn't be an atheist

Benjamin Corey’s Formerly Fundie blog is one I read regularly. Benjamin mostly writes, from a slightly radical perspective, about christianity and church in America.

But his latest blog (Why I Just Couldn’t Be An Atheist, Even If I Wanted To) discussed how he and an atheist friend sometimes discuss their respective beliefs.

I was particularly interested in these comments, which I pretty much agree with (I too often wonder about the first and I think the same about the second):

[sometimes] we engage in mutual self reflection in an attempt to understand how and why we arrived at such different ways of viewing things

For me, the option that nothing existed (no matter) then everything existed (all matter) without there being a creator to cause it all into existence, makes as little sense to me as a God belief makes to them [atheists]. That leaves me with the option that something must have eternally existed (matter or God), and when it comes to that option, believing a creator eternally existed just seems to make more sense (though both options are bit mind boggling.)

I think most readers of this blog would appreciate Benjamin’s post and the manner in which he expresses his ideas.


  1. I love the fact that he and his friend are able to, well, get along with each other and actually discuss big picture issues without devolving into believer/atheist rubbish. Maybe I just spend too much time reading comment sections though.

  2. Yes, I think that is really the only way to do it. But it’s hard when you feel passionate about or committed to something – people saying things that I am sure are so wrong can really get up my nose! So it requires discipline sometimes, but worth it if everyone tries.

  3. I’m firm believer in friendships that transcend worldviews. I find Corey’s blog fascinating . But like me, I suspect he often gets caught in middle: too unbelieving for the believers and too believing for the unbelievers. Atheism fails to satisfy me because things just seem to me to be too well arranged to be the result of chance and accident. But how to think about the Source … well, I think that is quite open to debate.

  4. Yes, I’m sure he cops criticism from both sides, but he mostly aims at fellow (but more conservative) christians.

    Obviously what to think about “the Source” is very open to debate, and so is how to think about it. It really intrigues me how polarised the different views are. It’s no surprise to me that the Pope thinks differently to Richard Dawkins, but even more moderate people find it hard to find any common ground.

    For example, I think the world coming from nothing is nonsense, but most atheists say it doesn’t worry them not to know how it happened. There is an enormous gap at that point and I don’t see any way to cross it.

  5. I note that poster expect their world view to satisfy some emotional need. Some atheists at least are more likely to accept the findings of empirical research whatever they are when forming a world view. They don’t expect this view to necessarily provide emotional support.

    Here is a list of things that atheism and science are telling us about reality which are probably true. Some are supported by the weight of evidence and some are proposed because there is no reliable evidence to the contrary:

    There are no gods.
    There is no afterlife. Death is final.
    The soul does not exist.
    The world is largely deterministic.
    There is no free will in the traditional sense. This means you should reconsider what the term “responsibility” actually means and reconsider the role of punishment and retribution in society.
    Those who escape the law on Earth receive no punishment elsewhere however heinous their crimes. But then the idea of retributive justice is based on a false premise.
    You are just a very complicated self programming biological robot.
    Existence has no discernible overall purpose. On a cosmic scale existence appears completely pointless.
    All life on earth evolved from an original self replicating molecule.
    The amount of suffering involved in the process of natural selection is unimaginably huge.
    Morality, like other human traits, evolves over time.
    There are no absolute, objective or universal moral values.
    Right and wrong are terms relative to the moral code of conduct in use by a particular group at a particular time.
    Atheists have to take on board the idea that only those they have wronged can forgive them.
    Human exceptionalism is just another fantasy. Human beings are just animals. That’s not to say they don’t have unique or more highly developed capabilities, but so do all complex animals.
    The Earth will eventually be destroyed by natural processes.

    Some of these things are difficult to accept even for atheists. You need to be the sort of atheist that does not expect reality to conform to your emotional needs. So it’s not surprising that naturalism and atheism are slow to gain adherents.

  6. Hi Gordon, thanks for that very impressive list. I’d agree with some, disagree with other and have no opinion on others. I’ll make one comment and ask one question.

    “I note that poster expect their world view to satisfy some emotional need.”

    Where do you think he demands this, for I don’t see it. I see him asking which explanation has the greater explanatory power, and he concludes: “Without a belief in God, I just personally can’t make heads or tails of it all.” Then he outlines the logic (not emotion!) of this conclusion, in my second quote – which turns out to be the very old Leibniz cosmological argument.

    “Here is a list of things that atheism and science are telling us about reality which are probably true. Some are supported by the weight of evidence and some are proposed because there is no reliable evidence to the contrary”

    Let us take the statement “There are no Gods.” Can you outline the scientific evidence for this – by which I mean the evidence obtained by the scientific method – the experimental design, the replicated experiments or observations, the statistical analysis, the confidence limits, etc please?


  7. The phraseology Mr Corey uses makes it clear he expects the conclusions he draws to provide some emotional support:

    I Just Couldn’t Be An Atheist, Even If I Wanted To.

    something in my being screams out, “You are not an accident. What you see, did not come about by accident.“

    Then there is his probably false dichotomy: the world was created this way or that way and that way seems to make more sense. The correct position is: I haven’t got a clue what created the universe and I shall not choose a preferred alternative because it makes me feel better.

    There is no proof of the lack of existence of gods. It is just, as I said, there is no reliable evidence to the contrary. The world is just as we would expect if it were an intermediate result in a very long process.

  8. Hi Gordon, I think we are travelling over well-trodden ground, but I think this time you have confused fact with personal opinion.

    “The correct position is: I haven’t got a clue what created the universe and I shall not choose a preferred alternative because it makes me feel better.”

    Surely that is not “The” correct position, but merely your position. His, and my, position is different. We believe that the scientific facts and a logical argument establish that creation by God is the most probable explanation. You have focused on his emotional statement and ignored his logical statement (even though I quoted it).

    “There is no proof of the lack of existence of gods.”

    Yet you said before that this was one of the things “science are telling us about reality”. So was that just an overstatement after all?

    “It is just, as I said, there is no reliable evidence to the contrary.”

    1. For many years there was no evidence of the Higgs boson, but that didn’t mean it didn’t exist. There is still (last time I checked) no reliable evidence of abiogenesis, but I don’t suppose you doubt it happened. I don’t think this is a very good argument!

    2. Benjamin and I believe there is plenty of evidence for God.

    “The world is just as we would expect if it were an intermediate result in a very long process.”

    Yes, I agree. But that says nothing about God. It is, in my opinion, also just the sort of world and inhabitants that could only have originated with God.

    So as always, our opinions differ. I welcome your statement of all the things you believe, but I think the evidence points in a different direction.

  9. Agree with a lot of what you say unkleE and well put.For me God is something pure and in science can be best represented as pure energy(which is stated in the bible as well eg John 1:5 God is light.Though from another level one of the best quotes I have ever come across is “nature is Gods greatest evangelist.” The idea of purity has also been characterised by other religious texts like the Bhagavad Gita eg pure consciousness equals peace of mind and spirit

  10. Hi Ricky, thanks for reading and commenting. I sometimes think of “Let there be light” as the beginning of the big bang.

  11. –The last post: I have given you 10 years.–

    Hello unkleE, as promised, I am finally writing my last post here. I did mention I would come back for just 1 last comment but did not expect it would take so long to do it, and the main reason is that I really did not know where to start, what to write, or even why I wanted to do this. This will be quite long and perhaps not all coherent, from an external point of view, so I apologize for that in advance. It might look like some “pollution” on your blog but I just felt like sharing it somewhere so I decided to do it here. And the ‘why’ will be the first point I want to cover.

    1) Why write here?

    I don’t know you very well unkleE. You are the someone I have interacted with very little over these last 10 years as a casual internet “blogger” (I use quotes since I never had my own blog; never spent nearly as much time as you I suppose doing it). However, I got some great insights from these last conversations with you and so many topics were either directly or indirectly covered. The main point is that you are the friendliest commenter I have seen, but also one of the most annoying, precisely because of this nice attitude. The reason it’s annoying is because you are extremely good at remaining calm and friendly while being really confrontational and confident regarding things you are wrong about. Things that are not opinion-based; things that we ‘know’ are wrong but you just don’t understand. Essentially, I agree with what this commenter called “Bob” wrote in a recent post, but he did it in a very clumsy and aggressive way. I hope I won’t come across as an ‘attacker’ as much as he did, but I honestly don’t have much positive to say beside “you sound really nice and friendly unkleE!”

    The other reason why I write here is because of the name of the blog. You picked the words “Is there a God?” and this is essentially the question I have been asking for 10 years now. I grew up as a Catholic, consider that I was a strong believer in my teenage years, and then slowly drifted away at the turn of my 20s. This is when I started to read online, while running into comments by theists on YouTube ‘science’ videos. Growing up in Québec, Canada, I never had confrontation with religious folks, even though most people self-label themselves as Catholic, simply because Québec is a very secular society where religion is mostly a private affair and people, at least from my experience, don’t get to debate it too much nor do they try to impose their vies on others or force them to stay within the religious tradition they grew up in.

    It was thus a “shock” (not huge…) to read comments online, mostly from Americans or other white males, about how religion says ‘this’ or ‘that’ and how some scientific discoveries are just wrong and contradict their impossible-to-be-wrong religious beliefs (i.e I ran into Creationists…) This clash between a scientific worldview and a more extremist religious anti-science worldview made me realize that the moderate theist that I was… was not really theist, I was an atheist! All of these religious symbols and useful moral doctrines I had been following were forced to be either completely true, or completely symbolic. I couldn’t pick the “religion is completely true” side because, even as a believer, I never thought we needed to take it literally. The problem is that, unlike my fellow moderate theists (Christians mostly obviously), I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that we can stay in this middle ground, between the atheists and the “crazy” fundamentalist conservative theists. It became clear to me that what I thought I believe, well… I did not really believe it. I could no longer self-label myself as a Christian, nor even as a god believer, because all of these ideas that I thought were metaphorical were actually believed by some, and it thus made me realize that I could no more believe them as being true.

    Ok, this was really confusing I think, so let me re-phrase what I just explained differently: what made me realize that I don’t believe in God is the fact that some God believers take their religion literally, from A to Z. I remember being surprised by the realization that other believers really do believe what we were though in religious studies. This in turn made me realize that if I don’t really believe what I believe, and it’s just a symbolic experience, I could not claim that I was an actual believer anymore. Therefore, with some discomfort, I accepted the fact that I was already an atheist. I did not believe that God really exist; I did not believe that we had a soul. I was really far from stating: there is no God. This caused another kind of discomfort as I needed to understand better where that left me. Could I reject religion yet not embrace these “extreme” positions that God is fake, the material world is all there is, and we are all going to disappear forever when we did? Well, now, finally, after 10 years of trying to give “you” a chance, my answer is ‘no’. I cannot reject religion and stay in this middle ground. To me, and this is a purely personal journey, once I realized that I had stopped believing in God, I had already embraced a hard kind of atheism, where I sincerely believe that this is it, there is nothing else to the real world than what we “see”.

    2) What did I learn over these 10 years?

    This is that part that could go on forever, literally! Well no of course… not literally, I couldn’t keep going forever without stopping… And that’s important to clarify to illustrate the first thing I learned when discussing with Theists: the choice of words is really important, but not for both sides of the debate. The people I have interacted with, and that fits you perfectly in this case unkleE, never clarify the words they use even if you ask them to. There is this notion that some things are just “evident”, that it’s just “common sense” and that everyone agrees (with them) even though they can never really explain why. This problem arises from the very beginning of any God-related conversation and that’s why I think it popped into my head as the first thing I would address.

    The best example is the notion that God, the god of the believer we are talking to, is always something really special that deserves some form of “respect” from the beginning. That example was illustrated here on this blog when I mentioned that good old ‘ghosts’ are not much different than the super cool ‘God’ of Christianity that you believe in unkleE. You told me something like ‘don’t you think it’s more complex than simple ghosts claims?’

    (Side note: for the first time EVER I decide to just write, not search, not quote, not review anything, I am just writing, so I may make mistakes in what I quote and will never pretend it’s 100% accurate, but it does not matter, because I don’t claim absolute certainty, but do feel comfortable enough with writing about things I am certain about. So here, for instance, I don’t remember the exact words, but I perfectly remember the context and what unkleE meant)

    So that would be the first thing I learned, and at the same time, the last thing I decided to apply: God is not important.

    Once I am done with this post, this will be a relief. I think this time I can really make a difference. I will stop caring about God. Because God is nothing more than what the believers think God is. Nothing more. Obviously, the obvious contradiction here is that God beliefs are extremely important and that is why I spent so much time reading into this topic, to a point of being somewhat annoying about it.

    So this brings me to a 2nd thing I learned: contradictions are a part of life.

    When theists want to justify the existence of their gods, some will refer to logical arguments and try to draw a hard line from some obvious or non-controversial facts and conclude whatever they wanted to conclude with. There is always a logical flaw somewhere and it always come in the form of a contradiction, or more confusingly, lack of contradiction. By this, I mean that lots of beliefs, facts, statements, ideas, concepts… appear to be contradicting each other sometimes, but they are in fact perfectly compatible. Extremists play on this notion a lot and force their ideas into silos.

    This is an important point because the first thing I learned, God is no important, appears to contradict directly what I will list as the 3rd thing I learned: God is important.

    Atheists on public forums often get asked: if you don’t believe, why do you care? This is probably the most absurd thing I ran into over the past 10 years and it pops up way too often. The level of cognitive dissonance in those who explicitly state such remarks is beyond belief. But here’s what I learned: those who don’t explicitly say such absurdities often agree with them, in part. Moderate believers, which thank God form the majority of western societies, often use this blanket of comfort regarding the non-issue that God is. They think that we should all be happy with whatever beliefs others have and respect their decision. This sounds great of course, but it tends to go too far, and give religion a free pass it does not deserve. Because God is important. Believing in gods affect the way you see a lot of things in life. It affects the way you process reality, it informs your decisions. The least people care about God the better, because they start to look at the real factors, the real people affected by any decision, and start to care more about what’s around them instead of what’s in their head.

    Which nicely fits with the 4th thing I learned: the first consequence of believing “too much” in God is that you cannot be a free thinker. God listens to your thoughts.

    This is something that concerns you directly unkleE, who I am writing to after all… I am not sure where you fall on that spectrum exactly but I think that your biography and the way you express your beliefs point clearly to someone who is not a free thinker. You are a modern open minded Christian who do his best to keep up with the real world and try to believe as many true things as he can. But because you have this false belief in a mind reading God, you can never be really free. No matter what you think about, you believe that your God is watching, listening, paying attention to what you think. Therefore, by definition, you cannot be a free thinker.

    The 5th observation does not appear directly related but I have always wondered if it is: lots of believers are naïves. The more fundamentalists they are, the more naïve they are. The more delusional they are, the more naïve they are.

    The reasons why I am confident about this topic is something I am both proud of, and ashamed of. I mentioned I liked contradictions! So that reason is that I practiced trolling extensively, on and off, over long periods of time. I learned what works, what does not, and how thinkers of all background react to certain attacks on their beliefs, or conversely, how they react in the fact of conversion.

    On 2 separate occasions, I was able to literally convince someone that I had converted to Christianity. It created mixed feelings of pride/success and embarrassment in conning someone so easily. The first guy especially. He wrote back to me saying that his wife and he had cried while reading my “conversion” email. I respectfully replied that I was sorry they took it so literally and would not bother him again. The second one was much longer and intricate; I won’t go into details. Let’s just say it was a great learning experience but again, accompanied by the same annoying remorse that someone was fooled… without apparently learning from their mistake.

    I don’t think the same thing could be done the other way around as easily, and more importantly, the consequences would not be as reveling. This is why these exercises were important. Let me explain more… In both cases, the theist was really happy to hear about my conversion. They both called me “brother” almost instantly while they would insult me as an atheist. It revealed that their view of certain beliefs, with very little knowledge of anything else about me, was really important to them. But it was also such a strong emotional reaction! They both switched tone, adjective used, and even mentioned crying, praying for, rejoicing about this great news.

    The other way around is so different. At least for me and most people I know. There is no emotional reaction if someone tells me they have no religion, or don’t believe in god or ghosts or an afterlife… and if I had an impact on their deconversion, like it happened a few times already actually, I feel worse, not better! Why? Because I don’t want to be seen as that dude who tries to deconvert people from religion. I don’t really care about that. I care more about the new things they might have learned. So that’s what I want to hear about. Of course, I think it’s good news, but it can also lead to cynism and an unjustified rejection of traditions. With greater knowledge, better acceptance of the truth and realization that there is no God to help us, our burden as human beings become bigger. Not smaller; not more comfortable.

    You are not exception I am sure unkleE. I did not get to “troll” you by playing the game of using fake names. I really don’t have the time for that and stopped a long time back already, but I did notice a few clues that make me see why you are naïve. To give just 2 examples, I noticed a pass-by commentator, whose name I forget, who essentially did very little more than insult you but while making some points. You cut the conversation much shorter than you would. To me this is an example of naiveté because you don’t realize that someone like me does not respect your ideas more than he does… but you don’t stop the conversation because I adapted to your style when I realized that you are really smooth and reject confrontation, which is a good thing.

    But this made you lost some subtle meaning in some of my message, and from Terrell too I believe. When discussing the fine-tuning, you did not realize that I was completely sarcastic when I “apologized” for accusing you of misusing “design” = “not chance”. Your ideas on fine tuning are so irrational that you don’t get insults when they are too subtle and written in a polite way. This is not an opinion by the way. I know you are wrong on the fine tuning argument and the only reason why it’s interesting to talk about with you is because it’s fascinating to see the exact errors you commit and how you try to get away with them. As Sean Carroll said in this debate with William Lane Craig, we are not really here to debate, because there is no debate, we are here to explain what science has to offer as best model for the universe, and Craig is here to say why ‘God did it’ fits better today, because of this emotional need for a rationalization of God’s existence as the source, the creator, the 1 thing that does not need explaining because it explains everything else.

    Which leads me to finally list a 6th thing I learned, regarding emotions: both Atheists and Theists have emotional reasons to believe, and you cannot really understand these reasons unless you have your own.

    And boy, did I get my share of own learning this year! This will be the last thing I write by the way. Actually, no. Second to last, I kept one for the end. Anyway, the point is that Theists are often accused of believing for emotional reasons, as I just exemplify above actually. But it’s also true for Atheists, who can have emotional reasons to believe. The point is thus that it’s not more, nor less, likely that the beliefs are true if the believer has emotional ties to the belief. Therefore, what I think is really important here is the influence of strong emotional reactions based on some life events, and how it affects the rest of our lives.

    Let me break this down in 2 parts with some theists examples first and then my own 2014 realizations, which led me to write this last post actually… On the theist sides, we need to recognize that people are not lying. And this relates to a lot of the reasons why I don’t believe in God or any religion. It’s not that I don’t believe the people experienced something; I don’t believe their interpretation of it nor the implications they see. But I insist: I believe them. I believe the people. I believe they are strongly affected by whatever spiritual experience they had. I believe all the writers of the major religionis truly, sincerely believed all this stuff. But we cannot deny that the emotions they felt led them to believe even more strongly. The same happened to me this year with some common examples we hear all the time: people stopped believing in God when a close person dies of unexpected and “unfair” causes. We all heard the stories of a mother who lost a young child and stopped believing out of anger at God…

    So how does it work if you already don’t believe? Well, it gives you a better understanding of 2 things. First, I feel extremely lucky. If there is a God, he surely loves me a lot. My life is fantastic; I have a great wife, a great job, live in an amazing location in a place I love. I get to travel a lot, eat at the finest restaurant, meet awesome people who smile back at me and who I can truly enjoy talking. I could go on… but the sad part is that I also understood how shocking it is when you lose someone close, and the 2 people I am thinking about were not even that close, but I can still imagine better now. If you are curious… while I was coming back from my honeymoon, you know, just to make sure the contrast is as big as possible, I got to learn that a co-worker of mine had passed away. He was not even 30 yet, and as he wrote on his Facebook page, had not even found love yet. He had a sudden tumor behind his eye and was treated late because of some other disease that masked the cancer. More recently, only a couple of weeks back, my friend called me to tell me his daughter had died. She was about to turn 5 years old. At this young age, it was already her 3rd hearth attack and she did not survive this time.

    The thought of these 2 untimely deaths makes me sick. If there were a God, how could such things happen? But I know it’s not a good reason to ask that question. It’s not rational. But now, I understand why people ask it. I understand the frustration, the pain, the incomprehension. How can we say we live in a world designed by a loving omnipotent god when stuff like that happen. And this is not even remotely bad compared to all the lives that are destroyed every minute by some random atrocities, be it human caused or not. This is still not a good reason not to believe in God. There are tons of ways to explain away these things, to rationalize them, etc… I know. I never argued against that in 10 years. However, after giving the believers 10 years to explain to my what they believe and why, it seems even more absurd than ever to believe in any god at all. This world is exactly the way we expect it to be if we start with purely natural processes making human beings evolved into what we are today.

    So that last thing was very simple: I learned that I really like believers, perhaps even more than non-believers. I have seen a lot of cynical thinking among online atheists and do not really feel any kind of attraction towards them. I think they are right. I think religion is ridiculous and any supernatural belief is easily disproven, but I don’t think it’s necessary to be an objectively good person working towards an objectively good world. I love believers, I married to one and I don’t care if she keeps believing in God. Because God is not important.

  12. Hi Hugo, that is an enormous comment! I appreciate your taking the trouble.

    I won’t attempt to address all the issues – I don’t think you expect me to – but I will comment personally. I appreciate the several positive comments. That you think I am “really nice and friendly” and even “the friendliest commenter I have seen” is gratifying. I try, but obviously I don’t always succeed as well as I’d like.

    I am less happy, obviously, with your thought that I am “one of the most annoying, precisely because of this nice attitude” and I don’t really understand this. But I am sorry I have affected you that way.

    I am glad you have got all that off your chest. But where do you go from here? Does “The last post” mean you won’t be posting on my blog any more, or not on any blog? From the sound of your comments, you are not totally happy with your conclusions, is that right? So where do you go from there?

    Thanks again. And best wishes if we part ways.

  13. @Hugo
    I read your long post with interest. I don’t know why I was not bored shitless as I would be with most long rambling posts. I’m not a good enough writer to work out what it is your doing right.

    I write this post because of the alacrity with which you chose to manipulate fellow bloggers even knowing they would be emotionally affected. It’s not something I would ever do. Did you feel the need to justify this to yourself? Or is this your normal approach to your fellows such that it was only their gullibility which evoked any emotional response from you at all?

    I too find unkleE a little annoying but I’ve gotten used to it. I just present the facts or my opinions. I answer any reasonable questions if it’s not too much trouble. If I get no positive response I just move on ignoring the annoying irrationality/wishful thinking.

  14. Hi unkleE,

    The main point is that I am done discussing the topic of God’s existence and religion in general. What it implies is that I am also done with online discussions completely but, at the same time, there are some clarifications that can be interesting to share I guess, so I will not simply ignore your questions!

    I am glad you took the long comment mostly positively, it seems, as it could be seen as quite harsh. What I find particularly interesting is this sentence:
    I am less happy, obviously, with your thought that I am “one of the most annoying, precisely because of this nice attitude” and I don’t really understand this. But I am sorry I have affected you that way.

    Obviously, I understand that you are not happy about it; sorry again for labeling you as annoying… but, as you said, you did not understand completely what I meant. It’s made obvious by the fact that you said you were ‘sorry for affecting me’. But you did not; not at all. Have you ever watched a debate with people like Ray Comfort or more recently Ken Ham with Bill Nye? That’s the type of “annoying” I am talking about. Don’t take me wrong though. I don’t think you are delusional like them, but you do share something with them. It relates to your dogmatic views on certain topics and the inability to correct them when it takes more than a few sentences.

    The fine-tuning argument was the best example ever. It’s fallacious but you don’t see why, for reasons I now completely understand, but are difficult to explain. That’s what’s really annoying because, on your end, you make it seem as if it’s just your opinion versus someone else’s. But it’s not! And I did mention the debate between Carroll and Craig in my last post because it was a fantastic representation of what happened when I discussed it with you. By the way, I say it was a ‘fantastic’ representation and I mean it. Why? Because I watched the debate AFTER having discussed the topic with you! I was amazed by how similar, actually identical, your arguments were to Craig’s and how similar mine were to Carroll’s… but they were not exactly the same. Because that’s what’s different when you are a free thinker; you can think for yourself and experiment with your own thoughts to come up with rational deductions and beliefs, as a consequence.

    On the other hand, I think you are very “lazy” when you discuss arguments, and that’s, again, what I find annoying. But don’t take me wrong, again… I don’t mean that you are literally lazy. Quite the opposite! I think you are devoted to your online presence, way way more than the average reader, and way more than the average blogger. Yours is so much prettier, better organized and better documented than pretty much any other blog I have seen! So you are not lazy regarding the effort, time and quality… but you are intellectually lazy when discussing God, or Christianity in general in your case. And that’s 1 of the many reasons why I am done discussing these topics with you, or anyone else. You guys are not able to keep going on arguments based on solid objective principles we agreed on. Before your blog, the last place I attempted this was at Dangerous Idea. Did you see what happened? Almost no one tried to explain what/why they believe, or gave the most absurd reasons that even themselves cannot possibly accept as basis for their beliefs. Plus, when some conversations get more technical and obviously ‘not’ in their favor, people keep quiet… See this thread for instance:

    Where are the “cool” kids of Dangerous Idea? Where’s Dr. Reper’s opinion on Mary’s room thought experiment? Where is the acknowledgement by Graham from Saints and Sceptics that he got it all wrong? Where is the conclusion that Mary’s room is actually a fantastic example of why subjective qualia can be explained by the physical world? It’s not an easy topic, even for advanced philosophers, but the ball falls in the ‘Materialist’ camp much more often than it does in the other… but people are lazy. They don’t discuss these things at length. They prefer to attack Atheists for the “evil” things they see them do or the “stupid” comment they post. Look at how much attention papalinton, an admitted copy-cat, got… now compare that to my more serious comments… or look at my own “silly” comments, which I did make there on a few occasions. They got more attention than the serious ones. Because people are lazy!

    And obviously, this is just 1 example out of so many over the years… Let me give 1 more because you might know who I am talking about. It’s something weird that happened on Martin’s blog, Rocket Philosophy. You might know him from Dangerous Idea because he comments there too once in a while. Martin and I had really interesting discussions and, on his blog, we focused on 3 specific Tomistic arguments. The outcome of the 3 discussions was amazing. The first one simply stopped when Martin got bored; fair enough, agree to disagree. The second one ended with him conceding that he had badly phrased the argument so it was wrong, oh but of course the idea was still correct according to him, anyway… Finally, the 3rd one finished with him calling me an irrational person, proven to be irrational based on my comments. I was led by me emotional appeal that I don’t want God to exist; what non-sense! But then, I pointed out, reluctantly to be honest, that I went to a great school, got some good scores on placement tests such as the GMAT, and use critical thinking all the time at work, so I doubt that I am completely irrational… maybe we just disagreed on some things and I did not think he was irrational himself. His response? He deleted everything I had ever written on his blog, put moderation back on, and went on saying I had polluted his blog with non-thinkery, not only on his blog but also on at least 2 others… How ridiculous is that? How can someone think they are right and then go on to remove evidence that they were right? And it’s not like his blog was full of comments, no one else ever commented there…

    Ok so, as usual, I write too much… and that will help me complete my answers to your question. My last post really meant that I am done completely, because I am kind of addicted to this non-sense of writing online. See what I am doing now… writing while being at work… what a waste of time… but it’s fun 🙂 Therefore, unlike what you wrote, I am totally happy with my conclusions; I am just not happy with the fact that I can’t let go easily. I kept delaying the “last post” because it will create a void, and I wrote back again because I gave myself the excuse that I did not specify if I was completely done, just that I was done with the God question… but that’s rubbish. Over the past 10 years, I told myself several times that I need to stop this. Completely.

    Feel free to ask more questions though; I won’t get into debating arguments but if you are interested in something else, I am more than happy to give myself more excuses to write online a bit more 😉

    Finally, I will move on to GordonHide’s questions because they are quite interesting, and I had never really thought about that. And I certainly never discussed that because it’s one of the few times I admitted doing such trolling in the past!

  15. @GordonHide

    Thanks a lot for your comment. I am glad you liked the way I wrote, even if it was really long… I wish I also knew what works or not as I am not a writer at all!

    To answer your questions, the most recent ‘manipulations’ happened around 1 year ago, and the ‘fake conversions’ even much longer ago, maybe 6-7 years ago already. There was plenty of justifications, both good and bad, but also some remorse as I said, so no, it was not just a casual thing I would do without knowing anything about the consequences. The first one especially, with that guy who told me his wife and him cried, was mostly unintentional. I thought he would not believe me because I had been super vague. Actually, let me explain what happened a bit more, I think it’s interesting so you might think it is too, and might understand what I was doing…

    So the guy I had exchanged a few emails with told me that if I only tried to pray, surrender myself to God and try to give it a shot, I might just feel something so strong that I would believe. Well, I decided to give it a shot, but in reality I had tried many times before. And I also experienced under the influence of cannabis, which enhances spiritual experiences in my opinion. What happened, and this is true, is that I said a prayer out loud, really focused my attention on what I was experiencing and got a lot of weird feelings. I really felt like I may not make it to the end of the prayer, because it’s as if I was scared of what would happen when I reach the end. I was afraid something would happen and I would be proven wrong. Obviously, nothing happened, I finished my prayer, kept focusing on my thought, but eventually just went back to normal. I wrote just that to this believer except that I changed the end just a little. Instead of saying ‘obviously nothing happened’, I told him, ‘thank you, now I am fixed’. The intention was to mislead him; I fully admit. But I never thought he would take it so literally! To me, this is was the first glimpse into a naïve believer’s mind. I was shocked by how irrational he needed to be to think that 3-4 email exchange and a prayer would literally convert me to Christianity. But that’s how these people think! They really are that “lazy” and simple minded. He never even considered that my conclusion was not what he expected. The fact that I had fuzzy feelings led him to think that I concluded that God exists and I would now be his “brother” in Christ. Again, I was not lying about the fuzzy feelings but… nothing happened. So I was “fixed”, once more, since I had given one more shot at a spiritual experience but got nothing godly out of it. Just my mind having fun with the real world it lives in.

    The next 2 people I “conned” over the years were very different. In both cases, it was mostly out of rage for these people. And again, I am not really proud of that… They just pissed me off so much with their repeated insults, while I was trying to remain civil, that told myself “fuck it, I am going to play with these guys”, pardon my language… So in the first case, I faked the exact same conversion story as above. And it worked again! I pretended to be a convert for a few weeks, asking questions on how I could try to “save” my Hindu girlfriend (now wife…) He reacted pretty well to the news that I had fooled him and I actually ended up conversing with him many years after that. Unfortunately, he passed away recently… and this is actually 1 more thing that’s on my list on reasons to stop, after 10 years. He was one of the first people I interacted with, and now that he is gone, I see some symbolic meaning here, telling me it’s time to move on.

    The 3rd and last one was different. I did not pretend to have converted; I simply used a lot of different pseudo to talk to him even after he banned me. The goals here were completely different. First, it was a simple way to keep arguing the points I thought he got wrong, using different writing styles and made-up personalities, to see how he reacted to them. I learned, for example, that if I pretended to be a Christian, but presented the exact same argument as an Atheist, he would actually engage a lot more and leave with a polite ‘let’s agree to disagree’, but the Atheist characters would get banned super quickly, even without any provocation. He just likes to “rule” his blog with an iron fist. Going back a bit though, the main reason why I got really annoyed at this guy is because he attacked me personally. After being banned the first time from his blog, I decided to write back, using my personal email, to try to understand why he was so strongly opposed to continue discussing our diverging views. I was as polite as possible as I recall while he never changed his tone. I remember clearly this example: he claims that Atheists cannot be trusted because we cannot know what they believe. So I asked him, what if my girlfriend and I were standing in front of you, what would you think? You cannot know what she believes more than I do, but she does believe in god, so what’s so different? His answer: if I were in front of you, I would check my wallet to make sure it was not stolen… There were tons of examples like this over the years, and it became kind of psychological experiment where I played with him a lot. I got banned no less than 15 times I believe, including 4 times with my own pseudo of ‘Hugo’. Because that’s how irrational this person is; he claims to be decisive, bans people, but let them back in when his blog becomes too quiet… only to ban them again when there are too much disagreement! Fascinating. Anyway, again, I think I have been rambling long enough about all of that…

    So the bottom line is this: no, this is not my normal approach at all. This is not something I do in person, ever, and never will. This is some fantasy that the interwebs allow because of our semi-anonymity.

  16. Hi Hugo,

    I am again pleased that you make favourable comments about my website (thanks) but it is still a mystery to me why you are annoyed. You think I am obstinately dogmatic about things that are obviously wrong. But I think you are wrong, even if I’d express it a little differently. There’s nothing unusual in that. We disagree with each other – it happens. If I notice that a conversation is not going anywhere productive and I and the other person seem to be in definite disagreement, I think it is probably time to ease out instead of increasing our mutual frustration. That seems to have happened to you and I.

    All the best.

  17. And there you go, doing it again! 😀 Exactly what I wrote: you pretend that it’s just a question of ‘opinion’ while holding certain beliefs that are demonstrably false. You refuse to let these beliefs go, even if it has absolutely no bearing on the rest of your worldview. I gave the example of fine tuning; you used it again in your recent post, emphasizing on it in the comment section… Plus you say you don’t understand what I find annoying, but at the same time correctly express precisely what I find annoying: “You think I am obstinately dogmatic about things that are obviously wrong.” So you do understand what I find annoying; you stated it correctly! Isn’t that… annoying… isn’t it annoying to be told by someone both ‘I don’t understand’ and ‘I understand’ in the same paragraph?

    So no, it’s not a case of, let’s agree to disagree to prevent increasing frustration. I am not frustrated. Calling you ‘annoying’ does not automatically mean I feel bad/angry/frustrated. It actually barely makes me ‘feel’ anything, not even ‘annoyed’. Perhaps I choose my words poorly but I think there is a difference between pointing out that something/someone is annoying and felling annoyed… That’s why I gave the creationists example. Google “Crocoduck”, or go directly on YouTube, or just recall what that is in case you already know, which is quite likely… Aren’t Cameron and Comfort annoying when they discuss evolution?

    To be fair, or actually I should say: ‘I do concede that I am not being fair’, I understand that my “request”, if we can call this a request, is not something you can fulfill. You cannot suddenly tell me that you agree that your opinion was wrong, and that the topics we disagreed on really are true facts you reject. That would imply you are lying and purposely rejecting something you know is true. It is not the case obviously! But it’s yet another way to express what’s annoying: it’s what we usually call willful ignorance.

    Again, just 1 example, the only one I used to try to conclude this blog exchange: fine tuning. You had this super long discussion on another blog you linked to, I forgot its name… and here with me, and Terrell, and I am sure many others. You have the William Lane Craig – Sean Carroll debate, you even have Luke Barnes, your “hero”, not agreeing completely with your own theistic conclusions. Yet, you think that this is all still just a question of ‘opinion’. You are genuinely not interested in understanding ‘why’ people say Craig’s arguments are wrong. Instead, you fight back, explain why you disagree, and quote people who agree with you. But it’s ‘ok’, let’s just smile and conclude that ‘we agree to disagree on what we agree on’ before we get more “frustrated”. That’s how I go through ‘real’ life so it works well 😉

  18. Hi Hugo, I don’t think there’s a lot of point going round this cycle much longer so I will be brief.

    You find me annoying because I am dogmatic about “beliefs that are demonstrably false” Yet I don’t think I have ever made such a dogmatic statement about your beliefs! I believe what I believe because I think it is most likely true, and therefore that in my opinion you are most likely mistaken.

    I have never seen anywhere that shows my beliefs to be demonstrably false, and I don’t believe that is possible. We have scientific evidence and we have conclusions that, at best, are probably right or probably wrong.

    So we disagree about what is probably right and wrong. If you find that annoying, you may be right to withdraw from these discussions as you indicated you were doing, because human disagreement seems inevitable..

    I’ll leave it at that and wish you the best.

  19. Strange, I don’t see a cycle, I only see you writing comments after comments with at least 1 obviously wrong thing… not always the same… In this last comment in particular, there are couple that are so weird I wonder if you wrote too quickly!

    You find me annoying because I am dogmatic about “beliefs that are demonstrably false” Yet I don’t think I have ever made such a dogmatic statement about your beliefs!
    Why would this be relevant? What you say about ‘my’ beliefs has nothing to do regarding whether or not yours are accurate. Plus, I don’t even know which of my beliefs you would talk about! We covered a very narrow set of topics here on this blog, so you know very little about what I believe and why. Most of the exchanges were me pointing out what ‘you’ got wrong, either in my opinion or factually wrong. Remember, you’re the one with the blog and years of public posts/comments I can go through… so even if we have back-and-forth conversations, it’s not really 2-way.

    I believe what I believe because I think it is most likely true, and therefore that in my opinion you are most likely mistaken.
    Right. That’s what I said in my last post. I don’t expect you to suddenly agree with me. However…

    I have never seen anywhere that shows my beliefs to be demonstrably false, and I don’t believe that is possible.
    You don’t believe it’s even ‘possible’ for ‘any’ of your belief to be demonstrably false!? This is the very definition of being dogmatic… at least list something as an example; it’s not possible to prove you wrong on your belief that the Earth is round, I would agree with that. But what was that sentence supposed to mean? Because yes, it’s completely possible that you hold demonstrably false beliefs, and there is at least 1 example, you know which one…

    We have scientific evidence and we have conclusions that, at best, are probably right or probably wrong.
    But when the level of probability is close enough to 100%, the rational conclusion is that it’s not just probable, it’s certain, or as close as possible to being certain. Ironically, this is precisely the argument you make regarding the fine-tuning of the Universe. It’s so ‘improbable it was caused by chance’ that you conclude that it’s ‘almost impossible’; and the opposite, design, is thus much more probable, enough to conclude that you “KNOW” that only God can explain the universe.

    So we disagree about what is probably right and wrong.
    No. I won’t even grant you that much. We disagree on what we disagree on…

    If you find that annoying, you may be right to withdraw from these discussions as you indicated you were doing, because human disagreement seems inevitable.
    That is ‘not’ one of the reasons why I am done with such discussions. I love to discuss when there are disagreements. I ACTUALLY PREFER THAT! That’s just crazy… after all these posts… I guess I would need to write a freaking book to make you understand why I am giving up on writing online, if I can just get to close the loop on these last entries. Hilarious!

    Anyway, I feel like I am less and less polite as I find it tedious to remain politically correct when having to point out to so many mistakes. Look how crazy long my posts end up because it’s so much longer to correct 1 sentence than to write it… It’s always interesting to do, too much actually, so let me take a break to remind you that I do enjoy this, I think you are a great guy and I am not even slightly affected negatively by any of this. I am simply due for a re-organization of my life priorities and in need of a complete cure from all this online time suck, on a topic I have come to conclude is not important to discuss so much.

    I did the last post, and failed at really making it the last… below will be the last paragraph… for real! I promise! You will either completely disagree with everything I wrote, and that’s fine, I will not correct you again, or you will fix some of your mistakes, and that’s fine, I don’t care nor expect you to. It will be hard to not come back and continue but that’s ‘ok’, I will survive 😉 But this last point is the only one I have been insisting on. Here’s the 1 belief you have which is demonstrably false. And it’s quite easy to find quotes that show is 1 wrong belief.
    If you want to ignore the rest of my rambling; just read what comes after.
    Here it is:

    If it could have been different, it could either have been designed or not designed (=by chance). Not being able to understand cosmology has nothing to do with it. It is understanding logic and the absolute certainty that A and ~A exhaust the possibilities of anything.

    Your belief ‘not designed = by chance’ lacks intellectual rigor and is demonstrably false. If something is ~A, not chance, then it is B, designed, because B = ~A. But each word ‘design’ and ‘chance’ have specific definitions, which are almost direct opposite yes, but not quite. You cleverly try to sound not too dogmatic about it by agreeing that certain things are a mixture of both design and chance, which directly contradict your own idea, but also by claiming that you are not looking for an ‘impossible’ A, just a ‘very unlikely’ A. This leads you to wrongly conclude that the fine tuning of the universe, unlikely to be purely caused by chance, supports the belief that it was intelligently designed. This is intellectual laziness where ‘good enough’ supports beliefs regarding the extremely complex origin of the universe. But it does not end at fine tuning. In my opinion, (yes, I could be wrong) this belief that ‘not chance = design’ is deeply entrenched in your worldview, with bad consequences regarding analogous topics. It leads you to believe that tons of people reporting miracles is evidence that miracles really do happen (instead of natural explanations), you believe that people who have strong spiritual experiences are justified in believing they literally experience God (instead of people changing on their own), you believe that not having a solid material/physical explanation for how consciousness works is evidence that consciousness is non-material, non-physical instead of modestly, and correctly, stopping at ‘we don’t have an explanation; we don’t know.’

    All the best, take care Eric.
    — Hugo

  20. Hi Hugo, there is too much there to engage with, and you say you want to avoid these discussions, so I will make just two comments:

    1. My comment on dogmatism wasn’t in any related to your beliefs. You said you were annoyed at my dogmatism, but I observe that you have made far more dogmatic comments than I have in this discussion, and I gave just one example. If you don’t like dogmatism, why do you make dogmatic statements?

    2. If the statement “not design = by chance” is demonstrably false, please demonstrate it! Or better still, give an example that shows it is wrong. I don’t think you can. Until you do, I can modify my statement to “the only three possibilities anyone in this discussion has suggested are chance, necessity or design” and the argument still works.

    I appreciate your explanations and your good wishes. Thanks.

  21. @unkleE

    If the statement “not design = by chance” is demonstrably false, please demonstrate it!

    Things that are not made by human beings are the result of processes dependent on the properties of matter and energy. Wherever there is an entropy imbalance physical processes operate. These processes sometimes produce what looks like design.

    And in any case it is you who is making the positive claim that there is a simple dichotomy between chance and design equivalent to A and ~A. So it is you who must provide the evidence.

  22. Hi Gordon,

    I agree with your first paragraph, though I’m sorry I don’t see how it bears on the questions being discussed.

    I make the claim based on the definitions of the words, and by the fact that, despite repeated requests, no-one has been able to offer a fourth option to add to chance, necessity and design.

  23. Well unkleE… you certainly know how to push my buttons. You acknowledge that I am trying to stop and know that I am struggling to completely close the conversation, yet you… (1) reply with a question, (2) call my comments dogmatic, (3) ask me to demonstrate something, (4) ask me to give an example, (5) claim I can’t, and finally, (6) lie to Gordon by saying: no-one has been able to offer a fourth option to add to chance, necessity and design, when we discussed this at great length here. Just 2 short quotes:

    In logic, even the dichotomy true/false is not a real logical choice; true and non-true is the correct version, the only real dichotomy. This means that if you prove something to be ‘non-true’, you have not necessarily proven it to be ‘false’ yet, as there is, logically, a possibility for the statement to be absurd, have no answer, or impossible to prove. The example “This statement is false” is used to explain this principle; the statement being neither true nor false. It is both ‘non-true’ and ‘non-false’ as neither possibility can be justified.
    “It is the same here. There is only one true answer, but whichever one turns out to be true doesn’t make the statement “Either chance, necessity or design” false.”
    Yes, it is the same here. It’s either chance, necessity, design… or something else.
    – You have not justified why it has to be design if it’s not chance nor necessity.
    – You have not explained what ‘design’ really means in this context; see Terrell’s comments.
    – Regardless of your request, it is not up to me to give you a 4th option to justify why ‘something else’ is still possible, logically.

    …and examples of “4th” options anyway…

    An undirected process such as natural selection is an example of something that yields non-chance non-designed objects. Take birds and bats for example. They could have been different, they were not designed, they evolved, but the fact that they have wings is not by chance, it’s a case of convergent evolution. What were the odds that a mammal would 1 day start to fly? They are extremely low if it were only by chance; you need so many small genetic modifications from early mammals to fully flying bats.

    There are also examples of things that happen by chance and were clearly designed. Humans create machine that yield random outputs all the time, yet we still clearly identify these object as being both the product of chance and design. It could be the object itself showing some random feature, random colors but a familiar shape for example, or some lottery machines where the machine itself is designed but the outcome, its behavior, is random.

    That’s the only point I will still comment on, because it’s a logical error and I honestly think there is some room for learning. You understand logic and the absolute certainty that A and ~A exhaust the possibilities of anything. You also agree that Evolution is a mixed process of both random events and design through natural selection. (Your words actually.) But you make the mistake of asking what the ‘natural selection’ equivalent would be in the case of the fine-tuning or the universe. Because we don’t have an answer, you conclude that non-natural intentional design has to be the explanation. For still no other reason than ‘it looks very unlikely to be by chance alone.’

    This pushes the analogy too far. The point is that evolution shows perfectly why chance and design are not logical opposites. The analogy shows how ‘natural design’ can be confused with ‘non-natural design’ when something that clearly was not the product of chance (life) was not necessarily the product of ‘non-natural design’, or, as we usually call it… ‘design’. Because let’s be honest here; you argue that no natural process could make the universe appear designed like that… For the longest time, humans didn’t know what that ‘natural design’, or evolution by natural selection, was. But in biology, it didn’t make the argument in favor of design any stronger, even if everyone could tell that life was not purely the product of chance.

    A creationist and a non-creationist might have had the same conversation, before evolution was accepted, or even today… The creationist would claim that life clearly was not the product of chance. The skeptic, non-creationist, would agree. The creationist would then claim that it must have been designed. The skeptic would only agree that there must be an explanation, but design is not justified yet.

  24. Hi Hugo,

    You don’t want to continue, I don’t want to push your buttons, and I don’t really want to converse with someone who calls me a liar without good reason (since I don’t believe I lied and you have not shown that I did).

    So let’s terminate this discussion before anything worse gets said. Thanks for your time.

  25. Hi,

    You were caught lying. Deal with it. Rational human beings simply say it was not on purpose at least!

    When I say I am completely done, you ask questions, make demands, pretend to understand the point and comment on it.
    When I say I am done but will stick around for 1 thing. ONE. Oh now you prefer to shut down the conversation yourself.

    No thanks for your time. You wrongly believe that ‘Not chance’ = ‘Design’ even if you were proven wrong by 3 different people. You are wasting it on false beliefs and false open mindedness. As Gordon said, it is you who is making the positive claim that there is a simple dichotomy between chance and design equivalent to A and ~A. So it is you who must provide the evidence. But you choose to walk away and will surely keep using that irrational belief to support others.

    And please, no need to say ‘I am sorry you feel this way Hugo’. You make me laugh and confirm what I believe to be likely true day after day; I feel great about all this. As I said before, I am the one who feels bad when seeing someone so nice being grossly mistaken.

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