Pharyngula

August Berkshire in the news

August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists gave a talk at Northwestern College, one of our regional evangelical Christian colleges, and the Star Tribune has a story about it. He gave the students a list of very poor religious rationalizations—it’s a strange and interesting story, and a little sad, since the students don’t seem to have learned anything at all.

There are also peculiar little twists to everything that reflect how blinkered people can be. Berkshire was invited by the instructor in a theology class, and look how unaware this guy is:

Johnson told the group that his association with Berkshire began when a student went to a debate at the University of Minnesota and brought him Berkshire’s card. “I had a strong urge to call him up and tell him to leave my student alone,” Johnson said. “But I was curious, too — I’d never really rubbed shoulders with an atheist.

Isn’t that odd? The student had gone to a debate and met Berkshire, and the instructor’s first thought is to tell the atheist to leave the poor kid alone. And then for a theology teacher to have never met an atheist…these people are all hothouse flowers, aren’t they? They get brought up in avoidance of anything that might challenge their delicate beliefs.

He shouldn’t have worried. There’s a series of student responses at the end of the article, and it’s clear that they have all developed very strong denial mechanisms, and not a word sunk in.

“I appreciated that he was very approachable, not hostile,” said Andrew Olson, 20, of Long Prairie, after class. “I was curious about his motivations, though. Why was he here? I felt like he came to try to convince us there is no God, even though he said he hadn’t.

Yeah, and like he didn’t have fangs and claws or anything. I thought the article clearly laid out why he was there: the instructor invited him, and as usual, August laid out his case quite clearly:

Berkshire told the students he wasn’t trying to talk them out of their beliefs. “I don’t care if you accept my arguments or not,” he said. “I just want to show you that yours are based on faith, not reason. And that’s OK, as long as you don’t try to force them on me or our government.”

Pay attention, take better notes, and think, kid.

“I wanted to ask him more about the Bible, if he thinks it’s all deluded,” Olson said. “He groups all religions together. I’d have liked to discuss the merits of salvation by grace, a truly unique concept.”

Maybe thinking isn’t an option, then. He didn’t follow Berkshire’s points 1 and 2. “Salvation by grace” is nothing but unjustified dogma, a bit of empty noise. I am a little curious what possible arguments he would use to justify it, but I suspect it would be nothing but a bunch of quoted Bible verses.

Krista Baysinger, 20, of Benson, Minn., said, “I really enjoyed it. He was noncondemning and presented his arguments well. But nothing he said shook my faith — not at all. Actually, this is a way to help us strengthen what we believe, by thinking it through.”

Unfortunately, none of the students quoted are actually thinking.

Betty Kraus, 20, of Prior Lake, wondered why Berkshire “has invested so much of his life in this. I mean, he comes in and lays out argument after argument that he wouldn’t accept from us. What would he have us do?”

Wait a moment…a student who has enrolled in a Bible college is wondering about an atheist spending so much of his life on something? Does she think he spent his childhood going to atheist school on Sundays and atheist camp in the summer, after high school he went off to atheist college to get a degree in atheism, and now goes to atheist services a couple of times a week and sings in the atheist choir? These kids really need to get more exposure to the non-Christian life.

Oh, well. One can always hope that there were a few kids there who were using their brains…but they were probably not the ones who would glibly parrot a string of rationalizations to the reporter afterwards.

Comments

  1. #1 Fixer
    February 25, 2006

    It’s amazing the kids thought he was there on a ‘misson’ to shake their faith. I guess it’s sorta like that ‘gay agenda’ they complain about too, huh, perfesser?

  2. #2 Steve LaBonne
    February 25, 2006

    Does she think he spent his childhood going to atheist school on Sundays and atheist camp in the summer, after high school he went off to atheist college to get a degree in atheism, and now goes to atheist services a couple of times a week and sings in the atheist choir?

    I seriously think she really does believe something like that. These poor brainwashed souls truly can’t conceive of any mode of existence other than theirs.

  3. #3 Kyle
    February 25, 2006

    I suspect that there’s a good deal of projection going on in cases like this. Christians often make it their mission to convert others to Christianity, so they feel that when counter-arguments are offered, it must be because the non-Christian is trying to strip their faith from them.

  4. #4 Sean Foley
    February 25, 2006

    Does she think he spent his childhood going to atheist school on Sundays and atheist camp in the summer, after high school he went off to atheist college to get a degree in atheism, and now goes to atheist services a couple of times a week and sings in the atheist choir?

    My favorite memory of Atheist Camp is the time our motley group of misfit atheist campers beat the rich kids from the Christian Camp across the lake in the big canoe race.

  5. #5 Torris
    February 25, 2006

    It is nice to know there are people like August who are willing to make these sorts of presentations. Keep up the good work August!

  6. #6 Rey
    February 25, 2006

    I don’t understand #15. “Without God, there can be no free will.” What? I thought Rush said that free will was the absence of God.

  7. #7 BJHokanson
    February 25, 2006

    Hey! How come my parents never let ME go to atheist camp?

  8. #8 pdf23ds
    February 25, 2006

    From the Star-Tribune article:

    Berkshire said there are two kinds of atheists — “negative” ones who declare there is no God and “positive” ones such as himself, “who lack belief because we see no evidence.”

    In general I think terminology like this isn’t terribly useful outside of debates with theists, but I’m pretty sure these are backwards.

  9. #9 ivy privy
    February 25, 2006

    Does she think he spent his childhood going to atheist school on Sundays and atheist camp in the summer, after high school he went off to atheist college to get a degree in atheism, and now goes to atheist services a couple of times a week and sings in the atheist choir?

    If you looked very very diligently, you might find that there are 3 or 4 college level classes on atheism in American universities, including one at godless Cornell.

  10. #10 wamba
    February 25, 2006

    Olson said. “He groups all religions together. I’d have liked to discuss the merits of salvation by grace, a truly unique concept.”

    What’s his point? If there is no god(s), then relying on his grace is rather pointless. Why does he think this merits special attention?

  11. #11 John C. Randolph
    February 25, 2006

    Well, I’m one atheist who certainly doesn’t group all religions together. Many of them are almost entirely benign. It’s been a pretty long time since the last zen-buddhist rampage of conquest, for example.

    -jcr

  12. #12 wamba
    February 25, 2006

    Camp Inquiry is a summer program for young people ages seven to sixteen years old, with special junior counselor programs for young adults ages seventeen to twenty. There are also opportunities for college students, guests and adult counselors.

    Camp Quest is the first residential summer camp in the history of the United States for the children of Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists, Brights, or whatever other terms might be applied to those who hold to a naturalistic, not supernatural world view.

  13. #13 wamba
    February 25, 2006

    In the interest of equal time:
    Creation Boot Camp
    May 2005, run by “Dr. Dino” Hovind

  14. #14 Jeremy
    February 25, 2006

    From the way August was portrayed in those two articles, it didn’t sound like he was tremendously persuasive. If I were a Christian student at a Bible college, I probably wouldn’t have been moved either.

    The only way to get out from under religion is to think for yourself. As PZ noted, those kids aren’t doing that.

  15. #15 mr.ed
    February 25, 2006

    I can visualize my brother in law clutching his chest and swooning, as he does when my emails arrive in his box.

  16. #16 MJ Memphis
    February 25, 2006

    And this one time, in atheist camp….

  17. #17 ekzept
    February 25, 2006

    Bible College folks sometimes show up at Pesach seders, too. you’re supposed to discuss stuff at seders, question what the heck the strange story means, and so on. most remain politely quiet.

  18. #18 Troutnut
    February 25, 2006

    If you think about it, most camps are atheist camps: you’re trying to learn about nature from nature rather than the Bible. Fancy that!

  19. #19 386sx
    February 25, 2006

    I don’t understand #15. “Without God, there can be no free will.” What? I thought Rush said that free will was the absence of God.

    I think that’s what they call a “paradox.” For instance: there is free will and yet there is not free will; there is predestination and yet there is not predestination, etc.

    For crying out loud, just because we don’t understand something, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to it. Holy sweet flying Jesus on a flagpole, just because it seems as though it doesn’t make sense, that doesn’t mean we shoudn’t respect the beliefs of others. Like my grandpappy used to say, “Holy stick me on a toothpick and call me Jesus!”

  20. #20 cm
    February 25, 2006

    If August Berkshire gave a good talk I wouldn’t be very surprised if perhaps 1 or 2 students were a little shaken in their dogma, and that perhaps 1 or 2 might begin the process of disentangling themselves from belief in nonsense.

  21. #21 Dale
    February 25, 2006

    ” It’s been a pretty long time since the last zen-buddhist rampage of conquest, for example.

    -jcr”

    You owe me a new keyboard.

    How about: “No one expects the Quaker Inquisition!”

    A talk like Berkshire’s is mainly of value in demonstrating that non-christians don’t have horns, hooves, and forked tails. (at least in groups that have led sheltered lives)

  22. #22 John C. Randolph
    February 25, 2006

    I should have posted this sooner. It’s the standard 300 proofs of god’s existence.

    http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/GodProof.htm

    -jcr

  23. #23 BlueIndependent
    February 25, 2006

    I am in agreement. People these days seem to think that you were either put here by God, or, failing divine intervention, animated from a slimey egg in a cave miles beneath the Earth’s crust.

    People who say they practice tolerance and then make comments like that show they have never known the concept. A friend of mine who had a form of cancer was once told by someone that they’d pray for her. When my friend asked this person why, the lady said it was because my friend had done something to offend God, and he gave her this cancer hardship in retaliation.

    Talk about assumptions…

  24. #24 Rieux
    February 25, 2006

    Re “atheist camps,” wamba’s link to Camp Quest is right on point. In the past, I’ve been a counselor at the original Camp Quest, in the Cincinnati area….

    I’m not positive, but I think it’s a pretty good bet that August Berkshire has spent some time at Camp Quest of Minnesota. As an adult volunteer, that is, not as a camper.

    And, er, none of this weakens the “atheist camp” point PZ was making in the first place.

  25. #25 Former evangelical
    February 25, 2006

    “From the way August was portrayed in those two articles, it didn’t sound like he was tremendously persuasive. If I were a Christian student at a Bible college, I probably wouldn’t have been moved either.”

    They won’t speak their doubts out loud in front of the entire Bible College, and might not even admit they have them, but there’s no telling what is going on inside the minds of some of the silent students. Don’t imagine that every one of them is indoctrinated beyond all hope. I can almost guarantee you there were a couple future atheists in that room who will (quietly) begin to think about Berkshire’s arguments.

    Most young people go to a Bible College because their parents and church expect them to; once there, some will begin to experiment with new ideas, as young people at any college are likely to do. In some ways, a Bible College holds more fertile soil than a public university, because many of these kids actually care whether their religion is true. Don’t be misled by the obligitory protestations of faith; they can’t say so in that forum, but I’m certain there are a few students who have started thinking about the basis of their faith. . . or will someday start thinking about it. Berkshire is doing good work.

    And meanwhile, Bible colleges produce excellent practitioners of oral sex. πŸ˜‰

  26. #26 wamba
    February 25, 2006

    I can almost guarantee you there were a couple future atheists in that room who will (quietly) begin to think about Berkshire’s arguments.

    Another aspect is that Bible college students might actually read their Bible, whereas most lukewarm “mainstream” or “liberal” Christians don’t. Reading the actual content of the Bible is a great tool for turning people away from Christianity.

  27. #27 Dale
    February 25, 2006

    And meanwhile, Bible colleges produce excellent practitioners of oral sex. πŸ˜‰

    Oh. My. Yes! (and Former Evangelical owes me a keyboard too)

  28. #28 CanuckRob
    February 25, 2006

    The students that were impacted by August would be very unlikely to say anything publically. After all they are surrounded by others that would subject them to intense pressure and threats (of damnation). I don’t know too many college age people that can stand up to concerted peer pressure, especially if from a controlled environment like a christian household. Hopefully a couple of students will quietly begin to use their reason and will, when they feel safer, make a break for freedom.

    Of course they oculd dome to British Columbia, we are now officially 35% religion free. (thanks to Sean at Cosmic Variance for making me aware of the facts where I live:) )
    http://cosmicvariance.com/2006/02/25/the-godless-north/

  29. #29 CanuckRob
    February 25, 2006

    The students that were impacted by August would be very unlikely to say anything publically. After all they are surrounded by others that would subject them to intense pressure and threats (of damnation). I don’t know too many college age people that can stand up to concerted peer pressure, especially if from a controlled environment like a christian household. Hopefully a couple of students will quietly begin to use their reason and will, when they feel safer, make a break for freedom.

    Of course they could come to British Columbia, we are now officially 35% religion free. (thanks to Sean at Cosmic Variance for making me aware of the facts where I live:) )
    http://cosmicvariance.com/2006/02/25/the-godless-north/

  30. #30 James 54
    February 25, 2006

    They now have a face for atheists. Something they did not have before. Those words will ring in their ears and one day maybe years from now some of them will “come to” and realize how much of their life has been a fraud. Good job August Berkshire.

  31. #31 BlueIndependent
    February 25, 2006

    “Those words will ring in their ears and one day maybe years from now some of them will “come to” and realize how much of their life has been a fraud…”

    I think the tail end of this comment is a bit harsh. I’m not a religious person, but a I’m willing to bet some of these people don’t go around professing creationism every day, or to every other person they meet. Let’s reserve our criticism for those that truly seek to denounce real science and fact to support falsehoods. We shouldn’t throw well-meaning people that haven’t contributed to the religious hysteria into the pit as well.

  32. #32 Keith Douglas
    February 26, 2006

    CanuckRob: BC may be very secular in some respects, but don’t forget that Trinity Western University is there. BC is a very weirdly polarized place in some respects. (I even noticed it within Vancouver when I lived there for two years.)

  33. #33 QrazyQat
    February 26, 2006

    Not just BC — this is a west coast thing, in my experience. The west coast attracts extremes as well as those less extreme from both sides, so it tends to have left and ultra right as well as atheists and fundamentalists. Places like Abbottsford in BC are well known for their populations of conservative Christians, but it’s actually more scattered about than that.

  34. #34 Phoenician in a time of Romans
    February 26, 2006

    My favorite memory of Atheist Camp is the time our motley group of misfit atheist campers beat the rich kids from the Christian Camp across the lake in the big canoe race.

    Atheist Camp was just terrible. I mean, I got hot and heavy with one little honey, but she started screaming “Oh Random Fluctuations in the Quantum Foam, I’m coming!!” and I lost my rhythm completely.

  35. #35 CanuckRob
    February 26, 2006

    Keith Douglas, yes I know about Trinity Western and I live in Abbotsford so I am very aware of the number of godbotherers here. I am well aware of the polarity here, in politics as well as religion. I was not trying to overstate the case, it was more of a joke. The fact that there are so many that said no to any religion includes many Chinese that are probably technically animists as well as way too many new agers. Oh well, it’s still better than many places.

  36. #36 Andrew Olson
    February 26, 2006

    I wanted to hear more about August’s thoughts about Christianity specifically because the idea of salvation by grace is completely different than any other religion’s idea of salvation. I wanted to hear the atheist view of the motivation behind a belief that does not demand religious acts and complete devotion to a modern prophet in order to obtain salvation. Since I also do not equate the Bible and the Quran or the book of Mormon, I was also curious about an atheist perspective on the obvious differences that exist between these religious books. We did not have much time to get into the issues behind each point that August made so I did not see them as being closed topics. Each of August’s 18 points cannot be argued for or refuted in the amount of time given that class, so I wanted a little more from a few of them.
    As for the students not understanding the motivation behind August coming to speak to class, I think the answer is quite obvious. Why would a person spend so much time and energy in order to believe nothing? He spends a considerable amount of energy refuting something rather than arguing for his own beliefs. Is the motivation to just attempt to stop Christians from opposing gay marriage in the legislature? Personally, if I oppose that sort of legislation it is far more about my political views than my religious views. When I get into the idea of ordaining gay people in my denomination, then it gets religious and I base my arguments upon scripture.

  37. #37 PZ Myers
    February 26, 2006

    Every religion has its own unique myths, which its advocates tend to amplify in importance beyond all reason. Big deal. Salvation by grace is one of your religion’s irrational quirks, nothing more, and is no more significant than salvation by bathing in the blood of a sacrificed bull.

    “Believe in nothing?” Atheists believe in all of the space, time, matter, and energy that exists; we believe in the whole dang universe and everything in it, including humanity. We reject absurd nonsense invented by human beings that contradicts reality. You also disbelieve every religion in the world but one, so shall we define you by all that you don’t believe?

    I see you didn’t learn anything from the presentation. I’m sorry about that.

  38. #38 Andrew Olson
    February 26, 2006

    What I mean by believe in “nothing” is that his statement that he is a “positive atheist” is essentially false. His 18 arguments were not arguments for something, they were merely arguments against the existence of God. They were not even arguments for the advancement of science, though he loved to pull out his science magazines and showcase a possible “god gene” that would make people inclined to believe in the supernatural.

    Why do you think that grace is irrational? Do you think that if God exists, it would be irrational for Him to make a way to bridge the gap between Him and His people?

    I think you are taking the definition of an “atheist” incorrectly if you think that Atheists are forced to believe in theories of the universe, matter and space defined by modern scienctists. The root definition of an atheist is merely the denial of a god.

  39. #39 PZ Myers
    February 26, 2006

    You really weren’t paying attention. No, those aren’t arguments against the existence of gods: he gave you a list of very poor arguments that people use for gods. Look at them again; he was explaining that all 18 of those arguments were logically flawed.

    You are too deeply steeped in the dogma to recognize it, but the whole foolish idea of a god becoming a man and “dying” but not really somehow saving people from “sin” is really, truly, deeply stupid. It does not make sense. Repeating it over and over again won’t help.

    It’s amusing to have a Christian lecture me on what an atheist is. Do you mind if I make up stuff and assert that that is what you believe? Atheists are not “forced” to believe anything. You claimed that they believe in nothing, which is patently false. Of course we do, and we have a great many riches to believe in…in fact, the natural world makes your narrow little book of cultish and primitive rules and myths look paltry indeed.

  40. #40 Andrew Olson
    February 26, 2006

    Calling something stupid without addressing it does not make sense either.

    I’m not talking about the arguments that won’t work, I’m talking about the illogical refutation of them.

    I’m simply asserting what the definition of an atheist is, and what is not. You are adding things which you may believe as an individual but are not encompassed within the definition.

  41. #41 KenL
    February 27, 2006

    Andrew, seems like you’re missing one of the key points of a presentation like August’s. You seem to be operating with a false set of beliefs — that August was (a) trying to convert you, and (b) wasting his time.

    August clearly denied (a). Stating otherwise implies you think him a liar.

    As for point (b), your instructor invited him. Making this point implicitly invokes a critique of your instructor. I rather suspect, however, that he was quite aware of what he was doing.

    It may be true that accepting August’s list as accurate, that there is no *rational* basis for your belief, might be worrisome. But this doesn’t require a loss of your faith — and though it may challenge it, isn’t the point of this sort of exercise to *strengthen* your faith? After all, faith without any rational motivation for it is even more amazing a commitment and gift…no? In fact, as a theological student, this particular approach to the ‘conundrum’ you’re grappling with should be quite familiar to you.

    Instead of looking for ways to learn from the experience, however, you’re persisting in making arguments that miss the focus of the presentation entirely — or engaging in ad hominems of August himself. Shame shame, that’s one of the classic logical fallacies. And that makes it hypocritical of you too to chide PZ for it.

  42. #42 Christopher
    February 27, 2006

    Salvation by grace has always struck me as a baffling concept.

    As far as I can tell the idea goes like this: God created man, and then decided he didn’t like him. But then he changed his mind and said, what the hell, I’ll let humans into heaven. And so he sent Christ to die for our sins.

    Problems:

    1. Why does god need a mechanism to dispense grace? As sovereign of everything, simple executive fiat ought to be enough?

    2. The idea of sin is entirely arbitrary. Under the grace system, sin is an inherent quality of all men. Why is this the case? Why should god have constructed inferior beings in the first place? What, in fact, is sin? It can’t have anything to do with actions if salvation is through grace alone. On the other hand, if it has nothing to do with action but is an inherent quality, then it thus follows that it was designed into us by god.

    If this is the case, then why should his grace be virtuous? Isn’t he simply refusing to blame us for his own mistakes? And if so, isn’t this a basic piece of morality that we expect from any decent being?

    It seems to me that the story is not that god is good for having grace now, but that he was in fact quite evil for witholding it in the past.

    3. It is, in fact, not a unique concept. It exists, and in fact must exist, in any system in which a god or god is allowed to make the rules, rather then be subordinate to them. Salvation by works can only occur if god is powerless to eject a virtuous soul from heaven.

    Meanwhile, if god or the gods can eject the virtuous from heaven, then salvation must be by grace. For example, look at the holy book of the K’iche Mayans, the Popul Vuh. The gods Hurricane and Feathered Serpent create humanity three times; the first two creations they destroy, because they are insufficiently pious; the third creation, us, is suffered to live because we properly worship.

    However, our worship does not compel the gods to allow our existance, instead, they suffer us because they feel like it. Which is, of course, salvation by grace.

    So, those are my objections to the concept.

  43. #43 Christopher
    February 27, 2006

    And yes, how much energy is expended in not believing in god? Certainly no more then that expended by the believer.

    And why do it? Well, for one, it could be entertaining, for two, it could be that you believe that rational thinking is a useful thing that should be propagated.

    It’s not really that complicated.

  44. #44 wamba
    February 27, 2006

    You are too deeply steeped in the dogma to recognize it, but the whole foolish idea of a god becoming a man and “dying” but not really somehow saving people from “sin” is really, truly, deeply stupid. It does not make sense. Repeating it over and over again won’t help.

    Calling something stupid without addressing it does not make sense either.

    How much addressing does a stupid concept require? Why is a symbolic sacrifice necessary to save people from “original sin” committed by some ancestor deep in their past? What rule requires this? Who made up the rules? Doesn’t the Bible state that offspring should not be punished for the sins of their fathers? If God loves people and wants them to be saved, couldn’t he have arranged for them to be saved by eating cake and ice cream instead?

    Salvation by grace: I will repeat my earlier point: It still requires a belief in a God whose existence you can’t prove. Since you can’t prove the existence of this God, why should it matter to me whether you believe that salvation in an afterlife comes through good works, faith, grace, or doing handsprings? Since I don’t believe in an afterlife anyway, why should I care about your superstitions on this subject?

  45. #45 wamba
    February 27, 2006

    Since I also do not equate the Bible and the Quran or the book of Mormon, I was also curious about an atheist perspective on the obvious differences that exist between these religious books

    Obvious differences? Well, I guess they were written in different languages. I haven’t read the Koran. I haven’t read the book of Mormon, but from what I’ve heard of its contents and its origins, it seems to be very silly. Is the Bible any better? The Bible has been known for a long time to contain many scientific errors, historical errors, moral errors and contradictions. The selection of which books are included in the Bible seems arbitrary. Some stuff you might read:

    The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine
    The Important Examination of the Holy Scriptures by Voltaire
    Some Mistakes of Moses by Robert G. Ingersoll

    Note that all of these were published over 100 years ago, so if you haven’t heard of them it’s not my fault.

  46. #46 Soren
    February 27, 2006

    Hi Andrew

    If you read the article you will find out some of his motivation:

    “The Minnesota Atheists, he said, work primarily to make sure public money isn’t used to suppress science, evangelize or promote religion.”

    I have been working with other atheists in Denmark for some time on an atheist site, (which now has opened an international branch http://www.atheiste.net ).

    We do it because we think it is fun to debate, because we think it is important to express our oppinions, and not leave it up to the religious to define society.

    That doesn’t mean I have something against christians, muslims, buddhists or others of faith, I just don’t believe what they do.

    I would encourage you to seek out more knowledge about atheists by perhaps visting groups such as the atheism vs christianity on google, or perhaps the one I am associated with listed above.

    There are a lot of atheists who have studied religion. Many of my friends at the atheist site are former christians, some have been born again, they have lived the life as christians, but now have left the faith.

    Others like me have been baptized and confirmed, but have never believed in anything, only realising late that they are atheists, others have always seen themselves as atheists. We are a motley crew!

    /Soren

  47. #47 Soren
    February 27, 2006

    Oops – should have pressed preview
    http://www.atheist.net

  48. #48 Andrew Olson
    February 27, 2006

    First of all, I would like to say that I’m encouraged with all the responses and comments that this article has received. I have not had much opportunity to debate here at college, because we all tend to have the same foundation in the Bible. I appreciate being challenged like this, because it gives me motive to care more about the exact specifics of what I believe and why I believe it to be rational. I have rarely been involved in such a discussion since high school.

    That being said, I can better understand the motivation behind an atheist spending energy to debate, as it can be very stimulating and enjoyable. This leads to my point about August’s stated motivation being misleading. August was clearly not only interested in keeping religion out of government. He sought to disprove the existence of God through his 18 points and therefore seek to challenge students on their set of assumptions. I cannot rationally deny the possibility of a creator of the earth. I cannot rationally say that all of the writers of the Bible were crazy or delusional. I cannot disprove the existence of Jesus or his resurrection. If the only point of the presentation was to point to belief in God as reliant upon faith and not rationality, I would say “sure”. Faith is very necessary in a fallen world where God will not force belief in him by destroying towns (despite what Pat Robertson might insanely state). But this is not where the discussion lies with August. He does not want to hear that God might work in his life to give him faith, he will not accept that possiblity because you cannot find it in an issue of the Modern Scientist. If I were an atheist talking to a bunch of believers in God, I would want them to understand the errors of their beliefs. I do not blame August for doing so, as I just admitted that I would do the same, but I don’t see any sense in denying it.

    Christopher: I’m very glad you actually chose to address my question rather than taking the easy way out and calling it stupid. I’ll do my best to try to respond.

    1) God needed to use grace, because we are a fallen world. Sin entered in by way of the devil, and we have been naturally inclined to it ever since. God does not simply seek to control his creation, but to have a relationship with the individual, so He had to come down as Jesus in order to provide us a way to have that relationship.

    2) As I stated above, sin was not really an original part of God’s creation. God did allow us free will in order to decide to rebel against him, and we originally chose to sin, because we were fooled by Lucifer. God could have adjusted our wills in order that we would love Him at all times, but He chose to make it much more meaningful when we do have faith in him, while others choose to deny Him.

    3) It is a unique concept among religions because Christianity is based upon faith, hope and love while other religions invariably are reliant upon the works of the human to save themselves and make themselves righteous. Christians understand that God has done all of the work to bridge the gap between Himself and man. God has also brought us to believe in him. I am simply not smart enough to understand and choose based upon my own knowledge, so God has provided for us.

  49. #49 wamba
    February 27, 2006

    He sought to disprove the existence of God through his 18 points and therefore seek to challenge students on their set of assumptions.

    Still with that? He stated quite clearly that these were arguments that he would not find convincing if used on him, not arguments that he was trying to use on you. It is obvious from hte content of the 18 points that this is so.

    and we originally chose to sin, because we were fooled by Lucifer.

    I’m not sure where you’re coming from with that. It is quite clear from Genesis 2 & 3 that God lied to Adam, and “the serpent” told the truth to Eve. So why does Lucifer get the blame?

  50. #50 Andrew Olson
    February 27, 2006

    Those 18 arguments that he used were not closed as he might have liked to think that they were. His arguments for those arguments being unconvincing, were not completely convincing. When you state things like “the bible could have been written by people who were deluded” without being open to debate whether or not they were actually deluded, of course someone is going to argue with him. You cannot hide behind an argument by stating that the argument is unconvincing if you hypothetically were to argue for it. You can argue for nothing as long as you like, but sooner or later you’re going to have to agree that you are convinced of something, and then we’d be able to argue.

  51. #51 Andrew Olson
    February 27, 2006

    The serpent told the truth to Adam and Eve? That they would be gods if only they would eat the forbidden fruit? There is such a thing as completely incorrect interpretation, and you have completely missed the point of the passage. Did I miss something, or am I a God since Adam ate the fruit? Our perfect nature died when he chose to disobey God. In the same way, you cannot blame a parent for a poor decision that a child makes when the parent clearly told them to do the correct thing and instructed them in how to live a good life, yet the child still chose the wrong path. The parent would not and could not force the child to do the parent’s will at all times.

  52. #52 wamba
    February 27, 2006

    The serpent told the truth to Adam and Eve?

    $%@$% straight he did.

    “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
    [5] For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

    “Ye shall be AS gods” is not the same as “ye shall become gods”, with the immediate explanation of the basis of the comparison; the ability to know good from evil. Work on your reading comprehension.

    The parent would not and could not force the child to do the parent’s will at all times.

    If you claim the parent is omnipotent, how can you claim there is something he could not do? He could presumably have made us so that we would follow his will voluntarily, and like it! He could have made salvation dependent on eating cake and ice cream, with sorbet available for those who are lactose-intolerant.

    But he didn’t.

  53. #53 Jason Powers
    February 27, 2006

    Berkshire stated what he believed, but you missed it. As an atheist, he isn’t using “positive” in the primary definition, but one of the less-used ones. Positivists insist on proof, and in the absence of total proof, they insist on a really convincing argument to rely on until they find the proof. You can diagram a Positive Atheist’s core beliefs pretty easily, mine takes two rules:

    1. What you see is what you get.
    2. Rule 1 can only be amended by a mountain of evidence.

    When you look at the world you can see, there’s trees, animals, rivers, etc. but no gods, no souls, and no magic. Now if you propose an invisible or counterintuitive thing as fact, you need to provide a mountain of evidence.

    You can see wood float, you can see metal sink, so no one just takes Archimedes Principle on faith (floating objects displace their weight in water). They scoffed at building steel boats for 2000 years before someone went out and did it. Now, armed with a mountain of evidence, we have the most powerful Navy in the world, and Archimede Principle is considered an amendment to Rule 1. We still have to teach children that steel can be made to float and how and why, because we expect them to stick to Rule 1 until we can amend it by fulfilling Rule 2.

    We’ve gotten a step more sophisticated since Archimedes, and we know that some kinds of evidence mean more than others. Some things that used to be considered strong evidence are seen as weaker now, like correlation and anecdotes. At this point in time, however, we’re very, very good at identifying evidence, testing it, comparing notes with others. Mountains of evidence support each step, and those mountains are carefully documented and left open for review to anyone willing to take the time.

    By stacking each amendment with its mountain of evidence together, we get a very different picture of reality than is presented in the Bible. It isn’t a perfect picture, but it’s clearer than the others, so we live with it and work to make it clearer.

    Anyway the 18 points are refutations of poor evidence. Berkshire talks to all kinds of people, and faithful people cherry pick anecdotes and such to try to undermine the rigorous system of gathering knowledge that scientists use. Poor logic, anecdotes and small-sample correlations aren’t as strong as tested and retested theories, though, and he was basically suggesting that you start with the strongest evidence and go where it leads you, rather than picking a desirable outcome and then cherry-picking evidence that matches it.

    On the one hand, I think it’s a shame you didn’t have more time to talk to him, but on the other, there’s a consistent problem in these debates. It’s like a card game where both sides ask to be dealt in, but only one is willing to ante up. If two scientists argue, they can create an experiment that will provide evidence that one or the other is right, and they both accept the results. They bet something meaningful on the outcome: their belief.

    When an atheist argues reality with a fundamentalist, there is no ante from the fundamentalist, because they will continue to profess their faith no matter the result of the argument. In fact, most wear this as a badge, that their faith can be tested and win out over reason. There are atheists who are similar, but they are “Negative” atheists who are basically fundamentalists of a different stripe, they won’t bet their belief in a godless world on anything.

    As a positive atheist, Berkshire is just waiting for you to present a mountain of evidence so he can add an amendment to Rule 1.

  54. #54 Andrew Olson
    February 27, 2006

    We did not attain the knowledge of good and evil by eating the fruit, therefore the serpent lied. We were not like God at all. In fact Adam and Eve fell away from the protection of the God-given law by breaking it. We no longer were to exist in the garden-state of living, but in the fallen world with death. You must better understand God’s eternal perspective. Adam and Eve were to live forever, but since they ate the fruit, they must live a mortal life with death and sin.

    There is nothing God could not do, and I cannot claim to understand why He chose to do certain things the way He did. God adjusts the will of humans to accomplish his goals. From our perspective, we choose and make all of our own decisions, but God is able to adjust and work through all of our decisions. God doesn’t have to look at how things work out and try to react to them to make the best of the situation. God is omnipotent, therefore everything that takes place is within his ultimate will.

  55. #55 wamba
    February 27, 2006

    We did not attain the knowledge of good and evil by eating the fruit, therefore the serpent lied.

    I cannot concur with your interpretation of Genesis 2 and 3. Adam and Eve ate the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”.

    God adjusts the will of humans to accomplish his goals.

    So the stuff you told us earlier about “free will” was just a diaper-load, was it?

    God is omnipotent, therefore everything that takes place is within his ultimate will.

    Yes, as I have already stated. So if the rules he set up are not optimal for us, and salvation cannot be obtained by eating cake and ice cream, there can be no question that anyone else is to blame for it.

    Since you are already spinning in circles, I see no point in continuing the conversation.

  56. #56 Andrew Olson
    February 27, 2006

    You do not understand the concept of free will and God’s ability to adjust it. If there is a God, he is most definitely able to create beings with freedom to disobey God, but God has the ability to adjust anything that he wants to. Basically, God is capable of anything, and we are not capable of fully undertanding how God might be affecting our decision making.

    Will you concur with my interpretation of the death spoken of by God? Do you understand the difference between the garden of eden and our present world? Satan deceived Adam and Eve…you would be wrong to interpret it any other way. Though it is not in my practice to debate the scripture with an Atheist, as I understand that most atheists do not see the Bible as accurate.

    You seem to be the one spinning in circles hoping for a salvation based upon ice cream. Salvation is obtained through God sacrificing his son, so that our sinful nature will not keep us apart from God.

  57. #57 Paul W.
    February 27, 2006

    Andrew Olson writes:

    You do not understand the concept of free will and God’s ability to adjust it.

    For this to make any sense of this, you would need to make clear what you mean by free will—in what sense is it free? (And in what sense is it will?)

    Like a lot of people who’ve thought about the subject, I don’t think that the traditional notion of free will is even coherent, much less true.

    Have you read Dan Dennett’s book Elbow Room: on the Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting?

    Like Dennett, I don’t believe in the kind of free will that would get an ominipotent God off the hook for the Problem of Evil.

    Salvation is obtained through God sacrificing his son, so that our sinful nature will not keep us apart from God.

    I have to say that this sounds just kooky to me, as it does to most atheists.

    How is it that punishing one person for another person’s sins makes any sense at all? What has Jesus dying on the cross got to do with me, unless God the Father is a sick puppy who demands vengeance, and will happily punish innocent third parties?

    This whole notion of substitutional sacrifice seems pretty deeply sick. Your whole religion seems to be based on child sacrifice and substitutional punishment. I don’t get that.

    Who did God sacrifice Jesus to? Himself? Or is there a law higher than God that demands the sacrifice, so that God must resort to sacrificing his child in order to get us off the hook?

    Why would any of that matter in judging me?

    Whatever is forgiven because of this sacrifice, couldn’t it just be forgiven, without requiring a sacrifice at all? And if not, is that any sane form of forgiveness, or just a bizarre kind of barbaric moral bean-counting?

  58. #58 wamba
    February 27, 2006

    Salvation is obtained through God sacrificing his son, so that our sinful nature will not keep us apart from God.

    Maybe you could explain how point A leads to point B. Maybe you could explain, if salvation is accomplished through God sacrificing his son, as you just stated, why are we not all saved? Does it matter that I am an atheist? Why am I not saved by that sacrifice? It still happened whether or not I believe in it, right? Why does Mr. Omnipotent need puny little me to also believe in him?

    for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
    =
    Our perfect nature died when he chose to disobey God.
    ..
    Will you concur with my interpretation of the death spoken of by God?

    Your interpretation seems to be symbolic, rather than literal. If it is not literally true, then you are opening up a whole can of worms because there can be many different non-literal interpretations. I guess when God said, “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” he really meant: “You will realize that you are naked and you will be ashamed of it.” Sure. Whatever.

    You do not understand the concept of free will and God’s ability to adjust it.

    Apparently not. Your explanation is as clear as the mud from which Adam was formed.
    .
    I am going to go home now and sacrifice some chicken parmesan, so that we will all be saved. It is not necessary for you to believe in the chicken parmesan, you will be saved anyway, because my grace is greater than God’s.

  59. #59 Christopher
    February 27, 2006

    Andrew, explain to me Genesis 3:22: “And the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.'”

    Clearly, Adam and Eve did gain knowledge of good and evil, and this did in fact make them “as gods”. Where the serpent was misleading was his admonition that they would not die. Even that seems less then awful, because this passage makes clear that they did, in fact, have the prospect of living forever, and becoming even more like gods.

    I’d also like to address your response to my point 2: Sin clearly was created by god and is not simply an action that propels us away from him; You say, “we originally chose to sin…” this is simply not true; You aren’t Adam and I’m not Eve; neither you, nor I, nor anybody else in the world made a choice to eat that fruit. More then that, since no action we could possibly take could cause them to have not eaten the fruit, to say that our sin is a matter of choice is entirely wrong.

    Since original sin is not, in fact, the result of actions, it follows that it must be an inherent, independant property that is transferred to our descendants

    The person who chose for sin to be transferred to our descendants, rather then dying with the person who took the action: God.

    Lastly, I want to address this point:

    “I cannot rationally say that all of the writers of the Bible were crazy or delusional.”

    And yet you CAN say that every other writer of every other religious text WAS crazy and delusional?

    I’m sorry, that just doesn’t fly. This piece of apologia actually works against Christianity.

    Think about it: In the atheist conception, the universe is a fundamentally neutral entity which has no interest in whether we percieve it correctly. Morover, no one is born percieving it correctly; this is a skill that must be independantly invented and taught.

    Now, in the Christian perspective the arrangment is the opposite; the universe is run by an entity that wishes for us to percieve it correctly and actively interferes in our life to ensure that we do. Additionally, at the start of civilisation we were close to god and new him well.

    Now, the atheist idea that the bible writers were wrong only means that they invented confirming evidence where there was none.

    Meanwhile, for the Christian theory that the writers of the Popul Vuh were delusional to stand, not only must they have invented confirming evidence, they must have willfully ignored scads of disconfirming evidence, including their own history.

    If we are to accept that much lying and delusion on the part of millions, perhaps billions of individuals who were both intelligent and morally good, then we must also conclude that the writers of the bible might well have been a part of the willfully delusional majority of humanity.

  60. #60 Andrew Olson
    February 27, 2006

    A lot to address here, but I’ll try.

    Paul W:
    I understand that the only true free will is possessed by God. We presuppose our own free will based upon examples like Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, but our will is very adjustable by God, because he has the freedom to do whatever He wants. So God obviously allows sin to exist because He does apparently not want robotic humans worshipping him, I don’t know.
    Perhaps you should read my sentence about salvation one more time through. But keep in mind, that Jesus being God’s son does not mean that is a seperate or lesser God. God came down in flesh to bridge the gap between Him and us. We understand his love for us when He sacrifices his Son who was fully God and yet fully Man. He was fully man, so he did suffer on the cross, but it is perhaps more amazing that even though he was fully God, he chose not to deliver himself to safety and instead suffered. Sound logical?

    Wamba: I answered some of your statement with my paragraphs to Paul W., but I’ll try to indulge you as well. Everyone is not automatically saved, because God has allowed sin that his creation can glorify him further by having faith when it is difficult. The omnipotent true God does not desire the robotic faith, but seeks to prove that man can have faith in Him despite opposition in the form of suffering and other worldly problems.

    Christopher: I suppose Adam and Eve did gain knowledge of some sort as they understood that they were naked. Does that mean that nakedness was evil prior to this event? Were they even close to on par with God who has created the law? They weren’t and we aren’t either. We are not Adam and Eve, so I do feel like blaming them for the fall, but I just must understand that I have a sinful nature and go from there.

    Why do you think the Bible has been so wildly popular and meticulously copied and translated over the years? Is there any other book that comes close? You cannot deny the amazing popularity of this book written over a period of 1500 years with around 44 authors. If there is a God, surely he would use this book as his method of communicating to us.

  61. #61 Paul W.
    February 27, 2006

    Andrew writes:

    We understand his love for us when He sacrifices his Son who was fully God and yet fully Man. He was fully man, so he did suffer on the cross, but it is perhaps more amazing that even though he was fully God, he chose not to deliver himself to safety and instead suffered. Sound logical?

    Logical? Are you joking?

    I know plenty of people who have suffered more than a person would being crucified; I’d guess most people actually suffer more physical pain, over the course of their lifetimes, and I know a few people who have suffered comparable pain for much longer.

    (E.g., a friend of mine who was seriously burned in a plane crash.)

    I don’t understand what the big deal is about Jesus being tortured to death. He got a taste of what humans get, and then he gets to go back in the sky and be Ruler of the Universe, Forever. I’d go for that, if it was offered. Nail me to a cross any old time if I get to be God afterwards.

    If you divide the suffering of being crucified for, say, six hours among the thirty billion people who’ve lived so far… let me see, what does that come to?

    6 x 60 x 60 = 21,600 seconds of agony divided by 30,000,000,000 = 0.00000072 seconds of agony per person.

    That’s less than a microsecond a head.

    So the guy suffered for less than a microsecond for me. Big freakin’ deal. And he gets the top job for an infinite period of time… comes out to vanishingly close to nothing. Easily lost in the noise of human suffering, or of an infinite godly afterlife. A spectacularly trivial blip.

    I do not see the point of this obviously token gesture, or what it has to do with whether I or any other innocent third party should be forgiven for anything.

    So the guy willingly gets himself crucified by a mob. Sounds dumb.

    And you connect it up to whether I should have a nice afterlife, or not, forever. Sounds really, really dumb.

    Surely whether I have a nice afterlife—or a horrible one, enduring an infinite amount of suffering—should not hinge on whether some guy got himself nailed to a tree for one microsecond for me. What has that got to do with anything? What exactly, I mean… how does this make anything remotely like sense?

    Unless there’s some rule about the huge importance of token gestures of substitutional punishment. If so, what is that rule, and who made it, and why?

  62. #62 Andrew Olson
    February 27, 2006

    You’re missing the fact that Jesus was both fully man and fully God. No other human who has died has had the option of saving themselves. God sacrificing His son willingly is far more significant than any human sacrifices that we may make.

  63. #63 Paul W.
    February 27, 2006

    You’re missing the fact that Jesus was both fully man and fully God. No other human who has died has had the option of saving themselves.

    And Jesus did save himself. He rose from the dead, right? All he really went through was the crucifixion—but he “got better.”

    My buddy who was horribly burned “got better” to a substantially lesser extent. He didn’t get to transcend physical reality; he lives with it every day.

    I am not impressed with your god’s sacrifice. On the relevant scales, it’s obviously just a token gesture. What it’s a token gesture of, and why that matters so much to you, is exactly the question.

    God sacrificing His son willingly is far more significant than any human sacrifices that we may make.

    What bunk. I know of plenty of people who’ve sacrificed themselves in much more significant ways. Like the guys who swam through the reactor water at Chernobyl, to try to prevent the meltdown, for example.

    They knew that they would die horribly, they didn’t expect to live again, and they did it anyway. Now that’s a sacrifice.

    Jesus’s sacrifice is nothing by comparison. It’s just a grandstanding stunt.

    Unless he was just a man, and he actually died, in which case I’d have exactly the same sympathy for him that I’d have for any human who was tortured to death. But this immmortal God business is irrelevant at best. At worst, it’s a travesty. Why should one person’s suffering matter so much, even if he is god?

    And what does that have to do with forgiving anybody else? What is the basic connection, and why does it even go that direction?

    Why is substitutional punishment so important to you? And why do you consider it a good thing?

    Why, for example, would I torture myself to death so that I could forgive somebody else? Wouldn’t that be a bit odd?

    And if I believed in punishing and forgiving groups, why would I have people torture me to death so that I could forgive them. How does their torturing me to death make them more forgivable? How does my setting myself up for that make me anything but profoundly twisted?

    Surely there are better ways to run a universe.

  64. #64 Andrew Olson
    February 27, 2006

    Jesus died because of our sinful nature. It was the people and their sinful nature that had Him nailed to the cross, which is quite arguably the most painful method of death due to it’s excruciating length, humiliation and pain. But the point is not how much suffering that Jesus had. This was the only way to atone for the sins of man. Jesus’ ressurection only proves that He was truly God, not that he was willing to die because it would be easy. In fact, before he was betrayed, he prayed that God would have it done in any other way, but that if it could not let God’s will be done. If you can think of another way of accomplishing what God did through Jesus’ death on the cross, I’d be interested in hearing it. I’m not God, so who am I to judge his means?

  65. #65 Paul W.
    February 27, 2006

    Jesus died because of our sinful nature.

    I don’t think so. Explain it to me.

    Maybe Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine. I don’t think Jesus’s death should make the slightest bit of difference to whether I’m responsible for my actions, or deserving one iota more punishment, or one iota less.

    Tell me exactly what the connection is.

    Explain to me how our sinful nature has anything to do with substitutional sacrifice. Exactly why does somebody have to die horribly for somebody else to be forgiven for their sins. Exactly how does it even help anything?

    Suppose I had some unruly children, and I sacrificed one so that I could forgive the others. Or suppose that I sacrificed myself, so that I could forgive them.

    How would that be a good thing? How could it be required, and if so, by what law, and who made that law and why? How could it be beneficial to require substitutional sacrifice? What good does it do and how does it do it?

    Please stop evading those basic questions. Seriously. Stop it, and answer the questions.

    It was the people and their sinful nature that had Him nailed to the cross,

    So you say. I’m not buying. You’ve got some explaining to do.

    How does some people torturing one person to death have anything to do with the forgivability of other people, and whether it’s justified to torture them at all, much less forever? What has one got to do with the other?

    which is quite arguably the most painful method of death due to it’s excruciating length, humiliation and pain.

    Sorry, I personally know people who’ve suffered more pain than people being crucified. Ever known many severe burn patients? Do you have any idea how much pain is involved just in changing the dressings, every damned day, for months on end?

    But the point is not how much suffering that Jesus had.

    Exactly. Crucifixion sucks, no doubt about it. But in the overall scheme of things, it’s not that big a deal. Most people who’ve ever lived have suffered more, cumulatively, over the course of their lives. Many have suffered more, in a single day, and many more have suffered more over periods of weeks, months, or years.

    This was the only way to atone for the sins of man.

    Who says?

    Who made it so?

    Who set up the rules of atonement? Why and how does atonement work?

    You seem to be accepting an ananalyzed, barbaric idea of “atonement” for sins, as though suffering purifies or justifies suffering.

    Worse, you seem to be accepting an unanalyzed, even more barbaric idea of substitutional punishment.

    We are civilized people. You have some explaining to do.

    Jesus’ ressurection only proves that He was truly God, not that he was willing to die because it would be easy.

    The resurrection is a myth which doesn’t prove anything. It’s a lame myth, which isn’t even reasonable evidence of anything.

    Why should we believe your myth, as opposed to any of thousands of others?

    In fact, before he was betrayed, he prayed that God would have it done in any other way, but that if it could not let God’s will be done. If you can think of another way of accomplishing what God did through Jesus’ death on the cross, I’d be interested in hearing it.

    You’re utterly missing my point. My point is not that there’s another way to justify mankind. My point is that your way doesn’t work. Substitutional sacrifice just doesn’t cut it. Anybody who demands substitutional sacrifice is morally deficient; that means your God.

    Anyone who even respects a demand for substitutional sacrifice is seriously morally deficient. That means your Jesus, and you.

    I’m not God, so who am I to judge his means?

    I would hope that you’re a reasonable and moral enough human being to recognize that substitutional sacrifice is evil, if anything is.

    If we take the attitude that we’re not competent to judge gods’ morality, then anything goes. Anything a god allegedly says can be used to justify anything at all.

    Here’s a tipoff: if your god demands a substitutional sacrifice, he’s a dick. He may or may not be real, but he’s certainly a dick.

    Suppose I grant that your god is real. Show me your god is not a dick. Seems to me that you’ve demonstrated that irrespective of whether your god is real, he’s definitely a serious dick.

    This, for me and a lot of other non-Christians, is the big problem with Christianity. It’s based on a fundamental moral error. The fact that your dickhead god doesn’t exist is just icing on the cake. The more basic point is he’s not worth worshipping.

  66. #66 Andrew Olson
    February 28, 2006

    Perhaps I went a bit too far into Christian doctrine for you. I’m just trying to help you understand God’s motivation. Truthfully, I don’t think you could even begin to understand God’s character or motivation without believing in Him. You can just take it from the hypothetical standpoint of “if there is a God, this is how he might run things”.

    Here are the basics:
    God created the universe, including mankind as his special creation to rule over and take care of the rest of the world and it’s various animals.
    God makes the Law. He makes the Law so that humans will improve their socities and lives.
    God must punish his people when they sin. God does this out of love for His people, because only He knows what is best for mankind.
    We are all naturally sinful people since the fall from the garden of Eden. We used to atone for these sins through animal sacrifices at the temple…..the only reason that Jews no longer do this, is because they don’t have the temple as the muslims control that area in Jerusalem. This method was ultimately unsatisfying to God, as the people thought they could buy and sacrifice goats in order to have a relationship with God. Therefore God had to come down in the form of Jesus and be sacrificed for the sinful nature of everyone. This restores our relationship with God. God is worth worshipping because he brought himself to us in order that we could have a relationship with him. Does this help you understand why God chose to do things this way?

    I’m not trying to convince you that there is a God, or that you need to be saved. Discussing the existence of God and the eternal punishment for sin is a terrible way to evangelize anyways. I pose the question back to you: If you do not understand God’s rationality behind his actions, what would you have done if you were God? In what manner would you restore the relationship between you and your creation? Would you have everyone eat ice cream as was previously suggested in this comments section, or would you be the loving God who did the work himself like Jesus did?

  67. #67 Paul W.
    February 28, 2006

    We are all naturally sinful people since the fall from the garden of Eden. We used to atone for these sins through animal sacrifices at the temple…

    This method was ultimately unsatisfying to God, as the people thought they could buy and sacrifice goats in order to have a relationship with God.

    I’m not sure what you’re saying here. Did your god want people to sacrifice animals to him, ever, or not? Put aside the issue of whether it was ultimately satisfying. For the moment, focus on why it might be even partially satisfying, ever, assuming it’s “done right.”

    How is sacrificing an innocent animal a way of atoning for humans’ sins? What good does it do to sacrifice anyone or anything for the forgiveness of someone else’s sins?

    I understand that you think that somehow atonement is somehow required. I understand that you think substitutional punishment works, and is perhaps necessary.

    What I am asking is why and how this could be so. How does it work?

    I do not understand this sort of moral accounting, and I’m not sure you do either. It seems that you just accept that “that’s how it works.”

    I think you need to figure out what that implies about whatever or whoever made it work that way.

  68. #68 James
    February 28, 2006

    Andrew, I’m curious how a single being could be both 100% man and 100% god… perhaps you could explain the logic. If a being is a god, that being can necessarily do anything, and if a being is a man, that being can only do what men can. So, it’s one or the other… could the alleged Jesus man/god do anything as a god or not? Remember, if you claim the alleged Jesus could have done anything as a god but simply (and conveniently) chose not too, then he can not be 100% man and must be only 100% god. In this case, his “sacrifice” is meaningless.

    As for the free will issue, you don’t seem to be getting the argument. If the world was created by a perfectly good being, then there could be no evil, but you say that in order for us to have free will, god had to allow evil. But the issue is, evil is not a necessary consequence of free will… i can have the free will to choose either chocolate or vanilla and neither choice is evil. So a perfect being could have created the world with only good choices and we would still have free will. Extending free will to include things such as killing and rape could only be done by an imperfect and evil being.

    Furthermore, if we are to believe the story of genesis, then it was god who created evil. The moment he made the tree of knowledge and told adam and eve that they must not eat from it, the possibility for evil existed. The fact that eve did not act on the possibility of evil is irrelevant to the point that evil did indeed exist before she made her choice. In addition, how could god give adam and eve the order that eating from the tree of knowledge was wrong and evil, if first they had to eat from the tree to have the ability to know good and evil? Makes no sense.

  69. #69 Steve LaBonne
    February 28, 2006

    Andrew, I’m curious how a single being could be both 100% man and 100% god

    So, to put it mildly, were a lot of Christians, espeially theologians, at the time when that strange form of chopped logic became offical dogma. To Andrew and many others I highly commend Charles Freeman’s excellent book, The Closing of the Western Mind, wherein one can follow the essentially political, and certainly highly anti-intellectual, process whereby Christian dogma attained its definitive shape. One need not commit the genetic fallacy to realize that, on the principle that one shouldn’t watch laws and sausages being made, this knowledge can’t help but reduce one’s appetite for uncritically regarding these doctrines as having some well-argued philosophical basis.

  70. #70 Andrew Olson
    February 28, 2006

    God has always demanded sacrifice. He requires complete devotion to him. He demands praise and worship. In the old testament he required the first born animals and other things to demonstrate where our priorities were. God also wants a relationship with His people. In order to achieve this, he demanded sacrifice which used to come by way of the animal sacrifices and now comes by believing in Jesus’s sacrifice for us. We are not on a level playing field with God, therefore sacrifice is necessary.

    The first thing to understand when talking about Jesus being fully God and fully man is to understand that God has ultimate power. He is not bound by the laws of nature, science and the universe. This is why the question, “Could God ever make a rock so big that he couldn’t move it?” is pointless. You’re trying to bind God to the rules of the world, where he is on a different plane entirely. Jesus was still fully capable of doing anything that he wanted to do. He chose to suspend some his traits in order to become fully man and save humanity from sin. While on earth, he was not omnipresent, though he could have chosen to be. Jesus allowed himself to be tempted and to experience pain. This is significant because he had the ability to choose to save himself from pain, but suffered so that he might make the ultimate sacrifice to bring humans to God.

    James: I cannot claim to understand why evil takes place in the world. I am not one of the radicals who blames 9/11 or hurricanes on sinful people. I am very slow to think that God created evil. Perhaps evil is necessary to obtain true sacrifice and obedience from humans, but evil can also simply be seen as the lack of good. Since God created the good, but also the choice to choose good so that He would be glorified further, Lucifer-the fallen angel wanted to be powerful like God, so he brought evil to the world. So then, does allowing evil mean that God is imperfect? I think this just goes back to God wanting people to choose Him and worship, not like robots, but like his creation who is capable of faith despite sin.

  71. #71 Paul W.
    February 28, 2006

    God has always demanded sacrifice.

    Yes, but why? Why has your god always demanded the destruction or suffering of innocents in order to forgive the sins of others?

    He requires complete devotion to him. He demands praise and worship.

    Sounds pretty neurotic to me.

    BTW, I can’t praise or worship your god because I don’t believe in him. He’s just not credible; that is not willful or disobedient on my part, and I don’t think it’s deserving of punishment. If I’m wrong, it’s a sincere, well-meaning misunderstanding, not something deserving of torture forever.

    I could never worship a god who would torture me forever if I didn’t.

    In the old testament he required the first born animals and other things to demonstrate where our priorities were.

    Is that it? Is it just to prove our sincerity? What does your god have against first-born animals, unblemished solid-color lambs, etc.

    My impression is that in that kind of sacrifice, the animals themselves don’t count. They’re just property, and it’s mostly a display of earnestness—willingness to be self-destructive, by destroying one’s property. But then in some cases it’s clearly not that, such as the substitution of a ram for Isaac, who was a substitutional victim or something himself… that’s just profoundly weird.

    It sounds like there’s a rule that somebody must pay, i.e., vengeance is the ultimate law, even if the vengeance is taken out on the wrong party.

    That’s just wrong, Andrew. If you can’t see that, you are morally twisted.

    And the case of Jesus isn’t just sick and twisted. It doesn’t even make a lick of sick and twisted sense.

    It’s not the same kind of situation. We didn’t intentionally sacrifice our God (to himself). Some of us killed some guy, who apparently set himself up for that to make some obscure point.

    What is the point of God sacrificing himself, or his son, for our sins? How does it make us more forgivable? Is it just a display of self-destructive earnestness on God’s part, to prove he’s willing to sacrifice for us? Apparently not, because he thinks we deserve to be tortured forever unless he does that; it’s not about us proving our earnestness to him. It’s something far more psychotic.

    My response is no thank you. Please do not hurt yourself, or anyone else, so that you can forgive me. It makes no sense, and it is just morally wrong. I will not be a party to any such sick shit.

    I didn’t ask for God to sacrifice Jesus/himself for me. And I don’t think it should matter. I am not grateful for such things. (Besides which, it’s just a token sacrifice, on the scale of things. Maybe it’s just a symbol or metaphor, but I can’t even figure out anything sane that it’s a symbol of or metaphor for. It’s just nonsense.)

    If some psycho tortured his kid or himself to prove to you that you should like him, what would be your response? Mine would be EWWWW! Such people should not be entrusted with kids, or even themselves.

    Your god is just a psycho, and the worst form of power-tripping, guilt-tripping abuser, who can’t even explain why he demands death and destruction to atone for third-party sins.

    You should not worship, or even respect, such a thing. Really, you should not.

  72. #72 Paul W.
    February 28, 2006

    Perhaps evil is necessary to obtain true sacrifice and obedience from humans, but evil can also simply be seen as the lack of good.

    Seems to me you should know, without the “perhaps” and the “can also be seen as” stuff. You clearly don’t have a clear understanding of good and evil, and yet you go around worshipping something you claim exists and is good.

    Since God created the good, but also the choice to choose good so that He would be glorified further, Lucifer-the fallen angel wanted to be powerful like God, so he brought evil to the world. So then, does allowing evil mean that God is imperfect?

    Putting aside the fact that I don’t believe the kind of free will you need for your theology is even coherent, much less actually possible, much less real… there’s a more immediate problem.

    In this universe, some people’s choices often affect others in major and disastrous ways. That can’t be justified by saying that such choices have to be possible in order for people to have free will and worship your god non-robotically.

    For example, if a prison guard puts a person in gas chamber, it’s all very well to claim that the guard needs to have free will so that he has the option of doing good. But what about his victim? Why must the guard have the option of killing someone else, making a mockery of their free will?

    I think this just goes back to God wanting people to choose Him and worship, not like robots, but like his creation who is capable of faith despite sin.

    As though that could justify allowing innocent parties to be hurt by somebody’s free will—or far worse, demanding exactly that in the form of substitutional sacrifice.

    Sorry, this whole sacrifice-for-salvation thing is just senseless and sick, through and through.

    You worship a monster.

  73. #73 KenL
    February 28, 2006

    I understand Paul W’s revulsion, but that said, I’m sure Andrew’s a perfectly nice young fellow, and I do figure he’s to be commended for being polite and doing his level best to get his point across in a (relatively) hostile forum.

  74. #74 James
    February 28, 2006

    He is not bound by the laws of nature, science and the universe. … You’re trying to bind God to the rules of the world, where he is on a different plane entirely.

    That’s a fantastic claim, that a being can somehow exist “outside” of the universe, on this nebulous concept of a “plane” that you refer to, and yet still be able to interact within our universe. You must, i’m sure, have mountains of evidence to support such a fantastic claim, yes? You’re a smart fellow, you can certainly see how I might not believe this simply on your word.

    Jesus was still fully capable of doing anything that he wanted to do. He chose to suspend some his traits in order to become fully man and save humanity from sin.

    If you recall, I preempted this very response with:

    Remember, if you claim the alleged Jesus could have done anything as a god but simply (and conveniently) chose not too, then he can not be 100% man and must be only 100% god. In this case, his “sacrifice” is meaningless.

    So again, he is either a man or a god, they are _by definition_ entirely different and incompatible things. Men don’t have the powers of a god, and a god does not have the susceptibililty of mortals. One being can not logically be both.

    Lucifer-the fallen angel wanted to be powerful like God, so he brought evil to the world.

    god created the angels also, thus, he created evil. It comes down to this and it’s really simple…. if your god created everything as you claim, you can’t give your god credit for all the good in the world and deny that he is responsible for the bad. As such is the case, your god is lame and is not worthy of worship.

    Finally, no response to this?

    How could god give adam and eve the order that eating from the tree of knowledge was wrong and evil, if first they had to eat from the tree to have the ability to know good and evil? Makes no sense.

    I do appreciate your time and thought here. I know you are getting bombarded and I think you are handling yourself respectfully.

  75. #75 Andrew Olson
    February 28, 2006

    I’m really starting to better understand why someone who does not believe in God, cannot know God or understand in the slightest how He works. Perhaps it is my fault for making too many jumps without any agreed upon groundwork or definitions.

    I’ll say this, vengenance is not the same as justice. Since God is a God of justice, he cannot excuse sin. He teaches through discipline and sacrifice.

    When you do not understand God’s eternal purpose, of course you’re going to be worried about animal sacrifices and human wrongdoing on earth. From your perspective, why is it difficult to understand that if there is a God, why can’t he work through evil by way of sacrifice? I previously offered you an attempt to give me a means by which God could bring his creation to him by some other means, but you seemed to ignore this challenge. You also thought that I should have it completely together on the exact knowledge of what is good and what is evil. Just because I am a Christian does not mean that I am entitled to that much more wisdom than you are. God is quite able to control good and evil by himself.

    Your opposition to Jesus’ sacrifice can almost get to the comical stage from my point of view. Since sin requires punishment, Jesus sacrificed to bear it. You seem to think that salvation should be all about what we can do for God. God created us to worship him, and he takes up responsibility in bringing us to Himself. We humans are quite incapable of doing something for God on our own.

  76. #76 Steve LaBonne
    February 28, 2006

    I’m really starting to better understand why someone who does not believe in God, cannot know God or understand in the slightest how He works.

    Very good, that’s the first step toward sanity. The next step will be when you start to question why you believe in something so elusive and seemingly impervious to rational argument. I sincerely wish you the best of luck on this intellectual journey, whose goal is mental adulthood- something far too few people ever attain at any age. May you someday be one of the exceptions.
    You are clearly both a good person and an intelligent person, and could be making far better use of your gifts than you are doing now. Cheers.

  77. #77 Andrew Olson
    February 28, 2006

    James: If there is a God, why can’t he exist outside of the known universe on a different plane? The God who created the universe and the laws of science does not have to place himself within it to be measured.

    Look at Jesus being fully man and fully God from my suspension perspective. Perhaps it was not even his choice, but the Father’s to suspend some of his powers. I don’t know. All I can say is that it is quite evident that he was tempted, experienced human emotion and suffering, and yet was resurrected and performed miracles. I’m curious as to how you think that he fell short of being a human.

    Remember that it is possible that evil does not have to be created as it is not a tangible “thing”. Perhaps God did create the environment in which it developed in his created angels. It is obvious that God fights against evil. If He indeed did create it, it was for a purpose.

    Adam and Eve apparently didn’t really grasp the concept of Good and Evil, or they wouldn’t have been stupid enough to fall to temptation and eat the fruit. They had it pretty good after all. Perhaps lucifer brought the problem of evil to Adam and Eve.

    I’ve got to get to practice, I’ll try to respond later in the evening.

  78. #78 GH
    February 28, 2006

    When you do not understand God’s eternal purpose, of course you’re going to be worried about animal sacrifices and human wrongdoing on earth

    How can you possibly to pretend to KNOW God’s purpose when you can’t even prove he exists? It’s utter arrogance.

    Your opposition to Jesus’ sacrifice can almost get to the comical stage from my point of view. Since sin requires punishment, Jesus sacrificed to bear it.

    That is a very comical answer. Why would sin require punishment? Is causing suffering ever justified. I don’t think so.

  79. #79 Paul W.
    February 28, 2006

    I understand Paul W’s revulsion, but that said, I’m sure Andrew’s a perfectly nice young fellow, and I do figure he’s to be commended for being polite and doing his level best to get his point across in a (relatively) hostile forum.

    I agree. While I obviously no great respect for Christianity, that doesn’t mean I have anything against Christians, definitely including Andrew.

    I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t think that Andrew himself was more admirable than the god he worships.

  80. #80 James
    February 28, 2006

    The God who created the universe and the laws of science does not have to place himself within it to be measured.

    I understood your idea the first time you presented it and perhaps i was a bit vague in my question back to you (see the first quote and reply in my previous post), so here goes my question again as direct as i can be:

    It is a fantastic claim to say that something exists outside of the universe. I’m not going to take your word for it. Please provide evidence that backs up your claim.

    I’m curious as to how you think that he fell short of being a human.

    You’re not grasping my point. An apple is an apple and an orange is an orange. How is it possible to have an object that is at the same time both an apple and an orange. You are breaking the Law of Identity. The characteristics of an apple are such that it can not be an orange. Similarly, the characteristics of a god are such that it can not be a man.*

    If you happen to fall back on the “god can do whatever because he is not bound by the laws of nature” argument, please be sure to have ample evidence as requested above.

    Adam and Eve apparently didn’t really grasp the concept of Good and Evil

    Then how would a god expect them to follow his rule in the first place?

    * Furthermore, the characteristics of a god are such that it can not logically exist. But, so as not to sidetrack our discussion, let’s leave that can of worms alone for now…

  81. #81 Paul W.
    February 28, 2006

    I’ll say this, vengenance is not the same as justice.

    No, it isn’t, but they’re related, especially if your idea of justice includes punishment for its own sake, to balance the moral books, as opposed to punishment as a deterrent.

    I understand the need to punish, sometimes. A threat of punishment can provide a deterrent, and actual punishment may be necessary to show that the threat is not hollow. Reward and punishment can be non-vengeful ways of adjusting people’s will toward the desired kind of behavior, and perhaps making them re-think things in a way that helps them learn to be actually moral.

    But substitutional sacrifice is different; it makes a mockery of these valid reasons to punish, and seems to make punishment an end in itself. That seems pretty obviously evil to me.

    Likewise, the Doctrine of Hell makes a mockery of these valid reasons to punish. Why punish people after they’ve already blown it, rather than while they still have a chance to change the ways.

    As a professor, in the past, I sometimes erred by not giving enough quizzes and tests, to keep people motivated and on track, and inadvertently punished some people too much, too late, for not really keeping up with a course or properly appreciating the standards. Big oops. Given my major goal of actually teaching people as much as possible, I erred.

    If my goal had been primarily to weed people out, however, my methods would have been more acceptable. Maybe the students who were insufficiently motivated or didn’t quickly catch on to both the content and the standards didn’t belong in my classes, really, anyway.

    My problem with the Doctrine of Hell is that it’s way too much like a weed-out course and not nearly enough like a class I’d want to teach. I’m just not that ruthless, and hate teaching weed-out courses. I understand that students are limited, flawed, and undeveloped people; I’d rather maximize their potential than “justifiably” exclude them, if at all possible.

    That makes me nicer than your God, who has some abysmal lesson plans and grading strategies. For example, many people like me do not know whether there will be a test at the end of the course, what it will cover, what counts as the right answer, or what the consequences of failure will be. If I we were to fail the test and be tortured forever, we would be quite surprised and disappointed—entirely justifiably, I believe.

    Until we recognize that there is a teacher and what the teacher wants us to understand, we can’t be expected to learn the material. We therefore should not be punished for things we could not reasonably be expected to know.

    In other words, unless people like you get to be much better at convincing people like me, your god is about the worst possible teacher. Unless, of course, his goal is not to mercifully and nurturingly help people be good, but to catch many people by surprise and weed them out.

    And if that’s his teaching style, he’s what’s known in the teaching trade as an “asshole,” which is at least two levels of harshness beyond “hardass.”

    Since God is a God of justice, he cannot excuse sin.

    Forgiving sin is not the same thing as excusing it. Understanding the causes of sin, and taking them into account as mitigating factors, is not the same thing as excusing sin.

    This is a big problem many people have with orthodox Christian theology. On the one hand, it’s supposed to be about love and forgiveness. On the other hand, it systematically justifies substitutional punishment and incredibly harsh judgement followed by incredibly harsh punishment—infliction of infinite suffering for finite offenses.

    Your god is the biggest asshole I’ve ever even heard of. Far worse than Hitler or Stalin, who never inflicted even a finite fraction of the suffering that your god would by condemning someone to hell forever.

    That is the big flaw at the core of orthodox Christianity. Your “God of Love” is demonstrably the worst imaginable sort of dick. There is a profound contradiction at the very heart of your scriptures.

    Which should make it understandable why many well-meaning people do reject the “offer” of forgiveness from such a “God of Love” and cannot possibly worship such a monster.

    Perhaps that’s just because we’re mere humans, who can’t understand God’s reasons. But if so, whose fault is that? Why is it so damned hard for us to understand how you can worship your god, such that it’s impossible for us to do so. How can you, or your God, expect us to take your word for it, or to take the Bible’s word for it.

    We can’t know and love such a god; we can only puzzle over the idea of such a god.

    That does not make us deserving of infinite torture, for failing to understand that we deserve infinite torture for failing to understand how any of this could be right or true.

    He teaches through discipline and sacrifice.

    Sounds like some of the worst teachers I’ve ever met, only much worse.

    Your opposition to Jesus’ sacrifice can almost get to the comical stage from my point of view.

    There’s clearly some black comedy in all this.

    Since sin requires punishment,

    Says who? When and why does sin require punishment? When is forgiveness and mercy better? What is the point of punishment? When is it pointless and therefore just an unnecessary infliction of suffering, which is a bad thing?

    You don’t seem to have any answers to these basic questions. You seem to just accept that whatever your god decides is just is actually just. That can’t be right.

    You seem to think that salvation should be all about what we can do for God.

    No. I simply don’t understand what salvation is for, because I don’t understand what condemnation is for, in your scheme. I understand punishment, under some circumstances. I do not understand how torturing people forever could be just, under any circumstances.

    I don’t think that you do, either. You just defer moral judgement and accept that The Eternal Torturer is also the God of Love.

    That can’t be true, no matter what God’s inscrutable motives and reasoning are. Love is a human word with a human meaning, and it just can’t stretch that far. Whatever this is, it isn’t love. It is some incomprehensible weirdness on the part of an incredibly ruthless and powerful alien of some sort. A profoundly alien alien, whose motives can’t be understood in terms of human ideas like love and mercy.

    You are worshipping a bizarre alien, and your metaphorical understandings in terms of love and justice and teaching and relationships with fathers just don’t hold up.

    P.S. You’re right that I’m punting at the moment on answering your question about how I’d do things differently, if I was God. There are so many presuppositions in the way you frame things that I don’t yet know where to begin. Sorry if that seems uncooperative. It’s not because I don’t want to answer the question; I do. I’m just not sure how, yet, because I’m afraid it will explode off on a zillion tangents about the nature of free will, etc.

  82. #82 KenL
    February 28, 2006

    Perhaps that’s just because we’re mere humans, who can’t understand God’s reasons. But if so, whose fault is that? Why is it so damned hard for us to understand how you can worship your god, such that it’s impossible for us to do so. How can you, or your God, expect us to take your word for it, or to take the Bible’s word for it.

    Paul W: Maybe that’s why it’s called faith…?

  83. #83 Paul W.
    February 28, 2006

    Paul W: Maybe that’s why it’s called faith…?

    I thought that was because focus groups gave “faith” better ratings than “mindbendingly incoherent and profoundly evil nonsense.”

  84. #84 Former Evangelical
    March 1, 2006

    You’ll occasionally see a t-shirt with the slogan, “If you love something, set it free. If it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it.”

    There came a day when I realized that was exactly what I had been taught to believe about God. I had also been taught that God created humans for no other reason than that these hopelessly weak creatures could worship his own infinite self; when it finally occured to me that “Even I’m not that emotionally insecure!” then, well, there was no respecting even the concept of the Jewish/Christian God after that.

    Paul W. makes a good point, Andrew. Those of us who grew up in the church were taught to believe how sinful we are . . . but in fact, we are morally superior to the God we worship(ed), without even having to be especially good people, at that.

    That shouldn’t be so surprising: the Jewish God was invented in a time when most rulers were like Sadaam Hussein, and it shows.

  85. #85 Andrew Olson
    March 1, 2006

    still don’t have time to respond much, but I’ll just point out a few flaws in the argument just presented.

    It is impossible to be morally superior to the one who creates morals. Desiring worship does not constitute a lapse in morals if you are deserving. Nowhere does it make it seem like God bases his self-worth upon his creation praising him. It is simply the only correct response to God.

  86. #86 Steve LaBonne
    March 1, 2006

    It is impossible to be morally superior to the one who creates morals.

    Andrew, are you familiar with the fallacy called petitio principi, usually rendered (misleadingly) in English “begging the question”? You should be, since everything you write exemplifies it.

  87. #87 Paul W.
    March 1, 2006

    Andrew writes:

    It is impossible to be morally superior to the one who creates morals.

    Says who? Ever heard of the Euthyphro Dilemma?

    What do they teach you in Bible College? You don’t seem to be familiar with even the most basic philosophy relevant to evaluating your religion. You should know that stuff, if only to be able to counter it.

    It sounds to me like you’re getting a poor substitute for an education.

    Desiring worship does not constitute a lapse in morals if you are deserving.

    I suppose that’s one way of putting it. But your god doesn’t just desire worship. He tortures people forever for honest mistakes. That’s different.

    I am an atheist. I’m anti-Christianity to boot.

    As I understand your view, if I were to get hit by a bus and die before changing my views, I would go to Hell.

    Please answer these questions: Is that correct? If so, is it morally right?

  88. #88 Andrew Olson
    March 1, 2006

    Sorry for the latenss in my replies. Just took my midterm in Christian Theology actually (got a B).

    I was misleading with my comment about one not being able to be morally superior to the maker of morals. My real point that I got at in the sentence after that was that God did not violate his own Law. It would be impossible for Him to do, as his very definition makes him unchangable.

    Paul, I do not know how God will judge people. Since atheists do not believe in God they are very concerned with their date of death. It is well within God’s ability to give you a chance to save you after your death. The only thing that I can surmise is that God cannot help those who knowingly deny him over and over again. I’ll just have to ask him later how he dealt with the tribes of people all over the world who have never heard of Jesus. Of course it is generally assumed by Christians that all human beings have an idea of God built into them, without having to be told about Him. But my advice would always be to avoid buses.

  89. #89 Andrew Olson
    March 1, 2006

    Allow me to address substitutional sacrifice again.
    I propose that substitutional sacrifice is a deterrent against evil. You do not understand this as an atheist, but Christians will look to the cross and understand that it is us and not Jesus that should be upon the cross to die for our sins. Sin is not something that people could overcome on their own through their acceptance of the existence of God. There had to be a substitute for us(Jesus).

    The only other comment that I have for now is the focus that atheists have about their lack of belief not being their own fault. I would definitely try to argue that case if I were an atheist as I would be rather worried about Hell if I was wrong, but I could hope that my rational arguing could help me out after death when I convince God that it wasn’t fair. The truth is that I agree with you. It is not up to you to find the physical evidence for a knowledge of God. God will come to you and give you the ability to know Him better. I believe you might be able to reject and ignore God when He comes to help you have faith. Just another thing that God has given to His creation.

  90. #90 Paul W.
    March 1, 2006

    The only thing that I can surmise is that God cannot help those who knowingly deny him over and over again.

    Well, I guess that would just have to include me. I’ve been denying the existence of the Christian god for over three decades, over and over again.

    And it’s not for lack of exposure to Christianity. It’s not like I’ve never heard of Jesus.

    I was baptized and raised Christian, and I know far more about Christianity and the Bible than most Christians do. I’ve studied a fair bit—for years and years, as a Christian, and for decades as a non-Christian.

    I’ve given understanding Christianity my best shot, and I think it’s bunk, and I say so.
    (And I have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, which the Bible says is the unforgivable sin.)

    But my advice would always be to avoid buses.

    So you do think your god might well torture me forever, right? (Assuming I don’t change my ways before a bus or old age gets me.)

    I am exactly the kind of person the Bible says will burn forever in Hell, aren’t I?

  91. #91 Thess
    March 1, 2006

    “I would definitely try to argue that case if I were an atheist as I would be rather worried about Hell if I was wrong”

    Heh. No offense, Andrew, and I really appreciate that you’re trying to reach out, and you’ve been very respectful and all. . . but this is pretty darn hilarious.

    Do you believe that if you step on a crack you really will break your mother’s back? No? So as a step-on-a-crack nonbeliever, are you “rather worried” about the consequences if you’re wrong? What if your mother’s back REALLY WILL break? Does that keep you up at night every time you step on a crack? Do you need to invent logical arguments to protect yourself from guilt if you later find out you were wrong?

    Or do you just discount the saying as myth and never give it a seconds thought?

    As an atheist, I discount the myth, and it absolutely doesn’t worry me in the least. Not one iota, not one second, never. Do you worry that your some of your actions in life might violate the tenets of the Muslims, or of the Hindi, or the Navajo? Do you invent elaborate rationalizations just in case when you die you find yourself face-to-face with Coyote and Raven instead of Jesus? No. Because you do not believe in those things, they do not trouble you. Not for one second, not at all.

    If you believe in Hell enough to be worried about it- even just a little- you’re not an atheist by any definition of the word I’ve ever understood.

  92. #92 Andrew Olson
    March 2, 2006

    Paul: I can’t possibly judge as I am not God, but I would say you are quite a ways away from unsaveable. I couldn’t tell you whether or not God has been giving you the option to believe in Him or whether you are just denying based upon your own knowledge, rather than denying some sort of revelation sent down to you.

    I am just as much or more deserving of going to Hell as anyone. God does not care which sins or what level of sin we might be committing. We’re all failures. It is not that I have something wonderful figured out that you were not smart enough to find. I cannot think rational thoughts that would lead to my salvation. I may be able to rationally prove the existence of God (getting somewhat better at doing this), but that has little to do with salvation.

    Thess: Atheists do have reason to worry about the possible existence of God, because they cannot disprove His existence. They ask Christians to provide the evidence, but the Atheist has no good evidence to prove that God’s existence is impossible. Atheists also make absolutely sure to be quick to appeal to the love of God, to demand fair treatment for the ignorance, because they feel they were not given enough physical evidence to make a decision. Do not misread me, I am not trying to advance Pascal’s Wager. Simply because it is hard to disprove God, does not mean that you should weigh the consequences and believe in God, because it has the path of least resistance. I do not believe in superstitions. I am assured of my salvation. goodnight

  93. #93 August Berkshire
    March 2, 2006

    From the Star-Tribune article:

    Berkshire said there are two kinds of atheists — “negative” ones who declare there is no God and “positive” ones such as himself, “who lack belief because we see no evidence.”

    In general I think terminology like this isn’t terribly useful outside of debates with theists, but I’m pretty sure these are backwards.

    Posted by: pdf23ds | February 25, 2006 02:51 PM

    You are correct, the definitions are backwards. The reporter quoted me wrong, or perhaps got confused because I also talked about “positive, friendly neighborhood atheism,” which is what I try to portray, as opposed to stereotypical ranting and raving village idiot atheism. There are still some of those types around.

  94. #94 August Berkshire
    March 2, 2006

    I wanted to hear more about August’s thoughts about Christianity specifically because the idea of salvation by grace is completely different than any other religion’s idea of salvation. I wanted to hear the atheist view of the motivation behind a belief that does not demand religious acts and complete devotion to a modern prophet in order to obtain salvation. Since I also do not equate the Bible and the Quran or the book of Mormon, I was also curious about an atheist perspective on the obvious differences that exist between these religious books. We did not have much time to get into the issues behind each point that August made so I did not see them as being closed topics. Each of August’s 18 points cannot be argued for or refuted in the amount of time given that class, so I wanted a little more from a few of them.
    As for the students not understanding the motivation behind August coming to speak to class, I think the answer is quite obvious. Why would a person spend so much time and energy in order to believe nothing? He spends a considerable amount of energy refuting something rather than arguing for his own beliefs. Is the motivation to just attempt to stop Christians from opposing gay marriage in the legislature? Personally, if I oppose that sort of legislation it is far more about my political views than my religious views. When I get into the idea of ordaining gay people in my denomination, then it gets religious and I base my arguments upon scripture.

    Posted by: Andrew Olson | February 26, 2006 07:46 PM

    Hello Andrew,

    The idea of salvation by grace comes from the Bible. But there is no proof that it is true, so as someone else noted, it falls under unconvincing arguments #1 (unverifiable holy books) and #2 (unverifiable revelations). What do I think about it as a concept? “Salvation” through works or grace makes no difference to me; both are purely articles of faith.

    As to the differences between holy books, it’s all pretty much the same to me. You might be able to independently verify some secular history, but there is no proof for any of the supernatural tales in any of the books.

    It’s funny, when I used to speak more specifically about Christianity, I got accused of Christian-bashing. So now I speak more generally about god ideas and get accused of not addressing Christianity enough. Well, I think we had at least 20 minutes for questions, but we certainly could have gone on longer.

    Why would I spent so much time on atheism? I grew up Christian and, in rejecting that belief as unjustifiable, I did not want to be a hypocrite and accept atheism without being able to justify it. Also, I claim to be open-minded, which means I should be willing to listen to and calmly, rationally critique religious arguments. Also, religion does so much damage to society that I want believers to realize it is purely faith and they have no right to impose it on others. It does me no harm if someone else wants to believe in heaven, but it does do me harm if they act on a belief that in killing me they’ll be guaranteed to go there. Finally, I just happen to find the subject fascinating. But I don’t “do” atheism 24/7. I enjoy talking about it, but there are plenty of other things I enjoy as well. I enjoy learning about the real world, and for that I need to read about science, not religion.

    Since atheism is a lack of belief in gods, wouldn’t it make sense that I would talk about why I lack a belief? I usually give a talk about god-of-the-gaps. However, I had prepared this talk for a Creative Evangelism class at Bethel University and when I told Ronn (the Northwestern College teacher) about it, he said he wanted me to give it to his class.

    I don’t care if religions ordain gay clergy or not. I only point out the hypocrisy of saying “we’re all God’s children” and “we’re all equal in the eyes of God” when “God” apparently views some people as more equal than others.

    As for same-sex civil marriage, the state has no right to discriminate against its citizens on the basis of religion, which is what it is doing by banning such marriages. It’s a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

    Andrew, I hope this answers some of your questions. Feel free to e-mail me if you like.

    Best wishes,
    August
    augustberkshire@gmail.com

  95. #95 Paul W.
    March 2, 2006

    I am just as much or more deserving of going to Hell as anyone. God does not care which sins or what level of sin we might be committing. We’re all failures.

    Whose fault is that? Clearly the odds are overwhelmingly against us, if patently well-meaning people like me or you are “deserving of going to Hell.”

    That’s just crazy. It’s just nuts to think that a race of finite, flawed beings is, by default, deserving of infinite suffering. Or any suffering at all.

    It’s even crazier to think that whether they can be “forgiven,” and get infinite bliss instead, should hinge on whether they accept a particular non-obvious belief, and are able to worship the abusive monster who would set up such a situation.

    That’s one reason why I bothered to respond to any of this. Your question was about salvation through grace.

    That’s interesting to me, because I think that the concept of salvation through grace is exactly the worst, craziest, and most evil thing about Christianity. It is incoherent and therefore impossible, and it is morally repugnant. It is why Christianity is profoundly false, and morally damaging—rather than simply being silly, mistaken and inconsistent on many lesser issues, and wildly improbable.

  96. #96 Andrew Olson
    March 2, 2006

    I’m glad to see that August found this little topic. I was just randomly searching around google for mentions of the article and stumbled upon this website. I’m not sure that August will check back here as he gave his email as a means of communication, so I’ll respond to Paul first. By the way, my email is andrewolson54@gmail.com

    Posted By Paul W.
    “That’s just crazy. It’s just nuts to think that a race of finite, flawed beings is, by default, deserving of infinite suffering. Or any suffering at all.”

    We deserve suffering because we are flawed, because we do not naturally do “the right thing”. Doing the right thing would not save us, but it sure would make the world a little nicer place to live in. There are just a lot of “good” people out there that I disagree strongly with and yet respect as a human being.

    Try looking at God from my perspective for just a second. I was not pressured into accepting God and Christ by the threat of Hell. God gives the strength to believe. He is a dictator, but a loving dictator who can not err as human dictators invariably do.

    August: Thanks for taking time to answer some of my questions. You mentioned that you have been criticized in the past for bashing Christianity. I just thought that part of your presentation was sorely lacking, perhaps because you have gotten bad reviews in the past and want to portray the “friendly, neighborhood atheist”. I would not be surprised if you could quote scripture better than I can, so don’t be afraid to show it. Why do think that the Christian bible has become so popular? If there is a God, is it not rational to assume that he would insipre human authors to write down His word? Of course we will not find physical evidence to show that the authors were inspired, but it is rather logical that God would use his humans to help other humans come to God. Anyhow, the main thing that I wanted to hear about was the “uniqueness” of salvation by grace. I assume you have studied other religions, and as such you would find that no other religion works in the way that Chrisitianity does. From your perspective, do you think that the early Christians who were crazy enough to come up with their own religion thought up the idea of salvation by grace because it seemed easier to accmomplish than other religions which require religious acts and good works?

    I am surprised that atheists are so willing to become pro-gay marriages as they are demand physical evidence for so many things. No one is born gay. There is not evidence to prove that people are born with alternative sexualities. It is just another form of sexual perversion like incest or pedophilia. The problem is that society has come to accept homosexuality as a healthy alternative, whereas other perversions are still looked down upon. It is not necessary to give tax breaks to a group of people who spread aids and trade partners so often that it puts even modern heterosexual divorce rates to shame. I’ll get off my soapbox, as I just pulled out the aids card.

  97. #97 Kristjan Wager
    March 2, 2006

    No one is born gay. There is not evidence to prove that people are born with alternative sexualities.

    Except for the fact that some people are homosexual? Even in countries where they could get killed for being such?

    Moron.

  98. #98 Kristjan Wager
    March 2, 2006

    It’s like saying that we have no evidence of planet like structures ciricling other planet like structures, when we have the moon circling Earth.

  99. #99 Steve LaBonne
    March 2, 2006

    Andrew, I couldn’t care less whether people are born gay or not. Other people’s consensual sexual activities are none of my business and none of the State’s either. Just like your religious observances. If we just get to outlaw things we don’t like, then your benighted and bigoted version of Christianity would be in my crosshairs for sure. Fortunately and rightly, our Cosntitutional rights protect it.

    For the rest, you are remarkably ignorant and self-righteous, but then you’re young and have been brainwashed within an inch of your life. I trust that the years will bring you greater knowledge and compassion.

  100. #100 Paul W.
    March 2, 2006

    I am surprised that atheists are so willing to become pro-gay marriages as they are demand physical evidence for so many things. No one is born gay. There is not evidence to prove that people are born with alternative sexualities.

    Like most conservative Christians, you really just don’t get it.

    It’s not atheists who care whether people are born gay, or choose to be gay. Most of us just don’t care if people are gay. We do care a lot about people, and don’t think it’s okay for some people to decide what’s okay for other people, based on the incoherent ravings of demonstrably messed-up lunatics.

    And as it happens, there’s some pretty good evidence that some people are more or less born gay, or with a predisposition to be gay that nobody knows how to overcome. (More importantly, nobody can really explain why they should try to “overcome” this difference.)

    The significance of whether people “can’t help it” is mainly in refuting an argument that’s a non-starter for us anyway. That’s all about your belief system, not ours.

    It is just another form of sexual perversion like incest or pedophilia.

    Only in the sense that you run everything you don’t approve of together, as if there was no difference. The same non-argument would work to say that heterosexual sex is all the same, too—it’s just sex, and sex is bad, so relations between consenting adults and coercive relationships between adults and children “are all the same.”

    If anybody we’re discussing is a pervert, it would have to be your god. He’s the hands-down winner, with his obsession with where the lower animals put their penises, demands of foreskin sacrifices, having sex with much lower orders of beings than himself, etc. (To your god, we are less than dogs are to us. So he goes an knocks up a bitch who bears his half-human bastard, who’s our big brother we’re supposed to worship. Whee!)

    You have a very sick and perverted god.

    P.S. When the Angel of the Lord delivered God’s message to Joseph about Mary being pregnant, what it really said was this: I did your wife! Deal with it.

    Some god.

  101. #101 Andrew Olson
    March 2, 2006

    Paul: Do you really think that you’re getting anywhere with this “God is a jerk” argument? It’s pretty obvious that God had it right when he decided that sex between man and a woman in a marriage would be the best way for our society to be built upon. Relationships tend to work a lot better when you have that trust that the other party is not sleeping around. I could imagine it might be somewhat depressing for a married person who was used to sleeping around to understand that he will only get to have sex with one person for the rest of his life….hence divorce. Makes sense to me anyways.

  102. #102 PZ Myers
    March 2, 2006

    No one is born gay. There is not evidence to prove that people are born with alternative sexualities.

    Are people born heterosexual? Is that a choice?

    Personally, I find women sexually exciting, but men just do nothing for me. I don’t know whether it’s inborn or a product of interactions during development and my early years, but I do know it’s not a matter of choice for me. That’s the way my brain works.

    Now if that’s a constraint and a compulsion on me, why is it so hard to imagine that others might feel exactly the same way about members of the same sex? You can’t say one is hardwired and not the other, because they are the same thing.

    It may be that Mr Olson is one of those people who finds both men and women equally attractive as sexual partners, and in his case his sexual preference actually is a consequence of a conscious decision. I can respect that. But he needs to know that many of us have much more restricted sexual proclivities, and we really can’t help it.

  103. #103 Paul W.
    March 2, 2006

    Do you really think that you’re getting anywhere with this “God is a jerk” argument?

    Perhaps not, in your case, if only because you are brainwashed within an inch of your life and can’t see the fallacies and falsehoods at the core of your beliefs.

    Do you think you’re getting anywhere with any of your arguments?

    Near as I can tell, nobody here can even make sense of your position, much less agree with it.

    It’s pretty obvious that God had it right when he decided that sex between man and a woman in a marriage would be the best way for our society to be built upon.

    I do think that heterosexual marriage is likely the best arrangement for most heterosexual people. (If that’s what they want, and most seem to.)

    That doesn’t mean that gay people should or can become heterosexual or that heterosexual marriage should be the only available kind. It simply doesn’t follow. Gay marriage should be available for exactly the same reason that straight marriage should be available—so that sexually and (more importantly) romantically compatible people can form stable long-term pair bonds.

    Attempts to “reform” gay people so that they can become happily married straight people have generally been an abysmal failure—even among the people in the Christian “ex-gay” movement, who desperately want not to be gay. For many, homosexuality ends up being treated like an incurable disease, which they never get over. If they marry, it doesn’t make them happy, and both they and their unsuitable partners suffer terribly.

    Would you want to marry a lesbian who would never be sexually attracted to you, and would always feel the lack of a romantic relationship with a woman? Would you want to be a woman married to a gay man, who struggled against being gay but was quite likely to fail?

    I sure wouldn’t. I don’t believe in forcing round pegs into square holes.

    Marriage is hard enough without that kind of fundamental incompatibility being added.

    Relationships tend to work a lot better when you havhat trust that the other party is not sleeping around.

    The last person you should trust is a gay person misguidedly trying to be straight for you, and not knowing how. Such marriages generally don’t work out well.

    I could imagine it might be somewhat depressing for a married person who was used to sleeping around to understand that he will only get to have sex with one person for the rest of his life….hence divorce.

    Sure. It can also be depressing for somebody who marries as a virgin to realize that they’re not sexually or romantically compatible with their partner, in the long run. Hence the high rate of divorce and marital problems among fundamentalist Christians who do believe as you do.

    That kind of ideology doesn’t make a marriage work. Marriage is hard for other reasons than your theory accounts for, and that’s a recipe for disaster.

    You seem to think that atheists don’t believe in marriage, or value stable monogomous relationships. Most do; they just don’t think the state should be in the business of dictating how to make such things work.

    And by the way, how about polygamy. Seems to me your bronze-age god is fine with polygyny, but not polyandry, or used to be. Are you for that, too? If not, why not? (Did your omniscient, unchanging god learn from experience that it was a bad social arrangement?)

  104. #104 Thess
    March 2, 2006

    I do not believe in superstitions. I am assured of my salvation.

    D’oh!

    I realize that statement makes sense from Andrew’s point of view. But it’s far too funny from the atheist POV to not take a good-natured jab at.

  105. #105 Andrew Olson
    March 2, 2006

    I don’t know how far we would be able to progress in a sexual debate. Everyone is else is for complete choice, and I believe there is only one avenue for true sexual fulfillment without a lot of consequences. I base my views largely on scripture, so I cannot argue my position to someone who does not believe in scripture. It is only a useful argument within the church.

    Why do atheists believe in a stable marriage? Clearly there is a lot of fun to be had out there in the world and you are only here for the short term (a lifetime), so what are you doing wasting your time by trying to be a responsible citizen? Perhaps atheists are the true altruists? Or do atheists play by the rules only to avoid punishment?

  106. #106 PZ Myers
    March 2, 2006

    That’s just sad.

    Trust and faithfulness are their own reward, so altruism doesn’t have to play into it (although we can act altruistically). We don’t live this one life we have just for fun; atheism is not the same as hedonism. And we don’t pick our way of life out of fear — we leave that for the Christians.

    I find it genuinely deplorable that Christianity takes young men and women and strips their independence and moral sense from them, and replaces them with rules and threats.

  107. #107 Soren K
    March 2, 2006

    As for sexuality – I am in total agreement with mr Myers. I did not choose to be attracted to women – I just am.

    Why is it so hard for you to accept that two people who love each other would like to have the added security of a marriage?

    As to stable marriages – My wife and I have been together for 9 years – we married three years ago. Our relationship is no different after we got married from before – we have always been faithful to eachother – by choice. I like that arrangement – I like going to sleep with her every night, kissing her goodnight, and I love waking with her in the morning. actually I love everything about her, so I really cannot se your point? What does me (and her) being atheist have to do with our marriage?

    I gather youre quite young, so let me play the old wise man (im 32) – there is a lot of fun to be had, but the kind of fun you’re thinking of is not enough in the long run – my wife and I are enjoying many different kinds of fun – and the great thing is – it only gets better when you are sharing it.

    Indeed the kind of fun you are thinking of can also get better with someone you love and trust – you can safely try out all those things that would get you sent to jail in some of the more backwards states in the US.

    /Soren
    Copenhagen
    Denmark

  108. #108 Soren
    March 2, 2006

    Mr Olson

    I advise you to read your latest post again and really think about what you imply about yourself in it.
    You say (addressed to atheists in general):

    “Clearly there is a lot of fun to be had out there in the world and you are only here for the short term (a lifetime), so what are you doing wasting your time by trying to be a responsible citizen?”

    Now let me ask you – assuming you are trying to be a responsible citizen – are you only trying to do this because you are a christian? If so – thank god you’re a christian!

    You see, people who are unable to relate to other human beings in a normal way – by being responsible – are mostly found to be mentally defective in some ways, for example sociopaths. Most of us do not need religion to have empathy and sympathy with other humans, or to make and maintain meaningfull and responsible relationships with other people, and indeed with the communities in which we live.

    The religious people who – like you – wonder how this is possible when one does not believe in any gods scare me! Apparently – if you lost your faith – you would stop trying to be a responsible citizen?

    I know you wouldn’t – you seem like nice, sane person, but I wonder why you think that other people have to have religion to behave responsible?

    /Soren

  109. #109 Paul W.
    March 2, 2006

    Why do atheists believe in a stable marriage? Clearly there is a lot of fun to be had out there in the world and you are only here for the short term (a lifetime), so what are you doing wasting your time by trying to be a responsible citizen?

    Why limit this to atheists?

    Why do Jews believe in stable marriage?

    The ancient Hebrews generally didn’t believe in an afterlife, and most modern Jews don’t either, or don’t think it has much to do with morality.

    Morality isn’t mostly about reward or punishment in an afterlife.

    It’s about whether you want to be a dick, or to put a Jewish spin on it, whether you’d rather be a mensch or a schmuck. Which would you rather be?

    A Jew asked his rabbi, “If there’s no afterlife, why wouldn’t I just be a schmuck?”

    The rabbi asked him, “Do you want to be a schmuck?”

    The Jew said, “No, of course not. That’s why I ask.”

    And the rabbi said, “there’s your answer, then.”

    The simple fact is that most people have a moral sense, whether they believe in an afterlife or not. Christians propagate the idea that what makes people moral is the prospect of punishment or reward in the afterlife.

    But that’s just clearly not true. Atheists and Jews and other people who don’t believe in Ultimate Punishment are no less moral than Christians.

    Consider people on death row in the U.S. for heinous crimes. If you think that fear of punishment in the afterlife is what keeps people moral, you’d think there’d be a lot of atheists and Jews, and Zen Buddhists and pagans on death row.

    But there aren’t. Those groups are underreprepresented. Most Jews and atheists and buddhists and pagans just go about their business, being normally moral people, and rarely run amok, and the supposed afterlife has nothing at all to do with it

    Who do you find on death row? A lot of Christians, for one thing. A lot of Bible-believing Christians, in particular. There are many people on death row who do believe that they will go to Hell for what they did, but they did it anyway.

    I’m not saying that Christianity or fundamentalism makes people into murderers and whatnot. I’m just saying it clearly doesn’t do the reverse nearly as effectively as most Christians think.

    Humans who are not Christian are far more moral than Christians generally think. Humans who are Christians aren’t especially moral.

    Many Christians think that their morality comes from their Christianity. They think that because they explicitly learn morality in Church and sunday school, that’s where morality comes from.

    But it isn’t. Morality is a normal aspect of human nature. It arises in cultures that do not believe in Christianity, or in the kind of individual reward or punishment in an afterlife that Christians associate with morality.

    The promises and threats of Christian morality are not what make Christians moral, for the most part. And the disbelief in those things does not make non-Christians less moral.

    Morality isn’t about that, in either a deep theoretical sense or a pragmatic sense.

    On a deep level, if your moral sense is really just selfishness being shaped by rewards or threats, that’s not morality.

    On a pragmatic level, such rewards and threats might be useful, but they’re far less effective than people generally think; they are not, in fact, what makes people behave morally in their day-to-day lives, even if those people think that such things are important.

    This is what psychologists call an “attribution error.” People are very bad at explaining why they really do things—what actually makes them tick—and they attribute their behavior to things they consciously believe, when the real causes are different and more fundamental.

    Christianity embodies a bad theory of the mind, and a bad theory of morality. The Christian theory of what makes people tick, and why theology matters, is basically false.

  110. #110 August Berkshire
    March 2, 2006

    Posted by: Andrew Olson | March 2, 2006 01:43 PM:

    I’m not sure that August will check back here as he gave his email as a means of communication, so I’ll respond to Paul first.

    = Yes, I’ll keep reading this blog. I kind of feel sorry for you that so many people are ganging up on you, but that’s what you get when you make faith-based rather than reason-based arguments on a science blog. =

    Why do think that the Christian bible has become so popular? If there is a God, is it not rational to assume that he would insipre human authors to write down His word? Of course we will not find physical evidence to show that the authors were inspired, but it is rather logical that God would use his humans to help other humans come to God.

    = If there was a god, I would expect him to tell us exactly what he wants (if he wants us to obey him), instead of inspiring contradictory holy books from different religions. Remember, the suicide Muslim bombers are as absolutely convinced their religion is true as you are that yours is true. (The fact that religious belief is mostly dependent upon geography, rather than objectivity, is what led me to atheism.)

    This reminds me, not only can you not prove one god exists, but you can’t prove seven gods don’t exist (rather than the tri-part Christian god). =

    Anyhow, the main thing that I wanted to hear about was the “uniqueness” of salvation by grace. I assume you have studied other religions, and as such you would find that no other religion works in the way that Chrisitianity does. From your perspective, do you think that the early Christians who were crazy enough to come up with their own religion thought up the idea of salvation by grace because it seemed easier to accmomplish than other religions which require religious acts and good works?

    = I don’t know why some Christians came up with salvation through grace (which Roman Catholic Christians reject). Why did Buddhists come up with reincarnation? Just because something is unique doesn’t make it true. In a way, it tends to make it suspect. If only one cult of scientists believed in evolution, it would be suspect. The fact that evolution has found such broad acceptance worldwide – from people of all faiths, including Christianity – testifies to the huge likelihood that it is true. =

    It is not necessary to give tax breaks to a group of people who spread aids and trade partners so often that it puts even modern heterosexual divorce rates to shame. I’ll get off my soapbox, as I just pulled out the aids card.

    = Sexually spread disease and promiscuity is lower among lesbians than either straight men or straight women or gay men. Therefore, by your logic, lesbians are God’s chosen people. =

    August

  111. #111 Andrew Olson
    March 3, 2006

    I think you fellas may have jumped ahead of me a bit. I was not trying to say that just because you are an atheist means that by default you would be immoral. I think it is quite possible that God has placed within each person a general sense of morals, and the capability to believe in God. This would explain tribal people who have had little contact with any other cultures being moral and adopting rules somewhat similar to the ten commandments. You might be obeying God’s laws without knowing it, as He might have been responsible for placing them there. Maybe people have learned that a happy wife is a good thing. The problem with your argument Paul, is that schmucks do not realize that they are schmucks. They are so self-centered that they can also believe themselves to be moral good people, though they rape pillage and steal. You are also skipping out on what makes Christians act morally. It is not because of a punishment or a reward, but simply because we were loved by God. God is not Santa Claus, we do not have the idea that we’re going to get a special present if we do lots of Good deeds on earth. That is also one of the major differences between the Mormonism and Christianity. As you mentioned, death row prisoners who lived a life of crime and immoral actions are Christians who will receive eternity in the same way that the Christians who volunteered at the soup shelter every day for their life will receive theirs. Though, I would think that a lot of those death-row inmates converted after committing their crimes.

    August:
    In what ways do you think God makes his expectations unclear? In no way does the existence of other religions make Christianity any less possibly correct. I am quite aware of the radical muslims who commit suicide in order to obtain all of their virgins in their heaven. I’m glad that not all muslims take their religion to the extreme like that, even if their theology does allow for it. I guess I’m glad that they compromise on their false religion in order to be more moral. As far as geography based religion, I think that is becoming far less meaningful in our global world today. Especially with all of the apathyists from every region who don’t really care to think about God in the first place.

    Sexually spread disease and promiscuity is lower among lesbians than either straight men or straight women or gay men. Therefore, by your logic, lesbians are God’s chosen people. =

    Posted by August

    When I was discussing the gay issue I was trying very hard to stay off my Biblical support as it would mean nothing to you, so please don’t assume what my logic must be. I’m talking about tax breaks for people who shouldn’t need a government stamp of approval to consider themselves married. It’s all about the money. Our government gives out enough handouts as it is. But let’s not turn this into a political discussion. I suppose this is a science blog in the first place. I am trying not to base my arguments for matters based upon what I think the Bible ordains. I’m just trying to explain things from a Christian perspective, and see if I can make things interesting. If only we all had the open minds we proclaim we have.

  112. #112 Paul W.
    March 3, 2006

    When I was discussing the gay issue I was trying very hard to stay off my Biblical support as it would mean nothing to you, so please don’t assume what my logic must be. I’m talking about tax breaks for people who shouldn’t need a government stamp of approval to consider themselves married. It’s all about the money. Our government gives out enough handouts as it is. But let’s not turn this into a political discussion.

    If you don’t want this to become a political discussion, don’t make bad political arguments.

    It is not all about the money. Legal marriage is a large bundle of things, only some of them monetary. Marriage is about who gets to make what decisions, e.g., if somebody is disabled in a hospital, who gets to make decisions about life support. Or if there are children, who gets to decide how those children are raised. (And literally hundreds of other things.)

    For example, some lesbian friends of mine have children. If one of them should die or be incapacitated, they don’t want the grandparents deciding whether they live or die, and/or taking the children away from the remaining parent. They are a couple largely because they trust each other, not because they trust each other’s parents.

    I’ve been living with someone for years, and we may get married in the next couple of years, and it is not mostly about the money; it’s about the special rights and responsibilities married people have. Gay people are no different in that way; they just want equal rights and responsibilities. Why shouldn’t they?

    There should not be special rights for heterosexuals. If you don’t think the government should be giving “handouts” or endorsing people’s marital arrangements, you should be arguing to abolish legal marriage, not deny it to gay people. You have no business using our government to reward the people your religion happens to approve of, and penalize the ones it doesn’t.

  113. #113 Paul W.
    March 3, 2006

    I was not trying to say that just because you are an atheist means that by default you would be immoral. I think it is quite possible that God has placed within each person a general sense of morals, and the capability to believe in God. This would explain tribal people who have had little contact with any other cultures being moral and adopting rules somewhat similar to the ten commandments.

    I think it’s much more plausible that the Ten Commandments are just another simplistic Bronze Age moral code, which resembles other such moral codes because that’s how human nature works things out in such backward societies.

    Notice that the Ten Commandments don’t say that slavery or daughter-selling or patriarchal polygyny, or even genocide is bad; such things were accepted by those people, and regulated by their “Word of God”.

    The idea that the Ten Commandments is an ideal statement of timeless morality is just ludicrous. It’s a simplistic Moral Code from some Bronze Age barbarians who were too wrapped up in their particular religion, and still had a lot to learn.

    You might be obeying God’s laws without knowing it, as He might have been responsible for placing them there.

    Or maybe certain aspects of morality are pretty much inevitable, in most societies, because of evolved-in human nature and how it works out in social practice.

    The problem with your argument Paul, is that schmucks do not realize that they are schmucks. They are so self-centered that they can also believe themselves to be moral good people, though they rape pillage and steal.

    I think your religion has pretty well proved that over the last few thousand years.
    The idea that the Bible literally reveals God’s own timeless truths of morality is just ludicrous. It’s a product of its time(s), and gets a lot wrong.

  114. #114 Nomen Nescio
    March 3, 2006

    I believe there is only one avenue for true sexual fulfillment without a lot of consequences.

    i’m going to borrow Soren’s “wise old man” schpiel here for a minute. it’ll be just as funny, because i’m only 33 myself, and my marriage is less than a decade old, but even so…

    one thing i learned very early on in my relationship is that you don’t get to dodge the consequences. it’s a pipe dream to think that you do, and it’s mutually (and self-) destructive to try to. living in a pairbond relationship is nice, and worth it overall, but it’s deep juju; you’re playing mind games with yourself and your partner on more levels than you can count — in a sense, that’s what a relationship is all about — and the only sane way to deal with that is to face the fact squarely and pay the piper.

    if you don’t face the consequences of your actions, then your actions tend to become selfish and egocentric. when you do, they can act for the mutual good of yourself and the people you interact with much more easily, because you’ll be keeping yourself more honest. and you’ll be interacting with your partner a lot, on some very deep levels. there’s just no way to do that and not have a lot of consequences to deal with; so deal with them you must, whether you’re gay or straight, and whether you like it or not. (you will dislike it quite a lot, at times. do it anyway.)

  115. #115 Soren Kongstad
    March 3, 2006

    By the way Andrew – at one hand you want to fight homosexual marriage, on the other hand your best non religious argument is that homosexuals have multiple partners and spread disease.

    It seems your argument defeats itself, since the homosexuals interested in marriage would be looking for long term relationships.

    I homosexuals indeed do have more relationships, and are more prone to VD’s then the possibility of marriage would be an important tool in curbing that trend, do you not agree?

    So your own argument points to legalizing marriage as a good solution!

    /Soren

  116. #116 Steve LaBonne
    March 3, 2006

    Also he forgot all about lesbians, who typically are very into committed relationships, and whose relationships almost certainly spread STDs less then heterosexual relationships do. But then, you’d expect poor Andrew to be all at sea as soon as he tries to make any argument other than “God told me so”, since he has never been taught to think for himself, indeed he’s been taught that doing so is a sin.

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