Thursday, December 12, 2013

Are you glad atheism is true?

In my wanderings, I happened across this question:

Are you glad that atheism is the truth?

I am ambivalent. Truth just….is. Am I glad for the amount of gravity earth has? Well, it would be neat if it was less, because we could jump farther. (Basketball would be different.) But I am not particularly glad or sad or feel any real emotion toward gravity. We work with what is there.

Are there things about a god existing that would make me glad? I have no idea—it would certainly depend on the god, wouldn’t it? What if it was Calvin? “From utter nothingness comes swirling form! Life begins where once was void. But Calvin is no kind and loving god! He’s one of the old gods! He demands sacrifice!”

What if it was a benevolent god who gave us whatever we wanted? Or a god who demanded we perform or believe a certain way to please him enough to grant reward? What exactly is this “god” wherein I am to be glad, sad, or mad regarding its existence?

Of course this question can be easily turned around. Are you glad your particular form of theism is true? (And it is always their particular form—they certainly don’t want another form wherein their god doesn’t exist, right?) And if so, how is it you develop a methodology to determine truth to avoid the inherent bias of your desire? How do you know your theistic view of heaven isn’t something you desire and therefore believe, rather than actual truth?

But whenever I get on the topic of methodology, the conversation takes a sharp right turn.


  1. After reading about Michael Patton's anguish upon the death of his father due to his doubts about his salvation despite a lifetime of prayers from Michael and his mother, I'm glad that I don't believe in that God. I'm glad that my fond memories of my parents are not troubled by such concerns.

    It would be nice to think of my Mom and Dad reunited and enjoying each other's company again, but I'm glad that I don't need to believe it in order to find meaning in the lives they lived.

  2. In the spirit of what you've written here:

    I'm with you. Atheism just is.

    I am neither glad nor sad.
    It is neither good nor bad.
    There is nothing there to make me mad.
    I feel no emotion to be had.
    There really is nothing more I can add.
    I am neither glad nor sad.

    Sorry, that took a bit of a Dr. Seuss turn. Anyway...the thing I am glad of is that there are versions of god that don't exist. The ones that torture people forever and ever. The ones that seek vengeance and use people as pawns and playthings. I am glad about that.

  3. It is funny how my pendulum is still swinging on this topic. There was once a time when I wanted Christianity to be true, and I longed to cling to my Faith and that which I held to be virtuous and good. Despite my doubts, Christianity provided some kind of moral compass and anchor to some kind of foundational traditions. Later I became ambivalent. I tried to view it is you, DMA and Vinny seem to view it – just something that I did not accept because I did not view it to be true. But I have to tell you, the longer I remain out of belief and the further I get from my Christian beliefs, the more I think I can view it objectively. I am not only happy that Christian beliefs are not true, I am relieved that they are not true. I am just happy I do not have to twist reality to fit into illogical delusion. No thank you.

  4. i think you could find a scientific evidence for design and against evolution here:

    very interesting q and a:

  5. Hi Vinny,

    You've got quite a story. I grew up a BBF PK: the super-fundamentalists! We believed that no one was going to heaven except us.

    I left Christianity (as an agnostic) for almost twenty years. I have found my faith again in the peace and beauty of orthodox Lutheranism.

    The reason that I left Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism and God was because I never heard God speak to me in my heart, felt him "move" or "lead" me, and never "felt" his presence within me.

    In your story, it sounds as if you began to have doubts about the existence of God and the validity of the Christian faith due to apparent/real contradictions in the Bible, and then went to look for Jesus internally by asking for him to "prove his presence".

    What I love about orthodox Lutheranism is that I don't need to "feel" God's presence, nor "hear" him. God is not internal in Lutheranism, he is only external. My feelings are irrelevant. Luther even said that it isn't even necessary to know for sure that you believe!

    I have this question for you: Is it possible that the foundation of your evangelical, Christian faith was the inerrancy of the Bible and not the historicity of a risen, supernatural, all-powerful God? We orthodox (RCC, EOC, Anglicans, Lutherans) would encourage you to consider that.

    No one has a video tape of the Resurrection, so all we can ask for is circumstantial evidence, such as eye-witness testimony. I believe that the fundamental question to ask as to the validity of the Christian faith is did the Resurrection happen, not if the Bible we possess today, which is a copy, of a copy, of a copy, of a copy, etc., is without errors created by scribes and translators.

  6. I just finished JESUS, INTERRUPTED. You may find my review surprising:

  7. Hey Daygood,

    I think I may have come up with "evidence" for the Resurrection that would convince a jury. If you have time, let me know what you think of it.

    1. Thanks for commenting on my blog, Dagood. I left this question and statement for you:

      "If Paul never utilizes historical reasoning for the resurrection (beyond the 1 Cor. 15 tradition), why is his conversion relevant regarding the historicity of the resurrection?"

      My point is this: Even Bart Ehrman believes that Paul was a real person, living and writing in the time period immediately after the death of Jesus (whom Ehrman also believes really existed). Ehrman also believes that Paul is a credible person. Ehrman believes that Paul really did meet with Peter and James.

      So if we can agree that Paul was real, that he was credible, and that he really did meet with Peter and James for 15 days, I believe that they MUST have talked about Jesus a lot, and they would certainly have discussed what Jesus looked like. If the "Jesus" that Paul saw on the Road to Damascus did not fit the description of the Jesus of Peter and James, the whole "myth of the Resurrection" would have unraveled.

      Therefore, Paul's testimony is pretty convincing evidence, at least for me of the historicity of the Resurrection or one must believe that Paul is a liar. Bart Ehrman does not believe that Paul was a liar, in fact, he says just that in his book, JESUS DID EXIST.

      Bart Ehrman states in his book that he believes that Paul really did meet with Jesus' chief disciple, Peter, and with Jesus' brother, James. Ehrman believes that this meeting did take place. He also believes that it is highly likely that they would have discussed Jesus and the events of his life and death. The only thing that Ehrman does not believe is that there is proof that Paul saw a resurrected dead man on the Road to Damascus. Ehrman believes like you, Dagood, that Paul "imagined he saw Christ, and truly believed thereafter that he had seen the resurrected Jesus, the Christ", but, according to Ehrman, reason, logic, and the rules of science state that such an event is it could not have happened.

      I say that if Paul was able to describe a man whom he had never seen before and of whom there were no photos, if his description matched Jesus' known appearance to Peter and James, that identification would be very convincing evidence in court.

      Do you agree, Counselor?

  8. Gary,

    There are numerous, significant problems with this concept. First, while I agree Paul met Peter & James (Galatians 1), there is no record they discussed what Jesus looked like. Why would they? Far more concerned with events and teachings, I would think—and as I pointed out Paul demonstrates no knowledge regarding Jesus’ life and teaching! Let alone what he looked like.

    Second, apparently post-resurrection Jesus looked so dissimilar to pre-resurrection Jesus, even his close associates didn’t recognize him. See, for example, those doubting on the Galilean mountain, the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, Mary Magdalene and Peter in John 21. If they did discuss Jesus, which one looked like which one—pre-Resurrection Jesus compared to post-resurrection Jesus compared to vision Jesus?

    But third, and far most damning, Paul never indicates in the three (3) instances in Acts he saw Jesus—only that he heard a voice. While I do not find Acts historical and am persuaded this is a legendary, non-historical version of his conversion, even assuming in your best scenario it was true—Paul never saw Jesus’ face!

  9. You are wrong, my dear friend. Paul states in at least two locations in HIS epistles that he SAW Jesus. And do you really believe that three persons who had seen a resurrected dead man would spend 15 days together and NOT discuss what this man looked like?? Paul showed up to Jerusalem announcing that he was a apostle, equal in power as Peter and James, and the new Director of Missions! Do you really believe that Peter and James just bought this story, hook, line, and sinker without grilling Paul on the details of his story?? I think you would have to have some really strong biases against believing the obvious to think that Paul, Peter, and James spent fifteen days debating Justification by Faith or by Works!

    We don't need the Book of Acts to verify that Paul saw Jesus. Again, Paul says so himself. So all we need is to confirm that the man Paul saw fits the description of the man that Peter and James knew as Jesus. I think that Peter and James would be able to recognize a description of both the pre- and post-resurrection Jesus. If Paul could give a good description of the man he saw on the Road to Damascus, I think he proves that Jesus of Nazareth was still alive. Whether he had been supernaturally resurrected from the dead, would require another debate on the chances of a person crucified by the Romans surviving and recovering within days to walk and talk.

    I am assuming, Dagood, that you agree with Bart Ehrman that Jesus of Nazareth really did exist. However, like Ehrman, you do not believe in the Resurrection and you believe that the Bible is full of discrepancies and errors and is therefore NOT inerrant.

    But in our pretend "trial" in front of a jury, the inerrancy of the Bible is not on trial. And to be technical, neither is the Resurrection. The issue on trial is simply this: "Is Jesus of Nazareth alive? Whether he never died or whether he did die and has been supernaturally resurrected is not the issue. The issue is, is there enough evidence to convince a jury that Jesus of Nazareth is still alive, after his public execution, and witnessed burial?

    As counsel for the defense, I can present three witnesses who state that they saw the deceased alive after his execution and burial. One of my witnesses saw him in a foreign country, and, this same witnesses has never met or spoken to the other two witnesses. There are no photos or paintings of the deceased. However, this witness can describe in detail the physical appearance of the allegedly deceased man and his description perfectly matches that of my other two witnesses.

    How strong of a case do I have, Counselor?

  10. When did Paul see a post-Resurrection Jesus? Was it in a vision?

    1. Does it matter? Paul says he "saw" Jesus. If the Jesus Paul says he saw matches the description of the Jesus that Peter and James knew, isn't that pretty strong evidence that this allegedly dead man is still alive?

      Let's say that you have a vision that my (dead) brother appears to you and tells you to join me in my church's mission efforts and that we should put you on the church council as one of the chief elders.

      The first thing I am going to ask you is to tell me what my brother said AND ask you to describe him.

      My brother is tall, blonde, narrow face, lean build, blue eyes, with a small mole on the left upper forehead. If you can't describe him with these bare facts, I am going to accuse you of perpetrating a fraud and make sure that everyone in my church knows you are a phony.

  11. Right, because we are in a society with a very specific understanding of what a "vision" would be--with the precision of a Movie or television show.

    Is that the understanding of a First Century Mediterranean citizen when encountering an altered state of consciousness?

    1. Do you have a reference, Dagood, regarding visions in the first century? I'd like to read it.


  12. Paul recounts Peter, the eleven, James, the "other" apostles", and five hundred others as having seen an appearance of Jesus. He does not differentiate his appearance experience from the others. So were they all visions? If Paul's experience was a vision and the hearsay he heard from others were purportedly "real", why didn't he differentiate these appearances? It certainly seems that Paul believed that his experience of "seeing" Jesus was no different than that of the other five hundred plus people. All these people were seeing Jesus in their dreams, but Paul doesn't mention this?? that seems really odd. They either all had visions or they all really believed that they saw a real flesh and blood man who looked and talked an awful like, like Jesus of Nazareth.

    Paul states as a fact that many of the five hundred who witnessed seeing Jesus together, on the same occasion, were still alive at the time he wrote I Corinthians. He states this as a fact, not hearsay.

    All of this doesn't prove the resurrection, but it certainly gives strong evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was seen alive after his public execution.

  13. Bruce Malina & Richard Rohrbaugh’s “Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels.” (You could also get the “Social-Science Commentary on Acts” but if you are going to the effort, the Synoptic Gospels covers more ground in more areas.) Frankly, this book should be on every Christian’s shelf.

    Additionally, I might recommend Hyam Maccoby’s “The Mythmaker: Paul and the invention of Christianity.” While I do not agree with Maccoby’s conclusion, and I think he stretches some of his arguments a bit far, he does a good job of demonstrating the issues regarding Pauline chronology, some of the culture of the time, and why it is not quite as straightforward as we were taught to believe.

    Michael Shermer’s “Why People believe weird things” also presents numerous situations where people believe things you and I might find pretty bizarre, yet they do.

    As for authorship and timing of the new Testament documents, I highly recommend Udo Schnelle’s “History and Theology of New Testament Writing.”

  14. Wow, you have really studied this issue, haven't you, my friend?

    To be honest, I may read the first book but I doubt I'm going to read all the others, but I appreciate you giving them to me. Why won't I read them? I'm afraid.

    The issue is this: I WANT to believe. So the more I read authors who tell me why I shouldn't, the more of that innocent (foolish?) childish faith I grew up with will fade away. I'm afraid of becoming you, Dagood. I don't want to wake up one morning and look in the bathroom mirror, as you did, and realize that I no longer believe; not because I want to stop believing, as you did not want to stop believing, but because the "evidence" has convinced me otherwise.

    I have decided to desperately hold on to the following evidence to retain my Christian Faith:

    1. Paul was a real person and a credible witness. All scholars agree on that.
    2. Paul was a devout, very educated Jew. Devout, very educated Jews rarely ever convert to Christianity. Possible? Yes. Probable? No.
    3. In his own writings in I Corinthians, a book which all scholars agree is Paul's, he states that he "saw" Jesus. He doesn't say he had a dream. He doesn't say that he saw Jesus in a cloud formation. He says that Jesus appeared to him, that he "saw" him, and we can safely assume from other Pauline statements that "Jesus" spoke to him, telling him that he was to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.
    4. Paul met with Peter, Jesus's closest disciple, and with James, Jesus' brother. No indication is given that either one questioned Paul's truthfulness.
    5. Paul states that many of the five hundred who saw Jesus at the same time are still living. He does not say this as hearsay, as the previous information, but as a statement of what he knew as fact, during the same period of time that he was writing I Corinthians.
    6. Paul, an educated, orthodox, Jewish leader and teacher, was willing to be beaten, persecuted, and eventually executed for his belief that an illiterate, Galilean peasant, executed as a common criminal, and hung on a tree to be cursed by God, was the Jewish messiah, was resurrected from the dead, and is the Lord God of heaven and earth.

    I choose to believe the testimony of this one devout Jew.

    Thank you, Dagood, for your patience with me. I am not sorry that I "met" you. Yes, you and Bruce really shook my faith, but I believe that I have come out the other side of this "crises" with my faith strengthened.

    I wish you the very best, my friend.

  15. Gary, if you are still reading, I'd like to comment as one who is following along. Your faith does not look "strengthened" when you say you "are afraid."

    1. You have a point, Zoe.

      I DO believe that my defense for my Christian faith is more defensible. I no longer base it on "all the witnesses" in the Gospels. I now base my faith on the testimony of one witness to a resurrected Jesus of Nazareth: Saul of Tarsus.

      And I base on my faith, on faith. Which if my beliefs are correct cannot be produced by my own efforts, it is a gift of God. I open my heart and ask God to give me faith, because my own faith, based on "evidence", is extremely weak. My faith has been profoundly shaken by the evidence given to me by Dagood and Bruce Gerenscer. And I must add, they did not come to my blog trying to convert me to atheism, I went to them trying to re-convert them. I hold them responsible for nothing but doing what I asked them to do: tell why they no longer believe.

      So, Zoe, you are probably right. My faith is weaker than it has ever been. But maybe that's a good thing. I will cling more to Jesus and less to "evidence".

      I will continue to "preach the Gospel" on my own Christian blog, but never again do I intend to go onto the blog of an agnostic or atheist and try to convert them.

    2. In my opinion, DagoodS and Bruce are sincere, honourable people. I know you see that now. There are many former believers who do not try to deconvert people. I'm one of them.

      When it comes to your new weaker faith, is there still room there for DagoodS, Bruce and Zoe to go to hell unless they repent and return to Jesus?

  16. I still believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. If I stop believing that I will stop being orthodox. And if I stop being orthodox, I will stop being Christian. Liberal Christianity is just to wishy-washy for me.

    So will I go up to people on the street, or go onto the blogs of other people on the internet, and tell them that they are going to hell unless they repent and return to Jesus? No.

    I intend to share my beliefs in a much different way. I will share my beliefs by my actions: love, forgiveness, and compassion. I'm not going to beat anyone over the head with "hell-fire and damnation".

    If someone asks me about my beliefs and specifically about what happens to persons who reject Christ, I will tell them what I believe that the Bible says. But if someone asks me, "Do you think that I, Bob, and Jane are going to hell because we are not believers in Jesus?" I will say, "Your eternal destination is known only to God. I am not going to venture a guess. God offers you the free gift of eternal life. Call out to God and he will give it to you, even if you can't say for sure that you believe."

    So how can someone do that who has read all of Bart Ehrman's books and no longer believes that the Resurrection really occurred? How can someone believe who has seen all the evidence that "proves" that the Bible is full of errors and contradictions?

    I would tell that person, "Do you want to believe? If so, that is enough. Pray to God to help your unbelief...and stop reading Bart Ehrman." The more a person listens to people telling them that they are wrong, the more likely that person is to finally believe them.

    I know that Christians will think that this analogy is horrible but I think it is true: Believe in a resurrected Jesus with the same evidence that a child believes in Santa Claus. Believe because you WANT TO, not because of the evidence.

    Christianity is silly foolishness, plain and simple. It is based on the supernatural. In today's science-based culture, such a supernatural belief system is no different than believing in Santa Claus.

    I choose to believe, not based on evidence, but just because I want to.

  17. It does sounds like a salvation without assurance for the believer. Nor does it sound like a free gift either.

    It's not that I intend to keep you with questions but I did want to say that I never read a single agnostic/atheist/humanist book that sent me down the slippery slope. People leave the faith without Ehrman's help. For most of us, the Bible was enough.

    1. Your last point, Zoe, would make for a very interesting study: "Dear ex-Christian: What caused you to deconvert from Christianity?" I for one would want to read it.

      I don't personally know that many agnostics/atheists. In fact, Bruce Gerencser and Dagood are the only atheists with whom I have had a fairly significant conversation. I haven't read Bruce's deconversion story so I can't say why he deconverted. I did, however, read Dagood's deconversion story and he deconverted because he started checking out an atheist/agnostic website online. He actually thought he was going to blow the atheists out of the water with his knowledge of Christianity, but to his great dismay, the evidence provided by the atheists created doubt in his mind. He began to study more of the atheist position until finally one day he looked at himself in the bathroom mirror and admitted to himself that he no longer believed. He had become a nonbeliever in a very short period of time.

      So, I would be curious to know why you say that "the Bible was enough" for "most of us". Did you see the many apparent contradictions and "errors" in the Bible on your own or did you start reading Ehrman or someone else who pointed them out to you?

      Finally to your first point: The assurance of salvation is very different for an orthodox Lutheran than it is for a Baptist or evangelical, which from your wording, sounds like your background. Correct me if I am wrong.

      For an orthodox Lutheran our assurance of salvation is our baptism. Period. Your salvation is not dependent on good deeds nor is it dependent on "making a decision to accept Christ as our Savior". For us, God decides salvation. God gifts salvation to us. We believe because he chose us to believe. We do NOTHING to receive eternal life, including making the decision to be baptized. Salvation is given freely to all those whom God has elected to be saved.

      So does that mean that God has elected who will go to hell? No. That is Calvinism. I know that is confusing, but Lutheranism is based on paradoxes. Baptists, Calvinists, and evangelicals have a hard time with Lutheran paradoxes. They accuse us of being contradictory and downright silly.

      So for a Lutheran, if you are baptized you are saved, and one is baptized because God has chosen you to be his child. Only if a believer defiantly rejects Christ or lives a life of ongoing willful sin can a Christian lose his salvation.

      So the fact that I am not sure if I have faith is not a problem in Lutheranism. In fact, my fear that I might not have faith is proof to us that I DO have faith! To Lutherans, only someone who has been given the gift of faith would worry about whether or not he or she has it.

    2. Interesting discussion.

      Zoe said:

      I did want to say that I never read a single agnostic/atheist/humanist book that sent me down the slippery slope. People leave the faith without Ehrman's help. For most of us, the Bible was enough.

      I second that.

  18. Good morning, Dagood.

    Out of curiosity, I have a question for you: Where do you think you would be today in regards to Christianity if on that day that you came across the atheist blog on the internet, and saw the disturbing discrepancies regarding the death of Judas Iscariot, you had simply told yourself, "I don't want to know", and chose to never again look at an atheist or other blog that questioned the validity of the Bible and the Resurrection?