Church without God — by design

A call out to Dr. Clam.

CNN Belief Blog

By Dan Merica, CNN

Boston (CNN)-– It’s Sunday in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a rapt congregation listens to a chaplain preach about the importance of building a community.

A few dozen people sit quietly for the hourlong service. Music is played, announcements are made and scholars wax poetic about the importance of compassion and community.

Outsiders could be forgiven for believing this service, with its homilies, its passing of the plate, its uplifting songs, belongs in a church.

If so, it’s a church without one big player: God.

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39 thoughts on “Church without God — by design

    1. winstoninabox Post author

      Or does it challenge your belief that we need a belief in, or fear of, a higher power to be good?

      As for it being more like a religion, I guess it depends on what you think a religion is.

      Theists, especially Christians, often display the attitude that compassion and community began and ended with Christianity. As if it never existed before and doesn’t (or can’t) exist outside it. It’s nice to see Humanists promoting the same values without the hocus-pocus that goes hand in hand with religion.

      Reply
  1. Chris Fellows (@cfellows65536)

    Any new idea, Mahound, is asked two questions.
    The first is asked when it’s weak:
    WHAT KIND OF AN IDEA ARE YOU?
    Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive;
    or are you the cursed, bloody-minded ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze?
    – the kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, be smashed to bits;
    but the hundredth time, will change the world?

    What’s the second question? Gibreel asked.

    Answer the first one first.

    Reply
    1. Chris Fellows (@cfellows65536)

      I like your link, Nathanael. I pretty much agree with it all.

      Some might think therefore that debates of the kind Krauss and Lane Craig will engage in are futile. Yet they would only be so if we were to operate under the assumption that incontrovertible evidence for God, if He or she is there, should be obvious and available to the interested objective spectator. Put more philosophically, the debate would be pointless if our expectation is that God has a responsibility to reveal him/herself in some way that is unambiguous and undeniable by the standards of scientific and philosophical reasoning.

      I’m reading Christopher Hitchens “Letter to a Young Contrarian” – which is also well worth reading – and he seems to have very strongly the idea that God has this responsibility. Encouragingly he also comes down very strongly on the side of those who *don’t* think these sort of debates are futile. ‘It is always worth while arguing with believers’, he says, and I agree – no matter how crackpotty your counterpart, you never know what little bit of what you say will stick, or how reframing your argument to meet their unexpected attack will bring new clarity to your ideas.

      As for the Salman Rushdie quote (one of my favourit quotes ever), my point is: “It’s all very eays for a secular humanist ;’church’ like this to set itself up in a time and place that is congenial for it. But how many Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s does it have? When the tide turns, and secular humanists are persecuted for their beliefs, will it have the wherewithal to stand firmly and say ‘this is what we believe, and we’re willing to suffer for it’? Is it just a reed blowing in the wind?

      We didn’t go out into the desert to see that.

      We didn’t go to see a rich man in fine clothes, either. What’s this tweet about not flying *economy* very often?

      Reply
      1. winstoninabox Post author

        As Meatloaf warbles, two out of three ain’t bad. We’ve got cosmology and the workings of the mind mentioned as areas where religion has something to say. If only it had mentioned the origin of life for the trifecta. What does have to say about the natural world that science has explanations for. Nothing but silence.

        There is no battle raging because religion doesn’t even frame the debate. Nobody of any merit uses religion as their touchstone for science, but religion checks what science says against it. And then religion evolves to meet the new discoveries, but never the other way around.

        Reply
      2. winstoninabox Post author

        I’m sorry to break my replies, but I just don’t trust the editor to not suddenly go ballistic and lose what I’ve typed.

        And the question of whether god is like a big cat in the jungle in terms of revealed evidence. There are no half measures in revelation. Once god moves off the left side of the continuum of evidence – none at all – then the question of why he isn’t on the right – compete evidence available for all to see – is a valid one which must be addressed by believers. If god was to leave black monoliths scattered around the universe for us to follow, then this is evidence which begs the question “What kind of god does this?” And when god supposedly leaves tiny scraps of evidence which look like the natural world rather than the supernatural, then it is fair to ask the question if god exists at all.

        If god is an interventionist god, then his level of intervention is evidence of his existence. When debating Nathanael about why god doesn’t solve the problem of famine in Africa (a trivial task), his reply is that “Maybe he does through the aid workers which go there.” In other words god’s intervention in this crushingly human problem is to do no more than an NGO. What is doubly surprising is that I’m sure that every night he and his family still give thanks for filling their table with enough food to save a village from hunger for the day. When evidence for god can be shown from interpreting the mundane everyday of our lives as his intervention, then there really is nothing to debate.

        Reply
      3. winstoninabox Post author

        It’s all very eays for a secular humanist ;’church’ like this to set itself up in a time and place that is congenial for it. But how many Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s does it have? When the tide turns, and secular humanists are persecuted for their beliefs, will it have the wherewithal to stand firmly and say ‘this is what we believe, and we’re willing to suffer for it’?

        So now the standard for truth is how much persecution one can stand? I like you Chris, you’re such a romantic at heart. It must be a very powerful image for you, the lone dissident who is unwilling to denounce her belief before the cruelties of an oppressive secularism.

        Unfortunately it’s not so romantic when it’s the other way around, when it’s an oppressive religion abusing it’s power to dictate what is true and what is false about the natural world.

        Let’s just agree that neither dunking women in water to tell if they’re witches or throwing dissidents into gulags is the royal road to truth.

        Reply
  2. Chris Fellows (@cfellows65536)

    The lone dissident who is unwilling to denounce her belief before the cruelties of an oppressive *anything* is a powerful image for me. It is immaterial to me whether the oppressor frames their ideology in religious or non-religious terms, or neglects to frame it at all.

    I am not talking about truth at all, but about utility. For an ideology to have useful staying power among humans, people have to be willing to die for it.

    If you are serious about the question ‘why doesn’t an interventionist God solve the problem of famine in Africa?’, I can recommend to you my alter-ego’s metagame theodicy model.

    My alter ego also posted this once, which may be relevant, and I think I linked to once before.

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      I am not talking about truth at all, but about utility. For an ideology to have useful staying power among humans, people have to be willing to die for it.

      The utility you speak of is in actuality merely life-support, for what is true will survive the martyrdom of all it’s adherents, waiting to be discovered again. If all knowledge of Christianity and humanism were to be mysteriously wiped from the Earth, only humanism would eventually resurface.

      Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          It’s obvious that Christianity wouldn’t naturally arise. It needed an interventionist god the first time, and the second would be no different.

          But humanism wouldn’t definitely come about, despite the efforts of contrary rivers. We always turn inwards, and once secularism, Darwinism and atheism shine a mirror on the human condition then humanism will return. It is the natural extension of them to us.

          Reply
    2. winstoninabox Post author

      If you are serious about the question ‘why doesn’t an interventionist God solve the problem of famine in Africa?’, I can recommend to you my alter-ego’s metagame theodicy model.

      For me the problem is that middle-class theists happily attribute the actions of an interventionist god to nonsense (I’ve got dinner on the table… again, I got a new job), but when questioned on why long-term pervasive problems that affect millions aren’t magically solved likewise, they become a fountain of excuses. God is mysterious, man has freewill, the purpose of god isn’t to solve your earthly problems, proof denies faith, whatever…

      I think you and I would probably agree that if there is a god, this god has an understanding of suffering and compassion that is different to ours. As to your blog post on a way to reconcile this, well there are various permutations that could be made depending on how far one is willing to pull the loose threads of free will, omnipotence, omniscience and whatnot that threaten to unravel the logic. That they are all unfalsifiable is the only thing that gives any of them legs among the faithful.

      Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          I think God and I have a different understanding of suffering and compassion from yours… 😉

          Then we’re in agreement.

          Did you read my Cyberiad fanfiction? It is a critical part of my overall argument.

          At some point, probably. I don’t remember it now. We’re there monks?

          Reply
  3. Nathanael Small

    I think the issue of interventionist God comes from a fundamental disagreement in the core question.

    At the risk of generalization, I’ve found that agnostics/atheists almost always ask “what” about God (e.g. “What kind of God…insert atrocity here).

    When the first questions should be who?

    Who is this God?

    Who are we?

    What is utilitarian & functional.

    Who speaks to identity & relationship.

    What claims something completely measurable, understandable and manageable.

    Who speaks to the finite knowing the infinite and accepting mystery.

    If our wives have been with us for years and we still don’t know all about them, and they can surprise us, is it wrong to think the same about God?

    Red herring, or can of worms?

    PS I note your followers have grown by c.50% in my absence – that means more are watching….

    …perhaps keep at it and switch to individual articles for a while, like Chris’s other one or the Krauss-a-palooza from CPX.

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      You’re making a false dilemma. You can ask all of your questions, and answer them to your satisfaction if you want to, but at some point you have to ask the ‘What kind of god would… [insert atrocity]?’

      The most satisfying answer is the one you give, that we don’t have the big picture, and couldn’t even begin to comprehend it if we did. But once we acknowledge that our understanding is incomplete, then we must also acknowledge that we can’t make definite statements about god and the systems in place.

      “What kind of god would create hell to torture the souls of those who had no other crime but disbelief in him?” is a very valid question, and the answer I find to it is one reason for my disbelief. It should at least give the rational mind pause; we would abhor the system if we ourselves applied it to our mortal world, and those that have tried are consider the greatest monsters of humanity. We may not have the big picture in this case, but what it would have to be for us to agree with it is an answer I can’t even begin to comprehend.

      Reply
      1. Chris Fellows (@cfellows65536)

        What kind of god would create hell to torture the souls of those who had no other crime but disbelief in him?” is a very valid question, and the answer I find to it is one reason for my disbelief.

        That is a very good reason for disbelief in God as defined by Christianity, but is irrelevant to what Marco and I have been trying to say, You should not let your revulsion for particular historical applications of the hypothesis poison your mind against it.

        Reply
      2. Nathanael

        The false dilemma actually lies with you.

        Dr.Clam has made valid points.

        But even your claimed very valid question is one which humble theologians far more skilled than I have differing views of (and most recently Rob Bell stirred up fresh energy around in Love Wins).

        The context of the literary form in which passages about hell are crucial in how you build your hermeneutic and theology.

        We scientifically strain out gnats and swallow camels when we fail to apply sound literary and form criticism to the texts and most important try to ascertain how the original hearers / readers would have understood what was written.

        This is the paradox I struggle to reconcile about you, bro.

        You claim the scientific method as king, and write brilliant satire mashing comic book film adaptations with biblical history, but fail to bring the same creative and literary trained imagination and faculties to the texts as the original audience may have understood them
        (or at least keep it very well concealed until Marco & Dr.Clam pin you UFC style to the intellectual mat).

        You deny part of your very being the opportunity to engage with the texts the way they were intended, and then throttle the life out of them with empirical standards that I’m yet to see you acknowledge the limitations of as Marco has ably done many times.

        Perhaps you do agree with marco – or at least respect him. Perhaps I’ve missed it because I don’t request email updates and use the vexing now & vexing then to catch up on posts.

        I just think you’re using half the epistemology available with science alone and ignoring the more right brain oriented academic disciplines using history, archaeology and ethnography to inform us.

        You use those faculties to create your own fantasies from stories you like and probably think followers of Jesus do exactly the same.

        Respect? When you can laugh at scientisms absurdities the same way you ridicule mono-theistic Judeo-Christians ability to poke fun at ourselves, I think we’ll be closer to a shared meaning of the word.

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          “The false dilemma actually lies with you.”

          A false dilemma is when one option is presented as if it is the only option when there are actually other options. “You’re with us or against us” is an easy to understand example. This is what you did, and in fact continue to do in this very reply.

          “Dr.Clam has made valid points.”

          As usual. Did you take his point about Hell being a good reason for disbelief in Christianity?

          “But even your claimed very valid question is one which humble theologians far more skilled than I have differing views of (and most recently Rob Bell stirred up fresh energy around in Love Wins).”

          That’s because it’s data which doesn’t fit. Which is what all the dilemmas apologists must answer are – square pegs that need to be hammered into round holes to keep the mythos consistent. Loving god vs hell, loving god vs fate of the unlearned, etc.

          “The context of the literary form in which passages about hell are crucial in how you build your hermeneutic and theology.”

          Certainly. I agree with you. But it doesn’t make the problem invalid. Even if we perfectly understood what was intended by the passages, the problem of hell for non-believers remains. And building the theology is correct, but it is building from blocks which were never designed to fit together well. Which is why there are so many dilemmas inherent in any revealed knowledge.

          The question can disappear is if our concepts about it are wrong. Say, if Hell really just means one’s body rots on a dump, or it is just a metaphor for one’s distance from god. But if we are correct in thinking there is a hell, souls and a god who sends them there under certain conditions, then no matter what the original understanding was, the problem is a valid one. How you treat the data which doesn’t fit is important, which is in this case a loving, caring god who sends souls to be tortured forever for no crime but disbelief.

          “We scientifically strain out gnats and swallow camels when we fail to apply sound literary and form criticism to the texts and most important try to ascertain how the original hearers / readers would have understood what was written.”

          And even after doing so, the dilemmas remain. Building a coherent mythos isn’t easy. Just ask George Lucas. Keeping it vague allows for a certain amount of wiggle room that believers can work with. Start throwing in specifics, unprovable specifics at that, and it begins to show strains.

          “I just think you’re using half the epistemology available with science alone and ignoring the more right brain oriented academic disciplines using history, archaeology and ethnography to inform us.”

          None of those disciplines will help with the dilemmas we’re talking about. Hell, souls,angels, etc are all in the unprovable supernatural. We’re instead applying logic; if this is true then that.

          If god sends souls to hell then ????

          “You use those faculties to create your own fantasies from stories you like and probably think followers of Jesus do exactly the same.”

          Please, we’re not going down the science skepticism road again are we? Show me a faith powered iPhone or a prayer that cures your ails and we’ll talk.

          Reply
      3. Marco

        I think, as usual, we’ve moved away from the points Lennox was making in the chapters we were up to. I find the weakness in “science” in modelling, proving and statistically verifying evolutionary mechanisms to be true weaknesses. I feel the case for that is well made. That, to me is enough that we all have contrasting views to argue about without getting into the intangibles of faith in God and the revelations and scriptures and history associated with that.
        Abiogenesis is unfalsifiable. Discuss.

        Reply
      4. Marco

        Please, we’re not going down the science skepticism road again are we? Show me a faith powered iPhone or a prayer that cures your ails and we’ll talk.

        Once again I do not accept technology as evidence for the truth of evolution, nor for the triumphalism of science over religion. Conversely, I do not accept the lack of “faith technology” as evidence against the power of faith, or as evidence against revelation. Technically, by Winston’s definition of Atheist, I am Atheist, but I do not identify at all with new atheist nor any of the anti religion sentiment.

        I believe that I can be “moral” without God, but I also do not believe that humanism as it stands can be as effective as religion with precedent for standards of “morality” that will stand the test of time and future circumstances. That is without building a coherent mythos that would come with the usual trappings making humanism no worse or better than a religion.

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          Once again I do not accept technology as evidence for the truth of evolution, nor for the triumphalism of science over religion.

          I didn’t connect technology with evolution. I said that technology proves that science works, and that every choice to use to use technology is a choice over superstition and the supernatural, even if it is an unconscious choice. YMMV.

          As for the triumph of science over religion, what I said was that religion has failed to reveal any knowledge about the natural world. That it can only reveal unprovables such as there is a heaven, souls or angels is telling. Theists would claim that it never intended to do so, that it instead reveals such things as morality. If that is the case then it should stop making claims unverifiable claims (angels exist) and stick to morality. Unfortunately for theists, science is making inroads into this area, too.

          “Conversely, I do not accept the lack of “faith technology” as evidence against the power of faith, or as evidence against revelation.”

          Which is a fair point. The problem for theism is that there’s very little left that it can exclusively call its own. It can’t describe the real world, it can’t make anything that proves its correctness, and it can’t say anything about morality that science won’t soon come along and subsume into itself. In the future if scientific findings on morality are at odds with what a religion has to say, as has always been the case when science and religion disagree, the scientific explanation will win.

          Reply
      5. Nathanael Small

        The false dilemma around this topic I observe with atheists is that you appear to believe that is God alone who sends / condemns people to hell, and you either believe that or you don’t.

        What if it’s actually the inidividual’s choices in life to live contrary to the revealed morality of God that condemns them to hell?

        What if hell is simply either living eternally, (or even just dying and your body rotting on a rubbish dump), and the consequence is that you had conscious awareness but lived in complete sensory deprivation, never again experiencing any form of anything you think of as “good” (moral or otherwise).

        Extended Metaphor (anyone following this blog can have a crack at these questions)

        1. Would you expect to not go to jail if you had broken the law every single day, were completely unapologetic or repentant about it and the authorities knew you had done it?

        2. What would you do if little Liam (or someone else you had a strong relational connection with) grew up to be a narcissistic sociopath serial killer who sadistically tortures and kills parents because they were taught that there is no absolute morality and the consequences depend entirely on whether the society you happen to be living in thinks it OK?

        3. Would you want Liam locked up for the rest of his life, or even to experience the death penalty as just punishment for his crimes?

        4. If Liam was locked up for the rest of his life, would you want him in complete solitary confinement, removed from the rest of the world, or would you like (even want and fight for the right) to visit him frequently?

        5. Or – here’s something even more radical – if Liam was given the death penalty by the laws of the country who brought him to trial, would you ask that he be pardoned and his sentence be commuted to life imprisonment without parole on the condition that you took the death penalty in place of him?
        Do you love your son that much that you are prepared to sacrifice your own life so that he might continue to live, regardless of how morally “good” or “evil” he is found to be by an independent aribter?

        5 goes to the heart of the most important question – WHO is this God, who would act in such a way towards a creation that has wilfully rejected their existence?

        Not WHY would God condemn people to hell, but WHO is this God who accepts just punishment / consequences on anyone’s behalf?

        WHY might this God act in such a radical way – a way that no other God in any religion has acted before or since (yes L-Ron, I’m looking at you)?

        Answer the questions above and you begin to grapple with the very real stuff to do with theology.

        Instead of asking for magic iPhones to call up your version of God or demanding your version of God perform miracles on demand that make sense to you (which sounds like a spoiled, petulant child demanding the best toys from a parent fully expecting to be given them), perhaps consider using the method of communication that has been offered to you by this God.

        To end where I began – I understand false dilemmas, and your approach to this topic creates one which you expect every christian to be caught up in, when actually your dilemma does not exist and my understanding is that the overwhelming majority of Christians who have sought an answer to this question would end up with something very close or the same to what I have just outlined.

        Over to you all for replies. Especially interested in Dr.Clam here….

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          “The false dilemma around this topic I observe with atheists is that you appear to believe that is God alone who sends / condemns people to hell, and you either believe that or you don’t.

          What if it’s actually the inidividual’s choices in life to live contrary to the revealed morality of God that condemns them to hell?”

          That may be the case, but that is not the common view of the system. The accepted version is that god created everything (this system being part of that), god judges you and god decides the punishment. If you wish to make a version where god did not do these things, where god is passive to the process, merely the ‘sorting hat’ in being selected for House Heaven or House Hell, you are free to do so. I don’t believe you’ll find any evidence for it in the bible, though.

          “What if hell is simply either living eternally, (or even just dying and your body rotting on a rubbish dump), and the consequence is that you had conscious awareness but lived in complete sensory deprivation, never again experiencing any form of anything you think of as “good” (moral or otherwise).”

          What if? Well we can imagine any what ifs we like for the eventual eternal punishment, but that doesn’t alter the inherent unfairness in the system.

          “Extended Metaphor (anyone following this blog can have a crack at these questions)”

          I’ve snipped these because there’s no point in comparing these two systems of rules. While there are surface similarities between god’s system and our legal system in that they both detect, judge and punish crimes, they are so far apart otherwise that to draw an analogy between them is hopeless. The following are examples. BTW, I don’t mean that our system is perfect or doesn’t have miscarriages of justice, but that there are sufficient differences to make worthless the kind of direct comparison you did with your questions.

          1) In our legal system one can avoid judgement by not breaking the rules. In god’s everyone will be judged. This simple difference has a huge effect on the behaviour of those participating in the systems.

          2) In our legal system the detection of crime is not perfect. In god’s it is. Again, a slight difference that magnifies into extremely different behaviours.

          3) In our legal system there are a wide variety of punishments. These are enacted in accordance with the severity of the crime. In god’s you get eternal life or eternal punishment. There are slight variations on this, but they don’t alter the eventual binary outcome.

          4) In our legal system the process is open and the results publicly known. In god’s it s not. I have no idea if my deceased family members are burning in Hell, and there’s no assurance that even after my own death I will ever know.

          5) In our legal system the rules are constantly reviewed and updated to make clear how they will be enacted against changing public opinion, new technology, etc. In god’s, they are not. All theists can do is try to imagine how god views our modern behaviours against those of a text written 2,000 years ago.

          6) In our legal system decisions can be appealed, The appeal is heard by a party not connected to the original decision. In god’s, there is no appeal (AFAIK), and if there is we’ve no idea who does it.

          7) In our legal system we can change the laws. Cases can bring about new laws or remove old ones. Presidents can appoint judges. Politicians who have a similar view to oneself can be voted for. Rules can be protested. Each citizen has the opportunity to become a worker in one of the 3 arms of our justice system and put their own stamp on it. In god’s system we have no say in the rules.

          8) The three arms of our justice system – policing, the judiciary and the prisons – are kept separate. In god’s, they are not. The one who detects your crimes is the one who judges your crimes and the one who enforces the punishment.

          9) In our legal system one cannot be judged for disbelief in the system alone. In god’s, one will be, Atheists are on the highway to hell, no matter what other good works they do.

          When you take into account these difference, why they have come about (our system evolved, god’s imposed), and the kinds of behaviours they elicit from those subjected to them, there is no way the comparisons you want to make can be made between the two.

          “5 goes to the heart of the most important question – WHO is this God, who would act in such a way towards a creation that has wilfully rejected their existence?”

          That is a very pertinent question, and one which you should think upon. Who is this god who is gong to eternally punish winstoninabox just for rejecting his existence? Just ignore me would be one option god.I’m dead, I’m not harming anyone else. Or put me into the 3 star heaven instead of the 5 star. But no, he’s going to actively punish me, burn my soul in hell-fire I believe it is, because I reject him. As I said before, if a person did this we’d call them a dictator.

          “Not WHY would God condemn people to hell, but WHO is this God who accepts just punishment / consequences on anyone’s behalf?”

          Do you mean Jesus and the crucifixion and the wiping away of sin?

          First, souls, sins, heaven , hell, the whole lot have no evidence except that of the bible, so forgive me for being less than convinced that any sins were wiped away or any souls saved just because a book says they were.

          Second, Jesus made no sacrifice. He was always going to come back to life, even saying so himself. He basically had 3 days off then returned. Hardly a sacrifice. Any soldier who died for their country has done more.

          Third, god didn’t need this elaborate pantomime of a blood sacrifice. He didn’t need to send his son on a suicide mission when he could just wipe out sin at any time with his powers.

          “WHY might this God act in such a radical way – a way that no other God in any religion has acted before or since (yes L-Ron, I’m looking at you)?”

          By radical you mean illogical. The Jesus story makes no sense. God sacrificed nothing, at least nothing in the sense that we understand sacrifice. God created the system of sin, souls and punishment behind closed doors, yet then has to correct it in a such a bloody and public fashion. For what reason? As a story it requires a huge skyhook to hang one’s disbelief on for it to make any sense.

          “Answer the questions above and you begin to grapple with the very real stuff to do with theology.”

          I’ve spent the better part of an hour typing here why I disagree with you. I’ve outlined your misunderstandings about what you’ve written and shown you why I dislike and disbelieve the system of supernatural justice to which you subscribe. The ball in your court as to whether you think about or even bother to answer my complaints.

          “Instead of asking for magic iPhones to call up your version of God or demanding your version of God perform miracles on demand that make sense to you (which sounds like a spoiled, petulant child demanding the best toys from a parent fully expecting to be given them), perhaps consider using the method of communication that has been offered to you by this God.”

          No thank you god. You can burn me for being an unbeliever if you wish, but I won’t be bowing to a system which has been imposed on me without my consent, a system over which I have no appeal nor power to change, and a system in which there are only two outcomes – eternal happiness or eternal damnation. One more unknown martyr to the cosmic despot. take another look at the points of difference I enumerated above and tell me my punishment fits my crime.

          “To end where I began – I understand false dilemmas, and your approach to this topic creates one which you expect every christian to be caught up in, when actually your dilemma does not exist and my understanding is that the overwhelming majority of Christians who have sought an answer to this question would end up with something very close or the same to what I have just outlined.”

          Except you don’t understand false dilemma. I’m not giving you a false choice. I’m not even asking you to make a choice. As an atheist I don’t even believe there is a choice. I’m taking the generally accepted system as Christians explain it and showing why it is unjust. If you have another way to explain god’s justice then go ahead and make your case. I can’t be any fairer than that. But whatever case you make, it’s going to have internal flaws because as I said it’s built on square pegs in round holes. Just like when you explained the fate of the unleaned. Your explanation, that god can make a judgement on the unlearned by looking into their heart and knowing if they would’ve accepted him makes Jesus’s message and crucifixion redundant. Every assumption you make has a ripple on effect – if this is true then that means this. The creator of the mythos can’t foresee every outcome of their choices and so cracks appear. So to with the mythos you’ll create.

          Reply
      6. Chris Fellows (@cfellows65536)

        Since you said you were interested in what I had to say, Nathanael: I think it is much preferable to be an atheist than to believe in Hell. I could not bring myself to expose my children to an environment where they would hear this pernicious doctrine propounded as truth by people they loved and respected, so they have ended up more-or-less atheists. My take on this has not changed in the past twelve years, and you can read about it here.

        I understand where you are coming from – I have been in the same position, of feeling obligated to defend a meme-bundle that contained indefensible things. I tried very hard to do this for a long time, out of a loyalty and love for that meme-bundle and its practitioners that is still an ineradicable part of my being. The effort nearly broke me.

        I should have listened to my much younger self:

        On every street corner there’s a philosophy / some mental trick to live your life for you
        (Chris Fellows, from Sea Mist, 1986)

        I urge you to fly free, little theist, and live instead by the words of that immortal philosopher, Jean Racszak:

        Figuring things out for yourself is practically the only freedom anyone really has nowadays. Use that freedom.
        (Jean Racszak, from Starship Troopers, 1997)

        Reply
      7. Marco

        I do not have any theological issue with hell. I believe the concept of hell was a crucial one at a time when jail, police, and judges didn’t exist as a competent system. The idea being that fear is a strong motivator to stop people breaking the law that our dear leaders go to so much trouble to invent. It is, in this day and age, redundant, as threats of punishment through the legal system works just fine. Be that as it may, my children are also more or less atheist.

        Believing in hell doesn’t stop one breaking the law, just as the credible threat of punishment. Eg. If one is going to hell anyway….

        Reply
      8. Marco

        I said that technology proves that science works,

        I said that technology proves no such thing – The things that technology relies on to work, are the only things that technology can demonstrate through their use – The use of an iPad says nothing about whether the science saying “random mutations are necessary for evolution to occur” is likely to be true or not. I refuse to concede that “science works” unless we are to strictly define science by the observability/repeatability requirements in their strict form. This rules out things like cosmology, and anything that science says (so far) about abiogenesis, until abiogenesis is observed repeatedly (among other things). The science of these things is not working, and no technology relies on anything discovered about these things. If we are to judge knowledge on whether it can power a widget, we truly have gone to a completely materialistic world.

        The connection with evolution is one that I made – Our use of widgets says nothing about the sorts of science of origins which is supposed to be challenging the creationist (in a generalised theist sense that God created the Universe and life) precedent.

        and it can’t say anything about morality that science won’t soon come along and subsume into itself

        I will again make the point that moral precedents are important. We are hardly going to look into research that overturns “Thou shalt not Kill” as a moral imperative. There are always situations both biblical and modern, where killing can be the best thing to do, but that does not change the asset that the moral imperative is inserted into our culture and kept there through ritual.

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          The things that technology relies on to work, are the only things that technology can demonstrate through their use

          Well, yes. I’d have to say that few would argue with that.

          – The use of an iPad says nothing about whether the science saying “random mutations are necessary for evolution to occur” is likely to be true or not.

          And no one but you is saying this. iPads may not have much to say about evolution, but have a lot to say about our understandings of electricity, metallurgy and plastics. If you wanted examples of applied evolution then google ‘evolution in medicine’. I’m sure we’ve had this discussion before about evolution and medicine, so I don’t know what the hold up is in understanding its application to technology.

          I refuse to concede that “science works” unless we are to strictly define science by the observability/repeatability requirements in their strict form.

          OK, for the sake of argument lets define science your way. Technology then proves that “science works” as it is an observable and repeatable experiment of every scientific finding which underpins the working of the technology. A widget can be made, said widget can used by the maker to repeat and observe the underpinning sciences working. The widget can then be given to another who also can use the widget. Such use also repeat and gives observation to the underpinning sciences working. Ad infinitum until the widget stops working, whereupon the understanding of the underpinning sciences can be tested anew in the repair of the widget. Get it working again and this further validates ones understanding of the sciences.

          This rules out things like cosmology, and anything that science says (so far) about abiogenesis, until abiogenesis is observed repeatedly (among other things).

          OK, for the sake of argument lets rule them out. It doesn’t alter my argument about technology. If anything it strengthens it, as we’ve now removed those naughty naughty pseudo-sciences that we don’t have technology for anyway.

          If we are to judge knowledge on whether it can power a widget, we truly have gone to a completely materialistic world.

          Again, no one is saying that being able to make or not make technology from a particular science is the only arbiter of that science’s truthiness. If you can make technology then you have confidence that the science is correct. And if you believe you can make a technology, but it fails to work as expected, then you have a misunderstanding of the science involved. It’s really not such a radical idea.

          I will again make the point that moral precedents are important. We are hardly going to look into research that overturns “Thou shalt not Kill” as a moral imperative.

          We might not, but we can find out why our brain believes this to be true. We can find out how to fix the brains of individuals who don’t believe it because of some abnormality. We can find out which situations test our brains in this belief and which situations don’t, and why. We might be able to heighten out morality or lower it through science. In short, we could understand morality.

          Take the example of genetics. For several thousand years people have bred horses, dogs, etc. to have certain traits. Breeders learned how to achieve the results they wanted, but until recently didn’t know how it worked. With morality we are in the same position as those breeders of yore; in the next few decades the scientific study of the mind will unlock the genetics of morality.

          Reply
      9. Marco

        If you wanted examples of applied evolution then google ‘evolution in medicine’

        I agree with Lennox in this one – Evolution as described in nature is completely different to its application in medicine, or engineering or whatever.

        I will again make the point that moral precedents are important. We are hardly going to look into research that overturns “Thou shalt not Kill” as a moral imperative.

        We might not, but we can find out why our brain believes this to be true
        We know already that it is in most ways “programming” that is virtually nothing to do with instincts, genetics or indeed inborn human values. If we are brought up in a culture, or tribe or whatever, where one would be programmed otherwise, one is programmed otherwise. Hypnotists do this kind of thing all the time. Religion is, in some ways, mass organised brainwashing, and so is politics and advertising and all other kinds of things. I would prefer the type that has morality at its core than one that is trying to get re-elected.

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          We keep getting locked into making God into our own image and hacking away at the trees without seeing the forest.

          The problem with your complaint is that the bibile, the inspired word of god, does exactly that. Your god is usually described in human terms. God is angry, jealous, loving, etc. You yourself the other day in justifying hell describes god as a father punishing offspring who had turned away.

          If god, through the bible, is happy to describe himself in human terms, then it’s a little unfair of you to say I should dismiss that approach.

          Reply
    2. winstoninabox Post author

      To take your wife analogy, while one may have a loving, caring, respectful and supportive relationship with one’s wife, if you were surprised to find irrefutable evidence that she was the serial killer murdering the first borns of the town, you wouldn’t ignore it and say, “Well, she’s always had a wonderful relationship with me.”

      Reply
      1. Nathanael Small

        All metaphors, like models, are good and flawed.
        Keep asking WHO, and look to the bible for the answers that God gives about himself and his character, and who the people (whoever the authors were) write about to and engage with this God.
        Understanding the literary forms in their historical, cultural and socio-economic context and you start to really grapple with the texts rather than seeking pseudo-philosophical or scientismic slam dunks.

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          I don’t know how many times I can say this, but you don’t get to choose just one interpretation and say this is it and nothing else is valid. I can do as you ask and approach god the way you approach god, but the other questions don’t go away. god is a mass murderer and torturer of those who don’t agree with him. I don’t have to go any further than that to know that whatever else he might say, it isn’t for me.

          It’s like you don’t even read what I type, you just keep saying that your way of approach is the only correct way. ‘god loves me, so it doesn’t matter whatever else he’s done.’

          Reply
        2. winstoninabox Post author

          The bible is a text which is open to various interpretations. I don’t know what book you read, or who you talked to, but wherever you got the notion that “understanding the literary forms in their historical, cultural and socio-economic context” is the only way to interpret the bible, is simply incorrect. That approach may tell us what the bible is trying to say to the people of it’s time, but it tells us little else. For example a gender reading of the bible will look at what it has to say about the sexes. I seem to recall you did study literature at university so approaching a text from various viewpoints is not an alien concept to you.

          Reply
  4. Rupawala

    機會係個天俾嘅 yes. BUT it is only those who are prepared that can see and caliiaptze the chance given. The people who always blames god/命/天 that there is no chance is absolutely wrong! If they haven’t prepared, work hard or think hard, how can they see the chance themselves, even if they see the opportunity is right in front of them, they wont have the skills, connection, knowledge or experience to take advantage of it.How sad!!!Bomb

    Reply

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