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To Christians and atheists on the DP

The primary purpose of this article is to show that many people on the DP are using the same words in their arguments, but are thinking of different meanings when using them.

Clarifying what meanings are intended will help to make discussion more civil. If you aren't sure that someone is thinking of the same meaning as you are, asking them about their definition could prevent a lot of hostility.

The secondary purpose is to lay out reasoning that leads to one conclusion: Personal beliefs change only in the long-term, and are not likely to be strongly influenced by what most people have the time and space to say in a few comments.

As such, we should recognize that fighting in the comments does a lot of harm, while very little else changes. It is better to hold long discussions about beliefs over private messages or email.

    A few of the things that I address below:
  • Meanings for "Evidence"
  • Meanings for "Faith"
  • Meanings for "Proof"
  • Meanings for "Science"
  • Illustration: Explanation of my beliefs
  • Requests that I make of the members of DP


Evidence

The moment the word "evidence" is mentioned, a big problem can occur. That's because there isn't one meaning of "evidence" that everyone uses.

Colloquially, people say "evidence" and mean "anything that leads a person to think that something is true", which includes things like feelings, personal experiences, and so on - which is how many theists often use it.

Some people also colloquially mean "scientific proof" - which is how many atheists often use it.

Formally, "evidence" means a proposition that has been demonstrated to be right. That is, it isn't reliant on consensus by the community of academic researchers, but it also isn't simply up to one's personal feelings or experiences. It has to be something that has been carefully scrutinized.

The difference between scientific evidence and colloquial evidence seems to be one of the reasons why there is so much fighting going on. Several people feel that only positive scientific proof constitutes a reason to believe something, while others feel that feelings, intuitions, and personal perceptions of events can constitute evidence.

It's beyond the scope of this letter to get into philosophy of science and philosophy of epistemology to show that no one has beliefs that are based solely on verifiable scientific facts, but I encourage all of you to look both subjects up on the internet. There are plenty of online encyclopedias of philosophy and theses written by great philosophers and theologians that are available for free.


Faith

It must also be understood that the colloquial meaning of evidence and the meaning of faith are not necessarily the same. This is another mistake that people make.

Faith has one definition, but can mean three things colloquially:

The definition: confidence (or belief) in the truth or rightness of some proposition or person's character

The colloquial meanings:

(1) adherence to a proposition as true in light of a great preponderance of evidence that is not necessarily conclusive

(2) adherence to a proposition as true despite there being no confirming scientific evidence

(3) adherence to a proposition as true due to colloquial evidence

When a person follows meaning #2 and adheres to a belief in the face of disconfirming scientific evidence, or to #3 in the face of disconfirming colloquial evidence they are given a clinical diagnosis.

That clinical diagnosis may be that the person has an "overvalued idea" - such as the belief that evolution is a set of scientific propositions that are lies pushed by public and private researchers in every discipline. This is demonstrably false (there is disconfirming evidence).

When the amount of disconfirming evidence is great and the adherence to a proposition is great, a diagnosis such as "delusional disorder" may be given. This applies to people who think that they are Jesus, Hitler, the Devil, and so on.


Proof

Some people also equate "evidence" with "proof". It's beyond the scope of my letter to get into philosophical discussion about topics like "degrees of certainty", but I'll address this quickly.

Though many people use the word "proof" in daily conversation, very few philosophers would ever say that there are universally agreed-upon conditions that, when met, would allow someone to say that they have "proven" something.

In other words, almost everything that people believe is always subject to being shown to be wrong in the future due to new developments - or can never be shown to be "objectively right" because we are limited by things like our reliance on inductive reasoning.

Some people use the word "proof" to mean "confident without a doubt" about something. But not leaving any room for doubt is a really foolish idea. We don't have to be certain without doubt in order to believe something - we can be more confident in our beliefs as we get more evidence for them, and less certain of them (or more certain of alternatives) as our supporting beliefs/evidential propositions fall apart or evidence for alternatives arises.

In fact, this is how humans operate. It's called the "web of beliefs".

On a side note, some people say "objective" colloquially to mean "something that no one can deny". Formally speaking, objectivity is impossible for reasons stated above (re: degrees of confidence and our limited ability to experience things in the universe).

What people should focus on are "inter-subjective" facts - things that everyone who has had roughly the same amount of in-depth experience (research, personal application, etc) agree on.


Science

Some people also get mixed up when speaking of "science".

Colloquially, people say "science" when they mean "generally the institutions that are regarded as scientific, and what the people in this institutions believe is true or is most important in determining what is true".

Others, when speaking colloquially, say "science" and mean "formal beliefs about what constitutes proper scientific processes" such as positivism.

Still others say "science" and mean "what most academics believe".

Formally, "science" means "the scientific method and disciplinary studies that employ it".

Science is not a thing that can be worshiped, just as atheism is not a belief about the world. Neither are a religion. A person who has dogmatic views about what science is or what atheists should do with their lives are simply dogmatists of their own intellectual or moral code.


Conclusion

Given all of the above noted possibilities of meaning, it makes little practical sense to say something like, "He is 'irrational' for having 'faith' when there is 'no evidence' for (or even 'evidence against') his belief." or "Only 'science' can provide 'objective' 'proof' about the things in our universe."

Rather, a good discussion must start with an agreement on the meaning of terms to be used.


My background

I am an atheist. More specifically, I identify as an agnostic atheist. I am also a philosopher, a psychologist, and a communication specialist - by saying which I mean that I have done academic research and presented professional work in all of those disciplines. I also was once a Christian and intended to be a minister. I studied with religious officials and scholars from several Christian denominations as I tried to find what I called "the true path to a moral and pious life".

I have also studied anthropology and world religions including Buddhism, Shintoism, Islam, and others.

I bring this up because I'm often asked "Why is this any of your business?". The answer is: I know the issues in great detail from personal experience, and want the conversations to be civil.


Illustration: Explanation of my beliefs

I believe that the universe has always been present in some form, that cosmological and biological evolution got the universe to this point, that there is no residual experience of life after the particles that compose one's body are separated, and that there only the material things exist.

Simply put, I am a naturalist and a materialist. I don't believe that spirits, ghosts, etc are words that reference things that actually exist - I think that they are words for things that people have created through storytelling.

However, other atheists may believe completely different things. They may believe in ghosts, reincarnation, a universal consciousness, and so on.

Being an atheist doesn't mean believing in some specific replacement belief, or that one doesn't believe in other specific things. If you tell me a ball is filled with mercury and I see no good reason to think that (and probably some reason to doubt it), it doesn't mean that I do or don't specifically believe that it is filled with sand, water, a combination of sand and water, lemonade, or nothing at all.

My views on these things are kind of like my views on having a roommate: I can't say that there is no possible way that I would find someone that I would like to room with, but I don't have sufficient reason to believe that there is someone - especially given what I know of my incompatibilities with the way other people like to live.

Said another way, I have a lot of "colloquial evidence" that suggests that I'm not likely to ever choose to have a roommate. I don't have "scientific proof" that I won't choose to have one under any circumstances, and I wouldn't claim to have it. I'm agnostic about the idea in the epistemological sense, but I really don't believe that it's going to happen.


Q&A and Requests

I'll end by answering two questions and making two requests.

Question #1: What would convince you to become a spiritualist - whether a deist, theist, or otherwise? (I get asked this all the time, either by people who are genuinely curious, or by people who are trying to make me say something stupid, like "There's nothing that could ever convince me.")

Answer: For me, it could only be a personal experience with something that I could not explain. Any retelling of the experience to people who can't relate would make me sound 'out of my mind', and I would be ascribed a mental disorder or something of the like by nonbelievers. This is similar to the answer given by Søren Aabye Kierkegaard.

Given that, I cannot look down upon anyone who says that they are a theist because of their personal experience.

Question #2: What caused you to become an atheist? (Also a big question, as some people really struggle with the idea that someone who is knowledgeable and was once very devout is now an atheist.)

Answer: Every core pillar of my theistic and deistic belief systems fell apart in the face of research and reflection. This includes historical texts, supernatural events, explanations of how the universe came to be and operates, divine revelation of moral laws, and - most importantly - the poor initial physical and intellectual conditions under which life originates [whether with reference to evolution or traditional creationism, and whether we're talking about the first human or a newborn].

In other words, a lot of evidence - colloquial and scientific - that many theistic and deistic claims and arguments are wrong (morally, logically, or factually) in the light of.

Request #1: Please post your responses to this article below, both so that I can edit in any oversights and so that this article can be read by others who have been caught up in arguments on these subjects.

Request #2: Please stop attacking each other in the comment sections of posts on the Daily Paul.

Those of you trying to convince others to change their beliefs aren't even going to be that successful by posting a handful of comments, anyway. Belief change is a long-term process that requires a lot of resources. It's one thing to correct a misconception about a single, simple idea (like what the word "atheist" means). It's another to try to get someone to change their whole worldview.


Thank you for your time.

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The sun will rise...

That's not faith. That's confidence.

Ron Paul 2012 or Bust! Literally!

Freedom is my Worship Word!

Faith vs reasonable

Faith vs reasonable expectation based on evidence.

Faith is the expectation

Faith is the expectation based on evidence....

Blind faith is not faith but insanity...

Clarification

I had meant for this meaning of the word "faith" to be implied in my article via the outright definition. I've just re-worded the article to make this meaning more explicit.

By this meaning, "faith" is often only made distinct from "proof" in what each word is intended to highlight. In the case of "faith", our reliance on inductive reasoning is highlighted. In the case of "proof" our strong degree of certainty is highlighted.

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Once you sincerely ask to

Once you sincerely ask to know God, He will show Himself to you. True Story. This is how I found Christ. I know Him. He's pretty cool :)

One world, under government, with power and money for the elite

Thanks for your kind intent

I appreciate your sentiment. I'd like to point out that the phrasing that you're using makes it sound as though no atheist has sincerely sought and asked for divine revelation of a god. that's simply not the case.

Speaking personally, I had spent months asking for connection during the early part of my path in losing faith.

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Months????

I got turned on to "new-age" thinking decades ago! My quest for "Truth" eventually led here:
http://www.godchannel.com

In any case, be sure to vote Ron Paul!

Freedom is my Worship Word!

Not sure how to answer this,

Not sure how to answer this, but you're welcome. I'll pray for you dude. Much love, liberty lover!

One world, under government, with power and money for the elite

This is your personal

This is your personal belive...other people have different personal belive systems.Nothing there contradict with Ron Paul freedom message.But it is belive system.You say you study science,than you know that science has limitation by nature of entropy and arrow of time.You will never ever know what lies beyond event horisont of creation of universe.You will never ever know what action created first entropy fault.Discovery of subject of action is beyond this universe,beyond creation of mater,space and time.So scientist invent theory which cant be prooven for ever and in which some can belive. Second law of thermodynamics is hard to crack.You can look in light but photon is created after the event.We know the limmitation.Scientificaly you can say I dont know for the event,which make you agnostic for ever.Ateist realy cant exist scientificaly,only agnostic.
If person chose to belive that no god is beyond event horisont he chose by beliving,not by scientificaly proven facts because there are no meanings which this facts can be prooven.All the meanings are created after the event.It is imposible burden of proof which can never be delivered.And that is why ateism is belive system,same like religion.All people are agnostics,they are not 100% shore in their known facts.They realy don't know.They don't say I know god exist or I know god don't exist.They say I belive or I don't belive.They chose by fait what is esence of existence.
But this is not realy reason for Ron Paul movement to get afected by.Liberty is good concept to all people,and personal belive systems are for you only...that is why they are personal.

I really don't understand

Why is it that people keep commenting on my atheism (and atheism in general)? The article isn't about my personal beliefs - at all.

Are that many people simply not reading the article?

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Actualy I read your article

Actualy I read your article which is cleary full of your personal statements about your personal belives and I read your opinions about meaning of formulations of terms used in discusions.If you don't understand the reaction from me on your statements it is your problem,not mine.I can recomend you to spend meaningfull time to understand my post.I realy don't want to go in repeating your statements from your post.

Subject at hand vs illustrations and credibility

What I meant to point to is that I only referenced my atheism in relation to two things: (1) establishing my credibility on the issues by referencing that I have been deeply involved in the discussion on both sides, and (2) aiding my exposition by referencing how the terms and their various meanings play out in answering questions about my beliefs.

I didn't write the article as a pro-atheism tract. That's why I'm stunned.

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What you say is not correct

You said that you were a "Christian"
Your using the word "were" in that statement shows that you were a Christian only in profession but never born again by the Spirit of God.
A true born again follower of Christ stays the course until death or until that glorious day when Christ returns.

There a literally millions who profess to be Christians, but are not "Christians". They only profess to be.

As Jesus Himself said " after a while they fall by the wayside"

" In Thee O Lord do I put my trust " ~ Psalm 31:1~

Proof of my point

This is exactly what I said happens with many Christians when a former Christian talks about his or her path. the same happens with some atheists when a former atheist says that they've become a Christian (or Muslim, etc.).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman

This is why we need to define our terms carefully, and stick with clear definitions.

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You still don't understand

There is no such thing as a "former Christian"
That can only be properly phrased " former professing Christian"
There is a world ...er.....an eternity of difference between the two!

" In Thee O Lord do I put my trust " ~ Psalm 31:1~

The word you are looking for is

apostate. We are living in a giant age of apostay right now. We will see where these events lead. If I am still able to have my faith, more power to them it makes my work that much harder, but if I am not allowed to preach the gospel... well we all know what eventually happens to statists.

May the LORD bless you and keep you
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace
Follow me on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/Burning_Sirius

Good post.

Good post. Rather surprised by the amount of down votes. I would hope that liberty minded people, even the religious, readily see the parallels between big government and big Christianity.

Yes, I agree. That is why most Christian Conservatives

supported Santorum instead of RP. And supported George Bush too.

Thank you

I've pointed to the parallels between control by government and control by other forms of centralized power in many threads and comments, though the people I'm pointing out these connections to tend to ignore them.

In regards to the language you used, I think that we should point out the force behind problems, rather than by the people who enable them.

As such, it isn't "big Christianity", it's "big Theocracy". In the same way, it wouldn't be "big atheism" that wants to ban prayer in all public forums (not the same as what I want to do, which is ban all officially enforced prayer), it would be "big Anti-theism".

We could shorten both cases to a single issue: policies that reflect warrantless impositionism.

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When you start the subject

When you start the subject talking about Christianity, it is "big Christianity." But, yes, nearly all forms of "big" religion are subject to the same processes.

The scary part is ...(at least for me)

the statist, 501c3, 'Christians' will be the most likely to sell their purported brothers out. At that point we will know who is truly following the 'man with the nail-scars in his hands', or simply following his pastor, priest, or 'Congregational leader'.

As to the 'evidence' question, scientific evidence is not the only type to consider. The historical evidence has convinced not a few skeptics, from Allan Rex Sandage,(the greatest observational cosmologist in the world) who actually started with the scientific evidence for a creator, then followed the historical evidence..to Frank Morison, who had planned to write a book debunking the Resurrection, and ended up writing, Who Moved The Stone, with a lead chapter called: The book that Refused to be Written.

All I would ask of you is that you honestly examine all the evidence, and be open to where it leads..even if it leads you back to Christianity. I followed the evidence for the correctness of Ron Paul's positions, even on foreign policy. I found that reason dictates that small government includes a non- interventionist foreign policy, even with our friends. The Christianity I hold to today is not the modern, watered down version,I once held to, but the straight version.

"Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern." ~~C.S. Lewis
Love won! Deliverance from Tyranny is on the way! Col. 2:13-15

Researching and reflecting

For what it's worth, the field of "historical studies" does use the scientific method in analyzing artifacts; so it is a scientific discipline.

I appreciate the trust of your message; that doing research and reflecting on the information that you discover is the only way to live a good life.

Unlike Morison, I started out to prove to myself and others that the Christian narrative was generally true. This happened early on in the journey of my loss of faith. In doing so, I came to find that the historical evidence such such a narrative is simply not there. I read Josephus, Pliny, et al. in their original forms. I investigated the history of the formation of the documents that would later come to be known as "the bible" - and those that were rejected from the collection.

Believe me, I did over a year's worth of work on the subject. Nothing came of it.

And remember, I had set out to reassure myself.

After I had lost faith, I went back to do further studies just to make sure that I would have the resources to point out to other atheists that there was enough evidence to show that the Christian narrative wasn't made up "whole cloth" - because some atheists I knew at that time were claiming that a handful of people had just made the key parts of the story up (such as the very existence of a messiah figure with a revolutionizing anti-law message) and spread the disinformation.

The result is that I can't say that there wasn't a guy named Yahushua (Jesus) who lived and preached about changing people's perceptions of Jewish law and strictness in adherence to a literal interpretation. However, I also can't agree with the idea that there is sufficient evidence to show that such a person absolutely existed and was crucified. Moreover, I can't say that there is any evidence of miracles occurring.

As I've said before, there's no way to have a reasonably involved and informative discussion in a comment section of an article - one that would lead to someone changing their beliefs. I've only gone to the lengths of exposition that I have here to say this: No one who is not an expert on the subject and who has handled the relevant material directly can make any assertion about the degree of historical evidence there is for or against parts of the Christian narrative.

Most of the people who study these things of a living believe that the "godlike" aspects of the narrative have no sufficient historical support. Many of these experts disagree on many smaller details.

Even the best of those experts has no certainty. After all, history isn't like applied chemistry - it's reliant on stumbling upon artifacts, not upon using recognized formulas.

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A well thought-out post.

A well thought-out post. Thank You!

I certainly can agree with a great deal of what you write on the subject. As a Christian and former atheist, I also agree with many of the comments. Most especially those that relate how they have never experienced anyone actually changing their philosophy as a result of one of these online skirmishes. Of course, even the reasons for that can be viewed in different lights based on ones personal presuppositions, theist and atheist coming down very differently on on the 'whys'. This same affliction effects every aspect of the debate. For example, if I happen to mention that I am a converted atheist, the reaction from my former affiliates is one of dubiousness. They simply don't believe me. But as you say about personal experiences, I do not waste my time trying to convince them of my former state of mind. I could offer "evidence", like my personal journals of long ago... but I prefer to keep other thoughts in them as private as possible. And such embarrassing thoughts are sprinkled throughout. LOL!

I do not see these questions as decidable strictly by evidential exploration. Nor do I believe that anyone can be argued into being a Christian or atheist. Certainly, arguments can have their limited effects. But they never bring anyone to changing sides in one amazing climax. For me, my conversion was a long slog through personal reflection and inner argumentation, all leading me in a certain direction, begrudgingly - which is perhaps why it took so long. But the process was far less about evidence for or against God's existence, as it was about what light I should view the evidence in. In other words, it was questions about very basic first principles - metaphysical, epistemological and moral - that led me away from an atheistic point of view. In that sense, certain Christians did give me pause with their arguments, though I wouldn't have admitted at the time. So my personal journey was quite different than yours.... which may explain partially how you and I ended up switching places at the ends of the line.

Thank you. This demonstrates my point.

That we both switched sides due to our own experiences and thought processes shows that belief isn't an issue that can simply be addressed in a short period of time.

Like yours was, my path to my beliefs occurred over the course of years, and many people don't believe that I was a Christian until I demonstrate how much I know about Christianity and Christian life.

It really throws other atheists when I tell them that I think many Christians are more moral than many atheists are - even when the Christians have beliefs that I think are immoral - because those Christians put so much of their thought and effort into it. The difference between those Christians and those atheists comes down to the information that each has been exposed to and how they grew up.

Of course, when I tell many Christians that there are a lot of atheists who are more moral than they are, the Christians also scoff or look bewildered. Those atheists put more thought and effort into their morality.

The most moral people that I have ever met do tend to eventually become atheists, pantheists, deists, or Unitarians, because they continue to seek out information that disagrees with their beliefs. But, as in our cases, that path is a long and personal one. Even though is disagree with these people - like I disagree with triniatrian Christians - I can't look down on them because everything is a matter of knowledge vs ignorance and personal experience, and none of us knows where we would end up if we had more experience than our life allows - much less if we knew everything that there is to know.

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I appreciate the response

"That we both switched sides due to our own experiences and thought processes shows that belief isn't an issue that can simply be addressed in a short period of time."

Certainly, yet that doesn't mean that discussions with others about belief will never have effects since such discussions are themselves experiences and require thought. It simply means that one should not expect much of any obvious effect resulting from any particular discussion(s) with another individual. For example, a very good friend of mine was a firm Pentecostal as a young man, but explains his departure to atheism as being triggered by a discussion with his atheist uncle at a Thanksgiving Day get together - a man he didn't know was an atheist before that afternoon. For him, this discussion stopped him dead in his tracks (his words) and his subsequent journey to atheism was a short track lasting a few months. According to him, he never once questioned his upbringing and was perfectly happy with his beliefs before that 'random Thursday'.

This change in my friend was not a result of some blind encounter with a stranger on the web. He knew, liked and respected his uncle long before learning about his personal take on the question of God's existence. In that sense, the Thanksgiving Day discussion was of a more personal and direct type than what one will find anywhere in these faceless pages.

You state that both Christians and atheist can become perplexed by your sorting out of who is or isn't the most moral among them, saying that it is an individual matter and not necessarily a result of their respective belief or unbelief categories. I find another perplexity taking place in my discussions. When an atheist makes his moral judgements, whether about atheist or believers (or a particular belief system), my response is to ask on what such judgements are based. I may ask some rather pointed questions in the process. My motive is simply to bring the discussion down to the most basic presuppositions involved, if possible. But the perplexity I most encounter is one of of misunderstanding. The atheist will often become quite insulted, thinking that I am making a moral charge against him personally.

I ask, "On what are these moral judgments based? Is there some obligatory standard involved, or is this just your personal subjective view of moral questions? If it is your personal preferences, then what makes your preferences superior to other preferences? If there is some standard involved, where did this standard come from and what makes it obligatory?"

The vast majority of the time, such questions go completely ignored. Instead, the response is usually in some such form as this...

"Such questions are infantile (or childish, or ridiculous, or insulting)."
Or...
"Atheist are more moral than Christians. Statistics show that far more Christians are in prison than atheist as a percentage of their demographic. How dare you!"

That last sentence was inserted for dramatic effect, though I have received such a declaration before.

Again, thank you for your thoughtfulness in this reply.

Exposure to philosophy and exposure to vitriol

"The vast majority of the time, such questions go completely ignored. Instead, the response is usually in some such form as this..."

That response mirrors the response of many Christians to the question "On what basis do you believe that a command from a god is morally right? Is it your subjective feeling? Is it that god's subjective belief? If there is something that god knows that we do not that allows that god to understand morality, shouldn't we be instructed about the things we don't understand, so that morality is clear to us?"

The response is often "You're an idiot." or "God's logic is above any logic we could ever have. How dare you question god!" or the like.

In both cases, the reactions are because of a combination of two things: lack of exposure to philosophy/lack of really considering the issue, and the amount of vitriol that a person has experienced from those who disagree with them. The less philosophical understanding and the more vitriol, the more likely the person is to have a knee-jerk, negative reaction.

The fact is that - though uneducated/less experienced/less thoughtful people hate it - there is a huge difference between people who spend a lot of their time trying to honestly understand everything in our universe, and those who rely on their emotions and popular opinion. "Elites" are not the problem. In general, they are the solution to many problems in the world. It is the corrupt elites who use their knowledge for selfish and destructive ends that are the problem.

I'm glad to have this dialogue with you.

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A Bit of (Probably) Worthless Advise

We have ascertained thus far that both Christians and atheist can answer questions poorly. But can they at least ask the right questions on occasions?

Sometimes the questions themselves are the problem. Sometimes the wording of certain questions reveals more about the presuppositions of the one asking, than it probably would about the one answering.

"On what basis do you believe that a command from a god is morally right?"

Having thought like this, I understand the reasoning behind such a question. But now as a Christian, I realize how strange it sounds to Christian ears. Of course the cheap and obvious answer is that we don't believe such a thing. The question is worded so poorly as to be essentially worthless at probing Christian presuppositions. The questions I related in past conversations did not presume upon atheist assumptions and/or beliefs. They were completely open ended or offered possible category distinctions. Yours not only paint the one you are addressing with an assumption, but with a false assumption, given the way you present the question.

But let me give you the benefit of asking the question in a way that seeks to honestly relate to Christians (not some random 'a god', which is simply your presuppositions playing fast and loose). My first reaction would be one of sheer amusement. To the Christian, this is like asking why we would assume that a yardstick is three feet long. By definition, a yard stick is three feet long. The Christian, having a bases for moral obligation in his worldview, ask the atheist, "What is the basis for moral obligation in your worldview? Is there one?" The atheist counters by asking the Christian why she assumes the standard for moral obligation is morally obligatory. In addition, the question itself would necessarily imply that there is a real standard that can be known in some sense, or it is a worthless question to begin with. If there is no obligatory standard by which to judge a persons behavior (even God's), then why does it matter what one assumes about morality? On the other hand, if there is an obligatory standard to be had, then what good does it do to ask someone who thinks she has revealed knowledge of such a standard why she regards it as moral? To be frank, I am beginning to doubt you were ever a believer in any real sense. Other questions you relate from your encounters are poorly worded from a Christian perspective.

Of course, none of that excuses the Christians who have responded to you as you relate. It simply means that in order to ask meaningful questions that probe a person's presuppositions requires one to at least understand what those presuppositions entail. If one wants to point out some glaring contradiction between a persons professed beliefs and their subsequent behavior, statements and/or beliefs in other areas, it does little good to ask leading questions that come off sounding ridiculous in light of that persons presuppositions. I don't know whether that will help you in future discussions, but I offer the advise all the same.

For example, you have also asked Christians a follow up question that reveals you are not taking into account a Christian understanding of God's nature, and the moral obligation upon men that flows from that nature. You ask, "Is it that god's subjective belief?" This is not far off from a "have you stopped beating your wife?" type question. In even giving a simple 'no', the Christian may feel as though he is giving credence to something counter to his own presuppositions. No one who has even a cursory understanding of Christian belief about God's nature would ask a Christian such an off target question. Only a person who is operating under his own presuppositions, and wants the Christian to assume those same presuppositions, would expect a Christian to be impacted by this. In a Christian understanding, God is not subject to anything. All other things are subject to Him. And both morality and God being things impacting contingent material reality, and not material things themselves, the question misunderstands the very things it is asking the Christian about. Subjectivity as a concept is not even pertinent to any understanding of what Christians believe about the nature of God. So in even offering such a question, I have to seriously doubt your former state of mind. If you were ever a Christian, your questions would indicate that you were clearly ignorant about the very things you supposedly believed. At least, that is the case if these were the sorts of questions that gave you fuel to jettison your supposed faith.

My point in asking probing questions is to get to a persons base presuppositions while checking for coherence with their subsequent statements in other areas. Thus, when a materialist atheist is spouting moral judgments (who is morally superior to who, or whose morality is 'more developed') it makes sense for me as a Christian to ask them if there is some obligatory standard that they are applying in such judgements. Sorry to say it, but your questions are not of the same kind at all. They are poorly rhetorical at best, and completely worthless at addressing Christian presuppositions - though they are quite good at revealing your own, if that is any comfort to you. Too bad the Christians answering you were also poor at rhetoric.

Finally responding

I apologize for the delay. My laptop had to be repaired.

"By definition, a yard stick is three feet long."

It isn't. A yard stick is such by definition, but the question isn't like "How long is a yard stick?", it's like "Why do we use the measurement "feet"?" The yard stick's length isn't at issue - the decision factor is.

"The atheist counters by asking the Christian why she assumes the standard for moral obligation is morally obligatory."

No intelligent and knowledgeable atheist would ever ask such a thing.

"if there is an obligatory standard to be had, then what good does it do to ask someone who thinks she has revealed knowledge of such a standard why she regards it as moral?"

Because "revealed knowledge" is entirely suspect. I have just as much reason to question you if you say that you have "revealed knowledge" about which foods cause cancer. Your knowledge can only be justified by something outside of revelation.

My answer as a Christian - before I got deep into the details of relevant philosophy and science - was "What is clearly stated in the bible will prove to be true with enough time." Just as then, inquiry and experience are my standards for morality. When any claim doesn't match up - religious or not - I reject it.

"No one who has even a cursory understanding of Christian belief about God's nature would ask a Christian such an off target question."

Your belief about "God's nature isn't shared by all Christians. Moreover, if you believe that God would never command anything immoral, then your "no" response to an arbitrary nature of God's commands wouldn't be at all like the wife-beater question. Rather, you'd simply say to the entire line of questioning (as I used to) "God's can make moral commands because of God's knowledge about what is moral, and it is in God's good nature to never command anything that is immoral."

Any Christian who would say that God's subjective commands are morally right simply because they are divine (known as Divine Command Theory, which many Christians believe), would have a lot of follow-up questions to answer.

So you're entirely wrong about me, about the nature and intent of my questions, and what they reveal.

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No Apology Necessary... Didn't Read Your Response Till Just Now

"but the question isn't like 'How long is a yard stick?', it's like 'Why do we use the measurement feet?' The yard stick's length isn't at issue - the decision factor is."

Based on the metaphysical presuppositions of a materialist atheist, all standards of measure, no matter what they are intended to measure, are arbitrary at rock bottom. So questioning the decision making process in morality makes about as much sense as questioning your neighbor for measuring his front door with a yardstick. "Why not use a meter stick, or a noodle, or your left foot? Why have you decided to use this yardstick thingy?"
So the moral standard in use is not the issue, it's just a matter of what plays into our decision to use a particular standard. But from your presuppositions, there is no obligatory standard, so why does any of this matter, even our decision making process? Is there some obligatory standard in your worldview for making such decisions? If so, what is it and what makes it obligatory? If not, then what is the point of asking a Christian to account for their decision,.... or their belief in revealed truths or their belief in an eternal and absolute law giver? It all becomes whistling in the wind.

"Just as then, inquiry and experience are my standards for morality. When any claim doesn't match up - religious or not - I reject it."

Okay, so your personal 'inquiry and experience' are the standard for your morality. I'm sure a few sociopaths could make the same claim, with a straight face and rare sincerity. Philosophically speaking, your "standard" is self referentially incoherent. You earlier claimed to judge who is or isn't more moral among Christians and atheist. But your standard for judging such things amounts to nothing more than subjective and personal prejudices of your own. You have your prejudices, and others have theirs. So what makes your personal standard more valid than any other?

The grand "Sez Who?" You? So what?

By your own accounting, you are nothing more than a material collection, with all your thoughts arising from chemical reactions in the physical brain. These chemicals always behave this way in similar environments and temperatures. And here you are, offering your subjective experiences and inquiries as judge over the decision making processes and moral level of others. You are a riot.

Not subjective, inter-subjective. Not randomly, methodologically

It seems that you don't have a background in related philosophy, so I'm going to explain a few things.

1) The point of inquiry and experience is that they lead to a greater degree of certainty in one's decisions. (If you disagree with that, then you'd have no reason to think things through in any situation.) However, we have long recognized that reflecting only on one's own point of view leads to fallacies and unjustified confidence.

2) To solve the issue of justification, we check our observations with others. In science we have the processes of peer review and replication of experiments. In general philosophy we have logical symbolism and fact-checking. Decisions that result from these processes are not subjective, but inter-subjective.

As such, these decisions are not arbitrary. The speed of light isn't arbitrary, any more than is the length of a rock. What we use to measure speed or length is equally valid if our measurement is consistent, but there are better choices and worse choices. (Try measuring the size of a house with a clothespin.)

Determining what is more is like determining the speed of light. We can use whatever "yardstick" we want to measure it, as long as we are consistent - because we will then reach the same conclusions. Still, it's easier and more efficient - and thus better (max pleasure; least pain) to use certain methods.

3) The only other potential option for reaching decisions is to already know them objectively. Objective, in this sense, means "by all perspectives". As humans, our perspectives are limited. Even if it were possible that there was a god-thing that knew every perspective possible, it could not communicate them to us, and thus we could never say that we have access to objective knowledge.

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