Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Why do famous atheists believe that God does not exist?

Here’s a lecture by New York University professor Paul Vitz to explain a connection between atheism and fatherlessness:

Here’s an article by Paul Copan (related to the lecture) which points out how father presence/absence and father quality affects belief and disbelief in God.

Excerpt:

Seventh, the attempt to psychologize believers applies more readily to the hardened atheist.It is interesting that while atheists and skeptics often psychoanalyze the religious believer, they regularly fail to psychoanalyze their ownrejection of God. Why are believers subject to such scrutiny and not atheists? Remember another feature of Freud’s psychoanalysis — namely, an underlying resentment that desires to kill the father figure.

Why presume atheism is the rational, psychologically sound, and default position while theism is somehow psychologically deficient? New York University psychology professor Paul Vitz turns the tables on such thinking. He essentially says, “Let’s look into the lives of leading atheists and skeptics in the past. What do they have in common?” The result is interesting: virtually all of these leading figures lacked a positive fatherly role model — or had no father at all.11

Let’s look at some of them.

  • Voltaire(1694–1778): This biting critic of religion, though not an atheist, strongly rejected his father and rejected his birth name of Francois-Marie Arouet.
  • David Hume(1711–76): The father of this Scottish skeptic died when Hume was only 2 years old. Hume’s biographers mention no relatives or family friends who could have served as father figures.
  • Baron d’Holbach(1723–89): This French atheist became an orphan at age 13 and lived with his uncle.
  • Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–72): At age 13, his father left his family and took up living with another woman in a different town.
  • Karl Marx(1818–83): Marx’s father, a Jew, converted to being a Lutheran under pressure — not out of any religious conviction. Marx, therefore, did not respect his father.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche(1844–1900): He was 4 when he lost his father.
  • Sigmund Freud(1856–1939): His father, Jacob, was a great disappointment to him; his father was passive and weak. Freud also mentioned that his father was a sexual pervert and that his children suffered for it.
  • Bertrand Russell(1872–1970): His father died when he was 4.
  • Albert Camus(1913–60): His father died when he was 1 year old, and in his autobiographical novel The First Man, his father is the central figure preoccupation of his work.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre(1905–80): The famous existentialist’s father died before he was born.12
  • Madeleine Murray-O’Hair (1919–95): She hated her father and even tried to kill him with a butcher knife.
  • We could throw in a few more prominent contemporary atheists not mentioned by Vitz with similar childhood challenges:
  • Daniel Dennett (1942–): His father died when he was 5 years of age and had little influence on Dennett.13
  • Christopher Hitchens (1949–): His father (“the Commander”) was a good man, according to Hitchens, but he and Hitchens “didn’t hold much converse.” Once having “a respectful distance,” their relationship took on a “definite coolness” with an “occasional thaw.” Hitchens adds: “I am rather barren of paternal recollections.”14
  • Richard Dawkins (1941–): Though encouraged by his parents to study science, he mentions being molested as a child — no insignificant event, though Dawkins dismisses it as merely embarrassing.15

Moreover, Vitz’s study notes how many prominent theists in the past — such as Blaise Pascal, G.K. Chesterton, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer — have had in common a loving, caring father in their lives.16

Not only is there that anecdotal evidence of a psychological explanation for atheism, but there is also statistical evidence.

Excerpt:

In 1994 the Swiss carried out an extra survey that the researchers for our masters in Europe (I write from England) were happy to record. The question was asked to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation, and if so, why, or if not, why not. The result is dynamite. There is one critical factor. It is overwhelming, and it is this: It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.

If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church.

Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goesupfrom 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.

[...]In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally.

A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door. If his wife is similarly negligent that figure rises to 80 percent!

The results are shocking, but they should not be surprising. They are about as politically incorrect as it is possible to be; but they simply confirm what psychologists, criminologists, educationalists, and traditional Christians know. You cannot buck the biology of the created order. Father’s influence, from the determination of a child’s sex by the implantation of his seed to the funerary rites surrounding his passing, is out of all proportion to his allotted, and severely diminished role, in Western liberal society.

Basically, anyone who doesn’t have a benevolent, involved father is going to have an enormously difficult time believing that moral boundaries set by an authority are for the benefit of the person who is being bounded. The best way to make moral boundaries stick is to see that they apply to the person making the boundaries as well – and that these moral boundaries are rational, evidentially-grounded and not arbitrary.

By the way, isn’t it interesting to note that Barack Obama also grew up fatherless and has issues with God and morality.

UPDATE: Ed Babinski has some corrections for my list. He writes in a comment:

1) Voltaire was not an atheist but a deist who rejected claims of the Bible’s inspiration, like Paine. Voltaire’s aphorism, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him,” far from being the cynical remark it is often taken for, it was meant as a retort to the atheistic clique of d’Holbach, Grimm, and others.

2) David Hume’s religious views remain uncertain. He never said he was an atheist. A gentle skeptic suits him more.

3) Bertrand Russell was an agnostic.

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32 Responses

  1. I would like to tie this into divorce and remarriage as well. Since the man and woman become in the image and likeness of God when married, it would be very difficult for a child to understand God if he sees his parents turn from love and unity to hate and division. I would think they would have a profound distrust for the authentic possibility of love without that real image of God being lived out. But I would also like to add some hope for any woman who has been abandoned and clings to the faith and hopes the same for her children that there are many Saints from the past who lost a father or mother in their youth and persevered to be among the greatest examples of faith. Thank you for the post!

  2. [...] An interesting and thought provoking comment appears in this website. [...]

  3. [...] Knight: How I got started with Christian apologetics; Why do famous atheists believe that God does not exist?; Sex-trafficking on campus: the logical outworking of feminist rhetoric; 67% of single / unmarried [...]

  4. JPV says:

    I am an atheist who is slowly but surely moving towards the “agnostic” position.

    I’m somewhat conservative in my political views and the fact that a great deal of atheists are communists and homosexuals can’t be just a coincidence.

    They feel a rage towards the concept of God and religion that I just can’t bring myself to feel. (I did feel it when I was younger, though, but now their anti-God tantrums just strike me as childish.)

    It was very revealing to me when James Randi (a person I still respect, mind you) came out as an homosexual.

    It’s too much, I’m sorry. I have nothing against homosexuals but to pretend their militant atheism is not related to their sexual orientation is a denial that I won’t partake in.

    • JPV, I admire your self-awareness. A handful of theists that I have talked to have told me about having a feeling of concern that atheism was not as rooted in logic and evidence as its proponents seemed to claim. For me, the turning point was the evidence from the Big Bang cosmology and the cosmic fine-tuning. I was given the choice, by science, between a supernatural Creator and Designer, and an unobservable, untestable multiverse. I think that the moral argument and the origin of life argument both pushed me towards the former more than the latter. Being a virgin myself, and having a good relationship with my father and parents who are still married, I had none of the psychological factors that might cause me to prefer a complex explanation, the multiverse, to a simple one – God. I don’t mind the moral constraints imposed by Christianity. I don’t have a tremendous desire to be happy that determines what I can and cannot believe. I’m OK with God being there and having a distinct personality that I have to deal with. I don’t mind.

      • ajfits7 says:

        I would have to say that, based on my (admittedly limited) discussions with atheists and agnostics both online and in regular personal interactions, the unbelief in God has always eventually turned out to be an emotional or moral objection, rather than scientific or philosophic one. I have often heard statistics and stories like this post, and I have seen the same evidence in the lives of friends who do not acknowledge God. A person who has had no positive human father figure in his life is unlikely to understand the peace and freedom that comes from a heavenly one. If someone has spent her entire life in a dark, windowless room, the idea of pure, healthy illumination from the sun will not offer much inspiration…

      • JPV says:

        My atheism started, I admit, based on an emotional premise. It was then that I looked for an intellectual ground to consolidate said emotional belief. On the other hand, I’m not sure to what extent my previous (and dim) belief in God wasn’t also fueled by an emotional need, given the fact that I would only turn to Him in times of need. (The capital H is a mere sign of respect for my interlocutors).

        This video by Prof. Paul Vitz has been very enlightening to me. My father was extremely violent and abusive towards me as a child and it isn’t uncommon for me to wish his death when I’m feeling trapped by the circumstances of life. He contributed a great deal for my low self-esteem and for my, at lack of a better term, existential rage. We share a somewhat civil relationship nowadays but I still harbor an unhealthy resentment towards him. He himself lost his father when he was 13, making him acquire a very grim perception of reality that, consciously or unconsciously, was passed on to me.

        I find it extremely hard to believe in God without feeling that I’m deluding myself. Arguments like the “fine tuning of the Universe” are not enough to convince me of a Creator. They merely bring home the fact that life is unexplainable and that God is just an easy solution (“God of the Gaps”) to explain what we don’t understand. Also, the fact that among the thousands of deities in the World, only one is correct strikes me as ethno-centric. In other words, if you guys were born in Iran the same conviction you feel towards Jesus you would feel towards Mohammed.

        If there’s anything that makes me stray away from the conventional atheist position are other Atheists. Their arrogance and lack of humility is annoying. They have a need for destruction of traditional orders and an appetite for chaos that I simply do not share. I used to when I was younger and naive. But now I feel more in common with the average Christian than I do with the common Atheist. Problem is that Christians follow very arbitrary (and strict) moral guidelines that do not align, at all, with my intellectual faculties.

        • ajfits7 says:

          It is possible that I would be a Muslim if born in Iran, but that would have to apply to skeptics, as well. Is it only the freedom we have that allows us to choose Christianity, Islam, naturalism, etc.? But that is not the real point, anyway. At the very heart of it, my own personal faith is based not on texts or teachings, but a life that has been changed. I tend to be skeptical of such stories myself, unfortunately, but I cannot deny what has happened in my own life, and that of my wife.

          It will not pretend to understand the aspects of a life I have not lived, especially one dealing with abuses and sufferings with which I have no experience. However, I can attest to the fact that the “peace which passes all understanding” is a real thing, not just a hopeful panacea. I won’t claim that there are none, but I do not know of lives that have been irrevocably changed for the better by atheistic or humanistic beliefs, and I would challenge the consistency of those beliefs in the first place. But I wish you could know how greatly I wish I could impart just a bit of the love of God that has impacted my life into yours. You deserve it, as much as any of us do, and I pray that you will find it.

          Until then, however, I must say that I appreciate your respectful responses and thoughtful comments. It is truly refreshing, and makes the journey that much more enjoyable. Thank you for that!

          • JPV says:

            “It will not pretend to understand the aspects of a life I have not lived, especially one dealing with abuses and sufferings with which I have no experience. However, I can attest to the fact that the “peace which passes all understanding” is a real thing, not just a hopeful panacea. I won’t claim that there are none, but I do not know of lives that have been irrevocably changed for the better by atheistic or humanistic beliefs, and I would challenge the consistency of those beliefs in the first place. But I wish you could know how greatly I wish I could impart just a bit of the love of God that has impacted my life into yours.”

            ajfits7, like I said, I have a somewhat acceptable relationship with my father nowadays. I still live with him. The physical abuse was mainly senseless beatings that I had to endure as a child – but, to be honest, what really “destroyed me” was the lack of affection and the constant psychological torture. Thank you for your concern and your words of support. It reveals good character on your behalf.

        • Paradox says:

          I’m only here because I take issue with your comparison of the arguments for God’s existence, and put them on par with “Gap”, and with your `ethnocentricity` complaint. I intend to show them both to be false.

          You admit that the fine-tuning argument is valid, but then say we can’t accept it because maybe there is another possibility. That’s where you make your mistake in your comparison: the argument is an inference to the best available explanation. There are other arguments that make a similar inference, but work by showing that there simply ARE no other possible explanations. It isn’t Gap-Worshiping at all!

          What is so ethnocentric about only one religion being correct? That assertion is obviously false, since most religions say salvation is for everybody who accepts the requirements.
          But let me grant that hypothesis: *Waves Wand. POOF*, now what? If one religion is still true, we have to accept that. So if one religion is true, to the exclusion of the others, that does not prove anything.

          I also take issue with your “Geographical Argument”. The argument itself assumes that the person uttering it is somehow exempt from being conditioned by his surroundings. Why can’t the people it is meant to refute be exempt as well? If nobody is immune to such conditioning, then isn’t the argument conditioned by this pluralistic culture?
          The argument is also a nonsequitor: “People’s religious ideas are influenced by their surroundings. Therefore, all religious belief is false.” We can weaken it to say, “Therefore, all religious belief is unwarranted,” but it still doesn’t follow. We can weaken it to say, “Therefore, religious belief is unimportant,” and it still doesn’t follow. The closest thing to a conclusion is the weakest one: “All religious belief is unfair,” which many theists would actually admit!
          Not only that, but the key premise is false: I for one do not allow my beliefs to be controlled by something else. If I want to believe in God, it is because I find the alternative to be absurd. I live in a Postmodern society, I GREW UP in one, but I am not influenced by Postmodernism.

          You say that Christian morality is arbitrary, but this is both false, AND absurd. It is false because if YHWH exists, morality is grounded in His nature; the Ultimate Reality, being unchangeable, grounds unchanging moral values.
          It is absurd because most people couldn’t think such simple commands as “Do not murder people,” are arbitrary: People have value, so needlessly destroying them is obviously wrong.
          “Do not be jealous,” only seems arbitrary because when the Bible was being written, it was much more tempting to steal another’s possessions, as resources were more scarce. We live in a society where buying it is easier.

        • The view that only one God is the correct one is not ethnocentric. It’s due purely and simply to logic. When you have religions or gods who all make contradictory truth claims, it is not possible for more than one to be correct. They can all be wrong, but they can’t all be right. At most, one religion can be the correct one.

          Christianity makes claims about what is true, as do all other religions. The difference is, Christianity has many lines of evidence that back up many of its truth claims. If you are really interested in finding truth, examine the truth claims of different religions and the evidence (or lack thereof) for them.

          Finding truth in religion is very similar to finding truth in science. There is a correct answer (whether anyone knows what it is or not). It’s not a matter of personal preference, what “flavor” you like best, or the way you were raised. It’s not a matter of just gritting your teeth and making yourself believe something because you want it to be true. It’s matter of sifting the evidence and determining which religion (if any) acurately matches reality.

      • JPV says:

        Wintery Knight, I want to congratulate you on your blog. I’ve been reading some random entries here and there and I admire your intellectual sharpness. I’m impressed.

        • Oh boy, you must not have gotten to the ones where I am really mean and snarky! Please try to be forgiving. I have these moods! I am not married, so there is no female influence to moderate my little rants. I have to apologize in advance to you for those.

        • Robert Smith says:

          Just want to say I appreciate your good natured attitude here jpv. It’s refreshing in a world of snark and sarcasm!

          On topic, my own experience matches the article both in terms of my friends and myself. Atheists have father issues, Christians do not, doubters (but still Christian, just) like myself are somewhere in between. This serves mostly to prove that the genetic fallacy is still fallacious!

  5. JPV says:

    Thank you for your replies, Paradox and Lindsay. Both of them are very thoughtful and both of them raise interesting points.

    Paradox: “You admit that the fine-tuning argument is valid, but then say we can’t accept it because maybe there is another possibility.”

    I’ll have to contest this affirmation. I never admitted that that specific argument is valid. I wrote: “Arguments like the “fine tuning of the Universe” are not enough to convince me of a Creator.” I also never said that “you can’t accept it because there may be another explanation” – if anything, I implied that the existence of other possibilities is what prevents me(!) from accepting the notion of a divine intervention. It shouldn’t prevent you from accepting such premise, if such premise is valid to you.

    It is my understanding that the “fine-tuning argument” is born out of a matter of cheer perception – Human life, in this corner of the universe, occurs under extremely precarious and improbable circumstances. That said, I do not know how we got here but I do know that it might (and I stress here the word “might”) very well be random chance that explains our existence. Again, I do not know if it is. However, I am more comfortable with admitting my ignorance than inferring that “God did it”. This is not to say that God didn’t do it. God might (and, again, I stress here the word “might”) very well be the answer to said problem. It’s just that, from my perspective, God is an unnecessary hypothesis that raises more questions than the ones it purports to solve. If God created the Universe, who created God? If nothing created God due to the fact that God is an eternal entity, why can’t the universe be an eternal entity as well? These are honest doubts, not rhetorical affirmations.

    Paradox: “What is so ethnocentric about only one religion being correct?”

    My argument was extremely poorly constructed. I apologize for that. It’s not the notion that only one religion is right that is ethnocentric – what I consider ethnocentric is the fact that the religion you find to be the most truthful happens to be the one where you happen to have been brought into. (I will take the liberty to destroy my own argument with an admission of the fact that many people were brought into different religions and, later in life, accepted Jesus as their personal savior, which often entails the rejection of a previous unrelated personal creed.)

    Still, there are many factors exterior to your personal agency that should be taken into consideration when evaluating the context of your adherence to a particular religion – among those, your geographical circumstances.

    On top of that, and I suppose this is a point all of you will concede, if you were not informed of Jesus by third parties, you would never have the chance to establish a relationship with Him. Jesus did not one day knock at your door and say “Hi! I’m your savior!” – someone had to inform you of His existence. Only then were you able to be faced with the dilemma of accepting the Christian doctrine or rejecting it. But the fact remains that someone had to present you with said dilemma.

    Paradox: “I also take issue with your Geographical Argument. The argument itself assumes that the person uttering it is somehow exempt from being conditioned by his surroundings. Why can’t the people it is meant to refute be exempt as well?”

    I don’t think the argument implies, in any way, the exoneration of the person who utters it. As a matter of fact, the point of the argument is precisely that everyone is conditioned by (among many others) their geographical circumstances. This includes, of course, the person who utters the argument. I am the first person willing to admit that my beliefs are, in one way or another, conditioned to circumstances exterior to my agency.

    Are you willing to do the same?

    Paradox: “The argument is also a nonsequitor: “People’s religious ideas are influenced by their surroundings. Therefore, all religious belief is false.”

    I honestly don’t see how you were able to extract this nonsequitor based on my words alone. I never implied that “all religious belief is false because people’s religious ideas are influenced by their surroundings.” At most, I implied that people should be skeptical of their convictions, specially if those convictions have been held since childhood due to their cultural upbringing. However, just because those convictions are the result of their cultural upbringing, it doesn’t make them wrong. Why should it? Again, I don’t see how you were able to read that based on what I said.

    Paradox: “Not only that, but the key premise is false: I for one do not allow my beliefs to be controlled by something else.”

    I highly doubt that you really believe this. Specially after a good dose of introspection. Like I mentioned before, to meet God someone had first to present you with the idea of God. All your beliefs are controlled by something else due to the fact that you didn’t acquire such beliefs by yourself. Someone had to teach you about Justice, Common Sense and God. Is there a biological, natural predisposition to obey those specific values? Undoubtedly! But the point remains: you didn’t acquire those beliefs on your own. They were placed inside you because those beliefs are helpful (perhaps essential) to you as a social being. With no society, those beliefs wouldn’t exist. Therefore, I assume it is fair to say that your beliefs are controlled by something else. Just like mine are. You rejected Postmodernism although you were raised in a Postmodern environment. I rejected Religious Tradition although I was raised in a religious environment. (And, just so we’re clear, I’m also very wary of Postmodernism due to its dogmatic dismissal of religious discourse. I’m a conservative atheist that follows Burke’s tradition: I find religion extremely important and beneficial. But this is based on a recognition of its utility, not based on a recognition of its supposed truth.) At the same time, references to the inevitable nihilism resultant of an atheistic worldview are not enough to convince me of its falsehood.

    Paradox: “You say that Christian morality is arbitrary, but this is both false, AND absurd. It is false because if YHWH exists, morality is grounded in His nature; the Ultimate Reality, being unchangeable, grounds unchanging moral values.”

    I will not contest this. It is, in fact, reasonable to argue that, if(!) YHWH exists and The Bible is indeed the words of His revelation, then what I consider to be arbitrary becomes objective, whether I recognize it or not. The point is that I don’t recognize it as objective, therefore I can only refer to it as arbitrary. Does my perception of it as arbitrary invalidate its truth? Not at all. Like Lindsay said: “There is a correct answer (whether anyone knows what it is or not).”

    Paradox: “It is absurd because most people couldn’t think [that] simple commands as “Do not murder people” are arbitrary: People have value, so needlessly destroying them is obviously wrong.”

    When you affirm that “needlessly” destroying people is wrong, you are assuming that sometimes it is “needed” to destroy people. But how do you know who “needs” to be destroyed and who doesn’t? For the sake of the argument, if you say that people who destroy others need to be destroyed, aren’t you volunteering yourself to be understood as a viable target for destruction? Isn’t, therefore, the idea of personal value arbitrary (subjective)? I do not see any inherent value to human beings. Only the value that I place on them.

    Paradox: ” “Do not be jealous,” only seems arbitrary because when the Bible was being written, it was much more tempting to steal another’s possessions, as resources were more scarce. We live in a society where buying it is easier.”

    I don’t agree with this. Stealing things is still easier than buying things, just like it was 2000 years ago. The difference is that now we have a more developed and effective penal system that condemns such behavior. Back then such penal system didn’t exist – which would explain the necessity of an implied divine castigation. I may be a cynic but I believe most people don’t steal not due to moral constraints but due to the concrete threat of a direct punishment.

    Look, Paradox, the bottom line lies in the fact that we can’t both be right but we can both be wrong: the answer might lie somewhere in the middle or even somewhere where our intellects can’t possibly reach. To conclude, I just want you to know this: If your arguments fail to convince me, it is not necessarily a sign that your arguments are wrong or flawed. It is merely a sign that they failed to convince me. If you offer me truth and I’m still not able to grasp it, the lapse is mine, not yours.

    Lindsay, your whole comment is impeccably written as it effectively deconstructs an argument that was poorly executed on my behalf. I just want to tell you that I’ve been presented with all the evidence in the world for Christianity (and Catholicism, in particular). My lack of belief in God is not due to a lack of exposure to the evidence – but due to the fact that the evidence presented, invariably, at some point, asks me to accept some things on faith. I wish I could do it without feeling I’m deluding myself. Believe me: I really wish I could.

    Again, thank you both for your kind and thoughtful replies.

    • JPV,

      Thanks for your kind words. I agree that at some point a measure of faith is needed. But this is true of belief in anything, not just religion. One might, for instance, have the testimony of many scientists and access to their many observations and experiments that show that the earth is spherical rather than flat and yet one must at some point decide if one will believe this or not. It could be that all the scientists are mistaken and their evidence merely contrived or misunderstood. One might conceivably go on forever, unable to actually put belief in such a conclusion because there is a possibility (however small) that it is wrong. Yet at some point we all must believe in something. And at some point inaction and disbelief become a choice in themselves. To fail to believe in Christ is a choice not to follow Him. It’s not a neutral action. You are either for Christ or against Him. Choose wisely.

      You say that you want to believe, but haven’t been able to make yourself take that step. Perhaps I may offer a suggestion. If you really want to know if the God of the Bible exists, ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Ask Him for faith. It may seem a bit odd to actually speak to someone you aren’t sure exists. But if He doesn’t exist, then you aren’t any worse off. And if He does exist and you really want to know Him, you will find what you’re looking for. He promises that those who seek Him with all their hearts will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13, Deuteronomy 4:29).

    • Paradox says:

      I think you might have done better to focus on my final construction of the Geographical Argument, but we’ll get to that.
      Point, counter-point it is.

      On Arguments For Theism.
      Forgive me if I’m pulling this out of context, but this seems the heart of your argument: “if anything, I implied that the existence of other possibilities is what prevents me(!) from accepting the notion of a divine intervention.” Yes, so it seems to me the question is how far are we willing to go before we stop believing in chance, or necessity?
      You ask why the universe can’t be eternal, but that’s off topic. My answer to the question is that, if Al-Ghazali is wrong, future models may allow it. However, the universe is composed of things which can all fail to exist. Since the universe is the set of all these things, and this set can fail to exist, it follows the universe can fail to exist. The Law of Conservation of Mass-Energy allows matter to be created or destroyed, but only if the total value is the same (which, arguably, is zero, if Roger Penrose has any say on this).

      On Religious Exclusivism.
      It seems you accepted one of my reasons for rejecting the claim that “One religion is true, but not the others, is ethnocentric,” is false.
      “On top of that, and I suppose this is a point all of you will concede, if you were not informed of Jesus by third parties, you would never have the chance to establish a relationship with Him.” It would be impossible to reject that statement! The surrounding argumentation, if I understand, is that your beliefs are partially influenced by what you have and haven’t been informed of, and that your environment influences what you can be informed of. That’s definitely true. Does that demand that one’s beliefs are entirely influenced by the environment? Am I extrapolating and reading what you never intended into all this? This will be important later-on.

      The Geographical Argument.
      First point, you said, “I don’t think the argument implies, in any way, the exoneration of the person who utters it. As a matter of fact, the point of the argument is precisely that everyone is conditioned by (among many others) their geographical circumstances. This includes, of course, the person who utters the argument. I am the first person willing to admit that my beliefs are, in one way or another, conditioned to circumstances exterior to my agency.”
      On the contrary, I answer that: if the argument says that everyone is conditioned by their environment, the argument becomes self-defeating. The person was conditioned by their environment to believe that people are conditioned by their environment. The argument cannot get off the ground, if we take the extreme form, as one could argue that the conclusion is itself conditioned by external factors. If you can weaken the premise, so that it is not self-defeating, that will be better. Another interesting question is how it applies to scientists….
      Second point, you ask how I can derive the stated non-sequitor from your words alone. I had tried to make as accurate an interpretation of the conclusion of the Geographical Argument, and started with the strongest conclusion first. The final construction is the far weaker, “All religious belief is unfair.” The weakest possible conclusion is “All religious belief is conditioned by the environment,” but that just becomes tautology.
      Third point, you say I cannot believe that I control my beliefs. You say that somebody must have introduced the ideas of God and Justice to me, so that my beliefs are the product of the environment. Have I understood?
      On the contrary: in order for this argument to be valid, my beliefs have to be identical to my ideas, at least in some circumstances. If I have understood, this is false.
      Third point, you continue, “But the point remains: you didn’t acquire those beliefs on your own. They were placed inside you because those beliefs are helpful (perhaps essential) to you as a social being. With no society, those beliefs wouldn’t exist. Therefore, I assume it is fair to say that your beliefs are controlled by something else. Just like mine are.”
      I answer that: These beliefs would still exist without society, as modern psychology has demonstrated: leave a child to their own devices, they will have their own religion. Therefore, being a social being has nothing to do with these beliefs, but being a biological being might (something I expect). Social beings would not be able to realize what they are, as their society would give a distorted view (so you have a distorted view that society conditions belief), even if they learned that they are conditioned by society. I did take these on my own, atheism is much more appealing.

      On Ethics.
      Yes, there is at least the possibility that destroying people is necessary in certain circumstances. Murderers tend to be the preferred example. I am also making myself a target for destruction; if I do something worthy of the death-penalty, I should accept the consequence.
      Sure, if God doesn’t exist, this value would be arbitrary.

      Truth.
      “Look, Paradox, the bottom line lies in the fact that we can’t both be right but we can both be wrong: the answer might lie somewhere in the middle or even somewhere where our intellects can’t possibly reach. To conclude, I just want you to know this: If your arguments fail to convince me, it is not necessarily a sign that your arguments are wrong or flawed. It is merely a sign that they failed to convince me. If you offer me truth and I’m still not able to grasp it, the lapse is mine, not yours.”
      I’ll accept this. If you are right, and I am not the one convinced, the lapse will be mine this time.

    • Hello I just want to respond to the geographical argument. No matter where you are born, I think that it is possible to falsify the religion you were born with later on with facts, if you are the kind of person who likes to puzzle about religion.

      Look:
      http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/how-to-falsify-a-religion-using-scientific-or-historical-evidence/

      And:
      http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/a-comparison-of-mormonism-and-christianity-similarities-and-differences/

      My own parents were Muslim and Catholic/Hindu. I’mm neither since I found mistakes in all three of these.

  6. JPV says:

    ajfits7, like I said, I have a somewhat acceptable relationship with my father nowadays. I still live with him. The physical abuse was mainly senseless beatings that I had to endure as a child – but, to be honest, what really “destroyed me” was the lack of affection and the constant psychological torture (“You’re worthless…”, “Shitty son…”, etc.)

    Thank you for your concern and your words of support. It reveals good character on your behalf.

    • Wow, that is an evil thing to do to a son. Fathers have an obligation to their children that comes from making the decision to engage and activities that make children. I’m sorry for you that you never got the appropriate action which is really what you deserve from your father. He failed you, and I am judging him for his failure. He was wrong to do that.

      • I just want to mention that I’m an atheist who has a great relationship with my father…well, outside of the me being an atheist bit, haha.

        In all seriousness though, I have fond memories of my childhood and never resented the authority figure of my father, in any way.

        I should also mention that I self identify as an atheist for convenience, mostly. It saves time when trying to explain the difference, every time it comes up, between atheism and agnosticism, etc. I think any atheist who is is exercising intellectual honesty / consistency, can sympathize (even embrace) agnosticism.

        And, I think the relationship between father figures and prominent atheists is interesting. I would like to reserve further comment until I’ve read about it more.

    • Praying Mom says:

      I’ve just read through the comment thread a bit more closely, and want to say that I became an agnostic for nearly 20 years before the Lord worked in my life. I grew up with a mother who loved me conditionally, was very critical and manipulative – nothing I did was ever good enough. She wanted to control my life even after I was married. It was only when I started a family years later, that my emotional baggage really manifested, because it was bound up in my parent/child relationship, and I found myself becoming bitter and resentful like my mother. The year my youngest was born, I found myself wondering how I could raise my sons to make choices that would protect them when there were drug scares doing the rounds of the schools, and HIV/Aids was hitting the headlines. All I, a liberal agnostic, could think of was to take my sons to children’s Sunday School! That was the beginning of the Lord drawing me without my realising it. About 3 years later, having attended church and tried to be a Christian (and knowing I wasn’t really succeeding, nor did I have the faith of some people I saw), I asked a Christian friend about what I perceived to be discrepancies in the accounts of Jesus Christ’s birth. I can’t remember what he said, except when he said, “What it comes down to is faith.” Knowing nothing really about faith, I said, “Yes, it’s faith.” At that moment I experienced something like an enveloping cocoon and almost an elation that wasn’t from me. My friend then gave me a book for my husband, a testimony. I drove home feeling as though I were floating. My husband saw the book where I left it on the table, picked it up, flipped the pages, said, “Good grief!” and tossed it down. The next morning, I picked it up while having a cup of tea, having no real interest in cricket (it was a cricketer’s testimony), and began to read. The book grabbed me and I read it the rest of the morning and the next, while my children were at school. I was aware of all I’d done wrong in my life, like a long, heavy trailing burden. I also had revelation of who Jesus Christ is and what he’d done for me, when he paid the penalty for my sins. I went down on my knees, confessed my sin, repented and asked Jesus Christ to save me and be Lord of my life. As an afterthought I prayed, “And please give me faith.” I didn’t know then that faith grows through being tested – and has it been tested! I know that from that moment my whole life changed radically, and my worldview began to change. I was set free from some things immediately, but other things, mostly my emotional baggage, were dealt with over a period of time. I came to the place of being able to forgive my mother, and being set free from condemnation, rejection and invalidation. God works in our lives in different ways, so my testimony won’t be the same as other people’s, and he works in his timing, at the right time. Jesus always met people where they were at and built a bridge across to himself. One thing I know is that God moves by his Spirit. Many find this objectionable (I’ve been told by atheists that I’m delusional and need a psychiatrist!). Intellectual arguments can help where people have issues in that regard, but for me, I know that we can only enter and “see” the kingdom of God through the work of the Holy Spirit, but it is not irrational – God says, “Come now, let us reason together.” I’ve continued to experience his presence and his faithfulness in so many ways. I hope what I’ve written hasn’t put you off. I was trying to encourage you, that you can find healing for your hurt, unforgiveness and resentment towards your father. We don’t have it in ourselves to forgive completely. The freedom and peace it brings is not of ourselves.
      Corrie ten Boom found that when she forgave an SS officer who was responsible for her sister’s death in a concentration camp (you can Google to find her talk about this).

  7. JPV says:

    Lindsay: “I agree that at some point a measure of faith is needed. But this is true of belief in anything, not just religion.”

    Indeed. I am placing my faith on science instead of religion, mainly for pragmatic purposes (what works in the here and now). Have I analyzed, one by one, the scientific evidence for naturalism before acquiring my beliefs? Not even close. My conclusions are derived from the faith that I am placing on scientists. Do I therefore have total and blind faith in science? Again, not even close. It’s just that science, unlike religion, doesn’t claim to hold on its hands the key to the ultimate knowledge. I trust people who actively seek the Truth but I am always wary of people who claimed to have found it. In a way, I’m just choosing between the epistemological method that ameliorates itself when proven to be wrong rather than the epistemological method that has to adapt its dogmas to fit the new scientific paradigms. This is why I prefer the so-called fundamentalist Christians to the “moderate” ones. Fundamentalists stick to their guns, regardless of the scientific consensus. However, although I admire them more than “moderates” for their unshakable convictions, I’m afraid that their remarkable trust in the word of God alone is not enough to topple my skepticism.

    Lindsay: “To fail to believe in Christ is a choice not to follow Him. It’s not a neutral action. You are either for Christ or against Him. Choose wisely.”

    Thank you for not resorting to Pascal’s Wager in your argument, although it might have been subtly implied. I think Pascal’s Wager is an insult to people who honestly care about attaining the Truth, even if it implicates the loss of their personal comfort. Believing in God “just to be safe” is a nonsensical (not to mention impossible) thing to do. If you allow me the sarcasm (and I know you do) try to imagine the following prayer:
    “OK, Lord, so… as You know, I do not believe in You and I have a few good reasons not to but, just to be safe, I will pretend to believe in You from now on, OK?” – Honestly, I think God is more intelligent than that. Don’t you?

    I do agree with the statement that to “fail to believe in Christ is an active choice”. I do, indeed, actively refuse to believe in Christ’s divine nature. My main (but certainly not the only) argument for that refusal lies in speculative questions that deserve honest answers:
    What happens if I’m never introduced to Christ during my lifetime? There are countless(!) human beings who go through their lives without ever hearing about the word of God. They were not even faced with the dilemma of accepting or rejecting Christ. Tell me: Are they damned by default? What about people who lack the mental faculties to think critically about this subject, like the mentally handicapped? Are they also damned? What about the children who are aborted? Are they also damned? If they, for some reason (and I demand to know this reason), are spared from damnation, isn’t therefore being presented with the dilemma of accepting / rejecting Christ an exercise in sadism by the person who presents such dilemma? If people who never get to hear about the word of Christ are automatically saved, wouldn’t it be more effective to just stop talking about Christ in order for everyone in the world to be automatically saved? (This, of course, assuming that these souls are indeed saved. If they’re not saved and they are indeed condemned to eternal damnation, give me one good reason why I should obey this kind of sadist God, preferably without appealing to selfish interests like “to save your own soul”). I know the temptation to roll your eyes when faced with such apparently ingenious questions is great, but these are my honest doubts and I believe I deserve some honest answers.

    Lindsay: “Perhaps I may offer a suggestion. If you really want to know if the God of the Bible exists, ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Ask Him for faith.”

    It was my decision a few weeks back to someday join a Christian congregation in my town. When I do join the congregation, I’ll be sure to reserve my atheism to myself, as it would be immensely disrespectful on my behalf to go there and proselytize. However, if someone asks me, I’ll be honest about where I stand.

    I somehow hope that being surrounded by Christians will allow me to better understand their worldview. I like their affection – it is contagious. However, I’m not sure to what extent I’m not “just” looking for a place to belong and feel welcomed. Truth be told, if I ever get a clear sign from God, I’ll probably just attribute it to Cognitive Bias or Pattern Seeking or even Serendipity. But who knows? I’ll let time decide that for me. Thanks for the suggestion, though :)

    (Paradox, I’ll properly address your arguments, if possible, tomorrow. It, again, raises interesting points and I don’t want to rush my counter-arguments before being first able to absorb what you are trying to tell me. Sorry for this.)

    (Wintery, thanks for the links.)

    • ajfits7 says:

      Just two quick (I think) thoughts here: I would like to believe that “the epistemological method that ameliorates itself when proven to be wrong” exists, but I have witnessed scientists who are just as dogmatically tied to their beliefs (regardless of their foundation) as the most fundamental of Christians. Fundamentalism isn’t really a problem, depending on the fundamental. I, of course, do not propose that any belief should lie outside honest examination, but I think that the defensive nature of those who have confidently asserted their beliefs is pretty universal; science is not above this.

      As for the question about those who have never heard of Christ, I admit this has bothered me for a while. Two things comfort me in this regard (at least with the conclusions I am beginning to draw at this point). First, it is strange to suppose that there are those who have not heard of Christ. Obviously, anyone involved in this conversation are immediately disqualified from that argument. It would be difficult to ascertain any real ignorance in this regard, because familiarity must only be gained right before death, and any questions about it will immediately render the answer moot, because the question must contain some aspect of the knowledge that is being questioned. I understand that this is fairly convenient for Christian apologists, but applies nonetheless.

      Secondly, for those who are not directly given the knowledge in the manner of specific revelation, the general revelation of nature and (gasp!) science are proclaimed throughout the Bible, most notably in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world, His divine attributes are clearly seen, being understood through the things that are made, even His his eternal power and divine nature, so that [all men] are without excuse.” This says that even those who haven’t audibly heard about God can know everything about Him from nature alone. (Helen Keller provides a reasonable example of this.)

      • JPV says:

        “First, it is strange to suppose that there are those who have not heard of Christ.”

        It is strange to suppose that there are those who have not heard of Christ?!

        You can’t possibly be serious when you say this, my friend.

        If you honestly believe this, you’re either in denial or you genuinely don’t know that at least half of the Humanity living today did never and will never hear about the word of the Christ. And that’s being generous.

        What do you think will happen to them? You think God will spare them? Not according to your Bible, it won’t.

        Something tells me you’re American, if you really believe Christ is this popular worldwide.

        Did that sentence have a meaning that I’m not grasping?

        • ajfits7 says:

          After reading that sentence, I will just blame the turkey (yes – I am American!). I clearly could have worded that better to get my point across. When I said that it was strange, I meant that the people who raise that objection could never fall into that category themselves, and in the words of C.S. Lewis, “If you are worried about the people outside [of Christianity], the most unreasonable thing you can do is to remain outside yourself.”

          As I stated, the Bible clearly states what I think will happen to them: they will be made aware of the fullness of God, through creation itself. I do not know how this works, because God revealed Himself to me through other ways, the same as you (even if you reject what you’ve heard, you have heard). And I cannot think of a way to ask someone if they’ve heard about God without giving some indication of who it is you are asking about, if only in the tiniest way. The key line in the verse I quoted (Romans 1:20) is “so that they are without excuse.” That indicates that God ensures that nobody can use the Bertrand Russell response of “not enough evidence.”

          Obviously, it being written in the Bible is only valuable to those who believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, so I do not expect you to believe it on that basis alone. I am just explaining how I can be intellectually honest at the same time I claim sympathy to the plight of the “unreached” peoples in the world. As I said, this has bothered me greatly at times, and still does in a sense. Because of my faith, the God that I have determined to be just and loving will ensure that all people have the opportunity to make an honest choice. Where that faith comes from and why it cannot be called blind and ignorant is another topic altogether. For the moment, I just hope I cleared up what I was trying to say, and thank you for pointing out my error (or at least poor construction).

          • Robert Smith says:

            Are you perhaps leaving out the Calvinist position as a possibility?

  8. Praying Mom says:

    My oldest is something of the exception to this. He has turned against faith in Christ, which is how I raised him, but I suspect a moral issue underlying it, although he claims to have scientific objections, and propounds Dawkins type views which I find spurious. (These are my observations – he won’t discuss faith or even values with me). He actually has a good relationship with his father – who is an atheist. ‘Nuff said. Still praying…

    • Praying Mom says:

      P.S. I was referring to the first half of the blog, re my son being the exception. The second half does apply. All of this only emphasises the influence of fathers on their sons.

  9. I’m agnostic. My dad has always loved me, but neither my dad nor my mom had anything to do with my getting involved with conservative Evangelicalism in my mid-teens, and leaving it years later in my 20s.

    Also, Didn’t loads of people in Victorian England have “father issues?” And didn’t men and women both tend to die at a younger age as you go back to the nineteenth century?

    As for the list of atheists, the list appears to be far from complete–only recalling or emphasizing whatever “hits” you can among the whole pool of atheists and forgetting all the misses is the basis of superstition.

    Also, concerning the rise in atheism in Europe, is it all because of father issues? Two world wars and the rise of critical biblical scholarship and rise of evolutionary science had nothing to do with that? I’d say that’s putting a whole lot of one’s eggs in a single basket as if there was one primary explanation for atheism.

    Lastly, it’s not just “atheists” that Christians should be worried about but the common pew-sitter, the back seat Baptists, and cradle Catholics who take their religion lightly, lukewarmly, and even a bit agnostically. They are right in the midst of the Christian world. Every Christian is not equally excited about going to church or about learning apologetics so they can get out there and try to make more Christians and “crush atheism.” So how many “real” Christians are there in the world?

    Diderot was once asked whether he thought there were any “real atheists” in the world, and he replied, “do you think there are any “real Christians?”

  10. Hey Wintery, The list of “atheists” contains some errors.

    1) Voltaire was not an atheist but a deist who rejected claims of the Bible’s inspiration, like Paine. Voltaire’s aphorism, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him,” far from being the cynical remark it is often taken for, it was meant as a retort to the atheistic clique of d’Holbach, Grimm, and others.

    2) David Hume’s religious views remain uncertain. He never said he was an atheist. A gentle skeptic suits him more.

    3) Bertrand Russell was an agnostic.

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