Why fundamentalists don’t believe in atheists

It’s common for fundamentalists to assert “there’s no such thing as a true atheist”. Why would they say this? It seems to be in direct contradiction to obvious empirical evidence. It wouldn’t be the first time a fundamentalist has denied evidence, but what is the motivation for calling millions of people liars?

I think it’s because the existence of atheists is a threat to evangelical beliefs. I don’t mean that evangelical Christians feel threatened by atheists. I mean that, if the God evangelicals describe were real, there would be no atheists. Let me explain. 

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the world is roughly as evangelical Christians say it is. God is real; Jesus rose from the dead. Those who accept this go to heaven; those who don’t, go to hell.

And now let’s imagine two possible worlds. In world 1, there are some atheists. In world 2, there are none; God has made sure that, as a minimum, everyone is instinctively aware of his existence.

World 1: Atheist land

By ‘atheists’, I don’t mean people who dogmatically assert there is no God. I mean people who simply see no reason to suppose that God exists, and don’t, for the same reasons most of us don’t believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Russell’s teapot.

In this world, let’s be clear, the atheists are wrong. God does exist, and atheists just don’t know it. Atheists may be well-intentioned, truth-seeking individuals. They may strive to live moral lives. They may even be more than willing to believe in God, given a reason to do so, but – given that they see no such reason – they find that they cannot.

Atheists, then, are tragic and sympathetic figures. They should be the recipients of a great deal of charity by Christians. After all, they are doomed through no fault of their own.

What would God be like, in this world? Surely, he would be evil. He would have created people purely to destroy them. And not just destroy them, but subject them to eternal torture. The evangelical Christian says “God doesn’t send anyone to hell; people choose not to go to heaven by rejecting him!” In this world, that is not true. These atheists may gladly have accepted God, but they just didn’t know he existed. God is like a child who invents a game, doesn’t explain all the rules, and then mocks people for losing.

Of course, some fundamentalists are perfectly happy with this world. They say that we all deserve eternal damnation, and that Almighty God is under no obligation to save any of us. It is only in his mercy and grace that he saves anyone at all, and we must be grateful for that.

For other Christians, this can’t be reconciled with a God of love. And so they propose a rather radical solution: There’s no such thing as a true atheist.

World 2: Atheist-free

The proof text for this is Romans 1:20

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Everyone is born with an innate sense of God, so there’s no such thing as a non-believer. In this world, ‘faith’ doesn’t mean ‘believing in God’, it means ‘following God’. An atheist is someone who, against their true knowledge, chooses to reject God.

In this world, atheists are intellectually dishonest, wilfully rebellious against God, and frankly deserve what’s coming to them. It makes sense to vilify atheists, because they are corrupt.

In this world, God is much nicer. All he asks of people for salvation is that they follow him. This is not much to ask, since he has made it easy, and since everyone knows about him. Anyone who goes to hell has clearly rejected God, and while that’s a tragedy, it was their own decision. You could even argue that God would be restricting their freedom if he made them go to heaven when they had chosen otherwise (although a response might be that a loving parent sometimes does things in their child’s best interests even when the child protests).

World 2 is the world most evangelicals believe in.

That’s why atheists take so much abuse from some Christians. If their God sees fit to destroy atheists, clearly they are not that valuable.

This is why Carnun’s guest post, Would you believe in God if no one ever told you? got such a huge response. Many evangelicals share my intuition that World 1 is incompatible with a loving God. If atheists exist, their God cannot be who they say he is.

Unfortunately for them, atheists do exist. There are millions of us, and to deny this is to call all of us liars. Of course, some (world 2) Christians find this rather easy to do. If we’re prepared to deny God, we could deny anything. Clearly, we can’t be trusted.

But I suspect some of them have a gnawing suspicion that at least a few of us could be telling the truth. And that’s a problem, because a good God wouldn’t send people to hell simply for having no idea he exists.

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About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on April 22, 2013, in Christianity, Fundamentalism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 62 Comments.

  1. I have to say that the insistence by some that atheists really believe in God but just reject Him and lie about it really grates. This has to be the best explanation I’ve heard – thanks!

  2. World two doesn’t account for people from other places with other cultures not knowing of the Christian god. Therefore the point made in world one still stands – this god is raising many people only to send them to hell. And he would know this from the beginning, being omnipotent and such.

    • Good point. I actually avoided this on purpose because there are classic evangelical get outs:

      Some people say that God somehow miraculously makes sure that everybody has a chance to accept him before they die (special pleading). Others cite Romans saying we are without excuse, and they argue that, even people who never hear about Jesus somehow have an instinctive knowledge of God, and he judges them based on that.

      Of course, once you posit a being who can do anything, you can make up excuses for everything.

      • Well that’s just it isn’t it. He was created in such a way that there will always be an excuse. It’s almost not worth arguing, they’re all just too deluded.

      • ‘The truth is to be found in the stars, if only the lost would look up.’ was a common explanation for ie: Iranians usually being Muslim. The truth is there for all to see, they’re just not looking. And so the Western culture of Christianity carries on its merry way.

  3. I suspect a key component here is dissonance avoidance: if its not obvious that god exists, why am I so sure that he does? If I acknowledge some people don’t have an innate belief that he exists, then I will have to wonder why I believe he exists. That’s called doubting, and is a short-cut to a faith crisis. Therefore, since I’m no doubter, those people must be lying.

    And the louder I deny their existent, the less time I have to spend listening to my inner voice.

  4. There’s also the question of standards of proof to consider. Many fundamentalists would expect a person to believe in god on the grounds that a divinely-inspired person (i.e. them) has told them earnestly that he exists. Is there an atheist alive who hasn’t encountered “proofs” of this kind?

    Fundamentalists have very low standards of proof, and are unable to understand that others’ standards are more rigorous.

    • “Fundamentalists have very low standards of proof, and are unable to understand that’s others’ standards are more rigorous.”

      I’m not sure they do have “very low standards of proof”. I’m fairly certain their standards demand internal consistency, and that their demands for evidence are entirely consistent with a desire to avoid cognitive dissonance.

      And I’m not sure I’m happy with generalising about all fundamentalists either: the “standards of proof” vary between believers, as does the level of empathy.

      • Is it not fair to say that the average fundamentalist is likely to demand a less stringent proof in order to believe something than is the average atheist? Isn’t that pretty central to the debate?

        My point is that the ‘good’ atheists who “can see no such reason” (World 1) cannot exist because, to believers, and particularly to fundamentalist believers, the reasons are self-evident and unavoidable. Only one who is dishonest or does not WANT to see could fail to see them.

        And obviously we can generalise only so far – but without generalising at least a little we’re not going to get far.

      • Is it not more a question of what does and does not count as persuasive evidence? The believer often wishes to use the fact that they fervently hold a belief as being in and of itself valid evidence to justify me accepting that belief; that their personal experiences that satisfied them should be sufficient to satisfy me vicariously; that their personal revelation is the basis for my enlightenment. While both parties may agree that belief should be justified, there is a disconnect about what is admissible as valid justification.

      • I agree with Matthew’s comment, it’s not so much that there’s a “higher” standard of proof, so much as a different standard of proof.

        Ultimately, social groupings share common values, and one of the common values is what counts as evidence. What what one group regard as a mere frippery might be taken as serious evidence by another. For example, a bone found in a particular geological layer would be dismissed as evidence by a group who believe that there is a third party who can place bones arbitrarily in any geological location, but would be taken seriously by a group who deny the existence (or indeed, possibility of existence) of such a third party.

        In fact, in the example I’ve given, the discovery of that bone would be considered by the first group to be evidence *for* their assertion of a third party trying to manipulate people’s beliefs.

        Don’t conflate different with better.

      • Frippery? A word that is new to me. Thanks, Richard.

        And I agree that different standards of what constitutes evidence is a central concern. I have found that there really is two groupings: those who allow an independent reality to adjudicate claims made about it, and those who don’t… who substitute their dependent beliefs as the arbiter.

      • And how do you decide what “independent reality” is?

      • Explanations that seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time, making them independent of our subjective beliefs. Of course, these explanations may still be wrong, but that’s the wonderful thing about reality’s adjudication… it’s always full of surprises!

      • I didn’t say “better”. But if I had, I would have meant it as short-hand for “better – i.e. more effective – as a means of understanding and acquiring information about the world in which we live”. The two interpretations you give in the case of the bone are not equally supported by evidence. One is “better” (in the above sense) than the other.

        Anyway, that’s kind of beside the point. If you are a person who believes that the complexity of the world is sufficient evidence for the existence of a deity, then you are going to struggle to understand how someone else could consider exactly the same evidence to be insufficient.

      • I really like Dawkins’ response to the complexity argument: IF you think the likelihood of complexity naturally occurring is so ridiculously unlikely that it indicates the necessity for a creator, then you’ve argued yourself into having to accept a being of even greater complexity, greater unlikelihood, to justify it! But few if any creationists follow their own reasoning further than where they want to end up.

      • “Explanations that seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time, making them independent of our subjective beliefs.”

        You could convincingly argue that being absolutely “independent of … subjective beliefs” is impossible (depending on your metaphysical stance), or at least unobtainable in practice. Rather than a subjective/objective contrast, I find it more useful to think of what the yard-stick is in any area of discourse for ranking explanations, and how you decide if this yard-stick is serving you well or not. After all, different people or communities may want very different things from an explanation and an explanation that serves one well may be useless or worse for somebody else.

        For questions about the natural world, the sciences have adopted the yard-stick of ‘nature is the final arbiter of what is true about nature’. If you want to know how many teeth a squirrel has, science argues, your best way to address this is to get a squirrel and count their teeth, and if this systematically contradicts the word of an authority, you reject the authority (whatever Aristotle claims is the right answer). This approach has 200+ years of case-studies behind it now, and seems to be a very effective component of the scientific method, which gives us highly predictive models of how the natural world will behave (not just how it has behaved in the past, but how it may behave in the future).

        However, people use other accounts of the natural world because they have other metrics for how to arbitrate claims, and other metrics for what a good explanation is. When you get to things like claims about supernatural beings, the differing ideas of what these arbiters and what is good are so divergent, that often I’m not sure people are really even talking about the same things.

      • A very astute and articulate answer. Thank you for that. And ranking explanations is the practical answer to how to approach metaphysical assertions and claims about reality, which explains why we allowed them a high ranking when our epistemological means were immature and why we should lower their rankings now that we have a more mature epistemological means available to us.

      • Exactly what I was hinting at with my comment.

        We can’t take the higher ground because all we’re changing are the values we use to assess evidence, and objectively no one set of values is better than another.

        The main issue is collective agreement to values. Science has a set of values which value replicability, falsifiability, doubt (etc…); if people want to engage in science then they have to consent to those rules, or they’re playing a different game. And if I try to move my rook diagonally in a game of snakes and ladders, that really doesn’t work.

        The same, of course, applies to people wishing to engage in debates about the existence of gods 😉

      • David writes We can’t take the higher ground because all we’re changing are the values we use to assess evidence, and objectively no one set of values is better than another.

        I cannot disagree with statement more. We can and do rank values by direct comparisons of effect, and when we compare the value of respecting reality adjudication of claims made about it versus the value of respecting people’s beliefs to adjudicate claims made about reality, we find there is a clear ranking: comparing reality’s adjudication to belief’s adjudication, using reality creates applications, therapies, and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time whereas belief produces zero applications, zero therapies, and zero technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time. This comparative difference matters in evaluating these compared values.

        Only on philosophical grounds can one argue that we can know nothing objectively – depending on how we define what ‘objectively’ means in this context, but this argument is worthless if we’re going to assume that we are equivalently likely to be the dreams of a butterfly compared to the likelihood that we are sentient beings living in an environment subject to the affects of interactions with it. Yes, we might all be brains in a jar, but that philosophical speculation does not address understanding causal effects and the value of assigning reality independent of our individual beliefs a role in adjudication. In other words, do not mistake philosophical possibility with physical probability.

        When it comes to ethics and morality and the real world effects exercising them produces in the physical world (what we call ‘evidence’), you bet your ass we can compare the values being expressed and we can rank them accordingly with any equivalent standard you care to name. After all, this is exactly how we measure anything: by using the same standard and determining (ranking) comparative accuracy and comparative affect for what works ‘best’. So when you state that no one set of values is better than another, this is true only if we are waxing philosophically. But as soon as we introduce causal effects in the real world from the expression of values, then we can compare and contrast and rank by means of comparative affect as long as we use the same standard… a standard that is relative and subjective.

        Many people simply don’t get this. They assume an (impossible) objective standard must first be achieved because it must be required for accurate comparative measurement for ethical and moral values. This is like saying we cannot possibly have confidence in air travel because we cannot achieve an objective standard for measuring elevation first. What too many otherwise clever folk fail to remember is that all we need is a comparative standard independent of those doing the flying so that we can compare and contrast accurately their relative differences in altitude and unequivocally establish highly accurate positioning. We can use whatever relative point we want for this measuring standard – sea level, fixed beacons, and local airports are the most commonly used – and still produced a practical and highly reliably means to determine elevation and altitude relative to it. Only in ethics and morality do these paying customers of air travel suddenly find it philosophically essential to create an impermeable divide between is and ought that renders all comparative measurement as too ‘relative’ and ‘subjective’ to be of any worth! Because all standards are relative to something, suddenly these folk insist that we cannot possibly have any inkling of objective comparisons that are the same for everyone everywhere all the time!

        Bollocks.

      • As you say, with flight levels, you’re comparing your elevation to someone else’s using an agreed standard. The “ought” is implicit in the agreement of the standard(s).

        When you can’t agree the standard, say “the adjudication of reality” vs “the adjudication of an omniscient deity” in the here after, you’re comparing chalk with cheese.

        With regards the relativism between cultures, it depends whether you’re talking about descriptive, ethical or prescriptive relativism. We can certainly describe differences in values between, say, atheistic and theistic world views. We can therefore conclude that what is “right” from one cultural perspective is not necessarily “right” – or may be downright “wrong” – in another. In this, you are spot on, what’s “right” for a fundamentalists is not “right” for the irreligious.

        And I’m sorry, regardless of how epistemically sound one’s perspective is, one cannot simply impose one’s standards and values on someone who’s standards and values are different.

        Back to the situation being discussed above.

        Our materialistic world view is “what you see is what you get”.

        The fundamentalist’s world view is that “what you see ultimately doesn’t matter, what matters is what happens to your soul when you die, because you don’t want eternal salvation”.

        From that perspective, it’s not difficult to see why our concern with the adjudication of what’s “real” is utterly incompatible with the the adjudication of god(s) in the afterlife. It’s also a relatively straight forward leap to see that you can only say that one perspective is “better” or more “stringent” than the other when one holds the one of the set of values which is being judged.

        The best that can be said is that my experience is that my material values work better for my health, mental well-being and understanding of the world. The fundamentalist view caused me serious problems which still affect me, but ultimately I’ll only find out which was “right” when I go metaphysical. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe I’ll be tortured in hell for all eternity (I think it’s highly unlikely!) but then, me 20 years ago would have thought it highly unlikely that evolution was remotely reasonable.

        (Apologies if my thinking is disconnected, I’m on my mobile.)

      • I suspect the trouble here may be in language; what I’m saying is that no matter what relative standard is being used – as long as it is the same standard – we can objectively know something about comparing values (results). If I’m reading you correctly, you are suggesting we cannot compare values (results) because the standards are not the same.

        Is this true?

        Well, in all other measurements, a standard means one held in common use for determining the the comparative value. It does not need to be objective, and in fact and practice, isn’t. For example, we’ll call the length of king’s foot a foot and we will measure the height of this wall compared to the height of that wall using this standard. The person doing the measuring determines the comparative difference in feet. Along comes another person who uses one one millionth of the distance between the equator and the pole and calls this a meter. Using this standard, the person doing the measuring of the two walls determines the comparative difference between the height of the two walls in meters. Yes, the results appear to be different because they are using different standards. But does this mean the comparative values between them are too subjective and relative to show that one standard produces superior values than the other?

        Well, again, we need to look at the specific results and see if they are as useful, practical, and accurate. Using feet produces numbers that are difficult to work with and yields less and less accuracy with an increase in detail. In any fair comparison, the meter produces numbers easy to work with (base 10) and yields stable accuracy no matter how great the detail. Even though the standards are different, we can (and do) compare the value of their results and can judge them for the quality of the objective comparative results they produce. The metric system is ‘better’ in obtaining greater value in measurement.

        The same is true for comparing the standards we use in ethics and morality. When we use enlightenment secular values of individual autonomy, legal equality, and dignity of personhood, we can show how and why they produce superior practical effects than do values based on a different standard of obeying religious authority, scriptural prescriptions, and rules of tribal property. In any fair comparison, in other words, one set of values derived from one kind of standard are ‘better’ than the values derived from another standard. In this comparison of effects, religious belief is clearly the inferior standard.

        So yes, we can compare values even if different standards are used, and yes, we can produce objective comparative results from relative and subjective standards.

      • Except, of course, your judgement is predicated on the fact that you value human dignity and freedoms (etc…), so you can only judge from that perspective.

        Likewise, if your personal values are your eternal life, then irrelevant little things like personal freedoms have no bearing on your assessment.

        So, yes, we can make all the judgement calls we like, but until we gain consent to shared values, the judgement calls are unidirectional, and unhelpful if you want to engage in dialogue.

        (And that’s the flaw in Sam Harris’ thesis that ethics and morality can somehow be quantised and subjected to the scrutiny of science. It’s all predicated on the fact that the values chosen to assess the quality of ethical decisions are the best possible values, and that these are in someway universal to the human condition.)

      • No, you misunderstand. My position is not predicated on these values but offer them as possible standards for the sake of comparison to determine the quality of specific ethical decisions based on their effect on real people in real life. We cannot achieve equivalent results if the standard is based on some unknowable reference point existing outside of reality (eternal life) rendering all ethical decisions based on it to be equivalently unknowable relevant to the standard specified.

        Your argument is that we can’t determine relative altitude when one person wants to use, say, beauty as the standard to measure elevation and, because some people want to do this means all of us should accept that all standards are equivalent because they are subjectively chosen. But they’re not equivalently useful in producing comparative knowledge, are they? Some values are better at achieving practical and knowable results that are then ethically comparable to the vacuum produced by selecting a standard that is unknowable. You would have us reject all standards if not held in unison (and thus put aside comparing the effects produced), which then acts to elevate the vacuum to be an equivalent standard. But on what basis do you do this? On the basis of demanding unison rather than on demanding practical and knowledgeable results. You would prefer to ground all air traffic, all claims to the usefulness and practicality we gain by accepting comparative altitude, to suit the demand for unison in selecting one universal reference point for elevation. Your demand is unreasonable because it focuses on the wrong goal – unanimity – rather than achieving a means to compare and contrast ethical decisions.

      • What I said was that we’re not in a position to take a moral, judgemental high ground.

        I maintain that position.

      • Right. I understand. That’s why I call your position a vacuum that allows without sanction all kinds of actions to be done that causes harm to real people in real life without offering any means to criticize it for these real effects; instead, your philosophical position empowers you to criticize those who do judge… regardless of the reasonable, knowledge based justification on which such criticism is based. Not only is your philosophical position ethically sterile in and of itself, but it creates an unnecessary impediment to identifying responsibility for causal effect. This has a two-fold ramification in that it shifts blame from cause to those who point out effect and does nothing to address why and how harm can be stopped. That makes your position one not just of impotence but for all practical purposes one of complicity in the service of those who produce harm based on their ethical standards.

        I think this a vice and not a virtue.

      • Except that I’m quite happy to criticise people as you can clearly see.

        Because the position you take doesn’t allow any form of empathy or attempt at understanding the other perspective. It turns one in a judgemental critic who has an absolute belief in their own superiority, and countenances no challenge.

        I question whether this allows one to effectively engage with those one is criticising. If one can’t effectively engage (ie. one is just shouting into the void), then what is one’s objective?

        Unless one actually has a desire to change the situation – and shouting at people doesn’t do that – then is one really able to a moral high position?

      • Except that I’m quite happy to criticise people as you can clearly see.

        This, after arguing one cannot judge the ethical practices of another. And this says what about the quality of your ethics in practice?

        Ah yes, the tone argument based on redefining clarity and good reasoning and forcefulness of position to be personal attributions of superiority and certainty and arrogance, and so on… redefined qualities that I am now told are ineffective at bringing people around to one’s opinion when feelings and personal respect are considered so very important.

        Well, if I happen to respect what’s true and knowable more than the delicate feelings of those who do not, then I am guilty as charged. We should all be so guilty. But ideas stand or fall on their own merits or lack of them and there’s little I can do but point out when those merits in another person’s opinion are insufficient or even missing in action but still used to cause harm to what’s true and undermine what is knowable.

      • No, I’m not worried about tone.

        I’m questioning intent. Who whom are you speaking? What do you want to achieve?

      • Well, the short answer is that I’m speaking to you because I’m responding to your comments. The larger answer is that I am deeply critical of people who philosophically neuter themselves from having any justified reasons to criticize values in action that cause real harm. I want to shock you into seriously questioning the practical value of your philosophical assumptions when I can show that they lead to your complicity in tolerating the intolerable, in excusing actions that cause deplorable effects that harm by refusing to judge on vague philosophical grounds. I want you to get angry at your foolishness, angry that you could be so gullible, angry that you have used philosophy to become part of a very significant problem that empowers political correctness of tolerating unnecessary suffering (while conveniently blaming those who raise this reality of your inaction to judge), rather than standing firm on principle of justice and fairness and compassion and caring. I want you to be furious enough to change your mind and realize that philosophical justifications for complicity in supporting the conditions necessary for good people to do nothing are a lesson you should have already learned are insufficient in the face of real harm, real suffering, real human conditions caused by exempting the values that cause them from necessary and needed comparative judgements based on demonstrable negative effect. I want you and anyone reading these comments to wake the fuck up.

      • And that is precisely what won’t happen given the approach being used.

        First, there’s an implication that I am uncritical of fundamentalist beliefs and practices. If you genuinely think that, you haven’t read my or post. However I start from a position that doesn’t start with black and white, it assumes nuanced shades of grey.

        Second, please don’t lecture me on the harms associated with rigid belief patterns. My experiences, skills and training have taught me a lot about the problems associated with people who are unempathetic and have The Truth. The main thing it’s taught me is that such people are dangerous.

        Third, I try to have in mind the audience with whom I am speaking. That means not using language that I think will inflame the other party, ensuring I understand their perspective using reflective techniques and and approaching them as equals, not trying assert my position as dominant. It means discussion, persuasion and gentleness, not combat, inflexibility and and aggression.

        When I first left the evangelical Christian church, having attended an ACE school, I took a similar, un-nuanced, blunt position. It was ineffective at persuading people, and turned people off from engaging with me at all.

        I do not believe that I am complicit in furthering the harms committed in the name of Christ. I believe that I am clear about my moral and ethical position; it’s one to which I have given a great deal of consideration. I have worked in a variety of ways to raise awareness of spiritual abuse, and to argue for secular approaches to the raising of children.

        However, I live in a democracy. I cannot impose my will on other people, no matter how strongly I believe in my position. I have a duty to persuade others of my position, to use my skills to build consensus and to ensure that I do not engage in the same tactics as my opponents.

        I’d suggest that this is the ethical way forward. I’m sorry you don’t think I’m awake, but as far as I can see, I’m pretty conscious.

      • But don’t you see, David, that you undermine your own opinions when you claim you cannot possibly judge the causal values of harmful effects done by others? This doesn’t stop you for single second judging those who do and then giving them a lesson on just how ineffective their criticism is!

        Look, effects have cause. They don’t just appear. Effects that cause harm can be and need to be linked to their causes, and when causal values are found to be the motivation for harmful acts done in their name, then criticism – loud and sustained – is surely one of the very least responses one can make. When I criticize values that can be demonstrated to cause unnecessary harm when exercised, I’m not doing so because I’m a nasty person; I’m doing so because I am principled. The principles I hold have been informed by good reasons and compelling evidence from reality that they are the best available means (so far) to improving the human condition and reducing unnecessary suffering. To be told that I cannot do this, that I am not allowed to judge the causal values that produce unnecessary harm and suffering and reduce the human condition because it’s too intolerant of differences that should be respected more than the harm done in its name, that by using words that cause offense to those who support this misguided correctness is too costly to achieving change, then you’re being unfair. You are trying to deny me what you yourself exercise – judgement; you are trying to deflect blame from the cause – values – to those who criticize effects; you are trying to demonize me and the way I forcefully present my right to judge. What you’re not doing is honestly reevaluating now that you have more information; I’m not the problem criticizing causal effects for the harm they produce; those who criticize me for doing so (and how I do it) are just as worthy for the same criticism.

      • Get back under your bridge, and kindly stop misrepresenting me en route.

        Have a nice day.

  5. I agree with your analysis of the theology, but at the risk of over-generalising, acceptance of this theology isn’t primarily driven by careful reasoning or deeply argued philosophy but rather by emotion and gut-reaction. Like so much in the fundamentalist mind-set, it’s truthy, not truthful.

    In my experience talking with people who take up either position 1 or 2, there’s a huge amount of projection going on in all areas, including this one. It boils down to being unable to ‘think inside someone else’s head’. Because they believe and they see obvious justification for their beliefs, they can’t conceive of somebody else genuinely not believing or seeing any justification for belief. Because they would personally be lying if they professed atheism, anybody professing atheism must be lying. Because they would be purposefully and knowingly rejecting God by denying their heart-felt beliefs, the atheist is purposefully and knowingly rejecting God by denying that they have similar beliefs.

    Of course, if you listen to sermons aimed at and from this community, many the rhetorical devices used tend to reinforce this kind of projective thinking. It is one of the standard preaching tricks to make complicated issues simple. People are literally trained out of ‘walk a mile in your shoes’ thinking. The parallels to the discourse around the welfare reforms in the UK are fairly obvious and just a little depressing (if you where taking this support, you know that you’d be cheating the state, so everyone who needs and receives this support is cheating the state), but given that fundamentalist Christians are involved in the more right-wing components of our current government, not entirely surprising.

  6. I mean that, if the God evangelicals describe were real, there would be no atheists.

    Of course, there’s not just the moral problem that if atheists exist it makes God a bit of a dick; but also if atheists exist then the “self evident” nature of God isn’t quite as self-evident as they like to think. If there are atheists, why are they not filled with the same feelings of closeness to Jesus the Christian is when they visit church? Why does praying not affect them the way it does the Christian? How are they not left in awe of God’s power when they look at creation? Either these aren’t as indicative of a God as Christians like to think, or atheists are rebellious.

    What most don’t realise is that even if you deny the existence of atheists, this is still a problem you have to content with. When Moses led the Jews out of Egypt, they witnessed the 10 plagues, watched God part the red sea and close it on the chasing chariots. They were then led across the desert for years by a flaming pillar of fire until they arrived at a mountain with God at the top. Moses then goes up the mountain, leaves them alone for 3 days and….they start worshiping a bull.

    How on earth can you witness all this miracles first hand and then, whilst God is at the top of a mountain in sight (kind of), decide that actually this other thing is God. Either these miracles weren’t quite as impressive as the Bible makes out, it never happened or the bull worshipers were rebellious.

    • Yes, I too have come across this ‘self-evident’ argument all the time and treated with amazing scorn when I insist that there is no evidence to back it up and much evidence contrary to it. Whatever I provide in support of my position is considered unworthy for consideration because I – an atheist and therefore a rebellious denier of christ, no less – provide it!

      Now, whenever I come across the ‘self-evident’ argument I always think of this.

  7. What of fundamentalists who deny that disbelief is a damnable offense?

  8. I am not an atheist, but I like atheists; I have a special place in my heart for them. In my interactions with atheists, I find them mostly to be careful thinkers and well informed. I do NOT think the existence of God is obvious and I don’t try to convince anyone (unless they ask me to).

    One reason I am at peace with atheists is because I am not afraid they are right and I am wrong. I will not be upset if it turns out that I am wrong, but so far I am not persuaded. Another reason I am at peace with atheists is because I don’t think they will burn in hell if THEY are wrong. (No one is going to burn in hell.)

    I agree with a lot of comments to this post, but I think the thing that strikes me most is, “God is like a child who invents a game, doesn’t explain all the rules, and then mocks people for losing.” Most fundamentalists and evangelicals do not appreciate the importance of this observation. Neither the existence of God nor what God expects is clear, and for God to punish people for ‘getting it wrong’ makes God arbitrary and capricious.

  9. ‘If there were no God, there would be no atheists’ (G.K. Chesterton)

    In a sense, he is right. But this isn’t as profound as it seems

    • Well, there doesn’t seem to be a god, yet there are still atheists, so Chesterton’s point has a rather significant disconnect between its premise and conclusion.

      • I take your point- but I think I already addressed that. The sense in which he is right is not profound. He isn’t suggesting, as far as I read him, that in a Godless world there are no atheists (everyone is a ‘believer’) but rather that the word atheism loses its meaning.

      • Actually, I think there would still be atheists… just those who identify under some other name because there will always be those who empower belief over reality (atheist in the strict sense of course means non belief in gods or a god but the emphasis is on the default non belief all of share whenever we have no compelling reasons to believe differently to arbitrate claims made about reality, so it’s only the object of the non belief that would change. But there will always be belief in agencies of Oggoty Boogity because it’s easier to assume a pseudo-explanation to be sufficient to knowledge, be it in ‘knowing about’ the moving ‘spirit’ of natural processes or the mystical energies of whatever natural processes are not yet understood. I like to call this entire class of beliefs in pseudo-explanations – from dowsing to tarot cards, anti-vaxers to conspiracy ‘theorists’ – ‘Deepak Chopras’. A deepak Chpra is a pseudo-answer, a pseudo-explanation that is nonsense hidden by deepities of obfuscating metaphysical assertions, you know, the real god that exists behind the gods people worship, the ‘ultimate’ reality that exists beyond reality we can interact with, the quantum consciousness of energy (let’s call it The Force, shall we Deepak?) of the universal mind that binds and connects all things, yada, yada, yada. Belief in belief for convenience will always, I think, be a seductive draw to those who do care enough (for whatever reasons) about learning how reality works to admit an honest and clear “I don’t know” or “I don’t care to know.”

  10. Glad to hear my guest-post attracted a fair amount of attention mate 😉

  11. World 2 is EXACTLY what my evangelical friends believe. They believe that God & Jesus are imprinted in your heart. Even if you’re in a tribe of humans that has never interacted with the rest of the world, you still hear the word of God in your heart. To reject it damns you to Hell.

    The evangelicals are taught about a void that people that haven’t accepted Jesus feel, even if they can’t explain it.

  12. “God is like a child who invents a game, doesn’t explain all the rules, and then mocks people for losing.” Most fundamentalists and evangelicals do not appreciate the importance of this observation. Neither the existence of God nor what God expects is clear, and for God to punish people for ‘getting it wrong’ makes God arbitrary and capricious.

    Which is partly where I guess I stand on the issue (more of a World II person). I profess atheism, but what I might really be is a Misotheist. I cannot buy the argument the Christian God is a “good” being worthy of worship. Rebellion is the more MORAL position, as the character of the entity worshipped as “god” in BOTH testaments seems evil. (Even Jesus’ character seems to be very questionable in many cases outlined by skeptics better read than myself).

    The Gnostic dualist “heresy” which posits the creator of the physical universe as flawed or partial makes more sense than “orthodoxy”. This position also better answers the Question of Evil.

  13. Bingo, and its not just atheists. Evangelicals at large have the same argument. EVERYONE knows that God exists. Um, no, they do not. They so do not. Most Buddhists don’t believe in God, either (even if they are spiritual). And unlike atheists in the west, many of them never considered the idea of God (or at least as we know it).

    I do believe in God, but I do agree that in terms of possiblities, God may or may not exist. I do place my bet on the existence of God, but its NOT because I look at the trees and go, “oh, I can tell that a God exists.”

  14. ashley haworth-roberts

    “Neither the existence of God nor what God expects is clear, and for God to punish people for ‘getting it wrong’ makes God arbitrary and capricious.”

    Given recent events in my online life (what a sad person), the word ‘arbitrary’ particularly stood out.

    By commenting under his most recent blog post (few YECs allow this), I’ve had a bit of a run-in with YEC Jason Lisle over the question of how my answers to questions have been, in his eyes, completely ‘arbitrary’.

    Should you wish to see them, very full details have been supplied here (which thread was made known to Jason and his followers late on 19 April):
    http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3237&start=45

    I speak as an ex evangelical Christian who is now something of a misotheistic agnostic (I’m not anti-Christian but I am very much against both dogmatic science denial and labelling of young Earth creationist apologetics as ‘true’ science).

  15. I always found it rather ironic that there are people that insist that they don’t believe that other people don’t believe.

  16. Uh-oh. I’ve got a book coming out that defends world 2. lol! Except my argument is not that people are deceptive, but rather that there is a kind of latent knowledge – in other words, we don’t necessarily know that we know.

    • It strikes me as rather presumptuous to suggest you know what is inside an atheist’s mind better than the atheist does.

    • “there is a kind of latent knowledge – in other words, we don’t necessarily know that we know”

      This seems on the surface of it to be a radical re-definition of ‘knowing’ from that commonly accepted by dictionaries and by philosophers, not to mention every-day use, to something that makes your argument work. This tactic is called bait-and-switch. Arguments based upon bait-and-switch may be rejected without further analysis as resting on a logical fallacy.

      This claim is also unsound because it is untestable by construction. You have no direct access to my state of knowledge, nor to my state of ‘latent knowledge’. Knowledge is subjective. My knowledge is not your knowledge, and there is no objective method for enumerating the knowledge of an individual. Claims that are, in principle, untestable, are rejected out-of-hand.

      The claim seems to stand upon special pleading. If we substitute Krishna for Jesus, we can use the same argument to reach a conclusion that, I presume, you reject. I could just as well claim that you know, but don’t necessarily know that you know that Krishna is the one deity worthy of your worship. You claim not to know this? You claim to have certain knowledge that this is not so? Well, you’re just denying that knowledge that you don’t necessarily know, which is the truer knowledge than that which you claim to know. If you reject this line of argument for Krishna but accept it for Jesus, then you’re special-pleading. Special-pleading marks a proposition as logically unsound, so the only rational course of action is to reject that proposition.

      I sincerely hope that your book is actually making a different argument from this, otherwise you’ve invested a lot of time and words in articulating and arguing something that requires less than a paragraph to knock down.

      • Actually, I’m saying something really obvious here. When you forget where you put your car keys, do you know where they are, or don’t you? When you forget and then remember again, did that knowledge disappear, or was it “hiding?” The terms “latent knowledge” is actually widely accepted in psychology, and philosophy since Plato has wrestled with hidden kinds of knowing.

        Saying that I have no access to your knowledge and therefore am making an untestable claim is ridiculous by virtue of the fact that we are having a conversation, which requires a shared base of knowledge and agreed upon referents.

      • ” When you forget and then remember again, did that knowledge disappear, or was it “hiding?” The terms “latent knowledge” is actually widely accepted in psychology, and philosophy since Plato has wrestled with hidden kinds of knowing.”

        You cannot forget what you never knew, nor can you remember it. To claim ‘latent knowledge’, you must first show a prior state of knowledge. If you just assert that such a state of prior knowledge existed about your choice of deity, which was then forgotten, we’re back to special-pleading for your choice of deity over all the others for which identical claims could be made. You have no access to the knowledge of an infant, so I see no way you can justify your claim over those of all other competing ones. Given that children overwhelmingly grow up accepting the beliefs of their parents and culture, this is strong evidence that in fact there is no such ‘latent knowledge’ of your specific deity of choice.

        When I forget my car keys, I’m aware that I did have, or should have had knowledge of their location. You seem to be presupposing a rather different state of affairs here, where I am not even aware of having lost access to this knowledge, and nor can you give me independent, objective evidence of such.

        “Saying that I have no access to your knowledge and therefore am making an untestable claim is ridiculous by virtue of the fact that we are having a conversation”
        Conversations are not predicated upon shared knowledge, but upon ‘agreed upon referents’, as illustrated by the ‘chinese room argument’ and chat-bots that pass (limited forms of) the Turing test. Conversations communicate information. The jump from that to knowledge is problematic at best.

        Now, suppose we go back to when the greatest minds of the western world believed the Sun to orbit the Earth. They claimed ‘knowledge’ of this. Then Copernicus (among others) demonstrated that the Earth orbited the Sun. He claimed ‘knowledge’ of this. Would it have been correct for them to claim that he had forgotten the ‘true knowledge’ of the centrality of the Earth, which was innately written on his heart? No, as he had changed his mind not because of forgetting but because of being persuaded. By analogy, any atheist who is persuaded of their atheism has not ‘forgotten’ any prior belief, but is persuaded that these prior beliefs are no longer justifiable.

  17. Hi I happened across your blog after googling reasons for the hate and fear believers have for non believers and vice versus.
    One of your comments “everyone has a natural or innate inclination to believe in a god” set me thinking.
    This can’t be so as there have been and still are the numberless who don’t believe in a god or gods, and countless numbers who have never been exposed to Christian evangelism, who cannot read or understand high English and have had no access to the bible wherein the Christian god is diligently sought.
    Christians of a fanatical bent do seem however, to have a pathologically pressing need to make everyone in the world believe as they do, and by force if necessary. Their theology too easily condemns everyone born before and after the grotesque idea of salvation by human sacrifice arose, that those who did not or could not for whatever reason accept this idea are destined for absolute everlasting torture. This to my mind is simply delusional arrogance, plainly an egoistic, aggressively coercive bid by a particular group for total dominance over the minds and lives of all others, I suspect for purposes of global political control.

    I don’ t regard my self as an atheist or as any other ist or ism. Just a plain straight forward person unable to grasp one reason for crediting any of the claims made by the mainline monotheistic religions, all compete violently with each other for dibs on the same unknowable supreme being, all three claim to have special and exclusive rights to its favour, and quarrel malignantly with those who have no concern at all about its existence.
    Christian sectarian beliefs are dangerous and psychologically injurious from my personal experience, not only do they constantly disagree amongst themselves about what the Christian god requires of them, they have continually set people from the same broad culture, one against the other, it’s just ridiculous and they should know better. The judaic and islamic sects indulge their pious fantasies in the same destructive way.
    Soccer teams make more sense and anyone with half a brain should realize by now that the whole of humanity sits precariously in the same earthly boat.
    If an all powerful unknowable designing creative force lurks behind the mystery of the cosmos, then everything and everyone that has ever existed belongs to it unconditionally and without exception, otherwise this force is just blindly benign and wholly unconcerned for its creation.
    Diverse human cultural instincts and traditions anyway are what such a being if it exists, would seem to have had in mind from the start, as this is the reality. I make peace with it and I support all enlightened efforts made by the many gifted and caring individuals from every quarter who contribute their intelligence, their resources and their lives to lessen the harm between the worlds warring religious ideologies that imperil, today more than ever, the very existence of our world.

  18. Reblogged this on Potato Skin Belt and commented:
    The best explanation of Atheist-Denial I’ve read.

  1. Pingback: what Christian fundamentalism means to us | Defeating the Dragons

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