A Winner At A Losing Game: Atheism and Individual Beliefs

A few weeks ago, as some of you may recall, famous science instructor (I’ll not call him a scientist; he specializes in explaining, not doing the work himself) Bill Nye engaged in a debate with not-quite-as-famous science instructor Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis.  It was quite a display, generating fantastic amounts of buzz on the internet, with followers and critics in both directions.  The topic in question was “Is Biblical Creationism [as espoused by Answers in Genesis, and others] a viable model of origins?”  (For the video of the debate, click here.)

I watched the debate via livestream at the local Bible college in my town.  I expected a gracious and courteous performance from Mr. Ham, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that Mr. Nye also conducted himself very professionally.  Creation and evolution are hotly-debated topics, with much emotional impetus on each side, so I was happy to see that it didn’t devolve (much, anyway) into name-calling, or any other kind of bile.  The same could not be said for the internet, of course, but then, sadly, no one really expects better from the internet community at large.  Current readership excepted, of course.

Embedded in every creation/evolution debate, inevitably, is the notion of whether there is or is not a God.  I’ve written on this topic multiple times.  I find it interesting because, as this article in The Atlantic points out, it’s fashionable to think that atheism is the intellectual view.  (Interesting side note:  I found this article on Reddit.com, which is hardly in favor of any theological belief at any time—stranger things have happened, but not often.)  The author of the article does a fair job of giving the lie to that notion, and I won’t take the time here to repeat all of her conclusions; it’s a good read if you have the time.

What interests me is the motivation behind such a belief.  What is it that drives a person, or a civilization, to desire that there should be no God?  Atheists of this intellectual stripe would very much like to have us believe that their views only come from an orderly and reasoned examination of the world, and that they did not draw any conclusions until completing such an examination.  I find that unlikely, but even if it were so, it seems to me that that would be a position to be resisted.  There  would be the temptation to continually seek new evidence until I had enough to allow me to change my conclusions and accept the reality of God!  Instead, what we see are atheists anxious to reinforce their atheism.  That boggles my mind.  What value is there in such a belief?

I’ve gone to great lengths in other entries to explain why a universe without God would be a terrible place to live.  The short version is that a reality without God is a reality without any true meaning.  Now, it may be that the great atheist thinkers have simply failed to carry their beliefs out to that logical conclusion, although I think the number of them who have committed suicide would belie that thought.  But make no mistake, that is the logical conclusion of atheism.  If you are a happy atheist, you simply haven’t yet gone where your beliefs are taking you.

Why believe it?  Why want to believe it?  I think that the reason atheists desire their atheism is because it relieves them of their responsibility to God.  If they can deny God’s existence, then in essence they are shaking their fists at Him and saying, “I am not yours!  You don’t command me!”  In more modern terms, it’s “You’re not the boss of me!”  But the catch is, that’s all you get.  Bragging rights, basically.  You stood up to your creator.

You lost.

Ultimately, you lost.  If your atheism is true, then your godless world has no hope in it.  Your life doesn’t count.  You didn’t come from anywhere; you aren’t going anywhere.  Neither are your parents, your kids, any of the people you value, if you do have people you value.  It’s a majestic world, but a worthless and empty and vain world, too.

And if your atheism is false?  Then you also lose, if you hold onto it.  If the Bible is right, then you and everyone else are sinners in need of redemption.  Christians, too—they have found that redemption, but make no mistake, they definitely needed it.  Atheism is the rejection of that redemption, and there’s nothing left after that but judgment of sin, which leads to hell.  I suppose you could say that other theistic religions, like Islam, are right instead of Christianity, but you still lose; they also include notions of sin and judgment and redemption, if in different ways.

I hate to see people treat spiritual things like a game.  All of this debate, it’s not just a matter of who is right and who is wrong.  It’s intensely practical, because it matters for every person alive on Earth.  It’s not a game…so don’t play to lose.  That’s what atheism does.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “A Winner At A Losing Game: Atheism and Individual Beliefs

  1. What is it that drives you to assume that atheists desire for there to be no god? Many of us here in the US dearly wanted to find a reason to believe, coming from Christian families. For me, it was 5-7 years of hunting for a way for a god to exist, but the traits ascribed to him simply can not square with reality, and it is so very easy to see how religion springs from fears and curiosity.

    A common confusion surrounding theists who try to imagine if there is no god is that they imagine a different world, as though if there has never been a god the universe would be borked. The important thing to realize is that if there is no god, the universe functions as it does, and nothing in the world will suddenly change with that realization. The explanations for things are what change.

    However, you can conduct a test where you compare the universe as it is, with your assumed order of things, to how the universe would be without a god. If the best you’ve got is, “There is no ultimate meaning without a god,” then you really haven’t got anything have you? I can do the test also, and I would say that a universe with a god who created it so that we could exist would not have had to make the billions of other galaxies that exist in order to provide us with a planet to call home. Before you say that it is for the sake of showing us the beauty of creation, we can’t see most of these without an incredibly powerful telescope.

    And you finish up with Pascal’s wager, a concept that has been crushed time and again.

    Like

  2. I’ll give you credit for stumping me temporarily; although I was familiar with the concept of Pascal’s Wager, I didn’t know that term, and didn’t know that he first popularized it. I would be interested to see where it’s been “crushed time and time again”; I did find some counterarguments, but nothing I would call crushing.
    I apologize for the confusion as to what I’m ascribing to atheists here. I by no means intended to say that all atheists desire for there to be no god. I was speaking in response to the article I referenced from The Atlantic, which was on the topic of atheism as an alleged intellectual high ground–a form of snobbery, to borrow the article’s term. Snobbery, by definition, is the belief that one is better than another; by extension here, it would mean that one’s chosen belief is better or preferable. At any rate, I don’t mean to say that all atheists desire that there should be no god; certainly some come to it as you did, after seeing evidences that led them to that belief.
    It’s true that, as you say, the universe functions just as well whether God is real or not. It’s also true that, in that circumstance, it’s the explanation that changes. I think that perhaps I’ve done a disservice in this post by speaking about meaning alone; I was trying to be brief. But to say, “If the best you’ve got is, “There is no ultimate meaning without a god,” then you really haven’t got anything have you?” also does a disservice; because it puts that concept of meaning at a remove from the real lives of people. We aren’t talking just about meaning in the sense of the beauty of creation, but also in the sense of the destination of human lives. Where do we go when we die? That should be a question of supreme importance to anyone. I find the notion that we go nowhere–that we just cease to exist–to be incredibly disturbing, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

    Thanks for stopping by! Agree with me or not, I’m glad to discuss what I believe anytime. Hope to see you again.

    Like

  3. After reading your post, I have decided that it is important to respond to it. You said that “famous science instructor (I’ll not call him a scientist; he specializes in explaining, not doing the work himself) Bill Nye.” So you’ll deny Bill Nye the title that he is due simply because you don’t want to. That’s intellectually dishonest. At the very least make that claim because he is an engineer and doesn’t actually have a degree in science. You went on to claim that Nye “engaged in a debate with not-quite-as-famous science instructor Ken Ham.” Ken Ham is not a science educator. He teaches creationism to people. Creationism is not a science. Until it becomes a science, Ham cannot be considered a science educator.
    In your second paragraph you stated that “Embedded in every creation/evolution debate, inevitably, is the notion of whether there is or is not a God.” Why is that? Evolution does not disprove a god. It is only showing species change over time. If a person wants to believe in a god and evolution there is no reason for them not to.
    You asked “What is it that drives a person, or a civilization, to desire that there should be no God?” There are many ways to answer this question. The first is that most atheists don’t “desire that there should be no God.” We simply do not believe that there are any. We do not think “I hope there are not gods,” or “I wish there to be no gods.” We simply cannot believe that there are any. The same way that you likely cannot believe that that any non-Christian gods exist. You then claimed that for you there “would be the temptation to continually seek new evidence until I had enough to allow me to change my conclusions and accept the reality of God!” This is a problematic view. You are stating that you would begin with the conclusion that there is a god and then you would look for evidence supporting your conclusion. That is intellectually dishonest. I would rather look at the evidence and go where it takes me rather than ignoring anything that I don’t want to see. You asked “What value is there in such a belief?” What value is there in any belief? There is only the value that we, ourselves, give our beliefs. To me, the value in atheism is that it allows me to seek truth where ever it may be found. I am not forced to conform my knowledge to a particular belief system. I don’t have to disregard evidence and things that appear true simply because my religion tells me that I cannot accept them.
    You stated that “I’ve gone to great lengths in other entries to explain why a universe without God would be a terrible place to live.” Why should it be? The universe would be the same as it is. A god is not necessary to create the universe in its current state. You claimed that “The short version is that a reality without God is a reality without any true meaning.” What do you mean by true meaning? Why can’t we each have our own meanings? Why must your meaning be true for all of us? “Now, it may be that the great atheist thinkers have simply failed to carry their beliefs out to that logical conclusion, although I think the number of them who have committed suicide would belie that thought.” What is this so called logical conclusion? That my life has no meaning? My life has the meaning that I give it. It has the hopes and desires that I give it. I don’t need a god for that. And how many atheists have committed suicide? How many Christians have? Can you provide evidence showing that a larger percentage of atheists have committed suicide than Christians? I highly doubt that you will find that to be the case. You then claimed that “If you are a happy atheist, you simply haven’t yet gone where your beliefs are taking you.” How do you know where my beliefs are taking me? How do you know that I haven’t already gotten there? How do you know, as a non-atheist, that it is impossible for an atheist to be happy? How do you know, as a non-atheist, that atheism means that atheists cannot have meaning in our lives?
    You asked “Why want to believe it?” That is a strange question. Do you actually hold any beliefs because you want to believe it? I tend to believe things because I’m convinced to believe them. I don’t believe simply because I want to. I haven’t chosen to believe what I believe. I have been convinced to believe what I believe and cannot believe otherwise until I am convinced otherwise. You stated that “I think that the reason atheists desire their atheism is because it relieves them of their responsibility to God.” That is like saying that I desire to not believe in fairies because I am denying my responsibility to the fey. First, I do not desire to not believe in fairies. I simply don’t because there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. Second, how can I be responsible to something that doesn’t exist? You went on to claim that “If they can deny God’s existence, then in essence they are shaking their fists at Him and saying, ‘I am not yours! You don’t command me!’” So basically you are calling us petulant children who are being rebellious for the sake of being rebellious. Have you ever thought that maybe there are people who simply do not believe what we believe for similar reasons to why you do not believe what we believe? We are not being rebellious. We are being unconvinced.
    You said “If your atheism is true, then your godless world has no hope in it.” Why? Why can’t I have hope? Why do you get the monopoly? Personally, I see many reasons to be hopeful. Just because you can’t see any reasons why I should doesn’t mean there aren’t any reasons. Then you claimed “ You didn’t come from anywhere; you aren’t going anywhere.” I didn’t? I’m not? I’m pretty sure I came from my parents. And from my ancestors. I’m pretty sure I’m going exactly where I want to go. I am in school, soon to graduate, and I am in a steady, long-term relationship. There is plenty to look forward to in my future. I am going many places. Not heaven, but I can’t see any reason to want to go to heaven. Why is simple death so scary that you must convince yourself of an afterlife?
    You then offered up Pascal’s Wager: “And if your atheism is false? Then you also lose, if you hold onto it. If the Bible is right, then you and everyone else are sinners in need of redemption.” This is just a poor argument. Atheists hear it so often, and it has been debunked so often by so many different people, that we simply disregard it. It is clear to us that the theists who offer up this argument have likely ignored the counter-arguments. It has been discussed so often that you must have heard some of the counter-arguments. You know why atheists disregard this argument. You are just unwilling to accept our arguments.
    You finished by saying “It’s not a game…so don’t play to lose. That’s what atheism does.” I am not playing a game, I am living my life. There is no “loss” in my life. I cannot “lose” at life.
    I know that this has been a long post, but I have a bit more to say. First, it seems as though you don’t actually know any atheists. Before you tell us what we believe, perhaps you could actually ask us what we believe. I’m sure that you don’t appreciate being told what Christians believe, so don’t do the same to us. Second, you are ‘othering’ us. You are putting us into this unknowable ‘other’ category by creating atheist straw men. Again, get to know some atheists. Find out who we really are as people.

    Like

  4. Thanks for commenting. That certainly required an investment of time and effort on your part; I didn’t run a word count, but it appears at a glance that your response may have been longer than the post. That takes dedication!
    It’s frustrating to try to answer a comment of this nature. Some of your arguments are against the reasoning that I presented, and that is as it should be; but then, some of them appeared to nitpick the manner in which I presented my thoughts. To try to answer that just makes both of us sound argumentative and childish. We’re both adults, as far as I know, Nevertheless, I’ll have to give it a shot, and I’ll try to be brief.
    –The titles I gave to Mr. Nye and Mr. Ham. A person is a scientist based not on what scientific degree he or she acquired in the past, not simply on the basis of having it. Bill Nye has made a career of educating others, especially children, about scientific matters, regurgitating the works of others rather than engaging in any kind of scientific research himself. To call him an educator instead of a scientist is not disparagement, but clarification. As for Ken Ham: Disagreeing with his conclusions does not qualify you to arbitrarily declare that his field of expertise is not science (or to be fair, science education).
    –I stated that the question of the existence of God is embedded in every debate regarding creation and evolution. It appears that you took that to mean that that question is embedded in the concept of evolution. It is, of course, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, every such debate does in fact involve that question. It has to; creation is a model that is founded on the idea that God exists and made the world; evolution states that the universe arose through non-supernatural means. Anytime those two models come into conflict, of course their basic principles are involved.
    –The repeated allegation of intellectual dishonesty. What I stated was that, if I had followed evidence that led me to believe that God does not exist, I would be tempted to search for further evidence that allows me to believe that he does. That is in no way starting with a presupposition. The one thing I assume in this argument–and correct me if I am wrong here–is that death is commonly perceived to be a terrifying thing, and that people have a desire to live on in some way. A world with no supernatural–be it God or otherwise–doesn’t afford that possibility. A truly naturalistic world must include the concept that the soul ends at the death of the body–indeed, that it never really existed in the first place. That is a terrifying concept. If it doesn’t terrify you, you are exactly the type of person I was referring to in this post, and I’m curious to know how you can even stand to get up in the morning. If there is no hope to hold on to for anything outside this life, then there’s no significance to anything inside this life.
    –Pascal’s wager. No, really, convince me. Stop saying that it has been debunked, and tell me how it has been debunked. I’m not refusing to believe your arguments; I haven’t seen them. The research I did indicated that the objections to Pascal’s Wager indicated a few avenues of objection, none of which actually counter the argument:
    -Inconsistent Revelations–in a nutshell, “if we are better off believing in God, which God?” Frankly, that’s not an objection. Believe in any faith you like, if you so choose. I present mine, and my reasons for believing it, but the specifics of a particular faith–or a group of them–don’t invalidate the logic of the wager.
    -Inauthentic Belief–the idea that believing just for the sake of “fire insurance”, let’s say, is not good enough. It’s the notion that if you only profess a faith because intellectually you find it better to cover all the bases, then that is not true faith. Actually, I agree with this. That would not be real belief, but only an acknowledgement of possibilities. But that does not invalidate the wager–in fact, it supports it, in my view. Pascal’s Wager is not a foundation for belief, but an argument, from a spiritual standpoint, of admitting the possibility and likelihood of spirituality. Belief requires more than this, which is well, because belief is not the purpose of the wager.
    -The argument of assumptions. This is longer and more complicated than I can repeat here; for a quick summary, check the Wikipedia entry for Pascal’s Wager. Essentially it argues that if God does not exist (and therefore no afterlife exists), time here is precious and shouldn’t be wasted; if God exists and is ultimately benevolent (here meaning that He accepts everyone and does not judge), then all will be saved regardless of any action or decision on Earth; and if God exists and is ultimately malevolent (here meaning that all are subject to judgment, and that there is only one correct way to approach God–I don’t favor the term “malevolent”, but I use it because it was the term favored in the arguments as I read them), then we play the odds by trying to believe. The argument from assumptions becomes a matter of logic influencing decisions, but it in no way provides a debunking of Pascal’s wager–at most, it reduces the logical likelihood of “winning” the wager.

    Perhaps I haven’t addressed every facet of your answer. Some of it, I’ve addressed in previous posts; some of it will no doubt appear in future posts; but I have a life off the internet that won’t wait. I do appreciate your time in making a response. Stick around; you’ll find plenty of other things to object to here, no doubt. Thanks for commenting!

    Like

    • Yes, it did take quite a bit of time. But I feel that it was well worth it. Luckily it’s the weekend.
      To go back to the Bill Nye/Ken Ham as science educators, or not, my disagreement was not with who they are or what they do. Bill Nye is an Engineer who knows a lot about science thanks to his education. He teaches students science. He also does science in the process. There are many scientists who focus on educating the next generation of scientists. They are still scientists even if they no longer write papers for peer reviewed journals. If your only argument against Nye’s being a scientist is that he teaches it instead of performing scientific experiments then your argument isn’t very good. As for Ken Ham, creationism isn’t a science. Not because I disagree with it, but because it has never made it through the peer reviewed stage. No idea can be accepted as a science until it has been peer reviewed. It’s the same with many other academic fields. Ergo, Ken Ham is not a science educator.
      Actually, I was merely interested in why you thought the creationism/evolution debate always included that argument. Although that question is not embedded in evolution. Biology, like all sciences ignores the concept of god. This is because god can neither be proven nor disproven. It is supernatural. Science, by definition, deals with what is natural. As such, they ignore god. If science could prove god, if a god could be discovered and studied, then evolution could be molded to explain the god’s involvement in evolution. That god would also cease to be supernatural and become natural.
      As for the looking for evidence of god argument, the person who commented before me pointed out that many atheists have done that. I tried to hang on to my belief for as long as possible. But at some point doing so becomes ridiculous and you are brought to the realization that you actually haven’t believed for a long time, you just wanted to convince yourself that you believed. It can be scary at first to realize that you are an atheist. But that is usually because you feel alone and you have real reason to fear how people will respond to you.
      Death is commonly perceived as terrifying. I would not want to die now because then I would miss out on a lot. But I don’t want to live forever either. In any way. I am fine with having 80-100 years on this planet and see no reason to want more time to do…anything.
      I’m unafraid of the idea of nothingness after death. After all, there was nothingness before I was born and that never scared me. But I am not depressed. I get up in the morning because there is a lot that I have not yet done. I am just over a year away from getting my degree. I am equally close to marriage. I haven’t yet travelled the world or had kids. I am looking forward to both of those experiences. The world is an amazing place, there are so many opportunities for those of us lucky enough to have been born in the west. Don’t you find that all the opportunities that we have been afforded is enough to get up in the morning? Isn’t your family enough? What about your friends?
      There are many arguments offered against Pascal’s Wager. If you don’t find the convincing then you don’t find them convincing. But don’t expect an atheist to be convinced by Pascal’s Wager. Instead of offering a counter-argument I will offer the Atheist’s Wager: 1. Does God punish people who act morally, but don’t believe? 2. If yes, God’s an asshole. 3. If no, not believing in a god won’t keep you from a glorious afterlife. 4. There are lots of religions out there, though, each with gods that would punish you for believing in the wrong god. 5. Ergo, don’t believe in any god.
      I will stick around. It is always interesting to discuss these things with different people. Thank you for being a gracious host.

      Like

  5. The primary response to Pascal is the question of whether an omniscient and punitive god would accept feigned faith rather than genuine belief, which is oh so very doubtful.

    If you look into it, knowing that we will die and stay that way is the source of relief to a lot of atheists. It is good to know that nothing will trouble us again, or that we won’t have to spend eternity with a guy who is depicted as kind of a bastard. Of course, who knows, maybe there is a real god, and instead of rewarding blind faith, he prefers to save those who spent their lives hunting for the truth. In that case, I do hope eternity isn’t as boring as it sounds.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s