General Question

Hobbes's avatar

Has anyone here ever convinced someone else that God does or does not exist?

Asked by Hobbes (7368points) September 12th, 2008

I’m an Atheist, and I have discussions about religion pretty often. In some of them I’ve made some headway, but I’ve never out and out de-converted someone.

For the record, I’d rather not have a debate about whether attempting to convert someone is right, just whether it’s possible.

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92 Answers

wildflower's avatar

I’ve never set out to convince anyone one way or the other – at best I want them to understand my point of view. It’s not my place to decide what they should believe. Maybe I’ve contributed to someone taking on a similar view to mine, I really don’t know.

JackAdams's avatar

I heard how some dude “convinced” his atheist son that Gawd was real.

He grabbed the kid and started beating him, and suggested that he pray to Gawd for the beating to stop.

When the kid did that, the beating stopped, and the father said, “See? He HEARD YOU, and the beating stopped. If He didn’t exist, you’d still be screaming, right now!”

His logic was amazing…

GAMBIT's avatar

Yes but it is done best by example. I would say someone like Mother Theresa has helped people be aware of a higher power or some figure like Ghandi. . I did hear one story a friend of mine told me of a man she knew who actually got saved by watching one of those TV Evangelist.

I think it is very hard to covert anyone through arguments. The purpose of most arguments is to win. Atheist have just as much ammunition as Christians and Christians who feel that they should “save the heathens” are usually rude obnoxious and disrespectful.

I think we must realize that tolerance is needed and each person must walk his own road in life. If we walk straight maybe someone will inquire to how we got that way or they may want to copy in our footsteps.

My favorite Ghandi quote is “I love your Christ it is you Christians I have trouble with”

jasonjackson's avatar

I have, but not in a single conversation.

Over the course of maybe a year or so, a religious coworker/friend and I would have conversations about religion. Most of them were casual, although a couple got heated (he got mad when I was less respectful of his opinions than he felt I should be). And over time his opinions slowly changed. He calls himself agnostic now.

That’s the only one.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Yes, but only people that were on the fence. Your never going to get a die hard of either side to flip.

JackAdams's avatar

The one question that atheists can never answer, when pressed, is, “Then, HOW did THE FIRST HUMANS get here?”

They typically respond with, “How the Hell should I know?” or they look at their watch and say, “Excuse me, but I have an appointment I can’t afford to miss.”

Les's avatar

I’m with wildflower on this one. Why would anyone want to convince someone of something one way or the other? It seems very inconsiderate of that person’s core values and beliefs to tell him that he is wrong and needs to believe what you believe.

TheHaight's avatar

I would never convince anyone that God exists. It’s my belief, and I’m happy I believe what I do and respect others beliefs. I’m sick of all this hate between religions. I wish we all could just get along. I will never convert but thankfully through fluther I have learned so much good about atheism and have a few fluther friends to thank.

nikipedia's avatar

@JackAdams: I would tackle that one but out of respect for Hobbes, I’m keeping it out of this thread.

@Hobbes: I personally have not, but I met a guy who was very active in a San Francisco Atheists organization who told me he had been raised Southern Baptist, was very hardcore and extreme about it, and changed his beliefs over time based on conversations he had with his college girlfriend. He is a really interesting guy and is publishing a two-volume book that attempts to answer the question of whether Jesus actually existed or not. (I have not been permitted to read it yet, but he said he ultimately comes down on the side of “not really”.)

Les's avatar

Edit: Sorry. I never actual finished reading your entire question. Shame on me. Well, that’s what you get at 7 in the morning. Sorry about that.

allengreen's avatar

Idealogues could not be convinced that the earth was round, so I would say not

bodyhead's avatar

Reality has convinced people. I’ve never taken credit but I have had a hand in it.

Bri_L's avatar

I have never tried.

The thing is you would have to determine and agree on the concept of god whose existence is to be determined.

I would argue differently for a god that stems from the earth versus my god (I am christian).

Very interesting question.

Nimis's avatar

Hard to convince someone of something I’m not sure of myself.

jdegrazia's avatar

Richard Dawkins takes a pretty fascinating stab at convincing people to consider atheism in his first TED Talk.

The most thought provoking moment in that talk, to me, is Dawkins’ reminder that while most scientists are atheists and agnostics, it’s unlikely that any politician could get elected to high office unless he or she in some way flaunted his or her religious beliefs.

gooch's avatar

No religion is personal for me unless someone ask a question about my faith. I don’t try to convert others but I hate it when people attack my faith in God. Let me believe as I wish with out having to defend myself.

augustlan's avatar

Belief in God is usually a “closed system” of belief or a circular one, in which for every “fact” an atheist would present, there is always a ready answer: “Because God made it that way.” It’s pretty hard to convince someone otherwise.

benseven's avatar

This question is interesting, because it assumes that someone could be permanently swayed by being ‘convinced’ of the existence of God, or not, rather than it being some kind of gradual journey away from faith to no longer believing in God, or vice versa. I don’t think all the logic nor all the faith in the world could ‘convince’ someone in the way that its being suggested in the question.

jdegrazia's avatar

@benseven I’m with you on the gradual journey. Little epiphany after little epiphany. Bouncing back and forth. Confidence. Doubt. Lots of uncertainty. And, maybe, after a while, we settle into beliefs in which we’re reasonably confident (but beliefs we can, if we’re open minded enough, abandon if the right pieces of new information come along).

VoodooLogic's avatar

Yes it is possible. However, it makes for a challenging endeavor when people who view the exact same life events from completely different perspectives. Most people who are equipped to talk about such things are probably heavily fortified in their invested belief system.

Don’t forget – faith has no rationalization… that’s the cage you want to rattle.

drhat77's avatar

Beliefs are ALWAYS emotive. attepmting to discuss beliefs into or out of someone is impossible. that’s what brainwashing is for.

I think the larger discussion is why do we feel the need to impress our beliefs on others? I beleive in God, and I beleive in a “religous lifestyle”, but I also believe in free-will, and not try to “convince” people of my beliefs, because it is a futile endeavor.

Hobbes's avatar

@drhat – not necessarily. Our beliefs are not formed in a vacuum, for one thing. We gain them through social negotiation, interpretation and discussion. Secondly, the emotional aspect of many beliefs does not mean that discussion is utterly futile. Thirdly – I think we feel a need to make sure that others have right beliefs because it does actually matter whether something is true or false.

drhat77's avatar

hobbes—oh NO! the RIGHT beliefs? yikes! who gets to decide what the right beliefs are? You need some serious PR management, friend.

drhat77's avatar

oh yes, we do get our beleifs through social interactions, but most of our beliefs are set at pivotal parts in our growth and developement, and not through organized discussion, but repeated indoctrination (i need a better synonym, i know – talk about PR management).

Hobbes's avatar

@drhat77 – I’m sorry, I wasn’t clear. When I say “The Right Beliefs” what I mean is “Correct belief”. I do not refer to subjective matters where there is more leeway in terms of right and wrong (politics, ethics, culture, etc.), but to objective truths (like the seaworthiness of a boat, or the workings of evolution, or existence/non-existence of a being or object).

While I agree with you to a point – the basics of our world-views are pretty set after a while, that’s not to say that one’s opinion can never change. Even granting that we gain childhood beliefs through indoctrination (which is highly debatable), it seems to me that beliefs gained later are formed through discussion and thought.

drhat77's avatar

the only way to prove the sea-worthiness of a boat is if it never sinks, and that can’t be done before a trip (which is when it is needed), the workings of evolution i agree are highly probable but very difficult to prove definatavely, and teh “existance” of a being cannot be proven when there is no solid definition of existance. Right beliefs, correct beliefs, potAYto, poTAHto, toMAYto, toMAHto,

lets call the whole thing off

Hobbes's avatar

Concerning seaworthiness – it is pretty easy to tell if a boat is not seaworthy before it leaves port (Faulty mechanics, holes in the hull, etc). You can be correct or incorrect about the seaworthiness of a ship.

Again, while no scientific theory can be “proved” 100%, the gigantic pile of evidence and the complete lack of any other plausible theory means that our ideas about evolution are as close to correct as anyone could reasonably come. Furthermore, even if we’re wrong about evolution, it still matters that we’re wrong. If evolution were proved wrong, it would be an objective matter of correctness and incorrectness.

I think the question of whether something exists is a lot simpler than your post-modernist waffling would make it seem. A rock exists or does not exist. A being exists or does not exist. I’m not talking about whether it “exists in the mind”, or “exists metaphorically” – God is either real or imaginary, and I see no reasonable middle ground.

I hope you don’t see me as some cold person who only cares about objective fact. I recognize that things are more fluid in some areas (literature, emotion, art, etc.), but I think the question of God’s existence/non-existence is really very black and white.

drhat77's avatar

If God is the god of the Judeo-christian tradition, than it does not exist like a rock exists, and yes that existance is a binary state, but uncertainty comes in our inability to agree on reality or even perceive beyond a narrow band of it. I am assuming you are an atheist (I’m sorry if I’m wrong), but with your line of reasoning you are single-handedly calling a VERY LARGE PROPORTION of the world population “clearly” wrong, and based on what? And if it is that “clear”, why are so many people wrong?
by the way, I do not KNOW that God exists. It is NOT clear to me.

grayreason's avatar

Ive convinced multiple people that their belief in a deity was flawed. Though even more people have kindly asked me to stop discussing their religion.

As far as convincing an individual goes you have to find the faults in their personal belief system and then work on widening them, though personally i believe that this method should only be done on the educated not illiterate children in third world countries.

Poser's avatar

Perhaps you can, but why would you want to?

I can see why a Christian might wish to change an atheist’s beliefs. While there are certainly those who may have, at worst, ulterior motives, and at best, questionable methods, I do know Christians who truly believe that their ultimate purpose in life is to bring others to the knowledge of Christ. Knowing that it is the greatest commission He gave to his followers, it’s understandable that some Christians take it to extremes, and are unpleasant in their attempts to convert others.

What I can’t understand is why an atheist would ever care to un-convert a Christian (or any religious person). If nothing happens after we shuffle off this mortal coil, then why would anyone want to strip another human being of something that brings hope, joy and meaning to the short time they spend here? Who is it harming?

Hobbes's avatar

Belief always informs action, whether we like it or not. Our beliefs influence our thought patterns, and though it may not have an immediate effect, a belief not based on good reasoning is like a time bomb waiting to go off. Consider your man who believes in the afterlife – it may bring him comfort in the present, and he may be happy. But say he loses his business, say his wife deserts him, and he contemplates suicide. Because he believes in an afterlife (let’s say for the sake of argument that he also doesn’t believe the “suicides don’t get to heaven” thing), he kills himself to escape this mortal coil and into what he believes will be a better place.

Furthermore, you’re looking at beliefs as purely individual. In regarding beliefs as a purely personal choice and regarding the consequences of that beliefs only in terms of the effect they have on the believer, you ignore the social aspect of belief. An incorrect belief may bring the believer happiness, but chances are it will have negative consequences for others down the line. At the very least, it will effect his dealings with society, and I would rather have people base their interactions and choices on reality rather than fantasy.

augustlan's avatar

@Poser: I see your line of thought, there, and for the most part agree with it. However, sometimes people use religion for purposes other than hope, joy and meaning for themselves. When religious people use their religion as justification for intolerance, discrimination, and hate then it has crossed a line. Since many people would say that the beliefs that led you to such positions are based an falsehoods, I can see why they’d want to convince you of that. *edit: I’m using “you” in the general sense, not you specifically.

drhat77's avatar

Hobbes, i think more problems have come from societies that have dictated what correct beliefs are.

Hobbes's avatar

@drhat – I’m not arguing for a dictatorial imposition on people, especially in matters of more subjectivity. I’m saying that if everybody commonly accepted the correct belief about the existence of God (I don’t believe he exists, but if I’ incorrect, I’d like to know that I am), just as everyone commonly accepts that the American Revolution happened, that would be the best situation.

drhat77's avatar

i’m really sorry my beliefs are invalid in your eyes, and they make me a defecient person. how about from now on, i run all my beliefs by you, just to make sure they’re okay.

nikipedia's avatar

@drhat77: Running all of your thoughts past @Hobbes seems a little excessive, but maybe you could start with spell check.

…seriously though, wtf? The kid has offered a totally legitimate argument that you respond to with a snide and unhelpful response? Really? Is that the best you can do?

Hobbes's avatar

@drhat – I may think your beliefs are invalid, but that isn’t the point, and I don’t want you to take it as a personal attack on you. I’m saying that if they are invalid, it would be better to examine and correct them than to let them stew, and that one should (ideally) constantly inspect one’s beliefs to verify that they are indeed valid – you should check all your beliefs, you don’t need me to do it for you.

Poser's avatar

@Hobbes—Sorry, but I just don’t buy your argument. Are you telling me that when forming your own personal beliefs, you considered how your innermost thoughts, feelings and ideas would impact society “down the line”? First of all, I doubt that your or my beliefs will have much impact on anyone except those with whom we have very lengthy and intimate influence upon (such as our children). Even if they do, who is harmed by believing or not believing something that is ultimately unverifiable?

@Augustine—Completely valid point, though in my experience, those aren’t the people that atheists typically attempt to de-convert.

drhat77's avatar

@nikipedia – yeah, that was a bit much, wasn’t it. And spell check is a good idea. I’m just trying to get hobbes to tell me who gets to decide what correct beliefs are.

@Hobbes – i maintain that beliefs are emotive – we latch on to them because they fill a need – my theism and your atheism included. This is why i never try to convince people that their beliefs need to be changed.

drhat77's avatar

Hobbes – yes I agree beliefs, especially held strongly by large populations can be very dangerous. But a list of correct beliefs are – guess what – MORE BELIEFS. And I would like to know why your list is superior to mine.

Hobbes's avatar

@Poser – I’m saying that I do my best to be careful when forming beliefs because I know that what I believe will have impact on myself and those around me.

@drhat – I feel like I’m butting my head up against a brick wall. I’ve said it multiple times – some beliefs are subjective. In those cases “correct” and “incorrect” are a matter of opinion and decision. Some beliefs are objective. In those cases a belief is inherently “correct” or “incorrect”. For example, the existence of this computer is not a matter of “who decides what’s correct” – the computer exists or it doesn’t. Simple as that.

Perhaps some beliefs are adopted because they fill an emotional need. But with regard to objective beliefs, their emotional resonance has no bearing on their correctness.

Note that I’m not arguing against belief in general. I believe that death is something to be avoided, for example. I am arguing against beliefs held without good reason. I have thought about my avoidance of death, and hold it for what I think are good reasons. I do not think “faith” or “because it makes me feel warm and fuzzy” qualify as good reason for belief in a God.

Poser's avatar

Isn’t it a little arrogant of you to assume that because someone holds different beliefs than you, that they came to them through a less-rigorous process than yourself?

drhat77's avatar

If someone is arguing you with you about the existance of a computer that is right in front of both your eyes, then they’re just spoiling for a fight. But the reason people argue about the existance of God is because it is not quite as clear cut as you make it out. The premise of God is a being that cannot be directly expereince or measured, which is fundementaly a non-falsifiable hypothesis, and thus the worst kind, scientifically. Even so, God remains an important part in the lives of many, many, people, and as such, has at the very least the same existance as Money, which also technically does not exist.

And just because a reason is emotive, does not mean it is a bad one. Humans function on many levels, and we have emotional needs, too. To ignore a reason for doing something just because it is emotive is not healthy.

bodyhead's avatar

First off, someone taught you faith. If they hadn’t, you wouldn’t be religious. The God I would worship would be so powerful that you wouldn’t need to hear from someone else that he exists.

I think Hobbes main point earlier up there that some of you missed is this:

If you were wrong about your religion and your god, would you want to know?

If yes, welcome to the world of questioning and intelligent thought. Lets discuss how he might or might not be real. Convince me. The burden of proof is not on the skeptic. It’s on you.

If no, you are no better then an addict, using God as a crutch to get through the day. You don’t really care if he’s real and quite possibly think that he isn’t deep down.

There are always ramifications of a belief system. I don’t see any atheists pushing to have creationism taught in schools. I don’t see any atheists pushing to spend taxpayer money to put ten commandments statues in front of the courthouse. There are plenty of places that religious people waste taxpayer time and money for state sponsored religious nonsense.

There’s also the case of the kid who wore the ‘god hates fags’ shirt to school. His parents took the school to court. Turns out hate speech isn’t protected under freedom of speech but hate speech is protected under the religious freedoms act. They say it’s not hate. It’s their belief system. These people are religious just like you. You’re grouped together in census statistics.

Because of your religion, are you against the right to choose? Are you against gay marriage? There are very real ways that your religion effects other people.

@drhatt77 Money does exist. I think you’re alluding to the value of money. All paper money use to be backed up by gold bars in fort knox. It isn’t now because the country is broke and the Federal Reserve is actually a private entity despite the name.

drhat77's avatar

@bodyhead i’m not trying to prove or convince anyone of anything. All I’m pressing Hobbes for is who gets to decide which beliefs are correct. Because as you state, there are ramifications to a belief system, so I want to know who gets to decide which ones they are.

bodyhead's avatar

Hobbes is saying that you have to decide for yourself. But you also have to question yourself and examine your own beliefs to see if you think they are true inside and out.

It’s clearly stated from his messages that the burden of choosing which beliefs are ‘correct’ is on the individual.

His main message is, “If your belief was incorrect, would you want to know?” i.e. If god doesn’t exist, would you want to know that?

drhat77's avatar

bodyhead – as I stare at you crafting a response, i find myself overwhelmed with the desire to know what your avatar represents… can’t make heads or tails of it

bodyhead's avatar

It’s a warning sign from an airport about not hitting babies in strollers with briefcases. I thought it was hilarious.

drhat77's avatar

bodyhead – earlier Hobbes stated that society would be better off if we stopped believing in God, and I guess it seemed to me he was dictating a societal solution, but I guess looking at it another way he was just positing a fanciful “what if”

anyhoop, to answer your summation, you’ll see from my posts that I have taken the coward’s way out of this dicussion in stating my beliefs are emotive, which seems to remove from me the burden of intellectual investigation. But rest assured, I use that intellectual investigation to see if my ACTIONS, especially ones that effect other people, will cause the least harm and the most gain for all in my sphere of activity. Hobbes makes a good point that beliefs underlie action, and I guess if beliefs are wrong then wrong actions will indubitably result, but I think challenging a belief as wrong, even on a personal level, will not rid you of the belief, but instead you’ll engage in fruitless effort to “prove to yourself” that you no longer believe the wrong way.

If this is too stream-of-conciousness just ignore. Holy crap I’m a windbag.

bodyhead's avatar

Re-reading through his posts, it does look like he’s taking a pretty hard nosed line against faith.

As a disclaimer, I’m a non-believer and I think very much along the same lines with Hobbes on this issue.

I think that this would be better through analogy. If everyone else believed in an invisible potato monster that liked to dance and sing, would you? Probably not. You would think that group of people is stupid and gullible. If you’ll believe in the singing potato monster, what else will you believe in with no proof? If you can understand this, you’ll understand better why some people think society would be better with no God.

Without God, there would be no suicide bombers. There would be no one going on the tv to say the reason for the hurricane is ‘the homosexuals’. There would be no ‘god hates fags’. There would be no holy war. There would be no crusades. There would be no religious prejudice. That really doesn’t sound like a bad place to me.

It also seems like he’s saying that if you examine your beliefs enough, you will come to the same conclusion as we have. I’ve got to throw my full support behind this one. Read the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and tell me your faith isn’t shook by valid logical argument. I’ll be shocked.

Poser's avatar

@bodyhead—You claim the burden of proof is not on the skeptic. While this may be true in a scientific debate, the question wasn’t speaking of such forums. The question asks about changing one’s personal beliefs. Surely, in the debate of what to teach in classrooms, an abundance of evidence ought to exist (though personally, I don’t see that teaching either creationism or big bang to middle-schoolers is necessary), but the question wasn’t addressing such an issue.

In other words, the burden of proof is on no one when it comes to the existence of God. You can argue all you want against His existence, just as I can argue the opposite. But ultimately, I’m going to come to my conclusions just as you will come to yours. There is no proof to be had. It’s all a question of faith, as science can neither prove nor disprove God’s existence; nor can religion.

Therefore, the question—would you want to know if you were wrong about God—is moot. It doesn’t matter what I’d want, as it’s impossible to “know.” To answer “no” is not equivalent to addiction. Since it’s not possible to be proven wrong there is no harm in believing something that, statistically, makes one happier, regardless of its objective reality (actually, when it comes to the God question, there is no knowable objective reality). To compare one’s faith with a harmful drug addiction is insulting to billions of human beings.

Without faith, there’d be far, far fewer charities helping out those who are less fortunate. It’s easy to point to all of the bad things that a minority of followers of religions have done and condemn religion entirely. There’s a word for that sort of thing in the secular world. It’s called bigotry. I could just as easily claim that without governments there would be no war. Does that mean all government is bad (leaving my personal beliefs on the inherent evils of government out of the argument)? How about guns? Without them, no one would have ever been shot. Does that mean that guns are inherently evil? No—they’re just tools that some evil people have used to commit evil. Religious people are still people—just as capable of evil as anyone else. Even atheists.

bodyhead's avatar

Science cannot disprove any imaginary friends, true. But that doesn’t make them real.

Just to clarify, I was saying that if you want to cling to a belief with no regard for what’s real or true then you are using that belief as a crutch. It doesn’t matter if it’s about religion or not. If you believe that your father isn’t a serial killer (and he really is and there’s abundant evidence to prove it), then you are using that belief as a crutch in your relationship. In this statement, I wasn’t speaking bad about faith.

The point isn’t moot. Would you want to know if there was no God? I think it’s a valid question. If you’re saying it doesn’t matter if he exists or not, it sounds like you aren’t very firm in your belief. I would want to know.

On your ‘statistics’, just because one British scientist thinks that religion makes people happier, doesn’t make it true. How did they measure that. How happy are you on a scale from one to five? I would read the article that is described by the 2003 article that you linked to but there is no link to the actual research. An article about another article doesn’t exactly prove your point.

I never compared faith with drug addiction. I compared willful ignorance to drug addiction. I stand by that.

In your last paragraph you are guilty of the falsities and bigotry that you accuse me of. It might shock you to find out that I’ve collected clothes for the homeless and people trying to get back on their feet, several times the past year. But wait, that doesn’t make sense. Why would I do that if I don’t believe in God? I help people because you don’t have to be religious to be moral. I’ve given to charity a bunch of times. I know your head might be exploding but I’m a godless heathen that likes to help others. Faith and belief in god has absolutely nothing to do with that. If you’re a someone that only does good things to get in the good graces of God, then you aren’t really that good a person. If you have to fear hell to do what is right, in my eyes you are still not a good person (even if you are doing good things).

drhat77's avatar

Your invisible potato monster makes for quite an amusing visual, i have to say! The difference between that and God is that people create the reality they want, at least in their heads, and then make rules which describe that reality. This is true for theism, atheism, strict scientific skepticism. The way the human mind works is that it has to relate to reality through established rules, otherwise it cannot organize stimuli properly. The rules one person has is not necessisarily better from the rules another has. Because a large body of people has chosen to construct their reality based on a concept of God makes God as least as true as any other collective unconcious entity. Rigid skepticism is an alternative rule-set to organize incoming stimuli through, and I am not saying it is better or worse. It just has different pluses and minuses, such as a common language (measurement) to describe all findings.

But one of the many reasons I do not argue beliefs with people is because it is not only tricky to have someone change the entire way their brain organizes “the outside world”, but because I really don’t think my way (theism, for example) is objectively better.

And to answer everyone’s question, I would probably not want to change my beliefs, due to immense emotional inertia, but if they changed, then obviously i would not care.

Poser's avatar

By using the phrase “ignorance,” (willful or otherwise), you imply that there is proof (even evidence) of the existence or non-existence of God. But this is evidence of your bias. Since you don’t believe in God, anyone who does, and refuses to acknowledge your point of view must be ignorant. But my refusal isn’t ignorant. Ignorance implies knowable facts. Your beliefs aren’t facts any more than mine are.

My refusal to address your question isn’t willful ignorance, it’s willful acknowledgment that the question doesn’t matter because it ultimately can’t be answered. If I was faced with proof—even evidence—of God’s non-existence, I’d be forced to alter my beliefs. It’s a question designed to get me to test my faith, by someone who assumes that I’ve never done so, or would never do so without their intervention.

I’m not shocked that you donate your time to charity. I never claimed that only religious people do so. I was merely pointing out that religion has benefited society far more than it has harmed society. Your assumption that religious people only offer their charity out of fear of hell, or hope of heaven is also naive. But even if this were true, who are we to judge the motives of another person? Are murders committed in the name of God somehow worse than those committed in the name of money, or anger, or jealousy? I personally don’t care how someone feels or believes. I care how people act.

drhat77's avatar

gentelmen, i fear fisticuffs is the only possible outcome of this continued discussion

bodyhead's avatar

I was only using the comparison of willful ignorance within the confines of the following analogy:

If you were wrong about your religion and your god, would you want to know?

If yes, welcome to the world of questioning and intelligent thought. Lets discuss how he might or might not be real. Convince me. The burden of proof is not on the skeptic. It’s on you.

If no, you are no better then an addict, using God as a crutch to get through the day. You don’t really care if he’s real and quite possibly think that he isn’t deep down.

If you do not want to know something then you are willfully ignorant by definition of those words. You may want to reread my response. I think we just had a small miscommunication there.

However, I do believe my beliefs to be the ‘true’ and ‘real’ beliefs. That’s why I believe them. I’m assuming you believe your beliefs to be true and real too. I wouldn’t call you ignorant because of that. That would be incredibly rude. I believe it’s important to respect and tolerate other peoples religious beliefs.

You believe in God because someone told you to, and eventually you did. I don’t believe in God because someone told me to, and I eventually didn’t. It’s that simple really. You didn’t ‘feel’ the love of Christ until someone told you it was there.

Hey and just for the record I wasn’t trying to say God is a singing potato monster (even thought it would be awesome). I was just pointing out how your religion might seem ridiculous to an intelligent person of the same age who has never been exposed to your religion.

Poser's avatar

I never said I didn’t want to know whether God was real. I said that since I can’t know, the question doesn’t matter. If you held a box that contained proof of God’s existence (or lack thereof), and asked me if I wanted to look inside, of course I would. Your question, however, is more akin to saying that somewhere, there might be a box that contains proof of God’s non-existence. I say, great! When you have that box, I’ll look inside. Until then, I’ll stick to the beliefs I’ve formed (and am still forming) from walking my road.

I respect your right to believe as you do, and I appreciate those who do the same for me. While I may have been introduced to my religion because someone told me about it, I don’t believe because someone told me. For what it’s worth, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt the love of Christ, at least not in the way you might imagine. I don’t feel much regarding my religion. But I believe, despite what my senses (all six of them), and my intellect, might tell me. Why do I believe? Because I want to believe. The story of Christ’s love—though I may not feel it—is so compelling that I desperately want it to be true. Believing—even when it’s difficult—makes me a better person.

augustlan's avatar

Very interesting discussion. I applaud you all for keeping it free of fisticuffs!

bodyhead's avatar


I might go a couple rounds of fisticuffs with one particular stumblebum. I’m looking at you drhat!

@Poser, Interesting point of view. I appreciate that you’ve remained civil with me even when you might find the conversation distasteful. An interesting item is that I’m actually extremely jealous of people who believe in God and heaven. I wish that when I buried my friends and family members that I could think they were going to some magic place in the sky instead of going into the ground to rot. As comforting as it might be to believe in God, I just cannot find the evidence to convince myself. I have looked. I have read. I have felt good about different people. I have gone to different churches. I have read the bible. I have volunteered. I have experienced the awe of beautiful countrysides and rock formations.

I just cannot logically accept that there is a God. No explanation of God is without 1000 holes and no explination of his interaction with the universe will ever be repeatable or plausible. (This is just my opinion. I respect that you don’t feel this way)

I wish someone would write a book as good as ‘The God Delusion’ that explains logically why God exists instead of why he doesn’t. However, I doubt very much that this will happen.

Hobbes's avatar

@Poser – I agree with you insofar as you state that we cannot “know” whether or not there is a God. However, I think the reasonable default position is “lacking evidence, do not believe” rather than “lacking evidence, believe whatever you want”. This is my position, and it is one that drhat has continually misrepresented – I am not arguing that my beliefs are inherently the only correct ones and that all contradictory ones are wrong simply by virtue of being contradictory. Nor am I arguing that those who believe they know the truth should force everyone else to accept it. I am arguing that beliefs should be formed for good reasons. Good reasons include arguments formed through conversation, questioning and examination of your beliefs both by yourself and others. A belief should not be formed, I think, simply because there is no evidence either way.

drhat77's avatar

Hobbes, i’m sorry if i misrepresented you, i’m not the most cogent speaker (evidence: this entire thread). My position is that beliefs are not logical, but the axioms upon which we utilize logic. All logic requires axioms, even scientific logic. Science is definately unique, compared to organized religion, in that it has far fewer (by orders of magnitude) axioms that are required to make it work, and when compared side by side in such a way it seems “purer”. But you boil science down, and eventually you will find a starting point, a “prime mover” (i’ve forgotten the actual term for the concept), that science cannot prove, because a logical system cannot prove it’s own axioms – it takes them for granted.

Bottom line: you choose your axioms, and i’ll choose mine

@bodyhead, i’m warning you, if you engage in fisticuffs with me, I’ll be left with no choice but to cry like a little girl

bodyhead's avatar

That’s some interesting conceptual thinking drhat77. I’ve never heard that argument before. I must commend your creativity.

I’m willing to change my mind at any point. The only problem is that my mind is one of those psychotic types that needs evidence to change my belief system.

@poser, I just now noticed and followed the link you posted to the Violent atheists of the 20th century. Even without God, people will do things that are good and evil. The difference is (in the words of Richard Dawkins) “Individual atheists may do evil things but they don’t do evil things in the name of atheism.” Also, there is no information to back up the claims on that blog. Also, I personally have a problem with communism.

Hobbes's avatar

Mmm… That’s a good point, drhat. Scientists do, at the core, base their beliefs on unprovable axioms. However – science does still have a special claim to the truth, I think. The reason for this is that science can make accurate predictions. Quantum theory, for example, can make predictions with an accuracy Richard Feynman compared to predicting the width of the United States to within the breadth of one human hair. This implies that the axioms and reasoning those predictions are based on are in some sense correct.

VoodooLogic's avatar

heh heh, sounds drhat is quoting form Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

drhat77's avatar

voodoo logic – i’ve been meaning to read that book, but i never have

hobbes – yes, scientists are capable of making predictions of things that can be measured, but the premise of God is immeasurable. And for the record, I never make predictions of what God will do. Especially if She looks like Alanis Morrisette.

PS: I might be tempted to make predictions of what He would do if He Looks like Morgan Freeman.

Hobbes's avatar

I think you’re muddying the waters a bit, drhat. The premise of God may be unmeasurable, but my point is that science has a claim to the truth because of its predictive accuracy, and thus its axioms can be seen as justifiably true. In contrast, the axioms that underlie the religious mindset cannot be used to make any useful predictions whatsoever, and in many cases the predictions it implies are flat out wrong. Example: if a religious axiom is that God punishes the wicked through natural disasters (which many people believe), it should follow that a correlation between wickedness of a population and frequency of disasters should exist, yet it does not.

PS – If God was real and talked like Morgan Freeman, I would worship him like a shot ;-)

drhat77's avatar

Hobbes – that’s great – if predictive accuracy is all you want. And it’s great and all that quantum mechanics has predicted the existance of the Higgs boson, and we’ll all rejoice and sing halleluyah when the LHC finally proves it’s existance, but when you get to daily nitty gritty (the stuff most people care about) predicitive ability falls off, mostly because of measurment difficulties and such. So people have an emotional need for something with predictability. They care less about it’s accuracy – they just need it’s availability.

Poser's avatar

I concocted another post to this question, but decided it was too long. Plus I came to some conclusions I thought were interesting, and wanted to save, so I posted it on my blog, if you’re interested. Great discussions here.

augustlan's avatar

Poser, I read it…very, very well said.

lapilofu's avatar

I have not convinced anyone, however I was convinced to move from agnosticism to atheism upon reading Dawkins’s The God Delusion. Though to be fair, I was never very serious about the existence of God to begin with.

Hobbes's avatar

I’m reminded of a quote by Coleridge which speaks to my thoughts on the matter very well: “He who begins by loving Christianity better than Truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or Church better than Christianity, and end loving himself better than all.”

Poser's avatar

Coleridge presupposes that Christianity and Truth are mutually exclusive.

Hobbes's avatar

@ Poser – It’s possible that Coleridge may be presupposing this, but that doesn’t affect the purpose of the quote. He is pointing out the danger of caring about something so much that you don’t care whether it’s true or not.

Poser's avatar

Perhaps, but he also presupposes that Christians care more about their religion than they do the truth, which presupposes that their religion isn’t true.

Hobbes's avatar

Why is it that I always hear Christian apologists using that same argument – “You presuppose our faith isn’t true!”?

And again, you seem to have missed the point, Poser. Coleridge (I think) and I do both presuppose that Christianity is false. But that’s not the point of the quote. Coleridge (I think) is simply saying that if a Christian loves his faith so much that he begins not to question it for fear of its loss, that he begins to look away from doubts, then he loves his religion more than he wants to find the truth, and that is a dangerous position to be in.

drhat77's avatar

man i’m glad they’re not picking on me anymore

Hobbes's avatar

Sorry, drhat – wouldn’t want to leave you out! =] (Seriously, though, am I being to abrasive?)

@drhat – Back in the 90s there was something called “Facilitated Communication”. FC was a method by which autistic people could be allowed to communicate. Here’s how it worked: the autistic or mentally handicapped person would sit before a keyboard, and a “facilitator” would guide their hand toward the keys they wished to press, steadying it to correct for lack of muscle control.

It produced amazing results! Autistic people, formerly thought incapable of communication were writing poems, talking about their feelings, even admitting how grateful they were that communication was now possible for them. The only problem was, it was bogus. The “facilitators” were unconsciously controlling the hand of the “communicator”.

Why did so many people buy it? Because it filled an emotional need. Parents of mentally handicapped children were buying into it because they desperately wanted to believe that their children could communicate with them. Now, you might say “Well, so what? If it made them happy, why not believe it?” and that’s all well and good, until you start to consider the wider consequences of the false belief.

Schools and parents wasted money on it, schools wasted time teaching mentally handicapped children higher level English, people were emotionally devastated when their beliefs were eventually proved wrong by countless scientific tests, and here’s the kicker: several court cases came up in which autistic children had supposedly “told” a facilitator that their families sexually abused them. Lives were destroyed, families shaken or torn apart, all because people believed a falsity that fulfilled their “emotional needs” over the truth.

Poser's avatar

Perhaps that is the point of the Coleridge quote, but I think you are making several assumptions:

1. That the typical Christian hasn’t seriously questioned Christianity.

2. That the reason they haven’t is because they fear they would de-convert themselves.

3. That if they did seriously question their faith, they actually would de-convert themselves.

To be fair, I do believe that many Christians believe the same three things about Atheists. I’d wager there’s about as many on either side of the issue that call themselves one or the other without putting a whole lot of thought into it.

@drhat—I’m used to being picked on.

bodyhead's avatar

Poser, The nature of atheism is questioning and disbelief in everything that cannot be proven. I would prefer to believe in God but that’s just not possible. I constantly wonder what it would be like if God did exist and I probably know the bible better then some so-called Christians. I question my non-faith all the time but I can’t find a better, truer, more logical answer.

If Christians believe that atheists don’t believe in God because said atheist doesn’t seriously question their beliefs, then they are seriously misinformed about what atheism is all about.

The bible isn’t accurate. If miracles are defined as events that that deify the laws of physics because of a divine presence, I can’t agree that this happens. I believe that some things statistically happen less often then other things. It’s not a miracle, it’s math. God doesn’t control the good things unless he also controls the bad things. If that’s what you believe then maybe you believe god is math. God is statistics. God is the real-world physics engine. God does not exist except as a rule set and that makes him not god but a series of rules. In this case, God might not be the most descriptive word for him. Even simple ‘physics’ would be more accurate, but then God becomes, not religious but actually scientific.

I cannot believe in a God that would intervene to help someone win the superbowl when millions of people starve to death on the other side of the planet. I can’t believe in a God that helps movie stars win Oscars while children are molested and raped.

I’ve read different sections of the bible many times. I will probably read through it again. I may read through the Koran just to see what it’s all about. You are way off base if you think that atheists don’t explore opportunities to believe in so-called higher powers and try to understand other people’s faiths.*

*of course there are always exceptions to this rule.
**and just to let you know I appreciated your comment and I haven’t taken offense to anything you’ve said.

Poser's avatar

My last comment was based on some of my own experiences. I’ve known Christians that, when pressed, couldn’t really support their beliefs. But I’ve known people who called themselves atheists that, when pressed, were closer to being agnostic. All I was saying is that Christians haven’t cornered the market on believing something without question.

Speaking of agnostics, did you hear the one about the agnostic dyslexic insomniac? He stayed up all night wondering if there was a dog.

drhat77's avatar

oh, poser, my great-grandma arose from the grave just to tell YOU how old that joke is!

@Hobbes, yes, your anecdote is quite illustrative. Addictive medicaiton also fill a need and have been demonstrated to be destructive, which is why our society tries to remove people from them (and them from people). And while many atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, I think on the balance organized religion is not as destructive as facillitated communication. I think if you want a belief removed, even if it provides people comfort, you need to prove its harm, and I don’t think you can prove an over-all harm from relgion, all comers.

BTW religious sects are broken up if that harm is proven, so there is precedent.

bodyhead's avatar

What’s the harm? Meshing political agendas with organized religion in middle America caused Bush to be legally elected once (arguably twice). Have you been physically harmed? Probably not, but your economy has been plundered and your tax dollars go to trickle in the deficit that grows by leaps and bounds daily. If you want to deceive a mass amount of people all at once, give your message to a handful of preachers.

Our leader, George Bush said in a public statement that God wanted him to go to war with Iraq. People all over America believe him and supported him because of it. I did not and I do not. Turns out he was talking to himself. If he does believe that God was talking to him, he is an extremely dangerous and (possibly schizophrenic) unstable individual. The people who believe he did talk to God are people who can be easily swayed. Do you understand how terrifying this sounds?

I do think that believing in God is dangerous to the individual but I respect your right to believe in him just as I would vote against a helmet law on a motorcycle. If you want to do it, it’s your right. Hopefully belief in your God doesn’t inspire hate towards others. This is where it becomes very damaging to the individual along with society as a whole.

Believing in God may be dangerous but organized religion (taken as a whole group) really takes the cake. Religion is an easy way to manipulate the uneducated and plain stupid people (I mean people with IQs on the very low end of the chart, not you guys obviously). Take a look on the religious channel at the guy in a suit with a Rolex that ‘needs your money’ to see how gullible people are. A large portion of middle America still preach hate against gays and want to teach creationism in schools (not to mention the pro-lifers with no adopted children). They use highly suggestive methods to pass their beliefs on to their children which assures the hate cycle continues. Their constant ‘prayer in schools’ and creationism arguments tie up my tax dollars.

I absolutely think religion is extremely dangerous.

Critter38's avatar

I think I’ve managed to get some people to ask more questions of their beliefs than they previously had, but I don’t think I’ve converted anyone.

Richard Dawkins has a whole section of his webpage from people who discuss how they changed their mind. It might be of interest..

@ Jack Adams. I just noted your comment regarding no Atheist answer to “So how did the first humans get here”.

First, don’t ask an atheist, ask someone with knowledge of the specific topic at hand (eg. evolutionary biologist). Not all atheists are well versed in all aspects of science.

Second, it’s a common fallacy to think that any species has a “first” one.

Imagine a one kilometer long piece of paper. Start at one end with red and gradually mix your paints so at the other end of the canvas the colour is lemon yello. Then try to mark the canvas with the exact point where orange begins and ends, or yellow begins or red ends etc….pretty subject and depends in part on what you define as orange, or in this case what you define as a human.

Same thing with assigning species labels to individuals as you trace their evolutionary ancestry. At a certain point one may be able to say, yes this sekelton has the feature and bone structure of Homo Heidelbergensis whereas this skeleton has the bone structure and features of Homos sapiens.

So there is no first human. Hope that helps answer the question.

soethe6's avatar

Presumably anyone who believes in god was at some point “convinced”.

Hobbes's avatar

Well, many people adopt a certain belief or lack of belief because of their upbringing, rather than through inquiry.

Ron_C's avatar

I know that this is an old question but I would like to answer it.

I may have lead someone to question their belief in god, by accident. I was sitting on a plane when a group of young guys that were in a good mood showed up. One of them sat by me. I mentioned that they seemed to be having a good time and wondered why. I thought they came from a football game or something. It turns out that they were young preachers returning from a seminar. Of course the subject changed to religion and he asked me about mine. I told him from what I read, god was either testing the good or punishing the bad. It seems to me that the best way to live was to keep a low profile. I try not to be too good or too bad, the last thing anyone wants is god’s attention. He said that he never thought about it that way.

He was quiet for the rest of the flight. I don’t have a religion or religious beliefs but I don’t want to take them away from people that need them. I would bet that he left the religious life and now works for a Hedge Fund. I may have ruined his moral life.

Hobbes's avatar

Isn’t the point though that God sees everything, so keeping a low profile doesn’t really work?

Ron_C's avatar

@Hobbes even if there was a god that watched everything, keeping a low profile would mean that he (it) would be less likely to notice you on a regular basis.

Poser's avatar

@Ron_C: I would submit that if your beliefs caused him to question his beliefs, then his beliefs were on shaky ground to begin with. Especially since your beliefs are so…ambiguous?

I don’t mean that to sound offensive. I’m certainly not in any position to judge beliefs.

Ron_C's avatar

@Poser no offense taken. You are correct, my belief are negligible; ambiguous at best. I cannot believe in a god as described by the desert religious. If there was an instigator of the big bang, that instigator was either blown up in the explosion or went on to other things. There is certainly no god that watches our every move and intervenes in our lives, even to the level of determining the outcome of football games.

If I believe in religion it is George Carlin’s version where “god loves you but needs your money” Somehow god created the heavens and earth but he is always short a few bucks.

Hobbes's avatar

Let me just submit my thoughts on the matter. I think that God was the Big Bang, and was before it, and continues now. God is the ongoing process of existence, the sum total of all the energy in the Universe, which has, for the moment, condensed itself into you and I and the other forms of matter we see around us. In this sense, God is omnipotent and omniscient because God is everyone and everything. God does not judge, God is Love, and Love is the realization that you and I are not separate, we are One, we are God.

Ron_C's avatar

@Hobbes you have a very nice belief system and although I don’t agree, this would be a better world if more people believed as you.

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