Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Death

We just found out yesterday that a family friend has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has only months to live. He is one of the few people connected to our family who has no spirituality in his life whatsoever (staunch atheist), and the poor man is terrified of oblivion. I don't understand how atheists face death, either that of loved ones or their own. Do they put off thinking about it until the inevitableness and finalness of death is around the corner? Gordon watched helplessly as his wife died a horrible, agonizing death last year. She, too, thought she was facing oblivion, and died terrified and alone. Their grown children, raised with no spirituality, had no time for their suffering parents. In their words, they "had their own lives to live." (That chilled me to the bone. And don't they realize that their own children will follow this example?)

Contrast this with the other extreme. My step-mother is Jamaican -- Jamaicans are deeply, unshakeably, spiritual. My step-mother has lost a lot of relatives lately, mostly elderly, and most died the same way. Surrounded by loving family, each one of them passed with a smile and a sigh, "I'm going home."

I don't understand how atheists face death.

30 Comments:

Anonymous Robb Allen said...

Actually, as probably one of the only Christian Nihilists in the world, only two thoughts comfort me.

That there is a God and that upon my death my spirit will be with him and that I will be free from the physical constraints of my current brain and that eternity would be wonderful or that there is oblivion and upon my death, I simply cease to exist.

In that regard, death isn't scary. I like to sleep and a dreamless sleep that I never wake from isn't bad.

What sucks from an atheist's perspective isn't death, but life.

I suffer from severe panic attacks which really do a number on your mind. You lose control of it and see something indescribable - a world without reason. My faith in God, shaky as it might be, keeps me alive for I've seen the void and if that is all there is for humans, then there is not only no reason to live, there is no reason to live morally. Those who cut off the heads of children are no different than those who console a child in need.

And that is what I cannot fathom from atheists. How can you derive right and wrong from thin air?

2/14/2007 8:21 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

Christian nihilist, eh? How does that work?

Death doesn't scare me either, it's what immediately preceeds it that bothers me. Or, as Woody Allen once said, I'm not afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens.

I, too, suffer from severe anxiety. I had a panic attack on an airplane last summer, which has prevented me from flying ever since. So I know precisely what you're talking about with the void. But all one has to do to envision a world devoid of morality is to look at Africa. Without God, there is no morality or immorality, there is no right or wrong, and it's all meaningless. Jeffrey Dahmer actually understood this, and claimed that in the absence of God nothing matters. He wasn't crazy, he simply took the idea to its logical conclusion (cf. Martin Bormann, chief architect of the Holocaust, who envisioned a society based on atheism).

Incidentally, with most atheists I have met, fixed morality is the reason they reject God in the first place -- they can't accept a belief system that requires them to reconsider their behavior. (Another common reason for rejecting God is a bad experience with religion in early life.) Logical reasons for rejecting God are usually secondary to the emotional basis. This has been demonstrated to me through personal experience, but it also makes sense. Logically, a person should try their hardest to reason themselves into belief, but so strong is the prejudice against the idea of God that, as with our friend Gordon, they will trade a lifetime of "autonomy" for the torment that comes at the end.

2/14/2007 2:09 PM  
Anonymous Robb Allen said...

Sorry so long in responding.

I teeter on that edge of "Nothing matters". It is my upbringing in the Christian faith that tethers me down from succumbing to the siren call of disavowing myself of all responsibility.

For me, the panic attacks have never gone completely away. Every day of my life and practically every minute is spent concentrating on not having one. The medication makes it easy to do, but it's always there, gnawing at the edge of my mind.

That gnawing feeling is Nihilism. The constant voice of "it doesn't matter if you even take another breath".

My main fear in life is that one day I will simply tire of trying to fight it. As of now, the fight is easy and I pray that over time my brain chemistry gets back on its own and it no longer is a struggle.

So there's your 'splainin.

2/16/2007 8:18 AM  
Anonymous DJ said...

Greetings!

Surprise, surprise, it's DJ from The Smallest Minority.

Now, don't be concerned. I'm not here for argument. I'm here because I think I can shed some insight on how atheists face death. I am an atheist, have been for about 43 years, and I've had good reason to address my own pending death for some time. I doubt that you'll agree with my point of view, but I expect you can understand it.

Death is the fate that awaits us all. We can put it off for a while, but we cannot put it off forever. It does no good to wail and cry, to gnash one's teeth, or tear one's hair, as such just makes miserable what is left of the life we have. It is utterly pointless to be angry about it; I reserve anger for the malicious or careless acts of people, and there is simply no one to be angry at. Life ends, it cannot be avoided, and that is reality.

So, I simply accept that I will die. Not accepting is simply not possible, short of self-delusion, and you know quite well that I'm not into self-delusion.

The question to be answered is, "OK, so you accept that you will die. What will it be like to be dead?" The difficulty is in the concept of "experiencing being dead". The concept is an oxymoron; one CANNOT experience being dead. Even so, it is actually quite easy to know what death will be like.

How so? Well, for about 14 billion years (more or less), I did not exist. Being dead will be precisely the same.

Not yet existing was certainly not a bad experience, was it? There was no pain, no pleasure, no boredom, no thought, there was not even the passage of time. That's what death will be like.

I will not experience being dead any more than I experienced not yet being alive. That is not something to worry about or to fear, is it?

I've had lots of opportunity and reason to think about my own pending death. I'm 54 years old and I've been an insulin-dependant diabetic for the past 21 years. I keep it in very good control, but if it wasn't for modern medicine and engineering, I would have been dead for a long time now. I'm living on the old cliche of "borrowed time" and I enjoy every moment of it.

I've recently had an experience that gave me what I think is a solid preview of both my death and of my being dead. About 19 months ago, I had triple cardiac bypass surgery. Susceptibility to such runs in the family and is magnified by being diabetic. The process resembles going through a train wreck, but I had a textbook recovery and haven't felt this good in decades. I feel great.

But, I digress. The experience was that of being deeply anesthetized. My experience was being wheeled into the operating theatre on a gurney, saying, "Good morning!" to everyone there, and then INSTANTLY being awake in a room on the intensive care ward. By "instantly", I mean I had ZERO experience of existing during that time. From my point of view, in terms of experiencing something during the time I was anesthetized, being dead would have been no different. There was no pain, no pleasure, no boredom, no thought, there was not even the passage of time. The only difference was that the condition wasn't quite permanent. If this experience is a fair comparison to dying and being dead, it certainly isn't anything to fear.

So, I don't fear death, nor do I worry about it, nor am I concerned with what it will be like to be dead. I see no reason to be troubled about it.

We are each stuck with our genes, as we don't get any choice in the matter, and I expect that mine will likely not give me a long life. I have perhaps 20 years more, possibly less, but I can't make any better prediction than that. I live life every day, I'm quite happy and contented with it, and the fact that it won't last forever doesn't concern me. I expect to die in my sleep, and when the end is near, I will go peacefully to sleep each night. Death is our fate, and I expect to meet mine with quiet dignity.

Religion, particularly Christianity, offers the illusion of, "Don't worry, 'cause you won't really be dead after you die. You won't really cease to exist." Such is simply a crutch invented to help people cope with the fear of being dead. I have no need of such illusions.

Now, does the "typical atheist" think the same as I do? Beats me; what is the typical atheist? I caution against thinking that all atheists think the same just as I caution against thinking that all Christians think the same. If you want to know what an atheist thinks or why he thinks what he thinks, try asking. It won't hurt to know, will it?

2/16/2007 7:23 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

I do know what at least a few atheists think, DJ, which is why I wrote this post. Our family friends are/were terrified of dying. They said so. But neither of them gave any thought to it until death was months away.

I'm glad you're not troubled by the prospect of dying, DJ. I'm not troubled by it, either, but that's because I'm fairly certain something comes after it. But don't you think it's rather arrogant to call this an illusion unless you can prove me wrong? :-)

2/16/2007 9:52 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

Robb,

I hope you don't think me presumptuous for commenting on this, but medication only temporarily staves off panic, and ultimately makes it worse later on. I know this from experience -- panic runs in both sides of my family, and the ones who use medication have fared much worse in the long run. To understand why, you should read The Key to the Science of Man or Against Ourselves by D.G. Garan. If I were you, I would find a way to gradually wean myself from the meds and try a behavioral approach. Maybe you could find one of the rare docs who doesn't immediately reach for the prescription pad.

I live through the panic attacks by doing just that -- living through them. Exercising vigorously, scrubbing the house, chopping wood -- whatever it takes to get through the panic. It's hell, but eventually you develop a tolerance. For me, the panic is a natural consequence of two things: an overindulgent lifestyle and a controlling nature. What has helped immensely is cutting back on any kind of stimulation (junk food, television, music, video games, drinking, etc.) I also practice letting go, because intellectually I know that control is only an illusion -- panic comes from having that illusion temporarily ripped away. Living a spartan lifestyle is what makes this easier. And, of course, you should spend as much time with loved ones as possible. I'm no doctor, and in no position to give professional advice. Just telling you what works for me.

2/16/2007 10:12 PM  
Anonymous DJ said...

No, I don't think it's arrogant. I think it's quite rational.

To quote Carl Sagan: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Don't you think it's rather arrogant to declare that something comes after death unless you can prove you're right?

Or do you simply prefer to believe what you prefer to be true?

2/17/2007 7:28 AM  
Blogger carnaby said...

I think it is rather extraordinary that anyone thinks there's no alternative to the idea that existence "just happened" all by itself, with no purpose, no rhyme, nor reason. Then beyond existence of mere matter, energy and all that, you have the evolution of beings who are self aware. That is extremely unimaginable for me.

They should call it "The Big Fluke."

2/17/2007 7:40 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

Yes, they should, Ben. And then try to find meaning in this cosmic accident.

Don't you think it's rather arrogant to declare that something comes after death unless you can prove you're right?

But I don't declare it, DJ. I think it's probably true. I hope it's true. And there are sound, rational reasons for this. But I admit that I could be wrong.

In physics, we know that all of the matter we can see in the universe only makes up 4% of the total stuff out there. Another 26% is a kind of matter we can't see at all, though we can see its effect on visible matter. The remaining 70% is something called the vacuum energy, and we haven't the slightest clue as to its nature. Then we have string theory, which attempts to reconcile the smallest-scale with the largeset-scale -- quantum theory and general relativity -- claiming as many as seven extra unseen dimensions to spacetime. DJ, you're an infinitesimal little being inhabiting a tiny biological speck in an infinite cosmos made of susbstances and dimensions you can't even see. Your lifespan is a blink of an eye. You're the cosmic equivalent of a mayfly, and yet you have the gall to say that you know with absolute certainty the nature of existence? That is arrogance.

Or do you simply prefer to believe what you prefer to be true?

YES!

In the absence of proof either way, of course I'm going to go with whatever beliefs make life more meaningful for me.

The point of my post was this. Since we have no proof about what comes next, why would anyone choose to believe that they will be annihilated? This is what I'm trying to understand. Kevin's position I understand. IIRC, he admits he doesn't know, leans towards nothing after life, but would be pleased if that were not the case. That's a reasonable, if skeptical, position to take. No sane person should want to be destroyed. But when a person who possesses no proof -- and, let's face it, no evidence either (all you have is a lack of evidence) -- claims with certainty that annihilation is his fate, then I wonder if he wants to be destroyed, which, of course, is not sane. So I'm trying to figure out what gives.

2/17/2007 10:12 AM  
Anonymous DJ said...

But I don't declare it, DJ. I think it's probably true. I hope it's true. And there are sound, rational reasons for this. But I admit that I could be wrong.

You said "I'm fairly certain something comes after [dying]". To me, being "fairly certain" that a hypothesis is true means that a preponderance of the evidence supports that hypothesis. Do you have any evidence of life after death? If you do, you could win several Nobel Prizes.

... you're an infinitesimal little being inhabiting a tiny biological speck in an infinite cosmos made of susbstances and dimensions you can't even see. Your lifespan is a blink of an eye. You're the cosmic equivalent of a mayfly, and yet you have the gall to say that you know with absolute certainty the nature of existence? That is arrogance.

And yet I should believe that my species, which was made in the image and likeness of the creator and ruler of the universe, is the apple of his eye and the focal point of his attention? And you speak with a straight face about the arrogance of knowing something with absolute certainty?

Or do you simply prefer to believe what you prefer to be true?

YES!

In the absence of proof either way, of course I'm going to go with whatever beliefs make life more meaningful for me.


Such is the essence of religion. As I stated elsewhere, to believe in something simply because it offends your sensitivies to believe otherwise is the ultimate in self-delusion. At least you admit to it.

Since we have no proof about what comes next, why would anyone choose to believe that they will be annihilated? This is what I'm trying to understand.

Now we come to the meat of it.

It is not that I want to be destroyed, to be annihilated, to cease to exist, any more than any rational, sane person would. I very much enjoy being alive and I intend to continue being alive as long as I can. We are not discussing a choice that we get to make, we are simply discussing what the end result of an inevitable event, namely death, will be.

So I'm trying to figure out what gives.

You greatly puzzle me, Sarah. You are an enigma to me. As I stated elsewhere, I am not an evangelist for atheism, but your approach to this topic puzzles me enormously, and that is why I've pursued this topic with you.

Your chosen profession is, in essence, one of trying to fit a mathematical description to observed phenomena such that the mathematics both explain and predict the phenomena. At its essence lies the scientific method, in which hypotheses are accepted when the evidence supports them and are rejected when the evidence does not support them, and, most importantly, are not judged either way in the utter absense of evidence. And yet you confess, with a capital "YES!", to believing what you prefer to believe because it feels good to you to do so. I really do not understand how you can do that.

You see, I, too, am trying to figure out what gives.

My mind does not work that way. I refuse to believe that something is true simply because doing so feels warm and fuzzy. I require evidence.

Now apply that to the question, "What happens to me when my body dies?"

Absent evidence of life after death, and there isn't any that I'm aware of, and absent any rational explanation of how my conciousness can exist without my functioning body to support it, what is left but to expect that the existence of my conciousness, of me, will cease when my body stops functioning?

And so, finally, how can me not existing after I die be any different from me not existing before I lived?

2/17/2007 8:16 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

Do you have any evidence of life after death?

Yes, I do: seven million people in North America who have had near-death experiences. These people have not communicated with each other, but their accounts are 90% in agreement. Near-death accounts date all the way back to ancient Greece and are mentioned by just about every culture. Here is why I take them seriously. My father specializes in human behavior, and for most of his life has worked with very troubled children and adults. He will tell you that getting people to change their behavior is one of the hardest things to accomplish. Most people fail. People who have had near-death experiences, however, 99% of the time, come back and completely change the direction of their lives immediately. My grandmother had a near-death experience in the hospital, and it changed her. These people deeply believe what they experienced really happened, and they were able to report on things that they shouldn't be able to. Eyewitness reports are enough to get people condemned to death in a court of law, and when you get a person who reports on, for example, the details of an operation they were undergoing and it corresponds 100% to what happened in the operating room, that's at least as powerful.

And yet I should believe that my species, which was made in the image and likeness of the creator and ruler of the universe, is the apple of his eye and the focal point of his attention?

I don't know that we are the focal point of God's attention. I do believe that we were created by an intelligent force, and that we are important to it. Who would not love and bestow attention upon his own creation? I know that you are childless, but have you not noticed how important children are to their parents? It is not a stretch to believe that, if we are the deliberate product of a creative force, we are important to it.

You seem to suffer from what so many Americans suffer from, which is a perfectionism that has overwhelmed many people who have been brought up with lofty values and goals and have been sheltered from much of the truly terrible stuff that is the rule rather than the exception in the world. The U.S. has achieved so much in terms of peace and good will, that people are experiencing something similar to what Gautama (Siddhartha) experienced. You have so many young Americans who have been brought up with combination of high ideals and to some degree a detachment from reality. The story is that Gautama was completely sheltered from reality by his parents, but when he finally was old enough to venture out on his own and saw the horrible things in the world, it shattered him. He renounced family, faith, everything, and basically destroyed his old self. Young Americans, who are brought up in the greatest nation that has ever existed, find out there are imperfections in the world and they can't handle it. The acquire a self-loathing, a hatred of themselves, and of their own species. Read Herman Hesse's Siddhartha to see how this happens. You can spend years being an ascetic flogging yourself and hating everything you were taught, but in the end it doesn't do any good. DJ, you're showing signs of this self-loathing. That indicates a perfectionism, which is as an intellectual and spiritual form of anorexia -- a wasting away of the spirit and the mind.

Humans have risen above animals. We have the concept of universal love, which hasn't triumphed yet, but there are contenders everywhere. By all measures, the human species is improving exponentially. From the Dec 6, 2006 National Post there was an article called "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are" by Allister Heath, which says that things are better than they have ever been. By every measure there is, well-being and quality of life is improving everywhere. Our species is the only one to constantly improve its condition. Ours is the only species that has the capacity to do good, to know right from wrong, to aspire to a better being. From the article: "The acclaimed U.S. economist Inder Goklany demonstrates that on every objective measure of the human condition ... well being and quality of life are improving around the world." For example, "In 1820, 84% of the world's population lived in absolute poverty; today, this is down to about one-fifth." That's tremendous progress. It's not perfect, but your statement about your own species shows the telltale signs of a self-loathing. It may not affect you much consciously as a person, but it does affect how you see your nation, your society, your species.

Such is the essence of religion. As I stated elsewhere, to believe in something simply because it offends your sensitivies to believe otherwise is the ultimate in self-delusion. At least you admit to it.

You think religion is based on wishful thinking, but that is not the essence of religion. Yes, I wish for things. I wish for right and wrong, I wish for purpose, I wish that love is the most powerful force in all of existence, and that the people I love can enjoy an afterlife and not be annihilated -- because the opposite of all that is so awful. But I can wish for those things and still be honest in my pursuit of the truth. Each person needs to know deep in their own heart what they're wishing for. Are they wishing for there to be no God so that no one can condemn their bad behavior? Are they wishing for no right and wrong so they can do whatever they want? Everyone's wishing for something. I am fully aware of the things I'm wishing for, but I'm determined to not let them get in the way of my pursuit of truth. Are you aware of the things you are wishing for? Are you wishing that there is no God? Are you wishing that Christians are wrong so that your prejudice can be vindicated? I've stated to you what it is I'm hoping for. Can you do likewise -- what are you wishing/hoping for? Are you even aware of what that might be?

You say you are confused about how I can be a scientist in pursuit of rational truth and yet believe in God, so I'll let you in on some personal aspects of my belief. I was not raised with faith, and didn't really believe in God until I was 28 years old and well into my studies as a physics student. My conversion was instantaneous, occurring on a beautiful, summer afternoon in San Diego as I was standing outside the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences where I was working as a research intern. Six years later, and four years into my graduate studies, I formally converted to Christianity. There is nothing in science that is incompatible with my faith. If anything, I realized that in all my years of trying to unravel the mysteries of the universe I was really trying to understand one thing -- the mind of God.

One thing that I must, as an astrophysicist, accept is the big bang. Before the big bang there was no space, no time, no matter. In other words, no nature. It all had to come from someplace else. The proper word for this is supernatural -- super means above and outside, while nature means that which is the Universe. Laying aside its most popular connotations, one cannot be an astrophysicist without strongly entertaining the idea that there is a force above and outside of nature, the supernatural. I must believe in the supernatural as a scientist. Many scientists are religious, but few of the ones who aren't seem to understand or care what the big bang means philosophically. The great astrophysicist Geoffrey Burbidge rebels against the big bang precisely because he is atheist. He is terribly wrong about cosmology, and has given up the pursuit of truth in favor of his own beliefs. The big bang represents the best in physics today. The only questions worth asking are whether or not the force behind the big bang is conscious, and, if so, whether it loves us.

DJ, there is evidence all around you if you choose to open your mind to it. I think you probably select reading material that supports your prejudice rather than challenges it. If you truly want to understand my position (and I'm skeptical of this), then I have a reading assignment for you:

The Science of God by Gerald Schroeder
The Mind of God by Paul Davies
The Case for Faith and The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel

Also, to a lesser extent both What's So Great About America by Dinesh D'Souza, which explains how modern science was the natural product of the Christian faith, and the Newton-Bentley letters (here, here, here, and here). Newton was perhaps the greatest scientist who ever lived, and believed deeply in an ordered Universe created by God.

All of the above are short and readable, and even if you never come to change your mind at least you will understand people like me. In fact, I'd be pleased to give you copies of the books as a gift -- send me an email if you're interested. Meanwhile, here is an excerpt from the preface of Davies' book, which will hopefully shed some light on how it is that a scientist can also believe in God:

As a professional scientist I am fully committed to the scientific method of investigating the world. I believe that science is an immensely powerful procedure for helping us to understand the complex universe in which we live. History has shown that its successes are legion, and scarcely a week passes without some new progress being made. The attraction of the scientific method goes beyond its enormous power and scope, however. There is also its uncompromising honesty. Every new discovery, every theory is required to pass rigorous tests of approval by the scientific community before it is accepted. Of course, in practice, scientists do not always follow the textbook strategies. Sometimes the data are muddled and ambiguous. Sometimes influential sicentists sustain dubious theories long after they have been discredited. Occasionally scientists cheat. But these are aberrations. Generally, science leads us in the direction of reliable knowledge.

...

Many practicing scientists are also religious. Following the pubilication of
God and the New Physics, I was astonished to discover how many of my close scientific colleagues practice a conventional religion. In some cases they manage to keep these two aspects of their lives separate, as if science rules six days a week, and religion on Sunday. A few scientists, however make strenuous and sincere efforts to bring their science and their religion into harmony. Usually this entails taking a very liberal view of religious doctrine on the one hand, and on the other hand imbuing the world of physical phenomena with a significance that many of their fellow scientists find unappealing*.

Among those scientists who are not religios in a conventional sense, many confess to a vague feeling that there is "something" beyond the surface reality of daily experience, some meaning behind existence. Even hard-nosed atheists frequently have what has been called a sense of reverence for nature, a fascination and respect for its depth and beauty and subtlety, that is akin to religious awe. Indeed, scientists are very emotional people in these matters. There is no greater misconception about scientists than the widespread belief that they are cold, hard, soulless individuals.

I belong to the group of scientists who do not subscribe to a conventional religion but nevertheless deny that the universe is a purposeless accident. Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact. There must, it seems to me, be a deeper level of explanation. Whether one wishes to call that deeper level "God" is a matter of taste and definition. Furthermore, I have come to the point of view that mind -- i.e. conscious awareness of the world -- is not a meaningless and incidental quirk of nature, but an absolutely fundamental facet of reality. That is not to say that
we are the purpose for which the universe exists. Far from it. I do, however, believe that we human beings are built into the scheme of things in a very basic way.

(Emphasis mine.) Davies is no crackpot. He is a highly-respected theoretical physicist and astrobiologist who has had appointments at London, Cambridge, and Sydney. Schroeder has a similarly impressive background -- he was educated at MIT and remained there for some time as a professor in nuclear physics; he is also an applied theologian.

(*I don't think Davies is aware of the work of Gerald Schroeder. Schroeder takes an ancient, but by no means liberal, interpretation of the Old Testament and reconciles it with modern science. It would be more precise of Davies to say an unliteral view of religious doctrine.)

The reason I argue so strenuously against atheism is because I despise it. It is arrogant, unimaginative, and irrational -- all the things I hate. I find that the vast majority of atheists, the ones whose lives are not ruled by licentiousness, are prejudiced against God because of a bad experience with religion early in life. I know this to be true in your case. Are some people's ideas about God wrong? Of course, but that does not mean that all ideas about God are wrong. What atheism amounts to is a pathetic attempt at finality and absolute knowledge where no such thing is possible. The reasonable person says that they strongly doubt the existence of God and an afterlife. But a person is never justified in any way in saying there is no God.

2/18/2007 11:02 PM  
Anonymous DJ said...

Geez, Sarah, I hope you didn't wear out your keypad.

I'm not going to address everything you wrote, but I'm going to touch on a few items.

First, I did not have a "bad experience with religion early in life". You have misunderstood what I wrote about it earlier. What I had was an "enlightening" experience, a surprisingly happy experience, in which I, as a nine-year-old child, realized for the first time that adults don't know what they claim to know and will make things up and lie to avoid admitting it. It opened my mind to the simple fact that, when an adult told me something that could not possibly be true, there wasn't something wrong with me if I didn't believe it.

Next, I am indeed (or was, actually) a perfectionist in my profession. That's one reason I was able to retire while still young. I am a realist in my personal life. But, self-loathing? No, not even slightly. I am a happy person who loves life, an engineer who improves life, and a satisfied retiree who is proud of his life and his work. I am childless by choice, as I realized long ago that I lack the patience necessary to deal with screaming children or irrational teenagers. I would not wanted to have been a child of mine, and I knew it.

Next, I don't believe there is any evidence of life after death. A "near death experience" is not death, and it is not a substitute for death. The experiences of a brain that has been deprived of oxygen and glucose is not a substitute for an after-death experience. There is ZERO evidence of any kind of life after death.

Next, let's go back to the big bang. I recall your earlier statements about it, too. The argument is to the effect that, "Everything must have a cause, and nothing causes itself, so something other than the universe must have caused the universe, which began at the big bang. It musta been GOD." But, carry the analysis onward. Something must have caused God, and it wasn't God, because nothing causes itself, so the cause of God musta been Super God. And so on, with the cause of Super God being Super Duper God, and so on. The argument reduces to an absurdity. It explains nothing.

To quote Bertrand Russell: "I mean by intellectual integrity the habit of deciding vexed questions in accordance with the evidence, or of leaving them undecided where the evidence is inconclusive." I follow that habit. I do not claim to know how the big bang came to be, but I refuse to believe in a claimed cause simply because doing so feels warm and fuzzy.

Finally, let's look at your final sentences:

The reason I argue so strenuously against atheism is because I despise it. It is arrogant, unimaginative, and irrational ... What atheism amounts to is a pathetic attempt at finality and absolute knowledge where no such thing is possible. The reasonable person says that they strongly doubt the existence of God and an afterlife. But a person is never justified in any way in saying there is no God.

I believe that a person who contends that a god exists, and expounds a dogma in accord with that contention, is obliged to present evidence that it is correct. Such is the essence of rationality. It is not arrogant to refuse to believe something for which there is no evidence.

I contend that you and I are both atheists, except that I believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you don't believe in all those other gods, then you will understand why I don't believe in yours.

I'm done, Sarah. I now understand why you believe what you believe, and I've explained to you why I don't believe what you believe.

I have enjoyed these discussions immensely. I wish you well.

2/19/2007 8:38 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

On the off-chance that you read this, DJ...

I believe that a person who contends that a god exists, and expounds a dogma in accord with that contention, is obliged to present evidence that it is correct. Such is the essence of rationality. It is not arrogant to refuse to believe something for which there is no evidence.

There IS evidence. I listed books that explain this in some detail. You are obliged to read them and refute the evidence before you can say it doesn't exist. But I suspect that you are quite afraid to have your prejudices challenged in any way.

DJ, what really surpises me about you is that you have clung to an idea formed at an age when you could not possibly have had the intellectual capacity and maturity to evaluate it. I can't think of a single idea I had at the age of nine that's still with me. At some point people are supposed to evolve in their thinking.

I contend that you and I are both atheists, except that I believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you don't believe in all those other gods, then you will understand why I don't believe in yours.

I've heard this before many times (Heinlein?) and it's a nonsense statement. Let's try it this way: "I contend that you and I are both anarchists, except that I believe in one fewer form of government than you do. When you understand why you don't believe in all those other forms of government, then you will understand why I don't believe in yours." It's like rejecting all forms of government because you find communism, fascism, and monarchism so contemptible. Statements like these are an attempt to short-circuit debate by inferring that since some ideas about a thing are ridiculous they must therefore all be ridiculous.

Most people in the world believe there is a deeper level to existence. Whether one ascribes this to Jehova or Odin or Allah or Zeus or Brahma doesn't make as much difference as you think. It is the recognition that there exists above nature a conscious force, and in that sense there really is only one god to believe in. I only reject the interpretation.

As for the big bang, the supernatural is the logical extension of this. My dad's 14 year-old students understand this. If you accept the theory, then you MUST accept the supernatural. Objecting on the grounds of "well, then who created God?" may seem reasonable but it's not valid.

2/19/2007 3:08 PM  
Anonymous DJ said...

I read it, Sarah. I'm done, meaning I'm no longer interested.

Again, I'm not an evangelist for atheism. I did not engage in this discussion to try to convert you or to convince you, rather I did it to try to understand why you believe what you believe. You've explained it such that now I think I understand it, where I'm sure I didn't before.

We could go 'round and 'round forever and get nowhere, and I see no point to that. I'm also not into beating my head into a wall.

2/19/2007 6:51 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

DJ, I think you do not understand my beliefs at all.

I am required by my faith to evangelize (up to a point), but I usually do not argue with atheists to convert them so much as to convert observers who may be sitting on the fence. They can see both arguments and decide which one makes more sense to them.

Thanks for the debate.

2/20/2007 6:59 AM  
Anonymous DJ said...

DJ, I think you do not understand my beliefs at all.

Yup, I agree that you think that, but I disagree.

I almost, but not quite, take offense at these statements:

DJ, what really surpises me about you is that you have clung to an idea formed at an age when you could not possibly have had the intellectual capacity and maturity to evaluate it.

I'm not a child, Sarah. I'm 54 years old. I've spent a great deal of serious time on this subject over more than four decades, and what I have written on all these pages is the result of that effort.

I can't think of a single idea I had at the age of nine that's still with me. At some point people are supposed to evolve in their thinking.

I can think of many. Two simple examples: 1) people lie; and, 2) people will believe damned near anything, no matter how ridiculous it is.

You're not the first person I've discussed the subject with, and you likely will not be the last. But, it is obvious that our minds do not work the same. I refuse to let my likes and dislikes of reality influence how I analyze what reality is for the simple reason that reality is what is regardless of whether I like it or not. You do precisely the opposite, and with considerable admitted enthusiasm for the opposite. Therefore our standards of analysis are wildly different and, I think, wildly incompatible. We end up simply writing past each other.

You're quite welcome, and thank you.

2/20/2007 7:33 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

I've spent a great deal of serious time on this subject over more than four decades, and what I have written on all these pages is the result of that effort.

I don't doubt that you've spent a lot of time on this. What I do doubt is that you've given any serious consideration to the best arguments of the other side. You are obligated to do so before you can say there is no evidence. Based on what I have read here, I strongly suspect that you consider only the weakest claims in favor of faith, because those are easy to knock down. I suggested books that present powerful arguments for faith, but you refuse to look at them. This is the reaction of the faithful, not of the intellectually honest in pursuit of truth.

I can think of many. Two simple examples: 1) people lie; and, 2) people will believe damned near anything, no matter how ridiculous it is.

Yes, it is a fact that people lie and will believe all sorts of ridiculous things. However, based on what you told me about your experience, it is not a fact that your mother lied to you or believed something ridiculous. That was the judgement of a nine year-old with a barely-formed intellect and little knowledge of the world. I used to think my parents were cruel and miserly, because I had few toys as a child. They never told me it was because we were so broke. What good would it have done to worry a child about finances? I could have clung to the belief that my parents enjoyed denying me things and fed it until it grew into a bigotry against parenthood -- but at some point I got over the disappointment and realized that my parents did what they did out of love and necessity.

This is what positive atheism amounts to. It's a tantrum against God, because you're deeply disappointed about something he did or didn't do for you. I think you are angry, DJ, because you didn't like the idea of two awful people going to heaven. You wanted them to be held accountable, and you were deeply disappointed by the suggestion that they might not be. When children want to punish their parents because of a disappointment, they say "I hate you" or run away from home -- when adults want to punish God, they deny his existence.

2/20/2007 10:22 AM  
Anonymous DJ said...

I doubt that you can approach this subject except from the point of view of a believer, Sarah. I think you do not understand my point of view because you cannot imagine it anymore. I'm fairly certain that you don't understand how I think, at least on this subject. So, I'll try to explain it.

First, let's look at how you would have me think.

You would have me believe that, without enough evidence to know what reality is, I should believe that reality is what I want it to be. That is your enthusiastically preferred approach. I've heard such before, many times, from many people. To me, that practice is perilously close to insanity. And you think I am irrational?

You would have me believe that I should change what I believe as I get older simply because I get older, regardless of the merits or the logic of what I believe. You would have me believe that I should not believe what I believed when I was young simply because I was young when I believed it. And you think I am irrational?

For example, you would have me believe that evidence of life before death is evidence of life after death. And you think I am irrational?

In particular, you would have me believe that physics shows that something must have created the universe, and it wasn't the universe, indeed it was outside and not part of the universe. I confess that I cannot conceive of the notion of there being something before time began, and of that something being somewhere before space began, such that this something created the universe that then began. Such is literally an incomprehensible concept to me. I don't respond to that allegation seriously because I haven't the foggiest idea how to. And you think I am irrational?

What I find particularly irritating, and horribly condescending, is that you keep telling me what I think, and thought, about my own parents instead of asking me what I think, and thought, about my own parents! Why haven't you just asked, instead of jumping to conclusions, either in print or in your own mind? Such is not a virtue. And you think I am irrational?

Now consider what your method of thinking has led you to believe, if I understand your writings about it correctly.

You claim to have gone all the way to the far end of the spectrum (if you'll pardon the pun) to an acceptance of the dogma of Catholicism. This dogma I find comprehensible, but I also find to be the most complete and utter absurdity that mankind has ever dreamed up. I do not exaggerate. The details of such here are not important, but the central conundrum is: What part of physics tells you that the dogma of Catholicism is correct? Is it quantum mechanics? Relativity? Maxwell's Equations? Or does it just make you feel good to believe it? And you think I am irrational?

Now consider what my method of thinking has led me to believe.

My reason for not believing in gods and the like is because I have no reason to, have no evidence that compels me to, and have no emotional need that drives me to. I came to that conclusion not when I was nine years old, not as a revelation during a short conversation with my mother, but rather, as I explained elsewhere but you apparently don't quite remember, as a result of about two years of reading and study that began about a year after that conversation happened. As I stated before, I had the enormous help of a very good librarian with a very open mind, and I spent my time well. I have read a great deal more since then, none of which has induced me to change my mind on the central issue.

To me, the key to understanding and evaluating religion is the history of the evolution of religious beliefs and dogma. If one approaches such a study from the point of view that the existence of deities must be proven (as I do; extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence), then the history reveals each of the various beliefs to be nothing more than a notion one person dreamed up and convinced others to believe. Such continued for centuries, one preposterous notion after another. They are not credible. They are not believable. They are really, really ridiculous. Given their interacting contradictions and absurdities, deciding that one dogma is "right" is an exercise in futility. The more I have read about such, the more I have come to believe that this is true.

There are more than 300 gods in the Greek pantheon, Sarah, if my memory is correct. There is one god for Jews and Muslims, and one, two, or three, depending on your preference, for Christians. The Hindus add even more, and such is only scratching the surface. NONE of these gods have left the slightest artifact, fossil, footprint, or ANYTHING tangible to give evidence of their existence. The stories of their histories are wildly at odds with what we observe with our own senses of the world and universe about us. To put it humourously, as with extraterrestrials, they have stayed away now that everyone has a camcorder. We have only the stories and the vivid imaginations of long-dead believers to tell us about them. For the Christian world, we have the Bible, which is preposterous in much of its assertions and is riddled with self-contradictions, and we have the writings of those who have sought to explain away those problems.

And finally, in my unhumble opinion, the God of Abraham, Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, and Paul, if the Bible is to be even slightly believed, is not worthy of belief, much less adulation.

So, you see, Sarah, we might as well be speaking different languages. Your notions of what constitutes rational thinking on this issue are so different from mine that there is little common ground between us. I haven't given up in defeat, rather I have given up trying to communicate. I have come to understand enough of how you think to know that we are not communicating.

2/20/2007 7:09 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

So, you see, Sarah, we might as well be speaking different languages.

I think that is true enough, though I will venture to comment again on a few things...

You say that the account of how humans came to believe in god(s) is ridiculous, but you're taking all of this out of context. Humans are limited at each age and in each culture by what they know about their own world. It's not surprising that people who would seem very backwards and ignorant to us conceived of deities in a way that's foreign and even repellant to us. Like you, I don't agree with the details of most accounts of other gods, because they don't jibe with what's currently understood about the world. So I reject those interpretations -- but each at least offers some understanding of what Davies calls a deeper level of explanation. I believe in the god of Abraham, the biblical account of which is not incompatible with what's understood about the world. The history of Abrahamic religions is explained in great detail by Karen Armstrong in A History of God (Armstrong is a former Catholic nun turned atheist).

...you keep telling me what I think, and thought, about my own parents instead of asking me what I think, and thought, about my own parents!

Apologies if I missed the mark here, but some time ago you did describe to me the defining moment of your atheism. Given your comment about lies and ridiculous beliefs, I put two and two together.

What part of physics tells you that the dogma of Catholicism is correct? Is it quantum mechanics? Relativity? Maxwell's Equations? Or does it just make you feel good to believe it?

I'm not Catholic, I'm Protestant (Lutheran). And if you really want to know the answer to that question then read Schroeder's book. As an engineer you are used to working with the center of mass of science, where things are well-known and established (you might almost say dogmatic). For the last seven years I have been on the cutting edge of what's known in science. This isn't to inflate my own importance in the scientific community, but this is where my research places me. I'm on the frontier of what's understood about the universe, and to survive here you must have a very open mind and an imagination. I can't afford to be closed off to ideas in this business.

There isn't any one equation or idea in science that makes me believe in God. I chose God, because I knew it was right to do so. I can accept this belief, because it is compatible with, and supported by, scientific understanding. Science overwhelmingly favors a creator. There is scant evidence supporting the atheistic view of the universe, which either holds that the universe has been here forever or that it is governed by random processes. The big bang alone, if accepted as physical law, makes a supernatural creative force an inescapable fact. I have mentioned several times that there is lots of evidence in favor of God. You keep ignoring this. Why?

2/21/2007 7:19 AM  
Anonymous DJ said...

I'm not Catholic, I'm Protestant (Lutheran).

My apologies for not getting that right. Your comments elsewhere were, I thought, so explicit that asking would be redundant, and apparently I misunderstood completely. Mea culpa.

I chose God, because I knew it was right to do so.

Yup, I thought so.

There is scant evidence supporting the atheistic view of the universe, which either holds that the universe has been here forever or that it is governed by random processes.

No, atheism simply holds that the universe was not created by an intelligent being, i.e. that deities do not exist and never have.

Did something cause the big bang, and if so, what was it? I don't pretend to know, and I refuse to make something up just so I'll have something to believe.

I have mentioned several times that there is lots of evidence in favor of God. You keep ignoring this. Why?

Because your standards of "evidence" and mine are so different that a discussion of such evidence is pointless. I have engaged in such discussions many times with many people over the years, and nothing has ever come of it either way, ever. The discussions themselves were mostly just exercises in misundertanding each other, and they were endless. I simply haven't the desire to try again.

But, you also ignored my question, and I'm really curious. It's a simple question as it involves no debate.

To frame the question carefully, you believe that physics convinces you that a supernatural, intelligent creator of the universe exists. You have decided that said creator is the God of Abraham. But, why did you decide that the dogma of Lutheranism is correct and should be believed?

2/21/2007 9:44 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

No, atheism simply holds that the universe was not created by an intelligent being, i.e. that deities do not exist and never have.

OK. I'm willing to explore this possibility with you. Can you prove it? What is the evidence?

Did something cause the big bang, and if so, what was it? I don't pretend to know, and I refuse to make something up just so I'll have something to believe.

There's that perfectionism creeping in. You don't have to know what exactly something is to know, logically, that it must exist. That is why I said before that the only meaningful questions are: 1) is this something conscious? 2) if so, does it care about us? I don't pretend to know the answers to these questions, but I do know that this something is there.

Because your standards of "evidence" and mine are so different that a discussion of such evidence is pointless.

Oh, please. You have decided this a priori without even discussing what I think the evidence is. This is just a convenient excuse. I don't doubt that you have encountered people who are muddled in their thinking, but to write me off because of this is unfair and dishonest.

But, why did you decide that the dogma of Lutheranism is correct and should be believed?

I initially chose Lutheranism because my husband is Lutheran, but it wouldn't have mattered to me which Protestant church I attended (with the exception of the nutbar sects). I find nothing about Lutheranism incompatible with my own knowledge of the world. Lutherans believe in original sin and that humankind was reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. We believe that you cannot earn your way into heaven, because you are saved by grace alone. We believe that all humans are sinners, i.e. imperfect. How do I know these are all correct and should be believed? I don't know. I think they are likely true (especially that last one) or that they are true in the sense of our limited capacity to understand what might have really happened.

Here is why I believe Christian doctrine. Euclidean geometry is based on several unprovable axioms. The argument for their validity is that you can actually do things with geometry. If the axioms were false, then you would get nonsense when you tried to apply geometry to a problem. The same principle applies to any system of belief. The test of its assumptions is, does it produce anything worthwhile? Where Protestant Christianity is concerned, the answer is a resounding yes. Christianity is responsible for many good things in the world. It provided the fertile ground from which modern democracy and modern science grew. It is responsible for the notion of individual rights, and the ending of the worldwide slavetrade. It was responsible for the industrial revolution, which has lifted billions out of poverty. Are Christians perfect? No. Have Christians behaved terribly in the past? Yes. But no other movement in human history has ever produced as much good as the Christian faith. D'Souza's book, What's So Great About America explains all this better than I could, so if you want to know more then I recommend you read his book. But this is why I believe in Christian doctrine.

By the way, you commented before that I can't understand your position, because I'm a believer. That's not true, because, although I was never a positive atheist, I was not a believer for decades. I didn't even become Christian until last year, and I was a hesitant convert at that. I know what it's like to be skeptical. I just don't understand what it's like to not be able to overcome that skepticism.

2/21/2007 2:10 PM  
Anonymous DJ said...

You have what Carl Sagan called, derisively, a "need to believe", stating, "You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep seated need to believe." Indeed, you admit to having chosen to believe a particular religious doctrine simply because your husband believes it, and that it wouldn't have mattered to you which one you believed. One set of absurdities is as good as another, if you must have one, I suppose.

Sigh.

Carl Sagan was an atheist as well as an astronomer, among other things. I like his take on life and death: "The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides."

I'm quite happy with such a view. I do not have the "need to believe".

We're done, Sarah.

2/22/2007 7:23 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

You have what Carl Sagan called, derisively, a "need to believe", stating, "You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep seated need to believe."

I think this describes you quite well, DJ. I asked you for evidence for your belief, and you refuse to provide it. I think you have a far greater capacity to believe something purely on faith than I do.

Indeed, you admit to having chosen to believe a particular religious doctrine simply because your husband believes it, and that it wouldn't have mattered to you which one you believed.

You totally misread what I wrote. Purposely, I think. I chose a particular flavor of Christianity based on convenience. They all agree on the important stuff -- that God created the world and that Jesus saves.

Carl Sagan was an atheist as well as an astronomer, among other things. I like his take on life and death: "The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. ...

This comment is extremely disingenuous. Yes, the world is filled with love and moral depth -- in some places -- but what does the best job of promoting that love and moral depth? It ain't atheism. You can't even define love and morality without God. It's totally subjective.

... Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides."

Spoken from the point of view of a man who led a very privileged life compared to most other people in the world and throughout history. Do you think people starving to death in the Sudan or getting their arms chopped off in some tribal war are grateful for every magnificent moment? How about some poor outspoken schmuck rotting in a Chinese gulag? Do you suppose he's thinking, "Live for the moment"? It's absurd.

It's fortunate we're done, because I don't really have the time to continue. But I'm very disappointed, DJ. I was willing to consider your evidence for atheism, because, when it comes down to it, I'm only interested in the truth. But this sudden cut-and-run of yours suggests strongly that you have no evidence. You are much more of a believer than I am. At least I occasionally have my doubts.

2/22/2007 1:02 PM  
Anonymous DJ said...

But I'm very disappointed, DJ. I was willing to consider your evidence for atheism, because, when it comes down to it, I'm only interested in the truth. But this sudden cut-and-run of yours suggests strongly that you have no evidence.

I don't present evidence for atheism, I present that there is no evidence for the opposite that convinces me of anything.

Lessee now ...

You admit to enthusiastically believing something without evidence to support that belief because such belief makes you feel good. And you call me irrational for requiring convincing evidence to believe something?

You admit to accepting and following a particular doctrine of belief by default, i.e. simply because your husband accepts and follows it. And you call me arrogant for stating that I believe my beliefs are valid through reason?

You admit that your motive for believing what you believe is to convince what you believe to be your creator to not condemn you, upon your death, to an eternity of excruciating torments of his choice, simply for having the faults you believe that he created you with. And, you believe what constitutes ethical and moral behavior cannot be anything except that which someone else has dreamed up and stamped with the "God Housekeeping Seal of Approval". And you accuse me of acting through self-loathing?

You have painted a picture of yourself that reeks of the "need to believe" and of "any belief will do, so long as it is a belief". And you detest my way of thinking because it is reasoning from evidence to conclusion?

This is why I am not an evangelist for atheism. It involves, in effect, asking people to give up beliefs that they hold through willing self-delusion because those beliefs are comforting. Once that self-delusion is admitted to, notions of evidence become rather moot. Atheism does not offer an alternative set of beliefs, except that reality is what we see it to be, that we are just another species of animate life, and that when we die, our existence ends. Some people just can't handle that.

You are much more of a believer than I am. At least I occasionally have my doubts.

I always have my doubts, Sarah. But I believe in the reality that I see, and I don't believe in the make-believe world of gods.

Goodbye, Sarah. You're a very good person, I believe, but our minds don't work in the same way, and our needs are wildly different.

2/23/2007 7:17 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

I don't present evidence for atheism, I present that there is no evidence for the opposite that convinces me of anything.

Then the strongest statement you can make is that you doubt God's existence. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. However, you have used this to form the basis for your positive statement: "No, atheism simply holds that the universe was not created by an intelligent being, i.e. that deities do not exist and never have."

A positive statement requires proof. You have none. You don't even have any evidence. You are like a man who has been in a cave all of his life and denies the existence of the outside world simply because he has never seen it.

You admit to enthusiastically believing something without evidence...

NO, I did not. Read this carefully: I have lots of evidence. I have said that I am willing to share this evidence with you. You keep finding reasons to ignore this. So convinced I am of the strength of this evidence that I offered to buy you several books that explain it in great detail. I think you are afraid of anything that challenges your worldview. So be it. But you must stop saying that I have no evidence until you have analyzed it and proven it wrong.

... to support that belief because such belief makes you feel good.

No, not because it feels good, but because it gives my life meaning. My beliefs don't actually make me feel good a lot of the time; but they do make me feel like there is purpose.

You admit to accepting and following a particular doctrine of belief by default, i.e. simply because your husband accepts and follows it.

NO, I did not. Read this carefully: I carefully chose Christianity out of all possible beliefs. I deliberated over this conversion for a very long time, and at one point my studies led to me seriously consider Judaism. In the end, I chose Christ for various reasons -- some very rational, which I explained above, and some quite personal. When it came time to choose a church, I chose a particular flavor of Christianity out of expedience. Most of the various Protestant sects differ in things that seem like little more than window dressing to me. Your hair-splitting over this is ludicrous.

You admit that your motive for believing what you believe is to convince what you believe to be your creator to not condemn you, upon your death, to an eternity of excruciating torments of his choice, simply for having the faults you believe that he created you with.

I admitted no such thing. Point out to me where I actually say this. It is a nonsense statement, based on a cartoon version of how Christians think. Some Christians may think this, but it makes no sense. We are offered salvation as a gift. We don't (and can't) do anything to deserve it. The only criterion for receiving this gift is belief -- because you can't accept a gift that you haven't acknowledged exists in the first place. The only condemnation is exile from God, and it is self-inflicted.

And, you believe what constitutes ethical and moral behavior cannot be anything except that which someone else has dreamed up...

Think about what you just said. How does this, in the absence of God, differ from any other basis for morality? If there is no God, then your morality, DJ, was dreamed up, too, and why should it have more credibility than that of, say, Hitler's or Stalin's or Ahmadinejad's?

You have painted a picture of yourself that reeks of the "need to believe" and of "any belief will do, so long as it is a belief".

Of course I have a need to believe. I don't want to be destroyed. I want to survive. And I want there to be purpose and meaning to my life. These are all perfectly rational reasons to believe.

But nowhere have I said that "any belief will do." I said that just about any flavor of Christianity will do. I said that belief of any kind is superior to atheism but that I don't accept all interpretations of a creator. I choose the Judeo-Christian interpretation of a creator, because it is the one for which there is the most evidence, and it is consistent with my own wants and desires -- primarily that universal love is the guiding principle of existence and that all human beings possess inherent individual worth. You only effectively get this from the Judeo-Christian system of belief.

Atheism does not offer an alternative set of beliefs, except that reality is what we see it to be...

Then it is terminally flawed. What happens when you see reality differently than someone else? This is inevitable, because it's all relative, and two scientific laws prove this. The physical law of relativity and the law of relativity of human value reactions say that there is no such thing as an absolute reference frame for anything*. In other words, the human perception of reality is subjective and built into the system.

[* There is one exception to this, and it forms the basis of a very strong argument in favor of the mutual compatibility of science and the biblical account of creation.]

...that we are just another species of animate life, and that when we die, our existence ends.

Wonderful. So we have subjectivity and now this definition constituting the sum total of human existence. Based on this, DJ, give me an argument for what constitutes right and wrong. Tell me why it's wrong for someone to come over to your house, take everything you've got, enslave your wife, and then slaughter you. You're just a piece of animate life, brought into existence by accident, no different than a dog or a toad or a virus, except that you're smarter. This is precisely the kind of understanding that allowed Jeffrey Dahmer to do what he did. He said that in the absence of God, nothing mattered. It is the same exact basis for thinking that Martin Bormann employed when he orchestrated the slaughtering of millions of Jews. Why should it be more wrong to destroy one form of animate life than another?

I always have my doubts...

Do you? Do you ever wonder that you might be wrong and that there might be a God and an afterlife? Based on your comments here, I guess that you don't.

DJ, you are welcome to comment here as long as you like, but under one condition. I'm getting frustrated with your tendency to ignore and twist my words, which makes it very difficult to carry on any kind of meaningful exchange. I don't know whether you do it deliberately or if your anti-religion filter automatically screens out anything I say that doesn't compute with you. Since I can't carry on this conversation indefinitely, and you seem to be the kind of person who needs to have the last word in a debate, you can be the one to end this discussion if you like. But the caveat is this. If you say anything that ignores or twists my words again, I'm going to delete the comment and save the last word for myself.

2/23/2007 1:19 PM  
Anonymous DJ said...

Sarah, I extend my apologies. I've been away for a bit and had some time to think, and it occurs to me that I've shortchanged you in this discussion. You engaged in it in good faith, and I have let you down. I am sorry. I really don't wish to continue it, but you deserve a better explanation than I gave as to why. Well, here's why.

If you'll go back to my original comment, I stated in it that I wasn't here for argument, and I really wasn't. I still am not. You had stated that you simply could not understand how an atheist faces death, and I believed that I could shed some light on that subject, at least from my own point of view. I did so, you responded with questions, and one thing led to another. Despite my intentions, an argument ensued.

I stated that I had pursued this topic with you because I wondered why you believe what you believe, given your profession. You have explained such to my satisfaction, at which point I lost interest in further discussion. What I'm here to tell you now is that said loss of interest was, and is, quite real. But, it's likely not obvious to you why that would be the case.

It is because of the contrast between how you arrive at believing something vs. how I do. The foundation of it I have related to you several times, namely that I refuse to let my evaluation of what I think reality is be influenced by what I like and/or dislike about reality, for the simple reason that reality is what it is regardless of whether or not I like it. My likes or dislikes have no place in any such deliberations. I have no need whatever to believe something to give my life "purpose", as my purpose in life is mine to assign, and I'm happy with that. I believe that all notions of morality are man-made, indeed are often nothing more than a majority vote. Such does not mean that all notions of morality are the same or are equally good or bad, only that they have the same origins, and I am satisfied with that belief.

You would have me prove that my beliefs are true, but you are quite aware that one cannot prove a negative. I believe that gods, demons, ghosts, heavens, hells, and so on are just figments of man's fertile imagination and do not exist. I don't experience any need to give my life "purpose" by believing that they do. But, I cannot prove they don't exist any more than you can prove they do. That is why such discussions continue. I've been presented with what people claim to be evidence many times over many years, but I find none of it convincing that anyone knows anything real about any deity.

The problem here is, and I am sorry for it, but I am simply not interested in hashing such issues again. Been there, done that, and, "Oh, not again ..." was my unavoidable response. Once I realized that such is what this discussion was, well, I simply lost heart. That is indeed a failing, and it is mine, but I can live with it. You deserved better.

It's your blog and you can have any words you like. I won't complain or respond.

2/24/2007 6:23 PM  
Anonymous triticale said...

I'm pretty nearly agnostic, but my wee wifey is Christian. I'm just counting on being dragged up to Heaven on her behalf.

2/27/2007 3:51 PM  
Blogger carnaby said...

I used to be in your exact situation, triticale, but I was eventually won over, after a long drawn-out battle :)

C.S. Lewis was significantly responsible. I suggest "Mere Chritianity" if you have a chance.

2/27/2007 3:53 PM  
Blogger The Conservative UAW Guy said...

I believe in Christ and an afterlife and I'm still scared.
If I were an atheist I'd be totally freaked out.

2/27/2007 4:08 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

triticale,

The Bible sez you're sanctified through marriage, so you're probably good to go.

conservative guy,

I think it was Woody Allen who said it -- I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens.

2/28/2007 12:23 PM  

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