March 7, 2016

How would you recognize an atheist if one appeared in American presidential politics?

I brought this question up before, in a February 20th post titled "'Why Not Question Trump’s Faith?'/Why not question everything everyone asserts about religion?" NRO writer Kevin D. Williamson had questioned whether Donald Trump actually believes in the religion he cites as his own. I said:
I'm inclined to think we should judge each candidate in proportion to how much he or she relies on religion. If someone forefronts sanctimony, we should examine whether it's a lie. But if a candidate takes a minimal position — claiming a faith but grounding himself in morality that can exist apart from religion (which is what Trump does) — there's nothing to delve into. If it's a lie, it's an insignificant social lie, like saying you love your wife when your feelings have in fact gone cold.

There are no visible atheists or even agnostics at the presidential level of American politics. Do you want to start outing them? Maybe Bernie Sanders. He might be an atheist. What do you think? Want to try to smoke him out? He said:
“I am not actively involved with organized religion... I think everyone believes in God in their own ways... To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.”
To my ear, that sounds like an effort to say: Even atheists believe in God... in our own way. A mystical attitude toward all of humanity counts as belief in God.
So I was very interested in what Bernie Sanders said in last night's Democratic Party debate — video, transcript — when Anderson Cooper gave him a prompt to talk about his religious belief:
COOPER: Senator Sanders, let me just follow up. Just this weekend there was an article I read in the Detroit News saying that you keep your Judaism in the background, and that’s disappointing some Jewish leaders. Is that intentional?

SANDERS: No. I am very proud to be Jewish, and being Jewish is so much of what I am. Look, my father’s family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical, and extremist politics mean. I learned that lesson as a tiny, tiny child when my mother would take me shopping, and we would see people working in stores who had numbers on their arms because they were in Hitler’s concentration camp. I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being.
Sanders spoke with feeling and political, sociological substance about his Jewishness, and I am sure most Americans would come away convinced that he gave a strong answer to the question asked, and that is fine. But the question was Judaism, the religious belief, and nothing in the answer reflected any belief in religion.

Read "'Judaism' or 'Jewishness'?" by Shalom Goldman, a religion professor at Duke University. He's interested in the way some people — notably Madonna — have embraced Judaism without Jewishness:
Thus a type of “Judaism”—in the sense of ritual practice—has found a home among those who are not Jewish. And we can now speak of “Judaism without Jewishness”: a situation in which the content is from the Jewish tradition, but the actors are not.
And he notes the corresponding phenomenon, "Jewishness without Judaism." Goldman cites an article in the NYC Jewish newspaper Forward referring to Jews who “changed Judaism forever.”
Expecting to read about Maimonides, Moses Mendelssohn, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I was startled to see that the article was about Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Sandy Koufax, and Lenny Bruce. And the “Judaism” that the article referred to was the way Jews are perceived by other Americans, and by extension, the way they perceive themselves. As a child of the Sixties, I too am proud of Bob Dylan, et al.—but what does that have to do with Judaism? In today’s cultural and religious marketplaces, religion and ethnic solidarity are often confused...
Goldman talks about a collection of correspondence between the writers Frederic Raphael and Joseph Epstein, who "are constantly referring to their Jewish identity":
But this is an identity devoid of all content.... [T]heir interest is in the way Jews are perceived by others, and more specifically it is about uncovering any hint of antisemitism. Neither  of these erudite authors (each of whom has authored over twenty books) expressed any interest in Jewish texts, languages, or rituals. Jewishness for them is ferreting out potential or actual antisemites. This all-too-common type of “Jewishness” has as its hallmark a lack of real content.
I think it's unfair to say there's no content when what you mean is there is no religious content. To me, what is striking is not the absence of religious content, because I would simply assume there is an absence of belief and even interest in religion. What is striking is absence of forthright atheism.

How would you recognize an atheist if one appeared in American presidential politics? He probably would speak of his family and ethnic background, showing respect and making a connection to a religious tradition, and he would present himself as a moral person with the same kind of values embraced by Americans who find those values in religion. He's not going to say "Look, I'm an atheist. There is no God. I believe in science. And as President, I will consult science, not this 'God' my opponent keeps talking about."

154 comments:

damikesc said...

We have one now.

Obama is not a religious person by any rational measure. He went to a racist church, stopped when it got too hot for him...and has managed to avoid religion pretty consistently since then.

Lyssa said...

I tend to assume that people who aren't clearly devote (including Sanders and Trump) are agnostic, not atheist. I don't really think that there are very many people out there who are true atheists.

Rae said...

A true atheist is a rare, irrational creature. Most who claim atheism are actually agnostics, a position I can admire. A small minority of people who claim atheism are atheism are anti theists - they hate religious people.

Bob Ellison said...

I agree with Lyssa. Most people who show little sign of faith can be assumed to be agnostics at least.

Atheism is a religion. You're sure about that?

People without faith usually underestimate the extent to which questioning one's own faith is important in most organized religions. Priests and rabbis discuss this with their people all the time. It's a standard challenge for people with faith.

Saint Croix said...

The more interesting question to me, a Christian, is why so many Christians are voting for Trump, when he is saying so many things that violate Christian theology. And when he gets in a fight with the Pope! And when he almost never goes to church, and he has no understanding of Communion.

And I think I know the answer. You prayed on it, and you got an answer. Okay. But just because you get an answer to your prayer, does not mean that answer came from God.

rhhardin said...

Judiasm doesn't require belief in god.

Terry said...

If Jews still had a temple where they could sacrifice, their public image would be very different. The priests sacrificed a lot of animals, it wasn't just a once-each-year thing. The animals weren't just killed symbolically, and they weren't small, either.

rhhardin said...

Only atheists can pray. Otherwise it's just ordering pizza.

Paco Wové said...

"There is no God. I believe in science. And as President, I will consult science, not this 'God'"

Replacing "belief in God" with "belief in Science!" doesn't really get you anywhere. First off, you're making a great big category error.

traditionalguy said...

You could try to see this problem as a marriage that has ended in a divorce. An atheist is the ex spouse who has moved out and changed their last name but still lives off what the relationship provided to them in a social status, wealth entitlement and rich memories.

Yesterday's Remarrying an ex spouse who still has your words in their head comes to mind.

But the problem then becomes that the ex spouse has a new career (Education?) and new lovers (gentiles?) still communicating with her. The best you can hope for is a clean break off of those relationship , said Mrs Bo Ryan.

To be clear, the spouse we are talking about is a belief in the authority behind collected Books of Marital Covenant, also called Scripture.

Adina said...

rhhardin:
See Maimonides 13 principles of faith. Belief in God is central.

Robert Cook said...

I am more concerned with recognizing a religious fanatic in American presidential politics.

Terry said...

Blogger rhhardin said...
First off, you're making a great big category error.

Is the Darwin fish bumper sticker still a thing? I could never figure those out. Was Darwin the opposite of Christ? Or Was evolution supposed to be a substitute for Christ? The symbolism was muddled. Atheists tend to think that they are atheists because they are too smart to be religious. This intelligence is not always apparent to religious believers.

Ann Althouse said...

On the agnostic/atheist distinction...

It's just about whether you're interested enough in the subject to have an opinion.

In one sense, agnostics are more atheist than atheists.

Atheists at least think the subject of whether there is a God is important and worth having an opinion about.

Agnostics are living the life of believers in no God. There's nothing to look toward or think about, no topic with which to engage.

Terry said...

"I am more concerned with recognizing a religious fanatic in American presidential politics."
Abraham Lincoln talked about God a lot. So did Bill Clinton.

Sean Gleeson said...

Althouse, your proposed test -- for whether it is germane to judge a politician's religious sincerity -- seems to have a lot in common with the Lemon Test for judging whether a statute violates the Establishment Clause. In particular, your criterion of "claiming a faith but grounding himself in morality that can exist apart from religion" reminds me of the Purpose Prong of having a "secular legislative purpose."

But I am not sure who would pass or fail your test. If Trump and Sanders both get a pass from you, because their "morality can exist apart from religion," can you say who would not? There are politicians who claim to be inspired or ennobled by their faith, but I cannot think of anyone in current politics whose policies can only be justified by their professed faiths. (I would have to go all the way back to Pat Robertson, who when he ran in 1988, proposed a periodic "Jubilee" where all debts are wiped out, because it's right there in the Bible.)

Ann Althouse said...

"Replacing "belief in God" with "belief in Science!" doesn't really get you anywhere. First off, you're making a great big category error."

Answer #1: Yes, but that's what I imagine an outspoken atheist would say, if such a character appeared on the American scene.

Answer #2: It depends on your perspective. If you're talking about why we are here, creation and so forth, then there's no proper correspondence, because science is a method of finding out the truth, and it's still possible that the true answer could be God made it happen. If you're talking about how to live now, especially how a President will figure out what to do, it makes sense. You're putting 2 ways of conducting yourself in contrast: 1. Praying, reading scripture, looking for guidance from God, 2. Using science to determine what the conditions are and what would be effective in making things better.

Saint Croix said...

You know what atheists really believe in?

Coincidence!

"Hey, it's just a coincidence. What a weird coincidence. Huh, another coincidence. I'm going to ignore that, because it's a coincidence."

I like this book.

samanthasmom said...

I think people who believe in a god have a hard time believing there are people who really don't. They decide people who say they don't believe must be agnostic. They must have some worry about what will happen to them if they're wrong. The reality is there are a lot of people who go through their lives, and the only time they think about a god is when they have to adjust their behavior to live in a world where a lot of people need a god in their lives, either one they've invented or one they've borrowed from someone else. I'm sure we've had atheist presidents in the past and will continue to have them in the future. Anyone who has the political skills to get elected president also has the political skills to navigate the minefields of religion without outing themselves completely.

Terry said...

"because science is a method of finding out the truth"
This is not what science is. Science is a method of inquiry and observation of the natural world designed to produce repeatable results.
Science can't tell you whether it is true that you love your children, or more importantly, if it is true that you should love your children.

Terry said...

"I think people who believe in a god have a hard time believing there are people who really don't."
This is a Christianity-oriented statement. Christianity places a lot of importance on belief (which is intangible). Other religions place a stronger emphasis on behavior than on belief.

Ann Althouse said...

Sean Gleeson said..."Althouse, your proposed test -- for whether it is germane to judge a politician's religious sincerity -- seems to have a lot in common with the Lemon Test for judging whether a statute violates the Establishment Clause. In particular, your criterion of "claiming a faith but grounding himself in morality that can exist apart from religion" reminds me of the Purpose Prong of having a "secular legislative purpose." But I am not sure who would pass or fail your test. If Trump and Sanders both get a pass from you, because their "morality can exist apart from religion," can you say who would not? There are politicians who claim to be inspired or ennobled by their faith, but I cannot think of anyone in current politics whose policies can only be justified by their professed faiths. (I would have to go all the way back to Pat Robertson, who when he ran in 1988, proposed a periodic "Jubilee" where all debts are wiped out, because it's right there in the Bible.)"

Thanks, Sean. My comment was based in part on the reading I've done over the years about the Establishment Clause and the place of religion in American politics. Some people who've written on the topic think all politicians should translate their religion into something that all can share, but I think it's fine for politicians to act as though they really do believe some religion and try to get people to trust them on that ground. Some of those politicians are shamming, but it's an old sham. There's some dignity and generosity in moving to the secular form of expression even when you really are religious.

It's a convention in American politics for a candidate to present himself as grounded in religion. People like Trump and Sanders are showing us different ways to modify the longstanding practice. Either way is fine with me. The real question is whether this person has the judgment and character to do the work of being President. Religion can be a plus or a minus.

Ann Althouse said...

"I like this book."

I don't. Not that I've read it. But it looks like sentimental goo. Looking for signs. You will find them.

Ann Althouse said...

Looking for a good link on the subject of the insignificance of coincidences, I ran headlong into the New Age drivel on the subject, e.g., Deepak Chopra: "When you live your life with an appreciation of coincidences and their meanings, you connect with the underlying field of infinite possibilities. This is when the magic begins. This is a state I call synchrodestiny, in which it becomes possible to achieve the spontaneous fulfillment of our every desire. Synchrodestiny requires gaining access to a place deep within yourself, while at the same time awakening to the intricate dance of coincidences out in the physical world."

Ugh!

Ann Althouse said...

Why wouldn't God especially like atheists? They are the ones who are buying the perfection of Creation. No leaks.

machine said...

fantasy land is the perfect place to discuss religion...

Ann Althouse said...

What would you believe if you believed in a God that didn't want to be believed in?

He hid, didn't he? Why are you saying "I see you"? What if that incurs his wrath?

Robert Cook said...

"'I am more concerned with recognizing a religious fanatic in American presidential politics.'

"Abraham Lincoln talked about God a lot. So did Bill Clinton."


And yet, so unlike each other in virtually every way, they are similar in that neither of these men were religious fanatics.

Bob Ellison said...

What would you believe if you believed in a God that didn't want to be believed in?

He hid, didn't he? Why are you saying "I see you"? What if that incurs his wrath?


That's an atheist rant.

Why do atheists give a crap about what happens after they're dead? I don't think Obama, Hillary, or Bernie are smart enough to have thought this through.

Brando said...

I'll take an atheist who respects religious freedom over a true-believer who doesn't. I don't know or care where Bernie stands on his religion, only his political beliefs matter.

Although he isn't anywhere close to getting the nomination, so they don't really matter.

Bob Ellison said...

Brando, how would you take an agnostic who lies about his or her religion?

I take that as a lack of character.

Roger Sweeny said...

[Bernie Sanders] said: “I am not actively involved with organized religion... I think everyone believes in God in their own ways... To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.”

To my ear, that sounds like an effort to say: Even atheists believe in God... in our own way.


That is one of the best things I've read in weeks.

Laslo Spatula said...

You are all just jealous that God doesn't speak directly to you.

I am Laslo.

Bay Area Guy said...

Whether there is a God is one of the ultimate questions in life. And it's a quite interesting topic.

Whether a presidential aspirant believes or doesn't believe in God is less important. The politician seeks votes. Proclaiming a belief in atheism doesn't seem like a vote-getter. Maybe, in liberal college towns, but nowhere else.

If the USA, over time, slowly loses its religious roots, though, you would expect to see more atheist politicians come to the forefront.

It's kinda cute when Althouse dabbles in religion, but doesn't tell us what she believes in. At least, she's thinking about it.

Bob Ellison said...

The Professor's original question is what would happen if an atheist professed that religion as a candidate for the Presidency.

1) I'd assume that person, in 2016, is an idiot, unqualified, because you can't do that, even in 2016, and hope to win.

2) I'd assume that person, forever, is an idiot, because you can't know what is unknowable.

I'd gladly vote for the devout person who actually appears to be devout, because there's honesty or at least a good pretense. Trump and Hillary put on a lousy pretense. Bernie at least puts on a pretty good dance.

Laslo Spatula said...

Even the most observant monk is little more than a dilettante in the ways of God.

God told me that.

So suck on it.

I am Laslo.

Henry said...

there is a vast difference between loving a proposition and believing it.
- Raymond M. Smullyan

Writ Small said...

There used to be a lot of atheists commenting here. No idea if that's true anymore.

Being one, I'll make a few comments.

There are many people who come to atheism after being burned or disappointed by religion. They may or may not be atheist, but their defining characteristic is being anti-religious rather than simply believing there is no god. If you visit atheist web sites, particularly the one on Reddit, you'll find lots of people feeding each other's hatred of all things religious. I find those sort of people highly distasteful in the same way I see people who use "GOPe" unironically.

Many a polite atheist will declare himself "agnostic" in a friendly discussion with a religious person. When I do it, that is more a statement of respect than a true reflection of my belief. I cannot categorically rule out the possibility of an all-powerful god. However, and similarly, I cannot rule out many things in life. For example, I have a friend who has come to believe the moon landing was faked. On one level, I am "agnostic" on this subject, since after many discussions with this person, I have been unable to categorically "prove" that all of the evidence wasn't manufactured. In truth, I do not believe the moon landing was a conspiracy to fool the Russians and boost sagging American spirits any more than I believe in god. I am "agnostic" on both subjects in a similar way.

If evidence comes around on either subject proving me wrong, I'll probably be completely shocked and say something like, "well, I'll be damned."

Original Mike said...

"Why do atheists give a crap about what happens after they're dead?"

If you mean care about what happens to humanity, it's because we are human too.

Rick said...

How would you recognize an atheist if one appeared in American presidential politics?

There would be markers, for example they might join a political church rather than one focused on religion.

Brando said...

"Brando, how would you take an agnostic who lies about his or her religion?"

Lies by claiming to be religious when they aren't? I'd hold that against them. If you're willing to lie about your personal spiritual beliefs then you lack a core.

aritai said...

Don't look now. But irrespective of his religion or lack of, your pTb (is he a Paul?) said I will commit to deliver as best I can on what you value above all: "when I came to you, brothers, (Paul said) I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. Oh my. And Amen, Observes this Martian from a distance. Don't think any other candidate has been this clear. Humble before his lord. No more popcorn please.

Paco Wové said...

Echoing what Terry said earlier,

"because science is a method of finding out the truth"

Certain kinds of truth, i.e., the conditions of the natural world. But:

"2. Using science to determine what the conditions are..."

yes...

"and what would be effective in making things better."

Ah, see, you're no longer talking about Science here. Better? Better for whom? Measured how? Now you're in the realm of human judgement, ideology, and opinion. But not science.

Sebastian said...

"If someone forefronts sanctimony, we should examine whether it's a lie." Good to see you examine Sanders' "faith" even though by conventional standards he is not "sanctimonious." As I said when you first proposed this notion, sanctimony doesn't deserve more scrutiny than other politico BS. But the "forefronting" by some candidates of some faith when in fact they have none is itself a kind of sanctimony--in Bernie's case, relatively minimal and forthrightly described (but nonetheless open to criticism of Jewishness-without-Judaism BS), in O's case amounting to an actual pernicious lie. If any self-descriptions deserve special scrutiny, it should be based on the likely disparity between claim and fact. That disparity can be just as great for the self-professed religious minimalists.

Mark Nielsen said...


Threads like this are what make Althouse such a great place. Thanks to all for the discussion here. Thanks especially to Writ Small, whose words above are a completely sensible explanation for a worldview far from my own.

Though I myself am religious, all I ask of a secular government leader is that they be moral. We've no doubt had several atheist presidents, including now, some moral and some not so much. It's the morality that seems to matter.

Bay Area Guy said...

"Do you believe in God?" and "Do you see evidence that supports the existence of God" are two slightly different questions that are often conflated.

People - even highly educated people on both coasts - "believe" in all sorts of odd irrational stuff. I give a lot of leeway to folks on what they believe or don't believe. Jeez, my old liberal atheist Mother still does her Tarot cards, but it makes her happy, so I keep my mouth shut.

As for evidence of God, personally, I do think I see evidence that there is something more than just the material world (complexity of DNA, consciousness, mystery of the Big Bang). So this makes me more receptive to the great Judeo-Christian heritage of our Western Civilization. At least, it requires me to give it a fair shake, which is what I do. It also makes paying all that Catholic school tuition for my kids much less painful:)

wildswan said...

What would happen to America if most people did not believe in Christianity? Then "All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable right - life liberty and the pursuit of happiness" could not be a foundational statement of shared political belief. The new one would be "all men are equal with certain inalienable rights- life [as defined by science today meaning not the unborn today] liberty[as defined by science meaning God knows what or as a matter of fact he doesn't; or as defined by Islam and so not including women and Christians] and the pursuit of happiness [meaning anything goes which was not the original meaning]." And this is a foundational statement without a foundation - why is it true? Isn't it leftover from Christianity and obviously being devitalized? and not acceptable outside of Europe or those influenced by Europe? Wouldn't a Christian be an atheist to this statement but a believer in the original?

Jurgen Habermas had a debate with Cardinal Ratzinger over this problem. The book is called The Dialectics Of Secularization. It was a debate on the pre-political foundations of the state - essentially asking (from my point of view) whether the liberal rational state had not sawed off the limb it was sitting on when it displaced Christianity - whether it could justify human rights to Islam and other other non-Christian cultures. This is the problem in Germany now with the migrants so the debate which was academic in 2004 is now real. But the dialogue also asks whether Christianity or any other religion has anything to contribute now to a liberal rational state or has that state absorbed Christianity's best? and can now leave the outmoded shell.

There is no simple answer because there is no global culture. Evolving that culture requires including religion and reason and existing cultures as they are - Islam v. human rights; science v. the unborn; borders v. the desperate. Are we there yet?

CarlF said...

"And as President, I will consult science, not this 'God' my opponent keeps talking about."

Eugenics!

traditionalguy said...

The most intellectual question to ask of a supernatural force announcing it is God would be, "Are you for us or against us?"

The Old Covenant that came through Moses answered, " Maybe, if you are good enough. And here is the list of the rules."

The New Covenant laughs and says, "Of course. I am for you." That is why they called it The Good News.

Pretending there is nothing there is a delaying tactic.

YoungHegelian said...

No. I am very proud to be Jewish, and being Jewish is so much of what I am. Look, my father’s family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical, and extremist politics mean. I learned that lesson as a tiny, tiny child when my mother would take me shopping, and we would see people working in stores who had numbers on their arms because they were in Hitler’s concentration camp. I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being.

While many of us Christians read this & feel this is an unsatisfying explanation of what constitutes a person's faith, I think that the sociological fact is that Bernie's explanation of his faith & his Jewishness will strike a chord with a sizable chunk of the Jewish community. The Orthodox will find it appalling, but the rest won't. I mean, Bernie's doing his best to tikkun olam & all that.

CStanley said...

Sanctimony is bad because it's fake, not because of the degree of devotion- so I see no reason to give someone a pass if they don't talk a great deal about their religiosity.

The two important facets of a presidential candidate's display of religious belief are the foundations of his values and the degree of respect for other people's religious belief. If an agnostic president would provide evidence of both, I'd be OK with it but both of those would be considerable hurdles.

Roughcoat said...

I just want to see my dogs again. And my parents.

Bob Ellison said...

Writ Small, your essay is thoughtful and enlightening.

"I cannot categorically rule out the possibility of an all-powerful god." That means you really are agnostic, not a true atheist.

The word "atheist" means nothing if not the absolute certainty that there is no God.

But you point out the duality of belief: you believe one thing and stand ready to be shown wrong. That makes sense.

That's similar to the uncertain faith that lots of Christians have: they believe, but are uncertain, and struggle with that problem pretty openly.

Saint Croix said...

Here's a thought experiment for Republicans who are thinking of voting for Donald Trump. Let's say there are three kinds of Republicans. And they are...

Conservative
Moderate Conservative
Moderate

And those three forms of Republicans are represented in our race right now.

Ted Cruz - Conservative
Marco Rubio - Moderate Conservative
John Kasich - Moderate

Wherever you are on the political spectrum, you have somebody right now in the Republican race who represents you and what you think and feel about politics.

So my simple and important question is this one...

Why vote for Donald Trump?

If you are conservative, why are you not voting for Ted Cruz?

If you are moderate conservative, why are you not voting for Marco Rubio?

If you are moderate, why are you not voting for John Kasich?

I don't know where Donald Trump is on the political spectrum. He could be a fascist. He could be a socialist. He could be pro-life. He could be pro-choice.

I do not see Donald Trump as someone who is respectful of law, of trying to identify what a good law will be and putting that idea/law out there for other people to vote on it. I see him as lawless, as wanting the freedom to do whatever the hell he wants to do. And simultaneously, I see him as disrespectful to the freedom of other people to do the same thing.

Saint Croix said...

He hid, didn't he? Why are you saying "I see you"? What if that incurs his wrath?

Althouse, don't be afraid! God loves you. Take these questions into a Bible study and ask them. You're respectful. Nobody will be mad at you. These are good questions. I'm glad you're asking them.

holdfast said...

"“I am not actively involved with organized religion... I think everyone believes in God in their own ways... To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.”

To my ear, that sounds like an effort to say: Even atheists believe in God... in our own way. A mystical attitude toward all of humanity counts as belief in God.


I hate to defend Sanders, but I don't read it that way. Most of the self-proclaimed atheists that I know are very loud and proud about their explicit rejection of the existence of God. I suspect Sanders' experience is similar - I think he's not an Atheist, but not a practicing Jew either, and his own personal position is probably more like "I don't reject God, but the practice of organized religion has not been a priority in my life - it's just not my thing".

Personally I think that's a pretty unobjectionable position, and probably one shared by a lot of Americans, whether they admit it or not.

Too bad about using the Holocaust for a cheap shot at Trump and the GOP. Maybe Bernie should reflect on how socialists and other weirdos made the Wiemar Republic into the unstable mess that made Nazism attractive for so many Germans.

Paco Wové said...

"Wherever you are on the political spectrum, you have somebody right now in the Republican race who represents you and what you think and feel about politics."

Sorry, but that's BS.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

We're all pretty much atheists when it comes to Zeus.

Fernandinande said...

Writ Small said...
There are many people who come to atheism after being burned or disappointed by religion.


Not me, I've never believed in gods or thought religion had any external meaning. My disbelief in a Judeo-Christian god is the same as my disbelief in Aztec or Norse gods, and probably about the same as Christians' disbelief in those gods. I have zero interest in atheist websites, books, etc, just as they have zero interest in websites about the non-existence of Huitzilopochtli.

Bob Ellison said...
The word "atheist" means nothing if not the absolute certainty that there is no God.


Do you seriously wonder whether or not Quetzalcoatl exists? How about Odin and Thor? Have you studied them? Assuming you don't believe in them, is that disbelief a significant part of your life, or is it something you don't really think about?

CStanley said...

He hid, didn't he? Why are you saying "I see you"? What if that incurs his wrath?

This is OK as a hypothesis but it turns out to be untrue. Most people who honestly seek him find relative peace and happiness. So unless He's a really twisted sadist who tricks us into looking for Him and then punishes with damnation in the afterlife, I think we can put this idea to rest.

Cog said...

If the term God is left undefined or only subjectively defined, the question of whether someone believes in God is meaningless. However, for most people, a candidate’s belief in God is meant to refer to the God of Abraham in the Bible; that is, the God that faithful Jews, Christians and Muslims all hold in common, notwithstanding other attributes of God found in the New Testament or Koran that differentiate their belief systems.

Trump says he considers the Bible to be “The Book,” which is a clear enough statement that he believes in the God of Abraham. It should be taken to mean no more or less than that. Bernie, who avoids mentioning scripture when asked about his religion, is probably thoroughly grounded in Marx, which would imply he holds an incompatible belief system with biblical belief.

jimbino said...

Look, I'm an atheist. There is no God. I believe in science.

Religion is often ritual that has little to do with belief. That's why we say, "I floss my teeth religiously." And that's why Christianists love to force thinking members of society to pray, observe moments of silence, and endure "God" on all the currency and Ten Commandments monuments, crosses and crucifixes polluting the public space. Their thinking is that, if they can't force us to believe, at least they can force us to put up with their ritual bullshit.

A scientist does not believe in anything, certainly not in science. And a scientist won't say, "There is no God," except by way of hypothesis, any more than he'd assert "There are no unicorns, angels or alternative universes," without evidence.

Gabriel said...

There is no God. I believe in science.

False dichotomy, Ann. There are atheists who reject science. There are many more atheists who have heard of the is/ought problem and do not use "science" as though it is an alternative to, or competitor with, religion.

Terry said...

As a Christian, there is nothing I love more than making people floss their teeth religiously.

Birches said...

Good post. I think Bernie is secular and I don't mind his non answer. BId only Barack Obama had that courage.

Original Mike said...

""I cannot categorically rule out the possibility of an all-powerful god."

That means you really are agnostic, not a true atheist."


I don't think that's a very useful definition of the word "atheist". I cannot categorically rule out the existence of the Cookie Monster, but I do not say that I am agnostic on the question.

Gabriel said...

@Original Mike:I don't think that's a very useful definition of the word "atheist".

Atheists are not allowed to define themselves--the word is used only for the most extreme position, a position so extreme that there are virtually no people who espouse it.

There are people who say that if you don't believe that God created the earth 6000 years ago in six days, then you are not a Christian. But very few people say that.

Terry said...

"There are people who say that if you don't believe that God created the earth 6000 years ago in six days, then you are not a Christian."
So the pope is not a Christian?

Saint Croix said...

Keep your heart light. God loves us. It's all good.

We're all going to die. We know that. So why be afraid of what you know will happen anyway? Don't worry about things that are outside of your control.

This morning in my car, I heard The Drifters song, Save the Last Dance for Me. I was thinking about this thread, about God. He was on my mind. And so I heard the lyrics from a religious perspective. As if this song was about God and us.

That happened once before to me with the Sinatra song, Under My Skin. I heard the song from a religious point of view.

Althouse suggests this is "sentiment," another word for positive emotion. Sure it is. It could be, as she says, a coincidence. But where does music come from? The same people who ask me to prove God, I'm like, "how do you prove love?" I can't prove it. You either feel it or you don't. And to feel it you have to be open to it.

Althouse, you damn romantic, you married a man you met on your blog! They wrote it up in the New York Times, that sentimental rag!

Anyway, be of good cheer. We are going to die, sure, but there is an afterlife.

Original Mike said...

"Atheists are not allowed to define themselves--the word is used only for the most extreme position, a position so extreme that there are virtually no people who espouse it."

I've noticed that.

Henry said...

The word "atheist" means nothing if not the absolute certainty that there is no God.

I understand where you coming from, but I think that's a little too reductive. Even religious people struggle with belief; I don't think one would call that temporary agnosticism.

I consider myself an atheist, but that implies no categorical certainty in my mind. The tipping point between agnosticism and atheism for me was when I thought through the metaphysics of death and the mortality of consciousness. I don't foreclose other possibilities (dying will be one way to find out), but I accept the mechanical universe. I believe in coincidence, to accept Saint Croix's formulation, above.

But I have no issue with those who assign a greater meaning to the events that shape their lives. So do I! The logic of coincidence is just an analytical tool, and usually not a terribly useful one for interacting with other people. Our lives are remembered through stories, not analysis. Chance happens, but meaning derives from relationships and connections.

Fen said...

Most atheists just substitute a Cause for Religion to satiate their spiritual appetites. An atheist in presidential politics would evangelize on things like Socialism, Global Warming, and surrendering your soul to the State.

Gabriel said...

@Terry:So the pope is not a Christian?

There are Christians who think that Catholics are not Christian, yes.

Gabriel said...

@Fen: An atheist in presidential politics would evangelize on things like Socialism, Global Warming, and surrendering your soul to the State.

A leftist atheist would. A libertarian or conservative atheist would not.

rcocean said...

"why so many Christians are voting for Trump, when he is saying so many things that violate Christian theology"

Like what for example? I can't think of a single time Trump has discussed "Christian theology", let alone went against it.

Original Mike said...

"An atheist in presidential politics would evangelize on things like Socialism, Global Warming, and surrendering your soul to the State."

I'm a socialist? Who knew? I thought I was a libertarian.

Terry said...

"There are Christians who think that Catholics are not Christian, yes."
Well, there are also people who think that the Irish are not "white."
To not believe that Catholics are Christians, your theology would have to be pretty crazy. The term "Christian" is not synonymous with "Baptist" (no matter what the Baptists think).
In the case of fringe Christian religions, like Mormonism or Jehovah's Witnesses, you can usually find some dispute with a foundational Christian belief, the identity of the Son with the Father, for example, or the historical birth, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Which of the Christian creeds do Catholics disavow? Most of them were written before the Reformation.

rcocean said...

How does one "believe" in science? Has anyone published the results of their scientific experiment showing God doesn't exist?

And has it been peer reviewed? And replicated.

Just because someone in a white coat and a PHD in Biology says there's no God, isn't "science" its just an opinion.

Terry said...

"I'm a socialist? Who knew? I thought I was a libertarian."
Libertarians and socialists are simply different interpretations of what it means to be economic man.

rcocean said...

You can always tell what candidates the Establishment and their blind followers dislike by the amount "Mind reading"and ascribing of bad motives without proof.

Trump is a con man and doesn't believe in God because what? Telepathy?

rcocean said...

Sanders is obviously an atheist. As for Hillary I don't think she has a religious bone in her body. The same was true of McCain.

Bay Area Guy said...

Both religion and science have one yuuuge common denominator -- doubt and uncertainty.

Science is provisional --one new bad fact is supposed to destroy an entire theory. In the real scientific world, there is much struggle and debate (see Jonas Salk v. Albert Sabin re polio vaccine), because there is so much uncertainty.

As for religion, those who are certain of God's existence or certain that Moses parted sea, don't impress me much. I'm much more comfortable with a few healthy doubts. It keeps you on your toes and makes you study more, and look at the cosmic picture from different angles. It's much more enjoyable to be less dogmatic (in my view).


wildswan said...

If people don't share my religion, then I look to see if they share my values. If not, then do they allow others to hold other values and beliefs and to state those values and try to get them into the culture and the law?

Leftists have a spectrum; we have many social values in common but almost always differ on pro-life and Governor Walker. The more left they are the more they try to shout down those who differ with them. They debate each other but as they go further left do not allow debate from the right. They scream (in Wisconsin anyhow), shout insults, lie, attack conservatives with lawsuits and SWAT teams. It isn't their lack of religion, it's their lack of reason and respect for others - as they are now at this time. See plenty of their comments on this very blog.

Islam would chop off my head as a believing Christian if in charge of the state but at the same time we agree on pro-life and I've had many interesting discussions with them and gotten more support than from most Christians. They have a philosopher al-Ghazali who is most interesting on what an Islamic believer must accept (Creation, Divine Providence, a personal soul and responsibility for it). He anticipated the modern idea that the universe does not have an "edge" or boundary due to his analysis of the relation of Creation, time and God's eternal knowledge.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

Look, I'm an atheist. There is no God. I believe in science. And as President, I will consult science, not this 'God' my opponent keeps talking about."

That would be a pretty incoherent statement, though one that an unfortunate number of atheists often make. As a Christian, I too believe in science, as a method of investigating and understanding the universe. However, I don't believe in SCIENCE! as a philosophical system, because it isn't one.

Science can only explain what is, not what should be.

Science clearly shows that a fetus belongs to the species homo sapiens, appears to be able to feel pain as early as 8 weeks into gestation, and appears to have brain activity starting between week 5 and 6 of gestation.

So, what does science say about the morality of killing what is, at the very least, a potential human life?

Pro-life people will tell you that the baby is just a bunch of cells or that it lacks self-awareness, well according to science the same can be said about anyone. Done any reading up on neuroscience and freewill lately?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience_of_free_will#Free_will_as_illusion

wildswan said...

So to get to the point - an atheist or an agnostic usually looks to science for a foundation and then they may go to biology and from biology they may go to evolution as a guide to human affairs. Then they may say that in any case where social goods must be rationed, the rationing should serve the cause of evolution and there you are at eugenics. But plenty of people drop off before they reach that point. They say they are Christians although not with any ritual or dogma or agnostics or not-atheists "it's all about something". But the net result is that evolution is not a guide to human affairs and so neither is eugenics.

So some kinds of atheists or agnostics I might vote for but not the kind using evolution as a guide to the organization of society
and not the kind that support Stalinist Marxism
and not the kind that think there is no morality, just power and money and corruption as a way of life

CStanley said...

Terry- I can't tell if you really aren't aware of the anti-Catholic sentiment among many evangelicals. It's very common in the South, where I've encountered it particularly from Baptists. My daughter was questioned multiple times by Baptist kids as to why we (Cathoilics) weren't Christian. Their theological disputes chiefly seem to be "sola scriptura" and "salvation by faith, not works."

Birkel said...

You guys are ruining my chi.
And without a properly balanced chi, these magnets will not help cure my athlete's foot.
Also, since I did not vaccinate my kids because of science and shit, I really need the shaman to have online peace and whatnot.

Also, religion is stupid.
And global warming is true and real and stuff, because I believe it.

Religion.

CStanley said...

Well, to clarify my 11:10 comment, those aren't theological arguments made by the elementary school kids that questioned my daughter. It's what I hear from adults who are the ones teaching those kids.

CStanley said...

Agnostics and atheists "believe in science" in the sense that they do not believe in things that can't be tested by the scientific method.

No problem with that but problem is that many of them also believe in our system of science, in the sense that scientists will hew to the scientific method without becoming politicized.

Robert Cook said...

"Atheists are not allowed to define themselves--the word is used only for the most extreme position, a position so extreme that there are virtually no people who espouse it."

Atheists don't need to "define" themselves, they only need to decide whether they will reveal they are atheists or not. Atheism is already defined: lacking a belief in gods.

As far as atheism being an "extreme position," I hardly think so.

Terry said...

CStanley said...
Terry- I can't tell if you really aren't aware of the anti-Catholic sentiment among many evangelicals. It's very common in the South, where I've encountered it particularly from Baptists.

I understand this, CStanley, but I think it's based on bigotry rather than theology. Salvation by faith alone is a Lutheran thing (I am Lutheran). Lutherans and Catholics occasionally hold unification talks, and they get stuck on that point.
Whatever people may claim, I am not certain that the heirs of Calvin have a central body that can decide who is and who is not a Christian.

Henry said...

wildswan wrote: Then they may say that in any case where social goods must be rationed, the rationing should serve the cause of evolution and there you are at eugenics.

Or they may say that rationing should serve the cause of justice and there you are at Rawls.

Reading some of the posts in this thread it strikes me that one reason why the God / Science dichotomy fails is because either approach must also consult politics. The observing Catholic politician who says the state may not limit abortion rights may still insist on the moral wrong of abortion while denying his or her vote for a political solution.

Likewise, what I find problematic about the climate science debate isn't the science; it's the god-awful politics often associated with it.

Our hypothetical atheist candidate might want to say, "Look, I'm an atheist. There is no God. I believe in science. And politics. And human relationships. And the beauty of nature. I believe in good food and swing jazz. Go careful with the vermouth. I believe Babe Ruth called his shot. I believe in the balance of powers and the federal system. Big city mayors should not invest in cable cars. Sequoias are old. Children are young. Believe in yourself."

BrianE said...

Interesting question.

I don't think you would recognize an atheist in the White House since a professing atheist wouldn't be elected president.

Even so, there is this:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.- Matt. 7:21

The will of the Father is to love God with all your heart, believe in his Son, love your neighbor as much as you love yourself, and make disciples.

Might be summed up as "to know Christ and make him known".

Gabriel said...

@wildswan:the rationing should serve the cause of evolution and there you are at eugenics.

Eugenics has nothing whatever to do with evolution and it predates evolution by thousands of years. Eugenics is the stock breeding of humans.

If you want to breed pigs, carrots, humans or whatever, you have to have value judgments. The theory of evolution does not give you any. Species that are not extinct are doing what works for them, the slow and stupid ones as much as the smart and fast ones. The universe has room for all kinds of ways of making a living.

If Idiocracy is happening all around us, it is because the idiots are more fit for the environment. If we don't like that, then we can work against evolution using eugenics.

Gabriel said...

@Terry:I understand this, CStanley, but I think it's based on bigotry rather than theology.

Yeah, it's pretty lame when someone who doesn't know anything about what you think, and isn't interested in learning, claims the right to define your label for you.

Exhibit A being Bob Ellison's The word "atheist" means nothing if not the absolute certainty that there is no God.

Robert Cook is exactly right, Atheism is already defined: lacking a belief in gods. Defining atheism to require a statement of positive knowledge of the non-existence of every god everywhere, of every conceivable definition, is just a straw-man. That is not what atheists understand themselves to think.

holdfast said...

Anyone who thinks that a "belief in science" is a substitute for, or an analog of, a belief in [a] God understands neither God nor science. Now you could say "based on various scientific results that I have observed or read about, I cannot believe that [a] God exists", that would make sense. But science isn't a faith or a higher power - it's a structure for testing and learning. Sometimes science establishes rules or laws - but those rules and laws are always subject to repeal or overthrow when better science comes along.

Birkel said...

Anybody see where I left my healing crystals?
Religion is bull shit.

Terry said...

Shouldn't there be a subset of people who do not believe that religious beliefs are important?
Obama chose Rev. Wright's church because he liked its public mission. It never seemed to occur to Obama that there might be more important reasons to choose a church. Keith Ellison was raised Catholic (I believe he has a brother who is a priest), and he explicitly chose his religion as a means of political expression. Like Obama, he does not seem to be aware that anyone would choose to participate (I won't say "believe") in a particular religion based on other reasons.
The religion of the old pagans fascinates me. What exactly was their conception of the "godliness" of Jove? They certainly did not look to the gods of Olympus as moral instructors. Sometimes they seemed to be aware that the gods were modeled on elements of the human psyche, and sometimes they seemed to be as full of faith and piety as a Baptist minister delivering a sermon.
From some of the comments here, it appears that even some atheists express their disbelief in Christian terms. They think that by saying something about their lack of religious belief, they are saying something about the universe. If you are a scientific materialist, belief or disbelief are just different states of the chemical machine that is the human brain. There is no reason to believe that one or the other reflects the "Truth."

Original Mike said...

"If Idiocracy is happening all around us, it is because the idiots are more fit for the environment."

Not more fit, just able to survive. And we certainly have created a society where being an idiot isn't lethal.

Terry said...

"Birkel said...
Anybody see where I left my healing crystals?"
The nice thing about healing crystals is that they don't wear out. I wonder if the IRS allows you to depreciate them over time?

damikesc said...

Most atheists just substitute a Cause for Religion to satiate their spiritual appetites. An atheist in presidential politics would evangelize on things like Socialism, Global Warming, and surrendering your soul to the State.

This. A million times over this.

Global Warming believers are no different than, say, Mormons. You can categorically disprove their beliefs with facts and their minds will just not change.

Now, Mormons don't seem anxious to run my life for me for their beliefs.

Birkel said...

L. Ron Hubbard said the best way to get rich in America is to start your own religion.

I am selling Donald Trump indulgences!!

Atheists are a very small subset of humanity, historically speaking.

Original Mike said...

"This. A million times over this."

Not this. I'm an atheist who doesn't believe in socialism, global warming (more accurately, I'm highly skeptical of the current state of the science), or big government.

Sorry to burst your bubble.

Birkel said...

If I had to guess, Original Mike, you have a very high IQ and are able to think abstractly.

Most people cannot.

Henry said...

Global Warming believers...

That's a big category.

Original Mike said...

@Birkel - I don't know. I get by.

Birkel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Birkel said...

Too modest by half, Original Mike.
But you suffer the affliction of the very smart: seeing what average and below-average people see is nearly impossible.

Think abstractly about what replaces religion for the people who don't understand how light is refracted to form a rainbow. Or why thunder happens.

And then reconsider damikesc @ 12:33PM.

Gabriel said...

@Original Mike:Not more fit, just able to survive. And we certainly have created a society where being an idiot isn't lethal.

Maybe you didn't see Idiocracy--the premise of that movie was that social policies favoring the reproduction of idiots led to a society of idiots.

The idiots, in that movie, were better at keeping their genes in the pool relative to the smart people.

Well, that's evolution by natural selection right there. The idiots were more fit, and they replace the smart who were less fit, for that environment.

It does not matter a whit whether that environment was "natural" or not.

Fernandinande said...

Original Mike said...
"This. A million times over this."
Not this.


I agree. My impression is that people with libertarian ideas are also the most likely to be atheists (which doesn't mean that most atheists are libertarians).

Rather than make another faith-based claim as Fen did, here are some numbers from the GSS: "Atheists are to the Left on fiscal issues, but only very slightly. Rather, where they are distinctive is their strong social liberalism."

Gabriel said...

@Terry:Shouldn't there be a subset of people who do not believe that religious beliefs are important?

There are plenty of religious people who think that religion is less important than something else. C. S. Lewis called this "Christianity And" in the Screwtape Letters:

Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference.

If you are a scientific materialist, belief or disbelief are just different states of the chemical machine that is the human brain.

That obviously follows, does it not? But your "just" is a strange value judgement, isn't it--it's like saying "atheists believe that a rainbow is 'just' refracted light". Erm... what else IS a rainbow? And given that a rainbow is 'just' reflected light, how does it follow that one is not to enjoy the sight of it?

There is no reason to believe that one or the other reflects the "Truth."

That's like saying there is no reason to believe that human vision can see real things, after all it's just light receptors mediate through a nervous system. Does human vision see all that there is to see? Is it absolutely free from misperception? Not at all. But human vision does, imperfectly, gives us information about what is really out there.

Why is the atheist position required to be that the human brain is to be written off as 'just' chemical states, but human vision isn't?

Animal brains and animal visions inform animals, imperfectly, about the real universe. Same for human brains. Why would it be otherwise? These systems evolved to enable animals to do just that.

Original Mike said...

@Gabriel - You're right, I didn't see the movie. Was it a documentary? Because it sounds like it could be.

Original Mike said...

"And given that a rainbow is 'just' reflected light, how does it follow that one is not to enjoy the sight of it?"

Yeah, I don't get why it's presumed that I don't get to be misty-eyed about it.

Gabriel said...

@Original Mike:Was it a documentary?

In 2500 years it probably will be close enough to a documentary.

Seriously go watch it right now. For President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, if for no other reason.

Birkel said...

Your failure to engage what I am saying is unsurprising.

walter said...

Althouse wrote..
On the agnostic/atheist distinction...
It's just about whether you're interested enough in the subject to have an opinion.
In one sense, agnostics are more atheist than atheists.
Atheists at least think the subject of whether there is a God is important and worth having an opinion about.
--
Nah..it's about embracing humility in that though one is unconvinced, it is still ultimately possible.
Perhaps having made a rigid decision seems admirable..but if it's based on insufficient awareness..it's just hubris..just a different "belief".

n.n said...

Atheists would demonstrate a bias commensurate with their faith.

Agnostics function in a scientific frame of reference, which is to say with narrow assumptions about observations. They neither accept nor reject faith-based arguments, but consider the possibility of their intersection with the scientific domain. They are not atheist, but rather neutral observers. Since they seek to reconcile principles of morality and nature, they are by definition not pro-choice or unprincipled. However, as a matter of practical importance, they typically tolerate the religion or moral philosophy of the dominant culture. By virtue of their agnosticism or cruel neutrality, they are notably less egoistic than atheists, theists, and pro-choicers.

There are few authentic agnostics.

Gabriel said...

Two examples in two minutes of atheists being defined into the most extreme position, with total failure to engage any of the arguments for why that is stupid.

walter said...

Oh..do tell...

Terry said...

That's like saying there is no reason to believe that human vision can see real things, after all it's just light receptors mediate through a nervous system. Does human vision see all that there is to see? Is it absolutely free from misperception? Not at all. But human vision does, imperfectly, gives us information about what is really out there.
This is not an uncontroversial statement, Gabriel. The relationship between the signifier and the signified can never be precisely known. The chemical apparatus that reveals a beautiful or ugly face shows us only the face. Yet we do not live in a world of faces, we live in a world of beautiful and ugly faces.
The reason it took so long for the scientific worldview to catch on is that it is not obvious that the senses reveal a real world to us. Time seems to pass at different speeds, and the visual aspect of things changes from minute to minute. If you've ever sat down and tried to draw exactly what your eyes see, the drawing has odd curves and details are missing or simply don't match what we see when we close our eyes and try to imagine the scene. The nerves that carry the signals from our eyes to the brain and from our ears to the brain are the same. The signals look the same. What makes them different is the part of the brain that they are connected to. An objective reality isn't objective, it is merely the common reality experienced by every person.
Scientists like to say that we occupy no special place in the universe, but if the materialist vision of the world is true, it will also be true thousands of billions of years from, when the oldest red dwarfs burn out. Yet from our place in the universe, this truth is only a few hundred years old, so we -- the humans who are alive now -- really do occupy a special place in the universe.

hombre said...

"- claiming a faith but grounding himself in morality that can exist apart from religion (which is what Trump does)-"

There is no "grounding" in morality apart from religion. There is only moral relativism which is inherently ungrounded.

As for Sanders, if his politics, that is, his life, are an indication, it is his secular Jewish liberalism, not his Jewishness, that he is proud of.

Sebastian said...

"claiming a faith but grounding himself in morality that can exist apart from religion (which is what Trump does)" Still one of the funniest lines of the campaign season so far.

Gabriel said...

@Terry:The relationship between the signifier and the signified can never be precisely known.

Why does it have to be? Is anything less than total, certain knowledge just as worthless as no knowledge at all?

The chemical apparatus that reveals a beautiful or ugly face shows us only the face. Yet we do not live in a world of faces, we live in a world of beautiful and ugly faces.

The chemical apparatus is also responsible for the emotional response. This isn't hard.

An objective reality isn't objective, it is merely the common reality experienced by every person.

Who said anything else?

Yet from our place in the universe, this truth is only a few hundred years old, so we -- the humans who are alive now -- really do occupy a special place in the universe.

Special to us. I don't know who you think denies that humans are pretty special to ourselves.

It might be a good idea to find real people with differing beliefs from you and try to understand what it is they think and why, you've spent too much time with hostile caricatures.

walter said...

Not surprisingly, he embraces his Jewish heritage on the basis of victim status...that fits into his views nicely.

Gabriel said...

@hombre:There is no "grounding" in morality apart from religion. There is only moral relativism which is inherently ungrounded.

Moral absolutes don't require religion. Consider the statement "eating meat is always and everywhere wrong". How is that less absolute than "God says eating meat is always and everywhere wrong"?

Furthermore, how do you decide which religion is the source of moral authority for you?

damikesc said...


There are plenty of religious people who think that religion is less important than something else. C. S. Lewis called this "Christianity And" in the Screwtape Letters:


I don't think it's less important, but it is not more in some cases.

For me, religion and science work hand and hand.

The Bible is the story of Why. Science is the story of How. Both are equally valid concerns.

But that I've not seen a cogent explanation of WHAT caused the "Big Bang", and it's not happening with no outside stimuli, the existence of God is the most logical explanation.

Paul Snively said...

Brando: I'll take an atheist who respects religious freedom over a true-believer who doesn't.

Amen. Penn Jillette for President!

Terry said...

Gabriel wrote:
Why does it have to be? Is anything less than total, certain knowledge just as worthless as no knowledge at all?
Of course not. But it is the atheist who says that his knowledge is complete. The atheist denies the possibility of God, and from what I have read here, many deny the possibility that there is a metaphysics -- even Wittgenstein didn't go that far.
I think, Gabriel, that modernism was founded (and it was founded) in part because it held the promise that if we got rid of the mumbo jumbo and considered the universe, and ourselves, as physical objects like any other material in a lab, the intractable problems of humanity could be solved. Human behavior could be reduced to a scientific laws, and those laws could be used to improve humanity the way that knowledge of chemistry allowed us to create better steel more efficiently than ever before. I believe that the failure of modernism to deliver on this promise tells us something important about the limits of modernism and the nature of humanity.

Terry said...

Paul Snively wrote:
Penn Jillette for President!

Jillette lost me with his open borders nonsense. Look! Here's a ten foot fence! And look! Watch me scale it with a twelve foot ladder!
I wonder if Jillette has a fence around his home? I wonder if he locks his doors? After all, a fifteen dollar prybar will pop residential doors open pretty easily.

Pookie Number 2 said...

The Orthodox will find it appalling, but the rest won't. I mean, Bernie's doing his best to tikkun olam & all that.

Speaking only for myself, I don't find it appalling. I just think his well-intended policies will generally redound to the detriment of the world.

Gabriel said...

@Terry:But it is the atheist who says that his knowledge is complete.

Quote one saying this. I'll wait.

I think, Gabriel, that modernism was founded...

Genetic fallacy. Gah. Even if I had any idea what you meant by "modernism", and even if there was any sort of correspondence between it and the ideas held by the people you are criticizing, it's already irrelevant to what any real people think.

Birkel said...

Pookie Number 2:

You might want to explain the well-intended part to me, as I am a slow learner. Given that socialist countries are poor and wealth allows many advantages, and these things are well known, I cannot make the connection.

Gabriel said...

@damikesc:But that I've not seen a cogent explanation of WHAT caused the "Big Bang"

Why does the Big Bang have to be "caused"?

it's not happening with no outside stimuli

What is "outside" the universe? The Big Bang is the initial state of the entire universe--there is no "outside" for stimuli to have come from, by definition, because then that outside would be part of the universe. (That's what "universe" means. It's not a synonym for "space".)

the existence of God is the most logical explanation.

Not much logic here. You say the Big Bang needs a cause, then you invoke God, but supply no cause for God. By your own standard you must reject God as an explanation.

Birkel said...

Gabriel:

So by your lights it's turtles all the way down?

Roughcoat said...

Infinity scares me. But I like to contemplate The Mystery.

Roughcoat said...

Also, God scares me. I believe in God. But He scares me.

Rusty said...

it's kinda funny. The reason we're having this conversation is because there was a uncaused first cause and the god of of the ancient hebrews was/is a creator god. "I the beginning the universe was without form and dark. and the lord said ,"Let there be light." And behold there was light." In the other major religions the universe always existed in this current form and the fortunes of men rose and fell with the whim of the god/gods. Their universe was a wheel.
Th universe the hebrews gave us has a beginning. It also has an end.
Western civilization is the best thing that ever happened to us.

So in the end atheism is a personal choice, like all religions. And like all religions it too is based on faith.

Fernandinande said...

Rusty said...
In the other major religions the universe always existed in this current form and the fortunes of men rose and fell with the whim of the god/gods


No. Just about all religions have creation myths.

Creation myths in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece generally express the idea of the creation and defense of an ordered cosmos from out of primordial chaos.

"For all people, in many ways, myths made life bearable by providing security. They should not be easily dismissed as simple stories for, in both Greece and Rome, they dealt with important issues: the creation of the world, the nature of good and evil, and even the afterlife."

The Norse creation myth or cosmogony (a view on the origins of the cosmos) is perhaps one of the richest of such accounts in all of world literature.

In the beginning was the void. It was at some ancient time in the Aztec creation story that the dual god, Ometecuhtli/Omecihuatl, created itself.

Buddhists aren't big on creation myths, except sometimes.

And like all religions it[atheism] too is based on faith.

Does that myth make you feel better?

tim in vermont said...

I used to be a nihilist, but now I don't even believe in that anymore.

Pookie Number 2 said...

You might want to explain the well-intended part to me, as I am a slow learner. Given that socialist countries are poor and wealth allows many advantages, and these things are well known, I cannot make the connection.

I think Bernie Sanders wants poor people to have better lives. I don't think he's open to any solutions but the superficially obvious (Give them someone else's money!), which has proven unsuccessful, and that means that he'll cause suffering to the extent that he has influence, but I think his goal is noble.

walter said...

He will be surprised to learn there are poor "white" people.

Gabriel said...

@Birkel:
So by your lights it's turtles all the way down?


Only if you insist that the earth must rest on a turtle. Then you must answer, in order to be consistent with your argument, that the turtle rest on something. If the turtle doesn't need a resting place why does the earth.

If you are comfortable with an earth that doesn't have to rest on anything, there's no need for turtles. If you are comfortable with an uncaused universe, you don't need to invoke a cause, and you are spared the embarrassment of trying to explain why cause doesn't need a cause, but the universe does.

But uncountable numbers of uncaused events are happening around you all the time. People who want to claim that modern science falls short, should probably bother to get up to speed with the last couple of centuries first.

Paul Snively said...

Terry: Jillette lost me with his open borders nonsense. Look! Here's a ten foot fence! And look! Watch me scale it with a twelve foot ladder!

Yeah, that was silly. OTOH, I trust Jillette to go after the welfare state, and it's really the combination of open borders and welfare state that's problematic, per Milton Friedman. I kind of wonder what the illegal immigration picture would look like if we severely curtailed welfare, or even—crazy idea, I know—didn't change a thing about it except to reserve it for legal citizens?

Terry said...

Glad that you are still here, Gabriel. I had to run into town this afternoon, and I would like to respond to you.
"Genetic fallacy. Gah. Even if I had any idea what you meant by "modernism""
Modernism was and is a wide ranging philosophical movement that began in the late nineteenth century. It influenced virtually every field of human endeavor, from economics to the arts. Modernism specifically rejected religion as having divine origins. Holy books became literary texts that could be criticized like any man-created text.
I don't think that the term 'genetic fallacy" fits my argument. If you were able to show that the historical Christ never existed, I don't think that genetic fallacy would make your argument against Christianity worthless. If Stalin was shown to have thought Marx was bullshit, that doesn't mean that Stalinists could claim "genetic fallacy!" Or put another way, the arguments that have been shown to have been faulty when they were expressed by the promoters of modernism a century ago are still being pushed by modernists and are still wrong. Despite two world wars in the 20th century, and the creation of the term 'genocide' to describe the murder of an entire people, progressives still believe that we have progressed, morally, since the 19th century.
I think that what they have done is mistaken greater wealth for improved morality.

TennLion said...

Al Gore--"In my faith tradition...." and then totally reversing the meaning of the scripture he was trying to exegete.

Birkel said...

Gabriel:

What came before that is a natural question. Physicists (my grandfather was an early pioneer in string theory, so I am sympathetic) say at the singularity time was no longer a dimension.

What an easy out, even if true.

But the turtle question is not so easily dismissed, I believe. At some point it becomes a matter of belief, as science is unable to describe the singularity that was the Big Bang.

There is no science that we can develop that describes a singularity without dimension. So faith one must have, in God or whatever or nothing or fuckall.

Turtles are just as likely as anything in such an environment.

cyrus83 said...

There aren't open atheists in part for the same reason there aren't many openly devoted religious people in political life at present - both types of people grate on the mushy, functionally agnostic/atheistic/spiritualist middle. Those types of centrists don't like to think about the ultimate question, though they are often spiritual and may profess a creed, though how deeply they hold it is a matter best left to seeing how much actions are informed by belief.

Atheists have the added handicap of what might be called the reality of original sin, even if they deny the doctrine. Atheist thought cannot look to anything beyond man, and since man is inherently imperfect and prone to evil, anything he comes up with, whether laws, morals, government, or anything else is destined to corruption. The virtue of religion has always been that it proposes something beyond man, something not subject to the same corruption.

In a politician, I would not want to vote for an atheist or anybody who does not profess a belief in some sort of ultimate/final judgment of the world. The reason has to do with the desire that a politician have a fear of something besides getting elected and keeping his cronies happy. I want a politician who has some inkling that they are going to get judged based on their actions in office by a higher power. Looking at the corruption that goes on at all levels of the government, I can't help but think our problem may be that too few of those in power have any conception that they will be called to account one day for every last penny, vote, and official act.

Science is a wonderful thing. But if there is a supernatural reality, science can't tell us anything about it. Science is concerned with observation of physical realities in the natural world. The supernatural, by definition, concerns that which is beyond the natural world, beyond what can be observed or measured, even if that category happens to be an empty set. Science can help us determine what is not supernatural, but it cannot tell us whether or not there is anything in the category of supernatural.

Rusty said...


Does that myth make you feel better?

Just stating facts.

My personal beliefs are, of course, none of your fucking business.
cheers

Rusty said...

Not chaos Fernandinade. Nothing. Nothing to create anything from. Those others presuppose there was something to create something out of.

The extemely dense ball of gasses and carbon itself was created. Now the theory, or one of the theories is that we are part of overlapping universes and that the creation occurred when two of these realities( multiple dimensions) overlapped and energy was released.

damikesc said...

What is "outside" the universe? The Big Bang is the initial state of the entire universe--there is no "outside" for stimuli to have come from, by definition, because then that outside would be part of the universe. (That's what "universe" means. It's not a synonym for "space".)

The universe went from nothing to something.

Feel free to explain HOW that happened outside of some outside stimuli --- which, since the universe didn't exist, couldn't occur. Do we have any other known cases where reactions occur absent any outside stimuli?

Not much logic here. You say the Big Bang needs a cause, then you invoke God, but supply no cause for God. By your own standard you must reject God as an explanation.

God always existed and created the universe himself. Makes more sense than "Well, shit happened in a way that completely and thoroughly violates every known precept of scientific knowledge --- but, really, who wants to know why?"

If you are comfortable with an earth that doesn't have to rest on anything, there's no need for turtles. If you are comfortable with an uncaused universe, you don't need to invoke a cause, and you are spared the embarrassment of trying to explain why cause doesn't need a cause, but the universe does.

If you admit that such a thing is pure faith with, literally, no standing in actual science, sure. Explaining what happens AFTER the "Big Bang" is far less interesting than what caused it in the first place.

Yeah, that was silly. OTOH, I trust Jillette to go after the welfare state, and it's really the combination of open borders and welfare state that's problematic, per Milton Friedman. I kind of wonder what the illegal immigration picture would look like if we severely curtailed welfare, or even—crazy idea, I know—didn't change a thing about it except to reserve it for legal citizens?

It's a massive fault in Libertarian philosophy. They ignore that we have a social welfare system. "We shouldn't" doesn't trump that we do have one and adding more and more people to a system we cannot afford won't make it more affordable. Until we repeal ALL social welfare programs, open borders doesn't work.

Henry said...

God always existed and created the universe himself. Makes more sense than "Well, shit happened in a way that completely and thoroughly violates every known precept of scientific knowledge --- but, really, who wants to know why?"

Your "Well shit" sentence describes your "God always existed" assertion a little too well.

I do find this discussion interesting in that we're mostly debating the most liminal role for God: God as initiator is very different from God as recipient of ritual or creator of magical cosmologies.

Original Mike said...

"The universe went from nothing to something."

"Feel free to explain HOW that happened outside of some outside stimuli --- which, since the universe didn't exist, couldn't occur."


We don't know. That's not to say we'll never know; there are theories and it's an active area of research. However, it's certainly possible we'll never know.

"Do we have any other known cases where reactions occur absent any outside stimuli?"

Radioactive decay.

"God always existed and created the universe himself."

"God always existed."
"The universe always existed."

I don't see that either statement is more plausible than the other.

damikesc said...

I do find this discussion interesting in that we're mostly debating the most liminal role for God: God as initiator is very different from God as recipient of ritual or creator of magical cosmologies.

My God created everything, lets you do what you want even though you will likely screw it all up, and doesn't beg for praise but expects a bit of respect.

Again, the Bible is the Why of creation. Science is there to explain the How.

Rusty said...

Ya know what?
Since I can't do a damn thing about it, I'm going to make myself a ham sammich.
Let you assholes sweat the god shit.