The Choice is Emphatically NOT Between Christianity and Atheism

I am an atheist. I reject all religious faiths and paranormal claims. In fact I reject faith, period. I should never take a leap of faith beyond what the evidence leads me to conclude. So I do not believe. I am a non-believer. That distinguishes me from people who believe. Believers are all in one category (or type, or classification) of knowers. Non-believers are in a different category of knowers. Believers base what they claim to know on faith. Non-believers base what they claim to know on the actual probabilities.

Non-believers are therefore skeptics. We do not accept any assertion without confirming evidence to support it and therefore we do not accept any paranormal claim. We doubt all extraordinary claims of faith. We reject faith based reasoning in all of its forms.

That is the dividing line between those who are believers and those who are non-believers. All believers are in one camp of people. All non-believers are in a different camp. This distinction best describes us.

So it will do no good for believers in their dominant cultural religions to argue against atheism. In Hindu countries Hindu's argue against atheism, just as Muslims do in Islamic countries, or Orthodox Jews do in Israel, or as Christians do in America. In each of these cultures they assume that if they can argue against atheism then by default their religious faith wins. Here in America there have been many debates where the question is between Christianity or atheism.

But there is a real significant problem here for believers. There are many types of Christianity, including the so-called Christian cults. Several other types of Christianity have even died out. So before we can even have a debate between Christianity and atheism there must first be debates between Christians on which Christianity represents true Christianity. And this goes for the many other world religions. Before there can be a debate between any given culturally dominant religion and atheism there must first be debates to settle which religion is the correct one.

Why? Because skepticism, or atheism, or non-belief, are in an entirely different category than religious faith. On the one hand there is skepticism. By applying skepticism across the board, atheism is the position of last resort. It's adopted through the process of elimination as one religion after another is rejected for the same reasons they are all rejected. It is a consistent approach to all religions. On the other hand there is faith. Religions embrace faith based reasoning which goes beyond what the evidence calls for. The problem for religious faith then is why believers should adopt one faith over the others once they admit it's legitimate to embrace faith based reasoning in the first place!

It's faith that we skeptics reject. It's faith that believers embrace. We stand consistently in one camp. Believers are all in a different camp. The choice is emphatically NOT between any given culturally adopted religion and atheism. The choice is between all religions on one side of the fence and atheism on the other side. First believers must settle the question of which religion is the correct one because they all embrace faith based reasoning. But precisely because they embrace faith these religious disputes cannot be settled between them.

Atheists are simply waiting in the wings.



isaac said...

This falls right in line with my developing thoughts and ideas on how to face my family when the day comes when they find out about my non-belief. The conversation plays over and over in my head on a daily basis... I think about their perspectives and how they would react... I think about their desperate grasp of Christianity and all of its empty hopes and promises... I think of their faith and how they would perceive my non-faith.

My thoughts on the conversation gained significant ground after I came to the realization of how I can explain my non-belief in Christianity. The premise is that, although one can hold up a strong debate (I say "debate", not "argument based on tangible evidence") for the existence of a creator-god, Christianity is ultimately a poor explanation for the god hypothesis. As is Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and so on. But, specifically, I am dealing with Christianity when it comes to my family. They already reject all of the other faith traditions... so I want them to see Christianity more as an explanation, rather than simply a religious faith.

From there, we can look at the evidence and compare notes.

My conclusion... I keep open the possibility of a creator-god... but the Christian perspective and explanation does not match up with what we know from mass amounts of facts and evidence... nor from an honest examination of the state of the universe and Earth. We need to re-think our idea of this god and how it intervenes in the universe. Or, better yet, examine the evidence and THEN come to a conclusion... rather than assuming a creator and trying to fit that with the evidence. However, I can't come right out with atheism... the conversation needs to show that I am keeping some level of faith, or else they will jump to immediate defensiveness and negativity.

Take on Christianity as an explanation... not as a religious faith.

Lazarus said...

Damn good post, John (and not so shabby Isaac).

I have realised some years ago that even if I do one day, in my advanced senility, accept all that twaddle about "Why are we here" and "Maybe God made us" then I would have to become a Muslim. At least their delusion has less inanities to juggle around in your head. Once you get over the "God exists" bit it is shut up and pray.

So does Christianity follow once the skepticism goes - not at all.

In order of preference I would go :

1. atheism

2. Buddhism

3. Islam

4. Something else

5. Jainism

6. Hinduism

7. Ancestor worship (lovely to talk to gramps again)

8. shamanism (quite cool, that)

9. native American folk religion.

10. Bon

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

We do not accept any assertion without confirming evidence to support it and therefore we do not accept any paranormal claim.

As it stands, this sentence is a non-sequitur.

Chuck said...

How Lvka?

Miles Rind said...

I reject faith, period. I should never take a leap of faith beyond what the evidence leads me to conclude. . . .

Non-believers . . . do not accept any assertion without confirming evidence to support it

I wonder what you would say in the face of James's examples of cases in which faith in a fact can help create a fact -- e.g., confidence in one's eventual success can produce success where a dispassionate evaluation of one's abilities would make such confidence impossible and consequently produce failure. The prudent Jamesian will squint at the facts in such a way as to sustain self-confidence, and may succeed; the skeptic in such a situation must remain in uncertainty and consequently fail.

I know that this is different from accepting a theoretical proposition about a state of affairs that is entirely outside your power to affect things (such as whether there is a God or not), but your assertions were entirely general and without qualification. It only takes such Jamesian counterexamples to argue that your universal rejection of faith is a very imprudent epistemic principle for the purposes of human life.

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

Because it implies that he wouldn't accept a change of personal beliefs about reality, not even when faced with the fact of their falsity, which is of course absurd.

Anonymous said...

MKR there are those cases as you say but religious faith in God is not something that can bring about God's existence.

Anonymous said...

Faith is a word that goes beyond what the probabilities lead us to reasonably conclude. So faith in the cook not poisoning us is not faith at all. We have concluded that it's very likely the cook will not poison us. We conclude quite reasonably that the bungee cord will not break. We live your life on probabilities. Faith goes beyond the probabilities. Faith is taking an unjustified leap beyond the evidence.

Let me give you a good example. Historians will conclude something about the past with a certain degree of probability. Let's say one of them concludes that Jesus arose from the dead with a 51% probability (something that I vehemently deny). With such a probability as that anyone with faith that believes Jesus arose from the dead with 100% certainty is fooling himself. Anyone who lives his entire life based on more than a 51% probability is fooling himself. A reasonable person would only live 51% of his life based on a 51% probability.

Miles Rind said...

John, I admitted that point in my comment and it is irrelevant. It only takes a single counterexample to refute a universal principle. I provided counterexamples to the universal principle of evidentialism (à la Clifford) that you enunciated. If you accept the counterexamples, you have to give up or modify the principle.

You might venture to add to your principle a qualification like "unless the case is one in which faith in a fact can help create the fact and the fact is one that one desires to obtain." But such a qualification completely takes away from the principle its former appearance of cogency and makes it look like an embarrassed improvisation. Why, one wonders, should these cases be exceptions? And if these cases are exceptions, why should we assume that there are no others? Such an assumption appears to be mere groundless faith, which contradicts the principle itself.

Miles Rind said...

Oops! My previous comment was a reply to John's comment addressed to me. He seems to have posted another while I was writing it.

Anonymous said...

MKR, one major problem for James that cannot be overcome is when he attempts to transfer faithful thinking to God then any God will do. If people use James's method, which is no method at all, they will end up justifying the god they were accustomed to in the first place, and so his argument fails for that reason.

jwhendy said...


Thanks for the post. Many do not know about my current disbelief either and I'm not sure how it will eventually come out. I'm still 'seeking' but my mind has been far more satisfied with natural explanations than those put forward by Christianity for quite some time.

To continue in your line of thinking, it has often surprised me how many forget the third option that you hinted at: perhaps there is something but none of the world's religions describe him/her/it well at all.

It's interesting to talk to Christians who think that once you are open to a deity, obviously their religion is the best supported description of that deity.

I think it's far more likely that there may be a deity and none of us has a clue what it's like.

Miles Rind said...

I don't want to keep this going all day, John, since I'm pretty sure that you understand my argument; it just seems to me that all your replies have been addressed to arguments that I haven't made. I'm not arguing in defense of any Jamesian "method" of choosing a deity (nor, on my reading, is James). I'm just saying that Jamesian examples show that the evidentialist prinicple is untenable, and consequently you cannot invoke it to justify atheism.

DavidA said...

It's too bad this whole deviation from accepted probability definition just doesn't work in real life. It'd make for a much stronger case for atheism.

A firefighter places faith in his equipment. Check.

A firefighter places faith in his training. Check.

A firefighter places training in his peers fighting fire with him. Check.

The firefighter has all these reasonable faiths that lie within reasonable probabilities. But then, something happens. He is met with a situation in which his equipment, his training, and his peers might not pull him through.

Oh crap, what now?

Luckily, there are reasonable people on the ground making the call. "It's not safe for you any longer. We can't ask you to keep going." They say through the walkie. They might even order him down. That's reasonable. It makes sense. No one is going to condemn the guy for giving up. He's doing the reasonable thing.

But he doesn't. He pushes forward with something else. Maybe he lives, maybe he dies. Maybe he saves a family trapped a unit, maybe he is killed taking his very next step.

But that choice he makes in the face of logic and reason -- that power to push farther than the facts say you can, to reach higher than reason seems to demand. Well, that is what makes us human and it is on this axis that the world spins.

So as far as I'm concerned, all the 3PO robots in the universe can go plug themselves into the hyperdrive. The grown-ups are navigating the astroid field up here.

Anonymous said...

MKR self-confidence and positive thinking should be based on the probabilities of success. Self-fulling prophecies work because we seek goals that can be achieved if we have them. Therefore it's probable that with them we can succeed. Unrealistic goals cannot be achieved even with hopeful and positive thinking. Unrealistic goals would be classified as unjustified faith.


Miles Rind said...

That seems an entirely reasonable view, John, but it is not the one that you advance in this post. You now characterize confidence in one's ability to achieve an unrealistic goal as "unjustified faith." I take it that you mean to contrast that with "justified faith" in one's ability to attain a realistic goal. But your post begins: "I am an atheist. I reject all religious faiths and paranormal claims. In fact I reject faith, period."

jwhendy said...

@David Allred

Your analogy is quite poor:

Firefighter places 'faith' in:
- equipment which has passed industry designed test specifications which determine the resistance of various flame retardant materials. Check.
- training which he has actually undertaken (it really happened) which has given him knowledge of what to do in various mock-up events. Check.
- his teammates who he has observed during training (they actually exist), monitored their strengths/weaknesses, and with whom he has formed a cohesive team working relationship. Check.

Compare this to believer who put faith in:
- a collection of anonymous gospels who cite no references, no historical methods, and no information whatsoever about how they verified the 'facts' they report. Check.
- prayer even though study after study has shown it to have no discernible effect on anyone except... the person praying.
- countless beliefs with no supporting evidence (historical bible events like Jericho, the flood, and the Exodus; any form of 'the fall' given evolution; any specific morally sufficient reason for the existence of evil, etc.). Check.

To equate 'faith' with 'any instance where humans display their limited knowledge and predictive abilities' is preposterous.

The firefighter in your scenario would not be exercising 'faith'; he's taking into account his speed, strength, similar training, oxygen tank levels, best guess at the remaining structural integrity of the building, and who's inside. These factors provide tangible input into his decision about what to do. This is evidenced based thinking, which should be encouraged.

The only way to make your analogy equate with 'faith' would be to have him gear up, have a head full of training, be surrounded by trusted teammates... and then have the truck arrive on one side of the grand canyon. Everyone gets out and is shown the blazing building on the other side... he jumps to try to make it over. That's faith based reasoning for a firefighter.

Steven said...


I think there is a category error being made here. The biggest thing to remember is that humans have a penchant for irrational risk taking, especially when the payoff is big enough, the results are deemed important enough, or just for the thrill of it.

That's goal seeking behavior and I'm not convinced that any sort of (ir)rationally justified faith calculation ever even enters into the equation. These instances are about bringing about a certain set of events or experiences out of sheer will, regardless of the costs or dangers that are involved. And, as we all know, sometimes these attempts succeed, and sometime they fail, catastrophically.

I don't think talking about "faith" in such instances makes any sense at all.

Clare said...

Sorry to jump into this discussion late. I think some of these problems with faith versus reality could be analysed better with the use of a little statistics. You need to look at the probabilities of a certain thing (God for example) existing other than by luck or chance, and this should be at a statistically significant level. I am not very good at maths but I think a p value should be less than 0.1. Any mathematicians out there?

Anonymous said...

MKR, if there is a problem it's with the faith language game itself. Perhaps a new word has to be used when I refer to unjustified faith. I do not mean to suggest there is something called justified faith when I said that. If faith is defined as that which goes beyond what can be justified by the evidence then all faith is unjustified and I reject all such attempts to go beyond the evidence.

I'll admit this is a sticky subject worthy of more thought. But I'm leaning toward being a hard rationalist even despite Plantinga's critique of it (which, seems to me is better argued by him than James).

Anonymous said...


Let's say I wanted to become the President of the USA (atheists like me have no chance), or, that I wanted to be the best tennis player in the world (at my age 55). Let's say I told people I was going to achieve these goals in hopes of doing so. People would scoff and rightly so. I would be deluded to think that and deluded to say that. My hopes, my "faith" would be unjustified. People would be right to say to me, "John, set some realistic goals.

Your thoughts?

DavidA said...


Your rebuttal is only true if 'faith' is in fact a blind leap into the dark. It works if that's your definition. It's not mine. In fact, originally the word meaned "reasoned persuasion" and it flowed easily off the tongues of Athens' greatest thinkers. It has only been in this dim-witted philosophical age that we've reduced the concept of faith to blind leaps. And that error lies in both the church as well as her ideological opponents.

The firefighters faith in his equipment, training, and peers may or may not be reasonable based on the facts. I suppose if he has every reason to trust these items, then you are voting against calling it faith. That's fine, really. It's a bickering over nominalism and doesn't matter to me.

But his choice to press ahead in spite of the facts is unreasonable and foolish according to this world view espoused by Mr. Loftus. I'm only saying that it this very spirit which has served as midwife to everything great about humanity.

The benefit of risk is underestimated. And all risk has at least an element of faith.

Anonymous said...

Unless someone has a Freudian death wish, and many people do, no rational person takes a risk unless he thinks he can succeed. We are risk takers, yes. But reasonable risks are not based on faith but on probabilities.

Anonymous said...

"I think I can. I think I can."

"Let's see what I can do."

"I'll show 'em."

"Even if the odds are low I can beat the odds. People do so all the time. Let me try. The worst that can happen is that I fail. I'll learn something along the way that will be better over-all that I tried than not."

Where is "faith" as I've defined it in any of these above statements?

Faith talk is a language game I reject. I can account for all acts based on other things than an appeal to unjustified faith.

Anonymous said...

That is, I can account for all reasonable acts based on other things than an appeal to unjustified faith.

Steven said...

Regarding risks, I agree with you John, and that was kind of my point. I think there is good evidence to suggest that we (people in general) often take risks that have very poor expectation values when a highly desired result is in play, and I doubt that this is correlated with religious belief (although I don't know if that aspect has been explored).

Specifically, I'm talking about some of the analyses that have been done with the "deal or no deal" scenario that seem to show that we often do a very poor job of calculating risk/expectation value when a highly desired result is a possibility. The upshot seems to be that our decision making skills get overruled by the desire for the best possible outcome, even though this outcome has a very low probability of success compared to a good (even very good) lesser option.

Gandolf said...

Hendy said... "@David Allred

Your analogy is quite poor"

I agree with you Hendy.

@David Allred.."that power to push farther than the facts say you can, to reach higher than reason seems to demand. Well, that is what makes us human and it is on this axis that the world spins"

David it has actually been proven time and time again people can push farther than the facts say you can even in the face of possible death,and some people survive.

Its not at all like having faith in anything superstitious or unproven or unknown,at all.We know the possibilitys that the outcome could go either way, before we even decide what to do.Hence its not about faith in the religious faith sense.

At most its a type of unreligious faith thats got more to do with hope and luck of achieving what has "already" been "proven" many times! to sometimes be actually possible.In these situations of danger, when other peoples live might be at stake,if we choose to go ahead against all odds and in the face of our own death,we often put ourselves in the hands of lady luck....Meaning we already "understand" there is some chances it could go either way,but to try saving more lives, we decide we are willing to even risk our own.

Its a calculated decision,informed of both previously proven outcomes.Life or death.

So it is not really putting faith in the unknown.The only thing unknown is what way the "luck" will actually pan out.And even thats not unknown,because we know it could go either way.

I dont know why it is faithful folks cant see there is a difference.To be honest, i think many actually do see the difference.But being faithful to promotion of faith, they are willing to use these type of poor manipulations of truth.

Myself, i can say,i have far more respect! of faithful folk who atleast dont bother trying to manipulate these matters so poorly to suit their faith.

Im looking to atleast try and see, faith actually had some real decent honesty within its ranks.Im looking to try and see that even if these folks were wrong,they were actually honest in their faith.

Yet i see some much manipulation and dishonesty surrounding matters faith.If its not faithful folks on blogs i see manipulating matters as much as they can,i see it in the papers even with POPES manipulating matters of abuse, to try and have it suit their cause.

Maybe folks like Lvka might like to suggests humans have a reason to put faith in something "completely" unknown.But i suggest if humans actually did this,our world would soon turn into total chaos and mayhem.Belief in absolutely anything would then have enough reason.

Even things that might be unseen to the naked eye ,such as gravity or Gods Creation or Big Bang Theory or whatever.All DO have some reasoning behind these thoughts.

There is not much in this world with which humans actually use complete unadulterated faith,to form a belief.

Almost every belief humans have relys on some reasoning and atleast a certain ammount of proof ...If it wasnt the case our world would soon evolve into utter maddness and total chaos.

I suggest this idea of trying to connect things in our everyday lives, with also being a matter of having faith....Is rubbish ..Its bullsh*t

Even God faiths started through humans "reasoning".Humans reasoning how things might have come about.No other way to explain life.

It was "reasoning" about the possibilities of God-/s,just as its also firefighters "reasoning" about the possibility of survival, when they were trying to save somebody else in a fire.

Firefighters dont use faith in fighting fires...But they do test lady luck....But testing lady luck is reasoning of chances! ....Not a matter of faith.

Like Isaac, i still keep open the possibility of a creator God too.But its about seeing evidence and reason.

Chuck said...


If a fire-fighter ignored a direct order form command control and "pushed on" as you put it then he would be insubordinate and should be fired.

Your example proves too much - it shows that willing oneself to believe puts one in harms for narcissistic glory.

jwhendy said...


I agree that this can end up being a 'word arguing game', however I think you are equivocating a somewhat 'tame' version of faith, simply taken to be more of a cost-benefit analysis or assurance that the absurd won't happen vs. what it has come to mean: belief in something unknowable/unprovable.

The 'faith' in the firefighter situation still rests on verifiable facts -- equipment that's been tested, training actually completed, and teammates observed. Judgments form and in the heat of the moment, one acts based on the evidence at hand.

In the case of religions, however, we have no verifiable test standards (indeed the gospels fail historical standards), no first hand participation in what they speak of ('training' like being an actual disciple of Jesus or leaning how to pray so as to actually bring about consistent results), and no ability to experience the crucial 'teammates' like the apostles or even, say, the wounds of Jesus like Thomas.

As I was thinking about this more, your analogy fails for another reason:
- In the case of the firefighters, they study the facts beforehand and then exercise their 'faith' when the situation is at hand based on prior knowledge
- With belief in what I'm sure is a ridiculous majority, children are taught what to have faith in and only later, if ever, do they seek the 'facts' necessary to support this belief.

So... I'll rephrase my redo of your analogy yet again: for it to work, the firefighter would have had to have been trained all his life to believe that cashmere is flame retardant, then jumped into a burning building to save someone, and only after recovering from third degree burns in the hospital did he do some simple research and find out that cashmere has no such properties.

DavidA said...


You begin by stating basically the same case that I began with. The firefighter's "faith" or trust in training, equipment, and peers is rooted in something he has experience with, and these items happen to be corporeal in nature. It seems as though you are saying that is reasoned and since its reasoned, by your definition, you won't call it faith. That's fine, I pretty much argued the same way.

But when the firefighter stops and looks for a moment at the facts of his situation, and reasonably determines a great unliklihood of success, but pushes ahead in spite of it, then he is making an appeal elsewhere. Perhaps as Chuck hints at, it is nothing more than vain glory. Maybe he simply values the life of another over his own.

It doesn't matter. Logic and reason are screaming at him from the corporeal side of the bridge, while any number of incorporeal things are screaming at him from the other.

Maybe yesterday he took a step away from what his logic and reason were telling him to do, and saved a life. Maybe today, he refusing these imaginary voices in his head and stays put. It doesn't matter to me so much as admitting honestly that there is a tug between the two sides.

The envelope doesn't get pushed by reason. It gets pushed by faith. It doesn't have to be religious faith, but it still makes an appeal beyond the corporeal toward an idea. And let's be real honest for a second. All the equipment, training, and peer support in the world doesn't prevent firefighters from dying. Every time he suits up, he knows this could be the day. He has to rely on probabiltiy all the way up to its usefulness, and after that, he relies on courage, hope, compassion, altruism, you name it. All of which are incorporeal ideas.

Maybe he believes he can walk on water and gets himself killed. Maybe he has been "reasonably persuaded" enough to "place his trust in X," which I think I mentioned is the original definition of faith as it was used in the ancient world, specifically in the biblical narrative.

And John, the firefighter doesn't stand at the blazing door and begin to compute probability statistics. I swear this whole discussion reminds me of C3PO or Spock saying, "My computations say we have a 4.5% of survival."

I mean lets get real, this is reductionism of the most sickening order. We might as well not even be human -- we can get the CPU to crank out the best course of action for us. I just don't see how anyone can look at human history, or imagine a human future with this kind of reductionist metaphysic at the helm dressed up in materialist's clothes.

jwhendy said...


I guess I don't really care to continue this much further... I will add:

- I would not call the kind of faith the firefighter has in tangible equipment and experience to be the same faith that individuals put into a bible. Call it two points on a spectrum if you insist, but they are not synonymous uses of the term.

- No matter what you say, the firefighter has taken the facts into account made a probability judgment. We do it all the time:
--- do I have time to make this left turn before that car comes?
--- will anyone know if I do x, y, or z or will I get caught?
--- so and so said this book/movie is good; should I buy it?

I'm not arguing for 4.3% types of computational consciousness, but you also can't discredit the mind's ability to do amazing things at fast speeds completely outside of the forefront of our attention.

I played intramural slow pitch softball and was a pitcher at one point. A ball got hit directly at my crotch extremely fast. I recall blinking and the next thing I knew, my body had shifted and the ball was in my glove.

I did not need to compute a parabolic motion curve given the momentum of the ball and bat, ball density, and wind resistance to make this catch.

My mind took into account the initial trajectory seen and figured out what to do. Was that 'faith'?

Same for the firefighter. He takes into account what he knows at the moment and makes the call. The 'faith' you suggest still amounts to a calculation that survival is possible.

If faith in Christianity were based on facts anywhere near the level available to this hypothetical firefighter, it would be a done deal -- the evidence would clearly support it or not and massive amounts of people would convert or de-convert.

And in the end, isn't that the point anyway with the analogy? Whether belief in a religion is justified or not? I take it that you wish to state that faith should not be criticized because we all exercise it. I still think your analogy fails to prove that. I return to the canyon; there's about as much positive evidence for Christianity (or at least the non-ambiguous/tangible sort) as one would have for believing they can make the leap across the divide...

Gandolf said...

David Allred said... "while any number of incorporeal things are screaming at him from the other."

Yeah like the fact he is a being evolved with social instincts.He is a being that has evolved to not only considder himself.His social instinct is evolved much more social in nature, than that of cows in a herd who can also be seen to rush in and try to do what they can to try to help out those of their group,also sometimes even in the face of grave danger for themselves.

David Allred said..."Maybe he believes he can walk on water and gets himself killed. Maybe he has been "reasonably persuaded" enough to "place his trust in X," which I think I mentioned is the original definition of faith as it was used in the ancient world, specifically in the biblical narrative."

Maybe its all about being part of the survival instincts of the group of beings that has helped his group survive through time and progress,unless we want to start thinking, maybe the cows also read bibles or hear spiritual callings from above, and have their own prophets suggesting right from wrong.

Think about it.Primates have evolved much further than other beings.It doesnt just come down to a matter of being any hero,no it also comes down trying to continue living on within a group, that might even considder you a coward if you choose not to even bother trying to help.

DavidA said...

I understand that for some human benevolence really does boil down to a slick computation of probability, and that's just as far as they can go. I certainly don't deny the usefulness of such a world view up to a point. But it has a limit to its usefulness, and while that limit might be different for different people in different circumstances, there comes a point compassion, courage, and love leave logic and reason behind and push forward in spite of the facts and meets an unknown and unrealized end. That's the definition of faith that I subscribe to -- one that uses logic and reason all the way up to the end of its usefulness, and then still pushes forward for a common good often at great personal risk.

Chuck said...


You are describing heuristics. Get and read the book "Blink". You act as if non-religious thinkers have not considered your awesome personal epistymology and have not understood the type of god glorifying experience you exalt as natural. Another good study is "Flow". Brain science offers a more parsimonious explanation to the experiences you propose without constructing strawmen arguments or relying on ancient superstition.

DavidA said...


At no point in this discussion have I even used the word God to explain anything.

Chuck said...


You are a professional clergyman looking to provide an argument by analogy to the reasonableness of faith. The obfuscation by apologists like you is a big reason I've been turned off Christianity. I'm sure your tortured anaolgy has NOTHING to do with defending the Christian faith.

DavidA said...


My profession is a product of my life experiences and education, not the other way around. As to "obfuscation" turning you off to Christianity, I can understand. Life can be a little blurry. So you found yourself a worldview where you think it isn't. That makes you more similar to those you dismantle than you probably realize.

I find no discomfort in the ambiguity of life, or truth, or in the paradox of being human, which is probably why I don't fit well in either camp. People in the middle often have to listen to the countless calls from either side screaming, "Come on over here, the water is warm." And when we don't, we are instantly assumed to swimming in the enemies pond.

That is because most human beings live their lives as victims to dichotomous thought.

jwhendy said...


I think you're putting far more thought into this than you need to. You need a clear example of someone literally taking a blind leap into the unknown to illustrate your point about us using no reason or logic.

You continue to refer to this as if it's common place, but I think you will struggle to find an illustration that truly works. No matter what, one can always point out that there actually are facts that ground the action taker in what he's doing; at least in his own mind.

The person 'chancing' his life to save another is doing so because he thinks he has a chance given the circumstances.

This probably brings us to why religious dialog is so frustrating. Both sides accuse the other of being blind to the 'facts' and using 'faith'. I think one of the best quotes I read about this is at the end of John's WIBA. I don't want to get out of bed to get it, but if you have the book, read his last chapter about agnosticism vs. atheism. He ends with a quote and discussion beautifully illustrating the need to sort ourselves out in a 'religiously ambiguous' world. No one knows and therefore we all need to find facts to rest our lives on that exclude and defuse counter-ideas/beliefs.

It really boils down to what the facts are and the objective truthfulness they possess.

This is why no one would accept your attempts at referencing common activities with 'faith'; we take in facts of our existence and many other things as I've pointed out already -- we can see, touch, feel, talk about, etc. countless inputs before acting.

In the case of religious 'faith', however, you have no access to the actual things being claimed other than reading anonymous texts that have inconsistencies, historical errors, no list of references, and contra-scientific claims...

An atheist would say that the shabby state of the facts of religions warrants disbelief. One who believes such claims on poor evidence is exercising a great deal of faith in those claims.

You are trying to lean in a direction of some type of uber-empiricism which would require someone to doubt everything not utterly certain in order to evade your definition of 'faith.'

Chuck said...


I attend an Evangelical Christian Church and bible study with my wife who is a believer nd count many Christians as friends. I don't like men like you who don't understand current brain science and who make appeals to self-pity when their attempts at rhetorical manipulation are exposed. I don't mind Christians (I'm married to one) but I find the Christian apologetics you foist on us here nonsensical and solipsistic. It is annoying.

GearHedEd said...


I like the sound of that.

DavidA said...

"This is why no one would accept your attempts at referencing common activities with 'faith'; we take in facts of our existence and many other things as I've pointed out already -- we can see, touch, feel, talk about, etc. countless inputs before acting."

The analogy doesn't break down in the slightest. You're willing to accept something incorporeal because of what you see people doing -- banking, buying, setting prices, etc. You see patterns emerge in real people and things that confirm for you the reality of the economy.

In these situations, you begin with utility and move to assume essence.

Yet, when you approach a religious utility, you come at it from the other direction. You start with essense and assume utility is silly.

I'm saying that you're welcome to have it both ways if you want, but by no means should you consider such activity to be reasonable.

I might as well argue that God is real because people go to church and pray and write religious texts.

Again -- you can't prove incorporeal essence through utility in the spots you want to do so, then cast doubt on utility by questioning incorporeal essence in the spots you don't. At least not and be rationally consistent. You can be practical, and kudos for practicality, but you can't be logically consistent.

As to the blind faith analogy, clearly the definition doesn't hold up at all. Well, maybe it carries an ounce of water where it needed to carry a pint, but still.

Blind faith is jumping off a three story building because gravity is really composed of angel wings sent to protect the faithful. Blind faith is an invisible pink unicorn. I have never met a single person, believer or otherwise, with blind faith. Never a one.


So now you not only know what I believe, but you're up on my study of brain science? Are you sure you aren't some kind of psychic savant? We should line you up for James Randi's million bucks.

I can't decide if its funny or sad, but to you it would seem that if I reject a premise, somehow I just didn't understand it good enough. You've rejected my premises. I guess maybe you just didn't 'understand' them?

Maybe my "God Spot" in my grey matter is just firing away and telling me what to type. Or maybe yours isn't firing when it should have been. It's nice to see that the more we know, the less we really understand. You see, soon we can have a good pill to put my G-Spot to sleep... or maybe we can develop a pill to get yours working. Better yet, let's get a pill made that controls our interest in brain science.

Man, what a can of worms this 'brain science' is.

Chuck said...


You can be as sassy all you like (moving from McDowell to D'Souza are we?) but you still have failed to understand how things in reality work (economics, brain science). Determining utility based on wishful thinking then saying the wishes are evidence for a real thing is a far cry from measurable human activity. Like I said, take an econ course, you don't know what you are speaking of. I can logically measure economies based on real quantitative data which has nothing in common with a bronze age superstition that provides value to the invisible. I said before that your Jamesian pragmatism is interesting and I'm sure it makes you feel like your christian superstitions are reasonably valid but it has nothing in common with economics in any measurable sense.

jwhendy said...


Thanks for the reply.

I think this one's wrapping up for me... we're still talking about the difference between verifiable existence and non-verifiable existence.

I would not say that since people talk about money and economics that this automatically proves the existence of the economy; you are correct that I do not believe that Church attendance verifies god.

However, what if one wanted to verify the crazy things people talked about when referring to almost incomprehensible national debts, the housing market, deficits/surpluses... one could dig up signed papers, contact other countries to verify their understanding of monies owed to them, request quantities of treasury bonds sold, etc. These are real things that can be verified and which can lead one to know that facts exist which allow us to put 'faith' in the fact that a thing actually exists.

What about verifying the greatest being ever who we ascribe unfathomable power and knowledge to, who is the very essence of love, who wants us to be in the most happy place ever with him/her forever and ever and all we need to do is believe he/she exists. How can we go about verifying this?
- evidence of a timeless being leaving us timeless evidence?
- unambiguous scriptural writings with specific verifiable prophecies?
- a 'sense in our hearts' (everyone) of who the true god really is?
- repeatable, predictable prayers?
- impending danger removed in an unambiguous manner (a car careening toward a pedestrian and stopped by an angel visible and describable by both the pedestrian and driver)?

We have none of these things. Every where we actually look we are told that we just have to have faith or are given answers that are non-answers... or the supposed good action of this creature are boasted while the pain and suffering allowed by the same are somehow not his/her responsibility or are allowed for a greater good (so why save anyone??).

The one that gets me the most is the insistence that 'natural law' has been infused into our souls. While I am technically 'free' to stab someone with a knife, that desire is so alien to my consciousness that I really feel as though I almost couldn't do it. Hopefully that makes sense. This 'sense' is put there by god and it does not impinge on my free will.

Why not a universal thirsting for Jesus and only Jesus? Why are the nations so preposterously satisfied with ridiculous claims of other religions. It is awful! What a difference a simple inkling of Jesus as the true god would make.

It would not need to override free will as moral leanings and instincts are not viewed as doing so.

Anyway, I digress. We must just have a fundamental difference in opinion on what constitutes evidence and thus what things fall under the genre of 'faith-supported' vs. 'fact-supported.'

danielg said...

As a christian (and former agnostic / Buddhist), I would say that the choice is between spiritual truth and error - and included in error would be various non-Christian religions, and atheism itself.

Draw the lines how you like, but I see the major fault of atheism is that it retreats into the limited realm of intellect and empiricism, neglects the more subjective but still real faculties of intuition, conscience, and communion, and therefore damns itself to its own materialist conclusions.

It is safe, but it is intellectually dishonest to claim or think that one can plumb the depths of reality with the limited intellect alone. Kant would tell you that reason is limited, and as limited beings, we are limited, esp. when it comes to understanding the infinite.

As M. Scott Peck once wrote, if you want to truly be on the spiritual journey, you have to like mystery. If you don't, you'll have to stay on shore where you can be sure it's safe.

Miles Rind said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miles Rind said...

Posting a toned-down version of previous reply do Danielg.

It is safe, but it is intellectually dishonest to claim or think that one can plumb the depths of reality with the limited intellect alone. Kant would tell you that reason is limited, and as limited beings, we are limited, esp. when it comes to understanding the infinite.

This is a silly argument. No one is more aware of the limits of human intellect than skeptics. To cite "intuition,conscience, and communion" as sources of knowledge when your intellect gives out is just to dress up your beliefs with dignified-sounding names by which you purport to go beyond the limits of human knowledge. These supposed faculties yield wildly different results in different people. Unless you are going to say that everybody is right, even when one person's beliefs contradict another person's beliefs, then you must admit some source of criticism. "Intuition" and the rest cannot critique or evaluate themselves: only the intellect can do that. And what is its finding? That those claims are completely indistinguishable from baseless, self-serving fantasy.

As for your invocation of Kant, Kant was a rationalist in questions of religion. He held that there were propositions which we are justified and indeed necessitated in affirming even though we cannot know them to be true, but they are propositions that he held to answer to needs of practical reason, not deliverances of "intuition" and the like, which Kant would have disparaged as Schwärmerei.

Chuck said...

Well said MKR,

It always strikes me as odd when religionists say that the intellect is limited in determining what is real yet use their intellect in communicating this. If a person wants to elevate their random emotional reactions as a good guide to decision-making then have at it but, in my estimation that type of reasoning is relying on bad evidence to determine reality.

Miles Rind said...

Thanks, Chuck. I think now that I could have been more to the point by objecting to Danielg's talk of "faculties" as if they were analogous to organs or body parts. Faculties of what? Presumably he means faculties of apprehending truth. But what matters in evaluating a belief is not what particular organ or orifice of your body or your mind you pulled it out of but whether you are justified in holding it.

Now I am not an evidentialist: I am inclined to agree with William James that there can be non-evidential justification for some beliefs ("justification" to the extent of showing it to be not contrary to reason to hold those beliefs). But attributing a belief to this or that "faculty" is irrelevant to its justification. Even if the attribution itself is justified (which I don't think it is in Danielg's examples), it could only constitute a justification if we had sufficient reason to believe that the faculty in question is reliable. And as I said, "intuition, conscience, and communion" are indistinguishable from fantasy and prejudice: their epistemic track record is very poor.

"Intellect," so far as it is relevant to questions of justification, is not a faculty but a way of assessing claims, namely to evaluate them in the light of evidence.

Anonymous said...

MKR said: "I am inclined to agree with William James that there can be non-evidential justification for some beliefs ("justification" to the extent of showing it to be not contrary to reason to hold those beliefs)."

I was so inclined when I wrote WIBA. As I've shared earlier, I am not so inclined any more.

Although, I'll say that you have made me wonder if making this switch was justified.

Sometimes I wonder if this dispute might be like a word game. You define your terms and I define mine, but when all is said and done we just barely disagree with each other in the end.


Miles Rind said...

Ha! It's a funny kind of dispute, John, and in a way an idle one, because I am, and expect always to be, on the outside of faith looking in—as was James himself! I just have a profound distrust of glib solutions to difficult problems, and the evidentialist position strikes me as a glib solution. Of course, that's just my "intuition" and not my "intellect" speaking!