Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Okay. This is why eye-witnesses are so unreliable. I watched my appearance on Craig Ferguson, thanks to One Good, and it’s startling to me. My version of my appearance is disputed by the undeniable evidence that I saw. I didn’t get a big laugh off of not being “sure” there was no God. I think the comedienne in me just relaxes after I get a quasi-laugh, and that was the quasi-laugh that relaxed me, so in my mind it was a big laugh. So, that realization is kind of embarrassing. But on the other hand, I thought I didn’t mangle things like I thought I did. In any case, I think I did okay and thanks for the notes of support.

I really don’t want to be one of those needy girly-actresses who says she thinks she sucks while her eyebrows raise, waiting for others to chime in and say she didn’t suck at all. Oh, I hate that kind of person so much and that is what I feel I did with my blog entry, to a certain extent. In any case – yes! The appearance. And I did sell a bunch of Cds so that is good. (Thanks if you are one of those people!) I am trying to wait to put the Cd on Amazon until AT LEAST after Christmas. So, this publicity is good in that I am making my money back towards the initial investment of the Cds before Amazon has it and my profit goes down to almost zip. Amazon – amazing how they do business. But that’s another story.

I was wishing I had said something about eye-witnesses to Craig Ferguson when he said the thing about people having experiences with "purple dragons" that make them know they are real. Because right there, that is one of the most startling and unsettling things I learned in my journey away from God. I didn't realize how completely unreliable personal experience was in terms of verifying facts and relying on it for real hard information. All those religious experiences that people have had, that convinced them there is a God, that started religions and so forth -- all personal experience and memory, all highly faulty! It might seem like it's obvious to the people reading my blog, but just this little thing to me -- made everything different. This alone turned me into a skeptic. Visions, feelings, memory -- emotionally important, sure. But reliable as truth? Not really. Not really at all.

OH. I am just about decided on the type of forum that I am going to put up. This, I hope, will happen very soon. I mean – all those forums look almost identical to me, but I have to have a certain type of one that goes with the language that my website uses. Talking to people about this is like me in a foreign country where I know exactly ten words and I just keep using them over and over and nodding my head vigorously like I know what people are saying when really I only get a very general idea.

I loved people’s posts from yesterday. I really loved the person who wrote with all the reasons I should send my daughter to a religious school. I agree with everything she said! And it was really funny too.

But I don’t think it’s going to happen. Mulan is in a really great public school and unless I move to Spokane while she is in school, the chance is incredibly small that she would go. I think I couldn’t do it, anyway, if it really came down to it. On the other hand, I really want Mulan to know religion. I want her to know about St. Paul and Abraham and have some idea of why those stories have such impact. I think I will have to start my own Sunday school teaching it all my way! Ha.

My grandmother had this beautiful rosary – it’s large, like maybe three or four feet long, with huge wooden carved beads. It was always hanging over her bed, on two nails, so that the rosary hung in a kind of shape that almost looked cross-like. And the beads sunk down in the middle. I thought it looked like a person with arms outstretched to the sky, to God. I really loved my grandmother and that rosary reminds me of her and how it felt in her house, which was really cozy and safe.

Anyway, after my aunt died, I got the rosary and I hung it in my bedroom. Not right above my bed, but over some bookcases. I really like it there and it’s comforting for me to look at. So, the other day, Mulan referred to the big “Y” necklace. And I said, “What?” And she pointed to the rosary and said, “Y’know, the big “Y” necklace!” And my heart sank. How does she not know that is a rosary!?!

I know, this falls under the heading of anything that kids won’t be familiar with that I was familiar with – dial phones, Tvs with no remotes, blah blah. But still, there was a little sword sticking me inside when she didn’t even know what a ROSARY was.

I guess it’s that I think of Catholicism as art. That was the art of my childhood. That was the place with flickering candles and people in robes and incense and paintings and stained glass windows and people huddled together away from the cold reciting poetry and singing songs. And I am giving none of that to Mulan. And even though – really, I mean this, I think she is better off without it, it KILLS ME that she isn’t getting it. Sure, sure, I am giving this feeling to her in other ways, in other places, with other things – sure. But not in this particular way.

On the other hand, I think of this incident, too. Last summer I was up in Spokane, with my girlfriend Darcy at her house. She had had a lunch with me and four or five other of our friends. We’ve all known each other since childhood. And anyway, there was a kid’s drawing framed on one wall and it said, “Family is important. Family is great!” And there was a picture of a family. Darcy’s children are now in Catholic school. And another one of my girlfriends said, “Isn’t that darling? It’s so… Catholic.” And I said, “What’s Catholic about it?” And she said, “It’s so Catholic, the importance of family.” And I said, “But that’s not particularly Catholic.” And she said, “Oh yes it is. They really talk about family a lot at Catholic school.” To me the implication was that in a public school, kids wouldn’t draw pictures like that.

Now the point of this is – as we all know, family is important, especially for kids – this has nothing to do with religion. Mulan comes home with pictures like that all the time. But for my friends who send their kids to religious school -- they think that something like this is unique. They reinforce to each other and their kids, just with little comments like that one to me, that it’s Catholicism that promotes the idea of family and in the cold harsh world outside Catholic school, they don’t. It’s this subtle prejudice that is built in. I mean, we all do this, of course, about some things. But this time it really struck me. It was so odd to me, that comment.

What’s funnier still about this is that my friend Darcy is gay, living with another woman and they have two sons together. Not only that, my friend Darcy is not even a Catholic anymore but this choice of school for her sons is the right one for the moment and the situation for her. Furthermore, when Darcy put her sons there, she and her partner went to the school principle and said, “This is our family, we are proud of our family, and if there is any problem with the school about our family, we aren’t coming here.” And there were assurances that there would be no problem. And as far as I know, there hasn’t been one.

But still. That comment reverberated in my mind. “It’s so Catholic.” The emphasis on family is… so Catholic. ARGH! And that’s why I am so glad that Mulan is not at a religious school no matter how enlightening it might be and how inoculated against religion it might make her.

I know, I am rambling about small points today.

And I am off to Mulan’s school for the Holiday Performance this morning!


creative-type dad said...


My wife and I have battled with this in raising our daughter. She grew up in a Christian Science home (I don't even want to go there) and me...well, my mother's family was Catholic, my father's Methodist.

I did go to a non-demonination Christian school growing up. It wasn't bad - I still grew up questioning everything. Maybe that was in part from my father's influence.

When you think about it, it really is more of how you think and how you convey that to your kid. A parent still is the biggest influence (I would say more that school) at least in the early years.

Atheism Quotes said...

It's like the people who say the Ten Commandments are Christian values. Well, no. Take out the first three, and you've got a good list of how to be a good person. But so many people feel that not believing in god makes you anti-Commandments. Never mind that it makes no sense at all. Most fo what comes from those types of people's mouths doesn't make much sense.

For the "family is so Catholic" thing, isn't it sad that someone thinks you have to be a specific religion to view your family that way? I guess maybe they might mean the Catholics don't profess to put god above their family. One of the things that makes them evil, you know.

I went through 12 years of Catholic school. Best education I could get. And one of the strongest reasons I'm an atheist. I learned too much about people, how they interpret things they don't understand, and more importantly how many "valid" belief systems there are in the world.

Our son is going to know more about religion than most believers, because we feel it's important to understand a force that has shaped the world and will make his life more difficult as a non-believer. He'll learn about Christianity alongside Norse, Egyptian, Roman/Greek, and other myths. And he'll learn how to think and question, not just accept and follow.

I'm sorry to hear about Amazon. I guess it's the trade-off between volume and profit margin. They know they drive traffic, and they'll take advantage of it every way they can. But hopefully you'll see a surge in sales if you do sell it with them. If the profits aren't as good, maybe the exposure will help in other ways :-)

A closing quote I came across:
"Morality is doing what's right regardless of what you're told. Religion is doing what you're told regardless of what's right."

James said...

It’s so Catholic, the importance of family.

This person has obviously never seen a Mennonite family reunion! Does she actually believe that family isn't that important to anyone else?

ben30 said...

I'm so excited to find your website! I bet I've listened to God Said Ha! over fifty times, and have been waiting for something new. I saw you on the view, and ordered your two CDs and are anxiously awaiting their arrival. I am also thrilled to look back on your posts to "catch up".

I have a two year old son and am struggling with the religion thing. I am just finishing a three-year term as an elder for my church, and the whole experience has left me disapointed.

Thank you for everything.

Paige S said...

Can't wait to go watch the CF appearance (and still hoping someone will YouTube The View.) Meanwhile...I am just so comforted and amazed by how many thoughtful people are struggling, so profoundly, with this issue. That alone gives the lie to the zealots who pretend that there is no morality without their omnipotent "savior."ti

Mcglk said...

Back when I thought for sure I'd have kids, there were certain things I really, really, really, really wanted to do.

One of them was to read them The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

But another one was to go through The Bible, book by book, verse by verse.

And this was after I had my crisis of faith.

[Note: The rest of this post is just my personal opinion. I'm not saying I'm right in all this, but for brevity's sake, I'll just assume I am. Discourse welcome.]

Here's the thing. The KJV has had such an impact on our culture that not having any acquaintance with it would be a gross oversight as a parent. The history of a culture is important in establishing the context of that culture.

But there's another aspect to it as well. By going through the Bible, bit by bit, you're also encouraging the kids to engage in critical thought. Heck, the kids will often point out contradictions you didn't catch.

And when the time comes when a peer of theirs begins to prostelytize, the kid'll be at least a little inoculated.

Of course, it's important not to teach the Bible in isolation. Adding works like Gilgamesh (a wonderful story, if you haven't read it) and other such tales is often instructive. But it's also important to mention the beliefs and history of various religions---not just Christianity. It's often not a pretty history, but it is instructive.

Banning religious study from the household is often counterproductive. Best to arm your kids with enough knowledge about the subject to know how to navigate it.

Laurence Boyce said...

Julia, what would be worse? That Mulan knows nothing about the Rosary, or that she has to recite the damn thing every night?

She'll be fine.

susan in spokane said...

Ditto Lawrence. Don't worry so much. I'm beginning to believe that our genes influence our thoughts so much more than we think they do that it may not matter what you do, she either will be drawn to religion or she wont'

Susan in Spokane

Manqué said...

I believe that, in most cases, children will be far more influenced by parental attitudes and beliefs than by what they are taught in school, religious or not. Choose the best school available and maintain a lively dialogue at home. Religious belief is nurture, not nature.

One thing that kills me is that "true believers" believe they have reason on their side. It always comes down to the cliche, "How can you look at a baby and not believe in God?" I always want to reply (but don't), "How can you look at a dead baby and believe in God?" The mocker in me wants to exploit the moment, but I don't want to descend to their level of faux-logic.

bookboy said...

The thing is that when you are raised a Catholic you are raised in a parallel culture. Yes there is the real world out there growing up i.e. school, friends, and sex. But the Catholic Church creates a mythology that is infused with mystery, strangeness and wonder. Even down to the colors of the rainbow, like purple, red or blue these all have profound significance in the Catholic Church. I know (not think) what you mean Julia. And when you grow up in this type of culture you never grow out of it. It is as much a part of you as your genes are. It’s like growing up Jewish. I too wish I could pass it on, but I can’t. No more than my Grandmother use to tell me about growing up in the 1920’s and 30’s and wanting me to feel that moment would reach over and pat my knee and say “Oh little bookboy if you only could have been there you’d understand.” I can not have her experience, but I have the ability to have experiences. As your daughter is right now. It always amazed me what kind of things stuck in my children’s memory, and what meant so much to them. I think it would be like when I would read to them at night, no. The one daughter “will never forget the day you were chasing that chicken down the road and you looked at with your hands in the air”. Go figure. Someone said that the meaning of life is having meaningful experiences of being alive. Let’s get on with living.

Carl R. Sams said...

Dear Ms. Sweeney and fellow posters,

I'm sort of in a pickle on the whole parenting issue. When myself and my ex-wife were divorced, I felt is was necessicary to teach him about christianity, since she was not particularly religious. This mainly consisted of a brief overview of creation, the fall, gennesis, and exodus. I have always impressed upon my son the need for critical thinking, tolerance, and to let the minor disagreements in his relationships slide rather than to bicker about them. SO here I am, he's going to be 13 next month, and I have yet to really sit down with him and explain to him that his father has taken the entirely opposite opinion of what I once told him as truth. Normally one would assume he would absorb this in day to day interaction, however I do not have primary custody, therefore he doesn't have daily exposure to me for this subtle type of communication to occur. So, any ideas? Should I pull him aside and spell out for him that I have changed my opinion and why? Or should I just continue to teach him critical thinking skills and let him approach me about it? I know this might seem trivial, but it's been something I've been struggling with? Is it even a big deal at all? *sigh* Any input would be greatly appreciated.

-Veritas Imprimis

pita said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Dont put your faith and trust in man. Not in churches. Not in religion. Not in eachother. They are all fallible. God is not. All the destruction in the world is man and nature not God. I dont know or pretend to know why bad things happen. But God is good and yes friends, there is a God and he is very sad that you are so lost.

I went through catholic school. I knew a priest who sexually abused a boy. I had an abusive childhood. there are plenty of reasons that I could deny God and try to belong the cool aetheist club, but I dont. The point is: humans are weak. I dont trust organized religion. I dont trust catholicism. I dont have faith in anything that is on earth, because no one and nothing is perfect. Look to God and have peace for others. Now bring on the snide comments.

pita said...

I love this post.

You said, "I am rambling about small points today." Hey, isn't god in the small points, details, whatever?

I just discovered your blog and this is my first comment. I was thinking about telling you about how great "God Said, Ha!" was and about how I saw it in San Francisco twice (once as a "work in progress" and once "finished"), and about how you made my emotions range from having a lump in my throat to laughing so hard my stomach hurt. And, here, while I was thinking about telling you, I actually did. Go figure. I COULD fix what I wrote so I don't say "about how" constantly, but just see if I don't.


Carl R. Sams said...

Dear Anonymous,

No snide comment here. I fully and completely agree with 99% of what you have writen. Every horrible thing to ever occur on Terra, every abuse, every injustice and hurtful action is either a result of human action, inaction, or natural forces over which we have no control. The only difference of opinion I have with you is that I also credit man or natural forces with the beautiful things as well. An african american male takes a bullet in Memphis so that other can be free, an ex-lawyer in India starves himself to bring peace between a forign empire and the natives, as well as bringing the religious factions of said natives together. You may argue that a divinity inspired these men, but in the end they did what they did of their own accord. The argument has always been made and alway shall be made that atheists cannot disprove the existance of god. And never will it be able to. With the power of omnipotence at your disposal one can always invent fantastic rationals as for where he resides and what he does, but here's my point. If we cannot gain proof for him/her/it, if said being exists but cannot regularly and positively influence our lives.....than what good is he/her/it? Is there really a difference between what exists and does nothing, or what doesn't exist? Differ with me if you will, but just give it a ponder if you would? Have a great day.

-Veritas Imprimis

Paula Thomas said...

OK, promised myself I'd leave out posting tonight but I think I'd better put two-pennyworth in!

Remember this is England and things are a bit different here but...

My parents are atheists. They bought both my sister and me in a non-religious way. I did go to a Church of England School but that was the only school available in the village we lived in at the time. We didn't go to church of course, but then neither did most of the other people in the village!

Our Christmas cakes were decorated with geometric shapes, a cake decorated with a parabola made entirely of straight lines made calculus a lot easier later on!! Our Christmas decorations were also geometric, octahedrons, dodecahedrons and tetrahedrons. I learnt about pineapples and pine-cones and the mathematical relationship between them and sunflowers.

My school took us to church, it tried to get more of us to go to church, any church, regularly (which they didn't define but I've a feeling that once a year would have good) and I did go to a Baptist Chapel for a couple of weeks but, how can I explain this? It was boring compared to the pine-cones, sunflowers and pineapples. The Christmas decorations in the school? Angels are nice but they lack something - 'wander'. How could a bunch of straight lines form a curve? When my father had an icing bag in his hands very easily!!! But that was far more wonderful than anything the church had to offer.

At secondary school they found out that my church school had failed to teach me very much, They had spent so much time trying to get us to go to church it had failed to teach me to read or spell. The reading I made up in a year with a wonderful teacher. The spelling? let's just say that spell-checkers have been a boon!

I do have some special difficulties that Mulan doesn't have as far as I know, I am partially deaf for instance, but even so my church school was so concerned with evangelicalism that it failed to show us the wander to be found in the natural world.

Oh and the mathematical relationship between pine-cones, pineapples and sunflowers? The Fibonacci series. See for more info.


PS If you want an extreme example of the effects on society of faith based education look at Northern Ireland. OK I accept that that province has other problems but the fact that Catholic and Presbyterian children never get to know each other might have had an effect don't you think?

Undecided said...

I hope this isn't a snide comment. I don't mean to be snide but I am curious about something. Anonymous said "But God is good and yes friends, there is a God and he is very sad that you are so lost."

How would I be different if I were not lost?

Becky in Texas said...

God, I so relate ( pun intended!). Even though there isn't a whole lot of religion going on in our house, I like for the kids to go to Vacation Bible School in the summer, just so they know who Jesus is! The rosary thing happened to me too..except with Jesus. Honestly..they didn't even know his NAME! So yeah, it's like, they HAVE to at least be exposed to be able to question it! I don't think I would question it so much if I hadn't been brought up Catholic. I had a grandmother like yours..very devout, very Catholic. "Her" religion was so comforting, but MY Catholic experience was not the same.

I'm rambling, too.

So while we're on the subject of the separation of church and state...why do we say "Under God" in the pledge in EVERY school? We are NOT one nation under "God." We are a nation under many different dieties...and none at all.

But I ramble...

Anonymous said...

In answer to Becky, regarding the Pledge--
The words "under God" were not part of the pledge originally. They were inserted in response to early Cold War sentiments which drove some activist Americans to push for an affirmation of God in our pledge in order to clearly differetiate "us" from those evil atheist Communists. My parents remember when the change was made; I do not. I mumble through that part.

As to why we recite the Pledge every day in school, I understand it is a requirement in some states. I'm a public school teacher (and an atheist--gasp!!!), and we have the Pledge every morning. No student is required to actually recite it, but all are expected to be respectfully silent as a volunteer recites it school-wide over the intercom. I don't actually say the Pledge myself. Interestingly, there have been a few parents who have submitted written instructions that their children are NOT to recite the pledge, and these have been Pentacostals, who state that they can pledge allegiance only to God (never to a flag or to a country).

I have yet to hear from any atheists (other than my biological offspring) who object to the "under God" phrase or any other part of the Pledge. But then, I think all the atheists around here are hiding in the closet.

Becky2259 said...

When I was a kid, going to Catholic School we thought that there were two religions. The Catholics and the Publics. That idea makes me laugh today.

I did worry while my kids were growing up that they would miss something from not goig to Catholic school but now that they are grown I do not think they missed a thing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julia,
I thought you were great on Craig Ferguson's show. Was he nice to you, like during commerical breaks and before the show? He seemed to be very friendly and respectful. What were your impressions?

Susie said...

I just got done listening to an archival recording of you at Uncabaret pre-God said Ha! and I thought I'd see what you are doing these days.

I'm still snickering over the dildo of radiation too.

When I was born my parents primary requirement for a church was how good the choir was because they both like to sing. Because we did not live anywhere near a black neighborhood with a rocking choir we ended up Presbytarian.

Then the Vietnam war started and we went Unitarian and going to church involved playing Red Rover near the patch of mustard flowers by the playground.

Not having any real direction I went searching for my own experience of God and discovered the Foursquare Pentacostal church when I was 12. The experience of God as good theater was very appealing. I was fascinated by the talking in tongues and the people falling over in ecstasy, but after a while I got bored and the boys were not as cute as they were at temple.

So right in time for the Bar and Bat Mitzvah blitz I began attending temple with my best friend Debbie's family. Her father was a holocaust survivor and I would sit and stare at the tattooed number on his forearm while we at Shabat dinner.

At 17 all the cute boys at my school quit smoking the pot and got saved down at Calvary Chapel and I found all the singing very appealing, but I lived for the hugging at the end of each bible study. When they got to revelations I just couldn't buy in.

I then explored Zen Buddhism but I wasn't so great at the bleakness of it.

So I started going to Grateful Dead shows and thought I met God a few times there.

At the end of the day I can only know what's true for me, what works for me, and that's affirmative prayer - or else the fall back I got from Anne LaMott - help me help me help me and Thank you Thank you Thank you.

All of this is to say that I believe your daughter will figure it out if you give her the space to discover what's right for her. I've found that the dogma and rhetoric of organized religion while providing a structure often gets in the way of us knowing what's true.

I'm so glad to find you here happy and healthy and enjoying being a mom!

Zigory said...


On Craig Ferguson's show you were so normal and even shy about the "atheism" label, and so obviously aware and understanding of people's experiences with religion (such as Craig's examples), that it made you seem extremely sympathetic and warm.

I think the average random viewer, whatever their views on religion, will come away from your appearance thinking, "she is so sane and normal and sensible and sweet, I'm curious to know more about her story." Nobody could see you on the show and react with, "That evil brainwasher!" Clearly you are not a militant propagandist, you are genuine and sincere and open to reason.

Your rapport with Craig Ferguson was fun to watch and really came through.

Most importantly for me, I thought the way you explained "atheism," as simply not making the existence of God the central issue in your life, was such a perfect way of putting it. Maybe it was stated in "Letting Go of God" that way too, but it hit me just right when you said it on TV.

In fact, it made me a little more comfortable with my own atheism. I sometimes wonder when I say there's no evidence for God, what if at that moment I turn on the news and see that God appeared at the White House today where he gave a press conference and performed a few miracles.

Of course, that doesn't contradict the fact that until that moment, there was no evidence for God. And even if He does appear in some form one day, I am still the person in charge of me and my life, and with Reason I am able to know what to do. That's more important than whether or not some type of Supreme Being is hanging out somewhere.

Thranil said...

To becky,

It could be worse. My kids have definitely heard of Jesus Christ... but in the same way that they have heard of other swear words... DOH!

Anonymous said...

I have the very lucky position of being raised without religion. The family myth is that in 1952 my father told off the Episcopalian preist, and four of his five children were never baptised. Lucky I was fifth, not born until 1962. Religion was rarely a topic at the dinner table. Catholics appear extremely nutty to me. Extremely. I don't want to under-emphasize that. Ms. Sweeney, I don't care how beautiful the Catholic church "appears". It is a beautiful work of art, but the "belief" is some sort of weird perversion.

Mary Winkler said...

Ms. Sweeney,
I'm so excited for the forum. :D
Dancing around excited, even.
I'm surprised when anyone says they had a positive experience in a Catholic school (as many have stated in comments). I went to one for 7 years -- grades 1-7 -- it only went up to grade 8, and found that if I had gone to public school, I'd have had a better education (and a better time on the whole).

Very interesting.

Jeffrey said...

upJulia, (may I call you Julia?) I have just purchased "Letting Go of God" from iTunes. I also wrote a review of it. I am new to your blog and I am newly excited by the writings of Shermer, Harris, Dawkins and other Athiests (dont' like that word, but I am one). I am so pleased that you are doing so well professionally. I hope that you are as happy in every area of your life. Happy holidays.

Flippy said...

But God is good and yes friends, there is a God and he is very sad that you are so lost.

But the thing is, we're not lost at all. We're all quite happy with our atheism. We don't need to believe in anything other than ourselves, because we are responsible for what we do. We don't need an imaginary being hanging around, doing nothing. I don't understand this "God is good" stuff, when there's proof everywhere that if God existed, he certainly couldn't be described as "good". Look around, and tell me there's an all-powerful being out there and that being does nothing to alleviate problems in the world.

Too funny that you think that being an atheist puts us in the cool kids club. None of us think that not believing in any sort of god makes us cool. We just happen to not believe. Most of the time, it doesn't even come up in our lives. In the past year, I can't recall a single time that I've mentioned that I was an atheist when I wasn't online. It's not a religion, we don't need to convert anyone.

Anonymous said...

" explained "atheism," as simply not making the existence of God the central issue in your life..."

Most people I know who believe in God don't make it a central issue in their life.

bookeraptor said...

Anonymous says:

"Dont put your faith and trust in man. Not in churches. Not in religion. Not in eachother. They are all fallible. God is not. All the destruction in the world is man and nature not God. I dont know or pretend to know why bad things happen. But God is good and yes friends, there is a God and he is very sad that you are so lost."

The idea that a fallible being can apprehend an infallible god and understands how this infallible god feels about non-believers (or anything else) is a blatant non sequitur. Also, a little frightening. The Crusades, the endless blood-letting in the Middle East and Christian Scientists who deny medical attention to their children, to name a few examples, are all products of the notion that we can know a god and know for sure what he wants. And when an unbalanced mind gets hold of such a notion, watch the f*** out.

Ok, enough of that.

Julia, I loved your appearance on Craig Ferguson's show. You were warm, funny and sweetly genuine. It wasn't the best forum to put forth all you probably wanted to say about your non-belief, but what you did say was brave and important. You were wonderful and a breath of fresh air.

michael said...


You state: "I didn't realize how completely unreliable personal experience was in terms of verifying facts and relying on it for real hard information. All those religious experiences that people have had, that convinced them there is a God, that started religions and so forth -- all personal experience and memory, all highly faulty! It might seem like it's obvious to the people reading my blog, but just this little thing to me -- made everything different. This alone turned me into a skeptic. Visions, feelings, memory -- emotionally important, sure. But reliable as truth? Not really. Not really at all."

Apparently, you have discovered something that hundreds, if not thousands, of years of law has not. People are convicted of crimes every day, companies are held accountable for wrong doing, multi-million dollar awards are made, etc. all on this very unreliable personal experience you discuss. To assert that it is unrealiable as truth is to assert that our trial system which is designed to determine the truth, based in large part on personal experiences, is completely invalid. Of course, people do lie, people do have problems perceiving, which is why cross examination is effective. However, that being said, personal experience is deemed very reliable in court.

Furthermore, I think you are confusing perception with fact. It was your "perception" that you did not do well on the Ferguson show. However, you recited the "facts" about the show accurately.

In addition, if your position was valid, then all of science would be just as unreliable. The discoveries that have been made have been done so through the "personal experiences" of the scientists. There is a human who is perceiving an event who then reports the results of that perception. It might be based strictly on numbers read on a dial; however, how do you know the numbers were read correctly? How do you know the scientist perceived the data correctly?

You cannot just apply your logic to religion. To be consistent, you have to apply it to everything where there are humans interacting with perceptions. Carried to its logical extreme, you arrive at the famous butterfly/dream dillema. How do you really know that you are not a butterfly dreaming that you are a person?

Carl R. Sams said...


As you say eyewitness testimony is accepted in a court of law. is considered the weakest of all avaliable types of information. In trials people have consistantly misrepresented the color of vehicles, height of individuals, facial hair, ect. It is often only truly accepted when no other type of evidence is avaliable, and also as a matter of tradition I am sad to say. What is most important is evidence that can be brought to the courtroom and evaluate by all present. And this addresses your second point. You are correct, this logic must apply to all, including scientists and the readings and interpertation sof their data. That is why reproduciability is such a strong component. If a very highly regarded scientist conducts an experiment, and recieves data that you cannot verify yourself by performing the same experiment, either you or the other scientist have made an error somewhere, even though if going on personal experience and memory I am sure you will both recall doing it properly. So you bring in another to perform the experiment and analyse her findings. But she could have made the same error of the one she agrees with, so another is called...... So after many, many scientific peers perform the experiment and the overwhelming majority receive the same results, one concludes thet the one in the minority (often singular) was in error. This is what spelled the downfall of cold fusion, the lack of reproducibility. Or I could be a butterfly dreaming of all this. If that is so, I fully intend to evole myself a couple of opposable thumbs and get to work as soon as I wake up :)

-Veritas Imprimis

passionatebright said...


Did you read my second response to you on the Dec. 4 blog?

What you write here maybe points to what makes you and others gullable for believing in fairy tales. You mix things all up. You avoid the deatils which makes all the difference. Carl R. Sams did a good job of explaining some of the factors in these different types of perceptions. Can't you figure it out for yourself? Can't you figure out what Julia was talking about when she said that eyewitness experience was unrelaible with her experience on Craig Ferguson? She meant that it came across differently than she expected, not that she didn't know the hard facts of being there. Get the nuances.

Don't you know how science works? Don't you know that courts, by the nature of what they do, have to rely on the best evidence they can come up with, even if it isn't very good? Why do you mix all these up and ignore the very important details and differences in each situation? Who are you kidding? Are you really not capable of thinking critically and making these distinctions, or is something else going on?

passionatebright said...

details, not deatils

michael said...


Eyewitness testimony is not considered the "weakest of all available types of information." One witness may testify to an event that contradicts what a document says about that event. However, a judge or jury is fully allowed to rely on the eyewitness testimony over the document in establishing a fact. Your assertion that eyewitness testimony "is often only truly accepted when no other type of evidence is avaliable" is just not accurate. In twenty years of trial practice, I have never seen any support for that. There are no "categories" of evidence where some evidence is accepted over others. Rather, the quality of any evidence is determined through cross examination and the trier of fact will make the decision as to its reliability and credibility.

Your point regarding reproducibility of scientific experiments is correct. If enough people perceive the same thing enough times, the reliability of the findings increases.

michael said...


Yes I did read your comments. I tried to post a response but it wouldn't take for some reason. Fortunately, I saved a copy. Here is my response:


If you are going to be persuasive, you are going to have to rely on legitimate authority. Your position is similar to those who are convinced that man did not walk on the moon. Your buy into the concept that Jesus just did not exist is really humorous and, again, displays a fundamental lack of understanding of historical evidence. Indeed, your refusal to recognize virtually universal consensus by scholars in the field demonstrates your need to "believe" in atheism at all costs.

Do you not realize that you have set up a construct whereby you will deny the existence of Jesus despite all the evidence? You state: "There is very, very strong pressure not to question Christianity too closely in the Western world and much of the population is heavily indoctinated since childhood. I know some of the people who publically question the truth of Christianity get horrifc hate mail and death threats! Therefore in this case, the consensus of experts may not be reliable."

So, you are basically saying that even though there is a scholarly consensus regarding the existence of Jesus, ALL those scholars are either lying out of fear of being persecuted or are simply delusional. Last time I checked, there was not a large aggressive Christian block in Europe. Yet, your position finds no support even there. Furthermore, there are many scientists in this country who deny the existence of God. For some reason they don't fear Christian persecution. Is your contention that scientists are basically braver than historians?

I've read on the websites you cited previously. There is no question that those guys are on the fringes. If you are interested in balance, why don't you spend some time on this site: On the other hand, you can remain blissfully ignorant of everything but the small slice of what you choose to rely on."

As to the remainder of your post, I'm sorry, but I cannot make any sense of what you are trying to say. I suppose I'm just not getting the details and nuances of what you mean.

Carl R. Sams said...

Dear Michael,

I agree that I can stray out of my depth on the ins and outs of a jury trial. I have never been council on either side of the argument. I have however assisted in the assembly of many proposals for the district attourney's office in my jurisdiction, so I will claim to have at least a glancing involvement. I admit there is no stratified and offical "types" of evidence thatI am aware of, you must admit however the weakness of personal testimony. If I state one thing and you state another in direct oposition to my claim....well we arrive at an impass. But if several people state that they never saw a particular memo, but a copy signed by all of those parties is presented, the physical evidence trumps the witnesses, numerous though they may be. The theory behind the rule of heresay in our legal system is the assumption that assertations made by human beings are inherently unreliable. I may be in error but I would be hard pressed to find a case where eyewitness testimony is contrasted against opposed physical evidence and the testimony is found to be the more credible. If you can cite such a case I would enjoy reading the details. This basic flaw in human perception and rememberance is the basis of the "telephone game" we were shown in grammer school, as well as the profession of illusionist. I personally assert that the failbility of human perception and memory to be self evident.

-Veritas Imprimis

Jeremy said...

Letting Go of God is up on iTunes. If you don't buy it, you should at least go and write a good review of it.

David Carney said...

I'm a little late to the party, but I thought a good name for your show might be: God Said What?! Nice reference to your previous show and a light take on your current quest.

Anonymous said...

Dear Julia Sweeney,

The goodness in your heart
is evident on your face.
I suspect that it has always been thus.
Thank you for being so brave.
And cute.

Catholicism is the antidote to

Becky2259 said...

your post gave me a headache. lighten up a little.



passionatebright said...


I have never believed in a personal God in my whole life and I only questioned the existence of Jesus very recently, so they have absolutely nothing to do with each other for me. I was raised Jewish and always thought that Jesus was a real person who was mythologized until I looked into it recently. I really don't care either way. It has no bearing whatsoever on my sprirituality or my life.

You are wrong in assuming that I haven't looked at the other side. I have seen the arguments presented at Tektonic and I am not impressed.

I am sure that scientists who do publicly speak out and say that they don't believe in God, like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, do get hate mail and death threats. I know Sam Harris does. Most scientists don't write books on their atheism or speak much about it. A historian has no choice to write about the existence or non-existence of Jesus if that is his area of history because it is directly connected to what he does, unlike science. Again, Michael, very important distinctions which you ignore.

I am sorry that you cannot understand the rest of what I wrote. I think this is due to the fact that you are heavily indoctrinated.

"Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." Mathew 7:5
I have no problem with the Bible as literature.

You are the one who has set up a construct to support your crazy beliefs. If you were lucky enough not to grow up Christian as I was, is is easier to see what a bizarre nonsensical and superstitious religion it is.

Jeff D said...

Regarding "hearsay" evidence and the reliability or unreliability of eyewitness testimony:

I have been practicing law for 27 years. The classic definition of hearsay evidence is any statement, made by someone (a "declarant") who is not present in court to testify, where the out-of-court statement is being offered as evidence to prove that a "fact" being asserted is true.

The general rule against the admissibility of hearsay evidence, which is subject to various exceptions, is that a statement made by an out-of-court witness can't be cross-examined in court, and therefore the accuracy of the statement cannot be carefully probed or attacked, such as by asking background questions to find out what the witness's first-hand knowledge actually is behind or beneath the statement.

As the hearsay rule is generally stated in the common law (court decisions over the centuries) and in statutes or court rules that codify the rule, hearsay isn't presumed to be unreliable and inadmissible because it is "second hand" or because the repetition of a story can introduce "noise" into the story -- even though this is true. The hearsay rule is simply based on the idea that a witness who is making statements of purported "fact" should be available for questioning to find out the real basis for the witness's claimed knowledge. Of course, when one reads history, one can read statements by people who CLAIM to have witnessed an event first-hand, but when the account is years or decades or centuries old, historians generally prefer to find some sort of independent corroboration of the accounts given by people who claim to be witnesses.

In the case of the events described in the 4 official gospels, there is no corroborating evidence outside the books of the New Testament. Non-Christian sources from the late 1st century and later don't cut the mustard because they generally just repeat what Christians were already saying and writing at the time the non-Christian sources were written.

In the world of the law and the courts, eyewitness testimony is not presumed to be unreliable or possibly untrustworthy, even though there are several decades of scientific research showing that human memory can be extremely unreliable, and that the human visual system can be tricked and confused. In this respect (among many), the law is years or decades behind modern neuroscience and psychology. No, eyewitness testimony is presumed to be admissible, but the opposing party is free to attack the credibility of the "eyewitness" and his/her testimony through various means, by suggesting bias, poor lighting conditions, too much ambient noise or confusion, impaired vision or hearing, etc. on the part of the "eyewitness."

Some people use "evidence" to mean a statement that gets repeated so often that it grows familiar and gains wide acceptance. For example, the nursery rhyme "Ring around the rosey" did NOT originate during or shortly after the Black Death of the 14th century or even the plagues of the 17th century. Cultural anthropologists and linquists have proven pretty conclusively that the rhyme had nothing to do with plague or human measures taken to combat the plague. Yet the popular confusion persists.

I find the same to be true of a lot of the gospel accounts of Jesus' "life" and "ministry" and alleged trial are in this class of psuedo-evidence, for which there is no surviving record of actual first-hand observation of the events reported. On the contrary, the story of Jesus' life, ministry and passion is pretty obviously a "tale that grew in the telling," with numerous contradictions between corresponding episodes in the 3 synoptic gospels and also between one or more of those 3 and the Fourth Gospel. There are also clear contradictions between events in Paul's ministry as recorded in Acts and those same events as recounted in Paul's letters.

The fact that repeatedly embellished myths or heavily embroidered stories/rumors get repeated over several centuries doesn't make them reliable and doesn't make them "evidence" worthy of the term under today's standards, whether one is a lawyer or a historian.

I am reminded of the passage in Mark regarding Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:55-59: "Now the chief priests and the whole council sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none ."[Note that this sentence contradicts the next 2, which says that there were witnesses who testified against Jesus, illustrating the consensus among most careful scholars that Mark has assembled separate bits of oral tradition or teaching from different sources, like "pearls on a string"] "For many bore witness against him, and their witness did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 'We heard him say . . . . Yet not even so did their testimony agree." If there had been a real trial before the Sanhedrin, it would not have taken place after sundown, but ignoring that, if there were no witnesses or if their testimony was contradictory, Jesus should have been acquitted. Mark's account recognizes the unfairness of the either contradictory or non-existent testimony against Jesus. Why should modern readers of the New Testament ignore the contradictions in scripture itself?

The point of the trial episode in Mark was not to describe a historical event, but to put blame on "those awful Jews" and to play riffs on some of the Psalms and other Old Testament scriptures, in order to give the mostly mythical or fictional story of Jesus' last days a more convincing pedigree for the reading audience (superstitious people who could understand Greek and who were as thoroughly steeped in Old Testament scripture as some of us were in reruns of "Gilligan's Island" and the "Brady Bunch."

Jeff D

Audrey Heffner said...

Unfortunately, a True Story

My son was around four when the subject of God first came up, I knew I was a bit remiss for not having mentioned it before, so I was trying to explain it, and he said "Whaddya mean, you mean like in Goddammit?"

They sure hear everything, dont they?

ShellyD said...

The quote from Atheism Quotes reminds me of this one: "Philosophy is based on questions that can never be answered. Religion is based on answers that can never be questioned."

Sure it oversimplifies, but I like it.

Becky from Texas said...

I just listened to "Letting go of God."

I can't stop talking about it to my husband (a Methodist) and my 18 year old son.

My 18 year old son said "MOM? You think you are an ATHEIST now?"

I said.."maybe..."

He and my husband just rolled their eyes.

Wow. I finally found a ... calling...and it's AGAINST religion...weird...

JGL said...

It’s a miracle. I don't watch Craig Ferguson but as I channel-surfed Wednesday night I saw him mention that you would be a guest I taped it and watched yesterday. I think you did a good job. You came off as a person with heartfelt convictions but with an open-minded or open-ended approach to the ultimate questions of life.

In contrast to you, I was raised in Mississippi in a southern baptist environment. I don't think I ever "believed". I evolved from being merely confused as a child to a deist as a teenager, then graduated to an atheist in my mid-twenties.

So, being age 57 now, I have been an atheist for about 30 years. My personality on this subject can be rather schizophrenic. I.e., on some days and in some venues I can be far more strident than even Richard Dawkins, at other times I take a mild-mannered pussycat approach similar to yours. LOL

BTW, I am sure you get book recommendations all the time, but let me suggest three authors that will help to stretch your mind and perhaps give you new ideas to think about, as they did for me. One is Alan Watts. His books "Myth and Ritual in Christianity" and "Easter" really help in understanding how the psychology and symbolisms of all religions address the same problems in very similar. Watts’ other books are on Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism and are eye-opening too - mainly he articulates the meaning of "monism", the ontology about which one's positive belief should be if one has rejected theism, i.e., is an atheist.

The other author is I love is mythologist Joseph Campbell - I think you would enjoy his book "Myths to Live By". And, lastly, "Einstein and Buddha - The Parallel Sayings" by Thomas J. McFarlane is another consciousness-raising book.

I guess the point is one can be “religious” in a good way, a saving the baby when you throw out the bath water. LOL. In any case, best wishes to you and yours.

passionatebright said...

To Jeff D,

Thanks for taking the trouble to write that excellent post on heresay and the gospels.

ben turk said...

Michael, Michael, Michael...

are you the same Michael who follows the fringe scientists (creationists) on evolution?

explain your double standard.

i'm not going to deny jesus' existance, i question it, but i haven't looked into it close enough to draw any conclusion on that question, and i'm not going to, cuz, whether he existed or not can't prove the 12 other things you need to prove (and refuse to talk about) to justify your faith.

and you do need to prove that, because the burden of proof is on the people who are saying my gay friends cannot get married because your god says so.

michael said...


Your presentation of the value of eyewitness testimony in relation to other evidence in trial is accurate, and it supports what I said about it as well. Now, we have an athiest (I guess) and a Christian agreeing on one thing.

Of course, I disagree with your conclusions regarding the historicity of Jesus. On the one hand, you state: "In the case of the events described in the 4 official gospels, there is no corroborating evidence outside the books of the New Testament." Yet, in the very next breath, you acknowledge that there are early non-Christian sources, but you find them not to be reliable. Your first statement is logically true, OR your second statement is logically true, but BOTH statements together cannot be logically true.

Jeff W said...

The most interesting thing about the New Testament, from the historical point of view, is that if it did not record miracles or divine revelation, it would be widely regarded as one of the most reliable historical records to come down to us from antiquity.

I once spent several years examining the historical record of the Apostle Paul's journeys. In the process, I discovered that there exists several hundred pieces of circumstantial evidence that confirm the historical accuracy of that record. In calling the evidence circumstantial, I mean that it consists of things like the correct titles of local magistrates in cities that Paul visited, or the correct description of other characteristics of those cities, or the correct accounting of the number of days it took Paul to travel from one place to another, or the meteorological and nautical evidence that confirm the accounts of Paul's travels by sea. These are just a few examples. There is a huge amount of empirical evidence, all of it pointing to the historical accuracy of the record of Paul's journeys.

Of course, this evidence is not generally known. Indeed, it is in the nature of modern society to see to it that you remain ignorant of such evidence. I mention it only because I get tired of people, as on this blog, pretending that the historical evidence for Christianity is dubious or non-existent. The opposite is true. Although I hesitate to promote the book that I subsequently wrote on this subject, I shouldn't hesitate since most of those reading this will not be interested in pursuing the matter further in any case. For the few who may be interested, however, you can find my book on Amazon. It's titled, appropriately enough, "Evidence and Paul's Journeys." Portions of it are also available online at

Carl R. Sams said...

Dear Jeff W,

I hope this doesn't come accross as too flippiant, but just because Gone With the Wind mentioned historical figures of the time and location of it's setting and glimpsed the horrors of Civil War combat does not mean that Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh had a romance there, or that the slaves were so relatively happy and content. Historical fiction uses proper names and character of cities, but are not to be confused with historical accounts. This is not to claim that the bible or other holy scriptures are devoid of
well founded historical content because of the mythological content. The Illiad lead to the locating of ancient Troy, yet I doubt it was the aftermath of one of histories first beauty pagents. I myself no longer believe that Jesus was a divine avatar of the Abrahamic god, but have no problem with the existance of a jewish philosopher of that era esposing thoughts of tolerance and love. I am simply willing to consider the fact that he might not have existed, and since the preponderance of evidence comes from his followers and worshipers, I think this is a valid doubt to hold. So until more independant historical information comes to light I will continue to view his existance with a fair bit of skeptisism. (Have I commented before that I cannot spell? *sigh*) I could be in error but I believe that most atheists do not conclusively feel that the historical Jesus did not exist, but bring to the table reasonable doubt as to his existance and if shown more substansial proof of such would say....."Ok, now we know." Freethinkers may be as prone to cling to ideas after they are disproven as any other human. It's part of what makes humans what we are, but in general we will move on when presented with the evidence. The difference is that we refuse to change without it.

-Veritas Imprimis

P.S. To both Michael and Jeff D, I concede on the point of the origin of heresay, but maintain my opinion as to it's worth relative to physical evidence. Thank you both for your well spoken retorts.

michael said...

ben, ben, ben, ben, ben, ben, ben ...

I won by 4.

I'm not sure if I'm the michael you are talking about. In my discussions about the problems with evolution, I relied on and quoted very well know atheist scientists as well as Michael Denton, a world reknown molecular biologist who is not a Christian. I never once referred to any ID scientist. So, to answer your question directly, the answer would be no and, no, there is no double standard.

Regarding your assertion that I refuse to talk about things justifying my faith, I respectfully disagree. I wrote a very long post discussing that very topic to which Julia responded. Now, have I written a treatise on this blog supporting such justification? No. The format (and time constraints) requires material to be placed in abbreviated form. It's not ideal, but it does allow discussion.

Jeff D said...


Thanks for pointing out that one of my statements requires some clarification. What I meant is that non-Christian sources (Josephus, Tacitus, etc.) from the 1st 3 centuries C.E. do not provide INDEPENDENT corroboration of New Testament accounts in the Gospels, Acts, etc. because those non-Christian sources don't quote or rely on any historical evidence (e.g., Roman records, non-Christian Jewish writings dating from before 100 C.E.), but instead repeat what the early Christians were already saying or writing about Jesus. In other words, I consider the early non-Christian sources to be merely repetitions of "information" from early Christian sources.

Jeff D

Jeff w said...

Dear Carl --

Modern fiction writers often flesh out their narrative with precise historical detail. But this was not something that was done in antiquity, and not just because historical research was not part of their mental equipment. They lacked modern research libraries and even such simple things as modern almanacs.

Today, we know more about the administrative details of the Roman empire than the ancient Romans themselves, who often possessed incomplete information even about their immediate past (for example, the governor of Bithynia complained at the beginning of the second century that no complete list existed of his predecessors in office).

The Apostle Paul traveled all over what is modern Turkey and Greece and there are a couple of hundred details, most of them quite minor, that are included in the Acts account of those travels. Those many details confirm that whoever wrote Acts knew those many details, which means either that the author had detailed first-hand knowledge of those places, or wrote his history based on someone else who did. Also, a large number of those details would have been true only in the middle of the first century, which is the era of Paul's journeys.

Given this kind of detailed confirmation, Occam's Razor indicates that we are dealing with a real historical account.

Carl R. Sams said...

Dear Jeff W,

I agaian draw attention to what I said in my earlier post, namely "This is not to claim that the bible or other holy scriptures are devoid of
well founded historical content because of the mythological content." If you took another meaning from my word in that post it was not my intent and I apologize. I reviewed your post in an attempt to ascertain the root of any disagreement and I have stuck upon your words, "I mention it only because I get tired of people, as on this blog, pretending that the historical evidence for Christianity is dubious or non-existent. The opposite is true." I don't believe that anyone on here will disparage that there is a strong historical account of the rise to supramacy of the cult of Jesus in the early centuries of the common era, however if I am understanding the story of Saul/Paul (I confess to not having a bible open in front of me) his story takes place entirely after the death of Jesus. This makes his knowledge of anything about Jesus or the apostles third hand at best. Therefore I would wish to see an account of a non follower of that religion as independant corroboration. Something as simple as a record of his arrest and/or execution, a letter from one provential leader to another warning of the arrival of a religious teacher with many followers. With the multitudes he drew to hear him speak as recorded in the bible I would think his passing would not go unremarked upon by civil authorities. I would ernestly like to see such information come to light, it would greatly help in the understanding of the early formative years of this movement that came to shape western culture. Now as to the question of whether Pauls accounts were written by him, that strays into a field I am only recently comming into contact with, textual criticism. I would like to direct any interested parties to wikipedia to investigate more. Basically can we date an original text to the time of Paul? I don't know at present but that would be key to deciding if the New Testament is written by whom believers assume. I apologize for writting a book.

-Veritas Imprimis

Sheldon said...

Okay, I thought that Craig Ferguson guy was a complete ass to you, Julia.

He was so passive aggressive, and obviously felt a stronger desire to take up for his ridiculous religion than he did a responsibilty to be a gracious host. I know he was probably trying to keep things a bit light, too, but I thought he went overboard with how he challenged you on your beliefs.

Oh, how I long for the days of Johnny Carson.

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

Hey Jeff W:

Are you saying that the so-called historical accuracy lends credence to the Bible? As Carl pointed out, many other books mention historical figures, but are still quite fictional. One example that comes to mind is the Harry Potter series. Its discussion of Nicolas Flamel (1330-1418) and his alchemical attempts to develop the "Philosopher's Stone" verifies for us that Flamel existed, but not that he developed this method of ensuring his immortality.

Moreover, were the Harry Potter series the only book that mentioned him, we would be skeptical even of his very existence. This is, in fact, the case with Jesus. Although Christians often refer to him as appearing in many other independent texts, I have never seen any of them. The only mention of this "enemy of the state" I've ever heard of his the Christian Bible. Anyone with half a brain can see that the evidence for Jesus having been a real person is pretty weak.

In fact, even the stories about his "powers" are stolen right out of other early religious stories. Hell, the Christians even stole a pretend birthday for him!

So, you can couch your beliefs in something resembling scientific/historical investigation, but it seems to me that you're simply data mining for supporting "evidence" to back up beliefs you already have (aka, Confirmation Bias).

Melody said...

As I do believe in God, I am not sure why I find myself reading your blog, however, I am intrigued.

ShellyD said...

Kind of a tangent, sorry:

If/when there's a forum, I hope one of the topics will be the value of human life, or (shudder) the lack thereof.

One sticking point in my mind, when it comes to atheism, is this: What gives us worth? Do we have any intrinsic value, and if so, why? Are we really any higher than the animals?

It would be unbearable to believe we have no inherent worth. But that doesn't make it false. So, I don't know.

It really gnaws at me because I have a history of depression, and I need to believe human beings have value. But if we do...why?

Rebecca said...

Shellyd: A tangent, on Julia's blog? Unthinkable! She does write great posts, but by the time I've scrolled to the end of the comments I've forgotten what she said. But I won't let that stop me from recommending--to all of you, but especially to you, shellyd--a book I've mentioned here before: The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts. I had questions much like yours when I was thirty, and TWOI was uniquely valuable, not so much at answering them as demonstrating why some of them made no sense. I found it freeing and very life-affirming. Your own results may differ... but give it a try.

And Julia--I do recall a bit of your post: the way you captured the aesthetic of catholicism.One has no trouble understanding your fondness and nostalgia for the rituals. In my (Methodist) church at communion we had cubes of (not kidding) Wonder Bread and individual shots of Welch's grape juice. I went to a friend's Catholic mass and was amazed and thrilled by the robes, the incense and the wine drunk from one silver chalice! I'd have had a much harder time giving that up.

Anonymous said...

To shellyd--

You ask "What gives us worth? Do we have any intrinsic value, and if so, why? Are we really any higher than the animals?"

Here is my take-- What gives us worth is that we are alive and we know it. Of all the billions of tons of matter in the universe, how much of it is ALIVE? A tiny percentage it would appear. Of the tons of matter that is ALIVE, how much of it is aware of being alive? This is debatable, but awareness appears to be somewhat limited. Of all the matter that is alive and knows it, how much can actually celebrate being alive?

I feel pretty darned special and valuable when I look at the expansiveness of the universe and the fabulous coming together of natural forcces and factors that put me here. ME!! And you!!

Are we any "higher" than the animals? I don't really think so. We are animals, biologically speaking. We have some different abilities (quantitativley if not qualitatively) than non-humans, but each species has its own uniquely adaptive qualities--so each has its own intrinsic value.

Are you a minute speck in an unimaginably enormous universe? Yes. Is there another minute speck exactly like you? I doubt it.

dabradster said...

Greetings all!

First, regarding many of the posts above, though our views are strongly held and differ greatly, might we all agree to be more respectful of one another, if for no other reason, as practice for when Julia gets her forum running?

Brief thoughts, somewhat intertwined with shellyd's existential question:

About family being "catholic."
One way we are related to most mammals is in our desire to care for our young and to cooperate with mates and other community members for the good of all. There are a zillion examples of this throughout human society and nature. One of the characteristics of what I call "the shell game of belief" is that religions regularly take human impulses toward goodness and claim that these basic desires would not exist but for one religious dogma or another.

About eyewitness accounts and their relative value: A recent popular book that has a really excellent presentation on how memory works for good and for ill is "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert. Gilbert is also pretty funny, although his sense of humor was for me a bit of an acquired taste.
As Gilbert writes early in his book, his goal was not to write a self-help book about how to be happy, but instead to show how despite our intentions, we manage so often to sabotage our own happiness.

I can't begin to tell you how much I empathize with you and your feelings. Your questions are deep and important, and won't get fully and satisfactorily answered for you here. You have to find your own answers. But the Alan Watts recommendation above is probably a good start.
I would add our ability to ask the questions is a fine indicator of our inherent worth (the Gilbert book mentions this in a slightly different way). Also that we can ask such questions of one another and that others care enough to answer is another indication.
This doesn't mean that life is easy, or that the Buddha was mistaken about suffering - every one was born will get old, get sick, and die. To me, though, the fact that in the meanwhile, we can love, and learn, and laugh, and dance, and help relieve someone else's suffering, even if we can do just a tiny bit of each, gives us great value and worth.
And not having an imaginary deity to fear or give credit to these meaningful things makes them all the more meaningful!

P.S. I was going to remind some of the other posters that "brevity is the soul of wit," but obviously at this point I would be the pot calling the kettle metal.

dabradster said...

I forgot my "punchline" about family values being (not) "Catholic," and that one can see "family values" in the animal kingdom. FWIW, here it is:

For example, wolves and wild elephants care for their young (often at great sacrifice) and also arrange themselves in mutually beneficial communities. To my knowledge, neither wolves nor elephants are Catholic, nor do they belong to any other "faith." On the other hand, I can think of many Catholics and other religionists who regularly behave like wolves and wild elephants.

dabradster said...

Julia mentioned finding her appearance on Craig Ferguson on

That's a really fun web site (another digital black hole for my time), but I can't find the Craig Ferguson show with Julia.

Can anyone help me with that?

draco said...


Youtube has the interview at:

I think Julia did quite well considering he spent the whole time making fun of her.

Sandy said...

I agree with you that the struggle for belief is funny. I mean, come on... I'm a lapsed Catholic. I think it's funny. Lapsed because I never saw or felt the "GOD" the nuns wanted me to or the 8th grade religious suck-ups claimed to. I never felt God so much looking over me as AT me with that critical eye and disapproving glare, like mom's giant informer (I'm 'way more afraid of my mother than of God). I wasn't much of a Catholic then and I'm even less of one now. Yeah, I went and prayed when George Bush asked us to after 9/11. Then I felt like a sucker because I'd never been in that particular church before and somebody dragged me into a rosary circle before I could do anything about it. Don't get me wrong, the rosary is great for meditation but these guys were really going at it, clinking those beads, pracically flagellating themselves with piousness.
So I lapsed some more. But it IS funny, that struggle to believe or not to believe without evidence (I think we Catholics called it "faith" back in the plaid-skirt days).
I have a friend who says, "Always say some prayers before you go to bed...just in case there's a God." I think he stole it from The Catcher In The Rye but it always makes me laugh. I have another, really brilliant friend who decided one night she'd had enough and before I knew it, she was in her backyard by the Jacuzzi with a loaded gun to hear head. Okay, the story itself isn't funny but you'll understand in a minute. I crept up behind her, grabbed her arms in a bear hug and dragged her backwards on top of me. What was I saying out loud the whole time? "Oh, God, please help me. God, please help me. Please, God, don't let this happen." That was the funny part. Today my friend and I are able to laugh hysterically at this but you see the funny in the struggle? Even when you're SURE, in that moment, that one BIG moment, the Catholic comes back out.
You know what my friend says? God didn't save her, I did.
So why do I have a hard time believing it?
They should have a special school for Catholic deprogramming. Another friend is a rainbow sash Catholic. Gay Christians go to church on Sundays and try to get in wearing the rainbow sash. Almost never works. Harrumph.
I agree more with Groucho Marx: I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me for a member.
I'm loving the conversation on your site. Does all this mean I can't wish you a merry christmas (little m, little c)?

Timmy B. said...

Did anyone else hear yesterday's NPR story on the current "brigade" of atheists? is the link. It was on their Friday (12/15) All Things Considered.

I wrote a letter telling them they missed the nicer non-believers out here, like Julia and Penn. They painted it as a harsh and bitter movement. It must have been on purpose since they chose words like "brigade".

Sandy said...

Um, just read a LOT of your blog. I suddenly don't feel intelligent enough to be an athiest. Bunch of brilliant people on here, God or no.

Anonymous said...


I feel the way after reading this blog and's blog.

dabradster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca MacBride said...

This is such an interesting place to visit. Great to read such open thoughts. I wanted to share a funny story. First though, I should say that I relate to the quandry of how to introduce religion into our kids' lives. We have 1 son who is 10. We are really just delving more deeply into the idea of religious stories because he is very critical for his age and we can finally give him examples of why people believe differently and how some information is historical and some is allegorical. My husband was raised Protestant and has a HUGE disdain for all things dogmatic. I was raised Catholic and refer to myself as a recovering Catholic. I had very old school traditional nuns and some very advanced thinking nuns. Also, my parents were great friends of our parish Pastor and a group of seminarians in California and these were truly hysterical people. The Pastor had his own very large boat and had really rowdy parties. I remember the seminarians taking photos of this one guy in his underwear surrounded by beer and liquor bottles. They claimed it was to blackmail him as he rose in the church ranks. The one fellow was heavy and he cast a large shadow on our glass door growing up. He used to ring the bell and bellow out, "THIS IS THE LORD". We all went to an MGM Studios lot sale once and the group of them bought uniforms from one of the Mutiny on the Bounty movies, I think. The next time they sailed into Catalina Harbour they all put on the uniforms and stood in formation on the bow of the boat. They received a Coast Guard envoy because they thought some visiting dignitary was on board! They put a very human face on religion for me while I was growing up and so my memories, most of them, are very happy, social times of guitar masses and really talking about religious issues instead of being told to just have faith and believe and never ask questions. Also, some of these seminarians were not able to finally be ordained - they struggled with whether or not they should actually become priests. It was fascinating to me, even as a child of 8-11 to know that they were dealing with such conflicts and how they chose to move forward into the priesthood or forward into something else. I was quite horrified to see though that one of these seminarians, who went on to be ordained, has had many charges of molestation brought against him. I was so shocked because I remember him very vividly. He was not one of the main people we spent time with, but he was VERY popular in our parish. The moms all called him "Prince Charming" because he was tall, blonde and gorgeous. Amazing to think there was a wolf in the fold then and wonder if he had those destructive issues then or developed those tendencies later.

But the funny story was about a friend's daughter. They were also unsure about what to teach her about God and religion - so they just avoided it. They lived in an area of Ontario that has amazing old churches and one day the little girl asked to go inside, so her dad took her in. He explained what a church was and what people do in church. They sat at the back and there was an old nun saying her Rosary at the front. The little girl was very taken with the stained glass windows and then in that booming 5-year old voice that kids have she called out, "HEY, DAD, SO WHO'S THAT GUY WITH THE SHEEP? WHAT'S HIS STORY!"
The nun turned around and gave them that NUN look of complete friend was so embarrassed. I have never forgotten that - it was over 20 years ago now. Whenever I admire a lovely stained glass window with a religious theme I always think of "that guy with the sheep!"
Thanks for allowing my contribution and I look forward to reading more of this terrific forum/blog.
Rebecca in Toronto

dabradster said...

Of course you're smart enough to be an atheist, and thank YOU for saving your friend! As every daily newspaper demonstrates, if there was a god, he/she/it would have been perfectly happy for her to pull the trigger.
And of course, we're all born atheists!

Muchas gracias for the link!


I sat in my car an extra half an hour after NPR gave the teaser that they were going to talk about atheists. Oy, I was disappointed. All they had done was to rehash a Nicholas Kristof piece from the NY Times. You can see that column at, but you have to be a paid-up "TimesSelect" subscriber.
While acknowledging that the more popular anti-religious writers have numerous valid points, Kristof wrote this:
"Yet the tone of this Charge of the Atheist Brigade is often just as intolerant -- and mean. It's contemptuous and even a bit fundamentalist.
''These writers share a few things with the zealous religionists they oppose, such as a high degree of dogmatism and an aggressive rhetorical style,'' says John Green of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. ''Indeed, one could speak of a secular fundamentalism that resembles religious fundamentalism. This may be one of those cases where opposites converge.'' "

You can see typically fine rejoinders to this column by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins at Sam's site,

For my part, I think the cry of "fundamentalist atheists" is mainly malarky. It bears the same propaganda signature as "The War on Christmas." I'm irritated that Kristof (and NPR) are helping to spread such a distortion.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that many non-believers, especially those who call themselves "Atheists" can be angry and condescending, which while it may be understandable, is very counterproductive.

Why is it understandable? (Lawd a mercy, I'm answering my own questions like Rumsfeld.) Well, among literally millions of other examples, you could listen to that other NPR story about the backwoods Missouri Baptists whose preachers apparently taught that it's the duty of men (especially the "spiritual leaders") to sexually molest young girls and to have sex with their own daughters. Or you could read "Under the Banner of Heaven." The Bible, by the way, can be (and often is) interpreted to condone this sort of thing, or at least not to condemn it.

Why is it counter-productive? (I hope my answers are more coherent than Rummy's were.) Because when you point out serious problems with belief systems that people have based their lives upon, formed their family relationships and communities around, performed the most important life rituals within (marriages, funerals, etc.), a relatively gentle and respectful approach will get a better hearing and provoke less reaction.

So I guess this coffee is really strong...

JGL57 said...

Speaking of Sam Harris, I would encourage everyone to read his new book "Letter to a Christian Nation".

It makes a good reference book for atheists who are presented with the same old tired objections we hear from religious dogmatists - I don't think I need to list them for atheists.

The really good thing about Harris's new book is its brevity. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins is great, but Harris pretty much sums up the all needed answers to the usual false arguments by dogmatic religionists in less than 100 undersized pages.

dabradster said...

Season's, Merry Christmas!

Just saw this, titled, "An Atheist Can Believe in Christmas."

Good for a chuckle, and relates to some discussion above.

bookeraptor said...

Sure was an interesting article, but, speaking as an atheist here, I really like Christmas. Actually I'll say I love Christmas. One of my favorite rituals is picking out a tree, schlepping it home and decorating it while Percy Faith Christmas albums (yes, real LP records) are spinning on the old turntable. I might say I even enjoy some of the more blatantly religious offerings of the Cambridge Singers...they're just beautiful pieces of music. I enjoy exchanging gifts, making a holiday meal and even hearing church bells. And it's kind of neat thinking that people all over the world are enjoying pretty much the same thing, so it makes me feel connected to others, even those I don't know and never will. However, I don't feel that enjoying all these things makes me less of a rationalist.
Here are some of the books on my Christmas wish list (in case any of you are feeling gifty):
1. From So Small a Beginning
2. The God Delusion
3. History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science
And I'm giving myself a copy of Julia's LGOG.

Jeff w said...

Dear Carl and Sheldon -

I'll try to sum up the state of the historical evidence.

1) The Acts account of Paul's journeys records those journeys taking place within thirty years of Christ's death and resurrection. The book ends with Paul as a prisoner of the emperor in Rome at around 60 AD.

2) The evidence that I refer to is, as I said, circumstantial. But there is a whole lot of it. Paul traveled all over what is modern Turkey and Greece, and the local details that Acts records can be verified by historical scholarship. Many of those details are specific to the middle decades of the first century, which is the time of Paul's travels.

3) Both of you point to modern novels which contain historical details as a means of making their narrative more "real." The problem with using this example is that the ancients weren't really into this kind of historical verisimilitude. In writing, they generally went with what their immediate sources provided them. It wasn't just that historical research, as we know it, wasn't done, it was that it really couldn't be done -- even if they had been interested in doing that. And they weren’t.

4) It is generally conceded among scholars that the Acts account purports to be, and is written as, a history. The fact that the underling historicity of those travels can be established, by means of a large number of local details, and many specific to the middle of the first century, indicates that it is trustworthy as an historical account.

5) What you call the "mythological details" are, of course, separate from this. In my book, I was simply interested in how far it could be demonstrated that the Acts account of Paul's journeys was historically true, or whether any evidence discounted that historical truth.

6) Sheldon points to the Wikipedia article on Paul. The problem with modern biblical scholarship, as an academic discipline, is that it is largely concerned, not with empirical evidence, but with academic speculation. Like much of modern scholarship, it is something of a subjective enterprise. One of my chief purposes in writing my book was to separate the empirical evidence from the large amount of speculation that constitutes biblical scholarship. (That said, I of course was very happy to receive an endorsement of my book by one of the world's leading Pauline scholars, which is quoted on the Amazon page for my book).

7) There is one possible misunderstanding that I perhaps should try attempt to head off. Belief in Christ is a matter of faith and not of knowledge. Thus my book was not written to "prove" that Christ rose from the dead or that He is the Son of God. But faith also intersects with history in the accounts of the early church -- and my purpose was to set out the empirical evidence surrounding the account of Paul's journeys. Frankly, when I got into it, I was surprised at just how much evidence there was.

R. Winsome said...

ShellyD, if you aren't satisfied with the self-help sounding books recommended above, you should read Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre.

It doesn't try to convince you that your life has value, if anything the point is: your existence is superflous, now what?

Also, Samuel Beckett's plays, Neitsche's philosophy, and (for something you can read in half an hour) the short stories of Donald Barthleme. construction and shower of gold are as close as i get to "sacred texts"

R. Winsome said...

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that evolution is a lie. Does that prove there can't be another empirically supportable answer?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that science cannot touch this question. Does that prove that there is a single supreme being, a monotheistic God?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Jesus did exist. Does that prove he's the son of such a god?

Let's say, for sake of argument, that the xtian version of God is does exist. Does that prove he loves you?

Let's say, for sake of argument, that God loves you. Does that prove he's active in your life?

Let's say, for sake of argument that God is active in our lives. Does that prove that The Bible is the word of God?

Let's say, for sake of argument, that The Bible is The Word of God. Does that prove your denomination's interpretation of The Bible is correct?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that your denomination is the one that's got it right. Do you actually agree with the moral code of your denomination, or is it more of a habitual thing?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you agree with the morality of your denomination. Do you act on those beliefs?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that your actions are consistant with your denomination's morality. Does that prove your moral positions should apply to other people?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that yes, these are universal moral precepts. Does that mean that people can be forced to accept and live within these boundaries?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that morality isn't about choice, that someone being forced to accept morality against their will is good enough for God. Does that mean that state power is an effective and efficient tool in enforcing that morality?

Those are the twelve steps, the assumptions your religion uses to justify oppression of women and gays. That's what i want to talk about, i don't care about god filling your hole, i don't care about your pretend search for knowledge... i care about you associating with (if not voting for) the people who are trying to stop scientists from curing my cousin's MS and my grandmother's alzheimers because they can't give a single inch on abortion.

that's what this comes down to in my mind, and, no, i'm not going to be polite about it. obsolete morality is killing people in so many ways right now, if we're going to survive on this planet everyone needs to adapt to and accept the new reality. God is dead, its our responsibility to fix things.

passionatebright said...

To Jeff W:

You keep arguing a point that no one disputes. No one is suggesting that Paul didn't exist or that there aren't some historically accurate things in the Bible. Also, you assume that the only way novelists write things that are historically accurate is through research. They also write things that are historically accurate from their own experience. No one is denying that. Paul could have very well gone on a journey and accurately recorded aspects of it.

At least you admit that the magical Jesus part of the story is a matter of faith, not history. That is no more reasonable than having faith that Zeus and Poseidon existed because ancient Greece was a real place and there are accurate historical references in Greek mythology. It is a completely illogical leap that you could make with many stories and myths from cultures all over the world and throughout history.

What amazes me is what low standards you beleivers have. If you are really seeking absolute, profound truth, why do you settle for "faith"? I think that is superstition and the very denial of truth.

I think that history has its place, but it is not the place to look for the truth about God. If God is real and alive in the here and now, then start here and now. The past is dead and gone and always full of doubt. This is so simple yet the hardest things for believers to grasp because you have been so indoctrinated that stories are so important in finding God, even though it makes no sense whatsoever. You would know this in any other context. You don't discover anything real here and now from reading a story, you discover it from perceiving reality clearly in the here and now. The whole approach makes no sense. If Jesus and the Biblical God were real and alive now, people would discover them without ever being exposed to the Biblical stories. No one does. Therefore they are a projection of reading these stories and a delusion.

michael said...


Why don't you try proving that your mother's great, great, great grandfather lived and, when you're done, explain what basis you have for stating "If Jesus and the Biblical God were real and alive now, people would discover them without ever being exposed to the Biblical stories. No one does." What support, logical, theological, or otherwise do you have for such a statement and what evidence do you have to support it?

Paula Thomas said...

I don't know what this group is like. I found it whilst searching for a forum in which to complain about a TV programme called "The Trouble with Atheism" on Channel 4 in the UK last night. But if it's any good you might find it useful Julia.

Anonymous said...


You seem to be admitting Jesus WAS just a human being like PB's "mother's great, great grandfather". Not many here are going to "discover" him without digging into historical documents.

However, I think you've been trying to argue that Jesus is GOD and that GOD is a little more significant/powerful/alive today than PB's dead relative.

If that is the case, then I do think PB has a point. If God is real and here and now then WTF do we need the bible for?

michael said...


No, I am trying to show how ridiculous it is to argue that Jesus, the person, never existed. Yes, he was a human. He actually physically walked on earth as everyone but the most irrational acknowledge. But, he was also God in the flesh.

Your question: "If God is real and here and now then WTF do we need the bible for?" For the same reason that we need manuals, guidebooks, instruction books for many aspects of living. The Bible is one of the primary ways that God chose to reveal Himself to us. It's not the only way, but it's an important way. There are many areas of the world where there are devout Christians who have never seen a Bible. Having the manual helps to understand how it works.

Anonymous said...

I'm on the fence about God, but when ever I read Michael's posts I am convinced he is so wrong.

3boysmom said...


Are you so totally indoctrinated that you can't admit that you don't KNOW Jesus was definitely a real person? Have you decided to believe the evidence you have encountered? Yes. Do you KNOW beyond a doubt that Jesus was a real person? No. At least have the integrity to admit that.

So what if Jesus was real? So was Mohammad. So was Joseph Smith. That doesn't make their bogus cults any more true than yours.

If you think it's reasonable that god would need to use a written instruction manual to expose himself to humanity you are beyond hope. If god is really GOD there should be no need for a poorly assembled lot of wacko writings to tell people how to find him. This is PB's very valid point.

Read the bible with some objectivity for once. You believe what you do about the bible because from your christian infancy you were told what it said. You didn't approach it by yourself without the instruction of others in what to read and how to interpret it. If you had you might be able to see the lunacy in there. I know...I was there once.

michael said...


Why don't we try to stick to one point at a time? PB has continually asserted that Jesus never existed. That assertion is irrational. The question of whether he was God or not is a completely different issue. My point to her addressed only the former.

So, where do you stand? Do you believe Jesus as a person existed on this earth? Do you believe Alexander the Great existed? Do you believe Julius Caeser existed? Do you believe the rabbi Hillel existed? Do you believe Paul of Tarsus existed? Or do you deny the existence of all historical figures because you weren't there to see them for yourself?

Indoctrination has nothing to do with it. Even atheist and agnostic historical scholars agree that Jesus existed on this earth. Of course, if you are like PB, you will discount even that fact. It is not me who is irrational on this point.

Finally, it's a bit amusing to read from you how you seem to know so much about my upbringing. Are you psychic?

3boysmom said...


Am I wrong about your upbringing? Did you one day find a bible, read it and decide Jesus is god all by yourself? Or did you, in fact, get told what passages to read and what each one meant? Have you not been told how to interpret all the crazy passages of the bible?

Did the people you spoke of earlier who are christians but have never seen a bible come to faith in Jesus without someone telling them what the bible says? If god is alive and moving here and now we should need no instruction manual to tell us. We don't need instruction manuals for most other things in life. How can you think we would need one to find god?

I have no idea if Jesus really walked the Earth. I haven't studied the evidence for myself. I don't really care if he did.

Jesus never really clearly even claimed to be god. The only evidence you have that he was anything but a person made into a mythical figure is the bible. And that is WEAK evidence indeed.

You need to read The God Delusion. Or Misquoting Jesus by Ehrman. Open your mind...

Carl R. Sams said...

Dear Michael,

I may be mistaken, but I do not believe that PB ever asserted that Jesus definitely did not exist. That isn't a "deal breaker" of a question among atheists, it's just that since he is only recorded in a singular source that attributes to him supernatural powers, I think it is quite reasonable to consider the possibility that he may not indeed have existed, not that he definitely didn't, but that he may not have. I may be misunderstanding 3boysmom on this, but I think the gist of her argument is that if god is present and powerful today, why no other revelation? As far as I am aware, all teaching of both a philosophical or religious nature start in a certain area, and spread in a pattern and time frame we would expect with trade routs and migration. Basically, how we would expect if these teaching were passed on from one person to another. If his /her/its existence was as prevalent as some suggest, then we would have expected christianity (or any other religion) to independently spring up in other areas. The Native American tribes would have known of the story of Jesus prior to Europeans landing here for example.
That this has not occurred is a strong argument against the existence of a deity that chooses to reveal her/its/his self.

BTW - To all of the wonderful readers and posters that think that they are not intelligent enough to be atheists, logic and reasoning are not the exclusive property of academia. Every person who is concerned enough to follow these discourses has valuable insight and reason to add. Besides if intelligence was required, my utter and total inability to spell as well as typing lysdexia would disqualify me from the start:P

-Veritas Imprimis

3boysmom said...

Thanks for trying to help clarify, Carl. The original point, though, was definitely PassionateBright's. I thought it was a profound idea. Your additional thoughts about the migration of christianity are also very intriguing.

I often read this board and feel a little intimidated by all the scientific arguments. I'm coming from more of a "been there, done that" place in terms of evangelicalism. I know the arguments on the evangelical side very well. I once believed it all.

Fortunately there were nagging questions and issues that caused me to look closer. I now know how truly warped the evangelical views are. The problem is that get so used to viewing and interpreting every single thing through one very rigid paradigm.

Jeff w said...

To passionbright -

The reason I've been insisting on the historicity of the New Testament is because that historicity is assumed, by a number of posters, to be either unknowable or fraudulent. So again, I state: the account of the Apostle Paul's journeys is one of the best attested histories that has come down to us from antiquity.

You are right, of course, to point out that this is a fairly narrow issue. You are also right to say that the larger issue is: what is truth?

In your argument about the nature of truth, you begin with the assumption that faith is to be defined as subjective belief. You then go on to argue that, since any particular subjective belief (Christ or Zeus) may be true, this means that no particular subjective belief need be regarded as true. All this is fine as far as it goes. The problem is that you do not extend this analysis to include your own beliefs, which you conveniently place outside the realm of faith.

Your assumption, of course, is that you are acting according to reason and not faith. The problem with this assumption is that reason cannot be vindicate itself, as even the pagan ancient Greeks knew. There is no scientific principle, for example, that can be shown to be true by means of a scientific experiment. Instead, the principle exists to explain the experiment. Is the principle an exhaustive explanation of the experiment? No.

A century ago, philosophers fell all over themselves trying to turn philosophy into a "science." That intellectual debacle was called Positivism. Today, there are almost no philosophers who are Positivists, although some scientists still hold to the old faith (and write current bestsellers for the faithful). Most modern philosophers (and, by and large, we are not talking about Christians here), now hold that it is philosophy that determines the nature of science, rather than vice versa.

Here we are already one step removed from any kind of rational verification of the nature of reality, of the kind that you assume that you are making. Indeed, whatever one’s philosophy may be, it very much becomes a method for determining the character of reality, rather than just revealing reality. Philosophical arguments are still couched in the idiom of reason, but the underlying presuppositions of every philosophical argument are – the underlying presuppositions.

This brings us to a second problem with your argument. By defining faith as subjective belief you deliberately ignore what Christians actually believe it to be. Faith is an act of the will in response to God’s revelation. Now this is either true or not as a statement of reality. But it is certainly true as a statement of what Christians believe. They do not believe faith to be as you define it.

The scripture teaches that all have a knowledge of God, but that this knowledge is deliberately suppressed by most. This knowledge does not depend on the existence of the scriptures, or on the history found there, but simply “is.” It is inherent. God also sent Christ as a means of piercing this self-imposed darkness. Although Christ appears at particular time and place, His Spirit remains in the world as the avenue to God, for those who will follow Him. Again, this not a matter of history, except as a secondary matter, but of what “is.”

All this is much too brief an overview, of course. But if the claim to reason is not based in reason (as the Greeks knew), and faith is something different than you imagine, then the real argument begins.

Carl R. Sams said...

Dear Jeff W,


- Veritas Imprimisyosinj

dabradster said...

I'm interested in adding a shekel (nyuk!) or two to this most recent debate, but prior to doing so I wonder if I could prevail upon those who are advocating the existence of God (by asserting the divinity of Jesus, among other things) to tell us a bit more about the basic foundations of their beliefs. That way, I/we will know better which sorts of Christians we're addressing.

Specifically, would Michael, Jeff W, and any others mind answering these questions (all of which, by the way are touched upon in some way in Julia's show, to help bring us back to the fact that this is her blog!):

Do you believe that your God created our planet and all the life forms on it and/or the entire universe? If so, then do you hold the view that this God is an all-powerful, that is, omnipotent being?

Do you believe that your God knows absolutely everything about the past, present, and future, and is present everywhere all the time, that is, do you hold the traditional view that God is both an omniscient and omnipresent being?

Do you believe that your God is a being without fault, that is, a perfectly benevolent and loving being, and worthy of worship for that reason especially?

Do you believe that the Bible is the primary and inerrant message of God, and that it is without fault?
If so, then,
1) Which version(s) and,
2) is it true to say that you don’t believe any of the stories in the Bible are metaphorical, mythical, or legendary, but that all the Biblical stories are literal, factual, and historical?

If you care to answer, please do so in your own words.
Thank you!

R. Winsome said...

i'd like to add to that list: wht political positions does your beleif lead you to advocate? Particularly concerning things like abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research.

R. Winsome said...

Jeff W, i agree completely. what we are talking about are two different approaches to the world.

thing is, i've been saying the same to Micheal for a long long time... (btw, R. Winsome is Ben Turk's new blog name, sorry for any confusion) You guys are trying to use our approach to post hoc justify the conclusions of your approach. why not just accept that your beleifs are based on some kind of feeling or revelation and give up on trying to find scientific or historical support for your position?

The "real argument" begins...

first, to clearly state what this argument is (and correct me if i'm wrong):

which method (reason or revelation) is superior?

let's do this step by step.

STEP ONE: we must agree that neither can be considered perfect.

Reason is imperfect for the reasons you describe. Revelation is imperfect because it is not universal. I'm assuming you hold that god is perfect, but people are not perfect. the fact that i can doubt the word of god (if i've ever heard it) is a flaw in the relevatory approach to the world.

If you don't accept this idea, then we are not starting from a position of uncertainty, and there can be no debate.

STEP TWO: some definitions.

the atheist approach- to proceed through reasoned observation.

the theist approach- to trust a voice in your head.

STEP THREE: the benefits

Science and reason do not give us truth, but they do give us a highly likely, repeatable, verifiable set of experiments that lay the groundwork for our daily assumptions that facilitate our lives.

Religion gives you confidence that you are correct in spite of a lack of evidence.

STEP FOUR: the results

the historical record is FULL of examples of your people amending and reinterpreting the perfect word of god. your method has led people to all kinds of assumptions that are patently not true.

these assumptions include, but are not limited to:
1. the world is flat
2. black people are not people
3. the woman's place is in the home
4. humans and dinosaurs appeared during the same week
5. two men cannot be married to each other
6. Ben Turk is going to hell

you've been wrong on #1-5 why should I live in fear that you're right on #6?

bookeraptor said...

You don't agree that faith, as understood by Christians, is subjective belief, but that is exactly what it is. Faith is certitude without proof, a conviction of the heart, rather than a persuasion of the mind. You can't transfer that conviction to another person by an appeal to evidence the way you can the laws and processes of nature.
And whether or not Jesus actually existed has no bearing on the claims of Christianity: that he was god incarnate, born of a virgin, that his death somehow "saved" mankind from its sins, etc. The resurrection of Jesus is an event that contradicts the whole experience of humanity. You can beleive it or not believe it, but if you do, you do it on FAITH, on the authority of a book of dubious authorship, written in a very credulous age. How far does the imperfect knowledge of that time crop out in the narrative you depend on for your faith?
And of course, your assumptions have a bearing on what you are willing to believe. If you start with the assumption of an anthropomorphic god, the creator and upholder of all things, whose plans for man have not gone smoothly, but have been frustrated by man himself through what believers call sin, so that we are hopelessly estranged from that god and so on through the whole theological formula...if this is your assumption, then all the rest is reasonable to you. Faith and revelation are reasonable. Virgin births and resurrections from the dead are reasonable to you. In fact, once you assume the supernatural to be true, you can adjust your reasoning to fit that assumption.
No competent mind can resist the demonstrations of science, but the demonstrations of religion, its "proofs" and "evidence" only impress those who are already convinced and have already taken the leap which faith requires.

Jeff D said...

I wrote this post last night (December 19) but got some sort of Google server error message and had to re-compose it this morning, so I apologize for perhaps covering some of the same ground as the posts that were added in the interim.

Jeff W wrote, “Faith is an act of the will in response to God’s revelation.”

“God’s revelation,” is another way of saying a direct personal experience such as a vision, or hearing in one’s head the voice of God or God’s mouthpiece. What was called “revelation” or “revealed truth” in the first few centuries of the Christian Era could now (with our 21st century understanding of neuroscience and psychology) be called hallucination, daydreaming, or wishful thinking.

Paul writes (Galatians 1:11-12), “[T]he gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” In 2 Corinthians 10:5-6, Paul writes, “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge [i.e., spiritual knowledge through revealed doctrine] of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”

Paul’s conversion and the beginning of his ministry is founded on a flash of light and a voice he hears in his head (Acts 9:3-7), and Ananias also has a vision in which Jesus tells him that Saul/Paul is to be Jesus instrument (Acts 9:10-16). It’s interesting that in Acts 9:6-7, the guys traveling with Paul hear the voice that Paul heard but see nothing, but at Acts 22:6-10, when Paul is supposedly telling the story himself, he says that his companions saw the light but did not hear the voice. When Acts has Paul telling the story again (at 26:12-16), Paul adds that everyone traveling with him fell to the ground after the flash of light. Tricky things, these revelations.

Is “truth” arising from personal supernatural experience superior true or truer than “truth” deduced from real world investigation and experiment? In traditional Christian teaching, the answer is an unequivocal YES (Although Proverbs 13:16 says, “Every prudent man dealeth with knowledge, but a fool lays open his folly”).

In an uncontroversial passage in the controversial Mar Saba letter (considered by some Christian apologists to be a forgery), Clement of Alexandria writes, “For, even if they should say something true, one who loves the truth should not, even so, agree with them. For not all true things are the truth, nor should that truth which merely seems true according to human opinions be preferred to the true truth, that according to the faith.” [] Even if we conclude that the letter (an 18th-century copy of a Greek manuscript, both now lost) is not authentic, Clement’s statement has been echoed repeatedly by other Christian leaders. Here are three quotes by one of my favorite friends of freedom, Pope Pius IX, who wrote his “Syllabus of Errors” in 1864, in which he cataloged ideas that he declared to be absolutely wrong and evil. The first two are propositions that Pius IX is condemning and the third comes from an 1869 writing:

Error No. 3: “Human reason, without any reference whatsoever to God, is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood, and of good and evil; it is law to itself, and suffices, by its natural force, to secure the welfare of men and of nations.”

Error No. 15: “Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.” [This one was not renounced until the Second Vatican Council in 1965]

Let him be anathema . . . [w]ho shall say that human sciences ought to be pursued in such a spirit of freedom that one may be allowed to hold as true their assertions, even when opposed to revealed doctrine.”
Revelation is wonderfully slippery and resistant to verification. Once we grant that a voice inside someone’s head can impart “truth” that is superior to truth that is tested against and confirmed by real-world experience, such “revelation” can always be made to come out on top, at least in the minds of the superstitious.

“Revealed doctrine” or “revealed truth” is the ultimate type of argument for authority: You must believe this because God or God’s agent told it to me or imparted it to me.

I highly recommend Richard Dawkins’s essay “Good and Bad Reasons for Believing.” It was originally a letter he wrote to his daughter and appears in “A Devil’s Chaplain.” For once, Dawkins is not strident, and he gently and logically leads the reader through a discussion of the three things (tradition, authority, and revelation) that by themselves or in combination are never sufficient reasons to believe anything.

To return to Jeff W’s statement, I guess I agree that many Christians believe that“Faith is an act of the will in response to God’s revelation.” For most adults, choosing to believe something based solely on revelation or tradition is a voluntary act, even if the believer may not be able to fully and clearly articulate his reasons for choosing to believe, and even if the taking of that step was preceded by years of indoctrination. I prefer my own definition of faith: "Persistence and certainty of belief impervious to evidence and reason.”

Jeff D

michael said...


Perhaps I misread PB, but from prior discussions, including those on Dec. 4, she seemed to me to be asserting that she did not believe Jesus ever existed. If I was incorrect about that, perhaps she can clear that up. If we cannot agree on a starting point, there cannot be any further argument. That is to say, if we cannot agree that Jesus was a real person, it makes no sense to try to argue over his divinity. The argument for centuries has focused on his divinity. It is only a relatively recent invention of some to argue that he never even existed. If you concede that Jesus existed, as I think any rational person looking at the evidence would have to, then you have to deal with the evidence regarding whether he was or was not who he said he was.

With respect to the remainder of your argument, God has revealed himself to others independent of the Jews. Native Americans had a strong belief in the Great Father. You are correct that Jesus, as far as I know, did not reveal himself independently to others - that is, unless you happen to be Mormon. They believe that Jesus appeared to the Native Americans before Europeans got here. I do not believe that.

However, the assertion that if God and Jesus were truly God they would have revealed themselves independently to many different groups has no logical basis for being true. God had a plan for how he would reveal himself. He did so following that plan. One might believe that a god would reveal itself independently to various groups at different times; however, that belief is unique to that person and does not follow from any logical construct nor from necessity. It is simply a human idea about how God should go about revealing himself. Personally, I can see no reason why that should be so. Generally, it seems that God prefers working through people.

Jeff w said...

In reviewing the immediate responses to my last post, I concluded (as I suspected within seconds of sending it) that I tried to say too much in too small a compass.

To Carl (who responded "Huh?"), I apologize. My argument makes sense, even if you disagree with it, but it presumes a tacit knowledge of that particular territory. As for the other immediate posters, you are asking me to make this situation even worse. You are right to ask the questions that you ask, and to demand greater specificity from me. The problem is that the blog format, in which one spits out a couple hundred words at a time in the midst of a number of ongoing conversations, makes it impossible to engage in this level of detail -- that is, if you are going to have a real argument and not just trade insults. It's hard enough, in just a few words, to adequately address one subject, let alone the dozen or more you bring up. (I tried to do two subjects in the last post and that was probably a mistake).

So I hope you won't mind if I don't answer your questions. The resources of cyberspace may be infinite, but the human attention span – and my ability to type – is not. I think it’s probably best to focus on one thing, and I would like to focus on the question: "what is truth?"

The basic problem that I have with the belief system of those who post here is that it seems to me to be inadequate to a genuine understanding of reality. For example, your position is that the only real knowledge we have is of material causes and effects. Any other knowledge, based on experience that is not explicable in purely material terms, is deemed an hallucination.

I wonder if you have really thought through the implications of this position. For if you really believe this, you have not only “proven” that God does not exist, but you have also “proven” that you do not exist. I’m quite serious about this. What you call your personality, or your mind, is – on your reading of reality – simply an epiphenomenon of a purely physical process. The real you is an evolutionary accident on a stick. This accident may extrude something that you call consciousness, but this consciousness, being the product of a non-conscious process – is obviously an illusion. You say that you exist, and point to yourself in the mirror, but the non-conscious processes that produce this illusion are – according to you – the true reality.

Reality is either top down or bottom up. Either humans are made in the image of God or they are made in the image of an accidental correlation of purely material causes. We are the reflection of either something higher than ourselves or the reflection of something lower. It is interesting to me, but also a cause of hope, that, most of those who employ a reductionist materialism to deny the existence of God, generally do not employ this argument with regard to themselves.

Carl R. Sams said...

Dear Michael,

As I am possesed of a naturalistic worldview I do not accept that Jesus was divine. I am of the opinion that either he was an entirely fictious figure created as a gestalt of many prior legends, or a mortal man given divine status through the natural growth of his legend. I say this because my world view is not damaged by either his existance or nonesistance, i.e. it doesn't matter to me if he did or no. And while I will not claim conclusively that he did not exist, since the only documentation of a figure I deem legendary is in his own legends.....I will be doubtful of this barring an independant source. So I suppose by your argument we shall have to refrain from debate on his divinity until another time. As far as his revelation to the native americans, the Great Father ideal is on par with the development of many religions world wide, from the greeks and romans, to the pharonic religion of Egypt, to Hindu and the other eastern religions, most religions basically, as the head of a pantheon of many spirits, not a single divinity. As I feel that our basic laws of morality dealing with treatment of others arose from instincts of preservation of the species, as well as the the instincts of a pack hunter, I do not feel commonality between religions on this point is worth of note. However where tha taboos dealing with the spirits are concerned I have seen no laws correlating to the sabbath, or the formation and worship of graven images. One would think if a god set forth imutable laws to a people, he would not give oposing laws to another just to be contrary. As far as the mormon revelations are concerned, they were brought forth by Joseph Smith, someone already familiar with christianity, so I will say that leads to doubt and leave it at that.
As far as his method for revealing himself, let's consider. With the assumption that the Abrahamic god, if she/he/it exists, is omnipotent, and omnicent, basically of good intent, and sticks to the rules and punishemts as outlined in the bible, we are left with two ways to look at the spread of christianity.

1st - An iron age tribal god and his religion are spread slowly by word of mouth among a single ethnic group, with only that ethnic group in mind, his "chosen people" if you will. That religion experiences a split split in leadership (judieism and christianity) as that religion comes to the world stage from the conversion of a politically powerful figure (Emporeor Constitine), it begins to be taught as a religion applicable to all people , and continues to spread along the same paths as other thoughts and other religions at the same pace on would expect since is is brought by conqurers.

2nd - WHile an onipotent god is able to reveal this information to all peoples, and since all peoples require knowledge of a certain teaching (the teachings of Jesus), to prevent their eternal torture after their death, his choice of such a slow way of communicating with his people can only mean that he is unwilling or unable to do so. If unwilling we must abandon the concept of a benevolent god and deem him not worthy of worship. If unable then we must abandon the assumption of omnipotence, and also reject him as unworthy of worship. I feel reason leeds me to believe that his non-existance is more likely.

- Veritas Imprimis

p.s. The forums can't come soon enough:P

Carl R. Sams said...

To Jeff W,

I appreciate your respose to my less that eloquent querry:P, you went beyond my study of philosophy in very short order and left me scratching my head. Oh well, mabe after a semester or two more I can re-engage that particular argument I'll have to bookmark it. As far as your other point, I accept that my materialistic worldview leads me to the conclusion that non-cognative causes and effects lead me to being who I am. And while a bit drab sounding at first blush, I'm getting rather ok with that. After all, I don't really have a choice do I:) As far as what does it mean that I am just a piece of the universie, able to contemplate itself? And what if anything does that contemplation mean? Well that's what I'd like to work out. If I come to any conclusions I feel satisfied with I'll be sure to post :D

- Veritas Imprimis

3boysmom said...


I am curious why you believe the bible is "The Word of God". Do you not have any questions or resevations when you study its origins? When you look at the politics and human wranglings that went on to assemble the "approved" assortment of writings do you ever question the bible's "inerrancy"?

I know god, in theory, could put together a set of writings any way he/she wanted to. But who's to say that just because god COULD do it that way, he/she DID?

What do you do about passages where god orders the destruction of entire villages, including children and animals? I used to explain that away like that was the "old" god and he made up for that all somehow through Jesus. But, if god is perfect and unchanging, that doesn't make sense.

Have you ever studied the origin of the bible outside writings of those of your faith? Josh MacDowell doesn't count as having really studied the issue...

Sheldon said...

What has this blog become in the past 6 months?

It seems that every time I visit, there's another two-dozen-post fight going on with this Michael dude, newly emboldened by the personal response he got from Julia.

I really don't want to read a bunch of Bible quotes, or people's frustratingly long (but well written) retorts to Michael's persistent attempts, I don't even know WHAT he's attempting. Maybe he's trying to covert us? Maybe he's doubting his own beliefs and needs us to bounch his ideas off of? Or maybe it just pisses him off that we don't believe the things he does?

At any rate, I'm pretty much sick of it. Can we move on, please, and let him believe whatever he wants? Surely there are more interesting things in the world to discuss.

As Carl said, the forum can't come soon enough. At least then we'll be able to separate the dicsussion into threads, the "Michael Thread" being one I'll avoid like the 10 plagues he believes Moses brought upon the Egyptians.

3boysmom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
michael said...

Sheldon, et al.:

It appears that I have stepped into the party uninvited and that my presence here is making at least one person sick. It was not my intent to do so. I have enjoyed learning about the basis of your unbeliefs and engaging in a spirited debate. Nevertheless, I understand your desire to have a safe place for discussing issues unique to your situation without an outsider poking in where he's not wanted. I certainly did not desire for Julia's blog to get away from her, so to speak.

Accordingly, I bid you all adieu.

PS - Carl: Veritas, a quocunque dicitur, a Deo est.

3boysmom said...

Seems to me some of us were enjoying the discussion with Michael. I, too, will be glad when there is a forum so that Sheldon can have a tailor made thread just for him.

R. Winsome said...

Jeff W,

lets take this one step at a time then.

Can we agree that there are two ways to approach "the truth", called reason and revelation and that these approaches can be compared to each other in terms of utility to our modern day lives?

is that an acceptable starting point?

allison said...

the forum will solve the problem.
some people enjoy debating about whether god exists or not.
others agree god does not exist and would like to have the conversation proceed from there.
the forum will have room for both.

passionatebright said...


If you are still around, this is a side issue.

You referred to me as a "she" even though I had a non-gender specific blog name. I concede, you are correct. How did you know?

Jen said...

I just wanted to say that I think it is extremely refreshing to see a kinder sort of atheism out there. A lot of the atheistic doctrines are hard for me to relate to because they are (perhaps understandably) angry and bitter at the world for not coming to the same conclusion they have.

I relate much more to Julia's side of things which reflects that she hasn't lost her love for the gifts religion gave her, she's just lost her belief in religion. Its sadder but also more honest that way.

As for Mulan, I think she'll find magic and comfort in other things, maybe things you might not have dreamed of. So I wouldn't worry about that.

R. Winsome said...


Micheal, i did so enjoy insulting you. Blogs are FOR debate peppered with insults! this is the perfect medium for whoppers and zings!

'real' debate needs to be had head to head, the internet is a great opporuntity to hash out frustrations and feel out the opposition, find their soft spots and get ready to poke them when you see em in real life. it's a great place to get your own soft spots pointed out to you as well, as Michael has successfully pointed out mine on more than one occasion.

if you think this is a flaw of modernity, you're wrong. read some old polemical letters written by opposing "great minds" it's the same thing, except on the internet we don't have to wait for the postman.

If the internet had been around for Plato, or Marx or St. Augustine, they'd probably spend half their time flaming each other and the other half formulating their theories, and they'd have better theories for it!

no stifling!

Petra said...


I think that is what most believers think of an atheist. And I suppose some atheists are anti-theists.

I just want to live in my little world without any gods and let the believers live in their worlds with whatever their chosen god or gods.

I need to read "Letter to a Christian Nation" again and again until I have enough of it memorized to be well armed in a battle. I can just feel a rather uncomfortable confrontation brewing in my life.

: ) P

passionatebright said...

Michael and anyone else who wants to learn about the case for Jesus never having existed,

Please read Brian Flemming's blog today, December 20, at

Thranil said...

FWIW, check out and do your part! :)

Sheldon said...

Ding dong, the witch is dead!

And "3boysmom," the issue isn't whether or not I need a "tailor-made thread," the issue is one of dominating the discussion. There are larger issues to be dealt with in this discussion than trying to argue one person into a corner. It's futile and childish. But thanks for making my point sound glib...even if you had to oversimply the case to do it.

a different anonymous said...

To Jeff W:

You said, "What you call your personality, or your mind, is – on your reading of reality – simply an epiphenomenon of a purely physical process. The real you is an evolutionary accident on a stick. This accident may extrude something that you call consciousness, but this consciousness, being the product of a non-conscious process – is obviously an illusion. You say that you exist, and point to yourself in the mirror, but the non-conscious processes that produce this illusion are – according to you – the true reality"

Exactly right. You should read some modern neuroscience. You've hit the nail on the head. The conscious feeling of "self" is an illusion. But one we all appreciate.

To Sheldon:

Please realize this blog is not your ivory tower, and all posters here come as equals (yes, even Michael). At some point, you might find yourself being pushed into a corner.

To Passionatebright:

It's easy to tell you are female. No guy is going to use that name, regardless of his sexual orientation.

3boysmom said...


The only one trying to "dominate" the discussion was you. You wanted it shut down and you got your wish.

Carl R. Sams said...

I miss Michael :(

Jeff w said...

To “a different anonymous”:

You said: “Exactly right. You should read some modern neuroscience. You've hit the nail on the head. The conscious feeling of "self" is an illusion. But one we all appreciate.”

Actually, that’s not the conclusion of neuro- or any other science. That’s the conclusion of your *philosophy* of science. There is no scientific experiment, even in principle, that can demonstrate your conclusion. Your conclusion is, fundamentally, faith-based.

To r. winsome:

You said: “Can we agree that there are two ways to approach "the truth", called reason and revelation and that these approaches can be compared to each other in terms of utility to our modern day lives?”

Actually, reason and revelation are two aspects of the same reality. As the Greeks showed, reason is a form of revelation. This is why the chief problem with your belief system is that its foundation (“no reality outside physical causes and effects”) cannot be verified according to your own criteria of verification – as I just said to “a different anonymous” above.

That said, reason and revelation can be separated in order to analyze them. However, the idea that truth is demonstrated by its utility (the pragmatic argument that you are suggesting) is essentially a non-starter for me. Something is true, rationally speaking, because the argument is consistent, not because that truth is “useful” to you.

Juliano said...

About the supposed existence of Jesus, some material:

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead?

Non-Christian Testimony?

Passionatebright said...


Re: Michael

You are free to bring any topic that you think is important for atheists to discuss to the comments. You don't need to shut down other discussions to do this.

Also, even though Michael is only one person, he says many of the same things other believers say, so in a sense it is not just arguing with one believer. Learning to debate with believers is part of being an atheist.

You were also very rude to Michelle Cairo and chased him away which I did not appreciate.

Please stop this behavior. It isn't your blog and it is unfair to the rest of us.

dabradster said...

Well, here's one last post to the blog. I wrote what's below off-line, then came online to find that we have a great new forum. Thanks Julia!

(I wonder if anyone will bother to see this? Maybe I'll paste some of it into the forum as things come up.)

Jeff W:
I’m guessing you were referring to the questions I posed earlier when you said you would decline to answer due to limits of attention span and typing ability, and when you said further that you preferred to focus on the question, “what is truth.” What you wrote following that statement, however, had more than a bit questionable “truthiness” in it, although I’m sure you didn’t intend it that way. One quick example: You wrote, “ Either humans are made in the image of God or they are made in the image of of an accidental correlation of purely material causes. We are the reflection of either something higher than ourselves or the reflection of something lower.”
All that sounds learned and conclusive, but it’s nonsensical. Humans don’t have to be made “in the image” of anything except our biological parents. Neither evolution nor DNA transmission through breeding is accidental. And “either the reflection of something higher or lower” is a false choice indeed. We are the product of our biological and experiential heritage. There’s nothing higher or lower about it unless you start examining the subject as you do, from a position of God-belief.

(Speaking of being made in the image of something, if we are made in the image of God, like the Bible says, which one of us looks most like him these days? Does God look like Mel Gibson? Or more like Shemp from the 3 Stooges? Or maybe like Dolly Parton? And if God has a physical image, doesn’t that mean he/she has to have a position somewhere?)

As for the questions I asked earlier, it just seems to me that before it becomes worthwhile to address questions about Paul or Jesus or Christian faith, the more fundamental issue of whether or not God exists in the first place ought to be discussed. The best way to do that is to start with the basic theological questions.

After all, if there is no God, then Jesus, Paul, and religion in general must be viewed from a very different perspective, no?

If there is and was no God, Jesus (assuming for the sake of argument that he was an actual human being – I don’t worry about that one way or another) was just an independent-thinking teacher of a primitive superstition. Paul was either a con-artist or somebody who was out in the sun too long, or both. Christianity, like Islam and Judaism, while great human phenomenons, are just that – human constructs that gained currency through human means.

Incidentally, our departed Michael (may he rest in peace) said, seemingly to support his beliefs, that “Native Americans had a strong belief in the Great Father.”
“Native Americans” is a very broad term. There were many belief systems among indigenous tribes on our continent as well as on other continents. Most involved several gods (with both genders represented), and many “spirits.” Many gods were based on natural phenomena such as the sun. There were also a variety of non-reconcilable creation myths among the native tribes.

I’m sure we can all agree that all of the native gods and creation myths were human-created legends which served to comfort a primitive people and to cement tribal bonds. But as objective reality, again I’m sure we can all agree, they were baloney. As for the “great father,” some tribes had such a notion but I’m guessing at least some of the “great father” stuff came from Hollywood western script writers. Ugh, Keemosabee.

Jeff w said...

To dabradster

I'm afraid that it's you who's not being logical here. If evolution is not an accident, then you've just introduced a telos, or purpose, into existence. If evolution is directed toward a particular purpose, or end, then that purpose is God -- however rudimentary the definition of God at this point. So I don’t think you really want to go there.

An earlier poster was logically consistent when he agreed to deny his own existence, as well as God's, while simply stating that he was here just to "enjoy the illusion" that he existed. One wonders whether he really believes this , of course. But he's right to think that he has to believe this if he is going to maintain that reality consists only of material causes and effects.

R. Winsome said...

jeff w,

please please please come to the forum! i'm very interested in what you're saying here, and i'd like to try and penetrate your thick thick skull.

once you get there can you perhaps frame some kind of statement in terms that are not tautologous? i'd like us to start a debate instead of carrying on with you presenting conclusions that are self evident to you but nonsensical to the rest of us.

btw, you're misunderstanding debrabaster here. by 'evolution is not accidental' he's saying that all the people and animals that contribute to the evolutionary process have intention in their actions, which creates a trend or direction to evolution (natural selection). This intention is typically to bang the hottest possible member of the opposite sex. if you wanna call that god, i guess i can't stop you, but...

Hank_TN said...

I've only read a couple of responses and I got the jist that Darcy was saying "that's so Catholic", as if she were going through memories of her own childhood. And that the piece of artwork was similar to things she produced as a child.


Jeff w said...

To r. winsome

I seriously thought about joining your forum, but – like most people – I have too many irons in the fire. Also, judging from reactions to my posts so far, I’m not sure we’d get very far. An actual conversation would be needed, I think, to really sort things out. And even that probably wouldn’t get very far.

I ended up on Julia’s blog quite by accident and decided to put my oar in to see what would happen. I don’t get out much, and the participants on this blog seemed exotic to me – like some weird cargo cult.

The idea that there is no knowledge outside of scientific knowledge is a view that is easily refutable, or so it seems to me. Of course, there may be arguments in favor of this view. The problem is that you begin with the assumption that no argument is needed, on your part, to establish your position, beyond continually pointing to your basic assumption as being true. In fact, if I understand you correctly, any possible argument against your view of reality is precluded. Arguments against your view simply don’t exist. This makes it hard to engage in a genuine argument.

Let me leave you with this thought. Most everything that we know in this world is non-scientific. Even science itself, at bottom, is non-scientific. In the hierarchy of knowledge, science is subordinate to philosophy (and also to other forms of knowledge). Philosophical reasoning sets out the parameters of how science actually operates – and those parameters cannot be verified scientifically. So your fundamental belief (“the only knowledge is scientific knowledge, everything else is fantasy”) is simply wrong.

R. Winsome said...

Jeff W...

i don't know if you'll read this. i'll be missing the dialog we could have generated.

i don't hold that the only kind of knowledge is scientific knowledge. i hold that scientific knowledge is more reliable and useful, and PROBABLY hits closer to truth than the other sorts of knowledge (or methods of pursuing knowledge) this is a step that you seem unwilling to make and as a result you frame the debate in terms that exclude it from your way of thinking.

i'd think it'd be really really interesting to find a common framework, to work backwards to a point where you and i can begin talking, and then see where things go.

is there another place (another of your irons in the fire) where perhaps i could come, be surrounded by your people and gnash my teeth in viscious cruel debate, cuz that's what i'm here for.

Anonymous said...

For f's sake, enough with the "I was Catholic now I'm an Atheist" drama queen BS. You didn't share your Catholicism with every friggin' Tom, Dick and Harry, why share your atheism? Why does every damn TV writer/actor feel the need to vomit their emotional struggles to everyone.

Why do you Hollywood dimwits have to share your (pick one) atheism/religious conversion/alcoholism/drug rehab/political views/etc, with the world?

Because we're stupid enough to pay for it--look a famous nitwit shares my struggle/belief/stand/whatever. And it pays your rent.

Anonymous said...

What I have never understood about atheist is why you would spend a single moment of this very short life arguing or debating or even interacting in meaningless ways with strangers on the internet. According to your cosmology, life is short, and you are going to be very dead and very gone; very, very soon. If I were you, I'd be making the most of every minute with people I love. And if you're not, I really question if you have realized that life is finite. Also if you are so "moral," why would you want to "convert" people who are happy in their "dellusion" of a deity by convincing them there isn't one. Isn't that like telling a little kid there's no Santa Claus. It just seems mean. As for religion being the cause of violence and death in the world-well that's easy, the actual cause is man himself, we are killers and we will use any excuse to kill and Religion is just as good as any.

Anonymous said...

I have a question of the board. I'm new to Julia's blog and have been trying to understand atheism. My single question is this: Do atheists not believe in God, or just religion in general? I guess I'm wondering if there is a spiritual side to atheism...???

degreesofgrey said...

Hmm..interesting Julia.
However I don't think that being athiest predicates not teaching any kind of religion to your kids. I don't mean faith or dogma, but culturally and historically.

I grew up in CO and the NW, and my mother helped teach me about Tibetan Buddhism (went to Shambala Center for awhile), Judaism (went to Hebrew School for awhile), Christianity (went to United Methodist and Presbretarian churches for awhile), Other Ways of Faith (went to Unity and Unitarian Universalist churches for awhile) and a couple other Hindu things thrown in for good measure.

Then, once I turned 15, she said I could do whatever I wanted to do, go to whatever I wanted (not that I -had- to go to all of the above.)

I chose a fundamentalist church for about 5 months, mostly because I was gay gay gay, and my best 'friend' went to the church. After that, I went Judaic for the community of people and hung at the synagogue.

Now, as a mid 30's adult, I don't currently do anything religious. I have more of an internal faith in our crazy, sometimes wonderful, often times severely-fucked-up humanity I suppose.

But at least I understand the impact religion has had on human beings, enough to take a course in college on Islam, and I forever thank my mother for giving me a thorough education. And enough to wonder and use critical thinking to relate and compare the symbolism between a rosary and a mala.

Anonymous said...

I know this is a really old post, but I felt compelled to comment because your anecdote reverberated with me in light of a recent exchange I had with a good friend.

So my oldest friend finally broke up with this HORRIBLE disgusting boyfriend that I hated: he was a daily substance abuser, exceptionally dumb, misogynistic, unattractive, and an all-around scumbag. I rejoiced, but only temporarily; she chalked up the problems she'd had with him during their relationship to the fact that "she had never dated a non-Christian before." ?!?!!! He was the grossest, most awful guy ever, and in her mind, it's because he's not a Christian. She stated this insult matter-of-factly with the full knowledge that I'm an atheist too, but apparently, I shouldn't be offended because I'm supposed to know what an unethical, sleazy piece of crap I am as "one of them." Give me a break! Perhaps I should tell her about her last Christian boyfriend's confession to me that he would smoke crack (between stories about the demon-exorcisms at his church).

No one I know gets me on this issue, so what a relief to find your blog entry tonight! I'd love to buy a DVD of your play when it's available.


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^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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