Let's Think About the Big Picture

Disbelief has rapidly been gaining ground especially since the beginning of the twentieth century and continues today at record pace. Atheists are the fastest growing minority in America. The non-religious comprise 1 billion members of the population, around 20 percent of the entire population. To realize how fast this has happened, consider this. The percentage of people that would fall into the skeptic, Agnostic, Deist, or non-religious category at the year 1900 would be around .2%. So within a hundred years that same group has gone from .2% to 20% or more and that is not including the deists!

I read this a while back in a book by the Christian apologist Os Guinness who specializes in the sociology of religion, he holds a Ph.D in Sociology from Oxford, for the percentage of present worldwide disbelief see the Cambridge Companion to Atheism. Considering all the effort put forth by religious adherents for people to believe in the religious, including things such as missionary work, literature, religious radio, Churches, Religious schools, Sunday school, religious tv etc. And considering on the other hand that on scale with the religious the skeptics ideas and exposure of them have been infinitesimal. So it is pretty remarkable if you think about it, that skepticism has grown as much as it has without having no where near an equal hearing or exposure as religious belief have had. It wasn't even much longer then one hundred years ago where even in America people where being put in jail for blasphemy charges! So if skepticism has grown this much this fast without near the exposure that religion has had, just think what would happen if culture got to the point where it did? We have this many people becoming skeptics without skeptics Sunday schools, without skeptic missionaries, without skeptic churches, without threats of going to hell if you change your mind, without all the social pressure to believe certain doctrines and the threat of being cut off socially if you don't, without skeptic praise and worship, without skeptic communities that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy giving you a sense of identity and making you feel like your part of some divine eternal plan, without skeptic TV that is on 24/7, without being indoctrinated to believe something without question from the time they where young with hell is the only alternative if they chose to believe otherwise, without skeptic wars that set up a skeptic pope, without killing religious people for disagreeing with them, burning books and libraries down who adhere to another creed and silencing the opposition not by argument but by force, without a skeptic empire that dominated western civilization for over a thousand years, without the punishment of death or imprisonment for blasphemy for talking against skeptics beliefs etc. I could go on but you get the picture, the war for truth and for the minds of men have not been fought fairly throughout history. Just think how different things may be if it was!

In any discussion on the subject of making society more conducive to secular enlightenment invariably both many skeptics and believers will indulge in the guilty by association fallacy. This fallacy tries to say something is wrong just on the basis that it is in someway associated with something wrong. For example Hitler drinks water and wears clothes and Hitler is bad, therefore drinking water and wearing clothes is bad. Even though this line of reasoning should obviously strike some one as absurd, I very often hear this line of reasoning from otherwise intelligent people when it comes to religious issues. So when people say things like.... "you should not try to change someone’s religious views because that is what religious people do" "Skeptics should not meet in buildings because religious people do that" "Skeptics should not be passionate about letting people Know why and what skeptics believe because that’s what religious people do" they are committing the guilty by association fallacy. Of course it is fine if people want to try and say why skeptics should not do such and such on other grounds, but when there soul objection is that skeptics should not do something if religious people do the same thing that is just patent nonsense. Religious people also breath, have friends, have careers, and have sex, but I do not see skeptics saying we should deny all that on the same grounds (:.

So lets do some brainstorming and try to think of the big picture. If our goal is to secularize society what are some barriers that would need to be overcome and how can we overcome them? For starters I think we need to persuade skeptics that doing things to make society more skeptical is beneficial for them and everyone else. Skeptics of course believe religion is false but many do not think it is more harmful then helpful. If religion is valuable then why do anything to mitigate it? Until this prevailing attitude is changed among the skeptical community it will be like trying to fight a war without half your countries members or resources. I actually plan on putting together a book on this very topic in the future. The book would be a compilation of the greatest thoughts from the greatest skeptics throughout history on the reasons they gave for religion being more harmful then helpful. I would also want to have all the greatest modern skeptics to write their thoughts on why they think religion is more harmful than helpful and how we would be better off without it such as Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, Loftus, and more. I would, to be fair, include some essays by both skeptics and believers who argued the counter-position. I think the skeptic community very much needs this though, because if they are not persuaded that religion is more harmful then helpful, then what incentive will they have to go out of there way to do something about it? Skeptics have enough numbers to change the worldview of billions if they really wanted to.

For example I have only been a skeptic for a couple of months and have helped deconvert my best friend, my brother, and my ex-girlfriend. Think what would happen if every skeptic just helped deconvert one person in their lifetime, the effect would be incalculable. With my best friend and ex-girlfriend I did this just by giving them skeptic books to read and persuading them to read them. With my brother I actually just talked to him and he became a skeptic. Many of the people that are close to you will read some type of skeptical material if you let them know how important it is to you. Religious people become skeptics all the time, how do you think there are near a billion skeptics in the world if they didn't? My main tactic with people is to first convert them to reason (by that I mean a rational method) and then expose them to counter-information. So how do we help expose religious people to counter-information? How do we even begin to secularize a culture where religion is privatized and a personal affair not a public one? A culture where it is politically incorrect to rationally scrutinize religion. A culture where people are constantly affirmed in there beliefs by there collective group but rarely challenged, and if so it is usually a superficial challenge. Here are some possible ideas that could get the boll rolling.

1. Create incentive among the skeptical community that religion is a harmful falsehood that is well worth fighting against for the sake of the greater good of humanity.

2. Organize the skeptic community as much as possible and help create as many skeptical institutions as possible (Yes I think the idea of skeptics meeting together is a good idea, call me crazy but it just may be beneficial for skeptics and the cause of skepticism. How much influence would religious people have without Church?

3. Seek to make religion more of a public affair then a private one. Bring it out into the light.

4. Publish more skeptical books at a popular level that are geared towards the people who need to read them the most.

5. Start a skeptic 24/7 television station (yes I am serious why not? We have the numbers and the money to do it; all we need is the will.)

6. Start a religion Channel that deals with things only related to religion and where the best arguments and top people of both sides are presented. In this way we could expose religious people to skeptics and skeptical thought they may never have been exposed to otherwise and plant seeds of doubt that may spur them to read and study farther. If the subject of history can have channel and do well, why not religion, why not a religion channel? This would be healthy for society in so many ways I am sure you can imagine.

7. Make sophisticated and entertaining documentaries that are good enough to show at the national cinematic level (Hey Michael Moore did it with 9/11, why could it not be done again dealing with religious issues? You could also make documentaries, where both top people and reasons pro and con where presented. In this way you could get more people to watch it and get more people exposed to new ideas.

8. Create a book series that critically challenges all the major religions. In the book series you could bring all the top skeptical scholars to write a comprehensive critique of the religion at hand, and make the book series geared for the believer to read. To reach as wide a demographic as possible, the book series would have beginner, intermediate, and advanced versions of each book. So for example you would have: a) The Case against Islam (Muslims comprise about 1.6 billion people of the world which is about 25% or one out of every four people on the planet! Some sociologist estimate that if Muslims keep growing at the same rate, that in 40 years from now half of all children born on the planet will be born to Muslim parents! There are also over 40 Muslim nations on the planet. b) The Case Against Christianity (Close to two billion people) c) The Case Against Eastern religions (This book would cover mainly Hinduism which comprises about 850 million people and Buddhism which comprises about 600 million or so.

9. Create a debate book series similar to the Christian counterpoint book series, except instead bring together top philosophical combatants on issues related to religion. In this way you could expose people to views they would otherwise never be exposed to or never read themselves (and if religious people think there views can withstand the force of sophisticated scrutiny then they should want this also). You could call the series the "decide for yourself" debate book series. You could also carry over this idea to a magazine, radio show, documentaries, internet website, and TV show.

I could go on, but I would like to hear more and more brainstorming form others on what could possibly be done to make society more conducive to the truth.

30 comments:

Bryan Riley said...

Andrew says: "I could go on, but I would like to hear more and more brainstorming form others on what could possibly be done to make society more conducive to the truth."

How about getting to know God as a person rather than learning facts about God? I think that would get people closer to the Truth.

I find it interesting that you each make a point to say that you were Christians but that you deconverted and now are closer (or have) the truth - that there is no God or that if there is a god that god is not the god Christians sell.

Here's why that is so interesting. I thought being a Christian meant knowing God - knowing God as in the Greek word gnosis, like the Spanish verb conocer, an experiential knowledge, rather than knowing facts about God. (See, e.g. Ephesians 1:17 or think about how Adam knew Eve and God knew them both).

If you have met someone, known them intimately, and spent time with them - experienced life with them, then although with some of those people you may later wish they didn't exist or never existed (many who have gone through the bitterness of broken marriages or other similar relationships), you cannot come to a point where you can honestly claim that person never existed. Wishing it and it being true are entirely different things. Likewise, if you have experienced God you cannot come to a point of saying He doesn't exist.

So, all your stories of being Christians really need to be about pursuing a factual knowledge of God, hanging out with others who did the same, being religious, being a part of a culture that claims to believe in God, etc.

So, it seems to me that if you want to succeed at deconverting people (having them go through the same process as you have) you need to encourage churches to keep teaching people religion. You want people to believe that God is an entity about which one can know lots of facts and study, like knowing about Atlantis, but who isn't real and can't be experienced. Deism is great. Empty religious practice is fantastic. Intellectualism is very important to such a pursuit, but don't let on that God may really be someone who wants to be a friend, a husband, a very real person who loves them and will talk to them and walk with them.

If, however, you want Truth, then you need to involve the whole person that we are, which includes our brain and our emotions and desire to relate. So, intellectualism isn't bad, it just is a partial picture of all that God is.

I appreciate this well written post and am glad that people are not ashamed of the things they claim to believe.

John W. Loftus said...

Bryan, we all experienced what you now claim to experience...all of us. And we would've described it exactly the way you do. But we have come to reject that experience as veridical. There is no Christian God to have an relationship with. For us on the other side, it is merely an idea to be debunked.

I hope you understand.

Cheers.

Bryan Riley said...

John, I really don't understand.

For example, are any of you divorced? You experienced your wife or husband. In every way. Sure, he or she masked themselves and hid themselves and weren't perfect, just as you did, but you experienced them and they you. Even though for many who've gone through such an experience they wish that person never existed, that person exists regardless. And, when you are honest about your very real experiences with a person or an entity, you cannot claim the other never existed.

Anyone you have known experientially, cannot be said to have never existed. For a group that values reason so much, this seems plain.

Now, could it be that the experience was self-deception? Self-manifested? One could say perhaps. That may be what you now say. But, that would make us a pretty creative organism, would it not? Where does that creativity come from? Could God's claim that He made us in His image be true? Is that evidence thereof? (I don't say proof, but evidence.)

Again, I'm not here to fight. I'm trying to understand. And, your claims of deconversion from a relationship with a god just don't make sense. I think you are demonstrating that you knew about God or gods, that perhaps you were religious, but I do not see how you can claim to have experienced God, had a personal relationship with God, etc.

I do think that skeptics need not do much to encourage people to doubt today. Those who claim to be Christians do much of the work for them. :)

John W. Loftus said...

Bryan, believe it or not, I am not here to fight either. I'm here to discuss and to learn. I just happen to think the evidence and the arguments are clearly on my side, that's all, and I even link to Christian books and other sites (it's very hard to keep up on this, since I must first go there and spend time reading them before I link to them).

BR: Now, could it be that the experience was self-deception? Self-manifested? One could say perhaps.

Yes I say this, and my argument is that with the proliferation of religious diversity there is a lot of self-deception going on in the world. There are also perfectly natural explanations for this self-deception in our need for "wish-fullfillment."

BR: That may be what you now say. But, that would make us a pretty creative organism, would it not? Where does that creativity come from? Could God's claim that He made us in His image be true? Is that evidence thereof? (I don't say proof, but evidence.)

This would be one of several possible explanations if said Christian experiences were truly veridical. But this is not evidence.

BR: I do think that skeptics need not do much to encourage people to doubt today. Those who claim to be Christians do much of the work for them. :)

An honest admission from an honest man.

goprairie said...

I read, probably in a sociology textbook 25 years ago, about the needs that religion served for people. Being part of a social group, routine and ceremony, feeling part of something larger than self, and if anyone knows this list, it might be worth digging out and talking about.
So yes, people who have doubts can be reluctant to give it up if it is filling needs. People who used to be church goers sometimes need a routine to replace it like going for a run or walk or reading Sunday papers or going out to breakfast. People who miss the people feel better if they join a club of some sort. So a group to meet with would be an important way to fulfill some of those needs. (But you would have Christians showing up trying to 'save' you and interupting discussions, I bet.)
I have also found that there are a lot of people out there with doubts but since Christianity is so pervasive in so many areas, they never gat a chance to explore these doubts and 'develop' them. And even if they have decided they are atherists, they certainly will not admit it to their pool of Christian friends. We discover each other one tiny sarcastic comment at a time to feel out our beliefs. It took a friend and I about a year to get around to having the courage to ask each other and we still are not 'out' as atheists to most in our community. But once I admitted it in a forum, such as an email political discussion group I participate in, people came to me privately "I think I might be an atheist too, can we talk about it?" It is sad to me that it is so hard for a person to find information and others with whom to talk about it. More public action can only be a good thing. One thing these bestseller books by those such as Harris and Hutchins did was give us a way to bring it up without it being about religion. "Did yoi read . . ." is a safer way to begin the conversation and to see where someone stands that "What do you beleive?"

Bryan Riley said...

Goprairie, followers of Jesus are much the same way. It's easy in Arkansas to talk about going to church, but it is something different to talk about following Jesus and really seeking to follow directives from some unseen entity. People, when you start talking about God speaking to you through the Holy Spirit, often begin to think you are crazy, even those who claim to be Christians. People don't understand how I can not know where I will be in January because I'm awaiting orders from my Boss. :)

Many religious Christians explain away such things as only for "apostolic times" and point to charismatics as nuts. And, those who claim to be charismatics do little to defray such a characterization. Frail humanity...

John, it is evidence. It isn't conclusive. It can, however, be weighed. It actually would fit in with the lengthy post about the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (a new one for me).

Have you had trouble with allowing anonymous comments? I only ask because I like to sign in as other but identifying myself.

goprairie said...

Bryan, John, what specifically are you talking about as a 'personal relationship with God'? When, what, how, describe? When I am in nature I have feelings of closeness to it and of being part of larger universe that are, what, 'transcendental' feelings, and if it is like that, I am pretty sure a brain scientist could tell us what parts of the brain are being stimulated and why and how. Some people who are schizophrenic hear voices and beleive them to be real and coming in their ears from somewhere in the world and others know they are a product of the mind. Brain science can tell where in the brain they happen and can induce them with stimulation. But until you define what that 'personal relationship with God' is, I can't understand the conversation. My personal realtionship with my friend consists of going to lunch or walks with her, calling on the phone, emailing, and just thinking about her and what she would say about something and planning what I will tell her about something I am experiencing that she would be interested in. She is a real physical entity that I can interact with physically, but also can have thoughts about. But I do not know what a personal relationship with 'God' means.

Divided By Zer0 said...

I would love to be able to convert my friends and family to scepticism but unfortunately I usually have neither the time or the fluency to do it. On the contrary to you, I've been a sceptic and atheist for most of my life and I still have not managed to convince even one person :(

I would love a more detailed post on how you went about doing that. What where the steps you followed and the problems you encountered.

My sister has recently (last year) started a relationship with a devout orthodox christian and while she was an agnostic before that, now I believe she will slowly convert to his version of Christianity (he is very charismatic). As I am not near to give the antilogue, I do not know how to help.

Brother Crow said...

The issue of personal relationship with God, knowing God, is a profoundly weird and nonquantifiable one. BR, how can you objectively speak of having a personal relationship with God? He is not a physical presence (unless you ascribe to the mystical teaching of the Catholic church of the sacrament), He does not offer any evidential experiences or actions for relationship (for example: my wife, a person I can objectively identify, wears a ring, speaks of me, gives me hugs). How does relationship with God evidenced? Another question: knowing God? According to christian teaching, we can only know God through His own self-revelation, which is professed to be infallibly done in the Bible. That means we can only know God by first knowing facts about Him. How can we differentiate between facts learned about God and then turning that into a personal knowledge of Him? How do I know god loves me? The Bible tells me so. Then, my feelings respond to that, and I have a personal experience of that knowledge.

Are you proposing that there is another type of knowing? That is what gnostics profess...is that where you are coming from? Also, John questioned the good doctor about "the witness of the Spirit." Is that this knowledge that is not based on fact?

I was a christian for over 30 years, and what I truly believed was a personal relationship with god. It was, I have concluded, delusional. Why? Because god never revealed himself to me apart from the bible and my emotional experiences to it. I wept at thoughts like sunset, and being a father, and hearing a beautiful song or waterfall...but ultimately I came to see that that was only something I was calling "personal relationship to God" but was in fact far more simple and human than that.

I hope you enjoy your time on this site. thanks for writing.

GordonBlood said...

I have only afew comments on this article... Firstly I love how the author makes the grand assumption that all you have to do is learn about all the religions and youl realize they arent true. (If you disagree with my interpretation he did say that one book "the case against christianity" would equal 2 billion converts to skepticism, which it itself not atheism or even agnosticism but a school of philosophical thought about how to approach knowledge.) As for the massive amount of religious change in the last 100 years the author seems to completely forget the massive amount of that was enforced by Marxist governments; not by the will of the people. In fact religious faith in these areas where the right to practice open religious faith was taken away is now sky-rocketing. The last thing I would say is im not terribly amazed that you had such an easy time "de-converting" your freinds; a faith that could be so easily deconstructed was probly not terribly authentic anyways, frankly. Most Americans hold to such a nominal form of Christianity (if you dont believe this than just look at the literature on religious ignorance in America)that in many cases its barely holding to an orthodox faith anyhow. Im not expecting every Christian to get a Phd but I am expecting Christians to have a basic knowledge of why they believe what they do and to be familiar with atheist and agnostic positions on things. Not doing so probly suggests they dont care that much about the truth of what they believe anyhow.

Bryan Riley said...

Brother Crow, I don't believe that God's only revelation of Himself is through the Bible and I wouldn't characterize such teaching as the whole of Christian teaching. Some do believe that and I think that is the beginning of the death of a belief in God. It was the beginning of the death of my own belief in God, but thankfully when God saved me He revealed Himself to me as a real and personal Daddy, not just a theological concept of a perfect Father.

I see God revealed in Jesus. I see God revealed in the Bible. I see God revealed in the sunsets (they are particularly good in Kona, Hawaii) and in all of creation. I hear God revealed through His voice. Some would say schizoid; I would say sometimes. :) But sometimes it is His voice, the voice of my shepherd and one that, as His sheep, I can hear. I can know. I can experience.

God is revealed through my children and through the ability to create them just as He created us, His children. I believe God reveals Himself constantly in and through creation.

I eschew how it seems the writers here always link to things they've said before, so I probably shouldn't do it, but I will say that I've written numerous times about personal experiences of God in my life at my blog. I will, at some point, write examples here or link to them and learn to blog that way, as you do here. I'm on the run now, so I'll stop there.

Oh, as to personal relationship, I believe God really created us to fellowship with Him just as we do with our wives and friends. I'm glad that He calls out to us "where are you?" (see Genesis 3:9)

I have enjoyed the blog. Thank you!

GordonBlood said...

I should probly say something else. You seem to be arguing that you have the numbers to do all these great projects (put out more "popular" atheist books, start a television station etc etc) Frankly you are confusing numbers of non-religious persons with the reality that most are just as uncomfortable around people like yourself. Most agnostics that I have met generally do lean closer to theism than atheism, they just arent willing to make a intellectual commitment. My point here? Most agnostics (and atheists) have very little interest intellectually in wanting people to believe what they do, they just want to live their lives. So while x percentage may be atheist or agnostic a much smaller y percentage (probly less than 10% of x) is actually interested in popularizing atheism or agnosticism. With that said, I find it amusing that you seem to think the Christian church does that much to evangelize. At least in Canada almost noone goes around trying to get people to convert or even talk about religion, either religious or non-religious, and I imagine things arent that radically different in much of America.

David B. Ellis said...


For example, are any of you divorced? You experienced your wife or husband. In every way. Sure, he or she masked themselves and hid themselves and weren't perfect, just as you did, but you experienced them and they you. Even though for many who've gone through such an experience they wish that person never existed, that person exists regardless. And, when you are honest about your very real experiences with a person or an entity, you cannot claim the other never existed.

Anyone you have known experientially, cannot be said to have never existed. For a group that values reason so much, this seems plain.


Ah, another sample of the Argument For God By Bad Analogy.

You claim that those who have a "relationship" with God have the same reason to believe God exists that we have to believe our wives (or ex-wives, I have neither) exist.

It seems almost a waste of time to point out how something so obvious is mistaken but, oh well, once more into the breach:

Imagine that you and your wife and a friend are in a room together. You speak to your wife and ask her to say five random numerals off the top of her head. You can turn to your friend and ask him what numerals she said and he can repeat them. You could continue to do this all day and keep getting it right because SHE'S A REAL PERSON.

Try sitting in a room just you and your child and your childs invisible friend (who she insists emphatically is real). When the friend talks to her only she can hear it. She can in no way communicate something to your daughter that you can independently hear as well and communicate to your daughter demonstrating that she exists other than in the childs imagination.

Which of these two situations does the "relationship" with God bears a stronger resemblence to?

David B. Ellis said...


At least in Canada almost noone goes around trying to get people to convert or even talk about religion, either religious or non-religious, and I imagine things arent that radically different in much of America.


depends on where you live. Here in Murray Kentucky I regularly see enthusiastic young christians (members of the state college here christian student organization) standing at streetcorners with signs proclaiming christian slogans. I have had two christians approach me and "witness" to me---asking about my relationship with christ. I always talk openly with them about my skepticism and my reasons for it. Instead of holding daily morning prayer services in the christian center just off campus as they used to they now hold them in the common area of the student center on campus.

As skepticism has grown among the youth I've seen the college christian group grow far more aggressive in it proselytizing efforts (rather desperately so, it seems to me).

GordonBlood said...

I dont know David, being a former deist now Anglican myself I dont see my fellow students being "skeptical" even if they are atheististic. Ive met atheists who believe in souls, ghosts, U.F.O's and agnostics spouting the same views. I consider myself a skeptic if one defines skeptic as not believing in things without good reason but I do not throw myself in the atheistic or agnostic pen. My point here is that atheism does not always equal reason, rationality or even open-mindedness and I would go so far as to say that certain people on this blog occasionally prove that in spades.

Mark Plus said...

The French demographer Emmanuel Todd argues that Islam has started to lose influence in many traditionally Muslim societies. His evidence? A rapid decline in birth rates. So even religious belief in the less educated parts of the world shows signs of going away over the long run.

Shygetz said...

gordonblood said: Ive met atheists who believe in souls, ghosts, U.F.O's and agnostics spouting the same views...My point here is that atheism does not always equal reason, rationality or even open-mindedness...

I certainly hope no one has said that there is no such thing as a credulous atheist, because I agree with you; that is entirely untrue. I have met many atheists/agnostics who firmly believe in homeopathy, which I consider even more silly than many strains of religion.

...and I would go so far as to say that certain people on this blog occasionally prove that in spades.

Do you really want to descend into personal insults? If so, let me know--I've got decades of pent-up insults that have been hanging around since my high-school days, just longing to break free.

Most agnostics that I have met generally do lean closer to theism than atheism, they just arent willing to make a intellectual commitment.

I have actually observed the opposite; most self-identified agnostics I know firmly disbelieve the God of organized religions, but leave open the ideas of deist and non-interventionist gods. Additionally, some people who philosophically fall closer to the atheist category find it more socially acceptable to call themselves agnostic.

So while x percentage may be atheist or agnostic a much smaller y percentage (probly less than 10% of x) is actually interested in popularizing atheism or agnosticism.

But perhaps they would enjoy living in a society that did not distrust them for their lack of faith.

With that said, I find it amusing that you seem to think the Christian church does that much to evangelize. At least in Canada almost noone goes around trying to get people to convert or even talk about religion, either religious or non-religious, and I imagine things arent that radically different in much of America.

I can vouch for three states in the Southeastern United States being similar to david's experience in Kentucky. Especially during the summer, hardly a week would go by without some earnest group of young men and/or women coming by the house to spread their religion. We also have preachers on streetcorners (often with megaphones), which is especially bad on the college campuses. There is an absurd anti-evolution billboard right near my home. I do not think I exaggerate.

Most agnostics (and atheists) have very little interest intellectually in wanting people to believe what they do, they just want to live their lives.

I would say this is true of most people, including theists. I was this way until theists decided to screw with science education and global politics. Since everyone gets the same number of votes as me, I would like as few of them as possible to be rooting for the end of the world.

Bryan Riley said...

David B. Ellis,

Your analogy is just as bad simply because you do not believe in God or in the imaginary friend. If God does in fact exist, and one's experience in fact corroborates that, then it makes perfect sense.

Besides, my point wasn't really the analogy. My point was that anyone who claims to have deconverted to a point of atheism is of necessity saying that all they had with regard to a god was a head knowledge about such an entity. It could not have been an experiential knowledge. So, it's not really a deconversion as much as it is a different conclusion than previously drawn based on more or different knowledge that no longer allows that person to draw the conclusion that there is a god.

I am saying that I experience God. He is my friend. He exists. He answers prayer. He loves me. He created me. He knows me. I am His friend. I am His Son. I talk to Him and He me. Those who haven't had such an experience will most likely read that and assume that I am nuts. That is fine with me. Assume that. It won't change a thing for me. You may think that perhaps, like one's child with an imaginary friend, I'll grow up and see the light that God never existed.

I tried to do that. It didn't work. I tried to run from God. Praise God for the big fish of life.

Bryan Riley said...

BTW, most word pictures fall apart if tried to stretch beyond their intent. :)

David B. Ellis said...


If God does in fact exist, and one's experience in fact corroborates that, then it makes perfect sense.


Believing as a result of an experience that has no characteristics which allows you to distinguish it from a figment of your imagination is corroboration of nothing but your credulity. This hold true whether God actually exists or not---just as it would for someone making the claim that telepathic aliens are communicating with him.

In both cases, without objective corroboration that the experience is from something external to his mind he would have no reasonable basis for being convinced he wasn't just imagining the whole thing.

For example, whether you believe you are in contact with a diety or telepathic aliens let those entities demonstrate their reality by communicating to you information you don't already have but could verify (for example, the precise spectrographic characteristics of a particular star).

If this entity can do so, you have ample verification that your experience isn't a figment of your imagination.

If not.....


Besides, my point wasn't really the analogy. My point was that anyone who claims to have deconverted to a point of atheism is of necessity saying that all they had with regard to a god was a head knowledge about such an entity......I am saying that I experience God. He is my friend. He exists.


Actually, I suspect many atheists had much the same experience which they interpreted as contact with God that you do (I had such feelings of contact with God when a believer myself). The question is the veriticality of such experiences. You are simply assuming, without apparent basis and certainly without argument to that effect, that such experiences are of an external object (God). I, apparently unlike you, was able and willing to examine those experiences with a more critical eye and found them to be poor evidence, even for the one having them, of the existence of God.

Human beings are simply too prone to self-deceptions and delusory flights of imagination to accept such experiences as any but the most paltry of evidence.

goprairie said...

As an atheist, I find great joy in my kids and great joy in nature and great joy in friends and on and on. People of other religions do the same. How can that be your 'relationship' with God when I have the same experiences void of any beleif in God? My lack of a God in it makes me want to know more about it in a scientific way. Why is the flower colored that way leads to studying insects and how they see and interesting coevolution aspects of the flower and the insect 'fitting' each other and how the pollen maturing earlier or later than when that flower is receptive to pollen leads to cross-pollination and continued diversity and therefore adaptablility within a species. I suggest that you attributiing it to God leaves you at awe and with no interest in pursuing details the way someone who sees it as science. Or the question of why do we find a flower beautiful ends at 'because God made it happen to briing us pleasure' but if you have no God, you can study evolution and try to figure out why - the higher primates who found flowers interesting and made note of them mentally had an advantage in finding food later, as flowers mature to fruit or seed. Infinately more interesting to learn and think about than just thanking god for the pretty flower and leaving it there. And voices? Interesting that in any context other than religion, hearing voices is considered a symptom of mental illness. Does marginal mental illness predispose one to fervent religous beleif or does fervent religion beleif affect the brain to the extent that mental illness symptoms come to express themselves.
In the end, anything presented as a personal relationship with God 1) happens to people who have no personal relationship with God and 2) has other scientific explanations.

Bryan Riley said...

DBE says: Human beings are simply too prone to self-deceptions and delusory flights of imagination to accept such experiences as any but the most paltry of evidence.

I agree. Which is also why I place my faith in a God who isn't "too prone to ...."

I don't have a problem saying that it is by faith I live, which means that I am accepting something I can't objectively prove but which I can subjectively experience.

Goprairie, if I am mentally ill then I would rather be that way than the way I was when I wasn't hearing God's voice.

You ask how it is different... between a nonreligious person enjoying life about which she has no clue of its origins or source or purpose or meaning and someone who attributes life to a life source and purpose giver...

Seems vastly different to me.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Andrew: (to return to the original post)
While I think that disbelief IS growing in actual numbers, I think the figures showing it might be misleading. There have always been a fairly large percentage of 'nominal' or 'secular' believers, people who attended church on Easter and Christmas, who's answer 'the right way' if asked their religion, but for whom religion played no part in their lives. I think a growing number of them now feel free to confess their disbelief and this may be inflating the 'rate of change.' (Its all to the good, sure, and this is much the way Europe has become a 'post-Christian' society, but these are not people who care enough about the questions to support an 'atheist movement.')

As for an 'atheist tv station' this would not get many viewers, I'm afraid. I find it muich more important that there are now openly atheist characters on broadcast tv shows. Greg House's atheism has gbeen a plot point -- but Dr. Wilson, when criticizing House for telling a dying patient that there was no afterlife, particularly stated, 'Okay, it's a fairytale, but can't you leave him with that comfort?' (I'm quasi-quoting, but this was the effect, and he did use 'fairytale'.)

And last night, on NUMBERS -- hardly a great show, but still one that's been around for over three years -- Charley, the protagonist, made his own atheism plain.

And COLD CASE and some of the other Bruckheimer shows have done their own fileting of Christianity -- and the "That Woman" episode of COLD CASE was particularly vicious.

(Anyone spotted any others.) Again, disbelief is no longer hidden away, and hooray for that. We don't need an atheist equivalent of LOGO.

Just minor points. Again, the ball is rolling rapidly by itself. I am one of those people who sees a kernel of truth in the idea of a social dialectic, that it will procede well enough by itself, with minor help like this site and the various books by John and others, but if we push too strongly, we'll get too much of a 'push back' by Christians.

(Oh, and one minor point about 'credulous atheists,' yes, they exist -- see Prup's law -- and this is why I've never been a fan of Sam Harris.)

That last point is why I think the best thing we can do is work towards teaching 'critical thinking' and let THAT 'do our work for us.'

This seems to have been one of my 'first post in the morning' scattershot posts, but I hope my meaning came through the rambling. Now let me hope the caffeine hits faster.

GordonBlood said...

Shygetz- I would probly feel much the same as you concerning Christians who are anti-evolution/science or those who think we can waste the world because God will save it. The difference of course is I come down on the question of God very differently.

Bryan Riley said...

DBE says: Human beings are simply too prone to self-deceptions and delusory flights of imagination to accept such experiences as any but the most paltry of evidence.

I also love it when humanity learns and learns and learns and then figures out the bible had it right several hundreds of years ago:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9

David B. Ellis said...

I'm not interested in deciding what is factually true by the human heart---that's what christians do when they pray and tell themselves that they feel in "their heart" that God is telling them to do X while someone else praying on the same issue believes in their heart God is telling them Y.

There is no getting around it. If we wish to be as little self-deceived as possible we must struggle to develop the ability to think critically, objectively and rationally. There are no magic short-cuts to the truth.

Shygetz said...

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

I hate it when Christians take a verse out of context that can vaguely be taken as a naturalistic principle if you look at it sideways, and claim that as a prophecy of later scientific discoveries. If you want profound ancient knowledge of the fallibility of human perception, look to Plato's Republic, not the Bible. This verse refers to the wickedness of man's heart, not the fallibility of his senses, and how God judges man by the contents of his heart and his actions, and gives to each accordingly (Jer. 17:10).

edward said...

To Andrew, Bryan, John et al:
I too am a Christian who will say that I KNOW and have a "personal relationship" with God. I also have been working hard and long to be less "religious" and more real. I know most of you probably have enough bible familiarity to know it says we worship an unseen and at some levels an unknowable God. And it also records long talks between God and certain men and women. I do not claim to hearing audible voices of the spirit realm...and I claim absolutely I have communed with God. Many who I read of today will swear they hear His audible voice- many seem to me wacky and many very reliable. How can any man say this is absolute impossibility?

Shygetz said...

Many who I read of today will swear they hear His audible voice- many seem to me wacky and many very reliable. How can any man say this is absolute impossibility?

I don't know anyone here who would say that's an impossibility. However, allow me to point out that there are also people who converse with Napoleon, aliens, Julius Ceasar, Abraham Lincon, fairies, etc. It is possible that they are all actually communicating with these beings; however, their belief that they do so is not sufficient evidence to justify my belief that it is true. Revealed knowledge is inherently unreliable, as it cannot be verified.

The human brain is known to anthropormorphize natural phenomana, which is why we often hear voices in the wind, or see faces in vague shapes through the window. This fact has been verified by scientific studies. Religious feelings have been induced in some people via magnetic manipulation of the brain. Why are you so sure that your experience is real, whereas the people who talk to Napoleon, aliens, Ceasar, etc. are false?

Steven Bently said...

I wonder what to those whom their god speaks to them, says? Perhaps what a good little Christian they are. And in what language would this god speak to them, since the god of the bible did not know how to speak in english.

Our brains we must imagine things, otherwise no roads or bridges or modes of transportation would have been built.

We would have been much much farther along in technologies if humans had not waisted so much time in believing in spiritual nonsense, trying to please an imaginary invisible god.