Is God Dead?

Via Benjamin Riggs
on Dec 15, 2010
get elephant's newsletter

…or Are We Looking In The Wrong Place?

Do you believe that spirituality and atheism can co-exist?

Awhile back I went through this phase.

Everyday I would watch Atheists debate believers on Youtube. I wasn’t shopping or curious—I just found it entertaining. Over the course of a few debates, I noticed that I more often than not agreed with the atheist.

This surprised me! I may not have believed in a “created the world in 144 hours” kind of God, but I did fancy myself a religious/spiritual person. Naturally, I began to wonder why I related more with the atheists than the representatives of the religious community.

It didn’t take long to answer that question.

Photo of Dan Dennett by Dan Lurie

The arguments made by the religious people in these debates seldom, if ever, reflected what I thought of when I thought of religion. The religious person and I simply defined religion differently. They seemed to define religion as a system of beliefs, or a collection of tenets that they held to be true. On the other hand, I look at religion as a process of experimentation that leads me to a direct experience of truth. Therefore, the atheist was not, in my mind, arguing against religion; rather they were in opposition to an inherited set of preconceived beliefs or an ideology that was not supported by evidence.

They tend to cite the beliefs of fundamentalist across the board as a way of suggesting that religion is an evil, ignorant, and corrosive thread that humanity could do with out. Of course, I agree that any belief system that forces you to fly a plane into a building, or have 30 underage wives is ridiculous. However, I am a religious person, and am in no danger of participating in either of the before mentioned activities! It is easy to refute religion when you make a straw-man of the subject, but I question whether or not any good can come out of such a shallow and meaningless discussion…

The atheist in these debates included some big names. Many of them had an air of condescension that I did not appreciate. However, there were two that I came to enjoy watching. Both Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris had depth and weight to their arguments, and articulated their position in a respectful manner.

So here is the discussion I would like to have…

Is spirituality a fairy tale, or an expression of the most fundamental truth in your life?

Do you consider yourself a religious or spiritual person? Or would you consider yourself an atheist? Do you find the arguments against religion in these videos even apply to you? Do you find yourself agreeing with many of the points made in the talk below? Do you think that religion has a deeper meaning, which is simply being ignored in these discussions? Or do you believe that religion is merely an outdated way of understanding the world we live in? What place do you think religion has in the 21st century? If any? Do you believe that spirituality and atheism can co-exist? Perhaps compliment each other? Maybe even join forces and address fundamentalism?

Or add anything else you would like to share along these lines…

I have chosen to embed a 10 minute video of Sam Harris providing an argument against religion in general. The video runs out in the middle of his spill, but if you wish to watch the rest I am sure Youtube will make that easy enough. But I think the 10 minute snippet provides ample information for our discussion. I have also provided links to several other videos, including a debate between world renown intellectual Christopher Hitchens and Al Sharpton, that you may find surprising and hilarious! The Dan Dennett link is extremely intelligent.

I look forward to reading your comments below.

Rick Warren at T.E.D. speaking on the Purpose Driven Life

And click here to watch Dan Dennett respond to Rick Warren at T.E.D.

Click here to watch Al Sharpton vs. Christopher Hitchens


About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the author of Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West. He is also the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA and a teacher at Explore Yoga. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist and Christian spirituality on Elephant Journal, and his blog. Click here to listen to the Finding God in the Body Podcast. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


52 Responses to “Is God Dead?”

  1. BenRiggs says:

    In my mind religion is a fundamental human need. Not necessarily the specifics of a particular dogma, but the need to communicate on an essential level. I think religion not just some kind of new age spirituality is necessary because, it brings with it tradition and lineage. Religion is process of experimentation, and throwing out the findings of the past couple of thousands of years is a mistake that I think my generation might be too quick to make!

  2. JMWII says:

    OK…the guy in the video really did not know anything about Theology. I found error after error on his part, such as these two words in the same sentence – Gospel & Decades. The Gospel does not cover a time frame of decades.

    Religion is absolutely essential for humans. Period!

  3. BenRiggs says:

    Why do you believe that religion is essential?

  4. tamingauthor says:

    Thanks, Ben, for posting a thoughtful and thought-provoking article.

    You have zeroed in on a key problem—the differing views represented by those who speak on behalf of faith, and the varying levels of sophistication they demonstrate when it comes to their ability to describe faith.

    As you note, it is easy for Dennett, Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens et al to toss up straw man versions of religion and then knock them down. When I listen to them I can only chuckle as they do not speak to religion as I know it but rather to a fantasy they have concocted.

    You have discerned a key factor when it comes to religion… Are we talking about an iconic religion in which blind faith suffices or are we talking about a religion in which one moves through stages of observation and relationship with the divine?

    The discussion with the atheists comes to a crashing halt when it comes to epistemology. Their style of "blind faith" precludes revelation of divine existence and precludes observation of divine existence. Their premises close the door on all possibilities. This impasse makes the discussion very difficult, if not impossible.

    The culprit on the atheist side is poor science and even worse philosophy. One can cut to the chase and boil the conflict down to the issue of the nature of consciousness.

    With consciousness fully understood there is no further debate. With such understanding, science and religion converge and we are able to understand epistemology in a manner that encompasses religion. Problem solved. One can meet the standards of science and the standards of faith. The "separate magisterium" of Gould folds up and we have unity in the area of human knowledge.

    And, if we follow this trail with diligence, we reach a point where epistemology and ontology converge. The result is a new understanding of the entirety of creation. One is able to move past limited paradigms to an all inclusive knowledge or enlightenment.

    Perhaps the best questions with which to start are slightly different than the common approach. Perhaps it is best to take the premises of materialism or naturalism and ask why the atheists mentioned subscribe to those beliefs. When one treats their belief system in the same manner they treat religion, the possibility, the necessity, of a new dialogue comes to the fore.

    How would you describe the premises of materialism? How would you explore those beliefs so as to ascertain their veracity? Interesting exercise.

  5. Nathan K. says:

    I consider myself a spiritual person, but not necessarily religious. I don’t claim any religion because I feel like it would (1) make me vulnerable to stereotypes and (2) mean that I agree with any given religion 100 percent, which I don’t. The arguments against Christianity, I believe not only apply to me, but to everybody, atheist, Christian, agnostic, whatever. To fully understand what we believe in, it seems awfully healthy to not limit ourselves to only the arguments that we agree with.
    Overall, we can see all of Harris’ arguments, although biased, take apart and analyze Christianity, which is important anyway. He made lots of valid arguments against Christianity, but his main one seemed to be, “it doesn’t seem logical to me, so it can’t be true.” On the other hand, the vast majority of Christians I’ve come across argue that it seems logical to them, therefore validates its truth; basically the same argument as Harris.
    I believe that religion can mean a lot of things for different people. I see it as a function that provides a path to happiness and meaning. It gives people a sense of purpose, it, for the most part, gives them a healthy, ethical way of living (compassion, altruism, etc…), aids in decision-making, encourages one to think about something greater than themselves, stimulates thought on interesting, philosophical, spiritual topics, and, as mentioned above, helps us understand the world we live in – no matter what era in time we may be in. Religious philosophy can be applied to any subject, current or not.
    Religion, to my opinion, is a positive thing. The problem, however, comes when we think of any given religion as fundamental and strive for evangelism (not limited to just Christianity), where we go to another place, tell locals that our religion has more validity than their own and do our damnedest to change their mind, all for brownie points from a higher being. It would be much more effective to make the religion accessible, hence, giving people the opportunity to learn more if they would like to.
    Spirituality and atheism can definitely complement each other. Wouldn’t it seem monotonous to mindlessly follow a spiritual path without deepening our knowledge through other points of view? A healthy skepticism can actually reinforce one’s belief by taking into consideration the critic’s arguments from an objective point of view and then applying knowledge one already has to counter the argument, giving the opponent a chance to do the same thing…which I suppose is the point of debates to begin with.

  6. r.nunez says:

    While I do not adhere to any one religion, I believe religion, the churches & temples, and the spiritual leaders are all necessary in keeping the collective mind of man tuned in to the spiritual process; and perhaps it is the intrusion of modern day intellectualism that is hindering their progress.

  7. r.nunez says:

    I am a shama'an priest. Not of religion but of faith. Some people cannot support their beliefs without a community to provide a foundation. If a person must be Christian, Buddhist, or Taoist in order to hold on to some aspect of faith, then so be it. Faith must be nurtured with intuition and not intellect. Intellect is what Mr. Harris is using; it has limits.

  8. BenRiggs says:

    Thank you very much for your post Nathan. I really like your take on religion and spirituality… Do have one question though. Do you believe religion is fundamental or an organic expression of the human condition? Well two: Do you want to hit up Johnnies???

  9. BenRiggs says:

    Do you believe that both the true atheist and true religious share a path based on experimentation? And if so do you think they could set aside idealogical points of view, you know the 'party lines' and join in the search for truth?

  10. tamingauthor says:

    Ben, jumping in… I believe it is possible but unlikely.

    The best example is Dennett's book Consciousness Explained. In this work Dennett arbitrarily dismisses a supernatural explanation, without the slightest consideration. He then sets out to prove (philosophically) the case for a naturalistic explanation of consciousness, and he fails miserably.

    Rather than take a scientific approach—i.e. we have Hypothesis A and Hypothesis B, let us analyze the argument for both—he gives in to his bias and does not look back. At the end of the exercise we can see he has failed profoundly (and he knows it) but, rather than take that failure as a sign that his premise is wrong and he should consider an alternate explanation, he digs in his heels and insists it must be that way and that is that.

    In light of this amazing failure it is amusing to watch Dennett then attack religion for being "blind faith." Quite amusing. But discouraging when it comes to the idea that there might be a joint search for the truth.

  11. tamingauthor says:

    Right. The ultimate ontological question. What is the nature of our being?

    The interesting thing is that one can make a more convincing and philosophically sound case for a Buddhist or Christian view than one can for the atheist view.

    The atheist view, based on the premises of materialism, must almost remain a matter of blind faith. On the other hand, in both Buddhism and Christianity one can move past blind faith to firsthand observation.

    This is true of any issue of verification when it comes to Idealism versus Materialism. Materialism posits that matter energy came first and consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter-energy. Given there was no consciousness at the origin of the universe (in the materialistic view) then those events could never be observed, not even theoretically. Thus, origins must always remain a matter of conjecture or blind faith.

    In Buddhism or Christianity, in contrast, one begins with consciousness and matter-energy arises from that consciousness. Thus, at least theoretically (and in my view, practically) one could have direct observation of origins. Thus, the idealistic view is verifiable where the materialistic view must remain conjectural.

  12. Great thought-provoking blog, as usual, Ben.

    Some of the ancient Yoga sages believed in a very personal God and others believed in an impersonal God, or God as simply the life-force of the universe.

    Many religious thinkers define God as “that which is unknowable, but which drives us towards love and goodness”.

    Given this commonly accepted definition, almost everyone believes in God. In the end what matters most is that we all agree there IS some universal drive toward making the world a better place, not where that drive comes from.

    Athiest or not, almost everyone believes in Right and Wrong, Good and Evil. This belief alone can be called "God", by my definition above. Or you can call it "No God" because it's not a "being."

    After that it's all semantics.

    Even the nuns taught me that "God is Love". Does "love" sound like a being to you?

    Call it "God" or "No God". It makes not a hills of beans worth of difference if we all believe in Love anyway.

    God is Love.

    No God is also Love.

    Bob W.

  13. BenRiggs says:

    I would like to raise this question: Does it even matter what we believe? Does it matter if we believe in a personal God? A Spinoza God? Love? No God?
    I guess what I am asking is if I "believe" in Love, does that really change anything. Is it the belief or the experience that is of importance? Belief without experience seems like "Words. Words, Words…" While faith which has as its roots direct experience is invaluable, no?

  14. Roy says:

    Yes Ben if you really believe in love it does change something, It changes you. If you truly believe in love your actions will show it. So I believe that the belief and experience go hand in hand, because if you really believe it will show in your experience. The kind of love that is needed is the kind that asks for nothing in return. You can not let peoples responce to you affect your behavior. You cannot say I was kind to someone and they were mean to me, so love is baloney. In the end the only thing we can change is ourself and love has the power to do that.

  15. JMWII says:

    You asked, "Why do you believe that religion is essential?"

    If you will glance back across time you will see that humanity has attempted to communicate with a "higher" power from the earliest days (indigenous people/religion). Humanity feels/knows that it is impossible to be in existence without some form of "higher" power being in control.

    As a Christian I have personally experienced God's presence. As A Christian I have personally witnessed God work miracles through prayer. As A Christian I know that there is a "higher" power that I can have a personal relationship with…and depend on…

  16. JMWII says:

    P.S.: Humanity is supposed to have the relationship with God…and show the Agape love to others… This is the sum and substance of religion.

  17. Hi, Ben.

    In my opinion, "Love" is completely out of place in your list. Love is not a belief, but an evolutionary, biological and spiritual imperative, like Good and Evil–an experience of reality, not a belief. So much that we rightly consider people who have no concept of Love, or Good and Evil for that matter, to be insane.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  18. Robert Bishop says:

    As an atheist for approximately 3 years now I see it as the height of humanity and intellect to hold this position.
    I never really believed in monotheism and found Buddhism congenial with its spiritual version of atheism (and its respect for all life forms not only human)
    Unfortunately, all are "just so stories" told with great imagination and passion but they are untrue and deeply false-even Buddhism.
    When monotheism hides behind "faith" as a way to deal with nonsense,and the gobbledegook talk of enlightenment in Buddhism ends with the bromide:
    Beforenlightenment, rivers were rivers,mountains were mountains,during enlightenment rivers were no longer rivers and mountains no longer mountains,after enlightenement rivers were rivers and mountains were mountains….."
    afraid someting is up and even the personable laugh of the Dalai Lama cannot make it right (that is when he's not making homophobic remarks to rival any Catholic pontiff)

  19. Padma Kadag says:

    Atheists do believe in a god…and I don't say this because I think that they should. Anyone that acts out of hope towards future events or the possibility of future events is reifying an eternity and the hope that events to come turn out the way they want them to turn out. So their behavior and thought process is acting in accordance with making sure that things turn out the way they want them to turn out though they have no evidence that there is a future. That is relying on a God.

  20. Robert Bishop says:

    I am aware that I am mixing Zen,Tibetan Lamaism along with Therevadin influences,but I think the basic arguments against Buddhism holds- even with this most seemingly humanistic religion warping takes place.
    I do not accept the distinction between religion versus spirituality,etymologically the root words are the same and conceptually they amount to the same thing.
    The only distinction could be that one is more or less "objective" whereas the other is "subjective"
    The much vaunted sociological superiority of Buddhism is not borne out by statisitics,of even those on the humane treatment of animals (one of my initial attractors)
    Advanced capitalist societies with increasing wealth and secular education,shows the model for improvement in living and psychological conditions.

  21. Robert Bishop says:

    I have benefited greatly from meditation but even here some scepticism is needed:
    I remember seeing an ABC show (Catalyst) on comparisons of treatments for blood pressure-TM meditation was contrasted with medication,and a very pragmatic and wise GP stated, which do you think would be the most practical and achievable for my patients, a pill that takes up minutes dailyor 2 sessions of meditation of 20 minutes each (I can hear readers of Shamballa Sun gasping as they read this comment!)
    We are still faced with the challenges of life and Iwould rather deal with them clear sightedly without a striving for perfection and unrealisitc ethics that all the traditions have in spades.
    Tonight I looked up at the stars and I felt myself,groping for how to respond to their twinkling questions-not a self mediated through someone elses pre scientific stories, but my own small imperfect humanity and with that I was satisfied.

  22. tamingauthor says:

    Watched the video of Sam Harris. Sad performance. He has little or no understanding of religion, much less the subject of spirituality. He fails to realize how snarky he comes off. It would be easy to turn the tables and demonstrate how he operates on the "blind faith" of scientism. Maybe that is a video that should be produced.

  23. BenRiggs says:

    Thanks for coming back and answering my question… As a Christian or just a theist in general do you feel attacked when an Atheist challenges you world view? Or are you happy to join such a discussion?

  24. BenRiggs says:

    Interesting point of view…. I like that! Thanks Bob.

  25. BenRiggs says:

    Roy excellent response… I really enjoyed reading this.

  26. BenRiggs says:

    In stead of engaging in the debate about the Dalai Lama and him being homophobic I will simply give you a link that answers that question:
    You saying that there all stories without providing a definite reason is just another story, no?

  27. BenRiggs says:

    There is definitely a sense of blind faith associated with the atheist. But it is there evangelizing that grabs my attention. They militantly spread the good news of Atheism!

  28. BenRiggs says:

    Thank you for commenting Robert.

  29. elephantjournal says:
    Is Atheism rational? Via

    Paul L Athists that are not against the idea of a god can be. Emotional athists, no.

    Peter L
    Didn't you hear? All the gods died about 2,500+ years ago when a few humans became rational objective realists. Einstein put the nail in their coffin with the Relativity and the No Faster than Light Travel… can't be all knowing if it take…s 10 Billion years for news to travel from half way across the known universe to Earth now can you? Nope… the laws of Nature prevent all gods from existing except as delusional fantasies in the minds of faith based believers. Time to update your world view, life is short, take the Red Pill and come back to the Objective Reality of Nature with all it's beauty and stark horrors including the stark horror that there are no gods. Oh wait, that's actually very beautiful for that means they can't judge us and impose their immoral values upon us. It also means that your choices in life are even more important! Choose carefully and wisely.

    Natasha D ‎"God is dead…but we killed him."

    Vanessa H true atheism =IS= a religion … it is a unprovable belief about god/creator/spirit … agnostics i can understand, but those fervently convinced there is no god or afterlife are just as irrational as those convinced they have god all figured out, that they're right, and everyone else is wrong … both are irrational unprovable surety in something that neither can prove.

    Kathleen S I think one should be open to possibilities.

    Cheryl T God is dead if you have no soul….that is where HE lives. All views can co-exist because they do…religion is exclusive…spirituality is inclusive.

    Carol K God is an imaginary creation of a frightened human, we have soul it is just that we are a powerful being and far to willing to give that power and responsibility to a patriarchal figure who we hope will save us…we are taught in judeo-christian-muslim to live in fear from the time we are little, instead of living as noble creatures in our own right…

  30. dan says:

    I’ve gone through that phase too. I found it clarifying but depressing, discovering that most of the argument is for the thrill of the argument, and engages people too fully to go anywhere, “atheist” and “theist” being such vague yet charged terms.
    I do not think it is any particular belief, but the actions one takes in the world that matter. We can honestly say/think, “X is”, yet it is our motivating principles that drive our actions, not belief (stealing and killing, both almost universally believed wrong, but it is a rare person who, given certain circumstances, wouldn’t (doesn’t) do either or both). When looking at the ills of the world (well, the ills humans inflict upon themselves), it is not God but Greed that causes the most suffering. Lack of empathy alone does not make you a sociopath- you have to pursue your own goals while lacking empathy, and harm people in the process.
    When ‘religion’ is blamed for suffering, what is really being talked about is not religion, but active fundamentalism (where, “I am right, you are wrong, and anyone who is insists on being wrong can and should be deleted”). Religion is an easy foil because, like happiness, wonderment, fear and caring, any and every big feeling has and will be put under religion’s mailable umbrella.
    This plasticity is probably the most difficult part of talking about faith and belief, and clear definitions and caveats should be laid out at the beginning of any discussion, and they rarely are. Even the term ‘atheist’ is incredibly vague- strong, weak, humanist, communist etc., what a person actually means, let alone their motivating principles, are completely unknown, and of course the same goes for ‘theist’!
    Perhaps I’ve let on that I’m bothered by some of the modern, vocal (internet) atheists. The more I read of them, the more my heart hardens to them, which distresses me, as more often than not we share humanist values. (Though Harris had a long and twisting justification for waterboarding and torture in general, and Hitchens was an ardent promoter of the Iraq invasion, etc, and of course the habitual cry against “deluded morons who cannot think” isn’t particularly useful either). Typical rhetoric is rife with straw-men, insults, rapid diversion and “science” as panacea, regularly avoiding difficult and complicated histories in favor of their agenda, even using manufactured histories, like how religion came about, and what cave people most certainly did (which is done well in , which suggests that unseen agency developed as a consequence of self-preservation; I find these articles hilarious, arguing for the naturalness of religions/spirituality, and that now we can discard this or that instinct).
    In the video you’ve posted, Harris begins blaming 9/11 entirely on faith, not as an act of aggression against a (perceived) imperial power, an invader- he and “new” atheism generally don’t want to talk about economics in the context of religion, because BP, Monsanto, Greenspan, the World Bank, and the Chinese Communist Party ruin their narrative (peace and joy via science and/or moral freedom). Greed, lust, other “classic” sins, why they are “sins” in the first place, are also avoided, running contra to their community’s values. If Harris and other “new” atheists had any actual interest in getting people to think on their own, they’d set aside the incredibly emotional god stuff and push for elementary logic to be taught in elementary school or hold logic teach-ins, not masquerade fundamentalist ignorant on-high speeches as thoughtful dialog about the advancement of humanity.
    Pulling back from the rant (apologies… in short: despite the hype, atheists are stupid too), what we believe is faint next to what we do; whether I believe it is sky-faeries or chaos butterflies that it is raining, I nevertheless forget my umbrella- neither have kept me dry. I am very aware of the absurdities of some of my beliefs of “the miraculous”, but nevertheless I do believe them, and have made efforts to shake them but to no avail. In fact, these efforts distress distract and depress me. Miracles, or my “indoctrination” predisposing me to them are not why I believe saints to be divine- it is the clarity, beauty and logic of their imperatives, testable cause-effects of acting and being conscious in certain ways. I’d say Newton was divinely inspired, being the exception not the norm, and with as much accuracy as Harris claiming he wasn’t. The promise of seeing the world as it really is is something I find inspiring, and a reason to continue existing even while suffering. Capital “R” Reality is the promise of mysticism, and the hope of science. Both require dedication, study and decades of fruitless activity; neither usually work; neither are guarantees.

    Were there evidence that setting aside or otherwise dismissing belief in God to whatever degree would actually make any person better, smarter, kinder, happier, more calm, or prosperous, more than religion, I’d have enthusiasm for it. Taking a look at our world, I see religious values consistently set aside in favor of the short-term practical, and masturbatory utopias spun from every angle.

  31. Here's what I remember from my college logic course:

    If Love is not a belief,
    and God = Love,
    then God is not a belief.

    If God = an unfathomable being,
    then God is, by definition,
    a belief.

  32. tamingauthor says:

    "Untrue and deeply false." Makes me wonder how, exactly, you determined they were false?

    What do you use as your benchmark of truth? How do you determine truth?

  33. tamingauthor says:

    The good news? lol

    Blind faith is an integral part of the atheist view. More so than with faith traditions where one can perceive the realities advanced. With atheism one is left to supposition and speculation based on blind faith.

    Would love to question Sam Harris regarding his beliefs. Wonder how that might turn out?

  34. tamingauthor says:

    There is a certain desperation, however, in the effort. I believe they fall prey, more than most, to the effort to gather support for their reality. There is a discomfort on their part with allowing others to hold different views of reality. There is a need to impose conformity to a materialistic view … which is recognized in Buddhism as clinging and attachment.

    When one has such desperate clinging it is difficult to begin the practice of cessation of attachment.

  35. tamingauthor says:

    Good analysis. Good to inspect the premises on which Harris et al base their rants. They use logic as cudgel not as a method of operating on their own premises.

    I have found the house of cards comes crashing down when you inquire how it is that they know anything… the answer being through their personal consciousness. At the end of the day, they must admit all their views are intrinsically subjective and the "objective" is a fantasy, actually nothing more than inter-subjective agreement.

    This approach turns to the question of how anyone knows anything… epistemology. And that is a discipline that needs revival as philosophers have abandoned their watchtowers and leaped into the mud of materialism as though it was a given.

    Do you think it is possible to open up this kind of discussion with Harris et al or do you sense they would run from the engagement?

  36. Padma Kadag says:

    Atheists certainly come in all kinds of colors….Usually those that have given it some thought and proclaim themselves as atheist are nihilists at heart. Maybe it is better, karmically, to err on the side of an eternalistic god…at least then there is a sense of right action begets right result and virue.

  37. JMWII says:

    I have no problem with a discussion, as long as no one is trying to force their point of view. How do you feel about that type of situation?

  38. BenRiggs says:

    Yeah I think anyone shoving anything down anyones throat is inappropriate! I guess what I meant was is the there a chance that the atheist has a valid point? And if there isn't is it really a discussion? Icertainly agree with tamingauthor that these guys do not believe theist have a valid point, and therefore question whether they are looking for real discussion. I was just wondering how a theist might view their poistion before they have heard their position?

  39. BenRiggs says:

    Here is an interesting point of view on this subject…
    I went Christmas shopping with my girlfriend tonight. She found this poetry book she wanted. There was poem in it that hit the nail on the head. Well, sort of! So I ran home and threw a blog together including the poem. Check it out:

  40. tamingauthor says:

    My view is that one can apply rigorous science and arrive at an understanding of the supernatural as real. The problem that atheists bump into is an a priori prejudice of materialism. The bias of "scientific naturalism" skews science and its results.

    Wonder when we will push through that mental error?

  41. tamingauthor says:

    Very nice, Ben. The problem I have encountered is that when one speaks of direct experience, if it is not acceptable to another, they claim you are speaking about beliefs and theory and intellectual speculation. So there is a damned if you do, damned if you don't, phenomenon.

    Apparently the threshold is a willingness to explore, to seek the experience, to live faith as an openness to experience and revelation.

  42. dan says:

    Harris himself practices some kind of meditation (an advaitic strain I think), and is a neuroscientist. He, and “new” atheists generally, are very interested in epistemology, and much of their writing discusses scientific understandings of cognition, at least insofar as it supports their claims about how icky faith is. Harris’s book The Moral Landscape attempts to lay groundwork for establishing a scientific basis for morality. Intriguing, but I can’t but help thinking any such thing will be biased by the idea that we evolved in self-interest, and so could be frighteningly eugenical. Unenforced theories of knowledge will have the same effect as any unenforced religious framework- little to none; it is only the person willing to act altruistically or otherwise that will effect the world.

    Personal growth is not a part of the movement because most of its members (seem to) consider themselves grown, and they are not comfortable making or taking claims outside neuroscience or academia generally. The environment they’ve created is designed for winning, not education, exploration, nuance or possibility. Harris begins his speech above claiming that he is challenging taboo, yet all religious movements begin challenging the accepted nature of god and reality.

    There was a small study not too long ago which concluded that self-reported altruism is correlated to assignment of agency. This makes sense (recognizing otherness), and was the expected result. As in the piece you posted ( ), narcissism, indifference, consumerism, are all clear culprits in violent acts, and none require Faith; should television programs that “rot the brain” be shut down as the Puritans did The Globe? Even if you can “prove it with a study” (as no other evidence is allowed), I don’t thing there will be any change in the rhetoric on any side, as there is a bright but ignored streak of fundamentalism (as I defined it above) in the “new” atheist movement.

  43. tamingauthor says:

    Good analysis. In one sense, the problem begins with neuroscience. That field regularly makes unfounded claims that the public accepts blindly, as most of the public is not trained in science.

    The general paradigm goes… "While we do not have proof or verification that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of brain activity, and we fully admit that lack of scientific verification, we will ASSUME, for the purpose of our argument, that such is fact."

    Then, as though they had never issued such a disclaimer, they go on to make emphatic statements about the nature of consciousness as though they knew what they are talking about. Thus, the "brain mind equivalency" hypothesis becomes accepted in society even though it has no basis in science and, in fact, is easily disproved.

    Folks like Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, Pinker and many others thus take false (junk) science and push that view on society AS IF they were standing on solid ground, when they are not. They are perched on their own prejudices and intellectual dishonesty, which can be easily toppled.

    This becomes so bad that they purposefully and passionately suppress other hypotheses (that support religious worldviews) in their work and in the literature. They intentionally mess with the science and then pull themselves up AS IF they were the brightest and the best and represented the ACTUAL FACTUAL WORLD OF REALITY as demonstrated unequivocally by SCIENCE.

    This "act" is so hilariously B.S. and a charade that it would be a hoot IF the public were not so ignorant when it comes to science.

    Years ago I went through this nonsense on a thread. Atheist "free thinkers" were huffing and puffing and strutting up and down (metaphorically) certain that science (and particularly Susan Blackmore) had PROVEN BEYOND A DOUBT that NDE's had a "brain only" naturalistic explanation—based on her book, Dying to Live. It was clear to me her book was speculation and personal bias, not science.

    This started a major angry debate. I was challenged to debate Susan Blackmore live, in front of their audience. I gladly accepted. They smirked, figuring she would wipe the floor with me. They were on cloud nine. Then she demurred and agreed with me that her views in Dying to Live were based on speculation and not proven science. THUD.

    Was there a humble bow and a acceptance? No way. They started going after her! Saying very not nice things about her. When your prejudice is exposed… ATTACK. (Ironically, Blackmore and I shared a few cordial e-mails.)

    But this is the state of the atheist posturing. Lots of junk science, speculation, prejudice, bias, blind faith, and bad disposition. Very difficult to get past the barrier.

  44. BenRiggs says:

    Has anyone seen Ben Stein documentary "Expelled?" Here is a link to the super trailer on Youtube… It is a great documentary!

  45. JMWII says:

    not sure…but I am a very liberal xtian…very…and I am not a Bible thumping…speak in tongues kinda guy. Here is a couple of great videos to watch regarding the Bible…and just how errant it actually is…

    There are 10…10 minute videos…pretty funny…but very informative about the Bible

    This is from an Episcopal Bishop…John Spong…pretty long…but funny…and very informative

    Now, if a person can watch the videos…agree with them…and still have faith in God/Jesus…then I feel you are a Xtian…and not someone mocking what a pastor says/does.

  46. dan says:

    Yes, I've seen all varieties of shenanigans (from all sides), and spent enough (too much) time in that world. After weeks of exchanges and seeming agreements just days later the same atheism-as-pancea is out again as if nothing happened. It is incredibly frustrating to see obviously bright, often wise people, with whom I otherwise agree, insist that I and all “believers” are forever unthinking idiots, while presenting science as if it were an independent being, not a process or tool.

    We are still learning more about the brain from the injured than the healthy, and until fMRIs are as humorously cute as the first Ataris, the grand statements from materialists are premature. I have some sympathy for the overreaching headlines though (like at, because they are made not for the researchers, but towards the public to support funding the researchers. I can't help but notice that many authors are willing to sacrifice nuance to sell books (a la the authors you just mentioned, though Dennett maybe less so). Geneitcs too is just at its dawn and I think will have a vastly different look in just a few decades as environmentally-driven evolution could/can be shown to be more likely than the random-successes of Darwinists.

    However, all that seems trivial with respect to where-we-are-now. There is nothing forcing creationists to be automatically anti-entitlement or anti-tax, or climate skeptics (despite what their critics tell them). As trying to sway anyone to work for common cause hasn't worked for me, I instead try to push love- as giving without expecting anything in return or as caring, like others have on this page. Fundamentalists need to think they themselves have made their own decision, and loving is a universal concept they can see the logic of, or its stamp of approval from Jesus. Loving is one of the most subversive acts we have, promoting the affirmation of all life, our shared experience, and that we can relieve suffering. And of course, it's nice.

    Incidently, I think I read/skimmed your Blackmore article not too long ago; I'll have go over it again :). (… for those interested). And it's no surprise Blackmore was cordial, she seems to be unwilling to snark and has a career- anonymity is a barrier to have no need for barriers.

  47. tamingauthor says:

    Familiar territory.

    Your insight on the need to simply love others is most likely the "end game." Love is so much nearer our essential state of being that resting in that place allows us to slip past illusions, though we may not recognize we have done so.

    The "catch 22" of love is that there are those, a minority, who perceive love as a Trojan Horse, something meant to penetrate the defenses and subvert the defended identity. In these cases, love is feared…and we have the nasty conditions of today's world, driven primarily by the few of this nature.

    Interesting e-mail dialogue with Blackmore. She sees herself as a Buddhist but fell in with those Buddhists who cling to materialism. (Talk about an oxymoron.)

    Her NDE writings came from her personal experience which is something with which I am very familiar, and something I am able to help others get past. But my suggestions as how to look at old moments from a new perspective only hit a wall of fear.

    This is not uncommon as some who experience NDE hit up against fear-laden moments of past unconsciousness that "bounce" you out of the area. Kinda like mentally putting your finger in a wall socket…difficult to do a second time for fear of the shock.

  48. dan says:

    I just watched it on youtube- I never thought I'd agree with Stein on anything, to my disappointment, oh well. He makes an emotional case, particularly overboard with the bit about the horrors of the erosion of faith (threatening regulating religion to a hobby), and most particularly the eugenics angle, which was way overboard in implying Dawrin was for eugenics, discussed further at… . (The site shows the many places Stein misleads, but in setting the record straight, it nevertheless validates some of stories, and has some pretty lame arguments itself; the full, more nuanced Darwin quote can be read at ). Eugenics is a constant danger when talking about science-based morality, and would've been good to have seen addressed well.
    The movie does show how very emotional it is for everyone, important because this is the strategy used by many anti-religionists, couched in humor, and they do not recognize it as such.

    I also liked the line “It's sending a very bad message that to study science credibly you have to leave your religious beliefs at the door.” (It is only a vocal few who really say this, but they are very, very loud), and the strangeness of those who claim we can be better when moral free.

    What Stein doesn't address is that a designer is just as much the contrived cop-out as Stein's representation of crystals and improbable chance, which while sloppy, are still more than *unknown*. Where does a scientific theory go if *unknown* forms its basis?

    Missing too are epigenetics and Gould's stress induced evolution, and an explicit explanation of what science is and who makes this determination- academia, governments, corporations? Are bombs, celebrex and neonicitinoids etc. not science, or are they bad science, etc? Academia is highly competitive, I don't think it is as thugish as Stein presents.

    I'm going to have to suffer through Mahr's Religulous at some point now too. 🙁

  49. Ben Riggs says:

    I do not think suffering Mahr's "Religulous" will be necessary!