Re: Concern about my wife and Child

I come from Calgary Canada but have been living in Beijing for 7 years now. My parents put me through christian school as they belong to the United Church of Canada. I remember the Christian Reformed school's attempts to scare children into believing. I never really did believe but most others did and still do. I came to China 7 years ago now and met my girlfriend shortly after, and she is now my wife. Until about 2 years ago she has had no religious belief. She works in a small office interior company with a couple who are the owners. The husband is from England and wife is a Canadian. They are very kind people but strongly believe in the Ba'hai faith. Now my wife has been pulled into this trap. She has been studying this for the last year and a half at her boss's home on the weekends. She just cam back from Haifa Israel which she says has reinforced her faith. I wish I could do something to get my wife out of this way of thinking but I am most concerned for our daughter's sake. I refuse to let my wife poison my young daughter's mind. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks so much for your trouble in advance. Chat Soon, Sean
Atheist Answer: 

In a very real way you stand between your wife and your daughter. She is very vulnerable to indoctrination from any source, let alone her own mother. That doesn't mean you should attempt to indoctrinate her first; that's just as bad. It simply means that you need to be the voice of skepticism in any conversations about Ba'hai, or any other belief. It sounds like nobody else will be.

Of course you can't be there every moment. However if your wife privately tells your daughter things about the faith that would not convince you, firstly she's picking the easier target and secondly she knows on some level that her reasons are not sound, and is using them to preach anyway. Both are dishonest, and she needs to realise that. Her first act as an evangelist should be to convert you, not your daughter.

Pay attention to your daughter, that's the main thing. If you think she's not thinking about something the right way, it's your job to put her straight. That's just one of the things you do generally as a father; this is no different.

Though you have every reason to be concerned, don't worry too much. What probably started me on the road to doubt was the simple fact that my father, someone I respected and looked up to, did not buy into religious belief like everyone else (it seemed). He only bothered to tell me he was an atheist about once. Your mere presence as an unbeliever may well influence your daughter greatly.

- SmartLX


Self-appointed spokespeople for atheism, from Richard Dawkins downward, are woefully ignorant of the wealth of theology handed down to us by centuries' worth of religious scholars. How can they claim to be qualified to discuss God at all, without looking like fools to all educated theologians?
Atheist Answer: 

Short answer: those parts of theology that are not irrelevant are ineffective.

The bulk of theology is concerned not with the existence of gods, but with the nature of particular gods, usually the God of Abraham. (That's one way to denote the deity worshipped by Jews, Christians and Muslims.) It works on the accepted premise of His existence most of the time, so that it can attempt to discern His wishes and therefore inform human behaviour.

If the existence of the god is the point in question, the premise is unsettled and any conclusions from this kind of inquiry are moot. Thus the vast majority of theology is useless to atheists and agnostics, as long as they maintain those positions.

The remaining theology which does attempt to establish the existence of the relevant god(s) is in a category known as philosophy of religion. This is the stuff which might be useful in a discussion between a believer and a non-believer. That's why every major argument this field has ever produced has already been thrown at atheists in the course of discussions and debates over the last few years.

Atheists cannot ignore philosophy of religion, because it's shoved in our faces at every opportunity. It's the source of such brain-twisters as the transcendental argument, the appeals to fear like Pascal's Wager and the it-must-have-happened interpretations of Resurrection accounts. This is theology's moment to shine, and all the big guns have come out.

So how's it doing? Not great. I'm happy to assert without posting statistics that atheism is increasingly common, especially among young people. Attendance at religious services is falling, and those churches which are growing are more often than not cannibalising the congregations of other churches. The big guns of atheism, Dawkins, Dennett et al, are not given a moment's pause by the apologetic hurled at them, and they can say exactly why in each case.

There are many religious folks who think, "If only they would read this particular book about God, they'd change their minds." If they haven't read the book, some eager evangelist has probably paraphrased it for them, and had a reply shot back.

The apparent reality is that theology-based apologetics have been completely exhausted, and have not found their target. The reassuring idea that atheists are only atheists because of their own ignorance disintegrates when you consider the constant, all-guns-blazing proselytism forcibly educating them from all sides.

If theology has something new to say that might actually affect this ongoing debate, it's not just sitting in the open and being ignored. It needs to be unearthed and brought to bear. Now.

- SmartLX

Give Me Heaven Back

I just found out an old friend died a few days ago. I just can't seem to be okay thinking he is just gone (even though he wouldn't know anything if that is the case). - How does one feel anything is REALLY meaningful if only temporary. (Please appeal to my emotions and not my intellect.) Thanks.
Atheist Answer: 

I usually avoid appeals to emotion because when used as arguments they're a type of logical fallacy; they have no bearing on the facts. If there's a Heaven, for example, my disbelief and incredulity cannot destroy it. If there isn't, though, all the belief and desire in the world won't create it.

That said, I'll do what I can.

If there's no afterlife, the most important thing to remember is that your friend is not suffering. Not only is he no longer in any pain, he does not feel deprived of anything - sight, touch, stimulation, emotion, companionship. It's tempting to think of death without an afterlife as a bleak, desolate place, but it doesn't matter because there's no one there.

The combination of body and mind that literally comprised your friend is gone, and can never be recovered or reconstituted. In a great many other ways, however, your friend is far from gone. He left an enormous legacy which will last until the end of time (if any). People who experience this legacy will regularly think of it as him. They will say he "lives on" through it.

First and most obvious are memories of him, including yours. You won't always remember everything about him, but there are plenty of things you will remember for the rest of your life. His death negates none of this. Memories of him will be written down and become stories, and be passed along even after those who remember him have also died. Even if nobody ever reads the stories, they will always be around somewhere, ready to bring him back once more.

Second is the body of works he wrought in life, the legacy he actually worked to create. If he had children, almost the entirety of his genetic code survives in them, together with a great store of memories and stories. His career has had a permanent effect on the economy and the business world, whether large or small. If he was creative, his art or craftsmanship can be preserved. If you know what he wanted to be remembered for, by emphasising these things you can actually positively influence future concepts of who he was.

Finally there are the effects he had without even meaning to, or knowing: the air that was displaced by his body, the nutrients and water that passed through him, the electronic signals spreading into space from the calls he made on his cell phone...there's an endless list. It may be that nobody ever traces a future occurrence (a breeze, a flower, a burst of static in a far-off space probe) back to the existence of your friend, but you can be certain that the universe has been indelibly marked by his brief presence, and will bear those marks forever. In this way, he not only lives on; he's immortal. Someday we will be too. If fact, we already are.

I'm very sorry for your loss, Celia. Despite all I've said, it is a loss. You'll never again have his company the way you're used to having it. As you mourn him, however, you may rejoice in what remains of him, which extends forever beyond his coffin. Your friend was who he was, and did what he did, and nobody can ever take that away.

- SmartLX

Recurring personal experiences VS scientific explanations

Hello, I am hoping some athiest can give me some guidance to my questions or perhaps some advice as to books i could read!? I grew up christian and up to recently believed whole heartedly that 'god' was assisting me etc I grew up with an abundance of medical problems which i slowly overcome with the help of what i thought was god. I didnt really believe what was told in the bible... but when you grow up with enough stories and personal experiences and phenomena, whats not to believe? My question is mainly about spirits and ghosts etc. Just when i was adjusting to views of atheism, the one thing i cant escape nor ignore is spirits or ghosts. My friend for example, all his life, has had 'powers', where he has sensed, felt, become ill from and spoken to from spirits. He can move pain away from certain parts of his body and has even been able to bend spoons, and has witness friends move objects across the room with their mind. He also said that his mother has the same 'powers' and knows when he is sick etc. Now, i understand and love how science can explain logically how people can think they are surrounded by a ghost now and again.. but how can it explain recurring experiences, telling the future and supernatural powers from just an everyday normal non-religious person!? He cant explain it, he can just do it. This is the only thing that is keeping me from lets say, living in ignorance that nothing outside ourselves exists. Could it be unknown human potential maybe?? maybe we can all heal people, fly around and move objects across the room.. but we havent all evolved to such a point yet!?? i'm yearning for some answers here. I've also had friends that are 'wiccan', who practise and perform spells, who believe in many gods. I have a friend that when he speaks to his gods, they speak back, and he demands things of them etc. I cant just accept that some things dont have answers or that hundreds of supernatural incidents throughout someones life is just a glitch in the brain!? See people, i want to be an athiest, but i cant! thank you for anyone that replys!
Atheist Answer: 

The first thing I notice is that you haven't personally experienced any of this. Your friend hasn't demonstrated anything with a physical, observable effect for you. You're working entirely on the basis of his accounts of his own doings.

The first thing I would do is ask your friend and/or his mother why they don't go public with their "powers" and make a fortune as a new family of Uri Gellers. They will have very good reasons to give you, no doubt, but their reaction in the first split-second will be very informative if you look closely. The idea of being scrutinised by a professional skeptic like James Randi can be an unpleasant one if there's any doubt in one's mind whatsoever.

You've brought up a great many paranormal phenomena being claimed by the same fellow. Even if you don't consider the possibility that your friend is lying, there are ways in which he can have given himself a mistaken impression of each one.

Poorly-defined "spirits", in particular, can be credited for a wide range of things.
- A sudden, brief wave of nausea can come to some people at any time for a variety of medical reasons. It can feel like a ghost has flown straight through them.
- Like me, some people have one-second episodes where they shudder all over, even though they're not cold. It's referred to as "someone walking over your grave".
- We hear disembodied voices all the time, in our thoughts and in our dreams. All it takes is serious consideration that they might not all be coming from you, even if they really are, to create the idea of a second participant in your inner monologue.
- During an episode of sleep paralysis, which I've also experienced, hallucinations of all kinds can happen to perfectly sane people. The brain just panics.

The predictions of your friend's mother are made more significant by confirmation bias. If she has a feeling that your friend may be ill, but then calls and finds out he's fine, she probably thinks nothing of it. If she calls and she's right, it's enough of a coincidence to have an emotional impact, and therefore be remembered. After a while, she would mostly remember only the times she was right, and have a skewed impression of her rate of accuracy.

The spoon-bending thing is the hardest one to explain away without considering outright fraud, but it's still possible. Put yourself in the place of your friend. You believe, fervently, that you have psychic powers of some sort. You decide to put them to the test by attempting the classic achievement, so you get a spoon out of the kitchen drawer.

You hold both ends of the spoon, very lightly, to detect any movement caused by your mind. You don't know how it's actually done, so you experiment. You look at the spoon, and imagine it bending. Nothing happens. You silently order the spoon to bend, and nothing happens. You decide to go all out, and concentrate on the spoon so hard your face scrunches up, and your body tenses. Still nothing, so you go even harder. Finally you're so intent on the spoon itself, and your muscles are so rigid, that you don't even feel the slight pressure your hands are now exerting on the ends of the spoon. It seems to bend all by itself, and your red face and headache tells you it is thanks to your mind. If anyone ever saw you do it they would instantly break the spell, but if you don't ever demonstrate it in public you might never know.

Finally, your friend's stories of telekinesis are a bit vague. You'd have to ask him and preferably also his friend exactly what happened for us to discuss it usefully.

Look at it this way. If your friend is right and there are spirits and psychics, that's important. If he's wrong and there aren't any, that's important too, especially to your friend. What if he receives what he thinks is a message from a spirit which accuses an innocent acquaintance of his of stealing from him, and he wrongfully confronts that person, therefore needlessly making an enemy?

That's why it's beneficial to him as well as you to find out whether there's any truth to all this. This is the spirit in which you might approach him, if you decide you want him to give you a demonstration.

He might well accuse you of doubting his honesty or his sanity, but - and this is important to the religious debate - just because someone isn't lying or mad doesn't mean they're RIGHT. There are countless ways in which they could be honestly mistaken, and if they are they need to know about it.

- SmartLX

What is your answer to this argument?

"Finite minds cannot understand infinite minds" This of course says that God is infinite and we humans with out finite minds cannot and will never understand god and the stuff he does. <br> For example we think all the old testament stuff is bad. Somebody could say say "you may think god is being bad, but you cannot understand god and his ways, stop looking at him as soon kind of human, his powers are higher." <br> Somebody can say this for all the bad stuff in the bible or when there is a difficult part to understand about god. <br> we They just say "His powers are higher and you will never understand it, so don't criticize because you're a weak mind compared to his."
Atheist Answer: 

Shortest possible answer: "Says you."

It was Christians, among others, who declared that God is beyond understanding, after failing to reconcile His destructive actions in the Bible (and other catastrophes since) with His supposed existence as an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and entirely benevolent being with an interest in humans. It's one of the many approaches to theodicy, and probably the most dismissive and least satisfying.

Remember that this is the being from whom fundamentalist Christians attempt to take their entire moral code, word for word. Yet they admit that nobody, let alone them, understands why God supposedly commits such atrocities or allows them to happen. If they can't understand this side of Him, they really have no understanding of God's own moral code at all, and they're flying blind.

One reply would be that God's moral code applies only to God and not to humans. Some of God's supposed instructions to humankind are pretty clear and just about sensible (like the Ten Commandments), but other times he instructs armies to wipe out entire races, so it's not as if His unexplained lapses in benevolence never affect us.

In short, as long as Christians declare that we cannot understand the God of the Bible, using Him as the ultimate arbiter of morality (or anything else) is a shot in the dark.

- SmartLX

what category am i?

what the heck am i? where do i fit in? do i have a category? i don't believe there is a god. if there is he is an awful awful being. of course i guess i could be wrong. i used to be very religious but now i am not. i used to go to church every day for like 10 years by myself b/c my family is pretty religiously diverse. but i feel like i wasted all of that time worshipping something fake and selfish. i dont believe there is a devil or an afterlife but again....i could be wring. i belive in fate. we follow the path set out for us and make whatever choices we're set up to make. there are no regret and is no point in asking "what if". oh and im 16 but this isnt one of those "phases" im very mature for my age. i've heard it a thousand times. please help me. :) my email is [email protected]... if you feel that would be a more efficient way of communication. looking forward to hearing back from you, Kristen
Atheist Answer: 

I always prefer to communicate through the site, where others might enjoy the discussion.

Like me, you're an agnostic atheist. Admitting you don't know and could be wrong makes you agnostic. Regardless, your lack of belief in gods or the equivalent makes you an atheist.

Believing our future and our choices are set is called determinism. I don't believe in free will either (sure, we can do what we want to, but we can't want what we want to) but I stop short of being a determinist like you.

That's because there appears to be a random element in the universe. It's what quantum mechanics were formulated to explain. It rarely affects any event we might actually observe, but it seems that on an atomic level the position and velocity of any particle is often not even determined, let alone predetermined. There's no way to control this phenomenon so it's no friendlier to free will than determinism is, but it does suggest that the future path of the universe is only secure on the surface, and only most of the time.

Don't feel you have to categorise yourself at all if you don't want to, but purely by definitions, you're an agnostic atheist and a determinist. I'm with you on two out of three.

- SmartLX

Atheist DvDs

How is it possible to obtain dvds if there are any of the Christopher Hitchens debates?
Atheist Answer: 

To my knowledge, none of Hitchens' many debates have been released commercially. Nevertheless they are widely available online, principally on YouTube. There are ways to make independent video files out of these clips, and burn them to DVD or at least Video-CD format. See Google for converter apps.

Any other suggestions are welcome.

- SmartLX

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