heart vs head

I am a brand new atheist (the true meaning of which I only discovered this week). My parents, my wife, her parents and siblings are all died-in-the-wool christians. Of them I have only revealed my lack of faith to my wife and her brother. As for what happened when I told my wife, it's a scary story, but things have calmed down, and in spite of the plentiful confident threats of "I could never be married to a man who doesn't love God more than me", which she has used liberally throughout our relationship, she appears content to continue living with me. I was having a chat to her brother about it last night, and his advice to me as I understood it was essentially this: The reason I have come to this point is that I have relied on reading the bible, and listening to the advice of others, but have no experience of God or Jesus. Unfortunately, as a rationalising human, I attempt to use the mechanism of reason to understand this experience, or at least to know where to look for it. This is insufficient, as just like trying to put a floppy disk into a cd drive, reason cannot make sense of the question of Gods existance (or non-existance), or experiences that would prove it. This is the "head" mechanism. Now, he says from his experience, in a way that he couldn't explain (because it's a floppy disk ;-)), there is a second "heart" mechanism, that sits next to the head mechanism, which can handle floppy discs (overusing metaphors or what?). He didn't call it faith (heck, when I defined faith using Hebrews 11, he accused me of using my head, and relying on a book!), but I think that's what he meant it as. His final thoughts were 'Test God, make your own decisions, but leave a space for him to reveal himself, in whatever way he chooses.' I don't know why, but none of this sits right with me. Can anyone clear away the fog?
Atheist Answer: 

I'm glad you and your wife are still getting along despite your difference of opinion.

The gist of your brother's argument is that God is beyond logic and rational thought, and cannot be understood or accepted with these approaches alone. Therefore you must use your emotional side when considering Him.

The first part is an admission that God doesn't make conventional sense even to your brother. He himself has tried to reconcile the whole idea, and failed. The reason he's still a believer is the emotional experiences he's had while worshipping. He's probably attributed them directly to God. The power of these experiences, regardless of their source (my guess: himself, with the help of semi-hypnotic preachers) overrides the apparent irrationality of belief.

To use an old, casually religious expression, it's a case of "there but for the grace of God go I". If you were to go to a service with him and have a "religious experience", knowing full well that your own brain could have produced it, it would still be hard for you to dismiss the idea of God so easily. Don't think that your brother is somehow weak because his experiences have admittedly affected his judgement. His emotional state is working against his own logic. That's hard on anyone.

I agree with your brother in one way. We must all be open to the unknown, or as he says, "leave a space for Him to reveal Himself," if He exists. However, that does not mean falling to your knees as soon as something extraordinary happens to you. It means honestly examining all the evidence, interior and exterior, and comparing different explanations.

- SmartLX

Witnessing like Way of the Master

The witness asks the subject: 1. Would you consider yourself a good person? 2. Do you think you have kept the Ten Commandments? 3. If God judges you by the 10 Commandments on the Day of Judgment, will you be innocent or guilty? 4. Based on that, would you go to heaven or hell? Does this concern you?
Atheist Answer: 

As simple as it looks, this witnessing method often works wonders for Ray Comfort and those who learn from him, especially on subjects unfamiliar with this kind of thinking. The Way of the Master radio and TV shows have disseminated this method far and wide, such that especially if you live in the US you're more likely to get this from an evangelist than any other approach.

Let's look at the intended delivery and effect in detail.

1. Would you consider yourself a good person?
If yes, sets up the subject for disappointment and shock when it's later explained that this is unimportant because the subject has sinned. If no, reveals that the subject probably has poor self-esteem and will react well to a chance at redemption.

2. Do you think you have kept the Ten Commandments?
The witness must obtain a no. If the subject does not volunteer any sins, the witness often invokes Matthew 5:28 - "...anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Therefore if you've got working eyes and hormones, you've broken the seventh Commandment. In the unlikely event that the subject is entirely innocent, the witness invokes the inescapable blemish of Original Sin.

3. If God judges you by the 10 Commandments on the Day of Judgment, will you be innocent or guilty?
Since the answer to 2 was no, the answer to this must be guilty.

4. Based on that, would you go to Heaven or Hell?
Invariably, Hell.

Does that concern you?
The answer to this is unimportant. Up to this point, the exchange has been an intellectual exercise. The suddenly personal nature and immediacy of the final question triggers an emotional response. Any latent belief the subject may have bubbles to the surface and creates fear. After that, it's just a matter of telling the subject that there's only one way to Heaven: to accept Jesus Christ as personal lord and saviour. It becomes the way out of the fear, and is accepted on that emotional level it needs in order to stick.

Obviously, the questions are rigged to produce the expected answers. You will also have noticed that the questions simply assume the existence of God, Jesus, the Ten Commandments (therefore Moses), sin, Heaven and Hell.

Their purpose is not to convince the subject that God exists, but to capitalise on the fact that most people already believe, even if they do not act upon that belief or have not thought about it lately. It prompts a renewed commitment without inspiring new doubt. After this commitment, doubt is even less likely. It takes moderately religious or even barely religious people, and makes them want to be saved.

The spanner in the works is the very thing the method seeks to avoid: doubt. The existence of God, sin, Hell and the basic truth of the Bible are critical premises. If the subject expresses doubt during the initial questions, a common response by the witness is to proceed hypothetically and then invoke Pascal's Wager, e.g. "If I'm right, then you're going to Hell unless you commit to Christ. Are you sure you want to take that chance?"

If that doesn't work (for example if the subject has one of these responses to the Wager), the method is finally derailed and the witness must use other apologetic to bring the subject up to the necessary level of belief.

Without pre-existing fear of God and eternal damnation, the method has no emotional punch. If the witness is in a public place or is trying to "save" many people, he/she will probably decide at this point that the subject isn't worth the effort, hand out a card or pamphlet and move on.

A nice thing you can say about WOTM's method is that it takes evangelical belief to its logical conclusion. If you believe deep down that this stuff is true, it shows you the thing you need to do. However, that is one huge if.

It only works properly in an atmosphere where its premises are unchallenged, so that's where to attack it if a friend or family member has been or is being swayed. Make use of doubt. Get people outside of the little box in which the questions force them to think.

Painful as it might be, and whether you're against WOTM or not, try watching witnessing clips from the WOTM television show on YouTube (or even GodTube). Take note of the level of belief subjects begin with, and how much they're willing to accept without argument before the "punch" line. Witness for yourself the persuasive power of passive belief, and understand why so many atheists want people to shed even this.

- SmartLX

Life's Meaning, Emotions, and Other Nonsense : )

Hi SmartLX, I still have not done any suggested reading to this point but wanted to touch on a couple things. I will paste some of your words as reference points: "It's not simply time that creates complexity, it's opportunity. On Earth before life, the air, the ground and the water threw together molecules of every kind countless times. Chemicals have a chance to react every time they touch, so countless billions of combinations got a chance. Some stuck together, and of those, some kept reacting once they had combined. Of this group, a very, VERY small percentage had the tools to make copies of themselves. These groupings, possibly just one grouping in the whole world, produced the first self-replicating organisms. So you see, nature had no intent; it wasn't trying to create anything in particular. It just tried everything at once, and at least one attempt gave an interesting result." My new words: The earth ... ground, water, and air ... at this point I still don't know how science figures those things got here. The big bang ... but what exactly does that mean, what caused "air" and water? If it did come from an explosion (that's what the bang was, correct?), something had to explode. What was that and where did that come from? Also, what multitude of molecules were here before that aren't here now? How does anyone know that and that tons combined but did not take? What caused them to be moving and able to combine? What would cause any combination to self-replicate and move forward. I just can't seem to get that to make sense from randomness. Your words: "The evolution of emotions is harder to visualise, but you can easily see the survival value of simple emotions like fear and love. You run away from things that might kill you, you protect your beloved family and procreation (sex) makes you happy. Pick a more complex emotion yourself, Celia, and see if you can think how it might help someone have a longer life, or more children. Tell me if you get stuck on one." My new words: Yes, I can see how emotions can be helpful in keeping life going; however, they also are pretty much our biggest downfall. Think of all the crap we get into and ways we ruin our lives (and others') ... emotions! So, again, I feel it is at the least a wash and therefore wonder why we would evolve such a thing with no other purpose. Even the food chain makes me sick. When I had a firm belief that God existed, that there was a point, that an afterlife of perfection was waiting for people (and I believed animals would experience that too), I could handle such things. Even though it was apparent God let awful things go on here, I felt that He was ALLOWING it and, therefore, it was ultimately okay ... that there was some sense, purpose, consolation for it all. However, coming from a view of no God, it seems we should be only instinctive (not emotional) to be more efficient (if life's goal is indeed to simply move forward). I don't want to feel horrible about a polar bear eating a seal or a wolf chasing down a baby elk or even a bearded dragon eating a grasshopper (but I do because of my emoitions). Honestly, I even feel badly about vegetables, but at least they don't have faces, so I can tell myself they don't enough going on to care. I don't see how to be in a place of enjoyment knowing that life just happened, it goes away, and who knows what all is going to happen in between ... unless one completely lives in denial and pretends it is something different. I guess some are okay with it, but I just can't seem to be. Why do humans have an seemed instinct that there is something more, that there is a purpose? Why would we develop that feeling? It is difficult not to think that there really must be something more since "most" have that inner feeling. I can relate to what you said here: "I knew that people worshipped many other gods with no more evidence than I had. Once I had explained the coincidences, there was no more reason for me to believe." My new words: I ended up around a group of people who had some really strange beliefs. It annoyed my how ridiculous they were, and it was baffling they could actually believe it; but they did. That made me take a good look at what I was believing and realize I didn't really have any more evidence than they did except that I had believed the Bible. - If there is a God, why would he not make it obvious to EVERYONE that he is there? Why would he simply work through a book that would be interpreted in so many ways, disagreed upon, have so many obvious human elements to it and not even get a copy to everyone?! That makes it very difficult to believe. My thought is that if there is a God, knowing it should be innate (which in almost seems sort of true except that we come up with so many different versions and there are no real answers to some of the important questions). Christians (and I'm guessing other religions) will say that one has to go on faith. The problem with that is, what if one accidentally develops a faith in the wrong definition of God and what his Word is? (Which so many say is true of those who don't believe the same way). Again, that does not make sense to me. I guess that is my problem, I can't come to a place that makes sense, and I can't handle that. :) I'm not going to proof read this (I'm burnt out and have things to tend to), so I apologize for any errors or redundancy. Any comments appreciated. I'm hoping eventually I will end up somewhere more peaceful.
Atheist Answer: 

As you will have noticed, Celia, formatting doesn't work in the question field. That's because it was designed for much shorter questions. We don't mind at all if you split up your thoughts into separate questions, and it might also help you organise your thoughts. For now, I'll just follow along and answer what I see.

- Do you realise that with each exchange we're looking further back in time? You meet each of my responses with, "But how did X get there in the first place?" Eventually we'll reach the stage when I simply don't know, but beyond that is not simply a gap in which gods must sit, as you'll see.

The Earth formed from a cloud of loose rocks and gases, containing nearly every known element, which was pulled together by gravity. The heaviest elements, like iron and lead, sank towards the middle. The lightest elements, like hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, stayed around the edges. The heavy clump in the middle solidified and formed the rocks which make up the planet beneath us. The aura of gases around it became the atmosphere. Some of the hydrogen and oxygen combined to form water, and rained down into what's now the oceans. The earth, air and water were now separate.

- They were not stable, though; earthquakes, mudslides, lava flows, winds, tides and rains still moved everything around, slowly and quickly. That's how the molecules of everything came together, and still come together every moment of every day.

- The likely reason that life isn't still forming from scratch is that the combinations were different back then. For example there was a lot more ammonia and methane in the air; what if those two are needed as gases? (This is very likely. In an old experiment, they shot canned lightning into a replica of the ancient atmosphere. They produced 22 amino acids.)

- Most chemical reactions occur as a result of contact and friction between atoms and molecules. That doesn't mean that all contact causes reactions, but with more and varied contact you will likely get more types of reactions. In a muddy, gassy swamp, where the earth, air and water all mix together, you've got massive potential for interesting new combinations.

- I'm not a good enough chemist to explain the origin of self-replicators. This short video shows one likely way.

- The Big Bang was when everything in the universe rapidly expanded outwards from a single point. It's often seen as the beginning of the universe, but it ain't necessarily so. The vast amount of material in that single point might have always existed, and spent some time compressing together beforehand. It might have been contributed by another universe, one of many. Or, if you subscribe to a certain part of quantum theory, it might have emerged spontaneously from a quantum "foam".

- If you use a god to explain the origin of the matter in the universe, you then need to address the origin of the god. If you declare, without evidence, that the god has existed forever, then why not declare that the universe has existed forever and didn't need to be created? As an explanatory device, gods are quite useless here.

- Not every effect of evolution must be beneficial. A new feature doesn't have to be perfect to be passed on, simply more beneficial than the alternative when all's said and done. The benefits just have to outweigh the costs.

Think of all the "crap" emotions put us through and consider how many lives are actually lost. Just how many suicides are there, anyway? Compare this with the billions of little nice things people do for each other every day, just because it makes them feel good. Consider the children who would not exist without their parents' love and devotion to each other in the face of any circumstances. The benefits of emotions outweigh the costs for most people, most of the time. That's all it takes for them to be passed on.

- Nature, as Darwin said, is red in tooth and claw. Countless animals die in fear and pain because they have been defeated in pursuit or battle by other animals who intend to eat them. To me, this makes more sense if there is no god than if a god continuously allows all this suffering. (The Christian response to this is that even the most loving animals don't have souls, and although we should be nice to them they are not ultimately important.)

- Life does just go away. This life will end for each of us. Does that make it any less enjoyable to live? Doesn't the possibility that there is no afterlife make this life all the more important? Think of the things you enjoy in life. Would you enjoy them any more or less if God has never existed all along? Why does life need to have meaning to some distant, external observer anyway? If it has meaning to you, if there is something you have to live for, that's plenty. Atheism does not lead inexorably to nihilism, as Christians sometimes charge.

- Humans think there is "something more" because there always is something more. The universe, and even the planet, has more in it than we can ever explore in one lifetime. Simply because we can, we extend this beyond the natural world and wonder about the possible existence of the supernatural. It's at this point that we may not have any grounds to continue. I think it occupies our thoughts anyway because there's no good way to explore the supernatural. It's a permanent "undiscovered country".

- You've developed a great many questions about your own faith. There are many answers the faithful and those without faith can give you, but there are no concrete answers and there may never be. The nice thing is, you don't have to be sure to be happy. I'm not sure there are no gods, but I think the chances are so low that I am content to live my life as if there aren't any. It's like going out at night despite the tiny possibility that I'll be hit by a meteorite; why bother to worry about it?

- SmartLX

proving god doesn't exist

hey all well it's been a while since i have done this so i know i've been missed lol. my question today is simply disproving the christian god ...or any god for that matter. at one time i thought that it was impossible to prove or disprove god i'm starting to rethink that. though i'll say right now that the possibility of a god is there though it is limited. but lets say hypothetically that there is a god who's to say that the christian god is the right one? maybe over half of the world population is worshiping the wrong god and are pissing the real one off! ok i know i go on these tangents a lot but i like trying to learn all about this i am interested that and when i find new stuff that proves that religion is crap i get the joy of silently laughing at what people believe... i asked the question once where is the evidence of the stuff that is talked about in the bible noahs flood. moses, jesus, etc. and i find time and time again that it isn't there so either i'm looking in the wrong places or there isn't evidence. as a side note/question my mom tells me that the gospels where written at a certain time and then i read somewhere that they were written much later so if anyone knows how i can find the true dates at which the gospels where written i'd appreciate it ohh ps.. for any one whos interested there is this site that i've been reading in and i want someone more knowelgable than me on the subject to look through it ...so someone go there and tell me what you think the addie is: http://www.godisimaginary.com/ tell me what you think thanks muchum
Atheist Answer: 

Your train of thought seems a little bit scattered. I'll try and follow along as I respond.

- In order to prove the non-existence of a god, you have to rule out not only all possible places it could be, but all possible things it could be. The study of what something is is called ontology, and the ontology of even the Christian god is terribly vague.

- The idea that the real god might not be the Christian one is the best response to Pascal's Wager. Well done coming up with it yourself.

- There is no available physical evidence for any of the figures or events you mention, only documentation in the form of the Bible and some other writings. That's why these texts are defended so aggressively. They're the last and only line of defence for Christianity, and Judaism too.

- When the gospels were written is no more settled than who wrote the things. As the link explains, Christian scholars tend towards a range of dates in the middle of the first century (20-30 years after the apparent crucifixion), while others think it was closer to the end of that century (30-60 years after).

- The God is Imaginary website doesn't really prove that God is imaginary. It does have some very clever arguments which turn scripture against itself and portray certain beliefs as very silly indeed. It's become infamous enough that evangelists have posted direct responses. This guy has written fifty proofs God is real to counter the site's fifty "proofs" God is imaginary. Not one of his is a real proof either.

- SmartLX

What, if anything, comes after this life? What do you believe?

I wonder if at times you must feel like a prisoner in a cave who escapes and returns to tell the other prisoners, still in the cave, of the truth that exists outside their prison. lol Yes I have done a little studying of Philosophy my own here lately and have enjoyed every bit of it. I was raised Pentalcostal during my early childhood years and as an adult I have no religion. That is not to say however that I do not believe in a higher power. My higher power has no label, but others can call my higher power a god if they wish. If they think it will put them in heaven after death. My question for you is this: what do you suppose happens to the energy that is within our bodies after we have passed on? I ask this because energy cannot die yet it can be passed on. What purpose does that energy serve at that point? Is this what Christians refer to as the soul?
Atheist Answer: 

I would suggest that what I consider to be "outside the cave" might simply be a larger cave, but yes, there is an urge to show people the new space.

I don't think anything comes after death. After death, there is no longer a person who might experience anything.

It's difficult for most people, including me, to properly wrap their heads around the idea of not existing. In the absence of an afterlife, many people still imagine themselves persisting forever, alone in darkness and silence. It's an idea I find more frightening than Hell. (Therefore if there is a Hell, that's how it might well manifest for me.) I remind myself that at the moment of death, there won't be a me anymore, so any thoughts of what might happen to me after death are meaningless.

The energy in the body is eternal, but it's not a soul. It's the simple chemical and electrical energy in our bodily fluids, as well as our muscles and our brains. When we die, it escapes mostly as heat. It also contributes to the reactions which decompose the body. Some of it goes to feed some lucky earthworms, and eventually to enrich the soil around the grave and whatever grows in it.

The Christian concept of a soul has nothing to do with quantifiable energy. (They did try to connect the two by identifying a measurable loss of substance at the moment of death, but ultimately failed.) The soul, hypothetically, is an intangible entity which accompanies the human body for its entire lifespan. It controls the body and supplies it with human qualities, and human worth. Essentially the soul is an externalisation of certain brain functions and social conventions. Upon death, it severs all connections with the physical world and goes to God to be distributed as He sees fit.

The soul shares a category with Buddhism's karma and all manner of energies posited by New Age systems, in that although it's credited with many effects (for example a person's conscience), none can be attributed to it unambiguously. Associating it with the ordinary, observable energy inside the body is one way to make it sound more plausible, but there's no merit in the comparison.

- SmartLX

What happened to the list of transitional species?

Your links from several questions to a list of known transitional species is broken. What's up with that?
Atheist Answer: 

TalkOrigins, the site with the list, is currently trying to recover its domain. An archived version is still available, and the list is intact.

The drive of life

Hi, I'm a middle-aged woman whose belief system has evolved from basic Christianity to not knowing what to think. Unfortunately, I am not content with not knowing what the truth is and feel the need to find answers. (To be honest, I am very disturbed by it and rather bitter.) I find it almost impossible to find people willing to analyze and discuss from a neutral perspective which makes my quest extremely frustrating and virtually impossible. I am hoping you can add some new insight. :) I must warn you that I will likely end up asking a zillion questions over time, but to start with I am wondering an atheist's perspective on why life has such drive. It seems odd to me that if we just happened (with no real reason behind it), that we, and all life forms, would have such a drive to survive. Why would we care, and why SHOULD we care? Rather than bungle this up with a subset of questions, I will leave it at that and let it play out as it will. I will greatly appreciate your thoughts and insight. :)
Atheist Answer: 

Hello and welcome, Celia. The one-thing-at-a-time approach will be just fine. Amber123 recently did the same thing.

The answer to this specific question is rooted in human evolution. At every stage in our development as a species there has been fierce competition for the resources necessary to survive. The survivors all the way along have been not just the strongest or the smartest, but those with the greatest will to live.

We didn't always have religion to drive us, you know. Before our ancestors even had the intelligence to conceive of gods or ponder the meaning of life, if they lacked a strong will to survive they would not have survived and we wouldn't be here. Those who were content not to survive or procreate were quickly scooped out of the gene pool by the dangers of the harsh ancient world. The survivors passed down their determination to us, as instinct.

On a personal intellectual level, I'm an atheist and I want to survive because I don't think I have any other life but this. There is a great deal of joy to be had, and to spread, and I want to make the most of it before I die.

- SmartLX

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